How do you stop your city government from wasting taxpayers’ money? Show up and ask.

That’s what Coppell resident Joe Shirley did when he saw that his city council was planning to approve an expensive contract for a wasteful project that would ultimately cost taxpayers $400,000 – without any public discussion.

The item – originally set for approval at Coppell City Council’s August 8 meeting – was lumped into the “consent agenda” – a list of items that are passed without discussion, ostensibly to save time, and usually reserved for non-controversial actions and expenditures that don’t merit public debate.

Shirley, a barber by trade and a conservative activist by nature, thought that a $76,445 design contract for a $400,000 project of questionable public benefit did, in fact, merit council deliberation and a public hearing with taxpayer input.

In an email to Coppell’s mayor and city council members obtained by Texas Scorecard, Shirley admonished the council for its attempt to avoid transparency and accountability:

The citizens who would have to pay for the project deserve to hear their elected officials justify the expenditure for the “Old Town Arches” project in a regular city council meeting and should be allowed to comment in a public hearing!

There needs to be an opportunity to consider other options that would be more appropriate and cost less money before any more money is spent on engineering design.

The “Old Town Arches” project is projected to cost $400,000, and will not provide any benefit to the citizens of Coppell, the residents or the businesses of Old Town Coppell.

Prior to the council meeting, Shirley spoke with council members about his concerns. He also attended the pre-meeting work session, where council member Gary Roden requested that the item be taken off the consent agenda.

With the Old Town Arches contract moved to the regular agenda, it received a thorough public discussion at the council meeting – and was ultimately voted down unanimously by council.

Shirley told Texas Scorecard that if he hadn’t written the letter and talked with council members, the expenditure likely would have been passed on the consent agenda.

Many Texans wrongly assume that elected officials don’t need help governing, but Shirley’s effort is yet another example of how government works better when taxpayers are actively engaged in the process.

“We need to have someone at all of these meetings,” Shirley said. “Maybe we could get some of these issues stopped before they get this far along.”

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.