Place 5 candidates see Denton from different vantages
Two veteran campaigners have lined up for the race for Place 5 on the Denton City Council, with current District 2 council member Dalton Gregory facing local businesswoman Hatice Salih.
Pete Kamp, who currently holds the at-large Place 5 seat, has reached her term limits. Gregory, 62, a retired elementary school principal, signaled his intentions to run before the filing period opened, resigning his District 2 seat effective with the canvass of the May 10 election to give the city ample time to call a special election for his unexpired term.
Salih, 56, who ran previously for council seats in 2009 and 2010, is known for her efforts to petition the city to overturn a policy that increased utility deposits for people with poor credit and payment histories.
She joined Carolyn Phillips in a lawsuit against the city over the matter, a suit that was abandoned after Phillips died last year. But, in response, the city implemented a new pay-as-you-go program to help people keep the lights and water on without having to pay deposits.
Two local businessmen, Glenn Farris and John Ryan, have filed for Gregory’s unexpired term in District 2. Three more candidates have filed for mayor: Jean Schaake, Chris Watts and Donna Woodfork. Place 6 is also on the ballot. Greg Johnson 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.
Early voting begins April 28 for the Denton municipal elections and a host of other elections for area cities and school districts. Thursday is the last day to register to vote in the municipal election.
For many residents, urban drilling has become a pivotal issue, with some listening to candidates closely to determine whether they support an ongoing petition to ban hydraulic fracturing in the city.
Salih said she can understand why the election might be a single-issue choice for some voters and, in a way, she agrees with their assessment.
“Everyone talks about economic development, but at the end of the day, the two most important resources to a city are the resident taxpayers and the neighborhoods,” Salih said. “If you don’t protect those, do you actually have a city?”
Gregory said he has found voters often have a singular focus, whether it’s historic preservation or development-friendly policies or something else altogether.
“The first time I ran, urban drilling was on no one’s radar,” Gregory said. “Within six months, it was the only thing we talked about.”
Instead, he hopes voters choose a candidate based on how they approach issues.
Some residents will be listening for a candidate’s views on leadership and ability to build consensus among fellow leaders. Critics often point to the City Council’s many unanimous votes to say that individual members aren’t willing to take a stand.
Salih said city leaders have become so closed down that there isn’t room for dissenting voices, even sometimes from their own appointees on boards and commissions.
“Obviously, there is a disconnect between the boards, commissions, committees and the council and staff,” Salih said. “Some people who are serving are not ready for the job. The city is an $825 million organization and the public’s business is very serious. We’re spending money that’s not ours and making decisions that affect lives.”
“But we’re still running the town with our drinking buddies,” she added.
Gregory said collaboration is important to the City Council, so that the group can make the most of individual strengths.
“Leadership also is sometimes being willing to push the envelope, to push people past their comfort zone to see improvement happen,” Gregory said. “But you must recognize you are pushing and provide some comfort so they might go past and see that it’s OK.”
Gregory said there was little interest in beefing up the city’s smoking ban when he started working on the issue, but he was able to get more restrictions passed last year. Supporters were disappointed that Denton still allows smoking in bars, but Gregory said he wasn’t going to not vote for the latest restrictions just because he didn’t get the ban they worked for.
Some residents have expressed concerns about the city’s transparency, saying that some processes make it difficult for people to keep track of, and participate in, discussions over issues they care about.
The concerns cover a wide range, from an inability to examine budget details or follow committee work — where many issues and ideas are vetted before they come to the council — to doubts about whether some council discussions are better held in open session.
Gregory defends the council’s need to discuss certain matters with the city attorney in executive session.
“Some closed meetings are required by law and are necessary to protect the public interest,” Gregory said, adding that the city doesn’t want to reveal legal strategy in a court case, or potential court case, or lose money in a real estate transaction because those details became public.
He said the “secret meeting” characterization is easy for political opponents to make, but it isn’t fair.
“The meetings are posted in advance, with information on where, when and what is being discussed,” Gregory said.
He gives the city a B to B-plus for transparency, pointing to the increasing amount of information available online on the city’s website, including soliciting public opinion on some issues early in the process through EngageDenton.com. In addition, some council members are working with the staff to make more raw data available to the public.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Gregory said.
Salih said the city could do a far better job with transparency, not just by posting documents and broadcasting meetings but by planning in ways that better protect neighborhoods.
She said that construction of a new power line on the northeast side of town was an example of a project being in the works for a long time and affecting the public before the city launched any meaningful public discussions.
“They [utility officials] knew for years ahead that project was coming,” Salih said. “But the city issued permits for pools and outbuildings and never alerted people that this was coming down.”
“That’s not taking care of neighborhoods,” Salih said.
She also pointed to legislation the city quietly sought for the authority to form a gas utility, initially bypassing city voters but later calling an election under the charter to ratify the measure. And, most recently, to news that discussions for a public improvement district for the south side of Rayzor Ranch went for months before revealing a major policy change allowing the developer to use district bonds for construction financing.
For that, she gives the city a D-minus for transparency.
The candidates will meet again in a forum put on by the Denton Firefighters Association beginning at 6 p.m. Monday at Central Fire Station, 332 E. Hickory St.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.
Occupation: Retired principal in Denton school district
Prior political history: Denton City Council District 2, 2009-present
Background: Public educator, 1974-2008, with Denton ISD from 1982 to 2008, including 23 years as an elementary principal; city volunteer for 18 years, including Parks and Recreation Advisory Board for 12 years, Human Services Advisory Committee for four years, Juvenile Diversion Task Force, Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center Task Force, DISD-city after-school program task force; served on the Greater Denton Arts Council board of directors for six years; on board of Fred Moore Day Nursery School for three years; volunteer at First United Methodist Church, including administrative board chairman, east wing building project chairman, Sunday school teacher and youth group counselor.
Top priorities for this office: Maintain and improve the quality of life or livability, making Denton a great place to live, work, play and learn; be as smart as possible with growth to enhance the quality of Denton even with 94,000 new residents expected to move in over the next 16 years; make city government transparent, open and easy for residents to provide input and get answers to questions; continue making progress in city’s dealings with developers; and think bigger and broader about how to attract new business and industry while retaining those already here.
Online: www.daltongregory.com, @daltonrgregory on Twitter
HATICE I. SALIH
Occupation: Dan’s Meat & Produce owner and operator, with spouse
Prior political history: Ran for District 3 in 2009 and Place 6 in 2010
Background: Self-employed since 1988; worked at The Selwyn School, 1984-88; served on Friends of the Denton Public Libraries board for five years; helped establish Secondhand Prose at North Branch Library, running it for 18 months; and provided service to the community mostly individually rather than through organizations.
Top priorities for this office: Restore the duties and responsibilities to the boards, commissions and committees; seek the adoption into law, rather than a resolution, of an ethics code; refuse to go into closed session without a valid reason; define the roles of people and groups to ensure we have a properly functioning municipal process; evaluate budget for nonessential spending and take measures to maintain a sustainable budget and debt obligation; address one of the most important issues facing us today — the crumbling and failing infrastructure; ensure residents are being represented properly; and look for comprehensive solutions to environmental concerns surrounding urban fracking.