Jessica Priest  

Good afternoon. I’m Jessica Priest with the Fort Worth Report. Today is Wednesday, June 30, and we’re meeting with Mayor Mattie Parker for a few minutes. This is the first in what we hope will be a series of conversations with Parker and other community leaders. Thank you for joining us, Mayor Parker. 

Mattie Parker  

Thanks, Jessica, for having me. Appreciate it. 

Jessica Priest  

To get started, could you tell us what surprised you most since being sworn in as mayor June 15.

Mattie Parker  

I don’t think I’ve had any surprises per se. But I have enjoyed the transition from campaigning to governing. And fortunately for me, I was able to hit the ground running and knowing the process and people. This is not a surprise. But it’s been wonderful to get to start the process of getting our fellow council members and their interest in focus and priorities. So I’ll continue to prioritize that this summer. I’m having one on one meetings with them and how as mayor I can assist them on behalf of their districts. As you and I’ve talked about before, you learn a tremendous amount campaigning and getting to meet with people across your entire city. And so applying that knowledge to practice now is a priority. And then the other things that have been a pleasant surprise is how welcoming people have been to our family, and helping accommodate two little boys that are trying to live life with their mom as the mayor and my husband, of course, and it’s all been positive, honestly, couldn’t, couldn’t do it any better. 

Jessica Priest  

Great. Our next questions are about the budget and redistricting. For our listeners, since we only have a few minutes with Mayor Parker, we won’t be able to cover everything on these important topics, though we plan to have this conversation every week. And if you have questions you’d like to ask Mayor Parker in our future meetings, please leave a comment below, or message us through our various social channels or by email. We also encourage you to read our coverage on these topics at fortworthreport.org. Mayor Parker, using your prior budget experience, what’s one priority you’re looking to fund this year – one that may have been overlooked in past years? And how will you do that while maintaining a low tax rate?

Mattie Parker  

So it’s going to be multifaceted, Jessica, I would say and this is a cooperation. We’re working with City Manager David Cooke and his team as they continue the budget process this summer and into August. But I want to make sure we are maintaining and growing superior city services, ensuring that we have infrastructure for the future. And that’s everything from transportation, supporting transit, supporting our departments, world- class parks, community centers, and that’s a planning process. It’s not just this budget, it’s also future bonds, planning into the future, working with department heads on their wish list, but also accommodating the fact that we were hit by COVID from a sales tax revenue standpoint especially. And then secondly, understanding what it means to integrate our plans with other jurisdictions across Tarrant County. Tarrant County government is first and foremost, our school districts, other cities. You understand that there’s unprecedented money that’s going to come into Tarrant County from the federal government and stimulus funds, ARPA funds, how we layer those monies is really critically important. I’ve talked about this for months, that that’s one-time historic funding that we can’t squander. So what does it look like? And then importantly, how does the city facilitate problem solving for some of our city’s most difficult issues? Everything from childhood poverty, food insecurity, a workforce training initiative that really retrains, especially adult learners, into jobs that are high-wage, high-paid careers, and then supporting our nonprofits across Tarrant County that are already doing that good work. So it’s really multifaceted. It’s not just one priority. It’s the city recognizing the responsibility they have for good governance from a financial standpoint. And then lastly, understanding how taxpayers are affected by our decisions. So the opportunity to lower the tax rate or keep it steady as much as possible. Important to educate our voters across Tarrant County, our taxpayers rather, at the value they get for one third of their property tax bill going to the city of Fort Worth, what is the value in writing that check? And there’s an education process that we undergo. And then last thing I’ll say is I’m working alongside our school districts as they help prepare our students for a new school year. Your paper has done stories about the negative impacts to Tarrant County students, and how do we as a city government support families to get their students back on track as quickly as possible? Because the slide is more significant than we’ve ever seen.

Jessica Priest  

Interesting. You have a lot going on. And those ARPA funds I imagine are going to play a big role in the budget. 

