Two of the three candidates vying for mayor of Gonzales met at the Gonzales Junior High School auditorium Wednesday, April 10 to discuss their plans for the city. Incumbent mayor Connie Kacir and candidate Rob Brown shared their visions for addressing various municipal challenges and how they plan to move the city forward at the mostly-cordial event. Bob Burchard, the third candidate in the race, was unable to attend the forum because of an unchangeable out-of-town appointment.
Not even a slowly-slipping microphone could stop the candidates present from answering questions that covered a range of topics from Float Fest to Victoria College. Kacir had the opportunity to set her tone first, emphasizing her accomplishments in office thus far and celebrating the groups that helped her attain those achievements.
“All of my accomplishments have made Gonzales stronger,” Kacir said. “Reflective of a mayor successful in the team approach.”
Brown, on the other hand, used his opening statement to establish a message of community unity and long-term planning.
“My desire is to empower the citizens of our community to see this opportunity we have to steer us in the direction that ceases to ignore the citizens and business owners here and seeks to unite us under the banner that gave Gonzales its place of honor in history,” Brown said.
Both candidates toed their lines established in opening statements throughout the forum.
Greatest challenges facing city in coming years
After a contentious special election in March that saw voters reject a proposed city tax abatement, the city’s financial health seemed to be on the forefront of both candidates’ minds. Kacir and Brown both mentioned restoring the city’s fiscal standing as a key issue.
Kacir went on first ensuring a “business-minded” council carefully follows the city’s financial condition and identifying new revenue streams to fund city expenditures as other important challenges.
Kacir also took time to address Brown using a quote from the city’s charter in his opening statement.
“Financial health is the responsibility of the mayor and the council, Mr. Brown,” Kacir said. “That is in the charter. It is not the staff’s responsibility.”
Brown’s answer focused more on promoting governmental transparency as a means of preventing future scandals and financial issues, as well as ensuring the city’s infrastructure problems are addressed.
“There needs to be a restoration of faith in the administration of Gonzales,” Brown said. “We have all heard the voices that shout out for transparency, and stronger bonds between the citizens, the businesses and the city.”
Fixing specific infrastructure problems
Brown took a careful approach to the question of addressing infrastructure concerns. He once again called for measurable goals, listed by priority, that are meant to be implemented over the coming decades.
“We could patch things up in a few years,” Brown said. “But then the future elected officials would inherit a larger mess.”
Kacir used the first part of her response to counter accusations thrown at city council during the recent rollback election.
“After the citizens of Gonzales were educated with the facts, replacing the false accusations, our citizens voted against that rollback,” Kacir said. “The citizens won that election.”
She then turned her attention to plans the city already has budgeted to address infrastructure problems.
“The city budget is transparent, projecting infrastructure projects out for the next five years,” Kacir said. “This year we had scheduled, water: 215,000; waste water: 294,200; streets and drainage: 523,600; electric: 259,000 and parks: 45,500.”
How to bring business, industry and tourism
Both candidates were in agreeance that there needs to be more cooperation and coordination between organizations that promote economic growth. Kacir proposed several tangible policy ideas on all three areas of the question including: promote expansion of existing businesses, evaluating an airport expansion and marketing new weekend tourism packages.
Brown proposed integrating the chamber of commerce, Gonzales Economic Development Corporation and Tourism board director “under one roof.”
“To have these three powerful resources under one roof would make for a powerhouse of ideas and implementations that would work toward the common goal of improving our opportunities in this area,” Brown said.
Cuts coming if city loses J.B. Wells case?
A court battle for the possession of J.B. Wells Park pitting the City of Gonzales against a Travis County based Presbyterian seminary is nearing its two-year anniversary. As the lawsuit continues to drag on, the storm cloud it’s cast over the city government lingers.
Just three weeks ago, city council struck down a proposal to allow J.B. Wells Park to be used as the hosting site for Float Fest, a five-year-old music festival that currently finds itself without a home. Despite the park having other large-scale events on its upcoming calendar, Kacir and the council voted unanimously against the Float Fest proposal claiming the risk of hosting the event proved to be too much of a liability in the suit.
