Hawkins on hot seat on City Council
Activists filed a recall petition Thursday for Denton City Council member Joey Hawkins, asking him to step down from his District 4 seat.
District 1 council member Kevin Roden could be next.
Both were elected in May. Both voted in June to repeal the citizen’s initiative that banned hydraulic fracturing in the city limits after many legal experts agreed Denton would not have been able to defend it. The Texas Legislature nullified the ban with House Bill 40.
Activists angry over the repeal had to wait to respond. Under the city charter, voters could not submit a recall petition until the council members had served at least six months of their term.
Theron Palmer and Elida Tamez turned in a petition with 125 signatures calling for Hawkins’ resignation Thursday.
Another group in District 1, including Doyle Cain — who opposed Kevin Roden’s re-election — has started gathering signatures for Roden’s recall. The group has scheduled a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center, 1300 Wilson St., to discuss the drive.
The petition against Hawkins lists three grievances for his removal, including his votes to weaken local drilling ordinances, his inaccessibility to constituents and his lack of support for government transparency. Five volunteers walked for several hours over a weekend to gather signatures, Palmer said, adding that about 90 percent of the people signed.
“The ban was certainly part of it,” Palmer said. “But one of the things that really grabs people is that he was not in good communication with his constituents.”
Hawkins disagrees that any of the grievances are true. But he also works to continually improve at anything he does, he said.
“I always try to be a better dad, a better husband, a better business owner — and a better City Council member,” Hawkins said.
He never shies from a conversation or a phone call, as long as it’s civil, he said. The only time he doesn’t return emails is when they are accusatory or threatening.
“That’s always been my policy from the beginning,” Hawkins said.
Many people have told him not to take the recall personally, but he said it’s hard not to.
“I know I’m ‘low-hanging fruit’ and that this is a part of a larger strategy,” Hawkins said.
He was re-elected without opposition to a second term on the council in May. Low voter turnout may have made him vulnerable to backlash from the council vote to repeal the fracking ban. Those District 4 voting precincts most affected by the fracking — beside South Lakes Park and the University of North Texas — came out heavily in favor of the ban, by 60 percent or more.
Overall, about 54 percent of the 7,600 ballots cast in District 4 favored the ban.
Only about 300 people voted for Hawkins in May. Tamez said she expected that it would take verification of just 76 of the 125 signatures to certify the petition, under the charter.
Hawkins won his first election to the seat in 2013 by a wide margin over his opponent, Phil Kregel. Whether Hawkins can survive this challenge remains to be seen, but he won’t resign, he said. He’s already talked to his supporters, which includes his original steering committee members, the Denton Fire Fighters Association and local real estate agents.
“I’ve known this has been coming for about three weeks,” he said. “I didn’t have to run a campaign then [in May], but I’ll have to run one now.”
Palmer, Tamez and about 20 other residents have become active in a local chapter of Rising Tide North America, a international activist group fighting climate change. Blackland Prairie Rising Tide led protests against the return of fracking to the city.
Palmer and Tamez were among the seven people arrested on criminal trespass charges in June after fracking returned to a Vantage Energy well site on the city’s west side.
Denton voters have used the power of petition to recall council members before. Most recently, voters in District 1 filed a petition to recall Raymond Redmond in 2002, but he survived the election by a wide margin.
Roden respects the charter provision that gives voters the power of recall but questioned whether using it to settle political differences was appropriate.
“I think our charter has this power for pretty extraordinary circumstances,” Roden said.
He was aware that some residents were sharing information through NextDoor.com, a private social media platform for neighborhoods.
“People have been trying to send me screen shots,” Roden said. “But I don’t have any concept of what the grievances are.”
According to the city charter, City Secretary Jennifer Walters has seven calendar days to verify whether enough of the 125 signatures submitted qualify the petition.
If enough signatures qualify, she must present the certified petition to the City Council at its next regular meeting, which would likely be Dec. 1. At that point, the charter states that Hawkins has either seven days to resign his seat or face a recall election.
The city charter requires the City Council to order that special election within 60 days, which likely means a recall proposition would be on the May ballot.
The charter also gives a district judge the authority to order the election if the City Council does not.
Petitioners seeking to unseat Roden have 45 days to start and finish the job. The city charter does not allow a valid petition to contain signatures that are more than 45 days old. Because about 528 voters cast ballots in the District 1 election in May, petitioners would have to gather at least 132 valid signatures in that district to force a recall.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.