Mattie Parker  

Yeah.They will.

Jessica Priest  

On redistricting. What’s your view on having an independent redistricting committee? Is such a committee a good way to draw these non partisan maps?

Mattie Parker  

So I think for me, I’ve taken – and I’ve had several meetings yesterday with key city staff on the process we’ve taken up to this point – some of the behind the scenes work that I may have not had been a part of, I was already gone from City Hall, so that took place in leadership from Lorraine Miller and from Sal Espino. I’m going to work with our council members, too, to understand their perspectives. I think there’s a way for us to do this, utilizing a model that may be a hybrid, possibly an independent review committee may be reengaging our task force again, asking council members to come to the table, and do so in a very transparent and proactive process. And you may not know this, or maybe you do, but that they’ve kind of started the process with the city of allowing our citizens to be trained on the software to start drawing the maps. I think that’s an exciting opportunity. My understanding is the first class was full with 25 people, many of them with an extensive background in GIS and mapping software, which is exciting for us. We also have a professional staff that have done this before, most notably in Dana Burghdoff, who’s now an assistant city manager, and how she passes the torch to the next generation of leaders that are doing this on behalf of the city. But I think the most important thing is how we engage the public, to make them excited about adding two seats, ensuring that we keep representation in all communities at the forefront. Maintaining the integrity of our neighborhoods has to be a priority. And importantly, how do you avoid the misconception that the maps were drawn inappropriately? And I think an independent group of people that are citizens that are engaged and informed, no matter what the format is, is going to be critical. And I just don’t think it’s an and or I think you can, you can figure out a mixture hybrid model here that works for citizens. And then again, we have new council members that weren’t a part of the process originally, that all have an opinion or an interest in making sure our maps are drawn appropriately. So we’ll work together as a team to get us there.

Jessica Priest  

Great. To wrap up, please tell our listeners about a few key events or city of Fort Worth issues coming up during the next week that you’re focusing on. 

Mattie Parker  

So it’s not too many necessarily city events. Of course, you’ve got the July 4th coming up, which is very exciting, a lot of different opportunities for families to celebrate maybe in their neighborhoods, or with the big July 4th celebration that TRWD puts on. So that’s a focus for us. And then in coming weeks, I’m just spending a lot of time preparing for budget season into August, which is not so exciting, but it is necessary, most definitely. And then, as far as events go with the city, I can’t think of anything. It’s important to watch our calendar to see what was going on with redistricting, etc. And then we’ll likely launch our own podcast in the mayor’s office and in cooperation with mayor and council over the next several weeks to try to tease out what it looks like to inform our residents around key events or key things that I’m working on, as your mayor, to keep people informed. 

Jessica Priest  

How do people get involved in the budgeting process? Do they just come to the city council meeting and talk during public comment? 

Mattie Parker  

There’s always a set schedule with budget and public comment, which is a good way to do that. But I think it might be important for readers of the Fort Worth Report to submit interesting ideas that they have, maybe to their individual council members or through the budget office. And it’s important to know some of the work is maybe already happening or it’s happening in a different format. Maybe it’s not part of the budget, it could be part of a future bond project, which we want to create a culture of belonging and access for everyone and Fort Worth to feel like they’re part of big ideas to move Fort Worth forward. So if it’s helpful, Jessica, we’ll make sure and get an email or to you, to your readers, so they know where to engage and submit information.

Jessica Priest  

Great. Well, thank you for joining us again. If you have any questions you want us to ask the mayor or suggestions for community leaders we should have on, please leave a comment below. And if you want to support our journalism, go to fortworthreport.org/donate. Thank you.

Jessica Priest is an investigative journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at jessica.priest@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.

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Jessica Priest

Jessica Priest is Fort Worth Report's government and accountability reporter. She was previously on USA TODAY's regional investigative team. After Jessica reported that a Midland County prosecutor worked...

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