Four candidates who hope to win the upcoming City Council special election in Ward 1 participated in a public forum held Wednesday inside the Fayetteville Public Library’s Walker Community Room.
The position was left vacant after Sonia Harvey resigned in June. Harvey’s term was set to run through Dec. 31, 2026.
The special election is set for Nov. 14. Early voting begins Nov. 7. The current salary for a Fayetteville City Council member is $16,214.
The candidates include: David Phillips, a veteran and deputy city attorney in Springdale; Bob Stafford, an artist and small business owner; Katy Sager, a real estate attorney; and S. Robert Smith, a veteran and retired avionics engineer.
About 45 people attended the event, which was co-hosted by The League of Women Voters of Washington County and the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce. Each group took turns asking questions, with the chamber focusing on business issues and the league asking community-oriented questions.
Business pop quizzes and trivia
Wayne Mays, the chamber’s senior policy advisor, began with a pop quiz of sorts. Mays asked each candidate to name three businesses in Ward 1 that employ more than 25 people.
Answers included AAF International, B Unlimited, Hannah’s Candles, Hogbox, Lowes, MailCo, Marshalltown, McBride Distributing, Tyson Foods, Hiland Dairy and Walmart. The City of Fayetteville and Washington County were also mentioned as organizations that offices in south Fayetteville with more than 25 workers.
Mayes also asked the candidates to identify the product or services offered by Ward 1 businesses that he said were chosen at random. The trivia exercise was a mix of guesses and group efforts. The businesses included Karcher Industries (pressure washers), EcoTech (plastics recycling), Keytronics (contract manufacturing of plastics and metals) and B-Unlimited (custom apparel).
The league’s first question from Katie Teague, asked what approach should be used to address rising housing prices.
“Honestly, that’s why this position was vacated, so I’m curious to hear your thoughts,” said Teague, in reference to former Councilmember Sonia Harvey.
Harvey said her leased home was sold and she was initially unable to find an affordable or suitable place to live in Ward 1, so she broadened her search to other parts of the city. She eventually found a home in Ward 2, which means she could not continue to serve on the council as a representative for Ward 1.
“The issue of affordable housing is on the forefront of everyone’s mind,” said Sager.
Encouraging business growth, which leads to more job opportunities and higher incomes, is an important piece of the puzzle, Sager said. As a real estate attorney who’s seen the cyclical effects of interest rate changes, Sager said she expects to see the market drive prices down some over the next few years, which could also provide some relief.
Smith said the city isn’t working fast enough to update its zoning regulations, which he said are from the 1970s and don’t provide enough incentives for multiuse developments that could allow people to live closer to their places of employment.
Phillips said he agrees with the philosophy that a city cannot build its way out of a housing crisis because new-construction homes are not affordable. He said Fayetteville should seek federal grants to help repair and modernize existing homes.
Stafford said the city’s outdated codes are part of the problem, but the City Council also shares some of the blame by tabling or holding development decisions for too long, and by rejecting multi-use developments because their constituents are averse to increased density.
“We’re actually adding to the cost of housing here in Fayetteville,” said Stafford.
The topic of people experiencing homelessness came up twice during the forum, once during a discussion about the city’s Walker Park Master Plan and again in a question from the chamber that asked how the candidates would address the health and safety concerns that Ward 1 business owners have raised in recent years.
Smith said homelessness is not an issue the city can handle on its own, and should instead be addressed through partnerships with New Beginnings, 7Hills, The Salvation Army, and other organizations that are experts in offering support for unsheltered residents.
“The nonprofits have a much better foundation for working with people who do not have a home and whose complex situations are very broad,” said Smith. “But the city does have a responsibility to take their recommendations seriously.”
Phillips said the city should identify each person who is without a home and what their individual needs are before formulating a plan on how to help them.
“By assessing what the actual need is, that’s a serious step that most cities are reluctant to take,” said Phillips.
Stafford agreed with Smith and said meetings with experienced nonprofits – possibly on a monthly or quarterly basis – is key in understanding how to help Fayetteville’s unsheltered population.
Sager said Fayetteville has more than its share of people experiencing homelessness in the region, but that’s mostly because it offers more support for those in need.
Lighting improvements and increased police presence could provide some short-term relief, she said, but in the long term, the issue will require cooperation from the surrounding communities.
“I really think we need to put a priority as a City Council on working with other councils that have the financial abilities and resources so that we can make a bigger impact,” said Sager.
About Ward 1
Ward 1 encompasses south and southeast Fayetteville, including the areas south of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Huntsville Road. Mount Sequoyah, Happy Hollow Elementary, and Ramay Junior High School are also included in Ward 1.
The nonpartisan positions are decided by voters who live inside a candidate’s ward boundary, meaning only voters in Ward 1 can cast ballots in the special election (see a ward map here).