San Marcos City Council incumbent Councilmember Kim Porterfield, left, and her challenger, David Newman, right. Photo by Andy Sevilla.
By ANDY SEVILLA
San Marcos City Councilmember Kim Porterfield is the only incumbent seeking a return to her office in a November election that will seat at least two new councilmembers, potentially three, and a new mayor.
David Newman, who ran for mayor in 2008, filed at the last minute to challenge Porterfield’s re-election bid.
Porterfield is in community relations at Texas State and was first elected to the city council in 2007. Newman is a retired pilot and downtown business owner.
San Marcos Local News (SMLN) 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 another installment 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?
Kim Porterfield: We were elected to make decisions. The city manager will be here long after we on the council are gone. The council sets the policy, the city manager implements it. We are hiring a professional who can successfully carry out council direction even if it changes. We cannot stop city business just because of the timing of the election process. We needed a leader and we got a great one in Jim Nuse. I am looking forward to working with him as a member of the city council and as a member of the community.
David Newman: As I have stated publicly in writing and in the debates, the otherwise needless rushing of the hiring of a new city manager before the November election is a clear measure by the outgoing mayor and her proponents to prolong their existing and desired future policies and influence for an indeterminate period, subsequent to the election, and long after the voters have made clear their own, perhaps contrasting choices. The contrived and convoluted process in which this city manager search, with all of its offers and retractions, is being carried out, with leaked predictions being borne out, is both fairly bizarre and disgraceful, and demonstrates a lack of respect toward the citizens and constituency of San Marcos, who are apparently considered by our current city administration to be incapable of seeing through this veil of disingenuous motives, as this is perpetrated upon us in order to create a false image of proper appearances.
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?
Newman: The Tax Incentive Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) is meant for redevelopment of urban blight and to address areas of compromised public safety. It is not meant to render a handout for development speculators to aid in the acquisition of virgin, environmentally sensitive, aquifer recharge land, in order to flip a real estate deal and then to walk away from our community with a considerable profit, at continued taxpayer obligation and expense. This proposal of a TIRZ for the development of Paso Robles is only able to be entertained because of a loophole in the prescribing legal language. This TIRZ for Paso Robles is not a proper application, but rather, the rules and terms of the TIRZ are being stretched to limits to even allow its consideration.
Porterfield: Developed properly, Paso Robles is a tremendous opportunity to expand our tax base and grow our community. The council has yet to weigh in on the Development Agreement or the Planned Development District documents, but I believe we can address the valid concerns raised by citizens: mobility, responsible use of reclaimed water over the aquifer, and ongoing management requirements of the golf course. We all want San Marcos to grow in a responsible manner. A Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) is a tool that allows taxpayers in a certain zone to pay for city-wide public improvements. The developer takes all the risk and is repaid only if the development is successful. It will be built at the developer’s cost and paid for by residents moving into the development through their property taxes.
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?
Porterfield: That remains to be seen. But Buie Tract and Purgatory Creek Apartment developments align with the Envision Central Texas Green Print and best practice of cluster development along major roadways, instead of sprawl. Paso Robles, Purgatory Creek and Buie Tract proposals were approved by citizen boards. Buie Tract will preserve more than half of its sensitive Hill Country land forever through a conservation easement. Paso Robles preserves land, too, through a golf course that will be regulated (if my amendments to the proposal are positively considered by the rest of the council). Windemere hasn’t reached the council yet. The Horizons Master Plan was developed 14 years ago and has served us well. I appreciate the citizen input and time spent developing the vision for our future. But times have changed. And while we all want the same thing — a prosperous community with a high quality of life for all citizens, there are new considerations: population growth, the Envision Central Texas Green Print Plan, and new best practices in supporting sustainable development. The city and county will be updating master plans this year and it will be important for citizens to be involved.
