City Manager’s Recommendation on 3rd Party Consultant to Review Renewable Denton Plan

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farm_SMALLThe Denton City Manager, George Campbell, released a memo to the City Council today outlining his recommendation on a possible 3rd party consultant to review the Renewable Denton Plan as forwarded by DME.  The City Council is set to discuss these recommendations as part of our Work Session meeting scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

Click here to read the memo.

As you will see from this memo, the city manager recommendation is limited in scope and in line with the majority of council who recommended a narrowly tailored review of the plan within a very short timeline.

Renewable Denton is one of the most ambitious renewable energy plans in the nation and has plans to scale our renewable portfolio from 40% to 70% by 2019, reduce emissions associated with our energy portfolio by 74%, divest us from a coal power plant, and lower our overall natural gas consumption by 37%.

I look forward to hearing the results of this review and fully anticipate the consultant will recommend the Renewable Denton Plan as forwarded by DME.

NextGen Climate, the nation’s leading advocacy group calling on cities around the country to get serious about tackling climate change, is working overtime to convince our nation’s city leaders to commit to pursuing 50% renewables by 2030. That’s 15 years from now. Denton is going all the way to 70% by the end of 2019.

I look forward to moving this historic plan to a vote and acting quickly to implement the Renewable Denton Plan in Denton.

 

City Council Preview – January 5, 2016

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The Denton City Council will meet at 2pm on Tuesday to have a Work Session followed by a 6:30pm Regular Session. Go here to find the entire agenda with links to back-up material.

I am traveling on business in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio this week and will unfortunately be missing out on this meeting. But here are some items of interest on this agenda:

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT INVESTMENT and DOWNTOWN REINVESTMENT FUNDS
During this year’s budget discussions, the council reauthorized $100,000 for the Downtown Reinvestment Fund and authorized $150,000 for a new fund to serve as a cash incentive fund for new and significant economic development projects in town. Both of which are part of many tools in the city’s economic development toolkit by which we can attract, retain, and encourage business activity in Denton. During council discussions, we agreed to meet to discuss both of these issues in greater detail at a later date.

Because the new Economic Development Investment Fund is new, it needs to have a set of policies to guide both its revenue sources and its allowable expenditures. That will be part of the discussion.

Because several questions have been raised as to the continued need for the Downtown Reinvestment Fund – in its current form – the council agreed to revisit that policy. On this point, I agree that this fund (and many other efforts and initiatives) has been used on several significant projects in the downtown area that have resulted in substantial preservation and revitalization of historic buildings downtown.

But as I have pointed out on many occasions, the success of Downtown Denton is the direct result of vision, attention, and creativity over the course of several decades. Before anyone saw any promise in downtown, plans were in place to bring it back to life. In that spirit, I’ve advocated that it is in the best interest of the city to think beyond the square for other pockets of life, culture, and potential economic vitality. We are seeing inspiring signs of life near the A-Train Station, on South Locust and Elm, the Congress Street corridor, and other near-downtown locations. And there are many other places we could consider. Here are my suggestions on how to think through the future of this fund:

  • Instead of simply looking at reallocating these funds, we ought to look ahead to the next budget cycle and consider increasing our annual allotment into this fund. If it is as successful as the data seems to show, then additional investment in different parts of the greater downtown area is justified.
  • Work with local businesses and developers to identify emerging cultural areas.
  • Perhaps identify a certain percentage of the current funding and earmark it specifically for an emerging cultural district near downtown – highlight that and test the waters to see what sort of interest that brings. Re-evaluate at the end of the year.
  • In addition to allocating a percentage of these funds to a newly identified area, begin thinking through several other tools that could demonstrate city commitment and investment in this area: naming the district, mobility issues (including pedestrian and bike access), landscaping, street lighting, broadband access, public wifi, etc.

RENEWABLE DENTON DISCUSSION
Council will continue discussions on the Renewable Denton Plan that seeks to up our commitment to renewables from 40% to 70% in 5 years. Here’s a link to the presentation with an updated list of answers to questions that have been raised since our last meeting on the subject. We continue to receive great questions related to this plan and our DME team has done a great job meeting with concerned citizens and fielding their questions.

There also continues to be calls from some people to stall the project until the city spends additional dollars seeking a third party consultant, “to objectively verify whether or not DME’s recommendation is the best way forward.” In most (not all) cases, calls for a third party consultant come from the same people who have stated explicitly on several occasions that they will oppose any efforts that involve the investment in gas generation in Denton. In other words, for these folks, their interest in a third party consultant does not stem from a desire for genuine objectivity – they have a stated interest in mind: shut down the Renewable Denton Plan if it involves the investment in gas generation. That’s fine if that is your perspective. But let’s not confuse things by calling for consultants when there are already possible results from such a consultant’s report that you reject before you ever read it.

