Keely Briggs and Gerard Hudspeth, two mayoral candidates running to succeed outgoing mayor Chris Watts, participated in Monday night’s online mayoral debate, hosted by Denton local Kevin Roden.
The debate covered questions by Roden and pre-recorded video submissions by other Denton residents. The topics discussed included eviction prevention, climate policy and race relations between officials and citizens.
One submission was from President and CEO of United Way of Denton County Gary Henderson, who asked how they would combat evictions as CARES funding is set to expire on Dec. 30.
“As you look at 2021 and you see where COVID-19 is taking us and seeing these federal funds,” Henderson said. “What will you do as the next mayor of Denton to make sure no one loses their housing in Denton as a result of COVID-19?”
Briggs talked about, in addition to CARES funding ending, how current regulations may be preventing those at-risk from receiving more rent money.
“What I recently found out is there are individuals and families who have received assistance from the CARES act who can no longer receive assistance anymore,” Briggs said. “That’s pretty concerning because what we’ve done for these few months is paid for everything and we’ve kept them in their homes. But, now all of a sudden because of rules, they can’t receive funding for more than three times, I think. They might be out on the street after we’ve invested so much into them and into their homes.”
Following Briggs, Hudspeth spoke about his longstanding relationships with builders to build more affordable housing as well as plan with more lawmakers.
“It’s all about relationships,” Hudspeth said. “Individual conversations with key stakeholders, with Senator Jane Nelson, Pat Fallon. Have those conversations early, now, to understand their planning and then make those funds available. I have a great relationship with the county, so we can leverage that relationship and continue to go forward.”
On the topic of climate change, Roden asked, “what can and should the city of Denton do to combat climate change, right here, at the local level?”
Briggs went first, discussing possible alternative transportation, smarter development to keep air quality high and a carbon reduction plan.
“Part of the smart development is keeping older, established trees and not just cut them down,” Briggs said. “We need to set a carbon reduction plan, we need to look at our greenhouse gas inventory and control our solid waste. We have so much waste and so much gas at our landfill. Part of what we’re doing is getting new equipment to handle. But right now, we’re flaring […] There’s a lot we could do at the local level to make a big difference with our climate.”
Hudspeth said Denton should restrict urban sprawl and a shift to a commercial tax base.
“I’ll tell you, it comes down to roads,” Hudspeth said. “Roads and our infrastructure. I want to start to activate some of these paths, like the Rail Trail, that are off the streets so that families like ours can ride bikes together. Everyone at every level can feel comfortable and it goes back to safety. We have to be able to feel safe to walk through City Civic Center and Quakertown Park […] Alternative transportation, all key, all things we could activate pretty quickly.”
One of the final topics was the current state of race relations between police officers and marginalized communities and how Denton’s government could improve it.
Briggs said previous events and demonstrations had shone a spotlight on local history she wasn’t previously aware of and a “great divide” splitting the country.
“I have some initiatives I would like to take on as mayor,” Briggs said. “I would like to join United Cities […] You partner with 130 and more cities and you commit to creating a safe and healthy community for Black men, boys and their families. It supports a national network of mayors who are committed to reducing the epidemic of homicide and shootings among young Black men and boys. I think if we can look at that and work in our city, we can start to address some of these issues we have. I would like to host community conversations for healing the racial divide, between local elected officials, our officers and our community members.”
Hudspeth spoke about his own experiences with racism as a Black man, his debates with his father Willie, known for protesting the Square’s confederate monument and bringing in the police department.
“I’m willing to accept those challenges and it starts with a leader uniting,” Hudspeth said. “We cannot divide as the leader on council. We have to bring people together, head both sides on a discussion. I’ve got a lot of practice debating with my dad […] It starts with a conversation, embracing the challenge. It starts with the police department, as you touched on. I’ll tell you this- so I’m committed to these things. I have those regular conversations with the police chief, I have regular conversations with the city manager. That’s what it takes: bringing people to the table, uniting and embracing that challenge.”
Roden shared voting locations with viewers along with early voting times and implored them to go vote.
“Don’t be intimidated by anyone who tells you you can’t vote,” Roden said. “Please, please bring confidence and bring friends to go vote as well.”