Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Disenchanting Forrest


By Charles O’Dell, Ph.D.

When Allen Walther, long time Director of Hays County Environmental Health Department, retired in January 2007, there was a palpable sigh of relief throughout the county.

It was an opportunity to bring professional management, competency and integrity to the county’s subdivision platting and on-site septic permitting processes. It was an opportunity to reform and rehabilitate the county’s failed Environmental Health Department. Hays County Commissioner Jeff Barton had other ideas.

Commissioner Barton, having served as county commissioner in the 1990’s before being voted out of office, knew he could rely on the EHD personnel for his needs and had to get the right replacement for Walther. Barton also knew that he had a green County Judge and Precinct 4 Commissioner to work with, and wasted no time in getting his man hired as the Interim Director.

Barton’s first move was to sponsor his replacement for the open position and to have Human Resources advertise in such a way as to appear to meet the legal requirement for open hiring, but not attract the right professional candidates.

Barton had the Interim Director position wired for his guy who was unqualified but who would be grateful to Barton. Barton needed to make sure a qualified candidate didn’t respond to the HR advertisement.

This was accomplished in two ways. First, the position for which ads were published called for a Design Review Consultant. Google that title and see what you get. It won’t be an Interim Director of Environmental Health Department.
Then to further limit the possibility of someone qualified applying, HR advertised in the San Marcos newspaper and posted the bogus position announcement on the Texas Chapter of American Planning Association web site for twenty eight days.

Despite an Open Records request for all documents related to advertising for an Interim Director, the APA ad wasn’t provided.
Despite efforts to avoid attracting qualified candidates for the Interim Director position, one highly qualified professional did respond. This respondent was not only a Ph.D. and a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, but he also had very relevant work experience and taught at a large Central Texas university. He was somehow passed over.

Barton’s man, Thomas L. Forrest, had kicked around Texas and Florida, and while having a pleasant demeanor had no practical experience for the position of Interim Director. Instead, Forrest is what is generally referred to as a bureaucratic hack. That is someone who can talk the talk but has no project leadership experience and instead embeds himself in a group effort for which he takes credit greater than his contribution. To the uninitiated a hack’s resume’ can appear impressive.

Commissioners’ court met in executive session for twenty five minutes and then voted to hire Forrest as Director of Planning and Environmental Health on an interim basis not to exceed the end of the 2007 fiscal year (September 30, 2007) as a temporary employee of the county but not eligible for county benefit package. His salary was set at $7,500 per month effective March 5, 2007. Barton spoke of the need for this position to be involved in planning issues.

Documents obtained in two subsequent Open Records requests reveal three disturbing results:
1. Forrest was paid over $63,000 in wages, and as a consultant.
2. There isn’t any record of work output for which Forrest was allegedly hired.

3. Barton caused Forrest to be paid more than $10,000 beyond what was authorized by commissioners’ court, and directed Forrest without court authority.

Whether Forrest remains on the county dole isn’t clear. Only Barton knows for sure. And to cover up the disenchantment, Barton engineered the merging of Environmental Health Department with Road and Bridges Department and naming county employee Jerry Borcherding, P.E. as the new director. Forrest stayed on as a paid consultant to help Borcherding make the transition.

Open Records documents also show there wasn’t any cost/benefit analysis, needs assessment or justification study for combining the two departments, but that’s the subject of another Roundup report.

As co-founder of Hays Community Action Network (HaysCAN) in 2003, 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.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Clear and Present Danger

By Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.


Nick Ramus has been caught in a problem of his own making by constructing a non-compliant on-site septic facility (OSSF) for his proposed restaurant (Texas Heritage Kitchen), and Hays County Environmental Health Department OSSF Programs Manager Tom Pope is failing in his duty to enforce state and county OSSF Rules.

Over a period of five years, Ramus and Pope have ignored state and county OSSF rules to the detriment of county taxpayers, and the public health, safety and welfare if commissioners’ court fails to have the illegal non-compliant OSSF removed without expense to the county taxpayers. Required permit application information, criteria for a compliant OSSF, and basic calculations are identified in this article.

