Baker Kurrus: Little Rock mayoral candidate
Baker Kurrus is a candidate for Little Rock mayor. Below are his answers to KATV's questionnaire.
1. In your opinion, what is the greatest concern for the city of Little Rock?
My greatest concerns for Little Rock are so interrelated as to be essentially inseparable. Crime, neighborhood declines, lack of educational achievement and poverty combine to produce very serious negative consequences in our city. The mayor must address this combined issue comprehensively. The mayor must address the current issues which arise every day, but the mayor must also lead efforts to reverse and eliminate the progressive declines in many of our neighborhoods. If neighborhoods are not cohesive and stable, other major issues, such as crime, infrastructure disrepair, and educational failure are exacerbated. We have certain areas which are healthy and growing, such as the River Market area, Hanger Hill, and West Little Rock, but we also have critical decay in our central city. We have stagnation in many other areas. The lack of growth has negatively impacted our city's revenues while also placing more stress on city services. Most of our operating budget is generated by real estate and sales tax revenues. When we lose population and real estate declines in value, our revenues decline but our expenses do not. We then do not have the resources to meet our current needs, and a negative downward spiral begins. We are reaching a critical point with respect to many essential service areas. For example, we have not fully funded our police department in the last several years, and the resultant spike upward in crime has damaged our citizens directly. Our city's reputation has also suffered, and this hinders our prospects for growth. Our major educational institutions, such as UA-Little Rock, UAMS, UA-Pulaski Technical College, LRSD, and Arkansas Baptist College are either shrinking or not growing. (Philander Smith and Shorter College are not declining, and are vital to our region's success.) These are the institutional linchpins of Little Rock. We need to revitalize our residential neighborhoods, which will reinvigorate our commercial nodes, improve our revenue, and drive small business growth and development. The policies which drive residential attractiveness need to originate in the mayor's office. I have written extensively about this, and my thoughts can be found here.
2. What is your plan to fight the increasing violence in the city?
If one single issue must be identified, most residents I have met would say that crime is our biggest problem. Violent crime must be reduced in Little Rock. Some categories have been reduced thus far this year, but we must become a city that is safe, secure, and out of the national news. In the last several years, the Little Rock Police Department has not been fully staffed, and the city budget was balanced through "vacancy savings" associated with a large number of open positions. This is not acceptable or beneficial to the city. We must have a clear and workable plan to recruit, train, and retain enough qualified personnel to maintain our current staffing. We also must manage our resources prudently so that we can afford to stay at full staffing. This will be a major challenge. Once we achieve full staffing, and operate at that level fora significant period, we will be able to assess whether we are adequately staffed. With current levels of revenue, we cannot add staff in any area without cutting in another. We simply do not have excess revenues.
The use of inter-agency policing, along with the full staffing of the Little Rock Police Department, shows a lot of promise, and may lessen crime rates substantially. As part of its annual city plan, Little Rock has the implementation of community policing efforts. Community policing is already part of our law enforcement plan, and we need to accomplish the plan. Community policing efforts have been lagging due to understaffing and the need for patrol officers to answer calls continuously.
Recent major crime busts have been successful through the cooperation of: state and country drug task forces, Little Rock Police Department, Pulaski County Sheriff's Office, FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, U.S. Marshal's Office, U.S. Attorney's Office, U.S. Postal Inspectors, and others. The results of these cooperative efforts demonstrate that major violent crimes can be reduced if law enforcement agencies attack the perpetrators on a regional basis. I will be sure Little Rock is an active and engaged participant.
3. What is the role of the Mayor as it pertains to the Little Rock School District?
I have been a student, parent, school board member, and superintendent in the Little Rock School District. My three children graduated from LRSD, and I had a child in LRSD for twenty straight years. I know the district inside and out. The increased percentages of low income students and students who move frequently have increased the challenges facing the school districts which serve Little Rock.
The city should support schools and cooperate with programs that improve stability in students' lives. The city must support neighborhoods and improve neighborhoods, thereby providing students with more stability and support from family and the community at large. This will do more to assist LRSD and PCCSD than almost anything else. Healthy and stable neighborhoods have healthy and productive schools. I have worked to build new schools in every corner of LRSD, including: Mann, Stephens, Wakefield, Chicot, Roberts, Pinnacle View and the new Southwest Little Rock high school. Buildings are important, but more important for student achievement are engaged, stable families with students who are supported by the community. I understand all of those dynamics from personal experience as well as my study and work with LSRD. I have written extensively on the role of the mayor with respect to education, and my statement can be found here.
4. On the proposed Interstate 30 Crossing, do you support the expansion?
Little Rock is a member of Metroplan, the regional planning agency that was involved in the consideration of 30 Crossing. Metroplan voted to approve the project, and Little Rock voted in favor the project in late 2017. The Mayor cannot reverse the city's approval. Metroplan stated that the project will proceed unless litigation stops the project. These are the plain facts.
I would like to make Little Rock a city where people wish to both live and work. This would improve our financial picture, and lessen the stress on major highways. In the future, my hope is that we can improve efficiency of our streets and highways without significant expansions of rights of way.
The 30 Crossing project has both benefits as well as potential negative impacts for our city and our region. As mayor, I can improve the outcomes for our citizens, and for our neighborhoods most directly affected. For my detailed analysis, please read the extensive analysis that I have written.
5. Should teachers and/or other school employees who are not law enforcement be armed?
I have consulted law enforcement and educators. Both tell me that arming classroom personnel is not an effective way to deal with possible school violence. Based on the available data and my educational administrative experience, arming educators does not appear to be an effective strategy.
As superintendent of LRSD, I worked with qualified, trained, and experienced personnel to improve school security. The school district hired and trained experts in school safety, and we improved physical facilities to make intrusion much more difficult. We also engaged in joint training exercises so that we would be better prepared in an emergency situation. In LRSD, every middle and high school has a trained police officer, known as a school resource officer, who is specially trained and capable of dealing with security issues.
At the elementary level, we made major improvements to entries to make intrusion more difficult. We also increased the level of trained patrols so that every school would have personnel available on very short notice. This was also coordinated.
The district will await the findings of the governor's task force, but I do not think arming classroom teachers improves security, and may actually make it more likely that some events would prove dangerous.
6. How would you bring better, higher-paying jobs to Little Rock?
The mayor can make Little Rock an attractive community where businesses and entrepreneurs want to live and work. This is the major driver of job growth in the 21st century. Major growth areas such as Nashville, Austin and Seattle became economic powerhouses because companies and individuals chose to locate there. Little Rock has a number of built-in advantages, such as: a central geographic location, a major airport, a river port, rail interconnections, and proximity to wonderful recreational opportunities. I have spent a lot of time over the last few years with startup and early stage companies, and I understand the workings or our Venture Capital Center which was funded by our 2012 sales tax. I understand angel investing, early stage investing, and secondary capitalization because I have done it.
Little Rock needs to capitalize on its assets so that we can attract people who want to enjoy our wonderful culture and attractive urban scene. When we combine these assets with the opportunities for hiking, canoeing, camping, fishing, and other outdoor activities, we are an attractive destination for creative people who want to locate in an area which has these amenities. We need to continue to support our artistic community, and we also need to support a more vibrant music scene here. A mayor who has extensive experience in business operations has credibility in the area of job creation, and can effectively assist with recruitment of prospects. I have experience in banking, public and private finance, investment banking and business. I have operated a number of businesses, and I know what makes businesses work. My successful business background here in Little Rock will be a big bonus for our city.