Category Archives: Uncategorized

Help Shape Denton: Volunteer for a City Board or Commission

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I recall meeting my Councilwoman for tea about 7 years ago at Panera Bread. I wanted to introduce my family to her, Charlye Heggins, and express my interest in helping her out and serving the city in any way that I could. That simple meeting led to an appointment on a city committee exploring the issues of term limits, followed quickly by an appointment to serve on the city’s Historic Landmark Commission.

This is the time of year when spots on the 13 city Boards and Commissions are up for re-nominations or new nominations. Any council member can choose to bring in new volunteers for any open spot on a board or commission even if there is someone serving in that spot and eligible for re-nomination. Typically, the practice is to focus on the vacant spots on each board or commission that are left by volunteers who have termed out or resigned for other reasons.

To make it easier for interested citizens to navigate the spots that are clearly open for brand new volunteers, I’ve listed them below along with the name of the council member whose spot it is for a nomination:

Board Council Member
Airport Advisory Board Johnson
Health and Building Standards Commission Watts
Health and Building Standards Commission Wazny
Human Services Advisory Committee Gregory
Parks, Recreation, and Beautification Board Watts
Parks, Recreation, and Beautification Board Roden
Planning and Zoning Commission Briggs
Planning and Zoning Commission Hawkins
Public Art Committee Hawkins
Public Utiliites Board Briggs
Public Utiliites Board Gregory
Traffic Safety Commission Hawkins
Zoning Board of Adjustment Wazny

If you are interested in any of these spots, my suggestion is to apply online and then contact the relevant council member to express your interest.

Making St. James AME Church More Accessible and Rethinking the Role of Local Government

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St. James AME Church is the oldest African American Church in Denton and the 3rd oldest African American Church in the state of Texas.  This church’s rich history is intimately intertwined with the history Freedman’s Town, Quakertown, and Southeast Denton. Though their current building was constructed in the 60s, the history of this church spans back to 1875. You might recall that this church recently hosted a heavily attended prayer vigil for the victims of the church shooting in Charleston, SC.

For several years, the church has had an accessibility problem and invited me on many occasions to brainstorm possible solutions. Because of the location of their front door ramp, the elevation of their property, and old sidewalks leading to the church, there was no easy way for wheelchairs or casket rollers to access the church from the street level. Federal ADA requirements would not allow a ramp coming from the street at the grade necessary to reach the ramp leading into the church. Here’s a picture that shows this:

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 8.35.36 AMThe city was willing to help, but our options were limited. There were solutions available to the church involving reconstructing their ramp, entryway, or other door entrances, but these all involved considerable costs that were too much for this modest congregation.

Pat Smith, head of both Vision Ministries and Serve Denton, contacted me one day looking for projects and opportunities. He had the connections to willing people and ample resources and just needed pointed to specific needs in our community. Within a week, we got Pat and his team connected to Barbara Ross, Community Development Administrator with the city and Keith Gabbard, City Street Superintendent, along with leaders from the church.

A solution was found: the city would construct a ramp from the street to the property along the side of the church where the required grading would work, Pat’s team would construct a permeable sidewalk connecting the the street ramp along the side of the church to front entrance ramp, the church would participate by contributing a modest amount and volunteers.

On June 27, using additional volunteers from Denton’s Freedom House, the project was completed and greater accessibility was brought to St. James AME Church.

stjameswalksThis is a great example of what happens all the time in Denton and serves as a great example of the potential of what still could be done if we better utilized the power and generosity of our citizens to solve our city’s most pressing problems.

The political “conversation” in our country tends to center on the question of whether government is the problem or government is the solution. Local government here in Denton has the potential to create a new paradigm and a new way of thinking about government that relieves this dichotomy: local government as a platform.

Local government can serve as a platform upon which the citizens can create the type of city they want. It sets the stage, it wisely allocates resources that can leverage and unlock the greatest amount of private investment and contribution, it helps point to the problems, it connects the dots, and fosters an environment of entrepreneurial-like environment of social innovation so that the citizens can be unleashed to create a great and just city.

Thanks to everyone involved who made this particular solution possible.

Now, what would you to like to create in Denton or what big problem would you like to solve? How can we help you do it?

