For the second year in a row, Helotes will hold a City Council election. Incumbent Ed Villanueva faces challenger Jim Meadows. The Echo provided a list of questions to all candidates in the City Council election—even those who do not have opponents.
Even after two phone calls, Jim Meadows did not provide answers to those questions. Mr. Meadows expressed the opinion that the questions were straight from Mr. Villanueva’s website and not a fair and accurate representation of the issues of the City. He also expressed that he had talked with the Fire Chief, Police Chief, and Dispatch Center supervisor and the information provided by the Echo was not accurate and that he was in the process of investigating further. (Editor’s note: there was no collaboration or discussion between any of the candidates when composing these questions.)
Cynthia Massey and Ed Villanueva did provide answers.
Questions for Helotes City Council
- Do you think it is important for candidates to attend Council meetings and events held in the community?
Attendance is important at council meetings and events. It is important to be visible however sometimes this is not possible due to certain circumstances.
- Morale inside our fire department and police department remain extremely low. Numerous fire department employees have left or preparing to leave soon. Relationships between City Council and our first responders remain strained. How do you plan to improve morale and the relationship between City Council and our first responders?
Morale within our Fire and Police Departments have been extremely low for years.
More experienced first responders will leave soon and that is an issue that requires immediate attention. I have spent time listening and counseling employees for years hoping that council would make necessary changes that will improve morale. In order to improve morale, face to face meetings, meeting with department heads should be held to address their issues. Pay and working conditions top the list of their concerns but the previous council approved pay raises, unfortunately, did not keep pace with rising healthcare premiums after taxes. They do not believe our Mayor and the rest of councilmembers care about their concerns and requests for additional and necessary equipment.
- Mold invaded the fire department and recently Council approved a plan to solve the issue. However, mold has invaded the police department and yet nothing has been done. Do you believe the City has a responsibility to provide a safe working environment for the employees and what should be done to rectify this situation?
The City of Helotes has full responsibility to provide a safe working environment for our city employees. There is no one else to blame for their safety. Mold has been present for over 3 years now and it’s about time city staff began to formally address this dangerous issue. It appears that steps to allow other contractors to assess and begin the remediation process are underway. The cost to remediate has been an issue for our Mayor but they deserve to work in a safe working environment which has been ignored for far too long. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had with first responders and their spouses over this issue. Its no wonder morale is low.
- The City of Helotes has not offered a significant pay raise for its employees for at least three years. The last recipient of significant raise (over $13,000) was the City Administrator. Do you believe the City of Helotes should make the wages of City employees a priority?
Absolutely. I have a plan to save our city over half a million dollars year over year which would allow us to offer pay increases across the board if given the opportunity and stay within prescribed budget levels.
- The dispatch center has taken over $1.2 million dollars in City revenue over the last two years. Do you think it is now time to examine the dispatch center? If dispatch services can be provided cheaper and with at least the same standard of service as currently provided by our dispatch center, should the City dismantle its dispatch center?
According to discussions prior to formation and implementation of dispatch service department, we had agreed to review this department after 5 years to determine whether dispatch service was sustainable but not a revenue generator. Our goal was to offset costs related to this department by enticing and contracting with other municipalities who wanted to utilize our new technology at that time. Over the years dispatch has failed to retain and service other municipalities as we had hoped for various reasons. Recently, city council voted to discontinue tracking these losses sustained by dispatch and decided to blend this operation into the general fund. Dispatch services can be provided by Bexar County or SAPD at a much more reasonable cost to our city and achieve the same level of service our taxpayers deserve. I have suggested council consider this cost savings option but since it is not a popular proposition to our Mayor and his followers, it has fallen on deaf ears and our city will continue to lose or spend funds that again could be used to support pay raises and necessary equipment for city personnel. At this juncture, the city should dismantle its dispatch center in favor of a less costly option.
- The City of Helotes spends money to support the band and other activities inside the City. Do you believe City Hall should provide an accurate accounting of the money spent? Should Council be consulted when planning to spend more than $2,500 on any activity or organization in one year?
