Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Topsy-Turvy World of Capitalism and Ways to Straighten Things Up Locally

One good place to start is to end the cronyism

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By Rocky Boschert

Even though the fat cats on Wall Street are being bailed out by the two-headed one party system in Washington DC, we Wimberley and Hays County residents need more than ever to work together and learn more about how to feign for ourselves.

But before I go on, I have a confession to make. I applied for some federal bailout funds. But since I run my business well and have no debt and didn’t lie to my clients, I was told I don’t deserve your bailout tax dollars. I even asked for a multi-million dollar “golden parachute” lump sum paid for with your tax dollars but was told I would simply have to live on my normal and healthy annual income. Bummer!

Yes, the lesson here is simple: the American capitalist free markets are great until we get ourselves into trouble. And now that the stock markets, administered by crony-run banks and brokers, have blown up,
our tax dollars are all of a sudden really important and welcome. See, we are now being told by the free markets fans that if we don’t cough up more tax revenues, our businesses will fail and we’ll lose our homes, cars, and big screen TVs. Not only that, but our young adult children will have to get a job at Dairy Queen or go to community college instead of UT and we would lose our health insurance while our spouses are forced to work at some unnecessary government agency processing home foreclosure forms. At least that’s what we’re being told.

Now don’t get me wrong, most people in America are great. But you have to admit, when the opposing politicians accuse Mr. Obama of “redistributing the wealth” and calling him a communist because he wants to go back to the 1990s tax code that saw the best US economy of the last fifty years, it rings real bogus.

Think about it: What has the Bush Administration been doing for eight years but giving more and more money through tax breaks to the top 10% while the rest of America sees inflation-adjusted wages decline, jobs shipped overseas, houses foreclosed on, retirement plan values drop like a rock, and children go without basic health care? To me that’s really “redistributing the wealth” – the wrong way.

Redistributing the wealth, hometown style

But enough said about politics. Let’s focus on what we as a community can do together to support our local economy during the current recession. We can start by looking at the way our community works. Hence, here are some ideas that may help “redistribute the wealth” to each other here in Wimberley and Hays County:

First, make use of the local Farmer’s market every Wednesday across from the Market Days field. By shopping there, we can eat fresher produce, save money on gasoline, and support local small farmers. In addition to the farmer’s market, local residents should consider a long-term effort to organize community food gardens where both knowledgeable and concerned citizens can help each other as well as lower income families survive in what will probably be an extended economic downturn.

Second, instead of going to Austin and San Marcos, shop for food and services at the local-owned businesses that aren’t ripping you off just because we live in the outpost of Wimberley. I have a bumper sticker that reads: “Break the chains; shop at local independently-owned businesses.”

Third, if you don’t like shopping for all your food at the local grocery store, organize homeowner association ride sharing groups to go to HEB in San Marcos or Whole Foods in Austin. Ride sharing would again lower petrol use and give you a chance to meet and get to know people in your neighborhood. By being more self-help focused, we can quit blaming lying politicians for our lack of control over our lives. And we can be less dependent on what will no doubt be increased corporate control of our day to day lives. 

Don’t believe the Wall Street hyperbole

Fourth, to deal with the stock market and your retirement and investment plans, organize and establish local investment clubs. An investment club is comprised of individuals who pool funds in order to make investments and to learn about investment self-management. That is, they help each other invest, and in most cases, they learn to research the investments as well. Most investment clubs set up accounts with a discount broker so they do not have to pay antiquated and costly full service broker commissions.

Considered a small business for tax purposes, investment clubs are generally social groups of like-minded people who want to see their money grow (or protected in a bear market). If you are interested in pooling money and working together with friends and neighbors to help each other invest without the high cost of a broker, then starting and joining an investment club may be a good start in understanding and surviving in the new global economy.

In fact, let me tell you a little professional insider secret. Most investment advisors don’t know any more than you do about how to invest in a bear market. They usually recommend that investors stupidly sit and hold on to their investment without regard to what is really happening in the economy. And believe me, we are in a bear market and we probably will be for another couple of years.

Consider this: Just a few months ago, Goldman Sachs was forecasting $200 a barrel for oil! Today it’s down to about $70.00 a barrel. These guys are masters at giving the investor public buy recommendations at the top of the markets and sell or downgrades at the bottom of the market. And remember when brokers were telling you to buy bank stocks just this past June? Tell me they didn’t know banks were in trouble.

These Wall Street “masters of the universe” are not entirely fools. They want you to buy at the top so they can sell their own positions to you and then turn around and tell you to sell at the bottom so they can buy back cheaply what you are selling. Any investment professional who tells you different has been brainwashed by the economic system we are now seeing fail. And they are probably losing clients because their accounts are down 35% to 40% year to date.

Organize, get smart and stop supporting stupid propositions

In the end, as a community we don’t have to be victims of what is happening economically around the rest of the country. Between buying from local businesses, organizing co-ops and community gardens for food, smart money management, and not voting for stupid bond propositions that ultimately drain our tax dollars, Wimberley could do surprisingly well in the current recession.

