In sister cities, rivalry moves beyond gridiron
TEXARKANA, Ark. — The rivalry between two sister cities on the Texas-Arkansas border used to play out between high school football teams and fans who delighted in taunting the opposing side.
Lately, the competition between Texarkana, Ark., and Texarkana, Texas, has widened beyond the gridiron into everyday life.
City leaders on either side of the state line have been squabbling over tourism dollars, sewage treatment and other issues that probably could be resolved with little fuss in many other parts of the country.
The rivalry seems to know no bounds. When a developer decided to build a convention center in one town, the other side made plans to erect one, too — even though the two facilities will be just a few miles apart.
“It can kind of be harmless from the perspective of the football game or just some petty bickering,” said geographer Michael Glass, who lectures about urban studies at the University of Pittsburgh. “But when it comes to putting tax dollars on the line by trying to have competing convention centers, you've got to ask yourself, ‘Has it gone too far?'”
The two Texarkanas — with names forged from Texas, Arkansas and nearby Louisiana — have managed to work together over the years, even though they function as separate cities. They have their own police forces and fire departments, but they share an airport, a federal building and wastewater treatment plants.
Residents of both towns cross into the other every day for work, school and shopping.
Of course, the two cities have had disagreements in the past. “But they always worked them out in fairly short order,” said Bill King, the water utility's executive director.
That began to change a few years ago. Personalities clashed after former Superintendent Larry Sullivan took over as Texas' city manager in 2007 and rubbed folks on the Arkansas side the wrong way with a leadership style some saw as controlling.
The current mayor, N. Wayne Smith, said he won't even sit down with Sullivan.
“If no one's willing to sit down and talk with you about how to solve a problem, it's next to impossible to be able to come to any kind of agreement,” said Sullivan, who is retiring at the end of the month.
Everything's bigger in Texas
As if to fit a stereotype, the Texas side is slightly bigger, with some 36,000 residents, compared with 30,000 on the Arkansas side. The Texas city also is more developed, offering strip malls, chain restaurants and car dealerships — advantages that lead some people on the Lone Star side to downplay the competition with their Arkansas neighbors, much as an older sister would insist there's no rivalry with her younger sibling.
“I don't see the competitiveness of the Arkansas side,” said Skipper Lumpkin, a retired first grade teacher on the Texas side. “Texas' side is the one that's got all the shops and all. About all Arkansas' side has is Walmart.”