Pages

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

Tommy Ratliff gets the nod for Hays County Sheriff


Ratliff retired from the Texas Rangers in August after 21 years of service with the Rangers. He served 12 of those years in Ranger Company F, which includes Hays, Caldwell and Blanco Counties


By Bob Ochoa
RoundUp Editor

Retired Texas Ranger Tommy Ratliff was appointed sheriff of Hays County today after a lively two-hour special meeting of the county commissioners court. The meeting was held in open session – not in closed executive session has had been proposed late last week.

The appointment of Ratliff to replace former Sheriff Allen Bridges, who died suddenly on Dec. 6, ended days of speculation and vigorous debate over who would or who should replace Bridges.

Asked if he was surprised with his appointment, Ratliff said, "Sure. There were a lot of good people, a lot of good candidates. You fee real humbled. I don't intend to let anybody down."

Ratliff's name was placed in nomination by Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe, which was seconded by Pct. 4 Commissioner Karen Ford. The final vote was 4-1, with Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley casting the lone dissenting vote.


Ratliff was not considered among the favorites to replace Bridges going into today's special court session. The leading contenders appeared to be
Bridges' Chief Deputy Sheriff Sherman Brodbeck, Bridges' Nov. 4 election opponent Democrat Bill Huddleston, and Buda Police Chief Bo Kidd.

Before his appointment to sheriff, Ratliff was poised to take over the unexpired term of Hays County Precinct 5 Justice of the Peace Lamont Ramage, a Democrat, who is retiring at the end of the year. Asked what he will be bringing to the sheriff's job, Ratliff said, "I am going to bring 23 years of law enforcement experience. I can bring it all together for the safety of our citizens and the benefit of our county."

Ratliff retired from the Texas Rangers in August after 21 years of service with the Rangers. He served 12 of those years in Ranger Company F, which includes Hays, Caldwell and Blanco Counties.


"There were so many important cases that I was involved in
" Ratliff said. The most difficult case for him personally, he said, was the shooting death of DPS Trooper Randy Vetter. Vetter was gunned down during a traffic stop at the Yarrington Road exit and I35 just south of Kyle in August of 2000.

"It affected me emotionally and professionally," Ratliff said, " . . .when you've had a trooper who has worn the same uniform you have. There's a lot of pressure on you as an investigator to make sure you do things correctly; it's a very hard case on you personally."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Let's add a little sunshine to this process of picking a new Sheriff



The jockeying by court members has turned what could be a professional, fair and open search for a new sheriff into a political game and pay to play scramble for those candidates who want the court to consider them

Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net
or codell@austin.rr.com

By Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.


Here’s how I interpret the circus going on in Hays County commissioners’ court as our elected officials jockey to appoint a replacement for Sheriff Allen Bridges who died December 6th.


It’s a horse race with three favorites in the running: Bridges Chief Deputy Sheriff Sherman Brodbeck, Bridges election opponent Democrat Bill Huddleston, and Buda Police Chief Bo Kidd. Back at the starting gate are recently retired Texas Ranger Tommy Ratliff, Austin Police Department supervisor Joe Munoz, and according to Commissioner Conley, a host of other unnamed candidates hiding from the public.


The Bridges family and Republican Conley publicly support Brodbeck, a declared Independent who says he won’t run for office in 2010. Surprisingly, none of the remaining four court members, all Democrats, have expressed any support for fellow Democrat Huddleston, and it appears that only the President and Vice President of Hays County Law Enforcement Association (HCLEA) support Kidd.

Chief Deputy Brodbeck is being handicapped by prominent and repeated reporting of a matter that occurred some twenty years ago in Blanco County. That didn’t seem to play into Bridges decision when he made Brodbeck his Chief Deputy, but by bringing the matter into play now a commissioner can create a horse race to manage for possible political gain. Huddleston supporters point out that he garnered over 25,000 votes in the recent election he lost to Bridges, and could lose another one, this time by just five votes.

This jockeying by court members has turned what could be a professional, fair and open search for a new sheriff into a political game and pay to play scramble for those candidates who want the court to consider them.


Democrat Judge Sumter is pushing hard to convene commissioners’ court behind closed doors in executive session on Monday where they can deliberate/negotiate away from prying public eyes. Conley says he wants a public hearing. I agree with him but I don’t believe him. That’s like him voting against a tax rate hike after he was sure it would pass. Conley just wants to court Bridges moderate Republicans.


Here’s what I believe is really going on in commissioners’ court. One commissioner is shopping to see which candidate will cooperate with him if selected. Two commissioners are looking to court Republican voters in their precincts, and one commissioner will, as usual, just go along for the ride.

If I were a candidate for Sheriff, I would exercise my legal right to request a public hearing. I would much rather have the court members talking to my face in public than behind my back and making closed door deals in executive session. I can just imagine Barton and Conley having their way with the three elected women in executive session.


As co-founder of Hays Community Action Network (HaysCAN) in 2003, Mr. O’Dell strives to carry out the mission of ensuring open, accessible and accountable government.
He is a long time and close observer of the workings of the Hays County Commissioners Court. He earned a degree in Agricultural Education and a Masters in Ag Economics at Texas Tech, and, later, a Ph.D. at The University of Maryland while employed as a Research Economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, D.C. Texas born and raised on a family farm, O’Dell is a Hays County Master Naturalist and a board member of the Ethical Society of Austin.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Grand Juror in PEC investigation resigns, raising questions of due diligence by local DA, AG


Having served on two grand juries and presented cases to others, there is no excuse for Ms. Dahmann to have been allowed to sit on this panel while sensitive criminal investigative information was being provided to the grand jury


Editor's Note: An Austin American-Statesman story reports that Tonya Dahmann has resigned from the Blanco County grand jury that is looking into possible criminal activity at the PEC. Dahman, 46, works in the finance department at PEC's Johnson City headquarters. Concerns were raised after it became known that Dahman may be closely related to former PEC assistant general counsel Will Dahmann, who resigned from the co-op in March.

This latest PEC embroglio has raised questions over due diligence in the investigation by both the Blanco
County DA and state Attorney General. Guest commenter Abel Ruiz addresses some of those questions below.

From the recently released PEC audit by Navigant: "Mr. (Will) Dahmann also routinely received bonuses from PEC, averaging between $15,000 and $20,000 in 2006 and 2007. As with Messrs. Fuelberg and Burnett, Mr. Dahmann received two to three different bonuses in a given year, including a standard bonus allocation approved by the Board, as well as discretionary bonuses approved by Mr. Fuelberg. During the years from 1998 through 2005, with the exception of 2002, Mr. Dahmann received bonuses ranging from approximately $30,000 to almost $45,000. Mr. Dahmann received a Board approved one-time severance bonus upon his departure on March 31, 2008.[Note 380] The payment was equivalent to one-half his current annual salary, or $129,854.40."

Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net

By Abel Ruiz


This should be considered in the best of lights as a total disaster and embarrassment for
the Attorney General's Office and all State of Texas officials.

