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By JEFF PARISH
Paris Economic Development Corp. has a budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, although it didn’t come without a great deal of discussion.
“I don’t know how we can keep doing budgets like this,” said board member Kenny Dority, the lone dissenting vote at a recent budget meeting. “We’re spending every dollar we get in. If we continue this, we won’t have the money to incentivize anything.”
The budget’s actually come down, PEDC Director Steve Gilbert said. Not to mention the fact that the corporation budgets less in revenue than it generally takes in.
Paris EDC schedules about $1 million in sales tax income each year, but actually brings in around $1.2 million. That extra $200,000 goes into reserves. Interest on investments is expected to bring in another $15,000, plus $483,700 from cash reserves for incentives.
“That’s the best way to budget. We’re being responsible,” Assistant Director Shannon Barrentine said. “Instead of hoping we get $1.2 million and budgeting that, we budget for a million flat and we get $1.2 million.”
Between investments and cash, PEDC has about $5.14 million on hand. But that doesn’t mean the money is sitting idle. In fact, most of it’s already accounted for.
“We’re not hoarding cash or sitting on a lot of cash,” Gilbert said. “We’re trying to meet our obligations and manage them effectively.”
Over the next 10 years or so, PEDC has agreed to pay about $4.7 million to help local industry – $5 million if PEDC goes through a process to remove Paris Packaging bonds from its books. Instead, about $2.37 million would be placed in an escrow account and a third party would pay it out.
That basically means the corporation can meet its current obligations, but any future incentives would come from present income, board member Bruce Carr said.
Dority wasn’t alone in believing the EDC could do better.
“What would be better would be to budget $1 million and have expenses of $300,000,” Mayor AJ Hashmi said.
“That’s not doable,” Barrentine said.
Board President Pike Burkhart noted that the corporation’s activities are designed to bring in new business, which raises the revenue for all the local tax-based entities.
Health insurance benefits for staff went up about 15 percent. Costs for things like staff training and travel expenses are down, however. Promotional advertising dropped from $40,000 to $25,000.
“We’ve decided to really dial that back,” Gilbert said of the advertising budget.
“Are you going to replace that with some face to face?” Burkhart asked.
“That’s pretty much our whole approach,” Gilbert replied.
All told, next year’s operating budget – which includes salaries, equipment and similar expenses – is $444,070, a 4.2 percent drop from the current year’s budgeted $463,150. That’s 30 percent of the overall $1.5 million budget, which is down slightly from the current year’s $1.52 million budget. Hashmi noted that with budgeted income of $1 million, the EDC’s overhead is closer to 45 percent and should be lowered – to maybe 35 percent or so.
Barrentine asked what sort of overhead the city runs. Hashmi said he didn’t know and didn’t want to provide inaccurate numbers.
“Irrespective of what it is, it’s high,” the mayor said. “It is high because it is inefficient. There are five people doing what one person could be doing, and there are things that require five people that one person is doing.”
One particular item from the operating budget that raised a lot of discussion was the PEDC’s annual $60,000 payment to rent the depot from the Lamar County Chamber of Commerce. A state grant helped fund the restoration of the building, which required the chamber to lease it back from the city. When the PEDC and chamber separated, Paris Economic Development Corp. got the building.
Many of the requirements in the original building, such as the lease, have since expired, Barrentine noted. That $60,000 includes all utilities, the building and maintenance.
“Why should we do that when we can save $60,000?” Wehrman said. “Sixty thousand dollars is $60,000 of the taxpayers’ money.”
Even getting out of the deal wouldn’t necessarily save the entire $60,000, Dority said. There would be utilities and maintenance to pay for.
Hashmi said it might be possible for the city to lease the building to the EDC for $1 a year, or even for nothing at all, since the corporation is a city entity. City employees could easily maintain the building, he said.
The PEDC-Chamber of Commerce agreement has a 120-day notice requirement to terminate. Hashmi said he would look at the city’s agreement with the chamber to see what kind of similar provisions it might have.
Paris Economic Development Corp. exists to bring in new industry and help existing industry keep going and expand locally. It does that through incentives to the companies.
Historically, PEDC has budgeted its incentives into two accounts – new industry and existing industry. This year’s budget is more detailed. New industry expenses for industrial projects, innovation and other items totals $574,757. Existing industry – which includes Campbell Soup, Highway 24, HWH and others – totals $479,962.
The new industry group includes $85,762 for a contractor called New Industry Attractions, which helps draw retail business to Paris. A separate item — Retail Attractions — is unchanged from this year’s $32,715. The mayor questioned the value of the expense, saying it doesn’t seem to have drawn anything major, like a Target.
Paris’ sales tax, known as a 4A structure, prevents the EDC from providing incentives to retail operations the way it does to manufacturing and industry. But part of attracting industry is quality of life, Burkhart said, and that includes the local retail shopping available. Retail Attractions has helped with Rue 21 and construction at the Paris Towne Center, as well as some pending. It takes time, he said.
