Justin: In the Feast of Being Able to. Amen.

Life Not Worth Living In Fort Smith, Arkansas?

For 20 years Mayor Ray Baker has led us all in the enthusiastic motto, “Life’s worth living in Fort Smith, Arkansas!!!”

With 54% to 46%, Sandy Sanders defeated Mayor Ray Baker for the mayor-ship of Fort Smith. If I had more than 6 readers I would divide you up and say that 54% of you helped make that happen. But.. I think only two of you can vote in Fort Smith, and I was never good with complex fractions, anyway.

The stated difference between the two contestants was that Mayor Ray Baker has followed the traditional role of being a mostly Ceremonial figure head, attending every possible celebration, coronation, dedication and anniversary that the citizens felt was momentous. Such an approach is intended to provide a sense of pride and community, and Baker executed this task flawlessly.

Sandy Sanders says the mayor should be a businessman who brings jobs to the city, not a ceremonial figure. For $10,000 a year salary, he’s going to do just that.

I disagree with the Sanders approach to the Fort Smith mayor, but fair enough. If done successfully, perhaps Mr. Sanders, alone, can be responsible for bringing hundreds, maybe thousands of jobs to our city during this hurting economy… during this time when layoffs abound and doors are being shut, not opened.

Now, too late to matter in yesterday’s election, here are my thoughts.

Just what is a Mayor Supposed to Do?

The entire design of our city government is for the mayor to not even have say in city council meetings, except for as a tie breaking vote. Several of the council members, openly critical of Mayor Baker for not finding us jobs, have themselves not found us jobs. As a group of legislative government officials, the authority to work together to recruit companies to locate here has always existed for the Chamber of Commerce and the Board of Directors. Mr. Sanders, himself, participated in the courtship of Mitsubishi, as a member of the Regional Chamber of Commerce. What part did they need the mayor to play in corporate recruitment that a Chamber of “Commerce” could not handle? What part that a vote-empowered board of directors could not handle?

“Sanders Would Make Truly Active Mayor” the Times Record endorsement boasted during the race. Truly active, instead of just sort of active? Baker is ubiquitous. What they mean is, truly active as in active in a way that “counts”, because apparently what Baker does is not important.

A Mayor Sanders will now step in, leaving a gaping community chasm where Baker once stood on podiums, at lecturns and beside guests of honor at golden anniversaries and 40 year retirements. Momentous events will be conspicuously absent of the Mayor, the flowers, the proclomation, the cheer, and the laughs.

Mayor Sanders will bring us jobs, I am sure. We are to believe they will be jobs that the entire existing structure of city and regional government could not aquire, absent the formerly titular leader of our city.

Will Sanders stop job loss? Beats me. Will the Republicans? If they do, will it touch Fort Smith and thus reflect well on Sanders, who could then rightfully say that thousands of jobs left Fort Smith in 2009 and 2010, but hundreds were brought to the city in 2011, under his leadership?

It is all a complex web of intangibles and cause and effects that I call the Business Butterfly Effect. It makes it difficult (but not impossible) to credit or to blame fairly.

We did not need Sanders in order for jobs to be brought to Fort Smith. We need those individuals in positions which are empowered to bring jobs, to do their jobs. Think back in the news from the past few years.

What do you recall that our city council proposed that would have brought jobs? What job gain can you remember that almost happened, but then the Mayor’s absence from the negotiations prevented it?

I believe that if one year from now Sanders’ presence can be credited for bringing jobs to Fort Smith that otherwise could not have been brought here, then we have an altogether larger crisis of incompetent government on our hands.

As with any organization, there is more potential for one man to do harm than to do good. Good is always more difficult than wrong. It has been no different for Ray Baker. His record, now to be deemed as “history” at his departure, reflects good after good. The more he became actively involved, the more he payed the price for doing good in the face of high-rolling con men, and our city has at least a few.

Thank you, Mayor Baker, for being willing to pay the price for doing right.

Farewell

To the man who once won the award for the finest teacher in the United States…

To the man who MASTERED the art of instilling life into the mundane, from teaching history to sleepy 10th graders to bringing smiles and applause for our loved ones on their special days…

To the man who’s endorsement and involvement in local projects has been the glue for innumerable successes…

To a man who loves Fort Smith so much it is scary…

To the greatest cheerleader Fort Smith, AR has ever known…

Thank you for twenty years of awesome.

May the mayors who follow you have even half of your stamina!

My final thought is this: There was always, since his first day, only one way for Mayor Ray Baker to be defeated. Since no person in the United States, in any city, of any size, could do the job better, the job itself would have to be redefined in order to hold up a different rule and show a man lacking who was larger than the measuring stick itself.

Good luck, Ray Baker, with learning how to slow down! You will be missed.

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