Fort Smith Director ready to cut loose, footloose on outdated city ordinances

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 2,052 views 

If Reverend Shaw Moore were a real person — and dead — he might soon be turning over in his grave at what one City Director has in mind for Fort Smith. Ward 2 Director André Good, thanks to a Facebook friend, recently discovered an ordinance that would make the Footloose bad guy proud.

It was enacted as Ordinance No. 2107 on Nov. 27, 1953, and signed by former Fort Smith Mayor H.R. Hestand, along with an “emergency clause.” Section 1 states it “shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to operate a public dance hall on Sunday, or to operate any other place in which dancing is engaged on Sunday.” Section 2 sets fines of “not less than” $25 ($188.46 by 2018 standards), “nor more than” $500 ($4,711.39, 2018).

Section 3 concludes that “present laws are inadequate to restrain public dances upon Sundays and that such dancing greatly endangers the public health, safety, and welfare; that the enactment of this ordinance is necessary and will correct this condition; that an emergency is hereby found and declared to exist and that this ordinance is necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health, and safety, and shall be in full force and effect from and after its passage.”

For almost 65 years, the ordinance has stood. Now Good wants to change that, and his reasons go well beyond a simple clerical fix.

“It’s 2018, folks. People dance — every day, even on Sunday, even in churches,” Good told Talk Business & Politics on Thursday (June 28).

Good said a Facebook friend brought the ordinance to his attention “in clever jest about something that was, perhaps, a more serious issue in another era.” Good said the post featured Elvis Presley with a reference to Fort Smith Municipal Code Sec. 14-91 (how 2107 is currently codified), along with the Section 1 description.

“If you don’t care to dance on Sunday, that’s fine. We should all respect that. But let’s not impose some outdated, outmoded morality code on all our fine fellow citizens,” Good said, adding that over the last week, “A couple of community and business-minded individuals approached me about researching and removing unenforced and antiquated codes and policies for the entire city, but particularly in the areas of Neighborhood Services, Planning, Police, and Fire. So, the Facebook poster timed it perfectly. It was my call to immediate action.”

Good said repealing the dance hall ordinance could be “the beginning of repealing those codes that impede progress; that conflict with our focus on moving Fort Smith forward. Establishing an entertainment corridor is a part of our new focus. We should remove codes that stifle growth, adversely affect our quality of life, and impede economic development.”

Good said if the city wants to attract tourism, new businesses, and new money, “then we have to be a vibrant, welcoming, diverse, inclusive and modern city. A ban on dance halls and dancing on Sunday and other such antiquated policies sends a message — and not a good one. It says: ‘Entering Fort Smith; traveling back in time.'”

Good concluded: “Let’s move forward, not backward. Let’s rid ourselves of unnecessary tourism (and) business-killing ordinances that make us the butt of jokes instead of the pride of the people. Let’s keep moving, but always  —always — in the right direction.”

Good contacted the City Clerk’s Office about adding an ordinance to repeal to the July 10 regular meeting agenda. All directors agreed to placement through City Clerk Sherri Gard. That isn’t an indication of how they will vote, but at least one is ready to cut loose.

Ward 1 Director Keith Lau told Talk Business & Politics, “I want it passed because I like to dance on Sunday.”

Director Mike Lorenz: “This issue was brought to our attention earlier this week and it’s an obvious outdated ordinance from many years ago. I am asking that we go a step further and review older ordinances to identify others that are outdated and no longer needed and clean up our ordinances as a whole.”

Director George Catsavis: “I did not even know this law existed. Let’s get rid of it. I’m just curious how many more antiquated ordinances we have like this. It may be a good time for the Board to look at all city ordinances and make adjustments.”