Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Building Trust: The Candidates Speak

This Q&A was originally published on the "Richardson Living" website. The candidates’ answers were untouched, minus a few minor grammatical changes for clarity and readability.

Richardson's former mayor Laura Maczka (now Jordan) was convicted of bribery over the Palisades land development. That development now appears to be stalled, with apartments built but retail and offices nowhere on the horizon, despite a hot commercial real estate market in Richardson. All of this leaves the City with a black eye. Where do we go from here? The candidates for Richardson City Council answer two questions.

1. What can the City do to protect public money already committed to the Palisades development and to ensure that the development is completed in a form that is in the best interest of the City, undoing any corrupt influence in the past.

2. More generally, what changes are required to the City's code of ethics, planning process, and business practices to restore public trust in City government?

Here are the candidates' answers.

Place 1

Bob Dubey, Place 1
  • Thank you for the opportunity to respond. I was not on the council during that time frame. So, I believe my opinions would only be hearsay. In regards to the city losing money. I believe there is no cost (or loss) to the city until the contract is completed. Anyway, good luck to you.

Jason Clarke, Place 1
  1. I think there are creative ways to approach this issue. For starters, public money that has been used for this project needs to be accounted for. If the developers of Palisades do not finish the project in a timely manner then the City should make the proper moves to have said tax dollars returned to the City. This project should not have taken place at all. But the City Council voted for this project 5-2, three different times. Since the project is already partially completed I would take a new look at the development in light of ways that can create a deeper connectedness for the community rather than simply recruiting run-of–the-mill shops and restaurants. Also, I would also establish and enforce a reasonable timeline for completion. Currently, this seems to be an open-ended project with the city leadership unaware of when or even if there are plans to finish it. This, of course, is unacceptable on all levels.

    The City of Richardson should look beyond the bottom line of developers. We need to shape the city in a deeper more connected and well-designed way. I would propose a master plan that helps direct not only the kind of developments we want in the city, but also a design or style for these developments. Good design has been desperately overlooked. Richardson needs to also create environmentally sustainable building practices for all future buildings.
  2. The central issue here is trust. Residents cannot enforce new planning processes and even if they could it would not derail the philosophy that got us in this mess. And that is the second issue: philosophy. In my opinion, the government of Richardson has run the city like a business. But the City is not a business. The city does business, but its primary role is to ensure the highest quality of life for its residents. Therefore, the philosophy of the City should place the resident’s ultimate happiness as its primary objective. This does not mean that like a toddler who wants everything she sees, city residents get everything they want. But what it does mean is that residents, rather than developers, banks and corporations, should be the primary source of direction for what Richardson looks like.

    An example highlighting the City’s philosophical approach is the development (or lack thereof) of Palisades. The local community did not want this development. Yet the City Council voted for it three times over anyway. Had the Council proven themselves to be right about Palisades then its possible local residents may have looked at this development as something they didn’t want, but in the end, were proven wrong about. This, of course, was not the case. And the end result was not only an ethics violation on the part of Mayor Maczka (Jordan) but, a severe loss of trust in the entire City Council. So the while it needs to be understood how this was able to occur, what is more primary and tangible is the restoration of trust and the transformation of the City’s philosophical approach toward development. There are still issues occurring, such as the denial of Eiland Coffee’s bid for its place along highway 75. This is a similar story where the local community wanted a local business, yet the City Council voted against it, to the deep dismay of local residents.

    To begin to build this back, I would suggest each member of the Council reevaluate their positions with developers and corporate interests. Refocus on how locally owned and locally operated businesses can become the heartbeat of Richardson. Then I would begin to hold listening sessions throughout the city. Neighborhood by neighborhood, in order to not only get a better idea of what the city wants, but to build back the connectedness and trust a Council and its residents needs to have. I will say that many of the current Council members, including Mayor Voelker often attend HOA meetings and do a good job of listening to residents. I would just recommend taking this deeper than HOAs in order to tune into where Richardson is headed for the future.

