City Council, CCISD candidates answer questions at forum
By LYNETTE SOWELL
All of the 11 candidates for Copperas Cove city council and the CCISD board of trustees turned out on Saturday, except for two, for a political forum held by the Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce. The event ran a little more than two hours while each of the candidates present had the opportunity to introduce themselves and face questions submitted by local voters and two questions from the local media.
For the city council places 6 and 7, candidates John A. Hull, E. Marcus Payne and Danny Palmer (place 6) and Matthew Russell (incumbent) and Charlie Youngs (place 7) had the chance to address issues that they saw within the city.
Youngs and Russell particularly faced off in the area of economic development, with Youngs saying he was “not a happy camper with the direction the city is going” and is not happy with how the present council has “done just about everything it can to destroy” the inner workings of the city, particularly where the EDC and the chamber of commerce are concerned. Youngs has served on the council previously and served on the EDC board “in the early days of the EDC.” He said he is not coming in with a “smoking gun” but wants to foster an attitude to get the internal workings back on track. He said the EDC is “just a shadow” of its former organization.
Russell, a former colonel who is nearly finished with his first full term in council, said Copperas Cove is “a special city” and they have been working to enhance its image to bring in retail, restaurants, industrial firms, to make it a place for families to gravitate to with services, quality of life and conveniences. “We’ve got to keep that going,” Russell said, pointing out that the council has not voted to raise the property tax rate in the last three years and that the last report for city sales tax revenue was 20 percent higher than compared to the prior month at the same time.
“We have a superior bond rating, a double-A, something which many cities would like to have,” Russell said. He added that the interest rate accompanying those bonds is “phenomenal.”
Danny Palmer, running in a three-way race for place 6, has been a resident since 2005 and like Youngs, has also served on the council before.
“I want to be a voice for the citizens. I get out enough and talk to enough people…. if I see you, I’ll talk to you about what’s going on,” Palmer said. “I want to help you find a remedy for your concern.”
E. Marcus Payne, also up for place 6, has served on a number of city boards over the years such as the EDC, the board of adjustments, quality of life board, but has not yet served on the council. The businessman and former cabinet maker said numbers are very important to him, particularly the accuracy of numbers, “balanced with accurate information and common sense.” He said he has always put the citizens first in his decisions, and wants to find out what is best for the city by talking to them.
Former mayor John A. Hull has also served as a councilman, county judge and CCISD board member.
He said he believes the contacts he has made over the years will help the citizens of Copperas Cove, calling the city his “love and joy” and saying that he would like to serve the city again.
One question that came up for council candidates was the senior citizen discount for utility customers, if candidates believed that discount should be removed to help increase city revenue.
Hull said, being a senior citizen, he didn’t like the idea of removing it, but he’s heard talk that the attorney stated it’s illegal. “Until we get the ruling back on that, I’d be against cutting it.” Payne said he would need to find out more information about what’s legal and not legal, to determine whether he is for the discount or against it. Palmer said he is in favor of keeping the discount, especially for those on fixed incomes. Russell said he’s “on the fence” about it, that the state law states it’s illegal to offer a cut rate for public utilities, but is awaiting the legal ruling. Youngs said he is in favor of the discount.
One question from the media was if projects like the agreement with FATHOM Water Systems, which cost the city $7 million in certificates of obligation bonds, should have gone to the voters, and should the council be limited on the amount it authorizes for these types of bonds.
Youngs said it depends on the issue, that if “you know up front it’s going to go in front of the citizens and it’s going to be defeated, it can be either a good thing or a bad thing…If there were no problems with this outfit, it would not be a question.”
Russell said most every decision like this comes before the people before the council decides, that there are normally public hearings. “If you don’t like X, please let us know. We try to keep about $10 million as far as debt services go every year,” Russell said, and added that every year, there is debt that the city gets rid of.
Palmer said, “any money over X amount –that would be determined by the council – should go before the voters.” He said people don’t feel comfortable getting in front of the council and speaking at a hearing without feedback.
Payne said funding is based on what’s available at the time, and the reason for having elected officials to make “day-to-day” decisions without having huge groups of citizens make decisions. “Somebody has to be put in charge to make those decisions.”
Hull said he believes the council should have the option to put it before the voters to authorize the certificates of obligation.
Another media question was regarding the one employee that the council and school board are responsible for overseeing—the city manager and the superintendent, respectively. The council is responsible for evaluating the city manager regularly and establishing goals for that person—did the candidates believe the present city manager should remain?
Hull called the present city manager one of the finest city managers in a long time, and he supports her all the way. Payne said the city has had the same city manager for a number of years, that “in the beginning she was effective and easy to work with” but he wasn’t sure what had happened over the past few years. “When elected, I’d like to see if we can get her back on track. If not, I’m not against removing her.”
Palmer said he didn’t know until he got into that position how he’d make that decision. Russell called her an extremely effective city manager, such as getting the bypass pushed through, getting the future park renovations in place, and more. Youngs said he “would support her the same way I did when I was on the council previously,” and that it all boiled down to doing what was best for the city.
Two CCISD candidates asked to give their comments as well, with candidate John Gallen stating that CCISD has “the best superintendent in central Texas. He has taken our district to new heights.” Jim Copeland gave an “Amen” to Gallen’s statement.
One question posed from the audience to the school boards was how to keep money in check “so we don’t hear every year that it’s Impact Aid’s fault” that teachers are taking home less money and paying for things for their classrooms out of their pockets, and yet the district purchased the former National United Bank location, on which it will spend a little more than $3 million for the purchase and renovation.
Gallen, who is challenging incumbent Jim Copeland for his position, said it was important to “get involved with the budgeting process immediately,” and that the decision was made to get the biggest “bang for the buck” where facilities were concerned. One issue was the state funding needing to be “squared away.”
Copeland said all administrative departments will be under one roof, calling the purchase a great buy. “We had the money to do it and it was in the budget and paid for in the budget.”
Candidate Jeffrey Gorres said there “definitely needs to be forethought in future capital purchases.” Although the new building will bring all of the administration under one roof, he questions what will happen to the current administrative facilities. He called it “an interesting dilemma.”
Where funding departments is concerned, Gorres said he supported fair and equitable spending and cuts through the district’s departments.
Gorres is challenging incumbent Bob Weiss for his seat. Weiss was not present on Saturday, as he was away at a national conference in Washington, D.C. His wife read his introductory statement for him. Another incumbent, Dr. Karen Harrison, is running unopposed and also was not present on Saturday.
Prior to the questions and answers with the candidates, both Coryell County judge John Firth and State Rep. Dr. J.D. Sheffield spoke briefly, Firth sharing about state propositions on the November 7 ballot, with Sheffield speaking about legislative issues at the state level.
There will be two more opportunities to hear from the candidates, one held by the local AARP on Monday, October 9 at 12:30 p.m. at Grace United Methodist Church fellowship hall, and the other on Saturday, October 21, at 1 p.m., at VFW Post 8577, located at 1506 Veterans Ave.
Early voting for the November 7 election starts on Monday, October 23.