Gerard Hudspeth – Current Mayor of Denton
How long have you lived in Denton?
All my life, I’m 49 (years old).
In quick, rapid-fire answers, please tell me what are the three things you love the most about?
I love the culture, the people of Denton, and then also just the family atmosphere in Denton. … Those are the three primary things that jump out at me. And then obviously, from history and experience growing up here, there’s a lot of fond things I like about Denton.
Why are you rerunning for the position of Mayor of Denton?
There’s a few answers to that, but I think primarily understand, I’ve only been in office about one year. And so when you talk about things to get accomplished at the municipal level, it takes a number of years. And so there’s a lot of initiatives, goals that I wanted to work on that were interrupted by the pandemic, interrupted by winter storm Uri, interrupted by the city manager leaving a month after I took office.
And so there’s all these things that have impeded progress and there’s a lot more that I want to get done that I committed to do for the citizens and the citizens supported. That’s really the key is when they voted for me, they voted for those initiatives. And we just haven’t had a chance to get those done because we had to deal with these kinds of medical and environmental or weather-related emergencies.
Now we get back to kind of normal. (For) example, we’ve not had one meeting in the work session room since I’ve been mayor. Not once have we sat in there and had a meeting. We use the digital console in Council I think maybe twice or three times in the entire year that everyone has been able to use utilize those tools.
I’ve not had the opportunity to serve in the way that other mayors have. I think it’s impacted what we’ve been able to do, and I’m big on getting things.
As we all know, Denton has been experiencing a lot of growth over the past few years. How do you feel it can continue to expand, while still keeping its local Downtown Square charm and small-town feel?
I think that the critical part is to have a mayor that understands exactly that essence of what that experience is. I understand that better than anyone because when my parents lived here, moved here in ’71, when I graduated that’s ’91, you’re still talking maybe 60,000-70,000 people, and we’ve doubled since then. I’ve seen the growth, but I’ve also seen how to maintain that culture and keep that intact.
I think really the answer is to have the heart of the city top of mind and then you make decisions from a holistic standpoint. And that’s to say, okay, if we grant this opportunity, it needs to then also have these components so that it continues to give young artists, young musicians, young business professionals, an opportunity to attend a local university, and that’s really important to me.
I graduated from NCTC and UNT. If I ever go back for a master’s, I’ve got to go to TWU to complete the trifecta. (laughs) But I think that’s really important to make sure as great people come to school here, as great people come visit, … that we give them a great experience.
For me, it’s one, understanding how we got to this point that everyone seems to enjoy a history of first-hand knowledge of that. And then two, making sure great people can be successful in Denton and not have to move away to achieve their goals. And that’s what keeps the culture intact. That’s what allows people my age to be able to stay here and take care of their parents that grew up here. … We have to have financial opportunities, business opportunities, work opportunities, as well as these other arts and those sort of things.
Tell me about your views on expanding public transit in Denton.
I really have liked the GoZone opportunities because I think it was in response to one, the market competing with Uber and Lyft. Then two, people wanting later service so now they guarantee you’ll be able to ride the train to Carrollton and get a ride back to Denton. That addressed a concern I heard a lot.
And so now it’s how we build that forward. I think really the key for me from a transit standpoint, from the train primarily, that’s where most of our money goes, we spend $14 million a year and growing. And how do we get more people to utilize the train?
One, it’s education. … We need to post and drive this number down regularly. But we have to post how long does it take to get from Denton to DFW or Love (Field) Airport using public transit? How long is that commute? … I was just in Grapevine in meetings and that’s what drives a lot of their traffic on their commuter train is you can be in Terminal D in 15 minutes. That’s never going to be the case for us, but we can at least begin to educate people — that’s a matrix we can work towards to help people. I think it’s really having meaningful reasons for people to utilize public transit — that will drive that.
… And then we increase for the everyday user the GoZone enhancements to make it more convenient. Add more zones, add more hours, to help our citizens get around their daily tasks.
