Wednesday, April 19, 2023

City Council Candidate Interview Lessons

In a previous post, I discussed interviewing all Richardson Mayoral and City Council Candidates both from opposed seats and unopposed seats. I have concluded all of those interviews and had some time to read over my notes and reflect. Here is what I have learned.

Artist Depiction of a Candidate Hearing my Questions

Because this election season was unusual with a contested Mayor, two open seats, etc.,  I took an "all bets are off" strategy. Bunches of people started to ask my opinion, so I decided to go the blog route again - for better or worse - right or wrong - dogs and cats.

Here is what I said in a past entry:

All bets are off. If you want my vote, you have to convince me. If I endorsed (or didn’t endorse) someone in the past, then that is no indication of this year. ... [Candidates] have to meet with me. I am not asking that they do. It is up to them. I am just a guy with a belly button, so I do not expect that all will reach out. ... I make this offer to opposed and unopposed candidates equally. I make no guarantees that I will make an endorsement in any race.... I won’t go easy on them.
I am grateful that all eleven agreed to meet. Several were campaigning hard and had to squeeze it in, but we did it. Again, I thank all candidates, and I hope this is helpful to the City and the Public.

My disclosure: I know ten of the eleven candidates. I served on campaign committees for two sitting council persons in the past. I have endorsed several current council persons in past elections and campaigned for several. This year I had avoided campaign events (except one which occurred before I decided to write about this.)

This summary will be about general things learned and trends. I will endorse and comment on specific council members in the next few days. If you want me to notify you of when that happens, send an email to:

I asked the candidates the same ten questions. Some turned out to be poor, so I didn't emphasize them in later interviews. I won't go over every question. These interviews lasted from 45 minutes to 2 hours. One advantage is that they can be candid in this face-to-face format. I assured them I would not run off and blog, "Larry said this! oh my!"

I am going to describe trends and patterns. I can't detail every answer, so please do not get the impression every candidate is reflected in every trend I discuss. Also, when a candidate answered, I might drill down and ask them more about their answer.

The first conclusion is that sincere and dedicated people are running for these positions. Many have a solid vision and are dedicated to doing a good job and learning more. Win or lose, I saw no trends or individuals that would cause lasting damage.


I started by asking about their Vision for Richardson. Several themes appeared. First was that we continue our path but with growth and adjustment. No candidate suggested a significant shift in policy direction that would count as a change in vision.

More than a few candidates mentioned increased density. Richardson's grown-up future won't be static and in a glass case. Many recognize the development pattern of the City will evolve. I found this surprising. Six or eight years ago, candidates would not have used the word "density."

Another common theme was embracing the diversity of the City. The City will reflect its diversity and will be recognized for celebrating it. Another promising trend that was not as prominent just a few years ago.

Your contribution

I asked candidates to assume they left the council in six years. (An arbitrary number for the sake of the question.) What will be your contribution?

Answers were varied. Frequently mentioned was the Comprehensive Plan. We will start seeing it work. People will feel they can have input and are listened to. A few mentioned progress in parts of town that need work, such as southeast Richardson, West Spring Valley, and East Arapaho. One said our hiring of First Responders would be competitive with other cities.

What does Richardson need to face now that it is not facing?

Homelessness. Several Candidates said this. Kudos to them! Getting involved with regional efforts and information networks on homelessness were the goals of some candidates.

Housing. The need for more diverse housing types, especially workforce housing. Service workers, new teachers, and First Responders having the ability to live here was a concern.

The Comp Plan Process. What needs to be added?

This is where we started to separate the group. Some needed to be more informed. Some had a lot more knowledge. Only a few understood the kind of points and relationships I expressed in a previous piece about why this election is critical. In that piece, I discuss the Comp Plan.

This area needs some work, no matter who gets elected. This is an area where Council members need to do their homework, push the right ideas forward, and push the wrong ones off the table. Going through Council meetings and asking a few questions will not cut it.

