Kyle Smith / Courtesy photo
Kyle Smith hopes to continue as a member of the Fayetteville City Council for the next four years.
Smith, 40, was appointed to the Ward 4, Position 2 seat in 2017 to fill a vacant seat left by Alan Long.
At the time, he promised he wasn’t there to do a half-way job, and as of early September, he has been present for all 74 meetings during his time as a council member. He’ll face challengers Adam Fire Cat, Holly Hertzberg and Paul Waddell.
Smith said he has plans and a track record on how to address housing affordability, growth and development, and the natural environment, which are the most pressing issues facing the city today.
If elected, Smith said he’d introduce a measure to modernize local elections with instant runoffs by ranked-choice voting to save money and ensure that every voter’s preference is counted on election day.
In Arkansas, when there are more than two candidates, if a single candidate doesn’t secure over 50 percent of the votes, the two people with the most votes go to a runoff election four weeks later unless the leading candidate receives more than 40 percent of the votes and is ahead of the runner-up by 20 percent.
“The exceptionally low voter turnout in runoff elections means that the final selection of our representatives is often made by very few voters,” Smith said. “And they’re expensive: we’ve spent over $56,000 in taxpayer money on run-off elections in recent years.”
Smith first got involved with city government during his work on the city’s non-discrimination ordinance.
“So some of my proudest accomplishments have been advocating for more inclusive government measures like expanding participation in our advisory boards and commissions to all city residents,” he said.
Ward 4 contains a large portion of west Fayetteville, including Razorback Stadium, Holt Middle School, Holcomb Elementary School, and the Boys & Girls Club of Fayetteville.
The election is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Profile: Kyle Smith
Position sought: Ward 4, Position 2
Residency: Fayetteville resident in Ward 4 for 23 years
Employment: Math teacher, Har-Ber High School
Education: Master of Arts in Teaching, University of Arkansas, 2006; Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, Rochester Institute of Technology, 2003; Fayetteville High School, 1998
Political Experience: City Council Member, Ward 4, 2017-present; Led the “For Fayetteville” campaign for the city’s non-discrimination ordinance, 2015
Meet the Candidates
The following candidates are running for election this year. All candidates were sent a request for more information about their candidacy. Responses are posted in the order they’re received.
Why continue serving on the council? Is there anything in particular you plan to introduce or continue working toward?
I enjoy the work of solving problems — not the kind from your high school math class that have one right answer and a process that someone else has taught you, but real people’s problems that require creative and sometimes imperfect solutions. Through the years, I’ve seen many candidates run because they were wound up about a single issue. You can’t solve a city’s problems in isolation without considering the broader impacts. Cities are complex machines that deserve policy makers who look at the whole system. That is the way I have approached this job for the last three years and I hope I’ve done good work to earn Ward 4’s vote in November.
Among the most pressing issues facing our city are housing affordability, growth and development, and our natural environment. Rather than just naming the issues, I have plans (and a track record) to address them.
The solution for our escalating housing costs is fairly straightforward: we need to build more housing for our growing population. That can’t just be the flood of 4-bed/4-bath houses that we are seeing hit our market, though. While those may maximize revenue for builders and landlords renting by-the-room to college students, they aren’t usually affordable for a family of three just starting out. I pushed to include an action item in our 2040 Plan to conduct a gap analysis of our existing housing supply so we can identify what we have too much of and what we need more of to meet the demands of our market. I look forward to supporting that work and using the data to tailor our response to housing for Fayetteville’s specific needs, even if it isn’t the type of exciting policy most candidates will talk about.
We need to engage our community in comprehensive neighborhood planning. Our zoning maps need to be updated in accordance with our 2040 Plans to be prepared for the ripple effect of building the housing our community needs. Responsible development with strategic improvements to our infrastructure will comfortably integrate new residents into our community in ways that bring benefits of scale rather than stress. Continuing our irresponsible development patterns, however, would mean wasting limited land resources and laying down miles of new road, sidewalks, and sewer lines that current residents will have to pay to maintain.
Our development codes need to be debugged. The rhetoric around development often gets reduced to a debate between density and sprawl. When you really talk to people about it, they’re usually more concerned about ugly buildings and lost trees. Our codes have been assembled over the years like Frankenstein’s monster to try addressing these issues. The resulting stack of regulations has become unwieldy and difficult for developers to follow. We also often see unintended interactions between well-intentioned policies that drive up the cost of development or make it hard to respond to the natural topography of our community. Like computer programming code, our development codes can be optimized to produce better results more efficiently.
Separate from development issues, I’d also like to modernize our elections. This year, several of our municipal races have four candidates. This has become increasingly common in Fayetteville as people get more involved in government. Multiple-candidate races are great because they introduce more voices to the conversation; however, voters may find themselves in the unfortunate position of strategically voting for candidates that wouldn’t normally be their first choice. The exceptionally low voter turnout in run-off elections means that the final selection of our representatives is often made by very few voters. And they’re expensive: we’ve spent over $56,000 in taxpayer money on run-off elections in recent years. I will present a draft ordinance before the 2022 elections to introduce instant run-offs by ranked-choice voting for municipal races so that every voter’s preference can be counted on election day.
