In a new twist on presenting election candidate information, The Kerrville Daily Times Editorial Board sat down with Kerrville city council place 1 opponents Mary Ellen Summerlin and Roman Garcia separately on KDT Live Facebook broadcasts Thursday and Friday, April 22 and 23. Each candidate was asked a series of questions about their potential roles on the city council, their platforms and issues surrounding their campaigns.
The new format allowed those watching via Facebook to submit questions to the candidates in addition to those posed by the editorial board.
“This is intended to be a casual, comfortable conversation. None of our reporting or the questions asked today are intended to be ‘gotcha’ questions. These are questions intended to get to know you. There will, of course, be some questions about issues, some of what we’ve heard throughout the campaign season, some most likely related to things you will encounter if you take office first. We want this to be an open conversation,” said publisher of The Times, Carlina Villalpando.
Responses are verbatim and have been edited for brevity. To see the entirety of either interview, visit The Times on Facebook, @kerrvilledailytimes.
Garcia looks to bring fresh ideas to city
What is your vision for Kerrville?
I want Kerrville ... to be a place for my generation and future generations. ... I want to give back to the community, and I want to make an everlasting effect for a sustainable future for generations. My plan for the future is to be able to make sure that we have responsible growth within our community. ... We want to keep our small town charm, our culture, our history, what really makes this unique, and I love that.
If elected, what is the very first thing you would like to tackle or the most pressing concern?
I think one of the most pressing concerns right now is — I know we don’t like to talk about it anymore — just COVID. I want us to be able to give a sense of normalcy to the citizens while giving them options for safety measures as they wish. …
Do you feel like there are limitations currently that are preventing that and are you looking specifically to change that? Are there other limitations you see that are preventing people sharing their opinions?
So luckily because of our great state of Texas, the State Legislature created a law that requires every a government body to allow the public to speak at their meetings. ... City council, they’re allowed to put on reasonable restrictions. ... Before in previous administrations, if you didn’t turn in the form that allows you to still go up and speak, as long as you fill out the form afterwards, and the city secretary would get with you to make sure that’s happened. Slowly, I’ve seen they have now required you to turn in your form before the item is called. … (The city council) look at limiting and decreasing the amount of time that you are able to speak. And now you’re required to sign up, according to their agenda, before the meeting even starts. So, the changes I would like to make as I mentioned, is making sure that we get rid of those restrictions because, I don’t believe they’re reasonable.
Do you support granting more permits for outside businesses to come in and expand within Kerrville?
The city council really has to be looking at, OK, is this going to benefit the community? … Are we giving away anything? Are we giving any type of incentives to them? Look at everything objectively, look at the cost benefit analysis of how any type of business or corporation ... how they probably can benefit our community. I think the citizens’ input is an important factor to take in. ... I want to make sure that we have the economy first for them. They are going to bring businesses here. That means people are probably going to be coming here, or people are going to stay here. We have to make sure: Do we have the main infrastructure to also support them.
What topics do you consider gaps in city council discussions, and if so, what are they and what would you do to address them?
I want city council to be diverse in its members on council. I think that’s one of the best ways you can have all matters thoroughly. ... There’s a generational gap there, but also a gap of making sure that while I’m on city council … then I make sure that your questions and concerns are answered to the public as well.
In addressing diversity of life experience, could you speak to your age and how that might limit your life experience and how that play into your roll on the city council?
Everybody has some life experience, but where my experience extends from is being homeschooled. I grew up in a home in more of an unconventional way, I would say. My parents brought me up in a way that ... they wanted them to be a stepping stool for where they wanted me to, grasp all the wisdom that they had so that I would be as knowledgeable or close to as knowledgeable as they were at my age. ...
I have a job. I work for our family business. … I have two other part-time jobs that I started. I started working jobs, I was probably 15 years old. ... I’ve had the experience of criticism and understanding how to take a situation that can escalate and making sure to calm it down. …
I was the umpire in chief. I served on that board, and I trained the umpires. Anybody from younger to me to older than me. I trained the umpires; I paid their salary. I worked with the treasurer on the board to make sure we had the budget to pay for the umpires.
