LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — There is steady momentum behind a plan to change how much control the mayor of Little Rock holds. The wheels have been turning gradually over the past decade, but mayor Frank Scott Jr. has stepped on the gas five months into his term.
The job technically makes the mayor an elevated member of the city board of directors, meaning the state’s biggest city doesn’t have a traditional “big city mayor.” But mayor Scott is hitting his stride as head of city government.
“I am the mayor of the state's capital city and so that definitely comes with a lot of weight and strength,” the mayor said after leading a regional roundtable on infrastructure.
“We have to utilize that role with the utmost humility and responsibility.”
It came up in last year's campaign when Scott emerged from a field of five candidates and then a two-person runoff. He made changes right after the start of the year, making several city department heads answer to him.
He took those powers as a continued upgrade after the board granted them to the office back in 2007. Now the plan is to formally give Little Rock mayors political and policy power.
“For our city, a mayor/council form of government has worked well for us,” said Virginia Young, the mayor of Sherwood. “I really could not imagine it being any other form of government, but that's the only form that we've ever had.”
Young knows she doesn't have more power than Mayor Scott, but the mayor/council role she fills fits her suburban city of 30,000. Size doesn't always matter in this, with the cities closest in population to Little Rock having a mix.
Salt Lake City and Huntsville, Alabama have strong mayors, while Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Huntington Beach, California, rely on hired managers.
The same is true for similar state capitals, with Des Moines, Iowa and Tallahasse, Florida, both using managers that answer to boards or commissions.
Mayor Young won't say if she thinks a weak executive office holds a city back, but she sees how others get that impression.
“I think he's certainly moving in the right direction, and it sounds like he's got a lot of support to do that,” she said.
That support could mean a full overhaul of the board, with directors gaining or losing power. Regardless of whether that's what voters pushed for last year, it's something Scott is prepared to deliver.
“I think it's definitely a mandate for change,” he said. “The city of Little Rock wants change and the city of Little Rock is going to get change.”
Monday saw two public meetings held that might bring some focus to what that change might look like. The citizen-led study group charged with brainstorming possible structures met at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, while the mayor addressed his ideas before the League of Women Voters.