Having served on two grand juries and presented cases to others, there is no excuse for Ms. Dahmann to have been allowed to sit on this panel while sensitive criminal investigative information was being provided to the grand jury. Every District Attorney (or designated staff) knows who the district judge is considering for appointment to the grand jury, and they have an obligation to oppose a selection if they see an obvious conflict of interest.

The District Attorney or Attorney General has an obligation to ask each potential grand juror to disclose any conflicts of interest they may have in order to prevent a reversible appeal. Ronnie Earle's Office in Travis County often reminded and asked grand jurors about conflicts when a
sensitive case was being presented. He did not want to take a chance on a reversible error at the grand jury level.

In addition to the local DA and the Attorney General overlooking this detail, the General Manager of PEC and PEC's legal counsel were at least morally obligated to tell the Attorney General about Ms. Dahmann since she was still drawing down her PEC salary for either jury or court leave.

If the PEC was indeed interested in doing the right thing for the citizens of
Texas and being a facilitator for good government instead of an obstructionist, they should have insisted that Ms. Dahmann be removed. Yet their silence only means they intentionally wanted to give themselves a legal out of any future indictments.

Unfortunately, a good case can be made by any decent defense counsel that Ms. Dahmann (with any "baggage" or agendas she may have) may have tainted the entire grand jury with her prejudice for these past 3 months. Simply replacing her with a substitute is the typical quick and lazy government way to fix a screw-up by higher officials. In the long run, the cleanest solution is to empanel a whole new panel and maybe in Travis or Hays County instead.


Can't wait to get a copy of the Navigant report and share it with my Certified Fraud Examiner colleagues for their input. Unfortunately, this case seems to be too ETHICALLY big for the State of Texas to handle – that is why similar government fraud cases in Chicago, New York, New Jersey, El Paso, and Dallas are handled by the US Attorneys and local FBI offices.


Hopefully this helps you and yours to stop any fraudulent settlement. The PEC should be first in court tomorrow to stop the settlement. I won't hold my breath.

Just follow the money, and don't forget the obvious

Please do not get intimidated with this PEC story. Yes it is a massive decades long fraud but there are no new fraud schemes here. Any trained fraud investigator can get to the bottom of this with dedication, aggressiveness and time. Always remember the Watergate lesson...."Follow the Money," and not just the money involved in fraud but also the money that allowed the fraud to occur by acts of commission or omission.

Many checks and balances by professionally certified and insured companies (i.e. CPA firms and law firms) should have easily prevented or reported these acts years ago. Just look back at the multi-million dollar lawsuits and settlements that had to be paid by CPA firms and law firms representing some of the big fraudster companies of our time (Enron, World com and even the attorneys and auditors representing the Ponzi frauds discovered these past two weeks in New York).


Any experienced fraud examiner could tell you that something is really wrong with this "investigation" of PEC. First no criminal investigation entity would allow an inside source like Navigant to have a crack of investigating a potential criminal case because of the worry of competence and cover up. Second a grand jury panel should have been empanelled earlier this spring so they could issue search warrants for records at PEC, PEC Board members houses and all Bank Accounts. I would ask how many search warrants have been issued by the Texas Attorney General via the grand jury to date. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number will be zero or less than ten. Dozens should have been served months ago based on known testimony given in the civil trial.


Austin native Abel Ruiz is an internationally certified fraud examiner and a partner with Ruiz & Guevara Consulting Services with offices in California and Texas. His many years of experience include investigating and packaging fraud cases for prosecution.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sen. Fraser, Rep. Rose "Outraged" over findings of independent audit of PEC


"We have always believed that further misdeeds of the PEC Board of Directors and former General Manager would be uncovered."

Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net

The following statement on the Navigant audit report on PEC was issued Dec. 16 from the offices of State Sen. Troy Fraser and State Rep. Patrick Rose.


Contacts: Janice McCoy on behalf of Sen. Fraser (512-463-0124)
; Mireya Zapata on behalf of Rep. Rose (512-463-0647)

Austin, Tx – "We are outraged over the findings in the Navigant Report on the Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) management practices. The allegations that Bennie Fuelberg, former general manager, ordered documents to be shredded, erased data from computers, and funneled over $500,000 in cooperative funds for questionable purposes through the Clark, Thomas & Winters law firm come as no surprise.


"These actions are consistent with Mr. Fuelberg's management style and his long standing policy of keeping cooperative information from members. The inability of the members to elect anyone other than those hand-picked by the Board of Directors contributed to Mr. Fuelberg's complete control of the cooperative.


"We have always believed that further misdeeds of the PEC Board of Directors and former General Manager would be uncovered. While the Navigant review is a good first step toward knowing what truly happened at PEC, we cannot close the door on finding the truth. It is imperative that the Office of the Attorney General continues to aggressively pursue its criminal case against the former leadership at PEC and we support General Greg Abbott in those efforts.


"Members want the whole truth. Unfortunately, Navigant was not able to subpoena uncooperative board members like R.B. Felps, the current board President. Mr. Felps was a board member during the entire 10 year period investigated by Navigant and it is unacceptable that he refused to answer questions.


"We need to get people under oath answering questions about what really went on at PEC headquarters. With a Grand Jury convened in Blanco County, we believe the right questions are now getting asked and answered. We know the Attorney General is working as fast as possible to get a successful resolution to this complex investigation.

"It is our cooperative and it is our money, and as cooperative members, we deserve to know how and why decisions are made. We must work together to get this entity back on track. The current PEC Board of Directors must be accountable to the members. We have called on the Board to make major changes to its management policies. And, while there have been changes toward openness and fair elections, there is still work to be done.

"We are strong supporters of electric cooperatives. The beauty of the electric cooperative system is that members can determine how best to run the system through the election of a board of directors. If members do not like the policies set by the board of directors, they can and should vote them out of office.

"We are committed to ensuring that what happened at PEC does not happen again - at any electric cooperative. As members of the Texas Legislature, we will ensure that all cooperative members have a voice and have the ability to know how and why a board of directors is making decisions. We are working on legislation that would require electric cooperatives to hold open meetings, to have an open records policy, and to have open and fair elections."

Commissioners can't decide who to appoint to replace Bridges as Sheriff


Maybe the best way to determine the next Sheriff is to hold a special election. That way the voters/taxpayers can select who they want for their Sheriff


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net

Editor's Note: Numerous citizens addressed commissioners at their regular Tuesday morning meeting, Dec. 16, advocating for various favorites to replace Allen Bridges as Hays County Sheriff. Bridges died Dec. 6. Commissioners voted to delay naming a replacement until possibly next month.

By Peter Stern


It's a shame Sheriff Alan Bridges died unexpectedly last week. He was a good man and will be missed.


Hays County Commissioners are charged with the legal responsibility to determine a new Sheriff. Apparently, they can't make the decision [
see article].

Does anyone else question the ongoing inability of commissioners to make some hard choices in the best interests of the community? Seems like it isn't the first time and most likely won't be the last.


I voted for Karen Ford and I like her, but she shows a lack of leadership when she wants to postpone selecting a Sheriff until a later date. The decision is not going to get any easier. There is nothing wrong with making a decision when "emotions are running high" if it is an intelligent and reality-based selection without partisan interests being rewarded.


