Big Ideas for Denton – Council Candidate Forum – March 20

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Denton is a city of ambitious citizens who are daily creating their city. Our leaders should reflect this.

On Monday, March 20 7pm at Stoke, you’ll have the chance to actually participate in a forum that puts big ideas for our city at the center of the evening. The event begins with you. Any Denton citizen can sign up to give a 60 second pitch of their big idea for our city. Here’s your chance to get in front of the next generation of Denton leaders and help shape their vision for the city.

Then each candidate will have 5 minutes and 5 slides to pitch their big idea for Denton. No parameters, no prompts, just whatever they want to bring to the table.

Following their pitches, each candidate will participate in a lightning round of prompts for their big ideas on a variety of Denton-centric topic.

The evening will conclude with a mixer, designed to get us reflecting and responding to the ideas of the evening.

Beer and wine will be on hand to get us all thinking. This forum is being co-sponsored by Denton’s TechMill. Check out our Facebook event page here.

Want to participate and pitch your big idea for 60 seconds at the beginning of the forum? Sign up here:

Stoke: Preparing Denton for the 21st Century Economy

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stoke On the council’s agenda today is a discussion on the state of Stoke, a co-working space and high tech incubator that just launched this summer. I’m excited to have this important conversation.

The idea for a coworking space in Denton came about after several years of community discussions, collaborative partnerships with community tech leaders, entrepreneurs, and our two universities. What I realized early in my tenure on council was that Denton had all the ingredients to make our community a hot bed for tech-related entrepreneurial activity. We have here one of the most vibrant, hip, tolerant, and creative cities in the nation – the kind of city that young professionals and families are seeking. Yet we don’t yet have a local economy built to employ them. Our best and brightest are leaving for cities with greater opportunities. And as I noted in 2013, while many outsiders see this potential in Denton, our city and business leaders have yet to develop a cohesive, coherent roadmap to bring our local economy into the 21st century.

Stoke can and should play a role in that – but only if it is a part of a broader plan to highlight, foster, and accelerate entrepreneurial, startup, and tech-related economic development. Stoke, if done right, can be the center of gravity for this.

Just think about it geographically: walkable and equidistant from two major universities, at the northern terminus of the largest public train system in the country connecting us to the DFW region, in the middle of the most promising music scene in the nation, and on the doorstep of our most culturally diverse neighborhoods – Southeast Denton, it has the potential to not only help revitalize our local economy, but also a new area of town. Think Innovation District here.

What follows is a roadmap for how we can get things moving in the right direction. I put together a similar list of proposals here back in 2013, which incidentally had the development of a coworking space as one of its priorities, but let’s update that a bit:

Gathering all the Players
Citizens came up with this idea in the first place. Our city is full of talented, ambitious people with varied experience ready to help Denton achieve its goals of becoming a tech-centered startup hub. And that crowd has grown since we started talking about it. There is no shortage of local experts who we should sit down with to help us map out goals and metrics for both Stoke and our city’s tech economic development goals.

Let’s host a “State of Denton Tech” gathering with an aim of connecting the dots, brainstorming, and developing long and short term goals. Tech Mill should be there. Local startup founders should be there. Big and small existing tech business leaders should be there. Let’s do that this Spring.

Last year’s Leadership Denton team recommended the creation of a Denton Tech Council to help guide economic development efforts in this arena. Let’s get that going and playing a part in this.

Every city serious about fostering its tech and startup scene finds robust paths of participation for its university partners. We need TWU and UNT at the table and participating in a big way.

Gather all the Metrics
Thinking like a startup thinks, Stoke should start measuring everything – even if it doesn’t yet know whether those metrics will be useful. As a community that is a very young player in this game, we need to learn from the data, make assessments often, and iterate accordingly:

Rethink the Leasing Policy
Stoke should be a place for people at every stage of tech business and startup development: from someone with a crazy idea to a consolidated team starting to develop their concept to a coder looking for a desk for her freelance work.

The open co-working space should be open to all regardless of their type of work and at a price point that is inclusive. This is precisely where you need a collision of ideas, personalities, and expertise. Programmers need designers. New ideas need legal advice. A teacher with a new idea to transform education needs to find a kindred spirit with tech abilities. A high school or college student might just want to hang with the “cool kids” in order to find a break or learn something new. Lower the price point until the place packs out. Build momentum and let the cost of desks adjust accordingly. I want a kid from South East Denton with a dream to be able to afford to hang out there. I want the immigrant single mom from the adjacent neighborhood with a business idea to afford it. Make this an easy entry point and let the magic happen.

The office space is where we can get very strategic. This shouldn’t be a place for businesses or offices that could very well exist anywhere else in the city. These should be reserved for early stage startups that are putting their nose to the grind. They need to be in a place of innovation with easy access to people, ideas, resources, and caffeine. If it’s done right, the office spaces should see a high turnover. Either the idea failed or it grew itself out of that space. Leases should be created that allow easy entry to early stage concepts that demonstrate promise and potential.

