In this age of the sound-bite, we rarely have a chance to take an in-depth look at our leaders.
So each year, the Advocate selects a prominent City newsmaker for an informal, hour-long, taped interview, and we publish their complete, unedited comments in an effort to give our readers a chance to do some thinking on their own.
This year, City Councilwoman Mary Poss is our newsmaker.
Poss sat down with us to talk about the dredging of White Rock Lake, a time she was nearly killed by gunfire, her neighborhood roots, her family’s connection with Ross Perot, local flooding problems, the soundwall along Central Expressway and a variety of other topics.
Poss represents District 9, which includes Lakewood and large portions of East Dallas. She was elected in May 1995, but has spent her life active in our City and neighborhood.
Her seemingly endless resume includes participation in Lakewood Elementary’s School Community Council, the Lakewood Service League, area crime watch groups, the East Dallas and Lakewood chambers of commerce, the White Rock Republican Women’s Club, Clean Dallas East, and the Lakewood Homeowners Association. She also has served as director of the Greater Dallas Crime Commission and vice president of the Greater Dallas Planning Council.
She says she spends most her days and nights out on the town meeting constituents and talking about their problems.
We hope you can find the time to settle into a comfortable chair, kick back a bit and see what she has to say.
What’s The Deal With Crime?
ADVOCATE: Is it our imagination, or is crime dying down as an issue here in our neighborhood?
POSS: Violent crime in Dallas has decreased over the past seven years. Dallas and New York City alone are the only cities that have had decreases in violent crime seven consecutive years. We are, however, throughout the City beginning to see increases in property crimes.
I think a lot of that increase is due to the changes in state law that were made two legislative sessions ago related to state jail beds and essentially what is a fourth-degree felony. What it means is that the penalties for a lot of nonviolent crimes are not as great as they were. Oftentimes, there is probation involved in the first and second sentencing, and you have more and more property-type criminals out there on the streets.
We know statistically that the average burglar commits 187 burglaries before they’re ever caught. If you can imagine how many people might be out there after being caught the first time and being on probation, there’s a lot of opportunity their chosen occupation.
As a result, we are seeing increases. I think that crime will become a much bigger topic in the next year if we don’t do something to curtail this type of growth.
It doesn’t matter what type of crime you’re a victim of. Once you’re a victim, you never feel the same about your community. You never feel the same in terms of how safe you are or how safe your family is. That’s one of the reasons why I think that the perception of people is that crime really has not declined as much as it has in the violent categories.
In Harm’s Way
ADVOCATE: Have you ever been a crime victim?
POSS: I have. The first time I was a victim was the day that I had successfully organized the first community crime prevention fair in Harrell Park (located at Gaston and Abrams in Lakewood). We had a very successful day with all types of exhibits and crime prevention booths, lots of participation from local restaurants. Really, hundreds and hundreds of people came just to see what was going on and hopefully learn something.
That evening, I did have my handbag stolen. The thief immediately ran out and maxed out my credit cards. They clearly had a plan as to what they were going to do once they obtained some credit cards that would work.
ADVOCATE: Any other crime-related activity that has personally happened to you?
POSS: Several small situations, but one big situation, which was probably really responsible for my lifetime interest in crime prevention. When I was in college, I was spending an evening at my sister’s in Austin, Texas, and a rapist who had been in the area tried to break into her apartment after he had raped two women across the street. The evening was very unpleasant.
It turned out that this man ran once he saw us in the apartment. He thought he was entering an empty apartment because we had not answered the door, and we had certainly ignored his knocks on the windows. He proceeded to break in. He saw us. He left. He was hiding out in some lower brush area outside of the apartment complex.
When the police arrived, they were standing on the front porch. They were talking and asking us questions, and he fired at the officers.
ADVOCATE: With a gun? You mean he shot at them?
POSS: He shot at the officers. The officers returned fire, and that man was killed that evening in Austin.
ADVOCATE: And you watched it?
POSS: I was there. Yes.
ADVOCATE: That must have made a very dramatic impression on you.
POSS: It did. It did. I credit one of the police officers with saving my life. Just a moment before the gunfire started, he had told me to turn around and go into the apartment. I had just moved away from a post, which was outside the door, and that post had several bullets in it. I had been standing at that very spot.
