Have you ever wondered what those guys or gals on city council are thinking?
When I took the job as managing editor for The Anna-Melissa Tribune the first thing I did was to look at the two towns’ internal makeup. I was already familiar with the mayors but I didn’t know a whole lot about who served on the city councils, and those people are the decision makers with whom someone in my line of work need be familiar.
Perusing the council members I came upon one name in Anna that rang a bell. John Geren and I went to high school together and were in the same graduating class; we would even bump into each other occasionally in the ensuing years. It was hard to imagine the John Geren I knew back then (simply because we were both in our teens and early 20’s at the time and appropriately immature) as a respectable, buttoned-down councilman. But there the name was, bigger than life on the city’s website.
I later met up with John at a council meeting and got to know him all over again. While he certainly is no buttoned-down councilman, what I learned was that he is very well respected in the community (as evidenced by his 10 years of consecutive service thanks to the voters) and an influential voice on the council.
Still, I wondered, what brought this guy, the one who used to ride motorcycles (still does), play loud music (still does) and march to the beat of his own drummer (still does) to the point of serving a decade or so on the Anna City Council.
Since John decided not to run for re-election in 2013 I decided to meet up with him at the semi-famous Station 1, the big red garage/workshop behind the house he shares with his wife of 18 years, Jonell, sons Andrew, 15, and Simon, 11 and daughter Mary Beth, 12, to find out what made him want to serve on a city council and what he intends to do now.
As always, John was candid, introspective and free-thinking in this interview, all traits which led the voters of Anna to re-elect him year after year. Read on, and enjoy.
Tribune: What is your occupation?
John Geren: I am a marketing director for Apex Media. I do billboards, commercials and all the social media stuff.
Trib: How long have you lived in Anna?
JG: I’ve lived in Anna for 17 years.
Trib: How have you seen Anna grow?
JG: Man…when we first moved here about 17 years ago the population sign was at about 800 people. My wife was working in Denison, and I was still working in Dallas. We wanted something halfway in between. We called a real estate agent — the only one in town representing Anna — and there were two houses available. That’s it. Two houses. The one that we live in now had been abandoned for five or six years. When we walked in the house we realized this is where we needed to be to raise our family.
Trib: Please take this in the right spirit, but you don’t seem like the "normal" city council type. Why did you originally want to serve on Council?
JG: Nope. It’s funny; a friend of mine who used to be a pastor here in town called me and was like, "Hey, I just saw in the newspaper where the City of Anna is having a city council election. We ought to sign up." At first I thought about it and blew it off, but then I thought, "You know what? I’m really angry about the city" and so I decided to run. I ended up going on a camping trip the weekend of the election, didn’t even get a chance to vote for myself, and ended up winning. My wife called me and said, "Good morning, Councilman!" It was a big shock. I had beat an incumbent who had been on the council for a long, long time.
Trib: What were you so angry about?
JG: It’s funny; what I was angry about I was wrong about. I was just mad about streets, the downtown disappearing, that sort of thing. But then I get on Council and realized the city just didn’t have any money to fix the streets and do what it needed to. I was a little naive when I first got on council.
Trib:What’s the most controversial thing you’ve ever been a part of on Council?
JG: The liquor election (in 2003.) Yeah, by far. That was the greyest, greyest time in Anna. It was a tough time because it really split the city. All of a sudden, the people who used to talk weren’t talking anymore, the churches were against this guy who was against this guy…it was an absolute mess. I’m glad we made it through that, and I think we’re okay. I was for the liquor; I was there for the sales tax part of it because I saw our city struggling. We were trying to do this and trying to do that but we didn’t have any money. We had no money whatsoever. I knew with that money we could get a lot of projects accomplished, and we did. We bought a lot of stuff for the city with some of that sales tax.
Trib: What are you most proud of?
JG: Seeing ideas and pipe dreams come to fruition. Like parks; it does my heart well every time I see the skate park (at Slayter Creek Park.) The first year I was on the council we had a kid who came to our meeting and said, "What we need in this town is a skate park." It started off as him just mentioning, and every now and then we would bring it back up, and now we actually have a bona fide skate park. And the parks, to see the baseball fields and know what they’re coming online. The splash pad, we’ve been talking about that a long time. A grocery store. We worked on that for a very long time in this town.
Trib: Would you change anything?
JG: You know what? The bad thing about being on council for as long as I was is that you get to see some of your mistakes in person. Unfortunately, I get to see some of the mistakes every time I drive by them.
Trib: You’re a different personality. Have you ever had a problem meshing your personality with your job as a councilman?
JG: I’ve always zigged when they’ve zagged. I think it takes all personalities — the yin and the yang. I was able to actually say things and call people out on things without them knowing I was calling them out. It’s a balance. I never felt out place; I always felt welcome. When you go to the big conferences, you see all the people in the pressed suits, and that was never me. The people elected me for being me. They didn’t elect me to go up there and show up every Tuesday and wear a suit and become someone else or become self-serving. They knew that I cared about this city, I cared about things of old versus things of new.
Trib: Are you proud of your time spent on Council?
JG: I am. I love this town dearly. It’s going to be awesome to see what happens to this town in the next five or ten years.
Trib: What do you see in Anna’s future?
JG: Oh man, all kinds of great things. We had the economic slump, but there were things we put in place a long time ago…we were really smart about a lot of stuff. That’s where I give credit to the old city manager and Philip Sanders (the current city manager) and those guys; we had insight. We knew with all these people coming that we would have to have better water, sewers, all this other stuff. A lot of cities failed there [but] Anna did very well. We’re prepared for whatever kind of growth we’re going to see in the future. I think you’re going to see a lot of commercial growth and a change in Highway 5, a lot of commercial growth there. I think you’ll see the 75 corridor open up, as well.
Trib: Last question. Is there a chance of a run for mayor in the future?
JG: It’s not out of the question. I would consider it. I would like to quote the Cat in the Hat…"I Just May."