San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

September 24th, 2009
Former mayors talk campaign spending

San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz, center, shown with Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley, left, and Economic San Marcos Development San Marcos Executive Director Amy Madison, right, at a recent Hays County Commissioners Court meeting. Photo by Sean Batura.

News Reporter

The four living former mayors of San Marcos offered a variety of opinions about the cost of running for that office in light of campaign finance reports revealing that Mayor Susan Narvaiz spent $100,000 on her 2008 campaign.

Narvaiz reported spending $99,757.84 between July 1, 2008, and June 30, 2009. Close to half of those expenditures, $42,530.85, were spent in the first six months of 2009, a period starting nearly two months after the election.

“When you’re trying to win an election, you don’t turn money down,” said former San Marcos Mayor Robert Habingreither, a Texas State science professor.

Narvaiz’s 2008 campaign, along with accounts from Habingreither and former Mayor David Chiu (2000-2002), indicate that more money is available to incumbent mayors seeking re-election, thereby making re-election campaigns more expensive.

“I was offered money when I was the mayor, by different people,” Habingreither said. “The way that they would say it to you is, ‘We’d like to contribute to your campaign.’ And I would tell them, ‘I don’t have a campaign, I’m already the mayor.’ I didn’t do it for money. I did it because I had issues with the way the city was run. And I think that most people – especially (those) that run for a mayoral office – run because they’ve got their eyes on something else.”

Habingreither said he spent about $8,000 to defeat Chiu in 2002, then spent about five times as much in 2004, only to lose to Narvaiz by 123 votes.

“I think I spent around $40,000 or $45,000 the second time (I ran),” Habingreither said. “I spent a lot of money, and I didn’t win.”

Likewise, Chiu said he spent more money to lose against Habingreither in 2002 than he spent to become mayor by defeating Ed Mihalkanin in 2000.

“I do know that my re-election cost a whole lot more,” Chiu said.

State law requires cities to maintain campaign finance records for only two years after an election. Chiu and former Mayor Kathy Morris (1988-1996) both said they don’t remember even approximately how much money they spent on their various campaigns. Nor did they wish to comment on the current mayor’s spending.

Morris said she has been “out of the loop too long,” and Chui said it would be “grossly unfair” for him to evaluate another person’s campaign without being involved in it and without knowing more.

“I think it’s foolhardy to evaluate something that you don’t have a direct hand on,” Morris said. “And I don’t. I haven’t run for office, I haven’t worked with anybody who has lately, and I have no knowledge. So I’m totally unqualified.”

However, former Mayor Billy Moore (1996-2000) said, “I do watch with dismay the increasing amount of money needed to run.”

Moore said he raised less than $5,000 running for mayor and spent less than $4,000 in his campaigns. Moore said most contributions he received were less than $50. Moore said the largest contribution he received was $300.

“All during my tenure, I would just have enough money to have an officeholder account and a treasurer,” Moore said.

Moore said he refused contributions from developers, construction companies, engineering firms, and other companies the city might hire. Habingreither said contractors who are “really straight” and “do good work for the city” give money to a candidate they “respect” without wishing to buy influence, although, he said, that’s not always true.

“If money changes hands under the table, who would ever know it?” Habingreither said. “These people are good at that. It’s a filthy business, and a lot of times people are in it for personal gain.”

The single largest contributor to Narvaiz was local entrepreneur and investor T.P. Gilmore, who made three contributions totaling $14,465.22. Narvaiz also received $5,000 from Bartlett, IL, homebuilder James P. Bigelow, $5,000 from Houston developer Charles Leyendecker, and another $5,000 from CB&B Realty in San Marcos.

Narvaiz spent at least $93,000 more than the combined efforts of her two 2008 challengers, David Newman and Daniel McCarthy. Newman’s campaign finance reports leading up to the election showed that he raised $2,331.28 and spent $5,113.65. Newman filed a final report in August showing no additional contributions or expenditures, but $4,527.08 in outstanding loans. McCarthy signed a statement with the Texas Ethics Commission saying he would not raise or spend more than $500.

Narvaiz swamped her competition not only by gathering large contributions, but also in contributions of $50 or less. For the year ending on June 30, 2009, Narvaiz reported $2,600 in contributions of $50 or less. Newman reported $1.38.

State law does not require candidates and officeholders to specify precisely when and from whom they receive contributions of $50 or less.

“With a fundraiser, a lot of times what people will do, is they’ll put cash money in a container so that their name is not tied to it,” Habingreither said. “Somebody could have put $1,000 in there in twenty-dollar bills, but you’d never know it, because it was just collected in the center of a table at a fundraiser … We always put a fishbowl in the middle of the table, and you’d come back with a couple thousand dollars in it … some of them were tens, some of them were twenties, some of them were fifties … That’s why people will do that – they don’t want their name tied to it.”

Though she spent about 13 times more than the combined expenses of her two opponents, Narvaiz won 6,451 votes (50.08 percent) to Newman’s 3,868 (30.03) percent and McCarthy’s 2,563 (19.89 percent). Narvaiz would have been forced into a run-off election against Newman if she had received nine fewer votes.

“It takes a lot more money to win than to lose,” said Jason Stanford, president of Austin-based Democratic political consulting firm Stanford Campaigns. “That’s no surprise. The candidates who have the most money usually win. And to get 20 percent (of the vote) or thereabouts is no great achievement. If you have a couple of people in there against any officeholder, then they’re probably going to get 15 to 20 percent. If the choice is the devil you know and the devil you don’t, sometimes people just would rather go with the devil they don’t, because they’re not really thrilled with the devil they know. It doesn’t indicate any huge groundswell of opposition to the mayor, and it doesn’t indicate that she ran a bad campaign. In fact, winning without a runoff against two candidates is not easy. That’s why she had to spend considerably more than that.”

Stanford said the proportion of money spent among candidates running for election will not necessarily be reflected in the ratio of votes cast.

“Even if you spend as efficiently and as wisely as possible, there’s a declining return on money after a while,” Stanford said. “You could … make the argument that if (Narvaiz) avoided a runoff by only nine votes, then she spent her money extremely efficiently, that she did exactly what was required to accomplish her goal. Any idiot … can spend no money and do something. The winning margin is the expensive part in American politics.”

