Ethics and governmental line-crossing kicked off a hot-blooded town council meeting in Flower Mound Monday evening, with both residents and officials firing accusations of ethical misgivings and perhaps violations.
Council members had been expected to hash out launching an investigation into possible ethics violations, though before the meeting, no specifics had been delivered.
Council member Brian Rountree (Place 1) requested an agenda item that reads: “Identify interest and receive direction regarding a proposal to direct the Town Manager to direct the appropriate staff to conduct an investigation into possible violations of the Code of Ethics and/or Open Government Laws.”
Councilman Bryan Webb (Place 2), suspected the move was targeted at him for revealing information discussed in a closed town council meeting.
But before that item even came up, residents leveled similar accusations at Rountree and Councilman Itamar Gelbman (Place 5).
Philip Van Guilder said Webb and his family had been maligned on a secret Facebook group called “Grow Slow Flo Mo,” with comments from, among others, sitting P&Z member Emily Strittmatter and alternate Jason Hitt.
“In case you haven’t figured this one out, he has a ‘hot button’ temper and can go off. The ‘nice guy’ act is disingenuous,” reads one comment made.
Another says, “He was also pleased with the SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage, especially due to the struggles of his sister, Keith.”
“My comments on the Go Slow Flo Mo Facebook page were about my neighborhood and had nothing to do with Bryan Webb,” said Strittmatter late Monday night.
“The original intent of the page was for a place for residents who support SMARTGROWTH and responsible town growth to discuss and learn more about the town.”
Rountree and Gelbman had also previously requested the town create a social media policy to ensure the town isn’t disparaged by unethical remarks made by elected officials. The committee met and determined that there was no need for a social media policy.
“You’re arguing two sides,” Rountree said. “In one hand you’re a proponent of free speech and then you condemn people for exercising it because you don’t agree with it.”
Rountree said he has received text messages and screen shots of secret groups within the community.
“I have seen some sitting board members that spoke tonight say some horrible things about citizens of this town just this week,” he said.
“I remember it, I can’t erase it once I’ve seen it. The social media thing is a wild wild west … there’s no rules. You can do and say anything you want to say.”
He said he has been the target of false accusations that have gone out without repercussions.
“We can start to heal when people recognize that we are a community, that we can stop this horrible attack on each other,” Rountree said. “Some people … refuse to acknowledge the election we just had … but to get up here and lecture us about continuing to do that very same thing that’s appalling.
“I wanted to help bring a new direction to this town, but this is not it.”
Rountree’s comments were punctured by shouts from the audience including one: “Does your arrogance know no bounds?”
As for Rountree’s accusations, they would not result in Webb’s removal from council, but could be a Class C misdemeanor, Rountree said.
Town Attorney Bryn Meredith said what Webb did does not amount to a violation of attorney-client privilege since Webb did not give legal advice to Pearson.
“We all make mistakes, we all are finding our way with the rules and do the best we can and I have no issue with that,” Rountree said. “The issue that’s a problem with me is the willful intent and the lack of any type of apology for doing this. It seemed very much in our face, ‘See I did this, See what you can do about it.'”
Councilman Steve Dixon (Place 4) said he loves transparency and believes the council should put the town first.
“I have never sat any particular year that executive privilege has not been broken. you see it on social media, you hear it from friends, you hear it on the street … It happens left and right,” he said. “It’s certainly not breaking the law. It’s clear cut. A junior high kid could tell you it’s not breaking the ordinances, it’s not breaking the law.”
Meredith said Webb did not violate the town charter. He also said that the ethics ordinance does state that sharing information for the benefit of oneself or another is a violation, but that it does not specify the details.
Hayden asked Gelbman if he had ever disclosed information from an executive session, and Gelbman said he had not.
“Yes he has!” came a shout from the audience.
At which point, Webb proposed an investigation into Gelbman’s possible revelation of information from a closed session. Rountree said he was satisfied with that outcome to put the situation to rest.
“If it’s going to be a true investigation, it needs to include information from everyone up here,” Dixon said.
Hayden asked if the town manager could find a third party to investigate all council members, including the mayor himself, to see if anyone broke the town’s Code of Ethics and/or the Town Charter.
Since the issue was up for discussion only Monday, no action was taken. Meredith suggested any contract with a third party for the investigation be brought back to the council for approval. The next town council meeting is Aug. 3.
However, Hayden did not want to wait two weeks to start the investigation.
Hayden explained that the town charter allows the town manager, with the consent of the mayor, to spend up to $15,000 without town council approval. He asked Town Manager Jimmy Stathatos to locate a firm and start the investigation immediately.
“As soon as we get this over with, the better. And the more it hangs over our head, the worse it is going to be,” said Hayden.