The Kyle Report

The Kyle Report

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Conversations with City Council Candidates: Damon Fogley, District 5

Why are you running?

I’ve always had a passion for my community. When I was doing my projects I didn’t focus on state government or federal government, I focused on city issues. I did a big project on underfunded ESDs (Emergency Service Districts) in Travis County. I found out from first-hand observation that all the fire departments up there have been struggling. Public safety is part of my background. I consider myself a subject matter expert when it comes to public safety organizations — police, fire, EMS. If you look at my history of public service, it’s been in public safety. I was in the military. I was an EMS paramedic for nine years in Austin. Even when I was a kid I got the citizenship award over and over again. And so I see it as my calling — public service. I found myself watching city council meetings on Saturday nights. I read the local papers. I read the Statesman. I watch the news. I’m a news junkie. So that’s my passion and I figured what better opportunity than to be a city council member because there might be an opportunity to make a difference.

Do you think there is a public safety problem in Kyle?
I think Kyle with our population growth in the city we’re going to need to adjust our fire service. We’re eventually going to need to have a municipal fire department. And that’s what I want to push. I want to have a plan to have a municipal fire department in the next five years. Whether or not that includes EMS, we’ll have to explore that option. But the current model is unsustainable, financially unsustainable. We’re understaffed. The city’s been doing a good job of chipping in, but that’s not the city’s job to fund an ESD. In my project I explored a lot of different options — financial options such as grant funding, consolidation of services, cooperative purchasing among ESDs. There are a lot of solutions that are sort of short term — that will put a band-aid on it. But want to work with Chief Taylor to push for new legislation which would actually raise the ad valorem tax from 10 cents to 40 cents, only with voter approval. Chief Taylor actually used my project with his research paper to try to push this legislation through. Pflugerville is going through the same thing right now. I think our police department is under-funded. We’re training officers just to find out they’re leaving to go to other departments that pay better. I think you get what you pay for. So what I want to do — not just in public safety but in all city departments — I think every employee from the bottom all the way to the top is important. Do some services need to be contracted out? Yes. But wastewater, I don’t think that needs to be contracted out. I think we do a better job on that internally. TDS (Texas Disposal Systems, solid waste disposal company) is probably something that needs to be contracted out. I think our deal with TDS is OK. We contract our EMS services out. So I think we need to do a better job at having better city services to serve the citizens better and to attract more businesses to Kyle.

That’s interesting, because there are moves in some cities to go in exactly the opposite direction, to privatize more city services.

So you look at Austin. Austin contracts hardly anything out. In some areas they contract out solid waste. Police, fire, EMS are all internal. Great benefits, Great salaries. They’re competitive. You’ll see people coming from all over the state — all over the country, as a matter of fact — to go to work for their police department, to go work for their fire department. Their parks are great. Their parks are integrated with the environment. That’s why a lot of companies are coming to Austin. Do I want Kyle to be like Austin? I think Austin has a very bureaucratic process when it comes to permits. Zoning is a huge issue up there. That’s why a lot of companies are looking at surrounding areas to land their businesses because of the overly-bureaucratic permit process. So I don’t want to be exactly like Austin, but I think Austin is doing a lot of good things that we can replicate.

What would you do differently than the individual who currently occupies to seat you want to be elected to?
One of the things that kind of frustrated me was the wrecker ordinance. I was on the Public Safety Committee and I actually drafted that ordinance myself. We hashed that out for about a year, a year and a half. We had our reasons to write it the way we did. The chief blessed off on it. Everyone was onboard with it, even the wrecker companies that showed up, the ones from Kyle and the ones from surrounding areas. And then things were changed at the last minute. Was I talked to about that? No, I was not. If you want to change something as a council member, you have the right to do that. But as a respect and a courtesy to committee members that hashed that out, I would have appreciated it if I was approached about the reasons that we changed the language that we created in my contract. Do we need committees? I think we need boards. We need public input. I think it’s important, but at the same time I think you need good leadership amongst the committees. You need to have a very clear, thought-out appointment process also. You’ll have some committees that have chairs where they’re not leadership driven. And you’ll have some meetings where you barely have a quorum. And sometimes committee members don’t bring much to the table. So if you have a solid committee and you have strong leadership I don’t see a problem with having committees. But if you have committees that are over-stepping their boundaries, their rationale really doesn’t make sense or their leadership is weak, then why do you have committees?

So what did you think of the city manager’s recent proposal concerning the city’s committee structure?
I wouldn’t abolish all committees. I think some committees need to be merged. Some committees seem to be duplicating things. You could take one committee that was doing the same thing as another one. You could possibly merge two committees. I think we have some strong committees and we have weak committees.

Give me an example of a strong committee.

But there are no plans to get rid of that?
So you’re asking me which ones are weak and need to be abolished?

No. I was asking you to specifically address the city manager’s recent recommendation on committees?
If you could figure out a way where a company doesn’t have to go through all the red tape with the bureaucracy of a committee and you establish certain guidelines and they meet it, they shouldn’t have to go through a committee to get a permit. I think that’s one of the reasons they wanted to abolish some of the committees was because it would take some companies a lengthy period of time to get a permit. I think that’s his rationale for that — to cut the red tape. I know with the wrecker ordinance it took us about a year to pass that and then it had to go through council on top of that, at least two readings. However, at the same time, I think the city council — if you have good leadership on your boards and your committees then you should be able to delegate those tasks out, because you don’t want to have meetings that go on until one o’clock in the morning, two o’clock in the morning because then you become ineffective. So it’s important to delegate but at the same time it’s important to have strong leadership. So I would revamp the whole appointment process because we actually had applications that came through us, we got handed a folder, some of the applications were two, three-years -old. Some of the people might not have even lived in Kyle anymore. And when you look at some of them on paper and then you look at some of them face-to-face, those are two different things. You may look good on paper, but in person you may be different and it may be vice-versa also. So maybe having a structured interview process I think would help – a good face-to-face in front of all the committee members or all the council members whatever that may be. Would I abolish all the committees? No.

What are your views on individual council town hall meetings?
I think they’re great. I think town hall meetings are important. I think that’s where you can get council members on a more personal level, get to know their families, get to know them by their first names. I think that’s important. You’ve got to have that personal relationship, especially for those council members that represent districts. If I’m elected, I know (out-going council member) Samantha (Bellows) has coffee every other Saturday. I would like to continue that. It may not be on Saturday’s because I work weekends, but perhaps during the week at night at Starbucks. On my web page right now, you can go on there and I have a section where I talk about every Wednesday here at Starbucks if anyone wants to come and talk to me about any issues that affect them or how they want to be served better they come and talk to me about that. I know with my HOA, we just had a meeting last weekend and we had a pretty good turnout. I know a lot of people they learn a lot of things when you go to the town hall meetings. You find out things you otherwise wouldn’t learn about — issues that effect the subdivisions within a community, issues of the HOA, legal issues. This Sunday we’re going to have a meeting with council member (Becky) Selberra. The HOA originally went up in front of council to be created because right now we’re pretty much non-existent. We have a pool that’s dilapidated, we have landscaping in the front that needs a lot of work. Some of the other issues we talk about are the road bond projects. A lot of citizens are concerned about how much debt we’re in right now, a hundred million dollars in debt. But at the same time they realize "Yeah we’re in debt right now but do you want to be one of those cities that doesn’t have any debt but doesn’t have any amenities for its citizens?". They don’t have parks, they don’t have good roads, they don’t have decent water. Som e of those cities out in West Texas are like that, the quality of life is poor. I’d rather live in a city where I have a better quality of life. And so we had — I wouldn’t say a debate, but a good discussion in that forum. And we’re probably going to have another one this weekend. And during my block walking I’m finding out a lot of issues that haven’t been brought up in council meetings. So it’s a good venue to learn about some of the other issues people want to talk about.

In addition to public safety, what are the trop issues facing Kyle right now?
Our tax base right now, we’re residential heavy, which is an issue. Every dollar of revenue a household generates in ad valorem tax, they spend about $1.13 in resources — roads, water, wastewater, public safety. So because of that we’re in a lot of debt. That’s one of the reasons I attended that meeting today (economic development summit meeting). And I have a meeting with Julie Snyder (Kyle Chamber CEO) next week to talk about what the city’s doing to aggressively try to get companies to come to our city. If we get more commercial companies that try to change from agricultural and residential — if we could get a good, big employer such as CFAN in San Marcos, such as Samsung in Austin — one of those companies, this could be a community where we could live here, work here, play here, where people wouldn’t have to commute to San Antonio, wouldn’t have to commute to Austin. I’m one of those that commutes to Austin — North Austin — every time I go to work. If I want to go to an entertainment district, I have to drive to Austin. The small businesses are good — the little mom and pop businesses — I don’t want to get rid of those but they are not sustainable for what we have right now. So increasing the commercial and industrial tax base. Do I want to have landfill or do I want to have a coal factory? No. I want responsible companies, light manufacturing, clean manufacturing. Why aren’t we going to California, some of the conventions out there and advertising Kyle? We might be doing that, I’m not sure, but I’d be interested in finding out more about that. But I think we need to be aggressively trying to get those companies here, whether that’s through tax incentives, infrastructure deals.

