Unsolicited advice to Leander council members

Leander taxpayers elected Kathryn Pantalion-Parker, Jason Shaw and Chris Czernek today to represent them on the city council through May 2022. Congratulations to these leaders and to the citizens who invested time to research the candidates and make an informed decision that will benefit all Leander residents.

What advice would you offer these council members-elect as well as the current members of the council?

The following suggestions are just a start:

  • You were elected to represent the citizens of Leander.
  • Your objective should not be to get re-elected, bloat your resume, carry water for outside special interests, or to advance your political career. If your objective happens to be any of those reasons, please refrain from taking the oath of office.
  • Make your oath of office more than just good intentions.
  • You are not the employee of the City Manager or city staff.
  • The City Manager is to implement the policy you and the rest of the council determine, not the other way around.
  • Respect the city staff and justly reward those who perform well. Keep in mind they are all at-will employees, even those who are first- responders and tasked with public safety. They have chosen, 1) their line of work, and, 2) to work for the City of Leander. No one has forced them into a particular career or employee relationship with the City of Leander.
  • Entities and individuals, including elected officials and staff from other taxing jurisdictions, will attempt to curry favor with you, beginning with seemingly innocuous gifts. You would be wise to decline and return them, no matter how small. The key chain, Swiss army knife,  cup of coffee,  lunch or season box seat tickets today will be the Mont Blanc pen, inside land deal, luxury vacation or child’s scholarship offer tomorrow.  Everything hidden will one day be made known, some sooner than others.
  • Scrutinize and question EVERY line item on every department budget submitted to the City Manager in preparation for the 2019-2020 budget.
  • Scrutinize every expenditure.* It is the tax money of those who elected you.  It is also the tax money of those residents who did not vote for you. It is not uncommon for the obscure, $2.91 expenditure to be the magnifying glass illuminating a larger issue.
  • Do your research before EVERY meeting. Be prepared with tough questions. Then have the courage to ask them, and keep asking until you get a solid answer.
  • If a budget line item does not pertain to providing and maintaining necessary infrastructure (streets, water, wastewater) or public safety (fire and police), it is a luxury.
  • Make it a goal to set a property tax rate at least 5% BELOW the 2019 Effective Tax Rate. The best way to attract businesses to Leander is to not over-tax and over-regulate them in the first place.
  • Do not base your decisions on whether the media will approve. They will not. If they do, you need to evaluate whether you are making decisions that best represent those who elected you. Remember, the media does not cast votes.
  • Civilly disagree with other council members. You were not elected to get-along to go-along.  Differing perspectives and healthy debate is iron-sharpening-iron and will lead to better decisions.
  • Make a decision and stand by it. If it turns out to be a bad decision, be humble enough to own it and file it away for future reference. As Congressman Dick Armey often stated, “There is nothing to be learned from the second kick of a mule.”
  • Make decisions not on the basis of how it will impact re-election.
  • Do not buy into emotional theater or base your decisions on emotions. Such basis for decisions is a recipe for bad policy and long-term, unintended consequences.  Respect those who appeal to you with their concerns, but pursue what is consistently just and merciful for all.

*Suggested decision-making filters:

  • Is this the constitutional role of government?
  • Does it fulfill the social contract?
  • Does this align with Leander’s charter?
  • Is this necessary?
  • Is it redundant?
  • Can this best be handled through the private sector? Through outsourcing and effective contract management?
  • Will the proposal or expenditure truly address a problem?
  • What are alternative solutions?
  • Is it good for ALL residents and taxpayers?
  • Does this create more bureaucracy?
  • What enforcement will be required?
  • What are the unintended consequences?
  • Does this abdicate local control?
  • Can private or charitable sectors be enlisted to address the issue?
  • Is it self-sustaining? i.e. Can it be self-funded?
  • What impact will this have on the quality of life in our community?
  • How will it be funded?
  • What is the short and long-term financial impact on homeowners/renters? Is it affordable without taxing those on the margin out of their homes?
  • In what ways can we collaborate with other taxing jurisdictions to prevent redundancy of infrastructure and/or services?

If you have advice or a decision-making filter you would like to see added to this list, please use the Contact form to submit your addition for consideration.

Copyright © 2019 Don Stroud