What I’ve learned this year

A year ago this week I spend several hours picking up campaign signs littered throughout the City of Kyle. The feeling was cathartic. The campaign to get elected to city council had been going on for nine months, and after all the door-knocking, stamp-licking, video-making, spreadsheet-scrolling, and event-attending, the election was finally over.

Of course, in politics, the campaign race only gets you to the starting line. One year later, I’ve taken some time to reflect on the biggest lessons learned of the actual work of my public service.

Preparation is key to affecting change

Generally speaking, very little work is done at a city council meeting. That time is reserved for engaging with the citizens who wish to comment, arguing my points to others on council while listening to theirs, and voting. The real work for a councilmember is done long before the meeting. For example, most council agenda packets are 100-400 pages long. There is a mountain of information to digest before forming an opinion. Even then, items can be so complicated that staff meetings are needed to help clarify issues and get a sense of how an item fits into the big picture.

And then there’s the community. Part of my job on council is to digest information and then communicate the relevant facts to the public so they can weigh in and be involved before a vote takes place. This is a challenge because oftentimes the public will not be in consensus on an issue, or perhaps the majority of folks will respond with answers I don’t particularly agree with. Regardless, it is my job to prepare and make known the issue that effect our city and, above all, listen to what our citizens have to say.

When possible, collaborate with others

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” — John Donne

The best way to be effective as a councilmember is to learn how my colleagues view items and find ways to collaborate so that everyone feels their voice is heard and the item is something everyone can support. Of course, the first step to collaboration is the utter-abandonment of grandstanding. Rather, it always helps to listen with both ears and try to understand what makes my colleagues tick. In doing so, I learn just as much as I educate. I don’t always agree, and therefore I vote against items on a semi-regular basis, but I have learned just how powerful collaboration can be in getting to a solution for the betterment of the city and its citizens.

The most impacting decisions are sometimes overlooked by the public

This lesson shouldn’t be construed as talking down to the public. That’s certainly not my intention. I’ve just come to realize that some of the more significant votes and decisions are not necessarily in the purview of our citizens, while lesser issues or issues of which the council has no control over seem to rule the day.

For example, in the last few months the top three issues I’ve received emails on are related to our chicken ordinance, Time Warner Cable, and issues related to the school district. But HCPUA, which is a regional water providing company bringing $250m worth of water infrastructure to our area, is seldom discussed on social media and I’ve yet to receive a single email on the matter. Kyle is facing significant decisions regarding that project, including and especially how to pay for our portion. Some of those decisions could have major implications on the long-term financial health of our utility fund and will certainly have a corresponding impact on water rates in Kyle.

That said, it is my job as a councilmember to bring those issues to the forefront in as much as it depends on me to do so.

I despise grandstanding and demagoguery

We live in a polarizing political climate, where some elected officials seek to make wedges out of issues by reducing its substance to an emotion-based talking point that can be repeated over-and-over-and-over. The goal of a demagogue is to galvanize support among a base of voters while inciting those voters to foam in anger at “the other guys.” And, unfortunately, the strategy can be successful up to a point.

In the national scene, virtually every word from Trump is some form of demagoguery. His critics employ the exact same tactics. It’s a war where the ammo is accusatory, double-talking rhetoric and the guns are a litany of talking heads. Here in Hays County, the politics are much more civil. But even here, some groups of people are seemingly incapable of engaging in civil discourse and debate without reducing themselves to a grandstanding mouth-piece.

Thankfully, all I have to do is meet with any number of everyday citizens to realize that people are far less politicized than the media would have us believe. Regular people are intrinsically civil and, when approached transparently about the pros and cons of an issue, almost always respond rationally and with respect for both sides of the debate.

Every benefit has a detriment, every decision has a cost, every point has a counterpoint.

The more I learn about how our city works from a financial perspective, the more I realize just how difficult it is to make wise decisions. That’s because every financial decision — I mean every financial decision — has an opportunity cost.

Of course, that’s the way it should be. Money doesn’t grow on trees. Any working family can attest to this truth. But with government the challenge is to accurately gauge public sentiment and make wise decisions that are in the best interest of the most people.

Recently the city has been considering what to do with sidewalk maintenance. Our current ordinance says sidewalk maintenance is the responsibility of the homeowner. Many citizens in the community think the city should pay for it. But it’s all the citizen’s money, after all. So the citizen has to pay for it one way or another. The challenge is to figure out what way is best.

For example, if we do continue with the status-quo, the reality is that many homeowners are not likely to repair their sidewalks and the town will run down over time. Those who do repair their sidewalk will pay for it themselves.

