Monday, November 27, 2017

GARLAND'S DISTRICT 2 VOTERS—AND THE CITY—DESERVE AN EXPLANATION FROM CITY COUNCILMEMBER ANITA GOEBEL

Councilmember Anita Goebel, right, has branded herself as a champion for neighborhoods. What happened to this self-styled neighborhood booster during the course of 2017? In this photo the councilmember attends the Chandler Heights neighborhood event a year ago. Louis and Kay Moore of Garland's Travis College Hill addition stand with her.

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!
 

News of Travis College Hill's designation on the National Register of Historic Places—a first for Garland—garnered Page 1 Metro Section exposure and a huge amount of space in the Dallas Morning News, yet the party that celebrated the designation was boycotted by the councilmember in whose district it resides. No explanation was given.
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?
Travis College Hill was entered on the National Register of Historic Places maintained by the U.S. Department of the Interior six weeks before Downtown Garland was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The city spent ZERO dollars for Travis College Hill to prepare and secure its nomination on the National Register but spent undisclosed tens of thousands of dollars for a consultant for Garland Downtown to be listed on the prestigious Register. To not overlap with our accomplishment, the city held off its ceremony honoring its distinction until October 21, when it held an elaborate (and expensive but at an undisclosed amount) event featuring fireworks, two bands, and much more in downtown—all at the city's expense.
 

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.
 

Despite having minimized the city's first National Register of Historic Places marker ceremony in the Travis College Hill neighborhood in her district and failing to attend the event with no explanation, Councilmember Anita Goebel was on stage and pulled the ribbon when the Garland Downtown National Register plaque was unveiled on October 21.
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:

7/28/2016 
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."

8/5/2016 
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."

9/17/2016 
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.
 

A beautiful presentation of colors and pledge of allegiance by the Garland Fire Department color guard kicked off the April 22 celebration at which the National Register of Historic Places plaque was unveiled. More than 800 people attended the combined events that weekend—the Trace Bundy concert, the historic home tour, and the unveiling ceremony. (Photo by Kim Everett.)
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.

One of Garland's highest neighborhood awards for 2017 was presented to Travis College Hill earlier this month. Every other city councilmember present at the awards ceremony, except Councilmember Goebel, in whose district the neighborhood is situated, stepped forward to extend congratulations for the award. Why is Goebel behaving in this manner? (Photo by Garland Vital Neighborhoods.)


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Forget the "blue-haired" stereotype of preservationists! Members of today's breed are younger, more diverse, and have a much broader, more important mission.

A sea of young, diverse faces, all eager to take new ideas back to their communities, was present in this breakout seminar on underrepresented groups.

It's about more than blue-haireds and bulldozer-defiers.

Or the stereotypical docent selling tickets in a museum gift shop.

Anyone who buys into this "yesterday" image of preservationists hasn't stepped into the annual conference of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in recent years.

At the meeting of the nation's premier organization for saving places this past week, I looked out on a sea of youthful, bright millennial faces that couldn't wait to race back home to share new ideas with their constituencies. The more than 1,500 attendees at this year's conference in Chicago reflected all age groups, races, genders, and economic levels.

People who managed historic sites were present, for sure. But so were architects, city officials, planners, nonprofit leaders, historians, educators, attorneys, political activists, volunteers, and grad students.

And despite what one might suppose, studying how to attract tourists to a historic site in one's community was far, far down the "takeaway" goals for these conferees.

They were there to study:

• the role of "place" on one's well-being. New neuroscience research has begun to explain the importance of one's environment on a person's mental and physical health. A seminar, "This Is Your Brain on Preservation", studied the way old places give people a sense of continuity, belonging, identity, and memory—all benefits to psychological well-being. People's brain activity has been examined when they are around "the places that make us", said one presenter. A video contrasting those who remained in familiar settings at Chernobyl after the nuclear disaster and those who were relocated to unfamiliar settings showed that those who stayed behind actually fared better mentally and physically than those who left—living an average of almost a decade longer despite exposure to the high doses of radiation.

These are some of the cutting-edge studies examining, from a wide range of sciences, the emotional processing that places activates in us.
• preservation and social justice/activism. Nonwhite groups were urged to help communities rethink the way they interpret historic sites in their communities to "tell the whole story", even the difficult parts of their history that might have been glossed over before.

• the use of new technology, such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Boomerang, in engaging audiences around preservation.

• an emphasis on "People Saving Places for People". "Old places create a sense of unity in a nation more divided than ever," said National Trust President Stephanie Meeks in the opening plenary session.

• strategic development of underrepresented sites—an aggressive campaign to find nonwhite sites to add to the nation's historic inventory. African-American, Latino-American, Asian-American, Native American, female, and even LGBTQ groups were charged with returning to their communities to see what minority sites have been left out of the mix and to cultivate them.