Brown approached the issue with cautiousness and claimed that if the city loses, the cuts would come “naturally.”
“In this scenario (the city losing) moving forward, we can expect there will be fewer responsibilities needed with the day-to-day operations of J.B. Wells, which in turn causes fewer services to be needed,” Brown said.
Brown sees repurposing those potentially affected employees as an alternative to outright cuts. He also suggested assisting those that would be unable to be repurposed in finding new employment.
Despite the fact the city lost in district court, Kacir firmly stated that she believes the city will win the appeal. However, in the event that they do lose, she said cuts will be only be made to the J.B. Wells budget and all other city services would remain at normal operations.
“We received the land 30 plus years after his (J.B. Wells Sr.) death from a life estate which did no maintain those improvements,” Kacir said. “I believe that park is everything and more J.B. Wells Jr. and Sr. ever imagined it to be.”
Kacir also mentioned the park currently operates at a deficit of around $66,000 this year, but she hopes to reach a break-even point when the expo center is available for rental during the week.
Float Fest and the best use of Guadalupe River
Kacir opened her response by defending the council’s decision to deny the Float Fest at J.B. Wells proposal, citing the ongoing lawsuit involving the park.
“The city did not deny Float Fest on the river danger,” Kacir said. “The council denied Float Fest solely upon one reason: utilizing J.B. Wells could place additional risk compromising our position within the lawsuit.”
She followed that by listing her plans for long-term, grant-funded river upgrades that included adding permanent steps and boat ramps. She emphasized the importance of the grant funding, claiming “the city must remain cognizant of limiting new projects until the city is stable financially.”
Brown lamented the city’s potentially lost opportunity in Float Fest but was optimistic they could provide a path to “profitable utilization, improvement of safety and eco-friendly preservation efforts for the river.” He agreed with Kacir with regards to the long-range scope of river rehabilitation.
Top priorities if elected
Brown highlighted financial stability, infrastructure improvements and city reserve rejuvenation as his key issues to address.
“I know with a shift and our focus in foresight, we can put Gonzales back where it should be,” Brown said. “Which leads to the key element of these priorities: rebuilding the bonds between the citizens and the local government.”
Kacir made note of restoring the financial position of the city, strengthening various city institutions and organizing a neighborhood revitalization plan.
“For a strong city we must stay on our current course,” Kacir said. “Strengthening our internal organizational staff, strengthening the level of delivery of our city services, strengthening our infrastructure by replacing and rebuilding the failing infrastructure not maintained by prior administrations.”
Relationship of Victoria College and city
Kacir said the future of Victoria College’s Gonzales Center is not up to her, it’s up to Victoria College. She said she wants the college to pay regular rent on the building and Gonzales County students to pay in-county tuition.
Gonzales County residents pay approximately $600 more in tuition because of their “out-of-county” status. Although the Gonzales Center is based in Gonzales, the parent entity Victoria College is based in Victoria County and dictates that students outside Victoria County must pay a higher out-of-county tuition. Victoria College also currently has a deal with the city that allows them to pay only $1 per year in rent.
Brown said he hoped to solidify a long-term commitment with Victoria College and that he was open mutually beneficial discussions.
“We must consider the financial responsibility of any decision while placing value on more than just dollar signs,” Brown said. “The service and industry this institution brings to our city are quite valuable. It would be remiss of us to break these bonds and not seek to allow for their positive impact to grow in the coming years.”
With their closing statements both candidates reiterated their message established throughout the forum. Brown seeks to reunify and empower the citizens of Gonzales.
“It is my desire to empower each and every citizen to take back the control that has eluded us for too long,” Brown said. “If you have felt unheard, please speak up.”
Kacir reiterated that she is the right choice for mayor and her vision is effective and will lead to prosperity.
“I am inspired by the challenge and I’m focused on the solution. The challenge and the solution was to bring this city from 1% in cash reserves to 14% last year. I made a difference with measurable results,” Kacir said. “Gonzales, we are stronger because I was in office.”
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