Experience and youth were both on display Thursday night when four of the five candidates for the Place 2 City Council seat spoke at the Hopkins County Republican Party meeting.
Incumbent Clay Walker, who has served on the panel since 2002, addressed a crowd of about 50 prospective voters, as did challengers Claude Walter, Bradley Edge and Steve Carmody. Alan Vaughan, the other candidate, was unable to attend due to a family emergency.
Claude Walter, owner of AES Walterstart, was the first to speak, allowing that he wasn’t born in Sulphur Springs, “but I got here as quick as I could.”
He moved to Sulphur Springs in 1981. He had two children who graduated here, which taught him something about Sulphur Springs.
“Usually when there’s a state mandate that comes down, Sulphur Springs High School was ahead of it — you’d already done it,” he said. “That has been a very enjoyable situation to live in, where we were ahead of somebody else. We weren’t playing catch-up.
“And I think we’re poised right now for tremendous growth in our city, and with a little vision and some hard work, we’re going to make this city the kind of city that we expect it will be,” the candidate said.
Walter noted that the work to revitalize Main Street is an indicator that city leaders are taking steps in the right direction.
“It’s not going to be just Main Street — it’s going to blossom out in the entire city,” he said. Yeah, we’ve got sewer problems, we’ve got water problems, we’ve got all kinds of problems. You see the street problems right now because you have to drive on them. We do have those problems, but they’re all problems that are being addressed.”
The recently launched Farmers Market on Main Street is also another sign of progress, Walter said.
“I expect to see that grow beyond just Main Street. That is not only bringing people into the middle of Sulphur Springs,” he said. One of the byproducts of the Farmers Market, he said, became apparent when he stopped at Burgers and Fries on College Street this week for lunch.
“The girl at Burgers and Fries said it was one of the best Saturdays she’s had in a long, long time. Is that doing something good for somebody that’s already here? I think it is.”
Walter brought a few grins from the ground with an observation about local politics.
“I was born a Republican,” he said. “It was not until I moved to Sulphur Springs that I found out that Republicans aren’t what I thought they were because everybody in Sulphur Springs is a Democrat. But in any other part of the country — and I’ve lived in several places — the people in Sulphur Springs would be known as Republicans.
“If I’m fortunate enough to have y’all vote for me, I think I’ll bring vision to the office,” he said in conclusion. “I’ve lived in enough places and have enough experience that I hope that I can be a good keeper of the taxpayers’ dollars.”
The second candidate to speak, Steve Carmody, is married with two children. He said he’s only lived in Sulphur Springs about two years, coming on board as manager of the Lowe’s store when he moved to Sulphur Springs in November of 2006 from Henderson, where he worked with the Chamber of Commerce while employed with the Lowe’s store in that city.
“When I was told I needed to interview for the Sulphur Springs store, I said, ‘Where is Sulphur Springs?’” Carmody recalled. “I grew up in Longview, was originally from Shreveport, lived in Dallas for quite a while, but I can tell you that since being here, my wife and I have definitely fallen in love with the community. Just being a part of this community is absolutely fantastic.
“Being a part of a small community is a great thing. I wish more people could be a part of a small community like this. It’s a very good community to be involved in, and I appreciate that.”
Carmody said he began to consider running for a council seat after reading an item in the News-Telegram.
“I read in the paper that council seats were open and that so many people had gone unopposed and only 400 people had shown up at the polls,” he said. “That just dumbfounded me, that a community of 15,000 people and only 400 were involved enough to go to the polls. I really thought that’s something I should get involved with and be a part of.”
Carmody believes Sulphur Sπrings is growing, and has a great opportunity for growth, “and I want to be a part of that.”
“Whether I win or lose the seat, I think, is a win for me either way,” he said. “If I do win, obviously I’d love to be involved in the politics and help guide the city in any certain direction, but just the fact that I’m being involved with you guys tonight and with the community in the whole is just a great thing. I think it’s a win for me either way.”
He said community programs sponsored by his employer have helped direct his focus on the needs of many people in the area.
“‘I’ve really learned a lot about the community,” he said. “We go out in the community and help unfortunate folks that need some help, whether that’s rebuilding a house or that kind of thing, so I’m starting to see a lot more of the community being in my position at Lowe’s.”
Carmody also believes he has an advantage in terms of objectivity.
“I’ve only been here a little over two years, so I feel like I have a true unbiasedness to me,” he said. “I haven’t been involved greatly with the community up to this point, but I’m really wanting to get involved, and being that I’m not from the community, I feel like I’m really right down the middle of the road where I’m still learning on both sides of all the issues and I’ll really be able to take a good path down that road.”
He also said he has confidence that there are opportunities to create new and more desirable jobs in the city.
“I met with the Sulphur Springs economic development corporation the other day, and just the things that have happened in the community and the things that are possible in the community, the tech growth in this community is obviously key and a big area that we need to focus in on,” he said. “I think that also will be something I can get involved in.”
Bradley Edge, a 2000 graduate of Sulphur Springs High School who graduated from East Texas Baptist University in 2004, was next to speak.
Edge is a funeral assistant and pre-need counselor with Murray-Orwosky Funeral Home. He is youth choir director and a Sunday school teacher at First Baptist Church in Sulphur Springs. He previously was active with the Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors and Relay For Life.
