ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Candidates for Places 3 and 4 in Abilene City Council election filed into the KTAB studio ahead of their debate hosted by BigCountryHomepage.com, supported by the Abilene Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by the Abilene Association of Realtors, Tuesday evening. Each of the six candidates were asked about a number of hot topic issues the Key City is concerned about, including long-term strategies for city streets, how to make Abilene more business friendly, and more.

KTAB/KRBC News Director (left) Manny Diaz moderates debate between Abilene City Council Place 4 candidates (middle) Brian Yates and (right) Scott Beard

Place 4 candidates, Brian Yates and Scott Beard, were first to debate. Yates recently retired as Director of Operations at Abilene Aero, and Beard is a longtime Senior Pastor at Fountaingate Fellowship Church.

The candidates were asked six questions they were not given ahead of time, and had 60 seconds to answer each question. KTAB/KRBC News Director Manny Diaz moderated the debate, and began with Yates.

Workers can choose to live anywhere. What are your dreams and/ or visions to improve Abilene’s quality of life, and make Abilene the place to live, play, and work?

Yates said what makes Abilene so unique and a viable place to live is its intangibles.

“Some of it is entertainment, some of it is opportunity for business,” Yates listed. “We have to approach this as a partnership with our private partners to make sure that all of those aspects are addressed, and that we’re listening to the people who are going to want to move here. We have to make it an attractive place for people to want to come to.”

Beard, in a slight contrast to his opponent, said Abilene is already an attractive place. He said people who once lived or grew up in the area are returning because of the city’s low cost of living and ‘cool community vibe.’

What is your long-term strategy for Abilene streets and getting them repaired?

Yates’ strategy, he said in Tuesday evening’s debate, is to not replicate what has been done in the past. He did say the existing street maintenance fee is going in the right direction, but not everyone is assessed a municipal services bill and thus not everyone is taxed. For now, he said he’d want to leave the fee in place and in the future, look for other solutions to help Abilene streets in the long run.

Citing a $750,000 budget in 2017 to maintain streets, Beard said since around then, the city has been able to put $10-12 million towards city streets, even commending current and past city councilmembers for those efforts.

“We’ll have to get creative at looking at our budget, finding ways to allocate money toward our streets,” said Beard.

Grade the current city council A through F in the area of transparency and give examples.

“I would give them an A-minus,” Yates answered after ensuring his respect of the current class of city councilmembers. “They could have, in some cases, taken a little more initiative to push out information about things that have changed.”

Yates continued his pace, citing that all the budget information you may want is available on the city’s website.

Beard, on the other hand, gave the city a grading of C-plus for its transparency. He said city council meetings are held a little too early in the morning to be accessible for all, and thus we’re not able to hear all the issues about town. He said he would also like more transparency added to the position.

Are there parts of the city budget that should be significantly cut? If so, give an example.

Yates and Beard both seemed to agree regarding budget cuts. They concurred that there are some staffing shortage issues within the city and the budget in its entirety can only go so far.

Beard added that a larger share of the city’s budget should go to our first responders, but insisted the budget is in good shape.

What can the city council do for Dyess Air Force Base?

Acknowledging that the city council would not be able to place a mandate upon Abilene’s residents that they love airmen, Yates said he wanted to pay closer attention to what Dyess Air Force Base needs from the City of Abilene. He said it’s important to pay attention to Dyess’ upcoming projects, such as the possibility for the AFB to become an operating base for B-21 Bombers, and ensure that our infrastructure can uphold that.

“I think another issue is allowing- giving school choice to these airmen as they bring their families here. That’s an important issue that was related to me by [Congressman Jodey Arrington’s] staff,” answered Beard.

Another point Beard made was in the name of ‘reciprocity.’ Per the candidate, if a Dyess servicemember’s spouse is employed out of a larger city, such as New York City, then they should be taxed in that city’s specific tax code rather than Abilene’s.

Do you believe the Abilene City Council has a role in social issues?

