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Denton man claims council member insults city's "native" heritage

Updated at 9:50 a.m. to correctly describe council member Deb Armintor's Denton residency, and that the Civil Rights Act was enacted in 1964. 

A Denton man calling himself a “proud but increasingly concerned native” warned the City Council Tuesday night that he would initiate a recall petition against council member Deb Armintor for her social activism.

William Freeman also left behind a cease-and-desist letter threatening to sue Armintor for blocking him from her campaign’s Facebook page.

“This isn’t a crusade, but these are the options she left me with,” Freeman, 31, said in an interview Wednesday. “She has slandered this city, calling it a hateful, racist place with hateful bigots. She doesn’t support our local culture.”

During the open mic session that the City Council holds at the beginning of each regular meeting, Freeman said Armintor is an agent of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He said her work “reviled the ancestry of the citizens of this peaceful community for far too long.”

Armintor, who has lived in Denton since 2002, denied having any such affiliation with the center, but she said she understands why her work is a lightning rod. She campaigned for office to get reforms in the executive suite at City Hall and at Denton Municipal Electric, not for social issues. Regardless, she presses for change, she said.

Freeman's "cease and desist" letter

“I’m aware that just by being Jewish, I have white skin and privilege, and that comes with responsibility,” Armintor said Wednesday. “I don’t think left wing or right wing, but you have to use your position to speak up for people who can’t.”

On Tuesday night, Freeman called the Southern Poverty Law Center a hate group and said Armintor holds a deep affection for them.

“I have trouble accepting that she’s done that little research on them,” he added Wednesday.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Alabama, began in 1971 after prominent businessman and lawyer Morris Dees noticed that few other lawyers would take on civil rights cases. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the law of the land, but the resistance to it, particularly in the South, was strong. Dees sold his business to start the nonprofit legal center and persuaded another lawyer to join him.

Their successful cases changed the legal landscape in Alabama. They also won multimillion-dollar judgments for their clients against white supremacist groups, essentially shutting them down.

Dees, 82, was fired by the nonprofit’s board in March, a move linked to workplace conduct, according to national media reports. Those same reports said the nonprofit’s endowment approached a half-billion dollars.

Although not its primary mission, the center still tracks hate groups of all stripes and lists 14 groups with statewide activities that include North Texas.

SPLC officials denied that the center itself is a hate group, in a prepared statement to the Denton Record-Chronicle:

“Our goal with tracking hate and extremism is to educate the public on groups and organizations that fall into our definition of a hate group. Our intention is not to silence or infringe upon anyone’s rights to free speech and opposing viewpoints.”

On Tuesday night, Freeman did not say anything publicly about the claims in his cease-and-desist letter. In the letter, he said Armintor violated his First Amendment rights by blocking him from her campaign’s Facebook page.

Armintor confirmed she had blocked his account but only after several questionable interactions online, she said. She tried to find out whether he was a resident who needed help with a specific city issue. The public-facing elements of his Facebook page gave few clues to who Freeman was and had more in common with fake accounts than one that was authentic, she said.

During Wednesday’s interview, Freeman said the social media issue wasn’t about trolling but about his First Amendment rights to express his views.

“Council member Armintor has over and over blurred the lines of who she represents,” Freeman said.

He said he was talking to an attorney about pursuing legal action against Armintor, considering last month’s decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York, which found that because President Donald Trump uses his personal Twitter account for government purposes, he violated the Constitution by blocking some users from seeing his posts.

But Freeman said he hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

“I have the right to petition the redress of my government,” Freeman said.

Freeman was raised in Denton and has traveled the nation and the globe, he said. He worked for several years as a contract canvasser for various initiatives, particularly in California. While he hasn’t identified anyone yet to help with the canvas, he said he is confident he can get the required signatures for a recall, if necessary.

The Denton City Charter empowers voters to force a special recall election under certain conditions. In 2014, voters rejected a charter amendment that would have made it more difficult to recall council members, letting long-standing provisions remain.

To recall Armintor, Freeman and four other canvassers, called electors, would have to write a clear and concise statement for the grounds of removal on the petition. Then they would have to collect enough verifiable signatures (with printed full name, address and date) to total 25% of all ballots cast in Armintor’s last election.

A total of 6,506 ballots were cast in the Denton City Council Place 5 runoff election in June 2018, which means Freeman would have to collect 1,627 signatures in a 45-day window to qualify.

Armintor’s term ends in May 2020.

Jeff Woo/DRC  

Volunteer David Lujan moves boxes of students’ belongings into their dorms at Texas Woman’s University’s Guinn Hall on Wednesday, August 21, 2019, in Denton. Students also started moving into Stark Hall. The university’s first day of class for the fall semester will start this upcoming Monday.

Lines to get driver's licenses are long. Texans are skeptical more money will help.

DALLAS — Shane Washington arrived at a driver’s license mega center in South Dallas around 3:30 p.m. one day last month. After a few days of unsuccessfully trying to use the office’s online queuing system to reserve a spot in line, he finally stopped by without a reservation ahead of the July 4 holiday.

Washington, 42, was scheduled to pick his son up from relatives that evening. But when 5:45 p.m. came and he found himself still waiting in the office, he had to push back those plans, inconveniencing both his family and himself.

“It’s just stressful to be dealing with,” Washington said. “It’s hard to block off an entire day.”

Long waits for customers like Washington at driver’s license centers aren’t uncommon throughout the state. A 2018 report showed the Texas Department of Public Safety wasn’t meeting its processing time goals for customers and that already lengthy wait times were only getting longer.

