For the first time in 12 years, a race has developed in the election for mayor in Early. The Bulletin spoke with Incumbent Mayor Bob Mangrum and Sean Fulton about their views and their goals for the city. Frankie Wilder, 63, did not respond to the Bulletin’s request for an interview.

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Sean Fulton isn’t an Early native, but he notes with a degree of pride that he moved here just over 10 years ago from Lubbock, married a local girl and is likely an Early resident for life.

Fulton’s family is from Brown County, and his father, a railroader, is from Early. Fulton moved around a lot with his family while growing up and graduated from high school in Slaton, in Lubbock County.

Fulton also worked for the railroad after high school but decided to move to Early, where he started construction and firearms businesses.

Fulton said he’s watched Early politics and believes “the political efficacy is non-existent any more. People don’t really believe that they have any influence in their local government. They’re not really trusting their local government, from what I’ve gathered.

“I’ve talked to several hundred people and I get the same thing — it’s like they don’t really trust what’s going on at City Hall. They don’t feel like they have a lot of influence or say in the political affairs that are taking place.”

As an example, Fulton said the city co-signed a loan of about $1.86 million for a tile plant that went bankrupt, and did not inform the public. “So the city paid approximately $1.84 to $1.86 million to pay that off,” Fulton said. “There were bailouts given to try to save it. It’s a 57,000-square-foot building. It’s never produced a tile. It hasn’t brought any jobs in. It’s been under seven different owners since it was manufactured and it’s just sitting there, costing taxpayers money.”

Fulton also cited the example of the city council’s decision to spend $1.2 million to renovate the former Lions Club building into a community center and meeting place. Fulton said he thinks citizens would have preferred a civic and recreation center built on McDonald Field, the former site of the football stadium. Fulton suggested a scenario in which citizens would pay a small annual fee to use the community center, which would enable it to pay for itself.

“I kind of pitched it to (the city),” Fulton said, saying a civic and recreation center could bring in events such as quilt and gun shows.

“They didn’t like that idea,” Fulton said. “They went ahead and pushed through the community center with a (funding) resolution.” There should have been a bond election, Fulton said.

Fulton said it’s a dead issue and “the community center is coming in, regardless.”

Fulton said he’s concerned about the loss of businesses at Heartland Mall and said it’s lost around $7 million in taxable property in the past five years. “It doesn’t seem like anybody’s trying to do anything to revitalize that mall and that’s Early’s downtown,” Fulton said. “We don’t have a downtown like Brownwood. We have to save that.”

Fulton said the new businesses that have come to town recently were brought in by what was then the Early Economic Development Corp. Now that the EDC has been converted to a city-run Municipal Development District, Fulton said, he doesn’t see any new businesses coming in.

“From what I see, since the city took that over, they haven’t brought one business into Early,” Fulton said. “It was all brought in by the EDC.”

Fulton said the current city government is being run like an oligarchy. “They’re just doing what they want to do so that needs to be changed,” Fulton said. “We need transparency again. We need the citizens to show up for the city council meetings and be involved. People are saying our taxes are going through the roof but we’re not seeing any improvement.”