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Candidates speak at crowded forum

Stephenville’s Bond Auditorium was filled Monday night as local candidates in the March 3 Republican Primary elections were given a chance to speak in a forum sponsored by the Erath County Republican Party.

Candidates were allowed to deliver opening and closing addresses and answer five questions presented by a moderator.

The forum began with comments from the candidates vying for the open Precinct Constable 2 spot: Ryan Gibson and Jonathan Walden.

Gibson introduced himself as an Erath native with deep ties to the county. He is a graduate of Dublin High School and Tarleton and a member of Highland Missionary Baptist Church.

Walden came to Erath in 2008 and graduated from Tarleton before starting a law enforcement career with a wide variety of work experience.

Both candidates were asked what the primary duties of a constable were, to which both said serving court documents. Walden also stressed that the position provides security for the Justice of the Peace office while Gibson added that the position assists with matters around the county.

In addressing their experience, Gibson said he had two years of active duty, responding to a variety of calls. Walden reported he was in his eighth year of law enforcement and had active experience with day and night shifts. He currently serves as a pretrial officer.

The candidates were asked what qualifications they would bring to the position. Gibson said he had formed many relationships with people around the county and knew the area well. Walden said he had 4,000 hours of TCOLE training and was a certified court security officer. Walden expresses respect for Gibson’s character but pointed out that he was an inactive officer and would have to go through specific steps to become active again.

Both characterized themselves as people persons in discussing strengths.

Incumbent Erath Sheriff Matt Coates said in his introduction that he was grateful to the county for welcoming his family so openly when they moved here in 2013. He said he was proud of the efforts of his officers and the department for advancing from being investigated by TCOLE (when he started) to becoming a TCOLE training facility.

Sheriff candidate Kent Howell introduced himself as a sixth generation Erath resident with 13 years of law enforcement experience who would like to build better relationships between Erath law enforcement agencies.

In moderated questions, both candidates stated their support of people to exercise their second amendment rights, including campus carry to ensure that people can keep themselves and others safe.

Coates said his greatest strength was ‘leading from the front’ while admitting he can be a ‘little hotheaded.’

Howell said he cares greatly for the community which he called a strength and weakness, because it can put someone in a “harmful position.”

Howell said he is running because he had a lot of concerns with how the office was being run, including the firing of several deputies when Coates came on board. Howell traced a Federal lawsuit against the county to that event.

Coates said in his closing that none of the terminations were easy and argued that the lawsuit has produced many testimonies which he said were unsubstantial.

Both men stressed the importance of safety as the county grows, with an emphasis on SRO activity. Coates said there has been a lot of work into relationships with Erath schools with regular security checks, while Howell would like to dedicate a shift position to SRO duty.

Howell also expressed a desire to combine resources between Erath agencies while Coates said there is an effort ongoing to merge dispatch for Erath law enforcement.

Coates said in discussing his experience that he has been in law enforcement for 23 years while Howell said the diversity of his law enforcement career and working in ECSO for two years gave him a unique perspective.

Candidates for County Commissioner races were also on hand including incumbent Dee Stephens and challenger Terry Truss in Precinct 1 and incumbent Joe Brown and challenger Justin Slawson in Precinct 3.

Truss, a resident of Erath for 40 years with experience in offshore equipment, said he was running because the county was facing serious population growth, and he felt there were better ways to utilize taxes. Stephens agreed there were a lot of changes incoming but said that being a commissioner is not what many expect with a lot of items to consider and unexpected events like flooding that can impact a budget greatly.

Slawson said he was running to combat what he saw as “wasteful spending” and wanted there to be better transparency in the commissioners’ court and a complete review of the county’s spending. Brown views his position as more than just a job and offered that budgets need to cover unexpected items like weather emergencies and unfunded mandates from the state. He also said that all commissioners’ court meetings are open to the public if anyone would like to stay informed of their activity.

Both challengers criticized the plans for the new annex with Truss saying the county needed better planning and Slawson questioning the demolition of a building that the county purchased.

The incumbents reported that the annex was necessary to provide secure space for select county officials as required by a state mandate. They also called the proposal conservative with plans for a small facility that can be expanded if needed.

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