Hope's new police chief, newly hired city manager talk about their current work at Hope Lions Club meeting Monday

Kim Tomlin, whose hiring as permanent Hope Police Chief was announced March 30, speaks to the Hope Lions Club just after noon on Monday.

The Hope Lions Club heard detailed briefings from new Hope Police Chief, City Manager at Monday meeting on what was going on in their respective offices to increase public safety and progress the city.

At the regular meeting of the Hope Lions Club on the lunch hour, newly appointed Hope Police Chief Kim Tomlin delivered the news that three new recruits to the department would be undergoing training and will join as patrol officers in a few months.

“They're scheduled to attend the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy at East Camden,” Tomlin said. “They'll start on April the 30th. It's a 13-week academy, now 533 hours, and when the recruits return, they'll also complete a 12-hour field training program with a seasoned Hope officer prior to being released out on their own. So we will have officers that will be ready to go, to be in a one-man unit, probably towards Thanksgiving.”

These hires will still leave the department short one patrol position, Tomlin said. She urged those interested in a career in local law enforcement to call the department’s non-emergency number at 1-870-777-3434.

Tomlin also said starting in the fall, the Hope Police Department will be hosting visitors from its accreditation agency.  Since becoming accredited in 2017 by the Arkansas Law Enforcement Accreditation Program (ALEAP), Hope PD will be vying for its second re-accreditation. ALEAP evaluates agencies every three years based on their performance on 174 standards for good policing, Tomlin said.

Tomlin also listed ongoing improvements being made in her department. These include the setting up of portions of the HPD and Hope Fire Department’s dispatch system on the Arkansas Wireless Information Network. This was made possible by Hope being chosen by the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management to receive a $131,754.75 grant, which will cover 75 percent of the $175,673 cost, with the remainder being covered by the city budget.

Next, City Manager J.R. Wilson took the podium, praising Tomlin as a good hire for her new role. “She's been in this community a very long time. She's very committed to this community. And she loves Hope. And that's what I'd say about all the police officers I worked with. Most of them grew up here. Most of them love our city. And they're really personally connected.”

Wilson then introduced himself to the club members and guests, sharing information about his own connection to the city. “Hope is my hometown. I graduated high school. My dad had farms outside of Columbus, which we still have, cattle and poultry and swine. My dad passed away a couple of years ago. And so now I'm trying to manage all that while doing what I do. And it’s good to have good help like Kim.”

He then briefly described his 35-year career in law enforcement, including his start as an officer in the Dallas Police Department for eight years. Following that, he was an FBI agent in Arizona, working on that state’s southern border. “I worked on a DEA drug task force along with the FBI, US Customs, some of the local police departments there. My primary job at that point was public corruption, and it was driven by drug trafficking and alien smuggling,” Wilson said.

By 2003, Wilson was hoping to return to Southwest Arkansas. “I was looking to get back closer to home and be closer to my dad and our farm so I can be there to help if something went wrong,” he said. It helped that an opening appeared in the Hope Police Department for a new chief. Applying for that, Wilson said he was happy to win the job. Then this past December 28, having served both as chief and assistant city manager for five years before, he was made Interim City Manager by the Hope City Board of Directors. He credited the mentorship of former Hope City Manager Catherine Cook for training him to handle his promotion.

He was hired by the city board as permanent city manager February 28th after undergoing a months-long hiring process, at the end of which he placed in the top three candidates.  He was finally chosen after all three were interviewed that night during an executive session by the board.

Wilson spoke of what makes service in local government attractive: “What really draws me to local government is you’re so close to people. There's no other government organization as close to the people. And I love being interactive. I love delivering a good service. I love doing the small things that make a difference in someone's life.”

Next, Wilson provided some basic facts about the economic impact city government has. “We have about 100 full-time employees. In the summertime some part-time people work at the pool, but typically we carry about 100 full-time employees. Our payroll is about $4,759,000,” Wilson said.

He also listed the city’s departments: “I have a police department, fire department, Parks Department and Code Enforcement and Building Services Administration. We have Streets, Wastewater and Sanitation. And we also have a GIS IT (Geographic Information Systems Information Technology) department.”

Wilson then listed the major efforts being embarked upon or in progress because of the city’s stewardship. “We’re inundated with projects,” he said before describing each one.

  • The Sixth Street Project. “That’s done through a State Aid street program, where we received about $400,000 of state money, and it's about a little less than a $2 million project, about 1.9. And then the city had to come up with the rest. So the good thing about the State Aid street program is we have our DOT [Arkansas Department Of Transportation] assisting us with their engineering and help and inspections.  They're really kind of overseeing the work for us. So we're kind of in this pattern of hurry up and wait right now. We're hoping we'll see some activity pretty soon.”