… It’s important to note from a safety feature, too, that those drivers are vetted, they’re employed, or they’re regulated to some degree, much more so than the average Uber driver or Lyft driver. So from a safety standpoint, making sure those that are riding in our community get to where they’re going safely I think it’s advantageous for us to increase the usage of GoZone and decrease the usage, much to the chagrin of the gig worker I understand, but if I have to I want to err on the side of more of an employment model so that we can make sure we know who’s driving our young adults and adults around.
Obviously there’s a lot of road construction projects going on in Denton with more scheduled to begin soon. What are your thoughts on these road construction projects and the frustrations they may be causing people living in Denton?
I think people are justified in their concerns. … This is something that I’m working hard to do is … increase the efficiencies of our city staff to do those tasks.
Right now, we pull them off task to do things like spend 15 to 20 hours talking about legalizing marijuana in Denton versus fixing the roads. … From a City Council perspective, we’re taking our staff off task for other tasks, and then asking why they haven’t fulfilled these other things that we pulled them off of. And I think really the key is to create more time for staff to work on tasks and then hold them accountable.
Right now we give them a reason why they’re not producing because they’re busy doing these other things. I want to strip away that and kind of get to the core of what we do. And so I think citizens are justified in saying these projects are taking too long — I couldn’t agree more. But … how we speed those things up is to allow staff the time to dedicate and focus on those things, have measurables, and then hold them accountable to those measurables.
To do that, I can’t, for example, with my daughter I can’t say go clean your room and then tell her to come cook dinner, and then tell her to clean the hallway, and then ask her why her room’s not clean. I have to give her a chance to be successful, to then have measurables and goals in place that say, okay, now there were no interruptions and we’re still a little off pace — what can we do?
And some of those things are just going to be old infrastructure — no one knows what’s under those streets, those are challenges. I think outside of that, we have to increase staff capacity to complete those roads time because it is it’s just a problem that we’re not getting them done fast enough.
Now the quality of the roads have increased — the life of the roads will be great, but we have to complete projects faster.
What do you think about the skyrocketing housing prices in Denton? And if re-elected, what do you intend to do to help people keep people from being priced out of their homes?
We’re working on that now – working on that every day. I was just presenting to the Kiwanis and explaining that I think it goes back to what we talked about before. It talks about knowledge – we got to educate people, we got to have measurables, we got to then begin to work those numbers down and create efficiencies to save money best we can. But we have to understand what’s reasonable, what’s possible, and then work from that.
So start going back to possibilities. The 105th Habitat (for Humanity) home in Denton County appraised for right around $220,000. And that’s a home without a garage and has volunteer labor to build it, and most of the appliances are donated. So it’s reasonable to think that the average for-profit home is probably going to come in around $300,000. That’s the low end of a new home currently in this market.
We understand that knowledge, we educate our community on that knowledge, and then we come up with policies that help us be as close to that number as humanly possible by either expediting the process for people to get their permits, then asking them to pass those savings on to the homeowners or the people who purchase homes.
I’ll tell you that we already have authorized the larger development of 35 W. I think those newer homes will attract some buyers from the core of the city and free up the older homes to be purchased by first-time homebuyers potentially. So if you have a home currently that’s built in 1970 or so and you want to buy a new home, then that … opens a void for someone to come in and buy a house that might be more in their price range.
I think it’s just monitoring the market and then measuring that against improvements based on a policy level, making sure houses can get built in minimal time. Still a great quality product, but what can the city do to get out of the way and allow builders to produce homes faster to take the pressure off the market. That’s really the key.
And then tell me about some of the charities and nonprofits that you support in Denton.
Over the past year, I’ve been very active … in attending events and helping nonprofits because they need it. And it’s so important — because of the pandemic, everything’s off pace and getting back.
So what I’ve done, I’ve worked with the Serve Denton and their community garden … supporting them, helping them get things they need to be successful. Then there’s three events that I volunteered myself “Dinner With the Mayor” and I think we’ve raised in those three events just over $4,000 for those individual charities in total, but for three different charities.
