The new mayor of Van Buren highlighted issues he plans to address during his tenure.
Joe Hurst was sworn in as mayor of Van Buren on Tuesday after winning the position during the Nov. 6 general election. Hurst said he was motivated to run for the position by his experience in the city, not only being born and raised there and loving his hometown, but also from his involvement working with former Van Buren Mayor Bob Freeman and in the community. Hurst became Van Buren’s planning director in June 2010.
“I was really inspired by the people, really inspired by the community and I believe that I could use my expertise in municipal government, in management and planning and moving cities forward,” Hurst said. “I felt like that I could use that experience and education to improve Van Buren, and I’ve got kids, so … another part of my motivation is wanting to improve Van Buren not just for me, but maybe one day my kids will raise my grandkids here, and so I want to do what I can to improve it for them.”
Hurst has a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Ouachita Baptist University and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Prior to working for Van Buren, he said he served as an assistant city planner in Rogers and as a city planner in El Dorado.
When asked what he believed is the biggest issue facing Van Buren and how he planned to address it as mayor, Hurst said economic development will be a key focus. He added it is interesting timing that Gov. Asa Hutchinson chose Van Buren for one of the four pilot cities to help design and flesh out the Competitive Communities Initiative, which was announced March 26. This initiative is designed to prepare communities for economic development.
“We went through that process to develop the criteria, and now we’re actually going through the process of becoming certified,” Hurst said. “So that’s really good timing as we deal with economic development. We want to make sure we’re doing what we need to do, and that’s what this certification process will help us do.”
Van Buren’s quality of place is also a key issue for Hurst.
“We want to make sure that we’re aesthetically pleasing,” Hurst said. “We want to make sure that our gateways are clean. We want to make sure that properties are taken care of the way they should be, and so I heard a lot of that throughout the campaign.”
The city of Van Buren, Hurst said, ultimately wants to improve its quality of life, and that includes parks. Hurst wants to continue implementing the Van Buren Parks and Recreation Master Plan, which was passed in Jan. 2015.
Hurst said Van Buren currently has issues with residents who have had homes destroyed and are trying to clean up after the EF-2 tornado that hit the city Nov. 30. The most important issue facing Van Buren right now is taking care of its residents.
“And so we’re organizing, trying to see what can the city do because we weren’t given those relief funds, the disaster funds,” Hurst said. “We didn’t qualify for that, so we’re putting our heads together. We had a really good City Council meeting in December, and … a lot of the residents came out that were asking questions, ‘What can the city do?’ and we’ve done some things, but we’re going to meet again coming up in January to get all the volunteers together and get the churches together who have contacted me and said, ‘Hey, we want to help,’ but we just haven’t organized exactly how we’re going to do that.”
Hurst said Ward 1, Position 1 Alderman Tyler Wood is the member of the Van Buren City Council with whom he has been working the most closely about the relief for the tornado. Wood said he and Hurst have collaborated with several different area churches, as well as private individuals who might have connections for heavy equipment to try to organize a cleanup along with the residents.
“We had several residents, probably 20 to 30 residents, come to the last City Council meeting from the Sandstone area and just voice their concerns and voice just the need that they had for help because insurance is falling woefully short as far as the cleanup and debris removal goes,” Wood said. “So that’s where we could play a role, and the churches really could play a role.”
Wood said they have all partnered together.
“And we’ve gotten together and we’ve met,” Wood said. “We’re also on different chat groups together of just trying to plan and organize a cleanup effort for the 12th of January.”
Freeman said in a previous interview Hurst is the right person for the mayor position.
“Joe will be able to step in here, and it’s going to be a good transition,” Freeman said. “Unfortunately, in some communities, when elections happen, it’s an adversarial relationship between the mayor who’s there and the incoming mayor. That’s not what’s happening here in Van Buren, which is good for this community. I’ll be the biggest cheerleader for the community. I’ll be Joe’s biggest cheerleader to move things forward, and support him however I can now that I’m on the outside.”