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Annexation: Why It’s Not a No-Brainer

Stephenville:

So . . . yes, I read the column in Sunday’s paper from Senator Glasgow wherein he expresses his amazement at my “continued critical rhetoric against Tarleton.” If you have not read it, you may wish to do so to give context to this post (column can be found here).

Obviously, I am far less politically experienced than Senator Glasgow and there is much for me to learn. I continually appreciate his willingness to address me directly when he has a different opinion. And that’s just it:

We have a difference of opinion. That is okay.

According to his column, Senator Glasgow thinks: that if Tarleton asks for Farm annexation it is a no-brainer that the Farm should be annexed; public evaluation of Farm annexation threatens the very foundations of the university’s stature, funding, and future; and “it should be the responsibility of the elected officials to work out the problems in a reasonable and rational manner without someone running to the newspaper to express continued complaints whenever TSU needs some action by local governments.” (That newspaper-running someone being little ol’ me, I presume.)

After weeks and weeks of attending city council meetings and work sessions, I think: that Tarleton has asked for water service to the Farm (but has not petitioned for annexation); the city prematurely pushed the annexation button; there are a cluster of unresolved annexation issues; our leaders are working diligently to sort out the cluster; the annexation should be tabled; the cluster should be resolved; the council should re-strategize the annexation plan for a larger portion of the area; Tarleton should petition for annexation of the Farm; and if Tarleton insists it cannot go on without city water in the meantime, the council can sell water to the Farm through the Water Service Agreement available for that purpose.

Oh – and I also think the notion that no one should be “running to the newspaper” sounds like ‘the big boys can sort it out just fine, no need to alert the public.’

But it is the responsibility of the public to seek information on topics of importance to them, to engage in their community, to participate in their government, and to communicate with their neighbors through any available forum of public discussion they wish to pursue.

And by “the public” I don’t mean just the ‘elite’ business leaders referred to in Senator Glasgow’s letter as being the voices who should speak on issues of community importance—I also mean contractors, shop workers, small business owners, stay-at-home moms, teachers, professors, clerks, emergency responders, postal workers, administrative assistants, coaches, loan officers, cosmetologists, accountants, city staff, legal assistants, nurses, realtors, librarians, physicians, students, wait staff, tellers, attorneys, customer service reps, retirees, and you know . . . just, all of us.

Nobody disputes the value of Tarleton.

And nobody should dismiss or diminish the value of public participation in the processes of our government.

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It’s a Multi-Brainer

Senator Glasgow’s column states that “the annexation requested by Tarleton . . . is simply a ‘no brainer.’” To the contrary, it is a multi-brainer.

For weeks now, the council members, mayor, and city administrator have vigorously discussed a variety of logistical aspects related to annexation and the provision of city services to College Farm. Also present at most (if not all) of those work sessions have been: the Public Works Director, the Director of Community Development, the Chief of Police, and the Fire Chief. (Plus me and 1-3 other concerned citizens.)

At any given work session or meeting there has been a concentration of intelligent, experienced minds actively engaged in a substantive, thought-provoking pursuit of the city’s best interest in this matter.

The question of “what’s best for Tarleton?” is a narrowly-focused inquiry, following which the fulfillment of whatever request Tarleton makes is a ‘no brainer’ because the only interest that need be considered is the university’s.

However, the question of “what’s best for Stephenville?” is a broadly-focused inquiry, following which the fulfillment (or not) of a request from any citizen, group, entity, or institution must necessarily involve consideration of a host of competing needs/wants/ideas against finite resources.

We have representatives willing to roll up their sleeves, engage their thinkers, and commit to the long (LONG) hours required for the guidance of our city. Thank goodness.

9 Specific Questions

Senator Glasgow’s column states that “Ms. Slawson and others have opposed this annexation because of the costs to the City of Stephenville for water, police, and fire protection.”

Not exactly.

I did not see Senator Glasgow in attendance at the public hearing in which I spoke, so perhaps he is unaware of what I actually said. (City video from the hearing and a copy of the written version of my comments as submitted to the council are available here.)

Costs of water, police, and fire protection of course matter, but when I addressed the council, it was with nine specific questions. Those questions, underlined below, were asked for the particular reasons below each question. They may not be of interest to you or to Senator Glasgow, but they are anything but fluffy disguise of some kind of self-defeating anti-TSUism. So here they are:

1. Would the annexation, if approved, count against the city’s annual 10% limit? Or is it treated as state-owned and excluded?

