As expected, the Little Rock City Board Tuesday night defeated Director Erma Hendrix’s proposal to refer to voters an ordinance that would eliminate the three at-large city directors on the city board and go to a seven-member, ward-only board.

The ordinance was declared defeated on a voice vote. It was unclear from the telecast what handful said aye. (I read later in the Democrat-Gazette that only Ken Richardson voted for the ordinance. Hendrix didn’t vote. The other eight were nays. The directors themselves didn’t discuss the ordinance.)


Though the outcome was expected, many turned out to debate the question.

Business establishment speakers favored the current setup. They said having directors with a citywide vision was important. Some local activists also endorsed the concept, both black and white. Director Joan Adcock, an activist at-large director, got several compliments. At-large Directors Gene Fortson and Dean Kumpuris not so much.


Others, particularly black speakers, said the poor wards were overlooked by the at-large directors and their representatives frequently ignored.

The most persuasive argument to me: Several said if the at-large directors and their supporters are so sure their way is the best, what’s to fear about a vote?


The fear on the establishment’s part is a loss of control.

Still to come: Possibility of a petition campaign to put a change-of-government ordinance on the ballot. The business establishment can’t stop that. But if it gets there, they’ll spend big time to beat it.

The classic white business community fallback: Let’s get a blue-ribbon committee to study this thing. Some supporters of the ordinance hit the crux of this: Though the issue divides on race in some respects, the real divide is economic — haves vs. have-nots.

Chris Burks, a lawyer and active Democrat, struck a third-way note. City government structure might need changing, but simply eliminating the at-large directors isn’t enough. The ward structure might need work, but so does the structure of government, currently a blended semi-strong-mayor/city manager form.


For the record, here’s the history City Attorney Tom Carpenter prepared on the evolution of city government.