Coppell Chronicle Vol. 1, No. 46
Irving Debates Alcohol Restrictions • Do You Want to Run for School Board? • Plenty of Detour Warnings Issued • Conduct Review Board’s History Reviewed
Irving Debates Alcohol Restrictions
Because so much of Coppell ISD is in Irving, I try to pay attention to what’s happening at Irving City Hall. One of the biggest issues down there lately is a proposal to ease some of the city’s regulations on alcohol sales.
Even if Irving’s regulations are none of your concern, you may be interested in a fact that was news to me: Mel LeMane, the owner and namesake of Po’ Melvin’s, is a cousin of the Cole brothers, the founders of i Fratelli Pizza. I had no idea that so many of my dining dollars have been forked over to one extended family.
LeMane and David Cole both spoke to the Irving Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday, when the commissioners were asked to consider an extensive set of amendments to the city’s Unified Development Code related to alcohol sales.
Cole, who chairs the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Board of Directors, says the existing ordinance presents too many hurdles for new restaurants as well as existing restaurants that want to add alcohol to their menus. In September, the bureau’s board approved a resolution calling for changes to the ordinance.
Cole is also part of a group of investors who recently bought Big State Fountain Grill. He has no plans to sell alcohol there, but he said the Irving Heritage District needs more restaurants, and the proposal could make that happen.
“It’s very hard to stay alive in business in downtown Irving because of the lack of people in that area,” Cole said. “We will not see the benefits of the change of this ordinance for many years, but I believe it’s something that we need in our city.”
LeMane said the proposed changes would make it possible for Irving to host more festivals and similar events that typically feature alcohol.
“Instead of everybody talking about Southlake and Grapevine, let’s talk about Irving, Texas,” said LeMane, who — like his cousin David — is a lifelong Irving resident. “Let’s stop worrying about going to these other cities for fun events. Let’s have them here.”
LeMane and Cole were two of a handful of people who wisely signed up to speak during the “Citizen Comments” portion of the agenda, which takes place before any debates by the commission. Also speaking during that portion was former Mayor Herb Gears, who said he has been discussing the alcohol proposal with a variety of stakeholders. The proposal does have its merits in terms of reducing bureaucracy, he said, but a major concern is that it would allow standalone bars in Irving, a city that has never had any.
Mark Dyer, who was a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission from 2002 to 2009, shared Gears’ concerns. He said the proposal as drafted would allow bars to open near homes and churches.
“My suggestion is that we wait, and we get more stakeholders than just the convention bureau and the restaurants to sit down at the table and solve these problems,” Dyer told the commissioners. “Repealing the current ordinance will prevent us from ever turning back.”
The commission had little time to discuss the alcohol proposal during Monday’s work session, as the public hearing on the proposal was one of 10 public hearings on their agenda that evening. Although the 19-page proposal was presented during their Dec. 13 work session, Commissioner Jack Spurlock said there wasn’t enough time to digest it.
“When I was reading those 19 pages, I started thinking about the politicians in Washington, who have said on numerous occasions, ‘Let’s OK this thing, and we’ll see what’s in it later.’ That’s what we can do with 19 pages if we’re not careful,” Spurlock said. “I don’t know how many of you on the board read the 19 pages and came out understanding all of it. I can tell you now, I didn’t.”
Commissioner Michael McPhail echoed Spurlock’s concerns: “We better know exactly every single detail of what’s coming up next, because there is no redo, and we are the ones who will be remembered for unleashing a slew of dive bars across this town, especially in far south Irving.”
More than a dozen people signed up to speak during Monday’s public hearing on the alcohol proposal, but five of them declined to approach the microphone, presumably because they took this evergreen advice from Commission Chair Mark Cronenwett to heart: “If you’re going to be repeating what other people have said, please understand that there’s no need to repeat, because we’ve heard what was said.” What was said by most of them was that the proposal would make Irving less family-friendly.
Spurlock made a motion to deny the proposal, and McPhail seconded it. Only one other commissioner, Terry Prichard, voted with them, so Spurlock’s motion failed on a 4-3 vote.
Commissioner Jamie Patel then made a motion to postpone the matter until the commission’s Feb. 7 meeting. Misaki Collins seconded that motion, and it passed 6-1, with Prichard as the outlier.
The commission has another work session scheduled for Jan. 18. They made it pretty clear to the city staff that the agenda for that session should feature nothing but the alcohol proposal.
Plenty of Detour Warnings Issued
So there I was, minding my own business and backing out of my driveway. I shifted the car from reverse to drive and started heading toward the T-bone intersection at the end of my block. Then I saw a sign that hadn’t been there the day before:
Detour? As opposed to what? Plowing right into my neighbor’s yard?