Challenging the Official Line

When the public reads about Nick Ramus suing the county because commissioners' court revoked his so called commercial OSSF "permit," many are led to believe that the county treated Ramus unfairly. Not so. It is Ramus who has treated the public unfairly.
Ramus knowingly failed to comply with the state and county OSSF rules that protect our public health, safety and welfare, and public officials responsible for enforcing those rules actively went along with the Ramus violations.

Following The Rules

There are three basic steps to installing an OSSF in Hays County: (residential or commercial)

1. Make an application
2. Receive an Authorization To Construct
3. Pass a final Inspection and receive a permit to operate the OSSF

Making An Application

An applicant must contact the local permitting authority where the OSSF is located. In Hays County this is Tom Pope, OSSF Program Manager in the Environmental Health Department.
For Pope to have legally authorized Ramus to even begin installation of an OSSF, Ramus would have had to provide specific information that Pope could review for compliance with specific health and safety rules. Ramus should have at a minimum included the following in his application:

1. Acreage (Ramus must have sufficient acreage for his home and a restaurant.)
2. Easements and set-backs (areas that are subtracted to establish usable acreage)
3. Soil type (Ramus has clay soil that requires a state approved proprietary OSSF)
4. Number of proposed restaurant seats (Ramus claims 100 seats, and serving lunch and dinner plus catering)
5. An OSSF design for sewage treatment and effluent disposal system
6. An OSSF maintenance contract with a licensed maintenance provider

Based on this information Pope should have determined the following:

- Texas Heritage Kitchen would produce 8,400 gallons of wastewater daily.

A. 100 seats x 35 gallons per seat x 2 meals per day = 7,000 gallons of wastewater per day.
B. Plus 20 percent of 7,000 for catering = 1,400 gallons of wastewater produced per day (8,400 total gallons of wastewater produced per day)

So Ramus would need to construct an OSSF that was legally capable of treating 8,400 gallons of wastewater each day and have sufficient acreage to legally dispose of the treated effluent. (Any OSSF with a capacity of 5,000 or more gallons per day can only be permitted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Hays County is only authorized to permit an OSSF treating less than 5,000 gallons per day.)

Based on the Hays County rules for On-Site Sewage Facilities,

- Ramus’ restaurant requires: 8,400 gpd/350 gpd (see source below) = 24 net acres for treated effluent disposal. (Ramus - THK, LLC own a total of only 2 acres)
- An additional acre is required for the Ramus residential septic system.
- Bluebonnet Electric and Crystal Clear Water Supply both have easements that must be subtracted from the available acreage and state law prohibits driving across an OSSF disposal field.
- Ramus also failed to observe set-back requirements from property lines or set-backs from easements.

Authorization To Construct

When the initial application is deemed to be in compliance with the OSSF rules, the applicant is then permitted to begin construction of the approved designed OSSF. A maintenance contract is to be provided at this time, and an affidavit to the public filed at the County Clerk’s Office under the systems legal owner’s name. No soil should be disturbed until an Authorization To Construct has been issued. Photos show that Ramus violated all of these requirements and Pope allowed it.

Final Inspection

When the approved OSSF has been installed by a licensed installer, a maintenance contract that was approved with a licensed maintenance provider is in place, and the OSSF passes a final inspection, then and only then can a permit to operate be issued by the Hays County Environmental Health Department. (EHD) Pope and Ramus both knew his OSSF was illegal.

The Ramus OSSF

The state legislature enacts laws and commissioners’ courts adopt them locally. Enforcement of the adopted OSSF Rules is not optional, it’s required.
Ramus didn't comply with any of the OSSF requirements and yet Tom Pope created official documents claiming that Ramus did. Why would Pope not enforce the OSSF Rules? Why indeed, but the evidence speaks for itself.

Ramus, working in concert with OSSF Programs Manager, Tom Pope created the problem and both need to be held accountable, and not at the expense of county taxpayers.

