Cutting taxes while tackling the City of Paris’ many needs ‘will be difficult,’ Godwin says

 

(Editor’s Note: Part 2 of a series — Paris city manager John Godwin discusses the challenge given him by the council to cut city taxes while at the same time significantly increasing city services. He concedes: ‘It will be difficult.’)

 By CHARLES RICHARDS

EParisExtra!

City manager John Godwin

Paris city manager John Godwin nodded and took notes last week when council members gave him a “to do” list that includes spending at least $250,000 each on:

Replacing the city’s crumbling infrastructure,

Building new streets,

Tearing down dilapidated structures, and

Cleaning up the city.

All while drastically reducing the $700,000 a year that the city budgets for overtime.

And oh, yes – mayor AJ Hashmi also asked the manager to come up with a comprehensive strategic plan in the next 12 months and to cut taxes by 1 percent each of the next five years.

“I don’t know if that’s going to be possible. It will be difficult,” Godwin said in a midweek interview. “Cutting taxes is always a good goal, but to do it for five years in a row is perhaps asking too much. We’re certainly going to try.”

PEDC board member Doug Wehrman

“May I make a recommendation?” a reporter asked Godwin in mid-week.

“Sure,” Godwin said.

“See if you can borrow Doug Wehrman’s shirt that he wore to the PEDC meeting on Tuesday.

“Superman?” Godwin asked. “Hahahaha.”

The council told Godwin that more people are needed in code enforcement, and that drainage problems need to be taken care of right away.

“I’ve got a lot of things I’m looking at. I’ve got a semi-action plan — a list of about 50 things I want to get done by September 30th, the end of the fiscal year,” Godwin said.

“I don’t believe I was hired to do the status quo. That may mean some reorganization. That may mean some staff changes. Don’t be surprised at anything I may do because I’m all crazy when it comes to that sort of thing.”

He added: “Like I say, I’ve already got my 50 things. I don’t know if there’s a top five. I mean, they’re not ranked in any order.”

“I’ve got about a six-page list of notes. I kind of consolidated all my notes from the past few weeks yesterday, and then from there I am narrowing it down to things I want to get this summer, right of way,” he said.

“Some of it has to do with some changes that will probably happen in conjunction with the new budget year — maybe some reorganization, maybe some staff changes — not running people off but just doing thins differently. Doing the agenda differently. Some of it’s pretty simple stuff, but just getting things going.”

Some of them, he said, are small things like cutting down a dead tree, and some of them are bigger things like reorganizing department, trying to improve communications — those kind of things.

“But no, it wasn’t hard to get to 50 things. Actually, it was hard to keep it that short of a list, but some of the things will take an hour and a half and some will take six months, maybe. I’m just trying to get myself focused, because the first few weeks you’re here, you talk to so many people, you see so many things, you want to learn about so many things. I think one of the main things is to at least begin to create a mindset in employees that their purpose of being here is to serve people,” Godwin said.

He’s assuming there are things he can do to increase productivity.

“That’s usually the case. There’s not many perfect organizations in government, or in the private sector either for that matter,” he said.

“It’s going to take me a while to know, can you get rid of two people, or six people, or no people. Because at the very same meeting with the council, we were talking about doing more in a lot of areas rather than less. We need more people out mowing grass, for example. So it’s a challenge.”

In a 90-minute interview, Godwin frequently compared managing to coaching.

His father, Fred Godwin, was a longtime high school coach at Harleton and Marshall, and his brother, Mark Godwin, has been coaching for more than 30 years and is now at Hallsville.

Before going into city management, John Godwin was a coach for four years, right out of college. He spent two years each at Arp and Whitehouse as a history teacher and offensive line coach.

“Like coaching, managing is about developing a team, finding out who contributes best, where to put them in the right position so they can contribute to the team the most — holding people accountable, giving people second chances,” Godwin said.

“When the quarterback has a bad game, you don’t bench him. Now, if he has two or three bad games you might bench him. In city government, if a department isn’t performing, there’s a responsibility on the department head to raise the level,” Godwin said.

“I’ll put pressure on them to do that, or, you know, find somebody that can. It’s not fun, but it’s part of the deal.”

Carrying the football analogy further, Godwin said: “There are some employees you have to yell at to make him perform, and the next guy, if I yell at him he’s going to quit on me.”

He added: “You’ve got to know which ones are which, and that’s why I like to be out there and know my people. And I do consider them my people. I consider them like a family, and I’m the dad that sometimes has to discipline,” he said.

“Hopefully you can reward them and pat them on the back more often than not. That’s a better motivator for most people. But you’ve got to know them and know what they need, so you can help them become the best that they can be. You know, what can I do to get these guys to perform and to succeed?”