Newman: No, these developments are not consistent with the Horizons Master Plan, which prescribe a preferred growth corridor, with emphasis on long term planning, and low density development to the west (0-3 units per acre), over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. The Paso Robles development violates this plan in terms of density, and proposed golf course, which is wasteful in terms of water usage, and polluting in terms of chemicals, pesticides and runoff directly into the aquifer recharge funnel, which we then use and drink. An ill-conceived golf course in our drought-prone, semi-desert region, with continually increasing water concerns would be better served as untouched open space, with the same aesthetic type of appeal existing to most prospective homebuyers, without construction costs, waste-water line requirements and constructively serving responsible long term environment concerns. The same high-density development concerns hold for the Buie Tract, Purgatory Creek Apartments, and Windemere, which are being proposed or built on recharge features of our aquifer and the San Marcos River systems. Soon, we will reach that limit that will degrade our water quality permanently, as has happened in both San Antonio and Austin … where the laws of physics are, unfortunately, identical.
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?
Newman: The Horizons Master Plan was revised in 2001. It is a fluid document that should be looked at every six to eight years. There were principles and mandates prescribed in the Horizons Master Plan that were fundamental and should remain inviolate. These include the consideration and protection of existing neighborhoods, protection of the Edwards Aquifer and the recharge zone, and protection and preservation of the San Marcos River. The “fluidity” of the document exists in the changing needs in traffic and transportation, housing requirements, and economic development. As these factors grow and make themselves more definable and evident, we must address the needs, but most certainly not at the expense of compromising the principles that were painstakingly formulated and agreed upon, years ago, by a working majority of our citizenry here in San Marcos to constructively uphold the precious features of our community and the surrounding hill country, which we value above all.
Porterfield: Our population has grown and Hays County is now the fifth-fastest growing county in the nation. Our university has grown. We have some of the lowest education attainment rates in the corridor. Our per-capita income is the lowest in the county and our literacy rate is among the lowest in the corridor. These changes must be considered as we develop policies to guide development.
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?
Porterfield: Fund balances are not dwindling. We have a conservative policy regarding debt issuance and fund balance levels. Our financial ratings are the envy of most cities. We get professional advice from experienced, qualified, financial advisors to balance our debt with maintaining and improving the services our citizens need. The city is conservative in its spending and the tax rate has not increased during my three-year tenure on council. In fact, the average city taxpayer’s bill will go down $5.62 next year. The electric rate has increased slightly by 1.4 percent—about $1.85 for the average resident per month. Our city finances are in good shape, and I would recommend that we continue to strengthen and diversify our tax base.
Newman: When income is reduced, we must conserve spending, or create new sources of income. The alternative is to take on more debt. City Hall has doubled our debt from $125 million to more than $300 million since 2005. We simply can’t continue that trend. With funding cuts and declining sales tax revenues, our current governmental “wisdom” would respond by increasing applicable taxes and utility rates, which will be an unbearable burden. Clean industry, however, can boost revenues and salaries, as we tap existing resources, re-create a professional, high-tech economic model, and follow a blueprint toward this objective, as we have seen that similar desirably featured communities have been able to demonstrate.
SMLN: There has been a lot of talk about transparency in government. How should the city address transparency in government?
Newman: There is a grassroots movement of concerned citizens here in our community that has addressed the growing lack of transparency in our own San Marcos city government. Since we are to be a government of the people and by the people, it should be incumbent upon the city government, that since the citizens have expressed such concerns and have identified a definite need for more government transparency, the elected officials that comprise our mayor and city council must now make a conscientious effort to address and rectify those concerns. The council could and should start by acknowledging and implementing some of the recommendations which are being identified and suggested by independent citizens and groups such as this.
Porterfield: I agree we can do a better job communicating with citizens. We must take advantage of improvements in technology to better inform citizens. That’s why I supported funding for improving communication in the current budget — a budget that does not include a tax rate increase for the third year in a row.
SMLN: Explain the concept of council/manager form of government. Is the city holding true to it?
Porterfield: Members of the council are elected by the voters and the manager is hired by council to implement the policies it establishes. The council provides legislative and policy direction, approves the budget, and determines the tax rate. The city manager is responsible for day-to-day administrative operation of the city. I believe the city is holding true to the council/manager form of government.
Newman: The City of San Marcos with its city manager form of government can be likened to a corporation with a CEO and a board of directors. The mayor and city council are to formulate policy for the city, and the duty of the city manager is to execute and carry out this policy on a daily basis. In the last several years, the lines of this division of responsibility have been blurred, if not outright violated by our mayor and her voting majority on city council. It seems that there has been a concerted effort on the part of our current mayor to get involved in the day-to-day affairs of the city, to the point of eventually firing her recently hired new city manager, and then the rush to search for and re-hire a yet newer, “suitable” city manager, all as a result of opinion differences in the execution of the daily business of the city.