Nowhere was this more apparent than during the major announcement that the National Trust is establishing a $25-million fund called the African-American Cultural Action Fund, where grant money will be made available for potential, overlooked sites that qualify.

Driving this year's theme was the ugly public debate and protests occurring all across the country over the more than 700 Confederate statutes in some 36 states and the stark reality that more than 92 percent of all monuments, statues, historical markers, and historic places honor white (Anglo), mostly male Americans. The remaining eight percent (up from seven percent a year ago) honor the histories of Native Americans, African-Americans, Latino/Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Jewish-Americans, women, and LGBTQ-Americans. (The eye-popping change of adding women to the minority mix was what pushed the percentage up from seven to eight percent this year! That increase wasn't nearly what some of us had expected or had hoped.)

While the National Trust takes the position of weeding out all Confederate statues installed specifically as a symbolic means of suppressing African-Americans and others during Jim Crow days and studying the validity of the others, the organization's primary focus is on finding ways of honoring nonwhite and other minority populations, including women, to tell the "underappreciated stories from our past," according to President Meeks.

In some cases, the solution is as simple as adding a reinterpretation of a site.

An example is the until-recently buried history of and tribute to Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who bore some of former President Thomas Jefferson's children. This is addressed by an augmented telling of the Jefferson story at Monticello, outside Charlottesville, VA.

I personally hammered away during the meeting for more focus on accurate Native American historic sites and supported the push for African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans and others to have their stories told more fully and completely. With the announcement that San Antonio, TX, will celebrate its 300th birthday in 2018, one speaker said, "There was a San Antonio before there was a Washington, DC." The Rio Vista Farm National Treasure being developed in South Texas was a startling realization that the U.S. government once sought Mexican day laborers (braceros) and actually encouraged them to come here—a far cry from the unfair stereotype today of undocumented workers stealing jobs belonging to U.S. citizens.

I was privileged for the second year in a row to be selected to participate in the organization's Diversity Scholar program. I was the lone Native American in the group of 25. I was by far the oldest in the group, with the average age being in their early 30s. Most were younger than my two adult children; the youthful scholars treated me with the utmost respect.

Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Preservation meeting
Michelle Tagalong and Ari Scott, presenters
Preservationists today focus their attention on saving places for adaptive reuse as practical, educational, and inspirational sites. During the conference we saw incredibly beautiful ways that preservationists have utilized adaptive reuse of structures that looked for all the world like lost causes. I was envious of the ways cities such as Pittsburgh, Savannah, and Seattle go about their extensive work of preservation, restoration and adaptive reuse.

Not a single time in the conference did I hear someone advocate saving a building simply because it's old. 

What I did hear promoted was a thoughtful survey of each endangered building, carefully studying its best potential use. No one mentioned bulldozers, except when they had been slipped in during the night or unexpectedly before a thorough, fair, and public study of a building and all its possibilities had been completed.

Closer to home, immediately before the Chicago meeting Kay and I scheduled knowledge-share sessions in our home with key players in Garland's African-American and Hispanic-American communities so we could be better briefed to present local examples of needs of those two communities specifically.

Garland desperately needs to find ways to honor and commemorate the contributions of its African-American, Hispanic-American, Asian-American, women, and other minority communities. For instance, while we have fought bitter battles over two of the city's most historic homes—the Tinsley-Lyles House and the Pace House, each with white histories—the city has yet to commemorate the African-Americans who first lived in The Flats on the land where our city hall and new apartments now stand. It would have been great if The Flats could have been cited in the recent re-dedication of those city facilities.

And the city has worked systematically to eradicate the African-American homes in the Coopers Additions, where Texas Highway 66 divides in the couplet formed by Avenues B and D—with no seeming plan in mind to revitalize that abandoned area of serious historical importance to the city's African-American community.

The home of the city's first Hispanic family—the Manuel and Marie Valle family—at West Avenue C and Santa Fe, was bulldozed as land was cleared in that area for what was once planned as the next expansion of Garland's First Baptist Church. That site, notable by Mrs. Valle's cactus still growing at the southwest corner of the intersection, could now become just another church parking lot.

Kay and I came away from the Chicago gathering with a deeper commitment to work to see that oversights in our hometown are made right, that minimizations of the past are corrected, and that all of Garland's citizens receive the equal respect and honor they deserve.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Want to see a broader pool of qualified people run for political office in Garland? Get rid of these seemingly innocent six little words in the city charter.

