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 briggsfordenton.org blog.
Below are my answers to questions from the most recent series of candidate forums:
Why are you running?
To wholeheartedly give the people and businesses of District 2 and Denton the representation they deserve is a full-time job. You have to answer every call. You have to read every letter. You have to open every email. You have to communicate consistently and openly with people and community stakeholders whether you agree with them or not. I am in a position in my life right now where I can commit to give full-time effort for another two years. I want this community to have an ever-improving quality of representative government. I am working hard to set a higher expectation for elected officials and citizen engagement in that regard. There will be a lot of new faces on council. I look forward to returning as an experienced council member who brings a thread of consistent leadership. The experience that I have now will only serve to make me a stronger representative of District 2.
Seems like all the roads are torn up at the same time. Is there a way to improve planning of fixing roads?
Mr. Todd Hileman, our new city manager has started a CIP group and they are currently working on this issue. I have full confidence in that new team to address this concern.
In regards to developing the city over the next 10 years, what do you consider most important?
Smart, responsible growth. The guideposts to get there are economic prosperity, fiscal responsibility, social fairness, and environmental sustainability.
What can you do to help with gas leaks by Guyer H.S. and prevent future leaks?
Ensure we have enough trained gas well inspectors on staff and that they have the equipment and authority they need to enforce the standards that we have set as a community and that exist from the state and federal levels.
Denton air quality is worst in the state. What would you do to improve it?
We can enhance our fleet of vehicles to electric and we can install solar on our city facilities. That reduces our city’s impact. We can even work with the school district and county to encourage them to bring on solar. Certainly there is room at the table to find ways increase our residential solar and Green Sense Programs. But the biggest thing we can do is continue to enhance our pedestrian infrastructure, connect our neighborhoods and business districts with that infrastructure, and work to encourage development of basic businesses and services that serve and enhance neighborhoods. Collectively vehicles are our biggest polluters. If the infrastructure and amenities are there for increased pedestrian mobility we will cut back on the number of vehicle trips per capita. People will also be more active which will increase overall population health. It’s all about making our neighborhoods complete livable communities.
If you are elected, are you ready to get to work to pass a strong city ethics ordinance?
Yes, I was ready 1 1/2 years ago. My vote was there before this was delegated to the Citizen Charter Committee. We will have this. The winds have changed and I think people understand the value and importance of a well-defined ethics ordinance. It’s not about getting people in trouble. It’s about keeping people out of trouble, real or perceived. Above all else, it instills faith in government by the people.
Do you think an unfair advantage is given to large businesses? Are you for local business incentives?
Our incentive policy needs to be revisited and then followed for everyone. We have guidelines for use, purpose, and qualifications for incentives. It’s a scorecard. We have what we need; we just need to use it. Incentives, used sparingly and in a very well defined and targeted manner can be effective for businesses of all sizes. I am in favor of taking the downtown grant idea and spreading it throughout the city. It has proven to be successful.
City of Denton received a score of 35/100 by the Human Rights campaign. What can you do as a council person to make sure those in our LGBTQ community are protected and not discriminated against?
I have already begun to work with city to improve this score. But beyond that it is making sure you are open and available to all parts of our community. To let people know you want to hear them. To let people know that you want to understand their issues. To let people know that they are a valued part of this community. I represent people. People are my highest priority. ALL PEOPLE of any race, creed, age, income, gender, or sexual orientation. Hands down without exception.
Denia has a small area plan along the I35 corridor. Will you work with development to lessen the impact on Denia?
Yes, I think it is very important to get neighborhood feedback, keep residents informed, plugged in, and listened to throughout the process. I work to protect neighborhoods whether they are in my district or not. One of my proudest moments was taking a stand and defending the Hillside neighborhood near UNT.
Wind and solar energy cost a little less to produce than fossil fuel energy and jobs from renewable sources pay better. How would you help DME become a clean energy exporter?
Solar, solar, solar. Wind, wind, wind. UTILITY GRADE STORAGE. It’s where the world is headed. It’s where we need to be headed even more aggressively. You don’t even have to be a “tree-hugging environmentalist” to jump on board once the economic benefits present themselves.
