Frank Scott Jr. promised change after he took his oath of office to become the 73rd mayor of the City of Little Rock.
Scott and a recently re-elected member of the city’s Board of Directors were sworn in during a ceremony Tuesday, Jan. 1, at the Robinson Center.
Two levels of the theater were full as supporters celebrated Scott’s inauguration. He won a runoff against Baker Kurrus on Dec. 4, 2018 and became the first African American person elected as mayor of Little Rock.
“What I’ve learned in these last few weeks is that our city is ready for change,” Scott said after the ceremony. “Our city is ready to unite. Our city is ready for a new Little Rock, a new day, a new era. Our city is ready for business as usual and the status quo to leave the door.”
The main theme of Scott’s inaugural address was that he plans to bring change to city government that makes all people in the city feel like they are represented and valued.
“It is time for a better Little Rock,” Scott said during his speech, “that understands its diversity and its identity so that we truly can chart a new course for Little Rock, a new course for the New South, to make certain that we reach a new era as we seek our new north star.”
Scott said his transition board, of which Kurrus is a member, plans to hold its first meeting January 7. It will hold meetings with each city department over the next two months, and then create a master plan that Scott said will guide his vision for the city and allow residents to hold him accountable.
“Not that the city hadn’t been run efficiently,” former Little Rick Fire Chief Gregory Summers said, “but there are some things that can be changed, and I think a new blood, a new vision coming in as a mayor, I think he’s gonna do some great things for the city.”
One of the first priorities Scott mentioned for his new administration is an expansion of the Little Rock Police Department. He wants to increase it to 700 sworn officers by hiring approximately 25 additional officers per year. He expects that to cost as much as $1.6 million per year and said he will look for cuts he can make to other city departments as he amends the 2019 budget. But he made clear after his inauguration that hiring officers is a small part of his plan to make Little Rock a better city.
“The criminal activity, the crime our city has experienced, is – it’s not a disease, it’s a symptom of not addressing the root causes of crime,” he told reporters. “And that’s poverty and education. We’re gonna always have crime, but what we have to do is maintain the levels, to make certain that we can reduce crime. And the way that we truly reduce crime is by focusing on poverty, focusing on education, focusing on economic development, focusing on jobs.”
“And if we have to cut, or reassess, or rightsize certain agencies and programs, everything’s on the table. Nothing’s sacrosanct, because if crime is truly an issue, not only factually in the city of Little Rock, we understand that it’s a perception issue. There are people in Arkansas who do not come to Little Rock because crime is a problem. There are people outside of Arkansas who don’t come to Little Rock because crime is a problem. If it is a problem, it should be a priority. And all of your priorities should reflect in your budget.”
Scott said during his speech that he would make every effort to return the Little Rock School District to local control, to the approval of the crowd. Zelma Mooney-Miller said education is one of the most important things to her, so she was glad to have him mention that. She added that his inauguration was a good way to start 2019.
“I’m just so proud to have him here in Little Rock, and to remain here in Little Rock,” she said. “Because, he could’ve left, went out the city, just like he said, everybody else leaving the city. But he’s gonna, like I said, set examples for the children, and the adults, as well. I feel like it’s gonna benefit me, as well, because I’ve learned that you can’t run from your problems. And I think he’s here to help us all understand that.”
Scott said he has met with his predecessor, Mayor Mark Stodola, a few times since the election, and that his advisors have met with senior members of Stodola’s administration to prepare the transition. Scott said those meetings helped make this an easier process for him.
Given that the holidays took time out of his already-shortened transition, Scott said his transition board, and the meetings it will hold, will give residents a greater insight into who he is and how he plans to govern.
“Little Rock, this is what leadership looks like,” he told the audience. “Little Rock, this is what transparency looks like. Little Rock, this is what responsibility looks like.”