Some Residents Believe a Change in Jonesboro's City Government System is Needed

MARCH 2, 2004 - Posted at: 11:15pm

JONESBORO, AR - It's not especially common in Arkansas, but some communities have chosen to go to what's called a council-manager style of government. This form of government began in the United States in the early 1900s. Currently, about 65% of cities Jonesboro's size use the format, and government experts believe one of the best times to initiate it is when a mayor is leaving office. That's the exact situation Jonesboro is in.

"I think there's the potential for the need for change," said Jim Hargis.

Hargis was one of about 30 people who attended an informative meeting about this type of government on Tuesday night, which was organized by Dr. Richard Wang, a member of Arkansas State University's Political Science Department.

Wang said, "I think we need a lot of changes in Jonesboro, and it may be time for this type of government. I have nothing against this mayor or the next mayor."

The council-manager government does include a mayor who sits on an elected city council. Under it, the city manager is head of the administrative branch of city government. He or she directs the day-to-day city operation under the policies and budget established by the city council, which acts as a board of directors. The manager is appointed by a majority vote of the city council, and they hire the mayor. Currently eight Arkansas communities operate this way including Hot Springs.

Hot Springs City Manager Ken Myers explained, "The mayor chairs meetings. He presides over ceremonial functions. He attends meetings with economic development prospects."

In Hot Springs, the mayor is not paid and works part time. In Little Rock, it's a full time position with pay. Myers added that a city of Jonesboro's size could command someone with a Masters degree and 10 years of experience, but voters could expect to pay him or her about $100,000.

Jim Hargis thinks voters should be more involved, which would help improve the current state of city government in Jonesboro, and it would be up to them to decide if a Council-Manager' form of leadership could continue that positive trend.

Hargis added, "I think it does tend to remove some of what we would call the bad part of politics and making decisions that are based on conflict of interest or partisanship that we don't need in a democracy."

If a group wanted to make a government change to the voters, a petition would first have to be circulated. When signatures from 15% of the registered voters were collected, a special election would be held.