Source: Hays County Rules for On-Site Sewage Facilities Section 10 Amendments, 10.1 Facility Planning, (a) Land Planning and Site Evaluation, (3) Business, Commercial or Industrial, (B) Have a surface acreage of at least one (1) acre for each living unit equivalent (LUE) per day. An LUE is defined as three hundred and fifty (350) gallons of sewage per day.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Mega Subdivision Planned West Of Wimberley

Editor's Note:
A spokesman for the subdivision's sales office has confirmed that many lot reservations have already been filled for the first phase of the development.

By Jim McMeans

I want to alert you to a proposed subdivision that is currently under review by the Hays County subdivision planning staff and the county attorney's office. The proposed subdivision is west of Wimberley about five miles on RR 2325.

As proposed it will consist of 675 acres of land extending from RR 2325 to Fischer Store Road. The subdivision is proposed to be a dense, urban style development with 470 homes on 1.0 to 3.0 acre lots. Approximately 70 acres of the land area would be reserved for private open space, lakes, and a recreation building.

The developer states that he is currently in discussion with an adjoining 500 acre land owner to add his property to the True Ranch subdivision. This acreage could add another 350 homes to the project if developed at the same density standard.

The project is being prepared for preliminary platting before the Hays County Commissioners Court. Although no publicly known approvals have been given for the development, the owner/developer has proceeded to develop dirt roads, build several large dams on the local creeks, cut channels, move 1000's of cubic yards of dirt, and drill test wells. There is a sales center under construction on the entrance at RR 2325 and the developer is pre-selling lots on a reservation basis.

The developer has said that his water source for the project will be one of three options: 1) A pipeline from a Canyon Lake area supplier; 2) Wimberley Water Supply Corporation; or 3) Aqua Texas. Sources 2 and 3 are both from groundwater wells. Such an extensive development, if served by groundwater, would sorely tax the capacity of the aquifer that supplies about 2,500 existing residential wells in the area and would undoubtedly impact the flows from Jacob's Well. Water from Canyon Lake, if available, would have to come through a long pipeline extended from the vicinity of the new Canyon Lake High School.

I am very concerned that this style of dense development would negatively impact the Wimberley area in a number of ways and plan to make myself heard before the Hays County Commissioners Court. Check out the website for the development at .

Jim McMeans, a civil engineer, lives on land nearby the proposed development.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A High Stakes Suit


By Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.

The THK, LLC (aka Nick Ramus) suit against Hays County is central in the high stakes political struggle going on in commissioners’ court. The political contest pits Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton against County Judge Liz Sumter, as Barton attempts to clear the way for his road agenda and determine who rules the roost in Hays County.

The legal struggle is simply a matter of opportunity for Ramus created by Barton’s political agenda, but it’s an important legal test for our public security – whether government can enforce its laws to ensure the public health, safety and welfare.

Last year Judge Sumter led a court majority to revoke a septic permit that Environmental Health Department OSSF Programs Manager, Tom Pope issued to Ramus for a system Pope, from all indications, knew didn’t comply with our county and state OSSF Rules. Barton saw the court action as a threat to his influence in the Environmental Health Department, and an opportunity to embarrass and discredit Judge Sumter if the county settled a suit before it came to trial.

Barton may have succeeded in his efforts except for the intervention of an adjoining property owner who stood to bear the consequences of the non-compliant septic system.

The final legal round was conducted this past Wednesday, March 12 when District Judge Robert T. Pfeuffer heard oral arguments by attorneys for the plaintiff (Skip Newsom), the county (Robert Bass) and the citizen intervener (Michael Marcin). Each was asking Judge Pfeuffer to rule for his client’s interests. Judge Pfeuffer is expected to give a written decision soon.

Held in County Court of Law Judge Margie Hernandez’s courtroom at the Justice Center in San Marcos, there was nothing in the oral arguments that hadn’t already been filed with Judge Pfeuffer. The Judge noted that he had read all the attorney filings and had expected to hear the case in early January.

Skip Newsom, attorney for the plaintiff delayed the hearing for months. During that time, Precinct 2 Commissioner Barton sought commissioners’ court approval of an OSSF variance for the Martinez family living in Precinct 1. This would have given Ramus another argument in his suit against the county. That effort failed when Barton’s plan was exposed in commissioners’ court on January 29.

