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Denton Record Chronicle

Three hopefuls vie to represent Denton's west side

The race to represent Denton's west side neighborhoods on City Council got crowded this spring. 

Retired businessman Paul Meltzer started his run for District 3 last fall, when some political insiders expected District 3 council member Kathleen Wazny to run for a second term. After rumors began to swirl that Wazny wouldn't run, Robson Ranch real estate agent Don Duff threw in his outback safari hat. Then, two days before the filing deadline in late February, Denton County native son Jason Cole submitted his name for the ballot.

The election is May 6. Early voting begins April 24. Thursday is the last day to register to vote in the election. More information on the election, including district boundaries, is on the city website.

The Denton City Charter requires a candidate to receive the majority of the vote to win the seat outright. If no candidate reaches that mark, the top two vote-getters head to a runoff election on June 10. 

The Denton Record-Chronicle collected the candidates' voting histories and personal financial statements. City of Denton candidates, as well as elected and some appointed officials, are required by law to file a personal financial statement each year to disclose their property holdings, stocks and bonds, outside business interests or employment, and gifts given to them during their public service. The statements help the public evaluate a city leader's outside financial interests. 

The Record-Chronicle also sat down with the candidates this week to ask them about important issues for Denton's west side and the city at large. Their answers are below, edited for clarity and brevity. 

Jason Cole

Age: 49

Jason Cole, Denton City Council candidate for District 3Courtesy Photo
Jason Cole, Denton City Council candidate for District 3
Courtesy Photo

Born in: Denton

Education: Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences, University of North Texas, 1993

Employment: sales, marketing and contracts for pharmaceutical company, 1994-2006; small business owner, 2006-12; investor, Fuzzy’s Tacos, 2014-present; investment partner, Bronco Capital LLC, 2017-present

Campaign website: coleforcouncil.com

The charter review committee will likely recommend a requirement that the city adopt an ethics ordinance and elements that ordinance should contain. What elements do you see as critical to the new ethics ordinance?

I look forward to seeing what they come out with in the end. That’s going to be important. I think they need to be measurable, by law. It’s amazing to me that we don’t have one. Governance is best when the lights are on. I understand that there are times in executive session. That’s lawyering. I’ve been in corporate America. I know that when the doors get shut, that’s because of the lawyers. 

There needs to be — and I believe the new city manager is wanting to do this — getting back to the people. There’s got to be more communication between the constituents and council. It’s like nobody’s available. I’m the opposite. I’m going to give everybody my number. All the businesses in District 3, I’m going to tell them, when code enforcement shows up, call me. I will come and I will follow them around. That’s one of the reasons that really lit a fire under me [to run]. 

I look forward to their [the charter committee’s] recommendations and supporting them because it’s long overdue. The people need confidence in the system, and the main way to get it is communication and operating openly and ethically.

What are the top two issues facing District 3?

Much of the growth that’s about to happen is going to District 3. The challenge is keeping neighborhood integrity. We’re a city that’s in a forest. I want to keep that. I would like to shepherd the growth toward the Interstate 35W corridor, where a lot of it’s going to be. I think we need to leave Denton proper as pure as we can, and grow in a thoughtful, responsible way. 

The thing is, growth is coming. We can either get out in front of it, or do the Denton thing and get drawn in, kicking and screaming, and be reactive and do all of our stuff at once. By 2050, there’s going to be 3 million people in Denton County, which means there’s going to be 500,000 or 600,000 people here. I don’t want to see Denton proper affected by that. 

I also don’t think that the way to protect it is to make historical districts. It’s hard enough dealing with the city of Denton when you want to landscape or remodel your home. Get designated historical and it’s almost impossible. I know the people in the arts district can afford that. But people on Scripture, Egan and Panhandle streets, they cannot.

I was happy to see the zoning denied for the big [apartment building by the University of North Texas].  Fry Street is a big issue for me. It’s sad to see everything go down to Industrial Street and the Square. Fry Street was our music soul. There needs to be street work, curb work, just a total revitalization [of Fry Street].

