Friday, April 12, 2019

More Impressions of City Council Candidates

The candidates for Richardson City Council answered questions from the public at a forum sponsored by the JJ Pearce, Canyon Creek, and Reservation neighborhood associations. The forum was held at Mohawk Elementary School. About fifty people attended. Everyone was civil. (That last point should go without saying, but in today's political climate, you never know.)

Rather than provide a question-by-question account of the evening, I am going to present only the highlights that I found provocative.

(As for my first impressions of the candidates, from an earlier forum, they can be read elsewhere.)

City of Richardson Place 1

Bob Dubey (Place 1) said he was not in favor of sanctuary cities. He claimed that sanctuary cities ask police to break the law. That's a spurious claim. There's nothing in the Constitution requiring local police departments to act as federal immigration agents. I don't know Richardson's policy, but for sound, operational reasons, many police departments in Texas had policies that directed police officers not to question a person's immigration status. Changing those policies might hamper police efforts to ensure public safety. Police often ask for the public's help in solving crimes. Witnesses won't come forward, even victims of crime won't come forward, if they think the police are going to demand that they "show their papers." Even citizens don't want that hassle. We should let immigration law be enforced by federal immigration agents and let local police work be done by local police. Dubey's position does not assist Richardson police in doing their job or enhance Richardson residents' safety.

Jason Clarke (Place 1) again proved to be the most interesting candidate for me. To the inevitable question about fixing streets, in this case a request to repave Mimosa Drive, he called it "a softball question. My answer? Yes." To drop an answer like that in a local election campaign shows a refreshing, quick wit. To a question over how to ensure an adequate water supply in a growing city, he said he has worked with Israel and Gaza over disputed water rights, so he's confident that he can work with North Texas cities on this issue as well. To drop an answer like that in a local election campaign almost makes me wonder if he isn't just a bit over-qualified for city council.

City of Richardson Place 3

Franklin Byrd (Place 3) said nothing controversial, or very memorable either. Maybe it's related to a biographical distinction he made: he's the only CPA running. When asked what features in the plan for old downtown Richardson will bring people to that part of town, Byrd started his answer with "medians." Wrong answer. Medians will mostly just speed cars through downtown. He did recover by adding parks, entertainment and restaurants. Those are the right answers. To another question about "pooling funds" with other candidates, Byrd denied having done so. And there's no evidence otherwise, but followers of social media have probably seen things to lead them to believe he has teamed up with other candidates on the campaign trail and at people's homes. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just all in the way you word the question.

Dan Barrios (Place 3) was also asked if he has teamed up with any other candidate to pool funds or resources. He answered no. That doesn't jibe with a letter to voters sent by Democratic precinct chairs endorsing four candidates: Long, Lanzillo, Barrios, and Clarke. This letter includes a notice: "Pol. Adv. paid for by Dan Barrios campaign." It has the same notice for the other three campaigns as well. Most voters will reasonably conclude that this is a case of the four candidates pooling funds. There's nothing illegal with that by the way, but if you're doing it, just own up to it. Giving evasive answers doesn't build voters' trust.

Janet DePuy (Place 3) made only one minor gaffe the whole night. When asked what features in the redevelopment of old downtown she liked, she said the new police station will bring new people to downtown. That it will, but probably not in the way she meant. She's currently training with the Citizen Police Academy, so maybe she has that on her mind. Other than that, she offered a lot to like. She said she'd like to see a farmers market downtown and maybe some art shows. She says she hasn't teamed up with any other candidates and I believe her. The pushback she gets on social media when claims are made that she runs an independent campaign is not "no, she doesn't" but "quit implying other candidates aren't independent too."

Oh, and this is something DePuy didn't say at the forum, but she took a quote of mine from the last forum and used it in an Internet meme with a pretty picture of a rainbow. Note to other candidates: flattery might work on me, but please keep it subtle. Although puppies are always good in a meme.

City of Richardson Place 4

Raymond De Guzman, Sr. (Place 4) was the first and only candidate to suggest an amenity that used to be discussed by the Richardson City Council, but fell off the radar four or five years ago. When asked what development should Richardson encourage around UT-Dallas, he suggested a skate park. I'm not sure whether college students or high school kids are the better target demographic for that, but sure, a skate park is still a good idea. He says he is running to give a voice to the younger community, to the disabled community, to ethnic diversity. He would definitely deliver on that. He says he is running an independent campaign, and I believe him.

