The White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs hosted approximately 150 state and local elected officials from Arkansas and Oklahoma, including Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington, on Tuesday.
IGA is halfway through a two-year initiative to host county commissioners from all 50 states at the White House for conversations on improving the federal-local relationship, according to a news release. Connecting state and local elected officials with White House officials and those in the federal departments and agencies improves relationships, promotes federalism and advances shared priorities, the news release said.
The focus of the Arkansas-Oklahoma State Day Meeting was on agriculture, health care, improving infrastructure, workforce development and trade policies. Assistant to the President and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, an Arkansas native, also stopped by to welcome those attending.
“One of the most valuable things overall, for me, was the … contact list,” said Washington, who labeled the list as “gold.”
According to Washington, the list was created with the purpose of providing officials with various key point contacts for organizations that can assist states with any problems, including infrastructure, funding, and grants.
The Arkansas-Oklahoma State Day Meeting featured a roster of speakers that included the Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Douglas Hoelscher, who discussed the importance of apprenticeship and job quality.
Hoelscher left Washington and others with a little encouragement to also push jobs in their cities and counties, specifically those that don’t require college education.
One concern that Washington said she wants to focus on back at home, with the help of her new contacts, is keeping jobs flowing at the Pine Bluff Arsenal.
Government Affairs Officer for the U.S. Department of Transportation Chris Mitton addressed three main points that should be of priority: “Safety, infrastructure and innovation,” Washington said.
Regarding transportation, Washington, aware of the problem with adequate busing throughout Pine Bluff, said she was happy to add Mitton to her new list of contacts, adding that she plans to discuss replacing the local bus fleet with his help.
Describing the experience as “refreshing,” Washington mentioned that attending the conference was one of the best things she could’ve done as she took away more than a contact list that day.
Although Washington was the only mayor representing Southeast Arkansas, she said she made sure to reach out to mayors from other cities such as White Hall, Lake Village and Humphrey to ensure that she represented all of the region.
Going into the future, Washington said she has already begun making plans to utilize lessons learned from the conference to not only help with day-to-day activities around Pine Bluff, but also Wabbaseka and Altheimer.
Another problem brought to the attention of Washington during the meeting was a point made by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. In his speech, he emphasized the need for broadband access in rural areas throughout the states. Washington said she plans to address this issue locally in the near future and will attend a meeting on Monday to draft a proposal for the venture.
Among Arkansas guests were officials Justice of the Peace Paul Bone of Sheridan, Command Sergeant Major Jimmy Cummings of Rison, Justice of the Peace Michael Nevens of Prattsville, and Armandie Hudson and Judge Jimmy Hudson, both of Fountain Hill.