Narvaiz said that when she ran for reelection, she and her contributors forecast that her campaign would need $75,000 to $85,000.

“The criticism I have is that (Narvaiz) didn’t raise enough money,” Stanford said. “She knew that, too, because she took out a loan. You don’t take out a loan because you’ve raised enough money, you take out a loan because you’re short on money in your campaign.”

Narvaiz took out a $20,000 loan at a three-percent interest rate from her sister-in-law, Kelly Clifford of Helotes, TX, last August. The mayor paid off the loan this year.

Stanford said spending $5,000 to run for city office is equivalent to “not even trying to win,” adding that  part of the reason Newman and McCarthy lost was because they did not raise enough money.

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63 thoughts on “Former mayors talk campaign spending

  1. I agree with Stanford, to a point. I disagree that Narvaiz needed more money. It shouldn’t take $100K to win a city election in a city this size. But I agree with him that it’s crazy to think that anyone who only spends $5K in an election of this magnitude has a chance to win. IMO, Narvaiz overspent and her competitors drastically underspent.

    As much as I’m not a fan of Narvaiz, I can’t fault her here. Was it only worth $5K to Newman (and $500 to McCarthy!) – and more importantly their supporters – to try to become Mayor of our City? If so, then I’m not sure we aren’t better off with someone who at least puts in the effort to raise funds and win the darn thing.

  2. Mr. Stanford’s opinion is riddled with bias.

    He derives his paycheck from the amount of money that he is able to raise from running a client politician’s campaign, and uses this amount from which he compensates himself.

    No wonder he makes the statement: “The criticism I have is that (Narvaiz) didn’t raise enough money,”

    As for candidates “not caring” enough to raise money, I am sure that matters such as actual time limitations and campaign organization constraints, not to mention the lack of benefit from not being the incumbent, factor into this.

    The bottom line is: if you seek an underlying reason for something politically oriented that otherwise defies explanation, then follow the money.

  3. As Kathy Morris’ campaign manager for her four terms, I remember when we raised about $10,000 for her first re-election bid(the majority through fund raising events and mail solicitations) and her opponent made it sound like we were auctioning off City Hall. But we were the first to use local TV ads in a city campaign as well as radio, newspaper ads, signs and targeted mailings. All those costs have risen exponentially since then (except there is no local radio station anymore).

    A serious candidate has to factor in fund-raising in their campaign plans as other media outlets have grown and you can’t reach everybody in a fast growing city going door-to-door.

  4. The reason Narvaiz had to spend thirteen times the amount that her two opponents spent combined, just to receive a slight majority of votes cast, is because of her record as mayor. And her record as mayor is reflected in the four special interest contributions representing nearly 30% of all her campaign contributions (reported). If the national election hadn’t brought out many new voters who had no knowledge of Narvaiz’s record, but who gave deference to the incumbent and judged her only on the basis of her expensive saturation campaign messaging, she would not have won, a least not without a runoff election. Had it been a non-presidential election there would surely have been a runoff, because no amount of spending could have fooled a majority of the smaller voter base that pays attention to local politics.

  5. So Mr. O’Dell believes there should be a small voter turnout open only to the “Enlightened Ones.” Try that out on the League of Women Voters.

  6. Danny ran his campaign on $500 and garnered 20% of the vote, Newman $5000 with 30% and Narvaiz $100,000 for 50%. Her personal accounting probably reflects her accounting as mayor.

  7. Mr. O’Dell’s statement is not necessarily a normative statement of elitism. In my opinion, the change in voting period is the most significant change in City politics and government in my lifetime. When the City moved the election from May to November, there is no doubt that it increased the importance of fundraising and gave incumbents a distinct advantage, because the average November voter is likely younger and less informed on local issues. Maybe quantity trumps all when talking turnout, but it is important to know what that means.

  8. That’s your message Bill—not mine. I simply noted the reason why Narvaiz had to spend thirteen times the amount that her two opponents spent combined, just to receive a slight majority of votes cast. Uninformed voters are exactly the reason candidates need to raise and spend tons of campaign funds so they can create a positive, usually false, image needed to attract votes. And that’s why special interests contribute. Informed voters nixed the $170 million road bond in 2007, even though special interests out spent the responsible road PAC ten to one. In the 2008 election Barton and Conley joined the special interests and spent hundreds of thousands of public money to propagandize the same uninformed voters throughout the county and got them to approve a pig in the poke ($207 million road bond to pay for federal, state and developer road expansion with local property taxes). As the Bible says: “The uninformed voters will always be with us.” That’s why money drives our elections.

  9. I am an informed voter, and I voted for the road bonds both times. I don’t want to reopen that battle again, but to say that anyone who does not vote as you wish must be uninformed is the pure elitism.

  10. The idea that the “responsible Road PAC” is not a special interest is as laughable as the idea that all informed voters side with posters who list their degrees. Do you have the chapter and verse for your quote?

  11. Elitism is your interpretation Larry—not mine. An informed voter indeed. That means, I suppose, that you went beyond the official propaganda and did a fact check on the claims made about safety, mobility, etc, and they all checked out. That’s why you voted for both road bonds. Interesting. I am genuinely interested in what sources other than the official propaganda did you relied on to become an informed voter for the past two road bonds. Thanks.

  12. I originally ran for City Council for two primary reasons: I thought I knew enough to be an effective voice for the citizens and have a positive effect on the well-being of the community as it made the transition from “small town” to “city,” and help to improve our collective vision and foundation for the future; and many people who knew me from other community settings, especially as long-term Chair of the Planning and Zoning Commissions. I hesitated for some years to make the commitment, being aware of significant obligations to family and to my pretty demanding position at the University. I did not want to undercut my effectiveness by committing more energy and talent than I could afford.

    I never lusted after the job of responsible public service, nor expected either wealth or power or fame for doing my job as a citizen representative. I was elected five times, and never raised more than $5,000 or spent more than about $4,000. Mr Cunningham is accurate that I never thought of a “carpet-bombing campaign,” as now seems to have become the norm. My efforts consisted of direct mail; signage (which I still view with some disdain, as often unsightly, expensive, and of dubious value if one is known); newspaper ads; appearing before civic groups and in debates, and talking to my neighbors face to face where possible–walking neighborhoods, for example. During my tenure, the population increased from around 28,000 to 40,000+, the university from around 14,000 to 21,000, as I recall.

