Monday, November 24, 2008

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

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

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

By Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hierarchy, the players and their specific roles

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

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

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


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

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

Dirty Tricks

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


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

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

Worker Ants

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next that voters should be watching for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commenters React to 'Good vs The Dark Side'

Scroll down to the story, and add your voice

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– "So the environmentalists have been co-opted; developers have all their guys in place, and it's been learned that all these guys want to bring in water from a reservoir near Gonzales, Texas via a long, long pipeline. These Testosterones have taken pages right out of Cheney's playbook: instill fear, scare the populace, and ALL principals cooperate with each other."

– "As a card-carrying member of "that group" I've noticed more and more of the so-called progressives and environmentalists going over to the Dark Side."

– " . . . coming soon (11/25/08) to a Commissioner Court near you yet another Wimberley Springs Partners development called The Ridge. Who knew? See agenda item presented by Conley . . . on next Tuesday's agenda. It is for the approval of the preliminary plat for The Ridge Lot 1 which is 19+ acres where the elementary school is being built and then soon after we will see the plat for The Ridge Lot 2 which is 73+/- acres divided into 146 residential lots (@ .63 each) So, where, oh where, are all the environmental groups?"

– "It sounds as tho one has to have eyes 'n' ears going 360 degrees to keep up with the evil machinations of all the GOB. Our roads are unsafe by virtue of those who feel they must SPEED to get where they need to go...newer roads will make this issue even worse...the construction phase will be a virtual nightmare..."

– "More should be revealed about the inner workings of the WVWA...are they really interested in protecting and defending our very fragile environment and the Hays Trinity Aquifer or are they simply running interference for the GOBs?"

Can We Talk? Building More Roads and Adding to the Sprawl is Sooo Retro

Turning Hays County into something roughly resembling Round Rock is a sad proposition, though it is one that will make lots of money for a select few people

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Guest commentary

By Susan Cook

DRIPPING SPRINGS – Despite the latest Hays County road bond being tens of millions more than last year's defeated one, it passed by a wide margin. Voters were either not as skeptical of these road projects as they were just one year ago, or sadly, didn't do their homework.

Do my fellow citizens not realize that many of these projects will do little more than increase suburban sprawl at a time when energy prices and our looming economic shifts have made it pretty obvious we need to rein in this kind of growth and pay attention to mass transit and more compact city options?

Turning Hays County into something roughly resembling Round Rock is a sad proposition, though it is one that will make lots of money for a select few people: those who own those swaths of land the road companies and developers have slated for our next transit corridors and for the people whose chosen occupation it is to build roads and subdivisions and strip malls...and again, sadly for the politicians those people have bankrolled into office to make the laws sync up with their development plans.

They talk of these development projects like they were inevitable patterns of growth. They are not. There are many ways to build cities and towns and manage our open spaces and the one that has been dominant in the US for the past 60 or so years is running out of fuel. Literally.

Our Hays County countryside should not be allowed to be paved over with unnecessarily large roadways and overpopulated by unsustainable housing projects. Our limited water resources should not be strained further from overuse or polluted with urban run-off. Development COSTS the taxpayer money, it never pays its own way.

Cities should protect and enliven their open spaces and agricultural outer rings. We should be aware of the advantages of growing food close to home and of the benefit of undeveloped land as a source of natural beauty, recreation, and aquifer regeneration.

If our "leaders" keep taking their marching orders from those who would transform Hays County into one big urban neighborhood like the interior of any city anywhere, then we must replace them and work harder to protect our lands, our water and our way of life.

Business as usual is not an option.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

County Judge Liz Sumter and Progressives on the Ropes, and the Anatomy of a Political Takeover

This engagement will be down and dirty. It will be a classic battle between the forces of Good and The Dark Side

Where the GOB Party is succeeding, flourishing and dominating, the good-hearted, do-good progressives are failing miserably – lacking in money, cohesiveness, good strategists and basic media smarts.
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By Bob Ochoa
RoundUp Editor

Not three weeks have passed since the incredible results of the Incredible Election of 2008 and we already are hearing boastful calls to unseat County Judge Liz Sumter in 2010.

Look at these excerpts from a Hays County newspaper quoting Pct. 3 commissioner Will Conley (R-Wimberley), fresh off his impressive reelection and feeling his oats, and his 207 million dollar road bond:

"I think the court will continue to set policy predominately [sp] through its commissioners. I believe that last week just validated that. That's just where our county is and that's what we need to do for the next couple of years until we find an appropriate replacement for our county judge."

"Conley said the 2008 election outcome would have the effect of curtailing the county judge's clout for the next two years."

Notice the words "appropriate replacement," and Conley's edict that Sumter (D-Wimberley) is, in effect, toast.

And this from the same area newspaper:

"With 2008 in the bag, conversations about the next county election already have begun. Barton and Conley have said they may consider a run for county judge in 2010, but both men said they would not want to run against each other as opponents. But in the meantime, the five members of the court are stuck with each other and say they'll try to get the job done despite personal and political differences."

Also this from Pct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Mountain City):

"Charles O'Dell and that group create a lot of sound and fury but signify relatively little, and I think most people were able to discern that. It would have been disastrous for Hays County to see them gain much traction."

