Two District 14 City Council Candidates Promise Not to Raise Taxes But Don't Have Concrete Solutions to Pending Budget Shortfall

James_Nowlin_stock.jpg
James Nowlin
Late last week, we took a look at three of the five potential candidates for Angela Hunt's District 14 city council seat -- Jim Rogers, Vernon Franko and Brian Oley -- one of which (Rogers) said Hunt's decision to run for a fourth and final term caused him to put his campaign on hold until 2013. Franko and Oley, however, along with James Nowlin and Chad Lasseter, are committed to staying in what's become the most crowded race thus far. (Openings for mayor and District 6 are the only other races in which more than one person has filed a campaign treasurer.)

We met with Lasseter and Nowlin late Friday afternoon and early Saturday morning, respectively, since they hadn't returned phone calls in time for our story.

Nowlin has been a resident of Lakewood Heights since January 2007 and is the founder and CEO of Excel Global Partners, a corporate financial consulting and professional services staffing firm. He grew up in Virginia, earned degrees from the University of Virginia and Duke University School of Law and moved to Dallas in 2006 after receiving a job offer at Winstead PC, where he practiced real estate law for a short time until leaving in 2007 to launch EGP.

"There's a part of me that's entrepreneurial, and I wanted to be captain of my own ship," he tells Unfair Park about why he stopped practicing law.

The 30-year-old says he arrived in Dallas with only a large amount of student debt and a credit card, and because the city believed in him and rewarded him, now he wants to give back. Previously appointed to the Dallas Citizens Police Review Board by Hunt, Nowlin says he's running against her because she appeared to be seeking higher office.

"She made every indirection that she was running for mayor, and I believed her," he says. "And many other people believed her."

Nowlin, who worked as a volunteer during U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson's reelection campaign last year, touts his status as a small business owner and homeowner when describing why voters should pass on Hunt, who's also a homeowner. He's focused on economic development and job creation, claiming downtown Dallas should be the hub for both, although he wouldn't reveal his specific plans. However, Nowlin was crystal-clear about his stance about the upcoming budget shortfall that could reach nearly $100 million.

"I will not vote to support a property tax increase," he says.

Nowlin proposes to bridge the gap by establishing a Citizens Budget and Tax Review Commission so Dallas residents can provide insight, analysis and ideas about the budget. We reminded him that such an opportunity is provided annually at the dozens of budget town hall meetings held throughout the city, and last year the consensus at those meetings was to raise taxes instead of cutting services.

When asked if his commission determined that taxes should be raised, Nowlin talked around the question, pointing out that the difficult decisions are ultimately made by council members. So we asked a second time: How do you reconcile citizens potentially wanting to raise taxes with your firm stance not do to so?

"You listen to the citizens, and you make the decision that's best for the city," he says.

Despite numerous setbacks and delays to the Trinity River Corridor Project, Nowlin says he'll work to expedite the project and points to the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge as a sign of progress. He's looking forward to enjoying the park and trails with his dog Cady, but, much like the tax issue, we had a frustrating back-and-forth about the toll road.

Do you feel like the toll road is an integral part of the project or that it has impeded progress with the park?

"That's been voted on, and I wasn't on the council when it was voted on. And the council members are exposed to lots of different information. And they're exposed to all the moving pieces to that issue that's been voted on. Since it's already been voted on, my focus is on moving the project forward so thousands of Dallasites can enjoy the beautiful park."

So you don't feel like the road has impeded progress with the park?

"It's been voted on."

That's not what I'm asking you. I'm asking if you feel the road has impeded progress with the park. It's a direct question.

"We'll have some hiccups along the way, but the issue has been voted on. My focus is working as an expediter on the council."

Nowlin's platform is "Badges, Buildings and Bucks," which represent his dedication to public safety, infrastructure and economic development.

Chad_Lasseter_stock.jpg
Chad Lasseter
Chad Lasseter, who grew up in Garland and purchased a home in Hollywood Heights four months ago, says Hunt's deciding vote last year to raise property taxes is the primary reason he aims to oust the three-term incumbent. In fact, he says it was Hunt who gave him the advice that led him to his decision. The two met last month -- "an amazingly gracious gesture," he says -- and she urged him to learn the issues and study her record before launching a campaign. And that's when he found out that he disagreed with a few of her positions, most notably the tax vote.