Don’t you think cities have a tendency to give away the store in order to attract relocations?
Take a development like Wal-Mart. The developer where Wal-Mart is getting 33 percent over 10 years. We are in competition with other cities for annexation to try to get companies in also. San Marcos has already butted up against us to the south and the southeast so the only way we can expand is out to the west. We have to be competitive. Now, should we give away the farm? No. But do we need to be competitive? Yes, we do. And part of that is tax incentives. I’m not against tax incentives. Responsible tax incentives for good paying jobs, for jobs where people can promote and people don’t have to commute two hours each way I think is where we need to go. I think because of our location a lot of developers have their eye on Kyle right now but what’s slowing them down is the fact that our infrastructure isn’t developed. Kohlers Crossing is where a lot of our waterlines stop. To the southeast, we’re not fully developed out there.

What are your thoughts on the city manager’s plan to make Kyle a destination city?
I think people need a reason to get off I-35. Right now they don’t have a reason to do that. You have Cabella’s. Buda has Cabella’s. You get a lot of sales tax from Cabella’s. You go to San Marcos, they have the outlet malls. They have the university. Do we need to make it a destination city? I don’t know, but we do need to have something big to give people a reason to get off the freeway in Kyle. The fast-food restaurants, the little businesses, they’re really not cutting it. We need to have something big. What that is, I’m not sure. I know there’s been talks about putting a Costco here. Whether that might be a sports venue. One of the best things that happened to us is Southpark Meadows forced some of the big box stores not to look at Buda any longer because it’s not five miles outside of that radius. So a lot of those companies now are going to be eyeing Kyle and with that arrival is going to come that property tax revenue, sales tax revenue, it’s going to bolster our tax base and that’s exactly what we need. Who that company is going to be, I’m not sure but we need to have something to get people to exit the highway, exit the freeway in Kyle.

What are our thoughts on TIFs and PIDs?
I think they’re good. If you have decent leadership, a decent board, if everyone’s on the same page and you have good direction and everyone understands what the goal is, I think they can be done very well. Some people feel like it adds on to their taxes. However, I think it’s an investment, depending on what you’re trying to get in the long run.

What are your feelings about roundabouts in general and specifically one at Kohlers Crossing and Kyle Parkway?
I’m not opposed to roundabouts. I don’t think they necessarily decrease the number of accidents but they definitely help prevent serious accidents from occurring so that’s a safety issue. I know a lot of the new engineering plans are transitioning to more roundabouts.

Do you think the city should expend tax funds on things some might consider frivolous such as art in public spaces?
I’m very receptive to what the people want, people’s opinions, One of the things I want to do is look at the results of the city manager’s survey — what do the people want. I know in Austin that’s huge, that’s what they want. Do people in Kyle want that? I’m not sure. That’s something I would ask the public and I would take a hard look at that survey. It’s not all about my opinion. It’s about the people who live here, what they want. So I’m not sure. I would like to look at that survey and talk to the city manager because I think there was a similar question on that survey. In some areas, like the downtown area, the revitalization of the downtown area, the beautification of the area is very important especially to the people who live in Old Town. You have other people who live down there. They’ve lived there for a long time. They don’t want to see the bars coming in even though you have the Desperados and you have the Down South Rail House that are pushing into the downtown area. Certain areas have that appeal and if they don’t want that there then I would listen to what they want. There’s a development being built behind my house — I live in District 2 off of East Highway 150 kind of by Tobias Elementary — there’s a Cool Springs development that’s going to go in there. Initially I was opposed to it. Now that I learned they’re talking to the city about possibly turning this water retention area that belongs to the city into a park and then adding some park area onto the development. I think we need to be doing stuff like that to serve the residents where the developer pitches in some money, the city pitches in some money and you actually have a bigger park with more open space here people can jog. It’s a fitness thing, too. Having really good parks and having really good after-school programs that keeps kids out of trouble. Juvenile delinquency is a huge issue here. W have a lot of property crimes here committed by juveniles. I think if we have a good parks program, if we have a good after-school program then it would help bring that crime level down.

What are your feelings about dedicated hike and bike trails?
Absolutely. The hike and bike trail in Plum Creek isn’t owned by the city, it’s owned by the Plum Creek HOA. And I actually didn’t know that for a while. I love the park. I work in Austin and I find myself spending a lot of time in Austin more than I do in Kyle and going back to my whole live-work-play model, part of the play part isn’t just having an entertainment district or a movie theater. Part of it is having good amenities for people to go to — good parks. Also partnering with non-profits — YMCA, for instance. I think a YMCA can run a pool program better than we can, probably at a better cost. Yes, people would probably have to pay to go to the YMCA, but the city could somehow negotiate a deal for Kyle residents to go to the YMCA and have a membership there. The Kyle Library, for instance. The Kyle Library brings thousands of dollars in revenue into the city that supplements that tax burden for the library. The library cost a million dollars to build — although don’t quote me on that figure — and without the revenues from the library the taxpayers would be paying a lot more money. So part of it is also partnering up with some of the local non-profit organizations that could help us. One of the things I see is people driving to the entertainment districts in Austin and I see that as a safety issue. If people want to go out and drink they’re going to drink. They’re going to drive to Austin, they’re going to drive to San Marcos to drink. If we had those places here they could take a cab to where they’re going or they could have friends that could drive them. But when they’re driving to Austin — I’m not saying everyone’s a drunk driver — but people do drink, especially on the weekends. And if you had local alternatives, I think that’s a safety issue.

What are your thoughts of the current council makeup of three single-member districts and three at-large districts?
I think right now it’s working but I think eventually we’re going to have to add more representatives with the population growth. Austin just transformed to a 10-1 structure. The city council members are full-time paid employees. They also have staffers. I think they’re more productive that way. They get a lot of work done. I think having part-time city council members they can only get so much done in so much time. So I think eventually we might have to transition into something like that — all single-member distracts. At the same time having a more personal connection with your constituents is more effective is more efficient. So I wouldn’t have a problem with that happening eventually.

How do you feel about having council elections every year?
You can’t do anything about when special elections come up. You have to have that election. But right now we have three-year terms established. I think three year terms are great. Elections cost money. One of the reasons the city manager wanted to do away with committees was because of the cost of having staffers keeping tabs on the minutes for every meeting. We need to cut costs everywhere we can and try decreasing our bureaucracy so I’m all for three year terms and having elections every year doesn’t make sense.

Also would you favor having every single council seat up for election once every three years?
Yes, every three years.

Your thoughts on the council-manager form of government?
Council-manager works for Kyle. I know Austin talked about having a strong mayor for a while because of their growth. They have close to 900,000 people. If you have a strong mayor form of government, having a strong mayor gives that mayor much more power. I think right now if you were to have single member districts the council-manager system works because the council members have that power to make decisions for each district. And I think that’s good. A lot of the citizens want — especially if they elect someone — they want that person they elected to have power to make decisions that would best suit them. So I think the council-manager system works for right now. Maybe five years down the road we might have to re-evaluate it, but right now with our size, with 35,000 people, the council-manager form of government is meant for populations less than a million.

Are there any changes you would like to see made to the city charter?
I looked at the charter a couple of weeks ago, There wasn’t anything that really stood out that I would change. I think holding some of the public officials more accountable for certain things, making sure they’re of top-notch quality, moral quality. But there isn’t anything I would change, really.

Do you think the city should invest in mass transit and, if so, what specifically should they invest in?
With the increase in density we’re eventually going to have to partner with Capital Metro. We looked at Lone Star rail and the cost was going to be way too expensive. It was going to be $100 million project. Do we need a Lone Stair Rail right now? For the cost, no. I think eventually we need to be looking at a solid transportation plan. Once we transition from people commuting to San Antonio, people commuting to Austin, we get more employers here, then I think we’re going to need to look at how we’re going to fund a good transportation program whether that be partnering with Capital Metro— you know giving them a half penny sales tax for a good transportation plan — that might be an option. I think the plan needs to be in the works, especially with the increase in density in our area. Can we afford it right now? I don’t think we can. Once we get an increase in population, more employers here, then yes, we’d be able to afford it.

At first glance, most of the business in Kyle seems to be retail. What can be done to attract more salaried jobs to the city?
We have catered to those people at the bachelor degree level jobs. Our housing market here in Kyle is middle-classed focus so when people break that middle class barrier, they move out, they go out to Wimberly, they buy land, they live in a bigger house. I think Kyle’s in the process of getting some development, houses that are over the $300,000 range. So I think we need to focus on getting more of those housing subdivisions that are worth more so that when people transition from bachelor degree level income to master’s degree level they would stay here in the community.

