Friday, April 19, 2019

Final Impressions of City Council Candidates

The League of Women Voters of Richardson held a forum for Richardson City Council candidates Wednesday evening at the Richardson Civic Center. About 200 people turned out to hear the candidates answer questions from voters. The threat of storms might have kept some people away, but the off-chance of fireworks on stage might have limited the no-shows. It turned out that the storms stayed away and the fireworks show turned into more of a comedy club as most candidates made a confession of their own run-in with Richardson Code Enforcement. I won't spoil their material. The video from the forum is available on the City's website. You can just watch their comedy sets yourselves. Let me just say that all the candidates seemed genuinely friendly with each other.

Once again, rather than provide a question-by-question account of the evening, I am going to present only the highlights, both roses and thorns, for each candidate.

(As for my earlier impressions of the candidates, from an earlier forum, they can be read elsewhere.)

City of Richardson Place 1

Bob Dubey (Place 1). His best answer? When asked what the major issue facing Richardson is, he gave a passionate defense of local control versus the property tax cap Austin is trying to "dictate" to the city. His weakest answer? No changes to the Code of Ethics are needed because he took an oath. He doesn't know what could be more rigorous than a person's word. His second weakest answer? Richardson is doing something about traffic by redesigning Main Street to get traffic through there more efficiently, adding straight-through and left and right turn lanes to keep the traffic moving. This reinforces my fear that this project is more about speeding traffic through downtown, which is in conflict with creating a destination there. Cars 1, A Sense of Place 0.

Jason Clarke (Place 1). His best answer? When asked what the major issue facing Richardson is, he spoke of a vision that focuses on each of us in our neighborhoods. He said quality of life should come before developers' bottom lines. A somewhat weaker answer was not so much a bad answer as a long-term answer to a problem that needs immediate action. Asked about the Code of Ethics, he said we need more City engagement with the public, that the more people are involved, the more transparency we'll have. True dat, but let's beef up the Code of Ethics now. His weakest answer? When asked about handling big budgets, he said he pays his wife's credit card bills. Ouch. A joke, surely, but did he wish he could have pulled the words back as soon as they left his mouth? I hope so.

City of Richardson Place 3

Franklin Byrd (Place 3). His best answer? He said HUD development grants need to be looked at again as a way of increasing the stock of affordable housing in Richardson. At least he's open to "looking." His weakest answer? "I don't know if the Code of Ethics needs to be changed."

Dan Barrios (Place 3). His best answer? We need to add more teeth to our Code of Ethics, which sometimes looks like a gag order. (My work here is done.) His second best answer? We need to completely rethink how we build cities. The Arapaho/Collins Innovation District is an opportunity to bring the workforce closer to the work.

Janet DePuy (Place 3). Her best answer? When asked what the biggest issue facing the City is, she said it's the City losing its autonomy to the State as evidenced by imposition of a tax cap. She also recognized that tax reform largely means school finance reform. Not that the City controls what Austin does, but it's good when the City is run by people who know the bind the State puts cities and school districts in. Her weakest answer was nothing I disagreed with, but I wish she could have been more specific. When asked about the Code of Ethics, she said she would strengthen it (how?) and have "something" about social media in it.

City of Richardson Place 4

Raymond De Guzman, Sr. (Place 4). His best answer was mostly repetitious with other candidates answers. Traffic is best addressed by building the City up and making it possible for the workforce to live near the work. His weakest answer? He thinks we don't need any changes in our Code of Ethics right now.

Johnny Lanzillo (Place 4). His best answer? Someone asked what experience the candidates have in handling $280 million budgets. Lanzillo turned the question to his advantage by admitting that his business isn't that big but, as a defense attorney he deals more with handling people's lives, including their freedom. His weakest answer? When asked about the Code of Ethics, he said that as a lawyer, his profession takes ethics seriously (no one questioned anyone's personal ethics). His only suggestion for change to the Code of Ethics was that the City should hire an independent investigator to deal with complaints (the City did hire outside counsel to investigate the complaints surrounding the former mayor).

