I was a little surprised to see that the Rowlett Tea Party is endorsing John Spor for city council. They don’t really say much about why they’re endorsing him, other than the fact that he’s a successful businessman. In my previous post, Rowlett City Council Candidates’ Forum, I discussed the reason I don’t think that, alone, is the best qualification for setting policies for a municipal government.
The tea party site mentions that they believe Mr. Spor when he says he’ll be available for council business despite his obligations in running his multiple businesses and his travels to his second home in Europe. I understand giving people the benefit of the doubt, and you can’t always predict future performance based on the past – except that he still isn’t attending council meetings now, during his candidacy, even after some citizens have expressed concern about that very issue. At last night’s regular council meeting (May 7), three of the council candidates were present, but Mr. Spor was not one of them.
Both Mr. Spor and Michael Gallops answered the Tea Party’s questionnaire (although the front page of their web site continues to say “Mr. Spor’s opponent did not respond to our questionnaire” and then says “[update: see post “Rowlett City Council Questionnaire-Part 5]” instead of actually correcting that statement. Reading through both candidates’ answers is interesting. You’ll find Mr. Gallops’ answers and Mr. Spor’s answers on the Tea Party web site.
Mr. Spor’s answers are consistent with what he said in the candidates’ forums. He once again affirms that the reason he’s running is because his neighbors who are involved in the NTTA fight asked him to, and repeats that they “felt that the existing councilman for Place 6 did not support our efforts” – even though, as I detailed in my post Harborside vs. the NTTA: The Rest of the Story, those “feelings” are not based on the documented facts. Mr. Spor’s answer to question #1, where he says “I look forward to representing my neighbors and our neighborhoods on the council,” once again makes it appear that he is running to serve the interests of only a handful of Rowlett residents – those in the four neighborhoods – rather than the city as a whole.
Michael Gallops’ answer to the same question indicates a much broader perspective. He gives concrete examples of council accomplishments over the three years of his term and states clearly that he wants to continue the efforts to increase services without increasing taxes, and to be involved in the development of the comprehensive plan that was adopted based on citizen input. Michael also makes it clear that he will put in the time it takes to be an active councilmember on a daily basis, as he has for the past three years.
Comparing the candidates’ answers to question 2, Mr. Spor’s answer is rather vague and lacks specificity; Michael Gallops’ answer again gives concrete examples, and shows a greater understanding of both the role of government in citizens’ lives and the role of the council in furthering the goals of city government.
Question 3 asks about each candidate’s top priorities. Mr. Spor’s answer appears to come from a rather narrow perspective – the good of his own family. He wants his teenage children to have apartments in Rowlett to live in after they finish school. He does discuss tax revenue that might be generated by “upscale rental housing” but I’m afraid much of that would be offset by the need to raise taxes to fund the bonds that he wants issued to build a new city hall.
Michael Gallops has a clearly defined set of priorities and I like that keeping the small town feel is at the top of the list. His second priority is absolutely essential: improvement and maintenance of our infrastructure (streets, water and sewer lines, etc.); this is something that has been neglected for far too long. Increasing focus on the lake and revitalizing downtown are also important to Rowlett’s economic future, and I am so glad to see someone specifically state the goal of bringing us some high end dining. I hate having to go to Rockwall or into Dallas or Plano to have a nice dinner on a special occasion – but more important, those establishments will bring much-needed tax dollars into city coffers.
Question 4 doesn’t apply to Mr. Spor since he isn’t up for reelection, but I was struck by Michael’s answer, in that he started off by giving the credit for all the accomplishments to the council as a whole, making it clear that he didn’t take the credit, individually, for anything that has been achieved. This is in contrast to Mr. Spor taking the credit for the progress made in regard to the toll way noise problem and completely leaving out everything that his opponent did to help in that effort, as I discussed in the NTTA post.
Also in question 4, Mr. Spor says “I have been volunteering for the Rowlett Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) for the last 6 years.” The wording seems almost designed to mislead people into thinking he is still a member of that board, when in fact he was removed from it in September 2012. As I mentioned in a previous post, his EDAB work was not a terribly active involvement in city volunteerism, as the meeting minutes indicate that he only attended two meetings in 2012 and one in 2011.
In response to question 5, Mr. Spor again dwells on his wish to issue bonds to fund city projects. But most bond issues have to be approved by a vote of the citizens, and in a time when many of those citizens are still struggling financially, they don’t tend to be eager to approve of the city taking on more debt, which they know they will likely end up paying for in the form of increased taxes.
Michael Gallops’ answer to that question focuses on bringing in revenue through multiple avenues with an emphasis on creating opportunities for the right kind of economic development that will take more of the tax burden off of the individual citizens. His answer also does something that you don’t see much from politicians – it talks about how to keep the costs down rather than just how to get the revenue up, and he has obviously done his homework in that regard, checking out new cost-saving technologies that can lower the city’s cost. I like that he sees borrowing as a last resort instead of the default option.
Indeed, borrowing seems to be something Mr. Spor is very fond of. In question 6, he talks about it again, this time to attract new businesses to Rowlett. He’s right about the things that need to be in place to bring in businesses – it’s obvious that he knows the perspective of the business owner pretty well, but perhaps hasn’t thought through from the city official’s perspective the many options and challenges of how to fund those things. He also suggests waiving fees and taxes for developers – which might not set so well with long-time residents who get no such waiver of their own taxes.
Michael Gallops’ answers to question 6 focus on ways to attract business without incurring more cost for taxpayers, such as simplifying the relevant codes and the planning and approval process. He discusses the judicious waiver of impact fees in cases that cost the city little or no money, and wisely notes that tax abatements, while sometimes useful, should be used sparingly.
Question 7 is about the Realize Rowlett 2020 study and comprehensive plan. I don’t like everything about that plan – but as Michael notes, it was developed in the fairest possible way, with the city opening it up to all citizens and taking their input into account. When you read between the lines of Mr. Spor’s answer, it appears he isn’t enthusiastic about the plan, claiming that residents’ input “was not always incorporated.” Of course there is no way any plan could incorporate all residents’ input, since it would be impossible to come up with a plan that all residents liked.
It concerns me that Mr. Spor refers to the plan as a “living document,” in much the same way some folks refer to our Constitution as a “living document,” which in practice always seems to translate to “the government should be able to do whatever it wants and disregard the document that reflects the (majority of the) people’s wishes.”
In his answer to question 8, Mr. Spor says he, too, wants to preserve the small town feel of the city, although he didn’t mention it as one of his priorities in question 3 as Michael did. But then he goes on to talk once again about bringing in more rental housing which, in my opinion, would do exactly what he says he doesn’t want to do: forever change the character of the city.
Michael, too, mentions our lack of diversity in housing – but couples that with our need for a large commercial tax base, as well as the very serious issue of voter participation. There may not be much that you and I can do about some of the issues these candidates address in the questionnaire, as they’re complex and beyond the scope of influence of any of us as individuals. But one way we can do our part to change things for the better is in regard to that lack of voter participation. Based on my analysis of both candidates’ answers to the Tea Party questionnaire as well as their words and demeanor at the candidates’ forums I attended, I believe Michael Gallops is the best obvious choice for city council place 6. But regardless of whom you support in this election, I urge you to do your part and go to the polls and vote.
This blog is published and funded by Debra Littlejohn Shinder