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The Little Rock Board of Directors' mix of ward representative and at-large seats has been a primary topic of discussion at the city's governance study group during its two meetings in the past week.

The group, formed by a resolution the city board adopted in December, is tasked with recommending the best form of government for Little Rock. The 11 members plan to present a report with their findings to Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and the city board by June 30.

On Monday, members posed questions to Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College in Conway and one of the authors of a study on Little Rock's form of government. The report focuses on at-large and district elections and their impact on representation.

The study found that ward elections help increase the number of females and nonwhite people on a city's governing body, though some have argued that having all ward seats "promotes a provincialism that undermines efforts to create holistic responses to citywide challenges," the report reads.

Barth noted that the study didn't look at the voting records of city board members or whether that argument bore out policy-wise. He said it would be possible to look at where city money is spent but noted that city government also votes on symbolic issues that aren't just about budgeting.

Currently, candidates for a ward seat need a plurality of votes to win, not a majority. Study group member Gary Smith said he had a hypothesis that only needing a plurality to win favors an incumbent over a newcomer.

The advantages and disadvantages of going from seven wards to 10, or going from one ward representative to two per ward, was also questioned and discussed.

Barth said larger wards could create "factionalized" voting within them and that having more than one representative per ward could increase the likelihood of someone knowing and feeling like they could communicate with their ward representative.

The group may also consider term limits for directors in its recommendation.

Ward and at-large representation came up at the group's previous meeting on Wednesday.

Karen Buchanan noted that it costs more to run at-large and that she had noticed a gender differential.

"Men have typically won the at-large positions. I wasn't pleased with that," she said.

Preston Eldridge, a Ward 3 resident, noted that at-large city directors take up 30 percent of the board's voting power. He said he viewed the mayor as the "best at-large vehicle."

Donna Massey, a Pulaski County Quorum Court member and a Ward 2 resident, said people's feelings about the at-large seats can change depending on who and where they are. Residents who have felt like their particular representative wasn't being responsive could reach out to an at-large director, and on the flip side, people might be more likely to know their ward representative.

NW News on 04/23/2019

Print Headline: Governance group goes over report on options for LR

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