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NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Year in Review

<p>North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Hays.</p>Buy Photo

North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Hays.

January

North Little Rock deals with Canadian geese in Burns Park

The city of North Little Rock is continuing to try and figure out a way to control and decrease the Canada geese population at Burns Park while also respect the desire of some people not to see a controlled hunt to be implemented there.

Mayor Patrick Hays said Monday during a meeting of the North Little Rock Council that he has decided to change his strategy in dealing with the geese problem there.

Hays said he does not support the idea of inviting volunteer hunters to come into the park and kill the geese. If a hunt is ever carried out during his tenure as mayor, Hays said city animal control and police officers would do the job.

Hays said he remains hopeful that a partnership being formed between the city and the Coalition to Save the Geese of Burns Park of North Little Rock can lead to a population reduction program that can reduce their numbers in a way deemed as humane by much of the general public.

“We have had discussion at every council meeting concerning finding a way to control and improve the utilization of Burns Park as well as the seven miles along the river,” Hays said. “It is my intent to go ahead with an agreement with the coalition.”

Hays said the city parks department has recently retained the services of dogs to drive geese out of Burns Park.

The parks department also going ahead with providing additional lighting in the Victory Park area that is believed to be one of the major nesting areas for the geese, Hays said.

Hays said it is his hope that the coalition helps the city retain enough volunteers to help coat the eggs that leads to them not hatching.

“We hope to have enough volunteers in the coating of eggs who are extremely committed to ensure that come this summer we see a significant reduction in the issues we are dealing with the Canadian geese,” Hays said.

Hays calling it quits after 24 years in office

Effective Jan. 1, 2013, North Little Rock will have a new mayor.

Mayor Patrick Hays has announced he plans on stepping down after his current term in office. He has served as the city mayor for seven terms.

Hays said he plans on staying very active during his final year on duty.

“I have no intention on hanging up my boots during my last 355 days in office,” Hays said. “There still is a lot that needs to be done.”

Hays said he plans on trying to help the steer the city into a healthy fiscal climate during his final year.

“The voters told us in the last election that they want us to make do with what we have,” Hays said.

The rejection of two sales tax initiatives by the majority of North Little Rock voters did set the city back, according to Hays.

The city is authorized to fill 203 city police officers positions but currently has about 193. With the new taxes, the police department wanted to add another 10 officers, Hays said.

Even though city voters rejected the City Hall initiative, Hays said he hopes the people will pass a special millage election initiative that will be on the ballot next month.

Even though the city has limited resources, Hays said he wants North Little Rock to continue providing high quality municipal services in areas such as police, fire, public works, streets, sewers and economic development.

“There are signs that the economy may be turning around which is good for North Little Rock since more than 50 percent of our revenue comes from the sales tax,” Hays said.

Hays said he wants to see the tugboat U.S.S. Hoga brought to North Little Rock. Six years ago, the U.S. Navy moved to donate it to the city but the ship currently is located in San Francisco. The city has been unable to move it to North Little Rock at the present time due to the expense.

February

NLR School bond issue passed by voters

Voters of the North Little Rock School District Tuesday passed the proposed 7.4-mill property tax increase that will be used to construct several new schools, remodel others and close down others during the next several years.

The vote passed by a margin of 3,841-2,847, or by 57.43 percent in favor and 42.57 opposed, according to unofficial results released Tuesday night by the Pulaski County Board of Elections. About 6,700 voters turned out for the special election.

The election results brought a reaction of elation from several school district officials.

“This is one of the most exciting days in the history of North Little Rock,” said District Communications Specialist Shara Brazear. “Thank you to the community, parents, and staff for supporting our students and ensuring the success of our community.”

Brazear added, “A special thanks to all of the North Little Rock School District staff and volunteers for their efforts in educating parents and the community.”

Volunteers could be seen throughout the day and evening near numerous locations including about a dozen school children holding election signs along JFK Boulevard in the dark near 7 p.m. close to one of the polling sites.

