Northeast Tarrant

Keller: Mayor’s recall election rife with name-calling, claims and denials

Keller mayor Mark Mathews gives his state of the city presentation during a luncheon at Sky Creek Ranch Golf Club in January.
Keller mayor Mark Mathews gives his state of the city presentation during a luncheon at Sky Creek Ranch Golf Club in January. kbouaphanh@star-telegram.com

Embattled Mayor Mark Mathews is fighting back against a group that is pushing to have him recalled.

A group of Keller residents say they want him voted out of office for unethical behavior and not disclosing conflicts of interest, including his involvement in a tree dispute and financial settlement with the developer of the subdivision where he lives.

Mathews denies the accusations and says the group that wants him out actually helped get him elected before becoming unhappy with some of the votes he has cast as mayor.

Almost 2,000 residents signed a petition seeking to recall Mathews, who has been in office since May 2014. The recall election is May 7.

Since the recall election was confirmed in January, Mathews has revived an online campaign and renamed it “Protect Keller.” At www.protectkeller.com, Mathews states his side of the issue, saying that many claims made about him are false.

The website features two videos, including one animated production that’s titled “Who’s behind the Keller Recall.” In the video, a female narrator says that after getting Mathews elected, the “special interest group” demands a stop to all new development “or else.” It ends by asking residents to “say no to Washington style politics in Keller” and “on May 7th, vote no on the recall.”

Linda Taylor, spokeswoman for the group supporting the recall, called the video “juvenile.”

“At best, it is unprofessional and disrespectful, and at worst, it is sexist,” Taylor said in an email, later adding that the portrayal of the woman is “derogatory.”

Mathews said Taylor calling the video sexist is a “baseless accusation, much as the rest of their desperate and reaching accusations.”

Taylor also contends that Mathews is the one with the “special interest group.”

“It’s common knowledge the mayor has aligned himself with developers, builders, Realtors and business owners, many of whom do not even live in Keller, but could benefit from his votes or persuasive position,” Taylor said.

Mathews said the claim that he has a special interest group is “absolutely untrue.”

“This small special interest group actively spreads misinformation throughout Keller in order to try and further their agenda,” Mathews said.

What the petition alleges

The petition makes four allegations against Mathews, including three that involve SilverOak Land Development and the Sage Group, an architecture firm where Mathews’ wife, Angela Mathews, works part time. The petition claims that during a City Council meeting in June, Mathews twice voted in favor of a development proposal from SilverOak and the Sage Group, which the petition says is a conflict of interest because of his wife’s job.

The petition also says that it appears he didn’t recuse himself from discussions involving those companies during executive sessions, which the petition claims was also a conflict of interest.

Mathews said it was not a legal conflict of interest because SilverOak was the applicant and the Sage Group was a third-party subcontractor.

“As a part-time, nonvested, hourly office employee, my wife nor my family received any benefit,” Mathews said.

He said that before these items came to the council, he told Keller City Attorney Stan Lowry about his wife’s job and asked him if it would be a conflict of interest.

Lowry told Mathews it would not be a conflict of interest, a statement that Lowry confirmed to the Star-Telegram.

Taylor has also said that because the president of SilverOak, Kelly Dykes, is Mathews’ stepdaughter’s uncle, it was unethical for Mathews to vote on a SilverOak matter. She says that Mathews hid this and his wife’s job with the Sage Group from the rest of the council, whereas Mathews contends that some council members knew, though he wasn’t legally obligated to tell them.

Mathews acknowledged that Dykes is his stepdaughter’s uncle but downplayed his relationship with Dykes, saying they did not communicate in any way from 1999 until 2015.

The fourth claim on the petition says that Mathews’ Marshall Ridge subdivision received money from a developer not long after Mathews was elected mayor and when he was still president of the neighborhood Homeowners Association’s advisory committee.

The petition alleges that Marshall Ridge’s developer, Meritage Homes, violated the city tree ordinance when it clear-cut some lots in June 2014, but former City Manager Steve Polasek made an agreement with Meritage Homes for the developer to pay $38,300 to the Marshall Ridge HOA. The petition says that because Mathews’ subdivision received a benefit that other neighborhoods haven’t, it is a violation of the city’s code of ethics.

In response, Mathews said he wasn’t involved with the city’s handling of the Meritage Homes tree issue. Polasek, who handled the matter for the city, declined to comment other than to say that everything done on the issue was “allowable and run through the city attorney’s office.”

A new video recently posted on YouTube by an account called “Recall Mayor Mathews” runs through the accusations in the petition and includes video and emails it says backs up the allegations.

Among the issues the video brings up is an email that it says shows that Mathews told Lowry that not only is Dykes his stepdaughter’s uncle, but also that “Kelly worked for me many years ago.”

Mathews has told the Star-Telegram that he had never employed Dykes. He said Friday that his email to Lowry would have been more accurate if he had said, “15 years ago, Mr. Dykes and I worked at the same company.”

