Linda Harvell: College Station's lone City Councilwoman
Linda Harvell grew up in College Station where she now serves on the City Council. She noted that running for a political position was never her ultimate career goal, but the events in her life and her desire to do something for her community led her to participate in her hometown’s political scene. Last November, Linda was re-elected to her Place 3 post with 3,295 votes (68% of the vote) to serve her first full three-year term on the Council. She, her fellow councilmen, and the mayor all have the power to appoint the City Manager, adopt the city budget, and appoint members to all commissions and boards. The City Council also establishes policies regarding zoning, parks, and other strategic development issues. College Station, home to Texas A&M University, is an interesting region to serve considering the widely diverse constituency constantly fluxes throughout the year and the city is growing exponentially due to the university bringing over 60,000 students to the area each year. Linda is keenly aware of these changes; she has seen College Station develop since it’s very beginnings.
Linda began attending Texas A&M in 1966, just two years after they began admitting women to the historically male, military institution. She refers to it as “quite an experience” but one she was undaunted by. “Let me tell you how good my social life was,” she said laughingly, “It was 500 guys to every girl in my class. I had professors tell me it didn’t make any difference what I made in their class; I was going to flunk because girls didn’t belong at A&M. People in the Corps of Cadets slammed the door in my face because girls didn't belong at Texas A&M.” Linda was more strengthened than discouraged by these experiences, giving her the background to start her career in what was an all-male industry. She spent ten years working as the Director of Sales for the Y. O. Ranch Hilton in Kerrville, Texas. After, she continued her work in the hospitality industry, working as the Vice President of Tourism for the city of Denver, Colorado, the Executive Director of the Lubbock, Texas Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Executive Director of the Palm Springs, California Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Director of Tourism for the Corpus Christi, Texas Convention and Visitors Bureau. Today, she is the Owner and CEO of the Texas Trading Post, the largest online store for Texas gifts and decor on the internet. She leases a 3000 square foot two-story warehouse and a 1500 square-foot packing operation to conduct her business operations.
Getting into the political scene was never Linda’s goal early in her career, but she found herself often participating due to strongly held beliefs and desires to act. Her first political experience was when Linda and her family lived outside Kerrville in a small town called Center Point and found that she was displeased with the school’s policy on balancing academics and sports. She said many of the residents’ philosophy was; “It doesn’t make any difference what a student’s grades are – they should be able to play Friday-night football!” Linda and other community leaders disagreed. She ran for the school board, won the vote, and the policy known now in Texas as “No Pass, No Play” was born. The board became split half and half; three of the board members were for limiting athletic participation to those students who pass their classes, three were not. After a long struggle, the case was taken to the Texas Board of Education where the policy was eventually enacted statewide that students must pass their classes in order to participate in sports. As her career continued in the hospitality industry, she found that her jobs continued to be high profile and politically based. When she returned home to College Station, again her intention was not to be politically involved. She noticed, though, that the city tended to favor newer university-oriented developments over the older, long-standing neighborhoods of the area. As a resident of one of the older neighborhoods of College Station, Linda found herself going before the City Council, and asking them to protect the historic nature of the city. After deciding that her complaints wouldn’t be as effective as her action, she decided to run for the City Council. The first year she ran against the incumbent and narrowly lost with 43% of the vote, but that didn’t stop her. Linda ran again the next year for a one-year unexpired term, as another councilman had to resign to run for mayor, and won by over 3,000 votes.
Part of Linda’s platform as a city councilwoman is an emphasis on sustainable development in College Station. She acknowledges that some of the growing pains the city has faced are caused by Texas A&M. To accommodate this, she says developers need to focus on building spaces which will be in use for years to come, and not falling apart within a few years. Linda also would like to bring more corporate entities to College Station, as the city somewhat relies on the university to generate growth. Bringing more than Texas A&M to College Station will enhance the city’s tax base and give non-university-affiliated residents a reason to want to stay and work in College Station beyond their student years.
Linda has found herself often as the only female in male-dominated professions throughout her life, yet she is unbothered by it. She said there was always a mentor figure in her life willing to open doors for her and sincerely help her advance her career. She has also felt strength from members of her community who have supported and voted for her. Part of her advice to women beginning their careers, political or not, is to find the people who are willing to say, “What can I do to help you?” Linda strongly values relationship building in her career. Her other major piece of advice for women running for office: “Stay on the high road.” Despite the adversity that Linda has faced, she has learned that knee-jerk emotional reactions to the negativity of others is unacceptable in the political sphere. “Just conduct yourself in a way that your mom would be proud of,” she continued. “Don't let somebody try and shape you in the image they want you to be, and don't let yourself get so bogged down by it all that you can't see the blue sky.” Linda has left her comfort zone to represent her community and has learned to have fun and keep a sense of humor through it all. It is because of her pragmatic view of her career that she has risen to her challenges, conquered them, and enjoyed the journey along the way.