The Year of the Bible in Flower Mound is at its midpoint, and Mayor Tom Hayden says it's been more successful than he could have imagined. Since he delivered the proclamation at a Town Council meeting last December, more than a million people from 80 different countries have visited the Year of the Bible website (which, for the record, is operated by Calvary Chapel Flower Mound using no taxpayer dollars). Thousands more have sent Hayden emails and, while a few were angry, even threatening, they've been about 80 percent positive. If he had to do it over again he would. No hesitation.
Flower Mound residents, though, are learning that the Year-of-the-Bible speech wasn't a one-off thing. Hayden is a man whose political and religious opinions are stitched large on his sleeve and on his Facebook page.
"Just because I'm an elected official doesn't mean I don't have freedom of speech," he tells Unfair Park. "I haven't checked my First Amendment Rights at the door."
True enough, but some Flower Mound residents who don't subscribe to Hayden's particular brand of movement conservatism feel they are being alienated for no good reason. The mayor is supposed to make sure citizens have safe neighborhoods, drivable roads, and timely garbage collection. When he floods his Facebook page with commentary on hot-button political topics, it's distracting and unnecessarily divisive.
"Nobody would expect him to change his conservative stripes," says Mike Ogulnick, a 12-year Flower Mound resident and self-described "token Jew," who has become involved in helping plan regular gatherings of the town's relatively small community of liberals. "But I think that once you take office, common sense dictates" that you moderate your tone.
Hayden hasn't done that. One example cited by Olgunick and a couple of emailers was his response to a recent post on the Flower Mound Republican Forum on Facebook. Hayden, quoting a post on a nonpolitical Flower Mound community Facebook page announcing the existence of "a great group of Democrats who are having tons of fun getting to know each other by meeting up at local restaurants" and starting a book club, warned of a coming invasion:
I share this as a reminder that Texas is seeing much immigration from North of the Red River and the far West (Toyota for example) and many of these folks are bringing with them different values and philosophies. I've heard the saying that "Texas being the conservative bastion" can help retake the country ... I think we need to be on guard that the opposite doesn't happen, because I can feel the shift happening right under our noses. While we have different wings of conservative principles disagreeing amongst ourselves, it feels we are slipping. Remember the saying, all politics are local, locally we need to be strong, and overlook minor disagreements. We need to keep pushing a simple but positive message.
Another example came on Sunday when he linked to a inflammatory right-wing YouTube video from 2009 entitled "Obama Admits He Is a Muslim". He stopped short of endorsing the video but wrote that parts were "interesting."
Well some of the quotes in the video are interesting, such as "we are no longer are a Christian nation". ... Which must mean we were once a nation of Christian principles. I hope laws are not passed that force Christians to violate their beliefs. It's interest (sic) how our country is evolving, we as a nation are being lectured that we must be tolerant of everyone's beliefs, everyone that is except the beliefs of Christians. As I was watching the video I was thinking, could you ever image (sic) a leader of a Muslim country speaking so inclusively about the state of Israel or Christians.
That post now appears to be gone from his Facebook page, but Hayden doesn't regret posting it. "I think (it) had interesting quotes," he says. He says his critics should understand is that the message was his personal opinion posted on his personal (albeit public) Facebook page. He says he is careful to segregate the actions and statements of Tom Hayden, Mayor of Flower Mound from those of Tom Hayden, private citizen.
For Ogulnick, the distinction isn't so neat. Hayden doesn't just stop being mayor when he logs onto Facebook.
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He says the posts are "indicative of somebody who hasn't come to grips with (the distinction between) being a public servant and having political views."
Don't expect Hayden to experience that revelation any time soon. He stands by his right to express himself however he chooses and insists that it doesn't impede the performance of his mayoral duties.
"I represent everyone, and I think if you ask, I've treated everybody fairly and equally since I've been mayor of Flower Mound."
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.