    I did hold fundraisers and give “stump speeches,” in which I appealed for support. My only promises were to show up wherever expected, to be thoroughly prepared, to hear evidence and argument on all sides of the issues, and to use my honest best judgment in making my votes.

    I made it very clear that I needed support to win, but cautioned donors that they could buy nor expect favors in any way–that being, in fact, the oath one takes to hold office. I also tried to impress that I would do my very best as long as I was honored by election, but would be willing to retire back to a normal life when the voters saw fit. During the term, any resources left in my fund were passes back into common causes in the community, such as the Food Bank, the Women’s Shelter, or civic projects.

    My own or donated money was never a big issue, but I did promise to consider every tax penny to be spent as an investment–value added in the community with a future return for the taxpayer. The Councils on which I served behaved rather conservatively, raising taxes minimally and for good purpose–public safety, health and welfare projects and basic services such as bonded upgrades to most of our streets, parks, downtown landscape, water/ wastewater facilities, technology and public buildings.

    I have watched with great care as our legacy expanded or not, as new issues came along, and as policy emphases were adopted over the decade. It is still my belief that, as someone earlier implied, almost any reasonable person with a reliable $100K “war chest” could be elected and remain in office as long as desired, so long as no serious character issue or misdeeds were in the record.

    But in my version of democracy, the time comes to share the responsibility and introduce new perspectives. This is perfectly consistent with the “Manager/Council” form of government we have Chartered. The Manager is the key player, though serving at the pleasure of the whole Council, and the Mayor is, though “first among equals,” given no ruling power, staff discretion or special jurisdiction. The ultimate owner of the governmental body is the taxpayer/citizenry to be SERVED. That is the public trust, which may OR may not be for sale to bidders.

  13. What scares me most of the whole article is what former Mayer Habingreither said:” If money changes hands under the table, who would ever know it? These people are good at that. It’s a filthy business, and a lot of times people are in it for personal gain.”
    WOW, IS THIS really happening in San Marcos?

  14. @ O’Dell: “Elitism is your interpretation Larry—not mine.”

    I have to say that after reading your posts on this topic, it’s my interpretation as well.

    Sorry, but anytime you bring the argument that anyone who disagrees with you is “uninformed”, you’re going to sound like that. Is it that hard to believe that someone could look at the same facts as you and come to a different conclusion?

    It doesn’t help that you feel the need to sign your name with “PhD” behind it. Anything to try to claim the intellectual high ground, eh?

  15. Hold on a minute. Let’s not confuse snobbery and arrogance with elitism.

    According to Wikipedia:
    Personal attributes commonly purported by elitist theorists to be characteristic of the elite include: rigorous study of, or great accomplishment within, a particular field; a long track record of competence in a demanding field; an extensive history of dedication and effort in service to a specific discipline (e.g., medicine or law) or a high degree of accomplishment, training or wisdom within a given field. Elitists tend to favor systems such as meritocracy, technocracy and plutocracy as opposed to radical democracy, political egalitarianism and populism.

  16. Dano, you have obviously missed the point of my comment when you post: “Is it that hard to believe that someone could look at the same facts as you and come to a different conclusion?” Read what I wrote: “I am genuinely interested in what sources other than the official propaganda did you relied on to become an informed voter for the past two road bonds.” If voters rely solely on official propaganda designed to gain voter approval for a bond (higher taxes), how can they claim to be “informed” voters? The assumption is that our elected officials tell us the truth. They don’t when it suits them not to. The road bonds are a case in point. Opponents of both road bonds refuted false claims made by county officials and their special interests by using official published data and research results from respected institutions. Let me give you a concrete example. Barton and Conley both made repeated claims that FM1626 was a deadly road and needed to make it safer by transforming it into a 4/5 lane highway. Actual DPS accident data show that FM1626 is one of the safest roads in Hays County in terms of absolute accident numbers and per vehicle mile, and that Hwy 290 West, a 4/5 lane highway, is the deadliest highway in Hays County by any measure. Barton/Conley want to take our tax dollars and give them to their special interest contributors so they can convert one of our safest roads into the same size as our deadliest roads—and claim safety improvements. This is just one of many possible examples of how our elected officials deliberately lied to voters. The Responsible Citizens PAC cited official data and sources, and advanced established cost effective alternative solutions to the major road bond projects. So what do you believe—false propaganda designed to gain voter approval, or real traffic data and official research results? How does any voter relying solely on official propaganda claim to be informed? That’s why voters who relied solely on official propaganda voted for the road bonds. They didn’t see the same facts as I did, only the “facts” presented by their elected officials. And that’s why Narvaiz had to spend thirteen times the amount her two opponents spent combined so she could attract new voters who were uninformed about facts of her record as mayor.

  17. Hold on Lila darling. Let’s not confuse common sense with trickery.

    Definition: deception, joke
    bait and switch, cheat, cheating, chicane, chicanery, con, deceit, dishonesty, dodge, double-cross, double-dealing, dupery, fast shuffle, flimflam, fourberie, fraud, funny business, guile, hoax, imposture, pretense, quackery, razzle-dazzle, scam, sharp practice, shell game, shenanigans*, snow job, sting*, stunt, swindling, underhandedness

  18. And Lia darling, let’s not confuse good governance with politics.

    Definition: art and science of administration of government
    affairs of state, backroom, campaigning, civics, domestic affairs, electioneering, government, government policy, hat in the ring, internal affairs, jungle*, legislature, matters of state, political science, polity, smoke-filled room, statecraft, stateship, zoo

  19. We have the potential to save a massive amount of taxpayer money to be allocated elsewhere by just halting the continued allocation of wasteful and unnecessary tax dollars to the Police Departments. Law Enforcement tactics and decisions have done enough harm to our community, it’s time we stop rewarding them with more funding to be wasted in “training programs and sessions” where the job can always be done for a quarter of the price. It’s time we take a good look at our Police Officers and they way they consistently abuse their authority and reputation with the good citizens of their community and what those actions mean at large about the role and training these individuals are receiving. What was once protection has turned to persecution and prosecution; waiting to recognize this problem will only exacerbate it.

