Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Short Season of Richardson Idol Starts

Given that only two seats on the Richardson City Council are being contested this year, and all the focus has been on the mayor's decision not to serve another term, although she is running unopposed, this season of "Richardson Idol" will necessarily be an abbreviated one. That's not to say it won't be an exciting one.

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:
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.
Source: 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.

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.

  • Backgrounds

    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.

Against the usual practice here at Richardson Idol no one is getting voted off the stage in this episode. We're just getting to know our candidates and need more time to make an informed decision.

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.


Mark Steger said...

The video of the forum taken by Cheri Duncan-Hubert is now available on YouTube.

Unknown said...

I think it's interesting that the way I found out about the City of Richardson enlisting independent council to investigate "Palisades Gate" was from the soon-to-be-ex-mayor's (estranged husband? / ex-husband's?) FaceBook posting,..

...because I thought that it was the Richardson Coalition's job to keep us all posted on mayoral election issues - you know - important stuff - like a copy of her 2013 opponent's divorce settlement documents - relevant stuff stuff like that.

Not a word about "Palisades Gate" on the Richardson Coalition's website. My fact-check source was tonight's Channel 8 News story.

Paul Peck

Anonymous said...

Paul, can you screenshot that and upload it to, then post a link here? His profile is currently not viewable to people who are not friends with him.

Mark Steger said...

To "Anonymous" at 11:41 PM:
First, anonymous comments are discouraged here.
Second, asking another person to take a screenshot of a Facebook page not available to you might be considered a violation of privacy. I suggest that if you want to see someone's Facebook page, send him a Friend request and let him decide if he wants to share with you.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Steger, 48 people signed into the Forum, and we had seats for 50 people set up. Would we have liked more to attend? Of course. But I have learned after living in this city for 43 years, people dare apathetic until something hits close to home. Even if 10 people learned something , it was worth it. We decided as a Board that we did not want a Forum with those other than the candidates running with opposition. We did not want a debate; we just wanted to learn a little about each candidate. We let questions go to Townsend first, as he had to leave early, and honestly, most of the questions were for him, concerning residents dissatisfaction with the current council. And most went unanswered. Since the others had never served on council, we believed they could get any points across that they so desired. As there are two other Forums open to the entire city, we felt justified In keeping ours closed. We also understood that the other Forums choose which questions will be asked, and we did not want to limit our audience to approved questions I think it was a good idea. It was a venue where the candidates could be themselves as much as possible, and really be open. ( of course with the exception of Townsend, who always toes the coalition line). Speaking as me the citizen, not the President. When we received emails from other residents asking if they may attend, we opened it to all residents. As for Mrs. Simpson, I checked my email, including my junk mail daily to see if there was a response from her campaign. There was not. At 6:00 pm on the night of the Forum an agitated Mabel Simpson called me and said she had been told of my comment. I told her that I had to stand by it, as I had not heard form her. ( The other 3 candidates had responded within the hour after our invitation, saying they would be there.) She stated that her representative had responded on March 20th, with the news that Mrs. Simpson had a previous engagement. She said she was a very busy attorney, with no time to spend on social media, and would send a representative to the meeting. Telling me that her representative would not be answering questions, I told her we not expect that. I spoke to the rep at the Forum, and she said she had sent the reply herself, and would track it down and resend it. I have yet to receive that email. About my Facebook comment, I was speaking as just Shelley McCall, not the President of HTNA. And as an aside, I still stick by it. Coalition endorsed candidates think they have it in the bag because of the high voter turnout in CC. And perhaps they do; but this year perhaps they don't . Now, unless I've missed it, how about a story on the Attorney picked by the city to investigate the possible impropriety by our Mayor? The fact that his work is to defend cities and public officials, not get to the truth for citizens. Shelley McCall