Katherine Homan says it felt like nearly missing a car crash.
“We walked out in shock,” she says. “It was like ‘what just happened?’ It just leaves you shaking.”
That was after “the most bizarre” City Council meeting in February 2019, when a last-minute shakeup allowed City Council to hold a simple-majority vote, winning out against neighbors’ wishes in a zoning case related to a planned fitness center at Methodist Dallas Medical Center.
City Council “took an illegal vote” on the matter, Homan says. And two courts have agreed.
Homan sued the city for violating its own rules and won a summary judgement in October 2019. The City appealed, and Homan won again on March 31. Now the City has until mid-May to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.
Read the Fifth Court of Appeals of Texas opinion (it contains a typo in the date of the City Council meeting).
Mayor Pro Tem Chad West urged the City to drop the case, in an editorial that ran in the Dallas Morning News today.
“I encourage the city to cease the litigation and pay the attorney’s fees requested by neighbors,” he stated.
Here’s the background:
East Kessler neighbors wanted to defeat the hospital’s rezoning plans and needed 20% of residents within 500 feet of the project, at Greenbriar and Haines, to sign and notarize affidavits in opposition. That would’ve forced City Council to call a “super-majority” vote in which they would need 12 of 15 Council members to vote “yes” for the hospital’s case to win. Without the affidavits, Council could vote by “simple” majority, meaning the case could win with 8 votes.
Homan and neighbors went knocking on doors with a notary and just achieved the neighborhood support they needed.
“It was slim pickin’s because it was just the houses on Haines and Greenbriar,” she says. “Everything else is commercial property.”
The City’s open meetings rules state that all materials must be submitted to the City Secretary’s office by noon on Tuesday before the Wednesday City Council meeting.
Neighbors submitted their affidavits on time, and Homan says they knew they had the City Council votes to defeat the case in a super majority.
What happened next was like an episode of Perry Mason, Homan says.
After the zoning case was announced, an attorney for the hospital, former City Councilmember Angela Hunt, came to the podium and announced that one of the affidavits was in doubt.
Neighbor Ralph Isenberg said his wife, Yan Hong Isenberg, was tricked into signing the sworn statement and that she was told it had to do with slowing traffic on Haines Avenue.
Isenberg said he was in favor of the hospital’s plan and wanted to retract his wife’s affidavit. She didn’t appear at the hearing because English is a secondary language for her, and she didn’t feel comfortable, he says.
“What was written about what happened, and what actually did happen, as usual, can be two different things,” Isenberg says. “It had nothing to do with my wife being stupid. The only thing it had to do with was the language barrier.”
He says he knew his wife was in favor of the hospital’s plan because it had been presented to them previously at a private event. The Isenbergs, who were not asked to give testimony in the City’s legal case, have since moved to North Dallas to be closer to their son’s school, and he says, “I’m retired from everything.”
Former Mayor Mike Rawlings asked the City Attorney’s office for an opinion on Isenberg’s claim during the meeting, and twice, an attorney said, basically, the wife can sign for the husband and the husband can sign for the wife, meaning her signature counted in the 20%.
“The city attorney said, ‘you can be sued,’” Homan says.
But Councilmembers decided in a closed meeting to throw Yan Hong Isenberg’s affidavit and go ahead with the simple-majority vote.
“They just steamrolled us,” Homan says. “They broke their own rules, and the biggest one being that everything has to be submitted by noon on Tuesday.”
The hospital declined to comment.
“This is not about Methodist. It’s never been about Methodist,” Homan says. “It’s not about winning and losing. It’s about standing up to government overreach.”
Homan was recognized in March during a women’s history month lunch at City Hall, where she was given the Outstanding Public Service Award.
“Go figure,” she says.