THE WEST LAKE HILLS SPECTATOR

Kit Webster

 

 

The Rogue Mayor

 

In recent conversations someone described Urdahl as our "Rogue Mayor."  I thought this wonderfully encapsulated the current drama in a few words.  Urdahl is off on his own, following some unique logic, and in the mean time wreaking havoc beyond misunderstanding and misrepresenting how the sewer system works.  This page documents rogue-ness, from the profoundly important to the trivial.

There is another page on interesting Mark facts that do not include Rogueness.


A Summary


A letter from Mark's brother, Scott - May 9, 2008

(The following was unsolicited.  I have neither met nor spoken to Scott Urdahl)

Dear Kit,

I would like to thank you for all the hard work and effort that you have put forth maintaining your website and hope to one day talk with you. My family has found it to be very entertaining as you have chronicled the “Holiday Inn Express Mayor”. You have done an excellent job of tracking one of the most dishonest people in the world. My wife and I have been tempted to chime in numerous times when his lies have even evaded your detection, but have chosen to watch the inevitable spectacle unfold from afar since we do not live in Westlake (We do live in the Eanes School District and my wife just recently was given a transfer out of the Westlake pharmacy where she has worked for the past 7 years).

As we have read or heard about his ridiculous “I’m not running campaign”, it becomes clear that he may still be planning on a future in politics. He never once says that he is retiring from politics, just from his current position. His quote in the paper of blaming his name being on the ballot as an “administrative error” is typical Mark (Take credit for the good and blame the bad on someone else.) It is extremely doubtful that the “ice man” (cold and calculating in his own words), would make such a mistake. In fact, he is campaigning harder than any of the candidates (even using phone bank messages to broadcast his name; TV, letters, mailers etc.). Four years ago, in his attempt to get name recognition, he intentionally placed his name on the Eanes School Board election ballot and withdrew after the deadline. He must think this technique works and might even get the attention of one of the few people he respects (Rush Limbaugh) with his own mini operation “Chaos”. The reason I have become concerned is that any office he attempts to run for next will almost certainly cover my family’s neighborhood.

Make no mistake, if any of Mark’s candidates win, he will claim victory and attempt to use it as a launching pad for a higher office. The nightmare and distraction for Westlake will continue. That is unless all of the candidates were to agree to not endorse him for any future political endeavors. I am aware that Dave Claunch has admitted privately that he was wrong about Mark; he knows that Mark is a liar, and he got duped like everyone else. Since all candidates claim to be against the politics of divisiveness, it shouldn’t be difficult to pledge not to support one of the most divisive politicians in the history of Westlake as a candidate for ANY political office in the future.

I know for a fact that not one person in his immediate family except his wife (NOT his brother, sister, mother, father nor their spouses) would vote for Mark to have any governance over them, or over anyone else.

Please ask the Westlake candidates to take this simple pledge.

I for one know that it is easy to be duped by Mark. It will never happen to me again and I hope it doesn’t happen to the people of Westlake.

Thanks,

Scott Urdahl


Mark appears on TV - and commits a crime? - April 20, 2008 - updated April 22, 2008

Life is never dull with Mark around.  As I have said many times before, if this were not my City, this would be fun to watch.

Particularly how he shoots himself in the foot for no good reason.

So, Fox News ran a spot on Mark's going door to door telling people not to vote for him, but to be sure to vote for Dave, and definitely not for Dwight.

Ok, this is the same Mark that brought you Cindy and Amy and tried to bring you the lovable Robin. Not news, but a reasonably interesting human interest story. Those rich folks in West Lake Hills have screwed up again. And there is Mark, willingly playing Larry, Curly or Moe.

Only, it is illegal to use City funds and resources in a political campaign - something Earl and Jane have complained about with regard to Mark for over a year (to no avail, given the majority on Council, the Three Amigas, Amy, Cindy, and Katherine).

And Fox News catches it on camera.

The letter he is distributing door to door - and leaving on the door of this residence - is written on West Lake Hills' stationery (copy of letter here - the city Administrator has stated in an email that Mark did not use City resources in creating the letter, even though it is letterhead and he did sign in his capacity as mayor.  (April 22) Then, I get the same letter in the mail as part of a general mailing to the City, with a City Hall return address, letterhead, and Mark's signature as mayor and other email from the City Administrator that no City postage was used.  Mark went to incredible lengths to send a personal letter, making it look as official as possible, but attempting to skirt the laws by copying letterhead and using his own postage.  What a guy.).

