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Feedback meetings complete, Eads says Confederate statue removal won’t be an option

FLOWER MOUND — Denton County Judge Andy Eads has no plans of turning back. It’s not like he ever considered it anyhow.

On Monday night, after the final of four listening meetings, Eads said he wished more residents had contributed at the meetings, so a committee could take feedback from the public on how best to contextualize the racism that led to the construction of the Confederate statue in downtown Denton in 1918.

There were some suggestions the committee will consider, but in a message that cannot be ignored, a prevailing suggestion from those who’ve decided to give feedback is to remove the statue from downtown and put it in a museum — a wish some still have despite the county government’s plan.

“We respect that, but the decision has already been made,” Eads said after the meeting at the Southwest Courthouse in Flower Mound.

In 2018, a 15-member committee recommended that the county not remove the statue but instead add context, an option some communities across the nation have taken while others have removed Confederate relics from public spaces.

The official plan — to “decry” slavery, add context to the racism that led to the statue’s arrival in 1918, add a monument to African American history in Denton County and turn on the once-segregated water fountains at the base of the statue — was recommended in January 2018 and went more than year without any action by Denton County officials until a new committee was formed in August.

Eads was placed on the newest committee, which hosted the four listening meetings. Denton County Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell is on the new committee as well, along with John Baines, who, as chairman, steered the original committee to the unanimous decision for contextualization.

Eads and Baines have tried to fasten citizens’ attention to the original committee’s recommended plan. To start the third meeting, the one in Denton that had the most people attending, Baines read emphatically from the report, its contents outlining the path that ultimately led them to Monday night. Dawn Cobb, the county’s public relations director, passed out copies of the reports to the crowd of about two dozen people during that meeting.

“We’ve had a clear path forward for over a year, and we’re maintaining the course,” Eads said Monday.

In the months it took the county to take the recommendation and form the new committee, the public learned former County Judge Mary Horn — under whose charge the original committee was formed — quietly went behind the committee’s back and had the county’s historical commission apply for a Texas Historical Commission marker, which would have preserved the statue had it been successful.

The state rejected the application in January but not a word was said until June, when the Denton Record-Chronicle obtained and published the documents.

Shortly after, the county got rolling again and brought the current phase of its plan to action. The latest step was Monday’s meeting in Flower Mound, where about six members of the public showed up.

Eads said Monday the next step now that the listening meetings are over is to launch a nationwide search for an artist who will bring the context to life in the form of new additions to the Confederate statue. He said that work will begin in January.


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Man said current girlfriend stabbed ex-girlfriend who was found by creek, affidavit shows

Jade Harris was still alive in the back seat of her car as Tanner Brock drove it away from his father’s property the night of Oct. 25. The 20-year-old had just been stabbed about three times, allegedly by Kyrstin Ross, Brock’s girlfriend, who sat in the passenger seat.

Brock pulled over to the side of a rural Denton County highway. Ross got out and went around to the back of the car and allegedly stabbed Harris multiple times more.

These details, all according to an arrest warrant affidavit from the Denton County Sheriff’s Office, give fresh insight into the murder investigation that started Nov. 3, when Harris was pulled from a creek bed, her body discovered beneath wooden branches, broken concrete blocks and two bed sheets — one red, one blue.

Jade Harris

The sheriff’s office has charged both Brock, 21, and Ross, 27, with first-degree murder. The arrest affidavit says Brock told investigators the sequence of events in an interview Nov. 14.

After the second stabbing, Brock drove to the Allsup’s convenience store in Justin for gasoline. He drove the Honda Accord back to the Ponder area, pulling the car to the side of FM2449. Ross and Brock pulled Harris’ body out of her car and tossed her over a bridge into Denton Creek, according to the affidavit.

Tanner Brock

Kyrstin Ross

Brock said he watched Ross descend toward the creek bed and place the broken concrete blocks on Harris’ body. From there, they drove west to Alvord, in Wise County, where at Brock’s residence Ross burned their clothes in a fire pit, the document says.

A day after the murder investigation began, authorities found the Accord on the shoulder of northbound Interstate 35E in Carrollton. Harris’ family had been searching for her for days. Bloodstains indicated to investigators someone had been wounded inside the vehicle.

Texas Ranger Clair Barnes and a sheriff’s investigator interviewed Brock’s father, who told them he saw his son pull up to his Cartwright Trail home in Harris’ car the afternoon following the stabbing. The investigators said the man told them he had seen blood in the car and saw Brock with a knife and believed his son had killed Harris, according to the arrest affidavit.

Harris’ mother told the Denton Record-Chronicle on Nov. 7 she knew in her heart Brock was involved in her daughter’s death. A day later, Brock was arrested and charged with murder.

Both Brock’s father and Harris’ mother said they suspected Brock was involved because he went to prison after assaulting Harris in 2016.

Days after his arrest, Brock sat for an interview and told investigators about Ross stabbing Harris. He indicated Ross was upset that Harris was hanging out with them the night of Oct. 25. They had gathered at Brock’s father’s residence for the father’s birthday, Brock told investigators.

Brock told investigators that Harris had told him Ross “threatened to ‘beat her up’ and ‘kill her.’” When Brock confronted Ross about this, according to the document, Ross allegedly told Brock it was “disrespectful” for Harris to be visiting with Brock. He told Ross to “quit pouting and do something if she didn’t like it.”

