The three candidates for the Tuesday, Nov. 2, District 4 Gonzales City Council special election shared their reasons for running for office and their vision for the city’s future with the Gonzales Inquirer this week.
Ronda Miller, Thomas Enriquez and Dan Blake are the individuals seeking to replace Rob Brown, who resigned his seat due to moving out of Gonzales to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex for his business.
The candidates will be introduced and their responses to our questions will be given in ballot order. The responses have not been edited and are the words of the candidates in their entirety.
Meet the candidates
Name: Ronda Miller
Education: Studied at University of Texas; Texas State University; Victoria College
Current Occupation: Semi-retired, Investment Property
Previously elected to any office: I have not ever run for nor have been elected to any office. As others have all had a first time in office, this will be my first time as well, and I am looking forward to it. Confidence is not what others think about you, but more so what you know about yourself, and I am confident that I will be an asset for this community (the citizens and the city government).
Volunteer work or service in non-elected positions: Past Volunteer Long-term Care Ombudsman for the Texas Golden Crescent Area; Volunteer Vacation Bible School and Volunteer Sunday School Teacher for twelve plus years.
Name: Thomas Enriquez
Education: Gonzales High School, Victoria College
Current Occupation: Attendant, Customer Service
Certifications held: Certified Electrical Residential and Commercial, Commercial Driver Certified
Previously elected to any office: N/A
Volunteer work or service in non-elected positions: Community Advocate for the people of Gonzales.
Name: Dan Blakemore
Education: Graduated from Union City High School 1968; Attended University of Tennessee Martin 1968-1973
Current Occupation: Retired
Previously elected to any office: Gonzales City Council 2017-2020
Volunteer work or service in non-elected positions: JB Wells Advisory Board; Junior and Senior Warden Episcopal Church of Messiah, Gonzales.
1. Tell us about who you are and why you are running for office?
Miller: I am a 57-year native of Gonzales, a semi-retired business owner who is saddened to see this town turn from a “we” to an “us and them” mentality in recent years. The last election brought three fresh new faces to the council, and I would like to continue on that course to bring novel, unbiased, rejuvenating ideas to restore a sense of community along with fostering solutions to maintain city financial health, to address the ongoing infrastructure issues, to help turn around the persistent lack of economic development that has been, and still is, a major setback for this community; and to foster the historical significance and beauty of this town; but my main reason for running for office is to represent the citizens of Gonzales in a fair and equitable manner as the city navigates its multitude of responsibilities.
Enriquez: My name is Thomas Enriquez and I’m an everyday working Joe that has to get up in the morning to go earn a check to pay the bills like the majority of the citizens of Gonzales.I’m running because I’m tired of voting for people who never do what they say.I’m tired of putting people in power that raise my taxes year after year. I’m tired of the intrusive ordinances created by the city that generate revenue off the back of the hardworking taxpayers in the form of violations punishable by a fine. I’m running because I’m tired of the way the city chooses to charge the citizens for things that were once free like the city dump, bought and paid for by the taxpayers of Gonzales and operated off those same tax dollars. The city charges a brush fee on our utilities bill but only allows 15 minutes for free than taxpayers have to pay $25 per 15 minutes that's $100 dollars an hour. I’m tired of watching the city workers capped at 40 hours with no chance for overtime, no Christmas bonus while the City Manager and former Tourism Director get thousands increased in their salaries. I remember when people in Gonzales could advertise their business to help support and feed their families without having to pay a tax in the form of a permit. I’m running because Gonzales needs someone with a backbone to stand up for their interests. I’ll never be a rubber stamp for anyone’s agenda if elected to serve because I know first hand the effect it can cause to the everyday households all across Gonzales.
Blakemore: Our city is on a positive path for improvement by addressing past decades of neglect. I want to be a part of maintaining the focus on improvement, strengthening and securing the future of Gonzales.
