At times verbally sparring, at other times stating positions, candidates for the Flower Mound Town Council shared views on everything from tree ordinances to density and master plan issues during a forum Wednesday.
The forum sponsored by The Cross Timbers Gazette at Flower Mound Town Hall featured six candidates vying for Places 1,3 and 5 in the upcoming May 9 election.
In Place 1, Brian Rountree took his opponent – sitting council member Michael Walker – to task several times during the forum, starting with the second question: “What is the most urgent problem facing Flower Mound today and what steps would you take?”
“I think the number one problem is Mike Walker,” Rountree said. “He’s an empty seat. … You’ve approved everything that’s come in front of you … You’re a cardboard cutout.”
The statement started a verbal back and forth between the candidates that continued through the evening.
Walker, in his closing statement, touted a list of things he has approved ranging from clustering options to setting up a land trust to protect conservation areas to approving a hotel and the town’s first movie house as well as a new senior center, upgrades to Twin Coves, lower property taxes and more.
“Mr. Rountree has said I say yes. I have. I’ve sat up here through four different administrations,” Walker said, referring to his service on town boards and commissions during three previous mayoral terms in addition to the current council term.
In response to a question about their vision for controlling the town’s loss of “shade” from mature trees, Place 3 candidate Don McDaniel, who currently sits on the Planning and Zoning Commission, said he believed the town had strong tree mitigation policies. “There are more trees in Flower Mound than when the town was incorporated. That’s a fact,” he said, adding that he believed developers wanted to save as many trees as possible. “We should continue on that path.”
Kevin Bryant, who is also seeking the Place 3 council seat, referred to the town’s logo, which features a large tree. “That’s what we’re about in Flower Mound. We need to make sure it is enforced,” he said, adding that he believed developers did not need to clear cut areas and put in lots. He suggested that design could be done around trees since that was being done in the town’s conservation district.
Rountree suggested the town issue a moratorium on all tree removal permits until the policy was reviewed. “Flower Mound used to have a much heralded tree plan,” he said, taking a shot at Walker by indicating he had been in office during much of the tree removals. Rountree went on to suggest adding an extra level of protection in the form of a heritage tree policy.
“Rountree, you keep talking about being this Texas conservative, saving trees and just saying no,” Walker said. “If you say no, it’ll be declared unconstitutional,” he added, referring to Rountree’s suggestion to stop tree removal permits.
In Place 5, Carol Kyer said she believed the tree mitigation policy, from a commercial aspect, needed to be looked at. “We have some beautiful trees.”
Itamar Gelbman, who is also vying for the Place 5 seat, suggested the town and developers should find a way to work around the trees. “They were here before us,” he said of the trees. “For developers to keep the old trees, it will really help their property values.”
On the use of eminent domain, all six candidates indicated they believed it should only be used for public uses – a fact Walker said is already regulated.
“We’re (municipalities) prohibited from condemning land for commercial purposes,” he said, adding that any property taken through eminent domain must be only for public use and with just compensation.
Rountree said he believed the town was “getting a mixed message on its status on eminent domain.”
Candidates took a strong stance on whether they believed the master plan should be followed without exception.
“I do not and neither did the people who designed it,” McDaniel said. “They could not see every eventuality in town … they didn’t know we were going to grow.” McDaniel said there are times when changes to the master plan are needed.
Bryant called the master plan “the voice of the people of Flower Mound. We really need to respect the master plan.” He questioned whether the council needed to accept every single master plan amendment that came “down the pike.”
Gelbman echoed Bryant, saying “It’s not dictating to them by five people what they should get. … It should be by the people for the people.” Gelbman also added the master plan does need to be amended at times.
Kyer called the master plan a living document. “It was developed by people 20 years ago. It’s going to change over time. People come and go, situations change. The master plan is amendable and should be amendable.”
Rountree, referring to his opponent, said some statements were made during another forum that he was against all master plan zoning changes. “I’m against high density master plan amendments,” he said.
“I don’t want to get into a ping pong match up here,” Walker countered. The town’s proximity to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport as well as having a number of major thoroughfares places it in the path of economic development, he said, which has to be factored in with the town’s mission statement.
