Seek and Ye Shall Find!

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial
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Here is the money I found this week on my morning walks along Flour Bluff Drive. (I also found a full can of mosquito spray which is not pictured because we’re using it!)

     I find money.  Yep, that’s right; I’m one of those people who picks up every penny she sees.  Why, just this morning I found 11 cents on my walk with Scrappy Doo, my beloved canine companion and nearly reformed street dog.  My kindred spirit, Benjamin Franklin, said that a penny saved is a penny earned.  I say that a penny found is a penny earned.  My grandkids believe this, too.  I know because I’m the one who takes them on money walks.  Our goal on these outings is to scour the streets, driveways, parking lots, and roadsides for lost change.  Some days we only find a penny.  Other days we are blessed with larger coins and even a bill now and then.  Sometimes we find other kinds of treasures like full cans of mosquito spray (a value of about 5 bucks), nuts and bolts of all sizes and shapes, hats, t-shirts, drivers licenses (which we drop in the mail), and even stray dogs, ergo Scrappy Doo.  How do we find something every time?  It’s really rather biblical.  We find because we seek.

     I have a friend who laughs about our money walks.  My grandkids were aghast when she said she wouldn’t waste her time or energy bending over to pick up a penny.  Maybe our family acts too – well – poor, even though we aren’t poor.  No doubt, my husband and I came from very poor beginnings.  We learned to live a certain way because of it.  Our families sold pop bottles, shopped at garage sales and thrift stores, ate leftovers, and stretched every dollar.  That kind of upbringing led us to save money to buy materials to build a house without taking out a mortgage.  It’s why we bank at a place that pays us to keep our money there and change our electrical carrier every few months to get the best rate.  It’s the reason we use credit cards that pay cash back and pay the balance every month so that we earn a few extra bucks and repurpose building materials we have leftover or find on the side of the road to create something inexpensive but beautiful and functional (My husband is a genius at this).  We are always looking for money, and we find it.  And that friend who laughed at us was pretty amazed at my cool Calvin Klein shorts (retail price $45) for which I paid $3.33 at a local thrift store.  It’s all in the attitude, an attitude that City could benefit in developing.

     In April of this year, the Corpus Christi City Council learned that the city’s income was about $8 million below the budgeted expectation.  When I saw that they dug into a few nooks and crannies and located exactly $8 million, I was amazed!  How did they do it?  The same way my grandkids and I do it.  They looked for it, which is what I hope they’ll do before hitting us with yet another tax, this time to tackle the residential streets monster.  I can’t help but wonder how many hidden dollars are lying unused within the various city departments.  I suspect some of these dollars will find their way to the light of day once zero-based budgeting is put into place.  But, why wait?  They could start looking now.  If my grandkids worked for the city and thought that money was somewhere to be found, a team of wild horses couldn’t pull them away!  Hey, maybe there’s a summer job in this somewhere!

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Chad Magill: Leading Corpus Christi in a New Direction

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Government and Politics, Personal History

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To understand what drives Chad Magill to work so hard to make Corpus Christi a city of which its citizens can be proud, it requires a look into the not-so-distant past. There we find a young Magill responding to a call from his dad, Don, a 35-year veteran in the world of fraud investigation. In May of 2002, Chad moved to Corpus Christi from Houston to help his dad make his business more efficient and more lucrative, a move that would allow him to be a big brother to his sibling James, who was only 10 at the time. It was a move that would chart a course for the direction Chad’s life would take.

Chad bowlcut
Chad as a boy
Chad and mom
Chad with mother, Heidi Magill
Chad Carla James
Chad with his brother, Jame,s and sister, Carla

“My dad specialized in bringing stolen vehicles from other countries. His biggest customer was BMW Financial Services. After all the re-po folks gave up, they would hire my dad. If he didn’t bring the car back, he didn’t get paid. He would find the vehicles somewhere in the world through his decades of experience, contacts, and knowledge,” Chad explained.  Don Magill was making four to five thousand dollars on each vehicle he recovered and solving five to eight cases each month. He had two employees who would fumble through ten, three-drawer filing cabinets for a week looking for the information needed to find one car. They would pull the file, and Don would let his instincts go to work. He would miraculously find the car, but he wasn’t happy with the tedious process. He needed a guy with a keen intellect who could understand data, logically connect it to people and situations, and create a computer program that could “think” like he thought. He called on his son to write a database.

