The following is a statement by Argyle Mayor Don Moser regarding the lawsuit by Councilman Ron Schmidt, who sued the town, town attorney and two council members last year. Immediately after the town and Schmidt reached a settlement last month, Moser read most of this statement during the Town Council meeting.
Citizens of Argyle –
As mayor of our town, I want to take this time to clarify for you, the citizens of Argyle, what has transpired over the last nine months in our town concerning the lawsuit by Councilman Ron Schmidt. I know there are lots of questions, as well as lots of misinformation, regarding the specifics of this lawsuit. When I ran for office in 2017, I promised transparency, integrity, and honesty, and I told you that I would always communicate with you as much as I legally could to keep you informed. Unfortunately, in a lawsuit, all is confidential and cannot be shared until the case is resolved. I want to thank the public for their patience, as I know this was a tough situation for the town to endure, especially since we were unable to legally speak on the matter. Rest assured that I have had my finger on the pulse of this situation throughout this entire ordeal. However, before I could inform the public, this process had to run its course. Today, I will share with you the information that I can.
This all began during the election season in 2019 when Councilman Schmidt was running for re-election. His opposition did not just include his opponent, but others in the town with an agenda who did not want to see him re-elected. In addition to the expected opposition from his opponent, Mr. Schmidt had to deal unexpectedly with his family being brought into the process. His wife, son, mother, and mother-in-law were harassed online, at school, at church, in the grocery store, and via US mail. He never made this harassment public, and he supported his family as best he could. Approximately two weeks prior to the election, during a break at a Town Council meeting, a negative statement about his integrity was made to him by another individual in the hallway as he exited the restroom. As he continued down the hallway, he saw Councilwoman Hawkesworth and expressed his frustration in reaction to what he had just been told by this other individual, who they both knew. His statement was brief, and he moved on.
Mrs. Hawkesworth then pursued a complaint against Mr. Schmidt, and an investigation was conducted by our previous town law firm. Although the investigation concluded that no wrongdoing by Mr. Schmidt had occurred, the Town Council was advised that handing down a minor sanction would be in the best interest of the town. After a closed session meeting in June 2019, the council came out and voted to sanction Mr. Schmidt. These sanctions included barring him from attending the next three regular council meetings, and for him to make an apology to the town for his behavior in question, all of which he respectfully complied with. Some wanted to make a sanction that he could not attend the ad-hoc committee he was on or even set foot in town hall, but as a citizen of this town, Mr. Schmidt had every right to visit town hall as any other citizen can.
Although a decision had been made to which Mr. Schmidt respectfully complied, the harassment against him continued. He consulted an attorney, and the attorney requested that all harassment and negativity against his client cease and desist, or a lawsuit would ensue. Unfortunately, there were those that once again did not respectfully comply with this request made in good faith, and the negative public comments and harassment continued. At the end of the September 10, 2019, Town Council meeting, two council members spoke out negatively against Mr. Schmidt, getting argumentative with me publicly at the dais. It was apparent that they did not want Mr. Schmidt to return to his seat on Town Council the following week. This outburst was recorded on town video, and it was significantly more intense and public than Mr. Schmidt’s minor frustration back in April that started this whole chain of events. At this point, Mr. Schmidt felt he had no other recourse but to file a lawsuit.
After consultation with his attorney, Mr. Schmidt made the decision to sue based on his denial of due process, a right afforded to every citizen of the United States and granted by the U.S. Constitution. He believed his rights were violated in that he was not given an opportunity to be represented in the June 2019 proceedings, and he was denied his constitutional right as an elected official to represent his constituents. In addition, it was discovered that the Town Council was given incorrect advice in recommending that Mr. Schmidt be sanctioned. Per state law, only a county judge can remove a town council member from office, and only for a few, very specific reasons while in performance of their official duties, none of which even remotely applied to Mr. Schmidt’s actions in April 2019. Town Council had no legal right to remove him from office. In addition, there is no law that allows for temporary removal of a town council member from office. These issues were constitutional in their foundation, both state and federal, and could not be taken lightly.