It is time for Wimberley and Hays County residents to shed itself of the arrogance of entitlement and take matters into our local hands. Get rid of politicians who are sneaky promoters of local crony capitalist projects and vote in the ones who want the most people to benefit from the use of our tax dollars. But most important, use your consumer and investment power to work together and help make our local area an intelligent survivor of the American Dream.

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.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Road Bond Shorthand: $207 Million Debt to Fix State/Federal Highways and Fund Local Developers

You'd think with a deepening recession under way our county officials would take a break from their pork-barrel largess . . . well, this one takes the cake

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By Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.

If you didn’t like last year’s $172 million pork-barrel road bond, and most voters didn’t, then you will hate this year’s $207 million road bond that will send our county debt soaring to well over $300,000,000 so local taxpayers can pay for building state and federal highways, and county roads for local developers.

Voters are asking, “Why are our elected officials trying to push so much long-term debt onto property owners for so many questionable roads, and at the beginning of a deep economic recession?”

Good question.

I just received my slick Hays County 2008 Road Bond Proposition brochure and it’s pure prop·a·gan·da – noun, the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate thinking, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist. Produced at taxpayer expense of over $125,000, the brochure would make any honest person blush with embarrassment and a sense of betrayal.

And the slick post card from Hays Families for Safe Mobility PAC, containing claims that fly in the face of official data regarding road safety and mobility, leave readers shaking their heads in disbelief!

Improvements to FM 1626 for safety, or super sizing?

Come on, “…widening dangerous roads like FM 1626…?” Texas Department of Public Safety data for 2003 – 2005 show FM 1626 was one of the County’s safest roads, representing only 3.6% of the County’s 1,661 traffic accidents, and one of only three roads in the county with zero fatalities.

TxDOT, special interests and our County Officials want to turn FM 1626, one of the county’s safest roads, into a highway US 290, the most deadly roadway with six fatalities during that same period, and they want property owners to pay for making FM 1626 less safe.

As for increasing mobility, the special road interests want county residents to pay to build FM 110, a new $30 million five lane highway from the San Marcos Hotel/Convention Center at I-35, past the new San Marcos High School and to SH 123 where it dead-ends. SH 123 runs back to I-35, and with three traffic lights all within a few hundred feet it would worsen the already congested High School traffic.

And who would want their inexperienced high school drivers on a high-speed, five lane road to nowhere? FM 110 would make a dangerous racing strip for kids, but it has nothing to do with safety or mobility.

. . . and padding the special interests

Another of many bogus safety and mobility road projects contained in the bond is CR 266, sponsored by Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe. This expensive project is to convert a two-lane rural road that goes to the Comal county line, into a four/five-lane rural road that goes to the Comal county line. The CR 266 project is simply a developer road for Houston attorney John O'Quinn who owns about 450 acres, and W.C. Carson of San Marcos who has about 1600 acres along CR 266. Commissioner Ingalsbe also lives on that stretch of CR 266. Not with my taxes.

How did these and other bogus road projects get included in the 2008 road bond?

The three pro-road bond County Commissioners, Barton, Conley and Ingalsbe, appointed pro-road bond citizens to the Citizen Advisory Board, the group that recommended which road projects to include in the 2008 road bond. Compare the Advisory Board names with the names supporting the road PAC.

Major research shows that 80% of traffic accidents are caused by driver distractions: cell phones, eating, applying makeup, reading, talking, fiddling with the radio or CD player, etc. This behavior has nothing to do with roadway engineering. That is a matter of driver education and law enforcement.

Studies also show that as roadways become wider and straighter, traffic speeds increase and fender benders become fatalities. Proven road design that includes three lanes, turn lanes and roundabouts in place of traffic signals increase mobility without sacrificing safety.

Higher fuel prices = reduced motoring demand

It is clear that higher fuel prices are reducing the number of miles driven and are creating less demand for new suburban homes. It’s also becoming clear that future population growth patterns will involve more dense urban locations that support public transportation. Investing in obsolete TxDOT road design of the 1950’s and 1960’s is not the vision citizens of Hays County need in these hard economic times.

Playing on peoples fears and providing false and misleading information to convince citizens they should vote for something not in their own best interests is not only a disservice to our citizens, but also a violation of public trust.

With honest leadership we can have a responsible road bond that will achieve improved safety where it is needed, and increased mobility that reflects future trends in transportation needs.

I will vote AGAINST this expensive, wasteful, irresponsible special interest road bond with the expectation that elected officials will eventually be in place who have true vision and will honor the public trust.

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.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Commenter's Observations: Hays County Road Department is a Management Nightmare

Say it isn't so Commissioners Conley, Barton, Ingalsbe, Ford, Judge Sumter, Road Chief Borcherding

Who's minding the store?

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Did you know that:

A) Since the County Road Department went on 4 10-hour days, overtime pay has spiralled out of control. In one month alone, the overtime for County road employees has been anywhere from 24 to 100 hours paid at time and a half!

