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(EDITOR’S NOTE: Below is the Q&A for all candidates running in the Gladewater City Council and Gladewater ISD in the May 5 election. One answer provided by incumbent councilman Leon Watson was accidentally omitted from the print version and we apologize for the error. It is included in this version on our website and on the Mirror’s Facebook Page.)
This Saturday Gladewater voters will be asked to decide whether they want to keep the status quo and give Mayor Harold Wells two more years for an even 10 years in office, or vote for change and new leadership by drafting current councilman and mayor pro-tem J.D. Shipp to quarterback the council.
Voters also will be asked to decide between eight-year incumbent councilman Leon Watson and former Gladewater police chief and current local realtor Farrell Alexander for the Place 2 seat.
Brandy Flanagan is unopposed for the Place 3 seat currently held by Lana Niemann.
There were 3,611 registered voters in the last mayor’s race and only 534 people actually cast ballots to decide who would lead the city council and chart the city’s course for the last two years.
This year, out of 2046 registered voters in Gregg County and 1554 registered voters in Upshur County, there have been 250 early voters as of Monday evening.
Over in the Gladewater ISD election, George Glenn is unopposed for re-election to his Position 7 seat, while newcomers Jamie Cook, former classroom teacher, and stay-at-home-dad Jeffrey Sperier are competing for the Position 6 seat.
GISD registered voters include 3,077 in Gregg County, 2,519in Upshur County and 1,365 in Smith County. As of Monday, only 223 voters had cast early ballots.
The Gladewater Mirror and Gladewater Garden Club hosted a candidate’s forum in April and voters who are still undecided may watch the video by going to: https://www.facebook.com/GladewaterMirror/videos/1874054675961573/: on the Gladewater Mirror’s Facebook Page.
The Mirror also asked each candidate to answer questions so voters may have a better understanding where each candidate stands on pressing issues facing the city and/or school district.
Briefly tell us about your educational and/or business background and how that experience and expertise will help you in representing GISD or the City Council if elected.
J.D. Shipp – I’m a 1992 Gladewater ISD graduate with a Master’s degree from Texas A&M University. I returned to Gladewater in 1999 to work alongside my father and uncle at Shipp’s Marine. My educational background allowed me to develop a set of logical thinking skills to apply in all aspects of my life. The work in the retail industry provided me an opportunity to work with people from all walks of life. The management of the business has taught me the importance of chain of command, employee retention, customer service, and fiscal responsibility. All the above are attributes which best serve our community.
Harold Wells – I have been a successful State Farm representative serving the greater Gladewater area for 43 years. I have also served as a Gladewater Chamber of Commerce Director for 43 years and served as a past president. I have had the privilege of serving on the Gladewater Museum Board of Directors for 43 years and as an officer many times, as well as a 43-year member of the Lion’s Club and past president, and two years of experience on the Airport Board. I have also been a Gladewater Round Up Rodeo Director for 35 years and have worked with the Association since 1975. I was appointed by Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt to the local Historical Marker Committee where I served for 12 years as a director and two years as chairman. I am currently serving on the TXDOT Metropolitan Planning Organization board that is working on improvements from the loop to Locker Plant Road.
Farrell Alexander – I graduated high school and went to Clarendon College and then Texas Tech University looking to further my education in Agriculture. I studied Ranch and Feedlot Operations and Animal Production. In the bad economy of the 80’s the cattle feedlot I was at went out of business and closed its gates due to the bad economy. I went to the Sheriff’s Office of my hometown of Wheeler TX and got a job as a deputy sheriff. That was in July 1985 and was my first law enforcement job. I later went to work at Littlefield TX Police Department for a few years, and in November 1990 I moved my family to Gladewater. I started with the Gladewater Police Department and worked under Chief J.R. Keene and Captain Jimmy Davis. I worked my way up through the department and retired in Oct 2013 as the Chief of Police. I am a licensed real estate professional and have operated my own business since retirement. I have been very involved in the community and my church throughout the time I have lived here. I serve as an Elder at Gladewater Bible Church. I progressed through 10 years of part time seminary training classes offered by Seminary Extension and graduated Seminary earning a diploma in Pastoral Ministries while working the street. In the late 90’s I saw a need for those that lived in the violence and chaos that was in our lower income and minority communities. There was drug dealing, thieving, assaults and killings that were destroying our youth that lived in and near the Housing Authority. With the help of First Baptist Church I started a ministry to those children and families using an empty apartment in Greenway Village. I did all that I could to bring a message of hope and love to all those that I met. I was able to continue that ministry for 3 years from 1998-2000. I could not stand to see the children hurt and victimized through the crime that occurred at night, so I came and ministered to them during the day. I have spent many hours and many opportunities having frank conversations with drug dealers and criminals trying to get them to change their ways and allow God into their life.
