San Marcos Mayor John Thomaides looks back at 2016, ahead to 2017
John Thomaides was sworn in as mayor of the city of San Marcos on Dec. 21. Thomaides has spent 13 years on City Council and defeated Ruben Becerra by 42 votes in a runoff election Dec. 13.
He said his first priority as the new mayor will be uniting the city.
“It’s time to look forward and come together,” he said. “Let’s all work to solve the problems of the city. If we disagree, that’s OK. There’s always going to be some disagreement, but we have to recognize that there always has to be some compromise and common ground found to solve these problems.”
Why do you feel the voters elected you?
I think that my experience helped play a part in a lot of voters choosing me, and I think that their knowledge of my past record, knowing that I have worked very hard as a council member, I always do my homework, ask a lot of questions and that the record I have of protecting the things they care about—neighborhoods, the river and also doing my best to bring good-paying jobs to the city—those all played a role in their choice.
How do you plan to go about trying to unite the city and City Council after such a divisive election?
I think you’re going to see a City Council that is going to work really well together. We’re going to tackle the tough challenges. There’s no question those are coming. For instance, in the first four months there are going to be some big things we have to deal with regarding the facilities bond, the land development code, additional flood resiliency issues and obviously the 2017-18 budget. We have our work cut out for us. We all know that, and we’re all professionals as far as the council goes.
As far as the community, I think what happens is after a tough election, the election results are not in question at all. They, I believe, are to be respected. Everybody is going to agree with that. I want to be the mayor of everybody. I want to work hard to make sure the issues that were raised by my opponent and the supporters of my opponent, that those are taken seriously. The issues that people who didn’t vote for me, or the reasons they didn’t vote for me, are also taken seriously. I truly believe I’ll have the ability to find the common ground. We may not agree on every part of every issue. The issues that affect our city are often not simply black and white issues. There are lots of shades of gray. There is always compromise and common ground to be found. That’s what I’ve found in my time serving this community. There is no question that I have to and council has to work very, very hard to ensure that the public has a lot of confidence in us, that we’re all making the best decisions we can on behalf of the city. Mainly, I’m only looking forward. It’s impossible and it’s crazy to look backwards at campaigns. There’s never been a campaign for mayor that hasn’t been spirited and hard-fought in this city. It just doesn’t happen. I knew that going into it. It’s always an incredibly tough and incredibly contested position on City Council. It’s much different than running for City Council. It just is. There is a lot more focus on it. But I’m definitely looking forward only to doing work on behalf of the citizens.
How do you see the mayor’s role compared to a council member’s role?
First off there are a lot of similarities. We’re all elected by the whole city. I think it’s important for a mayor to recognize that. Every council member had to go through the same thing that a mayoral candidate did. Besides that there are issues that a mayor has to deal with as it relates to agenda-setting, the calendar, leading the delegations of our lobby efforts in D.C., as it relates to being a spokesperson of a city. The words a mayor uses are very important because they’ll often get printed and referred to. I think that there are similarities. We all have one vote, it all means the same thing, but there are times when a mayor can step up, show leadership and provide a little bit of direction as well. I think that the way in which your mayor has to preside over meetings and facilitate the meetings … there are ways that a successful mayor can make sure everyone’s voice on council is heard and the citizens’ voices are heard, and the final result of our decisions, the mayor can ensure that it has the input of the varying ideas that arise during debates on council and arise from the public when they give us their thoughts and opinions during comment periods. I just really feel like there are things the mayor can do to lead the community and to be successful and to bring the community together and bring the council together, and I would ask for that chance to do that. I’ve been given that with the election results, and I’m going to do my best to deliver.
Economic prosperity initiatives have been an emphasis of your time on council. Are there any other initiatives council can undertake to improve employment prospects and economic prosperity for San Marcos residents?
First off I look forward to sitting down with our economic development team and sharing my thoughts and opinions on what types of jobs we should really be going after. It’s easy to say, ‘I want nothing but $100,000-per-year jobs,’ but I’m going to tell you that those are the really difficult finds. They’re really difficult to recruit, but that’s what we’ve got to focus on. We live in a community that has a tremendous educational background. We’ve got to get the opportunity for our local citizens who graduate from Texas State, or Texas State graduates who want to stay here, the opportunity to build a career here, and not just an hourly wage job. We have to do better than that.
Everyone on our council feels the same way. We’re all headed in the same direction on that. Whether we have to step up our game in terms of recruitment efforts to find the companies—I’m going to work very hard to bring companies here that pay $75,000 per year or more. That’s my goal.
Is there a distinct strategy you can undertake to do that? I’m sure [outgoing Mayor Daniel Guerrero] would like that too.
Sure, absolutely. We all do. Obviously our community is growing. It’s changing in some ways. We have a lot more people moving in. There’s a lot more focus on San Marcos. San Marcos is much more well-known than it has been in years past. I truly believe that’s going to continue. That’s the trend not just of our city, but of this region. I think that type of increased focus is going to lead to some different opportunities when it comes to economic growth and prosperity. I’m very hopeful that we will do what we all want to do, and that’s bring more companies that pay career-level wages. A lot of times what happens in economic development is you may get one or two of those companies and other companies that serve them or collaborate with them want to locate nearby as well. It kind of is a domino effect in some ways.
