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From left, Denton City Council District 3 candidates Jesse Davis, Matt Farmer and Diana Leggett sit together during a recent candidate forum at Denton County Brewing Co.

The ink had barely dried on campaign paperwork before local political junkies started calling Denton’s District 3 race the one to watch in the May 4 election.

And they could be right.

With the amount of growth expected on Denton’s west side, District 3 voters could have a lot to say about the city’s future with their choice of council member.

In addition to Rayzor Ranch and the growing industrial park around Denton Enterprise Airport, two massive subdivisions are expected to soon bring about 15,000 new homes to Denton’s west side. The city currently has about 29,000 single-family homes.

The Denton City Council seems to have felt the heat, too. The council ordered four polling locations for District 3 on election day, two more locations for the city’s west side than in any other district in Denton: North Lakes Recreation Center, the Greek Life Center at the University of North Texas, Fire Station No. 7 and the clubhouse at Robson Ranch.

Three hopefuls are racing to fill the seat being vacated by Robson Ranch real estate agent Don Duff: Jesse Davis, Matt Farmer and Diana Leggett.

Davis is the chairman of Denton’s Board of Ethics. Earlier this year, he faced scrutiny himself after Denton City Council member Paul Meltzer complained that Davis violated the city’s new ethics ordinance by presiding over an advisory opinion involving the May 4 election. A three-member panel of the ethics board found the complaint baseless.

To win outright, a candidate must receive a majority vote — 50 percent of the votes cast, plus one, in District 3.

If no candidate achieves that total, the top two vote-getters head to a runoff on June 8.

We caught up with the candidates this week to ask them key questions on behalf of the voters. Here are their answers, edited for brevity and clarity.

Jesse Davis

DRC_Jesse Davis

Jesse Davis

Age: 35

Born in: Denton

Education: Bachelor of Arts in history and political science, University of North Texas, 2005; Juris Doctor with criminal law concentration, Baylor University School of Law, 2010

Experience: College student body president, 2004-05; congressional staffer, 2005-07; law clerk, 2010; assistant district attorney, Denton County District Attorney’s Office, 2011-present

Online: jessefordenton.com

Denton County Transportation Authority is considering changing almost half of its bus routes in Denton from fixed routes to app-hailed zone buses — in other words, trading ridership goals for the goal of serving a much broader area. Do you agree the trade-off is needed? Why or why not?

I think we need both fixed bus routes and ride-sharing services. I think we can potentially expand our fixed bus routes based on some of the data we get for ride-hailing apps and services.

Parts of our community will be underserved because people won’t have a smartphone or other way to access the service. Even when there is low ridership on certain routes, it’s important to serve those areas. But if we see 20 people are taking the same Uber-style ride in the morning and again in the evening, then that may be where a bus route goes instead of an Uber clone.

A citizen group is campaigning for the wholesale replacement of the city’s ethics ordinance with language originally proposed by former City Council member Kathleen Wazny. Do you agree the ordinance needs to be replaced? Why or why not?

The first thing that’s important to note is that this effort doesn’t direct the City Council to write a new ordinance or to review and adopt changes to the current ordinance.

By referendum, what this would do is adopt an ordinance that these few people have proposed. Also, the language proposed is not word-for-word what Kathleen Wazny proposed, but it is based on it. It completely cuts out public input or any review by our city attorney.

This effort is misguided. The Board of Ethics has proposed changes for the ordinance to the City Council and now it’s time for the City Council to take up those recommended changes.

The City Council is expected to negotiate an agreement with the developers of Cole Ranch and Hunter Ranch that could allow a special taxing district with higher property taxes in those neighborhoods than in the rest of Denton. What terms would you seek in such a deal? What would be a deal breaker for you?

Evaluating how the infrastructure will be funded at Hunter Ranch and Cole Ranch is about the cost-benefit to the city of Denton. We must consider the city’s residents, now and in the future, and whether they are getting the best return for their tax dollars.

I would absolutely require that the [special taxing district] board meet within the city limits and that the members be, at the very minimum, residents of the city of Denton and at best, residents of the district. I would absolutely require both developments to have 1,000-foot setbacks from gas wells, the donation of school sites of our choice and a 500-acre nature preserve in the heart of the area at Pilot Knob Hill.

The deal breaker would be the membership of the board.

Matt Farmer

DRC_Matt Farmer

Matt Farmer

Born in: Port St. Joe, Florida

Education: Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in communications and political science, University of North Texas, 2017

Experience: Writing tutor, 2014-16; event promoter, J&J’s Pizza, 2013-present and Dan’s Silverleaf, 2018-present; substitute teacher, Denton ISD, 2017-present.

Online: farmerfordenton.com

Denton County Transportation Authority is considering changing almost half its bus routes in Denton from fixed routes to app-hailed zone buses — in other words, trading ridership goals for the goal of serving a much broader area. Do you agree the trade-off is needed? Why or why not?

