A few minutes with Mayor Mattie Parker, Episode 2

Jessica Priest  

Good morning. I’m Jessica Priest with the Fort Worth Report. Today is Wednesday, July 7, and we’re meeting with Mayor Mattie Parker for a few minutes. This is part of a series of conversations we hope to have with Parker and other community leaders. Thank you for joining us, Mayor Parker. 

Mattie Parker  

Thanks, Jessica, for having me. Looking forward to it.

Jessica Priest  

To get started, what are your priorities this week? What are you working on?

Mattie Parker  

Mostly this week, it’s just meeting with constituents, a few exciting projects in the pipeline and in the city, and obviously, still meeting with staff on budget items, and most importantly, talking with Chief Noakes and his command staff after a really rough weekend, Fourth of July. Fireworks, of course, was a point of contention and should have been because it was pretty disruptive, and also on crime, pretty serious incidents across our city and notable series of shootings in the Como area. So what do we do as a community to really rally behind law enforcement and our community members to solve those tough issues, much like other major cities across the country?

Jessica Priest  

What are they saying that they need from you as mayor, the police department?

Mattie Parker  

It’s mainly just support.You know, Chief Noakes announced an initiative called ‘Fort Worth Safe’ months ago and so those efforts are continuing. But importantly, what are we doing at a grassroots level to prevent serious violent crime? And we have a few ideas. Some of those may not be for public consumption because it sort of defeats the purpose, announcing to criminals that we’re coming really actively in those spaces. But I have full support, and a full belief that Chief Noakes has it handled, and the most important thing they need is support from City Hall. And then obviously, what his proposed budget will be, will be very thought through in terms of what he sees a need for expansion of the police department, mostly just in police officers patrol and support across our neighborhoods. 

Jessica Priest

Great. So our next questions are about public transportation, STAAR test, and if we can get to it, the Aaron Dean trial. 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, unfortunately, though, we plan to have this conversation every week. And if you have questions that you’d like to ask Mayor Parker in our future meetings, please leave a message below or message us through our various social channels. We also encourage you to read our coverage of these topics at fortworthreport.org. Mayor Parker, starting with the public transportation, Trinity Metro says it will ask the city for $25 million so it can bring a bus rapid transit line to an about seven-mile stretch of East Lancaster? Are you going to push for that to be included in the budget? Or if that came before the City Council for a vote, would you vote yes for that?

Mattie Parker

Well, it’s not quite that simple, Jessica. It’s multiple partners that are going to advance a big initiative specific to Lancaster BRT (bus rapid transit). It also includes the North Central Texas Council of Governments, Trinity Metro, the city of Fort Worth, Tarrant County, and of course the Tarrant Transit Alliance. I encourage all those partners to work together to understand what the vision truly needs to be to revitalize East Lancaster and also meet the needs of our residents that rely on public transportation. I’ve seen a lot of different aspects of that plan, some from Trinity Metro, some from COG (North Central Texas Council of Governments), city leaders, so I’m supportive of a grander vision, but I just want to make sure that all the partners agree upon what that course may be. Because we also know it’s not just local funds that are going to create the right structure. It’s federal funds, coming from maybe an infrastructure bill or your traditional FRA grants, etc. So I think there’s a lot of devil in the details. But I’m certainly very excited about working importantly with East Fort Worth residents’ District 8 Councilmember Chris Nettles and also Councilmember Cary Moon, who covers part of East Fort Worth, and really revisioning what it looks like to make sure East Lancaster is a center for economic vitality. I think about areas of our city like South Main and the public investment that was made on South Main that created private investment. That same concept could ring true for East Lancaster and maybe in even bigger ways if we get this right. I know that (Fort Worth City Manager) David Cooke and his team, ACMs (assistant city managers), are on top of that right now from a budget standpoint and what he proposes to council will be well thought through.

Jessica Priest  

OK, so not sold on bus rapid transit yet but -?

