San Marcos mayoral candidates Daniel Guerrero, left, and John Thomaides, right, chit chat at the San Marcos Area Board of Realtors candidate forum this month. Photo by Andy Sevilla.
By ANDY SEVILLA
Two interest group forums for city council candidates earlier this month produced the exact same slates of endorsements for the election to take place on Nov. 2.
The San Marcos Area Board of Realtors (SMABOR) and the San Marcos Police Officers Association (SMPOA) each endorsed former Councilmember Daniel Guerrero for mayor over Councilmember John Thomaides. Both groups also endorsed Kim Porterfield, Jude Prather and Rodney Van Oudekerke for council seats ahead of their opponents — David Newman, Toby Hooper and Shane Scott, respectively.
Another major candidate forum will take place Thursday, when the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA) holds its event at the San Marcos Activity Center from 7-8:30 p.m. CONA does not make endorsements.
Thomaides said he wasn’t seeking endorsements, but looking to strengthen ties.
“I’m not coming here looking for an endorsement,” Thomaides told SMABOR. “I’m coming here looking for communication. I believe I have a chance to win, I believe I’ll be your next mayor. I need to work with the board of realtors. I know the board of realtors needs to work with the mayor.”
All city council candidates presented themselves and fielded questions by both interest groups, except that Thomaides was absent from the SMPOA candidate forum. Thomaides said he had a scheduling conflict and asked the SMPOA to pass along his contact information to members who wished to speak with him directly.
The SMABOR forum touched on real estate issues ranging from the Land Development Code (LDC), the SmartCode, development, zoning, and the November election.
Guerrero and Thomaides both voted in December 2004 for the LDC that’s in place. SMABOR expressed frustration with stifled growth under the LDC. Both candidates said they would welcome discussions and input to address the LDC challenges. Both also expressed support for the Smart Code to be implemented under the auspices of the downtown master plan.
Thomaides said the Smart Code implementation, which has been stalled for months, started off on a bad foot. Thomaides said there was enough blame to go around, adding that residents, business owners and city officials need to come together and work out a solution. Thomaides also expressed the need for addressing storm water run-off and the parking situation downtown. Guerrero echoed Thomaides’ positions.
A difference between Guerrero and Thomaides during the SMABOR forum was on the tabling of key decisions. Among them are city council appointments to boards and commissions, as well as the hiring of a new city manager shortly before a Nov. 2 election that could seat four new councilmembers.
Both candidates agreed that the selection of a city manager should be given more time than the Oct. 1 deadline set by the city council. Thomaides also said the council appointments to city boards and commissions can wait until after the November election because the appointments don’t take office until after the New Year he said.
San Marcos is in the midst of searching for a city clerk. The city also recently lost its planning director and has not had a human resources director for some time.
Thomaides voted against hiring Kay Stroman to serve as the consultant heading the executive search for the next city manager with a 60-day timeline.
“As far as filling the boards and commissions prior to the election, I think that should probably wait,” Thomaides said. “I see no reason for all boards and commissions to be named, I don’t think that will stagnate the city in any shape for or fashion.”
Said Guerrero, arguing against delaying council decisions, “Right now you have a staff, you have a municipal organization that is searching for a vision, searching for an identity, and by continuing to table so many issues, that’s allowing us to become stagnant. We need to continue to move forward, we need to continue following a true vision that’s going to be beneficial for the entire community. What’s developed throughout the organization is a sense of confusion, which has began to disseminate throughout the entire community.”
Thomaides said at the SMABOR forum that it’s not confusion that’s plaguing San Marcos, but “mistrust” and a “lack of transparency.”
Going on the attack, Guerrero said transparency also should apply to councilmembers, then said he favors banning cell phones on the dais in an effort to function under “best practices.”
Thomaides said that, being a small business owner, he has to look at his incoming calls and emails on his phone when city council meetings can run up to seven hours. Thomaides said he doesn’t use his cell phone to text message other councilmembers or city staff during meetings.
“I think the council takes more than enough breaks (during council meetings) to not only check your means of communication, but also to take care of any other need that you might have during a very long meeting,” Guerrero said. “I think that if you’re going to be advocating transparency, that practice needs to be ethically balanced. You need to make sure that you’re not having a cell phone on the dais, I think that’s potentially a violation of (the) Open Meetings (Act).”
Guerrero and Thomaides also bumped heads regarding the extra $4 million dollar in incentives for the developers of StoneCreek Crossing in December 2008, bringing the total tax abatement in the deal to $6 million. Guerrero, who served on the council from 2004 to 2008 voted for the last $4 million. Thomaides, who has served on council since 2003, voted in opposition.
