Jerry Neel drops out of Fort Smith Board of Directors race

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 983 views 

And then there were three. Jerry Neel Jr., the owner of Jerry Neel’s Bar-B-Q Restaurant & Catering has pulled out of the At-Large Director Position 5 race, exiting a crowded field that includes Samuel Price, Libby Piatt, and Robyn Dawson.

On Monday (June 4), Neel submitted documentation to the office of City Clerk Sherri Gard advising that he wished to be removed from consideration. Neel did not give a reason for his withdrawal, and since Gard’s message was sent after-hours, Talk Business & Politics was unable to receive a comment from Neel.

Neel did provide this statement to the city.

“When I announced my candidacy for the City Board of Directors I was very excited about addressing the numerous challenges that face our city. As a lifelong resident of Fort Smith, I care deeply about our community and want to see us progress economically and develop a city we can all be proud of. However, I just learned today that the Statement of Financial Disclosure required from all candidates for public office would cause me to violate Non-Disclosure Agreements I have entered into concerning some of my business and financial holdings. I understand the reason why the public is entitled to that information, but a violation of those agreements could cause me legal and financial problems that I want to avoid.

“I hope these conflicts will resolve at some point in the future. If they do, I would love to offer my services to the city of Fort Smith. Until then I must err on the side of caution and refrain from seeking public office.”

The 2018 municipal election cycle has been a complicated one for all but one position, that of At-Large Director Position 6 incumbent Kevin Settle, who received no opposition.

Position 7 was expected to include Neal Martin and Jerry Avillion in a contest to decide the fate of the position held by retiring Director Don Hutchings. But 22 of Avillion’s 64 signatures were ruled ineligible by the City Clerk’s Office following the May 31 deadline, thus eliminating him from contention. Martin and Settle are now automatically Board members without having to go through a primary or general election.

The three remaining candidates for Position 5 will go through a primary on Aug. 14. If one candidate fails to secure 50% or more of the vote, the top two vote-getters will advance to the general election on Nov. 6.

Dawson, an elementary school principal in the Fort Smith Public School district who made an unsuccessful bid in 2016 for the Ward 4 city director post, is a member of the Mercy’s Community Health Board and the Mayor’s Bicentennial Committee. She recently served as a Civil Service Commissioner before making the decision to run for city director. When explaining her outlook and qualifications, she said there are “many positive things already happening that we can support and many more we can create.”

Her issues of interest include “continuance of a balanced budget” for the city, analysis of “possible revenues that are not currently being utilized,” working towards consent decree changes “already in the works,” and working toward “underground infrastructure needs to continue the transition of Fort Chaffee Redevelopment lands to the city of Fort Smith.”

Piatt told Talk Business & Politics she has worked as a sales representative for vending company King Koin Amusements for 22 years as well as one year with ALCO, a private investigation agency in Oklahoma. She has lived in Fort Smith for two years.

When asked about the Board’s current direction, Piatt said she didn’t know everyone, but singled out Andre Good and Keith Lau as two she admired. Good “takes the time to answer any questions you may have, and I really like that. I think that he and I agree and click on that. And while I don’t know him, Keith Lau is friendly. A hard-working man. High achiever.”

Price said he was “excited” for the race when it was still a four-candidate competition, adding, “I think democracy functions at its best when citizens are involved in elections and government.”

Price said he hopes the race will bring attention “to the things that we want to highlight in the city and how it functions” and he thinks “it will definitely be a challenge for me and my campaign, and that’s part of why I’m excited to be participating.”

He continued: “A couple of the candidates are more well-known around the city and have more influence with things like business and education. I hope to give voters the option of selecting a Director who can advocate for the Working Man. I think that once the campaigning is underway the voters will realize who best represents their interests and the livelihood closest to their own, and they will vote accordingly. In that respect I feel I may have an advantage, I represent the ‘regular’ citizens, with no connection to the groups within the city that voters may feel are responsible for the mishaps that have transpired pertaining to our City Government. I will say, I feel at least two of the other candidates, that I know of, are definitely qualified, and the fact that the three of them filed for the position let’s me know that they at least care about what is going on in our city, and I respect that. I hope to have a great race, and I wish the other candidates the best of luck! This will be fun.”

Outgoing Position 5 Director Tracy Pennartz issued a press release on May 31 stating she would not run for reelection.

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