City has lost confidence in Paris City Council, Pickle says in candidate forum
Former Paris city councilman Edwin Pickle wasted little time Thursday evening in a Paris City Council candidate forum explaining why he is seeking to return to the council after a 2-year absence.
“We have lost a lot of job opportunities here, and there is a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction in my district for the way the council is being run right now,” Pickle said in his opening salvo.
Six of the eight individuals seeking spots on the council in the May 10 municipal election participated in the forum, which began with opening statements from each, followed by their responses to six questions.
Pickle, 57, of 220 Johnson Woods Drive, is seeking election to the District 6 seat on the council, now held by Cleonne Holmes Drake, 57, of 2501 Simpson St., who defeated him two years ago in his bid for a third 2-year term.
In addition to Pickle and Drake, others participating in the forum were the three other incumbents — Aaron Jenkins, 45, of 1715 Fairfax St., from District 1; Sue Lancaster, 74, of 1020 Bonham St., from District 2; and John Wright, 83, of 3605 W. Houston St., from District 3; plus Kelly Collins, 53, of 1720 W. Houston St., who is challenging Lancaster for the District 2 seat.
Declining the invitation to participate were Joe McCarthy, 70, of 1760 17th St. NE, of District 1 and Benny Plata, 57, of 850 19th St. SW, of District 3.
About 50 people — including Mayor AJ Hashmi and District 5 incumbent Matt Frierson — attended in the district courtroom at the Lamar County Courthouse for the forum, sponsored by the Association of Lamar County Republicans. That means all members of the council were present except for District 4 incumbent Dr. Richard Grossnickle.
Early voting begins Monday at the Lamar County Services Building (former post office) at 231 Lamar Ave. Hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday (April 28-29) and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday through Friday of next week (April 30 and May 1-2) and on Monday and Tuesday (May 5-6) of the following week.
All six questions came from the candidates themselves. Each was allowed to submit a question, with each candidate leading off the discussion on the question he or she submitted.
The questions were:
- “With a $25 million annual budget, what experience do you have to offer as a council member in the allocation of these funds?” (submitted by Jenkins)
- “Should the city retain ownership of Lake Crook and the land around it, or sell or lease the land for private development? (submitted by Lancaster)
- “What is being done by the city to support small business, and what will you do as a council member to support small business in Paris?” (submitted by Collins)
- “How high are street improvements and drainage conditions on your priority list if you are elected?” (submitted by Wright)
- “If elected to the city council, what would be your top priority for your district and for the City of Paris, and what will be hyour great chellenge?” (submitted by Drake)
- “What is your opinion on the proclamation process as it relates to the city council and the citizens of Paris?” (submitted by Pickle)
Responding to the question about his greatest challenge, if elected, Pickle replied: “My top priority … will be to instill trust and confidence back into the city council. … My greatest challenge will be to get the PEDC back on track. We’ve decimated it.”
He added: “Not a day goes by that I don’t get numerous calls from people complaining and wanting to see a change. That’s why I ran. That’s why I’m here tonight.”
Lancaster defended the council’s scrutiny of the PEDC focusing on the agency’s spending practices, many of which were undocumented.
“I don’t think we decimated PEDC. I think we brought them back to look at what they were originally set up to do, start over again, and do it right,” Lancaster said. “It wasn’t set up to provide private lunches for people. It was set up to bring industry to our town and bring us more tax dollars so we can fix more problems in our districts.
Pickle’s question pertaining to proclamations pertained to a controversy that arose locally over Hashmi’s proclamation declaring the week of Jan. 20 “Aseer Zadi Week” in Paris. The mayor’s proclamation honored several actors and actresses in a Pakistani television drama. The proclamation was first disclosed not by local news outlets but by several news outlets in Pakistan.
Pickle said the rules should be changed to require all proclamations to be screened in advance by the entire council so that “we have no surprises.” The four incumbents said the proclamation in question, which wasn’t on any council agenda, was handled like others have been and they saw no reason to change.
Collins said he also decided to run because of dissatisfaction about the way things are going.
“I hear a lot of complaints on my side of town (west Paris), and I see a lot of things that have not been completed. I want to get in here and see what I can do to try to help my side of town,” he said.
Collins also said he felt controversial topics — such as the smoking ban and any decision to market Lake Crook to outside developers — should be put to a vote of the citizens.
Susan Swint was moderator, and each candidate was allowed up to two minutes to introduce themselves and why they are running, and to respond to each of the six questions.
