The Kyle Report

The Kyle Report

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Kilgore city manager accepts Kyle’s top post

Kyle has its third fulltime city manager. His name is J. Scott Sellers, although most references to him drop that first initial. He is 35 and comes tp Kyle following a three-year stint as the city manager of Kilgore, Texas, whose mayor, R.E. Spradlin III, referred to Sellers as "a superstar."

"I’m really happy with the choice," Mayor Scott Webster said after the council adjourned. "I’m excited about the opportunity to work with this guy. I personally believe I’ve brought a lot of energy to this job and the city. I’m going a hundred miles an hour all the time. But I’m going to have a hard time keeping up with this guy. What we’re gaining here is someone who is going to be challenging us to think bigger and drive for more. I think he’s going to be a change agent but a change in the direction we’re trying to go."

Following a one hour, 45-minute executive session (during which other items in addition to the hiring of a city manager were discussed), the Kyle city council voted unanimously Tuesday evening to offer Sellers the position. Today, in a message to Kilgore’s city staff, Sellers said:

"After much prayer I have decided to accept the offer. My wife and I feel that this move is a good fit for our growing family as well as my career. Leaving Kilgore is an emotional roller coaster for me. I have grown to love this city, and together we have worked incredibly hard on behalf of all Kilgore citizens."

In a letter to the Kyle City Council, Sellers wrote:

"I have researched the City of Kyle thoroughly by reading the Kyle Comprehensive Plan, Transportation Plan, Infrastructure Evaluation and Analysis Report, and Annual Budget. Additionally, I attended the FM 150 Character Study Open House and have driven city streets to gain first-hand knowledge of the transportation and infrastructure issues. I am very confident I can quickly bring fiscally responsible and high-impact solutions to Kyle."

It was Sellers’s "energy and enthusiasm," that seemed to impress the council, particularly Webster, who repeated those words a number of times when speaking about the choice.

"We had really good candidates and in the end the consensus was that Scott will be the best fit," Mayor Webster said. "He will bring a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm to the city and he’s really creative, a really innovative guy. I’m excited about the opportunity to bring him here."

Webster said it wasn’t any one thing Sellers told the council during his interview Saturday afternoon that sealed the deal.

"He sees a lot of potential in Kyle," the mayor said. "With Scott it was the energy and enthusiasm and just the excitement. He’s done some really innovative things in Kilgore’s historic downtown areas. He’s done some creative things to bring efficiencies to Kilgore’s government. He’s had a surprising amount of experience and a lot of variety."

Before assuming the Kilgore city manager’s post in October 2011, Sellers was assistant city manager from August 2008 to June 2010 and acting city manager from June 2010 to October 2011 of Montrose, Colo.(pop. 13,500), a community that derives 50 percent of its budget from tourism. Prior to that he was the assistant city manager of Centralia, Ill. (pop. 13,000). He holds a bachelors degree in recreation management and a Master of Public Administration, both from BYU. He is fluent in Spanish, which could be important in a city with a population that’s more than 50 percent Hispanic.

According to Webster, Sellers’ salary and official start date have yet to be determined. He will succeed Lanny Lambert who resigned last month to become the city manager of Converse, Texas.

The mayor said one of the Sellers’ accomplishments that really stood out for him was "He put a great deal of emphasis on quality of life in Kilgore and bringing amenities to the community, especially their old town. When he spoke about his staff and how he felt about the community, he talked about them as if they were family. That resonated with me.

"He also has a lot of background and training in economic development. He is the right choice for where we’re at right now."

In somewhat of a backhanded slap to Lambert, Webster said he was particularly proud of the city’s staff and its accomplishments during its time under the leadership of acting city manager James Earp.

"The staff came together and worked really, really hard," Webster said. "They deserve a lot of credit. I think we got more done in the last three or four months than we have in the last three years."

