Voters in North Little Rock will have four candidates to choose from to serve as their next mayor. Incumbent Joe Smith said last year he would not seek a third term in office.
KUAR spoke with each of the four people running in the nonpartisan race. The first in the series is middle school educator Alice Kunce.
Why are you running for mayor of North Little Rock?
“I’m someone who notices things. I notice, it might be the English teacher in me, we’re copy editors. We’re trained to notice details. And many years ago, I was given a license plate that had the letters ‘NGR’ on them. And it was right here at my revenue office at Pike and Pershing. And I was like, ‘What is this? I am the whitest white person on the planet. You cannot put this on my car. This is not going to look okay.’ And they just looked at me and said, ‘What?’ And then I turned to the group and said ‘What do you guys think?’ And they were like ‘Oh no. no.’"
"And so I reached out to our media at the time because I said, ‘these are not okay' and eventually, thanks to some excellent journalism and reporting, that whole series of license plate was pulled. And so I was like, I know if you notice things you can make change happen…My Kroger closed. And so I thought well if I can just talk to the right people, if I can just get this issue out here, we can save our Kroger and that’ll be great. And so I talked with all of the managers, I talked with anybody who works there. I wrote letters. I made phone calls. And I finally got a postcard that said, ‘Dear Ms. Kunce, there is another Kroger 1.4 miles away. You’ll be fine.’…So I just felt really impotent there that I couldn’t make a difference."
"But I thought we also weren’t getting some of the city beautification projects, it just wasn’t coming here. And the response from others was ‘Well it needs to come from the neighborhood, it needs to come from the residents.’ And the problem with that is, when you’re working full time, when you’re raising your children, maybe you’re taking care of your parents or grandparents. You don’t necessarily have the luxury of time…So I looked at maybe running for city council, but I’m a classroom teacher. Many of their meetings are during the daytime, which means I would have to get a sub[stitute] and someone else to teach my students every time I went to a luncheon or a breakfast meeting…So I looked at the requirements for mayor. You have to be [at least] 18 and you had to live within the city limits. And I said alright let’s do it because people listen to mayors.”
How do you feel that your skills, background and experiences qualify you to serve as the mayor of North Little Rock?
“As a mom and a teacher, one of my biggest jobs is to listen, learn and network. When I’m trying to find after-school activities for my children to be involved with, when I’m trying to organize carpools, who’s going to pick up the kids here on this day, who’s going to make sure they have dinner, those sorts of things. That takes a huge amount of teamwork…all the things that come with being a classroom teacher and all the things that come with being a parent has really helped me learn to prioritize. How much energy do I have, how much do other people have and I’ve become much more efficient in a lot of areas which is nice…”
“When you look at being a mayor, in a lot of ways being a mayor is like being a mom. You have some authority, that is true, but you also have to be a team player. You have to recognize that ‘hey this is not my skill set, but I’ve seen you do amazing things. Can you help me out here?’…When you’re the mayor and maybe you don’t know everything there is to know about sewers, maybe you don’t know everything there is to know about electricity. But you can listen, you can find who the experts are in the room, who is willing to work with someone else and one thing that’s super important as a teacher is getting people on board with big ideas…”
“There’s a lot of moving parts. You need to be able to trust your team. You to be able to work efficiently. You need to make sure you know people’s names. You need to be able to say, ‘Hey, am I comfortable in this space? What’s making me uncomfortable about it? Are other people comfortable in this space? What’s making them uncomfortable? If we make a choice, who benefits from that choice we make and who gets hurt by that choice. There’s only so much money. There’s only so much time and there are only so many resources. When you make a project decision, it means you’re choosing not to do something else. And so that’s something as a classroom teacher and as a mom I’ve had to prioritize.”
What is the first issue that you would tackle if elected to be mayor of North Little Rock?
“I want to talk about our streets and our sewers and our flooding and our electricity and renewable energies. So good streets make good cities. If people feel safe walking around because the trash is picked up, the sidewalks are in good repair, the streetlights are working, then they’re going to be comfortable raising their families there. They’re going to be comfortable opening a business there. If they have keep a boat because it’s going to flood in their neighborhood, then that’s something that the city needs to fix. So I’d really like to go through and look at these very bare bones of our city, our infrastructure."
"In the 90s before The Sims became something fancy, there was [Sim City] and it was just a very simple grid-like computer game. But the first things you did were you had to put down water, sewer and electricity. And for modern times, the other key issue we have is internet broadband access. During this pandemic, having access to reliable internet, internet that’s affordable for families so that they can have a high enough internet speed that more than one person can be in a Zoom call at a time, turns out to be the difference between having an accessible education and not. And so that’s something else the city can work through with federal and state partnerships. So I’d like us to look at that as well.”