I’ve also worked on and I helped co-found the Patriots Club ... and I currently serve on the board as the treasurer.
I handle my own personal budget, and I saw one of the ads that was put out saying that (I don’t pay) income taxes. … I do pay income taxes. ...
I am still taking my education seriously. … Of course, I don’t have the experience probably of somebody so many years older than me, but I have the experience that I have now. And I think that I can use everything that I have to benefit me. … I think our community should work and can really embrace the youth. The young adults, people of my generation in our community, with the guidance and the leadership of those within the community that have had that experience, I think that’s an opportunity for me to learn from them as well as I go into these positions of leadership.
Do you believe there’s any waste in the city’s budget right now, and if so, what would you reduce?
There are quite a few that by law, they allocate certain funds into certain departments. And I think, taking a closer look at those departments and seeing whether they’re performing to the best of their ability, to the fullest extent that they’re intended to. ... And if not, where can we take some of those funds to make sure that we’re taking care of the basic necessities for the people?
The city charter specifically prohibits partisan party marks in city council elections and service. Do you support the Kerrville city charter on this point? And if not, why not?
I do support the fact that I want the community to really look at the principles and the values (of the candidates), this is a state law issue. … Any person that holds office in there does not hold office with any partisan affiliation . ... But I do believe that it’s really important for our constituents ... to know what principles and what values, each candidate holds.
Some of the things that come up when we talk about partisan politics are issues related to immigration, gun rights and the right to choose for life. How would you anticipate as a council person making an impact on those particular issues?
Everything that happens at our local government level, it impacts us directly. The city council has a responsibility to not only represent you and your needs ... and make those decisions for you directly, but also as a direct representative of you. They have a job to also represent you at a higher level, and if that means lobby to the state legislature, to the governor for any type of issue that rises, that’s really our job. Those issues do go to a local level, and I think it’s important.
Our community input is needed ... but we can’t directly affect that alone. It has to stem from multiple communities coming together.
What is the status of your campaign financial reports?
I believe it was alleged in October, one in January and one in April; those are all turned in. Those are all good to go. In fact, a complaint was submitted to the Texas Ethics Commission. That complaint was then reviewed. … They found that they didn’t have sufficient grounds to move forward with the complaint. ... (While the) complaint was being reviewed by the ethics commission, I looked at all my reports, corrected anything that I needed to, and I’m now fully in compliance. ... That was a mistake on my part and I’ll own up to it.
What specifically about water resources needs to be addressed?
The issue on the water as we continue to grow and as businesses continue to be here ... is whether we have enough to sustain the group of people that are here, the community that’s here. As we continue to develop more housing, that means more water needs. ...
We really need to be looking at more resources for our community. Our Guadalupe River is one of the city’s biggest assets. I think not a lot of cities have access to that, and we are very grateful to have that. I think we can be using that as well as one of our main sources as well as looking at other surrounding areas before competing cities a Boerne or a San Antonio need to get that.
Would you describe yourself as a change candidate, someone who is going to come in and shake things up?
I would describe myself as a fresh kid, basically, like a new kid. I do have a different perspective. As I said last year part of my tagline was a fresh perspective for the future, and I believe the information that I have in the foresight to look at the future of Kerrville. … Every action that city council takes is going to then be burdensome or a benefit. ... I don’t look to go in and start creating chaos and shake things up with everybody and get a big argument, but I want to be able to have more of that dialogue in order for the city to flourish for the future.
Is there anything that you would love to change in regard to the current body of work?
I took a look at that during the campaign and what Mrs. Summerlin has said in keeping the momentum going with our current council and that everything’s going … fine. It’s perfect. Those are those her exact words that don’t fool me. But it’s never perfect. Nothing’s ever just right. ... I believe there’s always something more that we can be doing for our citizens and that’s where it comes into play with looking at every single thing that we do. And next time we go about it, seeing how we can do better than last time.
What would be your plan for helping to bridge the gap between generations?
It takes one person to make a difference. It’s not until maybe somebody sees that somebody like them can be in a position of leadership on city council, and they realize that if I could get elected, they also can have that impact, whether it’s going and speaking at our meetings, going and advocating for something, applying to be on a board. It takes one person to really make that difference for an entire community.