Initially, more than 50 individuals applied for the Kyle city manager position. That number was whittled to five, who were interviewed by the council Saturday. The final decision came to a choice between two of those who really stood out for the position, Webster said, although, out of deference to the other candidates, he did not want to say who the other choice was.

"They were similar in that both thought they would be successful in different ways," the mayor said. "In the end it came down to which direction do we want the city to go and at what pace and that drove the decision.

"I think we’ve made an excellent choice and (Sellers) is going to surprise some people with the energy and enthusiasm he brings to the city. I’m sure the staff will embrace him and we’ll get a lot done."

In other action Tuesday the city council:

Approved extending drinking hours
The item was pulled from the consent agenda because council member Tammy Swaton realized between the first reading of the ordinance two weeks ago and Tuesday evening she had a conflict of interest. (James Rios, who brought the item before the city council, is also her son’s football coach). She recused herself from the discussion and the vote. Mayor Webster told me after the meeting he thought at that moment the motion would fail on a 3-3 vote, but it passed handily with only council member Becky Selbera, the lone council member to vote against two weeks ago, to say nay again this time around. "I don’t want to turn downtown Kyle into another sixth street or South Congress," she said in reference to two areas of Austin. The ordinance, which goes into effect today, allows any establishment within the city limits that serves mixed drinks to apply to the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission to obtain a late night permit that would allow it to serve those beverages between midnight and 2 a.m. seven days a week.

Although Selbera said she was concerned that young people might be endangered by the extended drinking hours, Hays High School student James Collins, vice chair of the city’s Youth Advisory Council (KAYAC), said the council favored the proposal because a midnight curfew meant teenagers should be off the streets when the bars close.

Webster told the council that two businesses ultimately decided to locate in Kyle because of the extended hours and that consultants hired to sell the city to prospective businesses "were adament" that it would make their jobs easier. "This isn’t the only thing we can do to make Kyle more attractive to restaurants, but it’s a step in the right direction," Webster said.

Discussed FM 150 realignment
Mayor Webster said he wanted to put all four options for the realignment before the council at some future, unspecified, date. "We’re gonna talk about each one of the options and the impact they will have on the city. First I need time for the school district to respond to my offer to sit down and talk about this because the option that’s most logical for the city is the one that goes between their two schools. Out of respect for them I would like to have the opportunity to sit down and talk with them. I think there’s some lobbying going on with the school board to have them come out with a position that will cost the city of Kyle a lot of money. I want them to be cautious about doing that."

Appointments to P&Z
Unanimously approved Webster’s nominations of Michelle Christie and Tim Kay, both longtime civic activists, to fill the vacancies on the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The search for a city manager goes on (largely in private)

The City Council spent 8½ hours in executive session today interviewing five individuals (for what it’s worth: 4 white males and one white female) seeking to become the next city manager and then adjourning before coming to any decision.

However, the subject of the hiring a city manager is also on Tuesday’s agenda and the language there indicates a decision could me made to name one of the five at what will be the last council gathering before Thanksgiving. On today’s agenda it said the council would "interview candidates for the position of city manager and ... deliberate and take possible action on the appointment and employment of a city manager." Tuesday’s agenda reads: "deliberate and take possible action to hire a city manager (emphasis mine) and if appropriate, to negotiate and execute an agreement for employment (again emphasis mine) with the selected official."

To me that means City Attorney Ken Johnson could spend Monday and Tuesday hammering out a deal with the council’s preferred choice and then bringing that deal to the table Tuesday evening. But it could just as easily mean that the council could meet again in executive session Tuesday evening in which they pick their choice and then tell Johnson to negotiate a deal, all without making any official announcement.

