Q&A with Dillon Meek

By Kevin Tankersley

Q&A with Dillon Meek

Better & Brighter

Waco’s Mayor talks construction, community and Waco’s changing skyline

Dillon Meek served on the Waco City Council from 2015 until 2020 and was elected mayor in November 2020. He has served on the boards of organizations such as Unbound Waco, Greater Waco Sports Commission, Downtown Waco Farmers Market and numerous others.

He and his wife Lindsey were married January 16, 2016, at the Suspension Bridge. They have two children: Mabry, 5; and Davis, 4.

Meek and Wacoan writer Kevin Tankersley talked on a recent afternoon in Meek’s office at First Title Company in downtown Waco. They discussed the I-35 construction, two-way streets, city government and a big book about the history of Texas.

WACOAN: When did you come to Waco?

Meek: I came to Baylor in 2003. I grew up outside of Victoria on my mom and dad’s ranch. My mom was a public school teacher and my dad was a rancher. I came to Baylor in the fall of 2003 and have been here since then.

WACOAN: What kept you here?

Meek: I went to undergrad and law school. I graduated from undergrad in 2007 and then got a law degree in 2010. I loved Waco, and I got a great job for a local law firm, Haley & Olson. I worked with some great, incredible, gifted attorneys, but also saw some vision for Waco. I loved the size of Waco. Growing up in a smaller town, I didn’t have withdrawals for a larger city. I loved the proximity to larger cities and what they had to offer but appreciated Waco’s size and culture. And even back in 2010, when I took that job, I could see Waco was headed in a really neat direction. I liked the idea of getting to be a part of something exciting, and like seeing Waco really develop and continue to grow.

WACOAN: When did you leave that firm?

Meek: I was at Haley & Olson from 2010 to 2013, just over three years. Then I went in at Rydell [Real Estate] and did some legal work there, primarily real estate development. About three years ago, my day job went on board at First Title Company. It’s been in existence since 1984. I’m so thankful for the people who allow me to not only work there but get to do the job in my mayoral capacity. [I’m] really thankful for Ryan and Jennifer Lindsey. They own a majority interest in that company, and they’ve been incredibly generous. The entire team [at] first title are incredible people.

WACOAN: What drew you into city government?

Meek: I have a vision for [how] I think Waco could develop in a healthy and exciting way that benefits everybody. Waco’s economy has been poised to grow. We have so many great economic development partners and the city plays a significant role in growing our economy. [I] had vision for continuing to carry the torch that so many people had carried before me to really try to grow our economy in a way that builds a middle class and creates security for people who have been financially insecure. To try to build up our quality of life and make Waco an even more dynamic and interesting place, but [also] building on the culture that draws so many people in, which is a culture of people who are kind and warm. People who are resilient and innovative, and people who really look out for each other and love their neighbors as themselves. So, Waco has got this really special culture that I think we can really use as a firm foundation to build on. And for me, that created an exciting opportunity.

WACOAN: You got on [the] Waco City Council in 2015 and were elected mayor in 2020. What prompted you to run for mayor?

Meek: I really enjoyed serving on city council and so [I] took a liking to that and it was a logical next step to try to serve in this capacity, to carry on the work that I had seen Mayor [Kyle] Deaver and Mayor [Malcolm] Duncan do before me. We have a rich history in this community that I’ve been able to experience. Good, strong leadership in our city manager’s office and in the mayor’s office, and with our council – and we have a great council now as well – [we have] people who are really working hard to solve [not only our] problems, but innovatively improve Waco in every regard. It’s an amazing city already, but we’re also in this unique moment in time where there’s a lot of energy and excitement. Growing our economy and improving our quality of life for residents is something that we’re going to continue to do as a team. I’ve always said that every resident in this community is a member of our team and I want everyone to be able to play ball together. I want us to roll up our sleeves and work together as all members of this team. It’s fun for me to get to play a role and we’ve got a great council and city staff working hard together to drive the ball down the field.

Q&A with Dillon MeekWACOAN: What brings that energy and excitement to Waco?

