BRIAN CHILSON
DECADES ON THE BOARD: At-large City Director Joan Adcock has served for almost three decades on the board of directors, and she continues to advocate for neighborhood causes.

At-large City Director Joan Adcock is in her 28th year on the City Board, making her the longest-serving director in Little Rock history. A longtime advocate for neighborhood associations, Adcock played a key role in the establishment of the Little Rock Land Bank, which acts as a transitional owner of abandoned and delinquent property in the city. In Southwest Little Rock, where Adcock has lived for 60 years, the director has focused on providing resources and education to the Latino community through the Working Together in the Community group and others. As Adcock, 79, nears three decades on the board, she said she remains focused on working with neighborhoods and providing information to her community.

“Most of my time [on the board] has been spent with neighborhoods, with things that involve people’s housing, family stuff,” Adcock said. “I’m not your usual economic development item.”

Adcock said that when she was first elected to the board of directors in 1992, she attended a Neighborhoods USA conference and asked the city manager at the time, Charles *Nickerson, if Little Rock could host the conference in the future.

“[Dickerson] said, ‘Joan, the one thing is, if you teach people how to have a voice, then you have to listen to them,’ ” Adcock said. “And I think if I want to say anything about the neighborhood movement, we have taught the citizens how to have a voice, and now we have to listen to them.”

Listening to Little Rock’s residents has remained a priority for Adcock, who said she is “probably the pushiest of the directors on getting information back” when following up on citizen inquiries or items presented at city board meetings.

“I get emails all day wanting me to get information for people,” Adcock said. “It’s just unbelievable that some people that are elected just act like the citizens have no right to information. If you give them the information, in most cases, they appreciate the fact that somebody cares enough to do it.”

Adcock said her recent revitalization efforts in the Love neighborhood north of Asher Street and west of Woodrow Street have included the purchase and rehabbing of homes acquired through the Land Bank with city funds. She said she’s also partnered with Habitat for Humanity and local church groups on painting and clean up in the Goodwill neighborhood south of Asher and in East Little Rock.

“This is what I want to do, is to re-establish the housing that we have,” Adcock said. “That’s one of the biggest problems we have in Little Rock. We think everything is disposable, and everything should be recyclable.”

As an at-large director, Adcock can focus on neighborhoods all over the city rather than a single ward. She contrasted this focus with at-large director Gene Fortson, saying he was a “money person” who watches the purse strings of the city, and Director Dean Kumpuris, who works to revitalize downtown with Riverfront Park and sculpture.

Mayor Frank Scott Jr. has been vocally in favor of eliminating or restructuring the at-large positions on the board of directors. But Adcock said that without the at-large directors, strategic focus would be lost.

“When you eliminate those three things — the revitalization of neighborhoods, putting together big city things and … someone who has all the knowledge of the big money — there’s no city directors out of the seven, and I love most of them — I won’t lie and tell you I love all of them — there’s no director who’s going to take the time to do those types of things,” Adcock said. “And I think when people talk about getting rid of the at-large directors, they don’t really understand what an at-large director brings to the table.

“Mayor Scott’s problem with that is he’s never been involved in city government,” Adcock said. “He has served on the airport commission, and that is the only thing that I know of that he’s done in city government. He’s never been involved in a neighborhood association, because he lives right down the street in a neighborhood that I’ve worked with.”

Adcock said she is skeptical of options that have been presented to change the current city manager form of government to a mayor-council one, including a method that would combine wards into “super wards” and create super ward directors in addition to city directors.

“Under one of those [new forms] that [people are] touting, you would have two directors in a ward. That’s not going to work,” Adcock said. “A director is, in most cases, an energetic personality, and I don’t think anyone is going to give up half of the power in their ward. I don’t think a ward director would want me, Gene or Dean looking over their shoulders. It still doesn’t address city-wide issues, it doesn’t address the downtown.”

In his efforts to make the mayor a more powerful position in the city government, Scott has been acting as a strong mayor or, as he’s described, the CEO of the city, an option granted to the mayor in a 2007 city ordinance. Six major city departments — finance, fire, human resources, planning, police and public works — that previously reported to the city manager now report directly to Scott, a change Adcock said may have been premature.

“Those are some of the biggest departments in our city,” Adcock said. “And they take more of the overseeing than the other ones, and I don’t think Frank understands yet how much time that takes and how big of a responsibility those departments are.”

Adcock added that she hopes Scott will consult with City Manager Bruce Moore for his knowledge on overseeing those departments.

Scott wishes to make additional changes in Little Rock that are not currently feasible within the city’s budget, including his desire to hire 100 new police officers in the Little Rock Police Department over the next five years, the purchase of body-worn cameras for officers and the appointment of a chief education officer for the city. In a recent meeting about the city’s financial status, city leaders discussed the need for more sources of recurring revenue in order to balance the budget, as sales tax revenues in Little Rock continue to be lost to adjacent cities with comparable shopping.

