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story.lead_photo.caption Atlanta, Texas, Mayor Travis Ransom has grand designs for his hometown and says it is in a good place. (Staff photo by Kate Stow)

From the back alleys of Bosnia to Main Street in Atlanta, Texas, Travis Ransom is well-trained in how to handle intel and negotiations. That experience, added to his energetic, forward-thinking personality have helped in making him a progressive and popular small-town mayor.

There is no doubt that Ransom loves his hometown, as he drives along the side streets and alleys, pointing out positive growth and change in many of the neighborhoods. Whether he — or his predecessor Keith Crow — instigated it, he is proud of it all. Travis was appointed mayor when Crow died unexpectedly in 2017, and has stayed busy since.

Besides being a small-town mayor, he is an insurance agent for Offenhauser and Co. in Atlanta. He and his wife, Emily Lestock Ransom, are raising their children Coyt, 21; Lucy, 11; and Anna, 7, on historic Hiram Street. Emily is a former president of Texarkana's Junior League, and is on the board of Leadership Texarkana. Travis is on the board of the Texas Regional Arts and Humanities Council.

Ransom graduated from Atlanta High School in 1996 and attended Texarkana College and Texas A&M-Texarkana. Before college, he joined the Army Reserves.

"I felt it was a good way to pay for college," Ransom said. "My dad was a retired lieutenant colonel, and any men I've ever known that were worth their salt were in the Army."

As a counterintelligence agent in the Reserves, Ransom was called upon to go to many places. The most memorable assignment was during the conflicts following the collapse of Yugoslavia in the '90s.

That kind of experience helped him rise in rank to command sergeant major, the highest enlisted rank a Reservist can be. With the title comes responsibility.

"I run 2-3 miles a day and I still do PT's (Physical Tests) with the guys," he said. "And I travel a lot. Tomorrow I leave for San Antonio."

But today, as he travels through one of the oldest neighborhoods off the U.S. Highway 59 Loop, he describes one of the programs he is excited about: the Community Development Block Grant.

"The city targets the older houses that are most in need of repair, or too far beyond getting up to code. Usually it's an older couple that built the home 30 or 40 years ago and have gotten to the point they cannot keep up repairs or maintenance," he said. "The city will pay to tear down the home and replace it with a new home, which the city will have a lien on. It's the best feeling in the world to hand someone the keys to their brand new house."

As he points out the new homes and the families he recalls meeting, Ransom also explains that the grants were not easy to get and most small towns don't bother with them. The CDBG federal program was enacted in 1974 to assist urban, suburban and rural communities to improve housing conditions for low- and moderate-income persons. The program itself is flexible and can be used in many ways.

The next big project he is excited about is the Safe Routes to Schools Sidewalk Program, which is a joint endeavor with the Texas Department of Transportation. His enthusiasm is evident as he points out roads which will soon have sidewalks, making the students walk to school easier and safer. Of the four local schools, three of them are located on the same tract of land, east of town. But the newly built middle school still sits at the corner of Highway 77 and High School Lane, right where the older one was located. It was razed to make way for the modern campus. The surrounding neighborhoods around both locations will now be safer for foot traffic.

Ransom also is tackling is the continuous issue of Atlanta's water problem. For decades citizens have complained about the clarity and/or smell of the water flowing from their taps. The city is using the same water that Texarkana Water Utilities uses from Wright Patman Lake.

"Actually the infrastructure has been rebuilt — we have redone the pump house and the interior and exterior of the tanks," he said. "We recently received the best water report ever."

Some still complain, however. "I do have plans to eventually change out the lines running from the paper mill (Graphic Packaging in Domino) to the Grandview Street pumphouse," he said. "That might improve quality."

He said the recent street cave-in in front of the city park had nothing to do with water lines.

"When Louise Street was widened decades ago, instead of replacing the metal culvert, they only placed concrete culverts under the new lanes on either side," he said. "Over time the metal culvert in the middle rusted out. It was only a matter of time before it collapsed, but we didn't know that because we see concrete, not the metal in the middle."

The Wastewater Treatment Plant is more than capable of handling twice the capacity," he said. "We could double our population and not have to upgrade the intakes."

The city also has an ISO Level 2 fire protection rating. "We have really invested heavily into our fire department," he said. "We have a new fire truck, new apparatus, and have upgraded all our equipment and jaws of life."

The city is on "a better financial path than ever; sales tax is up 5 % and we're looking at steady economic growth," he said. "Enrollment is up in both Atlanta and Queen City schools, and we have new constructions in residential and commercial."

Not only does he know about the new construction, he can give you the addresses, because "I ride around town constantly and look at everything," he said.

Ask him anything, and he's got a quick, informative and correct answer.

He has even considered running for Congress if an opportunity presented itself.

"In Northeast Texas alone, there are 60,000 veterans that need representation," he said. "We are a very patriotic part of the world here; they need a champion."

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