With certain exceptions, the city is limited by statute to annexation of no more than 10% of its incorporated area per calendar year. [Local Govt Code 43.055(a)]

One exception where the 10% limitation does not apply is when the area to be annexed is state-owned and used for a public purpose. [Local Govt Code 43.055(a)(2)]

Another exception where the 10% limitation does not apply is when the area is annexed at the request of the owners of the area. [Local Govt Code 43.055(a)(4)]

When a city does not annex its 10% allocation in a calendar year, it may carry the unused allocation forward for use in future years, up to a maximum of 30%. [Local Govt Code 43.055(b),(c)]

Why does this matter? Because:

• The city contains 7,542 acres.
• The city has not annexed any areas for more than three years, so it has the ability to annex up to 30% of its incorporated area, or up to 2,262 acres.
• There are some other development and growth ideas on the horizon that may involve annexation of additional areas and it would be good for the city to use its 30% allocation as strategically as possible.
• If the 420 acres of College Farm are considered state-owned and used for a public purpose, those 420 acres will not count against the city’s allotment. (I’m not sure the Farm will meet both prongs of ‘state owned’ and ‘public purpose’ but this is a question worthy of council and city attorney consideration.)
• And here’s a kicker: my understanding is that if Tarleton was petitioning for the annexation, the 420 acres would not count against the city’s allotment. But according to the council discussions, Tarleton has only made a request for city water and has not requested/petitioned for the annexation—preferring to leave it to the city to sell water without annexation or initiate annexation as a city unilateral action with Tarleton passively ‘not fighting’ it. I don’t think that this approach is a result of any particular ill or malicious intent—but I do think it is poor planning that fails to take into account other strategic annexation opportunities in the area.

2. If the “upside” to annexing this tax-exempt parcel is that it will allow for an ETJ bumpout, to what limits (or what properties) will the ETJ extend?

The city may only annex area that either is within its extraterritorial jurisdiction (“ETJ”) or is owned by the city. [Local Govt Code 43.051]

The size of a city’s ETJ depends upon the size of the city. [Local Govt Code 42.021(a)]

The Stephenville ETJ consists of an area circling the city and extending one-mile outward from the existing city boundaries. [Local Govt Code 42.021(a)(2)]

The City’s map of the Stephenville ETJ as it presently exists can be seen here.

When a city annexes an area in its ETJ, the ETJ expands outward to comprise the area around the new city boundaries. [Local Govt Code 42.022(a)]

Why does this matter? Because:

• One huge reason this matters is Schreiber, our 6th largest employer and a major contributor and asset to the local economy. At present, Schreiber is located outside the ETJ. However, depending upon the layout and size of the annexation undertaken around the Farm and within the existing ETJ, the consequential bumpout could easily result in an extension of the ETJ to include Schreiber (and other land in the area that may be ripe for commercial or industrial development).
• If Schreiber falls within the new ETJ, it becomes a potential for annexation.
• According to information from the city administrator and council members in work sessions, Schreiber has in recent years expressed an interest in obtaining city water services; it may be amenable to annexation to obtain those services.
• As shown on the Erath County Appraisal District website, the collective 2014 valuation of Schreiber’s taxable property (net of any exemptions or production losses) is $61,449,340.
• If included within the city limits, taxable property of that amount multiplied by the current city tax rate of $0.495 would yield $304,174.23 in city tax revenue.

Did you catch that? It’s worth going back and reading that last bullet point again.

That alone seems like a pretty good basis for giving careful, strategic consideration to how an annexation in that area is achieved—and that is just part of the potential commercial/industrial picture along the 281 corridor.

• Extending the annexation reach to the area around Schreiber would necessitate extending the ability of our services to reach that area. A plan for providing water to College Farm necessitates consideration of how we may need to service areas beyond and around College Farm.

• Planning for how to reach areas beyond College Farm affects the planning and development of water and sewer services within College Farm. While Tarleton would pay the cost of the lines it installs to service its water needs at the farm, if the city reasonably anticipates needing a differently sized line for later extension and servicing of a parcel of land beyond the farm, the city is responsible for the cost difference between the two lines. That is, for illustration purposes: if Tarleton needs a 10” line for its water needs it pays for a 10” line; if the city anticipates further development/expansion may necessitate a 14” line, the city bears the cost of the difference between the 10” line and the 14” line. So taking a broad view of the planning for the area is definitely warranted.

3. In last week’s Agenda, an e-mail from Dr. Dottavio to Mark Kaiser on 05/20/14 says that College Farm will be “a large customer for water and sewer services.” What is the anticipated average quantity of water usage at College Farm?

The Agenda I was referring to in this comment is the 05-27-14 Agenda available on the city’s website; the e-mail from which that quote is pulled is at page 19 in that Agenda.