A clumsy last ditch effort to create political cover for the legal drubbing they were facing in district court the next day occurred during commissioners’ court March 11 meeting. Jim Green published his ill timed letter on stating he had inside information that a settlement was in the making during commissioners’ court executive session. It appears Commissioner Conley gave Green the green light to publish his insider “scoop” before Conley received word that executive session was being delayed. It was too late. Green had already published his letter. Conley and Green ended up with egg on their faces.

Not only does the county have authority to revoke an illegal permit, but also the duty to revoke it, regardless of how the permit was issued. A settlement with Ramus might take some of the political sting out of the legal loss Barton and Conley face, but it would make fools of those who rewarded Ramus and the county employees who covered for Ramus.

Ramus has gone from a convicted public nuisance to running as Conley’s Republican candidate for precinct 1 county commissioner on what he calls a “stop the government power grab” platform. In fact, Ramus has a history of using pro se suits to gain financial settlements from those who exercise their legal rights. We wonder who financed this Ramus suit.

Ramus has made many public claims about his background but has failed to document a single claim. He claims to have trained with the best chefs in the U. S. and attended European culinary schools but has yet to document those claims with a diploma, certification or letters of recommendation. Our research shows Ramus was a cook at Southwest Texas State, and not a very good one at that, according to student letters to the editor of The University Star.

Ramus claims the Texas Heritage Kitchen is valued at a million dollars with a $100,000 septic system in place. He has never documented these incredulous claims. Hays County tax records show to the contrary that his “million dollar property” is appraised at about $48,000. Show us his receipts for $100,000, and records of property valued at one million dollars.

These and other undocumented claims by Ramus would not have been taken seriously by anyone had he not been supported by county officials and employees such as Barton, Conley, Tom Pope, Tom Forrest and others who appear to have their own political agenda.

HaysCAN relies on public documents and official records when analyzing matters such as this, and our research shows a different Nickolas G. Ramus than the one he would have us to believe.

It’s a perfect storm that has gone badly. Pope misapplied the OSSF Rules. Barton and Conley are using the Ramus suit for their political agenda, and Ramus is taking advantage of a situation that he had a big hand in creating.

An Abbreviated Time Line for Nick Ramus, extracted from court records and other official records:

1981 – Ramus moved to Texas in October.
1984 – Ramus divorces his common law wife in Lockhart, Texas.
1989 - Ramus purchased a 2.19 acre tract with a mobile home where he has lived for the
past 19 years. Tax records show the appraised value is about $48,000.
2000- Hays County Sheriffs Dept pick-up starving & neglected Bar-b-doe Sheep from
the Ramus property on behalf of the Animal Humane Society.
2000 – Complaints to officials of dogs dying while tethered in front of Ramus resident.
2001 - Ramus claims a work place injury--he hurts his back. Files for disability
2002 – Ramus files a Federal Lawsuit against Chartwell's Inc. under Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964 Employment Discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion or national origin.
2002 – Ramus files a Federal suit against Chartwell's Inc. The Age Discrimination in
Employment Act (42 USC 621 et seq.) (ADEA).
2002 – Ramus cited by Hays County Environmental Health Department for surfacing raw
Sewage and a failed residential septic system. Live-in Juanita Camareno signs citation for Ramus.
2002 --Tom Pope, EHD Programs Manager issues Ramus permit to prepare and serve
food from his mobile home. Pope renews this non-compliant food permit for
three years.
2002 – Ramus applies for an OSSF--it expires
2002 – Ramus constructs an out building without a permit and identifies it on the Hays
County Appraisal District as a storage shed. This is the “million dollar restaurant” Ramus now claims.
2002 – Chartwell’s discovers that Ramus is no longer disabled and the checks stop.
2004-- Ramus applies for an OSSF a second time.
2005 - Ramus sells his residential property containing the storage shed to THK, LLC.
2005 – Tom Pope issues two Authorization to Construct to Ramus. One in June and
another in November.
2005 -- Ramus begins construction on a commercial septic system despite incomplete
plans required by OSSF Rules.
2005 – Ramus cited and convicted by jury of being a public nuisance and ordered to
remove four derelict mobile homes from his two acres. Ramus claims to be
indigent, and can't pay his fine. Tom Pope intercedes on behalf of Ramus. All
this while Ramus is building his million dollar restaurant and $100,000
commercial septic system.
2005 -- Ramus claims he doesn't have money to move the junk and derelict mobile
2006 – California friends of Ramus arrive to haul off residential trash, used restaurant
equipment and old furniture, and to move a junk truck to Guadalupe County.
2006 – Tom Pope makes final inspection of Ramus commercial septic system and despite
its non-compliance permits it for use.
2007 – Tom Pope sends letter to Ramus with list of corrections needed on the system.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Commissioners Court – The Good, The Bad And The Ugly