The city's charter, Article 3, Section 11, says appointees to boards and commissions must resign if they intend to run for public office. It makes no such requirement of council members or mayor. All nine incumbents may benefit throughout their political careers because of this paragraph, which biases city elections in favor of incumbents and needs to be eliminated.
On Thursday night of this week, a vast array of Garland's current Boards and Commissions members will be honored at a glittering dinner at the Hyatt Place hotel.

In that audience will be a wide cross-section of Garlandites—people from all ethnic groups, ages, educational backgrounds, and socio-economic levels.

Some of these board and commission members have begun to stick their big toes into the wider pond of civic involvement. As City Council appointees, they have begun to learn the ropes of how the city operates. They have become some of the people most familiar with the city—and therefore, among the most interested and most passionate. Often some decide they might like to deepen their commitment by running for public office in a future race. They want to be good stewards of what they have learned and want to utilize that in a greater capacity to further help Garland.

But if any single one of those appointees—be they members of the Citizens Environmental and Neighborhood Advisory Committee, the Community Multicultural Commission, the Plan Commission, or any other group—should publicly state, "I am running for mayor (or city council from District ___"), that person immediately must resign his or her place on the board or commission where the individual is serving. That person would be jettisoned; another immediately could be appointed in his or her place.

Any platform that person might have, any exposure, any information source would be lost with that resignation. He or she would become a "former". And, if that person happened not to win the city race for which he or she resigned, there's no guarantee that the "former" appointee would regain his or her valued appointment to that board or commission soon, or ever.

Why do Garland's local elections get canceled so often? Why so often does a sitting council member run opposed? Why is it tough to find additional qualified people to run for local elections? Why is voter apathy in Garland so high?

All that has been described above can easily result from six little words in the city's charter—six little words that are described as having been deliberately inserted to favor the incumbent.

Over the past 12 years Kay and I have enjoyed attending the annual Boards and Commissions dinner and observing who the city's rising stars are. But despite their service, these individuals are hamstrung if they have political aspirations because of six little words in the city's charter. 

It's but one more example of my contention, mentioned in earlier blogs, that citizens sometimes don't seem to count for much in Garland. The city gives the appearance of seeking citizen input and appoints citizens for boards and commissions, but it then hamstrings them if they aspire to be good stewards of their knowledge and seek higher office.

Meanwhile, the same restriction does NOT apply—because of those six little words—to current sitting City Council members or to the mayor. If a council member or a mayor, simultaneously, announces, "I will seek re-election to my seat", that official may remain exactly where he or she is—in the current post he or she occupies.

Current councilmembers may grab as much air time as much as desired on city TV during council sessions, especially when running for re-election or for mayor. They continue to be able to maintain high visibility and access to city information, with the city's imprimatur behind them, while the former appointee is way-diminished from any influence or whatever small amount of public exposure that person might have had.

The political opponents are the only ones that get penalized, not the sitting councilmembers.

This is not to say that worthy incumbents should not be returned to office. If they've performed well, their record certainly will reflect that, and their constituents will be aware and reward them with a fresh term.

Elections provide an excellent opportunity for issues to be aired publicly and for the voters to understand more clearly the vision of the person they elect to represent them in city business.

If council members and the mayor have done a good job and desire to be re-elected, why then do they continue to support a blockade against others' running for their seats against them? Widening the tent to include all citizens simply does not occur here.

 What are those six little words? 

They are contained in Article 3, Section 11, of the portion, "Resign for candidacy", of the city charter. It says:

"If, at any time, any member of the Council, or any officer, boardmember or commissioner appointed by the Council, files to become a candidate (as defined by State law) in any general, special or primary election for any office of profit or trust under the laws of this State or the United States other than the office then held, such candidacy shall constitute an automatic resignation of the office then held, and the vacancy thereby created shall be filled pursuant to this Charter in the same manner as other vacancies for such office are filled."

Article 3, Section 11 looks so innocent, but the six little words ". . .  other than the office then held . . ." stuck in the middle of the article have much potential to do serious damage to Garland's electoral process. And those words do impact the city negatively! The city attorney's office defines "files to become a candidate" (as defined by State law) as the minute a candidate publicly states he or she definitely will run for specific seat on council or for mayor.

Those six little words in the charter show that the city is set up to be extremely biased in favor of incumbents or their surrogates in elections. It works to block and handicap potential challengers to the incumbent mayor or incumbent city councilmembers or their surrogates.

It was inserted in the charter deliberately to allow incumbents to keep their jobs, a long-time local political insider who had been on a previous charter committee told me a few years ago. Although councilmembers ostensibly are elected for two-year terms, they're really considered to be elected for six years (with the every-two-year election as merely a referendum if they haven't performed well), the insider told me.

That, to me, seems more like a "rigged" election. That's not the way our government is supposed to work. In fact, great turbulence is occurring today nationally over the issue of "rigged" elections and "rigged" party nominations. Those six little words make Garland seem guilty of the very thing that may have occurred nationally—the very thing that people everywhere are rising up against.

