Attacking Newly Elected Councilmembers
Before They’ve Even Taken Office:
GIVE PEACE A CHANCE!
By Susan M. Halpern
Former Addison Councilmember (1992-1999)
Councilmembers-elect Paul Walden, Jim Duffy and Al Angell haven’t been sworn in yet. They haven’t spoken a word as elected officials. They haven’t taken a single official act. But they have already been summarily condemned by the Meier-supporting facts-don’t-matter folks, who now call them “good ole boys.” These are the same tabloid writers who brought you “poopgate.” They now claim to be judge, jury and executioner. All this before the trial even starts.
The attacks are entirely personal, exemplifying the political atmosphere Todd Meier has fed for several years. In Meier’s world, you either agree with him or you are “the enemy.” It is an adversarial model, in which the focus is on “defeating” those who disagree. The focus is on “winning,” without regard to whether the decisions being made are in Addison’s best interest. All of this is why Meier and his cadre have felt comfortable applying derogatory and derisive terms like “haters” and “transparency wanters” to those of us who have challenged their tactics.
Along the same lines, Meier has continually fed the myth that his control over a captive council equates to “collaboration.” In truth, he has demanded obedience, often bullying the council and demanding unanimity. In my view, debate and disagreement managed properly are positive forces for making the best possible decision. But to work, the leadership of such a process must be comfortable with deliberation that leads to a resolution. Here, Meier has continually demanded acquiescence in his resolution. The “deliberations” have been little more than theater. Sorry, but that’s not “collaboration.”
The councils I was a part of frequently disagreed about issues, and we debated them vociferously. That led to a thorough discussion of issues. We respected the process and our roles, agreeing to disagree agreeably. We never made the discussion about us, and we never made disagreement personal. Meier’s demands for obedience have made the process personal. He has transformed his role into one of ruling rather than presiding over meetings. Those who have disagreed have been attacked and vilified, often in our Town-owned and taxpayer-funded newsletter.
This theme was prominent in the recent campaign, where supporters of the incumbents argued that electing Walden, Duffy and Angell would lead to “bickering” on the council. The truth is that they haven’t seen productive debate in so long that the prospect of it is perceived as negative. All they know is the Meier model, in which disagreement with Meier is disobedience, and thus subject to attack. So because they perceive that the councilmembers-elect disagree with Meier, the facts-don’t-matter people have chosen to attack them before they are even sworn in. With due respect, it is a misguided view of the situation and those who are about to assume office.
In my view, the manner in which Meier has conducted our business cries out for change, both in the deliberation and the results. The last few years have demonstrated that Meier’s dictatorial tactics aren’t good for Addison. Aside from the rising taxes and irresponsible spending, much of which has been politically motivated, Meier has systematically led the council to take the business of the Town underground. Transparency is at an all-time low. The labyrinth of committees – particularly the Finance Committee – has fed secrecy. It has also allowed Meier and others to inject themselves into the day-to-day operations of Addison, micromanaging the business of the Town, all without any visibility to the public. The single-mindedness of the council has made it easy for the dictatorial-minded Meier to control the message. And he has done that in spades, manipulating and mischaracterizing the facts, even concealing information as he has wrongfully done in connection with the Kanter fiasco.
All of this is what has made Addison a divided community: The concealment of information. The attacks on those who challenge Meier and who disagree with him. The continual misuse of our Town’s newsletter to push Meier’s agenda by misrepresenting facts and telling half-truths and one-sided stories. The use of our council meetings to run a campaign. The disparagement of our former staff and management, who worked tirelessly to make Addison a special place, all premised on false and misleading claims. In a word, the public has continually been hoodwinked.
We are divided not because of an election, but because too many people have been all too willing to look the other way in the face of unquestionable wrongdoing. We are divided because members of the council – who owe fiduciary obligations to ADDISON – have been all too willing not only to look the other way, but to aggressively defend Meier’s tactics. We are divided because of the misguided, inappropriate and wrongful “tone at the top” of this council.
Here’s the other thing. We must never forget that the facts-don’t-matters folks are the same people who have incorrectly claimed (as “fact”) that DCAD, not Addison, raised your taxes. These are the folks who, with absolutely no basis in “fact,” falsely accused the Walden, Duffy and Angell supporters of putting dog poop on someone’s doormat. These are the folks who quoted as “fact” the losing position of a former councilmember who was sued because he refused to obey the law. And, who criticized Jim Duffy and others who sued that councilmember to demand compliance with the law. These facts-don’t-matter folks also willingly joined in the shameful attacks on our own Town, on our history, and on so many fine current and former employees who worked tirelessly for years to make Addison a special place.
And these are the folks who continually beat the Kanter drum, all the while supporting the withholding of Lea Dunn’s memo and other information that we believe will refute Kanter’s inflammatory claims. The fact is that Addison is audited every single year and has received clean audits for more than three decades. It has been and still is absurd to suggest that despite all the clean audits and financial awards, Larry Kanter should stand alone as the sole arbiter of the health of Addison’s finances. The truth is that Kanter’s work was a political ploy, and I believe that we will see that in spades when Addison is finally forced to release Lea Dunn’s 19 page memo.
Addison’s citizens deserve access to the FACTS so that they can make their own judgments based on the whole picture, rather than Meier’s manipulated, politicized version of events. That’s what TRUTH is all about: providing the FACTS and letting citizens draw their own conclusions.
In the meantime, the most important word here is “ELECTED.” Addison has ELECTED three qualified candidates who have the opportunity to open our government up to public scrutiny, bringing TRUTH and TRANSPARENCY to Addison for the first time in many years. Give them a chance and then make your judgments.