SAN ANGELO, TX — Mayoral candidate Tony Villarreal made his debut on the public stage last night at the San Angelo Chamber of Commerce mayoral forum. The forum featured all four candidates vying to become the next mayor of San Angelo. The election is May 6.
Villarreal was second to speak. He took to the podium. He seemed nervous at first, but soon immersed himself into his platform that didn’t sound much different from his competitor Brenda Gunter’s.
A Villarreal administration will prioritize the needs of public safety, then infrastructure. Third, he will hold City staff accountable for the taxpayers’ dollars.
Villarreal spent a good portion of his time describing a building permit issuance system he proposed that operates on the cloud, using tablet PCs for the City’s customers to interface with it.
He said, “Cut the red tape!”
Villarreal said his 38 years as a business owner means he’s ready to serve San Angelo. He summarized his political resume for all to consider as well, what he called a life of public service, including two terms as mayor of Fort Stockton.
Above: Brenda Gunter and Tony Villarreal at the Chamber Candidates Forum on March 28, 2017. (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
Brenda Gunter had preceded Villarreal. Her priorities were similar, though she stressed the need for growth and development first in order to pay for new infrastructure.
“If we don’t have [economic] growth and development, we lose. We lose people, jobs. We lose opportunities. And then we lose sales tax dollars and we lose property tax dollars,” she said.
In order to grow the economy, Gunter repeated her campaign motto, “Put San Angelo back in business; let’s cut the red tape.”
Second to the economy is infrastructure, Gunter said. Third is public safety. Then, Gunter opened up a new idea that her opponent Zach Taylor expanded upon later in the forum.
“We must have a City Hall that in fact has the public’s trust,” Gunter said. She listed multiple problems she sees with the City, including one of the highest tax rates, water and sewer rates, commercial trash rates, and high debt to capital in the state of Texas (San Angelo ranks number 4 statewide, she said).
“All of these decisions have been made within the past four years,” she added. “I am a conservative and believe in an efficient, smaller government. I believe prosperity should be had by individuals and by businesses. And I believe we should have the opportunity to live our lives with less regulation.”
Above: Mayoral candidate and Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer addresses the Chamber of Commerce Mayoral Forum on March 28, 2017. (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
Candidate Charlotte Farmer took issue with Villarreal’s and Gunter’s representation of the City’s permitting office for getting new construction or remodeling construction permission from the City. She said much of the problems with permitting have been fixed under her tenure on the city council.
Both her opponents said the permitting office was not business friendly and a drag on the City’s prospects for economic development.
Farmer discussed specifics of City efforts to streamline the permitting process.
“Cutting the red tape is redundant and unnecessary,” she said. After the forum, she expanded on the specifics of what has been accomplished.
The City spent over $300,000 in new software and hardware to run building inspection applications, provide reports, and allow property design paperwork to be sent in electronically. She detailed the three components of the City’s new permitting application, including:
- Glick2Giv (front end software)
- ProjectDox (the application’s front end interface), and
- Naviline (the back end software system)
Above: Zach Taylor, candidate for San Angelo mayor, at the Chamber Candidates Forum on March 28, 2017. (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
Zach Taylor, the 24-year-old startup candidate, started his presentation by comparing himself to Councilman Lane Carter who is in his younger generation. Carter upset Liz Grindstaff last year in winning the SMD 5 council seat. Monday, Carter was hailed for his leadership and his no compromise approach to securing promised pay increases for the San Angelo Police Department.
“Thankfully, the youngest member of the council stood up and fought for what is right,” he said.
Taylor said he wants a smaller, transparent government. On budgeting, he suggests the City separates its “wants” from its “needs.” His spending priorities are police and fire, roads, and water.
“We are tired of our tax dollars being spent in the dark. We are tired of poorly negotiated contracts. We are tired of our city government restricting commerce,” he said.
Then Taylor dropped a bomb on the City staff, calling for a review of their performance and labeling them “unelected bureaucrats.”
“We need to look at the performance of our unelected City bureaucrats. Last week’s fight between our City and our [police] officers highlighted the fact that for too long these unelected bureaucrats have not had the best interested at heart for our citizens. It’s time we scrutinized their taxpayer-funded positions. If the performance of these individuals is no longer up to our standards, then maybe it’s time to look for another direction,” he said.
The forum lasted just short of one hour. Chamber President Dan Koenig moderated by asking a series of five questions, giving each candidate the same allotted time to explain their position. It was attended by about 60 citizens at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre at the Central High School campus.