Local candidates faced tough questions on environmental issues Thursday night, but in a twist, questions about natural gas wells and solar energy were lobbed to candidates running for the Denton school board, not those running for City Council.
Both sets of candidates made their final pushes in a forum organized by the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. Moderator Linnie McAdams took written questions from an audience of about 50 people, most of whom stayed through the two-hour event.
City Council candidates took questions they'd answered before in more than a dozen candidate forums over the past several weeks. The repetition helped some of them refine their position on ethics reform, apartment building, budgeting, affordable housing and homelessness.
The candidate forum was recorded for broadcast on DTV (Spectrum Channel 191 and Frontier Channel 39). Voters have three opportunities to watch the candidates in the coming days: at 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 25; 8 p.m. Thursday, April 27; and 4 p.m. Saturday, April 30.
Denton school board
School board candidates took stances on several local and state issues during their third question-and-answer session. They will attend their final candidate forum, hosted by the Denton Community Council of PTAs, at 2 p.m. Sunday at Braswell High School.
When asked whether they support putting solar panels on school roofs, every candidate agreed Thursday the district should look into more sustainable options.
Place 6 candidate Alfredo Sanchez and Place 7 candidate Sam Ortiz advocated for the addition of solar panels, while Place 7 candidate Justin Bell qualified his approval by saying he would need to look at overall costs. Place 6 incumbent Jim Alexander and Place 7 incumbent Dorothy Martinez stressed the district already was in the process of making buildings more energy efficient.
Sticking to environmental topics, the candidates fielded a question about gas wells near Guyer High School. Sanchez and Ortiz said the school board needed to work with state agencies to monitor the wells more closely. Bell said his main concern is the safety of students, but the district shouldn't alienate oil and gas companies. Alexander and Martinez said the district has been taking precautions for years and put safety plans in place to evacuate students if necessary.
Candidates had mixed opinions on a question about the pros and cons of the district's grading policy, which allows students to retake quizzes and certain tests.
Alexander defended the policy, saying it focuses on mastery of content. Martinez said teachers always seem to find a way to make things work. Sanchez and Ortiz said something needs to be done about state standardized testing, while Bell said he thinks the district policy doesn't prepare students for hard deadlines in college and that changes should be made.
On the topic of after-school programs, Sanchez said he would ask teachers what programs should be included. Martinez mentioned paying teachers more to stay after school for programming. Ortiz suggested partnering with local businesses or nursing homes to establish new programs, while Bell pointed out athletics and fine arts programs also can function as after school programs. Alexander said the district is working hard to make its existing programs more affordable and accessible.
As the debate over the so-called "bathroom bill" continues in the state legislature, candidates were asked what they would do to protect transgender students. All candidates agreed that, ultimately, the district would be subject to state law. However, they said school board members should work to accommodate students as best they could. Bell and Martinez quipped they wish legislators would focus on school funding instead.
All the candidates mentioned state funding, in addition to continued growth and improving student achievement, were issues Denton ISD would continue to face.
Denton City Council
All eight candidates for the three spots on the City Council repeated their pledge to support ethics reforms at City Hall, small grants for downtown businesses, affordable housing and efforts to end homelessness, and to preserve neighborhoods in the face of renewed pressure to build multi-story apartment buildings close to the University of North Texas.
One broad, open-ended question drew a range of responses: "What is the best thing you can do as a member of City Council?" Some candidates' answers rambled while others eked out a sentence or two before steering back to their stump speeches.
Gerard Hudspeth, 44, faces two opponents in the race for District 1, which covers central and Southeast Denton. Fran Hawes, 55, a caretaker, and Emily White, 46, an English professor at North Central Texas College, also are vying to replace outgoing council member Kevin Roden, who has reached his term limit.
District 3 is also a crowded race, with three candidates running to replace Kathleen Wazny, who is selling her Denton home and moving to Austin. District 3 covers western Denton. Denton County native Jason Cole, 49, faces Robson Ranch real estate agent Don Duff, 78, and Denton businessman Paul Meltzer, 56, in the race.
In District 4, Amanda Servis, 31, is running against Denton businessman John Ryan, 51. District 4 encompasses southern Denton. Ryan previously served one term in District 2. One of the two hopefuls would replace Joey Hawkins, who announced he will not run again after serving two terms.
Council member Keely Briggs did not draw an opponent in her bid for re-election in District 2. The district covers much of northern and eastern Denton.
Race profiles and Denton Record-Chronicle stories from previous forums can be found here.
The local chapter of the League of Women Voters published a voters guide for the May 6 election. The guide is published at lwvdenton.org. Printed copies also are available at local libraries, recreation centers, Denton County Elections Administration (701 Kimberly Drive), City Hall (215 E. McKinney St.) and the Chamber of Commerce (414 W. Parkway St.).
Early voting begins Monday and continues through Tuesday, May 2. During early voting, a voter registered in Denton County may cast their ballot at any of the 28 early voting locations throughout Denton County.
On Saturday, May 6, registered voters must cast their ballot in their home precinct.
Detailed information with voting times and locations, as well as tools to find your election day precinct location and sample ballot, are on the Denton County Elections website, votedenton.com.
CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881.