The three candidates for Fort Smith City Director, Ward 1, all agree that working to create an environment for job growth will be their top priority if elected.
Ward 1 City Director candidates Liz Berry Armstrong, Keith Lau, and Ken Pevehouse, will meet in an Aug. 14 primary to determine a successor to City Director Steve Tyler, who is not seeking re-election.
Each candidate also disagreed with a recent action by the Fort Smith Board to change the city's ordinance for sexually oriented businesses. The candidates recently spoke about the ongoing controversy surrounding the city’s automated trash collection system.
Following is a brief Q&A with the three candidates.
TCW: In the 1990s, the city of Fort Smith was sued successfully by sexually oriented business Regina’s House of Dolls for impeding the establishment’s ability to do business. The city’s current sex ordinance would probably not hold up to court scrutiny, according to City Attorney Jerry Canfield. If this issue were to resurface in 2013, how would you vote?
Armstrong: I would vote for us to follow the state guidelines of the 5% available land area. We are less likely to be challenged, and we’ve already lost money on this issue before. I think it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen if we don’t. Doesn’t mean I want any of those businesses here, but they are allowed in certain areas, and we need to do what the state requires.
Lau: It was a mistake to vote the way they did (in May 2012). We have a precedent with the Regina’s House of Dolls case. Why would a leader put his city in that position to eat another potential $800,000 liability, maybe more? It’s just a matter of time before someone the caliber of Eddie Christian, Jr. (attorney in the Regina’s case), comes in and sues us. All those directors are passionate, and no one wants sexually oriented businesses, but it just wasn’t a good business decision. The precedent is there. Why is this board putting us in jeopardy again?
Pevehouse: Any time you’re negotiating, if you can do it incrementally to your favor, that’s ideal. I want to get it as low as possible without subjecting ourselves to a lawsuit. We have a history in Fort Smith of saying, ‘We know we’re right, by golly, and we’re going to stick to our guns.’ That doesn’t always work out for us. I’d say if the courts are telling us 5%, then why not try 4%?
TCW: Should you be elected to the Ward 1 position, what are some of the next big issues that you anticipate facing during your term?
Armstrong: The economy and jobs. Working with small businesses to see how we can help them create more jobs. I also feel like the budget is going to be a huge issue. Of course, that’ll be towards the end of the year, and it will be a big issue every year, at least until the economy turns around. We need to get the spending under control, and have more transparency with documents that are being requested under Freedom of Information. The city has a lot of financial records already online, but we need more transparency, more trust. I would suggest opening the checkbook. When you read the budget, there are a lot of line items that get lumped into the spending, but I think we should show salaries for different employees and department heads, how much each department spends on the administrative costs they have, the director and their personnel, that sort of thing.
Lau: I am concerned about the city Board of Directors micromanaging the departments of the city of Fort Smith. I think some overview from a policy setting position is great, but my goodness, we’re getting down to the nitty gritty with some of these things, like the flip-flops we’ve done on trash collection. We also need to make it more friendly for businesses to do business in Fort Smith. And that issue of liability — we need to reduce liability to the city, and look at the underfunding of the fireman’s and police pension funds, and fix that. We don’t need to keep circling back around and making different decisions on things we’ve already decided. We need to stay the course.
Pevehouse: We’re still under an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) mandate to get wastewater taken care of. We’re doing what we need to be doing, but we should certainly show the EPA it’s a top priority and we’re serious about it. The Convention Center is improving, bringing in more business and revenue, but people are still questioning whether it should be there. I’m a believer in it, and I support its value to our community. The rest is economic development, and some of the bigger picture ideas the city needs to look at. The board can’t do a lot directly to fix the economy, but they can work with neighboring communities and chambers of commerce, and create an environment where companies will want to locate here.