 

 

City Council Preview – June 16, 2015

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Prepare yourself for what is likely to be another long Denton City Council meeting this week as we meet for a Work Session at 1pm followed by a 6:30pm Regular Session. Go here for the full agenda with backup material. Here are some notable items on the agenda:

THE CONVENTION CENTER RE-EMERGES AT RAYZOR RANCH
A Denton Convention Center, an idea which last summer and fall suffered from growing community criticism, is now seemingly emerging as part of the development on the Southern portion of Rayzor Ranch. The scope of the project, at least as the city is concerned is significantly different. O’Reilly Hospitality Management proposes to construct, own, and manage the hotel and convention center on its own. The discussion before the council is whether or not to continue discussions that would involve city-based incentives from sales taxes, property taxes, hotel occupancy taxes, and additional help from the city to offset construction sales taxes.

The proposal before us is very vague at this point. The level of incentives from all of these funds as well as the specifics of what the funds are earmarked for has not yet been disclosed to the council.

greatclipsAnyone watching the evolution of this side of Rayzor Ranch has noticed a significant divide between what was originally proposed to the city and how things are taking shape. What was once compared to the upscale retail experience of Southlake and Highland Village is now delivering precisely what Denton has already and could easily get without the aid of economic development incentives: WinCo Foods, Chili’s, Raising Cane’s, In-N-Out Burger, Envy Spa, Great Clips, Penn Station subs and Sleep Number.

While having some prospect for retail in the immediate vicinity of a convention center is a big change to it’s previously proposed location, it’s unclear that the likes of WinCo, Chili’s, and Great Clips are the types of amenities that would be both an attraction and an example of the “original and independent” experience we’d hope our out-of-town visitors would have.

PRELIMINARY BUDGET DISCUSSIONS
Perhaps the most powerful role of the Denton City Council is the oversight and approval of the annual budget. It’s what we all learned in grade school government class as “the power of the purse.” We are blessed to be in a city which is experiencing growth in our two main revenue streams: property taxes and sales taxes. As such, we are in the fortunate position to be able to make sound financial decisions and investments that both provide our citizens the services they need and desire and look ahead to the future growth and possibilities for our city.

Click here for the powerpoint presentation for this item.

Under the advice and direction of the Council Committee for Citizen Engagement, the city budget process has become increasingly transparent, user-friendly, and accessible via the city’s website. Citizens are also encouraged to submit their own budget proposal for consideration through this simple Citizen Budget Submission Portal. How would you like to see us prioritize city spending? Submit and let us know!

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 12.26.35 AMPROHIBITION OF PARKING ALONG EAST SIDE OF LOCUST
The city has proposed an ordinance prohibiting parking on the East side of North Locust from Parkway all the way North to University Drive. For years, the section between Oakland and University has been designated as no parking (only recently have the “no parking” signs been removed). The question is whether to restore that section back to its original no parking status and extend it South all the way to Parkway.

Several values are at play here that make this a very interesting mobility and traffic safety issue:

– Street parking is a known traffic calming device. Removing this “friction” from a street already conducive to high rates of speed only exasperates the problem.

– At the same time, much of that problem is the direct result of a decision made to make Locust and Elm one-way streets – seemingly a change to allow for traffic to flow through the square unimpeded at a relatively rapid pace. There’s likely a long-term, though ambitious, solution to this problem.

– Increasing bicycle infrastructure throughout the city is another important value. Locust and Elm stand as significant North/South corridors for bicycle traffic to and from major centers such as downtown, TWU, and the commercial areas along 380. The removal of parking along that corridor allows for the urban shoulder to realize its potential as a wide bicycle lane.

MORE DISCUSSION AND OPTIONS ON THE FRACK BAN AND RELATED ORDINANCES
A couple of weeks ago, I posted an article making the case that, while difficult, a full repeal of our frack ban might be our best strategy moving forward in the long-game toward restoring local control in a post-HB40 legal and political environment. Many in the community came forward encouraging us to give the citizens more time to consider other options, concerned with both the optics and consequences of having the citizen-initiated ban overturned.

On today’s agenda are two possibilities with a similar aim: declaring the ban unenforceable either through an amendment to the original ordinance or a separate, stand-alone ordinance.

The legal sands are shifting by the day and I look forward to hearing from both our legal team and our citizens on this important issue.