Any time a developer requests services to an area, the city is going to ask some variation of “whatcha gonna be doing out there?” to assess the extent of the need, the ability/inability of the city to meet the need, and the relation of the need to the bigger city-wide picture.

Tarleton’s 2020 Master Plan provides some insight regarding the idealized goal for development of the Farm, but much like with the main campus Master Plan, it is difficult to tell exactly where the rubber of the ideal is meeting the road of reality.

I’ve attended several council meetings and work sessions where the council has asked questions about the university’s plans for development at the Farm. The answers in these meetings have been vague, with general mention of plans for a new ag building, reconfiguration/demolition of certain labs/barns, and potentially some kind of ag-related residential housing, but nothing concrete. The city administrator has reported that he thinks Tarleton is requesting water service in conjunction with a project they might want to begin in or around October. The administrator also reports that a list of the short-term projects may be released soon, but it has not been yet.

Additionally, I attended the public forum Tarleton offered wherein their planning team from Broaddus Planning was to address the university’s short-term growth plans. The speakers spent a good deal of time outlining the vision and projects intended for development within the existing boundaries of the main campus. However, when an audience member asked what the plans are for the Farm, the response was a vague statement that the speakers had just toured the Farm and were not sure what was planned out there yet.

So where does that leave us?

• With a general request for water at the Farm;
• With a statement in correspondence from the University President to the City Administrator that the Farm would be “a large customer for water and sewer services”;
• With the city trying to get some kind of grasp of the extent of the water needs at the Farm;
• With the city eyeing a bigger development and extension/annexation plan for the entire area; but
• Without (or so it appears from council meetings and work sessions) any official, public communication from the university about the specific development plans for the Farm and/or anticipated quantity of usage.

Where’s the emergency? If Tarleton has not even reached the stage in their planning where they can publicly identify what their short-term plans are at the Farm, and is not yet prepared to publicly articulate the extent of their water usage needs – then where is the harm in tabling the annexation to allow the city to prepare a more strategic, informed annexation plan for the area?

4. How does the anticipated average quantity of usage expedite the City’s need for new wells?

The anticipated quantity of usage is a relevant inquiry in at least as much as it relates to whether the additional volume needed by a new “large customer for water” will necessitate the city increasing the priority of drilling new wells.

Why does this matter? Because:

As best I can tell, the cost of a single new well is somewhere in the ballpark of $300,000. [Source: 06/17/14 council work session agenda packet, Page 11 “Capital Improvements – Tentative Priorities” under “Water Production – Airport Well Field-New Well $300,000”]

No small price tag – and that’s for one well.

How soon we face the need for drilling a new well (or multiple wells) is very relevant to the annexation discussion. And not merely the annexation of the Farm, but the potential annexation of and provisions of services to points beyond the Farm (like Schreiber).

5. Will all water, including irrigation, be drawn from the city supply or will Tarleton maintain wells for some purposes?

The Farm contains many acres of potentially irrigable land. It is logical to question whether the water usage needs will include irrigation.

At the 06/03/14 city council public hearing, TSU’s Mr. Minckler stated (if I understood correctly) that the university’s present intention is to rehab its existing well(s) at the farm and continue to use it/them for their irrigation and livestock needs.

However, one of the given reasons for wanting city water is the cost of providing their own well water. In the 05/20/14 e-mail from Dr. Dottavio to Mr. Kaiser, the University President states:

“The university’s mission does not include water services and it is spending considerable dollars to provide its own water source at the Agriculture Center. These dollars could be better leveraged by the city to maintain and improve the water infrastructure and supply for the entire community.”

As indicated from city documents cited in #4 above, the cost of drilling a new well for municipal production purposes is substantial. Although I have not undertaken the research, I would expect the cost of drilling and/or rehabbing a well for production at the Farm would be significantly less—but not inconsequential.

A likely scenario may be that the university will use their well(s) for irrigation and livestock for so long as the wells will operate, and upon the failure of a well will weigh the rehab cost against the cost of transitioning those needs to city water at city rates.

Why does this matter? Because in all likelihood, at some point the Farm wells will fail and the university may seek to tie all of its irrigation and livestock water needs into the city line. Instead of dismissing this scenario for remoteness, we should plan for it.

6. Will the water restrictions in the city Drought Response Plan apply to College Farm?

We all know and understand that the university is exempt from things like property tax and sales tax. So when we’re talking water in a climate that includes neighboring counties who are running out of water, the question of whether the watering restrictions in our city Drought Response Plan (“DRP”) would apply to the Farm is relevant.

According to the City Administrator’s statement at the 06/03/14 public hearing, the university would not be exempt from the DRP.

