Let the honeymoon begin: Betsy Price takes over as Fort Worth mayor in a few weeks, and she’s made a point of telling people she expects city government to be open and transparent. What that really means is that residents and news media have been complaining about how closed and secretive City Hall has been during the eight-year reign of Mayor Mike Moncrief. Price vows to change that — so far, so good.
However, Static must point out that Moncrief (who endorsed Price over his longtime friend Jim Lane) said the same thing when he was seeking the job in 2003. Back then, the average person felt excluded from the local political process; city officials wanted to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on a questionable downtown project (a luxury hotel); the school board was wrapped in turmoil; voters were pissed off. Any of this sound familiar?
It was in this climate that Moncrief sat down with Fort Worth Weekly staff writer Betty Brink for an interview prior to the 2003 election. The resulting story (“Holy & Rollin’,” April 24, 2003) was so rosy in outlook, in fact, that Brink’s co-writers gave her a hard time for being soft on him (a “fluff piece” is one of the nicer terms for an overly rosy story). Brink said Moncrief had a solid record as a state senator, and the most controversial thing about him was personal rather than professional: He’d sued his uncle Tex Moncrief over the family oil money.
Moncrief told Brink he had no “hidden agenda” (his staunch support for unfettered urban gas drilling would become quickly and painfully obvious). He wanted more collaboration between the city council and the school board (didn’t happen). He agreed with tax abatements in certain cases but said they should be hard to come by (ha!). He looked forward to moving from the legislature to the city council because local politics is “closest to the people” (many of whom he would later bully or ignore when they disagreed with him). He listed his priorities, beginning with a “user-friendly” city hall.
The final quote in that story: “Government has to be inclusive, not exclusive. All of our community deserves equal treatment, decent parks, decent streets, decent security, and good schools. All need a voice. And they will have that voice. That’s my promise to Fort Worth.”
After he was elected … not so much. He didn’t return phone calls from this paper. When approached in person by a Weekly reporter seeking an interview, Moncrief chastised the writer for working at a “negative” publication that didn’t have the city’s best interests at heart. Moncrief’s bunker mentality and anti-media bias filtered down to the rest of city hall. Before long, getting basic information from city employees became a chore. Public information requests were ignored or delayed. So much for a user-friendly city hall.
Now Price is making similar noises about a responsive city government. Let’s hope that years from now, her promises won’t sound as hollow as Moncrief’s.