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Fort Smith officials talk about how to be more business friendly

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

Development and business friendliness took center stage for much of a more than hour long brainstorming session of the Fort Smith Board of Directors on Monday night (Feb. 24).

The session, which was absent a set agenda in order to allow a free flow of ideas among Board members and the administration, started with City Director Keith Lau simply asking what the city could do to make it easier for citizens needing to do business with the municipality. He cited specific examples of individuals having trouble with permitting for construction and subsequent inspection issues.

City Director Mike Lorenz said from his perspective, it seemed that all complaints seemed to center around inspections.

"I think it truly is the difference between…an inspector knows the rules of what can and can't be done, what is code, what isn't code. But that isn't translated correctly at all,” Lorenz said.

City Director Pam Weber, who acknowledged receiving two inspection-related complaints on Monday alone, said city staff "has to be careful how we say things," adding that reducing rules and regulations already on the books as some citizens have called for would not fix the problem. She said one of the goals of the administration should be to help staff in the planning department find a way to work with customers, developing "a customer service attitude."

Among the talk of inspections, permitting and planning came ideas for expanding the city's use of online building permits to streamline the process, something City Administrator Ray Gosack said had been re-introduced to the city last year after a multi-year absence. The absence was brought on, in part, by the low usage compared to the cost of upkeep for the online portal, he said, adding that he was hopeful usage would increase with the online procedure being re-introduced.

City Director Philip Merry also floated the idea of having retired volunteers on site to help individuals and business owners find their way through the permitting process at the city offices on Garrison Avenue, though Weber said a simpler procedure would simply be to provide individuals a list of what they would need to do to fulfill the city's requirements for permitting and inspection.

During the discussion on making Fort Smith more friendly to businesses and residents, which the Board hoped would attract industry, Weber floated the idea of purchasing more items for the city locally.

"I know there's some rules on who we do business with, how we do it. But part of the things we do is we give a lot of contracts worth a lot of money and I know we have to bid those and that type of thing. But it really irritates me that we don't do local. Like we buy cars in Texas, that type of thing. And I'm wondering if there is a rationale?"

She questioned Police Chief Kevin Lindsey about why new Tahoe police cruisers for his department were not purchased locally, to which he said no local dealership had the vehicles he needed therefore necessitating buying the vehicles from a dealership outside of the Fort Smith area.

Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman said the city could look into the possibility of an ordinance that would require taking a local bid if it was within a certain percentage of the lowest overall bidder, though he said city attorneys would have to explore the legality of such an ordinance within the state of Arkansas.

Gosack did not speak against any such action, though he said it was important for the Board to keep in mind that not taking the lowest bidder on large contracts could turn into large amounts of additional taxpayer dollars being spent.

"You know, last week you awarded a sewer construction project for nearly $13 million. If you had a 5% local preference in there, you could leave three-quarters of a million dollars sitting on the table. …Arkansas used to on construction contracts, the state did have a policy allowing 5% in-state bid preference and I think they realized when you get into these multi-million projects, it's a lot of money that could be left on the table."

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Other ideas discussed at the meeting included:
• Implementing a building design standard for all city-owned buildings;
• Exploring whether a casino was still a possibility along the Arkansas River near downtown;
• Possibly hiring additional city planners to fill the needs of the city; and
• Improving railroad crossing safety across the city.

The Board did ask for a resolution to be developed that would state the city's willingness to conduct itself in a more business friendly fashion.

The next brainstorming session of the Board will be held May 27.

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Comments

This story just begs for the question...

Shouldn't a brain storming session actually have more than 1-2 brains being stormed?

Do You Really Want Friendly?

Do you actually think online building permits is a solution in our present condition? Does adding additional personnel to city planners help solve the problem? What about having someone at the very top, being accountable to the people? Fort Smith is one of only two Arkansas cities that has a city administrator form of government. All other growing cities have a mayor/council form of government. Can you imagine how responsive someone could actually be to ALL people if he/she was actually accountable to the people at election time. Until there is accountability to the people, we are spitting into the wind with all this rhetoric.

City

Jack, where do you get your information about City Manager's? Little Rock, Hot Springs, Texarkana all have City Managers. They are doing quiet well with growth and even your beloved Jonesboro is considering to have a chief executive to run their City.

Zekebanker, would You Answer A Simple Question?