Notice the words "that group." Remind you of that televised presidential debate when John McCain referred to Barack Obama as
"that one"?

And in the same newspaper report, this from Sumter: "I think we all have a lot of common goals we can all rally around."

That's a money quote from an arguably honest, progressive and conciliatory politician, in denial . . . read: "I'm toast."

Can we get an AMEN! for honesty and transparency . . . I don't think so

Folks, the Battle Royal is now engaged for wholesale control of our county government. The crowd that is winning is, shall we say, less inclined toward enlightenment.
(Whatever pleasure in the natural landscape and country lifestyles that you enjoy, please, enjoy it even more now while it lasts.) Nowhere in the afterglow of the local election results are we hearing alleluias for honesty, transparency and the common good. Not surprising, really. Those are old-fashion values. What is playing today in Hays County is big bossism, greed and dishonesty.

The coming engagement will be down and dirty. You can already see it. Conley and Barton are the lead attack dogs on the court. Oh, there'll be lots of smiles, group pictures and back slapping, but it will boil down to a classic battle between
forces of Good and The Dark Side. Forget about Democratic or Republican dominance, or bragging rights about who can best deliver smart growth for the business and real estate crowds as well to the environmentalists. In this home grown Armageddon there will be an amalgamation of both parties into one unholy alliance, led by the big bosses. The Machine Party, The Build and Develop Party, The Bulldoze Party, the Party of the Good Old Boys (GOB). Cliches, yes. But it is what it is.

Look at these quotes from the same area newspaper pushing the county's "east-west divide" meme, and you get a better view of the unfolding strategy to replace Sumter:

"The eastern half of the county largely supported Democrat candidates, while the west voted more Republican. Additionally, voters in the east voted in favor of the road bond in significantly larger numbers."
"We have major population centers that have different outlooks," said former Kyle mayor and current Buda councilmember Sandra Tenorio.

"Our County Judge in Wimberley probably needs to pay a little more attention to what some of the feelings are in the rest of the county, because the differences are real."

Can you see where it's going?

Got to hand it the GOB. They have some savvy strategists and a barn full of loyal play makers. They're getting better at what they do. They are expert at doling out favors. For years, they have been placing people in the right places. Dare I say they've got their tentacles in every council chamber and school board in the county, too. They've got their bag men, their organizers, their media outlets, and hoards of voters who will buy in to their superficial and misleading positions. The special interest money is coming their way like never before to ply their work.

Progressives can chew but they can't chew and walk at the same time

Where the GOB is succeeding, flourishing and dominating, the good-hearted do-good progressives are failing miserably – lacking money, cohesiveness, good strategists and basic media smarts. Many of the key progressive players have been compromised, beaten down or disheartened. Prior election successes (Sumter's and Karen Ford's wins in '06 and the May '07 road bond's failure) proved that the do-good progressives could chew. This year's election, however (Klepfer's defeat, the road bond's passage and McCain's win over Obama in Hays County), proved that they can not chew and walk at the same time.

George Lakoff, one of the father's of the study of modern linguistics and its application to political strategy, would have a field day with the GOB's game plan. For that matter, so would Karl Rove.

Both Lakoff and Rove understand the importance of first framing, then controlling and repeating the issue and message, then going in for the kill. The GOB is in the final stage.

Thus the newspaper quotes above. They are from a story in a recent issue of the Free Press (print circulation principally around Buda and Kyle), owned by long time Democratic party boss and mouthpiece Bob Barton, father of Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton. Bob also is father and mentor (metaphorically speaking)
to many eager and ambitious political operatives around the county, including Conley. His reach, along with that of his political and business chums, runs pretty wide and deep.

Framing the message, controlling the message

Story lines printed in the Free Press often bounce around other media outlets in the county like an echo. What you have in the story with the quotes above is the latest drum beat to the network. It is especially framed for the reading and voting public. You've got to watch carefully for these things. They are not stand-alone pieces, but part of a larger coordinated plan being worked at every level.

We can see the "frame" messages in the article. From Conley: Sumter's power has been "curtailed" by the election results, she's no longer relevant, the commissioners (Conley and Barton) must now pick up the slack and lead, she's out of step with the voters and needs to be replaced with an "appropriate replacement" (like me or my buddy Jeff). No one in the article disagrees with that assessment, not even Sumter. The message is being framed inside the voters' minds: the commissioners court is broken and needs fixing.

Barton and Conley are considering a run for county judge in 2010 but they don't want to oppose each other. Message frame: "Barton and Conley are friends. It's okay to be friends and to be from different parties. Democrats and Republicans are united, just not with Sumter. A vote for Barton is a vote for Conley and vice versa." Barton Jr. dismisses "Charles O'Dell and that crowd (including Sumter)" and calls their approach "disastrous." Frame: "The opposition are a bunch of miscreants and cannot be trusted to run our county government."

County Judge Sumter's quote essentially conveys reconciliation in a story replete with criticism against her administration and her base of supporters. Frame: "Sumter is on her back, she's not strong enough to defend herself, concedes defeat, and must be in la-la-land."

