Arlington mayor faces two challengers

Posted Monday, Apr. 29, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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From falling crime rates to record sales tax collections, Robert Cluck said he’s proud of Arlington’s successes during his decade as mayor.

“We have a great city and a great City Council. We have low taxes, record sales tax receipts, low crime that is going down and a very safe city,” said Cluck, 74, who is seeking his sixth two-year term in the May 11 municipal election. “I’m proud to be mayor of this city and that is why I am running again.”

But Cluck’s opponents, Chris Dobson, 34, and Jerry Pikulinski, 74, say Arlington needs new leadership that can better engage the community and be more creative at addressing its needs.

Both also criticize the mayor for limiting residents’ speaking time and no longer televising the citizen participation portion at the end of meetings.

“I’m very different from the mayor,” said Pikulinski, a retired economist. “We need a somewhat more analytical, programmatic approach of addressing the city’s problems.”

Dobson, a massage therapist, wants to engage more residents in city business through the Internet.

“I’m attempting the bring city government into the 21st century so people my age and younger can interact with government in ways they are used to interacting,” Dobson said. “The job of the government is to be there for the people so their will is enacted and listened to.”

Early voting runs through May 7.

Cluck’s goals

Cluck, who serves as vice president for medical affairs at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital, was first elected mayor in 2003. He served two two-year terms on the City Council before that.

Arlington has much to celebrate, Cluck said. The crime rate fell 11 percent last year from 2011. A booming tourism industry helped Arlington collect a record $50 million in sales tax revenue for the first time. And the city’s AA+ bond rating helps it get the lowest interest rates on debt.

“All those things are important to the citizens,” Cluck said.

Besides continuing work to improve public safety, air quality and regional mobility, Cluck said his priorities include expanding the Arlington Convention Center and attracting a four-star hotel and development around Cowboys Stadium and Rangers Ballpark.

“It’s very rare I find somebody anymore who openly criticizes us for paying too much attention to Cowboys Stadium or the Rangers,” Cluck said. “That is a big source of income to the city of Arlington. With that we can do really big things.”

Those big things include putting more money toward road repairs and making sure police, fire and other departments have needed resources without raising the property tax rate, which has stayed the same for a decade.

Neighborhood emphasis

But Pikulinski, who ran against Cluck in 2005, 2007 and 2009, is among critics who believe Cluck has overemphasized sports venues at the expense of neighborhoods and businesses elsewhere in the city.

“I want to shuffle the attention away from the entertainment district and put it on a serious economic development strategy,” Pikulinski said.

Pikulinski’s ideas include luring private development of an upscale university club and attractive housing downtown to help the University of Texas at Arlington recruit top scholars and faculty and reach its goal of becoming a nationally recognized Tier One research facility.

“We must grow our economy,” said Pikulinski, who also ran against at-large District 7 incumbent Jimmy Bennett last year. “The growth and energy is going to come out of the university.”

Other plans include pushing for the development or redevelopment of industrial sites to bring in businesses with higher-paying jobs and tapping the $86 million Arlington Tomorrow Foundation to help neighborhoods address blight, like dilapidated wooden fences along thoroughfares, and improve property values.

To eliminate possible wasteful spending and ensure that customers aren’t being charged too much in fees, Pikulinski said, he would call for systematic studies of the water, wastewater and trash disposal processes.

Additional transparency

Dobson, who is studying to earn a master’s degree in public administration at the University of Texas at Arlington, has been on the council ballot before. He ran against District 8 at-large incumbent Gene Patrick in 2011 and Bennett in 2010.

Besides increasing voter turnout, Dobson said, he wants to require ethics training for council members and improve government transparency.

He also wants to raffle off tickets to the city’s luxury suites at Cowboys Stadium and Rangers Ballpark to raise “voluntary revenue” instead of letting council members use them for free.

He said he would also let residents vote on the city website to tell him how he should vote on agenda items.

“As mayor, I would want the most participatory government. If that means ceding some of my power to the people, I have no problem doing that,” Dobson said.

Dobson said he doesn’t agree with Cluck’s decision to limit public speaking time at council meetings to two minutes.

He also doesn’t support the decision, made by City Manager Trey Yelverton and the council last year, to no longer broadcast the citizen participation portion of council meetings online or on television. At the end of the meeting, residents can address the council about any topic.

Pikulinski said he believes the council should hold informal public meetings on agenda items on a different day from the regular Tuesday meeting so council members can have more time to weigh public opinion before voting.

Cluck said he believes that the two-minute speaking limit provides “adequate time for people to express themselves efficiently” and that the people who want the public comments televised are doing it for publicity purposes.

“They want to make political statements. We felt like that was not something we could sustain,” Cluck said. “Some people in this room come down every meeting and make personal attacks on City Council or me or others. We can’t talk. It’s against the law because it’s not on the agenda. That is what is creating the issue.”

Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639 Twitter: @susanschrock

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