Sunday, June 16, 2024

Flower Mound Town Council refers investigation report to DA

Flower Mound Town Hall. Photo by Bill Castleman
Flower Mound Town Hall. Photo by Bill Castleman

Following a closed session during the Dec. 21 council meeting, Flower Mound Mayor Tom Hayden directed the town staff to create a resolution to send the investigator’s report to the District Attorney’s office regarding a violation of the town’s Ethics Ordinance by Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Itamar Gelbman.

The council’s action was of the highest level of legal options, as outlined by Town Attorney Bryn Meredith earlier during the meeting.

The Ethics Ordinance violations pertain to those which: prohibit a public official from directly or indirectly disclosing or using any information gained solely by reason of his official position for his own personal gain, or benefit, or for the private interest of others; and, prohibit a public official from knowingly disclosing information deemed confidential by law.

“It’s been a distraction to what we should be doing,” said Hayden, referring to the ongoing independent investigation of the Town Council and the release of the resulting report.

In a deviation of the agenda lineup, Hayden moved the “Council Announcements” section, including an update on the independent investigation and the recommendation to prosecute Gelbman contained therein, before the “Public Participation” section.

Hayden then called on Town Attorney Bryn Meredith to give a summary of what options there are as a result of independent investigator Ross Foster’s assessment and recommendation to prosecute Gelbman for violating the Ethics Ordinance.

Meredith said there are five different options regarding the violation to the Ethic’s Ordinance; a Class C misdemeanor:

  1. Take no action;
  2. Censure—a public rebuke as the result of a simple motion or resolution;
  3. Recall process, which is detailed in Article VI of the Town Charter;
  4. Referral of the Report to law enforcement for investigation of a violation of the Ethics Ordinance and possible citation, which is within town’s municipal court; and,
  5. Referral of the Report to the District Attorney’s office or law enforcement for a determination of whether the facts support a violation of State law.

Removal from council, forfeiture or declaring Gelbman’s seat vacant are not current options at a Class C Misdemeanor level explained Meredith.

He added that if the council refers the issue to the district attorney’s office or another such agency [the Texas Rangers], and additional violation{s} are issued, that could change the town’s legal action options.

“If a higher-level offense is determined, then that would mean it [the violation] would be a felony,” explained Meredith.

Hayden then made public various threats made by Gelbman in the past.

Itamar Gelbman, Place 5, Flower Mound Town Council.
Itamar Gelbman, Place 5, Flower Mound Town Council.

“You [to Gelbman] said, in front of all the council members, the Town Attorney and the Town Manager back in October: ‘If you subpoena me [to testify under oath], it will be a huge legal battle and I will go after the Town Manager’s job’ and other threats,” said Hayden.

Hayden asked town Manager Jimmy Stathatos to verify the threat. Stathatos said he couldn’t remember the exact wording, because there were so many things being said.

In an interview following the council meeting, Place 3 Council member Kevin Bryant corroborated Hayden’s statements.

“What the Mayor said about the threat to Jimmy [Stathatos] and taking his job—it is true,” Bryant said. “All the veiled threats are behind closed doors [in closed or Executive Sessions] and the people [residents] don’t see it. Yes, it is true. It is happening and it happens at every meeting.”

Before the deadline was reached for a subpoena being issued, Gelbman finally agreed to testify under oath on Nov. 4.  The investigator’s final report was received by the council and town staff on Nov. 30.

“After the report was received, there’ve been additional threats,” said Hayden to the audience. “You [to Gelbman] said that you’re going to ‘go after’ the town, saying: ‘If you release this report, I’m going to bankrupt this $#@*& town.’”

Hayden added that Gelbman also said, again, he’d go after Jimmy Stathatos and get him out of office and that he’d also “go after” resident David Vaught [who had also testified under oath] and would ruin his reputation, as well as file a restraining order against him for alleged threats against Gelbman.

“All this is coming from one direction,” said Bryant in the interview. “He [Gelbman] keeps it in a closed situation.”

During his deposition, Gelbman had told investigator Foster that Vaught had made threats against him and his family members and that he [Gelbman] was afraid for his life.

When Foster asked if Gelbman had any evidence to support his claim of threats made by Vaught, Gelbman answered that he did, but because it didn’t relate to the violation of the ethics charge against him, he didn’t feel he needed to include it. No evidence has ever been produced by Gelbman. However, evidence has been provided of social invitation texts from Gelbman to Vaught continued through November—including one request that Vaught join him at a shooting range for practice.

Vaught’s inclusion in the investigation came about because he was the individual to whom Gelbman disclosed the non-public information about incentives the town was offering for Vaught’s Crossfire indoor gun range, as well as other prospective businesses.