Look again at Tenorio's quotes etching the East Side versus West Side image in voters' minds, as she belittles Sumter for her misbehavior. Tenorio's words are an echo, reinforcing a political message and strategy.

Months ago, Barton the Senior
penned a column in his newspaper, shortly after the defeat of the '07 road bond, that laid out the east-west argument. The "zealots" and "no-growthers" in the western half of Hays County had stolen the election and denied the east side of critical transportation improvements. The latest incarnation of the argument is poor versus rich.

In the poor-rich frame, the West Side is no match for the East Side at the polls. Guess which side has more votes? That would be the East Side – by a landslide. The West Side poses no threat to the Democratic power brokers, as it tilts Republican and has sent Conley back to the court for a second term. And now that West Sider Conley has linked arms with the Democratic power brokers, the circle is complete.

In the end game, there are no real parties left, that is, with any real principles or values to compare and contrast. Voters will continue to play-act going to the polls, staying loyal to their parties. But the party bosses, having covered all the bases, will be left holding the loot. Smart guys.

Watch it all play out in the months ahead.

And watch for the attack lines against Judge Sumter. They might be refined and rephrased but will stay the same essentially and reported with more frequency as time goes on. Watch and listen also for the repeaters, or enforcers, of the message on the ground. That will be your cue to either salute or engage . . . or turn tail and run for the tree covered hills – whatever is left.

Voters of all stripes best sharpen up their inner senses. The election of 2010 for county judge will be a choice between what is fundamentally Good and The Dark Side. In this great battle, no one with an appreciation of plain ole Good can afford for the Dark Side to win.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hays County's Party of the Good Ole Boys Rides Again, Stronger Than Ever

Bipartisanship at its naked Machiavellian best . . . how the power brokers inside the Democratic and Republican parties have joined hands to put their moneyed, special interest agendas first
The GOB mantra is to do whatever is required to gain and maintain governmental control. Governmental control and representative governance are not the same. Both utilize the democratic process, but one resorts to expediency, deceit and dirty tricks to gain and maintain control of the electorate.

A special two-part commentary

Part 1

By Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.

Hays County voters have spoken, but for those who may not have noticed, the Nov. 4 election results signaled a comeback for the good ole boys (GOB) from the time when Eddy Etheredge was county judge and mentor to then Commissioner Jeff Barton. Barton and Etheredge are back and both retain their GOB ways.

The Barton’s of Buda, Bob and son Jeff, claim to be Democrats, but like Charles Soechting, they are first and foremost GOB. Soechting resigned in 2006 as Texas Democratic Party Chair, and is an attorney at the San Marcos and Houston offices of The O'Quinn Law Firm. Soechting endorsed another GOB, Republican Will Conley in his reelection bid for Precinct 3 County Commissioner. The Soechting endorsement of Conley was more of a GOB rant against fellow Democrat Steve Klepfer, former Mayor of Wimberley, who is definitely not a GOB.

Political parties are simply to be used as a tool for control. The GOB will claim they are working for bipartisan cooperation but it’s really about GOB control. Those who oppose the GOB will be painted as obstructionists. If you understand this, then you can begin to make sense out of commissioners’ court and the Hays County election results.

The GOB mantra is to do whatever is required to gain and maintain governmental control. Governmental control and representative governance are not the same. Both utilize the democratic process, but one resorts to expediency, deceit and dirty tricks to gain and maintain control of the electorate.

This is widely known as the Machiavellian principle of government.
Pronunciation: (mak"_-u-vel'_-un)
1. political expediency is placed above morality and the use of craft and deceit to maintain the authority and carry out the policies of a ruler is described.
3. characterized by subtle or unscrupulous cunning, deception, expediency, or dishonesty: He resorted to Machiavellian tactics in order to get ahead.

Priming the pump, and the '06 election of Sumter and Ford was just a bump on the road

A major challenge to the Hays County GOB occurred in the November 2006 election when Democrat Liz Sumter was elected County Judge in a stunning upset over Jim Powers, and newcomer Democrat Karen Ford was elected Precinct 4 Commissioner in a mild upset. GOB and Democrat Jeff Barton was also elected as Precinct 2 Commissioner, in large part because of a historical disconnect by new voters who had no knowledge of Barton having been voted out of the same office in 1998, along with his mentor County Judge Eddy Etheredge, amid claims of waste and corruption.

It would have been instructive for those new Precinct 2 voters to have known that the Barton Democrats supported Republican Bill Burnett in his run for reelection as Precinct 3 Commissioner in 2000. Burnett’s opponent was Democrat Liz Sumter. Bill Burnett is the son of William “Bud” Burnett who, for twenty years or more, used the GOB of Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) to enrich themselves at the expense of PEC customers, and who was forced to resign in disgrace from the PEC board earlier this year.

Like father like son. In late summer of 2002, a Hays County Purchasing Department evaluation committee was ranking engineering firms that had applied to manage the County’s 2001 county road bond. Engineering firm, Turner, Collie Braden was at least fifth on the list until Commissioner Burnett interceded and pushed TCB to the top. In March of 2003, three TCB employees located in Austin, Ft. Worth and Houston each made $1,500 contributions to the Burnett election campaign. It turned out to be a very good investment for TCB. The firm was paid about $4 million from the 2001 road bond.

