HARKER HEIGHTS — The three candidates for the Place 3 seat on the City Council aired their views Thursday during a noontime forum at the St. Paul Chong Hasang Parish Center.
The forum, sponsored by the Governmental Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, featured the candidates seeking the council seat vacated by Spencer Smith, who announced he is seeking the mayor’s post in the May 6 election.
Spencer is running unopposed, as is John Reider, the Place 4 councilman.
About 80 people attended the forum, which was facilitated by Dr. Karen Clos, chair of the Governmental Affairs Committee.
At the outset of the forum, Clos introduced the three candidates — Pat Christ, Jackeline Soriano Fountain and Laurie Williamson McElhiney.
Clos asked the candidates three questions, followed by questions from the audience.
The first question posed by Clos was, “What do you see as the primary responsibility of a council member?
Fountain said, “I want to be the voice of the citizens of Harker Heights and make sure that the local policies and procedures and state guidelines are on point.”
McElhiney responded, “As we grow, I want to make sure that our first responders are prepared. If we need to realign so their response times keep our citizens safe, then let’s do it.”
Christ said, “You have to make good decisions and those have to take into consideration a wide variety of things such as the rules and laws to the desires and likes of the citizens. For every situation there are two opinions. I feel that my prior experience on the council will help me make the best decision.”
The second question from Clos was, “What in your opinion are the top issues facing the city in the next four years?
McElhiney answered first, saying, “Even though drainage is one of my main issues, I feel the city staff can take care of those. Development and our developers is another issue where I need assurances that they build to where we can maintain a good tax rate. First responders should always remain at the top of our list.”
According to Christ, one of the main issues is transportation.
“Despite the fact that we are looking at road improvements, we still need to look at the best way to move our residents throughout the city,” he said. “We do have some extremely difficult problems to work out. We do have a plan that will make that situation better and I’d like to see it come to fruition. Sewage is one of our next big ones. We know our sewage plant has a maximum capacity and as we grow something will have to be done.”
Fountain said, “I’ve had a chance to sit down with city staff and find out what the issues are going to be in the future. I’m convinced these are being addressed and I believe our city and council are addressing the needs of the city. We are postured in the right direction.”
Clos’ third question was, “What are the key and/or personal experiences from local or community involvement that would best qualify you for the anticipated service as a City Council member?
Christ said, “I served on the council or 12 years and there’s nothing like experience that teaches you how to do the job best. I’ve been giving to the community in a variety ways that will serve me best.”
“McElhiney said, “Running a business and getting to know my customers and speaking to them everyday has taught me why they come here and choose to stay. I talk and I listen and I’ve never met a stranger. That’s how I will approach this council position.”
“My former position in the Army has prepared me for this position,” Fountain said. “My service to the community covers a wide spectrum and gives me a clear view of the needs in Harker Heights.”
One question from the audience concerned the communication and relationship between Harker Heights and the county commissioners.
In response, Christ said, “The biggest discussion between the two of us right now is infrastructure and especially roads, but the lines are open if there is a project that surfaces where we need to work together.”
McElhiney responded, "I’m with Pat. Chaparral Road is one of our biggest issues and no one wants to take claim of Chaparral and now it’s destroyed. I think our infrastructure is our biggest thing. Our roads are the biggest thing and we’ve got to do something with the roads between the two.We can’t read your minds and once we open up the communication and you tell us what you’re going for we won’t know what you’re asking.”
Fountain said, "In the briefing I got from the city manager, those communications are open and ongoing. There is a plan in place to fix Chaparral Road and turn it into a four-lane highway."
Early voting starts Monday in the council election and continues each weekday through May 2 at City Hall.