Although the mayor and the city council members (all of whom were present today) refused to say anything at all about the process, I do know the five persons interviewed were (in the order in which they were interviewed):

Steve Norwood, former city manager of Round Rock, Texas: Norwood resigned as Round Rock’s city manager on Sept. 30 citing "personal reasons." According to that city’s web site, Norwood "held a successful $123 million bond election, aggressively implemented a downtown redevelopment program, built the Round Rock Sports Center on time and under budget, and re-energized a transportation improvement program." Norwood served as city manager for Prescott, Ariz., from 2003-2010; as the assistant city manager for North Richland Hills, Texas, from 1998-2003; the city manager of Lancaster, Texas, from 1995-1998; the city manager for Wylie, Texas, from 1992-1995; and as the assistant to the city manager/director of Economic Development for the City of Euless, Texas, from 1986-1992.

Brian P. Long, city manager of Lawton, Okla: He is the son of Huey P. Long, but not the infamous Louisiana political figure. He is actually the son of the former Oklahoma senator and gubernatorial candidate. He was the city manager of Spencer, Okla., from September 1999 until October 2000, when he decided to enter the private sector. He returned to public service in 2000 as the city administrator for Oak Grove, Mo., in the Kansas City area. According to the city of Lawton’s web site, during Long’s administration in Oak Grove "His calm demeanor and resolute leadership example largely contributed in restoring order within the community, reestablishing productive dialog within the community, and setting a positive example which was admired by civic leaders within the region and constituents alike. His exceptional ability to build upon the community’s strengths, charm and charisma was epitomized in the community’s 2008 Downtown Revitalization Project. This economic development initiative was recognized as the 2008 Transportation Project of the Year awarded through the Kansas City Chapter of the American Public Works Association (APWA) due to its highly innovative approach to economic development, functional design, and appealing aesthetics." He became Lawton’s assistant city manager in August 2008 and was promoted by the city council from among 40 candidates to the city manager’s position Feb. 26, 2013.

Andrea M. Gardner, city manager of Copperas Cove, Texas, and someone I learned little about except she is also the president of the Central Texas Council of Governments, which, according to its website, "helps local communities work cooperatively to improve the conditions and well-being of Central Texans." The city council spent less time talking to Ms. Gardner than any of the other candidates so my guess is she’s on the outside looking in. She did tell me before her interview that her mother is a breast cancer survivor who was treated in Austin and, as a tribute to her, she participates each year in Austin’s Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, a 3.1-mile race to raise money for cancer research. This year’s race is Sunday.

Kevin Hugman, assistant city manager in Wichita Falls, Texas. Someone else I have had trouble finding background on, but, according to the city’s web site, Hugman is "supervises three departments, Community Development, Parks and Recreation, and the Public Information Office. Community Development is comprised of five Divisions: Building Inspections, Code Enforcement, Neighborhood Resources, Planning and Zoning and Property Administration. Parks and Recreation includes Parks, Recreation, Wichita Falls Public Library, 50 Plus Zone and Cemeteries. The Public Information Office manages the City's cable television channel, City website, social media, keeps the media and public informed about City business, events, activities and emergency situations and other marketing and promotional aspects of the City."

Scott Sellers, city manager of Kilgore, Texas, a BYU graduate and the youngest of the five candidates. Before coming to Kilgore, he was the acting city manager in Montrose, Colo., and the assistant city manager in Centralia, Ill. According to Kilgore’s web site, "Scott has a passion for building communities and for serving the public. His economic development efforts have earned the International City/County Management Association’s Community Sustainability Award, and his innovation with the creation of a unified web-portal has been recognized nationally. During his career, Scott has been involved in the creation and/or oversight of several Tax Increment Finance districts, a Business Improvement District, a Downtown Development Authority, streetscape and beautification projects, and historic preservation initiatives. His work has resulted in the redevelopment of multiple downtown buildings and the infusion of millions of dollars into the local economy."

So that’s the final five which may be whittled to one on Tuesday.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Ugly Factor

How ugly do the city fathers (and mothers) want Kyle to be when it grows up? From what I gathered listening to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission discussing the Kyle’s landscape ordinance they want it to be pretty damned ugly. Heaven forbid that Kyle should ever be the home of an office building that looks like this, or this, or even this. And we certainly don’t want manufacturing concerns with campuses like this, or this, or this.