Other locations near polling sites were manned by volunteers in fewer numbers, including the North Little Rock City Hall where School Board member David Taylor sat outside by himself trying to do his part in encouraging people to vote yes.

Of the total number of votes, about 22 percent cast their ballots in the form of early voting. “As of 5 p.m. on Monday, February 13, 2012, 28 people have cast early votes in the Feb. 14 NLRSD Special Election. This brings to five day total to 1,479 early votes cast,” according to Bryan Poe of the Pulaski County Elections Office.

The election saw 120 absentee ballots cast, according to the unofficial results.

Brazear said the objective now would be very simple during the next several years – to abide by the district’s long-range facilities plan that would have only been made possible by the passage of the school levy.

Hillside cut ordinance for bigger parking lot begin First Pentecostal taken off council agenda

For the time being, there will be no hillside cut behind a large church that can be seen along Interstate 40 in North Little Rick.

An ordinance has been tabled that would have allowed for a hillside cut behind First Pentecostal Church to make way for a larger parking lot has been taken off the agenda.

On Feb. 13, the North Little Rock City Council took no action on it again. The issue has been on the council agenda for two months.

City Attorney Jason Carter told the council that council rules dictate that any time an item has not been acted upon for six meetings automatically falls off the agenda.

Alderman Charlie Hight, who presided over the council meeting due to the absence of Mayor Patrick Hays, said it was the mayor’s desire to hold the legislation.

City leaders watched the hillside cut legislation leave the council agenda following several city council meetings where residents in the Skyline Drive area of North Little Rock spoke against the proposed project; concerned it might damage their property.

On the Feb. 13 meeting council again heard from another group of voices opposed to the hillside cut project.

The council accepted a petition presented to the city where its signers urged the council to turn down the church’s request.

March

LR, NLR and Sherwood begin largest recycling program in southeastern U.S.

Residents in the cities of Little Rock, North Little Rock and Sherwood have teamed up to participate in a new recycling program that is being called the largest of its kind at the present time in the southeastern United States.

Waste Management where new-wheeled recycling carts will deliver the effort started Monday to eligible single-family homes in the three participating cities.

John Roberts, director of the Pulaski County Regional Solid Waste District, said delivering the 90,000 cans is expected to be complete by March 24.

Roberts said the picking up of recyclable items starts on April 2 in most of Little Rock and April 9 in North Little Rock, Sherwood and the rest of Little Rock.

“Current participation in the recycling program in Little Rock is approximately 32 percent,” Roberts said. “City leaders expect the participation rate to double with the larger convenient wheeled cart, the enhanced number of items that can be recycled, and the addition of incentives provided through Recyclebank.”

Recyclebank is an incentives-based program that allows participants to earn points for all items they recycle. The more points a household earns, the more coupons and discounts participants will receive in savings at local stores and restaurants, Roberts said.

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said the Recyclebank points can be used by visiting www.Recyclebank.com for rewards, deals and discounts on food items, apparel, merchandise and more.

“Watch your mailbox for instructions from Waste Management and Recyclebank on how to join,” Stodola said.

Since 1994 the Regional Recycling and Waste Reduction District has overseen recycling programs in Pulaski County. The new residential recycling program will further expand the goal of joining forces to better serve Pulaski County citizens, Roberts said.

Officials from all three cities were excited about the upcoming program.

“We are very proud to be a part of recycling in Central Arkansas which will help our environment and our planet,” said North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Hays.

Hays said he hopes efforts can be done to get more groups to be a part of the program, such as the North Little Rock School District.

The recycling bins are being distributed to single-family households in the three cities – not sites such as apartment complexes or schools unless they work out an agreement with Waste Management.

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman said her city is also excited about being a part of the large recycling effort.

“We have tried a few pilot programs in our city but we have been asked by many in our city why we don’t recycle?” Hillman said.

Hillman said Sherwood has taken efforts in recent years to modernize such as when the city converted to automated garbage pickup.

Officials in all three cities have high hopes that participation amongst the citizens will be high because of the recycling rewards program known as Recyclebank.