To combat that, state lawmakers gave DPS a $212 million funding boost in the 2020-21 budget, over two-thirds of which will be used to hire an additional 762 employees at driver’s license offices. DPS spokesperson Katherine Cesinger said 94 of the department’s 229 offices — including every mega center and “severely crowded” office — will become fully staffed, while another 100 will receive smaller personnel boosts.

For customers, that should mean lower wait periods and more available appointments for driver’s license tests once the new employees begin working toward the end of the year, Cesinger said.

About $50 million will also go toward reclassifying some customer service staffers as license permit specialists and boosting their pay, which Cesinger said will soon be reflected in employee paychecks.

Yet despite potential fixes on the horizon, some customers said they aren’t convinced wait times will drop long-term. Erika King, 39, said each time she’s visited a south Austin DPS office, her wait has extended past an hour and a half.

Regardless of what the department tries, King said she expects that to continue.

“They always say they have a new way to fix this b.s. but they’ve tried this before,” she said, “and it hasn’t worked.”

Seven years ago, DPS mega centers were funded with $63 million earmarked for building six offices and hiring 266 employees. At the time, customers were told wait times would be reduced to 30 minutes or less. But years later, some spend up to eight hours at busier locations. Since then, the Legislature has poured over $400 million into the department to lower wait times in attempts that, up to now, haven’t worked.

Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who was on the conference committee that added the funding to DPS’ 2020-21 budget, called the wait times a “chronic and unresolved problem.”

“The money doesn’t do you any good unless you have the personnel to get the job done,” Bettencourt said. “They need to start looking at hiring more part-time, since it doesn’t matter how you get people as long as you get good service.”

By December 2020, DPS will build and staff two new driver’s license offices — projected to cost up to $8 million for each — in Angleton, about 45 miles south of Houston, and Denton, north of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area.

The department will also run a three-month trial next year to determine whether longer operating hours could help curb long lines. At four yet-to-be-selected urban and rural driver’s license offices, weekday hours will be extended to 9 p.m. and the department will produce a report on the results.

Longer evening hours could help customers like Heather Hall, 26, who stopped by the Pflugerville mega center outside of Austin two times in three weeks to get her license renewed. Since she was having a “rough day” when her previous photo was taken, Hall said she wanted to stop by in-person for a new one. But after leaving work early to arrive — and encountering hour-plus long waits both times — she eventually resigned herself to renewing online since she didn’t want to still be in the office at closing.

She also didn’t believe the funding would alleviate long waits.

“If something’s broken,” Hall said, “you can’t just throw money into it and expect it to be better.”

But over the past few years, the department has hit obstacles when trying to fix issues in other ways. When, following recommendations, the state agency proposed closing 87 “inefficient” offices last year, plans were ultimately axed after projected rises in travel times for service sparked customer pushback.

As the department’s searches for ways to speed up visits continue coming up futile, constituents have tightened pressure on lawmakers — and that’s triggered tension between DPS and the Capitol. Earlier this year, even Gov. Greg Abbott weighed in on the issue.

“The way DPS has handled driver’s licenses in the state of Texas is despicable, and it has been non-responsive,” Abbott said at a March news conference.

There has also been a debate over whether it’s possible for the program to run efficiently under DPS at all, after a report by the state’s Sunset Commission — which routinely reviews state agencies for efficiency — suggested otherwise.

Over 40 states run driver’s license programs through their respective Department of Motor Vehicles. Since Texas does not, included in the new budget is $1 million for DPS to conduct a feasibility study around moving the driver’s license program to the DMV. If it’s not submitted by Sept. 1, 2020, the system will automatically transfer the following September.

State DMV spokesperson Adam Shaivitz said in an email statement that if transferred, the department would make the driver’s license program its “top priority.”

And Bettencourt said if the funding DPS received this legislative session can’t produce changes, that’s exactly what will happen.

“I don’t want any excuses,” Bettencourt said. “Either this gets done right by DPS, or someone else will have to do it.”

Texas lawmakers hope an additional $200 million will decrease dreaded wait times at driver’s license centers

Texas lawmakers want to fix wait times at driver’s license offices. Will they agree on a solution?

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signs $250 billion budget with no line-item vetoes

“Lines to get driver’s licenses are long. Texans are skeptical more money will help.” was first published at by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Three plead guilty in 2017 rape of teen in Pilot Point

This story has been updated

A third man pleaded guilty Wednesday in a case out of Pilot Point in which police said a 15-year-old girl was raped in the summer of 2017.

Treymon Johnson, 22, of Denton pleaded guilty to the third-degree felony charge of enticing a child. He was given 10 years of probation. His plea came about three weeks after DaCoven Bailey, 21, of Pilot Point pleaded guilty to the same charge and a month after Desmen Crawford, 22, of Valley View did the same.

All three men were initially indicted on a third-degree felony charge of sexual assault of a child. One other man, Xavier Scott, 21, of Denton is scheduled for a plea hearing on Sept. 4.

Treymon Johnson

Pilot Point police arrested the men during the winter of 2017. They were all accused of raping a 15-year-old girl on July 24, 2017. All four men were indicted on sexual assault of a child last fall.

DaCoven Bailey

The girl’s mother spoke in Judge Steve Burgess’ 158th District Court on Tuesday. She said her daughter’s life was traumatized by the other men. She came to court without her daughter, her sons or her husband.

Desmen Crawford

“You have changed our entire family forever,” the woman said to Johnson.

Xavier Scott

Bailey was kicked off the Rutgers University football team in New Jersey after he was arrested by police in December 2018. Scott was kicked off the East Central University football team in Ada, Oklahoma, after his arrest. Both were Denton-area student athletes before they graduated high school in 2016.