Just over $25,000 of your taxpayer dollars have been spent on a volunteer-based band. You the taxpayer have bought sheet music, music stands, uniforms, a $4000 covered trailer and reimburse some individuals within for traveling expenses such as mileage. City Hall should definitely provide an accurate accounting of your taxpayer monies spent. During a meeting with our independent auditors, I recommended that a line item dedicated to band expenses be added to the budget rather than to have these expenditures buried in the overall Parks & Recreation budget. The council should always be consulted when expenditures equal or exceed $2,500 on any activity or organization in one year. Our Mayor and council need to adhere to revised spending policies adopted. I find it ironic that the City of Helotes under Mayor Schoolcraft’s leadership would allow taxpayer money to be spent on the volunteer band and not allocated for employee raises, mold remediation for employees nor support for the senior’s that have been longtime taxpayers in our community.
- Do you believe transparency in government is important? How can you improve the transparency for City Hall and City Council of Helotes?
Transparency is paramount to the relationship between taxpayers and their local government and its elected officials. Establishing trust is crucial and transparency supports/confirms this relationship because once trust is lost it is seldom found again. Town hall meetings should be held to inform taxpayers of new developments. Attending HOA meetings would also afford citizens an opportunity to be informed of decisions that affect their neighborhoods and our city road projects. Merely directing taxpayers to go to our city’s webpage is not enough. We have created a position within city hall for a public information officer or PIO as most municipalities do, so our PIO should take the initiative to hold press conferences and/or attend such meetings.
- Is now the time to change the City of Helotes to a City run by a City Manager or should it stay with City Administrator? Why?
Each municipality’s charter describes the duties of the city manager or city administrator. A City Administrator is a mayoral assistant whose duties are defined from time to time by the Mayor and should carry out decisions made by councilmembers. I believe it’s time for the City of Helotes to be run by a City Manager because under a city manager structure, a city manager would have the authority to hire/fire city personnel, make independent decisions that would benefit the city and hopefully eliminate favoritism and/or political division.
- Traffic continues to grow. City of Helotes has annexed land on Galm Road with over 500 homes expecting City services. How do you propose providing those city services without placing a tremendous strain on current resources?
As our city grows so will the need for city services. Planning is critical, and in my opinion, I believe we are not addressing this issue as aggressively as we should. After speaking to residents along FM 1560 and first responders, we now have a larger area to cover and with traffic congestion the way it is we are challenged more than ever. Resources are stretched and need to be reviewed. A long-range plan to address the aforementioned issues is warranted. I would meet with our department heads to develop a plan to address resources needed and seek grant money to make necessary purchases for police vehicles and fire truck(s).
- All cities experience growth. Do you believe growth can be controlled? Do you believe it is the responsibility of City Council to control growth? What is your plan to manage the growth of Helotes?
Yes, all cities experience growth and it is imperative that we here in Helotes address this growth pattern. We have a very desirable community and City Council needs to continue to address growth, however, it seems that at most council meetings it is all about banners and signs these days and not enough about our growth. Growth is inevitable and traffic is just a consequence that must also be dealt with. I would work alongside our Economic Development Corporation representatives to seek out businesses that would fit into our master plan as previously developed for our great city. I would like to attend meetings to encourage and discuss new businesses willing to move to Helotes. We have special tax abatement or reimbursement programs in place so we can offer and have offered to entice businesses to our community. This would be one of our tools in our toolbox that could be utilized.
Please give attributions for those saying morale continues to be low in the Fire Department. Who is saying this and why? Employees come and go in small fire departments. It is normal. That is not a reason to ascertain that morale is low. I cannot answer a question of conjecture. Same with “mold in PD.” Tell me who gave you this information. If there is mold there, it will be mitigated. Mold is an issue all over the country in air-conditioned buildings. It is not unique to Helotes. As for transparency, all one has to do is visit the city website and/or attend City meetings which are open to the public. We have nothing to hide. As for employee raises, for a city the size of Helotes at less than 8,000 citizens, our employees are paid commensurately with other cities of the same size and kind. If an employee believes otherwise, he or she is free to seek employment elsewhere, perhaps in a bigger city where more will be required of them. As for the Helotes City band—they continue a long tradition of patriotic musical service to the City. The first such band, the Helotes Brass Band, played at community events starting in the 1890s. While they were supported by patrons of Braun Hall, there is no doubt that had the City of Helotes been incorporated at that time, the City would have been a benefactor. The goodwill and positive promotion for the City provided by the Helotes Band cannot be underestimated. The minuscule amount of money the city has used to support the band is nothing in comparison to what the city had gained in positive exposure throughout our region.