Ronald Schmidt and other council members in the small Denton County town of Argyle can’t see eye to eye on what’s best for a community that prides itself on its rural roots.
The acrimony has gotten so bad that Schmidt, who has served on the council for two years, sued his political rivals Marla Hawkesworth and Jon Donahue, along with the former city attorney Robert Hager and the town of Argyle in federal court last month.
He alleges that his constitutional rights were violated when he was “sanctioned” from participating in council meetings. The city’s charter and code of ethics allow the town council to discipline its members, including removal from office.
The differences stem from divergent opinions about future land use in Argyle with some residents who want the town to keep its rural feel while others want to see “smart growth” in the town of around 4,200.
Schmidt alleges that the other council members wanted to silence his protests of development that went against promises he made to his constituents to keep the town’s rural atmosphere.
Schmidt contends that he was elected two years ago on a platform of keeping Argyle rural and accused Hawkesworth and Donahue of “being a mouthpiece for developers.”
Denton County is rapidly growing, and Argyle, south of Denton, is on the edge of the bustling Metroplex.
Donahue and Hager did not return messages seeking comment, but Josh Westrom, an attorney representing Hawkesworth, called Schmidt’s lawsuit “baseless and frivolous,” and said that Hawkesworth doesn’t have the power to take away Schmidt’s constitutional rights.
According to court documents, the conflict between Schmidt and Hawkesworth escalated after a contentious council meeting on April 23 where the audience was hostile toward Schmidt. After the meeting, Schmidt walked past Hawkesworth and told her the ongoing hostility was her fault.
But Westrom said Schmidt “assaulted his client, which led her to file a complaint in May with the former city attorney (Robert Hager).”
Hager issued an advisory opinion which recommended sanctioning Schmidt, who was banned from attending meetings from June 19 to Sept. 15.
Westrom said Hawkesworth recused herself from voting on the sanctions and has not initiated anything further.
“What he’s done is picked a couple of council members he doesn’t like and targeted them instead of his friends who voted to sanction him,” Westrom said.
Frank Hill, an attorney representing Schmidt, said he is willing to drop the lawsuit if the “silliness” between the council members stops.
“My hope has been and still is that these folks will read the lawsuit, talk to a lawyer and settle down and work together.”
Schmidt said in an interview that Argyle is “bombarded” with developers who want to rezone the land from agriculture to build single family homes.
“Folks are worried that this town is growing too much, and that it is too fast. The high density development, that’s what upsets people,” he said.
He said the town’s population could exceed 6,000 in three years.
“People are moving from Southlake and Keller because they want to get away from the development,” he said.
Westrom countered that the council is not trying to diminish Argyle’s rural atmosphere, but there are areas along Interstate 35 where there could be some commercial development which could help the city.
Meanwhile, the council meetings are still contentious.
On Sept. 30, a special meeting was held to accept the city attorney’s resignation, and people sitting in the audience got up and told Schmidt to resign, saying that his lawsuit has divided the town.
One resident said that one Christian shouldn’t sue another in a “secular court.”
Schmidt is not seeking damages from the town of Argyle, but he is seeking punitive damages from the two council members and the former city attorney, including lost wages, emotional distress and attorney’s fees.