Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce Holds Political Forum for City Council, Mayoral Candidates
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce held a political forum for the candidates and incumbents running for City Council as well as the Mayoral race in the council chambers at the Technology Center Thursday evening.
The forum began just after 5:30 p.m., with each candidate getting a chance to make opening remarks before the questions portion began, where each candidate was asked three questions by the Chamber of Commerce and then were given the chance to answer any questions directly fielded from the audience.
Present at the forum included Place 1 incumbent and running unopposed Joann Courtland; Place 2 incumbent and also running unopposed Fred Chavez; Place 3 candidates Shawn Alzona and Scott Remalia; and current Place 3 councilmember and Mayoral candidate Dan Yancey. Not present were Mayoral Candidate Devin Meadows or Place 3 candidate William Smith.
The forum was held in person with the opportunity for people to tune in via a Zoom link shared on the Chamber’s Facebook page. Yancey and Remalia both participated in the forum through Zoom.
Copperas Cove Mayoral Candidate
Despite some technical difficulties at the beginning of the forum, the forum eventually got underway, starting with Yancey’s opening statement.
“I've served our city for six years on City Council, and for the last four years, as Mayor Pro Tem,” Yancey said. “After the passing of Mayor Frank Seffrood in late 2018, I discharged the duties of Mayor for four months until a special election was held, and our current mayor, Bradi Diaz took office in May 2019. The mayor's responsibilities are primarily to preside at council meetings and represent the city on the local, regional, state and national levels. It is a duty, I take very, very seriously. I've given the last four decades continually serving our community in various capacities working to make Copperas Cove and our region a better place to live, work and play, to include the United Way, Fort Hood Area Communities in Schools and the fort Hood Area Habitat for Humanity. I served on the Copperas Cove EDC and served on many other boards in our area throughout that 40-year span. My service to our community has equipped me with the tools to be your representative on the local, regional, state and national levels. Copperas Cove deserves the best. A cohesive bond of the mayor with a strong Council, a great city manager and a hardworking staff combined with EDC and Chamber activity enhance a bright future ahead for the city. I'm asking for your vote to help me fulfill a bright future ahead.”
Yancey’s first question to answer was: What does the future look like for the children of our community, and how can the city make their future great?
“I think there's a number of things that are underway, and things that we need to continue. I think we've worked pretty hard to get things aligned within the city that helps us to be more productive and to be able to have a good response to growth,” Yancey said. “We passed a comprehensive Subdivision ordinance that took two years to go through- it's literally line by line- to make sure that anything that was in there should be in there and anything that didn’t taken out. The sign ordinance was passed. We are tackling the building code now with all the different trades, and I think all those things make it easier for us to work with the builder/developer community, and to grow our community. We’ve got two choices- we’re growing or we’re dying, so we need to be prepared, and we need to look long range and figure out exactly what we need to do to make a better future.”
The next question for Yancey was: if elected, what three steps would you take to put our city on a firmer financial footing?
Yancey said that he felt the previous city manager as well as the current city manager, Ryan Haverlah, have done a pretty good job with the city’s finances to put the city in a good financial situation.
“Really, at the end of the day, this is about a situation as far as roof tops are concerned, and it's always the chicken or the egg,” Yancey said. “Rooftops are going to drive more commercial business. Those services are demanded, and those are going to come in, and I think a couple of different things that we do is work extremely hard on obtaining more land for economic development- that is a key for us for the future. We have got to be able to tap into what's going on in Fort Hood, what's going on the north end of Austin. Their creek is coming our way that we need to be prepared for that we need to, but if we don't have the land to be able to do that, to be able to take care of those potential employers to come in, it’s not a good thing.”
The final question for Yancey was: Do you think our downtown is healthy and successful; if not, what would you do to change that?
“That is a conundrum. One of the things we’ve got to do, and we work with TxDOT on a number of different levels in trying to come up with some transportation issues, solve some transportation issues so you're not going all the way through downtown, that we get some traffic eased off of that downtown district, then I think that can be revitalized,” Yancey said. “The way that it is right now, it doesn't work very well. I can tell you that we've worked two or three different avenues. The city manager’s been working with TxDOT, coming up with a couple of different solutions, and I think we're making some headway on potentially getting some kind of a route that does not take traffic coming from the north all the way through downtown.”
