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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

McCain/Palin So Unreal As To Be, Well, Unreal


Would you rather have a nice glass of smartly brewed Amber beer or cheap white wine in a plastic cup?

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

By Rocky Boschert


As an independent voter and businessperson, I have watched McCain and Palin for the last few weeks with much amazement. Their campaign reminds me of a line in the Coen Brothers movie “Oh Brother, Where art Thou” when the corrupt incumbent southern Governor says incredulously to his son: “You dummy, we can’t run for re-election as a reform candidate when we’re the Party in power.”

McCain is just a shell of his old self

It seems the McPalin political stable and the Republican National Party will say anything to get the old guy elected. And if you watch John McCain closely, he seems almost a shell of his old self, both mentally and physically. He appears to be an increasingly frail man who is being worn down with this campaign. But being the soldier that he is, even at his age, he would never admit the physical and mental strain he is experiencing. Maybe because of his recent soulfully difficult compromises, McCain no longer exemplifies many of the values he was once known for. His speeches are riddled with regurgitated and contradictory campaign clich├ęs that have 45% of the surveyed voters in the country proving how gullible and fearful they are. Just the fact he chose Sarah Palin as his VP mate shows how cynical McCain has become.

Another thing I noticed during the Republican convention is the attendees seemed to enjoy being lied to – over and over again. Yes, some Democrats are that way, too, but nothing like the Republican devotees. I’m trying to figure out why. Maybe they have kind of a “dysfunctional family” syndrome, where they have been abused so much by their own paternal and maternal leaders, it would be too disorienting to admit the lies.

Recalling who's been in charge

The way I see it, the McBush Republicans were in charge of national security when the 9/11 attacks occurred, they got us into Iraq, adopted torture, ran up a massive government debt (even more now after this banking bailout), filled the wallets of war contractors with our tax dollars, stood by and did nothing when a major city in the United States drowned, and now Wall Street is falling apart, a financial crisis largely fostered by Republican deregulators like ex-Texas Senator and current lobbyist Phil Gramm. You remember Gramm: “We are a nation of whiners.” I guess fat cats don’t whine.

Call me old fashioned but I believe political leaders deserve respect when they answer questions honestly and intelligently. The McPalin political machine, however, is just the opposite of integrity. And McCain/Palin seem to generate enthusiasm by answering questions with dishonesty, outdated platitudes, chronic flip-flopping, and bragging about stalling and fixing ethics investigations. In fact, both McCain and Palin stood up on national television and lied to their cheering supporters about the selling of the plane on E-Bay and then about earmarks. Although this is not a one party problem, Republicans especially don’t seem to care about facts. And they do it openly. Amazing!

Accelerating the lying game

Since the convention, McCain and Palin have continued to accelerate the lies about Barack Obama. They accused Obama of wanting to raise taxes on the middle class. In fact, Obama’s economic plan would only raise taxes on Americans making over $250,000 a year. One of the sleaziest McCain attacks accused Obama of backing a bill that would give young children comprehensive sex education. In fact, the bill Obama backed was designed to protect children from sexual predators. Both of these lies have been exposed as such in the September 20 edition (page 22) of the “Economist” magazine.

The old Republican Party, the one I once had respect for, used to believe in less government, supporting small businesses, no corporate welfare, and national defense (as opposed to attacking countries simply for oil and natural resources). You know, the Ron Paul message. Sadly, it now seems the Republican Party in power has gotten so confused they remind me more of Larry Craig than Ronald Reagan.

Here’s what’s at stake in this Presidential election: If the Democrats take the White House and keep the majority in Congress, they would hopefully reincorporate serious accountability and competent regulatory scrutiny over Wall Street. Hence, the Republican Party would face the probability of losing control of the US Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board – along with their ability to print money and hand out government bailouts and loans to their corporate cronies. I wonder what Republican voters think now about having their tax dollars used by their own to bail out their own on Wall Street?

Palin, the saddest commentary

In the end the saddest commentary about the current version of the Republican Party is the selection of Sarah Palin as the VP pick, or as one commentator called her “Bush in Drag.” To be sure, the Alaskan oil Governor and helicopter animal sniper is a smart opportunist who says the right things. She also has a scary power lust. But let’s face it: the selection of Sarah Palin as VP choice is a farce. By choosing Palin, John McCain is saying very loudly to the American public that he no longer cares about national security. At his age, if McCain were to win in November and then die in January, who would feel safe with President Sarah Palin in a world of global terrorism, huge global economic change, the increasing occurrence of hurricanes and natural disasters, Russia’s renewed global aggression and Pakistan with nuclear weapons? It simply shows what a cynical figure John McCain has become. And if you believe you would feel safe with a President Palin, I have some mortgage default swaps I want to sell you.

Winston Churchill once said: “Americans always do the right thing after they have exhausted all of their options.” This is exactly where the United States is at now. If somehow independent swing voters in the crucial states are not quite fed up with the Republican Party’s self-enriching solutions to America’s problems and vote in the McPalin ticket, you can be sure they will finally be exhausted in four years. In fact, one could say the same thing about most of the upcoming State and local elections as well.

Voting for President of the United States in November is akin to a culinary choice. Would you rather have a nice glass of smartly brewed Amber beer or cheap white wine in a plastic cup? I believe the latter would leave a very bad aftertaste.