What will you do to make sure bids are evaluated fairly and equitably? If you see an issue would you vote against staff recommendation for final vendor vote?
If something does not appear right, question it. I have before. I certainly don’t always agree with staff recommendations. We have a new city manager, an internal auditor, new legal council, and new leadership in several key positions across the city. We are ratcheting up transparency in processes, including the awarding of contracts.
Citizens are concerned about Buc-ee’s. What will you do to stop it?
I voted against the incentives on this project. People do need to understand though that the land was zoned for this type of use. And now that the incentives have been awarded and construction is underway there is not much we can do to stop it. I will make sure the development is following all the guidelines set in place and will continue to make sure we do our best to protect the environmentally sensitive areas and neighborhood nearby.
Rents are rising all around town. Do you have any ideas on affordable housing to keep our artists in town?
We need more affordable workforce housing. A vibrant community and economy is made of people at all income levels being able to contribute and live at an affordable cost of living, which allows a decent quality of life. We are starting to address this but we need to pick up the pace.
What do you feel about the state of homelessness in Denton? Would you back city support for Homelessness programs?
I believe there is a problem. I am glad to see the city start to look at this issue, work together with our non profits and surrounding communities to come up with solutions to make homelessness rare, brief, and non reoccurring. Our mayor has done a good job leading the charge here in Denton County and I am proud to serve on the homelessness leadership taskforce as a representative of our city.
How do you think the current gas well ordinance can be strengthened to protect the public health and safety? Are you satisfied with the current reverse setback distance of 250ft?
We can look to other cities with stronger ordinances. I am not satisfied with current ordinance or setbacks. But I have not had the support on council to make the changes we need.
Due to growing concerns about the effect on the climate of emissions from fuel combustion, and the fact that Denton’s air quality is some of the worst in the state:
- Do you believe it is economically and environmentally wise to invest in the 12 natural gas-fired engines of the Denton Energy center? NO
- What would you do to increase the use of renewable energy in Denton? Community solar, encourage solar generation on municipal buildings and schools, expand residential solar programs, prepare to invest in neighborhood and utility grade storage, increase awareness and participation in our Green Sense program for both residents and businesses.
- What would you do to manage/improve Denton’s poor air quality? I would start with an Air Quality Study. It is important to have some facts and data. Ideas to improve include saving older established trees and planting new ones. Encourage less vehicle use by making sure our bike/walk infrastructure is safe and adequate. We need to monitor the methane leaks so that they can be mitigated.
Will you support a city resolution urging the repeal of HB40, and do you support the “Protect Our Children Act” HB4303 that mandates a distance of 1500ft of drilling/fracking operations from schools and daycare centers?
Do you have any financial interest in oil and gas?
If you can back the city out of the gas plants, would you?
I have not supported the gas plants from the start. I still continue to vote against anything connected to the $225 million expense. This project is well on its way. My position on it has not changed.
Would you support increased resources for our first responders to protect citizens during situations such as blow outs and spills? Evacuation Plans?
I do support our first responders. Their safety and protection as well as that of our citizens is my first priority as a councilmember.
Georgetown is 100% renewable. How do you see Denton plan in comparison?
We are not 100%. We learned along the way that were were not technically at the percentages we were boasting about. I have spoken with Mr. Foster in Georgetown and I discovered that they made a call to put their economists in charge instead of utility guys to find the best plan. This is how they got to 100% they looked at the figures that made the most sense. The PPAs do have a gas back up but last I spoke with them they had bought more renewables than they could use and still had not had to use the backup power. Now Georgetown is a different size and type of community than Denton, so it is not a complete apples to apples comparison.
Do you think that DME and PUB need reforming?
I am happy that the PUB meetings are now televised and have been moved to City Hall. The only other change to PUB I would like to see is a 2 year term instead of 4. I believe this would have to be a Charter Amendment though. I am glad that we own our on utility and want to keep it that way. I do believe that DME has been run more like a private business and want to get back to the original intention of being a department providing a service to citizens and businesses. I would like to revisit the fee ordinance that sets the residential account deposits so high.
Name a time you advocated for citizens regarding environmental regulation
I advocate every day for our citizens to have a healthy city. I did not support the repeal of the Frack Ban, the weakening of our gas well ordinance, nor do I support the gas plants. I have supported the increased protection and value of trees, water, green space and air within our community.
