Mattie Parker plans to spend her first days as mayor preparing for the high-stakes trial of former Fort Worth police officer charged with the murder of a Black resident.
She will meet with Police Chief Neil Noakes and Police Monitor Kim Neal and possibly create a frequently-asked-questions document the city can publicize in advance of the trial expected to start in August. Aaron Dean will be on trial for the October 2019 shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson.
“I know there’s been a lot of misinformation, so we’ve got to tackle that,” Parker said in an interview with the Fort Worth Report. “Some people believe that the city of Fort Worth postponed the trial. We don’t have that power.”
Parker succeeded her one-time boss Betsy Price on Saturday to become mayor of the 12th-largest city in the country.
The race for the nonpartisan position became partisan, especially as the field of candidates narrowed from 10 to two. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott endorsed her over her opponent, Deborah Peoples, the former Tarrant County Democratic Party Chair.
She and Peoples participated in dozens of debates leading up to the runoff election, but Parker said they’ve yet to speak one-on-one. Parker wants to work with Peoples and those who supported her and the other candidates for mayor, she said. Peoples said in a separate interview with the Fort Worth Report that she’s open to that as well.
“I’m going to keep fighting,” the former AT&T executive said. “This is about Fort Worth and the future of Fort Worth and bringing us together, and it’s not about one person’s ego. It’s about our determination to keep working until we get it right.”
Parker will also need to quickly get up to speed on the budget, which needs to be approved before the fiscal year begins Sept. 30. For 2021, the full capital and operating budget was $1.9 billion and the property tax rate was 74.75 cents per $100 assessed valuation, the same rate as 2020.
Emily Farris, a Texas Christian University political science professor, considers Parker a continuation of the Price-led City Hall.
“Parker, obviously, would be, unless the council changes dramatically, much more of the same,” said Farris, who studies local politics. “She doesn’t exactly come in with that mandate of needing to have fresh ideas because she is seen as pretty much an extension of the status quo.”
Parker said she wants to declare this the summer of kids. Some ways the city may promote that include extending the hours parks are open, closing streets and putting out chalk for children to draw on the pavement.
“Kids have been through so much because of COVID, and I’m still worried about the long-term impacts, their educational outcomes and mental health,” she said.
Those types of initiatives are in the wheelhouse of mayors, Farris said. The job is more symbolic in a city manager form of municipal government. City Manager David Cooke holds more sway over the day-to-day operations of the city than a mayor, who, along with the council, hires and fires the top administrator.
“(Mayors) have to govern in the way that they think is effective and work with the council that they have and the city manager to get the policies done that they want to have done,” the TCU political scientist said. “And then, in two years, they’ll see if voters find that to be a good job or not.”
Parker, a 37-year-old mother of three, became the founding CEO of Fort Worth Cradle to Career, a nonprofit that supports educational opportunities in Tarrant County, after serving as Price’s chief of staff from May 2015 to April 2020. She will be sworn in as mayor at 7 p.m. June 15.
Price, meanwhile, congratulated Parker on her win Saturday night.
“Mattie undoubtedly has the heart for service and the head for policy that we need leading Fort Worth during this time of rapid growth and change,” Price said. “The new voice and fresh perspective Mattie brings to the table will be invaluable on the Fort Worth City Council. I am confident that she and this Council will continue to work together to build for the future of Fort Worth with innovation and intention, while maintaining the unique history and spirit that makes Fort Worth such a special place.”