Rowlett City Council Candidates’ Forums

Continuing my focus on the race for the Place 6 council seat:

There have been three candidates’ forums hosted by various area groups to give all the Rowlett council candidates an opportunity to speak and give citizens an opportunity to get to know each candidate a little. If you were undecided about Place 6, I think attending those forums would have given you a lot of reasons to decide in favor of Michael Gallops. Here are the impressions with which I came away from those forums:

Mr. Spor was absent from the first forum, which was held on April 20. All of the rest of the Rowlett candidates were there. The second forum took place on April 25th and the third forum was held on April 27th. All candidates were present for both of these.

At the two latter forums, I heard Mr. Spor introduce himself as the owner of several businesses and present as his major qualifications his leadership in Harborside’s fight against the NTTA (see my blog post immediately before this one for my comments on that) and his membership on the Economic Development Committee. (He is no longer on that committee; last year, the council replaced him with someone else).

He didn’t mention (and there is no mention in his resume on LinkedIn of) any other experience in government (other than selling to government) or any volunteer work in general. Business experience is great – but running a business, especially as the owner/founder, is very different from setting policy for a city as part of a team effort, in a very strictly defined role.

I know this because I’ve done both. For the last 14 years, I’ve been a business owner. In my earlier life, I worked in municipal government as a city secretary, personnel director and police officer, and in the late 1980s, I served on the city council in Seagoville, TX.  My father worked for the city of Dallas for 32 years. I know a lot about city government.

Going from public service to business ownership was an eye-opening transition. Going in the other direction, and trying to adjust to all the legal restrictions and very different way of doing things in the public sector after having been a business owner, would have been orders of magnitude more difficult.

Business owners are used to being in control, and in the forums I attended, Mr. Spor exuded that entrepreneurial attitude. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s entirely appropriate in the business world. But it doesn’t work as well when you’re an elected member of a governing body.

The skills and talents that make a private company successful aren’t necessarily the same ones that make for a great representative of “the little guy” – all the ordinary citizens that make up the city. Apparently Mr. Spor’s businesses are indeed successful, as he made a point in one of the forums that they are “very lucrative” – so much so that he’s able to afford a second home in Europe. That’s great, but between running all those businesses and jetting off to Europe all the time, I just have to wonder whether he’ll be able to devote the proper amount of time to council business. 

Of course, he assured us that he’s well off enough to drop everything and hop on a plane to get back to Rowlett if there’s an important special called council meeting. But I still wonder if he really understands how great the time commitment really is. When I was on the council, it was almost like having a second full time job – and Seagoville was much smaller and had a lot less going on than Rowlett does.

It’s not just about attending a couple of meetings every month. There is a tremendous amount of research and learning about issues that you have to put in before each meeting – and not all of that can be done from afar. Often you need to actually get out there and visit the site of the problem to fully understand the issue before you. There are also many city and regional functions that you need to attend, training sessions, workshops and briefings, especially during your first couple of years on the council when you’re scrambling to get up to speed on a myriad of complex topics and issues.

My observation has been that most who run successfully for council have a long history of involvement in city boards, commissions and volunteer activities, or they are former city employees (or both). Service on the planning and zoning commission or board of adjustment are excellent preparatory activities, because those boards have serious responsibilities and their members are under many of the same legal restrictions as council members. You get to know and understand the role and scope of authority of a public servant with decision-making powers.

Mr. Spor served on the economic development committee, but according to the official records, that committee rarely meets and is purely advisory in nature, with no real authority or decision-making responsibility.  That’s not much preparation for the rigors of being an elected official. Based on the EDAB minutes, it appears Mr. Spor attended only two meetings in 2012 and only one in 2011.

Before I ran for city council, I had attended every city council meeting for the previous year and had spoken before the council on dozens of different issues that affected the entire city. As far as I know, Mr. Spor has attended only a few meetings recently and has confined his presentations to a couple of special interest topics that affect only the few neighborhoods that front the toll way.

I have to say Mr. Spor makes a striking figure on the podium. But as I listened to what he had to say, I was less impressed. Rowlett has been a bedroom community, with the homeowners bearing the burden for funding the city through their property taxes. I’d like to see that change. But based on his answers, Mr. Spor seems to be more focused on bringing in high density apartment housing than getting more quality restaurants and retail here to share the tax burden. That’s not exactly the vision I had for Rowlett’s future.

Speaking of taxes, I know there are many senior citizens in town are concerned about the fate of the senior tax exemption. In the forum, Place 2 candidate Tammy Dana-Bashian (a CPA) provided numbers showing that eliminating the exemption would do little for the city budget. Other candidates said they would have to look at the numbers but generally did not favor dropping the exemption. Yet Mr. Spor stated in the forum that “the senior exemption is unsustainable.” Why, if the amount it brings in to the city is so insignificant? I realize that a small reduction in taxes probably doesn’t seem like a big deal to someone with a second home in Europe, but it’s extremely important to those on fixed incomes who are struggling to get by.

Something else I found troubling was Mr. Spor’s repeated talk advocating a bond issue to build a new city hall somewhere outside of downtown. Bonds, of course, are paid by property taxes and generally result in a tax increase. Rowlett already has some of the highest city property taxes in the metroplex. If they have to go up, I believe it should be to fund repairs of our streets and public safety personnel, not to build a new city hall.

Michael Gallops’ policies are pretty well known, based on his voting record on the council. While I don’t always agree with all of them, I do have confidence that he is able to relate to the average person who doesn’t have money to burn. I believe Michael will work to keep the tax rates low and make it a priority to try to attract high end dining and retail to the city. 

The impressions made in a live candidates’ forum are important, but sometimes fleeting. Luckily, both candidates have also put their answers to some important questions in writing, on the Rowlett Tea Party’s website. In my next blog post, I’ll  explain why, based on those answers on their own site, I have to disagree with the Tea Party’s endorsement of Mr. Spor for Place 6.

 

This blog is published and funded by Debra Littlejohn Shinder

About debshinder

Technology analyst and author, specializing in enterprise security. Author of or contributor to over 25 books, including "Scene of the Cybercrime." Fourteen-year Microsoft MVP, married to Microsoft FTE Tom Shinder, and proud mom of two wonderful grown-up human children and three amazing Japanese Chin pups. In my spare time, I love to travel - especially on cruise ships - and write about my grand adventures.
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