FLOWER MOUND — Republican candidates running for Precinct 4 commissioner focused their comments on Denton County's growing population during a forum Wednesday at the Southwest Courthouse in Flower Mound.
Precinct 4 includes the majority of Denton, Argyle, Flower Mound, Justin, Ponder and Trophy Club. About 60 people attended the forum to hear Brenda Latham, Itamar Gelbman, Jim Carter and Dianne Edmondson share their views on six wide-reaching topics, including economic development and future budgetary concerns.
Texas Strong Republican Women, a nonprofit that supports local GOP nominees, hosted the event, which also included a forum for Republican Party chair candidates Jayne Howell and John Dillard. Jill Tate, president of the organization, served as moderator.
The Precinct 4 seat is currently held by Commissioner Andy Eads, who announced he will step aside to run for county judge.
The winner of the March 6 Republican primary will take on Democratic candidate Bryan C. Webb in November. Webb has served on the Flower Mound Town Council since 2012.
All the candidates in the Precinct 4 race have backgrounds in public office, and the GOP candidates touted that experience Wednesday when discussing the inevitability of growth.
"Growth is going to happen, and the majority of it is going to be in Precinct 4," said Latham, a 48-year-old Bartonville resident and former Lewisville school board member.
Denton County's population grew 21 percent in the past seven years, from about 662,000 people in 2010 to 806,000 in 2017, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The county's population is expected to reach 1 million in the next decade or so.
Latham said she spent three years preparing to run for Precinct 4 by talking to county residents and driving the roads. When asked how she would bring more overall development to Denton County, she emphasized accessibility.
"The major infrastructure roads are at or near completion with a few others supposed to start," she said. "So now, it's time to focus on the interior county roads."
In addition to population growth, economic growth was a running theme throughout the forum. Gelbman, a 35-year-old political firebrand who served two years on the Flower Mound Town Council, said considering tax breaks to larger companies should be done on a case-by-case basis.
He said they can be a double-edged sword for taxpayers.
"On the one hand, you actually want companies here," Gelbman said. "And on the other side, now you start choosing winners and losers."
The candidates didn't directly address each other during the hourlong discussion and kept their comments concise. Aside from Latham and Gelbman, the two other GOP candidates may be familiar to Denton County voters.
Carter, 86, of Flower Mound seeks to reclaim the seat he held from 1999 through 2006. Carter lost the Precinct 4 seat to Eads in a runoff in 2006.
Edmondson, 76, of Denton is eyeing her first government office after decades of service to the GOP, including serving as chairwoman of the Denton County Republican Party from 2002 to 2015.
Both addressed budget management at the forum.
"I've been involved in budget control since I've been working, and I've been working since I was 7 years old," said Carter, who served as the first mayor of Trophy Club for 14 years. "I've had responsibility for over 3,000 employees and been involved in the budget at a county, city and corporate level."
Edmondson said the Republican Party stuck with the same budget for 14 years. She also said she was able to help take her and her husband's business through an economic downturn.
Despite her previous experience with tight budgets, she said it's important to leave the door open for spending when it's necessary.
"Let's face it, good government isn't about spending as little money as possible," she said. "We just have to be careful in what we do."
JULIAN GILL can be reached at 940-566-6882.
FEATURED PHOTO: From left, Denton County's Republican candidates for Precinct 4 are Brenda Latham of Bartonville, Itamar Gelbman of Flower Mound, Jim Carter of Flower Mound and Dianne Edmondson of Denton, appear at a candidate forum Wednesday night at the Southwest Courthouse in Flower Mound. The event was hosted by Texas Strong Republican Women.