Kevin A. Smith is a former state senator and a co-owner of Smith Insurance Agency who was elected mayor of Helena-West Helena in November 2018 and took office January 1, 2019.
Smith represented nine counties in the Arkansas Senate, including Phillips County, leaving office due to term limits after 10 years. He was chairman of the Legislative Joint Audit Committee and chaired the subcommittee overseeing city government financial audits and reports. Smith worked for then-Gov. Bill Clinton (D-Ark.) at the staff level on issues facing the Delta region and served more than four years on the staff of then-U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) in Washington, D.C.
Smith is a 1980 graduate of Helena-West Helena Central High School, attended Arkansas State University and graduated with a B.A. from George Washington University.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing Helena-West Helena and how are you addressing these issues?
Like many Delta towns, we are challenged with a declining population and thus a diminishing tax base. This contributes to the challenges of attracting new industry and retaining a diverse business portfolio, which provides needed jobs. And all this contributes to our crime challenge.
While we continue to address these issues every day, Helena-West Helena also has a wide array of assets that bolster our efforts. The incredibly active Main Street Helena program creates activities for the entire community. Public and private investment in the restoration and revitalization of our historic downtown buildings set the stage for new businesses to move into the community and the A&P Commission’s beautification efforts lead the way for a more beautiful Helena-West Helena.
How is the city incorporating its cultural and historic assets—with particular focus on the blues—within its development strategies?
We continue to showcase and celebrate our city’s deep heritage of blues music through the broadcast of King Biscuit Time at the Delta Cultural Center. Our premier event, the King Biscuit Blues Festival, is celebrating its 34th year in 2019 and we’re introducing a new signature event as a tribute to native son Conway Twitty with the Delta Roots Country Festival.
In addition, we have also made investments to strengthen our Civil War tourism through the rehabilitation of several historic sites throughout the city.
What is the relationship between the county and city governments and what are some ways those two entities are working together for mutual benefit?
We work next to each other in Court Square so collaboration and communication are just as easy as walking across the hallway. We have partnered in the construction of the County Justice facility and are currently talking about the possible consolidation of dispatch for emergency services to create efficiencies in the system.
What role has the KIPP school program played in the redevelopment of downtown and what are some of the ancillary benefits of that program in the city?
The renovation of the KIPP school property paved the way for the overall improved aesthetic for our downtown district and thus prompted a renewed interest in additional public and private development. Several Teach for America teachers, who serve in the KIPP School, have also stayed beyond their commitment period and relocated to our city, providing great new energy in the effort to move Helena-West Helena forward.
How is Helena-West Helena supporting public events and what are some specific examples of direct alignment between the municipality and private production agencies working within the city?
We have incredibly strong local partnerships to produce the Delta Roots Festival that include the city of Helena-West Helena, the Advertising and Promotions Commission, Main Street Helena, Historic Helena Association, Chamber of Commerce, Delta Cultural Center, Arkansas Parks & Tourism, the Sonny Boy Blues Society and many more. In addition, our local volunteer corps greets visitors and provides tours from the American Queen and American Duchess steamboats.