“I want to run for this City Council because I truly do love this town,” Edge said. “I was born and raised here.
“Now, I had a stubborn spell, and I went off to college thinking, ‘I’ll go visit, but I’m never going back to Sulphur Springs after I graduate college.’ I thought I’d move off like all my friends did and go to some big town,” Edge recalled. “After spending about a year in college, I couldn’t wait to get back here. I realized how blessed I was to come from a place like this.”
His number one reason for wanting to be on the Sulphur Springs City Council, he said, is to see some economic growth.
“It’s very hard for someone my age with a college degree to find a job in a town this size, unless you’re a school teacher or a nurse,” he said. “That’s about the only major college degree jobs we have in this town, with a few others scattered around elsewhere. I have a friend in Austin who said, ‘Man, I would love to move to a small town like where you’re at and raise kids in that town.’ My response was ‘Come on,’ but he’s got to have a job.
“So it’s not just finding new jobs, but getting some higher paying jobs. And how do we do that?”
Edge quoted statistics that indicated the median income for the state of Texas in 2007 was $45,000. In Sulphur Springs, it was $35,000.
“Now I would much rather make $35,000 and live here than make $45,000 and live in Dallas,” Edge said, bringing murmurs of agreement from the crowd. “But we also have got to compete with some of those places. Why not get some of those teachers out of the Dallas area and get them here? Why not find jobs for people coming out of college to come and move back to Sulphur Springs? That’s my main thing.”
He said the main complaint he’s heard from citizens concerns street conditions.
“We would all agree Main Street is a beautiful project. It looks great,” he said. “But sometimes looks are deceiving. Its functionality is a little questionable because it’s a little small, and we’ve heard a few complaints about how that was done, and maybe we need to rethink as we move forward with Connally Street and with others.”
The second most common issue he’s heard from citizens concerned the lack of a city recycling program.
“That’s something I’ve heard from several people my age,” Edge said. “My generation is what they call ‘armchair activists.’ They want to see great things happen, but they don’t want to do anything about it. They kind of want it to be given to them and sit back and say, ‘I gave money to that,’ or ‘I threw a bottle in a recycling bin, so I’ve done my part.’
“I’ve done a little checking into that (recycling) and hope that we can look into that more and what can we do to give back a little bit to the environment and stop wasting all the things that can be recycled.”
Incumbent Clay Walker was last to take the podium.
Ironically, Walker seemed the most uncomfortable on the podium, but he was candid and sincere as to why that was the case. Walker explained that he was appointed to fill an unexpired term in 2002, then had no challengers for re-election in 2003 or 2006.
“This is the first political speech I’ve ever made when I was seeking the vote,” he said, bringing a few chuckles. “I’m the only guy whose never received a vote. I’m a novice. This is my first.”
Walker used his time to discuss both his experience and to discuss some of the problems facing the city.
Walker graduated from Sulphur Springs High School in 1971, then went on to get a degree in construction science. He and his wife have been married 23 years, and they have three daughters.
He has been an auto body shop owner and manager, spent seven years with his father in church construction in 15 states, and managed highway construction projects for 7 1/2 years.
Like one of his opponents, Walker was not born in Sulphur Springs, but he did move here in 1962 at the age of 9.
He recalled riding bicycles with in the woods where the Civic Center now stands. At about the age of 14, Walker said, he worked a couple of summers for the city, and remembers cutting the grass at Buford Park with push mowers.
“Having worked for the city a couple of summers when I was a kid, I saw all parts of the city,” he said. “We worked in the old sewer plant and did some pretty gruesome jobs. We worked on the streets. I had the opportunity to see all facets of the city.”
He said he moved to Sulphur Springs from a “GI city,” Lawton, Okla., which he indicated was a rather rude environment.
“I couldn’t believe how friendly they were in East Texas,” he said. “It was a change that struck me, and it’s still that way. People have hardened a little bit over the years I think but there’s still a sense of community here.”
He said his admiration for Sulphur Springs grew even greater after he traveled around the country with his father to work on church construction jobs.
“We worked in a lot of states, and I realized what a special place we have here in Sulphur Springs. We truly do,” he said.
In the past, Walker said he worked for a construction company here as manager, and during that time sat on the Texas Department of Transportation’s Associate General Contractors Board and airport advisory board, “so I’m familiar with that kind of thing.”
“I’m familiar with heavy highway construction,” he said. “I’ve got some pretty good credentials with respect to roads, and I feel like my experience and knowledge is valuable for a place on the City Council.”
He also addressed some of the complaints about infrastructure problems in Sulphur Springs.
“Let me say this — the city is going to spend about $1.4 million on streets in this budget year, and I feel like I can help direct that so we get the most bang for our buck,” he said. “The city is limited in the funds we’ve got. We haven’t raised the taxes since I’ve been on the City Council. We’ve got the same rate. Fees have gone up and things like that, but we’ve got to live within our means, and we know that. We spend $600,000 to $700,000 (per year) on water and sewer, and I’m familiar with utility construction and I feel my experience will be valuable in that respect, as well, so we can continue to keep our taxes down.
“Right now, of the last 11 months, we have had nine months where we’ve had an increase in sales taxes, which is unlike the national numbers, as you all know. So we’re holding up pretty good,” he said. “I’ve got a great interest in this city and the success and prosperity of the city.”
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