It’s Your Tax Dollars — What Do You Think?

in Addison Texas Council by

It didn’t take long for the perennial critic of Facts Matter to attack the last issue, which informed you, the taxpayers of Addison, about Landmark’s Summary Judgment hearing to dismiss the Town’s lawsuit for faulty wind turbines.  Facts Matter rightfully also made you aware of the current council’s total lack of interest in appearing at the recent court hearing.  We presented you with facts, having observed reality while the critic unloaded personal opinion.

Contrary to this critic, Facts Matter is not alone in believing that our City Council has a responsibility to watch over the financial security of your tax dollars.  It was never suggested that the Mayor or Council members should actively engage in the hearing. We simply related a taxpayer’s expectation that elected officials would care enough about taxpayer money to show their interest and to observe first-hand both side’s presentations.  Facts Matter asked several knowledgeable lawyers about the merits of attending the court hearing and all agreed that it would have allowed Council members to get the facts unfiltered by staff interpretations.

We even heard from concerned taxpayers who felt there should have been some Council representation at the hearing.   One resident totally got it—conveying her embarrassment after reading Facts Matter and writing the following:

“What an embarrassment to the Town of Addison.  And what do you say when the Mayor and Council don’t have our backs?  Of course when you don’t own property in Addison then you don’t pay property taxes.  Hmmmmm.”

As elected Council members they are expected to “have our backs.”  It is their sworn duty to ensure the fiduciary safekeeping of the Town’s assets and your taxpayer dollars.  Not only is this lawsuit about reclaiming nearly $1.5 million of your tax dollars, it is the largest failed project in the history of Addison.  For the Mayor or Council to demonstrate their interest by having at least someone from the Council caring enough to be present would have been the least taxpayers could have expected.  They all failed that expectation.

So just who is looking out for Addison? According to the depositions, it certainly doesn’t appear to be former City Managers Ron Whitehead or Lea Dunn.    Facts Matter has read the depositions thoroughly and is stunned at the lack of Town’s interest that is reflected by two City Managers who taxpayers likely believed were at the time looking after their best interests.  Mr. Whitehead accepts little accountability.  Instead he has little recollection in many areas and basically throws his successor, Lea Dunn, under the bus, laying all details and major decision-making at her feet.  His personal ability to recollect any details of such an important project is extremely vague or downright non-existent.  He does however; seem to provide plenty of positive remembrances about Landmark and Freese and Nichols.   (Remember, Whitehead was part of Landmark’s team during the mediation.)

Real Leaders Demonstrate Accountability

  •  Accountable leaders don’t blame others.
  • Accountable leaders don’t hide behind their team.
  • Accountable leaders accept responsibility.
  • No organization can prosper unless its leader is willing to step up and take responsibility.

Throughout 64 pages of Whitehead’s sworn testimony, he does anything but accept responsibility, generally shifting responsibility to Dunn.  What’s even more amazing is that in 52 instances his response to questions is, “I don’t know,” “I don’t remember,” or “I don’t recall.”  It is certainly suspicious that someone who spent 32 years as the Town’s City Manager would have so many memory lapses.  And as for laying all the major responsibility on Lea Dunn or other staff members, it is not at all unusual for leaders to delegate, but rarely without total lack of involvement or accountability. From a leadership perspective, accountability works best when it is modeled.  When leaders fail to demonstrate accountability, it erodes trust.

While it is impossible to demonstrate in its entirety instances of Whitehead’s shifting of responsibility and lack of memory, here are just a few examples.  You will get a fuller grasp by reading the entire deposition for yourself: 

Landmark Lawyer:              And was there any unique division of authority on the wind turbine project and tank project, combined, between you and Lea, or did – was there any scope that you, kind of, kept direct management of?

Whitehead:  Actually, at that time, I think the only thing that I had direct management of, at that time, was maybe police and fire.

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Landmark Lawyer: Okay.  Do you – can you describe in 2008 and ‘9 the role, if any, that you personally had in discussions with Freese and Nichols or SWG Energy about possible manufacturers or types of turbines that could go on?

Whitehead:   Well, I do remember that we had those conversations but I really don’t remember the details, except that, you know, it was – again, I’m not an engineer, from that – so from that perspective, I recall participating in conversations between those that were the technical ilk, and – but I really don’t remember much else.

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Landmark Lawyer:  Ultimately, when the Town is considering the funding sources for the wind component of the tower, do you have a recollection about what – about that process, trying to get a grant?

Whitehead:                Well, I do.  I recall that, you know, we engaged in the process, but I don’t recall that I was really that involved in it, that – you know, we – we got $400,000 to fund this – the turbines and the energy system, and as I recall, it was a federal grant that came through the state to COG, and I do remember that it was through the Council of Governments, and so that was where they paid for the wind turbines.

(Note:  Juxtapose this recollection with Lea Dunn’s testimony)

Questions to Lea Dunn by Mr. Sloan from her deposition:

Town Lawyer:          It’s ten small wind turbines on a proposed elevated storage tank dated October 29, 2009 from – it’s submitted RFA for Distributed Renewable Energy Technology.  Did I read that right?

Dunn:                           Yeah

Town Lawyer:          Do you see the next page is an October 29, 2009 letter from Addison signed by Ron Whitehead?

Dunn:                           Uh-huh.

Town Lawyer:          Yes?

Dunn:                           Yes.

Town Lawyer:          All right.  And it’s to Mr. William Clay Harris, assistant general counsel, contracts of the controller of the state of Texas?

Dunn:                           Yes.

(So should taxpayers believe that Whitehead signed a letter to the controller of the state of Texas without having any personal first-hand knowledge of the rationale he was presenting for grant money?)

