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An uncertain future: future-Little Rock's steering committee tackles LR problems: is it worth the price?

Future-Little Rock is an extraneous concept to most Little Rock residents.

A 3-month-old steering committee is directing the goal-setting and strategic planning program for the state's largest city.

But that committee's actions have had little effect on Little Rock.

At least so far.

There have been newspaper headlines focusing on the conflicts that continue to arise between well-known Future-Little Rock steering committee members such as Jim Lynch and Curt Bradbury.

But newspaper readers do not realize that the president of the Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods and the chairman of Worthen Banking Corp. sit next to each other during five-hour steering committee meetings, attempting to work out their differences.

They have even been to lunch.

Lynch says Bradbury speeches urging neighborhood activists not to hinder development in west Little Rock have been "a tempest in a teapot. It's not that big a deal."

Ye he adds, "What you've had is, frankly, some leaders in the business community who have been dragging their feet. I hope they soon begin feeling comfortable with the project and begin to participate in rather than stall the process."

Problems are inevitable when 36 diverse, outspoken individuals are brought together.

Even some steering committee members question if anything will come of a proposed 18-month planning period.

"I wasn't so sure it was really going to work," says Ruth Bell, a member of the committee who works out of her home. "In spite of the five-hour meetings . . . I really do think it's going to work. The structure is being put in place."

It's a complex structure.

The steering committee's charge is so complex, in fact, that Little Rock City Manager Tom Dalton has problems listing all he hopes it will accomplish.

Dalton, however, is confident.

"I don't see how, if people take it seriously, it can lose," he says. "There's a gain not only in creating the vision, but just in coming together as a community."

Following the crushing Oct. 8 defeat of the Little Rock 2000 package, Dalton says it became obvious "that what this community needed first and foremost was a healing process."

For Lynch, who led opposition to the two half-cent sales tax increases that would have funded Little Rock 2000, Future-Little Rock is "an expansion of the issues that should have been discussed last year in the campaign."

The Little Rock Board of Directors first considered a goal-setting effort in 1989, but the formation of the Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods and the Little Rock 2000 initiative caused that plan to be put on hold.

Nothing is stopping it now.

Democracy At Work

It's only the third Future-Little Rock steering committee meeting. As members take their seats at the tables that form a U-shape in a room at Little Rock City Hall, they know what they're in for.

They're in for a long night.

"I think that's premature," Les Hollingsworth, the steering committee chairman, says to co-chairman David Jones when the west Little Rock developer brings up a new issue.

"I think it's a legitimate question," Jones responds.

Hollingsworth answers, "Well, I don't think it is at this point."

"I'll defer to your wishes," Jones says. "But I disagree."

The exchange is typical.

The steering committee meetings won't always be five hours in length. But they'll never be short.

"Some of it is, frankly, pretty boring," admits Tom Johnson, an architect who asked to be on the committee. "We've been slow getting started because most of the people on the committee are new to this type of organization."

"Democracy is often a cumbersome process," Dalton says.

The city manager says it takes time for everyone to be heard. Once they've had their say, the meetings won't seem so overwhelming.

"I don't think it can be a three-month study," says Hampton Roy, a member of the city board and chairman of the steering committee's Governance Task Force. "It's a way to have a great deal of openness. It will allow people . . . to express themselves."

The city board ultimately will choose whether to place issues discussed by the task force on the ballot.

"As you're out there involving people in that vision, you're also building support," Dalton says.

He insists Future-Little Rock isn't a scheme by the city fathers to eliminate political opposition. Future-Little Rock is much too publicized to be a political scheme, Dalton says.

The steering committee is planning numerous televised town meetings. After information and opinions are gathered, the committee's efforts will become more focused.

There are 12 task forces. They center on economic development, governance, education, environment, health and human services, housing, public services, public safety and security, quality of life, recreation and leisure activities, neighborhood revitalization and transportation.

Still, the steering committee must deal with its own infrastructure before it can deal with the city's.

Its first meeting allowed members to get to know each other. Several aired concerns about inadequate representation for women and blacks.

"If you're serious about making a change, you have to start from the beginning," says Barbara Douglas, a steering committee member. "And it wasn't balanced."

Once everyone was introduced, however, the majority of committee members felt confident in the group's makeup.

The next issue already was waiting in the wings -- Lynch's claim that city government is not "citizen friendly."

Compliments And Constraints

Dalton watched an effort similar to Future-Little Rock work when he was city manager of Saginaw, Mich. But that planning process included only the city's downtown.

Dalton has never seen a program as all-encompassing as the one in Little Rock. The city planning staff visited with officials of a number of cities to learn of their successes and failures. A committee appointed by the city board then chose two consulting firms to aid in the process.

Tischler & Associates Inc. of Bethesda, Md., was hired as the primary consultant to gather data on the city. Mary Means & Associates Inc. of Alexandria, Va., was hired as a second consultant to act as a government go-between and a sounding board for Little Rock residents.

