SALADO — Voters in Salado listened to the board of aldermen and mayor candidates discuss visions for the future of the village at a Chamber of Commerce-hosted forum Thursday night.
A major issue for all candidates was how the village of about 2,000 people, a place known for souvenir shops and art studios, can adapt to the looming threat of sprawl along the Interstate 35 corridor. The need for a long-term plan was brought up repeatedly by candidates.
Amber Preston-Dankert, 34, a natural resource supervisor who is running for the board of aldermen, said she believes Salado needs a master plan.
“We can’t keep going in a million directions,” Dankert said. “The plan will need to have input from the board of aldermen, the residents and the city administrator at least. We may not all like what goes into the plan, but it would be a starting point.”
Frank Coachman, 49, the deputy director of the Texas Music Educators Alliance and a candidate for the board of aldermen, said a long-term plan is key to Salado’s ability to prepare for growth.
“If we don’t have a plan, we’ll transition into a bedroom community,” Coachman said. “And we all know those have high property taxes. Right now we have low property taxes.”
Merle Stalcup, 68, a retiree who previously served on the board of aldermen, said a long-term plan is necessary and that the village’s current plan, which he said is “10 or 12 years old” is woefully outdated.
“To go forward, we need a comprehensive plan,” Stalcup said. “The one we currently have could be updated and redirected without having to write 600 pages of a new plan.”
Bryan Fritch, 69, a retiree who currently serves on the board of aldermen, said the village’s current master plan is “being updated.”
“It’s outdated like most of the documents that the villages has,” Fritch said. “We’ll get growth by having our plan updated and properly managed.”
While the theme of preparing for and adapting to expected growth was an undercurrent in the discussion between the mayor candidates, most of the questions posed by voters at Thursday’s forum were far less concrete. Salado residents wanted to know if their future mayor could unite the city.
They asked if the mayoral candidates can communicate with divided interest groups throughout the village, build a consensus and present a coherent vision for the city.
As proof of his ability to build consensus, Danney McCort, 69, a retired engineer who has served as Salado’s mayor for the last two years, told the crowd he oversaw the construction of a $200 million VA hospital.
Hans Fields, 75, a retired engineer and school teacher who served on the board of aldermen for the last three years, cited his experience as a safety engineer for Chevron who led multilingual safety briefings as an example of building consensus.
Rick Ashe, 51, a lieutenant with the Temple Police Department and former two-term mayor of Salado from 2004 to 2008, told the crowd about his experience working to rebuild a statewide police association as proof that he could build consensus.
Skip Blancett, 67, a retired U.S. Navy chaplain and the current chief of programs for Fort Hood’s Education Service Division and minister of the Salado United Methodist Church, told the crowd of his experience establishing and expanding the chaplain corps in former Eastern Bloc nations.
When asked how they would build unity moving forward, McCort said he believes any divisions that existed on the board of aldermen are mostly repaired and that he will continue to work to bridge any gaps.
“I’d sit down with the aldermen and citizens and have regular meetings,” McCort said. “If you want a mayor who will promise to keep Salado vital, then you’ve already got it.”
Fields said he will continue listening and consulting with voters.
“I believe that listening is a good quality,” Fields said. “I’ve been the minority vote on many things and that’s because I listen to the people.”
Ashe brought up the large number of volunteer committees that take care of many of the village’s day-to-day operations as a place to begin building bridges.
“The village used to have monthly or quarterly meetings with the heads of the various committees,” Ashe said. “That’s something to start up again.”
Blancett, the only candidate who never held elected office, said what he lacks in experience he makes up for in passion.
“You probably think I’m an evangelist,” Blancett said, “but that’s just passion. I bring to you communication and leadership on a global scale and a passion that can’t be bought or sold.”