Mayor Riley resigning

| June 8, 2020 | Reply

Mayor Steve Riley and City Council Member (Mayor Pro Tem) Robert Jaska

Story and photos by Mary Jane Farmer. Photos are from previous City Council meetings.

If there’s one thing for certain around Van Alstyne, it is that changes will happen. One upcoming change is that City Mayor Steve Riley will be chairing his last session of the Van Alstyne City Council.

He and his wife, Karen, will be moving to Sherman, the mayor said. Van Alstyne Public Library Director Judy Kimzey said, “Mr. Riley and his wife Karen are and were an integral part of Van Alstyne, dedicating much of their lives to our community.”

The City Council regular meeting will be 6:30 p.m. Tuesday night (June 9) at City Hall, and although it is still open to the public, it is still Corvid 19 season, and so viewing will be available by watching the meeting on YouTube and its Van Alstyne channel. (Link/Click here) Those needing to address the Council will need to get hold of City Clerk Jennifer Gould to make arrangements. Call 903-482-5426.

Riley talked freely about his tenure as Van Alstyne mayor, and others who commented indicated that he leaves the city and the Council in better shape than when he arrived.

Riley took over the mayor’s job in June 2018, when he was elected to complete the unfinished, two-year term of the previous mayor, who had resigned. Then, he was re-elected to a new term in 2019. So, after this week’s meeting, he will have served the city for two years, almost to the day.

Riley said it was several business owners and leaders who asked and encouraged him to run for the office. “There was a feeling that previous leadership was not prepared to meet future demands on city resources, and that maybe an outside could bring a new perspective,” he said.

Kimzey said, “Mr. Riley stepped into the role as Van Alstyne’s mayor at just the right time. Effective and diplomatic, Steve continues to run Council meetings with a strong hand.  I didn’t know Mr. Riley before he became ayor and admit some apprehension. He proved to be just as kind and funny on a personal level as he is effective in his role of mayor. Mr. Riley cares about each city department and took special time to ensure library needs were addressed. I will miss his humor and smile and wish he and Karen all the best.”

“What Council and management have been able to do,” Riley added, “is bring a sense of stability and order to daily operations. The budget has been managed and now we plan for the futre rather than react. This gives Council and the (city) manager the ability to manage by objective as opposed to crisis management. We were able to design a system to select volunteers to the various boards. We have much more harmony than before and a sense of common purpose. There are still many different personalities and people don’t always agree. But that is nature and it reflects diverse opinions.”

For himself, the experience has added to his personal growth. “I tell people that as a police commander, there were scores of officers who would immediately move to enact any directive I gave. But, I’m no longer in that environment, and I had (with this volunteer job) to learn patience and a sense of relying on other people to move at a pace comfortable to them.”

Left to right — City Manager Lane Jones, Council members Ryan Neal and Marla Butler, Mayor Steve Riley, and Council Members Robert Jaska, Lee Thomas, and Katrina Arsenault

Riley has been observed at every Council meeting remaining calm and fair, even when he had to be firm. When asked about that sense of fairness and how it developed, he answered, “My sense of fairness has developed from many years of law enforcement. The rule of law is black and white, but people’s issues seldom are. So, I had to learn to work within the system to try and find the best outcomes. But the hardest lesson I had to learn was that sometimes there is not a best solution, sometimes there is only the least worst. So, stand up for your decisions and move on.”

The city will continue to face challenges, and the Covid 19 situation still going on, affecting sales tax income to the city. Riley explained, “We don’t know the entire financial impact of what we have experienced this year. The manager and I have had several conversations and meetings about it. He has developed several plans with various scenarios to present to council.

“The main thing is to have options and let the public know what we are doing. I will say this, with this council and its cohesiveness, what could be thought of as problems will probably never materialize as council and city staff have a great working relationship. Our city manager also almost never presents a single solution to a problem. He presents options so everyone has an understanding and can make the most informed decision.”

City Manager Lane Jones thanked Riley for all he has done as mayor, saying, “Thanks to Mayor Riley for his service to the community of Van Alstyne. You have done an outstanding job of leading. Your kindness, wisdom and love for Van Alstyne will be missed and I, along with the entire staff, express our appreciation for all that you have done.  Thank you, Steve, and we wish you the very best on all your future endeavors.”

City Council Member Robert Jaska, who has served as a city council member longer than the others now serving, is Mayor Pro-Tem

The Mrs. Riley has not sold The Quilt Shop, Steve Riley said, although their classic home has already been sold. He said he has no aspirations to go into Sherman politics, and that it’s “yet to be determined” what personal assets he has learned serving in Van Alstyne that will be carried into his day-to-day life.

Another question asked of our future former mayor was if he was seeing the ‘small-town’ feel still in effect.

“Certainly. Growth is coming, Growth has been coming,” Riley said. “What we have tried to do is manage growth in a positive way. When I began to run for office, I was told over and over how important our downtown was. From what I can tell, this has not changed and almost every citizen I speak with believes our downtown is a gem. Do we need to commit resources and do some development? Absolutely. But everyone wants to preserve downtown and make it better.

“Look at the plans for the (new downtown) park. This will make our downtown a destination and bring a lot of foot traffic. We just had a new retail operation (Van Alstyne True Value) open in downtown. I have heard more positive comments about this than just about anything else. The people in this town take pride in having this hardware store. It gives everyone a sense of community.”

And finally, given a chance in the interview to say anything else he wanted to say, Riley’s smile could be seen when he answered, “Never miss a good opportunity to be quiet.”

 

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