Former Pine Bluff Mayor Dutch King, Democratic candidate for Jefferson County judge, speaks to the crowd as his opponent, Republican Justice of the Peace Ted Harden, awaits his turn during the candidate forum at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Tuesday. (Special to The Commercial/William Harvey)
Candidates for Pine Bluff aldermen and county judge were among speakers addressing education, crime and community development, with one council hopeful promoting a countywide school district Tuesday night.
Alfred Carroll, a candidate for a city council first ward post, said at a University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff political forum that the city can’t continue to “support three separate public school districts.”
Carroll, a current Jefferson County justice of the peace who in May finished last in a three-candidate Democratic primary race for county judge, is now seeking to replace retiring Alderwoman Irene Holcomb.
Carroll said he believes the city should function on a principle of “one government, one school district.” A principal within the Pine Bluff School District, Carroll said he’s basing his council candidacy on “three E’s and Y” – education, economy, elderly and youth – to promote “unity.”
None of the other council hopefuls offered a similar opinion concerning the number of school districts, but Ward 4 incumbent George Stepps and his challengers, Bruce Lockett and Fred Toney, touched on education in some of their comments.
Toney – a proponent of developing broad, long-range strategies and implementation plans – bemoaned what he called “under-performing schools.”
Lockett said UAPB students are “neglected” and should be included in city betterment efforts.
Stepps pegged UAPB as the city’s “economic engine” and said that the city’s “vendors” suffer when the university’s enrollment is down, so UAPB recruiting should be a joint effort involving all citizens.
Lloyd A. Holcomb Jr., hoping to succeed his mother in Ward 1, said he would like to see the city overcome its “homecoming mentality” toward UAPB. He believes the city fails to give UAPB proper attention except during the annual homecoming occurrence, which he deemed as a “moneymaker for the city.”
Ward 1 candidate Jean Painton related a vision for helping to create employment opportunities for UAPB students and others by establishing a downtown area similar to Memphis’ Beale Street, which features eateries and music offerings.
Incumbent Ward 3 Alderman Glen Brown said Pine Bluff is stronger than many might think and already ranks as “the Mecca” of Southeast Arkansas, although there’s room for improvement.
When asked on what they felt was the “most pressing issue” facing the city, Painton and Carroll agreed that it’s crime, but Carroll added that he wants to help past offenders learn how they can “regain voting rights.”
Holcomb estimated “provisions for citizens.”
Lockett figures the biggest woe is “image,” while “declining population” was Toney’s response.
Brown rated it as “quality of life, quality of place,” while Stepps viewed it as “job creation.”
The candidates for county judge – Republican Ted Harden and Democrat Dutch King – spoke briefly on the declining condition of various county roads. Both noted increasing expenses associated with road maintenance.
“If we can’t fix them, the least we can do is keep them clean,” King said.
Harden pointed out that while county revenue is expected to be down this year, efforts should be made to place gravel on those roadways that can’t be paved as some of the “972 miles of county roads” aren’t currently drivable.
State senate District 25 incumbent Stephanie Flowers, a Democrat, and her opponent, Libertarian David Dinwiddie, were asked how they might propose generating additional funding for UAPB. Dinwiddie said UAPB and other state colleges and universities should print their own student text books and the salaries of the institutions’ presidents should be trimmed.
“Don’t waste money,” he said. “That’s why tuition continues to go up.”
Flowers said that education is the “No. 1 key” to economic development and she plans to continue seeking more funding for UAPB.
Pine Bluff city treasurer candidates Lloyd A. Franklin Sr. and Janice L. Roberts also spoke. Roberts stressed her past experience as an alderwoman and Franklin pointed out that he’s an internationally certified fraud examiner.