“We’ve got several projects that are coming into focus,” Gilbert said. “We really have made progress.”
Some also questioned the PEDC’s continued funding of the Red River Regional Business Incubator. The corporation plans to provide $95,500 of R3Bi’s $171,840 income. Dority said the EDC originally provided a small part of that, and it has grown over the years. Most incubators are subsidized, Gilbert said.
Board member Douglas Wehrman said a Princeton University study showed that every $1 spent on a business incubator returned $7 after five years. R3Bi is only in its second year.
“At what point is enough enough?” Dority asked. “Is it worth $30,000? Is it worth $60,000? Is it worth $1 million?”
R3Bi Director Fred Green noted that his fundraising activities have been hampered some because of new duties the PEDC board has placed on him. And some of those who have committed funding have yet to pay.
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Madaline Chance (far left), constable of Lamar County Precinct 1, is shown Friday morning outside the room where she and her supporters would be allowed in to observe the recount of her May 29 election victory by 14 votes over former constable Randy Boren. The recount left Chance still the winner by 14 votes. (eParisExtra! photo by Charles Richards)
By CHARLES RICHARDS
A recount Friday of votes in the May 29 Republican primary for constable of Precinct 1 confirmed incumbent Madaline Chance as the winner over former constable Randy Boren.
“We manually recounted every ballot that was cast in that race, and the vote came out almost exactly the same,” Republican county chairman John Kruntorad told eParisExtra!
On Election Day, the outcome was announced as 503 votes for Chance and 489 for Boren, a difference of 14 votes.
“The basis for his request was basically the accuracy of the electronic voting machines,” Kruntorad said.
Friday’s recount showed 502 votes for Chance and 488 for Boren — the same 14-vote difference as announced on Election Day.
“There was a two-vote difference — each candidate had one less vote in the manual recount, but we knew there was going to be a two-vote difference because at one of the polling places there had been a ballot jam in the electronic machine,” and two votes were counted twice, Kruntorad said.
“The accuracy of the voting machines is not in question; they are 100 percent accurate,” Kruntorad said. “So I announced the vote that was announced on Election Day stands.”
In addition to challenging the accuracy of the electronic voting machines, Boren noted that election officials did not accept ballots cast by some residents who failed to change information on their voter registration cards since the 911 emergency system address went into effect five years ago.
“That did not come into play today, and it would have been inappropriate for that to come into play,” Kruntorad said.
The only question at issue on Friday was whether the electronic voting machines counted the votes correctly.
It was unknown whether Boren will continue to contest the election — this time in court — based on the provisional ballots that were cast. The significance of those ballots is that those voters will now be put back onto the voter registration list.
The recount occurred at the Lamar County Courthouse Annex — the old post office. In all, it took three hours, from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
“We started with a meeting with the recount team, and I gave them their instructions,” Kruntorad said.
At 9 a.m., he allowed the candidates and their representatives into the room and took about 15 minutes explaining the policies and procedures that were about to occur, in accordance with the Texas Election Code.
Chance had six people with her, and Boren had five people with him. They were allowed to observe the recount.
“They could observe, they could take notes, they could raise their hands and ask me a question, but they could not interact with the team of members counting the votes. They weren’t allowed to speak to them or point to anything. They were simply to observe, and if they had questions they would have to come to me,” Kruntorad said.
Similar to poll watchers on Election Day, the candidates and their representatives could stand behind the recount team at the three different tables where the ballots were recounted. Or they could sit at a table off to the side and physically watch the recount team and listen to them count the votes.
The Texas Election Code requires a candidate who asks for a recount to deposit with the party’s county chairman a fee of $100 for each precinct that he wanted recounted.
There were seven precincts in question, plus early voting, so Boren had to put up a deposit of $800.
The expenses of the recount came to $231 — nine people at $8 an hour for three hours, plus a $15 administration fee.
“He (Boren) will get the remainder of that back — $800 minus $231,” Kruntorad said.
Had the recount reversed the outcome of the election and resulted in Boren being declared the victor, Boren would have gotten back the entire $800 deposit, Kruntorad said.
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By CHARLES RICHARDS
City manager John Godwin has told members of the Paris City Council that he will be asking during the upcoming city budget meetings for “a pot of money” for merit-based raises for city employees.
“I’ll tell you ahead, so you’ll be prepared, it won’t be for all 325 employees,” Godwin said.
“It will be for the best of the employees, but it won’t be across the board,” Godwin said during a 90-minute workshop session Tuesday to make sure everybody was on the same page.
He wants to scrap Paris’ “step-and-grade” pay system in which employees get an automatic raise each year for several years.
“I hate that,” Godwin said, “because what it means is you’re rewarded for living. Not because you were good or bad but just because you got to the next budget year. I’d like to tear that apart.”