My experience entails working for the city as a rank and file employee, and later as a department head responsible for a $1,000,000 budget and supervising 25+ employees. I understand the inner workings of the city. I have a perspective that no other council member has. From that experience I understand and know the difference between frivolous spending and needed spending. I understand the needs of the city and the importance of providing quality services at the lowest cost. I love the City and it citizens. I have been here through thick and thin, good times and tragedy. I have located and returned stolen items, lost children and troubled teens. I have rejoiced with you in good times and cried with you when I had to be the one to tell you your child or loved one has passed. I have committed now over 27 years of my life, the lives of my family, and my health to the citizens of Gladewater through public service, Christian commitment, and volunteerism.
Leon Watson – I graduated from Gladewater High School and Kilgore College with an Associate of Science.
Was in the Marine Corps for 22 years. At Texas Eastman for 37 years in Research & Development as a Senior Technician. My college degree and training at Eastman taught management giving me an insight on management skills, leadership was a high priority in the Marine Corps teaching how to get along with others. All of this will be a definite tool for anyone serving on the City Council.
Brandy Flanagan – I am a graduate of the University of Texas at Tyler with a Bachelor’s Degree in Speech & Organizational Communications. The emphasis of this degree is to identify roles and communication gaps within an organization then implement strategies to overcome for a more cohesive organization. It also instructs how to communicate effectively, orally and written, with constituencies, employees, stakeholders and the community at large. Professionally I have been an entrepreneur since the age of 25. One of those businesses is Gym 101 Fitness Center in Gladewater, TX. Starting with nothing but a dream and zero dollars to our name, my husband and I opened a small gym located in a downtown storefront; growing it to over a quarter of a million-dollar business sitting atop an appraised million dollar, 10,000sq/ft Premium Fitness Facility located on 4 beautiful acres. We celebrate 15 years in business this November. I still oversee this business as well as our commercial leasing company which houses The Loft Professional Suites. Much of my time now is spent offering my 15 years of business expertise as consultant services to Small Business Owners throughout East Texas. I provide this service through my company, Crackerjack Consulting & Coaching, where we aim to “Make Business Fun Again” teaching simple strategies that produce big impact. Throughout the year I professionally speak as a Keynote Speaker for groups and conferences as well. My other area of governing is as President/Board Chair of 20 sites throughout East Texas with the Boys and Girls Club of the Big Pines; one being our Gladewater location. When elected, the organization as a whole was in a budgetary deficit due to quick growth and ineffective structures set in place. Within a year, myself along with the CEO and Board Treasurer, identified areas of concern, implemented new strategies, policies and procedures, as well as consolidated some sites with Board approval; producing a surplus in the budget as well as provided needed staff positions to ensure proper organizational function. This now allows us to effectively serve the kids and families in our varying communities.
All of this lends to my ability to enter an organization, observe then identify areas of concern, implement strategies to address the concerns, oversee the implementation, then effectively communicate to those impacted. This is what I spend everyday doing. I will do the same through the City Council. I will also lend my skills learned throughout my business experiences on creative financing to really dig into the budget to ensure there is room made so our basic needs as a city are taken care of; a fully and well-staffed organization, clean water, working sewer, good roads, quality housing and education, effective telecommunications; then diving into ensuring Gladewater thrives in intellectual capital and innovation.
Jamie Cook – In addition to being a certified teacher, I have an MBA and a BBA with a focus in Accounting. I taught at Gladewater Middle School for eleven years, and I assisted and led various extra-curricular groups and activities. As a teacher, I have served on several committees, and I am currently serving on the Gladewater ISD’s DEIC committee. Although I took off two years ago to stay home with my youngest son, I am still an active volunteer with the school system, assisting both teachers and students. I am so blessed to have this extra time with my son and to have the time to be an active member in the community.