  20. “”It’s a filthy business, and a lot of times people are in it for personal gain”. WOW, IS THIS really happening in San Marcos?”

    NAH !!!!!!

  21. I thought Lila Knight made some valid, educated points hardly anything to be dismissed as mere “trickery.”

  22. Wow, sounds like someone has a bone to pick with the police force.

    I don’t think you will find too many people (at least those not wearing tinfoil hats) to support your assertion that the PD has “harmed our community” by enforcing the laws of the land.

    Did you get a speeding ticket that you couldn’t talk your way out of or something?

  23. Come on Bill, as Kathy Morris’ campaign manager you of all people should fully understand my reference to political trickery. You know Lila Knight and her longstanding relationship with Bob and Jeff Barton. Why, you too are a friend of Jeff Barton, so why wouldn’t you think, “Lila made some valid, educated points”? For the “informed” reader it appears like birds of a feather are just attempting to control the discussion in Hays County. Former San Marcos Mayor Robert Habingreither is Commissioner Conley’s father-in-law and says in the article above: “When you’re trying to win an election, you don’t turn money down,…” Now you don’t suppose Habingreither is trying to preempt concerns about the $100,000 his son-in-law collected to fund his reelection campaign, or Commissioner Barton’s big war chest to run for county judge (he has no real opponent running for his Pct 2 Commissioner job). Former mayor Billy Moore commented above that: “During the term, any resources left in my fund were passed back into common causes in the community, such as the Food Bank, the Women’s Shelter, or civic projects.” Today, money is the name of the game and special interest candidates are financially well supported with campaign funds—we’re back to Narvaiz reportting 30% of her over powering campaign funds from just four special interest supporters. This is all about getting the voters ready for the election next year and getting rid of pests like HaysCAN. Readers can believe what they like but we intend to keep participating in the public discussions regarding open government.

  24. so chas “gobbels” odell is back spewing his venom here. he should be packed off to Cuba or Venezuela where lies are the standard party line. or better yet he ought to go back to kansas and his old job as a wal-mart greeter.

  25. Hi Andy. What lies might those be I’m telling—or are you going to leave the readers hanging?

  26. Alright Mr. O’Dell I confess–the Bartons, Will Conley, Lila Knight, Bob Habingreither and I are all part of a secret cabal trying to rule Hay County. I won’t tell you our secret meeting place, secret handshake or code names however.
    By the way, just for the historic record there are five living San Marcos mayors (just counting those elected by popular vote) living in San Marcos. The council chose the mayor from its own ranks prior to the 1980’s) J.E. Younger, who defeated Emmie Craddock in 1986 and retired after one term, prior to Kathy’s four terms, is still living and was recently sited at the Business Expo.

  27. Bill, making light of a serious matter and obfuscating with a history lesson is just a misdirection tactic. Stay on topic—political trickery and uninformed voters. No one claimed there was a cabal or that it was secret. Just the opposite. Elected officials and their special interests are working against the public interest for their own self interests. It’s been going on for as long as I’ve lived in Hays County and paid attention. Barton’s newspaper and online blogs are either directly controlled by Barton, or blogs like this one has minions like you and Lila Knight trying to misdirect, obfuscate or discredit anyone who tries to expose the political nonsense going on in this county. Which of the comments on this blog contain factual references that can be checked out and which comments try to move away from the subject and/or discredit my posts. You failed to disclose that you were part of the Bartons, Will Conley, Lila Knight, Bob Habingreither etc. group until I brought it to the attention of readers. If you don’t know the posters and/or they post anonymously then it isn’t apparent to new readers the concerted efforts going on to discredit a credible poster who points out the emperor has no clothes. We will continue to participate in the public discussions and to point out the bad behavior of public officials. Certainly you and others may continue doing your best to misdirect the conversations.

  28. Dr. Odell, this article is about campaign spending in San Marcos. Do you live in San Marcos? Stay on topic please. Perhaps you should put your rants on your own website, but then no one would read them.

  29. Damn it, why didn’t someone call me! I was so busy actually working today, I didn’t realize it was time for a game of good ol’ Whack A Mole with Chucky. Guess my so-called friends and fellow conspirators have lost my telephone number….

    I just so adore conspiracy theorists. They give me the giggles and I feel young again. There is something to say for foolishness….and fools.

    But on a serious note – I’m beginning to think this Hays County Cabal thing might actually be a pretty good idea. Maybe we should actually run with it and really give Charles something to worry about at nights. I’m game – particularly since the O’Dells won’t invite me over to swim in their pool.

  30. The matter of concern here, which, however thinly, lies rooted in the original article, is extremely relevant in the life of the community AND the state AND the nation: The purchase of packaged political campaigns and the selling of weak candidates, all too frequently along with their votes, their influence, and whatever power comes glued to public service. That, along with unholy alliances of allied “interests,” is dangerous to the concept of democracy itself.

    The bizarre collection of persons that sits near the top of the pile is a great example. Even as we quarrel and scar each other with savagely partisan thinking, even as we teeter on the brink of the sinkhole of greed the country has fallen into, the Constitutional referees seem prone to fix the game.

    Even disregarding the hugely accelerated pace of the last eight or so years, it has been matter of fact since Mr. Reagan opined that “government IS the problem,”and began to give full license to the dismantling of any semblance of control of our collective brutal instincts. “OUR” Supreme Court is deciding right now if big corporate big money is protected as “free speech,” with the precedent behind its almost predictable opinion that “money IS speech,” by some warped stretch. At issue is whether one of those corporate-sponsored “non-profit,’think-tank'” partisan organizations we have come so to love can legally and with impunity publish outright slander and demonstrable lies under cover of the Constitution. If the Court favor the defendant, it is official: The country has shifted its foundation, cornerstone and all, to “of the money, for the money, and by the money.” The Supremes can only give sanction to what is already accepted fact. And apparently, “Yes, Virginia, it’s the accepted standard in San Marcos, too.” Read the article.