AARON JENKINS, District 1 — “Good evening, everyone. My name is Aaron Jenkins, and I’m currently the incumbent for District 1. I’m here to ask everyone to vote. Our council, with the leadership of Dr. Hashmi, has been very successful. Let me tell you a little bit about my background. My dad is a past councilman and the pastor of St. Luke’s Baptist Church. I’m active in the Boys and Girls Club. I’ve been a coach and also a personal trainer. I’m a small business owner, and I’m the father of three children — Aerial, Micah and Martha Jean. I want to talk about the $45 million bond passed to replace and extend water and sewer lines without raising rates, and lower taxes the past two years. We removed dilapidated buildings with the sale of distressed properties by auction and returned to our tax base, with 90 additional properties to be auctioned off this month. Jobs are the most important thing for District 1, and I will assist the PEDC to bring these manufacturing jobs to Paris. I will continue to work on recycling as well as public transportation in our city’s future plans. Also, I want to proceed with the feasibility of a recreation center by primarily the youth and the senior citizens of our city, and I want you all to come out and vote.”
SUE LANCASTER, District 2 — “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Billie Sue Lancaster. I am the current city councilperson for District 2. I’m asking for your support May 10. I am a native Texan, a retired school teacher of 27 years, a small business owner, I’m a Baptist church member, and married with one son and one daughter. I have been chairman and member of many civic organizations. Some of my personal accomplishments are replacement of sidewalks on Bonham Street next to the downtown square, rescuing the First Christian Scientist Church for future use as a community center for all citizens. I was involved in adding sidewalks in the north and west sides of Paris. I am very involved with the city airport development plan. Through the city, I established a $15,000 grant to fund SNAPS, a low-cost spay and neuter program. The significant achievements of our council and mayor include a $45 million bond passed to replace and extend water and sewer lines, while reducing taxes; removal of dilapidated buildings; accountability and reorganization of policy for spending tax money by the PEDC; and a new facility for the health department. I will vigorously guard Paris water rights and waterways. I plan to aggressively increase homes and businesses in the city. I support a new and efficient PEDC to obtain and increase manufacturing jobs. I want to help the mayor facilitate low-interest loans to improve homes in the city. We are currently working on providing a recreation center for our youth, seniors, and all citizens of the city. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve District 2, and I’m asking for your continued support and vote on May 10.”
KELLY COLLINS, District 2 — “My name is Kelly Collins. I live on the west side of town, West Paris, District 2, and I’d just like to thank Mrs. Jimmie Kruntorad for the invitation to come out here, and the people of Paris to even take the time to listen. The reason I’m running for city council, I hear a lot of complaints on my side of town, and I see a lot of things that have not been completed. Through the 26 years that I’ve been on the west side of town, I’ve never had a councilman come to my house and ask me what bothers me, what rustles my feathers. So I want to get in here and see what I can do to try to help my side of town. I would like to see that we do a little bit of work around that lake, and work it as a project, and get into that. I would also like to see that we have safe lanes for bicyclists in town. I see a future for Paris, and I would like to take my opportunity and my time to give a vision and to show Paris what we can become without spending a lot of money. Right now, I see us spending a lot of money that’s not on my side of town. It’s on the east side of town, and I have a lot of bad roads that I’m having to travel up and down as it is. The safety, I’m not sure if we’re really concerned about safety yet in Paris, which we need to be, and that’s one of the other objectives that I’d like to try to support, and make sure we have a safe place to travel for kids, as well as what we have moving in the neighborhood, to keep our eyes on anyone that’s moving in the neighborhood, the traffic. So, we need better roads.”
JOHN WRIGHT, District 3 — “Good evening. My name is John Wright. I’m councilman for District 3 in Paris. I also am mayor pro-tem. I have lived in Paris 60 years. I’m a member of the First Baptist Church, and I’ve served this community in many capacities, such as the Paris Independent School District, Lamar County Appraisal District, Paris Economic Development Corporation, and the City Council. There’s a number of things we’ve accomplished during my time on the council. Among those, we negotiated a long-term landfill at a very reduced price. We’ve passed a bond issue to improve our water and sewer connections with no increase in taxes or water rates. We’ve improved the health department and its functions with many more people. We built safe sidewalks for the children and the other citizens. There are many things left to do. We need much repair on our streets. We need to develop and industrialize our airport. We need to continue to tear down unsafe and dilapidated housing. And we need to look long term for what we’re going to do with the sewer plant. With your help, if I get re-elected, I pledge that I’ll not disappoint you. I’d like your vote and will work toward this end.”