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.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

FYI: "We Do Not Support Government Bailouts of Private Institutions"


Taken directly from the 2008 Republican Platform:


We do not support government bailouts of private institutions. Government interference in the markets exacerbates problems in the marketplace and causes the free market to take longer to correct itself. We believe in the free market as the best tool to sustained prosperity and opportunity for all.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Our Vanishing Water Supply: The Risks of Overuse, Waste and Reluctance to Convert to Rainwater


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

or to jhollon37tx@yahoo.com

This is the first of a three-part series on water loss in the Cypress-Blanco-Wimberley Valley. Part two will examine huge
water loss problems in Woodcreek and Wimberley.
The final segment will focus on actions we need to take.


By Jack Hollon


Early settlers in the WimberleyValley chose locations that gave them ready access to water. Spring water marked by purity and good taste was preferred, but water from any of the Hill Country streams was considered drinkable under most conditions. Cypress Creek was noted for its main source, the great spring called Jacobs Well, but was also fed by numerous smaller springs, some in the streambed and others along the banks.

Water for use in homes along area creeks could be brought from a spring or creek in buckets. If there was no spring handy to the home site, a shallow hand-dug well would usually reach the water table and provide water.

As the surrounding landscape and watersheds were transformed by clearing timber, plowing, and grazing – often involving severe over-grazing and exposure of soil to erosion – there was a loss of top soil and the grass cover which helps capture water for the aquifer. The water table began to decline. Springs along the creeks began to dry up and wells had to be dug deeper. This loss of topsoil and deep-rooted grasses in the Hill Country may have been a larger factor in causing springs to dry up than the infestation of cedar which is often blamed for our water problems.

Technology, deeper wells and water suppliers

With the advent of technology and machinery that could dig deep wells, water could be provided at almost any location in western Hays, and windmills to pump these wells began to mark the landscape. As electric power became available, more and more wells were drilled and equipped with large electric-powered pumps. By mid 20th Century, most area ranches and homes were supplied by individual wells, pumped by wind or electricity. Where convenient, a well could serve two or more homes.


In the past half century we have seen the introduction and spread of Water Supply Companies of various sizes to supply water, replacing individual well systems in many cases. Wimberley Water Supply Co. was created in the 1960s as a cooperative to supply the Village and surrounding area homes and businesses. Many later developments were planned with a water company to provide water right from the beginning. Woodcreek had its own water utility which, at a later time of financial stress and “reorganization,” was sold to Aqua Source, later to become Aqua Texas Inc. Wimberley Water and Aqua Texas are the two largest water suppliers in the Valley; they serve over 3,100 connections. These include some large water users like Deer Creek Nursing Center, Rio Bonito, and the WISD campuses. An example of a smaller supplier, such as the Cedar Oaks Mesa WSC, serves only residences and the clubhouse facilities, about 200 connections.

Obviously, these water distribution systems have many strengths and advantages in providing water for human life and the economy. A company run by professionals not only provides water, but also a sense of security and well being. Next to air, water is most essential for life. Thus, a company that can reliably provide abundant pure water at a reasonable price will be highly valued and regarded.

Security and dependability are purchased at a price however. Reluctance to become the responsible and independent provider that, say, the rainwater system owner must be, is undoubtedly one of the chief obstacles to increasing the use of rainwater systems (which some regard as a necessary transition if we are to preserve springs and streams and, indeed, our present well systems).

Outgrowing our groundwater supply, living on the edge

This leads us to a cautionary note about supplying water in an ever-more-crowded Hill Country.

Water supply, once treated as unlimited, has grown more and more valuable. Water scarcity is part of present reality. Many springs and streams we once took for granted have either become intermittent, or have dried up and vanished. The trend lines for many of the wells that our groundwater conservation district is monitoring in western Hays show a downward slope. Jacobs Well stopped flowing for several months in the summer of 2000 (a first since Europeans arrived), after a drought of less than two years duration.


The demands of population growth and the values we wish to preserve in this place are colliding, forcing us to look at water supply and use in a completely new way. This re-evaluation is reinforced by our geography: we live on the edge of the great southwest desert, a region of feast and famine, flood and drought. Newcomers to the area need to learn this geography and history fast. We must plan with adequate margins for drought and error, even as we reinforce a new ethic about waste of Hill Country water: No water to waste. The bright side of this picture is the amply-demonstrated possibility of living quite well on a very conservative water budget.


Now back to our Water Supply Companies and the largely invisible water loss problem that seems to be part of delivering water by extensive pipe networks: In many cases, the water pumped from the aquifer exceeds the volume of water delivered to the customers by an unacceptable amount. The difference between what is pumped and what is sold will never be zero, but when the difference is largely due to leaks, and when these numbers are out of bounds, lying in the 20 percent to 40 percent range, there is a problem that demands attention. And we can no longer afford to treat such wasted water as a “free good,”ignoring the problem.


Jack Hollon is a long time Wimberley resident. He represents the Wimberley area on the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District board of directors.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Developers Latest Attack On Hays Subdivision Rules . . . Affordable Housing


And the special deal Drippings Springs granted
to one developer


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


By Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.

Development interests have long whined, complained and sabotaged efforts to enact responsible development regulations throughout Texas, and now they are focusing on Hays County. Their cry is, “To ensure affordable housing you cannot adopt provisions that would increase our development costs.”

Don’t be confused or fooled by such nonsense. Affordability is determined by household income. Cost of houses is determined by development costs and profit margins. If allowed to operate, market competition will keep costs and profits at the lowest possible level. Raising household incomes requires other measures.


Development regulations are rules adopted to support community vision and to protect the public health, safety and welfare. Regulations that protect homebuyers and the community create immediate and long-term value.

