Addressing Real Issues with Real Facts

credibility concerns addison texas city council

Councilman’s Inconsistencies Raise Credibility Concerns

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Although discussion about the $22M shortfall for the Midway Road project estimate was not on the agenda for the August 23 council meeting, a front-page article in The Dallas Morning News Metro & State section on Wednesday (8/24) has called into question the credibility of councilman Paul Walden’s recollections.

Walden is quoted extensively in the article telling the newspaper that the $16M estimate was based on another project—underground utilities at Spring Valley Road—that the town had just completed. “We took that number and extrapolated out what we thought might be a reasonable number for the span of Midway Road,” he is quoted as saying. “Our hearts were in the right place, and we thought we had a good model to go on, and we didn’t. The environment changed and the cost of materials changed.”

Walden, who was vice chair of the 2012 bond committee, added additional explanations, which you can read in the full article: http://www.dallasnews.com/news/local-news/20160823-addison-comes-up-22-million-short-on-project-to-overhaul-midway-road.ece

The issue, however, is, when Walden was asked about his recollections at a council meeting he conveyed a similar story but said that this scenario was “applied to Belt Line,” not Midway although he did mention a cost of $16M. So it appears that he mixed apples and oranges, as they say.   And when he was asked, “Did they share that analysis with you at that time,” Walden replied, “I think it was subsequent. But I’ve slept since then. So I can’t call it 100 percent accurate.” Click this link to see this segment:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/uzzv0plkgfsu4fl/Video%20May%2025%2C%203%2020%2055%20AM.mov?dl=0

What’s interesting about Walden’s recollection is that in an article in The Dallas Morning News dated August 29, 2014, entitled Addison Utility Project Ready to Take Off as Part of Revitalization Effort, Lea Dunn was quoted saying the following:

“This [the Belt Line project] has been a longtime dream project for the town. Like lighting and landscaping enhancements already completed on the road burying phone and electric lines on Belt Line Road will enhance the aesthetics and highlight the retail on the road.

“Frankly, it’s visual pollution. There are a lot of wires and things like that. When you look at Spring Valley [Road], the difference is striking.” The undergrounding of utilities on a short segment of Spring Valley Road was competed about three years ago the reporter concluded.

So—a short segment of Spring Valley Road was used to estimate a project fee for a little over two miles of Midway Road as Walden explained to The Dallas Morning News?

At the recent Council Work Session on August 15 Walden didn’t have the same response as he did earlier. You can see for yourself the entire discussion at that meeting by looking at the video: http://addisontx.swagit.com/play/08152016-981

Since the DMN article Facts Matter has received several inquiries as to the accuracy of Walden’s explanation for the DMN and it not being the same for the council. Just what is the truth—did he know how that decision was made or didn’t he?

Facts Matter contacted Ivan Hughes who also served on a bond committee. Hughes said he was not on the same committee as Walden but was on a committee tasked with helping to communicate the information to the voters. Hughes said none of the information Walden stated in the newspaper article was ever conveyed to him. Hughes further stated that it should never have been the mayor or the council’s responsibility to zero in and revise the estimate. “The fact is Todd and all the council can accept the number given as best estimate;” that’s what the staff’s job is. He also repeated that he supports the invitation for former City Manager, Ron Whitehead to meet with the Council to help find out what really happened.

This isn’t the only discrepancy surrounding this whole issue. Last week at the Mayor’s After Hours Sabina Bradbury, a neighbor of Ron Whitehead, said Mr. Whitehead had told her that Halff Associates was involved in arriving at the $16M estimate but there are no records to indicate their involvement or council’s approval to hire them as consultants for that project.

Some people agree with councilman Bruce Arfsten that it isn’t necessary to have Mr. Whitehead come to the council to help clear up the questions. At the August 15 Work Session Arfsten said, “It’s [past information on how the estimate was made] not important. We need to proceed and move forward.” Many others disagree, expressing concerns about what has now become a series of very questionable explanations without any documentation to validate any of them. Without some sense of what actually went into the decision-making process it is impossible to ensure that similar mistakes are not made going forward.

It is yet to be seen if Ron Whitehead, who still resides in Addison, will accept the invitation to share with the council the process he used to arrive at the $16 million estimate.

A Flip Flop?

