Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce holds candidate forum, early voting starts Tuesday
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce held a candidate forum Monday evening for candidates running in national, state and city races.
The forum was held at the Copperas Cove Independent School District administration building on S. Main Street, with limited in-person occupancy and was broadcast live on the Chamber’s Facebook page.
Each candidate had two minutes to give an opening statement before answering questions and then finishing with a two-minute closing statement.
Gary Kent is a military veteran, former Police Chief of Nolanville, currently a senior pastor and works for the Bell County Sheriff’s Department. Kent also served previously on the City Council from 2010 to 2015 before resigning to run for mayor.
“My goal is to help Copperas Cove go from good to great, and some of the things that are really pressing are the issues that affect us all, and that’s healthcare and jobs,” Kent said.
Terri Deans previously ran for City Council place 7. She moved with her husband and their daughters to Texas in 2003 to work for Fort Hood.
“We fell in love the minute we got here,” Deans said about Copperas Cove. “We have not changed our feelings about it. If anything, it’s grown even better for us. We love our city. We’re proud to be here.”
Deans finished raising her daughters in Copperas Cove and said she loves nothing more than talking about this city.
“I call it ‘the Little City with the Big Heart,’ because by golly, we do have a big heart,” Deans said. “We support each other. We support our military.”
Deans said she felt the city needed to start working together more cohesively and stop with “backstabbing” and “taffy-pulling”.
Vonya Hart moved to Cove originally in 1998 with her husband, Retired Sgt. 1st Class James Hart and their three children and then back again in 2004.
Two of Hart’s children have graduated from Copperas Cove High School, while the third is still a student in the district. Hart lost her husband in 2014 to cardiovascular disease.
“It was the community that came together to support me. It was the people at the school districts that were able to let me laugh,” Hart said. “It was my neighbors who helped me be able to just to drop off my kids at the school. So, when this opportunity came, I just felt it was right for me to go ahead and to be able to try to find a way so I can just pay it forward.”
Hart has her master’s degree in counseling and bachelor’s degree in psychology and works as a military family life counselor.
Marc Payne moved with his wife to Copperas Cove in 1976. He got involved with working on several committees before being appointed by the mayor to the Downtown Association Committee. He also worked for the EDC and Board of Adjustments. He first ran for council four years ago but lost, and again three years ago, when he was elected.
“Since I’ve been on council, I realize how much it is that we cannot get accomplished sometimes because of the rules and constraints that are set upon us, but I would like to continue a lot of the programs that we’ve started,” Payne said.
Copperas Cove’s downtown
The first question for the candidates asked if they thought the Main Street downtown was welcoming and successful.
Payne said no, and that the original Main Street was designed 150 years ago for commerce which is not done the same way now in 2020.
Hart said that she did not think it was welcoming. Upon a recent visit to the area, Hart said that looking at the buildings in the area, it felt abandoned.
Kent said he did feel the downtown area was welcoming but it could be better and needs more businesses.
Deans said she did not feel it was welcoming or successful.
“While it has come a long way in 17 years, progress has been extremely slow,” Deans said. She added that the downtown area is not traffic friendly nor is it pedestrian friendly.
Getting citizens involved
The next question asked how the candidates plan to involve residents in the decision-making process in Copperas Cove.
Hart said she felt it is important to be able to speak with residents about the process in regards to the city council meetings, adding that showing them the city’s webpage would help out.
Kent said he felt that the time that council holds their meetings isn’t conducive to residents and their schedules. He suggested a 7 p.m. meeting.
“A lot of citizens want to be involved but can’t be involved because of the time,” Kent said.
For Deans, it was about being there for the residents.
“To be the voice for those who cannot speak, to be the ears for the those who cannot hear and to be the courage for those who cannot stand up,” Deans said. “If you don’t stand up for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
Payne said he is always available by phone and is very responsive. He also pointed to the town halls held previously and mentioned the new audio/visual upgrades to the council chambers that the council voted on during the regular meeting Tuesday.
Helping local small businesses during pandemic
When asked about how she would assist the small business owners recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic disaster, Deans said she has always felt that “a prepared community is a resilient community.”
Part of that preparation includes knowing who one is doing business with, Deans added.
“I’ve seen one small business after the other fold and go away, and it kills me to have to give my hard-earned money to Killeen and Harker Heights because I can’t find and can’t get what I want right here with our small mom-and-pop businesses,” Deans said. “I would ask the realtors that own these businesses to please take a good look at the money coming in. Take a good look at your hearts and your conscience. Are you raising the rent on your tenant so high that they feel like they can’t make their business profitable and they have to leave? What can you do to help them stay?”
Most important issues to candidates -
On the most important issue as a candidate, Payne said he felt the city’s fiscal responsibility was the most important, with making sure the city has enough money to cover costs without overspending and that it doesn’t borrow so much money to pass to the next generation.
“We have a really good handle on what our expenses are now, and I would like to continue to work on that and keep it in check,” Payne said.
For Hart, communication is the most important issue.
“I would love to be able to be part of those conversations that build bridges between the entities of Cove, the citizens and also the council,” Hart said. “I believe that is very important to have healthy conversations, ones that are going to promote and empower, not to hinder.”
Kent said he felt that jobs are one of the main things.
“Not only jobs, they go right along with our infrastructure,” Kent said.
Kent said he dedicates himself to listening to the people of Copperas Cove and to their concerns about education and fears about healthcare.
“The citizens of Copperas Cove want a better place to live in and a better place for these jobs,” Kent said. “Talking is over. It is time to get to work. Your feely good stuff is enough.”
For Deans, the most important issue is the lack of industry and lack of jobs paying more than service wages.
“We cannot possibly expect positive growth in our city if the only thing we have to offer is another house, another subdivision and more property being given away almost literally because of these subdivisions. We can’t expect to grow if we don’t have something for the people to come here for.”
Early voting begins October 13 and runs through October 30. Election Day is November 3. Early voting takes place at the Copperas Cove Civic Center.