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Recommendations in contested College Station City Council races

Recommendations in contested College Station City Council races

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[Editor's note: The editorial on the College Station City Council contested races (Eagle, Oct. 11), Joe Guerra’s idea for the possible future use of Post Oak Mall was mischaracterized. Guerra is a candidate for the Place 4 one-year unexpired term on the council.

Should the mall falter, Guerra suggests the city should collaborate with the mall’s owners to turn the mall into a destination venue, with shopping, hotels and entertainment offerings. Guerra did not suggest the city should purchase the mall.

The story has been changed to reflect the correction.

The Eagle regrets the error.

College Station is in the midst of switching from three-year city council terms to four-year terms. In order to stagger the terms,voters will face two council races for four-year terms and one for a two-year term.

In addition, voters will fill the one-year left on the position vacated last year when Elianor Vessali resigned to run, unsuccessfully, for Congress. The election for the Place 4 seat was scheduled earlier this year but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Unlike Bryan, all College Station council members are elected at-large, voted on by all the voters in the city. The place numbers simply are for housekeeping.

The Eagle Editorial Board interviewed all the candidates in the contested city council races via Zoom. Each interview lasted about 30 minutes and formed the foundation of the Editorial Board’s recommendations.

Our recommendations are but one source of information voters should consider when going to the polls. Other sources of information could include news stories, campaign ads and mailings, and discussions with family, friends and co-workers.

Here are The Eagle’s recommendations in the College Station City Council races, in ballot order:

Place 1 (two-year term)

Councilman Bob Brick vs. Jason Cornelius — This race may well be the toughest for College Station voters to decide. Brick is finishing up his first three-year term and has done a fine job. If re-elected to this two-year term, he would be term-limited from running again.

His opponent, Jason Cornelius, is perhaps the most prepared challenger to an incumbent council member we’re seen in a long, long time. He has been active in the Bryan-College Station Chamber of Commerce for many years and has volunteered for some of the most vital nonprofits in Brazos County.

Brick said he tries to do what he thinks is best for the city, and his solid record on the council shows his instincts are good. He said the city needs to pursue nature tourism in addition to its efforts to attract tourists in general. He points to the diversity of Lick Creek Park as a draw for birders and others interested in nature. Brick said the city needs to diversify its economy, as the past seven months of the pandemic has shown.

Brick said his years in the wildlife and fisheries department at Texas A&M keeps him attuned to the needs of the students, an important constituency of the council.

Cornelius moved to College Station at age 9 and played basketball for Texas A&M. He has spent many years as a small-business lender for two different banks.

He has volunteered countless hours and served in leadership roles with Twin City Mission, Brazos Valley Food Bank and Project Unity, three nonprofits that have been particularly important during the pandemic. While still in college, Cornelius began working with the Lincoln Center and, later, helped coordinate the athletic program for the Boys and Girls Club.

Cornelius has worked closely with the College Station Police Department on a variety of efforts and now is on the department’s Training Advisory Board.

Cornelius says he is strong on neighborhood integrity and wants to stiffen code enforcement. If elected, Cornelius will be the first African American to serve on the council, which, he says, gives him a different perspective.

The dilemma facing College Station voters: Stick with Bob Brick and his solid experience for a final two years on the council, or go with an outstanding Jason Cornelius — who would spend part of the two-year term learning the ropes of being a council member — and start what could be years of progressive service to the people of College Station?

Either way, College Station wins. It is a great, if frustrating, place to be.

The Eagle makes no recommendation in the Place 1 election on the College Station City Council.

Place 3 (four-year term)

Dell Seiter vs. Councilmember Linda Harvell — Once again, voters must choose between two well-qualified candidates. Harvell ran as an advocate for neighborhoods, and she has lived up to that billing. She helped push through short-term rental regulations, including safety provisions and contract requirements. She also was instrumental in restoring a soccer net in Anderson Park — removed because city staff didn’t think it was necessary. Soccer players approached Harvell for help. That may seem like a small issue, but it was extremely important to many College Station residents.