Place 2

Mark Solomon, Place 2

I respectfully disagree with you very general premise that something needs to be done “to restore trust in City government”. In my interaction with the community in multiple events, meetings, etc., I find the satisfaction and pride in Richardson is strong.

  • The Palisades development is being built out per the zoning that was approved by the Council. It is a quality plan that is being built out per the plans and contracts that we have entered into. The city will continue to monitor the progress to make sure all terms and conditions of the contracts are followed.
  • The City Council approved the current code of Ethic in 2010 and we have continued to review the code as required every 2 years. I support this review process and should we determine that changes need to be made we will proceed with those refinements.

Place 3

Franklin Byrd, Place 3
  1. The money committed to the Palisades development is subject to a Chapter 380 Economic Agreement which requires the work to be completed prior to payment. This work is subject to the City’s normal permitting and inspection process. The committed money has not been paid at this time and will not be paid until the work is completed properly.

    Prospectively, I would like to see comprehensive investigations for all new developers to analyze their development capabilities. I would also like to see a change to the payment process for economic agreements. Moving to a milestone payment approach, where payments are broken down into several smaller payments tied to certain work progress, provides a collaborative and controlled project management process.

  2. The City of Richardson has had a long-standing positive reputation from a history of no corruption, which is a testament to the current governance and Code of Ethics policy.

    The City would benefit from conducting periodic reviews of the Code of Ethics. Additionally, I would support annual awareness training for all City Council Members, which covers permitted activities versus unpermitted activities including the punishments for unpermitted activities.

Dan Barrios, Place 3
  1. First, I believe we need to review the decisions that have been made already. Secondly, let's start the process from step one by re-engaging with the community on their wants and needs. At the end of the day, their trust and tax dollars were abused. We owe it to them to use what we have and turn it into the best project possible for their area.
  2. I like to say public service means serving the public. I say that because I truly and deeply mean it. Elected officials are given an opportunity, responsibility, and trust to serve and listen to the people of our community. Transparency is critical. I would propose mandating that all meetings between elected officials and parties with interest in the city are listed publicly, so everyone can see who is meeting who and how often. Secondly, we need stronger accountability. I would support the idea of an ethics board of sorts, comprised of citizens. Their task would to strengthen our ethics code, hold councilmembers accountable to the code and ensure that public trust is being upheld. Stronger ethics isn’t a radical idea, it's about protecting the fabric of our democracy.

Janet DePuy, Place 3
  1. Because this case is still traveling through the courts further development of the site may not happen until the court case(s) is resolved. The general public is not privy to the city’s internal investigation but because the site was approved under a planned development, that PD should remain in place for any future developer to complete the site work. Some of the apartments have been built and some of the single-family homes have been completed, but retail and additional office have stalled. Any funds due contractually to the developer/development should be managed appropriately by the city but because of litigation involved, there will likely be delays.
  2. Transparency, trust, and diversity in city government are vital. The City’s Code of Ethics document is very clear on how anyone serving on the Council or any Board or Commission is expected to conduct themselves. But a harder look at the Code of Ethics document should be a priority with rigorous instruction on what is expected and required of Councilmembers, Commission and Committee members and strict adherence to this code should be required.

    I would recommend adding language related to proper and ethical use of social media, even the use of personal accounts. As was discovered recently, a sitting Councilmember’s personal remarks on Twitter were offensive and caused embarrassment to the city. Unfortunately, this resulted in residents once again questioning the ethical conduct of the Council. Elected officials should be held to a higher standard. Serious instruction on the Code of Ethic Ordinance should be conducted for all applicable parties.

    The general public isn’t privy to the city’s internal investigation into Ms. Jordan’s bribery case, but strict enforcement of the Code of Ethics Ordinance should be a matter of course and if other Councilmembers knew of misdeeds and didn’t report them, they should be held accountable as well. There should be no perception of collusion on the Council. Once again, stronger language, coupled with instruction, may be needed so Councilmembers understand their responsibilities.

