Neither Phil Kregel nor Joey Hawkins is new to the political scene, but neither has ever held elected office either.
Now, they are squaring off for the District 4 seat on the Denton City Council.
Both hope to replace outgoing council member Chris Watts, who is leaving in May. Watts will finish his third term this year and, by city charter, is not eligible to run in District 4 again.
Kregel, 28, who works in the mortgage industry, most recently served on the city’s ad hoc committee to implement a smoking ban. He has run for City Council twice before, once in 2009 as a write-in candidate and again in 2010 as one of five vying for the at-large seat won by current council member James King.
Hawkins, 38, a local businessman, has volunteered for many community groups and has been a member of the Denton Holiday Festival Association board since 2009. The council race is his first foray into Denton city government.
District 4 encompasses much of southern Denton and included Robson Ranch until the city redrew the district boundaries and moved the retirement community into District 3.
The election is May 11. Early voting begins April 29.
Hawkins has thought about the rule-making role of state and local government. He doesn’t doubt the intentions of rule-makers, he said, but he thinks the market can bear more than people give it credit for, he said.
“Being a business owner, I don’t like people telling me what to do,” Hawkins said. “Typically, if you do a good job and are honest, people will support you.”
The organization of his business, Jupiter House Coffee, borders on anarchy, he said, but it works. He has a rule that people sitting in the shop are supposed to buy something, but when a homeless person comes in to warm up, he has a hard time asking them to leave.
“I know that comes across like I’m wishy-washy, or not having a backbone, but I care,” Hawkins said. “I’m still trying to figure it out.”
One city project he’s still trying to figure out is the proposed public-private partnership for a new convention center. Early in the campaign, he called for a public vote.
A project that could affect the property tax rate needs to go before the voters, he said. But the convention center isn’t expected to affect the tax rate, he said.
“So many people think taxes are going to go up, but it’s a revenue-producing facility,” Hawkins said. “We are really missing a lot of [convention] business.”
Hawkins has heard the criticism that he is the “establishment candidate,” but he doesn’t understand it. People tell him that they love the city but hate the City Council, and they don’t see the disconnect, he said.
“These are the people doing the work to make it this way,” Hawkins said.
But that’s not to say that city affairs are the best they can be, he said.
“There are ways to be more proactive, and maybe the government needs to be more responsive,” he said.
Kregel, who frequently helps with key campaigns in other states, is a firm believer in federalism, and the same principles apply to state and local government, he said.
“Your people on the ground need to be steering where policy ought to go,” Kregel said.
But he sees the occasional conflict between state and local rules, such as Denton’s recent battle to make rules for natural gas drilling and production, as good for democracy because it motivates people to get involved and push for change.
“And that’s what the [city] council is for, to make sure we aren’t crossing the line,” Kregel said.
He’s not sure the city’s new rules for payday and title lenders will fix the problem, which he sees as fallout from other credit reforms that have made it impossible for those with no or low credit scores to borrow.
Among all the candidates, Kregel may be the most vocal critic of the city’s proposal to borrow $25 million to build a new convention center, a position increasingly emboldened after visiting with more and more voters of District 4.
He and volunteers with his campaign are focusing on likely voters, walking the neighborhoods and talking with them about the race and the issues. Some residents are excited about the convention center, “but not the bulk of them — they don’t want it,” Kregel said.
Instead of calling for a vote on large projects with big impacts, he said the city needs to balance needs and wants.
“That’s how you live within your means,” Kregel said.
Kregel isn’t in the same professional and social circles as his opponent, he said, and that gives voters another choice as they look for representation on the council.
“I do think I know the issues better, and we’re on the right side of the issues,” Kregel said of himself and his campaign supporters.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.
DISTRICT 4 CANDIDATES
Born in: Denver
Education: diploma, Chatfield High School, 1993; attended University of North Texas, 1994; business and entrepreneur classes, North Central Texas College, 1995-96
Employment: bakery shop manager, 1991-93; bakery franchise partner and franchise trainer, 1993-2000; retail business owner, 2000-07; owner, Jupiter House Coffee, 2007-present, and Royal’s Bagels, 2013-present
Born in: Denton
Education: diploma, Denton High School, 2003; bachelor’s degree, political science, University of North Texas, 2008
Employment: intern, Heritage Foundation, 2008; substitute teacher, 2009-12; campaign worker and political operative, 2009-12; business development and loan processing, Fairway Mortgage, 2012-present