Uh-oh.

Blam! Right in the foot.


Austin American-Statesman article, Marty Toohey, March 8, 2008 - Police chief files criminal complaint against mayor, posted March 7, 2008

There has been an ongoing, below-the-radar attempt by Mark and Cindy to get rid of Chief Spratlin.  I did not know why until now.

In my view Chief Spratlin is an honorable man and has been an outstanding police chief for West Lake Hills.  I worked with him during my 12 years on Council and watched as he cleaned up a department that had not yet adjusted to the roles of women and minorities.  He has my unqualified support.

WEST LAKE HILLS

Police chief files criminal complaint against mayor

Mark Urdahl denies that he tried to coerce Cliff Spratlan in collision involving council ally.


AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Saturday, March 08, 2008

WEST LAKE HILLS — Police Chief Cliff Spratlan has filed a criminal allegation with Travis County prosecutors against West Lake Mayor Mark Urdahl.

Spratlan claims that Urdahl tried to coerce him into dropping or altering an investigation into a traffic collision involving another City Council member.

"He tried to force his opinion on me," Spratlan said. "The first thing the mayor said was, 'You don't have to investigate this.' "

Urdahl disputes Spratlan's allegation and says he committed no crime. He says Spratlan is overreacting to a conversation they had in September about a minor collision involving Council Member Cindy Probst, an ally of the mayor's on the deeply divided council.

Urdahl said he was concerned because police appeared to have concluded that Probst was guilty of a hit-and-run before interviewing her.

"I just wanted to make sure they conducted a full and thorough investigation," he said.

Urdahl, who has until Monday evening to file for re-election, added, "I'm tired of people trying to use political innuendo to make accusations."

What will come of the allegation is unclear. Assistant District Attorney Patty Robertson confirmed that the office received complaints about Urdahl in December and said they are being evaluated.

"We're reviewing the matter" but have not launched an official investigation, Robertson said, declining to comment further.

The incident in question happened Sept. 6. Probst was pulling forward out of her driveway about 10 a.m. and had a collision with contractor who was driving to a job site a few hundred feet away, according to Probst and police reports. No one was hurt.

Probst said cars parked along the road blocked her view. After the collision, she said, she talked with the contractor for a few minutes but had to leave because she was meeting her 6-year-old daughter at her school for lunch.

Probst said she gave the contractor her name and phone number and offered to pay his expenses out of pocket because she had been in a collision earlier in the year and did not want to involve her insurance company.

The contractor drove his truck to the job site and then realized the damage was more severe than he had thought, Spratlan said. The contractor called police and filed a report.

Spratlan said police classified the investigation as a "collision leaving the scene" because Probst had not left her insurance information, as state law requires.

Urdahl said he was at City Hall and was told by either Spratlan or City Manager Robert Wood that Probst had been in a hit-and-run. He said that he called Probst and that she told him the situation was mischaracterized.

Urdahl says that he met with Spratlan and that the police chief was convinced Probst was at fault for the collision and a hit-and-run before interviewing her.

"He had come to a conclusion," Urdahl said. "He said, 'We have a hit-and-run.' "

Spratlan said police had not reached a conclusion when Urdahl came to his office. Spratlan said that he insisted he would have to speak with Probst before arriving at a conclusion but that the mayor was already convinced Probst wasn't at fault.

Police ultimately found that Probst was at fault for the collision, Spratlan said, but declined to seek prosecution because she and the contractor had resolved the matter to the satisfaction of both.

Probst said that the police chief's allegations are politically motivated and that Spratlan is retaliating because council members have raised questions since September about the way he is running the Police Department.

The fight between Urdahl and the police chief is the latest chapter in a book of squabbles being written at West Lake Hills' City Hall. The atmosphere there has been sour since Urdahl, Probst and Council Member Katherine Loayza ran as outsider candidates in 2006 and defeated three long-serving incumbents.

Urdahl ran a campaign that pledged a friendlier and more open government, and he says that since he took office, the remaining incumbents have resisted new ideas at every turn. Those incumbents say Urdahl is an irresponsible leader who will twist the truth to serve his purposes.

http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/03/08/0308westlake.html

In its March 13, 2008, the Westlake Picayune covered the story in an article by Laura Hensley:

R. H. Goodrich wrote a letter to the editor of the Picayune on this subject, March 13, 2008


Leadership and the blue rectangles - June 8, 2007

So, I have been having some tongue-in-cheek fun with the ridiculous display of Robin's campaign signs.  I feel a little like we are witnessing some adolescent fit.  

