Transcript

163:

Can You Fight City Hall…If You Are City Hall?
Transcript

Originally aired 06.30.2000

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/163

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Monica Childs worked her way up on the police force in Detroit, from patrol to the vice squad to homicide. She was part of an elite team of investigators. But why'd she become a police officer?

Monica Childs

I became the police because I didn't like the police. During the time I grew up, the police officers I always saw in my community were always male and white, over six feet tall. It was rare that a police officer talked to you like you were a human being. Everything was always confrontational. And I always saw police officers as the biggest gang in town. It's just a gang, a band of hoodlums with badges.

And I always wondered, did they go around recruiting them like this or putting ads in the paper that you must have a bad attitude and misuse and abuse the citizens? Where did these people come from? So I thought, well, OK, all police officers aren't bad. There's got to be some good ones somewhere.

Ira Glass

And so she joined the force to try to change the system from inside. And on the job, she saw how police get to be the way they are, how police band together. When they make mistakes, they never admit it, she says. They cover up each other's mistakes, almost from the time they come onto the force.

Monica Childs

These people would come on with their own ideas and opinions. And then, they would adapt these other people's attitudes. Everybody became one, like a marriage, because police organizations reward people for what? They reward everybody for being the same. If you're different, you're ostracized or you have problems.

Banding together, there's nothing wrong with banding together. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. That's not the problem. The problem is when you band together, and you all act in concert to lie, perpetuate a scenario that didn't happen. That's where the problem lies.

And you got that one little meek person that doesn't want to go along, but goes along because, "We're all police, and we got to stick together. It's us against them." Where else do you hear that? Gangs-- us against them. And that "them" that you're referring to, "us against them," I like those people out there. I like the public at large.

Ira Glass

So whenever Monica Childs started on a new job at the force, she would let everybody know how she felt about things.

Monica Childs

And it was always interesting because I'd tell them, I say, "You know, I don't lie and cover up for anybody. Whatever you do, if it's wrong, and I'm asked about it, I will tell. I'm not covering for you. I'm not going to lie for you. I won't even say I didn't see it or didn't hear. But I don't want you to lie for me. And I don't want you to cover up for me, either."

Ira Glass

And that approach worked for Monica Childs for years, until finally, in 1996, it stopped working. And her life as a cop became very difficult. Today on our program, Can You Fight City Hall If You Are City Hall? We bring you two stories, each about somebody trying to change the system from within, trying to be principled while working in government.

This is, of course, the July 4 holiday weekend. And it's a holiday about a moment of idealism that created the American government. Our show today is about what happens to people trying to sustain that kind of idealism today. In each story, public-minded public servants end up fighting their colleagues. It takes a toll on their lives. They get harassed. They lose their jobs.

Act One, Take That, Copper, in which an honest cop tries to do the right thing, and a suspected murderer walks free as a result. Act Two, Man Versus Money, a small-town mayor tries to keep a developer from building in his town. And it results in the kind of snowballing fiasco by the end of which, the town literally does not exist anymore. Alix Spiegel tells that story.

From WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

Act One. Take That, Copper.

Ira Glass

Act One: Take That, Copper. So Monica Child's troubles began on August 20, 1996. An 11-year-old boy was murdered the night before. And when she got to work, her commanding officer had a suspect in the crime sitting there in the office.

Monica Childs

She orders me to take his statement. I said, "Take his statement?" I say, "No."

I try to get other people on the squad to do it. Nobody else would do it. Because what she did was illegal, and she was trying to involve me in an illegal action.

Ira Glass

It was illegal because her superior had made an improper promise to the suspect. She told him that if he confessed, he would be sent home, which of course was untrue. If he confessed, he would be thrown in jail and put on trial. Monica Childs finally agreed to take his statement and the statement of another witness. But as their day in court approached, her boss kept coming into her office, asking what she was going to say in the hearing.

Monica Childs

She came in this office. I was sitting there. She'd come in, and she says, "I need to know what you're going to say at the [? Walken ?] hearing." I said, "I'm going to tell the truth."

"I need to know exactly what you're going to say." I said, "Well, the truth of what I'm going to say, I went in saying I told you to straighten this mess up. I'm not lying for you. I told you I wasn't going to lie for you. I'm going to tell the truth."

Ira Glass

Finally, Monica Childs called the prosecuting attorney and told him what was going on, and the suspect's statement was thrown out. He not only went free, he sued the police department over the way they treated him and won a settlement of $15,000. This man, Reginald Vines, says that he is innocent of all charges.

Meanwhile, Monica Childs's boss had her transferred to a job where she had no specific duties at all. Friends on the force stopped speaking to her, people she'd known for years. Police work is the kind of job where you work closely with other people, spending hours together tracking down leads, going over the case, just in each other's company. Now this was gone.

Monica Childs

They were afraid to talk to me. They'd say, "Monica, wait 'til we get outside. I'll talk to you outside because I don't want to get in the middle of this. I don't wan to be seen talking to you." I said, "Oh. OK. All right."