There are two major issues in particular that development interests have long opposed and are now trying to undermine. They oppose (1) increasing the minimum lot size and (2) prohibiting increased volume and rate of storm water runoff onto neighboring property from new development. They claim that improving these measures will threaten affordability of new houses.

What Affordable Means to Developers


No developer willingly sells a house for less than it cost to build, whether a lower-cost manufactured house, a million dollar custom house or any price range house in between.


Developers build houses they can sell in the market place, and they will build those houses most profitable for them to sell. The higher the price…the higher the profit.


Developers earn higher profits with densely spaced high price homes such as these in an upscale Dripping Springs subdivision. But they also result in higher taxes for everyone to support additional infrastructure needs such as new schools, emergency services and road maintenance.

The claim that lowering the minimum lot size will lower land cost for each house and therefore make houses more affordable is bogus. Affordable housing is a matter of household incomes, not the cost of houses. Builders can build houses that are affordable to lower income families, but it’s more profitable for developers to build higher priced houses.

Developers should not be allowed to diminish development regulations, and thereby the quality of houses and communities, under the guise of building affordable housing.

The prices developers pay for raw land is primarily determined by the minimum lot size allowed in development regulations, and the price range of houses the developer intends to build and market. Higher development density and higher house prices result in higher price paid for raw land, and thus a higher cost per acre.

Much of the cost savings realized from higher density development goes into higher developer profits. How much depends upon the level of market competition that exists. Development agreements interfere with market competition because government agrees to selectively change the development rules.

If a developer is able to increase density through a development agreement, he gains both an unfair competitive market advantage and a significant opportunity for windfall profits.

Selectively Changing the Rules and Non-enforcement

Imagine a football game being played without rules or without referees to enforce existing rules. The game would be chaotic and the score would be meaningless. Every responsible businessman will tell you that it is far more important that all competitors play by the same rules, no matter what rules are in place.


Twenty eight diverse individuals representing a larger number of public stakeholders worked over 2,000 hours during 16 meetings over many months. Our goal was to bring the old Hays County development regulations into conformance with today’s best management practices that respected property rights and long-term community interests.


Determining a Fair and Rational Minimum Lot Size


About eighty percent (80%) of households in Hays County depend on groundwater (wells) for their water needs. The stakeholders discussed various approaches to ensuring that all users of groundwater received their fair share, and that the existing supply of groundwater was not over pumped to the detriment of everyone.

Our consensus solution was to rely on the principle of “correlative rights” associating groundwater usage with rainwater recharge. The most logical, fair and responsible minimum lot size was determined to be that size lot that represented an area of groundwater recharge associated with the amount of groundwater usage by a typical household. If a household required more water than the minimum lot size would recharge, then use of supplementary rainwater harvesting was encouraged.

Do No Harm to Your Neighbor or Community


Regarding impact of new development on down stream property owners, stakeholders agreed to the principle of no increased rate or volume of stormwater discharge from new development.


Under the old rules, more and more downstream property owners find their homes are becoming located in expanding floodplains as new upstream development occurs and the rate and volume of stormwater discharged from those upstream properties increases.


Dripping Spring's variances to developer earned city millions


In 2000, California developer Makar Properties LLC entered into a development agreement with the City of Dripping Springs that contained over 100 variances from the city’s development ordinance.

Through secret efforts by then City Attorney and Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace, Rex Baker, Markar purchased the 1,600 acre ranch at a market price based on density prescribed in the Dripping Springs subdivision ordinances, and a price mix of houses that Makar planned to build and market. In this case, houses are priced from $240,000 to one million dollars.

The development agreement with Dripping Springs allowed Makar to build more homes than could have been built under the city’s ordinances, so by their action the Dripping Springs City Council awarded Makar an unfair competitive advantage and an opportunity for windfall profits. The City’s incentive was a $500 lot impact fee the City would receive for each of the 2,000 houses, and a 4% payment, up to $1,000,000, based on the developer’s utility infrastructure cost.


In effect, the Dripping Springs city council sold unfair competitive development rights on 1,600 acres of its unusually large 75,000 acre extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ). The city of 1,500 is poised to receive upwards to $11,000,000 in development fees for which they have zero cost.

Density for sale in the Dripping Springs ETJ

Instead, 30,000 citizens in the ETJ pay for the high density impact with higher school taxes, higher road taxes, higher emergency taxes, and inherit all the problems associated with the high density development while city officials expand City staff, raise salaries and health benefits, and embark on building an expensive central sewer system that serves only a third of the City.

Higher density and resulting increased annual property taxes do not make houses more affordable.

What You Can Do

Special interests are lobbying Hays County Commissioners’ Court to eliminate important provisions from our revised county development regulations that a county-wide stakeholder, science based process determined would protect home buyers and our communities. This process was open to everyone, including the special interests.


Contact your elected officials and
tell them not to give in to special interests who want to diminish our revised development regulations that were publicly vetted and designed to protect individual property rights and community health, safety and welfare.

County Judge Liz Sumter
(512) 393-2205
Pct.1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe
(512) 393-2243
Pct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (512) 262-2091
Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley (512) 847-3159
Pct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford
(512) 858-7268

Major development interests include landowners, developers, engineering firms, road builders, home builders, mortgage firms, realtors and of course attorneys and others, including some 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.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

PEC Board Lines Up Against Sale To New Jersey Company – Who Knew?


Other news: Customer-members used 500 million kilowatt-hours in July '08, a 22% increase over last year, and PEC's traditional annual picnic and Christmas party are cancelled

September 16, 2008

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


JOHNSON CITY
At its Sept. 15 meeting, the Pedernales Electric Board of Directors, with full support of the members in attendance, unanimously voted to approve a “declaration that PEC is not for sale.” The declaration supports General Manager Juan Garza’s earlier actions in declining an offer submitted in August to purchase PEC.

