Roger McLemore, left, speaks, as Sheriff Gerald Robinson listens during a political forum at the Donald W. Reynolds Community Services Center Thursday. (Special to The Commercial/William Harvey)
Jefferson County Sheriff Gerald Robinson, speaking at a Thursday night political forum at the Donald W. Reynolds Community Services Center, declared that God created him for his elected post and all of his previous experiences have helped to prepare him for the job.
Robinson, in his sixth year as the county’s top law enforcement official, said he didn’t regard himself as an actual candidate.
“I feel God ordained me to be your sheriff,” he said.
Robinson and his challenger in the Nov. 6 general election, retired Arkansas State Police investigator Roger McLemore, were among 19 hopefuls in six races who participated in the Arkansas Community Organization-sponsored event, which was moderated by Little Rock television journalist Deedra Wilson. About 100 people attended the forum.
McLemore said he wanted to unseat the incumbent to make the county “better and safer” for its residents.
“It’s time to run drug dealers out of town,” said McLemore. “It’s time for a change.”
McLemore added that he would personally drive drug dealers “to the county line” after he and deputies “seize everything they’ve got.”
Robinson said that his administration is already aggressive on drug dealers as well as “deadbeat dads” and other criminals, and claimed that for the first time in the county’s history, the sheriff’s office “is making money” and “operating in the black financially.”
He also boasted of assorted programs he’s helped in initiating that assist the elderly and youth and said he intends to fund a daycare for children of deputies so he might be better able to retain experienced personnel.
McLemore said that if he’s elected, he’ll seek to have parents behind in their court-ordered child support payments released from jail to work.
He said if the offenders are simply jailed, their children aren’t truly benefiting.
McLemore said offenders can be incarcerated while not working, and their salaries can be directed through the legal system directly to their children.
Meanwhile, county judge candidates Ted Harden and Dutch King expressed support for a living wage requirement to be imposed on firms doing business with the county, but each indicated they would want to be cautious about placing “a burden” on such firms.
“Why can’t we have a living wage?” asked King, a former Pine Bluff mayor. “There’s no reason not to. It’s something we’ve got to do. I’m for it.”
A member of the quorum court, Harden replied by relating what he sees as an increasing need for technical high schools that would produce work-ready employees in helping to attract new industry.
King and Harden agreed that new businesses and industries looking for taxpayer-supported incentives to locate here should be required to give job preferences to local applicants.
Incumbent state Sen. Stephanie Flowers and challenger David Dinwiddie gave affirmative nods to President Barrack Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act. Dinwiddie said he’s a retail sales store minimum-wage worker and has been to hospital emergency rooms as both an insured and uninsured patient. Hospitals “don’t treat you the same” when uninsured, he said.
“People deserve health care coverage,” said Flowers, an attorney. “Some work everyday but can’t afford it.”
The two agreed that the biggest test awaiting the state legislature will be determining how to pay the state’s share for expanded coverage.
Pine Bluff City Council Ward 1 contenders Alfred Carroll, Lloyd A. Holcomb Jr., Jean Painton and Melanie D. Perkins offered varied replies to a question on what they might do to combat crime if elected to succeed retiring Alderwoman Irene Holcomb, the council’s senior member.
Perkins said she could apply her experiences as a mother and caregiver to the issue, and would also work to strengthen neighborhood watch groups.
“I want clean, safe, peaceful neighborhoods,” said Painton, who believes she can aid that cause by helping to restore old buildings and bringing in commerce. “Derelicts don’t want to live in manicured neighborhoods,” she said.
Lloyd Holcomb Jr. said everyone must share in the effort, but stressed that to contest improper “outside influences,” parents must remember that “correct influences start at home.”
Carroll, a justice of the peace, sees educational programs for youth and school security enhancements as good tools for the effort, along with helping convicted criminals regain voting rights and being given an opportunity to positively participate in and contribute to the community.
Ward 3 incumbent Glen Brown and his opponents, Ramone Penister and Ronnie Reynolds, and Ward 4 incumbent George Stepps and challengers Bruce Lockett and Fred Toney appeared jointly in an effort to save time. Each spoke on possible avenues of helping the city overcome its high unemployment rate and its many low-salaried jobs.
Stepps said he and voters have shown their support for living wage jobs, and he would continue championing that cause if re-elected. Toney said there should be a move for a “beyond a living wage” because a so-called living wage doesn’t always ensure an adequate quality of life.
Lockett said he would like to promote a revolving loan fund to help businesses and industries create additional jobs. Reynolds said he would demand that jobs created through the voter-approved economic development tax be salaried at a living wage level.
Brown said he supports the living wage, but would follow the wishes of voters on bond issue items. Penister bemoaned an absence of local publicity on the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, saying the institution must be supported so it might be a more viable part of the solution.
Also speaking were city treasurer candidates Greg Gustek, Lloyd Franklin Sr. and Janice L. Roberts.