Resetting the 50 Nifty Project
Fifty Nifty Takeaways
What do we hope to learn from this series? We hope you will gain a better understanding of the unique characteristics of local government in each state, we hope you will learn that there are others like you who are motivated to make a difference through the public sector, and we hope you will learn that it is best to learn from others’ mistakes than yours.
Our Take on Texas
Who doesn’t have a take on Texas? Of all the 50 states, Texas might be the most polarizing. This may even be true within the state. Some think the state should succeed from the United States, some think everyone in Texas is wealthy, some think every Texan owns a gun, and some think everything on the shows “Dallas” and “Friday Night Lights” is true. The diversity of opinions on Texas is partially due to the sheer size of Texas. Texas is the second most populous state behind California and is the second largest state behind Alaska. Depending on where we are at in Texas you may feel like you’re in the Deep South or Southwest.
Amy Buckert, City of Balcones Heights, City Administrator, gave us our first tour of Texas where learned local governments is are fiscally suppressed, creative, and responsive. In our return trip to the Lone Star State, we’ve enlisted Matt Mueller, Little Elm (TX) town manager and ELGL Southwest advisory board member.
We first met Matt at the SGR Conference in January. We were immediately impressed with the energy that Matt brings to local government. He is one of the youngest managers in Texas and also one of the most innovative in Texas. ELGL is personally indebted to Matt for his work in kick-starting our Southwest chapter. The chapter’s first forum will be held in late May and will be hosted by the Town of Little Elm. Former Plano city manager Tom Muehlenbeck will presented on lessons learned from his 40 years in public service.
Enough about us, here are the Cliff Notes on Texas.
Texas is nicknamed the Lone Star State to signify Texas as a former independent republic and as a reminder of the state’s struggle for independence from Mexico. The “Lone Star” can be found on the Texas state flag and on the Texas state seal today.
The state has three cities with populations exceeding one million: Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas. Houston is the largest city in Texas and the fourth-largest in the United States, while San Antonio is the second largest in the state and seventh largest in the United States. Dallas–Fort Worth and Greater Houston are the fourth and fifth largest United States metropolitan areas, respectively. Other major cities include El Paso and Austin—the state capital.
In contrast to the cities, unincorporated rural settlements known as colonias often lack basic infrastructure and are marked by poverty. Texas has about 2,294 colonias. Hidalgo County, as of 2011, has the largest number of colonias. Texas has the largest number of people of all states, living in colonias.
Texas has 254 counties— the most nationwide. Each county runs on Commissioners’ Court system consisting of four elected commissioners (one from each of four precincts in the county, roughly divided according to population) and a county judge elected at large from the entire county. County government runs similar to a “weak” mayor-council system; the county judge has no veto authority, but votes along with the other commissioners.
Although Texas permits cities and counties to enter “interlocal agreements” to share services, the state does not allow consolidated city-county governments, nor does it have metropolitan governments. Counties are not granted home rule status; their powers are strictly defined by state law. The state does not have townships— areas within a county are either incorporated or unincorporated. Incorporated areas are part of a municipality. The county provides limited services to unincorporated areas and to some smaller incorporated areas. Municipalities are classified either “general law” cities or “home rule”. A municipality may elect home rule status once it exceeds 5,000 population with voter approval.
Texas also permits the creation of “special districts”, which provide limited services. The most common is the school district, but can also include hospital districts, community college districts, and utility districts.
What isn’t unique about Texas is the state has its fair share of “interesting” laws similar to the previous states ELGL has profiled. Here’s a sampling of what Texas has to offer in this area.
- Austin: Wire cutters can not be carried in your pocket.
- Clarendon: It is illegal to dust any public building with a feather duster.
- LeFors: It is illegal to take more than three swallows of beer while standing.
- Mesquite: It is illegal for children to have unusual haircuts.
- Port Arthur: Obnoxious odors may not be emitted while in an elevator.
