At least one contest emerges in Fort Smith Board of Directors race

story by Ryan Saylor

The race for the position seven at-large city director is now a competitive one after Fort Smith Parks Commissioner Sherry Toliver announced her intention Monday (April 28) to seek the seat being vacated by City Director Philip Merry.

By entering the race, Toliver will face former City Director Don Hutchings, who is seeking a return to the Board after sitting out during the last term to focus on a funding and building campaign for a new sanctuary at the church he pastors, Evangel Temple.

In a press release, Toliver said she would seek advice from the business community.

"I believe that growing Fort Smith's economy starts with listening to business leaders," she said. "That's why I'm running for City Director."

She also said that as a city director her focus would be on supporting small businesses and working to foster relationships between companies and the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith's high-tech training programs.

"I believe that growing our regional economy is the key to improving opportunities for all Fort Smith residents and ensuring our City's financial future," Toliver said in the press release.

When reached for comment on the race, Hutchings had nothing but positive things to say about his newly-announced opponent.

"She would be a great city director," he said. "She's a wonderful person and highly qualified."

Toliver said her decision to run for office was not influenced by Hutchings being in the race, adding that she was not aware he was running.

"I didn't know I was running against him," she said. "I did not know who was going to file. Actually, no one has filed yet. The filing period is not until May, so there may be others. But the reason I chose to run for Position 7 is because Director Philip Merry is not going to run. That will be an open seat and I did not want to run against an incumbent."

Asked why Fort Smith voters should elect one over the other, neither candidate offered specifics.

"It would just be about letting the public know what each of us stands for and letting the people decide," Hutchings said. "That's the best way to do it and I encourage more people to get involved. It's a high honor to even be considered for office and we need more people like Sherry."

Toliver said she would just present her argument to voters as to why she believes she should be elected and let the chips fall where they may.

"When you're seeking a position, just be honest, tell the truth and let people know where your heart is and let the voters decide," she said. "And that's what will happen in this case."

So far, the Position 7 At-Large seat is the only contested municipal election in Fort Smith.

Of the other positions up for election later this year, Mayor Sandy Sanders has announced he would seek re-election, as has Vice Mayor Kevin Settle, who holds the Position 6 At-Large seat. City Director Pam Weber, who holds the Position 5 At-Large seat, said in a telephone call that she was not yet ready to announce a decision about her plans.

The filing period for municipal Fort Smith offices runs from May 14 to Noon on May 29. An election will be held Aug. 12. If needed, a run-off election will be held Nov. 4.