I think that it shouldn’t be a trade-off for zone service. Even though that service could be a good idea, not everyone has access to a smartphone, or can otherwise use zone buses as effectively as they can use fixed routes.

Our current routes also need to be looked over and changed, especially with all the new development coming into District 3.

Back when I rode every day, some buses were full all the time. We need a more holistic approach to get riders where they are needing access. For example, there’s not a lot of access to service around Guyer High School and Teasley Lane. You have to walk an hour to a bus stop. People would benefit from more service out there.

But for some, we still need the fixed routes.

A citizen group is campaigning for the wholesale replacement of the city’s ethics ordinance with language originally proposed by former City Council member Kathleen Wazny. Do you agree the ordinance needs to be replaced? Why or why not?

I do agree that it needs to be replaced, especially from what we’ve recently seen with the conflict-of-interest provision and how it has been unclear. That needs to be hashed out.

I think the council appointments to the board need to be less partisan. When ethics board members are directly appointed, they feel indebted in some way. If we can figure out a way to be less partisan, we are on our way to creating a new ethics ordinance.

The City Council is expected to negotiate an agreement with the developers of Cole Ranch and Hunter Ranch that could allow a special taxing district with higher property taxes in those neighborhoods than in the rest of Denton. What terms would you seek in such a deal? What would be a deal breaker for you?

I’ve been talking about this through the whole campaign. I went to the council work sessions on it. It’s hard [to evaluate] because these municipal management districts are new. But from what I’ve seen and heard since, including from people who’ve bought houses in such districts, people have rejected them. People are not even completely aware that they are going to be taxed more.

It’s hard to regulate because the city is given less power in situations like this.

I don’t think it’s a good idea at this point. It’s hard to tell because we really haven’t started negotiations yet, but I can’t see it. The area will develop regardless.

Diana Leggett

DRC_Diana Leggett

Diana Leggett

Age: 65

Born in: San Francisco

Education: Attended San Francisco State University, 1971-74, and the University of North Texas, 2008-09

Experience: Elementary art teacher, 1986-90; private art teacher, 1999-2008; wildlife manager, 2000; president and founder, WildRescue, Inc., a 501(c) nonprofit organization, 1999-present; and legal administrator, Durand & Associates, off and on from 1991 to the present.

Online: diana4d3.com

Denton County Transportation Authority is considering changing almost half its bus routes in Denton from fixed routes to app-hailed zone buses — in other words, trading ridership goals for the goal of serving a much broader area. Do you agree the trade-off is needed? Why or why not?

I grew up in a city of mass transit. I just read an article in the North Texas Daily about changes DCTA is making to campus service, making the students walk farther. We [Denton] are giving them [DCTA] $14 million a year; we should be adding more stops. People who are disabled have to call days in advance to get service. Why can’t the city have more input into how DCTA sets its schedule?

I’m right next to Rayzor Ranch and right now the bus is tearing up Thomas Street [on a detour] trying to move people. It takes so long to get from the UNT student union to Rayzor Ranch that they [riders] might as well walk.

We need more oversight.

A citizen group is campaigning for the wholesale replacement of the city’s ethics ordinance with language originally proposed by former City Council member Kathleen Wazny. Do you agree the ordinance needs to be replaced? Why or why not?

I am an advocate for a complete replacement. I only met Kathleen Wazny once, but I thought she had great insight.

I’m used to working with ethics issues every day, both in the veterinary world and the legal world. I work out conflicts of interest every day because [without it] an attorney could lose their license.

I think the council that was serving at the time the ethics ordinance was written, some had the community’s best interests in mind. Some had not — and if they had, they would have done their research. This wheel has already been invented, but if you take out the spokes to benefit your agenda, other people don’t know why.

In Tallahassee, Florida, for example, the ethics board is community-based and not appointed by the city council.

The City Council is expected to negotiate an agreement with the developers of Cole Ranch and Hunter Ranch that could allow a special taxing district with higher property taxes in those neighborhoods than in the rest of Denton. What terms would you seek in such a deal? What would be a deal breaker for you?

The global answer, the most important thing, is [understanding] that municipal management district. What we’re doing to families that are buying a house there is imposing property taxes, plus homeowners association dues, plus the [district] taxes. This allows the developers to go out and get low-cost loans. Other developers don’t get to do this.

In addition, a lot of the land out there is not suited to residential development. There are environmentally sensitive areas and a lot of [natural] gas pads with additional [drilling] permits. If we bring in more commercial and industrial development and finish out the area around Denton Enterprise Airport, that’s going to be more beneficial to our tax base. Then we can put the residences where appropriate.

I feel the developers need to understand what our community values. With 6,500 acres bringing 50,000 people, that’s its own city. And it is a lot of maintenance for our city to pick up in the next three to five years.

They [the developers] said in their plan that there would be a corporate headquarters of some kind. Unless you can tell me that there’s a contract [for such a relocation], then I’ll question what you are doing.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

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