Meek: There’s a lot to that, but [as] you know we have a strong Texas economy. We’re on the I-35 corridor between [Dallas Fort Worth] and Austin, two of the fastest growing cities in the country. From an economic perspective, [that] gives a unique opportunity for us to really inject some opportunities into our conversation and goals. But what I think it comes down to is the people. I think the answer [to] your question is the people in this community who, day in and day out, want to make Waco a better community. Waco has this amazing history of being a place where people care for and look out for one another and work hard every single day. But it’s also got this history of innovation, from new businesses coming online to people thinking creatively about just how to improve their world around them. The people here are what drive the energy and it’s really exciting to be part of that.

WACOAN: You’re the fourth Waco mayor I’ve talked to for the Wacoans, and I believe you’re the youngest one of those four. How old are you?

Meek: I’m 37.

WACOAN: Are you the youngest Waco mayor ever?

Meek: I’m the youngest one that I’ve heard of, but I have not gone through the history books to fact check that.

WACOAN: How can you use that to your advantage, or is that a disadvantage?

Meek: Let’s talk about how it can be a disadvantage. I built a strong team of people around me and draw on the wisdom of others regularly. I’m thankful for Mayor [Kyle] Deaver and others in this community that have experienced what I lack, [who] I’m able to call on for advice and counsel. What I always try to do is work to build the right team to solve the problem. It’s not lost on me that, as I’ve mentioned already, to do the work [and the business] of the city, it takes a team. So I work really hard to pull together – when I have the power to do so – the right team. But hopefully I’m able to do that with energy and innovative ideas that are new and fresh. But I’ll say that the mayors that came before me certainly were energetic and innovative in the work that they did to build up our city as well. I hope I’m just a torchbearer for the good work that’s already been done.

WACOAN: You mentioned power. The city manager oversees the day-to-day operations. What’s the role of the mayor?

Meek: I’m a 1/6 vote on [the] council. From a technical perspective, I’m just one of the six votes on our city council to set the policies and priorities and budget for our city. I think there’s a bully pulpit that comes, and you have the opportunity to convene meetings and hopefully use my title to do good work. [To] work with people in our local community [in order] to have a sense of the role they can play to make our community better and brighter and use the title that I bear to inform people of the opportunities that they can have [for] a better life here. Also, to sell Waco [to] businesses and partner with our Chambers of Commerce and our other economic development partners. To sell Waco on businesses that are thinking about coming here, about why Waco makes sense, from an economic development perspective, so that we can bring good, well-paying jobs into this community so that people have greater opportunity.

Public safety is a big priority of ours and we’re increasing our police force. We have a great police chief and I’m really thankful for her leadership.

One of the budget priorities we have is resourcing the police to be able to solve crimes in this community and keep Waco a safe city. Statistically, Waco is a very safe city, based on crime data, but we’re going to maintain that as a reality. One way to do that is by increasing our police force, so we’re going to be doing that this year.

WACOAN: With companies like Amazon coming in, what does that say about Waco?

Meek: We’ve got great partnerships with McLennan County, the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the African American Chamber of Commerce. They all play incredibly important roles in building up our economy. I’m grateful for the work that each of those partners do. I think we’ve done a good job in recruiting and incentivizing manufacturing and distribution companies to this community. Jobs like Amazon and so many others that have come to Waco recently not only contribute significantly to our property tax base, which allows us to do things like improve our infrastructure and support other needs of the city but provides a lot of good-paying jobs.

We’re seeing the wages in Waco for entry-level positions hit that livable wage mark. I’m thankful that we’re seeing increased opportunity for people to have access to good jobs in our community. Something that’s a priority of mine and our council is that people will have economic mobility, because there’s access to good jobs in this community. I’m really proud of that, but we’ve got a lot of work to do in economic development. We have more money than we’ve had since I’ve been on council to support small businesses. We’re in the middle of an economic development study right now that I hope is going to give us clarity on how we can recruit executive-level jobs into our downtown ecosystem, and how we can really diversify our economy as we move forward. I’m really proud of where we are. We were the first economy in Texas to rebound to pre-pandemic levels [and were] 14th in the country. That’s something I’m thankful to have played a part in with a great team. But it’s not lost on us that in moments of great opportunity, there’s also a lot of work to be done. We’ve got a great team at City Hall and with our economic development partners, we’re working hard to really seize this moment.

