As we all know, Buc-ee’s is going to come to town, with construction beginning probably late 2018.
And as expected, the town has their pitchforks out and are looking for blood. Meanwhile, the City Council is completely confused at the response from the citizenry and is hiding behind the explanation of “The negotiations were confidential with the EDC, so you knew about it when we knew about it.”
So I’m going to put on my Mayor hat and play this out as an example of how things COULD have been handled.
Issues like this are handled via a confidential agreement with the EDC. This means that a major company (like Buc-ee’s) comes to town and everyone signs Non-Disclosure Agreements while they scout out their options and needs for moving a business to town. The EDC assists with site selection and whatnot, and eventually brokers the negotiations with the City regarding taxes, fees, and permits in an attempt to secure the best tax deal for the new business. Here’s the rub: the guidelines for who the City gives these tax breaks to has nothing to do with what they actually bring to the community. It has to do with the value of what they’re building. In the case of Buc-ee’s, he’s getting a kick ass tax deal because his building is expensive. They’re going to tell you that it’s because of the jobs that he’s bringing, but I could bring a business that was going to offer 1000 jobs to town, but unless my investment was north of $4m, then no soup for you. So it’s ALL about the money that they bring, and I just find this ridiculous. As Mayor, I would step up and set different parameters for any tax breaks that involve actual community IMPROVEMENT in the form of jobs, donations, and other infrastructure that they bring. I assure you that Mr. Buc-ee doesn’t need a tax break.
Once the deal has been negotiated with the new business, it gets sent to Council for a vote. This is what happened this past month. Within the span of a few days, the citizens became aware of the proposed Buc-ee’s, and then it was quickly voted on by Council and approved. DONE DEAL. Then the Council did what they do, which is to run around trying to educate people about why it’s such a great deal for them and that they shouldn’t be so freaked out. This is, of course, after the fact. The Mayor, on the other hand, does what he does which is to go dark and let the Council deal with the mud-slinging. It’s like the famous Nancy Pelosi line: “We have to vote for the bill in order to know what’s in the bill.” In this case, it’s just “Trust us. This deal is good for you. I’ll explain it all to you after I approve it without any input from you.”
So with my Mayor Hat back on, here’s how this COULD have looked:
- First of all, tap the freaking brakes on such a large, community-changing proposal. So when the #s are agreed between Buc-ee’s and the EDC, hit the pause button. Announce the proposal via the local media, the City website, FB, everything. Let everyone freak out. Invite them to several presentations about the proposal. Let them send off hate-filled emails to the City Council. Let them come to your office and climb across your desk. But for crying out loud, give them a few weeks to be HEARD. Answer their questions. Basically, QUIT HIDING THINGS.
- The City is going to get a substantial tax boost from this Buc-ee’s, which is why they want it. The City loves to feed the City. So they’re going to get a mountain of cash from this thing. What are they going to do with it? Oh, you don’t know? That’s ok – because nobody does. So as Mayor, why not outline what’s going to happen with it? If people overwhelmingly hate the Buc-ee’s (they do), they might warm to it if you came out at a press conference and said “We’re going to get $250k/year from this deal. Because we’re surviving without this money today, we’re going to LOWER taxes across the board for all residents.” Oh, you’re warming up to the idea now? Or perhaps….”We’re going to take this money and we’re going to get started on the park land we have next to the Skate Park. Then we’re going to put a kick-ass splash pad in Town Square. We’re going to fix some roads. We’re going to give our police officers a pay raise.” If you knew what the money was going to, you might not be so opposed to it. It would be a necessary evil for an improvement in YOUR life, and people tend to like those proposals.
- Let people come to Council and talk. Let them go on the record and have their say. This isn’t hard and should be a no-brainer. Why is this so difficult?
From there, you’ve educated the public, you didn’t cram it down their throats, and you’ve given them a chance to be involved in the process. Kinda like how government was designed to be.
Overall transparency of City Council. They’re lacking in it. That said, I know them all and they’re good people. They truly are. However, they’re busy, and busy people tend to miss details.
They go to lunch at the same places as we do, and they hear the same things. They KNOW that people want limited, controlled growth but they continually vote against it. I believe that this philosophy is pushed from the Mayor’s office, but that’s just my gut talking. Regardless, they had to know that people wouldn’t be thrilled with a Buc-ee’s, and they should know better than to vote on something of this size without ANY citizen input. They bitch and moan because lots of people don’t come to Council meetings, but this is such a tired excuse.
- Put briefings in the mail with our Utility bills. Tell us what’s coming up for vote and when. $0 cost.
- Capture emails from citizens and send out eblasts. Ask for feedback. Summarize issues before the Council, ask for citizen participation, establish roundtable discussions. $0 cost.
- Use City website for Q/A area. Why not establish a simple system for people to ask questions of the Council from the comfort of home and then to have the response posted on the site? $0 cost.
These are just off the top of my head, but in this day and age, the archaic procedures of Council should be stopped. They have the tools and the staff to enact some better communication and they should use them. They’re going to tell you that they spend 23 hours a day talking to citizens about issues, and I believe them. I really do. However, there are 12k people in this town and just as evidenced by Buc-ee’s, the vast majority of us have no clue what’s going on City Council, and that’s BOTH of our faults.
Boerne’s location makes it too ideal for growth. We’re fast becoming a bedroom suburb, which is something NOBODY wants. Unless the leaders of the City step up and begin finding a way for Boerne to maintain some sort of its character, it will be completely lost. I’ve long said that we would someday transition into becoming Stone Oak, and I’m afraid that day is getting closer and closer. If we continue the current trajectory, it is assured.
I’ll leave you with this quote from Schultz when interviewed about the Buc-ee’s: “For some, yes, Boerne may be gone forever. For the majority, though, there is not only the old Boerne here, but there is the new Boerne here and we’ve put them together to form what we have.”
Do you like what has now been “formed”? Nor do I.