- I was talking to a friend earlier this mornng. Although it was not the purpose of his call, the subject of this blog site came up. He asked how it was going. I said that I really didn't know. I said there isn't much response, but the readership seemed to be going up. The average number of hits per day were increasing. So, with increasing readership and an absence of poison pen letters, I guess it was going okay.
- My friend knows a few people about town.......in fact, a lot. He told me that the "scuttlebutt" on the street is that some of Rowlett's (my word) "officialdom" did not think too highly of the blog. I was told that it was thought that I was "picking on" certain members of Rowlett's leadership.
Of course, that's not true. No where in this blog will you find me attack a member of "officialdom" except in jest. Although, one member of council mistakenly thought I did once, and maybe some thought I did when I called some of them "creeps." It takes a sense of humor to understand the "creeps" incident. If someone doesn't have a sense of humor, I can't help that. If a sense of humor isn't present, they shouldn't be on council, anyway.
However, I am obliged to inform you of all of my intentions. I am obligated to communicate with you just as Rowlett "officialdom" is obligated to communicate with you. You can't trust anyone who won't tell you the truth, or hides the truth. In a very, very, few incidents the absence of full disclosure is warranted. These incidents usually involve sensitive legal matters.
Do I want to challenge Rowlett "officialdom?" Absolutely!! This is no place for sugary kumbaya. Have you ever seen anyone rise to the top without challenges? When learning to play basketball, you want to play against the best. That's the only way to get better. When learning a new job or business, you want to be thrown in and compete with the best in your business. The learning curves become very steep, and rewarding. Frankly, I feel Rowlett "officialdom" is in need of challenges from their bosses........that's you. You elected members of City Council to handle your civic affairs, not hide them from you.
I almost always write about tax base and real estate. They come together. I have confessed I don't know how to buy a fire truck. I don't bug city council or staff about anything except tax base and real estate planning. That's all I know about. I am comfortable with my real estate experience. As a citizen, I have some questions to ask. I fully intend to ask my questions and expect answers. In fact, all of you should now begin to start forming up questions. You should ask them. It is your money and your investment in home and lifestyle that is at stake.
Here are my two main fears regarding Rowlett's "officialdom." They are inexperienced in real estate matters, and following right behind real estate inexperience, I fear an inability to communicate with citizens. If my fears manifest themselves, they become huge issues. Rowlett's future could easily be in the balance. Inability to buy a fire truck or new equipment for a park may pale by comparison in such serious consequences.
The issue of communication is festering. It is totally unscientific, but in my talks with citizens, there appears to be an increasing concern about the trustworthiness of information emitting from city hall. If citizens lose faith in their elected leaders, all sorts of problems can arise. Any trustworthy problems that arise become very public very quickly and Rowlett could suffer an even more damaging reputation than currently exists. Believe me citizens, developers avoid trouble spots. Marketing and development issues are risk enough in their business without trying to succeed in the midst of municipal turmoil. In the past, we have had all the turmoil we need.
Let's look at some things you have a right to know. If you don't demand to know, you can bet the family farm you won't be told.
All businesses comprise two parts. Income and Expense. Everything else is a sub-category. We are currently in a full blown discussion about Rowlett's expenses. What are we spending money on? How much are we giving away? Who should get raises? Do we need a new fire truck? The list is endless and discussions continue without stop and everybody is focused on expenses. Fever pitches are achieved about expenses. What about revenue? Revenue is overwhelmingly considered only as tax rate. You figure how much you're going to spend. Subtract the fee income and the sales tax income, and you make up the difference with the tax rate. Folks, that is simple arithmetic. It doesn't require a lot of business instinct to calculate tax rate. The tax rate is driven by expense. Whatever the fee and sales tax income doesn't pay for, ad valorem tax will. However, something this blog almost always talks about and rarely do you hear anyone else talk about is tax base. Now your entrepreneurial instincts come into play. It hardly ever comes up in tax discussions, yet it is probably more important at this time than anything else. In fact, if tax base rate increases faster than the rate of expenses, your taxes will actually come down.
Now, lets look at our current tax discussion. All the emotion and rhetoric are being focused on expenses while hardly any similar enthusiasm is being expended on income. Income discussions are nearly always based on tax rate......hardly anything else. If one didn't know better, it would appear the discussion about expenses is a deliberate diversion from the real issue of tax base. Do I think this is being done on purpose? Nope. I think it is inadvertent. I think staff and city council is devoid of real estate entrepreneurial spirit. That doesn't make them bad people. They just don't seem to be able to make a real estate deal. I think they all like Rowlett and want to serve.
