The majority of the Argyle Town Council agreed this week to settle a lawsuit with one of its own members.
Place 2 Councilman Ron Schmidt filed the suit last fall against the town, Town Attorney Robert Hager and fellow council members Jon Donahue and Marla Hawkesworth. Schmidt believed his constitutional rights had been violated when the council sanctioned him and restricted him from attending town meetings. For more information about the sanctions and the lawsuit, click here.
The Town Council held a special meeting Tuesday morning, and after an hour-long executive session, the council voted 3-1 to agree to the settlement; Council Members Bryan Livingston, Cyndi Hermann and Sherri Myers voted in favor, while Hawkesworth voted against it. Schmidt was not seated with the council after the executive session.
As part of the settlement, Schmidt will be paid $25,000 — to cover his attorney’s fees — by the Texas Municipal League insurance. Up to $5,000 more was authorized to be paid to Schmidt by the town if the attorney’s fees exceed $25,000. The town hired an attorney, Jim Jeffries, to specifically handle Schmidt’s lawsuit, and Interim Town Manager Jeff Howell said that the TML insurance covers Jeffries’ fees.
“Ron didn’t make a dime out of this, and he won’t,” said Frank Hill, Schmidt’s attorney.
Additionally, the town of Argyle acknowledges that suspending Schmidt was improper, according to the settlement agreement. Following a recommendation from the settlement, the council also voted to repeal the town’s Code of Ethics, which was the basis for Schmidt’s initial sanction.
“In a General Law city, the code of ethics is covered by the General Laws set by the state of Texas,” Howell said. “It also says you can’t add to it.”
Hager and Donahue also agreed to the settlement, Hill said. There was not a financial payment for them, but by signing it they agreed to the acknowledgement by the town that Schmidt’s sanctions were improper.
Hawkesworth, in addition to voting against the town’s settlement, has not agreed to a settlement offer, Hill said, so the lawsuit is continuing against her.
“She needs to accept the decision that the town has made,” Hill said.
Hawkesworth said she voted against the settlement because she believes “that council members shouldn’t sue their community to change an ordinance they don’t like.”
“In his case specifically, it was an ordinance that slapped his hand,” she said.
Hill said that he and Schmidt are happy with the outcome, and that “Ron’s objective has always been to achieve what we have.”
“Nobody should want the town acting unconstitutionally,” Hill said. “You can’t exclude an elected official from their elected position, and they’ve acknowledged that now. He (Schmidt) really has done a service to the city.”
The Mayor’s Statement
Before closing the council meeting, Mayor Don Moser read a 10-minute prepared statement in which he defended Schmidt, saying that Schmidt and his family had been harassed since he ran for re-election early last year, and the negative criticism has continued since then. Moser downplayed the incident between Schmidt and Hawkesworth last year that led to the sanctions, and spoke in favor of the settlement agreement and the repeal of the Code of Ethics.
Hawkesworth said she believes Moser’s statement “proved he wanted Schmidt to sue the town,” and she believed they were engaging in “shameful, dirty politics … disguised as transparency.”
“Functional towns with strong leadership change ordinances every day without litigation,” Hawkesworth said. “Unfortunately, Argyle doesn’t have that.”
In his statement, Moser also expressed frustration that while the lawsuit was ongoing, he could not publicly discuss or share information about it. He said he understood that residents wanted to know more, but he was being as transparent as he could be.
“Sometimes the law keeps us from being able to speak freely,” he said Wednesday.
During his statement, Moser said “the entire situation has spun out of control with people making statements that had no basis in fact, due to being uninformed.”
Moser recently made similar statements on social media when a Facebook page called “Argyle Truth” shared digital copies of court documents that showed Schmidt listed $500,000 as his demand in the lawsuit. From his official page, Moser commented multiple times saying that that number was false, even claiming the document had been falsified. During the meeting Tuesday, however, he acknowledged the $500,000 was true, but that it was “a figure that just needed to be put on legal documents for the filing process.”
Hill explained that the $500,000 was simply a maximum figure Schmidt might seek if the suit was to go all the way through trial, but that wasn’t his objective.
Moser ended his statement with optimism that now the town can put much of the recent political turmoil behind it.
“My fervent hope is that all factions in this town can come together … and try to get back to the work of the people,” he said.