In their first public debate Thursday night at Temple Shalom, District 12 city council candidates Sandy Greyson and Donna Starnes made their cases to residents but also took the opportunity to debunk some of the statements made against each other over the course of the campaign. Both accuse one another of misleading voters.
If you missed the debate, probably gearing up to cheer on the Mavs in Game 5, you can stream the full 50-minute debate here.
Moderator Ken Benson of the Dallas Breakfast Group kept the event on a strict time schedule to adjourn by 8 p.m., and I’ve never seen people file out of a room so quickly. Finding voters to interview was like trying to catch flies.
No doubt, there are staunch supporters on both sides. As the June 18 Election Day approaches, we’ll be hearing from some undecided voters about which issues are keeping them on the fence.
Here’s a breakdown of last night’s discussion, following the candidates’ opening statements. You can tune in at the minute markers if you don’t have time to listen to the full audio.
(6:30) On community service and neighborhood involvement: Greyson touted her role in establishing the Preston Ridge Trail and the 10 years she has spent working on issues that affect District 12 such as the billboard ordinance, tree preservation and form-based zoning, which could affect the Cotton Belt Rail Line. Starnes highlighted her volunteer work at her son’s school, the local library and in grassroots politics.
(10:59) On the budget shortfall: Starnes stressed that public safety is No. 1 and there may be ways to streamline or consolidate certain services although, “Anything specific is difficult for me at this point”. Greyson pointed to excesses in the budget such as expensive Calatrava bridges and millions of dollars of unnecessary tax abatements and incentives given to businesses, some of which had already decided to come to Dallas.
(18:59) On the Cotton Belt Rail Line: Greyson explained the potential impact of the public-private partnership (or so-called Natinsky plan) to speed up the process, pointing out Starnes’ remarks at an previous campaign event. Greyson quoted Starnes as saying, “I’m not interested in that issue, I’ve never been interested in that issue, and I won’t work on it if I’m elected.” Starnes responded, saying that she lives within 170 feet of where the Cotton Belt will run. “To think that I would not support the Natinsky plan is ridiculous … I guess I have to accuse Sandy of outright misrepresentation in this area.”
(22:20) On public works projects for neighborhood improvements and new construction: Starnes said she has gone door-to-door talking to neighbors about this issue and spent an hour discussing it with a homeowner whose alley looked like a war zone. Greyson explained the city’s plan for these types of projects, which are typically covered through a bond program. Her priority is to fix the sumps and pumps along the Trinity for flood control.
(27:15) On natural gas drilling: Greyson applauded the city’s move to form a task force to take a closer look at the possible negative effects drilling could have on neighborhoods. Starnes emphasized that the city should make conditions predictable for businesses and, while public safety is very important, a time limit should be put on how long the task force takes to examine the issue.
(29:50) On the Trinity toll road: Starnes said that since voters approved the toll road, the city should proceed with the project or, since some doubts have arisen about the levees, the city should explore alternatives to meet the same goal of spurring development and relieving traffic. Greyson strongly reinforced her original opposition to building a road between the levees, adding that the project was “oversold” and information was withheld from voters.
(33:17) Greyson on missing 475 votes during her time on council: Starnes’ campaign recently told voters that Greyson missed 475 votes while serving on the council. Greyson cleared that up by explaining that there are hundreds of items on each agenda. Missing 475 votes means she missed four agenda meetings during eight years due to a death in the family, surgery after a car accident and two days of official city business.”That is misleading and intentionally misleading,” she said.
(35:50) Starnes on her Tea Party affiliation: Starnes said she’s proud to be a member of the TEA Party, and its philosophy will only help her do a better job on the council.
(37:05) On privatizing libraries and rec centers: Starnes suggested looking at the contracts of venues already privatized, such as the Elm Fork shooting range, and see how they could apply to city facilities, too. Greyson has a “healthy skepticism” about privatizing services since it didn’t work for garbage pickup in the past, but she remains open to the idea.
(39:11) On the city business permit process: Greyson said the city is not business-friendly and pledged to continue putting pressure on the city manager to find a solution. Starnes took the opportunity to address the issue of job creation and how the philosophy of fiscal responsibility will help improve the sagging economy.
(43:34) On bond programs’ effects on city debt: Starnes warned the city must be careful in passing expensive bond programs. Greyson said that she would support the next bond program if it addressed flood control along the Trinity River but not extra things like new libraries when the city can’t afford to maintain the ones it has.
That wrapped up the debate, but keep listening through the end of the podcast for the candidates’ closing statements. Greyson expressed her dismay over the partisan tone the campaign has taken. Starnes offered the analogy – if you have hail damage, you don’t want your favorite landscaper to fix it.
Early voting runs through June 14 at Fretz Park Library. Election Day is June 18.