Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of the Joshua mayor town hall. Part 1 appeared in Saturday’s edition.
Two Joshua residents are running for the mayor seat in November, and both answered residents’ questions and heard their concerns on Thursday night during a town hall meeting at First United Methodist Church Joshua.
FUMC Senior Pastor Dale Wilbanks was the event’s moderator as about 50 residents asked candidates Joe Hollarn and Robert Fleming how they would conduct city business and if they had any goals.
Both had filed to run for the seat in the Nov. 23 special election, which was necessary because Kenny Robinson resigned in August after two months in office. Robinson was sworn in in June after defeating the incumbent, Hollarn, who was seeking his fourth term.
Question: What are your thoughts on growth and how to grow? How do you see us growing the next five to 10 years?
Fleming: That’s a good question also. So like you said, I think growth is inevitable. We’re smash between Burleson and Cleburne. We’re going to grow. I think one of the bigger problems that I see, or the bigger question that I see is a lot of people want to see the growth, they want some of the amentities, but they don’t want to lose the small-town feel. That’s hard to do. I think people have been trying to do that for a long, long time. I’ll be honest, I think that the growth is going to happen. You have to regulate the growth, but more importantly if you don’t want to lose the small-town feel, I think it starts with advocating for the agricultural zoning inside the city limits. I think that’s where it starts. That’s where you get your small-town feel, people who have the livestock and they get slowly pushed out over time with the small ordinances. It starts to drive them up the wall. ‘Well, I can’t do this with my property anymore because there’s a city ordinance. I can’t do this anymore because of the city ordinance.’ That’s where it starts to drive the feel out. When you cannot use your land like you wanted to when you bought it, that makes you leave. Right now that’s what’s called ‘legal non-conforming property.’ It’s legal because it’s been grandfathered, but it’s not conforming because that’s the city does not want to see that like that in the future. They have a land use plan for your property in the future. I think that if the people want to sell it and they want to get it developed, sell it. If you don’t, we shouldn’t be forcing people to adhere to ordinances that drive them away from using their land how they intended to use it. So, that’s how I’d like to see the growth. I’d like to see the businesses come in, but we protect that small-town feel by advocating for our agricultural districts.
Hollarn: I think as Robert’s said, growth is inevitable. A lot of the times the people think the city is driving the growth and what we’re trying to do is just control it. If you own a piece of property of 20 acres, the city doesn’t come in and force you to sell. It’s when you sell and you sell it to a developer and now we got more houses coming in. That’s sort of when the city steps in. I disagree just a little bit with what Robert said as far as the ag. I agree with him that, you know, if you want to see the small town atmosphere — that’s definetly one of the reasons why we moved here — we do have pockets. I know several folks, they’re running cattle, got sheep, goats and everything else in the city limits. To my knowledge, we haven’t run those people out. We do have some ordinances that are in place that come into play depending on certain things. Acreage, you know, you got to respect your neighbors. You can’t have it if you got roosters out there and a house right next door. The first thing I would suggest is you need to work with your neighbors No. 1. That’s something we’ve all gotten away from. It seems like the first thing that everybody does is you post it on Facebook when you got a problem with your neighbor. That’s not the way to do it. You need to go talk to them and see if you can work it out. But, I think growth is coming. As I’ve said many times, I’ve been accused of trying to make this a South Lake or a Frisco. That’ll never happen. We’ll never even be a Burleson or a Cleburne. We’re going to be a Joshua. What my goal would be to where there’s places to eat for people living in Joshua, there’s places you can get a majority of the items you need for you household in Joshua and that there’s some entertainment in Joshua without having to go out. Are we going to have a lot of choices? No, but I think we’ll have it to where some day where there will be choices for each of those and people can enjoy it and still have that small town atmosphere. We’re not out there trying to ruin people who got 20 or 30 acres. We just want to be prepared though if they sell that. We’ve got to be able to step in with the developer who typically buys the property. We’ve got very few people who come in and buy 20 acres and want to keep the 20 acres. What they’re doing is they’re buying the 20 acres and then they’re wanting to subdivide it. The city has to be able to control that. We’ve got some big subdivisions out here, but it takes time. You said something about living in Joshua Meadows. That subdivision is 20 years old, and it’s not even half way done yet. When there’s a subdivision that comes in, it doesn’t get automatically full. It takes time before that ever comes into fruition where they’ve sold all the lots. Joshua Meadows, I think, still looks like part of it is still farming community out there. Part of it’s got houses. I think you just got to have a little bit of both.
Q: Unless you have a magic wand, there will always be more needs than money. What are your top three priorities and needs that you will focus on if elected?
Hollarn: I think one of the things that the citizens expect from the city is public safety. I think you have to have the police officers. I think in some way we’re going to be connected to the fire department. You gotta have public works. I know there’s a bond election coming up to put in new streets. It’s very hard. We don’t spend millions and millions of dollars like I’ve seen on Facebook taking care of streets. I know we don’t in Joshua Meadows. It takes a lot of money. The budget for the public works, the entire budget is about $750,000. That includes all the salaries, the equipment and everything else. You can’t fix a lot of roads with $750,000 in total budget. That’s the reason for the bond election is coming up. I think that’s why bonds are good. It gives the citizens the opportunity to vote. If enough citizens say hey we need this money and it’s to repair roads, it’s to buy some new equipment, then by all means vote for the bond election. If you say, hey taxes are high enough and I don’t care about the streets, vote against it. That’s your choice. But the city’s money, what a lot of people don’t realize is it sort of falls down hill if you’ve heard that expression. The city keeps getting, last year the county put dispatch on the city. Before, the city had always had dispatch for free. Never paid for it. Well, the county was having to hire another person, so somebody came up and said well let’s just move the dispatch to the cities. Everyone of you pays county taxes. If you live in the city or you live in the county, you’re paying county taxes. You should get dispatch. They made it a four-year program. The first year, I think it was like $7,500. This year, I think it’s like $30,000. By the fourth year, it’s going to be almost $100,000. Where are we suppose to get that money? That comes out of y’all’s pockets. That’s the county pushing everything down, and I got a feeling there’s going to be more coming because the [Texas] Legislature is tighting things up. So it flows down hill, and unfortunately y’all are at the bottom. I mean, the city has to work within the parameters that we’ve got. Again, I think it’s public safety, public works and then I think we really need to have stuff for the community. I think this community was lacking in parks. When I got elected, that was one of the first things we put in was the park. We put in the YMCA. I think, you know, you want people to feel comfortable, have things and be entertained in that aspect. That’s what you’re going to need. Those would be my top three.
