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Meet the three candidates running for Bryan mayor, hear their stances

KRHD asks the big questions about Bryan's future
Ask the Governor - 2022-10-18T153412.361.jpg
Posted at 3:35 PM, Oct 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-18 16:35:59-04

BRYAN, Texas — As Andrew Nelson prepares to finish his role as mayor of Bryan, three new candidates have stepped up to the plate.

Listed first on your Brazos County ballot is Bobby Gutierrez. Gutierrez currently serves on the Bryan city council, and for years has served in local leadership roles such as the planning and zoning board. An eighth-generation Texan, Gutierrez says he spent much of his life in Bryan, graduating from Bryan ISD.

Gutierrez said he is passionate about seeing the city grow, bringing in new businesses and homes.

Next on the ballot is Brent Hairston, another current city council member. Hairston is an Aggie alumnus who’s been working and owning buildings in downtown Bryan for 30 years, and is the father of Bryan ISD students.

Hairston said he is most concerned with bringing positivity to the position of mayor, especially considering the treatment he feels Bryan ISD leadership didn’t deserve in the most recent clash over building development.

And finally, third on the ballot is Mike Southerland, who, in the past, served on Bryan city council for a total of 12 years. Southerland is a Vietnam veteran and nearly 40-year resident of Bryan, leading positions for local entities such as Habitat for Humanity.

Moved especially by events like the Uvalde mass shooting, Southerland says he is most passionate about increasing public safety by means of financially supporting the Bryan Police Department with more resources.

KRHD asked each candidate the same series of questions regarding their political stances. Any statements made by candidates in these interviews have not been independently fact-checked by KRHD at this time, and their validity should be thoughtfully considered by the readers.

Q: WHAT ARE SOME OF BRYAN’S BIGGEST ISSUES THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE ADDRESSED?

BOBBY GUTIERREZ : “Twenty years ago there were companies that were leaving Bryan and going to College Station, kind of a mass exodus from Bryan. A group of people got together and got involved and wanted to save it, because this is our town, where we grew up...

… This year we’re going to celebrate over 1,000 rooftops [being built]. Last year we celebrated over 1,000 rooftops. Our milestone was that 300, 350 that College Station had just always been beating us, and now we’re doing really good. We’ve got new developments, and this process is what we’ve been working on with these business people that have interest and value in our city. Seems to be working. I just want to continue that pathway forward.”

BRENT HAIRSTON : “I think the main thing for the future is just to make sure we continue to invest in our community, to continue to try and bring businesses into town. I’m a big proponent of economic development and bringing business into town. When we bring business into town, we bring jobs. That brings tax dollars and it helps drive the whole economy. That certainly helps drive city government, because those tax dollars can then be used to pay for everything from public safety, police and fire, utility structure and things like that. And that’s what drives it all.”

MIKE SOUTHERLAND: “Right now the biggest issue that’s on my mind is the safety of our children. Our children are vulnerable across the country, as in Uvalde, for random shootings. And we don’t have enough mental health [services] here, number one, and number two, we have to get as much money into the police department as possible; all the assets they can have that will stop somebody from coming into those schools and harming our children.”

Q: WE’VE SEEN RECENT TENSION BETWEEN BRYAN ISD AND THE CURRENT CITY LEADERSHIP. HOW DO YOU PLAN ON SUPPORTING BRYAN’S STUDENTS AND TEACHERS, AND WHAT WILL BE YOUR APPROACH IN WORKING WITH THE DISTRICT?

GUTIERREZ: “In BISD, it’s purely a communication problem that we had on this last batch. People know who I am, they know how supportive I’ve been of BISD. Of all the councilmen, councils and the mayor, I don’t think there’s been anybody who’s as active as I am, who has cheerleader’d for them, advocated for them, who has raised money for them. I won a statewide award for getting businessman of Texas for advancement of CTE in Texas, technical education. That (CTE) facility out there is one I was personally involved with, in finding, purchasing, and getting everything together...

… every time I go to (the Bryan ISD CTE Center) it brings tears to my eyes because I truly love the school district and truly love the kids and what we’ve been able to do. I want to continue to expand that and expand the relationships between those two entities. I’ve been pushing for the last two years to have joint meetings. We’ve got to get that, and we should never have these kinds of things happen, because we only win together.”

HAIRSTON: “Bryan ISD, we should be doing nothing but supporting them and holding their hand. BISD is such a critical part of our community. All three of my kids wither go to BISD currently, or I have one who graduated BISD and is doing really well now. And she is a product of the Bryan school system. I’m just so happy we have such a good school system. There’s been enough negativity about the school district and school system. I think so many of the things that have been said are unfortunate...

… we should be making sure that (BISD) knows that they have our support, and I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that the school district and teachers know that I’m behind them 100%.”

