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OPINION | NWA EDITORIAL: Measurable progress

Fort Smith broadens its welcome mat by NWA Democrat-Gazette | July 28, 2021 at 7:00 a.m.

How one measures up depends a lot on what yardstick one uses.

Measuring golf skills, for example, against Nicklaus, Palmer or Woods would quickly lead almost any golfer to take up Pickleball instead. But if a golfer measures his driving or putting against how he played last week, last month or last year, it's possible to gauge real progress.

All of us have different tools or approaches by which we can, and do, evaluate ourselves and our communities. The late business consultant and author Peter Drucker suggested, wisely, that "what get's measured, gets managed." And that management helps to ensure progress in the desired direction.

The city of Fort Smith, according to City Administrator Carl Geffken, took stock of itself in one particular measure and officials there felt they could do better.

The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, annually issues its findings about inclusivity. The group's yardstick involves how well cities are doing with regard to nondiscrimination laws, municipal services, law enforcement and leadership on LGBTQ equality. Cities -- 506 of them in 2020 -- are also evaluated on how they do as employers.

In 2020, Fort Smith scored 21 out of a possible 100 points. The national city score average was 64 points, the highest ever. In Arkansas, the highest scoring city was Little Rock at 66 points, followed closely by Eureka Springs at 63. Fayetteville scored 44, then the scores drop precipitously. In addition to Fort Smith's score, Springdale scored 19; Conway, 16; North Little Rock, 15; and Jonesboro, 0.

Is Fort Smith a welcoming and inclusive city? In some ways, yes. But after last week, perhaps even more so.

The Board of Directors unanimously, with one member absent, voted to add language to its human resources policy protecting nonuniformed city employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In doing so, the city was aligning its policies with a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision that applied the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protections for LGBTQ employees.

Does the Board of Directors' decision reflect a shift in attitudes? Probably, to a degree, but it's also clear the city is exercising a form of self-preservation, or self-promotion.

"Reports such as these," said Geffken, referring to the Human Rights Campaign's findings, "are used by companies who would want to come here from around the country, and this is one way of showing and proving that Fort Smith is indeed a welcoming place."

Geffken said he hopes to raise Fort Smith's score to 38 points by taking a pro-equality position and hiring an LGBTQ liaison.

One can quibble over any town's reasons for such changes. Is it any more or less significant if someone supports measures of inclusion and equality out of a desire to make their town more attractive for economic development or because the shift is the right thing to do? Both can certainly be true.

When an employee handles a job with skill and effectiveness, there really is no room for discrimination on such nonfactors as race, sex, sexual orientation and the like.

Fort Smith has apparently determined the yardstick provided by the Human Rights Campaign fits the city's goals for a better future. It's measuring and its managing what's to be expected within city government. From an economic development perspective, the city is comparing itself to others and hoping to come out on top. Last week's decision is a step in that direction.

But as with those golfers, real progress will involving measuring the Fort Smith of today against the Fort Smith of yesterday and tomorrow.

More News

What’s the point?

Fort Smith offers its employees better protection against discrimination by adopting a needed policy.

Print Headline: Measurable progress

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