Amazingly, the Road Supervisors are not salaried. They are hourly, too, and they get the same time and a half overtime pay, at their higher salaries!

B) Hays County is having to buy new equipment because the recently purchased equipment (about a year ago) is already abused and no longer in good enough condition to run properly.

C) The Hays County supervisors are about to get new pickup trucks to ride around in. The ones they have now are about 2 years old.

D) Hays County recently purchased a new road oil base that doesn't stick to the road surface, so all the roads done, with that poor quality road oil base, will have to be redone.

E) An unbelievable fact is that Hays County has class A and class B CDL drivers ON THEIR PAYROLL that are actually flagging traffic for other trucking companies that are hired out by Hays County! Hays County does not use the truck drivers they already have on their payrolls to drive the trucks for the road jobs. Instead, they hire out to other trucking companies. This is a gross under-utilization of the qualified manpower they already have!

Yet, they have the nerve to ask the taxpayers for $207 MILLION. Why throw money at a problem where the solution is simply to have proper management and less waste.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thugs Trash Obama Supporter's Car in Hays County on Eve of Early Voting

Udate: Friday, Oct. 24, 3:25 p.m. –
From the Hays County Sheriff's Department: On Thursday, 10-23-08, two juveniles, a 15 year old and a 12 year old male were detained for these offenses. On Friday, 10-24-08, an additional 12 year old male was detained. All three have been processed as juvenile offenders and the 15 year old has been placed in the juvenile detention center. The two 12 year old offenders have been released to the custody of their parents. The 15 year old male has been charged with two felony counts of criminal mischief and also with engaging in organized criminal activity. The two 12 year old males have been charged with felony criminal mischief in [a separate] Saturday night criminal mischief and also with engaging in organized criminal activity. This investigation continues.

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Special to the RoundUp

Mon Oct 20, 2008 at 07:53:07 PM

In western Hays County, Texas, at around 8PM Sunday night 19 October, thugs trashed my car while I was having dinner with some friends.

Out in the country. Miles from anywhere.

My "Obama 08" bumper sticker was torn off the right rear bumper, a 20-lb rock was dropped through the back window, 2 stolen Obama yard signs were shoved through the gaping hole in the window, and a cryptic almost "OBAHA" (or something...) was scrawled in orange spray-paint on the drivers side front and back doors and windows.

It has been blogged here at Mock Paper Scissors (Thank YOU TexBetsy!) and here by Fran I Am. While a collection has started to cover the deductible, I must insist that any proceeds go to refugee children who lack school supplies here in Austin, a cause TexBetsy has been doggedly pursuing for years.

I have to hand it to the Hays county deputies for getting out to the scene of the crime quickly, and making sure to dust everything for fingerprints -- and, particularly, (in these dark days) for taking the matter seriously.

Also Kudos go to the WimDems -- the Wimberley Democrats -- who have been individually and collectively so supportive.

Our Democratic Party Precinct Chair brought this incident to the attention of the Hays County Sheriff.

I just saw the sheriff and told him about it. He really flinched. Said "That is not what we mean by America." Don't know if anyone will get caught but hope so.

The incident has also been reported to and to our representatives in the campaign in Hays and Travis counties (Travis is where Austin is) but only a canned response so far.

In the meantime, your thoughts and prayers are appreciated and the best thing we can do is, please: Get The Word Out. This is Going Down.

But also, please consider the level of psychosis in these crimes:

Kilt bear cubs? Rocks Thrown Through Car Windows? DEATH THREATS? Spray-painted cars? 30 Slashed Tires?!?!

They must be deeply, deeply desperate. They need our compassion.

Correction: compassion and justice.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Terrorism and the Voting Booth – It's Really the Foreign Policy, Stupid

Who is more likely to change our course in the Middle East for more positive results, McCain or Obama?

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By Rocky Boschert

About three years back, in the middle of the more intense fighting of the Iraq war, I talked to an Army physical therapist working with dismembered Iraq war veterans at Fort San Houston in San Antonio. Even though his training was in physical therapy, he sadly told me he spent most of his time helping the harmed soldiers get through their suicidal depression.

The physical therapist is now retired after 20 years of military service. During our conversation I asked him why he was retiring when he was providing such an important and honorable service to our country. His reply was without hesitation: “Our political and military leadership have lost their way.”

Having lived through the Vietnam era as a teenager and college student, and now Iraq, it wasn’t hard to understand what he meant. 

Every couple of generations our national leaders get us into another stupid and destructive war, using propaganda lies that ignorant and fearful Americans believe is valid – stopping communism, protecting free markets and democracy, or in the case of Iraq, WMDs aimed at America.

Time for a foreign policy reality check

And now, in this new century, we engage a fanatic enemy hidden in the global infrastructure that employs horrific tactics that Americans are simply unable to stop without committing their own war crimes and direct violations of the Geneva Convention.

