If the turnout for Tuesday night’s Van Alstyne Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Candidate Forum is any indicator town hall meetings may be the wave of the future in the city. Citizens packed Room 212 inside Grayson College’s new Tech Center to listen to and converse with the candidates for the Van Alstyne City Council in a unique environment as the May 10 general election draws near.
Candidates present for the event were Larry Cooper and Kaaren Teuber for Place 1, Timmerle Kelly and Jim Smith for Place 2 and Robert Jaska, who is running unopposed, in Place 3. James Lewis, running in Place 1, was not present.
Typically, meet the candidate sessions are rigidly controlled affairs with the candidates all lined up and answering questions with no give-and-take with the audience. Certainly, there is a place for that as the Chamber sponsored one of those three weeks earlier. Tuesday night, however, was all about the conversation — candidates were scattered out among desks arranged in a square with citizens on all sides. The candidates talked about pre-selected topics (note: no simple answering of questions here) and fielded questions from the audience.
Some in attendance probably expected the tension and coarse back and forth that has been present at city council meetings in the recent past while others didn’t know what to expect. However, for the most part the discourse was civil, lively and enlightening, much to the relief of Chamber President Wendelyn Tilleman who laid down the law early on, "I request everyone be polite; passionate, but polite," and served as master of ceremonies, as it were.
What those in attendance got for their money (or lack thereof; it was completely free of charge) was discussion of cohesion in the city, current events and the media’s place in it, growth, taxes and city finance and governing issues. That discussion, however, had the hour hand ticking precariously close to 10 o’clock and for a meeting that started at 6:30 p.m. that was a long stretch.
Among those spoken to after the meeting the overall impression given was one of satisfaction. Margaret Barron was one of those who appreciated the evening. Barron, who was born in Van Alstyne and came back to the city later in life, said the night was a good one for her native city.
"I think it was great," she said. "I’m all for town meetings because this right here tonight was an example of what a town meeting can be. I want to see this city prosper, and to prosper we’re going to have to have growth. We need a master plan, an up-to-date master plan so it won’t be harem-scarem."
Resident Paul Kirley said he would want to see more of what he saw on Tuesday night.
"I think it was excellent," he said. "I think there were a lot of questions that came out that candidates got too far off the point; they brought their personal issues in. But overall, I think this is one of the best get-togethers I’ve ever seen. I think this town has a tendency to get a bunker mentality. You’ve got people I don’t think have had original thoughts in this town for 20 years and they get to hear what other people think and what they say. Maybe it will change their minds."
The warm reception allowed Tilleman to exhale. The event was originally scheduled to be held on May 5 but questions concerning whether the presence of so many incumbent council members constituted an illegal quorum caused the event to be rescheduled for Tuesday night. While there were only five discussion topics listed on the handout there were also a subset of questions for each topic allowing for plenty of discussion.
"I think this evening’s Meet the Candidates round table discussion was a solid example of what this city needs in the sense of more discussion as opposed to more anger, more camaraderie as opposed to more enemies," said Tilleman at the end of the night.
Due to the long meeting and the length and breadth of the answers given by the candidates to posted topics, questions and audience questions it is impossible in this space to give each of those candidates’ words their proper due. However, the event was digitally recorded and will be posted on VA Virtual Town Hall, found at https://www.facebook.com/pages/VA-Virtual-Town-Hall/198679638085.