Also, I agree with Commissioner Will Conley when he states the selection should be discussed and made in public and not behind closed doors. Meeting behind closed doors sends a bad message to the people of Hays County. Voters must demand public accountability.


Finally, if the Commissioners are having such a difficult time making the selection maybe the best way to determine the next Sheriff is to hold a special election for the vacant Sheriff position. That way the voters/taxpayers can select who they want for their Sheriff.


Mr. Stern is a Driftwood area resident and frequent commenter on local political issues. His articles appear in a variety of local and regional venues.

What's good for the Goose . . . newspaper applies tough standards to letter writer


You'd think the same standards of fact checking and verification would be applied to its own
reporting

Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net
or codell@austin.rr.com

Opinion

By Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.

Regrettably, Bob Barton and his son, Hays County Commissioner Jeff Barton have long used their newspaper, The Hays Free Press, for political purposes. The result, I believe, is a newspaper with a slant that serves the Barton political goals at the expense of objective information and a public forum with integrity.

This slant includes how letters to the editor are selected for publishing. Editors typically publish letters with the greatest interest and value to the community. Objective editors select letters that are often critical of their newspapers. Open dissent is encouraged.

Read the following letter sent to The Free Press for publication in response to a front page article, and the subsequent e-mail exchange between writer and editor. Then judge for yourself.

Thus far, the letter has not been published.

On Dec 3, 2008, Charles O'Dell wrote: 

Beth, 

Attached is a shorter version as you requested. 

Hopefully, you can embed the Biundo article link on the Free Press.com version. In the hard copy edition please include (Free Press, November 26, 2008) as a reference. 

Thanks. 

Charles 
HaysCAN 



Editor:

Your front page article, Finance violation? is classic Free Press propaganda to shape public perception through misinformation, innuendo and omission.

That Ramus is in trouble once again is not surprising.

Ramus was convicted twice of being a public nuisance, is facing a deadly conduct charge for threatening two citizens with a loaded shotgun, and is now being investigated by the Texas Ethics Commission for numerous Category Two election violations in a sworn complaint.

Also not surprising is the Barton Free Press coming to Ramus’ defense again with a front page article.

Commissioners Barton and Conley together created the public myth of Ramus being a restaurateur and political victim for their own political end – to gain control of commissioners’ court and position Barton to run for County Judge in 2010.

Nick Ramus has never owned or operated a restaurant, but the Free Press always refers to Ramus as a restaurateur or a chef. Ramus was fired from his cook’s job at Southwest Texas State.

Ramus hasn’t applied for a Texas Food Establishment permit in two years despite his non-compliant commercial septic system being permitted by Hays County and District Court Judge Robert Pfeuffer’s screwy ruling believed to be a favor for Hays County Republican Good Ole Boys.

Barton used his Free Press during the recent election to promote Ramus as a viable Republican candidate. Ramus had no campaign signs, relied on the Free Press for free publicity, and on Republicans Conley and Jim Green for campaign funds that Ramus reported using for personal purchases.

Free Press reporter, Jen Biundo attributes Ramus failing to file his campaign financial reports on time as due to “ill health.” But Ramus told a Statesman reporter the reason was because he was “bedridden” for several months: see article.

Ramus has been caught in numerous other lies. Here is another one the Free Press article skated past readers. Ramus said that his campaign account was linked to his personal debit card because of a Frost Bank error. Incredible!

Finally, the Free Press attempts to characterize our sworn complaint as a “feud.” More Ramus damage control propaganda. The HaysCAN mission is to ensure that our laws are enforced and that public officials operate in full public view.

Beth Nelson wrote:

Okay, here we go:

• Ramus was convicted twice of being a public nuisance. *Charles, please provide the proof for this assertion. *

• Ramus was fired from his cook’s job at Southwest Texas State. *I'm eliminating this statement because I can't imagine you could find a credible source to verify something like that about a person's employment history. *
• Ramus hasn’t applied for a Texas Food Establishment permit in two years since his non-compliant commercial septic system was permitted by Hays County, and despite District Court Judge Robert Pfeuffer’s screwy ruling believed to be a favor for Hays County Republican Good Ole Boys. *Charles, I'm going to change this to "...his, in my opinion, non-compliant commercial septic system...*"
• Ramus had no campaign signs, relied on the Free Press for free publicity, and on Republicans Conley and Jim Green for campaign funds that Ramus reported using for personal purchases. *Charles, Ramus got the standard $800 from the Republican Party. We need you to provide proof that he got money from Conley and Jim Green. *

• Ramus has been caught in numerous other lies. Here is another one the Free Press article skated past readers. *Charles, What "numerous other lies"? Please provide proof. * 
* 
* 
*Thanks, Charles. Please remit the proof for the passages that I've mentioned, and we should be good to go unless I have other questions. Regards, * 
Beth Nelson 
Managing Editor, Hays Free Press 
109 W. Center St. 
Kyle, Texas 
512-268-7862 
512-268-0262 (fax)

From: Charles O'Dell
Date: Thu, 11 Dec 2008
To: Beth Nelson

(Edited for style and length)

Beth, 

If I didn't know better I'd think you are working hard not to print my letter.

First item: Are you telling me that you believe I would make such a claim without any official documentation, and that the Bartons haven't checked that out? The Free Press can pick up the phone and verify that in a heart beat. Or go on-line to the Hays County Government web site and check the criminal records. Don't tell me the Free Press went out on the deep end for Ramus without a little due diligence. Is that why the Free Press doesn't want to print my letter?



Item two: Where has the Free Press been the past two years? This information and the backup documentation has been in print several times. With all the supporting articles for Ramus in the Free Press and now you are acknowledging that you didn't know Ramus was fired from Chartwells when they purchased PFM Services, and Ramus filed two suits against Chartwells in federal court? Those suits claim age and race discrimination in firing him and are also in the public domain. I can't believe the Free Press is so in the dark and yet will print such slanted articles about Ramus that are full of unsubstantiated claims.



Item three: Beth, it's not just my opinion. There are at least three P.E.'s who rendered the same opinion, in writing. Look at the two Snowden reports that Jeff Barton, your boss, commissioned as a member of commissioners' court, and the email from David Venhuizen, P.E. that I'm sure Jeff received along with the other commissioners' court members. I've seen the Venhuizen email with Jeff's email address.

Item four: How is it that you know Ramus received the "standard $800 from the Republican Party" but not that he received $150 from Jim Green? Both were reported by Ramus in his late and incomplete financial reports to the TEC, and both were reported in the Austin-American Statesman who got that information from the same public source I did.

Item five: Ramus claimed he was indigent (public record). 
Ramus claims he has a $100,000 OSSF and a million dollar property (public claim unsubstantiated). 
Ramus claims he has attended the worlds most prestigious culinary schools (public claim unsubstantiated). 
Ramus claims he is a restaurateur (public claim unsubstantiated). 
Ramus claims he evolved from a leopard and is a guru in his Toltec Cult. Pick up the phone and ask him.) 


Much of what Ramus swore to in his lawsuit is (not substantiated and Judge Pfeuffer's ruling will be difficult to sustain, much less explain on appeal).

