The eight candidates in contested races for seats on the Searcy City Council participated in a forum last week where they were asked several questions about their candidacy.
Roby Brock, editor-in-chief and host of “Talk Business and Politics,” served as the moderator Wednesday of the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce’s “In the Know” virtual series installment. The candidates had two minutes to answer each question, but for this series of articles on each question, the candidates have been given the opportunity to add to their responses.
The four contested Searcy council races in the Nov. 3 general election are Ward 1, Position 1: incumbent Logan Cothern vs. challenger Kenneth Olree; Ward 1, Position 2: challenger Karen Marshall vs. challenger David Morris; Ward 2, Position 1: incumbent Chris Howell vs. challenger Davis Threlkeld; and Ward 3, Position 1: challenger Tommy Centola vs. challenger Tonia Hale.
The first question Brock asked was “Why are you running for this office and what do you hope to accomplish as a member of the City Council?”
Ward 1, Pos. 1
Logan Cothern: “I graduated from Bald Knob High School and Hendrix College. I fulfilled my military service with six years in the Army National Guard. My wife and I moved to Searcy in 1959 and we’ve been here ever since, and on October the 5th, my wife and I will celebrate our 62nd wedding anniversary, and we have three adult children and we are active in First United Methodist Church. I owned and operated Cothern’s Men Store for 48 years in Searcy.
“My father instilled in me the importance of giving back to the community where you live. I served in the Searcy Lions Club for 40-plus years; I am a past president. I am a member of the Searcy Chamber of Commerce and a past president. I have been a member for 10 years of the Searcy Public School Board. Presently, I’m serving on the White County Public Library Board and I am finishing my 10 years as a Searcy city councilman.
“That’s what I am running on is my record for this last 10 years as a councilman for the city of Searcy. I stand on my record, my voting record and the progress that has been made throughout the city of Searcy and the accomplishments that have been made in Searcy, and that’s what I stand for. I stand for progress for the city of Searcy. To me, the No. 1 thing that we accomplished in this past 10 years is we passed the one-cent, eight-year tax plan. That has been fantastic for the city of Searcy and going forward we are getting close to the end of that time in 2021. I feel that it’s a must that we pass this or renew this thing.”
Kenneth Olree: “I am a Searcy native; I was born right here in Searcy in what is now Unity Health. It was White County Memorial Hospital back in the day and I grew up here in Searcy. I remember playing baseball, Little League at Berryhill Park so I have been here a long time.
“However, when I got interested in my career plans, I realized that I would have to go out of Searcy. I was interested in engineering, especially biomedical engineering and at that time, Harding did not have an engineering program, so I left to go to school out of state. I got a degree in electrical engineering and then went on to get a master’s in biomedical engineering at the University of Virginia. I worked then at St. Louis Children’s Hospital doing research, and working as a biomedical engineer, primarily looking at children with cerebral palsy. I then decided to get a Ph.D. in bioengineering from the University of Utah.
“When I finished that time, I looked around and I had young children. I had a daughter in kindergarten and another one that was preschool and another one that was that was 1-year-old. I said, ‘Where do I want to raise my family?’ And I thought, ‘There’s no place like home.’ Searcy is home so I wanted to come home and raise my family here, so we moved back to Searcy in 2004 and I started teaching at Harding. Harding had started an engineering program then and even during that time, I had worked with students to try to bring them to knowledge of some entrepreneurship.
“Generally, what I want to support is a good business environment and I would be happy to talk about that a little bit more in a minute. I would add that I am focused on Searcy for the long term. I want to 1. preserve and improve the good moral environment we have now so that my children (and someday grandchildren) would want to live here; 2. improve the small business environment so that we grow from within and so that my children can prosper and afford to live here; and 3.) improve our policing capabilities and resources so that my children (and someday their children) can be safe here.”
Ward 1, Pos. 2
Karen Marshall: “I have been a citizen of Searcy for almost 30 years. I am a business owner. I have the privilege of working with over 270 children every day thus I am a big supporter of the sports program and the opportunities that they provide.
“As a business owner, I prepare budgets, I create plans, I write grants. I believe that government should be run like a business, that to get the most for our tax dollars that we need to have city workers work together with community members to put forth a multifaceted improvement plan – not just something that patchworks to other problems or puts a Bandaid on problems – that truly makes improvements.
