FORT SMITH (KFSM) - A group attempting to change the Fort Smith city government is scheduled to meet on Friday (Jan. 16) at 6 p.m. to discuss how they will petition citizens for a special election, according to a post on the group's Facebook page.
The group was going to meet at the Fort Smith Police Department's community room, but they said a police captain told them they could not as it would violate the department's rules and regulations. A spokesman for the police department told 5NEWS that after some discussion with the Fort Smith City Attorney, the group would be allowed to use the community room once, but a policy change was planned that would prevent it from meeting there again in the future.
The spokesman also said the police department has guidelines to ensure it remains neutral on political issues, and the policy change would ensure the department continues to maintain a neutral position in all political matters.
Take Back The Fort 2015 is an organization of citizens with the aim of changing the city government in Fort Smith. They came together not long after the city announced sewer bills could triple by 2026.
Angry with the decision, citizens started meeting to "change [the] form of city government to a mayoral form. In this form, the mayor [would] not simply [be] a figurehead, as is currently the case in Fort Smith. [Instead], the Mayor would have actual decision-making authority and, because he is directly elected by the citizens, he would be accountable to the people," according to the group's Facebook page.
The group argues on their page that Fort Smith is suffering from a form of government that "diffuses responsibility across multiple members of a board of directors." Take Back The Fort 2015 is also upset that the city administrator (which they call "an appointed bureaucrat who is not directly accountable to the voting citizens") is able to make key decisions, according to their Facebook page.
Under Arkansas law, a special election can be held to change the form of a city's government if a circulated petition gets enough signatures, according to Take Back The Fort 2015. The group said that such a petition in Fort Smith would need 2,517 signatures. The meeting scheduled to take place on Friday was called to discuss the logistics of circulating petitions.
A spokeswoman for the city of Fort Smith said there was no statement available on the group's activities so far, and city officials do not speculate on what groups might do.