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: Why are you running for city council?
A: I was encouraged by a lot of different people to run, especially in place two. I have a passion for Stephenville and for how our city works. As a long time Texan and resident of Texas, and I’ve been here since 2006, so as a long time resident of Stephenville, when you see how things are going and you think, “I could offer a good perspective and make a good difference,” then I think it’s time to enter into it. I’ve been involved in city politics for several years as a member of the Board of Adjustment. For the last couple of years, I have been the board’s chair. I’ve been asked to do different kinds of responsibilities and serve in different ways with the city, for example serving on search committees for different city positions including the city planner. It just confirmed for me that I needed to throw my hat in this ring.
Q: What are the duties of a city council member?
A: To do our best to put Stephenville as a city’s best foot forward. That means we, as a city council, need to do the best we can to make Stephenville attractive to those who are looking for a nice home and to ensure that the people who live here have a strong school district, have a safe infrastructure, and that we are a strong city. The city council’s responsibility is to do everything in its power to make us attractive to investors, people who want to come in and set up business and create jobs, and make Stephenville a healthy entity. The city council’s role is to craft policies and to approve initiatives that are good for Stephenville and good for business and good for growth. The city council’s job is relatively specific. We need to make sure our city is running in a healthy manner, so that means our police, our fire department are healthy departments and that we do everything that we can to have growth but not growth that hurts the environment and that hurts people. A big thing that is important to me is that there be a sense of civility and diplomacy when it comes to working with various groups in our city including the Chamber of Commerce, people who own properties, new businesses, small businesses, and I am not afraid to say to strengthen our relationships with the big employers in town, including Tarleton State, FMC, Saint Gobain and many others.
Q: What are your qualifications for this position?
A: I am qualified because, one, I’ve served in Stephenville in various capacities, most notably as someone who has been very active on the Board of Adjustment. I’ve never missed an official meeting. I’ve been the president of several different organizations, international, statewide and local. For example I’ve been the president of the Rotary Club. I’ve been the youth chair of the Rotary Club presently. I’ve been the only two term president since about the 1930s of an organization called the Conference of College Teaches of English. I’ve been elected to two terms of the South Asian Literary Association. I’ve been the president of the Texas College English Association. Presently I am the treasurer of one statewide organization and one international organization. I am trusted and respected as a leader and as a servant. Then I am, locally, a court appointed special advocate for children. That is in a three county area: Eastland, Bosque and Erath. The acronym is CASA. At the university, I’ve been an administrator for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. I’ve directed the graduate studies program for many years in the past. I just handed that off to a new person this last semester. I am trusted to do big jobs in every organization and institution that I am engaged with. I am like one of those people that illustrates the axiom, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” I’m that guy. So, for me, I think I am imminently qualified for city council, and I believe that I am the right person for this place – place two. One of the things that really needs to be said too is that I am empathetic. I have a heart. I am compassionate. One of the things that politics has recently seemed to get away from is a sense that we are all in this together. So we need to work across aisles and with each other and across parties. That is why I like that this is a nonpartisan election. It doesn’t matter what party affiliation you are. That’s one of the reasons my signs are purple. It’s not just because I am a Tarleton professor. It’s because those people who know me know that I am not just Republican or just Democrat, that I believe that both Democrats and Republicans care for their country and this city. So I like to think that I can embody the best of both. So blue and red equals purple. That is how I approach things. I have a lot of friends that are very conservative. I myself am fiscally conservative. I believe that we need to do things in the city that don’t duplicate effort or create new offices in the city that are already covered by other entities. I believe that we need to be careful with how we spend our money. But, on the other hand, I am also very pro-growth. I want us to attract businesses. I want us to have a healthy image where people are happy to come to Stephenville. As the board of adjustment member for the last several years, I ruled -oftentimes alone in a very pro-business way. My record shows that I am not just saying this to be elected. My track record shows that I have been pro-growth when people all around me have been, at times, prohibitive.
Q: If elected, what would your number one priority be?
A: There are so many that are important. It’s hard to be an either/or when you are a both/and kind of person. Frankly one of the top priorities for me is to help create a less prohibitive environment for businesses and growth. I see already we have done regarding water and regarding infrastructure and regarding our sewer system. So I would want to support good initiatives there. I feel like the city council’s job is, in some ways, pretty narrow. It’s not like running for governor or lieutenant governor where you have to think about a lot of different issues that are social or political and party-aligned. In city government it’s about how you are spending the city’s money and are you doing things that are good for everybody and not just a small group of people. So I would want to make sure we are spending our money fairly and we are being responsible with it, that we are creating an environment that is welcoming and attractive.
