Denton City Council members say they were under the impression the livestream of Tuesday’s meeting was working normally — until someone suggested otherwise, and it sparked a conversation on how to proceed with the agenda.
Tuesday’s meeting got off to a late start in the evening due to technological issues. Ryan Adams, a spokesperson for the city, said the audio system that supports the council chambers and staff’s ability to connect live and in-person participants through Zoom failed. He said staff fixed the issue Wednesday and that this was the first time city staff knew of something like this happening.
The council members eventually moved back to the council chambers and sat at their respective seats on the dais and logged into Zoom. Their voices played through a speaker for attendees in the council chambers. Around 8:24 p.m., city staff posted on social media that they weren’t able to livestream the meeting for residents.
Reached by phone Wednesday, most council members said they weren’t aware they weren’t livestreaming from the get-go.
“It was my understanding that we were livestreaming, and then we came to find out later that we were not,” said council member Brian Beck, who represents District 2. “I think everyone was under the expectation that we were broadcasting. Maybe it was conveyed and we didn’t understand, but I think as soon as people realized, we definitely weren’t happy with that situation.”
District 3 council member Jesse Davis said he wasn’t told they wouldn’t be livestreaming. He said he was emailing a constituent who brought up the lack of the stream and told the person they would be back up and running soon.
“Livestreaming isn’t required under the Open Meetings Act, but it is expected in Denton,” Davis said. “I was on the side of postponing anything we really could. We postponed everything that was not time-sensitive.”
Council members passed the city budget and property tax rate late Tuesday night. Had council member Deb Armintor been there, Davis said he believes the council would have passed the wage-inflation property tax rate of about 57 cents per $100 valuation.
Armintor said she did favor the wage-inflation rate, but the budget that was part of that ordinance had supplemental requests she didn’t agree with — such as increasing the Police Department budget.
Armintor left the meeting before the council could take up the budget and tax rate, saying she wouldn’t remain to vote on something when members of the public weren’t able to view and participate.
District 4 council member Alison Maguire echoed the concerns of continuing to meet without a livestream going. She added council members felt it wasn’t ideal because livestreaming allows opportunity for maximum participation from residents, which is what they want.
Council member Vicki Byrd hadn’t returned a call for comment by late Wednesday.
Adams said the city staff tried to ensure council members were aware of the streaming issues.
“There was a lot of communication going around last night, and it’s possible council members who were live or in the Zoom meeting may not have been aware that we were not broadcasting, though we tried to communicate the status of our issues every step of the way,” Adams said.
Despite the technological setbacks, council members said they preferred moving forward because some of the items were time-sensitive.
Maguire said it wasn’t made clear to her that the livestream wasn’t working. Armintor said she was aware of the audio issues only.
“When the meeting started, I assumed the problems had been resolved,” Armintor said. “The only problem I was aware of was something about the mics not working. I’m not saying the problem was misrepresented to me, but it definitely wasn’t underscored to me that it was more than just a mic problem. Or maybe that it was because of the mic problem, it couldn’t be streamed.”
The agenda was packed with action items, but the meat of the meeting was to pass the tax rate and budget for the next fiscal year, which had to be adopted Tuesday per state law.
Tuesday marked seven days after the public hearing for the tax rate. Texas state law says municipalities must adopt a tax rate by midnight seven days, at most, after the public hearing, and Denton’s deadline was Tuesday, Sept. 21. To adopt the tax rate, municipalities must first adopt the budget.
Council members were divided last week on passing a wage-inflation rate or a no-new-revenue rate. A property tax rate of 57 cents per $100 valuation — referred to as the wage-inflation rate because it reflects a 3.1% increase, equivalent to the increase in total compensation in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as of June 2021 — would raise Denton residents’ average property tax bill by $48 over the next fiscal year, according to the city.
After much back-and-forth, council members voted 6-0 to adopt a tax rate of rate of 56.5 cents per $100 property valuation — known as the “no new revenue” rate, so named because it would bring in the same amount of revenue as the previous year — and a general fund revenue budget of about $150 million, with $500,000 going to the sustainability fund.
If they didn’t come to an affirmative vote with four members voting yes to a motion, they would’ve defaulted to the city manager’s proposed budget and the no-new-revenue rate that was presented in August.
