No Comprehension of Finance

Today the Mayor sent out this email, I’ve added my comments in red to explain to the Mayor how the City’s finances actually work. SMH

What can you get for about $100 a month?

Each month when I pay my cable bill and it’s over $100, I wonder what I am really getting for my 100 bucks — other than frustrated when my movies won’t download correctly or it comes in all scrambled and I have to call customer something and spend 15 minutes (ha) getting it to work right. My electric bill, especially around this time of year, is up over $100 a month as well. I’m happy with my electric service; two or three times a year we lose power during a storm, but it’s always back on in about 20 minutes. Cell phone bill? Ouch. Definitely more than $100 a month.

Once a year, I also pay my property tax bill. What you may not realize is that only 17 PERCENT of the property taxes you’re paying go to the city (the rest goes to the county and Keller ISD)Did you forget Hospital District and Community College District?, . For the average Keller homeowner, whose home was valued at $284,237 in 2014, that means they paid $1,242.66 in city property taxes this year — just $103.55 a month.

What do we get for a little over $100 a month?

Well, I know when I call 9-1-1, I have an award-winning police force ready to come to my service. 911 service is paid for by fees collected on all of our phone bills. We also have a regional center where other cities pay to be part of the service. This doesn’t come from your “$100 a month” When I’ve been stopped and given a speeding ticket, they were professional and courteous (though I now follow them on Facebook to know the location of the traffic enforcement officers); I’ve seen them give Ice Cream “Citations” to children for wearing helmets while riding their bikes, locate missing loved ones and assist stranded motorists; and I know our crime is lower in Keller than it has been in 18 years despite double the population. I also know that they are the only police department in the State of Texas that is accredited at both the state and federal level on their police standards.

Sticking with my 9-1-1 call for another minute, I also have access to one of the most skilled fire departments in the state. They stand ready to save lives on a daily basis (and often do); they’ve been honored by the American Heart Association for their incredible work with heart attack victims; they work to educate our children, keep our businesses safe, and prevent fires (and of course, fight them); and if a disaster were ever to befall Keller, they would be there to evacuate, rescue and revive — every Keller firefighter is cross-trained as a paramedic.

That same $100 or so also gets me access to a gold-standard park and recreation system with nearly 20 miles of beautiful, well-maintained trails and one of the best, most vibrant and utilized parks systems in the state. A park system that is partially funded with a ½ cent sales tax, again, not completely from that “$100 a month” I can Rock the Park every September, go Fishing for Fun three times a year, chill with 1,500 of my friends and neighbors at Keller Summer Nights enjoying live music, outdoor movies and picnics at Keller Town Hall, and more. My kids play sports at the Keller Sports Park Funded entirely from the ½ cent sales tax, and when we go to The Keller Pointe Again, funded 100% from ½ cent sales tax, not a dime of general fund revenue (the $100 a month the mayor is talking about) has ever gone to the Pointe— wow! That place has won national awards for outstanding fitness and aquatics, and it shows.

Don’t get me started on our city buildings. Keller Town Hall is beautiful Funded by the TIF district, not from general fund revenue…well, until 2018; you would never believe it’s 12 years old because it is so well maintained. Our police station, same way New PD funded 100% from Crime Prevention ¼% sales tax. I hope you haven’t had a real reason to visit our Regional Jail, but if you do, you will be impressed. Even more impressive is our Regional Animal Adoption Center. OMG! You have to check this out whether you’re in the market for a new pet or not; nothing short of first class for our four-legged friends.Again, funded from the Crime Prevention fund. Each of these buildings, from fire stations to the Municipal Service Center, reflects the pride and professionalism that our city staff have and delivery to our citizens every day.

What else? Oh yes, how about reading with 1,700 of your little neighbors at our library this summer as part of our popular Summer Reading Club? We’ve invested in an RFID system to efficiently check materials in or out, and boy are there a lot of them: The library circulates more than 500,000 books, CDs, DVDs, audiobooks and more every year, to say nothing of the great selection of online resources, community programs and family-friendly events. Why so busy? The Keller Public Library is one of only a few dozen that has achieved the statewide Achievement of Library Excellence Award, and they’ve done so now five years running. Stroll next door, and the Keller Senior Activities Center is keeping our seniors active and engaged throughout the week, providing opportunities for fitness, fun, crafts, companionship, travel and more.

