Thursday night’s meeting of the Hallmark/Camelot Neighborhood Association in south Fort Worth was a spirited one. Mayor Betsy Price was on hand to discuss the city’s affairs.
And the two candidates vying to become the neighborhood’s next City Council representative – Hallmark/Camelot was moved out of Jungus Jordan’s District 6 into the southeast District 8 of Council member Kelly Allen Gray in the city’s redraw of district maps, which are in place for the May 11 elections – were on hand.
Gray, who won a special election last year to fill the remainder of Kathleen Hicks’ term, and challenger Hicks, who stepped down last year to run unsuccessfully for Congress and now wants her old seat back, sparred over redistricting and Hicks’ win of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association endorsement.
Hicks told the crowded fellowship hall at the Harvest Assembly of God Church that Gray made a mistake by letting Spinks Airport and its economic development opportunity go to District 6 in redistricting.
Gray has maintained the Spinks move was part of an overall city effort to maintain District 8 as a strong black district and thus help Fort Worth win Justice Department approval of the redrawn maps. The Justice Department ultimately approved the maps.
Without at least maintaining District 8 as a black opportunity district, “the city is vulnerable to a lawsuit,” Gray said.
Gray also said the Spinks Airport discussion had been raised during redistricting talks while Hicks was still on the council.
“That is not true,” Hicks said, also questioning Gray’s Voting Rights Act argument as it related to the district having to lose Spinks.
The far south portion of District 8 including Spinks went heavily for Gray’s challenger, Ramon Romero, in last year’s special election runoff.
The move of Spinks into District 6 was a late change in the redistricting plan after Gray took office – the vote on the maps was one of Gray’s first after she took office -and it’s an issue that’s hung around.
Gray and city staff held a tense meeting with concerned District 8 leaders and residents after the proposed Spinks change surfaced, with some leaders questioning then whether the district was losing too much in letting Spinks go.
The district has long been anchored by neighborhoods such as Morningside, Poly, Rolling Hills, Riverside, and West Meadowbrook.
Also prompting a feisty exchange tonight was Hicks’ touting of her recent endorsement by the Fort Worth Police Officers Association. Hicks also subsequently won the Fort Worth Professional Firefighters Association endorsement.
Gray, whose husband is a 21-year Fort Worth police officer, has recused herself on council votes on major changes to the city’s employee pension and, most recently, on a new four-year police contract.
“What I won’t do is sell my vote,” Gray said tonight.
The police association, in letting her know it was endorsing Hicks, told Gray “we won’t support you because you won’t vote on our issues,” Gray said.
In consultation with the city attorney in advance of the votes, “ultimately, it was my decision” to recuse, said Gray, who has maintained she doesn't believe her husband's employment represents a conflict of interest.
“My vote on all of these issues was not as important as representing all of you,” Gray said.
Hicks, when it was her turn to speak, took immediate issue with Gray’s remarks, calling them a “low blow.”
“I have not sold my vote,” she said.
Gray could not have ethically voted on the issues in question, Hicks said.
“Ms. Gray cannot vote on any of these issues,” said Hicks, who has said Gray's effectiveness as a council representative is hampered by the conflict of interest.
In reference to Gray’s remarks about not selling her vote, “that she would say that is…really rather sad,” Hicks said.
The Hallmark/Camelot residents, for it all, relished the attention.
In closing, one moderator called the meeting “interesting,” and said “let’s see if we get this kind of attendance when our mayor and city council representatives aren’t here.”
- Scott Nishimura, Star-Telegram Fort Worth City Hall reporter