The Little Rock Board of Directors on Tuesday heard 10-minute speeches from the eight finalists to fill the Ward 1 board seat, left vacant with the death of Erma Hendrix. The board will select one of the candidates at a special called meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Twenty residents applied for the position. The board had planned to reduce that number to seven finalists, but because of a tie, it ended up with eight candidates. The person chosen will serve out Hendrix’s term, which expires at the end of 2022, and then will have the option of running for the open seat.
Here are the applications of all 20 candidates.
Michael Ted Adkins, 55, who goes by Ted, told the board he’d lived in Ward 1 for most of his life. A retired Little Rock Police officer and part time groundskeeper at the Junio Deputy ballfields, Adkins said it was important that a board member listen, act quickly, be resolute, be flexible and have integrity. As a Christian, he said his values would be an asset to the board. “I’m not politician, just a humble man wanting to continue service for his community.” He was the lone white finalist in a majority Black ward, which makes him a long shot candidate.
Frederick Gentry, 44, is a familiar face to many on the board. He worked for the city, as assistant to the board of directors and special projects administrator, from 2007-2015. He’s since been a commercial coordinator and executive assistant to the CEO at Rector, Phillips, Morse Realty and, on a volunteer basis, president of the Pettaway Neighborhood Association. He got the only question of the night, from Director BJ Wyrick, who noted that on his resume Gentry had become an Eagle Scout and alderman in Jacksonville in relatively short order. Gentry told her that he was the youngest ever elected to the Jacksonville City Council. In his remarks, he stressed the importance of dealing with the lack of affordable housing and the proliferation of abandoned homes and vacant lots in Ward 1. By focusing on those problems, the city would see a “rippling effect” that would improve public safety, he said.
Sheila Miles, 60, talked almost entirely about her 10 years as president of the Wright Avenue Neighborhood Association, including her leadership in the development of the Wright Avenue Action plan, which covers housing, economic development, public safety and youth programs.
Virgil Miller, 68, is probably the candidate to beat. He’s well known in the community and among board members. He’s served on the boards of more than 40 community groups, from the Arkansas Arts Center, to the Central Arkansas Transit Authority, to the Little Rock Airport Commission. He’s a longtime banker, working now for Arvest Bank as community reinvestment officer. He’s held that position or a community development one for most of his career. That means he’s worked with low and moderate income people all his career, and he understands their needs, he told the board.
Sarah Pilcher, 39, is a community outreach specialist with Community Health Centers of Arkansas and the president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association. Her neighbors have three major concerns, she said: security, economics and school. The police department should adapt its procedures to better serve the public, she said. She wasn’t the only candidate to note that Ward 1 was the home of food deserts. Two grocery stores, Cash Saver and K. Hall, aren’t enough for such a large area, she said. Pilcher promised she’d bring familiarity with the ward, fresh thinking and enthusiasm to the position.
Valerie Pruitt, 63, was previously executive director of the Reform Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for charter schools. “I have the time. I have the energy, and I have the enthusiasm to be a good city board member,” she told the board.
Anika Whitfield, 48, is a well known community advocate, an assistant minister and a podiatrist. She asked supporters who’d come to the meeting to stand with her and asked the board to consider all the emails and letters they’d received supporting her for the role. She described herself as passionate about the things she believes in and gave an impassioned speech about her love for the community and the work she does in it. She talked about her efforts to change the name of the former Confederate Boulevard to Spring Boulevard, which she noted that “most” of the board supported (Wyrick and At-large Director Joan Adcock dissented). She described a tour she organized for city leaders through Wards 1 and 2. When she asked them what they saw in spots, they said “blighted homes and empty lots.” She told them that she saw opportunity.
Karen Zuccardi, 38, is a sustainable economic development consultant, who previously worked for Winrock International. A native of Bogota, Colombia, with a master’s degree in public service from the Clinton School of Public Service, she said the city needed to pay special attention to its youth. As director, she’d work with the business community and citizens to develop positives structures to aid in youth development.