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Game pieces and tough questions

guest commentary by David Potts

Editor’s note: David Potts is a certified public accountant with more than 33 years experience. Although every effort is made to provide you accurate and timely tax information, it is general in nature and not specific to your facts and circumstances. Consult a qualified tax professional to discuss your particular case. Feel free to e-mail topic suggestions or questions to davidpotts@potts-cpa.com

Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.

I received a call from Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders a few weeks ago, kind of. It was an automated call. If you live within the city limits of Fort Smith, an automated call from the Mayor Sanders isn’t unusual.

But this call was somewhat different. The phone rang, I picked up the receiver, I heard that distinct pause that lets you know it’s an automated call, then a woman’s voice identified herself as Mayor Sandy Sanders. At first I thought the mayor might be suffering from gender identity issues. Then I realized it was a glitch in the automated calling system. This new feminine voice of the mayor intrigued me enough to listen to the full message.

This automated telephone call from Mayor Sanders “personally” invited me to attend a forum at the community center at Creekmore Park to explore the possible alternative futures for Fort Smith. As a lifelong resident of Fort Smith who plans to live to 110 then die in Fort Smith and be buried at Oak Cemetery, I have a vested interest in the future of Fort Smith. This forum topic motivated me to accept the Mayor’s invitation and attend.

For much of my life I could be accused of dereliction of duty as a citizen for failing to participate in the government of Fort Smith. Being a rookie participant in a community forum, I entered the Rose room at Creekmore Park’s community center with the intent to keep my mouth shut and just observe. However, I was slowly drawn into participating.
The meeting was facilitated by Wally Bailey, Fort Smith’s Director of Planning and Construction and his staff. I’m not sure I really understood the purpose of the meeting except it was part of the City Planning Department’s activities in updating their Comprehensive Plan.

If you are not familiar with Fort Smith’s Comprehensive Plan, it is a document of which the stated purpose “is a vision for the future that plans for a twenty year time period, based on local conditions, values and aspirations.” This particular plan’s focus is to “focus on ensuring that these community facets contribute to promote the city’s economic development and prosperity, defining what that means and how to achieve it.”

So far I am on board. I like the part about economic development and prosperity.

To develop this comprehensive plan our city leaders hired WRT, a consulting company, to assist in its development. As part of their process, Mr. Bailey and his staff was asked to hold a series of community forums, this series being titled “Imagining Alternative Futures.”

For this particular meeting WRT developed a “game,” similar in concept to a board game for the attendees to play. We, the attendees, were split into several groups. Each group had their own table where a large map of Fort Smith was spread and the group was given a certain number of “game pieces” that represented certain types of businesses and the number of jobs they represented. As a team our task was to decide where in Fort Smith we wanted these future businesses to locate.

As I first sat at my table I thought this process would be a complete waste of time. I’m still skeptical whether the consultants or Mr. Bailey will give much weight to our opinions (since our opinions lack professional experience or any formal education in land use and development), but I found the discussion among my group interesting and informative.

My group demonstrated great knowledge of Fort Smith and many thoughtful and intelligent opinions voiced, opinions of the attendees, not the planning department staff. (Several times I asked the opinion of the pleasant young lady facilitating our discussions but each time she deferred, keeping her opinion to herself.) When the forum ended, I left more interested in the future development of Fort Smith, but I also left more concerned.

Fort Smith’s future “economic development and prosperity” will not mysteriously materialize at locations bearing the job levels represented by game pieces we pushed around on a map of Fort Smith. Business investment happens or one reason and only one reason: To make money for the people risking the loss of their money every time they invest in buildings or business ventures. That’s just a fact of life.

Fort Smith’s Comprehensive Plan might assist in economic development and prosperity, but it will never be the driver. I would even suggest in the hands of overzealous city officials, the Comprehensive Plan could drive away “economic development and prosperity.”

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Fort Smith’s future, its quality-of-life, its prosperity; these require a community with a growing and thriving economic base. A growing and thriving economic base requires a community to be business friendly. The people Fort Smith need to begin to ask themselves, “How can we become more business friendly so that economic growth and great paying jobs are attracted to Fort Smith?” At the same time existing businesses in Fort Smith need to ask themselves “How can we contribute more to the community to increase the general quality of life?” Then all need to ask, “Do we have the right leaders in place who believe in Fort Smith and really want to lead Fort Smith to prosperity?”

