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Salado Board of Aldermen Candidates 2014

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Dr. Amber Preston Dankert

As a third-generation Saladoan and graduate of Salado High School, I believe that I have first-hand knowledge of both where Salado has been, and where it is headed.  I have a son that currently attends school at Salado Intermediate School, and my husband and I are also foster parents. My husband retired from the Army after serving four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he now owns his own small business in Salado.

I graduated with both a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Master’s degree in Agricultural Education from Texas A&M University, and I completed my Doctorate degree in Agricultural Education and Natural Resources at Texas Tech University. I was a member of Alpha Delta Pi sorority and Golden Key National Honor Society. 

I am the Wildlife Management Team Supervisor at Fort Hood, and have worked there for the past eight years.  I review and approve environmental and construction plans and make sound natural resource management decisions daily. I understand that decisions made today have implications far into the future. Many issues such as infrastructure, construction, and budgeting that we experience at Fort Hood can be transferred to Salado, which will help me understand how to attack small issues head-on, before they become larger issues.  

Working as part of a larger team that manages such a broad land area, I recognize that team work is often the key to success. However, sometimes you have to get your hands dirty and lead from the front.  My hope is that a new election brings about a new commitment to work diligently toward keeping the integrity of Salado’s small-town quaintness, while encouraging responsible, monitored growth to keep the village thriving. 

In college, I became deaf due to an autoimmune disease. I made the decision then that I would never quit or sell myself short. I have accomplished many things in life due to my perseverance (which most of my family refers to as stubbornness), and I have always followed through on my commitments. I have made a commitment to the residents of the Village of Salado to be an honest, open-minded voice.  I promise to listen to the community, analyze all the available options, and make decisions I believe are the best based on the available facts. I have never given up on myself, and I will never give up on Salado.

Question 1: The village entered into a contract with Central Texas Council of Governments (CTCOG) to provide city management/administrative duties. In your opinion, is this arrangement working well? Should the village extend this contract beyond the current period ending in October? Why or why not?  (200 word limit)

I believe that an immediate need was answered with the CTCOG contract. Salado needed a Village Administrator, and CTCOG could provide someone on a part-time basis to assist us with that need. We must remember, CTCOG is responsible for a multi-county area in central Texas. With large-scale projects and growing management needs ahead of us, the Village is in need of a full-time city manager who is dedicated specifically to the Village of Salado’s needs and vision. In the long-term, I believe our approximate $4800/month that we are spending with CTCOG would be better spent by hiring a permanent Village employee. If the Village is unable to secure a permanent hire by October, we should continue the current contract only until a permanent hire can be secured.

Question 2: Texas Department of Transportation estimates that the expansion of I-35 through Salado will be complete in late 2015. What, if anything, can or should the Village be doing to prepare for this? What, if anything, can or should the Village be doing now to bolster businesses that have been affected by the construction project? (150 words)

Dr. Amber Preston-Dankert Answer: Advertise, advertise, advertise. We have a tourism director hired by the Village to bolster our attraction to tourists. We should make sure that she has an adequate budget to advertise and promote Salado. Billboards that promote Salado and its upcoming events should be seen across Texas, and Salado should be seen more in magazines such as Texas Monthly. The tourism department should work closely with the Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, Rotary Club, and other Salado organizations to ensure that business needs are being appropriately addressed. Lately, it seems more and more shops are closing their doors. We need to make Salado more attractive to small business shop owners who have a unique niche in the market. Attracting unique businesses requires reasonable rent, convenient locations, and local support. We simply cannot ask out-of-towners to purchase locally if those who live here do not!

Question 3: What is -- or should be -- the role of the board of aldermen  in terms of setting goals and policies and enacting the  goals and policies of the Village? What is -- or should be -- the relationship between the aldermen and the mayor, between the aldermen and the city administrator and between the aldermen and the other staff?  What will you do in terms of these relations? (200 words)

