Why in the Heck is the City Council Considering Repealing the Fracking Ban?

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I voted to adopt the frack ban back on July 15 when the citizens first brought it to the council. I voted for the ban in the voting booth in November. I continue to think that major petrochemical extraction operations are incompatible with neighborhoods and urban environments. I maintain that the successful, sustainable city of the future will be one that rids itself of such things. I believe that Denton is a more desirable, livable, and economically sound city as a result of the citizens voting in the fracking ban.

And I want to continue to fight against an arrogant, destructive industry and their paid-for Texas Legislators who have displayed their disdain for democracy and demonstrated their continued inability to solve the problems that put Denton in this situation in the first place.

Many of us want to continue the fight. The question for Denton at this moment is this: what is the smartest way to fight?

It is for this reason that the council has placed an item on this coming Tuesday’s agenda to discuss whether or not to repeal the frack ban ordinance.

Back in July, the Mayor predicted that this issue was going to be resolved one way or another by the Statehouse or the Courthouse. Immediately after the successful vote to ban fracking in Denton, we were hit on both fronts. Though two lawsuits were filed immediately against the frack ban ordinance, the Texas Legislature was the first to act and did so with the passing of HB40.  The existence of that legislation is now a major assist for our opponents in the still-pending litigation against Denton on the issue of the legality of our frack ban.

No one seems to be taking the stand that our frack ban is legally enforceable in light of HB 40. Likewise, no one seems to think that we have any chance of winning the pending legal action against the city, especially in light of HB40. While there might be legitimate legal grounds to challenge HB40, the current lawsuit we are in is not the best place to do it. It could very well happen elsewhere and there are growing rumors that it might.

Our current lawsuits will end in one of a few ways:

1) we agree to some sort of consent agreement – unlikely given what they might want to tack on to this or ask us to agree to as part of it

2) we let this play out and the judge issues a summary judgment – this now becomes legal precedent and will likely include a judge officially declaring HB40 constitutional with such and such legal precedence being set

3) we move to moot the lawsuits by repealing the ban – no judicial judgment on HB40 one way or another

We must think about all this in light of our long-term goals. HB40 took away much more than our frack ban. It seems to take away our ability to enforce things like our 2013 ordinance, our 2010 ordinance, or anything that some operator finds “commercially unreasonable” on any point.

The long-term fight against HB40, it seems to me, will be strengthened to the extent that we don’t allow a judge to issue a favorable ruling now on HB40. Such a ruling would have consequences not only for us, but for many other cities who have an interest in getting in a legal tangle to defend their particular ordinances in light of HB40. Such a ruling would have consequences for any city wanting to challenge HB40 head on.

Right now all we have is a very over-reactive legislature and their bad legislation. It seems clear that the industry also wants to use the two lawsuits against us as a way to put a early judicial stamp of approval on HB 40 to use in any future lawsuit that might seek to challenge it.

Repealing the ban ordinance pulls the carpet out from under the industry and doesn’t give them the pleasure of getting an early legal assist on this issue. They want us to fight this all the way in court. It gives them what they want. I don’t want to keep giving the industry what they want. I want to continue to fight, but do so in a way that best prepares us for the strategic battles ahead.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this, both now and on Tuesday night. Feel free to contact me at kevin.roden@cityofdenton.com or 940-206-5239.


Big Ideas for Denton – Recap of Bloomberg Grant Pitches

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Denton is deserving of big ideas. And we have an innovative, creative, and ambitious citizenry full of them.  You might recall last year’s Ideas for the City forum we held at Rubber Gloves, where anyone could pitch their big idea for Denton. Out of that came the idea to change Denton’s liquor laws, create a Music Mentoring program, and many other ideas that have already been accomplished or are currently being brought into reality.

pitch nightLast night we saw the culmination of two weeks of citizen input and idea generation in response to the recent Bloomberg Philanthropies What Works Cities grant announcement.  ListenDenton.com was created by citizens to gather input on city problems that could be addressed by bringing open data and tech to the table. We went to schools and many place in the community and heard 111 ideas of how to make our city better.

