About 25 people filled the Upper Witherspoon Building Activity Center at First United Presbyterian Church last week to watch the third debate of the 2012 election season between Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan and former mayor Dan Coody.
Each candidate discussed their accomplishments and goals for the city during a 25-minute mayoral forum hosted by the Fayetteville branch of the American Association of University Women.
During their opening statements, Jordan and Coody discussed their differing philosophies for dealing with city finances during a recession.
Jordan touted the recent balancing of the city’s budget as a main strength he brings to the table.
“I’m a very good financial manager,” said Jordan. “We have gone through the worst recession since the Great Depression and the most important thing you can do as an elected official today is to be able to properly manage taxpayer money.”
Coody said while he understands the philosophy of conservative spending, he believes in a different approach.
“Fayetteville has always invested in big ideas,” said Coody who listed the Fayetteville Public Library, the city’s trail system and improvements to a portion of College Avenue as some of the things the city has put money into in recent years.
“We have to keep investing in big ideas even when we think we can’t afford it,” he said. “And if you’re going to invest in things, now is the time to do it because your dollar goes so much farther.”
Accomplishments as mayor
The first question from debate moderator Berta Seitz, an AAUW member, was: What do you consider your major achievement as mayor?
Besides a balanced budget, Jordan listed several policies implemented during his term including Arkansas’ first streamside protection ordinance and the state’s first city-adopted 2009 International Energy Conservation Code standards for residential home construction.
Coody mentioned the city’s trails system which he believes helped pave the way for the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway, a 36-mile trail that will connect south Fayetteville to north Bentonville.
“The trails program is probably the most visibly popular thing in Fayetteville’s existence,” said Coody. “It really enhances the quality of life and people love it.”
Fayetteville’s greatest challenge
Seitz asked the candidates to identify Fayetteville’s greatest need or challenge and to specify a solution.
Coody said Fayetteville needs to elect a leader with the vision to carve out its place in a growing region.
He said Bentonville is known for retail, Lowell for logistics and Springdale for food production. Fayetteville, he said, needs to be the hub of research and technology by recruiting companies that complement the University of Arkansas’ research capabilities.
“It’s going to give jobs for young people, it’s going to make Fayetteville more vibrant and strengthen our economy, and it will bring more interest in a higher quality of life,” said Coody. “And that acts as a magnet for more innovative and creative people moving to town.”
Jordan said job creation and job training is Fayetteville’s biggest challenge.
“I think it comes back to getting a good, solid taxpayer base in the city and that’s going to come through businesses in providing the type of jobs we need in this city,” said Jordan.
Job training, he said, gives hope to those who have lost their jobs in a recession. “We need to address that need,” he said.
Goals as mayor
Seitz asked each candidate what their major goal would be if elected.
Jordan said he would continue to keep tabs on the budget, protect the environment and work to bring citizens together.
“I will continue to be an ear to hear and a voice to speak for all of you, collectively,” Jordan told the crowd. “That is the foundation of every major achievement.”
Coody said making changes to the city’s paid parking program would be the first item on his list if elected.
“(The program) has a lot of people up in the air, a lot of people don’t like it, and it’s hurting businesses,” he said.
“We need to have a uniform parking program that is convenient and that is easily understood,” said Coody, who added that he would start by asking the City Council to amend the program to allow free parking after 5 p.m. and on weekends.
Seitz asked the candidates what they want voters to remember.
Jordan said having a vision is one thing, but being able to implement policies, programs and initiatives is another.
“If I was going to build a sidewalk, I could see the sidewalk completed in my mind,” said Jordan. “But you have to have laborers, a concrete truck, and you have to have people who can help you develop that sidewalk. Then together, that sidewalk can come into fruition.
“I can think it in my mind, but together, we will make the city better,” he said.
Coody said he liked Jordan’s sidewalk analogy, but believes vision is less about completing individual projects and more about being able to identify longterm goals that will have positive effects for generations.
“If I’m so lucky to get elected, then I will work with everybody in this room – including Lioneld – to really produce quality of life amenities that we have within our reach and that we cannot afford not to do,” said Coody.
Early voting for the Nov. 6 general election begins Oct. 22.