"I would never vote to raise property taxes," he says, stressing the city has to live within its means.

The 37-year-old director of sales and services for NorthWind Consulting Services -- a computer software consulting company that allows Lasseter to work from home -- says he wants to bring a business-minded approach to City Hall. Public safety is his top priority, and he seeks to make city government more responsible, accountable and transparent.

"At my core, I'm a sales guy. That's what I was probably made to do," he says.

Lasseter, an aspiring filmmaker who describes himself as "an average guy," is seeking advice from neighborhood leaders to continue to build his platform and goals. Like Nowlin, we asked him what he'd do if those leaders ultimately decided that raising taxes is the best way to address the budget shortfall. Lasseter says cutting services is "equally unattractive" as raising taxes, claiming there are other ways to address the problem. Primarily, he says, that includes creating new revenues by encouraging businesses to relocate to Dallas and establishing more public-private partnerships.

And what would have prevented last year's tax hike?

"I certainly would have explored every conceivable option to create additional revenue to have to keep from raising taxes," he says. "I believe more due diligence should have been done because I believe there were other options available."

Lasseter says outgoing Mayor Tom Leppert is "an inspiration to me" and has two ambitious projects on his to-do list, even though he doesn't know exactly how he'll accomplish them yet. He wants to provide Wi-Fi free of charge to downtown residents and businesses and lure the Texas Rangers Baseball Club to either West Dallas or Fair Park when the team's lease at the Ballpark in Arlington expires in 2018. He also aims to implement a tax freeze and roll back program for senior citizens.

"It's absolutely criminal to raise taxes on people who have paid into the system their entire lives, who are living on fixed incomes in this economy," he says.

Along with opposing Hunt's position on the budget, Lasseter says he wouldn't have supported the new Planned Development District for Lower Greenville. He didn't explain his reasons why he opposes the PD, claiming he wants to develop an alternative first.

Lasseter, a graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas, also refused to discuss his thoughts on the Trinity River toll road, other than to say he's "a fan of the pay-as-you-use system."

He did not vote for the road project when it appeared on the November ballot in 2007 because he hadn't registered yet. He recently registered and has voted once in the November 2010 general election.

"Previously, I was not a very political person," he says.

Strangely, he said part of his message to voters is even if they don't vote for him, they should still vote.

Lasseter e-mailed us the following prepared statements late Sunday night.

Why I'm running:

"I believe Dallas has the potential to be one of the greatest cities in the world. I believe we have a chance to achieve unbelievable economic prosperity and job growth. Dallas will always be my home, and it's my goal to protect the integrity of our neighborhoods and rid our streets of crime. I'm pro-business and adamantly opposed to raising property taxes; especially on our senior citizens, and I'm strongly supportive of a senior tax cap. Over the past several years we've been moving backward. I want to change that with forward-thinking policies. Instead of raising property taxes I intend to grow our tax base by incentivizing business to return and relocate to Dallas. One way we can achieve this is to create a wireless mesh in downtown Dallas, which will stimulate economic growth and provide greater access to information. I also support public/private partnerships as a means to grow revenue. The Rangers lease in Arlington is up in eight years and I vow to explore the possibility of getting the Rangers to Fair Park. This could potentially add three to three and a half million visitors to our State Fair grounds annually, and would be a huge economic boon for Fair Park and the surrounding areas."

Convention center hotel:

"Regarding the Dallas Convention Hotel, I'm philosophically opposed to government competing against private business. That said, with the hotel booked for its first two years of operation, the hotel appears to be one of our success stories and should act as an economic stimulator for downtown Dallas."

Trinity River Corridor Project:

"Conceptually, I believe the Trinity River Corridor Project was a good idea. However, there have been significant problems with the implementation of that idea. Now that the genie's out of the bottle, so to speak, I believe we need talented businessmen and women who best understand how to think outside-the-box to come up with realistic solutions to get the Trinity River Project back on track. We need concrete solutions--not increased property taxes--that will allow our citizens to gain the full benefit of community revitalization and economic development they were promised when we embarked on this project."

Update at 11:26 a.m. on Tuesday, February 15: Lasseter just sent his comments about the Lower Greenville PD.