    As stated in the Council’s 2017-2019 Statement of Goals document, "the role of the Council is to be positive and resourceful advocates of the City. They are to communicate with, seek input from and be the voice for all stakeholders. The Council provides the direction, resources and guidance that enables the City Manager to implement the day-to-day tactical aspects of their vision, goals, and strategies." I believe most of the Council follow these guidelines and perform in an environment of transparency. Unfortunately, however, recent events have created a perception of deceit and secrecy. Going forward Council should be hyper-vigilant to dispel this environment of secrecy.

    In addition, the rules and regulations related to conduct, both in public and via social media should be reviewed and strengthened. Elected officials relinquish some of their privacy while holding office and they must be held to a higher standard while in office.

Place 4

Raymond De Guzman Sr., Place 4
  1. I believe the Palisades Development should be finished as originally planned. Right now it is just sitting with three apartment units vacant and the single-family units in front. We need to use this land for what it was intended to be so the city can move on from this unfortunate event. The city has potential to make financial profit if all of the development is completed along with the shopping areas. Since the trial is over, we need to move forward with this project quickly.
  2. The code of ethics is reviewed every couple of years by the city and adjustments are made accordingly. I think in order to gain trust with the citizens, we need to do a better job in vetting the candidates as well as the mayor. But as you know sometimes it’s unpredictable in what can happen. When something is violated, the code of ethics is put in place for a reason and it needs to be properly investigated by an outside investigation process. It will be hard for the citizens to trust that the outcome will be just and fair but at some time we have to move on and believe that the council and the mayor has the best interest of the city.

Johnny Lanzillo, Place 4
  1. Unfortunately, all that can really be done at this time is play the "wait and see" game. My hope is that once the opportunity for development arises again in Palisades, that we can continue the previous goal of bringing in businesses that help increase the city's corporate tax base. I believe the city is capable of finding the right corporate partners to do this, and protect the investment that has already been made.
  2. As far as changes to the city's ethics code, transparency is always a good first step. Right now, the process is handled mostly in house by the city attorney's office and the council itself. What may give the code of ethics more enforceable teeth, would be if it was turned over to the district attorney's office, or if a special counsel is appointed at the outset of any complaint that is determined to be a violation. This is an option currently allowed within the code of ethics, where the city council "may" appoint special counsel. Perhaps that language should be turned into a "shall".

Kyle Kepner, Place 4
  1. The most important thing we can do as a council is to not allow complacency or have a wait and see mentality. The job now is to ensure the completion of the project. Either it is with the current owners or a new set of developers that buy the remaining portion of the land. We need to make sure all the agreements tied to the 47 million dollars remain in place and the correct infrastructure is completed fully before releasing funds. The scope might have to change. We are heading fast into a contentious 2020 national election that is rife with uncertainty. With that on our horizon getting a corporate anchor will probably be more difficult, but that should not stop us from completing the project.

    As a candidate, I can only speculate about the outcome. I have personally already talked to developers and retailers interested in this parcel of land mainly looking for ideas. I have also polled hundreds of residents in the adjacent neighborhood with a lot of great feedback. A few strong concepts came across after talking to everyone that I engaged in discussion.

    1. It's going to be hard to fill 2.5 million SF of office space.
    2. Palisades has to be connected to Galatyn station either over 75, under 75, or a shuttle system (Palisades was marketed as a mass transit friendly location)
    3. Alternative anchors would be welcome such as a Trader Joe's (or similar business), hotel, hotel/condo highrise project, or movie theater.
    4. Neighbors were more interested in entertainment focused businesses than traditional retailers.

    The scope of what one council person can do is limited but at minimum I will continue the conversation and push for completion.
  2. Recently Richardson was awarded a recognition for transparency. We need to strive to be as transparent as possible. All incoming and current council people need to review the code of ethics, find the loopholes, and close them to prevent further messes like Palisades from happening again. Richardson is a great city and had multiple commissions run by volunteer citizens. These meetings are open to the public and should continue to be open.

