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Demand for 'lost cause' language near Confederate statue emerges as meetings continue

LEWISVILLE — More than 100 years have passed since the Confederate soldier statue was raised in downtown Denton, and in a meeting Tuesday night that lasted no longer than it takes to drive from the foot of the statue to the Precinct 3 Building in Lewisville, a handful of people asked Denton County officials to acknowledge it as a beacon for the “lost cause.”

It was a meeting so short Denton County’s history and culture director missed the whole thing.

“Is it over?” Peggy Riddle said as she walked into the building.

About 20 minutes was all it took for another four people, all but one saying they are from Denton, to give a committee their suggestions on how the Confederate soldier statue in downtown Denton should be contextualized.

“It was put there to send a message to black people to stay in their place,” one speaker from Denton said.

As cities around the nation debated what to do with the hundreds of Confederate monuments, a committee appointed in 2017 by Denton County commissioners recommended Denton’s monument should stay but context about its racist origins should be added.

This new committee, set up this year, is charged with making a recommendation to the commissioners about which words will give the proper context. The plan includes the addition of a new plaque, digital kiosks and a statue devoted to black history here. Tuesday’s meeting was the second of a four-part listening tour across the county meant to gather suggestions.

One person who spoke Tuesday said the statue should be framed with the resurrection of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, a wish many others who have expressed their opinions about the statue share.

Denton County’s first meeting last week in Cross Roads ended where it began, with Denton County Judge Andy Eads reminding people the official plan is to contextualize the statue instead of removing it. Of the roughly dozen-or-so people who showed up to the meeting, all who spoke said they wanted the statue removed. There were virtually no earnest suggests as to how the monument’s racist effect should be contextualized.

County commissioners do have the authority to reverse course if they so choose, but so far the officials have not shown any sign of that is what they’ll do, though most who have engaged the county under its current plan want the statue removed.

In messages to the committee’s feedback email, people seemed more willing to give suggestions to the commissioners’ preferred plan. Some people gave their suggestions but also said they’d prefer the county to remove it.

One person asked the committee to acknowledge the erasure of Quakertown, a black community in the middle of town, as a way for the community to own up for the atrocities during the Jim Crow era, a period during which the Denton’s Confederate monument was raised in downtown.

At Tuesday’s meeting, University of North Texas researcher Jessica Luther Rummel, whose digs into Denton’s monument are particularly keen on the activities of those involved with the group that hoisted the monument, harped on that same point.

“It was the same women who petitioned for the removal of black citizens from the inner city of Denton that erected the Confederate monument,” Rummel said.

Similar efforts to contextualize Confederate monuments have floundered. In Charleston, South Carolina, a city historical commission was tasked with adding a plaque with more information about a John C. Calhoun monument. That plan stalled when city officials could not agree on what the plaque should say.

But there are success stories. In Dekalb County, Georgia, officials guided its contextualization efforts toward an outcome that included language about the “lost cause” and the racial animosities that led to the statues in the first place. One person emailed the committee suggesting Denton County follow that route.

The next meeting is scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center, located at 1300 Wilson Street in Denton.

Bob Montgomery, former Denton City Council member, dies at 84

Bob Montgomery, a longtime Denton resident who served three terms on the Denton City Council, died Sunday in a local hospital following a fall. He was 84.

Montgomery served three terms on council, from 2002 to 2008, and served on various other boards and commissions before his tenure. He spent 13 years on the Historic Landmark Commission and the Lake Ray Roberts Planning and Zoning Commission, and was passionate about the Denton Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Bob Montgomery

Of his accomplishments in public service, his wife, Kit King, said he was most proud of helping found the original farmer’s market while on council, and was thrilled to see Denton finally get a convention center in late 2017.

“He was extremely proud of the fact that we finally got a convention center — he had been working on that for a long time,” King said. “It didn’t happen until he was out of office, but that didn’t matter to him. He was just glad that it got done.”

Prior to his roles in public service in Denton, he served in the U.S. Army and went on to graduate from Officer Candidate School. He was a captain and served as a communications officer and as an officer for Training, Advising and Counseling before he was discharged.

He worked as a salesman in showrooms in the Dallas Apparel Mart and the Atlanta Apparel Mart, which is how he met King.

“His sense of humor was unbelievable — sometimes it was good, sometimes not so much — but I’ll miss that very much,” she said. “And I’ll miss his storytelling. He was a great storyteller.”

Along with his wife, survivors include three children and their spouses, Allen and Tara Montgomery of Greensboro, North Carolina; Alice and Lane Rugeley of Cleburne; and Stacy and Scott MacLure of Port Orange, Florida; and five grandchildren, William Montgomery, Caroline Rugeley Cocanougher, Ian MacLure, Rachel Rugeley and Kate Montgomery.

A memorial is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday at Bill DeBerry Funeral Directors. The family is asking for donations in his name be sent to the United Way of Denton County.

Mayor to declare public emergency for Green Tree water supply

Denton Mayor Chris Watts is expected Wednesday to declare a public emergency for the Green Tree Estates mobile home community, as the water well owner said he would shut off water to the residents on Friday.

The move authorizes the city staff to bring drinking water to the neighborhood until the City Council can revisit the matter in another meeting on Friday.

Chris Watts

Council members received their first briefing on the crisis Tuesday afternoon. The briefing followed two neighborhood meetings held over the past two weeks. Several Green Tree residents gave public testimony to the council, and the entire proceeding was continuously translated to Spanish by Norman Barbosa, one of the city’s code enforcement officers.

