Infrastructure, collaboration become key topics at 2024 candidates forum

Scott Owens, Running for Place 3

Stoney Stone, Running for Place 3

Brandy Flanagan, Running for Mayor

With two contested races on the Gladewater City Council ballot, Gladewater Mirror Publisher Jim Bardwell was glad to see a healthy turnout for the paper’s candidates forum Thursday evening.
“We’ve had several years where we didn’t have anybody seeking office but the incumbent.”
Welcoming almost 40 people to Gladewater Chamber of Commerce, Bardwell thanked the candidates for taking part, including mayoral contender and Place 3 incumbent Brandy Flanagan alongside Place 3 challengers Stoney Stone and incumbent Mayor Scott Owens. Mayor hopeful Jim Valentine did not attend – per Bardwell, the candidate had a previous commitment to be out of town and couldn’t find a workable date for the dialogue.
“Everybody’s been given equal chance,” Bardwell noted.
Among the introductions, Flanagan said she moved to Gladewater in her mid-20s, angling to start a business here and contributing to the Boys & Girls Club and other organizations along the way.
“I always say that Gladewater development as the businesswoman I am now,” a Small Business Development Center consultant serving entrepreneurs in six counties.
Born and raised here, Stone went on from Gladewater High School to study electronics then put in five years at Gladewater Fire Department ahead of a move to Longview Fire Department before retiring.
“I’ve lived here all my life – 61 years right here in Gladewater,” Stone said. “I’ve seen the ups and downs, and I’d just like to serve. That’s what I did all my life.”
Owens explained why he’s not running for re-election as mayor – after an initial 10 years on the council, returning under former Mayor J.D. Shipp then his own stint in the central seat, Owens anticipated Flanagan would seek the mayor’s chair when she was ready.
That time is now, he added, but “I would like to have a couple more years on the council,” hence the campaign for the contested Place 3 spot. “Some of the projects we have going I’d like to see implemented.
“I’ve got a lot of experience management-wise, budget-wise, and I just want to serve on the council and see things finished up.
The forum opened with a question about bringing new business to Gladewater.
The city’s seen 28 months of consecutive sales tax gains, Owens noted, and a recent influx of residents is already driving sales tax increases as well. Meanwhile, Gladewater Economic Development Corporation is also using a portion of the city’s tax levy to incentivize business development.
“You get the demand and businesses want to come,” he said.
More business will come here, Stone said, and he’s eager to do his part once he gets up to speed in office.
“I don’t know what the council is actually doing to get this going, but I would like to learn,” he added. “I’ve got a lot to learn, let me tell you. I would love to help make Gladewater more attractive for the big businesses.
“I think we can get them, it’s just a matter of finding out what they need.”
For Flanagan, there things that needed to get in place and established in Gladewater for it be attractive to mid- and larger-sized businesses. Practices need to be streamlined, she said, and more collaboration between the city, chamber and GEDCO has set the stage to better attract companies here.
“They’re looking for several things,” Flanagan added, especially proper infrastructure, a major priority for the council the past six years. “They also care about location,” and she’s been in touch with Rep. Nathaniel Moran to discuss strategies. “As a city we have to develop our quality of life.”
Infrastructure remained a common thread throughout the questions.
“This is an issue that Gladewater’s got to care the most about. It’s the key to everything,” Flanagan said. “This is a US problem, not just a Gladewater problem. The infrastructure everywhere is crumbling.”
Here, she continued, city leadership is following a concise plan and checking items off the list, avoiding ‘Bandaid’ repairs and using grants to invest more in infrastructure: “As the budget allows, we will continue to do what we’re doing.”
As just one vote, Stone said, he’ll put it toward the same strategy.
“That’s exactly what needs to happen. I would continue just like that.”
Owens focused on the effort to bring in public funds from outside the community. The Toll 49 expansion will be a boon for the town, he said, and millions of dollars in funding from the Texas Water Development Board is going to help defray some of the necessary expenses tied to the project.
“We want to have it available for commercial development,” Owens said. “Most of that is loan forgiveness and grant, so it’s a really good idea.”
Regarding trash can rules, the three candidates basically agreed local codes need to be enforced.
“We’re not looking to hand out tickets every time,” Owens said. “Tickets are the last resort on that.”
Perhaps, Stone said, the ordinance should be modified to make things run more smoothly and, frankly, a bit more pleasantly for residents.
