One Benton city council member is setting his sights on the city’s top office this election. After serving 12 years on the Benton City Council, Jerry Ponder is looking to take the next step in city government – to the mayor’s office.
Coming to Benton in 2001, Ponder and his family quickly became involved in the community. Once his children grew older, he decided to take the leap into city government and was elected to the city council in 2006. “So I had a little bit more free time on my hands and I decided that I would seek a position as an opportunity to give back to my city,” Ponder says.
Representing Ward 3 on the Benton City Council, Ponder has participated in numerous development projects, but he cites Riverside Park as one he is most proud of. “Our facilities at Riverside Park, I think, are probably second to none in the state of Arkansas,” he says. “Who might have thought that a facility in Benton, Ark. would be booked virtually every weekend, year round and several other days during the week?”
Ponder touts his council experience as a reason that voters should choose him. Since 2009, Ponder has also chaired the council’s finance committee, a position he says has given him an intimate knowledge of the city’s operations. In essence, his tenure on the council and his leadership positions, he says, have allowed him to get a head-start on the mayor’s job. “I’ve chaired the finance committee since 2009 so I know how much money is generated by quarter for a streets tax as an example…Things that are just ingrained in my mind should shorten the learning curve exponentially,” Ponder says.
Benton is steadily growing, Ponder says, and the city will need to develop strategic plans to meet its increasing demands. He cites education as a top priority, particularly at the proposed Career Technical Center, which is Issue 6 on the ballot. Providing education for young people is key to attracting new industries to Benton and continuing its growth. “We’ve done an excellent job of growing both primarily retail and service industry type jobs in restaurants over the last several years. I expect that to continue, I expect with the CTE center and its potential success that we would have an even greater opportunity to attract more industrial, commercial type of employers,” Ponder says. “If we’ve got a trained workforce that has the capacity to come in and do the welding or whatever else, that may help to attract a business.”
However, Ponder acknowledges that there may be growing pains. The city’s infrastructure is outdated in some parts and needs to be updated. According to Ponder, there is not adequate funding to address all of the problems. This is where he comes in – Ponder says he has the knowledge to address the most pressing problems that will have the greatest impact on the city’s citizens. “We’ve got a finite pool of resources with which to do a finite number of projects. And a part of our job is to allocate those resources to the greatest extent that we can to accommodate not only our citizens want but also their needs,” he says.
“If you look at an aerial map of the city of Benton, it’s pretty easy to determine that the natural direction for the city of Benton to grow is to the west. I think that the CTE Center will be the first domino to fall there, so…we’re going to have to figure out a methodology for dealing with that growth both residentially and commercially,” Ponder says.
While there are challenges ahead in the election, Ponder remains optimistic. If elected, he plans to face the problems head-on. “So does it have its challenges? You bet. But I look forward to the challenge,” he says.