Correction: A photo published with this feature in the June 2021 issue of the Preston Hollow Lifestyle was misidentified as Jennifer Staubach Gates. The above photo and the photo in the digital edition of the issue are correct.
DURING THE PAST EIGHT YEARS, City Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates created a sense of continuity in District 13 even as events in the city and nation became tumultuous. As City of Dallas term limits end her Council job this month, Staubach Gates talked with us about her time Downtown and what’s next on her personal agenda.
What are you going to miss?
The regular interaction with the people and the community, I think is what I’ll miss. The people at City Hall as well as the community.
What have you learned about our neighborhood in the last eight years?
There’s so much I’ve learned over my eight years. I think that the Preston Hollow residents are engaged. They care and love for their city. But they’re also resistant to change. The good part about it is they’re engaged and they care about their neighborhoods, and they take care of their community and each other. It’s a generous community. They come together.
What was the hardest thing?
Campaigning is probably the hardest thing to do in City Council, from the beginning to the end. It’s just uncomfortable selling yourself. The job is way better than the campaigning part of it.
The easiest thing?
I think being with the people. I enjoy that. I’m a social person. The easiest thing is connecting with people.
What advice would you give to the next City Council member?
The importance of making sure that you’re informed about the issues, that you read all the materials, that you communicate with your constituents about the issues. Being open minded and the importance of being a good listener.
What are your regrets?
One regret would be that we couldn’t come with a plan for the redevelopment of the Preston Center garage. That’s ongoing. I’m hopeful that a future council member might be able to come up with a compromise with the stakeholders and what the community desires for that area. We haven’t been able to approve a plan for that.
What did you learn about leadership?
The importance of listening both to your constituents as well as to your colleagues. As a politician, it’s just really important that you’re honest, that you are a good communicator and to establish the trust.
What is your favorite memory?
Probably the opportunity to have a front-row seat at some big city events or ribbon cuttings or openings. And able to take my grandchildren along to be able to show them what the city means to me and hope that I foster that same love in them, in my own kids and my grandkids, as well as a responsibility to give back. We’ve had some big, citywide initiatives I’ve been a part of, but at the same time, just the local community groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings, being a part of that, those celebrations.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
As a project, it would probably be the Northaven Trail, being able to work on the alignment of that as well as being a part of getting all the funding set aside. And then I think the most important role that I’ve played in the eight years has been able to communicate effectively and connect my constituents, particularly during a crisis. And I’ve had several as a council member, starting from Ebola.
What’s something people misunderstand about being a City Council member?
Frequently people say, ‘I know you have a thankless job.’ And I would disagree. I think it’s very rewarding. You get to see the benefits. You get to witness the difference you can make, and people are grateful. Frequently people would send notes or emails. You might speak to a lot of angry people, but I would not say it’s thankless. Just the job of being able to serve and being able to make a difference in people’s lives is very gratifying.
How would you improve City Council?
Make sure that you have a personal relationship with your colleagues or get to know them socially so you have that mutual respect for each other, as well as spending time in other districts. I think that will make you more effective as a council member so that you have a better understanding of where your colleagues are coming from and the issues that their constituents are dealing with.
How are you going to stay involved in our neighborhood after leaving City Council?
I want to continue to give back in a significant manner. I haven’t really committed to anything specific at this point, but I think it’ll be through volunteer efforts. I think just being open-minded to opportunities where I can contribute, especially being able to utilize the experience and the knowledge that I’ve been able to gain in the last eight years. I actually committed to go on the Ursuline board, but that’s the only commitment I have at this time.
How have you changed?
I see the city through a different lens now. I have a better understanding of where we’ve made mistakes in the past, and also a better understanding of the different neighborhoods and the different needs of our city. It’s really the lens that I’ll look through from now on. I think it’s just change. I have a better understanding of why things work and why things don’t work. When I visit other cities, I see things differently after serving as a council member. I think the lens that I see our own city through, as well as how I see other cities, will be forever changed.
What’s next for you, professionally?
Using my nursing background and now my experience in government, especially coming out of this pandemic, if there’s any way I can help that junction of government and public health, if I found a place that I could give back and help with improving, that would be something that would be of interest to me. And in public safety. We have an opportunity I think to build a real great partnership with the University of North Texas and our police academy. The City is looking at a partnership there, and I would love to be able to help with that project as well.
What’s something you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t had time to do?
I do so much reading because of work, it’ll be nice to just read for fun. I’ve had that opportunity a little bit more during COVID just because I’ve had a little more free time because of less social engagements. Because there are so many social requirements or obligations that are work-related, it’ll be nice just to have ones that are for fun.
Where is the first place you want to travel?
A beach with my husband. We’re already planning that after I’m done with Council. I enjoy the mountains as well, but together we like beach trips.
What’s the first book you want to read?
I actually just finished Four Winds. And I’m reading right now a book called Finding Freedom by Erin French. But I purchased Memorial Drive and Homeland Elegies. I don’t remember where I saw those recommendations, but I have those books that are in my stack ready to read next.
Where is your favorite place to run?
Just really my neighborhood. And now I get to incorporate part of the Northaven Trail as well.
What are your plans for the summer?
We have a big family trip planned to Africa that we’ve had planned for two years. And maybe a few getaways. My parents have a family home at Horseshoe Bay that’s always a summer highlight, so I’m sure I’ll be down there as well. Usually I’m there for the Fourth of July.
What is something you’ve always wanted to learn how to do? Do you plan to start learning it?
Multiple times I’ve said I wanted to learn how to speak Spanish. So I haven’t really taken the time to do that other than Spanish classes in high school. I’ve never considered myself very good at languages, but I might consider that. Or I threaten my husband that we should take dance lessons, so we’ll see.
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