Fred Hannon, vice president/regional manager of Recyclebank, said his firm is expecting participation rates to be between 50-80 percent.

The main reason for high participation rates is because of the reward points for people who recycle, Hannon said.

April

Mayors ask state to rethink Broadway Bridge

Let’s go back to the drawing board and rethink this whole Broadway Bridge reconstruction thing.

That is the sentiment of the mayors of Little Rock and North Little Rock who have asked the Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department to change its plans to build a new Broadway Street Bridge.

In a March 30 letter from Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola and North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Hays, they contend there is a better idea than demolishing the current bridge and building a new one. Their letter was sent to AHTD Director Scott Bennett and the members of the Arkansas Highway Commission.

“Over the last several months, a significant amount of time and effort has been expended by many in Central Arkansas to address this need and we very much appreciate the AHTD and its commission’s efforts to seek input from all, primarily the two cities (Little Rock and North Little Rock) which will be impacted the most by the current bridge construction plans,” states the letter. “However, it is becoming more and more apparent that current plans to tear down the Broadway Bridge and rebuild its replacement in the same location will cause significant traffic disruption for an extended period of time; with projected traffic delay costs exceeding $40 million.”

The letter continues, “Therefore, with concerns about various design proposals, and the shortness of time available to offer meaningful suggestions for design improvements, we feel it would be appropriate to suggest the AHTD consider the following alternative.”

Stodola and Hays suggest federal bridge replacement funds be used to build the replacement bridge at Chester Street and La Harpe Boulevard which is also known as Arkansas 10.

According to the letter, the Chester Street Bridge would connect to Riverfront Drive and then onto Pike Avenue/Arkansas 365 on the north.

“This route would also provide easy access across the river to and from I-630,” states the letter. “When completed, the Broadway Bridge would be removed from the State Highway Transportation System and all vehicular traffic would be prohibited.”

Both mayors said their cities would assume responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the existing Broadway Bridge as a pedestrian destination connecting the Robinson Center Music Hall with Dickey Stephens Ball Park.

“This type of alternative use has been adopted in several cities throughout the country,” states the letter. “Various leisure, business and entrepreneurial activities could be planned for the Bridge’s ongoing pedestrian use.”

May

Community gardens keep sprouting up in North Little Rock courtesy of city grant

What do you do when you have some unused city property in a neighborhood that makes the community look more blighted than on the grow? In the case of more and more neighborhoods in North Little Rock, you plant a garden.

Bernadette Gunn Rhodes, North Little Rock’s Fit 2 Live Coordinator, said the city has awarded grants totaling $52,554 since the spring of 2011 consisting of 13 projects.

“The Fit 2 Live Community Garden Grant Program is funded by North Little Rock’s City Council as part of an effort to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables across the city,” Rhodes said.

One such example of a community garden is located at the corner of 54th and Allen streets in Levy. Rhodes said the city owns the land that sat vacant. The only purpose it served was to remind motorists and area residents that Levy isn’t the most prosperous area in town.

Now instead of a vacant lot in an economically challenged area stands a community garden with about a dozen squares, wooden frames containing soil and growing vegetables.

“We believe it helps our community look better,” said Lora Matthey-Hicks of Neighbors United for Levy.

Hicks said the community garden is helping more people in the community communicate with one another, get to know one another and making Levy look prettier and friendlier.

Hicks added that she has noticed more neighbors looking out for one another. For example, she and her family were out of town for a few weeks and other community garden members helped look out for her family’s garden.

In addition, a neighbor who lives nearby doesn’t have anything planted there but has taken it upon himself to keep the grass cut.

“You get to know your neighbors better,” Hicks said.

Rhodes said the city loves the grant program because it promotes eating healthier foods and exercise.

“It takes work to plant a garden,” Rhodes said. “And then after what you plant grows, you have something to show for it.”

Paul Shell of North Little Rock also enjoys seeing his garden grow and appreciates the program.