Guerrero said it was important to protect the city’s investment in the San Marcos Conference Center and Embassy Suites, which sits right across the Interstate-35 from the StoneCreek Crossing, by making sure the strip mall didn’t end up unoccupied.
Thomaides said the city shouldn’t bail out developers after they miscalculate their expenses.
“I am a small business owner,” Thomaides said. “I work in helping to negotiate deals in my own business. And I believe the city should drive a harder bargain. Just because someone asks doesn’t mean you should give them money.”
Thomaides said StoneCreek Crossing was substantially built when the owners asked the city for the last $4 million, with tenants lined up to move in. He said his position was for the developers to finish building the project on their own.
“I do not believe by any stretch that they would have left (StoneCreek Crossing) empty,” Thomaides said, adding that the development had already recruited Target, JC Penny, and Bealls to move into their property.
Guerrero said Thomaides is making too many assumptions given that 2007 and 2008 were challenging years that could have caused blight at StoneCreek Crossing if the city hadn’t provided the extra $4 million.
“That’s making a lot of assumptions, that particular things are going to happen because something is already there,” Guerrero said. “If you’re going to make a commitment to someone saying that we’re going to be able to be a partner with you so that you can bring a service to us, and we can provide customers to you, you need to maintain that consistency in the relationship throughout the duration of the process.”
Guerrero accused Thomaides of being disingenuous when he told the University Star that he was in favor of moving the city elections to November and that he was in favor of having a university student liaison on the dais.
According to city council minutes, Thomaides was in favor of having the student liaison on the dais and even went on to suggest the possibility of having other groups represented. Thomaides did vote against moving city elections from May to November at all three readings late in 2004.
Guerrero has also accused Thomaides of changing course on the city’s meet and confer contracts with police and firefighters when it became politically expedient to do so.
Thomaides said he has always been in favor of the meet and confer process which under Texas law allows municipalities and police and/or fire associations to discuss wages, salaries, hours of work, and other terms and conditions of employment. Thomaides said he was in favor of dealing with the unions and not directly with the police chief, but opposed the “political” and “unaffordable” contract the city entered.
“Meet and confer is very simply a process that allows that communication to take place,” Thomaides said. “But contract negotiations are something completely different.”
Thomaides went on to say that Guerrero’s misrepresentation of his record either is politically motivated or shows that Guerrero doesn’t understand the difference between being in support of having the conversation and being in support of the final numbers.
Guerrero maintains that finances were always part of the discussion, and that Thomaides was in favor of them before changing course.
The initial meet and confer process began in 2007 under former city manager Dan O’Leary, when Guerrero and Thomaides both were on the council. The process, however, was restarted after O’Leary resigned and Rick Menchaca became the city manager.
With new process came new numbers and the final contract was negotiated in 2009. By then, Guerrero was off city council and Thomaides voted against the contract, which raises police pay by an average of $19,400 in three years, increases firefighter pay by an average of $20,000 in three years, and includes incentives for soft pay.
“During meet and confer the officers asked for what they needed, not what they wanted,” Porterfield said during the SMPOA candidate forum. Porterfield voted in favor of the contracts.
“I supported that contract to retain officers and not have San Marcos be training ground,” Porterfield said.
Newman said that he thought police officers pay was “okay” but that he would like to have seen more officers on the streets.
Hooper told SMPOA that his expertise in contract negotiations would have brought a different light on the meet and confer process. He said that both the city and civil service employees need each other and that he would have listened to all sides and offered a balance that would address all concerns, keeping in the forefront that police need to be “well resourced and well trained.”
Prather said it’s imperative that San Marcos stays safe in the future and that he would listen to the civil service employees’ needs.
“Y’all are the experts on this subject matter, not I,” Prather said. “You know what you need, so you don’t have to twist my arm to get what you need.”
Scott said that, as a civil service commissioner, he has been available to hear police officers’ concerns and that, if elected, he would continue lending ear. Scott has a criminal justice degree.
Early in this year’s budget process, councilmembers discussed the possibility of opening up the meet and confer contract and renegotiating it or delaying payment for a year. But Interim City Manager Laurie Moyer recommended that the council continue the current process under contract.
Moyer said the city could afford the meet and confer contracts and that she was not in support of renegotiating them, because police and fire pay finally was up to market standards and the contract needed to be honored.
“When you negotiate a contract, it’s done before signing it, not after you sign it,” Van Ouderkerke said to SMPOA, giving police his word that, if elected, he would not renegotiate the contracts that have been signed.Email | Print