COPPERAS COVE — It was a signature moment during the early portion of the Oct. 2 Copperas Cove City Council candidate forum.
The nine candidates on the dais were asked to outline their priorities that would help small businesses in Copperas Cove thrive.
As each candidate offered an answer, it was clear that business in Copperas Cove was important to them. The words support, simplify, standardize and business-friendly popped up in the answers for most of the candidates.
But the differences between the candidates were also apparent. One group focused on reducing regulation and simplifying rules to make opening businesses easier. Others wanted to know why there wasn’t a bigger effort to attract new business to fill the vacant buildings and storefronts along U.S. Business 190 and in downtown.
Two candidates wanted to see a more coordinated effort with the city’s Economic Development Corporation to address the needs of existing businesses. At least one candidate said the city needs to listen to business owners and do more to address their concerns.
The answers showed that, no matter their other differences, all nine candidates want to attract and retain business in the city.
All candidates have stated that they want to see higher-paying jobs, more industry, a more diversified tax base and a higher quality of life for everyone in Cove.
But their answers also show that there is a group of candidates who believe the city is currently on the right path and will continue moving in the right direction with only small tweaks to the status quo.
And that there is another group that think there needs to be a change in leadership for the city to achieve what it is capable of.
PLACE 3: Dan Yancey (incumbent), Jayme Sigler, Dario Eubank
PLACE 4: Jay Manning (incumbent), Matt Russell, Benjamin Beck*
PLACE 5; Dianne Campbell, Gary Kent
PLACE 7: Jack Smith, Terri Deans
(*Benjamin Beck has not returned multiple requests for information about his candidacy.)
Copperas Cove is the largest city in Coryell County. In 2010, the U.S. Census estimated the city’s population at 32,032. The city estimated its population at 34,787 as of Jan. 1 of this year.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey estimates the average income in the city was $52,017 as of the end of 2017. The community survey also estimates that 13% of the population of Cove lives at or below the poverty line.
The city is at the junction of three counties — Bell, Coryell and Lampasas — and sits next door to Fort Hood. That proximity has led to a large population of active-duty military personnel living in the city, both as renters and home buyers.
Current figures provided by the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance show that active-duty military and their family members make up about a fifth of the city’s population (2,511 active-duty personnel; 4,597 active-duty family members). That influx of military personnel and their families is part of the reason that the median age in the city is estimated to be 31.9.
The city seems ready for a period of economic growth based on its location and current and future resources. The recent completion of Interstate 14 east of the city provides a quality, limited access highway that connects directly to Interstate 35.
Plans are in place to upgrade the U.S. 190 Bypass south of the city from a two-lane to a four-lane highway. Currently, TxDOT is putting together a plan to add entrance and exit lanes at two points on State Highway 9 north of the city. That will lay the groundwork for creating a multi-modal truck-rail facility to provide a shipping point for commercial cargo in the next few years.
But there are signs that the city is having some growing pains. The opening of the Shops at Five Hills shopping center provided a commercial focal point for the city, with H-E-B, Walmart and other retailers and restaurants quickly flocking to the location. But with more traffic and activity focused on the eastern end of the city, the downtown area has suffered, with empty and deteriorating storefronts.
U.S. Business 190 is also dotted with closed businesses, the empty buildings failing to attract new tenants.
The numbers point to a city that has much going for it, including a growing population, new housing developments and promising economic development projects. But the city also has an aging infrastructure; local streets that need expensive refurbishing and maintenance; and a tax base that relies mainly on income from property taxes (38%) versus sales taxes (21%).
It also explains why all the candidates for city council are in favor of growth and business development. Their differences lie in how they will approach attracting that growth.
When asked at the Oct. 2 forum if there was anything they would change about the city’s current direction, five of the candidates plainly stated their belief that the city was already moving in the right direction.
Incumbents Dan Yancey and Jay Manning and newcomers Dianne Campbell and Jack Smith all feel that the city should maintain its current direction. Place 7 candidate Terri Deans also believes the city is heading in the right direction, but needs new voices on the council to add perspective and listen more closely to residents.
Former councilmen Matt Russell and Gary Kent see a great future for the city, but feel the council needs new leadership to get there.
Nnewcomers Jayme Sigler and Dario Eubank both want to see more transparency in local government and want to see more investment to infrastructure and quality of life projects.
The following is a brief summary of some of the thoughts and positions the candidates for Copperas Cove City Council have expressed during interviews and during an Oct. 2 candidate forum sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce.
Note: The Place 3, 4 and 5 elections are for three-year terms. The Place 7 election is to fill an unexpired term and the winning candidate will face election again next year.