But it is important for the community to understand that, in light of our current inability to enforce the fracking ban, oil and gas development will, for now at least, continue in the city of Denton. It is also important to understand that HB40 has drastically altered the legal landscape for cities seeking to reasonably regulate oil and gas-related activities in their communities. In a post-HB40 world, cities around Texas aren’t wringing their hands trying to figure out how to ban fracking, rather they are trying to figure out how to legally impose something greater than a 100 foot setback.

In light of this, we will be considering sending our pre-HB40 gas ordinance revisions back to the Planning and Zoning Commission for additional post-HB40 analysis. We have a moratorium ending in August and it seems to be in the city’s best interest to have an enforceable and defensible set of regulations on the books when the drilling and fracking rigs come back into town in greater numbers. More on this as we begin this process.

As always, please let me know if you have any comments, questions, or concerns. Please leave them below or contact me at kevin.roden@cityofdenton.com or 940-206-5239.

Crossing Denton: The Strange Ways of Downtown Crosswalk Signals

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crosswalkIf you walk around downtown on a regular basis, you have no doubt realized the irregularities of the crosswalk signals. Some are by design and some are simply accidental problems to address. I set out to categorize these issues today as part of work a group of citizens have been doing to address pedestrian safety issues in the core of Denton. I am putting this in front of the relevant city staff and will be asking for a follow-up report for the council Mobility Committee.

Hickory and ElmHICKORY and ELM

This intersection generally works the way you would expect: no matter which way you are walking, pedestrians are given a green “walking man” once the traffic light goes green and a red hand once the traffic light goes yellow.

There are problems, however, with the two signals located on the NE corner of this intersection (the corner of the courthouse):

– the signal meant to signal pedestrians crossing North across Hickory is angled too much to the East making it impossible to see what is on the signal when you are standing on the SE corner of Hickory and Elm. This is a simple fix – just change the angle.

– the signal meant to signal pedestrians crossing East across Elm doesn’t work at all until the countdown begins (no red hand and no green walking man at any point). Again, another simple fix.

 

Hickory and LocustHICKORY and LOCUST

This intersection is confusing for pedestrians and car drivers alike and the pedestrian signals exasperate the situation. This is where one-way Hickory meets two-way Hickory head-on. Cars coming from both the East and West on Hickory seemingly have no idea who has the right-of-way when wanting to turn North on Locust during a red light.

Here are the pedestrian signal issues at this intersection:

– when the traffic light turns green for cars on Hickory Street, the pedestrian signal for pedestrians crossing Locust stays red for approximately 13 seconds. I’m assuming this is by design, meant for cars to move freely without having to yield to those pesky pedestrians. The problem with this is obvious: if the situation is meant to give preference to the movement of cars, what signals to the cars that it is now time to yield to the pedestrian? Is a car driver supposed to pay attention to both the traffic light (which is green) AND the pedestrian light (which may be green or red) when approaching this intersection? Furthermore, given that this scenario is only present in 2 out of the 9 possible car traffic patterns on the square, it is as confusing for the driver as it is for the pedestrian. The square should be a place where pedestrians are given preference. This is an easy fix, though I suspect it is a problem that is there by design.

– if you are crossing Hickory on the West side of Locust, the rules are different depending on whether you are walking North or walking South. If you are walking South, the crosswalk signal is green as soon as the traffic light is green. However, if you are walking North on this same side of the street, the crosswalk signal is red and it doesn’t signal for you to cross until the countdown begins.  This is an easy fix.

 

Oak and LocustOAK and LOCUST

If you are crossing Oak from any of the four corners of this intersection, you face the precise opposite situation that we described at the Hickory and Locust intersection. Here the pedestrian is signaled to cross Oak at the same time the traffic signal turns green. The problem is that you are given a solid red hand a full 15 seconds before the traffic signal turns yellow. Again, social engineering dictates that pedestrians need consistency in how these signals work. If they have ample time to clear an intersection here well after the red hand comes on, they may think they can do so at other intersections. This, also, seems to be a simple timing fix.

 

Oak and ElmOAK and ELM

The same timing issue plaguing those crossing Locust at Hickory impacts those crossing Elm at Oak Street. The traffic signal gives cars coming West on Oak a full 13 seconds prior to giving a green signal for pedestrians crossing in all directions.

