Calling all mayors. Jim Dailey is looking for you.
As the current director of Arkansas Tourism and a former 14-year mayor of Little Rock, Dailey is contacting each of the 501 mayors in the state. He has dubbed the task The 501 Project.
“I’m your relatively-new tourism director, and I’d love to hear your stories, because everyone has a story to tell,” is how Dailey opens the conversations.
Dailey aims to call five cities per day and has conducted more than 60 interviews so far. Already, tidbits he’s gleaned have been used on Arkansas.com to promote areas unchartered as typical tourist destinations.
“It’s a personal quest of mine, but it’s also a way to build public relations and the religion of connectedness,” Dailey said. “Each city has a story to tell. And these mayors are the unsung heroes of elected official-dom. They are, by golly.”
What has Dailey learned so far?
In the city of Salem, master gardeners planted 15,000 tulips on the courthouse lawn.
Birding enthusiasts from across the country flock to Stuttgart Municipal Airport to see Lapland longspurs, an Arctic songbird that during winter is drawn to the expanses of low-growing Aristida grasses at the airfield.
In Higginson, the townspeople rallied to hand-build an impressive city hall for a fraction of the typical cost.
“That’s the kind of thing a small-town mayor can do — pull people together,” Dailey said. “I’m fascinated by small-town mayors because they do it all. They may also be fire chief, manage the sewer system, and everybody knows them, so they’re on call all the time.”
Dailey’s assistant, Susan Brewczynski, assists with research, each day supplying a few names of cities and mayors, their phone numbers and a bit of background.
Through the conversations, Dailey sometimes learns about ways to help a city accomplish a goal or seek a grant or designation.
“I hope we continue to get some themes and storylines that are interesting for publication,” Dailey said. “I always figure people are smarter than I am, and there’s always something to learn from them. And this is something different from the traditional way we go about stories.”