Program the Hell out of the Place
A key to Stoke’s value to the community is as a platform for ideas, creativity, and innovation, spanning many passions and industries. The best ideas for business, culture, the arts, the city, and our nation should find their genesis there. Like an iPhone is to the independent community of app developers, Stoke should develop a path for anyone with a great idea to try their hand at programming. Many will fail, but some will be the Twitter of our city. Find out what works, what is needed, what is helpful, and start curating programming in that direction.

This is also where Stoke can create a gateway for anyone in the city. Who do we want at the table? Let’s give them a night and a platform. Involve Denton ISD, our universities, the Chamber of Commerce, our business leaders, our artistic community – shoulder tap when necessary.

Put it in Context
Stoke is the result of a much larger conversation about how we prepare our city to be a player in the 21st century economy. As such, its goals and metrics don’t stand alone. The city, in partnership with the players I mentioned above, the Economic Development Partnership Board, and the Chamber of Commerce should update our economic development strategies to include high tech and developing a startup culture as a part of our mix.

We have a tendency to focus primarily on the economic indicators of property and sales tax and measure our success accordingly. These two comprise the bulk of the revenue into the corporate entity that is the city. As such, “economic development” becomes synonymous with the growth of the city’s revenue stream. While necessary, they are not sufficient for a healthy local economy and tend to distract from other economic realities affecting our citizens. For example, much cheerleading surrounds our quick recovery from the recent national recession, as seen by these two indicators. Meanwhile, our median household income is a mere $42,000, an estimated 40-50% of our city’s kids attending Denton ISD are on free and reduced lunch, and our best and brightest are forced to take low-skilled jobs in town, commute South, or leave our city altogether in order to find substantial employment opportunities.

We can and must do better. Stoke is a step in the right direction.

Diversifying Downtown Denton

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There are many reasons to love the Denton Black Film Festival and appreciate how this event brings value to our community. But I’d like to point to just one that is noticeable to anyone hanging out around downtown the last few days: this festival has brought a notable and welcome change to the demographic make-up of downtown.

Let’s be honest. While Denton is incredibly diverse, our downtown is, by and large, pretty white and middle class. What we boast as our city’s “crown jewel” ought to reflect the community at-large. This is all the more crucial when we recognize that some of our highest concentrations of Hispanic and African-American citizens reside in walking distance to downtown in Southeast Denton.

I’m not writing this post to make anyone feel guilty or to place blame on anyone for this situation. But in a day where bringing our community together and finding ways to make all our neighbors feel valued and welcomed in our city has never been more important, pointing out a wonderful example of a downtown event that is doing it right seems instructive.

What else can we be doing to intentionally create events or build into existing events that serve as bridge makers in our community the way the Denton Black Film Festival has? How might we intentionally draw on various sectors of our community when choosing acts for Twilight Tunes or other downtown events and festivals? And even better, what can we do to continue to make downtown an attractive place for all families even when specific festivals and events aren’t taking place?

I don’t have all the answers, but I love seeing the beautiful results of efforts this weekend. It seems a worthy cause for our community to struggle with moving forward.

That Time I Spent a Week with Rex Tillerson

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Key Speakers At Ceraweek 2012

This is a post from Emily Roden, the smarter and more attractive Roden, about her brief few days with Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State…

Nine years ago, I showed up to the Denton County Courthouse for jury duty and got myself picked for the job. A young girl had accused her mom’s boyfriend of sexual assault and the case was being brought to trial. If you’ve ever served on a jury trial before, you understand the almost immediate, yet very temporary bond that ties 12 strangers together who are randomly chosen from each of their private lives in order to fulfill a very solemn public purpose.

One of our first tasks was to choose our jury foreman. Perhaps it was his business suit, his impressive stature, or his charisma, but almost everyone in that jury room suggested that this middle-aged man with greying hair was likely the most fit for the task.

“Thanks, but I decline. I’m not interested in the spot light,” he told us. I didn’t think anything of it.

I had just bought my first BlackBerry and used my breaks to catch up on all the emails I was missing from my week at the courthouse. I recall leaving the jury room on a break with this man and remarking how busy I was and how much work I had to do. He smiled as he sat and read the paper.

From the first day of jury selection, we all noticed another suited man always present in the courtroom. His presence was intriguing due to the ear piece in his ear. While grabbing lunch at Denton County Independent Hamburger on the square the 2nd day of the trial, we noticed this mysterious man dining with our fellow juror who declined the foreman spot. The intrigue grew and it was the talk of the jury – who were these men?

Finally, during a break in the jury room, one juror had the nerve to ask; “Who are you? And what do you do?”

Our fellow jury member was reading the paper again and pointed out an article with Exxon in the headlines.

“I work for them,” he said humbly. “There are a lot of people in this world who hate me for what I do, so they give me and my family guys like that to protect me.”

I immediately felt embarrassed for complaining to him the other day about how much work I had to do. It didn’t take long before a few internet searches revealed that I was serving on this jury with the CEO of Exxon Mobile, Rex Tillerson.

The trial concluded and it was time for the jury to deliberate. The story was heartbreaking and the facts of the case were clear enough to make the majority of the jury convinced of the guilt of this sexual offender of a little girl. But the defense did a good enough job to create a couple of hold-outs. As our deliberations came to a close, it appeared we might have a hung jury.

