If you were wondering whether Keith Olson might show up for the Student Government Association debate at Sammy U this week, the Huntsville Item’s voters guide gave it away.
Compare the answers Olson gave to the candidate’s questionnaire with his opponent’s and you’ll come to the same conclusion: The dude was scared. Kendall Scudder was right, and so was Bugs Bunny. Boy, what a maroon!
And that’s not all.
Unfortunately, the voters guide isn’t online, but it should be. Because only those who subscribe or bought a paper last Sunday have access to this gold mine of information about how the minds of these candidates work. When they work.
Olson seems to be uncharacteristically glib when answering questions about the three (why only three?) major challenges the city faces and whether and how the city should grow its tax base. It’s obvious: He was coached.
But he was left to his own devices to answer questions about what he’d done to make Huntsville a better place and which of his skills make him a good councilman.
Olson wants you, the reader, to know that “in order to make our city a better place, it starts with giving back.” How has Olson been giving it back to his city? He attends shit, like “fundraisers and such.” He did this even before becoming the woebegone public figure he has become, the target of fake Twitter accounts that celebrate his malaprops from the council dais and the masculine majesty of his handlebar mustache. (“I ‘mustache’ you to vote for me!” Kudos, Joe Brock at Promo World.)
“I believe very strongly in surrounding myself with good people and good organizations, so that is what I do. It makes for a strong community.” Actual Olson quote. Translation: “You will not catch me drinking at the Stardust Room with The People They Hate.” (Everything else is forgivable.)
His qualifications for serving a second term: Getting re-elected. (Seriously, I’m not making this shit up.) And he also runs a business that “(has) to do with finance and policy while maintaining a positive and efficient work environment.”
In short: Keith Olson hasn’t done shit to make Huntsville a better place. His shining contributions to council his first term include voting against an air-conditioned mower for a city employee; ignoring the advice of the city’s attorney to comment on an ordinance that affected his gold-smelting business; and exhorting his council fellows to adopt the largest tax increase in the past decade. And he thinks you’re going to buy that the jewelry business he runs from a corner in his girlfriend’s spa qualifies as a real commercial concern.
Well, opponent Kendall Scudder doesn’t have a commercial concern either. And he isn’t even enrolled in classes at Sammy U this semester. Scudder presents himself—in answer to the question about having the proper skills for the office—wearing the fig leaf of good intentions and the courage of his convictions. He’s a “strong, calm, fiscally conservative problem solver” who will refrain from doing anything to foster the “toxic political environment” in which our city currently toils. Uh, okay, Kiddie Scooter.
But vote for him anyway. Why? Because Scudder actually has a record of public service. Scudder has served on the Youth Advisory Board, which implemented a job shadowing program for high school students; he helped raise money for CASA and the HTX library; and he directed student volunteers in 3,000 hours of community service during Bearkat All Paws In. If past behavior is a predictor of future deeds, at least we know Scudder will get off his ass to do more than pay the gate price to a community fundraiser.
Some might find a bit modest the civic contributions of Joe Rodriquez compared to those of his opponent, Don Johnson, who wears the heavy mantel of Mayor Pro Tem with a smarmy smirk.
Elkins Lake retiree Rodriquez cuts down dead trees on the golf course on which he plays. He’s an usher/greeter at the same church Johnson attends, and he makes coffee for Sunday school classes. He’s also second vice president of the Huntsville Memorial Hospital Auxiliary (see, still traveling in the same circles as his opponent but in more modest roles) and on Fridays works in the ER.
In Johnson’s answer to the same question, he tries to buffer the glare cast by his real role in the community. He has made Huntsville a better place through paying his taxes and being a good husband and father, he says. And, truly, the country would be a better one if we could all be counted on to do the same. Johnson also serves his church and by doing so has earned the unwavering loyalty of those who know him as a man of faith and conviction, people who obediently vote in elections in just the way Deacon Johnson suggested.
Johnson also serves on “the hospital board”—which even the educated reader might assume meant the Walker County Hospital District board of trustees, which oversees indigent health care. However, what Johnson means is the for-profit and private Huntsville Memorial Board of Directors. This influential juggernaut works behind the scenes to cause economic development to happen and, if possible, with the use of your tax dollars without your knowledge or approval.
(Nice try, Councilman Squidward.)
Johnson cites as his qualifications his senior management at Trinity Industries, a transportation and construction company headquartered in Dallas, a $4 billion a year conglomerate with nearly 10,000 employees worldwide. It’s also an old school company with a top-down hierarchy resistant to new ideas and progressive thinking and slammed online for being out of touch with the needs of its workforce.
Considering his history at Trinity Industries, it’s not surprising that Johnson would be eager to hire a new city manager as quickly as possible so council can enjoy its role as a board of directors, noshing on “free” food and drinks during work sessions while developing their bureaucratic vision without risking any accountability for either methods or results.
It’s also not surprising that Johnson would stubbornly insist the city’s only stakeholders are people with land and money and economic engines like SHSU and the medical mafia. Not “naysayers,” who could be anyone who disagrees with The Powers That Be. Not students. Not fixed-income retirees whose taxes are frozen. Not even other Elkins Lakes retirees whose views differ from his.
Rodriquez says he can work with anyone and is skilled as a problem solver. He promises to be inclusive, adding not limiting, the number of stakeholders the city might have to answer to. And as we’ve seen, nothing fucks economic development (CEC) like people speaking up (research park).
Johnson’s opponent is also a man who knows what thievery, lying, and obfuscation look like and how and when they should be prosecuted. He served in the U.S. Army, as a sergeant on the Dallas police force, and a supervising special agent for the FBI. His integrity and independence may well render him unelectable, even among a conservative base that would otherwise value his public service.
If elected, Rodriquez might even manage to take Honey Badger Allen by the hand to sing “Kumbaya” with whatever Haters remain on council, and if that happened, finding rational solutions to the city’s problems would rule the day. Holy post-bureaucratic nirvana, Batman!
There might not even be any real Haters left with Don Johnson gone. You could argue Olson’s not smart enough to come up with his own schemes, and he might lose interest without constant guidance from Johnson. Count out Humphrey for the same reasons.
Montgomery may not have the cujones to challenge Johnson in public, but she shows signs of being able to think outside TPTB’s rigid pro development agenda if she thinks the citizens might not be served. Emmett, never mind. And Loll has trouble showing up even when Johnson needs him. He’s liable to bail on the rest of his term if Rodriquez manages the unthinkable.
According to this year’s voters guide, the issues that bring the candidates together are concerns over aging infrastructure, a tax base hemmed in by acres and acres of tax exempt land, and the nature of governance in HTX, where the process lacks even the basic courtesies required to get things done.
Is there any way to fix this without electing a better council?
Without the distractions of toxic politics and dysfunctional leadership at City Hall, council might have the time and energy to make headway. And that might lead to—dare we say it—growth and progress, something we all want, regardless of the brush with which the other side paints us.
What a nice little town this could be.