Candidates appear at final forum before election
By LYNETTE SOWELL
Candidates for the Copperas Cove city council and the Copperas Cove Independent School District board of trustees had one more chance to answer questions in a citizens’ forum.
This forum, the third held by a local group, was held on Saturday at the VFW Post 8577. Eight of the 10 candidates running for office were present.
In the race for Copperas Cove city council place 7, John A. Hull, E. Marc Payne, along with Danny Palmer are vying for the spot presently held by George Duncan. All three have varying amounts of experience in volunteering for the city, with both Hull and Palmer having held public office before and Payne bringing knowledge of the city’s workings as a volunteer to the table.
Palmer gave his introduction and was the first of the candidates to bring up proposition A on the November 7 ballot, if the city should create a municipal development district, or MDD.
“The issue of the EDC versus the MDD is a huge question. The citizens voted on the EDC and it should stay that way until the citizens decide differently. The facts have not been entirely released. I say no to the MDD vote, simply because there are no facts for you and I to look at. There are facts they want to put out there, but we have not seen a difference.”
Palmer also addressed “the water issue” of the transition to FATHOM Water Systems for city utility management, saying the city administration is or should be responsible for resolving any and all problems between the citizens and the contractor.
“I don’t see how the city can say, ‘Oh, that’s the contractor’s job – see ya!’ We buy the water, they’re supposed to meter and bill us for it so we pay for the water and we pay for the means to deliver it. Bringing in problems between the citizens and the contractor, I believe someone in the city is responsible to help us with the problem. Just telling us to call them the phone isn’t good. Been there done it, and it don’t work!”
E. Marc Payne introduced himself and talked about his experience on a number of city boards.
“I am well experienced in permits, sign ordinance changes, construction, changing building codes, inspectors, trying to open a business, taxes, traffic studies, and a slew of other things citizens run up against.”
Payne mentioned issues to include increased traffic downtown with the growth in the community on the north side and whether the residents’ billing experiences with FATHOM will affect home sales.
“Every time you turn around, a city office is located somewhere else, the city just bought or rented another building, built another city council chamber, or started another project with unknown consequences. We need a breath.”
Payne said he is running because he is not comfortable with the current state of affairs in the city and called for voters to vote against the MDD, or municipal development district, calling the EDC “our future.”
For city council place 8, challenger Charlie Youngs and incumbent Matthew Russell dispensed with their personal introductions and squared off against each other immediately during their opening three-minute statements.
Youngs was previously on the council twice and made no bones about the fact that he wasn’t happy at all with the present council’s actions over the past three years.
“The council, our city manager and staff have pretty much destroyed and alienated the chamber (of commerce), the EDC. They’ve raised taxes and generally alienated and ticked off just about everybody in town, and done away with what I feel is the harmony we had within these groups – with the city council, the school board, the Industrial Foundation, and the chamber. I would like to reestablish that harmony.”
Youngs said during the three years he was on the council from 2009-2012, the city maintained a tax rate of 76 cents per $100.
“It’s important we bring back this harmony. The entire system we have now is a dysfunctional system. No one is listening to the citizens and we don’t seem to be going in the right direction. We’ve destroyed the chamber (of commerce). Just recently the military affairs group, going on for 50 years started by Ed Rhode, when the council cut off funding from the chamber, they could no longer function. They just had an event the other night for the first time in more than a year.” He also spoke up in favor of the council restoring funding to the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance, saying their funds had been “cut off.”
Russell used his three minutes to respond to Youngs’ opening statement, first stating the council has not raised the tax rate in the last three years.
“Next year – we just got finished up looking at the ’18-’19 budget – we are looking to decrease taxes. So you’ve got to have your facts straight on this thing,” Russell said.