“We have individual plots where the gardeners can plant what they want and a couple of common gardens that we all help to maintain,” Shell said. “The water bill is paid by the gardeners.”

The water is provided courtesy of Central Arkansas Water that is paid for by the garden users who pay membership dues. Buying a plot in the Levy garden costs $35 per year but if someone is economically distressed compromises can usually be worked out, Hicks said.

While the garden users pay the water bill, CAW has started its own program to set up the water connections free of charge, Rhodes said.

Shell said he loves his garden.

“I’ve been growing several varieties of heirloom tomatoes from seed for years and giving away the plants to friends and family,” Shell said. “I have way too much shade to get a decent crop at my house. When I found out about the garden, I jumped at the chance to become involved. This is the first time I’ve ever had any success with growing tomatoes. It’s so exciting watching everything grow, flower and fruit.”

June

Mecum Auctions Offers The Salmon Brothers Collection

Mecum Auctions of Walworth, Wis., offered on Saturday a collection of nearly 140 American collector cars spanning a full century of automotive history ranging from a 1908 Maxwell to a 2008 Roush-powered Ford Mustang. The vehicles were sold at the Salmon Brothers “Car Barn” on Roundtop Road North Little Rock.

Twin brothers and Arkansas natives, Tom and Don Salmon, had spent well over half a century amassing the collection of classic and collector automobiles with one common theme — American made.

With an example of nearly every major domestic manufacturer represented in the collection, the event was a celebration of the American automobile.

Among the impressive line-up of vehicles crossing the block on this action packed day included an original 1957 Pontiac Bonneville, a rare 1957 fuel-injected Chevy Nomad, and a 1934 Cadillac Fleetwood V12 All-Weather Phaeton that is one of only 3 ever produced.

A handful of engines and road art were also being offered throughout the day. Bidder credentials were required for admittance into this Special Event.

In the hours and moments before the auction, people could be seen viewing, inspecting and photographing the car collection.

Bradley Harslem, of South Lake, Texas, and his son, Dan, were in town to get a look at North Little Rock submarine museum.

“This is a beautiful collection,” the elder Harslem said.

“It is not everyday you get to see a collection like this,” added Sherwood’s Benny Kidd.

While many people were present to attend the auction, the event seemed more like a festival with even a food vendor present.

According to Mechum’s website, some of Salmon Brothers cars sold at six-figure prices, including the 1934 Cadillac Fleetwood V12 which sold for $200,000.

According to the website, the vehicle was an Antique Automobile Club of America award winner which was restored in 1994.

Another vehicle which topped the six-figure mark was the 1959 Chevrolet Impala Convertible that sold for $110,000.

The vehicle is powered by a V-8 engine but backed up by a rare four-speed manual transmission. According to the website, the vehicle won first prize in 1998 in the Antique Automobile Club of America contest.

July

Hays reflects on 24 year run as mayor

For the first time in 25 years, North Little Rock has an open mayoral election because long-time incumbent Patrick Hays opted to not seek re-election in 2012. With about four months left to his current term, Hays was asked recently to speak to the North Little Rotary Club to address what he feels have been some of the major accomplishments in the city since he first took office.

“I can’t tell you how mixed the emotions are,” Hays said, reflecting on the end of his final term as North Little Rock mayor. “When I was asked to point out some of the major things I am proudest of it was really hard to pick one thing.”

Hays said one of his first challenges, as mayor wanted to make people want to live in North Little Rock.

“When I got here 23.5 years ago the city of Little Rock passed an ordinance mandating all future employees of the city live in Little Rock,” Hays said.

Hays said he didn’t want to follow Little Rock’s example even though the year was 1989 and the 1990 U.S. Census was on the horizon.

“We were flat to losing population,” Hays said. “I thought about it for 30 minutes (mandating city employees live in North Little Rock) and I thought if I had to make people live in my city then we had lost the battle. We needed to make them want to live in the city.”

Hays looked at North Little Rock’s strengths and tried to build upon them while admitting the city had some challenges to face, such as being a city close to being landlocked by communities like Maumelle and Sherwood.

