story by Ryan Saylor
Three terms will be enough for Van Buren Mayor Bob Freeman, who announced his intent Tuesday (July 1) to seek his third and final term as mayor.
Freeman, who followed the late Mayor John Riggs in office in 2006 after Riggs concluded three terms of service, said there is a lot of work yet to be done should he win a third term. He said a third term would allow him to finish what he started with the citizens of Van Buren, specifically citing several projects funded by a one cent sales tax passed in 2012.
"The fire station is close to being opened up. We'll do a ribbon cutting for that in the near future. Our police station's well underway with construction. It's going to be a great addition to our community. The senior center — they're moving some dirt, but the official groundbreaking again will be taking place before too long. Those two projects, the police station and the senior center, will open up and complete into next year."
Parks projects are also an item of top priority for the mayor, retired Army officer and former banker. On the same day Freeman confirmed his plans to seek a third term, the city's Parks and Recreation Commission was scheduled to meet with architects and engineers working with the city to create its first parks master plan.
"Those are projects that I'd like to be able to stay here, see them through their completion and the continue to plan and build into the future," he added.
While touting the local projects he feels have been a success, the mayor said his term has also been about finding success and cooperation on a county and regional level. He specifically cited work by the Regional Intermodal Transportation Authority as well as work with Crawford County Judge John Hall in getting the city and county's levies certified by the Little Rock District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as accomplishments only brought about by working together.
"I want to continue to build on those cooperations. I'd like the opportunity to serve this community for the next four years and to continue that, to build on that and then be able to pass that on to whoever the next person is that's going to sit in the seat of the mayor of Van Buren," Freeman said.
The accomplishments the two-term mayor touts as he talks about his time in office came in spite of the nation's worst economic conditions since the Great Depression following the 2008 financial crisis, which nearly saw the collapse of several banks and slowed economies, including Van Buren's, to a grinding halt for long periods of time.
Freeman said his background as an Army officer dealing with programming, planning and budgeting and his post-Army career in banking helped the city get through the toughest of the Great Recession, though he admits it was not an easy task.
"Well, you take that (Army background) and then my background in banking, I think —no, I don't think — I know I came in here at the right time because of what happened and the downturn. When I got here, the year before and years leading up to (2006), things were just great. Things were going and then all the sudden, things fell off the table. Sales tax revenues went flat, in fact, went down. So I was able to look at and make tough decisions. I don't like saying, 'Look, ok guys. You're not getting a pay raise. We just can't do it.' I don't like doing that, but you've got to make those decisions so you're not turning around and saying, 'Yeah, we're going to have a pay raise so everyone can feel good about this,' and then you turn around three months later and go, 'OK. We've got to layoff three firemen. We've got to lay off three police (officers). You just can't do that."
He said his job as mayor meant making the tough calls, only filling necessary positions and freezing hiring on others and looking at the city's financial position on a daily basis to keep the ship afloat until the economy recovered. And the actions he said were taken during the Great Recession are actions he finds himself repeating even as the city has come out of the worst of the financial crisis.
"It was not an easy process. And you know, even today, we're still not out of the woods. And I'm not saying the city's struggling financially. No. But my job is to manage the city's resources and I look at the budget and the numbers on a daily basis. I have to because I just don't want to take my eye off of that. And it's important now because we do have these projects that are ongoing. We have hired the additional firemen that we need for that fire station. We're still continuing to look at and say, 'If we're going to do parks improvements, how are we going to pay for those?' Not just out of the bond, but otherwise."
Reflecting on the last eight years and the possibility of another four in office, Freeman said he would not seek elected office again. The mayor said he had no ambitions to run for higher offices and instead was looking forward to enjoying retirement, noting that should he win and complete a third term in office, he would be 62 when he retires. His retirement, he said, would be spent visiting his children and traveling with his wife. And he notes specifically the death at a young age of both of his parents, as well as his predecessor in the mayor's office, John Riggs, who died in 2007 at the age of 53.
"Maybe it's a personal thing, but I think 12 years as a mayor, in my particular case, I think 12 years is enough to pass it on to someone else. And I know mayors across the state who have been in there for 20 years or whatever. … And what I want to do is take it to a new level of what I received. You know, I received it in good shape. I want to take it to the next level and I want whoever comes in behind me to take it to the next level and to continue to build on that."
Besides Freeman, City Attorney Candice Settle and City Clerk/Treasurer Barbie Curtis are both up for re-election to four year terms this year. All the city's six alderman are also up for re-election to their two year terms, as well.
According to the Crawford County Clerk's office, filing for the positions opens July 25 and closes at noon on Aug. 15. The election will be held Nov. 4 with a runoff scheduled for Nov. 25, if needed.
Besides Freeman, no other candidates have yet declared their intentions.