CLEONNE DRAKE, District 6 — “Honesty, respect, courage, caring, diligence, fairness, trustworthiness, tolerance and integrity — words that my students have learned this year in Paris. This also applies to a council member. I’m Cleonne Drake and I currently represent District 6. I’m a native Parisian, graduate of Paris schools, and married to my husband for 37 years. We have one son, who lives in Fort Worth and is married. I teach seventh grade at Paris Junior High, I’m a member of Southside Baptist Church, and i volunteer as secretary for the Paris municipal band. Seeking re-election? You bet I am! I love my hometown and I want it to see it grow and prosper. I’m not one to leave tasks undone. Other council members have already told what our accomplishments have been. I want to talk about my personal ones as a council person. As a seventh grade teacher, I am concerned about the youth of our community. I’m very happy to have been involved in the re-implementation of the drug task force, the plan to tackle the drug issues and our policies. I’ve worked on committees that revised the sign and alarm ordinances, and also the personnel policy for city employees. I’ve worked hard to clean up Pride Cemetery. There’s still a lot of work left to be done. When I’m re-elected, the $45 million bond needs to be spent the way the citizens voted and in a timely and efficient manner. An aggressive approach with the Chamber of Commerce and PEDC to make Paris a friendly place for residential and commercial development. The sewer plant and streets need to be a high priority. We need to improve day-to-day operations. These are objectives I want to work on. I’m a hard worker, dedicated to the city and honest. I’m asking the citizens of District 6 to continue to support me by voting for me. I’ve always tried to vote my conscience and do what I feel is right. The words at the beginning of my speech — integrity and trustworthiness — are the two words that describe me the best. I am, Cleonne Holmes Drake, and I want to continue to represent District 6 for the next two years. Always know that I am here for you.”
EDWIN PICKLE, District 6 — “My name is Edwin Pickle, and hopefully you can hear me without the microphone, because I get in trouble all the time for being too loud. I am a candidate for council position No. 6. I live on Johnson Woods Drive. I am married. I even have my in-laws here. That’s what kind of a guy I am — even my in-laws support me! I am the father of two sons. Two years ago when I was up here, I introduced them. Because of a number of issues, they no longer live in Paris. They had to move to seek better job opportunities. That’s part of the reason I’m running, because we have lost a lot of job opportunities here, and there is a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction in my district for the way the council is being run right now, the direction it is headed. I was asked in December if I would consider running again. I declined because I had some other things I needed to take care of. Fortunately most of those things got taken care of by the end of January. I then agreed to run in District 6 as long as I had the support and involvement of the people that live in that district. I’ve been amazed at the support and help I’ve gotten, and all I can ask is that you give me your support on May 10.”
QUESTION: “With a $25 million annual budget, what experience do you have to offer as a council member in the allocation of these funds?”
AARON JENKINS — “The experience I have, I’m a small business owner, I’ve been involved in the last two budgets for Paris, and we’ve reduced taxes while increasing the level of service. And I will continue to provide more service to save money and lower taxes.”
SUE LANCASTER — “With a $25 million annual budget, the experience I have is quite extensive with ExxonUSA and also in vocational departments that I have run. However, you have to consider that the biggest part of the city budget is salaries, and we don’t have a lot of control of that. It’s even harder. We have maybe $3 million that we have to fill so many spaces, to provide things for citizens. So, that’s where I think I can be very effective. With Exxon, we had so many spaces all over the United States that we had to plug money in. You know, with a lot of money, there’s a lot of spaces, so you have to learn to prioritize and pick those things to fill what the council members are supposed to be doing. We’re charged with health, safety and welfare, and those have to be the first items that we make sure we cover in our budget.”
KELLY COLLINS — “Well, I can tell you this: I don’t have $25 million of my own money. I’ve been a small business owner, and I work for American National, and I have to figure out how to manage my money to get through one week at a time. I live on a strict budget, whatever my wife allows me to get away with. I’d like to listen to the citizens of Paris and allow them to help guide me through what our needs are. Because you guys know more about the needs than I do. A lot of the people that live in Paris, if I don’t ask them, I’m not going to know. There’s so many things been going on in town, and I’ll tell you, when you’re working 24 hours a day, it seems like, you’re not caught up to what is going on in the city. So in that instance, I would have to do my best to research on how to spend the money. It’s something new to me. I know we need public safety, fire department, police department, ambulance — we need to spend money there. We’ve got waterworks, sewage. Sewage is outrageous; we need to figure out something to do there. And streets, parks, libraries, swimming pools, and the airport. It would be nice to have the airport grow, but we also have to look at how we’re going to go about getting it there.”
