I was born and raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and spent six years in Illinois before settling down in Hewitt.  My wife Elli and I met at Starbucks on Hewitt Drive and we've been married since 2015. We have three children - Christopher, Harmony, and Sonia - all of whom went to Woodgate and have progressed all the way into high school here.  Hewitt has given my family (and myself personally) so much that it just makes sense that I give back!. I'm a tremendous fan of our library and I love to visit Hewitt Park when I can fit it in between the dedicated rigor of the Midway Fine Arts Program schedules.

Professionally, I have eleven years in the municipal water and wastewater utility field.  I spent six of those in Lake Charles as a laboratory technician and pretreatment inspector.  In the past five years, I have been a wastewater operator for the Waco Metropolitan Area Regional Sewerage System (WMARSS) and an environmental laboratory analyst for the City of Waco in their water quality lab.  I currently hold class C surface water and class B wastewater operator licenses through TCEQ.

It is my intention to become the next councilman for Ward 2, and indeed all of Hewitt, and for that, I need your help.  Like many people here in Hewitt this past year, I've watched as time and again the citizens have stated their case against proposed actions by the city council only to watch the council vote against us with no discussion, no defense, and no apologies.  We've tried to use data, reason, and the city and the council's own policies to plead our case, but it has fallen on deaf ears.  There comes a point when disagreement must give way to action, and now more than ever we need councilpersons who will possess transparency and accountability to the public they have been elected to represent.

Apart from the basic operational and functional duties of the council, we need the Code of Ethics and Council Procedures revised and brought into alignment with the Texas Open Meetings Act.  We need the Nepotism Guidelines in the Employee Handbook strengthened.  We need to be ever-vigilant for ways to be wise stewards of the public trust and the revenue they provide to keep public services operational.  Beyond all of that, though, we need a city council that can be trusted to listen to public comments, direct communication, and ballot measures, and then act as representative agents rather than know-it-all parents.  We need a council that we can trust to not be placing their own agendas over the collective good of the city and its residents. 

To run this campaign I need donations, and every cent I receive will be used towards that goal.


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    “The level of care and concern Matthew has for his Ward and City are inspiring. I’m excited to see him apply his drive towards the betterment of Hewitt.”

February 1, 2019

Thoughts on Texas House Bill 2 / Senate Bill 2 and the Property Tax

I'll tell you now this is long, technical, and will come to a vote before the May election.  That said, it is VERY important to all of us, it affects both the City of Hewitt and Midway ISD, and is a brutish solution to a complex problem.  I hope the current council doesn't need convincing of this, but if they do then we need to not let up and make sure the message is sent loud and clear.


I am not one for State and National politics, but legislation was filed Wednesday in the Texas legislature that could have an impact on us in the future.  Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 2 were filed by Lt. Governor Patrick and Speaker Bonnen, and are attempts to cap property tax obligations on landowners. If it passes, taxing entities could not collect more than 2.5% more than the previous year's amount without automatically triggering a public vote to 'rollback' the rate to 2.5%-over-prior.  Currently, the rollback threshold is 8% and the rollback has to be filed for ‘manually.’ Attempts to drop that to 6% or even 4% were handily defeated in previous sessions. This year, however, both bodies are marching in step and they are both expected to pass. The Texas Municipal League strongly opposes this change for reasons I'll speak about below, but the governor and legislature are already in agreement and have told local entities that it is useless to oppose it without coming to the state with constructive alternatives.

 

"So why does this impact me?" you may ask.  Put simply, for the moment it doesn't affect the City of Hewitt.  Midway ISD, on the other hand, would immediately fall under the new guidelines.  HB2 & SB2 does not trigger unless a “taxing entity” (City, ISD, etc) takes in a combined property and sales tax of $15 million, and while the city only collected roughly $9.9 million in the 2018/2019 budget, Midway's local revenue was well over $50 million.  Once Hewitt clears the $15 million, we have to either adjust our collection amounts to align with the 2.5% cap or convince enough people to vote for deciding to exceed the limit each time it happens.  For perspective, even without changing our tax rate this year, our tax revenue increased by 11.5% over the prior year.

