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Edwin Pickle– I am completing my second term as city councilman for District 6. I have been voted as the “Best City Councilman” by readers of The Paris News two out of the past three years. I have been married to Kelly Pickle, instructional facilitator for PISD, for 27 years (my proudest accomplishment). I have two boys, Connor, a December graduate of TAMU-Commerce, and Cooper, who will graduate from TAMU-Commerce on May 12, both currently work in Paris and Cooper will start his “career” here upon graduation. I grew up in Tyler. I am an Aggie, graduating from Texas A&M in 1978. I moved here in 1997, as the president of what is now Bank of America. I have owned Kwik Kopy of Paris for twelve years. I either currently serve or have served on the boards of the Lamar County United Way, NeTseO Trails Council of the Boy Scouts, Lamar County Coalition of Business, Education, and Industry, Paris Band Commission, Keep Paris Beautiful, Dylan’ Drivers, Salvation Army, Big Brothers & Big Sisters, Paris HOG, Rotary Club of Paris, as well as city council responsibilities, which include serving as council liaison on several city boards.
Cleonne Holmes Drake — I was born in Paris and graduated from Paris High School. I graduated from Paris Junior College (Associate degree in Law Enforcement) and East Texas State University (Bachelor’s of Science in Criminology). My husband is Del “Dub” Drake and we have one son, Paul and his wife, Kristen of Fort Worth. My parents were Cleo and Joyce Holmes and in-laws, Del and Winn Drake (all deceased), sister, Gay Lynn Booker, and brother, Stephen “Red” Holmes. I am a member of the Southside Baptist Church and serve on several committees. My employment has consisted of Municipal Court Clerk and police officer for the City of Paris and by the Lamar County Adult Probation Department. After leaving Paris I was employed by Nueces County Sheriff’s Department, Hedwig Village Police Department, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice as a parole officer and Victim Services as Director of the Crime Victim Clearinghouse, State of Texas. I changed careers for the good of my family and received my teaching certification. I am in my 14th year as an educator and am employed at Paris Junior High School. I have served on the District Wide Academic Excellence Council and currently serve on the Paris Junior High School Effectiveness Team.
QUESTION 1: What is your vision for Paris for the short term and for the long term?
Edwin Pickle: Short term, my vision is to assist the new city manager in his acclimation to the city of Paris, the employees, the council, and the citizens of Paris. I believe that will open up endless opportunities for the entire community. Long term, I envision Paris as a growing, booming community, with economic opportunities resulting from improved infrastructure, a diverse work force, increased recreational facilities providing a better quality of life, and a positive, can do attitude by the citizens.
Cleonne Drake: Short term – I believe we need to help educate our new city manager about our city and get to know him. Not only do we need to get to know him but he needs to know the council. I think we need to continue to aggressively see what monies are available to help the city with the needs of infrastructure. I would like to continue to see the beautification of Paris and see what can be done to expand this program. Long term – Economic development is very important. We need to expand what we have and strive to continue to bring new businesses into Paris. The council needs to be working in conjunction with the PEDC and be accountable to the citizens of Paris. We need to continue to work on our infrastructure and have a strategic plan in place and review it to make sure we are staying on track.
QUESTION 2: Point out three top deficiencies or priorities that you feel require correction in the city and local government.
Edwin Pickle: My number one priority is to improve our deteriorating infrastructure. As a council, we have begun to move forward on this need with the recent completion of the feasibility study on water distribution from Pat Mayse and Lake Crook. We are in the process of making improvements to the water treatment plant and east side water tower. I will be making a presentation to the council on April 23 for plans on water and sewer line replacement to be coordinated with sidewalk work. This work will begin downtown and work outward from there. My second priority is to continue to improve our construction and permitting processes. We have made tremendous strides in the past 12 to 18 months, but we can continue to improve in this area. My third priority would be to help develop a master plan for the city. This needs to be occurring simultaneously with the priorities above, and would provide a blueprint for this council to follow and for future councils as well. Since we have not had anything like this since the late 90’s, this would be a long-term project.
Cleonne Drake: Not being a part of the City Council, I’m not up on the inner workings of city government. That is something I will learn as fast as possible. However, these are some things that I would like to see: 1) Common sense approach to city government. You need to have open communication. Team concept with things that affect the city, school districts, historical commission, county commissioners, etc. 2) Access to all departments by the public. 3) Stramlining of the application process for building permits. It is very important to have strategic plan for jobs, streets, and infrastructure. The problems need to be identified. This is an area I will need to study further.
QUESTION 3: Give some innovative/creative ideas for infrastructure improvement/replacement.
