Disrespect, Defiance, Disregard, Disdain, Denigration and Detachment
Episode two of The Case of the Mystery Box follows with actual highlights from the November 8 Council meeting—perhaps one of the most revealing, unsettling demonstrations of how divided the City Council is and the potential impact on Addison as a result.
Facts Matter can capture some of the factual elements of the disturbing dialogue from this meeting but nothing can replace the impact of you taking time to watch at least the first three items on the regular agenda. FM urges you to watch for yourself and ask yourself some questions, a few of which may be:
- Are the actions of new council members fulfilling their campaign promises of no more apartments and fiscal responsibility?
- Do Mr. Duffy’s recent actions represent YOU, the Addison taxpayer, or is he more of an accomplice for one individual resident, taxpayer and former employee?
- Has Mr. Angell, who professed at an earlier Council meeting, “I ask a lot of questions,” actually asked any questions during this contentious meeting?
- Does Paul Walden’s defiant “It’s my right. It’s my appointment.” statement about his P&Z nomination, reflect a self-serving attitude or a commitment to do what’s best for Addison’s economic future?
- Do Mr. Whitehead’s vindictive and derogatory personal comments and inconsistent explanations reflect an attitude of resentment, anger and deflection or an attitude of willingness to provide meaningful, helpful insights to help future councils avoid costly mistakes?
- And has Mr. Whitehead abandoned his professed love for Addison by joining the opposition in his town’s legal action to recoup taxpayer money from a flawed wind turbine project from a firm that he hired.
Warning: This FM is longer than usual due to its unusually significant coverage.
Unsolved Mysteries: The Case of the Mystery Box
The Addison City Council agenda for its election night Council meeting listed the first regular item as “Discussion of Ron Whitehead’s Appearance Before the Council and Matters related to Operations During Mr. Whitehead’s Tenure as City Manager.” However, an added caption advised: “Mr. Whitehead initially accepted the Council’s invitation to discuss various items related to his tenure in person. He subsequently decided that he will not attend but will request that a written statement be read into the record.” It was also revealed that Whitehead only relayed this information when City Manager Wes Pierson made an inquiry regarding Whitehead’s appearance. And, according to Duffy, Whitehead had only just prior to the meeting provided his statement to be read, therefore failing to provide the courtesy to the Council of having the ability to read it prior to hearing it. Instead, Duffy insisted on reading it and then handing out copies to council members.
After Duffy asked to read Whitehead’s lengthy statement, Councilman Dale Wilcox expressed that he felt it was inappropriate for him to read it since the agenda item expressed “discussion” of Mr. Whitehead’s appearance before the Council and did not mention the reading of any statement. Duffy argued vehemently, as did others as a contentious, sometimes heated, debate bantered back and forth. It ended with Duffy reading the four-page statement, which was heavily front-loaded with Whitehead’s personal expression for disdain and blame for Mayor Todd Meier. Finally, at the end of this long, obviously resentful diatribe, Whitehead briefly addressed his version of the safe deposit box issue, yet without explanation of why one of several Town-owned safes were not used instead. Whitehead’s explanation of the mystery safe deposit box actually only posed new questions questions. Whitehead said, “We tried a number of keys the finance department had provided, but none of them would open the box.” So are there more mystery safe deposit boxes? Where are they and why were they opened? Why would there be keys if there were no safe boxes? Did Whitehead go to these also?
When discussion regarding Whitehead’s “statement” was brought up, most of the council sat silently, totally disengaged from the entire situation, seeming to prefer that it all just go away. Stunned residents in attendance whispered and texted among themselves, expressing total dismay that any council members would be so disinterested in a variety of issues that impacted the use of taxpayer funds that they would sit silently, seeming more interested in ignoring things than getting to the bottom of true transparency and truth. But Meier, who had been personally maligned by the statement, had plenty to say which rebuked much of Whitehead’s explanations and accusation. And he substantiated his comments and questions with actual facts that showed numerous discrepancies. Yet afterwards, nary a councilman—with the exception of Dale Wilcox—seemed to care. Thus, many unanswered questions remain and the issue of the mystery safety box—or now, perhaps “boxes”—shall most likely remain an unsolved mystery.
One thing doesn’t remain a mystery though. Whitehead’s decision not to show up as originally requested certainly reinforces in many people’s minds the commonly held belief that when someone is unwilling to have an open and honest conversation they generally have something to hide.