WACOAN: Does the council get complaints about taxes?

Meek: I think that as inflation and property values have gone up, we definitely hear the concerns of our residents. There’s a lot of validity to those concerns. We have already greatly increased our homestead exemptions for property owners as well as exemptions for people over 65 and [those who are] disabled. There’s going to be significant tax relief in regard to how we have approached exemptions this year. We’re also doing another property tax rate reduction. Our budget hasn’t passed yet, but I suspect the tax rate will be set at its lowest level since 2007. We’re trying to account for rising costs in our community with providing relief to homeowners, people over 65 and [those who are] disabled, as well as doing rate reductions for every property owner in the community. It’s managing a very diverse set of needs with a lot of different priorities in our community.

The scope of the work of the city is significant and there’s a lot of work to be done. We’re giving employees at the city a raise this year, as many businesses are, because the labor costs have gone up since inflation has hit everyone. Our construction costs have significantly increased this year. We’re trying to balance taxpayer relief while still being able to provide good customer service and do good quality projects with rising costs. That’s always going to be a hard balance, but I think that we’ve struck the right one this year.

WACOAN: You said you hope to bring some executive-type jobs to downtown. What else does downtown need?

Meek: Every part of our city is important to us and it’s something that our entire council takes incredibly seriously. Studies have indicated that when you have a healthy downtown, you’re more likely to have a healthy city in its entirety. It’s important that we get this right. I think that there’s a couple of things that you’re going to continue to see in downtown. There are no silver bullets for what’s the one thing that downtown needs, but you’re getting more opportunities for activation of public spaces and entertainment. We’re excited about the recent announcement of the basketball pavilion in downtown Waco that I think is going to draw people in. The completion of our riverfront development and park spaces that are primed to be activated with good public and interesting uses is one step to that. Supporting small business and retail in downtown to ensure that there’s unique and exciting quality places to visit, whether that’s restaurants or retail or places like the axe throwing company and other fun activities, [such as] Waco Escape Rooms. These sorts of activities draw people in for both shopping and experiences. And then making downtown a livable space, a place where people want to live because of these other amenities that are offered here. We’re working strategically to improve spaces and bring new development. into downtown I think there’s some exciting announcements that we hope to see by the end of this year that are going to continue the incredible and ambitious developments in our downtown.

WACOAN: What’s the timeframe on the Paul and Alejandra Foster Pavilion, Baylor’s new basketball arena?

Meek: All the parties are working incredibly hard, and the goal is early 2024 for the completion of that. I think the goal is the first quarter of 2024.

WACOAN: When the riverfront development started, the Waco Downtown Farmers Market was moved to Washington Avenue. Will it have a home back on the river?

Meek: Absolutely. The old farmer’s market space is going to be a pocket park and all the trees will be preserved. It’s being designed with the farmers market in mind. Obviously, the farmers market is its own nonprofit and it’s been an incredible activator for downtown. It will definitely have the opportunity to come back to this location and I know that it’s being designed with that in mind.

WACOAN: What’s been your biggest challenge as mayor?

Meek: There have been moments of challenge when I came into this role. When I took this office, vaccines [for] the COVID 19 pandemic were not present. We did not have any vaccinations and didn’t know when we were going to get them. We had an idea, but it wasn’t realized yet. Then we’ve had a couple of winter storms that have been a little chaotic. So, there’s these moments of challenge that have risen up. But I’ll tell you that probably the most challenging thing has been working with our incredible city staff to prioritize the right things in spite of feeling the weight of so many things that we could be doing.