It really appears that you are stalling me and have orders not to publish my letter. If the Free Press is so really out of it on these public matters, why in the world would you print Jen's article that is so off the mark and full of unsubstantiated claims?

You are pressing me for public documents that are easy to obtain, but . . . has the Free Press requested that Ramus document his outlandish claims . . . has the Free Press attempted to document his claims(?) Why are you imposing a different standard on me when you know I have a reputation for sound research?



Please don't play games with me. If you are really uncompromisable as an editor of the Barton Free Press then print my letter. If you are constrained by your orders I understand, but don't play with me. It wastes both of our time and I believe it demeans you.

Charles 
HaysCAN

As co-founder of Hays Community Action Network (HaysCAN) in 2003, Mr. O’Dell strives to carry out the mission of ensuring open, accessible and accountable government. He is a long time and close observer of the workings of the Hays County Commissioners Court. He earned a degree in Agricultural Education and a Masters in Ag Economics at Texas Tech, and, later, a Ph.D. at The University of Maryland while employed as a Research Economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, D.C. Texas born and raised on a family farm, O’Dell is a Hays County Master Naturalist and a board member of the Ethical Society of Austin.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Capitalism is not the problem, it's the Market Meddlers



Our government leaders have intervened so much in our pocketbooks that investor-consumers have come to look upon both the stock market and the real-estate market as pet kittens that spit out hundred-thousand-dollar bills


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net

or arrowbiz@austin.rr.com

By Rocky Boschert

Capitalism, free enterprise and free markets have all been given a bad name recently. Not because they are inherently bad – but because of the people who have meddled with them. When market meddlers, or at least the ones who have power through government authorization, interfere with common sense capitalism, the law of painful unintended consequences will be quick to rear its head. And market meddlers exist at the national, state, and local level.

On the national front, interfering with the markets was clearly a function of the Federal Reserve Board during Alan Greenspan's reign (and to a lesser degree Ben Bernanke). That meddling was a major contributor to the tremendous edifice of debt and speculation that had built up over the past 20 years. Moreover, the abolition of the Glass-Steagle Act in 1999, which kept banks, insurance companies and brokerage firms separate, is also a major cause of the over-speculation, debt mania, and lack of risk management that has been endemic in financial markets since the late 1990s and during the current decade.

Now, like Humpty Dumpty, it has come toppling down, most recently on the heads of more than 500,000 American workers – casualties of the banking sector’s appetite for risky investments they had no understanding of. And these newly and soon-to-be jobless Americans have the right to ask just what their corporate master bosses were doing to receive their huge compensation packages, since generous pay obviously didn't stop management from acting like fools.

Economic muscle cars

Yet there are some happy endings. Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina recently noted one successful example of capitalism unimpeded by outside interference: the vibrant auto industry in his state. In fact, a number of other southern states have the same auto industry happy ending. Not surprisingly, the auto industry in these states is part of the in-sourcing efforts of Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai.

But now, like some 21st century version of Civil War politics, a few southern US Senators with Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota plants in their backyards are balking at giving the Michigan automakers money to retool and produce market competitive cars. They seem to be willing to wreck havoc on national employment stats so their states can prosper at the expense of the rest of America. So much for good 'ol American "all for one and one for all" economic analysis.

Still, as Congress debates the bailout of General Motors et al., without a radical restructuring a bailout could very well be a waste of money. Equally flawed may be the call for more regulation. What helped get us into this mess was not just a lack of regulation but also the failure to enforce the laws already in place.

Had the Federal Reserve Board, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision under both the Clinton and Bush Administrations’ done their jobs, there's no way all the financial institutions could have become so badly impaired, and consumers would never have been allowed to irresponsibly borrow so much money.

Support intelligent solutions

It could be that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson (despite his admirable efforts) and the past and current governments do not understand the root cause of so much of the financial turmoil – the size and scope of the housing bubble. They seem to be operating under the misguided notion that they need to prop up house prices in order to solve the underlying problem.

In fact, the problem may be that house prices are simply still too high relative to consumer incomes. Since the beginning of the decade, consumer incomes have not kept pace with housing prices (or real inflation for that matter). As a result, a housing bubble was inevitable. And unfortunately recently tightened lending standards will put additional upward pressure on home prices. In reality, the price of housing will need to eventually decline to a level that can be supported by real incomes and financial prudent home buyers. Until that adjustment happens, we will most likely remain in a bear market.

A more productive approach toward ameliorating the housing and credit mess would be for the financial institutions and the government to try to figure out just where that level of house prices relative to incomes should be and what the size of those losses would be. Then it could be decided how the losses might be shared among the government, the public and the financial institutions.

Salute the unsung savers

In addition, something should be done for the morale of American consumers who have behaved prudently. They should get some sort of reward, just as those who behaved imprudently are undeservingly going to receive government aid at taxpayer expense. Citizen consumers who have lived within their means deserve some amount of tax-free saving reward, which, by example, would help instill the right kind of financial management skills in consumers.


With a “financial prudence” reward system, no one will feel taken advantage of and smart consumption decisions will be encouraged in others. As it now stands, the government expects the prudent to bail out the reckless, which is inherently unjust.

The future of American capitalism

We have just come through a decade-plus in which the Federal Reserve Board and our government leaders have intervened so much in our pocketbooks that investor-consumers have come to look upon both the stock market and the real-estate market as pet kittens that spit out hundred-thousand-dollar bills. But real markets are not like that at all. They are more like animals looking for weaker prey due to economic inefficiencies. The latter is what we are seeing now.

The era of "pet markets" that almost effortlessly made people richer is probably behind us. That is not to say that Americans can't still get rich through innovation, smartly building businesses, and investing in the markets. But becoming rich will be a lot harder than it has been over the past couple of decades. The withdrawal of unfettered debt access will ensure that limitation.

The upside is maybe Americans will begin again to act financially responsibly rather than blindly believing they have the right to achieve the American dream without earning it. If Americans can make that commitment to themselves, the problem of our economic success will be mostly solved.


On that note, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


Rocky Boschert has resided in Wimberley since 1993. He currently serves as board president of the Katherine Anne Porter School (KAPS) in Wimberley. Mr. Boschert owns and manages Arrowhead Asset Management.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Shaffer resigns from PEC Board


December 12, 2008


Media Contact: Anne Harvey, (830) 868-4933; Austin line, (512) 219-2602


Johnson City, Tx – Barbara Shaffer, District 3 Advisory Director on the Pedernales Electric Cooperative Board of Directors, has announced her resignation from the Board, effective immediately. District 3 encompasses portions of Travis and Williamson counties, including the cities of Cedar Park and Leander.


In a letter sent to PEC Board President R.B. Felps, Shaffer said, “I am grateful for the trust and confidence the membership has placed in me over the last four years. I have thoroughly enjoyed my association with fellow directors, senior management and staff.


“The experience and knowledge gained during my affiliation with this organization have proved invaluable,” Shaffer continued. “I sincerely hope that I have returned adequate service for all the experience I have received. I will continue and always support PEC as a member and community leader.”