There were no questions from the audience for Yancey.
City Council Candidates
The city council candidates then each made their opening remarks.
Place 2 incumbent Fred Chavez said that despite running unopposed, he still really wanted the people’s vote.
“Service is an important thing to me, and continuing to serve as a councilman, is one of my greatest ambitions,” Chavez said. “I think there's a lot of work to be done. Many of the things that Mr. Yancey talked about, many of the questions, they're very relevant. Downtown is in a state of flux. It presents us with an opportunity to do some revitalization. I think that every challenge is an opportunity, and by approaching it from a point of fear or trepidation only lead helps us to miss an opportunity. I think it's important that we look at what's going on downtown, the transition that's happening, and seize upon that opportunity to do some revitalization. This is not something that can be a top-down government-pushed kind of affair. It needs to be something that is grassroots-working with business owners, working with landowners, working with the chamber and the EDC and the city combined to come up with a solution. This is our city, not just the council’s city. It's important that we work together, and that's something that I've prided myself on is to try to be amiable and helpful and I hope to continue to do that in this next go.”
Place 1 incumbent Joann Courtland also said she wanted the people’s vote.
“I believe in service to our community. We are a great community, and we need to continue with that and know that this should be open dialogue,” Courtland said. “It's not just my community; it's our community, and this is where I went to high school, this is where I joined the military, this is where a lot of things in my life started, and I just want to make it the best place it can be. We need to get together and work with the Chamber, with the EDC. We need to be in that one ship paddling all in the same direction, and that's what I would like to continue working on for these next three years.”
Place 3 Candidate Scott Remalia shared that he had had been in Copperas Cove since 2018. He grew up in Houston and then joined the military, working in government service for almost 40 years total before moving back to Texas.
“My life has been about service, and what I would like to do, as Mrs. Courtland and Mr. Chavez talked about was to serve this community,” Remalia said. “The council is made up of seven members along with the city staff, but it is elected by the people. This is the People's Council, and I would like to serve as your representative on the City Council.”
Place 3 Candidate Shawn Alzona has lived in Copperas Cove for approximately 15 years, of which the last three have been spent serving on the city’s Quality of Life Advisory Board under the Parks and Recreation Department.
“Through my time on that board, I really got to see things from a different perspective. I for one took quality of life for granted as a citizen,” Alzona said. “As I said, I lived for 15 years and I didn't stay involved that entire 15 years, but over the last three years I have been involved, and it got me back, and willing to be more engaged with my community and get back to a community that has done so much for my family. I still have school aged children right now in this city- that matters to me. The community matters to me, the parks matter to me. The quality life. What it all comes down in the end is that it's quality life for everybody, whether it's infrastructure, whether it's paying your water bill. It all comes down to quality of life, and I want to help grow this community economically, so that we can have better things for our families. What your families have and do is just as important to me as what my families can do.”
The first question for the Place 3 candidates was: Based on last weekend’s Women’s March, how would you vote if Planned Parenthood or another abortion provider wanted to open a facility here in Cove?
Remalia said that he is pro-life, but that he also understands there are issues with that.
“I have looked at and read and studied the bill that was passed by the legislature. I am a father and grandfather. I'm also a Christian, and so life matters to me, but I understand too that there are issues that come along with a woman being pregnant,” Remalia said. “I would not have an issue with them wanting to open a clinic, but they would have to follow the laws that have been passed by the state legislature.”
Alzona also mentioned the laws that have been passed that affect what can and cannot be done legally.
“I believe in freedom, and I don't believe that freedom allows me to take someone else's freedom,” Alzona said. “So, I guess I would support it, if that's the answer to answer the question, but that's why is because freedom is for us all to be free, but that doesn't give me the freedom to remove someone else's freedom.”
The next question for the candidates was: With resource considerations, with what partners and strategies are you considering to engage our community in health and wellness?