Disdain, Distraction and Denigration: Ron Whitehead’s four-page statement began with considerable personal disdain for Mayor Todd Meier, writing that “After reading last week’s Mayor’s Newsletter and other commentaries it is obvious that the mayor isn’t interested in the truth. He just wants to create an adversarial atmosphere where he can continue his political grandstanding and try to cause me and others harm.” This appeared to be his excuse for not participating in person. Whitehead additionally blamed the mayor for numerous employee departures and criticized him for “trying to discredit me, Lea and the organization in general” by proposing a transitional audit. Ignoring the actual discrepancies identified by Kanter, Whitehead wrote “….frankly his findings were just his opinion and he has no significant municipal experience.”
This was a typical effort to shift the attention to the Mayor and distract from the real issue. But Meier was able to rebuke much of this distraction with actual facts that dispute much of Whitehead’s accusations.
Defiance and Distraction: Regarding the safe deposit box issue, in bold type Whitehead defiantly wrote, “The idea that finding an unused safe deposit box would be a mystery or agenda item is ludicrous. This was a housekeeping item that should have been addressed with a couple of phone calls by the city staff.” Really?
Whitehead’s vague explanation for the safe deposit box was explained like this: “Addison served as the treasurer for the MetroPlex Mayors Association which is a group of area mayors that meet once a month at the Marriott Quorum in Addison. Each city pays dues to cover their mayor’s breakfast and nametags. That is pretty much the extent of the types of expenditures from this checking account. The two signatories on the checking account were me, as the City Manager of Addison and Michele Covino, my Assistant. Michele retired and I was about to retire, so Charles Goff, Assistant to the City Manager and Lea Dunn, who was about to become City Manager and I went to the Bank of America at Preston and Belt Line to change the signatories to Charles and Lea.
“The Banker at the Preston Branch said, “Do you know that you still have a safe deposit box at the Belt Line and the Tollway location of Bank of America? They said it had not been opened since Randy Moravec opened it in 2004 and we had not been paying for it.” Whitehead seems to ignore that he was an original signatory on this safe deposit box account yet says he had no reason to know we still had the box. He also fails to explain why if he found out this information he never bothered to inform anyone about the box, thus until the current City Manager was informed, this entire scenario was unknown.
He explains the following for why the box was opened: “Randy Moravec has said thinking back he recalls that before we had a full time Information Technology Department we used to store the data backups for the town’s financial system at the bank. That would explain why Sandra Goforth, the Chief Accountant was the person who accessed the safe deposit box most frequently and why I would have no reason to access it over all those years.” If this is the case, it begs its’ own questions. Why weren’t those backups stored in one of the many safes owned by the Town? And why only six visits to the box by Goforth in the two-year period between 1994 and 1996 when the bank card says she accessed the box? Did they only backup tapes that infrequently? And why no town record of any of this like most companies routinely maintain as standard good business practices?
Whitehead further wrote that when he and Charles Goff went to the bank “…we tried a number of keys the Finance Department had provided, but none of them would open the box.” So why a “number of keys?” Are there more safe boxes? Where are they and why were they opened? It’s pretty unusual to have keys to safe deposit boxes when banks don’t routinely issue these keys to just anyone who hasn’t officially opened an account.
Disregard and Detachment. Whitehead also gave his explanation for the inadequate Midway Road estimate, laying the blame on Guymon H. Phillips, P.E. “The estimate for construction came from Guymon Phillips a registered professional engineer in Texas. Guymon was working with the bond committee back in 2011 to try to develop the scope for a project on Midway Road and some estimated costs. There were a lot of unknown variables for the project at the time. Obviously the project had not been designed. Cities generally don’t design projects before they get authorization to fund the project from the public. The vast majority of the time this works, but occasionally it doesn’t because of the issues I mentioned earlier.”
This was later addressed by Mayor Meier. First Meier revealed Guymon Phillips was a name he had never previously heard and when he asked councilman Ivan Hughes—who served on P&Z at the time—if he had heard this name, Hughes couldn’t say he had heard the name. Paul Walden, who served as vice chairman on the bond committee at that time, sat detached and silent, never confirming or denying that he was aware of that name either. A later check of the town’s Financial Transparency Portal by FM showed no payments during that period of time to either Guymon nor any firm with which his name is connected. Thus another questions lurks. If he was indeed involved, how was he paid? Also, Meier’s reporting of factual comments regarding the actual elements of the estimate conflicted considerably with Whitehead’s recollection. Here, in part, is what Meier presented:
“On the Midway Road project we know that the estimate Ron Whitehead provided to council and our community was for $16 million for the entire project from Spring Valley to Keller Springs. We know the scope of work included: paving, drainage, lighting improvements, landscape improvements. We know that because that is what Mr. Whitehead told us and because that is exactly what is reflected in the materials Mr. Whitehead and his staff at the time produced for us!”
