Stafford voters, who are charged with selecting leaders for their city council and school board, recently had their first chance to hear from the group of candidates that will be on the ballot later this month.

Stafford MSD trustee Manuel Hinojosa, an unopposed incumbent in Position 2, and Stafford City Council member Virginia Rosas moderated a candidate forum held last Thursday.

Position 1 on the SMSD Board of Trustees also will be on the May 1 ballot, with early voting scheduled for April 19-27. The candidates vying for that spot, vacated by new city council member Xavier Herrera, are Dawn Reichling, Edward E. Rector, Clint Mendonca, Darren Keith Blakemore, Suzette Thompson and MaryAnn Smith. Blakemore did not participate in the forum. 

Positions 1 and 2 on the Stafford City Council also are up for election, although Position 2 incumbent Wen Guerra is unopposed. Thomas John is challenging incumbent city council member Alice Chen, the city’s mayor pro tempore, for her Position 1 seat. 

Both Chen and John said Stafford needs to continue to attract new businesses to the city. 

“Our job is to find money to operate the city,” Chen said. “We need to have a partnership with the Stafford Economic Development Corporation (SEDC), with local business owners, with the (Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce), the city, state and federal partners.” 

When asked if building new homes and commercial space was more important than better utilizing existing space, Chen said both were critical to making the city an attractive business partner. She also said maintaining the city’s zero property tax and a strong fiscal policy were among her top priorities.  

John said the city’s debt is one of his main concerns, and that bringing new startup companies to Stafford and modernizing its business community would help alleviate that debt. 

“We have to change our system,” John said. “A lot of companies are moving to Texas. If we work hard together, we can bring more modern businesses to Houston, to Stafford. We have enough space.”

The school board candidates were asked to define their most important responsibility for a school board member. Thompson and Rector emphasized improving communication with parents. 

“As trustees, we should be transparent with the parents,” Rector said. “Also, trustees should be involved in the community and going out in different neighborhoods of Stafford to see what they need and what can be done better inside the schools.” 

Thompson, who said she had been in Stafford for 10 years and has two children in the SMSD system, said she has been involved with community service in the city.

“My mission is to make sure all students at Stafford have academic achievement,” Thompson said. “To me, the most important responsibility of the school board is communication.”

Smith did not attend the forum but submitted a written statement that was read by Rosas.

“I am not a newcomer,” Smith said. “I have consistently showed interest and concern for our city but also what’s best for our students.”

Reichling said her goal was to earn the trust of SMSD parents. 

“They need to be able to reach out to us,” she said. “We need to be a presence in the community that they see and that they know that they can trust. That’s what I want to be, someone they know they can trust, whether they have a problem, a concern, a question, or even an idea of something that can be done in a school.” 

Mendonca said the school board needs to set a vision for the district for the superintendent, administrators, and teachers to implement and goals for them to achieve. 

“Trustees are not involved in the day-to-day operations of the school district,” Mendonca said. “We help with the overall plan, like the board of directors of a corporation. Whether it’s something major or it’s something that affects one campus, we’re the ones who set the tone for the district.”

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