Editor’s note: June 21 marked Robert Bradshaw’s first anniversary on the job as city manager of Port Aransas. The South Jetty recently took the opportunity to interview Bradshaw about his experiences on the job, the state of the city and plans for the future. DAN PARKER REPORTER
South Jetty: Speaking generally, what’s the experience been like for you, serving one year as Port Aransas city manager?
Bradshaw: It’s been very challenging, and at the same time, it’s been very rewarding. The challenge has been, you know, nationwide, all government entities are suffering from budget shortfalls and revenue stream cutbacks, and we are no different than that. And coupled (with) those shortfalls and the budget, the citizens still demand a high level of service. … So, that’s kind of been the challenge. We’re not any different. But the rewarding part of being in Port Aransas is, we are facing those challenges with a very unified city council, a very supportive city council. The leadership on the city council has just been phenomenal. So we’ve got very good policy makers in place, and we’ve coupled that with highly experienced, dedicated, knowledgeable staff.
Bradshaw: Compared to any of the other local municipal governments, we’re in excellent position. You know, financially, we’re stable again. We are fortunate to have the leadership in the city council that is very unified. They’re informed. They are very dedicated to providing the services that the citizens of the city of Port Aransas are demanding. And, again, like I mentioned, we are financially in a very good position. The morale of city employees of all the departments seems to be high right now. You remember last year, we implemented a five percent, across the board, salary increase. That seemed to be very helpful for the employees. And then, as far as the council, (there has been) their leadership in their relationship with the citizens of Port Aransas (and) just recently, the passage of the 11th Street bond issue, which was about a 70 percent mandate. So that told us that unity was there. … I’m saying we are in good shape across the board. We are extremely proud of the fact that we’ve got an extremely productive relationship between the policy makers and the city staff, and we’ve got excellent communications and a mutual understanding between the policy makers and staff. I think that’s a huge component in being successful in local government.
S.J.: When you arrived, what were some of the goals you had as city manager, and which of those goals have you accomplished?
Bradshaw: You know, from the manager’s position, that’s the administrative aspect, or component, of local government, and the policy makers are the city council. The council sets the policy. We implement that policy. Of course, my position has always been, always respecting the policy makers, whatever decisions they decide as far as policy. We should implement those in the most effective, efficient manner we can. And so, that was my goal, coming in – just to make sure that we continue forward with what the council’s directions were, and then my job was just to implement those directions in the most effective and efficient manner.
S.J.: But isn’t there anything the city manager can do as far as bringing ideas to the city to the council or taking on initiatives in which you don’t necessarily need council permission ahead of time?
Bradshaw: Yes, the airport is the perfect example of that. This office is kind of really starting to focus more on the airport and future development out there. And we are trying to push that to be one of the higher priorities for the city council to address. Like you said, that ( move) came from the administrative level, because we recognized the fact that we need a little more commercial development out there to create some additional revenue streams, to make that airport something we can be proud of and that will accommodate more future growth that we are hoping is coming to the Port Aransas area.
S.J.: We are moving into the budget season, and we’ve heard it could end up being a tough one. What’s your advice to the city council as it attempts to hammer out this new budget?
Bradshaw: Well, as you know, last year was my first year in the full budget cycle with the city. I was very impressed with the policy makers and the mayor and the leadership from that end. Also, from the perspective (of) all the department heads, major concessions were made from all departments to make sure we had a balanced budget last year. So, we’d like to just continue on that path that we’re on. And my advice to the council is, really, nothing should change. They should stay focused as they are now. They are very realistic on expenditures versus revenues, and they’ve been very good about prioritizing the issues. If we just stay on the beaten path, I think we’re going to be OK. So, the three things would be, just stay focused on long range objectives, be realistic on revenue streams and then prioritize.
S.J.: It’s a given that taxes are going to go up a certain amount to help pay for the passage of the 11th Street bond issue. But, beyond that, do we know if taxes have to go up any more?
