Early voting begins today in the runoff election for one of the City of Pine Bluff's Ward 1 alderman seats.

Early voting hours are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday at the Jefferson County Courthouse. Early voting ends at 5 p.m. Monday. On Tuesday, election day, voters must report to their appropriate polling sites between 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. to cast their ballots.

Incumbent Thelma Walker is facing businesswoman Joni Alexander after neither candidate received 50 percent of the vote in the May 22 Democratic Primary.

The winner will face Republican Jesse Turner in November. Alexander, who worked for former Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth, collected 577 votes during the primary. Walker, who has been on the council since 2005, received 404 votes. The third candidate in the race, Milton Jenkins, picked up 371 votes.

Walker bowed out of a debate last week saying she had an illness in the family. Alexander went ahead with a question and answer session in front of a small crowd at the Donald W. Reynolds Center.

A native of Pine Bluff and a graduate of Watson Chapel High School, Alexander received a degree from Virginia Commonwealth and taught English in Korea before returning to the city, where she created the Youth Engagement Service program and more recently has served as director of Student Achievement and Responsibility, which is modeled after the successful PARK program started by former professional football player Keith Jackson in Little Rock.

Alexander is also a graduate of the Candidates Development Institute conducted by the Pine Bluff Chamber of Commerce last year. Alexander said that when she came back to Pine Bluff after being away for several years, she found the city was “at a standstill.”

“God led me to this place,” she said of her return to Pine Bluff, adding that her experience working in the Hollingsworth administration has prepared her for a seat on the City Council.

“I learned how each department functioned,” Alexander said.

Walker said she is running on her record of being a “committed person to the elderly and to children, and I think things should be done fairly. The only way to make it work is to work together.”

While she said she was committed to children, a look at her voting record shows that she opposed Hollingsworth's plans to renovate the Merrill Center.

“Our children deserve better,” Walker said. “If it's renovated, it is what is it. I would rather have a new building.”

She has also opposed the Go Forward Pine Bluff initiative and the tax associated with it, saying their “plan for the future was not the way it was presented. It was presented as a five-eighths-cent sales tax, and the council would have the authority (to decide how the money was spent).”

Alexander is a staunch supporter of GFPB.

Walker said that instead of using the funds for projects proposed by Go Forward, “they should have had to apply just like any other entity that wanted money. There's no money for children and the money is not being spent equally.”