Denton leaders should be held to a stricter standard

Denton leaders should be held to a stricter standard

Denton leaders should be held to a stricter standard
March 28
01:06 2019

Do you keep up with and vote during local elections? If your answer is no, you might want to consider paying more attention. If not for the ridiculous scenes in city council seemingly ripped straight from episodes of “Parks and Recreation,” at least do it to check and monitor local officials who work for you.

Denton’s City Council has seen its fair share of mess within recent months. One large subject of contention this election cycle has been the council’s ethics ordinance, adopted in May 2018. In addition to outlining appropriate ethical guidelines for council members, the ordinance created a Board of Ethics to ensure it is administered.

The chairman of the ethics panel is Jesse Davis, who is simultaneously running for city council seat 3 — conveniently, there is no clause in the new ethics ordinance prohibiting a member of an ethics board from running in other elections. The ordinance does, though, lay out restrictions against council members deliberating on municipal issues with which they may have a conflict of interest: Councilwoman Deb Armintor, a UNT professor, and Councilman Paul Meltzer, whose wife is a UNT employee, were officially banned from involvement in UNT-related issues, according to the North Texas Daily.

Meanwhile, Davis refused to step down as chairman of the board. In Dallas, El Paso and San Antonio, members of ethics boards are not allowed to run for political offices, according to another report from the Daily.

Davis filed for city council candidacy in February after being elected as chair of the Board of Ethics in July. It seems the board knows how to identify a conflict of interest, but is selective when deciding to invoke repercussions.

Things only got worse on Wednesday when the ethics panel ruled that complaints against Meltzer and Armintor were “actual,” meaning they would be heard in a public hearing, according to North Texas Daily. To sum up, two council members in favor of expanding polling location availability were deemed unethical, but a Board of Ethics member is completely within ethical principles to run for the very city council he oversees.

Ron Johnson, the ethics board member who filed the complaint, all but admitted he just wanted to make an example of the two council members: they didn’t heed the panel’s advice, giving the public the impression that there are “no consequences for ignoring the city’s ethics code.” From this statement we could infer that Johnson is allegedly more focused on proving points than enforcing reasonable ethics.

Denton City Council elections are nonpartisan: candidates’ political affiliations do not appear on the ballot and they do not represent parties. Although council members and hopefuls shouldn’t portray any political ideology in service of the city, some members’ moves have accrued criticism for obvious partisanship. It has been argued that Armintor and Meltzer’s dismissal from UNT-related discussion was the result of a debatably partisan move to suppress young college voters from participating in local elections by denying them a polling spot on campus.

The Denton City Council is comprised of a presiding mayor and two council members, all three of whom are elected at-large, and four council members elected from single districts. All cities in the U.S. are free to choose how their municipalities run elections, according to the National League of Cities — Denton’s council, a mixed system of at-large and district representatives, is part of only 21 percent of cities that are mixed-system. Therefore, a city’s constituency and leaders have agency to adjust, renew or remove policies concerning elections as they deem it necessary.

So, we have the power to change things. Whether or not we will remains to be seen.

City officials should be held to a rigorous ethical standard. Blatantly exploited loopholes within ethics ordinances should be eradicated immediately. How can we complain about inefficient leadership when our indifference toward local politics is what paved the way for contentious discussion like this in the first place?

Denton City Council should make their constituents’ concerns their top priority. It is clear that ethically responsible representatives are important to us. We would not sit idly by during a presidential election and allow a conflict of interest like this to remain and we should be even more motivated to act when it hits close to home.

An election to appoint council members to Districts 1, 2, 3 and 4 will be held on May 4, 2019, with early voting available from April 22 – April 30. Information on candidates, voting locations and more can be found on the city of Denton’s website. The last day to register to vote is April 4.

We can only hope this election will reveal higher voter turnout, settle the dust and ring in a new culture of local officials getting it together.

Featured Illustration: Jordan Collard.

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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2 Comments

  1. Jon
    Jon March 28, 21:36

    This is a poorly written article, yet sadly indicative of the quality of writing I’ve come to expect from the NTD. I’m not saying you don’t have a valid point, but damn, where’s your editor?

    Reply to this comment
  2. Nicknamé
    Nicknamé March 29, 10:20

    Good article, there’s one sentence that should be revised though:

    The Denton City Council is comprised of a presiding mayor and two [*six] council members, all three [*two] of whom are elected at-large, and four council members elected from single districts

    Reply to this comment

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