 

I see the leadership’s perspective, even if I don’t agree with it.  If all things functioned as intended, it would set a great example for putting the citizens in direct control of their taxation.  Unfortunately, the only two places I’ve ever found where things always go to plan are “in theory” and “on paper.” The problem comes when it is time for that automatic rollback vote to happen.  Last November was an outlier in terms of election attendance. Normally only 2% of Hewitt voters will go to the polls, and Texas’ independent nature shows most brightly when it comes to telling The Man what we think about taxes.  Even if it does manage to pass by some miracle, TML correctly observes that 2.5% isn’t even enough to routinely correct for statewide inflation, much less the relative boom happening here in Hewitt and Waco. This means that even if the rollback were overridden for fiscal year 19/20, we’d very likely have to re-fight this all over again in FY 20/21.

 

If this passes and property values continue to surge as they have, it won't take us long to hit the exemption line, and then we would then be faced with three options:

 

1 - Voluntarily reduce our tax rate to match the 2.5% growth cap every year or vote against exceeding it, meaning we'd have less money than we need to meet the increasing demand for basic services or risk not being as aggressive with our debt service as we'd like.

2 - Vote for letting the tax amount exceed the 2.5% growth rate.  Residents may support that once or twice, but how many years will we keep seeing it, and what services will have to be cut every year, even as we’re growing?

3 - Artificially depress the market to keep us below the exemption threshold, which is only a temporary fix and would be economically devastating.  I sick even looking at this idea, but it is an option on the table so I listed it.


I agree that property taxes are an extreme issue confronting Texans, and I will even concede that on the surface this is a good step towards the right action.  What I personally oppose is the extreme reduction of the cap. I would support a reduction to 6%, though, because that at least gives us the latitude to keep up with inflation and the market sways.  None of that helps with the root issue, however, and that is the unchecked surging in the market. 


To be fair, as a prospective buyer I don’t like it, but as a resident of Hewitt I do understand that reasonable increases in property values are great - it means people WANT to be here and are willing to pay to make that happen.  Notice I said "reasonable increases", though.  Boom leads to Bust; not a bigger Boom. Too much, too fast may price our own residents out of their homes, small business owners out of their dreams, or even prompt an attempted sell-off which may never find buyers.  I support a controlled descent onto this proverbial runway, but this legislation just isn't it.  What these bills provide instead is a full-speed nosedive to the ocean.


I look forward to any constructive insight or debate you have on this issue, and I'll catch up with y'all tomorrow!

January 30, 2019

Behind the Scenes - On Leadership

In my second behind the scenes, I wanted to talk a little bit about leadership and the lessons I’ve learned from the times when I have led

One social club I used to belong to was a foam-combat organization called Amtgard.  For a good idea, think the movie Role Models, but not being used as the butt of a joke.  On my personal page you will doubtless find plenty of embarrassing pictures of that part of my life.  Over my fifteen or so years in that club, I met everybody from minimum wage cashiers, union carpenters, corporate lawyers, renaissance faire acrobats, graphic designers, and more.  The membership ranged from 14 to their 80s. As with fraternal orders like the Moose, Elks, Masons, and VFW, we had issues with members. We had financial difficulties. We had interaction issues between our city-based chapters and agencies like the local police and the Parks departments.  At the regional level, with groups spanning a dozen cities and with each such region interacting with easily a thousand people in a year, I learned a few things about what leadership often looks like.

The first thing I learned is that it is better to head off a problem than be caught with a full-blown crisis on your hands.  When you are suddenly engulfed in a crisis, the first step is costly and painful as you have to consume tons of resources strictly on damage control before you can even hope to address the root problems.  As I was training leaders, I would often give them a problem to resolve and tell them the issue has already happened, the public has already soured to you, and they want a resolution NOW. I have found that you can tell a lot about the kind of leader a person is by how they handle the moments immediately after a crisis explodes around them.

The second thing I learned is that when a crisis happens, look for the people moving towards the crisis to engage it.  The person taking an active part in resolving a situation is often listened to even in cases when there may not be an immediately rational reason to follow them.  For a simple, practical demonstration of this, the next time you have a large lunch gathering and you are brought to your table, observe the banter about who will sit where.  If this isn’t immediately resolved, just pick a chair and sit there; the others will instinctively grab seats. This goes way back to our earliest days as a species fighting for survival: if the ‘leader’ sits, then it must be that we should sit, too.

