New book offers insight on day-to-day life of a local elected official

A new book from Rice University’s Bill Fulton, director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, offers an account of what life is really like for a local elected official.

Bill Fulton book artwork“Talk City: A Chronicle of Political Life in an All-American Town,” (Solimar Books, 305 pages, $25) is a collection of blog posts authored by Fulton during his time as a local elected official in Ventura, Calif. Fulton served as a city councilman from 2003 to 2009 and mayor from 2009 to 2011.

The blog on which the book is based was created by Fulton in late 2006, not long before he announced his re-election campaign for the Ventura City Council. The posts chronicle his life representing what he described as a “typical American city.”

“Most people thought [the blog] was just a campaign stunt, but in fact I had a different idea in mind,” Fulton said. “I wanted to make sure my constituents understood the reasoning behind my votes, and the time and space to do that explaining simply weren’t available during the high-profile, high-pressure Monday night council meetings.”

The blog’s focus shifted over time and covered issues ranging from his style in managing city council meetings to dealing with issues related to the Great Recession. The entries range from short posts to well-developed essays. Fulton said the blog accurately conveys what life was like in the trenches as an elected official in a typical local government.

“The best thing and the worst thing about being a local elected official are that you’re never off duty,” Fulton said. “You’re very connected with your constituents regardless of what you’re doing.” 

Fulton said that among his major hurdles as mayor of Ventura were maintaining public trust, which was on the decline due to the rise of the Tea Party; corruption issues in a neighboring city with links to Ventura; and the Great Recession.

“I had to be out in the public eye constantly and had to remain transparent,” Fulton said. “This was critical to restoring the public’s faith in local government.”

He noted that the after-effects of the Great Recession also presented great challenges. He recalled his decision to close the local public library (due to its failing financial model following the recession) as “the single hardest thing I did while mayor.” It was a decision that was highly criticized, Fulton said, but was a “fiscally responsible decision that would have to be made sooner or later.”

“When you’re mayor, your constituents expect you to protect their interests while making the difficult choices, such as budget cuts,” Fulton said. “And when you’re forced to make these tough decisions, as with the library closure, you become known as ‘the mayor that closed a library.’”

Another issue that arose when he was in office (and that he drew upon in Houston as director of the Kinder Institute) was pensions and pension reform.

“All of the pension challenges that have arisen in Houston were also hot issues in California,” Fulton said.

Difficult decisions about pension funding had to be made and things were very divided, with Fulton caught in the middle of contentious discussions and negotiations, he recalled. Ultimately, he said, city employees were asked to contribute more to their pension funds.

“The experience dealing with pension funding was an interesting one in the sense that it taught me about pensions and allowed me to be more informed and authoritative as the Kinder Institute addresses pension issues in Houston,” Fulton said.

The Kinder Institute will host a launch for the book as part of its “Urban Reads” series. It will feature a conversation between Fulton and the Houston Chronicle’s Lisa Gray and will take place April 3 at 7 p.m. at Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative. To register, visit

More information about the book is available at

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.