JOHN WRIGHT — “My experience with budget issues is that I was president of the Paris Independent School District for 10 years. The board president is responsible for the budget for the school district. I am partner in a corporation where I sit on the board of directors that’s a $35 million company. I sit on the financial committee of the First Baptist Church. And I feel that my time in those positions have enlightened me in my thinking on how to deal with finance.”
CLEONNE DRAKE – “Well, I, too, have had two years experience now in the council in setting two budgets, and again there’s not a lot of discretion that we can do with the budget — $20 million or more is already set. And then that’s where the council has to look at prioritizing the money that’s left over. And we always need to make sure as we look at projects that we keep in mind the safety issues for the city. I’ve also had experience when I was working with the State of Texas, overseeing grants for the governor’s office. I did the budget for the Texas Crime Victim Clearinghouse and oversaw a budget for the clearinghouse conference every year. When I went into education, I was a special ed department chair for a school in Round Rock that I had to oversee the budget of, and it was a pretty large department. And then I also worked on the financial committee at my church, the Hillcrest Baptist Church in Austin, and helped oversee that budget.”
EDWIN PICKLE – “Well, first off, I am a small business owner. I am also a former bank president. I am currently serving as treasurer of a couple of agencies — the United Way for Lamar County and the Coalition for Education, Industry and Business. I’ve been the treasurer for several other agencies in the past. I have established accounting systems for those agencies. I have looked at four city budgets in the past, and I think there’s probably not a councilman here, nor the mayor, nor (city finance director) Gene Anderson who will not tell you that I know the budget probably better than anybody, and worry the daylights out of Gene Anderson when he presents the budget.”
QUESTION: “Should the city retain ownership of Lake Crook and the land around it or sell or lease the land for private development?”
SUE LANCASTER – “Should the city retain ownership of Lake Crook? Absolutely. In the first place, we couldn’t sell it if we wanted to. I certainly wouldn’t want to sell any of the land for parks. We need more parks, not less. I think we should have this development. I would like to go out and be able to use the boat ramp or water ski, even though I’m not very good at it. It is one of those jewels of Paris that has just been neglected for just a terrible long time. It’s going to take a lot of work to bring that back to where it should be, but yes, I’m very much for retaining Lake Crook.”
KELLY COLLINS – “You know, as I came in I was asked what did I think about Lake Crook, and I want to retain Lake Crook also. I want to do everything in my power to make sure we keep it locally owned, and locally operated. I would like to see more people around here who are able to fund different projects start in a section and work their way around the lake instead of trying to drop millions of dollars or billions of dollars to have it done instantly. I don’t want to see something done like that. There are people around here who have been here all their lives, and I think if the people in the community get involved in it, it makes them feel like they’ve accomplished something. They can show their family something later on. They could say, ‘My grandparents helped do this work, or so-and-so helped do this work.’ But we need to keep it localized. It’s best to keep anybody from the outside from ending up with our money. I’d like to see our money stay in Paris. I don’t want to see money go outside of Paris for any reason. There are so many things about Lake Crook that I may not know because they weren’t explained to everybody. I heard Mayor Hashmi talk about his project, but I still don’t know the whole outcome of how it’s going to turn out, and I’d like to know more about it. I’m going to do my best if elected to research it, and whatever we come out to doing with it, I hope it’s the vote of the people.”
JOHN WRIGHT -- “I think Lake Crook should remain part of this community. I think it should be for the enjoyment of the people. I think that the outdoors look such as fishing, hiking, boating — and I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing a place that sold food. I enjoy a hamburger as much as anybody.”
CLEONNE DRAKE – “I, too, believe that the City of Paris needs to keep Lake Crook, but I do believe something needs to be done with it. We’ve seen councils in the past that have attempted to do something with Lake Crook, just in the early 2000’s, and the use of the lake has been minimum. There’s been past problems with crime, the roads have been closed, etc., so we do need to do something with it. I don’t like the idea of destroying all the woods, but it needs to be cleaned up so that people can utilize it and bring the lake back to life. You know, we had a committee that looked at the civic center and the development of it, and maybe that’s one thing that we need to look at. We need input from people as to what they would like to see done, and this does not need to be done in a harmful or hurtful way. We need good and educated committees to look at all the options and present them to the council and the public. The city doesn’t have enough money to do this on its own, so we would have to look at ways to raise funds to be able to even begin to follow up on cleanup — whatever the committee and citizens of Paris decide to do. I am not for selling the water or the lake.”