Chad and dad
Don and Chad Magill

“My dad’s instincts were good, but his search methods weren’t. I integrated some logic in the search functions, in the LIKE commands, so you could be close to what you’re looking for and still find it,” said Chad. “When I wrote the database, and he started using it, he was solving 25-35 cases a month.” When Don was doing extremely well, he said to Chad, “You know, I’ve always wanted to buy a building downtown and try to bring it back and show people what could really happen.” That idea led to Chad and his father putting in some offers, which resulted in landing a bid on a building. They went to work. Don invested nearly 500 thousand dollars of his retirement money into the venture but was quickly disappointed as he attempted to navigate an inefficient and broken city government, which included dealing with city inspectors who more than suggested that he take a less-than-legal route (something a fraud inspector could never agree to do). Don shut down the project, and Chad watched his dad give up.


During one of the election cycles when everybody was bashing downtown at a public forum, Chad took the floor. He said to those in attendance, “The problem isn’t that people aren’t doing something. The system is so flawed that they don’t even realize it. I’m standing up right now telling you we spent a half-million dollars. One, nobody knows. Two, I don’t think anybody cares. And, three, I’m going to do something about it.”


This started Magill on a path to leaving Corpus Christi better than he found it, a lesson passed on to him from his dad. He got involved in many civic groups, including the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Management District, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas. Though unsuccessful in 2007 in his first run for the District 2 council seat, he didn’t give up. He worked hard for safe neighborhoods and a revitalized infrastructure, seeking to help the residents of his district be proud to live in District 2. In 2012, Magill became their council representative. His philosophy for leadership by multiplication began to take shape along with his mission of focusing on needs before wants, getting a return on investments from tax dollars, and creating primary jobs for the people of Corpus Christi. Like a master chess player, he thought several moves ahead as he planned a new course for the city, one that would lead to major changes in thought and action by council members and city staff, changes Magill hoped would create a culture of pride for the city.

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“One of the ways we can be proud of our city is taking the time and effort to get away from incremental budgeting and go more toward zero-based budgeting (ZBB) or service-line budgeting. That affects the funding throughout every facet of the city. Therefore, it changes the financial culture of the city. By changing the culture and the mindset of each department head of owning and managing their costs, it puts our entire city government on a different path of understanding what their mission is. Their mission is to provide the needs for a community that frankly could evoke pride in itself once they have confidence in city government,” Magill explained.


“At present, when the city goes through the budget process at council, the employees of the Strategic Management and Budget Office make the presentations – not the department heads. That is a key component of how we can improve. Each department head should present what the mission and services are for their department. In doing so, they rightfully take ownership of their costs. It helps change the culture in their department. ZBB forces each one of us to account for the mission and service of that need. Wants get pushed aside because you’re focused on needs; that’s my mission. Part of being proud of your decisions is having trust in the process. I think ZBB helps improve the trust across the board, both with citizens and city staff,” he said.

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Magill explained how some truly talented people in the city departments are always in a reactive mode due to a lack of public trust. “Therefore, the staff’s creativity and ideas don’t flow through. If you’re always in a break-fix mentality, you’re never going to get into what IT folks call a ‘manage services’ mode. If you’re the computer guy who shows up only after the computer is broken, then you spend your time waiting for the next phone call for the next broken computer. When you can step above that, you manage the computers actively before they break. You’re performing a day-to-day service. You can then manage hundreds – even thousands – of computers a day rather than 2 or 3 a day.”


He then talked about employee raises being tied to the process. “It helps align goals. If you can align goals with city employees to be more efficient, why wouldn’t you? I think it’s one of the greatest benefits of this process. As we see savings, we’re going to fund two things: residential street reconstruction and city employee step raises, which are based on merit.”


Magill believes the typical role of council in this process is to create policies to shape the existing city government and the future of the city. This, he said, involves a second role for the council, working with the city manager who in turn directs city staff, the actual people who get things accomplished in terms of service and performance within the city government. A third role, that of holding people accountable for doing the work, is typically highlighted by the public via the local newspaper, print media, social media, television, and radio. “However, sometimes there’s truly not an accountability layer because some who are supposedly holding others accountable need some accountability themselves. When this layer is missing, council members will drop out of the policy-making mind frame and into the accountability layer.”

City Council
Corpus Christi City Council

This, he said, prompts conversations at council meetings where members are asking if a task was completed or not. “Instead of that authoritative accountability role, we should be in the policy-making role. It’s unfortunate that we have to drop in to the authoritative role, but we have to do what we have to do.” He explained that when the public and the media hold the policymakers and city staff accountable, then council members can focus on policies that shape the future of the city, concentrating on long-range plans that include water supply developments, repairing waste water issues, fixing our streets, and improving public safety.


