McIntosh says city needs change

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Shortly after his arrival in Liberty Hill just under two years ago, Steve McIntosh decided one good way to learn about his new home was to sit in on City Council meetings.

“I’ve sat watching a lot of the Council activity,” he said. “When I first came I became interested in what the Council was doing because I am retired and I didn’t know a lot about the city at the time and I wanted to find out some things about it.”

His take-away from the meetings, though, was something he says he found unsettling.

“The longer I sat and observed and gathered information informally, I realized there seems to be an impasse, and the Council pretty much votes for every single thing the same way,” he said. “There’s no dissension in any fashion – and I’m not for dissension for the sake of dissension – but my point is that all these things they’re thinking about and planning on doing require a great deal of thought and I think what they are doing in some fashion is rubber-stamping some things based on the opinion of those they think know better.”

His campaign is about change and asking questions.

“The community has a right to have a voice there and I don’t really see it as getting one,” McIntosh said. “I don’t see the message of the people that I pick up is being transmitted through the Council. There needs to be a more skeptical eye on how things are done and why.”

The one-way streets change downtown and Stubblefield extension in development are two issues McIntosh – a retired Sheriff Sargent from Colorado – points to when he talks about a lack of communication and planning.

“Having worked in law enforcement as long as I did, and actually being a traffic sergeant with a direct relationship to traffic engineering where I was required to be part of the decision-making process, there is an aspect we don’t have here,” he said. “They made the change on the one-way streets, and there was a reason for it – it was not discussed publicly or at least put out publicly – but you have a backlash from the back ups of traffic and the reasoning given now why it was done was in preparation for the Stubblefield extension. No one was aware it was happening, there was no contingency plan made to circumvent traffic from the school.”

The City plan for Stubblefield is one McIntosh believes is competing with the county transportation plan, hinting that he believes the plan is suspect.

“The insistence on it being done is another issue when there is already planned a circumvention by the county is another issue,” he said. “There’s probably some other motivation there, but I listen to what people say, they’re very upset, they come to the meetings and they get the ‘well, it’s how we’re planning it.’ These roads and the planning of them should never be taken on by the City independently. The process should have been handed over to a legitimate traffic engineer who could come down and find out what the traffic situation is here and have an educated plan in regard to how traffic flows and to make it work from the outset.”

The burden of communicating with the public is something McIntosh puts on the Council and City, but he admits it is not an easy process and one he has struggled with in his career in law enforcement.

“When you can’t bring the people to the City Council meetings, how do you bring the City Council meeting to the people?” he said. “I’ve had a lot of conversations about that. First of all, and we will use the one-way streets as an example, the people in the neighborhood should have been respected in their concerns. Someone needs to go down and talk to people who live there, even if it is done door-to-door, to talk to them about the potential plans and what they want to see as a result. The folks that live in the community usually have the answer, you just have to go find that answer.”

No matter what method of communication is used, McIntosh said being sure of the final decision is important.

“You can send it out through the PTA or through a newsletter, or out through the newspaper, but I think you don’t proceed until you have a very good grasp of how you are going to go forward. If that was done, there would have been none of this,” he said referring to the one-way streets issue.

Tax rates, water rates and other potential fees are not things McIntosh says he is ready to say are on target or not.

“It’s hard to make an educated comment about that when I haven’t specifically looked at the fees,” he said. “In not having any experience in the water business, I don’t have an answer to that, but I do think the numbers need to be looked at independently. I do know there needs to be some training and education done on the part of this process because the City wasn’t always in the water business.”

The City has made park development a focus of development plans, and McIntosh said he supports that.

“It’s an integral part of making the city a livable place,” he said. “If we’re trying to attract a business or businesses we really want here we have to have a community structure where people can look at the City and say ‘This is a place where I want to raise my children.’ I think in that respect they’re very well thought out, are in good places and incorporate a lot of activities people want to do.”

But even on parks, he questions the outreach efforts and planning process.

“I think the only thing I’d have liked to see better is again, that outreach as far as what each specific site is going to do,” he said. “When you’re adding swim lanes at the end of a project, to me, that indicates you didn’t ask the right questions at the beginning of the project. That isn’t the end of the world, but it reflects on the idea of talking to people and getting a good feel for what the community needs.”

In budget discussions in recent years, staffing issues, both in the police department as well as city hall, have been a prime topic of discussion.

McIntosh was not ready to say increased staffing was needed or not, but wants to see a logical approach taken to studying the issue, with an eye on more than just numbers, with someone from the outside looking at the issue. “In a larger perspective, you’re looking at not only staffing numbers, but you’re looking at deployment aspects,” he said. “That has to be done, and when I talk about hiring someone you can just get an outside agency, a command staff member from another agency, that will show some legitimacy to the points you’re making or not.”

He said it is imperative that those making the request ensure they are making a good case that is easy to understand.

“If you’re going to make the argument that you need it, you have to have the information to give to someone who is not a law enforcement person to make them understand what it is you are needing,” McIntosh said. “I’d say if you are failing in that argument you need to try a different method.”

Making sure the city is as proactive as it can be in terms of attracting business and continuing to grow is important, and McIntosh is not in favor of trying to control what comes to town and what doesn’t, but he believes you can impact growth by focusing on what you want to attract.

“I would not want to get into the business of dictating which businesses are and are not here, however, I do also think that if you want something you need to go out and try and get it as opposed to just letting the chips fall,” he said. “If you want to get ahead of the trend and try and get people interested in other types of businesses I believe you can get them in here.”

He wonders if some of the opportunity to steer growth has already passed.

“The train is on the tracks and it’s coming down,” he said. “Frankly, it’s a little late to be pushing for one thing or another. It should have been done maybe 10 years ago as opposed to maybe the method they were using.”

Specifically looking at downtown, with the parks and transportation projects such as taking over Loop 332 and building the roundabout, McIntosh likes the direction he sees, as long as it doesn’t expand too much.

“I don’t have a disagreement over what’s being done,” he said. “If you look at places like Dripping Springs, somewhere with a small downtown, but they have a method by which people like to come to downtown. They have something there, they have businesses where you can park your car and walk in and have a nice day walking around and shopping. It needs to bring people in, but not change the style of the town. It needs to be something that’s done with the idea of preservation, preserving the way the town was and preserving the way the town is without it becoming some sprawling industrial-sized place.”

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