San Angelo Mayoral Candidates Square Off for the First Time
SAN ANGELO, TX — Three of the four mayoral candidates participated in a forum sponsored by the San Angelo Tea Party Tuesday night. Candidate Tony Villarreal had another engagement and did not attend.
About 75 citizens attended to see the first public appearance of all of them since each announced and filed to run. Participating in the forum were businesswoman Brenda Gunter, Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer, and newcomer to the political scene Zach Taylor.
Candidates were given about five minutes to introduce themselves. Following the introductions, the candidates took questions from the audience fielded on 3x5 index cards.
Above: Mayoral candidate Brenda Gunter at the San Angelo Tea Party forum on March 14, 2017. (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
Brenda Gunter went first. She described her humble beginnings in a small farming and ranching town in western Kansas as one of seven siblings whose mother earned her GED after raising her small children.
“I can relate to the citizens of San Angelo because I have lived a life, and been a part of a life, very similar to the citizens and individuals who live here,” she said.
Gunter also referenced her former career in the fashion industry, calling it a very tough and unforgiving business.
“One thing they don’t allow you to do in that industry is push the problem down the road,” she said.
Overall, Gunter pledged to meet San Angelo’s problems head-on. Among the issues she promised to tackle were to remove unnecessary obstacles to run a business in San Angelo. She complained that San Angelo has the highest commercial trash rates, high water rates, too much debt to capital, and high property taxes.
She promised to robust an economic development agenda for San Angelo that grows the local economy and attracts investments and jobs.
Above: Mayoral candidate Charlotte Farmer (standing) at the San Angelo Tea Party forum on March 14, 2017. (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
Charlotte Farmer spoke second. She mentioned her roots, growing up on a farm in Artesia, New Mexico.
“Growing up there, I learned the value of family, faith, and land use and its proper management,” she said.
Additionally, as a banker and small business owner in the real estate business here, Farmer stressed her strong commitment to San Angelo. And then she introduced several of her grown children dressed in suits sitting on the front row. All of them operate small businesses in the region, she said. Charlotte said she has six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
“The growth of my family has given me a deeper understanding of the value of the decisions we make at the city government and how they affect them (her children),” she said.
Farmer said city government should make good decisions to keep jobs in the area that will keep our children and grandchildren here.
“Instead of them moving away to a foreign place, and foreign to me means Dallas, Texas, I don’t want them to go to Dallas. I don’t want them to go to Houston,” she said. “I want them to stay right here in San Angelo.”
Farmer said in order for that to happen, all of our children need the promise of the ability to make a good living.
“How we tax properties and how we spend those tax dollars is a very viable aspect of that,” she said.
Farmer listed what she saw as improvements the city council has brought to San Angelo, including Mayor Dwain Morrison’s street improvement plan. She also noted the five-year plan for water line and sewer line replacement to coincide with the street repairs.
She praised the efforts to raise police salaries to be in line with comparable cities since 2005. Those salaries started in the 60 percentile last decade and today are in the 80-to-90 percentile, she said.
This was likely Zach Taylor’s first public appearance as a candidate. He said he is the 24-year-old running for mayor. Taylor said he was waiting for a candidate with his viewpoints to file to run and didn’t see one, so he filed to run himself.
“I want limited government and transparency,” he said. He was student body president at Central High School and served on student government while at Angelo State University.
Taylor said he is against any sales tax increase. But Texas law states that the state sets the sales tax rate at 6.25 percent. Cities, counties, special purpose districts and transit authorities can impose up to 2 percent additional, with a maximum rate of 8.25 percent. He may have meant property tax rates, which can be raised or lowered by the City.
Taylor noted sales tax revenue to the city is less than the boom times of 2015.
“We need to step back and see what is a want and what is a need with the budget,” he said.
Taylor promised more transparency by moving city council meetings from the traditional 8:30 a.m. Tuesday time slot, every other week (approximately), to 6:30 p.m. so more citizens can participate. He also proposed allowing council members hold scheduled office hours for better transparency.
Taylor decried closed-door meetings.
“The Republic deal was done behind closed doors,” he said, referring to the trash controversy that arose from the 2014 trash contract, most of it negotiated under a “no lobby” clause preventing public disclosure of the proceedings.
“I’ll end the micromanagement of property owners,” he said. He mentioned the Short-Term rental, or STR, ordinance. Taylor said he would allow STRs.
With a nod to Mayor Morrison, he paraphrased him.
“The only rights we’ll have as property owners is to pay taxes if we continue down this path,” he said.