The Kyle Report is an opinion column written by Kyle resident, Pete Oppel, that covers city leadership issues. You can follow The Kyle Report here on the Kyle Life or by subscribing to Mr. Oppel’s blog, The Kyle TX Report.
Saying there’s an opportunity now for the city to receive an injection of “fresh energy and fresh perspective” as well as ” an opportunity for another generation of community leaders to step forward,” Mayor Todd Webster said today he would not seek re-election to a second term, thus bringing an end to a 15-plus-year career as a Kyle public servant.
“I am so appreciative of the people I’ve served with during this time — those that were there in the spirit of public service,” Webster said. “I have a lot of gratitude and appreciation for that. That’s what made my tenure worthwhile — working with people who were really trying to get something accomplished.
“Of course, to the extent there was disharmony is well known and well publicized and was intentional on their part. But in a lot of ways I can even appreciate what they did because they provided such a good contrast and were a constant reminder for me to appreciate my colleagues on the council who were really working for the people of our community.”
Webster said the time pressure he’s experiencing with his business and the desire to spend more time with his family were the prime motivating factors in his decision to be a one-term mayor. In fact, he spoke to me today as he was taking his son to an athletic competition in Georgetown.
“What I’m seeing in the community is there is an opportunity if I don’t run for some folks with a fresh energy and a fresh perspective to run for that seat,” Webster said. “There’s an opportunity for another generation of community leaders to step forward and take the city to the next level. I‘ve served the community for more than a decade and it’s time for me to move on and let someone else take over.”
Although no one has officially announced plans to run for mayor, council member Travis Mitchell, should he decide to take the plunge, would be the odds-on favorite to succeed Webster, simply because of his successful attempts at public outreach among voters. Webster said Mitchell fits his definition as someone who would bring a new, fresh perspective to the mayor’s position.
“I met Mayor Webster nearly two years ago and am honored to call him a friend,” Mitchell said today. “He is a consensus builder, a visionary, and is ethically above reproach. He has served Kyle well. I will miss his leadership on council and wish him nothing but the best as he moves on.”
“He has been a forward-looking and thinking mayor,” council member David Wilson said when told of Webster’s decision. “Planning what’s best for the citizens, planning for our future. But the main thing is his thinking and I have not seen him to be wrong on an issue. There are issues that he and I disagree on, but he takes his positions through his own set of logic. He is thoughtful. He will tell you why he is taking the position he is taking. And there’s nobody on council that’s going to tell him what to do. He listens to the people, but at the end of the day, he makes what he believes is the right decision for the community. He will be missed by the community and he will be missed by this council member.”
“I am sorry to see that Mayor Webster will not be seeking reelection,” said Mayor Pro Tem Damon Fogley. “He has brought great value to our city and has always been respectful of other council members’ points of view. He truly had a goal to improve the lifestyles of the citizens of our city and I think he successfully accomplished that. Mayor Webster did an outstanding job at striking a balance between the desirability of the city from both a residential and business perspective.
“An example of this would be when he spearheaded the efforts to appropriately zone the development at Yarrington/I-35 and was successful in changing the path of this area from what it was going to be ‘A truck stop/warehouse zoning’ into something that both the business owners and the residents were satisfied with as far as developmental use for commercial activities.”
Council member Beck Selbera said “First I’d like to thank Mayor Webster for voting to bring development and for continuing to bringing Kyle into 21st Century. l have never felt so humbled in my 16 years on council and feel very fortunate to be a part of such an amazing “6 member council.” Mayor Webster never skipped a beat when dozens of supporters turned out in person at council meetings to speak passionately about issues or concerns. Mayor Webster was always available in an extensive community outreach that went into designing a project, approving the budget or supporting development. I also appreciate his support for the needed improvements for the south side of Kyle.
“l thank you, Mayor Webster for your awesome leadership, steadfast support for Kyle’s children and families who need and depend on the services for safety and for pushing to support the community library during the budget meetings,” council member Selbera continued. “It was with great honor for me to be serving with Mayor Webster and for having the same vision and courage to place the needs of the community above politics. I thank Mayor Webster sincerely for all he has done to serve the people of Kyle.”
My attempts to reach council members Shane Arabie and Daphne Tenorio have so far been unsuccessful.
Webster said the city has, in its recent history, been thrust in the middle of a battle between growth and no-growth advocates.
“My hope is that people that are on neither side of that come to the forefront and take the opportunity that’s there to move the city forward,” the mayor said. “We got a lot accomplished. There’s been a tremendous amount of work that’s been done in terms of setting the stage for the next phase of the city’s future. We’ve made progress in solidifying the city’s infrastructure and putting the pieces in place for us to handle the next 50 or 60 years. So I feel really good about what we’ve been able to do. With the exception of the exception — and everybody knows who that is — we’ve been a really collaborative group that focused their energy and their attention and their work on making decisions based on what’s best for the community and not on politics.