Dr. Amber Preston-Dankert Answer: Aldermen have the responsibility to both listen to villagers’ input and understand what other successful villages across Texas are doing right. Village goals and policies should be derived from local input, and be allowed public comment well before their approval. A comprehensive plan would allow the Village to set goals and policies in a way that combines good news stories from other villages with local input.An alderman’s job is simple: they receive input, plans, and ideas, present them to the community, and vote on whether to include them as a part of the Village’s future. It is the mayor’s responsibility to ensure the aldermen are working together, beneficially, towards goals that are in the best interest of the Village.  The mayor is also the liaison between the aldermen and the community, and between the aldermen and the Village Administrator. The Village Administrator is responsible for managing and evaluating the Village employees. Thoroughly understanding and appreciating each employee’s duties and responsibilities is the key to a good working relationship. However, the aldermen must not perform any type of supervisory role.  I’ve always maintained that I can get along with anyone. I accept criticism gracefully, and use it constructively. I am a good listener, but am steadfast in my beliefs. I admit when I am at fault, and stand up when I feel another is at fault. These characteristics will, in my opinion, improve the cohesiveness of the board and its relationship with the rest of the staff.

Question 4. What are your thoughts on the Village Comprehensive Plan?  (200 words)

Dr. Amber Preston-Dankert:  comprehensive plan should be highly accessible to the public and be available for update as unforeseen changes arise. A web search will not bring up a comprehensive plan for the village. That said, a comprehensive plan is designed as a long-term, umbrella-type, vision document. This key so we as a community agree on the general direction the village is heading into the future. The Village Administrator and aldermen I spoke with agreed that the current plan has not been updated or referenced in years. A good comprehensive plan should not be so cumbersome that it cannot be easily referenced, followed, and amended.Alternately, a strategic plan identifies the individual needs of the village. It is an action plan with obtainable goals in the short-term. It should be specific, and contain a path forward. This document should be highlighted, dog-eared, and worn out by our Board of Aldermen. Each should be able to easily reference it, as should the rest of the village.  It is my goal that we have both types of documents, created with citizen input, and easily accessible both in hard-copy and digital formats. We cannot successfully make decisions without knowing where we are headed.  

Question 5. What are your top five goals for the Village that you would like to see accomplished in the next five years? How would you help to accomplish those goals? (200 words)

Dr. Amber Preston-Dankert Answer: My first priority is to create a unified team of Aldermen who work together and are respectful of others’ opinions. I want to be a member of a team who takes action on their plans and communicates openly with the public. Second, I want to create a Comprehensive Plan that is a result of community and subject matter expert input. We have the ability and expertise of creating such a plan in-house with little cost to the village. Third, I want to create better amenities for our youth, young families, middle-aged workforce, and retirees. With planning and innovation, many amenities require very little cost to the village. How about adding WiFi to an existing café, or domino tournaments at existing establishments? Many ideas do not require a vote, they just need to be pushed to local businesses as a need that is not being met. Fourth, I hope to see a better, and safer, road system throughout the village, which should be budgeted accordingly in coming years. And finally, a sewer system that is well-planned with community input, meets all the future planning needs, and is not a financial burden on the taxpayers.  

Question 6. Why do you think development within the Village and its ETJ has been slow in recent years in terms of new housing starts, new businesses, etc.? Do you think the Village should be growing? If not, why not? If so, what, if anything, can the Board of Aldermen do to improve this (200 words)

Dr. Amber Preston-Dankert Answer: Growth and change are inevitable attributes to a village that wants to survive. If the village saw no more growth, it would eventually wither away. However, I believe that uncontrolled, unmonitored growth can be just as damaging as stagnation. With a comprehensive plan in place, the village would have a vision and a direction to help ensure the growth is in the best interest of our hometown. Although many attribute the growth rate to a lack of a sewer, it is more than that. How many Saladoans can say that they shop in Salado regularly? Do you eat here, get your hair cut here, or buy groceries here? I do, because growing up here I understood others’ livelihoods depended on it. Many of our own citizens see Salado as a weekend town. It will take a change in mindset before we will see any major growth, and we need those voices heard at the local Board of Aldermen meetings.Our aldermen are your voice, and you should feel empowered. If your aldermen feel that growth is the desire of the majority, I believe that amenities will follow that will support the growth and expansion of new homes and businesses. 

 

Question 7: What are your thoughts on the conditions of the village roads? (200 word limit)

 

Many village roads need major upgrades, while others are faring well. Some roads need repairs simply due to the number of vehicles that travel them daily, while others need repairs due to water damage from past flood events. Last year, the Village spent over $137,000 on street maintenance, and has increased the budget by almost $83K for 2014. That seems like a lot, until we hear that $220,000 will not even repair a mile of road. 