What About People Who Move to Plano?
ADVOCATE: Crime has happened to a lot of people around here. Most of us have been fortunate enough only to have a lawnmower ripped off or something that is really not that big of a deal.
POSS: Or unfortunate.
ADVOCATE: It’s fortunate to the extent that we were not in the situation that you were in where we saw somebody shot or got shot ourselves. There are different degrees of crime, but like you said before, once you’re a victim, it changes your perception. When a crime happens to you, and you’re living in a community that you like otherwise, what should you do? A lot of people move to Plano or the Park Cities, figuring they’re going somewhere safe.
POSS: You can’t move away from it. If you talk to your friends who live in Denton or your friends who live in McKinney or other locations, you’ll find that they have the same types of activities. Maybe it’s not as high per capita as you find in the inner-cities, but they have it. You simply cannot move away from it.
One of the saddest times I had when I was running the Greater Dallas Crime Commission was getting a phone call from a high profile individual in the City who had talked with me about potentially participating in the Crime Commission activities. The person at the time told me that they simply didn’t have the time. They were too busy with an art project, too busy with other projects in the City, but they really appreciated what I was doing.
Six months later, I heard from that individual, and they told a horrible tragedy that had occurred to their family related to a crime and wanted to know exactly what they could do to help.
I think it’s important that everybody realize that potentially any of us at any time could be a victim. We should all stop and consider that when we think about ourselves and our families and friends and do whatever it is we can to participate, even if it’s just going to your neighborhood crime watch meeting and being a part of your crime watch phone bank so that you are notified when something is occurring in your neighborhood.
If that is the level of contribution you can make, that is still very important.
Tracking Sex Offenders
ADVOCATE: You mentioned earlier that an increasing number of past criminals are out on the streets now because of the jail population problem. Is there anything the City can do or anything the City is doing about that?
POSS: One of the things the City is tracking is the number of sex offenders that are released into various communities. We do have registration for those, although my sense is that the program is not effective at all at this point.
For a while, Houston complained loudly that they were getting more than their fair share of certain types of offenders. It seems that at that time the state may have decided to send some of those additional offenders over to Fort Worth. Then Forth Worth started screaming.
When it came Dallas’ turn, my comment to our entire Council was not only do we need to be screaming about getting more than our fair share, but we need to work with the state to address an overall plan for some type of fair distribution of people on probation or who are on parole.
Unfortunately most of the programs that are set up for monitoring paroles are going to be in the bigger cities because of the jobs, because of the drug rehabilitation, because of all the other requirements that go into being on parole. You’re just going to find all of those programs available in the bigger cities, and they’re going to get more than their fair share.
ADVOCATE: I supposed that’s the type of thing that led the legislature to pass the concealed handgun bill. Any thoughts on the value of that bill?
POSS: That type of bill hasn’t proven to decrease crime in other communities where they’ve had concealed handguns for a number of years. For that reason, I was not supportive of the concealed handgun laws.
What I do worry about is a situation where you have a good guy and you have a bad guy, and the police arrive on the scene. Both the good guy and the bad guy have guns, and the police don’t know which one is which.
ADVOCATE: So I take it that you don’t carry a gun, and you don’t have a concealed handgun permit?
POSS (laughing): You better not print that.
Are We Really Saving the Lake?
ADVOCATE: What do you think should be the ultimate goal with the White Rock Lake dredging? There’s been discussion about whether there’s enough money to fully dredge the lake and whether the lake really is going to be back to the way it used to be. What are we accomplishing now with the money available, and what would you like to see accomplished given unlimited resources?
POSS: Well, with the $18 million, we expect to dredge the lake back to an 11-foot depth. That is a much more extensive project than what was done in the early ‘70s.
The project is now underway. The final engineering is underway, and the permit process has begun. The first public hearing was on June 5. The dredging process itself won’t begin until late next summer, when you actually see the dredge begin to work. Completion is scheduled for August 1999.