I drive on streets that are some of the best in Northeast Tarrant County. I saw Mt. Gilead Road get reconstructed over the past two summers and work begin a few weeks ago on South Keller-Smithfield. Mt. Gilead was a joint project with Tarrant County, a way to get some of our county taxes back to the city. We also have a ¼% sales tax for road improvement which makes up the balance of funding projects like Mt. Gilead and Keller Smithfield. I’ve watched work finish this year on the intersection of Hwy. 377 and FM 1709, and begin at the other end of town on FM 1938. And I see more than $1 million of street repairs done each year inside our city. As a bonus, I also get my streets plowed when it snows; Keller is one of the only cities in DFW that does that! Snow plow? I wonder who came up with that idea?

My trash and recycling get picked up religiously; the city provides opportunities to shred documents, dispose of my household chemicals and recycle my electronics twice a year; and I can even get rid of brush and tree limbs easily enough through garbage pickup or the city’s Yard Waste Drop-Off program. Again, not a dollar of this comes from the general fund, but we actually pay for this through our water/trash bill. This is typical government speak…look at what we do for you? Oh yeah, you pay for that anyway, whether you use it or not.

And while these are the people I can see and the things I can do, and they’re incredible, I know there is a whole lot more. During this past year, I’ve spent well over 1,000 hours watching, talking, listening and working with our city employees. I can assure you that there is an entire army (very small army) of dedicated men and women who are behind the scenes serving our city day and night, every day of the year — from first responders on the night shift to IT staff that keep all the systems running; the backroom accountants who earn finance awards 25 years in a row to the guys mowing the grass and cleaning the restrooms at the park; the crews that show up at 3 a.m. to begin sanding the streets to the workers fixing leaks in our water infrastructure on the weekends. I have watched our employees pursue excellence. They work hard, push themselves to learn more, stay late and come in early, volunteer without pay, go the extra mile. I am proud to have them as our city employees and you should be, too. They are some of the best! Then why have you run off over a dozen high level staff members since you were elected?

To know that our residents get all of those services and amenities for a little over $100 a month on average is astounding to me. I, for one, can confidently say that I’m getting my money’s worth. Yeah, sure you can. It’s just you don’t really know where the money comes from that funds all of these little projects you talk about. It sure doesn’t come from the $100 a month

Now if only I could get that movie to download. Maybe you can download “City Finances for Dummies”

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Dead cat bounce or a fundamental change?

Short covering or a double bottom breakout?

A million theories on the price of oil. All I can say is my phone is ringing off the hook. There are over 3,000 wells in Texas that need to be finished (fracked and brought online). 

Really depends on the House of Saud


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Friday Really Quick Hits

What a crazy week, busy as hell. Both businesses are running at redline capacities which is good, and we finally got our receivables under control this week. We did a trade show in Houston last week and headed for one in Atlanta in two weeks. As a good buddy of mine says, it doesn’t matter how busy you are, keep selling.

Today we learned that Economic Development Director Deanna Beseda submitted her resignation. So you can update the count to 11 from the post below. Deanna will really be missed as she knew the real estate market front and back, and it will be really hard to replace her. As it will be all of our losses this last year.

There was a Political Debate last night, didn’t go, didn’t watch. Will try to watch it this weekend if I have the time or the stomach.

The gal from a Better Face For Keller dropped out of the Council race yesterday. Kudo’s to her for running, and it seems she has had some life changes that took her out of the race. I understand completely.

Taste of Keller is this weekend, I don’t know if I will make it there or not, but you should go down and see Charlie Robison. One of the best guys out there!

First verse reminds me of myself, second verse reminds me of my son.

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Sinking Ship?

The City of Keller is a sinking ship, with everybody running for the lifeboats.

This week we learned that yet another Director has put in his notice and is leaving the city. At my count, that is 10 high level administrators that have left in the past 12 months, and that isn’t counting a couple of high level Fire Department retirements.

The people that have left, as I’ve written here many times, are the folks that run the City’s day to day operation. These are the folks that help make Keller a great place to live. Them leaving and folks coming in to replace them only means that their years of experience and their own love for the City they worked for is gone….forever. We are becoming Watauga.

Not only has this council and mayor terminated hundreds of years of experience on their boards and commissions, they have watched hundreds of years of experience head out the door taking new jobs, ones that don’t have the volatile nature of working for Keller. Not only are they leaving, but a more than a few have left while filing for retirement first, so they can double dip at their next job. So guess what? They will continue to cost you and me, the taxpayers of this city, money for benefits that are paid out of the general fund to retirees.

