Seven people interested in vacant Fayetteville City Council seat

Former City Council Member Matthew Petty / Staff photo

A special election will decide who is the next City Council member in Ward 2, but there were several people who would’ve accepted an appointment to the position on Tuesday.

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

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 call for a special public election. An option must be chosen at the first regular meeting after the occurrence of the vacancy.

In the event that the council chose to appoint someone to the position, seven people sent letters of interest to the City Clerk’s office prior to Tuesday’s meeting.

At this point, anyone who wants the job will need to follow the standard election requirements – including getting a petition signed and formally filing with the County Clerk’s office – but it could be helpful to become familiar with some of those folks who were interested in the position.

We’re listing their names in the order they appeared in a document released by the City Clerk’s office, and we’re also including each person’s submitted letter. Resumes and any other correspondence materials are available in the full document included in our City Council recap from Tuesday.

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.

Filing for the election will begin Nov. 12 and last through 12 p.m. on Nov. 29. The special election is scheduled for Feb. 8.

Leslie Belden

Belden is a member of the Fayetteville Planning Commission, whose second three-year term ends in March 2022. She has served on Fayetteville’s Historic District Commission and Town and Gown Advisory Committee, and was a planning commissioner and member of the Board of Adjustments in Jacksonville before moving to Fayetteville.

“I think I am in a unique position to serve due not only to my commitment to service, and my experiences with the city, but also to my academic background,” Belden wrote, adding that she has an undergraduate degree in architecture and a doctorate in public policy planning, both achieved at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

Belden, who also has a doctorate in ministry and a master’s in divinity, said her theological training puts the needs of people foremost in her heart and mind, with a specific emphasis on justice and the need for all to be heard.

“My voice on the Planning Commission has been particularly loud when standing up for citizens’ rights as property owners when they have been challenged by our regulations that make it difficult for those unfamiliar with the legal language of the city’s codes,” she wrote.

» Read Belden’s full letter

Kyle Cook

Cook is a former member of the City Council who served as a Ward 2 representative from 2003 through 2010. He was present for 223 out of 231 meetings for a 97% attendance rate. After his eight years on the council, which included service as chair of the Transportation Committee, Water & Sewer Committee, and Nominating Committee, Cook served another eight years on the Fayetteville Planning Commission.

“With the mayor and fellow City Council members, I helped lead Fayetteville through the surge of economic expansion during the early and mid-2000s, then the aftermath of the financial collapse of 2008,” Cook wrote. “Through all of it, the City Council and mayor worked together to make Fayetteville a better city even if we disagreed on exactly how to get there.”

Cook said he has no particular agenda in mind, but noted his past record of focus, which included emphasis on first-class city services, planned and reasoned growth, and expanding the city’s pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.

“I think the city has made tremendous strides in these areas, but there is always room for improvement,” he wrote.

» Read Cook’s full letter

Troy Gittings

Gittings is owner of Bugsy’s on Dickson Street. He served in the United States Army and was a teacher for over a decade.

While he’s a newer resident of Ward 2, he’s lived in town since 2008.

“I am interested in the seat because of my love for Fayetteville,” Gittings wrote. “I have worked closely with other council members on various issues over the last 12 years, and want to continue to serve my community in a larger capacity.”

Gittings said he understands the challenges facing Fayetteville, and the importance of the job of council members.

“If appointed or elected, I will work tirelessly to make sure every decision I make is well informed and has the best interests of the people of Fayetteville in mind,” he wrote.

» Read Gittings’ full letter

Bonnie Miller

Miller is the president of the League of Women Voters of Arkansas, and a 13-year resident of Fayetteville.

She works at the University of Arkansas School of Law, serving as the program administrator for the master of laws program in agricultural food law.

Last year, she chaired Arkansas Voters First which brought forth a ballot measure to create an independent redistricting commission.

“I have been a champion of fair redistricting through several election cycles and have gained invaluable experience through working on non-partisan statewide campaigns,” she wrote.

Miller said she’s passionate about civic engagement and promoting diversity, equity and inclusion.

“There are values which not only guide the work I do, but act as guiding principles in my life,” she wrote.

» Read Miller’s full letter

Kristen Scott

Scott is a 35-year resident of Fayetteville who is the former principal at Root Elementary School and Owl Creek School, and holds a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the University of Arkansas. She’s worked in many other teaching roles, including jobs at McNair Middle School in Fayetteville and at schools in West Fork and Rogers. She currently works as an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas Fort Smith.

Scott said she hopes to bring her 30 years of experience in education to the City Council.

“Education is a key component of economic development, and the City of Fayetteville’s partnership with Fayetteville Public Schools, UA, NWACC, NTI, and UAMS have been long and fruitful,” Scott wrote.

She currently serves as a commissioner on the Fayetteville Housing Authority.

“In my role as chair of FHA from 2019 through June 2021, I have learned city governance processes and procedures, working as a board member and leading FHA through establishing and strengthening its own governances,” Scott wrote.

» Read Scott’s full letter

Mike Wiederkehr

Wiederkehr is a member of the Fayetteville Planning Commission whose first term began in April.

He has 32 years of municipal government experience, including roles in human resources, economic development, building and safety, and public works. He began that career in Fort Worth, Texas before spending 30 years in Glendale, California.

Wiederkehr said he already has a campaign manager, treasurer and outreach website ready to go.

“Having consulted with family, friends and other Ward 2 residents, I have been encouraged to pursue this open seat,” he wrote. “I take this opportunity seriously.”

Wiederkehr said he fully supports the mayor’s core principles of equality, diversity and inclusion through every action taken by city government.

“I hope to join our City Council as they strive to put these principles into action through appropriate, contextual policies and growth which maintain and enhance Fayetteville’s outstanding quality of life and unique sense of place.

» Read Wiederkehr’s full letter

Clayton Goodson

Goodson sent a very brief email to the City Clerk’s office a few minutes before Tuesday’s meeting.

In his email, Goodson said he has no experience in public governance, but he believes he can bring a number of valuable skills and experiences to the position, and can continue “the progressive path blazed by councilman Petty.”

Goodson said he interacts with Ward 2 residents on a daily basis and has a first-hand look at the things that affect them the most.

“I bring over a decade of business experience, team leading, and organizational experience with me,” he wrote.

» Read Goodson’s full email