On the other hand, if the city takes over sidewalk maintenance, taxpayer money must be used. And that means taxpayers must be taxed for that money. This seems intuitive, but I often get the sense that people don’t naturally make the connection between a service and its corresponding cost. What’s more, if you don’t have a sidewalk or don’t need repair, the tax is coming from your pocket to repair your neighbor’s sidewalk. And how is that fair?

In the end, I am learning that hasty decisions are often wrong-headed and reactionary. The best way to make a decision is to fully digest the problem before acting. Oftentimes a solution will present itself only after the problem is fully understood.

Citizens crave engagement from their leaders

I have known this for sometime, but recently I have come to realize just how valuable an informed and thoughtful response can be to someone who reaches out with a problem. One of the core values of our city is “yes-attitude.” It means having a willingness to solve problems with tact. There’s nothing more frustrating for a citizen than to have an issue and get cold-shouldered from those in a position to do something. I am grateful our city tries to be available to its citizenry and I have enjoyed trying to model that approach with those who have reached out to me for help.

A great staff is essential to successfully leading the city

If I have learned one thing this year on council it is this: A great staff is critical to a greatly run city. The City of Kyle has a top-tier staff built of knowledgeable and dedicated individuals. It starts with our city manager, Scott Sellers, but certainly does not end there. Our department heads are a wealth of knowledge and maintain a firm commitment to delivering excellent service. They continually work hard to make my job easy by caring for all of our citizens. For their work I am immeasurably grateful.

The hard lesson of optics in politics

I’ve taken some time to earnestly reflect on what transpired in the last week related to the controversy surrounding our city manager’s proposed contract extension that included an option to lease a house from the city. In a rush to respond to the melee of negative feedback, most of my statements were pithy and, admittedly, incomplete. If you care to read, I want to give a narrated account of what led me to support the contract. I will conclude with a few lessons I learned and a sincere apology to you, the residents of Kyle.

Let’s start from the beginning. A few months ago, I was notified that discussions were underway to extend our city manager’s contract through 2025. In small-to-medium size towns, the city manager is often one of the highest paid persons in the city because the city is often the largest employer. It is also a highly volatile position and prone to turnover.

Regardless, in a town exploding in population like Kyle, the city manager is a crucial position. The goal of a good council is to find a great city manager and keep him or her around for the long term.

Continue reading “The hard lesson of optics in politics”

The challenge of leading

The last 48 hours have been difficult to navigate, both politically and personally. On the one hand, the proposed contract extension for our city manager is something I strongly believe was in the best interest of the taxpayers. On the other hand, the taxpayers by-and-large didn’t agree.

Many of the comments were, as I see it, short-sighted. But I don’t believe they were off-base. I just have a different perspective. And that brings me to the question I have wrestled with since the day I was elected. Is it my job to support popular measures, or go with what I believe is right, even if most disagree? There’s no easy answer.

I want to thank those who spoke out against the contract. It was difficult to stomach, but nonetheless I appreciate feedback from our citizens. From day one I have tried to be as transparent and communicative as possible in my role on city council. That means I must embrace criticism. I have learned a great deal from this and will incorporate those lessons into how I lead moving forward.

We will go back to the drawing board with the contract. I know there are many perspectives on what that contract should include. You are welcome to share them as you have been all week.

Again, thank you for participating in our government. We are all fighting for the same thing – a beautiful and prosperous city. And that means we’re on the same team.

Why we invested in a house for the Kyle City Manager

On Tuesday, 12/6, my colleagues and I approved a contract extension for the Kyle City Manager through 2025 that included a housing component. That component has been under scrutiny from the public after articles were written in the Hays Free Press and on KXAN.com. Social media has had a field day with the story. More media coverage will surely follow as I have been interviewed today by KXAN and the Austin American-Statesman. Considering the nature of how this contract has been perceived, I want to explain the facts of the deal and the rationale I used in making the decision.

Here are the facts of the housing component to the contract extension.

  1. The house will be built in Cypress Forrest at an amount not to exceed $550,000 plus closing costs ($6,500).
  2. The house belongs to the city, not the city manager.
  3. The city manager will lease the house from the city in the form of a salary reduction.
  4. The lease amount is equal to the purchase price of the home amortized over 30 years at 3.45% interest (~$29,500 annually).
  5. All city property, including this house, is exempt from property tax.
  6. The insurance for the home is covered under the city’s umbrella policy and the premiums are roughly $83/month.
  7. The city manager will pay for all utilities and routine upkeep of the property, but the city will pay for any substantial repairs – in other words, a standard lease agreement.

