Speaking truth when it’s not the easy or popular choice is difficult. Often in life we let problems grow and develop into too much before we do anything. Label it the Bystander Effect.
The larger the group, the less likely we are to voice a thought or opinion; consequently, we take social cues from each other and often remain silent and do nothing. We should not let the bystander effect exist in relation to our responsibilities to speak out. It’s in that spirit I am unable to remain silent regarding certain decisions being forced on the citizens of Waco by our mayor, City Council and other civic leaders.
As a fourth-generation Wacoan, I’ve been hopeful and prayerful that the city of Waco is on the brink of positive change and growth the likes of which we’ve only imagined. During the past few years we’ve seen downtown explode with new development and growth. The east and west riverfronts are taking shape and Baylor University’s McLane Stadium has forever changed the landscape view of both Baylor and IH-35 through Waco. This has transformed what was decaying urban blight into a vibrant thoroughfare.
With the retirement of City Manager Dale Fisseler, Waco had a window of opportunity to take a major step to solidify the positive momentum and move Waco past mindsets that have held our city back for decades. The operative word is “had” because it seems the public was barely aware the process of finding a new city manager had begun before it was announced it was over. There was no public input.
The potential has always existed for Waco to be an Austin, Fort Worth, etc. with attributes that are uniquely Waco. Sadly there have been a powerful few who have made many decisions over the years that have limited our great city. It has been my hope that with new blood, money and minds Waco was finally on the brink of breaking free of past strangleholds and achieving its real potential.
The abrupt decision to name Deputy City Manager Wiley Stem as our city manager without a search or public input indicates our city leaders are determined to rein in our recent dynamic success and growth. There’s more consideration and process required in changing a minor city ordinance than was involved in vetting and finalizing this most crucial of decisions for the highest-paid city position.
While it’s appropriate to thank Mr. Stem for his dedication and his four decades of service, his appointment hardly constitutes a fresh look or new ideas for this dynamic city. As citizens, we deserve so much more regarding the selection process of our city manager. Waco warrants an experienced, dynamic leader who has been a part of transforming a city from good to great. For us to settle for less is truly a missed opportunity.
A national search to seek out the very best talent should have taken place with an extensive vetting process before settling upon a candidate. Mr. Stem, no doubt, would have been a reasonable choice for interim city manager while the national search moved forward. If Stem met all of the qualifications required for the position, he would have won it through the process. As it sits now, the decision seems to have been forced upon the citizens against their will and without their input. This is truly a short-sighted strategy given the city’s potential and the destiny it has yet to obtain.