The Lewisville Texan Journal sent a list of questions to Lewisville City Council candidates to familiarize voters with each potential member. Each candidate had almost two weeks to return their answers. Answers from candidates who participated are published as received, unedited.
Early voting for the May election begins April 24 and continues until May 2. Election day is May 6. In addition to the city council, voters will decide on a Lewisville ISD bond proposition and the LISD Board of Trustees.
Here are the responses sent to us from Elena Claros, who is running for Place 3.
Have you ever run for or served in an elected office before? If so, please list campaigns and offices held.
I have never run for or served in an elected office before.
Have you been convicted of any crimes other than traffic tickets, lost any civil lawsuits or declared bankruptcy in the past 10 years?
I have not been convicted of any crimes nor declared bankruptcy in the past 10 years. I divorced in 2013, but we did not obtain lawyers and drafted our own decree and agreement – we share custody of our two daughters and co-parent well together.
How much of your time on average per week are you committed to giving voters for this position?
I am committed to giving voters as much time as is needed to move Lewisville forward and accomplish our goals.
In the past year, how many public meetings or workshops for the City of Lewisville have you attended?
I have attended 6 workshops/public meetings in person but I have watched most of this year’s available city council meetings on YouTube. Additionally, I have watched 8 of this year’s Planning and Zoning meetings on YouTube. I do pull up the agendas when they are posted online prior to attending or watching. For interested citizens, there are 122 archived Planning and Zoning meetings on YouTube and 122 archived city council meetings for the years 2008- 2014. I have also read the 500+ budget analysis, various audits and reports, and have delved into our zoning ordinances.
What Lewisville organizations, boards, committees or other volunteer positions have you served and which are you currently serving?
I admire those with years of major civic involvement and accomplishment. Now that my daughters are in college and high school, I will contribute more of my time to help my community.
I just completed my orientation and background check for Traffick911 where I will eventually be involved in juvenile detention outreach, internet surveillance, and community mobilization to help prevent, identify, and empower victims of domestic minor sex trafficking. I want to ensure that we do everything in our power to find and prosecute to the fullest anyone involved in trafficking another human being. I want to ensure that Lewisville partners with organizations like Traffick911 to bring awareness, training, and action plans to our neighborhoods, first responders, schools, churches, and the court system.
I am heading into my eighth week of Lewisville’s 13-week Citizen’s Fire Academy – which I am taking to determine whether I would be a good fit for the Reserve force. I am preparing to take the Texas bar exam in 2018 so I can get involved with legal aid societies and do pro bono work.
I am also a monthly donor to Journey to Dream (which runs Lewisville’s only emergency shelter for teens 13 to 18), the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the Air Force Aid Society, and Cure Alzheimer’s Fund. My daughter and I have donated time and money to various churches/groups within Denton County to assist with food collection/preparation for children in need and we will continue to do so as much as we can.
What do you want to do as a council member that you could not do as a resident?
A resident does not vote on ordinances, regulations, rules, proclamations, etc. The decision- making authority and representation of citizens rests in the hands of the city council. Residents can voice their opinions, vote, and volunteer in Lewisville, but, ultimately, it is the council who determines the rules, plans, budget, etc.
There are over 100,000 people in this city and not everyone agrees on every issue or agenda. While I understand that citizens are encouraged to follow a certain path to become part of the city council (attending Citizen’s University and trying to be selected to boards or commissions), that path is not the only way. I do have the education, work experience, skills, and abilities to contribute to moving Lewisville forward as a city councilwoman.
What one thing would you tell voters sets you most clearly apart from your opponents?
I will bring a new perspective and qualifications that will add balance, energy, and transparency to the current council. I will ensure that more voices from our diverse community (new residents, women, our growing Hispanic population, apartment dwellers, small business owners, etc.) are represented and included in decisions and policies. Throughout my career, I have been recognized and commended for my ability to team build, learn quickly, and capture people’s interest in projects – and Lewisville needs this. These skills, along with my work experience in lending, compliance, and law, will be an asset to Lewisville.
What is the most pressing issue facing Lewisville, and what do you think the city council should do about it?
