Candidates running for positions on the Fate City Council made a series of appearances in local forums over the Easter weekend.
Monday is the first day of early voting for the 2019 Uniform Election, scheduled May 4. A mayoral race between former Councilman Joe Burger and incumbent, Lorne Megyesi, will be on the Fate ballot, in addition to a race for Place 6 on the council between John Brandt and John Hamilton.
Also on the ballot are eleven charter amendments –some which have already caused discord between council members. (The full early voting schedule can be found online, https://bit.ly/2XoPSTN.)
Fate candidates spoke at their first community forum last week at the Williamsburg HOA clubhouse. Democrats and Republicans in Rockwall County each held candidate forums Saturday morning.
Brandt and Hamilton are running for Place 6 on the Fate City Council. Incumbent Steve Hermann did not submit a bid for reelection after
Hamilton served the U.S. military for eight years, and is currently a software engineering working with artificial intelligence. This is the second time that he is running for a city council position. He said the most important goal he has for Place 6 on the council is to be a voice for residents.
“It’s important that if they bring some ideas to your attention,” he told the Royse City Herald-Banner. “If they have some things they need to talk about you should be their representative on the council.”
Hamilton said he feels much better prepared in his second run for council.
“When I ran the first time, I learned a lot. That’s why I’m much more confident this time,” he said.
Brandt is a resident of the Woodcreek subdivision in Fate and said he wants to benefit the Fate community with his business acumen. He has experience as a real estate agent in Rockwall County, but began operating a company in 2011 that deals with orthopedic implants. He said he found unexpected extra time with his new business venture and looks forward to serving his community.
“When I noticed that the position on the council was open and that the election was coming up, I thought that it was chance to bring my expertise – if you will – from my business dealings over the years,” Brandt said. “I have concerns as a resident but I also have business expressince and I think that I can bring that as a highlight to the council.”
Mayor Lorne Megyesi said he appreciates the chance to speak to residents about upcoming issues. At the Rockwall County Republican Party candidate forum, Megyesi celebrated the growth that the city has experienced during his time as mayor. He and challenger, Burger, both joined the city council five years ago.
“I got involved because I saw a change that needed to be happened, so I got there and I think we made some really good changes, and I think that all citizens should be involved,” Megyesi said at the forum, which was mediated by Rockwall County Judge David Sweet.
Megyesi said he had created a relationship with county and state elected officials, and said city’s infrastructure is in good shape.
“There is always need for improvement and there is always a need for making sure we’re taking the tax dollars and we’re spending it in the right place,” Megyesi said.
Burger disagreed with Megyesi, and said the city often lacks locations to show companies that are interested in moving their business to the city.
“We don’t have the infrastructure to bring in businesses and commercial development, and we need to be able to bring in business and commercial development to help with our tax base and to help with the convenience of the folks who live here,” Burger said.
Burger, who has lived in the city for 18 years, said he wants to make sure that the growth of the city is well maintained.
“I love being in the city of Fate and in Rockwall County. I’m running because for the city of Fate right now, I see a need for change,” Burger said.
Voices of two Fate residents
Fate resident Steve Huffman asked candidates to prioritize public amenities and businesses to accommodate the residential growth in the city.
Huffman, who has lived in the area for more than 20 years, said he lives in a portion of the city that was annexed.
“You need to have input from the citizens,” Huffman said at the community forum at the Williamsburg HOA clubhouse. “If you are running to be the mayor, a member of city council or a city board member, you better get ready for it to get hot and for people to ask questions.”
Huffman said he appreciates the work of city officials, but would like to see Fate gain its own unique identity apart from Royse City and Rockwall. He said he believes part of that identity depends heavily on the ability of the city to improve the quality of life for its residents.
“You have to have some place that you can say here’s a field, here are the trees, let’s play ball,” Huffman said.
Mary Carroll, another Fate resident, also asked questions to candidates during the forum at the Williamsburg subdivision. She said Fate is the smallest town that she has lived in.
Carroll moved to Fate two years ago after the death of her husband, Gary. Having spent much of her time taking care of her husband, Carroll said she now wishes to go out more and be more active in the community.
“I was taking care of my husband, so I couldn’t attend things,” Carroll said. “ I’m at a point in life now where I want to meet more of my neighbors. I found that I’m real interested about things in the community.”
Carroll, who has grandchildren in the area with special needs, said she wants to see the city invest in amenities that are more accessible to those with disabilities.
“You don’t know frustration until you try to go out in the community and you can’t take your family with you,” she said.
