Discussion of the last item on the Council’s October 20 agenda sounded like the basis of a finely crafted script for a television episode of the old Robert Stack series, “Unsolved Mysteries.” Here, with factual information from the meeting and some pertinent history is how the scenarios might be described in the synopsis of scenes.
Unsolved Mysteries: The Case of the Missing Box
The activities to be portrayed in tonight’s story take place in 2016 in the small, but distinctive town of Addison, Texas, a town encompassing a mere 4.4 sq. miles surrounded by the big city of Dallas and two northern suburbs. Just over one-half square mile of the town is occupied by one of the nation’s busiest private commercial airports and the town’s annual budget is $112M and has only a little over 15,400 residents. Since 2014 the town incurred several leadership changes. In February 2014 the town’s 33-year City Manager, Ron Whitehead, retired, and was replaced by Lea Dunn, Whitehead’s Assistant City Manager. She resigned that position nearly a year later in the spring of 2015. Former Ft. Worth Assistant City Manager Charles Daniel was then brought in as the Interim City Manager until a bright, young City Manager named Wes Pierson from Corpus Christi took over in December of that year.
In Pierson’s short tenure, he’s had lots to catch up on but one thing he never expected was the August day when he received a shocking announcement from the Bank of America’s nearby Dallas branch. BOA advised him that the town had a safe deposit box that needed to be addressed. A search of town records revealed no such bank account and BOA was not the bank of record, nor had it been for years.
Undocumented revelations were not new to the town’s new administration. Following Whitehead’s departure the town’s Council had hired a Forensic Auditing firm to review financial procedures to provide a new incoming City Manager with a clean set of books. However the lack of records they found were deplorable. Millions of dollars were found to be untraceable and court fines collected were left for speculation from documents altered with scratched out changes with no traceable record of deposits. More recently it was discovered that an estimate for badly needed repair of Midway Road, one of the town’s major roadways, was $22M short of current projected costs. Once again, no documentation of how the estimate was derived at could ever be found.
Todd Meier, who is serving his third two-year term as Mayor, wanted to invite Whitehead, who still lived in the town, to address the Council so a better understanding could be made of how the original estimate had been made. Despite objection from some newly elected Council members, he sent a letter to Whitehead to do just that. That fueled an even greater disdain and criticism of a Mayor whose popularity was strongly divided between a core group of critics some called “the haters,” and another group of residents who appreciated the Mayor’s diligence and valued the fiscal responsibility of their elected officials. Meier, you see, is a seasoned lawyer and businessman and a former prosecutor in the Dallas DA’s office, who asked a lot of questions. Some people didn’t like that—they didn’t like it a lot and it created a very divided environment.
Now, on the heals of all this controversy comes the revelation that the town has some secret safe deposit box of which no one seemed to have any knowledge. When was it set up? Why was it set up? Who had access? And what was in it? In late August Pierson advised the Council of the news and that he had authorized three new signatories to go to the bank to get some answers. Named are Cheryl Delaney, the town’s Deputy City Manager since the fall of 2014, Charles Goff, a young 30 year-old Assistant Director of Development Services and Planning and Caitlan Smelley, Assistant to the City Manager.
The three went to the bank but were denied access because they did not have the bank’s required documentation of their authority or Council approval. Resolving that issue the three returned to the bank on September 22 to find the box empty. The bank’s signature card revealed that the three original signers of the account were City Manager Ron Whitehead, Chief Financial Officer Randy Moravec, and Sandra Goforth, an employee in the finance department.
Records indicate that the account was established in 1994. Between 1994 and 1996 Goforth had opened the box six times. Eight years later, in 2004, Moravec opened the box. He left the town in 2011 to lead the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power. Ten years later, three days before Whitehead’s official retirement date of February 28, 2014, records indicate that Whitehead and then 26 year-old Goff—a non-signatory—had gone to the bank to open the box but failed to open it not having the right key. Thus a line had been drawn through Whitehead’s name. No information was provided to the Council as to whether a bank officer initialed the try with no entry, which is standard in the industry.
With this information the account was closed and the town was charged $658. Not revealed as part of the official report, but from an on-line source check of town financial records, it was also revealed that on January 2, 2009 a payment of $20.00 was made to BOA and another payment of $38.60 was made on January 9, 2009. No other payments to BOA are reflected in the Town’s financial records.
On Thursday evening, October 20, 2016, details of the threesome’s findings were presented to the City Council.
Deputy City Manager Cheryl Delaney presented the new administration’s findings to the Council at the meeting. Seated on the Council were three-term Mayor Meier, three-term Councilman and Mayor Pro-Tem Bruce Arfsten, a real estate agent; first term Council members Dale Wilcox, a financial professional and Ivan Hughes, Deputy Mayor Pro Tem and a retired Human Resources executive. Also were the newly elected Council members Al Angell, a 70ish retired insurance executive; Paul Walden, a late 50s insurance representative and Jim Duffy, a 70ish former Council member and retired construction industry professional.