The city manager usually unveils his proposed budget in early August. The city council votes on its passage toward the end of September. If elected, what steps would you take so that between the unveiling and the passage of the budget, more citizens had input into what that budget contains?
Social media is huge right now and if you look at our city web site, yeah we are transparent to a certain degree. But being a highly transparent city is all about getting that information out there through all avenues – Twitter, Facebook, having a really developed web page. At the same time, streaming video and audio of the council meetings. Right now if I go on there the last council meeting had about 10 hits. I don’t think that’s because people don’t want to be informed. I think it’s because of the quality of the video. You have to watch banner ads, you have to watch a 30-second clip before the actual video starts. You can’t really hear it that well. If you’re hard of hearing, you’re not going to hear it at all. I would work to upgrade that software, redeveloping that whole web site. We have some committee members that have their personal e-mail addresses on there and I think that’s unprofessional. We need to have bios up. So putting out the budget information through the city’s web site. Even having an app with push notifications. I know right now you can actually contact the Kyle Police Department through an app but it doesn’t even have a way to attach a photo. So if you want to report a lost dog you have to write out a description. So I would like to find ways to keep up with some of the more advanced technologies. Say if you want to get alerts for the budget or a certain committee you could check a certain box and that would give you touch notification and then you could actually write down some of your input for council members to read, something that goes back and forth so the communications is two-way. You definitely have to be more transparent with what we do through social media and the web site.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Charter Review Commission says "We don't want that many people voting in city elections"

For the very first time since its creation, the Charter Review Commission took a vote this evening and voted against taking action that, in all likelihood, would have increased voter participation in municipal elections and reduced the cost of city elections. Specifically, the commission voted four to two one with abstention against a motion to move the city’s elections from May to November.

It is only fair to note at this point that the city of Austin recorded a 78 percent increase in voter turnout for its most recent city council election and city officials attributed that increase to the fact the election was held in November, on the same date as the national elections, and not on its usual May date. To be equally fair, a 78 percent spike in Kyle’s voter turnout would probably mean 5.34 percent of the registered voters came to the polls instead of what historically has been around 3 percent (at least that was the number I was given by one city council member). That means about 335 more voters of 14,332 currently registered, but, hey, that’s progress.

Charter commissioner Jo Fenety led the faction against moving the election date, arguing such a change would result in partisan factions controlling the outcome of the non-partisan council elections.

In other action, the commission:

  • Wrangled with the notion of who should be allowed to appoint the members of boards and commissions. The current charter, in Section 4.01, says the only mayor can "recommend appointees for the boards and commissions" and there was some discussion about whether language should be inserted in one or more places in the document that would allow individual council members to also recommend appointees.
  • Debated whether the mayor should be allowed to designate someone to sign documents in his/her stead. Section 4.01 of the charter also says "The mayor shall have signatory authority for all legal contracts and commitments of the city." According to one city staff member, the director of finance used to have the authority to sign legal papers if the mayor wasn’t available until a previous city attorney said that practice was illegal under the current charter.
  • Tossed around the idea of whether the winner of city elections should be the candidate who receives the most votes, regardless of the percentage that candidate receives, or require a winner to receive 50 percent plus one of the total votes cast. The commission, without much discussion on the issue, appeared to favor keeping the majority requirement that is part of the current charter.
  • Generally agreed that Section 4.03 (a) of the charter should end after the word "manager." It currently states the city council can "Appoint, supervise and remove the city manager, and confirm dismissal of the Director of Finance by majority vote of the entire council." The commission was swayed by the idea that since the city manager is solely responsible for hiring the finance director and since the finance director works directly for the city manager, that the council should have no voice in that person’s dismissal. The fact that the language about the finance director was not in the previous charter added weight to the notion it should be removed from the next one.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Conversations with City Council Candidates: Dex Ellison, District 6

Why are you running for city council?

I contemplated this decision for a while. It was a decision that was almost a year in the making. I moved here in 2010. Ever since I moved here, shortly after, in 2011 I met Diane Hervol who is the current mayor pro tem. I met her at the chamber gala. I remember being at one of the auction item tables and I didn’t know who she was. I was just talking to her about local government and how I’d always been interested in government and had never really put much of my interest locally. It’d always been on the federal level that I had interest in government and how it works. Lo and behold she revealed to me who she was and she said "Start coming to city council meetings. See how things work from that end and perhaps you’ll join a committee or something." I took her advice. So in early 2011 I started attending city council meetings and ever since then I will say I made at least one per month. With my schedule, sometimes I couldn’t make both of them. But it intrigued me. I learned a lot about the city that I don’t think otherwise I would have known about. Through that I heard about a lot of different programs the city puts on. One of which was the Kyle Leadership Academy. In late 2013 I decided to join that. I think I have one class left to go with that. It’s a great program. I would encourage as many people to get involved with that because it’s a great way to learn about local government. Not just local government but government here in Kyle which has its differences from other cities. For example, the public library is a part of local government here. So that was very informative. It really caught my attention, got me engaged. Also learned about the Kyle Citizens Citizen’s Police Academy through attending those meetings. And that’s another class I think every citizen in the city should take. It’s a great way to learn about your police department. Not only to get to meet the police officers who serve and protect our city but also learn how to protect yourself, your business and things like that. Fast forward to last year. I always have known I wanted to serve my community. I do that in a number of different ways whether it’s with the Kyle Invaders, the youth football program I am a part of. I love working with youth, young people. I come from a background of poverty where I really didn’t have many positive, especially male, figures in my life growing up. So I knew as an adult male I wanted to be that. I don’t have a wife and children so I can honestly say the community is my family. I continued to be involved in that and a number of different things. I regularly volunteer at the food bank every month. That’s been one of my favorite things to do as well. But seeing all the different things I was involved in really got me to thinking that "Dex, perhaps this is a good time to get outside your comfort zone" because I am typically a private person. I like my privacy. I live alone and my friends always ask me about that. I enjoy it. I love having my sanctuary. In my employment I am constantly around people and I love that. I love my job. I love the employer I work for. I love the fact that it’s a not-for-profit organization. I loved that they encouraged me to get out into the community. Being involved in all those things really got me to thinking maybe this is the time to pursue that. Personally, I will admit, I have had ambitions about being a representative. I think that’s a way to really serve your community. I think a lot of times folks that get into that get into it for the wrong reasons. I really, truly want to be a representative for the people. That’s why this decision has been one that’s been in the making for almost a year. I went home the last two weeks of December. I took vacation from work. I went home to my grandmother’s house and I prayed and meditated because if I was going to do this I wanted to do it for the right reasons. I wanted it to be not about me and if I was ready for it. I think it’s a huge responsibility and one someone should take seriously. Not on a whim and not last minute. So I knew after that little sabbatical, if you will, that I took in December, that this was the time for me and so on January 28th I filed on the very first day and I’ve been campaigning ever since, walking the neighborhoods every Saturday, just anytime I’ve had outside of work to really get the pulse of the people, specifically in my district because that’s where I’m voted from, but I’ve also talked with others who are not in my district in the city or have a vested interest in the city. I’ve talked to a lot of local small business owners to get a perspective on that relationship between the city and local business and how that relationship can improve. I’m not one who is really content. I feel like contentment is a beautiful place but nothing grows there. There can always be improvements. If I’m blessed to have the opportunity to be elected to the city council I want to go on there not with my own agenda but with the thought in mind of what the residents, small business owners, the people who care about this city want.

Did you end up serving on any city committees?
No. My initial idea after getting involved with the Leadership Academy was that I would learn about the different parts of government and that would be a great way to get my foot in the door, to get my feet wet on the experience. That was my initial thought. In going through the academy, I enjoyed it. Jerry’s (Chief of Staff Jerry Hendrix) doing a great job with that. As I was going through it and seeing last May representative (Ray) Bryant step down and representative (Tammy) Swaton run unopposed … I’ve lived in District 6 the entire time I’ve lived here. I think there’s a reason why I was led to run for District 6 and not the city as a whole. It kind of reminded me of where I am from. I’m from a small town outside of Houston, Conroe, Texas. I grew up in some rough neighborhoods. I grew up in some under-served communities, where the representation wasn’t there for those communities. So I felt a bond with District 6 and the area there. Not to completely say it’s under-served, but if anyone unbiased comes into this city and looks on the west side of town and looks at how those roads are and then goes on the east side of town it’s just a different infrastructure that’s in place. You’ll see it. Like I said, I wanted to get a pulse of the residents there and see those that have been there much longer than I have. I only moved here in 2010. So after the hospital and after H-E-B came to town and that’s obviously where the population boom really happened. So I wanted to hear the voices of that population that have been here for a while, have seen that change, that were here when there were more cattle than people. So I wanted their perspective as well as the perspective of newer residents. I had my own opinions and my own perspectives but I still wanted to get others so that’s kind of been my drive.