There’s been discussion about raising the service rates for water and sewer 4% of the next budget and then 2% each of the following year. What would your vote be on that increase?
I would have to take a look at ... Why do we need to raise the tax? ... I think one of the biggest things that city council needs to do is really educate the community on the purposes of taxes or any type of local ordinance that they want to enact or enforce. And I think a reason for that is ... we need to conserve water more. … Not everybody has access to the same water sources. It’s great that we have access to the potable water, but not everybody has access to that. … sometimes I’ve seen council lower taxes for the people that use the potable water, but then raise taxes for those that are using the other water to make up and balance that. And that’s not fair.
What is your opinion on the current city manager?
I respect him, I really do. He has a very tough job and he’s very knowledgeable at what he does. … I really do look forward to working with him.
What do you find most appealing about your opponent?
What I find most appealing about Mrs. Summerlin is the fact that she has been involved in city government for a good amount of time. ... I think she has the information and the knowledge.
Summerlin expressed she didn’t really appreciate the attack ad. Do you feel like it was an attack ad?
She did bring that up in our chamber forum and asked me to disavow the ad. Honestly, at the time I hadn’t even seen the ad in the paper. I didn’t know the contents of it. And so I was not prepared to respond to something that I had not seen and be able to give an educational response on that. ...
That ad was not put out directly by me at all. It was put out by people that I do know that are supporting me. … After, I did my own research and looked at them. I had to make sure that the information that they put out after I saw it was their backup information to support that, because I do not support putting out any false information. … I’ve seen the information that they provided me, and and I’ve seen how that does balance in the facts. ...
After look talking with my supporters about the information that they put out, (she) did bring one candidate, Beto, to our city, and unfortunately, he did support those ideals (gun control). She did support him financially. …
She was also endorsed by the Hill Country Texas Democratic Women, and she was, I think, part of their legislative chair for that group.
Who would you want to thank for getting you to the place where you are today?
I owe it a lot to my family, my parents, to the community and to all of my supporters for really taking a chance on me the first time and showing your support on somebody new. … I really do appreciate the community for embracing me and giving me the opportunity, a chance to represent you on council. ...
This journey has not been easy, but I didn’t expect it to. It comes with the job and I’m prepared for it. This isn’t an experiment with me as well. I’m ready for it. I’m ready to do the job of the citizens. I’m ready to listen to you. I’m ready to be open-minded, and hear your concerns and take my principles and my values to make a decisive and objective decision to benefit everybody.
Summerlin seeks to stay the city’s course
Why are you running?
I wanted people to have a candidate who supports the path we’re on, who likes the direction the city’s going, doesn’t want to change things drastically, wants to just keep on in the same good way, the same good path we’re on. I think our current council has done a fabulous job. If Gary Cochrane had decided to run again, I probably wouldn’t have even been tempted.
What’s the most pressing concern for the city, the first thing you’d like to tackle?
I think the big challenge before Kerrville is growth. … We’re an attractive part of the state, and growth is going to come our way. The challenges of that for the city are to make sure that the infrastructure keeps up — not just the streets and the pipes under the ground, but the fire department, the police department, the parks and development, services, everything will grow and we need to make sure that we keep up with that. …
The other concern is that we use our ability to provide enhancements for people who want to bring a business here to choose the ones that fit best into this vision that the community has for its future, which is to keep a small-town feel and a clean environment, that kind of thing.
What should the city do about housing availability/affordability?
The city has done some really creative things. I’ve bragged before on the Lennar subdivision. … More than 100 houses in a middle price range, the kind of houses that people bid on in Kerrville if you have one to sell, that’s the price range they want. The city owned that land, the city provided that land, recruited builders to come and make a proposal. … We provided the land, the update to Olympic Drive … and the biggest investment was probably the new lift station.
The prospect of inflation-related costs is looming for next budget year. If revenues were to stay the same where would you stand on tax increases and reductions in spending?
