Gentry hired as Fort Smith IT chief, joins other new department heads

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,712 views 

The city of Fort Smith’s new director of information technology is set to start his new job in July, when he will join two other new faces in the city offices, namely the director of solid waste and the mobility coordinator.

City administration recently announced that James Gentry III will serve as the city’s new director of information technology. Gentry will oversee a department of 23 full-time employees and report to City Administrator Carl Geffken. According to Geffken, the city conducted a nationwide search to fill the position and selected Gentry “because of his impressive background in leadership and information technology.”

“After vetting and interviewing multiple candidates, James stood out because of his combined leadership skills and his institutional experience in the IT industry. We believe James will add tremendous value to our core team and positively affect our organization and community as a whole,” Geffken said.

Former ITS Director Russell Gibson resigned in mid-October. Steve Dimmitt is serving as the interim director. Gibson worked for the city from April 1997 to January 1998, August 1998 to April 2005 and February 2007 to November 2021. He was initially hired as an engineering technician and held the position of director of ITS for 14 years. When he left the city, his annual salary was about $109,000, according to the city’s human resources department. Gibson is now working for The Nature Conservancy.

Gentry, who was hired at an annual salary of $115,000, will move to Fort Smith from Fairbanks, Alaska, and has more than 20 years of combined experience in management, information technology, programming, and cyber security.

James Gentry III

Most recently, he served as chief IT officer at the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, where he oversaw an IT team that provided technical support to more than 12,000 students and 2,100 school staff. Before his work at the school district, he managed technical services and worked in networking and security systems for the University of Alaska. He is expected to start toward the end of July, a news release said.

Gentry has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and associate degree in petroleum science technology from Kenai Peninsula College.

The city’s Information Technology Department (ITD) provides technology services and support to approximately 1,000 city employees. The department of 23 full-time staff are part of six focus areas: Network & Systems Administration, IT Support, Cyber Security, Enterprise Software, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and Management Information Systems (MIS).

The city’s first mobility coordinator, Michael Mings, started in May. Mings will work with public and private sector organizations to develop a comprehensive, citywide, multi-mobility plan for the Fort Smith community, a city news release said.

Michael Mings

“The comprehensive multi-mobility plan will consider every possible mode of transportation within the Fort Smith city limits,” the news release said.

Mings reports directly to Geffken. He also will work with community groups and organizations such as 64.6 Downtown, Friends of Recreational Trails, Arkansas Colleges of Health Education, Arkansas Department of Transportation, Western Arkansas Planning and Development District, and the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority. HIs annual salary is $56,000.

Geffken said a need for the new position was identified in 2020 after researching and discussing the needs with various members of the community.

“We saw a need and the City Board of Directors supported funding the new position because Fort Smith needs to start promoting its existing intermodal connectivity. We are excited to start highlighting our multi-mobility options and begin the work of developing a comprehensive multi-mobility plan to strengthen and grow our current system,” Geffken said. “Transportation issues are key to a community’s workforce, economy, and an active-oriented quality of life. Many people in our community actively seek alternative means of transportation and others just need more options. By identifying transportation gaps, and improving walkability for all, we know we can strengthen our transportation network and enhance the overall quality of life in Fort Smith.”

Ming has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Arkansas. He is a master’s candidate in theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. Before joining the city he was director of youth and college ministries at First United Methodist Church in Fort Smith.

The city also announced in May that Nicole Riley-Pena of California was hired as the solid waste services department director. Prior to taking the role, Riley-Pena was executive director of Kings Waste and Recycling Authority in Hanford, Calif., where she oversaw the organization’s material recovery facility, transfer station, roll-off collection program, and hazardous household waste program.

Nicole Riley-Pena

She reports to Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman and has a starting salary of $107,000.

“We believe Nicole will enjoy working with our customers and that our customers will appreciate her dedicated, hands-on approach to customer service. Nicole’s expertise and background in solid waste services will be beneficial to the department as we work to improve the efficiency of our services and enhance our recycling program,” Dingman said.

Riley-Pena fills a vacancy left when the former director of solid waste services, Kyle Foreman, left the job at the city for a position in Billings, Mont., in May of 2021.

She said that as an outdoor enthusiast, she was drawn to the beauty of Arkansas and is eager to explore The Natural State.

“The strong historic culture and charm of Fort Smith, along with the vast amount of amenities, has made this an ideal location to relocate from the rural agricultural community in central California where I was born and raised,’ she said. “I hope that my extensive background in local government and progressive program development in solid waste and recycling services can help propel and expand our city programs in a way that best fits our community’s needs.”