Mattie Parker  

Oh, I’m sold on the concept. I think that how we get there is important and making sure we’re creating a mode of transportation for the future. I fully understand that they’re planning for the what if, what if it was rail in the future, and using buses for right now. I’m more interested in the infrastructure in place to get people to and from and create these economic centers. There’s been competing plans in the past about whether it’s a center line approach or whether those stations are on the outside. Are we using technology and signaling in the right way rather than dedicated lanes? I don’t have a preconceived notion of what we need to do. I just know that there’s a lot of competing opportunities here that we’re going to sift through and make sure everybody feels heard and we all agree that this is the right plan for Fort Worth. 

Jessica Priest  

Okay, so they’re going to have some more meetings for advancing East Lancaster

Mattie Parker  

I’ve not been a part of those yet, so I think they’re kind of sifting through what their proposals will be before they come to the mayor’s office. 

Jessica Priest  

OK, great. And let’s see, listeners, Mayor Parker was CEO of Tarrant to and Through Partnership and Fort Worth Cradle to Career and the city previously set a goal of getting all third graders reading by grade level by 2025, so we thought we’d ask for her take on the Fort Worth ISD STAAR test results. Scores unfortunately decreased in both math and reading.  Mayor Parker, how do these test results affect your educational outreach plans as mayor? Do they?

Mattie Parker  

So a few different things: We understand that students across the country are in crisis after COVID, that virtual learning did not work for a vast majority of students. It was a very difficult set of circumstances. And that Fort Worth ISD specifically was not immune from those challenges. I think Dr. Scribner wisely told everyone, ‘This was expected.’ However, let me be clear, it will take very bold leadership from your mayor and also from your superintendent, your school board, city leaders to say, ‘Not in my city, and what can we do to support families and students to come back from COVID stronger?’ I’m working with a few different leaders across Fort Worth on what it looks like to ensure every single councilmember feels empowered, on what it looks like to make sure we create quality seats for students across their districts. The numbers will look different in certain places. I’ve talked about this a lot. There are council districts in our city where there are no students that are in D and F schools. And there are council districts where 82% of your students are in D and F schools. That is unacceptable to me. But rather than point fingers, what does it look like to partner with our superintendent, school board and teachers in the classrooms to say, ‘What do you need from your city government to help your students be successful?’ I mentioned bold leadership because I think that’s what it’s going to take to have a full recovery plan. I also understand that the federal funds that are coming into our school districts are important in how they push those funds forward to get our students back on track. And I know that the Tarrant to and Through leadership, Jay McCall, and then Read Fort Worth leadership, Elizabeth Brands, have been working closely with school leaders to push those efforts forward. I don’t have all the answers. But I know the data is showing us that the crisis is significant. Anytime you have double the number of eighth graders that no longer achieve in math levels, we have to be sounding alarms. The good news is there are a lot of really well-intentioned, smart people even outside the district that are focused on helping our students be successful. I have full faith in working alongside our educators, our teachers to get the work done. And I did want to point out also that when Read Fort Worth started, it was in collaboration with the school district to set this bold vision of third grade reading. Some of that research came from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.We understand how vitally important third grade is where students kind of transition from learning to read to reading to learn. That is still true today. And we haven’t made the strides we need to make and unfortunately COVID set us back. So you’ll see me announce several different initiatives this fall focused on how the city of Fort Worth can really push education forward in a way that’s meaningful and tangible for parents and teachers.

Jessica Priest  

So are you going to move back that 2025 deadline you think?

Mattie Parker  

It’s not my goal to move back, quite frankly. It really was the school district, Dr. Scribner, that set that goal and vision and Read Fort Worth aligned. I still serve on the board to Read Fort Worth. And maybe it’d be a good opportunity, Jessica, to have Elizabeth come on and talk about the progress that Read Fort Worth has created on a collective impact model. And there’s a lot of good news stories here as well. We have a lot of Fort Worth ISD initiatives this summer focused on summer slide. And there are other collaborative partners in the nonprofit space that are helping push students to a better level. But I think all in all, we understand that the COVID really created more awareness of some of the systemic problems we had in place already. But the data is showing that it’s worse than ever. 

Jessica Priest  

And so you think that some federal funding that the school district is going to get because of COVID will maybe help alleviate some of that …?

