Monday, April 22, 2019

The Wheel's City Council Voters Guide

Election day for Richardson City Council is Saturday, May 4, 2019. Early voting runs from Monday, April 22, 2019, until Tuesday, April 30, 2019. I attended candidate forums so you didn't have to (you're welcome). I've kept an open mind, but now I have to decide how to fill out my own ballot. It wasn't an easy decision. Pros and cons were unusually balanced this year. You may disagree with my decisions. That's OK. But if I got wrong any of the facts that informed my decisions, that's not OK. I want to hear about factual errors so I can correct things. The only decision that really matters is the one I make when I enter the voting booth.

For those without the patience to read the reasoning that informed my opinions, here's the bottom line.

  • Place 1: Jason Clarke
  • Place 2: Uncontested
  • Place 3: Janet DePuy
  • Place 4: Kyle Kepner
  • Place 5: Ken Hutchenrider
  • Place 6: Uncontested
  • Mayor: Uncontested

What I liked about this election is that all of the candidates are decent people. They are not perfect, and their views don't always align with my own, but I believe that they all have the best interests of the city at heart. They all are willing to talk to people (many reached out to me without prompting), and more important, listen to people (all responded when I asked questions). Win or lose, all should be commended for putting themselves on the hot seat of politics. The next City Council is going to have at least three and as many as four new faces. Because we have so many acceptable candidates, I'm confident that no matter who wins, the City of Richardson will be in good hands. That said, the races are not coin tosses for me. In the end, I feel good about my choices.

This has been a different kind of City Council election. It used to be that one power broker, a political action committee called the Richardson Coalition, had an outsize impact on the outcome of Richardson local elections. An official-looking, direct-mail "Voters Guide" can have a big impact on voters. This year, another group is trying to be a power broker. Democratic Party partisans have been more visible than ever before in Richardson local elections. That is not illegal. It may sometimes be unseemly, but like-minded individuals working together as an old guard establishment PAC or as Democrats or Republicans or progressives or conservatives, is all legal. It's American. And it doesn't decide my vote. In the end, which groups support which candidates mattered less to me than what the candidate himself or herself stands for.

I guess that might sound hypocritical in a post labeled "Voters Guide", but honestly, I'm not really trying to persuade you to vote the way I say. I write this to figure out how I should vote myself. I consider it thinking out loud. I think what I wrote six years ago still captures why I write blog posts like this: "Why I Blog".

Something else that didn't matter to me was a candidate's lack of service on Richardson boards and commissions. Lack of such service is sometimes interpreted as a disqualifying lack of experience. I suspect a Catch 22 is at work. Some voters don't consider you qualified for City Council without serving on a board or commission first, but you can't serve on a board or commission without being picked by the City Council. The system is designed in such a way that those already in power can decide who gets the experience needed to carry on the vision of those in power. In my opinion using this criterion to reject candidates keeps good people with independent thinking off of City Council. I'd like to see the system changed.

So what did matter to me?
  • First and foremost, a recognition that the reputation of the entire City, not just one person's, was seriously damaged by the bribery scandal, accompanied by a belief that reform is needed to restore trust in City government.
  • Second, an understanding that Richardson is made up of all kinds of constituents — from the huge corporations in the office towers on our booming north side to the renters in aging apartments on our south side, and all the homeowners in neighborhoods in between. The City needs to treat all as stakeholders and give attention to all.
  • Third, an understanding not just that aging parts of our City need redevelopment, but that the form of that redevelopment (walkable, transit-oriented, urban) is more important than, say, the particular (big) businesses the City can attract to relocate here. A good understanding of this will help solve our "traffic problem" or our "pothole problem."

OK, let's spin the wheel and see where it stops. Three places have only a single candidate, each an incumbent. They'll be re-elected no matter what I say or think, so I'll skip them here.

City of Richardson Place 1

Jason Clarke is the most intriguing candidate in the race. He graduated from high school in Richardson, moved elsewhere, then moved back here to raise his family and has lived here for ten years. So he has roots. He's a business owner and is the executive director of a non-profit organization. So he has business experience. His non-profit serves the refugee community of North Texas. He and his family lived in the refugee community. So he commits. What I find intriguing about Clarke is his fresh way of looking at our city. As just one example, he wants to borrow an idea from the City of Dallas to make Richardson a "Welcoming City." I didn't know what a "Welcoming City" is. Maybe I need to get outside our city more and bring back good ideas from wherever they are. Clarke has done that. Clarke's positions on infrastructure and public transportation and economic development place him squarely in the mainstream of Richardson politics, but every so often he says something new and my ears perk up. I'd like to hear his perspective every Monday night at City Council meetings. The Wheel endorses Jason Clarke for Place 1.

Bob Dubey has been a respectable city council member for two years. Before his tenure, the City experienced the worst scandal in its history. Its Code of Ethics proved totally inadequate. Nothing has been done about that and Dubey says no changes are needed now. I wish he would have had some ideas for reform.