Do you envision prosperity for Texas through wind and solar?
YES. And I think the markets do as well.
The Dentonite Forum:
What role does the city have in supporting/promoting 18 yr and up venues and music festivals in town?
Art and Music is an economic development driver. Look at Old Dan’s Bar as part of the revitalization of the square and when it moved to Dan’s Sliver Leaf, Industrial Street sprang up around it. Venues that support arts and culture are good anchors for redevelopment. All age venues, 18 and up, and 21 and up will thrive if the right type of energy is put into it and the market is there to support them.
What do you think about Transgender bathrooms in Public facilities?
This has not been an issue at any other time in our history. This issue is a political tool used to divide and discriminate. I do not support the idea of a state or federal bathroom bill.
What do you think of the current tax incentive policy?
The policy should be looked at thoroughly by council and revise, make changes accordingly. Most important is that we have standards and follow them. We have been all over the place. Also, if we have a contract, we should stick to it and not allow for so many exemptions.
What do we do to capture graduating young people to keep them in Denton?
As of now, we have a great community to live, just not to make a living. We need to focus our economic development on competing for industries that complement our workforce and infrastructure and bring good paying stable jobs. From those businesses other businesses and entrepreneurs will spring up.
How do you measure Stokes effectiveness?
Getting back to its intended meaning which is serving as a catalyst for startup tech businesses. Make sure we are not just a 3rd party leasing agent bringing unfair competition to other leasable office space. It needs to be a place where new tech business opportunities can be incubated. Ultimately success will be measured by successes. What businesses are springing up from Stoke? What jobs are being created? And is it self sustaining over time?
Favorite Denton Band?
Without a doubt it is Slobberbone. We go way back. These guys and their families have been our close friends for well over 20 years. But I have many friends who are musicians in our community. We host house shows once in a while.
What is your opinion on cite and release? Would you be willing to work with legal department on a plan?
Yes. So long as our policy does not contradict state or federal law.
What is your opinion on smoking ban and how it was formed?
We are going way back in time on this one. We have an ordinance which was decided just before I arrived on council and it is my job to support and enforce the ordinances of our city. It was my opinion though that businesses which do not open their doors to people below the age of 18 should decide for themselves to be smoking or non smoking establishments. Employees can choose to work there or not and customers can choose to spend money in an establishment or not. I would prefer no smoking in parks and on public sidewalks where families and children are in direct contact with smoke.
Why should young people vote?
This is their city. If, as a young person, you don’t get engaged on issues and vote you wont be taken seriously. That means that others will influence and make decisions about your future without your input. I don’t think people realize just how easy it is to get involved and make an impact. You may not win on every issue but you sure as heck can be a factor.
LULAC & NAACP Forum:
Do you believe there is enough diversity in the city and school districts?
Denton is pretty diverse. However, our council and boards do not reflect that diversity.
Are you aware there is funding available for our youth? And how would you go about obtaining it?
I am aware that many funding sources will be cut. I am open to any suggestions and if there is money out there available, we should have it and I will help you get it any way I can.
Will you vote for the tax freeze for the disabled and over 65 in light of the council having not increased the exemption instead? And, considering there being more than 200 cities, counties, and junior council districts in Texas that have this tax freeze?
As a sitting council member I went on public record with my position on the proposed freeze as we discussed and considered it – you can see my position, hear it, read it. As a council we had our opportunity to take action on it and we chose to put it in the hands of the voting public now. It doesn’t matter what I say now, as a council member my vote has been deferred to the voting public and it will be my job to mange the result the best I can. I do not want to be seen as electioneering the issue now that it is in the voter’s hands.
Do you have time to commit to this volunteer effort and can you handle the stress?
YES. It’s a full-time job and I treat it as such.
Are you aware of the ethical concerns that citizens have regarding, for example, the hiring of relatives in paid positions or awarding them contracts?
Yes. The sooner we have an ethics ordinance in place for our council and staff the better.
Are you satisfied with the consideration that persons with disabilities are offered in schools and town?
Satisfied? No. We can always do more and should.