Jinni Benson, a senior associate with the Means firm, says the company attempts to "translate what seems to be complicated or boring information in a way ordinary folks can understand."

Means employees have interviewed almost 100 Little Rock residents.

Tischler, meanwhile, is preparing a report on the condition of the city. Paul Tischler says Little Rock 2000's goal of encouraging downtown redevelopment was the right one. It simply wasn't packaged correctly. He says the city's major problem is a lack of vision.

That can be overcome, Benson believes, because of Little Rock's young leadership.

Our City, Our Future

Benson supports the idea of a diverse steering committee. She says it might be inconvenient, but it will ensure ideas aren't rubber-stamped.

Some committee members, in turn, are defending the hiring of the consulting firms.

If "you don't get in expert help, then you're not being fair to anybody," Lynch says.

Dalton's original cost estimate for the consulting work was $250,000. He now says the figure was arbitrary. Consultants could cost the city up to $500,000.

The report Tischler prepared cost taxpayers $39,800. If the steering committee chooses to use all the firm's services, the price will be $174,700.

Although the Means firm is considered the secondary consultant, the price for its work would top $320,000 if all its services were utilized. The taxpayers would be charged $60,623 for having the firm organize the steering committee.

Dalton says $500,000 isn't much when one considers it averages just more than $2.50 for each of Little Rock's 176,000 residents.

The steering committee is still debating which consulting services it will require those residents to pay for.

The one thing committee members agree on is that something needs to be done.

Jim Moses, who led the campaign for Little Rock 2000, still has the "Our City, Our Future" sticker on the rear window of his BMW.

That slogan could easily be the motto for Future-Little Rock.

"The future is where all of us are going to spend the rest of our lives, right?" Lynch says.

Form And Function

Task Force Considers Changing Little Rock's Form Of Government

Once completed, the Future-Little Rock effort may be best known for its task forces.

The first task force is the Governance Task Force, chaired by Little Rock directors Lottie Shackelford and Hampton Roy. Both volunteered to be part of a group that will consider changing Little Rock's form of government.

A city manager system with at-large board positions was a major target during last fall's Little Rock 2000 campaign. Two proposed half-cent sales tax increases failed at the polls, in part because some groups believed they were not adequately represented in city affairs.

The Governance Task Force is a direct result of the failed campaign.

The Future-Little Rock steering committee formed a subcommittee that, in turn, chose 20 people to serve on the Governance Task Force.

Roy believes the seven-member city board, which includes three females and two blacks, is well-rounded despite public perceptions. But that doesn't mean the task force won't consider all options.

Roy says the task force believes government should offer equal representation, efficient delivery of services, the ability to create cohesiveness, sound management, accessibility and accountability.

"It's not just form but function," Jinni Benson, a senior associate with Mary Means & Associates Inc. of Alexandria, Va., says of an effective city government.

Benson is a consultant for both the steering committee and the Governance Task Force. She will present case studies of cities with qualities that might be attractive to Little Rock.

"We're charged with looking at what it is we want and then how we are going to get it," Benson says.

The task force will present its findings to the steering committee, which then will decide whether to send recommendations to the city board.

Finally, city directors will decide whether to place on the ballot a proposal to change the city's form of government.

Roy is planning a series of public hearings on the issue.

"We hope to have a very open process," he says.

Steering The Future

Future-Little Rock's 36-Member Steering Committee Is A Diverse Group

When Future-Little Rock's 36-member steering committee was formed in January, there were complaints that not enough females and blacks were represented.

But after introductions were made, most committee members were comfortable that all constituencies were adequately represented.

Two members already have left the committee. One position has been filled, and one position remains vacant.

These are the 35 members, their business and community involvements and some of their feelings about Future-Little Rock.

Barbara Douglas

Owner, B.M. Style Crest Beauty Salon & Supply Inc.

Arkansas Community Organizations for Reform Now, Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods

"This is a great opportunity to change the decreasing credibility of city government," Douglas says.

Alice Glover

Retired from the Little Rock School District

Senior Democrats

David Jones

Sales representative, Vogel Enterprises

Co-chairman of Future-Little Rock steering committee, former chairman of the Little Rock Planning Commission

Dean Kumpuris

Doctor, Kumpuris Davis & Metrailer

Fifty for the Future, University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Business Advisory Council

Dickson Flake

President, real estate firm Barnes Quinn Flake & Anderson Inc.

Fifty for the Future, The Downtown Partnership

Flake is concerned that "some view the planning process as a vehicle for advancing a predetermined list of narrow objectives."

Odies Wilson III

Director of maintenance, Mays Property Management Inc.

Arkansas Rainbow Coalition, National Association of Black Political Consultants

Bettye Caldwell

Donaghey Professor of Education, UALR

Chairwoman of the Community Reinvestment Act Committee at First Commercial Bank, Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families

Ruth Bell

Self-employed

Vice president of the League of Women Voters of Pulaski County, Little Rock Committee on Foreign Relations

Bell fears Future-Little Rock "will get bogged down because each representative will put his or her special interests first."