 

 

 

 

 

EXAMINE THE POLICY OF ALLOWING TURNING ON RED DOWNTOWN

Another general issue that is present at each of these intersections is the law allowing drivers to turn both left and right on red. In order to do so safely, a driver must pull up into the crosswalk in order to have the sufficient line of sight to turn in either direction. This is counterproductive to a pedestrian-friendly environment. The City Council should consider passing an ordinance making it illegal to turn either right or left on red on the immediate square, despite the allowance by state law.

 

City Council Preview – June 2, 2015

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The Denton City Council will meet today at 2pm for a Work Session followed by a 6:30pm Regular Session, both at City Hall at 215 East McKinney Street. Go here to see the full agenda with backup material.

EUREKA 2 UPDATE
We will receive an update from the Denton Parks Foundation on the current status, fundraising efforts, and timeline of the effort to replace Eureka Park with a brand new playground. If you haven’t yet checked out the plans, go here to their website, find out more, get involved, and consider donating to the cause. This Thursday between 3pm and 6pm you can go to either Beth Marie’s location and see 10% of your purchases donated to the park project.

CONSIDER POSSIBLE REPEAL OF FRACK BAN ORDINANCE
hb40I’ve discussed this at length here and have since talked and heard from many of you. What began as a purely Denton issue quickly evolved into an issue impacting every city in the state of Texas – all thanks to the overreaction of the Texas Legislature and their industry-purchased legislation we all know as HB40.  As a result, the legal and political landscape surrounding this issue has changed dramatically. No longer is the discussion simply a question of “how do we defend a frack ban.” Now the questions every city with oil and gas activity is grappling with seem more basic: “How can we defend a setback greater than 100 feet?” I look forward to what it sure to be a lively discussion on this issue and I hope we can all come to some sort of common goal from which to guide our efforts. If our goal is to dismantle HB40 and restore robust local control on oil and gas development in cities, then all paths should be on the table and analyzed.

THE OLD ALBERTSON’S BECOMES A TRAMPOLINE PARK and OTHER ZONING ISSUES
sky-zone-indoor-trampolineThere are four zoning issues requiring public hearings that the council will take up tonight. Remember the old Albertson’s over near the corner of I35 and Lillian Miller that has been sitting vacant for a while? There’s a proposal to split that building into two areas, one hosting a membership gym and the other featuring an indoor trampoline park. Because the current zoning doesn’t allow for recreation centers, we will be considering a zoning case to change that.

Other zoning issues involve a special sign district for businesses at or near Golden Triangle Mall, a Special Use Permit request for a substation off East McKinney, and a rezoning of commercial property just to the West of I35 and North of 380.

As always, if you have any concerns or questions, don’t hesitate to contact me at kevin.roden@cityofdenton.com or 940-206-5239.

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

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14kEbE.So.58

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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Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 9.43.59 AM

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.

WTH? CITY PROJECT TRACKER
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?

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

TREE GIVE-AWAY TRACKING PLATFORM
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?

WHERE’S MY SPOT, BRO? – INNOVATIVE PARKING SOLUTIONS
How can we bring smart data and tech to the table to help with this very practical issue, particularly in our downtown area?

A BETTER WAY TO MAP AND NOTIFY FOR PRIVATE DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS
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?

VIRTUAL ADOPT-A-SPOT/VIRTUAL BETTER BLOCK
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.

SOCIAL ROI – EVALUATING AND ASSESSING SOCIAL SERVICES
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…

TREE GIVE-AWAY – PUTTING TREES IN THE HANDS OF THE CITIZENS
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.

BUDGET PRIORITIES FOR 2015-2016
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?

 

HISTORIC LANDMARK APPLICATIONS
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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frystreet

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:

- ANTI - HISTORIC PRESERVATION
- ANTI - ARTS and MUSIC FESTIVALS IN DOWNTOWN DENTON
- ANTI - STREET IMPROVEMENTS ON HICKORY STREET IN DOWNTOWN DENTON
- ANTI – WORKING TO KEEP YOUR DME RATES LOW
- ANTI – SAFETY AND BUILDING CODES (something EVERY city has)

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.”

doylefry

 

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.

rodenrock

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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