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Denia remains closed along with Civic Center, Senior Center because of pandemic

Four of the city’s six recreation facilities remain closed — primarily because of the pandemic, a Denton official said.

“The original plan set forth in the reopening of facilities developed in April had Denia [Recreation Center] reopening in the December-January time frame,” city spokesperson Ryan Adams said. “Anticipating that programs would not return to pre-COVID attendance immediately and programming would be limited, facility reopening was spread out to allow for the regrowth of programs and usage.”

In a recent email, resident Gerry Veeder told fellow Denia neighbors that Gary Packan, the city’s parks and recreation director, was asked to explain why Denia Recreation Center has not been reopened while other centers are open.

“Our local rec center is still closed and apparently there are no plans to open it until January or later, although both North Lakes Recreation Center and MLK [Jr. Recreation Center] are open,” she said in the email. “When asked why Denia isn’t open, Gary Packan, head of Parks & Rec, said that nobody from the neighborhood had contacted him to ask that it be opened. Maybe because nobody told us that we were supposed to do it that way?”

The email was distributed around the Denia neighborhood to garner support for reopening the center earlier than planned. Adams said city officials have received no other requests to reopen the center earlier than January.

North Lakes reopened in June and Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center reopened this month, Adams said. Like Denia, the Civic Center and Denton Senior Center remain closed to the public. The American Legion Hall Senior Center is closed for construction.

But “North Lakes and MLK … have modified hours and haven’t resumed full operations,” Adams said. “Staff is monitoring facility usage, COVID-19 status, budget and feedback from the community prior to reopening of the next recreation facility.”

Officials expect the senior center will be the last facility to reopen, Adams said.

“North Lakes opened first because it is our busiest recreation center and because of the nature of the programs offered there — fitness and group exercise,” he said. “Those programs are catered toward adults, can be easily modified to abide by COVID safety precautions and can be strictly monitored by staff for compliance.”

MLK was reopened next because of its location and pre-pandemic attendance levels, and because it’s a place where people experiencing homelessness can go during the day.

It offers “many of the same amenities and programs as Denia Recreation Center,” Adams said. “All facilities have a strict protocol to ensure safety, including temperature screening and masks for all staff. Visitors must wear masks in common areas and when social distancing is not an option. Fitness equipment, computers and chairs are socially distanced. Equipment and high-touch areas are cleaned regularly.”

To view the city’s full reopening schedule, including for Parks and Recreation facilities, visit cityofdenton.com. For more information on the parks department’s virtual offerings, visit www.dentonparkshub.com.


News
featured
In Texas Senate District 30 race, nearly 41,000 people vote early

Drew Springer

Nearly 41,000 people cast their ballots during the early-voting period that ended on Friday for Texas Senate District 30.

The special election is Tuesday.

According to data from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, 5,447 Denton County voters have participated in the election so far. District 30 encompasses north Denton County, including most of the city of Denton, as well as parts of Archer, Clay, Collin, Cooke, Erath, Grayson, Jack, Montague, Palo Pinto, Parker, Wichita, Wise and Young counties.

The special election has moved quickly after District 30’s current senator, Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, won the Republican nomination to run for U.S. House of Representatives to replace John Ratcliffe, R-Heath. Fallon is on the ballot for the Nov. 3 general election.

Outgoing Denton Mayor Chris Watts is running for District 30 as a Republican. Other Republicans on the ticket are Craig Carter, a businessman and entrepreneur; Andy Hopper, a software engineer, adjunct professor at the University of North Texas and a warrant officer in the Texas State Guard; Shelley Luther, a Denton County resident jailed for opening her Dallas salon in defiance of the governor’s orders; and state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster. Jacob Minter, an electrician, is the sole Democrat on the ballot.

Over 11 days of early voting, 40,763 residents cast their ballots, the Texas Politics Project website shows. Early voting started Sept. 14, a quick turnaround after the filing deadline Aug. 28.

In Denton County, polling locations are at the Denton Civic Center, Denton County Elections Administration, Aubrey City Hall, Paloma Creek Elementary School, Krum ISD’s administration building and the Sanger Community Center. On election day, voters must go to the polling site assigned to their precinct. Polling hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Denton County election officials are encouraging voters to wear face coverings, and each location will have markers to provide guidance on social distancing.

