In Prec. 2 County Commissioner primary, memorial has become campaign point

02/17/2014 12:00 AM

02/17/2014 1:47 PM

In the Republican primary for Tarrant County commissioner in Precinct 2, Arlington businessman Andy Nguyen is campaigning on his efforts in transportation and cutting truancy, while opponent H. Suzanne Kelley, an Arlington special education teacher, argues that he has done a poor job representing his district.

Nguyen, 47, said some of the most important goals for Precinct 2, which includes Arlington, Mansfield and Kennedale, will be to finish the southern stretch of Texas 360, find funding for a direct connection between 360 and Interstate 30, and improve the interchange where Interstate 20, Loop 820 and U.S. 287 come together.

Nguyen said he also is working with other commissioners to create an “appealing business climate.”

Curbing truancy in school districts within the precinct also is a focus, he said.

“Our goal is to keep our kids from entering the juvenile system,” Nguyen said. “I’m working in my capacity as a county commissioner as a medium to bring people together.”

But Kelley, 53, who has served on several boards and is a former vice chairwoman of the Arlington Parks and Recreation board, said Nguyen’s suggestion in April that teachers needed more training to deal with truancy was her motivation to enter the race.

“You can’t keep putting it on the backs of teachers,” Kelley said. “My focus as commissioner would be to do my job and not to step into education and try to tell them what to do.”

Kelley, who worked in real estate and marketing before becoming a special education teacher, said she believes she has a well-rounded background to become a county commisioner.

“As a public school teacher, I know what it is to be accountable to the taxpayers, parents, and students,” Kelley said in response to questions for the Star-Telegram’s online Voter’s Guide. “...As a business woman, I know the colleges, chambers of commerce, small businesses and workplaces are the places the jobs originate for our community.”

In his Feb. 3 campaign expense report filing, Nguyen had $33,534.45 and received $8,450 political contributions during the month of January. His largest contributors included John. B Foster of Arlington who donated $2,500; Peter and Jyoti Patel of Southlake, who contributed $1,000; the Texas Association of Realtors, which contributed $1,000; Dan Tran of Irving, who contributed $900; and John Le of Arlington, who contributed $500. He had expenditures of $10,194.48.

Kelley had no campaign contributions in her Feb. 5 campaign expense report and a contribution balance of zero. She had outstanding loan totals of $2,100 and expenses of $2,088.24 in her Feb. 5 report. In her Jan. 15 report, she had one contribution of $175.84 from Susan Ernst of Carrollton. She had outstanding loan totals of $2,100 and expenses of $2,088.24 in her Feb. 5 report.

Vietnamese community

In 2010, Nguyen made history by becoming the first Asian-American elected to the Commissioners Court.

But Kelley said that many in the Vietnamese community are disillusioned with Nguyen’s tenure. He and another group of Vietnamese leaders dispute that contention.

The problems arose over the Vietnam War Memorial at Arlington Veterans Park.

Letters from Hung Thien Dang, chairman of the Heroes of South Vietnam Memorial Foundation, say Nguyen did not follow through on promises to help get the memorial built. A separate letter from radio host Peter Dao says Nguyen opposed the memorial “after he failed to obtain undue credit for the project.”

“We have been very disappointed in Andy, and regretted our efforts to help elect him in the last election,” Dang said.

Both Dang and Kelley say Nguyen promised to raise $100,000 for the memorial.

Nguyen said he promised to raise money, but not $100,000. Nguyen said the falling-out was over disagreement within the Vietnamese community over the artist’s depiction of a Vietnamese soldier in the memorial. When Arlington officials were told there was a disagreement over the statue, Nguyen said, Dang’s group accused him of working against them.

“I am saddened that a noble cause such as this is being used for petty politics,” Nguyen said. “It is unfortunate that the truth is being so badly abused. I am disappointed that Dr. Dang has chosen to express himself in such a way.”

A letter signed by leaders of 13 local Vietnamese groups, including the Vietnamese National Community of Greater Fort Worth (DBA Vietnamese American Community of Tarrant County), and organizations of the Former Republic of South Vietnam Armed Forces took issue with Dang’s letter.

“Mr. Andy Nguyen contributed his own money to assist in funding this meaningful project through the Heroes of South Vietnam Memorial Foundation,” the letter says. “Regretfully, in our opinion, the Foundation, under Doctor Dang’s management, didn’t carry out what he promised to the whole community.”

The Arlington City Council eventually approved the plan for the memorial in December 2012.

The group of Vietnamese leaders also said Nguyen helped create a community center in Dalworthington Gardens and has helped provide funding to transport senior citizens to the facility.

Kelley has also said Nguyen spent as much as $100,000 on renovations to his precinct offices, but Nguyen’s expenses, which were obtained through an Open Records request, show he has spent $16,192.01 since he took office.

The biggest expenses were $8,902.34 in his downtown precinct office and $1,754 for data and phone lines at the precinct office in the Arlington Subcourthouse. Nguyen also has an office at the Mansfield Subcourthouse and the Kennedale Road Maintenance Center but there were no expenses listed to remodel those offices.

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