Fate City Charter Amendments
Along with the two contested races, Fate residents will help decide the future of changes that have been proposed to the city charter.
Among the amendments are those that deal with term and age limits of city elected officials. Proposition E, if passed by voters, would limit the number of consecutive terms on city council, including that of the mayor, to two three-year terms. After two terms, the individual would be required to wait one election cycle before being eligible to run for another seat on the council.
Proposition F, would lower the limit that a person can serve on the council fromto 18. Currently, a resident must be at least 21 years old to file as a candidate for a seat on the City Council.
The remaining proposed amendments, according to city documents, were designed to clean up the charter and bring it up to date. One of those changes include an amendment to reflect a ballot proposition that passed in 2018 allowing for the sale of beer and liquor in the city.
All of the candidates from Fate have recognized the importance of the charter amendments, as well as the voters’ participation in shaping how the city is managed.
But the proposals that have garnered a significant amount of attention from city staff and elected officials are “H” and “I” – two amendments that deal primarily with the city council’s investigatory powers.
Proposed amendments were developed by a seven-member charter review commission consisting of two current council members and five Fate residents.
Councilmembers David Billings, Place 5, and Lance Megyesi, Place 2, were the two elected officials who served on the charter commission.
Three of the five residents who helped come up with charter amendment proposals, Nikki Robinson, John Stacy and Jon Thatcher, have served on the Fate City Council. Erik Dickison and Ian Fields were also appointed by councilmembers to serve on the commission, which met throughout November and in October last year
Disagreements among council members
Charter amendment “H” would give councilmembers the power to investigate the conduct of city departments and employees. At least five people on the council would have to approve any such investigation.Amendment “I,” if passed by voters, would allow the council to reorganize, establish or abolish city departments, offices and agencies.
Both amendments, according to several members of the charter committee, were introduced by Lance Megyesi.
“As far as bringing that forward, I believe I was actually the one to bring that charter amendment to consideration,” Lance Megyesi confirmed to the Royse City Herald-Banner.
Lance Megyesi, the brother of the mayor of the city, said he researched about eight other charters of cities that were similar in size with Fate. He said he feels that it is important for elected officials to have a way to look into the work of city staff.
“We found that Fate is the only city that did not have (similar amendments,)” Councilman Megyesi said.
He said the amendment would give council members the power, through a five-member vote, to request an investigation be started into a city department through a third party. Megyesi added that all of the non-elected officials who served on the charter commission voted unanimously to place the proposal on the 2019 ballot.
Billings, who also spoke to the Royse City Herald-Banner, on his thoughts on the amendment has publicly spoken against the proposal, saying that the amendments would be an overreach, especially because there are actions that the City Council can already take if they are not happy with the performance of city staff.
He also said such changes would hurt the morale of city staff that has worked to facilitate growth in the city.
“Our job is not to launch investigations or accuse department heads of wrongdoing based on personal biases,” Billings said.
Billings has said that he stands against the amendment, and said he does not believe the purpose of the amendment to communicated in full to the residents who served on the charter amendment commission.
He said the commission made recommendations to the council, but did not have control over how amendments would be presented to voters on the ballot.
“I think it’s really important that the council not cross this line,” Billings said. “I don’t care about what other cities do; I care about Fate.”
Mayor Megyesi has said he believes residents have the right to decide what is best for the city.
“Do I agree with them all? No, but that’s not my place. My vote was to say that citizens have a right to vote on this charter. It doesn’t matter if I agree or disagree with them,” Megyesi said.
Council members clashed over the decision to place the amendment proposal on the uniform election ballot at a February council meeting.
The City Council voted 4-2 to place the proposed amendments on the May ballot, with Burger and Councilwoman Tamara Fisher, Place 1, voting against, after a failed attempt to schedule an additional review of proposed amendments.
Burger, who still had his seat on the council at the time, had said he wanted the amendment to be more specific.
“I feel there should be a difference between is investigating somebody because they did something illegal or immoral or unethical,” Burger said at the February meeting. “This also, as written, says that if someone takes an action that we disagree with, then we can investigate that, and I don’t think that’s a positive thing for the city staff. I don’t think that’s a positive thing for the city council either.”
Burger said the proposed amendments on city council investigatory powers has nothing to do with his decision to run for mayor.
He did, however, take a more clear stance on the amendment proposals “H” and “I.”
“It sounded like another way to control the city manager, and we already have ways to do that,” Burger said. “My preference is that we don’t pass ‘H’ and ‘I’ because it politicizes city staff departments and positions, and that’s not good for Fate.”