Edwin Pickle: Currently we have been doing sidewalk projects downtown with matching grants. However, we have only made requests for concrete work support, not the related infrastructure. We are now working on a plan, again starting with downtown, allowing us to solicit matching funds for improving the sidewalks and reworking the infrastructure. This would impact water and sewer lines, and improve electrical, telephone, and cable line as well. Concerning sidewalks in other areas of the city, I have received a very good suggestion by a local resident whereby the City and the homeowner share the cost of the repair or replacement. Another thought involves some form of tax rebate to owners who repair or replace the sidewalks in front of their home. It could be spread over a three-year period so the cost to the City is not concentrated at the start of the job. A third idea being tossed around with the Main Street group is what is known as TIFF financing, which involves setting aside the increase in sales taxes for improvements to areas of need within the city. This is a little complicated, and I am more than happy to discuss it with anyone who is interested in learning more about TIFF financing.
Cleonne Drake: I believe we need to aggressively continue to look for monies for grants. We need to stay up on the latest information and attend meetings that would help the City of Paris look at all ideas to assist us in this area. I am an outsider looking in and I need to see the information that is already available to the city.
QUESTION 4: Identify four challenges of your district and your plans to meet those challenges.
Edwin Pickle: In some ways, we all share many of the same major challenges because the challenges we face affect the entire city. However, if I just focus on District 6, I think the main challenge would be the flooding we experience after a significant rain. The council is currently looking at several options to address this issue. One, which seems to be the most viable, is to establish a municipal utility district, which would address the problems based upon the affected property owner’s needs. As mentioned earlier, many of my constituents own businesses in the city and are faced with permit and regulation issues. Again, I believe we are working toward a more user friendly, customer-oriented approach, and I think we will continue to improve the processes.
Cleonne Drake: I am in the process of trying to meet as many of my constituents of District 6 as I can. I am interested in listening to their concerns. This is something that cannot be done overnight. I will be available to all citizens in my district. I will listen and talk to them. I will have an open door policy and would like to have meetings with them to talk about their problems and concerns.
QUESTION 5: What changes do you suggest for economic growth of the city?
Edwin Pickle: The number one change/improvement we are dealing with as a city council is improving our permitting and building codes process. I believe we are making headway in that area through better communication, consideration of a building appeals board, and placing many of the applications and forms online. As we move forward on the infrastructure plan that I will present in late April, I believe we will open the door for increased economic growth and provide dependable utilities where they have been lacking in the past. As a city, we must also review where we want our sales tax dollars to be utilized. Are we happy with our status as a Type A city or should we consider becoming a Type B city? Either way, I feel that a healthy discussion on this topic will increase the citizens’ awareness, which can then result in more economic growth.
Cleonne Drake: We need to continue to be aggressive in researching what can be done and what is being done to bring businesses into Paris. We need to continue the team work between the Council and PEDC. We are here for the same goals for the citizens and for the growth of Paris. We need to work and research other cities approaches of things that have worked and failures so we can learn from others.
QUESTION 6: What suggestions do you have to improve the net revenue picture for the city?
Edwin Pickle: We have two primary sources of revenue – sales taxes and property taxes. To increase sales taxes, we must bring in more retail opportunities that in turn can pull in revenues from outside the city, currently lost to the Metroplex, Texarkana, or Oklahoma. To effectively increase property tax revenues, we need to put more of the city-owned property on the tax rolls by making it attractive to purchase and develop. This would also reduce our maintenance cost. We also need to work with investors, builders, businesses, and others to develop property within the city limits. This would not only increase the values, but result in increased sales tax revenues, depending on the development. Obviously, we must also keep track of our expenses within the city, ensuring that all expenditures are justified and that purchases are made in the most economical way. I currently receive a copy of the monthly trial balance report, which I review with our finance director and interim city manager Gene Anderson.
Cleonne Drake: There are vacant professional buildings in the city. Why are these businesses leaving? I believe we need to explore this and have a plan to see what can be done to help retain them. Places are being torn down but nothing going into their place. This drops our tax revenue for these places. You have to have more productivity and jobs increased to bring in revenue. We need to be vigilant in these endeavors.
QUESTION 7: If elected, how will you encourage participation of your district in city matters?
Edwin Pickle: While each council member wishes we could get more participation from our respective districts, District 6 is fairly active in city matters. I have begun to realize, however, that in order to fill many of the local boards and committees, I must solicit involvement. I hope to increase involvement by encouraging members of District 6 to become more actively involved. The one good thing I have going for me is I am very accessible to any resident who wants to discuss a problem, make a suggestion, or simply let me know what kind of job I’m doing. My door is open to you.
Cleonne Drake: I would encourage people of my district to call, email me, or stop by my home at anytime. It will be my job to stay in touch with them. I would like to have meetings with the citizens of District 6 and encourage them to get more involved with their city government.