Little Elm (TX) Town Manager
Education: University of Oklahoma, Master of Public Administration and University of Central Oklahoma, Bachelor’s
Experience: City Manager, City of Guthrie and Assistant City Manager, City of Claremore
Background Check on Matt
Matt Mueller became town manager of the Town of Little Elm on September 17, 2012. Matt oversees a consolidated budget of more than $30 million, serving an 11 square-mile community of 28,000 residents.
Before coming to Little Elm, Matt served as the city manager for the City of Guthrie, Oklahoma. Some of Matt’s major accomplishments in Guthrie included completing a new water treatment plant in Guthrie that will serve the city for the next 40-50 years. He has also aided in providing for infrastructure needs and long-term financial needs.
Matt received his bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Central Oklahoma. While there, he was the president of the Pi Sigma Alpha Political Science Honor Society and was awarded the political science department’s student leadership award. He received his Master of Public Administration from the University of Oklahoma.
Background Check on Little Elm
Connect: Facebook, Twitter, and World Wide Web
Little Elm is a city in Denton County and a part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The population was 3,646 at the 2000 census. By the 2010 census, the city total had jumped to 25,898, making Little Elm one of the fastest growing municipalities in Texas since 2000 in terms of percentage.
Little Elm is a distinct and desirable lakeside destination for all people to live and play while enjoying a safe, vibrant, and welcoming community. The mission of Little Elm is to build on our unique lake opportunities and small town charm, encourage diverse housing options and business opportunities, and provide an unmatched quality of life.
In 2013, Little Elm was named by the FBI the 2nd safest city in the nation and the safest city in Texas. The Texas Chapter of the American Planning Association honored Little Elm with a Certificate of Achievement for Planning Excellence award during the following years: 2007, 2011, 2012, 2013. In 2010, Little Elm’s Planning Department won the Texas Emerging Communities scholarship in recognition of its colossal 610% growth rate, modernized development standards, aggressive tree preservation regulations, and Town Center project.
Best piece of advice from your parents.
Whatever you are, be the best that you can be.
In a dream world, which bands would headline your retirement party?
The original members of Kiss would get together and play in full makeup.
(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to…….
Complete an Ironman Triathlon.
Three most influential books in your life.
- The Bible
- Good to Great
- Unmasking Administrative Evil
If you could FaceTime with five people (dead or alive and not including family members), who would be on the list?
- John F. Kennedy
- John Elway
- Bob Stoops
- Eddie Van Halen
Describe the inside of your car. Rugged
What’s the meaning of life? To enjoy the world around you and make a positive contribution to society.
Q & A with Matt
Give us three bullet points that best describe local government in your state.
We’ll assume you didn’t grow up dreaming about a career in local government. What was your dream job as a 12-year old? What was your first local government job? How did you end up in local government?
As a twelve year old, I wanted to be a guitar player in a rock band.
My first job in local government was as a pool manager in my home town. I ended up in that job because I wanted to work somewhere really cool during the last summer before going away to college.
I ended up pursuing a career in City Management because I had a course in college taught by Leonard Martin, who was the City Manager of Edmond, OK at the time. He taught the class drawing from his personal experience during the course of his career. Somewhere along the way during the semester, it just all clicked that this was a field that held the perfect mix of my interests.
Give us your top three career accomplishments.
- Assisting with the creation of the Lakefront Entertainment District in Little Elm which is central to the community’s identity.
- Seeing a former problem employee become motivated to be a leader. He eventually became a great public works director and one of the best team players I have ever had.
- Changing the culture and bringing in a new era of transparency and open communication in Guthrie, OK
We often learn from our mistakes. Name one or two career mistakes that you have made that you think we could learn from.
On occasion, I have failed to make the right decision in order to make an easier, less controversial decision. While it can be difficult, it is always important to make the right decision regardless of the consequences that it may bring.
Our experience has been many of our friends, family, and neighbors are not well versed in what it is we do in local government, many think we are a “planner” or “mayor”. Has this been your experience?
This has been my experience to some extent, but there is a pretty good understanding of the profession in my family. Many of my friends, however, think that I am “like a mayor.”
How can local governments better communicate their role in the everyday lives of the community?
