January 12, 2011 Edition

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Freeman focusing on
economic development

Dale Freeman, new Lawrence County judge, visits with Justice Doug Wayland at Monday night's Quorum Court meeting. Now in his second week of office as county judge, Freeman says economic development in the county is a priority. TD Photo ~ Leslie Ginn

Gretchen Hunt

For new County Judge Dale Freeman the answer to moving Lawrence County forward is simple - jobs.

"Economic development is our number one priority in Lawrence County," he said. "We've got to have some jobs."

In addition to ongoing work on the possibility of Integrated Renewable Resources locating a crosstie plant in the area, Freeman said there are some other prospects as well.

Freeman said he has been visiting with representatives of a company that might want to locate a peanut factory in the area, especially if the county sees growth in peanut production as anticipated.

"There are lots of possibilities," he said. "The new water system will be in place soon, and the Arkansas Department of Health has tested the water from the Spring River and said it is good. That will be spring-fed water, which opens up the possibility of bottled water."

Maintaining the county's 1,485 miles of gravel roads is also an ever-present challenge.

"I hope to be able to get rock from in the county," he said. "A priority is keeping the roads in as good a shape as I can."

Freeman said he plans to visit all local providers to see if the gravel they have is good enough quality to use on the roads.

One thing Freeman hopes to add is a grant writer to work with the county, as well as with municipalities within the county.

"Even in this economy, there's millions of dollars in grant money, and if we don't apply, we don't get it," he said.

He said there is also a possibility of using the person in that position to also assist in other areas, such as providing information regarding social security to residents.

Plans to involve many

Freeman said he was kept busy his first few days answering phone calls, many of which were from individuals calling to welcome him to the office or offer their assistance if needed.

"There's lots of people in Lawrence County who are just waiting for someone to ask them to help," he said. "They might not step forward on their own, but they will if they are asked."

Freeman said he plans on asking for a lot of help.

"We have to work together and not against each other," he said. "Sometimes we can get in a negative spirit, and it's hard to get out of it."

He said he will be working with mayors in the county, the Chamber of Commerce, committees and commissions and the Intermodal Authority to follow up on anything that might help improve the local economy.

Freeman said he has a good working relationship with former County Judge Alex Latham.

"I started working in the judge's office right after I was elected," he said. "Alex has been great. We've been working together to prepare for this transition."

That relationship will continue since Latham was elected to the Quorum Court following his decision not to seek a 12th term as judge.

"We will still be working together," Freeman said. "He will be a great asset to help me with things I'm still trying to learn about."

Working with the state legislature and governor, as well as the newly elected U.S. Sen. John Boozman and U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, will also be essential, according to Freeman.

"I have a good working relationship with the people in Little Rock," he said. "And, I have been in contact with representatives for the newly elected officials in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives."

Freeman said he has always been told the person you think can't help you might be the next one you need.

"We're going to work with everybody," he said. "It takes all of us."

Freeman, who worked for the railroad for 36 years, is a former mayor of Portia, a position he held for more than 20 years. He also served on the Arkansas Rural Development Commission, prior to being elected as judge, and is a former Lawrence County justice of the peace.

He and his wife, Mary, live at Powhatan. He has two daughters, Tonya Brand, who works at the post office in College City, and Candi Yarbro, who teaches at Sloan-Hendrix School in Imboden.

He also has a stepson, Jeff Reece, who does appraisal work in Craighead County and is a member of the Lawrence County Quorum Court, and a stepdaughter, Michelle Hood, who lives in Jonesboro.

He and Mary also have five grandchildren.

Freeman said he told members of the Quorum Court that he plans to be out in the county, as well as outside the county, meeting with people and working to help the county progress.

"Gas is high, but you can't get anything done just sitting behind a desk," he said.

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