In their second time facing each other on the dais of the Kilgore Candidates Forum, incumbent Ronnie Spradlin and challenger Victor Boyd exchanged no blows in their mutual pursuit of the mayor’s seat.
Rather, both men underscored their shared desire to continue serving the city, and to be the one to see its current momentum through in the next two years.
During Sunday’s hour-long Q&A hosted by Kilgore Chamber of Commerce and the Kilgore News Herald, the two mayoral candidates shared the stage with candidates in other contest races, for Kilgore ISD School Board and the Kilgore College Board of Trustees.
Jill McCartney, president of Kilgore Chamber of Commerce, thanked the audience for spending their afternoon listening to the office-seekers. The chamber co-hosts the candidates forum each year with Kilgore News Herald.
Jerry Pye, KNH publisher, served as moderator during the event, posing the questions to the people in the Texan Theater’s spotlight. Candidates received two minutes each for introductions and two minutes for their responses to each question in addition to a one-minute closing statement.
“I am always glad to see folks run for office because that is the American way,” Pye said.
Introducing himself, Spradlin said he’s been proud to serve as mayor nine years in addition to several years before as a council member. He’s proud of what’s been accomplished in that time, noting downtown revitalization as well as the Whataburger ballpark, “that was done without taxpayer money,” to the walking trail and the city’s silenced railroad crossings.
“I’m proud to be part of a council that gets along and works well with each other – they’re polite, courteous. I’m proud that the Kilgore council has a great relationship with the county, with the ISD, with Kilgore College, with the chamber, with the EDC,” Spradlin said. “I’m proud of all the things we’ve accomplished in Kilgore. Especially, I’m proud of the people of Kilgore, of the things they can do that other communities can’t do.”
A Kilgore High School graduate of the Class of 1983, Boyd noted he spent almost 10 years in the Navy during 21 years away from Kilgore. Since moving home in 2004, he’s been putting time into mentoring children, coaching and serving the community in other ways, including on the council.
“I just got a love for it,” Boyd said. He first started attending the council when he lived in the Fredonia community, curious about issues related to its annexation. “Being on the council now for three years, I have learned a lot. It’s given me that fire to want to do more.
“Since I’ve been in anything, I’ve pretty much wanted to be a leader. I think my leadership skills have shown I’m trying to work to bring the community together. I appreciate working with a council that can work together and do the things that most cities and councils can’t do, but we are going to represent and we are going to show that Kilgore is the No. 1 city.”
According to Spradlin, his greatest accomplishment in his years as mayor has been improving communication between the city and all its partners – Kilgore ISD, Kilgore College, Kilgore Chamber, Kilgore EDC and Gregg County.
For Boyd, if elected mayor May 4, he hopes to develop a new degree of unity in the City of Kilgore, especially through churches.
“If the pastors and the churches will come together, then the people will come together,” he said. “We’re not divided as a community, but we need to get closer as a community. If we can all come together to worship together then I think that will the biggest asset for us.”
Responding to a question about homestead tax exemptions, Boyd acknowledged it’s an ongoing debate.
“I feel that taxes are necessary – it’s what we use to build our cities. No one wants to pay taxes, nobody, but without taxes… We still have to get roads, we have to build our infrastructure, so it’s a necessity,” he added. That said, “I support taxes, I don’t support raising taxes if it’s not necessary.I believe that we’re at a point to where the taxes are stabilizing and we’re able to get whatever work it is needs to be done and in order to maintain a budget to do that, then we should be good at that point.”
Spradlin thinks homestead exemptions are unfair.
“I think everyone needs one, but it’s extremely unfair that a person gets the same homestead tax exemption on a $2 million home that a person gets on a $50,000 home,” he said. “I think there should be a ceiling … on people’s homestead exemption and make it more fair to those who needs it most, to get more and make more use of it.”
On another question, both men praised the efforts the Kilgore Main Street Program in revitalizing downtown.
“The health of our downtown is cyclical – it follows the energy industry like the whole Kilgore economy does,” Spradlin said. “I think when we’re in an upswing we see all our storefronts open. We do have a lot of properties for sale that is helping have new ownership. A business that owns the building it’s in is always healthier than one who rents. Hopefully those buildings will sell… I think that will help make us a healthier community and a better Main Street.