Gelbman had obtained the information in executive session, solely as a result of his position as a Council member. The information was deemed confidential by law, because the town had not made incentive agreements with any of the listed businesses when the information was disclosed.

As a background, Gelbman wanted to acquire an equity interest in the gun range, but Vaught was not receptive to Gelbman being more than an investor. Vaught had shared a pro forma business plan for the gun range to Gelbman. The discussions were continuing when Council member Gelbman was elected to the Town Council.

In the Public Participation session that followed, the first speaker was Janvier Scott, who expressed her continued support for Gelbman. Two other women, Sharon Gentry and Shyron Shenko, also said they support him.

Additional residents, however, stepped to the podium to request—or demand, depending on the speaker—that Gelbman resign from the Town Council.

The least aggressive was Jim Engle, who confessed: “I voted for him and I am severely disappointed in him; it’s an embarrassment.”

“There are so many inconsistencies, it’s hard to believe you’re still standing on the story you’re standing with,” said Jeff Stevens. “You lied about hosting or group- hosting meetings; you knowingly lied under oath. Just resign and go away. Don’t make us fight this battle.”

He added that being on council means standing up and making difficult decisions. The council should pursue this as a town and make a recommendation that it goes to either the police or the DA. The council shouldn’t  “Just sit idly by.”

Jody Boutilier said she’d had several conversations with Gelbman, during which he’d told her one thing, but after reading his deposition, she learned that what he’d told her was untrue.

“It seems to be a pattern, that everything you say is gospel and everything that everybody else says isn’t true,” she said. “If you think that the town staff is so mean and rude and you want to bankrupt the town, then you need to leave.”

Carol Kohankie, a long-time resident and political activist, read an eloquent statement, starting with a quote: “Never sacrifice your class to get even with someone who has none. Let them have the gutter; you take the high road.”

She continued, saying: “I do not need to ‘get even’ with Itamar Gelbman, but he has dragged the entire town into the gutter by his actions, as reflected in the investigation. He has posted an article saying that Israel men are straight forward; you always know where you stand … Obviously, Itamar is not an honorable man and because of the discrepancies, which are lies, he has broken his oath and the council needs to find away to prevent Itamar Gelbman from continuing to hold his office.”

“I’m a veteran, you’re a veteran … you’ve taken an oath to protect other people,” said Michael Upchurch, referring to Gelbman’s service in Israel in the military and as a police officer. “When I heard that the whole Town Council had been threatened, I was so frustrated and infuriated, I couldn’t see straight. It makes me think maybe that’s [Gelbman’s service record] a farce, too.  Maybe that’s an attitude of hate and discontent to the point that you make threats. When you attack people without evidence– like you were asking for in the first place– it boggles my mind. You need to man up. You need to show us the same integrity here.”

Don McDaniel, who was also candidate for Place 3 on the Town Council in May, but lost to Bryant, stepped to the podium to condemn Gelbman’s tenure on council, which he labeled as “abysmal.”

“I was advised I should stay above the fray if I intended to run this coming May,” said McDaniel. “And that’s part of what’s wrong with politics at all levels. Politicians are more concerned with political capital and expediency than doing what is right. (Read more about McDaniel here.)

“Mr. Gelbman sent me a message this morning, clearly with the intent to keep me quiet on the matter. It reads: ‘what’s your issue with keep[sic] attacking me personally? Should I remind you what and how you spoke on Kevin [Bryant] before the election when we met at Starbucks?’

“I do not take kindly to threats, Mr. Gelbman, and I will not be intimidated by your bullying tactics.

“[To Bryant] Kevin, I’m sure I spoke with Mr. Gelbman regarding what I perceived as your lack of experience; it was a campaign and should come as no surprise to anyone. I stand behind anything I say privately or in public. In the last few months, you and I have become friends and we’ve developed a mutual trust and respect. You’ve proven to be an honorable and respected councilman.

“Your [to Gelbman] attendance record, continued threats on council members, town staff and residents should be an embarrassment to you, as they are to us. Your time on council has been a stain on our town. You do not have the honor or courage to do what is right. I implore the council to do what is right.”

Patsy Mazur said the council was elected to lead and questioned why members had asked for a resident to take the report to the DA. She also read from the Town Charter, section .1103, which states that Gelbman’s violation is enough reason for removal from council.

Then, Hayden called Vaught to the podium, saying 18 other residents had donated their three-minute speaking time to him for a total of 58 minutes.

Vaught began by thanking both council member Bryant and Engle for their support.

“When I was asked to testify a second time, it would’ve been easy for me to say I didn’t want to get involved,” said Vaught. “The investigator wanted me to be aware of the threats [a restraining order issued by Gelbman] against me. But, I will continue to give my testimony; openly.”