By Charles O'Dell Ph.D.

Hays County commissioners’ court saw the good, the bad and the ugly at its regular Tuesday March 11 meeting.

The good included a presentation by Knudson and Associates, the recommended consultant firm to lead the Hays County Connections 2035 Strategic Plan, and court approval of The Trust for Public Land recommendations and proposal to assist with implementation of the 2007 Parks and Open Space bond.

The bad column was much longer. Big issues included an Open Records violation complaint, more problems in the Environmental Health Department, and the court’s decision to keep citizens out of the loop for $19.5 million in new road bonds.

It began in public comment when I presented a copy of the Open Records law (see below) to the court, along with copies of an Open Records violation complaint that I filed with the Office of Attorney General on Monday. I had tried to obtain public records about Precinct 2 Commissioner Barton’s involvement in the Precinct 1 Martinez septic episode Barton created. My violation complaint included an analysis showing the public records Hays County Special Counsel Mark Kennedy failed to produce as required by law.

Then Upscale Trattoria Lisina Restaurant, which opened last summer and is part of the vineyard near Driftwood, was in court asking for a permit to expand its on-site septic system by 45 percent. OSSF Programs Manager, Tom Pope apparently had approved a permit that was undersized by almost half. Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford asked for a full report from EHD Director, Jerry Borcherding.

Finally, commissioners Barton and Conley pushed their $19.5 million anti-citizen proof road bond towards an August issue date. The game is for commissioners’ court to commit $19.5 million this summer so voters will feel pressured to approve a $100 million - $200 million road bond in November. I called the action deceitful and a dishonor to the voters who turned down a bad road bond package last May that was better than the current package. The current TxDOT road package includes portions of Interstate 35 and US 290. Barton, Conley and TxDOT Austin District Engineer, Bob Daigh, claim Hays County and TxDOT officials had an “understanding” that if the May 2007 road bond failed (which it did) that Hays County would reimburse TxDOT for safety work on US 290. Raising our local property taxes during a recession to pay for TxDOT roads makes no sense.

The ugly was the most bizarre action yesterday in commissioners’ court.

It seems the county’s outside counsel was scheduled to attend an 11:30 am executive session to provide a legal update on the Ramus septic permit suit hearing Thursday March 13 before District Judge Robert Pfeuffer. The county is expected to prevail. When commissioners’ court recessed to go into executive session, Commissioner Conley, who supports Ramus, was seen making a telephone call. A few minutes later Jim Green, who refers to Conley as “his son in commissioners’ court,” posted a letter on In his letter, Green asserts to having insider information that the county is preparing to offer Ramus a deal to settle his suit, and that it will be discussed in executive session.

But outside counsel was tied up in a court hearing and couldn’t make the 11:30 am executive session. Opps! Too late. Green had already posted his letter before Conley was informed the executive session was delayed. Conley realized his mistake and had the look of a deer in the headlights all afternoon. As news of the charade spread, outside counsel called Judge Sumter’s office to report that he was on an airplane to somewhere.

The Jim Green scoop letter had turned to poop and everyone knows who was trying to use executive session to influence the Ramus hearing tomorrow.

