The last year-plus has seen a large amount of contentious debate in College Station. It's something the three candidates who won seats on the city council Saturday said they would work towards curbing moving forward.
Just hours before they were set to be sworn in for their first three-year terms, Place 1's Blanche Brick, Place 3's Karl Mooney and Place 5's Julie Schultz joined Brazos Valley This Morning Thursday to talk about how they see the landscape of College Station changing with them in office.
"I think one of the things we're bringing to this council is willingness to approach us and let us know your concerns," Schultz said. "We do feel very strongly about making sure we are unified, and we're going to try to do the best for everybody, not a small portion of the population."
While Schultz added that they couldn't please each and every citizen with each and every decision they will make, the newly-elected representatives said making sure the community's diverse voices are allowed time to speak and are heard is a priority.
"One of the things I commented on [on Election Night] is that the healing begins today," Mooney said. "That starts with each of us. That starts with the mayor and the other councilmembers who soundly defeated the recall initiative. I think what we'll find is each of us has already gone out and extended our hand to various groups."
Mooney said on the Monday morning after the election, he had met with a group of citizens -- one that he wouldn't name -- that was appreciative of him approaching them to discuss and listen to the issues that matter to them.
"I ran on a platform of civility and common sense, and I think that's what the people of College Station voted for," Brick said. "They wanted us to move forward, and not in a divisive way, and to look out for the best interests of everyone -- those who had different interests from ours in the election, and those who supported us."
The issue of the community of Wellborn's annexation stirred heated debate between residents of that community, its supporters, and other College Station citizens that were either in favor of the annexation or against actions taken by those against it.
In a 5-2 vote in November, the council voted to continue the annexation process for Wellborn, one which didn't guarantee its annexation, but began numerous studies that would lead to a vote on its future. This followed a failed push by community residents to put an incorporation vote on the ballot, a push shot down by a majority of the council adamant that a City of Wellborn would impede growth of the largest city in the region. In April, Wellborn was annexed by that same 5-2 margin despite calls from residents there that their way of life couldn't be kept if they were within the city limits. They also claimed College Station could certainly grow around a City of Wellborn if they only had a chance to incorporate.
A signature drive that ended with thousands of names on a petition to recall Mayor Nancy Berry and two councilmembers who supported the annexation studies ended with a sound defeating of the propositions Saturday and those representatives retaining their seats.
Throughout the months of debate came many moments of contentiousness: councilmembers claiming Wellborn had agreed to certain aspects of the annexation plan, Wellborn residents claiming councilmembers were literally rolling their eyes at their statements, and passionate statements that bordered on -- and to some, crossed the border of -- yelling.
"Those who brought forth other views, we have to be respectful of those, and we have to be open to hearing all different views and to working with them," Brick said. "I believe that the mayor has made a strong statement in that regard, and is certainly open to doing that."
Three of the loudest council voices in the debate -- John Crompton and Dennis Maloney in favor of annexation, Jana McMillan against it -- are the three representatives who are gone from the council, replaced by three newcomers, each holding political office for the first time.
"I ran on a platform of being independent, and also being thorough," Mooney said. "Folks who knew of my past record as chair of Planning and Zoning, I think, are reliant on that coming forward once again. Being able to understand the history of College Station is something that I think folks were looking for."
Schultz also took time to mention Sherry Ellison, who finished second in the four-person race for Place 5. The two candidates were set to go to a runoff because Schultz did not earn a majority of the total votes, but Ellison dropped out of the race, citing a desire for the $35,000 a runoff would have cost to be spent elsewhere. Ellison also said the gap between the two candidates (22 percentage points Saturday) would be extremely difficult to overcome.
"I can't say enough about her gracefulness in this whole campaign," Schultz said, adding that their platforms were similar with regards to ending divisiveness in city government.
To see the complete interview with the three new representatives, click on the video with this story.
Brick, Mooney and Schultz were set to be sworn in Thursday afternoon during the city's regular council meeting. Crompton, Maloney and McMillan will be recognized for their service on the council as well. None ran for re-election, Maloney and McMillan by choice, Crompton because of term limits.
Brick defeated Shawn Rhodes Saturday. Mooney topped Arthur Pinto. Schultz earned her win over Ellison, Hal Hawkins and Danyal Shaikh. Rhodes, Pinto and Hawkins had pushed themselves as conservative choices in the race and had received McMillan's strong endorsement.