Fort Smith plans Ward meetings

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 14 views 

A new series of meetings planned by the Fort Smith Board of Directors is intended to improve “the feedback loop” between the city and its citizens, according to Tracy Winchell, communications manager for Fort Smith.

Mayor Sandy Sanders and the seven members of the Fort Smith Board will hold meetings in each of the city’s four wards during the next 12 months, with Winchell saying the goal is to continue the effort for years to come.

She said the overall goal is to use various communication methods and opportunities to “create a feedback loop” between the city and citizens.

Dec. 1 is the first meeting, and will be held in Ward 1 at the Creekmore Park Community Center. The meetings are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. The tentative meeting agenda includes a presentation of Ward projects underway or in planning, a question and answer session, and a rotating small group session with Mayor Sanders and each director.

Dates for 2012 meetings are not set, but the Ward 2 meeting will tentatively take place in March, with Ward 3 following in June, and Ward 4 for in September, according to Winchell.

The Citizens Academy Alumni Association will co-host each forum, providing light refreshments and helping to publicize each event.

Winchell said the idea for the meetings has come from discussions at previous board retreats and in reviewing the communication practices of other cities. Winchell said City Director Philip Merry Jr., has been the most vocal advocate for more interaction with citizens.

This summer City Directors Steve Tyler and Pam Webber, Fort Smith City Administrator Ray Gosack and Winchell traveled to Fayetteville to visit with Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan and his staff. Jordan and his staff hold ward meetings, with the discussions often focusing on projects ongoing in each ward.

Are the meetings an attempt to avoid the divisiveness resulting from the push for a 1% prepared food tax?

“I would put those (ward meetings) to addressing a myriad of things, not just one issue,” Winchell responded.

Proceeds from the 1% prepared food tax, which is on the Nov. 8 ballot, would support operations of the Fort Smith Convention Center. A 1% prepared food tax is estimated to raise about $1.8 million annually.

“Instead of pushing information, we’re working very hard to create a permanent culture of ‘Let’s talk about this,’” Winchell continued. “Ultimately, that better understanding, built on one-on-one relationships, will help avoid a lot of misunderstanding about important issues when they reach that point of ‘It’s time to make a decision.’”