The Big Picture, Part 1: Lea Dunn’s Memo and the Kanter Fiasco

The Big Picture, Part 1:
Lea Dunn’s Memo and the Kanter Fiasco
By Susan M. Halpern
Former Addison Councilmember (1992-1999)

Lea Dunn’s January 4, 2015 memo draws a lot into focus, not just regarding Kanter, but with respect to how the prior Todd Meier-led council really operated.  There’s a lot to discuss, including so that it never happens again.  To provide context for the many issues raised, I decided to piece together an outline, on the theory that an overview of the “big picture” is helpful.

As you review this, consider that you’re hearing much of it for the first time.  You certainly didn’t hear any of this from Meier, in our Town’s newsletter or otherwise.  I’ve made this point over and over: allowing one politician to dominate and control what appeared – AND WHAT DIDN’T APPEAR – in our Town’s newsletter was extremely unhealthy for Addison.  It allowed for omissions and concealments that covered up improprieties.  Addison’s citizens had a right to expect far more from its government, and I for one am delighted to see our newsletter placed back into the hands of our capable staff.

Secrecy and government don’t mix; that’s why the Open Records Act and the Open Meetings Act exist in the first place.  Citizens have a right to full disclosure and real transparency, in other words, THE TRUTH.  But that hasn’t happened in Addison with Meier at the helm.  Instead, we have lived the vicious cycle of governmental abuse of power.  It’s relatively straightforward: a government that is secretive, i.e., disregards the laws requiring disclosure and transparency, is (a) the very government most likely to engage in wrongdoing, and thus (b) the very government that most needs the scrutiny of its citizens, and yet (c) the very government that will fight that scrutiny hardest.  It is exactly what Meier has brought to Addison, and the results speak for themselves: higher taxes, a tax rate above the rollback rate for the first time in Addison’s history, and a demoralized and devastated staff.  And, most significantly, a divided community, with a mayor whose “tone at the top” is to foment and escalate that division.  Addison deserves far better.

While there is some length to this outline, it may be the most important thing you’ve ever read on Truth in Addison.  I will publish it in parts, so stay tuned.

A. Background

1. On February 23, 2016, at Meier’s urging, accountant Larry Kanter gave the first of two one-sided, inflammatory presentations to Addison’s council.  Kanter attacked Addison’s present and former staff and management, and painted an entirely misleading picture of Addison’s finances.

2. I was immediately skeptical about Kanter’s claims, including because of the unprofessional and exaggerated nature of his presentation.  I was very certain that there was way more to the story than what Kanter was saying.  The whole thing was a classic Meier setup, and it was apparent to me that Meier was not allowing the full story to come out.  I wrote several articles about all this that are available on the Truth in Addison website.

3. After Kanter’s initial presentation, I became aware that former City Manager Lea Dunn had written a memo addressing issues relating to Kanter.  Putting two and two together, I became convinced that Lea Dunn’s memo was the key to exposing what I was very convinced was a phony setup.

4. So, two days later, on February 25, 2016, I submitted an Open Records Act request for documents relating to Kanter, his communications with the staff, and targeting documents that mentioned or dealt with Kanter’s allegations that Addison’s staff was not cooperating with him.

5. Addison refused to produce Lea Dunn’s memo to me, instead submitting the matter to the Texas Attorney General, seeking permission to WITHHOLD this document from me.  With this background in mind, here is what happened.

B. The Wrongful Withholding of Lea Dunn’s Memo and Resistance to Open Records Act Requests.

6. Addison violated the Open Records Act by not producing Lea Dunn’s January 4, 2015 memo to me in response to my February 25, 2016 request.  There just isn’t any way to sugar coat it.

7. In March 2016, as the 2016 election campaign was underway, Addison argued to exclude Lea Dunn’s memo by telling the Texas Attorney General that it was a communication from an Addison consultant to Addison’s attorneys.  Contrary to this statement, Lea Dunn’s memo was written by Lea Dunn and sent to the Finance Committee.

8. Lea Dunn’s memo quotes from accountant Larry Kanter’s December 16, 2015 memo.  Kanter’s memo was likewise not sent to Addison’s attorneys.  It was sent to the Finance Committee.

9. No part of Lea Dunn’s memo is even arguably covered by the attorney-client privilege.  It’s not a close call.  Addison’s assertion that the privilege applied was wrongful.

10. Lea Dunn’s memo addressed Kanter’s claims that Addison’s staff wasn’t cooperating with Kanter.  Lea Dunn debunked every last bit of it, taking Kanter to task point by point, item by item. Among other things, Lea Dunn’s detailed response demonstrated that Kanter was misrepresenting what had occurred.