This article in the city's charter goes near the top of my list of the many laws, procedures, and practices that show that things are broken in Garland—they must be fixed for our city to achieve its maximum potential.

Fortunately, City Council recently approved a new Charter Review Committee, which is operational now. Whether the members appointed to the Charter Review Committee, which includes several repeats from years past including its chair, will be brave enough to act this time to remove this barrier remains to be seen.

Because of the political hurricane swirling in Garland these days and the approval over the mayor's objections of the short-term Charter Review Committee, I've been re-reading the city's charter. I'm amazed at some of the things I'm seeing that I've not discovered before. This is just one of them!

The deck is stacked against ordinary citizens. Unless a councilmember or mayor are lame ducks (have served their maximum number of terms), re-election is expected automatically.

However, lame-duck councilmembers, while they are still in office, hold some sway where elections of their successors are concerned. Lame-duck councilmembers sometimes anoint a potential successor and then use their TV time to overtly praise those they favor to succeed them in order to keep their power base as long as possible. Potential opponents to those blessed by the incumbent could face a virtual shutout. That setup is far different than an actual endorsement during a real campaign. One leans toward a "rigged" election where the lame-duck incumbent exercises unfair control and advantage; the latter is open and fair in the world of transparent, open politics.

This is the kind of electoral manipulation that honorable Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C., and Austin are fighting against—the power of the incumbency. Once elected, a person still needs to be accountable to his or her constituents. The incumbent should not be allowed to manipulate the outcome of future elections.

Unfortunately, that's not how it works in Garland. This needs to change!

The clause opens the city and its voters to all kinds of fraudulent activity, such as behind-the-scenes manipulation to try and keep someone from running for office. That's one of the reasons the rumor mill—a.k.a. the slander mill—works so effectively here. Potential candidates get scared off when they discover the mayor or a city councilperson is spreading false or half-true information about them and they have little way to fight back. I've seen it happen over and over to qualified potential  candidates here, who have quietly faded into oblivion. Some may prefer to call this practice "blackmail". I call it sleazy politics. Garland citizens deserve better than this.

It also may explain why the City Council has had so few nonwhite members over the years. District 4 City Councilman B.J. Williams is only the third African-American city councilmember EVER. District 6 City Councilman Robert Vera is only the second Hispanic EVER in the history of Garland. Former Mayor Ron Jones, a popular and respected city employee, was the only African-American to hold the office of mayor; he did so without being a councilmember first. No Asian-Americans. No Native Americans. No Jewish-Americans. Anglos (whites), who now are not the majority in the city, are the predominant officeholders.

Garland politicos desperately need to mentor Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asian-Americans as well as other non-Anglo groups—who together compose the majority of our citizenry—to run for public office and move into the seats of political power here. The boards and commissions are attracting more non-Anglo members, which is excellent. But these new faces in the political arena must come to grips with the same hurdle: challenge an incumbent, and one is immediately weakened by the unbalanced and unfair system.

The Charter Review Committee, consisting of people appointed by the same City Council members who benefit from this quirky provision in the charter, must get rid of this impediment to freer elections. However, even if the committee recommends it, City Council still gets the final say on what goes on the ballot to change the charter.

Remember, people in power seldom yield that power to citizens gracefully! I'm hoping our city council, despite its current state of disarray, will decide to do that which is right and remove the entire Section 11 of Article 3 from the charter.  

Then, in their final vote, let the people decide.

Garland's Hyatt Place, setting for this Thursday's annual Boards and Commissions dinner. Volunteer appointees will gather for this always-lovely event, but if they decide to serve in a higher capacity and run for office, they have to resign their appointment while the competing incumbent in that race gets to stay on.



Monday, October 30, 2017

Could it ever be said again of Central Park, "If you grew up in Garland, you pretty much lived there"?

"Going to carnivals on Daddy's arm"—pen-and-ink drawing by A. Doerner for K. Moore

On the wall of our home is a piece of commissioned art with Garland's Central Park as one of its themes. Today, as Central Park has risen to the forefront of local concerns, I'm especially proud that my wife, Kay, and I own this piece of artwork.

It's a pen-and-ink drawing of a little girl holding her dad's hand, with a ferris wheel in the background and balloons to the side. Missing her dad, after his passing, my wife hired an artist to produce this line art that depicted the two of them together during her childhood.

The scene with Kay's dad symbolizes their annual trip to Garland's Jaycee Jubilee in Central Park. That was their dad-and-daughter "thing" to do together—the now-defunct Labor Day extravaganza, always the day before Garland schools started in September. Because she grew up on nearby 11th Street, the park was but a brief walk for them. She and her mom had dress-shopping and story league and a thousand other gal things to do together, but Central Park represented dad-and-daughter time that could be counted on.

