Reflections on the Harold Perrin era

by George Jared ([email protected]) 319 views 

As an adolescent, Harold Perrin decided he wanted to enter the medical field. Radiology fascinated him, but when he entered high school, he soon learned how rigorous the course work would be. High level math, physics, and other classes were required.

“I quickly learned … that wasn’t my cup of tea,” Perrin told Talk Business & Politics.

Perrin, who was first elected as the mayor of Jonesboro in 2008, is retiring after three terms. He had planned to seek a fourth term, but a cancer diagnosis derailed that thought during the summer. As of the end of December, the mayor said his prognosis is good and he was slated to begin immune therapy treatments. Although he is stepping away from public life, he’s not ruling out a return once his health improves. He didn’t elaborate as to what other office he might seek.

His tenure has been one of the most consequential in the history of the region. When he started, the city’s budget was $34.1 million. As he leaves, the budget has ballooned to $65.3 million — a 91% increase. Jonesboro’s reserve funds totaled $9.2 million in 2008, a figure that skyrocketed by 134% to $21.5 million by the end of 2020.

The mayor will be replaced by former Democratic State Rep. Harold Copenhaver, whom Perrin endorsed.

“I also would like to again congratulate Mayor Copenhaver and offer any assistance I can provide for a smooth transition. I have had several meetings with Harold and he has met with the department directors,” he said.

Perrin’s path to the top spot in the largest city in Northeast Arkansas began when he started college at Lyon College in Batesville. By the start of his junior year, he’d taken all the business and finance courses the school had to offer and he was advised to transfer to another university. He had relatives in Jonesboro, so he decided to attend the newly minted Arkansas State University. It became a university during his first semester, he said.

After college, Perrin began in the insurance business, but he also served as an adjunct professor teaching business courses.

His wife worked at a bank and one day the bank president wanted to talk to him. The two had a lengthy conversation and Perrin went to work at Citizens Bank in Jonesboro. During the next 20 years, he worked at banks throughout Northeast Arkansas and at one point was the president of Mercantile Bank in Jonesboro.

Perrin grew weary of working for others and decided to strike out on his own. He started his own bank consulting business. In the mid-1990s, Perrin embarked on a new endeavor. He ran for and won a seat on the Jonesboro city council. He spent the next 14 years on the council, dealing with all manners of city business. It prepared him for his next venture — a run for mayor.

“It’s always good if you serve on the council if you want to serve as mayor. … You learn about the departments, about the operations, the finances and how all of it works together,” he said. “That 14 years was very productive for me.”

From his vantage point on the council, Perrin, still a businessman and banker at heart, didn’t think the city was saving enough money in reserves. After he took office in early 2009, one of the worst natural disasters in Northeast Arkansas history struck when in the last week of January an ice storm blanketed the region. It knocked out power to some areas for weeks, thousands of trees were crushed under the weight of ice and it caused enormous damage. The city spent nearly $2 million to deal with the damage, Perrin said. Eventually, a lot of those expenses were reimbursed, but it took time, he added.

In 2010, the mayor asked residents to pass a half-cent sales tax to help build the city’s coffers. It was approved and helped to stabilize the city’s finances and aid in the numerous quality of life projects that were completed during his tenure.

During the last 12 years, Jonesboro has received $120 million in grants, Perrin said. The grants helped the city tackle numerous projects including renovations at the Southside Softball Complex, Joe Mack Campbell Park and the Miracle League Park League Park.

Perrin said he’s proud of the reserve fund growth and the millions in grants the city acquired during his term. However, renovations to the facilities where the city’s 585 employees work are among his proudest accomplishments. The improved facilities and equipment have improved morale and efficiency, he added.

The mayor had one final message for the other elected officials and residents he’s served for a quarter of a century.

“I am very proud of our accomplishments and the fundamental economic, financial and positive image transformation we achieved together. Today, Jonesboro is a cleaner, safer, more efficient, more desirable, and a more prosperous city,” he said. “I have held true to the promises I made in every election and never wavered on my principles. My focus has always been on doing the right thing for our community.”

“Thank you, Jonesboro for your support the last 12 years. It has been the honor of my life to serve you. I’m privileged, humbled, proud and grateful to be the mayor of the city that I deeply love and care about,” Perrin said.