Scott Griggs is pretty cool. He’s a chess master with a chemistry degree and a new urbanism accreditation.
So definitely, for sure, not cool in the high school sense.
But compared to his opponent for City Council District 3, incumbent Dave Neumann, Griggs came off like George Clooney eating ice cream at the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League’s candidate forum Monday night.
The forum allowed anyone to ask questions of each candidate separately, Neumann followed by Griggs. So they were asked different questions, and neither had the chance to respond to the others’ statements. In fact, neither heard the others’ statements.
While Neumann faced the crowd, nervously running defense while drawing feedback on the microphone, Griggs was outside. And once Neumann’s turn was over, he bolted. Organizer Barbara Barbee said he had a prior engagement at 8 p.m. and had requested to go first.
When it was Griggs’ turn, he hopped up on a table, made a joke about finally getting to the good part of the show, and made sure he was holding the microphone right.
Here’s what each candidate said:
One of the first questions to Neumann was about gas drilling. Neumann had announced in November he would form a task force to study the effects of gas drilling near Hensley Field and Joe Pool Lake, but failed to deliver. So District 14 councilman Angela Hunt proposed one in February.
Someone asked him to explain the difference between Hunt’s proposed committee and the one he has said he would propose.
Neumann said a vote on the task force would be on the April 20 council agenda, and any discussion on gas drilling “needs to be citywide”. Later, he said, “I don’t have anything per se against Ms. Hunt’s plan.” The council won’t vote on the issue until they’ve gotten word from a task force, “whether that’s Ms. Hunt’s task force or another task force.”
Why did he vote for gas drilling in the first place? The city got $34 million for mineral leases from XTO Energy. If the council doesn’t allow a specific use permit for the company to drill on its lease, taxpayers must repay the $34 million, which already has been spent. Neumann said he voted for gas drilling because of “the safety of the specific use permit”.
Has he taken campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry? Neumann said he received a $500 check from an energy company, but he returned the check without cashing it. And he said he sold his stock in Exxon-Mobil at the end of 2010.
An audience member presented Neumann’s own campaign literature: “Either you’ve been really busy, or you’ve been really busy taking credit for things,” he said.
The campaign mailer listed funding to rebuild the pergola and improve the trail at Kiest Park among Neumann’s accomplishments. The pergola is a hot button for the Friends of Oak Cliff Parks. Last year, the friends had to fight City Hall to keep $2 million in grant money for the pergola. Neumann wanted to use the money to improve the park’s heavily used trail.
Constituents always complain to him about the Kiest Park trail, and he considered it the biggest need, he said.
“The No. 1 issue in Kiest Park, hands down, is the trail,” he said.
In closing, Neumann said, “Oak Cliff, Mountain Creek and West Dallas are on the move, and we have a lot to be proud of.”
Griggs opened, saying there are three things people in the district want. First, public safety. Second, a moratorium on gas drilling. And third, economic development.
He answered questions about gas drilling too.
Fracking isn’t regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. And the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality doesn’t even have guidelines for cleaning chemical spills related to fracking. Therefore, he says, “a moratorium is absolutely needed.”
What about the $34 million we have to pay back?
“What’s more important to me is people’s lives,” he said. “Our air quality and our water quality. We can return the money, but we can’t get back our quality of life.”
Griggs was asked some questions about education that Neumann wasn’t asked. One man said he drives his kids to north Dallas every day because “Kimball is a failing school,” and he doesn’t want to send his kids there.
A city council seat can be used as a “bully pulpit” on DISD, Griggs said: “If DISD is doing something that’s not right, I’m going to do that.”
Also, spreading subsidized housing evenly throughout the city and creating mixed-income neighborhoods will help public schools, he says.
Griggs said he would push for zero-based budgeting at City Hall. That means each city department would have to analyze their budgets, looking at them from a starting budget of zero and requesting the money they need.
Then he encouraged everyone to register to vote. The deadline to register for the May 14 election is Thursday, April 14.