Shaffer is vice president of Frost Bank and currently serves on the Cedar Park Chamber of Commerce board of directors, Seton Northwest Hospital Advisory Board and the Cedar Park Library Foundation. She is a member of the Austin Lakeline Rotary Club and has lived in the Cedar Park area for more than 24 years.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hays County Commissioners Court Handcuffed


Certain commissioners have "driven a stake through the heart" of Hays County,
pitting neighbors against neighbors in several political and economic battles

Guest commentary

By Peter Stern

In the figurative sense the five members of the commissioners court have "handcuffed" themselves, unable to work together in the best interests of the entire county community.

Commissioners Court has become a battleground highlighting issues of power and control, blatant animosities, special interests, ongoing conflicts and questionable actions on the part of the commissioners.

The Players:

Team AJudge Liz Sumter and Pct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford

vs.

Team B
– Pct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton and Pct 3 Commissioner Will Conley

Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe, Pct. 1 – the fence sitter and deciding vote.

Several years ago when Hays County voters determined to get rid of the "good ol' boys" Judge Jim Powers and Commissioner Russ Molenaar of Pct. 4, none could foresee the ongoing turmoil that evolved from the current group ruling the county.

Without getting into who the "good" and "bad" players are, it is safe to say that outcomes from this court will not come easy, nor will they be in the best interests of the entire county community. Certain commissioners have "driven a stake through the heart" of Hays County, pitting neighbors against neighbors in several political and economic battles.

The damage of that split will remain until voters replace two players on one of the above teams.

It had better be soon because the county can NOT tolerate and survive further counter-productive turf wars.

Mr. Stern is a Driftwood area resident and frequent commenter on local political issues. His articles appear in a variety of local and regional venues.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

He's Baaack! Conley Wastes No Time in Resurrecting Insider Deal

Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net

Editor's Note: Charles O'Dell wrote an exhaustive investigative report on the manuevering of Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley to have the county purchase the old Wimberley Baptist Church property for $2.4 million and convert it into a city/county government center. Should the deal go through, with the commissioners court's blessing, a small group of local investors would turn a nice little profit. Can we say local government bailout and taxpayer tithing at its best?

See O'Dell's detailed report in the RoundUp's archives, dated Oct. 5, 2008. A follow up from Mr. O'Dell is in the works.

From the Wimberley View Wednesday Dec. 10 2008 edition page one story, "City curbs sidewalk plan":

"A plan for the county and the city to share the expense in purchasing the First Baptist Church building on Old Kyle Road is back on the table. The project apparently stalled due to the elections.

(Wimberley City Administrator Don) Ferguson said council members will be presented with costs associated with the purchase. He expects to have the idea, along with Pct. 3 Hays County Commissioner Will Conley, on the Jan. 15, 2009 agenda."

Letter Writer Calls for Appointment of Bill Huddleston as Sheriff


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net

December 9, 2008


Dear Hays County Judge and Commissioners Court:


My name is James Akers. I am a resident of Hays County, Precinct 443.

The recent death of Sheriff Allen Bridges was certainly unexpected and tragic. It is my understanding the Commissioners Court may move quickly to appoint a replacement. While I would rather see a bit more time allowed for proper consideration for family members and the office itself, I defer to your judgments about the needs of the community and the timing. If you plan to move quickly, I am asking that you appoint Bill W. Huddleston as Sheriff of Hays County.


Mr. Huddleston already has a solid transition plan in mind that stresses continuity of operations using the depth of experience in the Sheriff’s Office valued personnel. He is fully prepared to step into the role. He earned a solid and respectable share of voter support; nearly 26,000 of the 56,000 votes cast for Sheriff were for Mr. Huddleston. Bill’s accomplishment in garnering that much grassroots support demonstrates his ability to mobilize quickly and lead effectively.

I feel that it is in the best interest of the County that Bill Huddleston bring his experience and dedication to the position. We need leadership by someone willing to take the risks and do the arduous works involved in a campaign for public position.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Sincerely,


James P. Akers

Monday, December 8, 2008

PEC: More Discussion on Restructuring of Rates to Give Small Users a Break



Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net

Contact the PEC at www.pec.coop

From Lee Lawrence:

PEC has contracts for commercial users, with different rates, so businesses would not be penalized by conservation efforts. After all, Austin Energy has business customers, too, and that doesn't stop Austin Energy from offering rates which encourage saving energy. I personally would be happy to see PEC institute a rating system as suggested by Mr. Langston (see post below). This would be a great topic for the next annual meeting, or for PEC to address on their website.

Austin Energy also has a 'customer assistance program' similar to the Operation RoundUp described by Mr. Glover in his email. Quite a few co-ops do the Operation RoundUp and maybe that would be an area that PEC would consider, too.


From Mark Glover:


Many cooperatives have an 'Operation Roundup Program', where electric bills are rounded up to the next even dollar amount. The funds collected are usually used to help the less fortunate or to provide grants to local non-profits that help families to meet their obligations. It is best if a non-profit charitable foundation is formed to administer the program. The program can be set up as a voluntary opt-in or voluntary opt-out for the rate payers. This may a solution for PEC to help those in need. Customers can-opt out if this is not of interest to them. The amounts really add up quickly. Here is a link to one cooperatives program:

http://www.palmetto.coop/community/roundup.html

From CB Massmann:


All the businesses that use over 1500 KW will relocate and no longer use or buy any PEC
electricity. Thus making more available. The former employees of these businesses will not be getting pay checks so will cut their usage to under 500 KW per month. Also making more available.

In a message dated 12/4/2008 6:03:04 P.M. Central Standard Time,

stlouis_98@hotmail.com writes:

OK, for the small user of electricity, let's propose a new fee structure: 5 cents per KW Hour for users of under 500 KW per month. 7.5 cents per KW hour for users between 501 to 1000 KW hours per month.


10 cents for users between 1000 and 1500 KW hours per month.


20 cents for Users over 1500 KW Hours. This would encourage conservation and reduce future cost increases.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Republicans' Anti-intellectualism, or 'Boob-baitism,' is a Long Road to Nowhere


The party’s loss of brains leaves it rudderless, without a compelling agenda. Hey, William Kristol, you can’t call your organization a “think tank” if your ideas are bad


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net
or arrowbiz@austin.rr.com

By Rocky Boschert


The main reason for the Republican Party’s defeat at the polls last month is the party’s loss in the national battle for brains. Here are some statistics: Barack Obama won college graduates by 2 points. He also won voters with postgraduate degrees by 18 points. And he won voters with an annual household income of more than $200,000 by 6 points – many of whom would get thumped by Obama’s proposed tax increases. John McCain wowed voters in Appalachia and the South.

The Republicans also lost the battle of ideas and solutions for real problems. They marched into the Presidential election armed with primarily insipid slogans. What about an energy solution? “drill, baby, drill.” Global warming? Make a joke about Ozone Al. Immigration? Send the bums home. How about torture and Guant├ínamo? Wear a T-shirt saying you would rather be water-boarding. Yes, very funny indeed.

And during the primary debates, almost half of the ten Republican candidates admitted that they did not believe in evolution.