He also said Youngs made three “false statements” at prior forums, that the city council is trying to destroy the chamber of commerce, that it is trying to destroy the Economic Development Corporation and that the city council is trying to destroy the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance. Russell specifically addressed the chamber of commerce issue. Russell said nonprofits make their pitches to the city council for funds during the budget months of July, August, and September, laying their budgets “out to the nickel” for how they plan to spend the money.
“The chamber of commerce doesn’t do that. The chamber of commerce refuses to do that. They want $140,000 of your money, your tax money, and not tell you how they’re going to spend it. It’s basics. We all learned it when we were young: accountability, accountability, accountability. My opponent wants to go back to the old days where you just give people money without accountability.”
When the candidates were asked if they were for or against the MDD, Payne said he was against it due to the lack of transparency with an MDD, stating that there is nothing like having state-mandated reporting of an EDC when it comes to keeping track of public funds. He said the MDD was more about making the city look “pretty,” and that making things pretty and nice that improve the quality of life doesn’t bring in tax dollars. He said the EDC’s director can use that “seed money” and bring in companies that employ several hundred and pay $15-$25 an hour, the city will get “reimbursed quicker.”
Danny Palmer said the EDC is in the business of selling property, getting developers to develop, and going from there.
“That’s the purpose of the EDC, and that’s the reason for the EDC as opposed to the MDD.” Palmer also gave the example of the EDC’s former “spec building” which became Cinergy Cinemas.
Hull said the EDC hasn’t accomplished much of anything in its 20-25 years.
“They’ve spent a lot of our taxpayer money, and really, when they talk about reporting, any time you have tax money I can assure you it’s got to have a trail. You don’t spend taxpayer money without having a trail,” Hull said. “I don’t care whether it’s school, city or county, you’ve got to have a trail of tax money. Believe me, the state will be right on top of that. Yes, let’s at least give the MDD a try. If we don’t do anything, we can always go back to EDC.”
Matt Russell spoke in favor of the MDD, saying it is a less restrictive way, giving more flexibility and options for cities to draw businesses in, and said the MDD would have the same bylaws.
Youngs, opposite of Russell, was not in favor of the MDD at all, calling the MDD “evil” and the EDC “good,” stating that the MDD has “no checks and balances” like the EDC has, reporting back to the state.
“I feel that the MDD will be nothing more than a city council/city manager slush fund. No checks and balances. You can put in parks, whatever you want to.”
School board candidates speak
On the CCISD board of trustees’ side, retired colonel Jeff Gorres is challenging incumbent Bob Weiss for place 5, for a term that ends in November 2019. Weiss was not present, but a friend read Weiss’ opening statement for him. Weiss is a retired educator and school administrator who worked for 26 years in the district.
Gorres served 26 years in the military, and said he and his wife decided to retire to Copperas Cove when that time came. He has students enrolled at the elementary, junior high and high school level in CCISD. Gorres cited his volunteer experience with PTA, booster clubs, and also his administrative experience related to military service.
“Elections at the end of the day are about choice, the choice to remain the same team, keep the status quo, or bring a new perspective to the organization,” said Gorres, stating also that he would bring a “new perspective” to the board and would to ensure “equitable impact across all departments, especially as it concerns budgeting resources.”
In place 6, longtime incumbent Jim Copeland faces challenger John Gallen, a retired CCISD educator. Both agreed that with Copperas Cove’s growth, there likely will need to be a new school built on the north side of the community. Copeland said that with the way the district’s financial outlook is going, by 2025 the district would be out of debt and could possibly pay for a new school out of the fund balance, as it did with House Creek Elementary or the district could also call for a bond for any new school, without raising taxes.
In the case of the candidates present, all agreed on Saturday that one of the biggest issues CCISD faces is the loss of Federal Impact Aid, of which the district has lost millions over the past three years.
Challengers Gorres and Gallen are hoping to infuse some new blood and fresh voices and ideas into the school board mix, while Copeland and Weiss, hope voters will keep the “team” together, as Copeland put it.
Early voting began yesterday and continues through November 3. Election day is Tuesday, November 7.