This is where we live-blogged tonight's forum that took place at City Hall in Commerce, TX. Mayoral candidates: Dr. John Balotti and Coby Marcum. Council candidates: Emma Martin, Sue Davis. Steve Harrison, who opposes Emma Martin, could not be present for this forum.
6:04pm: Show begins on time - Scott Harvey explains that candidates will have a time limit to answer questions.
6:07pm: Balotti's opening statement asks a question: "What is uncertainty?"
6:10pm: Marcum's opening statement. "I have a background in marketing.... Customer service is very important to me."
6:12pm: Martin's opening statement. "I come from a large family. Taught school at Wolfe City for 28 years. I've come back home to Commerce... would like to see growth in Commerce."
6:14pm: Davis' opening statement: "I'm unopposed, so I don't need to campaign, but I can tell you the city is in good financial shape. Would like share - early trip after I was elected, went to Roanoke, TX. Far more taxable entities, but outstanding main street. City cannot accomplish wonderful things unless council works together. Commerce has major hurdles, namely Covidien, which is one sixth of the taxation budget."
6:17pm: Q&A time. Q1: Nearly 75% of Commerce streets are fair to poor, based on credible survey. What do you think of street improvement plan, and how can you expand on the 3 year plan when it's complete?
6:18pm Martin: I think the plan is good. I'll have see what's going on in the next 3 years.
6:18pm Balotti: Doing multiple searches in capacity with the University - would be pleased if a percentage of them would live in Commerce - roads are a big hurdle there. Glad there's a plan.
6:19pm Marcum: For unemployed citizens, pretty roads don't mean much. Would like to focus on getting people employed. No fast easy answers, but this is a money issue.
6:20pm Davis: We've never had a street project. We're so glad to have it going. Thanks to the nearly $1M from University - it's helped us. We must be doing something with our streets. How can we bring in professors if our streets aren't passable?
Question 2 - emailed from Quay Throgmorton. When Covidien closes, that would bring tax rate well above other cities. How would you encourage other residents and employers to live and work in Commerce?
6:23 Marcum: It's a tough sell. If we ask them to look at the customer service here as opposed to other places, as well as the education available here, that could help offset the higher tax rate. My main focus on that would be customer service here.
6:24 Balotti: I tend to agree. Hopefully we can entice more business. We need to sell the City to these prospective homeowners and employers. I've lived in a number of University cities - this one is very easy to get around. We need to sell that it's economically feasible to live here. We need to sell the beauty of Commerce.
6:25 Martin: I also agree with Mr. Balotti. We need to get together with the people. What are their concerns? I think generating revenue and listening to the people is the only way to get this job done.
6:26p Davis: We don't anticipate needing to pay any debt incurred for the next few years. We don't anticipate raising taxes. We've got plenty of money to carry out our street program. Any citizen can come check out maps and timeline.
Question 3: What new advancements could the City and University work toward in order to serve both entities?
6:28 Balotti: We need to look at relationships between businesses and university students. Part of this is as we have new incoming students, develop a sense of ownership in the town. We can continue to flesh out a plan between the city and the university.
6:30 Marcum: We need to find a way to make the money generated in Commerce STAY in Commerce. Students are earning money here and spending it in Dallas. We need to develop business that speaks to students. Would like to attract restaurants, bowling, roller rink - something to keep the students in town. If you look at relationship between city and university - follow the money. From economic POV, would like to carry out these things as well as develop a community center that is owned by both entities.
6:32 Martin: Hats off to A&M-Commerce. They're doing well. Would love to see a hotel on campus. Otherwise, the University has done well for Commerce. There's not much else we should ask for.
6:32 Davis: We've had excellent relationship with the University for the past two years. We appreciate David McKenna. We'd like to continue a good long journey with the University. We appreciate so much the resource they put toward our projects. I can see no reason why our great relationship will not continue. We help each other, and we will continue to.
Q4: Two major lawsuits the city's involved in. Are you in favor of these lawsuits?
Martin: I don't know enough about the lawsuits to answer.
Marcum: I'm not privvy to the inforamation about the dumping lawsuit. As far as current mayor lawsuit - If we stand on principle, the fact is it's costing a lot of money. I don't know all the details, but outsider looking in, it's a financial burden. It cannot be good for the city. If we could put the $60K into a park or program, that would weigh more.
Balotti: I've not invested a great deal in learning about those lawsuits. It may well be that the idea of "cutting your losses" may not be a bad one. If we start to broach six figures, it may not be a worthwhile effort.
Davis: Mute point. It's over. There is no lawsuit anymore with the Throgmortons. We felt we should pursue on advice of our lawyers, but it came to an end. We were satisfied with the cost. As far as dumping lawsuit - it's moving forward and should be good for the city.
Q5: Council working together - sometimes it doesn't. How important is that.
Marcum: I don't know that "go along to get along" is effective. I don't think that "it seemed like the right thing to do" is not a good reason to vote for or against something.
Balotti: It's either win-win, lose-lose, or lose-win. Win-win is best, obviously, but everything doesn't go that way. When you're engaged in this type of discourse, what you're after is consensus. It may not be unanimous, there could be dissent. But this is a small group. Small group decision making is designed to solve problems. It's better for the city that there's a consensus.
Martin: I'll be working for the whole city of Commerce. The purpose is unity and progress. It takes unification. I'm a people person. I'm here to listen and put it into action.
Davis: We've had disagreements over the last two years, but it's all worked. Good decisions, bad decisions, but we've always had a reason and we've always explained it. Cohesiveness in a council is important. It's been tense, but we always worked through it.
