Growing up in southwest Little Rock, Frank Scott Jr. dreamed of chasing the mayor’s office.
Ten days ago, his 240th day in office, he said he felt like the dog who finally caught the car.
“When you grab onto the bumper, you have to be careful not to get dragged along.”
At a conference table in City Hall, Scott looked every inch the 35-year-old former banker and highway commissioner, sporting a true blue suit and pink tie. Beside him, looking more than a little like the actress Kerry Washington, was Stephanie Jackson, the mayor’s spokeswoman and in other contexts the PR director at The Design Group of Little Rock.
Her husband, Myron Jackson, is CEO of the firm.
In an hourlong interview with Arkansas Business, Scott assessed his first eight months in office, searched his feelings as a black mayor in an age of racial discord and revealed plans for improving infrastructure and economic vitality citywide. He and Jackson also extolled Little Rock as a great place to live and do business.
Stephanie Jackson has isolated her part-time city duties, which earn her $40 an hour, from her job at The Design Group, which led the mayor’s campaign messaging and advertising.
The firm also did a $5,000 job for the mayor early in his administration, producing a timeline video after a police-involved shooting in February. The video made a splash on TV and the internet, highlighting the link between Little Rock’s first publicly elected black mayor and a prominent black-owned firm.
“Fifty-third day in office,” Scott said of the shooting. “We did not have the pleasure of a honeymoon.” Beyond the shooting tragedy, “we immediately had to cut the budget of a former administration by $5 million and reduce our city workforce by 44 employees. But we signed up to serve and to lead, and that means making tough decisions.”
He hired Keith Humphrey as police chief after the departure of Chief Kenton Buckner to lead the force in Syracuse, New York. Humphrey fired Officer Charles Starks, who shot and killed motorist Brandon Blackshire Feb. 22. The officer wasn’t criminally charged but was dismissed for disregarding department procedure.
Unrest over the firing — particularly the assertion that Scott’s eagerness to dismiss the officer rushed an internal affairs inquiry — was one communications crisis Jackson helped Scott address.
Jackson said Scott is a natural communicator and a master of multitasking and social media. His dream is to get Little Rock’s “swagger back,” creating a “catalyst for the New South.” He hopes to budget $250,000 to $500,000 a year to promote Little Rock, perhaps on televised Southeastern Conference football games. “On college football Saturday, Little Rock could have an ad saying ‘share all our great things,’” he said.
“Starting in September,” Jackson said, “residents are going to start seeing some new things. We’ll be doing video updates and launching an electronic newsletter.” Scott said the newsletter would take the form of a business prospectus or executive summary. He also said that early next year he’ll be sharing the results of a major infrastructure study by the engineering firm Garver of North Little Rock.
“There are infrastructure issues across the city, but we want to pay attention to what’s going on south of I-630 and east of I-30 to understand the disparities and what we need to do to improve things. We expect Garver to give us a price tag for all our city needs to do on streets, drainage and like issues. While I’m sure that number is something we can’t pay, it’ll help us find our priorities.”
Scott said he’s proud of setting up a stringent review process for “no-knock” warrants in drug raids, establishing a citizens’ police review board and enlisting the public in picking the new police chief. “I paid attention to the people,” he said, in selecting a tested chief with cultural competency and “an understanding of true community policing.”
Unity is key to raising up the city, Scott said. “I’m a mayor who happens to be black; I don’t embrace the term black mayor. I’m here to lead the entire city, whether southwest Little Rock or East End, Midtown, Hillcrest, the Heights or west Little Rock. I woke up southwest Little Rock and drove to Ranch Drive to work at First Security Bank. I understand the economy, but I also understand the lived experience of people.”
Wrapping up, Scott became Jackson’s spokesman: “She was the voice of the campaign and now she’s the voice of City Hall — a hidden gem of the communications industry. By the way, she didn’t pay me to say any of these things.”