The Kanter Saga Continues:
Addison Should Do What is Right,
Not What it Can Get Away With
By Susan M. Halpern
Former Addison Councilmember (1992-1999)
I can’t even buy “transparency” in Addison. Not that I should have to pay for it, I pay plenty of taxes, and my Addison tax bill has risen 28.8% in the five years since Meier has been mayor. You’d think an almost 30% rise in taxes would entitle me to some real disclosure. Not so. What I’m discovering is that my tax money is instead funding the elaborate cat and mouse game that has replaced the concepts of disclosure and transparency in Addison.
It all started with an accountant. You remember Larry Kanter, the consultant Todd Meier trotted back out at the February 23, 2016 council meeting to repeat what he’d said two years ago so that Meier could create a new political campaign? The guy who disparaged prior staff and management with his recycled presentation?
We know that the presentation omitted significant and material facts, most notably the perspective of prior management and staff. So, two days after the meeting, on February 25, 2016, I submitted two narrowly drawn Open Records Act requests to obtain documents showing, among other things, that management refuted Kanter’s claims of non-cooperation.
On March 11, 2016, Addison responded by submitting the whole thing to the Texas Attorney General. Addison sought approval to withhold everything I’d asked for, citing the audit privilege, the “agency memoranda” exception and, incredibly, the attorney-client privilege. That’s right, the attorney-client privilege for an accountant’s non-audit. Addison apparently included some documents for the AG to look at (supposedly “representative” samples), but they weren’t described, so I don’t know what the AG is looking at.
I was astonished at Addison’s position, so I responded on March 16, 2016. Among other things, I cited the AG to Kanter’s agreement that expressly states that his work is not an audit and, therefore, the audit exception couldn’t possibly apply. I also informed the AG of the very public, one-sided discussions that Meier has been orchestrating, pointing out that such public disclosure surely waived any privilege Addison might claim.
Shortly after faxing my response to Addison’s attorney, I was contacted by Wes Pierson who told me that Addison would be withdrawing its AG submission and would produce documents. Wes told me I would hear from City Secretary Laura Bell about the production. Sounded too good to be true. It was.
Several days passed, and I heard nothing. Then, I got a voicemail from Laura Bell promising that I would receive a cost letter on Monday, March 21st. That day came and went, still nothing. I made another inquiry. Finally, on March 24th, I received a cost letter telling me that some documents would be produced, but I had to pay $210.00. You see in the “new” Addison, you have to pay for what they call transparency, all very different from the past. But wait, there’s more.
In the meantime, I continued to contact both Wes Pierson and members of the council. For one thing, I hadn’t received a retraction of Addison’s submission, as promised. On March 24th, I finally received Addison’s March 23rd letter to the AG, and quickly realized that Addison was continuing to cite the attorney-client privilege. Again: for an accountant’s non-audit work.
I continued to press Pierson and members of the council to release the key document I’ve been seeking: Lea Dunn’s January 24, 2015 memo, which I’m told is 19 pages long, and which I’m led to believe will tell a very different story about Kanter’s allegations. Because, well, it’s the right thing to do. And, every last one of them should be standing against the farce that is being perpetrated on Addison’s residents.
That’s when I got the real bombshell. Wes Pierson told me via email that Addison is withholding Lea Dunn’s memo, claiming the attorney-client privilege. Now, this isn’t rocket science. Kanter claims the staff won’t cooperate, and Lea Dunn responds, presumably refuting that claim and, given the vigor with which Addison is fighting, probably saying some pretty direct things about Kanter and his methods. The memo was sent to the Finance Committee. No part of that sounds like someone seeking or receiving legal advice. It’s not. Logic tells us all it can’t be. And the mere fact that it was cc’ed to a lawyer changes nothing. And that’s before you get to the issue of waiver, because Addison has publicly discussed the subject. You can’t tell one inflammatory side of a story and then conceal the rest by hiding behind a privilege!
But that’s exactly what Addison is doing. And because of that, Meier and his cadre have been free to fabricate whatever story they want, all the while preventing the public from knowing the real truth. It’s the Meier brand of “transparency:” it’s a complete illusion.
When pressed, Pierson said he had no authority to withdraw the privilege claim. The council has largely ignored me, other than one member who told me “there is a process.” The three incumbent candidates have refused to communicate with me on the issue.
So, my money’s been paid, and here I sit, still waiting to see even one piece of paper. Almost a month after I made my requests. Well this is some “process,” don’t you think?
This folks, is the “new” Addison. It is no longer about doing the right thing, including by disclosing documents that citizens have a right to see. No, this “new” Addison is governed by folks who are all about doing what they can get away with. That’s the real “process” these days. And, I find that to be utterly deplorable.