Citizens hear from candidates at Chamber forum
By BRITTANY FHOLER
More than 70 people attended the Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce’s Mayoral Candidate Political Forum held Monday evening.
All four mayoral candidates were present and answered a total of 12 questions selected at random, four of which were submitted by members of the chamber and eight of which were submitted by audience members.
Most of questions focused on the economic development of Copperas Cove with some delving into finding out more about the candidates.
The first question asked the candidates why they decided to run for mayor.
Ron Nelson, who has lived in Copperas Cove for the past four years after moving from Austin, said he saw a great need in the community.
“It doesn’t feel enough like a community to me honestly,” Nelson said. “There are a lot of people doing a lot of interesting things who don’t even know about each other, and we need to kind of bring that together.”
He said he has gone out into the community and attended different meetings and events and seen all that is available. He said he has learned more about Cove over the last couple of months than he had in years.
“Win or lose, I like doing this sort of thing,” Nelson said, adding that he would continue being active in the community whether he won the election or not.
Brandi Weiand, who has worked for Central Texas College and is pursuing her dual-master’s in business and culinary arts, said she grew up as an Army brat and spent most of her life in this community.
“I’m not here to talk, I am here to listen,” Weiand said. “I know that we have a communication barrier or an issue between those that laid the foundation for us and those of us who need to move forward.”
Weiand said she wants to help, not control, and thinks that she has the skills necessary to work with the older generations in Copperas Cove and take advantage of the experience they can offer.
Bradi Diaz has been involved in civic service in Copperas Cove since her 1994 appointment to the Copperas Cove Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, including being elected mayor of Copperas Cove in 2004. She currently serves on the board of directors of the Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce, the Coryell County Economic Development Board and the Coryell County Central Appraisal District board of directors.
She said she decided to run because she wants to be involved again as the mayor.
“There are a lot of projects in the works for the city of Copperas Cove, and I want to be a part of making those things happen,” Diaz said. “We are on the cusp of great things here in Copperas Cove as far as economic growth, as far as residential growth, and I want to help us move forward and make those things happen with the city of Copperas Cove.”
Joey Acfalle, a United States Marine Corps and Army veteran who moved to Copperas Cove in 2010 and retired in 2014, serves on the Economic Development Corporation and the Copperas Cove Board of Adjustments. He said he is a volunteer person and asked what else he could do to help the community.
“Can I go ahead and be more vocal for everyone?” Acfalle asked.
The candidates were asked what they want Copperas Cove to look like in three years.
Nelson said he wants the parks to continue to look nicer and that he really wants an Aldi grocery store on the west end of town. He also wants substantial jobs that can support people raising families as well as a community that looks nice, is safe, has great schools and great businesses, he said.
Weiand said that she would like to see better education which would lead to better businesses and jobs. She also said that the city needs to work with neighboring communities and counties.
Diaz said she would like to see businesses in the business park and to see the Parks Improvement projects come to fruition.
“We’ve talked years and years and years about how our parks need improvement, and I’d really love to see some of that happen,” Diaz said. “We’re a town too large to have some of our parks in the condition that they’re in.”
She mentioned wanting to see the Fort Hood joint use multimodal rail/truck facility moving forward and become tangible, saying it would become an “economic instigator” on the east side of town.
Diaz also mentioned implementing a streets program to maintain and repair city streets.
Acfalle said that three years’ time would be similar to getting stationed at one place and getting settled in just in time to be stationed elsewhere but added that he’d most like to see businesses coming in to Copperas Cove.
“We need to bring businesses in so we can have employment for our community, jobs for our community and more revenue for our community,” Acfalle said.
A question from an audience member asked whether the candidates would be willing to attend activities and events in and around Copperas Cove as the city’s representative.
Each candidate answered that yes, they would.
Diaz stated that it would be a requirement, in her opinion.
“It’s imperative that the mayor represents the city, not only within our community at everything that you can attend within the community but within the region as well as the state level,” Diaz said.
One of the more thought-provoking questions asked the candidates whether they see Copperas Cove as healthy, thriving and successful.
Acfalle joined Diaz and Weiand in saying that there is room for improvements. He said that Copperas Cove is thriving in the sense that more people are beginning to recognize where Copperas Cove is located now compared to eight years ago.
“Folks are starting to recognize that Cove is a family place to be and to my view, that’s a success,” Acfalle said.
Nelson said he does not think the city is in good financial health nor does he think it is thriving, especially when compared to other small towns, like Bastrop.
He said he would call Copperas Cove successful though.
“With those problems and these limitations, we’ve still managed to create this cool community,” Nelson said.
Another question touched on the west side of town, asking candidates what their plans are to make sure that end of Copperas Cove is not neglected.
Acfalle mentioned connecting with the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Corporation to work to bring businesses in on the west side of Cove.
Diaz focused on the idea of a grocery store on the west end of town.
“As far as economic development, when I was involved with that, the west side of town was marketed just as vigorously as the east side of town, but unfortunately, you’re at the mercy of whatever footprint that particular business has and their requirements,” Diaz said. “A lot of their requirements depends on traffic counts, and they want to see so many cars driving in front of a business per day. Unfortunately, the east end of town has the traffic count more than the west end of town, so in order to get those businesses that are needed and wanted on the west end of town, we’re gonna have to have more traffic count on that end of town.”
Another touched on the connection between Copperas Cove and Fort Hood, asking candidates to explain their vision regarding how they would work with city council and the EDC to bring in businesses that are not dependent on Fort Hood.
Nelson offered the suggestion that Copperas Cove continue to offer tax incentive opportunities to entice businesses to come in, similar to the agreement with HomeBase.
Weiand said that Copperas Cove should focus on trades and skills and utilize the nearby colleges and their programs.
“One of the things that not just Copperas Cove is dealing with is a shortage on skilled, trade labor,” Weiand said.
Diaz said that it shouldn’t be considered depending on Fort Hood but rather working with Fort Hood.
“Fort Hood is a huge workforce opportunity and when you have some of those soldiers getting out of the military, if you’re working with Fort Hood, encourage those individuals to stay in this area and utilizing those skills that they’ve obtained in the military,” Diaz said.
Acfalle agreed with Diaz and called Fort Hood an asset.
Candidates also answered a question asking what they will do as mayor to help build the economy while maintaining the small-town feel that Copperas Cove has.
Diaz said that building the economy depends on economic development.
“Copperas Cove, I think, will always have that small-town feeling,” Diaz said. “I think we will always be, in my heart, a small town.”
To keep that feeling, she suggested that zoning, ordinances and regulations put in place prior to the economic development would help.
Nelson suggested being selective about the kind of businesses the city entices to come in.
“If you want a small-town feel, you aren’t going to get it with Target and Toys R Us, rest in peace, and all the other stores,” Nelson said.
He suggested focusing on different ways to bring in revenue, like becoming a destination town and focusing on tourism. He also suggested considering nontraditional jobs, such as telecommuting.
Early voting began Wednesday, April 10, and continues through April 23. Election day is Saturday, April 27. Residents can vote at the Coryell County Justice Center at 210 S. 1st St from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on April 12, 15, 16, 17, 18, and 22, and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on April 23 and 27.