But the much-ballyhooed Jubilee was far from her only memory tied to the park. When we purchased our own house on 11th Street, just down from where Kay grew up, I was excited that I'd gotten a peach of a deal in a VA foreclosure. Kay was excited that she would live in the one-time home of the person who taught her to do a swan dive off the awesome high board at the Central Park pool.

Before taking lessons from Martha Walker, my wife had shuddered to get near the pool, which now has been filled in, its former placement covered with sand for a volleyball court. Kay says she developed a brave streak after those private lessons in the ole swimmin' hole. She tells our grandboys, "Close your eyes tight and you can still hear the squeals of kids trying the high dive." In their innocence, they squeeze tight and agree that yup, they for sure can hear something.

Kids in the kiddie pool area of the Central Park pool in the 1960s. Photo from "You know your from Garland TX if . . . ." (The Facebook page deliberately spells the third word "your".)

Kay isn't the only one who goes off on nostalgia binges about Central Park. Facebook pages such as "You know your from Garland TX If . . . ." and "Pioneers of Dallas County" share long streams of conversations about Central Park, back in the day. The place meant a lot to many people. Reading the convo streams, I'd say it was a sense of continuity and dependability and home as much as it was bricks and mortar. 

"If you grew up in Garland, you pretty much lived there," wrote one Facebooker recently.

Some Baby Boomers go back further and remember when the old swim steps and hand rails still existed above Duck Creek—a reminder of when the creek was dammed up starting in 1926 and people swam and even fished there—in what was known as Lake Garland in Williams Park, which became Central Park. The "ghost" rails still remained long after the new pool was opened in 1952, after the city acquired the property in 1948. In Kay's growing-up day, closing your eyes and hearing the splashes of kids swimming in the actual creek was the challenge throw down to youngsters. Once again, simple to do! 

When a $7-million improvement was announced for the park's aging Granger Center, it set the Facebook nostalgia streams off again.  Boomers recalled how the then state-of-the-art rec center once had seemed like a dream come true after the creepy two-story army surplus barracks that had sat on the same site and was the scene for sock hops and school Halloween carnivals. 

Kay remembered the then-slick new Granger for a different reason. Deathly ill from walking pneumonia, she presided over the early spring "Popularity Ball", at which Garland High School favorites were announced by the yearbook staff. The week before, with work in high gear, she was felled with a ghastly bug and ran fever as she sat under the hair dryer for her up-do. She showed up at the ball against doctor's orders. I've seen photos of her in semi-formal attire after she pulled herself together enough to make the show go on. She's as white as the trellis behind her. The Granger represents some kind of "against-all-odds" moral victory to her. 

The nearby Granger annex is where she survived a trial of another kind: downing stinky limburger cheese in a middle-school band initiation. Are such things even allowed today? Regardless, the Annex to Kay stands for fortitude and true grit. (Should it be saved from the bulldozer just because of that? I'm not making that statement. Many factors, including the ongoing suitability and repurpose-ability of a building, influence that decision, not just a building's age. But does it hold memories for lots? Certainly.)

Not all Central Park memories are ones to be proud of. It is said that a town's segregation history is never more apparent than in the story of its swimming pools. In Kay's growing-up days, the pool was clearly whites-only. She remembers when one 1950s afternoon, a swimmer with an especially dark tan was having a splashing good time in the Central Park pool. Suddenly authorities, alerted that she might have broken a racial barrier, pulled her out and checked her ethnicity. Anglo, but what humiliation to the young woman and what a sad commentary on our society then! Whites only! Still makes my Civil Rights Baby-Boomer mindset burn with furor! 

Wouldn't a reset on that venerable old pool be a terrific, healing thing for Garland? 

I've often suggested that the city might study re-creating the original Lake Garland as both a tourist attraction and locus of redevelopment along Garland Avenue. Wouldn't it be great to have our own city lake featuring high-quality swimming for people of all ethnicities—intentionally symbolizing racial reconciliation, recognizing the history that has gone before on that site, and making giant steps toward the future?

Yes, I'm a dreamer with lots and lots of ideas. I've been accused of seeing things others can't see about the potential in a situation. Just like John F. Kennedy, I plead guilty to the charge.

Actually, on this particular idea, I'm borrowing from a former president of Baylor University in Waco. When I was sophomore at Baylor, I heard Baylor President Abner V. McCall talk about his vision of damming up Waco Creek and creating Lake Brazos. He talked about sailboats, party boats, and all sorts of water sports in an area of Waco that then was nothing but embarrassing slums. I leaned over to the person sitting next to me and whispered, "What has that old man been smoking?" Most people found Dr. McCall's vision difficult to even comprehend.

