Dr. Malcolm Cross
Dr. Malcolm Cross

Carla Stacey Trussell is to be congratulated for her election to the Stephenville City Council, and Stephenville’s voters are to be congratulated for electing her.  She’ll bring more civility to the council’s deliberations, and will thereby improve both its decisions and the process with which they’ll be made.  In addition to the spirit of goodwill with which she sought election, she’ll also bring knowledge, reason, an open mind, and a solid commitment to the welfare of Stephenville.

And not only Carla, but everyone on the city council will need these qualities to cope with the   challenges Stephenville faces, and will continue to face, for the foreseeable future.  Consider:

The city council made an excellent decision in allocating a million dollars for street repair.  One hopes this will be part of a larger program to continuously upgrade and improve our infrastructure—something which everyone seems to agree is necessary to pursue a successful economic development strategy.  But—evidently the million dollars is coming from reserves accumulated by past councils, most of whose members have either retired or been voted out of office, and on the now-discredited advice of a “retired” city administrator who advocated a higher tax rate than the public was willing to tolerate.  So—once the current funds run out, how will they be replenished, if replenishment becomes necessary.  Will the council hope for more money from economic growth, which the supporters of Prop 1 assured us would be supplied,  or will it continue to make cuts in existing services, as several council members have admitted were made in the last budget?  Tax increases should be considered off the table, given what happens to those who’ve supported them in the past.

And speaking of Prop 1, which created the SEDA, which will allocate funds for yet-to-be determined projects, how and when will a director be hired?  So far, despite the centrality of economic development to the current city council, several attempts to hire relevant officials have had an amateur-hour quality, to say the least.  For better or worse, the one council member who did the due diligence in examining the backgrounds and assertions made by new hires—several of whom failed to last long—is leaving the council after one term. 

And of course, in pursuing economic development, the council must decide, once everyone’s in place, on the appropriate strategy.  Should its expenditures be on infrastructure and other projects which will bring immediate benefits to everyone and make Stephenville a more attractive city in which to live and do business, or will it simply dole out political pork, in the form of tax breaks, grants, whatever, to those favored business which can convince it that they’re entitled to benefits to which their competitors are not.

And what about the Pay Plan, which led to more money allocated to payroll?  It’s been phased in successfully, but can it be maintained?  Early on in my service on the council, we concluded that the Pay Plan could not be sustained, so we abandoned it, only to reinstitute it as the 2014 election approached.  Will this city council, with its commitment to spending more on economic development with no new taxes have better luck?  One certainly hopes so.

I recall a conversation I had with someone shortly after I first became a council member in 2000.  Acknowledging that I had won more votes than my opponent and that I had been duly sworn in, he asked whether I had actually won the election.  Before I could tell him how stupid his question was, he explained that whoever “won” would face numerous challenging issues on which he could never please everyone, while the candidate I defeated had won freedom from having to worry about the issues for which I now shared responsibility.  I concluded that even with his caveat I had won, in the sense that I now had the opportunity to do more than talk or write about the issues Stephenville faced.  I trust and hope Carla feels the same way.  So:  Congratulations, Carla.  You won—didn’t you?

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