Sunday, September 25, 2022

Flower Mound deserves better: Mayor's recent actions demand accountability

Flower Mound Mayor Jody Smith has been teetering on a thin ethical tightrope for the last several months, but recent events suggest that those rooting for her from below may want to take a few steps back. One more slip and she could fall hard.

Local observers are all-too-familiar with the legal loophole she slithered through at the January 21st Town Council meeting. Smith presided over a contentious debate on proposed zoning changes that would pave the way for a centralized wastewater collection facility (CCF) in an agricultural zone, within a mile of a school and neighborhoods. Having leased her mineral rights to Williams Production, the only gas company that would conceivably have any interest in the CCF, most of the 600-plus citizens in the room were appalled with the mayor’s decision not to recuse herself from the proceedings.

The Council’s controversial 3-2 vote in favor of the CCF provoked a public outcry and sparked a grassroots movement that quickly mobilized into a petition drive. Within weeks, dozens of indefatigable volunteers had gathered the 6,000 signatures needed to force the Council to enact a moratorium on any new applications for a CCF or related pipelines, or schedule a special election.

From the very beginning, and even to this day, Mayor Smith has vociferously opposed the petition drive. That is, when she wasn’t feigning ignorance to it, as she did at the March 1st Council meeting, where she implausibly declared that she hadn’t “seen a petition. I don’t know what it’s about.”

Just days later, a member of her immediate family was caught with signs stolen from the petition drive. To their credit, the petition association took the high road and declined to press charges. Yet more than one month later, the mayor has not addressed the incident publicly, nor has she or the culprit apologized to the petition group’s leaders, publicly or privately.

Over the past week, two of the mayor’s closest friends – the kinds of pals she goes shopping, dining and skiing with – mailed a vile letter to their fellow gas lease holders that, among other things, ridiculed Flower Mound parents who “paraded their cancer stricken kids” at recent council meetings.

Another Smith backer distributed a flier likening petition supporters to “Marxists, Socialists and the most extreme liberal activists.” The characterization would be comical – referring to residents of one of the most affluent, conservative, GOP-leaning communities in the country – if it didn’t border on hate speech.

And yet, despite repeated calls to distance herself from these offensive communications, Mayor Smith remains silent, unapologetic and unaccountable. To borrow a phrase she coined, Smith has indeed become the “slippery eel” of Flower Mound politics.

This week, the mayor sunk to a new low. When the now-infamous “Hineygate” videotape led the local newscasts Tuesday, showing Smith and Mayor Pro Tem Jean Levenick pinching the rear end of a police officer at Town Hall, the mayor confirmed yet again that “accountability” is not in her personal vocabulary.

After admitting that the incident was “very unprofessional,” Smith immediately lashed out at the police chief who filed the sexual harassment complaint against her and her sidekick. Rather than taking responsibility and apologizing for her actions, she questioned the chief’s motivations and shamelessly revealed that he “has been under scrutiny by myself and some other council members as non-performing.”

In other words, Jody Smith’s response to her childish and unacceptable behavior was to throw the town’s chief of police under the bus. As egregious as that is – and leaving aside for a moment the age-old sexual harassment double standard (imagine the outrage had the officer been caught on camera goosing Smith and Levenick!) – the mayor’s public critique of the chief’s performance could conceivably rise to the level of an impeachable offense. After all, the police chief reports to Town Manager Harlan Jefferson; and the way I read the Town Charter, no member of the council (including the mayor) may interfere in his administrative duties.

From Flower Mound Town Charter § 3.09. Council Not to Interfere in Town Manager Appointments and Removals. “…In regard to administrative and executive duties under the Town Manager, the Council and its members shall deal solely through the Town Manager, either publicly or privately. Willful violation of the foregoing provisions of this Charter by any member of the Council shall constitute misconduct and shall authorize the Council by a vote of the majority of its membership to expel such offending member of the Council if found guilty after public hearing…”

Does anyone around here know how to go about filing a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission?

Curiously, just weeks before the May 8th municipal elections, Smith sold her mineral rights. To whom, and for how much, is anyone’s guess. Her timing certainly has raised eyebrows.

But not to worry…her running mates and close allies, Bryan Webb and Gerald Robinson, still have their leases firmly in place. If they prevail, the mayor will lead a council even more closely tied to the interests of the gas companies.

Flower Mound deserves better. Sadly, Jody Smith has disgraced her office and brought waves of unflattering attention to herself and our town. Even some of her long-time supporters agree, though most are loath to admit it publicly. Fortunately, we are just weeks away from a critical election in which voters will have the opportunity to return accountability to Town Hall.

May 8th can’t get here quickly enough.

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