Drilling down into candidates' answers showed their understanding. Several brought up ADUs (or granny flats). Several again brought up workforce housing. Overall, I think they understand that it is essential, but many need a clearer understanding of its details and consequences. Work is needed.

Give the City Council a grade from A+ to F.

This is where I learned things from these candidates, especially current Council Members.

Nine of the eleven candidates gave grades between solid B and solid C. That means nine were B, B-, C+, or C. That means improvement is needed, and they know it.

What to improve? The Council needs to get along better, and all Council needs input. The Council needs to improve listening to the public. Several said the Council needs to be better prepared and have done homework before the Council meetings.

The highest grade was an A. I won't reveal who this was (non-elected candidate, current but contested Council Member, or unopposed Council Member.) They were trying to be kind. It would behoove this candidate to engage in respectful criticism.

What about public engagement and input? Good? Bad?

Several were emphatic that the City needed to do better. Some put that on the Council. Words like "critical," "essential," and "can't ignore" were used. Those are good attitudes if Council Members can bring them into practice.

Several praised the City's increase and use of social media over the years. They said it has improved.

I left this line of questioning open-ended on purpose. I wanted to see the candidates' attitudes. The differentiation between the City communicating and the City and council listening was revealing. Several candidates had a better grasp than others that the Public engagement goes two ways.

Several candidates expressed the need to seek more input. That is to say, not merely a passive listener, but the City and Council should want to listen and ask for input. Several countered, "The council can't ask Public input on everything."

I brought up the issue of five-minute versus three-minute public comments at Council meetings. Several sitting members quickly said they favored five minutes. Several seemed surprised when I suggested changing to three minutes sends a message that you don't want to hear them.

One candidate melded this with the issue of diversity. "Some cultures don't have a tradition of coming to City Hall. We have to go out and meet residents where they are."

Public input strategies must be more than just a bullet point on the Council's goals. They need to work through how they want to interact with the Public and implement these practices.

What is your philosophy of City Plan Commission appointments?

The City Plan Commission (or CPC) is the most important City Board we have, and in the past years, it has suffered from problems with quality work and mediocre appointments.

The CPC is composed of seven regular members, and two alternates bring the total at any one meeting to nine. Some of the most critical cases have been decided, with only five members in attendance. That is an example of one issue.

The conversations between currently elected and non-elected candidates differed because current Council Members cannot discuss Executive Session deliberations. (I did not ask them to, and I told them that.) Nonetheless, patterns emerged.

Several non-elected and a few elected candidates expressed the need for technical competence. "A developer, a planner, someone with a good understanding of the issues" is how one put it. Those were good answers. Given that Stephen Springs - the most competent Commissioner in that regard - is no longer on the CPC because he resigned to run for City Council means, we have an even wider gap.

Several said, "Someone should want to be there and have an active interest in the work." Concerns about members not contributing or not speaking when they voted are issues.

So I dug deeper into current concerns. I asked, "So if there is a member who isn't contributing, or has attendance issues, [etc.], then - when the Council deliberates - would you advocate for their replacement?"

The answers were dicey and divergent. Several sitting Council Members seemed unwilling to do that despite expressing concerns about the quality of work the CPC produces -explanations about how to solve that problem needed to be more convincing. Candidates not yet elected seemed much more willing, but not being elected, it is easy to say that.

A CPC appointment isn't a Supreme Court appointment. If the makeup needs to be changed, then Council should change it. That is the grown-up thing to do. While these answers are glimmers of hope, it remains to be seen if the next Council can get this solved.

One thing missing

Perhaps my questions led to this missing subject, or perhaps it is part of a change in thinking.

Large Regional Employment. I don't recall this subject coming up. If it did, then it isn't in my notes. Putting that as a top priority is a mistake. Necessary? Yes. Such a high priority we ignore other things? No. I am not at all bothered by its absence.


Recommendations, endorsements and comments on candidates.

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