Mayor AJ Hashmi and councilman John Wright both told Godwin during a council workshop on Tuesday that they want employee personnel audits to make sure employees are pulling their weight and that department heads are held accountable.
“We want to hold people accountable, and if they don’t do well – if they don’t do what they’re supposed to do,” they won’t get a raise, Godwin said.
He didn’t indicate how much money it would take to pay for the raises.
But earlier in the meeting, both District 3 councilman John Wright and Mayor AJ Hashmi said they’d like to see the tax rate cut. Hashmi said he’d like the tax rate cut by 1 per cent each year for the next 5 years – without cutting essential services.
Both councilmen said they want to see significant increases in productivity on the city workforce, and for department heads to be held accountable.
And Wright noted there is $700,000 budgeted for overtime in the present city budget, adding “I would like for that to very drastically be reduced.”
One of the things Godwin beat out two other finalists for city manager in Paris was his experience with budgets.
“As far as the budget’s concerned, my background is budget,” he said. “I was the budget director of a budget of almost $400 million.”
Hashmi said he’d like at least $250,000 in the budget for each of four problem areas – repair of the infrastructure, clean-up of the city, tear-down of dilapidated housing, and construction of new streets – a total of at least $1 million.
There was no mention of dipping into the city’s reserves to pay for pay raises or for the $1 million that the mayor wants earmarked for infrastructure, streets, clean-up and dilapidated structures in the upcoming budget.
Godwin said significant savings could be achieved by using city staff instead of hiring outside consultants. He said he would like for the council not to hire an engineering company for a $100,000 study of a possible drainage utility district.
“I think that’s something we can and should do in house,” Godwin told the council.
Tuesday’s workshop came as Godwin completed his third week on the job in Paris after pulling up stakes in Fairview, in Collin County, where he had been city manager for the past 11 years.
Godwin also had this to say about the upcoming budget talks:
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From left, newly elected city council members Cleonne Drake, Aaron Jenkins and Sue Lancaster visit following the Paris City Council workshop session on Tuesday. (eParisExtra! photo by Charles Richards)
(Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part package on the developing relationship between members of the Paris City Council and new city manager John Godwin. Part I dealt with the expectations the city manager has of the council, and his short-term and long-term goals. Part II deals with the council’s expectations.)
By CHARLES RICHARDS
Here are the comments of the members of the Paris City Council to new city manager John Godwin at a 90-minute city council on their goals for the coming year, and their expectations of him:
District 2 councilwoman Sue Lancaster:
District 3 councilman John Wright: I have several items:
District 4 councilman Dr. Richard Grossnickle:
District 5 councilman Matt Frierson:
District 6 councilwoman Cleonne Drake:
Mayor AJ Hashmi (District 7):
Increased productivity and lower taxes: I want taxes decreased by 1 percent per year for the next five years, without cutting essential services. I want to have efficiency, better accountability and improved productivity. If we are spending money on certain things and the taxes don’t get decreased, I’m not going to get upset about it, but I prefer that we are able to decrease taxes without cutting essential services.
Better customer service: Residents of this community pay the salaries of the local government, and I think it is a very bad idea not to have good customer relations when somebody is supporting you. What’s happened in the past is water under the bridge, but from today forward, I would like for us to provide customer service like no other city.
Earmark funds: Right off the top of every budget, come what may, I would like 1 percent to be earmarked for dilapidated structures, 1 percent for clean-up of the city, 1 per cent for new streets, and 1 percent for repair of our infrastructure. If we have a $25 million budget, that would be $250,000 for each. If you want to spend more, that is fine, but you would have to spend at least that much, and I would like to start this with the coming budget.
Amend the Charter: I would like to amend the city Charter to require – for all times to come – that money is spent for dilapidated structures, streets, clean-up and new streets by changing the Charter to require it. That would make certain that money is spent for those things every year, from all time to come, regardless of who is on the council.
Business-Friendly Permitting: We have discussed improvement of the permitting process. I’ll not harp on it; we are working on it, and that’s fine.
Cleanup of the city: This is of grave importance to me. Unless you provide a clean-looking city, it will appear that the people here do not care, and industry will not want to come here. Infrastructure repair will require $100 million; cleanup of the city will not require $100 million, so we have to set our priorities. When you have dilapidated structures, people will not come here and invest money.
City web site: You asked about the web site; the web site is horrible; it is pathetic. If we can spend a small amount of money, or some in-house work to improve it, let’s do it. But you know what? If we are going to have to spend $100,000 to improve the web site, I’m not interested, because I can live with it.
City-owned property: If we expect citizens to keep their property maintained, the city must also do its part. When city-owned properties are not maintained, it is complete nonsense for us to expect people to maintain their properties. If we’re out of code ourselves, how can we complain about others?
