Good fences

Donna Morris lives the good life. Each day, the well-groomed 40-year-old attorney wakes up, whispers good morning to her husband, Roy, sees the three kids off to school, and heads to work, sometimes with her husband, sometimes solo. They always meet at the only law firm in town: Morris and Morris.

The couple is essentially a legal monopoly in Flower Mound, a quaint 'burb 30 miles north of Dallas in Denton County. Donna Morris represents all kinds of people. From business law and estates to tort and criminal law, her clientele is diverse. But her main area of expertise is building and development law. As thrilling as that sounds, after doing this for 15 years, Morris doesn't particularly like bringing her work home. She deals, after all, with the eye-popping excitement of such things as zoning disputes day in and day out. So a couple years ago she decided she needed a hobby: an after-school activity of sorts.

She also happened to have a fight to pick. In her eyes, everything was not well in Flower Mound, the Beverly Hills of Dallas' urban sprawl. A political action committee called Voters United, launched four years ago with the purpose of keeping Flower Mound's growth under control, had virtually taken over the town, putting its members on the town council and in the mayor's office. Morris had felt the brunt of their growing power. Her developer clients found they had to jump through innumerable bureaucratic hoops in Flower Mound to get any project off the ground, and Morris, a developer herself, didn't think it was fair.

Now Doe Boyle, a Flower Mound local, used to run a community newspaper called Pipeline. As in small towns all over Texas, Pipeline was a down-home publication that informed residents about bake sales, how many home runs the Walton kid hit in the big game, the new road that will be paved next month, and so on. Boyle fell ill and stopped publishing a year and a half ago, leaving Flower Mound's residents uninformed. Here was Morris' opening. The attorney thought it a shame that such an interesting, rapidly growing town would lack its own newspaper.

At first, there was talk of purchasing Pipeline, but for obvious reasons, that didn't work out. There is no earthly rationale for buying a newspaper that has already shut down. Anyway, Doe wanted too much money, Morris says. So one night, she got a phone call from her friend Deborah Rauen. The two had known each other for years, having served together on various charitable boards. Rauen, formerly with the Lewisville Leader, another local newspaper, wanted to start up a Flower Mound newspaper.

What a coincidence.

"It just was like it was meant to be," says Morris. "She was talking about starting up some kind of trade publication, so we sat down."

Out of that sit-down would come a brand-new publication just for Flower Mound: The Messenger. A community newspaper boasting about the "good life" seemed to be the perfect complement for Flower Mound's marble-topped coffee tables and elegant sun rooms.

Rauen took the role of publisher and brought in Deborah Brewington, a former colleague at the Lewisville Leader, to do layout, and Michael Ryan, a Leader reporter who had been covering Flower Mound. The bimonthly Messenger, supported by advertising and distributed to every household in Flower Mound through direct mail, eventually became so successful that the Leader got in a twist and started putting out a competing edition called the Flower Mound Leader.

Like its rival and predecessor, The Messenger covers the obligatory small-town stuff: High school student Jay Barr snags a national ROTC honor; the local Girl Scout chapter launches its cookie sale; Crossroads Bible Church changes its times of worship. But there is a difference.

Somewhere along the way, Morris and The Messenger took it upon themselves to become the alternative editorial voice in Flower Mound, fingerpointing at the heavy-handed tactics of Voters United, the group that hates seeing men in construction hats and runs the political show in town. Things got downright nasty: The Messenger ran a cartoon with the Voters United-aligned mayor, Lori DeLuca, depicted as a witch on a broom; published a one-sided news story about the marital problems of a town council member who also belonged to Voters United; and reprinted a sinister-sounding e-mail between Mayor DeLuca and her assistant about how they used to be so good at "swaying public opinion" by writing letters to the editor in the Lewisville Leader. (DeLuca claims Morris fabricated the e-mail. Morris insists it's authentic but won't reveal how she got it.)

Every issue of The Messenger, in fact, takes at least one potshot at Voters United and its allies. What began as an old-fashioned newspaper pissing match has now blossomed into war, with Morris and her developer buddies squaring off against the affluent residents and city politicians who want to keep Flower Mound exactly the way it is: a model of spacious, quiet suburban life.

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Adam Pitluk
Contact: Adam Pitluk