Then let’s ask ourselves what we can do to help Mr. Bailey achieve his career’s masterpiece of planning that we can all point to as a new beginning for Fort Smith’s prosperity. (Hey Wally, no pressure.)

One more thing, shop Fort Smith.

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Comments

Good Comment Mr. Potts

We all wish Fort Smith the best but I see several problems with the Fort Smith plan. Most of city leadership, if not all, have never done a business start up and Wally B. has always been a city employee who seems to know his job very well but has no experience in the private sector. Is it possible for the city to become more business friendly when none of the city leaders or city planners have ever done a job creating business start up?

business friendly?

Here is that recurrent theme of "business friendly". I have asked before what that means in the context of FS city government. I did get one reply that concerned the use of property that did not meet code and was objected to by neighboring land owners. But what policy would you prescribe? Maybe let some company put in a rendering plant near downtown? Oh yes, that happened. It was called Arkansas Proteins. Stunk the city up for years. No regulations is no option in a ordered society. No regulations is certainly not what anyone wants when someone wants to put something in their back yard that is objectionable. So tell me what policy changes would you propose? What does business friendly mean to you in a policy that could be adopted by the city. It just sounds like a stuck record that keeps repeating business friendly, click, business friendly, but never gets to the point.
Here is that recurrent theme of "business friendly". I have asked before what that means in the context of FS city government. I did get one reply that concerned the use of property that did not meet code and was objected to by neighboring land owners. But what policy would you prescribe? Maybe let some company put in a rendering plant near downtown? Oh yes, that happened. It was called Arkansas Proteins. Stunk the city up for years. No regulations is no option in a ordered society. No regulations is certainly not what anyone wants when someone wants to put something in their back yard that is objectionable. So tell me what policy changes would you propose? ...>> Read the entire comment.

Oh No Its The Observer

Nice try Observer! Arkansas Proteins was terrible but you only used that example to reinforce your weak argument. How about when the BOD refused to allow a storage facility for towed cars because of landscape requirements? Would it not have been more business friendly to allow the business owner an opportunity to start and give him 6 months or 1 year to bring property into code? Do you remember a business owner downtown being screamed at by a city official because they sold Victoria secret type goods? Do you remember the Pub Crawl downtown where all were invited to come and fill their cups at every downtown establishment and then the headlines in the newspaper the next day read " 22 arrested for public intox"? Business friendly is when city leaders provide gentle guidance and not heavy handed tactics like delivering subpoenas to citizens getting petitions signed to bring a tax increase vote to the people by a special election. Do you get it now?

Observe More Examples

You forgot to mention the Regina House of Dolls fiasco where the city attack on business cost taxpayers over one million dollars when the business took the city to court. How about the "not in my town" comment about the casino issue that would have brought thousands of jobs to the city along with hotels, entertainment, shops, riverfront development, and a whole lot more? It certainly can be said that there have been many examples of why Fort Smith is not considered a business friendly city and its hard to believe that the Observer is confused by the term "business friendly city".

Anon

Your statements are not correct about the towing service. The first vote was 4-4 in allowing this business to locate in that location. Several businesses in the general area had spoken against this location for this business. The 4 votes against it, were not because of landscaping, they were against this location for that business. The 4 votes for the request included the landscaping. When it came back to the commission, it passed. Get your facts correct, and don't just read and believe. Fort Smith is not perfect in it's dealings with businesses, however, they are trying and, it is not easy to make everyone happy with any decision that they make. As for the pub crawl, is there not some responsibility of the patrons to not break the law. We always see something about Bikes, Blues and BBQ thrown out. Every year there are many, many citations, tickets, wrecks, other problems, but it continues and is flourishing. Was a police officer doing his job, or would you rather they turn their head, and have someone, cause a horrific accident on our streets. Be a part of the betterment, not a back seat driver.
Your statements are not correct about the towing service. The first vote was 4-4 in allowing this business to locate in that location. Several businesses in the general area had spoken against this location for this business. The 4 votes against it, were not because of landscaping, they were against this location for that business. The 4 votes for the request included the landscaping. When it came back to the commission, it passed. Get your facts correct, and don't just read and believe. Fort Smith is not perfect in it's dealings with businesses, however, they are trying and, it is not easy to make everyone happy with any decision that they make. As for the ...>> Read the entire comment.