11. The fact that Kanter misrepresented events and intentionally painted the staff in a poor light SHOULD HAVE BEEN A RED FLAG to any council who was overseeing a legitimate review process.  But, it wasn’t a red flag to any of them, including Meier.  And that confirms my theory that Kanter was not hired to conduct any legitimate review, he was hired to do exactly what Lea Dunn described in her memo.  He was designed to paint the staff in a poor light, including as a means of attacking Lea Dunn.

12. This is confirmed by the fact that after Lea Dunn sent her memo, nothing happened.  There was NO RESPONSE to Lea Dunn’s memo.  Not from Kanter.  Not from Meier.  Not to refute anything Lea Dunn said, and not to address anything Lea Dunn said.  Lea Dunn’s memo was met with silence.

13. And most notably, there was no response to Lea Dunn’s memo from the council.  But then, it appears that Meier concealed Lea Dunn’s memo from the council as well, indicating an astonishing lack of accountability to Addison’s council, not to mention the public.

14. And of course, from all that we know, Kanter continued his work with Addison, with no correction of any kind in connection with the inappropriate conduct described in Lea Dunn’s memo.  Addison’s staff continued to be subjected to Kanter’s accusatory and abusive conduct.  All of which certainly lends support to my theory that in attacking the staff, Kanter was, in fact, doing exactly what Meier wanted him to do.  In Meier’s view, there was no need to correct Kanter’s approach.

15. If Lea Dunn’s memo had been produced in early February 2016 as it should have been, it would have been impossible for Meier to orchestrate Kanter’s inflammatory council presentations in February and March 2016.  The TRUTH would have prevented it.  Instead, the improper concealment of Lea Dunn’s memo denied Addison’s residents from knowing THE TRUTH, with the result that Meier and Kanter could say whatever they wanted.  And they did, boldly misleading the public about what had occurred.

16. And, of course, Kanter’s inflammatory accusations provided the basis for the campaign of lies Meier conducted in connection with the May 2016 election.  It was an effort to influence an election based on a false record, and it was made possible by the wrongful concealment of Lea Dunn’s memo.

17. It has Meier’s fingerprints all over it.  To accomplish his 2016 campaign, Meier needed Kanter’s inflammatory presentations, and to accomplish those inflammatory presentations, Meier had to make sure that Lea Dunn’s memo never saw the light of day.  Meier’s campaign would have been impossible had the TRUTH been known.

18. All of which leads me to conclude Lea Dunn’s memo was concealed by Meier and his cadre – and by Kanter – for political reasons, including to support the campaign of lies orchestrated by Meier in connection with the May 2016 election.  It was a cover-up, plain and simple.

C. Addison’s Attorneys Were Directed To Avoid Producing Information

19. You must be wondering how this could have happened.  I sure did.  What I’ve found so far is deeply disturbing, including because I believe so strongly that all governments must be accountable to their citizens.

20. Here’s the biggest piece of it:  Prior to the recent May 2016 election, Addison’s attorneys were directed that in handling Open Records Act requests, their goal should be to find reasons to withhold documents from the public. 

21. This is the first I’d ever heard about Addison employing a policy of exclusion.  Certainly this was never our policy when I was on the council.  So where did it come from?

22. We certainly never heard about this policy of exclusion in the Meier-controlled newsletter.  Instead, we heard lots of chatter about transparency and lots of claims that Meier was doing a great job.  And of course, as he was concealing information from the public, Meier even claimed that his co-opting of our Town’s newsletter provided transparency.

23. We also never saw adoption of a policy of exclusion by the council.  I don’t recall seeing it on an agenda.  I was not told about a policy of exclusion in connection with any Open Records Act request I have submitted.  And Addison didn’t mention a policy of exclusion in its reality-be-damned submission to the Attorney General.

24. Since nothing of the sort was ever stated publicly, that can only mean that Addison had a secret policy of concealment regarding Open Records Act requests.

25. Transparency is provided only when a government makes DISCLOSURE and TELLS THE TRUTH to its citizens.  Meier’s regime did neither.  Oh sure, he talked a big game, but it was nothing more than lip service and an elaborate deflection.  The truth about what happened is reflected in Addison’s secret policy of exclusion.

26. And here is the key question regarding this astonishing attack on transparency in Addison: Who directed Addison’s attorneys to approach Open Records Act requests in a manner that sought to conceal information rather than provide it? 