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive...”
GOVERNMENT CODE, CHAPTER 552. PUBLIC INFORMATION, SUBCHAPTER A. GENERAL PROVISIONS § 552.001. POLICY; CONSTRUCTION. (a) Under the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government that adheres to the principle that government is the servant and not the master of the people, it is the policy of this state that each person is entitled, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, at all times to complete information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain provisions of this chapter shall be liberally control over the instruments they have created. The construed to implement this policy.
(b) This chapter shall be liberally construed in favor of granting a request for information.

Added by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 268, § 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1993.

Monday, March 10, 2008

What To Do When Elected Officials Run Amuk


By Charles O'Dell, Phd

Responsible public rules are the foundation of our civilization and the structure for our individual freedoms. Without the rule of law we are left with anarchy and survival of the strongest and the most cunning.

We wouldn’t think of raising our children without rules of behavior as they learn to interact with others. No hitting. Share your toys. Tell the truth. These are rules of our childhood and they prepare us to be good citizens who are capable of self government.

Our forefathers established a government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed, and we periodically elect others to represent our collective interests and to protect our individual freedoms.

Consider how our every day public rules create civilized order and protect our individual freedoms. A nuisance ordinance protects neighboring property values and the public health from irresponsible behavior. Without speed limits on our roads there would be no impediment to widespread irresponsible and reckless drivers. Without authority to establish a burn ban, one property owner could imperil the lives and property of others with impunity. Our subdivision rules and building codes protect the unsuspecting and uninformed from predatory behavior.

Administration of our public rules creates opportunity for special interests. These are the interests who attempt to benefit from public projects.

Who are these special interests? In simple terms, they are the individuals and firms who contribute to election campaigns and then benefit financially from publicly funded contracts and purchases. Here is one example. There are many more.

James Dannenbaum, President of Dannenbaum Engineering in Houston, hired Bill Burnett (son of PEC Bud Burnett) while Burnett was Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner. Will Conley was campaigning to replace Burnett as Commissioner and Burnett organized a fundraiser for Conley. James Dannenbaum had contributed to Burnett’s campaign and contributed thousand of dollars to Conley’s campaign. Conley took office in January 2005, and the next year sponsored a commissioners’ court transfer of $5 million from the 2001 county road bond to jump-start the TxDOT Pass-Through Financing of three state highways. Dannenbaum Engineering received a contract for $1.2 million. Burnett had finally delivered on James Dannenbaum campaign contributions.

But two members of that court majority were replaced in the 2006 election, leaving Conley as the sole supporter of having our local property taxes finance state roads. Newly elected Precinct 2 County Commissioner Jeff Barton joined Conley and they got a $172 million bond on the May 2007 ballot to expand two state roads and build a new state road benefiting a San Marcos developer who had contributed to Conley’s election campaign. County voters defeated the road bond.

Not deterred by the voters, Barton/Conley negotiated another, more expensive Pass-Through Plan that now includes parts of I-35 and US 290. Barton plans to have another large road bond on the ballot for the November general election.

To ensure passage of his November road bond, Barton/Conley got a court majority approval to issue $19.5 million in limited tax bonds that are not subject to a citizen petition requiring voter approval. In November Barton can say to voters, “$19.5 million has already been spent, it would be foolish not to approve another $100 - $200 million to complete the job.”

Circumventing voter decisions is a fundamental attack on our democratic processes. In Barton’s case, it may also be criminal.

The Open Meetings Act requires governmental bodies to publish their agenda at least 72 hours prior to a meeting involving a quorum of elected officials. Each agenda item must clearly describe what is to be discussed so that a reasonable person would understand. Moreover, the law admonishes and the courts have confirmed that the more important the issue is to the community the more specific the agenda language must be.

Barton’s February 12, 2008 agenda language and his backup material to that agenda item was so general that he had to spell out in a special email sent to his supporters what his real intention was: to make a specific motion for a limited tax road bond.

HaysCAN filed a documented open meetings violation complaint with the Hays County District Attorney because violating the Open Meetings Act is a criminal offense.

Without the rule of law we are left with anarchy and survival of the strongest and the most cunning.