If you know anything about Waco today, you may recognize that 50 years later the shoreline of Lake Brazos is one of the hottest developments in all of Texas. Even Chip and Joanna's Magnolia Market isn't far from that marvelous waterfront property.  

When I have suggested rebuilding Lake Garland, I'm always met with the legalistic answer, "We don't own the water rights."

Lake Garland, a private lake created by D. Cecil Williams in 1926. Photo from the Garland Landmark Society. Long after the dam over Duck Creek was removed and Lake Garland ceased to exist, ladders and landings could still be observed on the creek.
That's the same answer most people gave about all the creeks and rivers in south central Oklahoma when my Chickasaw ancestors tried to talk about the potential of those waterways. That is, until the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear who really does own the land and mineral rights under and the water passing through those waterways—the tribe!

At the same time, for nearly two decades I've lived a very bad memory of Central Park—the exact opposite of my wife's fond recall—and have been screaming my lungs out ever since about the Park's questionable overall security—an issue that must be addressed regardless of which side wins in the current battle about the property on the eastern edge of the park along Glenbrook.

After we moved to downtown nearly two decades ago, I went running in Central Park (on the side closest to Garland Avenue) early almost every morning—just like I used to do in nearby parks where we lived in Houston, Franklin, TN, and Richmond, VA.  

On one particular morning about sunrise I realized I was alone in the park except for a carload of young men who clearly had been out all night drinking and had decided to follow me very closely. Thanks to my nearly lifelong running skills, I was able to outmaneuver and outrun them and their car. I still dread to think of what might have happened had I not reacted quickly both mentally and physically. Once out of the park that morning, I never returned for my morning runs there.

Again and again since this matter first materialized, I've stated that one of my main concerns about Central Park hasn't been addressed.

About two months ago Kay and I took our two grandboys for a picnic at noon on a Saturday in the park. The only people in the park were us and a growing group of young men guzzling beer several picnic tables away. As their numbers grew and the amount of beer consumed increased, our wariness escalated, so we yielded the park to them.

When I later told a city official about it, the response was, "Drinking is not legal in our parks."

Did that fact seem to stop the party I just witnessed?

Once it was Grandma's sneakered feet that clambered over Central Park's natural draws. Now, we enjoy bringing grandboys to the same treasured setting. Our dream is that this beautiful old park can achieve its best!

To us, it's great that this dear-to-the-heart park now may have a chance to go back on the city's high priority list. We'd like to see it be elevated to the best park ever with whatever is the best solution for its beautiful acreage.

I wish the political battle lines in our city were not so deeply drawn over three elements in the park (the planned demolition of the armory's largest building, the proposed dog park, and the proposed skate park) on a few acres in the 50-acre park that no way seems to exist for the city to back up and look at the park from the bigger, global perspective.  

As I've often said, I prefer the big picture first and then the details. Some seem to prefer the details first from which they then form the bigger picture.

I would prefer for a well-vetted, blue-ribbon panel of citizens with a heart for the park to first develop a master plan that is neighborhood- and town-friendly for everything that runs from Garland Avenue to Glenbrook, from Avenue G to the apartments and cemeteries to the south—but given the political dynamics now at play over that small corner of the park along Glenbrook, sadly I don't see that happening.

As I have said, I dream big—not in small increments or building by building!

Maybe some day when the current political hurricane passes and some of the hurt feelings fade, we can get back to looking at the big picture of what is best overall for Garland's beloved Central Park. There's so much more to the park than just a few acres along Glenbrook—and all of it needs the city's tender-loving attention.

How great if it could again be said of Central Park in the current day: "If you're from Garland, you pretty much lived there."



Wednesday, October 25, 2017

PART 3: WHITHER GARLAND?: Do citizens really count here? I've long had my doubts.

With a securely cordoned-off skate park right behind them, these youngsters gear up for a picnic. A small road in this well-designed parks complex separates the skate park from a dog park in the vicinity. The municipality's government office building and a police sub-station are part of the complex, enhancing security.

(Third of three in Whither Garland? series)

My wife and I may be among the few Garlandites that have experienced a perfectly designed dog park/skate park plan up close and personal—and working splendidly.

In the Arizona community where we own investment properties, a top-notch dog park and skate park have been meticulously designed and built as part of a master plan for the community. They draw hundreds of visitors each day.

Our grandchildren, who visit, love to stand outside the fence surrounding each. They like to see the puppies arrive for their outings. They like to see the kids on skateboards. We all enjoy watching the great fellowship of the owners while the dogs are at play. It's a fun place for observers and skateboarders as well as for the canine population.

