Author Archives: Jim Carson

About Jim Carson

Keller resident since 1999. Council member 2006-2008. Editor of kellercitylimits.com

Welcome Keller Citizen Readers

Thanks for visiting. For more information and background on our effort to overturn the council’s decision to issue new debt to pay for old debt, please read the category TIF/TIRZ District Refinance.


Commence Lawyering

I have a new post on KCL regarding legal threats to our petition. Check it out.


A New KCL

Doug and I, and several others, will be launching a petition drive to overturn the council’s (so far) unanimous intent to pay off old debt with new debt, while refusing to even consider budget cuts as an alternative.

And what better occasion to knock the dust off of Keller City Limits? Except this time I’m calling it Keller Citizen Legislature, because that’s effectively what we are.

Keller Citizen Legislature


Big Doin’s

Beginning at 5pm tonight, the city council will be discussing charter revisions with Julie Tandy, Steve Trine, Jim Badalementi and Jim Carson. Should be fun. Cable channel 27 or 31. I’ll post my notes on this later.

Later in the evening, the city council will be discussing the TIF restructuring Doug and I have been talking about for weeks (and years).

Update:  Here are my notes for the Charter meeting:


Section 2.02  General Powers Adopted

I do not favor adding Charter language that explicitly embraces the power to borrow money and sell bonds for economic development.

Section 3.01  Number, selection, term.

Background:  I think Keller is a wonderful city with relatively few problems as compared to other cities.  But there is always room for improvement.  Based on prior experience, I believe Keller’s greatest need for improvement is voter apathy.  The people I talk to are often well-informed on the politics and policy of Washington, but poorly informed on Keller’s issues.  The really sad part is that they have far more power to effect change in Keller than Washington.  Undoubtedly, the lack of well-informed voters is a key reason for our single-digit voter turnout percentage.

From this principle, I am an ardent supporter of well-contested elections.  While far from perfect in terms of informing the voters, I can’t imagine achieving a dent in voter apathy without them.

I am against adding a seventh member to the council for this reason.  Adding a seventh council member would only dilute the pool of qualified candidates and result in fewer contested elections and greater voter apathy.

Mr. Lowry seems to accept as axiomatic that the council should have an odd number of voting members to avoid tie votes.  Why?  I see nothing wrong with tie votes—they just mean the motion does not carry.  What’s fundamentally wrong with that?

If tie votes are really a problem, it’s best to leave the council as it is.  The only way to have a tie is if both the mayor and exactly one council member are absent, which is rare. But with a voting mayor and a sixth council member, the far more common case of one council member absent results in the possibility of a tie vote.

I mildly favor extending the term of council members to three years.  Mostly because of the extraordinary learning curve required.  While this may result in fewer contested elections, I rather doubt that it would, and even if it did, the extra year spent learning the ropes is worth it.

I mildly disfavor term limits.  Term limits arbitrarily throw out the good with the bad, and do nothing to better inform voters.

I strongly oppose districting.  Keller, despite a few squabbles, is remarkably demographically homogenous.  As such, there is no reason to expect that any candidate from one section of town would fail to fairly represent residents of another section of town.  Plus, districting would dramatically reduce the pool of qualified candidates for well-contested elections.

Section 3.05  The mayor.

I am ambivalent about giving the mayor a vote.  What I would like see the council and Charter Commission discuss is, not just a mayoral vote, but the full range of customary executive powers, including voting, veto power, and line item veto power over the budget.

Section 3.11 Prohibitions and ethics

Though I’m against term limits for council members, I am very much in favor of term limits (sorta) for key staff.  But since that’s not on the agenda, see me if you’d like to discuss.

 Section 5.01  City manager.

“Someday, [not appointing a city manager to a defined term] could cause a problem for the city, as the practice when hiring a city manager generally involves a contract in recent years.”

The “practice” in recent years is wrong, at least for Keller.  When the Charter restricts the council to working solely through city manager for the administration of virtually all functions, it is crucially important for the council to maintain power and authority over the city manager.  Just imagine the insult of having to buy out for hundreds of thousands of dollars a city manager whose incompetence and/or moral turpitude has already embarrassed the city.

Section 7.02 Petition

As a general rule, I think recalls, initiatives and referendums should be difficult, but doable.  Keller has only had two successful petitions in the last fifteen years, so I feel strongly that the petition process is difficult enough.

I would suggest that the too subjective language “adopt such ordinance or resolution without alteration as to meaning or effect in the opinion of the persons filing the petition” be amended to “such ordinance shall be liberally construed in favor of the petitioners’ intent.”  Or something like that.