On this topic, Yates insisted he was a big believer in a person’s constitutional rights, but that social issues really aren’t up to the city. He said having values is important in a councilmember, but there would be a difference between having community values and imposing them.

Having ample experience with turning a social issue into a city issue, Beard said cited his campaign to make Abilene a Sanctuary City for the Unborn.

“Many agreed, many disagreed on that issue, but the issue was that, as we went through the process of getting that before the voters of Abilene, it wasn’t just a city council decision. In fact, the city council, I think, wisely passed that on to the voters after we got the number of signatures we needed to put forward. So, it went before the citizens, it gave the citizens their voice, they spoke and said, ‘this is a social issue that is important,'” Beard relayed.

Because candidates Yates and Beard had time to spare, they were allowed to answer a few ‘rapid fire’ questions. These were “yes or no” questions the candidates could not expand upon.

If you had been on city council during the COVID-19 crisis, would you have supported the city’s actions?



Do you think our economic development dollars are being spent well?



Do you think enough has been done to revitalize Downtown Abilene?



Do you agree with the street maintenance fee?



For closing statements from the candidates, Beard began his allotted 90 seconds by saying as much passion as he has for Abilene, there are issues that needs work.

“This is the peoples’ office, this city council position… My door would always be open to the people. There wouldn’t be an issue of transparency,” Beard pressed. “There are those that would argue that, as a pastor, it wouldn’t be a good idea to be in this kind of position; I don’t agree. I am well-qualified given the amount of time and effort put into building a local church.”

Yates’ closing statement included that Abilene is his chosen home because of the people.

“If someone was to ask me, ‘why would you run?’ I would say I have the experience, the desire, the available time, and the temperament.”

Following Yates’ and Beard’s debate, the candidates were escorted away and in filed place 3 candidates: Shawnte Fleming, James Sargent, Cynthia Alvidrez, and Blaise Regan.

Fleming is an Abilene native and is the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission. Sargent is the owner of a small business and a former member of the U.S. Air Force. Alvidrez is listed as an entrepreneur and is known to be an Abilene influencer on Facebook. Regan is an attorney and owns his own law firm in town.

KTAB/KRBC News Director (far left) Manny Diaz moderates debate between Abilene City Council Place 3 candidates (left) Cynthia Alvidrez, (mid left) James Sargent, (mid right) Shawnte Fleming, and (far right) Blaise Regan

The four candidates were asked six questions they were not given ahead of time, and had 60 seconds to answer each question. Diaz began with Alvidrez.

According to the Abilene Conventions and Visitors Bureau, the average Abilene taxpayer saves roughly $512 per month and more than $6,100 annually because of tourism. How would you support more visitors to take more burden off local taxpayers?

“As you all know, we are basically getting stolen from. If you look at our budgets, we actually have leftover monies from our budgets placed in our minor improvement funds- that have basically been used for the establishment’s business opportunities,” Alvidrez said as her answer.

People make their stops in Abilene based off what they can see from I-20, according to Regan. He said he’d like to develop the I-20 corridor to attract visitors and bring in outside money.

Sargent answered the question by saying he’d like to advertise more about what’s going on in the city, take care of infrastructure, and be transparent in his office.

Fleming said she’d like to look into what the city already has to offer, like the AYSA fields and bringing back football. She also offered that the new Downtown Abilene hotel should bring in plenty of visitors.

What would you do to make Abilene more business friendly?

Alvidrez used her 60 seconds to say the city put leftover money into the minor improvement fund, and taxpayers were ‘forced’ to pay for a hotel they did not want. To move forward, she said Abilene’s City Council needs to be filled with representatives who will fight for the average taxpayer.

Sargent spoke to his experience as a small business owner to answer this question.

“One of the things we continue to see is not effective communication. There’s not effective transparency,” offered Sargent.

Sargent continued to say red tape and hurdles need to be removed and online payments should be readily available.

Fleming said she’d like more competitive pay, stating residents leave Abilene because of the lack in pay and things to do.

