Petty and McHenry speak at Ward 2 candidate forum in Fayetteville

Staff photo, Fayetteville Flyer

Both candidates hoping to win the upcoming City Council election in Ward 2 participated in a public forum held Thursday evening inside the former Chamber of Commerce building in downtown Fayetteville.

Alderman Matthew Petty and Washington County Justice of the Peace Gary McHenry appeared in front of a crowd of about 20 people in an hour-long question-and-answer-style forum moderated by chamber board member Alex Baldwin.

Ward 2, which is typically associated with the downtown and Dickson Street areas, includes portions of the University of Arkansas campus and stretches west past Garland Avenue to Asbell Elementary School, and north to the Washington County Fairgrounds. The ward also includes the businesses along College Avenue in midtown, and many historic districts including Wilson Park.

The atmosphere Thursday was much lighter than what the audience experienced Wednesday evening during the Ward 1 debate. Instead of butting heads over government philosophies, Petty and McHenry agreed on most questions and complimented each other throughout the night.

“I highly respect anyone who takes on the task of public service and I commend Mr. Petty for his service,” McHenry said. “I do not view him as an adversary. When this election is over, either he will be my alderman, or hopefully, I will be his.”

Petty returned the praise.

“Campaigns can be contentious and mean and I think that you’re one of the most respectful candidates I’ve ever seen,” Petty told McHenry. “Certainly you’re the most respectful opponent I’ve ever had, and I hope I can return that to you.”

Each candidate was asked why they were seeking election.

Alderman Matthew Petty / Staff photo

Petty said he’s personally begun several initiates that he wants to guide through completion.

As an example, he pointed to the in-progress transportation master plan, which he set in motion as chair of the council’s Transportation Committee.

“Transportation is one of the platforms the entire city operates on,” said Petty. “The way we design streets affects us everywhere from a personal psychological well-being to the economic well-being of a city.”

Aside from transportation, Petty said his focus is one three other themes: real estate development policy and procedures, event development, and the creation of public spaces.

McHenry said his focus would be to broaden communication between the city and its residents through the use of innovative technology.

“Real-time input from the citizens of Fayetteville should be something that we find ways to accomplish,” McHenry said, adding that most people own smartphones that can communicate in several ways.

“Many of your thoughts about what’s going on in the city government could be communicated quickly,” he said. “If we were to develop an infrastructure for collecting that type of information, we could certainly have an understanding as to what your interests as citizens of Fayetteville would be.”

One resident asked the candidates to name a specific City Council action they’re proud of that occurred in the past year.

McHenry said he hasn’t followed the City Council closely enough to name any specific action he agrees with.

“I can’t necessarily point to a particular action, I mean I’ll be honest with you,” said McHenry. “I haven’t been as actively knowledgeable of the things that the City Council has been involved in over the past year. So, I’m not going to be able to point to that.”

But, McHenry said, he might’ve been more involved if there were more convenient ways to participate in local government issues.

“I don’t think you as the citizens of Fayetteville should necessarily have to change your daily schedule in order to communicate with (the City Council) in a way that’s going to make a difference,” he said.

Justice of the Peace Gary McHenry / Staff photo

Petty said he’s most proud of the recent decision to purchase additional land at Gulley Park which the council recently leased a portion to Apple Seeds Inc. for a teaching farm. The local nonprofit teaches children the importance of food, as well as how to grow and cook food.

“Food is something we gloss over because it’s not a big-ticket item when it comes to the budget. But what most people don’t realize is that if a disaster were to hit Fayetteville we’re only three days away from anarchy because that’s how much food is in the grocery stores,” Petty said.

Since the University of Arkansas is situated inside Ward 2, one audience member asked if either candidate would support a new polling location on campus.

Both Petty and McHenry said they were disappointed in the Washington County Election Commission’s recent rejection of a proposal that would’ve created an on-campus early voting center.

“I think it’s shameful that we don’t have a polling place on campus right now,” said Petty. “Almost everybody in the community that weighed in on this…said it was a good idea, even a no-brainer of an idea.”

McHenry agreed, and said the opportunity for more individuals to vote is always a good thing.

“I realize that there can be some political reasons why individuals would feel that a voting location on campus could be detrimental,” he said. “But for me, it’s about the competition and putting yourself out there. I think that if you have good ideas and if you bring yourself to the people and present yourself as you are…then you can earn the vote of the people.

With so much agreement between the two candidates, Petty said it’s up to McHenry to show voters why a change in leadership is necessary.

He pointed to several pieces of legislation he crafted or co-authored, including the city’s civil rights ordinance, expanded opportunities for food truck owners, the idea to create a new economic development master plan, and a proposal to overhaul the city’s recycling master plan to increase the trash diversion rate from 18 percent to 80 percent.

“I think that I have done a lot in the last eight years and even more in the last four,” Petty said. “And I think I can make a strong case for re-electing me.”

McHenry said incumbents will always have an advantage with voters in an election, but said fresh ideas are a good thing for city government.

“Yes, the plans are wonderful and we have to have plans going forward,” McHenry said. “But every plan has to be reviewed on a regular basis to make sure it’s addressing all the needs of the citizens.”