There is precedent for such language.  In Brown v. Todd, argued October, 2000 before the Texas Supreme Court, the Justices ruled:

We noted further that because the people’s initiative and referendum power is reserved, not granted, to them, “such charter provisions should be liberally construed in favor of the power reserved.”

General Notes

I’d like the council to consider breaking these ballot measures into two separate votes.  Given the number of changes that need to be made, I’m very worried that voters will be overwhelmed with all the items.  Would you consider putting all the noncontroversial items on the November ballot, and the controversial items on the May ballot?


TIF, Again

Mitchell Schnurman tackles Keller’s TIF (TIRZ) troubles in today’s FWST:

Keller’s dilemma: Make painful cuts now or pay more later

It’s always discouraging to watch a forty-minute discussion with a reporter boiled down to a sentence and a paragraph, but Mitchell’s treatment of me and Keller’s TIF issue is quite fair. My only issue is a mild beef with the headline. While job cuts are very painful to the individuals laid off, these cuts would not result in any service cuts to Keller’s taxpayers. In fact, such cuts are pain relief to taxpayers who will no longer be required to pay people to do nothing.

Waste is painful; good governance is not.


Counting Welfare Recipients

I received my first letter from the U.S. Census Bureau yesterday. Never mind the fact that they sent me a letter explaining that I’d soon be receiving a letter. It was the content of the letter that was shocking:

Your response is important. Results from the 2010 Census will be used to help each community get its fair share of government funds for highways, schools, health facilities, and many other programs you and your neighbors need. Without a complete, accurate census, your community may not receive its fair share.

Before I get to what’s in the letter, let’s discuss what’s NOT in the letter. No mention is made of the Census’s sole Constitutional purpose: the enumeration of citizens for congressional representation.

What IS in the letter insults me, and should insult any thoughtful, freedom-loving American. It is implicitly assumed that not only is it proper for the federal government to provide highways, schools and health facilities, we are presumed to need these and other programs. As if our state and local governments could not possibly provide them.

Well Mr. Census Bureaucrat, we don’t need your welfare. What we need is fair representation in Congress. And freedom, from statists like you.


The Trouble With Blogs

By default, blog posts are presented in reverse date order. That is, the most recent posts are considered the most important.

But date of entry is a lousy indicator of importance. Keeping your devoted readers interested with frequent posts means that your best works are quickly buried where casual readers will never find them.

I don’t remember what I was doing in September, 2009, but I missed a terrific post by Doug on Keller’s budget. I’m reposting it now so casual readers can see where he and I are coming from on city spending.

[Lightly edited for clarity and consistency. Original post is unchanged.]


I had a little time today so I wrote an email to the City Manager about the Budget, it is as follows:

Dan,

As a citizen, I am concerned over the council wishing to put infrastructure improvements on hold in lieu of cutting salaries. Salaries are a rising cost every year, so if you don’t cut them this year and things don’t improve in the economy, you still have the $400,000 from this year affecting next year’s budget.

I feel for any employee having to take a pay cut, but the numbers of unemployed citizens in Keller is nearing 10% and there doesn’t seem to be an end. These are the people having to pay the taxes that support the city; some consideration must be made to them.

The private sector is cutting wages or hours on a daily basis. The company I work for has reduced our employees by over 50% in the last eight months and we don’t know if that will be the end of it. My wife who worked for a large pharma company was laid off in February and it took her until the first of August to find a job. This is a woman who never had to look more than a week or two to find a job at anytime in her life.

Road repair has been behind in Keller since I moved here a decade ago. I have seen my street go from a newer street to one with pot holes and standing water due to lack of maintenance by the city. Without immediate repair, my street and others will be irreparable and will need to be replaced, costing the citizens more money in the long run because the City didn’t do its job. I know you inherited these issues, but please help the Council see that saving money today will cost us all in the long run.

In your budget you state “Development related activities have dropped to levels not seen since 1996 including a reduction of approximately 1.33 million dollars in the last two years” (pg xv) and building permits/development fees continue a steep decline as the proposed budget expects a decrease in FY2010 of $849,000 or 49% from the FY 2009 adopted budget” (page xvi). With those statements, I would have to ask why do we have staffing for 2007 levels if we are seeing 1996 levels? In the private sector, you would have to make the tough decisions and lay people off in those underperforming departments. Why is that not a consideration?