There are more city issues than I have room to write about here. City government is not a game where you complete a goal and declare victory. It is constantly striving to be better as a community. A city is never finished. There is always work to do and my projects don’t have end-dates. I look forward to visiting with residents about them in the upcoming weeks and years, and adding to my list as people share what is important to them.
Is there anything in particular that drove you to reside in Ward 4? How would you describe that part of town?
West Fayetteville is the future of Fayetteville as a growing community, but it will always be where my roots are. My grandparents moved the family to Fayetteville in 1965 and lived near the corner of Wedington and Sang back before the bypass (now I-49) was built. They moved out to 46th Ave shortly after I was born so I grew up with Ozarks Electric (aka Papa’s work) serving as the landmark telling me I was almost to my favorite place in the world. Most of my childhood was spent in north central Arkansas, just visiting Fayetteville during summers and holidays. But Mom moved my sister and me back just in time for me to finish high school as a purple Bulldog. (Best. Decision. Ever.) We lived on Patrick Street to be close to my grandparents and later moved to the Crystal Springs neighborhood where my uncle and his family lived when they returned to Fayetteville around the same time.
The west Fayetteville commute was part of my earliest driving experiences. I got the best of Wedington during its widening and the pre-widened Mt Comfort; I experimented with routes to FHS down the highway and MLK (then I-540 and 6th St) and sometimes I cut across Markham Hill and the UA campus. There weren’t really any great connections from here to there. So when it came time to buy my own house, I looked mainly in the downtown area. Everything there either exceeded my budget or my renovation skills. I was teaching in Bentonville at the time, so it made sense to look close to the highway, too. That’s how I ultimately ended up in the Birdhaven neighborhood over a decade ago.
Since then, west Fayetteville has shouldered the biggest part of Fayetteville’s population growth. We’ve seen new neighborhoods filling cow pastures year after year. As my sister and cousins have grown up, added to the family, and bought or rented places of their own, they have all stayed in the area also. We’ve spread out through Cross Keys, Rupple Row, Walnut View, Pine Crest, the Links, Double Springs, and Sloanbooke. As a City Council Member, it’s a useful way to keep up with issues that arise in neighborhoods around west Fayetteville. Personally, it’s a great reminder that wherever I go around here, I’m home.
Are there any decisions you are especially proud of or frustrated with during your time on the council?
I first got involved with city government during my work on Fayetteville’s non-discrimination ordinance. So some of my proudest accomplishments have been advocating for more inclusive government measures like expanding participation in our advisory boards and commissions to all city residents. I’ve promoted increased citizen engagement on several large projects. I advocated for the live-streaming of city meetings through popular internet channels (not just our city website) and have insisted on keeping our monthly meetings with Ward 4 constituents despite occasional assertions from other council members that they weren’t really needed.
There are some big community-impact efforts that I’m proud of as well. Our work to save Lewis Park through the bond program stands out as one. Working with the Underwoods on our recent agreement to create a new 60-acre park on the old Razorback Golf Course has been especially exciting. I’m also proud that we’ve secured hundreds of acres of wooded land for preservation in perpetuity, either by city purchase or by negotiating agreements with landowners and developers, so our future generations can continue enjoying the natural resources we love today.
It was heartbreaking watching the speculative cutting and burning of trees on the Terminella land near the Links on Wedington. We closed that loophole so it won’t happen again. I was glad to request the emergency clause that made the rule change take effect immediately, and I hope the Council will continue to work on strengthening our tree preservation code.
Much of the job I’m proudest to do is answering constituent questions or finding help for someone with a problem that would seem too small to list here. To the person whose yard floods, whose driveway is next to a blind intersection that needs a stop sign, or who’s tired of the elementary pickup line blocking their street, those little problems can have a huge impact on their quality of life.
Sometimes little quality of life problems aren’t squarely within the city’s jurisdiction, and that can be incredibly frustrating. Many of our most dangerous city streets are actually state highways and our limited authority for implementing necessary safety improvements is absolutely infuriating. We have for-profit utility companies and railroads with more power than the People’s government has in many cases. That becomes a particularly embarrassing civics lesson when residents are rightfully frustrated that the City can’t achieve seemingly common-sense solutions to everyday problems.
Despite that, I continue to work on these issues. For example, we’ve taken over custody of College Ave from the Arkansas Department of Transportation and there are sections of Wedington where I think we should pursue a similar arrangement so we can add safe crossings. We work with the utility companies when we can to plan ahead on projects that minimize conflict later, and I’ve worked with the Fayetteville Public Schools to improve traffic circulation around Holcomb Elementary. I want to continue collaborating with the school district on land planning and school siting decisions so we can support their efforts to reduce achievement gaps by promoting diverse neighborhoods, and improve the efficiency of our transportation network by planning ahead to make sure we have enough schools in the right areas.
It’s the nuts and bolts of government—hundreds of minor decisions working together—that make Fayetteville consistently one of the best places to live in the nation. I’m a policy nerd and I love that stuff! There’s really no issue too small to be worth considering how it will impact someone’s experience in our community and I want to continue being west Fayetteville’s voice in those decisions, big and small.