The following is a profile inspired by a journalism features class at the University of Arkansas.
Whether he’ll admit it or not, Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan is one of the hardest working people in this city of 73,580 souls.
He wouldn’t admit to that. Instead, sitting in his large corner office on the third-floor of city hall, he points to the people that clean the building. The people who put out fires. The people who make roads and sidewalks. Those people, he says, are what makes this city great.
“I’m just part of a team that runs this city,” he says.
The mayor speaks simply, avoiding big words and political jargon. His eyes are tired, but understanding, engaged. They’re like a puppy’s eyes. Ignorant to the evils of the world and ready to love just about anything that walks through the door.
When people talk with the mayor, he listens. He respects their opinion and their point of view.
It’s when two people can sit across from each other and have two different points of view and each say “I respect you for your opinion, but I don’t agree with it.”
“That’s when you can hold hands and sing ‘land of the free / home of the brave’ and mean it.” The mayor almost gets frustrated thinking there might be another option for civil discourse.
The streamside protection ordinance passed the city council in March after weeks of public input. The mayor and council listened to three hours of public opinion leading up to the vote. The meeting finally concluded a few minutes before midnight.
All manner of opinions were heard. “Don’t sacrifice property rights,” one resident said. Another resident presented the council with daffodils.
The mayor directs a city council meeting and has the right to shut off public input over an issue. But why would you?
“If you want to hear from the people, you want to hear from them whether they agree with you or not,” the mayor says sternly. If we had a peaceful Zen-like religious order in the Ozarks, the mayor would be the monk living in the library and fielding questions to parishioners.
Like a monk, the mayor wakes up early, usually by five. He’s in the office by six. And he’s searching for a quote to put on his Facebook wall.
Sitting on the mayor’s desk is a miniaturized glass version of planet earth. When the sun shines through the mayor’s window, the globe spins as if by magic. On cloudy days there is no spinning. The ornament was a gift from a friend. He oversaw her daughter’s wedding. The mayor can legally bind people together.
He’s found today’s quote.
“A cloudy day is no match for a sunny disposition.”
Twenty-two people “like” this on Facebook.
He moves on to birthdays. The mayor has about 5,000 friends, which is the limit Facebook allows personal accounts. The math is simple. Peering through his reading glasses, the mayor pecks out “happy birthday” messages to about 14 people each day. He clicks send 14 times.
Then he searches for photos of families or pictures of people’s pets. He “likes” these things. He’ll then go on to “like” things from the school district, the Advertising and Promotion Commission and the library. Maybe there’s a news story he likes. Maybe it’s a reflection.
The mayor has a passion for these social interactions. He prefers face-to-face connections, but he sees Facebook as an extension of those physical interactions. He keeps those interactions positive, open and progressive. This is his vision.
One of the mayor’s biggest projects links social media to volunteerism. Last August the city launched Community Link (accesscommunitylink.org). The site is a place for community-wide engagement, collaboration, innovation and volunteer management. A “hit counter” on the site has registered more than 215,000 hits since early August.
The mayor considers Community Link one of the greatest things his administration has done because the site puts everyone together.
He says he has one great talent: “I recognize talented people and let them be who they are and I don’t micromanage them.”
For Community Link, the mayor tapped Julie McQuade, who was then the neighborhood coordinator for the city. In 2009 he added the words “volunteer coordinator” to her job description.
Her first task was to calculate the city’s volunteer hours. The result: about 30,000 people volunteered about 500,000 hours of their time for the city.
Her second task: improve that.
McQuade is a short, red-headed woman that’s all smiles and positive energy. She points out that Community Link bridges these societal gaps. Residents can submit ideas, volunteer and follow the city via posts on Community Link.
The city recorded an improvement of 100,000 volunteer hours in 2011. This won them their third consecutive “Volunteer Community of the Year” award, which is sponsored by the office of the governor.
The mayor calls volunteers the “heart and soul of the city.”
The mayor has this ability to warm the most cold-hearted person in a room. He makes you feel important. He thinks everyone is full of good ideas and a unique perspective. “Our diversity is our strength,” he repeats. It is one of the many messages written on the insides of his eyelids.
This type of civil engagement — different perspectives and volunteerism — creates a partnership-based government. The mayor loves that. He shudders at the thought of a consumer-based government where residents say “what’s in it for me and what can I get out of it.” He asks “what do you recommend we do to make this better?”
Everyone is a part owner in his type of government.
Sitting on his desk is Thomas Friedman’s newest book That Used to Be Us. The mayor is learning that society is becoming not just connected, but hyperconnected.
“If I wanted to I could contact someone in the Himalayan mountains,” he says. His eyes are big when he says that. It’s as if he’s divining the future on top of Mount Everest.
This exposure to the rest of the would is linking us and showing us other perspectives, other ideas. For Fayetteville, these connections come through a place like Community Link.
“In 10 years nobody is going to remember who started Community Link.” The mayor is almost bouncing out of his chair with excitement. He won’t be remembered, but he’ll leave a legacy for the city with Community Link.
“A great leader recognizes the stuff that’s already here.”
“Who started the city’s sewer system?” he asks, more subdued. “I don’t know,” he answers his own question. “But it’s important that it’s here.”