Lake Crook: Dr. Grossnickle addressed the Lake Crook, and I cannot emphasize any more, we’ve got to do things that make the city attractive and may make people want to come to our city. Whatever can be done to make good use of city-owned properties, we need to do that.
“B-List” Priorities: You mentioned that there is an “A-List” and a “B-List” on mowing city parks. I don’t think that’s good, if some parks in District 1 or District 2 are on the B-List that get mowed only every other week. District 1 and District 2 need the most improvement, and our priorities should be there, so all of that should look clean.
Education on Bonds: I’d like to have the council get education on bonds, how are they used and how are they maintained. If we think we are going to replace the entire infrastructure, and improve the roads, and do this, that and the other, we are never going to have enough money. Whether we decide to take bonds out is a separate issue, but when the time comes if we are to decide on whether we do it or not, I want to be educated.
Hiring Consultants: I intensely dislike the idea that every time we turn around, we hire a consultant. We have got to start doing work in house, whether it be a city planner or whether it be an engineering study.
The first thing is that we need to have a strategic plan, and I want to have a plan that without much modification can go from one council to another without having to change the plan every time we turn around. I will speak on that in a moment.
The plan must be specific with dates, milestones, expected results, accountability, and the financial needs that go along with that strategic plan.
The plan should be clear as to how we monitor the status of that plan and the actions that have been taken.
The plan must be an in-house plan and must be acceptable and agreed upon by all your department heads as well as by the council. In other words, a plan which conforms to me but doesn’t conform to your police chief, and is about the police department, really doesn’t go in the long run. So when you’re creating that plan, you must have all your department heads agree to that, and I think each of us council members, it’s not a question of four or three or two or one, we are all residents, each one of us is important, and I think each one of us must accept that this is the plan and that we are all in agreement on it.
I want to see as a mandatory part of this plan a quarterly report on the progress of this plan, and it needs to be presented not to me but to the city council. It should be a precise action plan of what was accomplished and what was not accomplished.
The plan needs to be both a short-term plan and a long-term plan, and the council should not have to spend the next year asking you for the plan. Parts of the plan may not get done, and parts of the plan may get done, but I want something before the next budget year so that we can incorporate at least certain portions of that plan in it.
I want a department-specific plan. Suppose we are talking about the HR (human resources) department. In our plan, we need to have that the HR department is responsible for the job description of the people, the performance appraisal of the people, address local, federal and state regulations, and hiring and firing of people. So it needs to be a comprehensive plan, not touching just general subjects, but that this department is this, and this department is this.Certain departments – code enforcement for one — need a lot more help than others, and I think those things need to be addressed in that plan.
If the code enforcement supervisor is the only one going and mowing the yards, there is a problem with it. If code enforcement is responsible for maintenance on private property, they need to have adequate staff. If seven council members are wanting to make sure that the city looks clean, then code enforcement needs to have an adequate number of people.We want good equipment for all departments, but that doesn’t mean all the equipment at the fire department has to be the equivalent of a Rolls Royce.
Money for capital improvement should be in the budget for every department so that 10 years down the road when the council is discussing buying something for that department, we don’t take money from one fund to put into another fund. It should already be in place.
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City manager John Godwin (left) talks about his view of the relationship between a city council and the city manager. Listening to the presentation are mayor AJ Hashmi, District 5 councilman Matt Frierson, and District 4 councilman Dr. Richard Grossnickle. (eParisExtra! photo by Charles Richards)
From left are other council members — District 6 councilwoman Cleonne Drake, District 1 councilman Aaron Jenkins, District 2 councilwoman Sue Lancaster, city clerk Janice Ellis, city manager John Godwin and mayor Dr. AJ Hashmi. (eParisExtra! photo by Charles Richards)
(Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a two-part package on the developing relationship between new city manager John Godwin and members of the Paris City Council. Part I deals with the expectations the city manager has of the council, and his short-term and long-term goals. Part II will deal with the council’s expectations and goals.)
By CHARLES RICHARDS
Following is a transcription of city manager John Godwin’s comments to members of the Paris City Council during a 90-minute workshop on Tuesday, as he wrapped up his third week on the job.
Mayor AJ Hashmi called the workshop into session at 5:30 p.m. and announced the purpose: for the council and the manager to discuss city council and manager roles and responsibilities and to discuss the city council’s goals and priorities for 2012-13.
John Godwin: Thank you. I appreciate your time. Just bear with me – I don’t want to insult anybody’s intelligence, anybody’s level of experience, but I kind of wanted to talk about some basic things.
Hopefully, I will get some feedback from you and have two-way communication. It’s important that the manager and the council both agree on what his job is, or else it causes you frustration and it causes me to be unemployed, and I don’t want either of those things to happen. (laughter).
City manager is kind of an odd job for whatever reason. August, hopefully, will mark 26 years for me in local government, and I have still a majority of my family members that don’t know quite what a city manager is.
