Ward 1 City Director candidates Liz Berry Armstrong, Keith Lau, and Ken Pevehouse, will meet in an August 14 primary to determine a successor to City Director Steve Tyler, who is not seeking re-election.
The candidates fielded citizen questions at Southside Baptist Church on Monday night (July 9) in an 80-minute question-and-answer session that mirrored recent interviews with The City Wire.
During those interviews, the candidates presented three differing positions on the hotly debated solid waste collection issue, and reiterated many of those points Monday.
Armstrong indicated she is not for 100% curbside automation, stating, "there are some neighborhoods that need different options for compromise," while Lau said he is "100% for automated" and that Fort Smith Sanitation should "go back and make adjustments for physical and geographical issues through the troubleshooter program." Pevehouse said he would "like to see the whole city automated," but wanted to see the "alleys automated" instead of full curbside automation.
On the issue of sanitation rate differentials championed by Fort Smith Director Philip Merry, Armstrong said she would be for it "within reason" and said "most of the people I've spoken to who would be affected are fine with paying more, but I would want to see what the differential was before approving it."
Lau referred to previous survey results, which indicated 46% of citizens, who would be affected by the rate differential increases, were for automation, and it "wasn't fair to them."
"That's why we need full implementation (of automated curbside collection)," he added.
Pevehouse said he would not be for a rate differential "under the theoretical hybrid collection system," adding that "trash pickup is a utility service just as the delivery of electricity is a utility service."
Pevehouse continued: "Most of the electric lines in Fort Smith are overhead and thus less costly for the utility (department) to operate. However, there are areas of town where the more expensive underground lines are predominantly used. I do not believe that those neighborhoods pay a premium for the way electricity is delivered to them; therefore, we all pay for their underground service."
Concerning a third-party provider for non-automated collection under a hybrid system, Armstrong was for "the most competitive bid" for the same level of service, while Lau did not want to entertain the option.
On Monday, Lau referred to the push for third-party bidding on the June 19 Fort Smith Board of Directors meeting agenda (scrapped the same evening) as an example of the board "making decisions without looking back on the history of an issue." Pevehouse said he would want any non-automated collection to "be a city-run operation."
Should the push for citywide automation led by Fort Smith resident Joel Culberson make it to the ballot and pass with majority support, the candidates agree they would honor the results and not entertain a potential 5-2 override.
In addition to the trash talk, Monday night's Q&A required the candidates to take a stance on the possibility of a televised citizens forum. Armstrong supported including the monthly forums with their corresponding meeting broadcasts, while Lau and Pevehouse agreed they "like it the way it is," not televising the forums.
"I think the citizens forum has been abused and misused for political gain," Lau said.
Pevehouse added, "They're not an opportunity to showboat in front of the cameras. There's a lot of grandstanding that goes on."
On the question of whether the city should revise its hiring guidelines to require employees and department heads to live within the city limits, all three candidates were in agreement that such a revision would go too far.
"We don't need to dictate where people live," Pevehouse said.
"I would want the most qualified person in the position. To me, it doesn't matter where they live," Lau added.
Armstrong agreed, but said she hoped "they lived close enough to Fort Smith that they could respond to an emergency in a reasonable amount of time."