"I’m a family man and Christian who has worked and provided donuts for the children’s department at First Baptist Church for 29 years," Robert Briley said. "I’ve served as a deacon and have served the Lord’s Supper to nursing homes and retirement centers. I’ve coached Little League baseball and basketball. I love Abilene and I’ve served on the city council for six years and have been involved with over 100 non-profits serving those in need."
"I want the voter to know that I’m a hard-worker, I’m blatantly honest, I’m fiscally conservative," Richard Kennedy said. "I do think outside the box and I know how to get the most done with the least amount of money."
"Well I’m the average Abilenian, hard-working guy," Anthony Williams said. "I own a small business here in Abilene, I also work for Abilene Christian University. Like many Abilenians I have a mortgage, I have a family and face the same issues that most of us face here in Abilene. I think that I bring a unique element to the council, providing an opportunity from that perspective to provide guidance and insight to city staffers and allow those things most important to the average Abilenian, those things to be addressed and taken care of in our community."
If elected, what are your top priorities for the first year?
"My three top priorities are infrastructure, the streets and alleys, neighborhood revitalization and accessibility and responsiveness of this government to its people," Richard Kennedy said.
"Well we have several top priorities you know," Anthony Williams said. "First and foremost a comprehensive plan to address our streets has to be taken care of. We also want to continue conversations about water security in our community. Dyess Air Force Base is very very key and important, representing well over 400 million dollars a year to this economy. The first B21’s will make their appearance in 2025. The B1 is sun setting in 2040. We want to be sure we secure Dyess Air Force Base. And then most importantly we want to grow our economy. There is a certain amount of dignity that a person has in a good paying job and we want to grow our economy and have that conversation. And then address quality of life issues. I made a big deal about arts and culture and about how those things are important and I want Abilene to be able to experience those things here in our community without going elsewhere."
"My top priorities is jobs, jobs, jobs," Robert Briley said. "Since 1989 the Development Corporation of Abilene, the DCOA, has invested your tax dollars in job creation by focusing on the retention and recruitment of new businesses in manufacturing, industrial and research. By investing in those businesses they have created 10,424 jobs in 28 years. AbiMar, the cookie and cracker manufacturer, has grown from 92 jobs to over 600 jobs over the last 24 years. We need to keep investing in new jobs. My other priorities during the first year would be street repairs, neighborhoods and a downtown hotel."
The city is seeking a partner to finance a downtown convention center hotel. What do you think of that plan? Do you think it is wise for the city to invest millions into that initiative?
"I think having a downtown hotel would be great for Abilene and I would love for that to come to be," Anthony Williams said. "There are a couple of different bills, one is a House bill, one is a Senate bill, seeking to provide an opportunity to use a HOT tax to subsidize part of that. And so your question is two part, I definitely would love to see a downtown hotel, however, I don’t feel comfortable using general fund money- money that could be used for the streets and other needed projects to be diverted to a downtown hotel. However, if the opportunity to use HOT taxes, which is a Hotel Occupancy Tax, just for that said hotel to be used, I think that was a good opportunity to use if that was come to be but I would not be in favor of using general fund money to subsidize a downtown hotel.
"No I don’t think it’s wise for the city to get into the private sector business," Richard Kennedy said. "I think it’s a bad investment. It’s OK if we provide the land and give some tax abatement to encourage private sector to do it but I think it’s something that we have no business getting involved in."
"We have not received any financial or business plans," Robert Briley said. "We have seen renderings just like you did in the Abilene Reporter-News. I have had experience with my state and national association with site selection criteria for having a convention in a city. Seldom did we consider a city that did not have a downtown hotel adjacent to the convention center. It is really a great opportunity to anchor our downtown. Once we do receive the financials and business plans we can decide if it is a good investment for the citizens of Abilene. An example of this, the DCOA invested 9.5 million dollars in Prairie Dog Pet Products for 215 jobs. The DCOA would invest 10 million dollars in the downtown hotel for 200 jobs. What is the difference in the two comparisons? Nothing. Both create jobs with about the same amount of investment."
Tell me your vision for the city of Abilene. What does it look like four years from now?
"Well first of all, I think that we have a lot of opportunities in Abilene, Robert Briley said. "I see a downtown hotel connecting all the way from the south downtown over to Ambler Street, which would be great. I see the universities continuing to grow and ACU getting the football stadium and having a national championship. I see Hardin-Simmons growing, TSTC, McMurry, Cisco College. I see that we also have the new B-21 Raider Aircraft at Dyess Air Force Base, the new bomber. I think that there’s going to be a lot of opportunities in Abilene and I’m really really excited for that."
