Following the mayoral forum held last night at Methodist Hospital's Hitt Auditorium, District 3 city council candidate Scott Griggs and incumbent Dave Neumann took their turn to disagree on several issues -- including gas drilling, that Walmart, affordable housing at Cliff Manor and the Trinity River toll road.
Griggs quoted Neumann as previously referring to gas drilling as "a sweetheart deal that's good for the taxpayers," while Griggs supports a moratorium on the practice until the environmental effects are known. He also criticized Neumann for failing to act after claiming he'd form a task force to address the issue, resulting in yesterday's memo from council member Angela Hunt urging the city to create the task force. Neumann stressed he postponed the vote on a drilling permit request for city-owned land at Hensley Field until October to ensure "the politics and science match up."
Griggs also voiced opposition to plans by Walmart to build a neighborhood market on Fort Worth Avenue near Hampton Road, claiming the land it would occupy represents the last 18 vacant acres in North Oak Cliff. He said no one in the community was consulted about the plans and the site should be saved for "something really special."
"Too often in the southern sector, we settle," he said. "We get the zoning in place, the vision in place the financial incentives in place, and we take the first thing that comes along. That's not right, and that's not how we're gonna move forward. We absolutely shouldn't settle."
Neumann praised the proposed development but claimed he hasn't seen a site plan yet. He noted Walmart has a six-month option on the property, and he'll ensure it's "truly a neighborhood market."
Griggs didn't wait for a question from the audience regarding the situation at Cliff Manor, mentioning it after his comments about Walmart. He pointed out that Neumann knew about the proposed low-income units a year before residents found out in The Dallas Morning News but "kept it a secret."
Neumann said the implementation of the units "shocked us all" and "was a surprise," stressing he reduced the number of low-income apartments from 100 to 50. He claimed it's something the community will eventually embrace.
"Today there's no uptick in crime in the corridor," he said. "Today the surrounding school says they feel fine and safe and secure. Today there is a feeling of cohesion and community aspect as it relates to Cliff Manor and being part of the community."
Griggs sold himself as "a council member for everyone" and announced his cell phone number. He said he wants the same things as everyone else: safe neighborhoods, new businesses, retail, good paying jobs and ensuring the taxpayers get their money's worth. The 36-year-old lawyer also said he understands the district, knows the issues and has a leadership style based on transparency.
"The way I get things done is I listen," he said. "I put a vision in place. I make decisions. And then I execute."
Neumann described himself as involved and engaged in the community and said his service is based on "family, faith and small-business expertise." The chair of the council's Trinity River Corridor Project Committee since 2007, Neumann unsurprisingly said he supports the Trinity River toll road. However, he admitted that it might not be built.
"The citizens twice voted for the Trinity Parkway. I agonized the first time and the second time as a voter," he said. "Our challenge now is to make it work cost effectively. Now, just because I'm for it, doesn't mean necessarily it will happen. It has to be done cost effectively."
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Griggs said he remains opposed to the road after voting against it in the 2007 referendum, and he ripped Neumann for attempting to widen Beckley Avenue to an eight-lane "superhighway." Griggs led the successful effort to block the move by Neumann's committee as president of the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group.
"It took the community going down out there, laying on that road and saying, 'We are not going to be cut off from our Trinity,'" he said.
Both candidates issued awkward comments during the forum. While discussing redistricting, Griggs said all races need to represent each other and felt the need to point out that his wife, Mariana, is Hispanic before saying, "I certainly feel like my wife does a good job representing me, and I do a wonderful job representing her."
And Neumann had the audience thoroughly confused when he issued the line: "My job as a councilman is to listen, to lead but to listen."