In an unexpected change in course, Denton County officials announced late Tuesday evening they might stop their controversial redistricting plans altogether.
Commissioner Hugh Coleman, who said he originally asked for the county to redistrict to balance out the county’s resources, met with County Judge Andy Eads on Tuesday afternoon and together decided it would be best if the commissioners allocate those resources during budget discussions rather than redistrict to do so and potentially face lawsuits.
There will be a meeting at 4:45 p.m. Friday in the Commissioners Courtroom at the Courthouse on the Square “to discuss and consider withdrawing [Coleman’s] request for redistricting,” according to a county news release.
The about-face came at the end of a Tuesday on which the commissioners received their most vivid warning that the county could face lawsuits if it follows through with the plan to redraw commissioners’ precincts.
In a memo to the Commissioners Court, Richard Gladden, the Denton attorney who fought in a federal redistricting case beginning in 2003, explained how the U.S. Supreme Court does not accept population estimates, which is what county officials have used in their plan, over exact headcount data.
Gladden and others warned the county would face millions of dollars in lawsuits if the county flubs the rollout of redistricting. The county has not hired an attorney to guide it through the process.
And that’s why dozens of the plan’s critics say Denton County should wait until after 2020, when the headcount data becomes available — in order to get the most accurate data.
In another change, the county said Tuesday it was now using only American Community Survey data, which is produced by the U.S. Census Bureau but is not a headcount of people living in Denton County. Statistically speaking, the ACS projects the population based on smaller surveys.
“The ACS is not a count of anybody,” Gladden said. “It’s a survey. They sample, just like a presidential poll.”
Eads sought to do damage control during Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting by saying the county would no longer use voter registration data as a factor to justify its need to change the precincts now instead of waiting for the U.S. census in 2020.
Minority groups and Democrats have warned that the use of such voter data to reform the commissioner precinct lines would create a bias and leave behind groups who are less likely to vote or participate in elections.
Before any of those critics spoke about the issue Tuesday, Eads read a prepared speech, after which several of the speakers thanked the judge and commissioners for hearing their calls.
“It is not the intent of this court to use voter registration data for commissioner precinct redistricting,” Eads said. “A variety of data sources were initially collected by our ... team, but we will only use census data for this process.”
He and other officials, including Commissioner Dianne Edmondson, sought to dispel any notion that voter registration data was ever planned to be used in the redistricting process.
Later in the meeting, Edmondson said it was incorrect for people to say the county was using voter registration data.
“We never said we were,” she said. “So I urge all of you who are concerned about this, and you now know that is not a legitimate concern, to please make sure you have the facts before you get so up in arms.”
But that concern didn’t pop up out of nowhere.
“This meeting was the first time I’ve heard that it was never being used,” Denton County Democratic Party Chairwoman Angie Cadena said of voter data. “So that was a surprise.”
It was based on the fact that Aldo Alvina, a geographic information systems manager with Denton County Technology Services, wrote in an email that voter registration data from each voter precinct throughout the county was indeed used to calculate how many registered voters lived in each voter precinct, as another way to estimate the population.
From there, after Democrats received this email, the accusation began flying around that the Republican-held court was using voter registration data to decide the new commissioner precincts.
With the special meeting scheduled for Friday, it looks like the whole saga will, at least for now, be put to bed.
Eads could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening, but he was quoted in a news release as saying, “It has always been my intent to do what is best for the entire county, and I believe we can accomplish that through our budget process.”
This story has been updated to correct the number of meals that are served daily and the Debbie Smallwood works for Denton ISD.
Kids line up along the island in the kitchen of the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center, waiting to be served the day’s meal. On Monday, they ate chicken tacos, served with an orange and milk. Some days it’s hot dogs or hamburgers.
The free meals served to the children are part of the national Summer Food Service Program, and the MLK center is just one of various Denton locations that offer free food to children and teens 18 and younger.
“I’ve tasted everything they’ve got, and it’s really good,” Debbie Smallwood said.
