By Kelly Young

Hoping to draw from the experience of others in city government, several Jacksonville officials attended last week’s 95th annual Texas Municipal League Annual Conference in Dallas.

Mayor Robert Haberle, City Manager Mo Raissi, Public Works Director Will Cole and Police Chief Reece Daniel represented the city of Jacksonville at this year’s event.

“It’s a great place for locally elected officials to go and share their experiences with colleagues in municipal government. It allows you to talk to some people who face the same or similar challenges that we face on a daily basis,” Haberle said. “It’s also a chance to see how other cities in Texas have dealt with the things we are currently facing, and we get to see how that has worked for them.”

More than 50 education seminars were offered during the four-day conference, forcing patrons to pick and choose the classes they wanted to attend. Topics covered included everything from winning public trust through performance leadership and retaining a city manager in a small city to energy conservation and insights into property taxes.

“There’s no one road map for becoming a successful community, but you take all the knowledge that you can gain, and you try to do what you can to set your city apart,” Haberle said.

The mayor said he has learned it is very important for the city of Jacksonville to identify and capitalize on its identity. He names the city of Arlington as an example of a city that has successfully carved out its own identity.

“Arlington has basically decided to be an entertainment center. When you think of Arlington you think of Six Flags, the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and the water park there. In the shadow of Dallas, Arlington elected to become an entertainment destination — and is now very good at it,” Haberle said. “It’s about finding our brand and discovering what we can offer that is unique to us. Through our work with Jacksonville 20/20, as we identify the strengths and weaknesses of our community, we will begin to see what options we have for our identity.”

According to Daniel, the city of Rowlett, where he worked previously, sent nearly all the city’s department heads to TML’s yearly conference.

“TML generally does an good job of bringing in quality speakers to their conferences. The courses that they offered this year seemed to be oriented toward problem-solving or leadership and ethics, which are always good, timely topics,” Daniel said.

Daniel said since TML is not specifically geared towards police work, he only attends the conferences when he sees something on the agenda of particular interest — but he always attends the yearly events held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Texas Police Chiefs Association.

Haberle said it is comforting to know cities of all sizes struggle with the same issues.

“After seeing the problems faced by every community, I think that we are doing just fine. Thanks to the forethought of smart people many years ago, Jacksonville has a very strong manufacturing and industrial base. We have a base for people to live here, work here and make money here — without sending our people to other cities for work,” he said. “Is there room to grow and improve? Yes. Are there opportunities to apply new knowledge to the processes of our development? Yes. But those are problems that face every city.”

He said the speakers repeatedly “hammered home” the need for cities to plan for problems that are still several decades down the road.

“You can’t just be thinking about the problems that face you immediately. We’ve got to be thinking about transportation and water issues 10, 15 or 20 years down the road,” Haberle said. “I remember hearing that the three major issues that faced communities in the 1920s were education, transportation and development. Guess what? It’s 2007 and the three big things we are facing are education, transportation and development — the hard things continue to be hard, and they don’t just go away.”

This was the second year the mayor has attended the conference, and he said he looks forward to the opportunity next year.

“I love going to it — I really enjoy the classes. I always leave with a renewed commitment to working together with the community toward a better end for our city,” Haberle said.

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