EDWIN PICKLE -- “Well, I’m going to make this easy, I’m going to give you an example. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with White Rock Lake in Dallas. That is a lake that is owned by the City of Dallas. It’s 50 acres smaller than our lake. There are homes around it. They’re not on the water. There are roads around it. You go to White Rock Lake, you’ll see the kind of development we need at Lake Crook. You’ve got jogging trails, you’ve got people on bikes. It is the coolest thing in the world. The only place in the world that I’ve ever almost run over a wild hog is White Rock Lake in downtown Dallas. So, I would encourage you to look at that. The one problem they had, several years ago, was it was filling up with silt. Sound familiar? They cleaned it out. Now, they’ve got a lot more money than we do. That’s our main thing that we’ve got to decide. If we want to make Lake Crook viable, it’s going to have to be cleaned out, and it’s going to take money, and it’s going to take some sacrifice by the citizens of Paris.”
AARON JENKINS – “The thing about Lake Crook, I don’t know too much about Lake Crook, I just heard a lot of things about it. And I know this council is not trying to sell this place. I heard that it can be a great place for us all, for the community and everything. And it has been neglected for some time, and I think we can just try to find money and everything to bring it to where the public can use it.”
QUESTION: “What is being done by the city to support small business, and what will you do as a council member to support small business in Paris?”
KELLY COLLINS – “If elected, I want to do my best to see jobs come into Paris. I see Big Lots went out. My wife is always nagging me about getting a Ross store here. You know, women love to shop. If your wife is happy, everybody’s going to be happy. I know that I hate taking a trip to Dallas. I rather run down to the Ross store here, if we had one, or another store, and to go back home and kick my feet up and grab the remote. I don’t know of anybody that really enjoys taking a trip to Dallas. We had the Paris incubator that started a while back — I guess it was in 2010. And all of a sudden, it’s not doing a thing. They shut it down. I don’t know a lot about it, but I’ve been reading articles. When I decided to run for office, I went back and printed what The Paris News and what eParisExtra put on there, all these questions and things they’re trying to do. All I can do is look back and say, ‘What can I do to get things better?’ I mean, how many projects have they started and then chose to decide, ‘Where are we going from here?’ I’d like to see if we can get that rejuvenated and start bringing jobs back in. Also, it’s hard for home owners to do anything. Our permits are outrageous. You know, I’m trying to get a church reopened, and a man came to see me from Dallas about qualifying to get it opened. He’s a fire marshal. It really makes it hard when we keep hiring some outside people to come to Paris. What do we pay the people here in Paris for? Why don’t we keep our money here in Paris? Why are we paying somebody else to do what we have people here with the knowledge and can handle the job? Do we not have enough trust for our people in Paris?”
JOHN WRIGHT – “We recently partnered with the Chamber of Commerce to do what is known as a 380. It’s a program where we fill the gaps of retail that’s not here in town. It’s something that would not be competing with some of the other establishments that are longtime citizens and taxpayers. The way it works, their sales tax is rebated to them, but not to exceed the amount that they paid in for a certain period of time. This is what the council has most recently entertained, and we passed that. We also have other things working with the chamber in coordination with them to explore other possibilities, and it’s something that’s on the front burner right now.”
CLEONNE DRAKE – “Again, like Mr. Wright said, we’ve been working with the Chamber of Commerce to work on retail development, and we’ve also been looking an incentives for businesses downtown. We have a big grant program through Main Street, and I believe that the council is dedicated, and I know I’m dedicated to continue to strive at looking at different options that we can do to support small businesses. I think small businesses are a backbone of our city, and we need to continue to support them any way we can.”
EDWIN PICKLE – “Well, being a small business owner, I can tell you what the city and city council have done to help me and other small businesses in Paris, in my opinion. Absolutely nothing. They’ve decimated the PEDC. They have created a level of distrust. The one thing that they did this last council meeting that I thought was great and about time was the Chapter 380 thing. Now, that was a program that was done in Fairfield, Texas. For those of you who don’t know where Fairfield is, that’s between Allen and Plano, wherever, and that’s where our city manager came from. Where do you think that idea came from? Our city manager. How do you think it’s going to be marketed? Our city manager. That’s why I pushed and really believed when we hired him that it was so important to hire him. We’ve got two council members that opposed that. He’s finally able to do what we want him to do. I’m tickled to death that that’s happening. The only issue I have with it is that they decimated the PEDC and stopped all retail funding of the PEDC. However, I will read to you where the funding for some of these 380 things come from, and these are in retail situations. ‘Economic development grants, loans or incentives may come from any or a combination of the following: sales and use taxes of the PEDC …’ So on the one hand, they were criticizing the PEDC for using their funds for retail, yet now they are turning back around and diverting those monies that would go to PEDC to those retail businesses. Something to think about.”