Smallwood, who works for Denton ISD, helps serve meals to kids. This is the second summer she has helped out with the program. The weekday breakfast and lunch meals at the King center are sponsored by the nonprofit S. Tracy Howard Project.
“It is much more rewarding than I thought it would be,” Smallwood said.
Nationally, 17.9% of children 18 and under experience food insecurity, according to the No Kid Hungry campaign run by Share Our Strength. The No Kid Hungry campaign defines that as “limited or uncertain availability of safe, nutritious food at some point during the year.”
In Texas, 23.8% of children experience food insecurity, according to No Kid Hungry.
Smallwood said she serves about 90 meals a day. Some of the kids who receive meals are part of summer camps, while others are members of the community who drop by for food. No child is refused a meal.
“I think it has [grown],” Smallwood said. “I think, from last year, we’ve had a little more — maybe by 20 kids. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you have kids that don’t have food, to me that’s a lot.”
Just under 16% of kids in all states participated in the summer meals program in 2015, “based on the number of low-income students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunch during the school year,” according to No Kid Hungry.
“It’s hard to realize that there are hungry kids,” Smallwood said.
In Texas, 10.2% of kids participated in the summer meals program, according to No Kid Hungry.
“This is a good deal,” Smallwood said. “They may not get all they want, but they get a little something.”
To find places that serve free meals during the summer, visit summerfood.org and enter your ZIP code.
The Denton City Council rejected the latest contract offers from wind farms and solar energy storage projects that would have helped the city reach its goal to be powered by 100% renewable energy by next year.
Denton Municipal Electric staff recommended the move, saying that they would seek new bids for the projects. Coastal wind and solar energy storage are both key objectives in meeting the 100% goal.
In addition, Terry Naulty, DME’s assistant general manager, said that separate contract offers for 25 megawatts of solar power were still being evaluated.
“Solar is more cost effective and a better fit to meet our objectives,” Naulty said.
DME sent out requests for proposals last year seeking different kinds of renewable energy than are currently in the city’s portfolio.
Denton has contracts for 150 megawatts of renewable energy from West Texas wind farms, Naulty said. Most of that energy is delivered overnight and tends to drop off during the day, when the city needs it most.
On the other hand, wind farms along the Gulf Coast tend to deliver more energy during the day, making them an attractive addition to renewable energy portfolios, Naulty said.
However, none of the wind farms that bid on DME’s request were true coastal wind farms, Naulty said. When DME reissues its request, the utility will be sure to specify that it is seeking coastal wind for its portfolio.
Similarly, a round of bids for solar energy combined with battery storage came in much higher than DME expected, even though utility officials knew it was a speculative project, Naulty said.
Still, the utility will rebid with specifications that both the 5-megawatt solar farm and companion 1-megawatt battery storage be in Denton. Such specification should be more cost-effective for ratepayers.
“We’d operate the battery to reduce our peak demand,” Naulty said. “Typically, batteries are used for voltage support.”
In other words, deploying the megawatt of electricity kept in battery storage wouldn’t address transmission but the distribution of electricity within the city.
In a somewhat related item, the City Council also split on whether to endorse a U.S. Conference of Mayors resolution calling for federal action on climate change.
Mayor Chris Watts was at the conference in Hawaii and did not attend the council meeting. He asked for the council’s guidance on whether Denton supported the resolution. A motion to do so failed, 3-2, with council members Jesse Davis, Gerard Hudspeth and John Ryan opposing the measure.
“I have a problem with a lot of this [resolution], but 1.5 degrees is a little out of our lane,” Hudspeth said, speaking of the goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. “I understand we can be good citizens, but to me, that’s a bridge too far.”
Council member Paul Meltzer joined Deb Armintor in voting in support of the national resolution. Armintor disputed the notion that mayors and cities would be doing something beyond their authority in calling for action.
“I just see this as a group trying to use the power we all have as individuals when we come together in groups,” Armintor said.
Council member Keely Briggs was also absent Tuesday.
Sally Beauty Holdings stock quickly dropped Monday to a nine-year low after Amazon announced its Professional Beauty Store, signaling the Denton company is not out of financial distress.