The Republican Party’s divorce from their intelligentsia has been building steadily for years. Mr. Bush preferred listening to his “heart” rather than his “head." He filled the government with cronies like horse show executive Michael “heck-of-a-job with Katrina” Brown. And let’s not forget US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the perfect example for the argument to end affirmative action.

Not to be outdone, Mr. McCain dealt with the intricacies of the financial meltdown by looking for villains from 40-year-old Chicago political caverns. And in a desperate attempt to serve boob bait to Bubba, he appointed Sarah Palin to his ticket, a secessionist leaning, runner up beauty contestant who governs the corrupt energy complex, corporate socialism state of Alaska.

Educational and economic trends portend rejection of the 'low road'

If it continues, and it looks like it might, the Republican Party’s anti-intellectualism will exact further devastation for its future. Way back in the 1980’s, the party’s electoral success was driven by its ability to craft a message that resonated with blue collar Democrats (later called Reagan Democrats). It was a message that focused on entrepreneurship, law and order, and national pride. It also gave the party with a popular policy agenda. Now, the party’s loss of brains leaves it rudderless, without a compelling agenda. Hey, William Kristol, you can’t call your organization a “think tank” if your ideas are bad.

Ironically, this cognitive failing within the current Republican Party is happening at a time when the American population is fortunately becoming more educated. A quarter of Americans now have university degrees. Twenty percent of American households earn more than $100,000 a year. Seventy percent of Americans with college degrees call themselves “professionals." The number of jobs requiring problem solving and critical thinking skills has increased three times as fast as employment in general.

Comparatively, the Republican Party’s current “redneck strategy” seems to appeal to a shrinking and backward-looking portion of the electorate.

Why is this happening? One reason is that Chuck Norris-like chop-socky conservatism has lost patience with brain power. Many conservatives – particularly lower-income ones – are more consumed with their fury about immigration, gay marriage, and liberal do-gooders than addressing real solutions for Americans. They take their opinions from deeply divisive talk-radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. And on a bizarre note, they seem to regard Mrs. Palin’s apparent ignorance as something to be proud of.

Another reason for American conservative disarray is the degeneracy of conservative theory itself, similar to what happened to American liberal theory back in the 1970s. Seemingly trapped in an ideological cocoon, conservative thought is now defined by its fringe elements, ruled by a few dynasties and incapable of adjusting to a changing world. The modern conservative movement has little to say about today’s pressing problems, such as global warming and the reasons we got into Iraq, and gets all indignant about xenophobia, homophobia, and stem-cell research. They also keep mindlessly touting the benefits of free market theory with little knowledge of its basic tenets.

Additionally, many conservative leaders are engaged in their own version of what was once called “the treason of the learned.” They have no real heroes (other than Ronald Reagan) and have fallen into constructing cartoon images of “real Americans," such as Joe the Plumber, the Palin family baby machine, as well as some unknown folks in western Pennsylvania.

A Time for Reflection?

How likely is it that the Republican Party will come to its senses? There are some glimmers of hope. Fiscal conservatives worry more and more that their party will continue to lose the business vote, due to its adherence to a mindless form of free market deregulation.

Moderate conservatives are starting to complain that the Republicans are becoming the party of “white-trash pride." Anonymous McCain aides complained that Mrs. Palin was a “whack job." Many old guard Republicans and free markets thinkers endorsed Obama for the Presidency, including the renowned “Economist” magazine.

Unfortunately, the odds in favor of an intelligent conservative renaissance look long. Many conservatives continue to think they lost the US Presidency because they weren’t conservative or populist enough. Unless the Democrats blow it, if Governor Sarah Palin is the future of the Republican Party, the liberal party can almost be guaranteed victory after victory. Ever wonder why we never heard husband Todd Palin (the “first dude”) speak?

Some readers will say I am being mean spirited and kicking the conservative Republican Party while they are down. No, not really. I just want an America where there are persuasive ideas and solutions from all sides. America will be stronger and more interesting that way. In fact, maybe the social conservatives who seem to dominate the Republican Party these days should take it over and move their headquarters to Alaska.

However, even the Democrats need to monitor their own attitude. More and more we see political grandstanding and showboating on their part when it comes to past incidences of corporate irresponsibility and incompetence. When we look at the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac failures, Democrats need to take responsibility for its own cronyism and regulatory incompetence plaguing the current American economy.

Democrats could do with a little self assessing, too

Moreover, the Democratic Party must move away from its own dynastic tendencies and stop working from the belief that re-instituting the same old people in new positions of power is somehow going to recreate the questionable successes of the Clinton years. Remember, it was Clinton’s tenure that brought in NAFTA and allowed the repeal of the Glass-Steagle Act in 1999, a primary cause of our current economic crisis.

What America really needs is a new national third-party that adopts the best of both conservative and liberal tenets and even creates some of its own 21st century values. It could be called the Economic Common Sense Freedom Party, “headquartered” in thousands of local offices spread all over America and linked together by the internet.

It would be truly fiscal conservative – promoting the survival and success of small businesses – not bailing out spoiled, lobby money driven multinationals. It would be a party that focuses on decentralized, education-based environmental policies and fiscally responsive public and private education based on secularism and future thinking global economy skill building.

It would be a party that focuses on abortion as an education and prevention based issue that promotes responsible moral decision making and free will (a Christian tenet). Women should not be forced by law to be broodmares for the state. And regarding the homophobia inherent in the social conservative movement, I believe Jesus would have taken the same stance as the US Constitution when it comes to the individual rights of all Americans. A healthy American political party would do so as well.

In the end, a majority of voters on November 4 declared loudly that social conservatives need to live their lives the way they want and leave everyone else alone. Cultural diversity in America is just too complicated to be governed by a small cadre of angry, self-righteous political preachers. Besides, Americans are ultimately more concerned about feeding their families, keeping their jobs, educating their children, and being able to retire securely. America is a huge country with over 200 million people. It should be respected as such.

If the last eight years should have taught Americans one thing it is this: It would have been much more productive to intelligently “Question Authority” rather than robotically “Honor Thy Father.”


Rocky Boschert has resided in Wimberley since 1993. He currently serves as board president of the Katherine Anne Porter School (KAPS) in Wimberley. Mr. Boschert owns and manages Arrowhead Asset Management.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Follow-up to PEC Santa Letter, on Rate Adjustments


It is my understanding that the PEC is planning to conduct a cost of service study in the near future. Very close attention should be paid to that effort to ensure that costs are allocated fairly to each rate class

Email your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net

(Scroll down to see Santa ltr)

From Merle L. Moden


A discussion of PEC electric rates and whether or not subsidies are or
are not to be provided is premature. First, the cost of service for each major cost component must be determined on a fair and even-handed basis, then those costs are spread among the various rates classes on the basis of cost causation. Then, and only then, should a discussion commence regarding any preferential rates.

I suspect that the current meter charge (also referred to as a customer
charge) is not justifiable on a cost basis. It is my understanding that the PEC is planning to conduct a cost of service study in the near future. Very close attention should be paid to that effort to ensure that costs are allocated fairly to each rate class.

