Former Rep. Pennartz to run for open Fort Smith Board seat

story by Ryan Saylor

The first candidate for the seat being vacated by City Director Pam Weber filed papers Monday (May 19) morning to succeed the Fort Smith Board of Directors' only woman.

Former Rep. Tracy Pennartz, D-Fort Smith, said she was running for the position 5 at-large position as a way to continue public service that ended when she termed out of the legislature in 2012 after serving three two-year terms in the Arkansas House of Representatives.

"Having served as a public servant as a legislator was one opportunity and I believe this is another opportunity to serve my city," she said Monday after she filed. "There happened to be circumstances where a position came open and this position will be an open seat. I felt with my experience, background and commitment to this community, maybe I could have an opportunity to be a public servant again by serving as a city director."

Pennartz, who ran unsuccessful for the Arkansas State Senate in 2012, said her number one priority should she win a seat on the Board would be to implement policies that bring jobs to the area.

"I taught at the University of Arkansas (at Fort Smith) this last semester and the one thing I've heard from some of the students graduating is there aren't jobs in this community to start their professional life here. So I'm concerned (and want) to keep them and attract others (to) this area, have the jobs to make them valuable members of this community."

She pointed to the city's more than 1,000 job announcements in the last year or more, but said the city should not just focus on bringing big business to Fort Smith. As a policy-setting body, Pennartz said it was incumbent on the Board to focus on small business, as well.

"Small businesses create most of the jobs," she said. "It's nice to have the big company and we all want that, but small businesses need an environment where they can make a living but also provide for our people. If there are policies that don't do that, we need to look at that."

Pennartz also highlighted development along the Arkansas River as a priority should she be elected, saying it could improve "quality of life, but also attract new people to Fort Smith."

She said it was time for the Board to start looking at the river and other areas not just in the here and now, but as part of the future of the city.

"I'm very interested in us being future-oriented. (We have to) look five, 10 years down the road and enact policies that will be positive for future citizens, also."

She said the Ben Geren Aquatics Center was part of having an eye on the future, saying that it will not only address quality of life in Fort Smith, but also positively impact the business community.

"It draws in not just from Fort Smith but also the region. That can have an impact for our small businesses, hotels, other businesses in the area," she said, adding that it was important for the project to be ran like a business and make money.

"Certainly, when you engage in an endeavour, $10 – $12 million like that, you want a return on your money. I think the city and county are still engaged in what type of organization and operational setup that will be. …So I look forward to engaging with setting policy with what that infrastructure should look like."

Weber's position created the second vacancy on the Board following City Director Philip Merry's announcement that he would not seek re-election to his position seven at-large seat on the Board. Former City Director Don Hutchings and Parks Commissioner Sherry Toliver have announced their intentions to run for Merry's seat, though neither had filed as of Monday.

As of Monday, the only candidates to have filed to run for Board positions besides Pennartz were Mayor Sandy Sanders and Vice Mayor Kevin Settle, who holds the position six at-large director position. Both men are seeking re-election to their respective positions.

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.