When Fayetteville City Council member Nancy Allen decided to step down last year, a lot of folks thought longtime Fayettevillian Mark Kinion would easily walk away with the Ward 2, Position 2 seat.
Although it was a very close race, it turns out that voters had a different idea for Ward 2’s leadership than most assumed. Enter Matthew Petty.
He’s an Arkansas School for Mathematics and Science graduate with 8 years experience in information technology (IT, y’all). He’s currently a self-employed community organizer and founder of the non-profit Social Sustenance Organization.
At 24, he’s the youngest City Council member and if you’re not careful, he could probably double-jump-spinny-kick your face in about 1 second. Is he a ninja? Read on to find out…
Fayetteville Flyer: What’ve you been listening to lately?
Matthew Petty: Today I’ve been listening to some electronica my roommate, Clay Cavender, produced; he describes it as funktronica, and I think that’s pretty accurate. The rest of the week, I’ve been going back to some classic Floyd, but usually I’m grooving it up with various “glitch-hop” artists like Spoonbill, Modeselektor, and Mr. Rogers. In the mornings I go for something high-energy like Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs, Baka Beyond, or Tabla Beat Science. Locally, Opal Fly, the 1-Ounce Jig, and Jeff Kearney deserve a mention, but Kelly Mulhollan is my fav. His album “Neverending Conversations” is like Simon and Garfunkel on a dose of hillbilly tranquility, with his partner Donna holding it all together with intuitive harmony.
FF: How long have you lived in Fayetteville and why did you make it your home?
MP: I’ve lived here for 6 hears, since the fall of 2002. I came here to study mathematics at the UA, and I came because I couldn’t get an international loan to study at a school in Waterloo, Canada. I was ready to make math my life… Thankfully my life led down another path, and it was only a few years ago I decided Fayetteville was home. I realized that I wanted to help make society more sustainable in a serious way, and I also realized Fayetteville needed local leaders and individuals who were committed to our community. I decided I wasn’t going to move.
FF: If you were entertaining a guest of the City and they said, “Take me somewhere very Fayetteville-ish,” where would you go?
MP: We’d nab some Arsaga’s coffee early at the Farmers’ Market, then hang out for a few hours before catching a lunch at Petra Cafe (I’d recommend the Petra Platter with some foule and extra garlic sauce). After that, we’d stop in at the library – just because it’s awesome – before we caught the Frisco Trail back up to Dickson St. If we can find an extra bike, I’d definitely take them down Scull Creek Trail to Gordon Long Park and back. But if they didn’t, we could take a walk through campus, checking out the displays in the fine arts building and some of the other cool things that are around. Somewhere on the trip, we’d stand on the historic Lafayette bridge and I’d show them that the north tower is higher than the south tower (on Old Main). I’d show them the Rose Garden at the Walton Arts Center on our way to catch dinner and folk songs at Smiling Jack’s, ending the night with a stop at Fayetteville’s newest, and definitely most awesome, bar: the Smoke and Barrel Tavern. Finally, a bar without big TV’s everywhere and loud pounding music. To top it off, they’ve got fair prices and they’re less than a block from my house. (Keep it up guys, but double-check that ventilation when you go smoky, the clean air is the best part!)
Of course, that’s a pretty expensive day… We’d probably end up doing a potluck at my house for dinner, with the veggies from the Market.
FF: As a Boy Scout myself, I was always nervous about what I’d choose to do for my Eagle Scout community service project once the time came. What did you do? (PS- I never made it past Star rank)
MP: I was pretty nervous leading up to mine, too… I held a toy drive for a battered womens’ shelter in Harrison. We spent a weekend with door hangers asking people to leave toys for us on the next weekend. Then we collected the toys and repaired/retouched old toys we received. Finally, we delivered them to the shelter. I didn’t realize how grateful they would be, and it was very touching.
FF: We’ve heard you’re a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and Kenpo. Is it safe to say you’re pretty much a ninja? Or is that something totally different?
MP: Well, I always thought ninjas killed people. I’m not a killer, so can I still be a ninja? But then again, a real ninja would never let you know he was a killer. Ah! Ambiguity – such is the
politician ninja way. <smokebomb>
FF: At what point did you say to yourself, “I’m gonna run for City Council” and what drove you to go for it?
MP: guess it was in March. I had been kicking the idea around and running it by some friends. I thought if I really pulled out all of the stops, I’d have a pretty good chance, given my network with the youth and Internet-abilities. After I was asked about it by a few local politicos, I realized I had more of a chance than I had thought. I decided to go for it then.
FF: A lot of people we talk to don’t have any idea who their City Council members are or even what ward they live in. Do you think that could/should change?
MP: I think it should; I think it could; and I predict that it will. I have so many friends from my generation that got their local election coverage from this website and through Facebook. Most people under 35 are just a click away from local policy coverage. We may have a harder time reaching the older, less connected generations, but the opportunity is ripe to get more people involved than ever.
FF: We told Sarah Lewis that both you and her seem to represent a fresh addition that might help round out the current City Council with a younger, more sustainability-focused outlook. Is that a fair assessment?
MP: I’d say so, and I’ll also say that I’m very optimistic about the new Council.
FF: Greg Harton, editor of the Northwest Arkansas Times thinks you’re going to “struggle a bit more to control (your) talkative urges and to stay focused on the business at hand for the City Council.” Why do you think he wrote that?
MP: I have a lot of respect for Greg, and I agree with most of his editorials, but obviously we don’t see eye-to-eye on some things. I think Greg is stuck in the past a little bit, especially when it comes to energy and mass transit issues.
Greg thinks at least two recent issues have no place in our local government. The first was the low priority initiative, Sensible Fayetteville. The second was the recent Fayetteville coal moratorium resolution. I think Fayetteville has a role to play and that there are benefits for our citizens to be gained in taking actions like this; Greg thinks Fayetteville shouldn’t get involved. It’s just a difference of opinion, and I think the time spent on actions like this is pretty neglible.
With that in mind, his advice is sound, and I’m taking it at face value. I’m committed to stay focused on the business at hand – that’s just good sense.
FF: Finally, is there a specific city-wide or Ward 2 issue you just can’t wait to tackle?
MP: Oooh boy, is there. I’m most excited about doing some cool stuff with communications technology. Look for Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and blog-enabled local government later this year.
The other thing I’m really excited about is helping develop a new zoning ordinance based on the goals of the 2025 plan. That ordinance will answer a lot of questions for everyone.