Candidates for mayor of Tyler and for Smith County Court at Law judge debated during a Smith County Republican Club forum Thursday at Traditions Restaurant.
The mayoral debate pitted candidates Martin Heines, who currently represents District 4 on the city council, and Joel Rando, a business owner. Both are seeking in the May 10 municipal elections to succeed Mayor Barbara Bass, who cannot run for re-election due to term limits.
The judge's debate featured candidates Jason Ellis and Mike Patterson, who are in the May 27 run-off election for Smith County Court at Law judge in their bid to succeed retiring Judge Thomas Dunn.
In the mayoral debate, Rando, owner of a locksmith company, described himself as a Republican conservative who is proud to be a Tyler resident and loves the people here and wants to be part of city government.
Rando said he believes he can represent Tyler well. He said he has the time to serve as mayor and would "do my best." Rando added he is a quick learner and has common sense.
"I'm asking for a chance to prove myself," Rando said, pledging to work to make Tyler a better town.
Heines, a small business owner and property manager-investor, said his background and experience as a city council member, a member of many different volunteer committees for the city and his business would help him to serve effectively as mayor.
Heines said he would work to continue the conservative, professional, businesslike approach to city government.
Heines said city officials have shown good financial stewardship, that the city is financially solid with a low tax rate and "triple A" bond rating and uses a pay as you go approach for projects.
Heines said he is committed to continuing the city's solid financial standing.
Street repair is one of the most important issues, Heines said, as well as use of pay as you go funds to enhance traffic flow in growth areas.
Heines said he puts in the time it takes to provide oversight and looks forward to doing more.
Rando said the city should do a better job with maintaining streets. He said he would educate people about how to get potholes fixed.
"I have a servant's heart; all I want to do is help people and make a difference," Rando said.
The mayoral candidates were asked what they would do if as mayor they were faced with having to choose between supporting higher taxes or reducing services.
Rando said he would sit down with the right people and find a way to cut taxes and not have to reduce service.
Heines recalled the recession when property tax values declined and sales tax revenues went down. The city cut expenses to equal revenue, Heines said, saying he has a great record and is proud of the city's financial management.
Asked what role the mayor can play in light of the town's diversity, Heines said the mayor could speak at meetings of nonprofit groups and build good relationships and look at how to bring the community together. He supported bringing mentoring and literacy programs under one umbrella.
Rando said he is bilingual and able to communicate with Hispanics and African Americans. He said he could bring people together and communicate and discuss things openly.
The forum moderator asked if there are under-utilized city facilities and how could they be more effectively managed.
Rando answered that he feels Liberty Hall could be more effectively managed, partly by lower prices, and observed that the library does not have a big department for children beginning to read. He said he would ask how to make it better.
Heines pointed out the city recently announced about a $7 million renovation of the library, especially to provide more space for children.
Heines said the rose garden does not get as many visitors as might be expected. The city needs to look at the fair grounds and get a sense of what the community wants and how best to utilize the infrastructure and work on it, Heines said.
When questioned about the mayor's role in economic development, Heines favored a focus more on entrepreneur small business. Rando said the city needs to do a better job of getting across the opportunity to grow business and help get the unemployed jobs.
In the debate among the judge candidates, Patterson said there is "clearly a big difference" in their experience. He said he has more than 36 years experience and his opponent has six years and two months experience.
Patterson said he has been involved in 160 to 200 jury trials versus 50 that his opponent has been in, some in justice of the peace court.
Patterson served as a prosecutor in Dallas and Smith counties before he went into his law practice. He has served as a mediator in approximately 2,000 legal cases in the area during the past 17 years, such as cases involving multimillion-dollar patent actions.
Patterson said he has a vast array of civil experience and experience handling criminal cases which sets him apart.
Patterson has served on the Tyler Historical Preservation Board, the Tyler 1st Steering Committee and was president of Smith County Bar Foundation.
Ellis countered that he is in court on a regular basis while Patterson is unfamiliar with the court.
Ellis said he practices criminal law day in and day out and is ready to put in long hours as judge. He claimed he was the only candidate in the beginning of the race to advocate doing something about the failing court.
Ellis charged that Patterson supported Democrats, big government and made large contributions to the Democratic Party.
Patterson acknowledged he was a Democrat until about 10 years ago when he switched parties.
"I don't know how you can attack somebody about doing (something) 10 years ago when you (Ellis) have not voted in the last Republican primary and runoff election," Patterson said.
Patterson added that he has voted in every Republican primary since 2003. He said he was interested enough to vote 15 times in support of Republican candidates while Ellis voted six times.
Ellis maintained that he is the conservative candidate in the race and that it's important to elect someone who believes the constitution means what it says.
Saying he is a competent attorney, Ellis contended he has the right experience and it's relevant and recent while Patterson said he has tried four times as many court cases as Ellis.
"You generally want somebody on the bench who has been around the block," Patterson said.
Both candidates for judge advocated change in the county court at law and cited a need to speed up the docket, although they said they would go about it differently.
Patterson said cases should be speeded through the system to rid the court of a backlog and resolve cases quicker.
Patterson, citing his diverse background, said he would be open minded and work hard as judge. He said he is conservative and works hard and believes serving as judge is the next step to continue his service to the community.
Ellis said the court has been moving too slowly and pledged he would work to fix problems he sees to expedite cases. He said he would eliminate unnecessary hearings.
Ellis said he entered the race on principle and is running on principle. "I'm ready to run the court the way you want it done," he said.