Raymond Burks / Courtesy photo
A retail support manager will challenge an incumbent for a seat on the Fayetteville City Council this year.
Raymond Burks, 34, hopes to occupy the Ward 2, Position 1 seat currently held by Mark Kinion, who is seeking a third term in the Nov. 6 election. Martin Bemberg also filed as a candidate for the position.
Born in southwest Arkansas, Burks moved to Fayetteville in 2002 and later earned a bachelor’s degree in english at the University of Arkansas. While studying, he was a DJ and station manager for KXUA 88.3FM, and a producer for the city’s public television station. He currently works as a support manager for Walmart on Campus.
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.
Burks said his time on campus and in the downtown area have given him a first-hand look at the many transplants, students and visitors who come to town each year. He said he’s worried Fayetteville’s welcome mat has come at the expense of the city’s people and its culture, and that the naturally beautiful city he once knew is turning into “an industrial wasteland full of high-rises that obstruct gorgeous views.”
Meet the Candidates
The following candidates have responded to a request from the Fayetteville Flyer for more information about their candidacy in the Nov. 6 election.
“There is a feeling among many residents that our town is being sold out from under us due to big developers and skyrocketing property values,” said Burks. “If I am elected to City Council, I will approve of growth to our booming city in the form of housing, retail, and other projects. But I will not approve of growth that comes at the expense of longtime residents, small businesses, and the spectacular views that make our town unique.”
He said environmental responsibility isn’t limited to development and growth, and if elected, he’d support measures to incentivize businesses and renters who recycle.
“It is my belief that we can all make a difference by recycling, reusing, and repurposing items,” he said. “But many lack the enthusiasm to research or get on board when they see other cities with eye-rolling efforts to ban and police items like plastic straws. We need a commitment to the environment that is a real effort to inspire citizens, local businesses, local renters, and others to care about the environment beyond the clickbait headlines.”
He criticized the city’s plans for a cultural arts corridor and the recent improvements to the College Avenue corridor.
“Beautiful murals and huge sidewalks are nice for visitors to see when they drive down College Avenue, but not of use to many in the city,” he said. “If elected Alderman, not only will I draft legislation to continue Fayetteville’s commitment to transit and pedestrian travel, but I will also vote against any road or street improvements that are cosmetic but serve very little purpose to our residents.”
Burks said diversity and inclusion, safety of residents, and fiscal transparency are also part of his platform.
Filing for muncipal candidates ended on Aug. 17.
Profile: Raymond Burks
Position sought: Ward 2, Position 1
Residency: 16 years in Fayetteville, 10 years in Ward 2
Employment: Employee at Walmart on Campus
Education: Bachelor of English in Creative Writing, University of Arkansas
What made you decide to seek election to the council? Is it something you’ve been considering for a while?
I talk with a lot of longtime residents who vent about how this town has morphed into a place they no longer recognize. It has more to do with just the growth; it has to do with how expensive housing has become despite stagnant wages, and the rolling hills of green they recognize being replaced by more multiple-story buildings obstructing those views. In other words, Fayetteville has sold out to the highest bidders. And I want to be a voice and a champion for that discontent because I share a lot of those concerns.
The town that says it prides itself on diversity and inclusion has homogenized itself into a place that’s tailored for college kids from other states and transplants from California and Texas that tell us how much more expensive the cost of living is in the utopias they left. I want to be clear: I’m neither anti-student, nor anti-transplant. But our local culture shouldn’t be diminished to compete with Austin, Dallas, or San Francisco.
Obviously, cities have to be willing to grow or they die. But what I’m running on is a Fayetteville First, Fayetteville Forward agenda that I want our City Council and various members of planning committees to consider. We can move Fayetteville forward with smart planning and a careful, considerate approach to development while still putting longtime residents here first and making Fayetteville a great place for young professionals and families, whether they work in hospitality on or near Dickson Street or take the long commute to Bentonville. Also, we hear the word “melting pot” ad nauseum from our elected officials and various media outlets. But you can’t have a melting pot without the base for that stew: the longtime residents (from all races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations and gender identities) and the scenery that made this place attractive to begin with.
Is there anything in particular that drove you to reside in Ward 2? How would you describe that part of town?
I love Ward 2’s close proximity to Dickson Street, the Square, the University, Wilson Park, the Public Library and various other places of interest. Ward 2 is attractive to me and to many of us because it is within walking distance to so many places around town.
The best way to describe Ward 2 is that it’s the heartbeat of Fayetteville. Creativity comes alive at the Walton Arts Center, Art Ventures, the soon-to-be-open Faulkner Arts Center, and other hotspots. Some of the best places to eat in town are in Ward 2. And some of the best live music can be found at George’s Majestic and other places. It’s a place to raise your family or a place to be single. Fayetteville would be a completely different town without the residents, the history, and the vibe of Ward 2.
Are there any recent council decisions you agree or disagree with?
I’m not thrilled about the plans I’m hearing for the Cultural Arts Corridor. The only thing CAC accomplishes once completed is raising property values in the areas in and around it, further pricing locals out of the rent or own market and further causing strain on local businesses who rent the spaces in or near these areas. Also, are we certain that the grant donated by the Walton Family Foundation ($1.8 million) is going to be enough to complete such a project? If it isn’t, where will the rest of the money come from? If the answer is city funds, money from the state, or higher taxes, then we should really consider whether this project is something we want to pursue (Editor’s note: The $1.8 million grant is for design only. Funding for construction of the project would likely come from a capital projects special election vote next year.) There are other ways to utilize this grant and make our arts scene more desirable to residents and visitors than a project that appears to be a pat on the back for the city.