The Little Rock City Board
tonight will go into executive session to consider Mayor Mark Stodola’s recommendations for appointments to city commissions . It will emerge with consensus votes that, according to multiple sources, will include installation of former City Director Stacy Hurst as a member of the Little Rock Airport Commission.
UPDATE AND CORRECTION: The votes on commission appointments won’t occur tonight. Mayor Mark Stodola says he hasn’t had time yet to review all the applications for all the vacancies, including the Airport Commission. Nonethless, my assessment of the eventual outcome doesn’t change.
She gets the woman’s airport seat — the single seat allotted to a woman historically — that Kathy Webb vacated when she was elected to City Board.
The pick of Hurst — over others favored by other board members — will tell us much about city politics. For example:
1) We do not have a strong mayor. Stodola could not get six votes for his candidate for the commission.
2) Little Rock is run by arithmetic — six votes of the 11-member board — not by the mayor. These six, typically, are assembled from the Heights, Hillcrest and two West Little Rock wards, plus the two at-large directors, whose citywide races require the kind of money only the business class can produce.
3) The City Board is a club. Club members get first dibs on perks and privileges, then the public at large is considered. There’s a long-standing custom that a departing city director gets to pick as honorarium a commission seat to glide into retirement with a continuing deferential title. Hurst made it clear she wanted the Airport Commission. A vote against her is a vote against a sitting director’s future self-interest.
4) Customs are honored by this board except when they are not honored, such as when the honorary vice mayor job is passed around.
5) Another factor was Hurst’s appointment as director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a $109,000 consolation prize for losing a House race. That agency has multiple major operations in Little Rock, including two museums. Some directors feared retribution if Hurst didn’t get what she wanted.
6) As the latest raid on North Little Rock (a plan to snatch the Arkansas Arts Center and perhaps other major arts institutions) shows, Little Rock government should be reshaped on the North Little Rock model. Ward directors, a truly strong mayor.
Postscript: No, I still don’t know why certain elites have so much desire to be a member of the Little Rock Airport Commission.
Maybe Hurst will be the first commissioner who understands there’s little in the way of operational policy the commission or airport executives can do to stop declining passenger volume. That’s a function of changes in the airline industry and Little Rock’s general stagnation. Airlines want full planes. Growing cities have growing need for air travel.
You can blame economic stagnation on the schools if you want. And they are certainly a factor. But a hidebound city leadership that views city service as a means to petty aggrandizement (as well as taking care of developer pals, no matter the cost to neighbors) is a factor, too.