Affordable housing, traffic and the failed Little Sugar Creek dam were some of the topics the five candidates for mayor addressed at the Bentonville Mayor Candidate Forum on Wednesday (Oct. 17).
Kyle Kellams with Fayetteville radio station KUAF moderated the one-hour discussion and posed questions written on notecards from the standing room only crowd in the Community Room at the Bentonville Public Library.
Jim Webb said as mayor, he would make traffic a number one priority and would form a coalition to “make sure our voice is heard in Little Rock and that every dollar from the state that we receive for roads is spent on roads.” A line-by-line budget review is also high on his agenda, he said. Webb is a former City Council member who works for an outdoor toy company supplier.
The budget would also be a high priority for John Skaggs, a retired municipal and district judge who served two terms on the City Council.
“The most important thing is to get a handle on the budget. Everything that needs to be done in this city relates back to the budget,” Skaggs said. “I’ve had 30 years of experience dealing with Bentonville and the city budget.”
Skaggs told the crowd he is a fiscal conservative, and as an attorney, he would understand legal issues that involve the city. Making the city more responsive to citizens is also important to Skaggs and he proposed appointing neighborhood captains in each of the city’s 1,100 subdivisions.
Terry Shannon, a retired real estate professional and Texas native, cited his “extensive background in business, civic and community affairs,” as his qualifications for the job of mayor. He said he served as president of the Jaycees and president of the Real Estate board of directors while living in Texas. He described himself as a Republican and a conservative.
“I’m the new kid on the block. I’ve been here four years,” Shannon said. “I’m not a politician. I’m unencumbered, I don’t owe anybody anything.”
There “have been some huge drug problems here. We need to take care of that business,” he said.
Charlie Turner, the owner of Charlie’s Barber Shop in Bentonville, said he didn’t have all the answers, but would surround himself with people who do in order to “make Bentonville the best city for everyone to live in.” Putting 911 call boxes with cameras on area bike trails would be a high priority for Turner.
As mayor, Stephanie Orman said she would concentrate on safety, infrastructure and quality of life and that she would be accessible and accountable in the job.
“We have an amazing unique community and when you get the call from the Wall Street Journal or other media outlets that want to know what’s going on in Bentonville… I want to be the person that answers that phone,” she said.
Orman would create Bentonville 311, an initiative where citizens can text concerns to the appropriate department head and the mayor, to foster better communication between the city and residents. She would also implement an online city scorecard to make it easier for residents to see how the city is addressing issues. Orman, a city council member since 2015, is director of social media and community involvement for McLarty Daniel Automotive Group in Bentonville.
Outgoing mayor Bob McCaslin endorsed Orman in her bid to serve as mayor of Bentonville.
Each candidate had two minutes for opening remarks, one minute for closing statements and one minute to answer each question. Candidates rotated on who responded first.
On affordable housing, Skaggs believes the city needs a housing policy and needs to discuss diversification of housing, “in order not to crowd all the big houses in one area and the little houses in another area.” He would also work with banks to “look for ways to make financing available to ordinary people.” Skaggs also brought up homelessness in Bentonville and said it needs to be dealt with.
Shannon and Turner both said they didn’t have answers to the problem, but would depend on others to help find answers. Orman said she believes in free market supply and demand and thinks solutions would come from private industry.
“I think when you get into incentives, you are picking winners and losers in that situation and that’s a big concern for me,” she said.
She said she has asked for examples of places that are the same size and scope as Bentonville, where affordable housing has worked well.
“To be honest, I haven’t gotten that put in front of me, so I’m about researching and understanding,” she said, adding that one solution might be affordable public transportation.
Webb agreed there is a need for affordable housing in Bentonville and he would work with private entities to assure that need is met.
On traffic challenges, Shannon believes the city should slow the growth to make it sustainable. He cited flooding problems in Bentonville that have occurred because of “the concrete that we’re laying all over the town.” Orman said transportation is the second biggest topic of concern that she hears. The comprehensive plan for the city is almost complete and the second step will be a comprehensive road plan and she directed the crowd to look at the plan on the city’s website. She said that costs have tripled over the last 10 years and so the city is looking at a transportation bond in the next few years to fund some of the major roads.
Orman, Webb, Skaggs and Shannon said they would look carefully at the cost before they would support a bond issue for infrastructure needs. Terry would only support a bond issue to finish the 8th Street project, he said.
“The bond issue is just a matter of whether you want to spend the money to do what has to be done. The needs are great and we’ve got to deal with transportation issues soon,” Skaggs said.
On the failed Little Sugar Creek dam, Shannon, Skaggs and Terry said they would get rid of the dam. Webb said he would encourage conversation between all parties, and Orman said she doesn’t have enough research to make a decision on the dam, but “will make the best decision for the taxpayers’ dollar.”
The last question posed to the candidates was about the statue in the Bentonville Square. All five candidates said they believed it should be left alone because of the history it represents.
The mayoral forum was sponsored by the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce. Another forum will be held at noon on Oct. 24 at the Community Center. The general election is Nov. 6 and early voting begins Oct. 22.