ED Director suspended for comments on tv
by Dolores Hamilton
An overflow crowd Monday night filled Iowa Park City Council chambers and spilled outside, most there to hear deliberations by the council on the status of Economic Development (ED) Director David Owen.
Owen was called before the council after comments he made last Tuesday to KFDX-TV Wichita Falls in regards to his position on a petition for a wet/dry referendum in Precinct 3, which includes Iowa Park.
Many of those present Monday were in support of Owen, including four of the five acknowledged speakers during the public comment phase of the meeting.
Interviewed Tuesday by KFDX reporter Ryan Robertson (which can be seen online at http://texomashomepage.com/fulltext?nxd_id=199402) regarding the petition circulating by “Citizens to Keep Tax Dollars in Iowa Park,” Owen stated he “... can’t support something which goes against his strong Christian values, adding the tax benefits gained by allowing the sale of alcohol in Precinct 3 are far out-weighed by the negatives.
“First and foremost,” he said, “I’m speaking individually here, and as the economic director, that I am totally opposed to the petition.”
Owen stated further that if the measure made the ballot and passed in May’s election, he would work to block any store from coming to town wanting to sell alcohol.
“If in fact my job requires me to be involved in bringing a liquor establishment, I will not do that.” Asked by Robertson if he would go as far as to resign his position to accomplish that goal, Owen said he would.
An editorial in the Iowa Park Leader on Thursday called for Owen to resign, stating that Owen went beyond making a personal opinion on the subject, but also as an employee of the city, and, if the referendum passed, would refuse to perform his duties as ED Director.
“...if they (the council) allow Owen to remain as ED Director, they have just rubber-stamped decisions based on his own personal ideology, his own belief system, and his own designs,” the editorial said. “Left out of the decision-making process would be six city council members and a conversation, one that you paid for with a vote.”
The four citizens speaking during the public comment phase included Tim Sheppard of the “Citizens to Keep Tax Dollars in Iowa Park” group, and four supporters of Owen: Kendall Graves, pastor of Grace Tabernacle Church; Glen Pearce, pastor of First Baptist Church; businessman Max Henderson; and, Dennis Cady.
Sheppard, spokesman for the “Citizens to Keep Tax Dollars in Iowa Park”, said to council “My purpose of being here today is to simply ask for the council to consider the resignation of Mr. David Owen. I’ve asked for him to resign because of his comments that were made on last Tuesday in the news. It is as simple as that.
“I am very thankful for the job the gentleman has done,” he continued. “I’m not going to deny that he has done a very adament job. Nothing against him personal. This is simply something that, if the voters do decide to pass this proposition, is this the right person for the job?”
“I’m not here to speak about the proposition that has been the foundation for much discussion over the last few months. As I understand it, at this point, there are not enough signatures for that to go for a vote at this time. Therefore, I believe that is a discussion for another day and another time.
“My purpose for standing before you this evening is, I am here to speak out on behalf of a man who dared to speak up. A man who stood on a principle, on a moral conviction, and because of that tonight he is in danger of being terminated from his job.
“My understanding at this time no laws have been broken, and no businesses have been denied an entry into the city of Iowa Park,” Graves continued. “The man simply stated moral beliefs, and was judged accordingly.”
Stating that he has been a resident of Iowa Park six years, and in discussions with others, the city has always elicited a positive response.
“I hope that after tonight I can still continue to be able to say that with great pride, and not be disappointed that we didn’t stand for a man who simply spoke his heart, and exercised a right.”
“The background issue that brings me here ... is the issue of alcohol sales. But that is not the issue before us tonight since the needed signatures have not been secured and therefore the issue is not before the voters. The issue tonight is the employment status of our economic development director David Owen, who’s resignation was called for in the editorial column in the Leader.
“I feel certain that we would not be here tonight dealing with this if David’s convictions and statements to Channel 3 would have been in favor of the issue.
“But since the statement was the opposite of those that have ready access to print media ... and I assume some on the council ... then here we are.”
Pearce continued, “So it is not that David spoke, but that he spoke contrary to what some would want. The fact is that David’s views are the views of many in Iowa Park. At this time, David is well within his bounds of his job to oppose alcohol sales because this precinct is dry. So his view is in line with things the way they are.
“I don’t believe the council hired an economic development director to be a “yes” man for them, or simply a talking head. Au contrary, he is expected to use his head, his moral convictions which by definition cannot be checked at the door. To do this to make good decisions for the betterment of the community.
“If a triple-x strip club were to show interest in establishing here, surely we would all appreciate him taking a strong moral stand.
“To call for a man’s resignation, or to dismiss an employee who has been successful to this point for something he may or may not do in the future is at the very least premature, at the worst unethical.
“We’ve had at least two businesses that I know of ... one that I know of now ... that accomodate alcohol, and to the best of my knowledge David has not tried to block either one of them.
“His comments to the media has not put this council in a difficult position. An editorial column calling for his resignation has attempted to put you in a difficult position. I ask you to rise above that. Implore you to rise above petty politics and to stand with our economic development director, who some of you have already commended for jobs well done.
“You can express concerns ... and as I say often from the pulpit you can disagree without being disagreeable,” Pearce continued. “So let the voters deal with the issue of alcohol sales if and when it comes before us. I have confidence that you never have, and I’ve worked for a city before, and you never will rubberstamp the words or deeds of a city manager, or police chief, or an economic development director, or anyone else.