Edwin Pickle: Thank you for this opportunity. While answering these questions, I have only scratched the surface about some of the issues we face in the city. I would be more than happy to discuss these topics further at any time. I am proud of the work I’ve done over the past four years, and I look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve the City of Paris.
Cleonne Drake: With economic times being tough, I believe as a council, we have to have budget accountability. I think we have to prioritize our needs and tend to those first. Having grown up in this city and having left, I would come home to visit and see my hometown deteriorate. It would break my heart. I always said when we retired and came moved back, I was going to get involved. This is what I am trying to do. Do I know everything about the issues and city government, NO! I am however, a quick learner and hard worker. I am a new voice for Paris. I have been a public servant for 34 years and Paris has been good to my family over the years. I want to give back to my hometown. I want to help make Paris the town people want to continue to live and make people want to relocate here.
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By JEFF PARISH
Using words like “ignorance” and “arrogance,” PEDC President Pike Burkhart Sr. fired back at Mayor AJ Hashmi for comments the mayor made at the city council this week about the PEDC’s activities.
“Beware of the well-intentioned, but misguided, economic development ideas of Mayor Hashmi and his back seat economic advisor ‘experts’ who are giving him poor and divisive advice,” Burkhart said during a meeting of the Paris Economic Development Corp. on Tuesday.
“There is a reason why the community wisely separated the economic development responsibilities from the direct supervision of the mayor and city manager. Mayor Hashmi’s economic development ‘plans’ are a perfect example why,” Burkhart said.
The mayor had little to say in response other than he respected Burkhart.
“That’s his opinion,” Hashmi said. “I’m actually quite happy. I think I achieved what I wanted to achieve.”
Burkhart made the comments as part of a statement he gave prior to Tuesday’s board meeting, announcing that he will not seek reappointment to the Paris Economic Development Corp. board of directors. He said it was time to step aside.
“My objective was to see the strategic plan through,” Burkhart said. “We’ve done that.”
The plan was completed with the help and input of hundreds throughout the community, Burkhart said – with a few notable exceptions.
“Mayor Hashmi is a bright physician, but he is no guru of economic development,” he said. “The economic development ideas he posited last night at the City Council meeting show his ignorance of economic development, his lack of respect for the hard work of the community in putting together the first PEDC Sustainable Strategic Plan and his arrogance in not participating in the plan’s formation.”
The mayor’s comments came Monday night during a discussion item regarding PEDC. Hashmi said the organization hasn’t shown much of a return on the quarter-cent sales tax that funds it. He suggested the PEDC director should be answerable to city manager rather than a separate entity. He asked what the corporation has accomplished with $17 million spent since 1993. PEDC Director Steve Gilbert said he would bring the information to the next council meeting in a couple of weeks.
PEDC’s bylaws require it to establish a plan for the community, Burkhart said Tuesday. Now that the corporation has done that, it’s the city’s job to incorporate the PEDC roadmap into its own planning.
He said the strategic plan is already showing benefits, such as the completion of widening Texas 24, new business development, expanding the local health care industry and increased job training.
“I predict that our community will enjoy significant growth in jobs and capital investment in this decade that will rival the growth of the early 1960s,” Burkhart said.
Hashmi said he appreciated the enthusiasm Burkhart showed.
“The purpose of my presentation was to excite them so they work hard,” he said. “I think even just the response is good enough to know these people are thinking hard about it.”
PEDC board members Doug Wehrman and Bruce Carr said they also appreciated Burkhart’s work on the community’s behalf, but distanced themselves from his comments.
“No one cares for Paris more than Pike Burkhart,” Carr said. “I respect his opinion and his feelings, but I don’t necessarily agree with all the conclusions.”
Wehrman echoed Carr’s statements, adding that while he found some of the comments “irritating,” everyone will have to work together to benefit Paris. He also added that PEDC hasn’t gotten credit for retaining jobs that might have gone elsewhere without local efforts.
“People don’t realize how hard it is in today’s’ world to keep an industry where it is,” he said. “I’m not going to take the taxpayers’ money and put it down the drain.”
Hashmi used a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation and discussion to address the PEDC in Monday night’s council meeting.
The city of Paris has obtained “little or no” manufacturing jobs for the monies expended by the PEDC, he said.
“Job creation is very difficult. The PEDC continues to try, and initiatives have been started, but looking at our success rate of jobs vs. dollars spent, we fall very short,” Hashmi said. “We need to re-look and decide if the present PEDC way of doing business is the best way. So far, we really have not done a great job at what the PEDC came into existence for.”
The city council has indicated it is interested in adding a new department head for city planning.
“Should a city planner be part of the PEDC?” Hashmi asked. “Should funds of the PEDC be regulated by a city planner, keeping it as a 4A organization so that funds are still used for industrial growth and job creation? Should PEDC be a 4B so that funds can be used for non-industrial projects and some job creation projects?”