The cost could rise a little bit if the final site that is determined for the sediment is more than six miles out in radius, because that cost was calculated based upon six miles. Once you get further than six miles, the engineering is a lot more complicated in terms of the pipeline process. The cost could actually be a little less if we end up selecting a spot that is much closer than six miles.
One of the primary factors in making that decision is not only intrusion through a community of the pipeline, not only how far it goes, but what it’s actually going to yield when it gets there.
For instance, if it can solve a major flooding problem somewhere in the City, that’s important. If it can rebuild Flagpole Hill, as many people would like to see part of it used for, that’s important. If it can yield some significant ball fields or park land somewhere, that’s significant. All those factors are being considered.
Aside from the $18 million, the City is going to have to find some ways to come up with the money for the overall master plan for the lake that includes hike and bike trails, some of the recreational aspects, moving some of the roads so that the bicyclists have the view closer to the lake and that the car traffic is on the interior portion, some of the safety features many people have asked for, benches, landscaping, other amenities.
There is no plan at this point for any of that.
The Save the Lake foundation has raised about $200,000, and they’re doing what they can with that, and it’s important. I’m hopeful that the City, in the next bond campaign, can come up with a portion of it, and then we can use some public-private partnerships to complete the overall master plan.
ADVOCATE: When would the next bond campaign be?
POSS: We think that it could be as early as November of 1998 or as late as May of ’99.
The 1995 bond issue was determined to be a five-year work plan when we started. Last December, when we accelerated the lake project, we also accelerated the majority of the bond package to four years. And now, the Council is working with a three-year schedule.
That means in 1998, you should see the majority of the items in the bond package complete or underway. This will be very different from what the voters saw with the 1985 bond package.
The 1985 package couldn’t be completed on time because the economy fell apart. The City could not afford to sell the bonds and pay the debt service on the bonds, and therefore, all the projects slid. We’re still doing 1985 bond projects, in addition to accelerating the 1995 work. I think people will be excited when they see the results of this bond package in 1998.
If the economy continues to improve the way it looks like it is right now and it’s expected to, a new bond package with some new amenities – including something for our lake – should be very do-able.
Bringing the Olympics to Our Neighborhood?
ADVOCATE: Once the dredging is finished what differences will people notice at the lake?
POSS: The clarity of the lake itself – you won’t see all of the floating debris out there in the lake. You don’t be able to walk on the water. The recreational activities can begin again, like all the sailboat races and paddle boat races and other amenities that we use to have out there.
I don’t know if you all were around then, but I remember, and I even went fishing there when I was a kid. We’ll also see some exciting things, hopefully like pre-Olympic scull boat trial races.
There’s a man over in our convention center who is currently working on a proposal. He is involved with the Olympics and hopes that we can obtain that in the March-April 1999 timeframe. That could be very exciting for East Dallas.
ADVOCATE: Would extra money be needed to set up for that bid, assuming the dredging was either on-going or complete by then?
POSS: The dredging would be almost complete by then. It should be within just a few months of being complete, because our timeframe is August of ’99. Unless we have a problem with the permit process, which we hope will be complete in August of this year, that schedule should hold firm.
ADVOCATE: As far as the sculling, do facilities have to be built?
POSS: I can’t answer all the details yet, because we haven’t actually submitted the proposal or gotten back all of the parameters that the Olympic authorities have.
We do know that some of the authorities were in town a few months back, because they called me from their car phones and wanted to know about the condition of the lake. No one had told them how bad the lake is until they arrived.
They said that they would be back later this summer to take a look at what our plans are for the dredging project at that time.
What About The Lake’s Future?
ADVOCATE: In a simplistic sense, the lake has filled up because stuff from upstream has generated its way downstream. It’s our understanding that the current plan doesn’t address that. What can be done to make sure that the lake doesn’t end up in its current state again?
POSS: There’s no question that the erosion from all the development in the northern part of Dallas County and Collin County has had a huge impact on filling up the lake with sediment over the past 20 years. We don’t expect that level of growth to be the same as it has been over the next 20 years.
The other component is that when we finish this dredging project, we’ll own a dredge. The City of Dallas will have a dredge. We have already about 14 different water areas that can benefit from using the dredge.
The plan is to cycle it through all of the various water amenities so that we can have some ongoing dredging and maintenance. The lake theoretically should never get back into the shape that it is in today.
