Bentonville elects Stephanie Orman next mayor

by Paul Gatling (pgatling@nwabj.com) 1,214 views 

Bentonville City Council member Stephanie Orman will be Bentonville’s next mayor.

With all precincts reported by the Benton County Election Commission, Orman won 63.27% of the vote in a somewhat contentious runoff election against Jim Webb, a former City Council member who works for an outdoor toy company supplier.

Orman, director of social media and community involvement for an automotive dealership in Bentonville, received 3,226 votes in the runoff, while Webb trailed with 1,873 votes. The voting total represents 5,099 of the city’s 29,354 registered voters, or about 17%. The runoff drew 2,838 early votes, according to election officials.

Orman will be sworn into office Jan. 1. She will take over for Mayor Bob McCaslin, who has held the office for the past 12 years but announced earlier this year he would not seek a fourth term.

The mayor’s annual salary in Bentonville is $132,954.

A runoff was necessary after none of the five candidates seeking the office earned 50% of the vote on Nov. 6. Webb (5,595 votes) and Orman (5,193) were separated by about 400 votes three weeks ago. John Skaggs, a retired municipal and district judge who served two terms on the City Council, was a distant third.

The three-week runoff period was marked largely by one storyline — bribery allegations. Several days after the Nov. 6 election, Webb’s campaign defended itself against those claims after Skaggs said Webb spoke to him on Nov. 8 and asked for Skaggs’ endorsement in exchange for a job in Webb’s administration.

Webb vehemently denied the charge and told CBS affiliate KFSM-TV, Channel 5, that Skaggs’ statements were a part of a “smear campaign” from Orman.

Orman, who was elected to the Bentonville City Council in 2014, said she couldn’t comment on Skaggs’ allegations, but “for ethical reasons” she sent what information she received to the FBI’s field office in Little Rock.

She declined to provide details about the information she received and referred questions to the FBI, which declined to comment.

Orman, who received the endorsement of McCaslin in September, also discussed allegations of “dark money” during the campaign. In a news conference at Orchards Park in Bentonville on Oct. 31, she addressed attempts made from out-of-state PACs (Political Action Committees) to influence the election.

She said she called attention to the issue after the Republican State Leadership Committee, a PAC originally registered in Washington, D.C. but as recently as September registered in Arkansas, disclosed it spent $41,587 on Webb’s campaign. That was is in addition to the $38,639.10 Webb disclosed putting into his own campaign to date. Orman said that could put the campaign spending at an all-time high for the Bentonville mayor’s race.

Webb, whose endorsements included Benton County Sheriff Shawn Holloway, State Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, and former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Conner Eldridge, issued a statement to ABC affiliate KHBS-KHOG, Channels 40/29, that said Orman’s allegations were “baseless and unfounded.”

“While I do not know the Republican State Leadership Committee, I am happy to be supported by a group who advocates for Republican leaders at the state and local level,” Webb said.

Orman will be only the third mayor in nearly 25 years in Bentonville, which is the fastest-growing city in Arkansas, according to the latest U.S. Census data. The town’s population grew from 20,169 in 2000 to 49,298 in 2017, a 144% increase.

In an interview earlier this year with the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal, Orman said traffic-related factors — including safety, congestion and development costs — are the city’s most important issues as it deals with the rapid growth.

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