Then I remembered that the city left a voicemail on my home landline, advising me that Plantation Drive, which is a few blocks north of my house, would be reduced to one lane as part of a reconstruction project that began last summer. I also noticed that the city informed its Facebook followers that Plantation would be open to only eastbound traffic for an undetermined amount of time. “New traffic controls will be in place and clearly marked,” the Facebook post said.
Yes, those detour signs that have been placed throughout my subdivision are certainly hard to miss. Anybody who doesn’t normally use the west end of Plantation should be able to find their way there with ease. I’d like to welcome my northern neighbors to our ’hood, but please — as the saying goes — drive like your children live here.
Meanwhile, if you’re not following the City of Coppell on social media, wise up and get with it. Thanks to a more recent post on the city’s Facebook page, I learned that Sandy Lake Road will be a construction zone for the next two weeks.
Do You Want to Run for School Board?
If you want to become a trustee of Coppell ISD or Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD, now’s the time to get organized. The candidate filing period for the May 7 elections opens Jan. 19 and ends Feb. 18.
Coppell ISD: Three seats will be on the ballot, and the occupants of those three seats were all unopposed in 2019. Leigh Walker is finishing up her second term in Place 1. Manish Sethi — who was elected in 2018 to complete Jill Popelka’s unexpired term — is wrapping up his first full term in Place 2. And Anthony Hill has been in the Place 3 seat since 2007.
Sometimes I stop and think about all the varied experiences across my younger son’s lifetime — from the innocence of learning to walk to the wildness of learning to swear — and then I realize that Hill was on the school board more than a year before my son was born.
Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD: The district, which includes portions of Coppell and Irving, uses a unique method of conducting elections called cumulative voting. Candidates simply have to declare themselves candidates, as opposed to declaring themselves candidates for a particular seat. Voters get as many votes as there are seats on the ballot, and they can give all of their votes to a single candidate.
As if that isn’t confusing enough, I saw some conflicting information on the district’s website this morning. According to the general page about the Board of Trustees, the terms of Tara Hrbacek, Guillermo William Ramos, and Randy Schackmann all end in May. But the page about the election says each voter will get two votes; I would think it would be three votes.
I also assumed that each voter would get an extra fourth vote to determine whether Carolyn Benavides, who was appointed to the board in November, would get to keep the seat vacated by Juan Renteria, whose term was set to expire in 2023. But the page about the board says Benavides will be in office until 2024. Huh?
Irving: In May, residents of Coppell ISD and CFBISD who live in Irving will get to help decide who occupies the at-large Place 2 seat on the City Council; at the moment, that’s Allan Meagher, who earned 55% of the votes in 2019 despite having four opponents. As I mentioned in Coppell Chronicle No. 43, Meagher is running for the Texas House.
Lewisville: There are a few hundred Coppell ISD voters who reside in Lewisville. Seats 4 and 5 on the City Council — which are held by Brandon Jones and Kristen Green, respectively — will be on the ballot in May. Jones was unopposed in 2016 and 2019, while Green joined the council in 2019 after defeating one opponent.
Because Lewisville annexed Castle Hills last fall, a new Place 6 seat will also be on the ballot.
Lewisville ISD: About 700 Coppell voters live in Lewisville ISD. The terms of Angie Cox (Place 3), Katherine Sells (Place 4), and Jenny Proznik (Place 5) will be on the ballot in May 2022. Cox and Proznik were both unopposed in 2019, while Sells defeated one opponent.
Conduct Review Board’s History Reviewed
There’s no doubt which article in last week’s Chronicle inspired the most controversy. Yeah, city planner Matt Steer can be a real firebrand.
Aw, who am I trying to kid? You know I’m really referencing Venky Venkatraman and his long tenure on Coppell’s Conduct Review Board.
When I saw Venkatraman’s name on the list of board members approved by the City Council last November, I incorrectly assumed he was a new appointee. So I watched the videos of the council’s fall 2021 work sessions, hoping to hear some debate about his merits for service.
To my surprise, there was none. The only debate I heard was about which of two appointees to the Library Board should be a regular member and which should be an alternate member. That debate happened during the council’s Nov. 9 work session, when Mayor Pro Tem Brianna Hinojosa-Smith advocated for Carly Brenner while Council Member Biju Mathew made the case for Haridas Radhakrishnan.
Hinojosa-Smith and Mathew were apparently the only council members who interviewed these two applicants. Hinojosa-Smith felt so strongly that Brenner was the better candidate that she phoned into the work session from Israel, where she had traveled for business. At about 2:20 a.m. Israel Standard Time, after 45 minutes of discussion, she told the rest of the council that she found Radhakrishnan to be “very aggressive” and that he spoke over the interviewers, who included library staffers. “My concern is that he will take over meetings,” she said. When Council Member Mark Hill asked Mathew if that was an accurate portrayal of Radhakrishnan’s interview, he replied, “Totally disagree.”
