San Marcos mayoral candidates John Thomaides, left, and Daniel Guerrero, right, at the League of Women Voters debate earlier this month. Photo by Andy Sevilla.
By ANDY SEVILLA
San Marcos mayoral candidates Daniel Guerrero and John Thomaides have met in several debates around the city, demonstrating clear differences of opinion about the direction of the city.
Thomaides, a city councilmember, since 2003, is giving up his council seat to make his first run for mayor. Retired police officer Rodney Van Oudekerke is in a race against business owner Shane Scott for the final two years of Thomaides unexpired term.
Guerrero is the Executive Director of the San Marcos Education Foundation. He served on the city council from 2004 to 2008. Thomaides is a business owner.
Thomaides and Guerrero were presented with the same ten questions by the San Marcos Local News (SMLN). 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.
Early voting is underway and will run until Oct. 29. Election Day is Nov. 2.
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?
John Thomaides: I was opposed to having this decision take place in a politically charged environment, particularly when a majority of our city council is up for election and I voted against the plan when it included a 60-day time line. However, the majority decision on council was to proceed. Under these circumstances, I felt that getting the attention of the maximum number of qualified candidates would be limited. We were fortunate to find an experienced and competent manager to help lead our city and I would vote in opposition to any lesser choice that was realized from this rushed and ill-timed process. We are a council-city manager form of government and this just didn’t seem like the right time or season for this critical decision.
Daniel Guerrero: It is the prerogative of the council to select a new city manager, so criticizing them for performing their elected duty as councilpersons seems improper. The process should not be politicized. I was personally impressed with the three finalists and believe they could each do the job admirably. As mayor, I will strive to have a good working relationship with the new city manager, whether or not I am a part of the selection process, and that is all that matters.
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?
Guerrero: Both myself and John Thomaides voted to support the current city policy that offers incentives to developers who provide infrastructure development and employers who bring new jobs to San Marcos. We have also both supported incentive packages in the past. While my opponent is an election year convert away from the policy that he once endorsed, it is important to recognize that incentives are one of many tools at the city’s disposal to help guide and direct development within the city limits. Moreover, incentives can be used as a planning mechanism by encouraging developers to make significant up-front contributions toward upgrading the city’s infrastructure in and around their development. When used properly, this can bring a positive financial return to the city and improve the quality of life for area residents by expediting infrastructure development. As mayor, I would not disallow the use of this important tool. As a candidate, I will not distort my own record for political purposes. Whether you agree with me or not, I will always be honest with you and let you know exactly where I stand on an issue. I consider these qualities as necessary for effective leadership.
Thomaides: While I support the Paso Robles development, I am opposed to providing a tax subsidy for this gated residential development. To increase the quality of life for San Marcos, we must utilize our scarce resources to promote good jobs in our community not fund urban sprawl. We are raising utility rates to cover existing budget shortfalls and ultimately, this will only cost us all more. It is not good policy to subsidize this type of development at the expense of everyone else. I will support their development, just not at the taxpayer’s expense.
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?
Thomaides: The Horizons Master Plan was developed 14 years ago as a statement of direction for San Marcos. In the document, there were fundamental objectives we agreed upon as a community. One of those was to not encourage development over the sensitive recharge zone to the west. All of these developments were or are obviously not in sync with this objective. However, we face inevitable growth and, while I embrace and encourage growth in our city, it is with one important caveat; it should be our goal to leave this place better than we found it. To achieve sustainable growth, we must have sanctity of single family neighborhoods. This is critical to our quality of life. Austin is in gridlock. Without adequate planning and commitment, we will share their outcome. I am for making a plan we can stick with and have the guts to do just that. We must address the growth in quality employers and the increasing population that we will inevitably see in ways that does not destroy the uniqueness of our community.
Guerrero: It should be noted that the publisher of this online blog is the single largest contributor to my opponent in this race. His opinions on the projects above are well known to readers, here. He and his candidate have politicized Paso Robles, the Buie Tract, and similar projects ad nauseam, and that is a game that I just assume excuse myself from. I am of the firm opinion that San Marcos is growing, that the city council should actively work with developers to ensure that new development benefits our community, and that demonizing developers for political purposes is a poor way to accomplish that end. I want to put an end to the politics of personal agendas a city hall. I have found that working together produces better results than political posturing, and that is a creed I will stand by as your next mayor.
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?
