Horne and Simmerman discuss nepotism, growth
Cumby mayoral candidates Doug Simmerman and Ryan Horne gathered with community members at Blackjack Grove park in a town hall-style citizen public forum regarding the city’s upcoming Nov. 5 election for the open mayor position.
“It’s a great start to have some community members that are interested in asking some questions,” Horne told the crowd.
Horne, a 2006 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University, previously lived in Nacogdoches before relocating to Cumby three years ago, he stated. He is currently employed by SFA as a regional representative and this is his first time running for public office, he said. He resides on Main Street in Cumby with his wife and children, Horne stated.
Simmerman lived in Cumby for the past 27 years and has served on the city council for the past six, he stated. After graduating from East Texas State University (now Texas A&M- Commerce) he spent 33 years in the public education system as an agricultural instructor and administrator, Simmerman said. He currently resides on Tarrant Street in Cumby, he stated.
GROWTH AND DEBT
A main concern mentioned by Aaron Reynolds of the water department was accounting for the city’s future growth.
“The infrastructure, that’s one of the main things,” Horne stated. “Moreso I want to focus on Main Street. I want to protect the heart of Cumby. There’s a lot of area out on the interstate [Interstate-30] that can be retail space and can have commercial properties. But here we want to protect what Cumby is: our historic buildings.”
“We want to be a destination point, not just a drive-through point,” Horne said.
“Right now as far as I can say when I stepped in, we had a few unpaid bills,” Simmerman said. “We’re working on getting that caught up and we’ve made substantial strides towards that.”
An August 16, 2019 statement from Constellation energy company obtained by the News-Telegram reflects an unpaid balance by the city of $24,825.38. A July 1, 2019 statement from Northeast Texas Disposal waste management services obtained by the News-Telegram reflects an unpaid balance by the city of $27,305.25.
The News-Telegram has requested all current unpaid balances by the city and is awaiting a reply.
“We’ve got to get the city-- the business side of it-- sound,” Simmerman said. “It’s got to be managing its money properly. We’re working on getting the money straightened out so we can have the money to build with the growth on infrastructure and things of that nature.”
Simmerman referenced a Sept. 10 council meeting by the city of Cumby in which they voted unanimously to pursue a community development block grant to repair or replace streets and working with county officials, the Ark-Tex Council of Governments (ATCOG) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
According to ATCOG regional development director Toni Lindsay, Cumby is applying for $75,000. Applications to the program are capped at $350,000, according to Hopkins County grant writer Beth Wiesenbaker.
However, according to Simmerman, the city was “a couple weeks late” on applying for other FEMA funds the city potentially could have been eligible for.
“We need to get ready for these long-term goals and get ready for that growth coming down the interstate,” Simmerman noted.
WATER AND NEPOTISM
Citizen Wayne Wadley stated his biggest concern was the availability and useability of water.
According to Horne, what got him interested in running for mayor was a March 2019 incident with the city’s water in which it was “tough to get a straight answer” regarding the cause.
“Now it’s time to fix issues and start making things better,” Horne said.
“The people that’s in there now, they’re super… they work for you like you would not believe,” Wadley stated.
Citizen and volunteer firefighter David Weatherbee inquired about city policy regarding nepotism within government structure.
“I think that’s a big issue and I’m wondering what the city can do going forward to be more transparent going forward,” Weatherbee said.
“I think there’s some laws already in place to cover that,” Simmerman said. “The city has been dealing with a lot of other issues and hasn’t really thought much about nepotism.”
“Personally myself, I’m not related to anyone except my dad and he can’t get out much,” Simmerman said.
“It should just be an absolute no,” Horne stated. “Especially in this size of town, people are related. I get that. When I came to what I observed with a mayor-- a husband directly reporting and paychecks being signed, and money… it just lends to too many questions.”
According to Texas Government Code sections 573.001 through 573.084, an elected official shall not give a job to his or her parent or child, his or her brother, sister, grandparent or grandchild, his or her great-grandparent, great-grandchild, aunt or uncle, or his or her niece or nephews.
Horne stated he does not plan to hire his brother, who works for the Hopkins County Sheriff’s Office, as Cumby police chief due to him being “not qualified.”
Citizen Laurie Caldwell asked, “Mr. Simmerman, you’ve been on the board for the past six years. While all this was going on... did you have a voice in all that?”
“Being on the council, you’re one vote,” Simmerman stated. “I will say that I had some concerns with that issue, and I’ll have to be honest with you, there’s some things I can’t talk about because of ethics rules. There’s a big problem with that, I’ll have to agree.”
Simmerman stated that he “did try to do some things,” although he “did not post all [his] feelings and everything on Facebook.”
“I was reaching out, trying to find answers and having a really difficult time on what I could do to correct some problems that I saw,” Simmerman said. “I kind of got stonewalled, you might say.”
Simmerman said that in April or May 2019, three council members called for a special meeting but the meeting was denied, only to be pulled into an executive session and counseled by the city attorney, Cynthia Humphries.
“We were kind of kept in the dark on a lot of things,” Simmerman said. “When things started coming to light… that’s when changes started coming place.”
TECHNOLOGY AND SCHOOL RELATIONS
Citizen Nicol Fuentes asked how the city of Cumby could better use technology and social media to inform citizens.
“We’ve got to get our technology inside our city hall up-to-date and secure,” Simmerman said. “I personally don't look at the website a whole lot myself, but it probably needs some work on it.”
“So you’re saying it’s not secure right now? Your internet could be breached?” Fuentes asked.
“We’ve got firewalls and things up,” Simmerman stated. “But to get it updated and for it to remain secure… we’ve got a guy to come in and we’re looking at a contract, he’ll manage our technology in the city and make sure, because there’s new things coming out all the time.”
“Technology is an outreach outlet,” Horne said. “When families are coming in one of the first things they’re going to do is Google and look where they’re moving to… It’s a way to get our community involved. There’s some good folks that have some good talents… if there’s someone who can handle Facebook, let’s see if we can bring them in and have them help us out.”
Weatherbee inquired what each candidate would do to “re-establish good relationships with our school district.” Weatherbee referred to a “strain over the last several years”
“As long as Shelly’s [Slaughter] is superintendent… I’ll be able to work out any kind of whatever problem,” Simmerman said. “I don’t have a problem working with the school. I’m a school teacher… I don’t have a bit of a problem with sitting down.”
“I will say over the past few months things have changed drastically in terms of communication,” Cumby ISD superintendent Shelly Slaughter said. “The school and working with the city to help clean some things up. They’ve been very open and helpful, so it’s headed in the right direction.”
“We can strengthen an already good relationship with the school board,” Horne said. “Having representation at school board meetings, invite them to city hall… There shouldn’t be any reason the city’s not supporting everything the school’s doing.”
Early voting begins Monday, Oct. 21 and ends Nov. 1. Regular voting is Nov. 5.