Suburbatopia

Placid Frisco has its own version of a political uprising

A principal complaint of the Beckas and one of the grievances they hope to redress in the proposed charter amendments for Frisco is that they have been unable to try their dispute in court. On January 24, 2005, state District Judge Mark J. Rusch in McKinney ruled that the Beckas are bound by agreements they signed at the time of purchase to take their issues instead to binding arbitration.

The Beckas say that they signed a faxed copy of a sales contract that did not show the binding arbitration requirement on the back and that they were basically duped into signing an additional arbitration agreement. The judge found otherwise: After reviewing testimony and evidence, Judge Rusch ruled that both Dr. and Mrs. Becka had "provided false testimony" on that issue and that they were "experienced and educated home buyers" who could and should have read what they were signing.

The Beckas argue they are, indeed, experienced, educated people who wound up behind the eight ball because they were playing against a slanted deck at a rigged table in a town where everybody's monkey's uncle works for the casino. They make what I think is a compelling point: If smart, experienced, educated people can't understand the deal, maybe there's something wrong with the deal.

The Becka family has spearheaded a grassroots rebellion in Frisco, of all places, where everything is supposed to be perfect.
Mark Graham
The Becka family has spearheaded a grassroots rebellion in Frisco, of all places, where everything is supposed to be perfect.

Hence: an uprising in Beulah Land.

Last summer the Beckas and a handful of friends prowled soccer games and civic gatherings asking for signatures on a petition demanding new city-sponsored and city-enforced protections for home buyers. They collected signatures from more than 4,500 Frisco voters who support the charter amendments the Beckas are proposing: 1) a consumer warning or disclosure to make sure home buyers know exactly what they're getting into, especially with regard to binding arbitration, and 2) a requirement that home builders in Frisco pay into some kind of surety bond or escrow account to protect home buyers who get stuck with lemon houses.

Allow me to put those 4,500 signatures into perspective for you. Sure, there are more than 66,000 people living in Frisco. But according to the Collin County Elections Department, only 2,146 of them voted in the last general election. That means the Beckas are backed by more than twice the number of voters who put the Frisco mayor and city council in office.

The mayor and city council have been extremely hostile and foot-draggish about scheduling an election, even though the petitions and state law require them to call one for May 7, the same day we'll be voting on our own charter amendments in Dallas. City council member Jim Joyner, a veterinarian, has made a study of the propositions and believes they conflict with state law. He swears there is no feasible way for the city to comply with the escrow requirement.

But Joyner has discovered, as have opponents of the Blackwood proposal here, that none of his objections can even be raised legally until after an election in which the measures have been passed into law. "Our problem," he told me, "is at that point some severe damage may already be done.

"We already have developers canceling contracts for lots in developments. They're sitting back and waiting."

Aha. So we're worried mainly about the developers. And there we finally come to exactly the same issue, the same thrust, the same basic human and political dilemma out in Beulah Land that we have here in the scruffy old city: The opponents just don't get it.

Twice the number of people who voted in the last general election in Frisco have signed petitions saying that home builders have too much power, too much sway, too much advantage at Frisco City Hall. Twice the number.

Forget the technical specifics. Figure it out. Don't nickel-and-dime it. It's exactly what we have in Dallas: These petition drives have succeeded because the sponsors have tapped into political groundswells. But the opponents have headaches and can't feel the earth move.

Here's an interesting wrinkle. Dr. Becka is pretty busy with his practice, but people have been coming to him urging him to run for mayor. He told me he hasn't made up his mind yet, but he hasn't ruled it out, either.

As far as I can tell, he already has the biggest political organization in Frisco. I don't know about his shootout with the builder who sold him his house. I know there has to be more than one side to that story, and because of the litigation, I have heard only one.

But I think I'd have to put my money on Dr. Becka, his family and their supporters in a shootout with Frisco City Hall, for the same reason I'd probably bet on the charter-change proponents in Dallas.

The opponents are all deaf.

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