Running for: Amarillo City Council Place 4 (incumbent)
How he voted in the November 2016 city bond election: Yes for all seven propositions
What are your major campaign points and how do you plan to make them happen?
So the first time around, I talked about transparency. I talked about openness. I talked about the things we have to do to progress in the city. And the only reason I did this is so we can get the city moving into the future. It's too risky that we stand still, and we have been standing still for quite a long time. So we've made this progress to a certain point and we've gotten certain things happening, especially in infrastructure, that was a bond issue. So this time around there are still things outstanding that I still want to accomplish. Especially our neighborhood connection with north Amarillo that we've been working on. When I talk about technology and innovation incubator, bringing in new businesses and people who want to start their own businesses. But I do want to pursue other things that I've started - our 311 system, our open government software that we haven't yet implemented for a lot of reasons. Even my Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Committee that I've established, our Environmental Committee that I've established, these things to get us and propel us into the future. And that's why I signed up to try another stint.
Do you think the city should continue to issue bonds to fund future projects, or just use money allocated in the annual budget?
We have a very good debt rating, which means we're a solid place to invest money. We have very low debt. Now when I say that, there are two kinds of debt. There's debt on these things called enterprise funds, water and sewer. But the real debt people are concerned about is debt that's supported by their property taxes and that's very small, very tiny in this community. Using general obligation bonds was what the [November] bond issue was. So people have agreed that we want to spend $400 million, or a little above that, to fix roads and public safety. And over the next five years, that's what we're going to do. By issuing these bonds a little bit at a time, not all at one time, we do this to get the best value for the money and we might not have to issue all the debt for these projects. It might be that we get a good cost break or something else comes up in technology that makes it more expensive. So it's foolish for us to do it all on day one. Should we keep pursuing that or instead looking at the budget. And the problem with the budget is we cut the budget by 3-3.5%, every department in the last budget, so we can get enough money to pay people at the bottom end of the salary. Because we were paying them poverty level wages, it was not a living wage. These people work for you, they work for everybody who lives in Amarillo. And nobody that I talked to was comfortable saying 'my employee, I pay them poverty level wages.' We had to do something that was fair and equitable in market value, so that's what we did. But to get to that point we had to cut the budget. So when we say, 'should we find more money in the budget,' the budget is very, very tight. The police radios for example, we had to issue a little bit of debt called a certificate of obligation. It's the only one we've done to pay for those radios. The police need those things, they've needed them for years. But this council decided to do something about it, and we did. But we had to issue that debt to get the money to do it. So there isn't a lot of flexibility in the budget the way it is now, and the reason for that is our low tax rate. Most everything that we spend on is from sales tax. So the key is to increase those sales taxes to get more revenue. But if we don't do something innovative and creative in terms of economic development, that doesn't happen. Words like this are empty if we don't really figure out a deliberative plan to get there. If we need street improvements, if we need new firehouses, if we need these things, those will more than likely have to fall under the general obligation bonds. There just isn't enough money to do it.
Do you think the city should have a role in economic development, or should that task fall solely on the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation?
Yeah, sure, and that's the thing that we've missed in the past. The reason I've come to this conclusion is because we did an economic incentive for a thing called Cinergy, which is going to be out southwest of town, the theater where you can eat and do a lot of fun stuff. They came to the city and asked for some help, a tax abatement. And what we had not established was policy and how to handle this. We had no policy, there were so many things we didn't have policy on, and I've had to learn that. So the AEDC exists as a corporation for primary job creation. But what the city can do is also have a hand in growing the economy from the city perspective of giving some advantage to people or abatements in different parts of the city, so that if you want to start a restaurant in north Amarillo and it's very expensive we can do certain things in our toolkit to help you with that. Whether that's waiving fees or things like that. The problem has always been it's been one off, one at time, and that's not good. You need to have a policy to guide both the city, the city council, and get predictability from the people who live here. So what we've done is we've budgeted for a role for an economic developer person who works for the city, and we've hired that person. And that person will come to the city council saying 'these are the all the tools we have, these are all the things we can do and now it's up to you to craft the policy the right way to give both inspiration and opportunity for people who want to come here or are here.' To start new businesses and give people new employment. So yeah, the city has an absolute role in that.
What letter grade would you give to the current city council and why?
Maybe a "B-" or a "C+." I'm around the "B-" area for a lot of reasons. People talk about the narrative and we lost control of this. People say, 'you guys are dysfunctional you guys are crazy.' We had some issues, and a lot of them were personality driven. And I think for the majority of the council we were not involved this personality issues, we were just trying to get work done, good work done for the future. But we didn't manage that properly. So that's why I wouldn't say we were extraordinary in managing our own business. But I did try to manage our own processes. So if you look at replacing Brian Eades, and we voted for Lisa Blake, that was an entirely open process. We had interviews out in the open, we did not go back in the back room and we didn't go through like what's happened in the past, we didn't do that. Everything was in the open and people could come and see everything that we did. So these processes lead to predictability, they lead to confidence. I think that it's the wrong story to say that the people lost trust in the city council. I don't think that's right. If that were true, people would not have voted for any of the bond issues. They wouldn't have said 'we trust you with a dime.' But they do. So when I rate us in that kind of rubric, I try to look at everything in total, and was there room for improvement? Well, yes, especially in how we deal with ourselves and how we communicate amongst ourselves and some of the failures that happened. Not failures in policy, because we've established good policy and we established good policy for the future of the city. But it was bickering, sometimes to a magnificent amount, which I couldn't stand. The majority of us we're not really involved in the bicker-fest that was going on. There's nothing wrong with good debate. Sometimes the debate wasn't a substantive debate, it was childish. So that's why I would say that this council has performed well on openness and transparency and bringing us into the future. And we performed very well on not being told what to do. There are many people in this community that said 'this is what we want you to do,' and I don't do that. I have a terrible problem obeying instructions. I have always tried to do what I think is right for the city.
As a current council member, what do you offer as a candidate that the other candidates do not have?
Well my whole world view is slightly different than everybody kind of running. I look at things through this prism of moving dynamically, moving fast, taking advantage of opportunities when they come up. What I've learned is city governments don't work that way. There are times that we have to read a thing twice, then we have to propose a thing, then we have a public hearing about a thing, then we have long meetings about the thing, and in my world that's not how you really operate. So what I am trying do is bring that spirit of innovation, new ways of thinking, of saying 'that's just not good enough, we can do much better.' Because the whole reason I did this is so we can build these pieces for the future. Amarillo has been kind of stuck, and there's a reason why. We have a growth rate, which is not magnificent, it's growing, but if you compare us to any peer cities that exist, we are backwards from them. The reasons for that deal with what cities do the best which is infrastructure, and we have not invested ourselves, so we need to invest in ourselves. To me, this viewpoint about how we bring innovative processes and new ideas, a lot of it deals with technology. But technology manifests itself in all sorts of ways, and it doesn't have to be a computer. People don't recognize that it could be a new sewer pump, it could be all these things. We have people working at the city who build our own brushes for street sweepers. That's a different kind of technology that we can use for other things down the road. That's the way I look at things, that's my view. We must push, push, push to go into the future because if we don't, we are irrelevant. And we don't want to live that way. We can talk about MPEVs all day long, but the reality is people stay in a community because they have good opportunities for good paying jobs and they can grow in those and then do things that are interesting to them in their lives. And we don't have that base economic value position right now, but we are building it. And that's why I think that idea and that concept I bring to the city council.