    As my more partisan friends have told it to me, “Money talks, and bullshit walks.” So much for honesty,integrity,
    principle, reasoned argument, facts, majority, and the good of the whole. POOF! Package it right, or hide it beneath any handy cloak, and let ‘er rip! Did I mention the pageantry going on in WDC right now over how much the health of the nation is worth, and to whom? Or how much the loyal opposition has already accepted in cash and in kind to drag it out until sleight of hand will pass muster? Or how much is being spent on and by the lobby and the PR whores?

    I’m sort of glad I’m sort of old and no longer have the energy to raise the dust cloud I really should, or to rally others to do it. I’m stuck with that old saw, “There’s no better disinfectant than sunshine.” Sighhh.

    A student once asked me, “What do YOU think of Richard Nixon.” My reply: “Look around you. His face is the face that represents everybody in the room–the best we could do.” Anybody talked to our Governor lately?

  31. The Honorable Bill G unfortunately speaks the truth. Our culture is so enamored of money – and the resulting consumerism – that it evades every aspect of our lives. Even some recent evangelical trends focus on how religion can bring you prosperity. And the hot days of August licked the flames of corporate sponsored grass-roots town meetings, wherein people expressed concern for their own selfish pocketbooks rather than the welfare of our society as a whole. Happiness is money. Greed is good.

    But I’m not willing to throw in the towel. I had a remarkable conversation with a young lady last night who actually understands all this. Some of us may be too old to make a difference at this point. But we need to have some faith in those coming up behind us – and do what we can to help guide them along a better path. All is not yet lost…

  32. Isn’t it funny that Charles thinks the Bartons, Will Conley, Lila Knight, Bob Habingreither etc. are part of the same group? Somebody’s been taking crazy pills! And dang it Billy C., quit making light with obfuscation, or you’re not going to get invited to Chas’ pool party!

  33. Mr. Moore, the fact that money can invade politics and government is the reason government is the problem. We will never get money out of politics, but by limiting what we trust our government to do, we can limit the effectiveness of donations and the temptation for corruption. The reason mayors raise more today than in days gone by is that mayors do more — they deliver lucrative public-private partnerships, they buy developer’s waste with taxpayer money, etc. Limiting what mayors can do would limit what money buys the donor, because most donors will not continue to donate if the recipient doesn’t have the power to deliver profit.

    We agree about the problem, but you seem to be advocating for more government and regulations as the solution. As government grows and controls more and more, corruption, graft and money’s influence will increase.

  34. I would like to thank Andy Seville again for these great articles that have totally changed the way I view local politics.
    I’m so silly, I always thought that if you gave an officeholder money after they won an election that it would no longer be considered a campaign contribution, but would be like more of…a bribe.
    I’m not much of a gambler myself and frankly, historically, my candidates rarely win. I agree with what the mayor said about her contribitors just wanting to support a good candidate. It is alot easier to tell who the good candidate is after the election.
    So, that’s my new policy. I’m going make sure that my contribution goes to the best candidate by waiting till after the election to see who wins.
    We just have to face it, we are not a small town anymore. We’ve had a murder, some homicides & a rape just this summer. The bars are open late & the moritorium for sexually oriented business isn’t even up yet!
    And it is acceptable to follow state guidelines for bribing our public official after the election just as long as they don’t use the money for personal expenses (which we know they never would!)
    For anyone thinking of running for city council but worried that it is not a paid position, put your worries aside. It seems to potentially be quite a lucrative position afterall. You only have to file campaign financial reports with the city secretary, where they are open public record for only two years and only people like Andy Seville look at them. No one else checks them unless a written formal complaint is filed with the State Ethics Commission. So, you’re pretty much on your own. Just don’t ask me for a contribution till after you’ve won!

  35. Vicki, “It is alot easier to tell who the good candidate is after the election.” If the winning candidate is financially supported predominately by special interests who expect something in return for their LARGE contributions, and the special interest candidate wins the election because he/she had the financial means to project a false image so uninformed voters would vote for him/her, how do you arrive at the conclusion that “It is alot easier to tell who the good candidate is after the election.”? That’s mind numbing. Have you been reading the comments above that relate to special interest candidates “buying” elections? I urge you to rethink your ideas on elections. How can a candidate who obtained 30% of her campaign contributions from just four special interest contributors, and because of her special interest contributions was able to out spend her competitors COMBINED by 13:1, and thereby win the election be judged to be the “best candidate”? Narviaz was the winning candidate but do you suppose there is any correlation between campaign financing and election results? If you understand relationship between campaign financing and election results, then the next step is to look at who is contributing to that winning candidate. Sometimes the best candidate is the winning one, but typically the winning candidate is the best financed candidate, and in Hays County that is because special interests support candidates who are favorable to the special interests. Why would any special interest outside Hays County contribute to a Hays County candidate unless they expect something in return? Winning candidate and best candidate are not necessarily the same. I believe your post makes makes my point about uninformed voters.

  36. Wow Charles, you pretty clearly missed Vicki’s point, which makes me wonder if you are capable of understanding some of the more complex issues in our elections.

  37. I would like to point out, for Vicki and others, that Andy Sevilla didn’t report this story. Sean Batura did.

  38. Charles O’Dell was the largest contributor to one of the candidates in the Precinct One County Commissioners Race. Does that make Charles O’Dell, Ph.D. a special interest group? Was he trying to bribe someone with such a generous offer (maybe he thought he could get a particular outcome in the Ramus septic case)? Or is he a secret cabal conspiring to take over Hays County?

    Just exactly where is the line between contributing to a candidate you believe in and bribery? I suspect it’s determined by whether its the candidate you are for – or their opponent.

    And quite frankly, I have contributed to candidates outside my district – because they believed in the same causes I did. And I believed they needed some help. Is that a crime? (oops – I may have revealed that our cabal is reaching out beyond the boundaries of Hays County. You are going to have to work harder, Charles, to stop us now…).

    I hope Vicki continues to bet on candidates before the race. I know it’s a bummer to bet on a losing horse. I’ve done it myself lots. But very few people contribute after the race is over with. I, too, have often been disappointed with people I have helped get elected. But experience teaches much. And an engaged electorate is what we need. Don’t hang back.

