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UNT Frisco plans, university budget finalized; Wright replaces Ryan as board chair

FORT WORTH — Plans are becoming more solidified for the University of North Texas branch campus in Frisco, as officials reviewed an official master plan for the property during a Board of Regents meeting Thursday.

Regents grappled with how the campus will fit into the system, asking questions about dual enrollment with other UNT System schools and asking how long it will remain a branch campus before it turns into its own entity. Neal Smatresk, UNT president, said he hopes Frisco will stay a branch campus forever.

“Frisco will be able to tap into the power of a Carnegie Tier One campus immediately, and we already have multiple programs out there, so this offers them a full suite of services in higher education,” Smatresk said. “This augments us and complements [UNT] instead of diminishing us.”

The newest version of the master plan was presented by Jack Black, design director at architecture firm Ayers Saint Gross. It remained largely the same as the plan presented at the regents’ last meeting in May. This time, the plan is up for final board approval Friday, and if approved, it will officially be the guiding document to build out the campus.

Laura Wright

The meeting covered the master plan and got things in order for the upcoming academic year, from discussing budgets to electing board member Laura Wright as the new chairwoman of the board. She replaced G. Brint Ryan, who has served as chairman for six years.

Plans for the Frisco campus include an initial campus building, parking lot, bell tower and pavilion and will eventually expand to add additional classroom buildings, an amphitheater and a pedestrian bridge across Panther Creek Parkway. The plan is set to span 25 to 30 years, though it could be implemented sooner as growth in Frisco continues to explode, Black said.

“Long term, it’s hard to tell this in an accurate way because Frisco is such a dynamic area. I’d say this is a 25- or 30-year plan, but that could easily move up 10 years,” Black said. “The development window of this campus is unusually short — it would normally be a 40- or 50-year plan — but it’s going to be about half.”

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, a regent on UNT’s board, said he wanted to see students in Frisco be able to dual-enroll at UNT Dallas, and was concerned about the lack of housing in the plans. Bob Brown, senior vice president for finance and administration, said he thinks the private sector will meet any demand for housing near campus, but if it doesn’t, housing could be added to the campus.

At the meeting, regents and officials also tackled the budget for the upcoming year, which projects UNT will generate $42.5 million more than last year, a 5.7% change. The major increase comes from $15.2 million in increased state appropriations, differential tuition rates that charge extra for more expensive courses, and the addition of a new dining hall and residence hall.

With the increased revenues, the university plans to continue student success initiatives to increase retention and on-time graduation, such as reducing barriers for working students and nontraditional students. There will also be expanded support for mental health programs, career readiness and a merit pool created for faculty and staff raises.

New board chairwoman Wright, who is a Dallas resident, presided over the meeting after she was unanimously elected. Ryan, who had served as chairman since 2013, will remain a board member until his governor-appointed term expires in May 2021.

University and system leaders were prepared for his departure, with Chancellor Lesa Roe gifting Ryan a golden gavel and Smatresk presenting him with a football jersey that shows “$30,000,000” instead of a last name, to commemorate his $30 million gift to name the business school.

Wright has served on the board since 2015 and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UNT. Before she retired in 2012, she was chief financial officer and senior vice president of finance for Southwest Airlines.

Milton Lee, a board member since 2013, will serve as the vice chairman of the board.

The board will continue to meet Friday in Fort Worth, with the full board voting on the budget and Frisco master plan.

Kara Dry/DRC  

Crew members lay asphalt Thursday on the Brinker Road underpass at Interstate 35E, where construction began this week. Under an economic deal Denton made with Buc-ee’s, the city contributed $2.1 million for the new underpass at Brinker as part of the $26.6 million project that widens I-35E from four lanes to six from Mayhill Road to Dallas Drive. The entire project is expected to be finished in November — nearly one year behind schedule.

Panel asks Briggs to clarify ethics inquiry

A city ethics panel on Thursday evening asked Denton City Council member Keely Briggs to resubmit her question asking if she would have a conflict of interest if she participates in discussions about the construction of a Denton police substation.

Briggs entered the panel hearing on Thursday hoping for some clarity. She left City Hall without an answer.

