We interviewed James Wynne, candidate for Tyler City Council District 4, back in April (doesn’t that feel like a lifetime ago?), at the height of county and statewide lockdowns, before anyone knew when the election would be held. We have since updated his comments, but much of the concerns remain the same. How will the city handle the financial fallout from the pandemic? Wynne addressed that and more in our interview.
Wynne grew up in Tyler, and returned after attending UT Austin. He’s lived in the district for 27 years. He has owned TDI Air Conditioning for the past 20 years. He and his wife Sharon, who owns House of Wynne antiques, have three grown children.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length. Interview by Rebecca Smith. Production by Jane Neal and Zoe McGhee.
How are you holding up with social distancing? Do you having anything you like to pass the time with?
The hardest thing for me with that is that I’m old school. If I meet somebody, I shake their hand and say hello, which we can’t do right now, and that’s a huge thing for me. Part of my business is that I’m out on the streets meeting people, and sales. That’s kinda hard to do right now.
Another thing I really miss is church. Someone that’s at church every Sunday for 50-plus years, I can remember going to church when we didn’t have power. I can remember snowy roads where we would all carpool. Whoever had a four-wheel drive or a car that could make it up the hill would go. But video church? I’m doing it every Sunday with morning prayer too, but it doesn’t fill that void.
Some people like church in their pajamas, but I’m not that person. Church is sometimes the only time I see certain people. Whether they work out of town, whether they do other things, and I don’t see them except for church. I called a friend the other day that I hadn’t talked to in a while, and I said, ‘Hey David, can you usher for me this coming Sunday?’ He dropped the phone and started yelling and said, ‘You mean we can go to church again?’ I said, ‘Man I’m kidding with ya,’ and he got mad at me.
Aww, you got his hopes up.
I was messing with him. Yeah, church is what I miss and what my family misses. I’ve got an older mother who is not that digital savvy, and I am, so we’ve been bringing her to our house every Sunday. My kids know digital real well, and you probably do too and I don’t, but we’re able to project on the TV, and she likes it instead of trying to stare at her iPad or watch her phone and do church. But is that gonna be the new norm?
So, how is your campaign addressing the coronavirus? I saw some pictures of you at the food bank. Is that right?
You know, I’m doing things that I’ve always done. I’ve always donated, worked, done food bank volunteering, etc. I’ve always given blood. But as far as campaigning, my personal opinion and the people that are helping me — this isn’t the time to campaign. This is the time to campaign for each other and health and well-being. This isn’t a political time at all. We pulled all of our campaign signs. We felt like they were highly insensitive to have them out on the streets out in front of people’s houses. I really wanted to put a cover over all of the signs and say ‘Pray for Tyler’ or ‘Pray for Texas’ or ‘Pray for our neighbors.’ But that wasn’t going to happen, so we pulled all of our signs. We felt like we were being insensitive to the community to be politicizing ourselves.
One of the things I was wondering because I’ve seen some concern about sales revenue and economic concerns, how do you think COVID-19 is going to change plans for what should be a priority if you are elected?
Well, the city sales tax is going to take a beating. Which, it is what it is. We can’t control that because we’re not supposed to be going out. People aren’t supposed to be driving in and spending money. Restaurants are doing okay, some are and some aren’t. This city is going to have to tighten the budget, and they’re going to have to look at every avenue they can to tighten their budget, but at the same time, you don’t have as much stress on some of the services that the city provides. Other than trash. Trash right now is at its all time highest because we’re all at home. We’re cleaning out closets, we’re cleaning up store rooms, etc. So, talking to the solid waste people — they’re running at capacity. They’re doing real well. They say water utilities are down a little bit, but then you get a little spike on the weekends when more people are at home. But the city is gonna have to tighten their budget, and they’re gonna have to look at ways to move forward with the projects they have in place, prioritize them and figure out how to fund them. We’re very fortunate that the airport was able to apply for a grant through the CARES act — Davis Dickson and his staff do a tremendous job of grant writing and getting grants. I think the airport is in good shape, but, overall, the city is going to have to really tighten their budget like all of us and businesses too. We’re gonna have to look for ways to control expenses and look for ways to try to grow revenue, which is tough.
My strong business background from being a local business owner for over 20 years is a plus. I understand employees, negotiating health and business insurance, working with regulations and supporting our community. A strong financial background in business and being a fiscal conservative is a huge asset I can bring to the table. Being in the service business I interact with people from all walks of life and talk to them about our city and have gained a good understanding of their concerns and needs.
One of the greatest responsibilities a individual has if elected to the city council is to provide for the safety and security of the citizens of Tyler. I am a strong and lifetime supporter of our police department and fire department, our first responders. As a member of city council I would never waiver in my support of these brave women and men and would make sure they have the funding to perform their job, funding for the tools, equipment, education and training they need to perform their job for the citizens of our great city. Every time I see a member of the police force or fire department I stop and tell them thank you for their service. I further do the same anytime I see a medical professional. All of these folks have a thankless job and we need to remember them each and every day.
