City hall watchers expecting fireworks, or perhaps some sort of public discussion of the failed city sales tax vote or the turmoil surrounding Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey, didn’t get any of that Tuesday night from Mayor Frank Scott Jr. or any of the directors at the city board meeting.
But Scott did announce the timetable for another crucial topic confronting the board: the process for filling the Ward 1 seat left vacant with the death of Erma Hendrix earlier this month.
Residents of the ward who want to serve will be able to apply from Sept. 23-30. City directors will get the applications for review Oct. 1. At the board’s next regular meeting, on Oct. 5, the board will discuss the applicants and rank the top seven candidates. On Oct. 12, each of the top seven candidates will appear before the board to make a statement and answer questions in 10 minute segments. The board will then go into executive session to discuss the interviews, and then return and vote publicly.
During a public comment period, Loretta Hendricks said she would seek to fill her late mother’s seat.
In perhaps a sign of bubbling tensions within the board, a majority of directors voted to defer consideration of a resolution to create a small business council, which would advise the board on related policies. The resolution was part of the board’s consent agenda, uncontroversial items that directors usually vote on en masse without discussion. At-large Director Joan Adcock and Vice-Mayor Lance Hines asked that the item instead be considered separately. Adcock later made a motion to defer the resolution until the board’s Oct. 5 meeting. Seven board members supported that motion with only At-large Director Antwan Phillips, who sponsored the resolution, and Director Ken Richardson voting against deferring.
Phillips was incredulous at the result and asked board members to explain their vote. City Attorney Tom Carpenter told him the request was out of order, but Adcock said she wanted to hear from Derrick Rainey, the city’s small business development coordinator. Directors Doris Wright and BJ Wyrick said they also wanted to hear from Rainey.
Phillips said Rainey supported the idea of the council. Richardson said of the vote, “It goes back to the messenger rather than the message.” Phillips is widely viewed as an ally of Scott’s.
During the public comment period, Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock) said she was worried about the racial schism within the city and praised the hard work of the mayor and the chief. She pointed to the pushback of a “young Black man,” talking about Phillips, trying to help small businesses as perhaps another example of the racial schism.
Chesterfield was joined by a host of prominent Black residents defending the chief and mayor.
Retired Judge Marion Humphrey said the chief had made courageous decisions in firing former officers Charles Starks and David Mattox. “Police officers do good work, but there are some who make mistakes, who make misjudgments. There has to be accountability,” he said. There has to be accountability, he said, adding that the Fraternal Order of Police can be disciplined and checked like anyone else.
LRPD Lt. Zach Farley, president of the LRPD FOP, said the department lacked stability. “Every day violence is increasing,” he said. “We have lack of direction because of the turmoil going on that’s not being addressed. All we ask is for everyone to be treated fairly.” The department is losing officers faster than it can replace them.