In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth leaders, Carlos Flores shares his experience as the only Latino currently serving on Fort Worth City Council. He is also trying to partner with the private sector to solve some of the issues his constituents face and use his experience as an engineer to get a long-awaited flood control project across the finish line, he said.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio attached to this article.
Jessica Priest: What is your top priority for District 2, and how are you addressing it?
Carlos Flores: I don’t like to necessarily select one priority as being the top because there are a lot of interrelationships between priorities. Just as an example, in some of the neighborhoods that I represent north of 820, when they got built out, streets were of a certain size. And driveways allowed for a certain amount of cars to be parked in the driveway with the idea that you park your vehicle inside the garage. Well, a lot of people need extra space, so naturally expanded the garages. Then as their families grow, they have more vehicles, they have to park on the street, and when they have a lot of vehicles parked on the street, it narrows the width of the street effectively.
We had some concerns coming up that our first responder vehicles have some difficult times trying to snake through said street. That’s an example where infrastructure, you know, ties in with that, and ways that I’ve been looking forward to alleviate that include public-private partnerships, where you have a developer that wants to develop say in said area that has that kind of issue, maybe we can collaborate and find ways to say, ‘If you help the city, build out a connecting street to alleviate some of that cut-through traffic through the area, that helps…’
You may have heard that council had some recent discussions when it came to fire staffing. Police staffing is another matter … We are the 12th largest and along with that comes some challenges. We have to make sure our first responder staffing is at an appropriate level and that we’re graduating firefighters and police officers at a reasonable rate to keep in step with the growth…
We’re approaching almost a year’s time from when we had the winter apocalypse. … The critical load list is something I’ve asked the city to look at very closely. Basically, that is facilities that are critical, whether it be a water plant, city hall, a police or fire station, that we must have power for. It behooves us to review that list and make sure it’s in order…
Permanent supportive housing — It’s kind of in the western part of my district near River Oaks. Some of the things that I took away and why I supported it was that it was a different way of trying to address that issue, instead of bigger, kind of monolithic, type of developments. Sometimes a smaller solution is best…
The response to the pandemic — The city doesn’t have a public health department per se but have dedicated staff in our code compliance department that function like that ad hoc.
Priest: And the council isn’t reconsidering creating a public health department?
Flores: It was back in the time when former mayor (Mike) Moncrief was in office because of the big economic downturn back in 2008 that occurred. Council was looking for ways to consolidate and save money … Could we embark on such a conversation? Sure. It’s possible. We just haven’t had any formal discussions about it…
Priest: You are a member of the Trinity River Vision Authority. Can you explain to our listeners as simply as possible what that is?
Flores: Along with the staff component of it, you have a board of directors. That’s where I come in. I was elected to City Council in 2017. You have committee assignments as council members. Being that most of the (Panther Island/Central City Flood project) was in my district and being an engineer, I knew there were some challenges that they were trying to get through, technical and funding challenges, so I went to the mayor, Mayor Betsy Price at the time, and said, ‘I’d like to be put on that board.’ She said, ‘OK. There’s a lot of work to do there. I hope you realize that,’ and I said, ‘I do, and I like challenges.’ … Over the course of years, we’ve improved and redirected the focus to where it should be. This is a flood control project. That was the entire genesis of it. When Fort Worth was a population of approximately 350,000, the levees were able to address the flood control need. We’ve outstripped that. I mean, we’re pushing a million here in the next few years. Sure, you can build bigger levees, but it would take up so much physical space of what’s there on the riverfront that would impact a lot of potential development, as well as current property owners. It’s not a viable situation, so you have to look and say, ‘What other means of flood control can we do?’ And that’s where the bypass channel comes in.
And that’s where we are right now in a nutshell. We have finished building the bridges with our partners at the county and state level. TxDOT was the authorizing authority when it came to that from a contract standpoint. The city was responsible for the roadways up to the bridges. I know it’s very easy to assign blame and responsibility to the city for all things so just to make that clear. … It was a very different design (for the bridges) and when I was talking to the principals at TxDOT, they even said they had not seen such a creative and ambitious design before. So there’s something to be said there. I know there’s been discussions about, ‘Well, why not make a carbon copy of the West 7th Street bridge?’ Well, sometimes one shoe doesn’t fit all. I was not there at the table when those decisions were made…
Priest: Do you see the city’s redistricting efforts as an opportunity to have more Latino representation on council? One of the first stories that I think the Fort Worth Report reached out to you about was a story about how you are the only Latino on council, and there’s a growing Latino population in Fort Worth.