So, aside from the coronavirus, what are some unique challenges that District 4 is facing, and how would you address those?
The challenges in District 4, which is part of the oldest part of Tyler, is the infrastructure. Pipes get old, pipes break, and the city realized that years ago, and the consulting crew has gone through and identified the age of pipes, condition of pipes, and they’re doing that all over the city, but they have been working a lot in the Azalea District. From there, they can say, ‘Okay, pipes along this corridor are in worse shape than pipes over here. We need to address these first.’ There’s a sleeving technique they’re using that comes in and basically fits in the old pipe, seals it, and from there they can get to transmission lines that go to homes and everything. It’s a real slick process. I’ve looked at it on buildings before that have needed plumbing work, so I’m a little bit familiar with it.
The other thing in the Azalea District and District 4 is that everybody always complains about our traffic lights because in those areas there are gonna be older traffic lights. The city through a study is looking at traffic and looking at getting a control system in place and looking at getting everything all on the same type of operation so that they can, through a computer system, control the lights better and control traffic flows. But that’s city-wide. When we did go talk to people, they would say, ‘James, when you get elected, fix those silly lights. I’m tired of them. It’s always red when I come to it.’ But that’s not a big issue, that’s just people that don’t like stop signs and red lights.
What are some other ways that you would advocate for people in District 4? Are there any other issues that people bring to you when you talk to them about issues in the district?
If elected I would feel honored to work with all parties, UT Health, TJC, Smith County and as a representative of the city in the future UT Health medical school. This will be a huge economic boon for our community. The medical school on top of our highly regarded nursing programs we have now will make our community a real star in the medical world.
I would look forward to working on redistricting that will take place once a the Census is certified. Not sure when that will happen based on our current situation and the lawsuits that typically follow. But we all know that redistricting will occur.
I would look forward to working on the future Rose City Complex. What are great event center this will be. It will truly enhance the Tyler Rose Garden, Civic Theatre and sporting venues in the area to have the new start of the art convention space all together.
Infrastructure and traffic are two of the big ones, as always. Other topics people have mentioned are Suddenlink, but that’s citywide. People have always complained about our cable service. People have talked to me about recycling. ‘Are there other ways that we can do recycling? Can we get more routes?’ I said, ‘Sure, but with that comes a cost. You have to understand where all the recycling was going. It was going to China. Well, China quit buying it.’ That’s why the city has increased what’s called a tipping fee. It’s because China quit buying everybody’s recyclables. They said, ‘Oh wait, why are we buying it from America and every place else. Let’s recycle ourselves.’ So, the price for recycling material fell to nothing, and the city bids that out to take the recycling. There’s three groups in the area that bid on it, and typically a group in Kilgore gets it. So, if Tyler works to increase recycling routes, there’s an added cost to it. People ask, ‘Well, why do we have to pay for recycling? Doesn’t the city sell that?’ Yes, the city sells that, but they’re losing money because of the cost of that truck, the cost of the manpower to run it and the number of stops that they make, and with the price of recyclables going next to nothing. A couple of years ago, you could get a good price on recycling.
You’ve served on several boards of nonprofits in Tyler. How has what you’ve learned about the issues on those boards given you perspective that you would use as a member of City Council?
A lot of the work I’ve done for nonprofit boards has been finance related. I’m a small business owner, so I understand the day to day grinds of payroll, of making payroll, of looking at where you gotta cut corners because you have to cut corners because your budgets don’t work. I’ve got a good background in finance and in numbers. A lot of the boards that I’ve served on, what I’ve ended up working on is committees to address finance issues. So, I bring a lot of finance background to whatever position I may be volunteering for. Working with different nonprofits through the years, I’ve been able to glean a look at what different ones do, whether it be the United Way, whether it be the Literacy Council, whether city boards, whether it be education boards. I’ve gotten a taste at a lot of different areas, so I have kind of a diverse background in nonprofit work. I’ve been doing that since I’ve lived in Tyler since ‘91. That was just ingrained in me. If you come back to your hometown, you get involved. I moved here in ‘91, and in ‘92, I started board work, and I’ve been doing that since then to today.
If you had one other thing for people to know about you, what would it be?
I love Tyler. I moved back here for a reason. I knew it was a great place to live and raise a family. At 20 years old, do you think you’ll ever move back to your hometown? ‘Gosh I can’t wait to get so far away from it. It’s so boring and dull.’ Once you move back, and you’re here for a little bit, you go, ‘You know this wasn’t a bad spot to grow up and live.’ We all probably have that ‘ah-ha’ moment where we realize that it’s time to grow up, and, depending on what you wanna do for your future, maybe look at home and realize it’s a good spot.
I’ve grown up here, and I’m just giving back to Tyler because it’s been good to me and my family for many many years, and if there’s a way to give back, I will. My volunteerism is one thing I’ve done since I’ve lived here, it’s a way to give back.
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