What are you hearing when you’re talking to people?
It’s mixed. Like I said I’ve talked to people who have lived here 10 years, 20 years, even some people close to 30. I’ve talked with those who have just moved to the city that are even newer than I am. Overall, I’d say, from the responses from people who have been here the longest – I wouldn’t say there’s been so much reluctance to the growth. Yes, they kind of reminisce and miss the days of old when it was a little bit simpler here. I can understand that. That’s probably one of the reasons why they moved here in the first place. But I would say the majority of them – and of course you’re going to have your outliers – are embracing the growth. They’re embracing it, but they want their voice to be heard. They don’t want to be forgotten. For example, I talked with the owner of Hair, Etc., down on Center Street, the salon. She’s been there 22 years. She’s not a resident of Kyle but she gave me a history lesson I was thankful for. I sat down for a little while and we talked about Kyle, And the reason I bring her up is because I think she kind of summarizes the best. They’re welcoming the growth. They understand the importance of it. "But don’t forget about us" is what she said. I think that voice needs to be heard. I know a lot’s being thrown around about Kyle being a destination city, a tourist city, bringing people in. The city manager has talked of a primary lure and things like that. I think in order to do that and keep that feel you’ve got to embrace the local small business owners. You have to embrace the history of Kyle because these box stores are great, 1626 has really been built up. But people aren’t going to travel to Kyle to go to the Wal-Mart or the Best Buy, if they throw one up. They’ve got that in their own cities. The people who want those are the newer folks like me that are coming from somewhere else and are saying "I need an H-E-B here. I need a Wal-Mart." But I also want to keep in mind what Kyle was before. I really respect that. History is something I’ve always respected. That’s the way I was raised. I was raised by my grandmother so I think I’m an old soul because of that. I definitely want to champion that part of Kyle and not let that be forgotten. Like she said "Don’t forget about us." They have a voice and I want to hear that voice. I want to hear every voice possible. I was very saddened by the fact I could not make the forum earlier this month because that’s one of the things I talked about with every person I knocked on the door of. Accessibility. I want you to be able to reach out to me. That’s why I’ve given out my personal cell phone number. That’s why I’ve given out my personal e-mail address. If you have anything you want to speak to me about I’m more than willing to meet with you and that’s why I felt unfortunate I could not make that. It was something I committed to months ago I just couldn’t get out of. But I still want people to have that feeling that they can reach me and whether it’s a new resident, an old resident, a small business owner whether they live here or not – anyone who cares about this community because I do as well – I want them to be able to come to me and express their thoughts. We’re not going to always agree. We’re not always going to see eye-to-eye. But I want your voice to be heard.

You talked about preferring to run from a single-member district. Would you like all of Kyle’s city council districts to be single-member?
I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily opposed to that. I think it’s important to have different perspectives because every neighborhood has a different issue. In my district there are seven or eight main neighborhood that pop up on the map when you look at the district map. But each one of them – and I’ve been through them all – they each have their own concerns. They each have their own issues that they care about. They each have things that are affecting them that aren’t affecting the neighborhood even just down the street. Many larger cities have gone to that. Obviously they are even more diverse than this city, but we’re growing. The San Marcos General Partnerships estimates over 80,000 people here after 2030. In 17 years we’re going to almost triple in size. That’s something we need to be cognizant of. We need to keep in mind we are a growing city. It’s not a "don’t-build-it-they-won’t-come" type of thing. That’s what happened with Austin. Folks are coming to this area so let’s make the decisions now. Not just the budget-to-budget year, not just my three-year term. I want to bring to the dias a look at our future and how we can best get things in order now for when that happens because it’s going to happen. So, yeah, I would definitely hear that out. I wouldn’t say I’m opposed to that because every community has their own things they want to bring to the table. For one person to encompass all of that as an at-large candidate or representative, I just don’t think it’s doable.

Do you feel so strongly about that you would want it to be a part of the new charter that will be up for approval after the election?
I would definitely bring it up. And I would like to have a discussion about it. Absolutely. Like I said before it’s very important for everyone to feel represented. I think it’s great we have the different districts. Obviously there’s a place for that and dividing it up even more so people feel even more that they have their voice heard. One of the most frustrating things I’ve found from walking the neighborhoods is not only that people aren’t registered to vote. That’s probably the most frustrating thing. But the other thing is they don’t know who their representative is. They asked me "Who represents us now?" That concerns me. Like I said, I’ve always been interested in federal government – government on a larger scale. But nothing that’s one on a federal scale affects you as quickly as what’s done on a local scale. We get millions of people to turn out for a federal election but we can’t get 500 people in this city. It’s saddening. It really is. The decisions that are made at City Hall twice a month, sometimes more, are going to affect people probably the very next day. For people not to be engaged in that or not concerned about that, for me that’s a problem. But they don’t know who their representative is. They’ve never had a conversation – they don’t know how to get a hold of their representative. I talked to one lady in her driveway for about 20 minutes and she talked about that. She said she doesn’t know who’s working for us, who’s got our back. She had a laundry list of issues and she said she didn’t even know who to bring them to. I can hear the cry. Yes it does take an amount of responsibility on the constituents part, not only to get registered, not only to get informed and then vote, of course. But I think there can be some effort on our part as well. One of the things I remember from reading the charter was being registered 30 days before the election. I can understand the points for that. But I think in a city where our voter participation is so low that would be another thing I would bring up for discussion was decreasing that amount. Because I would love to get people registered when there’s no election involved because that just gives the idea you’re just trying to get someone elected to office. But let’s be honest, that’s when the peak interest comes. People start thinking about voting during the election process. So when that’s happening, if there’s an issue that arises them enough or a candidate arises them enough, why not make that ability to register them a smaller number? I mean whatever it takes to get folks registered and involved in the process. I would like to work with realtors. When they show someone a house and someone moves in why not have voter registration cards as part of the packet for every 18-and-older person? We’re not telling them who to vote for. This could be in July. But you’re giving them the opportunity to simply fill that out and send that in. Or maybe the city could have registration days twice a year. Go to different businesses or have some place centralized where they have voter registration cards so people could come by and register to vote. I don’t know. Something like that. We’ve got great minds in this community that we could get people interested or at least registered. That’s the first step. Getting them registered. Because I’ve talked to a number of people that weren’t and have been here for more than a year or two years. And I asked them about that. "Why aren’t you registered? Why don’t your participate in the voting process?" And I get a number of different answers. "I don’t want to be called for jury duty" and all this and it bugs me.

In order to decrease the likelihood of voter fatigue, how would you feel about moving the municipal elections to the November general election and not having a city council election every year?
It’s interesting you bring that up because when I tell people both inside and outside the city I’m running for office but they are always shocked when I tell them the election is May 9. That’s a part of that education as well. Once again, I would love for that to be brought up. If no one else brings it up, I would definitely lead the charge and bring that up. Everything should be up for discussion. As our city changes we need to review our charter. We need to review our policies, different ordinances and things because what was working before the population boom 15 or 20 years ago may not cut it now. I would like to see some data on whether voter turnout is increased moving the election to November but if cities really feel that moving it increased the number of voters than why not. I can’t stress enough: Whatever gets people registered, whatever gets people to the polls, I’ll consider it. It’s a travesty the population percentage that comes out to vote. Right now our population is, conservatively, let’s say around 32,000 now. But when you have maybe 500 show up out of that amount, that does not represent the population of Kyle. It’s the same old people going to the polls and it’s those people that are deciding what’s going on in the city. I’m not saying their vote shouldn’t be heard either but there are plenty of people in this city that have a voice as well and we need to get them engaged. My old man’s a barber or he was until he retired in Austin. I remember as a young boy going to the barber shop and sitting in there after school and listening to those men talk. I would hear them talk about everything. Faith. Politics. Sex. Doing things. It was everything. Anytime they came up with the subject of politics or government there was always the ignorance of "My vote doesn’t count" or "the electoral college doesn’t really elect the President" or whatever it may be. But even as a young boy I understood that ignorance there. And that makes even more sense in a city with lower voter turnout. I mean (council member Becky) Selberra won her seat by less than 10 votes. That proves every vote matters. Even on a larger scale, you should still exercise your right to vote. My ancestors fought and shed blood for the right to vote so I will be damned if I don’t exercise that right. Anything that get’s people interested, registered, gets them to the polls, whether that’s changing the election date to November, whether that’s having all single member district seats with just the mayor elected at-large, I’d love to hear it, I’d love to see the data on it. Always when I make a decision I want to make sure I have as many facts as possible. See both sides of the argument. But on face value I think that would be a great idea.