“This is certainly not anything even worth considering,” stated PEC District 7 Director Dr. Patrick Cox. “I think we’re going to very definitively say today, when we take this vote, we are definitely opposed, in all shapes, forms and fashions, to any proposal to sell Pedernales Electric Co-op.”

PEC Board President R.B. Felps agreed. “We were elected to run the business; we were not elected to sell it,” Felps said.

Garza recently received an offer by letter from New Jersey-based Quentin Capital Management LLC to purchase the Cooperative, which he turned down Aug. 22 after discussing the offer with the PEC Board. Quentin Capital first approached Garza in June in Washington, D.C., where he was providing testimony in support of the Cooperative’s reform efforts.

The PEC Board responded to this and any other potential offers by passing a resolution stating that the Cooperative is not for sale, and also made a motion to create policy and update PEC’s bylaws to establish procedures for reviewing qualified offers. All 14 Directors in attendance stood and were applauded for taking a united stance against the sale of the Cooperative. In a symbolic move, Advisory Directors also showed unified support against a sale through a show of hands.

Before the Board made public their stance against the sale of PEC, several members also spoke out against the sale.

'Sale of PEC would be of no benefit to members'

“The sale of the Cooperative and conversion to an investor-owned utility offers absolutely no benefit to the membership, and in the long run, means that Cooperative members will pay substantially higher prices,” PEC member Jerry Thomas related to the Board. “The interests of this venture capital group and the membership are not aligned in this proposal. The investment group wants to make a profit, paid for by the membership. The membership’s interest is in quality service and reasonable rates, which we already have. I believe that the Cooperative should not be for sale today, tomorrow or ever, at any price.”

PEC member Carlos Higgins agreed, saying, “I couldn’t agree more that it would be foolish to sell it.”

Other members commented on PEC’s Interconnection Policy and thanked the Cooperative for recent changes in policy and governance.

Rebates to businesses for lighting efficiency

The Board also approved a revision to PEC’s Commercial Lighting Rebate Program to encourage participation, lowering the minimum electric demand reduction requirement by more than half, from 50 kilowatts to 20 kilowatts. This conservation-driven program, part of PEC’s Green Works initiative, offers PEC members rebates for installing energy-efficient lighting in their existing commercial buildings and in new commercial construction within PEC’s service area.

In other business, the Board passed a conservation resolution to formally state PEC’s goal of achieving “up to 20 percent reduction in the electricity requirements of residential and commercial users.”

In addition, the Board passed a motion to assign PEC’s right to allow other utilities receiving power from the Lower Colorado River Authority to utilize the 10 percent portion of wholesale power that PEC’s contract with the LCRA allows to come from other generators. PEC’s membership benefits from this measure because it gives PEC the opportunity to purchase 100 percent of its electricity from the LCRA, which is currently less expensive than purchasing power on the open market.

PEC District 5 Advisory Director James Spellman thanked PEC employees for their initiative in requesting that their traditional employee picnic and Christmas party be cancelled this year in response to current economic conditions and members’ increased costs for electricity.


Building on the open meetings and open records policy passed in their August meeting, the Board approved a motion to provide to members and meeting attendees packets of information outlining items the Board considers at its meetings. The Board also revised the practice of reporting invoices received by PEC to the Board to increase the minimum dollar amount to $10,000.

Co-op's assests increase by $75 million

PEC Accounting Coordinator Monica Williams reported that PEC’s assets have increased $75 million in the last seven months to $1.295 billion, and PEC members used approximately 500 million kilowatt-hours in July 2008, a 22 percent increase over 2007. Williams also noted PEC will have to consider in October a half-cent per kwh increase in wholesale power costs from the LCRA, adding that purchased power costs increased 32 percent from July 2007 to July 2008.

Cox provided an update on the progress of PEC’s new open records and open meeting process, stating that other cooperatives and legislators have expressed interest in learning more about the policy. Cox also reported that the Board’s Governance Committee is beginning preparations for the 2009 Board election.

Garza presented for Board approval the confirmation of Luis Garcia as Interim General Counsel, which the Board unanimously approved. Garza also gave a report stating that PEC is not involved in any settlements with appellants as previously reported, and gave information about the Cooperative’s emergency operations related to Hurricane Ike, including the release of 50 contract crews and 15 PEC employees to aid utilities affected by the storm.


The Board’s final action was to approve holding the next Board meeting Oct. 20 at 10 a.m. at the Hays CISD Performing Arts Center, located at 979 Kohler’s Crossing in Kyle. A map to the meeting location will also be made available at www.pec.coop or mailed upon request.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Road Bond Package Comes At Huge Cost to Hays Taxpayers


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

By Peter Stern
Special to the RoundUp

Opinion

During the current predatory economic "recession" Hays County Commissioners must NOT agree to increase the burden of local homeowners via property tax increases resulting from the approval of a $207-plus million road bond package.

Apparently voters will have to tell commissioners again this November!

We need to question why every few months county residents have to fight against another road bond package pushed specifically by Commissioners Jeff Barton and Will Conley. These guys just don't /won't give it up. Now they are trying to push through the bond package under the guise of using a "Citizens Advisory Panel."

What ever happened to "the will of the people"? It's time to get rid of Barton and Conley during their respective re-election bids.

Some of the commissioners try to circumvent their accountability for pushing the road bonds by saying that there is a "Citizens Advisory Committee" that has reviewed and approved this course of action; however, the committee members were appointed by the commissioners and their allegiances are unclear, if not special interest directed.