In addition to questions about Walden’s fuzzy memory about how the $16M was derived, several individuals told Facts Matter that they were mystified by the position Walden and Duffy took during the discussion of Addison’s Housing Policy. Item #3 of the current Housing Policy (passed and approved by the City Council on March 24, 2015) states:

“New housing should create or enhance neighborhoods of urban character rather than locate on a stand-alone, nonintegrated property and should continue the high quality design and walkability that makes Addison’s existing neighborhood distinctive.”

Walden and Duffy expressed wanting changes and to remove “stand-alone.” This was particularly stunning to those who recalled that not only did Walden and Duffy oppose the Addison Grove Project because it included an apartments, but that Walden personally went door-to-door to get signatures opposing the project because of the apartments. Their changes seemed to support not only the building of more apartments but stand-alone apartments because the restriction would be removed.

The Mayor then made a motion to have the City Manager and staff review the video of the current meeting and assimilate all of the comments made in the discussion about the Housing Policy. See if there are options for the council to consider, and, along with staff recommended options, bring them back to the council. To also develop a process that would include the community being able to evaluate those options. Arfsten seconded the motion and all voted in favor.

You can hear the entire discussion using the link provided above.

Where’s the cutting of costs?

Another Budget Work Session was held Wednesday, August 24, from 4-8 p.m. While few residents attended the session it was quite evident that despite the three new council members who ran on fiscal conservatism and a promise to cut unnecessary spending, you wouldn’t know it by the lack of questions from these three or Walden’s insistence that COLA needed to be added to the existing retirement pay for the current 187 retirees. The council was advised that should the COLA (which has a multi-year obligation) be approved, given that there are 95 more employees who are vested and could be retiring within the obligated time period, this would add $55,000.00 to this year’s budget and $532,000.00 to the budget over the ten-year life of the obligation.

The Mayor expressed that his concern with adding the COLA is that the council has no plan in place to pay for the long-term costs, thus it would create an unfunded liability that is unsustainable and not financially conservative.

No final decision has been made.

Inconsistency or Misunderstanding?

Next there was extensive discussion about the Infrastructure Fund (the IF Fund). The Mayor tried to explain that the whole purpose of the IF Fund was that by accumulating considerable money in this fund it prevents taking on bonded indebtedness when money is needed for major projects that would otherwise require taking on bond debt. The infrastructure reimbursement for the Addison Grove project is a perfect example. Because money was allocated from the IF Fund the town will not have to incur debt like it did with the Vitruvian project.

The concern expressed was that without regularly contributing to the IF Fund it could easily become depleted it and that the recommended items currently to be covered by that fund appear to be depleting it.

Walden said, “I’m willing to deplete the IF Fund to cover the recommended items.” That did not settle well with the Mayor. After much additional discussion it was decided that the City Manager will come back to the council at the next Budget Review Workshop (Tuesday, August 30) with items that they want changed in the budget and then council will re-address the IF Fund.

Is This Council Thinking About Future Indebtedness?

The bottom line is that throughout all of the work sessions to discuss the proposed budget there was little if any discussion of budget cuts yet considerable discussion related to added costs. Add to this the fact that there is currently no money budgeted for the next phase of Belt Line [estimated to be $20M], the $22 M shortfall for Midway Road or the proposed $5M renovation of the Addison Athletic Club, taxpayers might want to take a serious look at the videos from these budget work sessions or attend the next budget work session scheduled for next Tuesday, August 30, beginning at 5 p.m. and if need be, to be continued after the public hearing on the tax rate.

Critical decisions are about to be made that will impact not just this coming fiscal year but decisions that impact the financial sustainability of the future and there’s little time before a final decision will be made. Here’s the timeline:

Tuesday, August 30: 7:30 p.m.—Tax rate public hearing and 5 p.m. Budget Work Session 

Tuesday, September 6: 7:30 p.m.—The second tax rate public hearing as well as the budget public hearing.

Tuesday, September 13: Council votes to adopt the proposed budget

Other Upcoming Activities

Tonight; August 24, 6:30 p.m.  Dart Community Meeting, Addison Conference Center

Saturday, August 27, 9-11 a.m.  Coffee with a Cop, Dunn Bros Coffee

Photo via wonderferret – Flickr

The Facts Matter Website is made possible through the generous donations from Angels of Addison.

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