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Abilene Freedom League Hosts Forum for City Council Candidates

The Abilene Freedom League hosted a candidate forum for the Abilene City Council at the Abilene Public Library on Thursday, April 21. The night started off with the introduction from AFL Director, Jennifer Bell. She welcomed the candidates and the crowd. She mentioned that in the last City Council Election only 10% of registered voters voted. That means that 7,000 people made the decision for all of Abilene. Bell pleaded with the crowd to “Get out and vote. I know we’re busy with kids, family, soccer, and I know it’s hard but early voting begins April 25 and the election is May 7 so get out there and make your voices heard. It is more important now than ever.”

The candidates in attendance were then introduced as James Sargent who is running for Place 5 on the Council, Charles Byrn who is running for Place 6 on the Council, and Dorothy Clay who is also running for Place 6 on the Council. Kyle McCalister was not in attendance due to a previously scheduled charity event and Travis Craver did not attend because he didn’t want to. As Jennifer put it “He doesn’t show up to most of the City Council meetings anyway so we are not surprised he is not here tonight and hope he is replaced in May.” That being said, here are what the candidates that were in attendance had to say about issues like what Abilene needs to improve, the State of Emergency Abilene has allowed itself to be under, covid mandates, relief funds that could be used for small business aid diverted to a downtown hotel, the current state of Abilene’s water, property taxes, the struggles that local farmers are having, and much more.

Click here to watch the forum if you would like to watch instead.

Candidate Introductions

Charles Byrn (Place 6 Candidate): My name is Charles Byrn and I’m running for Abilene City Council Place 6. I came to Abilene in 1999. I came here and have been involved in politics for a very long time. I want to make the city a better place for people to live. I got married to my wife Mary in March of 2021. We have four kids. We are a blended family. I graduated from Harden Simmons with a Bachelor's degree in political science with a minor in legal studies. I have a Masters in elementary education from Grand Canyon University. I am running because of the lack of transparency, property taxes, and waste and abuse. I want to make the City Government a more open place for the Citizens and not to hide behind something but be someone they can actually talk to. I am a Godly man. I go to the North Park Assembly for God. I believe Abilene should be a Sanctuary City for the unborn. Next Thursday, April 28 the City Council will vote on it and if they vote no it goes to the citizens in November for a vote.

James Sargent (Place 5 Candidate): My name is James Sargent and I’m running for Abilene City Council place 5. A short description of me, I am a man of faith. I am a husband to an amazing wife. I’m a father to three daughters, two of which are in this room and the youngest two came from the foster system into our home. I am a military veteran. I proudly served ten years in the United States Air force. I am also a small business owner and operator so I know the struggles on many aspects like dealing with city regulations and the City using millions of dollars from the Covid Relief Fund for a “special project” when they could have helped small businesses like mine. Last year I didn’t collect a paycheck many times because I made sure my personnel were paid. I am someone who speaks my convictions and acts on them. I believe in Faith, Family, and Freedom and that is another reason I call Abilene my home as it supports those principles of my beliefs.

Dorothy Clay (Place 6 Candidate): Hi there. My name is Dorothy Clay and I am running for City Council Place 6. Vote for me on May 7. Early voting does start on Monday April 25. People ask me why did you run? Why are you running for city council? Well like many of you I am sure you have watched our Country just erode right in front of your eyes. Our values and everything are just shifting to a dark and negative side. So instead of complaining about it I felt that in my heart it was time to step up and speak out. Last year the prayer group I am in started praying for our City, our State, and our Nation. We started lifting up the concerns that we have. We started praying about making our City a Sanctuary City and one thing led to another. Eventually the Pastor that was on the prayer call made an organization called project destiny. From there the petition got signatures and now it has been delivered to City Hall. I am a woman of Faith. I have lived in Abilene over 30 years. I am a member of transformation Church. I am a member of several prayer groups. I am a mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. I want to be a change agent for this city. I believe that I can do that and I’ve been called to do that. I am retired from the State of Texas with over 25 years of experience working for governmental agencies at the City, County, and State level. I know the workings of the government and what we can and can’t do. The people’s voice needs to be heard because your voice is what counts. I want to be a voice for you. I want to hear concerns and act on your behalf. What concerns you, concerns me. So I am excited for this opportunity to step up and speak out and let Abilene know we can do whatever we put our minds to.