Always be willing to go out and share the message of what local government does, and what we do as city leaders. Don’t be afraid to put yourself in the center of the most hostile crowd. See it as an opportunity to promote all the good that happens at the local level.
Would you encourage your family and friends to consider a career in local government? Definitely!
Hypothetically, if we find ourselves interviewing for a job in front of you, talk about three steps we can take to make a good impression.
Show confidence, but humility.
Talk about your values.
Show me that you are in government to serve the community first and yourself second.
Mentoring is such an important part of local government. Name three of your mentors.
Leonard Martin, City of Carrolton, Texas
Larry Stevens, City of Edmond, Oklahoma
Troy Powell, City of The Colony, Texas
(Complete the sentence) In 2018, local government will be …Continuing to do things the same way that we have always done them unless we have new leaders who are willing to challenge the status quo of how we do business.
What question(s) should we have asked you?
Did you really damage the wall in City hall because you were riding the computer cart? Unfortunately the answer is yes… yes I did.
- Little Elm hires town manager
- Matt Mueller: Town experiencing momentous change
- Now Open: ELGL Southwest
- Meet the Southwest ELGL Advisory Board
- The Dynamic Duo of Carrollton, Texas: Creating a Culture of Competition in City Government
50 Nifty Profiles
- KS: Jason Gage, City of Salina, City Manager
- KS: Michael Wilkes, City of Olathe, City Manager
- VA: Chris Morrill, City of Roanoke, City Manager
- MS: Parker Wiseman, City of Starkville, Mayor
- OH: Jim Lenner, Village of Johnstown, Village Manager
- SD: Robert W. Wilson, Minnehaha County, Assistant Commission Administrative Officer
- IL: Greg Stopka, Alliance for Innovation
- WI: Kevin Lahner, City of Burlington, City Administrator
- MO: Andy Morris, City of Moberly, City Manager
- WI: Andy Pederson, Village of Bayside, Village Manager
- AL: Sam Gaston, City of Mountain Brook, City Manager
- CO: Robb Kolstad, Management and Budget Director, City of Thornton
- OK: Larry Stevens, City of Edmond, City Manager
- FL: Lee Feldman, City of Fort Lauderdale, City Manager
- GA: Peggy Merriss, City of Decatur, City Manager
- MO: Jennifer Gray, City of Des Peres, Assistant City Administrator
- NE: Larry Burks, City of Bellevue, Assistant City Administrator
- TX: Amy Buckert, City of Balcones Heights, City Administrator
- NC: Eric Peterson, Town of Hillsborough, Town Manager
- MD: Laura Allen, Town of Berlin, Town Administrator
- IL: Randy Recklaus, Village of Clarendon Hills, Village Manager
- NC: Mitchell Silver, City of Raleigh and American Planning Association
- IL: Patrick Rollens, Village of Oak Park, Social Media and Communications
- KY: Laura Milam Ross, Kentucky League of Cities
- AZ: Gabriel L. Engeland, Town of Gilbert, Assistant to the Town Manager
- SD: Sean Pederson, City of Canton, City Manager
- MI: Clay Pearson, City of Novi, City Manager
- WA/UT: Jon Amundson, City of Richland, WA and City of Orem, UT
- CA, FL, OR: Douglas Ayres, Former City Manager of Inglewood (CA), Melbourne (FL), and Salem (OR)
- California: Brian Angus, Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission, Chief Executive Officer
- Washington/California: Julie Underwood, Shoreline City Manager
- NY: Jay Gsell, Genesee County, County Manager
- SC: Katherine Hendricks, City of Pickens Administrator
- CO: Tim Gagen, Breckenridge Town Manager
- UT: Rick Davis, West Jordan City Manager
- WA: Doug Schulze, Bainbridge Island City Manager and WCMA President
- IA: Geoff Fruin, City of Iowa City, Assistant to the City Manager
- CT: Roger Kemp, Former City Manager and Current President, Kemp Consulting
- AR: Jeff Dingman, Fort Smith Deputy City Administrator