Like Sargent, Regan spoke to his experience as a business attorney who owns his own firm. He said he’d like to cater more to our younger residents in the local colleges and work towards getting them to stay past graduation.

Are there parts of the city budget that should be significantly cut? If so, give an example.

In the line of budget, here is where these candidates said corners should be cut:
Alvidrez – Current city councilmembers having ‘sticky fingers.’
Sargent – Downtown hotel.
Fleming – Unsure.
Regan – Street maintenance fee.

As part of the 2040 city plan, Fleming vouched for the work the current class is doing.

“We have some challenges. Our city budget can be worked on some, but I’m not sure if attacking, pointing fingers, causing blame,” trailed Fleming. “But since that we’re here, what can we do to fix it? What is the more appropriate answer and plan of action for us to face this?”

What is your long-term strategy for Abilene streets and getting them repaired?

Alvidrez did not stress a particular plan of action for city streets. She repeated that ‘the establishment’s fingers are in your budget,’ and there is a need for people on city council to stand for taxpayers.

Sargent said he’d like to look at staffing the streets department and equip them with appropriate resources and pay to keep employees in Abilene to make cost effective repairs.

Fleming said she’d like the street maintenance fee to go away. She said she’d suggest a bond to fix streets long-term, but an assessed fee is not enough.

On the opposite side of things, Regan said the streets are getting better just in the past decade or so.

“If we can… encourage development in our inner city- kind of between Downtown and Far South, in between Downtown and I-20 – we’ve already got the roads, we’ve already got the coverage there. That way, we’re not having to spend more money building new roads. We can, instead, focus on those existing roads, get those potholes filled and leveled out a little bit. I’d eventually like to phase out that street maintenance fee,” Regan added.

Grade the current city council A through F in the area of transparency and give examples.

Alvidrez- F; “I’ve been able to get $20-25 million back to the taxpayer and not have sat on one board… We don’t need individuals who are ignorant, we don’t need individuals who are bought out.”

Sargent- C; “When you can’t get direct answers on how much tax dollars are spent for all projects, then there’s an issue.”

Fleming- C; “There’s work to be done… Our city council are regular Abilene citizens… There’s no way for us to know every single thing– it takes time.”

Regan- B; “They are good whenever you reach out… I think a lot of people, one, don’t have any time, or don’t know that’s an option… City Council needs to do a better job of explaining [budgets and timelines] in simple English.”

Do you believe the Abilene City Council has a role in social issues?

Agreeing with her opponents, Alvidrez answered this question by saying the council should have a role in social issues to an extent. She said she believed in the separation of church and state, and insisted that there are lies from the city.

Sargent agreed to a degree, “It shouldn’t be so challenging for them (residents) to get a response and some communication from our councilmembers.”

Fleming said the council absolutley has a role with social issues. She gave an account of going through social media then city council in 2020 with her issues with Sears Park. She said she felt her voice was heard and the park was renovated.

Regan, like his opponents, agreed to a degree, as well. “We want to elect people who have our shared beliefs, our traditions, our values… It’s important to elect councilmembers that are honest and act the same way in public as they do in private.”

Candidates for Abilene City Council Place 3 did not have time to spare to answer any ‘rapid fire questions.’

For closing statements, Regan got to begin. He said in representing a lot of businesses and startups, he’s aware of the issues in the city. He said he’d like to retain graduates of local schools and lean on young people to grow Abilene.

Fleming followed by saying her biggest focus is battling balance. She said she acknowledges a growing need for competitive pay, as well, and want to make the city more available and balanced.

Sargent said he understands the woes of being a small busines owner, and as easy as it is to talk about needing change, it’s more difficult to be the change. He also touched on the need to take care of local retirees.

In Alvidrez’s closing statement, she said she was the only person in the fourm who could say she’s fighting for you, and she wasn’t running for council to benefit herself. If elected, she said she’d like city council to freeze property taxes and lower taxes altogether.

You will be able to vote which candidate you’d like to represent places 3 and 4 on Abilene City Council Saturday, May 6.