Three of the four candidates for Fayetteville mayor took turns answering questions Thursday night during a forum hosted by the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce.
Ron Baucom, Tom Terminella and William Harris participated in the event. Mayor Lioneld Jordan was not in attendance.
Susan Norton, Jordan’s chief of staff, said the mayor had a schedule conflict and was attending the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police ceremony honoring Police Chief Mike Reynolds and other officers, including former officer Stephen Carr.
The forum was held on the Zoom app due to the COVID-19 pandemic with each candidate having the option to attend virtually from home. However, the three candidates all chose to appear in person at the chamber in front of a live camera. The event was moderated virtually by Taylor Shelton, the chamber’s director of government affairs.
Baucom said he is a conservative Christian who describes himself as “pro-life and pro-family.” He said as a lifelong resident of Fayetteville, he thinks the community has become more divided recently, possibly because not enough people are participating in local politics. Baucom said too much money is being spent frivolously on things that only benefit a small portion of residents and he hopes to change that if elected.
“We can’t continue to use the taxpayers’ money like Monopoly money,” said Baucom. “I’m sorry, but that’s the way I feel they’ve been doing things for quite a few years.”
Baucom said he’d push for updated infrastructure, including completion of Kessler Regional Park and improvements to areas like Walker Park, which he said looks like a ghetto.
Baucom said the lack of a living wage and is the biggest issue Fayetteville faces, which has led to a major disparity between low-income and high-income residents.
“There is absolutely no middle class, I don’t believe, at all in Fayetteville,” said Baucom, adding that most people who live in town can’t take advantage of parks and trails because they work two or three jobs.
Tom Terminella said he also thinks the city is divided, but said he’s running because it’s time for a change in leadership. He said Jordan’s 12 years as mayor, combined with his previous eight years as a City Council member is too long of a time to be in office.
“I think anybody that runs for mayor in the future ought to agree to be mayor for two terms and then move on,” Terminella said.
It’s Terminella’s second campaign for mayor. He ran against Baucom and Jordan in 2016, and said he’s back again because the current administration doesn’t focus enough on police, fire and infrastructure projects, but rather spends money on “feel good things” that aren’t as important and cause divisions among residents.
“I want to bring people together,” said Terminella. “And I don’t feel like Lioneld (Jordan) has been doing a very good job of that.”
Terminella said some of Fayetteville’s biggest issues are a lack of updated municipal infrastructure and a confusing set of development codes that make it difficult for builders to construct affordable housing.
“It’s awful hard for anybody to provide and deliver affordable housing when the permitting process is so voluminous and costly that it becomes counterproductive,” said Terminella. “We have so many requirements…that it’s actually made Fayetteville an area that’s expensive to build within.”
William Harris said he has “checkered past” that includes 20 years in prison, but is proud of his accomplishments fighting against a “cultural revolution” and joining President Ronald Reagan’s “teflon team.”
Harris said cities stopped building large swimming pools around the time of desegregation, and if elected, he’ll push for an Olympic-sized public swimming pool near the center of town.
“If we really have race problem in Fayetteville, that swimming pool will tell us whether we’ve got it or not,” said Harris.
Harris ran an unsuccessful campaign for Washington County District 2 constable in 2016, an effort he said was in response to the Black Lives Matter movement which he didn’t agree with.
“I see BLM as causing a lot of excitement…and not offering any real solutions,” said Harris, adding that having unarmed constables in “troubled neighborhoods” is a possible safe solution to problems.
Harris said when he didn’t win that position, he shifted his focus to running for mayor.
The chamber posted the full video of the forum on its YouTube channel. The video is also embedded above.