Jeffrey Sperier – I graduated from gladewater high school in 1998. I attended Kilgore college majoring in Computer Science! I think that my background as being a student of GISD will help me represent the district because I know about everyone that I might be working with and the potential the district has.
George Glenn – I am a former graduate of Gladewater ISD. I graduated in 1987 from Gladewater High School. I soon became employed with the Gladewater Fire Department in 1988. I was employed with the City of Gladewater until February 1998, when I began my career with the City of Longview Fire Department. I am married to a wonderful wife Angie, whose is also a Graduate of Gladewater and a teacher. I have three boys Bailey, Tyler and Garrett Glenn. I have a vested interest in maintaining the highest educational experience for all students in Gladewater Independent School District.
Q – To those seeking re-election, please tell us what your greatest accomplishment has been while serving on the city council and/or school board.
J.D. Shipp – The best is yet to come. However, two items do come to mind. The expansion of Highway 80 between Locker Plant Rd and Loop 485 not only addresses a safety issue within this area but also should stimulate economic growth. I appreciate former Texas State Representative Tommy Merritt for his guidance in that process. The other was ultimately a joint effort between city and school to block entry of a facility that would have negatively impacted our community. The letter that I drafted and ultimately submitted to the State is attached for review. I appreciate Chief Rob Vine and former GISD Superintendent JP Richardson for allowing me to reach out to them on a Sunday morning for input. You will find the letter ‘i’ in the word island but not in the word team.
Harold Wells – I am proud that I was able to be a part of the Gladewater Museum becoming independent from the city as well as being instrumental in the Garfield Hill Community Building deed transferral to the Weldon Alumni Association. I am also proud of being a part of the 1979 grant to redo the airport’s runway and the recent $100,000 grant ($10,000 matching from city) we received to make improvements. We need to oversee the quality of the work on this project. I was inspired by articles in the Gladewater Mirror to adopt Everett Park to personally clean up because my wife, Linda, and I walk there. I have had a lot of help from the city’s public works in accomplishing that goal.
Leon Watson – My first objective was to convince GEDCO to work with the City and account for their budget which is approved by the City Council. Prior to this move GEDO did not report to anyone. Another accomplishment was to recruit three City Managers and one City Secretary (splitting City Secretary and Financial Secretary since one with both talents was not available. Another was to assist in selling city property no longer needed by the city to assist in purchasing much needed street repair equipment. Helped facilitate the reworking and routing of city water.
Q – To those city council candidates seeking to unseat an incumbent, please tell us what you think is your opponent’s worst decision made while they served on the city council board and how would you have handled it differently.
J.D. Shipp – I believe there exists a major difference in the philosophy of leadership. We as a council do not and should not have to vote the same for any item up for consideration. However, we should be united in the common goals of our community. Goals which are defined by the citizens that appoint us to serve them. We do need a plan forged through town hall meetings. A plan which best defines the needs and wants of the community in moving forward. This should be the hallmark of our community.
Farrell Alexander – As a longtime employee of the city, I understand and expect that each city manager that is hired is working to build his resume’ for the next job. We are a small town and we will never have a city manger that will stay longer than about 4-6 years. That is just the way it is. As such I can see when certain projects or actions that are proposed by the city manager may not actually be for the benefit of the city and its employees but will be an accomplishment on the employment application for the next city. The council must be overseers and take their role seriously and evaluate the city manager’s actions and determine the necessity and validity of his actions. Section 37 of the City Charter explains how the council should act when there may be a conflict with the City Manager’s appointment or removal of department heads and employees. When a young inexperienced City Manager has plans to remove a longtime department head who has a spotless and impeccable employment record shortly before they can fully retire, solely because they can save a little money and they want to put their own person in place, the council should be advising the city manager about that decision. This is the first part of Section 37.
