Race for At Large Place 6: Paul Meltzer For Smart Community Growth

Paul “man of many hats” Meltzer is an activist, actor, involved citizen and voice for other citizens. He is also the vice president Thin Line Film Festival, executive board and a member of several city committees, including the Denton County Monument Advisory Committee and the Area Plan Advisory Committee. With his many positions in the city, Meltzer looks to add one more as he is running for at large city council seat 6. According to his campaign Facebook page, Meltzer is “running for a future for Denton built on smart growth, fiscal discipline, and building community consensus.”

Last year, Meltzer stepped into the local political arena when he ran for the District 3 city council seat, inspired by the frack ban and subsequent passing of the construction of the Denton Energy Center, a natural gas-fueled power plant, in late 2016.

“I was a little stunned that my council member, who campaigned on the idea that there should be no big ticket city expenditures without a citizen vote, voted for the gas plant, which is the largest city expenditure ever,” Meltzer said. "At that point, I started feeling like, ‘Somebody ought to run against her.’”

Meltzer’s campaign made large, tangible strides in last year’s race. Typical races in the past saw a candidate based in Robson Ranch (Don Duff), and another based in the downtown area (Meltzer), with the Robson Ranch candidate winning at about a 1200 to 600 margin. In what ended up being a runoff between Meltzer and Don Duff, the race came down to about 52 votes, with about 1231 voters supporting Meltzer.

With renewed fervor, Meltzer—who has called Denton home for about 10 years—is looking to make Denton somewhere that continues a path toward innovation and growth, while also holding its unique character intact.

“When you step out and run, it really makes you try to come down to what really are your hopes and values for Denton, and makes you kind of open up and connect with people more,” Meltzer said. “Ultimately, now that that issue [of the gas plant] is probably beyond reach, unfortunately, it’s just that I really care what Denton’s gonna be like in 10 years. I think that Denton is so unique and worth cultivating that I want to be involved to help guide the growth that is inevitably coming, but to do it in a way that builds on what’s special about Denton and not steamrolls it into another North Texas suburb.”

Issues he is looking to tackle include affordable housing, fostering small business culture, connecting urban areas to green space, and developing short-term solutions for the homeless population while long-term remedies are fleshed out.

Alongside the affordable housing issue, Meltzer reiterated the need for safe streets with sidewalks.

“I think figuring out what to preserve, where we can grow, how to create neighborhoods that are walkable with safe streets that have the retail amenities that make it a neighborhood, but where you can grow [is important],” Meltzer said. “How to keep enhancing the special conscious quality of life in Denton, which includes things like seeing that there are arts venues, which is a marker for a happy college town, and having hike and bike trails that connect parts of downtown and connect to green spaces. Those are the kinds of things that can transform the livability of a city.”

Meltzer elaborated that instead of looking to chains and franchises, Denton has a penchant for fostering small businesses it should continue to uphold.

“We’re very lucky to have an actual small business culture. It almost doesn’t exist in America in a lot of places, it’s just all chains,” Meltzer says. “There’s a pull for attracting big distributors but a lot of times they don’t bring that many jobs per acre and they’re not necessarily high-paying jobs, and people will want creative, fulfilling things to do for a living.”

Meltzer called the homeless population in Denton “an under-managed situation” that is “not a vast, unsolvable ocean,” which in many ways ties into the need for affordable housing. A short-term solution Meltzer discussed was sanctioned tent villages, with minimal sanitation services available as an immediate solution for the homeless population of Denton.

“Over a million [dollars] a year in Denton County [is spent] basically on pointless round trips through the jail system and people going on emergency calls to waiting rooms because they’re living in the outdoors,” Meltzer said. “And the real shocker is that half that population, we now know, are employed. There simply is not a tier of housing if you’re at a certain economic level, and the emergency shelter opportunities are not compatible with holding a job. It really becomes a tremendous catch 22 and it’s not good for anyone concerned. We need a little management problem solving.”

Anyone wanting to assist with Meltzer’s campaign is encouraged to donate and/or volunteer, and vote. Meltzer recalls that last year, several “shy people” assisted in going door-to-door, and helped to make a “meaningful experience” for themselves and his campaign. Meltzer said that each individual who turns up on election day really makes a difference in municipal elections.

“I remember the first day of early voting last time around—we can actually see who voted, not how they voted, but who voted,” Meltzer says. “[On the list] it was either people who had been in my house or I had been in their house. That’s the degree of personal connection. We want to have a lot of personal connections through the friendships we make door-to-door and the friendships we make with the people who come to volunteer with us.”

Header image by Ellen Sackett.
Header image designed by Holden Foster