Such is the ways of the GOB. By their contributors ye shall know them.

In 2004, the last year of his second term as Precinct 3 Commissioner, Burnett was on the payroll of Houston firm, Dannenbaum Engineering. Burnett decided not to run for reelection and hosted a fund raiser for fellow Republican Will Conley who owns a car wash in San Marcos and boasted that Karl Rove was his political hero. James Dannenbaum, president of Dannenbaum Engineering made one of several large contributions to the Conley campaign. In fact, most all of Burnett’s special interest contributors switched over to Conley. Conley’s fat campaign budget won him the 2004 election.

In the election summer of 2006, Conley became a self proclaimed Hays County “Road Czar” and worked with TxDOT on the $133 million Pass-Through Tolling Agreement that would become the core of our current $207,000,000 so called “safety and mobility” road bond.

Conley and County Judge Jim Powers were so confident of funding the $133 million Agreement that they lined up seven special interest firms and awarded contracts to them totaling $10 million. The seven firms were: Prime Strategies - $1 million, Dannenbaum Engineering - $1.4 million, Carter & Burgis - $2.4 million, Cobb Fendley - $2.0 million, Lockwood, Andrews & Newman - $.62 million, Klotz and Associates - $2.5 million, and PBS&J - $.14 million. The County Auditor wrote on each of the seven contracts, “no funds in the budget for this contract.”

To jump start the seven unfunded contracts Conley got the court to divert $5.4 million from the county’s 2001 road bond for county roads, into the new Pass-Through Agreement that expanded state roads RR 12, changed the route of FM 1626, and built a new FM 110 that was called the road to nowhere.

Powers secretly intended to issue certificates of obligation instead of asking voters to approve a road bond, but first he had to get past his November 2006 election before springing the long-term debt on the voters without their approval.

Conley feared that Precinct 4 Commissioner Russ Molenaar might lose in his bid for reelection and worked hard in his campaign. Even if Molenaar should lose there would still be the majority of Powers, Conley and Barton, if Barton could beat Republican Susie Carter. So the Democrat Barton’s were working against Democrat Sumter, and Republicans were working against Republican Carter because she was too honest. The GOB at work.

When the unthinkable happened in November and both Molenaar and Powers lost their bids for reelection, the GOB had to formulate a new strategy. Barton and Etheredge to the rescue.

Barton/Conley tag up to play hardball while Ingalsbe stands by for the power shift

When the new court convened on January 2, 2007, Barton immediately began his efforts to “dominate” the inexperienced County Judge Sumter, and to “neutralize” the new Precinct 4 Commissioner Ford. A review of commissioners’ court videos located on the Hays County web site reveals the abusive and verbose “talk them into submission” approach Barton exercised week after week in the first months of the Sumter administration.

Republican Commissioner Will Conley, who was beginning the third year of his term, watched and learned from Barton. He and Barton soon began playing tag team on Sumter and Ford, and third-term Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe watched carefully to see who would win the power struggle. She would go with the power, and provide the swing vote.

With the defeat of Powers and Molenaar, Conley had to scrap the non-voter approved certificates of obligation scheme. The new court majority insisted that any road bond go before the voters. It didn’t take
Barton and Conley long to get the Pass-Through Tolling Road Bond on the May 2007 ballot. Voters eventually said no to the road bond in the May election, but that didn’t keep the court from paying $2.5 million by the end of 2007 to the seven hand picked Pass-Through special interest firms, and not a foot of roadway is constructed.

It was clear that a more orchestrated effort would have to be made if the road bond had any chance of getting voter approval. That would have to wait until the 2008 general election. In the meantime, the dirty tricks plan to discredit Judge Sumter was about to take a big step forward.

The GOB permitting department was challenged on April 14, 2007 when Sumter, Ford and Ingalsbe voted to revoke a commercial on-site septic facility Authorization to Construct permit that Environmental Health Department Programs Manager, Tom Pope had issued to Nick Ramus, despite its non-compliance with County and State Rules.

Declaring Ramus a victim of the new court majority, Barton and Conley railed against what they contended was both an illegal and unjust action by the Sumter majority. Ramus, with encouragement from Barton, Conley and other GOB, sued Hays County in District Court that July, claiming the county lacked authority to enforce its septic Rules.

This wasn’t the first time Ramus had filed a law suit, but it was the first time he was represented by an attorney. Twice before he had, pro se, sued his former employer at Texas State University and then settled out of court. And Ramus is not a stranger to Hays County courts. Records showed that he has been convicted twice of being a public nuisance and is currently facing a deadly conduct charge.

If Ramus lost his legal suit against Hays County, as existing case law strongly suggested that he would, the dirty tricks effort of Barton and Conley to discredit Sumter would be dashed.

As an interim tactic, Barton attempted to slip past commissioners’ court a precedent setting septic variance that he hoped would help the Ramus suit, but his scheme was exposed and he retreated, visibly shaken that his well planned scheme had been discovered.

Finally, a visiting Republican judge, without comment or legal rationale, found in favor of Ramus with a terse ruling that flew in the face of all previous case law. But Skip Newsom, attorney for Ramus, sat on the Judge’s Order until after the November election to forestall commissioners’ court appealing the decision that would surely be overturned and have damaged Conley’s reelection efforts.