Let's look at another deal. I think our consultants "blew it" when they recommended restricting all of Northshore to office and warehouse development. I never saw any evidence that said the land should be reserved for this type of development. However, I saw plenty of evidence that this land should be upscale residential development. This blog is filled with my reasons for this opinion. The residential market was proven up to my satisfaction a couple of years ago. Then, along came the State Farm office development and the Toyota deal and further solidified that position. If a good consulting firm saw the demographics changing right before their eyes, they would modify their recommendations. No problem. Time marches on. Our consultants didn't revise their opinions (couldn't see facts) and their recommendation was accepted by City Council almost without question. That's the problem. There was no one on staff or Council that would question the consultants. In my opinion, they didn't know what questions to ask. Was there anything sinister here? Nope. There was just no attempt to challenge the findings of the consultant. I think city council meant well. They just lacked the experience to challenge the consultant's real estate marketing conclusions. Huge mistake. Could effect Rowlett for many, many, many years. In all likelihood Rowlett will substantially miss the opportunity that was placed right in our hands by Toyota and State Farm. It will not be made up by Homestead at Liberty Grove. In fact, that new product is unproven in the market place. I hope it does well, but it is building urban redevelopment style in a pasture, surrounded by more pasture. Not exactly intercity Dallas.
Let's look at another deal. The Villages of Rowlett. I support this project. I think it will provide a "jump start" for downtown Rowlett. But, there are tons of questions about the deal making. To summarize, it looks to me like the citizens of Rowlett could be looking at a $11 million dollar investment for this project. That's a pretty fancy amount. I asked the Mayor who negotiated the deal for Rowlett. The only answer I could get was that the negotiator for Rowlett was, "Staff, consultants, and City Council." Thank goodness. At first I thought it was done by committee. Everyone knows a camel is a thoroughbred designed by committee. In support of the City Council, they should have received better information from staff. The Staff Report was awful. Terrible writing. The staff report was sent to council for only one purpose.......to sell the deal. To inform and explore issues was secondary. I think staff should go back and re-read their job descriptions. They're supposed to present facts, not sell the deal. This is a staff that was put into place by our previous city manager. They are still standard bearers. City Council deserves better than that. I will be writing a good deal more about the Village in the future. There are many questions that should have been asked. I am still in support of the development, but I think we got hammered in the negotiations. once again, lack of experience.
The point I'm trying to make here is that if "officialdom" is inexperienced in structuring real estate deals, how can they possibly communicate to citizens about how they are managing the tax base? They can't. I think they would like to, if any exists......but don't know how. They have put together several venues in attempts to communicate, but the subject matter is pure vanilla. There is no meat. It's all fluff and pretty and nice and totally void of important stuff. I know "stuff" is going on, but who knows about it? Most info is gained by rumor.
I think the city needs a monthly update on projects on the drawing board or processing thru the labyrinth of planning and zoning. I think sometimes deals get lost in Planning. No one can find them.
Below is a copy of an article I wrote for the Dallas Morning News on 12/13/09. The highlighted area sets out my thoughts about how Rowlett converts their assets to a really good lifestyle. It is still possible, but I think another look should be made about our direction. An adjustment of goals may be in order. Changing to meet conditions is not wrong. In fact, its what should be done. I was wrong when I first visualized Rowlett's future. I had quickly decided that what became known as Northshore should be industrial property. That was way before the residential boon that started in 2012. Then, it intensified in 2013. The proper procedure would be to adapt to changing conditions. Our consultants did not. The city council bought into their program. It should have been challenged. It wasn't. Lack of experience.
I think the lack of real estate experience and poor communication skills about what is really important to citizens are two big problems. Both are "learnable" but the problems must first be recognized, then it can be addressed.
I really like Rowlett. it's really my hometown. I moved here in 1975. I have been writing about it since 2007 when I started writing columns for the Dallas Morning News. My enthusiasm hasn't waned. I'm not against members of City Council or other "officialdom." They're good people. However, I am going to say what I think. You should, too.
(If print of article too small, click Control and the + keys on your computer. It should enlarge.)