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August 3rd, 2010
Commentary: San Marcos needs a discussion

Former Mayor of San Marcos

San Marcos really needs to discuss some things right now. Like choosing city managers and the rationale and workings of land use commissioners. But first, perhaps, where I am “coming from.” First, my bona fides, for whatever they are worth:

When I retired from local public office, in 2000, after a couple of decades, it was… an Occasion. I gave over my crown and scepter to the next lucky victim and came home. I brought my load of plaques, trophies, certificates and mementos home, where they went in boxes in the garage, for my survivors to deal with. Burned the “King” suit, which people always said never fit very well and made me look … well, “common, like the odd lot of riff-raff one sees at the grocery.” I was not misty-eyed, just worn out. That job is hard work, if you even pretend to work at it.

About all I kept (and cherished, I blushingly confess) was the wide, rich, deep store of education, knowledge and experience the citizens had graciously (if unwittingly) allowed me to amass for myself. Those I have kept by my side. Alongside the perennial glass of water, which my physicians tell me I need to keep my system flooded so my heart doesn’t die. There is an odd parallel there, a great symbolism for me, since the experience and the water seem to have the same purpose, and both sort of reflect my community life. The show would go on, I knew, and in good hands, I trusted. It is, after all, the property and the will of the people, the folks who pay the bills. But since then, I have been uneasy about my simple faith. So I speak.

It worries me to see San Marcos looking for a city manager, for whatever reason. It’s not that in itself, but that we want one fast, and not necessarily one with any experience in municipal government. Threat level red!

A good city manager is an experienced, educated professional specialist in a complex and honored enterprise, with deep and special background. I don’t think we are looking for somebody best at “making a payroll.” Nor a person who specializes in marketing. Nor a sales manager. Nor a “kick-ass” personnel man. Nor a miserly bean counter. For a competent city manager, all those are in the mix, but are “givens.” The applied experience and professional education come first. The “ability to get along” is what one makes of it.

Land use commissioners, however you want to call them, are also a special breed. They are a ministerial body recognized in law and are treated that way in the courts. They can cost millions in lawsuits, and they can help make or avoid a catastrophic future for the city. Their piece of the holy-if-overlooked public trust is, in law, “the orderly subdivision and development of land.” In their advisory capacity, they have unusual power and unique discretion. They are far from other advisories, like “parks,” “arts,”,”tourism,” etc. They can’t afford — including personal liability — to take their responsibilities to the people in their homes as less than serious. Red alert!

Here in our town, right now, the land use folks are being subsumed into the general lot of citizens who volunteer for some board because it “looks kinda interesting,” or “it might be fun,” or “I might help out,” or “I’ll do it for my friend, Councilmember Muffy.” Those all have their place, and so does the less noble service motive of “maybe I can get in the power elite.”

These commissioners must be special people too. Their number must include, but they can’t all be, professionals in the field they regulate: many builder-developer-realtor “types” have only seen the city and its many complicated regulations as obstacles to be overcome, sadly. So they may not want ongoing quality of life for all, chosen by “all,” as much as speed, economy and ease of proceeding. Not an indictment, just facts.

Planning is not nearly the same as zoning — different rules, laws and authorities entirely. They are equally important. They have different perspectives, and their functions should not be crammed together in the interest of saving staff time, developer money, or council time. After all, we don’t want our own babies to grow up fast and cheap. The community is our collective “baby,” and needs careful, long, continuous nurturing if it is to grow up and make us proud.

I would suggest a revisiting of the way we are doing “bidness” as a city. These special “boards” really need to be chosen with care, not just from a cattle-call of 300 or 400 people. They need people with relevant professional knowledge and experience — surveyors, builders, bankers, developers, hospitality folks, conservationists, engineers, urban planners. These need to be leavened with “just” neighborhood activists, etc., including the lame and halt and the poor. Diverse humans. Then they can learn from and teach both each other and the citizenry, if they will listen to their professional staff and work things out, deliberately.

The business of creating and maintaining “civitas” is sweaty, hard labor. It is like maintaining life and health themselves, a matter of keeping balance –the hardest work there is. It is ultimately a source of riches, but never should be “about the money.” It goes on forever, with or without good stewardship, until death.

Billy G. Moore
San Marcos

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0 thoughts on “Commentary: San Marcos needs a discussion

  1. It was reported the City Manager search RFP stipulated: “city manager candidates will not be limited to municipal experience.” With the fast track “get it done in 60 days” timeline, and not going through an open RFP process, either, this reinforces the speculation that Susan Narvaiz wants to be our next City Manager.

    To the people of San Marcos, we need a professional City Manager who has real experience running a city, either in a City Manager or Assistant City Manager position. Just because somebody wants the position for power, honor, glory, money, does not make them qualified.

  2. As I travel I’ve been paying attention to city dynamics. I like Boulder, Minneapolis, Santa Cruz, and Seattle to name a few. I like their cleanliness and the fact that they foster an outdoor community environment. (They are also expensive places to live.)

    Does anyone have any examples of towns our size that appeal to you?

  3. The City Manager should not be a politicized office. The very idea of a council manager form of government is that the City Manager should be an experienced administrator, outside the political fray. I hope that the rumour that Susan Narvaiz wants to be City Manager are just that, a rumour. There is no need to rush, this decision should be put off until after the election.