This stalling tactic gave Barton and Conley time and opportunity to work on cleaning up the Ramus public image and to drive swing voter Commissioner Ingalsbe into their camp, giving them a court majority. Conley supported Ramus as a Republican candidate for Precinct 1 County Commissioner, and the Barton’s supported Celestino Mendez in the Democrat primary for Precinct 1 race against incumbent Ingalsbe.

That did the trick.

So Barton and Conley had encouraged Ramus to sue commissioners’ court. Barton’s precedent septic variance scheme had failed. A visiting Republican District Judge rendered an inexplicable ruling prohibiting the county from enforcing its development Rules and Regulations. Commissioner Ingalsbe was sent a message by the Barton’s in the Democrat Primary, and the Hays County Republican Party, dominated by Conley, supported Ramus as its candidate against Ingalsbe.

What was the purpose of these and other Machiavellian tactics by the GOB?

First, it was to maintain control of commissioners’ court and work for Sumter’s defeat in the 2010 election. Second, to protect the county’s development permitting group that is loyal to the GOB and will do their bidding whether lawful or not. And third, to avoid any election fallout for Conley, Ingalsbe and the road bond that would have occurred if their Ramus scheme fell apart.

Despite stalling the Ramus court Order until after the election, Ramus still managed to get himself charged with deadly conduct by confronting two citizens with a loaded shotgun. Even that case was delayed until after the election.

Part 2 will identify the hierarchy of the Hays County GOB, describe how they worked with special interests and used public funds to mislead voters on the road bond, identify who is supporting Ramus behind the scene and why, describe some of Conley’s expensive voter scams, “where they are today,” and more.
As co-founder of Hays Community Action Network (HaysCAN) in 2003, Mr. O’Dell strives to carry out the mission of ensuring open, accessible and accountable government. He is a long time and close observer of the workings of the Hays County Commissioners Court. He earned a degree in Agricultural Education and a Masters in Ag Economics at Texas Tech, and, later, a Ph.D. at The University of Maryland while employed as a Research Economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, D.C. Texas born and raised on a family farm, O’Dell is a Hays County Master Naturalist and a board member of the Ethical Society of Austin.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Conley, His Campaign Rhetoric and Promises – Will He Follow Through?

And who'll be keeping tabs?

Will Conley and Steve Klepfer both responded to a citizen questionnaire before the election Nov. 4; here are the responses from Conley, who won a second term on the commissioners court. His responses have been edited for length. Still a bit long, but worth a read – if you're interested in keeping score.

Email your comments, fact-checking and news tips to
(See one alert reader's
fact-check response at bottom)
Editor's Note: Not included in the questions below are two with significant and consequential outcomes. The RoundUp welcomes Mr. Conley to provide a direct and honest response to each.

First, will you pursue your plan – and push for a vote of the commissioners court – to have the county purchase the old Wimberley Baptist Church property and convert it to a city/county government center? It has been strongly suggested, through documented evidence, that this is an insider deal that will handsomely benefit several private investors locally.

Second, will you pursue your "alleged" stated interest to disband the Wimberley-managed Emergency Services District and merge it with a county wide, privately run system?

On the road (bond) again

Q: Many citizens have expressed support and opposition to the road bond proposal. Are you FOR or AGAINST the road bond proposal and why?

CONLEY: This comes down to safety, pure and simple. Our road system was designed for the 1950s and 60s, and in many cases it hasn’t been updated since then. However, Hays County is home to over 100,000 people now, not 10,000. We must be proactive in improving our road safety, or else we will pay the price.

I worked with state officials to make sure future road improvements in the Wimberley Valley, including Ranch Road 12, will be in a “parkway” style, which preserves our community’s natural beauty. Unlike what my opponent prefers to say, this is not a “superhighway.” I worked with TxDOT to actually change the state’s road plan to respect the integrity of our scenic landscape. The Wimberley city council agreed with my proposal and submitted this as one of their priority projects as well. My long term planning will forever protect this section of RR 12 from being ruined.

To take the burden off of the taxpayer, I negotiated for Hays County to receive $133 million in state funds if we pass this road bond and fix our outdated and increasingly unsafe road system. This is well over half the cost of the road improvements, and a great deal for Hays County. Now we can invest in our roads without a significant tax burden, improve public safety, and protect our scenic landscape at the same time. It’s a win-win-win situation.

Q: What benefits will Wimberley receive from the $207 million dollar bond? What are the specific plans with the road improvement running through the Square?

CONLEY: As for the square project, Wimberley submitted three projects they would like the county to fund. The county citizen committee chose two out of the three and I was able to get some additional safety work on Ranch Road 12 put in as well. Plus, we are receiving the money to make the important improvements on FM 2325.

In the Wimberley Valley the road bond has many important projects. First there are safety improvements on Ranch Road 12 at the Junction and Hugo Road. Sink Creek Bridge would be pulled out of the flood plain and safety improvements would be made where the new Wonder World Extension and Ranch Road 12 will meet. Second, we will finish the work my opponent couldn’t complete downtown and fix the bottleneck on the Wimberley Square. Third, we will have major safety improvements on FM 2325 from Carney Road to Fisher. These improvements will consist of turning lanes, shoulders, and deceleration lanes, which will keep our children safe when the new school is built and improve safety all along this section of FM 2325. These projects protect our families; improve the area for the Emily Ann Theater, our Veterans Memorial, Woodcreek, Woodcreek North, and many others in our area.

