Candidates for Alvin City Council and the Alvin ISD Board of Trustees gathered before the public at Alvin Community College’s Nolan Ryan Center to make their cases for why they are the best choice.
The lone city councilman with a contested election, Joel Castro, is being challenged by 18-year-old Jacob L. Myers. With Castro himself having only recently turned 20 years old, the election is extremely unusual. In response to a question of age, Castro highlighted his fiscal conservatism and noted he was the only councilman to vote against allocating an extra $500,000 to install lights at the upcoming disc golf course at Briscoe Park. He also mentioned his accomplishments of having a hardship exemption passed to allow furloughed federal employees to pay utility bills late without penalty.
Myers has lived in Alvin his entire life. He previously told The Alvin Sun & Advertiser that he was inspired to run because he wanted to see Alvin “grow and develop.” He reiterated this at the forum on Tuesday.
“I’ve lived in Alvin all my life and I want to serve my community,” Myers said, adding that he wanted to see the city place a higher priority on the improvement of drainage infrastructure in advance of the upcoming hurricane season.
In the race for Position 4 on the Alvin ISD Board of Trustees, Paul Needham is challenging nine-year incumbent Tiffany Wennerstrom. Needham has lived in Pearland for six years and has a 14-year history in the education field. He has based his campaign on ensuring that the board uses analysis and statistics in making its decisions. Having coached some of the baseball teams his son has played on over the past three years, Needham often points out the similarities in the desirable qualities of a coach and an educator.
“I think they both set and invest the people around them in really ambitious goals. I think they both analyze data to determine what needs to be worked on and what needs to be celebrated. I think they’re able to remove distractions so that the people around them can focus on what’s really important,” Needham said.
Wennerstrom was first elected in 2010. Repeating the written statement she read at the candidate forum hosted by the Pearland Chamber of Commerce on April 10, she reminded the audience of her years of volunteerism with Alvin ISD before she was first elected after being encouraged to run by the principal of an Alvin ISD school.
For Alvin ISD Board of Trustees Position 5, current school board president Nicole Tonini is being challenged by Arnetta “Twins Mom” Murray, a special education teacher and choir director
Like Wennerstrom, Tonini reused her statement from the Pearland forum to give people an overview of her background. She told the audience that her parents taught her and her nine siblings to always serve and give back to the community.
“I have found great pleasure in serving in our community schools, anywhere from being a ‘room mom’ to now sitting on the board of trustees,” Tonini said.
Tonini said it is important to look at issues that come to the board “through the lens of the student, the parent, the teacher, the community.”
Unlike the Pearland forum, questions were submitted by the audience at the event on Tuesday. In response to a question regarding the top priorities for city council during the next three years, Castro said he is currently working on a project with Councilman Glenn Starkey to implement a transportation system for senior citizens in Alvin. Castro said the council, he and Starkey have discovered that many senior residents of Alvin are homebound and “aren’t able to go to their doctor’s appointment and aren’t able to go to the grocery store because the transportation system we have now is booked.”
Myers agreed with Castro’s commitment to improving senior transportation. He mentioned the issue while speaking briefly with The Alvin Sun & Advertiser before the forum.
“I live right across the street from Laurel Court and I see a lot of our elderly citizens driving scooters to the grocery store, driving — riding in their wheelchairs and we need to help improve their life — their everyday life,” Myers said during the forum.
A question submitted from the audience asked the school board candidates about measures that could be taken to ensure school safety.
“I think something I would like to do is improve background checks for folks coming into the district. I think if you look at some of the charges filed against staff members in the last five or six years, obviously that’s something we’d like to see brought down,” Needham said, mentioning the upcoming trial of former Alvin ISD police officer Terry Tennard, whose trial for aggravated sexual assault of a minor after an alleged inappropriate relationship with a student was delayed for the fourth time Monday.
Wennerstrom said she was surprised when she first learned after her election in 2010 how extensive the Alvin ISD Police Department is.
“We have one of the best officer to student ratios around anywhere, and that was already in place before security became an issue for most people,” Wennerstrom said, adding that the district was proactive in adding security vestibules to all schools years ago.
“I think that there should be teacher marshals,” Murray said, explaining that teachers who choose to be marshals would be trained to protect themselves and students. She also said she believes there should be non-uniformed police officers working in the reception area, which she considers to be the first line of defense for the campus.
Tonini explained that in response to the Santa Fe High School shooting of May 2018, the board made it a priority to implement a policy of hiring off-duty police officers from Alvin and the surrounding communities to provide extra security at all district campuses starting at the beginning of the current school year.
City council candidates were asked how Alvin can solve the growing problem of homelessness in the community, to which Myers said the city should do the utmost to assist “the Red Cross and the homeless shelter as best to their ability.”
After pointing out that currently there is no Red Cross shelter in Alvin, Castro gave a recap of the “Tent City Ordinance” that was recently presented to council by Police Chief Robert E. Lee during a workshop. The ordinance was proposed after the council chose to begin looking at options on regulating encampments after the charitable organization Archangels of Texas began allowing homeless individuals to camp on outdoor areas of its rented location on Motel Drive following the city’s determination that the organization would no longer be able to permit people to stay inside of the building overnight because it did not meet local, state or federal fire codes.
“We have to make sure that we assist them in whatever way we can and make sure this permit that, if it does get passed, make sure that it’s not going to hurt them and it’s not going to hurt the citizens of Alvin, because it’s not illegal to be homeless,” Castro said.
School board candidates were asked how the district can work to improve students’ behavioral health.
Wennerstrom said while part of the issue must be solved in the state legislature and the district is limited by funds as to what services it can provide, the district has hired more counselors and drastically reduced the ratio of students to counselors in recent years.
Murray drew on her experience as a special education teacher to say that behavioral health must be dealt with on a case by case basis.
“Look at each kid differently, and assess their situation, and then help them,” Murray said.
One of the final questions of the night was posed to the city council candidates on what actions they can take or have taken to get youth more involved in local politics.
“The easiest way for that is social media,” Myers said.
“I guess a great example of getting younger people involved is this young man right here,” Castro said, gesturing toward Myers.