City council candidates discuss transparency, ethics, fracking at forum

City council candidates discuss transparency, ethics, fracking at forum

With the city council election coming in less than a month, candidate hopefuls have been attending countless forums, with citizens grilling them on all the issues Denton faces.

City council candidates spoke at a forum on April 9 at Dan’s Silverleaf, where they discussed everything from gas wells and air quality to transparency, the city’s budget and sidewalks.

District 1 candidates Gerard Hudspeth and Fran Hawes, District 3 candidates Paul Meltzer and Jason Cole, and District 4 candidates Amanda Servis and John Ryan were all in attendance for the city council candidate forum, hosted by the Denton Drilling Awareness Group. Emily White and Don Duff were not in attendance due to prior commitments, and District 2 candidate Keely Briggs is running unopposed and did not participate, but was in attendance.

Some of the topics candidates were asked to speak on included the current gas well ordinance and if it could be strengthened, as well as the F-rated air quality in Denton and how to fix it.

Two Texas House bills were also discussed: HB-40, relating to the exclusive jurisdiction of this state to regulate oil and gas operations in this state and the express preemption of local regulation of those operations, and HB-3403, relating to the authority of a municipality to require that certain oil and gas operations be set back a certain distance from child-care facilities and schools.

At this forum, residents were also urging neighbors to reach out to State Rep. Lynn Stucky and ask him to support HB-3403.

The F-rated air quality given to the city of Denton by the American Lung Association is something Meltzer wants to fix, as well as focus on higher voting turnout in the city.

“I think if we have the worst air quality, we should have the most innovative solutions,” Meltzer said.

Hudspeth brought the topics back around to transparency and openness with residents and their government.

“A lot of this comes down to transparency,” Hudspeth said. “I don’t know how to reconcile with the stories you get. When the sun’s not showing and wind isn’t blowing, those are things to reconcile and make sure they make sense. I can’t sign on anything that there is no transparency attached.”

Hawes is also one to support transparency, saying she wants to incorporate her ideas and the ideas of the people in District 1.

“I plan on being one of the most open representatives in my district and welcoming all information from everyone around,” Hawes said. “It does not take that much transparency if you are open to everyone’s suggestions.”

When they were asked about if they were interested in the money from gas and oil companies, all candidates except Jason Cole, who has family ties to gas and oil companies, said no.

Other than his support for gas wells, Cole said he wants to help small businesses thrive and strengthen the current gas well ordinance.

“If a gas well goes, everything within 900 feet is going to melt,” Cole said. “We need to have the maximum allowable distance the law will allow. The ordinance needs to be stronger.”

Another hot topic at this forum was the 100 percent renewable Texas town of Georgetown.

“Running for council, I will assure you I will fight for the gas wells better regulated,” Servis said. “A lot of people are dependent on gas. We can move Denton to renewable resources.”

The city of Denton has a long standing history with fracking problems, like when HB-40 was banned and then repealed, and the influx of more gas wells around town. The city is also spending $265 million to build a natural gas-fired power plant with 12 engines. This was passed 4-3 in September, after a city council meeting that lasted until the wee hours of the morning.

Former council member Ryan said that gas wells were also an issue when he was on city council in 2014, but he also wants to focus on other underlying issues, including water conservation.

“The growth Denton has seen is on our roads. Traffic adds to air pollution,” Ryan said. “We need to make sure we have planned out and informed citizens what roads to take to alleviate pollution.”

Featured Image: City council candidates speak at a forum at Dan Silverleafs about environmental issues. James Norman

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