Kyle Kepner (Place 4). His best answer? While I wish he would have given specific suggestions, he did use the strongest language about the need to strengthen the Code of Ethics, saying we need to rewrite it to make it "ironclad", "with teeth and consequences." His weakest answer? When asked what experience the candidates have in handling $280 million budgets, Kepner mentioned his restaurant that does $12 million in business and then said something about a business relationship he had with Dale Wamstad, who founded the Silver Fox restaurant in Richardson. Sorry, but for me, the less said about Dale Wamstad, the better. His isn't a name to drop when looking for my vote. [Correction: Kyle Kepner said he was the Assistant GM at III Forks, owned by Dale Wamstad, which did 12 million dollars in sales a year. I apologize for the error.]

City of Richardson Place 5

Mauri Long (Place 5). Her best answer? Her fortitude to remain true to the reason she's running despite facing an audience who might not be receptive to it. She said Richardson can't just be a white-collar city as she reiterated that she's running to represent the majority of Richardson who make less than $100,000. Later she pointed out what was obvious to anyone who looked: there was little diversity in the crowd at the forum. I've got to give credit to a politician who doesn't pander to the audience in front of her. Her weakest answer? When she gave overly-simple answers or even cliches. Her solution for keeping housing affordable is to talk to developers about building less costly housing. Her solution for traffic congestion is to look at alternatives that are "outside the box."

Ken Hutchenrider (Place 5). His best answer? He recounted the time when his house was flooded due to a break in a 72-inch water pipe that provides water to Richardson. According to Hutchenrider, North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD) didn't have a plan for how to deal with affected homeowners. He wants to bring in NTMWD, Atmos, Oncor and all utility providers for meetings to discuss their inspection and maintenance schedules and review their contingency plans. It's great that a candidate wants to hold our utility providers accountable. Unfortunately, this good answer also contained the weakest motivation. It was like his advocacy on this was triggered not by empathy for others but by his own home disaster. I probably am reading too much into it, but it reminded me of the Tom Wolfe quote: "If a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged, a liberal is a conservative who's been arrested."

Rereading my impressions of the candidates, I realize I placed a lot of emphasis on their attitude toward Richardson's Code of Ethics. Well, yeah. More on that, much more, to come.


Mark Steger said...

Johnny Lanzillo clarified one of his answers: "I believe that ethics complaints should go to an independent investigator first. Previously, independent counsel was brought in AFTER the city had already done their own investigation in-house.

"The alternative that I offered that night, was to allow the district attorney's office to handle these investigations as part of the initial investigation as well."

Mark Steger said...

Jason Clarke objects to me taking a part of one his answers out of context: "All I can say is I think you focused on me joking about a husband/wife relationship and missed how I referred to the fact that I’ve lead a non-profit for a decade (Where we never for a day carried a penny of debt) and how between my wife and we own four small businesses and with this understand well how to budget. Further, was my comment about how every budget has line items and each one of those line items carries value for real people. And then I made a promise: I promised to recognize that every penny in every line item will drive value to Richardson residents - Richardson families. This was my actual answer. My joke, when taken from context makes me look like I speak ill of women - which I do not."

Kyle Kepner said...

Hi Mark, I would like to respond as well. The question was about dealing with a large budget. My business does not do 12 million dollars a year. I said I was the Assistant GM at III Forks where we did 12 million dollars in sales a year and I was routinely involved in the decision making process that affected millions of dollars of our budget. Dale Wamstad was the owner there and I worked for him for five years. He now owns Texas restaurant which is a Richardson business. The whole point is that I have experience dealing with budgets both small and large.
Thank for covering the forum and allowing us to respond.

Kyle Kepner

Mark Steger said...

Kyle Kepner, thanks for the clarification. I apologize the error. I will make a not in the original text.

Mark Steger said...

Several readers have pointed out that I failed to identify any thorns for Dan Barrios. That was an oversight, not intentional. I apologize to Dan for not giving him any constructive criticism for how to improve his campaign answers. ;-)