Working as a municipal servant, Bennie Boles said he understands the needs that matter most to city employees. As a tax payer, he also understands the needs and expectations Deer Park residents have for their city.
"It's not an easy balance, but it has to be done," said Boles, a candidate for Council Position 1. Municipal elections are May 11.
The native of Knoxville, Tenn., has lived in Deer Park for 20 years.
Boles said he will stand up for persons in the community who do not believe they are being heard.
"When I was in school, I was the little guy. I was 4-foot, 8-inches and weighed 85 pounds as a freshman in high school. I got a lot of unwanted attention. I go to bat for the underdog because I felt that way throughout my life," he said.
That mindset prompted him to join the US Military, reporting three days after his high school graduation. To fight for the underdog, a person cannot be one who simply watches from the sidelines, Boles said.
"You have to be involved. I can't just sit back and armchair quarterback. Complaining is a waste of time. If you have a critique, something to contribute or solution, it's time to speak up rather than be a part of the problem or not do anything about it," he said.
Boles continued finding ways to serve and help others through careers in law enforcement and ministry.
"You want to succeed in life and their careers. Those careers are investments in other people's futures," he said. "You are in a position to be a problem solver and see that there have to be better ways to do things."
Through leadership roles and living on both sides of a city budget ledger, he said can empathize with what he calls Deer Park's two biggest assets – its residents and employees.
"Employees are not numbers. They are husbands, wives, dads and moms who have families to take care of and bills to pay. They are real people with real lives and real problems that they deal with," he said. "Having been in that position, I take that very seriously."
"I'm a government employee. I am one of those employees that works for and dedicates their lives to a city," he said. "There are times we have to pull back. If it comes down to strike benefits, we have to communicate that to the newest employee. We have to hear from the employees and ask if we have done everything we can do to save and if we are to a point where we can't do it any better. Ask the employees. They are the ones who know because they are the ones who are out there every day."
"To have a negative impact on employees would have to be the last straw, meaning there are no other alternatives. If we have exhausted every possible avenue and employees' ideas for cost savings, then that's when should say it is necessary. After we determine if it is necessary, we have to determine if it is fair. That is something that starts at the top down. We can't single out a particular department, group or anything like that."
Those difficult decisions will come with consequences, Boles said.
"I think if you talk to employees, they understand what's going on with this and they deserve to have input too. If we do something that will negatively impact on our greatest asset there will be a ripple effect in that it will hurt morale. What would the citizens say to cutting 20 jobs or reducing benefits? Those questions should also be asked. At the same time, we can't put a dollar amount on employees' morale."
Having been the head of small church with a limited budget and the breadwinner for a single-income family for many years, Boles said he understands the need for efficiency when it comes to family's budgets and how they relate to city spending.
"There are no deep pockets, even though things are looking better in our region. Over the years, we've been accustomed to having enough to do what we wanted. We have to be careful and very frugal with the funds we have," he said. "Raising taxes is not the answer and neither is using more resources than what is available."
Boles said the mindset of the city budget should not be any different than a household budget.
"If the money isn't there, then it isn't there. You cut back. You plan ahead. You save. Sometimes it hurts, but you have to do it with what you have," he said. "We have to maximize the resources we have without cutting corners. We have to do things in the most efficient and productive manner that we can."
When cities begin talking about cutbacks, city employees become concerned, Boles said.
"There have been rumors about outsourcing certain services of the city. That concerns me. I like knowing that the person that is servicing our property is vetted. They've gone through a hiring process and our leaders have looked at them and know who they are," he said.
"If we contract our services out, we don't know who we are getting."
By budgeting and spending more efficiently, the city can avoid making very difficult decisions that could cost taxpayers their amenities.
"We have many services and amenities that make Deer Park a place where people want to live. We should be proud of that."
Boles said improving the city is a top-down and bottom-up project.
"Everyone needs to be on the same page with what their concerns are. This is our community. The employees, the citizens, leaders and organizations make this place the community it is. In these times, we have to maximize our resources," he said. "When we know that we've done that and we are still behind, is it inevitable? I don't know. But we can't even think about that until we've maximized everything. I'm a taxpayer too. I don't want to pay more than what I'm already paying. It's a last resort. I want to help navigate away from that so we don't put undue burdens on our rooftops."
He said he would like the city to continue using its economic development tools to stave away those burdens.
"We have good quality businesses in our community. Hopefully that will bring good quality employees who choose to live here too. That means better growth."
Boles also said he would like the city to communicate with its citizens in every way possible. As more citizens are using electronic and social media, the city should do a better job of using what its tax payers use to communicate.
"We deserve community answers. If things are going to have a negative impact, we have to be transparent. Everyone has to understand what is going on," he said. "We spend all kinds of money on impact surveys and studies. All we have to do is ask our citizens. Communication has to be open, honest and transparent."
He also said he would like to see the entire community address succession plans for the job market along 225.
"We have to work with the school district and San Jacinto College to train up our young people to stay in the community," he said. "We have people who are ready to retire and we continually need to fill those positions."
Boles also said he is adamant of keeping federal mandates from "dictating Deer Park's quality of life."
"Are we going to allow the federal government to dictate to how we choose to live in Deer Park? Are we going to go by the dictates of Washington? We can't stick our head in the sand," he said. "I'm concerned about giving up little bits and pieces of freedom for funds and aide."
Boles said he has worked his way from the bottom upwards and feels that helps him connect with fellow residents.
"My leadership ability comes from the fact that I have followed. When I became head pastor, I didn't just show up one day and become senior pastor. I cleaned the toilets, took out the trash, did the maintenance and worked my way up," he said. "I won't ask anyone to do anything that I have not already done or be prepared to do myself.