It is, for whatever reason, kind of an unknown position. People understand that a superintendent in the school district is the CEO of the school district and the school board is there to give policy and direction and those types of things, and adopt a budget.
It works exactly the same way in cities, but for some reason superintendents are well known and city managers are usually anonymous. I tell people I’m a city manager, and they go, “Oh, you’re like the mayor,” and I say, “No, it’s not at all like the mayor.” And they say, “Well, what do you do?” I say, “Well, I run the city,” and they say, “I thought the mayor does that,” and I said, “No, the mayor DOESN’T do that.” (Laughter)
I know you guys know this, but there are some new folks on here, too, and even some of you who have been here a while have been here only a year or two years. A lot of things that you’re used to — because it’s been that way for a whole month or for a whole year or for a whole two years on the council — isn’t necessarily the way it always is in other cities, whether that’s good or bad.
For example, I’ve never run across a city that has a fulltime judge as an employee. That’s nothing against the judge, and that doesn’t mean it’s good or bad, and I’m not suggesting you change it. But if you assume from your governing experience that every city does that – every city doesn’t do that. Every city doesn’t have a fulltime attorney even in house, or an assistant attorney like you do.
Here, you approve everything by resolution, almost. And Kent (city attorney Kent McIlyar) prepares the resolution. I’ve seen bunches of those already just in the two meetings I’ve been to. That’s kind of unusual. It’s not completely undone, but that’s kind of unusual. I say all that just to say if there’s things that seem unusual or odd, or you wonder why it’s done that way, it may or may not be for a good reason. It may be just that’s the way it’s always been done.
As a council, you always have the right to change those kinds of things – the policy things, the processes, your own processes, your own procedures. If you want to do resolutions, do resolutions. If you don’t want to do a resolution for everything, if you want to do a minute order to save time, to save Kent time, anyway, then you can do that, too. I’m not suggesting anything; it’s just something that you can do.
It’s very important that the council set policy, you set guidelines. An example of that is, and hopefully the council knows this and agreed to it at some point in time, but I got a complaint last week or the week before last, about one of the parks not being mowed. It didn’t look good. And people don’t like to go out there because it doesn’t get mowed.
Well, the response from the staff was, “Oh, we only mow it every other week because it’s on the ‘B’ list.” Well, I don’t know, if there’s going to be an ‘A’ list and a ‘B’ list, that’s something that the council really ought to say “Yeah, there’s gonna be an A list and a B list because we don’t have enough money or enough energy or enough whatever it is to keep all the parks pristine.”
Now, if that’s not your policy, I need to know that. I just meant that as an example of staff should not be doing that. That’s a policy thing and staff is not supposed to make policy.
Another example is the health department. It’s my understanding that staff kind of initiated making changes with the health department. Well, the relationship with the health department is the purview of the council, not of the staff.
Now, once you tell us, “We want you to do so and so” with the health department or with the parks, or whatever it is, then it’s time for you to back off and let us do that.
The city manager is the CEO, the COO of the organization. Every employee works for the city manager. No employees work for the council except for the city manager – and the city attorney, only those two.
And, just to be clear on that, and I don’t want to beat it to death, or insult anybody – the last thing I want to do as a brand new guy is to do any of that, but it’s not a matter of the typical chain of command where you’re up here, and then it’s me, and then it’s everybody else. It’s two separate chains of command. It’s you and me, and then over here is a whole ‘nother chain of command. It’s me and everybody else.
So it’s not that they all work directly for me and indirectly for you. By law, nobody works for you except for me and the city attorney. Whereby I reserve the right if I’ve got a problem department or a concern in a department – and I’ve already done this – to go around with one of my supervisors, with his knowledge hopefully, usually, and talk to subordinates.
You don’t have the right to do that. You don’t have the authority to do that. And that’s a violation of the Charter for you to give instructions or to interfere in the operations of the city. And that’s typical of almost every city that has a home rule charter. That’s nothing unusual or odd.
Sometimes, in my job, people talk about how, “Well, it must be really hard to have seven bosses.” And my response to that is always, “I don’t have seven bosses. I only have one. It’s the city council. I don’t have seven individual bosses.”
If one council member says, “Hey, John, go jump off the roof,” my response is going to be, “Put it on the agenda and get three more votes” — because only one of you can’t tell me something to do. The reason for that is not because I’m hard-headed and don’t want to be cooperative, it’s because if one of you tells me to jump off the roof and I do it, the other six are going to say, “Well, you’re an idiot. You can’t do that.”
Also, it needs to happen in a meeting. It needs to be in a posted meeting, and it needs to be on the agenda: “Instruct the city manager to jump off the roof.” So, there’s a process. It’s a process for a reason and it’s got nothing to do with me or my preferences.
