PEOPLE: Jim Kuykendall talks about his years as mayor of Oak Ridge North

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The nearly eight-year term of Jim Kuykendall, the former mayor of Oak Ridge North, came to an end June 10, when he completed his planned resignation during a regular City Council meeting and handed city leadership over to Paul Bond, the mayor pro tem and a former council member.

Kuykendall, a Mineola native who settled in Oak Ridge North in 1998, took office in the fall of 2011, when he was appointed to the position after Joe Michaels stepped down to take a post with Conroe ISD. Despite a lifelong interest in leadership and community service, it was Kuykendall’s first city government role apart from his time as chairman of the city’s long-range planning committee.

During his tenure, Kuykendall said he aimed to set Oak Ridge North up for future success while moving on from city hall turmoil. Prior to his and Michaels’ terms, former mayor Fred O’Connor resigned amid a conflict of interest scandal and other city officials were indicted or investigated on various charges around the same time, Kuykendall said.

“I was part of a group of citizens that … started working for the change in the council,” he said. “It was just ugly, the whole situation was. There [were]a lot of good people hurt in the process. … I was basically asked if I was interested [in the role of mayor], and I took it and lived happily ever after, so to speak.”

Under Kuykendall, City Council oversaw several civic planning and infrastructure initiatives and pushed for economic growth across the city. The alleviation of congestion on Robinson Road was another issue that followed Kuykendall throughout his term. Progress on the issue could move forward in the near future through two major projects around I-45 and at Hanna Road aimed at reducing congestion. Kuykendall said the stable state of the city’s present leadership and ongoing progress on his main economic and development goals helped to direct his decision to retire from office this spring.

“Getting these things done, getting this set up so that it’s a continual process of improving our community has been a number one priority,” he said. “I feel confident now that we’ve achieved all the things that we set out to do, that I’m leaving the city in good hands to move forward and take all that stuff to the next level.”

Council member Tom Coale also credited Kuykendall for his focus on development and for keeping the Robinson Road project on track.

“I think the solution … that has been worked out on Robinson Road is probably his keynote accomplishment,” Coale said. “That’s been the major challenge.”

Aside from internal improvements, Kuykendall said another challenge of governing a city of around 3,000 residents spread over less than 2 square miles is its proximity to larger and more influential entities, such as The Woodlands Township and the city of Conroe. Despite its relatively small size, Kuykendall said he worked to represent Oak Ridge North regionally through his dialogue with officials and groups in Montgomery County and his position on the Conroe-The Woodlands Large Urbanized Area mobility committee. He also traveled to Austin to testify before the Texas Legislature on behalf of small municipalities during his time in office.

“Since I’ve been mayor, the one thing I really strived to do is to make sure our city has a seat at the table with the big boys. I say that because we do,” he said. “If we don’t stand up as cities, there’s not anybody else out there going to do it for you.”

Following his retirement, Kuykendall is planning to move to the Conroe area, where he will focus on his mediation practice and personal artistic work. He said he has also contemplated remaining unofficially involved in regional politics to facilitate discussions or act as a voice of reason during more contentious situations.

“This country was founded on people sitting down and talking about things. Maybe that’s the mediator in me coming out, but I think there’s an opportunity to talk about things and work things out,” he said. “Nobody’s 100% right, and nobody’s 100% wrong, but all of us can at least agree to move forward.”

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