Candidates answer questions at VFW forum
By LYNETTE SOWELL
Copperas Cove voters had the opportunity to hear from candidates running for both the Copperas Cove city council and the Copperas Cove Independent School District board of trustees during a forum held by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8577.
The first question asked of the council candidates was how they would inform citizens of intended changes to the city, such major projects such as the downtown Avenue D project, Business 190 median, and the changeover in utility management to FATHOM, and if they would include citizens in the decision.
Place 1 candidate Cheryl Meredith pointed to all the current avenues the city uses for releasing information.
“We really do have a lot out there already, to give people information about what’s going on in our city. The main thing is getting together, come to the meetings. The agenda is out there on Friday, so you can see it. If you can’t come in person, you can always watch on TV.” She said the city also issues press releases via its public information officer.
Place 1 candidate Joann Courtland said transparency in what the council is doing is paramount.
“There are 32,000 that live in this city. it’s about the citizens. I think they should know what’s going on in the city. I’ve noticed that the electronic footprint of the city has grown, via Facebook, the city’s website. I would encourage people to come to the meetings or at least watch on TV.” She said, short of putting something in everyone’s mailbox, which would be an expense, there is a lot of information out there, along with two newspapers in town that provide a lot of information.
Place 2 candidate Fred Chavez said that if there are other modes that the city is not using, he would ask that the citizens let the council know. He shared there is the city’s website, its Facebook, emergency notification system, and via the local television channel, as well as via utility bills. He also shared the idea of an ombudsman, with citizen volunteers who help get the information out.
Place 2 candidate James Pierce Jr. echoed similar thoughts like Facebook, newspapers and the website, and that if he came across information, he pushes it through his Facebook page. He also called the local newspapers a “really good place to go” for local news.
Mayor Frank Seffrood said communication is a double-edged sword, and that there are so many sources in the city, that he didn’t understand why someone doesn’t have the information they want.
“Let us know. If we’re well informed, we normally have a happier life. There’s nothing like being in the dark.”
Joe Acfalle also mentioned the city council meetings broadcast live and rebroadcasted, and available on the website, as well as local newspapers and social media, with the city’s public information officer distributing. He called sending notices via the mail to over 32,000 residents “cost ineffective.”
The next question came about where the candidates saw the need for changes in the city’s infrastructure and services.
Courtland said it comes down to what revenue is coming in that the city is able to expend.
“Knowing what I know in my work life, you have to be able to lay out a plan 5, 10, 15 years down the road. I know they have a capital improvement plan already where there are items to be worked on, like Pecan Cove Drive… but I do think we need to continue to grow and work on it.” She also suggested working with businesses to incentivize them to make improvements, working together with the EDC, the chamber, and the school district to have plan. “We all need to be in the same boat, padding the same direction.”
Chavez said the city needs to look at the plans in place, where the growth is taking place, and look at maintaining what it already has.
“It’s not just the new construction, also the maintenance and monitoring of that, because you run the risk of facing a massive outlay later down the road.”
Pierce said the council needs to look at developing the city as much as possible, getting more businesses in, bringing in more tax revenue, and that he is against raising property taxes at all, and the council has been successful for several years in a row not raising taxes coupled with city departments decreasing their budgets by 3 percent. He also said that growth needs to be encouraged on the west side of the city, and that it needs to figure out what to do with FATHOM with 13 years left on the agreement.
Seffrood said infrastructure projects should not be a patch, but a plan over time and that as things need to be fixed, they are fixed. “With a five-year budget plan, we forecast. That’s the best way to prevent an emergency situation.” He noted that with the north side sewer line which needed to be redone, the city staff farmed for and replaced it via “pipe bursting” instead of tearing up the streets, inserting new lines inside the old lines.
Acfalle said the city’s capital outlay plan is available for all to look at and available for citizens to address the council during open forum to speak on any of those items, to improve or make a change.
Meredith said there is a carefully formulated development plan, to be beneficial to the community, and that this can be achieved working with the EDC and the chamber of commerce to be able to assist them to encourage businesses to come to the area.
Over on the board of trustees’ side, current board of trustees’ member Mike Wilburn asked the candidates what changes they believe need to be made in CCISD.
Place 2 candidate Joseph Leary said new and younger faces on the board would provide a different perspective.
Place 2 candidate Shameria Ann Davis agreed with bringing in younger people.
“I do believe that we need younger parents in the community to have a voice.” With a master’s degree in public health, Davis said she also would recommend making changes to the child nutrition program, and she also feels that the district’s gifted and talented program could be enhanced.
Place 1 candidate Inez Faison said CCISD has the school of choice for central Texas and she’d like to think she had something to do with that.
“I believe that change can make a difference, but on the other hand, I believe what we have in place is a good thing,” Faison said.
Place 1 candidate John Gallen described himself as an out-of-the-box and independent thinker, and that he believes he can fit into the team.
“Bringing new voices, new faces, new ideas to an organization helps it. One new person isn’t going to be able to make a big change immediately.”
Another board member, Bob Weiss, posed a question to the candidates, about statements that people have made about teachers not having had a pay raise in years.
Davis said it was something she would be on her agenda to look into, should she be elected.
Faison said that contrary to popular belief, in the last six years, teachers have had pay raises every year except one. In 2017, there was no raise, but every staff member from janitor to superintendent received a one-time $1,000 bonus last fall.
Gallen said that next to the students, teachers were the district’s best resource.
“When you start talking pay, you start talking budgets,” he said. “Where does the school district get the money to increase the pay? Either from you the taxpayer, or from the state, and the emphasis needs to be with the state. If they can get school finance squared away, we’ll be better off.”
Leary , a former educator said it’s not necessarily the pay that draws in good teachers, but it really comes down to if educators like where they’re working, they feel comfortable, and the enjoy it, the pay can be in the middle. He said there are other ways without raising taxes or huge raises, by adding other incentives to keep teachers in the district.
City council candidates, to include candidates for mayor, Place 1, and Place 2 were present, save for mayoral candidate Azeita Taylor, who was out of town at the National Fire Academy. CCISD board of trustees candidates for places 1 and 2 were present, except for Place 2 incumbent Harry L. Byrd and candidate Jeffrey Gorres.
Cheryl Meredith and Joann Courtland are running for Place 1, and incumbent James Pierce Jr. and Fred Chavez running for Place 2. For the position of mayor, incumbent Frank Seffrood is facing both Joey Acfalle and Azeita Taylor.
In the race for Copperas Cove Independent School District board of trustees, Place 1 and Place 2 are up for election, with Place 1 incumbent Inez Faison facing challenger John Gallen.
The race for Place 2 is a four-way race, with incumbent Harry L. Byrd facing Joseph Leary, Shameria Ann Davis and Jeff Gorres.
Early voting starts next Monday and runs through Nov. 2.