Q: How do you view the pay scale for the city council?
A: Well, I would not vote to raise any kind of city council payments. I understand the idea that you would want to compensate public servants for putting in a lot of hours. I understand that. But, for me, I am kind of a servant at heart. My own inclination is that I will give everything I can to the role of city councilor whether I am paid anything or not. I will say that I don’t think it’s accurate to call yourself a fiscal conservative if you are also making it to where you don’t spend money elsewhere but you spend money on yourself. I don’t think it’s fiscally conservative to not be diplomatic with entities in your community that are doing a job that is important and, instead of critiquing those and trying to make them better, you create new offices and new departments. Therefore you have to duplicate effort and create offices that the city has to pay for. For me, I would just like to be consistent with my position. I believe diplomacy is going to be better than doing something as a punitive measure.
Q: Are you a conservative or a liberal?
A: I’m fiscally conservative and in some ways I am socially liberal. When it comes to city politics, there is no part of my conservativism or my liberality that would make me not be able to vote on an issue that is important to the people of Stephenville. I don’t think they are necessarily mutually exclusive. When I was on the Board of Adjustment, a gentleman wanted to put a business on a corner in town that sold alcohol. To me, especially since that kind of alcohol was legal, I thought that that person’s application should be approved because the paperwork itself was filed correctly. The appeal wasn’t approved even though I supported it. I personally am very moderate when it comes to drinking or alcohol. But, when it came to city business, my liberality did not get in the way of saying that the business should be granted an appeal. Now that same kind of business is outside the city limits, and yet we are not getting the benefit of that business’s taxes. To me it is the more conservative thing, fiscally responsible thing to say, “We want your business and your tax dollars.” That can mutually work with a less prohibitive mentality make sense.
Q: In the last state primary where there was a Republican and Democratic primary, which did you vote in?
A: I purposefully voted in the Democratic primary, which isn’t inconsistent with my identity as a compassionate conservative. In the national election, I am not a straight party ticket voter. There are several offices where I won’t necessarily vote Democrat or Republican.
Q: Rank the following levels of government from most to least important: national, state, county and local.
A: I would say local, federal, state, county. So many of the headlines go to federal issues or federal politicians and federal decisions. But where the rubber meets the road is right here in our own backyard in town. The city government is the one that applies for grants that will help the city and determines where those funds and tax dollars will go in many ways. This is where we live. But we also live within a United States of America. So therefore my second priority there is to vote in such a way that it’s good for people not just in Texas but in Oregon and Colorado and New York. I want to see a consistency across the United States that is good for everybody not just in one state or another and that is not just punishing people in one state or another. That is why I rank federal second because of the bigger issues like civil rights, taking care of everybody including the little guy. I think that is where the federal government is at its best and doing its job and the other things that are about protecting and defending our Constitution of the United States, which also means, of course, we the people. So that is why I would rank local then federal. Then I would state politics are kind of where the rubber meets the road but in your state. It’s like the local and the federal meet at the state level. I want our state to be strong. I want our borders to be secure. But I also know those people who live near the border have different ideas of how to protect us. I believe we need to listen to the voices of people here in Texas and do what’s right, not just for Texas, but for the United States. Then county is kind of the unsung hero. That’s why it’s hard for me to rank them. In some ways, county government is incredibly important when you are driving especially, and you see the difference from roadways from one county to the next. That’s a very simplistic way of looking at county government. County commissioners and judges have a lot of power. It’s hard for me to say state and county are one over the other. They could be equal.
Q: What is your opinion of the recent Texas law change from a conceal and carry license to a license to carry?
A: I know a lot of gun owners and the ones I know are very responsible, so I don’t have a problem with it. I’d like to see what those owners also believe and that is there is nothing wrong with reasonable measures being put in place to protect us, such as things like background checks that are across state lines and that kind of thing. In terms of the recent change, I grew up in a state that allowed rifles in the cab window of your truck. So that recent change doesn’t phase me.
Q: What should the City of Stephenville’s relationship to Tarleton State University be?
