DeSoto Candidate Forum Hosted by Dynamic DeSoto
A Candidate Forum presented by Dynamic DeSoto was introduced by Patricia Russell-Harrell on Thursday evening. Judge Kenneth D. Sanders served as Moderator and began by asking each candidate to introduce themselves. Two candidates are running to fill the Mayor position, left vacant when Mayor Curtistene McCowan suddenly passed away this past fall.
In her announcement of having cancer, she related that she might miss some time for treatment, but was leaving the meetings in “the able hands” of the Mayor Pro-Tem, Kenzie Moore III when she was absent. Little did anyone know, her permanent absence was to occur so soon. Rachel Proctor, a former councilperson, filed to run against Moore for the position of DeSoto Mayor.
Rachel Proctor said she grew up in DeSoto and has been a resident for over 30 years. She said her goal would be to take DeSoto back to the basics. She said she wants to join hands with the citizens of DeSoto in moving it forward. She noted that she is a former council member.
Current Mayor Pro-Tem Kenzie Moore III began by saying the nation is in a critical time. He began by saying, “We have things to do for our country and our city.” Moore has been in DeSoto since 1986. He has been on the city council and on the school board. He has been involved in many DeSoto organizations over those years.
“I believe it is important to recognize how have we served this city over the time we have been here. I believe our city needs leadership and stability. I believe our Mayor Curtistene McCowan was leading us there.”
Candidates Running For Place 7 DeSoto City Council
Three people are running to fill the remainder of the Place 7 Council position: John McCalib, Calvin Graham, and Letitia Hughes. In their opening statements they provided the following information:
John McCalib … “My condolences to McCowan and Zander families.” He related that he now serves on the Parks and Recreation Board and has done so for five years. He said he helped initiate free wi-fi in city parks and through a public/private relationship it became possible. He said this and other activities have helped with tourism and other aspects within DeSoto.
Calvin Graham said he returned to DeSoto in 1988 after working in corporate America elsewhere for about ten years. He said he decided to run for council because watching development was slow and want to bring a vision of business and to transform DeSoto into a major area.
Letitia Hughes said she has been a resident for over 20 years. She said she has been involved in many activities in DeSoto. She said she is excited to work with everyone in the city of DeSoto.
The first question to the Mayoral candidates was what did you accomplish when serving on council (since both candidates have dones so in the past)?
Kenzie Moore stated “So much has happened and we can be very proud of the progress. The hiring of Brandon Wright has been a major accomplishment. Nothing can be accomplished without good management.” Another important factor he noted was “We have been very active in managing and trying to keep people safe through containing the virus. We have administered CARES grant funds for people who have problems with water bills, mortgage and other things. We are working with small businesses and citizens. We have been helping those struggling with mental health.”
Ms. Proctor said she was proud of being able to champion a payday loan ordinance to reduce abuse of predatory practices in the city. She also said pushing the first and second phases of a transportation program though use of CDBG funds for taxi costs to get people around was important and that now STAR has expanded it. She also said “I was very instrumental in the business incubator and the Grow DeSoto program.”
The Council candidates were asked “what makes you a better candidate than the other candidates?
Mr. Graham responded: “I look back at 35 plus years of running my operations. I bring a great deal of business knowhow to the table. This will lead us to policies that will lead us to a great return on investment.” He said he would proactively go out and develop relationships to generate revenue.
Ms. Hughes said “I am very efficient” saying she has participated with her children in sports and many other civic activities.
Mr. McCalib pointed to an extensive background with a non profit in Oak Cliff organization and working in development of five acre park. “They trusted me to be trustworthy and honest,” he said, in that he was treasurer of the organization. He also worked with city of Dallas and DISD school district. The park now has 1,200 students that go through it. “I have also worked with Oak Cliff Lions Club and am part of the scholarship board of Southwest Democrats to help children who are going to college.”
The next question to the candidates for mayor was “With the aging population, what will you do to help enrich the lives of Senior Citizens in DeSoto?”
Kenzie Moore said DeSoto has had a Senior Citizens Center but it has not been as adequate as necessary in these times. We are now building a new and better center. Senior citizens have participated in the design of the center. They want and need more space to celebrate with one another.
“Many of them will be watching this meeting right now because they are very involved,” he continued saying they helped with a lot of input in the new center design. “I used to deliver Meals on Wheels in DeSoto with the Visiting Nurse Organization. I encourage everyone to get involved with seniors.”
Rachel Proctor said “We must provide both seniors and young people better services. I want to form a senior citizens council to learn what the needs of that community are in real time. We must make sure we have consistent communication.” She emphasized that especially during this pandemic much attention must be provided to ensure seniors are getting what they need.
In a follow up question, the judge said: “Mosely Pool closes right at end of summer. Seniors would like it to be open later when it is still warm.” He continued by asking the candidates their view on this subject.
Ms. Proctor said “I would love to be able to expand those hours. Anything is possible.”
Moore said: “We are in the process of expanding the pool to the extent of six million dollars. I agree the pool should stay open when it is still warm enough, but later (in the year) I would not be in favor of that because of health reasons. We must designate times especially for seniors because many possibly would not like to share the space with youth at some times.”
What’s Needed To Make DeSoto Better?
Mr. McCalib said quality business should be brought to DeSoto. “Why can’t we get things like bicycle manufacturers here since we have world class biking competition here. Also, we need a vendor program to get them to be able to work with the city. We can do that with the DeSoto Marketplace.”