2. What are some of the biggest challenges currently facing the city of Gonzales?
Miller: The City of Gonzales has an impressive amount in their annual budget for a town of its size. I know the city has been struggling to catch up from past mis-management, and has done well in many areas, but one of its biggest challenges is in meeting the needs of the physical and economic infrastructure of the town. Even though it has begun to be addressed and remedied, water/sewer line repairs and expansions are still needed for this town to operate effectively and to grow. Expansion and management of existing city owned revenue producing accounts are necessary. Exploring and applying for more grant opportunities may help ease the financial burden in some areas to free up funds for those economic expansions. Another challenge for Gonzales is supporting and advancing the economic health of the existing businesses. Emphasis is often on growth and expansion of new additional businesses, but growth and expansion include the financial growth of those existing business as well. The existing businesses supply tax revenues to the city, and the more income they produce, the more tax revenues the city receives from that income. I think there should definitely be a focus on developing plans for accommodating future growth, but the main focus should be on building up those resources that are here. It is better to have ten thriving businesses than twenty struggling ones. Gonzales could to do a much better job of promoting what is here through our present businesses and our historical significance. Another one of the biggest challenges of many communities is fair and true representation of the citizens. I think that a concentration of decision-making power is never a good idea, and that this community’s best interest includes the input of every business and every individual in this community. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Enriquez: I know in District 4 people aren’t happy to have our taxes raised for the 5th year in a row with no council member to vote on our behalf. No Taxation Without Representation is what America was founded on. It’s sad that in The Birthplace of Texas Independence the people running our city are so desperate for more taxpayer funded revenue they trample all over the rights of the people of District 4 in order to get it. Citizens of Gonzales feel like the people representing them are out of touch and don’t have their best interests at heart. The biggest challenge is getting someone elected into office that actually will do what’s best for the people of Gonzales and not what’s best for the city of Gonzales.
Blakemore: Decaying and failing infrastructure. For example: water systems, sewer systems, electrical systems, etc. A plan that includes all city departments, that stresses efficiency and cost controls. A communication plan of updates to our citizens on current projects. This plan should include a project name, the locations affected, a start date, a completion date and budgeted costs.
3. A study of the city utilities commissioned by the council has recommended rate increases in order to provide long-term economic stability and pay for much-needed upgrades. What do you think is equitable for residents? Is privatization an option for city utilities?
Miller: The water and wastewater components have not performed well for numerous years. Why has this been ignored for so many years? The city government, including past council members, have known about this the whole time they were in office.
Obviously, and unfortunately, a slight increase in the price is in order. However, the increase should be an incremental based formula over time so as not to overburden the consumers. I suggested this a couple years ago in order to spread the burden over a larger consumer base while fighting against the major property tax increase that was proposed at that time.
I think outsourcing core business components or enterprise accounts, like utilities, is generally not a good idea. These enterprise accounts provide revenue and contribute to the overall fiscal health of the city. Structured and well-organized management practices are needed in planning and directing these revenue accounts.
Enriquez: I believe the rates are high enough as it is for the average everyday working families. The residents of our city pay higher rates due to the fact the city doesn’t produce electricity. They purchase energy and mark it up because they are the middlemen in the sale not the direct source. The people who live in the county outside city limits have cheaper electric bills due to the fact they’re provider produces energy. I believe the citizens of Gonzales should be allowed to have options other than being forced to buy from the city. It’s a shame so many of our lower income residents are forced to rely on charity organizations like Community Action and our local Churches to write checks to help keep their lights on. This is what happens when our elected officials care more about revenue than the citizens they say they represent.
Blakemore: A third-party study was done to offer suggestions to address decades of neglect of our utilities. It took years to get us in this position and solutions will take years to recover. We cannot continue to maintain the same practices and expect different results. I believe in having control of your own destiny. I do not consider privatization an option.
4. The city recently agreed to settle a lawsuit with the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary regarding the JB Wells estate, including JB Wells Park & Expo property. Did the city do the right thing in settling the lawsuit by paying the seminary and what would you have done had you been on the council? What needs to be done with the property and what would be most fair in your opinion for taxpayers?
Miller: It was a good decision to settle! This litigation had the potential to go on for years and all the way to the state supreme court. A long-term litigation could have cost the taxpayers of Gonzales considerably more than the 1.825-million-dollar settlement. I am pleased that the council members at that time elected to settle rather than keep spending money on litigation that had no guarantee of a win.
Additionally, there is no longer a reversionary clause in the settlement which means the city owns it without stipulations, and there will be no possibility of a subsequent lawsuit with respect to the last will and testament of J.B. Wells.
I think one of the things to be done with this property is to make it stand alone as an enterprise account so that all monies in and out of that account are obvious. The financial information really needs to be assessed to determine how much this facility costs the city and the citizens. Informed decisions cannot be made without this information.
When I am elected to council, I will immediately start dialogue with the JB Wells board of directors and the citizens of Gonzales to offer my support and get an accurate picture of the wants and needs of both.
Enriquez: In my opinion I believe the city gave the taxpayers a bad deal. The sad reality is the majority of the hardworking taxpayers in Gonzales could never afford to experience the venue. The price to rent for one night to hold an event just like anything the city charges for is high, you have to purchase a million dollar insurance policy again for one night, and have to pay $50 an hour for off duty city employees in the form of Police Officers 4 if you’re serving alcohol that’s $200 dollars an hour on top of what you got to spend just to hold your event. I think the city should do something for the taxpayers who are buying it like have the Valentine’s Day Father and Daughter Dance at the J.B Wells and give something back instead of focusing on what they can take for a change.
