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Challengers for Paris City Council seats respond on controversial issues

A week and a half of early voting begins today at the Lamar County Services Building (old Post Office Building, 231 Lamar Ave.) in Paris for the May 10, 2014, municipal and school elections in Paris and Lamar County.

In an attempt to educate City of Paris voters with the candidates for the Paris City Council, eParisExtra attended and reported Saturday on Thursday night’s City Council Candidate Forum, sponsored by the Association of Lamar County Republicans, which drew six of the eight candidates.

Beyond that, eParisExtra attempted to further explore and make available to voters the candidates’ positions on several explicit and controversial issues that Paris City Council members have been trying to come to grips with in recent weeks.

Interestingly, the four challengers to the District 1, District 2, District 3 and District 6 seats responded to the eParisExtra survey; the four incumbents declined. We present below the answers we received.

On the ballot are:

  • District 1: the incumbent, Aaron Jenkins, 45, of 1715 Fairfax Street; and the challenger, Joe McCarthy, 70, of 1260 17th St. NE.
  • District 2: the incumbent, Sue Lancaster, 74, of 1020 Bonham St.; and the challenger, Kelly John Collins, 53, of 1720 W. Houston St.
  • District 3: the incumbent, John Wright, 83, of 3605 W. Houston St.; and the challenger, Benny Plata, 57, of 850 19th St. SW.
  • District 6: the incumbent, Cleonne Drake, 57, of 2501 Simpson St.; and the challenger, Edwin Pickle, 57, of 220 Johnson Woods Drive.

Early Voting hours are from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today and Tuesday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week and on Monday and Tuesday of next week (May 5-6) — all at the Lamar County Service Building.

On Election Day, May 10, the polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with registered voters from Districts 1 and 2 voting at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds, and registered voters from Districts 3 and 6 voting at the Lamar County Service Building.

We present, below, the responses received to the eParisExtra questionnaire for the city council candidates for the City of Paris:



District 1 challenger Joe McCarthy
Dist. 1 challenger Joe McCarthy

JOE MCCARTHY, District 1 — “I was born in Paris, attended public schools and in 1963 married my childhood sweetheart. We had two sons — Tracy and Joey. I have four grandkids — three boys and a girl. I lost my wife, Dorothy, to cancer in 1994. I am a member of the Solid Rock Baptist Church, where I serve as a trustee, am a choir member, and am a member of the B-Men ministry. I was a member of the Paris City Council off and on since 1998 and have served under five different mayors. I have also served on three city boards — the Planning & Zoning Commission, the Paris Housing Authority (including two terms as chairman), and the Traffic Commission. I also been on the Child Welfare Board and the ArkTex Council of Governments, including a term as a voting board member. I am retired from Kimberly-Clark, where I worked as one of four plant superintendents, being responsible for safety, production and waste, supervising up to 150 employees and reporting only to the plant manager.

Dist. 2 challenger Kelly Collins
Dist. 2 challenger Kelly Collins

KELLY COLLINS, District 2 — “I attended high school in northern California and joined the Marines in 1978 at the age of 17, reporting to the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot at San Diego. In 1986, I moved to Paris, where I met my wife, Shirley, to whom I have now been married for 25 years. We have five children and seven grandchildren. In Paris, I served with the 952nd Engineer Company of the Army Reserves, I had a small business called Mescom Computers, and I also worked for Campbell Soup. For the past 11 years, I have been an agent for American National insurance. I have been a volunteer for Red Cross, the Red River Valley Fair Association, and COP. I serve the Lions Club and am a past member of the Kiwanis Club. I am a part of the Amateur Radio and Sky Warns for severe weather. I also love to golf, fish, hunt, and I enjoy serving the community.”

Dist. 3 challenger Benny Plata
Dist. 3 challenger Benny Plata

BENNY PLATA, District 3 — “I have lived in Lamar County for about 52 years. I was raised, along with my five brothers and five sisters, in the Deport/Cunningham area. My family moved to Paris in my late teens. I graduated from Prairiland High School and Paris Junior College. I have lived in the city of Paris for about 40 years. My wife, Noemi, and I have been married for 36 years. Noemi is a 25-year veteran teacher at Thomas Justiss Elementary in the Paris school district. We have two sons who graduated from Paris High. Daniel, my oldest, lives in Carrolton with his wife Vanessa and their two children, Luca and Ellie. Michael, my youngest, lives in Paris with his wife, Regan, and their son Gage. I have been employed at Kimberly-Clark for 31 years. Before settling in Paris, I lived in the Dallas area, but my roots were always in Paris. When Kimberly-Clark opened their plant in 1983, I jumped at the opportunity to come back home.”

