Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott delivered his first State of the City address at Horace Mann Middle School today. He covered a lot of ground.
Among the highlights:
*He said “on or around April 1” the city would issue a request for proposals to purchase body cameras for the Little Rock Police Department.
*In addition to drafting an ordinance creating a citizen review board of police misconduct, Scott said he’d directed City Attorney Tom Carpenter to draft an ordinance changing the LRPD’s “no-knock warrant” policy. “It’s time for a fairer and safer Little Rock,” Scott said.
*Scott touted a summer reading program for kids that’s a collaboration between the Central Arkansas Library System and the Little Rock Parks Department. He followed that with his promised statement on the controversial voucher bill Governor Hutchinson has supported for Pulaski County. Scott said, ” I’ve also asked that any discretionary funds from the state be used to support summer and after-school initiatives and more seats for pre-K students instead of a voucher program. And our position has not changed. When it comes to returning control to the LRSD to the people of Little Rock, I still stand firm that local control should’ve been returned yesterday.”
*Scott said he would appoint a chief education officer and launch a 2020 “Education Roadmap.” That would include working with the “governor, legislature, neighboring school districts, charter schools, our community and other stakeholders to create a single school district south of the Arkansas River,” he said. Scott added that he would ask the chief education officer to explore bringing the district under the oversight of the city of Little Rock.
Rebekah Hall was on hand and will have more later.
Reminding the audience that “change has come” to Little Rock, Mayor Frank Scott’s first state of the city address at Horace Mann Middle School — where Scott attended school — covered many different tactics for the mayor’s plan to “unite” the city.
Scott began by saying he must “express my gratitude” to Little Rock citizens, saying that the only reason he’s in office is because citizens share his “vision for unifying Little Rock.”
“We did this together,” he said. “At the start of the day, I walk into City Hall carrying the aspirations of Hillcrest families and the ambitions of small business owners in the South End and Southwest Little Rock. But at the end of the day, I walk out of City Hall thinking about creating a better Little Rock for the children in College Station, Green Mountain and even Chenal Valley. As your mayor, I promise that I will do everything in my power to unify our city.”
He added that he’ll do his best to stimulate job growth and strengthen the city’s “economic standing” in the Central Arkansas area, saying — to laughs and applause — that it’s his responsibility to lead the charge to “make Little Rock a city of choice, and better yet, to reestablish our swagger as the state’s capital city.”
Scott pointed out that the city’s January sales tax receipts were up “more than six percent” from this time last year. He then shared several accomplishments of his administration during his first 87 days in office, saying that “in the spirit of transparency,” the city held public forums to give the community input into the selection of the next police chief. Keith Humphrey, the next police chief of the Little Rock Police Department, was in attendance, and Scott said he believes Humphrey’s hiring is a “critical step in improving relations between law enforcement in the community.”
In further effort to repair the relationship between the community and the police department, Scott said that “on or before April 1” the city will issue a request for proposals to purchase body cameras for the police department, an expense that Assistant Chief Alice Fulk, during her community forum as a police chief finalist, said the department had been interested in for years, but previously could not afford.
Scott said the city is “starting the process” of employing 100 new police officers over the next four years, a plan that will include the hiring of “20 officers in the amended 2019 budget.” He said the administration has asked City Attorney Tom Carpenter to draft an ordinance to change the LRPD’s no-knock warrant policy, to much applause from the audience, as well as an ordinance to establish a community review board to investigate instances of officer misconduct. Scott added that he would ask his colleagues on the city board of directors to pass both ordinances “because it’s time for a fairer and safer Little Rock.”
The mayor’s address then turned to the state of education in the city. “We know that to have a strong city, we need a strong education system,” Scott said. Scott did not sign a letter issued Tuesday night signed by seven of the Little Rock City Board’s 10 directors, but in today’s address, he said he’s asked for “any discretionary funds from the state be used to support summer after school initiatives and more seats for pre-K students instead of a voucher program,” to cheers of support from much of the audience, saying his position has not changed “when it comes to returning control of the LRSD back to the people of Little Rock.”
“I still stand firm that local control should have been returned yesterday,” he said. “Because it’s time for our city to unite in support of our public schools, and I often say I am a proud product of the Little Rock public schools. And I believe that all students, no matter their neighborhood or their socioeconomic status, deserve a world-class education.”
Scott then said the state takeover of the LRSD has “fallen short,” and the city needs to look at “new ways” to improve the district’s schools.
“Local control alone is not enough,” he said. “We need local control to take the next step: A total reimagining and reinvention of education in Little Rock. We have been using the same principles for education, expecting different results. It’s time to be creative. It’s time to be bold. It’s time, yes, to even be different.”
He then introduced the city’s plans to implement its 2020 Education Roadmap, a process that will begin with the appointment of a chief education pOfficer for the city, who will “determine how the city will work with our governor, legislature, neighboring school districts, charter schools, our community and other stakeholders to create a single school district south of the Arkansas River.” Scott said he’ll ask the chief education pfficer to “explore the opportunity” for the single school district to be governed by the City of Little Rock. “True local control,” Scott said. “One city, one district.”
Scott went on to share more of his administration’s plans for Little Rock, including the expansion of city’s sidewalk replacement program and the opening of Fire Station No. 24 on Stagecoach Road. He also said the city will create the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and rebrand the existing Little Rock Cultural Diversity Commission as the Little Rock Human Rights Commission, which would “incorporate the concerns of Little Rock’s LGBTQIA community in the existing mission of the Racial and Cultural Diversity Commission.”
In the final portion of his address, Scott shared several recommendations of his mayoral transition team, which he announced in late December before his inauguration. The board of directors for the transition team were Dr. Jay Barth; Gus Blass, III; Tamika Edwards; Sen. Joyce Elliott; Kathryn Hazelett; Baker Kurrus; Cristina Monterrey; Antwan Phillips; Will Rockefeller; John Rutledge; and Dr. Sarah Tariq. This transition team was tasked with appointing eight citizen-led subcommittees in areas such as Finance and Administration, Education and Government Reform.
The recommendations from these subcommittees were compiled into a report called The Scott Script. Speaking frequently of the city’s “untapped potential” found during this process, Scott said the Finance Committee recommended that Little Rock partner with the state to implement social impact bonds, which Scott said will allow city to “focus on specific social needs in our city with resources and investment from the private sector.”
Falling in line with Scott’s stance during his campaign, the Transformation and Government Reform subcommittee recommended that the city be “even more accountable” by moving toward a “more representative form of government, including moving away from at-large directors and requiring that each member of the city board must obtain 40 percent of the vote in their election in order to win the election.”
“We know that these are just recommendations that we’re putting forth in this report,” Scott added. “We’ll explore the budgetary, the legal and the staffing implications of these recommendations before committing to them. And those adopted recommendations from the citizen-led report will serve as a road map for moving Little Rock forward.”
Scott ended the address by reminding the audience, “I gave my word that change was coming. Well, I’ve kept my word, and I will continue to keep my word. It is a new day in Little Rock.”
“I can testify that the state of the city of Little Rock is strong,” he said. “If you want change in Little Rock, I can’t do it alone. If we want to make Little Rock the best version of itself, you, all of us, must remain engaged. … Together, we will build a Little Rock that works better for everyone. We will build a Little Rock that exhibits the untapped potential and ingenuity of our residents, no matter the location, no matter the neighborhood. Let’s make Little Rock the economic envy of the South. Little Rock, let’s get to work.”
He left the stage to the opening bars of “God’s Plan” by Drake.