Hinojosa-Smith eventually conceded the issue after City Attorney Bob Hager said she would not be able to vote on it, or anything else the council was deciding that evening, because the agenda for the Nov. 9 meeting did not advise the public that anyone would be participating remotely. (City Secretary Ashley Owens has since said that all future agendas will mention that possibility.) Later that evening, the rest of the council unanimously voted for the entire slate of 50 appointees to eight boards and commissions.
Videos of work sessions from prior years aren’t available on the city’s website, so I can’t tell you whether Venkatraman’s suitability for the Conduct Review Board was debated by previous councils. However, I can report that the council unanimously voted to appoint Venkatraman in December 2017. Three years after he launched his controversial Facebook group, Coppell Global Public Square, the council held a vote on solely his appointment because “we had an oversight last month when we voted on our boards and commissions,” then-Mayor Karen Hunt said.
The motion to approve Venkatraman’s appointment in 2017 was made by Gary Roden and seconded by Marvin Franklin, neither of whom is still on the council. Also voting in favor of his appointment were Hill, Cliff Long, and Wes Mays — who are all still in office — and Nancy Yingling. The only council member who didn’t vote to approve his appointment that day was Hinojosa-Smith, because she was absent.
I went back through the Coppell Global Public Square archives to see what kind of content Venkatraman was posting in late 2017. Many of the people outraged by his status as a Conduct Review Board member lean to the left politically, so they may be surprised that he was often critical of then-President Donald Trump. However, Venkatraman also seemed suspicious of the women accusing Trump and other prominent men of sexual misconduct at the dawn of the #MeToo movement.
In his New Year’s Day blog post that I referenced in last week’s article, Venkatraman said he has been on the Conduct Review Board since 2005, except for an unspecified two-year gap that was a result of him forgetting to submit his application. By combing through the minutes of old City Council meetings, I was able to compile the six most recent rosters for the Conduct Review Board. Venkatraman was not among the board members appointed by the City Council in November 2011, but he was appointed in 2013 and in every odd-numbered year since.
Some of my readers have speculated that Venkatraman keeps getting appointed because there are not enough applicants for the Conduct Review Board. But if you click the link in the previous paragraph, you’ll see that there is no standard size to that board. Venkatraman was one of 11 members appointed last month. But two years prior, he was one of eight. And in December 2017, he was one of five.
When I asked Deputy City Secretary Sara Egan about the board’s fluctuating size, she directed me to the relevant passage in the Code of Ordinances: “The conduct review board shall be comprised of the mayor, the mayor pro tem, and three registered voters chosen from a list of citizens who have submitted their names to the city secretary to serve on the conduct review board.”
If the Conduct Review Board does get together to discuss Venkatraman’s conduct, as some people have demanded, I highly doubt he’ll be one of the three members chosen.
Congratulatory Chronicle Crumbs
• Congratulations to Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who won the pairs competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday and were named to the U.S. Olympic team today. The duo is coached by Cain-Gribble’s parents, Coppell residents Peter and Darlene Cain.
• Congratulations to Coppell High School Principal Laura Springer, who will receive the Cliff Long Leadership Award at the Coppell Chamber of Commerce’s annual Members’ Choice Awards & Community Gala on Jan. 29. Springer, who was named CHS principal in 2019, has worked in Coppell ISD as a coach, teacher, and administrator for more than 35 years.
• Congratulations to Rohit Raja, the first Lee Elementary student to win the Coppell ISD Spelling Bee, and runner-up Arjun Dwarakanath, who goes to Denton Creek Elementary. This is the second straight year, and only the second time ever, that CISD’s top two spellers were from elementaries. They both advance to the Dallas County Spelling Bee in February.
Coppell ISD Emergency Alert Test: The school district will test its emergency alert system at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Go ahead and set an alarm in your phone for 4 o’clock that day so you’re not genuinely alarmed 30 minutes later.
State of the City Luncheon (Coppell edition): Mayor Wes Mays will deliver his first “State of the City” address at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday at the Coppell Arts Center.
State of the City Luncheon (Irving edition): Irving Mayor Rick Stopfer will discuss the state of his city at 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 25 at the Irving Convention Center.
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical: Coppell High School’s Cowboy Theatre Company will transport you to Bikini Bottom if you buy your tickets and declare, “I’m ready!” Performances are scheduled for Jan. 29 and 30, and Feb. 4-6.
A Very, very informative article!!! Thank you! And CONGRATULATIONS to Laura Springer, a true educator and role model who always inspires and lifts up her students! We love you Coach Springer!
I use that term, Coach, not only because that’s who she was to my own children, but Laura is truly a life coach! Our whole family holds her in high regard!
Another person who has been a great behind the scenes advocate for students and teachers is Anthony Hill! Thank you for all you do, Mr Hill, for our community!