A veteran campaigner and a political newcomer are vying for a Denton City Council seat that represents north- and east-side neighborhoods, as well as a few neighborhoods on the west side of central Denton.
John Richard Ryan, 48, and Glen Farris Squibb, 35, a production manager who is known professionally as Glen Farris, filed to run in a special election to fill the District 2 seat after current council member Dalton Gregory announced he was resigning to run for an at-large position.
For Ryan, a longtime Denton resident who owns a downtown wine shop and cigar bar, this isn’t his first run for the seat. He ran unsuccessfully for District 2 in 2007 and for Place 5 in 2008. He filed again for the District 2 race in 2009 but later withdrew.
Farris, a musician who also handles music bookings, is making a first run at public office. He is one of three people who write for the popular local website WeDentonDoIt.com, which includes his occasional column Mr. Farris Goes to City Hall.
Election day is May 10. Early voting begins April 28 for not only the Denton municipal election but also a host of other elections in area cities and school districts.
In addition to District 2, the city is holding elections for at-large seats, including mayor, Place 5 and Place 6. Running for the open mayor’s seat are Jean Schaake, 70, an associate dean at the University of North Texas; Chris Watts, 52, an attorney and real estate developer and investor; and talk show host Donna Woodfork, 44.
In the Place 5 race, current District 2 council member Dalton Gregory, 62, a retired elementary principal, faces local businesswoman Hatice Salih, 56.
Place 6 candidate and local real estate broker Greg Johnson, 45, is running unopposed for that seat, although Brendan Carroll’s name will still appear on the ballot because he withdrew his candidacy after the deadline.
The Denton Record-Chronicle sat down with both District 2 candidates to talk about the petition drive to ban hydraulic fracturing in Denton, as well as leadership and open government, including asking each of the candidates to give city leaders a grade on their transparency.
Petition to ban fracking
Local elections have occasionally turned into a single-issue election, although it has been a good while, Ryan said. In years past, candidates who ran on a single issue haven’t been successful in Denton.
Even as residents pursue a petition to force a vote on a fracking ban, the city needs to keep working on answers to the problems in the ordinance, Ryan said.
“When and if the petition passes, it may be caught up in court, with a judge blocking enforcement,” Ryan said. “If we can’t enforce the ban, we need a backup plan.”
Farris said he sees growth of the oil and gas industry as part of a larger problem addressing Denton’s growth, since the population is expected to double in the next 15 to 20 years. He wants to leave the city in a better position than it is in now.
“We are in a unique situation with the weak ordinance and the vested rights loophole,” Farris said, adding that it’s important that city leaders be mindful of the effect of their decisions. “I’m thinking about what type of environment my kids will grow up in.”
The City Council brings varied skills to the table, but its success depends on negotiating the competing interests that come along with that, Farris said.
“First, you look for the least amount of harm, and the most amount of gain,” Farris said. “How much is it going to cost? Economic issues guide the decisions I make.”
Good leadership depends on the residents’ education, too, he said.
For complicated issues, such as vested rights, zoning and historic preservation, “there just isn’t enough time in the day to educate every citizen,” Farris said.
Yet he intends to be available, engaged and listening, Farris said.
Ryan said that he finds good leadership follows listening and learning.
“You have to have input before you can make a decision,” Ryan said.
He called his experience with Leadership Denton, a training program of the Denton Chamber of Commerce, excellent. The program linked him with many kinds of leaders in the community, not just those in elected office.
For the group’s service project — a town training project in safety — Ryan helped write the business plan as others in the group identified other community resources.
“We got a primer in how to get the community involved in a project,” Ryan said.
Farris said he received training in the Texas Open Meetings Act as part of his participation on the Public Art Committee, and he believes the city staff does a good job in following the spirit of the law.
He said he thought the City Council was careful, too, taking only the most compelling items into closed session.
He said he’s never had trouble getting the information he’s sought from city staff, either, sometimes receiving a full report on an issue where there wasn’t one before.
He said it’s hard to grade the city, but for his experience as “Citizen Farris,” he gives the city an A for transparency.
The city has useful data people can “hack to do something meaningful and work on a social issue where the city doesn’t have the money or the manpower to spend,” Farris said.
To Ryan, good transparency comes when citizens are involved in their government.
“If you don’t involve the citizens, there will always be the perception that you are trying to hide something even when you’re not,” Ryan said.
He continues to investigate the option he first recommended — that the city release recordings of closed sessions once an issue is resolved, to improve transparency, and called for the posting of council committee meeting agendas even though it’s not required by law. As such, he gives the city a C for transparency, saying it needs to be an A.
He points to voter apathy as part of the transparency problem. There are 120,000 people living in Denton, but only about 5,000 turn out for a local election.
“That contributes to the perception, rather than true non-transparency,” Ryan said.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.
GLEN FARRIS SQUIBB
Occupation: project manager/owner, Spune Productions and We Denton Do It
Prior political history: none
Background: member, Public Art Committee, Downtown Task Force (a subcommittee of the Economic Development Partnership Board) and the Citizens Bond Advisory Committee for the 2014 Bond Program; secretary, executive board, Downtown Main Street Association; president, Denton Downtowners Neighborhood Association; part-owner, Spune Productions (11 years) and We Denton Do It (three years); recognized in 2013 for outstanding entrepreneurial achievement by Denton and the UNT Murphy Center for Entrepreneurship; helped launch Mentor Denton, placing nearly 1,000 mentors with at-risk students in Denton ISD this year; mentor, Calhoun Middle School; board member, Denton Holiday Lighting Festival 2013; member and music leader, Denton Presbyterian Church; Eagle Scout, 1992.
Top priorities for this office: citizen engagement, as through work at We Denton Do It and the Denton Downtowner Neighborhood Association for the past 11 years; continue and extend serving the community; launch a citywide initiative to take on Mentor Denton’s goal of placing 10,000 mentors with at-risk students; being involved in the community by serving its direct needs.
Occupation: owner, Vigne Wine Shop & Cigar Bar; Limerick Property Management
Prior political history: ran for District 2 in 2007 and for Place 5 in 2008.
Background: project manager, Dallas-based Walker Engineering (Encompass) until 2002. Together with wife, Carol, developed six local companies, including Vigne Wine Shop in downtown Denton; through Vigne, supports fundraisers each year for the Denton Animal Shelter Foundation, the Campus Theatre and other community groups; member, Construction Advisory and Appeals Board, 2001-07 (chairman 2006-07); member, Planning and Zoning Commission, 2009-11; member, Denton Chamber of Commerce, 2003-present; graduate of Leadership Denton, a chamber civic program, 2009; member, Denton Breakfast Kiwanis, 2007-present (president, 2009-10)
Top priorities for this office: improve the experience of interaction with the city for citizens and businesses in the areas of customer service and transparency of government; develop more efficient and effective utilization of city assets and amenities through proper planning and good stewardship of taxpayers’ dollars; ensure that incentive programs for new and expanding businesses include requirements for high-paying jobs.