How About A Restaurant On The Lake?
ADVOCATE: The City controls all of the land shore area around the lake, right?
POSS: Yes, it does – the park area.
ADVOCATE: Has there been any discussion of commercializing the park area, of putting a restaurant or a few things like that out there?
POSS: Actually, the director of the Park Department called me with a plan like that last night. He plans to bring a conceptual plan to me next week to talk in general about some of the plans some private developers have for some restaurant activity, some additional little shops and some other things that might make for a more pleasant afternoon at the lake.
ADVOCATE: Any thoughts on the appropriateness of that?
POSS: Not until I see the plan. I don’t know anything yet about what it would do in terms of bringing users to the lake, how it might impact the tranquility of those who currently use the lake, what it might do to the traffic patterns. I just don’t have any of that yet.
ADVOCATE: Any idea even what part of the lake might be considered?
POSS: No. I just know that it’s a copy of something that a developer has done in other cities.
ADVOCATE: So is this a real proposal, or is this just a speculative “what if somebody approaches us” type of thing?
POSS: It’s a very speculative, “what do you think about this,” “is this worth toying with,” “would you like to take it out to the community to get some community input” type meeting.
ADVOCATE: So that might be something we’d be hearing about in the next three months? Six months?
POSS: Yes. If anything comes to fruition, I’ll let you know, and you can do something on it. It’s pretty blue sky at this point.
Addressing Flood Control
ADVOCATE: Why do you think the lake became a priority in the last couple of years, when it has been less of a priority for the past 15 or 20 years?
POSS: Well, it’s a priority because of the overall impact it has on flood control in the area. We do have some serious flooding issues throughout East Dallas.
One of the things that I was very concerned about when I got to City Hall was the number of flooding issues, and of course, I was elected the day after May 5 (1995), which some people say was a 200-year flood.
We have flooding issues in Casa View that have never been addressed. We did get the City of Mesquite to work on part of that. We did get the City of Mesquite to work on part of that, because part of it was their problem. That has been done, but it’s not the full answer.
We have huge flooding problems just east of Abrams and north of Mockingbird in the Rush Creek area. Those have never been addressed.
We’ve had engineers take a look at these problems, and they are now on the needs inventory list. I’m hoping they will be a big priority when we have our next bond election. Rush Creek alone will cost $7-$10 million.
ADVOCATE: Any other lake-related issues you’d like to address?
POSS: Let me think. No, other than to say that I will be very supportive of trying to get the City to do its fair share in terms of the overall master plan as part of the next bond campaign. I think completion of all the amenities, once we have invested $18 million for the dredging process, is very important.
Is DISD Undermining Our City?
ADVOCATE: We realize that as a City Council person, you’re not a DISD administrator or on the school board, but it does seem DISD has an incredible ability to find negative news and magnetize itself to it. Any thoughts on that? You’re a neighborhood school product, right?
POSS: Yes, I am. I’m also chairman of Arts, Education and Libraries for the City of Dallas. I do have some thoughts relative to how the City and the schools need to be working better together, but we also need to remember that it seems to go in cycles relative to the bad press.
For awhile, it was the City Council, then for a while it was the Commissioner’s Court, and now it happens to be DISD. I’d just like to remind people of all the good things that are happening over at DISD.
I continually reminded Sandy Kress (former school board president) that it didn’t matter how good of a job the City did in terms of trying to get a neat, new deal for Dallas, bringing jobs into the City. At the end of the day, if the school district wasn’t up to par, then chances were pretty good that we wouldn’t get that deal.
ADVOCATE: How much of a negative impact do perceptions about DISD have on the City as a whole and our neighborhood in particular?
POSS: I don’t think it has too much of a negative impact on our neighborhood in particular because of the fact that our schools are noted for being some of the best. Lakewood Elementary has a very top-notch reputation. Lakehill has a good reputation. I think all of that means a lot to people when they consider the community.
There are a number of things that we could be doing differently. Recently, the City and DISD reached an agreement whereby we’re going to work closer together in regard to building of schools and zoning and all of those rights.