In this same recreation complex also are a walking trail, bike trail, kids' playground and splash pad, soccer fields, and a small cafe and picnic areas as well as many other attractions—all intertwined in a marvelous architecturally pleasing way. The dog park and skate park are separated from each other by a small road. We always feel perfectly safe and feel confident about our grandbabies' safety when we visit.

A nearby small cafe that serves ice cream is an allure for onlookers. Kiddos carry their ice cream over to watch the puppies and the skaters. The complex is close enough to attract nearby residents but far away enough not to be an impairment.
 
It is situated close enough to be effective for nearby residential subdivisions but far enough away to not be a nuisance. Our properties are just the right distance from the park. From our street one can easily see the park lights at night, but they are far enough away not to bother us or our snowbird tenants in the over-55 community.

One of the reasons we like the dog park/skate park is because the overall park includes a city government complex and a police substation. These entities maintain careful watch and aren't about to let anything happen that poses danger to visitors to the surrounding park features.

Considering myself having had firsthand experience with a successful dog park/skate park combo, ever since the issue of a dog park and skate park arose in Garland almost a year ago I have volunteered in various city circles to sit down and offer my lay expertise, provide contact information in that particular community, and put my suggestions in the mix. We even would have hosted appropriate city authorities to go and stay in one of our properties to see first hand how a dog park and skate park work successfully in tandem.
The dog park, surrounded by high fences, is positioned well behind the children's playground. Those who live in the area appreciate that the parks complex is a high traffic area because it gives the feeling of added security, especially with the police station a part of the mix. Surrounding neighborhoods are close but not too close.

I mentioned it to a current parks-department official, whose employment history has even included tenure in another Arizona municipality.

"Blink blink" has been the only reply. Those to whom I offered my suggestions blinked at me politely but never followed through on information that I believe would have been helpful to Garland—and might even could have saved the current dilemma.

This situation as well as many others make me wonder: Do citizens really matter in Garland?

Some years back, Mayor Athas decided to appoint then-private citizen David Gibbons (now council member and mayor pro tem) as chair of another of his "secret" task forces, this one assigned to work on a plan for the so-called Bankhead Triangle (where State Highway 66 divides into East Avenues B and D). He appointed a group of citizens and developers to figure out how to make that portion from the beginning of the triangle to First Street blossom. 


Gibbons wisely included District 2 Councilmember Anita Goebel on the secret committee. Her name appears in the minutes of that group. All was rolling along quite nicely when something went dreadfully wrong. Goebel decided the "secret" committee was holding "secret" meetings with the mayor at the Main Street Cafe downtown without her.
 

At the end of a televised Council meeting two weeks before Gibbons took office, Goebel publicly confronted the mayor and Gibbons, who was sitting in the audience, about the "secret" meeting. The meeting was soon ruled adjourned and the city's communications staff worked swiftly to shut off the TV cameras, but not before the TV audience caught a glimpse of the dramatic confrontation.

That task force never met again and soon was disbanded. Valuable citizen input was dropped.

So much for another great project! I and many others would have loved to see this idea and area developed to completion. An out-of-state developer was visiting the other day, so I drove him by the "Bankhead Triangle". We both saw such great potential there but felt sad that the disregarded citizen input lost over a council fight over secrecy had destroyed a great opportunity for our city—at least for now.

The old and abandoned Eastern Hills Country Club presented another opportunity for citizen input—and not just from the angry citizens living in that area.

Repeatedly I told elected and other city officials about a retired citizen who moved to Garland after spending his life building world-class golf courses all over the world, including Europe, China, and the Middle East. He has friends worldwide who are still in that business, including some who have transitioned into the specialty field of either restoring or re-purposing golf courses that have closed down.

It seemed normal to me that city leaders would want to meet and hear this citizen's insights regarding Eastern Hills Country Club.

While the fight flared between a representative of the Henry S. Miller Co., who proposed cramming 500-plus homes onto the old golf course, and Eastern Hills residents who opposed the Miller plan and struggled to find their own solution, my friend easily could have provided the contacts necessary to perhaps solve the problem.

He was never consulted.

About 10 months ago, my friend contacted someone in his field who has an interest in finding a solution for the Eastern Hills Golf Course. The three of us, along with an Eastern Hills resident, toured the golf course and talked about ideas. A few weeks later, we all four went to one of the citizens' meetings just to listen.

My friend's friend is also talking with investors about his idea. Will his plan work? I don’t know. My purpose here isn’t to tout one developer’s ideas. I’m more concerned that our citizens are not consulted, especially when they have more expertise in a field than the consultants with high price tags the city hires.