Blakemore: In my opinion, the city was subject to a ransomware type attack on the JB Wells Park. The City Council made the proper decision by settling for the arbitrated amount instead of the $30M demanded. I would have supported the settlement had I been a member of the Council.
The Park needs a capital plan to repair and expand existing facilities. All sources for funding should be explored.
5. What is your opinion of the state of the amenities currently offered by the city (parks, recreation, museums, etc.) and what needs to be done about that?
Miller: Parks can, and should, be a source of community pride. Parks often serve as a reflection of the quality of life in a community and can attract families and businesses to an area. The addition of the Splash Pad is a nice, and much appreciated, amenity for families. When maintained and done well, parks can provide direct and indirect economic benefits through fees generated by a park event and through tourism, hospitality, and other private business sales opportunities. When it appears as if the city does not care through a run-down, neglected park, people begin to not care, and they do not appreciate or take care of them either. Sadly, our parks have not been well maintained; there are picnic tables in need of repair; the old pond is an eyesore and a disgrace; there is broken, unsafe playground equipment; there are maintenance and preventative maintenance issues at JB Wells Arena and Convention Center; and there are requests for maintenance and additional improvements in an effort to generate opportunity for more and larger arena events that have not been met.
The city appointed a new parks and recreation director several months back. Why not give that person an opportunity to evaluate the needs of these amenities? I enjoy parks and have kept an Annual Texas Parks Pass in my wallet for years. I am more than happy to assist in any way I can be beneficial to the parks, to the parks and recreation director, and to the citizens of Gonzales.
Enriquez: I remember when the park was packed with people every Tuesday night everyone there to play volleyball, a great scene and vibrant time. People exercising and playing a sport being healthy at the city volleyball courts. Today those same volleyball courts have no nets, no sand, and no people showing up to play because the city figured since people enjoyed playing volleyball they could start charging to use those courts. In reality what happened is no one plays anymore and the courts are just dried up cracked patches of dirt no one uses.
Blakemore: Gonzales is a Texas historical site with amenities and charm that appeal to citizens and visitors alike. There is a world class library with exhibits, traditional and disc golf courses, historical museums, Pioneer Village, many parks, historic downtown and beautiful historic homes.
All amenities of the city must be maintained. The city management and departments should be held strictly accountable for their areas of responsibility. A study needs to be done on all City buildings, parks, museums, and facilities that addresses their current condition and future needs. Recommendations could then be prioritized to first address public health and safety concerns and expense. Once this is completed then sources for funding should be examined.
6. Should city officials be allowed to serve on city-appointed boards and commissions? Why or why not?
Miller: NO! It is a conflict of interest in my opinion. It creates a concentration of power within a select few. These boards bring experience, education, and insight from an outside perspective and are there specifically to advise and review the city government with their knowledge. Additionally, and more importantly, the citizens of Gonzales sent a strong message to those that abuse this privilege by voting to eliminate it via the city charter amendments last year. The citizens have spoken on that issue, and I respect the citizens decision.
Enriquez: In my opinion no elected official should ever be allowed to sit on a
board that they can appoint themselves or appoint someone to. No elected official should be allowed to serve on a board they have the power to remove someone from. Citizens of Gonzales know firsthand the consequences of what can happen when one person wants to be in charge of every board and position, corporation etc; No one volunteering to serve on any board should be forced to sign any agreement that infringes on their constitutional rights. I’m thankful the charter was amended last year that doesn’t allow the Mayor or Council Members to sit on those boards or corporations anymore proof the people agreed with me and didn’t like it either.
Blakemore: The City Charter gives direction to City Government. This Charter is examined by a citizens committee and, if recommended, amendments are placed before the voting public of the City for approval. The current Charter states that no members of the City Council are to serve unless there are no viable candidates available.
7. What are the greatest strengths of the City of Gonzales in your opinion?
Miller: The greatest strengths of this city are its people and its history! The residents and the business owners have always proven to show their love for this town and its historical significance. Why not give them the voice and the power to truly show up for their own community?
Enriquez: I believe the people of Gonzales are our city’s greatest strength. They put up with high taxes, over-regulation, city ordinances, permit fees, and elected officials that don’t understand times are tough. In true Independence fashion the people always rise up to the challenge and remind us why Gonzales is The Foundation Texas was built on and why our little town is so special. I’m not in this election for the power, I'm in it for the people.
Blakemore: Our citizens! In the worst of times, our citizens find solutions.