Early voting for the Denton City Council election starts today.
I love election season because it provides an opportunity for candidates and incumbents to share their vision for our city, to promote their big, bold ideas for Denton, and to ask our fellow citizens to dream what tomorrow can bring for our ambitious city.
I also love seeing a new, energized, and engaged crop of younger citizens who are interested in city issues, out of which many of this year’s council candidates have come. I love it because it is from them that the freshest and most creative ideas are most likely to emerge. I’ve loved hearing Will Wooten, as an example, repeatedly raise the issue of Denton’s digital divide and the need for a more substantial plan to attract substantial, high-paying, tech-savvy jobs so that we can retain our two universities best and brightest. I’ve appreciated Sam Ortiz’s call for criminal justice reform, greater advocacy for the homeless, and his oft-repeated plan to fill our parks and public spaces with fruit trees.
Elections, at their best, are about big ideas.
Those challenging the incumbents this year are incredibly smart and passionate people who want what is best for the city they love. This is why it has been so disheartening to hear so little vision from these otherwise promising leader’s of tomorrow. Instead of inspiring citizens with where we can head together as a city, they have chosen to sell narratives of rampant corruption, incumbents lining their pockets, out-of-control city spending, and a city so on the brink of failure that it’s in need of a savior.
That they come from a place of disenfranchisement and suspicion of government is understandable. Most of them started paying attention to city issues for the first time during the extended and heroic fight against fracking in the city of Denton. HB40 and the subsequent repeal of Denton’s frack ban by the city council no doubt angered them and drove them toward greater involvement. I totally get that. I first started paying attention and getting involved during the fight against the demolition of old Fry Street and still to this day see the burning of The Tomato as the rallying cry that launched many of my generation into greater civic engagement.
The question is, how will you channel your frustration? And, perhaps more importantly for this election discussion, as a would-be leader, how will you channel the frustration of the citizens?
One thing I’ve learned from five years in office is that it is easy in this social media saturated culture to whip others up into a frenzy. It’s easy to appeal to people’s fears, biases, prejudices, and suspicions to command attention to an issue for 12 hours. It’s easy to quickly amass and command an army of angry citizens armed with “Like” buttons and retweeting potential. How do I know this? Because, to my shame, I’ve done this myself when I’ve found it politically expedient.
But what I have also learned is that such “support” is ultimately counter-productive. Building momentum to bring lasting change never comes about through encouraging distrust, suspicion, and anger in the system.
So when newcomers to city politics focus their campaigns on the manufactured controversies of unnecessary ethics ordinances, internal auditors, and supposed out-of-control city debt, we should all be asking ourselves, “Is this really their big idea for Denton?” Are these the issues with which our citizenry is concerned?
Making people angry is easy. Inspiring them is much more difficult.
As you go to vote in this year’s city council election, think about who is continually working to move our creative and ambitious city forward. In my mind, that is a vote for Mayor Watts, Dalton Gregory in Place 5, Greg Johnson in Place 6, and supporting Joey Hawkins in his recall election. While I have had disagreements with each of them on various topics, they come to the table each week with big ideas, big goals, and big dreams for Denton. In that context, disagreements become opportunities for even better ideas and I have found each of them willing to openly debate, look for common ground, compromise when necessary, and build coalitions to keep our city moving forward.
Under their leadership, we’ve seen:
- a more livable city with greater investments in biking and pedestrian infrastructure
- focus and strategies to invest in high tech economic development, small businesses, and entrepreneurship
- continued investment and care of downtown Denton
- economic development strategies that aim to attract and retain more significant jobs as well as increase our corporate tax base
- greater focus on social issues and partnerships with other community stakeholders to tackle big problems: homelessness, at-risk youth, mentoring, mental health
- a more transparent city with the city’s first Open Data policy, open data portal, and collaboration with citizen and university partners to make our city more accessible, transparent, and open for the 21st century
- and so much more…
If Denton is a city in need of saving, I’m not sure I want to be saved.
Early voting starts today and goes through May 3. Election day is May 7. Here is more info on where and when to vote.