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.