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Fair Oaks Ranch watchdogs form

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FAIR OAKS RANCH — A watchdog group raising questions about transparency in city government and the homeowners association has some critics worried its efforts will instead promote community divisiveness.

Announcing its presence recently on social media, Fair Oaks Ranch Transparency Group — or FORT — is dedicated to keeping city business and Fair Oaks Ranch Homeowners Association activity “out in the open,” said Dana Krone.

“We have three goals for the city and HOA: Watch the issues and step up if we see problems; establish ways for people to communicate with a website and present facts on both sides of the issue; and to identify and support members on both sides,” said Krone, the director.

FORT is open to the public; anyone can join. The group simply won’t publish or announce members’ names. It’s completely anonymous. FORT is creating a website where folks can weigh in on local subjects, members said. Many posts have appeared on Nextdoor.

However, others — including Councilman Roy Elizondo — say problems could arise if the group fails to maintain an unbiased viewpoint and neglect to report facts.

“Both the city and FORHA operate under state laws that require they conduct their business out in the open,” said Elizondo, who also serves on the FORHA bylaws committee. “When I see inflammatory language and misleading information on the social-media sites about how the city or FORHA are conducting their affairs, I get concerned because that’s (many) peoples’ source of news.”

According to the councilman, “People should use their own eyes, ears and judgment to decide the transparency question.”

Krone said discussions on the future website will be moderated and kept civil, informational and factual. He wants to avoid situations where communiqués get banned on other social-media sites, such as when commentary goes off-topic or turns into personal attacks.

“We just want an individual neighbor to be able to have a conversation without getting shots taken at them,” Krone said.

Contributors to FORT said much of the dissatisfaction emanates from FORHA’s decision last November to raise annual dues.

Wes Pieper, another FORT contributor, said his intent is to inform neighbors who can’t make it to City Hall meetings. He currently posts recaps to his e-mail list and Nextdoor.

“My goal is to put information out there that is factually accurate and I hope this avenue will let me get that information out to more people,” Pieper said. “I want the information without the bull.”

Pieper, who fought the town’s efforts to annex his property, has been a vocal critic of city government. He once ran for mayor and lost.

“There needs to be some balance,” added Ken Nichols, a former FORHA board member who joined FORT.

However, some think the social-media driven association is trying to stir the pot and create unnecessary drama.

“FORT is a straw-man proposition and totally unnecessary,” said Debby Stephens. “I believe their objective is to create division in the community and discredit the volunteers who lead the city and FORHA. … Transparency is not an issue at the city or FORHA because there is nothing being hidden.”

Some residents want the town to take over the maintenance of parks and green spaces from the homeowners group, and FORT, through social media, may provide an outlet for their dissatisfaction, Stephens said.

“What we need is an engaged community working with FORHA and the city, not against them,” Stephens said.

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