Kyle Smith appointed to fill vacant City Council seat in Fayetteville’s Ward 4

Kyle Smith / Photo by Lara Jo Hightower

The Fayetteville City Council has filled the vacancy left by former Ward 4 member Alan Long.

The council voted 5-2 to appoint Kyle Smith, a geometry teacher at Har-Ber High School and a frequent audience member at City Council meetings. Smith is also president and chair of For Fayetteville, the group that campaigned for passage of the city’s civil rights ordinance.

The replacement was needed after Long resigned on Saturday, just 11 months into his second four-year term. In a letter to Mayor Lioneld Jordan, Long cited family and professional obligations as his reason for stepping down.

Shortly after the news of Long’s departure, City Attorney Kit Williams said the remaining council members had two options for filling the vacancy, but needed to act quickly to abide by state law.

Williams said according to ACA 14-4311, the council must either appoint a new member to serve the remaining unexpired term or call for a special public election. An option must be chosen “at the first regular meeting after the occurrence of the vacancy.”

In the hours that followed Williams’ memo, several residents sent letters of interest to the City Clerk’s office, including Smith, who noted his heavy involvement in community issues over the past few years.

Tuesday night’s discussion began with a motion by council member Adella Gray to appoint a new member instead of calling for a special election, which would’ve taken place in mid-February at an estimated cost of $10,000 to $30,000.

Council member John La Tour disagreed, and said despite the cost, a special election should determine the new member. He said anything less would be “immoral.”

Council member Justin Tennant said he was also in favor of an election, but distanced himself from La Tour’s morality plea. Tennant said if the unexpired term were a year or less, he’d be fine with an appointment. He said it’s difficult to justify a decision to choose someone so quickly with so little knowledge of the candidates.

Council member Matthew Petty said he felt sick to his stomach over the decision. He said he doesn’t care about the cost of the special election and said it would be totally worth the money if that’s what the council chose to do. He said while he can assign a cost to the election, he can’t assign a value to having a body in a seat to cast a vote. After some thought, Petty said he could justify making an appointment as long as there was someone who is qualified for the position.

Petty asked Williams if the council chose to make an appointment and then later decided there were no qualified candidates, could the council move to reconsider and then vote to call for a special election. Williams said that would be allowable.

Kyle Smith (right), speaks with Jennifer Price (left), Washington County Election Coordinator, and For Fayetteville representative Danielle Weatherby inside the Washington County Courthouse shortly before early voting totals for the civil rights election were released in September 2015.

Photo: Todd Gill, Flyer staff

Council member Sarah Marsh said she had reviewed all the letters that the clerk’s office had received, and said she believed there were qualified applicants who are active in the community, and who are similar to former council member Alan Long in that they share the same ideological backgrounds. She said there are more seats than just the one in the council chambers where a City Council member sits, including the various subcommittees where each member is also required to serve. Those seats, she said, need a voting member in place as soon as possible.

Mayor Jordan said in his time, he’d seen five situations where councils had to fill a vacancy. He said on three occasions an appointment was made, and on two occasions there were special elections.

“This is not an easy position for you to be in,” Jordan told the council. “You have to use your conscience.”

The group voted 4-2 to skip the special election and make an appointment. Williams told the council the decision required five affirmative votes to move forward, and said Jordan could choose to cast a vote in favor, which he did.

Jordan invited anyone interested in the position to the podium to speak and take questions from the council.

In all, seven applicants came forward.

Kyle Smith was the first applicant to speak. He estimated that he’s attended 25-30 City Council meetings in the last few years to keep himself informed, and said he even attended Saturday morning’s annual budget session. He said he’s kept himself informed on city issues for several years and told the council he could jump right into the process if chosen.

JL Jennings was second to speak. Jennings is the assistant director of retention for the football and tennis programs at the University of Arkansas. He serves on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and is the park’s representative on the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks Board of Directors. When asked, he said he has attended council meetings in the past. He said he’s lived in Fayetteville on and off for 19 years with brief stints in Chicago, Illinois and in Benton County. When asked, Jennings said his job requires very limited travel so it wouldn’t cause him to be absent for meetings.

