Monthly Archives: September 2013

Dentoning….the rest of the story.

……Sometimes stories just need to be finished.

[This article was offered to the Denton Record-Chronicle to allow them to complete the story. There was no reply.]

Recently, the Denton Record-Chronicle ran an article about Mayor Mark Burroughs’ travel expenses for trips over the past year while representing the City of Denton. Once again, half-researched, half-reported “facts” misled DRC readers, yet when a little deeper record checking is done, the story becomes clear.

Denton Mayor

Mark Burroughs

I did that record checking, and here is what I found.

1) That the City’s budget was “busted” by the Mayor’s travel: The truth is that the Mayor (and the entire City Council) stopped most travel during the recession. The records show that the budget was not adjusted to post-recession travel demands until a few months ago. (Adjusting from $30,000 to $45,000 for the entire City Council per year). And remember, as the City’s chief representative, the Mayor does the majority of the travel.

2) That the City may have paid for the Mayor’s family to travel: The truth is, the City has never paid for travel, food or other such expenses for the Mayor’s wife or children while accompanying him on City business. (Although some cities do)

3) That the Mayor charged the City for premium rooms while on City trips: The truth is, the City only paid the lowest available rates at the facilities where events occurred. Mayor Burroughs paid the costs of any upgrades to accommodate his family every time they accompanied him.

4) That the Mayor of San Antonio apparently pays much of his own travel while on City business, so the fact that Denton’s Mayor asking for reimbursement is somehow wrong or unfair: In fact, the Mayor of San Antonio is a PAID position, while our Mayor is not paid at all (neither is the rest of the City Council). San Antonio’s Mayor also often travels with up to three personal staff who appear to often report meals and other Mayoral travel expenses on their travel reports………..our Mayor is assigned no such staff. Besides, what is the point here? Should our UNPAID Mayor be asked to pay for travel expenses incurred while on City business out of his family’s pocket?

5) That the Mayor of Frisco’s room costs were less (for the same USCM conference attended by Mayor Burroughs) than those of our mayor: The reason for this is, Frisco Mayor Maso left the conference and inauguration events days earlier when rates were considerably less.

6) That some individual orders at one meal during a USCM conference were high: The truth is, the average meal costs over the whole trip were not out of line, a fact vaguely referenced in the DRC story. Remember too that entertaining is a universal practice in conducting business, something Mayor Burroughs was doing during his trips for the City of Denton.

7) That the Mayor was taking trips to vacation destinations on the City’s dime: In the original article, you may have noticed that the DRC failed to mention the names of the cities the Mayor traveled to, (Ponta Grossa and Ciritiba, Brazil and Tartu, Estonia) and which account for the majority of the costs. Presumably, that is because few have ever heard of them and they are certainly not “tourist destinations”. Additionally,
travel to such “off the beaten path” locations is just more expensive by nature. Gabriel Carranza, Assistant Vice Provost of International Cooperation, University of North Texas said that these trips by Mayor Burroughs were requested and organized by UNT to establish sister city, university and corporate development opportunities and to explore sustainable community initiatives. Next to nothing was said about this in DRC article, because as the reporter herself said………”That was not the direction of my story.”

So a partial story was?

While on this subject, it’s probably a good time to address the fact that Denton has an unpaid City Council. I wonder what it COSTS each Councilperson to serve our great city? Cities of similar size pay their Council members something to reward the enormous amounts of time spent by each doing City business. Denton has been growing and continues to grow and with growth comes larger, more complicated and more time-consuming problems. At the very least, I think its time to offset the out of pocket expenses each councilperson accrues. We live in a great city, and those who work hard to represent us should not be asked to pay for the privilege to do so.

The City Council itself would have initiate pay for the council, so maybe the action could be drafted to go into effect after the last of the presently serving members leave office. That way there could be no accusations of anyone trying to enrich themselves.

Please Share so that those who still read the DRC will read……

Dentoning….Culinary Internationalization

As I told my brother the other day, Denton changes every day. And it always changes for the better! Denton has always had a great selection of restaurants, but it just scored big in the international catagory with the opening of Viet Bites. This new Vietnamese restaurant opened a few months ago at 702 S. Elm Street in the old Tom and Joe’s building. Gone are the old jukebox equipped booths and smoke patinaed walls. The old building that so many Dentonites remember from back in the day, now has a bright, clean, modern look. And the food…..

