CORRECTION: A previous version of this story erred in listing the requested age limit and the current age limit for individuals living in the Palladium senior living center. Palladium officials had requested the age limit be made 55, but the City Council denied this request, keeping the limit to live in Palladium at 62 years of age.
Tuesday night's The Van Alstyne Chamber of Commerce hosted Meet the Candidates Tuesday night, an evening designed to give voters a closer look at each candidate's stance on several issues facing the Van Alstyne City Council.
Seeking election to the City Council are: Place 2, a one-year term to fill the chair left vacant by former Councilwoman Timmerle Kelly — Jan Walker and Teddie Ann Salmon. Place 4 — Lee Thomas and write-in candidate Tiffany Clum; and Place 5-Incumbent Billy Plake and Suzon Crowell.
Meet the candidates
A quick introduction allowed those present to put faces with names they may not have known. Suzon Crowell's husband made a brief statement in her absence, saying she was in a new job and out of state very temporarily. They have lived in Van Alstyne for 25 years and she believes it is time to step up and be active in the community. Her goal is to help with the comprehensive plan for the city and help the city make it simpler to people to comply with city ordinances.
Question: Why did you decide to run for office and what qualifications and experience do you have?
Salmon: Salmon said she has a long political history here, and has time to donate to the city. She listed a number of organizations with which she has been active as a volunteer. “I don't always agree with you or you with me, but I do want what is best for the community,” she said.
Walker: “I fell in love with this town. I'm not sure if I have all the qualifications needed, but I believe in what our town is all about and where we are headed. I'm a Christian, a veteran, a grandmother, and I want to serve you and make Van Alstyne a better place.”
Plate: Plate has been on City Council for eight years and is at the end of this current term. “I've been through several city managers and mayors and each one does it differently. I feel like I'm a good listener and make good decisions. I vote my opinion. Sometimes you have to make decisions against a person's (requests), but with compassion. I have to decide on what is best for the city.”
Thomas: Thomas has lived in Van about 17 years and has worked with Van Alstyne Sports Authority as a football coach. “I didn't think my civic duty was over yet,” Thomas said. “I am a project manager by trade. I work a lot with building codes, permits, ordinances, structures.”
Clum: Clum said she is a small business owner. “I attend the City Council meetings and the Friends of the Library breakfast every month,” she said. “I believe in 'Shop Van Alstyne first.'”
Question: What do you think is the most important issue that needs to be addressed at this time? How do you plan to make improvements?
Salmon: “It's not what the city needs, but what the people need. When a project comes to our city, we need to ask, 'Will it appreciate or depreciate property values?' And we need to look at what we do with our money now.”
Walker: “The first face you see when you walk into a business should be a friendly one,” she said. She said the city needs that smiling, welcoming face at City Hall and all city offices. “People need to feel like you want to help them. People don't feel like they are getting help.”
Plake: “Our budget. People feel like when they come into the (City Hall) office, they should find a person who answers all their questions and are highly disappointed.” He said it's a budget issue, because they cannot hire more people to train about more subjects. Roads are another priority, as well as the water rates, he said.
Thomas: “I'm the roads and water guy, because that's what I do. Businesses want to come to a town where there are good roads. Do we have enough water pressure for them and the fire department? Our infrastructure must accommodate the codes. We do have growing pains; we can maintain that small town feel for a long time, but it is our biggest problem.”
Clum: “There is a huge gap between the customer (the public) and the city. You go to the city as a customer, and you are not treated as customer. As a City Council member, you would be my customer. Customer service.”
Question: The Preston and Jefferson street intersection is so dangerous because of placement of stop signs. What can be done? (Jefferson Street is also known as FM 121, a state maintained road)
Salmon: “If we apply to the state, they can take a survey and if enough cars run through it, we can get a traffic light. We do need signal lights. We did that at FM 121 and U.S. 75 and got the light there.”
Walker: “I do have an idea,” Walker said. “Speed bumps on Preston to remind us to stop and wait. I hate them. And I'm wondering if it's not possible to put a flashing, slow-traffic-ahead sign on the east side of the railroad tracks (FM 121). With the state, we have to be determined and consistent.”
Plake: “Jefferson Street is a state highway. We asked the state a while back to put slower speed limits down by the school (on State Highway 5, also known as Waco Street) and at the north end by the schools, and instead they extended the speed limits.”
Thomas: “The answer is simple — do a survey. Maybe a restripe. It's also bad at Main and 121.”
Clum: “I ride my bike almost every day to work. I have to cross that 121 and Jefferson, and I have mentioned before maybe putting in a stop light or a cross walk. My kids utilize it, and I walk just about everywhere.”
Question: Do you believe water rates can be lowered in the future?
Salmon: “No, it's not going to come down. Water is a precious commodity — a necessity. This city has paid for backup water for years and not used it. Also remember, you are not just paying for water, you are paying for trash and sewer.”
Walker: “I got a drastic lesson when I got my first water bill. I could not believe it. Guns blazing. But, I live in a small town, we have a small income. I cut back on the use of my dishwasher and watering my yard. Yes, it's still high, but nothing in my life has gone down in costs.”
