Kerrville voters have an important decision.
Two city council seats are up for grabs. The work of city council has potential to affect local residents’ day-to-day lives more than any other part of government.
The Kerrville Daily Times Editorial Board met with the four candidates vying for these seats. The candidates offer unique takes on issues but also share a few similarities and concerns for our city — such as a near-universal worry over Kerrville’s lack of affordable housing.
Each candidate demonstrates different strengths and priorities. We will share some of what those conversations revealed, but it will be up to voters to decide which of these issues and concerns resonate enough with them to earn their votes.
Running for the Place 1 seat are George Baroody, currently serving in Place 2, and local real estate agent Gary Cochrane.
Baroody says he’s an advocate for “the little guy,” Kerrville residents he says might otherwise lack a voice. He has a history of scrutinizing the costs and benefits of city spending, and prides himself in asking questions and regularly offering dissenting opinions.
Cochrane says his focus is providing vision and leadership, and easing dissent and division on city council. He says it’s important for him to maintain a big-picture vision and provide direction, rather than attempting to manage the details of daily city operations, like a ship captain stuck in the engine room.
Baroody’s chief concerns include achieving affordable housing and creating opportunities for Kerrville’s lower-income residents — preferably by raising income levels via job growth and training programs.
He’s also concerned about the city’s debt and the possible gentrification of Kerrville’s older, more economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Baroody’s attempt to explain the potential for development and revitalization efforts suggested in the Kerrville 2050 plan has caused some residents to fear losing their homes.
While Baroody acknowledges these standards are not yet law, he warns residents of potential displacement either due to increased property values as neighboring areas improve, or by being “priced out” if the city chooses to enforce higher minimum property standards than residents can afford to maintain.
The extensive amount of time Baroody spends walking city blocks and talking to residents is admirable, but we are concerned with how Baroody has approached this topic and the potential tension, fear and mistrust it may have sparked in our community.
Baroody has positioned himself as the outsider on council, frequently and publicly questioning city officials and staff over spending, code enforcement and other issues.
He said he doesn’t see dissent as an issue — suggesting it’s not questions that compromise civility at city hall, but disgruntled responses.
Baroody’s opponent, Gary Cochrane, emphasized infrastructure and economic development as issues he’s most passionate about. However, he is quick to add he’s not wild about financial incentives and believes it’s important to handle public/private partnerships with caution.
Cochrane’s goals include achieving more affordable, attainable housing for the community, and he said infrastructure and marketing of city-owned land for development are among the ways the city can address the shortage.
Water issues also are important to Cochrane, as he was on the Economic Improvement Corporation when the water reuse program was initiated.
Cochrane views his candidacy as an extended job interview, and — as with any job interview — he hopes the town will choose the most qualified candidate.
His civic engagement record is solid. Cochrane has served on a number of area boards, including as board president of Parks and Recreation and on the board of Habitat for Humanity. It’s clear Cochrane has worked closely with city officials in the past and has a good rapport with them.
When asked what he felt was most appealing about his opponent, Cochrane quickly noted Baroody’s passion, and he acknowledged Baroody’s appeal to those interested in heavy control and scrutiny of government.
But Cochrane took issue with what he sees as Baroody’s seeming focus on representing only one group of residents. Cochrane said a city councilor should be interested in serving and representing all of Kerrville.
Running for Place 2 are first-time candidates Kim Clarkson and Mario Garcia. Both grew up in Kerrville before moving away for a time — and both eventually found their way back home.
Clarkson is well known to many in Kerrville, having served in some capacity on a number of boards, committees and charitable groups. She sees her candidacy as a natural extension of that service.
Garcia is an independent IT consultant who says his childhood memories of Kerrville as a quaint, open community are motivating him to run for office to preserve that small-town community.
He says he believes the city, as it exists now, is in the midst of an identity crisis — that the city is trying to become something it’s not, something different from the city he knew and loved as a child.
Like the other candidates, Clarkson cited infrastructure and affordable housing as some of Kerrville’s greatest challenges. She sees quality-of-life projects such as the Kerrville River Trail system as a way to draw better-paying jobs to the community.
Clarkson also said she’d like to see more civility on council, especially in dealings with city staff.
More comfortable with the city’s debt service structure than her opponent, Clarkson suggested that such spending was part and parcel of being a viable community and cited the city’s own internal caps and steady tax rate as examples of previous civic leaders’ fiscal wisdom.
Her history of service demonstrates civic pride and commitment to participation, and while not the same as direct experience on council, no doubt does provide her with some additional insight on city government.
An ardent advocate for the city’s 2050 plan, she favors a long-term, big-picture approach to city governance, perhaps the area where she differs most from her opponent.
In contrast, Mario Garcia prefers an approach that focuses on immediate priorities and readily achievable goals and improvements. He said he prefers taking on smaller, incremental projects.
A Navy veteran who returned to Kerrville after living for a time in Austin, Garcia is concerned about Kerrville changing and losing its identity. He prefers to focus on providing services and meeting immediate needs of existing residents before supporting projects intended to draw tourists or new residents.
He said his first focus would be on improving some of Kerrville’s neighborhoods, which he described as the true heart of the community.
Regarding civility, Garcia said he welcomes criticism of his own ideas and believes council members should be able to weather such criticism without taking it personally.
In his view, major projects, such as the recently approved Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, should go before voters, while still acknowledging that taking every issue or debt increase to the ballot box would unduly hamstring city leadership.
He suggested council focus on small projects and immediate concerns and said he would push for more outreach on the part of officials — hitting the pavement to get input from residents directly.
To what extent the council would be able to effectively engage at that level on a regular basis remains to be seen, but promoting additional input from residents is always an excellent idea.