Kennedale Mayor

Mayor Brian Johnson Kennedale 

The city is popular for upscale housing with an average valuation of about $260,000, with a new mixed-use 119-home project in the downtown area just announced.

For his paycheck job, Kennedale Mayor Brian Johnson toils as professor of political science and history at Tarrant County College.

It’s a background that comes in handy for a less lucrative but extraordinarily challenging buck-a-month gig as chief elected executive of this growing but sometimes troubled little city, population roughly 7,500, spread across a bit more than six square miles.

He’s gifted in both roles and up to the task, but we’ll get back to Johnson after a brief history lesson.

Town namesake Oliver Kennedy in 1882 decided to tap into the same mineral water strata that made Mineral Wells famous and create a health spa sort of place. That didn’t work out, but Kennedy and his business partners were enterprising, coaxing Southern Pacific Railroad to come through and encouraging enterprises like brickyards. Mostly, it was a hamlet sort of place until official incorporation arrived in 1947.

Back then, Kennedale was out in the country with wide sections of unincorporated turf between it and the cities that now surround it – Fort Worth, Arlington and Mansfield with a touch of Forest Hill thrown in.

This allowed proximity development that in time would become troublesome – most specifically, unsightly and minimally regulated salvage yards, along with several noisy auto racetracks that discouraged nearby development. And then there were a number of unwelcome sexually oriented businesses just outside what was then city limits. Collectively, the result was difficult branding.

Over the years, there were other issues. An early-1970s mayor suggested Kennedale give it up and be absorbed by growing Arlington. Very quickly, he wasn’t mayor anymore. The EPA developed major issues with the city’s sewage treatment system. Another mayor who was also a minister launched a costly and lengthy legal battle against the SOBs. Most recently the majority of the Kennedale City Council was replaced in the aftermath of escalating water bills, resulting in three new members on the five-member-plus-a-mayor council.

Things have calmed down – sort of – with the emergence of the 57-year-old Johnson, who grew up in an Air Force family, an experience that allowed him to witness all kinds of municipal environments before moving to Kennedale in 1996.

But it was an appointment to Kennedale’s Planning and Zoning Commission that piqued his interest in the city’s future.

So much so that in 2009, he took a one-year, paid sabbatical to explore Kennedale’s transportation, development, and growth issues and was also part of the “Imagine Kennedale 2015” planning center that developed Town Center Plaza, a growing cluster of retail and offices near City Hall.

“TCC was generous enough to let me do a faculty development sabbatical, so I spent a year being at City Hall and traveling to Texas Municipal League and National League of Cities sessions, and getting acquainted with other regional organizations,” Johnson said. “It was an incredible learning experience.”

When a vacancy occurred on the City Council, Johnson was first appointed, then elected, then winning his first term as mayor in 2014. He’s now on his second term and will be up for re-election next year.

How are things going? Volatility seems to be intrinsic to Kennedale’s political landscape, but there are positives, Johnson notes. The city is popular for upscale housing with an average valuation of about $260,000, with a new mixed-use 119-home project in the downtown area just announced.

As suburban environments go, it also has employers of substance like Fort Worth Tower, Speed Fab-Crete, ARK Contracting Services and others. For commuters, proximity to Fort Worth, Arlington or Mansfield is scant minutes away and Dallas perhaps 25 minutes.

The mayor is also a networker with purpose, participating in close to a dozen governmentally oriented groups ranging from chairing the Tarrant County Mayors Council to membership in the National League of Cities Small Cities Council.

Those constant connections are paying off.

Kennedale now, for instance, contracts with Arlington for water – that city has massive production capacity – as well as passing its sewage through the Arlington system for eventual treatment by the Trinity River Authority. Arlington will also maintain Kennedale’s water system, reducing costs in both cases.

The jail? Kennedale uses the Mansfield facility. A trade-out deal with Forest Hill gave Kennedale the SOBs’ land area and now they’ve been phased out.

“I tend to take the advice of that great philosopher Dirty Harry,” Johnson says with a laugh. “That’s that ‘a man has to know his limitations.’ When a city needs expertise, find experts. When collaboration with another community provides benefits, make it so.”

It also helps, Johnson says, to have an experienced city manager with myriad local contacts – in this case that being George Campbell, a former city manager at Arlington, Weatherford and Denton.

What’s next?

