With the City Council election coming up in May, newcomer Kenith Freeman is vying for a seat in district 5 against incumbent Bob Westbrook. The Tyler Loop’s newsletter staff writer Zoe McGhee spoke with Freeman in an in-depth interview. You can read Jane Neal’s interview with Bob Westbrook here.
A longtime Tyler native and retired city employee, Freeman believes he has the true Tylerite knowledge and experience to improve the city’s infrastructure and be a voice for the people, specifically employees.
Here, Freeman tells The Loop his plans to shorten the distances between each fire hydrant, improve road conditions and attempt to bring communities together through improved infrastructure.
Early voting for the election begins on April 19 through 27, with Election Day on May 1.
What prompted you to run as a candidate for City Council District 5?
Having been a long time resident of Tyler and having been a city employee, I just wanted to give back. I’m semi-retired and have a desire to give back to the city. And I feel that having walked the streets all over the city of Tyler, I have seen everything you can imagine, as far as being on the streets, meeting people, encountering different things.
I began to look at some of the conditions where I live. For instance, the fire hydrants seemed like they were too far apart. It seemed like something could be added to shorten the distances between each fire hydrant. I kind of wanted to focus on that, and that kind of prompted me just to give back, basically.
What are some of the unique aspects and needs of district 5?
I would say maybe some of the infrastructure. Some of the open ditches could have at least a concrete bottom on them or walls or something to stop some of the erosion.
[Going] south, off of old Troup Highway, I see some clean communities. I think some of those street conditions can be improved. There’s a little section just east of Troup with those little houses. Those roads are in bad need of repair and are in pretty bad shape. I just want to bring attention to some of that area and to hear the complaints.
My main focus is fire hydrants. You’ve got from affluent neighborhoods to low income areas, and I just want to represent all of it. I want to be a good spokesman for everybody and make everybody feel okay and that I’m approachable, that they can have someone they can just come to and just share all their concerns.
What do you have to offer as a prospective council member?
My friendliness, my love for people, my faith and honesty. I really believe I truly will be honest to all the constituents in that district, everybody. I have a slogan, a motto; “Oneness of hands, we all can win.” I just believe we all get in there and move forward.
How was your campaign addressing the coronavirus issue?
I’m stressing the fact that if we just sacrifice now, we all will be free soon. If we do the mandates, get the vaccinations, we all can get back to a normal, social way of life. We all crave that, we’re all social beings. We need each other.
I have grandkids that I would love to do stuff with and take to different places and have freedom to enjoy without the confines of a mask or social distancing. We sacrifice now, hopefully by the summer, we all can enjoy a somewhat normal way of life.
It may not ever get fully back, but at least I’m stressing for parents to allow the kids and the teachers to get vaccinated.
What are some challenges do you predict moving forward within your district?
To have people to voice their concerns and feel free to voice them regardless of your socioeconomic status. And to realize you’re part of the city, no matter what part of the section you live in — just feel that you’re a part and your voice can be heard and will be heard.
I just want to be that hard working young man working hard for this community and for the City of Tyler, and really work hard to bring us cohesiveness, to bring about the jobs, and see what it takes to bring back more manufacturing jobs. Some of our communities are vanishing because of the economic conditions, jobs are leaving and people are struggling to just have affordable housing. We are building like crazy around the city, but I don’t see the manufacturing coming in.
I noticed there are jobs outside the city. You have to go far to find a decent paying job. Hopefully, we can bring more manufacturing back to the city. Those that left, if we can do something to bring them back. That’s what I really hope we can do, is to try to make it attractive, to bring jobs back to the city of Tyler to what it once was.
I saw your campaign slogan is “Coming together as one for the same goals.” What kinds of goals are you looking to achieve should you be elected?
I guess the infrastructure that people want in all areas of the city. A community of oneness, of less contention; a city that embraces each other beyond socioeconomic conditions and races; to just really try to unite us as one, really.
I see divisiveness that should not exist. I will try to fight to keep it down in the city of Tyler. By being an example of love, trust and compassion for everybody. I would try to work for everybody. I keep saying that, but the cohesiveness of oneness of spirit and a sense of that we’re all in this together. That’s what I want to convey and try to strive for.
So what are some challenges in getting people out to vote?
To make people aware that I’m running. And to knock on doors to get people to know that they have somebody in their corner.
I want people to feel like I’m a dearest best friend that they can call on in times of challenge and in times of need. To do that, I know I’m gonna have to be out in the community. Not just setting up an office.
If it takes organizing maybe a weekend of clean ups. We can just volunteer and go into neighborhoods and clean up and maybe help spruce up a yard to show that somebody is caring for the residents. That’s what I want to try to do. And mainly just get it out, whether it be social media, wherever, just to let them know I’m out running, and that’s what I’m gonna try to do.
I also saw that you’re very active within your religious community. How do you think that this may or may not give you perspective on certain issues as a member of Tyler City Council?
Well I know everybody’s not Christian oriented, but I think it gives me a sound base for wisdom, for a steady hand to analyze. It will come from a godly perspective, for sure. I believe it’s just basically giving me the wisdom to be a steady hand and to not just try to appease just one group but try to appease all from a Christian perspective.
