The short-term City Charter Review Committee gives Garland citizens an excellent opportunity to take a fresh look at the city's governing document and compare what the document says to how the city really functions today.
Another of the many provisions of the document that leaps out at me is Article IV, Section 3, regarding how city councilmembers are to interact with city staff. According to the charter, the mayor and council are to work only through the city manager and no other staff. It doesn't say, through the "city manager and his assistant city managers"; it doesn't say "city manager, assistant city managers, and their department heads"; it doesn't say "any city employee when a councilmember decides it is to his or her advantage". Any time a direct order is given to city staff, the charter says it must be through the city manager alone.
In the midst of the political turmoil roiling in the city right now, this Article is particularly significant. Many questions exist in the controversy about how and why certain staff actions have occurred.
I know of several instances in which a city councilmember has bypassed the city manager and given direct orders to city staff—a clear violation that the charter calls "official misconduct" with a penalty so stringent that the charter calls for immediate removal of that councilmember from his or her public position.
This provision is different from the charter section that deals with the recall of a mayor or city councilmember. The recall process requires during a 30-day period 800 certified signatures of voters to recall a city councilmember and 2,000 voter signatures to recall a mayor. There's a process for the recall to go forward but with much work on the part of the public.
According to the city's charter, the penalty for a councilmember giving direct orders to a subordinate of the city manager—any employee for any reason—is somewhat simpler. It requires a public hearing followed by a council vote to immediately and permanently expel the member from council.
One incident I'm aware of involved our District 2 City Councilmember Anita Goebel in early February of this year, inexplicably intervening to diminish and undermine our neighborhood's National Register marker dedication ceremony in April. For some unknown reason, after repeatedly and heartily supporting our efforts to have Travis College Hill listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Goebel suddenly, mysteriously, and without warning pivoted and turned on us and then worked diligently to undermine our planned April 22 ceremony.
The reversal was so shocking and so uncalled for, we still are at a loss to explain why, what, or who caused it. Goebel's behavior parallels behavior cited about her in Embree and in some other neighborhoods in District 2. All seem to point to a sudden and identifiable reversal occurring with Goebel around the first of this year. Others all say before that time period, she was collegial, consistent, and supportive—the same characteristics we had observed before January.
Even more puzzling, Goebel has always while in office characterized herself as a friend to neighborhoods. Every time we've had the opportunity, we have honored her and thanked her for that position and for everything she has done for our specific neighborhood as well as for other additions in the district.
Today, Goebel faces a Recall Anita Goebel petition—started in another District 2 neighborhood, Embree—that has garnered nearly 1,000 signatures—more than three times as many as votes she received in the runoff in 2012 which propelled her from second place in the general election to the District 2 council seat in the runoff. (2012 election results: Eric Reddish 300 votes; Anita Goebel 269; Arlene Beasley 39; Reddish lost by 5 votes. In the runoff, Goebel 282 and Reddish 231.)
Goebel's change in fortunes is heartbreaking—and embarrassing—for District 2 and the city. With this many District 2 voters unhappy with her performance in office and willing to sign a petition for her recall (the first such petition in some 30 years), something has gone dreadfully wrong. Her leadership has clearly failed badly—a downward trend we’ve been observing all year.
Despite the fact that the April 22 Travis College Hill ceremony was featured widely by local media, including elaborate and widespread coverage in the Dallas Morning News, Goebel in February suddenly started insisting verbally and in writing that the ceremony be labeled a "block party" and be treated no differently than any other neighborhood gathering in Garland. She acted in this manner all the while knowing that a similar event our neighborhood held in 2015, at which time Travis College Hill received its Texas Historical Marker, drew more than 500 people and was an extremely noteworthy Garland happening in its scope. The city provided without our requesting it a large tent, chairs, a PA system, security, and almost everything else for that event, which was widely celebrated with local, state, and national representatives on hand.
This year's event, at which the national (and penultimate) marker was to be unveiled, promised to be equally if not better-attended than the one two years back. In both instances (2015 and 2017) we invited former President and Mrs. George W. Bush, who have long-standing ties to our neighborhood. In 2015 and 2017 the former President's office waited until about two weeks before the event to let us know that he had a conflict in schedule (an indication his office was giving our events serious consideration). Meanwhile, we had to plan as if the former President would be here for our events. Both Presidents Bush (41 and 43) and Barbara Bush were feted in receptions in our neighborhood as the father and son climbed the political ladder to the Presidency. Laura Bush is a trustee for the National Trust for Historic Preservation of which Kay and I have been participants and for which I have been a Diversity Scholar in 2016 and 2017.
Goebel's verbal edict to a city employee and then to several others was so specific, so strong, and so intimidating that when city employees did deliver a minimal amount of approved furnishings for our 2017 event, they seemed so ill at ease and cautious that we insisted they unload most of the borrowed items, which had been approved upline and which we clearly had every right to receive, through our back gate where they would be less obvious.