    And by all means, ignore Charles, the Arrogant. That’s what the rest of us do. He’s just there for the giggles.

  39. Anybody else a fan of the classic Jimmy Stewart movie, “Mister Smith Goes To Washington”? Anybody else take it as a superb civics lesson? It is quality stuff, and I watch it every time it is shown–maybe could be a little boost to the school curriculum, or a special gift to people who are moved to contest for office–especially those whose higher instincts tell them they should run over and again until they catch the brass ring, without learning much about the duty between times.

    The whole wonderful revolves around a group of prominent “interested people” who pick out Mr. Smith in the erroneous belief that he is naive enough to accept their bidding and fish-in-a barrel support, and then espouse their “cause$$” in the Congress. They want him to believe that his public servic(ing?) will make him somebody “extry special,” acceptable in better social circles, wealthier, and finally recognized for his unique genius and special appropriateness to be a LEADER and a powerful man for “the good of the nation.” In other words, a modest fellow (nobody like Stewart for that) of fairly predictable but limited vision and talent who can be their stalking horse and golden goose.

    The good and bad news turns out to be that the Tin Man has a brain and principles once he is swept triumphally into office. And he must even control both his runaway hormones and the inevitable aspirations for higher office! Not to ruin the plot, but his filibuster speech both wins the girl AND wins the day! And towering public respect, etc. Makes me want to stand and salute at some times and weep at others, depending on what current horrors are being self-inflicted on a gullible public. I don’t think I will rent the movie for a few weeks.


    Bigger government? Like the Department of Homeland Security, the largest bureaucracy in the history of the planet, largely led by political cronies, in the name of efficient, effective national security? God forbid it!
    Don’t listen so much to what they Say, as watch very carefully what they DO. Sleight of hand still works.

  40. “We have to face it, we are not a small town anymore”.

    This may have been the greatest statement of truth anywhere in this article or the discussion that has followed it.

    Unfortunately, too many people around here refuse to accept it and are doing everything in their power to fight it.

  41. Growth WILL happen and that is, and should be a “good thing.” I’ve seen the changes produced by this growth in the 35+ years that I’ve been in San Marcos.

    The task that we must make the commitment to address with intelligence and forethought,….is how to best manage that growth so as to enhance, encourage and perpetuate our quality of life, for ALL of the people of our city.

    This course of action does not favor any one interest group, but when carried out correctly, benefits EVERYONE who lives here, in terms of economics and aesthetics as well as other essentials, to include effective public services, education, safety, and life opportunities overall.

    Once IT is built,….IT becomes permanent, and for better or for worse, we are THEN destined to live with IT.,….whatever IT is.

    Hopefully we will not continue to succumb to those influences, and to those who would sell out our community’s best interests for a quick and easy profit.

    These “carpetbaggers” then move on to their next “mark”, and leave the City of San Marcos, and her citizens to pick up the pieces, and deal with the resulting problems(ex:..Sagewood, et. al.), that their greed, our poor judgment and the collective lack of foresight will leave us holding indefinitely.

    Fighting growth is like screaming at the wind. It is exhausting, and you will lose as the end result.

    Alternatively,…it makes more sense to develop a policy and a philosophy for our community, to effectively manage growth, so that AS it happens,….we in turn realize the highest possible benefit for ourselves and our city, which ideally includes dividends for EVERYONE.

  42. Agreed, Dave. Too often we hear from the vocal minority in San Marcos who seem to think that we can be “Wimberley”. Unfortunately, our geography, our demographics, and our asthetics all make this a pipe dream at best and a terrible idea at worst.

    Personally, I don’t WANT San Marcos to be like Wimberley. I like having shopping options locally, I like the presence of the University, and I like the accessibility that 35 provides. Save the “retirement village” mentality for the small towns.

    The challenge, as you said, is to manage the growth of San Marcos to its most beneficial end. Every decision will have “winners” and “losers”, but if we can find a way to maximize the benefit and minimize the losses, we win.

    My biggest current issue is asthetics. San Marcos, aside from a couple of neighborhoods, is an ugly town. There is no consistency to the architecture, the greenspace, or the roadways. After living for several years in Tyler with its beautiful downtown area, I know it can be done….but it will take a serious committment from not only our leadership but also the citizenry (full- and part-time) to make it happen.

  43. I agree. I am not sure who, if anyone, is refusing to accept that we are not a small town anymore.

    Of course, offering $6 million to Target, because we’re afraid they might leave and bending over backward to try to attract movie theaters and bowling alleys does have a “small town” feel to it.

  44. Dano, re: aesthetics, I agree that it is an issue. I would not say that San Marcos is ugly, but it doesn’t have a strong identity. The only thing more amazing to me, than offering incentives to big box stores, is that we don’t require them to build anything other than their cookie-cutter stores in exchange. There are plenty of cities, large and small, who require these retailers to build stores that “fit in” with the local architecture.

  45. Here is what YOUR elected City Council is “up to” this coming Tuesday morning (Sept. 29, 2009), when you probably are required be at work, and cannot attend the public meeting.

    This is copied from a letter that I just received via e-mail:

    TUESDAY 8 A.M.: An odd time for a special called 9/29 City Council meeting, but that is what the majority 4 of the Council decided to do, to get the Purgatory Creek Apartments’ deadline extended. (I checked with the city attorney and apparently the city charter now allows the failure of the posted emergency ordinance to be voted on again, as a second reading, with only 4 council votes.) So if you care about these apartments proposed on Hunter Rd. right by Purgatory Creek behind the new CVS pharmacy, 8 a.m. is when you need to show up. The working class downstream neighbors who are affected the most will not be able to attend. But I sincerely hope that this time extension (that the four on the Council who voted for this are trying to pass) will be useless. The developer still has to get permission from TXDOT to get a curb cut on Hunter Rd., which TXDOT is surely smart enough to realize is a very bad idea. The Hunter Rd. bridge over Purgatory Creek will have to be elevated for such a long distance when Hunter is redone that the apartment entrance in that location will surely be nixed by TXDOT. The flooding concerns to the neighborhood downstream, nor the vanity lake that the developer wants to fill with water, nor the traffic problems that are building on Wonder World between Hunter and IH 35, seem to be enough to decline this project. But perhaps the funding deadlines, plus the bridge over Purgatory Creek will be enough..