In response to a question about the current state of economic development amid concerns that Flower Mound was a difficult place to do business, Bryant said, “We have a lot of developments come in but we’re not seeing a lot of businesses come in. It’s very confusing.”
McDaniel said he believed development in Flower Mound was on the right track, adding the town has diversified its tax base and brought companies and jobs to town.
Gelbman cited an incident where a business owner approached him to complain that he’d received tickets for signage while the town made exceptions to signage at Lakeside DFW, an ongoing mixed-use development off FM 2499.
Kyer, who served on the Development Review Committee in 2012-2013, said she saw how the town worked to eliminate unnecessary steps to make it a smoother process for developers to build in Flower Mound. “We may seem difficult but that’s because we care about our town.”
Rountree cited a 2013 forum where Walker “jumped up with the mayor” in favor of building in Flower Mound. “He rang the dinner bell for high density development,” he said. “We’re not following a market driven economy, we’re doing development dreams.”
“I don’t like personal attacks,” Walker said. “That’s not my style. I’ve been here serving this town longer than you have and you’ve been living here longer than I have.”
Walker cited the town’s AAA bond rating as well as its strong tree ordinance as examples of how the town is balancing its mission statement and economic development. “The idea of a sell out. I really resent that comment.”
Several candidates cited the need for more communication with residents.
“I think the biggest problem in Flower Mound is the perception that we have a lack of transparency,” McDaniel said. “There’s still this feeling among citizens in this town they don’t have everything they need.”
Gelbman suggested creating a task force to communicate with neighboring towns on construction and traffic congestion. “Sometimes our growth is a little bit more than we want,” he said.
Walker said the perception of overnight growth is due to the timing of construction on several projects that have been in the works for years. “It seems like it all came in the last year, but it hasn’t.”
On a question about the need for social media policies for town officials, Kyer said she believed everyone has the right to free speech. “You have to use common sense. … It’s watching what you do yourself.”
The question arose from ongoing commentary on the Flower Mound Cares Facebook page and whether town officials should comment on issues affecting the town.
“There needs to be a delineation there,” Rountree said of use of social media by town officials for personal and public uses.
Walker said the Texas Municipal League encourages elected officials not to use Facebook for town business. “I’m not a Facebook person,” he added.
Bryant, who said he is an avid user of social media, said it can be both amazing and irritating. “We all know the simplest thing on social media can be taken out of context.”
McDaniel said social media can be a good way to know who people are and what they stand for.
Gelbman, who said he was a huge supporter of the constitution and freedom of speech, warned that comments on Facebook remain online forever.
Gelbman used most of his closing statement to target Kyer on her actions as president of the Lewisville Independent School District board of trustees, citing bond approvals and statements she purportedly made in open session. The two began talking afterward, interrupting McDaniel’s closing statement.
Rountree said he wanted to slow down what Walker started when elected almost two years ago. “I’d like to be the person who doesn’t like to sell out.”
McDaniel, who called himself a “townie,” said that as a stay-at-home dad, he has met many residents as he spends the day in Flower Mound volunteering and running errands as well as operating his small business. “I’ve dealt with every type of person in this town. I love this town. I don’t think anybody up here has this perspective,” he said. “I want to bring that to a higher level and serve you from here so that I can implement what I have learned from you.”
Kyer said she has watched the town grow from 18,000 to 69,000 in population. “As you go to vote, what type of person do you want on your council,” she asked, adding that someone who does their homework and is familiar with both the town and the parliamentary procedures is what she would bring to the table.
“I’m running because I believe we need new voices on the council,” Bryant said. “I think we need to look at different people with different experiences to serve.”
Referring to McDaniel, Bryant added: “He has a lot of experience and he has a lot of experience in voting for every master plan amendment.”
Several of the more than 30 residents sitting in the audience sported tree pins for Rountree and bow ties for Bryant. After the forum, two women said they were part of a group supporting Bryant, Rountree and Gelbman though they did not yet have a political pin or logo for Gelbman.
The forum, which lasted about an hour and a half, is available on the Flower Mound TV website at http://flowermoundtx.swagit.com/play/04152015-1053.