There are numerous pressing issues facing Lewisville. The number of persons living in poverty here has almost doubled; housing prices have risen to the point that our grant program for first time homebuyers has stalled; we have a 30% residential vacancy rate; we have some old infrastructure for our meters and it wastes water and energy; and, our street budgets are blown because of the rising costs of construction and the amount of time it takes to get them done. We have lost grocery stores and experienced an increase in theft, larceny, and burglary.
To pick just one issue as the most pressing issue seems odd when the job of a councilwoman is to address any issues facing the city. However, I think that most of the issues could be better addressed if we included more residents in brainstorming, team-building, and innovative problem solving. I would like to create more committees and coalitions that would allow more residents to participate in addressing issues. The worst thing I’ve heard on the campaign trail is how many people want to be involved and are turned away from boards and commissions.
Are there any issues that you feel are important, but that the city council is not addressing?
I think that human services are important to the health and growth of a community. While there are some measures being considered and some small volunteer programs that are developing, Lewisville does not provide a lot of services geared towards helping our residents who are struggling with health, disability, financial, homeless issues.
I am also very much concerned for the homeless youth in our community because they are very much at risk for being trafficked. Texas is the 2nd largest market for trafficked minors (Dallas County being the worst in the U.S.) and we need to get our schools and first responders and human services on the same page about how to identify and prevent our teens from being abused. People do not think this happens in Lewisville but it does and we all need to be more aware and proactive.
Lastly, I think we need to step up our water conservation efforts. Just because we’ve been fortunate enough to have had no droughts in our area for a few years does not mean that the issue of future water shortages have been solved. If we continue to grow at the rate we have been, Lewisville and North Texas, will outpace our ability to supply water. I know that this issue is not one that many people think about or care about when we aren’t in a “do or die” situation, but experts keep telling us to do better and prepare better and I think it is critical that we be a leader on this issue.
How do you plan to interface with the public and receive input if you are elected?
The best part of campaigning has been meeting people face-to-face. Not only will I be available via facebook, e-mail, twitter, and official meetings, but I will also continue holding meet and greets so that people have a chance to talk to me and tell me their concerns or issues. The worst part about campaigning has been hearing people tell me how they have tried to be heard and have felt pushed away or excluded. That’s unacceptable. I am asking to work for you and part of that is being approachable and responsive. MARTY is a great start for access to city services, but it is only one vehicle for a city of over 100,000. I want coalitions of people to represent the city and to bring neighborhoods and businesses together.
Do you think the city is doing enough to be transparent and accountable to the public? What would you change, if anything?
Since this question is that same as the Dallas Morning News question, I am repeating my answer: I think it depends what your definition of transparency is. To me, transparency means that a citizen can easily determine where their tax dollars are going (in real dollars); why decisions were made; whether those decisions were tracked and monitored and effective or not; and, determine the economic and social direction their city is going. A regular citizen should not have to do a research project to make these connections. Providing the public with the 500+ page budgets, 100+ page audits, etc. is certainly necessary, but I would implement a city scorecard or performance dashboard for residents to utilize. Any department, project, or policy could be clicked on to pull up an easy to read and color-coded pop-up which will provide straight-forward data and analysis. San Francisco has something similar and so does the town I grew up in. I think it holds officials accountable in a way that makes sense to the average citizen. The city website includes access to the reports, audits, and links that one would need to do a research project, and the meetings are posted on YouTube, but is this really transparency in decision-making? Giving us data or meetings without context or history is not real transparency – it’s information dumping. Telling us what was approved at a city council meeting without any information regarding what went into those decisions is not real transparency. Requiring hardworking taxpayers to show up to or watch every board and council meeting on every issue to understand what is going on with THEIR money and in THEIR city is not practical nor should it be necessary. So, of course few people attend and voice their opinions. It’s a great way to keep people out of the process – overload them with information. While the positive spin from politicians is what some people like to hear, citizens deserve to know the true costs and benefits of one decision over another. Lewisville residents deserve straightforward analysis with real context and real results.
What do you think of current residential and commercial zoning and land development policies? Are there any policies you would change? If so, why?