Now, little things come along. For the sake of efficiency, I hate bureaucracy, I hate mindless rules, I hate structure that has no point to it, and as you get to know me hopefully a lot better over the next few years – I’m hoping, that’s certainly my goal – you’ll realize I’m about as anti-bureaucrat as there is. I hate that stuff. I hate that mindless, “do things” for no reasons at all.
But there are reasons for that kind of structure, and it’s important that we both understand that and that we both follow that. But for little things, you know, that’s a different deal. Certainly it’s perfectly OK and it’s even encouraged from time to time that you ask for information from staff. If you want to know, “Gene Anderson, how much money did we spent on pencils last year?” ask him. That’s an information request.
If you want to know how many tickets we wrote last year, ask the police chief and he’ll tell you.
Now, I’ll instruct those staff members, when you give information to the council members, copy me on the email, or just let me know that you talked to them, so I know what’s going on, in case there’s an issue or because they tell you something wrong.
Because ultimately I’m responsible for their behavior, and their performance, and if they don’t perform then I need to know that so I can fix it. If they’re not responsive to your request, I need to know that so I can fix it. So information requests, you’re not forbidden from talking to them, you’re not forbidden from interacting with them. They’re not going to shy away from you. If they do, let me know. They’re not supposed to.
But they’re not supposed to take their instructions from you either, except for Kent and myself. And even Kent and myself, we’re only required – and that’s a poor choice, we’re only allowed to take instructions from you — when you meet as a group, and only when you vote.
So to get me to jump off a roof, you’re going to have to put it on an agenda, post it 72 hours in advance of a meeting, and at least four of you are going to have to vote to make me jump off a roof. And then I may or may not do it, and then you can have an executive session about personnel about whether you want to keep around a guy who’s going to be insubordinate about roof jumping.
Remember, as council members, people will go too far one way or another as council members. You’re still a citizen, you still have a right to have an opinion, you still have a right to say “Hey, I didn’t deserve that ticket,” or “Hey, I want to fight city hall,” or you have an opinion on this issue. You always want to try to think about what’s best for the community as a group, not just one individual.
And you’ll have people – some of your probably already have, I imagine — some people will want you to fix their single problem, and that can get you into trouble because you’re there to represent your entire district first, or however you want to put that, that’s up to you, and then also the entire community, not just one person or a friend or a neighbor.
But you don’t give up your right to speak. I’ve had council members over the years ask me like, “Well, I can’t talk during a public hearing because, you know, I’m not a citizen anymore.” Well, yeah, you are. You pay taxes, you vote, you get to talk during a public hearing unless the mayor shuts you down for some reason because you’re misbehaving. He’s the moderator of the meeting and he controls decorum and all that kind of stuff.
I want to pause a moment. Do any of y’all have any questions?
District 2 councilwoman Sue Lancaster: We can get information from a staff member? That’s OK?
John Godwin: Absolutely. If you’ve got something you’re really curious about, I encourage you to do so. Now, sometimes it can be quicker to just ask me and I’ll get it for you. Or ask Janice (city clerk Janice Ellis) and she can get it for you. But sometimes it’s quicker to just go straight to them, and that’s absolutely OK, and again even encouraged, I think.
I say some of this because I tend to be a hands-on manager, and it’s not because of ego or because I like to be the boss. For 15 years, I didn’t want to be a city manager, and after working for a couple of bosses I couldn’t stand I thought, OK, I’ll be the boss.
My management style is I really try to be in charge. I was hired to be the CEO and I intend to be the CEO. I do need you to give me policy direction. I do need you to tell me, “Hey, you know what? We never decided there should be an ‘A’ park and a ‘B’ park,” and if that’s the case, I need to get that fixed, because somebody decided that on their own. That’s not the staff’s responsibility, so it works both ways.
There are certain things you guys are supposed to do. If you guys are not interested in changing the relationship between the city and the health department, then it doesn’t need to change. That’s a policy thing absolutely, and the council should be doing that, not one or random staff members. I don’t know the whole story on that, but something strikes me as a little odd there just from what I’ve seen and heard just in the few weeks I’ve been here.
One of the times that you interact immediately with the staff is on council meetings, obviously, and agendas. To be blunt, there’s been some presentations in the council meetings that I’ve been to that I thought were not as thorough as they should have been.
One of my short-term goals is to improve the information you get — not a whole lot more, but I think there should be a little more detail. Some of the information you got (for Monday’s city council meeting) I had staff members add detail before it got to you.
An example of that was last night I had Shawn to talk about grandfathering on the head shops, because I didn’t want anyone in the audience or on the council to go home thinking “OK, once we’ve passed that ordinance, they’re going to shut all those things down,” because they might be there 40 more years. It just means that they’re a legal, non-conforming use. We hope they’re not there that long, but that’s a possibility.