It's my story and I'm sticking to it!

One could envision the 4 votes for this business in that location already knowing they would face the ire of the ones against it and making sure they included something to try and assuage them. The 4 against it obviously did not need to. Why is it though when I visit one of the wealthier, most progressive, and most successful cities in the nation quite obviously places like 'Bill's Auto Repair' and 'Joe the Plumber' do not have to go through all the yada yada to have a business like they do here in Ft Smith? (Frankly if I see a landscaped plumbing business that tells me all I need to know about them.) Then as I clickity clack along I pass houses where poor people live. Their homes show it and still it's ok for them to live there. Hmm I wonder if they are onto something by not trying to force everybody to maintain their homes and businesses like a downtown skyscraper?? Improve it yes but we need to do something to discourage those who would from memorizing the rules, then zooming in on others with a 26x Nikon, or driving all the way across town to complain about something they normally pass maybe once every 5 years. It really is that bad here with a few very active people here and we need to change it.

Anon

Where are these cities that entities don't have to go thru proper planning and development in their city? If you are talking about NWA, I lived up there and was very involved in the development area, and their ordinances are far more stringent than ours. As for the more mature areas of town, unless it is redeveloped, the city can not do much about landscaping, lawns, shrubs, or other items. That is why most newer subdivisions come with their own set of parameters for upkeep and maintenance, referred to as bill of assurance.

Half Truths

There you go again with a bundle of half truths and what if's. The towing service issue should have never been blown out of proportion by the grandstanders at City Hall and on the BOD and in my opinion, it should have been put the rest long before it became a headline issue. Additionally, we had more grandstanding on the BOD with dog and cat nonsense that captured the attention of the BOD for 6 months while the city was hemorrhaging jobs because of nonsensical stringent city codes that treat older structures the same as new construction. Your comment about the Pub Crawl is laughable because you don't invite people to come and fill their cups at every drinking establishment, and there are dozens Downtown, and then wait in the weeds to arrest them. Finally, your "what if" about the bikes, blues, and BBQ tells all. The event in NW Arkansas brings over 400 thousand visitors to that area and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that creates thousands of jobs. "Horrific accidents" happen everyday on the roads so maybe we should take away everyone's cars as a solution even though most people are very responsible but its your opinion that the actions of a few make it ok to punish everyone! Not only are you a "back seat driver" but appear to be trying to drive the bus from the last rear seat! Hope you are not my banker because you remind me of the banker that never had a business loan go bad because he never made any loans! Progress can only come by taking a few chances and having reasonable staff in the public sector that will work with people that have a dream of owning their own business.

Anon

I completely agree with the great benefit that BBQ brings to NWA, and have attended it for the last serveral years. Wonderful event. However, what you stated was that our Police department was too hard on the patrons of our pub crawl. The police were doing their job. The police in Fayetteville are so very busy during the BBQ event, writing cititations, and working that other items are lost. Having events does not give reason to break the law, I am all for more events on the Blvd, but it is the citizens that must also be responsible for their own actions. You can find bad in any event, or good in any event, if you try.

RE: Pub Crawl

Of course people were arrested for PUBLIC INTOXICATION! My friends and I often enjoyed the Pub Crawl **responsibly**, and never had problems. Your example would have been more valid if the arrest were for OPEN CONTAINER, but being a blatantly drunk nuisance will get you in trouble every time...

The problem..no the huge problem has been

a few unbelievably politically active people didn't stop at a rendering plant..they went after everything. They were retired with very good pensions and never produced offspring so the future for them required only that the city look and smell good. Woe be to the one who failed to serve up befitting eye candy. Even if there were the remotest of chances a business might detract in the slightest of ways to overall curb appeal or aesthetic value perhaps, they tried to organize others and snuff it out at city council meetings. Suffice it to say it only takes a very few people to have a major impact on a city's stagnation if they work at it most of the time they're awake for a quarter century.

business friendly

A business friendly city does not ignore laws and regulations, especially regulations that involve public safety. But a business friendly city would have a government that understood that trade and commerce was the city's life blood and have a culture that worked hard to help new and old businesses alike comply with their laws and regulations. However, regulations and their enforcement should be sensible. A healthy community needs business and industry. Who is going to make their home in a city where jobs are scarce unless their own economic circumstances trap them.