Furthermore, while theoretically there may be a time and place for an extravagant and costly property tax increase to generate bond revenue for road building and maintenance, but it is NOT now at a time when the American Dream of owning your own home has become a financial "nightmare."

In fact, 2 months ago more than 100 homes were in foreclosure – the highest ever in Hays County. It is a signal loud and clear that financial hardships already are plaguing our homeowner population.

Adding to their burden now, with an expensive road bond package, surely will increase the record number of foreclosures and cause further hardship among the county's population of homeowners.

In addition, approving the road bond package at this time will prevent the younger segment of prospective homeowners [our children and grandchildren] from purchasing and affording their first homes. Such a bond package at this time of economic insecurity is nothing less than foolhardy and incomprehensible.

While one day in the future such a road bond package could be the method of accruing more tax revenue for building and maintaining needed road improvements, it is NOT now at a time when the economy is in chaos and homeowners are having such a difficult time affording their monthly living expenses.

Hays County Commissioners would be making a grave error in judgment to pursue and approve any road bond package that would initiate a large increase in property taxes until the economy takes a substantial turn for the better – furthermore, it may be political suicide for any commissioners who continue to push for and approve the plan.

Unfortunately, other counties throughout the state also are using poor judgment in considering similar road bond packages to generate transportation financing.

Hays County taxpayers / homeowners must contact commissioners and demand they stop "mandating" extravagant, excessive road bonds that will enslave homeowners to their mortgages.

Contacts:
lizsumter@co.hays.tx.us

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.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

And So It Goes In Hays County Politics


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

By Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.

Opinion

The upcoming November election in Hays County is not about partisanship; it’s about citizens regaining control of their government. Here are just a few of the games that some candidates are playing with your tax dollars.

There are six candidates running for two county commissioner positions.


In precinct 1, twelve-year incumbent, Democrat Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe is facing write-in candidate Bill Wyatt and Republican Nick Ramus.

In Precinct 3, one term incumbent, Republican Will Conley is facing a challenge from Democrat candidate Steve Klepfer, former mayor of Wimberley, and Libertarian Deborah R. Wood.

Ingalsbe has confounded many of her Precinct 1 constituents with her questionable spending and willingness to be led or pushed around by Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley and Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton.


All signs suggest that Conley is supporting Nick Ramus in the Ramus, Ingalsbe, Wyatt contest. Conley has called Ramus “a great man and a great candidate.”


It will be interesting to hear Conley’s comments about Ramus being arrested and jailed by Hays County Sheriff Department on Friday, September 5, 2008 for threatening two citizens with a firearm. Ramus also has been convicted twice before of being a public nuisance and he sued Hays County for revoking his septic permit. Ramus has a history of drawing complaints from citizens for the septic system on his property.

Bill Wyatt is a sixth generation resident of San Marcos whose uncle was the U.S. 10th District Congressman J.J. “Jake” Pickle. Wyatt said that he was urged by citizens to jump into the Precinct 1 contest. He said that he had seen enough of Ingalsbe’s voting record to motivate him to sign up as a write in candidate. Wyatt is running on a platform of fiscal responsibility, an end to nepotism and conflicts, and pledges to represent the interests of all Precinct 1 citizens, not just a few. Wyatt is the only candidate who signed the Texas Ethics Commission Code of Fair Campaign Practices.

And so it goes in Hays County. Isn’t it time for citizens to regain control of their government?


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.

$207 Million County Road Bond – Can You Handle It?


Email your comments and news tips to: online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net
or pstern@austin.rr.com

Editor's note: The letter below dated Aug. 19 was written by Hays County resident Peter Stern and addressed to Hays County Commissioners. Commissioners did not heed Stern's plea. Rather they voted unanimously on Aug. 26 to present to voters a $207.1 million road bond package for an up or down vote in the November elections. In May of last year, voters turned down a road bond plan of a lesser amount.

County officials estimate the new road bond proposal, if approved, would increase the county's property tax rate assessed to home and business owners by 4.15 cents per hundred valuation.

Reactions by commissioners court members were mixed, according to press accounts, and gives some indication whether they intend to actively campaign
for the bond proposal (under the ethical radar for public officials, of course). Hays County Judge Liz Sumter was quoted as saying, "...207 (million) is a tough number. I think it will be difficult to ask voters to support this." An apparent supporter of the revamped bond proposal, Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley said, "I think we do have a good proposal. I think it does meet Hays County's needs." Pct. 4 Commissioner Karen Ford said the sheer dollar amount of the plan "takes my breath away. I see the impact on homeowners' (tax) payments." Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton was quoted as saying, "It's a little hard for me to swallow the tax implications. But I'm convinced . . . it will address our needs." Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalbe's reaction was not immediately available.

Dear Hays County Commissioners:

Deja vu on the November road bond package – again?

I guess some of you just are hell-bent on passing on a huge cost to Hays taxpayers.

Honestly, I probably would not mind so much if the plan was well thought out, environmentally friendly, community safe and NOT so costly to taxpayers at a time homeowners can least afford it.

I am serious when I ask you, "What are you thinking?" Does the Hays County community have to fight extravagant road bond plans every few months?

Last month there were more than 100 home foreclosures. Doesn't that mean anything to you? It does to me. It's a signal that we in Hays County are losing our homes at a record rate.

If you really want or need to approve a road bond package, at least have the intelligence and decency to develop one that is less costly, more cost-effective, on a lower scale, is environmentally sound and one that will improve traffic and community safety.

