Recovering from Meier:
Repairing and Reuniting Addison
By Susan M. Halpern
Former Addison Councilmember (1992-1999)
The negative influence of Todd Meier is evident in the 2017 election campaigns. Addison has been subjected to a barrage of false, negative attacks on Joe Chow and others. Meier himself has repeatedly used Addison’s email list to mislead the public regarding the election, most recently by falsely claiming that an issue existed about the eligibility of Joe Chow and Tom Braun. Meier misrepresented the record on this point, including by failing to include the language of the original ballot proposition on term limits, which left no doubt that both Chow and Braun are eligible.
Meier also concealed the fact that he raised this issue long ago, and that Addison’s attorney had prepared and distributed a lengthy memo confirming the eligibility of both Chow and Braun. That memo included the language of the ballot proposition. So, Meier clearly knew about it. That means its omission was intentional, as was Meier’s intent to deceive. Yet again.
Meier’s misrepresentations and efforts to impact the election are the latest in a long series of inappropriate actions that have come to define Meier as a person and as a politician. Addison has been significantly harmed. The challenge we now face is moving forward in the wake of Meier’s misguided, destructive tenure.
I don’t see how the negative campaigning by Meier and his chosen candidates does anything to advance the recovery process. But, these tactics have caused me to reflect on the issues that are at the heart of the damage to Addison. Clearly, we have the opportunity to move in a new direction designed to restore the Addison Way. But first, we have to explore what happened to get us to where we are now. Recognizing the failures of Meier’s deceitful, divisive approach allows us to forge a new, positive path for Addison.
1. TRUE transparency starts with TRUTH.
You cannot have transparency without TRUTH. And the problem with Meier was that he constantly deceived the public. Sure, Meier talked a big game about transparency, but he didn’t “walk the walk.” To the contrary, Meier went to great lengths to deceive the public, spending inordinate time plotting, scheming, and spinning. Meier concealed unfavorable information, misrepresented facts and, in the end, subjected the public to a constant barrage of misinformation designed to justify Meier’s purpose of the moment. Meier amplified the harm by suppressing other voices, including those of other councilmembers, who he constantly attacked and berated. Sorry, but that’s not transparency.
Meier’s efforts to falsely question the eligibility of Chow and Braun were a classic example of his deceptive and clearly inappropriate conduct. The falsity of Meier’s basic premise that there was a question about eligibility was conclusively disproven by the wording of the ballot proposition by which Addison voters established term limits in 1993:
“SHALL THE ADDISON CITY CHARTER BE AMENDED TO LIMIT TO THREE (3) THE NUMBER OF CONSECUTIVE TERMS which a person may hold the office of Mayor or the office of council member, and to effectuate such amendment.” (Capitalization added).
Clearly, the issue before the voters was limited to the question of consecutive terms, not total terms, and the subsequent change in Addison’s Charter must be viewed in that context.
Meier omitted this important context and misled the public just two days before early voting started. And, there is no dispute that Meier was fully aware of this language and its importance in construing Addison’s Charter, because it was included and discussed in the February 27, 2017 memo prepared by Addison’s attorney, in which she opined that both Chow and Braun were eligible. While Meier could claim that the memo itself was privileged, the fact of the wording of the ballot proposition was not, and Meier’s failure to disclose it confirms his intent to deceive the public. That’s not transparency.
But then, as a lawyer, Meier also knew that even though the lawyer’s memo was subject to the attorney-client privilege, you cannot use that privilege “as a sword and a shield.” That means that you can’t tell half a story and then hide the rest by claiming it is privileged. And Meier did exactly that, in raising the issue without also confirming that he had asked the question months earlier, or that it had been resolved against him by Addison’s attorney. Telling half a story with a clear intent to mislead is not transparency.
But then, consider as well how Meier reacted when other members of the council acted to correct the record. Meier immediately sought to delay the April 28th meeting until the following week. That would have left Meier’s false record before the public (a) until early voting concluded, and (b) until after yet another newsletter from Meier, which undoubtedly would have reiterated the same misinformation. Thankfully, the other members of the council didn’t bite, and held the meeting without Meier. It was a good decision, which was confirmed when Meier was spotted that night at the 7:30 p.m. David Sedaris concert at the Winspear. Putting aside the issue of priorities, Meier clearly could have attended the 5:30 p.m. council meeting and made it to the show with time to spare. In other words, there was no scheduling conflict, and that confirms that Meier’s intent was to keep the truth from the public until after early voting concluded. THAT’S NOT TRANSPARENCY.
