Stiles leads meeting for community leaders

The Italy City Council, the School Board of Trustees, Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and Italy Fire District held a joint meeting Monday evening, Oct. 6. Mark Stiles, president of the EDC, said all the entities in the community needed to work together to better the community. He said the city and school were lucky to have those on the council and school board. “You are doing a job nobody else wanted,” he pointed out.

He told those involved with the entities that they are on these boards to make decisions for this town, not to listen to one or two people complain about something that nobody else cares about. He told the community leaders to put their foot down and move forward.

“People need to understand,” he said, “This is not a job of power. These people have jobs to do and budgets to balance.”

He continued, “I’m here to see this town grow in the proper direction.” He said the entities needed to check into grants, get assistance from the TEA, various State departments and find money to hire grant writers.

He reported a $70,000 fine the city received for non-attainment. The State dropped the fine, according to Mayor Frank Jackson, after the city made a few phone calls to State leaders.

Stiles, vice president of Trinity Industries, said he and his wife, Clover, want to be involved in the community in which they live. Shortly after moving to Italy, he visited the school and discovered a need for calculators for the eighth grade. He purchased the calculators. He has purchased up to 500 tickets to fill up the dome at school sporting events. The purpose of this, he said, was to develop pride in what was going on at the school.

“People need to support the school,” he added. “There is no reason all the students should not be exemplary (on TAKS testing). We have got to have a good education system.”

“If kids at the school need clothes, let’s step up and take care of it,” he continued.

“We need to take care of our kids.” Stiles added that every senior in high school should get to college should they so desire. In addition, he said they should begin encouraging those who are not seniors to prepare for college.

He told the school board that he voted for the school tax rate. He told them they needed to find a way to build new schools. He asked the school board why they have not built a new junior high school. He pointed out that few schools along the I-35E corridor dropped from a 2A to 1A school district.

He then questioned why community leaders have not been able to get along. He said Italy is off I-35E, one of the busiest interstates in the United States of America.

He questioned why the City of Italy does not contact the State Highway Department when Main Street (SH 34) needs attention.

He questioned why South Ellis County Water was not at this meeting. He noted that water and sewer infrastructure is vital. He told the city they cannot keep fighting with SECW.

He questioned why the city was charging people to place information on the sign at the end of Main Street. His wife was told the cost to use that sign was $50. The mayor said he brought the sign usage back to city hall and said there is not a charge to have information placed on the sign now.

He questioned why the Italy Chamber of Commerce was trying to be secretive. He said the city or school does not run the chamber of commerce and if someone wants to be a member, all they had to do is pay their dues. “Nobody owns the chamber of commerce.” If members cannot account for money and want to keep things secret, he said they should be run off and a new chamber started.

“You cannot have a chamber and there be secrets about it,” he added. “Everybody in town ought to be able to join the chamber.”

He said the fire department is upset with him and the EDC by telling them it was against the law to build a fire station with EDC funds. Stiles said the fire department worked diligently in 1996 to get the EDC funded. At that time, those funds could be used for a fire department. The laws have changed since that time, he added. “We are going to do what the law says we can do.”

He said the citizens should appreciate the fire department for the sacrifices they make.

Stiles said it was refreshing to walk into city hall and find the mayor in the front office.

Stiles said they needed to bring businesses to town. He noted the abandoned Jamieson property on US 77. He said he planned to contact the owner and see if they would donate that building and property to the city for a small business.

He said one obstacle is communication. He said they needed to have another meeting and get the publisher of the Waxahachie Daily Light there to explain why the Italy New Herald has only one page of Italy news.

He said pastors should be invited to these types of meetings in order to share information with their congregations.

He said the community has a drug problem and these entities need to realize that fact. All it takes, he said, is a phone call to the Texas Rangers. “We need to clean up this town,” he added.

For economic development, Stiles said the people of Italy need to start shopping locally. Stiles said citizens should to use the banks here, rent movies from the local movie store, buy groceries from the local grocery store, buy tires and lumber from local vendors.

He told the council and board trustees that the jobs they are doing can be fun. It is not fun, however, when you have to listen to the perpetual gripers. He said the organizations needed to tell people that they could not do this or that and explain why.

A former State Representative prior to moving to Italy, Stiles said he does not like partisanship. He said he had been friends with four previous Governors of the State of Texas. He claims a close relationship with President George Bush and said he would be at his ranch after leaving the White House.

Prior to adjournment Rodney Guthrie, council member, said he did want to see the community grow. He said that he grew up in Italy and stayed here after high school to raise his family.

Greg Richards, council member, said he has been on the board for 14 years. He said he wants to do what is best for the citizens. “I love Italy,” he said. “I appreciate Mark and Clover and what they are doing.”

Dennis Perkins Jr., council member, thanked all for attending the meeting and Stiles for all that he has done. “If Italy is going to grow, it will take all of us working together.”

Mark Souder Sr., council member, said he started on the council trying to make everyone happy but said he realized that was not going to happen. “Whatever issues the school and city may have had in the past,” he said, “it’s time we all come together.”

John Droll, newly appointed council member, said the city and school did work jointly when building the baseball fields at Upchurch Park. He said a good number of volunteers worked together to construct that field.

Cindy Carter, school board trustee, thanked Stiles for his comments and getting the school board fired up.

Larry Eubanks, school board president, said, “Every entity will have problems. We feel we are moving in the right direction.” He continued, “We need to pull together to grow together.”

Curtis Riddle, school board trustee, said, members need to do things in a positive manner. He urged them not to allow the negativity to get them down.

Jimmie Malone, superintendent, also thanked Stiles for his challenging remarks. He said Italy is the perfect size. He appreciates knowing the teachers, the students and their parents.

Elmerine Bell, newly appointed member to the EDC, said she was speaking from the African-American perspective. “Many African-Americans don’t feel welcome to chambers meetings or council meetings.” She referred to a separate white and black city council in the 1950s. “I am happy to be on the board,” she said, “but there are a lot of able African-Americans with good ideas that can be involved.”

She said the city should make sure zoning was in place before sitting down and working out a plan to grow the community.

Ann Byers, newly appointed member to the EDC, said there were many competent African-Americans in the community. She said it is a shame there are not more African-Americans involved but said she understood why they might feel left out. “We need to get them more involved.”

Diego Garcia, EDC member, said the leaders at this meeting should begin by supporting local businesses. If they overhear conversations that are not accurate, they need to step up and stop it right there.

The group planned a second joint meeting for January 2009.

The school board held a brief executive session before the meeting began and released Angie Coker from her contract. The request came from Mrs. Coker.