“For example, if we are making renovations for our sports programs and community center, I believe that they need to be state of the art so we can bring in state and regional tournaments to our city so people from the outside can come here, play here, eat here and stay here to increase our business revenue, which in turn increases our tax base. With many increments and endeavors, I believe that we need to make our money work for us.
“Someone most recently asked me, ‘Why would anyone drive through Jacksonville and Cabot to come to Searcy to play in a tournament?’ because in my vision, it’s not just about the sports complex but within eyesight of the sports complex there’d be a wonderful, fabulous water park curbside. If we can get that, it’s something other communities don’t have; they would ask for Searcy by name.
“One thing we didn’t get to fully discuss is making the eight-year, 1-cent tax (that sunsets in two years) permanent. I do believe that the tax should be extended to cover the cost of the police and fire retirement fund (which is mandated by the state), and to ensure that the city employees maintain their current salary (which is partially funded through the eight-year tax).
“Without the one-cent tax, major improvements to the community could not otherwise be possible. But, I believe that the City Council should pass an ordinance that requires city leaders, Department heads and community members to come together every six years to review the needs of the city and proposals for how to proceed with tax revenues. All plans brought before the community to ask for tax dollars should specify the purpose of the project, the benefits, the cost and plans for the citizens and city leaders to have input on how and when to implement the projects. I believe the citizens should have the right to choose how their tax dollars are spent. If city leaders are asking us to trust them and vote to make the one-cent tax permanent, then I think passing an ordinance that gives the citizens a voice on how their tax dollars are spent is a ‘small ask.’”
David Morris: “I want to encourage everyone to get out and vote. It is most important that you vote. Another thing that is very important right now is our census count. A lot of people do not realize how important this distribution of various funds at the federal and state level to our cities and counties [is].
“Most of you all know me; I just previously served eight years as your mayor here in the city of Searcy, serving from 2011 to 2018 at which time I decided and chose to retire. Everyone is asking me, ‘Why do you want to come out of retirement to serve as your city council member for Ward 1?’ First of all, Ward 1 is a very diverse ward; it goes from the east end of Searcy all the way to the west end of Searcy, across the northern tier of our town, basically East Race Street and north. I feel like my 42 years of experience in local government qualifies me very much for this position.
“I served as your mayor, I stand on my record during the time I did serve as mayor. We brought about many improvements to our city in those eight years, period of time, and I want to thank the voters, the citizens of Searcy for supporting the various issues and initiatives that were proposed by me and the City Council, the city administration during the time I served as mayor. We initiated the eight-year plan and all the brick and mortar facilities that were in it. I simply want to say thank you.
“I would like to stress that I am wanting to put my understanding of the city’s budget and finance process and the day-to-day operations of the city’s various departments and services back to work as a member of the City Council and to represent the people of Ward 1 and continue to help move Searcy forward. I run for this position upon my accomplishments and my 44-year career in local government and my record as serving eight years as the immediate past mayor of Searcy. I feel that I have a solid and proven record of professional leadership and I stand upon that record and I am ready and prepared on day one to represent the fine folks of that ward.
“Now, during these difficult times, experience really does count. Every since serving as your White County judge years ago, I have maintained the belief that serving in an elected position is a public trust, with ultimate transparency and based upon sound business principles.”
Ward 2, Pos. 1
Chris Howell: “I am a Harding graduate and I played football in the mid-’90s. I moved to Fayetteville to the University of Arkansas School of Law. I graduated and started to work at Walmart/Sam’s Club in the real estate department. I currently work at B&B Oil Co. I am a past board member of the Searcy Chamber of Commerce. I currently serve on the ADEQ Petroleum Trust Fund Advisory Committee; I was appointed there by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. I am a past chairman and president of the Arkansas Oil Marketers Association.
“I am the current chair of the Searcy A&P Commission and am currently serving as the Ward 2, Position 1 Searcy City Council representative and would appreciate everyone’s vote to have another turn. My wife, Blakely, is a fifth-grade teacher at Southwest Middle School and I’ve got two sons, Bax and Payne, and they both attend Southwest Middle School.