I happen to think that there are a number of areas in our City where we don’t have enough good recreation centers, recreation programs. We don’t have the right type of library, and the school is usually available in almost every community.
You can take some of the available space that’s at a school, or you can use the gymnasium on weekends or after-hours and let the City operate some of its regular library programs or recreational programs out of that facility.
It could be a win-win for the entire community. A win for the City because we wouldn’t have to spend all of the capital dollars that would be necessary to construct the library or the rec center.
A win for the City because we would be able to use the money that we would have spent on debt service for the capital dollars to provide the library books or to provide the program equipment for the rec centers.
A win for the neighborhood overall because they would have those programs available much sooner and probably with a lot more product because there would be more money to go around.
ADVOCATE: Which neighborhoods are you talking about?
POSS: Well, we do actually have a discussion going on right now about one pilot project. A couple of DISD and YMCA and Council members are looking at whether or not all of these opportunities can really come together and something can work.
The other thing that I have asked some of our City officials to look at is potentially changing the hours of libraries and rec center programs.
I happen to think that having libraries and rec centers open on Saturday nights and Sunday nights is pretty important. Whereas if you go into many of those facilities right now, you’d probably find most of them underutilized.
So we really need to look at what kind of hours would be most meaningful to the neighborhoods.
ADVOCATE: Is this just a thought or is there a proposal you’re working on?
POSS: It’s more than a thought. I have taken it directly to the City officials, and I have taken it to several members of our City library board. I have talked with several people in our Park Department. I’ve asked them to fully consider that. I am hopeful that we will talk about it seriously as we get into the ’96-’97 budget process.
Not Everyone Agrees About DISD
ADVOCATE: You mentioned awhile ago that the neighborhood school we have are considered to be pretty good. There are a number of people who would dispute that in terms of public schools. Some have moved to Richardson or Plano or other places because they didn’t feel our public schools are up to par. Crime and education seem to be the two reasons people leave our neighborhood. Are we wrong?
POSS: No, I think you’re right. I do know people who have moved to the Park Cities, people who have moved to Plano or people who have moved to Preston Hollow because they felt like their schools were better. But I think if you weigh many of the elementary schools in Dallas, you will find that Lakewood Elementary is at the top.
ADVOCATE: What schools did you attend?
POSS: I grew up in Casa View, and I went to Truett, Gaston and Bryan Adams.
ADVOCATE: Any differences in public schools today that you note when you were going to school?
POSS: I haven’t been directly involved in too many of the school activities, but I did serve on the SCE council for Lakewood Elementary. I do know that teachers face a lot of hardships that they hopefully didn’t face when I was in school. A lot of that relates to the behavior of students, to the involvement of the parents.
Today, we have many, many more times single parents or two-parent working families, and that means that there is more of a burden for teachers to shoulder in terms of helping the kids stay motivated in the learning process. The parents are not there to help the kids when they walk in the door after school with t heir homework or to talk to them about what it is they’ve learned or to share their experiences. Oftentimes, those kids are out there by themselves until late at night, when both parents or a parent finally comes home. There’s just a lot more that the teachers feel responsible for.
ADVOCATE: Do a lot of your friend that you went to school with still live around here?
POSS: Some of them do. A lot of the parents of the kids I went to school with still live over in Casa View.
ADVOCATE: Why have you stayed in our neighborhood?
POSS: I met my husband at the Casa View Christian Church in the third grade. His dad was the minister there. Mike ended up graduating from Kimball because his father changed churches when we were in high school. But we both graduated from the University of Texas together, and then, we were married shortly thereafter.
When Mike finished law school, and we both were able to get jobs in Dallas, we only thought about moving back to East Dallas. We lived in an apartment off of Ferguson Road until we could afford to buy our lot and build our house.
ADVOCATE: You live in Lakewood?
POSS: I live in Lakewood, and I’m the mayor’s neighbor.
ADVOCATE: And Sandy Kress lives around there too?
POSS: Sandy Kress does, and Paul Coggins, our U.S. attorney. In fact, we’re all on the same street.
ADVOCATE: Do you guys see each other much? You’re all pretty busy.
POSS: We don’t see each other at all. In fact, I didn’t even know that Ron Kirk lived there until he began running for mayor.