Flores: It’s not just a matter of lining up certain geographic boundaries and calling it a day. You have to think, ‘Well, why are we here at this point?’ Part of that reasoning is, yes, we have to grow the council, but why do we have to grow it? To ensure good representation. And to ensure that representation, how do you go about doing it? You rely on the census. What does the census data tell you? Be mindful of that. I think the redistricting task force gets that. … I’m a numbers-oriented guy. The numbers tell you the Hispanics are the fastest-growing demographic in the area. And among the other smaller demographics, it is largest, so we’re second. And that needs to be taken into account in whatever district map we end up approving.
Priest: What’s it like being the only Hispanic on council? Is that a huge weight on your shoulders?
Flores: One of the criteria that I had when hiring for my district director was that they be bilingual and not just proficient in speaking Spanish but writing. Why? Because I will tell you that on a daily basis we get a lot of calls from constituents of other districts who say, ‘There is no one to help me because they don’t speak Spanish.’ … Sometimes, I get a little blue in the face when we have information we want to impart to the public in a council meeting or work session. I’m saying when I hit my button or request to speak, ‘Are we translating that into Spanish?’ I’ve even said Vietnamese as well because that’s another large demographic in our area. And I keep saying the same thing. It’s like, ‘Y’all are going to keep hearing this from me.’ But it is, in some ways, added responsibility. I don’t shirk it; I embrace it. I try to do the best I can. And when I take that on, I don’t look at it merely through the lens of, ‘Well, I’m just the District 2 council member.’ If I need to be a representative of the council through my ability to speak and communicate in Spanish, so be it. I will do that.
Priest: Before the holidays, there was a viral tweet thread by a prominent business owner, Jonathan Morris, of Hotel Dryce. He shared a story by his bar manager about the city manager and some other prominent individuals’ treatment of her. What did you think about that situation?
I’m sharing this email (bottom of thread) I got from Kim, my very kind, talented and professional Bar Director at Hotel Dryce for a couple reasons:— Jonathan Morris (@JonathanDFW) November 17, 2021
1.Because people who treat people shitty bother me.
Flores: I think it’s important whether you be an elected official, an appointed official or have any connection with a city in an official capacity that you conduct yourself in a good, becoming manner. I think the city manager from what I’ve been told did. I didn’t find anything that was out of place. But again, I wasn’t there. So I don’t know all the particulars of what happened.
Priest: Do you think this at all hurts the public’s perception of the city or the relationship between the city and the business community of Fort Worth?
Flores: It certainly impacts it. How long that impact is, it’s hard to say. Things sometimes occur, that at first blush, may not seem to be the best light. But as time goes on, and we know more clarity occurs, you kind of reassess that initial perspective. But again, after being in this job, you know, I’m very cognizant of the fact that as the saying goes, perception is everything, and I’m very fact-based, right? Facts do bear out and facts do matter. So I try to resist initial jumps to conclusions.
Priest: Is there anything else you want to add?
Flores: I’m particularly proud of the Meacham International Airport. We’re the recipients of a lot of FFA grants that help us do the midfield development where you have inner parts of the runway being redeveloped and new hangars being built, two of them. It’s attracting a lot of businesses. Fort Worth is an aviation town. I’m an aviation professional myself. So when I hear from my constituency, ‘We want to hear what you’re doing, for example, on providing good jobs,’ I did a job fair not too long ago…
One of the things that is very important to me is our performance on our bond programs. Just to kind of toot Fort Worth’s horn, as a major city, we’re very blessed to have the capacity to do capital projects. We’re coming out of a pandemic, and we had a capacity of at least $400 million. That’s a testament to how the city is managed…
In fact, there’s a new community center that we recently broke ground on in the Diamond Hill area (that was part of the 2018 bond program). Their center was extremely old. It certainly served its purpose. They’re now getting a state-of-the-art, 25,000-square foot, $10 million facility.
Priest: What big projects would you say are proposed in the 2022 bond program for District 2?
Flores: One of the big things — and it’s not just District 2 exclusive — is arterial roads. I have a major one north of the Loop, Cromwell Marine Creek. Does it have sidewalks? No. Does it have curbs? No. What kind of drainage does it have? Bar ditches. It needs lighting. When you’re talking about infrastructure, you have to take a very comprehensive approach. And that takes money. I, in the 2018 bond program, got some money for it, but it wasn’t enough. So I kept advocating for it. And now it’s ranked two in the rankings of most urgent needs. And what we’re asking for is approximately $31 million. …
Please note: Jonathan Morris serves on the Fort Worth Report’s board of directors. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.