Street conditions in Sulphur Springs were on the minds of the three candidates in the race for the Place 1 City Council seat, all of whom spoke during a Thursday night forum sponsored by the Hopkins County Republican Party.
Incumbent Garry Jordan, who is finishing his third term on the panel, is being challenged for re-election by Craig Johìnson and Jordan Horne. Early voting will be held April 27 through May 5. The final votes will be cìast on election day, Saturday, May 9.
Hopkins County Republican Party Chairman Erwin R. Cain introduced each of the candidates to a crowd of about 50 people in attendance at the Professional Ag Workers Association Building in Buford Park.
Jordan Horne, 19, is a 2008 graduate of Sulphur Springs High School, where he spent four years on the tennis team and one year in band. He is currently employed as a night stocker at Brookshire's while attending Paris Junior College with a double major in history and communications.
Horne attends Trinity Harvest Church of God, where he is active in the drama ministry, plays drums in the youth band, and occausionally leads Bible studies and gives sermons for youths, Cain said.
Horne opened his remarks by thanking Cain and other members of the GOP for sponsoring the forum, and by praising the incument.
"It's a tremendous honor to just be mentioned in the same sentence as names such as Garry Jordan, and even just getting to meet [Cain and other officials] is awesome for me," he said. "It really is a privilege. I'd like to give it all to them for putting this on. I'd also like to thank God and everyone who made this possible."
Horne said his age would not block him from serving in a public office with passion and focus.
"The great preacher Timothy said, 'Don't let anyone despise you or look down on you because of your young age," Horne said. "I realize I'm 19. I'm not going to let that stop me from what I want to do, from what I can do, for this city.
"I love this town more than anything. I've even tried to move away - I've come back. That happens to a lot of us - we end up coming back," he said, bringing a round of applause from the crowd of about 50 people.
Horne said he loves politics - "I'll sit at home and watch CNN for hours on end" - and knows that the problems the city of Sulphur Springs faces must be addressed at the foundation.
"In order to make this town better, you've got to start from the bottom up," he said. "You've got to fix the roads. I mean, let's face it - they're not in the best shape that they could be. And I know the budget's slim, but I believe over time we can improve those roads in order to make everything better.
"We've also got to get more businesses here. We've got to make this town look good so businesses will have a reason to come. They're not just going to come for no reason. We've got to have solid roads to get those businesses here."
The city's schools need to be in better shape, he said, but emphasized the quality of education in Sulphur Springs is not a problem.
"We've got to get the schools in better shape," he said. "The school's doing great. as we all saw in that magical, magnificent run to the state championship of the football team, but we tend to forget that 2000 state title brought to you by the academic team.
"People have a really good reason to come here, which I think is awesome," he added. "Every day when I was in high school, every day there would be a new kid - 'Why did you come here?' 'Because this town has really good athletics and good academics.'
I believe that we can improve that, though. I believe that we can make everything better, little by little. Three years from now I'd like to look back and say, 'Look, the graduation rate went up, the grades improved. The roads are better."
The city needs also businesses that can supply jobs utilizing more technology, Horne said.
"Owens [Country Sausage] coming here was a big thing, but how about something a little more high tech?" Horne suggested. "Something that pays a little more, maybe Microsoft or Dell. I'm not guaranteeing that, but something along those lines to keep younger people after they graduate from high school and college to stay here, not just go away and come here when they retire.
Let's give young people a reason to stay here, to raise a family in this great town that we all love," he added. "I believe in partnering with that school to do those things."
Horne concluded by saying his message was sincere.
"I promise if you elect me, I will do everything to represent the people right," he said. "I'm not just going to do what's on my agenda. If I did that I would call myself a poor politician. I'm going to ask every single one of you what you want to see in this town, and I will do my best to do what you, the people, truly want - not for me, but for Sulphur Springs."
Craig Johnson, 38, was next to speak. The owner of Kramerica Outdoor Advertising - "You've probably seen the new digital sign above Chili's," Cain told the crowd - is vice-chairman of the city's Planning and Zoning Commission, which he was appointed to serve on two years ago. He is married and has two children. The native of Sulphur Springs, a 1988 graduate of Sulphur Springs High School, is also activities chair of the Boy Scouts Activities Council.
