Originally from Pontiac, Michigan, Michael Dion and his wife have lived in the Austin area since 1974, when parts of Hwy 183 were still a four-lane divided road with little traffic.
Prior to settling in Cedar Park, Texas in 2004, Michael and his wife sailed their forty-seven foot sailboat for six years. Their travels took them from California to Texas through the Panama Canal with frequent, multi-month stays in Mexico, Costa Rica and El Salvador.
Upon his return to Texas, the idea of a traditional job didn’t have much appeal, so Dion started a small computer business. “I enjoy helping people…taking care of my customers has been fun for the last twelve years.”
After a local newspaper covered a proposed football stadium that would border his home, Dion began attending his local school board meetings. “Not only did the recently passed bond package not specifically authorize the stadium; it wasn’t practical. I started doing the ‘three-minute-pitch’ to the board…and they eventually gave up on the idea.” Dion soon realized that the stadium project was just the tip of the iceberg.
His extensive business and traveling experience had changed Dion’s perspective. He realized he had something to offer his community. “I’m definitely not a political person,” he noted. “I just tell it like I see it.”
Using a common-sense approach, Dion dug deeper into the district’s finances. “I decided to participate in the annual budget process. I saw lots of glaring problems…it wasn’t long before I became aware of the enormous debt the school district was taking on.”
Leander ISD has now become infamous for reckless borrowing and the abuse of non-traditional debt instruments that have helped officials circumvent existing tax limits. In one instance, LISD borrowed $163 million, but due to huge balloon payments, saddled taxpayers with nearly $1 billion in total property tax payments. Under current law, local governments aren’t required to disclose the projected interest on the ballot for voters to consider. Dion is working to change that.
He’s using experience and expertise to help several state legislators author reforms that would prevent other districts from issuing irresponsible bonds such as C.A.B.s. If enacted, these basic reforms will afford immeasurable benefits to millions of taxpayers across the Lone Star State. Texas’ current debt epidemic concerns Dion, especially now that he has witnessed blatant incompetence first-hand.
“If you want a certain form of government, you have to participate,” Dion reiterated. “You don’t have to be loud and demanding to be heard. Just make a valid point and never give up. Sometimes officials haven’t thought about an issue the way you have.” Dion doesn’t assume officials know best—he believes a self-governing society requires active citizen-engagement.
Several LISD board members appreciated Dion’s counseling, and encouraged him to stay involved. He’d speak at every meeting and send follow-up email summaries.
Dion’s goal is very simple. “I want the government to better serve the people. Too often I see it do what the people in control want. Many times, officials don’t want bad policy. It’s just that they exercise poor judgment. Sometimes their ego needs stroking and they’re steered by whomever gives them the most positive feedback,” Dion observed. “Simply put, doing the right thing is often harder than giving in just to make everyone happy.” In other words, too many officials go along to get along.
Dion is married with one daughter, who holds a doctoral degree and is a college professor. He’s a strong advocate for education. Although they’ve enjoyed their sailing exploits, Dion and his wife have their eyes set on traveling inside the United States. “There is so much to see and appreciate here, it’s easy to over look it or under appreciate it.”
Although Dion doesn’t affiliate with any particular group, he’s appreciated the support and fellowship from members of Central Texas 912. He says there’s a common misconception that it takes a large group to make an impact. “It doesn’t take a big group to affect change, but rather, a small, dedicated group focused on the issues. I have personally seen less than ten people change a vote at a City Council meeting.” Dion hopes his story will encourage other Texans to make a positive difference in their community.