Answers: Big Ideas for the City Forum, March 20, 2017

City elections are around the corner and that means that it is candidate forum season. The candidate forums are an important part of the local election process. While I am running unopposed this term for the District 2 seat, there are three other council district seats on the ballot that are contested (eight candidates competing for three seats).   Since I am uncontested I have decided to attend the forums but I am yielding my time to the panel of contested candidates. I will however collect the questions asked at these forums and provide my answers on the blog.

On March 20, 2017, the Big Ideas for the City Forum was held at Stoke Denton and moderated by Councilmember Kevin Roden.  Below are my ideas and answers to questions that were put before the attending council candidates.

My Big Idea:

Collaborative programs to put solar power generation on the rooftops of our community’s publicly funded buildings. There are many taxpayer-funded facilities within our community (especially county, city, and public schools). If the City can work together with these other local governmental entities to implement solar projects at their facilities, we can help lower their operating expenses and decrease our community’s overall energy demand.  In the process, we may be able to lessen local tax burdens. 

Candidate Questions:

Big idea to foster Denton’s Tech scene and start up culture?

The most important thing the city can do is to make sure that there is housing and a cost of living within our community that matches the needs of both the tech community and start-up culture.  Independent technology workers and start-ups are very similar to artists in this regard.  City’s like Denton become attractive places live – in this case for technology workers and startups – because of the community’s quality of life and affordability.  The best thing the city can do for all citizens and businesses is work to assure we maintain and enhance our quality of life and keep living in Denton affordable for people at all stages of their career and life.

One other thing that the city can do is to continue to encourage more youth participation in hands-on learning with technology and entrepreneurialism.  Our library system is forward thinking with their programming and partnership as evidenced at the North Branch library in particular.  But we need more.  We need more partnership with our school system, universities and businesses in the community to take our programming to the next level.  If we can close the digital divide for more kids, we can set those kids on a path of endless possibilities from right here in Denton.

Big idea for downtown Denton?

Downtown is booming and doing fine.  We need to build on its momentum and extend outward.  Some of this extension could be stimulated with designated green space. I would like to see an open green space somewhere to the south of downtown between Elm and Locust Streets. This space would better connect the established neighborhoods of southeast Denton with the Central Business district and the neighborhoods to southwest of downtown Denton.  The north side of downtown is connected to a green space in the form of Quakertown Park.  I would like to see a smaller but equally effective green public space on the south side of downtown between Elm and Locust Streets at some point in the future with outdoor performance space.  This could be a tremendous quality of life enhancement for downtown and center city residents and workers.

When and where we have the opportunity to add more public parking I would like to see more electric vehicle charging stations available in the downtown area.

Big idea to think beyond square for new areas of life and culture?

I have been considering how Denton could officially establish a cultural arts district and have recently requested information from staff and a council discussion on the topic. There are some program guidelines from the Texas Commission on the Arts on how to officially designate a Cultural Arts District.  Denton has the makings of such a district. Cultural districts are great partners in historic preservation, economic drivers, and include artist live/work spaces.  That may be what we need.  Arts have always made this community strong and unique. I fear that if we don’t look for new ways to work with and foster our artists then we will lose our cultural identity, which is a key component to our quality of life.  Once that goes a lot of other things go with it.

I would also like to see council work to identify new areas of town to expand development/redevelopment grants like the ones we have successfully used for downtown.  Programs like this are effective when they are targeted to specific well-defined areas.

Big idea to make Denton more walkable and bikeable

In addition to making sure we keep funding the sidewalk and bike lane projects we need for safety, I recommend small area planning.  The closer we can bring day to day services such as food markets, neighborhood restaurants, shops, banks, and public spaces to neighborhoods then the less the people of those neighborhoods will depend on their cars and be inclined to become pedestrians.

Big idea for neighborhoods

I would like to see more neighborhood groups formed.  In Denton, the neighborhoods with an association are stronger and better represented when it comes to city infrastructure and zoning/development issues which impact them.

I would also like to see DME work within our neighborhoods to develop community solar pilot programs.

Big idea on how our city can partner with our schools

I mentioned earlier the idea of solar on school rooftops. The city and DISD are two independent entities.  But our city does own the municipal electric (DME) and DISD is a customer of ours.  If our schools had solar they could spend less money on energy and more money on educating our children.  That increases the value of our school system and in turn increases our community’s quality of life.  In addition, that solar infrastructure keeps generating energy in the summer time and on weekends when school is not in session.  That surplus energy can be metered back to the grid, which further reduces the school’s energy bill and reduces the amount of energy that DME will have to generate or secure from the markets to meet our city’s overall energy needs. It would be a win on so many levels.

Grow our Youth Council. When I first got on council, it was very important to me that we bring back our city youth council. Now that is back, I want to grow that program and encourage our youth to become leaders in our community.  Partnering with the DISD can enhance the value of this program, even if it is only to increase awareness.

There should be a candidate forum hosted by our K-12 students.  One of the highlights of being an elected official is getting invited to speak in classrooms.  I have spoken to kindergartners all the way up to college classrooms. Our students have a keen interest in how our city and local government works.  And believe me, 2nd graders have some of the toughest questions!

Big idea to foster the arts and music in our city?

The idea of a music and arts commission has been floating around and I like it.  I would like to see our city council formalize such a commission and nominate members of our arts community to it to serve and inform the council just like our parks, utilities, airports, library, public safety, community development, etc. boards and commissions do.  This is something that has been established in other cities similarly to Denton that benefit from a strong music and arts community.  I couple this idea with the previously stated ideas on establishing a cultural arts district and keeping a sustainable cost of living for our artists.