After a decade of public service, District 7 City Councilmember Dennis Shingleton recently announced that he would not seek reelection. Two candidates, Leonard Firestone and Zeb Pent, seek to replace Shingleton through the Saturday, June 5 runoff election that will also determine Fort Worth’s next mayor and three other city council seats.
On Wednesday, volunteers with the Crestwood Neighborhood Association, located just northwest of downtown, held an online forum to ask the District 7 candidates about their stances on several issues. Janine Lund, Crestwood Neighborhood Association president, moderated the one-hour forum.
Please give us background on your qualifications for city council.
Firestone: It has been a great campaign. The best part is getting into the neighborhoods and doing the doorknocking to really understanding what people are thinking. The relevant qualifications are me, frankly. One is the business that I have built. I have a distillery that I built recently. The city had never seen a distillery before, so we had to go to City Hall. As a business person, I know what it is like to interact with city staff. I know the pros and the cons. The expense that we encountered. The time delays. The feeling that the goalposts were moving on us. I was asked to be on the COVID-19 Recovery Taskforce. It was rewarding to be a part of the solution amidst the chaos. I’m a board member of Visit Fort Worth. The task of Visit Fort Worth is very clear. We need to market the city to promote tourism and convention business here. At the end of the day, the way I view the job [of city councilmember] is to provide excellent and exceptional city services for a [high] quality of life and a healthy economy through economic development.
Pent: I’ve knocked on thousands of doors and met hundreds of neighbors and thousands of Fort Worth residents. There is a kindness that exists in Crestwood. The people there welcomed me into their living rooms. We have a lot to do when it comes to squaring economic development. We have a tax burden that is weighted way too heavily toward residential homeowners. I think our city has given away far too much in tax incentives to Fortune 500 companies. We haven’t focused enough on our entrepreneurial community. We can create higher-paying jobs than Facebook and Amazon.
When we look at the ability of Tarrant Appraisal District to mail us a tax increase, I’m going to be a noisy voice on the behalf of taxpayers. I’m going to champion efficiency from a budgetary standpoint. There is a lot of fat that we can trim in our city budget. I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 18. I started trading the market at 18. I traded the market for four years. I went into the residential real estate world flipping and rehabbing houses for many years. I then started a successful oil and gas company that I owned and operated for over a decade. When it comes to putting the right people in the right places to do the right things, that’s what I want to do at City Hall.
How have you funded your campaigns?
Firestone: Well, it started with my family. Then, growing from there, I’ve reached out to community and friends. I have near 100 [people] who have donated to the campaign. It’s primarily from Fort Worth and from individuals who have stepped forward to support me.
Pent: My campaign is 100% funded by individuals. I have received zero dollars from political action committees. 100% of my donors are individuals, and they have been disclosed on my campaign finance report.
Firestone: I have gotten monies from both the fire association and police associations because they are endorsing me.
What does it mean to each of you to support the police?
Pent: That’s a great question. I’m glad Mr. Firestone brought up his police union association. When it comes to the way politics has worked in Fort Worth, for a long time, there is a lot of money that comes from the police and fire unions. A lot of times, people think that means that one candidate is more pro-public safety or pro-first responder than the other. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is not much daylight between me and Mr. Firestone when it comes to keeping our neighborhoods safe. When it comes to calling balls and strikes [on police misconduct], I think that’s important as an elected leader. I am a strong advocate for community policing and respecting those who protect us. I want to see improved community relations. I am pro-public safety.
Firestone: My support of the police department is fairly well known. We have done a lot of work with them. We have donated event spaces to them for numerous occasions. A few years ago, Garrett Hull was killed in the line of duty. We donated the distillery space for the reception after his service. We created a commemorative bottle in his honor. We donated all the proceeds to his wife and family. We were able to give her over $40,000 of money raised that she could use for her family. I have a very positive and respectful relationship with the police force. They are understaffed right now by about 70 officers. We need more money for training and community relations. Those would be things that I would work on from council.
Considering your regular time commitment, how much time can you commit to the District 7 city council job?
Pent: I’m ready to commit as much time as necessary. Having a councilman that has the ability to devote 100% of their time to the job is of supreme importance. It’s what I’ve been doing now since January, and I want to continue doing so. If elected, I would love to continue knocking on neighbors’ doors. I feel like a good councilman is an accessible councilman. I want to have an office that is known for quick response times and being attentive to the taxpayer.
Firestone: I’m free and clear for the opportunity to work fulltime. One caveat: With four children, I will have to carpool on Sundays, maybe go coach a little bit, and watch my kids play in sports. Otherwise, I’ll be dedicated to it on a full-time basis.
What alternative sources of funding do you support, rather than increasing property taxes?
Pent: The city of Fort Worth has chased flashy investment. We have to do more to increase revenue from a commercial development standpoint. We have to quickly and firmly focus on our entrepreneurial community. The city spends 1.4% of its budget on entrepreneurial growth. Imagine if we were to have focused on startups in 2017 and 2018 instead of giving incentives to Amazon and Facebook. We were trying to signal to Silicone Valley that we were cool, and it didn’t pay off.
Firestone: I’d look specifically at the upcoming bond package in 2022. There are going to be monies available to do some of the fixes that we just described. What’s important about that is the bonds have been influenced by citizens. The city has reached out to people to understand what their needs are in terms of capital improvement. Work with the [neighborhood] associations. Get with the associations to understand specifically what are the issues that need to be worked on. Once we gather that information, we can take it to City Hall. I think that will be the most immediate way to resolve some of these issues and pay for them.