More than 100 citizens turned out to a political forum held Thursday night at the Cain Center for candidates running for a seat on the Athens City Council and a position on the Athens Municipal Water Authority Board of Directors.
Each council candidate received the same four questions and was each given two minutes to respond before members of the audience submitted written questions near the end of the event.
Athens has three city council seats up for election with six candidates.
Election day is May 10. Early voting in the municipal election begins April 28 and closes May 6.
In the Athens City Council races, Place 2 City Council member Carol Barton is challenged by Thomas Joe Whatley.
In Place 3, Aubrey Jones has filed for another term, and is opposed by Charles Elliott.
Place 4 incumbent Elaine Jenkins is opposed by Tres Winn.
Barton, Jones and Jenkins were each re-elected in 2012, after drawing no opposing candidates.
Candidates for the AMWA Board of Directors are Billy Carter, Mike Peek, Ed Gatlin and Greg Hisey.
Each candidate was asked why they are running for a place on city council or the water board and given two minutes to respond.
City council candidates were asked, “Besides issues regarding water, what do you believe is the most important project the city expects to face the next fiscal year and how would you like to see it addressed?”
Whatley said, “It is always going to be the budget, that’s the bottom line, the taxing entity and how much the tax authority asks from the citizens of Athens. That is always going to be the upmost interest of everybody in town. Looking through the budget and studying it, I am seeing several areas that could probably be more closely looked at and adjusted to see where we could stop the tax rate and maybe even reduce the tax rate in the near future.”
Barton responded to the same question, “I’m not sure we have a most important issue for this coming year. All of our issues are important. I have learned this over my years on the council, no one council member can do anything by themselves, it is a team effort. Everybody has to work together to get anything accomplished. It is not good if you have a person who comes on the council with an agenda or a gung-ho thing he or she wants to do. They will soon find out they are the minority there. As far as answering the question, budget is one of the most important things that the council does, probably the most important simply because the city is probably the largest purchaser in the area.”
Candidates for council seat No. 3, Jones and Elliott, were asked, “In your opinion, why did the partnership between the city and AMWA breakdown?”
Jones said, “I will give my opinion on this, others will differ. It is sad and regrettable that a partnership that had done very well for almost 60 years finally broke up beginning this past August and September. Evidentially, there were some differences of opinion about certain bills and expenses that had been paid by the water authority that some on the water authority believe should have been paid by the city. Its true that the contract between the city and water authority has some loose language in it, I will be the first one to admit it should be tightened up. I’ll be the first one to admit that there are some ambiguities in it. Sometimes a contract or agreement is more of a living entity or a living organism. You sometimes go along and you have to make adjustments or something changes to make it grow or modify it as time goes on. I think we hit a point like that over these last several months. However, that didn’t happen. What we got was complaints and demands.”
Elliott, a former member of AMWA at the time the suit was filed, said, “When I was asked to be on the board of AMWA I took an oath of office to the citizens of Athens, Texas. Not just the voters, not just the tax payers but to the citizens of Athens, Texas. Now, oath of office is important to me and I am going to do what I think is right for the citizens of Athens. Yes, I voted to bring forth that lawsuit. Yes, I voted about the $4 million. But here is whats never been told to anybody, everyone on that board knew the $4 million could not be paid by the city and was not going to be paid by the taxpayers. It was all to let you know that the $4 million has been taken from AMWA by the city and spent over a period of 10 years. To say that there as never been a problem, there have been numerous problems in the past between AMWA and the city. That can be proven. I hate that it happened. We tried to work it out with the city the best we could. We had no luck. I am guilty of voting for what I did for the City of Athens. To help the City of Athens. To help the citizens of the City of Athens.”
Running for city council seat No. 4, incumbent Jenkins and challenger Winn addressed the question, “Do you feel AMWA should be abolished? Why?”
Winn said, “That is hard for me to answer. Once again, everybody knows what happened. You hear one side and hear the other side. I do not appreciate being sued for $4.8 million. You are suing with my money for my money, about my money that has been paid for with my money. At the same time, we talk about the fact that they are no longer needed when we abolished them. That they had outlived their existence and the city could handle it. Then we come back that we are going to save taxes. Yes, we are going to save taxes but the problem I have with that is, if it is true we could have got rid of them a long time ago, there has been a lot of people sitting in here that has paid taxes that didn’t need to be. The best way I can answer this, if you think the city can do the job and do it well, vote to abolish it. If you don’t think they can handle it and you think that is just one more thing on their plate that would be too much for them to handle, keep it.”
Jenkins said, “Yes I do at this time. The water authority was formed for the Lake Athens dam reservoir and the water treatment plant. In able to get the money for that, the city needed to have a water authority to get the bonds to complete the projects. They have done a good job I must say in getting that done. The bonds are paid off. Now, city employees handle the water treatment plant, repairs, maintenance. So they are doing all the work at this point. Due to the fact that the communication has broken down, there has been a lot of bad politics that I think have hurt a lot of people. People that have been dedicated to the water authority over the years have been offended. I think for the citizens, this tax can be eliminated and it would be better for the citizens of Athens.”
Three of the four candidates for the AMWA board were in attendance Thursday and all answered “yes” to the following question, “On election day, if the citizens vote to abolish AMWA, would you honor that decision?”
Hisey said, “I hope it doesn’t come to that. I think AMWA is a great asset to the community and I hope the public and our citizens recognize that. If that doesn’t happen, we are a democracy and we move forward.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidate questions that appear above were pre-determined before the meeting began. Candidates did not know what responses would appear in this article. Visit Athensreview.com and watch a video of candidates’ responses to other questions not highlighted in this article.