What changes do you need to happen in North Little Rock?
“I think many parts of our city run pretty smoothly. Mayor Smith has done a good job of keeping our city running. This is a pandemic and that’s pretty new for all of us. But I would like to see more of our public health resources, I think sometimes we rely on our proximity to Little Rock a little too much. And so I would like to make sure that we have more health centers doing testing and that sort of thing. So, I’d also like to us do more immunization clinics for our school-age children, partnering with our elementary schools and our middle schools."
"Kids need a lot of shots to stay healthy and safe. It can be very frustrating if you’re a working parent and have to go and take, there’s an HPV vaccine called Gardasil and it’s a series of three shots, which means you have to take your kid to the doctor once, and then I think it’s a month later and then six months later. It would be great if those are things that we could partner with our schools and have them done there. So I would like to see a bigger partnership between the city and our school system. And as a classroom teacher, I think I’m in a great position of knowing what that might look like from the educator standpoint.”
What are the city of North Little Rock’s greatest strengths?
"The people of North Little Rock are ready. They’re ready for livable wages. They’re ready for beautification programs. They’re ready for playground and parks. They’re waiting to be asked to be involved. We have whole neighborhoods who have never been invited to the table before. One of the things I’ve learned as I’ve gone campaigning is they haven’t been asked in a really long time by someone in a position of power, ‘What would you like to see happen?’ And so I think that’s something that, we have people who are eager to be involved. Our people are one of our greatest resources here in North Little Rock. They live right here. They want to work here. They want to play here. They want to raise their families here. Let’s give them the services to support those dreams.”
What power does the mayor of North Little Rock hold and how will you use that power?
“In North Little Rock, you have a mayor/city council form of government. So the mayor is not the all-powerful person. You work with the council and then you work with the various departments and administrators in the city to facilitate things. There’s the fun part, where you get to do the ribbon cutting and that sort of thing. But then there’s also just a lot of administrative things. Meeting with the department heads, managing the budget…There is good part of this that’s administrative. Going through spreadsheets, looking at calendar, prioritizing projects, finding out how departments can work together, squeezing pennies [until] they scream to get…just one more can of paint. It’s a hard time. We don’t want to raise taxes on people. How can we make that money go a little further?"
"The other thing the mayor can do, which I would like to see happen, is prioritize going after grant money. There’s a lot of grant money out there for cities and I wish we did more of that. Lastly, I think the mayor is someone who can reassure residents. Times are hard right now. The stress level of the never-ending pandemic. I think all of us thought back in March that it would be done by now and we would be going to football games and marching band practice just like in previous years and we’re not there yet. Somebody sometimes has to be the bad guy and as a mom, I know what that’s like. You have to tell your kids no, you have to say, ‘You can’t have these activities because they’re not safe.’ You have to be someone the people are willing to trust.”
Since the mayoral race is nonpartisan, how do you align with a base without mentioning partisan politics?
“I love that the mayoral race is nonpartisan. After people talk to me about trash, the next thing they want to know is whether I’m a republican or a democrat. And here’s the deal. Flood waters don’t care whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat. Sewage back ups do not care about your party affiliation. We all want the same things. We want safe neighborhoods where we can raise our children. We want good schools where they can get a good education. We want well-paying jobs so people can have a nice home and do it up nicely, go out to dinner, go on vacation every now and then. We all want these same things. And I think one of the problems is federal politics have become so polarizing that we forget that right here at the city, we have to do things like make sure the electricity is working. Make sure internet access is available to everyone. Make sure buses are running on time and running in routes where they’re useful and that sort of thing. And those are things that party politics shouldn’t be involved in. Those are ways we can really work together because it’s about us as people just caring for our families and our environment."
What is the value of having the mayoral race be non-partisan?
“I’m just kind of frustrated with party politics in our state and at the federal level just in general because I think party politics force people into a corner. They force you to say you’re right or you’re wrong. And as a classroom teacher, those tweens and teenagers, the first way you alienate someone is you force them to publicly say they’re right or they’re wrong. Because if they say they’re right, then it means someone else can come around and say that they’re wrong. So you need to know, the city needs to be accessible to everyone. Everyone needs to feel welcome and that they can have their voice heard and listened to. And then followed up on, that you circle back and say ‘Hey, we just finished this sewer project, it’s been three months, have the residents noticed? Has it taken care of some of the problems?’ You have to do that follow through.”
Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t asked you about?
“In North Little Rock, we have something called BSL, a breed specific law. And that means…that dogs that are perceived to be Pitbulls are not allowed in our city. Except if they’re AKC registered show dogs. Our city already has a vicious dog ban. You. Have to register, there is a procedure. To put a breed specific ban on top of that is redundant and the way this one was written was quite classist…I would really like to see that BSL repealed.”