Continue reading “Why we invested in a house for the Kyle City Manager”

My small business proposal for Kyle, TX

The following is a transcript with slides of the presentation I made to the Kyle City Council on 12.6.16. The presentation was the first step in bringing this program to reality. I will now begin working with city staff to draft an ordinance for council consideration in early 2017. You can watch the presentation online by clicking here.

 

First Year on Us Kyle, TXI think we can all agree that commercial development in Kyle is a good thing. It provides jobs, sales tax revenue, property tax revenue, and opportunities for our residents to purchase goods and services right here in Kyle. And as most of you know, I made owning a business a major part of my platform when I ran for city council earlier this year. Something I often heard from residents while campaigning was that the city could be more equitable in its treatment of the commercial community. Their point was that in the last ten years most of our incentives have gone to large, master-planned commercial developments who recruit large businesses and franchises to fill the space. These entities negotiate agreements that include property tax refunds, sales tax refunds, city bonds to pay for infrastructure, and dedicated staff time drafting agreements to help their projects succeed.

But smaller, local businesses have not received similar opportunities to partner with the city, at least not in the same way. And as a small business owner who built my business in the city, I must say I agree. This proposal is my attempt to start changing that narrative and making it crystal clear that we value all businesses who invest resources into our community. Continue reading “My small business proposal for Kyle, TX”

The Napping Trains of Kyle, TX

This week’s council session dealt with several interesting issues, the chief of which (to me) was whether or not to spend $270,000 kick starting the city’s plans to finally relocate Union Pacific’s rail siding away from downtown. We also discussed videos on LED billboards, took the next step in creating a stormwater utility, and appointed two new members to the Planning and Zoning Commission, among other things. You can read the agenda here and watch us deliberate via video here. I’m devoting this entire article on the rail siding relocation.

Train Stops in Kyle, TXItem 17. $270,000 for engineering to move Union Pacific Railroad siding away from downtown Kyle

Council: Postponed

Kyle has a train problem. A big, noisy, road-blocking train problem. Multiple times per day, the Union Pacific Railroad stops in downtown Kyle directly across Center Street. STOPS! Oftentimes the train will park for thirty minutes or more waiting for another train to pass. My wife and I joke that there’s time for an oil change at 4-Way Auto Shop while waiting.

Train stoppage has been a problem in Kyle for decades.

So, why haven’t we done anything about it?

Continue reading “The Napping Trains of Kyle, TX”

President for a day

An interesting thing happened today and I offer it to you for consideration on the eve of our presidential election.

I was asked to teach about elections to the sixth grade class at Simon Middle School. I thought, why teach about elections? Why not just have one? So in every class we had an election for “President of Simon for one day.” Continue reading “President for a day”

Votes – 20 Sep 2016

After a few relatively ho-hum council sessions, this week’s meeting was packed with substantial votes. We had a complicated business incentive, a landscape ordinance upgrade, a change in the way we calculate impervious coverage, and we applied for a $1,000,000 grant to help improve our wastewater infrastructure. I supported all of these items, but the business incentive was, perhaps, the most challenging and complicated vote I’ve made to date, so I’m going to spend the entirety of this article explaining what factors shaped my opinion. Fair warning, I’m going to explain this with transparency and in detail, so the article will be lengthy. Continue reading “Votes – 20 Sep 2016”

Votes – 17 Aug 2016

“Votes” is a log of the high-profile agenda items discussed and voted upon by the Kyle City Council. I will summarize the items and provide the reason for why I voted the way I did.

NOTE: Feel free to ask any questions or make any comments below. I will respond in a timely manner. You are welcome to respectfully disagree. Comments that are overly negative, overly personal, or disparaging will not be allowed.

Complete Agenda: Here
Council Video: Here Continue reading “Votes – 17 Aug 2016”

Votes – 2 August 2016

“Votes” is a log of the high-profile agenda items discussed and voted upon by the Kyle City Council. I will summarize the items and provide the reason for why I voted the way I did.

NOTE: Feel free to ask any questions or make any comments below. I will respond in a timely manner. You are welcome to respectfully disagree. Comments that are overly negative, overly personal, or disparaging will not be allowed.

Complete Agenda: Here
Council Video: Here

(BONUS: Skip to 13:55 in the video and watch the council stand and do an exercise, courtesy of Jennifer Crosby and For the Love of Go.) Continue reading “Votes – 2 August 2016”