This is the second article in a series highlighting the candidates for Waco City Council in the run up to the Nov. 3 election.
By Shea Berthelot | Contributor
Andrea Barefield discussed her early involvement in politics and admitted her mother sparked an interest in holding a public office because of her experience in the field. Watching her mother run for office made it appealing to Barefield, she said.
“I have always been connected to the process of civic engagement,” Barefield said.
Barefield has been involved with her community and hopes to bring positive change by focusing on social justice and emphasizing how important she believes it is to vote. She also believes it’s important voters be educated about politics before voting.
She is passionate about creating pathways to financial access and was engaged in downtown developments and entrepreneurial spirit. In the wake of her return to Waco, Barefield said she began to question why certain things haven’t changed since her mother was involved in the community’s decision making.
“It became obvious if you wanted answers you had to go and get them yourself,” Barefield said.
She has had experience working with municipalities and was plugged into community leadership when she lived in Houston and Austin. She said because she’s seen it firsthand, she knows the steps it takes to successfully run a city. Barefield said she knows the importance of handling large budgets with her experience in major nonprofits, the importance of knowing how departments work with one another and how to manage a budget.
Barefield said there is not a specific set of skills necessary to be a good council member, however, experience is definitely important.
“Anyone can be a good council member, as long as you are dedicated to the community,” Barefield said. “It certainly helps to have experience and exposure to things that are necessary to run the city, though.”
She said it’s also important for a city council member to be able to empathize with and understand the needs of the community.
With Barefield as council member, she said Wacoans can look forward to her continual commitment to increasing financial freedom, literacy and access to capital for her constituents. Most recently, the first bank in east Waco was opened on Monday thanks to her work with local bankers. She said she worked extremely hard to encourage local bankers to accomplish this.
“[Wacoans need to] look out for tomorrow as greatly as we look out for today, and that is our children,” Barefield said.
She said she recognized the need for technology for students and adults and strives to establish a STEM center in District One to provide programs and training from Pre-K to adults through their partnership with colleges in the area. She recognizes the importance of certifications in STEM and investing in the education of all people in District One and in the greater Waco area.
Barefield discussed the economic implications of giving access to STEM certifications and the impact it can have to bringing jobs here to Waco.
“When industries have those workers, then that keeps Wacoans in Waco,” Barefield said. “I think that is something we need to make sure that we do going forward with our next generation of future Wacoans to ensure they have pathways.”
Barefield said the people’s voices in her policy decisions matter immensely, and she is committed to their vision when discussing the changes she made to the status quo in her term as a city council member.
“One of the things we started doing at the beginning of my term was hosting community town halls which hadn’t really been done,” Barefield said.
Constituents can voice their opinions virtually, and Barefield can respond to and create policy around them.
One of the important issues facing the community right now are areas of the city’s rising in crime rates, Barefield said. She has taken steps to combat this by meeting with neighbor associations and police departments to get better cameras to deter crime with video footage.
She goes through processes like this with every community outcry; for example, why an industry leaves and how that has impacted residents and make a change.
“We realized the rate of pay we are paying was not enough,” Barefield said. “Going forward as businesses and industries want to come here and hire Wacoans, if you want incentives from the city of Waco, you have to pay your employees at least 15 dollars an hour.”
She offered advice to Baylor students and faculty eligible to vote in the next few days.
“I know that we are in unusual times, but I would encourage everyone as long as you are over the age of 18 and are registered, exercise your right to vote,” Barefield said.
“Too many people have fought, bled and died for us to exercise our right to vote, so we have got to do our part to see it through,” Barefield said. “The only way we can keep this society … thriving is to participate in it. It does affect you.”
She continued by offering advice to Baylor students who only temporarily live in Waco.
“I think that is important that you exercise your right because this is your community now too, so I encourage you to vote, vote, vote, vote, vote,” Barefield said.
Running for the District Four City Council seat, Kelly Palmer is a part-time lecturer at Baylor University, which she said makes her comfortable speaking in front of a large crowd of people.
Palmer said this experience has helped her to better understand people’s body language and their level of engagement while she is speaking. She teaches classes on public policy, equity and diversity.
“It has equipped me with really specific subject matter expertise,” Palmer said.
She has experience working with significant state and federal grants through nonprofits. This experience would help Palmer manage Waco’s $500,000,000 budget.
Palmer said she believes that her career as a social worker has trained her in skills useful for a council member.
“I am well … equipped to listen to people and ultimately I believe that is the role of a council member,” Palmer said. “Listening and intentionally seeking out the voice of your constituents [helps] to amplify and advocate for our citizens’ needs.”
She is one of two women running for the city council, and she said she is trying to embody powerful femininity in her campaign materials.
“It’s really easy to feel like your campaign is all-consuming and to not have boundaries, so I think a more feminine and intuitive approach is just to know that our bodies need rest,” Palmer said.
She and her team have celebrated a restful Sabbath every Sunday with no work or communication between them for the past five months.
Something that she said is unique to her campaign is the “c” emphasis on Spanish language inclusion in her branding. 51% of constituents in District 4 are of Hispanic or Latinx origin. Her website and her 3,700 door hangers all are bilingual to include the Spanish speaking population in Waco.
“My signs are on one side are in English and the other side is in Spanish,” Palmer said.
She said she prioritizes accessibility and transparency, which is evident in her monthly reports. These reports show the different percentages of campaign funds that have been spent locally or outside of Waco as well as in minority and women-owned businesses.
Her campaign has also volunteered with trash pickups around the community, and they publish the amount of bags of trash they have picked up, how many volunteers they had and how many individual donors contributed.
“Last month 90% of our campaign funds were spent with locally owned businesses,” Palmer said.
Recognizing the sometimes drawn-out nature of public policy, Palmer did not wish to make any guarantees on what changes Wacoans can expect to see in the next few months because of the shortened council seat term, which is only serving until May 2021. According to Palmer, the issues she is most passionate about are affordable housing, living-wage jobs, and COVID-19 policies.
Palmer has been in Waco for seven years, and said she noticed the fast pace that the city is developing at and the fact that this speed has left people behind in addition to the benefits. She said the issues she is passionate about impact the most vulnerable people, the financially insecure and minority residents in Waco.
“I see that these issues are systemic and have long gone under-addressed in our community,” Palmer said. “It’s time to prioritize them and put them at the forefront of our minds.”
Palmer’s advice to Baylor University is to first know where you are registered to vote and to consider registering to vote in Waco.
“Claim Waco as home and embed yourself in the larger Waco Community outside of the Baylor bubble,” Palmer said.
She encouraged Baylor to go out and vote on Nov. 3.
“Find everyone that [you] know … and physically take people with [you] to the polls,” Palmer said. “Only 45% percent of McLennan County residents have voted so far in this election. We really need to increase the turnout between now and Nov. 3.”