Sen. Mark Johnson (R-Ferndale) has won Senate passage of another bill affecting the city of Little Rock over the objections of the city’s senators.

As with the bill to extend state takeover of the Little Rock School District that Johnson championed during Senate passage, he had opposition from Little Rock Sens. Will Bond and Joyce Elliott to his SB 179 to allow the Little Rock City Board (or boards of city manager cities) to refer to voters changing the government to mayor-council form, something new Mayor Frank Scott Jr. has talked about attempting through a petition campaign.


The law change would bypass need for a petition campaign, the 10-member City Board of Directors willing. Johnson’s bill would leave existing officeholders in place in the event of such an election, perhaps mollifying the current three at-large directors who were just elected to new four-year terms. Correction: they were elected two years ago.

Sen. Matthew Pitsch (R-Fort Smith) objected because the bill also applies to Fort Smith. Johnson emphasized that the bill was permissive, not mandatory and required a popular vote.


Johnson insists the idea is simply about streamlining government and not specifically for Little Rock, though he acknowledged he’d made some changes in consultation with Scott. It so happens that Johnson and Scott both enjoyed significant financial support in their 2018 campaigns from the family of the late Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, the former lieutenant governor. Johnson has also moved this session to name a state office building for Winthrop Rockefeller, the former governor.

The bill passed 20-3, with Bond, Elliott and Pitsch voting no. A third Little Rock senator, Linda Chesterfield, did not vote.


Scott has talked about a petition drive to change government form, though he hasn’t yet outlined a specific idea. Past efforts to get the City Board to approve ward-only elections have failed so approval by the City Board of a change in government is by no means assured of any easy path to the ballot.

PS: Reader says this bill requires six wards or a 12-member council. Makes a bad billl worse. Was Johnson correct in saying Scott behind the bill.