If the outlook for higher property taxes and a renegade commissioners’ court offends you, then contact your elected officials and say that you expect them to obey our laws and to honor our voters.

County Judge Liz Sumter (512) 393-2205 Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (512) 393-2243 Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (512) 262-2091 Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (512) 722-3445 Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (512) 858-7268

Friday, March 7, 2008

So What's A Blog, Anyway?

By Dan Kleiner

I’ve always been very much behind the times for being a card-carrying member of the PC Generation. Some friends of mine say I’m 26 going on 70. I just think I don’t really like computers. I only found out about YouTube about six months ago. I’ve still never been on it. I do have a MySpace page, which everyone should check out simply to see how awesome the hot dog I am pictured with was. But as any of my friends can tell you, if you want to get my attention you might actually have to (gasp) call me.

I still remember where I was when I found out what a blog is. I was working as a high school sports
reporter at the Lake Travis View newspaper, and my editor, Gary Robert Dinges III, had found out about a story he wanted me to go cover. I asked him how he found out about it (I was a little upset at myself for having been scooped), and he said “I saw it on Gary Feinman’s blog.”

I distinctly remember stopping, thinking about for a second, and then asking, “What the hell is a blog?” That was 2006. Now it’s 2008, and honestly, I’m still not 100 percent sure what a blog is. A couple of months ago I sat down with a friend of mine to discuss some things about an Internet company he’s trying to start some time next year, and he too was talking non-stop about blogs. So I went out to try to finally put to rest the mystery of what, in fact, a blog is.

Unfortunately, I have to tell ya’ll that I really didn’t figure out much. As far as I can tell, a blog is just basically my diary in print online somewhere, with a feature of some kind that allows people to comment on it. I’d like to share here a few snippets of the conversation my roommate and I had a little while ago. He, too, doesn’t really understand what a blog is.

D: Have you ever heard of a blog?
J: Yeah, isn’t that where people complain about something online and we are all supposed to care?
D: That’s kinda my inkling, but I think it’s something more than that.
J: Well, you always try to make everything more complicated than it is.
D: But it’s gotta be more complicated than that. Whatever the hell blogs are, I’m pretty sure they’re taking over the world.
J: They’re not going to end up creating the Terminator, are they?
D: Doesn’t seem likely.
J: Good, Lord knows the last thing I need right now is Terminators running around everywhere.
D: As far as I can tell, I think blogs are basically just sort of an online journal. Like, I talk about what I’ve been doing in more of a conversational tone.
J: Ummm, isn’t that what you do when you’re writing articles and stuff?
D: Well yes, but this is different. It’s more like my observations on things and how I feel about stuff.
J: Why would anyone care about that? They probably get sick enough of you from the newspaper.
D: That’s what I can’t figure out. I mean, I think I get the blogging thing, but I can’t figure out first of all how a blog is different than what people have been doing for thousands of years, and secondly, I don’t understand why anyone would care what my opinion is on things.
J: People are dumb. They don’t want to hear the truth, they just want to hear someone agreeing with their version of the truth.
D: That might be the most intelligent thing I’ve heard today.
J: Yeah, I’m full of gems.

This charming back-and-forth went on for much longer than that, but I think that captured the essence of it. So my roommates and I (there’s another one too, his name is N), concluded that a blog is simply me talking about my feelings. I guess I don’t do that much in the newspaper so this will be a new thing.

We also decided that there is no way this could possibly not get me in trouble. I’ve been trying really, really hard to keep my mouth shut about the things that tick me off about Wimberley, Hays County and the world in general, but I don’t really know what else I can blog about. But then again, Spring’s right around the corner. I suppose I could blog on wildflowers.