A: I am unabashedly pro-Tarleton State University. As the largest employer in Stephenville, I believe as Tarleton goes so goes Stephenville and that we need to have a strong, healthy relationship. That doesn’t mean that I believe that Tarleton should or would ever run roughshod over city needs or concerns. But, I as a professor at Tarleton, I don’t believe that what is necessarily good for Tarleton is bad for Stephenville. In terms of the tremendous growth that has occurred recently at Tarleton, I believe that we will see that level off to a degree. So, as with any time, there will be growing pains, and we’ve experienced that recently with regard to property ownership and renters and the need for affordable housing. But, every year we have 3000 graduates that are looking for jobs and a place to live. So the state university that is in our town is a boon, and, at the same time, it does bring its challenges. But, I think we should work with them thoughtfully. If I am elected, I will be the only representative for Tarleton in our city government, and I think that it is important for Stephenville to have its largest employer represented. I wouldn’t be serving as a Tarleton surrogate. I would be there representing Stephenville as a person who lives in Stephenville, who has grandchildren who live in Stephenville, who has stepchildren who live in Stephenville and many family and friends who live in Stephenville. I’m not running for city council as a Tarleton employee. I’m running for city council as a Stephenville citizen. But I don’t think we have to have a necessarily antagonistic relationship just because Tarleton is having a recent growth spurt.
Q: What is your career?
A: I am a professor at Tarleton State University. I’m 55 years old, and I’ve had a long, interesting journey to that position. I started out as a radio, TV, film major at TCU and then I went to seminary for five years at Dallas Theological Seminary and found that my real gift in life is teaching. I went to the University of North Texas to work on a master’s and PhD in English there. Ever since 1999, I’ve been in the university systems teaching. Avocationally, I am kind of a Renaissance Man in that I have also been a professional musician. I play the saxophone. I am an ordained minister and have performed many weddings and delivered many, many sermons and Sunday school lessons.
Q: What is your degree in and where from?
A: I have a bachelor of fine arts, two master’s degrees and a PhD. I think those things aren’t necessarily bad. I have a deep respect for vocations without any degrees. I have a deep respect and affection for folks in town from all sectors. So, I am not just one of those people who hangs out with PhDs. I enjoy meaningful friendships with people from all walks of life. I believe that in some ways a person’s PhD is actually their family. That’s their form of a doctorate and if they have kids or if they’ve had a career or they’re well-respected in the community.
Q: Tell us about your family.
A: My wife and I live here in Stephenville. I’ve lived here since 2006. My wife’s daughter’s family and her son all live in Stephenville. They moved here because we are here. My stepdaughter has two children. One is two and the other is one. They’re about to enter into the public school system here pretty soon. I have roots here in Texas that go way, way back many generations. My mother was born in Vernon. She is American as can be – freckle faced and red hair. My father is from South Asia. He was the highest ranking Pakistani-American in the Army and Air Force exchange service. He lives just on the other side of the South Fork Ranch in Murphy, Texas. I have two brothers. One lives in New York and one lives in Grapevine, Texas. But, as someone who is the son of an immigrant, I have a very wide and broad view of the world. I am well-traveled. I have been around many countries and places. On the one hand, that makes me understand how complicated and wonderful the world is. On the other hand, it makes me deeply appreciate how special Stephenville is and how awesome it is to come home whenever I travel abroad.
Q: How long have you lived in Stephenville? Do you own property in Stephenville?
A: I’ve lived in Stephenville since 2006 and I have three houses here in Stephenville.
Q: What is your view on current property taxes?
A: As a homeowner and property owner, it hurt, but they were raised statewide. It wasn’t just that Stephenville was singled out. So, I support strong infrastructure. I support a strong fire department. I support a strong police department. As long as those taxes are being used to make sure our roads are better and our fire department and police department are healthy and that we have clean water, then as long as the state was being equitable across the board, I am for it. Now, I don’t want to see taxes going up again soon, and hopefully that adjustment will be the last for awhile. But, as a property owner I am feeling the pinch of those tax hikes profoundly. But, as a good citizen who cares about Stephenville, I am more than willing to pay my fair share.
Q: How are you involved in the community?
A: I am involved at Tarleton State. I am involved in the Rotary Club. I am involved in the Board of Adjustment. I am involved in CASA. I am married to a wonderful woman who is the lead teacher at the child development center at Tarleton. So, I get to watch her interact with and engage with the leaders of tomorrow. As the youth chair of the Rotary Club, I am instrumental in helping with the signature event that Rotary Club does. It’s the Leaders of Tomorrow Banquet. We give scholarships to high school students so they can apply that to their first semester at university, giving the selection of scholarships for students at Tarleton to be used for study abroad trips. That’s a Rotary initiative. I am involved in different ways with literacy efforts here in town to make sure we have dictionaries and books in the hands of children who are not necessarily able to afford going and buying books on their own. I’ve been the MC of the Veterans Day parade for the last two years, and I am the voice of the Tarleton State Marching band, the Sound and the Fury. I also have a radio show at KTRL called the Beatles and Beyond. I’d say I’m very engaged in town. I ring the bell every Christmas for the Salvation Army. My wife and I are often out of town on Sundays, but we do like to attend St. Luke’s Episcopal Church when we are in town.