AARON JENKINS – “The city has reduced the tax rate in the last two budgets and is working on making the permitting process easier, and of course we are working with the chamber of commerce where businesses are lacking and working to bring new businesses to Paris.”
SUE LANCASTER – “I’m very interested in small business because I was crazy enough to create three, and I run three right now. I need all the help I can from this city, and some of the things that I brought to the council was some of the requirements for the buildings when inspectors came were just a little difficult to perform, and a little expensive. I’m pleased to say we’re working on that, and that’s getting better. As far as PEDC, we were not opposed to them doing the message that they were planning to do, which was that they would bring industrial jobs to our city. And that’s very much on message for them. But when they since turned erroneously on expensive in-house, or local lunches for $40, I can’t do that as a small business person. I’ll go out and get my peanut butter sandwich. But we just felt that was a complete break with what the original message to PEDC was. We support them, but we want them to stay on message. We’re working with the chamber to create an atmosphere for small business and a retail business, and we feel that those are two separate things even though they bring revenue to the city in different ways. I’m very pleased with the 380, and certainly our city manager did bring that to us, but that’s why we pay him the big salary, so he will.”
QUESTION: “How high are street improvement and drainage conditions on your priority list if you are elected?”
JOHN WRIGHT – “I think the street and drainage may be a combination problem because the poor drainage is pulling water over our streets, and the cold weather is causing them to deteriorate when water freezes and causes the asphalt to buckle. I think if we could start a maintenance program that could be continuous and be something that we regularly did. I think it’s probably going to take a bond issue to take care of our streets because we have a lot of bad streets. In fact, there are not too many good ones. So that would be very high on my priority list if I’m re-elected.”
CLEONNE DRAKE – “Well, it’s no surprise to anyone that’s driven the streets of Paris that yes, our streets are in poor shape, and we do have some drainage issues in several areas of town. And the drainage issues have been causing flooding in Paris for years, even when I was a police officer back in the 70’s, so we still have a lot of work that we need to do, and I want to be on the council that helps find the solution to get these fixed. I think it is a high priority. And again, it’s not a District 6 specific problem, but it’s a city-wide problem. And one of the things we need is a public works director that can be on hand and be on the ground to help prioritize the cleanup of the drainage problem and oversee that it’s being done correctly. We cannot get everything done in one budget, so we’re going to have to look at ways to fund these projects. And again, we need to look at what’s prioritized, and we need to listen to the citizens, ask what they would like to see done first. And I encourage people to come to the council meetings and speak their voice at the public forum, because we need to hear from you.”
EDWIN PICKLE –“I think that our streets and our drainage are big problems that we continue to have in Paris. We’ve had them for years, and we’re going to continue to have them. All it takes is money, and we’ve got to figure out how to pay for them. Now the street issue, if you remember when we passed the bond issue, it was for water, sewer, and streets. And so there are funds. They’re not going to solve all our problems, but there are funds that the voters approved to be used for the streets, and we’ve got to make sure that some of those funds don’t get diverted toward other things, other extensions or whatever, and that they go to the streets before they go to those extensions.”
AARON JENKINS – “Everyone knows the streets and the sewer are the big problems. And, I would like to stay on the council to make sure this is completed, in a cost-efficient manner. And I will always try to find ways to help with this and make sure we do the right thing for Paris.”
SUE LANCASTER – “With drainage and streets, you hit a real nerve in my area. I’m working right now on a very large survey of the drainage system in District 2. We have huge, long, meandering cement drainage ditches that are chunked with storm damage, trash, and I really fear that if we have any of the rains that we’ve had in some years past, a good many homes in west Paris are going to be flooded. We’ve got to address that. Street-wise, I’m looking at Seventh Street, that’s been torn up to put a sewer line in, and it’s torn right through the middle, and what did they use to fill that? Rocks. It’s bad enough to try to run on a street that’s bumpy, but try running on rocks this big. So we really need to look at these contracts and make sure these who are fixing our streets are doing something we can live with.”
