EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of a two-part series of interviews with candidates for the District 3 seat on the Hot Springs Board of Directors.
Marcia Dobbs-Smith and Susan Jones are two of the four candidates running for the District 3 open seat on the Hot Springs Board of Directors.
The candidates spoke to The Sentinel-Record about how they would tackle three issues, if elected: The fate of the former site of the Majestic Hotel, which the city owns; whether the city should take action on a Confederate statue located on private land downtown; and how to fund repairs to the district's roads.
Dobbs-Smith, 64, owns Grand Lagniappe Shoppe. Jones, 63, works part-time as a florist at Flowers and Home, as an assistant at First Free Will Baptist Church, pastored by her husband, and as the manager of her family owned pumpkin patch.
As far as the Majestic Hotel property, Dobbs-Smith said she would like to have something that "celebrates" the thermal spring water available at the site, coinciding with retail and residential rental services.
"I would like to, at the very least, see no harm done to the water," Dobbs-Smith said. "I would love to see something that celebrates the water, not necessarily a public pool, but one of the drawings that I saw of a proposal showed a beautiful water feature. I would like to see probably a mix of retail; long-term and short-term rentals, meaning possibly hotel rooms, but also some available space for people to live because the more people that we have living downtown, the more vibrant our downtown is."
Jones said she would like to have something as "majestic" as the Majestic Hotel to "entice" certain people to come downtown.
"It's the end of the cul-de-sac, it's the end of the street, it needs to be something that epitomizes what Hot Springs is, and that's just a great place to get away, relax, take some hot baths, be in a spa," Jones said, adding that it "doesn't necessarily" need to be a fountain placed at the location.
"I would just love to see it become something used by the masses," she said. "But not necessarily an open-air park, because at that point in time we could just create another homeless shelter; because even though it wouldn't be that, legally, there's no way you could police it 24/7 to keep somebody from sleeping there or -- if you put a fountain or the wet pads that they put in all of them now -- bathing there and stuff like that."
While not located in District 3, the Confederate statue downtown became a polarizing issue citywide following the George Floyd protests.
Dobbs-Smith said it was a question of the city having to utilize its resources to protect a statue on privately owned land.
"It is a privately owned piece of property, but that privately owned piece of property is a very sensitive subject and whenever there are protests the city resources are called upon to protect that private property, and maybe we've come to the point where we need to think about that," Dobbs-Smith said. "Because it's private, I'm not sure I could take a city stance on it, but because the city has to protect it I think that if I'm elected to this job the city will have to make a decision on whether or not they're going to protect it."
"If we allow the government to take that land, and tell a private citizen what to do with it, are we really moving forward in a positive direction, or are we moving forward into our own destruction?" Jones said.
"I am not for the government telling people what they can do with private land, because when they can do that, they can come to my home and say, 'You can't put a campaign sign out in your yard,'" Jones said. "It leads to so many other things, and I have quite a few friends who are African American, and even when you talk to them, there's a variance of opinion. So I think that one is one of those things that you really would have to hear the discussion; the debate; in order to know whether or not that's what Hot Springs really wants to do.
"Does Hot Springs really want to take over private property and start telling people what they can and can't do with it? Because all races, I think, have an issue with that. We're in a country where that's not supposed to happen. Then the other side of it is, if they do go ahead and take it, what would we do? My -- if we got to that place -- my vote would be to find a place where the statue could be put in as history."
When it comes to repairing District 3's roads, both candidates agreed that something should be done.
Dobbs-Smith said she would advocate for better roads when the city's paving budget is involved, but noted that the major roads in District 3 are state highways and not "under the purview" of city directors.
Jones said she believes government funding would be an option to fund road repairs but is weary of the city imposing a "road tax."
"I don't even mind the road tax, as long as there's an end-date," Jones said. "I don't think that's our best way of doing it, because I think there's other ways that we wouldn't necessarily have to foot the whole bill for, and we need to look at those first, but the road tax that they're wanting to do now -- unending -- there's no checks and balances for that because as it goes along, people forget what it was for, and it kind of gets swept into -- as I understand, the way the last one was written, we gave away over a million dollars of that to something that had nothing to do with roads.
"Well, because now we're revoting on it, that should be an issue that we look at: Was it really spent to the best of its ability, and they knew they only had it for 10 years. Do we really want to hand them one that has no ending, has no checks and balance, has no I guess lifelong focus of being that?" Jones said. "Because it can be kind of faded away in one and moved into something else."