Question 1: Why do you choose to call Abilene Home?

Charles Byrn (Place 6 Candidate): The reason I decided to call Abilene home is I came here in 1999 after growing up in Orlando, Florida. I like the small town atmosphere. I love the people. I love talking with them on a daily basis. I love the culture and the stuff there is to do with families and by ourselves like the zoo, splash pads, parks, recreation centers. But it is the people, that I like dealing with. Growing up in a big city like Orlando this is totally different. I like the slower pace. I am a little older now. It is a good place to live and make a family.

James Sargent (Place 5 Candidate): Why I choose Abilene. First of all, I got stationed here in 2006. I stayed here because I considered it home. I stayed here because my grandmother lived nearby. I stay here and still choose to call Abilene my home because this is the town that gave me a second chance. This is the town that believed in me. This is the town that showed me what community means and how important that is. I love the family atmosphere of Abilene. This is the town I met my wife in. This is a town that is easy to find fellowship in whether it is a church or different organizations. The citizens of this community are so welcoming and they’re very supportive. You look at even the recent wildfire and this is a community that supports those around them, that believes in others, and is willing to lend a helping hand. I do really appreciate the faith foundation. That we can proclaim that faith in Jesus Christ without much persecution. That we can pray before meetings and we can gather not only in Church buildings but outside in revivals and tents where multiple Churches get involved together. This is the town I call home because it is now.

Dorothy Clay (Place 6 Candidate): The reason I chose Abilene to be my home is because it has such a friendly environment. The people are caring and giving and really concerned about one another. They are people who are full of love, concern, and passion. That is what drew me here. When I came here in 1990 my children were very small so I was drawn to the boys and girls club where the kids can go, play, and make friends. I was drawn to the Churches that love children and teach them how to strengthen their faith and values. I love that about Abilene, Texas. Not only that, they care about all people. Senior Citizens, babies, and adolescents. I love the fact that we have Senior Citizen Centers for the elderly to get out and come socialize to have fun and feel like they are still valued and important regardless of their age. I love Abilene because it is a booming city. So much is happening in the city. We are growing by leaps and bounds. It is a family oriented place and I’m all about families and children and marriages. Just people being happy and being able to blossom right where they are. To know that they are valued, important, and everybody can contribute to this city and make it what it is. I am happy to be an Abilenian.

Question 2: What areas of Abilene do you think we could improve?

James Sargent (Place 5 Candidate): The City Council members would be a start. Everyone knows we can improve upon our streets but it is not just throwing money at it. It is not just drafting another bond. In 2005 it was over 20 million, in 2015 it was almost 50 million, and now there is a proposed 100 million. At what point will it stop? At what point will we stop just throwing money at the symptoms and instead, attack the illness. We need to improve how we spend our money and do it more wisely. How we spend your tax dollars. Instead of just throwing money at the same issue let’s find out why the streets are bleeding. Let’s have the conversations with the Director of Street Services and find out why there are 17 vacancies out of 45 positions. I know this because I have had these conversations with individuals. Let’s address that.

Dorothy Clay (Place 6 Candidate): I believe there are many areas but one of my concerns is the homeless people. I know we did a lot to help the homeless people in Abilene but every time I come downtown I see homeless people all over sleeping on the streets. People have asked me Dorothy, why don’t we have a homeless shelter to help the homeless? We have Love and Care Ministries, Hope Haven, and the Salvation Army that do a lot of things but I believe we can do better than that. We must decide what we are going to do to help the homeless. I know a lot of them have been traumatized and are suffering from mental health issues but I believe that no one should ever be out on the streets. I believe if we look in the budget that we can build a shelter to help the homeless because they have a right to be taken care of and they need more.