Guerrero: As a general rule, a master plan is of little use when it is not regularly updated to meet a city’s changing needs. In the years since the master plan, our population has dramatically increased, Texas State University has grown and implemented new expansion plans, and regional planning and cooperation has grown in importance. In light of these changes, our transportation and infrastructure plans require revision. We must also make a concerted effort in all manner of planning to attract quality employers and higher paying jobs to the city. Finally, I would recommend a closer working relationship with the university in the master planning process.
Thomaides: When the original Horizons Master Plan was adopted, San Marcos was just planning for growth. Today, and great for San Marcos, growth is here and will only continue. Texas State University has and is growing faster and is larger than anyone ever expected. Even during troubled economic times nationally, Hays County and San Marcos have seen extraordinary growth. Our city charter requires a periodic and regular update of the Horizons Master Plan and, as mayor, I believe it is time we re-visit our earlier plan and as a community, set our trajectory for the future, defining the place we want leave for generations to come. We live in a dynamic and growing community between two of the largest markets in Texas. Put together, we rank 16th as the largest market area in America. San Marcos sits at the epicenter of this, and we should take advantage of our unique position.
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?
Thomaides: Fund balances are the city’s savings accounts for the unexpected. I was on council after the 9/11 attacks, and we faced a downturn in retail sales and a budget shortfall. I have the experience dealing with our city budget in both good and bad economic times and will be a steady hand at the helm, along with my colleagues on the council. This last year, we again faced reversals in retail sales as a result of the economic downturn. These balances are critical to our ability to sustain our economy and borrow money at low rates to fund our growth. We must save our scarce resources to bring good employers to San Marcos and good jobs to our community. I supported an incentive for Grifols, a recent success story with 200 new positions with wages averaging $40,000 per year. I opposed spending $4 million to bailout a retail developer at StoneCreek just because they claimed they miscalculated their costs of construction. I oppose $20 million for Paso Robles to fund residential development. We must spend our tax dollars wisely to promote jobs and fix our streets and infrastructure that improve our quality of life.
Guerrero: Absolutely, the city should be conservative about spending, and that should take place regardless of fund balances. Providing sound financial management is important, now more than ever. That means the city must be creative about doing more with less. As executive director of the San Marcos Education Foundation, I know how to maintain a budget during difficult economic times. As mayor, I will provide the kind of sound financial leadership that taxpayers deserve. (That said, this is probably where my opponent will again decry pay raises for police and firefighters, as he has done throughout this campaign. Let me point out that he voted to support the cost of those contracts before later opposing them for political purposes. Let me also point out that his figures on the pay raises in the contracts, and those reported on this blog, are repeatedly incorrect. If you would like clarification on the matter, ask any firefighter or policeman if they are receiving a $20,000 raise. They’ll probably laugh, as well they should. Our police and firefighters should not be batted around like political footballs. It is bad for morale and detrimental to the future of public safety in our community.)
SMLN: There has a lot of talk about transparency in government. How should the city address transparency in government?
Guerrero: Transparency is at the heart of the people’s ability to trust their government. You cannot trust a government that hides things from its citizens. Therefore, it is important that councilpersons refrain from using their cell phones and text messaging during council meetings, and especially during executive sessions. Meetings are times to conduct city business and hear the people, not times for private communication. Council meetings are public for a reason. The use of cell phones during meetings has grown so problematic, an open records request has recently been made for all councilpersons to produce their cell phone statements. I encourage my opponent to abide by this request. On a more basic level, I would re-establish the three reading protocol for the passage of municipal ordinances, increase the use and accessibility of archived records from council and commission meetings, and ask that meeting agendas be reviewed for clarity before posting them for public viewing.
Thomaides: We should engage the public in decisions that impact our citizens through clear and concise agendas and sparing use of executive session and then only when absolutely appropriate. As mayor, I will always pay close attention to how these executive sessions are worded on the agenda to allow our citizens the opportunity to know what we are discussing. We should improve the quality of web viewing of city council meetings so that everyone, not just local cable subscribers, can watch proceedings from their homes on the Internet. We should make our website more user friendly and easier to navigate, and I will push to list all city expenditures online for the citizens to review. Customer satisfaction audits should be conducted to measure the value of our customer service to the citizens of San Marcos. I will ask the new city manager to hold agenda discussion meetings with interested citizens to allow a greater understanding of the issues we will vote on. I also commit to work with Open San Marcos and other similar groups to promote public access to issues that impact us all.
SMLN: Explain the concept of council/manager form of government. Is the city holding true to it?
Thomaides: Our city charter allows only for a city manager form of government. This means that the city manager is the chief executive officer of our city and the city council acts as a board of directors providing broad-based policy and guidance. To be frank, it seems like we have not had this relationship for at least the past several years, and I intend to work with the city manager in the way our charter intends.