    Once again I strongly believe in the development of our city is that when a project makes it through the planning commission, recommended and is approved by the council, we should not variance the project into something different than the original plan. It's something that happened with Palisades. Developers should strive to stay with the original plan as closely as possible. Any project that changes more than predetermined percent should have to go through the planning process again. I strive to be extremely accessible to the citizens of Richardson as we all should. City council service should take 20 to 30 hours a week and we should dedicate that time to our city. During this and all future elections we should look at our candidates and evaluate them by many measures. One of which is, "do they have the time to serve?" Most people can't carve out an additional 20 to 30 hours to do this position and that is why traditionally council people are either retired or have their own businesses that can be run by employees. We can restore trust by always putting the needs of our citizens first. I think Richardson learned an important lesson with Palisades and you can see a shift in focusing on the needs of the surrounding neighbors more now in the current developments being planned. We need to continue this focus.

Place 5

Mauri Long, Place 5
  1. At this time, there are lawsuits pending with JP Realty, therefore there is a hold on recouping any funds. The development has 10 years to complete, but to offset the benefits that we gave to Jordan, Richardson City Council needs to make sure what is completed is utilized in the best way possible. I hope that we will not be stuck with the $47,000,000 given for construction and infrastructure reimbursement deal negotiated in 2014 between the city and JP-KBS Richardson Holdings Inc., but the council is telling us that the trial had no affect on that money. I will work hard to find a way for the development to be sold and replaced with owners that will commit to making the changes that will not negatively affect the adjacent neighborhoods more than the damage that has already been done.
  2. First and foremost, light needs to show on the planning commission and the council when developments are being submitted and discussed. The council will need to be able to have community support and a more open process when contemplating new developments and the monetary give-aways that our city has been doing.

    I believe it is time to review the Code of Ethics. We need opportunities for whistle blowers and revisions on the use of social media. Between Laura and that debacle and Scott Dunn, the city has had a black eye in 2019. It is time that a nice breeze is blown through our city council.

Ken Hutchenrider, Place 5
  1. Given the current level of approval for Palisades from the City, I believe the main approach is to enforce all provisions that were approved at the time of the rezoning. I do not believe the developer should be granted any further exemptions or any time delays. While this will not “undo” the project which I do not believe could happen, this would allow the City to receive what it was promised at the time of approval. This needs to occur in a very transparent fashion with very frequent updates to City Council and the Community.
  2. Overall, I think a thorough review of the code of ethics, planning process, and business practices needs to occur. In my professional career when a significant occurrence happens, we perform what is called a Root Cause analysis. Everyone who was involved is brought to a meeting and the entire occurrence is reviewed in a very transparent fashion. This process needs to occur in order to ensure this does not happen again and that public trust can be reestablished. This should be conducted in open meetings with full transparency.

Place 6

Steve Mitchell, Place 6

Mayor (Place 7)

Paul Voelker, Mayor
  1. As an unopposed candidate for Mayor, I will continue to work with the Richardson City Attorney, City staff and all Federal officials with respect to the criminal trial and probable appeal. As this is ongoing, I have been asked as a witness for the prosecution not to discuss any of my testimony until the appeals process is complete. I am committed to seeing the successful completion of this project. As market conditions allow, both the remaining infrastructure and commercial development will be built out. Commitments by all parties must be met as outlined in the State of Texas contract law.
  2. From the evening I assumed the role of Mayor in 2015, I have made it my top priority to heal the feelings and rebuild the trust of the citizens and stakeholders of Richardson. As we seat a new council after the May 2019 election the council will start the process of setting the biennial goals and strategies along with our “Rules of Engagement”. This is effectively Council’s standards of conduct. Each newly elected Council is obligated to review and revise both documents, as required by the City of Richardson’s ethics ordinance. The Council, as the main oversight body, will continue to review and modify city planning and business processes and benchmark these against all best practices of other governing bodies.

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