When markets opened Monday, Sally Beauty’s stock opened at $14.79 a share — then closed at $12.30 a share after the announcement. The stock did not recover much Tuesday, closing at $12.57 a share. The Amazon store will act as a direct competitor to Denton-based Sally, which operates Sally Beauty Supply as well as Beauty Systems Group stores, which are aimed at professional stylists.
Sally Beauty representatives would not comment directly, and issued a statement through New York-based public relations firm Joele Frank.
“As a leading company in a highly competitive area of retail, Beauty Systems Group has fundamental strengths in our distribution of premium branded products, including exclusive contracts, approximately 1,400 stores and access to one of the largest networks of professional distributor sales consultants in North America,” the statement reads.
The company has been undergoing “transformation efforts” since last year, and it shut down an office building and distribution center on Morse Street earlier this year. Despite reported staff reductions in April 2018, city of Denton data still says the company has 950 employees in Denton — the same number Sally had in April 2017.
The city canceled its economic incentives deal with Sally after the company announced it was leaving the Morse Street location. At the time, city officials said they only paid $542 of an incentive to Sally because the company didn’t meet targets for average salaries and the number of employees at the site. If the company had met the targets, Sally Beauty could have gotten $72,000 in tax rebates over three years.
The company went back to the city for more incentives, though nothing has been adopted. The Economic Development Partnership Board discussed incentives for Sally in a closed session in April, and the matter was slated for a public hearing at a City Council meeting April 25. However, the item to create a commercial/industrial tax abatement zone was pulled from the agenda.
Jessica Rogers, director of economic development for the city, said a Sally Beauty deal is still on the table. Because it’s an active project, no information will be released, including the company’s application for an economic incentive, she said.
“They’re an important business in our community and we speak with them as often as we need to find out what resources they might need,” she said. “At this point, there’s still an active project.”
In its second quarter investors report, released in May, the company showed net sales were still down 3% compared to the previous year, and consolidated same-store sales were down 0.5% for the quarter.
Other beauty retailers were hit by the news, but not nearly as hard. Ulta Beauty, which also has a large market with professional stylists, dipped 3.2% at market close Monday.
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Clint is in South Texas. It is in West Texas.
U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Pilot Point, is receiving national attention, and criticism, for his stance on migrant children held in the West Texas border town of Clint.
Burgess’ remarks came during a televised interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on Monday night, when the pair discussed reports of inhumane conditions for child migrants in a Border Patrol facility Clint.
Burgess, who represents most of Denton County, did most of the talking during the roughly nine minutes of interview time, but Hayes didn’t seem to think his questions were being answered.
The Associated Press reported that several lawyers visited the Clint facility and recorded shocking problems — children caring for younger children, several of them ill, and hungry kids unable to bathe for days on end, among other problems.
“First question is: I would imagine you and your colleagues agree that these kinds of conditions are appalling and unacceptable,” Hayes said on his show, All in With Chris Hayes.
Burgess spent much of the remaining time denying that conditions were appalling, citing his nine previous trips to the U.S.-Mexico border region and several detention facilities. He acknowledged that he had not been to the facility in question, but similar facilities were not as bad as reports he had seen.
In particular, he cited his trip to Casa Padre in Brownsville: “You know what, there’s not a lock on the door. Any child is free to leave at any time, but they don’t, and you know why? Because they’re well taken care of.”
It is not clear what Burgess meant by the statement, but the implication seems to be that children could leave and walk back across the border of their own volition.
Burgess did not respond to multiple requests for comment Tuesday. Emma Thomson, spokeswoman for the representative, forwarded a prepared statement from Burgess instead.
In the response, Burgess blames Democrats for the “unprecedented crisis on our southern border that is overwhelming all resources and personnel devoted to caring for migrants.”
He claimed that House Democrats voted 17 times to block humanitarian aid in the form of additional funds for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, where migrants are sometimes transferred after entering U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody.
“This is not only wrong, it’s inhumane,” Burgess said in the statement.
Thomson said the representative has traveled to the border region nine times since 2014, with additional trips planned for the future.