Since PEC does not generate any of its own power, it begs the question
whether conventional cost determination processes should be applied to determine rates for the PEC members for costs of generation. If LCRA rates paid by the PEC are flat and have no demand charges, then a flat charge per kilowatt hour would be a justifiable on a cost basis. Within this context, however, it is clearly within the authority of the PEC Board to set rates that encourage conservation and discourage wasteful consumption, i.e., lower rates for low consumption and higher rates for higher consumption.

It is important to be vigilant about the cost of service study planned
by the PEC, especially in determining costs of generation. Commonly-used cost of service models advanced by consulting firms who represent almost exclusively industrial ratepayers produce results for generation costs that are tantamount to fraud. The fraud occurs when generation costs are bundled, that is, the capital and operating costs of all generators are lumped together, and not examined on the basis of each generators' costs and utilization. The result of this is that generation costs are not allocated on a cost causation basis.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Lifting the Veil: Onward to Transparency and Functional Politics


As residents of the Hill Country, we are struggling to maintain the ecological health of our environment. As we search for ways to find an adequate defense system, we keep bumping into an “inconvenient truth” . . .


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net

Guest Commentary . . . stay tuned

By Dorothy Knight

WIMBERLEY – The memoirs of Africans who were brought to the US as slaves, especially the memoirs of black women, frequently speak of covering with a veil the events too horrific to describe. “Drawing the veil” is a euphemism that denotes a boundary beyond which many writers in the 1800’s stopped short. Such notions have not limited modern biographers; in fact, they are often compelled to not only lift the veil obscuring the truth but to shred it into pieces in the process. However, the search for truth and truth telling is still precarious in the political realms of today.


As we begin an era that is being defined by a call for transparency in political dealings, the need to know truth is manifesting: The economic policies that we followed blindly have resulted in financial chaos; the wars we are fighting in the Middle East are costing far more in human life and national resources than we ever intended; and the state of the environment is more precarious than ever. We are pinning our hopes on a new leader who can bring about change through his personal and political clarity. And he happens to have a genetic background that identifies him as an African-American. As individuals and as a country we will have to go beyond the perceptions that have limited us for so long in order to find new solutions to old problems.


On a local level, the need to know truth is also manifesting. As residents of the Hill Country, we are struggling to maintain the ecological health of our environment. As we search for ways to find an adequate defense system, we keep bumping into an “inconvenient truth”: Many of the people we have trusted to help us protect our natural resources do not share the perception that development will endanger not only our water and land but the quality of life we came here seeking. And unfortunately, the public discourse needed to clarify these perceptions is missing. The result is a sense of betrayal that is sometimes both overwhelming and disheartening.


As individuals, we are facing distinct choices: Will we take a stand for what we believe is right and will we follow through with effective action? We all have a significant part to play in the movement to transparency and functional political policies. The biblical observation that we see “through a glass darkly” is as accurate today as ever. If we truly want to see more clearly and understand more deeply, we will have to “lift the veil” with a personal commitment to not only search for truth, but empower it with our actions.

___________________________

Editor's Note:


The hills of western Hays County, Year 2018

Will this be the fate of our hills and dales in southern and western Hays County after the surface water from LCRA arrives? To find out, drop State Rep. Patrick Rose a line. Ask him what progress he's making in clearing the way for an inter-basin transfer amendment in the state water plan that will allow this to happen . . . patrick.rose@house.state.tx.us or info@patrickrose.com While you're at it, you might want to ask Mr. Rose if he plans to run for a 5th term in 2010. Word has it he'll be skipping out while the gettin's good.

A Dear Santa Letter to PEC General Manager Juan Garza


Please drop the $20 meter fee for small power users, and stop that late fee that is so unkind to many people


Email your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net

Dear Mr. Garza:


We just got our electric bills for November. I want you to have a specific set of numbers from a bill of one of my neighbors, we will refer to her as "Aunt Bea." Aunt Bea is a widow, in her eighties, lives alone and gets around on her scooter.


Aunt Bea's bill for November, 2008 was $51.93 for the use of 299 KWHs.
This averages out at 17.4 cents per kwh.

Referring to my bill from Austin Energy, this amount of power would cost Aunt Bea only
$27.53. 299 kwh cost $24.40 more with PEC, that is 87% more.

This is my point. PEC is gouging the little people and favoring the big users. You are also hitting the folks who try to cut back and CONSERVE energy since you increase the kwh cost as they use less power.


If you were to eliminate the $20 meter fee on her bill, Aunt Bea would only pay 299 kwh X 10.67 cents = $31.90, still 16% more than Austin Energy's cost.


While I am on my soapbox, this matter of hitting people with a $30 dollar charge for late payment is really hurtful. The hurt is unkind and heartless. Many folks just get the money a few days late and have to pay that penalty, it can almost double their monthly bill.

I do not suppose that you affluent people have much contact with the small Customer-Owners. I suppose that about 20% of them would be helped, big time, by elimination of the Meter Charge for those using less than 800 KWH.


Best Regards,

Paul Langston

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Good Old Boys Ride Again, Part II: A Short History, the Heirarchy and the Players



There are four basic roles in the Hays County GOB network – Financial, Dirty Tricks, Enforcement and Worker Ants. Some are involved in multiple roles.

Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net
or codell@austin.rr.com

I know of no safe repository of the ultimate power of society but people. And if we think them not enlightened enough, the remedy is not to take the power from them, but to inform them by education.
-- Thomas Jefferson

By Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.

The good ole boys (GOB) establish power over our democratic society by routinely misinforming voters who trust their elected officials. With few exceptions, candidates financially supported by special interests and endorsed by local power structures overpower citizen financed candidates. Those few citizen financed candidates who are elected face relentless attacks from the GOB. And slowly but surely the GOB extend their culture to much of the operating county government. This is where Hays County is today.

The Hays County GOB culture is rooted in our predominately rural and small towns dominating each county precinct. And despite recent population growth, the county remains rural, small town and now suburban. This scattered county population provides the ideal demographics for perpetuating an established GOB culture. Commissioners Barton and Conley created a county East/West class divide and both have effectively split their political parties to win elections. The GOB divide-and-conquer tactic is successful only when voters believe half truths, misinformation and omissions.

Relocated in and around our small towns, most suburbanites are still tied to their Austin jobs and amenities. These new folks are less interested in Hays County politics, but very interested in roads leading to Austin. Few know where commissioners’ court is held, and fewer yet have ever attended a commissioners’ court session. These voters were fertile ground for selling the $207 million road bond when our national election drew large numbers of suburbanites to the polls.

Our trusted special interest financed GOB officials, in close concert with the special interest-financed Hays Families for Safe Mobility Political Action Committee, told voters the road bond was about traffic safety and mobility. A majority of voters believed that well publicized and repeated message despite zero evidence to support the safety and mobility claims for major road projects. Official evidence to the contrary was suppressed.

What also has changed with population growth in Hays County are the stakes. In 2001 the County road bond was $45 million and about county roads. In 2008 it is $207 million and encompasses state roads and the Federal Interstate Hwy. Money is fundamentally what drives the GOB, and access to public money is the end game. With special interest financing on the front end and public financing of the official message on the back end, GOB are able to establish power over our democratic society by routinely misinforming voters who trust their elected officials. Such was the case with the 2008 road bond.


