BY MATTHEW MERSHON
LITTLE ROCK (CIRCA VIA KATV) — More than a year of campaigning came to a point Tuesday night for Frank Scott Jr. -- the 34-year-old former highway commissioner and bank executive -- was chosen as the first elected African-American mayor of Little Rock and the city's first new mayor in 12 years.
"Right now my feeling is just a spirit of gratefulness and appreciation and humility," said Scott in a sit-down interview with KATV.
Scott said he didn't go to bed until about 3 a.m. Wednesday, fielding countless congratulatory phone calls and texts from well-wishers.
While the mayor-elect said he'd like to try to squeeze in a small getaway before taking office on Jan. 1, Scott said it's time to hit the ground running to prepare for the transition into office. In the first weeks in office, Scott said he plans to review the city's budget and make sure city programs and services are creating a "good return on investment."
The first item Scott said he plans to tackle is making good on a campaign promise to shake up city hall and propose a change in the form of city government.
"We firmly believe that it's time for the city of Little Rock to move towards a mayor-council form of government and getting rid of our at-large city directors and repurposing them to additional wards to truly represent the entire city," said Scott.
Scott said he envisions the city moving to 10 wards from the current seven. He believes there are areas of the city that are currently represented by one board member, but those areas are vastly different from one another.
"Our current form of government is a bifurcated system -- it demonstrates some dysfunction and a lack of communication with the broader community as the citizens of Little Rock," said Scott. "We have to have true leadership at the helm as we move forward."
There's one of two ways Scott said he can go about making the switch from a city manager-city board form of government to a mayor-council system: He can introduce an ordinance at city hall, or he can circulate a petition. Either way it'll require a city-wide vote.
"It goes to leadership, accountability and representation," said Scott.
Scott doesn't plan to get rid of City Manager Bruce Moore, rather the mayor-elect said he plans to "repurpose" the city manager position as a chief operating officer for the city -- but a position that will ultimately answer to the mayor.
As one mayor prepares to enter office, another prepares to leave. It's an office Mayor Mark Stodola has occupied since January 2007.
"I talked to Frank and we're going to be getting together soon," said Stodola. "I've offered my help and he's asked for it."
Stodola said he hopes and plans for a smooth transition into office for Scott. The outgoing mayor couldn't point to just one accomplishment he was most proud of in his more than a decade of service, rather listing off more than a dozen projects and programs that were spawned during his time in office.
The one issue that Stodola says will continue to be a concern when Scott takes office is the issue of public safety. While Stodola says crime isn't as bad as it was when he was the Pulaski County prosecuting attorney, he said it remains a complex issue that Scott will have to continue to handle.
Scott said public safety is a top priority, and claimed he plans to ask the city board to increase the number of uniformed police officers in Little Rock from roughly 560 currently, to 700. The mayor-elect said he fully supports the LRPD, despite a controversial Facebook post made by the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police during the campaign.
Mayor Stodola will leave office on Dec. 31. A return to the private sector and consulting is what Stodola said he plans to do in the coming year, allowing him to spend more time with his wife and family. Stodola didn't rule out running for office in the future, but said there's no plans to do that now.
Stodola's advice for the incoming mayor: bBe willing to listen to everybody and be sure to allow extra time at the grocery store - Stodola says there will be plenty of people coming up to talk to him. But Stodola also said he advises Scott to be prepared for what's to come.
"This a bigger operation than anybody really perceives," said Stodola. "It's much more complex than most people understand."