City Hall

Two District 14 City Council Candidates Promise Not to Raise Taxes But Don't Have Concrete Solutions to Pending Budget Shortfall

Late last week, we took a look at three of the five potential candidates for Angela Hunt's District 14 city council seat -- Jim Rogers, Vernon Franko and Brian Oley -- one of which (Rogers) said Hunt's decision to run for a fourth and final term caused him to put his campaign on hold until 2013. Franko and Oley, however, along with James Nowlin and Chad Lasseter, are committed to staying in what's become the most crowded race thus far. (Openings for mayor and District 6 are the only other races in which more than one person has filed a campaign treasurer.)

We met with Lasseter and Nowlin late Friday afternoon and early Saturday morning, respectively, since they hadn't returned phone calls in time for our story.

Nowlin has been a resident of Lakewood Heights since January 2007 and is the founder and CEO of Excel Global Partners, a corporate financial consulting and professional services staffing firm. He grew up in Virginia, earned degrees from the University of Virginia and Duke University School of Law and moved to Dallas in 2006 after receiving a job offer at Winstead PC, where he practiced real estate law for a short time until leaving in 2007 to launch EGP.

"There's a part of me that's entrepreneurial, and I wanted to be captain of my own ship," he tells Unfair Park about why he stopped practicing law.

The 30-year-old says he arrived in Dallas with only a large amount of student debt and a credit card, and because the city believed in him and rewarded him, now he wants to give back. Previously appointed to the Dallas Citizens Police Review Board by Hunt, Nowlin says he's running against her because she appeared to be seeking higher office.

"She made every indirection that she was running for mayor, and I believed her," he says. "And many other people believed her."

Nowlin, who worked as a volunteer during U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson's reelection campaign last year, touts his status as a small business owner and homeowner when describing why voters should pass on Hunt, who's also a homeowner. He's focused on economic development and job creation, claiming downtown Dallas should be the hub for both, although he wouldn't reveal his specific plans. However, Nowlin was crystal-clear about his stance about the upcoming budget shortfall that could reach nearly $100 million.

"I will not vote to support a property tax increase," he says.

Nowlin proposes to bridge the gap by establishing a Citizens Budget and Tax Review Commission so Dallas residents can provide insight, analysis and ideas about the budget. We reminded him that such an opportunity is provided annually at the dozens of budget town hall meetings held throughout the city, and last year the consensus at those meetings was to raise taxes instead of cutting services.

When asked if his commission determined that taxes should be raised, Nowlin talked around the question, pointing out that the difficult decisions are ultimately made by council members. So we asked a second time: How do you reconcile citizens potentially wanting to raise taxes with your firm stance not do to so?

"You listen to the citizens, and you make the decision that's best for the city," he says.

Despite numerous setbacks and delays to the Trinity River Corridor Project, Nowlin says he'll work to expedite the project and points to the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge as a sign of progress. He's looking forward to enjoying the park and trails with his dog Cady, but, much like the tax issue, we had a frustrating back-and-forth about the toll road.

Do you feel like the toll road is an integral part of the project or that it has impeded progress with the park?

"That's been voted on, and I wasn't on the council when it was voted on. And the council members are exposed to lots of different information. And they're exposed to all the moving pieces to that issue that's been voted on. Since it's already been voted on, my focus is on moving the project forward so thousands of Dallasites can enjoy the beautiful park."

So you don't feel like the road has impeded progress with the park?

"It's been voted on."

That's not what I'm asking you. I'm asking if you feel the road has impeded progress with the park. It's a direct question.

"We'll have some hiccups along the way, but the issue has been voted on. My focus is working as an expediter on the council."

Nowlin's platform is "Badges, Buildings and Bucks," which represent his dedication to public safety, infrastructure and economic development.

Chad Lasseter, who grew up in Garland and purchased a home in Hollywood Heights four months ago, says Hunt's deciding vote last year to raise property taxes is the primary reason he aims to oust the three-term incumbent. In fact, he says it was Hunt who gave him the advice that led him to his decision. The two met last month -- "an amazingly gracious gesture," he says -- and she urged him to learn the issues and study her record before launching a campaign. And that's when he found out that he disagreed with a few of her positions, most notably the tax vote.

"I would never vote to raise property taxes," he says, stressing the city has to live within its means.

The 37-year-old director of sales and services for NorthWind Consulting Services -- a computer software consulting company that allows Lasseter to work from home -- says he wants to bring a business-minded approach to City Hall. Public safety is his top priority, and he seeks to make city government more responsible, accountable and transparent.