Dist. 6 challenger Edwin Pickle
Dist. 6 challenger Edwin Pickle

EDWIN PICKLE, District 6 — “I am an Aggie, married to Kelly Pickle (Elementary Curriculum Director-PISD), 29 years; two boys, Connor (percussion director for the Melissa Independent School District) and Cooper (designer for ThyssenKrupp-Frisco). I own Kwik Kopy Printing and the Steelman Center on Lamar Avenue. I came to Paris as bank president, but at the same time I was looking for other career opportunities. I currently serve as chairman of the NeTseO Trails Boy Scout Council, treasurer and past chair of the Lamar County United Way, the Lamar County Coalition of Business, Education and Industry, and Keep Paris Beautiful. I also serve or have served on the executive boards of Dylan’s Driver, Rotary Club of Paris, and the Lamar County Chamber of Commerce, among others. I am also a volunteer for Meals on Wheels, Food for Kids, and the local VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) group.


QUESTION — “Why are you running for the Paris City Council?”

JOE MCCARTHY, District 1 — “I am running for the council because I feel I have the experience working with other council members, capable of making a decision on my own while listening to the wants of the people. I can stand on my own without being coached. I feel that I can continue to be an asset to the city in making decisions that will benefit the city as a whole and not special-interest groups.”

KELLY COLLINS, District 2 — “I want to help save Lake Crook as an asset owned and developed by our community, and to leave a legacy to be remembered by our grandchildren. The citizens in District 2 are uptight about our water, sewer and trash bills. Common sense is what members of the council need, mainly to think for themselves with no hidden political agendas from the citizens. I want to make sure the water, sewer and streets projects are completed on time and on budget, as promised to voters. I want fairness in code enforcement. The council must establish clear priorities and hold the staff accountable. Common sense must apply to setting priorities.  Cleanup and beautification of the entire city is critical to our future. We must provide support for police and fire protection of our citizens.”

BENNY PLATA, District 2 — “Ten years ago, I served on the city council. Since then, I have kept myself informed about issues concerning the city of Paris. A couple of years ago, the idea of running for city council started going through my mind. When the city council started toying with the idea of selling off Lake Crook, I became concerned. When the council took $5 million out of the bond that the citizens of Paris had voted to use for infrastructure repair, to run the sewer line out to the airport, I decided to run for city council. The residents of Paris need someone to voice their concerns with fairness and impartiality. I would like to be that voice.”

EDWIN PICKLE, District 6 — “I am running because constituents in my district have lost trust and confidence in the current city council and the direction(s) it is headed.”


QUESTION — “What is your understanding of the “council/manager” form of government that the City of Paris functions under, as prescribed in the City Charter?”

JOE MCCARTHY, District 1 — “The manager is just what it says in the Charter. He runs and oversees the daily operations of the city with input from the mayor and other council members. The mayor has no more authority than any other council member. His/her job should be to cut ribbons, sign proclamations and represent the city as a figurehead and attend meetings as a figurehead only. The mayor should work with the manager and council. A manager should not have to answer to a mayor, but to the council as a whole.”

KELLY COLLINS, District 2 — “City council members are elected by the citizens, and they are to represent the citizens who put them in office. The council is to make decisions in the public meeting, not behind closed doors or in secret meetings. The city council is there to put policies into place and govern by the laws of the state and ordinances of the city that will protect and serve the citizens of Paris. The council does not need to manage the city’s daily operations, and they don’t need to direct city employees. The council hires the city manager to run the day-to-day operations of the City of Paris. The mayor is elected by the council members, presides over the city council meetings, and acts as the voice of the council and the citizens.”

BENNY PLATA, District 2 — “The city manager is to manage the day-to-day operations of city business. Council members act as the legislative body, to set policy and give directives to the city manager on issues agreed upon by the city council as a whole. The mayor is a council member elected by the remaining council members to serve as presiding officer of the city council. The role of council members is to make good, sound decisions for the well-being of the citizens of Paris and the city itself.”