On development, now and in the future

Q: How do you feel about the development of dense subdivisions around the Wimberley area?

CONLEY: That kind of development has its place in urban areas and along the I-35 corridor, but not in the hill country. I led the court in rewriting subdivision regulations to make sure rural developments are low-impact, meaning larger lot sizes and a greater emphasis on environmental protection. I also raised developer fees to make developers contribute more toward conservation and infrastructure improvements. This is all within the county’s proper authority.

Q: What measures can be taken to make sure construction sites follow procedures for announcing new developments in advance for citizen’s review and input?

CONLEY: The new (county subdivision) rules and regulations call for a tremendous increase in notice to citizens. I have put more inspectors in the field to make sure builders are playing by the rules of the game and are protecting our resources. As for the True Ranch development, I believe my office performed well. First there is no True Ranch development. Second, when a developer comes to meet with the commissioner (which is part of the county rules) we discuss our area and the issues we have in our community.

When the development concept of the True Ranch came to my office I asked the developer to enter into a development agreement with the county (which they don’t have to do, in fact this was one of the first in county history) so we could work through these sensitive issues of water availability and quality, population density, light pollution, etc. He agreed and we began talking through the issues. Once we had something basic to discuss I called a public meeting so the community could have input and let anyone and everyone talk about the issues. The county hadn’t even received all the preliminary work on the project when I called this meeting and the project had never even come to Court for preliminary approval. So the idea that negotiations were done in the dark is just cheap politics.
Hays County is one of the fastest growing counties in Texas and the I-35 Corridor is approximately 15 miles from the Wimberley Valley. We are all concerned about the impact from this growth.

Q: How do you envision the future growth of our Wimberley Valley over the next 5 years?

CONLEY: As county commissioner, I pushed for a revision of county development regulations so that future growth will complement the natural beauty of the Wimberley Valley. These new regulations will protect the integrity of our landscape, the historic character of our community, and the quality and sustainability of our water supply. I also created a new fund and began requiring developers to pay their fair share of costs to beautify the community and improve our infrastructure. Together, these new regulations and funds will enable growth in the Wimberley Valley to blend into the current community and protect our cherished quality of life.

Q: With more people comes more schools, more taxes, congested roadways, more crime, more emergency services, etc. What is your plan for protecting the Wimberley area so we do not become another small town casualty of urbanization?

CONLEY: First, I have to disagree with part of the question. More people does not have to mean congested roadways, more taxes, or higher crime. Being proactive is the key to protecting our Wimberley Valley way of life. Good long-term planning is only the beginning; we also need to keep our codes and regulations relevant to our current needs, and make sure they are being enforced.

On protecting our scarce water resources

Q: Experts tell us we are on borrowed time in respect to water resources. What is your plan for protecting the current Wimberley homeowners on separate wells from running out of water?

CONLEY: I worked with the Hays Trinity Aquifer Groundwater District to fund research efforts and better conserve our water. I support full chapter 36 rules and regulations for new development but do not think existing residential wells should be regulated. I also established the Jacob’s Well Land Trust to preserve Jacob’s Well, recover and restore environmentally sensitive land, and establish a new community center to further aquifer research and conservation.

As a business owner, my car wash has won environmental awards for its high-tech water recycling system, and in a matter of weeks my business in San Marcos will be the first commercial rainwater collection facility in the city. I would like to see this kind of innovation replicated in our area. Hays County currently does not tax rainwater collection systems and I developed a loan program through the county to help those who are interested have more opportunities to purchase rainwater collection systems. I have also formally asked the school district to not increase taxes on the appraised value for rainwater systems, which they are considering. These types of initiatives are critical to maintaining our water quality and sustainability. In addition, the conservation plan I developed calls for thousands of acres of our hill country to be preserved and gives us the ability to bring in millions of state and federal dollars to help us accomplish this goal.

Q: Would you be willing to mandate new development (residential and commercial) to “pay their way” for services that would encourage groundwater sustainability such as rainwater harvesting, clustering, native landscaping and designation of areas for recharge and impervious ground cover based on scope of the project?

CONLEY: Yes, and in many cases I already have. By my initiative, the county instituted a new incentive program to encourage developers to adopt “green” building plans, such as incorporating rainwater harvesting systems in new developments. I also established a requirement for developers to pay into a fund that will offset the cost of improving our environment. I have also gone on the record many times that counties need authority to apply impact fees to new large developments. The great news is that my initiatives are working, and I hope to expand them in the future.

Q: Would you be willing to give Trinity Groundwater more authority in regards to future development of our area?

CONLEY: As county commissioner, I forged new partnerships with the groundwater district by funding its research efforts and working collaboratively. I believe full chapter 36 authorities should be given to the Trinity on all new development. I don’t believe they should regulate existing residential wells. My opponent disagrees and believes the Trinity should have authority over new and existing residential wells. The Trinity already has authority to regulate commercial wells and this should remain in place.

