Sour Town

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Miller's logic aside, the Fifth District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Let Us Vote contingency and ordered the City Council to hold an election no later than July 1, essentially declaring that the two-year term was the rule for all.

That ruling prompted several of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to run against the council members they beat up in court. On June 17, three of the candidates who supported holding the elections cruised into office, and now only one of the five council members who voted against holding the elections remains.

The Gang of Five is now a gang of one.

"The ones who didn't want to have an election, they all got beat handily," says council member Mark Monroe. "It's pretty obvious there were five members of the previous council who took the citizens for granted and wrote them off. I think that came back to haunt them."

Even after the elections, many of the more polarizing personalities remain, including Mayor Bob Day, a card-carrying member of the anti-Gang of Five camp. On two occasions last year, he simply walked out of meetings, once after the City Council was prepared to update its rental registration ordinance. While Dunning argued compellingly that the proposal was unconstitutional because it allowed city officers to show up unannounced and inspect rental homes at will--he was later proven right, and the ordinance was amended--the mayor chose to simply depart the council chambers in disgust, shocking just about everyone present. In a way, the mayor wound up, unintentionally, doing the ethical thing. He and his wife own rental property, and by storming out he avoided a possible conflict of interest. Still, the mayor's antics have given his critics plenty of ammunition.

"They're saying we're the dysfunction, but we're not the ones getting up out of meetings and wearing bulletproof vests," Holden says.

The rental ordinance is one of those measures aimed to clean up the pockets of Garland that perpetuate the (mostly) unfair stereotype of the city as a redneck outpost. The city's housing standards office has pictures of rental homes with trashed backyards, broken windows held together by duct tape and ramshackle rooms plagued by peeling paint and badly cracked floors. There are also stories of rental homes that don't have running water, with buckets serving as toilets. Many of these dilapidated properties anchor otherwise well-kept middle-class neighborhoods, where everyone else manages to mow their lawns, take out the trash and clean up the graffiti on their sheds.

Other than the mayor and Dunning, the rest of the City Council voted in favor of the rental ordinance, which required annual inspections by Garland code officers. (After a lawsuit, the inspections are now done by appointment.) But it was the Gang of Five that pushed for this legislation, as well as an earlier measure that sought to upgrade minimum housing standards for rental property.

But now that the elections have upended the balance of power, the members of the once-dominant council cadre are worried that much of what they accomplished will be undone. Already, they've speculated that the mayor will look to repeal the rental registration ordinance in the coming months, which they seem to view as the centerpiece of their efforts.

"I believe their goal of getting us out of office is to repeal much of what we've done to improve the quality of life in Garland," Holden says.

But Dunning says the Gang of Five has tried to tap into the power of government to make over their city. In a way, he's right. Holden's group has tried to spin Garland into more of a traditional suburb where at least some degree of conformity is the law.

"Using the power of positive legislation, they may believe that they can transform Garland into something like Frisco," Dunning says.

You could forgive the Garland City Council if its confrontations and debates stemmed from deep philosophical divides. Fighting over the soul of a city of 225,000 people can tend to amplify the latent tensions that run through any political body. But the stakes alone don't explain the bitterness or the tendentious behavior of the players.

Incredibly, Mayor Bob Day, the same guy who walked out of two council meetings, ordered the Garland Housing Finance Corp. (GHFC), a public agency that uses tax dollars to build affordable housing, to withhold the minutes of its meetings from council member Terri Dunn, one of his political adversaries.

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Matt Pulle
Contact: Matt Pulle