While many Arkansans can recite their elected officials – especially the “household names,” which usually includes the governor, senators and representatives in the U.S. Congress – positions frequently forgotten, but so often responsible for our day-to-day well-being, are our city mayors.
There are two types of mayoralty systems in the United States, council-manager and mayor-council.
In a council-manager system of local government, a mayor sits on the city council, often holding the chairperson position on that body. As with most city council members, mayors in this scenario usually only serve part-time and usually set the legislative agenda for the city they represent. Most of the full-time, day-to-day administration is left to the city manager.
Mayor-council systems feature separate branches for the mayor and city council, with the mayoralty holding executive privileges while the city council operates with legislative powers.
In an effort to shed some light on the work of several localized elected officials, AMP is profiling seven mayors from around the Natural State to watch.
George McGill – Fort Smith
Fort Smith’s Mayor George McGill has many memories of growing up in his hometown.
“Life was good for me in Fort Smith,” McGill reflects. “I had a great family. My dad was a minister, a very prominent minister and one of the key figures in our community and the city; very instrumental in guiding peaceful integration throughout our city.”
McGill was recently inaugurated his city’s first black mayor, but for him, innovation is nothing new. Having lived through the 1960s as a teenager, he vividly recalls the ugly days of segregation. Nevertheless, he has chosen to move forward rather than remain stuck in the past. A U.S. Army veteran, he owned and operated the McGill Insurance Agency for 30 years. That entrepreneurial experience, he says, continues to define his public service today.
“We listen to what our business community has to say. We’re in touch with them, and we make sure that they understand that we are available to assist you,” McGill says. “We want to have the kind of relationship to the extent that we are positioned to help when help is needed but also remind them that this is a great place. Our city is bursting at the seams with good people.”
He refers to Little Rock’s Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. as “a good friend.” Scott is the first elected black mayor of Arkansas’ capital city.
“My advice for Frank is, continue to be Frank. Don’t step out of yourself; continue to trust your faith,” he says. “And trust those that have put him in office. The people of Little Rock have spoken.”
The people of Fort Smith are never far from McGill’s mind. A former Arkansas state representative, he is as proud of his hometown as he is outspokenly excited for its future.
“I am anxious to see the development of the Arkansas Riverfront that wraps around Fort Smith,” McGill says, “That’s starting to blossom as we speak. It’s going to house the U.S. Marshals Museum, which is going to be one of a kind.”
A day is coming, McGill predicts, when the Arkansas River will be “a major thoroughfare for freight and movement of goods.”
With advances in shipping technology and a growing number of carriers passing through the region, riverfront residential and commercial development should become major industries. Once Interstate 49 is complete, McGill believes that his city will be an even hotter commodity sought by businesses and families alike.
“Fort Smith is right at the tip of major growth and expansion,” McGill says. “Keep in mind Fort Smith is in the 3rd Congressional District here in Arkansas, which is one of the fastest-growing regions in the United States—and we’re proud of that. I tell everybody all the time, ‘You need a good pair of sunglasses because things are getting very bright around Fort Smith and the Arkansas River Valley.’”