Viet Bites

Viet Bites

The food is a style from central Viet Nam, specifically the town of Dalat, from where the owners of Viet Bites, James and Victoria Trinh, hail. After leaving Viet Nam, the Trinh’s settled in Houston (I didn’t ask why, but expressed my condolences). Recently, the couple decided to open a restaurant to showcase their love of cooking , and the cuisine of their home country. James quit his corporate job and their first thought was to relocate to Dallas. Denton relatives encouraged them to check out Denton also, they did, fell in love with our great town and WE won over Dallas! The food at Denton’s newest restaurant is fresh, fast and financially frugal.They start things out with a bowl of rice chips which is a nice change from the corn chips of our ever-present Tex-Mex fare. Viet Bites boasts egg/spring rolls, pho (pronounced “fuh” not FO), noodle bowls, sandwiches and rice entrees. The Crème Brûlée is the best in Denton…..no Texas, ….. no, the best I’ve ever had.

International food

Appetizer at Viet Bites

Viet Bites is a refreshing new addition to the dining scene of Denton. The owners are extremely nice and extremely happy to now live in our great city. The servers are very attentive and the food incredible! My sons and I eat Vietnamese food whenever given the chance. When my youngest, Connor, was just learning to speak, he inevitably said “Bee Bee Bees!!!” (“Vietnamese” in young Connor-speak”) when asked where he wanted to eat out.

Connor, we now have a great Bee Bee Bees place right here in Denton!!!

Dentoning….We Do of Walnut Street

The idea isn’t new. Improving Walnut Street (the street behind Ever’s Hardware on the Square) has been discussed, planned and mapped for years. What IS new is a potential way to get it done. There’s a reason it’s lain fallow for years, I’m not sure exactly what that reason is, but I’m thinking it probably has something to do with money. But, there are ways to minimize that…….

Half block south of square

Walnut St. looking East

Walnut St. stretches between Locust St. and Elm St. just behind the south side of the Square. It’s really more of an alley than a street, and with the hodge podge of dumpsters, transformer boxes, trash and filth, looks more like parts of New York City than Denton, Texas. I wouldn’t call it blighted, but I almost would. There is definitely room for improvement.

South of Denton Square

Walnut St/Alley looking West

I discussed this idea in an earlier blog, but recently many of the business owners on that side of the Square and from other areas nearby, met to talk about and judge interest in, the concept of closing Walnut St. to create a pedestrian-only park-like plaza. There are different ideas as to what the final plan would look like, but this was simply a meeting to get the pulse of those whose businesses would be impacted. At the end of the meeting, with a show of hands, there was a unanimous vote of YES.

Closing off a street that has been around for 100+ years doesn’t happen over night and without obstacles to overcome. But everyone at that meeting decided is was a plan worth pursuing. A suggestion was made to have 2-3 special events, closing off the street for “trial runs”. Other cities around the world have made such changes, so there ARE ways to get around the obstacles. This concept would require disruptive thinking and planning on the part of the business owners, property owners, the community and the City. There are ways around almost anything and if we as the Denton Community say we want it, it can happen.

For the most part, I think the RE DO of Walnut St. can become a WE DO of Walnut Street. In the earlier blog about this subject, I mentioned crowd sourcing, where materials, ideas and labor would be volunteered and a couple of days of community work, frivolity, and TRUE dentoning could change the…….OK, blighted alley …….of Walnut St. into a shady, grassy, tree-lined pedestrian area with benches, restaurant patios, play areas for the kids, flower boxes, street artists and buskers.

Would you rather have this?:

Walnut St.

Walnut St.

Or this?:

Plans

Example of ped area

Just think, in addition to the grassy lawn of our courthouse Square, we would then have a pleasant, shady oasis to stroll, sit, shop and loiter and just a half block off our town center. There are, of course, questions about the loss of parking, relocation of dumpsters, how grease traps would be serviced and how deliveries would be made. This is where the disruptive thinking comes in. Just because it hasn’t been done in Denton does not mean it CAN’T be done in Denton. Denton has all the talent and expertise needed to visualize, plan, and implement the project, and to overcome any NOs that are encountered.