The GOB system is self perpetuating. Hays County GOB have established some degree of control over most of the strategic county governmental functions.

Development permitting and road maintenance personnel, the two most important county functions, are totally loyal to Barton and Conley. This has been demonstrated time and time again, most notably in the Nick Ramus, Florinda Martinez and Wimberley First Baptist Church debacles.

Few if any county employee will say no to Barton and Conley, fearing for their jobs or some other form of retribution. In return, nepotism and a system of favoritism abound as part of the culture. Even the new District Attorney, who narrowly won her race with help from the Barton’s, has shown a propensity to cover the GOB backsides. This was demonstrated in her lightening fast and shallow “investigation” of two complaints regarding misuse of public road resources for private and political purposes, when she found in favor of the perpetrators.


And if you are well connected you can negotiate favorable consideration from the county’s Chief Appraiser, as occurred with the Wimberley LLC, a group of insiders who benefited from a deal made in heaven involving the Wimberley First Baptist Church property. And so it goes.

The hierarchy, the players and their specific roles

Who are these Hays County GOB and how does their network operate?


There is a hierarchy of players and specific roles. Player positions may shift and overlap from one election to the next, but for the most part the pack has remained intact. Through years of observation, interaction and research, this is how I believe the hierarchy exists today.


There are four basic roles in the Hays County GOB network that I label Financial, Dirty Tricks, Enforcement and Worker Ants. Some are involved in multiple roles.


Financial


The GOB top financial rung belongs to local developers Randal Morris, Terry Gilmore, Houston attorney John O’Quinn, and Tom Loomis, president of Loomis Partners, an Austin engineering firm.

Morris funds, among others, Commissioner Conley and San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz. Gilmore has close ties with Pete Winstead and his huge Austin lobby law firm. That means Gilmore can reach to the state level for help. And Loomis, in a conflict of interest, is currently drawing down on the county’s $1 million Habitat Conservation Plan, but has his hands in many other Hays County projects. A development project with a Loomis connection was involved in one of the DA’s road investigations. There are other special interests financing the GOB but these currently are the top dogs in Hays County.

Dirty Tricks


Big shot attorney Charles Soechting, who runs O’Quinn’s San Marcos law office, and Mike Moeller of Wimberley both help concoct the Karl Rove dirty tricks that are meant to keep Barton and Conley in office, and position Barton for a run at county judge in 2010. Soechting uses his questionable Democrat Party credentials to split the Party, as he did during the recent election when he denounced fellow Democrat and challenger Steve Klepfer as a surrogate for County Judge Liz Sumter, and endorsed Republican incumbent Will Conley.


Enforcement


Soechting also plays a major role in GOB enforcement, and is probably responsible for recruiting other legal players, Skip Newsom and Kelly Higgins. Newsom represents Ramus in his Barton/Conley inspired suit against Hays County, and Higgins is Ramus’ defense attorney in a deadly conduct charge to be heard in an April 2009 jury trial, unless our DA drops the case under GOB pressure. Nick Ramus fancies himself as a major player but he is really just a Worker Ant and political tool of Barton and Conley to use against Sumter.

San Marcos Republican Jim Green is the Ramus go-between for Conley and Soechting. This makes Green a Worker Ant. Green, and the Conley controlled Hays County Republican Party, financed the Conley inspired Nick Ramus election campaign with contributions of $150 and $800, respectively. Ramus was tapped to run against Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe after Conley’s first pick, Joseph De La Certa was discovered to be living in Precinct 3. Ramus is also in trouble with the Texas Ethics Commission for alleged election violations.

Worker Ants


The list of GOB Worker Ants is long, and not all Worker Ants are equal. At the top of the list are former county judge Eddy Etheredge, Winton Porterfield, former Pct 3 County Commissioner Bill Burnett and Bob Barton. Barton also works with Lupe Carbajal and Bill Cunningham. Except for Barton, these top Worker Ants are on the payrolls of engineering and development firms who finance the GOB candidates.


Barton runs the GOB media propaganda machine through an alliance of The Free Press and Dripping Springs News-Dispatch newspapers, and on-line affiliates Free Press.com, SanMarcosMercury.com and Newstreamz.com.


There is also an independent group of Precinct 1 GOB comprised of Ruben Garza, Ralph Gonzales, and Gary Ingalsbe, husband of Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe. Garza is Executive Director of Southside Community, a non-profit organization and conduit for public funds, including county funds sponsored each year by Commissioner Ingalsbe. Southside provides a political base of support for Commissioner Ingalsbe through the efforts of Garza and Gonzales.


Gonzales is Commissioner Ingalsbe’s father and handler, and Gary Ingalsbe is the highest paid employee in the county road department. Jerry Borcherding, PE, heads up the combined road department that is rife with nepotism, and environmental health department infested by another cadre of GOB Worker Ants.

Most notable are Tom Pope, Bob Pratt and Bucky Smith. These are low level Worker Ants but they do the bidding of Conley and Barton when it comes to approving development plats and on-site septic facilities.

The primary officials who use the direct power of their offices to protect the GOB infrastructure, execute GOB strategies and deliver the goods to special interests are Commissioners Conley and Barton, and San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz. Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe protects her Precinct 1 GOB as a swing vote and is now committed to Barton and Conley.


What’s next that voters should be watching for?

The biggest effort will be dispensing the Barton and Conley $207 million road bond spoils to their special interests. It’s already begun. At the Tuesday Nov. 25 Commissioners’ Court, Barton will sponsor his former assistant, Theresa Schwartz, for a piece of the action (Agenda Item 18).


Barton, Conley and Ingalsbe will vote down any attempt to appeal the Ramus District Court ruling against Hays County even though it will damage the county’s ability to enforce its laws. Their arguments will be about saving legal costs, and “When is this going to end?”


Soechting will work to get the deadly conduct charge against Ramus dropped so Barton and Conley can continue their dirty tricks to discredit Judge Sumter.


Conley will bring back his expensive and outlandish Wimberley First Baptist Church government center project, and begin his efforts to carry out retribution against those who have opposed him.

Ingalsbe will bring forth the new $30 million government center project creating additional county debt and higher property taxes.


The 2008 election is behind us and voters have returned to their daily lives, leaving the Hays County GOB to feast and retaliate against those who opposed them and to prepare their dirty tricks for the 2010 election. The GOB media will publish their spin to fool our voters again, and we will continue to call for accountability of our elected officials.

As co-founder of Hays Community Action Network (HaysCAN) in 2003, Mr. O’Dell strives to carry out the mission of ensuring open, accessible and accountable government. He is a long time and close observer of the workings of the Hays County Commissioners Court. He earned a degree in Agricultural Education and a Masters in Ag Economics at Texas Tech, and, later, a Ph.D. at The University of Maryland while employed as a Research Economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, D.C. Texas born and raised on a family farm, O’Dell is a Hays County Master Naturalist and a board member of the Ethical Society of Austin.