This is an incredible opportunity in Waco. We have an ambitious council, city staff and community who really wants to advance our economy in building an incredible downtown and improving our quality of life and addressing problems like public safety or a housing shortage. When you have that combination of so much desire for progress, making sure that you’re taking [the] right-sized bites, and making sure our hardworking, incredible city staff isn’t burning out, or we’re able to order things is probably one of the greatest challenges, because there is so much opportunity in this moment. I could not be more thankful for the team we have. We have an incredible city manager in Bradley Ford. We have an incredible city attorney in Jennifer Richie. We have an incredible city secretary in Michelle Hicks. Our council is strong. Every department head at our city does hard, good work. I’m blessed by the team we have at City Hall right now who’s working diligently. So, for me trying to seize this moment feels like a really exciting time in Waco and a real kind of ‘make hay while the sun is shining’ moment because of all the opportunity to grow our economy for everyone and improve the lives and opportunities in Waco for so many. It’s hard to really boundary that in a way that is right.

WACOAN: What’s your biggest joy as mayor?

Meek: I love working with great people in our community, and that includes our council, our staff and the residents in this community who deeply care about our town. I would love to end this role with a couple of things done. One is that our economy is stronger, particularly for those who have traditionally been in financial insecurity. But there’s a clear pathway for people to walk into financial security and there’s opportunity for economic mobility in our community. I think the other is that our residents, our churches, our communities of faith, our civic organizations, and people know how to engage and play a role in making Waco a better place, however they feel so called to do that. For me, I want [every person] to be clear on what role they can play in making Waco a better city. It’s such a joy to get to work with so many people in organizations and residents in our community, to make Waco a more vibrant, exciting city. I’m so thankful for each of those folks.

WACOAN: Your bio on the city website says that your faith is important to you. Where does the Meek family worship?

Meek: We’re at Highland Baptist Church. I think Waco is an incredible city with incredible churches. I’m thankful for the different pastors and faith leaders who lead our city and congregants who compassionately serve and love their neighbors. Just incredibly thankful for that.

WACOAN: How much time does it take to be mayor? It’s an unpaid position and you have a fulltime job.

Meek: I don’t know what the hours are. Working in this role is one of those things where the work never ends and the opportunity to do more is always present. It is a busy time to be doing any work at the city right now because of so many exciting things that are happening. I’ve got a great team and the person I’ve got to give honor to the most is my wife. We felt called to serve our city and prayerfully decided together that this would be something we would do. I’m so incredibly blessed and thankful for her love and support to allow me to crank out the laptop early in the morning and work hard, but still try to be a present dad. We have a good system going and I’m thankful for her love and support.

WACOAN: When does your time as mayor come to an end?

Meek: My term will end in May of 2024.

WACOAN: Could you run again?

Meek: I could run again. At this time, I don’t think I will.

WACOAN: Could you still serve on city council?

Meek: I don’t think I’ll do that. We’ll pray through what’s next. I’ve got a great, great gig going on at the title company right now, so we’ll just see what God has in store for the next season.

WACOAN: You have served on a lot of boards and in other capacities around Waco. Without offending anyone, do you have a favorite?

Meek: I don’t think I do. Each of these organizations has done such good work in the community and it’s been an honor to have played a role in those.

WACOAN: Pretty soon, the new basketball arena will be on one side of the interstate, and Baylor’s new welcome center will be on the other. How important are those?

Meek: Our skyline is changing in Waco because of the growth and development that we’re seeing in our downtown. I think you’re going to continue to see the properties facing I-35 become transformed into beautiful buildings. It’s going to be really incredible. As a Baylor alumnus, I’m thrilled that visitors are going have a beautiful building to go to. But in my role as mayor, it’s exciting to see these gorgeous buildings coming in as people are crossing our river.

WACOAN: What concerns have been brought to your office about I-35 construction?

Meek: The I-35 project is well ahead of schedule. I think that people had prepared for the worst, given what we saw in Temple and Salado. I’m thankful for TxDOT and the TxDOT team, and incredibly thankful for our contractor, Webber, who has delivered this project well above schedule. That’s, I believe, because TxDOT incentivize them. The delivery of this project ahead of schedule is going to be a win. I-35 is America’s main street. It’s an international highway, but it’s going to be beneficial to our residents for that construction to wrap up and have a new [and] improved, beautiful highway.

I know it’s been a burden for folks, but I think everyone’s going to be glad when it’s done. I’m thankful it’s being done ahead of schedule. I think most people recognize that construction is necessary, but painful. And when it’s done, it’s worth it.

We’ve got a lot of city streets under construction as well and it’s not lost on any of us at City Hall that construction is challenging for commuters and businesses along those corridors, but it’s also a necessary component to maintaining our city. We’re going to continue to commit to a robust infrastructure program at the local level. And we’re really thrilled to see I-35 wrap up.

WACOAN: Have you gotten feedback on Washington Avenue becoming a two-way street?

Meek: The decision for the conversion of two-way streets was a long time coming and based on other cities who had seen retail and restaurant activity thrive when the streets are converted to two-way, it’s easier to get folks there. I’ve heard really positive reviews from folks who appreciate the lack of confusion that came from some people from out of town utilizing one-way streets and the ease of access to some of our retail shops along Washington where folks can get there a bit more easily.

WACOAN: What is the city doing to handle future growth?

Meek: That’s a really broad question, but I guess I can answer that in a couple of categories. Our city leaders are always thinking with 100-year goggles on. What are we doing now that’s going to have an impact down the road? What do we need to be doing now that’s going to have a positive impact years down the road? And then obviously making decisions for today. But growth and being thoughtful and mindful of that is really important to us. I think you can break that down into a couple of categories that are primary: housing, and infrastructure. We’re really trying to make sure that our traffic patterns, our public transportation and our streets are being prepared for an increased growth in population. We’ve met and sat down with demographers on what projected growth could look like in Waco and tried to evaluate and build plans that are going to take into account that projected growth and to be thoughtful about how to increase our housing supply in Waco. We’ve seen housing costs go up, and that’s true for every city in Texas. But one reason it’s gone up here is because we need more housing stock here. So what can we do to make it easy for developers to develop in this community?

In our budget this year, you’ll see that we’re going to work with our housing developers, and all the developers in the community, to see how we can improve our development services department at the city. And increase our housing stock in the core of our city and on the edges of town as well. The other thing that we’re trying to be thoughtful about, as I mentioned, was the infrastructure. What are we doing to get water and sewage infrastructure to the right parts of our city? What are we doing to ensure that we have a robust strategy and plan for our street program, so that as we grow, it’s done in a way that can absorb new residents? It’s not surprising to me that people want to be here because Waco is a great and exciting town.

WACOAN: Does Waco need a performing arts center?

Meek: Yes, we need a performing arts center. I suspect that you’re going to see the city and other community leaders come together making for a call for that and working strategically to find the right location in our downtown and start raising the money for that in downtown Waco.

WACOAN: Do you know where that right location might be?

Meek: I like Franklin [Avenue] and the river, kind of behind where the food truck park was. If you can picture where the Cotton Belt Bridge lands, I think that’s a good spot. There’s a lot to evaluate and there are experts who have a greater understanding of the right location than me. We’ll evaluate and work together with our community to get feedback and input on the perfect spot.

WACOAN: What do you and your family like to do in Waco?

Meek: We love going to Miss Nellies Pretty Place, to the public library, to Cameron Park Zoo, [and] to Fabled Bookstore. We love being outside when it’s not too hot, like it is right now, but we still try to find a way to do that. We’ve been big fans of kayaking the Brazos this summer. We’ve gone out a handful of times and have life jackets on our kids so they can just kind of roll into the water and then roll back and we’ll kayak a little bit more. It’s another thing we love to do.

WACOAN:Are you reading anything good right now?

Meek: I have been reading this book on Texas history called “Big Wonderful Thing” by Stephen Harrigan. It’s a comprehensive story about Texas. It’s an autographed copy my father-in-law got me for Christmas. I’m also reading a book on godly parenting.

Q&A with Dillon MeekWACOAN: Is there anything else I need to know that I haven’t asked?

Meek: I am just really thankful for my wife and family and the team at the city that we have right now to do good work to really grow our economy for everybody. That’s the message I want to carry.

I’m so thankful for my parents [David and Libby Meek] and how they raised me and my brother [Phillip]. Growing up on that ranch, I really learned the value of hard work, and grew up in this very loving atmosphere that was really thoughtful about how to get involved and care for your neighbor. I think that definitely inspired me a little bit.

Join the Conversation