Meritage and the trees

Through a series of public information requests, the Star-Telegram traced the money trail associated with the tree dispute.

At the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission meeting on May 12, 2014, the commission — which also serves as Keller’s Tree Board — approved an appeal by Meritage Homes to remove trees in several undeveloped lots in Marshall Ridge. In return, Meritage said it would plant a small number of replacement trees and pay $279,200 to Keller’s Tree Reforestation Fund. The board approved the appeal by a 6-1 vote, and Meritage made its payment on May 23, documents state.

On June 2, Bobby Samuel, director of land development for Meritage, notified the city staff via email that too many trees had been unintentionally cut down in two lots on May 30. The email promises that Meritage would devise a plan to address the removals.

On June 16, a letter from Meritage asked the city to allow it to replace a small number of trees and make an escrow payment of $38,300 to the Marshall Ridge Homeowners Associatiopn “to serve as penalty payment for the non-permitted trees removed” and to be used “for future landscape maintenance or enhancements within the community.”

The city agreed to this mitigation request, and it was handled by Polasek; Tom Elgin, director of community development; and David Hawkins, planning manager. Emails state that Polasek ran the agreement by Lowry.

Mathews said during a Dec. 1, 2015, council meeting that he “was never involved in any” part of the city’s agreement with Meritage.

However, comments in a forwarded email from Mathews to Polasek on June 4 show that he had knowledge of the discussions involving Meritage. Mathews received an email from Samuel, informing him of the unauthorized tree clearing, and Mathews forwarded it and a few of his own comments to Polasek.

“I would like to have more conversation around staff’s position on this before a final commitment is made to Meritage,” Mathews’ email said.

Mathews recently said he sent the email because it appeared that “the city agreed to simply have the developer replant trees without any fine or penalty. I thought this unusual.” Mathews said Polasek then took over the matter and “I was never involved in any meeting” but simply “forwarded an email to the city manager.”

Recall movement a year old

In February 2015, a development proposal sparked the first public mention of a recall.

Village Builders, developers of the Gean Properties — 105 acres between Johnson and Bancroft roads in north Keller, near Keller High School — planned to build 104 homes on the property, most of which was under low-density zoning.

But then Village Builders brought a new plan to the city that would include a gift of 35 acres of undeveloped parkland to the city. In the new plan, the developers were requesting a zoning change to medium-density so they could fit 112 homes on the property and needed City Council approval.

Many nearby residents opposed the plan, saying at the February meeting that it would be a “sea of rooftops” and that they wanted to preserve the “rural atmosphere” of the area. But what further angered them was that the developer used the parkland, they said, to “unethically” silence much of their opposition by putting 200 feet between their development and neighboring homes, hindering their ability to submit written opposition and force a supermajority decision from City Council.

After dozens of residents spoke for hours — both for and against the proposal — the zoning change was denied by a 4-3 vote. Mathews voted for it.

During the public hearing, many residents were harsh in their criticism of council members, describing them as “unethical” and “despicable” for considering the zoning change. Some residents urged them to remember those residents who helped them get elected. Near the end of the public hearing, resident Deb Reed threatened to start a recall effort against anyone who voted for the proposal.

Mathews said last month that he voted in favor because he thought the 35-acre gift would benefit Keller.

Reed said the Gean Properties issue was “water under the bridge” several months before residents took issue with ethical concerns involving Mathews.

Mathews was also criticized when, in March 2015, he publicly reprimanded two planning & zoning commissioners because he had a problem with their behavior during a P&Z meeting about the Gean Properties proposal.

Mathews had asked Commissioners Chris Whatley and Carey Page to resign because of their “grossly inappropriate lack of professionalism,” but they refused. Mathews said he realized that he didn’t have the support of the majority of the council to vote them out, so he dropped the matter. Whatley has since left the commission.

Signatures heavy in north Keller

The petition to recall Mathews was presented to the city in January and more than 2,000 signatures were verified, forcing the special election.

Taylor has said multiple times that the signatures came from residents from “all sectors of Keller.”

That’s true, but the signatures show that a majority of them come from north Keller, including hundreds who live close to the Gean Properties, according to an analysis of addresses by the Star-Telegram.

And many signatures are from residents, including Reed, who spoke out against the Gean Properties proposal that Mathews favored.

Mathews has said multiple times that many residents who signed the petition have since spoken to him, heard his side and now support him.

Other notable signatures include those of Page and Whatley and Pat McGrail, a former mayor who lost his re-election bid to Mathews in 2014.

Ed Speakmon and Eric Schmidt, who are candidates for City Council in the same May 7 election, signed the petition, as did relatives of current council members Debbie Bryan and Bill Hodnett.

Schmidt and Speakmon did not respond to questions about the recall.

It he survives the recall, Mathews said, his “vision for Keller” won’t change. His term runs through May 2017.

“I am going to look out for the best interests of Keller, regardless of who is on council with me,” Mathews said.

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

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