Jonestown, Texas is a lakeside town northwest of Austin, Texas. Driving into town on highway 1431 you will see a green Jonestown, Texas “City Limit” sign. It claims “Pop. 1834”. Jonestown has grown about 30% since these numbers were collected in 2000. Many folks moved to Jonestown seeking a more small-town life than is found in nearby Austin, whose motto is “Keep Austin Weird”. Last week residents learned that the big government ways of Austin had found their way north on Lake Austin, over Mansfield Dam and they had landed on their shores and within their own City Hall.
On December 8, 2011 a few dozen citizens gathered to request the resignation of Mayor Deane Armstrong and Alderman Lance Wedell, and the firing of their City Administrator Dan Dodson. The City of Jonestown applied for and won a grant for $2M of Federal Stimulus dollars for “an innovative and provocative long-term renewable energy plan that (would have brought) the City into a new and highly visible phase of energy efficiency.” Unfortunately, the company that received the contract with the city, CM Energies, was fully paid the $2M and never delivered 1 working windmill of the 18 promised. According to the Austin American Statesman, when concern about the project was voiced to the City Administrator, Mr. Dodson, he was quoted as saying that “defrauding the government was ‘an oxymoron’ and that he was not going to lose sleep over a little white lie to get a grant.”
So, as the good citizen’s of Jonestown gathered to ask questions about how this scandal could have happened in their town, they noticed something. The practice of saying an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of City Council meetings had been abandoned at some point, during recent years. During citizen comments one gentleman asked if an invocation or Pledge could be offered. The Mayor and City Council denied his request. After the meeting, these good citizens, that represented ALL political persuasions, discussed this change to the City Council agenda. One resident, John Potter, remembered offering the invocation himself at City Council meetings in the past.
You might think that the purpose of this story is to document the felonious behavior of the individuals who led to this scandal but this is really the story of what happens when individuals begin to think that being principled and honest is not important. Clearly, the Jonestown City Council thought that the invocation and Pledge were just niceties that they didn’t need to worry about.
Friday morning at 8:30 am the Jonestown City Council met in special session to determine the employment status of Mr. Dodson. As the meeting began, a citizen again asked if the meeting would begin with an invocation. Again, the City Mayor and City Council ignored the request. Then proud 9-12er Debbie Brown, asked Mayor Armstrong if the meeting was going to be opened with the Pledge. Quickly, and clearly the Mayor said, “No.” See here at minute 1:50 what happens.
Ms. Brown stands and begins to recite the Pledge of Allegiance anyway. What you cannot see in this video is that the rest of the room rose with her and completed the Pledge WITH her. The citizen’s united across political persuasions to state their allegiance to the principles that make our country and cities great. Clearly, it seems that many of those who have represented the City of Jonestown during the last year, were not rooted in any of these principles. It is interesting that a City Council who doesn’t seem to feel it is important to pledge to our Republic, that was created under God, also has no commitment to Liberty or Justice for all. The citizens of Jonestown may now be responsible to pay back the $2M that seems to have disappeared, AND the Council voted to continue to employ City Administrator Dodson on a temporary basis.
When we talked to Debbie Brown about her decision to offer the Pledge against the wishes of her Mayor, she was elated that the community stood with her. She now knows without question that if just one person stands up for the principles that demand more accountable local government, that people from all walks of life will gather together demand something better. Throughout human history, societies and communities have offered pledges and oaths and have committed to common ideas through treaties and covenants. It is important to remind ourselves of these agreements and commitments to our communities on a regular basis. It is also important to stand for them even if you think you may be the only one who will.