She originally asked the city’s ethics board if she would be violating the ethics ordinance if she weighed in on discussions about the police substation if a contractor hired an architecture firm that her sister-in-law’s father owns.

The police substation project first needs to be approved by voters in a bond election. Once voters approve that, the contractor handling the project would be officially selected. From there, the contractor would be paid by the city to complete the project, and the contractor would choose the companies to complete the project.

So the panelists were essentially being asked: Would Briggs need to recuse herself from discussions with or about the contractor because of a relationship she has with the architecture firm, which technically has not been picked yet?

The ethics panel, made up of Rob Rayner, Don Cartwright and chair Karen McDaniels, voted 2-1 to ask Briggs to resubmit the question for clarity. McDaniels voted against.

“I was just trying to get ahead of the game, and it turned out to be confusing,” Briggs said.

While it was largely agreed Briggs likely did not have a conflict of interest because citizens will vote and ultimately decide on whether to approve the police substation project, the panel characterized Briggs’ question as hypothetical and said the ethics board risked setting a precedent with any ruling that could allow future council members to cite it and use it to potentially avoid scrutiny on conflicts of interest.

The panel credited Briggs for being proactive and for having previously asked the ethics board to weigh in on issues.

“I don’t believe in being naive, but I do believe in trusting the good judgment of the people that are our elected officials,” McDaniels said.

Remembrance group plans December memorial for lynching victims

PILOT POINT — History’s activists plan a community remembrance ceremony in December, a special memorial to stand in place of the funerals that Denton County’s lynching victims and their families never had.

The Denton County Community Remembrance Project, a still-growing grassroots group of volunteers, chose December for several reasons. The time frame gives volunteers a chance to create a meaningful event. They also wanted enough time for other people, including affected families, to become part of the planning. And a December ceremony would fall on the 97th anniversary of one of the few documented lynchings in Denton County.

On Dec. 14, 1922, two men were taken from the Pilot Point jail and never heard from again. Left behind in their place at the jail was a chilling note meant to terrorize the black community.

A key part of the ceremony will be to collect soil that will ultimately become part of the memorial at the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. The Equal Justice Initiative opened the museum, along with the National Memorial of Peace and Justice, to national acclaim last year.

Pilot Point resident Cecelia Harris was among the volunteers who spent 90 minutes Thursday evening around a table at the Pilot Point Senior Center talking about the next steps. It was the group’s third meeting in as many months.

Harris was concerned that working too hard to document where the two men had been held, or ultimately murdered, would mean missing the chance to honor the lynching victims whose murders were not documented.

“There were many more,” Harris said. “It wasn’t talked about. Someone they know just disappeared.”

Project members agreed the soil collection needed only be intentional to honor those lives lost from the time of the Civil War through the Jim Crow era. The soil could even be collected in layers from many areas to acknowledge the conspiracy of silence around many disappearances of both blacks and Hispanics in Denton County.

One project member said she collected soil on the Legacy Museum’s behalf once before. Hollie Teague, a graduate student at Texas Woman’s University, met a staff member of the Equal Justice Initiative at a history conference a few years ago. She volunteered to gather a soil sample from Texas for the museum. EJI sent her information about several lynchings in the state. She decided to gather a sample on behalf of a man who was lynched by police in Texarkana.

Teague and her daughter drove to the likely spot of the man’s killing to collect soil to remember him.

“I wondered what it would be like to know I was about to be murdered by an officer,” she said. “I tried to be thoughtful and honor him. Then we said a prayer and collected the soil and sent it back.”

The soil sample sits among hundreds on a memorial wall inside the Legacy Museum.

The December time frame also gives EJI enough time to send local project members the supplies and instructions they need so the Denton County soil sample can become part of the permanent national memorial.

Willie Hudspeth, one of the project’s original volunteers and president of the local NAACP, said the group continues to make good progress in becoming part of the national memorial.

“With this ceremony, all I want is to remember what they went through,” Hudspeth said.

The Denton County Community Remembrance Project members may not meet in September and instead focus on outreach to various churches and student groups that would be interested in participating in the December ceremony, volunteer Chelsea Stallings said.

More information can be found on the group’s Facebook page,