January 10, 2007 Edition

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Rogers completes first week
as first woman mayor in WR

Michelle Rogers, new Walnut Ridge mayor and the first woman ever elected to the position, works in her office on Monday as she begins her second week on the job.

Gretchen Hunt

When Walnut Ridge voters cast their ballots in November, they surprised many, even Michelle Rogers, by electing her mayor out of four candidates without a runoff.

Voters also made history by electing her as the first woman mayor in the town's history.

"It's very humbling," Rogers said of being the one to mark the milestone. "It is still a hurdle with some people. Women run million dollar corporations, but some people look at women in politics differently."

Rogers noted that it was exciting to become the first woman mayor in the same year that the country has its first female speaker of the house.

"They say on TV all the time that this is the year of the woman," Rogers said.

Rogers said her first week in office has been hectic, and despite the fact that she has received some criticism, she said the positive feedback she has received has been overwhelming.

The new mayor said she has received some criticism for her decision to let three police officers and the police chief go.

"It is at the mayor's discretion to hire and fire," Rogers said. "I don't really have to have a reason, but I did. I didn't just let them go for no reason."

Rogers said review of an incident that happened in 2006, other information and feedback from citizens helped her make her decision.

"The mayor has access to information that is not available to the general public," Rogers said. "I believe that if the citizens of Walnut Ridge had access to all the information, they would have made the same decision."

"I was elected to make decisions that are in the best interests of Walnut Ridge and that is what I did in this situation."

Rogers said the only other person she has dismissed is Sue Hilburn, who was the administrative assistant.

The administrative assistant position was filled by Pat McEntire. John Lamb was hired as the new police chief, and Alan Haskins is the new Walnut Ridge fire chief, replacing Roger Duckworth, who retired at the end of the year.

Rogers said she is very pleased with all the people who are filling the positions.

She is not the only newly-elected member of city government. The city council will have four new aldermen when they meet for the first time on Tuesday.

Paula Haskins, Jonathan Sanders, Michael "Button" Wallin and Wendell Jones are all joining the council. Returning members are Johnnie Fears, who won re-election, and Dirk Davis, Spencer Ponder and Ron Smith, who were all unopposed.

Rogers said the council normally meets on the first Tuesday of the month; however, they decided to postpone the meeting to the second Tuesday for January to give new aldermen a chance to attend Municipal League first.

The council meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at the city hall. Rogers said she opted to move the meetings to city hall to eliminate heating or cooling Fireman's Hall.

"I didn't feel like we need the bigger space," Rogers said. "If we see that we need more space, we'll reconsider."

Rogers said despite the challenges of her first week, she is still excited to serve and thankful to those who have supported her.

"Hopefully they thought I was the best person for the job," she said. "It makes you feel good to know people have that kind of confidence in you."

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