Fort Smith Board reviews citizen survey results

story by Aric Mitchell
amitchell@thecitywire.com

Fort Smith Directors reviewed findings from the National Citizens Survey (NCS) Tuesday (Oct. 30) that the city falls short in public perception for three key areas: police services, city appearance and public information.

The survey, which was conducted by National Research Center (NRC), Inc., and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) in August, solicited responses by mail from approximately 1,200 Fort Smith households, receiving 324 responses (about 29%) in return.

From the 324 number, 15% of citizens surveyed indicated that they were victimized by at least one crime in the past year, but less than one-third of that number (28%) actually reported the crime to the police department, which the survey considers "much less" when benchmarking against other cities.

Community and personal public safety also fell short of national benchmarks with 60% of citizens feeling "very safe" or "somewhat safe" from violent crime, 47% from property crimes, 71% from being out after dark in their neighborhood and 45% from being out after dark in the downtown area, all considered "below" or "much below" other cities.

Just 54% of the participants believed crime prevention was "excellent" or "good," also "much below" the national benchmarks, the survey revealed.

Appearance of the community, both overall and pertaining to new development, was also seen as "generally low" compared to national benchmarks. Just 43% of participants believed the overall appearance of Fort Smith was "excellent" or "good," while only 47% said the same of new development quality.

On public trust, the survey revealed that only 38% believe Fort Smith is on the right track, and only 42% believe the local government welcomes citizen involvement. The overall favorable rating of Fort Smith was only 47% in this area.

Fort Smith Director Andre Good cautioned directors on the negative aspects of the survey results.

"We have to be very aware of the times. The economy is bad. People are struggling and are not happy with the government as a whole. It's not just us," Good said.

There was some good news, however, in how citizens viewed city government employees. For those participants, city personnel ranked "well above 50%" across all departments, according to the survey.

Finally, the survey reported that 87% of Fort Smith citizens who responded use mainstream media as a major news source. (The survey combines Internet news and websites, newspapers, television and radio, under the "mainstream" distinction.)

Approximately 38% relied on word of mouth, while 17% used Facebook, 14% Fast Focus (the city's electronic newsletter) and 3% each for blogs and Twitter.

COMPREHENSIVE PLAN UPDATE
No decisions were made regarding what to do with the results but Fort Smith Administrator Ray Gosack told The City Wire in an interview prior to the study session that "next month we'll have a contract" with a consulting firm to develop a comprehensive plan update, the city's first in 10 years.

Explaining how the plan update would work, Gosack admitted, "Clearly we need citizens involved in helping us define what the issues and what the concerns are, and even in identifying what a desired outcome is."

"We need to use this survey as a measuring stick," said Fort Smith Director Kevin Settle. "I don't think Ray, his staff, or this board have every answer to all these questions. If we think that, we're kidding ourselves. I think that we've got to get the community involved. So what I suggest is that we go get community involvement. We don't just ask and hope people show up to meetings. We have to ask certain people."

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Settle suggested reaching out to school districts, civic clubs, the medical community and the business community, to name a few, in moving forward with a strategic plan for citizen involvement.

Full survey results are available at this link as part of the Oct. 30 study session packet available at the city's official website.

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Comments

Fort Smith administrator startled by survey results?????

Fort Smith administrator Ray Gosack startled by survey results and Fort Smith Director Andre Good cautioned directors on the negative aspects of the survey results. "We have to be very aware of the times. The economy is bad. People are struggling and are not happy with the government as a whole. It's not just us," Good said. This goes to show how out of touch Gosack and Good are with the problems of Fort Smith.

It's not Good!

In just todays perusal of the media I see where Weber wants to go back and do it all over again just like we did before. That's right both the parking ordinance and the property maintenance code now that people aren't working and have the time to completely redo their houses so the neighborhood looks pretty. What else is life about?

Focusing on the wrong areas as usual

While many people may say "transparency" may be the biggest issue I think they're just using a buzzword for government. I think Good is partially accurate that in bad times people like to blame government and are interested in seeing exactly what goes on (transparent government). However, in reality the problems that exist in Fort Smith and surrounding areas is not about transparency. Fort Smith (and all surrounding areas) are so stuck in the ways of the past. This has to be the most business unfriendly area I've ever seen and there's never any mention of changing it. There's more red tape and other nuisances than anywhere I've seen and we can't seem to shake the "good ole boy" virus that has plagued this area for 50 years or more. There's no true desire for growth in the fears that too many "outsiders" may come in and there's no planning for the future for our graduates coming from our 4-year university so they leave the area. Not to mention the area is so "one-track minded" that focusing on more than one area of business growth seems to be something too difficult of a concept to grasp. The list just goes on. So much that needs to change with no desire for any true change. So much concern and frustration......

no desire for any true change

I agree, a change in mindset is needed. People love to cast blame on their elected officials, but the government, most certainly the local government, is a direct reflection of the attitudes of the people who voted them into office (all 15% or so who vote in local primaries). It seems most politically active locals are more concerned about maintaining the status quo or nostalgia for the ways things were decades ago than doing what is required to diversify the economy, plan for the future and move forward. I get that in this area there are a lot of working-class folks who are simply too busy trying to make ends meet and raise a family to keep up with local minutiae, but when so few are involved in local government and the community, this is the predictable result, just as so few responded to the community survey. As far as the survey, judging by the results, it sounds like the only people who bothered to respond were the age 65+ crowd, the same group who vote in every local election.
I agree, a change in mindset is needed. People love to cast blame on their elected officials, but the government, most certainly the local government, is a direct reflection of the attitudes of the people who voted them into office (all 15% or so who vote in local primaries). It seems most politically active locals are more concerned about maintaining the status quo or nostalgia for the ways things were decades ago than doing what is required to diversify the economy, plan for the future and move forward. I get that in this area there are a lot of working-class folks who are simply too busy trying to make ends meet and raise a family to keep up with local minutiae, ...>> Read the entire comment.

Director Kevin Settle......

Director Kevin Settle...... "I think that we've got to get the community involved. So what I suggest is that we go get community involvement. We don't just ask and hope people show up to meetings. We have to ask certain people." Typical Kevin Settle BS. Ask "certain people" who won't make waves and go through the motions of "rubberstamping" Mr. Settle's nonsense that is orchestrated to make him appear important and distract from what goes on behind closed doors. Yup, don't just ask everybody, you might get some intelligent people with fresh, fact-based ideas. God forbid that this City would venture into their unknown, albeit known to the rest of the world. The BS continues. Over and out!