Coppell Chronicle Vol. 1, No. 45
Coppell to be Aggressively Marketed • Pylon Signs Proposed Along Highways • We’re Paying More for Trash Collection • Venkatraman Won't Leave Without Fight
On Tuesday, a member of the “Coppell, Texas” group on Facebook asked if anyone knew what was going on at our shuttered Boston Market. One of my subscribers said she remembered reading in Coppell Chronicle No. 38 that it will soon be home to a second Ecclesia Bakery & Café, and she added that anyone who wants to be similarly well-informed ought to subscribe to the newsletter.
Since that gentle nudge, 27 people have become paid subscribers, bringing the total to 452. In the same time frame, another 217 people have given me their email addresses so they can receive the occasional free edition.
Keep spreading the word, folks.
Coppell to be Aggressively Marketed
Coppell is a great place to live, but is it a great place to visit? Ellie Braxton-Leveen thinks so, and she wants to convince hundreds of thousands of other people that she’s right.
Braxton-Leveen is president and CEO of the Coppell Chamber of Commerce. Last month, she spoke to the City Council about her plan to promote the city through an “aggressive” marketing campaign. She wants to use some of the revenue raised by Coppell’s hotel occupancy taxes to a hire a firm that will execute said plan.
“It’s a strategic marketing plan to develop a brand, an identity, and a strategy to move the Coppell businesses and the programs to the forefront of things to do in the Metroplex,” she said.
The North Texas Tollway Authority estimates that at least 200,000 vehicles pass Coppell each day on the Sam Rayburn Tollway. The Texas Department of Transportation has similar statistics regarding Interstate 635, and those hundreds of thousands of drivers “don’t know we’re here,” Braxton-Leveen said.
“We want to educate our current community on what’s available here in Coppell,” she said, “but we also have over 8 million people that live here within the Metroplex that don’t know what’s available here in Coppell.”
You may be asking yourself, “Um, what is available here in Coppell?” Braxton-Leveen cited the Coppell Farmers Market, the Coppell Arts Center, and our many “unique” restaurants.
Mayor Pro Tem Brianna Hinojosa-Smith questioned whether this is the right time to implement a plan that would promote our restaurants. She posed this question two days after I reported in Coppell Chronicle No. 42 that Little Greek had permanently closed due to “rising supplier costs, employee shortages and never ending Covid.”
Braxton-Leveen’s response: “This is the absolute best time to implement it. Because, again, if we don’t do something, it’s going to get even worse for our hotels and restaurants.”
The Texas statute that allows cities to collect hotel occupancy taxes says the revenue from those taxes “may be used only to promote tourism and the convention and hotel industry.” City Manager Mike Land said Coppell hasn’t done such promotion yet; consequently, it has about $280,000 worth of tax revenue that really can’t be spent on anything else.
“You are not authorizing her to go and sign a contract, nor are you authorizing the expenditure of the funds tonight,” Land told the council. “You’re giving us the direction to work on and develop the contract to bring back to you in January.”
Braxton-Leveen said the one-year contract would cost about $150,000, plus a 10 percent fee to the Chamber for being the point of contact with the marketing firm. Her long-term goal is to establish an in-house visitors center that would also be funded by revenue from the hotel occupancy tax.
Coppell will have more such revenue in a year or so. As you may recall from Coppell Chronicle No. 37, developers plan to double the number of hotels in the city from four to eight.
During her presentation, Braxton-Leveen said, “I’ve been on a plane in San Francisco and heard the airline attendant say, ‘Oh, if you have a layover in Dallas, go to Grapevine.’ They don’t say that about Coppell.”
Hinojosa-Smith pushed back on that a bit, pointing out that many area hotels shuttle their guests to and from Hard Eight for barbecue. Braxton-Leveen countered that Hard Eight’s success is due to the restaurant marketing itself, rather than anything Coppell is doing. She shared feedback she received from the hotels on the Chamber’s hospitality council.
“They didn’t know we had a Farmers Market. They knew nothing about the Arts Center. But they knew Hard Eight,” Braxton-Leveen said. “And that was because of Hard Eight’s effort, not because of Coppell. And I think it’s time for Coppell to make that effort.”
The council gave her the go-ahead to develop that effort.
Pylon Signs Proposed Along Highways
Last week’s Chronicle included an article about proposed changes to the city regulations regarding monument signs. As promised, here’s some information about a related proposal concerning pylon signs along highways.