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Examples of what could be……

There are already plans in the works for a more centralized way for deliveries to be made around the Square. Several ideas were also batted around at the meeting which could potentially address trash collection, service of grease traps and other potential stumbling blocks that came to mind. This is merely the idea phase of the WE DO of Walnut St. All of this would take input from the businesses, the City and us……..the citizens of Denton. SO…….what do you think? Would you be willing to offer ideas, volunteer to work, volunteer materials,……make this happen? The business owners would foot the bill for the expenses directly related to their operations, but the fun part would be up to us!

For now, please let me know what you think of this “urban renewal” project., and send any ideas, pros/cons, whatever to:

dentoning@gmail.com

If we want it, it will happen………or something like that.

Enjoy Denton!

Dentoning….The Square

There is a restaurant in the courtyard of the Pentagon called “Ground Zero” ….gallows humor from the Cold War with Russia, yet named way before the atrocity of Sept. 11. Well, without the negative connotation, the Denton County Courthouse and surrounding Square is our Ground Zero. It always has been, but becomes more so each day as businesses, and more recently, residences, gravitate toward it. During the early years of Denton history, most business was either on the Square or within very close proximity to it. There really were no subdivisions then and most Dentonites lived within several blocks of the Square. The seeds of Dentoning were first planted on the courthouse lawn.

My maternal family has lived in Denton since the late ’30s. During WWII, my grandfather worked on the Square as a pharmacist at Tobin Drugs and my grandparents, mother and Aunt Helen lived on Panhandle St. My mother has many stories of she and my aunt blazing an early trail for what would become Dentoning. They used to park their bikes behind what is now J & J’s Pizza (then Tobin’s) and venture into the Square for a movie, a malted or maniacal maliciousness…….no wait, that wasn’t them. My dear grandmother was a buyer for the Boston Store in what is now Recycled Books, the gaudy, purple building on the northeast corner of the Square. Their pet, my great-grand-dog Boots, was a veteran of WWII………kind of. He was enlisted, and would have bravely represented Denton, but evidently could not be all he could be, and was returned, unused in battle. I never served in the military, but I am proud of members of my family who have. My uncle fought in the Battle of the Bulge, my cousin Matt retired from the army and then Boots…….well, Boots tried. I have deep roots in Denton, and love my hometown…..

Courthouse of Denton Countyi

We are very fortunate have one of the coolest Courthouses in Texas. It was built in 1896, and has served as Denton’s center ever since. Surrounding businesses have come and gone, but the courthouse is as it was the day it opened. Our Square is ripe with rumors, legend and hogwash. Of course, John B. Denton’s grave is on the courthouse lawn. How many towns have their dead namesake lying right in the middle of town? One rumor that I will investigate, because it continues to pop up in conversation occasionally, is that there are tunnels leading from the business rows on each side of the Square, back to the courthouse. Now I could confirm or dispel this rumor with a call or two, but it’ll be more fun to let it hang for a while. I’m not sure what said tunnels would have been used for, but I’m sure it would have been for nefarious purposes. I’m sure everyone has their own special memories and stories about the Square, and I’d like to hear them if they are even halfway interesting. (please send stories, ideas, blather to: Dentoning@gmail.com).

One of my Square memories, which resulted in me almost getting shot, involved a campaign visit to Denton by George McGovern’s vice-Presidential running mate, Sargent Shriver. Shriver was scheduled to speak on the lawn of the Southwest corner of the Square, and I didn’t want a ground-level view. I wasn’t really that interested in Shriver, but being a JFK assassination buff and with his connection to the Kennedy family, I decided to make the effort. With two friends in tow, I secured a viewing post above a barber shop in the section of the West side of the Square which has since burned down. We did not have official or unofficial permission to be there, we just found a very small space and settled in for the speech. The space was pretty cramped and as we waited for Sargent to arrive, the small door to the space burst open and two, black-suited guys with guns drawn entered and requested that we lay down on the floor, spread eagle. This was in 1972 and being a mere 9 years after the assassination in Dallas, evidently the Secret Service was less than pleased with our second story viewing nest. After several minutes of intense discussion, we allayed their suspicions that we might be harboring ill-will against Mr. Shriver and were released on each other’s recognizance. I’m not sure that was a good idea, but we didn’t end up in some Gulag or shot in the jailhouse basement by a fedora-topped, strip-club owner. Denton memories are the building blocks of Dentoning. They are frequently discussed during hometown outings and assist us as we……..

Enjoy Denton!