On April 13 at Mohawk Elementary School, the JJ Pearce HOA, along with three other neighborhood associations, hosted a candidate forum for the City of Richardson City Council candidates. Six candidates for the three contested places took part: Cory Montfort, Mabel Simpson (Place 4); Marta Gómez Frey, Kashif Riaz (Place 5); Jared Weadon, Paul Voelker (Mayor).
The first question asked whether direct election of the mayor has had a good or bad impact on the city. Everyone agreed the change was good. Yet in 2012, Amir Omar was the only council member who voted to place this charter change before the voters. It took a citizen petition to accomplish the referendum election. Today, you might think it was the city's own idea.
The second question asked if the City of Richardson ought to lower its property tax rate. Most of the answers avoided taking a "read my lips" position. Maybe someday, but not now. Watch and wait. Wait and see what the legislature does. Jared Weadon, on the other hand, advocated reducing taxes to keep the effective tax rate flat.
The third question asked what Richardson does well and what it could do better. Answers were varied. Weadon, Marta Frey, and Kashif Riaz said the city does public safety well. Paul Voelker and Mabel Simpson like the city's economic development. Cory Montfort likes Richardson's parks and recreation. As for what the city could improve on, Voelker, Simpson and Riaz said multicultural engagement. Montfort said transparency. Weadon said the city should grant no zoning change requests for multi-family apartments.
The fourth question asked about changing Richardson's elections to have single-member districts. Five of the six candidates said no. Only Montfort said it was worth discussing.
The fifth question asked what programs in place in neighboring cities Richardson should consider adopting. Frey said the multicultural inclusiveness programs in Garland and Irving. Riaz would like to see the Plano ISD's robotic classes in Richardson. Weadon admires how Arlington has integrated UT-Arlington into that city. Voelker dittoed Frey's admiration for multicultural outreach programs and then went farther afield to say Atlanta's small business development ought to be a model for Richardson. Montfort likes Plano's #FixItPlano Twitter program. Simpson would like to see the RHS Legal Magnet put interns into Richardson municipal court.
The sixth question asked about Richardson's legal petition to the Texas PUC to get out from under the onerous take-or-pay water contract. All candidates supported the lawsuit.
The seventh question asked candidates how long they've lived in Richardson. Answers ranged from just under two years (Montfort) to 54 years (Simpson). Bob Dubey, running uncontested for Place 1 and thus not part of the forum, later said he's lived in Richardson for 57 years.
The eighth question asked what the biggest challenge facing Richardson is. Montfort and Weadon said citizen apathy. Weadon added control of city debt. Riaz, Frey, Voelker, and Simpson all gave answers that were some form of growing population (traffic, apartments, changing demographics).
The ninth question asked if it was appropriate to use tax dollars to incentivize redevelopment of downtown Richardson. Weadon warned against new spending and debt. Voelker said TIFs, land acquisitions and other incentives are all tools that at times are needed to attract business. Simpson agreed, saying these tools reimburse developers for infrastructure the city itself doesn't have the budget for. Montfort, Frey, and Riaz agreed with the need for redevelopment.
The tenth question was a quiz: what is the rollback tax rate? Simpson drew this question and nailed the answer: 8%. She said there are proposals in the Texas state legislature to reduce this rate. Five of the candidates agreed that control of this ought to remain with local government. Only Weadon thought that cities take advantage of rising property values and the state might have a legitimate interest in reducing the rollback tax rate to prevent abuse by local governments.
The last question asked the candidates what they bring to city government. The answers showed the variety of backgrounds we have in Richardson. Civic engagement (Frey). IT experience (Riaz). Church group service projects and DCAD IT (Weadon). Chamber of Commerce (Voelker). Masters degree in Counseling (Montfort). Real estate law (Simpson).
If you've read this far (and if you haven't I understand), you probably already know that there were no fireworks at this forum. There was way much more the candidates agreed on than disagreed. Cordial relationships between candidates was evident. And, one more thing...attendance was slim, despite the forum being hosted by four different neighborhood associations. There are no hot button issues among the voters to draw out the crowds this year (cough, cough, apartments). Not even Weadon's opposition to increasing density in Richardson received any response from the audience or other candidates, either pro or con. But don't let that dissuade you from attending upcoming forums. The big LWV forum in the Grand Hall of the Richardson Civic Center is Wednesday evening at 7:00 pm. It even sounds grand, doesn't it?