Editor's note: This story has been updated.
COPPERAS COVE - Candidates for Copperas Cove City Council and the CCISD Board of Trustees have made a final pitch in hopes of securing votes in Tuesday’s election.
Eight of the ten declared City Council candidates came to VFW Post 8577 Saturday to take part in a forum in which the audience asked questions of the candidates directly. Only Place 4 candidate Benjamin Beck and Place 5 candidate Gary Kent absent. Three of the four CCISD Board of Trustees candidates were also present, with only Place 3 incumbent Mike Wilburn unable to attend.
Each candidate received three minutes to introduce themselves to the audience of about three-dozen people. The group was a mix of candidates’ family members and supporters, VFW members and interested members of the public. Each candidate quickly reviewed their personal histories and reasons for running.
Place 3 candidate Dario Eubank talked about choosing Copperas Cove because its school system was better for his family’s needs after leaving the Army in 2017, and how he wanted better planning, communication and transparency from the city government. Place 3 candidate Jayme Sigler talked about being a single mother concerned about a lack of sidewalks as well as the need for council members to listen to the public more. Place 3 incumbent Councilman Dan Yancey spoke of his years of experience in banking and public service, and his desire to continue to work hard to make Copperas Cove the best place to live in the area.
Place 4 candidate Matt Russell emphasized leadership, saying he had the leadership skills to take the council in the right direction to prepare it for the future. Place 4 incumbent Councilman Jay Manning talked about how representative government is about people who do their homework and vote their conscience, something he said he has done as a council member.
Place 5 candidate Dianne Campbell stressed her long ties to the community, her financial and business experience and her service in organizations such as the Economic Development Corporation.
Place 7 candidate Jack Smith also stressed his family and business ties to Copperas Cove as well as his volunteer work for various civic and business groups, saying if he were elected he would always look at the facts and vote what he felt was the best for Copperas Cove. Place 7 candidate Terri Deans talked about how she, her husband and children have thrived in Copperas Cove and never intend to leave. She also said it was time to move past some “black eyes” the city has taken recently and to elect people with new ideas and put those ideas in motion.
As for the CCISD candidates, unopposed Place 4 incumbent and current board President Joan Manning made the crowd laugh when she said she thought she needed at least one vote, and her husband Jay Manning drew more laughs when he responded that he would give her that vote. But she went on to talk about her pride in the quality of CCISD students and schools and how she’s served on the board for 24 years as a way to give back to the community.
Place 5 Board of Trustees candidate Harry L. Byrd expressed his desire to see teachers and staff compete against standards rather than each other, to help reach success and build a stronger America. Place 5 candidate Jeff Gorres mentioned his concern that too many talented staff members are leaving the CCISD, and said the district must do more to address staff concerns and take care of people who educate the children of Copperas Cove.
The forum’s format was a bit looser than that used at the Chamber of Commerce forum earlier this month. Audience members asked a question, and sometimes follow-up or clarifying questions were also asked before each candidate responded to the first question.
Also, because of the number of people on the dais at the event, the City Council candidates were only able to answer five questions during the event, while the CCISD candidates only fielded one.
The first question from the audience came from someone who wondered who was running in which races. With the consent of the other candidates, Yancey answered the City Council part of the question, while Joan Manning dealt with the CCISD portion.
The second question came from John Gallen, who is a member of the Copperas Cove Historical Society. He asked the candidates if they supported the idea of renovating the Allin House and using it as a historic site and, potentially, a history museum.
The eight council candidates were all supportive of the idea. Russell pointed out that the house, built in 1913 and located in the 500 block of Main Street, is currently for sale and said that should never happen in Copperas Cove.
Jay Manning drew what might have been the biggest positive reaction from the crowd when he responded to a remark by Russell. As in the first forum, Russell joked that Manning was old enough to have been seen cattle drives through the streets of Cove as a child. Manning responded by saying, “The next thing Matt will be telling you is that I built the (Allin) house,” provoking a long, loud burst of laughter from those in the room.
However, the next question prompted disagreement and some confusion. Former Councilman James Pierce asked about the length and transparency of the recent search for a city manager, a position left open for 17 months after former City Manager Andrea Gardner resigned in 2018. Ryan Haverlah served as interim city manager until being offered a contract to become the permanent city manager in July. Pierce wanted to know why there were no updates about the search, and why the City Council didn’t identify the finalists for the position, as the city of Killeen did just last week as part of its city manager search.
