A crowd of homeowners gathered at the home of Glee and Ray Huebner to hear what the mayoral candidates had to say.

Lake Highlands homeowners group last night hosted a mayoral candidate forum featuring Ron Natinsky, David Kunkle and Mike Rawlings.

About 75 people, give or take, showed up to the home of Glee and Ray Huebner — they came from several Dallas homeowners associations, women’s groups and “an exercise class,” Glee Huebner noted. “We wanted to have a good crowd for you,” she told the candidates.

No need to go into detail here about the candidates platforms. You can learn more than you ever wanted to know in our video and blog series, here in our 2011 Elections topics page.

I’ll touch on a few areas that seemed of most concern to the neighbors in attendance.

First, they are concerned about residential and commercial rezoning. Host Glee Huebner asked each candidate the following question (paraphrase): In rezoning cases, will you listen to homeowners and take into consideration their input, or will you simply vote in lock-step with the councilperson over the district subject to rezoning?

Some Lake Highlands area residents are particularly sour about the 2008 rezoning of property at Church/ Skillman from single-family homes to something that would allow a retirement community. They are angry that councilman Jerry Allen alone seemed to call the shots. It’s a tradition at City Hall for the council/mayor to vote along with the council person representing the district in which rezoning is being considered.

Ron Natinsky had the first shot at winning over neighborhood voters.

All of the candidates last night acknowledged that it is a tradition, but said that as mayor, they would learn about the cases and make his own decision. Only Rawlings admitted that “sometimes neighborhoods get thrown under the bus in the interest of the greater good of the city” and that he would probably throw neighborhoods under the bus from time to time. He’s frank like that.

Residential rezoning has been an emotional topic in many Dallas neighborhoods. A couple years ago, overlays and historic preservation districts were the topic of much contention in East Dallas, Preston Hollow, Oak Cliff and parts of Far North Dallas. The district councilman normally works with homeowners who often have vastly varying ideas and desires, and then decides how to vote, and then the rest of the council votes along with him or her. I think homeowners would like to see the mayor, if not other councilmembers, make more independent decisions.

David Kunkle, former chief of police, says he is familiar with all of Dallas' neighborhoods. Right now he lives in the M Streets of East Dallas.

Is that realistic? The argument is usually made that the councilman is most knowledgeable about his/her district, so it is logical to go along with his/her decision.

Natinsky, who currently represents District 12 on the City Council, tells the group that he has actually voted against other council members in these cases, which is not a popular move, he notes.

Other hot topics included:

The budget, of course. See our election videos for details on candidates plans to balance the budget.

The Trinity corridor project—they all three agree it is the biggest and most potentially profitable thing to happen to Dallas since DFW airport. Kunkle doesn’t support the tollroad and Rawlings calls the toll road a “hypothetical” that doesn’t warrant talking about with so little information available. He also noted that we went about the Trinity project “back assward”, planning before the fundamental safety issues/flooding was addressed in detail. That garnered a few chuckles.

Mike Rawlings got the most laughs, especially when he used the word, "back assward"

Garbage pickup—Natinsky says he led the change from twice-a-week to once-a-week pickup, which saved the city loads of money. “People were so angry, but it’s worked out OK,” he notes.

Education— “Let’s be honest, people move out of Dallas or don’t move to Dallas because of the schools,” Rawlings says. All of the candidates say that city government can take a larger role in education reform.

One attendee asked about the Tree Ordinance — Kunkle promised to learn more about it and be prepared to speak intelligently on in in his next appearance.

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