Johnson would like to complete development of the Town Center, preferably he says, “with some affordable condos.” He’d like to eventually link Kennedale parks with neighboring Arlington’s extensive trail system, and to widen Business U.S. 287 all the way to Mansfield. To do that will require collaboration with multiple cities and the Texas Department of Transportation, but that’s something he’s good at.

Like neighboring Arlington, Kennedale doesn’t have mass transit, though Arlington has recently expanded its Via partnership – small vans that provide nearby pickup and citywide access. Johnson is exploring the idea of Kennedale eventually joining that partnership.

And, he says, there’s likely a bond vote in Kennedale’s near future that would include a new police and fire station.

“I think our current fire station was built mostly by volunteers back in the 1980s,” he said.

And while he’s happy about the proliferation of high-dollar homes, he’d also like an alternative.

“Housing in Kennedale has become so expensive that many of our city employees and teachers can’t afford to live here,” he adds. “We need affordable housing for them.”

He also wants to begin planning for 2021 when a billion-dollar-plus, two- or three-year revamp of the nearby I-20/Loop 820 interchange begins. Not only will this result in traffic issues, but many commuters will then opt for taking Business 287 – right through the middle of Kennedale.

“It’ll be both an economic bonanza and a traffic issue,” he said. “We’ve got to be prepared for both.”

https://www.cityofkennedale.com/

O.K. Carter is a former editor and publisher of the Arlington Citizen-Journal and was also Arlington publisher and columnist for the Star-Telegram and founding editor of Arlington Today Magazine. He’s the author of the definitive book on Arlington’s colorful history, Caddos, Cotton and Cowboys: Essays on Arlington.

okcarter@bizpress.net

(2) comments

rawrunner

"The city is popular for upscale housing with an average valuation of about $260,000, with a new mixed-use 119-home project in the downtown area just announced." Who announced? the city? the mayor? the company? The land this proposed project is going on has its public hearing on Urban Village (UV) zoning on Tuesday evening. So how can anyone announce if they do NOT have the zoning yet? Bigger is NOT always better. This is another one of these cases..... IF the UV zoning is approved by the council on Tuesday, that would be the last approval required by the council, giving the developer the right to build many more apartments without council approval, as long as the development plans meet the UV zoning requirements, as built within 30 feet of the roadway and two-or-more stories. So even if Phase I is built as described, Phase II and beyond would need NO council approval, as long as they met the UV zoning requirements. Only a council led by your hero, Brian Johnson, would approve something so stupid...... Even the Arlington City Council, that has been burned a couple of times by having the downtown overlay district zoning which bypassed council approval has seen the light. Apparently your Brian Johnson does not know his history very well, and is willing to repeat it. So if this developer is allowed to go apartment crazy, what happens to the school district with all those additional apartments? It will need to sell millions in bonds costing the KISD taxpayers far more than any small revenue boost to the city. It really is a shame people like Brian Johnson are in charge and don't think about what will happen in the future....

GMoney

Thanks OK Carter for this exemplary article covering the history, the present state, and the future of a town that is becoming the crown jewel of Tarrant County. For two decades we have all witnessed Johnson play a critical role in making Kennedale a better place and enhancing the quality of life to citizens and business. Ironically, his efforts may very well be partially responsible for the home values rising faster in Kennedale than elsewhere. Many of these improvements have taken years and the forging of partnerships with governments at all levels. Johnson is well-respected at all levels of government and by people of all political persuasions because he has vision, is transparent, and has exceptional character. In response to this article, a critic writes “Johnson apparently doesn’t know his history very well.” Well sir or madam, is 20-plus years of exceptional public service by an individual who has in all cases proven to be part of a solution rather than a problem sufficient history? There’s your history lesson. Now let’s move to local government and good governance, because the critic scores even lower here. The critic’s vision seems to be anti-growth, anti-development, and elitist. I doubt readers believe that the kind of development proposed will result in a school tax burden. That’s a load of tripe because just the opposite is true. The proposed development brings working families and young professionals to a community. Why didn’t you come to your real point, our critic, and that is: let’s save all those school bond dollars so we can build a gate around our city to protect us from hard-working professionals who desire the same quality of life you are enjoying. The fact is because the record proves that Brian Johnson and others like him are leading the way in ensuring good communities become and remain great ones. I say we’re lucky to have public servants like this, who devote enormous amounts of time and volumes of energy in service to their communities. The fruits of their efforts will be enjoyed for generations to come.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.