People will make of it what they will.

However, Mark's continuing display of her sign in front of his house in spite of City ordinances and in spite of directions from the City Attorney go beyond infantile display and speak to leadership.  The Mayor is the person primarily responsible for upholding the City's laws.  Mark has demonstrated that some pigs are more equal than others when he defied the fence ordinance.  His display of Robin's signs is the latest example.

This goes to character and leadership.  No more.  No less.


City Council action on abuse of citywide mailings - Westlake Picayune - May 17, 2007


Mark Urdahl - protesting too much, living in glass houses, and beams in one's eye - April 21, 2007

Mark sent out a mailer to the City detailing the contents of the Code of Fair Campaign Practices.  Ok, that's strange, but we're down a rabbit hole, so strange is what we should expect.  Then this week, Mark wrote an article for the Picayune outlining how you can tell whether a campaign is negative or not.

The man who wrote the book on negative campaigning is now wrapping himself in the flag!  He evidently has no shame, only chutzpah.

Following is a quote from his recent Picayune article, providing the standard for evaluation:

    Does the information you receive contain highly emotional, caustic adjectives and phrases or is it verifiable fact?  Does the information you receive contain personalized accusations or is it something objective like an actual voting record, a specific quote or public statement, or an official position on an issue?  Is the person you are hearing from characterizing their position or someone else's position for you?

    Encourage your friends and neighbors to reject negative campaigning: just say no to anyone who feels compelled to make personal and emotional attacks on others unfairly.  Let individuals speak for themselves, not others.  Put your own "Fair Campaign Practices" filter on the information you receive.  Look for factual data, back-up information and public records to support or refute statements that appear suspicious.  If you're hearing something that sounds questionable or "third hand," listen to both sides and ask for verifiable facts.

    There are plenty of meaningful issues to discuss without getting into hearsay, personal attacks and negativity.  Information on key issues such as the history of the wastewater project, information about the budget and tax rates, and public works projects like the brush clean up is available at City Hall.  Take the time to study the issues thoroughly.
     

The following are quotes from Time For Change, Mark's 4-page mailer for his campaign.  I will leave it to you to compare them to the standard that Mark provided in his article, however, you probably have a suspicion that since I selected these quotes, they are all clearly false.

  • ... not a "good-ole boys club" that micromanages your lives but grants themselves exceptions to the rules.
  • During the many years our current Mayor has been in office, there have been no major improvements, except perhaps trash service.
  • Dwight Thompson wants to make the rules but does not want to follow them
  • Dwight Thompson allowed clear-cutting and high-density development.
  • Dwight Thompson ... favors major commercial expansion
  • Dwight Thompson - ten-year legacy of disrespectful government.
  • Letter from former city resident alleging building code violations at Dwight's home without examples or proof.
  • Mark spent 12 years in executive management at IBM
  • he sold (Applied Science Fiction) to Kodak
  • The City has a Master Plan that has been ignored
  • Our current Mayor is more interested in Toll Roads, City expansion ... than preserving our natural environment and repairing dangerous road and traffic situations.

Hmmmm - April 7, 2007

Another day, another mailer from Mayor Mark Urdahl.  Only this one is curious.  Well, most of them have been curious, but this one is different-curious.  Getting self-serving emails from Mark has become routine and elicits a chuckle.  But this one basically says, all the candidates have signed the Texas Ethics Commission Fair Campaign Pledge and here is the pledge.

Now, the pledge is a good thing, but is not required to be filed, and if it is not filed there is no penalty, and if the pledge is not followed, there is no penalty.

So, Mark is spending several hundred dollars of City money to notify us in a newsletter that this has happened?

Have you seen or even heard of this kind of thing in any other city, ever?

Hmmmmmm

Well, Mark does a lot of strange things, so maybe this is just another strange act.

Not as strange as a sitting mayor's being campaign manager for "his" slate of candidates, but strange, nonetheless.

However, Mark is the moving force and the energy behind his slate of Amy, Mike, and Robin.  Could this be an opening move in a political gambit?

I will give 2-1 odds that a complaint to the Texas Ethics Commission from Urdhal's camp is about to follow.  I am just that cynical.

Stay tuned.


