Administration duties for the Flower Mound Cares Facebook group, a 15,000-member public forum for Flower Mound residents, recently changed hands. The new administrator has restricted what news sources are allowed to be published on the page, and has asked at least two papers, including The Lewisville Texan Journal, for money in exchange for the ability to post.
Monday Feb. 19, Cross Timbers Gazette owner Max Miller realized that he no longer had commenting privileges on the page and asked new Flower Mound Cares administrator Terri Shawn why. Shawn told him that it was because they were working on an exclusive deal with “an FM magazine” and they asked her to keep the page news-free for a few weeks.
A few hours later, Shawn unmuted Miller on the condition that he would not post any articles from the Cross Timbers Gazette. Several hours after that, she made a further offer — she requested that Miller take down letters to the editor from Joe Roach and Dianne Edmondson that are critical of former town council member Itamar Gelbman, who is running for Denton County Commissioner Precinct 4 in the Republican primary election. She said that if Miller took the letters down, she would allow him to outbid the magazine to be the exclusive news provider for Flower Mound Cares.
Miller declined to delete the letters to the editor, saying that he would not silence opinions because he does not agree with them. Gelbman has had several letters to the editor of his own published in the past and even responded to one of the letters in question.
Gelbman was a controversial figure during his time on Flower Mound Town Council. He was found in an outside investigation to have potentially used his position for financial gain in late 2015. Gelbman consistently antagonized the rest of the council and other public figures, threatened to “bankrupt this [expletive] town” if the investigator’s report was released.
A link to Gelbman’s campaign Facebook page is currently pinned to the top of the Flower Mound Cares page. When asked what would happen if the page she contracts with posts something critical of Gelbman, Shawn said that they wouldn’t, and that The Cross Timbers Gazette is the only news organization that scrutinizes him, which is not true.
When The Lewisville Texan Journal asked Shawn if she was selling exclusive access for news media, she said that she did not have a deal in place, but that she would entertain an offer. She said that she wants the Flower Mound Cares group to be free from personal attacks and fake news. When asked how she would both offer exclusive access to a news organization and also restrict them from posting stories she found malicious, she did not answer.
The Lewisville Texan Journal reached out to another magazine that may have been the one Shawn told Miller she was negotiating with. The editors said they were not working with Shawn, but they had text messages that indicate the former page administrator, Eric Jellison, had a similar exclusivity deal in place with Miller and the Cross Timbers Gazette.
Miller adamantly denies having a deal in place, and said that Jellison may have been acting out of loyalty. Jellison has not returned multiple calls for interview from The Lewisville Texan Journal.
Chris Roark with The Leader said that no one had approached him about paying for access to the Facebook group, but he said he had not posted recently.
The Lewisville Texan Journal will never pay for access to an online forum, nor participate in any arrangement that blocks out competitors. It is our belief that removing content as part of an exchange, as Shawn requested of Miller, or becoming financially entangled in a group that may be promoting a particular politician, compromises our editorial authority and our ability to act independently as journalists.
This post has been updated to clarify that Gelbman is running in the Republican primary.