Council sets special election to fill Ward 2 vacancy

Staff photo

Fayetteville voters in Ward 2 will head to the polls to fill a recent vacancy on the City Council.

The council on Tuesday voted 7-0 to hold a special election on Feb. 8, 2022.

The Ward 2, Position 2 seat was left vacant after Matthew Petty resigned last month.

Petty, who was the council’s longest-serving member, submitted his letter of resignation on Oct. 18 with an effective date of Oct. 25. He began serving in 2009, and his final council meeting was Oct. 19.

The council had two options for replacing Petty, whose term wasn’t set to expire until the end of 2024.

When a council seat is vacated, state law requires the remaining council members to either appoint a new member to serve the remainder of the term or to call for a special public election. An option must be chosen at the first regular meeting after the occurrence of the vacancy.

A new state law only allows special elections to be held in Arkansas on the second Tuesday of either February, May, August or November in a non-presidential election year, which means Feb. 8 is the first opportunity for a special election.

The council faced a similar situation in 2017 when Alan Long resigned from his Ward 4 post just 11 months into his second four-year term. The news came with one day before the group’s next meeting, so council members had to act quickly. They ultimately voted 5-2 to appoint Kyle Smith to fill the vacancy instead of calling a special election.

Before the meeting, seven people submitted letters of interest for the position, including Leslie Belden, Kyle Cook, Troy Gittings, Bonnie Miller, Kristen Scott, Mike Wiederkehr and Clayton Goodson.

When the council’s discussion began on Tuesday, Council Member Mark Kinion immediately moved to call for a special election.

Council Member Sloan Scroggin seconded the motion, and said while the people who have expressed interest would make good candidates, he thinks the citizens need to decide who should serve the remaining term.

“I hope that some of those people actually throw their hat in because some of them I’m super excited about, but I think the citizens need to have a say here.”

Council Member Sarah Bunch said with an upcoming budget session, she wishes the council could temporarily fill the vacancy now and then call a special election afterwards, but she knows that’s not an option so she supports a special election.

Council Member Jones asked how much a special election would cost.

City Attorney Kit Williams said city-wide special elections can cost between $16,000-$20,000, but with voting only taking place in Ward 2, the cost could be significantly lower.

Council Member Holly Hertzberg said regardless of the cost, it’s money well spent.

“This is a three-year term that we’re trying to fill, and I think the Ward 2 residents should have a say in that,” said Hertzberg.

Filing for the election will begin Nov. 12 and last through 12 p.m. on Nov. 29.

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.

» See all business from the Nov. 2 meeting