Outrageous and strange behavior - March 22, 2007

Last week, Mike Beuerlein, candidate for City Council, sent a letter to the editor of the Westlake Picayune.  It was spectacular in the amount of misleading and false information it contained.  Now it turns out that Mark wrote the letter for Mike and that Mike signed it, effectively without knowing the facts of the matter.  This is at one stroke Machiavellian and weird.

Segueing for a moment.  Mike met with Earl (see Earl's letter to the editor responding to Mike's letter) and I have met with Mike.  (Mike came to my house and we spent about two hours, primarily discussing the sewer system.  Mike comes across as a nice, sincere guy.)  In both meetings, Mike stated that Mark had written the letter and that Mike had signed it.  In both meetings, Mike apologized, said he regretted having done it, and said he wanted to make things right.

Now, it is fascinating for Mark to hang Mike out to dry by associating him with blatant misstatements.

It is interesting that a financial analyst, who should be by nature a bit on the cynical and analytical side, would sign the metaphorical equivalent of a blank check.

It is intriguing that, after having been taken advantage of by Mark, Mike was out going door to door with Mark yesterday.  I'm afraid Mike is a nicer guy than I am.

The pieces to this puzzle do not yet fit together, but sooner or later, they will.

What all of this has to do with fostering respect is not clear.

However, this is nothing short of bizarre and counterproductive behavior.


Mark outdoes himself - March 16, 2007

Beth and I just got in from a night out for dinner.  I opened the mail, and lo and behold there was a West Lake Hills newsletter in which Mark congratulated himself for "Ice Storm Brush Clean Up Completed in Record Time."  (I have Googled world record for brush clean up in a small city, ice storm, but have not been able to come up with which record it is that was broken, but I know I feel proud.)  Comedy has now turned into farce.  Next thing you know, each of the city limit signs will say, "Entering West Lake Hills, Mark Urdahl Mayor."

I am not sure how this newsletter fits with the one I got a couple of weeks ago saying, hold on, help is on the way with regard to the clean up.  I guess what it meant was, hold on, help is on the way in record time.

I thought the press release announcing the new sewer committee plumbed the outer limits of normal behavior, but no.  Evidently, there is no such thing as self restraint when it comes to calling attention to Mark.

So, Mark was criticized in the Austin American-Statesman for not picking the brush up promptly (I reported on it but deleted it after a week, so alas, I can't link you to it).  Mark needs to find a way to win (I am developing a theory that battles with Mark even over pennies are battles to the death.).  So, he declares victory, a new world land record for ice storm clean ups and spends another $5-600 of City money on self-promotion.

I have said before that this is a wonderful opportunity to witness outsized human behavior and soap opera and it is actually fascinating and humorous (it helps that two of my favorite books are Alice in Wonderland and Catch-22, so that I appreciate the absurd.  I have compared Mark to Louis XIV, but I think the better comparison is to the Red Queen.).  Only if it were not in our town.  As I also said before, Willie Brown was a hoot, unless you lived in San Francisco.

Please, please.  For the good of us all.  No more criticisms of Mark in the American-Statesman.  Bite your tongues.  We may get those city limit signs yet.  I have no idea what lies beyond farce, but I have a feeling we will find out.

All together now, 1, 2, 3,  Yay, Mark!

(Seriously, it seemed to have been done well and competently, and the staff did its usual good job.  However ...)


A look back at Mark's campaign - March 13, 2007

An acquaintance asked me the other day if I knew anything about Mark's time at Applied Science Fiction.  I said I knew a little, why.  He said that he would appreciate comment on some statements in Mark's campaign literature.  So, he sent it over.  As I read it, I remembered all the reasons why I established this blog.  His literature is rife with misleading and false statements.  It is truly sad, but no holds barred politics have reached West Lake Hills.  As we look forward to Mark's mounting "his" slate in the current campaign, it is reasonable to look back to the most recent campaign.

Anyway, focusing on ASF and leaving the rest alone for now, in his introductory literature, he describes himself thusly: "Mark spent 12 years in executive management at IBM, then started Applied Science Fiction, which he sold to Kodak; is now Managing Partner of White Dove Partners."