Below you can see the 7 ideas that were pitched to a panel made up of the Mayor, the City Manager, one of the Assistant City Managers, the Director of Economic Development, the head of Keep Denton Beautiful, and other senior level city staff members.

Click here to see the slides from the pitch presentations.

How can citizens better understand how their tax dollars or bond money is being spent along with a moving timeline of key projects in the city?

How can we make it easier for citizens to know about and donate money or services to local charities?

As the city embarks on an ambitious tree give-away initiative, what sort of tech tools and data tracking would help the city and citizens understand where the trees are going, how they are doing, and better assess long-term impact on our city’s tree canopy?

How can we bring smart data and tech to the table to help with this very practical issue, particularly in our downtown area?

How can we create a better, more user-friendly way to notify and inform citizens of pending rezoning and development projects in their neighborhood or around town?

Everyone has an idea of how a place in their neighborhood or around town that could look better – this team will ask how we can use technology to help citizens bring these areas to light and display their ideas to the entire city.

How can we bring data to the table to help make smarter and more strategic decisions on funding and collaborative projects addressing Denton’s biggest social needs?

City Council Preview – May 5, 2015

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Today’s Denton City Council meeting begins with a 1pm Work Session followed by a 6:30pm Regular Session. Go here to find the entire agenda with backup information. Here are some items of interest…

Bassett-Family-2You might recall an idea I floated a couple months back to take a significant portion of the $2 million (and growing) tree fund and use it to scale our tree give-away efforts. This came after a presentation in which we learned that funding a tree on city property (something that is good as well) costs around $1000 a tree. Compare that with a tree give-away tree at $10 with all the costs of irrigation, maintenance, and care passed off to the adoptive citizen. If our goal is to get more trees in our city and increase our canopy, let’s get ambitious.

The head of Keep Denton Beautiful has since been developing a plan to do just that. We’ll be hearing more about the options to give more trees to our citizens during our work session, but you can check out the presentation right here.

Although we won’t be formally approving the 2015-2016 budget until October, with a general fund budget of nearly $100 million and a total city budget nearing $1 billion, it is best to get started early. The Council Committee on Citizen Engagement, a committee I Chair, has worked over the last couple of years to encourage a more user-friendly budget process in order to make sure those who wanted to learn more about it and get involved could do so.

As such, there is now a dedicated website where you can track the process and also submit your own budget recommendations. Here’s this year’s budget intro video. Let me know what are your budget priorities for next year? Where would you like to see budget dollars prioritized?


Another wave of applications for Denton Historic Landmark houses has made its way through the process and we will be considering three great properties for this prestigious designation.

1109 West Congress
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923 West Oak
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1011 West Oak
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As always, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below or contact me at kevin.roden@cityofdenton.com or 940-206-5239.



The Stakes are High for this Denton City Council Election – Why you should vote

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Today is the start of early voting for this year’s Denton City Council elections. Go here to find out where and when you can vote.

The Denton you love doesn’t just happen by accident. It’s the result of a beautiful mix of hardworking businesses, ambitious citizens, the constant stream of smart, fresh ideas coming from our two universities, and long-range planning and policy-making. The Denton you love is fragile and needs to be continually cultivated and fought for.

My opponent, Robert Doyle Cain, receives support from those who think fracking in neighborhoods is the right thing to do. Now that group of people and others in our community have teamed up to create a new entity whose purpose is to endorse specific candidates for this year’s city council race – Keep Denton Gritty.

As is often the case when you lack a positive vision for the city, you cobble together an assorted list of random criticisms and present it to the voters as your platform. This Gritty team has now published their manifesto in which they lay out their “vision” for Denton and endorse their picks for this council election.  You can see that letter here.  And not only has my opponent not distanced himself from these views, he has actually proudly posted it on his facebook wall:

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So in addition to their support of fracking in neighborhoods, what do they mean by “keeping Denton gritty”? According to their manifesto, it is as follows:


My opponent has already endorsed this vision. And he has for a long time. In 2006, when many of us were activated to get involved in local politics because of the threat to historic Fry Street, Doyle Cain penned this letter to the Denton Record Chronicle offering “to drive the first bulldozer.”



