North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith said he has set a few important, simple priorities in his first few months in office, but admits the Christmas snowstorm did present some transition challenges.
“The ice storm put us back a little bit,” Smith said. “We had to drop everything and deal with that.”
Smith had his first staff meeting on Friday, Jan. 4. “We explained to the staff some of the change we were going to make and what I expected of them. Everybody was excited that we made very few changes in personnel. We made changes internally but not in personnel.”
Smith admits a big challenge will be replacing City Finance Director Bob Sisson.
“That is the biggest and scariest,” Smith said. “But thank the Lord he has agreed to stay several months until we have his replacement hired.”
Smith’s biggest priority is replacing former General Manager Mike Russ of the North Little Rock Electric Department but he has confidence in City Attorney Jason Carter to work as interim NLRED general manager.
“Again we were fortunate Jason Carter worked so closely with him (Russ) the last two years. With his military background and legal background, he has the understanding of the purchase power part of it (electric business).”
Smith added, “He will be able to keep on top of things. As I told Sherwood City Council a few weeks ago, North Little Rock Electric is fine. There are a lot of people working there who have many years of experience.”
Smith said he expects a replacement for Russ in 3-5 months.
Smith said he has not made up his mind if he wants to promote from within or find a police chief outside of the department.
“Mike Davis is a very good policeman and Chief Bradley will be close,” Smith said. “I will take my time making that decision. The chief of police is a very important position and I don’t want to make a mistake.”
Smith said he expects to make a decision on the police chief position within the next 30 days.
“We will probably end up advertising that position and seeing what is out there,” Smith said.
Smith stressed his two biggest priorities currently are finding general manager for the city-owned electric utility and the next city finance director.
Smith said he has met individually with each city alderman recently because he wants to maintain a good working relationship with the city council.
“I told them my door is always open and we are going to have a lot of communication even though I have been to over 500 council meetings in my life,” Smith said. “But I have never sat in the chair (as mayor) and I have asked them to help me get through the first several months. And when we have issues let’s talk about it.”
Smith said he continues to feel humbled that the majority of voters elected him as mayor.
“I am determined not to let anybody down,” Smith said.
Alderman Debi Ross said she is very pleased that Smith’s first legislation to be brought to the council will be to end the lawsuit between the city and the North Little Rock School District.
“I will vote to dismiss it,” Ross said. “As long as he (Smith) has five votes, I am assuming it will be done away with.”
Alderman Bruce Foutch said he looks forward to ending the school district lawsuit.
“Ending the lawsuit is a good thing,” Foutch said. “It hung out there way too long. I will support that. I see no reason not to.”