So I wasn't angry with them. I wish I could've gotten the National Enquirer to come, because I've never seen people walk without a spine. And that definitely would've been an Enquirer or a Globe story.

Ira Glass

Retaliation against whistleblowers is so common that a Washington, DC group that tries to help government employees in this situation, the Government Accountability Project, put out a handbook warning potential whistleblowers that typically they can expect any and all of the following-- character attacks, threats, isolation, public humiliation, prosecution on trumped-up charges, the elimination of their jobs, blacklisting, even physical assaults. Childs sued the police department. The local press picked up the story. And in the midst of all this, she got a phone call.

Monica Childs

"Hey, Miss Childs, how are you doing?" I said, "Who is this?" "Oh, this is Eric. You don't remember me?" "No."

Ira Glass

The guy turned out to be a murderer who Monica Childs had caught.

Monica Childs

I go "OK." I said, "Well, where are you?" "I'm in prison. Remember, I got life." I said, "Oh. OK. What you want?"

He says, "We've been reading about all this trouble and all these problems that this police department trying to cause you. Me and some friends up here in prison that know you, you were their detective, too." I said, "I was their detective? I thought you were entitled to have your own lawyer. I didn't know you had your own detective."

"Oh, yeah, yeah. It's about 12 or 13 of us. We was sitting around. And if you need us to come and be character witnesses for you, you let us out, and we'll come down there because you was cool with us. When we went to trial, you didn't lie on us. You didn't add nothing to it. Most of us doing life, we got big time. But we was wrong. But I just appreciated the way you get me. And you didn't lie."

And I'm like, OK. I'm already depressed. I'm already feeling bad. When I got off the phone, I was crying. I felt so bad. I'm like, "This is my help? 13 killers, people with no credibility, they're going to help me?"

Ira Glass

In the end, Monica Childs won her suit against the police department. And finally, sick of the whole thing, she retired from the force. The trouble with doing the right thing, of course, is that often, it is not clear what the right thing is. And just as often, doing the right thing has unintended consequences. Monica Childs worries sometimes about the testimony that got thrown out because she put her foot down. It turns out that that testimony might have cleared another suspect in the crime, a man named Eddie James, who eventually was sentenced to 70 to 150 years for the murder.

Monica Childs

And it just bothers me. And it will probably bother me 'til I die to know that one innocent man is in prison. And it was like, "Damn. How could this happen?"

And I almost wish I hadn't said anything. But then, it would've been remiss of me to know the truth and not tell it. I did the right thing, but he still got hurt.

Ira Glass

Monica Childs. She spoke with reporter John Bowe, who interviewed her for a book called Gig about people in all sorts of jobs.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "RUN ON" BY ELVIS PRESLEY]

Act Two. Money Versus Man.

Ira Glass

Act Two-- Money Versus Man. Let's move now from big-city Detroit to small-town Texas for a story where the bad guys aren't murderers. They're real estate developers, and maybe not so bad. They are just doing what God intended for real estate developers to do, which is, of course, come into town, throw around a lot of money, get people all excited.

In this case, it caused a series of events which cascaded out of control, one after another, until by the end, even the people involved all seemed sort of amazed at how far it went. And in the midst of this, it was yet another person, a government official, trying to do the right thing as he saw it, no matter what. Alix Spiegel tells the story.

Alix Spiegel

When Scott Bradley moved to Westlake, there were fewer than 10 roads, and several of those were unpaved. This was the '70s. And at the time, this level of development wasn't unusual for the area. It was country, low hills and long grass and not much else, which is why Scott Bradley moved to Westlake. Which is why most people moved to Westlake, they wanted a rural life in a rural place a short commute from the city. Fort Worth, Texas, was only 30 minutes away.

But then the city grew. By the mid-'80s, suburban sprawl had overtaken most of Westlake's neighbors. There were 7-11s, Home Depots, miles of subdivisions, and all the other clutter you find in any town in any place in America, but not in Westlake. The people in Westlake wanted something different.

By 1994, when Scott Bradley became mayor, there was still no real commercial development in town. The town government wouldn't permit it. They knew they couldn't stave off suburban sprawl forever. But everyone, the townspeople, the town council, and especially Mayor Bradley agreed, the at least wanted to try.

This story begins in 1993, when one of the properties in Westlake, a 2,500-acre ranch called the Circle T, appears on the auction block. This property, which, by the way, was the single largest piece of land in town, and probably the most beautiful undeveloped stretch of real estate within a half-hour commute of the Fort Worth metroplex, then attracts the attention of Ross Perot Jr., son of the former presidential candidate, a high-powered real estate developer, who is quoted in the papers saying that for him, business was about more than win or lose. It was about win or die.

So Ross Jr. buys the Circle T ranch. And then a couple years later, after a lot of thought and planning, and minimal contact with Westlake's town government, he and his company, the Hillwood corporation, finally present their plans for the development of the Circle T to the citizens of Westlake, all 250 of them. David Brown is a Westlake resident who attended the meeting.

