Friday, September 19, 2008

Fayetteville mayoral candidates debate in Springdale

Mayoral Candidates Sharpen Attacks

By Skip Descant
FAYETTEVILLE -- As election day draws closer mayoral candidate attacks are getting more pointed. And as expected, the crosshairs seem centered on the incumbent.

When asked about the relationship between the City Council and the mayor's office, Lioneld Jordan, an alderman from Ward 4 and a candidate for mayor, admitted "a very strained relationship right now."

"And it's not coming from the body, it's coming from the head," he added.

"There's not very much going through the city right now, because of who's in charge of it," Jordan snapped during a Friday candidate forum hosted by the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce.

"You need to listen," remarked candidate Walt Eilers about the job of mayor and the relationship the office holds with the council. "If you're always talking about yourself, you're not listening."

"It's the mayor's job to lead, either by example or persuasion," said candidate Steve Clark.

Some of the chamber questions were more than a little hypothetical, but clearly targeted at exploring different candidates' personal philosophies and goals.

One question presented each potential mayor with $5 million. What would the candidate do with the money if he or she were elected?

Coody said the money should be invested in the Arkansas Research and Technology Park as the boost it needs to further attract the types of clean-tech industry the city often touts.

"Fayetteville is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the growing green economy," Coody said.

Adam Fire Cat, another candidate who often speaks of what he sees as Fayetteville's dismal economic and financial picture, would squirrel the money away into a "rainy day fund." Cat would also put a freeze on all nonessential spending. And he casts that net pretty wide to include public parks, libraries and other programs or city services he deems not strictly necessary to the city's operation.

Clark would use the $5 million as seed money to spread across industry recruitment as well as the library system, landing a regional park and building a new police station.

Candidates were also asked about their thoughts on SouthPass, the 1,000-acre mixed-use development on the edge of town, that's to include a 240-acre regional park. After fully completed in 25 years, the project would house some 11,000 people, and more than 200,000 square feet of retail and office space.

Jordan, who's never been a huge fan of extending the city's boundaries and infrastructure beyond where they already lie, has been calling for the brakes on the project.

"Do we really need a new Fayetteville on a two-lane road at the edge of the city?" he wondered.

"I have great concerns about that development," Clark said. He went on to suggest, "Make all 900 acres the regional park."

Jordan also wants more specifics about costs for infrastructure and what share the city will shoulder.

"The administration is also supposed to provide us the cost that it would be and we are yet to have those costs, and I think that needs to be addressed," Jordan said.

Southpass is being developed by the same development team behind East Square Development. East Square Development is the same company leading up the stalled Renaissance Tower hotel project downtown. Clark and Eilers both support a move to have the developers make some assurances of the viability of the financial muscle behind the project.

Coody, a supporter of SouthPass, sees this type of public prying into the affairs of private business as an unrealistic request that would create an unfriendly business environment for Fayetteville.

With the city in budget season and the mayor's proposed budget would dip into reserve funds for $535,000, candidates were asked about their fiscal philosophies.

Coody defended his budget, saying Fayetteville residents should not be asked to shoulder a tax increase. He's also unwilling to eliminate jobs and programs.

"We're too understaffed as it is," Coody said.

Jordan offered few specifics about how to shave costs, only saying basic services like police, fire, sewer or water need to be covered.

"First the core, and then you've got to properly manage your money," Jordan said.

Eilers stressed his plan is to do more listening.

"You meet with your employees and say, 'How can we reduce the cost of doing business?,'" Eilers said.

Clark deferred to making some "really tough decisions," and not dip into reserves.

No comments: