Nancy Allen: Fighting the Good Fight | Street Jazz

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Nancy Allen: Fighting the Good Fight

Posted By on Tue, Jun 10, 2008 at 10:15 AM

It’s rare that you get a true progressive/liberal on a city council, and I believe that we should celebrate whenever we do. Nancy Allen is among the small number of real progressives on the Fayetteville city council. So often we have the bitter experience of folks who make all the right noises before the election, but show their true colors within a few months.

Tomorrow I’ll give my perspective on Marvin Hilton being passed over by the city council for the Telecomm Board.

Nancy Allen: Fighting the Good Fight

Fayetteville alderman is progressive voice on city council

Written by Richard S. Drake

Fayetteville may be the only community in Washington County where a city council can boast of having more than one sitting alderman who is a true progressive. In 2006, Nancy Allen, representing Ward 2, joined the small number of true progressives on the city council.

What has it been like do far? Allen answered the question this way. " I had told everyone I thought it would be the most interesting job I would ever have, sand indeed, it is. I would not say that it was fun, but it's really, really interesting."

In addition to never being boring, she also says the job takes more time than anyone could ever imagine, especially if one wants to understand a city and how it operates. Allen says that she puts in close to 30 or 40 hours per week, between meetings and studying for meetings.

"It's pretty much a full-time job."

Despite long being involved in city politics, Allen says that she was still surprised by how quickly issues have come before the City council, especially since she took office in January. "Each time I thought, I'll be able to take a breath here, and then there's something looming ahead of
you, right after that. And so that is something that I am going to have to try and balance.

"I don't want to think, now, we quit that, but we didn't get this quite fixed." She feels that sometimes the council needs to go back to a problem and solve it.

One of the issues that Nancy Allen feels the greatest passion for is the matter of affordable housing in Fayetteville, something that city councils have wrestled with for many years now. Even so, she wonders if others assign the same importance to the subject as she does.

"When I think about the kind of Fayetteville that is important to me, it may not be that it is really not that important, or not what other people want."

Of course, many still can not decide just what affordable housing is. Is it a combination of reasonable rents and affordable housing for purchase, or emphasis on home sales?

Allen says that the possibility of buying a home is one that should be open to most who live and work in Fayetteville. Referring to recent discussions the city council has had, she said, "The figures that they are pitching out now, to me, are not affordable. I think we are just going to have to come up with a number of what we think is affordable.

"Obviously that will change as years go by. So we could say to a developer, maybe 80-120,000 dollars, which still seems like a lot of money, but which the city will call affordable."

She says that some of the figures shown the city council are just unaffordable, with figures going up to almost $300,000. "That would mean that if I didn't live here [in Ward 2] I couldn't afford a house."

Fayetteville is also facing a disturbing situation in which many in poorer neighborhoods are being evicted so that their homes (older homes, trailer parks) can be torn down to make room for more upscale developments.

Allen has raised the question of where the displaced residents have gone at city council meetings. Laughing, she said, "I am always assured that they are living splendidly someplace."

There have long been those who would prefer that Fayetteville aspire to be a more "upscale" community. "I think that a lot of people would like to have it be that people come in and clean our houses, and cook our food, and then go to Farmington or Elkins or wherever."

Allen says that she found out at a recent city council meeting that only ten percent of Fayetteville's firefighters actually live in the community they serve.

"That is shameful. They can't afford to live here. Teachers can't afford to live here."

She added, "So it's going to be that your average working man, it's going to get where they can't afford to live here. I think the city is going to have to find out if it really is a priority."

Though she dismisses the idea of leaving any sort of political "legacy," one thing she hopes to leave her mark on is the effort to establish affordable housing for everyone in Fayetteville.

But it isn't just affordable housing that Nancy Allen has strong views on. In April, the Fayetteville city council voted to put Planning Commission member Candy Clark on the commission for another term. Citing disrespect to city staff, Mayor Dan Coody vetoed the council's vote.

Allen was quoted in the Northwest Arkansas Times as saying that it was a "dark day for Fayetteville."

She says, "When people are not treated justly, it is a dark day." She feels that the veto of Candy Clark may discourage some who may otherwise be inclined to apply to serve on city committees.

Disclosure: the author of this article chairs a committee - the Telecommunications Committee - for the city of Fayetteville.

Allen feels that the way the Candy Clark matter was handled felt almost like a "trial."

"I know that it has been very difficult for her. So I don't think that's conducive for people wanting to sign up for city committees."

