The Dayton Chamber of Commerce hosted a political forum on Monday night at the Dayton Community Center for candidates for Dayton City Council. In the upcoming May 1 election, there will be four candidates seeking Position 5 and two seeking Position 4.
Of the six candidates, only five were in attendance – Alvin Burress, Jose S. Hernandez and Valorie Barton for Position 5, and Andy Conner and DG Bubba Graves for Position 4. Candidate Janette Goulder-Frick, who is running for Position 5, attempted to join the conversation by Zoom but those efforts failed. Conner is the incumbent for Position 4 and Burress is a former councilman. Graves, Hernandez, Barton and Goulder-Frick have not served on council previously but have worked in other capacities in the Dayton community.
In order to provide a fair assessment of the forum for all candidates, Bluebonnet News is providing their responses to five of the questions that were posed by Chamber Director Jessica Sims. Each candidate was timed as they responded to the questions. Their responses are listed in the order in which they were made during the forum.
What are your top priorities and how would you ensure that you dedicated enough time to your council duties if elected?
- ANDY CONNER: That’s a great question. My top priorities would be infrastructure. We have an infrastructure that has been getting a lot of work for many years and it has been neglected by folks in the past. I think a top priority of mine is to see the roads improved. We are working on that and we have a plan in place for that. As far as dedicating enough time, I have had 100 percent attendance in every single council meeting I’ve been asked to attend, and that’s not just the past 12 months, that’s the past seven to eight special city council meetings. I am there early. I am usually one of the first city council members there. I think my track records speaks for itself. Another issue for me is taxes. I know we raised taxes this past session, but we didn’t raise them nearly to what the state allows. We raised them to keep the maintenance and operation budget going and that was it really it. I guess parlaying into that is to bring businesses in. As a DCDC advisory board member, we are bringing businesses in so we can not put so much of a tax burden on housetops.
- BUBBA GRAVES: Currently I am retired, so that’s all I got is time. I can pretty much be a full-time councilman. My priorities would be working on infrastructure and trying to develop Dayton. I think there are many, many issues that is not being moved forward on and we need to look at. Andy is well aware of those things being that he is an incumbent and has been on the city council. A lot of mine are just opinions but I think we need to look at traffic. I live on the north side of Dayton. To go to south side will make me 30-40 minutes to get there. I was raised here, and I could be across the county in 45 minutes years ago, much less to get across town. I just want to move forward with whatever comes up and support them, and try to introduce new ideas.
- ALVIN BURRESS: Those are all good points and we’ve been dealing with infrastructure for years here. I believe that is one of the most important things we need to follow through with. We have the luxury of councils before and here recently who have made plans for that infrastructure. One of the most important things to me is, and Andy was talking about it, our tax dollars. The tax dollar is not an easy thing to achieve to make everybody happy. The most important thing we need to have is economic development. Retail will help relax the burden on rooftops when it comes to tax dollars. With the plans that have been laid forward with the Unified Development Code, the Downtown Revitalization that we’ve done in the past, I think we will move that forward. That’s one of the most important things to me and always has been, as well as I am kind of a proponent for all the city employees and the staff. It’s important that we take care of them and make sure they are treated fairly with honesty and integrity. That’s very important to me personally. Can I dedicate my time to the council? I know it’s a full-time job and it’s the same for everyone else who sits on the council. It takes dedication, patience, perseverance, and sacrifice. That’s the hardest thing for a person who sits in that position or in any kind of position of that manner. It’s a sacrifice.
- JOSE HERNANDEZ: The things I would like to change are community-based programs. I want the community more involved. Decision making. I would like to add more representation to our council (inaudible). In terms of me being able to manage it, I manage people. I am a part time student. My calendar is my best friend. I am very good at deadlines. I am very efficient person. I am very level-headed. (inaudible)
- VALORIE BARTON: My top priority I think would be, to piggyback off of Andy and Alvin, who both of these gentlemen have experience. This city council thing would be new to me, but I am up for the challenge. Being that I recently moved back to Dayton, I noticed that I have to travel out of town to buy items and I see a lot of tax dollars leaving Dayton. I would like to see those dollars stay here or have corporations or big companies come here. Also that we can bring in those tax dollars that are being spent in Baytown or somewhere else. Also with that, not just bringing in companies that will help us progress but ensuring that those positions/jobs created pay well and meets the needs of the people of Dayton. As far as my time, I have time on my hands. Years before I wanted to do this but couldn’t because of my schedule. I am here now and can dedicate as much time as I need to. I am one who burns the midnight oil. I don’t sleep so I have plenty of time.