Pens are being sanitized between uses, and poll workers will routinely clean voting booths, doors and other supplies, according to election officials.

Curbside ballots are available for voters who are unable to enter the polling site — for instance, a person who’s running a fever. To vote curbside, the elections office asks voters to call ahead to 940-349-3200.

For other information about Denton County elections, visit votedenton.com.


Washington
AP
Ethics experts see national security concern in Trump's debt

WASHINGTON — Revelations that President Donald Trump is personally liable for more than $400 million in debt are casting a shadow over his presidency that ethics experts say raises national security concerns he could be manipulated to sway U.S. policy by organizations or individuals he’s indebted to.

New scrutiny of Trump, who claims great success as a private businessman, comes after The New York Times reported that tax records show he is personally carrying a staggering amount of debt — including more than $300 million in loans that will come due in the next four years.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was blunt about the potential implications. “He may be vulnerable to financial blackmail from a hostile foreign power and God knows what else,” said Warren, a frequent Trump critic.

The Times said the tax records also show that Trump did not pay any federal income taxes in 11 years between 2000 and 2018, raising questions about the fairness of a president — who purports to be a billionaire — paying less in taxes than most Americans.

The politically damaging revelations about Trump’s tax avoidance, however, are perhaps less concerning than word the president is holding hundreds of millions of dollars of soon-to-mature debt, ethics experts said.

“Americans should be concerned about the president’s debt because it’s a national security risk for our country,” said Donald Sherman, deputy director of the nonprofit government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). “This is information that the president has aggressively and repeatedly tried to keep away from the public.”

Trump, citing an ongoing Internal Revenue Service audit, has refused to follow the post-Watergate precedent set by other presidents of releasing his tax returns, so the complexities of his financial interests and who he does business with have remained opaque. He’s fighting ongoing court battles with New York’s attorney general, Manhattan’s district attorney and two House committees who want the records.

Richard Painter, who served as chief ethics attorney in Republican George W. Bush’s White House, also noted that Trump-owned companies have declared bankruptcy six times, raising the question: Why have lenders been willing to keep risking loans of such enormous amounts?

“Why would banks assume the risk on these loans?” Painter said. “Or did someone else quietly assume risk of that loan for the bank to make it happen?”

Trump, according to his latest financial disclosure statement, reported that he had 14 loans on 12 properties.

One lender, Germany-based Deutsche Bank, continued to do business with Trump even after he defaulted in 2008 on a loan for his Chicago hotel and condo development. Trump filed suit against the bank and others whom he blamed for his inability to repay.

But Deutsche Bank’s private banking division continued to lend to Trump, including $125 million to finance the purchase and renovation of his Doral golf resort in 2012, according to previous disclosures.

Trump on Monday suggested that his debt load is hardly unusual in comparison with his assets, claiming in a tweet that he’s in fact “extremely under leveraged.”

“I have very little debt compared to the value of assets,” he wrote, adding that he may release a financial statement that spells out all assets, properties and debts.

Trump during an appearance on Monday ignored a reporter’s question about when he might release such a statement, and the White House would not comment on when he might follow through. He said repeatedly before his election that he would release his actual taxes but never has.

Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert at Washington University in St. Louis, said that a separate financial statement from Trump would shed little light on his business dealings if he does not disclose who his business partners are in his various holdings.

“The Trump Organization consists of hundreds of LLCs (limited liability corporations) that have been listed on his financial disclosure forms,” Clark said. “One of the things that Trump has benefitted from and that oligarchs and money launderers benefit from is opaqueness of LLCs, ... the ease of which individuals can hide their assets, can hide their financial interests.”

Trump refused to divest his business interests after his 2016 victory, and left day-to-day operation of his family’s real estate and other holdings to his sons Donald Jr. and Eric. Still, the president has benefitted personally from U.S. and foreign government activity at his properties since his election and hasn’t shied away from promoting his hotels and golf courses.

Republicans have held at least 88 political events at his properties, the president has visited his hotels and golf courses more than 500 times, and at least 13 foreign governments have held events at Trump establishments, according to a tally by CREW.

The administration drew criticism last year when Vice President Mike Pence, while visiting Dublin for meetings, lodged at Trump International Golf Links and Hotel more than 180 miles away in Doonbeg, Ireland. And Trump scrapped a plan to hold a meeting of the Group of 7 world leaders at one of his Florida properties last year after bipartisan criticism.