Mattie Parker  

Well, I mean, obviously money doesn’t alleviate a problem. It takes a significant strategic plan. And then I don’t want to gloss over teachers here. So imagine yourself as an educator in the last year and a half, where you were forced to meet the needs of students whose parents may have lost jobs. Maybe they lost a loved one to COVID. They were in a hybrid environment, virtual and in person. They were trying to Zoom and teach in person. How exhausting would that be? And then oh, by the way, a lot of these school districts extended their school year because they started late. So many of these teachers are just now on some type of break and reprieve to get refreshed and ready for the next school year. One idea I’ve explored and I’m working on is putting together a cabinet of teachers that can advise me on what they’re seeing in classrooms, because so much of what teachers are having to deal with in their classroom has nothing to do with education. It has to do with food insecurity, domestic violence in the home, students that are experiencing aces. What does it look like to have a healthy child ready to learn? And I do think the city has a responsibility to serve in that space. And then in my capacity with the CEO of Cradle to Career and Tarrant to and Through (Partnership), we know that collective impact works. This is a fancy way of saying how do you partner with multiple different organizations that are already doing good work to get them all focused in the right direction to help serve students better. And that’s something as mayor I’ll take in any initiative we push forward. 

Jessica Priest  

You talked on the campaign trail about maybe starting a joint meeting between City Council and the school board. How’s that coming along? 

Mattie Parker  

We already are working on it. Last work session it was not just myself, but there were a few other council members that showed an interest in doing that. It used to be a common practice. So I’ve encouraged city management to create a structure. They haven’t announced a date yet, but it is in the works, not just a normal work session to visit. Let’s have a bigger visioning session on what infrastructure is needed. What current facilities are in place, what program at the city of Fort Worth needs to support the school district and parents and teachers.

Jessica Priest  

To wrap up, you published a statement on Friday about the Aaron Dean trial. For our listeners who may not know, Dean was the former police officer who fatally shot a resident named Atatiana Jefferson in her home when called to perform a wellness check in 2019. He’s charged with murder. Mayor Parker, why did you publish the statement and what reaction have you received about the statement?

Mattie Parker  

So I’ve received some reaction over the weekend. Most of it has been, ‘I agree with you.’ No matter what your perception is of the upcoming trial or the circumstances surrounding Atatiana’s death, everyone seems to agree we can’t move forward until this trial date is set. I feel very strongly about that. However, I fully understand that (297th District Court) Judge (David C.) Hagerman has the full responsibility to set the date. He’s dealing with some complex circumstances due to COVID. He also has some other significant criminal trials that may take precedence over this one for a variety of different circumstances. I just needed my community to know as your mayor, that I’m frustrated, that I want us to heal and move forward. The department needs that. City residents need that. And most notably, Atatiana Jefferson’s family needs that. So at this point, all I could do is simply state my frustration and the need I feel for us to set a trial date as quickly as possible and move forward as a community. So that’s all it is. That’s all I can really do at this point. And really working alongside community members at a grassroots level. We’ve had a few different meetings on what it looks like to try to unify the community in what will be a very tumultuous time once that trial does take place and how do we focus on healing and learning from what happened to make sure it never happens again in Fort Worth. 

Jessica Priest  

Has anything come out of those conversations that you’ve had, like a plan for that week of the trial?

Mattie Parker  

Nothing solidified, but yes, some things have come out of that, a mutual understanding of what it looks like to hold Fort Worth together, to learn from our past history and mistakes and move the community forward. And it’s not just about the death of Atatiana Jefferson, while  albeit, that’s why we’re talking. It’s also some other more systemic issues and history that we have to overcome to really allow Fort Worth to heal. And that’s my job as mayor to have those meetings. Sometimes those conversations are uncomfortable, but that’s part of the job. And I feel very fortunate to be in that circle of leaders in our city. But I do think we will have ways for the entire community to participate in a positive way. And we have some good things to celebrate also, I mean, the achievement of Opal Lee making Juneteenth a national holiday and making sure the city of Fort Worth has an opportunity to celebrate her is important to me and to a number of other leaders. So those are some things that you will have upcoming announcements on. 

Jessica Priest  

Okay. Great. Well, thank you for joining us. Again, if you have any questions you want 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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