Bradshaw: It’s too early to tell. We’ve got the preliminary number, but it’s very unsure right now. We are going to be very cautious. (Finance Director Darla Honea) is very conservative anyway, so I think it is too early in the game to make any kind of predictions on that.
S.J.: How long before we know something more solid?
Bradshaw: We are scheduling the budget workshop for early August. And then, of course, the actual numbers won’t start coming until later. We try to have the budget built on what we think the numbers are going to be, but we are prepared to adjust that when the actual numbers come in.
S.J. Are there any goals you have, as city manager, for the city?
Bradshaw: Again, continue on the path we’re on. I feel like the city is in excellent position. The policy makers are focused. Department heads are pointed in the directions they need to go. I think my job is just to maintain it, keep it on a steady course.
S.J.: Some folks feel like certain city facilities need work. What kinds of improvements are on the table, and when might any of these things happen?
Bradshaw: We’ve got our goals workshop in two weeks, and that will be one of the issues we discuss. You’ll remember, at last year’s goals/budget workshop, we talked about facilities. The council prioritized the issues then, and if you remember, 11th Street came in as the number one priority. So that has been the focus of pretty much all the efforts this past budget year. Facilities and staff – hopefully that will be one of the top-tier priorities for council for this coming budget year. But, again, council will decide that. But I think, unequivocally, everyone understands that facilities are kind of a sore point for the city right now, and we’d like to address that. If that means implementing a long range plan or trying to do something from a knee-jerk reaction level – whatever it takes to try to get a focus on it. But, again, that will be driven by the policy makers – the mayor and council.
S.J.: And policy makers will decide when all that happens?
Bradshaw: Yes, and we’ll have the workshop agenda in two weeks, so that could happen as fast as this coming budget year. We could budget some dollars to start looking at some facilities, upgrading this facility or moving into a new facility.
S.J.: This facility, meaning city hall?
Bradshaw: Yes, and doing some upgrades here or changing the configuration of this thing completely and moving into another facility. There are several vacant buildings in the area, or in the city, that we could probably convert to a city hall.
S.J. It’s possible that sometime in the not-too-distant future we could see city hall switching homes, going to a whole new building?
Bradshaw: Well, if it’s cost effective. That’s the key to this whole scenario. If we could pick up a newer building that’s already here, that’s just a shell, and have us come in and convert it to a city hall instead of (addressing) this existing facility and reconfiguring this, and the cost savings is a big difference, sure, that could happen.
S.J.: If city hall moves to a new building, what would become of the old building?
Bradshaw: Well, there are options. We could expand the Civic Center facilities. We could work it into the emergency operations center. We have other departments that desperately need more area. The finance department – they’re jammed down there. We could put one department in this building if it got down to that. It would depend on what is available out on the market right now and what we could get.
S.J.: Facility improvements could be two, three, four or more years away, correct?
Bradshaw: Yes. Again, that’s going to all be contingent on the funding aspect of this thing, and that’s where the council has to stay focused on priorities of what we want to do. We’ve talked about beach maintenance as being a priority and the tourism-related industry and what we can do to help them. That’s another priority. (Council members) are going to have to decide what those priorities are. Of course, staff is (hoping) that the facilities issue will be a priority, because we’re just in here like a can of worms, pretty tight.
S.J.: Could a bond issue be a method for funding any of this?
Bradshaw: Very much so. You probably remember, a few years ago, it was a bond issue. I think (voters) approved streets and drainage, but the facilities part of it was defeated.
S.J.: Are the chances better that voters might approve a facilities upgrade now? Why would anything have changed?
Bradshaw: If more of the citizens were aware of the facilities we’re working in, the environment we’re in, I think they would support it. Not enough people come down to visit city hall or … go across the street and see (the Parks and Recreation Department building). I think if folks saw that, they would have a different mindset on it. … The environment we’re in – that helps our morale and helps our initiative to get out and help the public, I think.
Questions? Comments? Contact Dan Parker at (361) 749- 5131 or email@example.com.