The AMLI development was another example of Meier’s tactics. After the AMLI project was approved despite Meier’s efforts to derail its consideration, Meier falsely told residents that the AMLI site was contaminated, ignoring TCEQ’s conclusions to the contrary. Meier then attacked the councilmembers who approved the development. First, Meier inappropriately claimed that AMLI involved a simple yes or no to apartments, when in truth, both AMLI and Addison Grove involved countless other issues. Second, Meier falsely claimed that Councilmembers Duffy, Walden and Angell had campaigned on anti-apartment platforms, which was simply not true. Then, Meier improperly used Addison’s email list to claim that they were not keeping campaign promises, yet another falsity.
I could go on, but let’s leave it at this: Time and again, Meier has misrepresented and mischaracterized issues and events to suit his purposes, including to consolidate his power. In the face of that reality, Meier’s claims about transparency are the biggest lie of all. The fact is that transparency cannot exist without truth, and Meier hasn’t told the truth again and again. Above all, Addison needs a council that tells the truth.
2. Providing any politician with a monopoly on what citizens hear is dangerous and poor policy.
Meier was able to consolidate his power by controlling what Addison residents heard, a monopoly Meier ruthlessly protected. By ensuring that other councilmembers had no equal opportunity to be heard, Meier was free to mischaracterize issues, conceal facts, and mislead residents, influencing public opinion with his propaganda. Meier repeatedly twisted the facts to provide support for his point of view, frequently taking contrary positions as convenient to suit the purpose of the moment. As necessary, things were either “always done this way,” or Addison needed to “embrace change.” Meier used officious buzz words like “best practices” and “tone at the top” as convenient. They were meaningless in the face of his bullying tactics. The point was never to do what was best for Addison. Rather, Meier’s purpose was always to impose his will on the council.
Meier suppressed discussion and opposing views by making clear to all that he was willing to misquote and attack other councilmembers via Addison’s newsletter and later, by using Addison’s email list. Councilmembers who obeyed Meier were called “collaborative,” while those who disagreed with or challenged Meier were called “divisive.” Meier’s attacks made the existence of a deliberative dynamic impossible, and that undermined the seven-member council established by Addison’s Charter. Rather than seeing all this for the very serious problem it was, Meier embraced it because it benefited his quest for absolute power.
Consider the events regarding employee compensation in August/September 2013. Neil Resnik’s motion on employee compensation passed over Meier’s objection, and despite Meier’s efforts to preclude the council from voting on it. Meier wrote about the meeting in Addison’s newsletter, clearly misrepresenting and mischaracterizing what occurred. Meier used his false narrative to attack Neil Resnik, claiming that Resnik had “cut off discussion.” It was a brazen lie, but by focusing people on his false accusation against Resnik, Meier also avoided scrutiny of his improper effort to prevent the council from voting on Resnik’s motion. Such deflection was a favorite Meier tactic. And, Meier’s lie made people mad at Resnik, which was what Meier wanted.
When Resnik and others challenged Meier on his misuse and abuse of Addison’s newsletter, Meier falsely cast the issue as an effort by his opponents to avoid transparency by terminating what Meier called “the mayor’s newsletter.” Using that clearly misleading characterization of the issue, Meier inflamed public opinion. Then Meier employed his favored tactic of holding a public hearing. Meier supporters predictably railed on about the need for transparency, while people like me tried to focus the issue back to the law regarding statutorily-defined “political advertising,” which Meier had clearly violated by attacking Resnik. Ultimately, Meier maneuvered the council to allow the newsletter to continue, albeit with review by Addison’s attorney, which proved to be ineffective in preventing Meier from attacking other councilmembers and candidates.
We saw the same nonsense in May 2016, after Meier’s chosen candidates were defeated. Meier immediately set about to undermine the newly elected councilmembers by misleading the public to believe that Councilmembers Duffy, Walden and Angell were trying to terminate Meier’s monopoly on the Town’s newsletter. This episode demonstrates the lengths to which Meier was willing to go to harm his perceived foes. First, Meier put an item on the council’s agenda using this wording: “The Termination of the Mayor’s Weekly Newsletter.” Second, Meier then set about to mislead the public to believe that it was Duffy, Walden and Angell who had put the item on the agenda. Meier did this by providing the agenda to the facts-don’t-matter tabloid before the agenda was released to the public and, of course, they dutifully wrote: “Long speculated, that if this slate got elected, this would be one of the early things they would address – not taxes, not economic growth, not anything to positively impact the Town, but rather this negative personal attack.” It was a complete fabrication, and signaled Meier’s intent to spend the ensuing year attacking and undermining the new councilmembers.
