Ward 1 Director Retires

Nabila Siddiqui, co-editor

 Last night at the Fort Smith City Board of Directors meeting, Director Keith Lau received a standing ovation to honor his eight years of service to the board. Following his roles as a planning commissioner for six years and city director for Ward 1, Lau plans to retire before the new year. 

   “I’m turning 60 on January 1st, and my kids are grown and they have their own lives and my wife and I, we want to just kind of slow down a little bit, get out of public service and move on, it’s time for new blood,” Lau said.

   After attending the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and majoring in finance and real estate, Lau initially worked as a loan officer. He then advanced into management, and eventually into owning and operating his own business, KCP Real Estate and Property Management. He credits these ventures for allowing him to create his extensive skill sets.

   “Being self-employed brings a different skill set to the table. I think there are a lot of small businesses in Fort Smith and if you haven’t sweated over making a payroll for your employees, then you don’t have that skill set of knowing how to come up with cash to do that,” Lau said.

   He felt compelled to enter civic service so he could expand the use of this skill set to give back to his community. 

   “Having grown up in Fort Smith being self-employed and being in the real estate business, and being on the Planning Commission I kind of found that I have certain skills to get things done…So I really felt an obligation or a civic duty to get out there and become a city director,” Lau said.

   As city director, Lau focused on maintaining a balance in the city. This balance consisted of creating value in the amenities and services citizens received for the bills they paid. Services such as health, safety, and welfare assistance as well as amenities like water park, Parrot Island. In his time as director, Lau oversaw an improvement in this balance through bringing in his business-like input. He mainly helped get the city financials in order relative to the revenues that the city brought in.

   “My role here would be creating a better accounting system, We’ve been through a lot of changes, we’ve gone through and completely changed the way that we budget our different funds, and we put in reserve requirements in those funds financial reserve requirements,” Lau said.

   The former director guided many business ventures for the city of Fort Smith. Some of which include industrial revenue bond packages with Gerber and Glatfelter to keep the companies from leaving. Then, during COVID, he waived tax revenues for the medical community. But, his single biggest accomplishment in his career as a director is creating a set of financial controls on city government to give benchmarks or key performance measures for the city, to help monitor its efficiency.

   “We’re looking at internal procedures, and we’re looking at how to save money, and how to account for the citizens’ money better. And we’ve created a lot more transparency in city government, and how we spend their money,” Lau said.

   Although his career consisted of many improvements to the city, it also consisted of some areas which he believes need improvement. Engaging citizens through social media proved to be one of these areas. Throughout his employment as a city director, Lau regularly attempted to engage with citizens through popular social media outlets like Facebook. Unfortunately, he feels this area remains unsuccessful due to negative reception of his attempts. 

   “It may go good for like, maybe two posts or three posts, and then somebody jumps in and throws a big negative spin on it…but anytime that there are positives put out there, then there are going to be two or three negatives you can come across,” Lau said. 

Lau remains optimistic in this field for his successor, Jared Rego. He believes Rego’s younger outlook will be advantageous for him with social media. But, he cautions Rego about difficulties of the job. These include making sure to be completely unbiased before making a decision, knowing when to recuse yourself because you have a conflict of interest, and taking extra time to learn how exactly the city and its funds operate. 

   “I really think it takes about a year to figure out what is going on in the city and how all of the different departments operate and how those function as an enterprise plan. You really just need to put in time to figure out how to acclimate to governmental accounting,” Lau said. 

  Although Lau affirms his love for his job, he wishes the best to Rego and now shifts his focus. In light of his years working and his age, Lau plans on reprising his role as city director. This does not, however, mean he plans to completely remove himself from the city government. Instead, it means he wants a less active role. 

   “I think that I’m going to serve next year on the executive board for the Chamber of Commerce. Under the economic development finance leadership group so I have influenced there…I’ll probably still be reviewing the big issues. And I see myself as being kind of a liaison, with my experience, between the board of directors and the city director city department heads and the city administrator and the mayor,” Lau said.

As a closing statement for his career in city government, Lau wishes for his legacy to be viewed as leadership that was unbiased, financially-driven, and humble.