Plake: “The previous council made bad decisions and that involved not raising water rates. For the last eight years, we've been paying $65,000 a year (for backup water) and not using it. Now we are starting to use it. Forty percent of the water leaks come from water and sewer. Our biggest problem is infrastructure.”
Thomas: “We are blessed to live in a city where there are no water restrictions. Yeah, we pay for it, but we are truly blessed. The water rates won't go down. Again, we need to make sure we have the infrastructure in place.”
Clum: “I think our water rates have held steady for a while. Now that we have tapped into this (water reserve) line, and have Well No. 5 back up and running, maybe we can recuperate our money.”
Question: Do you believe the city is being operated in the best manner possible? If not, what would you do to change it?
Salmon: “We have a great fire department, police department, public works. They are understaffed, but they are working for us. We have a problem that is not meeting the needs of our new and present businesses. We have adopted new and restrictive procedures. We need to make sure the requirements we impose on people are the right requirements. A lot of things are done because this is what we are going to need in the future. …” About City Hall, Salmon said, “There is a turnover and maybe they are not trained as well as they should be. We need a list made for people coming in for business or to build a house, they (city hall employees) should know and make it available.”
Walker: “We need not separate ourselves from the ordinary man, not be snobs. That's part of the problem we have as a city — we turn people away because we don't want their kind of business or their location. It's difficult to meet the regulations. There's a lot of codes that need to be updated, and we keep businesses from coming to town because they don't fit the mold.”
Plake: “There's a misconception because of what the newspaper reported, that we are a bad community to do business with. If you work on a project with City Hall, you find they try to work out problems. We have a lot of rules and regulations the council has passed, and we can change those, I have no problem with that. Let's not restrict business. We passed the rules going in and we can change them.”
Thomas: “I'm not privy to the ins and out behinds the scenes. I know that Chief (Tim) Barnes and his (police department) crew are being honored through the state. As a small town that's growing, we've got this rural thing and growing pains. That's where we are at. We do need customer service or a check list.”
Clum: “Again, customer service. No, I do not believe it's being operated. How to change that? It goes back to training, how to be a better boss, a better employee. All these people with all these issues, and personalities and social economic differences. We need to become professional.”
Question: The city has gained the reputation of being anti-business. Do you feel this is warranted and what can be done to correct this?
Salmon: We have different things for different areas. This is a major issue that we are unfriendly. When a person comes here, they do not get all they need. All the requirements should be in a packet to give to new businesses, so they can know what is expected, 100 percent, not one thing today and something else (expected) tomorrow.”
Walker: “I have mixed feelings. There are some areas where there are too many restrictions. We need to review and revise them. I personally like living in a HOA, with guidelines on how to keep our property up to maintain the value. It works the same with businesses — we need to keep the value up. We need to invite them in and make them feel welcome.”
Plake: Plake mentioned that the developing senior living complex Palladium wanted to lower the minimum age for residence to 55, but, “We (the Council) stayed strong at 62. That's the direction it's going and that's a success story. We, as a council and as a city, is trying to get businesses to get things right. I looked at some of our codes, and yes, we are really high on some things and low on some things.” Plake also said that the city needs to support local businesses, and gave some examples.
Thomas: “If the word is out, we already have the reputation, and it's going to be tough to get those businesses back. It's part of small town growing and those growing pains. Less restrictive? Codes are in place for a reason, and we have the same codes that other municipalities have adopted. It's just a matter of working with businesses and people to get the businesses.”
Clum: Clum mentioned a recent discussion between a prospective car lot business at the corner of U.S. 75 and Van Alstyne Parkway and the City Council. “It's been a car lot for a long time, and why not a car lot for three more years?” She also mentioned, too, that city employees should be buying locally and that there is a line item in the budget for items from a business not in Van Alstyne, but that item is available through other local businesses.
Salmon: “You don't have to rely on my expertise,” she said, referring to a comment that brought laughter earlier from her opponent. “With me, you get the real deal.” She encouraged people to vote against the EDC propositions and reminded voters that early voting starts Monday.
Walker: Walker began her conclusion by thanking everybody for being at the forum. “We want to preserve the past, not to lay blame, but for learning from it. I have learned a lot myself tonight. I can promise you I will do my best to work together in honesty and integrity.
Plake: He thanked the Chamber of Commerce and everybody involved in arranging the forum. “I thank you for the eight years on the council. I try to understand the issues and vote the way I think most of the citizens of Van Alstyne would vote.”
Thomas: “The people make up the town and you run it with your vote. Many people have died for us to have that right to vote. Exercise your right, for those still overseas and still fighting for us. It makes it our town and the government our government.”
Clum: “Thank you for giving me a voice. Keep fighting the fight to make our town good.”
The Van Alstyne Chamber of Commerce President Brenda McDonald had some closing thoughts as well.
“We need to work together,” she said. “What we are putting out there (on social media) is hurting our existing businesses and I think we need to work to fix the problem. If there's anything anybody can do to help. This has been heavy on my heart. Our projection of our city is hurting everyone, and we do have problems, we are growing, every town has problems, but what we have is we can make it better. Work together, and move forward.”