Northeast Tarrant

Petition seeks recall election for Keller mayor

A petition is seeking a recall election for Keller Mayor Mark Mathews.
A petition is seeking a recall election for Keller Mayor Mark Mathews. Star-Telegram archives

Residents unhappy with Mayor Mark Mathews want him removed from office and have turned in a petition asking for a recall election.

Mathews, elected in May 2014, is accused of several acts of malfeasance and misconduct on the recall petition, which will go before the City Council at 10 a.m. Friday at Keller Town Hall, 1100 Bear Creek Parkway.

The council could call for an election in May.

The petition was turned in to city officials this week. It has more than 2,000 signatures, more than enough to force a recall election.

The petition details four times that Mathews is accused of a conflict of interest. Three times during City Council meetings last summer, it says, Mathews voted in favor of a project involving Sage Group, an architecture and design company where his wife, Angela, works. One of the votes was in executive session. 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, but instead went to the subdivision’s homeowners association.

Repeated efforts to reach Mathews were unsuccessful.

But at the beginning of the Dec. 1 City Council meeting, Mathews presented his response to the petition, which he knew about but had not been submitted to the city.

He disputed the ethics violation claims because his wife’s company wasn’t the project applicant.

Mathews said the city’s contract was with Silver Oak Real Estate, which was contracted by Sage Group, and 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 the developer, Meritage Homes, after breaking the ordinance, agreed with City Manager Steve Polasek to pay damages to the homeowners association and to plant trees.

Mathews continued, saying that Linda Taylor — the spokeswoman for the group of 41 residents who organized the recall effort — has also made other invalid claims and complaints against him.

Mathews said he’s been threatened with a recall since March, and he questioned Taylor for seeking media attention and not presenting concerns to the state attorney general.

Mathews urged residents not to sign the petition and said Taylor actually “worked very hard to help get me elected.”

Elected in May 2014

Taylor also spoke at the meeting, saying three attorneys have reviewed the claims and believed they qualify as reasons to recall Mathews. She said the majority of the City Council didn’t know that Angela Mathews worked for the Sage Group until after the votes in question.

Taylor said those who want to recall the mayor are seeking what’s best for the city.

“We hope to have elected city officials that possess honesty, integrity and transparency in their representation of the best interests of the citizens of Keller,” Taylor said.

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

Under the Keller 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. Before being elected for a three-year term, Mathews campaigned on a platform of maintaining Keller’s small-town feel, attracting quality commercial growth, getting residents more involved with City Council and being transparent.

Mathews, a small-business owner and former international business executive, also served on the council in 1988-90.

‘Unfortunate’ and ‘necessary’

Andrew Wheat, research director at Texans for Public Justice, said that as a general rule, “a mayor has an ethical obligation to disclose a spouse’s interest in matters before the council” and should recuse himself from the matter.

“Repeatedly failing to do so might provoke the wrath of those citizens who demand good government,” Wheat said.

Councilwoman Debbie Bryan said the claims against the mayor in the petition “concerned” her, and she said she knows that “a lot of people are not happy with the mayor.”

Councilman Bill Dodge said it is “extremely unfortunate” for the city to go through the recall.

Mayor Pro Tem Rick Barnes said he believes that “recalls are always unfortunate” but said the claims need to be addressed.

“Recalls are definitely not the best approach to handling issues in politics, but it’s the citizens’ right and when they have the concerns they have, they need to be responded to,” Barnes said.

Councilman Armin Mizani declined to comment because he said he wasn’t familiar enough with the claims in the petition. Councilmen Tom Cawthra and Bill Hodnett could not be reached.

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

Recalls in Tarrant County

They are not common, but efforts for recall elections have been made in Tarrant County, including:

July 2010: The Forest Hill City Council voted not to proceed with an election to recall Mayor James Gosey and Councilman Dulani Masimini. The city had previously had three recall elections within five years.

January 2008: Former Mansfield Mayor Barton Scott resigned after a recall petition was submitted to the city. Organizers claimed that Scott did not attend all meetings and was late to some of those that he did attend.

February 2004: Haltom City residents voted by a ratio of nearly 3-to-1 to recall five of their seven City Council members for firing the city manager.

Source: Star-Telegram archives