Magill devoted hours to analyzing the proposed comprehensive plan, PlanCC 2035. He found it completely lacking in the areas of support for public safety (fire, police, and emergency response), in support and growth of our military presence, and in support of our port, elements clearly defined in the 1987 comprehensive plan and essential to creating a safe environment where families can thrive. “Since I voted for the process to create the document, it is incumbent upon me to make sure that we aren’t passing an incomplete document,” he said. He identified several aspects of PlanCC 2035 that he classifies as wants. “There’s nothing wrong with having wants, but applying city budgets to them is essential.”

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In his typical, analytical, chess-playing style, Magill went about merging the 1987 plan with PlanCC 2035 and named it PlanCC 2036, to reflect a 20-year plan. “Plan 2036 doesn’t get rid of the wants from 2035; it just puts them in a separate document entitled ‘Ambitions and Aspirations’ that will help guide the city staff in the future. If Parks and Recreation wants to provide free swim lessons to all citizens, let it compete with the other missions and core services and go up through the chain of the budget process. If there’s funding for it, then it will survive.” To him, it is about being a good steward of the resources with which he and the rest of the council have been entrusted.

Ship

When asked how he felt about the naysayers who have criticized his methods, he said, “Our annual budget is about $841 million. Imagine it as an enormous ship. When you steer that ship in a different direction, you’re going to get some waves. If you want the ship to go in the same direction all the time – or the same way it’s been going for 30 or 40 years – you get fewer waves. Some people spend all their time and energy trying to minimize the waves instead of looking at the new direction. The new direction of this ship is headed toward fixing and maintaining our streets, improving our water supply, repairing wastewater issues, and focusing on public safety. That’s a more responsible and practical approach, and that’s where our ship should have headed long ago. Am I afraid of the waves? Absolutely not, because I see the new direction.”

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Sanda, Avery, and Chad Magill

Since 2011, Magill lost both his parents but started a family of his own. “At some point in life, all of us will be focused on other things. My entire life isn’t just about city government. My daughter is everything to my wife and me. She inspires me exponentially more than I was ever inspired in the past. In the future – when I leave city government- I’ll know that I’ve at least helped others lead in the same direction. To me that’s so much more than a legacy of a statue or a building with my name on it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Related articles:  Sam Houston: Portrait of a Leader

Chad Magill Seeks Re-Election

 

 

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Magill Speaks to FBBA at January Meeting

Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, Front Page

     FBBA

     The Flour Bluff Business Association, a task force of business leaders who promote the safety, service, and growth of the Flour Bluff community, welcomed Councilman Chad Magill as its keynote speaker at the January 6, 2016, meeting held at noon at Funtrackers in Flour Bluff.  Magill focused on the new year and talked about “big ticket items” for the city.

     “The EPA expects us to agree to pay $853 million on your wastewater system over the next 12 to 15 years.  We can’t afford it.”  Magill admitted that the system absolutely needs improvements and that the City has been discussing the issue since 2009.  Magill said that part of the reason for his failure to support Destination Bayfront stemmed from the knowledge of the pending wastewater bill.

     “Anytime we spend 72 million of tax dollars on anything but what we have to spend it on, you have to ask if we can afford it,” Magill said.

PlanCC

     Magill told the audience he believed the City should be focused on reconstruction and maintenance of streets, public safety, wastewater, and water supply.  He emphasized the importance of getting the fundamentals right and putting needs before wants.  This led Magill to address PlanCC 2035 (now 2036).  Magill said, “Your city government shouldn’t have to be the ones to create the social environment for success.  We shouldn’t be the ones to pay for free swimming lessons or for free internet service across the city.  We see a lot of those proposed policies in PlanCC 2035.  I have some serious doubts whether that plan moves forward.”  Magill added that he put a plan together based on the existing comprehensive plan and sent it to City staff in December 2015.  “It takes the good from our existing plan – which actually includes public safety – and includes parts from the proposed PlanCC 2035 to create a real-world plan that keeps us focused on our needs.”

      Magill talked about the new harbor bridge and what an amazing feat it was to bring together the Port of Corpus Christi, the City of Corpus Christi, Nueces County, TxDot, and a number of local organizations and finally settle upon the building of a billion-dollar bridge.  He praised the efforts of Representative Todd Hunter who was “a champion for the bridge.”  Magill said that the new bridge should be looked at as an essential part of economic development for the area and that construction should begin as soon as 2017.

 

     The councilman then shifted to the topic of zero-based budgeting.  “You’re going to see – for our generation – the largest push for a zero-based budget in our city government ever.  It’s a challenge to City staff, but City Manager Ron Olson accepted the challenge.”  Magill said that some of his colleagues on council believe he may have challenged staff too much.  “They have concerns.  I understand that, but at the same time, these are your tax dollars.”

