A Plum Grove City Council meeting on Monday, April 12, turned into a heated discussion between Mayor Mary Arrendell and members of council after private investigator Wayne Dolcefino shared findings of an open records request that included phone records for Arrendell and county officials.
Dolcefino Consulting, owned by former news reporter Dolcefino, is the hired gun the City contracted several months ago to look into alleged problems with the Colony Ridge developments that many Plum Grove residents believe are responsible for flooding their neighborhoods and breaking down city streets. The six Colony Ridge subdivisions have added tens of thousands of residential lots to the Plum Grove area, which was ill-equipped to handle the thousands of vehicles traveling city streets each day.
The argument erupted when Dolcefino shared that the mayor’s phone records show she is in regular communication with Colony Ridge developer Trey Harris. Currently, Plum Grove City Council members, with the exception to Arrendell, are embroiled in a lawsuit with Colony Ridge.
“The mayor, at the time of this ongoing litigation, is talking to Trey Harris all the time. I got the phone records. A lot, a lot, a lot,” Dolcefino told the council.
Dolcefino said the phone records show that Arrendell is communicating with Harris sometimes just minutes after she has spoken to City Attorney Carl Alred, suggesting that she might be sharing privileged communication with the developer that could put the City in an adverse position in the lawsuit.
“Now look, I’ve even thought about it, maybe she is working back channels,” Dolcefino said. “Maybe she is trying to work it out with Trey Harris, and that’s fine, in my view, as long as the city attorney knows, as long as the city council knows. You can’t, especially in lawsuits, and the last thing lawyers will tell you is never talk to the other side in a lawsuit.”
Arrendell explained that her communications with Harris were with the City Attorney’s knowledge. Alred was not present at the meeting to confirm or deny this claim.
The mayor said her phone calls with Harris were in an attempt to work out an interlocal agreement to help fix the roads in Plum Grove.
“I’ve known the man. Everyone knows I’ve known the man. I’ve had people call me and ask me to talk to him about certain things. I have never hid that. I have been out there and ate lunch. I’ve looked at the maps over and over,” she explained.
“Multiple times a week though?” asked Councilwoman Carly Sager.
Councilwoman Mary Graham Smith told Arrendell that if Harris had information he needed to share with Council, it should be with the entire city council, not just the mayor.
“If he wants to talk, he has to talk to all of us,” Smith said.
Sager suggested that the Mayor’s alleged friendship with Harris may be what prevented her from being part of the lawsuit, a point the mayor denied.
“It looks sketchy. That makes no sense. All of us, not you very conspicuously, were sued for $1 million. It’s concerning because Colony Ridge found grounds to sue us, or they thought they had grounds to sue us. Where did they get whatever information they have?” Sager asked.
As tensions escalated, Dolcefino continued talking, prompting the mayor to tell him his time was up. When he continued to speak, she asked that he be removed by law enforcement personnel at the meeting. However, he was allowed to remain at the council’s insistence.
Dolcefino then explained his efforts to get soil sample reports, drainage studies and hydrology reports from the County related to the first Colony Ridge subdivision, but he has so far had no success. If the records are not produced, Dolcefino suggested that residents should sue the developer and Land Plan Engineering, the engineering firm used by Colony Ridge.
“I ain’t a lawyer. Okay? So I am going to give you some Wayne advice. Those of you who think they were flooded, not the city, you regular folks, you ought to sue them. At the very least, it will force them to produce the records. In my view, if they want to get rid of guys like me, the quickest way is to say, ‘Here are all the records, have a good time, have a field day.’ They won’t do it, which means to me that maybe they exist and they are all fine and they are just being jerks. Maybe they don’t have them. Maybe they never did the soil samples. It’s time for the citizens of Plum Grove to find you a lawyer and take them to court in a way the government cannot do,” he said.
Regarding the phone records Dolcefino shared with Council, they also allegedly showed communication between Harris and Pct. 2 Commissioner Greg Arthur.
“I don’t know what they are talking about. It could be hunting, their families, you never know that. I do know he talks to him an awful lot,” Dolcefino said.
When asked about the phone calls on Thursday, Commissioner Arthur said Dolcefino is skewing information to make it appear more sensational.
“I’ve had a handful of phone calls with Trey Harris over the last year and a half. Most of them were when I was trying to help him get ambulance service there. I was putting him in touch with Liberty County EMS, which didn’t work out in the end,” Arthur said.
Dolcefino admitted during the Council meeting to having less-than-friendly exchanges with Arthur after commissioners court meetings.
“He said I twist everything and I am a big liar, blah, blah, blah,” Dolcefino said.
In other business, the City authorized the purchase of desks, chairs and tables for the new City Hall, located on Plum Grove Road at Paul Campbell Loop, the site of the former city hall that was damaged during Hurricane Harvey. Construction of the new city hall is complete, giving the City just enough time to get ready for the May 1 election.
The City is planning a May 8 grand opening event for the community that will include free food and drinks and a ribbon cutting ceremony. The gathering will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. with the ribbon cutting taking place at 1 p.m.
Council also moved forward with hiring a CPA to conduct a 2020 audit, which is critical for some grant applications the City is currently pursuing to fix roads and infrastructure.