Please reconsider the financial tragedy you intend to add to taxpayer woes. Few taxpayers will be able to pay what you are asking; consequently, many homeowners more will lose their homes during an already dysfunctional economy. Taxpayers voted for you to watch our backs and our needs. If you approve this road bond package you are NOT doing the jobs you were hired to do.

Monday, September 8, 2008

PEC General Manager Garza: Burnett, Fuelberg Are Misinforming Members


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

Editor's note:
Following is a statement from Pedernales Electric General Manager Juan Garza released Sept. 8 clarifying PEC’s position on Texland Electric Cooperative.


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


JOHNSON CITY – Last week the former General Manager and former President of the Board of Directors of PEC wrote commentary in (the Austin American-Statesman) regarding their roles in the Texland project. The statement they provided appears to be inconsistent with the information available to PEC, reports from current Board members and, in some instances, logical thought.

While I take no pleasure in preparing this response, it is my responsibility to publicly clarify PEC’s views on the Texland matter, the statement made by former management and the actions that PEC is taking on behalf of our membership.

In their statement, Mr. Fuelberg and Mr. Burnett said they “recall verbally disclosing” their compensation of $111,600 each, allowable under the Texland bylaws, to PEC Board members. However, the Texland bylaws allow directors only a reasonable per diem sum and all expenses for their attendance at state, regional and national Cooperative meetings and for “such other meetings as any member of the Board of Directors may be directed by the Board of Directors to attend.”

We have seen no documentation suggesting that any meeting attendance was directed by the Texland board. It is unusual to have no written documentation for these substantial compensation amounts, and current PEC Board members who served on the Board at that time do not recall any disclosure. It is also strange that their “per diem” compensation would be a lump-sum payment 10 years after the entity was established.

Mr. Fuelberg and Mr. Burnett also claim to want a clear accounting of Texland. Clear accounting and disclosure practices existed in the 1980s when Texland was started. With clear accounting, the continuation of Texland would have been fully disclosed and the source and disbursement of the accounts at Cattleman’s National Bank could be easily obtained. With no such clarity, we have had to take the extraordinary efforts to form a new Board to take control of an entity that very few people knew still existed and that does not appear to currently serve the Pedernales and Bluebonnet cooperatives that underwrote Texland.

In regard to Mr. Fuelberg’s and Mr. Burnett’s contention that the membership fees of PEC and Bluebonnet were refunded and that neither PEC nor Bluebonnet “remained a member of Texland,” we have no information to substantiate that statement. Also, quite simply, since Texland was created with funds from and loans guaranteed by PEC and Bluebonnet, reportedly for the best interest of PEC and Bluebonnet members, any payments to Texland should be returned to PEC and Bluebonnet for the benefit of each cooperative’s membership. On behalf of these members, we will continue to assert PEC’s interest in Texland and any related assets in which PEC may have a legitimate interest.

PEC management, along with the newly established Texland Board and the PEC Board, will continue our mission to compile a full accounting of Texland finances, disclose substantiated information to members and return any money from the venture to its rightful owners — which by all reasonable evidence are the members of PEC and Bluebonnet. At any time Mr. Fuelberg and Mr. Burnett can help the Texland investigation by providing information and answering the investigators’ questions. However, if they continue to try to use the media to misinform PEC members, we will continue to serve our membership by responding with PEC’s point of view regarding the accurate information that we have discovered.

Texland Continues To Give Up More Questions Than Answers


Email your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net
or patrickcox7@gmail.com

By Patrick Cox, Ph.D.


On March 4, 1982, as the editor of the Wimberley View newspaper, I wrote a column requesting Texland Electric Cooperative and the PEC "open all of the records on Texland" and that "the time is long past due when the Pedernales Electric Co-op should come clean." Ironically, as one of the earliest and most vocal critics of Texland in the 1980's, I now am on the Texland board of directors and the board Treasurer.

A short history on Texland and the PEC is necessary before one can understand the magnitude of this story. The PEC created Texland in 1978 when Bud Burnett served as PEC President, Bennie Fuelberg as General Manager, and A. W. Moursund as General Counsel. PEC and Bluebonnet board members selected the six-member Texland board and Burnett became Texland President while simultaneously serving as PEC President.


Once the heretofore secretive Texland plan to build coal-fired power plants was exposed in the newspapers, the co-op leadership called a hasty meeting to ratify their decisions and continue the project. A total of 156 members, mainly board members, friends and PEC employees, appeared on a cold afternoon in January 1981. A majority approved "all the actions taken by the board of directors and management in connection with the proposed generation project of Texland Electric Cooperative, Inc." Texland later signed a $2 million lignite contract with Shell Oil Company that guaranteed Shell a return on their investment and allowed Shell to renegotiate the lignite price every three years.


Fortunately, even with the machinations of the PEC/Texland power brokers, the Public Utility Commission denied a permit for construction of the plants, but not before the PEC loaned $6.8 million to Texland in 1981 and authorized another $28 million loan. A lawsuit between Texland and LCRA was settled in 1986 that resulted in a multimillion-dollar settlement that was paid to Texland.


Now, fast forward to recent actions - since we reformed the Texland board on August 15, we have sought information on the Texland account and the organization. To date, Cattleman's Bank has been highly legalistic in answering Texland's demands for information on Texland's own account. Late last week, bank attorney Will Moursund – the son of A.W. Moursund – turned over check registers, statements and other documents. But, it was not clear in what capacity he did so, as attorney for the bank, for Texland, or for PEC, where until recently he served as outside counsel.


