San Marcos city council candidates Toby Hooper, left, and Jude Prather, right. File photos.
By ANDY SEVILLA
With Gaylord Bose stepping down from the San Marcos City Council, two candidates have emerged to seek his seat in the Nov. 2 election. Early voting begins on Oct. 18.
Jude Prather, who lost to Bose by three votes in 2007, was appointed to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) shortly after the 2009 general election. Toby Hooper is a contract administrator for Seton Healthcare who serves on the city’s ethics commission.
San Marcos Local News presented the same ten questions to each candidate. The questions and answers are presented here, verbatim, edited only for punctuation and publication style. This is the first in a series of interviews with all the candidates for city, county and statewide offices of local interest.
San Marcos Local News: What is your opinion of the city council’s selection of a new city manager five weeks before the November election?
Toby Hooper: The position did need to be filled in a timely fashion and, if the process was truly thorough, it does not seem to have violated accepted policies or ethics and, hopefully, delivered a person of experience and merit. Although I do not know the person chosen, I decided prior to the selection that I would work with whoever is the city manager. I know that this post is at the auspices of the council and the people of San Marcos. Therefore, we must offer guidance, oversight of actions and craft goals together in order for us to be successful and proactive.
Jude Prather: San Marcos getting Jim Nuse is a good thing. I think, no matter the makeup of the city council after the elections, Jim Nuse would still have been a good pick for the position.
SMLN: What is your assessment of city policy toward the Paso Robles development, specifically on the potential use of tax incentives for a residential development?
Prather: Spending tax dollars on infrastructure is a good use of tax dollars.
Hooper: Using a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) to assist a business or development must have proven and solid analysis of return on investment. Is this one of those occasions? Does this company have a business case that is built upon an overwhelming foundation of evidence; that what they project will become reality and the pay back to San Marcos will be substantial? These simple questions must be well answered just to begin negotiations or to continue them – many in the city remain unconvinced. The agreement for a Paso Robles development and TIRZ are far from the execution phase. And, I believe, all parties involved understand that in order to reach a final agreement modifications will be made.
SMLN: In your opinion, are the Paso Robles, Buie Tract, Purgatory Creek Apartments, and the Windemere developments consistent with the Horizons Master Plan? To what extent are they reconcilable? How or how not?
Hooper: The Horizons Master Plan is a great document; created by citizens to guide all stakeholders in positive growth for the community, and should be respected as a blueprint for our city development. Although it has the ordinance authority to be used and only amended by an established process, it is not a fixed document which cannot be altered before a termination date – it is a living guide. I believe much of the frustration surrounding the changes that have been seen regarding these developments and others have been because of this aspect. The master plan should be followed, but, at the same time, it was designed to be modified and updated, e.g., the master plan of 1996 itself replaced the plans formed in the previous decades. However, if there are aspects of the master plan which should be seen as “non-negotiable,” the city and its citizens must enact ordinances that are strict, binding and prevent manipulation of policy. This would be hard work, but if it is truly an imperative for the public good it must be done.
Prather: Let’s look at the Buie Tract as an example. I’m a commissioner for the Planning and Zoning Commission. My P&Z packet for the Buie Tract has eight out of nine Horizon Master Plan evaluations shown as consistent. So how was this not consistent with the Horizons Master Plan? Those consistent evaluations on my Buie Tract P&Z packet are; Policy LU-1.1, Policy LU-1.16, Policy LU-2.1, Policy LU-2.2, Policy LU-3.1, Policy LU-3.9, Policy LU-3.12 and Policy LU-4.2. The evaluation with an inconsistent was Policy LU-1.15 the “preferred growth corridors” policy. So how are eight out of nine Horizons Master Plan evaluations not consistent?
SMLN: The Horizons Master Plan was adopted in 1996. How have the city’s circumstances changed in the last 14 years to motivate changes in the master plan?
Prather: Find me a general whose battle plan survived contact with the enemy or a football coach whose game plan didn’t changed at half-time. The Horizons Master Plan is no different.
Hooper: The majority of changes which have occurred during this time were in large part predicted: population and property values have increased. More people wishing to use property and the profit to be had places intense pressure on the plan and the processes in place to safeguard its use and modifications. Of course, the master plan is supported by separate master plans for transportation and infrastructure. These all must fit the needs of the time while projecting into the future. There are some aspects of these plans which should be identified as critical and not to be modified; and to be carried over into the revisions of each plan. Likewise, other aspects must be radically different compared to the plans created in the decades prior; one example is using the same approach to transportation as only being solved by building more roads — in the long term, this will be detrimental to our quality of life.
SMLN: Do dwindling fund balances and the avowed necessity to raise utility rates imply that the city should be conservative about spending? What recommendations would you make?
Hooper: City government should always be concerned about spending. And should zealously search for efficiencies in its practices and processes. Likewise, the conservation of utility resources must also be in constant review. Americans use more resources than any other nation on the planet. Let’s be true conservatives and conserve our resources. That cultural shift will take visionary leadership from the council with a pragmatic approach.
Prather: The goal for San Marcos is to efficiently run our city government and remain fiscally conservative within our own budgets. By doing this, we can weather any economic storm.
SMLN: There has been a lot of talk about transparency in government. How should the city address transparency in government?
Prather: Thank you, Mr. Steve Harvey, for your hard work creating Open Government San Marcos. This group I am a part of has 10 ideas to improve transparency in San Marcos, they are:
1) All agenda items shall be worded so the average citizen can understand the agenda item (and not vague or misleading language). Each time a subject returns to a council agenda, it will be described the same way it was described the previous time.