Seiter is a longtime College Station businessman who wants College Station to work more closely with the city of Bryan and Texas A&M. “This can’t just be a College Station thing,” Seiter said, adding, “We are seen as one community and we should not compete with each other.”

Seiter said the council needs to realize it is not in charge of College Station residents, but rather are in service to the residents. He said he is a strong supporter of personal property rights, saying residents should be taxed only for things they need.

Seiter makes a good case for his election, but Harvell has the experience and the record on the council to show her effectiveness.

The Eagle recommends a vote to keep Councilwoman Linda Harvell in Place 3 on the College Station City Council.

Place 5 (four-year term)

Craig Regan vs. Brian Alg vs. Councilman John Nichols — Nichols long has served the people of College Station in a variety of positions, including on the city council.

Before that service, Nichols was on the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission for six years.

Prior to that he was on the Parks Board. City committees can be effective only if people such as John Nichols are willing to serve.

A trained economist, Nichols said he wants the city to show fiscal restraint, particularly as it recovers from the budget shortfalls brought about by the coronavirus.

Nichols said, “I have been effective in the past and I still have ideas,”

Alg is an economic consultant who thinks the city should stick to providing core services such as fire, police, trash collection and streets. He said the city should not have been involved in the Northgate parking garage and the council should not spend city tax dollars to bring a YMCA to town.

He said he would like neighborhoods to control their parks rather than be part of a centralized parks system.

Regan has lived in the area for a decade and served on the Bryan Planning & Zoning Commission from 2015 to 2017 before moving to College Station. He said he is concerned about the budget, saying the council must do a better job of prioritizing spending. He said the city owes too much interest on debt and should offer local bonds to residents at 1% or 1.25% interest to raise funds to reduce that debt.

He said College Station has the largest per capita debt in the state, which is not sustainable. He said the city should partner with nonprofits to run the parks, giving the groups federal block grants to do so.

All three men have their strengths, and it is good to see such concern for the city budget. Nichols has a big edge, though, because people know his record and understand his dedication to city service.

The Eagle recommends a vote to keep John Nichols as Place 5 College Station City Councilman.

Place 4 Special Election (one-year term)

Elizabeth Cunha vs. Joe Guerra Jr. — It just seems this race has been going on forever, thanks to the pandemic delay. Cunha has been studying the issues for more than a year, now, She said the city was on the “conservative side” in responding to the COVID-19 crisis. She said when the pandemic shut down much of the city, it showed the city has enough roads.

She said she opposes efforts to restrict the number of unrelated people living in a single-family house to no more than two. “The government doesn’t belong in my bedroom,” Cunha said. She said the four-unrelated ordinance is hard to enforce and suggests if there are problems at a rent house, the landlord should be brought in early and allowed to solve the issue.

Cunha said she is concerned about the apparent loosening of ties to Bryan, saying the two cities must work together.

Guerra is a transportation planner and a city planner who worked for College Station during the “Great Recession.” He said the city must “tighten its belt” dealing with the coronavirus pandemic as it did coming out of the recession, He thinks the city will recover from the pandemic more quickly, though.

He said the city must locate the funds to help businesses recover from the seven-month shutdown.

Guerra has served on the College Station Planning & Zoning Commission and the Comprehensive Planning Commission.

Although Post Oak Mall still is a valid business, should it ever be in danger of closing as other malls across the country have done, Guerra said the city should collaborate with the mall's owners to turn it into a destination location with stores, hotels and entertainment venues to bring people to the city.

Brazos Transit District could use the mall as its transportation station, with the ability to transfer people to and from the planned high-speed rail project.

The people of College Station would be well-served by either Elizabeth Cunha or Joe Guerra Jr.

Her style seems more suited to helping residents solve their concerns with the city.

The Eagle recommends a vote for Elizabeth Cunha to fill the one-year expired term.

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