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.
Incumbent Mayor Bob Mangrum said he’ll turn 69 on the May 6 election day — and he’s seeking a seventh term because he believes he has more to accomplish and isn’t ready to retire.
“I’ve chosen as my slogan ‘make experience count,’” Mangrum said, citing his three terms on the Early City Council in addition to his 12 years as mayor.
Mangrum, an Abilene native, grew up in Richardson and came to Early with his wife, Cheryl, in 1980 because of Howard Payne University. Mangrum has taught government and history there since 1980 and directed HPU’s Academy of Freedom’s Honors Program for 16 years.
“I don’t believe I’ve helped the city accomplish everything I’d like to see the city accomplish,” Mangrum said. “There’s more to be done and I still feel like I’ve got some work to do, to help accomplish those objectives.
“We’ve got an ongoing project with the parks. We finally established a maintenance plan for the streets and infrastructure.”
Mangrum said he wants to see the repair of streets and infrastructure carried through, noting “that takes time. You’ve got to have money and you have to have time to accomplish some of that. I still feel like I have something to offer as a service to the city. I’m not to a point of ‘let’s retire. I’m worn out.’”
Mangrum also noted the ongoing process of attempting to add housing and retail to Early and “make the city a more likeable, nice place to live and work and play. Those are objectives that are never completely accomplished but I’d like to continue to work on those projects and objectives, and help make this a better place than when we came here.”
Mangrum cited the city’s plan to build a wastewater treatment plant as one of its major projects. A major accomplishment has been “going from being a producer of our own clean water to using the Brown County Water Improvement District water.”
That’s been a step forward in the long run “because we were reaching that point as a small city where we were having difficulty meeting the ever-increasing stringent requirements from Austin and the federal government on maintaining our own water treatment plant.”
Another major accomplishment, Mangrum said, was winning voter approval to convert the Early Economic Development Corp. into a Municipal Development District, which he said is given far more flexibility under the law to help housing and retail.
That’s been “a major step forward,” Mangrum said. “The city can now really have an opportunity to help some of these retail and housing developments and still address the needs of heavy industry.”
Because of his experience, Mangrum said, he brings “a wealth of experience and knowledge as to how a general law city like Early operates, and what state law says we can and can’t do. I also know through experience what is doable and what is not doable.”
Mangrum said his 28-year military career gave him administrative experience. “I bring to the table a tremendous amount of background, common sense-type experience and knowledge about how government works,” Mangrum said.
Mangrum also said one of his jobs as mayor is to represent the city at various functions. He said one of his newest privileges is his selection to serve on the West Central Texas Council of Governments Executive Board.
Mangrum said he disagrees with some of the statements made Sean Fulton, one of his two opponents in the May 6 election. While Fulton blamed the city for co-signing a loan for a tile plant and losing nearly $2 million, Mangrum said it was the then-Early Economic Development Corp., not the city, that co-signed the loan and had to make repayments.
“The city was never involved in that project,” Mangrum said.
Mangrum also disagreed with Fulton’s assertion that it would have been preferable to build a civic and recreation center on McDonald Field, rather than spending more than $1 million to renovate the former Lions Club building into a community center.
“It would never pay for itself,” Mangrum said. Fulton said he believes a community center could pay for itself by collecting annual fees from citizens to use it.
Mangrum asked if people in the neighborhood around McDonald Field would have been happy to see “1,000 cars parked around their neighborhood every time there was an event. When the city bought McDonald Field, the council’s intent was to make it a park, not make it another traffic jam,” Mangrum said.
Mangrum said there had been plenty of opportunities for people to state their views before the council decided on the community center renovation project.
Mangrum also disagreed with Fulton’s belief that the city is not working to bring in new business. “Things are happening. There are certain things that you can’t talk about until people finalize their plans or contracts,” Mangrum said.
The Municipal Development District has leads on new businesses including a business to replace the JCPenney store after it closes in Heartland Mall, Mangrum said. “There is reason to be optimistic,” Mangrum said. “There is a great possibility we’re going to have an announcement real soon on what’s going to replace Penney’s.”
Mangrum also disagreed with Fulton’s belief that an oligarchy — a rich, privileged class — runs Early city government. “Taxes are not going up through the roof,” Mangrum said, again disagreeing with Fulton. “We’re the second-lowest taxes in the county.”