21 03 2008

Irving City Council spat may bring private meetings into open

Comments about flood control board candidate in dispute

By Brandon Formby/ The Dallas Morning News
bformby@dallasnews.com

March 20, 2008

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/politics/local/stories/032108dnmetirvtape.311c870.html

Irving City Council members have different takes on comments council member Rose Cannaday made in a recent closed discussion about flood control district board candidates.

But some officials with opposing accounts agree on one thing: Maybe it’s time to bring such discussions into open session.

“There’s no reason why we should do this in secret,” council member Beth Van Duyne said. “Unless it has to do with property or lawsuits, I would be much more in favor of having it all out in the open.”

The diverging accounts of what happened in the March 12 executive session center around Ms. Cannaday’s statements about Mary Burch, who applied for a place on the Irving Flood Control District Section 3 board. The council appoints full-term members to the board, which is charged with preventing flooding in Valley Ranch.

Ms. Burch was diagnosed in 1999 with dystonia, a movement disorder that according to the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation affects muscles and can cause involuntary spasms and irregular posture. Ms. Burch said her symptoms improved dramatically after surgery.

“People don’t even know I have a problem,” said Ms. Burch, whom the district’s board appointed to temporarily fill a vacant seat in January. Many council members were not aware of it before the executive session discussion.

On her application for a full term, Ms. Burch wrote that she retired from work seven years ago because of a neurological disorder.

Several council members said they remember that fact coming up during the discussion.

Ms. Van Duyne said questions were raised as to whether Ms. Burch’s disorder would affect her ability to serve. But Ms. Cannaday, Mayor Herbert Gears and council members Allan Meagher and Lewis Patrick said that is untrue. Ms. Cannaday said she mentioned what Ms. Burch wrote on her application during the closed session, but said she told her colleagues that it would not affect Ms. Burch’s ability to serve. Council members Joe Philipp and Rick Stopfer said they didn’t remember any mention of a medical condition. Council member Sam Smith could not be reached for comment.

After the meeting, Ms. Van Duyne and council member Tom Spink told Ms. Burch about comments made during the closed session. Later that day, Ms. Burch wrote in an e-mail to Ms. Cannaday, “That is flat out discrimination.”

“I’m just sad it came to this,” Ms. Burch said in a phone interview this week.

Mr. Gears said the law allows executive session discussions on appointments because they can often include personal matters people do not want aired publicly. He said all votes are public and bringing the discussion into open session should be decided case by case.

Mr. Spink echoed Ms. Van Duyne’s contention that the council should have had the flood control district discussion publicly. And Ms. Cannaday said she’d rather have conversations about appointments in open session if accounts of such matters in executive session are going to be spread in the community.

Ms. Cannaday is seeking her first full term in the May 10 election and is opposed by Sue Richardson, whose campaign treasurer is Mr. Spink.

“It made me angry that I would have a colleague walk out of here and tell somebody that,” Ms. Cannaday said. “I just don’t feel that way. I would never ever do something like that.”

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21 03 2008

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