Chris Watts will retain his chairmanship of the Denton County Transportation Authority board after a motion for his removal failed during Tuesday’s Denton City Council meeting.
The issue was raised as a pitch from council member Deb Armintor, who cited Watts’ recent departure from the City Council’s wishes as the reason for his removal.
Watts served as Denton’s mayor until he reached his term limit cap in 2020. His term was extended due to the ongoing pandemic, and he served into December 2020.
He was appointed to the DCTA board in May 2019, and he began his one-year term as the board chair on Nov. 1, 2020. His chairmanship was set to expire just under three weeks from Tuesday’s meeting.
In her presentation, Armintor referred to a Sept. 22 press release sent out by No Bus Cuts Denton, which is an advocacy group opposed to the elimination of fixed bus routes.
The group is made up of “17 people from 10 different labor unions,” according to Armintor’s presentation.
Armintor claimed in her presentation that Watts’ removal is required because “he has unambiguously and definitively ceased to serve at the pleasure of this Council.”
The root of the issue stems from DCTA’s decision to move toward the GoZone program that will operate third-party vehicles in a ride-hailing model similar to widespread Uber and Lyft services.
The City Council recommended a six-month probationary term wherein regular fixed bus routes would continue, but Watts disagreed and recommended instead a three-month window.
Much of the council’s discussion about the issue took place behind closed doors Tuesday. The issue was preceded by two other pitches from council members, each of whom had two minutes to explain their proposal followed by another minute for colleagues to ask questions of them.
Jesse Davis pitched the idea of a “green catalyst fund” that would attract and retain businesses that align with the city’s sustainability goals, and Paul Meltzer pitched a resolution to oppose the state Legislature’s proposed U.S. House redistricting map.
Davis’ pitch failed to garner enough support, and Meltzer withdrew his proposal because the Legislature appeared primed to vote on the map Tuesday, but support for the measure was high among his fellow council members.
Armintor concluded her two-minute pitch, after which Mayor Gerard Hudspeth turned to new City Attorney Mack Reinwand to ask whether this sort of issue should be considered in closed session.
The Texas Open Meetings Act allows for a range of fairly specific issues to be discussed in private.
The council broke into closed session under a provision allowing them to consult with its attorney.
Hudspeth said he recalled guidance from Reinwand’s predecessor, Aaron Leal, to the effect that the City Council could appoint and replace members of the DCTA board but that it had no authority to remove them.
He suggested they discuss the matter in closed session. Armintor called for a point of order, but her mic immediately cut out. Hudspeth asked multiple times for her to explain the point of order, but technical difficulties prevented her from doing so.
“We can just have that conversation in closed,” Hudspeth said, and council members prepared to leave the room.
They returned to the council chambers and open meeting roughly 35 minutes later, and the council immediately entered into the questioning stage of the two-minute pitch.
The Open Meetings Act isn’t rigid in how much notice must be given before items are discussed in private, but governmental entities are expected to maintain consistent practices, according to the Texas Municipal League’s handbook on the act from 2017.
It is uncommon for local entities to enter into closed session without having previously announced they would do so in public notices. Denton’s City Council was scheduled to enter into a closed session directly after Armintor’s pitch, which it still did later in the night.
Upon returning from the impromptu closed session Tuesday, Davis said he wasn’t going to pretend Watts’ tenure on the board hadn’t seen its share of controversy, but he strongly disagreed with the council’s moves to unseat him so late in his term.
“I don’t believe that this council has the legal authority to remove somebody from this board,” he said.
He described the situation as frustrating, and both he and Meltzer said attempts to unseat Watts just weeks before his term expires appeared to be politically motivated.
Council member Alison Maguire voiced her support for removing Watts for cause, and she offered herself as his replacement.
The item lacked enough support to warrant further action from staffers, so it failed at the proposal stage.
After the meeting ended Tuesday evening, Maguire said the matter of whether or not the council has the authority to remove Watts wasn’t fully answered, and she referred further questions about the contents of the closed session to the city’s attorneys.
Wake Up with the DR-C: Get today's headlines in your inbox
Success! An email has been sent to with a link to confirm list signup.
Error! There was an error processing your request.