On Dec. 16, the Coppell Planning and Zoning Commission were asked to consider adding the following definition for “sign, pylon” to the signs ordinance: “a freestanding sign supported by two vertical pole supports encased in brick, stone, or materials architecturally compatible with the main building or structure on the property.” Here’s an example of one that’s already been erected near Interstate 635:
City planner Matt Steer proposed allowing a single pylon sign at any of the “master planned retail centers” along State Highway 121 and 635. His proposal said such signs could be no more than 40 feet tall and no more than 10 feet wide.
“By allowing this by right, the ordinance can help promote the development of the remaining large parcel of land at IH635 and Point West and will allow existing retail an avenue to attract highway business by increasing the visibility,” Steer wrote in his memo to the commission.
When presenting his proposal, Steer cited a few shopping centers whose tenants could benefit from increased visibility, including those at the intersection of 121 and Denton Tap Road. The shopping center on the northwest corner of that intersection includes Hat Creek Burger Company and Rosa’s Café & Tortilla Factory. Despite their rather industrial names, those restaurants are practically neighbors with the residents of the Coppell Greens subdivision, and Commissioner Jim Walker expressed concerns about homeowners possibly seeing a 40-foot illuminated sign from their backyards.
“They’re going to be throwing light up at this stuff, and the top part of that sign might be — depending on the location — might be really kind of a nuisance for people that are living right up against it,” Walker said.
Commission Chair Edmund Haas asked whether the ordinance could limit the number of businesses that could be promoted on a single pylon sign. Walker theorized that “some type of proportionality formula” could be created that would limit “the number of tenants in relation to the size of the sign in relation to the size of the font used,” but Walker did not volunteer to do the calculations.
“I was told there would be no math,” he said. (Me too. See the next article.)
The commissioners asked Steer to bring a revised proposal on pylon signs and monument signs to their next meeting in February.
We’re Paying More for Trash Collection
On New Year’s Day, all Coppell residents began paying a bit more for their trash to be collected. Last month, the City Council unanimously approved a 3 percent increase, as called for in the city’s solid-waste contract with Republic Services.
Before I dare to question the math in Assistant Director of Finance Kim Tiehen’s memo and presentation to the council, consider her credentials versus mine.
Tiehen’s credentials: She was a government auditor at two public accounting firms, and also served as the chief accountant at a college, before the city hired her in 2000 as Coppell’s chief accountant. On Tuesday, the city announced she has been promoted to the position of Director of Finance, effective Feb. 5. She will replace Jennifer Miller, who is retiring after 30 years at Town Center.
My credentials: When I arrived at Allegheny College 30 years ago this fall, I joined most of the other freshmen in a large lecture hall for a math placement exam. Before the exam began, the person in charge told us, “Just so you know, unless you plan to major in math or one of the sciences like biology or chemistry, there are no math requirements at Allegheny.” Upon hearing that, I promptly gathered my belongings and left the room.
Tiehen told the council that the monthly rate for residential customers will increase from $17.70 to $18.22, while the senior rate will increase from $15.91 per month to $16.40. But when I multiply $17.70 by 1.03, I get $18.23. And when I multiply $15.91 by 1.03, I get $16.39.
Considering that one of my results is a penny more than Tiehen’s while the other is a penny less, I’m sure the differences are due to rounding, and this will all even out in the wash — or in this case, the trash.
Venkatraman Won't Leave Without Fight
The deadline to apply for service on Coppell’s volunteer boards and commissions was Sept. 13. In advance of that date, I twice encouraged my readers to apply “if you’re eager to see your name in a future edition of this newsletter.”
In last week’s edition, I listed all of the volunteers who took their oaths of office in December, after their appointments were approved by the City Council in November. Several of my readers were shocked to see the name Venky Venkatraman on that list.
Venkatraman runs a private Facebook group called Coppell Global Public Square. It was known as Coppell Opinions when he launched it in 2014. It usually has about 1,000 members, but Venkatraman told me there’s been plenty of churn over the years. I used to be a member, and I rejoined the group yesterday as part of my reporting for this article. As of this morning, at least four City Council members were in it too.
Coppell Global Public Square is a bully pulpit for Venkatraman, as he is responsible for the vast majority of its content. For example, he created 61 of the 70 posts in December, which equates to 87 percent. (Math!) The remaining nine posts were by Officer Paul Gonzales, whose posts were duplicated in other Coppell-centric Facebook groups.
Most people would consider many of Venkatraman’s posts to be racist and/or misogynistic. He routinely makes sweeping statements about “blacks” and “blondes.” He often criticizes female politicians for their looks and calls them “half-wits.”
