Good fences

Don't always make good neighbors, especially in exclusive Flower Mound, where a nasty feud between the mayor and a newspaper publisher has blossomed into all-out war

DeLuca was Voters United's founding president, passing the torch to Vikki Fulfer in 1998. All kinds of people joined Voters United; from politicians to teachers, Flower Mound residents wanted their voices heard on the issue of growth. They've made no attempts to hide the fact that they are against their town turning into a Plano or even a Lewisville, with its tract housing and numerous strip malls. Their movement has been so popular, in fact, that many town council members in recent years have campaigned on their endorsements from Voters United. Flower Mound residents proved their wide support of the SMART Growth stance by electing DeLuca as mayor in 1998.

These days, Voters United has grown way beyond its grass roots. The town manager and all six members of the town council, which includes the mayor, belong to Voters United, and each of the Voters United members embraces the SMART Growth philosophy. Beyond that, it's impossible to gauge the extent of Voters United's influence, since, as a PAC, it doesn't have to disclose its membership or how much money it's collected.

But it's clearly gone a long way toward accomplishing its sole mission: to regulate growth. And in the process, Voters United-aligned city officials have made life hell for Donna Morris and her developer clients.

Big houses, big lots, big fences: the Flower Mound way of life
Big houses, big lots, big fences: the Flower Mound way of life

To the civic perfection envisioned by Voters United and SMART Growth, Morris objects.

Her wish is to see a classless Flower Mound, where people of all races and religions play nice and where neighbors see one another more than once a year when their garage doors break down.

Maybe she's a little disingenuous, a bit biased; after all, the people that Voters United are messing with are either potential clients or sources of Messenger revenue. But she's also offended by the way Voters United has built a political dynasty in Flower Mound that seemingly squelches out any diversity or difference.

Some 3,500 people voted in the May election, in which all three Voters United town council incumbents were re-elected, and Voters United, by its own estimate, has 3,000 members. Morris insists she wants people of all demographics living in the town, mingling together. This, despite the fact that her house is one of the only ones in her neighborhood with a huge wooden fence around it.

Mayor DeLuca points to another possible reason for Morris' crusade against Voters United: a personal feud between the two women dating to 1998.

Before DeLuca ran for mayor, she says, Morris approached her and asked whether Voters United would endorse her candidacy for state representative. "I told her we don't get involved in state races," DeLuca says. "Only Flower Mound. She was really, really upset about that. About a year ago, she started The Messenger, and it's pretty incredible, probably even bordering on libel with malice."

Before Morris' failed bid for state representative, the women had been friends. Needless to say, that is no longer the case. Their children no longer play together, and Morris frequently compares Mayor DeLuca to Bill Clinton. In conservative Flower Mound, being compared to Satan is a better fate.

Morris and DeLuca dog each other at every opportunity. In interviews, they initially speak as if this conflict were not personal; it's a political quarrel, they say. But after 15 minutes of conversation, their feelings for each other come out. DeLuca says the only function of The Messenger is to blast her and her government. Morris, meanwhile, is convinced the town council has it in for her and is trying to keep her from developing the 10 acres of commercially zoned property she owns.

"There's something about Flower Mound...that makes the guys down in Dallas laugh at us. What is that?" Morris asks. Then she answers her own question: The butt of the joke is affluent, lily-white suburbanites walking in lockstep to the dictates of an organization like Voters United.

She's not alone in her view of the group. Flower Mound resident Glenda Duke, who works for an insurance agency, sympathizes with the concept of SMART Growth, but she doesn't approve of Voters United's tactics. "I respect their organizational skills, and there's a lot of good people that are members," Duke says. "But there are a lot of innocent people that don't have a clue what they belong to. They get approached right away."

Duke says Voters United has a group of 10 to 12 people who are very vocal and never miss town council meetings. They publicly blast The Messenger and comment on how it has as much journalistic integrity as, say, the National Enquirer. Town Manager Van James even wrote a letter to Messenger reporter Mike Fickling and told him the town wouldn't bother to send The Messenger a press kit because it didn't meet the city's criteria for a bona fide newspaper.

Voters United rubbed Duke the wrong way right from the start. When she moved to a new area of Flower Mound, a neighbor--entirely lacking in bedside manner, she says--approached her and tried to commit her to VU. "She had no idea that we weren't new to the community; our business had been here six years," Duke recalls. "She kind of tackled my husband and tried to get him involved."

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