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Death of the Mayor’s Newsletter

in Addison Grove/Addison Texas Mayor/Mayor's Newsletter by

Tuesday night residents witnessed not merely the death of the ‘Mayor’s Newsletter’, but endured it being bludgeoned to death with malice and intent.

While there was debate about the fact that the Mayor put “termination of the newsletter” on the agenda, the reality is it was clear from the beginning that regardless of who listed this controversial issue to be placed on the agenda, the majority of the new Council was determined to kill it.

Fact: In addition to the Mayor’s newsletter being a topic of controversy by opponents of the incumbents throughout their campaigns, Jim Duffy, along with former P&Z Chair John Oliver, in March and April filed Ethics Complaints with the Texas Ethics Commission, stating that the Mayor’s newsletter constituted “Political Advertising”

Given these Ethics Complaints it seems difficult to deny that terminating the Mayor’s Newsletter was sure to hit the agenda at some point. Rather than hide that fact, putting it on the agenda of the new Council’s first meeting was merely a transparent move — an action that quite obviously annoyed Walden, Duffy and Bruce Arfsten.

Public Hearing

Fact: There was very little time for residents to become aware of or plan to attendTuesday night’s Council meeting and participate in the Public Hearing phase of the newsletter issue. However, 21 people did speak. Twenty-four percent of them (5) were against the Mayor’s Newsletter — 76 percent (16) were in favor of keeping it

While it would behoove individuals to watch the entire video and see and hear for themselves all of the various comments made, here are parts of the comments from a few of the presenters:

Chris DeFrancisco: “I haven’t heard one person, leading up to this meeting, say they want to terminate the newsletter. I have heard there’s a better way. I know how he [Todd] uses his newsletter to carry out his personal agenda. It’s ugly. He’ll manipulate you. He’s great at telling the truth, but not the whole truth.

“I understand they [residents] want to be informed. They should be informed. There’s a better way than one elected official being our voice. There’s no reason why our town funded newsletter can’t be heard through the voice of our City Manager and Department Heads.”

Erin Carney: “I’m president of the Metrocrest Chamber of Commerce. I’m here under the approval and guidance of our governance committee. We represent 80% small business and 20% large business mix.

“The Mayor’s Newsletter has remained for us a direct support of our business community and it’s not your standard sponsor style plug. For example, over the past six months we have been mentioned — or our businesses — nine times.

“Those mentions have included celebrating business leaders and owners and their accomplishments or welcoming new businesses at their ribbon cutting ceremonies. I personally am an avid reader of the newsletter and find it balanced in terms of delivering the happenings around Addison and business economic development advances. I believe Addison should continue to produce and promote the Mayor’s Newsletter.”

Michelle Braden (one of the Town’s millennial residents): “I wasn’t planning on speaking today but I realized if I didn’t speak now, who will. I travel a lot but when I’m reading, the newsletters allow me to participate even when I’m far away. I still feel a part of this town.

“I stand here this evening and I use my voice to say, please don’t stop these newsletters — that’s my connection to Addison. If you stop the newsletters you’ll cut the bloodline off.

“If my generation is the future generation and cutting off my connection to information about what’s happening in this town, what does that do to the future?”

Sabina Bradbury: “I am for continuing the newsletter but I think it should be put in the hands of the City Manager or his designee. Who better to write what’s going on in the different departments than the department heads. I don’t think we need to know everything the Mayor does.”

Jason Ennis: “I really would rather not be here tonight but if people see the need to complain about what I think is a very basic and factual newsletter, I feel compelled to give my evening up on the couch to come and speak for what I think is right.

“The Mayor’s Newsletter is the easiest and yet most comprehensive way for citizens to know what is going on in their town without having to come and sit through these meetings and spend hours and hours on our backsides.

“The sheer fact that so many people voluntarily receive the newsletter every week when they can unsubscribe at any time shows what the people want. I hope you’ll listen.” [2,088 people receive the Mayor’s Newsletter weekly]

Liz Oliphant: “In 2014, when the then City Attorney said that the newsletter was political advertising, that was when the supposed editors were put in place in terms of the City Attorney and a staff person. It’s been my experience that there hasn’t been a whole lot of editing done in terms of the way things are presented.