    This is sad,…folks.

    And a clear effort to circumvent the process of public input, and also to skirt the need for the public’s approval.

  46. I believe that when the Wonder World extension is complete, maintenance of Hunter Road inside of Wonder World will be turned over to the city. I believe this means any curb cut will be for the city to approve or decline, not TXDOT.

    I am curious why the meeting is being held at 8:00 AM.

  47. I wish somebody would remind this Council that just because something is legal doesn’t make it right. Creating a perception of circumventing public processes is just as bad as intentionally doing so in the eyes of the public.

  48. Two things. I do not agree that San Marcos is an ugly town. In many ways it is beautiful. But you are right, there is little archetectural consistancy here. Downtown once you get off the square is a collection of various mid 20th century commercial buildings of no particular appeal. Plus the university is a hodgepodge of architecural styles, unlike many campuses. But short of bringing in a bulldozer what do you do about this?

    As far as fitting in to the local archeteture, exactly what would that archeteture be? It is like with so many other thing, after a while you just have to accept San Marcos for what it is. We will never be Wimberley, we will never be Fredricksburg, but we can avoid being Round Rock.

    As for the Purgatory Creek apartments. I am not necessarily opposed to them. But why is it so blasted important that the project keep going that the mayor will go to such extrodianry lengths to keep it alive?

  49. Larry, the local architecture and the overall image/character of the city can be whatever we choose for it to be. I have been to New England towns where big box stores look just like the 200 year old homes around them. I have been to cities around here where the look is as simple as everyone using the same limestone facades. It can be whatever the city decides it should be.

    Which is exactly what it is now. We have defined it as nothing and that is what we are getting.

  50. Ted you are right to a certain extent. The problem is the decision to maintain an achitectural style would have had to be made years ago.

    I have never been to New England. However the best example around here of a town with a strong archetectural identity is Fredricksburg. The key to that town, and other towns like it, is that growth largely passed it by for much of the 20th Century, only to allow it to be discovered in the later part of last centruy when people were beginning to appreciate older architecture.

    And the University could have gone a long way toward giving San Marcos and architectural identity. However it is clear from looking at the campus that any attempt to maintain an architetural identity went out the window when the University began changing from a small teachers college to what it is today, and that happened back in the 50s and 60s.

    To end, we are really gettng off the topic here. Will somebody write an article about architecture in San Marcos so we can continue this discussion.

  51. “But why is it so blasted important that the project keep going that the mayor will go to such extrodianry lengths to keep it alive?”

    Just at the last City Council meeting, we had:

    City Council works for Purgatory reprieve
    Posted on September 16, 2009 at 9:33 pm • Print • Share

    The San Marcos City Council began its meeting with an empty chair in the middle of the dais Tuesday evening. Mayor Susan Narvaiz is ailing from shoulder surgery and couldn’t participate in most of the meeting’s business.

    But there was one vote Narvaiz wasn’t going to miss.

    As a result, the controversial Purgatory Creek Apartments project that would have died on Sept. 30 appears well on its way to a reprieve until next June 30. Narvaiz voted with a 4-3 majority to provide an extension until then to Larry Peel & Company and ETR Consulting so they may keep trying to build the apartments on 22.5 acres on Wonder World Drive and Hunter Road.

    The measure went on the agenda as an emergency, meaning the council could approve it in one reading with five votes in its favor. Because the measure only received four votes, the city will count Tuesday’s reading as a first reading. Narvaiz asked the city staff to schedule a meeting before Sept. 30 so the measure can pass on a second reading.

    As the meeting began, Mayor Pro Tem Pam Couch presided in Narvaiz’s absence and swiftly moved the Purgatory Creek Apartments item ahead of the consent agenda, whereupon Narvaiz walked into the chambers from the side entrance to run the meeting for just a moment.


    —- and now this?


    (follow the money)

  52. I agree with the points about architecture. We can’t unring the bell here, but wouldn’t it have been nice for all the stuff that had been built here over the last 15 years to have had some sort of consistency to it?

    One would think for all of San Marcos’ legendary difficulty to deal with from a construction standpoint, at least some of the rules would have dealt with the actual appearance of the buildings.

    But my point goes far beyond simply the architecture of the buildings. We have precious little in the way of landscaping in the City and that which we do have is poorly maintained. Everywhere you look in San Marcos, it’s concrete or dirt.

    To stay with my Tyler example, have you ever been there when the azeleas are in bloom? It’s nothing short of stunning. Here, we’re lucky to see an occasional bluebonnet.

  53. We can unring the bell, any time. If Springtown is torn down and rebuilt, what will that look like? What will the Purgatory Creek Apartments look like? What will the next Stone Creek look like? When the Rivendell lot is developed, what will that look like?

    The city will continue to grow. New properties will be built and existing properties will be torn down and replaced.

    The landscaping is an interesting point too. I can only say that I haven’t noticed it one way or the other, except for the trees on the square, which we replace every few years, each time with new ones that are “indigenous to the area.”

    I guess not noticing anything about the landscaping kind of makes your point.

  54. As I have said before, I would love to see te lanscapping around the square extended throughout downtown. As for Tyler, it is amazing what you can do with over 50 inches of rain a year and soil that is near perfect for azeleas and roses. In most of San Marcos if we had roses the deer would eat them.

  55. Maybe City Council will also touch on the landscaping of the city at the Tuesday 8:00AM meeting.

  56. Fellows, it is unconstitutional to legislate aesthetics. The only related control that can be exercised is that for “special places and historic structures and artifacts.” In our town, that means via the Historic Preservation Ordinance as administered through the declared historic neighborhood designation and under discretion of the Historic Preservation Commission. I sat on that body for a time during the renovation of several buildings downtown and in the Heritage Neighborhoods. We prevented or ameliorated more than a few planned architectural abominations, high crimes and misdemeanors.