Third, I learned that not all leaders stand on the top of the hill yelling “follow me,” and to be a good leader you have to identify all the leaders around you and get them to where they need to be to do their best work.  Some people have a mind for infrastructure, some have a mind for financials, and some have a mind for managing the process itself. The same can be said for council members. When we are entering an economic boom, we need council members who are good at things like land rights, business investment strategies, and code adherence.  If we move into a time of scarcity, we need a council focused on lean approaches to meeting city needs, smart methods of handling lack, and encouraging recovery. In times like we face now, we need council members who speak plainly, reassure residents as best as possible, and focus on solutions to the problem while also being aware of and acknowledging the public’s need to understand the actions of their government despite any confusion that surrounds the process.

January 29, 2019

The Platform - Increase council presence

Part of what set my feet down this path was the notion that the current council was not listening to public outcry.  No word about it. No attempt at outreach. The baffling part of all of it was that the worse things became, the farther the council seemed to distance itself, which only caused more problems.  In my favorite quote from the movie Gladiator, Senator Gracchus says “I don’t pretend to be a man of the people, but I do try to be a man for the people,” and I believe that attitude sums up where we have been.

To restore confidence and trust, we need to look at public service in a new way, now more than ever.  After all of the damage that has been caused and the hurt on both sides, I feel that the next council needs to have its finger on the pulse of the community more frequently and more actively.

This falls into more of a soft skill than any ordinance proposals, I will admit, but it is one we need to see.  Towards that end, I would encourage all of our council members to do a number of activities, such as the following:

  • Ward Town Halls - both council members from the ward meet with citizens of their ward at a local venue (council chambers or not; I’d prefer not) to have a dialog about the issues that affect them and their area.  This would be a more casual environment than a council meeting, talk could be a bit more free, and at the next workshop meeting the different council members would bring their notes back and see if any action strategy could be assembled, whether for the ward or the city as a whole.

  • Follow-up meetings - If something is mentioned in public comment, urge the council members to engage with their constituents and research the issue for possible action or commentary afterwards.

  • Encourage more public presentation/engagement - when a business opens, have more council members there.  When a public program launches, have council members there. Since this began almost all public presence has dwindled to nil.

January 27, 2019

The Platform - Review the employee pay scale

My bias should be obvious here, but let me restate it: I love city employees. I have been in and around city government my whole life and there are some factors that governments wrestle with all the time.  We want the best employees we can afford. Pay too much and you can't properly staff departments, but don't pay enough and you become a revolving door; a training ground for people to gain experience before moving on to 'better' positions or the same position but in a city that can pay better.  If you ask a city employee - any city employee from any city - they can all name somebody who got tired of city pay and went elsewhere to do the same job with usually fewer constraints and higher pay.

I got involved in Hewitt politics primarily on the issues of employee pay and department funding to do their jobs.  I got infuriated when the budget was approved but the pay unfreeze was kept tabled and councilmen said it was because they wanted to review pay scales.  I wasn't mad because of the need for review, but because a system that fairly rewards our employees, encourages them to stay, and makes it easy to recruit and retain quality talent is hard to overhaul in a year, much less two weeks.

Pay rates and steps are controlled by the city manager and HR, but support from the council is vital, and this is a subject we HAVE to tackle soon.  Speaking strictly from a water utility standpoint, trade journal after trade journal points to the record number of career water and wastewater men and women set to retire over the next decade compared to the relatively tiny number of people finding their way into the field to replace them.  I would imagine many fields face similar scarcity.

In the past, the city has used an informal call-around survey of TML members, but a comprehensive salary survey hasn't been conducted.  Factors such as population and per capita income were considered, but key details seem to have been omitted. Many of the cities included were bedroom communities of the vastly more affluent Dallas and San Antonio metroplexes.  Find me one person who would reasonably consider Waco and DFW equals. One DFW bedroom city polled matches us for population, exceeds us slightly in per capita income, but has zero multi-family units. No duplexes, no apartments.  This tells me that while no particular family is rich there, no family there worries about the balance between privacy and affordability. They can afford to pay their workers more.

I would advocate a comprehensive pay scale survey be funded to more closely align and streamline us.  For hourly employees, I would advocate for bonuses tied to performance. Hit the minimum; get the minimum. Step up and it will show.  For supervisors and directors, I would advocate for a flat salary with bonuses based on budgetary adherence, quality of work, promotability of subordinates, etc.  To help contain or cap pay from becoming a financial drain, each year we can extend a severance offer to veteran employees. They are under obligation to accept it, and it is no reflection on them personally, but the offers would be fair to both parties.