Hays said a major strength he tried to build on was North Little Rock’s location in the central part of the state as well as close to many major population centers in the country.

August

Chick-Fil-A in North Little Rock draws major traffic in show of support from patrons

Some older Americans may have thought that the Beetles were back in town Wednesday, Aug. 1, as many supporters of Chick-Fil-A turned out in droves to the North Little Rock franchise on McCain Boulevard.

On the national level, Chick-Fil-A supporters across the country decided that day to patronize the business following comments from the company’s CEO who voiced support of the traditional marriage between one man and one woman. He also expressed opposition to gay marriage.

In response, some politicians in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco said publicly that they did not want the fast food chain opening up in their cities because of the company’s stance on traditional family and Christian values.

The comments from politicians spurred former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to choose Aug. 1 as the national day for people to patronize Chick-Fil-A that would show their support of the company’s traditional and religious stances.

At the North Little Rock franchise, the restaurant was filled with people much of the day with lines of people seen standing outside, waiting to get in. Outside, many cars were lined up from the restaurant’s drive-thru, and back to McCain Boulevard.

“I wanted to show my support of Chick-Fil-A,” said Carla Stephens of Jacksonville.

Stephens said the restaurant chain should not be punished because its CEO commented publicly about his support for traditional family values.

“I feel people should be able to speak their opinion regardless of who they are,” said North Little Rock resident Courtney Lee. “I support Chick-Fil-A.”

Kara Cypert of North Little Rock said Chick-Fil-A has become a target of the supports of gay marriage.

“I wanted to show my support for Chick-Fil-A,” said Patricia Berard of Jacksonville, speaking from her car as she was waiting in line on McCain Boulevard. “I have been in line for 34 minutes and am still waiting.”

September

Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame conference center to be built this fall

It appears the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame will soon be getting a conference center.

Hall of Fame Executive Director Ray Tucker wrote a letter on Aug.13 to North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Hays that the facility is expected to be built this fall.

The letter was made public on Aug. 27 when the North Little Rock City Council met during a regular session.

“This new facility, named in honor of Jimmie Lou and Floyd Sagely of Fort Smith, will expand the square footage of the Hall of Fame to 26,000 square feet,” Tucker said. “We anticipate that construction of the conference center will take six to eight months.”

Tucker said the Hall of Fame will have made a total investment in Verizon of $6.5 million when the project is complete.

“The museum opened in April 2007 and the conference center will open in the summer of 2013,” according to Tucker. “Along with the $1 million grant from EDA, 43 individuals and companies have contributed to this project.”

The completed center will enable the Hall of Fame to have earned income, through the rental of space, along with attracting new visitors to the museum, according to Tucker.

“The conference center will be catered by the Verizon Arena and will be open 52 weeks a year,” Tucker said.

Tucker added that the Hall of Fame is planning to host a groundbreaking for the conference center in the future. No groundbreaking date has been set as of yet.

CAC hosts ribbon cutting at New NLR Elementary Campus

Central Arkansas Christian on Sept. 18 hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony at its new North Little Rock Elementary campus, 6101 John F. Kennedy Blvd., which was formerly known as the Heflin Branch YMCA building.

At the beginning of 2012, CAC announced plans to purchase the property and facilities at 6101 JFK. Following site studies and municipal approval, CAC closed on the property in April and immediately began renovation of the nearly 13-acre property at the corner of JFK Blvd and Kierre Drive. The goal was to move the school’s elementary campus in the area, then housed inside the Sylvan Hills Church of Christ, to the new property beginning with the 2012-13 school year.

Aug. 15 began the new academic year for CAC, with grades Pre-K and 3 through 6 attending classes at this new, renovated location.

Members of CAC’s administration and board of directors, as well as parents and a group of students, attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

CAC president Dr. Carter Lambert spoke briefly, followed by North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Hays, and CAC co-founder and board member Doug Freeman who prayed over the new campus.