    As for Round Rock in particular, I came to know most of the Leadership through the American Planning Association, Texas Chapter, which hosts several regional meetings and one Statewide Conference each year (Is San Marcos still even a member of this highly professional organization? Do we ever send Planning and Zoning Commissioners, or even Staff, to receive orientation and continuing education in planning principles, updates, law, etc.?)

    During the ’80’s and ’90’s, that was considered to be high among “best management practices” priorities for the City, and money was dedicated, in order to save thousands by being both smart and legal, as well as consistent and professional. Our folks were among the most active delegations, and we owe to those faithful public servants credit for most of our ordinances that relate to engineering and building standards, zoning, landscaping, environmental controls, floodplain management, etc. Else we might be like, or worse than, other “highway-strip center communities.”

    As for Round Rock, there was a hard core of trained planners and commissioners and Council members. At one point they passed an ordinance to require most commercial establishments to be built to conform to a general architectural model bases on “Texas rustic German style.” involving limestone frontage, metal roofs, and cedar support structures. Like those they already had. They actually managed to enforce their little ruse during an early stage of their ’80’s growth explosion, before they were sued and forced to kill their draconian development ordinances. As they said then, “Well, we got away with it long enough to set a pattern of expectations, and a lot of developers still do it, just to fit in.” That ruse was by then all used up.

    As for places like Fredericksburg, which was on my way “home,” I noted that at the time growth and interest began there, they had nothing much but the historic Main Street, and were mostly homegrown German natives, so they just used what was there, built on it, and sold themselves to tourism as a “heritage city.” Very great success, but not easy to duplicate in the context of mixed ethnicities and economies and a location on the “Main Line” of fast-money development. Thatg is, they sold and exaggerated their only resourceds besides farms, ranches and orchards. San Marcos grew from cotton plantationing, but we ain’t no Charlotte or Vicksburg.

    As the “New Master Plan” heaves into view fairly soon, I hope you guys and others are prepared to stand in the breach between money tourism/retail, sports tourism, and incentivized big boxes envisioned by many of our “leaders” in the bidness and education communities. We will otherwise only get worse than you complain about now.

    Heavy balances of tourism, retail and service jobs neither sustain a vital community nor offer much of a financial basis for sustainable growth management. Some people in “high places” want to “out-Round-Rock” Round Rock and “out-Kyle” Kyle. Those places choose to be what they have become, and that is fine, but some of us have always seen San Marcos as having an unique character and spirit that need to stay different. Let others do the “ticky-tacky.” This IS in the spirit of Sean’s original article, over which this whole discussion began.

  57. I don’t know about unconstitutional, but I never said anything about legislating aesthetics. I said that if people want economic incentives and zoning changes and variations and the like, we are certainly in a position to demand something in exchange and foolish not to.

    Round Rock is far from the only city to find a way to establish a somewhat consistent and attractive image.

  58. Mr. Marchut:

    Earlier discussants were asking if we could something to get architectural consistency. My response is no, unless we can negotiate VERY carefully and without condition. It is also illegal to do “zoning by contract”–telling people we will give them “x” kind of zoning if they will only do “y.”

    I could not agree more that paygack conditions should be built into any incentive contract and enforced to the hilt. I’ve no real idea about current practice, but once, questions were asked at the outset, such as:

    How much water will you require at build-out?
    What kind and amount of byproduct substances will you produce? Will you generate pollution or hazardous waste, and if so, how much?
    How many jobs, on what schedule, of what kind, and at what rate, will you provide?
    Will management be residents? How many new SM residents are anticipated?
    Will you use local workforce? (Our drawing area is a 60-mile radius.)
    Will you offer training to locals/new hires?
    What is the value of your proposed plant/improvements?
    What is the taxable value of your standing inventory?
    (This return is rather seriously diminished by our Council having fairly recently declared a “free trade zone,” in which short-term inventory is tax-free–a general incentive to all, including the existing businesses like H.E.B. Distribution and those who choose to keep smaller inventories here.)
    What kind and size of permits and property tax abatements are you asking (EX: How many years and what amount of the max 10 years? EX: building permits, utility types and hookups, road, water, electric and sewer, rights of way, etc.)? You get the idea. The startup and total incentives and abatements negotiated against the return on taxpayer INVESTMENT.

    Which goes to say, do we need you AS a community, how much will WE benefit, and when will you actually become an asset and part OF the community? The answers are put in negotiation, and Council determines if there is a MUTUAL balance of benefits. If approved, the list of incentives is assured with “clawback” clauses–in case of a shortfall or forfeit, they pay back the relevant incentives, or we seize their “stuff” under law. This is the precise locus of Council’s DUTY to the citizens–to protect the investments by reasonable business means.

    God help the polluter or defaulter–of which we had a few. What would THIS Council do with Beall’s, Penney’s, Target, Embassy Suites, or the mini-mall in a default? Sieze ’em and run ’em ourselves? Go to court against a diversified mega-conglomerate? Pout? Egg their businesses? Wet our collective pants and back off? Word DOES get around about how easy a community is, and what to say to land them, and whom to purchase for insurance.

    And what if our $60K “sports tourism” investment falls short? Jack it up to $100 next time? When does it end? Thus Mr. McGlothlin’s earlier point about accountable responsibility from government. ‘Nuf sed and then some. Hope some of the candidate newbies and current members see these discussions of yours. They make valid points.

  59. I would like to point out some things light of the fact that Susan spent $100,000 for 6451 votes. That means the average Narvaiz voter required $15.5 in media buys/signs/shirts etc.

    I spent less than $0.08/vote ($200/2563). I spent it on surplus tees and spray paint, stenciled all signs on retired bedsheets. That means I out-campaigned her (dollars to votes) by a factor of 194:1.

    Dave the “serious” candidate spent $5113 and got 3868 votes at a cost of $1.3/vote, a factor of 12:1 over Susan.

    Combined, Dave and I spent $5313 and got our money’s worth at $0.83/vote combined. Dollars to votes we out-campaigned Susan, nearly 19:1 our V/$ to hers.

    Dollars to dollars it was also 19:1 but reversed.
    Maybe all this means is that Susan way overspent. Would you expect anything else from an elected official? But in light of these facts in a race that came down to ten votes, one can’t help wonder whether the “will of the people” really got a fair shake.

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