As those records are sorted out, dozens of open questions remain, chief among them: Why was this money placed in a non-interest bearing account at a bank owned by PEC's then-general counsel? When can we get an accounting of where all the money went? Where are the documents and the corporate records? Where are the bank statements and financial records?

The persons in the best position to answer these questions have offered nothing but a succession of bald declarations of good faith, in the process cryptically tossing out new puzzles:


First, Fuelberg and Burnett explained that Texland paid themselves and Mr. Moursand a total of $373,000 in extra compensation.

Who authorized those payments, and on what basis?

So far, all we have is a newspaper column in which Fuelberg and Burnett justified the payday as board-approved "per-diem" payment. They make the startling claim that PEC and Bluebonnet are no longer members of Texland, and that a long-ago refund of $1,000 membership fees severed those ties.

By asserting that PEC and Bluebonnet are not members of Texland, are Fuelberg and Burnett suggesting that those co-ops' recent reconstitution of the Texland board was invalid, and that they or others still control Texland -- and the bank account? If so, by their logic, I might not really be a Texland board member, just a pesky outsider.

It was as an outsider that I began the effort that I pledge to continue as a Texland director. I assure members of the PEC and Bluebonnet that I along with the other parties who have been thrust back into this time-warp will work with the Texland board to fully investigate and provide as much information as we are able to obtain. After all these years, perhaps we can finally open all of the records and have a clean showing.

Patrick Cox, of Wimberley, was elected in June to the District 7 position on the Pedernales Electric Cooperative Board of Directors. In recent action, Mr. Cox was appointed as a new member of a new board of directors of the mostly defunct and very controversial Texland co-op.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Two Parts: James Akers' Excellent Journey to the Democratic National Convention




Editor's Note:
James Akers is a Dripping Springs resident. This is his story about how he became a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Denver and his interesting journey along the way.










E-mail your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net

or jakers@associatedbrands.com

I have to give a shout out to the City of Denver. You would not believe how helpful and gracious these people are. Everywhere we go we meet and speak to people (most but not all are Dems) who are taking real pleasure out of seeing all these Dems in their home state. I lived in the Twin Cities for 4 years. I know St Paul will be polite. However, I can guarantee you, the Republicans will not be as enthusiastically welcomed as we are. St Paul is a lot like Austin, only they are the most liberal folks in a pretty liberal state.

At the breakfast, we spoke with Rick Noriega, (he complimented my nephew Andre for his great work on his campaign). As we (DS Dems) focus on down ballot candidates, it goes without saying, Noriega really needs our help. I also caught up with some of the other SD25 and SD14 delegates who had stayed out too long (again). My mother and I plan to join them tonight.

The major topic of conversation is by far the home run that Michelle hit last night. She really struck a cord among everyone we spoke to. Mike Barnacle observed that the two most powerful words we may have heard throughout this whole convention may have been “hi daddy." Sacha reminds me of my 6 year old Molly, which to me is the wonder of what happened last night. We all now know Barack in a personal way… as a “daddy." I think fatherhood, (and I mean real fatherhood) is not a bad measure of any man’s ability to lead.

By James Akers
Special to the RoundUp

In Denver, getting over Hillary and finding tickets

I am on the airplane heading home from Denver as I am writing this. I have had a tough time coming up with words to describe what I have seen and felt about the last few days. Every word I think of seems obvious and/or inadequate so I will not try.

James at the convention with former East Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson.

This has been a very personal journey for me and I can’t help but to get wrapped up in my own thoughts a bit. I fully realize though, this is a personal journey for every person in America who believes, as Barack said last night… “America can do better." I think about people like Gerald Durley who, as a black civil right soldier from 45 years ago, cried like a baby at the sight of what was happening. I think about all the folks in the Dripping Springs community who I have come to know on this journey.

Throughout the stay, it seems that something new and wondrous happened all the time and what happens next seems to trump what happened before. Obviously the
events themselves are pretty profound but I am talking about the conversations on bus rides, train rides, dinner and the sights and sounds we see on the street. You cannot sit next to anyone for more that a minute without finding out a lot about them.

I now believe we are past the mourning stage and Hillary supporters are ready to jump on board. Two anecdotal pieces of evidence – the shuttle bus driver told me his wife was a PUMA. PUMA stands for Party Unity My A**. They are the group from which I received 200 or so emails asking me to switch my vote to Hillary. After last night's speech, his wife was so moved she's in all the way for Barrack. That was sweet music to my ears. Then there is my sister, who told my mom that she heard what she needed to hear from Barack. She was a Hillary supporter, who planned to vote for Barrack in any case. Now, however, she just might even work along side us to bring out the vote in Texas for Barack. I talked to at least one angry woman who was still very upset. If this event did not change her mind, I certainly will not.

Congressman Lloyd Doggett and James' mom, Irma, of El Paso.

A few words about my mother. She's a political junkie and always has been. I think this experience was a life changing event for her. It seems everywhere we went we struck up great conversations.

From day one, I was trying to figure out a way to get Mom into INVESCO to see the big speech. On Wednesday night, my mother met a family (Maria Elinda (mom) and two grown children Alfredo and Christina) from Houston. All three have a hearing impairment which you hear when they speak. They are salt of the earth, extremely smart, hardworking and above all, very tenacious. Maria Elinda is working on her doctorate in education while Christina has a business degree and Alfredo is working on an engineering degree. They took care of my mom like we were family. They escorted my mother and me on the train all the way from downtown to our hotel 20 miles away, even though they were staying downtown. Maria’s kids tried but did not make it as delegates. Maria brought them up to Denver anyway to volunteer and just be around the convention with the hope of getting into INVESCO. None of them, nor my mother, had a pass to INVESCO and they really wanted in.