Did you pause at all during your decision to run knowing you were taking on an incumbent and what would you do differently than the incumbent?
I don’t necessarily say council member Swaton is doing a bad job. I just feel like much of what I’ve heard when I’ve been out canvassing the neighborhoods a representative should be more accessible and definitely be more vocal especially with the issues going on in District 6. Like I said, I’ve been attending council since 2011. I’ve obviously been there since the time she’s been on council. I saw how Bryant was when he held that seat. I’ve talked with him. He’s make himself accessible even at time when he wasn’t accessible. That’s fine. He talked to me about being in H-E-B and having a half-hour conversation in the aisle. That’s great. When you take on that responsibility you should be understanding of that. If you ask people I work with they’ll tell you "Dex is very vocal. He’ll speak up. Even if it’s not a popular opinion." I get shot down all the time with my thoughts and opinions I present to my upper management but I don’t take offense to it. If bring something up and the constituents don’t like it, great. I want to hear from them. So what I would do differently? I would definitely be more vocal on the dias during meetings. I would definitely promote my accessability. I have a full-time job. I work in my district as well. That accessability, that being vocal on the dias are some of the things I would do differently and I would be more of an initiator and not just a responder. I would not just sit up there until something happens. I’m not saying that’s what she does. I’m just generally speaking here. I’m not going to be that candidate that just sits up there until someone comes up to me and says we have an issue with this. I want to visit with you. If you have me in your home, I’ll come to your home. That’s one of the things I thought about before I decided to run because I knew it was going to be time consuming and it was going to be a commitment that was more than just me,. That’s why I thought about this for nearly a year. That’s why I knew on the first day I could file I was in for this for the people.

What steps would you take to initiate contact with your constituents?
I thought about councilwoman (Samantha) Bellows. She had those coffees on mornings every Saturday. I think that’s a great way. Definitely having an e-mail list where folks can e-mail their concerns. Some folks are not about going out in public and talking to you in person. Some people can express themselves better by writing it or texting it via e-mail. I definitely will keep my Facebook page going. I’ve already had people reaching out to me via e-mail from my canvassing. I tell them, I want to hear their concerns now and if you don’t have them, here’s my card, perhaps you will think of something later. Shoot me an e-mail. You know different things like that. You’ve got to present that to the people. Let them know these are ways you can be reached. I think if you provide them with different opportunities whether that’s in-person, or by e-mail, calling me, writing me a letter, pigeon carrier, whatever it may be I’d be open to it. Whatever the constituents are comfortable with, the residents are comfortable with voicing their concerns to me that’s what I would do.

What do you think are the top issues facing the city right now?
Definitely the growth. That’s the word out of everybody’s mouth. Like I said earlier, I feel like whenever I go a council meeting and it’s the budget meetings it’s all year-to-year, very small portions that they’re thinking of. No one’s thinking down the line. I think we need to do that. We don’t want to find ourselves in a position that South Austin is where everything is already developed and now they’re trying to go back in, put new infrastructure in the roads, get everything caught back up. I think we’re already a little behind to be honest with you. I think we’re just trying to keep pace. Some of the things I’ve heard from the local small business owners is that the city is in a reactive position. They’re not progressive. They’re mot pro-active. Every little scenario that comes up it’s "here’s what we do in this case." And it’s not always consistent. We need to definitely plan ahead, working down the line for our future, 10 plus years down the line. We’re really at a point in our city’s time line where we need to start doing that. That’s one of the big issues.

So how should the city council start doing that?
Every meeting. Bringing things to the agenda that are just not what is happening now. Yes, we’ve got a lot of work we need to do now, And there’s some month-to-month things. But bringing ideas to the agenda that put to rest that thinking. When I sit in there and listen to meetings and it’s offered about what to put on the agenda for the next meeting very few times do I hear proposals. That’s where that time is apt, We need to meet with our constituents. I think the city manager has done a great job of trying to initiate that thought process and initiate that dialogue by sending out the survey. I think he missed out on some key opinions by only doing with it with the water bill because he missed out on people in apartments. That’s where a lot of younger people live. You didn’t get the perspective of people my age or people under 40, because they way they put it out didn’t get to those people. I know they were disappointed in the response from people under 30 but that’s because the survey didn’t get to them. I had to go and ask for mine because it didn’t come to me. I know they’ve got the web site, the Style Kyle, right now. I think that’s another way to keep the dialog going. I like where the mind set is going but we just need to fine tune that process. I hear the calls for something to do in Kyle. I know a rec center is a very popular thought as well. For the kids in our city to have to go to other cities like the San Marcos Activity Center or the South Austin recs and they talk about there’s nothing to do here. I talked to some kids at the Victims Coordinator event that they had this past Sunday and there were four young men out there skateboarding. And I went and talked with them. I asked them what was something they would like to see in the city. They all said a skate park. And I agree with them. Because here they are at a busy intersection – Front and Center – and they’re skateboarding. They’re not trying to create mischief. They’re not trying to get on anybody’s nerves. But they don’t have a place to go where they can do that. I think a recreation center with skate park would provide that outlet for them. It gets them out of the way of the roads. Everybody’s kinda happy. One of the young men in that group told me he started a petition and he got signatures, He was doing it all right and he presented it and he was just overlooked. Unfortunately the youth do get overlooked in our communities. I meet with KAYAC (Kyle Area Youth Advisory Council) and that’s a great group of kids, man. I encourage as many adults to go in and sit in on those meetings. They’re not only sharp, they’re not only bright, they’re not only inquisitive, but they really have a perspective I think a lot of adults miss out on. If we’re thinking about this city as a place for people to want and go and raise their families and entice people to come to our city, I think why not get the perspective of young people. They’re the people who go off to college and will they want to come back to the city and raise their family? They’ve gotten their education, their degrees, whatever it is. Are we attractive enough to bring them back? So I think that’s reason we need to get their perspective. I am certainly a supporter of keeping them funded because I think that’s a great way to get youth involved in what’s going on in this city. I remember when they first proposed having a KAYAC member sit on the dias. I remember hearing naysayers about that. Dissension. What can be bad about a young man or a young woman sitting up there on the dias? Their vote doesn’t count. They’re getting that experience. Why are we turning our backs on kids on learning environments? I don’t understand that. But it happened and it’s great and we’ve had two great representatives sitting there on the dias. When I’ve gone to their meetings the last couple months they always get so excited and they thank me for coming. It’s like no one else attends their meetings. Why not? We need to have that support out there. Show them we care about what they’re doing and we think what they’re doing is important. They’re trying to build their resumes and these kids out there are our future. Why not invest in them?

Items like recreation canters and skate parks cost money. Hoe would you fund them, by taking money out of other items in the budget, and. If so, where, or raising property taxes?
Definitely not even the last resort would be to raise property taxes. I don’t want to do that. I know folks in the city benefit from things like this but I want to come up with unique ways of doing that. I talked with (Hays County) Commissioner (Mark) Jones a couple of months back and he talked about how he built schools without raising the tax rate. There’s a way to fund things without raising taxes, whether that’s getting the city in partnerships with companies moving here – I mean we gave Walt-Mart a tax abatement for 10 years. Get with these companies that we apparently need to have to help us finance that. There’s so many different avenues. I talked with a grant writer about pursuing a grant for that. He seemed a little pessimistic about getting a grant for that, but why not? That’s what I do all the time. I ask, ask, ask. About eight times out of 10 I’ll get told "no." But let’s exhaust all our different ways of doing funding without raising taxes. And that’s what I would do.

What are your major budget priorities?
I think we definitely need infrastructure communications systems. As our city grows, we’re already understaffed with our police department. I work with the police academy and I hear the concerns in there. We talked about this many times. We’re already understaffed for the size the city is now and we’re only growing. So we need to make sure we have the proper amount of officers to patrol our streets. That’s another thing I’ve heard out there. Folks just don’t feel like there’s any presence of police officers in our city. I’ve talked to people in Kensington Trails, I’ve talked to people in Timberwood that have vocally expressed that. That they just don’t ever see law enforcement. I’ve got a perspective, too, after going through the academy and what they do. And I’ve been on the ride-alongs with them and I see that they actually go through the neighborhoods, but a lot of people may not see that because they’re at work or what-not. So that would be a key thing. Mainly for me, it’s making sure we’re always thinking down the road. Obviously it’s important to go on a case-by-case basis, month-by-month, year-by-year. But we need to make sure we have the structure in place for down the line. I would look at every budget item in regards to how is that going to affect us down the road. Is that something we really need to invest in, invest in more, scale back more.

What’s your opinion on TIFs and PIDs?
PIDs, specifically, let me talk on that. I think they can be beneficial if they’re done the right way. You’ve got a community that really wants to get something done and the money’s not in the budget. I think then if the residents in that community feel strongly enough that they want whatever that is, PIDs can be a way of accomplishing that. You’ve taken that responsibility on to yourself and the community and they’re going to fund that. And you provide the city with those finances from the loan and you get the job done. I really don’t see an issue with that.

