Making All Well in Addison
Starts With TRUTH
By Susan M. Halpern
Former Addison Councilmember (1992-1999)
Addison’s citizens have spoken, and I am hopeful that their voices will now truly be heard. The real work starts in 9 days when the new councilmembers are sworn in.
The past three years of Addison’s history are a cautionary tale. No democracy can claim health when one person is allowed to dominate. Our Charter states that all seven councilmembers are equal, with the mayor having two – and only two – additional duties: preside at meetings and represent Addison at official functions. That model has been largely ignored, as Mayor Todd Meier has ruled Addison, essentially executing a hostile takeover of our democracy. It is unhealthy, it has to change, and the new council has to act to protect Addison from such conduct in the future.
It has to start with much-needed transparency in Addison. And by that, I mean REAL transparency. Not lip service, not spin, and certainly not the misrepresentations that have dominated the landscape for the last five years. We need REAL transparency, and that has to start with our government telling the TRUTH to its citizens. Thomas Jefferson said: “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” His words resonate today.
I hope our new council starts here: No one person, mayor or otherwise, should claim a monopoly on the provision of information to Addison’s residents. For years now, Meier has done exactly that via our Town-owned and taxpayer-funded newsletter. Meier has used OUR newsletter as one of his many bully pulpits, from which he has manipulated and misrepresented issues to suit his personal agenda. That has included the misuse of OUR newsletter to support and attack elected officials and candidates for office, in contravention of Texas law. We saw this in spades in connection with the current election.
Meier has ruthlessly defended his monopoly. Two years ago, when then-councilmember Chris DeFrancisco tried to put information in OUR newsletter, Meier claimed that DeFrancisco had no right to do so because a council had ceded the newsletter to Meier exclusively, something that (a) never happened, and (b) could never happen because no council has the right to do any such thing. Meier also claimed that Addison’s Charter gave him the exclusive right to communicate with citizens (it says no such thing). And, when the issue came before the council and a discussion of DeFrancisco’s First Amendment rights ensued, the Meier-controlled council voted for seven newsletters, not because any of them intended to write one, but specifically to prevent DeFrancisco from writing in OUR newsletter.
Sometime later, a group of citizens who had obtained Addison’s email list through an Open Records Act request published “Addison Watch,” using the list. Meier immediately suggested that Addison was reviewing a potential “data breach,” and then orchestrated a council vote to sue the group. The basis for the threatened litigation was that Addison’s email list was exempted from Open Records disclosure because it was for use by a governmental body, a position that is, in my view, irreconcilable with the weekly provision of the list to Meier – who is obviously not a “governmental body.” While Addison talked out of both sides of its mouth, Meier’s monopoly on information continued.
Newsletters are a great thing, but newsletters in the hands of politicians are bad policy. Addison is the poster child for that reality. Meier has repeatedly concealed and manipulated information for political purposes. It has been a huge disservice to Addison’s residents.
Think about it in relation to Addison’s financial situation. During Meier’s five-year tenure, Addison’s taxes have risen almost 30%, more than 7% just in the last two years. During that two-year period, the council overspent the budget by almost $2 million. What have you heard about any of that from Meier or others? Nothing. They haven’t even acknowledged that it was their decision to raise Addison’s taxes! During the campaign, we heard the false claim that it was DCAD – not your council – that raised Addison’s taxes. We had to post a photo of DCAD’s valuation notice letter to finally put that nonsense to rest. But, with Meier controlling the message, it has been an uphill battle.
The entire situation has been exacerbated by the crackdown on Open Records Act requests. Thousands of our taxpayer dollars have been spent resisting the production of documents that were properly and justifiably requested. In many instances, the basis of the resistance has been frivolous and politically motivated, most notably with the concealment of Lea Dunn’s 19-page memo relating to accountant Larry Kanter. The concealment of this document allowed Kanter and Meier to tell a one-sided, politicized story, using attacks on prior management as the springboard for the Meier-run campaign.
Putting aside the political damage all this causes, my hunch is that in most cases, it is probably simpler and cheaper to just provide the information. But when you are avoiding TRUTH, as I contend this Meier-led government has been doing, you have to fight disclosure no matter what the cost. It is unhealthy and expensive, and it needs to change.
The path to health for Addison must start with TRUTH. And for TRUTH to exist in Addison, the public must have access to the FACTS. That allows citizens to make their own judgments about issues. As well, it is bad policy to grant any politician an exclusive right to communicate with citizens. We also must have a City Manager and City Attorney who will require compliance with the laws that prohibit the use of taxpayer money for “political advertising,” i.e., attacking or supporting elected officials and candidates.
A return to TRUTH will help us return to a government by, for and of the people. It will be a refreshing change from a government AT the people, to which we’ve been subjected during the past few years.