“Reviewing the comprehensive plan that we have and also looking at the parks and recreation issues that are going on and the improvements and ideas that are moving, I think, along with what they're doing, that will help bring us the health and wellness for the city, along with having additional activities for the residents to have,” said Remalia. “We're putting in that the sidewalk. There can be a walking park, there can be tennis courts, improvements to the city pools- all these will benefit the residents of the city, but we also have to be mindful of the resources and the financial constraints that come along with that, but the comprehensive plan that has been passed has some very good ideas. I would look at that as a guidepost on how we can improve the health and wellness of the community.”
Alzona said that his intent, whether he is involved in the community as a member of the Quality of Life board or as a councilmember, is to be an advocate for the community
“Actively seek out organizations, businesses, companies to come and provide that revenue to our city,” Alzona said. “With that, just economic prosperity, we'll be able to do more with what we’ll gain. I've done that prior to my ever consideration of running for election. We'll see where it goes. It's not a short game, it's a long game, but partnerships I would seek out are with industries that could bring quality jobs, and I mean quality but more mass of jobs. Mom and pop locations are great. I love them. I love to support our local businesses. It would be great to get manufacturing or something here in the city to support 100 jobs or 200 jobs, and then recoup that sales revenue, and then, you know give members of our community good paying jobs that’s not service industry based or something like that.”
The final question from the Chamber for the candidates was: What experiences or qualifications do you bring to the office that will benefit the city?
Remalia said that he would look to his time spent in the military and as a defense contractor and in government service- all of which total nearly 40 years.
“We do so many different jobs and missions and duties, when you're in that type of service, in government and military, and so what I bring is a strong work ethic, attention to detail, very mindful of research, looking at past history, talking to folks and just bringing a different perspective from living in different locales, to bring different solutions to those issues to the city, but it's those experiences that I've had in those 39 years that will help benefit, in my opinion, the city,” Remalia said.
Alzona said he would begin with his involvement and engagement and commitment to the community over the years as a volunteer.
“I think if you were able to sit in the Quality of Life board meeting and hear some of the projects we've got going on and some of the ideas that are happening, you’d really be impressed, and I'm really proud of the work that that board’s done,” Alzona said. “I also served in the military, and I've been in leadership roles for over 20 years, and I understand how to lead through consensus and compassion and empathy, not just direction. You have to build relationships. That's how anything and everything is done. I am definitely not the smartest person in the room, and my very close friends will make sure you're aware of that, but we have experts in the city. We have experts on the staff and building consensus and including them in decision making and earning buy in, these are things that I do on a regular basis.”
Questions from the Audience
The city council candidates then fielded questions from the audience, with the first question coming from Joey Acfalle, who asked how the candidates would better support the city’s first responders, especially during a time when the city is growing and other cities across the nation are considering defunding their police departments.
Fred Chavez answered the question first.
“Supporting our first responders requires a number of things that we have to take into consideration,” Chavez said. “The first thing I think we have to do is make sure they have the resources that they need. That's tools and equipment and training, that we fund that fully as much as we can. Secondly, at every juncture possible, we need to make sure that they're fully staffed, and they're able to answer the calls that they need to. There's a huge challenge with EMT calls and having enough people to respond without having to reach out to our brothers and sisters in Killeen and Lampasas to support us. That is something that is an ongoing challenge, it's something that we need to tackle, and it's a matter of having enough resources to fully man that. The second thing that I think is critical is that we have to look at the growth that we're doing and understand that state law really helps us up when it comes to annexation and expansion. There is not a lot we can do unless that annexation is voluntary and let me tell you right now, I'm a supporter of that. I think it's important that if someone wants to be a part of the city that we can do that. In summary, I support, first responders, police, fire. I think it's something that we rely on greatly, and unfortunately it's quite expensive, and we really need to work hard to find that money every chance we get.”
Joann Courtland said she agreed with Chavez.
