STEPHENVILLE (April 1, 2018) – This article is part of a series on Stephenville City Council candidates. All interviewees were asked the same questions except questions based on if they had been a city council member before, and the interviews will be presented in Q and A format.
Q: How long have you been a city council member?
A: This is my first term. Two years. I was elected in 2016.
Q: Why are you running for city council?
A: I am really excited about the direction the council has taken, and I want to stay on the council to see some of the things we have started through to fruition. One thing we did this year was reduce expenditures in the budget so that we were able to reduce the tax rate from 49 cents to 48 cents. So that’s exciting for taxpayers. We also had $5.4 million in unfunded long-term debt, and we were able to reduce that, and now we have and $800,000 surplus. That was a huge accomplishment. One of the things I hear people talk about is the streets and their concern about the streets. So, we have a street pavement plan that we go by, and it prioritizes the streets — like these streets are in worse shape so we do them first. In 2010, we were spending about $100,000 a year on streets. The last two years we have spent over $850,000 a year. So we want to continue funding that street pavement plan to improve streets. Something else we have done with the street pavement plan that will help with the streets is we have started what is called a chip seal program, which increases the longevity of the streets before they have to be repaired again, so I want to see this continue. If you’ve been around Stephenville for a while, then you know a really contentious, controversial subject is the Proctor pipeline. We are currently in negotiations to sell some of that water and recoup some of the money on that Proctor pipeline. Unfortunately, that contract was signed in 2004, and it is a 50 year contract. People have to be really careful whom they elect to the city council because their actions can have consequences for years to come. We put no cap on that contract on what we have to pay for Proctor water. So in the first year of that contract we paid approximately 35,000. Today we are paying $235,000 a year for that same water. Since there is no cap, what are we going to be paying by the time we get to the 50th year of that contract? That is really scary. It is so important to elect council members who are careful with contracts and careful to put caps in contracts. We have negotiated to sell some of the water. At least we will recoup some of that 235,000 a year. One of the things that I am most excited about, and I want to see through to the end, is we recently sent our city manager to Dave Ramsey executive training. We are really excited as a city to begin implementing some of the Dave Ramsey principles into our city finances. Then I am really excited about the Tourism and Visitors Bureau that we have started, and I really want to be there for that, and it is really exciting to see the enthusiasm for Stephenville that Julie has. I think it’s going to put Stephenville on the radar to have Julie at the helm. We have also hired a new community services director, Jen Basham. Those are some things we are working on that I want to see through to the end, and I am really excited.
Q: What are the duties of a city council member?
A: I think that you have to be a good steward of the taxpayers’ money. One of the promises that I have made to the citizens is that I would be fiscally conservative with their money. I believe I have upheld that promise. Another important thing a council member has to do is ask questions. I think they need to ask lots of questions. I have been going to council meetings since the 1990s, and I would always sit in the audience and think, “Why aren’t you asking any questions?” They didn’t seem to ask any questions and just rubber stamp staff requests. They said, “Well, the questions are all asked in the back [during other council sessions].” So my very first city council meeting there were a lot of questions I asked. At the end, the council was admonished for asking so many questions that night. We were told it was not our place to be questioning consultants that the staff wanted to hire. That really upset me because it is our place to ask questions the citizens can’t ask and demand answers. I think it’s our place to listen to the citizens and what their concerns are because I think in the past council has been tone deaf to some concerns of the citizens. For example, 87 percent of the people voted against building the Proctor pipeline, and the council ignored their wishes. I still hear throughout town that people are upset that Lillian Street was closed. The citizens didn’t want it closed. They felt like the council didn’t listen to their concerns on that.
Q: What are your qualifications for this position?
A: First of all, I have been actively attending council meetings since the 1990s. So I am very familiar with the council and the issues because I have been at the council meetings since the 1990s. I am very politically active. I hold both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Tarleton. I am an avid researcher. I love to do research and find the answers to questions that might come before the council. I am a voice for the people. I will stand up for the citizens when sometimes it would be easier to sit there and let the status quo be followed. I think because I am retired and am not scared of losing a customer or losing my job for speaking out that it makes it easier. I am not affected by that.
Q: How do you view the pay scale for the city council?
A: Well, the pay scale for the city council is practically nonexistent. It is $200 a month. While I am happy with the $200 a month as a retiree, I do think if we went up to $300 or $400, it might help us to attract more people to run. Currently we have a really hard time enticing people to run for the council. I would certainly not be in favor of it being more than like $400 a month. I don’t think it should be considered a job opportunity.
Q: If elected, what would your number one priority be?
A: I think continuing to follow the street improvement plan because I think streets are an issue for a lot of people, and we are diligently working on that. People have to remember that we have unlimited needs but limited funds. So we are addressing that. We have gone to $100,000 eight years ago to over $800,000. So we are certainly addressing the streets. I don’t know that I can name one thing. Another thing we need to be cognizant of is the repairs that need to be made to our sewer system. We need to find a way to replace the clay pipes in our current system, and, hopefully, since Trump has made infrastructure a priority, it will make federal funds available. Phase one of the East Side Sewer needs to be built, and hopefully with federal funds it will not be such a burdensome expense to our taxpayers. Another thing we need to do is finish our runway extension at the airport. We’ve been working on that awhile, and we need to get that finished.
Q: Are you a conservative or a liberal?
