Upon setting down a glass of whiskey and water, Kyle Mayor Todd Webster engaged Buda Mayor Todd Ruge in a conversation on weight loss strategies.
Cutting out beer and switching to spirits seems to do the trick, Webster said. Running a few miles a day also helps.
Such is the nature of conversation between the two mayors, who during the course of the past week officially passed the baton to their successors to lead their respective cities.
Along the way, both men gathered a mutual respect for one another; a bond that perhaps is shared with the rigors of being the highest elected official in town.
By no means, however, was that path easy. Often times, both men learned the hard way just how challenging the mayor’s seat really is.
Ruge, who steps down after a seven-year tenure as a mayor and city council member, felt as if he grew up “a lot” during that time.
Much of the growth was learning how citizens feel, which often comes “very quickly.” But such an experience also goes hand-in-hand with a loss of privacy, as comes with the territory of an elected official.
As a result, both mayors often traveled to each other’s city if they chose to have a meal on the town. The motivation was to avoid the prospect of potentially being bombarded with questions from the community.
“There’s always going to be a handful of people out there who are going to seek you out and give you their opinions,” Webster said. “There’s no refuge from it, no matter where you are.”
Both men also felt the pressure of maintaining decorum expected of a mayor, even when faced with detractors and opponents. As mayor, Ruge said a person has to be on their best behavior at all times, as they’re “representing the city.”
“Being the mayor, you get a lot of blame for things you probably shouldn’t, but you also get the credit for things other staff or citizens do,” Ruge said. “You get to be in front of the parade at all times.”
A sense of pride is what Ruge and Webster felt when they describe accomplishments made during their tenures. Ruge highlighted the success of his three campaign tenets of improving public safety, maintaining responsible grow and keeping taxes low.
For Webster, one of his primary accomplishments was water, wastewater and road projects.
During the 2018 budget session, Webster discovered how much was accomplished when the city was able to include projects community members had clamored for.
“This time around, we were in a position in a budget process that had those things people had been asking for and that we had said we couldn’t do in the past,” Webster said.
However, Ruge and Webster also faced crisis during their tenures as well.
Controversy surrounding Electro Purification is one of the few regrets Ruge said he experienced. While the price of the water “was great” at the time, Ruge didn’t expect the level of pushback from the western part of the county.
Ruge said it was a “horrible deal” the city went through, which was complete with a variety of death threats made against him and other officials.
“From what we were being told, nothing would be harmed,” Ruge said. “It snowballed out of control.”
Webster’s regret extended to fallout after the city rescinded an agreement that would have used taxpayer dollars to fund a $500,000 home for the city manager. While Webster felt the deal would be a financial “windfall” for the city, he “lost track” of the politics behind the move and if the city was ready for it.
“In doing so, I harmed the city council,” Webster said. “In my efforts, I placed people in a bad position.”
Both men also experienced their share of surprises, too.
One shared surprised was the level of “keyboard jockeys” and critics on social media, and how sometimes a phone call could soothe some wounds.
Ruge was surprised to realize how much behind the scenes work – parades, ribbon cuttings and other events – there could be. He also realized the mayor has to be, at times, a referee on the dais.
“You also can’t take any vote personally,” Ruge said. “Because that person who voted against you on this item, they could be your ally on the next one.”
Webster’s biggest surprise was realizing the city was not, in fact, in a budget crisis after he had been elected.
But he also realized there were changes to be made organizationally. However, he had to be cautious in making those changes, so as not to offend fellow council members.
“Overall, the majority of the staff, their ‘Give a sh*t’ was broken,” Webster said. “It’s hard, because all of the same people who worked so hard and so focused, they were so enthused 15 years ago, they were dispirited.”
However, the ability for both cities to work together on a regional basis is what could lead to success down the road.
“We all have worked well together,” Ruge said. “We have laid the foundation for the future.”