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Behind-the-Scenes, Historic Preservation

City University – Live {here} & Learn

city hall

A 9-month program, run by the City of Abilene in order to introduce citizens to how the city works behind-the-scenes. City University meets for one five-hour period each month in the afternoon/evening from September through May. “Students” commit to attend at least 7 of the “classes” in order to “graduate.”

About twenty-five of us met for the first time on September 19th at City Hall (555 Walnut Street), in the City Council chambers. Mayor Norm Archibald spoke briefly first. Then after class members introduced themselves, we heard an overview of city government from Larry Gilley, City Manager, Ronnie Kidd, Managing Director for Administration, and Mindy Patterson, Director of Finance. This introductory information covered general government and the city council, departments and functions, and city finances. There was a very lot to cover in one shot but I tried to keep in mind that it was all a general overview, and the rest of the sessions we’d get more detail about individual departments.

Some highlights:

– The city has 1,200 employees, 10 departments and 100 divisions.

– Its organizational structure is a “Strong Mayor” system versus a “Council Manager” system. (I didn’t catch what this means.)

– The electoral districts  in Abilene are divided in half by the railroad tracks. Therefore there are three north side and three south side members of City Council. This differs from “ward style” divisions.

– There are no term limits for mayor or city council members – they are re-elected each time.

– How does the City Council receive information? Answer: a lot of, “people bending their ear at the grocery store, and at church.” In addition to recommendations from Boards, it was said (see link above for a list of these – there are over 40 of them); City staff, after “study and analysis;” citizen inquiries and information; and professional advisers/consultants as needed.

Here’s your chance to get involved! I thought an article in the Reporter-News was a great example of ordinary citizen involvement – three middle school students approached City Council about implementing curbside recycling in Abilene.

– There are 4 council appointees: City Manager, City Attorney, City Secretary and Municipal Court Judge.

– The City’s annual budget is $182 million. By comparison, shared Mindy Patterson (Finance Director), the jumbotron at Cowboy stadium is $42 million.

– “We are a service organization.”

After these presentations, we rode a small bus on a downtown tour narrated by Donna Albus of the Abilene Preservation League. Along the way we heard her views on preserving historic buildings in the city, and some historical facts and jokes, including one about an old anti-flirting ordinance. We were able to disembark and go inside the Swenson House along the way. The Swenson House is a restored 1910 property which can be rented for events. Features include historic architectural details, a patio, and a sunroom.

Returning to the City Hall building, we ate dinner while hearing a panel answer questions about ideas for improvements to the city, and what’s going on in Abilene. Panel members were Billie Enriquez, Daniel Ortiz, and Laura Moore. Kelvin Kelley was also a panel member but didn’t make it that night.

After one question from Stacy Kennedy of Texas Tech, about what opportunities might exist for specifically young people to contribute in meaningful ways in Abilene, Billie Enriquez mentioned that there was a need for organizations to know more about what each other are up to in order to work together better, and perhaps not duplicate services. He said more and better communication could improve various services. Daniel Ortiz said that Ms. Kennedy might have some ideas relating to this topic to bring to Abilene with her, from her recent time living in Phoenix.

We were provided with the following bios about panel participants:

Billy Enriquez owns several automobile-related businesses in Abilene and has been a strong community servant and education advocate for many years. He has served as the Chair of the Sears Revitalization Committee and has been on the Board of Directors of the Hispanic Leadership Council. He also has served as a member of the Abilene Industrial Foundation.  Mr. Enriquez was named Minority Small Business Champion of the Year in 2009 by the U.S. Small Business Administration. He is a graduate of McMurry University, Leadership Abilene, the Citizens Police Academy, and the Citizens Fire Academy.  He has also served on the Community Action Program, presented for the Texas Scholars Program, and was a task force member for Abilene’s Children Today and AISD Teaching and Learning.

Laura Moore is an active Abilenian who has served the citizens in a variety of capacities. Ms. Moore was an Abilene City Council Woman from 2004 to 20010. Currently, she is the Executive Director of The Grace Museum.  Previously, she was the executive director of the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature for three years. She was instrumental in bringing the Nelson Splash Pad to Abilene with her work as project manager for Together 2011. Ms. Moore has been a development coordinator with Christian Homes & Family Services and was director of development for Hendrick Medical Center. Ms. Moore was recognized this year for her work with The Friends of Safety City Advisory Board.

Kelvin Kelley is Associate Professor of Theology and Coordinator of Hardin Simmons University student diversity programs as well as senior pastor of First Baptist Church – Cisco. Dr. Kelley founded First A Chance Eventually Success (F.A.C.E.S. Ministries, Inc.), a mentoring initiative developed to help underachieving young men.  He has also served as congregational pastor at the Mount Zion Baptist Church Abilene for seven years, and the Mount Zion Baptist Church Brownwood for over six years. Dr. Kelley currently serves on the AISD Board and has worked closely with several groups and organizations focused on education and mentoring young athletes.  Currently, he is a team advocate for the Abilene Cooper High School varsity football team.

Daniel Ortiz is Vice President of Commercial Loans for First Financial Bank and leads the Multi-cultural initiative for First Financial Bankshares.  In addition to his work in the financial sector, Mr. Ortiz has been President of the Hispanic Leadership Council, a Board Member for Big Brother Big Sister, and a Board member for the Abilene Chamber of Commerce, serving as an Executive Member of the Hispanic Business Committee.   He has graduated from Leadership Abilene and The Citizens Police Academy.  He serves on Advisory Committees to the Junior League of Abilene and The Grace Museum and is a member and Chair of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Abilene’s International Committee.

Lastly in our City University binders, we were given a copy of the “Charter of the City of Abilene, Texas.”

Upcoming meetings will cover the following:

October 17th — Municipal Court, Water Dept, Recycle Center, Airport

November 21st — Planning & Development Dept, Animal Services

December 19th — Emergency Management, Public Works Dept, Traffic Shop, Street Services

January 16th — Community Services Dept, Library, Health Dept, Civic Center

February 20th — Police Dept, Fire Dept

March 20th — Senior Citizens/Recreation, Melvin Martin Center for Children’s Safety, Boards & Commissions

April 17th — City Communications & Media Relations, Collaborations, Frontier Texas!

May 15th — Zoo

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