But the city of Kyle seems to be granting PIDs to developers.
Yeah, let me tell you, I spent my entire last Wednesday with small business owners;. I was glad that I did that. That provided me a perspective I hadn’t thought of. That past two and a half months or so since I’ve been out campaigning , I’ve heard the residents’ thoughts. And after hearing those small business owners I realized the playing field isn’t fair. Abatements are going to larger businesses and corporations. How can you do that and also talk about this being a tourist city? You’re not being unique. And the uniqueness of this city is those small business owners. Those are the people who, if anything, need a tax abatement. Nothing against the Wal-Marts and the Lowe’s. Nothing against them. I see the importance of them. I see the revenue. I see the jobs they create. Now me personally I would like to bring more businesses in here that have higher income jobs – employers that have jobs that you can raise a family on. That’s a whole other issue there. To me that reasoning just doesn’t make sense. So if I got on city council that is one thing I would really want us to take a look at is how our ordinances, how our permits affect small business owners. I’ve had some great talks. I visited with 11 different small business owners on this past Wednesday. I wish I could have done more, because each of them offered a perspective that I had not thought or. I think we need to hear from those people. I believe in the American dream but we’re crushing that American dream by making it more difficult for them to just conduct their business. This is a great spot we met at today (Ilario’s restaurant). I don’t know if you’ve heard Steve’s story, but it’s a great one. He came in with the pizza place, Panhandlers. It wasn’t very popular. You open a business, if it works, great. If competition or someone else does it better, then your business fails. That’s the way it should be. But he revitalized himself. He put out a survey: "What do you want in your city? What type of restaurant would you like to see?" Overwhelmingly it was an Italian restaurant. And here is now thriving. He’s doing better than ever. I think that’s a great story. I think that’s awesome. That’s what we need. It’s so funny when I hear people say "We need an Olive Garden here." I’ll ask them: "Ever been to Ilario’s? Try them out." I’d much rather come here. If they put an Olive Garden next to my employer, I’d still come here. I love local business. I love the fact that I can go somewhere where it’s not in every other city. When I travel places, I’m not going to go to a McDonald’s, I’m not going to shop at a certain place I can find back home. I want to go somewhere unique that even if I have to pay a little bit more, I don’t care. I want that experience. I want that welcoming feeling.

Do you think the city should invest in mass transit and, if so, what form should that take?
I’ve been to the Lone Star Rail meetings. I’ve heard the opposition to mass transit. If they build the rail from Georgetown to San Antonio – mainly Austin to San Antonio – oh, yeah, great. I could get to the River Walk. I could get to downtown Austin. I could even get to the airport if they’ve got one going out there. No problem. But I’m thinking about coming in. I’d like those people to say "I need to make a stop in Kyle because they have this." That’s the way I think about it. A lot of people don’t like the thought of people coming in, people coming in. When I was at the (FM) 150 realignment meeting the other day one person spoke up and said "Waddya all trying to do? Y’all trying to bring more people here?" It’s happening! It’s happening! I think mass transit is good for a large portion of the population. That’s another thing I’ve heard when I talk to young people. "Build it here, because I can’t get to that part of town." That’s an issue. I think we need to address that. One of the surveys KAYAC did – I’m bringing them up because I think they’re a great group – they had a survey and it asked the young people how easy is it to get around this city if you don’t have a car. That’s a question we need to address. I know we’re not very large but we’re growing. We’re getting there. If we have mass transit and that’s less people on the roads – (Interstate) 35's not going to get any better. Let’s just admit that. You can only build so many lanes. So having multiple options for people to travel, whether that’s inside the city. Obviously a lot of folks travel to Austin to work. Some even go down toward San Antonio. That would be another outlet for them to avoid that traffic. But ultimately I would like those people to have a job here in town. So, to me, it’s one of those things where we’re thinking about that, yeah. Short term solution, it gets those people to Austin where they work and then back home. Long-term solution I want those employers to be here so they don’t have to ride that rail. But I definitely think it’s a good idea. We need to definitely know how we’re paying for it, be judicious about that. But I think it’s a great idea because there’s a large portion of the populace that don’t have a vehicle or a means of getting around the city. They’re taxpayers, they’re consumers, just like you and I that have the vehicles.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Charter review commissioners debate signatures in an almost empty room

I take it all back. I’m talking about all those things I said about the city making sure its citizens had an opportunity to speak up and speak out about the way they are governed. I actually thought folks around here gave a damn. That they actually cared about things like that. What an innocent fool I was.

I saw that this morning when two individuals showed up at the Kyle Public Library to the first openly public meeting hosted by the Charter Review Commission, that august body charged with making changes to the city’s constitution. Two people. That’s roughly .00648 percent of the city’s population. To me, that’s sinful. That’s unpardonable. But then just call me naive. Maybe the truth is people here in Kyle don’t care. They don’t give a damn. "Hey, this is only the place where I spend the night. Why should I get all worked up about things? Besides, I heard plums are on sale at the H-E-B."

Yep. Two citizens came. One wanted to make sure exactly what the commission was doing – was it working on changes ordinances or something else. The other talked about whether married people should be allowed to work for the city or whether two persons living together should be allowed to … well, perhaps, that’s a discussion for another time.

So for most of the two hours the charter commission devoted to hearing the public weigh in on how they felt the charter should be changed, commissioners, instead, examined the first four sections of Article IV, with the very first section of that article receiving most of the scrutiny, particularly one phrase. The phrase in question was this: "The mayor shall have signatory authority for all legal contracts and commitments of the city, sign all ordinances and resolutions …"

The debate among the commissioners was whether to insert some form of these words "or the mayor’s designee" into that sentence so that, in the case of some emergency when the mayor wasn’t available and something needed to be signed right away, another city official could sign a particular document. Then the question became whether it should be someone on the city staff or another city council member, perhaps the mayor pro tem.

Some commissioners believed this language may have been changed five years ago, during the last charter review process, so it was decided that the city’s staff should produce a copy of the charter those commissioners were working from in 2011 to compare the language. Unfortunately, some commissioners referred to that document as the 2011 charter when, in fact, the current charter is the 2011 version, but I guess you can’t have all the ducks lined up and I’m sure staff understood what was intended.

For the two or three other concerned citizens who missed out on this workshop, fear not. Two more are on the horizon. There’s one scheduled for 10 a.m., Saturday, May 16, at a site still to be determined (the commissioners are hoping to secure a space in Chapa Middle School so at least one meeting would be held on the east side of I-35) and a third for set for 10 a.m., Saturday, June 20, in City Council Chambers at City Hall. Of course, the public may also attend one of the regularly scheduled meetings every other Tuesday in City Hall’s second floor conference room. The next one’s scheduled for this coming Tuesday and the third item on the agenda, right after opening the meeting and checking attendance, is "citizen comments."

Friday, April 24, 2015

Center Street to close Tuesday

If you're like me and you think there's nothing finer in the world than stopping by the Texas Pie Company in the middle of the afternoon, take heed. This just in from Jerry Hendrix, the city's chief of staff:

"Center Street in downtown Kyle will be closed at the railroad track on Tuesday, April 28, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., to allow for maintenance and repairs on the crossing. Please plan to use an alternative route during this time frame."

In other words, if you're driving south from Kyle Parkway to go west on Center, use the Burleson Street cutoff and pray it hasn't rained really, really hard. If you're driving north to go west on Center or are driving west on FM 150 from the east side of 35 plan an extra five minutes or so to your trip so you can duck down to South Street once you get to the west side of 35.

But why am I telling you this? Most of you know how to get around town a lot better than I do. I did, however, feel the need to warn you in advance about this impediment.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind

Council member David Wilson would like to get rid of this "junky-looking sign."
A proposed digital billboard ordinance might just let him do that. 

The City Council voted Tuesday evening to extend the current ordinance governing digital billboards 90 days to give the staff time to return with a new ordinance that guarantees there will be a reduction in the total number of all billboards along I-35 and that the council will have the ability to determine where digital signs can be located.

The motion came after more than an hour of discussion and a short public hearing on the matter with most of the discussion involving the Planning & Zoning Commission’s recommendation the week before to force billboard companies to remove four square feet of existing billboards for each square foot of digital signs installed. Because the ordinance did not address the minimum size of a proposed digital billboard, many council members felt the ordinance, as proposed Tuesday, would allow billboard companies to install a raft of smaller billboards and therefore there would be no reduction in the total number of billboards.

"I’m not in favor of removing four square feet for every one square foot of digital because that could result in a number of smaller digital signs," council member Shane Arabie said. "Removing four faces for every one of digital, I’m OK with that. My objective is to reduce the amount of clutter on our highway. That’s my objective. So I would like to have a minimum size (for digital billboards) we put in place."

"In theory you could wind up having exactly the same number of billboards, just smaller ones," Mayor Todd Webster added. "That’s something we need to fix before we move forward."

Determining just how many billboards Kyle will lose if and when this ordinance finally takes effect is a tricky proposition. For one thing, it depends on whether the council is going to permit billboards to be erected with digital signs on either side of them. The Planning and Zoning Commission said "no" to that, but I could not get a sure feeling on how a majority of the council felt about that idea. It also depends on whether the structures that will be replaced have signs on both sides of the structure and it appears most of them do. Using the 4-to-1 ratio, that means a billboard containing one digital sign could replace two two-sided billboards. However, a billboard with digital signs on both sides would replace four two-sided structures. It should also be noted that many companies that own billboards might not be eligible to erect a digital board which also means they would not have to surrender any as well. Seven different companies have billboard structures in Kyle and only two of them, Gunnerson and Lamar (with seven structures each), have more than two.

Council member Samantha Bellows also mentioned she was "a little concerned" about the possibility that a billboard on the southbound side of I-35 immediately south of West Center Street could go digital.

