About 75 people attended the Candidates’ Forum sponsored by Alice Newspapers, Inc. at Coastal Bend College Thursday night.
Each candidate was allowed 90 seconds for an opening statement and closing remarks.
City council incumbents and candidates answered questions on topics and issues relating to the animal shelter, infrastructure, collective bargaining and others.
City council candidates also took questions from the audience. Those in attendance included Marc Toureilles, Dorella Elizondo, Ron Burke, Yvette Terrell-Johnson, Leo Escobar, Michael Esparza and Gonzalo Chapa.
Mayor John Lemon, who is running unopposed, was also present.
School board incumbent Lee S. Ramon was the only candidate to participant from the school board race.
His opponent, Antonio Bill, had another engagement and could not make the forum. Mike Cochran and R. David Guerrero, who are both unopposed, did not attend the forum.
Guerrero advised he was attending a district clerk’s conference in Austin.
Newell Atkinson, a land developer, spoke against the school bond. No one represented the Alice ISD to speak in favor of the bond.
The forum was moderated by ANI Executive Editor Nicole D. Perez.
Early voting begins May 2 and continues through May 10. Election day is May 14.
Presented here are some notable comments from participants:
John Lemon, mayor, unopposed
“Principally, it's always been a big issue with me on the city council that we provide information so you can make up your own minds.
“We've done a lot of progressive - infrastructure projects. I know that there are some concerns in regards to the debt level, I hear it quite often. However, with those concerns you also have to be reasoned in the debate that goes on about those particular issues and that is the one thing that I'd like to request everybody to do, to be able to sit down and communicate.
“This is a marketplace of ideas and as you provide information to us or raise questions, we should be able to answer them. I've been here 18 years and the one thing that I can tell you about the city council that we have now is that you can talk to us. If you have a question or you have a complaint, I at least know that I'll listen to you and we're a small enough community that you can get a hold of us and visit with us and I encourage everybody to do so.”
Lee S. Ramon, AISD
“All I can say is my platform is getting the schools better. We're working on it. Schools are getting better, our teachers are working harder and we need to praise our teachers.
“I know that we're going through some tough times right now, but the whole state and the whole country is also. With our current board members, we are working together to make our children get a better education through our teachers and staff. And also to see if we can go to the next level, to higher education…with your help, I would appreciate your help starting on Monday.
Newell Atkinson III, against AISD?bond
“To sum everything up, the school already has too much debt. They've about $65 million in debt now. That amounts to $2,600 for every man, woman and child in the school district and if they pass another $13 million in bonds plus another $13 or so million in interest, that'll bring our school debt to $91 million.
“That would be $3,660 per man, woman and child. There's some that have been led to believe that the $13.5 million bond has been earmarked to build a new Salazar school and increase teachers' pay. I say that that is not true. The bond is not specific other than completion of construction and equipment at Memorial Middle School and levying taxes to pay the costs.
“I don't understand how the school thinks that they can improve the education of our children with brick and mortar. And back there, the superintendent has made the statement in the newspaper that brick and mortar is not our problem with education, with academics.”
“I'm running for city council because I feel we need an independent voice. The debt is out of control, that's one of the main reasons I am running.
“I don't give in to peer pressure and I don't follow the pack. Public service runs in our family. I have a wonderful wife, Yvonne Gonzalez-Toureilles, whom you may know as the former state representative and for the past several years I've been involved in many civic organizations. I'd like to continue my contributions to the city council as well. I'm running for city council because I think it's time for an independent voice, a strong voice, on the city council. I respectfully ask for your vote. Thank you and God bless you.”
“I believe I represent Alice to its utmost. I've been through four mayors and four city managers.
“Some were good and some were bad, but the one thing that I can tell you was consistent is my pledge to the city of Alice to always do what's best for the entire city. I would like to see us concentrate on quality of life issues.
“I'd like for us to work on the pools, I'd like for us to work on the walking trail, I'd like for us to do things that we can show our citizens some of the tax dollars that they have. Really, we take things for granted when we open up a faucet and the water's there or when we water our flowers.