The question left Sigler confused, and she struggled to make some type of answer. Deans stood and pointed out that the question might be better left to the incumbents on the panel, though she pointed said that both she and Sigler believed in more transparency overall. From there, Yancey pointed out that the council was carrying out a process recommended by search firm SGR, and said a citizen’s council with some input into the process might be a good idea the next time a city manager search was needed.
Former councilman Russell again identified leadership as an issue, noting he was off the council by the time the search began. He then said there were other issues that played a factor in the search that probably shouldn’t be talked about in an open forum. When voices in the crowd asked him for transparency, he said there was a delay in hiring Haverlah because Haverlah was hired by Gardner, and that the “old City Council didn’t like” Gardner.
Manning immediately disagreed with Russell, saying the city deserved a search that considered numerous candidates to see who rose to the top. He also said that he did have concerns about previous councils hiring from within in previous situations, and he voiced them when Gardner stepped down. Manning added that those outside candidates for any position often can’t publicize the fact they are interviewing for a new job, fearing what could happen if their current employer found out.
CCISD candidates Manning, Byrd and Gorres only received one direct question from the crowd. A woman asked them if they should be getting their board agenda packets earlier, since it seemed to her that getting them on a Monday and then deciding on each item the next day was too short a time for research and consideration. Joan Manning responded that the school board usually received their packets on the Thursday afternoon before the next meeting, giving each trustee some time to do homework before the scheduled Monday workshop. She said the workshop also gave board members a place to ask additional questions before the regular meeting the next day.
Byrd answered the question by thanking Manning for her explanation and agreeing that the school board couldn’t make reasonable decisions in just 24 hours. But he went on to expand his remarks to call on parents and teachers to be a “good team” in working toward district goals and to say that the CCISD was blessed by the strength of its schools and superintendent.
Gorres said he’d like to see the agenda packet earlier and have more time to do research and ask questions about actions that need to be taken by the board.
The forum closed much as it opened, with each panelist stressing the strengths they laid out in their opening statements and asking those present for their vote.
Yancey said after the forum that he was happy with the opportunity to hear from and talk to the public.
“You can always do a better job,” Yancey said when asked if he felt he’d been able to express his positions to the public effectively. “I think my record of trying to do what’s best for Copperas Cove kind of shows what I’m about. Some people may find that good, and some people may not, but that’s what our democracy’s all about.”
Smith seemed to enjoy his second time sitting before a crowd during a political forum a bit more than his first.
“I wasn’t as nervous at this one, because I’d gone through the process once,” Smith said. “This one was a great event. I thought the turnout was good. I think everyone should have come to it.” Smith enjoyed getting questions directly from the audience, saying you could never be sure what they might ask. When asked if he felt he’d made his positions clear, Smith said he hoped so, “because I want their (voters) support on election day.”
Gorres wished that the CCISD candidates had gotten a few more questions from the audience.
“It’s kind of restrictive,” Gorres said of the format of the forum. “Asking two questions of the panel members from the district really doesn’t allow an opportunity to expand on diverging views and positions.
“The school district election has been kind of a back-burner, I guess, for some individuals...and it’s a shame, because there is a decision to make, there is a diverging viewpoint between myself and Mr. Byrd that folks should be aware of.”
Deans also hoped her ideas were getting some traction with the public.
“I’ve spoken from my heart,” Deans said afterward. “I’ve let people know I’m not motivated by money or political power or anything else, just motivated by the citizens to make this a better place to live. We have a great city. We have the best city in this part of Texas. We just need to work together and quit with the backdoor backstabbing and get this city moving in the right direction.”
Eubank felt the forums and person-to-person campaigning has raised his profile with voters.
“I think they’ve gotten a little bit more exposure to where I’m coming from and what I’d like to do on city council, so I think this has been really good. I’m getting positive feedback, so I’m pretty sure we’re in a good position going into the November election.”
Dianne Campbell felt she was better prepared for the VFW forum than the Chamber forum.
“I think that I was able to communicate my points, and I think the citizens that were here were receptive,” Campbell said. “I had several come up to me afterward and encourage me...so I was very thankful and very humbled by that.
“You know, win or lose, I love Copperas Cove, and I’m going to be part of the solution...but I think I can do more as a council member.”