“One thing I’m proud of over this past term is what the A&P Commission has been able to do. We recently unanimously passed or voted to send a bond issue to the City Council that was unanimously approved to send to the voters of Searcy to approve bonds to do improvements on the sports complex here in Searcy. The sports complex is going to be a big deal for Searcy. It’s exciting. We need everyone to go and vote for it Feb. 9, 2021. There has been a lot of work put into it and there will be lot more come out of that.”
Davis Threlkeld: “I am a Searcy grad and I did grow up here in Searcy and I’m looking to give back to my community. I am an unconventional candidate, my age  is something that does stick out. I’m running an unconventional campaign.
“I am getting out and making sure that all voters are heard because I truly believe that contact, and when local leaders are in contact with the people that they represent, better decisions are made, so I’m looking to make decisions and have my vote represent decisions that move Searcy forward but also represent all the concerns of Ward 2. I am excited to answer these questions and very excited and very enthusiastic to be here. Thanks you very much.
“I’m an unconventional candidate, but I’m running an unconventional campaign for Searcy, getting out and making sure all of Ward 2’s concerns are heard. Citizens have said, overwhelmingly, that we need to focus on improving the current facilities or we risk losing what makes our community unique. The renewal of the eight-year sales tax needs to include a sunset clause, an end date. If not, we lose the ability for citizens to evaluate how the money was spent by the council. This still allows for growth.”
Ward 3, Pos. 1
Tommy Centola: “My wife, Peggy, and I moved to Searcy 15 years ago following Hurricane Katrina.
Originally from New Orleans, we were staying at a friend’s house outside of Searcy following Hurricane Katrina. After learning all that Searcy has to offer, we decided to make it our home. We chose Searcy because we love the small town feel.
“I love to share my knowledge of cooking by writing a food column for The Daily Citizen; it’s one of my ways of giving back to the community. I have attended every agenda and City Council meeting for the last three years to stay informed about our community. My involvement with the council started when a proposed development was suggested for my neighborhood. I passed a petition against the project around the surrounding neighborhoods and presented the petition and our concerns to the City Council. Upon the creation of the A&P Commission, I contacted the mayor and City Council with my interest in being considered. In July 2019, with unanimous approval from the City Council, I was appointed as a commissioner, which I am very proud of.
“As Mr. Howell mentioned earlier, we have a bond issue coming before the citizens for the sports complex and it’s going to be a great addition to the city. We also upgraded equipment for the football and baseball programs and contributed money for the expansion of Riverside Park. Some of the things I’d like to see for the city is a new community center, a new location for the library, in addition to the swim center and possibly a food truck festival, but we also need to work on existing issues, more jobs, better drainage, better roads – all of those are going to make Searcy a better city.
“I feel it’s time for a new voice and a new set of eyes, and that’s me. Sometimes it’s better to have somebody that hasn’t grown up inside Searcy just to have a fresh look on things. I will have a dedicated phone line for the citizens and I plan on meetings for the citizens of Ward 3 to discuss their concerns. I have developed a working relationship with the City Council and city department heads. Together, we can make Searcy a better city for everyone.”
Tonia Hale: “I have lived in White County my entire life and in Searcy for over 20 years. I have worked in EMS in the city of Searcy for over 25 years and I’m currently the director of operations at NorthStar EMS. Being in public service has given me the opportunity to attend numerous council meetings over the past 10 years and build relationships with our local leaders.
“I am married to Norman Hale, who is a retired major with the White County Sheriff’s Department with over 32 years of service to our county. We have two children who both graduated from Searcy High School, Jacob, who is a graduate of ASU and is now a paramedic supervisor at NorthStar, and Paige, who is a Harding University graduate with a masters in teaching and currently teaches English at Newport High School. Our family is members of the College Church of Christ.
“I believe there may be challenges as the city grows but we need to focus and be responsive to those needs. We need to work on job development, encourage local shopping, supporting our small businesses. We also need to be transparent and open to new ideas. We also need to support our children and provide them with such things as nice sports complexes, community centers and libraries to help our children stay here and not travel to other cities to obtain these things. I ask for your support and I feel that together, we can make a difference.”