Shining a Light

An ex-city offical’s lawsuit shows how closed Mike Moncrief’s city hall was.
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Posted May 22, 2013 by JEFF PRINCE in News

Weekly publisher Lee Newquist approached Moncrief at a ceremonial ribbon-cutting in 2005. Moncrief had just delivered a speech on downtown revitalization that highlighted a local developer’s condos being built along the Trinity River bluff. Moncrief was brimming with confidence afterward as he shook hands with well-wishers. And then Newquist came along and introduced himself and ruined the mayor’s mood.

“He says, ‘You know, you guys ought to seriously consider improving the way you do your paper. As far as I’m concerned, I want nothing to do with your paper,’ ” Newquist recalled the mayor saying.

Jacobs disagreed with Moncrief and found herself on the hot seat.

Jacobs disagreed with Moncrief and found herself on the hot seat.

At the time, Moncrief had been mayor for two years and had granted only two interviews with Weekly reporters. Neither story was critical. However, the newspaper had recently begun revealing worrisome information about gas drilling’s environmental impacts and lack of regulation.

Moncrief told Newquist that he disapproved of the paper’s sexy ads in the back pages, and he blasted the reporters for being too negative. Wendy Davis, now a state senator but then a city council member, was standing there and tried to defuse the uncomfortable moment. Some of the paper’s reporters were fair and responsible, she told the mayor.

Moncrief scowled.

Newquist urged him to at least talk to reporters.

The mayor’s response: “It ain’t gonna happen.” True to his word, Moncrief didn’t respond to Weekly interview requests for eight years.

Looking back all these years later, Newquist is still surprised by Moncrief’s manner of dealing with news media in a major metropolitan city.

“I’ve had people who hate our guts that have said more to me than the mayor, who is supposed to be somebody that’s approachable to talk about issues,” Newquist said. “It was disturbing that he blackballed us after he took office. He thinks he’s Kim Jong-un.”

Jacobs’ lawsuit paints a similar picture.

She was hired by the city in 1997 as  a public education program coordinator and was graded as “distinguished” — the highest classification –– during her annual performance reviews for the next decade. In 2007 she was promoted to the post of chief communications officer, overseeing internal and external communications at city hall. She and her small staff reported to the city manager.

Two years earlier, in 2005, Moncrief’s desire for a communications officer to serve him and council was fulfilled. The mayor wanted real speeches, not just bullet points. And he wanted media counseling and the gamut of professional communications services. Jason Lamers was given the job, although he still reported to the chief communications officer and the city manager.

Shortly after her promotion in 2007, Jacobs met with Moncrief to discuss the city’s communications efforts. Moncrief insisted that Lamers should report directly to the mayor and council. He asked Jacobs if she “wanted to do the right thing” and prove to him and the council that she “got it,” the lawsuit said.

The city charter prohibits the mayor or city council from giving orders to or interfering in the hiring or firing of employees overseen by the city manager. Jacobs told Boswell about the conversation. The city manager suggested that she talk to communications chiefs in other large cities and determine whether organizational changes sought by Moncrief made sense.

Jacobs’ research led her to believe that the change wasn’t in the city’s best interest. Boswell supported her decision.

“There is no provision in the city charter for that position to report to the city mayor; I’m thinking it would be not legal,” said Boswell, now a district director for Sen. Davis.

But he announced his retirement shortly afterward. Boswell and Jacobs met with new city manager Dale Fisseler in 2008 to explain their decision not to honor the mayor’s demand, the lawsuit says.

Fisseler vowed to keep the organizational structure as it was, lawsuit documents said. Boswell remembers it the same way.

“My sense was, he agreed with our assessment,” he said.

Within a couple of months, however, Fisseler allowed Lamers to begin reporting directly to Moncrief and the council. Jacobs did not know about the change until an assistant city manager told her that she had “pissed off” someone important, according to the lawsuit.

A reorganization occurred while Jacobs was out on medical leave in the fall of 2008. Former co-workers say that when Jacobs returned to work, she asked Fisseler about changing his mind, and he told her that no such conversation had taken place.

Fisseler moved most information officers to the newly named Community Relations Department and required them to re-apply for their jobs. He exempted the information officers assigned to the police, fire, and water departments, and Lamers, who was assigned to the mayor and council.

Jacobs received a lateral transfer at the same pay grade; however, in April 2009, she was told her position was being eliminated. In the lawsuit filings she said she was told “she had done nothing wrong, that it was not budget related, but it was what Fisseler wanted” and that other employees were told the change was “political.”

Shortly after, Fisseler named Lamers as the official spokesperson for the mayor, council, and city manager. Jacobs had, in effect, been demoted and stripped of authority. She was offered $12,000 to resign and to not seek any other jobs at city hall. She refused and applied for numerous other communications-oriented jobs with the city in the coming months. She wasn’t hired for any of them.

In 2010 she took early retirement to save her medical benefits. Then she sued.

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11 Comments


  1.  
    Yikes

    Wow, this sounds eerily familiar like in a kinda of ISD-ish way! I used to be a Mike supporter for years, but kept hearing way too many stories like the one posted here. That’s a shame, because Rosie is such a nice person to be married to someone like that. Great story Jeff.




  2.  
    Louis

    I truly wish that any of this news from Jeff Prince was a surprise or even a mild revelation to me or to many of the people I know that have been involved with Fort Worth civic volunteerism over the past 20 years or so.

