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Little Rock director suggests wider net in focusing development money

by Joseph Flaherty | January 27, 2021 at 6:45 a.m.
FILE — Little Rock City Hall is shown in this 2019 file photo.

Little Rock City Director Dean Kumpuris on Tuesday proposed revisions to a recently approved community development resolution that would serve to broaden the scope of the measure, which mentions specific areas as targets for development.

His comments prompted a strong response from City Director Doris Wright of Ward 6, one of the sponsors of the resolution approved by the Little Rock Board of Directors on Jan. 19.

The resolution calls for $5 million per year over five years, with a renewal option at the end of the time frame, to stimulate development efforts and improved living conditions in areas of Wards 1, 2, 6 and 7. Of the city's seven wards, those four roughly encompass the area south and east of Interstate 630 and to the east along the edge of the Arkansas River.

The resolution instructs city officials to provide stimulus funding and initiate policymaking "to enhance development and improve living conditions in the neighborhoods in and around the South End of Ward 1; the 12th Street Corridor and the southwest portion of Ward 2, in Ward 6, in and around the John Barrow Road Corridor and specific areas of Ward 7."

The specific areas mentioned in the community development resolution leave out multiple areas, Kumpuris said Tuesday during a policy session of the Board of Directors.

Kumpuris said that during his recent reelection campaign for his at-large seat, he had mentioned wanting "to try to increase and improve the plight of people south of [Interstate] 630 and east of I-30."

He named Hindman Park, Mabelvale Pike and Springer Boulevard, and asked for a resolution that says all of the areas south of I-630 and east of I-30 be included in the development measure.

Additionally, Kumpuris asked that all board members be allowed to give advice to the mayor on appointments to a working group intended to oversee the targeted community development efforts.

The text of the resolution passed last week says board members from the four specific wards be consulted with regard to the mayor's appointments to the seven-member working group.

Kumpuris said board members should consider expanding the working group with individuals or entities already working in development efforts. He referred to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Baptist Health, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Think Big Little Rock, among others.

Kumpuris asked City Attorney Tom Carpenter to bring forward three resolutions outlining these revisions for consideration by the board in coming weeks.

A procedural error during the Jan. 19 meeting led the board to quickly approve the targeted community development resolution by mistake.

During the meeting earlier this month, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. introduced the measure with a call for directors to vote on a first reading of the text -- a process used to give an initial reading to ordinances, which receive three readings, unlike resolutions, which are approved after one reading.

The Jan. 19 resolution was sponsored by Wright along with City Directors Erma Hendrix of Ward 1, Ken Richardson of Ward 2 and at-large City Director Antwan Phillips.

On Tuesday, Wright suggested that Kumpuris' proposal would dilute the resources intended to be used for the areas listed in the four wards, explaining that his expansion "will defeat the entire purpose for this."

She said she appreciated that Kumpuris was trying to fulfill his campaign promise, "however, you didn't make any promises for anything" in the area of John Barrow Road, Wright added.

City Director Joan Adcock -- who, like Kumpuris, serves as an at-large city director -- indicated that she agreed with him.

With Kumpuris' revisions, the city would be able to address neighborhoods all over the city, instead of just the four neighborhoods or areas mentioned in the resolution, Adcock said during Tuesday's meeting.

"That was my big complaint with it," she said. "And the people I've talked to, that was their complaint."

The city has 200 neighborhoods, Adcock said. The resolution has picked out "basically four or eight neighborhoods that you are going to put $25 million in, and you talk about feeling left out?" Adcock said, addressing Wright.

Scott, responding to Adcock, said that based on his reading of the resolution, the entirety of Wards 1, 2, 6 and 7 are included. The mayor pointed out that the words "in and around" precede the mention of the specific areas within the wards.

Wright later reiterated Scott's comments on the wording of the resolution, and expressed "astonishment" at the effort to alter the targeted community development measure.

At one point, addressing Kumpuris and Adcock, Wright said she thought it was "disingenuous of both of you to do this."

"And this is one of the reasons that we have constituents who are not in favor of at-large directors," Wright added.

Wright said she would appreciate it if Kumpuris would withdraw his resolution to expand the boundaries of areas targeted by the measure, but if not, she hoped her colleagues on the board would vote against it, leaving the measure the way it is.

The episode has "really shaken my confidence in you, Dean, it really has," Wright said.

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