FORT SMITH -- Voters will choose between a newcomer and a current board member for at-large Position 7 for the city's Board of Directors.
Early voting begins Oct. 24, and the election will be held Nov. 8.
Running for the at-large Position 7 seat are political newcomer Jackson Goodwin and current board member Neal Martin.
At-large positions are elected by all city voters to represent the entire city. Fort Smith also has four wards and representatives on the city board who represent just their wards.
The mayor's job is also up for election. Incumbent George McGill is running unopposed for his second term.
Each board position is nonpartisan and serves a four-year term. The mayor receives $10,000 a year, and city directors make $1,000 a year by attending each of the 24 board meetings, or $41.67 per meeting, according to the city code. They are not compensated for any board meetings they do not attend. Both positions also receive $5,400 a year to reimburse vehicle expenses.
Martin has served one term and said he wants to see the growth the city's had through another term. He said he thinks he's one of the most transparent city directors, posting weekly videos to Facebook about what the board did that week and what he expects it to look at next.
Martin works as IT director of Shared Services Center. He said he also works on behalf of the people, not city government, and he believes that's shown through his votes and interactions with residents.
"I led an effort to defeat an alcohol tax when our bars and restaurants were trying to recover from covid. I felt it was unnecessary," Martin said. "I fought for property rights of citizens, and I've called for additional auditing of our work for the consent decree. So I feel like I've got the heart of the people. I understand where they come from."
The city's largest issue is the sewer consent decree, he said.
The city entered into a consent decree in January 2015 with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Arkansas Division of Environmental Quality. Under the decree, Fort Smith agreed to repair and upgrade its sewer system after decades of sewage runoff into local waterways, including the Arkansas River.
The city agreed to spend more than $200 million over the next 12 years to upgrade its sewer collection and treatment.
The original decree deadline was Jan. 2, 2027, but the city said it couldn't afford to do all of the work by that date. The city was granted a five-year extension to 2032.
"I'm hopeful that we're going to get some relief from the courts through our appeal of a portion of the consent decree, and I hope that will lessen it," he said. "But we really have got to make sure that we are spending our money wisely and correctly, and I believe we have done that up to this point for this federally mandated consent decree. The key thing is we continue to audit, we continue to monitor, we continue to ensure that we are spending money properly."
Goodwin, a civil engineer at Mickle Wagner Coleman, said he's watched and presented at board meetings, and now he wants to help as a director.
"I think it's just my deeper understanding of infrastructure in the River Valley," he said. "I grew up working construction. I work now as a civil engineer. Really, if you look back at what the board of directors votes on, the majority of it is rezoning, it's budgetary stuff for construction projects, engineering projects and related stuff. It's almost all infrastructure, and that's the background I come from, how I was born and raised, and that's what I currently do. So I'd say that's one of my biggest qualifications.
"I think that the biggest issue is the elephant in the room, which is the consent decree," he said. "I think the sewer flooding issues we've had have been crazy, and for too long we've been putting it off. I know the board loves to try to get a time extension for this, but I think there comes a point where you just need to buckle up and start building the infrastructure -- or I guess rebuilding the infrastructure, in this case."
Goodwin said some other issues he'd like to address if elected are the Foreign Military Sales program, flooding, road repairs and the mental health and general well being of residents.
Ebbing Air National Guard Base at Fort Smith Regional Airport was selected last year as the Air Force's preferred location for a pilot training center for Singapore and other countries participating in the Foreign Military Sales program. The proposal would accommodate up to 24 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II aircraft and move 12 General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons from the Singapore Air Force, currently at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Ariz.
The Department of Defense's second choice location for the program is Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township, Mich.
At-Large Position 7
Residence: Fort Smith for 34 years
Employment: IT director of Shared Services Center
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Arkansas
Political experience: At-large Position 7 director since 2019; precinct committee member in Overland Park, Kan., in 2003 and 2005
Residence: Fort Smith for 25 years
Employment: Civil engineer at Mickle Wagner Coleman
Education: Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Clemson University
Political experience: None