William Anderson Jr.

Retired physical therapy assistant East End Civic League

"We may be able to build the Diamond Center if the citizens can be shown the purpose of it and how it will be financed," Anderson says.

Ernest Edwards

Machine repairman, AT&T

Democratic Black Caucus

Edwards says he will bring the perspective of factory workers to the steering committee.

Dale Charles

State employee

President of the Little Rock chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

Don Fitz

Agent, State Farm Insurance Co.

Knights of Columbus, National Rifle Association

Joe Hill

Arkansas Department of Human Services, Division of Alcohol & Drug Abuse Prevention

Little Rock Fighting Back Executive Committee, Little Rock Civil Service Commission

Hill says he has special skills in developing strategies and building relationships.

Joel Doyle

Broker, Doyle's Realty

President of Western Hills Neighborhood Association

Les Hollingsworth

Partner, Hollingsworth Law Firm

Arkansas Bar Association, chairman of Future-Little Rock steering committee

Hollingsworth says he will bring "a disadvantaged minority's perspective to most issues."

Kathy Johnson

Sales associate, The Janet Jones Co.

Habitat for Humanity, Junior League of Little Rock

She worries that "because of the lack of leadership, money and voter commitment, we will be unable to accomplish our plans."

Patricia McGraw

Professor of English, University of Central Arkansas at Conway NAACP, Worthen National Bank of Arkansas Advisory Board for Community Development

"I hope that, for once, Little Rock will have a group of concerned individuals from varied backgrounds . . . who will work toward common goals," McGraw says.

Jim Moses

Partner, architectural and urban planning firm Allison Moses Redden

Downtown Partnership, Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce

Moses spearheaded the campaign for Little Rock 2000.

"We fell a few votes shy, but the essence of our vision is still there waiting for the community to embrace," he says.

Tom Johnson

Architect, Thomas Johnson & Associates

Chairman of the Little Rock Historic District Commission, Quapaw Quarter Association

Lawerence Evans

Pastor, First Missionary Baptist Church

NAACP

Craig Rains

President, Craig Rains Communications

Past president of the Arkansas Advertising Federation, past president of the Arkansas chapter of the Public Relations Society of America

Harry Ward

Chancellor, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences at Little Rock

Arkansas Enterprises for the Developmentally Disabled Inc.

Ward worries that "in an attempt to please everyone, the final report will be to scattered and non-functional."

Leon Matthews

President, United Way of Pulaski County Inc.

Southern Community Executives Association, Downtown Little Rock Rotary Club

Matthews is concerned that if Future-Little Rock fails, "it will lead to further polarization and distrust and cripple the ability of this city to stabilize its school system."

James Young

Chancellor, UALR

National Conference of Christians and Jews, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra Society board

Barnett Grace

Chairman and chief executive officer, First Commercial Corp.

Fifty for the Future, Arkansas State Council on Economic Education

Grace worries that the steering committee will be viewed as the final decision maker rather than the voters.

"If this occurs to the exclusion of others, we will be doomed from the beginning," he says.

Janis Kearney

Publisher, Arkansas State Press Little Rock Central High School PTA

"I fear that with so many bright minds, there will be so many opinions that no end result will come out of this," Kearney says.

Jim Dailey

Chief executive officer, Dailey's Office Furniture & Supplies

Vice mayor, Little Rock

Dailey most wants to "market a unified, quality city."

Jim Lynch

Senior research specialist, UALR's Arkansas Institute of Government

President of the Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods, former president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association

"Little Rock should not necessarily accept convenient answers in order . . . to provide a road map for the future," Lynch says.

Walter Smiley

President, Smiley Investment Co.

President of Fifty for the Future, Arkansas Business Council

Smiley says the goal of Future-Little Rock should be "to learn to work together rather than fight."

Lee Frazier

Executive vice president of operations, St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center

Leadership Greater Little Rock

Robert Johnston

Vice president, AUS Consultants

Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods, co-chairman of Future-Little Rock steering committee

"Suspicions and misconceptions could detract from the effort," Johnston says.

Curt Bradbury

Chairman and chief executive officer, Worthen Banking Corp.

President of the Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce

"Efforts of this sort, like weddings and funerals, tend to bring out the best and the worst in people," Bradbury says.

Sammy Mills

Retired barber

Chairman of ACORN's Neighborhood Elm to Woodrow Chapter

"I would like to bring groups together, show strength and demand things from the city that have never been demanded before," Mills says.

Gaston Gibson

President, Worth James Construction Co.

Past president of the Little Rock Boys Club, co-chairman of Future-Little Rock steering committee

Meredith Catlett

Partner, law firm Friday Eldredge & Clark

Little Rock Board of Directors, Winrock International President's Advisory Council

Catlett hopes Future-Little Rock will bring about "a restoration of trust."
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Title Annotation:includes related articles
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Mar 29, 1992
Words:2782
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