VIRGIL MILLER: New Little Rock Ward 1 Director.

Little Rock banker Virgil Miller, selected Tuesday by the Little Rock Board of Directors to fill the remainder of the late Ward 1 Director Erma Hendrix’s term, said today in an interview that he plans to seek election for the seat when his term expires in 2023.

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“Everyone who knows me is shocked,” he said. “I’ve told everyone that I would never run for public office. Last year, I got to thinking how selfish that was.”

When he thought of all he’d learned over many years working as a community development and community reinvestment act officer for banks and volunteering for a wide range of community groups, the idea of running for public office started pulling at him, Miller said. As a long-time resident of Ward 1, he was eyeing that seat, but said he wouldn’t have run had Hendrix lived long enough to seek reelection.

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Miller believes he’s widely liked among the community. “I was comfortable being liked,” he said of not wanting to run for office. “One of the sayings I tell people I mentor is, ‘Everyone likes you until you have to take a position.’  But if you’re going to make a difference with people, you’ve got to put yourself out there.”

Miller supported Frank Scott Jr. in his mayoral bid, though he noted that he’s friends with Baker Kurrus, Scott’s opponent in the mayoral run-off. Miller said he was excited by Scott’s campaign message of wanting to bring the community together.

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Scott ran on being a strong mayor, and he’s governed that way. That’s led to tension between him and many board members, which often seems to be exacerbated due to racial and age differences. Scott is 37, a full generation younger than the majority of the board.

Miller won’t bridge any age divide, he joked. He’s 68.

But because of his past support of the mayor, should city board watchers expect him to be a reliable ally of Scott’s? Does he see a way to cut through the often bitter rifts among the board itself and between some board members and the mayor?

“My record of community service and records on boards, task forces and projects would indicate that I do know how to build consensus and do know how to collaborate,” Miller said. “I think that is a skill and talent that I’m going to bring to the board. It may be a daunting task, but this is nothing new for me.

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“Anyone who knows me from my service on the Airport Commission or service on the Baptist Health Board of Trustees or with the United Way, knows Virgil is an independent thinker. He’s going to make decisions and take positions that may be unpopular. 

“The mayor may have some positions that I agree with. He may have some positions that I don’t. I don’t think that’s unusual. It shouldn’t be unusual. You look at each policy independently.”

Miller was also a member of the Rebuild the Rock campaign committee, which pushed for a sales tax increase in September that was soundly defeated at the polls. The 1% increase would have been a net 5/8-of-a-cent hike because a 3/8-of-a-cent tax sunsets this year. Replacing the revenue soon to be lost with a new tax was extremely important, Miller said.

But whether the city should swiftly pursue an extension of the 3/8 tax or advance another proposal, Miller wasn’t prepared to say. He said he needed time to study the city budget and learn more.

Miller said he believed residents of Ward 1 and, for that matter, people everywhere want three basic things: safety, reliable infrastructure and affordable housing. He said those would be priorities for him. As part of the affordable housing focus, he noted that Ward 1, the largest ward in the city in terms of geography, probably had more vacant lots and abandoned homes than any other in the city.

His selection happened just after a fiery discussion over a proposed settlement related to a 2019 police shooting, yet another chapter in the divide between Scott and many of the board members.

“When I heard all that, what came to mind was, ‘This doesn’t sound like it’s settled. I’m not sure why it was discussed,” Miller said, noting that he was observing at the time as a citizen outsider. “It seems like they were taking the cake out of the oven before it was baked.”