SOUTHERLAND: “When I was on the council, I had been on the BISD-Bryan city council committee for about eight years, and the school system is the underpinning of the city. Without a good school system, you’ll have a hard time having a good city. And I went to the school board during that time, and they were having issues with city council. I talked to them about – I apologized for the words used against them, and the demeaning manner in which the city council ultimately talked to them. The mayor was talking about them like that before, because they’re a separate entity and take care of our children. They’ve [BISD] got a tremendous staff, and if you listened to their presentation at the council meeting, it was unbelievable. It was seamless. You’d look down and back up and there’d be somebody else talking, and you couldn’t tell that they had switched [presenters]. They have cooperated with the city and done everything they can to accommodate the city’s needs. And still, there was one thing about... I guess it was they didn’t know the building was going to be moved back and forth...

“... that was an excuse to try to try and demean them again. They [BISD] are an agency that’s equal to the city of Bryan. I think they’re probably more important than the city of Bryan, because they take care of our children. And what’s more important than taking care of our children?”

Q: WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON MIDTOWN PARK – ITS PROGRESS, AND THE MONEY WE’VE SPENT ON IT SO FAR?

GUTIERREZ: “Midtown Park is probably going to be one of our biggest attraction areas in town. I think it’s going to be fully funded, the bond’s there. It’s going to expand and grow. It’s just a great area. We took a park that nobody used and we’re making it now – I mean just the numbers we’ve had with Big Shots, we’ve had more people in one month than we’ve had in ten years enjoying that park. Now that they’ve taken the fences down, now that we have the sidewalks going up, it’s a recreational area for the whole community. People are going to come from everywhere to be there.”

HAIRSTON: “Midtown Park has been very difficult for some people to swallow, because there is a lot of money. And undeniably, it’s a lot of money to spend for that park. However, we have a situation where we have this wonderful downtown that is a gem of our city, and of course we have Texas A&M down the street. Between the two... along the midtown corridor, it was not looking so great. And that park, being in the middle of it, by investing in that park, we’re going to help revitalize it. We’re going to bring in other businesses, and (there is) value and attractiveness of those businesses and homes along that area, and I think it’s a big hit...

… It’s a lot of money to spend, but one thing we’ve been trying to do to alleviate that expense is to try and bring businesses in like Big Shots, who have a ground lease for us and actually pay us for that property. And by having that, they will, in the future be paying for some of the maintenance and operations of that park, which is a way for us to aim towards making it revenue neutral. Time will tell whether it will be revenue neutral, but that is our intention.”

SOUTHERLAND: “I hate to be negative. I was on the council when that was brought forward. In fact, I had worked on the council for ten years trying to keep the Bryan Municipal Golf Course, because so many people loved it. And they did that in kind of an overnight deal. When they first showed the numbers that they were spending there, it showed in the data they had about a $4 million-per-year loser. Loser – not net income. And then the money being spent was about $45 million. But if you ask for the data on it, it’ more like $150 million now. They made a survey when they first started it, and the citizens – 70% of the surveyors said they want walking trails there. Not a building. Not all the stuff they have there now. I don’t think the city of Bryan, or any city, is constructed to be a business. And that’s what that is – a business. And most businesses have a hard time making it after two or three years...

… If [Midtown Park] makes money, wonderful. But it appears, they way it’s structured now, it’s going to be difficult...

… [as mayor] I definitely will take a look at it and determine if we can do a better job of making that thing work. There’s all kinds of money being spent on people supervising, managing, and selling all kinds of stuff. I want to get an audit of that and make sure that that’s the right thing. I was looking at the numbers the other day, and it seems like they’re spending more money on constructing that super park than the police department is going to get in ten years.”

Q: WOULD YOU LIKE TO PERMANENTLY REMOVE UTILITY DEPOSITS AND RECONNECTION FEES FOR BRYAN RESIDENTS DELINQUENT IN PAYMENT TO BTU?

GUTIERREZ: “I think that’s something we’ll have to look at as a business. BTU is a business. We have to take care of the customers and make sure - nobody was ever cut off that we got in contact with. There are several different ways to contact the customer. Most people got cut off because somebody left out of town and just left – students. They leave, they don’t disconnect anything. On the local level, they call them and do all these different things to get to them. If there’s a true hardship, BTU is not going to be just cutting them off. But at some point too, you have to understand, if you’re not paying your bill, you have to pay your bill. You have to at least make an attempt to pay a portion or something and get on a payment schedule, whatever it is, because that’s what keeps everything going.”

HAIRSTON: “I think BTU, as any service industry does, has to set basically regulations and fee schedules, or fee structures, that suit all of the residents of a particular town. You can’t set your rules and fees based on exceptions. You have to set them based on what’s best for a community as a whole. Everybody in town pays rates, everybody pays fees and disconnection fees apply as well. If you go to other industries, they set those rates. I’m very thankful we have so many charities in town like Salvation Army, BVCAP, Project Unity, who are willing to help those less fortunate and need help when they can’t pay their utility bills. I also think BTU has done a spectacular job in realizing this is a serious issue particularly in the summer and in the past I believe, two months, they stopped the disconnection fees to help those people, but ultimately we have to set those rates for everyone in the community. And if we don’t keep those rates and structures there what we will end up having is the rest of the utility customers subsidizing those who can’t pay, and that’s a fairness issue. I believe in charity and believe it’s great, and I’m glad there are charities in town willing to help.”