How to make this short?  I know more details than I will relate here, but I will summarize the things I think it appropriate to say, using public documents to say them.  I want to start by saying that I have been involved with entrepreneurship most of my life, and it is hard.  Failure is neither unusual nor, most of the time, to be criticized - it is an inherent part of the entrepreneur's risk-taking process.  The point of this discussion is to review facts and not to pass judgment on any of the actions.  I will address two main points and two quibbles, although I think the quibbles are indicative of Mark's communication style and (lack of) concern for accuracy:  Mark did not sell ASF to Kodak nor was he involved in any way (confirmed by the principals in the transaction), and he omitted the next chapter in his career, which ended as curiously as did the ASF chapter.  The quibbles are that all of the articles written about ASF describe Mark just as this one does: "Applied Science was set up in 1995 by IBM engineer Al Edgar, a technologist and photographer, in conjunction with IBM manager Mark Urdahl."  None use the word, executive, and all use the word, manager, with regard to Mark's time at IBM.  ASF was Edgar's idea and Mark was contacted by Edgar to help get it going - he was co-founder and not sole founder.  (Google "Mark Urdahl Applied Science Fiction" and you can wade through the story, including Mark's description of his reaction on having first been contacted by Edgar.  I particularly like the article in Forbes which states that ASF is run by a trio of people with different styles, one of whom compensates for Mark's "pit bull style.")

At some point, late 90s?, I interviewed for a position with ASF, and may well have interviewed with Mark.  I do not remember the details.  I was looking for a job and was interviewing with many companies.  All I recall is that I was not enthusiastic about their business model, the job was smaller than I wanted and I moved on.  (My not being enthusiastic about their business model is not necessarily an indictment.  A short time later I did not pursue a position with a company that, about 3 months later, was sold for, as I recall, some $300 million.)

ASF raised several rounds of financing, partially a tribute to the concept and to senior management's, particularly Mark's, ability to raise money, and partially a commentary on those crazy times when almost any concept attracted money.

The company planned an initial public offering and began the process of SEC filings and working with investment bankers.

The planned IPO did not happen, and Urdahl immediately left the company.  The Austin Business Journal included the following in its July 31, 2000, edition:  

    "Applied Science Fiction's recent decision to pull its $57.5 million public offering came as little surprise to those who have been following the increasingly scrutinizing stock market.

    But the market was only one of many factors influencing ASF's move -- among them, negotiated partnership deals that fell apart and a business model ready for rehab. All together, those factors have also put ASF's aggressive space growth and hiring plans at a standstill.

    As the digital imaging enhancement company considered those factors, ASF Executive Vice President Dan Sullivan was bumped to president and CEO, and board member Peter Palermo to chairman. ASF co-founder Mark Urdahl, who had served as chairman, president and CEO, resigned "to pursue other opportunities," say ASF executives, who decline to say where Urdahl is now."

I don't remember the exact date, but I would guess that some time in 2002, I was asked by some of ASF's investors to reconsider coming to work for the company.  After interviews, I decided not to pursue the opportunity because I still was not convinced about the company's business model.

In May 2003, ASF was sold to Kodak for an amount which was below the total capital raised, ie, all but the early investors lost money.  Mark had been gone from the company for about 3 years at that point and was not involved in the transaction.

I'm not sure exactly what Mark did after he left ASF.  However, an article in July 2002 has him as president and CEO of StorScape, a company started in October 2001, and a press release out of Ljubljana, Solvenia, dated February 5, 2002, said that, "HERMES SoftLab group (HSL) and Irish company Eurologic Systems have founded a joint venture, StorScape. StorScape will develop and market software solutions for storage resource management."  Then on April 15, 2003, another publication said, "Last July, EuroLogic and Slovenia-based Hermes SoftLab (HSL) formed a jointly owned storage software management firm, StorScape, which planned to use CIM/WBEM-based standards to come out with an open management platform. Last month, HSL bought out EuroLogic's 49% stake and is now the full owner of StorScape. It says StorScape remains a strategic investment, and that its Business Storage Manager for File Systems product is still available in the US and Canada, as well as in Europe. An email-focused version is due in May. It wasn't clear at the time of this report whether or not Mark Urdahl, originally US president and CEO, was still in place at StorScape's original Massachusetts-based US offices."

A Google search on White Dove Partners yielded two hits relating to participation in a China Investment Forum in 2005, and there is no listing for White Dove Partners in the Austin telephone directory.

And that's as much of the answer to the question as is appropriate. - the rest of the story gets worse.


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Articles on this page:

 

Summary

His family speaks

Blam! Right in the foot

Leadership - or not

Abuse of position

Protesting too much

Political gambit

Mark the ghost writer

Self promotion

A look back at campaign

Earl's email response

Mark at his most impressive

Mark's fence

Profoundly disturbing meeting

L Etat c'est moi

L Etat c'est moi - redux

A pattern of behavior

Curiouser and curiouser

Vignette