Guerrero: I became well acquainted with the council/manager form of government during my time as mayor pro tem and four years on the council. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version: the mayor and council make policy decisions; the city manager is charged with the important responsibility of the city’s day-to-day operations. Bottom line: provide guidance and oversight, and don’t micromanage. This means that the mayor should maintain a good working relationship with the city manager, just as he or she should with all city employees. (That means that it is probably a good idea to not alienate the city’s police and firefighters by making false claims about their pay in order to score cheap political points.)
SMLN: Has the downturn in the economy had any permanent effect on the city’s position moving forward?
Guerrero: San Marcos is in a remarkably good economic position relative to much of the nation. However, the downturn has exposed our weaknesses. Our city is too dependent upon the retail sector and lacks a sufficient number of higher paying jobs. We need to better diversity our local economy in order to become more self-sustaining and resistant to the effects of recessions in the future. This requires consistent leadership that views potential employers and business development as partners for the common good, not adversaries in a political game.
Thomaides: No. Clearly we have been impacted by the global economic downturn, but we are fortunate to be in Texas and, more importantly, Central Texas. We continue to be among the fastest growing areas in the country. Texas State continues to provide a stabilizing and growing influence within our local economy. While we have our issues and I, among many, have seen a decline in business, I believe that we have not suffered any permanent or irreversible damage and we are poised to move forward and thrive as a community. It should however, teach us that everything does not always go up. We have suffered reversals in sales tax revenue from the outlet malls and downward pressure on property values, which impact our property tax revenues. We have also seen a decline in our fund balances. All this points to keeping a watchful eye on our funds and being forever diligent to invest them wisely to bring good employers and good jobs to our community. We cannot spend these hard-earned taxpayer dollars on bailouts for shopping center developers, large pay increases pushed by police and fire unions without adding to our public safety, and incentives for residential development.
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?
Thomaides: I would like to see several issues debated by the Charter Review Commission including term limits for council members, and adding a second reading (up or down vote) be taken by the council for re-zoning changes. Currently this only requires one vote and, many times, the public has not had sufficient time to communicate their wishes with their elected leaders. Previously, there were two separate up or down votes taken for these items and sometimes allowed for new information to be considered.
Guerrero: Periodically, the council appoints a commission to review the city charter and recommend possible changes, which may then be submitted to the voters for consideration. The current set of recommendations is available for public viewing on the city website and I commend their review to all interested citizens. As to my own thoughts on the possible amendments, I would like to establish mechanisms to increase the openness and transparency of our city government, as well as broadening citizen participation in the city policymaking process.
SMLN: Why should San Marcos citizens vote to elect you into office, as opposed to your opponent?
Guerrero: San Marcos needs a mayor who is truthful and consistent. My opponent has a terrible habit of misrepresenting his record. For instance, he told students at Texas State University (8/31/2010, University Star) that he supported moving city elections to November, when he actually spoke against it at four separate meetings and voted against the move (12/13/2004). He voted for the city policy to offer incentives and has supported numerous incentive projects until he found opposition to incentives to be more politically advantageous. He supported the cost of new contracts for police and firefighters and then voted against the contract for political purposes. This is not leadership. Our city deserves a mayor who eschews politics for public service. I submit my record to you for consideration. As a councilperson and mayor pro tem, I advanced policies that created more than 6,800 new local jobs and historic infrastructure improvements. As executive director of the San Marcos Education Foundation, I work every day to grow the organization and create new educational opportunity for our school children. As your next mayor, I will end the politics of personal agendas at city hall and work to secure our city’s economic future and quality of life.
Thomaides: The difference in my opponent and me can be best summarized in experience and maturity. I have been a small business owner in San Marcos since 1993 who understands the rigors of developing a business plan and being held to that plan. I have served this community for the past seven years and fought to keep our income and expenses in line, against those who would like to commit our limited resources to incentivize retail jobs, residential development and the high cost of urban sprawl. My opponent has publicly expressed his support for this policy. I am against this, particularly in these, the toughest of economic times. I have experience in bringing state and federal funds to the city, in particular $10 million to complete the Wonder World extension and, last year I was involved in bringing over 200 bio-medical jobs to San Marcos at Grifols, with wages above $40,000 plus benefits. In the past two years, we implemented a new program to improve our current city streets and build new infrastructure, and now have 60 projects underway. I have a strong grasp of the issues we face such as job creation, transportation, downtown re-development, neighborhoods, and the environment.