KELLY COLLINS – “What to do with the streets and the drainage. You know, where I’m from, we have some deep ditches. Over on 19th Street, it’s the same thing, we have deep ditches. We’re worried about safety here. Can you imagine driving off the road there, and hitting a ditch. You’d have a flip. I can imagine putting culverts in there. Make a better drainage system. I hate to spend money, but also we’re trying to make it safe for kids. There’s a lot of kids on the west side of town. Put the culverts in and widen the street. You can allow a bike lane going down the side of these. You’re widening the road 16 feet by having a culvert there. There’s a lot of it, even on the south of 19th going to Kimberly Clark. You know, if we want growth, we’ve got to start somewhere. And I think for us to have that, we need to pick a side of town, figure out how much we’re going to allocate to it, and then start working on it. Stop changing our mind and saying, ‘Well, we need this money for something else.’ Go ahead and put that money out there and say, ‘OK, we’re working on this section this year.’ I know the state’s got extra money. The last time I said something about trying to widen some of the roads, I was told, ‘Well, that’s not our road. That belongs to the State of Texas. We only take care of the City of Paris.’ Well, it’s the same thing in front of our church. They’re pouring concrete to stop erosion of a hill there, well how about in front of the church? The sidewalk’s down and already there’s dirt about a foot and a half across the sidewalk because they didn’t do anything to stop the erosion. So are we going to keep half stepping with what we do with the Paris money, with your money? Let’s stop half stepping and do what we’re called to do as council members.”
QUESTION: “If elected to the city council, what would be your top priority for your district and for the City of Paris, and what will be your greatest challenge?”
CLEONNE DRAKE — “Well, the biggest challenge, I believe, would be the Johnson Woods creek issue. There’s already been a study completed, and now we just need to get the funds to make sure we can get this corrected with the homeowners that live along the creek that are losing their backyards. And we need to make sure their homes and backyards are protected from the erosion. With those issues also the mosquito issue. When we had the West Nile a couple of years ago, the one gentleman who passed away was from my district, and I want to make sure that I continue to work with the city and the health department to stay on top of that. As far as the city council, my top priority is to insure health, safety and quality of life for all of the citizens and our kids. That should always be the top priority of any council, no matter who’s on it. And we need to look at those things when we look at any project that the city is going forward with. We need to make sure that any project is done in a timely manner and to make sure they’re done correctly and completely. The greatest challenge is still just going to be finding the funds for the many projects that the city needs. We need to have a working session to look at any projects that each council member believes is needed for the city as we listen to our constituents. And then as a cooperative group, we need to prioritize these and again look at a funding. We have a good staff at city, and we need to depend upon our staff to advise us and to help us find that funding.”
EDWIN PICKLE – “My top priority for my district will be to instill trust and confidence back into the city council. I do not believe that my district right now has any confidence or any trust in the way the city council is conducting itself. Not a day goes by that I don’t get numerous calls from people complaining and wanting to see a change. And so, that’s why I ran, that’s why I’m here tonight, and that’s what I’m after. My greatest challenge will be to get the PEDC back on track. We’ve decimated it, we’ve created a situation where we can’t even get people to volunteer to serve on the PEDC, and I think that’s also being reflected as to why they won’t even serve on other boards right now. They’re dissatisfied, they want to see some changes, and again, that’s why I’m running — to make those changes.”
AARON JENKINS – “The top priority for the city is to make sure the water and sewer lines are replaced and completed in an efficient manner. And I also would like to see my district cleaned up. There’s a lot of trash and stuff all around everywhere. We need sidewalks, we have drainage problems, and we also have yards that when it rains and the water comes up, we have a big problem. We have mosquitoes and everything also. One of my biggest challenges is I’d like to see a recreation center, for the youth and for the older people. And also, I’d like to make sure the PEDC is organized as a cost-effective and efficient organization.”
SUE LANCASTER – “The top priority in my district is definitely the drainage. If you could see the miles and miles of cement concrete drainage systems clogged with trash, trees, branches. And in the bottom of that, horrible stinky water, and we’re definitely going to have lots of mosquitoes in that area. I really am concerned about the health of the group that lives in that part of my district, and I want to see that fixed. The streets, of course, are another matter. If we could put sidewalks and culverts along there as we have the safe sidewalks for schools — which was funded outside of Paris and we were lucky to receive it. We’re also going to get an extension of the Paris trails. Many people in my district do not have a car, and they have to walk, so this is very important to me. I’d like to say a little something about PEDC. I don’t think we decimated PEDC. I think we brought them back to look at what they were originally set up to do, start over again, and do it right. It wasn’t set up to provide private lunches for people. It was set up to bring industry to our town and bring us more tax dollars so we can fix more problems in our districts. I want to see that 380 developed so we have the retail element also in our city.”