2) Executive sessions of the city council meetings will be limited to only those pertaining to internal personnel issues or those issues that compromise our competitive edge with neighboring cities.
3) The city council shall adopt a resolution for open government that articulates appropriate basic principles.
4) We will bring back the third reading before an ordinance is passed (and we will not use “emergency” provisions too often).
5) Presentations and handouts that developers give to planning and zoning commissioners and/or the mayor and/or city councilmembers shall be made available online in downloadable form for citizens to readily see and review, too.
6) A better search engine will be implemented throughout the City of San Marcos website.
7) The City of San Marcos shall post (and keep updated) these (at a minimum) documents online: the annual budget, the annual financial report, the check register for all accounts, the fund balances, and expense report accounts.
8) There shall be a greater proactive notification process for actions contemplated by the city that would potentially significantly impact community stakeholders (people, large and small businesses, organizations, and the environment). Stakeholders will receive more time on the big issues and big dollar items, including public discussion meeting, separate meetings to introduce the issue. This will enable proper amount of time for consideration and dialogue.
9) The City of San Marcos shall post a record of votes (of city council meetings) online within 24 hours.
10) Questions asked by attendees during the “Question and Answer Session with Press and Public” at the end of each city council meeting shall be recorded (along with answers) in the city council meeting minutes (and the city council will explore ways to provide some Q&A earlier in the meeting agenda, too).
Hooper: Open San Marcos is busy crafting the answer to this question. Not to avoid the answer, I could certainly create a list of action items, but I have been impressed with the citizens who have taken part in Steve Harvey’s process to reach a consensus of the most essential elements to achieve greater transparency. I look forward to the ending product. There is something definitely amiss regarding this subject in San Marcos. Too many people can site too many reasons why they feel as if they must struggle to get answers to their questions of what is occurring in city government; this reaction should be taken seriously and addressed.
SMLN: Explain the concept of council/manager form of government. Is the city holding true to it?
Hooper: A city manager is much the same as a corporate CEO or a school district superintendent, i.e., a hired professional to fulfill the duties of administration. And, the person chosen is only as good as the governing body charged with oversight – in this case, the council. The city manager should have all the traits we want in a good leader. If the city manager fails, it is essentially the failure of the council. Therefore, the council must be involved in the activities of the manager and constantly work on communication and relationship.
Prather: City council creates policy, city manager enacts policy.
SMLN: Has the downturn in the economy have any permanent effect on the city’s position moving forward?
Prather: I can see two construction cranes in the beautiful San Marcos skyline. Where there are cranes there is prosperity and progress moving forward. San Marcos has been moving forward and leading the nation in the economic recovery. We have been rather fortunate and should reflect in our blessings, natural and economic.
Hooper: No, it should not – San Marcos has value. However, downturns are a great opportunity to re-evaluate models, forecasts and plans. For example, the business relationships begun yesterday may no longer be viable today.
SMLN: Recently, council has been discussing advancing the time for the charter review commission recommendations on possible amendments. What city charter amendments, if any, would you like to see put before the voters and why?
Hooper: This is an item in which I will be soliciting input from the citizenry before taking action. Thus far, I have heard concerns regarding several aspects of the charter from eminent domain to elections. If elected, I plan to hold at least one town hall meeting per month rotating throughout the city to be held in different locations. Charter amendments and proposed ordinances will always be on the agenda, along with being open to anyone to express concerns. If the charter is not adequately addressing the needs of the people it must be amended, and soon; we must not tarry in our duty to refine and improve. While serving as chair of the Human Services Advisory Board it was apparent to the members and agencies that the bylaws and process were not working as fairly and efficiently as it could have been. We, as a body, took the initiative to change our governing language, but only after great discussion inside open meetings and by consulting stakeholders and city staff. The end result was a revision that communicated clearly and functioned well, and we were proud of the result.
Prather: I remember some years back, when a proposed charter amendment to raise the age for running for City Council to 21 was tossed around. With 18-, 19- and 20-year-old soldiers fighting for our nation as we speak, I can say that was the most disappointing charter amendment idea I have ever heard.
SMLN: Why should San Marcos citizens vote to elect you into office, as opposed to your opponent?
Prather: Cause I have lived a lifetime of experiences, because I am experienced. As a leader at Southwest Texas State, I worked to change that name to Texas State University-San Marcos, because I wanted to make a difference. As a community leader, I have registered to vote hundreds because I wanted to give citizens a voice. As a soldier, I know what it takes to serve your country because I served our nation in the Iraq War. Because working to make San Marcos the most veteran friendly city in the nation was something I am passionate about because I know what our veterans need to succeed. Because I have served our city on the Planning and Zoning Commission, Youth Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals, I have the experience and training to serve as a city councilmember. San Marcos needs strong leaders forged in their experiences to provide a steady hand through uncertain times.
Hooper: I bring a broad array of experience to the job. One thing I learned as an educator prior to my present career in healthcare is that everything ultimately is connected. This is a concept that often many leaders do not grasp. They simply believe that if one or two issues are resolved that’s enough to be satisfied. However, the needs of the city are diverse, just as the population and its personalities. I understand this, and look forward to working on all the issues and needs that our community faces. Sometimes, in order to realize the dream of having one thing, we must build or correct four other things. Knowing that this will often be the norm does not deter me from the work ahead. I have experienced many challenges and have been successful. I will also strive to build the kinds of relationships needed to reach positive realization of goals and resolution of issues. I am also an independent, and truly want to know the opinions and ideas of all residents and groups. I do not have a narrow focus on a few issues but have interest in everything from economic development to the arts to social services. Why? Because I know that everything is connected.