Timpson Mayor Debra Smith Talks to TAGHS

October 20, 2016 - As Timpson Mayor Debra Smith was introduced as the guest speaker at the October meeting of the Timpson Area Genealogy and Heritage Society last Wednesday, even the least observant attendee had noticed there were no lights, no PA system, and no air conditioning. At that moment, about half of Timpson was without its city-supplied electric power and the Mayor seemed the perfect person to ask why. Foregoing her prepared opening, she patiently explained that a vehicle had hit a utility pole on Bear Drive and service would not be restored for five or six hours. The electricity outage addressed and using sunlight from the windows for illumination, Mrs. Smith began her talk. The Mayor, it seems, must always be the Mayor.

Though she didn't grow up in Timpson, Debra Smith's Timpson roots run deep. “If their name is Pate and they live in Shelby County, I'm probably kin to them”, she joked. Born Debra Pate to THS Alumni Robert and Helen Pate, she moved all over the world with her family since her father was in the Army and worked on missiles. The Pates returned to Timpson when she was a teenager and she graduated from Timpson High School. After graduation she attended Stephen F. Austin State University, where she later earned a Masters Degree. She married THS graduate Paul Smith and taught school in both Garrison and Nacogdoches.  Paul started Smith Sawmill Service in 1990 and she joined him in the business in 1994.

Wanting to take an active part in city affairs, Mrs. Smith considered running for the Timpson school board but changed her mind and ran for City Council in 2009. Finding city government to her liking, she ran successfully for mayor in 2010, becoming the first female to hold that office. She shared that her background in business has been very helpful to her in her capacity as mayor but that running a city is very different from running a business.  “In government, there are all sorts of procedural and legal hoops to be jumped through before any action can be taken, which makes the process complicated and slow.” she said.

Smith told that Timpson does not have a City Manager and that the city is included in a group of 840 other Texas cities with populations between 1000 and 10,000 citizens. The city government has four departments: Electric, Water, Police, and City Clerk. Mayor Smith shared that just because the city is relatively small doesn't mean that the city's problems always are. “The biggest problem the city has faced during my tenure came in May of 2012... an earthquake!” Registering 4.9 on the Richter Scale the quake caused widespread damage and was felt as far away as Shreveport. Within hours, reporters with TV cameras and microphones had descended on the city and she found herself  being interviewed on television and asked questions about earthquakes and geology, subjects which were beyond her expertise and comfort-zone.

A second major problem the city has faced during her tenure, Smith revealed, was the failure of the clarifier at the city sewage treatment plant. “Though this problem received far less publicity than our earthquakes, it caused just as many headaches!” she said. Various authorities told the city that it would be necessary to replace the clarifier, at a cost to the city of about $100,000. Realizing that this would be a terrible blow to the city budget, the mayor said she fell back on her sawmill service experience and, after talking with city employees who were familiar with the sewer facility's operation, declared “I think we can fix this thing.”  So new parts were ordered or fabricated and installed on the disassembled clarifier, returning it to service at a cost of $30,000. “Saving the city that much money on that repair is one of the accomplishments I am most proud of,” she stated.

Taking questions at the close of her talk, Mayor Smith addressed, among other things, the recently departed circus, which had set up in So So Park. She said the circus had been a big success, although some patrons had wanted to shoot the clown, she joked, and that they had left the park very clean. She also answered questions about the repaving of recently paved Timpson Street. She said that heavy rains which ocurred between the grading of the street and its paving changed the steet's grade, resulting in water flowing across the street and causing flooding. She said that the contractor is repaving the street at no additional cost to the city.

During the business meeting following Mayor Smith's remarks, Margie Holt informed members that the TAGHS genealogy library was in dire need of volunteers, since many regular volunteers have been unable to serve. She said that volunteers need not be experts in genealogy and are not required to do research for visitors but simply make them aware of the resources that are available. Following a suggestion from Mayor Smith that a Facebook page might be helpful in attracting younger members, Judy Ramsey told members that TAGHS has a Facebook page but few know of its existence because it is underutilized and rarely updated. Jim Barrett gave the financial and membership report, revealing that current TAGHS membership stands at 117.

The Timpson Area Genealogical and Heritage Society meets at 2PM on the third Wednesday of each month in the meeting room of the Timpson Public Library on the cornet of Bremond and Austin Streets. The public is invited.