His first-ever city job was patching pot holes for the City of Marshall as a 21-year-old in 1980.

“I still remember that. I was out at the (public works) shop this morning. , I met a supervisor out there. I told him, ‘Now you’re going to be my favorite department, because my first-ever city job was patching pot holes for $2.75 an hour, doing what you guys do.’

“Those guys get forgotten a lot of time, you know, the people that work in public works, or the guy that’s standing in that six feet hole in the water, like when we had that big water break the other day. It was a two or three day beating for those jobs. I’ve done stuff like that before, so they need to be appreciated, They’re important and they need to know they’re important.”

Godwin said he hopes, with time, that young people look at a job with the City of Paris as a good option.

“I hope over time — and I don’t know if take six months or two years — that people take pride in saying ‘I work for the City of Paris, and that it’s a good thing that they tell people, and they’re happy and they recommend it to their friends and relatives,” he said.

“Instead of, you know, ‘Well, I guess I could work for the city.’ I don’t know if that’s the way it is now, but if it is we need to change it. You know, ‘I think I want to go be a police officer, or I want to work in public works, or I want to be an accountant‘ or whatever it is, for the City of Paris.”

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City manager John Godwin’s challenge: Identifying the 20 percent of his staff who deserve raises, and the 10 percent who need to move on

(Editor’s note: Part 1 of a series: One of the first challenges for Paris city manager John Godwin is to identify the top 20 percent or so of the city’s best workers, who deserve raises, and the bottom 10 percent or so who probably should be encouraged to go somewhere else. Next: Part 2: Godwin discusses the dilemma given him by the council: cut taxes for the next five years while at the same time increasing city services. )

By CHARLES RICHARDS

eParisExtra!

Paris city manager John Godwin told city council members last week that in the upcoming budget discussions he will be requesting significant money to provide raises for the city’s more productive employees.

He’s under instructions from Mayor AJ Hashmi to improve productivity, which resonates with Godwin’s personal philosophy – reward the city’s top employees and encourage non-producing employees to seek employment elsewhere.

Godwin’s strong feelings about salary raises date back to something he experienced more than 30 years ago, when he was 19 or 20 years old and working for a gas pipeline company.

City manager John Godwin

“We were painting pipes, and at the end of the day, I had painted eight. One person painted three, and one person painted one. And, you know, I felt the boss should either fuss at them or pat me on the back,” Godwin said

“I took a lot of pride that I always did a lot more work than anybody else. I would have gotten bored if I sat around and goofed off like those guys were doing,” he said.

“When it came time for raises, we all got the same raise, and I thought, ‘Well, I’m just an idiot for working hard, because nobody cares but me.’ It registered in my mind, I don’t ever want to be guilty of doing that to people who work for me.”

More than 30 years has rolled by since then, and the 53-year-old Godwin has now spent more than a quarter-century in city management.

Now that he’s in Paris, he wants to tear up the city’s “step and grade” pay plan that gives an employee an automatic raise every year.

“I hate that, because you know some people are really good, and I hate them getting the same raise. And yet money is not the only thing that motivates people, but it can de-motivate people. It can make a guy say, ‘I don’t want to work for a place that doesn’t care whether I work hard.’ And he can either quit working hard or maybe go away.”

Employees in the fire department and police department won’t be affected, because they’re under Civil Service.

“Civil Service, unfortunately, tends to the notion of fairness to treat everybody exactly the same. If the NFL was Civil Service, then Tony Romo and the fourth-string tackle would make the same salary. I don’t know that that would make the team better, But it is what it is, and you have to work with what you have. There are good things about Civil Service, but that’s one thing about Civil Service that is frustrating,” Godwin said.

He was asked how he will go about improving productivity.

“The easy answer is technology, better equipment, that kind of thing. But ultimately, work is done by human beings in city government, and you have to find a way to motivate the employees to care and to work hard,” he said.

Godwin comes to Paris after 11 years as town manager at Fairview, a fast-growing community of about 8,000 people in Collin County between Allen and McKinney. Before that, he was at Rowlett, about 20 miles away in northeast Dallas County.

“In Rowlett, we had the fewest number of employees per capita of any city in Texas, and we took great pride in that. I told people, ‘Well, I’ve obviously got the hardest-working employees in the whole state of Texas, because I’ve got fewer than anybody else our size,” he said.

“Now, different people have different mindsets. When I left, the person that took my place, she used that to justify adding 100 employees because, ‘Oh, look how much below the average we are.’ You know, your bad employees gripe about that. They say, ‘Oh, gee, we don’t have enough help.’ But the good employees, they took pride in it. We had nine guys going the work that it took 23 people in Rockwall to do, and Rowlett was bigger than Rockwall. They loved that,” he said.