Meier then reminded everyone that the question had previously been asked about what process did Whitehead use to develop those estimates. “We know,” Meier said, “that what his neighbor Sabina Bradbury told the group of about 50 folks at Lion and Crown on August 18, 2016 was untrue. She told the group that Ron told her that Halff and Associates prepared the estimate. Our current staff determined that is simply not true. Why Mr. Whitehead told Sabina that untruth, I suppose we will never know. So what was the process Ron Whitehead used to develop those estimates? Here’s what we do know.
“On February 27,2012 at a council work session Mr. Whitehead got very upset with a couple of council members who were pressing him about his estimates for the bond work. Mr. Whitehead said he was not going to spend millions of dollars on estimates when road construction was a core competency of government. He ended the conversation and debate with ‘Building a street is a core competency, you need to trust us, do you not trust us?’ Since then he has refused every opportunity to come help our staff or come forward with his notes or in person explanation, including tonight.”
Despite all this information, only Wilcox seemed to have any comment or interest in getting to the truth. The remaining council members either sat mute, appearing totally detached or like Duffy, did their best to defend Whitehead rather than seek answers for the residents they supposedly represent.
Defiance. Clearly Mr. Whitehead expressed defiance against all the Kanter work, shedding disparagement on the mayor instead. Meier also addressed this.
“Mr. Whitehead has been very critical of Larry Kanter and his work. Given what Mr. Kanter’s work revealed it is understandable why Mr. Whitehead would be so defensive,” Meier said. “It is the classic case of shooting the messenger. All Mr. Kanter did was shine a light on the shortcomings that existed when Mr. Whitehead was City Manager as to the very poor internal financial controls that existed during Whitehead’s tenure.” Meier then pointed out what FM pointed out in an earlier issue, that Whitehead and his staff has failed to address lack of financial control issues first brought to light in the 1980’s with an “Alleged Misconduct by Addison City Officials” investigation related to abuse of credit cards and poor internal controls among other issues.
“It was Mr. Whitehead and his staff who failed to address the items brought forward in the annual Weaver Audits concerning the poor internal financial controls and the improper us of P-cards and purchase orders,” Meier added. “Then not too surprisingly the third independent source, Larry Kanter tells us in much more specifics that he too found a lack of internal financial controls. See a pattern? Lack of internal financial controls? “
Meier then cites factual, very specific findings from the Kanter report and notes that since Whitehead’s departure “three separate City Managers have acknowledged the deficiencies and lack of internal financial controls and pledged to correct them.
“You may not like Mr. Kanter’s personality, however there has never been any dispute about the failures he has cites in our basic internal financial controls…no dispute whatsoever!” Meier then credits current City Manager Wes Pierson saying, “He has led the process of ticking down the list and has imlemented virtually every one of Mr. Kanter’s recommendations.”
Again, to this issue most of the council sat silent—no questions, comments or expressions of concern for what this all has meant to taxpayer funds.
Disregard. Returning to the safe deposit box issue, Meier seemed to be the only one on the council to be curious about these lurking questions:
“What did Ron Whitehead do with the ‘bunch of keys’? Why even have one [safe deposit box] when we have safes all over Town in secure locations in Town facilities? Why did Mr. Whitehead not tell anyone about the safe deposit box that he tried to enter on February 25, three days before he retired? Ron Whitehead had a safe deposit box key that he thought opened the safe deposit box at the Bank of America branch in Dallas. According to Mr. Whitehead, he was not able to open that safe deposit box with that safe deposit box key he had in his hand on February 25, 2014. So what safe deposit box did that key fit? What did he find in that other safe deposit box?”
Many questions remain unanswered and few council people seem to give a damn. Instead, Meier is criticized for expecting transparency and accountability—something that doesn’t appear to be something some on this council consider their responsibility.