City of Richardson Place 3

Janet DePuy has done something I didn't think could be done. She has attracted the endorsements of both the Richardson Coalition and Amir Omar, who were on opposite sides of the bitter mayoral election of 2013. Color me gobsmacked. She has a decade's experience as HOA president. So she has working knowledge of what our neighborhoods need. She has a Bachelor's Degree in Art from UT-Dallas and is a board member of the Arts Incubator of Richardson. So she has the understanding of how the Arts can overcome cultural differences and bring people together. She has called for review and strengthening the City's Code of Ethics, including adding a section on proper use of social media. She checks all the right boxes for me. The Wheel endorses Janet DePuy for Place 3.

Dan Barrios has called for a citizen-led ethics commission to strengthen our Code of Ethics and has made other concrete suggestions for strengthening the code. He is personable, intelligent, and focused on service. I think Richardson would be in safe hands if Dan Barrios is elected.

Franklin Byrd, despite the scandal involving Richardson's former mayor, does not think the City's Code of Ethics needs to be strengthened.

City of Richardson Place 4

Kyle Kepner supports economic incentives to attract big companies to Richardson. He supports Richardson's Home Improvement Incentive Program, which requires a $20,000 investment to receive benefits. Yet when asked if the City should develop a program to help low- and moderate-income homeowners in older neighborhoods make basic updates (such as electrical, plumbing, etc.), Kepner says we should continue to work with charities to make programs like this happen. I urge him to reconsider this and find ways and means for the City to provide economic incentives for *all* residents, no matter their means. I also disagree with his opinion that one needs to be a homeowner in order to have "skin in the game." I believe that all residents of Richardson should be treated as stakeholders. On the plus side, Kepner says rebuilding trust is among the top issues facing the City and that the City should find out how the recent breach of ethics happened and "plug the holes" so it doesn't happen again. The Richardson Coalition has endorsed Kepner, and Cory Montfort has "gone to bat" for him. These two were on opposite sides of a closely-contested City Council election in 2017. Kepner's ability to win compliments from across the divide of Richardson politics is a plus. The Wheel endorses Kyle Kepner for Place 4, but with reservations.

Raymond De Guzman, Sr., is an example of the diversity that makes Richardson great. He's an immigrant (Philippines). He's disabled (cerebral palsy). He's running an independent election campaign. He has served Richardson for years as one of the leaders of Richardson AnimaLuv, a charitable organization dedicated to animal care. What I don't like is that, despite the scandal involving Richardson's former mayor, De Guzman, Sr., does not call for the City's Code of Ethics to be strengthened.

Johnny Lanzillo is a lawyer. In his practice he defends indigent people's legal rights. That's admirable. Unfortunately, my confidence that Lanzillo will engage in civic discourse that is civil in tone, respectful of others and designed to produce constructive outcomes for the betterment of our community has recently been shaken.

City of Richardson Place 5

Ken Hutchenrider is the President of Richardson Methodist hospital, one of the largest employers in Richardson. I want a City Council that provides independent oversight of big businesses, not one that includes the top executives of those businesses, adding government power to their already considerable business power. Hutchenrider is a good man and an asset to Richardson. I wish that he would have decided to continue to serve the residents of Richardson right where he is already. I also wish he would have spoken more about the needs of neighborhoods. His campaign website has 929 words on its "Issues" page. "Neighborhood" isn't one of them. (In contrast Janet DePuy's "Issues" page has 553 words. Thirteen of them are "neighborhood," including in the title of the first section, "The Power of Our Neighborhoods.") But Hutchenrider did decide to run for City Council. He clearly has a resume and reputation that qualify him to serve. The Wheel endorses Ken Hutchenrider for Place 5, but with reservations.

Mauri Long wants to represent the majority of Richardson residents who make less than $100,000 per year. She focuses on issues like poverty and homelessness and suicide, not just potholes. All of that is admirable and deserving of a voice on City Council. Unfortunately, my confidence that Long will engage in civic discourse that is civil in tone, respectful of others and designed to produce constructive outcomes for the betterment of our community has recently been shaken.


Mark Steger said...

In my words about Dan Barrios, I said, "He is personable, intelligent, and focused on service. I think Richardson would be in safe hands if Dan Barrios is elected."
That was before he went negative with a direct mail attack ad against another candidate for Place 3. I would describe him in different words today.

John Steger said...

In your third point of choosing candidates you talk about fixing pot holes and the traffic problem.

In your description of Jason Clarke you praise him brining ideas from other cities.

Can any of those ideas solve the traffic and pot hole issues here?

Mark Steger said...

This isn't from Jason Clarke, but I'm thinking Jakarta has a unique perspective. ;-) This is from a recent Economist article:

"To experience the true Jakarta, sit in a taxi for an hour, listening to the motorbikes rev and the horns honk, only to realise that you are no closer to your destination than when you set off. Indonesia’s capital, home to 30m people, is in a constant state of gridlock. Meetings are routinely missed; businessfolk often call in from the back seat of a stationary vehicle. Some policemen have started a sideline selling motorcade escorts. Fumes from the sea of cars add to the smog. Public transport offers little respite: a new underground service, decades in the building, already feels jam-packed."

John Steger said...

Took me 1 hour to go 3 miles home today after work. Not bad, all things considered.