With Tyler City Council Election Day coming up May 1, newcomer Stuart Hene is hoping for a seat against newcomer Greg Grubb for District 1 council member. Tyler Loop contributor Autumn VanBuskirk spoke with both candidates in depth. You can read her interview with Grubb here.
Hene is a co-founder and partner at Tarry & Hene, PLLC, the president of Prestige Energy Consultants and a member of Marvin Methodist Church. Hene maintains that city council’s role is “about keeping limited, small government, keeping those conservative values, not bringing additional issues that shouldn’t be addressed by city council in the way.”
Here, Hene tells the Loop how he wants to keep Tyler conservative so it remains a place focused on families and local businesses.
Early voting for the election begins on April 19 through 27; Election Day is May 1.
Where is District 1 and are there any notable features of its population demographic or geographical features?
District 1, in simplistic terms, basically covers everything in between Old Jackson Highway into Broadway Avenue. It’s on the east side of Old Jacksonville Highway and on the west side of Broadway, all the way up to the intersection where Bergfeld Shopping Center is, where Old Jacksonville Highway and Broadway intersect. It goes south from there down to a toll road Loop 49.
There is one little carve-out behind Target and Walmart. I believe it’s Crooked Trail off of Cumberland. But with those few exceptions, it’s pretty much everything else in between Old Jacksonville Highway and Broadway.
The corridors of Old Jacksonville Highway and Broadway [Avenue] are experiencing, in my opinion, the most growth commercially and then the areas in-between residentially. I think the growth is expected to continue going forward. I would say it’s one of the busiest districts in the city.
What are some issues you think Tyler is facing and how do you hope to address some of these issues?
I think some of the issues Tyler will be facing in the near future, if not already, include some of the trickle down effects from national politics. People, especially here locally want the government to work for them, not the people to work for the government.
My goals for the city council and for the city in general are to keep Tyler on that conservative growth plan, keep Tyler conservative [and] promote and foster small and local businesses. [I also want to] keep the tax rate low so we foster that growth and continue to grow like we are and be one of those beacons throughout the state that people want to move to and raise their family.
On your website, you mentioned that you were voting for “supporting economic development in District 1.” What does that ‘economic development’ mean for you and what are some of your plans to improve this development?
That kind of goes back to what I just said: promote and foster the small and local businesses. Not enact things that would hinder their commerce and their business in the community.
In my opinion, the city council’s job [is] not just focusing on the infrastructure issues and the health and safety of the constituents in the district and in the city as a whole, but really to assist those businesses to allow them to properly function and thrive.
On your website, you mentioned that you have plans that involve “creating additional support for wastewater, water, sewage, streets, and traffic flow.” How have you seen these issues and Tyler, and what are some things you hope to improve in those areas?
Some of the issues that I’ve seen, not just personally but also visiting with some of the constituents in District 1, are the traffic flow, both on Broadway [Ave.] and Old Jacksonville Hwy. for the two main artery routes in District 1. [For] the traffic light sequences, I hear a lot of people discuss the issues of when one light turns green, the very next light turns red. You get up to traveling speed, but then immediately have to break and stop two blocks from where you just started, so creating some efficiencies there with traffic flow.
I know city council is beginning to address those issues. Just recently, in January, [they] have taken some adaptive measures to address the traffic light timings and sequence.
If elected, I hope to build upon what they are starting this year to focus on that [and] also being a good steward with TxDOT. A lot of people don’t know that Old Jacksonville Hwy. is a state-controlled road and not something the city controls.
There needs to be good communication and relationships with TxDOT, so they know what the citizens of Tyler are concerned about with Old Jacksonville Hwy. and working with them to help improve that arterial route.
Regarding water, wastewater, and sewer, there’s a lot of outdated infrastructure that needs to be replaced in the future and going forward. It helps allocating the appropriate resources for those projects as well.
You also mentioned on your website that you support “providing for police and first responders.” Tell me more about some of the ways you want to provide for our first responders and how you plan to carry some of these things out.
I have a really good working relationship with both the police department and the fire department. In fact, I’ve been endorsed by both the Tyler Patrolman’s Association and the Tyler Professional Firefighters’ Association, [which] helps prove the great working relationship I have with both departments.
I’m currently the chair of the Civil Service Commission and have been a member of that commission for several years now. It helps that I already have a background and a relationship with the chiefs and assistant chiefs of both departments as a whole and knowing how they operate, the needs that they want addressed [and] want city council to focus on and the assistance they are looking for.
Not just allowing the growth that they need while the city grows, but also maintaining the appropriate relationships between city council and both of those departments.
That way everybody is communicating with each other, and nobody feels like their issues aren’t heard or addressed. I think it’s very beneficial with my background and having those working relationships with both of those departments that will create or continue to create and foster those working relationships with both departments.