Charles Byrn (Place 6 Candidate): I want to speak on the same thing that James did and that is streets. You hear candidates all the time talk about “I want to do something for the streets so if you elect me I will do x, y, z.” Well, I’m a candidate that can say I have done stuff for the streets in Abilene. I’ve offered American Road Patch to fix potholes to the City Manager and they’re going to use that model. They are ordering three rolls of that product to be used on our potholes. I am not just saying that to get elected. I am someone doing something right now as just a citizen in Abilene. I’ve talked about concrete on our streets with the city engineer and we need to be innovative with our streets because what they are doing now is not working. We are spending money on top of money, wasting man hours, wasting gas, when we can use this road patch. The Mayor of Big Springs is using it as we speak and now we have ordered three rolls and they’re going to use them.

Question 3: Other than the streets, what is one thing in Abilene you would change and one thing you would keep the same?

Dorothy Clay (Place 6 Candidate): The thing I would change is to help Abilene become a Sanctuary City for the unborn. It is so important that we make our city a city of life and light, not of death. Every child is born in the image of God. Every unborn baby and born baby have the right to life. We do not have the right to take it away from them. Ever since 1973 with Roe vs Wade, more than 6 million unborn babies have been killed. We have got to stop this. We should be tired of having innocent blood on our hands and I know that we as a city want to do better and we can do better. What I would like to keep the same is I would like to keep Dyess Air force Base in our city because they are such an economic boom for us.

Charles Byrn (Place 6 Candidate): One thing that I would change is the Sanctuary Cities for the unborn. On July 25, 2019, I pioneered stepping up to the City Council and asking them to make Abilene a Sanctuary City. I presented the very first ordinance on that day in 2019. I have also been in the fight on the abortion issue. I’ve gone to abortion clinics and seen what goes on in there and talked to the women who have been there. I am now part of a The Sparrow’s Nest which is a maternity house in Jayton, Texas who come to Abilene and pick up women who have aged out of the foster system, have been hurt, or abused. We give them clothes and bibs, and money to help them because that is what we need to help stop abortions. We need to think about the mom. Right here in Abilene, a new birthing center opened up on Lincoln. That is something brand new.

James Sargent (Place 5 Candidate): Sanctuary Cities for the unborn are vital and critical but the number one thing I would think about changing is the number of people that get out and vote. Whether you vote for me or not the more people that are active and get involved in the community then your voice is going to be heard and real change is going to happen. People won’t stop voting because they feel like they aren’t heard anyway. People won’t feel overlooked or like they have to go and protest just to be heard. Things I would keep the same is the involved community we have. Like I mentioned early with the wildfires and Church functions and fundraisers to help when people face tragedies. It is so important to see community, fellowship, support, and encouragement from a wide range of members in our community.

Question 4: Abilene has been in a State of Emergency for over 2 years due to Covid-19. At what point if any would you have voted against it?

Charles Byrn (Place 6 Candidate): I would have voted against it at the very first instance because it gives the Mayor more power to do what he wants in the City. If you ask them what does it mean they are going to tell you “I don’t know”? That is why my sign says pro-liberty. I am not for more government control and it being in our business. It needs to stay out of our business and Americans and citizens of Abilene, what we know is right. I don’t want anyone telling our citizens that you need to wear masks, go get a vaccine shot, or close down because of orders by the government. I would vote against anything in that realm because that is too much government in your life when we know what is best for our family. The City Council doesn’t need to tell you that you need to wear a mask or you can’t do this or that. That is something we have seen from the City Council where they think they know what is best for us and the Citizens of Abilene should be making the decisions for ourselves.

James Sargent (Place 5 Candidate):From the very beginning. I don’t believe it was well founded. I don’t believe it was founded in truth. Being a small business we did start to take precautions by sanitizing keys, wearing gloves more often, and respecting people that came into our shop. If they wanted to wear a mask they were free to do so. If they chose not to, they were free to do so. Naturally, we took precautions out of respect for people that came into our facility but it was by choice and not by mandate. That is the way it should be. We should have freedom. Like I said, my campaign stands on Faith, Family, and Freedom. It should not be mandated and neither should vaccines. I did the research on religious exemptions for vaccines and I helped both family members and friends get that exemption through the research that I did so that their rights were protected just as I want your rights to be protected.