Graham responded, “We are at a crossroads right now and need to find a way to deal with the challenges. The education component is the driver to all the other services the city provides. The other things will not thrive without quality education. Companies will not come to an area where education is failing.”
Ms. Hughes said there is a need to take a practical approach. She said council must get with the economic development department and figure out how to make it happen to get the businesses here.
The next question to the candidates for mayor was “What would you do to build trust with residents of DeSoto?
Ms. Proctor said “Increase transparency with community stakeholders. Make sure we have an open city government. People need to feel comfortable to come to their leadership.” She said even though the city doesn’t govern the school district, a relationship with school board needs to be revived and fostered.
Mr. Moore said “You deserve a leader who has unquestionable integrity who will always be there to answer questions honestly. I will respect you and listen to you. We have a tremendous amount of transparency right now. It is a great thing. Citizens can come at any time and ask any questions. Mayor McCowan was very concerned about this and made sure people knew she had an open door policy. That’s the same thing I would have. McCowan and I had meeting every month with the school, the chamber and other organizations.”
Judge Sanders then asked “What is your vision to increase business development to DeSoto?”
Moore related “We have to look at all ordinances on the books that stop businesses from coming due to crippling restrictions. We have a PID for a 400 million dollar project mixed use development that will consist of bringing things together. This will consist of restaurants, medical facilities, and many other much needed businesses to the city.” He said what prevented many businesses from coming or expanding was old very restrictive ordinances.
Ms. Proctor responded, “We have not had a true long range plan for development. Who does DeSoto truly want to be? A better blueprint needs to be put in place. I would love for us to put a long range strategic plan in place.”
The council candidates were then asked what were the most important three things they plan to address.
Hughes responded 1. Economic Development. 2. Police our neighborhoods to eliminate crime. 3. Enhance the arts.
Mr. Graham said first to elevate and improve efforts to attract and find the finest educators. Then economic development, which would be dependent on the education piece of the puzzle. He concluded that all other issues are secondary and will fall into line if those two are done.
Mr. McCalib said more Communication and making sure citizens can communicate throughout the city. He said the city Website needs to be updated constantly. “Make sure we have infrastructure that can handle more development.”
All three council candidates said they did plan to run for a full term after this election, since it would only be to fill the position until the new May elections.
Candidates for Mayor were asked “In all cities crime is a major concern. What are your plans to address crime in DeSoto?”
Moore said he would like to see a community where most of our police officers live in DeSoto and more reflect the composition of the community. “Right now the majority of our officers are Anglo. Chief Costa has been trying to hire more minority and women officers.” He continued that a lot of the crime in DeSoto is non-violent crimes although there has been an increase in domestic crime, which has a lot to do with COVID-19. “I personally want to see more police officers on the street and riding through the community.” He said he would like to work with city manager to accomplish this. We pointed out that the city has a police advisory board, which was created to help.
Proctor said “We need to look at the budget … generally people do say they do not see enough officers in the community. We need to revitalize the neighborhood watch program. We need to strengthen communication with HOAs and the police department.”
Place 7 council hopefuls were asked, The city slogan is “One DeSoto” … what is your plan to reunite DeSoto?
Ms. Hughes said to walk the neighborhoods and get to know people.
Mr. McCalib said to communicate in each district’s area. To “Smother each area so residents hear from us. I did it last week and one person said you are he first politician I’ve ever seen.”
Mr. Graham said the attitude should create a culture where it is a client-care culture, with the city catering to the people, who are their clients.
Mayoral candidates were asked “What is your vision as to how to place DeSoto in a firmer position as regards to finances?”
Mayor Pro-Tem Moores said, “Over the last seven years the city has not raised the taxes at all. Even during the Coronavirus we have increased our general fund balance. We have a number of businesses in DeSoto that are shipping goods to other areas and we get the taxes for them which helps us. We have not taken a hit at all. We have a very strong financial position. We are not having troubles.”
Ms. Proctor said “Having served I will echo that.” (At this point the meeting was hacked with loud music blocking all communication). When communication returned after several minutes she continued, “It is still incumbent on us to stay ahead of the curve. Every department should look at any ways possible to save money in case needed.”
Final Closing Remarks From The Candidates
Mr. Graham said, “The numbers speak for themselves. If you are okay with current services all is well. If you believe we can improve, you should look at new leadership. I provide that opportunity.”
Ms. Hughes said she was ready to get to work for the people.M
Mr. McCalib said his many diverse years of service to community and schools provide a perfect background to further serve.
Mr. Kenzie Moore said there are four things I want to do: “Address the needs of millennials. They often feel left out and are not being heard. I plan to create a board consisting of them. Next I want to look at prior ordinances that are too restrictive and are keeping us closed. I want to put together a committee of local developers and have them work with us. I also want to have a DeSoto Beautification Day where all HOAs work together. A decade ago, DeSoto ISD had a slogan of “Expect the Best”. Somehow we have lost that. I’m tired of letting others decide who we are. We need a leader who can champion our city. I am that guy.”
Ms. Rachel Proctor concluded saying “Choose the DeSoto that you envision. It’s about being proactive. It is incumbent on the mayor to take us back to the basics. A) Have an open city government. B) Bringing everyone together. C) Communication with the school district. It’s important that people are responsive. On Tuesdays I will be available to communicate with citizens. She said they can find her on facebook for more information on times, places and phone numbers.
There will be additional forums on this Saturday 9:30 am and a final one on Jan 14th At 7 pm.