Concluding, the mayor said:
“I do not know what is the best solution. I just know the PEDC has not achieved all of its goals as initially set. My recommendation is to seriously look into the viability of this organization as a source of spending tax dollars that belong to the residents.”
The mayor said one of the PEDC board members told him the PEDC “does not trust the city.”
“That was a very poor statement,” Hashmi said, without identifying the PEDC member.
(Charles Richards contributed the material at the bottom of this story
regarding Mayor Hashmi’s presentation at the city council meeting.)
Kenny Kammer shows Building and Standards Commission member Wendell Moore where on his building that vandals were able to access the property, contributing to the deterioration of the old Bedford Arms Apartments at 260 S. Main St. Looking on are commission members Ryan Lassiter and Vicki Ballard and code enforcement supervisor Robert Talley. (eParisExtra.com photo by Charles Richards)
By CHARLES RICHARDS
The city’s Building and Standards Commission has increased the pressure on the owner of a deteriorating, long-vacant apartment building in downtown Paris to repair the property or tear it down.
By a 5-0 vote, the commission on Monday ordered civil penalties of $10 per day against Kenny Kammer, who in 1990 acquired the old Bedford Arms Apartments.
The reinforced concrete structure was built in 1915 and was one of the few buildings downtown to survive the Fire of 1916.
The four-story building at 260 S. Main St., across the street from the old Gibraltar Hotel, last had tenants in the 1970s, Kammer said.
The roof has partially collapsed, some of the windows are missing, the building has water damage, and brick on the parapet wall is loose.
Kammer, 57, of Paris, says the city’s decision to locate a skate park next to the Farmer’s Market, just one block from his building, led to “vandalism from the kids.”
Also, after a building next door to him burned down in 1998, “that property had some windows that are level with my alley,” allowing access into his building, Kammer said.
“Anything on the property surrounding you, that can’t come through us. We don’t have a say on that,” said commission vice chairman Ryan Lassiter, who presided over the discussion after chairman Don Wilson recused himself.
Wilson is a former part owner of the property adjacent to Kammer’s building.
At its Feb. 20 meeting, in the absence of any repair, the commission had given Kammer 30 days to get a structural engineer to inspect the building to determine its safety and stability.
Monday, code enforcement supervisor Robert Talley told the commission that Kammer had failed to comply.
“We ordered a structural engineer’s report, and that has not happened,” Talley said.
He recommended that the commission impose a civil penalty of $20 a day. In his motion, commission member Zach Saffle lowered the civil penalty to $10 per day.
Kammer told the commission that in search of a structural engineer, he called several companies who said they don’t serve Paris. One estimate from someone in the Dallas area was for about $7,000, based upon a cost of 15 cents per square foot, he said.
The property has come before the commission several times over the past 18 months.
Kammer gave the commission a copy of the plan for the property, saying he hoped to patch it up and sell it. He did not have liability insurance on the property, he said.
In December 2010 code enforcement supervisor Robert Talley gave Kammer an additional 12 months to get the repairs done.
The one-year plan was not done, Talley said two months ago, and the building is becoming less safe because of the roof falling in.
After Monday’s meeting, Kammer told eParisExtra.com he’s not sure what his next step will be.
“I’ll probably get legal counsel from here on. If they want a structural engineer, they should pay for it,” Kammer said. “I still hold my position that the city should be responsible for allowing the damage.”
If the city wants a structural engineer to certify the integrity of his building, Kammer says, the cost should be split three ways among the city and the two former owners of the burned-out building.
After dealing with Kammer’s building, the commission looked at four other downtown properties:
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By CHARLES RICHARDS
Mayor AJ Hashmi will recommend Monday night to the Paris City Council that it appoint a building permits “variance commissioner” authorized to override code regulations that are too severe for a city the size of Paris.
State and federal officials allow an occasional waiver of rules, but builders, contractors, owners of residential and business property, and small businessmen told him during two recent private meetings that the city staff makes no attempt to work with anyone.
“We need to have codes, but we need to adapt ourselves to knowing that we are a smaller city. We are not Dallas or New York City,” Hashmi said.
The city has a Zoning Board of Adjustments that hears complaints from citizens on zoning regulations and can grant an exception if it feels the argument is justified.
The mayor said something similar should be made available to people who want an exception from a building, plumbing, electrical or other code.
“It’s not a separate paid job. The person would make himself available and he will make the determination based upon what his experience has been,” Hashmi said.
“If it’s a small issue that can be helped, this variance commissioner would have the power to issue the building permit then and there if he feels it is justified,” the mayor added.
The item, midway through a 25-item agenda, is not an action item. The mayor said he’s throwing the idea out for the council’s consideration.
The council meeting will start at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the council chambers at 107 E. Kaufman St.
Also on the agenda:
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