North Little Rock Firefighter J. P. Pounder talks with Mayor Joe Smith Sunday afternoon at City Hall where he and his wife, Missy, invited the public to a meet-and-greet time. (Photo by Greg Rayburn)
The last year for the life of Mayor Joe Smith has been quite busy. While some men decide to slow it down and smell the roses, the pace of Smith’s life seems to be ratcheting up faster and faster.
In early 2012, Smith announced he was running for election. Later in the year, he stepped down as the city’s director of commerce and governmental affairs so he could campaign full time. Nov. 6 came and he found himself in a runoff election, finishing second place to Tracy Steele who came within two percentage points of winning the race outright. After three weeks of grueling campaigning, Smith won the runoff election by a 55-45 percent margin in late November.
A person might think he would have a chance to finally catch his breath but events beyond his control would not see to that. In about one week after he won the runoff, he was informed by Mike Russ that he would be stepping down as the general manager of North Little Rock Electric.
Less than 10 days after Russ’ final day on Dec. 17, Mother Nature slammed North Little Rock. The worst snowstorm to hit the area in perhaps 30 years or more pounded the state within a week of his inauguration. While not officially the mayor, more and more of the responsibility of the job fell upon him.
Smith now faces another challenge – the recent announcement of long-time North Little Rock Finance Director Bob Session that he will retire.
Smith recently named Assistant Police Chief Mike Davis as interim police chief. The announcement came after he named Police Chief Danny Bradley has his chief of staff, pending approval of the City Council.
Nathan Hamilton, North Little Rock’s director of communications, said the mayor’s top priority right now would be finding a good replacement for Russ. City Attorney Jason Carter is serving as interim electric department general manager.
Hamilton said Sisson has agreed to stay on the job until a replacement is found.
“We appreciate Bob staying for 3-6 months because there is so much on his plate,” Hamilton said. “Bob Sisson has been a huge part of the team in the finance department. Finding an incredible successor is one of his top priorities. He is just incredible. He has been with the city about 30 years.”
Now Smith has three major jobs to fill: electric department general manager, city finance director, and police chief.
Hamilton said the mayor’s office is not in a huge rush to replace Bradley as police chief.
“Mike Davis is very experienced and qualified and we have Chief Bradley close by,” Hamilton said.
Russ also has let city officials know if they have any questions or need his help they can give him a call, according to Hamilton.
Smith said he would need city council’s approval to create a chief of staff position. If council grants him his desire, Bradley would fill the role that Smith did for former Mayor Patrick Hays.
Smith said he has no intention of putting someone in his old administrative position. So, in essence, Bradley would be taking Smith’s place.
The ordinance to permit a chief of staff is expected to be brought up before the city council when it meets next on Monday.
Carter and City Human Resources Director Betty Anderson currently are drafting the legislation, Hamilton said.
Alderman Debi Ross said she has no problems with Smith wanting to create a chief of staff position.
“I am all for it,” Ross said. “I don’t know all of what the duties will be. We have had one anyway but not in name.” Ross was referring to Smith when he served in the Hays administration.
Alderman Bruce Foutch said he has no problems with supporting the chief of staff legislation.
“I will give the new mayor a chance to set up his management staff the way he feels best to get the job done,” Foutch said.