Some questions posed to the four candidates in Denton’s runoff election by LULAC’s local chapter may have been anticipated by the candidates, given the quality of their answers Saturday night at City Hall.
But other answers showed there is more city leaders can learn about the fast-growing segment of Denton’s population.
The black and Hispanic population doubled in Denton County between 2000 and 2010, according to census data. In the city itself, Latinos account for 21 percent of Denton’s 113,383 residents.
Candidates in the June 23 runoff participated in a forum organized by local League of United Latin American Citizens members. Both Place 5 City Council and the Denton mayoral races had three candidates in the May 12 election, but no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote. Therefore, Pete Kamp and David Zoltner are in a runoff for Place 5; Mark Burroughs and Neil Durrance continue their race for mayor.
Early voting runs from June 11 through June 19 at the Joseph Carroll Court Building.
Roberto Calderon, president of Denton LULAC Council No. 4366 and a professor at the University of North Texas, moderated the event, which consisted of five questions drafted by the members. The candidates also made opening and closing statements.
The candidates offered similar answers when asked what each would do to encourage greater Latino participation in local government.
Both incumbents took credit for encouraging former council member Rudy Moreno to run in 2008. He filed to replace Pete Kamp, who resigned Place 2 midterm to run at-large.
Moreno did not file for re-election in 2009, citing health reasons.
Burroughs underscored that greater participation in the upcoming $20 million bond election for street reconstruction, through the bond committee, was another example.
“Without it, the money is not going to be allocated in a fair and proper way,” Burroughs said.
Durrance said he would cultivate his personal and political relationships to help bring more diversity to the city’s governance, but he also called for a renewed emphasis in teaching civics.
“Even in our education programs, civics has taken a back seat,” Durrance said.
Kamp denounced the claim that city leaders aren’t listening to constituents as “ludicrous,” and encouraged young people to not be shy and tell city leaders where their interests are.
“And LULAC members, please step forward,” Kamp said.
Zoltner pointed out that volunteering takes time.
“After family and business responsibilities are taken care of, it’s hard to find time to get involved,” Zoltner said, although he agreed with other candidates that mentoring newcomers mattered.
Candidates were the most varied on their responses to LULAC’s second question, which asked what they could do, even as City Council members, to restore state cuts to public education.
Zoltner said the main part of the problem — the lawsuit — was the school board’s. But the city needed to focus on what it could do to raise family income in the city, since that impacts educational success, he said. Kamp told the crowd that the Denton school board and the City Council met quarterly to discuss mutual interests, such as safe routes to school. During Denton County Days, they band together to visit legislators in Austin, she said.
Because the Texas Legislature has been cutting funding for education for many years, lobbying in Austin was a waste of time, Durrance said, adding that he marched against the cuts. Instead, direct, local efforts were more important, he said. But Burroughs disagreed, saying that building bridges and partnerships, not marching, was important. New city rules helped the district save money in building new schools, and the partnership with the natatorium benefitted both, Burroughs said.
Candidates agreed the city should follow the United Way’s community assessment by forming a city task force to look deeper into unmet community needs and how to address them.
The challengers, Zoltner and Durrance, cautioned that the city not just collect data and then shelve the plans, as has happened in the past. But the incumbents defended the city’s record, with Burroughs pointing to Serve Denton, a new food bank, and Kamp to downtown redevelopment, as recent examples of follow-through.
The Latino community has trouble at City Hall when home and business owners want to renovate property, Calderon told the candidates. All candidates agreed change was needed, but had different ideas on how to achieve it.
Kamp has heard both major and minor complaints and pointed to a new hire at assistant city manager as an opportunity for change, she said. Zoltner has heard complaints, too, but said the accountability lies with the city manager. Durrance said he was the first to call out need for a culture change in the first forums, saying that developers don’t want a free ride, they just want to know the rules. But some parts of the city are 150 years old, Burroughs said, calling for a special unit in the planning department just for renovation.
For the final question, Calderon reminded the candidates that neighborhoods of color, or those that are predominately poor, often suffer environmental injustices. He asked how the city could make sure that vulnerable communities would be protected equally with the city’s new ordinance for natural gas drilling and production.
All the candidates favored the current moratorium, a temporary suspension of new drilling and production permits while the city rewrites its natural gas development ordinance.
They also favored the strongest rules possible to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community, while balancing property rights of mineral owners.
But no candidate shed light on whether myriad proposed new regulations might still create a greater burden for some neighborhoods over others.
A recent University of North Texas study found that neighborhoods between the inner-city and the outlying areas were the most likely to have a gas well somewhere between about 500 feet and 1,000 feet from their elementary schools.
In Denton, Guyer High School has a well site within 500 feet and McNair Elementary School, within 1,000 feet.
A February 2011 report by the Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods calls for one-mile buffers between gas wells and schools to protect students from air pollution, although industry supporters disputed the basis for the recommendation.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org .