Dorothy Clay (Place 6 Candidate):Any time there is an emergency I believe you’re going to need governmental intervention but does that mean they should control you and tell you what to do. That shouldn’t be the case because as Americans we have rights to choose what we want to do and not do. Yes, sometimes you have to take government funds to help during hard times but that does not mean you have to do it continuously. Just until you get those situations under control and then there should be a point where you stop. I’ve seen with covid mandate that they say you got to do this and that and like my other candidates here said that should never be on the table. You should always have options. We live in the United States of America and we have choices and those should never be taken away. Like I said, I don’t normally like Government interference but when it comes to emergency or at least what they told us was an emergency where everybody was panicking and saying we gotta do this, we gotta do that, and so everyone did it. It hurt us tremendously…like I said I would have voted for the money but only under strict guidelines to know what we could or couldn’t do and have an ending point for that.

Question 5: During the Covid-19 Executive Order by Governor Abbott in March our Churches were told to close their doors to members and many local Churches did just that. What are your thoughts on that?

James Sargent (Place 5 Candidate): I don’t believe it is correct. Same thing, we have rights. We have the right to practice our faith, our religion, the freedom to assemble. If you chose to stay home or attend online that is a personal choice but it should not have been mandated at all. People were trying to accommodate the mandates and regulations that I believe were infringing on our Constitutional rights and freedoms as American citizens.

Dorothy Clay (Place 6 Candidate): Well I was highly upset and disappointed that they would even say something like that because when it comes to essential services , Churches are essential. People were panicking, fearful, and devastated by what was going on and you told the Churches to shut their doors. I am so thankful I heard one pastor say I will never shut my door, we have enough room to spread out. He was bold and was willing to take a chance because his faith was stronger than what the government authority was telling him to do. I love this pastor and pray we never have this situation again because I know what church I am going to go to. Charles Byrn (Place 6 Candidate): I am against them closing. Let’s make one thing clear. When the Governor told us we need to close this and that down, the orders he put out weren’t laws. They were just executive orders so I believe Churches should have been open from day one and they should not have closed. It is just sad that they listened to the Governor and that they were scared to death of covid and closed their doors. They should have stayed open. I didn’t like going to church online. I wanted to be in the building. For the Governor to tell the city that this needs to happen is something that we should never have been in or accepted. Remember, executive orders are not laws and churches should have been open.

Question 6: We lost many business during the forced shutdown and now the City Council has diverted covid relief funds to the downtown hotel. What would you say to the small businesses who were forced to shut down and lost their businesses knowing they could have received this aid?

Dorothy Clay (Place 6 Candidate): I would apologize to them because they were not a priority to the Council. Small businesses are very important to our community and for them not to be supported the way they needed to be was a bad call. Now we see this hotel being constructed and a lot of small businesses still have not re-opened. Some may never open again. I encourage them to speak to the city council not only for an apology but because I believe they should still be able to get aid to get them back to where they were or above. We have to do better and we need them.

Charles Byrn (Place 6 Candidate): What would I say? I’ve talked to over 40 small business owners in the city and they are very, very upset when they find out that money that they could have used is going to this downtown hotel that is not even built yet. It is a horrible thing. I don’t think the city council had the best interest of small businesses at heart and we know that because they gave 5 million to the downtown hotel. Remember, they got 10.7 million dollars just last year to put into the city because of covid. I’ve asked where the other 5.7 million dollars went and they can’t tell you where it went. Just know in May of this year they are going to get 10.3 million more dollars to spend on projects that do not help small businesses in Abilene.

He added that with the 10.3 million they get next month, why don’t they put 9 million into the new fire station they need south of town instead of asking for us to do bonds? Again, we have to look to be more innovative, do things the correct way, and stop wasting money. We are 442 million dollars in debt as we speak. We need to do better for our citizens. One way would be to use that money to build a new fire station that we need.

