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Denton parks investigation back on track; ethics ordinance headed to the fast track

The Denton City Council won't canvass the Nov. 7 election until next week, but they agreed Tuesday to hire a legal expert to write the city's first ethics rules. The council also made two other hires to finish the investigation into the city's relationship with the Denton Parks Foundation. 

Denton voters overwhelmingly approved a city charter amendment that requires the council to adopt an ethics ordinance. Council members agreed during their work session Tuesday they can get the work done quickly if they hire an expert. They agreed to hire the same expert, Alan Bojorquez, who advised the charter amendment committee earlier this year. 

Alan Bojorquez
Alan Bojorquez

"I've visited with some of the committee members and they've said good things about him," said council  member Dalton Gregory. 

Voters approved four changes to the city charter this month. The city charter acts like a constitution for local government officials. 

A charter amendment committee met for several months earlier this year to discuss a number of possible changes to the charter, with ethics reforms being a primary driver in those talks.  

Bojorquez, whose law firm is based in Austin, was the only outside expert the committee brought in during its hours of deliberations. 

According to Deputy City Attorney Bryan Langley, Bojorquez offered to visit with the City Council five times, including at least one public forum, to help write the city's first-ever ethics ordinance. 

Mayor Chris Watts told city staff and fellow council members he thought it would take more than five meetings, but that hiring Bojorquez would help them get the work done faster. 

In addition, the charter amendment committee sent a letter to the City Council recommending a number of items be included in the new rules. As envisioned by the committee, the new rules would define when an elected or appointed official has a conflict of interest, both financial and fiduciary. 

The new rules would prohibit elected and appointed officials from certain activities when they have a conflict. The new rules would be enforced by an independent body. The new rules would also apply to city employees, but would be enforced in a way that does not conflict with the employee-manager relationship. 

Parks investigation

The City Council hired two other firms to complete an audit and investigation into the city's relationship with the Denton Parks Foundation. 

The foundation is a separate nonprofit group that was created in 1987 to support city parks and recreation programs. The foundation serves as an umbrella nonprofit for the Denton Senior Center and for small community groups, such as the teams that put on the Cinco de Mayo and Juneteenth festivals in Quakertown Park. The foundation also raises scholarships for kids who need help paying fees for summer camps, lunch programs, swimming lessons and other parks programs. 

The city provides offices and some money for salaries for the foundation. The city's new auditor had just begun an investigation into the parks department and its relationship with foundation before he quit abruptly last month. 

Council members pledged to finish the audit and investigation in a timely manner, even if it meant hiring an outside firm to do the work before the auditor could be replaced. The auditor began the investigation after receiving complaints on an anonymous tip line. 

The City Council agreed to hire both a law firm and an accounting firm to review the complaint. 

The law firm of Lynn, Ross & Gannaway, which is based in Fort Worth, has worked for the city before, conducting the investigation into Denton Municipal Electric's contracts for the Denton Energy Center. 

The accounting firm BKD was founded in Missouri and now has offices in 16 states, including offices in Dallas, Waco, Houston and San Antonio. 

Once the two firms complete their work, they are expected to make their report directly to the City Council. The two contracts are expected to cost $50,000.  

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. 

In Other Action 

During its meeting Tuesday, the City Council also:

  • Agreed to reboot a utility payment assistance program and fund it with $100,000.

  • Awarded $7 million in contracts to multiple vendors for chemical supplies for water and wastewater treatment and a $4 million contract to James Wood Autopark for vehicle purchases for the next three years.

  • Awarded a contract to Texas Cemetery Restoration for repairs at IOOF and Oakwood cemeteries for $104,423.

  • Awarded a $175,000 contract to Kimley-Horn and Associates for engineering services.

  • Accepted a proposal from Marshall Culpepper to manage the Stoke Denton Entrepreneur Center for three years.

City Hall West Committee

The Denton City Council on Tuesday appointed 20 residents to an ad hoc committee to study proposed renovation plans for City Hall West.

Those chosen were Paul Abbot, Mike Barrow, Isabel Cano, Peggy Capps, Mike Cochran, Jason Cole, Courtney Cross, Dallas Guill, Pati Haworth, Robert Hodak, Randy Hunt, David Laschinger, Jane Piperā€Lunt, Peggy Riddle, Michelle Lynn, Valds Morgan, Kevin Roden, Austin Redding, Rachel Weaver and Christie Wood.

Hotel Occupancy Fund grants

The Denton City Council on Tuesday approved 2017-18 grants from the city government's hotel occupancy tax fund. Grantees and grant amounts are as follows: 

Name Amount
Denton Convention and Visitors Bureau $1,323,545
Denton County Office of History and Culture $349,776
North Texas Fair Association $154,500
Greater Denton Arts Council $144,200
Denton Festival Foundation (Denton Arts & Jazz Festival) $103,000
Tejas Storytelling Association $54,329
Denton Main Street Association $31,280
Denton Community Theatre $25,000
Denton Black Chamber of Commerce (Blues Fest) $23,249
Dog Days of Denton $18,629
Denton Holiday Festival Association (Holiday Lighting) $18,231
Texas Filmmakers' Corp. $16,242
Denton Community Market $15,965
Denton African American Scholarship Foundation (Juneteenth) $8,240
Denton Breakfast Kiwanis Club $5,485
Music Theatre of Denton $5,250