ADVOCATE: People have made this out to be the “power street.”
POSS: When all the stories started about the various wire tappings, we teased several people in the media and told them we had our meetings in the street, and we didn’t need our portable phones.
ADVOCATE: But that’s not true?
POSS: That’s not true. I understand that Ron walks through the neighborhood all the time because my friends tell me that they see him, but I’ve never seen him.
Grocery Store Conferences
ADVOCATE: Do your neighbors treat you any differently now that you’re on the City Council?
POSS: I hope not.
ADVOCATE: They’re not asking you about potholes all the time?
POSS: I do get treated differently in the grocery store. I used to zip in and zip out like everybody else does. Today, a trip to the grocery store takes a couple of hours, and I come home with a pocket full of notes, problems that people have in the neighborhood.
ADVOCATE: What kind of problems do you typically hear about in those kinds of encounters?
POSS: Oh, all types. They might include the timing of the lights at Abrams and Mockingbird. It might be a hole in an alleyway. It might be a complaint about a neighbor’s bulky brush being put out at the wrong time. It really varies.
ADVOCATE: What do you usually do with those complaints?
POSS: I take all of those notes, and I either give them to my assistant to send into the appropriate managers at City Hall, or I put them into my home fax system and fax a note to all of the appropriate managers.
ADVOCATE: Then, what usually happens?
POSS: Depending on the priority of the complaint, within a few weeks, I usually see the appropriate manager at City Hall send a note to the complainant letting them know that either the problem has been taken care of, or when it will be taken care of, or why it won’t be taken care of. Then, a copy of that letter comes to me.
ADVOCATE: That sounds like it generates a little more action than the City’s “Action Line” generates.
POSS: I do get a lot of calls from people who tell me they’ve called the Action Center three times, four times and have had no response. They call me, and hopefully they do get a response.
We ask people to call me back if they have not seen a response in a reasonable amount of time. I let them be the judge as to what’s reasonable. I also maintain a District 9 hotline (826-0779), which is a phone line at my house with a voice mail that’s on 24 hours a day. People call that all the time and leave me little messages about things that they think need to be looked at.
ADVOCATE: And you welcome that?
POSS: It’s important, because you have no assurances that you always get all of your messages, and if somebody feels like their problem has not been taken care of, that’s an extra means for them to communicate with me.
Juggling Time Commitments
ADVOCATE: How many hours do you typically spend a week on City work?
POSS: You don’t want to know.
ADVOCATE: It’s interesting. We want to know that.
POSS: I spend at least six days a week and six nights a week on City work.
ADVOCATE: Is that what you expected when you ran for election?
POSS: I pretty much knew exactly what I was getting into. I had been in and around City Hall for at least 10 years on numerous projects. I knew what was going to be required.
One of my former Council member fiends called me the night before I was inaugurated and said: “Hope you’re having a good time, because this is the last night off you’ll have for years.”
ADVOCATE: The Advocate can’t go to all the events we’re asked to go to because we can’t cover everything. You probably can’t go to every event you’re asked to go to, either, although you seem to be at just about every meeting we attend. How do you prioritize?
POSS: A lot of times, it’s kind of a first-come first-availability basis. The person who calls you and books something for the evening is where you end up. Sometimes, someone will call you repeatedly to come to their meetings, and if you’ve been a couple of times, you just explain to them that you’re sorry. There’s a lot of other community meetings you have to go to first.
I try to get to every part of the district seven times a month and make sure I’m having a chance to hear all parts of the district.
Power And Prestige
ADVOCATE: You were pretty active in our neighborhood before you were elected. Do you notice any difference between what you were about to accomplish as a community volunteer versus what you are able to accomplish now as an elected official?
POSS: I really can’t do very much in the community in terms of working with organizations like the homeowners association or the service league or the chamber because the time just isn’t available.
But I’m hopeful that because I do attend some of the meetings of all the organizations that I used to participate in, they know that I’m there if they really need something specific. But I can’t be the hands-on volunteer that I once was.
ADVOCATE: We’re thinking more in terms of your influence. Let’s say you wanted to do something with the lake. Are you able to make more significant strides as a Council person toward accomplishing a goal than you were able to when you were an active community volunteer?