If you want to make a change in how agenda items are presented and the documents are given – those green sheets (in the packet that each councilman receives on Fridays before each meeting), that’s something that was invented in Paris; it’s not something that came from state law or anybody else. Some city manager once upon a time just created that form. I’ve used similar forms and I think they’re fine, but if that doesn’t meet your needs, you know, let us know.
If you want more data, or a little less data – especially for the new folks, you know, maybe you want to do this for more than two meetings and see how much you need, because at some point it becomes, “I can’t read all this stuff so don’t give me so much.” Because you don’t want inundated to where it just becomes a beating every time you get a packet.
As an example of things I’ll do differently unless y’all tell me differently tonight, is public hearings. Public hearings are open and people can speak for or against an issue, and then the staff explains it.
Well, that’s OK if you already know what the issue is about. I prefer to have the staff present what the issue is ahead of time, because what can happen is people in the audience, they see it for the first time, they don’t know what it’s about, and they get up and say I’m against this because of so-and-so. And then they sit down and staff gets up there and explain it, and they say well, I’m not against it after all. You don’t ever want to do that to your citizens, you don’t ever want to have those kinds of misunderstandings.
So I think it’s important to have staff make a presentation and show this is what it’s about, you know, in advance, before you have a public hearing. I say that just as an example of some of the things I’d like to do a little bit differently.
One of the things I want to get some feedback from you is communication between yourselves and me. I’m used to doing two things. I don’t know how “e-maily” you guys are or are not, but for instance, this is something that’s happened two or three times in the last week or so. I’ll get an e-mail from a staff member that says the western half of the city is on fire and there’s a flood and six tornadoes just hit.
What I’ll do, I’ll forward that e-mail to you. Because you need to know. Somebody’s liable to call you up and say hey, what do you know about that fire, or how come I don’t have water on my street. Because people call their council members, and I don’t want you to be in a position of having to say, “Well, I don’t know. Nobody’s told me a thing.”
Now, for me, the best way to do that is just to send you a group e-mail. I sent you one or two in the last couple of weeks, and I don’t know if you got them or not because I don’t know how often y’all look at those kinds of things. I got one today where there was a water line blew out. I started to send it to you, and I thought well, I’d talk to you tonight and see if that works.
If there’s other ways of getting hold of you, let me know about it, but I really want you to be able to get these kind of newsy things. Something happened, there was a bad fire, or there was a bad wreck, or a water line out. That’s one of the biggest things, if a water line. We had one the other day and they fixed it and it blew out again. They fixed it and it blew out again. We had people without water for a day or two at a time. And I want you to know that, because you may get that call and you need to be in the know.
We don’t ever want to surprise you. If you guys are getting surprised, we’re not doing our job, so let me know, if I surprise you or any of my staff people surprise you. Let me know so I can try to fix that. Because that’s something we don’t want to do.
You need to have information. I can’t always get it to you right away, but with e-mail it’s pretty easy to just send a mass e-mail to all seven of you and hopefully you’ll get it. If you don’t do e-mail, if you don’t check your e-mail but once a week or something like that, let me know and we can fax you or call you. There are different ways to do that, but I want you to get that kind of information.
District 4 councilman Dr. Richard Grossnickle: I have one problem with the email. Mr. Klinkerman (director of information services Kent Klinkerman) insists on changing our password every month or whatever, and I’m trying to get on there and I don’t know what to do. I wish he didn’t have to change the password so often. Unless there’s a serious expectation of a breach of security, we could just have the same password.
John Godwin: There’s a way – I forgot how it works, but we did it the last job I had and it worked well – citizens can get hold of you by using your name @ paristexas.gov. And we had it set up to where it went immediately to your real email, that can be done and that would solve part of the problem. It doesn’t do me any good to send you information if you can’t get it, or if it’s going to be such a beating for you to check it that you don’t even bother. We’ll try to do something about that.
The other kind of communications I’m used to doing, and I don’t want to do something that you don’t need or want, but just give you regular reports on what I’ve been up to and things that are happening in the city. I’ve done that on at least a monthly basis, and I’ve done that as often as every Friday. I don’t know if that’s the kind of the thing that would be valuable to you. And you don’t know because I’ve never sent you one. But again, I like you to know what’s going on.
Now, I don’t want you to think you’re in charge. Because I am (laughter).
But I do want you to know what’s going on, and I want you to know what I’ve been up to and who I’ve been meeting with and where I’ve been going. So I assume y’all would like that kind of thing. Is there a good frequency for me to send you that sort of thing, and finally what is the best way to send that? By e-mail, too, or when I next see you? If you have any thoughts about that, let me know.
Another thing, too, along the lines of communication is communication with the community. I don’t know how many of you look at the web site, for example – if you use the web site. I would really like to have your feedback on the web site. If you haven’t looked at it, look at it and see if you’re happy with it or not happy with it, or if there are things that you think ought to be on there that are not on there.
