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Board of Ethics to make changes to Denton's ordinance

The Denton City Council agreed Tuesday that the Board of Ethics develop revisions to the city’s year-old ethics ordinance, although the direction those reforms should go was far from clear.

Mayor Chris Watts said the council wouldn’t be able to resolve all the issues the board has raised in the past several months, which range from simple fixes to a wholesale rewrite of the city’s problematic definition for a conflict of interest.

Instead, he recommended that the board reach its own consensus and make recommended changes — which didn’t necessarily mean the legal drafting, even though several lawyers serve on the board.

“[The board can recommend] not specific language to be inserted, but the concepts, perhaps in a bulleted list,” Watts said.

The discussion lasted about a half-hour, but council member participation was fitful. Council member Paul Meltzer said he had asked the discussion be delayed until after an ethics complaint against him was heard. But since that didn’t happen, he recused himself.

“I want to steer clear of items that would be perceived as having a bearing,” Meltzer said.

Meltzer faces a complaint for voting on campus polling locations after an ethics board advisory opinion ruled that such a vote would violate the city’s conflict-of-interest provision, since Meltzer’s wife works for the University of North Texas.

As a UNT English professor, council member Deb Armintor faced a similar complaint. The ethics board ruled earlier this summer that her vote was a violation but also refused to sanction her because of problems with the conflict-of-interest definition.

The hearing for the complaint against Meltzer is scheduled for Monday evening.

Meltzer expressed his support for several small but important changes the Board of Ethics recommended, including renaming someone “accused” of a violation to “respondent” and supplying them with a copy of the complaint.

Council member Jesse Davis expressed similar support but, like Meltzer, stayed silent about the recommendation that a member resign from the ethics board in order to run for local office.

That recommendation was spurred by Davis’ own candidacy during his brief tenure as the ethics board chairman and his involvement in drafting the campus polling location advisory opinion.

Council members Gerard Hudspeth and John Ryan said they didn’t agree with that prohibition. Council member Keely Briggs said she thought a board member should step down, but it didn’t need to be codified in the city’s rules.

Both Ryan and Briggs said they wanted to see the Ethics Board’s recommendations for a new conflict-of-interest definition.

“This body already had a shot at it,” Briggs said of the City Council’s definition.

Council members drafted the definition in a workshop with a consulting attorney, trying to define standards to be stronger than state law, Watts said.

“You’ve heard the council’s comments, and the board members have, too,” Watts said to Lara Tomlin, the ethics board chairwoman. “We are handing off the football, or whatever your sports metaphor preference is, to give us recommendations.”

Food fast, but not fast food: ATC students open bus bistro

LITTLE ELM — Calls to eighty-six the potato salad came between bass pulses of “Ice Ice Baby” that shook the floors Tuesday afternoon.

The fully equipped, student-staffed Bus Stop Bistro opened its registers for the first time Tuesday morning.

Students from the LaGrone Advanced Technology Complex did the brunt of the labor required to get the bus to that point, administrators said.

Along with six other food trucks, the bistro on wheels served around 100 orders Tuesday, some with multiple orders, outside Braswell High School in Little Elm.

Educators were attending a two-day conference hosted at the Denton ISD high school.

Marcus Bourland, principal at the ATC, said he first thought about the idea for a food truck classroom roughly four years ago. With help from culinary arts teacher Tonya Tivis, the project was born.

Lisely Garza/ For the DRC 

Student Efrén Cadena takes orders from dozens of hungry educators on break during a conference Tuesday at Braswell High School in Little Elm. The LaGrone Advanced Technology Complex’s Bus Stop Bistro dished up orders for the first time during the conference.

Much like the library on wheels that Denton ISD librarians recently unveiled, the Bus Stop Bistro is fashioned out of a recently decommissioned school bus.

The interior, once reserved for rows of seats, now houses a full-service kitchen.

“Since we’re a classroom, we didn’t just want to be a taco truck,” Bourland said.