Disrespect and Defiance. Further disrespect, defiance and disdain were displayed during a discussion of P&Z appointments. The current P&Z Chair and two other members were for all intents and purposes fired with not even so much as the courtesy of any of the appointing council members speaking to them. Meier calls this disrespectful. Walden disagrees and considers it “his right.” Hughes doesn’t want to talk about individual appointees or potential candidates in public and prefers to shield any concerns from the public about the individuals that will be served by them. It’s a telling, hotly debated topic that really needs to be viewed to see where your council members stand on selecting people that will determine whether Addison residents will be faced with more apartments in the future. Duffy, whose career was based on building apartments, didn’t even think the Town had a current housing policy and had to be corrected. Walden felt the need to defend his appointments in that they had nothing to do with campaign donations. Angell had nothing to say all night and Arfsten was in quite a fighting and accusatory mood. Once again…this is one you really need to watch for yourself to get the full impact. You may find it very telling.
A Couple of Final Real Eye-Openers. Whitehead, who willingly blames the mayor for employee departures, apparently created a few of his own departures that he tried to keep secret. “Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act and the tenacity of one of our longtime Addison residents, the council received and has reviewed documents that reveal some very surprising information,” Meier revealed.
“Between May 2011 when I was elected to be mayor and his [Whitehead’s] retirement in February 2014, Ron Whitehead fired between 8 and 10 employees. Each one of those fired employees received significant cash settlements, the total payout for just that limited time period exceeded $130,000 with a possible additional amount of $94,000 for just one employee.
“In exchange for the payment, each fired employee was required to sign a “no disparagement” agreement, or, as council member Walden might call it, a ‘Hush money agreement.’ Until the council received copies of the documents given to the citizen as per FOIA request, the council was totally unaware of this process or the expenditures of taxpayer money.
“So, why did then City Manager Ron Whitehead require ‘no disparagement’ agreements? Why did he keep the payments of tax payer dollars a secret and hidden from the council?”
And then there’s the wind turbine project, conceived, developed and completed by Ron Whitehead that began as a single bidder contract given to Landmark Construction for over $6 million, including payment for the wind turbine portion of the project.
“On three separate occasions there were catastrophic failures of the wind turbine blades coming off,” Meier reminded the council. “On one occasion a blade penetrated the roof of a nearby business, landing on a conference table. The second and third failures occurring after repeated repair attempts by Landmark.
“We also now know that Mr. Whitehead disagreed with City Manager Lea Dunn’s recommendation to council to end the wind turbine project because as she said, ‘It just was not safe.’ So why would Ron Whitehead disagree with City Manager Lea Dunn’s recommendation to council to end the wind turbine project after three near disasters? We also know that Mr. Whitehead disagreed with the council’s decision to seek legal recourse by filing suit against Landmark to recover the $1.1 million dollars allocated to the wind turbine portion of the $6 million project. What we don’t know is…why?
“Why would Ron Whitehead disagree with a council trying to recover tax payer dollars for a failed project? This is, of course, the council’s fiduciary duty! What was the council’s alternative? Forget about it?
“Maybe there is an answer to the why in what has to be one of the most stunning and extraordinary acts of ‘betrayal’ as characterized by one of our staff members present, or as later described by our then interim City Manager Charles Daniel as the most shocking lack of respect he had ever observed in his 40 years in municipal government when, on October 27, 2015, at required mediation in our lawsuit against Landmark, Ron Whitehead spent four (4) hours in the other team’s locker room. At the beginning of the mediation that day Mr. Whitehead joined the president of Landmark and their lawyers in their private conference room, unbeknown to anyone in Addison, to plot against Addison in our lawsuit to recover $1.1 million taxpayer dollars.
“And, if that’s not enough….Since that time Mr. Whitehead has refused multiple attempts of our attorneys to meet and to seek his cooperation and help. He has been so unwilling to help that our attorneys have characterized Mr. Whitehead as a ‘Uncooperative former employee.” He has continued with his refusal to meet with our attorneys to this day unless the lawyers from Landmark are present. Shocking? Of course. Revealing? What conclusions would any reasonable person draw from those facts?”
FM apologizes for the length of this issue. Unfortunately, this meeting had much to be explained and FM believes that it is extremely important that you, the taxpayer residents of this community, to have the key issues discussed should you not have time to watch the entire video. But unless you find the seriousness of the issues facing Addison and the disinterest and avoidance that seems to be present with some of the current council to acknowledge the real impact of true transparency and accountability, this community may be facing some unintended circumstances that may negatively impact it’s financial stability well into the future.
Addison’s future is up to you and the accountability you demand from your elected officials.
Photo via Nonsequiturlass/Flickr
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