Brock told investigators he found Ross a short time later punching Harris and that she eventually stabbed her. After that, Ross and Brock pulled Harris into the back seat and drove away.

Authorities arrested Ross on Nov. 17 and charged her with murder. Both Brock and Ross were in the Denton County Jail on Monday on first-degree murder charges, jail records show.


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Denton mulls tax-finance terms for massive housing development

The Denton City Council’s second meeting this week begins with a beefy discussion about new subdivisions proposed for the southwest side.

The owners and developers of Cole Ranch and Hunter Ranch have proposed a special taxing district in order to recover some of the estimated $485 million in public infrastructure costs, such as roads and water and sewer lines, from the homes and businesses that will be built there.

The council has been split on support for the project’s financing so far. Tuesday’s meeting could determine whether enough support remains for the property tax arrangement that could turbocharge Denton’s growth.

The two massive projects cover about 6,000 acres along Interstate 35W between FM2449 and the Robson Ranch retirement community in far southwest Denton. Proposed as master-planned communities, Cole Ranch and Hunter Ranch could bring more than 15,000 new homes to Denton.

According to the latest tax rolls, Denton currently has about 30,000 single-family homes. The developers also plan new apartments, shops and businesses, including a corporate campus for the base of Pilot Knob Hill.

Hunter Ranch is a Hillwood Communities project. Cole Ranch is a Stratford Land project. The two developers told city officials they have decided to work together to save costs. They also got legislative approval to publicly finance those costs, pending the city’s final approval.

Property owners in the district could pay as much as an extra 55 cents per $100 valuation to the district — above and beyond city, school and county taxes — to repay the financing. For example, the owner of a $200,000 home in central Denton would pay about $4,400 in property taxes each year, but a Cole or Hunter Ranch homeowner would pay about $5,500 in property taxes each year.

If development goes as planned, Denton ISD could add six elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school to serve the area.

The council work session begins at noon. The agenda also includes continuing talks on the city’s gas well ordinance and proposed traffic safety initiatives.


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Extra police expected in three Denton ISD schools beginning in January

More police in schools, a taste of construction-to-be and a shift surrounding gas well setbacks came out of Monday’s joint meeting between Denton ISD and the city of Denton at the school district’s Central Services Building.

City Council members will consider a proposal from the school board and Denton Police Chief Frank Dixon that calls for three additional school resource officers.

Denton, Guyer and Ryan high schools would each get an extra officer, bringing each campus’s total to two full-time officers. Officers remain employed by the police department, but the school district pays at least a portion of their salary and benefits.

As of Monday, Denton ISD has one Denton police officer acting as an SRO at three of its high schools and three middle schools within Denton city limits: Denton, Guyer and Ryan high schools; and Calhoun, McMath and Strickland middle schools.

The district contracts with other police departments for schools outside Denton proper.

In the arrangement pitched Monday, Denton ISD would pay 100% of the costs for the three officers’ salaries and expected benefits. That’s a departure from the current standard — which was approved Sept. 24 — in which Denton ISD pays half of the expected salary and benefits.

The school district would continue to cover 50% of costs for the other six officers.

The School Resource Officer Program began in 1997. In 2011, Denton ISD began to reimburse the city 50% of the costs for SROs at the high schools. In April 2018, the district began reimbursing the city for officers at middle schools.

The agreement brought forth Monday would leave Denton ISD paying the city $402,092 from January 2020 until the end of the school year.

Including the payments from the first half of the school year, the district will have reimbursed the city more than $610,000. If the rate continues for the 2020-21 school year, the district’s expense for the nine officers would top out at more than $800,000.

By Monday evening, no one from Denton ISD had responded to a request for comment sent after the joint meeting ended Monday afternoon.

Construction

Both entities presented an overview of their upcoming construction projects during Monday’s meeting. In addition to the multitude of campus construction projects the school district has going on, including renovations to Guyer and Ryan high schools, city officials explained the various road projects they hope to have done in the next few years.

Among the most pressing road projects concerning Denton ISD are North Bonnie Brae Street, which will lead up to the new Denton High School campus; the eastern section of McKinney Street leading to Ryan High; and the bit of Teasley Lane leading to Guyer.

The expansion of Teasley, which will cost an estimated $38 million, is scheduled to conclude in November 2021. Construction on the final section of East McKinney, with its $18 million price tag, is set to finish up in December 2021. Finally, construction on Bonnie Brae is set to be complete sometime in 2021, leaving a small buffer before the new Denton High is set to open for the 2022-23 school year.

Also of note, the city plans to add sidewalks to roadsides within a quarter-mile of a school within city limits. That’ll add up to 28.4 miles of sidewalk. The project would cost an estimated $18.7 million, roughly $12 million of which would likely fall to the city to pay.

Gas wells

The Denton City Council reconvened back at City Hall, minus council member Keely Briggs, after Mayor Chris Watts asked to reconsider the vote that increased the distance from old gas wells and new homes from 250 feet to 500 feet.

The move delayed the implementation of the ordinance, which was set to go into effect this Friday, and pushed any new vote on the measure to after the first of the year.


Al Key/DRC 

Visitors to the Square in Denton walk under a wreath, one of many Christmas decorations that city workers put up Monday morning around downtown. Workers also put up lights on the Christmas tree that will be lit during the Denton Holiday Lighting Festival scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Friday. For more information about the festival and other holiday events, pick up the Denton Record-Chronicle’s Christmas in Denton County special section in Wednesday’s edition.