SMLN: Has the downturn in the economy have any permanent effect on the city’s position moving forward?
Newman: As was brought up in the 2008 election debates, the City of San Marcos has an unbalanced reliance on the retail sector, most notably the outlet malls. While the outlet malls provide a great benefit to our tax base and economic climate, we are in a precarious situation as a community if/when we ever experience a catastrophic economic event resulting in drastic consumer spending declines, or even perhaps a natural event which might severely damage the outlet malls, and render them inoperable for an extended period. Tornadoes have struck up and down Interstate-35 in the past, and indeed a major hailstorm a few years ago rendered part of the outlet mall unusable for a period of time several years ago, so the prospect of this is certainly not out of the realm of possibility. We should seek to diversify our tax base in general, promote clean high-tech professional business growth, as we also reduce spending and operate as a fiscally conservative community. The City of San Marcos should focus on continuing to provide quality core services such as police and fire protection, EMS, traffic control, as well as the preservation neighborhoods and overall quality of life.
Porterfield: No. Our budget and financial policies anticipate downturns in the economy. We are lucky to have a major university, the outlet malls and a great business location in the Austin-San Antonio corridor to insulate us from many of the negative effects being felt elsewhere.
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?
Porterfield: For the past three years, I have advocated that the requirement that members of the Planning and Zoning Commission to own land in San Marcos be removed. I was an active member of the community, educated and qualified to serve, but was a renter for my first 20 years as a resident. Renters pay ad valorem taxes through their rents. Owning land does not automatically make a good planning and zoning commissioner — independent, balanced thoughtful individuals who want to see San Marcos grow in a responsible manner while preserving the things we value make good public servants.
Newman: The city charter is akin to a constitutional document granting legitimacy, rules and guidelines of operation for the City of San Marcos. Its alteration is not a task to be undertaken quickly, frivolously or lightly. Changes to the city charter must be placed on the ballot and voted on by the people of San Marcos, which attests to their gravity and importance. It is imperative that the language in which these changes are stated to the voters on the ballot, is clear, understandable and concise. This has been addressed in the recent citizen government transparency meetings, and is a matter of legitimate concern. There shouldn’t be a need to rush through proposed changes to the city charter. One point of the charter which has been altered, but should be reversed, is the reduction of the number of readings by city council from an item’s introduction to the agenda, to when it is voted into law. This has gone from three readings originally, down to two, as it now stands. This currently does not give ample opportunity to citizens to voice support or objection, and allows our city government undue authority to make changes, and the license to circumvent due process.
SMLN: Why should San Marcos citizens vote to elect you into office, as opposed to your opponent?
Newman: We desperately need a sweeping course correction for San Marcos and City Hall. We have the unique opportunity in this November election to repair our broken city government and rectify the toxic working environment which exists in our city offices, which impedes the efficiency of our municipal government, ultimately costing us as taxpayers, money, time and the toll on our quality of life. We, fortunately, live in a great city, in a desirable region, and have more than our share of valuable and natural resources, yet we squander those presented opportunities, and repeatedly sell off our future to the highest outside bidder. Our city spends far beyond its means, and has for years now. Our city debt has doubled in five years to more than $300 million. We enable our government to operate behind closed doors, setting the very policies that affect our daily lives. We MUST change this now, and vote in a new progressive council that will properly represent the voters, the taxpayers, and the people of San Marcos, so that we may chart our own destiny for our community, and insure that San Marcos continues to be a great city to live, to work and to prosper.
Porterfield: My background, experience and proven record make me the best candidate. I’ve been an active volunteer and leader in San Marcos for 30 years — through volunteerism for schools and local non-profits, and for the past three years as a council member. My career as a journalist, community liaison for the school district and now in community relations at the university provides me a broad perspective. My opponent does not have this experience. I want to continue to work with you as a common-sense, independent voice for all San Marcos residents. Even in this tough economy. San Marcos is a great place to live and work. I’m committed to a community where folks have good jobs, great schools, comfortable housing, safe streets, fresh air and clean water, and happy, healthy lives.Email | Print