Fort Smith Director-at-Large, Position 5: Q&A with Christina Catsavis and Director Robyn Dawson

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 2,605 views 

Fort Smith City Director Robyn Dawson and challenger Christina Catsavis will once again face each other in the general election Nov. 8 for the Director-at-large Position 5 seat on the Fort Smith Board of Directors.

The duo ran along with Carl Nevin in a primary election Aug. 9, in  which no candidate received more than 50% of the votes. Catsavis received 960 of the 2,131 votes cast, Dawson garnered 680 and Carl Nevin, a 67-year-old small business owner and factory worker who also ran for the position, received 562 votes, according to the Sebastian County Clerk’s unofficial results.

Catsavis, 37, is the owner of The Smith Jewelry & Living and co-founder/Designer of Julep Jewelry Co. Dawson, 59, is the Educational Renewal Zone (ERZ) director at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and an Arkansas PLC specialist. She is the incumbent, having been voted into the position in November 2018.

The election is Nov. 8. Early voting began Oct. 24 and will continue through Nov. 7. Link here for more election info.

Talk Business & Politics sent questions – with answers to each question limited to 150 words – to the two candidates. Following are their responses:

What do you think the most important role of a city director is? How would you go about doing that?
Catsavis: To lead and represent the community. This is why it is so important to elect a leader who shares your fundamental values. A lot of candidates talk about leadership but I believe you can’t lead effectively unless you are taking steps to ensure that your decisions are representative of the community who elected you. I am out in the community; talking to people, taking their questions and listening to their concerns. There needs to be a continuous dialog between the citizens and the city government. I also believe that when you are elected to serve you have to make the tough decisions and be ready to explain your decision process, even if that means disrupting the status quo. Aside from individual citizens there are many organizations here who are working to make Fort Smith an even greater place to live. They don’t always have a direct connection with city leadership, and I hope to serve as a liaison and bridge that gap. I am someone who holds myself to a high level of accountability, and that’s why I believe I am the right candidate for this position.

Dawson: The role of the City Director is multifaceted. Foremost, it is about servant leadership. It is about being an advocate for community members needing to maneuver through the city government system to get things done and solve problems. Additionally, we are the policy makers for the city. We must ensure that any decisions we make consider input from community residents, so it’s crucial to stay informed about current issues and opportunities.
Directors must be transparent and operate ethically at all times. One of the most concerning issues in this race is that you potentially could have two sitting directors from the same immediate family making crucial decisions about the city. If my opponent were to be elected, she and her father would have almost 30% of the power of the vote. I have heard this concern time and time again. and I agree. There is also a question of FOIA. Board members are not allowed to be together unless the press has been notified to maintain transparency for the public of all things the board may vote on. How could this possibly work with two members of an immediate family on the board?

Christina Catsavis

What should be the board of directors priority or priorities in 2023?
Catsavis: The consent decree is certainly a priority. The estimated cost of upgrades and repairs has gone from approximately $480 million, to the latest figures estimating the cost at $650 million or more. I am not afraid of the challenges ahead of us including the consent decree, we need to continue our efforts to adjust the consent decree so that future projects can be accomplished efficiently. We also need to ensure that the city is granted more time to work on needed improvements. Also, securing the Foreign Military Sales Record of Determination of Fort Smith/Ebbing Air Base as the location of the FMS F-35 training program, with an estimated economic impact of $800 million to $1 billion, this needs to be a high priority for city leadership.

Dawson: In the Strategic Planning Day that was held in August 2022, the board prioritized the issues we wanted to address. Among those chosen by the current board and myself are infrastructure including water supplies, economic development and retention and planning for the current large projects that the current board is attempting to secure, namely the I40/I49 project and the Foreign Military Sales Program potentially coming to Ebbing National Guard Base.

Fort Smith City Director Robyn Dawson

And priorities over the next five years?
Catsavis: Economic development, we need to work closely with our representatives on the local and federal level to make sure Fort Smith is at the top of the list when new opportunities arise. We need to ensure infrastructure reliability in regards to technology and streamline processes to make implementation of the City’s Technology plan as smooth as possible. Some exciting new projects include: Enterprise transition of the three systems at Utilities, Transit, and Sanitation into a single database to improve accessibility, reporting, standardization and operational efficiency.

Dawson: Over the next five years, we will be working toward the current project of securing water to south Fort Smith. It is a large and costly project, but absolutely necessary. Water rates are something we need to continuously improve and of course, satisfying the Consent Decree.
These are all things that will need strong leaders in place to be certain our community is
advancing and thriving.

What needs to be done for those priorities?
Catsavis: Continuing the implementation of the Future Fort Smith Comprehensive Plan is necessary. The plan is intended to be a working document that can be regularly reviewed and then amended and updated as needed, especially as elements of the plan are implemented. Of course, none of these priorities can be accomplished without open and transparent communication with the public.

Dawson: Having the right people on the board is key. I have worked hard to help make Fort Smith a better place in the last four years. I am hoping to continue working for Fort Smith residents for the next four years. It’s a vote for experience, leadership, and integrity.