Denton Matters City Council Candidate Interviews: Mayor, Keely Briggs
Question 1: When asked about advancing inclusion and protecting civil rights, a common answer recently given by candidates is a pledge to “meet with local leaders.” What specific plans do you have to meet the needs of our diverse community? What have you done prior to this election to advance these causes?
Response: Since my first city council campaign in 2015 I have been clear that my mantra and guiding principle in decision and policy making was that “People Come First.” That means all people. To your point, everyone tells you in election season that they will meet with local leaders and make inclusion and protection of civil rights a priority. But I have a track record of nearly six years of actions and efforts in our community that you can evaluate. As an example, it was my work and involvement with the National League of Cities which helped start discussions and understand the efforts of the Human Rights Campaign, and to work toward improving Denton’s score on the Municipal Equality Index. In the early stages of this effort I met with community members, clergy, and members of OUTreach Denton. We have more work to do, but we have made strides in moving our score from a 35 to a 57. Our next hurdle is to follow the lead of so many other dynamic and growing communities with a high quality of life and put together a non-discrimination ordinance. There has not been support from council members at this time to do this, which is unfortunate but something to work on. More broadly, as our next mayor, it will be my job to set the tone for our local government to ensure that we fully acknowledge the reality of societal and institutional inequalities and biases and not hide from it or deny it exists. We have to work together within our community to listen, learn, and take actions that make Denton a place that extends fair and equitable opportunities.
Question 2: Did you support the city’s mask ordinance? Yes or No. What in your opinion would be your responsibility, as a city official, in protecting Denton’s citizens from COVID19 or similar threats?
Response: Working through this ongoing public health crisis has been the largest challenge in my time of public service. The city and county coordinated very closely in the early stages and saved lives. We did implement a local mask order ahead of our Governor’s mandate. Yes, I was a vote in support of our local mask ordinance. It highlighted the importance of local government controls and the need for our ability to respond in times of emergency. Front line public safety can’t wait for other State or Federal bureaucracies to take action. It reminded us how big and important of a role government at all levels play in public health. It is vital for us to be resourced and ready to respond to all potential crises. We have to be educated, and coordinated. We have to have public institutions and subject matter experts we can trust. And we have to have the means to collect and interpret localized data. We have to have the ability at the local level to do what’s best for our community in real time. Waiting for higher levels of government to offer guidance and action during a crisis costs us time, lives, and impedes optimal outcomes. I believe it’s worth discussing when and If the city should take on more ownership of public health policy within our city instead of deferring to the County.
I also learned during this crisis that as a governing body we need to be more flexible in how we allow businesses to respond and operate.
Question 3: Council Members pitch ideas for initiatives to have city staff research. At your first work session, after this election, what will be your first pitch to help the citizens of Denton?
Response: I will establish a Mayor’s Population Health Initiative and Task Force. I want the health of our population to be front and center in our policy decisions. We control the built environment and there is no greater influence on health than the built environment. If this city does not put a priority on the health and safety of our citizens in all policy decisions, then we are not doing our job right and we are not building a city of quality that truly values the health and well-being of its people. In addition, I will work to make it an economic development priority for our community to partner with our hospitals and regional healthcare providers to expand the footprint and close the gaps in medical services offered and available to our community — several of which are deficient right now and will only worsen.
Question 4: Our city will be facing a budget crisis due to reduced tax revenue. What, specifically, will you do to bring home recovery funds to assist Denton residents and businesses who are struggling with Covid-19 related economic challenges?
Response: Recovery is going to take money. The current date for allocated funds to expire is December 31st. I have already started advocating for our city to engage our elected representatives in D.C to extend those relief funds. These are unprecedented circumstances and require massive support and cooperation. Governor Abbott recently allocated over $171 million in funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which will be used for targeted rental assistance for Texans at risk of becoming homeless due to eviction. The funding will also allow the Supreme Court of Texas, the Office of Court Administration, and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) to work in partnership with local governments and non-profits and the newly created Texas Eviction Diversion Program to help renters stay in their homes, catch up on missed rental payments, and avoid an eviction on their records. This will help renters and landlords. We have to make sure we are in these conversations and doing all we can to get these additional funds into our city.
When it comes to our local businesses, the grants and loans didn’t work out for everyone. If you were able to receive relief funding, it likely does not sustain your business through the duration of this pandemic. We have to be more creative. I would like to see us explore the use of grants and other finance tools for small businesses.
Question 5: What in your history/record qualifies you, above your challengers, for the seat you are seeking election?
Response: I have a passion for serving and am dedicated to service above self. I am a hands on leader who is approachable and responsive to our community. I have worked on increasing government transparency and accountability, streamlined budgets and reduced tax burdens, improved public safety, protected neighborhoods and rights of individuals. I have advocated for small businesses and improved environmental and public health protections. As Mayor, I will ensure that our entire council has the opportunity to represent their constituency.
Question 6: The DEC Net projected Income is in the Red year over year and citizens have been informed that our energy rates will go up as a result. What are your plans to help resident ratepayers keep costs lower? Do you have any ideas or plans in place to assist with this?
Response: We need to keep our rates low and affordable. This is why I was not in favor of the Denton Energy Center (DEC). The pro forma for the DEC did not show us the true cost. Within a year of its opening we have had to add over $2.7 million of unplanned and unaccounted for expenditures. There is a minimum $18 million a year debt payment we have to make no matter how the DEC performs. Regardless, this is a decision that has been made and infrastructure we have committed to for generations to come. Thankfully we have very knowledgeable employees in place at this time who are looking out for the ratepayer and we are doing everything we can to get as close as we can to our community’s 100% renewable energy goal. In 2019 The DEC increased our local emissions by 104,210 MT which is equal to emissions from an added 22,514 vehicles on our roads. Even if we find a way to hold our rates steady, we will need to find a way to offset these emissions as they have an uncalculated cost too.
I am in favor of continuing with ratepayer rebate programs for energy efficiency investments and solar installations.