Many Americans assume that we are in Afghanistan and Iraq fighting suicidal terrorists who are extremist Islamic fundamentalists that hate of our democratic freedoms. We have heard about the promise of instant entry into paradise as a reward for killing infidels as a way to explain the suicide bombings, a concept that is foreign to our way of thinking.

The reality, however, is more complex. Robert Pape, author of a book entitled "Dying to Win,” explains the strategic logic of suicide terrorism. Pape has collected a database of almost every major suicide terrorist attack through 2006, over 1000 of them. His conclusions are enlightening and crucial to our understanding the true motivation behind the attacks against Western nations by Islamic terrorists.

In his exhaustive study, Pape unveils some very important facts and conclusions. 

First, religious beliefs are much less important than supposed. For instance, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist secular group, are the world's leader in suicide terrorism. And other than Saudi Arabia, the largest Islamic fundamentalist countries have not been responsible for any suicide terrorist attack. None have come directly from Iran or the Sudan.

Between 1995 and 2002, the global al-Qaeda years, two-thirds of all terrorist attacks occurred in countries where the U.S. had troops stationed. And until the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Iraq never had a suicide terrorist attack in all of its history. But after 2003, once the US military occupied Iraq, almost all of Iraq's suicide missions were carried out by Iraqi Sunnis and al Qaeda recruited locals. Moreover, 15 of the 19 participants in the NYC 9/11 attacks were Saudis, where we also have US military bases.

Occupation is terrorism's strongest motivation

According to Pape, the strongest motivation for terrorism and suicide bombings is not religion but rather a desire "to compel modern democracies to withdraw occupying military forces from territories the terrorists view as their homeland." If stopping suicide terrorism is an objective we truly seek as a nation, a solution is available to us: Cease the occupation of foreign lands, and most suicide missions will also cease.

Again, the proof is in the pudding. Between 1982 and 1986, there were 41 suicide terrorist attacks in Lebanon. Once the U.S., the French, and Israel withdrew their forces from Lebanon, there were no more terrorist attacks. The reason the attacks stopped is that the Osama bin Laden’s of the world could no longer inspire potential suicide terrorists despite their fanatical religious beliefs.

Pape’s research indicates that the longer and more extensive the US occupation of Muslim territories, the greater the chance of more 9/11-type attacks on the U.S. 

Americans need to wake up and look at reality. It is time for a major strategic reassessment of our imperial policy of foreign interventionism, occupation, and nation-building. It is in our national security interest, our domestic economic interests, and in the interest of world peace to do so.

It is for this reason that the election of John McCain as President of the United States would be a step in the wrong direction. McCain, being a military man, believes it is normal to have US military bases in Islamic countries. Unfortunately, under a military minded McCain foreign policy, we are more likely to see a continuation of very ugly terrorist acts against the United States (at least compared to the possibility of a more international negotiating Barack Obama presidency).

Of course, American voters and consumers are ultimately responsible for our bogus wars and aggressive overseas interventions as it is our gluttonous consumption of global natural resources that gives justification to a military-corporate controlled White House to implement a belligerent US foreign policy.

Is it not telling that the United States is 5% of the world’s population yet consumes 25% of the world’s natural resources? Is it not telling that the United States alone accounts for 50% of all the world’s military budgets combined? Additionally, our continued dependence on fossils fuels as our primary energy source only adds to the justification of a militaristic foreign policy.

Think about our children's future first

An old comedian once quipped: “Old soldiers never die – because it’s the young ones doing all the fighting.”

War, if unavoidable, should never be decided by what old people want in their future. War should be decided by what we don’t want our children to live with in their future. Personally, I am sick and tired of seeing our children sent off to die because of an ignorant militaristic United States foreign policy decided on by angry men and directed by weapons manufacturers, oil companies, and other mercenary corporate masters.

Terrorism against the United States is something we can mostly alleviate by simply getting our military out of Islamic countries. But we can only do so if we intelligently curtail our consumption of global natural resources. By reducing our global natural resource consumption, we send a message to corrupt power hungry politicians that war is no longer necessary to guarantee the American lifestyle.

And come November 4, we can start by NOT voting into the White House an old military man who believes it is his turn to be President and run the military. The truth is if we as a country really want to eliminate terrorism against us, we would have a better chance succeeding with Barack Obama as President.

Heck, even General Colin Powell now supports Mr. Obama for these same reasons.

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, October 16, 2008

Thousands $$$ Pouring in to Pro Bond Group

More than 70% of contributions are from sources outside the county

From the Texas Ethics Commission comes this campaign finance report for the pro road bond group called Hays Families for Safe Mobility ...