The residential and commercial zoning and land development policies/ordinances are hundreds of pages long and I have yet to finish reviewing them even though I began my study in February. I have also been reviewing past planning/zoning committee videos. I have over fifteen (15) years of combined experience ensuring policy and procedure I have conducted research and written reports on a wide range of issues, including easements, zoning, encroachments, bankruptcies, tax liens, survey/boundary issues, regulatory concerns, condominium laws, CCRs, deed restrictions, building permits, and licensing; so I am confident that I will not only comprehend the issues that come before city council, but I can also research such policies independently and call upon the expertise of my contacts within the commercial and residential investment and development industry.
I would like to assert that this question is somewhat difficult for those on the outside of council to answer with specificity since we are not privy to the closed discussions and meetings held on such issues. The Open Meetings act allows closed sessions for issues concerning economic development and property acquisition so we only get a snapshot of how those policy decisions are made. My opponent works in sales for Waste Management and previously worked in sales for another company and “learned on the job” about such things as zoning and land development. So, I am confident that my experience will allow me to positively add to the discussions and decisions about our policies and which ones are the best for Lewisville. We have some vacancy issues in our area, a lot of rehabbing to do, and we are pretty much at full build out, so a discussion about zoning and land development requires a bit more analysis than I can do justice here.
Do you support term limits for city council? If so, would you pledge to voluntarily abide by whatever you are proposing?
I do believe in term limits for city council. I would pledge to voluntarily abide by a two-term limit for each place with a 2-year hiatus before you could run for a different place. I would also propose that if no one files to run for a place, then it would be acceptable for the city to waive the limit and allow an incumbent to run for a third term. I believe that term limits reduce barriers to entry and participation.
Should the city be involved in encouraging desirable businesses and employers to locate here to increase our tax base? If so, do you think the city is doing it right? What would you change or emphasize?
I think our city puts an emphasis on getting large corporations and franchises to locate here but I would also like to see a bigger push and support for small business growth. There is an appearance, at least, that we give away the farm with tax breaks to large corporations which can leave small business owners feeling underappreciated. If that is not the case, then the city should better communicate the reasons for those tax breaks and how it benefits us economically in the long term. Implementing a performance dashboard or city scorecard could go a long way in allowing residents to see what original targets were, whether they are being met, and the actual dollar revenue/benefit to Lewisville.
Do you think the city is doing a good job with regards to its budget and taxation? What if anything would you change about the process, tax rates, or allocation of money to different departments and functions?
I think the city is fiscally responsible with its budget and taxation. Budgeting and funding city departments and functions is a complex process with few easy or simple solutions. We should always be properly tracking our actions and decisions so we can determine whether our money is being used most effectively. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, but if we are not analyzing past decisions and why they were made then it is pretty hard to make better decisions for the future.
What is your position on regulation of plastic bag use within the city?
As a society, we just need to stop using so much plastic. However, I do not think every problem needs to be regulated. I would really like to see a coalition of business owners and residents formulate some other options to deal with plastic bag usage before we go to spending time creating and enforcing plastic bag regulations. I dislike seeing them flying around and I dislike our dependence upon plastic but certainly we can work with businesses and our residents to start utilizing re-usable bags or biodegradable bags. Perhaps instead of a ban or fines, we should consider incentives for individuals and businesses that reduce their plastic bag usage. When you make it easy for people to recycle and choose more environmentally friendly options, I think you get better results than forcing things on people.
What is your position on banning vaping and smoking in public areas, such as parks and trails?
While smoking and second-hand smoke are definitely health hazards, so is regularly eating unhealthy foods and we are not asked about banning pop or sugar or saturated fats and other things that lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc. I hesitate to create bans for everything that individuals choose to do. On the other hand, it might be advisable to have areas in our parks and on our trails designated for smoking and vaping so that it can be contained and cigarette butts can be disposed of in proper receptacles. The other problem with a ban is enforcement. I do not want police officers or other officials wasting time on something like smoking ban violations when there are more important issues to deal with. I’d rather see the city work with organizations and health centers to promote smoking cessation programs and help our citizens find help for their addiction instead of fining and ostracizing people.