Dario Eubank has a varied background that includes a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from California State University; graduate studies in Israel that eventually led to a master’s degree in government, with a focus on counter-terrorism and Homeland Security; a stint in the Army that led to two tours of South Korea and being stationed at Fort Hood, in between. And finally his current status as a Copperas Cove resident and contractor at Fort Hood.
His run for City Council was prompted by two things: failing infrastructure and a lack of transparency.
He specifically wants to change the way city officials interact with residents, hoping to create a culture where “the people in power listen to their citizens.”
He hopes to turn Copperas Cove into a city built for families.
“I see Cove as potential,” Eubank said. “We bill ourselves as a family city, with a small town feel. But when I go to city park, I feel it isn’t laid out properly. I have to take my kids to Killeen Lions Park, or I take them to Georgetown because we don’t have family-centered activities. So if we’re going to bill ourselves as a family community, we have to start investing in the family, and we have not done that.”
Jayme Sigler has lived in Copperas Cove for a little more than a year and has no prior political or public service experience. But she believes she can make a difference now if she is elected to the council.
“There are a lot of problems everywhere,” Sigler said in an interview. “It’s really important to me to really be able to help people and try to fix the problems, especially problems that I relate to.”
Sigler is a 24-year-old single mother who is taking online college courses and hopes to become a lawyer. She’s also been educating herself on the issues facing the city.
“I have been reading people’s comments on the city’s posts on Facebook and keeping a list of people’s concerns...and one of the things that keeps coming up is that people feel like the government isn’t listening to them. And, I have been listening.
She also has an important safety issue she would like to see the city focus on.
“There are a lot of areas that don’t have sidewalks at all,” she said. “In my neighborhood, (there’s) sidewalk for a couple of houses and then no sidewalk and people have to walk in the street. That’s dangerous for the people walking and the people driving. Obviously, I think it will cost a lot of money, but I think it’s a necessary investment for people’s safety.”
No matter what she hopes to change, Sigler enjoys living in the city and hopes that it remains a quiet, safe place for her to raise her son.
“I like (Copperas Cove). It feels safe.”
Incumbent Councilman Dan Yancey has spent more than three decades living and working as a banker in Copperas Cove. He won a special election to serve an unexpired term in 2015, then won reelection to the council in 2016.
He believes the city council is working together better than ever and wants to maintain the momentum he feels is happening in the city.
“We’ve got a council that works hard with a singular purpose,” Yancey said during a recent interview in his office at First National Bank Texas in Copperas Cove. “(That’s) what is of the greatest benefit to the most citizens of Copperas Cove.”
Yancey feels that the city needs to continue simplifying and eliminating rules that discourage businesses and developers from locating to Copperas Cove. He also uses his banking experience to inform the choices he makes on the council.
“(In my career), I look at loan requests and my job is to play devil’s advocate...what can go wrong and how do we mitigate that? I try to carry that over to decisions I make with the council. How is this particular issue best resolved so that we can make a good decision that’s a benefit down the road.”
Note: Candidate Benjamin Beck has not responded to multiple requests for interviews, comments and a photo.
Incumbent Place 4 Councilman Jay Manning favors redoing some of the city’s current ordinances to make the city more attractive to business and development.
“We need to write good rules,” Manning said in a recent interview. “The city needs to follow the same rules that they put out for everyone else. If they’re not good rules for you, then we don’t need to be dumping them on other people.”
A believer in free markets and the benefits of capitalism, Manning says the private sector can fix a lot of problems if the government will just stay out of the way. Among his chief priorities are reducing some of the regulations he feels are keeping businesses from setting up shop in Copperas Cove, particularly the subdivision and sign ordinances he’s already worked to change.
Manning ran for council in 2016 after stints on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission and Economic Development Corporation. He admits that the first year on the council was difficult, but that the positive momentum he sees in the city right now made him decide to stand for reelection.
“The council works together better than we used to,” Manning said. “We don’t agree with each other on a lot of things. But there’s a respect, developed over being cordial to each other.”
Matt Russell was elected to the council in 2014 and served one term before losing his reelection bid to Charlie Youngs in 2017.
His signature issue is leadership. The former Army colonel feels the current City Council lacks a vision for the city.
“There’s got to be a change,” Russell said in a recent interview “It’s a sad thing to say, because you always want...to have the best things happen in a small town. But when you have a lack of leadership that (fails) to call people out...there needs to be a change.”
Russell’s vision for the city is similar to those of his opponent. In the Oct. 2 forum, he voiced a need for standardized rules for businesses and a push for growth and new industry.
But he also wants feels more needs to be done about the quality of life in Copperas Cove.
“Enhance the golf course...enhance the parks. You could do a lot of things,” Russell said. But the former city councilman said it comes back to a lack of leadership.