The Hunewell Ranch Interplay

Intertwined with everything above, there is the added dimension of Hunewell Ranch negotiations.

I like public records, sources that we can all refer to for a baseline understanding of an issue. Prior to the 06/03/14 public hearing, I was having difficulty locating public records that specified what the city is asking with regard to Hunewell.

I was present for 05/27/14 work session exchanges between the council and TSU’s representative wherein the Mayor told TSU’s representative that the big picture water issue is that TSU wants/needs city water at the Farm and the City wants/needs water-related access to Hunewell Ranch. Furthermore, I was familiar with the 05/20/14 e-mail from Dr. Dottavio to Mr. Kaiser, in which the University President states:

“[The university’s vision] requires that we partner with the City of Stephenville at the Agriculture Center and elsewhere to best use the water resources of the community. It is important to Tarleton that Stephenville prosper and it is only through partnerships that we can both succeed. We look forward to additional conversations on how we can work together to enhance the water supply of the community….”

Based upon the council discussions I witnessed and the limited records I could find, my final three questions during the public hearing were related to Hunewell:

7. What exactly is the city asking of its partner with regard to Hunewell Ranch—a request for a drilling agreement, a water pipeline easement, something else?

8. How long has the city been trying to negotiate some kind of water-related agreement with its partner concerning Hunewell Ranch?

9. Since both partners have a water-centric issue they need assistance with, why would we not take the time now to negotiate a mutually-beneficial arrangement for both partners?

The city is (and has been) wisely planning for our long-term water needs.

Work session discussion on 06/17/14 indicates that for at least three years, city leaders have been negotiating with Tarleton for some form of drilling-related access to Tarleton’s Hunewell Ranch, underneath which is reportedly a very rich point in the aquifer. The negotiations are slow-moving, but have involved the joint commission of a water study, the results of which were pending finalization as of this week’s work session. Council discussions indicate the city very much wants and needs to push the Hunewell negotiations forward and pin down an agreement with Tarleton/TAMUS.

In the meantime, a parcel of 536 acres adjacent to Hunewell Ranch became available for purchase last fall, and the city was able to secure a deal for the land. From all appearances, the city is doing everything it can to position itself for well development in an excellent production location.

Now, I don’t think Tarleton is indifferent to the city’s need for access to Hunewell. I think the problem is a disparity of priorities between the three principal actors: Tarleton, City, TAMUS.

The university isn’t in the water business, as its representative has told the council on at least two public meeting occasions. The university wants to be a consumer, not a producer.

The city is in the water business, and is pressing for its long-range production needs.

TAMUS is probably not disinterested, but it is easy to see how the responsibility of overseeing the 11 universities and 7 state agencies within its system may well overshadow the water-planning needs of little ol’ Stephenville.

Why does this matter? Because if access to Hunewell is a vital issue for our long-range water planning needs (council comments say it is), and if the city is having difficulty getting TSU/TAMUS to prioritize the matter for resolution (council comments again say it is), well . . . why keep handing over bargaining chips if the other fella is too distracted to commit to the hand?

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They Don’t Need a Parade – But Do Want to Hear from You

As Senator Glasgow’s column correctly noted, at the public hearing two weeks ago, I was the only person to speak in opposition to the annexation.

He omitted mention that the only person to speak in favor of annexation was a TSU representative.

And he omitted mention that a there were a number of people in attendance with concerns similar to mine who confirmed as much for the council following my remarks.

But that’s okay. The council doesn’t need a parade of people before them to recognize this is a matter deserving of diligent inquiry.

However, I feel certain each of them would be interested in what you think. Even if you, like me, are not one of those business leaders referred to in Senator Glasgow’s letter.

Call them, e-mail them, write a letter, attend a work session, or come to a council meeting — in my experience they will all courteously receive you. They’re your neighbors, after all, and while they can’t please everyone on every issue, your voice matters to them.

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What to Do?

The public hearings have concluded. The next step is for the council to make its decision on this matter at the July 1st city council meeting. Regardless of how that vote comes down, this has been anything but a no-brainer process for everyone involved. Thank goodness.

So, the ultimate question: what should the council do?

When I examine the cluster of unresolved issues (the desirability of using annexation to strategically bump out the ETJ; the as-yet unquantified water usage needs for the Farm and corresponding effect on the city’s drilling timeline; and the city’s stated need for an agreement regarding Hunewell Ranch), I think it would be in the city’s best interest to table the annexation, resolve the cluster, re-strategize, and start over (preferably with a petition for annexation from the university).

