AP NEWS

Dayton may have first woman mayor

February 18, 2019

The election hasn’t been held yet, but it appears Dayton may have their first female mayor.

Friday at 5 p.m. was the deadline for signing up to run for three open positions in the city of Dayton’s municipal elections and no challengers put their name on the dotted line to run against Caroline Wadzeck. She threw her name into the ring shortly after the filing period began in January.

She said she was expecting a challenger to file.

“It means a lot,” Wadzeck said after she heard the news. “I dodged the bullet, and I’m thankful.”

There is still a remote chance that a write-in candidate could challenge Wadzeck, but there is little likelihood of that happening and it would be an uphill battle. Election day will be May 4 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The civic leader spent three years of her retirement researching and publishing a book entitled The Streets of Dayton, Texas: History by the Block. Now she could become an integral part of the history of the city with her election.

In the two other open positions, Incumbent John Johnson is being challenged by Janette Goulder-Frick for the Position 4 seat on council while Meadow Noyer Coward will challenge Troy Barton for his Position 5 seat.

Current mayor Jeff Lambright could have run again, but it would have meant giving up his job at the Liberty County Central Appraisal District. The CAD board adopted a policy on Dec. 14, 2017 that addressed any conflicts of interest in outside employment or activities, including political activity and holding office while employed by the district. Lambright and one other employee were grandfathered in to allow them to finish their current term.

Being the first woman to serve as mayor for Dayton wasn’t a feminist ideal, Wadzeck said.

“No, not at all. The fact that I’m a woman has absolutely nothing to do with it. I’m just running because I want to be mayor and work for the city,” she said.

The president of the Dayton Enhancement Committee said she knew exactly why she was running.

“We all know that there is tremendous change coming to our town, and I’m really excited about it. Not that I want a lot of change, but it’s coming, and we need to embrace it and prepare for it,” she said.

The potential mayor-elect also said that she believed the mayor, city council, and city manager were on the right track for that change.

“I want to be part of that planning,” she said.

She also wanted to emphasize that while the city is planning for the future, there are still projects for the here and now that need to be addressed.

“Some of those would be our streets. We’re still depending on ditches for our water drainage all over the city. We don’t have a lot of curbs and gutters in a lot of neighborhoods. I know it will be expensive, but it is something we need to back up and take care of,” she said.

Her work on the Dayton Enhancement Committee and Dayton Historical Society has her committed to getting a preservation ordinance to protect some of the old buildings in downtown.

“We’re working with the city for that, but it’s kind of turning into a preservation of the entire downtown area,” she said.

“We’re beginning to study all of that and look at ordinances from other cities. We’ll write our own, but we have to protect those buildings. It’s what makes us different from everyone else,” she emphasized.

She said she was also committed to keeping the downtown area vital.

“We don’t want all of the growth to be out on SH 99 or US 90,” Wadzeck said.

Another priority is traffic. Most of the main thoroughfares in Dayton don’t belong to the city—they’re state or federal.

“I don’t know how that is going to be addressed. I know that the city is working with TxDOT and it’s slow, slow, slow. There’s some scenarios being discussed that I’m not privy to just yet,” she said.

One of her first projects to address is the underpass on Texas 321.

“TxDOT is going to get in there and shore up the east wall that is leaking sand and water. They’re going to pour concrete to make it more stable and pour a trench so that the water that is coming down from the rice dryer area doesn’t go in behind the wall,” she said. “It’s making it unstable.”

She said TxDOT was hoping to get started on that project in the next month or so. Included in the redo is the replacement of the sidewalk that is disheveled and broken up.

“Then we want to clean it up and make it look nice,” she said. “It’s an eyesore for people passing through town and we want to make sure it looks better and safe.”

The cleanup extended to the rest of the town as well, she said.

Born in Gorman, in the West Texas region, at five years old she moved with her family to Snyder, Texas just 80 miles south of Lubbock where she lived until she left for college.

She attended Baylor University her first year, then transferred to Sam Houston State and finished in three years.

She came to Dayton a week after her 20th birthday as a first-year teacher in 1971.

“I was single, so I taught fifth grade at Colbert for five years,” she said.

In the summer of 1972, she married her fiancé, Larry Wadzeck.

They decided to live in Dayton while he was getting his certification and only planned on living in Dayton for a couple of years and then be gone.

“Here we are still. It’s because of the lovely people,” she said.

They planted their roots and raised two children who are both graduates of Dayton High School.

She taught for 38 years, 21 of those in Dayton and she finished her career in Barbers Hill.

Following her retirement in 2009, she had a three-year plan.

“I’m not a sit around kind of person,” she said.

She had realized that the streets were named after a lot of people. Her research consumed a good bit of the first two years, including interviews with old-timers who are now gone.

Her research included the library, the courthouse, and scores of pages of minutes from the city.

The result was her book.

“I learned so much about the city,” she said.

In 2014, she was named as the Curator at the Old School Museum.

“Being a librarian, that was a natural fit for me. I learned so much more about the history of Dayton there,” she said.

She also has worked as the chairman of the Dayton Enhancement Committee that constructed the large Texas flag at the entrance of the town and the Crossroads Projects accomplished, all under the auspices of the city council’s approval. They are also responsible for the Enhancement Awards each month and putting out the flags on the poles for various occasions.

She has also served on the Police and Fire Museum.

“I may have to shift my role, but I’m not giving any of those things up,” she smiled. “I may have to be a really good member instead.”

Wadzeck has been attending council meetings and feels like she’ll be ready to assume the responsibilities.

“I’m just thrilled to death of the possibility of becoming mayor. I’m a high-energy person and have the time to devote to the city,” she said.

The last day to register to vote is Thursday, April 4. The first day of early voting by personal appearance is Monday, April 22. The last day to apply for ballot by mail, received, not postmarked, is Tuesday, April 23 and the last day of early voting by personal appearance is Tuesday, April 30. The last day to receive a ballot by mail is Saturday, May 4 at 7 p.m.

dtaylor@hcnonline.com