Whitehead’s relationship with Duffy is a cozy one. He had served on the Council in the 1980’s when in December, 1987 Southwest Security and Investigation were hired to conduct inquiries into alleged administration derelictions, possible conflicts of interest, alleged misappropriation of funds and other possible malfeasance on the part of the elected and appointed town officials. The report identified lack of record keeping and financial improprieties and admonished Duffy for violation of town ethics for voting with a conflict of interest. The final report advised, “Responsibility should be specifically fixed on the City Manager and Finance Director to ensure that policy and procedures are adhered to.”
Years later, when Duffy was no longer on the Council and had become unemployed, Whitehead hired him during the construction of the town’s conference center. More recently it was Whitehead who recruited Duffy to run for his current council seat and he was Duffy’s original treasurer until Duffy decided to transfer that position to his wife.
Following Delaney’s presentation questions began to fly, one asking whether Whitehead had been contacted. It appeared that he had not but the Mayor reminded council members that he had earlier sent a letter to Whitehead inviting him to address the Council regarding the $22M shortfall that had been estimated for the now imminent Midway Road project. Whitehead had failed to respond to that invitation.
Then came a bombshell revelation.
A series of questions began to be asked following Cheryl Delaney’s presentation to the Council. “Do you know on March 25 (misstated date) what Mr. Whitehead was looking for when he went to the safe deposit box?” asked Mayor Meier. “I have no information,” responded Delaney.
Suddenly Duffy chimed in: “I do.” Somewhat shocked, Meier asked him, “You know?” Duffy responded, “I asked him about it. He was trying to get it open. He didn’t know what was in it. He and Charles had a bunch of keys so they went over there to see if they could get in the safe deposit box. He didn’t even know they had one. He didn’t know what was in it and what the purpose was.”
This was an interesting comment since Delaney had already told the Council that Whitehead was a signatory on the bankcard.
Later Councilman Wilcox asked the rhetorical question, “Has anyone talked with Randy Moravec about his entering the deposit box in 2004?” Delaney answered, “I’ve not had any discussion with Randy.” Without addressing anyone specific Wilcox then asked, “Should we talk to Randy?” Wilcox turns to Pierson, somewhat surprised when Pierson responds, “no.” Wilcox, surprised by Pierson’s response, questioned, “NO?” But nothing further was said.
Immediately following this exchange Councilman Arfsten appears annoyed and asks, “Is there a point to all this? We’re just doing a bunch of speculating. This is really silly to me.” Walden agrees, saying, “It is silly.”
“It just seems like you’re (addressing the Mayor) wanting to dredge something up. There’s no there, there,” Arfsten said defiantly. Walden again agrees, saying, “There’s no there, there.”
Following several back and forth comments and finally ignoring Arfsten’s resistance the Mayor says, “What I’d like to do is invite Mr. Whitehead in…” But he was abruptly interrupted by council members shouting “no, no.” Then to everyone’s surprise Duffy interrupted saying, “Wait, wait. I’ve talked to Mr. Whitehead. He would be happy to come here if invited by the Council but he will not limit his comments to that single issue. He wants to be able to address other issues that in the past couple of years he has not been consulted about—the Kanter Report, the Midway Road budget, so forth. And given the freedom to share his thoughts on all these items he will come answer questions. I move to have the City Manager invite Ron Whitehead on behalf of the Council to share his thoughts with us.”
Meier seconded the motion, which passed 7-0.
As of now, this scene is unwritten. City Manager Pierson will send the letter of invitation to Whitehead and until Whitehead responds, the issue remains an unsolved mystery with many unanswered questions, a few of which are:
- Will Whitehead accept the invitation?
- If so, how soon will he come to address the Council meeting and answer questions?
- Why was there a need for the box?
- Why, like some council members, are some community members so determined to bury the truths of the past when discovering facts can provide opportunities to ensure that such breaches are not tolerated in the future and that ethical and responsible safeguards are adhered to by future leaders?
- What’s really going on?
As in all cases where there is access to knowledge of pertinent, factual information mysteries can be solved to some degree of resolution. In those situations where questions remain, the mystery continues to be unsolved, leaving a cloud lingering over the situation well into the future. As painful and as embarrassing as it may be, only when important questions are honestly answered, can any cloud of doubt be removed for the future. Perhaps this unfortunate situation has caused you to begin asking your own questions.
If so, start asking them!
Then stay tuned to see if you get straight, honest answers!
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