MANSFIELD – If there was one takeaway from the Mansfield Mayoral Debate at the Renaissance Theatre, it's that one way or another, the city of Mansfield will be moving forward.
The question voters will answer on Nov. 5 is which candidate's vision they trust to lead the city into a future that included promises of workforce development, safer neighborhoods, and better snow plowing this winter.
Incumbent Republican Mayor Tim Theaker and Democratic challenger Don Bryant, an at-large member of Mansfield City Council, stood in front of nearly 500 attendees at the Renaissance Theatre on Thursday and answered questions inspired by participation in our Open Source platform and six Talk The Vote sessions throughout the city.
Posing each question was a four-member panel that included retired Mansfield News Journal publisher and editor Tom Brennan, former WMFD-TV news anchor Brigitte Coles, Richland Source managing editor Larry Phillips, and Richland Source city editor Carl Hunnell.
The Mayoral Debate was presented by Richland Source, the Renaissance Theatre, iHeart Media in Mansfield, DRM Productions, the North End Community Improvement Collaborative, the Richland Area Chamber and Economic Development, and Richland Young Professionals.
What started as a relatively amicable discussion quickly escalated into Theaker and Bryant needling each other as they navigated questions on four main topics: economy and jobs, safety, Mansfield Rising, and finances and city services.
Bryant's central theme of the evening was creating a plan, whether that be to create a marketing plan for the city via a business concierge, a recycling plan, or a comprehensive recreational plan.
"We need to be able to showcase our city and showcase the assets we have here in Mansfield," Bryant said when asked about economic development. "What I propose is putting together coalitions from the academic, business and government community traveling to different cities to bring back opportunities to Mansfield."
Theaker spent the evening touting the accomplishments he's achieved in the eight years since he was first elected mayor in 2011, including bringing the city out of fiscal emergency and pressuring the owners of the Miracle Mile property to make improvements. He cautioned that big plans require big budgets.
"We have worked with the Mansfield Rising group, and we are going to help that as much as we can, but you have to have budget constraints," Theaker said. "I would love to have more police, fire, street workers, but at the end of the day you have to abide by the budget.
"I can't promise, and I won't promise, that (the city) is going to hire more people when we can't do it without budget constraints."
Two of the most contentious topics in Mansfield City Council this year - snow plowing and skate parks - also resulted in the most combative answers. When Bryant voiced his support for a skate park in Mansfield, Theaker pointed out that Bryant chose not to participate in the vote during that particular council meeting.
"We want to get a master plan for the parks, and for my opponent to say he is in favor of it, when the skate park (legislation) was there he left council that night," Theaker said.
When it came to snow plowing, Bryant promised that as mayor, "every street and every corner of our city is plowed at wintertime."
Meanwhile, Theaker implored local residents to understand salt limitations and fiscal realities.
"We do plow all the streets eventually," Theaker said, prompting a laugh from the crowd.
Bryant encouraged a stronger partnership between the city of Mansfield and the Mansfield City Schools district. He highlighted a project he led in 2008 to curb behavior and attendance issues in Mansfield schools that included a team of 70 volunteers building relationships in the schools.
"Currently the only partnership with schools and the city is the police department. We can do better than that by investing in our young people," Bryant said. "We will work with school leaders, teachers and educators to support student success. Young people create the pipeline to jobs and careers of tomorrow."
Theaker praised Mansfield's safety services for their no-tolerance policy on drug trafficking, noting that the last invasion performed by METRICH resulted in 75 individuals arrested for involvement in drug trafficking. He also highlighted the walking police force downtown, and the DARE program for the city's youth.
"We always have a press conference (after a METRICH bust) and that's where we emphasize that if you do drugs, sell drugs, or traffic drugs in Mansfield, you will get caught," Theaker said.
Both candidates supported direct recruiting in Mansfield's minority community to increase the diversity in the police department from 5 percent, in a city where the community is 19 percent minorities. Both candidates also supported allowing uniformed police officers to provide security for local businesses.
Each candidate was asked about their position on medical marijuana; Theaker said he believed the decision lies at the state level, while Bryant stated he would support reintroducing the issue.
In 2017, Mansfield City Council approved legislation prohibiting the cultivation, processing and retail distribution of medical marijuana within city limits.
Both candidates stated they were satisfied with the progress made thus far on the Mansfield Rising project, which was endorsed by Mansfield City Council.
In their closing statements, Theaker focused on his achievements throughout his tenure as mayor while Bryant went on the attack.
"I believe in Mansfield, I am proud to live in Mansfield, I'm passionate about Mansfield," Theaker said. "I hope you also believe in me, because we need to make Mansfield a place where people want to come, work, worship, and live."
"I believe we deserve better than what we have," Bryant said. "We deserve a mayor who is focused on the entire city of Mansfield. If you are ready for a mayor who wants to push this city into the 21st century and move Mansfield forward ... who wants to give the people a seat at the table, then let's get it."