Forum introduces candidates to citizens

Published 8:18 am Monday, March 27, 2017

By Dawn Burleigh

The Orange Leader

Over 400 questions were submitted by students for the Candidate Forum held at Lamar State College Orange and the Citizens for an Improved Orange at the Student Center on Thursday night.

While time would not allow for all 400 questions, 18 of the questions submitted by the students were selected and a few from those who submitted questions at the door.

“We have an amazing group of candidates,” Moderator J David Derosier said. “Not a single one hit the buzzer.”

Each candidate had a three minute time limit for each question. Timekeeper for the event, former County Judge and now West Orange City Councilmember Carl Thibodeaux never had to use the buzzer during the event. Each candidate was presented with a different question.

Essie Bellfield, incumbent for Orange City Council District 3, was not present at the forum. “I asked to be a part of it last year, but they did not have enough people interested to hold it. I want to know more more about the prison system in Texas and to know more about our jail.”

Bellfield, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the March on Washington August 28, 1963, is also the first female and first black mayor of Orange. She has been active in government most of her life.

“I will be attending the Orange County Sheriff Citizens Sheriff Academy at the time of the forum,” Bellfield said.

Mary Ekene, candidate for Orange City Council At-Large, answered the first question of what does she believe are the most pressing concerns for the community?

“Crime numbers of our youth,” Ekene said.

Ekene, originally of Sugarland, Texas, has resided in Orange for 10 years and is the mother of two daughters.

Veronica Woodle, former police officer of Orange Police Department, is formerly of southern California. She relocated to Orange for employment as a police officer. Woodle is also a candidate for Orange City Council At-Large.

“I bring representation,” Woodle said. “People are confused and I can explain while ending confusion and controversy. As a police officer for 12 years, I enforced the rules the council makes.”

Michael Smith was asked what community incentives could be used to promote jobs for young and old as well as promoting those with lower income to be successful and get off public assistance?

“It is about quality of life,” Smith said. “We need to offer programs, seminars at no charge on how to get a job so they can learn the process. 75 percent of jobs are in private sector. We also need to offer businesses incentives to come to Orange.”

Smith is a candidate for Orange City Council District 3. He has resided in Orange for over 10 years, married and has four sons. While managing Sholars Pharmacy, he started a program providing free antibiotics to the community, according to his bio provided at the forum. In early 2016, he was appointed to the Planning and Zoning Commission for the City of Orange.

The next question was ‘Do we have enough public transportation in the area to help bring the elderly and low income families to and from places like doctor’s appointments and are we making it affordable?

Woodle answered saying it was a two part question.

“The elderly is separate from low income,” Woodle said. “Public transportation is all day and not convenient. For low income, they have to call and it is an all day situation and not affordable.”

Terrie Salter, candidate for Orange City Council District 3, was asked the next question, is there any way to get Uber or more local taxis?

“As a council it is our job to draw businesses here, even Uber,” Salter said. “We have to push education. Hopefully the changes along Interstate 10 will help bring new people and new business. The transportation available is not for the people. We have issues and have to accommodate, care about one another and meet the needs of the citizens.”

Salter is a life long resident of Orange. She is a widow, mother, caregiver, teacher and professional. She has worked in nursing for over 20 years and taught at the West Orange Cove CISD.

Larry Spears Jr., incumbent for Orange City Council At-Large, is a 1998 graduate of West Orange – Stark High School and works for DuPont as well as a Director on the Orange Economic Development Committee. He is also a member of the South East Texas regional Planning Commission and Vice Chair of the West Orange Stark Alumni Foundation. He is married and has three children.

Spears was asked how he would bring the community and law enforcement closer together.

“There are local groups with a heartbeat,” Spears said. “They need to continue. Groups such as #MakeItHappen and Brothers Beating Odds working with police one on one. There was an event at the Oaks Apartments recently and the Fire Department and Police Department participated. We need healthy interaction between the public and law enforcement with an annual event so there can be a meet and greet between citizens and law enforcement. I would also encourage a quarterly meeting with local leaders, council and pastors to discuss the community to become proactive on the issues.”

Another forum is in the planning stages by two other organizations and will be announced in the coming days.



City of Orange Single Member District 3

Essie Bellfield*

Terrie T. Salter

Michael Smith


City of Orange At Large Place 6

Larry Spears, Jr.*

Veronica Woodle

Mary Ekene