Contrary to what these pictures prove, the KPZC argues that businesses won’t locate here if the city requires them to have more than 10 percent of their property landscaped. Let them put a potted plant at the front door and we’ll call it day.

Current landscape ordinances require that those properties zoned R-1-1 and R-1-2 (both single family residential designations); R-1-A (single family attached/detached); R-2 (duplexes); and M-1, M-2 and M-3 (all manufactured housing designations) must plant "a minimum of two four-inch trees, six two-gallon shrubs and lawn grass from the front property lines to the front two corners of the structure ..." The problem the zoning folks had were with those big dad-gum trees. Chairman Mike Rubsam said trees that are no smaller than 2½ inches are plenty big enough for him. Of course, the real issue here is how fast will these trees grow and the answer to that is it depends on the type of tree. The most common tree planted in Texas is the Red Maple and it can grow between 1 to 2 feet per year. So, splitting the difference, if you put it a 2½ inch diameter, 4-feet tall red maple now, in 25 years that sucker will be 41½ feet tall. Of course, you have to wait a quarter of a century for that and by that time ....

But, to be honest, the tree issue is not that one that bothered me. It was the area-of-land-devoted-to-landscaping topic that I found wanting. Current landscape ordinances require that those properties zoned R-1-T (townhomes), R-1-C (condominiums), R-3-1 (multifamily), R-3-3 (apartments) and CBD-1 (Central Business District 1) devote 20 percent of their respective properties to landscaping. Rubsam noted that areas zoned for hospitals and neighborhood commercial also fell into this category and, in his view, 20 percent of their property devoted to landscaping was simply too onerous a requirement. He wanted it dropped to 15.

But that’s not all. He thought that areas zoned for warehouses and commercial uses, which now must have 15 percent of their property landscaped, be dropped down to 10 percent. Everyone on the commission seemed to buy into it. In fact, commissioner Dan Ryan said if these landscape requirements weren’t lowered, businesses would simply not locate in Kyle.


According to reports I’ve seen, the No. 1 reason an entrepreneur will locate a business in a certain area is that nebulous factor known as "quality of life." Specifically that means, an adequate and talented labor pool, easy access to customers and suppliers, good schools, parks, cultural amenities and restaurants. In fact, in a recent survey of 150 founders of some of the fastest growing companies in the United States, "only 2% of respondents mentioned business-friendly regulations or policies when discussing why they founded their company in a specific city." (You can read that entire report here.)

So instead of taking steps that make Kyle less attractive to the naked eye, I would be going in exactly the opposite direction. One of the first steps I would take is to put a temporary hiatus on discussing changes to the city’s landscaping ordinances and instead put out a bid for a forestry consultant to oversee the development of a landscaping master plan designed to enhance, not detract, from the city’s quality of life.

Instead of boasting about to prospective business owners about how little landscaping they will be required to install, tout Kyle’s location that features quick and easy access to the Bergstrom Airport via toll roads 45 and 130, the proximity to the labor pools produced by graduates of the University of Texas at Austin and Texas State University, the easy access to outstanding cultural and athletic amenities offered by Austin, San Marcos and San Antonio and the fact that just about every shopping need a consumer has can be satisfied by no more than a 5-minute drive right here in Kyle.

Admittedly, I am a recent transplant to Kyle. But this is where I have decided I want to live the rest of my life. This is going to be my final home. And I want that home to be "more," not "less." I want our city fathers (and mothers) looking for ways to make that home more attractive, not uglier.

Friday, November 7, 2014

City looking to upgrade communications

Kyle is looking into ways to improve its communications capabilities — both internally as well as with local constituents. Part of the effort was achieved Wednesday when the city council voted unanimously to approve a proposal from Time Warner Cable to connect all city office locations to a fiber ethernet network. This will not only improve communications from, say, City Hall to the Public Works Department, but will also enhance the city’s ability to stream city council meetings.

