Several Sealy-area candidates for election Nov. 3 took to the stage Thursday evening in a candidate forums hosted by the Sealy Chamber of Commerce at the American Legion Hall.
First up were Nick Tirey and Carolyn Bilski who are running for mayor. Next to them were Jay Aguado and Ralph Bond who are running for Aguado’s seat on the Sealy ISD Board of Trustees. That forum was followed by two of the three write-in candidates for Precinct 3 constable, incumbent Ronnie Griffin and Tobey Baggerly, along with uncontested candidates James Clark for Precinct 4 constable, Jack Brandes for sheriff, and Kim Rinn for tax assessor-collector.
Each candidate was given time for an opening statement and were then read questions submitted in advance by the audience. The event was emceed by Greg Stuessel of Austin County Online.
Tirey said his main concerns involved apartment complexes being built with ordinance variances, some of which the city council is not aware of. He said the city had a 20-year comprehensive plan that was shelved after he was term-limited as mayor six years ago that needs to be pulled out, updated and followed. That includes a drainage plan.
Bilski touted her budgetary and accounting experience as the county judge for 20 years and a member of the city council for eight years before that. “I want to be the voice of the taxpayer,” she said.
When asked what their top three priorities are for office, Bilski said they were transparency, quality of life, and fiscal accountability. Tirey said he wants to get the city back on the comprehensive plan, revise the drainage plan, and have fiscal responsibility.
Tirey said its time the city council had strong leadership; someone who can get the council on the same page, especially when it comes to managing the budget, drainage, and growth.
“You’ve got to plan to work and work the plan,” he said.
Bilski pointed out that the city has already sent out requests for proposals to create a zoning ordinance, something the voters rejected several years ago. She also said the comprehensive plan needs to be updated, especially the part about drainage.
“That plan is out of date and it’s going to have to be re-engineered,” she said.
On the subject of growth, Bilski said it will be important to work in partnership with the schools to plan for a rapidly increasing population.
“We already know and have been told by the EDC that there’s 2,000 people coming to Sealy in the next 12 months. So our population is going to be changing with all the multi-family and single family homes that are coming in and have already been approved by city council up to this day. When those homes come in, Sealy will be different,” she said.
She said it’s important for the city to seek businesses that are clean and offer high-paying jobs.
Tirey reiterated the need to follow the comprehensive plan and to prepare for the growth. That means in addition to having new homes, upkeep and improvements are needed for the city’s infrastructure and roads to handle the influx. He agreed with Bilski that a stronger relationship needs to be forged with the school district.
“We need to bring in quality people and quality manufacturing,” he said.
He added that the city can’t be afraid to tell businesses they’re not welcome if they don’t meet community standards.
“We’ve got a lot of growth coming. We don’t need all that growth. For years and years we kept saying we need growth, we need growth, we’ve got to get all these people in here. Well, we’re in a situation now where they are coming. They want to be here. We don’t have to go out and recruit them as hard because they’re looking at Sealy and they’re looking at opportunities and they can see what’s going on. … We have to be able to pick and choose who we want, what kind of businesses we want, what kind of growth we want and stand our ground and be strong enough to say no, this doesn’t work.”
Aguado, who is completing his first term, said as far as he knows he is the first and only Hispanic to serve on the board of trustees. He was born and raised here, went through the schools and how has children in the school system. He said his priorities are God, family and community.
“Growth is coming and we need to be ready for that,” he said.
Bond said two of his four children have gone through the school system and two are going through. His wife is a coach at the elementary school. He said his priority is to improve test scores and to increase course offerings for the students.
“Every dollar spent outside of the classroom we’re taking away from the kids,” he said.
When asked about preparing students for their future, Bond said there needs to be more focus on vocational skills and the military. “Not everyone’s going to college,” he said.
Aguado said the district is continually adding programs, especially in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. He agreed that there is a need to provide more vocational and military readiness programs.
“I believe in the future we are going to have more programs,” he said.
The candidates were asked if they thought students learning online were getting the same quality education as those attending classes in person.
“Students learning virtually are not getting the same level of education as the kids in school,” Aguado said. He said he felt the district was doing its best under the circumstances but feels the children learn best in the classroom.
Bond said he felt the district was doing the best it could, but he was concerned about students finding ways to avoid classes and to take shortcuts with their work when they are learning from home.
Precinct 3 Constable
Even though they were running unopposed, Sheriff Jack Brandes, Tax Assessor-Collector Kim Rinn, and Precinct 4 Constable James Clark were offered the chance to make an introductory speech. Clark also participated with Precinct 3 constable candidates Ronnie Griffin and Tobey Baggerly in some of their questions. A third write-in candidate, Robert Campbell, was unable to attend.
Griffin has been a licensed peace officer since 1987, and Baggerly since 1990. Griffin is the incumbent, having served two terms in the position. Baggerly is on the Bellville Police Department. They are running as write-in candidates because Griffin made an 11th-hour filing to run for sheriff during the primary. That left the position without a candidate.
Both men generally agreed about the duties and responsibilities of the office, which include serving as bailiff for the courts, serving papers, and providing additional law enforcement support as necessary elsewhere in the county.
One of the biggest differences between them is Baggerly said the constable’s vehicle should be well marked and visible as a deterrent to crime. Griffin said he has his ghost marked to enable him to catch more speeders while on patrol.
Griffin said he has been working for years to bring the constable’s office up to higher standards, including elevating the position to full time. “When I started the job paid $800 a month,” he said.
“I’m running for constable and want to make it my full-time job,” Baggerly said.