In this day of instant Internet access and public TV airing of important city business, where do citizens fit into the mix in this city? Do city bureaucrats believe that only they and their consultants deserve the right to have input taken seriously? Why are citizens minimized again and again and again?

As we worked on redeveloping our 11th Street in downtown Garland, I came across in a university library in West Texas a 1985 Garland citizens study of the future of downtown Garland. It contained absolutely fabulous ideas, including a proposed National Register historic district for our Travis College Hill neighborhood (only larger because it included houses that have since been torn down) and Downtown Garland around the Square.

When I finally located a now-retired city official who remembered the study, he shrugged it off as just another citizens committee that came up with a bunch of ideas that were never implemented. In the list of that committee’s members were names of people who still live in Garland and have lost their appetites for the “latest, greatest idea” for downtown Garland—because they and others were not taken seriously more than 40 years ago. One of those was the owner of the building on the north side of the Square that so many complain about because it sits empty. Had the committee he served on been taken seriously instead of just kissed off, think where we might be today with that empty building on the Square!

A recent public citizens' task force on streets, which recommended a slight tax increase to improve our wretched potholes, got treated about the same way as that 1985 committee.

Our neighborhood has just completed the first successful historic tax credit application in Garland. I have guided the application through the state bureaucracy and received 25-percent tax credit for an improvement on Garland's Historic Pace House, an investment property.

"It's too complicated," protest other citizens who have been reluctant to apply for their own downtown projects. I found it to be just the opposite, with a bevy of employees at the Texas Historical Commission and in the Texas Comptroller’s Office eager to help me. Significant amounts of additional outside funds could be pumped into Garland redevelopment, at no cost to the city. I have tons of tips at my disposal. To get the city's attention, I have had to work about as hard as I did to complete the tax-credit project. And the city reception has lacked enthusiasm.

To me, this should be information that the city is eagerly, aggressively seeking out. I wonder why I had to approach the city about this matter instead of the city approaching me? Because it's coming from a private citizen, and not a consultant under contract, is it given less value?

Do citizens really matter here? Or only city employees, their consultants, and elected officials?

Now enter the third of the known Athas task forces—the makerspace task force aka the makerspace ad hoc committee.

Apparently, unlike the other two I've mentioned in this series, Councilmember Goebel was not included in this group's meetings. Neither was I nor Councilmember Gibbons.

Though the group says on its website that other city councilmembers besides the mayor were involved with it, none of the current councilmembers claims foreknowledge. And the makerspace advocates have not publicly identified any sitting councilmembers as involved with their effort. They do, however, work closely with former city council member Randal Dunning.
 

So, here we are today in the middle of a great big political mess. The current crisis was created when the makerspace task force, with Athas' blessings, asked for the old National Guard Armory as its place of operation—setting it on a collision course with the Parks Department's efforts to follow council's direction a few weeks earlier and locate the new dog and skate parks at Central Park on the same property being eyed by the makerspace task force.
 A collision was inevitable and thus it happened. The fallout is sickening us all!

And all of this because yet another of the mayor's "secret" task forces had been at work—secretly. The makerspace ad hoc committee needed to be out on the table from the very beginning, with council and others aware of its existence early on. This is a microcosm of how secrecy on the part of elected officials and staff gets the City of Garland into so much difficulty.
 

So, how could this mess have been avoided?

Very simply: The mayor could have publicly acknowledged each of his special task forces, brought council in on what he was doing, and refused to call them "secret". He could have been more open with his council members about his actions. In fact, he could have encouraged some of them to set up their own private task forces to look into issues in their particular districts.

I also would have preferred this: During many of its reviews of its policies during the Athas years, council could have set guidelines on these mayoral task forces, kitchen cabinets, citizen committees, etc. Council could have requested—or demanded—that this mayor and any succeeding mayors simply make the groups he created known to council with or without an authorization vote and agreed to guidelines that the mayor was to follow about routine reports from his special task forces.

These seem like very natural and workable solutions to the problem.

Unfortunately, none of that has happened. Few in this culture seem to know or understand the principle, "Who else needs to know?" Secrecy just doesn't work!

So where are Garland's citizens in all of this? Too often left out "in the cold". Expertise from the public—beyond just reports from paid consultants—gets little regard. Those who seriously could lend a strong hand to helping solve city dilemmas are shunned.

The system is broken. It must be fixed, before Garland—a city with huge potential—becomes the laughingstock of all.

The city must find a way to include its citizens, who pay the bills for all the city does, to feel empowered and not minimized by their community's bureaucracy and elected officials.

Great ideas for the city's East End, hatched up by a citizens' committee, lie fallow while the area remains undeveloped. Does citizen input, because it's not the work of a high-priced consultant, make any difference? Are the only ideas that are taken seriously those that cost taxpayers money?