For that reason, the truck has multiple refrigerators and freezers, an oven, stove, deep fryer and more at students’ disposal.

Tivis said the bus is also a roving testament to what the district has to offer its students.

“Look at this prime example — we are on it,” she said between lunch rushes. “We taught a bunch of 16- to 18-year-olds how to run a business.”

A sound system plays music through twin sets of speakers outside the bus. Flat screens display a photo montage of the food truck’s creations on either side of the service windows.

Tivis said only incoming seniors enrolled in the class — a culinary arts practicum course — will run the truck. The class has already hit its cap of 12 students.

It doesn’t serve cafeteria food, either. Potential menu items had to be pitched, cooked, tested, tweaked and approved before making it to Tuesday’s menu. Pork tacos, grilled cheese panini and cheeseburgers served with potato salad were the signature dishes on Tuesday.

“The menu becomes more elaborate as the year goes on because [students] learn more,” Bourland said.

The three seniors working alongside teachers Tuesday have all been studying culinary arts through the ATC for a while, so don’t expect your grilled cheese panini to come out burnt.

While the schedule hasn’t been finalized, Tivis and Bourland expect the truck to eventually venture out a couple times each week to serve meals around the district, with aspirations to eventually sell food at festivals and other catered events.

Lisely Garza/For the DRC 

The Bus Stop Bistro has a fully equipped kitchen inside a recently decommissioned Denton ISD school bus.

Tivis said she’s even fielded a few initial requests to have the truck out for events.

Efrén Cadena, 17, was one of three students working Tuesday. He’d helped prep food for the truck before, but he’d never taken orders from customers and he’d never worked in a restaurant.

“I thought it was fun and it was going to help me run a business,” Cadena said.

He said he hopes to one day run his own restaurant, but he’s not sure exactly what that entails yet. He’s thinking about going to college in a year to learn more. For now, his time with the Bus Stop Bistro is good experience.

“You’ve got to take the orders fast so the people won’t leave, so the line can get short, so they don’t have to wait,” he said during a late-lunch rush Tuesday.

Bourland said that money made through the food truck will be funneled back into the program and will go toward student fees around the campus. For example, the fee for any culinary class is $100, Tivis said. That pays for uniforms, food costs and more.

The Bus Stop Bistro will be open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday outside Braswell High School, 26750 E. University Drive.

TWU professor gets payout after resignation

Texas Woman’s University professor Molly Russ will receive more than $375,000 from the university, according to a settlement agreement obtained by the Denton Record-Chronicle.

The settlement agreement comes two months after the university’s Board of Regents voted unanimously to fire Russ, a tenured associate professor of management. The vote came after more than a year of dispute between university officials and Russ.

The settlement was signed by Chancellor Carine Feyten on June 18, the same day Russ submitted her resignation from the university. The effective date of her resignation is Aug. 9.

Russ and university officials declined to comment, citing the settlement agreement as the reason they could not discuss the matter. The university does not comment on personnel matters, said Matt Flores, a spokesman for TWU.

Molly Russ

“This agreement is entered in order to resolve, settle, compromise, and bring closure to the issues raised and claims asserted by, or that could have been raised and asserted by the Parties in potential litigation and to avoid the cost, expense, uncertain outcome, and effort of continued protracted and disputed potential litigation,” the settlement states.

Russ filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint in May 2018. In August, she was notified she was being terminated, and she appealed the decision. The appeal reached the Board of Regents in April this year.

The vote was the first time in the university’s history a board voted to fire a tenured professor, Flores said. Before the action could be completed, Russ’ lawyer approached TWU general counsel to reach a settlement.

As part of the settlement, Russ withdrew her complaint with the EEOC, cannot sue the university and is not allowed on university property.

Russ will receive two payments: a first for $97,005 and a second payment of $281,710. She hadn’t been paid since May 2018, according to the settlement. Her salary was $97,975 a year, and she was first hired with the university in September 2009. She earned tenure in 2015.