Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a series of articles on candidates for Pine Bluff mayor.
Currently serving her third term as a member of the Pine Bluff City Council, Alderman Thelma Walker wants to take the next step and become mayor.
Walker is one of nine candidates seeking to fill the position by current Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr., who is running for his third term in office. The other candidates include Peter Daniels Jr., Kent Broughton, Clarence Davis, John James, Debe Hollingsworth, Steven Mays and Tim Whisenhunt.
The election will be held Nov. 6.
“I have the commitment to the city and I have the knowledge,” said Walker, who was first elected to the office to replace former Alderman Jack Foster, who was ousted after being convicted in federal court of attempted extortion under color of law.
A native of Pine Bluff, Walker graduated from Merrill High School, then moved to California where she lived for several years before returning to Pine Bluff.
Walker said she has owned several businesses since coming back, including Pine Bluff Adult Daycare, which she has operated for 11 years.
When asked her age, Walker smiled and declined to answer but did say she was “in good health” and did not take blood pressure or other medications.
Before being elected to the city council, she served on the Civil Service Commission for six years.
She said during her time on the council, she has sponsored numerous pieces of legislation that included Pine Bluff Transit offering free rides for senior citizens.
“I called Larry Reynolds (manager of Pine Bluff Transit) and asked him to research it because I knew it was being done in other states,” Walker said. “He said he didn’t ‘t know if we could give free rides but could maybe offer a half-price and I told him that was not acceptable,” she said.
Currently, Walker said she is working on legislation dealing with copper thefts and having the police department follow up on the sale of copper to recycling centers and junk yards.
“It’s gotten totally out of hand,” she said. “I know so many people that have had their air conditioners torn up by somebody to get $20 worth of copper.”
Walker was one of the council members who voted to eliminate the Civil Service Commission, and earlier this year, sponsored legislation that would replace the current city review committee with a civilian panel, selected by members of the council.
She said the current system, a three-member group of city employees including a representative of the City Attorney’s Office, a department head and a third member chosen at random “causes a lot of animosity” because the reviews are being done by people who know each other.
“It would be a pool, like jury duty,” Walker said of her proposal. “Decisions would be based on the department’s rules and regulations.
“If a person crosses the line, if they disobey a rule, they would know what they’re going to get (punishment),” she said. “Right now, everybody doesn’t get the same thing and I believe that would improve department morale.”
Walker said that same principle of following rules and regulations or suffer the consequences would carry over to the street and to the citizens of Pine Bluff.
“People will know that they can report a crime and something will be done, and if they commit a crime, something will be done,” she said. “It’s a win-win situation.”
Talking about economic and community development, Walker said if elected, one of her first actions would be to hire an economic development person for the city.
“They would work in conjunction with The Alliance to seek businesses and industries for Pine Bluff and we would look at what kind of incentives we could offer them,” she said.
Walker also said she would hire a grant writer for the city.
“There’s money out there for communities in the Delta and we want to explore all those possibilities,” she said.
After receiving the grants, Walker said she would insure that it would be used, “not sit there long enough for the government to want to take it back because they decided that since we hadn’t used it, we didn’t need it.”
The same principles would apply to community development.
“Pine Bluff needs housing very badly,” she said adding that she is looking into a variety of methods that could be used to rehabilitate current housing that has deteriorated.
Walker also said she would support curb-side recycling for the city.
“It would improve our image and would be good for the city,” she said.
If elected, Walker also said she would work with the city council to get things done.
“They’re an important part of the equation,” she said. “We have eight councilmen, two from each ward of the city and there’s a wealth of experience and knowledge there,” Walker said. “Everybody has a role and we all have to work together,” she said.