While recent legislation to require the collecting of sales tax on online purchases made in Arkansas will provide some additional funds, Adcock said aside from this, “there is no easy way” to boost the city’s budget, and she’s hesitant to impose any other sales tax on Little Rock residents.

“Everything we do has an impact on the people,” Adcock said. “There’s nothing we can put taxes on that doesn’t impact one group of people. There’s nothing we could put taxes on that is not going to have a bad decision on people, because if we raised anything, the people are going to pay it. So we have to be very careful about saying we’re going to raise taxes.”

Scott has also been vocal about his desire to return the Little Rock School District to local control, even proposing the creation of a single school district south of the river in his first state of the city address. Adcock said she does not support the restoration of the LRSD to local control “until the city is ready,” saying the school board was “part of the problem” that led to state takeover.

When the state took over the LRSD in 2015, six of the district’s 48 schools were classified as being in academic distress. The state changed its accountability framework in 2017. Now, Education Commissioner Johnny Key, who acts as the school board for the LRSD, has described 22 schools, which received a “D” or “F” rating under the new framework, as “struggling.” Adcock said this increase is not a result of the state takeover, but rather an indication that state control is helping the district.

“We’re getting a better count of [failing schools],” Adcock said. “I think there was probably that many in the beginning. I think more people are being accountable. I think maybe more true facts are coming out. School districts, in lots of cases, hide stuff. And I think that we just didn’t know how bad it was. I’ve been in lots of schools, and I don’t think the schools have gotten worse. I think we’re just getting a better handle on what those problems are.”

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Before Adcock ran for the board of directors, she owned and managed Youngland Children’s Shop in Southwest Little Rock for 30 years and operated another location on Bowman Curve for five years. At age 52, she closed both the stores to work full time at the Hope Center, a welfare-to-work nonprofit, which she operated for 14 years. She said the nonprofit served 1,700 people during that time.

Adcock said that during her first race for at-large director in 1992, there were 11 other candidates on the ballot. She added that one of them, Gary Barket, a Little Rock attorney and former chairman of the Little Rock Port Authority, was “the one who was supposed to win the race.

“One thing they didn’t count on was children, because at that time, I owned children’s clothing stores, and for years, I’d been dressing kids, so I knew all the mamas and all the daddies,” Adcock said. “I plastered all my signs on my outside walls, pictures of me and … two of my grandchildren. So everybody that came in, the kids got a picture to color and we put them up on the wall, saying ‘Vote for Miss Joan.’ They didn’t count on the impact of children and families, so Gary Barket was not elected and I was elected.”

Adcock said this win was a “major victory” for Southwest Little Rock because her constituents knew “how focused” she was on advocating for the area. She said her initial focus after being elected was to prevent further blight in Southwest Little Rock, as the Southwest Mall was in the process of closing, and the former AMF bicycle factory on West 65th Street, closed for several years by that time, “looked like a jungle.”

“[So] I went downtown, [and ] I certainly was the new kid on the block,” Adcock said. “There used to be a joke that Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church [was] who controlled the city board, because those people would kind of get together and decide, OK, who’s going to run for the city board this time?’ Everyone came from Pulaski Heights Methodist, so being a Baptist from Southwest Little Rock, it was just a different thing.”

As part of her work in the Southwest area, Adcock said she reached out to the Latino community after being prompted to do so by former Little Rock Police Chief Kenton Buckner.

“[Buckner] said [to me], ‘They tell me you know everything about neighborhood people,’ ” Adcock said. “And he [asked], ‘What do you know about the Latino [community]?’ And I said, ‘I know one man,’ and he said, ‘That’s not gonna do.’ He got me involved with the Latino initiative in the city.”

Adcock is involved with Working Together in the Community, a group that works with Hispanic residents. Adcock also says she and her translator, Doris Gonzalez, host a show on the KOLL 106.3, “La Zeta” radio station. Adcock and Gonzalez, who works as a resource specialist for the city’s Department of Housing and Neighborhood Programs, speak with representatives from different city departments to “talk about what they do [and] how they impact people, so that we can get the information out to the Latinos, and to build trust.”

Adcock also played an instrumental role in the fundraising and new design of the Little Rock Animal Village. She said she contributed money to the shelter’s sculpture garden for the installation of a sculpture dedicated to her late husband, Bill Adcock, and a sculpture dedicated to Animal Village Director Tracy Roark.

Adcock still lives in the house she and her husband built in Southwest Little Rock 60 years ago. She has 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Adcock said if her health permits and the at-large positions remain, she will run for re-election when her term ends in 2022.

*Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled former Little Rock City Manager Charles Nickerson’s name.