In the Tyler Paper, you mentioned planning to focus on “conservative, balanced growth in District 1 by voting for practical, positive economic development.”
Absolutely. It’s common sense. It’s keeping government out of the way of the citizens. We’re the citizens of Tyler, not just the country, but focusing on Tyler. The citizens should not work for the government.
The government should get out of the way the citizens. It’s keeping limited, small government, keeping those conservative values, not bringing additional issues that shouldn’t be addressed by city council in the way.
The main focus should be on the health safety of the constituents, transportation and infrastructure issues, keeping the low tax rate, [and] maintaining that pay-as-you-go mentality with a Half Cent Sales Tax we have in place.
In addition to your law practice and oil and gas consulting firm, you said you have served on the Tyler’s Civil Service Commission, the Smith County Bar Association, the Board of St. Paul’s Children’s Services and the Tyler Parks and Recreation Committee. Tell me a bit more about your involvement with some of these organizations and how these experiences might distinguish you from your opponent?
I’ve been involved in my entire professional career with many different organizations. When I started practicing law back in 2009, [I] became a board member of the Smith County Young Lawyers Association and was involved with that for quite some time. [I] ended up being an officer for four years in that organization: treasurer secretary [for] one year, vice president [for] one year, president [for] one year and the immediate past president.
From there and currently, I serve on the board for the Smith County Bar Association. I have an active role in the legal community, in our local bar. I was even co-chair of the Law Day Committee for two years with Mike Patterson.
I’ve been an active member at Marvin United Methodist Church. In addition I’ve helped serve in the late leadership roles. I was on the Staff Parish Relations Committee for three years, the Finance Committee for three years, and currently I’m in my first year on the Board of Trustees for Marvin.
St. Paul’s was an organization that I hold very dear to my heart for the services that they offer not just for Tyler, but for all of East Texas. They are the only faith-based organization that offers dental, medical and eye care for children.
We also operate a food pantry at St. Paul. I am now the vice president of governance for the board at St. Paul’s. I’m also on that executive committee.
I help coach my son’s baseball team, so I’m active there. My family is very important to me. Even though I spend time doing other things and supporting and volunteering around the community, I still want to maintain that active role in my family.
In the Tyler Paper, you mentioned that “Tyler is one of the best places to raise a family, so [you] want those same opportunities for [your] kids that [you’ve] been able to have growing up here.” So what are some things that you enjoy about Tyler and what are some things that you hope to have for your kids as well in the future?
Tyler is [a] unique place. We are a small town with a big town feel. We have everything that you can hope to do or see or need right here.
Everything is within a 10 to 15 minute drive. But then, if you needed to go to Dallas for something or if you needed to go to Shreveport for anything, it’s an hour and a half in each direction.
Tyler is the perfect size for everything that we need to do here. Yes, we’re growing and we want to continue to grow, but we want to grow conservatively and grow correctly so we maintain those values we hold dear here in Tyler.
Tyler is a great place for faith-based opportunities. We have numerous churches around town. The nonprofit sector here, I’ve never seen the scale that it is here compared to anywhere else. The people of Tyler are very involved with the community, and so that’s something that I want to see continue.
Then [there are] the amenities and opportunities we have here. I went to public school, went to Mother’s Day Out at First Christian Church but then went to Rice, Hubbard and high school at what is now Legacy.
I want those same experiences for my kids and hope that once they leave Tyler and go somewhere for school and live in other places [they realize] Tyler is the best place to raise a family. That’s what I want: to keep Tyler that way, where people do want to raise their families here.
People do want to go to Faulkner Park, Rose Redmond Trail [and] Golden Road to play baseball with their kids; go watch a movie at night at Bergfeld Park or have a picnic in the park. Those are things that I hope my kids enjoy growing up and want to come back and raise their families and do here one day.
Why should you be the next District 1councilman?
Why not? I think I am the right candidate for that conservative growth [and] values the constituents of District 1 hold. I’m the right candidate to foster the small, local businesses. I’m the right candidate that has those relationships with the police and fire department that will ensure the constituents and residents of District 1 are kept safe [and] their needs are addressed and that our district continues to be one of those districts that continues to grow in the city.
What else is important for people to know about you or understand?
I enjoy cooking and playing golf. My stress relief is grilling out in the backyard or cooking for my family. I’m a family man. My family comes first.
It comes before work, before all of my volunteer opportunities. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to do the job correctly [or] not put in the time and effort.
My family comes first, [and] there’s a lot of that same mentality in District 1. It’s a lot of families living down here in District 1 that have that conservative mindset.
Autumn VanBuskirk has lived in Tyler, Texas, since childhood and is currently studying English and Language and Technology at University of Texas at Tyler. For her freelance project, Autumn took a deep dive into how property taxes are administered in Tyler. Her essay and accompanying podcast demystifies this system for the rest of us and shows just how much the coronavirus pandemic has left no corner of our city untouched.
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