Johnny Lanzillo (Place 4) used two buzzwords that I don't remember hearing from anyone else — walkability and affordable housing. He's for walkable features in downtown Richardson. He's for increasing the stock of affordable housing for students around UT-Dallas. Both get my enthusiastic support. Lanzillo was less winning when he claimed he was not running as a Democrat or Republican. No one doubts that he'll accept support by Republicans, but he's a Democrat running with support of other Democrats. There's nothing wrong with that, so drop the lawyerly parsing of words. If it's walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a Democrat. That doesn't make it illegal. Own it.

Kyle Kepner (Place 4) was the only candidate to mention the benefits the Cotton Belt will bring to Richardson. Good for him. (Note that not all candidates were asked the same questions, so unique answers may not be all that unexpected.) When asked whether he's running an independent campaign, he said all his donors have been individuals but one is a business PAC. Free advice to other candidates: that's how this question should be disposed of, quickly and honestly and non-defensively. Leave it to voters to decide if they'd rather have a council member partially funded by a business PAC or assisted by a Democratic PAC or by no PAC at all. Spend your time talking about things that matter to you. There was another answer Kepner gave that did not sit well with me at all. Kepner said he has a plan to develop more small businesses "but I'm not going to get into that here because I don't want to give anyone ideas." Sorry, but giving us all ideas is what it will take to win my vote.

City of Richardson Place 5

Mauri Long (Place 5) was asked if she is running a partisan campaign. She answered, in effect, no, although I think she tied herself into knots to get to that answer. But she wasn't alone (see above). To her credit, Long freely admitted that she received money from "Women Organizing Women Democrats" (WOW). She didn't mention that she helped pay for a letter to voters from Democratic precinct chairs endorsing four candidates: Long, Lanzillo, Barrios, and Clarke. (Again, see comments above.) I wish each candidate would just say that, yes, he or she is coordinating with Richardson Area Democrats. Let voters decide if that's OK with them. It isn't illegal. Despite what many think, a nonpartisan election legally just means the ballot won't have an "R" or a "D" after the candidate's name.

Ken Hutchenrider (Place 5) gave his best answer to a question about how the city should react to the bribery conviction of former Mayor Laura (Maczka) Jordan. He said the City needs to do a root cause analysis, with full transparency, by "bringing everyone into the room and examining what happened line item by line item." He gave his worst answer to another question when he went off on a tangent bad-mouthing Garland. We don't need that. He said that non-partisan means not receiving money from Democrats or Republicans. That may be his definition, but it's not mine and I don't think it's the legal definition.

Rereading this article, I realize that maybe I've focused too much on negative points for each candidate. I suspect more than a few may be pissed off by something or other I said. Maybe I can convince them to take all this as friendly advice for how they should tweak their campaigns to appeal to a voter like me. Whether they think there are enough voters like me to win an election is another matter entirely. In any case, let me close by saying that I think Richardson will be in good hands no matter which candidates prevail in this election. I don't say that lightly. I couldn't say that in all previous elections. Are we all good now?


Kyle Kepner said...

Thank you for the feedback Mark. I appreciate your thoughts on my responses Wednesday night. I can see where you are coming from in regards to the statement about not sharing my ideas. Honestly, as a newcomer to the political arena, I made a novice mistake. I was trying to point out that other candidates are now using some critical components of my platform as talking points to win voters. However, thinking through that decision now (hindsight is a good thing!), I regret that I chose to answer that way and agree that it does not help people gain more understanding of my ideas if I am not willing to share. So, I will respond to you with a thought here.

Empty retail does not do anybody any good. The less retail, the quieter the area, and the less these developers can charge for leases. For these developments to be successful, they need vibrancy, and locally owned businesses can bring that to them. Take Cityline for example - a few places have already closed. I would imagine if a Pizza Americana or Industrial Pizza were in Coalvines' spot they would have been more successful. It gives Richardson residents one additional reason to visit a mixed-use development. When developers desire to build these mixed-use projects, they actively seek out TIFs. I would like to see us negotiate for a portion of the retail space to go to locally owned businesses with creative tax incentives or abatements.

Kyle Kepner
Candidate Place 4

Mark Steger said...

Thanks for the feedback. The ability to admit a mistake and take corrective action is admirable. Extracting something in return for upzoning is a suggestion I support. I wrote about it in "How Much is Upzoning Worth"?

Robert Tracy said...

Hi, Mark. I created the Facebook post with your quote. I should have reached out to you first. If you prefer, I’d gladly remove it.

Mark Steger said...

It's fine. Anything that I say is fair game.