The last time I posted about a Director leaving, I got a few phone calls. Some from very high up telling me everything is fine, but others from city staff saying everybody is looking to leave, morale is low and the leadership team is in shambles.

This whole thing reminds me of the Texas Rangers in 2014, we are playing a AAA team right now at Town Hall, and the Mayor and Council has no clue what they are going to do to rectify the situation.

The list as of today:

  • Steve Polasek (City Manager)
  • Chris Fuller (Deputy City Manager)
  • Johnny Pfiefer (Director of Finance)
  • Tom Elgin (Director of Community Development)
  • Dona Kinney (Director of Parks and Rec)
  • Keith Macedo (Director of IS)
  • Matthew Kite (Director of Public Works)
  • Greg Dickens (Director of Public Works)
  • Brandi Stegler (Only Staff Accountant at City)
  • Jonathan Phillips (The Fixer, Special Projects Guy, had a new title before he left, forget what it was)

Word on the street is that there will be a couple of more in the coming days. Who will be left?

With such upheaval, the city will now be forced to pay more for new managers than the ones they replaced and also will have to start bumping the pay of the remaining Directors and leadership positions to try to retain them. That’s OK, it isn’t their money they are having to pay, nobody will notice.

Maybe the Bryan/Dodge camp can write a new book, How to Ruin a City in 365 days.


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Mitch Holmes

Word came out today that Mitch Holmes filed for Keller City Council Place 1.

To me, that is great news! I first met Mitch when I ran for City Council back about 10 years ago, I lost my race, Mitch won and went to serve multiple terms on Council before the economy forced him to take a job in West Texas. Mitch has moved back to town and is looking at adding some adult leadership to the Council.

I commit my support and will offer him any help he asks for. I ask you to do the same.

Big Bob has committed $250, which is him being a cheap skate. I will challenge him and anybody else reading to match a $500 contribution I intend to make to his campaign.

It’s time to put the adults back in charge at City Hall.

On that note, word came out that the Public Works director quit with very little notice this week. The body count at City Hall continues to grow.

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There is a reason Keller never has had to institute term limits on its elected officials, it is because Keller is self-cleansing. After a certain point in time, the Council will overreach, or as is the present day case, act like a bunch of idiots and the usual uninterested voters start to pay attention. At that point, they throw the bums out and start over.

The only thing that has saved certain members of this current council from a recall election is an absolute malfeasance of the weekly newspaper to actually report what is going on at City Hall. But in this day and age, word is getting out on social media and through emails.

I have been contacted numerous times this week by citizens absolutely appalled at the conduct of the Council at the meeting Tuesday night. Some are asking me to reengage in the political process. I don’t have the time or the patience right now to delve into this mess, besides, I have faith in the citizens that they are beginning to see the writing on the wall when it comes to Debby Bryan and her ilk.

It is time for the Rotary Club, the Chamber and the rest of the establishment to get involved. It is time for the community leaders to step forward and be heard.



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New Opportunity

As most of my friends on here know, I love politics. I love to talk about it, to participate in it, to write about it and to argue about it. I have written here on my little blog for years about local and state issues, but in the last year or two I just could never find the time or motivation to write on a regular basis.

Well, last week I was offered a chance to write about politics for when they do their big relaunch this week. It has a much wider audience than what I’m used to, so I will have to make sure that I proofread a little better than I normally do. I will try to remember to post links to my posts when they publish.

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Judy Baar Topinka

My brother Rich’s column on JBT and her death mentions me in it, so of course I’m going to post it here.

Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka had a stroke the morning of Dec. 9, but that’s not what killed her. In fact, by that afternoon, she announced she was going to walk to the restroom. Her chief of staff Nancy Kimme told her not to try because she was paralyzed on her left side. In mocking defiance, Topinka started kicking her no longer paralyzed leg.

By early evening, medical staff told Topinka that she’d be out of the hospital in a few days and would then need three weeks of rehabilitation. The indestructible Topinka appeared to have won again, just like she did after she fell and broke her hip and badly injured her back after giving a speech in 2012. The accident slowed her down, but it never stopped her, never silenced her, never broke her spirit, never stopped her from running for re-election.

What finally felled Topinka was completely unexpected. Hours after her speedy recovery, Topinka fell asleep. A massive blood clot somehow withstood her blood-thinning medication and got around a clot trap installed beneath her rib cage and entered her lung.

The end came quickly.