Campaign treasurer: Amy Parham, Kyle, Tx 512.558.1524

Contributions period covered: Aug. 18, 2008 to Sept. 25, 2008

Total political contributions: $20,225.00

Total political expenditures: $10,500.00


Chuck Nash, San Marcos, Tx., $1,000

Chris Harkrider, Buda, Tx., $100

Walton Texas, LP, Phoenix, Az., $5,000

Hancock/Hanks Investments, Ltd., Austin, Tx., $2,500

Marc Rodriquez, Austin, Tx., $500

Michael & Nora Moeller, Wimberley, Tx., $1,000

John Weisman, Uvalde, Tx., $3,000

Niece Equipment, DelValle, Tx., $1,000

Texana Machinery, San Antonio, Tx., $500

Tex-Best Travel Ctr, Inc., McAllen, Tx., $5,000

Heldenfels Enterprises, Inc., San Marcos, Tx., $500

Ignite Consulting, Austin, Tx., $3,500

Opinion Analysts, Austin, Tx., $7,000

Editor's Note:

Should not necessarily be associated with any of the contributors listed above

An Open Letter: Risky Road Bonds

Dear Editor,

Over 70 percent of the road bonds on the Nov. 4 ballot have an untested financing mechanism that gambles on future growth over the next 20 years. It turns Hays County into a speculative road district that needs new growth. If that growth doesn't come, then it falls on us.

Rather than roads, let's focus on the ever increasing challenge of providing an adequate water supply, which is only aggravated by more development, brought on by more roads.

Vote against the road bonds. We need and want incentives and tax breaks for more (dare I say a minimum) rain water collection systems for any new developments in Hays county. I'm voting against the road bonds. Are you?

Ed Pope

Hays County Resident

Friday, October 10, 2008

Say Again? . . . A $207 Million County Road Bond in the Middle of a Financial Meltdown and Taxpayers Already Exhausted

Some on the commissioners court will stop at nothing to share the prize
with their special interest pals

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By Peter Stern

Do Hays County Commissioners even see our failing economy? Do they not see that our country, and the world's economies, are in the midst of a long term financial crisis?

Do they realize that taxpayers are overburdened already without throwing out more money for issues like the latest interest in an Elected Officials Compensation Plan and the extravagant proposal for road bonds?

Yes, elected officials should be "compensated" adequately. But NOT NOW!

We just raised the pay of our law officers, which was needed. Our teachers also should be compensated. And county taxpayers need overdue tax relief.

In May of last year commissioners tried to get a bond package approved by voters that was $170 MILLION and it failed at the polls, by a significant number.

But that didn't stop our commissioners.

This year a similar package valued at more than $207 MILLION has been proposed by commissioners (that is overtly being pushed by at least two commissioners) under the premise that the plan was developed by a "Citizens Advisory Committee," whose members, by the way, were appointed by the commissioners court.

In an economy that is failing Americans at the national level, which has trickled down to the local level, do we really want to keep on spending MORE tax dollars?

While some of these issues may well be important to review, do we have to throw out more tax dollars at this time? Couldn't we wait a while for the economy to improve? Or aren't there other, less expensive alternatives that would resolve a few of the issues instead of all of them at additional astronomical costs to overburdened taxpayers?

We should avoid approving extravagant road bond packages and cut spending on issues and programs that are not urgent at this crucial period of economic uncertainty.

Spending huge amounts of our tax dollars at this time is just plain foolhardy.

In a nutshell:

– The road bond package was voted down last year because the majority of voters did NOT want it.

– TxDOT makes many promises it CANNOT keep, including paying back money it does NOT have.
(TxDOT is under investigation for fraudulent activities and corrupt mismanagement by our Texas Legislature and Sunset Advisory Commission. Can we trust TxDOT to reimburse the county? With the help of the Senate Transportation Committee, we were able to get TxDOT to resurface FM 1826 correctly, BUT TxDOT forced the county to pay TWICE to do the job CORRECTLY once.)

– $207 MILLION for building, widening and improving roadways IS TOO MUCH to spend on our roads, especially during this terrible economic time.

– There are other less costly options to make our roads safer that should be explored instead of spending that extreme amount of our tax dollars, which are needed elsewhere throughout the county. [How about a $100 million tax reduction package to help stimulate the local economy?]

– Where do the tax increases stop for Hays County residents? First this bond issue, then a few more school bond issues, then yearly appraisal value increases and top it off with a once-in-a-while tax rate increase?

Currently every month 90 to 100 homeowners lose their homes to foreclosures. Do you want to add to that record high number of foreclosures by continuing to overtax your neighbors?

Road Bond Proposition, the sequel, is not a great idea at the present time. I get the feeling most Hays County taxpayers and residents would agree. The message was pretty evident in the last election for Road Bond Proposition 1 when voters shot it down.

But, hey...

Some members of the commissioners court and road developer special interests can try it again next year, and the year after that...
and the year after that.

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.

A Tangled Tale of Church, Taxes and Local Politics

Questions loom over handling of Wimberley Baptist Church on Hays County tax rolls

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By Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.

Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley, who lives in Wimberley, wants county taxpayers to purchase from Wimberley Crossroads LLC, the old First Baptist Church property in Wimberley for a cool $2.4 million, spend $600,000 more on renovations and convert the church sanctuary into a combination Precinct 3 county government center and Wimberley city hall.

There are unsettling, even unsavory circumstances surrounding this project that county taxpayers, Wimberley citizens and members of the First Baptist Church need to know about. What follows is based on official records obtained through open record requests.