There's a lot to chew through here, but put together as one comprehensive plan, this would encourage recruitment, sustain retention, encourage career-long development, encourage professional association and accreditation, drive management engagement in employee conduct and improvement, and help keep overall costs down by making sure that long-serving employees are given the option to exit the system early to allow for the promotion of those previously stated developed candidates.  This may cause some immediate pain, but these measures would help retain qualified people and enable long-term growth.

I have one more major plank to address, and it's a bit more of a “what the council will do for you” thing than any policy change or adoption.  See you tomorrow.

January 27, 2019

Behind the scenes: Whose side am I on?

This update is a bit of a divergence from my normal updates, so please bear with me.  If you read this (and please read it all) and still have questions or want to talk to me about it, I welcome the opportunity to do just that.  If you know several people who feel the same way that you do, I encourage you to bring them all together so I can address everybody’s concerns at one time.

In speaking with residents over the last few days there seems to be a question emerging in most of my discussions; “which side on you on?”

I’m on Hewitt’s side, full stop.

Now in saying that, I want you to see the whole picture.  To get you to see that, I want to beg your indulgence for a little imagery.  I hope you aren’t eating when you read this. I have worked as an operator at a sewer treatment plant.  There were occasions when an influent valve wasn’t closed properly, a pump’s housing was opened before protections were put in place, and the floor drain hadn’t been cleared beforehand.  The pump gallery begins to fill and the situation needs dealt with. In that moment I want to resolve the situation. I don’t care who started it. After that, I want to take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

THAT is my leaning.  What has happened, has happened.  What has been done, has been done.  We cannot regain any of the time, energy, money, or productivity that has been lost or sacrificed in this, but we CAN take steps to make sure we don’t keep throwing good after bad.  The business of the city is not clearing anyone’s name, exacting revenge, or carrying out vendettas, and too much of the citizens’ time and money has been spent doing exactly this, and it’s time for it to stop.  Sun Tzu said “There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare.” If allowed to continue it will never end and we all suffer.

Revising the Code of Ethics helps us all begin fresh with a new understanding about the intentions, obligations, and expectations of the council.  Strengthening the nepotism policy closes the loophole and/or addresses the precedent that was created. Requiring council sign-offs on directorships allows everyone the peace of mind that those at the top are there strictly by their merits.  Annual departmental audits provide transparency and accountability. None of those ideas are in any way partisan, even if I have referred to past incidents as to why I feel that now is the time to implement them. More than anything, I feel like the best time to advance them is at the beginning with a new council, new attorney, and new manager.  ‘New year, new you’ and all of that.

Lastly, I have certain principles I go out of my way to be able to stand by honorably.  If I give you my word, I keep it. If I argue my position, I will base those arguments in the facts as I understand them.  If my sense of fairness or an update to my facts cause me to alter my position, I will tell you so. I will question a thing until I understand it or I stop getting answers.  I will listen to you and try to understand a situation as you do, even if I don’t agree with you at all. If I did anything less, I’d be talking at you, and I’d rather be talking with you.

January 26, 2019

The platform - Audit one department per month

During last year's budget process, the city tried to give presentations from each department and their needs.  Between the issues between the manager and the council and how little time was given to understand the needs and services of each department, many departments got skipped entirely.  This has the potential to expose us to wasteful or unnecessary expenditures, and the only way to stop them is to learn about them.

The city charter empowers the council to "inquire into the conduct of any office, department, agency, officer or employee of the city and to make investigations as to municipal affairs."  I would use that power to proactively review one department per month, looking for fiscal integrity, potential issues of oversight, and to review overall operational efficiency.  This serves several purposes.

First, this lets the council and meeting attendees take a deep dive into what a given department does and the services they provide our citizens.  This gives us all some much-needed transparency.  Second, this allows the council ample time to review the overall effectiveness of the city manager come annual review time, helping us to avoid cases where we 'rubber stamp' a marginal performance and call it excellent.

