They might not like how Vernon Howell put Waco on the world stage, but Mayor Bob Sheehy and City Manager Jim Holgersson said Monday they will take the bad with the good.
Holgersson, who hasn’t been city manager as long as Howell’s cult has been holed up inside Mount Carmel 10 miles east of town, said memories of the bloody siege will fade once the Branch Davidians come out. After they do, he said, all that will be left elsewhere is a better sense of where Waco is and what its people are like.
“In the longer run, certainly this is going to be great benefit to the city because the incident, the matter out there, people will forget, but the city of Waco will be remembered much longer than that,” Holgersson told a meeting of the Waco Rotary Club at the Lions’ Den.
Sheehy, who has been swamped with media interview requests since the siege started Feb. 28, told the group that the newfound recognition is but one of the many things Waco has going for it.
“We’re at the threshold of probably the greatest opportunities we’ve ever had,” he said. “We’re known all over the world — not exactly the way we would like to have been, but there’s no doubt that everybody knows about Waco.”
Sheehy said Waco is ripe for new business developments, including an industrial park at Waco Regional Airport and a second convention hotel downtown.
The Rotary Club meeting served as the forum for Holgersson’s first public speech since becoming the city’s top administrator on March 22. Since then, he said, he has been busy meeting and greeting individuals and groups — like the Rotary Club — throughout the city.
“What I’ve been doing the first 15 days is doing a lot of listening and a lot of learning to catch up with where you are at,” Holgersson said.
The new city manager said chances are good he will call on non-governmental agencies to get more involved in dealing with the city’s needs.
“The real question is not that the city provides a service, but that the services are provided for,” Holgersson said.
“It doesn’t really matter who provides the services.”
Sheehy used the friendly audience, which included some of the city’s best-known business and civic leaders, to invoke a “spirit of unity” for Waco. That is the only way, he said, Waco will be able to solve its problems.
For example, getting Waco off the list of the nation’s most impoverished cities will take a growth in higher paying jobs, Sheehy said. That will require a willingness by business leaders to hire people willing to go back to school to be trained for the work.
“We will be talking to many of you sitting here because in upgrading the work force, we’re going to have to have the working of everybody,” Sheehy said.
“It’s that kind of feeling we’re trying to get throughout the city.”
Sheehy also put in a plug for the city’s embryonic neighborhood-development program. So far, the city has helped residents of five areas form neighborhood associations.
Such an effort, he said, is needed to hold off the spreading “cancer” of blight in Waco.
“It is a cancer that can be cured, but if we don’t cure it, it’s liable to eat up our city,” Sheehy said.
The key to breathing new life into the city’s older areas, the mayor added, is giving the residents there a stake in the future of their neighborhoods.
“Because when the people invest some of their time, when the people have the power to say . . .’We would rather have this park done than a street or we would rather have this community center rather than “x” project,’ they buy in and they will do a lot of the work that’s there,” he said.