27. I have asked this question, but have yet to get an answer.  I do know that Addison’s attorneys report to the council, so my reasonable conclusion is that this instruction must have emanated from the council.  If that’s true, then how was it done without visibility to the public?  And if it’s not true, then that means the instruction came from an individual.  And if that’s true, then we have a complete abuse of power by a councilmember.  None of it bodes well for Addison.

28. But here’s the other thing: Why would any attorney accept such an instruction, much less comply with it?  Attorneys swear an oath to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States and of Texas.  Why would any attorney who took such an oath agree to enforce an inappropriate policy of exclusion that is very much at odds with the Open Records Act?

29. Also consider this: The fact that Addison’s attorneys did comply with the policy of exclusion means that Addison’s taxpayers paid for Addison’s lawyers to resist production of documents in connection with an unknown number of Open Records Act requests, including documents like Lea Dunn’s memo that unquestionably should have been produced.  This is just another example of the tax and spend reality of the Meier regime.

30. These events are appalling. The Open Records Act confers important rights on citizens that are a fundamental part of the accountability of elected officials to their constituents.  Meier and his cadre trampled those rights.

31. And this, folks, is the REALITY of how Meier and his cadre treated “transparency”: with abject disrespect for the rights of Addison’s residents under the Open Records Act.

32. Consider as well the AG’s handling of this matter.  What a process!  Suspending reality and instead accepting assertions that were obviously false on the face of the record, thereby rubber stamping improper concealment.  Think of the AG’s process this way: Garbage in, garbage out.  And that’s exactly what this process has been for residents of Addison: garbage.

33. Here are the last two pieces of all this.  As time went on, Meier began to engage in revisionist history regarding Lea Dunn’s memo.  Meier publicly stated that he favored its production, and to that end, had directed Addison’s staff and attorneys to take the matter to the Texas Attorney General.

34. Meier’s statement is internally inconsistent and boldly misleading.  Submissions to the AG are SOLELY for the purpose of WITHHOLDING documents, NOT producing them.  Productions in response to Open Records Act requests don’t need AG permission.  Addison went to the AG on Lea Dunn’s memo because Addison sought to WITHHOLD it from the public.

35. So, while Meier claimed to want Lea Dunn’s memo produced, in reality, Meier acted to WITHHOLD Lea Dunn’s memo from the public.  That conclusion is bolstered by the fact that its production would have made Meier’s 2016 campaign of lies impossible.

36. This also amplifies the need for access to the FACTS and the TRUTH, because that access is necessary in order to hold our leaders accountable.  Meier’s endless, inaccurate spin has harmed Addison.  Neither he nor any other politician can ever again be placed in the position of having control over what Addison’s residents hear, and what they DON’T hear.  What you’ve read thus far should be proof enough of that.

37. And finally, we know that the new council held an Executive Session relating to the Open Records Act, or perhaps Lea Dunn’s memo.  When they came out of Executive Session, Meier made a motion that the council “waive” the attorney-client privilege for the limited purpose of releasing Lea Dunn’s memo.

38. It was another Meier-orchestrated farce.  Lea Dunn’s memo isn’t privileged!  But, Meier has to continue to make that claim.  It is Meier’s cover story.  Without it, he’d be forced to admit that Addison had no right to withhold Lea Dunn’s memo, and violated the Open Records Act by doing so.

39. But back to the meeting: You have to wonder what was said in that Executive Session.  I obviously don’t know, but this much is clear: there were two lawyers in attendance.  Meier is one, and it’s pretty obvious what he would have said on the issue.  The other lawyer was Addison’s counsel, who orchestrated the reality-be-damned Attorney General submission.  These were the lawyers advising the 5 layperson councilmembers.  Both lawyers had reasons to continue the charade, and so it’s doubtful that the 5 laypeople who were listening got anything close to objective advice about Lea Dunn’s memo.

So now you know a lot about the withholding of Lea Dunn’s memo, and the shocking secret policy of preventing disclosure under the Open Records Act.

In Part 2, I’ll address the SECRET ADDENDUM to Kanter’s engagement letter, and how it confirms that Meier and his cadre took affirmative steps to conceal Kanter’s work from the public.  I’ll also address the formation and conduct of Addison’s “Finance Committee,” and show how it secretly operated in a manner not contemplated by our Charter.

We have to stay vigilant.  We now have a council that believes in disclosure and TRUTH.  They are bringing the Town forward, and hopefully that will mean REAL transparency for a long time to come.