I don’t know if Paris has ever had a newsletter. Lot of cities have newsletters that you send to your citizens; you can stick it in the water bill. That’s a really good way to communicate with your citizens. Once upon a time, when I was young and lazy, I hated doing newsletters, but I’ve been doing them for so many years now, it’s a good tool. Again, if you don’t do it well, you’re better off not doing at all, but it’s something worth investigating. It’s a good opportunity to get information out to the people.
So many times, lack of information causes problems, for the city, for you as council members, for me as the city manager, for the staff that works for me, and you can avoid a lot of that by communicating. We’re a public entity; everything we do is the public’s business.
Some things you keep in executive session for limited periods of time, but everything we do is public. They’re paying the bills and the public has a right to know what’s going on and often needs to know what’s going on. So I would encourage us to look at opportunities for those kinds of things. It’s just a good habit to get into, because it keeps you from getting accidentally too bureaucratic and too “Well, it’s none of their business; they’re outsiders.” Well, no, they’re not. They’re the stockholders in our organization.
To give you kind of an idea how I approach city management — especially for the new ones that I didn’t interview with back in February or March — I do try to make a lot of decisions, I do not try to belabor and beat things to death. For example, we had a dead tree in a yard, and people were arguing that we (the city) can’t cut down that dead tree. Well, yes we can, just go ahead and cut it down.
I hate bureaucracy, I hate over-thinking and beating stuff to death. Now, sometimes that means I make mistakes. I told people in my last couple of jobs, if you never make mistakes, you’re not doing your job. I don’t want just sit-on-your-hands bureaucracy. A code lien came up that’s been on your agenda – you go and mow somebody’s yard, you cut down their dead tree, or you fix up the place, and you send them a bill and they don’t pay it.
Well, human nature, you want to get your money back, they owe the city that bill, and it’s not fair that the city had to pay that and not get their money back. Well, sometimes those liens get bigger and bigger and bigger, and it gets in the way of things. And sometimes it does make common sense to say, “You know what if you’ll pay 10 cents on the dollar, we’ll get rid of the lien so you can start mowing this every week instead of us going on forever.”
Historically, I’ve just made those decisions like that on my own. But this has already gone to the council level and I wouldn’t presume to do anything like that now because it’s on your agenda and you need to make some policy decisions on that. But that’s an example of things I’ll often do, and you might not even hear about it, but if it makes the city work better, act better, feel better, make our citizens happy, then I’m just going to do it and I’m going to try to empower employees to do that as well.
Now, I’ve had two different things just today, “Well, we can’t do that. We’re not supposed to do that.” I haven’t gotten mad at anybody yet, but it’s inevitable that I will because I hate that kind of answer. So I’m just telling you all that to let you know what you’re getting into with me. Because sometimes you’ll be getting mad at me, but hopefully most of the time you’ll say, “Yeah, cut that tree down and fix that thing, and do whatever.” The problem with making decisions is sometimes you’ll make the wrong decision, but I’m a real outside the box kind of a guy, and I hate rules and too much structure and so forth and so on.
I’ve got a lot of things I’m looking at, I’ve got a semi-action plan till the end of this fiscal year. That’s what – three and a half months? I’ve got a list of 50 things I want to get done by September 30.
I don’t believe in just sticking with the status quo. I don’t think I was just hired to do the status quo. That may mean some reorganization. That may mean some staff changes. Don’t be surprised at anything I might do because I’m all crazy when it comes to that sort of thing. I’m real excellence-driven. I want Paris to be an excellent city.
By that I mean the organization itself. Now, if we can have an excellent organization, that makes the city as a living place and as a working place a whole lot better, too. My goal every time I work someplace is to make it the best city in Texas.
Not to be insulting, but it’s almost a shame how many people I meet almost make apologies to me about Paris. Like, “Oh, you’re still here,” and “Why would you come to Paris?” I just cringe at that, because people in Paris need to go “This is a great place, a wonderful place to work!” And that’s what I’m going to try to help you do.
Now, obviously I can’t do that by myself. I remember reading something about I was going to be brought in here to be a community leader. With all due respect, that’s not my job. My job is to lead the 325 people that work here. Y’all are the community leaders, and my job is to support you and to help you achieve your goals and visions, which we’re going to get to eventually, I promise. But that’s such a huge mindset that I wanted to throw that out there.
I’m working for Paris and I’m all onboard for Paris. I want it to be a great place, and I think that’s absolutely doable. It’s not an easy thing to do to be a great place, but it’s absolutely doable. And like I say, I’ve already got my 50 things – you can’t see them – but I’ve got my list. Some of them are small things like cutting down a dead tree, and some of them are bigger things like reorganizing departments. Trying to improve communications. Those kinds of things.
I’ll stop at that. My vision is that big vision of making Paris a great place, and helping you achieve your visions, which is my lead-in to, What do y’all want me to do?
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