There are too many examples of Meier’s deceitful conduct to write about in this piece. Suffice it to say that Meier has amply demonstrated the dangers of propaganda, and the harm that befalls a democracy when it allows one person to control what citizens hear. The lesson for Addison is that no one person should ever be allowed to maintain a monopoly on the information citizens receive from their government.
3. Transparency requires disclosure of FACTS. But on Meier’s watch, the attorneys were directed to find a way to withhold documents requested under the Open Records Act. THAT’S NOT TRANSPARENCY.
The premise of laws like the Open Records Act is that citizens are entitled to receive disclosure of FACTS. This allows citizens to demand accountability, including by drawing their own conclusions about facts and events. Meier turned this model on its head, continually concealing facts and feeding CONCLUSIONS – Meier’s CONCLUSIONS – to the public. Sorry, but that isn’t transparency.
Meier also convinced others to assist him in concealing information, most notably the lawyers. I was stunned to learn that on Meier’s watch, Addison’s attorneys were directed to handle Open Records Act requests by finding a way to withhold documents. This inappropriate handling of requests aided Meier’s monopoly on information presented to the public.
Consider here the campaign Meier ran in 2016. Meier used his shill accountant Larry Kanter, who spoke about his two-year-old report, using inappropriate and inflammatory rhetoric to attack Addison’s staff. This provided Meier with the premise of his campaign. The problem for Meier was that Lea Dunn had written a comprehensive memo that refuted Kanter’s claims, and exposed Kanter’s unprofessional and hostile treatment of Addison’s staff. Meier couldn’t afford for that memo to be released, because it would have exposed his campaign for the pack of lies it was. So, Meier orchestrated the concealment of Lea Dunn’s memo, aided by Addison’s lawyers, who repeatedly presented an incomplete and inaccurate record to the Texas Attorney General.
Make no mistake about this: The truth would not have come out had Councilmembers Duffy, Walden and Angell not been elected. They were the ones who pressed for the release of Lea Dunn’s memo, which exposed Meier’s lies. And, having now studied Lea Dunn’s memo in detail, I can assure you that there is no part of that document that is even arguably subject to the attorney-client privilege. And yet, Addison’s lawyers asserted that privilege and thereby aided Meier in deceiving Addison, all in an effort to influence the 2016 election.
Thankfully, with the guidance of the new council in 2016, Wes Pierson has reversed course, and Open Records Act requests are now reviewed with a philosophy and policy of disclosure. Among other things, I’m sure Addison is saving thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees that were unnecessarily incurred in connection with Meier’s efforts to conceal information.
Addison must forcefully reject the atmosphere of secrecy and concealment that existed on Meier’s watch and return to the open government mandated by the Open Records Act. Citizens have a right to know the facts and the truth, and we must demand disclosure of both from our government.
4. Paper and other “busy work” doesn’t solve the problem.
Addison is learning hard lessons about the proverbial lowest common denominator. Meier’s bad behavior has demonstrated the damage one lawless, brazen person can cause. Addison has to address the proverbial “elephant in the room,” which is that Addison’s problems are with Meier, not with the presence or absence of yet more policies and procedures. Simply stated, all the paper in the world doesn’t matter when someone like Meier is willing and able to deceive and conceal the facts from the public.
First, let’s address the “busy work” issue. Meier put on a grand show during his six years, holding countless meetings and purporting to establish important policies. It was inefficient and often pointless, and the results were sometimes not worth the paper they were written on.
Consider here the issue of the Open Records Act. This is a Texas statute. Addison is bound by it. So, Addison doesn’t need to promulgate a policy that says it will comply with the Open Records Act, because that is a fact of life for Addison. As well, the mere existence of a document titled Open Records Act Policy doesn’t establish compliance. And yet, that is what Meier did: he touted Addison’s Open Records Act Policy as supposed proof of his transparency. It was nothing but more smoke and mirrors from Meier.