And then I worked a lot with Giving Hope … as we tackle the homeless population and making sure they have what they need. And then I’ll go to events with First Refuge (Ministries). I think that’s an amazing ministry when you’re talking about dentistry and then also psychology assistance. Just treating the mental health side of things, the physical health, and the food pantry – really work closely with them.
The Children’s Advocacy Center — obviously kids are important to me when you’re talking about our most vulnerable population and making sure if someone goes through a trauma that it’s not repeated over and over again through the process.
Those are a few to come top of mind. Salvation Army, I ring the bell regularly. We do the Kettle Kickoff and so try to raise awareness for them. I’m a member of Breakfast Kiwanis and member of the Black Chamber — go to a lot of chamber events, and so try to plug into the business community as well that way.
Tell me about an obstacle you faced during your life that you feel helped prepare you for a position as Mayor of Denton.
They all kind of string together, but it starts with the fact that when my folks moved here in 1971, they were only allowed to live in the southeast Denton area of town. No one else would rent to them in any other part of town. So we grew up with that understanding in that environment.
Then fast forward to high school, I was profiled by DPS officers. Me, my brother, and my best friend were detained at Denton County Jail for about an hour until they realized who we were and that they had stepped in it.
Ultimately we were told that one, there are some procedural issues that we filed a complaint and that went to the state to be reviewed. But then also, I’ll tell you, ultimately they said the drug dog for the first time in history in Denton County alerted to a rental car due to cigarette smoke. It’s a rental car – people smoke in those all the time. It’s one of the things – take from it what you want, but the fact of the matter is, it was an experience that I’ve learned from.
And then I was a single dad here in the City of Denton for a while. So I understand the summer programs and the vital importance of those. The vital importance that we have shorter and more accessible City Council meetings so that single parents can be actively involved in their local politics as well. So being a single parent for a bit has informed and given me an experience.
And then just being my dad’s son. He’s been hard at it my entire life. He was on the school board when I was in high school. From his advocacy and kind of issues he’s taken on, I’ve learned a whole lot from that. That shaped my decisions and guided my steps.
And then lastly I want to give credit to my mom. She was a home economics teacher – they don’t teach that anymore, they should bring that back — at Strickland (Middle School). And then she went to school while working and earned her master’s and doctorate, and ultimately went into counseling. She helps me learn more about that and those spaces where we can interact with one, the (Denton) ISD, but then just people by and large.
And then just the fact that I get tough emails. Being the first mayor that looks like me, there’s people that aren’t excited about that and they let me know. And so I get some tough emails that you have to process through. But it informs and kind of helps you make decisions to try to bridge those gaps and address those concerns as best as I can.
What are your hopes for the future of Denton — where do you see Denton going?
Denton’s going to be an amazing place. It is now and it will be.
So where I see it going, I see growth in airport usage. Obviously around the Loop will continue, will come build back in. And I think you’ll have some more industrial side of things.
Ultimately said simply, it’s going to be a well-balanced city that is unique to the area because I do hope it maintains its kinda quirky personality. The way I describe the City of Denton is a 6’6”, 375-pound guy that still likes to come home and sit in mom’s lap and sit in the rocking chair. It’s a Baby Huey-type thing.
And so I think it’s going continue to be one of the safest cities in the North Texas area. And it’s going to be one that is the friendliest and it’s absolutely going to grow. We’ll have a touch of new with the Hunter and Cole Ranch developments, but you’ll still have that kind of core of the city that’s true to its roots. You have the downtown area that remains vibrant and true to its roots.
You’re going to have more people, but the same user experience. It will just be a little more spread out. You may have a little more people in segments of the town, which we’re seeing now – people who are in the north part of town that never come to the Loop. …
In summary, it’s the same city, just more people. Same user experience, same culture – there will just be more people to brag about it.