A: I am extremely conservative. I consider myself a conservative Republican. I am currently president of the Cross Timbers Republican Women’s group.
Q: In the last state primary where there was a Republican and Democratic primary, which did you vote in?
A: I’ve always voted Republican.
Q: Rank the following levels of government from most to least important: national, state, county and local.
A: The federal government is going to be at the top because the United States Constitution, after all, affects everything we do. Because of the federal government, we have lots of regulations we have to deal with even at the city level. The next one I guess would be city because the city is what affects us personally the most. It affects our pocketbooks. It especially affects our property taxes. It affects our every day life, our streets, our sewer, our water. It would be a toss up between state and county.
Q: What is your opinion of the recent Texas law change from a conceal and carry license to a license to carry?
A: I have my concealed carry. Because I frequently travel by myself for long distances, I do carry. I think absolutely our founding fathers meant us to be able to defend ourselves and that is why we have the second amendment. We have that right, and they meant for us to have that right. All you have to do is look south to Mexico to see what happens when the guns are taken from the people. Then the criminal element becomes the law of the land because they’ve got the guns and the citizens don’t.
Q: What should the City of Stephenville’s relationship to Tarleton State University be?
A: I don’t think Stephenville would be Stephenville if Tarleton wasn’t here. As we enter this new phase of promoting tourism in the city, I think we need to work hand in hand with Tarleton to promote tourism because a lot of our tourism is a result of Tarleton being here. I’m excited about this new venture and collaborating with Tarleton to put Stephenville on everybody’s radar. We need to promote Tarleton and use Tarleton to increase our presence not only in our region but in the state. One of the things that Sherry Zachary and I have done is we attended some ag tourism meetings. I think we need to look toward ag tourism and promoting Tarleton as the agricultural college as they are, and we can use that to promote ag tourism. Tarleton has the dairy barn they give tours of, and the horticulture center gives tours. We want to get some of those tours on the map. People from the city like to come and see rural life and where their food comes from. So, I think Tarleton is going to be a big asset in promoting Stephenville.
My roots run really deep here in Stephenville. My great-great grandfather came here in 1874 and opened a gin here. So my roots run really deep. I am very passionate about our history and I am very passionate about promoting our history. I am on the Stephenville Historical Museum board. I don’t ever want to see our community not have an appreciation of our history like some communities are now trying to revise their history. I would never want to do anything but embrace and honor our history. One of my avocations is researching all the time. So, right now I’ve been researching rural schools in the county with the eventual long-term goal of writing a book about education in this county. Another thing I’ve been researching lately is the history of the Bosque River, the floods, drownings, dams. What we want to do is put up signage along the trail of interesting facts along the trail. I’ve been working with Keep Stephenville Beautiful. That’s kind of my passion is research and the history of Stephenville and our county.
Q: What was your career before you retired?
A: I was a teacher for 39 years. For about half of that time I taught seventh and eighth grade American history. Again, history is my love and my passion. I am excited that I got to teach something that I love.
Q: What is your degree in and where from?
A: I have both a bachelor’s and a master’s in elementary education [from Tarleton State University], and I have 45 postgraduate hours.
Q: How long have you lived in Stephenville? Do you own property in Stephenville?
A: I’ve lived here 50 years. But my family has been here since 1874. I own two pieces of property. I own my home and another place on 67. I have owned property in Stephenville since 1976.
Q: What is your view on current property taxes?
A: I am glad that the city was able to reduce our property tax rate by a penny from 49 cents to 48 cents. As a council, we are going to look again at expenditures this year and hopefully be able to reduce property taxes once again for the citizens. I think they are a necessary evil. Unfortunately that is how we have to finance the government. We will try to be very frugal with their money and make sure that we are funding necessary needs instead of wants. I want to say how much I am looking forward to working with Doug Svien as mayor. He’s going to be a great mayor. It was Doug that wanted us to implement some of Dave Ramsay’s financial principles, and, as a council, we are going to work together to continue to be fiscally conservative with the taxpayer’s dollars.
I wanted to talk about growth because I know people have expressed concerns to me about “Where are the businesses?” I want people to know that we are excited that the businesses are coming. We are excited about Aldis and Panda Express and the bowling alley and the new hotel.
I wanted to get these people’s names in here because I am really proud of them. There’s Julie Smith and Ashleigh Feuerbacher and Jen Basham. With the new director of SEDA these people are going to put Stephenville on the radar with their enthusiasm for our town. I wanted to acknowledge those people because I think their enthusiasm for our town will be contagious. We are on the radar of some corporations. We have got some great cheerleaders promoting us.
Q: Tell us about your family.
A: I am married [to Rick Trussell]. I just celebrated my 44th anniversary. I have two children [Daron Trussell and Lindsay Deleon]. They are both grown and married. I have three grandchildren. My son is the director of Rec Sports at Tarleton. He is on the parks board and is president of Keep Stephenville Beautiful.
Q: How are you involved in the community?
A: I am president of Cross Timbers Republican Women. I am past secretary of that group. I am also the past secretary of the Erath County Republicans. I am a member of a local book club. I am on the board of directors at the Stephenville Historical Museum. I’m Stephenville’s representative to the North Central Texas Council of Government. The most important thing is I was treasurer for Citizens Against Ranger Tax Annexation [CARTA].