Andrew Miles spoke third. He said he’s lived in Fayetteville for 11 years and in Ward 4 for five years. He’s an entrepreneur who runs an e-commerce venture and is co-founder and CEO of a nano technology surface coating company. He also serves on the Environmental Action Committee. He said he ardently believes in public service and was encouraged to apply for this position by several friends and family. He said he’s particularly interested in ensuring the Mount Comfort Road corridor is properly developed so it doesn’t turn into another area like the congested Wedington Drive corridor. When asked about economic development, he said he’d like to diversify the industrial sector in Fayetteville, and utilize potential public-private technology partnerships.

Spencer Brown spoke fourth. He’s a former Fayetteville police officer, has over 10 years of pharmaceutical sales experience, and is the director of Mercy Hyperbaric and Wound Care Center in Rogers. He’s president of Helping Children Learn an organization that helps give scholarships to children in need and is a past board member of the Yvonne Richardson Center, which he said was a very humbling experience. He said he wants to keep Fayetteville unique while making sure the city grows in a responsible way. Other key issues, if chosen, would be to improve infrastructure, and to make sure green spaces are preserved.

Mike Emery spoke fifth. He’s an 11-year resident of Fayetteville and a 10-year resident of Ward 4. He serves on a several city boards and commissions, and spent many years in the special armed forces. He ran against former council member Alan Long in 2012 for the Ward 4 seat, and lost in a runoff election by a vote of 382 to 259. He announced he would run again in 2016, but later decided not to file so he could focus on the Environmental Action Committee and the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners. When asked, he said the most important issues the city faces are finances, infrastructure and the enduring green network.

Teresa Turk spoke sixth. She owns a small environmental firm, and has lived in Fayetteville for 13 years, 12 of which have been in Ward 4. She serves on the Historic District Commission, the Civil Rights Commission, and is treasurer of the University Heights Neighborhood Association. She worked for former member Long’s campaign and said she shares his passion for historic preservation, which would be her highest priority if chosen. Her other key issues would be to alleviate infrastructure problems, and balance the growth of the University of Arkansas with the preservation of the surrounding neighborhoods. “I believe we can balance growth with the preservation of our culture here,” Turk said.

Brian Isham spoke seventh. He’s live here since 2014 and said he planned to challenge Long in three years when his seat comes up. He said he hasn’t served on any boards or commissions outside of his fraternity. He said he leads a leadership group of young men. He said he would put the citizens of Ward 4 first if chosen. His second priority would be the budget and his third priority would be planning for the future growth of the city.

After the applicants spoke, Marsh moved to appoint Smith. Gray seconded the motion.

“I know Kyle Smith well because I’ve worked with him very closely on the civil rights ordinance,” said Gray, noting that he also has strong knowledge of other city issues. “He certainly could hit the ground running and would fit right in with the council.”

Petty said he was impressed with all the candidates. He said with a motion on the table, he couldn’t think of a reason not to support Smith, but said he would make the same statement about several of the other candidates. He said he hopes those who weren’t chosen would consider running for City Council in the future. Petty said Smith is an impressive candidate who uses data when presenting arguments. He said he hasn’t always agreed with Smith on every issue, but he respects him and would be proud to have the opportunity to have his mind changed by Smith on the council.

Kinion said every candidate had a quality that would enhance the city government. The nature of having to select just one, he said, was a much tougher decision than he’d imagined. However, he said Smith’s presence in the community and his qualifications are evident.

During the final vote, the council was split again at 4-2 with Tennant and La Tour voting against. Once again, Mayor Jordan cast the fifth deciding vote needed to appoint Smith.

Smith’s appointment is effective immediately. His term runs through Dec. 31, 2020.

“I’m ready to get to work,” Smith said. “To borrow a phrase from the mayor, I love this city.”