How would you increase communication and engagement with Dayton ISD, including student education and participation in the City of Dayton government?
- JOSE HERNANDEZ: I think social media is a really great tool. [inaudible]
- VALORIE BARTON: That’s kind of an interesting question. As Jose said, social media. I am kind of from the old school, but I am progressive when it comes to communication. I think there are programs, and I’ve seen it in other cities, where they engage the city council by participating with the school district, to be aware of what’s going on in the city. As fair as engagement, I would like to see a junior student council and junior city council, where you have the students and can bring them in and educate them on the guys that’s before them. And when their time is up, trust me, kids are very well aware of what’s going on. It’s just that they need the structure and guidance and the tools to use those. As far as the education, I am big on education and I think we should all be involved. I should be able to give my time to the school where it’s needed and where I am asked if there is something I specialize in or have a strong sense of, I hold things near and dear to my heart, so it’s all about time and what are you willing to give up and being open mind and seeing the world a little different. Engagement is something that when you take the two and put them together. I believe it can happen.
- ALVIN BURRESS: As I answer that question, if you go and look at the city and get on the website, you’ll see all the things they have done with the school district. Right now, they have internships, they do summer with the school, which brings in kids to different programs within the city from public works to the police department. The outreach they already do. With the education part of it, I think the only way they can improve on it is have more interns, I guess. They do an excellent job with that. As far as communication, sitting there with [Police] Chief Vine and the City Manager [Theo Melancon]. There is a lot of outreach they do with the schools. Our police department is involved with the schools with different things that relate to safety – educational talks and different programs. Communication wise, the superintendent stays in touch with the city manager. I am speaking from experience. That’s why I am trying to figure out how we can have more communication. We have plenty. We really do. I think it could be more transparent. Maybe it needs to be put out to the public more where they can understand these programs. Maybe some more transparency on that. Some more outreach via social media or going to different functions. I think that would be the best way for me to say that they can improve communication is a little more outreach and transparency, because, believe me, they do a lot of work with the school district.
- BUBBA GRAVES: Like Alvin, I think they do a really good job as of today in communicating and working with the students, the interns, and the things we do have going. As far as increasing communication, the city council will have to work hand in hand with the school. As issues come up, that we present it to the city or school district to be an open forum. That’s the only thing I can suggest – communicating between the school board and the city council. If they have any input, I think that should be coming from the public through one or the other – email or whatever. That’s about all I can say.
- ANDY CONNER: Like Alvin was saying, the intern program at the city is very robust. We’ve actually hired students from the internship program into full-time or parti-time employment. I think we could expand on that. I think we mainly focused on social media and that sort of thing. We can improve on that and maybe invite the student government body into city council meetings. Get them involved as their governing body. The internship program, as it stands right now, is very good. Can it be improved? Yes, sure. As far as the communication with the school board, I think Theo and Jessica [Johnson], our superintendent, have a great working relationship. As it stands now, I personally know several members of the school board and we talk informally about things that are influencing both the city and the school district. I think any kind of communication should be open. It’s a good thing now but it could be better.
What ideas do you have to improve the quality of life in the city of Dayton and to ensure that all city services, amenities, and programs are inclusive and equitable for all Dayton residents?
- ANDY CONNER: As far as amenities for Dayton residents, I was a big proponent of the feasibility study, and now we are actually laying fiber in the ground for the Daynet fiber program. That’s going to be a really big thing for the city of Dayton and maybe people don’t realize that yet. It’s almost 10 times faster than anything you can get in outlying areas of Dayton. We are working on that in phases and eventually we will be offering that to everyone in the City of Dayton at a reasonable price. As far as the amenities being equitable for everyone, we are really kind of spread out right now. Our goal is to create a footprint of Dayton in a circle and not the spider’s web like it currently is. It takes times and money to do that. It’s a question of using money wisely in getting those city services out to folks in the outlying communities who maybe don’t have them right now. As far as other amenities, I would like to see more green spaces in town. That’s one thing we are working on right now. Using the Unified Development Code, as [City Manager] Theo [Melancon] was saying, to get folks to increase the aesthetics of the city. We don’t want it to be a concrete jungle. Those are a couple of things we are working on right now.
