OPINION — It’s politics time because of the local elections May 1 and all of the incumbents are getting hammered for stuff they may have or probably haven’t done.
At the City of San Angelo, the most common complaint by challengers to the mayor’s desk or any of the council positions is about the conditions of the roads. None of the challengers have acknowledged that the City has a long-term plan in place to fix the streets and has been executing that plan for about five years already. It’s an ambitious plan and a difficult one to manage because of the labor and contractor shortage. The Bell Street project took at least two RFPs to get a contractor hired at a price the City could afford. Other streets fixed or underway include MLK, College Hills, and Sunset.
The other complaint I hear is how the City neglected the roads for so long that the roadways fell apart. This is not a unique problem for Texas municipalities to have right now. In Abilene, the city government also neglected roads for a long time because, like here in San Angelo, the councils over the past 15-20 years were under pressure to keep tax rates low. Abilene’s street improvement plan has a price tag twice San Angelo’s street repair plan’s expected cost. It would be nice if the candidates claiming they have better ideas would be knowledgeable about the plan currently in place before they complain. I mean, if a leader doesn’t know what the problem is, how the heck will he or she solve it? By making a post on Facebook?
The school board faces a similar predicament with its upcoming election. For 15 years, San Angelo ISD schools have excelled because of extraordinary continuity of leadership. I’ve covered Del Rio’s schools in my earlier years, so I know how bad school district leadership can be. It’s the board of trustees that has fostered the environment where school administration has been so good.
The primary driver of a local economy is the quality of the schools. No one moves to downtown Houston or Dallas with school-aged kids unless forced or have plans to use private schools. Neighborhoods with quality elementary and middle schools have homes that sell faster than neighborhoods with lagging schools. Citywide, there are 120 homes for sale in the MLS in a city with 55,000 residential water meter hookups. Sure there’s a housing shortage (not addressed by the City candidates much), and I argue that housing shortage is in part due to the success of the San Angelo ISD.
The biggest threat to the continuity of the current school board, comprised of centrist problem-solvers, is the demise of the name of Robert E. Lee Middle School. Every incumbent facing a challenger voted to change the name of the school. I was against the name change primarily because of the hateful and Godless Critical Race Theory ideology behind the name change movement, but I lost the argument. Why wouldn’t I want to take it out on San Angelo ISD Trustee Dr. Taylor Kingman and oppose him for re-election?
A part of me really does want to, but I am somewhat empathetic with Kingman’s reasoning for voting to change the name of Lee Middle School. Board Trustee Max Parker made a strong, well-thought out speech in favor of the name change. Then the entire board chose to ignore the real reason for the change by denying the issue was political. The entire name change movement was political while the board, starting with Board President Lanny Layman on down, publicly neutered whatever their opposition was by denying the name change was about politics.
Yet, Kingman is a medical doctor in the middle of the school district’s challenge with Covid-19. Regardless of the name of that middle school, I want the classrooms open. I want the kids around here in class, in person, learning. Would not having a medical doctor on the school board help with that goal? Considering the continuity of good leadership mentioned earlier with the medical challenges of keeping 14,000 students in the classroom, can I overlook Kingman’s vote to kill Robert E. Lee? Can you?
These are points to ponder when evaluating the candidates for local office. Nothing written here is an endorsement. My main point is, if you hear a candidate complain, you should ask what that candidate actually knows about the problem before suggesting a solution. And hopefully that solution is more than platitudes about how the new politician will “listen to the people” and make decisions as if they’re proposing to run local government via an Ouija board.