Politics
3:44 pm
Thu May 2, 2013

Seven Crowd The Ballot For Angela Hunt's Dallas Council Seat

It’s the end of an era in Dallas City Council District 14.  The outspoken Angela Hunt is stepping down because of term limits and seven candidates are lined up to take her place.  It’ll be a big job for the newcomer chosen to represent a diverse and demanding district. So, what do constituents want?

During her eight years on the council, Hunt was often the dissenter: questioning issues and proposals that had the support of a majority of her colleagues. She led a referendum against the proposed Trinity toll road, brokered a peace between neighbors and noisy bars on Lower Greenville, advanced preservation of historic neighborhoods, and helped create the Arts District.   

“I tell you, I have loved public service,” Hunt says.

District 14 stretches from Love Field, through Turtle Creek, downtown and East Dallas to the south tip of White Rock Lake.

Hunt says it’s a diverse district that she expects to grow significantly over the next decade. She says her successor will have to address those growing pains by managing new development, protecting neighborhoods and fixing streets.

District 14 residents Dan Barbara and Patrick Murphy have a message for the new council member – whoever that may be.

“Definitely want the streets fixed, especially with the taxes we pay,” Barbara says. “It’s ridiculous that we have potholes coming out of our driveways.”

“Just the roads; fix the streets,” Murphy pleads.

The 2012 bond package passed by voters in November contains $13 million for repair and reconstruction nearly 20 major streets in the district.

But bumpy streets are not the only concern residents want the new council member to address.  Jill Smits lives in Junius Heights. The city’s largest historic district has more than 800 homes in Old East Dallas.

“We’re a little bit worried about what kind of development might be going on there," Smits says.  "It’s becoming more popular.  We’d like to keep it feeling like it does now.  We like the diversity; the fact that it feels urban, but not a lot of high rises and things like that.”

Managing inevitable development has also been a priority for Hunt. She lives in the upscale M streets neighborhood, known for its Tudor architecture.  

“I love the fact that residents care enough to protect that charm and that character," Hunt said.  "So, I think one of the continuous challenges is ensuring that we uphold our historic and conservation districts, and also support and nurture any nascent conservation districts or historic districts that are interested in being developed.”

Whoever takes the District 14 seat will face complex issues: aging roads and inadequate storm drainage; whether to build a toll road inside the Trinity River levees; when to raise taxes; and a steep learning curve.

“There is a period of time where they just have to learn that organization’s culture," says Robert Bland, chair of the public administration department at the University of North Texas.  "They have to establish themselves as partners and equals in the decision-making process, that their input is respected and valued by their colleagues on the council.”

Bland says how fast a new council member gets acclimated depends on previous experience, such as serving on boards and commissions. He says despite what could be a slow start, it’s good to get new energy and ideas into local government.

But, there is one vote Hunt would prefer to not pass on to her successor: gas drilling.

“This council has the information, has the knowledge base, understands the issues," Hunt says. "And when you are a new council member, no matter how smart you are and engaged, you just don’t have the same knowledge base.”

Hunt says it doesn’t appear likely she’ll get to vote on gas drilling on city park land before she leaves the council.   

KERA asked the seven candidates their positions on drilling.  Five are against it.  Two are open for discussion. For the winner, it could be the first big, controversial vote on the Dallas City Council.