My standard for whether or not to call for a consultant is clear: if there are answers or expert perspectives that are not being provided to the council (and can not be provided) from our current staff of energy experts, then we need to invest in additional expert help. To date, however, our DME team, in dialogue with questioning council members and citizens, have consistently addressed every issue that has come up.

The city council oversees a one billion dollar budget every year. We have several significant projects in the works that involve hundreds of millions of dollars and several years of planning. If every time a high dollar, complex, long-term, and potentially controversial project comes up we have to run to consultants for a “third party, independent, expert opinion” to “verify” the path forward, then I submit we will have a very slow, dysfunctional local government that will always be too paralyzed to do anything significant.

As I’ve maintained on several occasions, the Renewable Denton Plan is one of the most ambitious and aggressive plan involving renewables pursued by cities around the world. And we are able to do so in a way that keeps our electricity reliable and our rates low. Let’s make history and do something great.

RECALL PETITION OF JOEY HAWKINS
There’s an item of today’s agenda that has the City Secretary certifying a petition to recall Councilman Hawkins. I’ve run some stats based on voting records of those who signed the petition. You can see those results, and my opinion of this effort, here.

I’ll be back in town for next week’s meeting. In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments, let me know at kevin.roden@cityofdenton.com or 940-206-5239.

 

Less than 20 Voters from District 4 Involved in Hawkins’ Recall Election

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Joey Hawkins at his an election party following his first election to Denton City Council in 2013. Only 14 people who signed his recall petition took the time to vote in this election.  Photo credit: David Minton (Denton RC)

Photo Credit: David Minton, DentonRC

The effort to recall Denton City Councilman Joey Hawkins is a joke. Far from being a demonstration of the democratic process, a simple analysis of the voting records of those who signed the petition reveals that a bunch of people living in District 4 are apparently so concerned with the leadership of their city council representative that they couldn’t even take the time to vote in Denton City Council elections – ever.

In the name of “democracy,” the organizers of the petition to recall Hawkins found a hard time finding actual voters to sign the petition. For all their claims of how disenfranchised they are from the service of Mr. Hawkins, the petition circulators couldn’t find but a handful of actual city voters from District 4 to sign their petition to throw him out of office.

After reviewing the list of petition signers and comparing that with the public voter records, I have found the following facts to be absolutely shocking:

  • Out of 131 people who signed the recall petition, 42 of them aren’t even registered to vote in Mr. Hawkins district and many of them aren’t registered to vote in the city. That’s 32% of the petition signers.
  • That leaves only 89 eligible signatures on the ballot.
  • Out of those 89, only 6 of them voted in the last city council election (2015).
  • Out of those 89, only 18 of them voted in the 2014 city council election.
  • Out of those 89, only 14 of them voted in the 2013 city council election – when Joey was first on the ballot (and had an opponent).
  • Out of those 89, 59 of them have never voted in a Denton City Council election. That’s 66% of the people who signed the petition.

What does all of this mean? Less than 20 actual voters from District 4 are responsible for triggering an official recall election of a sitting Denton City Councilman.

City Council Preview – Public Comment on Renewable Denton Plan

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The Denton City Council will meet on Tuesday, December 15 for a 1pm Work Session followed by a 6:30pm Regular Session at 215 E. McKinney Street. Click here for a full agenda with backup material.

There are many important topics on the agenda, but one of the most consequential will be a public hearing on the proposed Renewable Denton Plan. And this community discussion is quite timely in light of the recently-ended climate change talks in Paris involving leaders from around the world.

In the lead-up to these talks, there was much reporting on how nations around the world compared in their pursuit of renewable sources of energy. Consider the following chart outlining both the goals and progress toward renewables of certain nations in a recent report by Bloomberg:

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 11.30.43 PM

This article focused specifically on the renewable energy goals of countries in the EU:

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 11.57.43 PM

It is important to put the Renewable Denton Plan – and some of the surrounding controversy by those who claim to want to tackle climate change – in this context. There is not a nation highlighted on these charts that will reach the goal Denton plans to reach in 2019 when we scale our already noteworthy 40% renewable energy portfolio to 70%. In our own country, the goal is 20% by 2020 and it doesn’t appear that we will reach that target.  Norway can’t reach 70%, but Denton can.

