Sour Town

You think Dallas City Council is nuts? Well, yeah, but look at Garland.

Dunn says that the Housing Authority knew about the forged letter but didn't tell the council about it for months. She says that when she asked about the letter at a council work session, the city's chief of police came into the meeting and told her not to discuss it because the matter was under investigation. Nearly a year after the forged letter was exposed to the council, no one knows who doctored it and if that person was fired. A former employee of Southwest who claimed she was terminated for outing the fabricated document has filed a wrongful termination suit against the company. The circumstances of the forged letter remain under investigation.

Like many other issues, the debate over Southwest Housing has fractured the council. The once-dominant bloc voted against the original zoning change the company needed to break ground, but this time they were on the losing side. They suffered another defeat in June 2005 when they attempted to scuttle Southwest's project after it surfaced as a target in Dallas' FBI investigation. Between the forged letter and the shady allegations that have followed the company throughout Texas--not to mention the mayor's wishes to keep the housing authority's minutes under wraps--Holden has a rather ominous prediction: "It wouldn't surprise me at all if some indictments came down here in Garland. This deal does not pass the smell test."

During this past election season, the Web site chronicled--or perhaps more aptly, instigated--the rancor surrounding the council races. Were this the blog of just another gadfly, her diatribes wouldn't exactly merit attention. The local candidates, however, seem to be obsessed with the writings and positions expressed on the site, which seems to be a cross between A Prairie Home Companion and the Al-Jazeera of Garland. Suzy Blitz, the "nom de plume" of former Garland City Council member Jean McNeal, popularized the term "Gang of Five" and ridiculed them with relish, if not bad taste. Of Harry Hickey, who is a part of that dominant wing and is the council's only African-American member, she made a joke about him being "Jesse Jackson's butler." She referred to Terri Dunn as "uneducated" and accused her of violating the 100-foot boundary when campaigning at a local polling office. "She will be kept under camera surveillance until Election Day," McNeal mysteriously warned on her Web site.
Right-hand man: Garland City Council member Randall Dunning is skeptical of government, particularly the one he helps lead.
Mark Graham
Right-hand man: Garland City Council member Randall Dunning is skeptical of government, particularly the one he helps lead.
The lone wolf: No longer part of the dominant wing of the council, Harry Hickey is thinking about leaving Garland.
Mark Graham
The lone wolf: No longer part of the dominant wing of the council, Harry Hickey is thinking about leaving Garland.

But McNeal has reserved her strongest and strangest barbs for Holden. They briefly served on the council together, during which time she says he sexually harassed her. Even though, by her own admission, she's old enough to be Holden's mother, she claims that he continually stared at her breasts. Holden laughs off her accusation of sexual harassment, calling it a lie. He accuses McNeal of once sending out anonymous letters to city employees detailing who was sleeping with whom and signing it Suzy Blitz.

Given the content of her Web site, McNeal might not make the most credible accuser, but she kept up her assault on not only the council's once-dominant wing, but everyone they support--namely Jeffrey Maynard, the candidate Holden unsuccessfully endorsed to replace him. On her site, McNeal depicts Maynard and Holden together in a steam room with their heads placed atop the bodies of two grossly obese men wearing nothing but diapers that somehow fail to cover their rather small "constituents." In her caption, McNeal once again ridicules Holden for voting against holding council elections this spring.

"Once Holden realized the gig was up and all his efforts to thwart an election failed, he recruited Maynard to replace him. Up until March, the two were often seen sweating together at a local steam room. The Health Department has subsequently closed down the place."

Asked if this sort of writing crosses the line of good taste, McNeal says that she's just trying to make a point.

"The only way to describe my site is that it's satire," she says. "Some people may be offended by it, but the point I was trying to make when I wrote that was that by voting for Maynard, you're voting for Holden."

Holden and Maynard couldn't exactly count on their hometown newspaper for a better shake. One of their chief detractors, Jay Jones, owns a major share of the Garland News. He's ridiculed the council members who voted against the elections. Even worse, his paper's own staff writer Linda Jaresh donated money to the campaign of council candidate Doug Athas, who defeated Maynard. She is also listed on his Web site as a supporter.

In an e-mail to the Dallas Observer, Jaresh incredibly insists that she doesn't let her support of Athas influence her political coverage, but for obvious reasons Maynard won't talk to her.

"I'm not going to comment to a political reporter who endorsed a particular candidate," Maynard says.

Of course, Maynard is hardly a good arbiter of proper decorum. After he lost to Athas, he hijacked the Internet domain name of a Garland homeowners association because, as he explains, "the president of the organization, Greg Yearsley, did not support me..." On the site, Maynard says he's willing to sell the rights to the domain name for $2,500.

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