These questions are from people who are serviced by AquaTexas

Q1: The customers are reaching a breaking point with basic service charges and high monthly water rates. Why hasn’t AquaTexas been forced to fix major system failures? What can you do to help these people?

Q2: AquaTexas’ Woodcreek North customers have been dealing with a hazardous, “temporary” daily pump out wastewater system for over two years. What would you do to make sure this problem gets resolved and infractions get enforced in a timely manner in the future?

My wife and I are now on the AquaTexas system in Mountain Crest. I am the only person in this race that has made improvements to water systems. First in Cedar Oak Mesa we have completely funded the restoration of their water system with state money. This has helped our environment and many of our citizens. Second, I played a major role in getting AquaTexas to make a $2 million investment in Woodcreek North which will help prevent water loss and provide better service to fellow citizens and the new school.

This is a start and we have a long way to go in improving AquaTexas water systems. Recently State Representative Rose, Council member Rassco, Council member Esklund, the fire chief and I have led an effort to restore our fire hydrant service. We are close to a solution and things will go back to normal in the near future. This was the wrong move for AquaTexas to make and we are making sure they change this behavior. I believe our community needs to put serious thought into buying this system. It will cost us, but it is in our best interest long term. This way we control our destiny not stock holders in Philadelphia. This Tuesday the county will hire a water and waste water consultant to start looking at these issues and we will be able to start making plans for the future.

Call me anytime on my cell phone at (512) 738-1079, email me at, or drop by my website at

Take care, and I’ll see you around town!


In typical political fashion, Commissioner Conley makes claims in this Roundup Q&A that range from exaggerations to being outright false. Here are just a few of them.

Conley claims the road bond "comes down to safety, pure and simple." Not according to official data. A few small projects on US 290, SH 21 and The Junction on RR 12 can be demonstrated to fall into safety projects, but over 80% of the bond funds will be spent on making existing safe roads less safe. At least this is what official DPS accident records and road engineering research tells us. Not a single person promoting the road bond ever provided any objective support of their claims that the road bond would make our major roads safer. Instead, they used photos of children and EMS slogans appealing to voter emotions. Such tactics got them voter approval but Conley's safety claim is simply not factual. I guess its better to feel safer than to actually be safer.

Conley claims that the TxDOT $133 million payback over twenty years is "well over half the cost of the road improvements". This shows how little Conley understands about interest rates and the impact of inflation, or is he just being disingenuous? Anyone paying their twenty or thirty year home mortgage knows that the interest paid is greater than the principle. And it doesn't take (an) Economist to know that a dollar spent today won't be worth much in twenty years.

Finally, any future TxDOT payback won't be seen by taxpayers. Future commissioners' court will simply spend it as our tax bonds are finally paid down.
Conley writes that, "I led the court in rewriting subdivision regulations." The truth is that our consultants with sustained effort by stakeholder representatives . . . rewrote the subdivision regulations, not Conley or anyone else on the court. Conley can take credit for leading the special interests charge to roll back the consensus efforts of the stakeholders. In commissioners' court today, Nov. 18, Conley will have voted to diminish the carefully considered rules designed to protect adjoining property owners from post development increase in rate and volume of stormwater runoff. Maybe this is what Conley meant by his "rewriting" the subdivision regulations.

There are many other unfounded claims that Conley makes, but isn't that what elected officials do?
I even question the photograph Conley represented as being him.

Here is a photo of the Conley I know at commissioners court.

Local GOP Web Site Likely Spreading Inaccurate Info About Cell Numbers Going Public

Don't get scammed, check first

Update: Nov. 14, 2008 –– I had emailed the Hays County GOP and notified the party that it had incorrectly / falsely provided cell phone misinformation to the public and that it should remove it and publicly apologize for this error. One hour later I checked the site and the party had removed the false cell phone commentary without an apology or any reference to it. It appears the GOP is trying to pretend the incorrect information was never on the site. Politics as per usual? No one wants to admit to a mistake?

-- P.S.

An alert reader has caught the local GOP web site passing on some possibly bogus information.

Party officials, it would seem, have bought into a scary chain email that's been going around for a couple of years warning that our cell phone numbers are about to be released to the whole world and to those obnoxious telemarketers.

Their web site message is almost identical to the errant email.

Here's what it says: "REMINDER: Cell Phone Numbers Go Public this month. All cell phone numbers are being released to telemarketing companies and you will start to receive sales calls. YOU WILL BE CHARGED FOR THESE CALLS To prevent this, call the National Do Not Call List from your cell phone at: 888-382-1222. It takes about 20 seconds of your time and blocks your number for 5 years. You must call from the cell phone number you want to have blocked. You cannot call from a different phone number."

A quick check with Google found dozens of entries debunking this information as myth, or half true at best.

Here's one of the entries, posted Jan. 25, 2008:

Email Hoax: Cell Phone Numbers NOT going public.
I received a note yesterday from an advocate who forwarded on an email claiming that cell phone numbers were about to be released to telemarketers and the email contained the official Do Not Call Registry phone number.