In a matter of seconds, we lost not only one of our state’s strongest voices for financial prudence, its most consistently successful female statewide elected official, its most pro-union, pro-gay rights Republican, but also its most human politician.

My brother Doug met Topinka when he was with me at an event. Doug posted this on his Facebook page the day she died: “She was the first statewide elected official I ever met that I thought ‘Hey, she’s just a regular person like the rest of us.'”

Judy only talked down to dunderheads. Everyone else was treated like an old friend, and she just had that way about her that you knew she meant it.

I once had lunch with Judy in her west suburban state Senate district. She took me to a local Bohemian place and I barely got to talk to her. She knew, by name, just about everyone at that restaurant. People literally lined up to shake her hand and chat with her the entire time we were there. She’d hug them, ask about their children, their aunts, their cousins, mostly by name. She never lost that smile, even while she was eating.


She often told stories about when she served in the Illinois House of Representatives during the height of the Equal Rights Amendment debate. Ultraconservative women, she’d humorously recall, would often grab her arm, fall to their knees and pray for her.

What did you do? I asked.

“I let them pray!” the ERA supporter hooted. She thanked them for their prayers and continued on her merry way.

Topinka was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1984, after first building a House constituent services program unlike almost anywhere else. Her phone number was always public, and she would get calls at her home at all hours, once from a constituent during the middle of the night with a cat up a tree. She served not only her own constituents, but also those who lived in the neighboring district represented by former Democratic Senate President Phil Rock, who was often too busy with the affairs of state to handle mundane constituent requests.

Born to immigrant parents, Topinka graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She went on to write a column called “Let’s Talk” for the Berwyn-Cicero Life newspaper. Former state Rep. Jack Kubik, who once represented half of Judy’s Senate district, said it was the most-read column in his family’s newspaper. It was all about political stuff that nobody else was writing about. The two of us were a natural fit.

I first encountered Judy not long after I was hired as Hannah Information’s Statehouse columnist in 1990. She was fascinated by the company’s “new wave” technology and my “alternative” form of journalism. Her Senate office quickly became my second home.

Few would talk to me back then because I wasn’t anybody. We were both “nobody what nobody sent” and we reveled in it. Topinka was elected to her first House term over the opposition of the local party bosses. I started writing about Statehouse politics for a little technology startup.

Judy helped teach me how to be successful in this crazy business. She also taught me to treat strangers and acquaintances like old friends, because one day they could be.

I loved that woman.

A contributing columnist to Crain’s, Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and

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And You Think You Had a Rough Day

My mother and her sister Janet have been working on stories from when they were younger, my mom posted this today. My great aunt Lil who this is about is still alive and still writes my Mom every week. My mom, in turn sits down and writes a letter back to her as they have done for years.

Mt. Vernon, Illinois on a summer day in 1946.

My mother and we three girls traveled from Pontiac, IL, to Mt. Vernon on our way to Evansville, Indiana. I was 5, Barb was 3 and Jeanne was 2 and mom was pregnant with Kenny. My Aunt Lil’s husband had just passed away and we were on our way to his funeral. He had died suddenly at the age of 37. Aunt Lil was 31 and her only living son Alan was 6. Three years earlier their son, Larry, had died at the age of 4. We always heard the story of a needle getting into Larry’s knee as he crawled on the floor in their home. An infection set in and the poor little boy developed a high fever and eventually died. Lil was devastated with Larry’s death and now her young husband was dead leaving her a widow with a young boy of 6.
Lil had met flamboyant, farm laborer, Theron Steve Carney, near her father’s home near Shawneetown. They married (I think eloped) in the Depression Year of 1938. They are shown on the 1940 Census living in nearby Hamilton County with George Juenger, her dad, age 67, Steve Theron Carney age 31, Larry Carney, age 1. Lil’s mom, Elizabeth Renschler Juenger, had died in August 4, 1936 of stomach cancer. My mom had come home from working at the underwear factory in Carmi to stay with her mom and care for her until her death. She and Dad married on December 12, 1936 in Fairfield Methodist Church.

Death had taken its toll on Mom’s family. Ten year old Nelly and baby Effie had died of typhoid fever in 1914. Beautiful, seventeen year old sister Carrie died October 14, 1935, of appendicitis. Her Mom, Lizzie, was so distraught at the death of her last child that she could not go to her funeral. We have a photo of her at the grave of Carrie. Both Aunt Lil and Mom always said they thought that their mother had died of heartbreak from her daughter’s death.

