Action begins on municipal races in Northwest Arkansas

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 334 views 

With the primaries over for state and county offices, focus in Arkansas is shifting to the general election this fall. But locals are likely to start seeing action in municipal races, as well, since announcements are starting to trickle in on several city council races across Northwest Arkansas.

Even if residents do not hear the announcements from various candidates, they very well may run into candidates in neighborhoods, markets and other meeting areas soliciting signatures in order to see their name on the ballots Nov. 4.

All candidates seeking to run for municipal office in Bentonville, Fayetteville, Springdale and Rogers must obtain 30 signatures from registered voters residing in their respective wards if running for city council, or citywide if seeking an at-large position in municipal government, representatives from each city told The City Wire.

The signatures should be submitted beginning July 25 to the Washington County Clerk's office for Fayetteville and Springdale candidates, while Bentonville and Rogers candidates should submit their signatures to the Benton County Clerk's office. The filing period for municipal offices will end Aug. 15 at noon at each county clerk office.

The heart of business in Northwest Arkansas is undergoing a period of change, as two new city alderman have been appointed to replace two others who have resigned from the council.

According to Kerilea Maggee, an assistant in the mayor's office, the two openings came about as a result of Chris Sooters' resignation of his Ward 1 Position 2 seat and Leah Williams' resignation of her Ward 3 Position 1 opening. Williams is seeking election to the Arkansas House of Representatives as a Democrat, challenging first-term Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville.

Appointed to replace Sooters Tuesday night (June 24) was former District Judge John Skaggs, while former Alderman James Smith was appointed to replace Williams.

Administrative Secretary Jan Hopkins, who also works in the mayor's office, said all eight positions on the Bentonville City Council are up for re-election this year, meaning Skaggs and Smith could possibly seek full terms to the council. But Magee said so far, none of the city councilors have announced their intent to run for re-election to the position that pays an annual salary of $8,713.

Also up for re-election this year is Mayor Bob McCaslin, who Magee confirmed was seeking re-election to his $125,008 per year salary position.

City Clerk Linda Spence, as well as City Attorney George Spence, are also up for re-election this year, though neither has indicated what their intents regarding re-election to their positions, which pay $12,000 and $18,572 per year respectively.

Even though they cannot yet file, candidates in Fayetteville are quickly announcing their intents.

So far, Ward 1 City Councilor Adella Gray has announced for re-election, where she will face Sonia Davis Gutierrez in the non-partisan election. Also having announced for re-election is Vice Mayor and Ward 2 Councilor Mark Kinion, who is seeking a third term on the council.

"We have a unique heritage in Fayetteville that is irreplaceable and must be protected," he said, adding that the council must look forward to more economic growth opportunities in every sector including business, industry, medical, technology and creative economy.”

Ward 3 Councilor Justin Tennant has also announced that he will seek re-election.

Leaving the council at the end of her term is Ward 4 Councilor Rhonda Adams, who Fayetteville Deputy City Clerk Lisa Branson said was leaving the council to join her husband, who has accepted a job out of state. Announcing his intent to replace her is Mike Emery. No other candidates have announced for the Ward 4 position.

Other candidates up for re-election in the college town include the city attorney and the district judge. City Attorney Kit Williams has indicated he will run for re-election, while District Judge David Stewart has made no such declaration as of yet.

City councilors earn an annual salary of $12,504, while the city attorney earns $112,507 and the district judge's salary is $123,988.

The city of Rogers finds itself in a peculiar situation this year, according to Rogers City Clerk Peggy David.

David and Rogers Mayor Greg Hines are getting an extra two years in office instead of having to run for re-election this year as a direct result of the growth the city has experienced in recent years.

"His term would normally have been up, but because of the 2010 census where the population of rogers hit the 50,000 mark and above, his term was extended by two years, which is allowed by state law," she said. "His term and my term were extended to 2016 and from the on, our terms will run with presidential elections and so on.”

She admits that the circumstances are unusual, but said it is not the first time an event like this has occurred in Arkansas.

"This is one of those weird things that happens every so often," she said. "We hit that 50,000 population mark and we got two years.”

With David and Hines not up for re-election this year, the only positions up for re-election are the Position 1 posts in each ward. But while other cities have seen action when it comes to the city council, Rogers so far has remained quiet, according to David.

"I have not hear of anyone who has announced for re-election or even for filing. I think it was the intent of (Ward 1 Position 1 Councilor) Buddy Wright for sure that he was going to run, but I don't think he's made a statement yet.”

David said the unusual circumstances of her and the mayor's terms are not the only changes to occur on the council this year.

"This is the first time that only half of the council has been up for re-election. They were affected, as well. Previously, all eight ran every two years. But the census changed the council positions and so on. So only four are running this time and four will run in 2016.”

The salaries for Rogers city councilors is $9,096 per year, while the city clerk earns $66,605 annually and the mayor earns $124,557 annually.

Action is already starting to take place in Washington County's second-most populous city. City Clerk/Treasurer Denise Pearace said all Position 1 posts in the city's four wards are up for re-election, as is the city attorney.

Springdale City Councilor Jim Reed confirmed that he will seek re-election to his Ward 1 Position 1 post. Reed said he is seeking re-election and had Tuesday signed the petition for City Attorney Earnest Cate's re-election effort.

While some races for statewide or General Assembly positions may get extremely heated, Reed said he expects a somewhat tame campaign, at least when it comes to his seat.

"This is my 8th year. My first race against Bill Eaden, I won 55% to 45%," he said. "My last race, I can't even remember my opponent's name, but I won by 71%. So that wasn't really a challenge.”

That said, Reed said he and fellow councilors should not take re-election for granted.

"Any race can be a challenge and anyone can be beat," he said.

While all the councilors up for re-election have picked up petition packets, the only other candidate besides Reed to confirm a re-election bid is Ward 3 Position 1 Councilor Brad Bruns. Bruns is seeking a second term to the council.

"Serving the citizens of Springdale on the City Council is a way for me to be a team player, work hard and give back to the city I love,” Bruns said in a statement. "I will continue to look for opportunities to make Springdale even more business friendly and improve the quality of life for our residents.”

Pearace confirmed salaries for city councilors are $10,200 per year, while the city attorney earns $101,898 per year.

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