The neighborhood was annexed into the city as part of a big sweep of annexations in 2009-10. The city had an agreement with the Green Tree Estates water well owner to extend the city’s water service.

“The owner was not obliged to follow it,” said Ken Banks, the city’s director of utilities.

Banks told city officials that he expected the owner to continue to use the well water on his own property, but no longer deliver that water to the decades-old system that served the rest of the mobile home community.

The city has argued that the well owner has been operating a public water supply and cannot abandon the service without 120 days’ notice, but neither state agency that governs public water supplies has sided with the city. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has fined the well owner in the past for failing to meet state requirements but recently determined the system no longer fit the definition of a public water supply. The Public Utility Commission would not accept the city’s evidence that the well was a retail utility and thus subject to the longer notice.

While the residents have told city officials they don’t drink the water, they do depend on the system to supply water for other vital needs, such as flushing the toilet and washing.

During about five hours of testimony and deliberation, Green Tree residents told city leaders that they are taxpayers, too, and all they were asking was for an equitable solution.

“We only want the same benefits everyone else receives,” Ednna Guajardo said.

Green Tree residents told the city staff that they were prepared to pay the same rate for the water as any other city customer, according to Deputy City Manager Mario Canizares.

“They have no problem paying,” Canizares said. “It’s just getting the water there that’s the problem.”

Council members told the city staff that they were comfortable with the staff providing the residents 55-gallon drums for immediate use, which will likely be filled by drinking water raised from recent community drives for the neighborhood.

Council members were also comfortable with the staff acquiring larger 275-gallon water totes to provide the families for interim use.

But council members hesitated at the suggested temporary solution until a more permanent solution can be found.

The temporary solution essentially is an “off the grid” water buffalo system that would cost about $11,000 per home to install. The city would need to deliver water to keep the water buffaloes filled.

Council member John Ryan said he was concerned that some of the system plumbing and electrical work may prove too difficult to install in the mobile homes. Council member Jesse Davis called the temporary solution a parallel system that the city may not be able to do legally.

“I want to take the time to figure out what we really can do,” Davis said.

Council member Gerard Hudspeth agreed that the city needed to make sure that the solution didn’t make the neighborhood more vulnerable.

The City Council is expected to revisit the temporary solution on Friday, when they are scheduled to take up the emergency declaration.

The mayor has the authority to make a one-week declaration. The council can extend that declaration for 90 days.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at noon Friday and is open to the public.

App uses emojis to gauge wellness in children

Glowing laptop screens bounced off students’ faces Monday morning while they thought over deceptively important questions.

The Adkins Elementary third-graders were part of a small subset of their peers participating in a pilot program designed to monitor social, physical and emotional well-being.

Questions were posed by Rhithm, a computer application designed by two locals, but it wasn’t the questions themselves that stood out the most.

When prompted by the screen with “How does your body feel today?” or “How’s your energy today?” students were presented with several emojis to pick from.

For instance, a child might respond by selecting a cartoon face showing anger, exhaustion or hunger. Josh Knutson, Rhithm co-founder and former therapist, said the use of technology is an important way to reach kids where they’re at.

Al Key/DRC 

Third-grade teacher Sarah Overstreet shows a Rhithm video to her class Monday at Adkins Elementary School.

“In a world where I’m a third-grader and I’ve got Instagram, there’s a lot more going on with them than they’re communicating,” Knutson said. “The reason [the app uses] emojis is because this is the language that we speak now.”

An analysis of the first six weeks of the pilot program indicated an increase in behavior regulation and the frequency that teachers utilized the program. It also showed a decrease in reports of bullying, but he said that might be due to students better understanding what bullying means.

Teachers can then see how each student responded, as well as the class average. Depending upon their answers, students receive a video meant to help regulate their behavior and prepare them for class.

In addition to their individualized videos, teacher Sarah Overstreet had the class gather on the floor and complete two group activities meant to calm and increase focus on Monday.

In total, the assessment and activity take roughly five minutes. Despite the loss of finite class time, Overstreet said the benefits to productivity outweigh the lost time.

“If we don’t get in touch with the kids first, then the learning will not happen,” she said.

She said the assessments give her the ability to quickly notice which students need her help.

Shortly after moving back to the area, Knutson, a Guyer High School graduate, brought the idea for the app to childhood friend Jake Gannon.

Gannon brought his background in web development services and sales to the table, and Rhithm was born.

“He’s the heart of the platform,” Gannon said of Knutson. “I’m like the muscle.”

Using input from teachers over the past weeks, the pair nearly have an expanded version of the app ready. The two are already negotiating an expansion into Abilene and Lubbock ISDs, as well as other local districts.

Al Key/DRC 

Nine-year-old Liam Parks works on the Rhithm program in his third-grade classroom Monday at Adkins Elementary School. 

While their current focus is on North Texas, they said they hope to have expanded outside the state by next August. Their five-year plan sees them in 80% of schools in the country with an interest in a program like theirs.

As for Denton ISD, the two expect Alexander Elementary and McMath Middle schools to begin offering the program to their teachers before too long.

For Knutson and Gannon, Rhithm is a way to meet a critical need for children by increasing self-awareness, thus decreasing self-harm, bullying and a host of other societal ills.

For Overstreet and teachers like her, the app is another tool to make sure no students aren’t falling through the gaps — that those who need help get it.

“Just like adults, they come in and sometimes they’re carrying a whole lot on their shoulders,” she said. “Sometimes they’ve had terrible mornings, and sometimes they tell you about it and sometimes they don’t.”