- BUBBA GRAVES: Well, my wife and I were married 51 years ago, right here in Dayton, Texas, at the Baptist Church. When we got married, we went down to Jackson’s Hardware Store and we bought everything we needed to set up housekeeping – refrigerator, stoves, beds, everything we needed. You can no longer do that. I would like to see the city evolve back to where we could support ourselves and keep the money here. I am a strong believer. I live in Dayton and I want to spend my money in Dayton. I don’t want to have to go to Houston, Baytown or any place else. As far as our city services go, I think they are improving daily. We’ve had some issues for sure but it’s only a phone call to get them taken care of. The city has been real response to me on any issue I’ve had. I would like to see retail get back to Dayton.
- VALORIE BARTON: That was a long question, like four questions in one question. The ideas that I have to bring to the city of Dayton is, of course, to see us have a bike trail. I am into my health and fitness these days. I just started that. I know that in other communities, as I said I travel quite a bit and I get ideas from other communities. I think, wow that would be pretty cool to have in Dayton, definitely a green area where people can just walk and see the greenery and it not be all concrete. As far as the city services, I think Dayton has improved especially in my community. I noticed that our streets are improved. If there is an issue with anything, for instance water, it takes just one phone call and it’s taken care of, so continuing to improve those services. As far as activities, I would also like to see the city sponsor youth activities because city-sponsored activities will keep your youth busy and get them exposure to other things in other cities and states, and getting involved in all different levels, not just when school’s over.
- ALVIN BURRESS: To start with the city employees and city staff, they are reputable and very good at what they do. I think the quality of that and the quality of life for the citizens starts with us – to make sure when citizens call, they have the right leadership to lead them to do the right things and do quality work that we can all depend on. Let’s face it, we all want our toilets to flush, and we all want police protection. Those are the most important things we want – water, streets and police department. I believe all of that starts at the top with us to help set policies and SOPs (standard operating procedures) for the city manager and let him handle it from there. As far as amenities, we have a parks plan in place now. One of the responsibilities we have is that when any developer comes into our city, from a subdivision to grocery store or a chemical plant, that we make them responsible for those green spaces and donating that land to us. We could use a few more parks in this city. There is a plan in place right now that was put forth a couple of years ago to make sure these developers follow. I think that’s very important, and we should stick with that plan.
- JOSE HERNANDEZ: Well, I would have to agree with the ideas that have been mentioned. I think parks are a great idea. I think testing the water regularly is also a really good idea. I’ve seen areas where that has been a problem. I want more community programs, community classes, maybe grow a community garden, direct pantry across towns to help those who are less fortunate get what they need. If by chance they don’t have the resources to buy something. Our city service workers [inaudible]. In terms of adding on social media, to make sure it’s more accessible to people.
How do you plan to balance Dayton’s growth and infrastructure needs with business and residents’ desire to lower taxes?
- ALVIN BURRESS: We have to bring in more retail. We have to make sure we are responsible with that growth and when developers or manufacturers come in that we hold them to the T, and understand exactly what they want, to make sure we do it by the law and the guidelines the state has to make sure we don’t let anything slide by. No shortcuts. The only way we are going to help with the taxes within this community, or the county for that matter, is to take out all the roadblocks because we need more development here. It all keys with economic development. You have to really get out there and do the work, work with the city manager, do the studying and do the homework, and really pay attention because the little details really make a bigger difference on any kind of taxes we are going to try and improve on. The ultimate responsibility for that is proper economic development growth and making sure we follow the guidelines, be responsible and transparent.
- JOSE HERNANDEZ: So like I mentioned, I am [inaudible]. It’s a privilege to be here and be a part of this community.
- VALORIE BARTON: As I stated earlier about bringing in other businesses, like retail stores, manufacturers, corporations into Dayton that will help offset the tax burden for the taxpayers. They come in, they do their due diligence, the … we could come down on the citizens of Dayton’s taxes. [inaudible] We must do that by following the city, state, local and federal guidelines with whatever programs we bring in, or whatever companies, manufacturers or retailers to come into the city of Dayton. The citizens of Dayton will have money to put back into Dayton as well.
- BUBBA GRAVES: Our tax base, for all of the years I have been here, has been put back on the landowners, farmers, ranchers and local communities. The only way to change that is through more industry. I know that the DCDC and them, when Lester Ray [Wisegerber] and all of them came in and started years and years ago, it’s been a challenge. They have gotten a few manufacturers in here and hopefully we can get more. The only way to alleviate the tax burden from the citizens is to entice more growth and industry. That is not going to be an easy answer. I am not sure what the answer is except for Theo and the DCDC and Andy here. They have worked diligently trying to do that. Until we can get more industry here, I don’t know what we can do about alleviating the tax burden on local citizens.
