Waco City Council has only one contested race May 6, with one hot-button issue looming over it.
Incumbent Jim Holmes and challenger Deanna Leach are vying to represent District 5, a sprawling district that encompasses West Waco, China Spring and the booming Highway 84 corridor.
The hot-button issue is the proposed new regional landfill and whether it should be built next to the existing landfill off Highway 84. Hundreds of residents in the nearby suburban neighborhoods have flooded public meetings and signed petitions in opposition and will likely be a large voting bloc in the election.
Those voters won’t find a big difference in the official positions of Holmes and Leach on the landfill location. In fact, the candidates have nothing negative to say about each other or areas of disagreement.
Holmes, an investment banker whom the council appointed last summer to fill a District 5 vacancy left by new Mayor Kyle Deaver, has become an outspoken opponent of the landfill plan. He has persuaded the council to pay a consultant to study alternative sites.
“The first layer of discussion on that is proximity to residential neighborhoods,” Holmes said. “No one should have one in their backyard. . . . I’d have the same issue if this was South Waco or East Waco. I don’t think it should be closer to any of those neighborhoods.”
Leach agreed, adding that the city led residents in the area to believe that it would not expand the landfill and should seek another site.
“Jim and I are basically on the same side, that going back on what the city told people a while back is not a good idea,” she said.
She said that wherever the landfill goes, it should operate with new technology that minimizes its footprint and extracts energy from waste. She also favors a “pay-as-you-throw” pricing structure that would incentivize residential garbage customers to recycle most of their waste.
Leach, a craniosacral therapist, grew up in Texas but moved to California as a young adult, returning 20 years later. She came to Waco in 2000 after living a while in Laguna Park.
Leach said she was inspired to run for office while attending the Women’s March on Washington in January.
She became involved with the Centex Action Network, a new local progressive group, and then she saw the District 5 seat was coming open.
“My friends said, ‘We really need another woman on the city council,’ ” she said. “I almost talked myself out of it.”
She said she is concerned about the effects of national political policies on Waco. For example, she wants to find ways to help immigrant families who are affected by or afraid of stepped-up immigration enforcement, while monitoring threats to healthcare coverage.
Leach said she sees serving on the city council as a form of community service, not liberal vs. conservative politics.
“The Waco City Council has never been partisan, and there’s no reason for it to be,” she said. “I don’t think Waco is headed in a bad direction. I’d just like to be a part of it.”
She said she has been listening to concerns around her district, including China Spring residents concerned about traffic, parks and airport plans, and some residents in West Waco concerned about drainage and aging infrastructure. She said she also wants the city to respond to public demands for cleaning up the city.
“The main thing is that I’m a very good listener, a trained listener, and I like to hear what people have to say,” Leach said.
She said she would be available to constituents and would hold regular “check-in sessions” to take the pulse of the district.
Holmes, 60, said he has worked hard at communicating with his constituents, assembling an informal advisory board of about 100 people from a wide variety of political persuasions.
Holmes said a year on the council has given him focus on the community’s needs.
He said his first priority is having “best in class” basic services, such as police and fire, and high-quality streets, bridges and utilities.
“We have quite a bit of deferred maintenance on our roads and bridges,” he said. “We’re just trying to get caught up with an increasing population.”
Holmes said downtown revitalization is another high priority, as is making sure that the flood of visitors to Waco benefits the city as a whole.
“We’re so lucky to have Mr. and Mrs. Gaines and their commitment to the city, but it creates challenges,” he said. “They brought all these people to Waco. Our responsibility as the city and the chamber is to keep them here and keep them happy.”
Early voting for the May 6 city council election starts Monday and ends May 2. Polling places will be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, May 1 and May 2.
All District 5 voters can cast a ballot at any of the 5 early-voting centers:
- McLennan County Elections administration office in the Records Building, 214 N. Fourth St., suite 300
- Robinson Community Center, 106 W. Lyndale Drive
- Waco Multi-Purpose Community Center, 1020 Elm Ave.
- First Assembly of God Church, 6701 Bosque Blvd.
- Hewitt Public Safety Facility, 100 Patriot Court