When I look back over the years that I worked for the city, I had council people that I was able to come to and share concerns and grievances.
They took time out to listen, whether it did anything or not. And that made an impact in my life, that those people took time out to listen to me, a nobody, a little ol’ working city employee who really felt like he had nowhere to go and no one to just listen. It gave me sound wisdom and encouraged me to hang in there. Things will get better up the road. I think I’d just be wise in my decisions, rooted and grounded in my decisions, having a religious base.
It says on Facebook that you work at Tyler ISD.
I used to. I used to work at Ozarka Water plant, and now I’m currently helping a guy with the meters of the City of Tyler. Since I’m a former meter reader, I know where every trail is in this city, practically; every street, every water meter. He asked me if I would help the guys locate meters, so I do that on a part-time basis.
How do you think the experience you just mentioned might shape the way that you address certain issues?
Having had the experience of being in every neighborhood in this city of Tyler and met all kinds of people from every walk of life, it has me knowing we all are the same. Really you can’t judge a book by its cover. You really just have to listen.
Everybody’s got a perspective; everybody has a concern; everybody has a desire for something. I just really enjoy talking with and helping people. All over the city, more people know me by my face than they know me by name.
And matter of fact, I even had an affectionate name: ‘Water Man. Here comes Water Man.’
Now the younger cats working at the Water Department, they call me ‘Old School’. I figure I am. They grew up seeing me walk the streets of Tyler.
But everything is definitely gonna be based from a religious perspective. I gave my life to Christ at the age of 20. When I say I gave my life, I really did that. A saved, spiritual, pentecostal experience. I haven’t walked, as we say, back into the world since.
It calls you to do right. I mean, it may cause people to like you, and it may cause people to hate you, but it’s worth it.
I noticed you attended high school at Robert E. Lee now known as Tyler Legacy. What are your thoughts on the name change?
We were called Tyler Lee when I went. We subconsciously dropped the Robert E. Lee and just said Tyler Lee. That’s what the guys used to call it. I ran track and all the other schools would call us Tyler Lee.
I was saying maybe just add Tyler South or Tyler North. I was up for it. If they wanted to change it, that’s fine. If they didn’t, that was fine. I didn’t really have a stern opinion about it. Having spent my years at Lee that’s all I know. But mainly we used to call ourselves Tyler Lee.
What changes would you like to see happen in Tyler in the next 10 years concerning racial justice?
I would love to see a cohesiveness in the penalty phase. I would like to see that more equally given.
I would like to see that somehow the laws make it equitable, to where they can see that we are not just giving out harsher penalties or give the perception that we’re giving out harsher penalties to one group versus another group.
If somebody can just look at the records and let the facts speak for themselves, this is how many people were ticketed by race. To just have a fairness in the justice system is what we all want, I think.
I also saw that you attended Tyler Junior College for drafting architectural studies. How might that knowledge affect the way you view issues based on infrastructure within your district?
I believe we can build, I believe it could be done. There are new methods of constructing things. New ideas will be coming. I’m not just locked in with old ways or traditions, I’m always progressive moving forward with the new structures that may come in and new laws. New things may be invented that help the bridges, the roads, the way they repair the roads.
I aim to look at old school and how we went to automation with water meters. I was in on all that change. I looked at how the sanitation sort of went to an automated system where they have less physical people toting those heavy cans. I’m into innovation and new technology.
Like I tell my grandkids, soon there will be no such thing as a meter reader, because that’s going to be a foregone occupation. They may never know what a meter reader actually did. I guess you have to move with the times. You just can’t be stuck with the way I once saw it had to be.
I look at automation.The future to me is automation, everything from manufacturing to medical. I even tell the young folks, there might be something in DNA repair robots, and it might be the way of the future to be mechanical robot stuff.
That’s going to replace lots of manpower and physical work, so we just gotta get ready for it.
If you had to pick one thing for people to know about you, what would it be?
That I care. I really care for people genuinely. I really care for people and have a love for people. You know, having walked these streets, I sometimes look at beautiful homes and beautiful gardens and flower beds, and it amazes me with people in general. We put different shrubbery and different colors to make a bouquet or a beautiful garden.
It’s something I wonder: why we as people can’t be like that. Why can’t all races come together, make a bouquet of oneness, of beautifulness, of just being human beings, loving each other on this one planet that we only have?
I’m the working man for the people. I’m not concerned about prestige. I’m not concerned about popularity. All I’m concerned about is did I help somebody while I passed this way on this earth. Did I give it my all to help somebody?
I want the City Council to know that just about everyone that knows me knows that’s the kind of person I am. I want the citizens and the residents to know that I really care.
Is there anything else important to address that hasn’t come up yet?
That I’m a hardworking fella and I will work hard for the citizens of Tyler and the community of district 5.
Zoe McGhee is a junior at The University of Texas at Tyler studying Mass Communication. She is the managing, newsletter and copy editor for The Patriot Talon, the independent student-run newspaper designed to inform and entertain UT Tyler students and staff. McGhee is also part of The Tyler Loop’s newsletter staff.
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