Matthew Petty seeks re-election in Fayetteville’s Ward 2

Matthew Petty / Courtesy photo

Fayetteville Alderman Matthew Petty will seek another four-year term on the City Council in the November general election.

Petty, who was elected to the council in 2008, will face Gary McHenry and Adam Fire Cat, a local busser who ran unsuccessful campaigns for alderman in 2012 and 2010 (Cat withdrew his candidacy).

Petty said he’s enjoyed his eight years in the Ward 2, Position 2 seat, but added the work has not been easy.

“I helped make it illegal to fire or evict someone for being gay or transgender, I expanded options for food trucks and trailers, and I’ve negotiated new trail infrastructure for midtown,” Petty said. “I understand the mechanics of local government and how to get things done. I know I can continue to have a positive impact if I am elected to a third term.”

Petty serves as chair of the council’s Transportation Committee, which oversees infrastructure improvements to streets, sidewalks, and trails. He is also chair of the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission, the city’s tourism agency which determines use of the Hotel, Motel, Restaurant tax.

If re-elected, Petty said he will work to change the city’s approach to real estate development.

“Our current pattern of massive subdivisions or massive apartment complexes is both unsustainable and un-Fayetteville,” he said.

Petty said said he’s generally in favor of regulations, but has realized that many of the city’s development codes favor subdivisions and high-rises. He said by re-calibrating some of the city’s development procedures and design criteria, traditional town form in Fayetteville can be “more than an aspirational standard.”

If given another term, Petty said he’ll also push for construction of a new downtown plaza, work to implement the city’s new transportation master plan, and help develop or improve signature events.

“Public space, art, and event development are at the center of our (city’s) brand strategy, and I will work to improve events like First Thursday and develop other ventures so there is always something fun and exciting for residents and visitors to enjoy,” he said.

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.

There are three other Position 2 seats up for grabs this year, including those held by Sarah Marsh (Ward 1), Martin Schoppmeyer (Ward 3) and Alan Long (Ward 4). Schoppmeyer did not file for re-election, but Marsh and Long are each seeking a second term.

The general election is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 8.


Profile

Name: Matthew Petty
Position sought: Ward 2, Position 2
Age: 32
Residency: Ward 2 resident since August 2002
Employment: Alderman at City of Fayetteville; Principal, Infill Group
Education: B.S. Mathematics and Political Science, University of Arkansas
Political Experience: Alderman, Ward 2; chair, Transportation Committee; chair, Advertising and Promotion Commission

Questions

Why run for re-election? Is there anything in particular you want to introduce or continue working toward?
I know I can continue to have a positive impact. In the next four years I am going to organize my efforts into four broad categories:

Public space because great spaces inspire us and bring more customers to local businesses. I am going to support construction of a new plaza on city-owned land downtown and will explore opportunities to develop parks and other spaces in each of our neighborhoods. A great public space should be a short walk down the street for every resident.

Incremental neighborhoods because our current pattern of massive subdivisions or massive apartment complexes is both unsustainable and un-Fayetteville. I am in favor of development regulations generally but have realized that many of our regulations favor subdivisions and high-rises. No one should need lawyers and development consultants to build a corner store or home addition. We need to calibrate our development procedures and design standards so that traditional town form can be more than an aspirational standard.

Transportation because our transportation infrastructure is the platform for all other city activity. It shapes our lives and has profound impacts on our economy and psychological well-being. I advocated for the new Fayetteville Mobility Plan; when it is complete next year we will know how to fix College, where to build east-west connections, the scope for new transit, how to manage parking, and more. Moreover, we will know which investments will have the most positive impacts. I will see that plan implemented.

Event development because signature events define Fayetteville’s brand. As chair of our tourism agency, I have voted to fund many events. Some, like the Roots Festival, have been successful beyond our expectations. Public space, art, and event development are at the center of our brand strategy, and I will work to improve events like First Thursday and develop other ventures so there is always something fun and exciting for residents and visitors to enjoy.

Four years ago you said Ward 2 was unique in that it plays a role in every Fayetteville resident’s life in some way, and that no other ward encapsulates so much of whatever it is that makes Fayetteville great. Is that still an accurate description?
Ward 2 has much of what defines Fayetteville. Ward 2 has the University, Dickson Street, and the high school. It has the square and the Farmers’ Market. It has Scull Creek Trail and Frisco Trail and the castle at Wilson Park. Virtually every public event, whether it is a game, a parade, or a festival takes place in Ward 2.

Downtown Fayetteville and everything that happens within it is like the heartbeat of our city. Everyone owns a piece of it whether they live in this ward or another.

Are there any council decisions were you especially proud of or frustrated with during your most recent term?
Yes. I am very proud of the trail connections I negotiated in midtown: the first has been constructed and connects Woodland Junior High to Scull Creek Trail and the second will connect Evelyn Hills to Wilson Park through the UAMS and VA campuses.

I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the Civil Rights Ordinance. I am both proud and frustrated by it. I am frustrated because I haven’t put an end to the spread of misinformation which surrounds that legislation and continues to this day. I will use this opportunity to correct some of the misinformation that is still out there.

After the first ordinance was defeated, Kyle Smith, Danielle Weatherby and Mark Martin pulled together a new draft and they deserve the credit. Then Adella Gray, Kit Williams, and I helped to refine it. The primary differences were:

  1. Instead of establishing new protected classes, we relied on protected classes already established in state law. I am still deeply disappointed that Act 37 forced us to remove protections on the basis of veteran status.
  2. We established a commission and made the complaint process confidential up until a complaint reaches the commission level. This was my suggestion and it was something I wanted to do in the original ordinance. Unfortunately I didn’t discover the mechanism in state law that allows such a process to remain confidential until it was too late for the first ordinance.
  3. Wherever we could, we shortened the ordinance by referencing state laws instead of copying the language into our ordinance as we did the first time. This changed the conversation more than anything else. While the new ordinance has the same enforcement penalties and the same test for whether or not discrimination has occurred — the two points most often cited as examples of poor drafting in the first ordinance even though our language was used by Arkansas and more than one dozen other jurisdictions in their own laws — the new ordinance didn’t suffer attacks on its drafting quality.
  4. We made the religious protections more explicit so that the intention couldn’t be misconstrued. This change helped, but I still meet people who think we are going to put pastors in jail for refusing to perform same-sex marriages!

LGBT persons in Fayetteville can rest assured the city will stand with them when they are discriminated against, and landlords and businesses should know the process is designed to prevent illegitimate complaints. Furthermore, what we did has had positive impacts beyond our borders. We use it in our business recruitment and tourism development efforts, and when people from outside this state think of Fayetteville, they think of our city as a place they might like to visit or even live. That’s meaningful progress, and we should all be proud of that.

But what we should be most proud of are the many community members who came forward to share their experiences with us during the debate. Before this discussion many well-meaning and compassionate people believed discrimination didn’t happen in Fayetteville. As a community we came to learn that belief was wrong. The true heroes of this issue were the many gay and transgendered citizens who came forward to share their personal stories. They taught us a deeper lesson of how to be more aware of our fellow citizens and their struggles. I still get goosebumps when I recall their courage, and I hope one day I can be as brave as they were.

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