By Zen T C Zheng
The four candidates vying to be Freeport's mayor are divided over a proposed privately owned boat marina project.
Seeking the position are Steve Upton, a Brazoria County sheriff's deputy; Clan Cameron, a coordinator for a food-packaging company; Lon Siddall, a security officer for Dow Chemical Co. who also is a member of the city's Economic Development Corp.; and City Councilman Jim Phillips, who once served as county judge.
Jim Barnett, the current mayor, decided not to seek re-election after holding the post for 10 years.
The candidates say the marina project has divided the city. The project calls for an 800- to 900-slip marina to be built by a private investor along the Old Brazos River near the Pine Street bridge. The city is using eminent domain proceedings to acquire tracts from Western Seafood Co. and Trico Seafood Co., which are fighting the takeovers in court.
Upton, 48, criticized the city for making a major decision like the marina project without input from residents. "Before they make major decisions, they must let the citizens vote to have a voice in it," he said. "This is exactly what I want to do."
Upton supports having a marina in the city, but is against the city's way of pursuing it. "I'm against the city taking people's properties without honest negotiation," he said. "Also, these businesses have been here for many years supporting the city. Why do you run these businesses out of Freeport for another business?"
Cameron is against the marina project. "That is not the place for the city to say what business should be there and what business shouldn't. The city just needs to get out of the way and let people stay in business and live," he said.
Cameron, 40, said taxpayers should have had a chance to vote on the city's major projects, such as the planned marina and a proposed community building in Freeport Municipal Park, which would cost $798,000 to build.
Siddall, 54, who joined the city's Economic Development Corp. in 2003, said bringing new businesses to Freeport is a priority for him. He said he would continue that effort if elected mayor. He defended the city's marina project as one way to bring in new businesses and said eminent domain is needed to obtain the land for the project.
"The marina is a key to attract business down here. It's a jump start for Freeport," he said. "Once we get themarina, restaurants and services are going to locate here." He said the city's pledge of $6 million of tax money for the marina project is a wise investment. He said Freeport Marina LP, the private investor that is proposing the project, would pay back the loan with a 6 percent interest.
Phillips, 71, who served as Brazoria County judge from 1990 to 1994, called himself a "strong supporter" of the marina project. "We need it. That's the way to jump start and revitalize the downtown area," he said. "I'd like to see us negotiate the purchase of the properties without having to go to court. I want to see it come to fruition."
Cameron said the city has "lost focus" in its priorities. He said his basic platform for running for mayor is his ambition to improve the city's aging infrastructure. "We are not having our priorities right. The city has spent a lot of money on big projects that don't amount to anything. They look pretty only," he said. "This is an old city with a lot of things we haven't taken care of. They are only worried about pumping life into downtown, but if we take care of the infrastructure throughout the city, businesses are
going to move here."
A Tacoma, Wash. native, Cameron moved to Freeport when he was 12. He graduated from Freeport High School and is a Desert Storm veteran. He has worked at a food-packaging company operated by Employment for Persons with Disabilities, an Angleton-based nonprofit organization, since 1994.
Cameron said he would focus on flood control as his top priority. He said many neighborhoods are at risk of repeated flooding. "Some areas have gotten worse. Twice within the last three years during storms, you could run a boat down my street," said Cameron, who lives on Fourth Street.
Cameron said his next priority would be to replace the city's sewer system. The city's 10-year plan to replacesewer lines is too long a wait, he said. In addition, Cameron said, he would speed street repairs and reconstruction.
Phillips said he is aware of the often-contentious relationship between the city and residents, especially property owners. However, he blamed it on the economic development corporation.
"We have had a breakdown in communication with those property owners. There are glitches in the economic development corporation," he said. "From the beginning when we began the development of downtown, the EDC has never involved the property owners in the process."
Phillips is retired from the Marine Corps and worked for 31 years at Brazosport High School as a teacher, assistant principal and principal. As mayor, Phillips said, he would continue efforts to clean up the city and seek to attract new businesses. He also wants to decrease the property tax rate without affecting city services. Over the last six years, he said, the tax rate has dropped by 7 cents, to 71 cents per $100 valuation.
In addition, he would push for raising the city's homestead exemption from $40,000 to $80,000 for those who are at least 65 years old or are disabled.
As the city promotes economic growth, improvement to infrastructure and maintenance of city services should not be neglected, Phillips said. "We still need to improve the quality of life of people. We need better drainage, streets, police, fire and EMS protection, as well as more recreational opportunities," he said.
He said he wanted to renovate the recreation center at the municipal park and add programs and exercise equipment to the facility. "We have already had a beautiful city golf course. Let's do something for people who don't play golf," he said.
Siddall said if he were elected mayor, his top priority would be to improve "the poor communication between the city government and the people."
He said city officials fail to respond to residents' questions and properly explain issues that residents don't understand.
"I want to improve that by representing them," Siddall said. "If they ask a question, I'll answer it. If I don't have an answer, I will get an answer and get back to them. These people have the right to ask questions."
A Freeport native, Siddall has worked as a security officer for Dow Chemical since 1981. Prior to that, he was a deputy constable.
He was a Freeport City Council member from 1993 to 1997. He has been a police officer with the Oyster Creek Police Department since 1992 while working for Dow Chemical.
He praised the city's beautification effort that includes getting rid of deteriorated buildings. "We did this for urban renewal economic growth," he said. "We couldn't get developers here because of how the city looks."
Upton has been a sheriff's deputy in the jail division since 1999. He taught at Alvin Community College andBrazosport College, and was Freeport's fire marshal from 1981 to 1994. In 1995, he was elected Precinct 1 Place 2 Justice of the Peace in Brazoria County, but lost a re-election bid in 1999.
Upton, who was born in Richwood, has called Freeport home since he was 9. He said he was encouraged to run for mayor by some business people who were "disappointed with the current leadership."
"We got a problem in Freeport. Citizens don't have a voice," he said. Upton called the city's effort to condemn and demolish old buildings an injustice to some property owners.
"They condemned a whole bunch of buildings without letting people fix it. They always said the buildings were beyond repair," Upton said. "I don't think that's right."
Upton said he wants to create more recreational opportunities for children and youth. "We need to do something for our children, some place for them to go without alcohol, drugs and trouble," he said.
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