“ Section 37. COUNCIL NOT TO INTERFERE WITH CITY MANAGER’S APPOINTMENTS
Neither the City Council nor any of its members shall direct or request the appointment of any person to or his removal from office by the City Manager or by any of his subordinates. However, the Council may consult and advise with the city manager, make inquiry regarding the appointments or removals and may express their opinion in regard thereto.”
The council cannot interfere, but they can advise and express opinion. For the council not to is dereliction. When running a business or an organization, the most important part is the employees. One cannot run a successful business if they do not take care of their employees. The quality of work will always be poor when you get rid of your most tenured, experienced and committed people. It also tells the ones left that they could be next and destroys morale. The council needs to be paying attention and determining for themselves if the actions of the city manager are good and proper or not. There will always be those employees and department heads that will unfortunately need to be removed but when members of the council won’t take the initiative to even speak privately to the city manger about an obviously unwise decision he is about to make, several questions become apparent. Does that council member even care? Do they understand that the city manager will be gone soon and those who are here will have to live with that decision? Do they know what the charter says and what action are they allowed to take? Did they just not pay attention and had no idea until it was too late? I will be involved and engaged in the affairs of the city. I will allow the city manager to do his work without interference, but when he is about to make a very poor decision and destroy a committed, loyal, employee so that he can save budget money and build a resume’ I will speak up as allowed in the charter. He will be soon long gone and on to the next city, and we will still be here working and dealing with the effects of the decision. As an old street cop, I will have no problem in speaking up when it is needed, and when an injustice is about to occur.
Q – For both school board and city council candidates – please tell the voters how you propose to bring the school and city closer together so they may work for a common cause.
J.D. Shipp – Meetings…there must be meetings between the two boards to best serve our community. The color scheme of my campaign signs was intentional, orange and black. The city and the school are one. I recently attended an economic development seminar. We were told that site base search firms noted in 2017 that the number one deciding factor for their clients was a community with a school district that offered workforce programs in middle school. It is our responsibility as a city to communicate this to our school district. A dovetail to this discussion would be the city, through GEDCO, helping develop after school work programs for students with local businesses. I have had an opportunity to meet and visit with new Gladewater ISD Superintendent Cedric Clark. I foresee a great partnership between school and city.
Harold Wells – City Council and school board members need to attend each other’s meetings to promote understanding and cooperation. I have confidence in our school board but I feel we should support them more with our presence. I also supported the GISD school bond for the future of our community’s children.
Farrell Alexander – When the school district, economic development, chamber, city boards, council and citizens are all working together for a common cause, it seems that whatever they set out to do will be a success. Strategic plans have been completed, then shelved, then a complete change in direction plotted only for it to be discarded and forgotten. Any business that wants to be a success must have a business plan. Any organization must have goals, or its direction will always be determined only by what is the most urgent at the time or whatever crisis is happening and no real progress is completed. I discussed this with a friend of mine recently who owns a Lawn Care business in Gladewater. The question was boiled down to how can the city make a plan that can be modified when needed and yet rigid enough to survive the changing out of council, city managers, and others who are a part of it? The plan must include all those entities listed above. Each one has a part to play and are responsible to the others to see it to fruition. When the citizens are also brought into the plan then there is the accountability to those who pay taxes to each entity to continue and perform the plan. If we want Gladewater to be the place everyone wants to come to, and provides high quality services, then we will have to work together and hold each other accountable to perform.
Leon Watson – I have proposed for years to ask the school superintendent for a meeting with the school board to discuss how we could assist them and suggestions for a better infracture. When a family or company is looking to relocate, they are looking at infracture and schools.
Brandy Flanagan – (Combined answer for Question 4&5)The financial strains facing public schools and local government make dialogue and cooperation essential in maintaining, not to mention enhancing, the level and quality of services for its citizens. Building a working relationship will only be accomplished through group meetings & communication with the city’s City Manager & Council and the school’s Superintendent and Board. One immediate area to address would be identifying shared services both engaged in, then examining the quality and efficiency of those services and their impact on both organizations; lending to shared-service agreements which could save money. In research, some other areas identified as possible cost-saving strategies were found in salary guide construction, health benefit cost containment, insurance savings and community partnerships.