“I see us continuing to do the work that we're doing to ensure those resources are there,” Courtland said. “When it comes to our first responders that is our number one priority to make sure the health or welfare and safety of our entire community is a huge priority, but it comes at a cost as we all know, but I see the council working and striving very hard to put that as the number one priority. It's very hard to prioritize when everything is important, but we just need to continue to know that they need the resources, they need our backing, they need our support, and for the next three years, I want to give that support, because we know it's important; we know we are growing. We know we need another fire station, so we want to set the conditions so we can meet the growth head on and be able to take care of our citizens.”
Scott Remalia said that with the growth the city is facing in the future, an increased police and fire presence is definitely needed.
“As you look at the resources that we do have this does need to be a priority. As has been stated, it’s hard to make this a priority when everything's important but those are the hard choices that the council has to make,” Remalia said. “Go out and stop a police officer and tell him thank you for what he's been doing. Stop and thank an EMT, talk to your firefighters, but this has to be one of the most important projects or goals of the council to make sure that we do have a fully funded, fully staffed, fully educated first responder force in the city. I don't think anybody here will say that we are not going to support them or defund them. No- exact opposite. We will definitely support and thank those men and women who do that job on a daily basis.”
Shawn Alzona said he was in complete agreement that defunding police or first responders shouldn’t even be on the table.
“As we grow, we will grow, and problems grow with that, and yes, the first responder force needs to grow with it, and it's up to us to determine how to budget for that because we have to. We have to have it, and we have to pay for it,” Alzona said.
James Pierce asked about the park bathrooms, which he said have been undergoing a renovation/replacement process and have been in the process of trying to be repaired for the past six years.
Remalia said that this boils down to contractors and the changes in contracts.
“If you look at the comprehensive plan and look at the Parks and Rec portion of that, there is a great plan on what they're doing to try to improve, specifically the restrooms because I've only been here three years, and I've noticed, though, we now have temporary restrooms there in place of what should be complete restrooms,” Remalia said. “What needs to happen, I think, is we really need to pay attention on the contract side, make sure those contractors adhere to a timeline, make sure that we also have budgeted for those issues and for those improvements that we want to have, specifically for the restroom which is as we all know a very specific quality of life piece when you have a lot of people participating in sports and also going through the park and doing their daily activities.”
Alzona said the process is an iterative process that has to be done sequentially. He added that when he first joined the Quality of Life board, the Parks Director Jeff Stoddard was also fairly new in his position and had to get a grasp on the situation and understand the problem to find and work towards a solution.
The final question from the audience came from Marjorie Perez who asked about what the city could do to address the deficits in the fire and EMS personnel, such as partnering with the schools to offer a way to keep students in the area for a career.
Chavez explained that this is something Fire Chief Michael Neujahr has undertaken approximately two years ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on it.
“He's been in talks ongoing with Central Texas College as well as some folks in Killeen, prior to COVID, when he was working on, and I'm giving him credit because this was his push,” Chavez said. “He's one of these process and innovation kind of people, so he approached Central Texas College just to ask them could we institute a program with high school students which they are doing in other communities, to train firefighters to start up on early and bring them on to get them through the process. The issue with COVID really derailed that a great deal. There was also some, some issues with some training agreements that were going on with Killeen. That isn't completely dead- it's not completely over. There’s still a possibility. It’s that kind of innovative thinking and process that we're encouraging, and it's important that these ideas- they're not coming from the council, they're coming from staff.”
In his closing remarks, Chavez said that it is important, especially during this time post COVID “that we stay committed to our community, and we come together toward positive resolutions, and, and let's not fall into the trap of fighting amongst each other, plight and fixing blame instead of fixing the problem.”
In her closing remarks, Courtland said that she wants to make her home better, for everyone, not just for the city council and city staff.
In his closing remarks, Remalia said that he chose Copperas Cove as his place to retire and become his home, so he wants to continue to serve.
In his closing remarks, Alzona said that what happens in Copperas Cove is important to him because it affects him and his family, just as it does everyone else.
“We have a great community, and everything is not broken,” Alzona said. “The sky is not falling. We don't need to jump up and try to figure out how to fix everything, but we can make things better, and that's my goal.”
Early voting for the General and Special Elections starts October 18 and ends October 29, 2021, with Election Day on November 2.