It probably won’t do anything to improve the quality of those videos, however. Acting City Manager James Earp announced plans to solve that part of the riddle when he told the council Wednesday about the Granicus Project which Earp promises will vastly improve the city’s interaction with its constituents.

"First, within six weeks we should be up and running on the boards and commissions project," Earp told the council. "It’s a better way to manage those folks who are applying and wishing to be on committees. It’s a better way for you to review applicants and for us to manage committees and to be aware of when people’s terms are expiring. It’s a way for people to apply, tell us what they’re interested in and submit resumes. It’s going to be an amazing tool.

"The second part (of the Granicus Project) will take a little longer to implement," he said. "You’ve had a lot of complaints about the quality of the video for council meetings. The video we do get is a very cheap product. The second prong of this project is going to provide a very professional video stream.

"As a citizen at home, if you’re interested in what happened concerning one particular agenda item you can click on that item and it will take you to that discussion in the video.. Another benefit is that it is so robust it can take the place of the verbatim written (council meeting) minutes, because now the video becomes the record of the meeting. And that means the city secretary doesn’t have to take the recordings of the meetings and transcribe every single word which saves hours upon hours upon hours of labor. So that’s two very important pieces. That will probably come in January.

"Finally we looking at Granicus to replace our entire agenda process. Everything will be all inter-related and inter-connected and work together in harmony."

Almost sounds like a Paul McCartney-Stevie Wonder song.

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

Now folks in Kyle have two ways to determine the current weather conditions in the community. One is the old fashioned way: just stick your head out the door.

But Acting City Manager James Earp unveiled a new way during Wednesday’s city council meeting. Go to the city’s web site, click on the "Community" tab and then acess "Kyle Weather Data" from the drop down menu. It’s actually a pretty neat page. You can see the current temperature, the forecast high and low for the day, humidity, dew point, atmospheric pressure, rainfall amounts, wind direction and speed as well as a table illustrating the "5 minute wind interval."

Now you can’t get all that just by sticking your head out the door.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Kyle police will finally get department-issued handguns

Mayor Todd Webster pulled an item off the consent agenda at Wednesday’s City Council meeting — an item approving the expenditure of $23,687.50 for 50 Glock .40 caliber pistols (pictured here) for Kyle police officers — after a gadfly resident complained at the open speakers forum that it was another example of wasteful spending.

It turns out, if Kyle police officers want to "preserve and protect" with department-issued weapons, they would go on duty with all the firepower of a greater London bobby. That’s right, Kyle police officers have to purchase their own firearms.

That is, up until Wednesday night’s council action.

And as far as wasteful spending goes, the $473.50 per pistol price seems like a fair price to me. The best deal I could find on one was $539.00.

So there’s that, too.

City Council takes first step to allow bars to serve alcohol until 2 a.m.

The City Council voted 5-1 last night to approve an ordinance that would allow establishments serving alcoholic beverages to remain open until 2 a.m. seven days a week. This was the first reading of the ordinance so final approval is still to come, but an analysis of the 33 and a half minutes of discussion and some debate at Wednesday’s council meeting suggests the ordinance will be approved when it appears on the agenda for a second reading.

Only council member Becky Selbera voted against the proposal. Council member Samantha Bellows-LeMense did not attend Wednesday’s meeting.

The proposed ordinance was brought to the council at the urging of James Rios, who recently opened a dance hall called Desperados at 110 West Center Street in the heart of downtown Kyle. Currently city law allows drinking establishments to remain open no later than midnight Sunday through Friday and until 1 a.m. on Saturdays.

"I honestly don’t have a problem with this," Mayor Todd Webster said. "We’re trying to energize Center Street. I have been in some of these establishments at closing time – not many times, but a few times – and I’ve heard people say at midnight they are going somewhere else outside the city. Well, I don’t want them to go somewhere else. I want them to stay here in Kyle. I’m in support of this. I’m in support of change."

Selbera said she feared for the safety of those living in the area.