Do you think differently? That’s okay. This is no doomsday scenario and there’s no reason to twist it into that. The well isn’t going to dry up tomorrow if we rush to annex and Tarleton’s stature/funding/future aren’t going to crumble if we take the time to critically evaluate what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and whether we can package it better.

I’ve heard TSU’s representative speak several times – not once have I heard him state that there is some emergent situation necessitating immediate water service.

No need to panic though. If Tarleton simply cannot wait for a better-prepared annexation, the city council is already working on a standby Water Service Agreement to sell water to the university as an out-of-city customer.

Economic growth and development of that area is going to require some planning and strategization – and it is worth the city’s investment of time to handle it in an informed manner.

Tarleton is taking the time to carefully plan for the growth and development of the Farm.

Stephenville should take the time to carefully plan for the growth and development of the areas beyond the Farm.

And both of them, along with TAMUS, should be going all-in on an agreement for the city to have water-related access to Hunewell Ranch.

And all of that up there? Those are good, thought-provoking reasons why this annexation is not a no-brainer.

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Whoa There Pardner: College Farm, Hunewell Ranch & the Water (OS:S in the E-T on the 06/03/14)

By wild coincidence (right, babe?), this spring’s local election cycle ended with my overwhelming delight at the voters’ mayoral and council selections . . . and with Mr. Other Such’s cardiologist writing my fella a prescription for blood pressure medication.

Really, the two are not directly related. Mr. Other Such is a calmly demeanored sort (until he shanks a Titlest OB, I hear) and while he is plenty interested in local politics, he’s not inclined to get into a stressed-out lather over any of it. We’ve had a pretty good chuckle over the coincidental timing, though. ‘Cause if we can’t laugh, then, well, aging is blah.

So, he started the meds and I kept going to meetings, digging in various directions,  listening to a motley melody of pingbacks . . . and writing (click to enlarge):

44 - Whoa There Pardner - College Farm Hunewell Ranch & the Water (06-03-14)

Mr. Other Such responded so well to the new meds that he even told me ‘Trophy, you hand over those monkeys we call children and go do something fun for a few hours. I can handle the bananas and hose-down routine for an evening.’ Or at least that’s how I interpreted his “K” text response when I told him I wanted to speak at the June 3rd public hearing.

So on Tuesday evening it was monkeys for him and public hearing for me (cued to video section containing my commentary–if cue does not work on your device you can manually forward to the 1:03:00 mark):

(Copy of comments submitted for record: 06-03-14 Sville Council Meeting – Slawson Comments.)

*     *     *     *     *

An interesting tidbit from Tuesday’s meeting came during council discussion of the previous week’s transaction involving the conveyance of McKewn Street to TSU.

At the 05/27/14 meeting, TSU requested the city convey McKewn to it as essential to a pending residential housing construction project. The council was told by the city administrator that the value of McKewn is approximately $4,000-6,000, but that the cost to TSU of obtaining the two appraisals of the street that the TAMU internal procedures would require them to obtain for a purchase transaction would be approximately $7,000-10,000.* The conveyance matter was presented to the council as an urgency that needed to be decided that night; otherwise the entire project might be delayed at a time when TSU is already some 2,000 beds short of its needs. After discussion and questions regarding the source and accuracy of the dollar amounts presented, the conveyance was approved by the council. [Hogan quite honorably abstained based on his employment; McDanel voted against conveyance for the stated reason that he 'had a hard time giving away a street for free' when the citizens should instead be paid fair market value for it.]

(*Note: these statements/figures are pulled from my notes from the meeting; I believe my notes, taken as the discussion developed, are accurate reflections of the statements made; however, the video of the meeting is not yet available on the City’s website. After the video is posted I will review and if anything I have noted here is incorrect, I will revise accordingly and will post the link to the relevant section of video.)

At the 06/03/14 meeting, discussion arose wherein Councilman Warren relayed that after the McKewn conveyance he visited with the appraisal district and discovered the street to be valued at $18,400. He further visited with a local appraiser who is reported to have previously performed appraisals for TAMU at a cost of $350/each. Councilman Warren expressed his frustration with the council’s decision having been made under pressure and ‘based on unreliable information from the city administrator.’ Upon questioning, the city administrator explained that the figures he reported at the 05/27/14 meeting were given to him by the TAMU real estate office.

Video of Mr. Warren’s commentary can be viewed here (cued to beginning of his commentary–if cue does not work on your device you can manually forward to the 2:01:00 mark):

Somewhere along the line, it certainly seems we have developed some communication problems.

Stephenville, there are numerous considerations that cut in both directions on the College Farm annexation, but ultimately the whole hullabaloo is about water: TSU wants city water at the Farm; the City wants water-related access to Hunewell Ranch. There are a number of questions that need to be asked and discussions to be had before the decision is made about how we help each other out on this issue.