“So I ask you to maintain David’s employment, demonstrating that neither will you bow to the pressures of the media, or anyone else, thereby giving us the citizens even greater confidence in you.”
“I like what was said by the two gentlemen in front of me ... I have worked with David for several years now on the 4A board. He is nothing but professional. He has brought several businesses to our town ... numerous jobs will becoming into town ... because of that. And with that, I believe it far outweighs what the man has said that some people thought lack about his convictions which I support.
Through his work with the 4A board, Henderson said Owen “...This man is here for the city of Iowa Park, and what the city of Iowa Park wants. At this point in time, he is doing his job.”
“At a time when America is ethically and morally bankrupt in general, when you find a man who is willing for his principles ... whether you really agree with the details of those or not ... to the extent that he will put the livlihood of his family on the line, we should not be meeting to talk about getting him out of town. We should be meeting to try to decide how to make him citizen of the year.”
Prior to the council going into closed executive session, Mayor Dan Fears asked Owen if he wished to make a statement.
Owen said, “Mike (Price), the Mayor and City Council and citizens of Iowa Park. I appreciate the opportunity to clarify and defend some of my comments that have caused such a firestorm in this community.
“Trust me when I say I never intended for this to turn into the devisive issue that it has become.
“I like working for the City of Iowa Park. We have had some great success in the past five years ... especially the past 12 months. I take great pride in representing the City of Iowa Park in our attempts to secure new businesses, as well as helping our existing businesses. It does us absolutely no good to bring in new businesses in the front door if we are losing businesses out the back door.
“With that being said, I have heard before tonight, and this just reiterated it, that some are concerned about my statement that I would block any alcohol-related business into Iowa Park. That was a misstatement on my part. I am not the gatekeeper of businesses that are looking at coming into Iowa Park.
My moral convictions have never been an issue in working with prospective businesses in the five years that I have been here. And I would doubt very seriously that it will ever be an issue in the future.
“But, on the outside chance that there would be a business that is looking at Iowa Park, that I feel that my convictions would not allow me to work with, I will ask to be recused from that project and handed off to someone else.
“I apologize for that misstatement.”
“I also apologize for giving you the impression that I was speaking for the City of Iowa Park.
“I attempted – though poorly – to make it clear that these were my personal convictions.
“What I cannot, and will not, apologize for, for my personal convictions concerning Iowa Park.
“What I cannot and will not apologize for is the fact that my faith guides me daily,” Owen continued. “This is not about me, nor do I want it to be.
“I firmly believe that if I had spoken in favor of the petition, the editorial would not have been run, nor would I be standing in front of the council tonight. I’m not attempting to hold myself as someone perfect. Nothing could be further than the truth. I sin daily. It is only through the blood of Jesus that I am made whole.
“With all that being said, please know that I am ready to get back to my job.
That is selling the City of Iowa Park to any business that is looking to expand, start up, or relocate. As I stated earlier, we have had some great success in Iowa Park the past 12 months. I firmly believe that we are set to make some really great strides in the not too distant future. Great things are truly happening here in Iowa Park.”
Following an executive session that lasted until 9:50 p.m., council reconvened in session, and a motion was made and unanimously passed informing Owen the following:
1. That David, as the city’s economic development director, must carry out the city’s economic development policies as established by the city council and cannot refuse to do his job or carry out the economic development policy of the city;
2. That, while he is free to express his individual opinion on political issues, he is prohibited from speaking on political issues on behalf of the City of Iowa Park or its corporations;
3. That David must not use public resources to express his view on political issues and must refrain from political activity while on duty for the city.
Further, the above displine will be made a part of Owen’s personnel file, he will be suspended without pay for three days beginning Sept. 12, and he is placed on probation for a period of 90 days.
The Leader contacted all five council members Tuesday, and learned that each initially saw or learned of Owen’s interview a week earlier with KFTX-TV, and from there each initiated action to investigate Owen’s statements and determine course of action prior to the publishing of the Leader’s editorial on Thursday.
The council took care of other important business during the meeting including adopting the General Fund and Utility Fund budgets and establishing the ad valorem tax rate for 2012.
The General Fund budget shows revenue of $3,351,560 and expenditures of $3,346,640, leaving a surplus of $4,890. The Utility Fund budget reflects revenue of $3,013,100 and expenditures of $3,012, 960, leaving a surplus of $140.
The tax rate for 2012 on all property within the Iowa Park city limits is $0.74 per $100 of property value, the same as last year.
Resolutions were passed authorizing the mayor to execute amendments of the city’s wholesale water purchase contracts with Wichita Valley Water Supply Corp., City of Electra, and the Horseshoe Bend Estate Homeowners Association.
Approval was given to supporting the City of Wichita Falls in its selection of Matrix Design Group to conduct a joint land use study (JLUS) of Sheppard Air Force Base and Frederick Regional Airport which serves as an auxiliary airfield in support of Sheppard’s pilot training activities.
City Manager Mike Price said, “The JLUS will be instrumental in stabilizing operations at Sheppard as we possibly enter into future BRAC hearings and may even be helpful in securing other functions at Sheppard.” Price serves on the JLUS technical committee and Mayor Fears serves on the JLUS policy committee.
The mayor read a proclamation proclaiming Sept. 17 through 23, 2012 as “Constitution Week in Iowa Park,” and Ruth James gave a brief history of the U.S. Constitution.
The Iowa Park Community Development Corporation’s budget for 2012-2013 was approved by the council. The budget reflects revenue and expenditures of $170,500. It is based on the one-half cent 4B sales tax.