"Regarding the Greenville Avenue PD, I completely agree that something had to be done. However I have a very hard time understanding why we're congratulating ourselves. Why did we have to give up property rights when we had codes and standards already on the books that we could've been enforcing more stringently. I believe in a responsive government. The problems on lowest Greenville were inherited by the incumbent six years ago. This is a vital area of District 14 that has been allowed to deteriorate into a veritable wasteland. Six years to come up with this solution is not my idea of a responsive government. I have a question of my own regarding lowest Greenville. What took so long?"

Official filing for all council seats begins today and ends March 14.

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37 comments
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Hasanmary
Hasanmary

I don't live in Dist. 14 but Angela is a good councilmember. She does her homework. She does not rely on what she is told by staff. She digs deep. Go Angela.

Guest
Guest

That's nice that he met with Angela Hunt to get all of her campaign ideas and then stabbed her in the back by running against her.... Nice to have a councilmen that you can trust....

Lee Gibson
Lee Gibson

"Lasseter says outgoing Mayor Tom Leppert is 'an inspiration to me.'" You lost me right there, buddy.

Apple Pie
Apple Pie

yeah, but you gotta love a candidate who wants to move the Texas Rangers over near his new home. Oh, and check out Lasseter's treasuer. LeMaster. There was a LeMaster who was tied with Hicks and his ownership of Texas Rangers. Could there be some connection there?

And, please tell me why Brinker International is funding Lasseter's campaign. Are there some powerbrokers wanting to purchase our Distr. 14 seat?

Jdbdallas
Jdbdallas

Apple Pie = Ultra-Liberal Conspiracy Theorist

scottindallas
scottindallas

We need to have a vote to redirect any remaining bond funds toward levee repair. Though, if those bonds weren't issued already, it may be difficult to sell bonds at the approved interest rate window.

Hell, I wish we'd consider a lake there, or seriously, build some restaurants atop concrete levees where feasible. Who doesn't want to look at a weedy floodplain? I could support anything that can be understood and approved by engineers. But, this total denial of our pending non compliance is astonishing.

As to the candidates, Nowlin is a snake and Lassiter another doctrinal "conservative"

Recamier
Recamier

Wow...today's the first day of filing, and the misinformation campaign has begun. Fortunately, the good people of District 14 have too much good old-fashioned common sense and sophistication to be taken in by a biased "journalist" and a political operative or two passing as a bloggers trying to sell some day-old half-baked conjectures as truth.

RS1963
RS1963

It would be great if candidates for office at least attempted to understand what was going on before they decided to run. Agree or disagree with Angela Hunt, at least she can sit down and have an intelligent conversation about the facts, the alternatives, the outcomes, etc.

If your entire campaign is a catchy slogan, having some buddies start posting "I'm for him!" on the blogs, and being EBJ's lap dog, I would be a bit concerned.

Guest
Guest

"It's been voted on"

But, you know, the buckets of money that Mayor Leppert hid somewhere still haven't been found. There's no commitment from NTTA nor any money from NTTA for "their share" and the costs just continue to rise.

By saying that "it's been voted on", it implies that he will support whatever amounts of money the city has to put in to get the road done, even if that means the city has to pay the full cost.

So, he's against raising taxes but is for cutting every single city service to the bone and beyond in order to build a toll road that nobody (except Perot and his ilk) wants, needs or can afford.

Pass.

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

This guy Nowlin seems very untrustworthy and sneaky.... me no likey.

Mike S.
Mike S.

These guys are so transparently full of crap and out of their element that they can't even give straight answers to the simplest of questions. I'm almost embarrassed for them. Way to make a first impression, guys. This should be an amusing race, at the very least.

Hunt's got three or four guys running against her, and looking at the two above, Lasseter's a teabagger who opposes government hotels (except when he doesn't) and thinks a good use of our tax dollars is luring the Rangers to Fair Park. Leppert would be proud. And Nowlin is Eddie Bernice Johnson's chief fundraiser, and, from his evasive non-answers, most likely her ethics adviser. I don't think that either of these candidates is going to get much traction in Hunt's district with resumes like that.

Rogers at least seemed like a decent candidate, if a bit old school. Do Oley or Franko have any more credible than these two? Someone's going to have to take over when Hunt is term limited in 2013. I hope we've got a better crop of candidates then.