Let’s hope the new council can cut through those communication problems so that the City/TSU partnership can figure out a beneficial give/take for all of us. We have every reason to think a mutually-beneficial arrangement is possible, and every reason to expect both sides to work toward that goal.

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Wherein We Focus on The Good Ahead

Who among us was not exhausted by nightfall Saturday?

But you won, Stephenville: every single one of you who engaged, even passively, in the months of debate and discussion; each person who exercised their critical thinkers about our goals, our challenges, and how best to address both; and every voter who turned out to cast their ballot.

May we all be better for having participated in the processes of our government.

May the council balance you overwhelming insisted upon relieve us of the ill-will that burdened us in past decisions.

May our leaders be well-informed by the clear message from the electorate about our priorities and expectations.

May we all be thankful, truly thankful, for all of our candidates.

And may we all find the grace and humility to not let our differences unnecessarily define us as we move forward, but instead remember that despite those differences, our lives, careers, families, and hearts are all fully invested in the well-being of our community.

Stephenville

We are neighbors.

And much good lies ahead for all of us.

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Open Letter to Stephenville (05-08-14)

May 8, 2014

Stephenville:

Sweet relief on the horizon: the May 10th finish line is in sight! Before we get there though, if you have the fortitude left, there are a few more things we ought to talk about—and for the sake of your blood pressure, I want to give you the signposts right up front: (1) Tarleton’s value; (2) Tarleton’s growth; (3) Stephenville’s growth; (4) council balance is crucial; and (5) how we move forward.

If you’ve felt strongly in either direction about the things I’ve written in recent weeks, this will probably only intensify those feelings. Take a deep breath and relax in the knowledge that if you disagree with me from the very core of your being, that is perfectly okay with me and I will still greet you with the same friendliness and speak to and of you with the same regard as if we’d never had these conversations in the first place.

But if you’ve been a spectator to these exchanges with any confusion or curiosity about why on earth certain sides are so committed to either prolonging or squelching the conversation . . . well, you’re the neighbor who I’m most talking to here. So, let’s talk:

(1) Tarleton’s Value

This is not actually an issue in this election—or, for that matter, in general.

If you’ve been carefully watching the volleying, the only time the value of Tarleton is raised is when it is used as a tool to incite your passion and encourage your heart to close your ears. Take a moment to think about it. Passion is an incredibly effective tool for shortcircuiting reason.

That’s partly why we have to talk about this in stages: because some of us need a chance to have that full-on, legitimately passionate reaction—to let the passion vent its way out like boiling water gushing through a sieve—so that when the emotion has run its course we can take a better look at the real, chunky substance of the issues too big to wash out through that sieve.

Maybe we’ll find a few precious gems; maybe some odd nuggets; maybe a piece or two of petrified you-know. But what you’re not going to find is any question about the importance of TSU, because:

There is no debate about the value and importance of Tarleton, its employees, or its students. Everything else I talk to you about is prefaced with and rooted in a deep, abiding appreciation for Tarleton in both a corporate and an individual sense.

There is no assumption by me that there is any kind of partisan plan or manipulative intent on the part of Tarleton, its employees, or its students. Everything else I talk to you about presumes that the employees of Tarleton are intelligent, servant-hearted, and honorably-intentioned.

The foregoing are the sticky, passion-driven hurdles we have to overcome to get to where we’re going. (We’re going places!)

“Where would we be without Tarleton?” is the proper question to ask when evaluating the blessing it is to have such a revered, thriving institution at our center.

But it is not the proper lens through which we should view our future.

In that context, the proper inquiry is:

“How can we best grow with Tarleton?”

(2) Tarleton’s Growth

Consider for a moment that Tarleton is a forest.

Within that forest we have a variety of trees, and every now and then one of the Lillian Street closure species. View the Lillian tree as an example that should inform us, but don’t get emotionally hung up on it—it’s a tree. The forest is not defined by the tree and that particular tree properly belongs in the forest.

Having noted the tree, we now need to step back and take in the grandeur of the forest. The forest is unquestionably lush and full of vitality and a freshness that we need.

Take a moment and let this settle in your heart: there are FANTASTIC things coming our way.

Now then, with that in mind, let’s move on:

One of the best available tools for evaluating the growth of the forest is the projected campus map contained in TSU’s 2020 Campus Master Plan. (Copy of map can be viewed at: http://tinyurl.com/kj4udzq).

Open the map, take about 2 minutes of your time, and focus your attention on the red and blue areas in the map—those are the projected areas of construction.