“So I’ve been blessed with that and I feel the time is right because the city’s in a good position to let somebody else come in. And I really can’t continue the level of commitment it takes to do the job correctly. So it’s time.”
Although he said he doesn’t consider any of the accomplishments the city has made during the last three years “as being mine individually,” he did say he takes some pride “in a number of things” that have occurred during that time.
“My goal going in was to establish a culture that allowed individual council members to be successful,” the mayor said. “Therefore the city and all of us could be successful. Despite obvious attempts to disrupt that, we established a culture where people could disagree and people good bring forward ideas and accomplish what they wanted to do without fear of creating bad feelings. I think we created a very collaborate culture that focused on trying to do what everybody felt in their own minds was in the best interest of the community.”
Wilson, for one, was appreciative of that culture change.
“What I loved about his approach was that the mayor came to me and he said ‘What is it that you want? What are your main goals?’,” the council member said. “So every time I had a goal I wanted to achieve he was there to assist — not to take your thunder, not make the motion instead of you, not put his name on something you thought of and you did. It’s a mature, intellectual, big person that can do that without patting himself on the back and taking credit. And that’s the mayor I know.”
Webster admitted he was blessed by events beyond his control. He cited, for example, “the economy turned right as I was coming in so that gave me some tools to be able to work with” that his predecessor, Lucy Johnson, wasn’t as fortunate to have at her disposal.
“And I have to be honest about the fact that I don’t think we had a good city manager and a good organizational culture at the staff level” when he assumed the mayor’s gavel, Webster said. “Things were pretty dispirited. There needed to be a change and a re-set for the staff. Bringing in Scott Sellers (as city manager) was a huge win for the community. He’s done some amazing things in taking that next step in bringing in a more professional organizational culture. When I assumed office, we had a city staff that was afraid to take the initiative because, if they did, they would have been punished or terminated. Now you have a culture that’s trying to say ‘yes’ to things, that rewards initiative.”
He said former Mayor Johnson “did a fantastic job, especially given what she had to work with. But I really found the administrative leadership to be a problem when I got there.”
He said he is also proud that because of efforts made during his term the road bond projects “are two to three years ahead” of their original schedule, “the creation of the stormwater utility, the way the city reacted to the floods, the massive and significant progress we’ve made in terms of water planning — and David Wilson deserves a lot of the credit for that — all of the modeling and all of the systems that have been put in place, the streamlining of our procedures and processes by eliminating a lot of committees that freed up staff time to allow them to do their work.”
He also cited the turnaround of the Housing Authority, although he said the kudos for that belong to the Housing Board members. But Webster said he has received a number of compliments from people who have contacts with the federal housing agencies who are saying how happy they are with the progress the city has made in the management of the two public housing projects in Kyle. “That was a politically embarrassing thing that turned out for the good because we didn’t focus on assigning blame but we focused on what we needed to do to fix it.”
He also mentioned improved relations between city government and the Hays CISD board. “In my 20 years here, there have not been better relations between the City of Kyle and elected officials at the school district. I feel really good about the way things sit with the school district right now and the relationships that are developing between a significant core group on the school board. And that had not been there up until the last four or five months. It bodes really well for the community that there’s going to be good relationships there.”
This year’s city budget will now, obviously, be the last one in which he has input. He said he was hoping to be able to push for at least a five-cent decrease in the tax rate but because of the uncertainty surrounding the state’s attempts to limit what municipalities can do as far as adjusting rates, he doesn’t believe such a reduction would be in the city’s best long-term interest.
“If there’s revenue available, it will be nice to look at some additional road improvements,” he said. “Maybe some equipment acquisitions.”
He added he completely supports council member Shane Arabie’s approach towards “building capacity within departments in terms of equipment and personnel so that we don’t have to contract with people to do things that we should be able to do ourselves like repair roads and infrastructure improvements. So I’ll look for opportunities to do that. While I won’t abdicate my responsibilities to make budget decisions, I won’t drive the agenda that much this time around. That’s up to the folks who will continue to be there. Helping the others accomplish some of their priorities is what I want to devote my attention to this budget cycle.
“I feel pretty good about the city’s fiscal situation. The truth is the financial condition of the city is very healthy. We’re in a good spot. I wish there wasn’t all this state level deliberation taking place because I feel we could be a little more assertive in terms of a rate reduction. That’s where I was but I can’t be there now because it wouldn’t be good public policy to do it because we just don’t know what’s going to happen” with the state legislature. He said another reason for keeping the rate steady would be to use whatever funds that produces towards funding the water acquisitions the city is making through the HCPUA.
