Van Buren mayoral race gets one candidate, Mayor Freeman endorses

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 2,446 views 

The bus trolley in downtown Van Buren.

Filing deadlines for the Van Buren mayoral race are not until July 2018, but there is already one candidate and one endorsement.

Van Buren City Planner Joe Hurst has announced his candidacy for the position. A Van Buren native, Hurst was hired to his city position by Mayor Bob Freeman in June 2010. On Tuesday (Oct. 3), Freeman told Talk Business & Politics he would endorse Hurst “without a doubt,” noting Hurst told him he was interested in the position “about six months ago.”

“I have no hesitancy of endorsing Joe,” Freeman said. “I knew his family and his experience, and (in 2010) we had discussion about him moving back home. He’s been an excellent hire and a great person with a great family. But he also has a passion for his hometown, to make a difference, and he’s made a difference in his time he’s been here working for the city, and the other things he’s been involved in through church and volunteer organizations. This is his home. He’s very sincere, and he wants to make a difference for his kids, and for others who are here. He grew up here, and he understands and has a respect for those, as I do, who went before us and enabled us to grow as a community.”

Freeman had announced upon winning his last term that after three terms and 12 years, he would not run again, but he admitted he would have had second thoughts “if there wasn’t a Joe Hurst sitting there.”

“Maybe I would have had second thoughts, but when Joe indicated this was something he wanted to do, I agreed 100 percent with that. I felt, ‘Yeah, this decision is the right decision. It’s the right thing to do,’” Freeman said.

In the press release announcing his intention to run, Hurst said his campaign platform would be based on quality of place, economic development, comprehensive planning, and citizen engagement.

“This is a critical time for our community as we elect a new mayor,” Hurst said. “We must capitalize on the momentum gained from the improvements to downtown, the development of parks and trails plans, and the investments made by our residents to build new publicly-funded facilities. For a while now, I’ve noticed a renewed sense of optimism and excitement throughout the community. It is encouraging to see our churches, school district, businesses, civic groups, police and fire departments, and others investing their time and resources in the service of others.”

Joe Hurt, Van Buren city planner, has announced as a mayoral candidate in the city’s 2018 municipal election.

Hurst added that public meetings and casual conversations he’s had throughout the community have made it clear that “expectations are growing” in the city, “But our efforts cannot stop.”

Hurst continued: “The citizens of Van Buren need experienced leadership to continue moving the city forward. That is why I am running for mayor. I will build on the progress made under Mayor Freeman and continue this forward momentum, focusing on improvements to quality of place, strategic economic development, comprehensive planning for future growth, and increased citizen engagement. There’s still work to do with real challenges ahead, but together we can move forward. Utilizing my experience in public service, educational background in government management, and years of building community partnerships, I hope to serve our community as the next mayor. I look forward to sharing my vision with the citizens of Van Buren and hearing their ideas in the coming months.”

On quality of place, Hurst believes the city must continue to implement its master parks plan, complete the trails plan, add new sidewalks and bike lanes, continue city beautification efforts, and remain committed to revitalizing downtown.

Hurst said of economic development that, “No company will move to Van Buren if its employees do not want to live here. When we make improvements to the city’s overall quality of life, it will attract new talent and keep existing talent in Van Buren.”

He also said the city should make job recruitment and retention priorities. “The city should be deliberate in reaching out to potential new employers and strengthening its relationships with current employers by ensuring all available incentives are utilized for new and existing industries,” Hurst said, adding the city “must also stay committed to partnering with the Arkansas Department of Transportation to improve traffic congestion at the Interstate 40/Highway 59 Interchange.”

Comprehensive planning, a subject near and dear to the city planner’s heart, should “have a wider scope as well.”

He proposes establishing a long-range, citywide comprehensive plan that establishes the community’s goals, and lines out a clear 20-year vision for Van Buren, including plans for police and fire protection, infrastructure, transportation, utilities, land use, and recreation. Lastly, regarding citizen engagement, Hurst proposes “increased town hall meetings and the establishment of city ward meetings to engage residents in an effort to address current and future challenges in the city.”

“The goal of increased public input is critical for moving the city forward because … citizens will be more invested in the local government, and the city’s decision-making process will be more informed.”

The city’s current website and social media accounts have received increased engagement in recent years and will become an integral piece of the city’s citizen engagement strategy in his administration, Hurst added.

Hurst graduated from Van Buren High School in 1998 and received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Ouachita Baptist University. He earned his master’s in public administration from the University of Arkansas, and, prior to being hired by Mayor Freeman, was the city of El Dorado’s first city planner. He also worked as an assistant city planner in Rogers, Ark., during the administration of then mayor and now U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Fort Smith. Hurst and wife Amanda Wiley, also a Van Buren graduate, have two children — Eli, 8, and Kate, 6.