Grandfather Juenger passed away May 8, 1940 at his home near Enfield where Aunt Lil and her family resided with him.

But now back to that 1946 day. Dad had put us on the B and O Train at the depot in Pontiac that morning. We probably carried a modest shopping bag for a few clothes, a baby doll, and a couple of sandwiches. This brown paper bag allowed mom a place to put her purse while she escorted us to the restroom on the train. We basically sat by the window watching the flat farmland and small villages pass. The steam locomotive train made numerous stops for mail at larger towns and to take on new passengers who were traveling south. We had met the conductor when he looked at our tickets, but these new people were a bit scary for little people from a farm near Graymont. This was a first train ride for mom too.

Dad had chores at the farm to tend to and could not leave. The decision had not been made when Mom and we three girls left whether or not he would fetch us or we would return by train and bus.
The conductor alerted us as we neared the city of Mt. Vernon that we would have to leave this train and transfer to a bus for the final leg of our journey to Evansville, IN.

Through the windows of the passenger car, we saw our locomotive had pulled into a large, round building that had huge windows lining the building’s exterior. Suet clung to the windows of this building which muted the light coming in. When the train drew to a stop, we carefully lined up in the aisle holding on to the scratchy wool seat backs like those where we had just sat. Mom instructed us that when we left the train we were to hold hands and not let go. The conductor helped us down the narrow steps and into the humid weather of southern IL. The air was filled with the smell of burning coal smoke and the hot rush of steam. The trains steel wheels looked so sharp and foreboding. Mom reminded us for the 3rd or 4th time, “Jeanne hold onto to my hand and Barb take my other hand and Janet take Barb’s hand, and don’t let go.”

We went into the depot where Mom checked on her bus ticket to complete our trip. We had an hour to wait for the bus to leave.

When we left the terminal I remember the huge crowds on the sidewalks. There may not have been huge crowds, but in my limited experience it seemed that way to me. Mom saw the Woolworth’s 5 and 10 cent store on Main Street in Mt. Vernon and thought that would be a good spot to spend our hour looking at novelties not available in our area at home. The store was crowded and we continued to hold hands. Mom found a cute, blue ceramic lamb planter that she probably spent 10 cents on. The clerk wrapped the lamb in tissue paper and then in brown wrapping paper and Mom placed it in her shopping bag. Barb and I looked at crayons, but the clerk told us not to touch them.

We left Woolworth’s tightly holding hands as Mom redirected. We were on the corner of Main and 3rd St. I remember a policeman directing the car traffic and telling pedestrians when to cross. All of a sudden, I looked up to see two year old Jeanne pulling out of Mom’s hand and running into the busy traffic. A car was approaching. We all yelled at Jeanne, but she was so tired of being held in restraint and she just wanted to run that she did not stop. Mom was frantic and she pulled Barb and me into the traffic with her as she ran after Jeanne. The policeman saw what was happening and stopped the car traffic and let us cross the street before the rest of the crowd was allowed to cross. Seventy years later, I can still relive this scenario and how we almost ended up in the hospital or worse the morgue.

As we returned to the depot, a man told us the suety building was a roundhouse. These huge, monstrous steam locomotives could not switch direction or go in reverse. This roundhouse had a large circle of track with flat slabs of steel track in the middle. The locomotives went into the circle and were moved physically and by switches to match up with passenger cars leading back north.

After that terrifying experience it was time to board the bus for the final leg of our journey. We were exhausted and more than ready to complete our trip. Jeanne was instructed to sit on Mom’s lap and we sat next to them. All of us kids slept and Mom rested her eyes, but stayed alert enough to wake if Jeanne tried to get down and have another adventure.

At Evansville, Mom’s older sister Minnie met us along with her older daughters to take us to Aunt Lil’s home for the wake and funeral. Barb remembers someone setting up an ironing board to do last minute pressing of funeral clothes in the Aunt Lil’s bedroom. Adjoining that bedroom was the living room where the casket containing Steve’s remains sat open I remember the two doors (front and back) of Lil’s small home that was used for the in and out movement of friends and family paying their respects. In other words they would come in the front door and exit the back door.

I think Dad found someone to do his chores so he could come down over the weekend to get us. Mom was not going back home on the bus and train with the 3 of us.

For all you parents out there, remember our young ages 5, 3, and 2 when we made this trip. And yet bits and pieces are very vivid in our memory to this day. Kids have long memories so you want to make them as happy as you can.

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