Since Little Rock voters expanded Mayor Mark Stodola's powers (a change still subject to a court challenge), he's illustrated the potential value of the move.
After a curious reticence on the subject, Stodola finally has spoken out on the question of expanding the BFI landfill in Southwest Little Rock. He is opposed.
This is important because, ultimately, the Little Rock Board of Directors must grant a zoning change to permit the expansion. Stodola hasn't said flatly that he'd veto such a rezoning, but presumably he would. So, if a zoning ordinance was to pass and Stodola vetoed it, it would take eight votes from the 10 directors to override the veto. Not going to happen.
It's hard to imagine even a bare majority approving this. Who ever heard of a landfill in the middle of a city? Who could be for expanding it except the garbage disposal company? BFI has been trying to buy neighborhood support with the bribe of a community park. It's also underwriting a public relations campaign to counter criticism. It's possible that the landfill isn't as big a nuisance and environmental hazard as neighbors contend. But a steady parade of rumbling garbage trucks is not a plus on a major artery that crosses the heart of a residential neighborhood.
“If foresight was available when this first started, you never put a landfill there,” Stodola told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “And I don't see any point in perpetuating it.”
With that out of the way, we have so much more to which the newly strengthened mayor can lend his vitality.
City Hall forges ahead with a push for data to support investments to speed traffic in and out of Riverdale, home to Alltel's headquarters. But early drafts of Metroplan's study of the situation reiterate earlier findings – traffic there isn't nearly as bad as assumed and much better than other places in town with truly terrible congestion. Here's a place for mayoral leadership. Say opening Rebsamen Park Road with a bridge over Jimerson Creek is a non-starter. Add that halfway measures, such as creating arterial routes with traffic signals through Hillcrest and Kingwood, are equally unpalatable. There's no reason to degrade stable Little Rock neighborhoods to help speed commuters home to Bryant. A leader would not only forcefully state those obvious points, but promote easier solutions. For example, human management, in 15- to 30-minute staggered start times, would likely end most congestion at peak hours around Riverdale, along with a few traffic light and turn-lane improvements on Cantrell.
Riverdale solved, we turn to water. Though Stodola has been a paid representative of governments in the Lake Maumelle watershed, he has professed little knowledge of circumstances that led to Central Arkansas Water's approval of a residential development overlooking the water supply. He should get up to speed. The mayor should become a robust voice for maximum protection of the water supply, including leading some of his former legal clients to adopt the proposed watershed management plan.
The water saved, Mayor Stodola might turn his attention to the Little Rock School District. He bears no direct responsibility for its operation, true. But we all must assume responsibility for the school district. Its failure could take the city down with it. Start flexing, Mr. Mayor.