POSS: It’s a different type of accomplishment. It’s a different type of item that I’m working on for the community. For example, I used to be the one who would organize the clean-ups through Clean Dallas East or Clean Dallas. These days, it’s very difficult for me to even get to the clean-up, because I’m usually out speaking at a crime watch group or a neighborhood group.
Today, I’m more focused on what we’re going to do about some of the flooding problems, making sure that the engineers are staying on schedule with the lake, the policy decisions related to the police department and fire department because I serve as vice chairman of public safety.
Some of the bigger issues I’m focusing on relate to transportation – I’m on the national transportation committee for the National League of Cities – and some of the criminal justice legislative aspects related to the Texas Municipal League’s Public Safety Committee.
So, it’s a different type of focus, but I’m hopeful that it’s still a very strong contribution.
There are some brutal days at City Hall. There’s no doubt about that, but there are times that I feel very good about some small things that have happened.
For instance, along Abrams Road or along Lakewood and Tokalon, we used to have lots of accidents every time it first started raining. If it started drizzling at four in the afternoon, you could count on an accident on Abrams Road within just minutes.
The City, through my continual suggestions, put down a slurry seal on Abrams Road, and those accidents have really diminished. People who might have been in an accident otherwise hopefully have benefited from that.
People have commented that they have begun to see a lot more street repair activity than they’ve seen in a long time. Hopefully, people are really benefiting from things like that.
Is The Media Fair?
ADVOCATE: What’s been the biggest surprise being on the Council? Has there been something you didn’t expect?
POSS: I can’t say that there’s really been a big surprise. I pretty much knew the Council members and knew what the personalities would be like. The Council members and knew what the personalities would be like. The council has got along a lot better and worked together a lot better than I expected it to. The fact that we had so many problems in our district that had never really been addressed is probably the biggest issue.
ADVOCATE: In terms of the Council getting along, that’s not the appearance the average person sees when watching the major media. It seems like there is a lot of scraping and fighting going on. Is that just the TV cameras?
POSS: I think if you look at 95 percent-plus of the day, the Council is working very well together, but it’s going to be that one moment that you’re going to see on the six o’clock news.
ADVOCATE: How effective of a job do you think the media is doing in reporting Council activities?
POSS: Not a very good job. There are a lot of stories that in my opinion are a lot more important to the average citizen than what they actually see on the six o’clock news. For example, we have had some of the best economic news that this City has had in a decade. I don’t know of barely a line that has been printed.
On Dec. 13, 1995, the City let contracts for over $40 million worth of engineering work in order to accelerate the bond work from five years to four years. Nobody paid attention.
The fact that the Council is now working on a three-year bond schedule has not gotten any attention. The 2.7 percent growth rate that we were working with last January, and now we’re working with at least a 4 percent factor, and it may be significantly greater than that, has only gotten a small amount of coverage.
ADVOCATE: Why do you think that is?
POSS: That’s not as interesting as some of the other happenings at City Hall.
ADVOCATE: Is there anything you think can or will be done about this, or are you going to continue working in relative obscurity on this kind of stuff?
POSS: I’ve mentioned it to several people, but it still hasn’t gotten any play.
How Do You Have A Life?
ADVOCATE: You mentioned all the time you spend-on the Council. You’re married, right?
ADVOCATE: No kids?
POSS: No kids.
ADVOCATE: When do you see your husband?
POSS: We’ve been married 23 years this summer, do not have children, and everybody asks me how my husband deals with me spending so much time working on community or Council-related activities.
The truth of the matter is that my husband works as much or more than I do. Even if I were at home, he probably would be working anyway. So, it’s a good match for us.
ADVOCATE: He works for Perot?
POSS: He’s the chief financial officer for the Perot family.
ADVOCATE: So do you see Ross and his family all that much?
POSS: Occasionally, I see them. Usually if there’s some big event or something that they’re hosting, we’re invited. But I don’t see them on a regular basis.
What About Council Pay?