Among his disappointments, he said, was the city’s inability “to land one of those big game-changing” business developments. “That’s something I really wish I could have delivered to the community. In spite of a lot of significant effort in that regard and a lot of progress in dealing with the deficiencies that stopped us from getting there, we really have come in second or third on same major capital projects, some major employers. We’re almost there. We’re almost over the hump. I do think the work of the group that’s been in place now and Sellers’s work and the staff’s work to this point is really going to pay dividends. So it’s hard to view it as a disappointment. But those things are in the city’s future. They are just not going to be in mine.”
He said that because of the work of the council during the last three years the city “is well positioned to be a true shining star in Hays County and Central Texas. We’re positioned super well. There’s going to be some huge successes for Kyle in the next three years and it’s going to be because of what this group was able to accomplish together and what staff was able to accomplish.”
He said he was not happy with the progress of the city’s parks. “I don’t feel our parks are representative of the level of excellence that we expect.” He said Lake Kyle Park is at the level one should expect, “But I don’t see that at Steeplechase and I don’t see that at Gregg-Clarke.”
He added that for a long time he was dissatisfied with progress of the police department, but recently “there has been a significant turnover in personnel that has resulted in a huge level of improvement.”
Another development he said he was happy with was the clearing of a multitude of lawsuits the city was a party to.
“But my biggest disappointment is the behavior of people on social media, not just towards the city, but towards each other, towards everyone,” the mayor said. “You’re very turned into that when you are an elected official. You see a lot of it. I’m a lot more aware now of people’s lack of knowledge of how government works. I’d be a rich man now if I had a dollar for every person who thought I was a congressman. That’s a disappointment for someone who has worked in the field of public education for more than two decades to see how little progress we’ve made in terms of people’s understanding of civics and how government works. There’s a good number of people in this community who think this is a salaried job and they are paying my salary. Maybe it’s too much for me to expect people to understand those things. But that lack of understanding provides an opportunity for people to deliberately misinform and create more discontent within the community.
“The advent of social media and how that has been used to drive public opinion in a way that misinforms people on purpose has infected government at the local level, the state level and the national level. I see it everywhere.”
He said he also wished the unsolved murders more than two years ago of Tina Combs and Jimmy Wright in southwest Kyle could have been solved.
“Perhaps a better question than my disappointments is what were the hardest things for me to endure during my time as mayor and certainly at the top of that list was Samantha Dean’s murder, the floods, and the Wright-Combs double homicide,” he said. “Those things impacted the community in such an awful way. Those were experiences that were very tragic, very difficult, very hard. And you feel so helpless.
“Hopefully the next group will have a very good run and land some of those big economic development projects. There’s another gear out there that I think that can be hit.”
As far as who will comprise the next group, it is expected that Mitchell will between now and the end of the month announce he will run for mayor now that the position has opened. Former council member Diane Hervol has also been mentioned as a possible mayoral candidate, but she is handicapped by the fact she lost her re-election bid to Mitchell and there’s nothing to suggest she would be more successful a second time around, What’s more likely is that she will seek the seat she once held that will be vacated by Mitchell. Tenorio undoubtedly would love to be elected mayor but her supporters should be able to convince her not to surrender her council seat, which is not up for re-election this year, in a kamikaze mission against Mitchell that’s doomed to failure. Should Tenorio ignore that advice, however, one person who could run for her position on the council is Tammy Swaton, who held that seat but lost a re-election bid to Tenorio two years ago.
“I believe it’s unfortunate Mayor Webster has decided not to run for a second term,” Swaton told me today in an e-mail correspondence. “While serving with Mayor Webster, I felt like he had the best interest of the Kyle community when representing the city. He often thought out of the box; searching for ways to take the burden off the taxpayers by thinking of ways to bring in more business and paying jobs. I appreciate and respect the work he has done for our community. As for running for office, I’m still considering the possibility. I believe serving the public is a privilege and an honor and not meant for a personal agenda. If I decide to run, it would be my privilege and an honor to do so.”
Other names being mentioned for possible political runs in November are those of another former council member, Jaime Sanchez, and Bill Sinor, who has tried and failed before to win election to the council. Both Sanchez and Sinor would most likely choose to run against Selbera should she decide to seek re-election or for her vacated position should she choose not to. Wilson’s term also expires this year and it is assumed he will seek re-election although that is not carved in stone. What all this conjecture means is that as many as five of the seven council seats could be contested in this November’s election.
As for Webster, even with his vast background in the field of education and with state government (he was, among other things, the chief of staff for the state’s education commissioner and the acting education commissioner between November 2009 and September 2012), the mayor said he has no plans to run for elective office again, either as a school board member or even a run as a state legislator.
“I have no plans to run for anything at all,” he said today. “It’s just not something I have an interest in. I don’t see that in my future.”
Webster began his civic service with the City of Kyle in January 2002 when he was selected to the Kyle Board of Adjusters and the Planning & Zoning Commission. He left P&Z in May 2003 to seek and ultimately win election to the City Council, representing District 6 until his resignation in October 2006, He assumed the office of Kyle mayor in June 2014.