Jamie Cook – I believe there are many ways the school and city can work together. City and business leaders can mentor different groups at the schools. Students can discuss careers and challenges with people in the actual positions. Every year a student will always ask, “when am I going to use this”. When the students are able to see these concepts being used in actual careers, they are experiencing real world applications. Student groups can work with community groups to beautify Gladewater. Community members can volunteer at the schools. There is always a need for a volunteer at the school. The WatchD.O.G.S. program is at Gladewater Primary and Gladewater Elementary. In order for the program to work, it needs volunteers! I would love to see this program implemented at the other two campuses. There are so many ways the city and school can work together.
Jeffrey Sperier – I would love to see the District and City to come together and bring more stuff in the town to keep the interest of our children!
George Glenn – As a current board member I feel it is imperative the board works closely with the City in determining the needs for both entities. We (City and District) are evaluated based upon impressions from from external as well as internal decisions. We must constitute a willingness to collaborate our values ; both as a district and city. We must work together to provide a vacuum for new programs for our students to be able to excel in all aspects of life.
Q – Both the school district and city face uncertain financial futures – reduced financial assistance from the state and federal governments in the form of grants, loans and aid could leave a larger financial burden on the backs of local taxpayers. How do you think the school district and city can address the many immediate needs, while not over-taxing local property owners?
J.D. Shipp – Taxable value within the city has been stagnant for the past seven years. We must address increasing taxable value. This is the other side of the equation that has not been as earnestly focused upon as budget cuts. With the latter, we are putting city services at risk. You can only trim fat so far until you begin also trimming meat from the budget. Property taxes have increased to a rate that we dare not ask for more. We, as a council, must task ourselves to aggressively push for economic growth within our community. We must think of ourselves as Gladewater, Inc. New homes, new retail businesses and new commercial businesses all represent increased taxable value. This, in turn, would also increase sales tax revenue. While grants should always be sought, it is sales tax revenue and increased taxable value that should be the focus of Gladewater, Inc.
Harold Wells – We (the city council) is working on a plan for debt reduction on existing obligations for the city. I sign the checks and see the burden, and where our money is going. We buy all we can locally. It is a shame that we don’t have more hometown businesses that can provide for all our hometown needs. Also, our long-term goal is to make sure that the community ballpark complex becomes self-sustaining. We are working toward that goal.
Farrell Alexander – The city will have to be laser focused on providing services at the at the least cost possible. Some services will have to still suffer a reduction for several years to come. We must look at ways to reduce the debt payments early, slowly build and keep cash reserves with a commitment to not use them except in a dire emergency. We must work together on the council and with the city manager on a plan to attract and encourage businesses and residents to locate here and invest in Gladewater. Equipment purchases will need to be thoroughly evaluated to make sure they have multiple uses and represent the most efficient use of funds. Infrastructure projects will need to be prioritized. We will need a council that is committed to looking for unique ways to get projects funded and completed. Goals and planning with accountability to the taxpayers is the key.
Leon Watson – With these goals it is imperative that we concentrate on our needs and not wants. Tighten our purse strings until our goals are met.
Jamie Cook – In regards to finance, we must make do with what we have. There are certain needs that must come first. Once the immediate needs are addressed, we are able to look at other pending needs. In doing so, we need to make sure that every group at GISD is taken care of and that we are not giving too much to one group while another group gets overlooked.
We need to look at all areas of the schools, and we need to see where we can reduce our expenses while finding new ways of bringing in extra revenue. Are there things that we can eliminate without hindering the educational experience of our students? Are there building expenses that can be reduced? Is there a way we can bring in extra revenue by hosting playoff games or district events?
The city and school could work together to benefit each other. There may be a need for items the GHS print shop could assist with. We have a wonderful Ag Mechanics program that could offer different things for our community. These are just a few examples. Instead of the city paying large amounts to an outside individual or company, they might be able to work out a cost effective deal with the school that will benefit everyone.
Jeffrey Sperier – No answer provided
George Glenn – This is a very complicated subject, especially dealing with the State legislatures. Public school funding has been dramatically cut at the state level. Currently funding is still in the hands of the legislatures who have been unable to find a compromise for funding of public schools. This is where the local boards and superintendents have to become financially responsible in budgeting and cutting costs. We cannot just depend only on public school financing, we must be financially sound in our decisions.