This year, the council will be evaluating. Are people still feeling, around here, so much stress that we need to do the same thing we did this year and lower the tax rate so that the total that comes to the city is not increased? Or are things recovering that we can let the tax rate stay the same even though appraisals have increased and that will generate more total money. … I know my opponent accuses me of raising taxes because I didn’t vote for a tax rate reduction when I was on the council. The tax rate, I thought, could stay the same without hurting anybody. It would have generated more income, and people would have paid slightly, very slightly, more taxes.
How do you feel about city candidates running without political-party affiliation?
One of the things that’s made local government so appealing to me is it’s nonpartisan. It’s just people; we don’t separate ourselves into political parties on the city council and have platforms that we have to adhere to or anything like that. We’re just problem solvers. … It’s so refreshing compared to the gridlock we have seen in Austin and the gridlock we have seen even worse in Washington.
How do you distinguish yourself from your opponent?
I approve of the way this council operates; I’m not the change agent in this election. I’m the person who’s saying if you like what the city council’s been doing for the past couple of years, expect more of that …. expect me to devote myself to the issues that really matter to this community and only to the issues that the city council can really influence.
The city council is not going to have anything to do with any proposed legislation on immigration reform or on weapons regulation. That’s not the city council’s business. We’re not going to have anything to do with that this term or any term. I think we need to save our energy and our passion for what we can influence, which is streets, water, drainage, parks, development, good, conservative financial management — (and) fire and police.
Should the city council be involved in getting more entertainment options for families with young children, like a bowling alley?
When there is a business that can be run on a for-profit basis like a bowling alley, that’s not really for the city to do, that’s for some private company to do that can make the investment and then, over time, make enough money to pay for that, a little profit. I wish somebody felt like it could be supported here. … As we grow, as we have more families and a bigger population, we’ll be more attractive to more retail outlets and more entertainment outlets. Meantime, though, we do provide an awful lot of wonderful park resources.
What do you think of installing security cameras in the parks?
That would be a very big change, and I’d have to know a lot more about the details of is it any kind of way financially feasible to do something like that. How do we draw the line between safety and Big Brother’s watching you? … Those are questions that need a lot of discussion and a lot of community input.
Is there anything the council’s not doing or talking about that it should be?
I really can’t think of anything that the city should be talking about that it’s not.
Do you support a sewer rate increase, and if so, should the rate increase equally to all users or be based on the volume of waste property owners put into the system?
Our water and wastewater rates compare very favorably with other cities our size. ... There’s probably room for them to go up a little bit, and we certainly don’t want to fall behind on the improvements we need to make and the maintenance that we need to continually do. … Ideally in city government, you look for the fees people pay … to pay for the operations of the system — that should wash. There should be enough income from water and wastewater (fees) to fund what needs to be done. Sometimes there’s a big expense that needs to be financed a different way and then we look at our other options, and raising rates is one. We want to do that carefully and slowly and want to make sure we don’t punish people for whom a slight increase would really put a lot of stress on their budget. … Charging more for the bigger users encourages people to do conservation around their homes, water less and more carefully. …
What do you think of the current city manager?
I helped hire Mark McDaniel, and I think he’s great.
Traffic at times gets congested, so how can that be improved, especially in the downtown area?
We are in a little bit of a bind with our main streets, because they belong to (Texas Department of Transportation), not the city. It’s up to TxDOT when they get renovated, when they get widened. I don’t have a lot of criticism of TxDOT, but I just say the bind for Kerrville is that it’s not always our decision. We go to TxDOT with our requests, with our hopes, but of all the stop lights in Kerrville, I think three belong to the city; the rest belong to TxDOT.
If your opponent is elected, what do you find most appealing about him and what good things do you think he would accomplish?
I think my opponent is genuinely committed to serving in elected office. You’ve seen him run twice in close succession, and it’s stressful and exhausting. He’s committed, he’s passionate about wanting to serve in elected office, and I think we’d expect him to show a lot of energy and a lot of dedication to learning everything he’ll need to learn. He talks a lot about wanting to hear from the citizens, and I imagine he’ll cultivate them and look for ways that he can receive their input, and those are all good things.
Anything you want to add?
I’m disappointed in things like attack ads. I think that’s not Kerrville’s style. I really think that I represent the broad middle of public opinion in Kerrville which is, I would summarize, that we have a great town, and we just want to make it better going forward.