Goebel never acknowledged that the Dallas Morning News saw the achievement—the first time ever in the history of our city that a site was named to the prestigious national listing—as worthy to run statewide in various editions over a three-day period including its Metro Section (page 1 in some editions) and as a major story in its online editions.
What other Garland city councilmember would not have been bursting with pride over such an accomplishment in his or her district? None, I believe!
Instead, in early February Goebel inappropriately and verbally instructed a city employee in a downtown restaurant to minimize the April 22 event—and to treat it in the way the city would as any other neighborhood block party with regard to supporting equipment. In that private verbal directive, Goebel made inaccurate, disparaging, and rude remarks about my wife and I personally and about our neighborhood.
Parallel in time we were summoned on February 14 to Assistant City Manager Rick Vasquez's office and were told the city would not provide a small tent for our event, which a city department had offered to us. He instructed that the Granville Center could not sell tickets to our musical event at neighboring First Presbyterian Church honoring our neighborhood the night before the marker ceremony. We learned in a phone conversation with a city employee about the earlier disparaging conversation with and directive from Anita as we were preparing to leave for the hastily called meeting with Vasquez.
Ironically, Mayor Douglas Athas was at the musical and presented internationally known, finger-style guitarist Trace Bundy with a cowboy hat given by Stetson in Garland. Mrs. Athas reported that the mayor seemed to enjoy the Bundy performance more than any music event he had attended in a long time. The mayor's assistant reported the same reaction.
Tickets to the event were sold by Eventbrite at a commission for Eventbrite smaller than what the Granville Center originally had requested before Vasquez intervened. The city actually lost money because of Vasquez's decision.
Even though the event was in her district, Goebel—without sending regrets or any explanation for her absence—did not show up for the Travis College Hill National Register marker ceremony, the home tour, nor the concert the night before—all major events in her district. More than 800 people attended the combined events that weekend. She also failed to fulfill on a written promise to have a special ceremony for residents of Travis College Hill in front of city council honoring our neighborhood as the first-ever site in Garland to be added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Only one other city councilmember was not present for some portion of the April 22 home tour and ceremony. Councilmember and now Mayor Pro-Tem David Gibbons was moving that weekend and understandably and in a timely fashion sent his regrets. Then-Mayor Pro Tem Scott LeMay presided after Mayor Athas had to leave early for an engagement at Dallas' Fair Park. Texas State Representative Cindy Burkett and former Garland ISD School Board President and current trustee Linda Griffin were present also. Officials of the Garland Chamber of Commerce and Dallas Heritage Village had roles on the program.
Goebel offered no apology for her absence, or explanation for, or expression of regret. Instead, she played the same "I won't talk with you or listen courteously to you" game that has our Embree neighbors to the south along Central Park spearheading the Recall Anita Goebel effort and petition. That attitude has also made it difficult for us to sit down with her to find out what her issues really are.
At the end of our April 22 event, one high-ranking and respected city official approached me and said that he thought we had endured "far more" than we should have regarding the event.
|Travis College Hill's National Register marker unveiling was
extraordinarily successful, despite our councilmember's absence and
inexplicable concerted effort to undermine and demean it.|
Why has she been doing odd things like this all year?
Because of private funds infused into our event and despite Goebel's odd behavior and unexplained absence, our event came off extraordinarily well.
Goebel, however, was present and amid great fanfare on October 21 when the city unveiled the National Register marker for the Garland Downtown area.
Both Travis College Hill and Garland Downtown are in District 2, which Goebel is supposed to represent. In the eyes of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the recognition bestowed on Garland Downtown is 100-percent identical to the recognition bestowed on Travis College Hill. The Interior Department sees both as sites worthy of recognition with no distinction between the two whatsoever.
Despite the fact that the city often misrepresents the titles of the two National Register districts, the words "commercial" and "residential" do not appear in either name in the official register in Washington, DC. The official names are the Travis College Hill National Register Historic District and the Garland Downtown National Register Historic District. They are identical in terms of prestige.
To this day, Goebel has not stated her motive nor the underlying reason for her erratic behavior, leaving her mystified colleagues on City Council stammering when asked if they have any idea why she has been acting so strangely all year. One councilmember did say, however, Goebel appears to be angry at everybody about everything. If that’s true, that’s not a good sign for a lame-duck public official with six months to go in office.
Following is the wording in the City Charter pertaining to city councilmembers interacting with city staff. I have marked in bold the portion pertaining to councilmembers publicly or privately giving orders to city staff.
Article IV. Sec. 3. Council not to interfere with City Manager’s appointments.
