North Texas Daily

City government explained: The six most powerful positions in Denton county.

City government explained: The six most powerful positions in Denton county.

City government explained: The six most powerful positions in Denton county.
September 24
13:58 2016

Often students and regular, plain-clothed civilians don’t pay attention to local government. Election results and their turnouts are evidence of this fact. Denton county election administration’s results from the recent city election in May showed less than 6,000 residents voted out of 429,941 registered voters.

City officials are directly responsible for the quality of the roads, the zoning in the city, and most of all the traffic, often complained about. But the blame is often placed on construction and too many other people, but the decisions are made directly by elected officials and those they appoint. Here are the most important positions in city government, responsible for all that traffic:

  1. Mayor
Chris Watts

Chris Watts

Chris Watts, as the leader of Denton concentrates on improving the conditions of city’s residents. He’s tasked with overseeing local departments like police, fire, housing and other primary functions of local government. Other responsibilities lie in budget planning and public relations for the city. The mayor also reviews capital improvement plans, (i.e. road improvements, industry planning, and energy plans like Renewable Denton). He is also the ambassador of the city to the rest of the world, the prime example of Denton.

Denton utilizes a council-manager system of government. According to the Texas State Historical Association this means the mayor isn’t the chief executive of the city, he operates with a city council as the main policy body but is elected from among the city council members for one, two-year term. In Denton, he is elected “at large,” meaning he’s not attached to a particular seat, all registered voters may cast their ballot for or against Mr. Watts — though he ran unopposed in the last election. As for the chief executive-administrative officer of Denton, that job goes to…

  1. City manager(s)
drc_howard_martin_51350607

Howard Martin

In Denton, there is no city manager right now. Well, there’s an interim-city manager, Howard Martin. He’s chosen by the city council, under the council-manager system, to serve as the chief executive officer for the city. Think of it like a deputy mayor.

He provides his expertise as opinion to the city council and directly reports to them. In the case of Denton, Martin would usually have four assistant city managers, but after George Campbell’s contract went without renewal there are only three. Assistant city managers report to the city manager and together they’re accountable to the city council, so bringing checks-and-balances down to the local level.

Since Martin’s not elected he can’t vote in city council elections, but is compelled by the city charter to all their meetings. And he’s allowed to fire and hire people to the city bureaucracy, must prepare the annual budget and administer it, and then give an expense report for review by the city council and the…

  1. City auditor

no_imageThe entry in the charter is short: “The city auditor shall be appointed by the council and shall serve at the pleasure of the council, and shall perform such auditing duties as may be assigned from time to time by the council, or by the city manager at the direction of the council.”

And Denton doesn’t have one. Since 2011 the city auditor’s chair has been empty, during the time when Denton has gone through high levels of population growth consistent with the same trend across Texas. In the past city council election, Sara Bagheri ran on a platform ready to fill the position of city auditor. Her position is…

  1. City council member
Sara Bagheri

Sara Bagheri

Every two years Denton elects seven council members, one of which is the mayor. They’re responsible for representing the people and passing ordinances and budgets, setting taxes and other responsibilities common to running a city. They appoint city administrators, like city managers and chiefs of police, and can only serve three consecutive terms in the same place.

They’re also tasked with dividing the city into four districts that must have equal population according to the latest census. They have to have resided in the city for at least one year and be a registered voter in Denton county. If they’re running for a specific place seat, they must reside in it. For at-large council members, they have to live within Denton’s corporate city limits.

  1. City attorney

The city attorney, Anita Burgess, helps local government take care of its legal problems. They act as the legal representation for the city in all its affairs with private and public entities. Kind of like a personal lawyer.

She is also tasked with drafting legal documents for the city and serves at the pleasure of the city council.

  1. County judge and commissioners

Mary Horn is Denton county judge, and has been the longest-serving county judge in the history of Denton county. She was also the first woman to serve in that chair. She’s not a city official, but her office is the chief governing body for Denton county and so has to coordinate with city officials regularly. She said, though, she doesn’t do a lot of “judgment.”

Mary Horn

Mary Horn

“I don’t sit in judgment of anybody, it’s more of an administrative position,” Horn said. “County judge may or may not have actual judicial duties. My division is county judge, county judges handle probates, competency hearings, etc. but once your county hits a certain size the county judge doesn’t do many of those.”

Denton county is divided into four separate commissioner precincts headed by Horn. Since Texas elects their judges, the precincts serve as voting districts as well as Horn’s at-large seat. They Set the tax rate and adopt the County budget, pay county bills, establish the precincts and manage all county facilities, roads, and bridges. Her job, she said, is hard to describe.

“It can be fun, it can be frustrating; nerve wracking, rewarding. All of those things,” Horn said. “You come into the office every day and you have your schedule, but the schedule often gets changed for you. It’s rewarding when you can improve the lives of your constituents by completing projects, and though it always takes longer than you wish it would, people are really good at being patient if you keep them informed.”

About Author

North Texas Daily

North Texas Daily

The North Texas Daily is the official student newspaper of the University of North Texas, proudly serving UNT and the Denton community since 1916.

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