James Sargent (Place 5 Candidate):Being a small business owner, I was blessed to stay open. Well, I chose to stay open for the service we offer. What do I tell other small business owners? Get out and vote. If more people get out and vote we are going to make a change and our voice is going to be heard. I apologize that I didn’t stand up sooner to represent small businesses in our city council. What is happening and what has been happening is unacceptable. Out of the hundreds of thousands of small businesses we have in our community that not only support our families, they donate to charities, pay tax dollars, and this was a slap in our face to divert that money to a hotel that is not built yet. They could have fixed the streets that would help everybody or through a number of other ways to show support for our community but they turned their backs on us to fund this project instead.

Question 7: What is more important for Abilene right now, building new structures or improving existing structures?

Charles Byrn (Place 6 Candidate): I believe in improving existing structures on the Northside of town. I think things need to be done on the Northside that have been on the southside. I think they have been neglected for years on that side of town. That is something I would work with people on that side of town to see what they would like to see happening. You see at every city council meeting they really don’t care and vote yes all the time for certain things and we need somebody who would vote no on things. Like I said earlier, 442 million dollars in debt doesn’t happen overnight. It is something that needs to be addressed. We need to be more frugal with our money and the way we spend it.

James Sargent (Place 5 Candidate): The city council has not proven it can take care of what we already have so why should we be focused on building new structures? Yes, I agree with building a new fire department because that is a needed emergency response facility but there is a lot that goes along with that. Where I live on the Northside there are abandoned commercial buildings that I have seen zoning requests filed for and shot down. Where I work off of Chestnut in the old industrial area, you see vacant areas. How can the city be utilizing what we already have and improve upon it instead of expanding.

Dorothy Clay (Place 6 Candidate): That is a very good question. I would say it depends. Have we done assessments to determine what really needs to be done or are we just building structures for the sake of doing it because we got some new money and we haven’t set priorities. Is it cost effective? Is this going to cost more money to build a brand new building or could we save money by repairing an old one? Who will benefit from it? I was talking to a citizen the other day who said there is a park we go to every year for events and this restroom has not worked in over 30 years. They’ve called the city council, they’ve talked to them about repairs and nothing has been done. Yet I heard one of the city council members say we are using money to fix the park and I nearly asked them when are you going to use that money to fix the restroom over there.

Question 8: Property Taxes and home values continue to rise in Abilene. What will you do to combat this?

James Sargent (Place 5 Candidate): To combat the rise of property taxes first I am going to work on transparency so that the City Council will show where your tax dollars are being spent and why they need to keep asking for more money. Another thing is the street maintenance fee that is about to go up again because if they can’t show they know how to spend what they already have then why should more be asked of our citizens. We shouldn't just keep throwing money at the same symptom without addressing the illness.

Dorothy Clay (Place 6 Candidate): I was talking with a citizen the other day about the increase in these taxes and they said I don’t understand why they keep increasing them. Where is his money going? I would like to know myself. Who is really looking at the budget and why isn’t the public made aware of every cent is being spent? We need to really sit down and look at this because a lot of citizens are just fed up.

Charles Byrn (Place 6 Candidate): One thing I would do is look at decreasing the property tax rate that people pay. That rate determines your property tax. Abilene pays more taxes then Odessa, San Angelo, Waco, Midland, Wichita Falls, and Frisco. Our tax rate is 0.78 per hundred dollars of evaluations.. Most of those other cities are half that rate. I would like to see the tax rate freeze for three years. You know as well as I do when your property taxes are paid you don’t own your home because you have to send that money to someone else and if you default they come and take your home. Just understand how much we pay in property taxes in Abilene. If I am elected I will look at lowering your property tax rate because two out of the last three years your rate has been raised 7.9%.

Question 9: There are currently 16 contaminants in the City Water that are over the legal limit including 10 known carcinogens. What will you do to address this?

Dorothy Clay (Place 6 Candidate): My concern is that we should never have water contaminated for our citizens. This is criminal if you ask me. Why do we have contamination in the water that we drink, bathe in, and put in our baby’s milk? This has got to stop. Do we need specialists to co