Mayoral hopefuls field questions at forum

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Chris Watts, Jean Schaake, Donna Woodfork

More than 150 residents from Robson Ranch and around the city turned out Wednesday night to hear the Denton mayoral candidates in a forum organized by the Robson Ranch Republican Club.

In welcoming the crowd to the community clubhouse, moderator David Laschinger said he was pleased to see many new faces — by law, municipal elections are nonpartisan — as well as Republican regulars, which included many local office holders and several from statewide campaigns.

The forum focused on the three candidates running for Denton mayor: Jean Schaake, 70, an associate dean at the University of North Texas; Chris Watts, 52, an attorney and real estate developer; and radio host Donna Woodfork, 44.

The club had hosted a forum with more than 20 candidates in the Republican primary earlier this year that went too long, Laschinger said.

“The mayor’s race is [an] important one this year,” Laschinger said, explaining the group’s focus.

Mark Burroughs, the current mayor, has reached his term limits after serving six years.

Questions to the candidates showed a concern for the city’s growth and economic development, including one that might be unexpected from an “active adult” community marketed to retirees: “Why aren’t there any high-paying jobs in Denton?”

Schaake said Denton has the foundation to bring in new businesses with good-paying jobs, not only from the educational base that comes from graduates of UNT and Texas Woman’s University, but also from the Denton school district and its International Baccalaureate program. She said the city can also promote its quality of life as an asset to lure new companies to town.

Watts said the city needed a culture change, however, in the way that the city’s Economic Development Partnership Board focused its attention so that the tax money used to lure those businesses was maximized.

On Monday, at a candidate forum in Denia, Watts said he would propose that the Denton Black Chamber of Commerce and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce be included on the board.

Those groups have not had a seat at the table before, he said.

Robson Ranch residents also wanted more information about why DATCU has opted to leave the city. Watts encouraged residents to watch the August Planning and Zoning meeting online, saying that if the zoning change had come before the City Council, he would have voted in favor of it.

Schaake cited the part of the Denton Development Code that guided the group’s vote to protect the neighborhood that didn’t want the longtime Denton business headquarters on Teasley Lane. Woodfork restated her position first stated to Denia residents on Monday — that there was nothing the city could do now and Corinth could be a good home for DATCU, too.

Robson residents also expressed concern about emergency response times to their community, with one resident claiming that it has taken ambulances as long as 11 minutes to reach their subdivision, which is on the far southwest side of the city.

Schaake said such response times were unacceptable and she would do everything she could as mayor to make sure the issue was addressed, a position that Woodfork echoed. Watts said that, as the former District 4 council member, he was interested in exploring an EMS service for the subdivision.

The next candidate forum begins at 6 p.m. tonight at UNT. The Texas Voters Alliance and co-sponsor, the UNT Political Science Department, play host to both the mayoral and other council candidates, including Dalton Gregory and Hatice Salih for Place 5, and John Ryan and Glenn Farris for District 2, in Room 180 of the UNT Business Leadership Building, 1307 W. Highland St.

Free parking is available in Lot 41, at the corner of Eagle Drive and Welch Street, and in Lot 20, off North Texas Boulevard. Paid parking is available on Highland Street for $2 per hour.

More information can be found at www.facebook.com/groups/Texas.Voters.Alliance.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.


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