"Number one we’ve got a very good start on revitalizing our streets," Richard Kennedy said. "We’ve made some great progress into some of our depleted neighborhoods of restoration and revitalization. We’ll have a resurgence and continued growth on the north side of Abilene along the I-20 corridor to pull people into our city."
"Abilene is a great community, it has been for a number of years and what I’ve called for not just during this election cycle but since I’ve been on the council, we need to have more diversity," Anthony Williams said. "And when I say diversity, let me be clear, that goes beyond ethnic and gender. When I say diversity I mean diversity of thought, we need more people to contribute that are diverse in thought to be part of city government. For too long in Abilene, we’ve had these small tables, when you have a small table, you only have a limited number of chairs. The key decisions are being made at those tables. I want to expand the table. I want to increase the number of seats and allow more diversity of thought to take place and allow everyone to contribute to Abilene. It doesn’t mean when you raise your hand that your idea is one that is adopted but you know what, you should at least be able to raise your hand and participate in the process."
Do you think the Abilene City Council should switch to a single-member district system?
"Well we’ve looked at this pretty hard and there’s really no good reason to do that now," Richard Kennedy said. "We looked at whether or not it would help us diversify the council and all and with the numbers that we have we don’t’ think there would be any advantage to going ahead and going to single-member districts."
"I’ve always said in regards to single-member districts that that would not solve the problem of representation," Anthony Williams said. "So in the past I’ve not been a proponent of single-member districts and I’ve said so, however, you know, I’ve knocked on over 700 doors in the last eight weeks and I do think we need to create in a very overt way, a commitment to be sure we do have some diversity. So in the past I’ve not been a proponent of single-member districts but I do think we ought to look towards maybe using it as a tool to help us provide the diversity that Abilene needs so desperately."
"Either of the two would work," Robert Briley said. "The single-member district would be like the Taylor County Commissioner Precincts. There is a positive for a member from that geographic area being elected. The negative would be that you could not vote for the other five council members in the other precincts. The at-large representation of the city of Abilene has three on the north side with 40 percent of the population, and three on the south side with 60 percent of the population. Most of the people who I’ve talked to want to keep it the same as it is now-three on the north side, three on the south side, I would support either of the two options."
Can you tell me something positive about each of the other candidates?
"I think all three of us care about Abilene," Anthony Williams said. "Richard Kennedy is a good man, Robert Briley is a good man, this race is not who is the better person, it really is who has a vision for Abilene. I think you have views that some may want us to regress. Some may want us to have the status quo, I want us to reach forward and be better and be different. I have a vision for Abilene that is far different than those who I am running against because I think that their perspectives just are different and don’t align with what I have been hearing in regards to my numerous conversations I’ve had over several weeks and really several years about not just what Abilene is but more importantly what can Abilene become."
"Richard Kennedy is kind and he has made some very good points," Robert Briley said. "Anthony has served on the city council for 15 years. Both Richard and Anthony have a nice family."
"Great question. Mr. Briley is a super nice man who is very successful and has just a splendid family," Richard Kennedy said. "Mr. Williams is enthusiastic for the job. He’s been a faithful servant to the city and like myself, he definitely married up in life."
Why do you want to serve as the mayor of Abilene?
"Because I want the best for our city and I think we need a definitive change at this point in the direction of the city government," Richard Kennedy said. "I believe that I can build a team that can lead us out of the mess that we’re in right now."
"I’ve been serving this community all of my adult life," Anthony Williams said. "As many of you know my father was murdered here in Abilene and at that time a local church, the Highland Church reached out to me, my mother, my sisters and made a big difference. I can articulate it, several years ago, in my youth. But I always had a compelling reason to always want to give back and so I’ve been volunteering the last 25 years. Part of me being mayor, I want to continue that service, I want to continue that service and serve Abilene. I think that if service is beneath you then leadership is above you. I’ve been serving for 25 years and I want to continue to serve and be a part of an opportunity that will allow Abilene to be as good as Abilene can be."
"I want to make a difference in my community by volunteering to serve as mayor for a dollar a year," Robert Briley said. "I grew up in Abilene and I have a good feel as to the needs for the north side and the south side. I am inspired by all Abilenians and want to represent all of the different views of our city. I want to diversify those serving on boards and commissions by including more women and minorities. I’m the best candidate for growing the Abilene economy and job creation. My business experience far exceeds the other candidates."