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Landmark Lawyer: Let’s talk about the involvement, if any, that you had up to award in February 2011.  Can you just, kind of, summarize the extensive or limited role that you personally would have had from 2009 to award?

Whitehead:   Well, my involvement was primarily from an aesthetic standpoint, is that the council always recognized that that was one of my talents is that I have a – some creativity and that I’m sensitive to how things look.  And so that was my – that’s the reason we brought Mr. Goldberg in, that’s the reason we talked about the landscaping, and so those were the things that I was mainly involved in because functionally, you know, the operations, I left that to the technical people.

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Landmark Lawyer: Okay.   So then let me continue reading from Exhibit 26.  The wind turbines were removed from the tower in May and redesigned to eliminate the lightning mast issue.  Do you have a recollection about relocating?

Whitehead:   Yes.

Landmark Lawyer:              Okay.  The wind turbines were placed back on the tower in August 2013, and the water tower was placed in full service in September 2013.

Do you have a recollection whether any additional safeguards were placed, a secondary braking mechanism in conjunction with this reinstall?

Whitehead:   I recall that, you know, they redesigned the lightning protection system so it wouldn’t conflict and there was something done with the braking system but I don’t recall the details.

Landmark Lawyer: Would you have had any greater involvement after the – in review, redesign, repair and reinstall?

Whitehead:   No.

Landmark Lawyer: Okay.  I’ll continue reading from this, Exhibit 26, since that time, the autobraking function that keeps the wind turbine from spinning too fast in high winds was found to be picking up radio interference from the surrounding area, consequently the system was shutting down the wind turbines and placing them in brake mode.  In order to correct this problem, the control board for the turbines has to be reconfigured.  This has to be done in China.

Am I – were you familiar with that situation as we sit here today?

Whitehead    I don’t recall that.

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Landmark Lawyer: And I’ll represent to you that Lea Dunn testified that the City had engaged half its associates [believe this should be the firm Half Associates] in 2013 to do a peer review.  Do you recall having any personal involvement in that process?

Whitehead:   No.

Landmark Lawyer: Is that something that you’re conceptual – yeah, I remember something like that happening, or not at all?

Whitehead:   I really don’t remember.

Landmark Lawyer: Okay.  Do you – is it fair to say that you had no role in any technical meetings or reviews of the design of the wind turbines or their – problems with the wind turbines, things like that, apart from what you already testified?

Whitehead:   I’m trying to figure out how to answer if that’s a yes or no.  I did not have any further involvement.

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As for Lea Dunn, throughout 107 pages of testimony she had 108 responses of “I don’t recall,” “I can’t remember,” “Not to my knowledge,” or “I have no idea.”               When Mr. Sloan, the Town’s lawyer, questions her toward the end, however, she seems to be forced to admit concern:

Town Lawyer:          Would you characterize a turbine falling off onto the ground a serous problem?

Dunn:                           I would call it a serious problem.

Town Lawyer:          Would you characterize a blade flying into an adjacent building a serious problem?

Dunn:                           Yes.

Town Lawyer:          Would you characterize a blade flying off and hitting other of the vertical access wind turbine system a serious problem?

Dunn:                           Yes.

Town Lawyer:          You had safety concerns?

Dunn:                           Yes.

Town Lawyer:          Did you feel like the Town of Addison got its money’s worth for the over a million dollars they spent?

Dunn:                           I really can’t respond to that.  I don’t have an opinion.

Town Lawyer:          Well, you just told me that you agree that the vertical access wind turbine system had multiple problems.  True?

Dunn:                           I responded to your question that it had serious problems, yes.

Town Lawyer:          Multiple.  I said three.

Dunn:                           Three

Town Lawyer:          All right.  And you admitted on a few occasions that you were concerned with safety issues?

Dunn:                           Yes.

Town Lawyer:          How could you possibly think that Addison got what they paid for?

Dunn:              I probably – that’s not my role.  My role as city manager is to execute policy and execute projects when I was city manager.  And if I feel like something is not safe, my responsibility is to let the council know, and that’s what I did.

As Mr. Sloan continues to question Dunn, Mr. Dunn, Lea’s lawyer and husband, asks, “Can I talk to her for a minute?  Is it possible?”

Sloan replies, “Sure.  It’s not proper, but you are (redacted) and (redacted) I guess.” After a two-minute break Sloan continues.

Town Lawyer:          Do you remember my question?

Dunn:                           I remember your question.  Landmark and Freese and Nichols were helping us try to work through the problem.  I don’t know if it was their fault.  I don’t know if it was Freese and Nichols’ fault.  They were helping us work through the problem.  Had I known a turbine was going to fall off three months from now, I don’t know what I would have done.  But at that point, they were working with us and helping us.

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You might also want to read Dunn’s Further Examination testimony on pages 113-115 where she appears to conflict with Whitehead’s testimony and for one brief moment, shifts some accountability back to him.  All in all, if you have any desire to get some insight as to just how your town was being run and who was really looking out for Addison, you’ll want to take time to read these full depositions.  They are very telling.

Please don’t simply take Facts Matter’s word for it.  Here are the links to Whitehead and Dunn’s depositions so you can read them in their entirety and see for yourself:

Dunn_Depo_Transcript-FULL_Redacted.pdf
Whitehead_R-FULL_Redacted.pdf

Facts Matter urges you to read both complete depositions.  Then give Facts Matter your feedback. 

Does Whitehead’s testimony appear to fight for Addison?

Does Whitehead represent Addison and you as a taxpayer the way you would expect from the City Manager you paid handsomely for 32 years and whose tax dollars continue to support with his retirement pension? 

How about Dunn?  Does her testimony look out for Addison or does she appear more favorable to its vendors?

As a taxpaying citizen, what do you think?  It’s YOUR tax dollars!