David Brown

Hillwood Development, which is Mr. Perot's company, had a meeting over here in Solana, at a big meeting hall. And they had pictures, drawings, of a beautiful little town that they were going to build. It showed little two-story buildings in the downtown area, and it showed a very pleasant and not too crowded place. And we were all delighted by what we saw in the drawings. But when you read the accompanying 300-page document, you found that it looked like there was going to be 50,000 people crammed in here.

Alix Spiegel

The accompanying 300-page document, written in convoluted legal speak, basically gave Perot and his company, the Hillwood corporation, infinite flexibility to do with the town of Westlake as they pleased. The fine print included plans for a regional shopping mall, upscale home apartments, an office park, a golf course, zoning for a sports arena, and more-- $3 billion worth of commercial and residential development with enough room for an additional 50,000 to 80,000 people. Now keep, in mind that this is the kind of community where a visiting reporter, me, for instance, could sit through a city council meeting where a full 40 minutes of heated debate centered on the question of whether the new town sidewalks should be raised half an inch or feathered to the ground so as not to disturb the natural line of the landscape. So predictably, once the residents of Westlake learned the details, they were profoundly disturbed and alarmed. The meeting room was hot, some say close to 100 degrees. But every townsperson stayed to the bitter end. And according to Don Redding, another Westlake resident who attended the presentation, they were all mad as hell about what Perot and the Hillwood Corporation wanted to do.

Don Redding

In essence, we would have turned over the community to the developer. In other words, that was the tone of it, is, "All right. I'll take it from here. You people have been in charge, or run the town, up to this point. But from now on, we'll take care of it. We'll make your decisions for you." And that was the whole tone of it.

Alix Spiegel

And people didn't like that.

Don Redding

No, they didn't care for that too much.

Alix Spiegel

Now at the time Ross Jr. brought his plans for development of the Circle T to the citizens of Westlake, the town was run by six men-- the mayor, Scott Bradley, and five aldermen. Mayor Bradley was a soft-spoken but very successful lawyer with a reputation for staking out the ethical high ground. Meticulous, detail-oriented, Scott liked to stand at city council meetings. Three different people told me that, that Scott Bradley liked to stand at city council meetings. I think the reason they mention it is because the formality of that act, standing up, stood in such sharp contrast to the rest of the city government.

The other people on the city council, the aldermen, were not formal people. Al Oien was a retired airplane pilot who wore his overalls to meetings. Fred Held was a third-generation hardware man. There was Caroll Huntress, a former assistant football coach who later got into oil exploration, and Howard Dudley, who was in the chemical business, and Jerry Moore, who owned a tile and carpet company.

I should mention here that being an alderman in Westlake, Texas, was not what you would call a full-time job. For years, the city council meetings were held in the aldermen's living rooms. Even when the city government moved into an official town hall in the early '90s, the meetings retained their living room feeling.

It was comfortable. It was casual. There was not, in truth, all that much to discuss. Now in light of later events, it's important to be clear on one point. At the time of the Perot presentation, all five of Westlake's aldermen were opposed to the Perot development plan.

Then something happened, and this consensus came to an end. Ross Jr. made another land purchase in the town of Westlake, 500 acres of Texas prairie on which one of the aldermen, a man named Carroll Huntress, rented a home. It was after this land purchase that suddenly and inexplicably, four of the five aldermen, Al Oien, Jerry Moore, Howard Dudley, and Perot's new tenant, Carroll Huntress, started questioning the town's traditional anti-growth stance. There were a series of uncomfortable town meetings where the four aldermen publicly challenged the mayor, and some statements were made to the local press. Miles Moffeit is a reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram who covered what became the Westlake story.

Miles Moffeitt

Perot purchased the land Huntress lived on. And almost within weeks, Huntress and these other aldermen were releasing signals that they were tired of the fighting, that it was time for the town to come around to Perot's views. I got an interview with him, and he began explaining that Perot basically can't lose. And Perot is going to have this way eventually anyway, so the town should come around and just start appeasing him.

Alix Spiegel

This turn was hard to explain. These men, after all, had helped to build the town. For years, they turned away developers with plans much more modest than Perot's. Why would they reverse their decades-long anti-growth stance in a matter of weeks? Rumors circulated around town, theories about payoffs, none of which could be substantiated, none of which satisfied. Meanwhile, Mayor Bradley refused to support the Perot plan, and relations between the four aldermen and the mayor became strained, and then positively hostile. There was a fight over where the town boundaries fell, in which each side accused the other of manipulation and deception. There was an ugly incident between one of the aldermen's wives and some townspeople, and the general sense that things were quickly falling apart. David Brown.

David Brown

There was a great deal of acrimony between the citizens and the council, and between Bradley and the council. And the citizens, it was even harsher than Bradley. People were calling these guys all kinds of names. Who do you work for? Who's paying your salary? Who have you sold out to? This sort of thing. And it was pretty hot.

