Mayor John Huffman, elected in 2021, is the new Mayor of Southlake and I had the opportunity to interview him. In 2015, John Huffman joined Southlake City’s Council as Place Member 5 where he worked with his peers to make reforms across Southlake. I pushed my questions to circulate the mindset and learnings of Mayor Huffman, I wanted to learn insight into how a prevalent political figure in politics navigates the world. Additionally, the learnings I gained from the interview can be applied to my future actions in the real world.
Your job revolves around serving the community of Southlake, what is your favorite aspect of public service? You have been living in Southlake since 2008, a prevalent resident, has that helped you in being a good Mayor?
"Being in the community and serving the community [gives the opportunity to ]solve problems that are around you quickly. I get to interact every single day with my constituents and everyone feels a connection with their local leaders, with mayors and city council, and they are not shy about bringing issues up. It doesn’t take an act of Congress for me to fix something, so if someone brings up an issue whether that is an issue with the roads or public property like a park or fields, any sort of issue on a quality of life basis, I can get the wheels turning on a solution quickly and theoretically we can pass something in the city council that could be done in 2 weeks. Sometimes it doesn’t take that long, sometimes it’s working with staff to get solutions. The ability to be responsive to your constituents, in a local government is cool."
What characteristics geared you towards becoming a great leader? You had experience in the Southlake City Council prior to your election as Mayor. Do you believe that played a role in your ability to run the city of Southlake?
"In today’s social media world, you need to have thick skin, the social media world means that everyone has opinions and they will express their opinions. But you do need to have thick skin and realize that when you get feedback, it’s most of the time always intended to foster discussion or deliver options, and ultimately my job is to be responsible for all of that. You have got to love serving, if you want to be mayor, you need to enjoy taking the time to make sure that people’s lives can be better because you have a great opportunity to do it. The people who fail, in the context of government, pursue it for ego. It is an honor to be Mayor and I am deeply indebted to the Southlake citizens for giving me that honor, ultimately it’s gotta come from the heart of service, you need to want to help make people’s lives better."
How do you pursue change? Our society is constantly evolving with the introduction of new technology and innovations, has that helped in adopting change?
"The great part of my job, being Mayor of Southlake, is that I don’t have to be a change agent. No community is perfect but it’s great because we are everywhere in this area, it’s aspirational. People move to Southlake because they want to be here, so my job is not to screw it up. I want to manage it well and make sure that I set the generation who wants to come back. Change is more adapting in ensuring that it’s something that Southlake residents want to see and they can understand what’s coming up and make sure they are informed on the process. At the end of the day, make sure that they feel like their needs are being efficiently met by the local government."
What mindset did you adopt when facing challenges as Mayor? There are many aspects that play a role in making decisions, taking into account the voice of the people, does this pose a challenge in being Mayor?
"You have to start with the sense of 'I want to do what’s best for the citizens of Southlake' from a sense of true service. When problems or challenges come up, a lot of times they take the form of a particular issue, whether that is a conflict that we need to step into, when you see those challenges, a big part of what I do is communicate. People need communication and transparency, when you think of transparency in the government it comes down to doing what you say and doing what you do and making sure the residents know that you’re being honest about it. If you’re communicating with people and are honest about your hope and intention to get something down for them, then you can navigate the challenges because everyone wants the same thing."
What was a challenge you foresaw before taking your role as Mayor? You have combated challenges with your peers on the City Council, does that contribute to the actions you took before adopting your role?
"Going from city council to mayor is a big step up in terms of time commitment and so I knew that was going to be a challenge. Bouncing around time commitments taking into account family and personal life paired with a business that I own, I knew it would be a challenge. With one council, currently, there are 7 and you can be a bit more reactive in the meeting, as Mayor you lead the discussion. It’s a transition, there’s a saying I like to follow 'take charge when in charge.' So basically if you are responsible for leading, take charge of your tasks and manage them. Don’t be perfect, embrace that and apply it next time and learn to form your mistakes."
What are the biggest challenges in your journey as a Mayor? Do you foresee any prevalent challenges coming in the future?
"Time Management, Mayors is a very busy role but it’s nobody’s full-time role. We all have to pay for jobs that we use to support our families. Time management is a challenge but when you call it public service, it’s really what it is. You need to have the heart to help people, and the heart to serve because it does come as a sacrifice to your time or your family time, or work time. Another challenge would be being responsive, out here communities like Southlake, Keller, and Colleyville, are mature communities in the sense that it’s not like other suburbs that are exploding in growth, there is still growth here in Southlake but it’s more developed. At this point, it’s really about not creating a community from whole cloth like it was in the 90s when this community was all farmland, the challenges now are a little different in the sense that we have to manage what we have to ensure that it’s set up for the next generation."
This interview with mayor Huffman was incredibly insightful in learning how to navigate being a prevalent political figure. Southlake is a well-developed and innovative community, they are constantly evolving and learning from the world, adapting to the changes. We use these learnings in our future actions as guidance in the political world. I look forward to interviewing the Mayor of Keller next.