Council candidates debate

October 13, 2012

Several dozen people showed up Tuesday night for a Granbury City Council candidates forum hosted by the Hood County Tea Party.

All five candidates also put in an appearance.

Incumbents Mitch Tyra of Place 3 and Laurel Pirkle, Place 5, each have challengers for re-election. For Tyra, it’s Gary Couch of the Planning and Zoning Commission, a 20-year Granbury resident and real estate investor. Pirkle faces former bed and breakfast owner Keith Tipton and former City Manager Harold Sandel.

The gathering took place at American Town Hall on Travis Street. The election is Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Each candidate was given five minutes to speak, then were allowed to address written questions submitted by audience members. Each gave a one-minute closing statement.

Predominant topics were lowering the city’s electric rates; the importance of the Opera House to tourism and issues with the delayed renovation project; and dealings with the Brazos River Authority (BRA) regarding the water level in Lake Granbury.

In Wednesday’s issue, the Hood County News detailed the views of Tyra and Couch regarding the issues they consider to be of highest importance in their Place 3 competition.

In the Place 5 race, Tipton told audience members that he has lived in Granbury for 13 years and spent almost 40 years in medical sales before going into the bed and breakfast business. He said that he is an independent candidate with “no ties.”

Sandel said that he has more than 27 years of municipal experience, 17 of which was in Granbury and 10 of which was spent as city manager. Of the City Council’s decision two years ago to replace him, Sandel said that he has no hard feelings and noted that he lasted much longer than the three-and-a-half years that is the average for city managers.

“I am more familiar (with city business) than anyone else running today,” Sandel said. He added that “three issues” are of primary concern to him: the water level in the lake; fiscal responsibility, including reducing property taxes; and teamwork.

“I have not seen a lot of teamwork the last three years,” he said in a seeming reference to Tyra, who was elected three years ago.

Tyra is perhaps the most vocal council member during public meetings, and frequently asks questions of city staff and those who come before the council. He said at the forum that a “wholesale change in the belief system and ideology” has been taking place on a City Council that until recently had been comprised of longtime members.

“You’re going to have struggle, and you’re going to have pain,” he said of the change process. “It’s a struggle, but we’re getting there.”

Audience members at times reacted vocally to the mention of certain sore subjects that have plagued established council members. One of those subjects was the parking lot near the square that the City Council purchased several years ago for $1 million. Half the money for the buy was taken from the city’s utility fund.

“Sometimes public money has to be spent to advance what is needed at the time,” explained Pirkle, an insurance agent who has lived in Granbury since 1979 and has been involved in several local civic clubs. “Some decisions were made that we found out later were wrong.”

Sandel, who was city manager when the parking lot purchase occurred, but did not have a vote when the council approved it, said that he had favored building a parking garage. However, a number of citizens and business owners told the City Council they were against it.

City officials also have received criticism for a 10-year contract that led to city utility customers struggling to pay their electric bills.

“Granbury was caught in a crunch back at that time,” Sandel explained, adding that residents of Weatherford back then were having to pay electric bills that had doubled and tripled.

Though Tyra commented during the forum that the contract is tightly worded and appears to offer little if any options, Sandel said: “I haven’t seen a contract yet that you couldn’t adjust.”

Couch said that he is working on a “comprehensive alternative” to address the current utility rates, and expects to have it finished soon.

Tipton noted that $500,000 was siphoned out of the utility fund to buy the million dollar parking lot shortly before utility customers began feeling the pinch.

Early voting will be 8 to 5 Oct. 22-Oct. 31, and 7 to 7 Nov. 1-2.

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