Lost amidst painstaking presidential vote counts, White House legal challenges and bombastic rhetoric that tests our nation’s commitment to democracy, it might be appropriate for us to acknowledge that Wacoans voted in a new mayor last week. While he hasn’t waxed as many years as the impressive list of previous mayors, bright, energetic, engaging attorney and businessman Dillon Meek seems committed to pursuing some of the same broad objectives as predecessors such as Linda Ethridge, Mae Jackson, Virginia DuPuy, Jim Bush, Malcolm Duncan Jr. and Kyle Deaver, perhaps adding new twists in tactics and vision to help more of us share in Waco’s enormous potential.
Elaborating on his evolving views in an interview conducted Trib staffer Rhiannon Saegert, Meek proposes building on Waco’s growth to bolster median income levels. If this strikes you as familiar, it should: Past city leaders have diligently sought to better balance Waco’s economic growth in more equitable ways, well before HGTV’s Waco-based “Fixer Upper” TV series about home renovation wowed viewers nationwide and stars Chip and Joanna Gaines’ rehabilitation of a neglected stretch of downtown gave rise to Magnolia Market at the Silos. All this transformed Waco almost overnight into a tourist mecca, invigorating our real estate market and inspiring entrepreneurs to piggyback on the Gaineses’ success.
Yet civic leaders and selfless business entrepreneurs worked for many years setting the stage before “Fixer Upper” seized the limelight. And along with Mayor Deaver and the rest of the council, Meek has made racial equity a priority, addressing a thorny and sensitive problem that locally involves race, poverty and neglect. Meek hopes to reinforce this mission through economic opportunities that are more widely disseminated. His strategy includes increasing industry in various parts of the city that now lack it, attracting better-paying jobs and reaching out to neighborhood associations and reactivating those gone dormant.
A lot of this smartly follows strides by previous mayors such as businesswoman Virginia DuPuy, whose dynamic efforts on behalf of public education led to the collaborative catalyst of Prosper Waco to heighten workforce training, better support educational efforts and help Wacoans more smartly handle their financial affairs so as to evolve beyond lives in calamity if a paycheck is missed. Longtime businessman Malcolm Duncan, another former mayor, has become a reassuring force in Transformation Waco’s public charter-school setup, unique in the state of Texas.
Meek has not only proven a quick study in sizing up matters but demonstrated confidence in his willingness to listen to others and even embrace their ideas. Granted, the ambitious 35-year-old mayor — one of those out-of-town Baylor University students who liked what he saw, stayed and invested — faces other heady challenges, including helping manage a deadly pandemic worsening in McLennan County by the day. He also must help the council land a qualified police chief who builds on the considerable strengths of past chiefs in recognizing the potential of community policing as well as the importance of a police administration that continually re-evaluates department personnel. We’re betting on Meek’s resolve in the years to come; we’re already convinced of his vigor and smarts.