DEPORT — Sometimes, navigating life can mean making tough decisions. And Monday, Deport Mayor John Mark Francis made one. The three-term mayor, only recently reelected, announced his resignation at a special City Council meeting, citing persistent health issues that he said were getting in the way of him doing the job in the way he’d like.
“So the way that I would want to be mayor I realized, well, I can’t be active and do the job I want to do,” Francis said Tuesday.
Just over six years ago, Francis was in a serious car wreck involving a semi that left him with major damage to his left knee that required surgery, and he had to have an operation on his right arm. Francis said he’s been living with pain for years since and is in need of another surgery. With the full-time responsibility of being mayor, he said he felt he could no longer provide the level of involvement he wanted to bring to his position. The decision was one he said he agonized over, but eventually came to the conclusion that it was what he needed to do for himself.
“I don’t want to forever have a limp or forever hurt,” Francis said. “Because most of the time, I’m able to cover it up pretty well or I wear a brace or the pain bothers me at night (and) keeps me up. But I don’t — I’m ready to have that over with.”
During his time as mayor, Francis was well known for his aptitude for grant applications, acquiring more than $2 million in grants for the town of under 600 people. Recently, he helped secure grants from the Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs to help put lower-income Deport residents in new homes, and he has been commended for bringing a Dollar General store to the city that straddles Lamar and Red River counties. In September, the store brought with it a 210.99% increase in sales tax revenue from last year’s numbers, according to the Texas Comptroller’s Office.
“I’m really excited about what I’ve done,” Francis said. “I’m very proud of it and excited to see where Deport goes from here. But I know physically I am not able to commit until I’ve had surgery.”
Mayor Pro Tem Craig Folse will be stepping up to the position in Francis’s stead, and said that while he and Francis didn’t always see eye to eye on every issue the City Council discussed, that he felt lucky to work with the man who, elected at 26, was once the youngest mayor in Lamar County.
“I really thought highly of John. I mean, we had our differences of opinions at times — especially in politics, there’s always differences of opinions. But when he was on, he was cream of the crop. And that’s what we really liked about him, and I’m going to miss working with him because I thought we worked well together,” Folse said.
Folse added he’ll be counting on the City Council to work together in Francis’s absence to continue moving the city forward.
“It’s going to have to be the council sticking together and making sure we run things the way they’re supposed to be run, to make sure we don’t slow down and stumble and that progress is being made,” Folse said.
Francis said he has the utmost faith in Folse that he’ll step up to the plate and continue to work for the people of Deport.
“Part of the reason that I feel comfortable resigning was knowing he’s mayor pro tem,” Francis said.
Councilor Marilyn Glover, who was sworn in again to her position in November, agreed with Folse about Francis’s capabilities as mayor. She praised Francis for his service to Deport.
“He is a highly intelligent person and it’s gonna be hard to find a replacement,” Glover said.
Francis has been involved in politics for many years for his young age, starting at just 19 years old when he ran for a position as a commissioner for the City of Marshall while attending East Texas Baptist University. He said his motivation for running came from seeing poverty surrounding a wealthy university and wanting to be a part of creating change. While he lost the election, he moved back to Deport to be near his grandmother and, soon after, decided he wanted to jump into politics again.
Francis said there was something special about running for office in the town where he grew up, waxing sentimental about childhood days when he would ride his horse across town to visit his grandmother, stopping
by a store along the way to chat with community members and pick up a soda.
“It’s more than just my hometown,” Francis said.
As he became a more seasoned politician, Francis said he learned lessons along the way, namely: Always do your best, but you can’t please everyone, and recognize the value of public service.
“You have to have a thick skin. Politics in Texas is a full contact sport. That’s number one,” Francis said. “But number two: Public service is still a noble calling and there is a lot of good that you can do for your community and I would encourage everyone to get involved.”
City Clerk Sunny Whitney, who worked closely with Francis every day at City Hall in downtown Deport, said she’ll miss the former mayor’s generosity, saying that “he’ll help anybody, anytime, as long as he can.”
“I love working with him because he is for the people. Not for himself, not for the shine of ‘I’m the mayor.’ That isn’t him at all. It’s ‘I can help people and I will help people,’” Whitney said.
Francis said for the time being he’ll be taking care of his knee, scheduling a surgery and attending physical therapy for the months to follow.