City Planner Joe Hurst has announced his candidacy for mayor of Van Buren.

Hurst, a Van Buren native, has been the city planner since June 2010, serving in the administration of retiring Van Buren Mayor Bob Freeman.

“Van Buren is a special place to me,”Hurst said. “It represents my past - where I grew up and learned the value of faith, family, and friends. It is my present - where I’m raising my family, living out my faith and investing in my community. And it is my future - where I hope to build upon the efforts of past mayors to make Van Buren a place where my children will want to raise my grandchildren.”

Hurst said working for his hometown, and being a part of progress being made, is a blessing.

“This is a critical time for our community as we elect a new mayor,” he said. “For a while now, I’ve noticed a renewed sense of optimism and excitement throughout the community. From discussions at public meetings, to casual conversations, it is clear that expectations are growing in Van Buren. We must capitalize on the momentum gained from the improvements to downtown, the development of parks and trails plans, and the investments made by our residents to build new publicly-funded facilities.”

Hurst said it is encouraging to see churches, businesses, civic groups, police and fire departments and others investing their time and resources in the service of others.

“But our efforts cannot stop there,” Hurst said. “The citizens of Van Buren need experienced leadership to continue moving the city forward. That is why I am running for mayor. I will build on the progress made under Mayor Freeman and continue this forward momentum, focusing on improvements to quality of place, strategic economic development, comprehensive planning for future growth and increased citizen engagement.”

There is still work to do with real challenges ahead, he said.

“But together we can move forward,” Hurst said. “Utilizing my experience in public service, educational background in government management and years of building community partnerships, I hope to serve our community as the next mayor. I look forward to sharing my vision with the citizens of Van Buren and hearing their ideas in the coming months.”

Hurst’s campaign platform is based on the following issues:

Quality of place

“The City of Van Buren must continue to implement the master parks plan, complete the trails plan, add new sidewalks and bike lanes, continue city beautification efforts, and remain committed to revitalizing downtown,” Hurst said.

Economic development

Hurst stated that, “No company will move to Van Buren if its employees do not want to live here. When we make improvements to the city’s overall quality of life, it will attract new talent and keep existing talent in Van Buren. We must not only recruit new jobs but retain current jobs as well.”

Hurst said the city must work closely with existing industry, schools and the chamber of commerce, to ensure that it offers a qualified workforce.

“The city should be deliberate in reaching out to potential new employers and strengthening its relationships with current employers by ensuring all available incentives are utilized for new and existing industries,” he said. “The city must also stay committed to partnering with the Arkansas Department of Transportation to improve traffic congestion at the Interstate 40 and Highway 59 interchange.”

Comprehensive planning

Hurst said the city has had a good start with the parks, trails and sidewalk plans that are either completed or near completion. But planning efforts can have a wider scope as well, he said.

Hurst proposes establishing a long-range, citywide comprehensive plan that:

• Establishes the community’s goals.

• Lines out a clear 20-year vision for Van Buren. This includes planning for police and fire protection, infrastructure, transportation, utilities, land use and recreation.

Citizen engagement

“For local government to be effective, we must apply a partnership model to government management,” he said. Hurst proposes increased town hall meetings and the establishment of city ward meetings to engage residents in an effort to address current and future challenges in the city. “The goal of increased public input is critical for moving the city forward because (1) citizens will be more invested in the local government, and (2) the city’s decision-making process will be more informed,” he said.

The city’s current website and social media accounts have received increased engagement in recent years and will become an integral piece of the city’s citizen engagement strategy in his administration, Hurst added.

A 1998 graduate of Van Buren High School, Hurst received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Ouachita Baptist University and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Arkansas. Prior to his hiring as Van Buren’s first city planner in June 2010, Hurst was the first city planner in El Dorado, Ark. He also worked as an assistant city planner in Rogers during the administration of then mayor and current U.S. Congressman Steve Womack.

Hurst is on the 2017 Van Buren Chamber of Commerce board of directors and serves as president of Crawford County Volunteers for Literacy. He is a board member for Keep Van Buren Beautiful, a graduate of the Leadership Crawford County Class of 2017 and a mentor in the Van Buren School District’s student mentor program.

Hurst has worked closely with the VBSD in developing projects funded by joint-use agreement grants and is a member of the VBSD Wellness Committee, as well as other advisory committees with the school district.

Hurst and his family attend First Baptist Church where he is a deacon and Sunday school teacher. His wife, the former Amanda Wiley, also is a VBHS graduate. She is an attorney currently teaching at the University of Arkansas School of Law. They have two children, Eli, 8, and Kate, 6, who attend Parkview Elementary School.