To start, the so-called “policy” was a lengthy, poorly drafted document that contained lots about procedures, but almost nothing about policy. In reality, it was another example of Meier’s efforts to micromanage the staff, which is not the job of the council, and is certainly not the job of the mayor. But it didn’t add anything to the already existing obligation on Addison’s part to comply with the Open Records Act. It was all for show.
And here’s the problem. Addison’s real policy on Meier’s watch was one of evasion and obstruction. The lawyers were directed to find a way to withhold requested, responsive documents. So, the so-called policy wasn’t even accurate in describing what Addison was really doing. It was a false, misleading document that concealed the truth about Addison’s obstruction and evasion of Open Records Act requests.
Of course, none of it mattered, because we’ve already documented Meier’s willingness to conceal responsive information and, sadly, the lawyers’ willingness to aid and abet that conduct. The improper withholding of Lea Dunn’s key memo was evidence enough of that.
With this context in mind, you can see that Meier’s recent push for more policies regarding transparency, ethics and council decorum was just more of the same misdirection and subterfuge. That is confirmed when you consider that it only came up after Meier’s shameful and unprofessional handling of the AMLI meeting. Meier hoped to avoid accountability for his bad behavior by claiming he was victimized by interruptions from other councilmembers, and that some review of Addison’s procedures was therefore necessary. It was classic Meier deflection, and we saw more of it when he attacked the councilmembers for meeting on April 28, 2017, to set the record straight before early voting concluded, despite Meier’s efforts to delay their important corrective action.
Addison has to understand that more procedures and paper and policies and procedures are meaningless in the fact of a dishonest politician like Meier. Whether Meier disregarded one law or ten or a hundred laws is irrelevant to the question of whether he was lawless.
Without an honest council, policies aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.
5. The council needs to have real MEETINGS, not one-sided prosecutorial presentations. Council meetings cannot ever be about one person.
Addison’s charter establishes a council of SEVEN, not one. The idea is for seven people to confer, discuss and deliberate, working together for the common good of Addison. Meier turned it all on its head, showing no interest in the opinions of others unless, of course, they were of benefit to whatever Meier was doing at any given time. Meier dominated discussions, frequently making motions before councilmembers could even address the issue. When the other councilmembers were finally recognized, Meier debated them individually, rather than allowing a discussion amongst the council as a whole.
When Meier opposed a measure, he filibustered or sought to table the matter in order to prevent council action. Meier used these tactics in an effort to prevent Lea Dunn from being appointed as Addison’s city manager. Meier even worked with Blake Clemens to derail a meeting after more than three hours, claiming that it hadn’t been properly noticed. Of course, this was only done after Meier’s motion for a nationwide search failed, and literally as Chris DeFrancisco was making a motion to appoint Lea Dunn to succeed Ron Whitehead as Addison’s city manager.
The most glaring example of Meier’s misconduct was the February 14, 2017 meeting in connection with the AMLI project. Meier repeatedly tried to table the matter or take up other business in an effort to prevent the council from voting. Meier refused to recognize Bruce Arfsten’s attempt to make a motion, and precluded other councilmembers from participating in the discussion. Meier actively prevented the council from deliberating or discussing the matter, or from informing the public regarding their views of the project.
The challenge for the new council is to ensure an orderly conduct of council business. That involves balancing everyone’s right to participate with a clear need to achieve greater efficiency. It also means embracing differences in approach and opinions, which in turn requires councilmembers to commit themselves to a healthy deliberative dynamic. All of which means that we as voters must populate the council with people willing to embrace these principles, rather than people like Meier, whose priority was to impose his will on the council and the Town, rather than searching for what was best for Addison.
6. “Meeting” people to death doesn’t provide transparency, and is yet another sign of an unhealthy government.
Meier has held more meetings than any other mayor I’ve seen. But, it’s all show and no go. Items are buried in a labyrinth of committees and procedures and more meetings. It has been horribly and needlessly inefficient. Then, when the meetings do happen, Meier talks endlessly and unnecessarily, often as a tactic designed to stall and otherwise affect the result. Meier constantly plays to the cameras, injecting drama and feigning a variety of reactions in what is clearly Oscar-worthy acting. Stated simply, Meier enjoys occupying the “throne.”
All these unnecessary, lengthy meetings are harmful to Addison. There is literal expense, as Town Hall is populated for hundreds of additional hours, with staff required to be in attendance. There is human expense, as staff is kept at Meier’s meetings until all hours of the night, taking time away from actually conducting the work of the Town. And that’s before you even consider the human toll on the lives of our staff. It’s no coincidence that on Meier’s watch we’ve had FOUR city managers and have lost every department head except two. At his hand, we’ve also lost significant talent and hundreds of hours of municipal experience with the exodus of management and staff seeking to escape the toxic environment Meier has created. The excruciating, endless meetings are a factor in that equation.