  • The Streetscape Project: “We call it the streetscape, but it's really about the sidewalk, going down Second Street into our downtown. The whole idea was meant to tie the [President Bill Clinton] Birthplace National Historic Site into our downtown. We were told by the National Parks director a few years back that they had about 10,000 visitors a year. …Visitors wanted to walk into our downtown, but they were a little concerned when they were looking around. And so we wanted to create a way for them to move into our downtown, bring some money and come in, see our stores and boutiques and create economic activity for our businesses there.”

  • The first of two Hope Municipal Airport projects: “We have a runway marking project going on, and also some repair of concrete on the runway on our main runway. It's all through with the engineering phase. It's all through with the bidding phase. We haven't actually started the construction. And I called our engineers recently, ‘Hey, why don't we get started?’ I think the contractor was on vacation. So we're waiting for the contractor to get back and give us a date to start, to get our contract signed and get going. That’s a small project. It's going to cost a couple hundred thousand [dollars] or so.”

  • The Runway Safety Project: “We've had a problem on a runway with drainage. So over the years, the drainage has gotten messed up and, and water is sitting on the main runway. And it's really dangerous.” An earlier phase of the project saw to the problem of water downstream of the runway. The current project would attack the problem of standing water upstream over the next two years. “That is about a one and a half million dollar project,” Wilson said.  “And we're going to bid that out. Bids will open, and the board will make their decisions on those bidders.”

  • The Ultraviolet Disinfection of Wastewater Project: “It’s in the engineering stage. We’ve got it funded through the [city] board, through ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] funds … we'll be doing ultraviolet disinfection of our East wastewater treatment plant. That final stage of the water going through its treatment, and then moving through its filter. And then right before it gets out to its release point into the environment, it will go through another UV disinfection stage to make sure that water is good to be released.”

  • The Landfill Remediation Project: Water seepage from a closed landfill is negatively affecting the results of water safety testing in nearby wells. “We do have a problem in two of our test wells, which are really shallow wells, 14 and 15 feet deep. That's not in the water table that you drink.” A plan has been developed and the hope is that the state will finance the necessary work through its post-closure fund. Absent that, the city will have to shoulder the projected half-million dollar cost.

  • The Kelly Field Lighting Project: “Pretty soon you will see all the all the lights come down and Kelly Field and all new LED lighting will go up.”

  • A Potentially Large Parks Project: “We want to do a really large park project, that can really get something really good going for all of our citizens. We don't know what that project will be. It's really going to depend on the people coming to public hearings and what you want.” Wilson explained that a bond issue paid for with a pledge of a percentage of the proceeds of an Advertising and Tourist Promotion tax could help finance this. “But if we could do something like turfing infields, replacing lighting, replacing concessions, putting up new fencing, really make that part pop, then that's something people see. And it could really be something that could enhance its use, and help bring economic activity to Hope.”

During a question and answer period, Wilson said, in answer to a question from City Director and Lion member Mark Ross, the lights still working currently at Kelly Field could be used at the Soccer Complex and other places in the park but the process would take time. He told another questioner the city’s departments will be meeting within the month to put together five-year plans which the city board would use in its deliberations.

Hempstead County Justice of the Peace and Lions Club Past President James Griffin asked whether a group within city government was looking into the housing problem. “Not at this moment,” acknowledged Wilson, “But that is a very important topic right there. And I've been thinking just like you've been thinking. We're looking at trying to understand better what's available through state money, what's available through funding, what we can legally do.” Wilson added that over the next year or two the city board would be presented with decisions on the matter.

Ross said members of the Hempstead Economic Development Corporation had visited the towns of Nash, Texas and Magnolia, Arkansas to seek ideas on making more housing available here. “We did talk to a couple of developers. One of the problems is developers don't want to come unless they know something's getting ready to grow. And sometimes some industries don't want to come, because there's no housing. So sometimes we're kind of stuck in a hard spot,” Ross added.

Wilson mentioned that the problem here may be affected by the fact that Federal Housing and Urban Development block grants coming to each state may be subject to different rules within each state for how that money is used. He also said that while the lack of housing is a public problem, it was also a problem for the private sector. “There's a lot of opportunity there, a lot of opportunity to make money. But you have to find the right people who will come in and make some progress.”

Griffin responded that there’s a greater need in Hope to create new lots for housing than to build 30 homes in one spot.

Ross said the state of Texas paid for old houses to be torn down, for the purpose of building new houses, but Arkansas does not have such a program.

Asked whether he still preferred to be called Chief, Wilson responded, “You call me whatever you want to. In 35 years of police work I've been called everything, and it doesn't matter. I just ask people not to hit me.”

Also at the meeting, four students from Garrett Memorial Christian School were inducted into the Leo Club: Abigail Murphy, Caleb Tucker, Lindell Eakridge and Alex Luswata.

Lion Claudia Griffin (far left) helped induct Alex Luswata, Lindell Eakridge, Caleb Tucker and Abigail Murphy into the Leo Club. Lion Richard Allen, also Leo Club sponsor at Garrett Memorial Christian School which the four students attend, and Lion Mark Ross stand at right.