Do you think the Amazon distribution center [which opened in San Marcos in 2016] would be an example of that?
No I don’t. The Amazon distribution center definitely filled a need in the community. It’s definitely been a boost to our employment. It’s lowering our unemployment numbers. We need to go way beyond that. We need to really focus on jobs that, like I say, you can not only build your career, but you can build your life there while you’re working there, and you can stay in San Marcos and contribute to this community.
What are your priorities for the potential May 2017 bond?
I think it’s important for the community to remember that we haven’t had a bond election since 2006, I think it was. It was 2005 or 2006. It’s been 11 years since we’ve done that. We’ve made investments in things along the way. We’ve done so in a very fiscally responsible and common sense way. We’ve put off the huge things. There’s been growing needs. Our city facilities are in numerous locations. We need to consolidate some of them, and we’ve got a City Hall that was built over 45 years ago. We have other facilities where a lot of our city employees are working in closets that have been converted into offices or [they’re working in] hallways. We essentially have a city built for about half the number of employees we actually have. There’s no question that that’s a tremendous need. With the growth we’re experiencing we have public safety needs with fire and police … facilities.
I think the preliminary facilities work and facilities plans that we reviewed on council in 2016 were very well laid out and very well thought out. They gave us great direction, and I think the citizens’ capital improvement bond committee that’s been meeting now for months is doing a fantastic job in analyzing all the needs. I’m eagerly awaiting their final suggestion. My hope is that it’s unanimous, that they see the need that you have to make investments in a growing city or you just continuously fall behind. I definitely see the needs of the public safety and in the facilities of the city in order for it to operate correctly and for it to provide the level of service the citizens want. I’m definitely ready to review what the bond committee comes up [with]. Hopefully our council can unite behind a common proposal. I’ll do my best to help get that passed.
What else do you see on the horizon for the city in 2017?
We still have the flood resiliency efforts. We have submitted obviously our plan to HUD for disaster recovery. It’s 1/3 housing and 2/3 for engineering and infrastructure improvements that will keep more water out of those neighborhoods, and what water does get in to flood-prone neighborhoods, gets it out quicker. We have to find a way to very quickly implement that action plan, get those funds out into the community and into these drainage projects that will help with the next heavy rain because we all know the next heavy rain is coming again. We need as a community to be able to sleep better at night when it’s raining really hard.
Last year we discussed at length, and we went to Washington, D.C., to the department of agriculture, our flood-control dams and some of the improvements we’d like to make and some of the grant opportunities they had. We did make applications, but we haven’t received any type of funding yet on that. I know that that’s going to be an important one where we go back up to D.C. this spring.
We also have creeks like Purgatory Creek and Willow Creek that drain through the city and run through the city. Those are our two main drainage channels. We need to make sure that, in my opinion, that we have those channels be as efficient as possible for moving water away from neighborhoods and into the river itself without causing flooding. I know there are improvements we can make that will be good for the environment but will also protect our citizens and keep them dry during times of flood on those creeks. Those are things I hope we seriously take a look [at] and move up to a higher priority status.
With Lone Star Rail having been effectively dissolved, is there anything that you as mayor or City Council collectively can do to keep the ball rolling on congestion solutions on the I-35 corridor?
Absolutely. The mayors of Austin, San Antonio and in this corridor in between, began meeting about six months ago or so, and current Mayor Guerrero helped coordinate all those efforts. We’ve had a few meetings here in San Marcos. I’ve been invited to them, and I’m going to work very closely with [Austin Mayor Steve Adler and San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor] and all the other mayors up and down the corridor because if the state is not interested in pursuing a congestion-proof alternative to I-35, we’ll do it ourselves. One of the things that we found after just a few meetings was that we all felt the same way. We all wanted to find this congestion-proof alternative. We all think rail is a strong possibility to do that. It may not be the only possibility to do that. All the other mayors have committed to continuing that conversation to try to provide a united front if you will, to say, ‘Look you’re not going to ignore our region. We have too much at stake, not just from a transportation standpoint but from quality-of-life standpoint.’ It’s hard to have a quality of life when you have a two-hour commute each way. Also, from an economic standpoint, all that time stuck in traffic doesn’t do anything but cause more air pollution and lose money for people. We’ve got to be able to move people between our two major cities and all the other cities in between in an efficient, congestion-proof manner. I very much look forward to working with the regional mayors effort. Obviously I’ll be a huge cheerleader and proponent every chance we get for these types of alternatives because San Marcos, being right in the middle, stands to truly gain dramatic benefits from having this type of transportation system, whatever form it takes, whether it’s rail, bus rapid transit, whatever. Whatever it ends up being. We can’t ignore it. Just like we can’t ignore growth in San Marcos. You can’t bury your head in the sand anymore. We’ve got to find a way to make these things happen.