A HISTORY OF HOSPITALITY: Capi Peck wants to make Little Rock a better place to live and visit.
City Director Capi Peck
, who represents West Little Rock’s Ward 4, wants to consider a change in the way the board is elected, as does Mayor Frank Scott
. But unlike Scott, who wants to eliminate the election of at-large directors to the board, Peck would like to seek a blended ward structure and term limits for directors.
Under Peck’s plan, each of Little Rock’s seven wards would elect a director. But Peck says at-large positions “serve a purpose,” and she would propose that wards would combine — perhaps two or three together — to create “super wards” to be represented by an at-large director.
Having at-large directors is “what that prevents is turf wars,” Peck said. “I’m not [this] way, but some of the city directors, they’re really not interested in projects unless it directly benefits their ward.
“One of the most important things that’s
going to happen in the next few months is creating a way for us to have a community-wide, very thoughtful conversation and study about the at-large directors,” Peck said.
Peck, 65, is one of the board’s younger directors. She said the aging
board, and the ensuing decades-long tenure of some of its directors, is evidence of the need for directors’ term limits.
“I hate that we look the way we do,” she said. “I get how that would piss people off. Get them out. I get that. … I think we have a lot of challenges. I think we all do share something, all of us. We want Little Rock to be a better place for everybody, I just think that there’s a tactful way to go about doing that, and so I hope we proceed with a lot of consideration and patience and respect for each other, even if we don’t agree.”
Peck said she supports a time frame of 60 or 90 days for a study with citizen input on the at-large positions, followed by a special election to determine a course of action.
“I think that the people selected [for the study] must represent our city,” she said. “I think if we’re 42 percent
African American [as a city], I think we need to have 42 percent
African-American representation. We need to have some young people and we need to have some older people. I’d love to have a Hispanic person [and] there needs to be equal gender representation. It needs to be a true reflection of our city.”
Peck added that she believes Scott is “determined” to deliver on his campaign promise of a more transparent City Hall
by the time he gives his state of the city speech, which he must complete by March 31. She said one of these campaign promises manifests in the creation of Scott’s transition board
and the citizen-led subcommittees each board member chairs. The subcommittees — on finance and administration, education, mobility, economic development, public safety, inclusion, quality of life and transformation and government reform — will meet with each corresponding city department, board or commission and make recommendations for Scott’s four-year plan for change.
“I think that the mayor has given himself a very daunting task to get all of these pieces in place by the state of the city address,” she said. “There’s
so many moving pieces, and his vision is grandiose. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it, but I mean, [there’s a] learning curve.”
Peck said she supports Scott’s embrace of the strong-mayor role, and with his recent move to take on direct supervision of six city departments (police, fire, finance, human resources, planning and public works), she said Scott’s hiring of the new police chief will be a crucial decision.
“I just hope we don’t get all distracted and bring somebody in that’s maybe had a great history someplace [else],” she said. “I just think it’s so important to find somebody invested in Little Rock, that already gets it. … I just hope we hire a homegrown person, I really do.” Peck said Little Rock Police Department Assistant Chiefs Alice Fulk
and Hayward Finks
, who have applied for the chief’s job, are qualified for the position.
She added that among the responsibilities of the new chief, an external investigation of the LRPD’s no-knock search warrants
should be a top priority.
“I think it’s very disturbing,” she said. “I think it’s super disturbing. I think that is something we need to move forward on immediately. … I think an internal investigation is BS. I’m sorry, that’s ridiculous. That is ridiculous. It’s very disturbing. I mean, it’s a paramilitary organization.”
Like Ward 3 City Director Kathy Webb
, whom Peck refers to as her “partner in crime,” Peck is a graduate of Hall High School and avidly supports the restoration of local control to the Little Rock School District, and like Webb, she said she’s frustrated by the city board’s lack of say so on the issue.
“We can continue to talk about that, but ultimately, we can’t do a damn thing,” she said. “Public schools are the backbone of our community, and I think that it’s taxation without representation. … I’m not saying that [dissolving the school board] might not have been necessary [at that time], but by God, that was years ago. That was 2015. It’s 2019. It’s time. The charter schools don’t have to be accountable. Look at some of their scores.”
Peck said another important issue the city faces is its tight budget, which she hopes will be helped by state legislation
that would require Internet merchants to collect sales tax on sales in Arkansas.
Peck has owned and run Trio’s Restaurant since 1986, and said her 32 years of experience in the hospitality industry — including her 12 years on the Advertising and Promotion Commission, which governs the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau — have given her a unique understanding of the importance of tourism to Little Rock’s revenue stream.
“The tourism impact on the city had always interested me immensely because of quality of life issues [and] because of the fact that when people come into the city, whether it’s for leisure or for business, we have these temporary taxpayers,” she said. “In our trade, we call it getting heads in beds and butts in seats. You’ve got these folks that are here and we have this revenue stream, and through that revenue stream, after we take care of things like managing the River Market and the Statehouse Convention Center; we think [about] investing in attracting more tourists,
because we love the temporary taxpayers.”
Peck is the fourth person in her family to be in the hospitality business in Arkansas. Her grandparents, Sam and Henryetta Peck, owned downtown’s Hotel Sam Peck — now called the Hotel Frederica — and that history has shaped her outlook on Little Rock.
“[Being] that sort of ambassador, making people feel welcome, inviting people into my restaurant like it’s my home: I have that sort of philosophy about not just visitors to Little Rock, but people who live here, too,” she said.
According to Peck, Webb talked her into running for Ward 4 city director when former director Brad Cazort didn’t seek re-election for the position.
“My first thought was, ‘I’m not qualified,’ ” she said. “I don’t have a degree in political science, and [Webb] said, ‘Are you kidding me? You’re a successful business owner, [and if] you can run a restaurant, then you can do this,
because you’re used to listening to your customers, or your constituents, and being diplomatic and getting answers and putting out fires.’ ”
After her election, Peck volunteered to work on the Parks and Recreation, Racial and Cultural Diversity, Zoo and Central Arkansas Library System commissions.
In addition to her work with these commissions, she said one of her goals is to develop a senior center
for the city. When Carelink Fitness and Wellness Center, a senior care facility and fitness center
, closed the doors to its Little Rock location in July because of funding issues, the city was left without a dedicated community center
for seniors. Peck said she was part of the push to make the Mayor’s Task Force on Aging a formal city commission. The task force will now work to make Little Rock a more “livable city” under the AARP’s Network of Age-Friendly Communities guidelines.
Along with her responsibilities as city director and her duties at Trio’s, Peck is involved with the Hunger Relief Alliance and the Arkansas Homeless Coalition. She’s a member of Congregation B’nai Israel, and she recently helped organize Little Rock Cares
, a two-day citywide drive to provide food and care packages for furloughed federal employees.
Though she is a self-described “dyed-in-the-wool, blueblood, yellow-dog Democrat,” Peck said she wants to use her nonpartisan position on the city board to help unite an increasingly politically divided culture.
“I’m a child of the ’60s, so I’m used to protest
, I’m used to speaking out,” she said. ‘I’m a longtime feminist, so that’s not new to me. But this climate that we live in now, will it always be this way? Is this going to be permanent even when [President] Trump is gone? How are we going to heal? How are we going to treat each other with respect and have the patience to have a common goal, which is to better the world and better ourselves and help our fellow man? To take care of people that need to be taken care of?”
Peck also calls herself an “eternal optimist,” a perspective she said she’ll need going forward.
“I’m a dreamer. I continue to be optimistic,” she said. “Otherwise, I would just be so depressed.”