One of the most important things is to do away with parking requirements. It’s walk-up traffic. Downtown has parking relief for businesses, why shouldn’t Fry Street? We looked at putting a business in there and couldn’t because of parking. I don’t want us to lose a business because of parking. It’s not worth it.

Why are you the best person to serve District 3 over your opponents?

I have an iron in every fire of Denton. I was born and raised here. I raised a family here. I had small businesses here. I have a family history here — of giving back and participating. I have experience negotiating big contracts, and that is really important. I was able to bring different camps together. That was my specialty, that was why they put me on these committees. I could bring the “no's” of both sides together. I have that kind of personality. I think that is so important. 

I think I have a good sound philosophy of growth and how I want to see the growth, versus other people. I have a connection to every neighborhood; Denton is part of me.

Don Duff

Age: 78

Don Duff, Denton City Council candidate for District 3 Courtesy photo
Don Duff, Denton City Council candidate for District 3 
Courtesy photo

Born in: Hillsboro

Education: Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering, University of Texas at Arlington, 1962

Employment: U.S. Army, 1962-64; electronic design engineer, 1964-89; realty office owner, 1987-90; landlord, 1990-2008; resident realtor at Robson Ranch since 2009, including owner of Five R Realty, 2012-present

Campaign website: none

The charter review committee will likely recommend a requirement that the city adopt an ethics ordinance and elements that ordinance should contain. What elements do you see as critical to the new ethics ordinance?

I've already spoken to them [the charter review committee.] The ethics ordinance is the main thing that they are working on. I strongly recommended to them that they get that together and get it to the City Council. The City Council needs to get it passed and either get it on the ballot or pass it themselves. 

The other thing I told them, and it was not a threat, if they don't do it, there will be a [initiative] petition. I will get the petition done and I will get it put on the ballot. It's not a threat. It's an absolute promise. There's a difference. 

The other thing is they had something about changing to six [individual] districts for City Council. They were talking about it, but it looks like something they aren't going to do. I don't think people will vote for it. I know people out here [at Robson Ranch] won't go for it. It would go down to only being able to vote for two people. Right now, we can vote for four. People are not going to go for that. 

I think there was something about paying the City Council and I could care less about that. 

What are the top two issues facing District 3?

I think the streets are a big part. It has nothing to do with Robson Ranch, and that's fine. But the rest of the district has problems with the streets. They have the money appropriated for that and they are really behind on getting it done. The new city manager is on top of that, and I believe one of the former assistant city managers has been put in charge of that. 

Part of the problem there is that they can't just go in — they need to fix the ones they can fix. But if they get deteriorated to the point that they really can't fix them, rip them out and go into the infrastructure underneath, the water pipes and all that — that's one of the big things. 

For the entire city, it's the planning. It's kind of using a shotgun approach. I think the city code hasn't been updated in 30 years or something like that. I know that they are working on it. I've met the lady that's involved in that. I get really good reviews. 

You know, I listen to Kathleen [Wazny]. Kathleen is my mentor and adviser. She's moving to Austin and I have her phone number. So, any time I can call her and ask her and get very good information about what's going on. I don't think anybody knows more about what's going on up there than she does. I'm going in there with a huge advantage having her behind me. 

Why are you the best person to serve District 3 over your opponents?

I've thought about that a little bit. I asked Tricia Douglas if she knew why I asked her to be my campaign treasurer. I said, "Because you get things done." I got to thinking about that, and that pretty well describes Kathleen. I'm pretty much the same way. Kathleen and I are pretty much on the same page. I started a company with $60,000 and produced thousands and thousands of computer cartridges. Pulling that off, in a high volume, it was a challenge. I got it done. 

I'm building houses in Harlingen. We've got one that's almost finished. I've got a home builder, but I furnish the money. I own part of a subdivision there with my family. We own the lots. It's a little sideline business. We got killed in 2008 [economic downturn]. Everybody did, but it's just now coming back. 

Of course, I started the [resale] real estate business out here [at Robson]. I have four really good real estate agents. The last four years I've been involved in about one of every three houses that sold at Robson. We're doing more than that right now, we've bought half of every home sold this year. 

