In a meeting Tuesday evening, the Little Rock Board of Directors approved a resolution introduced last week by at-large director Dean Kumpuris to set aside an hour of time after the conclusion of its Tuesday afternoon agenda meetings to discuss “policy” issues for the city. It also approved a resolution to contribute $4.6 million from the city’s Street Fund to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences for a construction project to turn Pine and Cedar Streets into “one boulevard.”
The resolution approves a $4,613,875 contribution from the city’s Street Fund to the UAMS “for the construction of improvements” to Pine Street. The project will “realign” Pine Street and Cedar Street into one boulevard to better ease traffic to the hospital’s trauma center and create new parking spaces for the University on the east side of campus. UAMS will contribute an estimated share of $7,307,095 to the Pine Street construction, which is part of UAMS’ $156 million energy conservation project that the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees approved on July 10.
“It will be a tree-lined boulevard that has [Pine Street] and [Cedar Street] bi-directional from Markham to [I-630],” Clark said. “Cedar would change onto Plateau, which then runs along Pine, and it would go along the access road to get onto the interstate.”
Clark said that from Fourth Street to I-630, Cedar Street will “go away,” and there will be a service road from Fourth Street to Markham Street so UAMS can “get to its biomedical buildings.”
Fourth Street and Capitol Street will remain, from the Pine and Cedar intersection, into campus, “creating corridors that are limited with traffic so that our employees and patients are safe.”
No directors objected to the resolution, and Mayor Frank Scott Jr. thanked UAMS for “being a shining star in our state.”
Kumpuris’ policy resolution passed with seven directors voting for it; Ward 1 city director Erma Hendrix and Ward 2 city director Ken Richardson voted against it.
Kumpuris’ original resolution called for additional time to be added to the board’s 6 p.m. voting meetings, but at-large director Joan Adcock added an amendment that changed the time of the policy discussions to take place at the conclusion of the agenda meetings.
Kumpuris told the board that the recommendation in his resolution is a “very simple one” that asks for directors to “come together [and] talk about policy in broad, general terms.” He added that while he understands that the board’s agenda meetings every other Tuesday are ostensibly designated as time for directors to discuss policy, it is only discussed at these meetings in relation to an issue being brought before the board.
“We have a number of issues that I think we should be looking at, and I think if we take the time to do this, then I think it’ll make the city better,” Kumpuris said. “It’ll give us, as the mayor has said, more transparency, it’ll start fulfilling some of his campaign promises that we are more active and proactive, rather than reactive to situations, and as I said, it gives us a chance to really talk about things.”
Ward 5 city director Lance Hines, who was absent from last week’s agenda meeting when Kumpuris introduced his resolution, said he appreciated the “thoughtfulness” of the proposal and would be voting for it.
“I couldn’t agree with you more that some dedicated time to actually have some real policy discussion on a bigger deal, as the policy-setting and legislative arm of this city, would be well worth it,” Hines said.
Ward 6 city director Doris Wright, who had objected to the resolution last week because of its original intention to add additional time to the board’s 6 p.m. voting meetings, said she would support the ordinance if it was amended to add the time to the agenda meetings instead.
Adcock shared her support for the resolution as well, reminding the board that, as the “oldest, longest running person up here” — she has served as an at-large director since 1992 — she remembers that directors used to have time set aside for similar policy discussions.
“When there were five Tuesday nights [in a month], we would say we would come on that extra Tuesday night and we would have this type of discussion, and it was a big help,” Adcock said. “If nothing else, we were able to understand each other better. When you come up here, you sit down, you vote, and you go home. We don’t have the time for me to get to know you a little bit better.”
Richardson repeated his sentiments from last week’s meeting, asking Kumpuris, “Why now?” Richardson also said he doesn’t “see why a resolution is needed for this particular item.”
In response to Richardson, Kumpuris told the director that “you’re never too old to have an epiphany.”
“You’re never too old to realize that you’re not doing the right thing,” Kumpuris said. “You’re never too old to say, ‘I haven’t been doing what I should have been doing.’ You’re never too old to say, ‘I came to learn something new.’ And all this is saying is that I think to help the citizens of this community get over problems that look, sometimes, unresolvable or unsolvable, we need to take a different course. If we continue doing the same thing in the same way all the time, we can’t expect a different outcome.”
“So this is me, this is Dean Kumpuris admitting that I wasn’t doing it the right way before,” Kumpuris added.
Richardson said that while he appreciated Kumpuris’ remarks, he was still confused why such a resolution was not introduced several years ago.
“I understand the epiphany, Dean, and your desire to move forward, I’m just really, really confused about the timing of this and why now,” Richardson said. “You’re one of the people up here I respect the most, and one of the people I’m closest to, and I’m just really, really, really confused about the timing of it.”
