Local city, board candidates speak at forum

Office-seekers answer questions from moderator at Chamber event

Bill Spinks
Midlothian Mirror
The Midlothian Conference Center.

Candidates for office on both the Midlothian Independent School District and Midlothian City Council faced voters during a candidate forum hosted by the Chamber of Commerce on Thursday evening at the Midlothian Conference Center.

Ross Weaver, chair of the Chamber’s legislative affairs committee and vice president of Town Square Title, moderated the forum as he has done for the past several years.

The May 1 election will feature three contested races on the Midlothian ISD board of trustees. Two of the seats are open, as Place 1 trustee and board president Carl Smith passed away from COVID-19 complications in December and Place 3 incumbent Heather Prather chose not to run for re-election.

Four candidates — Richard Pena, Develda Edgington, Crystal Rentz and Steven Garippa — are on the ballot to fill the open Place 1 seat. In Place 3, Symphony Lowe and Eduardo Gonzalez are running for election.

Place 2 incumbent Gary Vineyard, Jr. is running for re-election to a three-year term and is facing challenger Lisa Castillo.

Speaking first were the Place 3 candidates. Gonzalez, a longtime educator in the Cedar Hill and Duncanville school districts, said his family moved to Midlothian because of its schools and the town’s conservative values, and that he feels he brings an education aspect to the board. Lowe, a mother of two current and graduated MISD students, said she has built a 15-year career around community education initiatives and is invested in the community.

Both Lowe and Gonzalez agreed that COVID-19 is the biggest challenge affecting the district, and both agreed that getting online learners back into the classroom is a priority.

The crowded field in Place 1 took the microphone next. Speaking first was Pena, a father of five who said he has been a Midlothian resident since 1984 and retired from the Midlothian Police Department in 2019. Rentz, an educator, said she and her husband moved to Midlothian because of her son, who is special needs.

Edgington, a military veteran who is married to another veteran, said her family moved to Mansfield once her husband retired, but moved to Midlothian three years ago after looking at the schools there. Edgington said mental health is her background and is her platform as a candidate.

Garippa, a retired former college instructor, said he combined both education and military service by writing training manuals while serving in the military during the Vietnam era, and his wife and daughter-in-law both teach in MISD.

Rentz said funding uncertainties from the Texas legislature amid the pandemic presents a challenge to schools and that boards must work within those uncertainties and consider dropping programs that don’t present a return in investment. Edington worried that the mental health and wellness of staff and students is suffering as a result of the pandemic and must be addressed.

Garippa said he wants to be “out of the woods” as much as anyone else regarding the pandemic, but the safety of students is paramount, whether related to COVID or other matters. Pena said he was also an advocate of mental health and the social stress on students who haven’t been in a classroom for over a year is a concern.

The last two MISD candidates to speak at Thursday’s forum are standing for Place 2. Vineyard, the lone incumbent on the MISD ballot, is running for his second term as a trustee. A lifelong Midlothian resident, Vineyard has been active in community affairs as current president of the Midlothian Lions Club and has a three-decade career in the finance industry.

Castillo has been an educator for 25 years and an MISD resident for five years, and her daughters both attend Heritage High School. Her husband, Tony Castillo, was formerly offensive coordinator for the Ennis football team and was recently hired as head football coach and athletic coordinator at Carrollton Creekview High School.

Castillo said the district must focus on college, career and military readiness to prepare students for life after school. Vineyard said closing gaps among sub-populations is something he has concentrated on as a board member.

City Council race

Two Midlothian City Council seats are up for election, but only one race is contested. Mayor Pro Tem Justin Coffman is unopposed for re-election in Place 5.

The Place 6 seat is a three-way race among candidates who ran for the seat last November. Incumbent Hud Hartson, who won a special election to complete the term of the late Art Pierard in Place 6, is running for a full 3-year term and will face Tiffany Robinson Carra and Allen Moorman. Hartson defeated Carra in a runoff last December, while Moorman finished third in a four-way contest.

Carra was unable to be present for Thursday’s forum but participated by phone.

Hartson, a Dallas police officer and lifelong Midlothian resident, said this year’s council election will be very important because decisions will be made that will chart the future of the city’s growth for many years forward, “for better or worse,” he said.

Moorman, a resident for the last three years, is a partner in True Texas Benefits, a Midlothian-based insurance company, and a member of the Midlothian Community Development Corporation board, commonly known as the 4B board.

Carra said she has been a Midlothian citizen for seven years and was involved before that in non-profit work. She said she became involved with local politics while attending City Council meetings and assisting Pierard in his campaigns. Noting that the present City Council consists of seven men, Carra said the Council could benefit from a feminine perspective.

Hartson said the most pressing problem is making sure the city’s first responders have the resources necessary to keep up with the city’s growth, and also advocated improved roads. Carra said she would like for the city to be a place where families can grow and stay with quality of life and a “small-town country feel.”

Moorman cited the balance between property tax burdens and city expenditures being “demanded” based on growth, and said creative ways should be considered to raise revenues without hiking property tax bills in the city and “pricing out” longtime residents.

The May 1 referendum on the city’s package of four bond propositions was brought up, which provided some separation between candidates.

Carra was a part of the citizens’ planning group and voiced her endorsement of the package as an overall improvement of facilities for police, city offices and recreation. Moorman said he is against a bond initiative because he feels there is a “better way” to fund improvements not through homeowners, but the “power of commerce.”

Hartson declined to address the bond issue as an incumbent councilmember, but promoted the city’s efforts to inform voters on the benefits of the bond.

Individual sample ballots for each precinct are available on the Ellis County Elections website. Early voting begins April 19. If no candidate receives a majority vote, a runoff will be held June 5.