Incumbent Arlington Mayor Jim Ross defended his numerous advisory councils, broken down by racial and gender identities, as well as his Pride month proclamation during an Arlington NAACP forum with his opponent, Amy Cearnal.

Ross formed advisory councils with representatives from Black, Asian, Latino, Muslim and LGBTQ communities during his first term as mayor. He and Cearnal fielded a question from a forum attendee, who claimed Latinos in town feel disconnected from Ross’ advisory group. Ross disagreed with the assumption.

The forum followed one featuring candidates from Arlington council races in Districts 3, 4 and 8. District 5 council member Rebecca Boxall is running unopposed.

Cearnal said the councils were a step in the right direction, but said the division could keep groups from talking to one another. She sits on Ross’ women and realtor advisory councils.

“My concern with the advisory councils is that they become very siloed, that we’ve got Latinos only talking to Latinos, Blacks only talking to Blacks. I would like to see there be more encouragement of people to come in and sit on a variety of councils and be on leadership positions,” Cearnal said.

Ross pushed back and said that people within racial and ethnic groups are not a monolith.

“You have to have a Black advisory council because, folks, Black people are not the same. Did y’all know that?” he asked the crowd, which drew laughter from the audience. “Latinos are not the same. Asians are not the same.”

The exchange was one of a handful during which Ross challenged Cearnal on inclusivity and equity measures. The issues have become talking points in multiple races, as council enacts recommendations from the Unity Council, and in the wake of contentious open meetings where critics decried acknowledgement of the LGBTQ community.

Ross was criticized during the meetings for continuing to recognize June as Gay Pride Month, a tradition that former Mayor Jeff Williams started. He said during the forum he believes his issuance of the proclamation is among the reasons he has a challenger, and asked Cearnal if she planned to continue the Pride month proclamations if elected.

Cearnal did not respond directly, and instead said local races are nonpartisan, and local government must be inclusive.

“This is not just about a proclamation, it’s not about any of that. It’s really about making sure that all of our residents are heard … we’re here to fix potholes and to oversee city staff and to help make sure that our city is safe. And none of that has anything to do with any sort of non-inclusiveness,” she said.

Both candidates agreed that Arlington needs more public transit options other than the city-subsidized ride-hailing app Via, but other options will require time and major investment.

Hopefuls on development, safety

From left to right: Chris “Dobi” Dobson, Marvin Sutton, David Mosby, Nikkie Hunter and Barbara Odom-Wesley take audience questions during an Arlington NAACP forum at UT Arlington April 4, 2023. (Kailey Broussard | KERA News)

Apartments have been a controversial topic for a city that experienced a boom of new complexes in the 1980s and 1990s. Leaders over the last several years have tried to put pressure on landlords to rebuild or renovate apartments that have not aged well.

David Mosby, District 8 candidate, said he would challenge proposals to build new ones in the city if elected.

“Everybody seems to agree that we have too many apartments except for the current city council,” he said.

His opponent, incumbent Barbara Odom-Wesley, said apartments aren’t the problem and that they provide options for people who either cannot afford a house or do not want to pay a mortgage. It’s up to council to set building and development codes that hold complexes to a higher standard.

“The problem’s not the apartments. It’s the quality,” Odom-Wesley said.

Chris “Dobi” Dobson, who’s running for District 4 against incumbent Andrew Piel, said Arlington should consider alternative higher-density options such as condominiums.

“I don’t know how we expect a 23-year-old making $17 an hour to afford a house in this town,” he said.

Piel did not attend the forum.

Arlington city employees and council members explored what’s commonly known as “missing middle housing,” or loosening zoning restrictions to encourage new housing options. The changes would have made building duplexes, triplexes and townhomes easier. However, the city paused the discussion after public outcry.

Cearnal served on the task force that offered the missing middle recommendations and said the city needs to revisit the changes.

“I can tell you we’ve got to make changes to our (development code) if we’re going to continue to be able to be competitive,” she said.

Cearnal also said the city could not assume the ride-hailing service Via, which the city subsidizes to provide transit around town, will serve the city for the next 50 years.

“Right now, we’re doing OK with it. We are in a situation where we do not have infrastructure to put rubber tire buses or rail on our current roads without a major change,” Cearnal said.

Transportation also came up in the council forum. Marvin Sutton, District 3 candidate, said the city’s denser than Dallas and Fort Worth, which means its resources do not go as far.

“Our infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with the density,” Sutton said.

Sutton’s opponent, incumbent Nikkie Hunter, left after introductions. During hers, she vowed to continue fighting for neighborhoods.

Ross pointed to the region’s three transit authorities in Denton, DART and Trinity Metro. Any of them require millions of dollars per year, not including startup costs. And while environmental groups are discussing high speed rail that connects Dallas and Fort Worth downtowns with Arlington’s entertainment district, “it doesn’t happen overnight,” Ross said.

Both pointed to the bond package up for election this spring, which includes substantial roadway improvement projects, as paramount to city infrastructure. Specifically, Ross pointed out a $36 million project included in the package to rebuild Randol Mill Road between Cooper and Collins streets.

“It’s one of the most important things that we’re dealing with on there,” he said.

Both said the city should do more to address the disproportionate impact that use of force has on Black people in Arlington. The 2022 Use of Force Report states that Black men accounted for nearly 38% of use of force cases.

However, Ross said the city fares better than others, and challenged a comment by Cearnal that suggested council did not grill Police Chief Al Jones during a recent city council meeting.

“I can tell you if you watched the report, every single member of council asked substantial questions,” he said.

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