To some, this is still unacceptable to the extent that the Renewable Denton Plan involves the creation of natural gas quick start generation plants housed here in the city of Denton. But for those who are concerned with reliance on fossil fuels and the emissions involved in generating electricity from them, the following facts are important:

  • Denton’s current plan involves significant investment in fossil fuels to meet 60% of our energy needs, including coal and natural gas. The Renewable Denton Plan reduces that to 30% reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Renewable Denton  will use 37% less natural gas than our current plan. All the talk about how many gas wells it will take to power our quick start generating plants misses the crucial point that Renewable Denton requires a significantly smaller amount of natural gas to power our city.
  • Renewable Denton assumes divestment from the Gibbons Creek coal generating power plant.
  • Renewable Denton results in a 75% decrease in emissions created to power the city as compared to the current plan.

And the Renewable Denton Plan is able to do this while maintaining low rates and ensuring reliability to our customers.

This nation and this world is filled with cities and nations with all sorts of plans and goals as it relates to renewable energy. The city of Denton is one of the few among all of them that is consistently taking bold steps in the right direction. 40% in 2009. 70% by 2019. This is how you get to 100%.

Does Denton Need Ethics Reform?

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McCarthy-Brunton-UnAmerican

Recent newspaper stories and guest columns have raised the issue of ethics laws governing the behavior of local public officials and have some in our community demanding “ethics reform” in the form of a new robust Denton Ethics Ordinance.

Much of the concern centers on the fact that Denton doesn’t have its own ethics “ordinance.” We have an Ethics Resolution that lists out certain values by which fellow council members agree to abide. Things like:

- I will be ethical
- I will be service-oriented
- I will be fiscally responsible
- I will be communicative
- I will be cooperative
- I will be progressive and receptive to new ideas
- I will not be delinquent in paying monies owed the City

To be sure, it reads a bit more like the Boy Scout Oath than it does a substantial set of laws governing the behavior of public officials charged with overseeing a city of 120,000 with a budget nearing $1 billion. If all we had was this resolution and these statements of values keeping potential corruption in check, I would be in complete agreement that we need strong ethics reform and we need it now.

But the resolution goes further and points to a long list of Civil Statutes, State Penal Laws, and City Documents that apply to Denton elected officials and city employees and carry with them a clear path toward prosecution and hefty penalties.

Consider the following list of state laws on the books that govern our actions as public officials. Consider, as well, that any citizen with evidence that a public official is violating one or more of these laws can go to our police chief, the district attorney, the grand jury, even the Texas Attorney General to raise the issue.

ETHICS MATTER LEGAL REFERENCE PENALTY
Financial Statements Gov’t Code 145-003 and 572 Class B Misdemeanor
Open Meetings Act  Chapter 551 Class B Misdemeanor
Public Information Act  Chapter 552 Class B Misdemeanor
Conflicts of Interest Gov’t Code 171 Class A Misdemeanor
Disclosure of Certain Relationships Gov’t Code 176 Class C/B/A Misdeanor depending on amount of money involved
Official Misconduct C.C.P Art 3.04
Nepotism Gov’t Code 573.041 Class C Misdemeanor
Retaliation Prohibited for Reporting Violations of Law Gov’t Code 554.002
Confidentiality of Information in Bids or Proposals Gov’t Code 252.049 Class C or B Misdemeanor/Forfeiture and Bar
Bribery Penal Code 36.02 2nd Degree Felony
Improper Influence Penal Code 36.04 Class A Misdemeanor
Tampering with Witness Penal Code 36.05 3rd Degree Felony
Obstruction or Realiation Penal Code 36.06 3rd or 2nd Degree Felony
Offering Gift to Public Servant Penal Code 36.09 Class A Misdemeanor
Gift to Public Servant by Person Subject to His Jurisdiction Penal Code 36.08
Abuse of Official Capacity Penal Code 36.02 Class C Misdemeanor to 1st Degree Felony
Official Oppression Penal Code 39.03 Class A Misdemeanor
Misuse of Official Information Penal Code 39.06 3rd Degree Felony
Council Travel Ordinance No. 2006-273  
Denton Ethics Resolution R2006-003
Ethics Portion of Resolution R2009-015

We held a council discussion on Monday to discuss this issue, examine the current statutes, and provide an opportunity for those who feel something stronger is needed to demonstrate that need. The very relevant question was asked of our fellow council members: what is missing from this list? What ethical issue is not already being addressed by this long list of state laws? What problem is there that needs to be solved?

So far, there has been no specific answer or answers to these questions. I remain unconvinced that there is a problem with the current laws, but look forward to hearing from others on this topic.

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