Today is going to be a bit of a 'double-up,' as I plan to be out of town basically all weekend.  That said, I am always available via email address, my cell phone, or Facebook Instant Messenger via the campaign's Facebook page.  Tomorrow, I want to talk specifically to our hard-working city employees, but it is something I believe y'all should listen in on, too.

January 25, 2019

The platform - Revise council authority/oversight on director-level promotions

As part of a Public Information Act records request, an email was discovered from one council member to another stating that the council should have more say over who was receiving directorships over various city departments.  I believe that the city manager should still have the decision authority over his staff, but I also believe that the council should be specifically made aware of any new or different directors.

Therefore, I would propose amending the city charter so that to appoint a person to a director-level position, the city manager must obtain an affirming vote by the city council, similar to how the president must receive Senate confirmation on secretary nominees, but in a non-binding manner.  If the council rejects an appointment, they would then be required to provide to the city manager specific, written reasons for their rejection within fourteen (14) days so that the manager can use the feedback in future selections.


January 24, 2019

The platform - Suggest revision of the city's nepotism guidelines

The Elephant in the Room:

The situation between Mr. Miles and Ms. Algood, as well as the current council's approval of both the existence of the relationship and Ms. Algood's compensation and positions, and the months of finger-pointing and legal maneuvering and, frankly, waste of time and money that followed could have been prevented with clearer language in the employee handbook regarding nepotism.

Whatever your stance on this issue, I believe that if we put our heads together and leverage our experiences together, we can craft wording of the nepotism policy that erases gray areas for recommendation to the city manager and the city secretary. Per the city charter, they have final authority and approval of any modification of the employee handbook, but it falls to us as council members to express the values and vision of the citizens and improve the work environment of the city employees as the supervisors and directors execute public business on the citizens' behalf.

January 23, 2019

The platform - Revise the Code of Ethics and Council Relations Policy

Originally drafted and adopted in 2004, the Council Relations Policy and Code of Ethics is now almost fifteen years old.  It does not address issues with communications in our modern internet age and is not aligned with the Texas Open Meetings Act.  The past year has eroded trust in so many of our institutions.  I believe that for this council to get back to having the majority of the city behind it, we have to start out by updating and refreshing ourselves on what it is the council is and is not able to do.  In light of everything that has gone on, this needs to be the first policy action by the new council.

My initial proposal is to put together a group consisting of one council member, the city attorney, and three other local civic and faith leaders.  The composition and individuals can be negotiated, but their charge would be to draft a policy that is clearly understandable, reflects our common values, and is TOMA-compliant.  This could be completed and a draft proposal submitted for public review and comment within the first 60 days.

As I stated yesterday, I welcome your constructive feedback and commentary.

January 22, 2019

Lets start talking about my platform - general disclaimers

Over the next week or so I want to outline some of the issues I feel we need to address on the council and in the city. I encourage you to comment, ask questions, cite sources, give constructive feedback, etc. I have my own opinion on most of these issues, but I'm curious about what you think about them. Are they "must-fix" priorities? Are they "when we get around to it" priorities? I think they all need some kind of response, but I want your input in helping me develop my 'roadmap' of priorities as your councilman.

First off, a few caveats. These issues are not in any order. They are being considered on their own merit. Please limit opinion to the issue at hand to preserve the integrity of the discussion. Some of these issues presented may conflict. Many positions will evolve between these posts and any ordinance proposals I bring forward for consideration.

I hope you will help me take an active part in shaping Hewitt's forward momentum, and we'll start wrestling with these issues tomorrow.

January 20, 2019

I've dropped the initial funding target

My goal with my fundraising is to make sure I have enough capital to fight for the seat if an opponent presents themselves.  If I'm unopposed I won't need a dime of anybody else's money, but people are insisting on posting signs for me, and as a first-time candidate I won't lie: even having one campaign sign would make it all the more real to me.

I've lowered the dollar amount I am asking for, because I want to be lean in what I ask for.  Nothing extravagant, nothing more than what I will need for a basic campaign.  That and I have to file lots of reports if I spend more than $500, and I'd rather not if I can help it.

If you're here and have donated, thank you.  If you haven't donated, please consider doing so.  I'd appreciate any help in making sure people know what we're trying to do for the residents of Hewitt.


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    “The level of care and concern Matthew has for his Ward and City are inspiring. I’m excited to see him apply his drive towards the betterment of Hewitt.”