“We take those things for granted but they're here because there's good management and there's good city staff to take care of them.”
Ron Burke, council
“I've adopted the community, I'm an educator at the Alice High School. Whatever I get involved in, I give it my all…service is not just for the older folks, it's for everybody. No matter what part of town you live, they should be able to get the same service. I give it my all.
“Nobody has all the answers and nobody can be a magician and wave a magic wand, but I think part of it is giving it your all and showing this community that there can be a better way, that there can be new directions, and that's what I want to represent for you. When we talk about quality of life, when we read our newspaper and see about molotov cocktails being thrown, when we read about cars being set (on fire) by arson, this bothers me because I feel it speaks to the moral fiber of the community and this is one thing that I think has been not neglected but needs more attention.”
Yvette Terrell-Johnson, council incumbent
“I am not a politician. I am a public servant. I am here to serve the community as I have for the past two years. I'm very approachable, I'm very dependable and you can rely on me to be there and to listen. It is our responsibility to face this deficit today and not continue to prolong and prolong. And that is why we are faced with what we're faced with today. It's not a patch-up job that we're doing and we need to continue to follow through with the big projects and figure out a way, yes, how it's going to get paid.
“Twenty years from now, I want people to look back and say our city council finally did what it was put up there to do and that's to build the new infrastructure, the new sewer lines, the new water lines. When you listen to people, listen to their wants, listen to their needs, it just makes it that much easier to get the job done.”
Leo Escobar, council incumbent
“I am here to represent all the residents…I feel a lot of work is being done in infrastructure in Alice. The Texas Boulevard project, business 281 resurfacing and the bridge of King Street. What I've always done is to represent all citizens equally regardless of status. That has been my platform and to try and better and improve the city of Alice. Texas Boulevard was in dire need of work. It's one of the main arteries here in the city of Alice. And yes, it's taken a while to reconstruct it but we had to start from the bottom up. All of these (projects) didn't just fall out of the sky. It was a progressive and aggressive council that made it happen.”
Michael Esparza, council incumbent
“I think that the city has had a lot of positive growth. I also think that I've lent a hand in that positive growth. I think that we have done what's best for our citizens and what's best for our taxpayers. There's a lot of positive things that are happening and I want to keep that positive momentum that we're doing.
‘But there's also more things that need to be done. We need to revamp some of our drainage, there's some older parts of town that desperately need drainage and they tend to flood, so that's something we need to focus on. I also think we need to secure our water, make sure that we have safe drinking water.
“We're taking care of a lot of things that need to get done, but let's start looking toward the future as well. Another thing that I think is important that we can probably do pretty easily is post our goals individually as far as what us elected officials have on our city Web site so that people can know what we're thinking and what we want to do.
“Maybe we'll even get to the point where we're posting our stance on some of the issues that are going to be brought up to the community.”
Gonzalo Chapa, council candidate
“I am your Medicare candidate. I'm the oldest one, folks.
“I have experience in policy making and the Alice council is a policy-making body. I've served on the Water Authority. I've served on the school board. I've served on the appraisal district. I've served on policy-making groups on the regional level, the state level, multi-state level and national level. Even with that experience and that public service that I have had, I would not have run for the council now unless I had some concerns. And I have various concerns. One, we have an enormous amount of debt that we have encumbered over the last three or four years.
“It's gone from $5 million to about $36 million. That's a 700 percent increase. Long range, there's much that needs to be done. Short range, it's something that can be very easily approached. It's nuts and bolts. Administration positions are filled from one day to the next. However, there is a policy within the city right now that individuals, streets, utilities, parks, the police department and various other divisions, we will not hire. It is just common sense to hire individuals to do the work that needs to be done. Just a minor example in my neighborhood. This weekend, there's a leak. They still haven't fixed it. Months ago, there was a leak on Reynolds Street. It did not take days, it did not take weeks, it took months to get it fixed. That can be done and be done easily.”