  4. SamD – West Hartford, CT

    http :// www (remove spaces).

    “The Town of West Hartford prides itself on its overall attractiveness, customer service, citizen involvement, public safety and education, all characteristics that make our town a desirable place to live. West Hartford has become a destination place for new businesses and new families because it is a full-service community in every sense, from its quality municipal services to its top-rated schools. The Town encompasses a full range of quality housing from starter homes to luxury estates. West Hartford boasts a strong retail and service business sector. “

  5. Ted- Browsing through West Hartford’s website was a pleasant surprise…It’s when one sees how things can and should be, that you realize how much we are losing with poor leadership and failure to follow a planned vision.

  6. I agree with above comments that san marcos is missing out due to poor leadership and management. A town with such natural and cultural resources should be an exemple. The presence of the campus, the springs, the door to the hill country, the numerous trees and the river are incredible assets to build upon. That is stating the obvious one would say. I have lived in this town for 12 years and visited the area years prior to that and I can confidently say that neither the manamement or the planning has impressed much. With so much brainpower and training facilities (the college), this town should be full of small creative and successful business. Folks here should be at the avant garde of new technolies and sustainable economics (small size college towns are supposed to be ideal for this). So here it is, i will do a bit of ranting, because I care.
    The so called studies and master plans all miss their mark and are really a waste of money: the management team needs some balls and not rely on outside opinion to state the obvious over and over again. Situations like the street of chestnut (incredibly dangerous for vehicles and pedestrian alike), the aquarena springs drive (incredible traffic due to really poor planning), the numerous empty buildings dowtown (that seem to change a bit), the mish mash of railroad tracks with trains allowed to pretty much stop and cut the town in half, the extremely dangerous cross road of sessoms and aquarena,…..
    Exemple of good planning: the campus generates an incredible traffic. A boulevard on aquarena springs drive that actually includes massive space for pedestrian, bicycles, and other 2 wheelers, would really be practical, cheap, sustainable space saving, healthy, attractive…. The majority of these folks are students after all and can handle 1 mile without a personal engine would’nt you say? Massive small vehicle policy coming from the campus would actually free up a lot of space due to a lot less parking space requirement (I have heard the folks on the hill complain about space: it right in front of their eyes, we are in texas, lots of space, believe me) . And the talk about “it’s a cultural thing in Texas, we need our cars”. Well I do not buy it: culture is made, people are not sheep. Even GM is coming out with its full electric vehicle, for real this time we hope, talk about culture change.
    While I am at it, What is up with the paint on the roads in this town: Fresh paint seems to just disappear overnight and roads are generally lacking in clear markings. Even the freshly repaved guadalupe switches from 3 lanes to 2 lanes without warnings (a real mess). With all the new folks arriving or visiting town thanks to the college, it is a receipe for disaster (I saw 3 traffic accidents today only.) I can go on and on: the different codes and ordinances seem very clumsy. To the point that they are not inforcable. They are a waste of time if they are not enforced or enforcable or they do not express the community wishes and needs. The recently build commercial complex between thorpe lane and aquarena is a fine exemple of failed enforcement of the tree protection ordinance: look at the trees now. I was applauding the revamping of city code until I tried to have some input and understand the actual writing process. All these so called workshops did not allow for much conversation but more a one way presentation of the obvious. Some of the proposed changes are so one sided that one wonders who really wrote them and how. Yep, we need good commissions and good city management and personnel with a transparent process.
    All these small things add up to great frustration. Fortunately, there are multiple rays of light with folks like the greenbelt alliance and the Harvey’s with the transparency Agenda (thank you Steve, you are hitting the nail) .
    There is no question that San marcos is about to face great changes and we are not ready for this yet. I also wish the College would get involved beyond its own immediate interest and starts showing its brainpower to have a vision beyond marketing. Growth is one thing, smart, sustainable and defined growth entirely different. Calling something green also does not mean its green (hinting to the “green” propaganda on the hill).
    We may end up with a broke, ugly, clogged up, poorly maintained town in a very short term if we do not pay attention. Or we could live in a city we can be proud of if we get involved (that’s the key to living in a society, folks: get involved)

  7. That makes two of us. Thank you for your articulate statement of a real case. Must be a few more around here, do you suppose. I begin to hear comments around town, and I see a thundercloud over “bidness as usual, over everything,” I hear bits gathering from here and there into little “dust devils” of conversations. Some are bold–“Can you Believe what they are doing to San Marcos?–but not very concrete, yet. Perhaps it offers a chance for one of the “community moments” we encounter now and again, when we must readjust to some way that is designed to take us away from ourselves as a community–a large and unruly and diverse group of the widest possible profile and interest, agreeing to keep the pledge of “Being San Marcos,” which includes a direct intention to get better yet, as we have done. So far.

    You can hear a question or two, an occasional inference, bringing in third and other parties to listen and discuss. That is 100% proof, semi-refined South Central Texas Version of political democracy–very strong stuff, but as my beloved father used to say, “Good for what ails you.” Gets the blood running to feel you belong, have earned it.

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