    Without question Moncrief will go down in our city’s history as the worst mayor we have ever had. I don’t think that even those who supported him (that is except for the gas drillers) knew, or even suspected, what he was capable of doing to our city.

    That doesn’t excuse the blatant tolerance of the city council members and city staff in allowing him to go unchecked for almost a decade. Some of those same city council members are still in elected positions and I can say without hesitancy that they don’t possess a set of balls among them. The inaction of city staff and the city council members is more heinous that even Moncrief’s actions, in that they could have prevented him from doing any of the things described in this article…..and more.

    This man ran roughshod over the city staff, city council members and citizens (who dared get involved), violated our city charter with the help of the legal department and council members, violated city ordinances and please don’t forget he violated open meetings laws. When citizens complained, their voices were ignored by the Fort Worth legal staff, city management and the Tarrant County DA’s office.

    I hope this article can get out to enough people, and cause them to take the blinders off where our city council and mayor’s office is concerned. What should really occur is that we should insist on a forensic investigation into Moncrief’s eight years on the council and bring some people up on criminal charges!




  3.  
    katiedidit

    I find it very odd that people think Kathleen Hicks owned the Mayor Pro-Tem title. It’s supposed to be a 1 year term but due to other issues on the council at the time, her’s stretched into over 2 years. Also few of the people who found themselves on the wrong side of the former mayor told the truth when they spoke at city hall. Most of his detractors had their own venues for gas pipelines that they took easement money for or groups that still fight city hall over animal issues while they themselves do nothing. If the facts are in place and the story is correct instead of twisted as the weekly rag frequently does, you wouldn’t have anything to write about would you????




  4.  
    Hmmmmm

    Before the Hicks thing, Moncrief also engineered the ouster of Chuck Silcox as mayor pro tem when Silcox starting asking too many questions.




  5.  
    Java Joe

    Betsy Price talks alot but does she say anting?




  6.  
    Just Waiting

    Price: “It’s your Fort Worth; get engaged and help us shape it.” Too bad Price’s role with Judy Needham in the FWISD disaster is about to unfold.




  7.  
    Jerry

    Nice story, Jeff. But I think the history is more about what the moneyed interests needed at the time than about the difference in the styles of Moncrief and Price. The gas drillers could not have raped this city without a strong alliance with a dictatorial mayor. If Price had been mayor from 2003 to the blessed end of Moncrief’s reign she would have had to be as arrogant and fascistic as Moncrief was or they wouldn’t have been able to take over.

    Now they’ve got everything their way, and it can’t be undone, and there’s no other rapacious power wanting special treatment rapping on the mayor’s door at the moment. If there were, either Betsy would have to behave like Moncrief or she couldn’t remain in office.




  8.  
    Jim Harris

    Jeff, this is just half the story. The ctiy reposted Cecilia’s position as chief communications officer under a different job title last spring. Whoever ranked the final candidates didn’t score her skills correctly. If they had, she would have been the top choice. Instead, the powers that be simply pulled the job and put it on hold.

    There’s no rhyme or reason to what’s happened to this valuable and dedicated lady. Even though Moncrief may have set her downfall into motion, those who allowed it to happen are just as guilty. They, too, should be made to answer.

    If Mayor Betsy Price is truly the woman she claims to be, and I think she is, she needs to invite Cecilia back to the city and allow her to fulfill her service in exchange for her full retirment benefits. As an exempt employee, Cecilia probably put in enought extra time to make that happen anyway.

    Someone who stands up for taxpayers and what’s best for the city should be awarded, not demoted and layed off. Let’s see if Betsy, unlike Moncrief, does the right thing.




  9.  
    RightWay

    Ditto, ditto, ditto, Jim! I don’t understand why the city spend taxpayer money to search for a new communications officer when it already had one of the best. Best I remember, taxpayers voted the city’s communications efforts the best ever in 2008–during Ms. Jacobs’ leadership. If taxpayers were happy with Jacobs, why not Moncrief and others? Look like Betsy Price needs to make ammends on behalf of previous leadership.




  10.  
    RightWay

    Ditto, ditto, ditto, Jim! I don’t understand why the city spend taxpayer money to search for a new communications officer when it already had one of the best. Best I remember, taxpayers voted the city’s communications efforts the best ever in 2008–during Ms. Jacobs’ leadership. If taxpayers were happy with Jacobs, why not Moncrief and others? Looks like Betsy Price needs to make ammends on behalf of previous leadership.




  11.  
    Troubled

    When is it ever right to impact the lives of good employees like what’s been done to Jacobs and others like Carl Smart, Lena Ellis, etc.? Moncrief is gone, but his “style” in leadership is still alive and kicking. If it wasn’t, Lena Ellis would still be employed by the city. Just like Jacobs, city leadership — like Mayor Price and councilmembers — allowed this injustice to be done so that someone else could have her job. Now, that the dirty deed has been accomplished, Ellis’ replacement (former budget director Horatio Porter) has gone to the NTTA. Huh? Another misuse of good taxpayer money to search for a replacement.

    Fort Worth prides itself on taking care of its own and doing the right thing for the right reasons, so prove it, Mayor Betsy. Bring back these talented people. Prove you’re not hiding in Moncrief’s shadow.





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