"You brought it back to a point I forgot to ask," Mayor Webster told his colleague. "Is there is a discretionary element to this?"

"That is my concern," Ms. Bellows replied.

Council member David Wilson also expressed concern about the billboard pictured above. Wilson called it "a junky looking sign. I hope this is one that will get cycled out." The sign, which is located on the southbound service road just north of Opal Road, is owned by Gunnerson.

However, Wilson did believe the council could solve the square-footage problem during Tuesday’s meeting and vote on an amended version of the proposed ordinance.

"With all the discussions that Planning and Zoning did, I was happy with their modifications," Wilson said. "Four to one works for me. Smaller digital signs, I’m not for that but I’m ready to move if we could work on the square footage tonight."

Mayor Webster, on the other hand, believed the square footage wasn’t the only issue that needed to be settled before a vote on passage could be taken.

"I think there’s a few things in here we need to make sure we get right." the mayor said. "I am absolutely not supportive of using the square footage because I think we could end up with 19 little signs and that’s not the policy objective.

"I’m also hearing a difference of opinion," he continued. "Everyone seems to have a slightly different concern on an issue that’s been raised. But we need to continue this. I think the prudent thing to do is extend the current ordinance for a period of time with a time-certain for it to come back and take up the Planning and Zoning’ commission’s recommendations with staff’s modifications based on the concerns that were raised. I’m not suggesting we put this down and not address it. That’s not my suggestion. But I’m not hearing a consensus here. Tell me if I’m wrong but I think there are some relevant things we need to make sure are very specifically addressed in the ordinance. And, if it’s lawful, I would like to see some discretionary element to this. It would be the worse thing (to have a digital billboard) right there (at Center & I-35).

"If our policy objective is to pull down some signs, we need to make sure this ordinance accomplishes that," the mayor concluded.

With that, Ms. Bellows made the motion that extended the current ordinance for at least 90 days at which time the city’s staff is supposed to return with a replacement that addresses the council’s concerns.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Suppose Kyle decided to go $40 million into debt and no one cared

I was shocked. Astonished. Flabbergasted. Flummoxed. Startled. Aghast. Appalled. Whatever transitive verb you would like to suggest. Here was the City of Kyle holding a public hearing on whether it should increase its debt by more than $40 million and no one — zero, zilch, nary a soul, not one single individual — came forward to speak on the subject.

In fact, at the time Item 11 was being considered, the council gallery was practically empty. At least 95 percent of those individuals sitting on the east side of the dias were either City staff or media.

This is even more peculiar because a week or so ago I attended a City Council candidate debate that featured questions posed by the public. One question asked the candidates was "What would you do to reduce the city’s debt?" and another one was "Would you try to lower taxes?".

Now, here we are, less than two weeks later, and the council is considering going deeper into debt, a move that will significantly increase property taxes, and no one shows up to render an opinion on it one way or another.

Kyle Finance Director Perwez A. Moheet
I am not saying there should have been a massive outpouring of Kyle citizens storming the barricades to oppose the item. In fact, quite the opposite. For reasons I will explain later, using the words of Kyle Finance Director Perwez A. Moheet, this was a brilliant, well thought-out and expertly executed move by the city that, combined with the refunding of other outstanding bonds, will save the city a considerable amount of money over what this issuance (already approved of by voters) would otherwise cost. But there are going to be repercussions. Now full impact of those repercussions probably won’t be felt for about 20 months, but at that time I expect to hear voices rising in complaint. And when that chorus begins to wail, my reaction is going to be "Sorry. You had your chance. That train has left the station."

City Councils conduct public hearings for a specific reason — to solicit and consider public opinion on topics on the minds of the citizens they represent. All City Councils that I know of, and Kyle’s is no exception, has a public comment period at the beginning of each meeting during which citizens came speak on just about any subject they wish, although it’s preferable to speak on items that fall under the purview of the council and not on such items as world peace, universal health care, same-sex marriage, etc. Many councils, especially those that meet all day, often have an another, identical public comment at the end of their meetings. And then often the council will have a public hearing attached to particular agenda items such as proposed ordinances or possibly contentious zoning issues during which citizens came give council members their input on that particular item. And if you’re not going to take the opportunity to make your voice heard, you’ve surrendered the legitimacy to bitch and moan when that policy change returns to seemingly take a chunk out of your financial hide.

Because of the vote taken last night to issue more than $40 in interest-bearing bonds, a property owner with a home valued at, say, $175,000, is going to see their taxes increase at least $175 next year. And I must admit I was shocked, astonished, flabbergasted, flummoxed, startled, aghast and appalled that not one single citizen of Kyle cared enough about that to make the short trip to City Hall to tell council how they felt about it.

Before I go into the specifics of Kyle’s bond issuance, a little background strictly in the most basic of layman’s terms: You’re probably familiar with all those television commercials that claim they provide individuals with ways to determine their credit scores. The higher a person’s credit score, the more that person is able to borrow at a premium interest rate. The same is true for institutions that issue bonds, which are interest bearing notes sold to raise money. When I was a kid, the big deal was U.S. Savings bonds and they were popular birthday presents because you kept them for five years and cashed them in for more money than it cost to buy them. The federal government sold (and still sells) these bonds to help pay for the country’s borrowing needs. They are considered a safe investment because they are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.

The three largest credit agencies are Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch. Collectively, these three agencies account for 96 percent of all credit ratings. Standard & Poor’s issues around 20 different letter ratings that range from AAA (the very best) to D, meaning this organization has defaulted on one or more of its financial obligations. AAA is considered a "prime grade." The next three levels — AA+, AA and AA- — are all considered a "high grade." Kyle’s credit rating is AA-. According to S&P’s definitions, that means Kyle has a very strong capacity to meet its financial commitments. It differs from the AAA rating only in a small degree.

So the city’s excellent credit rating is the first piece of good news. Here, in Moheet’s own words addressed last night to the mayor and the council, is the rest of the good news (I, not Moheet, emphasized the phrases in italics because I consider them especially important):

"You will recall from the March 17 briefing I shared with you a set of objectives or goals/targets that we had set for ourselves for this transaction. Very briefly, there were six of them. We wanted to reaffirm our credit rating that S&P had issued before, which was AA-. We knew all along going in that we would not get an uptick this time around — that the best we could do was reaffirm. Second, we wanted to combine the bond refunding and the new money bond transactions in order to save cost of issuances. Third, we wanted to achieve at least $800,000 in refunding savings for the city and its taxpayers. Fourth, we wanted to structure the new money and the refunding bonds in such a manner that we could achieve a premium on these bonds. You will recall that I shared with you one of the objectives was to be able to sell these bonds at a premium so that we could cover the cost of the issuance from those premium proceeds. And then finally to structure those new money bonds for the road construction in such a manner that we would stay within the 10 cents to the 14 cents we had estimated initially on the property tax rate impact.

"So, with that, let me explain to you what the $42,525,000 bond size — which is the actual bond size we’re going to issue — is made up of. The roads bonds, the new construction money, will be $29,150,000. The refunding bonds will total $13,375,000, which is a sum total of $42,525,000. So the item before you is not to exceed $45 million but the actual transaction will be $42,525,000.

"So what’s the good news? Of those six objectives we had set for ourselves, we hit every single one of them. The city’s bond rating was reaffirmed, as you well know, at AA- by S&P. We were able to combine the two bond transactions, This resulted in an estimated cost savings to the city and its taxpayers of at least $150,000. We were able to achieve a little over $1 million — $1,040,790 in interest cost — on the refunding . And because of the city’s excellent credit rating and its strong financial position we are able to obtain premium on the bonds we priced this morning. In other words, the city will receive more money than the actual par value of the bonds we will issue ($30 million on the $29,150,000 issue). We were able to cover all the transactions and issuance costs by the premium received on the bonds. We were able to put the entire remaining $30,480,00 into the construction account for the road projects. None of that money had to be dipped into for the bond transaction costs.

"The debt service on the new money bonds will begin next fiscal year, 2016. The principle and interest payment on the new bonds for next year will be $2.1 million. This is still within the 10 to 14 cents estimated property tax increase that we had shared with council. That all depends on how the assessed valuation — the certified tax roll — comes in late July. Bond proceeds are expected to be in the city’s bank account on May 14."

At it’s next meeting, Tuesday, May 5, right after the pledge of allegiance and the roll call and the approval of the minutes from last night’s gathering, the City Council will offer a Citizen Comment Period. That would be a good time for Kyle citizens to come forward and acknowledge the above outlined transaction. Of course, given the history of these things, I’m not expecting anyone to do that. As a matter of fact, if someone did I would be completely shocked. To be honest, I would be astonished. I would be flabbergasted. Flummoxed. Startled. Aghast. Appalled.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Numbers may be factual, but they can also be misleading -- the truth about all those Kyle commuters

You know that Shipley’s Donuts shop down on West Center Street? The folks who work there may not even work there. They may be commuting every day to Houston. How about that Game Stop in the Target shopping center? The people who work there actually commute back and forth to Dallas every day.