- ANDY CONNER: I think the question was how do we alleviate the tax burden through new growth coming in? If you asked that question, then stick around. After this, we are having a city council workshop about impact fees. I think that is the answer. The reality is large landowners in the area are selling their raw land and developers are coming in. You see it every day. The trick is to fight bad development. I think this is the answer. Impact fees are assessed to developers to have growth pay for growth. They are going to be using more city services. They are going to be using our streets and things like that. I think in order to increase a barrier to entry and get rid of some of the bad development and also have growth, let growth pay for itself through these impact fees for developers. Also, we just passed a resolution to make developers pony up a portion of their permit fees because that was becoming a problem with the city going out to check the same work over and over again. The solution to that was putting a percentage of their permitting fee into escrow to where we already have it, and we can use it. If they don’t use it, then we give it back to them. If they do have us come out and do the same permitting checks again and again, we can take from that escrow balance. To recap, impact fees to developers that are using our city services and not put the burden on the taxpayers who live here and have lived here. I think that’s the answer.
What are your thoughts about Dayton’s future growth plans and the impact of projects, for example, the Grand Parkway, will have on existing businesses and residences?
- ANDY CONNER: I think the Grand Parkway is going to alleviate some traffic, which was its intention in the first place. I think it’s going to be good for our traffic flow in Dayton by diverting some traffic both to the north and south of us. I think it’s going to give us more exposure. Along with that comes development. You can’t stop the development. You can’t stop the growth, but you can hope to harness it and use it to your advantage. I hope it also brings a lot of exposure to Dayton. To be effective in this job, you can’t bury your head in the sand. You have to embrace growth. It all comes back to taxes at the end of the day, to alleviate the taxes on housetops and put that more on the people who are making money from their property.
- BUBBA GRAVES: I’m not exactly sure how the GP is going to play into the growth of Dayton. I don’t think it’s going to hurt. I think it’s going to help. What I see, and I don’t have a solution to it. Dayton is a bedroom community basically. A lot of the people, I would say the biggest majority, travel south or west. Somehow, we have to entice them to come to Dayton to spend their money. If you are traveling from Deer Park to Mont Belvieu, and anywhere down there, what right now do we have to entice them to come into Dayton and go to Brookshires to buy a loaf of bread.? That’s our biggest goal is to figure out how to entice people to come to Dayton and spend their money.
- ALVIN BURRESS: The Grand Parkway. Man, that has been the discussion for about four years now. I can remember three years ago when we sat down and started to plan for the Grand Parkway when we knew it was coming in and we were planning for Gulf Inland. When I talked about economic development earlier, that was one of our biggest steps. It was a challenge, and we had our struggles, but we fought through it. One of the biggest helps it is going to have on our taxpayers, once we get Gulf Inland going, is that the Grand Parkway is a big part of that. To the south, we have the interchange going in. The Grand Parkway was responsible for that coming in. It all ties into the railroad, which everyone here knows the railroad is the biggest part of our tax base. As that ties into Gulf Inland and into the interchange, that will relieve some of the taxes on our rooftops and it will also invite other big retailers to come in one day. I don’t know if we will see that in five or 10 years, but it will get here. It’s all because of the plans we made back then and had the foresight to see what was going to happen when 99 came in here. Then Gulf Inland came into the picture, then Interchange came into the picture. I sat in on meetings with every one of those guys. There was a lot of hard work. The growth will come, and we will see relief.
- JOSE HERNANDEZ: It’s definitely a good investment. It will bring a lot more exposure to Dayton. More people will be passing through. Businesses will be added, which will add revenue to the city. Again, we are not sure when we will see it pay off, but it will eventually.
- VALORIE BARTON: My thoughts on the future growth plans with 99 coming into Dayton. I think it will definitely bring more people here. I think that it affects small businesses. Dayton is built on small, hometown values. If Old Town Spring can do it and still maintain the old town feel where local small businesses can still thrive and survive along with big companies and retailers coming in, I think it can work as long as the people work the plan. As far as what I think would entice or bring people here, as Bubba stated, he doesn’t have the answer, and I am not as knowledgeable as Alvin because it sounds like he’s got it and I am not there yet. Definitely when I saw the Gulf Inland signs coming into Dayton, I was impressed by that. By those kind of companies coming into Dayton, it will attract other businesses. We have to keep in mind that we are coming out of, or hopefully coming out of, the COVID 19, which impacted our economy, so we have to take all of those things into mind when we are planning and moving forward. Even being a border of the fourth-largest city in country, there are changes coming and we have to be ready for it, and I think we are.