Alix Spiegel

Reporter Miles Moffeit.

Miles Moffeitt

From that point on, it was just pure bedlam. These guys were calling their own meetings. Scott was vetoing every action that they took. It went back and forth and back and forth for weeks, until these former aldermen decided to just put him on trial and remove him from office.

David Brown

They announced they were going to impeach Mr. Bradley. And I, for one, thought it was a bluff. The legal basis for it was a law passed back in the 1870s that had only been used once or twice, and never since the early 1900s. And I thought, "They'll be laughed out of court."

Miles Moffeitt

Yeah, it was like a 100-year-old statute. And it says that a small town board of aldermen can convene a trial, act as judge, jury, and witness, and remove a colleague from office, be it a mayor or a fellow alderman.

Alix Spiegel

There were four counts brought against the mayor, two of them so inconsequential that neither the accused mayor nor the prosecuting aldermen can remember what they were. One count charged the mayor with removing a meeting notice which had been posted on the town hall door. The only substantive charge accused him of tricking the aldermen into endorsing a map which expanded the town's boundaries. But most Westlake residents believed that the aldermen wanted to impeach Mayor Bradley for a different reason. The mayor was the most outspoken and intractable opponent of the Perot plan. As mayor, with veto power, it would be impossible for Perot and his company, the Hillwood Corporation, to proceed with development with Bradley standing in the way. When the issue was raised in the local press, Perot denied influencing the aldermen in any way. But a series of actions taken by the aldermen only compounded this view. David Brown.

David Brown

The next thing they did, they fired the city attorney, who'd been city attorney for 20 or 25 years. They fired the town planner. And they said, "We've made a deal with Hillwood that we're going to use their lawyer and their town planner." Well, you know. And, "The town will get their services for free, and Hillwood will pay for it all." And the new law firm came in, the new lawyer from a law firm up in Denton came in. And he immediately began to orchestrate Bradley's trial.

Alix Spiegel

David Brown presented the aldermen with a petition signed by 125 Westlake residents, half the town's population, which condemned their move to oust Mayor Bradley. As the aldermen's lawyers prepared to put the mayor on trial, Scott Bradley and his supporters began to meet regularly to strategize about how to counteract the actions of the aldermen. They would gather in their own homes, in their living rooms or private offices. And as they did this, they started noticing a strange thing was happening. This is Don Redding.

Don Redding

All I can tell you is in meetings that were held where there might be three or four or five people in attendance, that I was quoted from that meeting the next day from somebody that had no way of knowing what went on, in the exact words and in the exact sequence that were made in that meeting.

Alix Spiegel

Ruby Held, wife of Alderman Fred Held, the only alderman who continued to support Mayor Bradley.

Ruby Held

Whatever we planned, they beat us to whatever we planned. So we know we were being watched. We were being listened to. Somehow, they were monitoring our phone calls.

Alix Spiegel

This is Mayor Scott Bradley.

Scott Bradley

Well, we all started, number one, nobody would talk on a hard telephone. We would go to other telephones to talk. Or we would talk on the digital cell phones. I myself would take my digital phone out by the fountain.

Alix Spiegel

Reporter Miles Moffeit.

Miles Moffeitt

They held secret meetings out in the woods. And they would pass around notes. And they couldn't carry on a conversation with the blinds open.

Alix Spiegel

Don Redding.

David Brown

We'd even drive as far as a quarter of a mile away from my home and meet with them on the side of a road. Did that on several occasions. And this is really interesting when you understand that in the early '70s, I worked in the Soviet Union for IBM. And that was one of the most closed societies in the world. The KGB was with us always. And I frankly felt more threatened here than I did when I worked in the Soviet Union.

Alix Spiegel

You felt more threatened here than you did-- you felt like you were being watched more?

David Brown

Absolutely, no question about it in my mind. You can call that as paranoid, but it's only paranoid when it's not happening. And in this case, I was convinced it was.

Alix Spiegel

Ruby Held was out in her yard one day. She was birdwatching, she says, to calm her nerves. She was tracking a bird with her binoculars. It flew across the street. And as she turned to follow it, she noticed there was a van driving slowly back and forth in front of her home. The van had two people in it, and they too had binoculars. They were looking right back at her. Miles Moffeit.

Miles Moffeitt

Well, she got the tag number. And we ran a check and discovered that this van belonged to a private investigation service in Irving. And their names were Jerry and Cherry Davis.

I got on the phone with one of the detectives, and he acknowledged having worked for Perot's law firm at one point, then kept the conversation really short. So the depositions later on reflect that there were indeed investigators hired to track Bradley. But it's just real difficult to tell who hired them.

Alix Spiegel

Perot denies hiring private detectives to track his opponents in Westlake. He and his development company, the Hillwood Corporation, declined to be interviewed for this story. But Miles Moffeit, who has covered Perot Jr.'s business dealings, both inside and outside Westlake for a number of years, says the notion that Perot would have his opponent tailed is not completely outlandish.

