With the recent election of Charles H. Brown Sr. and Pam Howeth to the Sherman City Council, voters put in place the most diverse council the city has seen in more than 20 years.
Along with council member Terrence Steele, Brown and Howeth give the current council three members who are people of African-American descent or women. The last time the Sherman council boasted that much diversity was in 1994 and 1995 when Nellie Hughes, Cleveland Roy Jr. and Julie Ellis Starr were on the council.
“The City Council is as diverse as it has ever been in the history of Sherman,” Sherman Mayor David Plyler said via email. “An important role of the council is letting citizens know that we are putting them first, and putting the Sherman community first. The great thing about local government is that we represent all of Sherman, with its many ages, races, opinions and views; so our goals and decisions are based upon the whole.”
For Howeth and Steele, their current tenures on the council are a second go-round serving the citizens of Sherman and both said race or gender don’t make a difference in the council chambers.
“We do have disagreements, but when we come together as a council, we all have the same mindset — what is in the best interests of the citizens of Sherman,” Steele said. “Now, I may not have gotten my way, but when that vote is cast, then we’re speaking as one voice.”
During her experience serving the citizens of Sherman, Howeth said she couldn’t even think of a time when race or gender was an issue for the council.
“I think it’s always nice if we have a diverse council, whether it be racial or by gender,” Howeth said. “If the community wants people of different racial groups on the council, then I think that’s wonderful, but the council works very well together. And we tend to not think about our race or our gender.”
Steele, Howeth and Brown each said they feel the current council is a good representation of the city and its various races, genders and age groups.
“I think diversity is very important because I often tell people, ‘You’ve never walked in my shoes, so you don’t see things from my perspective,’” Steele said. “So that diversity allows us to interact and share things and share ideas that that other person might never have thought of.”
Steele also praised the range of ages of the current council members, noting someone like Brown — who himself said that as he will turn 75 in January, he’s the oldest member of the council — has a different perspective and can provide wisdom to the younger members. Brown’s recent election to the council is his first experience holding public office, but he said he is not just a representative of the city’s African-American community.
“I represent all colors of the city because where I live in Sherman is majority white, District 4,” Brown said, adding that he believes most of the votes he received came from white neighborhoods. “A lot of them voted for me. A lot of republicans voted for me. One guy one day said, ‘Are you a Democrat?’ I said, ‘What difference does it make for the city council?’ None.”
When Steele first served on the council from 2002 to 2008, he was the only member of color, though he did serve with female council members. Following Steele’s departure from the council in 2007, former Deputy Mayor Robert Softly, who is also African-American, was elected to serve beginning in May 2008. Softly served six years before deciding to not seek re-election in 2014. Steele then ran for the seat being vacated by Softly unopposed and has been on the council since November 2014.
“I really like the fact that I have an impact and input on what the makeup of Sherman’s future is going to look like,” Steele said, adding that impact has nothing to do with his skin color, age or gender. “One of the reasons I moved to Sherman 20 years ago is because of what I saw in this community and that 20 years has confirmed to me that I chose a good city to move to and to raise my family in.”
Howeth spent two terms on the council representing District 3 before reaching her term limit in 2013, which was when former Sherman Police Chief Tom Watt was elected to the council. Watt stepped down from the council earlier this year after he was elected Grayson County Sheriff and Howeth was appointed to fill his seat until the Nov. 8 election. Howeth ran unopposed in that race and retook the oath of office along with Brown last month.
“I consider it an honor to be the only woman on the council at this time,” Howeth said. “We have had women for many, many years on the council and it just right now happens to be that I’m the only one.”
During the last year of her previous stint on the council, Howeth was chosen by her follow members to serve as the city’s deputy mayor. The deputy mayor steps in as the top city official when the mayor is unavailable and that role made Howeth and then-Mayor Cary Wacker the city’s two most senior elected officials and they both happened to be women.
“I have never really felt, in the times I have been on the council, that people are looking out for their own best interests or their own specific interests,” Howeth said. “We have a very good representation and I have always felt that everybody on the council wants to represent all groups in the city of Sherman.”
Brown, Plyler and Steele each noted they’d like to see more diversity on the council in the future. Brown and Steele both said they’ve spoken with members of the city’s Hispanic community about running for the council.
“Everybody needs a voice,” Brown said. “Of course, I’m speaking for more than just the black community, I’m speaking for the city. However with that representation on the council, it kind of makes the Hispanic people feel like they’re a part of it too.”
Steele said he’s hopeful that a member of the Hispanic community will eventually become part of the council because that group is a part of Sherman’s population base.
“I’ve tried to encourage some people to run, but up to this point, I haven’t found anyone that’s willing to do that,” Steele said. “And I think, every voice needs to be heard in the city of Sherman.”