Notice where the projections call for campus-adjacent neighborhoods to change from privately-owned to university-owned.

Notice how the projected growth extends from the intersection of Harbin and Washington all the way across to the intersection of Frey and Ollie.

Now, take another 2 minutes and open the itemized “Master Plan Projects” (copy available here: http://tinyurl.com/lcvasws).

These are the step-by-step recommendations for achieving the growth shown in the map, where the ‘acquire X property,’ ‘demolish and construct Y facility,’ and ‘close Z street’ recommendations are made.

Take it all in, take a deep breath, and then let this settle in your heart: there are FANTASTIC things coming our way.

And there are some big, gnarly growing pains coming our way, too.

Every single person who has gotten this far with me should earnestly hope that the growth and prosperity of Tarleton is sufficient for the institution to achieve, at the least, a near approximation of its 2020 Master Plan.

Every single person who has gotten this far with me needs also to realize that in the course of Tarleton stretching itself into the full reaches of that 2020 Master Plan, there is going to be corresponding stress and strain and friction where the existing footprint of the university steps outward onto the toes of some of our neighbors.

It is as reasonable for Tarleton to push forward with its growth as it is for the affected neighborhoods and citizens in general to push back for a bit. There are childhood homes and memory-lined streets involved, there is a natural nostalgia for the simplicity of a remembered time.

Give the sieve a little nudge (*nudge, not shove*), let any emotion run its course, and then let’s keep moving.

(3) Stephenville’s Growth

As Tarleton grows, the demands on our infrastructure and services grow. As the demands on our infrastructure and services grow, the costs of attending to those crucial matters grow. As those costs grow, we must expand the tax base to provide the funds to pay for the infrastructure and services to meet the basic needs of all of our citizens.

We need additional industrial, manufacturing, agricultural, and educational (among other) opportunities that provide quality employment opportunities for all of us; we need more quality employment opportunities that enable us to reinvest in our community through housing, retail, charitable, entertainment, and tax-revenue generating expenditures; we also need more quality employment opportunities so that more of those university students who have spent years studying in our midst can find a place here to apply that learning, as they are some of the gems in our sieve.

Those opportunities are the workhorse that will best bear the load of our infrastructure and services expenses.

What we most need from our city representatives is wise and skillful decision-making to recruit, encourage, and support the right kind of growth.

We cannot keep doing what we’ve been doing for many years and expect for different results to magically find us.

It’s time to do better.

(4) Council Balance Is Crucial

It takes about 5 minutes of looking at TSU’s 2020 Campus Master Plan map and the corresponding itemized Master Plan Projects recommendations to get a reasonably clear picture of two things:

  • There are FANTASTIC things coming our way; and
  • There are some inescapable growing pains accompanying them.

We cannot experience the former without the latter, but there is no reason to let the latter get the best of us.

Whether or not you agree with my ballot-box conclusions, it is imperative that we position ourselves to handle the stress and strain that is a necessary part of the growth we all want to achieve.

It is also imperative that as neighborhoods are displaced and the campus footprint encroaches on hallowed emotional and historical ground, the general populace has a sense of confidence that its government is working in the most impartial way possible to protect the interests of the entirety of Stephenville.

As TSU’s 2020 Campus Master Plan unfolds, the university will be bringing, at a minimum, additional zoning and conveyance requests to the council. There is already pending the matter of annexation of 420 acres of College Farm.

There is no way that everyone is going to agree with the what, when, and why behind every decision our council has to make in TSU-related matters.

But is it a fundamental necessity for the spirit of this community that we all feel like the HOW has been handled with impartiality and without the perception of a conflict of interest.

Transparency is essential.

If we see the neighborhood bounded by Lillian/Frey/Ollie/Shirley converted from familiar houses into campus parking, as contemplated by the Master Plan, we need to not be burdened by the ill-will that accompanied the Lillian Street closure when the matter was decided by the votes of two TSU employees.

We need a balanced council. It is NOT in any of our best interest for there to be a majority of councilmembers from any one employer/entity/interest.

Take careful note: “balance” does not equate to “devoid of Tarleton employees/advisors.”

Balance means: we need a spread where at least half the council is comprised of persons who are not current employees/advisors to Tarleton.

We need that because we also need this: councilmembers who are TSU employees/advisors need to abstain from voting on all TSU-related matters.

That is the only way that the general citizenry (and especially those displaced by the TSU footprint, whether physically or emotionally or both), is going to feel like it got a fair shake from our local government.

Now, unlike the rules for councilmembers in private employment who have a legal duty to abstain on voting in matters involving their employers, it is not illegal for a councilmember who is a TSU employee/advisor to vote on a matter involving TSU.