Kumpuris replied by telling Richardson that “there is no magic to the timing.”
“In retrospect, I should have come up with it five or 10 years ago, but I didn’t,” Kumpuris said. “But I did now.”
At-large Director Gene Fortson agreed with Kumpuris, saying “in an issue like this, timing is detail.”
“Two or three facts: Government has become much more complex. By its very nature, we face more decisions,” Fortson said. “We’re all part-time, citizen legislators putting, officially, a couple of hours per week into this job, plus whatever personal time is allowed based upon jobs and other citizen demands. It’s difficult, in many cases, when you’re looking at complex changes, to absorb emails and say, ‘I’ve read all the details and I understand this problem.’ I think a dialogue, a discussion, a chance to ask questions, will make sure we better understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. I certainly see no harm in trying to establish a process where we get a little bit more candid approach to things.”
Fortson also referenced Scott’s mayoral campaign and comments the mayor made during his inauguration.
“You have plans for the city for moving it forward, and I think those plans deserve our full-throated attention,” Forston said. “The more we can study them and put things together and move forward in a way where the public and we understand exactly what we’re doing, I think we’ll be much more proficient.”
Hendrix was brief in sharing her disapproval of the resolution and referenced her desire to eliminate the at-large positions on the board.
“The at-large thing is something people need to be educated about,” Hendrix said.
“[Dean Kumpuris] has been on this board 20 plus years, and you’re going to tell me, last week, that he came up with these bright ideas? I won’t be coming [to the policy discussions], and I know it won’t make a difference.”
Ward 3 city director Kathy Webb said she’s going to take the resolution “at face value.”
“I’m just thrilled that we are going to be able to talk about [policy] as a group,” Webb said. “I talk about it a lot to a lot of people, but we collectively don’t get to talk about it. So I think that’s exciting, and I hope folks will look at it as an opportunity to do good things.”
Ward 6 city director Capi Peck said she agreed with Webb about the need for the board to discuss as a unit.
Before the directors voted on the resolution, Scott reminded the board that by voting to pass it, the directors “literally” would just be passing “to meet on our agenda meeting date to discuss policy, and that’s exactly what we already have our agenda meetings for.
“It’s a bit superfluous, but we want to make certain that we understand that our agenda meetings are set for policy,” Scott said. “I cannot speak to what’s been done for the past 28 years. I would hope that we continue to understand that our agenda meetings are for policy, and will continue to be for policy. But literally, we just voted to our agenda meeting a policy meeting when it’s already a policy meeting.”
Scott also reminded the board that “as the chair of this board,” the mayor’s office will set the agenda for the policy discussions.
Hines replied to the mayor’s comments, saying he disagrees with Scott.
“To say that it’s superfluous would be, in my opinion, just like I think that the creation of the [Citizens Review Board] is superfluous to the Civil Service Commission,” Hines said. “So to say that we haven’t done that in our recent past would be incorrect, in my mind.”
“And you are entitled to your opinion, Director Hines,” Scott said.
“That is correct,” Hines replied.
“That’s why we have freedom of speech, so thank you so much,” Scott added.
“Amen,” Hendrix said.
In the passage of the consent agenda, which consists of items that are added to the board’s agenda during its agenda-setting meetings on Tuesday afternoons, the board also voted to approve a resolution that asks the city’s Sustainability Commission to study the impact of single-use plastic bags and other items that are difficult to recycle — such as plastic plates, bowls, cups and utensils — on Little Rock. The Commission will be required to recommend its findings for “cost-effective replacement packaging” for these items and present them to the board on Dec. 19.
The resolution only states that the Sustainability Commission will study alternatives to single-use plastics and potentially consider a citywide ban on such items.
Hines said he had a “strenuous objection” to the resolution.
“I don’t think this requires a resolution to the board, and I’ll be voting against it,” Hines said.
Fortson also commented that the city’s “past history” of regulations that “involve the marketplace” that only involve regulations in the city of Little Rock have had “trouble,” referencing the city’s difficulty in reinforcing previous efforts to control clubs that stay open until 5 a.m., and having a “smoke-free city.”
“I would only suggest that in this study, we try to do everything possible to include North Little Rock and the counties so that any ultimate decision to go forward becomes something that would be uniform,” Fortson said.
The board also approved a resolution, as part of the consent agenda, that allows the city to contract with engineering firm McClelland Consulting Engineers to study and provide a design to reduce a section of Markham Street to three lanes. With the $112,500 contract, McClelland’s will also design a plan to expand sidewalks on Markham from Kavanaugh to Pine Street.
The reduction of lanes on Markham, also known as a road diet, was tested out for four weeks last summer as part of the seventh iteration of PopUp in the Rock, a yearly demonstration of potential street and neighborhood improvement projects, sponsored by studioMAIN urban planners and Create Little Rock.