Potential voters filled the Brownwood Country Club dining hall for a candidate forum hosted by the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce Friday afternoon.

Mayor Stephen Haynes and challenger Mike Tittle, Ward I City Councilman H.D. Jones and challenger Patrick McLaughlin fielded questions tailored to the candidate.

Mayoral debate

The debate heated up quickly after Tittle capitalized on a question to Haynes regarding his original support of Ranger College annexation election.

“Annexation is always wrong,” Tittle said. “It will hurt our factories, it will hurt our businesses and it will hurt our citizens … I think a leader should lead, not come in at the end, lead out at the beginning. I will never support Ranger annexation. I will never go down to Austin to testify for any annexation for our county.”

Tittle remained standing for the next topic, which centered on his association with Zach Maxwell, an employee of conservative political action group Empower Texans, who Tittle said assisted him with social media and editing a video critical of Haynes. Tittle redirected the question to criticize donors of Haynes’ campaign, who he said were deeply in support of Ranger annexation, but added he has not received a single penny from Maxwell nor Empower Texans. Throughout the debate, Tittle touted his experience in business thanks to his experience as plant manager at 3M and said, if elected, he will use that experience to better manage the budget and lobby for businesses to come to Brownwood.

“If you want four more years of record high property taxes, record high property rates, record high city spending – he said it was 1.6 percent but it’s $5 million more a year now than it was eight years ago when he went into office - then you should vote for the incumbent,” Tittle said.

Haynes said he originally supported Ranger annexation when its tax rate was much lower and it increased the potential for moving the Ranger campus to Brownwood.

“We could move the headquarters here, which meant lots of jobs,” Haynes said. “It meant infrastructure and buildings and it meant lots of students … Fast forward to four years later, none of those things came to fruition. There was no discussion of us having control of a board, no were no plans for a campus. There were no promises of jobs and no promises of students, therefor I did not support that position.”

Haynes also said Tittle’s alleged association with Empower Texans was troubling and questioned whether outside entities should influence local elections.

“Empower Texans, they want to control every seat, every elected position at every level,” Haynes said. “… When he comes onto my Facebook page and blasts me repeatedly, over and over and over again, there is no question Empower Texans, whether it is at Mike’s request of not, is trying to influence this election. We need to decide as a community why we want people outside influences, people from other parts of the state, controlling what we do in Brownwood Texas.”

Haynes also defended city-spending increases, noting much of the division regarding local spending comes from confusion regarding city debt and federal debt.

“This city’s budget has gone up 1.6 percent on average over the last eight years, 13 percent,” Haynes said. “During that same time, the Texas legislature’s has gone up 19 percent. Your federal government has gone up 58 percent … It is unfair to say spending is out of control when we have been the most conservative government that regulates you.”

City council debate

The debate between Ward I City Councilman H.D. Jones and challenger Patrick McLaughlin opened Friday’s candidate forum. Jones began the debate touting his accomplishments and defended his position regarding a few of the 19 times acted as the dissenting vote regarding various issues. If reelected, Jones said he would work to reduce city spending and continue working to make city codes more accommodating to businesses and residents.

“I vote for only issues I believe are in the best interests of Brownwood citizens,” Jones said. “I have never failed to standalone on an issue I thought was wrong. I make decisions based on facts and common sense.”

McLaughlin used his time to discus his position in favor of term limits for city officials and reduce wasteful spending. One solution he proposed was working with local not-for-profit groups to raise funds for certain city amenities. An example he used was the recently installed splashpads.

“They are a great thing for the community,” McLaughlin said. “When I survey people with the Jaycees and ask them what they want, they tell me they want more family friendly events. I believe that thing hit the mark. I just have a disagreement with how it was paid for … We could have partnered with non-profit organizations and grants to bring that stuff in.”

The candidates will have another forum at 6 p.m. Tuesday, sponsored by the Pecan Valley Republican Women, at the Brownwood Depot.