"Sulphur Springs High School has been very good to me," Johnson declared. "I remember a time before McDonald's and Wal-Mart. To me, Walgreens will always be the Big H. We used to buy our clothes downtown at Carothers Brothers. And as a teen-ager, I actually built a sign for this very building - I notice it's not here anymore - for my Eagle project. Little did I know I would end up in the sign business 20 years later. I have roots here that I hope to have here for the rest of my life."
He said Sulphur Springs is a nurturing town that allows people to grow up and mature in ways that larger cities don't provide youngsters.
"It allows you to learn right from wrong, which I learned from the city, the schools, my church," he said. "This town has prepared me for my life."
He left Sulphur Springs when he was 18 and went to TCU. After graduate school and working in Houston and Dallas, he returned to Sulphur Springs in 1999 and a fledgling outdoor advertising business.
"We went from having just eight billboard faces around here in town to now having 180 billboard faces in both Texas and Oklahoma," he said.
He said he has gotten a valuable education from his serving on the Planning and Zoning Commission.
"I've learned a lot about the inner workings of the way the city operates, and got to meet a lot of good people that currently work for the city, and hope to continue working with them in the future," he said.
He said there are several things that he hopes to do as a council member.
"One would be to promote economic growth," he explained. "Another would be to improve the city's infrastructure. Three would be to maintain and make incremental improvements with city services, and also to maintain and improve the city's revenue through growth without raising any taxes."
He focused his limited time Thursday night on city growth.
"We've been going through pretty tough economic times, and that is a great opportunity for our city, because in the Northeast and all over the country, there are business leaders looking at every aspect of their business," he said. "And they're trying to figure out ways to cut costs, to run their businesses more efficiently. And in the Northeast they just don't understand what it's like to live in a city that doesn't have state, county and city income taxes. They don't really know that that exists."
He said there needs to be a concerted effort with the city manager, the mayor, the economic development corporation, and county and other city officials to convince companies that Sulphur Springs is a great place to live and run a business.
"I think if we all work together this is something we all can achieve," Johnson said. "If I get lucky enough to get elected your city councilman, I will have no specific agenda. There's no issue that I know everything there is to know about, and if someone comes to me with something I'm going to listen to both sides of the issue and try to make the best judgment I can. I think that's the best any of us can hope to do."
Garry Jordan, who is finishing his third term on the council, was the last to address the crowd. Jordan has been married for 32 years and has three children and two grandchildren. He owns Good News Christian book store and currently serves as pastor of Center Grove Baptist Church in Mount Vernon.
"I've enjoyed serving you as city councilman for the last nine years, and I hope I have served you well," Jordan said, before turning to acknowledge the remarks of one of his opponents.
"I agree with you, Jordan - our streets are probably the worst they've been in the nine years I've been on the council, and I'm not happy with that, either," the incumbent said. "We do have a lot of work to do, and we have done a lot of work over the past years I've been on the council. We've got a good working council and I have enjoyed being on it with the other men and women."
Jordan described himself as "a kind of grass roots candidate," saying his family has actually lived in the area ever since the early 1840s.
"Our family actually owns land that has been in our family for over 120 years, so we've been around awhile," he said. "I'm not a fly-by-night - I'm definitely going to be here, and our family's going to be here. I want the best for you and for my family here in Sulphur Springs, Hopkins County."
He then listed a few of the advancements the city has made since he took office.
"We have done a lot of different things since I've been on the council," he said. "We have built a new airport terminal. We sell more of the jet fuel than we've ever sold in our lives as a city, and also the regular aviation fuel.
"Also, we did bring in Coleman Park, and I think it's a real addition to our city."
He also said he helped with the formation of the Farmers Market downtown.
"I actually had someone from Dallas tell me, 'If y'all had a farmers market, you could bring all kinds of people from the interstate,'" Jordan recalled. "So I said I'd see what we can do. I talked to the city manager and kind of got the ball rolling in that area.
"That's one of our newest additions, along with our Main Street, which is very nice," he said as he wrapped up his remarks. "We're hoping all the streets in town get to looking as nice as Main Street. They may not be as fancy, but at least maybe they'll be smooth, anyway."
Four of the five candidates for the other seat up for election this year, Place 2, currently held by Clay Walker, also spoke at Thursday night's forum. They included Walker; Claude Walter; Steve Carmody; and Bradley Edge. The other candidate, Allen Vaughan, was unable to attend due to a family emergency.
Look for stories about the candidates for Place 2 who spoke at the Thursday night forum in the Weekend edition of the News-Telegram, and watch www.myssnews.com for videos of the speeches.
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