Thursday, September 27, 2012
Excellent article on first mayoral forum written by Joel Walsh and published in the Northwest Arkansas Times on Sept. 27, 2012
Posted: September 26, 2012 at 9:51 p.m.
FAYETTEVILLE — More than 50 people filled the City Council chambers Wednesday to watch the first debate of the 2012 election season between Dan Coody and Lioneld Jordan.
The candidates for mayor talked about their records and vision for the city during a 30-minute event hosted by the League of Women Voters of Washington County.
Jordan won a 2008 runoff election against Coody, collecting 57 percent of 5,796 votes cast. He said he has put a “partnership-based government” in place during the past four years, through which anyone can get involved and be heard.
“We have moved this city further and farther than it’s ever been before, and it’s because all of you have invested your time and your life into this city,” Jordan said.
Coody served as Fayetteville’s chief executive from 2001 through 2008.
He said he brings an “entrepreneurial perspective” to the office and a drive to take on innovative projects.
“If we take a passive and rudderless approach to our future, it will not turn out well,” Coody said.
Accomplishments and Regrets
The first question from debate moderator Ann Rosso, a member of the League of Women Voters, was: What was your greatest accomplishment and biggest regret as mayor?
Coody mentioned the city trails system he said he modeled on trails in Madison, Wis.
“We all worked together, and we did accomplish a trails sytem that was leading the way in the state, and it, I believe, helped pave the way for the Razorback (Regional Greenway),” Coody said.
Jordan said his biggest accomplishment was managing city finances during “the worst recession since the Great Depression.”
“The most important thing for any elected official, particularly during the times that we face right now, is to be able to properly manage the taxpayers’ money,” Jordan said.
Neither candidate listed his biggest regret as mayor.
Rosso also asked the candidates to define “sustainability” and their approach to it.
Coody said sustainability means conserving natural resources. He said locally grown food saves consumers money and cuts down on fossil fuel emissions. As mayor, Coody hired the city’s first sustainability director.
He mentioned a house he and his wife, Deborah, have built on Mount Sequoyah. The house produces more energy than it uses, Coody said.
“We walk the walk. When we talk about sustainability, we don’t support it because it’s cool to be green and it gets votes to be sustainable,” Coody said. “We live it, and we invest in it personally.”
Jordan noted 17 policies, programs and initiatives implemented during his term in office, including the state’s first streamside protection ordinance; a revolving loan fund that has lent money to nonprofit organizations for energy-efficiency upgrades; and a commercial glass recycling program on Dickson Street.
“We don’t just talk it folks,” Jordan said. “We live it, too.”
Rosso called the city’s paid parking program implemented in 2010 on and around Dickson Street “a hot topic.” She asked Jordan and Coody how they would address parking in the downtown entertainment district in the years ahead.
Jordan reiterated his plan to use parking fees and fines to finance a more than 300-space parking deck near the Walton Arts Center. He said the deck would address parking issues and benefit downtown businesses.
“You had to start with a paid parking program to get to a parking deck to advance what we’re trying to do,” Jordan said.
Coody called paid parking “the biggest issue on the people’s minds in Fayetteville right now.”
He said the city should make downtown more walkable before building a parking deck, and he mentioned several underused parking lots that could be tied into the city’s system.
If a parking deck is to be built, Coody said it should be done through a partnership with a private company. That way, he said, the city would not have to rely solely on parking fees and fines to pay for the project for years to come.
One of Rosso’s final questions Wednesday focused on how Fayetteville could bring new businesses to town and increase residents’ quality of life.
Coody said one of his first initiatives as mayor would be repurposing the former Tyson Mexican Original building at Huntsville and Happy Hollow roads.
The former mayor negotiated a $1.1 million purchase of the 11.8-acre property in 2004. Planned uses for the building at one point included a new fire station and a joint fire and police command center.
Coody said Wednesday the aging structure has been neglected since he left office, and he proposed converting it into an arts center or technology manufacturing center. He did not indicate how the city would pay for the conversion.
Jordan said city officials are looking to sell the former Tyson plant. He said the aging building would cost a lot of money to tear down. The land it sits on is more valuable than the building itself, Jordan said.
The mayor said a $2.5 million federal grant used to develop sustainable building curricula at NorthWest Arkansas Community College has helped train innovative craftsmen in the area.
He said partnerships and communication with other cities in Northwest Arkansas have flourished in the past four years.
“Fayetteville had the reputation when I came into office of being business unfriendly,” Jordan said. “That has changed thanks to the work of all of us together.”
In his closing statement Wednesday, Jordan said nobody loves Fayetteville more than he does or will work harder to keep it sound.
“It has been a great honor to serve the people of this great city, and I hope you will keep me on,” Jordan said.
Coody criticized Jordan for failing to appear at an event he organized Tuesday at the Fayetteville Town Center.
“I would like to invite you to come answer direct questions from the public and take all night to do it if it takes it, because I think that’s what’s important — not just for this election, but for the entire democratic process,” Coody said.
Jordan did not accept or reject Coody’s standing invitation. Last week, he called the Town Center forum a campaign event and said he had no plans to attend.
All questions at Wednesday’s debate were developed by members of the League of Women Voters, according to league president, Mary Alice Serafini. Serafini said neither candidate had reviewed the questions beforehand.
According to a television schedule distributed Wednesday, the debate will be re-aired on the Fayetteville Government channel at 9:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. Friday; 5 and 11 a.m. and 5 and 11 p.m. Saturday; and 5 and 7 a.m. and 5 and 7 p.m. Sunday.
The debate will also be posted to the city’s website, accessfayetteville.org.
Cox Communications customers can view city government programs on channel 216. AT&T U-Verse customers must go to channel 99.
Early voting for the Nov. 6 general election begins Oct. 22. The last day to register to vote for the election is Oct. 7.