Last week Deborah and I attended the Hill Country Alliance’s Leadership Summit in Dripping Springs. We’ve
been following the Alliance for many years and, especially in the last ten years, have come to rely on them as the source for information about the health and well-being of the Hill Country now and into the future.

The day-long Summit did not disappoint us; on the contrary, it was much more than we had anticipated. Speakers provided updates on topics of concern for people living throughout the Hill Country. Panelists, including Kendall County Commissioner Don Durden, offered insights into issues that have become critical parts of saving, yes, that’s what I said, saving the Texas Hill Country as we know it before it’s too late.

A number of themes ran through the day, no matter who was talking about what.

Growth – no one could have missed the message that growth is the 800-pound gorilla we are all wrestling with. It’s bringing changes at a rapid pace and promises to bring much more. We can’t stop it. Together, we can possibly manage or mitigate it.

Inclusion – if we want the Hill Country as beautiful and unique in 50 years as it is today, we need to find seats at the table for anyone and everyone. This will not happen if we break into factions and squabble because someone doesn’t look like me or talk like me or believe everything that I believe in. If someone is interested in preserving the Hill Country, they are a friend of mine, and I of theirs. We have common ground beneath our feet and can do more together than separately.

Collaboration – Cooperation is one thing, collaboration is quite another, Kimble County Judge-Elect Hal Rose, one of the elected panelists, pointed out. Collaboration, like inclusion, is based on shared interests and is not a zero sum game for anyone. We all give, we all get. But we work together to do it.

Coalition building – one of my favorite segments was the elected officials panel, which Durden was part of. Questions thrown at the three panelists included how best to approach elected officials and how to stand up to the cash-laden lobbyists who wield an outsized influence in our state capital. One specific question that I think captured the essence of it all pertained to the proposed expansion of US Hwy 281 into “the next IH-35.” The proposed expansion would cut right through the heart of Blanco, essentially destroying the town’s historic downtown. Panelists pointed out that the proposed project involved other areas to the south and north of Blanco, and that a coalition of all who stand to be negatively impacted would stand a better chance of having an impact on the final outcome.

Durden said “You’ve got a big fight on your hands. Involve as many of your friends as you can to help with that.” He then referenced his experience with the TxDOT proposed Hill Country Gateway which would have created a loop around Boerne with a massive footprint, destroying private lands. He spoke to the creation of a coalition in Kendall County to come up with a plan to relieve the congestion caused by Highway 46 running through Boerne.

“Understand that TxDOT has a mission and a job to do. Understand that job and articulate another way to solve the problem,” he said.

Regarding the outsized role of lobbyist’s money in legislative processes, State Representative Erin Zwiener cut to the heart of it. “Well-funded big money groups do have disproportionate power in Texas,” she said. “But money doesn’t vote. It helps talk to people who vote. Well organized groups can vote.”

Communication – we need more of it. Straight and simple, that’s the message. It was on full display at this Summit. Ideas flowed across tables. You could feel the energy in the air as solutions to seemingly intractable problems came more into focus thanks to shared experiences. New coalitions and collaborations were being formed on the spot.

We’re all in this together – the massive changes we in the Hill Country are in the middle of today are wrought by waves of humanity flooding the Hill Country from various parts of the state and the country. The good news is, we are not alone. That, by itself, was the greatest gift I could have received from this Summit and I did receive it.

I came away knowing that our concerns are shared, that we are not isolated, and help is all around us if only we hold still and listen. On the way home as Deborah and I were reviewing our take-aways from the event, it occurred to us that we are citizens of the Hill Country. As such our interests are much broader than what happens in one part of it versus another. It is a whole, and each part of that whole is connected to the rest.

When we begin to understand that, we are on the way to becoming united in our efforts to cope with change and form that change into something that looks more like the Hill Country we know and love than the one it could become.

Read the full article from Michael Hawkins with The Comfort News here. For more see the Comfort News website.