But you and I both know that in some areas of life there’s a big difference between what is legal and what is right. For our community, this is one of those. For that reason, we need councilmembers who are TSU employees/advisors to abstain from voting on all TSU-related matters.

The next part of the balance two-step is that in those instances where TSU-related matters are at play and those with employment/advisory relationships have honorably abstained, we need a minimum of half of the council still available to deliberate and vote.

So let’s all exercise some reason and foresight in selecting the representatives that we send to the table for us.

NOT because the candidates with current TSU employment/advisory relationships are disqualified or dishonorable—but because the importance of balancing the table transcends the identity of any one individual.

(5) How We Move Forward

The good news: We have an exceptional field of candidates. No question.

The immediate challenge: We have limited spots to fill and hard choices to make about (a) which candidates’ ideas and goals will best meet our collective growth goals, and (b) how best to balance the council in preparation for our continued TSU-related growing pains.

I’ve done my own research and have come to the conclusion that the candidates with the best outlook and ideas for both our growth opportunities and our balance needs are Kenny Weldon, Russ McDanel, Boyd Waggoner, Sherry Zachery, and Jerry Warren.

I’ve made those endorsements to you because I believe each of them is the best choice, because it doesn’t seem fair to me to play some kind of mysterious shadow game with you or with the candidates about who I support, and because my ego is not tangled up in the possibility that the election results might come out differently than my recommendation.

Spend some time between now and Saturday taking stock of who we really are, outside of all the noise of this election season. Drive along the boundaries of the campus and let yourself feel the promising signs of it flourishing. Review the Master Plan, make peace with the fact that those growing pains are coming, and ready yourself. Think about what we need to do to grow with Tarleton.

Then let’s get up Saturday morning, and go vote our future at the courthouse. Let’s make some tough decisions because our candidates need us to do so.

And then let’s thank each and every person who threw their name into the ring for the betterment of all of us and get on with the business of stretching and growing with realistic expectations about our growing pains, a plan for making our way through those, and a renewed optimism for what lies ahead of us.

Vote, Stephenville! Your voice matters.

Respectfully,
Shelby Slawson

 

(Print version of this letter available by clicking here.)

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Response to Senator Glasgow’s Letter to the Editor

Senator Glasgow directly addressed me in a letter to the editor.

My response to his letter is viewable on both the E-T website and in a public Facebook status at:

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Post by Shelby L. Slawson. . . . → Read More: Response to Senator Glasgow’s Letter to the Editor

The Purple Council: Same Song, Second Verse (OS:S in the E-T on the 05/04/14)

I do not haphazardly enter the local political conversation.

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Post by Shelby L. Slawson.

And I do believe this is a matter of importance (click to enlarge):

 

And I believe the exchanges with Mr. Cross on the E-T site both after my letter to the editor and the above . . . → Read More: The Purple Council: Same Song, Second Verse (OS:S in the E-T on the 05/04/14)

How Purple Do We Want Our Council? (OS:S in the E-T on the 04/22/14)

And then there was this letter to the editor . . .

(click image to enlarge)

 

. . . shortly after which I faced a Facebook reckoning.

I made an effort to reply to each critic who appeared to be calling me out directly or seemed to have interest in a . . . → Read More: How Purple Do We Want Our Council? (OS:S in the E-T on the 04/22/14)

Why Should We Listen to You? (OS:S in the E-T on the 04/06/14)

Apparently, now that I’ve made peace with my uterus and the years-long, multi-loss heartbreak in our past, I’ve decided to fill the writing void with local political commentary.

I have zero doubt that certain neighbors would prefer to hear about my uncooperative uterus or cervical challenges or any other anatomical alliteration.

. . . → Read More: Why Should We Listen to You? (OS:S in the E-T on the 04/06/14)

The Vomit Broke Me (OS:S in the E-T on the 03/02/14)

When I send these columns in to the Editress in Chief, I never know which section I’ll fall into when they lay out the issue, nor how many words my little corner will accommodate for a title. So I include a couple of alternative headlines.

More accurately, early on in my illustrious community columnist career . . . → Read More: The Vomit Broke Me (OS:S in the E-T on the 03/02/14)

Don’t Read This! (In 7.5 Reasons) (OS:S in the E-T on the 02/02/14)

 

Headlines with enumerated lists annoy me.

Mainly because they’re overused.

But also because I fall for them.

Not that I’m above intentionally doing something that I find annoying while telling you to pay no attention to the annoyingness.

Clearly.

 

. . . → Read More: Don’t Read This! (In 7.5 Reasons) (OS:S in the E-T on the 02/02/14)