Director candidate wants Fort Smith to become a ‘destination city’

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,042 views 

Neal Martin will make a second attempt at being elected to the Fort Smith Board of Directors, announcing Monday (Jan. 15) he will be a candidate for the position 7, at-large director post.

The position is now held by Don Hutchings, who has announced he is running for Fort Smith mayor against Rep. George McGill, D-Fort Smith, and University of Arkansas at Fort Smith student Luis Andrade.

Martin was born and raised in Fort Smith. After graduating from the University of Arkansas, he moved to Kansas City, Mo., to work for DST Systems. In 2010 he returned to Fort Smith after being named manager of application development for AFMC. He now works as director of information technology for Shared Services Center in Fort Smith that is owned by Community Health Systems, the same company that owns Sparks Health System. Martin and his wife Christina have four children.

“Having been raised in Fort Smith, I have a heart for this city, want it to thrive, and be a place where people love to live, work and play,” Martin said in a statement. “My vision is for Fort Smith to be a ‘destination city’ – a place where people from all over our region dream of settling and prospering. Fort Smith needs strong leadership to achieve that vision, and I am the right person to accomplish it.”

Martin is the only announced candidate for the at-large seat. Retired Fort Smith Police Officer Jarrard Copeland had announced he would run for the position 7 seat, but has said he will instead run for Sebastian County Sheriff. Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck recently announced he will not seek re-election in 2018. Sebastian County Chief Deputy Hobe Runion has announced he would run for the post as a Republican in the 2018 election.

In his statement, Martin identified five priorities he would push if elected – business development, technology, the estimated $480 million federal consent decree to clean up the city’s sewer system, government efficiency, and the foster care “crisis” in Sebastian County. Martin and his wife are foster parents to an eight-month old baby.

On the consent decree, Martin said he would “work to accelerate the renegotiation to minimize the impact of this decree on present and future generations.” On business development, Martin said the city must find and implement new methods to foster new business.

Neal Martin

“Build on the many positive developments in our Downtown and Chaffee Crossing areas to accelerate growth, attract entrepreneurs to start new businesses, and enhance the quality of life throughout our city. It is imperative that we implement creative methods to attract and assist funding these initiatives.”

Martin ran unsuccessfully against Director George Catsavis in 2016 for the Ward 4 post. Catsavis won the general election with 55.9% of the vote. Martin told Talk Business & Politics the race against Catsavis was “fun” despite the loss, and he believes the experience will help him in the citywide race.

“George Catsavis is just a great candidate. He was tough to run against. But going through it once, and knowing certain people, and getting a chance to meet certain people, that’s been a huge benefit,” Martin said, adding that he now has signs, campaign structure and other necessities ready much earlier in the campaign process.

The filing period for Fort Smith municipal elections is May 16 through noon May 31. If more than two people file for a position, a primary election for that position will be held Aug. 14. If a majority winner does not emerge from the primary, the top two vote-getters will face off in the Nov. 6 general election.