And on several occasions during candidates forums these last few weeks he has compared the Fry Street of old with the Downtown of today.

Let me repeat: The Denton you love is fragile and it needs to be continually cultivated and fought for.  You love Denton? Then vote for her.

The Devolution of Democracy and the Future of Denton

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It’s been quite the exciting week on the campaign trail for reelection. One day I was accused of creating a downtown “skid row” by bringing in all the bars, saloons, and honkey tonks. The very next day, in the wake of the city council’s decision to expand our smoking ordinance to cover stand-alone bars, I was accused of trying to shut down all those bars, saloons, and honkey tonks. I’ve been depicted as a rat by those who hate bars and, just tonight, likened to Hitler by those who love smoking bars.

The beauty and messiness of local democracy.


I’ve long made the case it is precisely in a city where democracy is birthed, learned, and practiced. It is in the context of a city where my self-interest is immediately met with my neighbor’s self-interest. Democracy, when working, tempers my passions and moderates my views to the extent that I have a higher goal: living peacefully with my neighbor. Democracy, when working, is quite humanizing and civilizing.

But today, we have a generation of people whose only rearing in democracy came with an eye to national politics and on a steady diet of cable news, radio talk shows, outrageous websites, and the increasing reality of only listening and befriending those with whom we already agree.  We are beginning to understand Plato’s concern that democracy could quickly devolve into tyranny.  Instead of the democratic spirit of “how can we work this out together,” the political honors of the day go to the one who stands on his ideological principal without wavering and without compromise. “It’s my way or else!”

One of my goals for my time in office has been to be a part of a national renaissance in democracy by helping turn the hearts of this generation back to the city. I continue to believe that we can begin to restore the broken democracy of our nation to the extent that we can restore it right here in Denton.

To that end, it has been a mark of my brief council career to make local democracy sexy again. To show our citizens that our city is a platform upon which they create. That they can have meaningful impact on the future of Denton. That they can move from becoming culture consumers to cultural creators.

And there are times as a city that we must confront big issues and significant questions. This week’s council discussion and vote on the smoking ordinance is a great example – it is polarizing, it involves fundamental political philosophical questions, and both sides feel passionately that they are on the side of justice. This week was a culmination of a community discussion that began over two years ago when the council first took up the issue. In keeping with my values of the power and possibility of democracy, when the dialogue started to turn south, I reached out to my biggest critics on this issue and invited them into my home for beers and open dialogue.

Anyone following the council discussion during the last two meetings knows that I worked hard to forge a compromise – hoping to both move us closer to a comprehensive smoking ordinance and find some opening for consensus on a very polarizing issue. At the end of the day, I work together with 6 other intelligent, hard working, lovers of Denton on the City Council. Through changes and suggestions and hours of discussion, we found a way to get 5 of us to agree.

And though some of us disagreed – and at times, quite passionately – I’d go out for beers with any of them and talk about their kids, their career, their ideas, and find ways to work with them on making Denton a better city. That is democracy at its best.

I get it that people can get exceedingly frustrated with a view of mine or a vote I make. I totally respect that such things make them want to find someone else to fill my council seat. I get it that there a bar owners that want to throw concerts to “Rock Against Roden” and genuinely appreciate that there’s a local government issue sexy enough to bring more people into the process (even if it is to vote me out). I even get it that those frustrations and passions tempt you to devolve into the very sort of rhetoric that we despise coming out of DC and that you start throwing around references to Hitler.

But before you do, think about how we can make our city better if we refrain.

And for my friends who may be tempted to boycott certain bars or the like – don’t. That doesn’t help either. We need more interactions with people with whom we disagree, not less.

Think about how Denton can actually be on the cutting edge of democratic discourse if we tried to subvert the status quo and disrupt the devolution of democracy we are experiencing.  My friends, we could change the world. That’s what Denton does.


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