Miles Moffeitt

Perot's-- the way he goes about his business is generally very stealthy. And he acknowledges that, to him, business is war. And in order to understand this perspective, you have to understand that stealth and aggressiveness are just two very important factors in going to war. A town of 250 people just had a very difficult time keeping up.

Alix Spiegel

Then there was another thing which fanned the flames of the town's fear of Ross Perot Jr.-- a book called Citizen Perot written by journalist Gerald Posner. Now, this book is not about Ross Perot Jr. It's about his father, the former presidential candidate. It's an unauthorized biography which includes a chapter called "I'm not an investigative personality," about Ross Sr.'s now-famous obsession with security, and his use of private investigators and security teams in his business dealings. Ruby Held.

Ruby Held

There was some chapters I went for three weeks. I couldn't even read between-- I couldn't pick it up again. I thought, "I can't believe what this man has done." And because, I think, I had read that book, it gave us-- something would come up in city council. Or they'd come in, and everything they did was, I'd say, "That's chapter six," or "This is chapter two."

Alix Spiegel

Every single home I visited in Westlake had a copy of Citizen Perot, well-worn, full of underlining and scribbled notes in the margins, whole passages outlined in yellow highlight. The more they read, the more worried and hysterical they became. It is in this climate of paranoia that the aldermen put Mayor Scott Bradley on trial. It was held on a Tuesday in the cafeteria of the Solana office complex, which housed the town hall. The mayor's supporters plastered the walls with posters of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. David Brown.

David Brown

I guess the whole town was there, plus maybe 200 or 300 other people. It was a big crowd that came out, even though it was 10 o'clock on a weekday. And Mr. Huntress was chairman of the court. The town council, the aldermen, sat as the court, all five of them, even though they had brought the charges. And even though one or two of them testified against Bradley at the trial, they were still allowed to vote as judges.

Alix Spiegel

Miles Moffeit.

Miles Moffeitt

The aldermen had set themselves up along this long table. And in the middle was an attorney named Bill Wood, who had done some work for Perot.

Alix Spiegel

Don Redding.

Don Redding

And it was kind of curious because when something would be posed that Huntress didn't know how to handle, which was most of it, he would look to this attorney. And the attorney would try to advise him. It was such a ludicrous thing. And it was such a staged thing that there was no question about what was going to happen.

Alix Spiegel

Ruby Held.

Ruby Held

I'm sitting there thinking, "I must be in Russia." I cannot believe they're sitting up and testifying against him and judging him and being the jury, all in one fell swoop. I thought, "This must be the way they railroad somebody in Russia and put them in prison, because this is the biggest trumped-up farce I've ever seen in my whole life." My whole insides felt like they were boiling.

Alix Spiegel

After a 15-minute break for deliberation, the board, in a four to one vote, with Fred Held dissenting, found Scott Bradley guilty as charged and dismissed him as mayor of the city of Westlake. The crowd booed. Scott Bradley.

Scott Bradley

When the verdict was read, my lawyer stood up and said, "Is that your verdict?" And they said, "Yes, it is." And he said, "When are you going to put it into effect?" And they said, "Right now." And my lawyer says, "Right now?" And Carroll Huntress said, "Right now," and proceeded to sign the papers that Bill Wood furnished him.

And I can't remember exactly how it happened. But there was a defining moment, where it was just a spontaneous applause, essentially aimed at my lawyer and me for having gone through this terrible situation. And I was so moved that I stood up, and I applauded the audience for having gone through this whole thing.

Alix Spiegel

Immediately after the trial, Bradley got in the car and drove to the district courthouse to file an appeal. But en route, he got a call on his cell phone. It was from one of the townspeople, a woman staked out at the town hall who told Bradley that the aldermen had posted another notice which announced yet another meeting. Scott Bradley.

Scott Bradley

She had copied enough of it that she was able to read it to us. And it became very apparent then what was happening. They were going to blow the town up.

Alix Spiegel

The aldermen's notice, posted three hours after the impeachment of Mayor Scott Bradley, proposed the disannexation of 90% of the town of Westlake. 90% of the city's property would be transferred to neighboring communities, and the town would essentially be disbanded, simply given away. Included in the disannexation ordinance were all lands belonging to Ross Perot Jr., and the three properties owned by the aldermen. Reporter Miles Moffeit.

Miles Moffeitt

Everybody was like, "OK, they're just going to blow up the town." On paper, it would look as though the town was blown up. There's just pieces, far-flung pieces attached by very thin strips of land.

Alix Spiegel

Word of the posting spread quickly. And within half an hour, a small army of citizens had gathered at the town hall, most too stunned to observe what was happening. The properties belonging to the aldermen and Perot were eventually released to the city of Fort Worth, in exchange for a promise that they would pay no property taxes for a minimum of 15 years. Here's David Brown, Don Redding, and Scott Bradley.

David Brown

I was incredulous. I said, "They can't be doing-- this is not sane."

Don Redding

You had no idea that anybody would have been considered something like this. It's like, this is unbelievable. Really, you're just astounded.

Scott Bradley

I really couldn't make any sense of it. I wasn't there, but it had to be very much akin to the feeling of people observing the Oklahoma City bombing. It was a senseless act. It brought only harm and devastation. And this is the same feeling I had, that it just seemed to be the work of madmen.

Ira Glass

Coming up, are madmen actually smarter than the rest of us? Are people with money? Or do they just plan things out better? Alix Spiegel's story from Westlake, Texas, continues in a minute from Public Radio International, when our program continues.

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose some theme, bring you various stories on that theme. Today's program, for the July 4 holiday, stories of idealists in American government two centuries after the first independence day, and answers to this question. Can you fight city hall if you are city hall?

We're in the middle of Alix Spiegel's story from Westlake, Texas. The mayor has been thrown out of office. A notice is posted calling for a meeting in which the town would give away most of its land to other towns. At this point, Mayor Scott Bradley went to district court to have them issue an order so his impeachment would not take effect right away.

Alix Spiegel

At the district court, the judge suspended a murder trial for an entire day to issue a ruling favorable to Mayor Bradley, a temporary restraining order which prevented the aldermen from enforcing Bradley's impeachment. The aldermen's lawyers were also present, and they indicated to the district judge that they wanted to appeal his decision to the Fort Worth Court of Appeals in the morning. Mayor Scott Bradley.

Scott Bradley

The judge says, "Fine. I'll order my clerks to stay here, prepare the record. You can come by at," I think he said, "a quarter of eight and pick it up." So as far as we knew, we were going to the court of appeals the next morning.

That night, Carroll Huntress and these lawyers get into a car. They drive to one of the justices' homes. They sit in his living room while he talks to two other justices, and comes out and announces that he's going to stay the orders of the district court.

Alix Spiegel

And so in a late-night hearing in a judge's living room, the impeachment of Scott Bradley was reinstated. David Brown.

David Brown

It happened very quickly. The district court order came out about 5 o'clock. And by 11 o'clock that night, it had been overturned by the court of appeals.

Again, this made us feel we are really up against it. If people have that much clout, they can go to an appeals court in the middle of the night. If I were a private citizen, and I wanted to get a district court order overturned, I could not go knock on an appeals court judge's door at 9 o'clock at night and say, "Would you please overturn this decision? I know you haven't had time to hear the opponent's side to it, but please overturn it anyway."

I couldn't do that. I doubt anybody in the state could. Or very few people, obviously somebody could, because they did.

Alix Spiegel

Scott Bradley appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, saying the court of appeals was wrong to make this decision in the middle of the night without hearing his side of the case. And as other lawsuits involving Westlake worked their way to the court of appeals, Mayor Bradley filed another motion. This one said that the court of appeals judges shouldn't be hearing another case involving him, given how they'd handled the impeachment decision and given the fact that he was arguing to the supreme court that they had acted improperly.

Scott Bradley

This so infuriated the court that they again, without inviting me to be present or giving me any notice they were doing so, convened the entire Fort Worth Court of Appeals and issued a 21-page opinion in which they essentially call my lawyers liars and unfit for the practice of law for filing this motion, and referred them to the General Counsel of the State Bar of Texas to have their license removed. And it had personal repercussions for me, because immediately Cantey and Hanger, the law firm I was working for, call me in. And they said, "We have this $204 million judgment that we're afraid that the same panel that you've said may be biased is going to decide our appeal unfavorably in retribution. So we want you to resign from the law firm."

Alix Spiegel

And that's how Scott Bradley lost his job. Publicly, Perot continued to deny any involvement in the disintegration of Westlake and portrayed the affair as a local power struggle, a personality conflict between Scott Bradley and the Board of Aldermen. Three days after the impeachment, on Friday, May 2, one evening before the town elections were scheduled, town elections which could change the balance of power on the board, the citizens of Westlake once again gathered in Town Hall, this time to witness the dismantling of their community. With Bradley removed from office, there was no mayor to preside, so prior to the meeting, the aldermen appointed their own mayor, one of the oldest citizens in town. Again, reporter Miles Moffeit.

Miles Moffeitt

His name was Dale White. And he was almost like a hermit. You didn't see him around town. But suddenly, here he was, the mayor of Westlake.

Alix Spiegel

Once again, the aldermen took their place at the table in front of the room. The meeting was, by all accounts, a very efficient, no-frills process. Most of the actual legal documentation for the disannexations were provided by a lawyer who was working with Perot and the Hillwood Corporation. The aldermen and the new mayor, Dale White, said very little. Much of what they did say, they read from index cards, which had been prepared in advance. Don Redding.

Don Redding

Through the whole thing, people are trying to object, trying to get them to listen to them. And it's like you might as well not have been in the room. They won't look at you. They won't look at you.

Alix Spiegel

They won't look at you?

Don Redding

No.

Alix Spiegel

Scott Bradley.

Scott Bradley

That was probably the lowest point, emotionally, in my life, sitting through that meeting, watching these aldermen. And they literally dismantled the town in about a two-and-a-half-hour period, using documents that Perot's lawyers had prepared.

Alix Spiegel

When the last paper was signed, and the town of Westlake officially dismantled, the newly appointed mayor, Dale White, mayor of a town that now did not include the property where he himself lived, in other words, mayor of a town in which he did not hold residence, sat at the table in the front of the room and made the statement which would appear in every newspaper article which covered the story. Scott Bradley.

Scott Bradley

There were some maps displayed. And several citizens gathered around Dale, upset, and were asking him, "Was this tract in, or is this tract out? Is my property in or is it out?"

Don Redding

And somebody said, "What do you call this now?" And it seemed like, without thinking, he said, "Perot Town." It was in response to somebody's comment. And he said, "This is Perotville now."

Scott Bradley

And people looked very shocked at him. And he realized that he had made a very unpolitical statement. And you could see by his actions that he thought, "Oh, man. I've screwed this up to a fare-thee-well."

Alix Spiegel

David Brown.

David Brown

I went to bed that night thinking, "Man, the town's destroyed." And the next morning at 6:00 AM, on a Saturday morning, when the Fort Worth City Council meets, an emergency session, and claims all the land that had been disannexed from Westlake-- now you don't get the Fort Worth City Council out of bed at 6 o'clock on a Saturday morning unless you have some clout. And yeah, we were mad. We were confused. And we were afraid we might have lost the whole ballgame at that point.

Alix Spiegel

The aldermen, naturally, have a very different version of these events, a version they shared with me in a hotel conference room several miles outside of Westlake. It was the first time they'd collected to speak publicly about what had happened. And they insisted that they all be interviewed together. According to the aldermen, they are the true victims of this story, people unjustly accused of selling out the town, when in fact, they were simply trying to protect Westlake from a corrupt and power-hungry mayor, someone so narrow-minded and fanatical about preserving the rural integrity of his community that he rejected a proposal which was in step with the overall goals of Westlake and its citizens. Former Alderman Al Oien.

Al Oien

Our attitude, everyone except one Alderman and this phony mayor we had said, "It's going to change. The best we can hope for is a reasonable change, some input into the change, rather than let them go crazy." And Perot's proposition, it's magnificent. We were really fortunate to have someone with integrity that would develop a town in a reasonable manner, rather than just go in and destroy the thing like most towns develop.

Alix Spiegel

They say they took no bribes from Perot, were never in any way influenced by Perot, but reached their decision to impeach Mayor Bradley after it became clear that he would do anything, including impeding the legal workings of the board, to stop a legitimate businessman with legitimate rights from developing a property which was his own. They described in great detail a series of small battles between themselves and the mayor which led to their decision to impeach him. And listening to them, it does seem possible that what happened in Westlake is that there were some relatively modest misunderstandings and disagreements between the council and Bradley, problems they might have ironed out in normal times.

But with the question of Perot's development plan hanging over their heads, these disputes simply spiraled out of control, as each side dug in its heels. The aldermen had run the town for years, and they weren't used to anyone disagreeing with them so persistently and effectively. It was no wonder they came to hate Bradley.

As for the disannexation of Westlake's land, the aldermen say the hostilities from Westlake's citizens was so great after the trial, they simply felt they had no alternative. They had an opportunity to release themselves from a bad situation, to release the Perot property from unreasonable governance, and they took it. But they don't agree that it was their fault that Westlake was destroyed. Alderman Carroll Huntress.

Carroll Huntress

In essence, they've destroyed the town, when they more or less changed allegiances and had no concern for us whatsoever. They did after the trial. They scorned at you and made harsh remarks at you and treat you like dogs, really.

Alix Spiegel

Whatever the aldermen's motivations, the people of Westlake clearly disapproved of their actions. The aldermen had scheduled the disannexation meeting for one night before the regular town elections, presumably because they understood that after the impeachment trial, there was very little chance they would continue in office. They were right. Of the two aldermen eligible for reelection, one withdrew from the race. The other was turned out of office in a landslide vote.

Initially, the anti-Perot forces assumed the election, which gave them a majority voting bloc on the Board of Aldermen, would end the political troubles in Westlake. But two days after the election, the old Board of Aldermen posted yet another notice, this one stating that according to their interpretation of Texas election law, the new council was prohibited from assuming office for an additional five business days. During that time, the old board held a series of meetings in which they confirmed the property disannexations, passed an indemnity ordinance to protect themselves from any litigation relating to town matters, and as a final act, disannexed the property which housed Town Hall.

Meanwhile Bradley, who refused to recognize the validity of his ouster, met regularly with the new board and systematically reversed every action taken by the old board. David Brown.

David Brown

We had the old Board of Aldermen refusing to give up their seats, and the new Board of Aldermen a meeting separately and claiming they were the legal board. We had Mayor Bradley claiming he'd been removed from office illegally, and therefore, he was still the legal mayor. And we had the old council and Dale White claiming that Dale White was mayor, because he'd been appointed by the council to replace Mr. Bradley. So anyway, we had two mayors, two councils, and a town that effectively had been destroyed. And it was a mess right at that point.

Alix Spiegel

Two mayors, two boards, and all for a town which technically didn't exist. Naturally, it got worse. Alderman Carroll Huntress, who didn't have the legal authority to sign city checks greater than $1,000, used a loophole in city policy and wrote 67 $1,000 checks to pay off the legal bills associated with the mayor's impeachment, forcing the town to freeze its bank accounts and declare temporary bankruptcy. Dale White, who continued to claim that he was the rightful mayor of Westlake, changed the locks on the City Hall to keep Bradley and his supporters out. And Bradley, who also continued to claim that he was the rightful mayor of Westlake, changed the locks back.

In the end, the question of whether or not Westlake would continue to exist was settled in a way that no one could have ever predicted. In the summer of 1998, rumors started circulating around town that a Fortune 500 company was interested in buying a portion of Perot's land in Westlake. They wanted to build a corporate campus and were willing to pay big, but only if certain conditions were met. The company wanted the dispute between Perot and the town resolved. They didn't want the land they bought to fall within the jurisdiction of the city of Fort Worth, one of the land dispute cases then in front of the courts.

And there was one other thing. The land they were most interested in buying merged with Mayor Scott Bradley's property. And they wouldn't buy any land unless Bradley also agreed to sell. Perot badly wanted the money. And this put Bradley in the curious position of being able to dictate to his former enemy the terms of the town's restoration.

He did. In December of 1998, 314 acres of ranch land was sold to the Fidelity Corporation. And in exchange, Perot abandoned all legal action against the town of Westlake. The town was restored. After two years of struggle, Westlake was saved by the very thing its citizens were trying to avoid in the first place-- development. This did not diminish in any way the sweetness of the Supreme Court ruling which reinstated Scott Bradley as mayor, which was delivered to Scott by his state representative, Vicki Truitt, on April 9, 1999.

Scott Bradley

They had declared that I was, and still am, the mayor of the town of Westlake. And it was just total screaming. Vicki was screaming and crying. We were screaming and crying. And then the news just spread like wildfire. The news must've been around the town in half an hour.

I think, as Americans, that a lot of people out there that have assumed that money and power will carry the day, that our experience teaches us that most of the times, money and power does win. And therefore, there's more of a resignation to that fact and a willingness to succumb because we know, or we think, that's going to be the ultimate result anyway. And I think it's almost shocking to us when we find out that, if people will stand up, and if you will fight for what I keep calling the right thing, that ultimately it can win out even over money and power.

Alix Spiegel

The people of Westlake had always assumed that the aldermen had sold the town out to Perot for money. But in the end, there's no evidence to support this theory. Only one of the aldermen, Jerry Moore, sold his property to Perot directly, for a price reasonably within market range. And no other evidence of quid pro quo has surfaced. In the meantime, almost all of the aldermen have moved away from Westlake. They say it's just too hard after all that's happened, and the town has changed. Al Oien is the only one who continues to own property in town, but says he mostly keeps to himself.

After two years, the people of Westlake had their town back. And though many seemed to believe with Scott Bradley that the moral of this story is very clear, that right will in the end trump might, that money doesn't always win, a funny thing happened on the way to victory. The people of Westlake seemed to lose sight of their original goal of keeping the town rural.

Talk to Don or Ruby or David or Scott today, and they will speak enthusiastically about the new Fidelity campus. They even seem reconciled to the idea of more building. People now accept that there is development, that there will be more development. And in this sense, Perot may have lost the battle, but has managed to lay the groundwork to win the war.

Before I left Westlake, I went to visit Perot's company, the Hillwood Corporation. They wouldn't speak about the past, but they were happy to talk about the future. David Pelletier, a spokesman for the company, brought out a big, color-coded map and showed me their plans.

David Pelletier

We've already sold this property to Texas Health Systems for a hospital campus. That's already been approved by the town. This right here, we were working with General Growth Properties, one of the largest mall developers and mall management companies in the country, to come in. And it's going to be a high-level, upscale shopping resort.

Alix Spiegel

He pointed out the industrial office complex, the luxury hotel, multi-family housing projects, and finally, the Texas town that Hillwood had first proposed back in 1996. They're still planning to build it. Construction will soon be underway.

Ira Glass

Alix Spiegel. She produced her story with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Julie Snyder and myself with Alex Blumberg, Susan Burton, and Blue Chevigny, contributing editors Paul Tough, Jack Hitt, Margy Rochlin, Alix Spiegel, Nancy Updie, and Consigliere Sarah Vowell. Production help from Todd Bachmann and Mary Wiltenburg.

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Ruby Held

I can't believe what this man has done. I'm sitting there, thinking, "I must be in Russia."

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of This American Life.

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