Members of the Little Rock Board of Directors on Tuesday heard from the eight finalists who seek to fill the remainder of the term of the late City Director Erma Hendrix, who represented Ward 1 on the board for more than a decade before her death Sept. 8 at age 91.
The board is scheduled to convene today in a special meeting at 4 p.m. to appoint a replacement, who will serve until Hendrix's term concludes at the end of December 2022.
The individual selected will be able to run for a full four-year term during the November 2022 election if that person chooses.
During next year's election, the Ward 1 seat is likely to attract significant interest from individuals who reside in the ward. Under its current boundaries, the ward encompasses the heart of Little Rock's downtown plus communities south of Interstate 630, though city directors are preparing to redraw ward lines in the coming months based on new population figures from the 2020 census.
The city board last week winnowed the field of candidates to eight finalists from 20 who had applied for the seat.
Michael Ted Adkins, 55, told board members Tuesday that he worked for more than 32 years as a Little Rock police officer. He referred to his previous 2018 campaign for the Ward 1 seat.
He said his experience as an officer meant he had to be able to listen, act quickly and be flexible, and he suggested those qualities would allow him to contribute to the board's work.
Adkins said the Police Department ought to reimplement the D.A.R.E. program and provide classes on how residents ought to act when they encounter police.
Frederick Gentry, 44, said he worked for the city for 8½ years and currently serves as president of the Historic Pettaway Neighborhood Association.
Gentry previously served as assistant to the city board and special projects manager, according to his resume, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported earlier this month.
He said Tuesday that he is seeking to fill the seat because while he believes in the great strides the city has made, the city as a whole must account for struggling areas and "a great deal of those exist in Ward 1."
He mentioned public safety, food deserts and housing as issues affecting the ward.
In response to a question from City Director B.J. Wyrick, Gentry explained that he was elected to the Jacksonville City Council, becoming the youngest alderman in the history of the city and one of the youngest in the state at the time.
Sheila Taylor Miles, 60, told board members that she has served as president of the Wright Avenue Neighborhood Association for 10 years and has advocated for community members before city departments.
Additionally, she said she has built relationships with city officials to ensure that residents of the Wright Avenue neighborhood got what they needed.
Virgil L. Miller, 68, an employee of Arvest Bank, described how he has worked primarily in the field of community development during his career in banking.
He said he has had to "develop relationships to not only understand the needs of low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, but to develop products and services to meet those needs."
Miller's work also has led him to work with other commercial banks and municipalities to address the needs of the underserved, he said.
Sarah Pilcher, the 39-year-old president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, told board members that her work lets her interact with residents across Ward 1 on a daily basis.
Pilcher said she hears them express three main concerns: "security, economics and school."
She said she would bring to the board an ability to hit the ground running, as well as an enthusiastic approach.
Pilcher works for the Community Health Centers of Arkansas as a community outreach specialist and emergency preparedness coordinator, according to her resume, the Democrat-Gazette reported previously.
Valerie Pruitt, 63, said she grew up in the South End of Ward 1, where three generations of her family continue to live. Her family moved to Little Rock in 1965 when her father, the late Rev. Duggar Johnson, was called to serve as the pastor of Saint Mark Baptist Church, she said.
She said residents deserve a strong advocate on the board who they can trust and who can relate to the issues affecting the community.
Pruitt previously served as executive director of the Reform Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for school choice policies and administers the Succeed Scholarship program.
Anika Whitfield, 48, a local grassroots organizer who serves as an assistant minister with The Church Without Walls Global Outreach Ministries, invited a group of people to stand by her at the podium to show their support.
Whitfield said her heart was in the community and, if selected, she pledged to "keep working with and for the people I've been working with and for all of my life."
Karen Zuccardi, 38, a sustainable economic development consultant who serves as chairwoman of the Little Rock Sustainability Commission, described Ward 1 as the city's most diverse and non-homogenous district that boasts a variety of amenities and assets.
But she said there is poor housing stock in the ward and suggested that residents deserve more high-quality, affordable housing options.
She also said that as a city director, she would seek to find ways to reduce criminal activity and strengthen relationships between citizens and police officers.