Fleming: My top three. Public safety, that’s always No. 1. Safety’s first. No. 2 is the infrastructure, like he said. These streets are terrible. They’ve been terrible since I’ve moved here. I couldn’t put that all on him because he wasn’t the mayor back then. But yeah of course our drainage is terrible. It hasn’t been touched in a very long time. In fact, I think a bond is about to go off the books this year that was a bond for drainage. It was specified for only a certain area in Joshua. I haven’t actually been out to see it or if it was ever done. I just trusted it was. That was done before I got here. I think I only need to: that’s public safety and our infrastructure. That’s what we need to focus our needs and our wants. That’s the top two priorities for me.
Q: Before they started building the Wildwood addition, they pulled out all those trees and bushes and dug up the hill that was there. After that they put out a bunch of mulch, which could cause sink holes in the future. If elected mayor, are you going to hold those developers responsible if there’s some damage to the homes?
Fleming: So, honestly as the mayor there wouldn’t be much that I could do about that. No. 1, I didn’t see it. If there’s proof that it’s still buried there, I think that’s something worth talking with the council about. Bring it up, talking with the council. ‘Hey, this is the proof that I have.’ It can’t be left like that. You’re right. The wood is going to deteriorate. It’s going to rot and it’s gonna sink. But I mean, that would be my answer to you. If you’ve got the proof, bring it down and show it to somebody. I think the engineer probably would like to know about that. So, if you’ve got it we’d sure like to see it. Bring it down. Jerry’s our pro-tem [mayor].
Hollarn: If I could just say something on that? I understand your issues. Like I said, that very well could happen. But one of the things I believe all the builders that are coming in on 10-year warranties. In order to get a 10-year warranty on a home now, you have to do a soil test on that plat. Then you have to have an engineer design the slab that goes on that particular lot, and that’s based on that soil is. If that soil moves like you’re talking about, that slab is going to crack; it’s going to break. I’ve seen cables bust open. It’ll have a break right down the center of the house. Then the warrant has to come in and take care of it. So the warranty companies have gotten very tight on that right now. They sit there, and like I said, they make an engineer sign off on a soils test. You have to have a slab survey done. There’s many thigns that has to be done. If somebody did move it in one of those houses and they have problems with their house, the 10-year warranty companies will come in, but they’re going to go back against the developer and the developer will be the one ends up paying for it because the warranty companies will go back to the developer.
Q: What are your ideas to bring this community together? What can you do as a mayor to put your ideas in place?
Fleming: Good question. I think one of the biggest things we could do to bring this community together is education. There seems to be a lot of back and forth on Joshua Residents Talking and other Facebook pages. Prime example of that would be the people who are complaining about the Burger King. They think that for whatever reason the city just chose for Burger King to show up here, and that’s not how that happens. A lot of people don’t understand how the city government works. So several months ago before I even decided that I was going to run for mayor, I went and sat with Josh Jones, our city manager, on my day off and talked to him about how we could engage the community more and educate the community more. Josh told me, he said, “Hey you’ve done a good job. I’ve seen you on Facebook. You’re helping to educate people.” We kind of brainstormed together. I’d love to tell you it was all my idea, but it’s not. But I think the city’s going to role out what they’ll call the ‘Citizens’ Government Academy,’ which I tried to help Josh work on for quite a while. We’re hoping that after the beginning of the year that’s going to roll out. I think that’s going to help a lot, that’s going to bring the community together. It’s going to educate the community on how things work and how they can stop slinging mud at people that haven’t really had their hand in the till.
Hollarn: I think that is a good question. That’s one of the things that in our community we have an issue with because we don’t have a community newspaper anymore. It seems like th only way people find out about anything is through the internet. I think what we’ve had tonight is excellent. I will make the promise that if I’m elected again we will have a town hall meeting at least every other month where I’ll come sit up, and whoever wants to come talk to me I’m willing to be there and listen. We can do it any kind of forum. Like I said, this type of forum works great. I’ll sit where ever it is, and like I said I’ll answer questions until nobody’s left to ask anymore questions because I think that’s the way we got to get this community back together. We got to talk to each other, not hide behind a computer and post it on Facebook. We need to do it face to face.
Q: Will you commit to reviewing all the city ordinances and correcting them if need be?
Hollarn: Yes, sir. It’s been an ongoing process. It’s not easy. It’s very time consuming. You have to put the ordinances together. That’s sort of what Lisa did. You have to send them to the attorney. But the short answer is yes. We need to work on those, and we need to get there where they’re fair for everybody.
Fleming: Absolutely. Like I said before, when I was on Planning and Zoning that’s actually what we’ve been working on. For our work session the last three meetings has been city ordinances. We have a consultant we’re working with right now who’s going over a lot of the city ordinances we have. They said they’ve been patched together for quite a while. We’re trying to adopt new city ordinances right now that are worded a little cleaner. But, absolutely. That’s what we’re working on right now on the board that I’m on.