Interview: Malcolm Duncan Jr. talks about his dad, Waco and joining the City Council

Malcolm Duncan Jr. will represent District 5 until May 2011, when the term expires.

Businessman and civic leader Malcolm Duncan Jr., 57, son of one of Waco’s most prominent philanthropists, was chosen last week to fill out the remaining city council term of Jim Bush, elected mayor last month. He was one of seven contenders seeking to represent West Waco on the council.

Duncan has considerable experience, including serving on the boards of the Waco-McLennan County Health District, Waco-McLennan County Library Foundation and Waco Business League. He says his greatest civic joy was work on the city’s planning and zoning commission, including a committee to revise subdivision ordinances.

In an interview with the Tribune-Herald , Duncan discussed his council goals and civic beliefs; offered insights about his famous parents, Malcolm and Mary Ruth Duncan; and revealed where he takes visitors to best show off the town of his birth.


My dad influenced me greatly. When I was working with him in the truck business, he was on the council and the school board, and my mother was on the school board. There was never any question that you would take time off to do public service. In the community where you raise your family and do business, it’s important to provide whatever help and leadership you can.


We had a picture at home of my father in one of his new city garbage trucks that he was most proud of. He had a smile from here to there. They’d been buying, in his opinion, inadequate trucks and he worked with the city refuse department and upgraded their fleet tremendously. They brought one over, and he drove council member Marilyn Jones around in it.


• My primary goal is to help the council achieve its goals. I see this as a facilitation process in that we all have to come to the table with our views and work together to get what we view as good for the whole community. So I’d hate to put my priorities ahead of the goals of the council.


• Mayor Jim Bush called me a conservative. Well, I’m fiscally conservative. And I’m morally conservative. But I think if you start looking at “conservative” in a political light, it can be polarizing and it really has no place in Waco (civic affairs). One of the real draws for me to work with the city of Waco is because it’s nonpartisan. It’s about what’s best for Waco — and what’s best for Waco is best for all.


• I thought the editorial in the newspaper the other day hit the nail on the head (about other contenders for the District 5 council job). Any of the seven would be very qualified to sit on the Waco City Council.


• We have to be astute in our fiscal management because I don’t think the sales tax revenue is going to be coming back robustly and we rely on sales taxes and property taxes because we have no income tax. So we have to figure out how to make do with the revenue we have because I don’t see a lot more coming in from outside sources.


Waco is well-positioned to grow in spite of all the economic challenges around the country. We’ve been fiscally well managed, we’re geographically well positioned and our water resources are something we have worked at for as long as I can remember. It will set us apart.


• Duplication of services is something we all need to consider. We have 20-something school districts in this county, four county commissioners, each with different budgets for their improvements, and we’re all going to be fighting for the same dollars, so we need to collectively make the best use of it. That’s why we need to talk to one another.


• One thing Virginia DuPuy did so well as mayor was prioritizing education. For years we have said education was the responsibility of the Waco Independent School District or Baylor University or McLennan Community College. But it’s really for the betterment of our community. We can’t have a better educated workforce, which draws more jobs, if we don’t start in first grade.


• It’d be easy to go and say you have a weak city council anytime you have a strong, good manager — and we have the best city manager we’ve had since David Smith, and he (Larry Groth) was right here all the time. But I don’t think this council is weak. I listened to their workshop the other day and found them willing to question staff, question decisions made by the Tax Increment Finance board — that was a great discussion. Their willingness to pull items out of the (city) manager’s consent agenda, expense items like office furniture, shows they’re paying attention to what’s going on.


• When I’m showing off the city to someone, I start at the intersection of Cobbs Drive and Valley Mills and drive them around the lake about sundown. Then I drive them back and show them other parts, including Cameron Park. So you’ve covered the whole side of town that people driving on the interstate never see. People unfortunately judge Waco by what they see on the interstate.


• My father leads by example. When he decided what he was going to do with the MAC grant (a scholarship fund engineered by Malcolm and Mary Ruth Duncan to give every McLennan County student the opportunity to attend college, despite financial status), I said, “That’s a pretty big commitment — do you know what you’re doing?” And he rolled up his sleeves and figured out just how to get government money to fund a big part of it. And he just stuck with it. It was a great thing.