Neither the City Council nor any of its members shall direct or request the appointment of any person to or his removal from office by the City Manager or by any of his subordinates. However, the Council may consult and advise with the City Manager, make inquiry regarding the appointments or removals, and may express their opinion in regard thereto. In regard to administrative and executive duties under the City Manager, the Council and its members shall deal solely through the City Manager and neither the Council nor any member thereof shall give orders to any subordinates of the City Manager, either publicly or privately. Willful violation of the foregoing provisions of this Charter by any member of the Council shall constitute official misconduct and shall authorize the Council, by a vote of a majority of its membership, to expel such offending member from the Council, if found guilty after public hearing, and thereby create a vacancy in the place held by such member.
The following are text messages between Goebel and myself just a few months beforehand regarding the vote by the Texas Historical Commission's Board of Review to place the Travis College Hill Historic District on the National Register:
Me to Goebel: "By the way, Kay and I have a block of rooms in the historic hotel in Alpine on the weekend of September 17 when National Register meeting takes place. We would love for you to be our guest in one of the rooms. If Pat can't go, you can ride with us."
Goebel to me: "Thank you for the invitation but Pat has to work that day and I've already rsvp'd for (another event). I'm going to pass. When you get back we will have a special recognition at City Hall."
Me to Goebel: "Sorry you can't make it to Alpine with us, but we understand. Will look forward to being at City Hall with you afterwards."
Me to Goebel: "The State Board of Review of the Texas Historical Commission this morning in Alpine unanimously approved Travis College Hill's nomination for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, after the state finishes its paperwork and US Parks Service gives final approval. Should be in about 45 days. Yay District 2 and Thanks Anita for your support!
Goebel to me: "I'm proud of you and your neighborhood. congratulations."
After that Goebel never mentioned the pledged City Hall ceremony nor in any other way congratulated our neighborhood on this significant achievement—the first ever for Garland and one of the most significant accomplishments ever to occur in District 2, not to mention the city.
In a conversation on Saturday, January 21, in Houston Goebel claimed that she did not remember ever making the commitment about the special recognition ceremony at Garland City Hall. After I showed her the exact text on my cell phone from her to me, she left that conversation by retreating to a corner and placing a phone call. I presumed her action was an effort to correct her memory lapse and to set up the special ceremony, which never occurred. A source at City Hall says she believes Goebel might have at some point phoned city hall to discuss a special ceremony but that Goebel never acted on it when she returned from Houston to Garland, with nothing further ever mentioned.
On February 7 of this year, Kay sent Anita the following email/invitation:
"Want to make sure you know you'll have a seat reserved in the VIP section for the Saturday, April 22 event in Travis College Hill. The "Save the Date" promo is attached. Pat is invited, too (hope maybe he won't have to work).
"This is an especially big day for District 2 and for you—first time in Garland's history to unveil a National Register Marker in this city. Hooray!
"More information, of course, will follow, but just wanted to be sure you have this event marked down and know you'll have a special seat saved."
Goebel never responded verbally nor in writing to the invitation.
In other conversations I have had with Goebel this year, she has stated that she does not remember a number of other important matters in Garland in recent years, including her uninvited visit to our home on a Friday night in late 2013 in which she asked Kay and me specifically if we would get the city off the hook and take the Pace House—paying for its move, restoration, and upkeep with our own personal funds. At that time we had planned to build on the lot where the Pace House now sits an exact reproduction of our 1913 Craftsman house before any remodeling to it occurred during the 1950s.
More recently, when one of Goebel's key supporters, who lives in another district and is not a voter in District 2, posted on Facebook an erroneous, libelous, and actionable comment about the city continuing to pay for the upkeep of the Pace House while in our possession, Goebel shared that post—knowing full well it was not true and that Anita herself as councilmember had been a party to making the legal arrangements with the city for us to take over on October 15, 2014, full financial responsibility for the Pace House. The city has never contributed one cent to the restoration, upkeep, or maintenance of the Pace House since it rolled off the city's parking lot on October 15, 2014, yet Anita allowed that libelous post made by someone outside District 2 to be published uncorrected in her Facebook feed. Why?
On Friday, November 3—nearly four weeks ago— Kay and I received the prestigious Office of Neighborhood Vitality's "Who's Who in Garland Neighborhoods" award. Every council member present, except Goebel, congratulated us for the award and spoke to us personally about it.
The question lingers in our minds: What, why, or who prompted the city council member to reverse course and behave in this puzzling manner and in defiance of the city's charter? And why did the slight to Travis College Hill occur simultaneously in the same time period with similar stories others in District 2 neighborhoods are reporting?
Voters in District 2 deserve to know what is going on with our councilmember and why since the first of the year her unexplained behavior—harmful to neighborhoods, to District 2, and to all of the city—has occurred.