Snookie Pie
Snookie Pie

Mike S: a majority of Dallas voters did NOT vote for the Tollroad in the park. Because the tollroad was NOT in the park proposal when we voted 12yrs ago on the Trinity Park. The tollroad magically appeared about 5yrs ago and they thought we would not notice they were planning to put a tollroad, down, down deep, down at bottom of the levees, right smack dab in the middle of the park we had approved all that bond money to build. We approved a park, not a tollroad. Got it?

EBJ wants the tollroad there so she can disperse Federal funds to her friend-contractors who support her campaigns. And, EBJ wants Nowlin on City Council so that the tollroad stays there, inside the flood plain...way down, at bottom of the levees...where it will flood, all the time and anyone using the park will get to inhale vehicle fumes all day.

Designing4sale
Designing4sale

Nowlin's platform and forward thinking are certainly a 'breath of fresh air!' and a candidate that I can endorse and vote for! It's sad that the Observer and Angela Hunt are 'cut from the same bigoted, narrow minded and dingy' piece of stale liberal cloth!

Nunya
Nunya

Sorry, no bigotry here dear. Nowlin sounds like a typical politician who won't answer a question he doesn't like.

He said it. He only has himself to blame.

Kim D
Kim D

What I don't understand is why was the focus on the part about Nowlin on the Trinity toll road? Even though Angela Hunt disagreed with it, a majority of Dallas voters voted for it, and until that vote changes, it's the City Council's responsibility to carry out that instruction, unless and until the Army Corps of Engineers says the levees can't handle the construction of a toll road. Additionally, I like the idea of a Citizens council charged with recommending new ideas for the budget. Since we have a Zoning Commission and a Planning Commission composed of citizens who provide input to the City Council and Mayor, why not have a Budget Commission? I think the piece about Nowlin is slanted against him. The Observer should just come out and say it wants Angela Hunt in the seat, irregardless of whether the residents of District 14 disagree.

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

How is it slanted against Nowlin? I interviewed him and reported what he told me.

Guest
Guest

Ok. Well, the NTTA says they don't have their share. What do you want to cut to come up with the $2 billion or more it will take to build the road? (And since we didn't vote to issue bonds beyond the initial amount that doesn't come anywhere close to paying for the road, the road will have to be funded mostly through current revenues).

If the only thing that can stop the road is the Corps of Engineers saying it can't be built, then we need to start looking for a lot of cuts.

cp
cp

I think Bill M answered your questions above.....

Snookie Pie
Snookie Pie

keep drinking the kool-aid, Kim. Politicians love it when you drink their kool-aid.

Thelisma partridge
Thelisma partridge

Kim D, the (slim) majority of did vote YES we do want a toll road in the river - or, more accurately, they voted NO we don't not want a toll road in our river. The YES/NO wording of that particular election was rigged from the get-go to confuse voters and ensure the measure was defeated - meaning the toll road was approved. Nothing confusing about that...

John_McKee
John_McKee

We are over a billion dollars short in funding the tollroad and the NTTA has already said they will not be contributing any more to the project.

It is dead, done, finished, it will not be built. The only thing left to talk about is if we should keep spending money to use it's corpse as a marionette.

Bill M
Bill M

NOWLIN reminds me of Liar-Liar Leppert.

Nowlin came to Dallas in June 2006 when he was recruited out of law school by big firm, Winstead Sechrest. Winstead Sechrest laid him off in his first year and Nowlin could not find work at a law firm so he became a head-hunter with a company. Then he and his life partner opened their own head-hunter company. I love how he says this “…the City believed in me…and rewarded me...” Ha!

Moreover, he has not been resident of Lakewood Heights continuously. In 2009/2010 he moved into condo in State Rep. 100 district because he was hoping his BFF, Eddie Bernice Johnson, could help him to secure the Terri Hodge State Rep. seat, once Hodge went to prison.

Nowlin was not merely a volunteer with EBJ campaign. Try, closest advisor. Top fundraiser. Hosted the high-dollar events. And, EBJ’s protégé, whom she intends to pick to succeed her when she retires in 2012 or 2014. But first, he needs to do a little favor for EBJ, on Dallas City Council re: Tollroad/Trinity Park and protect her other interests (Love Field concession contracts).

Who’s Nowlin’s other BFF? None other than Craig Holcolm. Head of Trinity Commons, the group that opposed the TrinityVote issue.