History Speaks

18th century poet, Robert Burns wrote: "The best laid plans o'mice an' men/gang aft a gley." or as we would say today "gone astray." No matter who makes a plan or how good it is, things can still happen to make the plan fall apart. Is there a plan "B"? Most people agree that business friendly cities usually get the goods and Fort Smith needs needs to gain a reputation of being a super business friendly community. comprehensive plans are a good start but the secret to a growing community is a strong private sector growing jobs and a city administration that is smart enough to step back and let happen with guidance from the sidelines. Top notch communities have a little of everything for everybody and everyone feels that their voice is heard by city leaders.
18th century poet, Robert Burns wrote: "The best laid plans o'mice an' men/gang aft a gley." or as we would say today "gone astray." No matter who makes a plan or how good it is, things can still happen to make the plan fall apart. Is there a plan "B"? Most people agree that business friendly cities usually get the goods and Fort Smith needs needs to gain a reputation of being a super business friendly community. comprehensive plans are a good start but the secret to a growing community is a strong private sector growing jobs and a city administration that is smart enough to step back and let happen with guidance from the sidelines. Top notch communities have a ...>> Read the entire comment.

Thank You

I appreciate the response Happy. I had asked for a policy to define business friendly but it is really an attitude that calls for folks to be reasonable. I could not agree more. What, I am agreeing with Happy Times? Anon cites the incident where the CBID/City employee yelled at the people putting in the sexy products store on the avenue. Spot on. That was an embarrassment. The product is legal and the was way out of bounds on that one. I understand the motivation,but because one might object to a business in that location, it was legal. I object personnally to all the tatoo parlors on the avenue, but they are a legal business and so I cannot, and should not, try to intefere with their business. I have also found most people to be reasonable when reason is the objective and a solution is being sought. When any party is yelling and hurling insults it is but human nature to return fire. Maybe if everyone would just calm down and discuss rather than to see conspiracies and boogymen behind every proposal some real progress could be made. There are so many good people here that really want to see the area develop. Discussion in good faith is the key.
I appreciate the response Happy. I had asked for a policy to define business friendly but it is really an attitude that calls for folks to be reasonable. I could not agree more. What, I am agreeing with Happy Times? Anon cites the incident where the CBID/City employee yelled at the people putting in the sexy products store on the avenue. Spot on. That was an embarrassment. The product is legal and the was way out of bounds on that one. I understand the motivation,but because one might object to a business in that location, it was legal. I object personnally to all the tatoo parlors on the avenue, but they are a legal business and so I cannot, and should not, ...>> Read the entire comment.

Real Discussion

The City Wire deserves a lot of credit for getting personal opinions out for public view which allows everyone to make up their own minds regarding issues and events. You are right Observer, discussion in good faith is a healthy way to find solutions to community problems and also looking at success stories in other cities is another great tool. suppression of public comments and ideas only leads to mistrust and loss of confidence in local government and we all know that some of our city leaders are overly sensitive to citizens that have a different point of view. It has not been difficult to see the "boogyman" in city administration and likewise in some people that have managed to sway public opinion through other slanted news sources. Agreed, "discussion in good faith" works wonders when city leaders and the public play by the same rules but the real question is, are the people subservient to government or is the government subservient to the people? Its my opinion that we need a slight tilt back to the peoples side that favors more social events Downtown Fort Smith with activities that provide a little something for everyone.
The City Wire deserves a lot of credit for getting personal opinions out for public view which allows everyone to make up their own minds regarding issues and events. You are right Observer, discussion in good faith is a healthy way to find solutions to community problems and also looking at success stories in other cities is another great tool. suppression of public comments and ideas only leads to mistrust and loss of confidence in local government and we all know that some of our city leaders are overly sensitive to citizens that have a different point of view. It has not been difficult to see the "boogyman" in city administration and likewise in some people that ...>> Read the entire comment.