It began two years ago as a questionable church insider transaction, but quickly turned into favorable tax treatment by the Hays County Central Appraisal District, and two years later an attempt by Precinct 3 Commissioner Conley to make a killing for the LLC insiders at taxpayer expense.

The church sale

According to public records, the Wimberley First Baptist Church (WFBC) on July 25, 2006, sold all of its church property located on 6.5 acres at 501 Old Kyle Road to Wimberley Crossroads, LLC for $350,000 in cash and a note for $1 million.

Wimberley Crossroads LLC consists mostly of Wimberley insiders, some of whom are reported to be members of the WFBC, so the sale can’t be considered “arms length.” As if to emphasize that, Michael D. Stevens, a Wimberley attorney represented both sides of the transaction between WFBC and Wimberley Crossroads LLC.

Martin. T. Fulfer, co-manager of Wimberley Crossroads LLC, holds a 30 percent interest in the church property. His Wimberley realty company, Star Realty, is handling the proposed $2.4 million sale to the county and stands to receive a six percent commission.

Making tax deals

The sale of church property to a limited liability corporation in 2006 should have triggered a change on the Hays County Central Appraisal District tax role from tax-exempt status to taxable property.

In the two years following the sale, the Appraisal District taxed the LLC for only the appraised land value, and that value remained constant since before 2005, at $369,210. How, one might ask, could the LLC appraised land value remain constant for more than four years while other county appraised land values rose over 20 percent?

The church property improvements were missing entirely from the Appraisal District tax rolls until June 4, 2008, when the county tax assessor, who serves on the Appraisal District board, was notified of the deficiency.

An initial District appraisal conducted on June 6, 2008, using an approved Religious Building cost calculation method, valued the total property at $3.34 million. An internal action taken by Chief Appraiser, David Valle, reduced his own appraiser’s value to $1.9 million. We found no explanation for Valle’s action documented in the official records given to us.

On July 11, 2008, attorney Michael D. Stevens, still representing both sides, protested the $1.9 million appraised value, arguing that it was more than the insider sale price.

In his cover letter to Valle dated July 11, 2008, attorney Stevens states:

“I have been waiting on the adjustment to be made and was quite surprised to see that it had been raised to well above our sales price.”

Records show the Appraisal District board did not hold a protest hearing regarding the second downward appraisal value adjustment. Instead, there was a closed door agreement reached between Chief Appraiser, Valle, and attorney Stevens, and the new appraised value was placed at $1.35 million, which included reducing the LLC appraised land value 25% to $276,910.

In response to our open records request, Chief Appraiser Valle requested a Texas Attorney General opinion on whether he must reveal actual sales documents produced by the Wimberley Crossroads LLC and used by Valle to selectively reduce the Wimberley Crossroads LLC property tax appraisal to $1.35 million.

Local politics

Wimberley Crossroads LLC is asking for, and Commissioner Conley is supporting a purchase price of $2.4 million for property the Central Appraisal District now appraises at $1.35 million. This would generate a windfall profit for the six LLC partners and cost county tax payers a bundle.

On June 10, 2008, Commissioner Conley held a public hearing in conjunction with the City of Wimberley, proposing the county purchase the Wimberley Crossroads LLC property for a price of $2.4 million in an “as is” condition. An estimated additional $600,000 would be required for renovation. More than $10,000 of public funds have already been spent by the county and Wimberley for so called due diligence.

Following eight months of his “due diligence” and behind the scene discussions, Conley called for a public meeting on June 7, 2008, to reveal his “vision” for county taxpayers.

About a dozen members of the public attended, as did a half dozen First Baptist Church insiders and an equal number of public officials. These included Hays County Sheriff Allen Bridges, Tax Collector Luanne Caraway, Precinct 3 Constable Darrell Ayers, and of course, Commissioner Will Conley.

At a minimum this proposed purchase brings into serious question Commissioner Conley’s judgment. It also raises real questions about his intentions. Fortunately for county tax payers, Conley hasn’t yet persuaded his commissioners’ court majority partners, Barton and Ingalsbe, to go along with this outlandish project.

How Conley runs his car wash in San Marcos is none of our business, but how Commissioner Conley spends our tax dollars certainly is, and I vote no.

This sorry episode also raises serious questions about how our Chief Appraiser is conducting the county’s business, and whether ordinary tax payers are carrying a larger share of the tax burden than those with connections.

The deal with church insiders is for FBC members to straighten out among themselves.

We believe there is more to this tale of church, taxes and local politics, and we will keep digging.

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.

Hays County Can’t Afford a Biased District Attorney

In road investigation public information requests, Tibbe provided 79 documents, many of which are irrelevant

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By Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.

I am greatly disappointed by the incomplete and sloppy investigation by our Hays County District Attorney, Sherri Tibbe, of two citizen complaints. Both complaints dealt with the use of county equipment, materials and personnel on private roads.

