Arlington Citizen-Journal

April 28, 2014

Candidates for City Council District 7 disagree on how business-friendly Arlington is

Incumbent Jimmy Bennett, who is seeking a fourth term, faces political newcomer Gerald Kern.

From a new full-service entertainment district hotel to a proposed bond election this fall that could bring millions of dollars of new streets, parks and other improvements, City Council District 7 incumbent Jimmy Bennett said the city has much on its horizon to be excited about.

“After weathering the challenging economic times, we are certainly poised as a city to make significant advances in not only our economic redevelopment but many other priority projects,” Bennett said. “I’d like the opportunity to see some of those moved further along, perhaps even to completion.”

Bennett, a certified public accountant, is seeking his fourth two-year term as an at-large council representative in the May 10 election. Bennett is being challenged for the seat by political newcomer Gerald Kern, a limited-government candidate who said he believes the council has implemented or considered policies and programs that either cost taxpayers too much or are unconstitutional. Recent examples Kern cited include implementation of a recycling-cart program, the Metro ArlingtonXpress bus service and red-light cameras as well as the council’s brief consideration this year on whether to explore regulating the e-cigarette business.

“Do we have a City Council that uses the Constitution as a touchstone for all policymaking?” Kern said. “You are seeing that constant flirtation of exceeding limited government. There are boneheaded things I think we do that make us not competitive.”

Early voting runs through May 6.

Commercial and residential property redevelopment, improving city streets and parks and attracting higher-paying jobs remain among Bennett’s top priorities. Bennett, 53, served on numerous Arlington boards and commissions before being elected to the council in 2008.

“I believe that voters can tell the difference between genuine experience and promised results. Based on my decades-long service to the community, voters can be confident in what they will be receiving from me,” Bennett said. “In having served for six years, I am intimately aware of the things we have to do to continue moving our city forward.”

If re-elected, Bennett’s plans include partnering with the University of Texas at Arlington to launch a business incubator program. Bennett said he will also continue seeking the right developer to expand the Arlington Convention Center and build a full-service hotel, which would help tourism, and to attract businesses that “enhance and complement” AT&T Stadium and Globe Life Park in Arlington.

Kern, 38, agrees that city leaders need to do more to leverage the strengths of UT Arlington. But he said Arlington is impeding its success by creating a negative regulatory environment that doesn’t attract the types of private investors who create jobs that can support families. Kern said he would work to reduce red tape for developers and tap his contacts within the entertainment, philanthropic and investment circles to bring new revenue opportunities and attention to Arlington.

“Arlington is not a competitive city to attracting major high-paying employers, and our city leadership … needs to look at the negative regulatory atmosphere we create. We are hemorrhaging high-paid skilled jobs and replacing them with entry-level, low-wage employers,” Kern said.

Bennett said that all cities have regulations and that Arlington has taken great strides to not only streamline the permitting process at City Hall but also make it easier for local businesses to bid on city contracts.

“Based on the level of interest of development and redevelopment in Arlington, I think it would be difficult to conclude we are not friendly to businesses,” Bennett said. “We have more work than we can handle.”

Kern owns Elite Concierge and Luxury Transportation, a company that provides celebrity bookings and other services. Kern, who served in the Army Reserve and the Texas National Guard, said he received the first Asian-American Soldier of the Year Award in Texas. Kern, who also serves as Texas Asian Republican Assembly vice president, said he was inspired to run for office after Andy Nguyen became the first Asian-American elected to the Tarrant County Commissioners Court.

If elected, Kern’s ideas include building more dog parks, launching a mobile education hub with free Wi-Fi and tutoring services for low-income children that would be named for Martin Luther King Jr. and seeking corporate sponsorship for projects such as new parks and sidewalks.

Kern said he would also push to extend public speaking time at council meetings from two minutes to three minutes and to restore videotaping of the citizen participation portion of the meeting.

Bennett said he agreed with Mayor Robert Cluck’s decision to stop the videotaping because council members are not allowed to respond to questions or concerns raised by speakers on topics not legally posted on the agenda.

“In no way are people’s access to council members limited. We still are available through phone calls and emails or appointments,” Bennett said.

Bennett also disagrees with Kern’s claims that the council has made decisions that infringe on the rights of residents.

“Of course, we have attorneys who advise us as to the boundaries by which we are operating from a state and federal perspective, and I feel confident that we are safely inside of the rules that we should be in,” Bennett said.

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