The Lewisville City Council meeting on Oct. 17 was the climax of a legal fight over the Camelot Landfill that had been going on since 2010. Farmers Branch, which owns the landfill inside Lewisville city limits, had been trying to expand without complying with new Lewisville regulations. Two lawsuits later, Lewisville eventually gained the legal leverage they needed in 2015 to force Farmers Branch to comply with the regulations. The cities reached a formal agreement in January, and Oct. 17 was when Lewisville would act on that agreement and send the expansion request to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. It was a done deal.
There was just one problem: the council couldn’t vote.
Brandon Jones had to recuse himself because his wife, Sherrelle Evans-Jones, is Farmers Branch’s financial director. TJ Gilmore works for Waste Management, a competitor with Camelot operator Republic Services but which also operates on Camelot converting methane into electricity, so he recused himself as well. And Leroy Vaughn was, for the fourth consecutive meeting, absent.
The council was unable to vote because there was a lack of quorum—three members were out.
This was a problem because of the politics that had already taken place surrounding the landfill. If Lewisville did not allow Camelot to expand when similar business DFW Landfill sits right across the river, they’d have a lawsuit — one that council member Neil Ferguson said Farmers Branch would easily win. Additionally, it could delay the revenue the city would be generating from Camelot in accordance with its new deal with Farmers Branch. City attorney Lizbeth Plaster said notices for the public hearing would have had to have been re-published at the City’s expense and re-posted for a new date.
And at the time, no one knew which date might work because no one knew if Vaughn was ever coming back anyway. Vaughn, who has been to every meeting since Oct. 17, said he himself resigned because he did not know when he could return to the council. He ended up being released from physical rehabilitation and rescinding his resignation shortly after.
“I wasn’t sure how long I was going to be out, and I did not want to hold up any business that the City Council would have,” he said. “Right after I made that decision, I was told that I would be released from the rehab facility, and so I was back to business right away after getting out of there.”
Vaughn said he had gone in for a routine procedure that went bad. He said the doctors did not explain to him what had gone wrong, but that he had been in rehabilitation for an extended period. Vaughn said he did not remember the specific dates of the surgery and declined to go into detail on what the procedure was, but that he is still in physical therapy two days a week.
In order to prevent the vote from falling through, Gilmore reversed his decision to recuse himself, allowing the council to reach a quorum. They unanimously approved the agenda items rezoning Camelot.
Gilmore said he had always recused himself from votes involving the Camelot Landfill because they involved a competitor with his business. However, because he does not earn any money from Camelot Landfill, it isn’t a legal conflict of interest and because of the repercussions of the vote falling through, he had to vote.
“There were other timeline issues with getting this done that created a situation where it was not in the best interest of residents or the city for me to abstain due to an apparent conflict of interest. Something that looks like a conflict of interest, but it’s not,” he said. “To leave this hanging would have created some real business issues for the city. At that time, on that day, it didn’t look like Mr. Vaughn was coming back for months, so this could be creating other opportunities for legal action.”
Gilmore said that the council was in unanimous agreement that the measures should pass, and that the only difference his vote made was that they passed before the city incurred further legal troubles.
He said that if he were to truly put his interests ahead of the city’s, he would have voted against the measure, as it gives a competitor a nearby landfill that will outlive Waste Management’s.
“If you want to play conflict of interest, I should have said no. I should have stepped away and let it die and made sure the city gets a massive lawsuit because of that. Because that’s the next step for them,” he said. “If I were that guy, this vote would go against my self-interest.”