Nowlin is shopping for a political career, and he does not care one tiny bit about City residential issues.

Craig Holcomb
Craig Holcomb

My name is spelled Holcomb and the writer may have me confused with Craig McDaniel, another white gay man who represented District 14. Mr. McDaniel is supporting Mr. Nowlin. I am not.

Craig_McDaniel
Craig_McDaniel

Craig McDaniel did a little due diligence and does NOT support Mr. Nowlin. Alas, there is yet another Craig supporting the campaign so I'm sure the identity confusion will continue.

David
David

Wow. It's obvious that The Observer isn't giving these two a shot........Also, I wasn't aware that the District 14 City Council seat belonged to Angela Hunt; I thought it belonged to the residents of District 14.

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

Not giving them a chance? This is the most in-depth interview of both candidates thus far. And, as for the District 14 city council seat, Angela Hunt's the one sitting in it last time I checked.

BJ
BJ

David: it does belong to the residents of Distr 14. And, we wholeheartedly want Angela.

David
David

Speak for yourself BJ.

Ellum08
Ellum08

I am a District 14 resident, and I am not part of your so-called 'we'.

Ms. Hunt lost me on a couple of years ago, but she really sealed her fate with me with her decision to allow Woodard's to remain on Ross Avenue.

Jdbdallas
Jdbdallas

Ellum08, what is it specifically about that business that mekes you want the city to force them to close up a business that they have had there since the 30's?

Ellum08
Ellum08

OED and Jdbdallas,

It doesn't matter what I think the city should be able to do, the fact remains is that the City did it and the majority of the other non-compliant businesses followed the rules and closed shop. Why couldn't Woodard's?

Ms. Hunt essentially thumbed her nose at decades worth of work and planning by the City and the surrounding neighborhoods. This is a consistent pattern with her and one of the reasons that I will not vote for her.

Considering the new construction going on just blocks from Woodard's, I don't think it would stay an empty, graffiti covered building for long.

Jdbdallas
Jdbdallas

Ellum08, You think that city government should be able to close an 80 year old business and call it rezoning?

OED_Denizen
OED_Denizen

And what would you want on that parcel? A vacant lot like all the rest? Maybe a vacant building covered with graffiti?

TimCov
TimCov

People need to face reality. Unless something happens to cause a massive increase in the economy. Inflation will outpace the rate property values increase. This means that governmental entities that depend on property taxes will need to look at both cutting costs and raising taxes. This means they need to stop building new things that are not infrastructure. And, any infrastructure being built needs to be done in the most cost effective way possible. This means no new convention center hotels (though that is to late), no new parks, no new schools and bridges that are built using standard building methods. If the governmental entity does not have the money to maintain it, it should not build it.

Montemalone
Montemalone

What's with these repubs crawling out of the woodwork to represent the heart of the city? Head on up to the other side of Northwest Hwy to peddle that crap.They ain't gonna win anyway.

cp
cp

Nowlin answers questions in vagueness. He is a shoe-in for the DMN endorsement!

Meanwhile, Lasseter would be ideal too but he's from Garland and graduated from South (ek!) Garland, so there's just no way that he would ever win a DMN endorsement, ever.

John_McKee
John_McKee

Seriously, a hotel that hasn't had a single guest yet is already a success? And the city can't afford what we we have now but we are going to come up with the money for a massive wireless mesh network? Grow our tax base by incentivizing business to return and relocate to Dallas, hey, the only incentives businesses want to relocate is massive tax cuts that it would take us years and years to possibly recoup. Oh, and spur economic development by getting the Rangers in Fair Park, maybe we could discuss that idea over a few drinks in Glory Park, or why shopping in Victory Park, wait, no, because study after study after study has shown that stadium development is a terrible, terrible way to spur economic development and our own experience in the metro area has shown us that. Also, you know what they are going to want to move? Massive amounts of public funds and tax breaks from the city, again, something study after study has show we are unlikely to ever recoup. The TR Tollway is done, dead, over, the only way we could do it is if were were going to throw in a massive amount of city tax dollars in it, again, tax dollars we don't have. And Ms. Hunt did not vote to raise property tax revenue but to keep them at near, but still below former levels.

Another cut taxes, social services but spend with reckless abandon conservative. Yawn.

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