If there’s anything that can be said for the 2020 Kerrville City Council race, there are some strong choices. All six candidates — two for mayor and four for the council — have demonstrated a level of commitment to the community that we should be grateful for.
This is a hard choice.
We do want to offer a word of caution to those who think — thanks to some messaging by those affiliated with the Republican party — that this is a partisan race. It’s not. Political party affiliation is not an element of this race, but some have tried to connect them. This job carries no salary, but plenty of work on issues ranging from streets to water infrastructure and local economic growth.
It’s also important to note that the role of mayor is not a day-to-day administrative one, but one who leads the City Council. It is the job of city manager to be the administrator for the city — with the approval of the five-member council. The council’s job is to hire and set expectations for the city manager, and then allow him or her to do the job.
While the Editorial Board is not making an endorsement, we reject the idea of partisanship in this race. In this editorial, we aim to focus on the qualifications that we think matter most and identify the strengths apparent to us in all who have made the choice to run.
We do feel that Kerrville has made great strides in the last year to attract new business, to manage a budget that could have been wrecked by COVID-19 and to help manage the virus in our community. The question for voters will be: “Are you satisfied with what the current makeup of the City Council has done, or do you think it needs to be taken in a different direction?”
Here are our thoughts on each candidate.
DAVID BARKER, CHALLENGER
Barker brings a deep career in management to the table and believes that this sets him apart when it comes to helping the city navigate growth. In his long career, Barker has worked in a variety of large-scale infrastructure projects, including the construction of the South Texas Nuclear Power project in the 1970s. He also has deep experience in building water infrastructure, which he states as a key component of his campaign platform. He’s right that Kerrville will need to manage its water resources carefully in the years to come.
While Barker is a relatively new resident of Kerrville, his roots here reach back to the 1960s, when he was a student at what was then the two-year Schreiner Institute, where he earned an associate’s degree before heading to study engineering at Texas A&M. Like all of the candidates in the race, Barker shares a profound love of the Hill Country and believes in managing the growth here responsibly.
When it comes to one of Kerrville’s big challenges — housing — Barker has repeatedly said more apartments could help stabilize the situation until more single-family homes can be developed.
Barker stresses fiscal conservatism and believes in keeping the lines of communication open with the public on all matters. His one challenge in the race will be the limitations of the mayoral role, as this is not a full-time administrative job. We hope he’ll be comfortable putting his extensive management experience to use as an advisor to the city manager, while respecting the limits of the mayor’s position.
BILL BLACKBURN, INCUMBENT
Winning this seat in 2018, Bill Blackburn rode a strong wave of enthusiasm to earn the mayor’s seat on the council. On his watch, the city of Kerrville has continued to thrive economically, even during the coronavirus pandemic. The encouragement that the council has given to economic development is important, and this year the city landed Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing to develop a facility here near the Kerrville-Kerr County Airport. This is an important step for the community, but Blackburn will be the first to concede that it also presents a significant challenge because of the city’s current lack of affordable housing.
The collapse of the city-backed Vintage Heights project, which was laden with tax incentives to bring affordable housing that was to be constructed by builder D.R. Horton, demonstrates that building at scale here could prove challenging for developers. Blackburn has kept this conversation at the forefront, and there’s a consensus among members of the current City Council that it will remain a challenge for the city in the years to come.
The coronavirus pandemic has given the mayor’s role significant powers in a crisis, Blackburn has been clear that he puts his trust in the city’s professional managers, including City Manager Mark McDaniel and public safety officials. At the onset, it was Blackburn who took the lead in bringing various entities together to try to get ahead of the virus through regular meetings and updates.
Blackburn moved here in 1984, raised his two children here, and has been actively engaged in a wide range of civic duties outside his years as a pastor at Trinity Baptist Church and later as the executive director of Partners in Ministry. He’s now working with Peterson Regional Medical Center as it works to build a clinic in the historic Doyle Community.