ADVOCATE: Your husband seems fortunate enough to bring in enough income so that you don’t have to bring in much of an income, other than the $50 or so you are paid per meeting to be on the Council. And you’ve pretty much said that you don’t have time to work another job. Don’t these circumstances preclude some people from even thinking about serving on the Council?
POSS: The Council recently discussed the issue of Council pay. We pretty much agreed that the voters would never approve Council pay for us. We thought that the only way Council pay might get approved as if we asked for approval for the next Council. That way, no one who was supporting Council pay would actually benefit from it. That’s probably right.
I do think – now that I’m certain that this job takes six days and six nights a week, and I clearly wonder how my colleagues who do have full-time jobs and family responsibilities manage the entire process – that we are precluding a number of people from service simply because they can not afford the time away from their own businesses because that would have such a financial impact on their families.
Do We Take Back Seat to the Park Cities?
ADVOCATE: Where does our neighborhood fit in the scope of the whole City? There are people who will swear today that the Park Cities are getting a better deal about Central, that their side of Central is going to be nicer than our side. How do you respond?
POSS: The Park Cities did get a better deal. The Park Cities community agreed on what they wanted roughly nine to 10 years ago when Tex-Dot asked for some consensus. It is my understanding that they had absolutely no consensus from the community on the east side of Central. That was the reason that a plan was never implemented for a wall at that time.
ADVOCATE: What can we do about situations like this one?
POSS: Well, Tex-Dot has agreed that they will build a wall from McCommas to Monticello, and there is consensus there to do that. They have also said that they will extend that wall from Monticello down to Vickery if there is neighborhood consensus. That is why the consultants were holding a number of community meetings related to the traffic management and the construction of that sound wall.
So far, we have not been able to reach any community consensus. The first thing that all of the neighbors did agree on was that nothing would be done if there was no neighborhood consensus.
What I have done is ask all of the engineers and consultants who are involved in the process to take all of the input from the neighborhood to determine what are viable solutions and technical solutions that incorporate as much of the wish list of the communities as possible, put those together, and bring those back to the Council members who are involved. Then, let’s go back out to the community and talk to the community about those plans.
I have had some meetings with a number of the neighbors who are involved. Some of them have asked for stop signs. Some of them have asked for raised speed bumps in order to hopefully deter traffic through their streets and certain to decrease traffic. Some of them have asked for very simple things, such as removal of the inconsistent signage on some of the streets.
You can go to one intersection and see a 20 mile-an-hour speed bump sign and go three feet and see a 30 mile-an-hour speed sign. So, there’s inconsistency in just some basic traffic management that can be done to greatly improve the area.
The engineers are looking at all that right now. Hopefully, we can find some solutions that will make the majority of the homeowners happy. We should have some of those answers in about a month.
Building Unity In A Diverse Neighborhood
ADVOCATE: This is a neighborhood that prides itself on its diversity, its different people with their different ideas, but your job is to build a consensus of some sort and make a decision. How difficult is that in a neighborhood like ours?
POSS: It’s very difficult. It’s difficult because this is a very active community, but I don’t think it’s any less difficult in other communities.
If you look at the East Mockingbird Association, there’s very diverse opinions as it relates to the MKT line. There are some neighbors who really want a tunnel. There are other neighbors who think the at-grade light rail is going to be great. There are some neighbors who will tell you about how in other cities, when they have had light rail in such proximity to their property, it has greatly increased property values.
I think there’s a very diverse number of opinions in almost any community when you get to such a big issue that’s going to impact your property.
ADVOCATE: It seems like the longer you serve as a Council person and the more you vote, the fewer friends you would have.
POSS: I hope that’s not true. But there are a lot of days that I feel like it is.
ADVOCATE: Any final comments you’d like to make?
POSS: Just to say that I’m trying very hard to stay focused on what I consider to be the real issues at City Hall.
Real issues to me are the community problems. They are dredging the lake. They are the crime situation, particularly as it relates to juvenile violence. And, the financial aspects of our City I have a strong interest in seeing our City automated better MIS (management information) systems. A lot better tools to enable Council members make more effective financial decisions.
Everybody realizes that there are hundreds and hundreds of other issues that I have to deal with on a weekly basis, but I’m doing my best to stay focused on those main issues in order to be as effective as I can be.