Following the ceremonial “ribbon-cutting,” attendees were given an opportunity to tour the new building and property and enjoy refreshments.

October

Laman Library buys downtown post office

The William F. Laman Public Library System announces the purchase of the Post Office Building, located at 420 Main St. in North Little Rock, for $775,000.

“We are very excited for this opportunity to improve and expand our services to the people of central Arkansas”, said Jeff Baskin, Executive Director of the William F. Laman Public Library System.

The next step will be to renovate the entire building that will take place during 2013 at a cost of $2.8 million. When it reopens in early 2014 it will replace the current Argenta Branch that is located at 506 Main St. in downtown North Little Rock. This newly renovated building will be comprise of 16,719 square feet which will contain a computer lab, reading room, café, exhibit hall, four meeting rooms, a one hundred and forty seat auditorium, and over twelve thousand books.

November NLR voters to face runoff races for mayoral, Ward 3 posts

A runoff election is expected to take place Nov. 27 in North Little Rock, as no candidate for mayor was able to garner Tuesday 51 percent of the vote.

Rep. Tracy Steele led the four-person race by capturing 48.26 percent of the vote with a total of 11,524 ballots cast on his behalf with following behind him was Joe Smith with 41.13 percent of the vote or 9,820 ballots cast for him.

Mark Clinton garnered 7.51 percent of the vote, or 1,793 ballots; and candidate John Parker got 741 votes or 3.1 percent.

Before Election Day, Steele held a 1,070 leader over Smith in the battle for early votes. According to the Pulaski County Board of Elections, Steele received 5,484 early votes compared to 4,414 early votes for Smith. Clinton 785 early votes while Parker had 332.

Smith said he and his supporters would be campaigning hard through the next three weeks.

“We knew it would be a tight race and it proved true,” Smith said. “There were some neighborhoods we were weak in and disappointed in.

Smith said he was encouraged by more people offering to volunteer for his campaign following Tuesday’s vote.

“We picked up about 50 volunteers at our watch party last night,” Smith said. “We got a meeting of campaign steam set up this afternoon and we will map out our plans. We felt this would be a run off. We will put things into motion tonight.”

However, following a hotly contested runoff election, Joe Smith was elected to become the next mayor of North Little Rock.

December

NLR settles Lasseigne hillside cut lawsuit for $32,000

The North Little Rock City Council Monday voted to approve the settlement of a lawsuit that three families filed against the city that alleged that a hillside cut had damaged their properties on North Cedar Street and the North Park Mall area.

According to the adopted resolution, in February 2009, the city of North Little Rock learned that the hillside cut which served as a rough border between the residential properties was failing. As a result, the city employed a geotechnical professional to measure, monitor and diagnose the problem.

“On two occasions, the city attempted to broke a remediation plan among the property owners which were challenged by initial expense, maintenance cost, financial difficulties and liabilities,” states the resolution.

Further attempts to resolve the failing hillside were halted when litigation was initiated against the city by three families in the case of Lasseigne verses the City of North Little Rock.

In the resolution, the city takes no blame for any cause the hillside cut may have caused the property owners.

“Despite the city’s good faith belief that the city did not cause the harm alleged in the case, the city acknowledges the value in amenably settling litigation between adverse parties; and the settlement of this case is anticipated to enable the remediation of the hillside failure which will provide a long-term benefit to the city through stable sales tax revenues from the North Park Mall and stable property tax revenues from the residences on North Cedar Street,” reads the resolution.

The resolution permits the city to settle the lawsuit for $32,500 with the revenues to be taken out of the general fund.

In other business, the council approved a resolution to allow the North Little Rock Wastewater Office to acquire property along the Five Mile Creek in Pulaski County for its wastewater treatment plant.

According to the resolution, Trammel Properties, LLC, the owner of the three parcels of property along Five Mile Creek, has offered to sell one parcel for $850,000 and make a donation of two parcels.

On Nov. 13, during a meeting of the city’s wastewater treatment committee, the panel approved the acquisition of the property from Trammell Properties.

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