Candidates for high Tyler offices face off in public forum

Published on Monday, 21 April 2014 22:50 - Written by FAITH HARPER fharper@tylerpaper.com

Candidates vying for the highest Tyler offices faced off at a public forum Monday evening.

The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Tyler/Smith County and held in the Tyler Public Library.

Candidates for the Tyler ISD school board, Tyler mayor and the city council were separated by institution and asked questions by a panel of four.

The school board candidates described ideal qualities for prospective Tyler ISD superintendent candidates after the district’s leader Gary Mooring announced he would step down at the end of the school year.

The Rev. Orenthia Mason, District 2 incumbent, said the ideal candidate would have a vision of excellence for the district and be willing to work with the present staff and other entities.

“One that knows how to network with the city of Tyler,” she said. “The present superintendent has done a great job at networking. ... The person coming in, whether he be man or she be female, needs to be able to bring our district to the next level.”

Her challenger, Cedrick Granberry, said the candidate needs to understand the demographics and vision of the district.

“Understanding the demographics of Tyler, Texas, and making sure the concerns of the community as whole (are heard) — the work that has been done prior to the superintendent, coming to understand the long-term vision of the district (and) where we are at this time,” he said.

District 5 candidate Barbara Smith said the next leader needs to be personable.

“I think the next superintendent needs to be passionate for education ... across the board, whether they live north or south …” she said. “And look at the current budget and what we can do to put more money to the (classroom) and more money to the students.”

Ms. Smith’s opponent Ross Strader said the new leader must have a certain brand of integrity and be passionate about educating every student in the district.

“TISD sits in a large community of Tyler, Texas, and that person networks with the community and is a great ambassador within that community. … We gained a lot of ground the last couple of years with Mr. Mooring, and we can’t lose that ground,” he said.

Candidates also addressed the desegregation order that the district has remained under for 40 years.

Grandberry said the district could do more to make individual schools more diverse.

“A law is only words on a piece of paper, but laws were meant to be enforced,” he said.

Rev. Mason said the issue is more complex than it seems.

“It’s going to take the community and the school district coming together to make this happen,” she said. “We may want to be out from under it, but there are citizens that want us to stay under it.”

Ms. Smith said that children can succeed no matter the racial makeup of the school.

“I am a product of John Tyler High School …” she said. “(My children) went to John Tyler High School, and they went to premier university. I believe the desegregation order needs to be in place … but it’s time we go line by line and see how we can implement it.”

Strader said the decision should be left to the community.

CITY OF TYLER

The candidates for Tyler mayor and District 4 on the city council addressed where they would like to see the city improve under their leadership.

Mayoral candidate Martin Heines said he would like to see more partnerships to enhance the lives of the community.

“What can we do from a nonprofit faith-based volunteer community to enhance what our school district is trying to do …” Heines said. “The city as whole, we can do better, and we can make a difference.”

Heines’ challenger Joel Rando said his focus would be on helping people find jobs, and possibly creating internships within city department to give college graduates work experience.

“We need to find jobs for people,” he said. “There are a lot of people that are doing fine, but a lot of people aren’t doing fine, and I would be the voice for people.”

Heines, Rando and District 4 candidate Don Warren said they were against taking out certificates of obligation to fund city projects, with the exception of using the hotel motel tax to completely fund a project.

Eleno Licea, District 4 candidate, said he preferred to take a conservative look at the budget and make sure things are funded properly, but said he was not opposed to using certificates of obligation if it was in the best interest of the taxpayer.

“I’m not opposed to general obligation — I think they are a tool,” he said. “With that in mind, I’m not looking forward to using them.”

Candidates also addressed how to get the Hispanic population more involved in government and politics. The group is the fastest growing in the city but has some of the lowest levels of involvement.

Licea said having a diverse leadership would be a step, and the Latino community was similar to every other group.

“We are different, but we are a lot alike,” he said. “We all want safe schools. …. We want our parents to grow old in a community where they can afford to live.”

Warren said the city has work to do, but it has progressed.

“I think more and more Hispanic employees are being hired in the city of Tyler, so I think we are progressing,” he said.

Rando said community members expressed to him that they do not vote because they there’s not a good reason to and the solution may be a candidate that they can relate to.

Heines the solution was to create equal opportunities for all children.

“The numbers and statistics (show) 70 percent of kids are at the poverty level, and that covers all races …” he said. “We don’t start with old people like me, we start with kids and work to form a community — entrepreneurialism for everyone.”

Election Day for city and school board elections is May 10. Early voting will run from April 28 through May 6.