"At my core, I'm a sales guy. That's what I was probably made to do," he says.

Lasseter, an aspiring filmmaker who describes himself as "an average guy," is seeking advice from neighborhood leaders to continue to build his platform and goals. Like Nowlin, we asked him what he'd do if those leaders ultimately decided that raising taxes is the best way to address the budget shortfall. Lasseter says cutting services is "equally unattractive" as raising taxes, claiming there are other ways to address the problem. Primarily, he says, that includes creating new revenues by encouraging businesses to relocate to Dallas and establishing more public-private partnerships.

And what would have prevented last year's tax hike?

"I certainly would have explored every conceivable option to create additional revenue to have to keep from raising taxes," he says. "I believe more due diligence should have been done because I believe there were other options available."

Lasseter says outgoing Mayor Tom Leppert is "an inspiration to me" and has two ambitious projects on his to-do list, even though he doesn't know exactly how he'll accomplish them yet. He wants to provide Wi-Fi free of charge to downtown residents and businesses and lure the Texas Rangers Baseball Club to either West Dallas or Fair Park when the team's lease at the Ballpark in Arlington expires in 2018. He also aims to implement a tax freeze and roll back program for senior citizens.

"It's absolutely criminal to raise taxes on people who have paid into the system their entire lives, who are living on fixed incomes in this economy," he says.

Along with opposing Hunt's position on the budget, Lasseter says he wouldn't have supported the new Planned Development District for Lower Greenville. He didn't explain his reasons why he opposes the PD, claiming he wants to develop an alternative first.

Lasseter, a graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas, also refused to discuss his thoughts on the Trinity River toll road, other than to say he's "a fan of the pay-as-you-use system."

He did not vote for the road project when it appeared on the November ballot in 2007 because he hadn't registered yet. He recently registered and has voted once in the November 2010 general election.

"Previously, I was not a very political person," he says.

Strangely, he said part of his message to voters is even if they don't vote for him, they should still vote.

Lasseter e-mailed us the following prepared statements late Sunday night.

Why I'm running:

"I believe Dallas has the potential to be one of the greatest cities in the world. I believe we have a chance to achieve unbelievable economic prosperity and job growth. Dallas will always be my home, and it's my goal to protect the integrity of our neighborhoods and rid our streets of crime. I'm pro-business and adamantly opposed to raising property taxes; especially on our senior citizens, and I'm strongly supportive of a senior tax cap. Over the past several years we've been moving backward. I want to change that with forward-thinking policies. Instead of raising property taxes I intend to grow our tax base by incentivizing business to return and relocate to Dallas. One way we can achieve this is to create a wireless mesh in downtown Dallas, which will stimulate economic growth and provide greater access to information. I also support public/private partnerships as a means to grow revenue. The Rangers lease in Arlington is up in eight years and I vow to explore the possibility of getting the Rangers to Fair Park. This could potentially add three to three and a half million visitors to our State Fair grounds annually, and would be a huge economic boon for Fair Park and the surrounding areas."

Convention center hotel:

"Regarding the Dallas Convention Hotel, I'm philosophically opposed to government competing against private business. That said, with the hotel booked for its first two years of operation, the hotel appears to be one of our success stories and should act as an economic stimulator for downtown Dallas."

Trinity River Corridor Project:

"Conceptually, I believe the Trinity River Corridor Project was a good idea. However, there have been significant problems with the implementation of that idea. Now that the genie's out of the bottle, so to speak, I believe we need talented businessmen and women who best understand how to think outside-the-box to come up with realistic solutions to get the Trinity River Project back on track. We need concrete solutions--not increased property taxes--that will allow our citizens to gain the full benefit of community revitalization and economic development they were promised when we embarked on this project."

Update at 11:26 a.m. on Tuesday, February 15: Lasseter just sent his comments about the Lower Greenville PD.

"Regarding the Greenville Avenue PD, I completely agree that something had to be done. However I have a very hard time understanding why we're congratulating ourselves. Why did we have to give up property rights when we had codes and standards already on the books that we could've been enforcing more stringently. I believe in a responsive government. The problems on lowest Greenville were inherited by the incumbent six years ago. This is a vital area of District 14 that has been allowed to deteriorate into a veritable wasteland. Six years to come up with this solution is not my idea of a responsive government. I have a question of my own regarding lowest Greenville. What took so long?"

Official filing for all council seats begins today and ends March 14.

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten