Responsible journalists take no pleasure in reporting about someone's troubled past. I have never been a gotcha! journalist, nor do I try to dig up damaging information on another person just because I can or to sell newspapers. That's cheap, sensational journalism.
But if that past has relevance to current events and if the information uncovers flaws in the way a government conducts its business and could result in positive changes and more oversight, I feel a responsibility to make that known.
I have spent the past several weeks collecting and mulling over information from three county courthouses on Dwain Moose Whitfield's four arrests, one of which resulted in a conviction. I did not rush to print what I found on the Texas Department of Public Safety criminal records database, which listed the arrests and basic details about them. Instead, I followed the paper trail. I wanted to see the entire files on each crime, from the warrant to the court disposition.
I obtained copies of the records from the Erath, Tarrant and Wise county courthouses and from the Stephenville Police Department. They totaled more than 80 pages. I scrutinized the records, searching for some explanation. Whitfield had pleaded guilty to each offense as part of a plea bargain in three out of four cases against him.
I contacted City Attorney Andrew Lucas and told him what I had found. I gave him copies of all the records I had compiled. I also requested to meet with Moose Whitfield, in the presence of the city attorney, to ask him questions and give him a chance to comment, explain, rebut or say whatever he wanted to about these cases. I wanted an attorney present for several reasons for legal counsel to the person involved in the cases and for a third-party witness who could confirm everything that was said.
Lucas called me on Monday, Aug. 9, while I was covering the Somervell County Commissioners Court. I had my phone turned off and did not get the message until it was too late to attend the meeting at Lucas' office. I learned that Whitfield, however, was not going to be there. But Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Mitchell Whitfield's mother and Councilman Chris Bryant and City Superintendent Ronald Bruce were.
I attempted to schedule another meeting, but Lucas told me that he didn't know that the parties involved would have much to say.
Through Glen Rose's famously busy grapevine, I learned that a council member had said that Whitfield's criminal background was "none of my business" and should remain a private matter.
Shouldn't it be the public's business, however, when a city employee does not disclose a crime conviction although specifically asked about it on a job application? Page three, Section 2.05, of the city's personnel manual says an applicant shall be disqualified from consideration if he or she has made any false statement of fact on the application, depending upon the seriousness, willfulness and applicability of the false information to the position.
Shouldn't it be the public's business when that person subsequently is given more and more responsibility, especially for overseeing renovations at Oakdale Park, despite having serious issues in his past with handling finances including a conviction for theft by check an arrest for performing an indecent act around a swimming pool and with following rules?
Shouldn't it be the public's business when taxpayer money is being spent to pay someone's salary who has violated city policy?
Speaking of that, Cindy King was fired week before last as manager of Oakdale Park for allegedly misstating her hours worked on her time sheets. King, who was the manager at Oakdale when the May family owned it, lost her job because she was accused of violating city policy.
Whitfield was temporarily put in charge of Oakdale Park until the Reporter posted a version of today's front-page story on its Web site on Friday. The rationale for posting the story online then was because the Glen Rose City Council had an item on its agenda for Monday night's meeting about hiring an assistant manager at Oakdale originally a position to be added to help King, who had been working long hours overtime. After King's departure, the agenda item was revised to discuss hiring a manager for Oakdale.
So King got fired for violating city policy, but Whitfield still works for the city. Go figure.
The bigger issue is what's important here. This is another example of what's wrong with the city government: Too much cronyism. Too little oversight. Too many conflicts of interest. Too many double standards for friends and relatives. And that goes from the top all the way down.
Being good stewards of taxpayer money is not just about watching the budget. It's also about watching to make sure everyone in city government operates by the rule book, in a transparent manner and with the public's interest and not their own as the highest priority.