"If people want to drink until 2 a.m., they can go home and drink until 2 a.m. if this means saving people’s lives," she said.

But the mayor countered: "Every time we have made a move to help our small businesses in Kyle there has been this fear that it will lead to some sort of catastrophic event that’s going to be terrible for the city. And it’s never happened. Mr. Rios, I want you to bring more businesses here and I worry about the message we send if we don’t get this done."

The only real concern among council members was that the city had no way of enforcing the ordinance because enforcement responsibility rested solely with the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission. But Police Chief Jeff Barnett seemed to allay those fears when he talked about the close cooperation that exists between the Kyle Police Department and the TABC. Barnett said the city could ticket any establishment serving alcohol after 2 a.m. and then notify the TABC of that action.

"The TABC representative for the city of Kyle regularly stays in contact with us and says he is absolutely at our disposal 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Barnett assured the council.

Rios added that once the TABC is notified of a violation that establishment is immediately slapped with a $5,000 fine and a possible loss of its TABC permits for up to six months.

Mayor pro tem Diane Hervol asked city attorney Ken Johnson whether the ordinance could be modified in a way that permitted establishments to serve alcohol until 2 a.m. only one or two days a week. Johnson replied that a TABC late night permit, which any establishment wishing to remain open after midnight must obtain, allows the establishment to operate until 2 a.m. seven days a week.

During the public hearing on the ordinance, only one citizen, Terry Blackney, came to speak against it. No citizens, other than Rios, came to speak in favor of it. Blackney said he moved to Kyle from Houston 15 years ago and while in Houston he witnessed late night drinking leading to gang wars and drive-by shootings "involving innocent people standing around."

"I think you’re setting up Kyle for a spiraling decline in the way you’re approving these bars and dance halls," Blackney told the council. "Crime is likely to follow and it’s already showing up. Now you want to let these bars remain open until 2 o’clock in the morning every day of the week. And after closing time the residents near these bars will have to have iron bars on their windows and doors and front yard fences and guard dogs. I come from the city and I’ve seen this my whole life."

Council member Shane Arabie did not paint such a bleak picture but he did express concern for the area. He told Rios he had no doubt the ordinance will benefit Desperados and will also add sales tax revenues to the city’s treasury.

"But we also have to protect the citizens who are and will be living in this district," Arabie said. "And even if it has worked in other cities, it is my job to make sure it’s going to work for us and to protect the citizens around this area. That does not mean I’m against this ordinance. It simply means I have some questions about the locations we’re talking about. And it’s not you we’re worried about, it’s the businesses that come in after you."

After the vote was taken, Rios sat down with me and talked a little bit about Desperados.

"It’s a place for people to come, enjoy, drink, hang out, dance and have a good night," he said. "This Sunday we’re doing something for the teenagers from 6 p..m to 10 p.m..

"For the longest time, the people of Kyle have had to go 15 minutes north or 15 minutes south in order to enjoy themselves," Rios continued. "Or they’d start drinking here in Kyle and then they’d drive to Austin or San Marcos. We’re providing place where they don’t have to do that.

"We’re also providing a place where they don’t even have to drink if they don’t want to. We’re going to do live music concerts. We’re going to do acoustic sets. We’re going to do DJs. On the off nights when we’re not open, we could open for private events. We have a capacity for 276 people and it’s a big space but it’s a welcoming space. You can go in, enjoy yourself, have a drink, not have a drink, listen to good music and dance if you want to. It’s a mixture of country, top 40, 80s, retro. We have a live DJ in there so you can go in and request any song you want and dance to anything you want. My thing is to provide an entertainment venue for Kyle."

He said he obviously felt good about the tentative approval of the ordinance.

"At the end of the day, these people on the city council are responsible for the entire city," Rios told me. "So they are going to be careful about anything they put their stamp on. They have every right to question everything and it’s my job to convince them and tell them it’s the right thing to do. Hopefully we achieved that today."