SOUTHERLAND: “I’ve looked at that before, and that’s a fine line in terms of, you can’t just give out or give away the utilities. However, I think if people are getting behind on their payments and are having a hard time paying, they can’t make another deposit or some kind of penalty. So that just makes it worse for them. So what they do is just get another account or something like that. So off the top, I think probably that those fees added to those bills are a problem. Them [delinquent customers] paying what they owe already is probably tough enough for them. And BTU gives money to nonprofits to help people pay their bills...

… bottom line is yeah, we probably ought to cut that out, whatever penalty there is after [a customer] can’t pay their bill. Just let them pay their bill and get back on track, and don’t worry about deposits and that kind of stuff.”

Q: WOULD YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF FISCALLY CONSERVATIVE? IS THERE ANYTHING BRYAN IS SPENDING TOO MUCH MONEY ON? IS THERE SOMETHING THAT BRYAN HAS NOT SPENT ENOUGH MONEY ON?

GUTIERREZ: “I am a fiscal conservative. I think, running a business, you have to be... You have to be able to make sure your income matches what your outcome or output is going to be, or you have problems...

… We have a city that’s 150 years old. We have SMD 1 and 2 that need extra money for infrastructure improvements...

… our needs are more expensive. We have got to make sure we can improve the old infrastructure – the drainage, the sidewalks, everything you want to have quality of life and it’s just more expensive to do. We need to make sure we are conservative, but we need to make sure we have enough capacity to do those projects. I think our CIP budget is close to one billion dollars that we have to back log.

HAIRSTON: “I definitely would consider myself fiscally conservative. I believe we need to do everything we can to run our town as efficiently as possible. I believe overall Bryan does a pretty good job of being fiscally conservative, but we could always look for and identify other ways we could save money...

… I fought as hard as I could to get a tax rate decrease, because when we have excess, I believe it’s our obligation to give back to the citizens. From every level of government, national to local, politicians tend to be reluctant to give money back. I believe it’s our obligation to do so when we can do so responsibly. That being said, we can’t just willy-nilly go cutting tax rtes. We do have obligations. We’re in a period of high inflation, and in a period of high inflation we have the fact that we’re going to have to raise salaries if we’re going to remain competitive....

.. also I think we need to do what we can to spend more on infrastructure, particularly on Districts 1 and 2... we have older infrastructure and places that have been around 150 years. Districts 1 and 2 are the older areas of town, and it makes sense we spend more money in those areas, to improve their infrastructure.”

SOUTHERLAND: “Yes. Very. Because I like to prove everything up to what we’re doing, especially if it has to do with something like the super park. That needs to be thoroughly checked. There are a tremendous number of people at Texas A&M that are world-renowned experts, and can take a look at these things for us and tell us. We can get closer without taking a chance...

… We need economic development, but it needs to be done very carefully, and [in a way that is] educated. I have advocated for us to hire a specialist to help us with those things so we can get closer, beyond our amateur way of looking at it on city council.”

Q: ARE THERE ANY CHANGES YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE IN REGARDS TO THE BRYAN POLICE DEPARTMENT’S OPERATIONS?

GUTIERREZ: “The police department in general, I speak to Chief Buske quite a bit. He’s a quiet and deliberate man who knows exactly what he needs to make sure – I was just at the last graduation where we graduated 12 police cadets. We fund our department to the max, I think whatever they need. In fact, I think my last conversation was, ‘I don’t care if you need a Sherman tank to keep our public safe. If you need a Sherman tank, I’ll get you a Sherman tank. Safety and services are what a city does. There would never be a time I would defund anything. There would never be a time we would look at skimping on public safety.”

HAIRSTON: “I think our police department does a fantastic job. Chief Buske has been our police chief for coming on 13 years... you don’t get a police chief to stay here unless they like the police department, and we don’t keep a chief unless he is doing a good job. I think Chief Buske is doing a fabulous job.

… I would never support [defunding the police], and I’m proud to say that across the board city of Bryan and city council has been supportive of our police department, and that’s the way it should be.”

SOUTHERLAND: “I don’t think there can be enough money spent on [Bryan PD]. The more money you spend on them, the better they can do, the more equipment they can have...

… I don’t know the internal operations, but I just know they need more money and need to be up-to-date on everything possible that they need to protect those children – and themselves! They are very, very vulnerable right now for some reason. I don’t know why anyone would want to attack, ambush a police officer...

… [Bryan PD] have been defunded. That’s the problem – they have been! If you look at all the numbers in the budget... everybody’s got 14% increases in their budget, then you get to the police department and it’s 3.3%. What’s wrong there? The fire department got 14% in their budget and a 10% raise, and the police department got 2.3%.”