“It was the no-new-revenue rate, but with the city manager’s budget that had been presented to us some months prior … [it] had no relationship to the tax rate and didn’t include things like the sustainability fund,” Mayor Pro Tem Paul Meltzer said.
Meltzer and other council members said they ultimately preferred to vote on the things they were required to do, even if it meant doing so without a livestream.
“Yes, we want to do everything we can to livestream and provide as much insight as we can, but at the same time, I believe as elected officials facing a significant deadline, there were no other options to proceed,” Mayor Gerard Hudpseth said. “We have to do the business of the city, and that sometimes means that in this particular instance, [livestreaming] was out of everyone’s control.”
Mandatory coronavirus testing requirements are in full effect at Texas Woman’s University and the University of North Texas — but much isn’t yet known about their efficacy.
Representatives for each university Wednesday confirmed there were things yet unknown about compliance with the mandates.
Matt Flores, a TWU spokesperson, said that university’s third-party testing program administered 770 tests this past week, and six of those tests came back positive.
Flores said data wasn’t available Wednesday to show how many of the 770 people tested were students, staffers or faculty members.
TWU requires students and employees to be tested regularly with several ways to become exempt from the program. For example, a student who takes all classes online wouldn’t have to participate in the program, and all those who demonstrate they are fully vaccinated would be exempt.
“We’re still trying to reconcile the number of individuals who are exempt from being tested,” Flores said.
Heather Noel, a UNT spokesperson, wrote via email Wednesday that more information about compliance rates with the university’s testing program, as well as its scope, would be available next week.
TWU’s first mandatory testing window ended Friday. UNT extended its first round of testing by 10 days to this past Monday.
Flores said there have been problems confirming how many people had showed proof of full vaccination, among other issues, “so we’re giving everybody a grace period of another week.”
TWU officials Wednesday were still trying to sort through all the issues with the program before any disciplinary measures would be taken.
“We’re not trying to do anything punitive,” Flores said.
Despite that, both TWU and UNT have previously been clear employees and students alike could expect punishment if they don’t comply with testing requirements.
Officials have been vague about precisely what punishments students could face. Each university previously indicated a wide range of possible punishments, and Flores previously said discipline would be decided on a case-by-case basis.
UNT employees who repeatedly don’t comply can expect verbal reprimands, formal write-ups and/or loss of merit-based pay increases.
DEL RIO — As immigration agents continue to fly more of the thousands of migrants camped in this border city to other processing centers or back to their home countries, state troopers have created a miles-long “steel wall” of patrol vehicles to discourage more people from crossing the Rio Grande into an encampment under the Del Rio international bridge.
As many as 15,000 migrants, many of them Haitian, have crossed the river seeking asylum in recent days, but on Tuesday morning that number had shrunk to an estimated 6,200 camping under the bridge, according to Val Verde County Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez.
It’s unclear how officials are deciding which migrants are being allowed to request asylum and which are being flown back to their countries of origin, but at a charter bus stop at a gas station here, many of the migrants who were let into the country while their asylum claims are pending were families with small children and pregnant women.
Many of them held yellow numbered tickets and said Border Patrol agents classified them by colored tickets —yellow for groups including pregnant women, blue for families with children, and red and green for single men and women.
“Probably those with children are going to be given a notice to appear [in immigration court], and then the others … I don’t know what they’re going to do,” Martinez said.
Martinez said there are 700 state troopers patrolling near the migrant encampment and around the city as immigration agents work to move the migrants from beneath the bridge. Some are being sent to other immigrant processing centers in El Paso, Laredo and Weslaco, Martinez said.
The World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit organization that provides food to people usually after natural disasters, has started to prepare food for the remaining migrants.
On Sunday, U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul L. Ortiz, a native of Del Rio, said there were no more migrants crossing the river into the camp. A Border Patrol spokesperson didn’t respond to an email asking if more crossings have occurred since then. Martinez said the numbers have dwindled, but about 50 families or individuals were given tickets Tuesday night.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott credited the “steel wall” of Department of Public Safety vehicles with stopping the migrants.
“One day there were countless coming across the border, then that very same day the Texas Department of Public Safety put up all these DPS vehicles,” Abbott said during a news conference near the encampment Tuesday. “And suddenly, in an instant, people stopped crossing the border in this location. That strategy is working.”