In the runup to his 2016 election victory, Trump played down his bankruptcies as a smart business strategy and even referred to himself as the “king of debt.”

“I’ve always loved debt, I must be honest with you,” Trump said during a campaign rally. “I don’t love it for countries, but I love it individually. If things work out good that’s great, if they don’t, you go renegotiate.”

The New York Times, citing the tax records it obtained, also revealed that Trump did not pay federal income tax in 11 of 18 years, and just $750 each year for 2017 and 2018, as he claimed millions of dollars in business losses.

Top Democratic lawmakers on Monday called Trump’s tax avoidance galling, but seized on his debt as perhaps more concerning.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on MSNBC that “our responsibility is to protect and defend and we have to make sure we know what exposure the president of the United States has, and what an impact it has on national security decisions for our country.”

Painter said that if Trump were attempting to appoint someone with his massive debt load to a high-profile government position, the nominee would almost certainly face trouble getting a security clearance. Indeed, inability or unwillingness to satisfy debts and a history of not meeting financial obligations could disqualify any federal employee from receiving a security clearance, according to government guidelines.

Peter Schweizer, the president of the Government Accountability Institute, said, “The question is also one of whether the loans are tied to actual assets such as buildings, etc., or was the political figure granted special favors in getting loans. Politicians and their families can engage in commercial transactions, the question is whether the loans are unusual and unique compared to others in the marketplace.

Trump is hardly the first president to contend with debt, either in office or later in life.

Thomas Jefferson, whose peak net worth in current dollars reached $236.8 million according to research by 24/7 Wall Street, died in debt. The debt was accrued during and after his presidency — as well as by relatives — and his family sold dozens of enslaved people from his Monticello estate to satisfy his liabilities.

On the other hand, Barack Obama, in his second term, encouraged American homeowners to refinance their mortgages as rates dropped well below what he was paying, but he said he and his wife were holding off.

“When you’re president, you have to be a little careful about these transactions, so we haven’t refinanced,” Obama explained at the time.


Commissioners
Denton County Jail commissary audit, courthouse improvements up for approval by commissioners

An audit of the jail commissary and contracts for courthouse improvements are up for approval at Tuesday’s Denton County Commissioners Court meeting.

State law allows the county sheriff to operate the jail commissary, through which inmates can purchase health products and other items. The county has contracted with Keefe Commissary Network to operate the commissary since 2008.

An audit is performed annually to ensure the commissary’s financials are accurate. County auditor Jeff May reported the commissary had net earnings of $978,678 for fiscal year 2019, a moderate increase from the previous year’s. Its total cash balance dropped from $2.74 million at the start of the budget year to $2.37 million at the year’s end.

The 2019 Jail Commissary Audit found the commissary in compliance with all government standards. Commissioners are expected to approve it Tuesday, after which it will be forwarded to the Texas Jail Standards Commission.

Two engineering service agreements, one for the Courthouse on the Square and one for the county Courts Building, are also slated for approval Tuesday.

An agreement between the county and Campos Engineering for $174,300 will replace and improve existing mechanical systems in the Courthouse on the Square “while maintaining the building’s historic status.” Another agreement with Parkhill, Smith & Cooper Inc. for $169,400 will replace several water pumps and air handling units in the Courts Building on East McKinney Street.

Presentations

Denton County Public Health Director Matt Richardson is slated to give his weekly report on the state of COVID-19 Tuesday. For over a month, Richardson has said numbers indicate the coronavirus is being managed well in Denton County, though he previously expressed concerns that a potential spike in cases from Labor Day celebrations could be realized near the end of September. The number of active cases, a metric he has used to illustrate the slowing of the virus’s spread, has risen within the county for three consecutive days.

Glenn Carlton, executive director of the North Texas Fair and Rodeo association, will also give a presentation, although it relates to the design concept of a potential new facility, not this year’s fair slated for mid-October.

Budget

Budget items up for approval Tuesday include the allocation of $4 million in Texas Department of Transportation funding for the North Dallas Tollway Extension Project, a $72,843 increase in funding for sheriff’s office overtime contracts, and a transfer of $3 million contingency funds to the county’s permanent improvement fund.