He then presented a timeline, from January to June 11, specifically pertaining to his prospective gun range in Flower Mound, the subject related to the charge of Gelbman’s violation on the Ethics Ordinance. The timeline continues through November detailing Gelbman’s social invitations, after stating he was afraid of Vaught. [Editor: the timeline can be viewed here.]

As a background, he showed documentation that he had contacted a business specializing in the building of indoor shooting ranges back in 2013. The document is a disproof of Gelbman’s assertion that in 2014 he had the idea first to bring such a facility to town.

Vaught began a review of his timeline. It compares, side-by-side, how what Gelbman has said is not supported by recorded evidence. What follows is a synopsis.

Jan. 27, 2015, was the first contact between Gelbman and Vaught on Facebook. It was about Gelbman’s declaration as a political conservative. He was a member of the P&Z Commission and was going to be a candidate for Town Council in May 2015.

On March 19, the first communication about a gun range and any participation by Gelbman

On March 30, Gelbman wanted to put an election sign on Vaught’s property. Gelbman had testified under oath that: “I never knew about the location of the shooting range until later.”

It was pointed out that he knew the location when he was on the P&Z Commission.

On June 1, the Town Council held an executive session discussion on incentives and Gelbman tried to seek additional incentives for the gun range; he continued his effort the next day with Town Manager Jimmy Stathatos.

On June 2, Vaught met Gelbman at La Madeleine, following an earlier meeting between Gelbman and Mr. Jellison. It was then that Gelbman showed Vaught the council’s lists of business incentives.

When Vaught asked if he could keep the list, Gelbman told him no; he could go to jail for sharing the information.

When asked by Foster about that specific meeting, Gelbman said he couldn’t remember and didn’t remember a meeting at La Madeleine. When asked by Vaught, Jellison said he clearly remembered Vaught’s arrival.

On June 3, Vaught called Mayor Hayden and told him about Gelbman showing him [Vaught] the incentive information. To make sure there’d be no future questions raised about him, Vaught accepted the first incentive offer, rather than enter into any negotiations, as is the usual procedure.

Vaught later tells Gelbman that it’s a done deal; he accepted the incentives.

On June 11, Gelbman discusses threats were made by Vaught. He also, alleges Vaught asked Gelbman’s wife [a veterinarian] for illegal drugs and says the friendship is over.

Although Gelbman has stated an end to the men’s friendship and his own fear and that fear for his wife and family of Vaught, he continued to contact Vaught about various social outings, including their children to a water park, getting Vaught’s help to assemble a new bike and even an invitation to go to a gun range together to practice shooting.

“If he’s willing to lie about the little things that don’t mean much … what else would he possibly be ready to lie about,” asked Vaught.

Addressing the council, he said: “Being a leader, sometimes you need to make a decision when there are no clear factors. If you decide not to make a decision, then that makes a decision.

“Since he’s been elected, it’s been all about him. If he stays on council, it’s like condoning his actions. Our town is a circus, a sideshow, a freak show.”

Hayden said he remembered that Vaught called him on June 3 from Oklahoma and asked him if he could stay on the phone while Hayden contacted Jimmy [Stathatos] and Mark Wood [director of Economic Development] to get on the phone to hear the conversation.

Hayden asked Stathatos if Gelbman had asked for a greater incentive for the gun range?

“Yes, a day or two after that council meeting,” said Stathatos.

He said Gelbman had the sheet showing the incentives, asking why more money was being offered to a restaurant, than to a gun range. Stathatos said he’d explained that incentives are partly based on potential sales tax revenue and a restaurant will generate a greater return on the incentive.

Bryant also commented on the impact that dealing with the investigation has had beyond the topic itself.

“We had a gentleman in from New York tonight to talk about a cell tower, but we spent almost three hours talking about internal council issues,” he said. “And this last meeting was not the first time that it’s happened. And then he [Gelbman] just gets up and leaves. What kind of a message does that send?”

Council member Bryan Webb had previously announced his absence from the Dec. 21 council meeting for a legitimate time conflict. Gelbman did not return to his seat following a closed session meeting to discuss the cell tower matter.

Vaught added that the waiver of attorney client privilege by Mayor Tom Hayden was not an easy decision, but it was the right thing to do. He said when a person like Gelbman uses the secrecy of an Executive Session to make threats against town employees, council members and residents, that veil must be lifted to expose the corruption.

“Either Gelbman is lying or literally everyone else associated with this investigation is,” said Vaught in closing.

At the time of release, Gelbman had not responded to requests for his contribution to this article.

The town staff will present the resolution to send the investigation report to the District Attorney for the Town Council consideration at the Jan. 21 meeting.

CTG Staff
CTG Staff
The Cross Timbers Gazette News Department

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