Zekebanker, Little Rock's growth is 7%, Texarkana 13%, Hot Springs -0.8%, and may well compare with Fort Smith's growth of 8%, but I was comparing to Jonesboro at 26%, Bentonville at 94%, Springdale 60%, Rogers 52% and Fayetteville 33%. Question to ZekeBanker; do you honestly believe a CEO, accountable to the people and a board responsive to the people, would allow the use of police in big black SUVs to deliver subpoenas to good, decent folks, forcing them downtown for depositions because they were only guilty of collecting names on a petition for a right to have a voice in a forced Prepared Food Tax and forcing those decent citizens to spend $13,000 to defend their right to have a voice on taxation in a court of law? This happened in Fort Smith and can only happen when citizens can be herded like sheep without any consequences or recourse to those in authority.
Zekebanker, Little Rock's growth is 7%, Texarkana 13%, Hot Springs -0.8%, and may well compare with Fort Smith's growth of 8%, but I was comparing to Jonesboro at 26%, Bentonville at 94%, Springdale 60%, Rogers 52% and Fayetteville 33%. Question to ZekeBanker; do you honestly believe a CEO, accountable to the people and a board responsive to the people, would allow the use of police in big black SUVs to deliver subpoenas to good, decent folks, forcing them downtown for depositions because they were only guilty of collecting names on a petition for a right to have a voice in a forced Prepared Food Tax and forcing those decent citizens to spend $13,000 to defend ...>> Read the entire comment.

Reply

Jack, I was just asking where you got your info. I do believe in trying to run the City as a business(as much as reasonably possible). The City Manager "supposedly" takes politics out of the equation and we elect our directors to be that person's boss. If the Manager is not performing properly, the Directors are the ones who should be held accountable to the people. I probably lean very heavily toward your thinking on Government, but I do want to try and find good, and work toward good, instead of finding the bad every day. We can always find bad, everywhere we live, whether it be FSM, FAY,JNB,RGRS, or wherever. I have lived several of these places, and they have some of the same issues we have here. But the people find ways to come together and get things done. Jack, keep plugging.
Jack, I was just asking where you got your info. I do believe in trying to run the City as a business(as much as reasonably possible). The City Manager "supposedly" takes politics out of the equation and we elect our directors to be that person's boss. If the Manager is not performing properly, the Directors are the ones who should be held accountable to the people. I probably lean very heavily toward your thinking on Government, but I do want to try and find good, and work toward good, instead of finding the bad every day. We can always find bad, everywhere we live, whether it be FSM, FAY,JNB,RGRS, or wherever. I have lived several of these places, and they ...>> Read the entire comment.

Nothings going to work long here without fairness

more equally divided across the entire spectrum of people rather than according to political clout whether that be obtained by money, position, or by monumental effort. Look at us right now fighting over the ---->location primarily

To the tune of "Merry Merry Month of May"

"I was sittin' in my chair one day". "I'd been collectin' signatures Ole!" "When what to my surprise and my pair of buggin' eyes" "A big SUV arrives>" "On the side it said Fort Smith Police" "To protect and to serve if you please" "And a cop all dressed in blue, said "I'm here to serve just You" "A subpoena to appear, Yoo Hoo!" "Jack Swink it is my name" "And I'll never be the same" "Since that Big Black SUV arrived".

Hi ho hi ho, it's off to gripe I go

What fools they be that can do nothing to me! Hi ho hi ho! If I'm not around long I beat the best in town! Hi ho hi ho! There it is again after another two hours!!! Hi ho...oh no! Will my job never end on teaching people exactly how to live? Ha ha ha ha only once!

Perhaps it's the initial warden/prisoner meeting

Welcome to prison, here's what I already know about the situation...you want out and the keys are in my pocket.what if a regular citizen is working against you by bugging the code inspectors to death because he just doesn't want you or your business near him/or perhaps in the entire town period and he eats, sleeps, and breathes this stuff? What if the person has enough pull from interjecting himself into city politics for decades even to the point of helping get 1-2 Directors elected today? (Down from 4 in in the good ol' days.) Could there be someone in this town that extreme Ke-mo sah-bees?

Serial Offender

Your comments indicate that you refuse to follow the law Tonto. If someone has to continue to make complaints and you know how you are out of compliance and refuse to make any adjustments so as to get into compliance, then you deserve what you get. Just follow the law Tonto!

A Serial Complainer

It's a fairly common trick throughout our history. People later decide they want something they formerly did not so they go about crafting ways to take it away from the other person for next to nothing. What trail are we ourselves one of the last stops on? The laws didn't work so the ordinances were made stricter and then they were made stricter again to a large degree to try and somehow get a project that is perpetually a few million away from starting to show at least some signs of success. Meanwhile a town slowly began to languish as more and more prominent citizens became interested in this very intriguing hobby above all else. Unfortunately from the very beginning mixed in with a lot of these good people have been a few bad apples where you don't worry about the barrel...the risk is the whole crop. They freely add their own genius? into picture then quickly blame those elected when it turns into a terrible mess. City Manager or mayor? Why bother when it would take at least a fuhrer here to somehow deal with them.
It's a fairly common trick throughout our history. People later decide they want something they formerly did not so they go about crafting ways to take it away from the other person for next to nothing. What trail are we ourselves one of the last stops on? The laws didn't work so the ordinances were made stricter and then they were made stricter again to a large degree to try and somehow get a project that is perpetually a few million away from starting to show at least some signs of success. Meanwhile a town slowly began to languish as more and more prominent citizens became interested in this very intriguing hobby above all else. Unfortunately from the very ...>> Read the entire comment.