“I know those trash cans stink when they’re only picked up once a week,” he added. “What I’m hearing from people is they don’t want the trash cans up by their house because they actually stink.”
The city recently added another code enforcement employee, Flanagan noted.
“One thing as a city that we’re really working on right now is to quit hiring quickly and to hire rightly,” she said, praising building inspector Al Harrison for his efforts along with interim city manager Charlie Smith for his emphasis on deliberate hiring. Meanwhile, “I do believe that if the codes are on the books they need to be enforced.”
On illegal dumping in Red Rock, Stone reminded residents to be part of the solution.
“That’s the key. The police can’t do it all,” he said, especially if they’re not alerted: “Call 911. Dumping, it’s illegal… It’s a community involvement issue.”
Owens encouraged residents to use the City of Gladewater’s app to report issues and noted Smith has coordinated with SWEPCO to add additional streetlights in Red Rock.
“That in itself, lighting up something, will help,” he said.
Such issues are difficult, Flanagan said.
“That’s where we really rely on the community,” she added, whether it’s reported to the city manager or police. “I think one thing we have to do as a community is get much more consistent… if we have a policy in place, if we have an ordinance.”
On looming repairs at the ‘Poor’ Lake Gladewater Dam, the candidates agreed groundwork has been laid for improvements soon.
About 15 years ago, Owens said, engineers recommended filling voids. The late Snuffy Smith was fire chief at the time, “and he brought to our attention what we needed to do, and we did that in order to pass the code for the state at the time… There’s more that needs to be done and there’s some erosion over time that needs to be taken care of.”
Things are getting under control with recent attention on the dam, Stone said.
“Once that’s completed and we know the cost of it, then we can try to figure out how we’re going to get it fixed, whether it be grants or whatever.”
Flanagan praised current Gladewater Fire Chief Mike Simmons for getting dam records and maintenance up to date.
When the current council learned of the issues, “Most of us were pretty caught off guard by it,” she said. “As soon as that maintenance program is in place, we’ll move forward with applying for those grants… There are multiple ones out there to help us correct this problem.”
Stone lamented the lack of local activities for young people.
“I would like to see somebody start doing some things for the kids. There’s really nothing here for our youth to do,” he said, adding he’s a big believer in investing in younger generations. “Make people want to say here, live their lives here.”
Flanagan wants to see communication improve between the city and its citizens – and vice versa.
“We have to encourage our city so they want to sit here and communicate with us more,” she said. Meanwhile, the community needs to “Make sure that we can attract and retain a good workforce here. We have worked strategically on our budget to be able to increase pay for our employees here.
“We’re going to have to continue what we’ve been doing on our collaboration.”
There’s been a lot of good happening here in recent years, Owens said, from sales tax gains to increased activity at downtown businesses.
“Those are also driving sales tax revenue that helps not only the city” but GEDCO as well, he added. Positive communication is key, too: “Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution. What we need to do is come together and let’s work this out together. I applaud anybody who wants to get up here and serve and take the arrows that come with it.”
The forum’s final, key question: Why should residents cast their votes for the respective candidates?
“I was born and raised here, grew up here, I’ve seen the ups and downs. Now that I’m retired, I have the time” to serve, Stone said. “You also see some things you might can make a difference in. I would like to work with these people and try to make a difference in this city that I love.”
Owens said he’s proud of the family he’s raised here, and he wants to keep contributing.
“You need a servant’s heart to be able to do this,” he said. “I just want a couple more years to see some of these projects underway.”
As mayor, Flanagan said, she’ll continue doing the work she’s put in the past six years.
“Prioritize community needs, foster community growth, continue to be transparent,” she said. “There’s not a time when a citizen calls me that I don’t talk to them. I serve because I care, but I’m also very solution-minded.”
Early voting begins April 22, Bardwell said, with Election Day set May 4th. He concluded with thanks to the candidates for participating in the forum and for putting themselves into the political gauntlet.
It’s often a thankless task, he quipped: “Anyone who serves, they’ve gotta be crazy.”

– By James Draper

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