With the election mere weeks away, the three candidates vying for the position of Mayor of South Padre Island converged at the SPI Convention Center Monday evening for a last public candidate forum.

Facing a capacity crowd as well as the moderator and timer for the event, the three candidates – Darla Jones, Patrick McNulty, and Clayton Brashear – were kept to a tightly scripted format. The questions utilized for the forum were submitted by the public and covered a variety of topics. The candidates were afforded opening and closing statements, and responded to the questions in a rotating order to allow for fairness in not having to always answer first.

Brashear gave the first opening statement. He spoke about bridging the gap between retirees and business owners, and strongly emphasized tolerance, saying, “We have to stop this bad stuff on Facebook. We have to project to the world, to the Valley, to the State, that we are a community that you want to come visit.”

Jones took a different tone in her opening remarks. Focusing on her background and knowledge from her previous years of service, she said, “There is no learning curve with me, from day one I’m ready to hit the ground running. I don’t need to learn the budget, the personnel, the projects, the plans, the issues, because I lived them for nine years as assistant city manager.”

McNulty stated he’s not running on a personal agenda, but rather a public one. “My goal is to make SPI the best it can be for our residents and guests.”

The candidates were each given opportunities to respond to nine questions over the course of the forum.
The topics included renovating the Convention Center, reef development, and spring break; the search for a new city manager and the possibility of SPI becoming a cruise ship port of call; their individual qualifications for mayor and embracing the current comprehensive city plan. Lastly, how to improve public access to the bay and the possibility of instigating paid beach parking.

While the three candidates agreed on certain issues, such as reef development, their opinions varied in other critical areas.

Regarding the search for a new city manager, Brashear said, “The first thing we should do is look for somebody in our area.” He later remarked, “I don’t need somebody coming from New York City to be manager of this town, guys, I don’t; we can hire them right here on this Island.”

Jones zeroed in on the need for a solid résumé in choosing a city manager, saying, “I believe our next city manager needs to have a background in city management, first of all. They need years of experience; I’d say at least 20 years of experience.”

McNulty seemed to be on the same page as Brashear, stating, “One of the big problems is, is that we do not have a large number of people who work for SPI in the upper staff levels and city manager level that are from the Valley. We need to start the process of looking locally.”

In the closing remarks, the candidates had a final opportunity to voice their differing opinions on the future of the City of South Padre Island.

Jones spoke first, saying, “I spent almost three decades working for cities. I got up before city councils in different cities where I worked and presented different issues, projects, and updates, and really didn’t give an opinion. They could assign me a project to do that I didn’t agree with, but I did it. I presented the facts to the city councils and I withheld my opinion. It is time for me to be able to give my opinion.” As a final comment, Jones added, “I am beholden to no one, I have no conflicts of interest, I have no business on this Island.”

Brashear emphasized infrastructure, quality of life, and tourism, saying, “Can you imagine palm trees up and down Laguna and Padre Boulevard, where beach accesses have palm trees? ‘Wow, this place looks cool.’ We live in this beautiful place; shake hands with your neighbor once in a while. The Island is a wonderful place. We need to beautify it, we need to fix the streets, build some bay access, and keep our beaches up. We have the best beach in Texas, let’s promote it like that.”

McNulty stressed the need for decisive leadership, saying, “I just want this Island to be the best that it can be, and we need to start moving forward. I agree that we need better landscaping, but we need health care, too. We need to maintain our beaches, we need better access, we need to make sure that we’re taking care of our beachgoers with restroom facilities. But what we really need to do is focus in on our shoulder season. We’ve got to get back on track, and we have to have a plan to get there. Lots of other places have moved a lot forward a lot faster. We need to focus like a laser and make sure that we’re doing everything the best that we can do and not just waiting around and taking our time.” He concluded his comments by stating, “If we, as a city, work forward and work consistently on projects, we should be able to get them done.”

Voicing the sentiments of many local residents present at the forum, Joni Montover, owner of Paragraph Books on South Padre Island, said she still wasn’t sure who she’s going to vote for, even after hearing all the candidates speak and state their positions. When asked what she felt the most important factor was in choosing a mayoral candidate, Montover said, “Big picture and being able to move us forward. They’re all very qualified, they all have different skill sets. I don’t know, I’m just going to have to think about it.”

Election Day is slated to be held on May 4 with early voting taking place from April 22 – 30.

Pamele Cody