Talking about upcoming vacancies on city committees, Allen also says that she wants to see a wide diversity of people applying for the seats. Speaking specifically of the Planning Commission, she said, "I would like to see it very reflective of the community. Someone who is interested in neighborhoods, somebody who is a businessman, and engineer, somebody who is retired. Just a cross-section of folks.

"I don't think they all have to be in related fields to the Planning Commission. I think it's helpful. It's a long learning curve."

One of her recent attempts at controlling growth on Fayetteville's famed Dickson Street was shot down recently, what most understood as her "45 foot limit" on new buildings.

No so, she says.

"I think I got very misquoted on that in the media. It was that I wanted there to be variance. Not that I was some sort of ‘‘heightest,' or ‘‘lowest,' or whatever. I just thought that it seemed very reasonable to look at things one building at a time instead of just raping Dickson Street and Lafayette Street.

"You would have thought that I was killing the first born of some of these developers who were there. The way I handled that - and I had never had a group of people come at me like that - was I just looked them and I thought, you developers can fit in City Hall, but the citizens can't all fit here."

It is interesting to Allen that she was criticized for not wanting a certain type of growth, the sort that would change Dickson and the downtown area beyond recognition. "I would look at their [the developers] websites and there would be pictures of Dickson Street as it is and Old Main right straight down Lafayette and the Square, which is going to turn into mushroom garden if we aren't careful about the height around the square.

"And that's what people come to see." She cautions that if the city is not careful, Fayetteville will turn into "Anytown, USA."

Allen doesn't want to see progress come at the expense of the people who live in Fayetteville.

Despite the best efforts of those who see Fayetteville as "just another city," this community in Northwest Arkansas has managed to maintain its desirability as a place to live, and to maintain a distinctive nature, as opposed to other cities in Northwest Arkansas. What does Allen attribute that to?

"Well, part of it has been this diversity, that I hope we will retain. Also extraordinarily beautiful terrain, which I hope we will be able to keep, too. And the university makes any community more interesting, and more diverse.

"I think the city is doing a good job of trying to make it an appealing place for art and artists. The Art Center is here. I'm certainly not opposed to change, but I don't want us to lose all those things, either."

A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Allen taught school for 21 years. The last seven years she taught were at the recently closed Jefferson school, in south Fayetteville.

She has seen many changes in her years in Fayetteville, some good, some not so good. "There just seems to be a growing emphasis on money, and money is not very important to me. Luckily, or I would have been in a blue funk most of my life. but I think a lot of people define themselves on money.

She adds, "That seems different, but maybe I was not observant enough as a child."

Even though the concept of impact fees on developments was voted down (by one vote) in a recent election, she does not feel the issue is dead. She supports the concept of impact fees, and feels the city council may yet visit the issue again in the future.

She is also concerned about the possibility of the Fayetteville school board shutting down Fayetteville High School and moving it from the center of town to the site of newer developments on the outskirts of town. This is a problem many cities are facing.

"If you pill them out, like is being done, the area starts to decay. I fear that Leverett [on Garland] is temporarily there." She wishes the Fayetteville city council had a better working relationship with the Fayetteville schools.

Allen is married to Razorback sportswriter Nate Allen. Mother to two step-children, she also has several grandchildren. Not only does she enjoy games such as Trivial Pursuit, several years ago she helped develop her own game, Head Master, which netted her several thousand dollars.

She says that she sort of "bumped into" politics, and always felt very passionate about helping ordinary people. She first stuck her toe into the water when she sat on Fayetteville's Planning Commission for six years. In addition to the Planning Commission, she has sat on the City Sidewalk and Trails Committee, the Ordinance Review Committee and the Street Committee.

She was also the founder of the Woodland Neighborhood Association, and has long been active with the Fayetteville Council of Neighborhoods.

In terms of those who she most admires, Eleanor Roosevelt is near the top of her list. "People touch your lives just for a minute here or there all through your life. I don't have a favorite teacher, but there are individuals I have had relationships with for short periods or long
periods. There are things they have done or said that have been etched in my mind to make a long-lasting impression."

In the future, she hopes that more attention can be paid to south Fayetteville, and that more attention will be paid to the idea of true affordable housing in Fayetteville.

"It's a new world each time we get an agenda, and I'm amazed at some of the new things, each time."

New world or not, Nancy Allen is ready to stand up for the causes she believes in.

Richard S. Drake is the author of a science fiction novel, "Freedom Run," and "Ozark Mosaic: Adventures in Arkansas Alternative Journalism, 1990-2002."

Arkansas Free Press - June, 2007

rsdrake@nwark.com

 

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