I wrote an item yesterday about a table I ran across in the Community Impact Newspaper that allegedly presented "factual documentation" on "Kyle’s Commuting Problem." It turns out that while those numbers may be factual, they are not exactly truthful. I wrote at the time I had tried to contact the sources listed for the statistics and I finally heard back from one of them, the Center for Economic Studies. Specifically, it was one Matthew Graham from CES who wrote me a detailed response that I will reprint in its entirely at the end of all this. But one of the cogent points Mr. Graham made is that a Kyle resident working in Kyle at a place of business whose headquarters are in another city likely will be listed as working in that other city. That’s especially true if all that outlet’s personnel and especially payroll functions reside in the headquarters location.

That means those sales people working at the Radio Shack near the Target will be shown as actually working in Fort Worth. Anyone employed by FedEx will be listed as a Dallas employee, regardless of where they actually live and work. The table in the Community Impact News says 8,422 commute daily to Austin. Now I know that number includes all those who work right here in Kyle at Seton and at the Austin Community College campus, two of Kyle’s largest employers.

That’s not to say that most of Kyle’s working population have jobs right here in Kyle. They don’t and that fact still presents a challenge to our economic development experts. But at least I no longer have to be that concerned about all those people I feared were commuting every day from Kyle to Houston or Dallas.

Here is the complete text of Mr. Graham’s reply to me because there’s more to his reply than what I just outlined:

Thanks for your question. From the description in your email, it sounds like the data may have come from our OnTheMap web application which makes a dataset called LODES (LEHD Origin-Destination Employment Statistics) available for analysis. However, I was unable to recreate the exact numbers you mention here.

That being said, when I do run the various reports in OnTheMap for Kyle, TX, I do see a pattern similar to the one you describe in your email, and so I'll proceed under the assumption that OnTheMap/LODES was the data source.

First, let me give a quick background on this dataset because it is helpful in understanding some of the dynamics that can appear. These public-use statistics are created primarily from several administrative record sources, the most important of which are the state's Unemployment Insurance (UI) wage record system and the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW). From the UI system, we gather information on which individuals are connected to which firms and some information about earnings. From the QCEW, we get information on firm structure and establishment location (e.g. where are the individual establishments located and how many employees work at each) as well as information on industry and ownership (public or private). Additionally we get information on individuals' residential locations from other Federal administrative sources. Finally, it's useful to note that the confidentiality protection methodology that we use to protect individuals' residential locations is dependent upon data from the Decennial Census (2000 and, more recently, 2010).

With that background, it appears likely that there are at least two dynamics impacting this dataset's representation of Kyle's resident workforce. First, Kyle clearly grew very quickly between 2000 and 2010. Our ability to accurately represent very high growth areas is limited by our confidentiality protection system. In other cases of this type we have seen growth lagged in the data behind what is actually happening in the community, often with something of a "catch up" spike once we had 2010 Decennial Census data available for the confidentiality protection system. This dynamic definitely seems to be playing out in Kyle's residential workforce.

The second dynamic is something we refer to colloquially as a "headquartering issue." In these cases what we see are firms either under reporting the number of establishments or not reporting any establishments outside of a "headquarters" location, which sometimes could even be something like a payroll office. In these cases and with no information otherwise, we must allocate all of the firm's workers to the establishments that are provided to us, even if an establishment location is very far from a worker's residence. When this happens, we see long distance "commutes" appear in the data, although we generally believe that most of the long distance relationships are not daily commutes. Certain industries can be prone to this issue, including construction, sales forces, temporary employees, drivers, and oil/gas extraction to name some. Additionally, state agencies sometimes fail to report their offices and thus state employees can appear clustered in the state capitals when they actually work all over the state.

Analysts have brought headquartering-type cases to our attention in the past. We have little ability to "fix" the data except to request that the states (from whom we get these data) ask firms to do a better job reporting. In some cases, there are fairly easy remedies that can be applied by external analysts (such as rescaling individual data items using external sources of data such as zoning regulations and office square footage datasets). In the case of Kyle, I would probably recommend at this point that you simply consider these "long distance commutes" to be administrative relationships rather than actual residence-to-workplace relationships, and in all likelihood people are doing most of the commuting closer to home (which doesn't mean that there are not any folks out there making very long - maybe less frequent than daily - commutes). Additionally, I'd like to note that this kind of groundtruthing, in which local knowledge (or external/complementary information) is applied to data is a vital process in drawing valid conclusions, not just from these data but for any data.

To close, I'll point you to a couple of other references if you'd like to dig into the data further. First, we recently released a design comparison between LODES and the American Community Survey (ACS) Commuting data, which are often compared to each other. That can be found here: Additionally, you may find this external analysis between the two datasets helpful: If you have further questions, please don't hesitate to contact us at Thanks again for your interest in these data.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Some startling, almost unbelievable numbers and what can be done about them

It claims right there on the masthead of Community Impact Newspaper that "everybody gets it" and I have absolutely no reason to doubt that. I wonder, however, how many people read it. If you don’t, you ought to because you can find a trove of wonderful, useful information in there. You can also find information in there that, I, for one, not only had trouble wrapping my head around, but I almost found totally incomprehensible to the point of being unbelievable,

Specifically what I’m referring to is a table on Page 20 of the current issue called "Driving Kyle’s Economy." The subtitle of this particular table is "Kyle’s Commuting Problem." Here’s what I had a problem with. This table claims more Kyle residents — 132 more to be absolutely correct – commute to Dallas to work than work right here in Kyle. You’ve got to be kidding me! I simply can’t imagine them driving 500 miles daily to work in Dallas and spend the night in Kyle. I can’t even believe that many more rush out to ABIA every morning to catch a Southwest flight to Dallas. Perhaps many of them fly up on Mondays and came back here for the weekends. But 928 of them? That’s a little over seven plane-loads.

But there’s more. According to this table, almost three times as many Kyle residents commute to Houston to work than work where they live. Huh? But that’s what this table claims. It says 696 persons are both employed and live in Kyle while 1,727 Kyle residents commute to Houston to work. That simply doesn’t make sense to me and if someone can help me find these Kyle residents that are working in Dallas and Houston, I would really like to talk with them.

The paper quotes the sources for these numbers as Kyle Economic Development, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Center for Economic Studies. I have reached out to all three to see if one or more of them can confirm these statistics for me, but I have yet to receive a reply.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not casting aspersions on the Community Impact Newspaper. I’m simply trying to get my head around numbers I personally find quite astonishing. I’m wondering if many of these so-called commuters are actually individuals who have relocated to Dallas or Houston, but maintain a Kyle address on their driver’s license or perhaps are renting their Kyle residences while living and working in Dallas or Houston. Could some of them be students whose official residences are in Kyle but attending school at Rice University, the University of Houston, Dallas Baptist or the University of Texas at Dallas? But that doesn’t wash, because the table specifically refers to these people as "commuters."

The table in which these numbers appear accompanied the newspaper’s lead story for this issue, a story on Kyle’s economic development plans. The second paragraph of the story begins "Could Kyle achieve the same level of economic development prosperity as the city of Plano, a fast-developing Dallas suburb?" Go back to the table on Page 20 and, according to it, 290 Kyle residents commute to work in another Dallas suburb, Irving, and nary a one commutes to Plano. Now I’m betting that when they are referring to Irving, what they really mean is Las Colinas (where Exxon among others has its headquarters) and, truth be told, it would be preferable for Kyle to pattern its economic development after Las Colinas than Plano. The proverbial bloom is off the proverbial rose in Plano. That city’s once bustling shopping center, the Collin Creek Mall, is now practically a ghost town and if you drive around Plano the first thing you will notice are all the vacant strip shopping areas. The story mentioned Toyota relocating to Plano, but all those corporate headquarters like Toyota’s that are located there are on the city’s extreme northern border and all the dollars from those headquarters are not flowing to Plano, but to communities to the north such as Frisco, Allen and McKinney.

But this table also gave me a clue about what might be done to rectify this situation and spur Kyle’s own economic development in a way that’s already aligned with its current development initiatives. According to this table, 22.8 percent of Kyle’s commuting workforce is employed in "educational services and health care." I know this sounds "pie in the sky" and even perhaps utopian, but I would like to see Kyle’s economic development leaders and gurus pull out all the stops, do whatever is necessary, to get a medical school here in Kyle or what is also known as university health science center. Texas Tech has one in Lubbock and one in El Paso. Why not one in Kyle? There’s the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Why not a Baylor College of Medicine in Kyle? There’s the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine in College Station. Why not one located in the city the bears the name of its football stadium? Makes sense to me. What other city has not only the space but the pre-existing medical infrastructure to support such a facility? I guarantee you Plano doesn’t.

Call me a dreamer, but if you’re going to dream, why not dream big? And then perhaps we can change some of these outrageous, incomprehensible and, truth be told, shameful numbers like on the ones in that table on Page 20 of the Community Impact Newspaper.