I just watched a portion of Monday night’s Flower Mound Council meeting on tape, in which a Planning and Zoning member was summarily removed from the board. What I saw made me uncomfortable, not because a person was being dismissed, but because of the way his dismissal was handled.
I don’t know Nels Pearson well, having only said hello to him a few times during local events. However, I learned from Monday’s meeting that he has served the town in other capacities and was appointed to P&Z only a few months ago. Yet, as he stood at the podium being questioned by newly-elected Councilman Itamar Gelbman, I got the feeling that he was the defendant in a criminal trial.
Mr. Gelbman wanted to know why Pearson voted yes on some development projects that several residents were adamantly against. Gelbman talked about democracy and obeying the will of the people. Pearson’s rebuttal was that we live in a democratic republic, not a pure democracy. As such, people are elected or appointed to represent the best interests of all their constituents, not merely those who organize to put a stop to a given project. Not satisfied with Pearson’s answers, Gelbman continued to follow a line of questioning that seemed more like the pursuit of a vendetta than a sincere effort to appoint the most qualified people to this very important position.
Mr. Gelbman made some excellent points about the common practice of new councils to remove people from boards who don’t agree with their policies. Moreover, when an election is as controversial as this past one, there will certainly be some hard feelings to deal with, post election. However, the victors in any contest will always garner more respect by a display of magnanimity than they will by an exhibition of vindictiveness. Mr. Pearson could have been removed without a public denunciation of his voting record on the board. Recently, David Johnson, another P&Z member was removed after a public rebuke by Mr. Gelbman, concerning some posts made by Johnson on social media during the election campaign. Like members of the council, P&Z members are volunteers, often putting in many hours a week without pay.
Treating them with disdain as you jettison them from their positions creates a hostile atmosphere that may dissuade others from getting involved in helping the town to move forward in a positive direction. If current board members don’t vote appropriately, according to a future town council, will they be interrogated and ignominiously dismissed? I was glad to see that Mayor Hayden and Councilmen Webb and Dixon stuck up for the embattled board member, even though the die had been cast and he was about to be given a version of a pink slip. It was one of the most volatile council meetings in recent memory, with Webb raising his voice several times to protest the way it was being handled, and Mr. Hayden asking if board members should only be appointed if they agree with Mr. Gelbman.
Mr. Pearson, the guy who was donating his time in service to the town, while facing criticism from what appeared to be a one man firing squad, stood his ground and handled himself with dignity and humility, befitting a man of principle. Instead of treating our community service volunteers with opprobrium, we should be ceremoniously thanking them for doing what only a fraction of our residents can find the time to do. In fact, this town would not be as great a place to live were it not for the sacrifices made by a small segment of the population. To sum up, I don’t disagree with replacing board members in order to surround yourself with like-minded policy advocates; most councils do the same. But, I strongly disagree with publicly raking them over the coals because you didn’t like the way they voted during a previous council majority.
Mr. Gelbman received more votes than each of the other 2 councilmen elected this year. I give him credit for a hard fought campaign, while being pilloried by the usual smear merchants that are heard from every time a plebiscite is announced. It’s not easy to deal with so much vitriol while trying to get your message across. Nevertheless, he was tough enough to handle it all and win an impressive victory. Moreover, he seems like a take charge type of guy who likes to hit the ground running. Those are outstanding traits in a leader. Other outstanding traits include generosity of spirit and a lack of pettiness. The new council was elected because enough voters wanted to change the direction in which the town was going. Still, it’s a good bet that most of those voters don’t appreciate poor treatment of dedicated residents who came forward when asked.
Bob Weir is a long-time Flower Mound resident and former local newspaper editor.