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

May 12th, 2008
Bill Peterson’s Blog: Reflections on a Buda election

Todd Ruge, left, finished third in a three-way race, and Hutch White, right, is off the Buda City Council after losing his mayoral bid.BUDA – The city council election from last Saturday night left kind of a sour taste in one’s mouth.

For a Saturday in May without a lot of heat on the ballot, turnout was decent (13.89 percent), but not incredible, and certainly not heartening about the people of Buda and their participation in local government at such an important juncture for the city.

And the results were mildly disappointing, for a couple reasons.

Hutch White is off the city council now, a result that almost couldn’t have been helped. Rather than run for re-election to his seat on the council, White declared his mayoral candidacy at the very start of this year. At the time, White thought he wouldn’t be “in conflict” with other members of the council.

Weeks later, Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Lane decided to run for mayor, rather than seek re-election to his council seat. So, the battle was joined between two council veterans.

We knew ahead of time that this race would come down to intensely personal preferences, because there was little to separate the candidates besides style and temperament. Now that the race is over, Lane is the new mayor and White is completely off the council.

White worked hard on the city council, thought deeply about where Buda is headed and cared about the city the way one would want a councilmember to care about the city. Buda certainly is no better off for having White off the council, but that’s the way the rocks fell.

The result for the new city council seat provided by the new Buda charter is, frankly, disturbing. It’s not because former Mayor Billy Gray received the most votes (45 percent). Everybody who’s even curious about Buda knows Gray, and most like him quite a lot.

But Todd Ruge’s showing was quite disappointing, and one just hopes he’ll keep trying. Ruge finished last among the three candidates with 104 votes, so he didn’t even qualify for the run-off, which will take place between Gray and Scott Dodd.

Of all the candidates for the Buda council this time around, Ruge was easily the freshest and most interesting. He researched the issues, took positions and really sounded like he could put a good head to the city’s problems. It could be that he just didn’t put himself in front of enough voters.

A detached observer thought Dodd was a dead man for saying twice in public forums that parkland dedication requirements on residential developers were an undue strain on the developers. Perhaps Ruge put off even more voters by sounding like he’d spend the fund balance down to its recommended level so the council could address drainage, park development and/or the library. Maybe voters don’t want to hear about spending.

Ruge made a point of saying he and his wife come from families of educators and librarians. Did the voters write him off as an egghead? If he’s an egghead, he still made two observations of such obvious, dead-on sense that they come off as brilliant and prosaic at the same time. Buda citizens would be wise to take heed, even if they never again hear from Ruge.

Asked how he would encourage the revitalization of downtown, Ruge said simply that he would encourage Buda residents to patronize downtown businesses. Duh. And right on. “If we want downtown to thrive and survive, we need to back up our talk,” Ruge said.

It is a peculiarity of downtown Buda that Main Street, alone, has three excellent dining spots – admittedly, all in the peasant style – and they all struggle. It’s almost as if the people of Buda detest good food.

Budists should be bragging all over Central Texas about the cheeseburger at Buda Grocery, the breakfast taco at Helen’s Casa Alde (consider the Fatty, with beans, as an official recommendation from The Mercury) and the pizza at Constantine’s.

If the people who are moving to Buda and growing the city are so sterile and so lacking a sense of adventure that they won’t try these places because they prefer the familiarity of Chili’s or McDonald’s, then this town’s problems are going to run a lot deeper than merely having a dead Main Street.

More from Ruge: Asked how he would ensure more public input in the selection of a new city manager, he said the people who are interested should tell all their friends. The problem isn’t that the city doesn’t put the word out. The problem is that no one wants to hear it from the city. Again, clear as a bell.

Government has something to say about political participation and downtown vitality, but these aspects of a community are ultimately a measure of the people who live in the community. Government can’t do it all, or even half of it. As a council candidate, Ruge made demands on the people. Maybe they didn’t want to hear it. Or, maybe they just weren’t listening.

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