Incumbent Mayor Kenneth Melvin, 72, will face Sadler’s Restaurant owner Rob Gowin, 44, and William Igbokwe, a 23-year-old political science graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, in the May election.
Gowin said he decided to run after hearing complaints about the “direction or lack of direction” the city has toward tourism and “a different kind of economic development that doesn’t involve an industrial plant.”
He said he was tired of the concept of complaining about it and was willing to put his name in the race.
“The city has money in the bank. The budgets are balanced. … The basic necessities (of residents) are met, but I think there is … (a) disconnect between the business community and the chamber of commerce and the (Jacksonville Economic Development Corp.) and our civic organizations,” he said. “At the end of the day, there’s only one pile of money in a small town, and if everyone’s not on the same page facing goals, it’s kind of (like they’re) spinning their wheels.”
As far as his vision for Jacksonville, he said beautification, cleanliness and building community are good places to start.
He said he also sees people each day from various socio-economic backgrounds and would like to see the community work to “bring everyone together.”
Additionally, he said he believes the economy is becoming more service-based, and tourism is an easy area to look at because people are doing more weekend road trips rather than flying.
“I think it’s a safe thing to say a lot of small cities … can band together and organize … to promote tourism to East Texas,” Gowin said.
He said his 18 years in business and dealing with people from every part of life sets him apart and gives him more access to what people think.
He said he also likes to think that he would have the ability to “provide some leadership and bring discussion to the table for new ideas.”
“The mayor’s role is more symbolic than functional, but I think it’s an important position for promoting an agenda,” Gowin said.
“Let’s change our discourse,” he said. “Let’s change our focus (or as his campaign slogan states), Let’s get Gowin.”
That message, he said, is that the city government and residents should be more connected.
“It’s long-term trajectory as a growing city that includes business and education and population,” he said. “I think the best way to address those issues is collaborative work on city government and people willing to collaborate with government.”
Igbokwe said his long-term goal for Jacksonville is to be a city that can sustain its growth, address residents’ concerns in an efficient and equal way and to “invest in its human capital,” meaning people in the workforce and those who are in school and would one day join the workforce.
He acknowledged his age sets him apart from other candidates. However, the self-described “skilled communicator” said he also possesses intangible traits such as energy, enthusiasm and critical thinking.
He said he believes in elected officials weighing all possible options before making a decision.
Mayor Melvin said Jacksonville has had many accomplishments, and there are still a couple things that he wants to see through.
For instance, he said a committee was appointed to explore the possibility of a convention center, and they are supposed to bring a report, likely at the next city council meeting.
Still, there is not one specific big issue that the city is facing, Melvin said. He said Jacksonville is in great shape financially — the debt load has been cut in half, and the city has established an emergency fund that can be used for infrastructure repairs.
The city also has good employees, and all department heads have many years of experience, Melvin said.
He said his goal, if reelected, is to keep the city in good financial condition.
Melvin said his experience of six years on the city council and two years as mayor helps him stand out because his challengers have not been on the city council.
He said a mayoral candidate does need prior council experience, but it worked well for him and was “a good foundation to build on.”
“That was an invaluable experience for me. You learn a lot of the processes what can happen. It was a good experience,” he said.
He said most people in town know who he is and how he serves, and he now hopes to continue.
The District 3 city council position also is up for grabs in this election cycle. Philip Huttash, 66, owner of Huttash Paint & Body Shop, is challenging incumbent Billy McDonald. McDonald, 56, is manager of The Oil Exchange.
District 1 City Councilman Hubert Robinson, 67, also filed but is not contested.