I debated whether to show you these posts, and I decided against it because they were made in a private Facebook group. They are intended only for people who decide to join the group, and nobody can join the group without Venkatraman’s permission.
However, some of my readers have saved several of Venkatraman’s posts from Coppell Global Public Square and shared them last week in other Coppell-centric groups, on their personal Facebook pages, and in emails to the City Council. These readers believe these posts disqualify Venkatraman for service on the Conduct Review Board, which determines whether Coppell’s Code of Conduct has been violated and assesses penalties for violators.
Serving on that board is not difficult. Venkatraman was first appointed to it in 2005, and he told me that, to his knowledge, it has not met since then. (Other appointees told me it has not met in at least the last four years.) His only duty has been showing up every other December with the other appointees to take the oath of office. In a New Year’s Day blog post about this kerfuffle, Venkatraman recalled telling former Mayor Karen Hunt, “Either Coppell City personnel are so clean that they never do anything wrong — or they are so clever that they never get caught when they do anything wrong!”
The Conduct Review Board may soon have a reason to meet. Since reading his name in last week’s Chronicle, at least two people have filed complaints with the City Secretary’s office, alleging that Venkatraman’s posts in Coppell Global Public Square violate the city’s Code of Conduct.
In yesterday’s blog post, Venkatraman stressed that Coppell Global Public Square is a private group that people join by choice. Complaining about its content, he said, is like coming into his house and complaining about his behavior in his living room; if you don’t like it, then leave.
I can see his point, but I had another analogy in mind. This controversy reminded me of the old joke about the guy who goes to his doctor’s office, puts his arm in an awkward position, waves it in a useless manner, and says, “Doc, my arm hurts when I do this.” The doctor replies, “OK, then don’t do that.”
Regardless of my opinion on Venkatraman’s Facebook content, my reporting on his volunteerism is putting some work in the laps of the City Secretary, the Conduct Review Board, and the City Council. As he wrote on his blog, Venkatraman has no plans to quietly resign.
“As a matter of principle and with the support of friends who want me to take on this CANCEL CULTURE, I am NOT going to step aside even from this inconsequential role as a member of the Conduct Review Board without a fight,” he wrote. “So gird your loins and be prepared for combat, you woke folks.”
[stares into the middle distance for a few minutes … ensures comments are enabled]
• Just a few hours after publishing last week’s edition, I learned — via a Facebook post by former City Council Member Nancy Yingling — that my neighbor Earl “Pops” Rogers died on Dec. 19. Rogers was a longtime member of the Coppell Parks and Recreation Board and the Citizen’s Police Academy of Coppell Alumni Association. I met him when we served on a Coppell ISD facilities committee together. He also volunteered in the community gardens and was known to repair any of Coppell’s Little Free Libraries as needed. Godspeed, sir.
• Airlines have cancelled thousands of flights recently because pilots and flight attendants are calling in sick. College football teams have pulled out of bowl games because they didn’t have enough healthy players to take the field. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s concert at the Coppell Arts Center, which was scheduled for this afternoon, has been indefinitely postponed “given the quick spread of the omicron variant.” Despite all that, Coppell ISD students are supposed to report to school on Wednesday, and Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD students are expected to do the same on Thursday. We’ll see.
• I was absolutely gobsmacked by the fact that the art on the cover of Coppell ISD’s holiday card was created by a third-grader.
Given the omicron variant, everything on this calendar is subject to change.
Meet Your Neighbor — Military Service: The Cozby Library’s “Meet Your Neighbor” series is scheduled to resume at 2 p.m. on Jan. 8 with a panel of veterans. According to the promotional blurb, “In order to build deeper understanding and empathy, audience members can ask questions of the panelists in a safe and comfortable environment.”
Texas A&M Singing Cadets: A bunch of Aggies will belt out some tunes at 7 p.m. on Jan. 8 at the Coppell Arts Center. I assume Longhorns and Red Raiders are welcome to attend, though I can’t imagine they’ll be interested.
State of the City Luncheon: Speaking of Aggies, Coppell Mayor Wes Mays will deliver his first “State of the City” address at 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 13 at the Coppell Arts Center. I don’t expect him to sing, but he may surprise me.
Harlem Wizards vs. CFBISD: I’m obviously familiar with the Harlem Globetrotters, but this other Harlem-based basketball team? Not so much. Nonetheless, the Wizards are supposed to face a team of Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD employees and volunteers on Feb. 19 at R.L. Turner High School.