Based on Tibbe’s shallow investigation and flimsy legal conclusions published in two letters to Judge Sumter dated Sept.15, 2008, HaysCAN made a Public Information request asking for “All documents and correspondence that you relied on to reach the conclusions contained in your two letters responding to Judge Sumter’s requests referenced above.” Tibbe provided 79 pages of documents, many of which are irrelevant.

HaysCAN asked several attorneys to review Tibbe’s two legal opinions.

The complaint against Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe involves a two-mile-long private road on a development tract that earlier this year was annexed into the City of San Marcos limits at the request of Loomis Partners, formerly Loomis Austin.

A private property sign is clearly visible on the entry gate to a road in Precinct 1 that was recently upgraded and repaired by county road crews.

Following her investigation, Tibbe wrote
in her response to Judge Sumter that

work being performed at 2801 CR 621 in Hays County “ involved a county road crew performing maintenance on a road that leads to an historical cemetery.

Tibbe bases her legal opinion on Section 713.028, Texas Health and Safety Code that says, “…the county can use public funds, county employees,…and county equipment to maintain a cemetery that has a grave marker more than 50 years old.”

There is nothing explicit or implied in this statute about maintaining a private road. This private road is not a road to the cemetery, and all the attorneys I contacted gave the same opinion that this statute does not authorize work on a private road.

Tibbe failed to produce a copy of Commissioners’ Court minutes showing the Court authorized the work on either the road or the cemetery. Nor did she produce any official documents to verify her claim that the county has maintained both the cemetery and the road for many years.

Instead, Tibbe included an e-mail in which Lila Knight claims, “The road that County Commissioner Ingalsbe is accused of paving was done so at the request of the Hays County Historical Commission some years ago.” The Hays County Historical Commission has no authority to order any County road work. Only County Commissioners’ Court can lawfully authorize special work by the County road department.

Pct. 3 road leads to a gate with a no trespassing sign

The Precinct 3 complaint also concerns County equipment, materials and labor being used on Little Ranches Road, a private road section otherwise known to locals as 'Old Bumpy'.

Tibbe cites Texas Transportation Code Section 251.012 for justifying Commissioner Conley’s use of county equipment, materials and manpower to work on the road. This statute requires three official actions:

– A finding by Commissioners’ Court that work on a city road benefits the county.

– A Commissioners’ Court action to use county resources on a city road.

– Approval by the Wimberley City Council that the county should do the work.

Tibbe said she relied on minutes from Commissioners’ Court dated August 31, 1984, and a telephone conversation with former Pct. 3 Commissioner Craig Payne to determine that the 1400-foot road section in question had been approved for County maintenance. She did not provide us with the Court minutes or the notes of her telephone conversation with Payne.

If the road was authorized for County maintenance, why does it currently have a gate and a No Trespassing sign, and why has the County not maintained it since 1984?

Has Tibbe fallen in with the good ol' boys?

The Texas Transportation Code also requires approval by the Wimberley City Council to make the road improvements, but the Council never has taken that action. In fact, the City is requesting assurances about who owns the property. Is it a County road, a City road or a private road?

Based on our review of documents provided to us and on attorney review of Tibbe’s two opinion letters, the investigation appears to have included a few phone calls, a trip to the cemetery, hearsay testimony and reliance on irrelevant statutes. Some official documents that Tibbe claimed she relied on to form her conclusions were not included in her response to our open record request.

Tibbe is free to pick and choose which complaints she investigates as District Attorney, but she is bound by law and by her professional code of ethics to fully and rightfully research those complaints that she chooses to investigate. Tibbe is also required to obey the Public Information Act.

Tibbe seems to have turned a blind eye to two County Commissioners providing favors in an election year by using public resources on private roads. She seems to go out of her way to protect the two.

No one is above the law, and for the District Attorney to engage in such a slip-shod investigation is a dereliction of duty. It also leaves an impression that our DA is in cahoots with the good old boys. That would be a disaster for justice in Hays County.

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.

DA Tibbe Declares Road Work Legal, But Leaves Questions About Thoroughness of Investigation

Some requirements of the law simply were not followed by Conley, Ingalsbe, county commissioners court and the city of Wimberley

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By Bob Ochoa
Online Editor

Hays County District Attorney Sherri Tibbe has determined that repair work by county road crews on two roads, one in Wimberly and one nearby San Marcos, was done legally.

“I conclude that there is no evidence of illegal activity,” Tibbe said in letters sent in September to Hays County Judge Liz Sumter.

Tibbe’s office began an investigation into the road work at Sumter’s request.

Sumter said she had received citizen complaints that Precinct 1 County Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe and Precinct 3 County Commissioner Will Conley had authorized work recently on roads believed to be either on private property or lying within the city limits.

The county has no formal agreements with either city to maintain roads within their city limits.

In her letter addressing the Precinct 1 road question, Tibbe explained that she had observed the maintenance work at 2801 CR 621 (Staples Road) east of San Marcos. “[T]here was a cemetary at the end of the road with grave markers more than 50-years old. The road has to be maintained in order to allow safe access to the county-maintained historical cemetery,” the letter states. “The county has maintained both the cemetery and the road . . . for many years.”