“Identify what needs to be done,” Russell said. “This council can’t identify ...they struggle all the time.
“This is a great town,” Russell said. “I’ve got a great positive feeling about Copperas Cove. (It’s) poised to be a great city, one that can do a lot for its citizens. One that can expand and invite commerce...and industry in.
“We just need to make sure that the leadership is in place to see that future, to have that vision.”
Dianne Campbell is a first-time candidate who grew up in Copperas Cove, first coming to the city in 1963 as part of a military family and remaining in the city until 1997, when her husband was sent to other posts and she went with him.
She returned to the city following an absence of 18 years and began renewing life-long friendships and getting used the changes that had happened while she was gone.
“I think because you live in it and see it everyday...you don’t have a full appreciation for what has changed,” Campbell said in a recent interview. “It’s amazing. I’m excited about it.”
Before her long absence, she served on the Chamber of Commerce and other business-related boards, and she touts her background in helping the city work to attract industry as a strength.
“If I were on the council and the EDC brought forward any business plan that made good sense, especially if it involved expanding existing businesses, attracting new businesses, I would be supportive of that and I would vote yes,” Campbell said during the forum.
Campbell is a strong supporter of the mission of Fort Hood and wants the city to continue working closely with officials there, especially on the land swap and the multi-modal rail project.
Gary Kent is a former two-term council member who is hoping to fill the Place 5 opening on the council. Current Place 5 Councilman Kirby Lack is term-limited.
Kent has lived in Copperas Cove for more than 25 years and has raised three children here.
Kent cites leadership as a reason he’s running for council again. During the Oct. 2 forum, Kent touted his leadership, education, experience and dedication. Kent is a retired military member and spent more than 20 years in law enforcement before retiring.
Kent’s goal is to help the city go from “good to great.” He wants to see the city lower taxes and have the EDC work to bring in more businesses and higher paying jobs. While he feels things are going okay, he also feels there is also room for improvement.
He also wants to be a “beacon” for people who feel that the city council doesn’t listen.
“I know the importance of having good leadership,” Kent said during his closing at the council candidate forum. “Copperas Cove is really at a crossroad right now. We have an opportunity to change the landscape of the city.”
Terri Deans has lived in Copperas Cove since 2003, moving here from North Carolina, where she worked for the Army Corps of Engineers. She and her husband have been married for 34 years, and they’ve raised five kids together.
Deans is a familiar face at council meetings, speaking often during the public forum on issues such as the city’s contract with Fathom, as well as emergency preparedness. But the decision to run for council came about when the special election for Place 7 was announced in August.
“There are times when events lead up to that moment when you say ‘you know, this is the right thing for me to do,’” Deans said in an interview. “I need to step up and see if I can make this work.”
She felt that, after attending three years of council meetings, she could bring some new blood to the proceedings.
“We as a city tend to reelect the same people, the same types of people over and over and over again. In my opinion, some of the changes we can affect in this city are being stymied by...the same people being put into office.”
Deans said she a big supporter of small business, and said that ordinances relating to business regulation needed to be reviewed and rewritten. But she wants improvements to infrastructure as well as a revitalization of parts of the city. She also wants the council to do more listening to residents. She wants the city to renegotiate its contract with Fathom, but realizes that it may be too late to make any changes in the agreement and that is a need to move forward and address other issues. And she wants to see the overall quality of life for all residents enhanced, from helping students learn needed skills to land jobs to providing for the needs of senior citizens.
“There are no bad ideas or good ideas, there are just ideas,” Deans said at the Oct. 2 candidate forum. “What we do with those ideas is up to us.
“Let’s hold each other tight and work for our city and not against our city.”
Jack Smith is a first time candidate for city council. Smith is a native of Copperas Cove. He started a real estate business in the city more than 20 years ago and has worked as volunteer for the Parks and Recreation Department and has served on the boards of the Chamber of Commerce and the EDC.
“I like the direction Copperas Cove is going in, and I don’t want to see it stop,” Smith said during a recent interview. “I think we have a lot of good things happening here in Copperas Cove.”
He had never thought about running for public office before the Place 7 seat opened up.
“This time it just felt right,” Smith said. “I’ve been working on economic development for 20 years. A lot of our shortcomings are gone now.”
He thinks having an interstate in place and the development of the multi-modal facility are key factors in placing the city in “the perfect position” to attract new business and industry.
Like Yancey, Manning and Campbell, he too wants to see the city simplify its ordinances to make it easier for businesses to open up in Copperas Cove. More than that, he wants to encourage people to shop local businesses to help keep sales tax dollars in the city.
During the Oct. 3 forum, Smith promised to look out for the interests of residents if elected to the open seat.
“Everything that I do will be for the citizens of Copperas Cove,” Smith said.