El Dorado mayoral candidates Bill Luther and Veronica Smith-Creer embraced Tuesday following their segment of a Meet the Candidates Forum, seemingly driving home a point Luther made in his closing statement.
“It is of my opinion that whoever becomes mayor of this city, El Dorado will have a good mayor,” he said, closing out the forum that was held in the El Dorado Municipal Auditorium and included candidates for the Union County offices of judge, clerk and coroner.
Luther and Smith-Creer are the Republican and Democratic, respectively, challengers who will square off against Independent candidate Trang Lu for the city’s top elected post in the Nov. 6 General Election.
Lu was unable to attend the forum due to a family emergency.
Luther and Smith-Creer fielded questions addressing a wide-range of issues facing the city, including economic development, public safety, water and sewer operations, the city’s partnership with the Murphy Arts District and annexation/expansion of city limits.
Questions were pre-selected by the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce and the Union County branch of the NAACP, both of whom partnered to host the forum.
Audience members were also allowed to anonymously submit questions for candidates by writing their inquiries on cards that were provided prior to the start of the forum.
J.B. Billingly, of Noalmark Broadcoasting, served as moderator and posed the questions to candidates.
In response to an audience-submitted question, both candidates said they are preparing for day one in office, if elected.
Smith-Creer, co-owner of BC Carpet Cleaning and Vacuum Repair and a community volunteer who serves on various boards and committees, said she is already looking into changes she would implement during her first day in office should she win on Nov. 6.
She declined to share what those changes are, saying, “You don’t have to wait until the first day to have some things in mind. There are some things I’m already working on."
Luther, a retired electrical engineer and Entergy customer service manager, said he already made a pledge to ride along with city sanitation crews to learn what challenges they face and to hear their ideas on how to improve the sanitation department and make it more efficient.
“Meeting with individual employees of the city, I believe, is the best way to address their concerns,” he said.
A timely issue was also slipped in by an audience member, who requested that a question regarding the city’s financial commitment to MAD be directed to Luther.
MAD is expected to appear before the El Dorado Works Board on Oct. 17 to request additional funding as a reimbursement for cost overruns on construction expenses in the development of the MAD entertainment complex.
The city has committed a total of $13.4 million of the former El Dorado Forward and current El Dorado Works taxes to the MAD project, which is expected to come to more than $100 million once completed.
In purchase agreements with the city, MAD used the tax money to acquire property for facilities in phase I of the project — there are two phases — and to cover construction costs for the MAD amphitheater/parking lot and playscape.
MAD will operate and manage the facilities, and the city will own the properties and lease them to MAD for a nominal fee.
Austin Barrow, president and chief operating officer for MAD, said MAD will hand over the property deeds upon the resolution of the request for additional funding.
The request would equal 20 percent of the initial $9.02 million city commitment from the El Dorado Forward tax, which expired in 2015 after eight years, Barrow said.
The question submitted by an audience member Tuesday placed the figure at an additional $2.1 million.
Referring to a story about the matter that appeared in the Oct. 7 edition of the News-Times, Luther said he would have to study the issue further and see if there are other alternatives to assist MAD, rather than appropriating more tax dollars.
On the issue of expanding the city’s boundaries, Smith-Creer said the matter would “be up to the citizens” and she would be willing to “take a look at it” to see if annexation would be beneficial for the city.
Luther took a different approach, saying that he once favored annexation and “bringing in new territory” but his mind has since changed.
“When business was booming, we were installing utilities and building streets, but those projects had a finite lifetime,” he said, adding that that infrastructure, particularly streets, is in need of repair.
Luther said he would prefer to use existing infrastructure by upgrading it and attracting new businesses to use it to help boost city tax revenue, rather than taking on new infrastructure for city departments to maintain.
The candidates were asked if they had experience handling a $10-million budget — the city’s approximate annual budget.
During his tenure with Entergy, Luther said he oversaw projects that ranged from $25,000 to $30 million.
As a small-business owner and finance chair of the South Arkansas Community College Board of Trustees, Smith-Creer said she has similar experience with small-business budgets and large-dollar budgets that rise into the millions.
Smith-Creer pointed to her family background to lay out her focus for the city, saying that she is the third oldest of five siblings.
“The number five is very important to me. That’s why I have five points to my platform: education, industry, entrepreneurship, community/quality of life and public safety,” Smith-Creer said.
If city revenues allow, she said she would place streets, affordable housing and quality of life issues, particularly recreational amenities for children and adults, as her top three priorities.
Luther said repairing aging infrastructure would be his top priority, explaining later that he would implement a street-paving program that would include an equal allotment for each of the city’s four wards.
He said city council members and residents in each ward would have input on which streets would be prioritized in the program.
Luther also said he would like to host a regular city council meeting per quarter in the city’s four wards and allow residents the opportunity to publicly address their concerns with their elected officials.
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The NAACP and chamber of commerce will be teaming up again, this time to help educate voters on several initiatives that will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.
A meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 16 at the chamber office, 111 W. Main. The public is encouraged to attend.
Robin Bridges, agent/staff chair of the Union County office of the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, will present the ballot issues and spell out the details to voters.
The initiatives are:
- Issue 1: A proposed amendment to the Arkansas Constitution that would limit contingency fees for attorneys in civil lawsuits. The fees would max out at 33 1/3 percent of the net recovery.
- Issue 2: A proposed amendment to the Arkansas Constitution that would require voters to present valid, photographic identification when voting.
- Additionally, the state would issue photographic identification to eligible voters who do not have such identification.
- Issue 3: A proposed Arkansas constitutional amendment that would establish new term limits for members of the Arkansas General Assembly. Term limits would be set at three, two-year terms for the House of Representatives; two, four-year terms for the Senate; or any term that, if served, would cause an AGA member to exceed 10 years of service.
- Issue 4: An Arkansas Constitutional amendment that would require the Arkansas Racing Commission to issue licenses for four casinos in the state, one each in Crittenden, Garland, Pope and Jefferson counties.
- Issue 5: An act that would raise Arkansas's minimum wage from $8.50 an hour to an hourly rate of $9.25 on Jan. 1; $10 on Jan. 1, 2020; and $11 on Jan. 1, 2021.
Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@ eldoradonews.com.