The April 2015 edition of Richardson Today listed a "Highland/Terrace N.A. Council Candidate Forum" for April 7. I made plans to attend. Then I read this comment by Shelley McCall on Facebook:
There were two things I found strange about that. First, that a candidate forum wasn't open to the general public. Second, that the president of the neighborhood association that was hosting the forum would make negative comments about one of the candidates and cast aspersions on her motives.We are holding a "Neighborhood" only Forum and [Mabel] Simpson never even had the courtesy to respond to our invitation. I suspect she was told she didn't need our votes.
Luckily for me, Shelley McCall added later in the same Facebook thread, "our Forum was for our neighborhood only but we have opened it up to the rest of the city's residents." So, off I went.
I counted thirty eight people in the audience. There were plenty of empty seats, so I didn't feel that I might have been taking a neighbor's chair.
Three candidates attended: Bob Townsend and Rick Wilder for Place 1; and Claudia Tatum for Place 4. The moderator announced that Mabel Simpson (candidate for Place 4) said she had a prior engagement. After the meeting, I overheard someone in the audience say that Simpson is an Advisory Board member at UT-Dallas for the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which had a board meeting at the same time as the forum. [Update: I misheard. Mabel Simpson was at a meeting for the "Girls Going Places" Entrepreneurship Conference, which is sponsored by the UT-D IIE, of which Simpson is a board member. Whew! I think I got it right this time, but no guarantees.]
The format of the forum was...loose. Each candidate was given five minutes for opening statements. Bob Townsend apologized that he would have to leave in 45 minutes for another commitment, so the moderator addressed the first eight questions solely to him, not giving the other candidates any time to answer. After Townsend left, the moderator said he'd like to make the rest of the forum informal, with questions being asked from the audience. No time limits were set. No assurances were made that both candidates had an equal opportunity to answer each question.
A quick summary of the questions and answers:
- What happened to the franchise fee for the roads?
Townsend said he didn't understand the question. An audience member said Mayor Maczka said something or other. Townsend said he didn't know what Mayor Maczka meant and can't speak for her but promised to ask her to comment.
- Why was land purchased for the Spring Creek Nature Area when it's in a flood plain and can't be developed anyway?
Townsend said some of the land could be developed and was zoned for 2,100 apartments. The purchased land won't ever be developed, although in exchange some land by the Eisemann Center will be.
- What caused the $8/month penalty for residents with separate meters for house and irrigation?
Townsend said it was an attempt to charge users of separate meters a fee to pay for the system. Someone in the audience complained of water bills exceeding gas bills. Townsend said his water bills are going up too and it's to pay for infrastructure needed to keep up with population growth. Someone in the audience complained that the city sometimes flushes water from the water hydrants into the streets. Townsend explained that if water in tanks sits too long it gets stale and is not potable. This is rare, happens to water tanks one by one, and trying to change lawn sprinkling rules tank by tank is impractical.
- What can be done about out-of-control traffic on South Grove?
Townsend said steps have been taken (e.g., bike lanes) but traffic growth can be expected to follow population growth.
- What happened to the commitment to put a buffer between the cold storage plant and the houses south of it to keep diesel fumes from entering houses?
Townsend said he doesn't remember any commitment for a buffer other than the fence that's in place.
- Six years ago, you said you wouldn't run for another term.
Townsend said he doesn't recall ever saying that. He said he's been going to the same doctor for over 25 years. Do you expect him to see another because of that?
- Why is a million dollars being swept from the water and sewer fund to the general fund?
Townsend said it's to cover salaries and services that are paid out of general revenues.
- What's happening with downtown redevelopment?
Townsend said plans are available for viewing on the city's website. It's a marathon, not a sprint. There are many parcels of land owned by many different people. Assembling property for redevelopment is slow and expensive.
- Do you support term limits?
Wilder: There are already term limits in Richardson. I'm for them.
Tatum: I'm for term limits. Right now people stay longer than the 12 year term limit. More can be done.
- Are any changes needed to the city's ethics policy?
Tatum: When I get elected, I will push for an investigation.
Wilder: City has a good ethics program, but citizens don't always hold officials accountable.
Someone in the audience then interjected that the "man who just left" [Bob Townsend] "asked the mayor to resign." He also said the Place 4 council member resigned because he couldn't take it anymore. I know I'm burying the lede here, but I'm just reporting from somewhat sketchy notes. There's video available from Cheri Duncan-Hubert in case you want to learn who said it and what his exact words were.
- Wilder went back to the water question and explained that the city is retrofitting solar mixers in water tanks to prevent stratification and save water and money.
Wilder said he has been in power electronics for 40 years and is semi-retired.
Tatum said she joined the military after 9/11, served in Korea and Iraq, and was injured training for jumping out of planes. She owned rental property, started her own property management company, then declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the 2007-2008 recession. She said that when her husband left her, she took a job as a government contractor in Qatar, then decided it was not for her. She returned to the US, works for UT-Dallas and is working on a doctorate.
- How many council meetings have you attended?
Tatum said she "lost count": between 32 and 48.
Wilder said "hundreds and hundreds."
- How would you have voted on Palisades?
Wilder said the developers' drawings never come to pass. The developer kept changing the plans. He said he would not have been in favor of the project. He asked, "Is economic development always what we need?"
Tatum said she's a liaison between the people and city. She will not rely on her experience as a real estate developer and home builder, but instead base her decision on what people want. She would have voted no on Palisades.
- Five city council incumbents are unopposed. What is the remedy?
Tatum said we need more people running. She'll personally help anyone who wants to run.
Wilder said a fear of lack of financial support should not keep people from running. He said applications to boards and commissions don't ask your race or religion. Anyone can apply and should.
- Are there any other forums where all candidates will appear?
Wilder said the League of Women Voters of Richardson has a forum scheduled for April 14 in the Civic Center. He said it's the most professionally run forum of all. (Full disclosure: I have a close personal friend in the League. ;-) Someone in the audience pointed out that Tatum has declined to participate in that forum.
Tatum said, "I go where they tell me to go. I have a consultant." But you can always contact her directly on any issue. She gave out her email address and phone number.
- Do you have any ideas in common about how to cut property taxes?
Tatum said she'll bring it up with the other council members.
Wilder said Richardson's property taxes are in the middle of the 13 cities we compare ourselves to, but there's always room for improvement.
All the candidates get a thumbs-up from me for putting up with the unbalanced format of the forum without complaint. Good sports all.
I want to thank the First Presbyterian Church of Richardson for providing the venue and the Highland/Terrace Neighborhood Association for hosting...and for the tasty treats they offered guests, even though I abstained so as not to impose on their generous hospitality.