EDWIN PICKLE, District 6 — “The city manager’s duty is to run the city. The city council establishes policy and procedure that benefit the citizenry. The mayor is the leader of the council in ceremony only, otherwise he is to have no more authority and/or powers than any other city council member. I believe it is the city council’s duty and responsibility to follow the city charter. As the city manager explained two years ago, he has a job to do and the city council has no business doing his job.”


QUESTION — “Engineers on the $45 million infrastructure bond issue approved by Paris voters in 2012 estimate that the cost of a new street is twice as expensive as the combined cost of replacing the water and sewer lines underneath. If all the bond money goes for replacement of water and sewer lines, what do you do about the streets?

JOE MCCARTHY, District 1 — “The infrastructure bond was a much-needed thing for our city, way past due. While this is a fix for a major problem, it has created and will continue to create a much bigger problem. What are my thoughts? “Houston, we have a problem.” Do I have a fix? No, but the council, manager and staff will have to come up with a solution, which will result in added cost, which ultimately will be passed down to the taxpayer.”

KELLY COLLINS, District 2 — “If we tear up the streets to replace water and sewer lines, we must fix them back. There must be a balance, and the job must be completed for the city council to gain and keep any credibility with voters. To me, this is common sense. Voters have a voice if we listen to them. We owe it to them to get these jobs done. We must replace as many of the worst water and sewer lines, starting on the west side of Paris, and put back the streets until the money is gone. I would love to know if there is any additional money for streets and to look at culverts instead of ditches to make a level and safe road. We must be smart about it. Lamar County Water Supply already has water lines to the airport. We don’t need to duplicate water lines. We should work with LCWS. I do support bringing sewer to the airport.”

BENNY PLATA, District 3 — “The water and sewer lines are past due for an upgrade. That upgrade is going to cause street damage. However, I feel that the streets should be repaired. The street repairs need to be done correctly so that the streets last and money isn’t wasted. Sometimes, streets are repaired with an asphalt patch that does not last. If street repair is needed, then the bond money should include repair of those streets. When the money runs out, repairs should halt.”

EDWIN PICKLE, District 6 — “First, we must be sure that we use all the allocated funds to replace existing deteriorating and damaged water and sewer lines, not to expand those lines to other areas. Second, we should repair and replace as we go. As we tear up streets to repair lines, those streets become priority before the next lines are laid. Last, the council should budget funds on an annual basis to complete the entire project and also set aside funds for future needs — something that previous city councils did not do — while always looking for special grant and loan funding to assist this need.”


QUESTION — “In December, the city council approved a comprehensive plan developed over the past year by city planner Alan Efrussy for mixed use of Lake Crook, including parks, a golf course, open space, walking tracks, and boating, plus retail and residential. How do you feel about an effort by a group calling itself “Friends of Lake Crook” to scrap the plan in favor of a more passive approach?”

JOE MCCARTHY, District 1 — “At this point in time, I totally support our local citizens in their efforts.”

KELLY COLLINS, District 2 –“I support this citizens group. I want to do everything in my power to make sure we keep it locally owned and locally operated. I haven’t heard that the group wants to scrap the entire plan. They just don’t want to sell the lake to private developers and lose control of the lake that does belong to the citizens of Paris. The city manager and city planner should meet with the citizens group and look for areas of compromise. I’m sure the group would support part or all of a plan that is approved by a vote of the people.”

BENNY PLATA, District 3 — “I am not in agreement with the plan for Lake Crook that the council approved. When I served on the city council, the city was asked to do a study for the purpose of developing this particular area. The study showed that a large majority of the land around Lake Crook is not safe and solid soil to build upon. Based on that, I feel that the majority of the land around Lake Crook isn’t safe for development. However, I do think that an updated park with new playground equipment, more fishing areas, etc., are ideal for that area. Lake Crook is owned by the city and should remain with the city for use by the residents of Paris. I’m not saying that there aren’t parts of land around the lake that would make nice home sites, but by no means am I OK with the plan drawn up by the city.”