KELLY COLLINS – “If I get elected to office, I want to be there and listen to what the people have to say, but my top priorities would be the water and the sewer and the streets. One thing is, I could look at my water bill and really don’t understand it that good, because it seems like no matter if I shut the water off all month, I’m still paying $98 a month for what water I’m using. I can empty out my house and send the kids on vacation and i’m still paying a high bill. So I’d like to see something done there to where we could really understand where we could save money. Everybody likes to save money, but if they send you something you don’t understand, how can you share that with somebody else to tell your kids how to save money? You can’t do that. I’d like to see fairness in code enforcement. I saw them put a placard on a house a few days back, and it says ‘damaged house that was unlivable.’ Well, to me, the man put a new roof on the house. He’s got the windows boarded up. He’s done a good job of it. But I see, across from Justiss Elementary School, here we’ve got a house that’s burnt. There’s not a placard on it, and the yellow ribbons are torn down. I mean, if we’ve got code enforcement, I think we need to make sure we do an even adjustment to everybody in Paris — not pick out certain families to work on, or certain areas. I mean, west Paris is the same as east Paris. If you want to beautify one side, you’ve got to make the other side look good. I think we keep on with the beautification of Paris. We need to also support our police and fire departments. Without the support, what do we have here in Paris? If I am elected, I want to be doing my own thinking. I want to think, and I want to listen to what you have to tell me before I start researching it. I love the Internet, because I can punch it in, and it will tell me what’s going on.”
JOHN WRIGHT –“When I get re-elected, my main points of interest would be to make more decent streets, continue to tear down dilapidated and unsafe houses, make more safe sidewalks for our children, especially around the school areas, and to take care of the drainage problems that we have. The drainage problems, as I said earlier, are deteriorating our streets, especially in the winter time. It’s just drastic what they do. They puff up, bubble, crack and then become a pot hole. So the drainage must be fixed to maintain streets even if we have very good streets. And I’ll work for that endeavor if re-elected.”
QUESTION: “What is your opinion on the proclamation process as it relates to the city council and the citizens of Paris?”
EDWIN PICKLE – “Well, my opinion is we need to change it, and I’m going to tell you right now how I think we need to change it. I think on the last meeting of each month, in our consent agenda we have a listing of all the proclamations that are proposed for the next meeting. In the next meeting, which is the first meeting of the next month, we present those proclamations. That will require a little bit of effort on people to schedule, but we schedule other things. If we get a list, we know what they are, we have no surprises. Although I would love to have a proclamation every week during football season for A&M to beat whoever we play.”
AARON JENKINS – “My opinion on the proclamation process, it has been the same for quite some time, and I see no problem with the process, and have no reason to change it.”
SUE LANCASTER – “Proclamations that we give out each month have been the same for 40 or 50 years. It’s been a very well-run program. I see absolutely no reason for us to change that. It would create a bigger bureaucracy of trying to handle a simple proclamation.”
KELLY COLLINS – “You know, I’ve not been on the council, and I’m not one to sit there and say what we need to do for proclamations, but I would hate to think if we don’t have 100 percent on the council voting for a proclamation I don’t think it should carry. I think everybody should be involved in it. From what I was reading, it said half of the council didn’t even understand what was going on, and all of a sudden we had a proclamation. I think if we don’t get everybody involved, and the community know what’s going on, why keep on hitting people upside the head. Share it with the public. Share it with the public. Let them know, hey, we’re wanting to write a proclamation, and get the people’s vote. Without the people’s vote we shouldn’t even be passing these things. Same thing with our smoking law. I don’t smoke any more, but I sure hate to think we’re going to keep allowing new laws to come into Paris without the people voting for it.”
JOHN WRIGHT – “I think the current proclamation process serves us well. I think it’s equal access for everyone. I’ve yet to see anybody do any proclamation that I thought was unworthy, so I don’t quite understand why it’s not agreeable with everybody.”
CLEONNE DRAKE – “Not to beat a dead horse, but as it has been stated, it has been in place for many years. However, it can always be re-looked at, if that’s what the council wants to do. At one point, the city manager or the city attorney would sign off on each proclamation, and that was recently changed. But we could always go back to that. We can also look at other ways that cities do it, and then as a council we can decide if we want to continue the way it is or if we want to change it. As far as people voting on a proclamation, to take a vote, it takes money, and that’s money that is taken away from the citizens of Paris for other issues and things that need to be taken care of in the city, so I don’t believe that voting — letting people vote on the proclamations — would be the right way to handle it.”
By Charles Richards, eParisExtra