No one wanted a lawsuit, particularly Mr. Schmidt. However, based on the continued harassment and accusations made against him, Mr. Schmidt, with advance notice and after continued public official non-compliance, had no alternative but to sue the town and several individual defendants. His intent was not for monetary gain, as he was only asking to be made whole again by getting his attorney costs covered for a case that never should have had to happen in the first place. The settlement agreement of $30,000 is not a monetary gain for Mr. Schmidt and was only to reimburse his legal fees. The majority of the settlement ($25,000) will be covered by the town’s insurance company, TMLRP. The council agreed to cover the remaining $5,000 in order to bring an end to the lawsuit and bring this entire situation to a close.
Mr. Schmidt’s intent for this lawsuit was never for profit, rather he simply wanted his name cleared of wrongdoing, have his legal fees covered, and most importantly to ensure that no other town council member in the state would ever have to endure what happened to him whereby he was illegally removed from office without due process. His request is that the town ordinance be revised reflecting state law, as nothing in the current ordinance allows for this sanctioning. Unfortunately, Town Council was not given the proper advice needed to make a truly informed decision at the time of the initial investigation, but they have taken the opportunity to correct that now.
This entire situation spun out of control, accelerated by people who were uninformed making statements that had no basis in fact. They sought to perpetuate a wrongful, negative atmosphere that existed prior to the 2019 election to discredit Mr. Schmidt’s name, in an effort to remove him from council. They perpetuated negative statements about him and his family, including his young son which is an unconscionable act by any reasonable standard. This concerted effort of harassment sparked from an original incident that, in my opinion, was just a minor disagreement between two people that spawned from the frustration from all the negativity occurring prior to the election.
As a side note, Ron Schmidt served his country for thirty years in the United States Army to defend the Constitution and the freedoms and rights it provides to all citizens. He chose to continue his servant leadership as a Town Council member, running on a platform of service, honesty, transparency, and integrity. As someone who has worked side by side with him closely, I can personally say that he has done and continues to do exactly that. The way he and his family have been personally treated is unconscionable. After attempting to resolve the matter outside of court, knowing his constitutional rights had been violated, he had no recourse but to sue the town and several defendants. In his eyes, to let this go without a fight would negate the very reason for his thirty year career defending our freedoms and constitutional rights. It was the only way he could get due process and have his voice heard. His intention was never for personal gain, only to right a wrong in order to ensure that this injustice never happens to anyone else in the future. As mayor, I will continue to advocate for what is right, and I am confident that we have now addressed this issue properly and are taking steps to ensure this never happens again.
There are pro-developer forces in this town that still do not like that they were rejected by the voters of Argyle and lost the elections in 2017 and 2019. This has an uncanny parallel to what has been happening in our federal government since 2016. The high-density residential developments of Waterbrook, The Lakes, 5T and Avalon were all approved by the pre-2017 Town Council despite massive public opposition that was ignored in public hearings. The same forces that saw those developments forced through despite public opposition have played a hand in the smear campaign against Mr. Schmidt. Neither this town nor our current public officials are against development. We simply want what is best for our town to preserve its amazing character and uniqueness that drew so many of us to move here. This desire by the current Town Council is why the public so overwhelming elected us. You called for change and a local government that would listen to the wishes of its citizens as opposed to lining the pockets of developers as was done prior to the 2017 Election. Argyle is a very special and unique place. We know growth is coming, but we want it to be intentional, planned, and citizen-focused.
My fervent hope is that all factions of our town can work together respectfully and for the common good of our citizens, and that each faction is willing to come to the table and respectfully do what is best for our town. When I was elected by you in 2017 and again in 2019, I promised integrity, transparency, and honesty in my leadership. My hope is that everyone will employ those same values in a positive and cooperative manner, and that the negativity and posturing on both sides (both oral and written) ends immediately. The Town Council and the citizens of Argyle should not tolerate this perpetual negativity, as it is certainly distracting our great town from its important business. We teach our children these values, so let us model and live by them ourselves. And in that spirit, I will always advocate for what is right and just.
Let’s get on with the work of making Argyle a great place for our families to live and thrive. Please join me in this goal.
Argyle Mayor Don Moser