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Fracking fuels forum

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe

Denia-area residents grill candidates on neighborhood drilling

With iced tea, lemonade and plenty of food to fill small plates, Denia-area residents rolled out the Texas hospitality for the first public forum of candidates running for Denton mayor and City Council.

But they rolled out tough questions, too.

Residents showed they remained concerned about the city’s debt levels, the condition of city streets, the continued development of gas wells near homes, lack of citizen engagement and the public-private partnership that will bring the city a convention center to the Denia neighborhood.

Former City Council member and Denia resident Linnie McAdams helped moderate the forum, which at was split into two parts, with candidates for City Council in the hot seat for the first hour and candidates for mayor in the second.

Terms ending this spring include the three “at-large” seats on the Denton City Council: Place 5, Place 6 and mayor. But the city must also hold a special election for the unexpired term for District 2 on May 10.

Even though Denia is in District 4, the group invited the District 2 candidates, Glenn Farris and John Ryan, who are both running for the seat left vacant when Dalton Gregory resigned to run for Place 5. He faces a challenge from Hatice Salih. Denia also included Place 6 candidate Greg Johnson in the question-and-answer rotation, even though is he unopposed in his at-large race. Brendan Carroll withdrew his Place 6 candidacy, although not in time to have his name removed from the ballot.

Mayoral candidates are Jean Schaake, Chris Watts and Donna Woodfork.

For both the City Council candidates and the mayoral candidates, it was the question whether they would support a ban on hydraulic fracturing in the city that highlighted differences among the candidates.

Residents wanted to know whether candidates would support the ban if passed by the voters. They also wanted to know whether candidates had signed the petition or read the proposed ordinance.

Among the council candidates, Gregory said he believed the city would have already banned fracking if they thought they would be successful. He said he continues to be concerned about how costly its defense might be in court. Both he and Ryan agreed that the issue was serious enough that residents should be asked to vote on the matter.

Salih said she was excited about the petition and not only had she signed it, she was helping to circulate it. Johnson said that he didn’t think the city could prevail over the state’s interests in oil and gas development and that the city may have to figure out a way to deal with the legacy of the old wells. Both Ryan and Johnson said they hadn’t read the ordinance. But Farris also said that he was more optimistic that a ban in Denton could be the beginning of change at the state level.

Similarly, among those running for mayor, Chris Watts said he supports the residents’ efforts to petition and if the ban passes, which he said he thought it would, he would defend it, as did Donna Woodfork.

Schaake redirected the conversation back to the city’s problems with the old wells, saying she thought there were still things the city could do to improve the lot of residents whose homes are close to wells.

The mayoral candidates received one question that wasn’t asked of the council candidates. One resident wanted to know what could have been done to keep DATCU in Denton.

The credit union recently announced that they would build their corporate headquarters elsewhere after the Planning and Zoning Commission voted not to recommend a request DATCU made to build on Teasley Lane near FM2181.

Watts called the deal a “failure of leadership at all levels.” But Schaake, who is chairwoman of Planning and Zoning, defended the group’s recommendation, saying the neighborhood didn’t want it.

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