Keller Citizen

Keller moves closer toward recall election of mayor

From left: Keller City Manager Mark Hafner, council members: Bill Dodge, Bill Hodnet and Debbie Bryan at Friday’s meeting.
From left: Keller City Manager Mark Hafner, council members: Bill Dodge, Bill Hodnet and Debbie Bryan at Friday’s meeting. Star-Telegram

Voters will decide in May whether Mark Mathews will continue to serve as mayor.

On Friday morning, most of the Keller City Council convened for the city secretary’s presentation of a petition seeking a recall election. Mathews was not present for the special meeting.

The petition accuses Mathews, elected in May 2014, of violating the city’s code of ethics and state law.

The petition was turned in to city officials this week. Nearly all of the 2,085 verified signatures were accepted, more than enough to force a recall election.

Mathews could not be reached throughout the week, but released a prepared statement Saturday morning, saying he will fight the recall because those behind the effort is a “political group” trying to “strong-arm” him to do what they want.

Keller’s attorney, Stan Lowry, could not be reached for comment.

What the petition claims

The petition details several times that Mathews is accused of a conflict of interest by voting in favor of a project involving Sage Group, an architecture and design company where his wife, Angela, works. The petition says that Mathews should have recused himself from voting and violated the city’s code of ethics as well as state law.

On a separate issue, the petition claims that after Mathews was elected mayor, he remained the president of his neighborhood’s homeowners association advisory committee. The petition says that after trees were improperly cleared in the subdivision in 2014, the developer paid a fine of $38,300 that should have gone into a designated city fund. Instead, that money went to the homeowners association.

Linda Taylor, the spokeswoman for the 41 residents who organized the petition, supported Mathews when he was running for office.

A year and a half later, things are much different.

“I personally did support the mayor in his initial election, because at the time, I believed he would be an honest and transparent civil servant,” Taylor said. “This recall effort has nothing to do with politics nor campaign promises.”

Taylor has said that Mathews failed to disclose that his wife worked for Sage Group. Taylor has also said that three independent attorneys were consulted and believe the petition has merit, and residents from all over Keller signed the petition.

Mathews’ response

At the beginning of the Dec. 1 City Council meeting, Mathews presented his response to the petition.

He disputed the ethics violation claims because his wife’s company wasn’t the project applicant, but the applicant’s contractor. He said the city’s contract with Silver Oak Real Estate, which was contracted by the Sage Group, did not violate the city’s ethics policy or state law.

“The state of Texas does not recognize, by law, that that’s a conflict of interest,” Mathews said at the meeting.

On the issue of the tree ordinance violation, Mathews said he was never involved. He said that after breaking the ordinance, the developer, Meritage Homes, agreed with City Manager Steve Polasek to pay damages to the homeowners association and to plant trees.

In the prepared statement on Saturday, Mathews said the recall petitioners “are deceiving Keller citizens” and want “to divide Keller to get their way.”

“Some of the people involved in the recall petition supported me in my campaign for mayor in 2014,” Mathews said. “Just like a PAC, they began using strong arm tactics to force elected officials to do what they want. This group began threatening me in private and in public last year; they indicated they were going to bring a bunch of trumped up charges against me to initiate a recall.”

Mathews said the accusations are a “smoke screen of charges.”

“I have done nothing wrong and I have not broken any laws or been self-dealing in any decisions as mayor,” Mathews said in the statement. “My integrity does not allow me to abandon my supporters, even while knowing this fight will be at a huge cost to me and my family. I believe the future of Keller is worth fighting for.”

What’s next

Mathews has five days to decide whether he wants to call a public hearing to defend himself, according to the City Charter. If he does, the council will order the public hearing to be held between five and 15 days after the mayor’s request.

Within the next two regular council meetings, the council must call for the recall election, according to the charter, unless Mathews were to resign. The recall election will be conducted during the regularly scheduled May election, when two council seats will also be up for election.

The ballot in May will simply ask voters, per the charter requirements, “Shall Mark Mathews be removed from the office of mayor by recall?” The majority of answers “yes” or “no” will determine whether he will remain in office for the final year of his term, which ends in May 2017.

If he is voted out, the city would hold a special election within a few months to elect a new mayor to finish the term. Mayor Pro Tem Rick Barnes would fill in as mayor until a new one is elected.

Under the City Charter, residents may initiate a recall of an elected official for incompetency, misconduct or malfeasance, requiring signatures of 5 percent of registered voters, which is about 1,400 of the city’s estimated 42,000 residents.

Mathews unseated the previous mayor, Pat McGrail, in the May 2014 election with 1,808 votes to McGrail’s 1,569.

Mark David Smith: 817-390-7808, @MarkSmith_FWST