      Magill explained that zero-based budgeting will require City departments to justify spending tax dollars by aligning the spending with the mission.  “Everyone has to budget where their dollars go.  You do it.  My wife and I do it.  Shouldn’t we expect that of our City government?”  He sees it as an opportunity for the department heads to shine.  “If they embrace it and do well,” Magill said he would fight for their funding and for them to be successful.  Magill FBBA

     Magill then turned to the topic of Flour Bluff and spoke about his desire to get Laguna Shores Road on the 2018 bond.  “Every time I’m in Flour Bluff, I drive down Laguna Shores to remind me of the need.”  He went on to commend James Skrobarczyk, who was in the audience, for serving on the residential street committee and praised the ad hoc committee for accomplishing so much in a short period of time.

     He explained that they had uncovered some wasteful practices and inefficiencies in the Street Preventative and Maintenance Plan (SPMP).  He offered an example. “Kingsville spends about $2.50 per square foot on overlays while Corpus Christi spends $8.00 per square foot for the same work.”  When asked how that could be, Magill said, “Part of it is inefficiencies of government; part of that is multiple inspection layers; part of that is – frankly – writing contracts that allow contractors to make ‘obscene amounts of profit.’ ” He told the FBBA that he would love to speak to them again in June or July to fill them in on the recommendations from the street committee and how the City will move toward zero-based budgeting.

     When asked if Council member Colleen McIntyre’s proposal last year to raise property taxes by 8 cents to pay for residential street construction is the only form of funding available, Magill said, “The Caller-Times reported that 8 cents of ad valorem property taxes per year would raise $20 million, when in actuality, it would raise $13.6 million.”  After texting Ron Olson that his numbers were wrong, Olson came back a couple of days later and agreed Magill was correct in his calculations.

IMG_4005   “When they’re talking about throwing more taxpayer money at an inefficient system, how much of that money is going to be wasted?  I took an unpopular stance on council, and I said, ‘No, I can’t support a property tax increase without a plan.’ “

     Magill said that oftentimes a government entity will ask for a lot of money first then develop a plan around it second.  “Then they do the work and go on the defense and tell you how good it was. We’ve got to change that process and ask everyone to be open to a change in that kind of thinking.  The missing component is being able to put a plan together, share that with the community – which we’ll do in June or July – and ask how much of this plan would you like to invest in?”

     “Multiple funding sources is the key.  From re-purposing sales tax, we can pay the debt service off on Whataburger Field, and that gives you between $2 and $2.5 million a year.  That’s sales tax, which is mostly a tax that is appropriate for infrastructure.  In good times, you do more; in bad times, you do less.  Then, you look at cutting from within the budget.  We tried a 1% cut last year; that didn’t work.  We held the line on increasing materials and operations costs, but effectively we didn’t save much money.  That’s why we’re going the zero-based route.”

    Magill explained that savings within the budget will go to two things:  One is streets and the other is City employee raises.  “Think about the people who are going to do the work to find those inefficiencies within their own department budgets.  If we’re going to challenge them harder, we have to somehow align goals.  If you tell a department head that he/she needs to save money in the department and that part of the money saved will go into giving that department a raise, then people’s goals are starting to align.  Efficiency is part of good, quality government.”

     “Another funding source is potentially the RTA.  They could be a funding partner, and I think they’re open to that now.  The key here is to go to multiple funding sources with property taxes being the last in line.  If we had raised property taxes last year at 8 cents, your only guarantee is that your property taxes will go up.  If we had passed Destination Bayfront, that would have also added to the cost for the taxpayer.  If we’re going to focus on needs, let’s do it the right way.  The residential street committee is culling the bad from the current program and keeping the good to find out the most efficient way to tackle residential streets.”

     Precinct 4 County Commissioner Brent Chesney and ad hoc street committee chairman Andy Taubman have the same thought as Magill about the RTA redirecting more funds to the streets.  New RTA chairman, Curtis Rock, has not officially weighed in on this possibility.

     Magill answered questions from the audience on the topics of the failed Citizens’ Collection Center (Solid Waste Transfer Station).  He cited the main reasons for the failure as:

  • the $4.65 million price tag, which would have come in the form of a 20-year debt,
  • a raise in solid waste rates, and
  • a petition against the facility with 700 signatures from residents who live near the proposed site on Flour Bluff Drive.

He also discussed the positive aspects of privatization of City services and used the municipal golf courses as an example of how privatization has improved the quality of the golf courses while saving the City money.  Magill FBBA 2

     FBBA member, Michael Morgan, encouraged fellow members to stay in contact with Chad Magill.  “He is very accessible and very approachable.  He’ll tell you the facts, and he won’t rose-color anything.  If you have concerns or want to learn something, of course we have our District 4 representative, but Chad also represents us as an at-large council member.  I just want to thank him publicly for the job he’s doing for us out here.”

 

 

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