There weren’t enough votes among the members of the Denton Firefighter Association to swing an endorsement for the open race in District 3, but the incumbents seeking re-election to the Denton City Council on May 9 could get a boost from the group.
Mike Holdsclaw, secretary of the association and chairman of its political action committee, said the group has a “friendly incumbent” rule.
“We support those who support us,” Holdsclaw said, adding that all the members of the current council have worked well with the department.
The association’s endorsements went to District 1 council member Kevin Roden, District 2 council member John Ryan, and District 4 council member Joey Hawkins, who is running unopposed.
Both candidates in District 3, Amber Briggle and Kathleen Wazny, had votes from the membership, but neither had enough to win over a two-thirds majority needed to land an endorsement, Holdsclaw said.
Each of the three incumbents will be offered a $500 campaign contribution. Candidates don’t always accept the contributions, Holdsclaw said.
Ryan didn’t get an endorsement when he first ran for an unexpired term last year. This year, it was his support for a long-term agreement that helped him pick up the endorsement over his challenger, Keely G. Briggs, Holdsclaw said.
The firefighters deliberated for about an hour after hosting a public forum and a brief meet-and-greet session with the candidates over pizza. The candidates for all four races attended the event, including Hawkins.
Four of the seven Denton City Council seats are up for election on May 9. The election includes all of the seats representing Denton’s four districts, each a two-year term.
District 1 includes much of central and southeastern Denton. Roden is seeking re-election to his third and final term but faces a challenge from political newcomer Robert Doyle Cain. District 2 encompasses a bit of the central city along with northeastern Denton. District 3, which covers the city’s west side, sees Briggle and Wazny squaring off to replace outgoing council member Jim Engelbrecht, who has served three terms.
Denton firefighters sought answers on two questions pivotal to them. First, they asked whether the candidates would continue to support the meet-and-confer agreement the city has with the firefighters association.
The agreement, in place since 2006, allows the association to negotiate with the city on matters important to firefighters, such as staffing and pay. All the candidates said they supported the continuation of the agreement.
Holdsclaw said the agreement is under negotiation this year and members hope to ink a new three-year contract with the city rather than extend the prior agreement again for another year.
The firefighters also asked whether candidates supported the department’s expansion to serve neighborhoods in southeastern Denton and at Robson Ranch. All the candidates said such expansion is warranted, pointing to Denton as a fast-growing city.
In addition, Roden said the city has learned that when large-scale housing developments are proposed, city leaders need to work with the developers to build a fire station or donate the land for a station. Cain added that he believes the city needs to put ambulances at Stations 6 and 7, as well as spend the money needed to add another station.
The firefighters also asked questions of broader public interest. One question asked each candidate to differentiate what they offer to the city over their opponent.
In District 2, Ryan said he has a financial mind, adding that he might be “slow to speak” because he’s thinking through the numbers as he makes decisions. Briggs said she has worked to build coalitions, and is accustomed to working with “tiny budgets to get big things done.”
Another question sought the candidates’ philosophy about economic development. In District 3, Briggle said she feels the city has done a good job attracting large business deals, but isn’t as responsive to small business, which is “where we create 95 percent of our jobs.”
Wazny said Denton has a reputation for not being business-friendly and could fix that by addressing problems in the planning department, adding that the airport and the hospitals could be growth areas for the city.
Whether the group’s endorsements prove predictive remains to be seen. Incumbents often have an advantage over challengers in elections. Last year, the group did make an endorsement in a race that had no incumbents, endorsing Chris Watts over Jean Schaake and Donna Woodfork in the mayor’s race. Schaake had broad support among many community leaders, but Watts ran a strong grass-roots campaign that won out in the end.
Early voting begins April 27.
Two more public forums have been scheduled with the candidates this week:
At 7 p.m. Thursday, the Denton Neighborhood Alliance will host a forum at City Hall, 215 E. McKinney St.
On Saturday, the local chapters of NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens will host a forum at the Denton Police Department’s training facility, 719 E. Hickory St.
The doors will open at 9:30 a.m., and the forum is expected to run from 10 a.m. to noon, with opportunities to meet and talk with the candidates both before and after the forum, organizers said.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.