“The newsletter needs to be done by the Town staff. That way you can remove the misuse of this newsletter.”

Sheila Barkofske: “I am told there are those who say the Mayor uses it for ‘political advertising’. If that is the case, and I think we can agree, the last election proved it didn’t do him any good.

“Maybe it’s not so much the perceived political advantage to the Mayor that’s the problem or rather a hidden agenda for which the intended target is transparency and financial responsibility. Is it possible that that’s the real shoe that fits here?”

Fact: Based on the people quoted on behalf of keeping the newsletter — as well as the others that you can see on video — it is crystal clear that people in favor of keeping the newsletter were in favor of keeping not just “a newsletter”, but the “Mayor’s Newsletter”

Here is a link to the video:

But that reality was apparently missed by those wanting to kill the “Mayor’s Newsletter”.

The Council’s discussion following the Public Hearing could only be described as contentious and somewhat emotional, even bordering on combative by one Council member.

Some Council members implied that favorable comments merely indicated a desire to continue “a” newsletter, one that the staff could easily produce. Bruce Arfsten did however express that the City Manager should not have to write it.

“We pay him way too much money to be a writer,” Arfsten said, adding that various people could write parts of the newsletter and then, “Mary does her little thing over there and it’s handled and it’s done.”

“I think it’s fair from what the vast majority of the people were in favor of was keeping the newsletter in its current configuration,” the Mayor responded, indicating that what the supporters actually wanted was to keep the “Mayor’s Newsletter”.

NO! NO! Arfsten and Walden shouted along with their supporters in the gallery. “They’re supporters of the newsletter,” Arfsten  demanded. “I am too. I don’t want to pay for it to be on the town website with my tax dollars. That’s a lot of other people’s positions as well.”

This distortion of reality can best be validated by listening carefully to proponents who clearly supported keeping the newsletter as the “Mayor’s Newsletter”. Council members Arfsten and Walden were adamant that the Mayor not continue to write the newsletter — Walden often expressing his opinions in a lecturing style, even gesturing emotionally and pointing out that the cost of staff to do it was not an issue because budget time was approaching and the costs could be dealt with at that time.

Eventually councilman Ivan Hughes attempted to suggest that the Mayor continue to write the letter but not refer to it as “news,” rather to rename it something like “Mayor’s Views.” This idea didn’t fly either and in the end Hughes sided with Walden and Arfsten and voted to terminate the Mayor’s Newsletter. Duffy, having filed the Ethics Complaint, rightly abstained while Meier and Wilcox voted in favor.

Walden moved, Duffy seconded, to have a staff authored newsletter on a weekly basis. The motion passed 4-2 with Walden, Arfsten, Hughes and Duffy voting in favor; Meier and Wilcox against.

It remains to be seen what information will be imparted in the new Town Newsletter.  Look for your first issue this Friday.

Contentious Actions Continued

The next item on the agenda was “Reimbursement of Legal Expenses for the Mayor’s Defense of Complaints Filed with the Texas Ethics Commission that the Mayor’s Newsletter is ‘Political Advertising’.”

Once again, for a complete picture of the contentious discussion regarding this legal issue it is best to view the video. Suffice it to say after much back and forth debate and realizing that not to provide reimbursement would set a precedent that could jeopardize any current or future Council member who may encounter a lawsuit, however frivolous it might be, and would risk having to legally defend themselves, they voted 6-0 for the Town to reimburse Meier’s legal costs.

Fact: The three new Council members ran on commitments to “Cut Wasteful Spending”, to be diligent about “Eradicating Waste”, and “Ensuring Transparency”, yet two of the newly elected have begun their terms by voting to increase costs and remove transparency

Final Notes

Item #22 on the agenda to approve a development plan for the development of the Addison Grove Project including a site plan, landscape plan and building elevations and floor plans for 57 townhomes passed 6-0 with barely a comment or question.

Following the earlier executive session the Council took action on one item — Attorney Client Privilege in Regards to Open Records Requests. The Attorney General concurred with the City Attorney’s position that the 19-page memo from former City Manager Lea Dunn was, in fact, attorney client privileged.

However, it was determined that the Council could waive the privilege for that one document only. By a vote of 6-0 the Council approved this one-time only waiver.

Photo by Sunny Ripert via Flickr

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