Friends for Fayetteville: No Easy Answers | Street Jazz

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Friends for Fayetteville: No Easy Answers

Posted By on Tue, Jun 8, 2010 at 12:25 PM

Years ago there was an organization dedicated to bettering life for everyone in Fayetteville. When Anne Murphy became chair of the group, I wrote on piece on them for the Ozark Gazette.

That the FFF no longer exists is more than a little sad. Still, no other community in Northwest Arkansas can even boast of even having such a group.

This piece is included in my book, Ozark Mosaic.

Friends for Fayetteville: No Easy Answers
An Interview with FFF Chair Anne Murphy

“If there is an overwhelming goal in my work with the Friends For Fayetteville, it is to revitalize citizen participation. It is my hope that 20 years from now, the citizens of Fayetteville will more consistently act in their own behalf and FFF can be about planting trees, collecting litter, and promoting the unique charter of our town.”

So says Anne Murphy, chair of the Board of Directors of the Friends For Fayetteville, now in her second term. She also says, “Things are problematic when an environment polarizes between experts and amateurs. In the last 30 years of American culture, we have evolved into that kind of society. We have experts who make decisions about buildings, and roads, and towns, while citizens are the recipients of those decisions. FFF wants citizens to be part of the decision making process.”

The Friends For Fayetteville believe that an ongoing dialogue is vital to the democratic process. Murphy says, “It is important to remember that a dialogue has two speakers who exchange for the purpose of arriving at a common ground. Whenever one actor doesn't speak or one doesn't listen, the civil conversation is damaged.”

Genesis

Coming into being in August of 1994, Friends For Fayetteville has grown from a handful of individuals into an organization with over 300 active members. Anne Murphy says that the group was formed around an articulate agenda, given that at the time the city of Fayetteville was working on the design overlay; members of the original FFF Board of Directors had expertise and understanding, so it essentially came into being around a significant project.

As a result of the FFF's efforts, the city was persuaded to establish standards to preserve Fayetteville's natural environment.

Since that time, like many organizations, the Friends For Fayetteville has been involved in an ongoing struggle to find its path. As the FFF Mission Statement reads:

Our mission is to promote Fayetteville's beauty, economy, environmental quality, health, heritage, safety and sense of community through research, education and citizen participation in planning and development issues.
This past January, the board of the FFF met to discuss what their role in the community might be. In essence, the FFF has a threefold nature to its mission: Education, Service, and Activism.

The FFF's Trees Committee has been the most active in terms of outreach, working on the natural environment of the community. For example, the NeighborWoods Project, which asks people to dedicate trees to family members or significant others. It is a real attempt at community building, while it adds to the physical beauty of the environment. In addition, the Historic Preservation Committee has been active in education about the preservation of Fayetteville's historic resources.

In addition, FFF has adopted part of Gregg Street (from North to Township) and picks up trash several times a year. Murphy says, “it seems like a small thing to do, but when I am on the street picking up trash, it is direct action, and makes a difference.”

In terms of education, FFF has held symposia on such topics as design standards, the value of trees, and the Hobbs Mountain landfill. In 1998, there will a symposium centered around Arbor Day. There are also symposia scheduled for the summer and fall.

In the area of activism, the FFF has had the most difficult time finding its sense of direction, because there is such a diverse group on the Board of Directors. Much of 1997 was spent in articulating their principles and values, which was helpful in giving them some self-direction as to which issues they wanted to be part of and how to be involved.

Murphy says that 1997 “was not characterized by a great deal of activism or public comment.” Much of 1997 was spent in internal reflection, in which the organization attempted to decide how it may best serve FFF members and the community. There were no easy answers.

1998 goals

This year has seen the creation of a sub-committee called Public Concerns, made up of FFF board members and members not on the board. Murphy describes this as a research group, which will try to anticipate and understand issues coming into the public arena. This group will educate the FFF board and membership about these issues, so that when it comes time for citizen participation, people will be able to act from knowledge and understanding.

The Co-Chairs of the Public Concerns Committee are Sue Clemons and Terra Little. Public participation in this group is invited. Another task for early 1998 is to establish better communication with FFF members. Accordingly, they intend to create an E-mail network with members who have that capacity, so that members can more effectively communicate with each other. Better communication will also enhance the board’s relationship with FFF members.

Election year role

Murphy says that it is not yet clear whether or not FFF will support political candidates this election year. FFF is continuing to study the subtleties of a 501(3C) set up. It is clear that some part of their time can be spent in activities which directly influence public opinion.

She says that one of their goals is to provide a forum for candidates. They will also work to provide information about voting records, so that voters will have an idea of what each individual candidate has done.

“I trust that once people are informed about how office holders have conducted themselves, they will make their own decisions about what they want to do.” Murphy doesn’t believe that people need to be told how to vote, but rather, “people need to have information so that they can make their own judgements.”

In short, what is important to Fayetteville is important to the Friends for Fayetteville. But she warns, “Asking someone else to save us is simplistic thinking. The community has to work in concert . . . we have to take the time and energy to get informed and get involved. But when we do, we claim ownership of our present and future. We need to feel empowered by that.”

The road to the future

One important long-term goal is to make FFF into a sustainable organization, meaning a group that will still be able to serve the community 20 years hence. Murphy describes FFF’s current status as a “developmental trajectory, as with a young child. We aren’t perfect, or formed, or knowledgeable or adept. We are evolving. The greatest gift our members and the community can give to us is to continue to support us as we find our proper place in the civic domain.

“We may not move at the speed that other people think that we should. Because of the diversity of our membership, and as that diversity is reflected on the Board of Directors, easy answers don’t happen for us. There is a lot of deliberation.”

She says that board members are discovering the difficult task of being “citizen-participants.”

She also says, “Life is really easy if you can simplify issues into good and bad, but the differences between the ‘good’ guys and the ‘bad’ guys are not always clear, and neither are the most feasible resolutions clear. Everyone that I talk to in town has a vision of Fayetteville as a desirable hometown. The task is to remain talking to each other long enough to arrive at some common principles. From there, solutions become possible.”

Ozark Gazette - February 9, 1998

rsdrake@cox.net

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