A reporter said, “Figuratively speaking, your good ones painted eight pipes.”

“That’s right. That’s right. Absolutely,” Godwin said. “The guy that painted one pipe, I got rid of him. And the guy that painted eight pipes got a big raise. And the guy that painted three started painting eight. Or, he went with the guy who painted one.”

Godwin also was influenced by a talk he heard by Jack Welch, longtime chairman and chief executive officer who transformed General Electric into one of the nation’s most profitable companies.

“He said in a typical organization, you’ve got about 20 percent of your people that if they came in and said, ‘I’m quitting; I’m retiring,’ it would just kill your day. You know, what are you going to do without them?

He said there’s about 70 percent in the middle, you know, the ‘three-pipers,’ that you say, ‘Oh, well, we’ll miss you, but have a good life.’

“And then he said there’s this 10 percent, they walk in your door and say, ‘I quit,’ and you go ‘Hallelujah!’

“He said don’t wait for that 10 percent to come to your door. Go ahead and get rid of them now. He said take care of that 20 percent whatever you do, and get rid of that 10 percent whatever you do. And I agree with that completely,” Godwin said.

This interview took place on the day Godwin began his fourth week on the job as Paris’ city manager.

“After being here for three weeks, I don’t even know among my directors (department heads), who’s the 20 percent and who’s the 10 percent. I’ve got some ideas, but I may be wrong. If it’s an average group, according to Jack Welch, that means two of them are really great, and one of them I need to get rid of,” Godwin said.

“Well, you know, I have some ideas after three weeks, but I could be dead wrong. I could have them just opposite from what they really are. That’s the real challenge. You don’t want to run off somebody that’s good, and you don’t want to reward somebody that’s not good – somebody that sucked up to the boss or they got a reputation they don’t deserve. It’s like in football, the coach has to be around the kids long enough to know who needs to be the starting quarterback and who needs to be the bench warmer, and who maybe you need to send off to PE class.”

For the past 16 months, finance director Gene Anderson was the acting city manager while the council conducted a laborious search for a successor to Kevin Carruth, who resigned under pressure on Jan. 1, 2011.

“It’s different for me (than it would be for Anderson),” Godwin said. “I can be objective – or at least I hope I can — because I don’t know these folks very well yet.  And I’ve always valued my ability to do that because I don’t take much at work personally.

“I think that’s a big deal because you need to be able to do that to do your job. You do have to do things that may make people feel bad, and when it comes to firing people, you affect their lives,” Godwin said.

“I’ve fired over 200 people in my career, and I don’t take that lightly. Every one of them I felt bad about, and every one of them I felt like I did the right thing.  A lot of those people later ended up being happy and still are friends of mine even. One told me, ‘Gosh, I needed a kick in the pants.’

“I’ve had people that just, personally, I’d like to strangle that I promoted because they did a good job even though they personally drove me crazy. And I’ve had people that I thought well, he’s just the nicest guy in the world, but he’s got to go.”

Godwin has made it a practice over the years not to get too close to those he supervises.

“You know that old saying about ‘lonely at the top.’ I don’t do a lot of socializing with people I work with. You know, they don’t come to my house for dinner. Their family don’t hang out with my family. You’d like to, because some of them you really enjoy their company. But you just don’t do that,” he said.

“In Fairview, I had people I really relied upon, really cared about, and we had a great management team – very much a family. But you just have to draw those lines because you never know when that great police chief does something that you have to fire him for.

“And you’ve got to be able to do that if it’s called for.

“Now, you hope it’s never called for, but it’s part of the job. It’s the bad part of the job, but it’s what you have to be able to do,” he said.

“You can’t give anybody a pass. I believe in giving almost everybody a second chance, but I don’t believe in giving anybody a pass. I’m big on accountability, too, whatever that might entail.”

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PEDC adopts $1.5 million budget

By JEFF PARISH

eParisExtra!

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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Recount of Chance-Boren constable election on May 29 confirms Chance’s 14-vote victory

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
EParisExtra!

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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City manager tells council he’ll ask for ‘a pot of money’ to boost pay of city’s most productive employees

By CHARLES RICHARDS

eParisExtra!

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.

City Manager John Godwin

“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:

  • Strategic planning: “I’d like to see us in the next fiscal year create a new park plan. The one we have now I think was created in 1995. The master thoroughfare plan I’m told is even older than that.”
  • Planning director: “During the budget, we need to talk about the possibility of an in-house planner or planning director or something of that nature, especially if we do all the planning that we’re talking about doing. It may be that we can get a part-time person to do that.”

 —

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