Tickets were extremely hard to come by and I told them not to get their hopes up. At the time, my gut feeling was that we were going to find a ticket for my mom but to come up with three more was an impossible task. Turns out my Texas connections came through with two passes. I gave one to my mom and one to Maria Elinda. With tears flowing down her cheeks she called her kids who had gone to the Pepsi Centerto to find passes. These two youngsters with a hearing impairment and the advantage of tenacity had already found two passes and were working on a third. Wow, overnight we came up with four passes. No easy task I can assure you. As a thank you, after the event, Alfredo gave me one of the large American flags that were given out to people to wave on the floor of INVESCO during Al Gore and Barack’s speech. If you saw those flags waving on the TV, it may have been mine.

James with former Speaker of the House Jim Wright of Ft. worth

On a whim, I purchased a limited edition (100 prints) poster signed by the local artists commemorating the 2008 convention. I woke up early on Thursday and planted myself at a table in the lobby of the hotel and asked every member of the Texas delegation to sign my poster. I plan to make copies of the poster and somehow get them to the delegates that want them.

Obama spoke to my hopes

I am truly motivated by both my fears and my hopes. Barack Obama speaks to my hopes about what this country could and should be again. John McCain and the Republican Party speaks to my fears about where four more years of Republican control could leave us… a worsened economic mess that destroys the middle class and widens the gap between the haves and the have nots, as well as reduced respect and standing in the world. Bill Clinton said it best… the “power of our example should be greater than the example of our power."


My journey to Denver began when I took my family to see Barack Obama speak last November at the Backyard. I really did not know much about him except that he was an inspirational speaker at the '04 Democratic Convention. I felt at that time that my country and I desperately needed inspiration. That speech and his book "Audacity of Hope" hooked me. One thing that resonated with me was his message that we need to avoid staunch ideological positions. Instead, we need to have open dialogue, with people of all points of view. The key is to find the common ground and work from there to find solutions.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson

I found myself fully immersed in his campaign, state after state, speech after speech. I could see that he could motivate a nation. Seeing my enthusiasm, my wife encouraged me to find a way to volunteer and channel my energy. Only then did I embark on a journey that has awakened a part of me I always knew was there but never fully realized.

My first participation in a campaign event was to canvas in Austin. I knocked on doors with an "Obamican," (a Republican supporting Obama) who not only found herself wanting to vote for Barack, but motivated enough to join a bunch of Democrats and actually campaign for him. Originally from South Africa, she moved to Austin many years ago but still did extensive international travel. We talked about the potential of sending a message to the world that America, unafraid and without paranoia, would send a black man by the name of Barack Hussein Obama to our highest elected office.

In the next weeks, along with my family, I began phone banking, calling people all over Travis and Hays County. In about one out of every five calls, I spoke to a person who was genuinely inspired in the same way I was. I then attended the opening of the Obama office in Austin, met a few more folks and began to realize this was the start of a huge local movement.

And popular San Antonio Congressman
Charlie Gonzalez


I attended a meeting of Wimberley Democrats and learned the meaning of "all politics is local." I met state and county politicians running for Chief Justice 3rd Court, Woody Jones; for Hays County Sheriff, Bill Huddleston; and Hays County Tax Assessor, Robert Avera. I found these people to be the dedicated and purposeful change agents needed at the local level. I knew then that if I was really serious, I needed to step up my participation. This meant not just campaigning on behalf of Barack, but working on behalf of the local Democratic Party. As Barack says in speech after speech, individuals need to step up and make a difference, no one can do it alone. Since then, with my family’s help, I have sponsored and attended countless meetings organizing local volunteers.

After the primary, the thought occurred to me that going to Denver and witnessing history was a possibility. My precinct delegation agreed that we wanted to send a person on to the state convention who was prepared to campaign to go on to Denver, even though the chances of success was a ”shot to the moon” at best. I was selected and I began the process of figuring out what it would take to be selected to go to Denver. I have learned about building coalitions, overcoming the opposition and dispelling rumor and innuendo about my true intentions. I also discovered something about my community. I found a very passionate group of Democrats that gives back unto itself. For me, that passion is a lynch pin that allowed me to find a new level of personal satisfaction through community involvement.

I attended the convention, with full credentials. I watched Barack Obama accept the Presidential nomination of our Democratic Party forty years after the death of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King and 45 years after my birth and the assassination of John F Kennedy. To say I am thrilled is an understatement. However, going to Denver for me is now an important stop on a much broader journey.

If I could imagine one great outcome to all this, it would be that Barack Obama, after a significant time as President of these United States, leaves a world more at peace with itself, more people with open minds and hearts, more people motivated to do what's right. Personally, I want my children to reflect on their father as a person who helped make it happen.

One thing is sure, Democrats will fight for policies much closer to my way of thinking and change the course of the country. My hope is to get even more out of it. Not just a change in short term policy but a change in how we accomplish real substantive long term solutions. Rather than having another ideology shift of the pendulum, my hope is that we actually tackle tougher issues on energy, abortion, health care, racism, global warming, the economy and the war in Iraq not with an ideological discussion, but with a discussion about what our common (right and left) long term goals are. If we can trust each other enough to find common ground in common goals, we can begin to seriously talk about real answers, not band-aids and find real comprehensive solutions.

I want to send another “thank you” to Senatorial District 25 (parts of Bexar and Travis Counties and all Hays, Guadalupe, Kendall and Comal), for sending me to Denver.