Denton County officials moved a little closer to telling a fuller story about the Confederate soldier monument that stands in downtown Denton and how it has affected people for decades.
County leaders unveiled for the first time on Tuesday the official plans to add a memorial honoring black history in Denton County and “denouncing slavery” to the monument. The county also plans to reconnect the monument’s two drinking fountains, which generations of people in Denton have said were segregated for the exclusive use of white people.
A committee appointed by the county commissioners recommended in February 2018 that the county should not remove the monument — which some in Denton still want to happen — and instead add missing historical context about the racism that hoisted the monument in 1918.
More than a year after the committee recommendation, county officials announced on Tuesday they’ve accepted the recommendation and will soon launch a national search for a sculptor and appoint a new committee to decide exactly what will be written on the new memorial.
Peggy Riddle, director of the county’s Office of History and Culture, said there will be a granite memorial with black history and more context about slavery and the Confederacy.
“It helps complete the story,” County Judge Andy Eads said. “There is a missing piece to this story.”
Informational kiosks will also be added. The sidewalks around the monuments will have to be widened, Riddle said.
She said the water fountains will be turned on again.
But the struggle over the Confederate statue’s role in race relations in Denton County is not over. Some residents still want the statue to be toppled or moved inside a museum.
“I don’t think this is the way to go forward,” said Phyllis Minton, calling the monument, no matter the additional context, disrespectful.
One woman who showed up to the commissioners’ meeting Tuesday to speak about the issue called the statue an “embarrassment” to Denton. Others say its presence in downtown still emboldens people who believe in white supremacist ideals.
The nation is still recovering from fresh wounds after a white man drove from Allen to El Paso to kill Hispanic people with an AK-47 rifle. Authorities say he posted a “manifesto” that talked about an “invasion” of Mexican immigrants.
While the county intends on adding context about the role the Confederacy played in fighting to preserve slavery, some want the new committee to think about current events and the nation’s future as they decide what words should appear on the memorial.
“We live in a dangerous time right now, where a growing minority of people look to institutions like this to validate radicalized hate,” said Mat Pruneda, who is running as a Democrat against U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Pilot Point. “I think if we give true historical context to what happened and was done in the past, we can tamp that down.”
Pruneda and others criticized certain aspects of the new plan, but all of the nearly a dozen people who spoke during Tuesday’s meeting said they were thankful the county is finally moving to address the issue.
“America has fallen quite a few times in its history,” said John Baines, who was the chairman of the committee that recommended the additions in 2018. “But I believe today we are trying to get up.”
Students across Denton County will soon begin their coursework for the 2019-20 school year, if they haven’t already.
For parents, that could mean selecting the final pieces of back-to-school supplies; for students, a return to a structured order often unfelt during summer recess.
Many educators across the county have already been back at work to prepare for the new year.
Even for those not directly affected by the approaching school year, big changes will start creeping back as school buses kick into high gear. School zones will take effect.
The Texas Department of Transportation recently urged people to avoid using handheld electronic devices while in active school zones, and reminded people that traffic fines usually double in those areas.
While it’s easy to forget, Denton police spokeswoman Khristen Jones said drivers should stay vigilant and aware of their surroundings when near schools.
“We will have increased patrols in school zones [Wednesday],” Jones said.
She also said drivers should remember not to pass school buses from either direction while the bus’ stop signs are enabled.
While two school districts — Denton and Sanger — had some students start a day earlier, most districts in the area will start classes Wednesday morning.
All enrolled students in Denton, Krum, Aubrey, Ponder and Sanger ISDs will start class on Wednesday. Lake Dallas ISD opens for the school year on Thursday. Argyle and Pilot Point schools don’t start until Monday.
Denton police said Tuesday that nobody will be charged with a hate crime in the assault of a bar manager at Harvest House last month, in which he said he was hit in the face by a man who had multiple swastika tattoos on display.
The assault happened July 28, the night after the white nationalist organization Patriot Front held a flash protest outside Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, chanting “Reclaim America!” before leaving in a moving van.
In a memo published Tuesday, Police Chief Frank Dixon wrote that investigators found the Harvest House assault was unrelated to the Rubber Gloves protest.
“The group involved in the Harvest House incident was in no way linked or associated with the hate group from Rubber Gloves,” Dixon wrote in the memo. “This does not in any way, shape, or form, negate the fact that we had two incidents in our city that had facets of hate engrained in them.”
Investigators probed the Harvest House incident but did not look too far into the Patriot Front protest, according to Dixon’s memo. There were no reports of violence at Rubber Gloves, police have said.
At Harvest House, bar manager Alex Moon said he asked a group of about four people to leave because he and others in the bar could see multiple swastika tattoos on one of the men in the group. Moon said he was hit in the face with a pint glass and called an anti-Semitic slur.
Dixon wrote in the memo that investigators found the man who allegedly hit Moon and interviewed him. The man denied using the slur and hitting Moon, police said.
Dixon said the man admitted to being a member of a Texas prison gang. Witnesses told police that somebody in his group shouted the initials for the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas before leaving the bar. The man denies this, too, Dixon said.
Police spokeswoman Khristen Jones said the man will not be charged with a hate crime because he did not enter the bar to assault Moon. The bar manager was allegedly assaulted during a dispute, and it’s not clear to police how the dispute began, Dixon wrote.
Authorities have summoned the suspect to appear in municipal court for a Class C misdemeanor assault by contact case, the memo reads.
Jones, the police spokeswoman, said the man who is accused of assaulting Moon is from the area, while the people involved in the Patriot Front rally are not.
Dixon wrote in the memo that officers were unable to prepare for the Patriot Front protest at Rubber Gloves because it was unannounced, calling it a “flash protest.” He said officers were on scene within about five minutes after the first 911 call, but the group was already gone.
Next week could bring big budget news in Denton, if all the ducks line up the way City Manager Todd Hileman anticipates.
A cost-of-service study in the Development Services department is finished. Hileman estimates the department has been undercharging nearly $4 million annually — an amount that’s equal to about 3 to 4 cents of the city’s property tax rate. A new fee schedule for various building permits and inspections should take the burden off the general taxpayer.
Council members can revisit the proposed tax rate for fiscal year 2020 if they agree to the new fee schedule, Hileman said. The proposed rate of 60.545 cents per $100 valuation stands 1.5 cents higher than the effective rate.
The effective rate is a complicated calculation required by state law that boosts transparency with taxpayers: It is meant to show the rate the city would charge to collect the same amount of taxes on the same property from one year to the next.
“We’ll go back in and recalculate for you,” Hileman told council members during their work session Tuesday afternoon.
For the past two years, Hileman has proposed a budget based on the effective tax rate. But he didn’t do that this year. Instead, he unveiled this year’s $1.2 billion budget with a property tax rate higher than the effective rate knowing city leaders could probably reduce the tax rate after the development service discussion, he said.
Denton’s property tax roll jumped 11.5% this year, with more than two-thirds of that increase coming from an increase in values on existing properties. Last year, the average house value was $233,241. This year, the average value rose to $248,909.
The city manager did not propose an increase in rates for water, wastewater and garbage service. The City Council has delayed a decision on a possible increase in electric rates.
Either way the property tax discussion goes, Hileman expects the city can pay for major initiatives to address homelessness in the city, along with key public safety projects and a pay raise for most city employees.
Council member Deb Armintor asked about the status of her requests for the city to offer paid parental leave or pay workers no less than $15 an hour. Hileman said that both remain on a list of unfunded requests that did not have enough support from other council members to make the cut.
So far, council members have not demonstrated an appetite to give themselves a raise. The mayor receives a $1,000 monthly stipend and most council members receive $750. (Armintor declined hers since she is a state university employee.) But they did go along with a proposal from District 1 council member Gerard Hudspeth to increase council contingency funds to $1,700 next year.
A contingency fund is money each council member can use to direct to community nonprofits and events of their choosing.
The City Council holds its first public hearing on the property tax rate next Tuesday during its regular council meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.