By MARY RAINWATER
Candidates running for election to the Palestine City Council and the Palestine Independent School District Board of Trustees on May 11 were able to answer questions and share their concerns with voters during a political forum Thursday at the Ben E. Keith Community Room in Palestine.
Sponsored by the Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce and aired live on Palestine radio station KNET 95.7 FM, the forum was moderated by station news director Gary Richards.
Questions were submitted by those attending the forum, with candidates given equal time to answer each question.
Candidates for the Palestine City Council District 6 seat — incumbent Steve Presley and new candidate Sam Aryanpur were first to participate in the city council portion of the forum, followed by mayoral candidates Timothy Triplett and Therrell Thomas.
“I think Palestine is at a time in its history where it is on the verge of really great things,” Presley said as to his motivation to run for re-election. “It is a process that needs to continue and I see we still have a lot of opportunities ahead.”
Aryanpur, a local business owner, said he saw too many problems in Palestine — with a per capital income of $346 per week and a 50 percent child hunger rate.
Those issues, he said, could be attributed to too much regulation for small business and a sect of Palestine “elite” that did not want the city to grow — stating that Presley himself had hindered a previous effort made by Sanderson Farms to bring their plant to Palestine over five years ago.
“I was directly involved in getting Sanderson Farms as well as the chemical processing plant here,” Presley said in defense. “Instead of pointing fingers, I feel it is important that we move forward past the problems... work to increase the level of income and to be positive about the community.”
In sharing new ideas to address crime, Presley stated that the council and police department had taken steps to increase safety, and reminded citizens that they must take part in the process too.
“No matter how many police officers we have, we will continue to have crime,” Presley said. “We as citizens have to be the eyes and ears for the police — to report crimes when we see them as soon as we see them.
“It is our job to step up to the plate as citizens to help make a difference in keeping Palestine safe.”
Aryanpur felt that the solution to the problem was to create more jobs in the community, and that doing so would reduce the need for crimes such as theft.
“That is the key,” Aryanpur said. “Give them jobs and income and they won’t need to steal to feed their families.”
Mayoral candidates Thomas and Triplett both touted a love for the community, leadership experience and strong local support as their motivation to run for office.
“God has taken me on a path that has brought me back to Palestine,” Triplett said. “And has given me the ability to communicate with others of different backgrounds and take a leadership role to help take Palestine into the future.”
Thomas, who currently serves on the city council in the District 5 seat, also said that his relationship with God, the support of his wife of over 20 years and his business experience made him well qualified for the role.
“I have been on both sides as a citizen, as a councilman and as a police officer for Palestine,” he said. “And I believe I can work with all parties to the city’s benefit.”
When asked about what they felt were Palestine’s top two issues, both cited the city’s economic development as an issue of the utmost importance, with security and education being their number two choices.
“Economic development is tops,” Triplett said. “And education is essential for economic development to occur. We are blessed with a wonderful location, and we need to release our assets so we can support growth.”
The candidates also answered questions regarding the loss the veteran officers from the police force, their goals in regard to boosting tourism and economic growth, city infrastructure and financial transparency.
“I love Palestine and I believe that the city will be redefined as a city in the next 10 years,” Thomas said in closing statements. “I don’t want us to miss our opportunities. I want us to be in a good position.”
Triplett echoed similar sentiments about his vision for Palestine.
“I have a great love for this city,” he said. “I believe that I am equipped for leadership and that I have been set on a path that has prepared me immensely for this role.
“Together, with God’s help, we can have an answer to every challenge,” Triplett added. “We don’t need to be afraid of growth. We can grow and still maintain all the good things that Palestine is.”
The 2013 Political Forum was sponsored by the Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce, KNET Radio: 1450AM/ FM 95.7, Bishop’s Brisket House, Toni’s Petals and Parties and David Barnard — State Farm Insurance.
Early voting for the May 11 election will be held from April 29 to May 7.
The first round of the forum included candidates running for three seats on the Palestine ISD school board including: Dana Staples, incumbent for Place 3; JoJo Dickerson, candidate Place 3; Janie Sepulveda, incumbent for Place 5; Mitchell W. Jordan, candidate for Place 5; and Kenneth R. Jordan, candidate for Place 4.
Rickey Ferguson, incumbent for Place 4, was unable to attend the forum.
See Saturday’s edition for more on the Palestine ISD candidate portion of the forum.
Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org