The National League of Cities did a study (http://tinyurl.com/nvs4s9) that was published today in which it it states: (Page 7):

2009 represents a critical turning point for city fiscal conditions. The impacts of the current economic downturn are evident in city finance officers’ assessments of their ability to meet fiscal needs, in projections for 2009 revenues and in the actions taken in response to changing conditions. Since city fiscal conditions tend to lag behind national economic conditions, the effects of a depressed real estate market, low levels of consumer confidence and high levels of unemployment will likely play out in cities well into future years. National economic forecasts are not projecting immediate and substantial improvements in the nation’s economic conditions, meaning that the nation’s cities will most likely still be realizing the effects of the current downturn in 2010, 2011 and beyond. The outlook for the nation’s cities in the next year includes a number of concerns:

  1. Real estate markets tend to be slow to recover from downturns, which will be particularly true this time around as housing values recover from the largest real estate decline at least the past 40 years, meaning that a rapid rebound in property tax revenues is unlikely in the next few years;
  2. Other economic conditions — consumer spending, unemployment and wages — are also struggling and will weigh heavily on future city sales and income tax revenues;
  3. Large state government budget shortfalls in 2010 and 2011 will likely be resolved through cuts in aid and transfers to many local governments as states have historically balanced their budgets in part by such actions;
  4. Three of the factors that city finance officers report as having the largest negative impact on their ability to meet needs are employee-related costs for health care coverage, pensions and wages. Health care costs, in particular,are increasing at a faster rate than city revenues. This reality is unlikely to change in the near future, placing added fiscal strain on city budgets;
  5. Tightened credit markets have made it increasingly difficult for cities to maintain debt-funded projects, particularly for infrastructure, and have resulted in higher debt costs;
  6. Facing revenue and spending pressures, cities are likely to continue to draw down ending balances; and
  7. Public concern about government taxes and spending in the midst of recession, combined with the 2010 election year, conspire to raise the prospect of political efforts to permanently constrain local authority, limiting the tools available to public officials to offset declining fiscal conditions.

All items are pretty much common sense, and seeing the study I wonder how bad next year’s budget will be? You made a statement the other night at the budget workshop that Keller needs to really think about its future revenue streams (in talking about the Westlake Fire Dept. Co-op), I would go one step further and state the City needs to really look at the expenditure side. After 15 years of double digit growth, there is bound to be fat in departments that needs to be addressed.

Thanks for your time,

Doug Miller

He responded within 30 minutes:

Doug,

The Council gave me four major parameters within which to create this year’s budget.

  1. No raises for employees.
  2. No lay-off of employees.
  3. No tax rate increase over the 1 cent they agreed to support for debt.
  4. No service level cuts.

My proposed budget was within those parameters. In order to meet these four parameters and not present a budget with a huge deficit, I proposed an across the board salary decrease.

The parameters were given to me in a budget workshop back in March. Since that time the economy took a turn for the worse (as you know.) I think the Council is now rethinking their four parameters and trying to decide what they are willing to support.

I think this year is a wake-up call. It is true that we may never get back to “normal” and that a “new normal” will emerge in the next year. I think the City will have to respond.

Dan O’Leary

I know my position on the budget isn’t making me any friends at City Hall these days. Again, I go back to the fact that over half of our elected officials work in the aviation business. They have personally seen pay cuts and staffing level decreases. I work in a business that makes the Airline Business look non cyclical in nature….we make hard decisions about staffing levels every day. I have to ask them, would AA still be in business if it had the staffing levels it did in 1995? The answer is no, it would have gone the way of TWA, Eastern, Pan AM, Braniff and a host of other airlines. The difference here is you are asking your constituents to have to pay for your insistence of no staffing or pay cuts, both out of our pockets and in the form of reduced service levels in terms of road repair.

It’s time to face the facts, you need to untie the City Manager’s hands and let him propose a budget without the four constraints you have placed on him, but time is running out. Three of you ran on the platform that prior councils meddled too much in day-to-day operations; let the man do his job. There need to be cuts, and they need to happen this year. Next year or the year after will not bring you back to 2007. The City Manager realizes it; it’s time you do also. If you don’t believe me, read the study I linked to above, it’s a sobering look at what could happen.

Some will ask why I don’t address KISD in the same way….well to tell you the truth, I’ve nearly given up. I said nearly. I did get a response from them today on where they magically came up with the money for the raises, I will try to post it later tonight. Now, I have to get home to watch the Rangers Double Header, probably the most important two games of the season.


Epilogue: In the end, no staff was cut, and no pay cuts were issued. The council balanced the budget by postponing street repairs and perhaps drawing down fund balances a little bit.