To the editor: Mayor Mike Moncrief brags about “the Fort Worth Way” when extolling the virtues of the council or of businesses that aid the city. But judging by recent revelations in the media, before the city council, before the Tarrant County College board, and elsewhere, the Fort Worth Way is sounding more like influence peddling, cronyism, and unethical conduct, withholding information from the public, obfuscation, nepotism, and violation of the public trust.
The Weekly’s outstanding article addressing the city council ethics issues (“Has Fort Worth Lost its Moral Compass?” Sept. 22, 2010) is, however, only one slice of the pie.
The Tarrant Regional Water District is still touting Trinity Uptown as if it were the original pie-in-the-sky project. Not only has the price ballooned, but nothing remains in the original form, from channel width to bridges, from environmental cleanup to catchment basins, from canals to completion dates. If costs increase like the salary paid to J. D. Granger (the congresswoman’s son), which rose from $110,000 in 2006 to $140,400 in 2010, you know we’re in trouble.
How about the cleaning chores offered in exchange for credits toward graduation at Arlington Heights High School, as reported in a previous edition of the Weekly? How’s that for an exemplary high school? Schools Superintendent Melody Johnson, is really earning her $325,000. Bringing up those scores fast!
TCC Chancellor Erma Johnson Hadley had the public in mind when she and her staff put together a budget that was not even shared with the trustees, let alone the public. No wonder: She is adding high-priced management like the $100,000 “diversity vice president” (or whatever). I think we have diversity at TCC. We could say more about the cost of new buildings and such, but let’s not go there.
But that pesky ethics issue — of course it’s the fault of a low-level housing department staffer that Danny Scarth’s boy was given $8,500 toward purchase of a townhouse. You just can’t get good help in these days of 10 percent unemployment. But Danny Scarth would never have known of the conflict of interest, he is so far above the conduct and responsibilities of ordinary people. After all, he is a city councilman.
Moncrief, as always, is right on top of the situation. Where an ordinary person might have taken a couple of weeks to resolve the ethics committee dysfunction, our mayor made sure he had ample time to deliberate and decide on a proper course of action. Five years may have been rushing it, but he did it, in his usual style. He watered down the ethics code then appointed at least one compadre to a key position. Jim Lane is a good choice — having been a target of an ethics complaint before, he knows one when he sees one. Being a water board member working closely with the city on Trinity Uptown (or “up yours” as former councilman Chuck Silcox, used to say) Jim really meshes with Moncrief’s modus operandi. This is real synergy among the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” crowd.
Lane won his water board seat through alleged illegal mail ballots. The state attorney general was investigating mail ballot abuse in certain precincts at the time but declined to prosecute anyone. In Lane’s defense, he probably didn’t know anything about it. Others probably did the dirty work.
And good old Carter Burdette, the totally impartial gas and oil lawyer. He probably knows when to “misread” a portion of the ethics code, but hey, he wasn’t trying to mislead anyone. Trust him, he’s a lawyer and a councilman.
And even more ethics charges fly, the latest against Jungus Jordan and Scarth (again). Jordan regularly recuses himself from voting on Chesapeake Energy issues because of an income interest. Yet he still votes on policy issues that involve Chesapeake and the other gas drilling companies.
Then there’s Brian Boerner, former environmental director for the city. Deborah Rogers addresses that much better than I could in her commentary in the Star-Telegram on Sept. 24. Read it.
Bottom line is that we have public officials, elected and appointed, who may qualify as pond scum — incompetent, lazy, abusive of the public trust, and in some cases, corrupt. Make your own assignments; it’s the Fort Worth Way.
In the “Best of 2010” issue (Sept. 29, 2010):
• The name of the steel sculpture at the Polytechnic Heights Neighborhood Police Center (which won the critic’s award as best new example of public art) was incorrect. The Ralph Helmick sculpture is titled “Blue Lines.” Fort Worth Weekly regrets the error.
• The critic’s choice for Politician Most Likely to Sell Grandma to the Highest Bidder was, collectively, the Fort Worth City Council, for multiple reasons, including one that was incorrectly described. The council never “unanimously vot[ed] to fire the ethics committee.” In fact, Mayor Mike Moncrief unilaterally called members of the ethics panel to tell them they weren’t being reappointed (though City Attorney David Yett said later that the mayor didn’t really have that power). Fort Worth Weekly regrets the error.