Paul Meltzer

Age: 56

Paul Meltzer, Denton City Council candidate for District 3Courtesy photo
Paul Meltzer, Denton City Council candidate for District 3
Courtesy photo

Born in: Liberty, New York

Education: Bachelor of Arts in philosophy, Wesleyan University, 1982; Master of Business Administration, Dartmouth College, 1989

Experience: packaged goods marketing management, 1989-97; cable/broadband product management and development executive, 1997-2000; cable and broadband vice president/senior vice president, 2000-12; retired from Time Warner Cable, 2012; part-time actor, 2012-present; president of 1 XFER OK Productions, a documentary film company.

Campaign website: allinforpaul.com

The charter review committee will likely recommend a requirement that the city adopt an ethics ordinance and elements that ordinance should contain. What elements do you see as critical to the new ethics ordinance?

I don’t think it is as complicated as people make it out to be. You’re basically looking for avoidance of conflict of interest and the appearance of a conflict of interest. It needs to apply to both the council and staff. Conflict of interest is a matter of you and your family and your close associates potentially profiting from your actions on behalf of all the people. 

The thing I would hasten to add is that, fortunately, in this case, I have no ties to any kind of business that’s going to come before council, no ties to commercial real estate, or oil and gas, or any other special interests. I’ll be able to represent the interests of District 3 and of Denton citizens in general and not of anybody looking to profit from the business they bring before council. 

Frankly, I don’t see the merit in the whole delaying tactic of having to go through a charter change before having an ethics ordinance. I say we should do it now.

What are the top two issues facing District 3?

One of them is preserving neighborhoods. So far, I seem to be the only candidate who’s bringing creative ideas forward to address the development pressure coming from the University of North Texas that sometimes seems to be at odds with that goal. 

I do see the need for denser infill close to campus. We have a perfect opportunity to unleash tremendous economic opportunity by removing the zoning strictures west of campus, in "Cement City." That area could be developed into a vibrant urban neighborhood with first-floor retail, appropriate green space and parking. 

The area north of UNT, now designated university-compatible, I suggest should be redesignated as historic-district compatible. Any infill would need to conform in scale and architectural style with the surrounding area, helping to preserve and enhance traditional neighborhoods.

The second issue affects District 3, but isn’t limited to District 3 — that’s the air we breathe. I’m the only candidate so far who has recognized the significance in having the lowest-rated air quality and offered constructive solutions. 

I’m for matching the most stringent ordinances in the state that have not been challenged by House Bill 40: Flower Mound has 50 percent greater setbacks [the buffer zone around gas well sites] than Denton. Secondly, our gas well inspector staffing has dwindled from four to one. 

I’m for coming back halfway, to two, and properly equipping them so that the 500 gas wells within Denton and the extraterritorial jurisdictions can be monitored. 

Thirdly, I’m for a crackdown on automobile inspection sticker fraud. 

And lastly, I am committed to challenging our staff of nine lawyers to find the best way out of that incredibly costly gas plant plan. It [Denton's planned natural gas-fired power plant] puts a great source of emissions in exactly the worst city in Texas to have it. I will share the results of that evaluation with the community. We can see if there’s a will to bear some cost to mitigate what could be a 20-year mistake.

Why are you the best person to serve District 3 over your opponents?

In an environment where we have a tax freeze on the ballot, and Austin is looking to restrict municipalities’ ability to cover their expenses with property taxes, we should reasonably expect tighter budgets ahead. I’m an MBA with a 30-year track record of corporate leadership. I’ve had to manage budgets comparable in scale, with comparable numbers of employee, and have learned to innovatively do more with less. 

My area, in product development, called for me to be a consensus builder. That's essential to making anything happen on council. My passion for service is amply evidenced by my volunteer experiences, serving on the board of Thin Line Festival, and volunteering for the Historic Landmark Commission, Salvation Army, American Red Cross, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, United Way BankOn instructor and financial coach and teaching English as a second language in Communities in Schools and at UNT Emeritus College.

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