Abbott has made immigration enforcement a priority for his administration, pushing an agenda that includes building more barriers along the Texas-Mexico border, arresting and prosecuting migrants crossing the Rio Grande on state charges, and suing the Biden administration for what the governor has described as President Joe Biden’s open-border policies.
The Biden administration, meanwhile, has faced increasing criticism from his own party for continuing to expel many migrants under Title 42, the pandemic health order issued under the Trump administration to rapidly expel migrants to Mexico or their home countries without the opportunity to ask for asylum.
Immigrant rights advocates and lawmakers also have criticized Biden for how Border Patrol agents have treated the migrants after photos and video showed agents on horseback charging and herding migrants attempting to cross the Rio Grande into Del Rio.
On Tuesday, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas tweeted that his agency, which oversees Border Patrol, will investigate the agents’ actions and that the agents involved have been put on administrative duty.
“They are not executing their other law enforcement duties and they are not to be interacting with other migrants at this time during the pendency of the investigation,” Mayorkas said in the tweet.
Organizers with Haitian Bridge Alliance, a nonprofit organization based in San Diego that is helping the migrants in Del Rio with clothes, food and shelter, criticized the government for what they call inhumane treatment of asylum-seekers.
“The Biden Administration must end this violence and fix the broken immigration system, which they committed to during the campaign,” the group said in a statement.
Haiti was hit by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake in August, a month after its president was assassinated — the latest tragedies for a country battered by political instability and turmoil. Many of the migrants in Del Rio had lived in Chile for years after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, then recently made the trek to Texas.
Many of them said they left Chile because of racist treatment they faced in the South American country and because the pandemic shuttered many jobs.
Economic Development Director Jessica Rogers will leave Denton for an assistant city manager position in Tomball early next month, interim City Manager Sara Hensley told the Denton City Council in a memo Tuesday.
The Tomball City Council voted to confirm Rogers as City Manager David Esquivel’s pick for the role Monday. Rogers will start her new role Oct. 18, where she will help manage day-to-day city operations in Tomball, a city of just under 12,000 in the Houston metro area. She will see a slight pay increase in the position, with an annual starting salary of $137,000 — $6,000 more than her current salary.
Rogers’ last day with Denton will be Oct. 8. She will help Esquivel manage city departments including public works, police and fire, human resources and management. The pair also will carry out the vision of the City Council, Esquivel said Wednesday.
“What the assistant city manager is responsible for, at least the way it is structured here with me, is going to be as an absolute partner as we approach city management,” Esquivel said in a phone interview. “It’s a lot for one person — the city manager — to take on, so those responsibilities are divided amongst us. As a partnership, she will be involved in all of the aspects of running the city.”
Rogers has been Denton’s director of economic development since early 2019, when she stepped into the role after the sudden death of former director Caroline Booth. Rogers has been with the city of Denton for seven years, beginning as the assistant to the city manager before becoming energy services manager with Denton Municipal Electric. She also served as the city’s deputy director of public affairs before joining economic development.
Leaving Denton will be bittersweet, Rogers said.
“I grew up moving all over the state — Denton is the second-longest I have ever lived anywhere in my life, so it really was like my second home,” Rogers said. “It’s extremely hard to leave.”
Rogers first heard about the position in late July and went through several interviews before being selected. Tomball advertised to fill the role for a month, narrowing the initial applicant pool to 10 and eventually four semifinalists. The final four applicants participated in social, one-on-one interviews with community and employee panels to help Tomball officials make a final decision on whom to select for the position.
“We are extremely excited about Jessica,” Esquivel said. “With the background that she has, in particular with the city of Denton, she has not been in just one area — she has been in different areas and gained a lot of experience by serving in different roles. Then the other piece that really stood out to a lot of the panels, as well as us in the city management panel, that’s extremely important to us is the amount of dedication that she showed — not just what she responded to in the interviews, [but] her dedication to the city of Denton.”
The new position represents the natural next step in Rogers’ career, she said, giving her a chance to take on a broader role in city management. And with Tomball offering a similar culture, she will not be leaving Denton completely behind.
“Denton is an amazing place, and I’m really thankful for all the support and encouragement,” Rogers said. “That community — going to those festivals, going to those events with friends and colleagues, that’s really important to me. Tomball has that same circle of support and togetherness — it was just important to keep that sense of community.”
City staff are developing a transition plan to fill the role and will share more information with the City Council in the coming weeks, spokesperson Ryan Adams said Wednesday.