Tarrant County's May Municipal Elections Feature Lots Of Races And Candidates | KERA News

Tarrant County's May Municipal Elections Feature Lots Of Races And Candidates

Apr 17, 2017

Another election day is fast approaching. Cities, school districts and other local governments across North Texas are gearing up for municipal elections on May 6. Early voting starts next Monday. In Tarrant County, there are some crowded races for dozens of open seats, and a whole host of questions about taxes and bonds that voters across the county will decide.

Tarrant County elections by the numbers:

  • 72 city council seats are on ballots across the county;
  • 28 school board seats in 11 independent school districts are up for election;
  • 14  municipalities will elect mayors;
  • Six cities have propositions to impose or extend sales taxes to pay for services like road maintenance and public safety;
  • Four cities have bond elections to pay for infrastructure projects or community centers; 
  • Four school districts have bond elections totaling $1.6 billion for school construction or improvement.

There are also elections for the Tarrant Regional Water District and the Tarrant County College board.

A crowded ballot in Fort Worth

Beyond the sheer number of seats, ballots are unusually crowded this year. In Fort Worth, most council incumbents have challengers, and some seats have as many as four contenders.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price has a challenger as well. His name is Chris Nettles. He’s a 29-year-old Tarrant County court clerk and pastor. Nettles is facing an uphill battle against the popular and well-financed Price, a former county tax collector who’s known for her health and literacy initiatives.

According to the most recent filings, Price raised more than $494,000, compared to the $4,535 Nettles had raised. In this race, he’s focusing on building support among young folks especially, and he’s pitching himself as someone who can bring fresh ideas to city hall.

Probably the most heated race in Fort Worth is for a council seat on the Northside, which Councilman Sal Espino announced he would step down from last fall after years of serving on the council. Now, there are four contenders to replace him.

The establishment pick is an aerospace engineer named Carlos Flores. Espino, Price and school board president Jacinto Ramos have thrown their support behind him, and Flores has raised the most money. A close second in the money race is retired firefighter Steve Thornton, who challenged Espino in 2015 and lost narrowly. Then there’s a former UNT Health Sciences Center executive Jennifer Trevino, who would be the first Latina on city council if elected. Tony Perez, a realtor, rounds out the list.

Arlington: mayor's race and firefighter proposition

There are a number of contested races outside of Fort Worth as well. 

In Tarrant County’s second largest city, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams is facing a challenge after he helped rally voters to approve city funds to help build a $1 billion ballpark for the Texas Rangers. The challenge comes from Chris “Dobi” Dobson, a substitute teacher who has run for city council before.

Arlington voters will also decide whether or not to set up a civil service commission to govern personnel decisions for the city’s firefighters. The city’s firefighter’s association petitioned for this, arguing that civil service system to take decisions on things like promotions less political or subject to favoritism.  Williams and most of the city council have come out against the proposition. They worry it could raise costs.

Without a civil service commission for public safety employees, Arlington is a bit of an outlier. Dallas, Fort Worth and about a dozen other North Texas cities have civil service systems for public safety employees.

Turnout expected to be low

Despite the crowded field of council and school board candidates across the county, local elections are often low-turnout affairs in North Texas.

For example, the last time there was a contested mayor’s race in Fort Worth in 2011, just over 10 percent of registered voters showed up. That means nearly 90 percent of registered voters in Fort Worth didn’t vote, so in some of these municipal elections, just a few votes can make a huge difference in deciding who makes decisions about development and how to spend local tax dollars.

Correction: According to the most recent election filings, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price has raised more than $494,000, not more than $494 million.