As our roads look more like a patchwork quilt, we need to ask ourselves if we want to continue the Band-aid approach, or if we should spend substantial Village funds to correct the problem. With a sewer bond imminent, obtaining another loan is not the best option. For now, we should squeeze as much money out of the budget for road repairs as possible, without causing a large deficit. In years to come, we must push roads as a top priority and make major repairs annually instead of waiting until they are in major disrepair. This will ensure that our roads are not causing homeowners and visitors alike to go elsewhere.

Question 8: What are your thoughts on the maintenance and operations of the village park? (150 word limit)

Dr. Ambert Preston Dankert Answer: Throughout my life, I have seen the many faces of Pace Park. We have enjoyed playing in the creek, runs and bicycle rides, the Art Fair, fund raisers, weddings, and more. It has also been cost-neutral for the Village, as its income has outweighed its maintenance costs. In 2014, the budget for the park increased more than double. Although we can always think of improvements we’d like to see, I think it functions quite well with a nice playground, pavilion, and rock tables. The road and parking area may be in slight disrepair, but many parks only have a dirt road leading to them. We should focus more on the invaluable time spent there with friends and family, understanding that there is still much life left in the park as it is. It was in the past, and still is today, a place where memories are made.

 

Question 9: Will you as an alderman vote to call for  a bond election for sewer? If called by the board, will you personally advocate for approval of a bond election for a sewer system?  (300 word limit).

 

Dr. Amber Preston Dankert Answer: I will vote for a bond election and advocate for its approval if I feel that the package presented is in the best interest of both the businesses and the individuals living in the village. At the Village forum, I heard many frustrated voices of concern due to lack of information. However, I think the aldermen and Village Administrator did a good job of stressing that the plans are still in preliminary stages, and more detailed information will come at future forums. That said, leaving more questions than answers added to the aggravation of some individuals at the meeting, though it is understandable since there has been a lack of communication over the acquisition of the system.

Into the future, I do believe that the aldermen have heard your voices, and they will be more forthcoming with future project information. I will also do my part to ensure that your voices are heard. An alderman’s duty is to work in unity with the other board members to represent the wishes of the majority of the Village.  I will advocate for the system once we are all made aware of, and agree with, the actual system cost (bond election) as well as consumer costs (tap fees, usage fees, tax increase, etc.). I do not want this project to become a financial burden on anyone, so research must be done to find creative ways to accomplish the project. If the project causes individuals and families to leave, we have not done our due diligence as a part of our responsibility to the Village of Salado.

 

Question 10: What do you consider to be the greatest weakness or flaw in the Village of Salado government and what can you do to change it? (200 words)

Dr. Amber Preston Dankert Answer: John Henry Newman once said, “A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault.” Further, John 8:7 reads, “So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” These quotes, though written worlds apart, encourage us to understand that there is fault and imperfection everywhere. Yet, we must move forward with what we believe is best at the given time. I have to believe that the current Village leadership has done what they have felt is best for our community, and they continue to learn from their mistakes.  

That said, I hope to bring three things to the table: transparency, communication, and willingness to act. I believe that through better communication and openness with stakeholders, and a willingness to push issues forward for swift action, we will have more community support. Although there will always be disagreements and complaints, when our aldermen and village work hand-in-hand, there is nothing we cannot accomplish. 

Question 11:  Why should anyone vote for you? (200 words)

Question 2: I hope that over the last few weeks, many of you have come to understand what each of us stand for. Do I have common sense? Yes. Do I have an exceptional education? Sure. But most important is that none of that necessarily matters. What does matter is that I fully intend to be your voice. I will strive to ensure that the issues that are important to the village are heard at council meetings. Why does it matter I’m a third-generation Saladoan? Because after graduation, I had the opportunity to move. Yet, I saw promise in Salado. This was home, and a place to raise my family. Why does it matter that I am young? The decisions I make as an Alderman, I will have to live with for the next 50 years! I am invested in our village, as my parents and grandparents have been before me. I want to make Salado a place where MY children want to stay, and I hope yours want to stay here, too, no matter from where you originated. After all, as Jodi Picoult said, “Where you come from does matter -- but not nearly as much as where you are headed.”