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JUDY EYCHNER, INCUMBENT
Eychner won the open seat on the City Council by defeating her opponent’s father, Mario Garcia, in the 2018 race. A resident of Kerrville for more than 30 years, Eychner is a longtime real estate agent with Century 21 The Hills Realty in Kerrville, and her experience in the market has helped guide the conversation about affordable housing. Eychner has said repeatedly that she views it as the No. 1 problem facing the community. Of course, she brings an insider’s view to the issue, but the urgency has been stressed to the council by many in the community, including Kerrville Independent School District Superintendent Mark Foust, who said housing costs have proven to be an inhibitor to attracting new teachers.
In turn, Eychner has enthusiastically backed several in-fill projects — smaller scale home projects — that are being constructed in the city limits. While the collapse of the proposed Vintage Heights project, which would have been the largest housing development in the city’s history, was a blow to the City Council, Eychner offers agreement that there are other projects ready to come into the community after the announcement of the arrival of Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Eychner teamed with fellow Councilmember Delayne Sigerman to raise money for food drives to support the community. The two have helped raise more than $50,000, which was ultimately administered by the Community Foundation of the Texas Hill Country.
ROMAN GARCIA, CHALLENGER
At 19, Garcia said he will bring a fresh perspective to the City Council, and he’s well versed in the issues. Like all of the candidates in the race, Garcia argues that the city must stay ahead of issues around affordable housing, long-term water supply and managing growth. He started his public service at a young age when he served on the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Committee under former Mayor Bonnie White. Since announcing his intention to run, Garcia has been a regular fixture at council meetings, often asking questions or making comments.
He told us on Monday that he doesn’t have many criticisms of the current City Council, but emphasized that he wants to be engaged in decisions that will have a longer term impact on his generation. Garcia is right in that regard, because this year’s decision to lure Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing will certainly have a long-term effect that will challenge future leaders over the next 25-30 years.
In interviews, Garcia has proven that he grasps the bigger concepts facing the city and could provide a critical eye about future planning. However, he also has mentioned that his hope is to move away from the city at some point, as many young people do for education or work. For whatever period he calls Kerrville home, we commend him for wanting to serve where he was raised.
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BRENDA HUGHES, CHALLENGER
Hughes has been involved in some major activities throughout her years in Kerrville, where she and her husband own a restaurant. Hughes is a devoted animal advocate, serving on the board of the newly formed Kerrville Pets Alive, which aims to lower the euthanasia rate at Kerr County’s animal shelter. She helped lead an effort to overturn a tax district in the 2000s that she felt would have negatively impacted the business community. She’s also a Court Appointed Special Advocate, where she has worked hard to improve the lives of foster children.
Hughes’ devotion to this community is without question, and her deep interest in impacting where this community will go certainly makes her a viable candidate for this council or one in the future. While she’s strongly rooted in her beliefs, we have seen many times from Hughes a willingness to listen to those who might not agree with her opinions.
The challenge for any member of a City Council is the idea of running versus the reality of governing. Hughes has shown a good command of the issues facing the city, especially since she owns a small business, including how the city should grow in the years to come.
DELAYNE SIGERMAN, INCUMBENT
As a former commercial real estate broker, Sigerman brings a wealth of experience to the City Council — one that has often been criticized by some for having too many real estate people on it. However, with the issues that the community is facing, we think that there is an appropriate mix of those on the council who understand the No. 1 issue facing Kerrville — growth. And Sigerman’s experience has proven relevant to many of the planning conversations had by the existing council.
Sigerman has worked in larger places like Houston and Miami, and she brings that cosmopolitan sensibility to the job, but at the same time we’ve learned that she’s very appreciative of what the Hill Country means to her and her husband. She has been a probing voice during City Council meetings on issues of growth and development, and she’s relied on her experience to ask critical questions and help the city move forward.
It was evident from the Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing deal that an engaged City Council that provided feedback and direction helped secure this deal in the efficient way it developed. While not micro-managing, Sigerman’s understanding of commercial development has proven to be one of her most important traits, forcing city staff to answer difficult questions from her about proposed projects.
Sigerman has also been instrumental in raising money for food relief due to the coronavirus pandemic. She also is noted for leading an annual count of the homeless and has been a key advocate and volunteer at the Kerrville Farmers Market.