By Roda Grubb
Texas Border Business
Jim Darling has a passion for being Mayor of McAllen. Going through a peso devaluation and violence in Tamaulipas, as well as other issues, have kept the mayor on his toes. With an extensive background, from his psychology and law degrees, having passed the bar on his first try, to his 28 years as City Attorney and six years as City Commissioner, Mayor Jim Darling is well equipped to handle the goings on of McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley.
Darling was forthright about his time in office, the challenges, and the successes. “I think the last four years have been pretty interesting simply because I’m a border mayor,” he began. “Some of the rhetoric out of Washington has changed, creating diverse issues for us to deal with alongside our southern neighbors.”
One issue, he said, was the federal government stating there was a border crisis when there was none. “There was rhetoric about how we became ground zero in an immigration crisis, which wasn’t an immigration crisis. It was a crisis in Central America that led to numerous people seeking asylum. Children and families were rushing here before the immigration reform happened,” he continued. “This ‘immigration crisis’ became a rallying point for building a wall, which then became a presidential issue. We’re all Americans and the President ought to realize his kind of rhetoric has an effect on Americans too. The guy in Duluth, Minnesota, thinks the border was being overrun and the Mexicans are causing all the problems, and that they should pay for it. They don’t understand.”
Dealing with the influx of immigrants landing at McAllen’s bus station led to the Mayor working with Sacred Heart Church to become a respite center, which has had over 80,00 people pass through to date.
The wall issue led to another problem. “The problem with their plans for the wall is they are literally redefining the border. It’s not a simple question. In Arizona, California and New Mexico, there is no border except for the wall. But we have a defined border and it’s called the Rio Grande River,” he explained. “If the city puts in a road separating a farmer from his farm, we’ll have to pay damages. I don’t think anybody in Washington would put a new hotel south of the new border. That’s what I call it – a new border.”
The list of issues goes on and on, but Darling is a positive kind of man, which was evident as he reflected on the past four years. Breaking the years into themes, he set his agendas during his annual State of the City address. His projects have included, creating the Large City Coalition through the Council of Governments, getting the city population more involved and healthy, ‘Building a Future for our Kids and Everybody Matters’, and working with the veterans and special needs groups of the city.
Working to instill the belief that McAllen is Our City within the community has led to a widespread city cleanup, the elimination of many sub-standard structures, and a revamped city recycling program. Good to his word when first becoming mayor, each item was begun by listening to the concerns of his constituents.
“I’ve listened to a lot of people and I believe listening works,” Darling said. “If anything surprised me more, it is how much effort we have to put into advancing a new agenda. It’s not that people fight it, it’s simply that everybody’s busy doing their own thing, or that it’s a change from their norm.”
Getting a bond issue passed for the first time since 1992, breaking it into three separate packages for the people to understand better, is on his “completed” list. Facing the downturn of income from sales tax due to the violence in Mexico and immigration questions, Darling is now striving to increase city revenue through other opportunities.
“We are attempting to get away from sales tax and gear up ecotourism, sports tourism, entertainment tourism, bridge operations, and making sure we’re competitive in single and multi-family housing through rezoning, and providing quality products that work,” Darling said.
He also stressed his excitement for the city’s new Retail Office, which is in charge of recruiting new businesses. He also acknowledged how technology has affected his job. “Social media is so influential and you’ve got to keep up with it,” he said. “That’s been a different thing to handle – social media and fake news. It’s an interesting time.”
The Mayor looks forward to coming to work each morning at the city, and developing new plans to continue the growth of McAllen.
With a future goal of building a first class, sports oriented natatorium, the City of McAllen proposes to cooperate with the City of Pharr and the PSJA and McAllen School Districts to make it a reality.
The compensation of being mayor for $50 a month doesn’t phase Darling one bit. “I’m retired, so now I can spend 40 to 45 hours a week as mayor. Mayor is my full-time, non-paying job!” he laughed. “I love doing it. It’s not work for me.” Although he is still active with the Regional Water Authority, Council of Governments, Amigos Del Valle, Inc. Board, Public Utility Board, and McAllen Economic Development Council, his favorite thing to do as mayor is to interact with the kids.
“What really energizes me is going to schools,” he said. “I love the little kids, and getting involved in what they’re up to. I go to the International Baccalaureate Program school and listen to some really brilliant kids, or give lectures about government, getting involved, leadership, and being part of your community. I’ll do Career Day at schools. I have a lot of fun.”
Darling is a man full of purpose and drive, yet humble, giving the credit where he honestly believes it lies. “I’m so proud of our city,” he said. “We get a lot of accolades, but it’s the workers who do all that. Today, I watched 70 trucks go up to the coastal area to help after Hurricane Harvey. It emphasized to me what makes McAllen great. It’s the people, the business entrepreneur attitude and the workers who work for the city. It’s pretty easy to be a mayor when you’ve got that kind of combination.”
Courtesy the McAllen Chamber of Commerce.