Tibbe cited a section of the Texas Health and Safety Code that allows a county commissioners court “to maintain a cemetery that has a grave marker more than 50 years old.”

Maintaining a historical cemetery's one thing, but a private road leading to it?

However, critics maintain that Tibbe provided a narrow interpretation of the law focusing only on allowing maintenance of the (historical) cemetery.

“I’d like to see how they get from the care of the cemetery to maintenance of the road to and from unless they are claiming the road was dedicated to the city or that it was an easement for using same,” said one source, who asked to remain anonymous.

A long time resident of the area told the View the road in question runs through the old Hillyard Farm and has always been considered a private road. In fact, said the resident, the entrance to the road is usually gated with a no trespassing sign on the gate. The resident said county crews have bladed the road to even it out, cleared brush from the shoulders and paved some portions.

Road runs through a prospective upscale development

The old farm property, about 563 acres, was annexed recently by the City of San Marcos. Loomis Austin (Loomis Partners), an engineering, surveying and environmental consulting firm requested the annexation. A representative of the firm informed city leaders in March of plans to develop the property with resort style homes and a golf course. The property is said to have a beautiful stretch along the San Marcos River.

Loomis also does contract work for Hays County, performing various environmental and habitat conservation studies. The consulting firm announced recently that it had brought on board former Hays County Commissioner Bill Burnett to direct business development operations for the company.

In her legal determination of maintenance work done on a short stretch of road in Wimberly under the direction of Precinct 3 Commissioner Conley, Tibbe said Conley had acted in good faith after discovering that the county had adopted the road in 1984.

“Commissioner Conley relied on minutes from Commissioner’s Court dated August 31, 1984, in which Precinct 3 Commissioner Craig Payne asked the Court to approve 1,400 feet of Little Ranches road for county maintenance,” Tibbe said. “. . . Commissioner Conley was attempting to remedy the County’s past failure to meet its obligations to maintain the road and provide a safe travel route for motorists.”

A county worker on Old Bumpy, which leads to a private road and a gated subdivision. Estimates of the county's investment range from $5,000 to $15,000.

The quarter-mile stretch of road, more commonly known as ‘Old Bumpy’ to Summer Hills residents, has a long and complicated history, made worse with Wimberley’s incorporation in 2000. Old Bumpy was included in the city limits but the question of maintaining the stretch remains unresolved to this day between the city and county.

Conley says he's working on an inter-local agreement with the city, but city officials have remained steadfast against taking on any maintenance responsibility, to the chagrin of neighborhood residents.

Old Bumpy connects with the north hilltop stretch of Little Ranches Road, and is now virtually the only entrance and exit for residents of the Summer Hills subdivision. A north exit private road formerly used by Summer Hills residents that traverses the Woodcreek Ranches subdivision is due to be gated to through traffic, according to one Summer Hills resident.

In her investigation, Tibbe said she spoke with Wimberley Mayor Tom Haley who she said did not object to improvements to Old Bumpy by the county on behalf of the city.

Wimberley, county failed to approve work on 'Old Bumpy'

Tibbe cited Section 251.012 of the state Transporation Code which allows a county to perform work on a street in a municipality “with the approval of the governing body of a muncipality.”

It has since been pointed out that while the mayor may not have objected to the work on Old Bumpy, the city council itself has not taken an official position, nor has it voted on the question. A 1999 amendment to the state Transportation Code also requires a finding by the commissioners court that the county will benefit by work done on a municipal road.

According to a county official, the work authorized by Commissioner Conley on Old Bumpy has not been approved nor authorized by a finding or a vote of commissioners court.

Calls were made over a two day period to the county’s road department chief, Jerry Borcherding, for an estimate of the amount of funds spent on upgrading the two roads, but had not been returned by press time.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

PEC to Distribute $4.7 Million in Capital Credits to Eligible Members

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

JOHNSON CITY – PEC will distribute capital credits to eligible members as credits on October electric bills. This distribution is a result of a decision made by Pedernales Electric’s Board of Directors to comply with terms of the pending settlement agreement and distribute capital credits, even though the settlement is currently being appealed. This first distribution will total approximately $4.7 million and is consistent with the pending settlement agreement of the lawsuit filed against PEC in July 2007.

Members whose accounts have a capital credit balance and who will receive a bill for electric use during October 2008 are eligible for capital credits disbursements. Plans for future distributions have not been finalized at this time.

Capital credits accumulate when revenues exceed expenditures; however, they are not held in an account as funds. Capital credits are either reinvested into utility infrastructure or returned to members when PEC’s Board of Directors determines it is financially feasible. This practice is in accordance with the capital credits policy stated in PEC’s Bylaws. PEC’s Board revised its previous capital credits disbursement program to comply with the pending settlement agreement.

For additional capital credits information, members may visit or call PEC toll-free, 1-888-554-4732, for their capital credits account balance.