That’s when Mr. Tillerson began to speak. Humbly, delicately, and without an ounce of condescension toward those who disagreed, he began walking us all through the details of the case. I even recall being moved by his thorough explanation about the nature of doubt and the standards set forth by our justice system. With great patience, this man who strikes multi-billion dollar deals with foreign heads of state brought our scrappy jury together to bring a sexual predator to justice and to deliver justice for a scared and deeply wounded little girl.

A local nonprofit was instrumental in fostering that young girl through this process, providing her counseling and legal help. I was so struck by their mission that I toured their facility the week following the case in order to learn how I could donate and volunteer to their cause.

On a whim, I decided to reach out to Mr. Tillerson to encourage him to do the same. I found an email for him online and sent him a note, touting the role this agency played in our trial and urging him to consider supporting the great work that they do. To my surprise, I received an email back thanking me for my note, my jury service, and ensuring me that he would contact the agency. I later received a call from the director of that nonprofit to let me know that Mr. Tillerson followed-through and gave a generous donation.

I didn’t vote for Trump. This is not an endorsement of Mr. Tillerson for Secretary of State. I’m sure that the coming days and weeks will be filled with speculation and political discussion over this clearly controversial pick for Secretary of State. I certainly appreciate those concerns and the process that ensures significant scrutiny for this important position.

But during a news show tonight, I heard the term “corrupt” applied to this man who I spent five days with back in 2007.

All I know is that this man holds one of the most powerful positions in the world and clearly has the means and ability to side step his jury responsibilities, served as a normal citizen without complaint or pretense. I know that a scared little girl who was finally convinced to come public with her account of abuse was inches away from a decision that would have sided with her abuser, yet this man put his negotiation skills to a very noble use and justice was served. All I know is that this man and his myriad of aides could have ignored an unsolicited email from a girl in her 20s suggesting that he donate to a local cause, but he took the time to respond and opened up his pocket book.

My five days with Rex Tillerson is all I know about this man and his character. And in light of the recent news, I thought this a relevant story to tell.

The Fake Controversy of Sanctuary Cities

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I do a lecture for university government classes on the importance of local democracy. While attempting to unpack how it is we’ve gotten to a point where all of our focus, energy, and political rearing occurs on the national political stage, I point out the absolute genius of national politicians and political parties to distract and engage us with shiny, flashy objects – issues that are engineered to divide us by appealing to our deepest sense of justice.

And every election cycle we prove to them that we can’t resist it. Both political parties successfully define our opinions, set the table for us of issues we should care about, and dictate our everyday discourse with friends, families, coworkers, and neighbors around the trumped up controversies they create.

The fake controversy of “Sanctuary Cities” is a great example of this.

I moderated a candidate debate for the three Republican candidates vying to replace Myra Crownover for the TX State Representative seat for District 64 during last Spring’s primary season. During the course of that campaign, all three candidates put out mailers declaring that they would put an end to sanctuary cities in Texas. Having received angry emails from angry constituents over Denton being on some list as a sanctuary city, I looked forward to engaging them on this topic.

My question was simple: “What is a sanctuary city and is Denton one of them?”

Despite this being a major “issue” in state and federal politics and despite this being a major campaign platform for these three candidates, not one of these candidates had any idea what they were talking about on this topic. Two of the candidates admitted as such and revealed that they, in fact, had no working definition of what a sanctuary city was. Without that, they had no idea whether Denton – or any other city, for that matter – was a sanctuary city. The third candidate at least attempted a definition, albeit an absurd one: “every city in the US in now a sanctuary city now that President Obama is in office!”

Complete nonsense. This controversy was nothing more than a slogan that could fit on a bumper sticker. There were no problems, nothing demanding any real policies, just a way to piss off a bunch of voters into getting angry enough to get to the polls and vote.

And nothing has changed on this front between then and a few weeks ago. There still exists no legal definition of a sanctuary city, no formal declarations coming from cities, no agreement on what policies anyone is even pointing to that would put a city in or out of this camp – just more nonsense.

Other than the self-understanding that politicians are generally a dumb breed, I can’t for the life of me understand why some mayors and cities and going overboard making public declarations that they are Sanctuary Cities and intend to keep it that way. They are appropriating a completely made-up designation – a designation made up, to be sure, to criticize them – and proudly applying it to themselves and the cities which they represent.

This has, in turn, led to a movement of citizens (who are concerned for the plight of immigrants in their community) demanding that their city become a Sanctuary City!

I can understand why a politician or political party would want to make up a controversy, make up a name for it, apply it to their political opponents, and whip up citizens into a frenzy on the basis of all of this in order to win votes. What I can’t understand is why those who are the target of this nonsense are so willing to accept the terms of the debate without much reflection and willingly describe themselves in the very made-up slogans that were meant to criticize them and stir up fear in their community.

Fellow city leaders: try a different approach. Call out this nonsense, don’t join it. This sort of bumper sticker discourse is making us all dumber.


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