Many of us who have served on the council have been appalled at the number and length of Meier’s meetings. The irony is that despite their length, Meier’s meetings do little to bring out the opinions of other councilmembers and, as previously discussed, Meier regularly conceals information and misinforms the public. Meier’s tenure has proven that transparency is not about quantity. It is about quality, and Meier has provided little quality despite setting records for the number and length of meetings.
All the meetings have also had a chilling effect on those willing to run for council. Many fine candidates have undoubtedly concluded that they just don’t have the time to work a full-time job and also sit at meetings until midnight and one o’clock in the morning. That is particularly true given how much time Meier wastes and how Meier uses time as a weapon, wearing others down in an effort to bend them to his imperialistic will. Being on Addison’s council is not a full-time job. But Meier has made it so. It’s no coincidence that most of the current council does not have full-time employment. Meier has inappropriately reduced the potential pool of candidates, and that is not healthy for Addison.
The number and length of meetings held by Meier illustrates another important problem, and that is Meier’s micromanagement of Addison’s staff. The role of council is to set policy and then get out of the way. The professional staff, not Meier and the council, are tasked with conducting the business of the Town. In the name of “studying” this, that and the other thing, Meier and his cadre have, in actuality, been directing the staff at too specific a level. It’s time for the council to get back to its real job, which is to set policy and priorities. The city manager is tasked with the responsibility for making the actual work happen. And the council (including the mayor) must get out of the way and let the staff do its job.
Which is another way of saying that Meier has been unwilling to accept the fact that our Charter establishes a city manager/council form of government.
Addison needs to get back to the form of government our Charter envisions. Doing so will eliminate many unnecessary meetings. And, it will prevent any future mayor from using meetings and time to bludgeon others on the council. Hopefully, it will also encourage others to run for council.
7. Treating applicants and business owners respectfully is good business, it’s NOT “Feeling Sorry” for them.
I was fascinated to watch the recent candidate forum, at which some of Meier’s chosen candidates adopted Meier’s rhetoric, wherein he claimed that councilmembers voted for the AMLI development because they “felt sorry” for AMLI. You heard the same nonsense at the Town Hall meeting when a Meier supporter read Meier’s planted question on the AMLI development. Good for Ivan Hughes that he hit the planted question head-on, eloquently describing why he voted in favor of AMLI. It had nothing to do with “feeling sorry” for anyone, but dealt with important issues relating to the health of Addison Circle and its environs. Give me a break: no one on the council voted for AMLI because they “felt sorry” for AMLI. What utter nonsense.
But back to the forum. What I found fascinating was that the same candidates who pledged to take hardline positions respecting business developments also pledged to embrace economic development. Huh?
Here’s the thing. The Addison business community is vital to the health of the Addison residential community. It is foolish to think that we can survive with the amenities we have traditionally enjoyed in Addison, while treating businesses and applicants as Meier treated the AMLI representatives on February 14, 2017. We need businesses in Addison, and we need to continue to develop the business community. The challenge for the council is to balance their economic development work with the interests of the residents. And to do so politely and respectfully. That isn’t about “feeling sorry” for anyone. It’s about being smart and doing what is in Addison’s best interests.
The truth is that Meier’s conduct at the AMLI meeting and thereafter in attacking AMLI sent a very bad message to the business community and potential applicants. Among other things, Meier made clear that if they didn’t have his singular approval, he would attack them at the meeting and after the meeting. No matter what the council decided. Without regard to approval of their projects. We are fools if we don’t recognize that the business community has been watching the Meier gong show, and other nearby communities are capitalizing on the instability that Meier has brought with his imperialistic approach.
So, we must recognize moving forward that we need a healthy Addison business community, and that we can achieve a good balance between their needs and the needs of residents. But we can’t do it if we continue to subject businesses and applicants to Meier’s “my way or the highway” approach. All of this is common sense and has nothing to do with “feeling sorry” for anyone.
I hope I’ve convinced you that it’s time for Addison to engage in some significant soul-searching and self-reflection. The issues I’ve outlined in this article are important considerations that in my view will help Addison find its way back to the Addison Way.