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Kyle Deaver

Attorney and businessman Kyle Deaver, 51, is running for election to the Waco City Council District 5 seat, a post to which he was appointed nearly three years ago when it was left vacant by Malcolm Duncan Jr., earlier elected mayor. Deaver serves on the board of the Waco Foundation and Vanguard College Preparatory School. In this interview with the Trib editorial board, Deaver discusses challenges in getting the business community involved in Prosper Waco’s anti-poverty crusade (and his own experiences as a former co-owner of the Harley-Davidson dealership); concerns about state legislation undermining local control; and whether Lake Shore Drive will spill into Lake Waco. The election is May 9.

Q    You threw your name in the hat when Malcolm Duncan Jr. was elected mayor three years ago. What prompted you to do so?

A    Honestly, before Malcolm was elected mayor, it was not something I had given any thought to. I had served six years on the Planning Commission, so I had some idea of what was involved. And I had been on a lot of other nonprofit boards, such as St. Paul’s Episcopal Day School board and the Vanguard board. I had chaired those boards. And I had enough experience that I felt like I could contribute. A couple of friends approached me and asked if I’d be willing to do it and I gave it some thought.

Q    Tell me about your district and the challenges it faces.

A    It’s huge, by far the biggest geographically, so there is some real diversity there. One of the big challenges we have there is that we have so many different school districts we interface with and we’re trying to work more closely with them on where they locate schools so we have the infrastructure in place — streets, sidewalks, places to put crossings. I mean, we currently have an issue in Speegleville where there’s not sidewalks on both sides of the road and it’s just highway.

Q    What will it take to make Prosper Waco a success? Much is dependent on this notion of “collective impact.”

A    Right. We’ve seen it work in other cities and neighborhoods and it makes logical sense to try to get people all pulling in the same direction while eliminating duplication of effort and funding as possible. I think (Prosper Waco executive director) Matthew (Polk) is going to be a huge part in how this thing moves ahead, but I also believe the community will is there. It’s kind of got a life of its own as long as its three steering committees — one each for health, education and financial security — keep moving the broader effort forward.

Q    You’re a businessman and business is a pivotal part of this thing. You understand the need to meet the bottom line while at the same time have a viable workforce 20 years down the road, even after you and I are retired. How do you convince other businesses to get engaged in all this in the context of providing a living wage?

A    That’s going to take continued effort and it’s not going to happen in one step. It’s going to evolve. We have an interesting situation here in Waco with near full employment.

Q    Isn’t it statistically like 4 percent? [The February unemployment rate: 4.1 percent.]

A    Yes, and when businesses are going out and looking for people — and we encountered this at the Harley dealership — we had a really hard time attracting qualified candidates (for jobs). If businesses can become convinced that they have got to participate in at least talking with education about what they need, maybe the wages will start to come up. Competition for employees will do that too. At some point, someone is going to need well-trained employees and will be willing to pay them — and if you’re not willing, then you’re not going to get them.

Q    Well, let’s look at Harley-Davidson. I hear all this about some employees at businesses around town lacking even the “soft skills” like showing up for the shift on time. Did you have those problems or were they more technical-skill problems?

A    It was more attendance problems and just showing up and wanting to work a whole day. Honestly, by the time we were finished, we had a great team of people over there. Nobody should get the wrong idea about that. But trying to find people every time I went through a hiring cycle was a real problem — and we paid a pretty good wage over there.

Q    Is our business community engaged (with the Prosper Waco initiative) to a degree that satisfies you?

A    I wouldn’t say to the degree I’m satisfied, but they are engaging. The business league has been engaged in this for a while. That doesn’t represent all businesses in Waco, but a lot of those members have been involved in things like the Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy. They see that as a long-term investment for themselves in getting better employees. I’m on the (Prosper Waco) financial security steering committee and we have our first meeting Monday and I think it is the one that is hardest to wrap your arms around. There are some very direct things you can do with health care and education. Not that they’re easy, but you can identify concrete goals and go after them and I think the financial security piece is a little more amorphous and we’re going to have to shape it.

Q    The Trib editorial board has already sounded off about the multitude of state bills that would strip cities and other local governmental entities of powers, but we realize some people may not agree with us and for equally legitimate reasons.

A    Sure, nobody wants their taxes raised. I get that sentiment and it’s something that is pretty easy for the state Legislature to play to. But when they start taking away local control from cities — they’re not in a position to know what we need to do here to run our city and keep the streets up, for instance. I’m concerned about this. I’m concerned about their clamping down and then we can’t do what we need to do.

Q    You’ve indicated great concern about Lake Shore Drive and reports of its geological integrity on that stretch that loops out toward the lake in your district. You can even see where the hill east of Lake Shore has actually slid right up against the guardrail. I notice they close it during bad weather. Is this because the city is afraid people also can’t drive it safely?

A    Well, I think people have demonstrated they don’t know how to drive on it. We’ve had some bad wrecks there. We’ve got to find a long-term solution to that and I hope that long-term solution is not closing that road because, in addition to its being an important transportation thoroughfare, it’s also one of the best views in Waco. And even that’s important. The beauty of our city helps sell our city when people come to see it.

Q    I know engineers and geologists have yet to start their $510,000 study of all this, but have they looked at it initially and said, “You know, some day you’re just going to have to put this road somewhere else?”

A    No, they haven’t. And I don’t think it’ll come to that unless they come back and say it will require a $100 million price tag. I don’t know what the number would have to be to where we would choke and say that we’re going to have to close it. I mean, that would really increase the traffic on Wooded Acres, Mount Carmel, Lake Air and Hillcrest — and they’re not built to handle that kind of traffic.

Q    Plus it takes away the whole purpose of having in place what more than one person around here has called the Waco Autobahn.

A    Another part of that study would involve putting another light up there at Mount Carmel Drive and Lake Shore because there are a lot of accidents up there and it might help to slow the whole thing down.

Interview condensed and edited by Bill Whitaker.