He credited Kilgore Community Relations Manager Sonya Waters for her efforts in the Main Street District.
“I think she’s doing an incredible job in helping revitalize downtown and making people be more enthusiastic about being down there. The events that we have downtown continue to grow, bring more people downtown. We have a beautiful downtown – every holiday I have people tell me how incredibly beautiful our quaint little town is … I think that downtown is really looking up and we have a lot of opportunities on the way.
The Main Street area is on the rise, Boyd said, and he underscored the city’s commitment to helping encourage business development there.
Responding to a question about sewer infrastructure, Boyd noted the City of Kilgore has more work ahead.
“The councils before us did a great job of saving money, putting money away for the future, but they didn’t fix anything,” he said. “What was being put in place, it’s now 50 or 60 years old now, and we are having to fix it. That means everything: that means everything from our water treatment facility to our wastewater facility, our streets and everything.
“We’re in the process of doing a lot of bringing this infrastructure into code. We’re not there. We’re just in the beginning process, but we are getting a lot done. Before it’s over with, I think everybody who lives in Kilgore will start seeing the results, in the next few years, of what we’re doing. It’s going to be awesome. That’s one of the reasons I’m still here… It’s just positive. Who doesn’t want to be on the forefront of something positive, of getting things done?”
The oilfield crash of the 1980s halted maintenance on that infrastructure, Spradlin added.
“That mentality lasted longer than it should have and the council in the last few years has hired people who have the vision and the ability to look 20 years forward, 25, 30 years forward. We even have one plan that is a 50-year plan,” he said. “We can’t afford to do all the things that we need to do right away, but we have money put into the budget to do as many streets, as much repair to the sewer system, as much to the water system as we can.
“A lot of we’re doing should have been done years ago, and it’s hard and expensive to play catch up, but that’s what we’re having to do.”
Council members and city staffers are also planning carefully for the inevitable challenges of being an oilfield town, he noted. Putting back money in surplus years provides a margin to avoid raising taxes in harder years.
“The rollercoaster ride of feast and famine is something that we grew to know and Kilgore’s has learned to exist with and prosper and do well in spite of.”
Past elected officials did an excellent job in saving money, Boyd said.
They stored resources “so whenever we need money to do whatever we needed to do as far as infrastructure, whatever, that it doesn’t hurt the citizens,” he said. “You should be glad that you have such a wonderful council and everything that they’ve done for the past and what we’re doing for the future. The system we have in place works, it benefits our citizens. One of my mottos is, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
In closing, Boyd emphasized he’s representing himself only and that he puts God first.
“My job is not to tell you how I’m going to be a better mayor than Ronnie Spradlin because Ronnie’s legacy will be his own. Ronnie will be the best he can be as a mayor, and I have to be the best mayor I can be.”
From reaching out in the schools and neighborhoods, Boyd wants to be accessible and active at every level.
“We’ve built a great foundation here in Kilgore and we continue to build that foundation. Now it’s time to build upon it. I’m trying to be as accessible as I can at any time. When I’m in the Kilgore mall, which is Walmart,” he quipped, “I’m stopped on aisles at any given time… That’s who I am.
“If you have a problem then it’s my job to try to assist you, bring it back to council so we can take care of the needs of you. We’re only as strong as our city is, and so we’re here fighting for you to do what we need to make Kilgore a better Kilgore and you the best citizens that you can be for Kilgore.”
Spradlin thanked the attendees for giving him the opportunity to serve nine years so far.
“I think that we’ve accomplished a lot,” he said. “I think that everyone is extremely proud of our police force and our fire department, that they have been recognized as ‘Best Practices’ in the state. They were the No. 7 city in the state to have both departments recognized. We have excellent people that have come on in the engineering department, the streets department, water, waste and everything. We’ve brought some great leadership and great vision to the city that I think has not been here for a while.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished, I’m very proud of what we’ve started, and I’d like to stay on and finish the great things we have in the works, that need a little more shove and push to get them to the finish line.”