Dan Kleiner is the Editor of the Wimberley View newspaper. He graduated from the University of Texas in Austin with a Bachelors’ of Journalism and began his professional career as a high school sports reporter with the Lake Travis View. After graduating to Assistant Editor, Dan took his first Editor’s job in Wimberley in April of 2007. Born in San Francisco, Dan grew up in North Palm Beach, Fla. and moved to Houston at age 13, where he graduated from Bellaire High School. He deferred his first year of college and spent a year teaching English and working at a theatre in Israel, and was in the Old City of Jerusalem the day the Intifada broke out. Dan likes Central Texas and doesn’t want to leave. When he graduated from college, he knew that no matter what, he wanted to continue to work and live in the region. When not firmly gripping the reigns of mediocre journalism, Dan enjoys playing bluegrass music on his banjo or guitar, watching the San Francisco Giants play baseball, playing croquet, running and reading scholarly papers about advancements in theoretical physics and particularly theories of galaxy formation. Whether or not he actually understands what it is he is reading was unclear at press time.

Dan will be adding a "light" touch to this site on a variety of topics. But don't be surprised, he does sometimes show a serious side.

Political Games and Public Trust


By Charles O'Dell

When House Speaker Tip O’Neill observed that, “All politics is local,” he knew about extreme, and sometimes questionable, tactics that are used in local elections.

While most eyes were focused on the Obama/Hillary high-energy Democratic primary race, incumbent Hays County Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe handily beat her 77-year-old Democratic challenger, Celestino Mendez, Jr.

Mendez’s financial supporters included prominent Democrat and Hays Free Press newspaper owner Bob Barton, local developer and Republican Terry P. Gilmore and other local insiders. There was a central reason for this insider support of Mendez.

Mendez was a “throwaway candidate.” He wasn’t expected to win. His role was to be “encouragement” for Precinct 1 Commissioner Ingalsbe to vote with Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton on certain issues at commissioners’ court. Jeff Barton is the son of Bob Barton, president of the Hays Free Press. Jeff is vice president.

If by chance Mendez had won, he was in lock step with the Bartons’ effort to revive pass-through financing road bonds that voters turned down in 2007, and Mendez supported Nick Ramus in his suit against Hays County.

Ingalsbe now will face Republican Nick Ramus in the November general election.

The Ramus candidacy is another Barton/Conley effort to embarrass County Judge Liz Sumter because she led the 3 – 2 commissioners’ court vote to nullify a septic system permit that the county’s Environmental Health Department issued despite the system failing to comply with county and state requirements. That action is now the subject of the Ramus suit. This is the same Environmental Health Department that Commissioner Jeff Barton helped to staff in the 1990s before he was voted out of office. Controlling the permitting process is an important element of power.

The Barton/Conley plan was to settle the Ramus suit out of court. For their plan to succeed, Barton and Conley needed a precedent setting septic variance, and they needed to make Ramus appear credible.

At the January 29th commissioners’ court Jeff Barton attempted to sneak through a variance for the Martinez family’s septic system to set a precedent that Barton could argue for settling the Ramus suit. Barton’s scheme was exposed and that set off a series of face saving articles in his Hays Free Press that were not only misleading, but also inaccurate.

The Bartons frequently use their Hays Free Press reporting and opinion page to frame public debate and to achieve their political goals. They used the Hays Free Press to get Jeff reelected in 2006. Jeff considered running for county judge in 2006, but Republican County Judge Jim Powers was working well with the good old boys so ranking Republicans and Democrats joined forces to replace Republican Precinct 2 Commissioner Susie Carter who consistently spoke out against bad behavior on the commissioners’ court.

Making Ramus the Republican candidate for Precinct 1 commissioner was supposed to make him credible and put some additional pressure on Ingalsbe. Local Republican officials are so bent on embarrassing County Judge Sumter and supporting the Bartons that they selected a candidate who is suing the county, and who has been convicted by a Hays County jury of being a public nuisance for having derelict trucks, trash and mobile homes on his two acre residential lot.

Time is running out for the Barton/Conley plan. Ramus has his hearing next Thursday at the Justice Center in San Marcos. Commissioners’ court will get a legal briefing on the suit in executive session on Tuesday. It would be unconscionable for commissioners’ court to take any action prior to the District Court hearing on Thursday.

Accurate and objective journalism is at the foundation of our democracy. Those who would misuse a newspaper for political purposes do us all a disservice. Tip O’Neill was right about all politics being local.

That’s my opinion.