Q6: Examples of positive decisions and ways you'd like the council to continue?
Balotti: Trying to hold the budget and the tax line - we have a budget we're working toward - we know what its going to cost over the next few years, and we need to look forward to dealing with that.
Marcum: parking changes recently - it was read, concerns were addressed, it was passed, it was modified, and it went smoothly. It wasn't treated as passe. Would like to see more of that. Logical decision making.
Martin: Building this building, where the community and the council got together - this is something we've done. This is what we should continue to do. Work with our neighbors and our community to accomplish our goals.
Davis: example of budget process: city employees hadn't had pay raise in two years. We came up with across the board raise. There was dissent, but it was what we decided. We also raised the tax rate a penny or two. I got a phone call. "Sue, I don't mind you raising taxes as long as we continue to see improvement in the city." All decisions are not popular ones, but that thing was one of the best we'd done in years.
Q7: As a council member, what can you offer to the upcoming budget process? What ideas could you offer? Cuts in staff possible?
Martin: I'm not going to comment on that.
Balloti: We need to find ways to cut that doesn't involve staff. We need to seek out cuts that could go unnoticed. Perhaps we focus on generating extra income. In my experience as Ops Manager for a store in Freemont, CA, we found ways to deal with the loss of income so that individuals are the last to be let go. I think we seek out opportunities to save money in other ways.
Marcum: Campaigning, I wouldn't like to say yes to cutting jobs, but we need to do what's best for the children growing up here who don't know what debt is. Would like to see city run like a business that runs the risk of folding. City Hall is here for the residents, not the other way around. We have to do what's best for the whole. We'd love to stimulate the economy to cover the costs, but if it came down to it, I wouldn't shy away from hard decisions.
Davis: no business is run better than the City of Commerce. We know a crunch is coming with Covidien. As of now, they're leaving in 2013, and it's 1/6 of our budget. But Mr. Clayton is doing an excellent job. Extra revenue would be wonderful. CEDC is working hard. But we will do the best we can with what we have, and be thankful for the resource to do what we can.
6:54pm - Questions from the audience?
Jim Latham, County Commissioner - My concern is your long term plans. Mrs. Martin, are you planning to run for multiple terms? Martin: Yes. Davis: Yes. Balotti: Would like to learn, but yes. Marcum: I think it would be hard to accomplish my vision in less than three terms. Based on what I've seen, what I've learned, it would take at least that long. Follow up to Marcum - you mentioned you wanted my job when my term is up. That would give you one term. Do you stand by that? Marcum: I would like to be county commissioner one day, but my goal is to serve three terms here as mayor, should the citizens of Commerce see fit to put me in that position. I would owe it to the city of Commerce to pay back some of the commissioner's salary for projects.
Diane McDowell: I'd like to know your stance on the issue of filling top jobs in the city with people who don't live here?
Marcum: You put the best person on the job. If they can get here after a short trip and are the best for the job, that's what's best for the city. I don't want to unnecessarily narrow the pool for any reason.
Balotti: I concur - the City deserves the very best candidates for various positions. There are likely people in town who are perfectly fit for these jobs, but we have to recruit them. They need to apply for the jobs. It would be nice to say we'll only hire Commerce people, but we must hire the very best person for the job.
Martin: I would have no problem hiring qualified people from elsewhere.
Davis: I concur with Balotti. If they live in Commerce and they're qualified, they ought to be given the opportunity.
7:01 - any more questions from audience?
Carolyn Trezevant - how would you strengthen code enforcement in Commerce?
Martin: Workshops. Training.
Balotti: Codes are on the books. An error in code enforcement is part of what got me involved in this process. If it's on the books, we don't have to come up with something new, we just need to enforce what we've got. I think we get with the City Manager to find out what's not being enforced and why.
Marcum: It's a tough thing to follow up on. There was a gentleman recently who after multiple citations refused to bring his property up to code. He just moved away and kept paying the fines. We might need to strengthen the codes in order to grow the fines if they're not motivation enough.
Davis: We do have a chain of command for code enforcement. I think our city is not any different from any other city. There's always something that needs code enforcement that people can't get to in 15 minutes. We may need workshops, but our staff does the best they can do. We may need to look at it over the next two years, but there'll always be problems. I think we can handle them.
7:04pm At this point, blogger Jerrod Knight missed the question from Dr. Bob Johnson, who indicated he was enjoying the forum.
7:12 Closing remarks.
Martin: If elected, busy, optimistic, positive, determined. That's what I have to offer.
Balotti: Thanks to KETR for the forum, as well as the audience. We were invited to come down and share our vision of where we want the city to go. The devil is in the details. This can change as often as the weather. My vision was to try to work on building the relationship that will grow the city - the relationship with the University. I am intimately familiar with the leadership at A&M-Commerce, and I'm confident there are things I can do to help the city grow.
Marcum: I'm running for the office of Mayor for the city of Commerce. I follow Jesus, who served people. I'd like to serve the people of Commerce, and I'll do my best to serve with all my heart. Feel free to contact me via telephone, email, or through my website, and thanks for the opportunity.
Davis: Thank you so much for your trust and support these last two years. I've enjoyed nearly every minute of it. We've accomplished a lot. I can promise the citizens of Commerce that with our increased street patrol and improvements, we as the council will make decisions that benefit the city and that all of us can enjoy.
Reminder - early voting starts Monday. After the closing of the polls on May 12th, KETR will deliver the information to it's listenership.