EDWIN PICKLE, District 6 — “The best way to express my vision for Lake Crook is to look at White Rock Lake in Dallas. That lake is owned and maintained by the city of Dallas.  It has beautiful homes, streets with bicycle lanes, jogging paths, etc. and is only 50 acres smaller that Lake Crook. White Rock Lake also had the same problem we are currently facing, silt. Approximately 10 years ago, the City of Dallas dredged the lake and returned it to the pristine condition it had once been. The city of Paris could use this lake as a template for Lake Crook. This could result in significant tax revenues while maintaining Lake Crook’s beauty and uniqueness.  This is a long-term project however and cannot be resolved overnight.”


QUESTION — “One of the biggest controversies of the past year has been the turmoil surrounding the Paris Economic Development Corporation. Have the various developments — including a succession of resignations — left the PEDC “broken”? If so, how can it be fixed?”

JOE MCCARTHY, District 1 — “The PEDC has been destroyed by design. This board is the most vital board to our city’s future, and board members should be people who have knowledge of economic development and should do what is best for our city’s growth, not special-interest groups. How can this be fixed? (1) By hiring a director who will work for industrial growth and development of our city; and (2) selecting qualified people who will work for the betterment of our city.

KELLY COLLINS, District 2 — “The mayor has criticized the PEDC since his election. I don’t think the city council should interfere with the boards and commissions they appoint. The PEDC (and the health department board) should be respected and supported by the council who appointed them. Let them do their job without interference. There seems to be a big problem at the PEDC with the new board. I remember in 2012 they brought the Skinner Bakery to the old Sara Lee plant. This was good. They also brought some new lines at Campbell Soup and several other projects. We need to support what they have put in place to bring jobs in. I don’t know where it went bad so quick. I wonder if this new board and its members have to fight for control over who is pulling the strings. I hope we can let the PEDC get back on track. If I am elected, I will work to appoint people who will put the citizens over self-gratification, but want to work for the good of the city and bring more jobs.”

BENNY PLATA, District 3 — “I am not familiar with every aspect of the PEDC, but I do know that the PEDC takes in a lot of money every year and has barely anything to show for their efforts. Money was wasted on constructing buildings built for businesses that were to move to the Paris area, but proved to be futile. The buildings then were almost given away by the PEDC to local businesses. This has given many citizens of Paris a negative feeling about the PEDC. The PEDC needs to be more open with the public concerning their business dealings and work towards being people friendly.”

EDWIN PICKLE, District 6 — “In June, the city council should take the opportunity to completely overhaul the PEDC board and sit members who are experienced in economic development, free of other agendas or motives, and eager to see the community grow. I have been involved in creating an economic development corporation outside of Paris, and I would like to see us put one rotating member from the local financial institutions on an annual basis. Since part of the PEDC’s duty is to create incentives for industry (loans, grants, etc.), who better to make financial decisions than individuals who perform this task on a daily basis? Also, since the PEDC receives its’ funding from sales taxes which are derived from not only people within the city limit, but the county as well, the council may want to expand the selection process to the county as well. Just a thought, not necessarily a recommendation.”



JOE MCCARTHY, District 1 — “No comment.”

KELLY COLLINS, District 2 — “The city council must not make decisions in private or ahead of time before a meeting. The few city council meetings I have been to, just to know about the smoking ban, it seemed like the council had a made-up mind. I pledge to educate myself on the issues and make informed, common-sense decisions for the good of our community. I will not be influenced for power or gain. This is not what the city council is for. They are representing the people of Paris, and I will stand for my district. We must listen to the people who elect us, not a small group of personal advisors who have axes to grind. I will bring common-sense and new ideas and more clear perspective to the city council. I will make informed, independent decisions in the best interests of our community.”

BENNY PLATA, District 3 — “If I am elected to the city council, one of the major goals I will strive toward is to serve people with utmost fairness and integrity. People of Paris need to be heard, no matter how big or little their problems. I truly believe that residents who take time out of their busy schedule to contact their representing council member with any kind of problem should feel confident they will be listened to and be able to meet face to face with their representative. Working together, both parties will be able to reach a better understanding of the problem and work towards a solution.”

EDWIN PICKLE, District 6 — “I’ll only focus on one pet peeve: A city council person is elected to make difficult decisions. The council should not hide behind committees to make its decisions, nor be selective about which recommendations it chooses to heed when it feels the ‘need’ to form committees. Regardless of which candidate you support, Please vote! Thank you.”

By Charles Richards, eParisExtra

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