Only one Fort Smith Board position draws opponents for November election

story by Ryan Saylor

The filing period for positions on the Fort Smith Board of Directors closed Thursday (May 29) at noon with only one race contested.

City Director/Vice Mayor Kevin Settle and Mayor Sandy Sanders had no opponents in their re-election bids, and former Rep. Tracy Pennartz will not have a challenger in her run for the position five at-large city director position. The position five seat opened up when City Director Pam Weber announced she would not seek re-election after one term on the Board.

The only opposed race is between former City Director Don Hutchings and Parks Commissioner Sherry Toliver, who both are running to replace retiring City Director Philip Merry. Merry will hold the position seven at-large seat until Dec. 31.

Reached for comment Thursday, Sanders said he was excited to know he will be serving another four years in the mayor's office.

"It feels good, naturally, to have the opportunity to serve another four years and there are a lot of things I think we need to focus on with the remainder of this year and the next four years."

The mayor said his focus this year and in his next term will continue to be economic development and making Fort Smith a place that is attractive for jobs and for students graduating from college and looking to start their careers.

"I think we need to focus on things more attractive to that younger, attractive population," he said. "We need to continue to work with the governor and the Chamber (of Commerce), the AEDC (Arkansas Economic Development Commission) on projects."

Another focus in the next term will be preparations for the city's 200th anniversary at the end of 2017, he said.

Pennartz said she looks forward to getting back to elected office after being term limited out of the state House of Representatives and losing a race for state Senate in 2012.

"I'm looking forward to another opportunity to be of public service. I have a strong belief in public service and of course (I am) looking to the future of Fort Smith, what we can do policy-wise that will propel us into these next years. I'm looking forward to working on whatever issues come before the Board."

As the year finishes out through the next seven months, Pennartz said she would focus on diving into the issues as she begins to be an observer at the Board meetings, study sessions and other activities involving the Board. Pennartz said while there is only one contested race, she did not take that as a lack of engagement on the part of Fort Smith's citizenry.

"I guess from one perspective that's a complement to my prior public service and people's feeling that I would do a good job for the city and them as a director."

Sanders said while there may only be one competitive race, the city's residents are still engaged and participating in shaping the future of the city.

"I think we have a lot of people who at some point in their life may run for the Board, but they have young families and say to themselves, 'OK, do I want to go to a Board meeting or watch my son play baseball or my daughter play volleyball?' People may be interested, but the timing may not be right now," he said.

He said people often find themselves serving on other city boards or commissions that are less of a time commitment before choosing to run for the Board later on.


In the race to replace Merry, Sanders declined to make endorsements and said instead that he would be ready to work with whoever was victorious on November 4.

"I know them both, I know them well. There is no endorsement because I'll need to work with all seven members of the Board."

Settle did not respond to comment for this story.

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The Mayors Agenda

The Mayor should focus most of his attention on bringing events to Downtown that are similar to the Bikes, Blues, and Barbeque attraction in Northwest Arkansas. Over 100 million dollars in extra business for merchants and maybe 15 to 20 million dollars in new tax revenues.

Better Yet

The Mayor should focus most of his attention on retiring from political office. Get out of the way and make way for a younger, progressive Mayor. That would eliminate Kevin Settle also.

Play Ball

The secret to success on the BOD seems to be all about learning how to "play ball".


to Mayor Sanders and Director Settle on their uncontested runs. I am happy that Traci Pennartz in joining the Director group. Perhaps she could impart on the Directors how to really run a Board from her prior legislative experience. The contest between Hutchings and Toliver should be interesting. I am not sure how anyone can see the lack of interested candidates as being indicative of a lack of interest or perhaps people being fed up. Last go around we had 3 people running in 1 ward alone. Now we have 4 people running in total for 3 positions. Hmmm...

I'm just curious...

why all the self proclaimed know it alls for the good of Fort Smith on here who live in Settle's district didn't run against him? I mean, it's been non stop anti settle on here for years. I figured someone would have stepped up and challenged him on his methods. May not win, but you'd get a lot more publicity on your points of view then a message board.

We need caps:

The board races have turned into the size of State or even bigger races. Most candidates spend 10k+ and some even 20k. Who has that kind of money? I know i dont. Its all about the almighty dollar.

Almighty Dollar Matt

Heard that Mr. Settle spent almost 30,000 dollars to buy his place at the dinner table and this is really odd behavior for a job that pays 1000 dollars per year. Guess money was no object for the opportunity to embarrass and humiliate the pet lady?

Side Show

The BOD meeting spectacles are a sideshow distraction from what really goes on. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Merry and Weber are kept out of the loop as they are a nuisance to the good old boys clique. That clique has launched a "charm offensive" upon the taxpayers and citizen troublemakers who dare to show-up at BOD meetings. Guess what BOD, we ain't as stupid as you look !! Cut the fat and cut the crap. Remember the "bottom line" before wasting a dime, and then some.

Under The Big Tent

The BOD meetings are a useless sideshow to fool the public into thinking that they have representation but the script has already been inked on paper by the ringmaster in a City Hall secret meeting room.

30,000 Dollars

Why would any person in their right mind spend 30,000.00 dollars to land a job on the BOD that pays 1000 dollars per year? Could it be that the cookies served at the City Director retreats are extra special and laced with special secret ingredients.

Good sign

If there are 4 positions to be voted on and only 5 persons put their names in the hat then apparently the overwhelming majority feels the ship is headed in the right direction. Kudos to the mayor and the board for all their efforts. Thank you directors Merry and Weber for your service.

Sinking Waverunner

The overwhelming majority feel that the current City Administration is just a bad dream or possibly a nightmare that will end at sunrise but do agree that Merry and Weber tried to keep the ship from sinking but had to abandon their effort and man the lifeboats because there are just too many leaks.

Underwhelming Minority

A small minority of eligible voters actually turns out to vote. Most people know that the politicos of Fort Smith already have the power to make life miserable for any opposition representatives duly elected by voters. So why bother. The BOD is just a small part of the power structure. There are the bureaucrats, lawyers and judges trump elected officials. It's the establishment, dude !