The email claimed:
"Cell phone numbers going public tomorrow – Reminder: All cell phone numbers are being released to telemarketing companies tomorrow and you will start to receive sales calls. You will be charged for these calls. To prevent this, call the following number from your cell phone: (888) 382-1222. It is the National Do Not Call list. It will only take a minute of your time. It blocks your number for five years. You must call from the cell phone number you want to have blocked. You cannot call from a different phone number. Help others by passing this on to all your friends. It takes about 20 seconds."

In an attempt to alert others, many of us proceeded to forward this email on – just as the email advised. A few minutes later while doing a bit of research on these claims, I was happy to find our numbers were not about to be released – rather, it was just an email hoax.

The good news is, if you acted on the email and called the Registry to log your cell phone number, no harm was done. You simply added another level of protection by registering your number with the Do Not Call Registry. The phone number itself was and is, a known legitimate number to the offical Do Not Call Registry.

You can call the same number to register your home phone number if you haven't done so. If you did so years ago – remember it only blocks calls for five (5) years.

FTC facts: "If you've received an e-mail telling you that your cell phone is about to be assaulted by telemarketing calls as a result of a new cell phone number database, rest assured that this is not the case," the FTC says. "Telemarketing to cell phone numbers has always been illegal in most cases and will continue to be so. In response to recent e-mail campaigns urging consumers to place their cell phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry, the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission issue this advisory to give consumers the facts."

Registry program: FCC regulations prohibit telemarketers from using automated dialers to call cell phone numbers. Automated dialers are standard in the industry, so most telemarketers are barred from calling consumers on their cell phones without their consent.
Wireless 411 service: Qsent Inc. is working on a "wireless 411" directory and the new Wireless 411 Service will provide cell phone users the choice and opportunity to list cell phone numbers in the same nationwide voice 411 service they use for land-line phones. They must opt-in to the service to be included, and consumers wishing to be left out of the directory need only ignore the opportunity to be included. Directory numbers will be given out individually, as requested, but the directory will not be published or sold to telemarketers.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rick Perry Wants Reinstatement of DPS Checkpoints

Asks Attorney General to issue an opinion on legality

From the
KVUE newsroom Wed., Nov. 12, 2008

By Noelle Newton

By orders from the Governor's office, the chair of the Public Safety Commission sent a letter to Attorney General Greg Abbott asking for a legal opinion to allow DPS checkpoints. Before Abbott could respond, 15 lawmakers sent a letter urging him to deny the request.

(A report filed by KXAN - Austin, described Perry's request as
"a statewide system for random driver checkpoints." Story link here )

KVUE News spoke by phone with State Representative Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio). She signed the letter.

"There are 31 senators and 130 house members and they make up the state legislature,” said McClendon. “They alone are the ones that have that authority to make that decision no one else and no other agency."

In a typical checkpoint, officers line up along a feeder road, or an exit to a highway, and they stop every driver checking for license, insurance and registration.

Governor Rick Perry's office released this statement: “Driver license checkpoints are an effective and efficient law enforcement tool that increases overall compliance with requirements to operate a motor vehicle."

McClendon and other representatives fear it may be used to target illegal immigrants.

"It's a privacy issue because they have no authority to do that," McClendon said.

It looks like she may get the chance to vote on the issue. If Abbott doesn't give DPS clearance to do checkpoints, Governor Perry's office says he will push the state legislature to approve it in the next session.

Abbott has 180 days to issue an opinion.

PEC Outlines Proposed LCRA Contract

New agreement will give PEC unprecedented access to LCRA information and greater flexibility to purchase power from other providers

Approval is expected at board's Nov. 17 meeting; members are urged to comment at:

Email your comments and news tips to

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

Johnson City – Pedernales Electric’s Board met Monday, Nov. 10, to discuss the Cooperative’s ongoing wholesale power contract negotiations with the Lower Colorado River Authority. The contract has been a primary focus of PEC’s Board and management team since April.

PEC Deputy General Manager Paul Hilgers presented an overview of the proposed agreement, stressing that the presentation is “to give our members more opportunity to understand the decisions that are taking place at Pedernales Electric Cooperative.” Hilgers said an expert team composed of PEC staff, utility industry consultants and legal minds worked on the amended agreement in collaboration with the LCRA.

The new agreement, scheduled for approval at the PEC Board meeting on Nov. 17, will extend the relationship between the Cooperative and the LCRA through 2041. The contract will give PEC more flexibility, unprecedented access to LCRA information, and establish a more collaborative partnership on costs, rates and resource planning. The amended agreement revolves around five basic benefits to Cooperative members:

• Progressive power provisions. The LCRA will cooperate with Pedernales Electric in the development and potential funding of conservation, demand-side management, energy efficiency, renewable energy and distributed energy programs.

• Greater flexibility to purchase power from other suppliers. This tenet provides options for Pedernales Electric to purchase electricity from other sources, if the LCRA’s rates are less than competitive in the future. It also improves PEC’s ability to pursue additional renewable energy options.

• Heightened transparency and information sharing on costs and rates. The LCRA will now share information about actions — primarily those affecting rates and the development or retirement of generation assets — with a Rates and Resources Council comprised of wholesale customers.

• Greater influence and partnership with the LCRA. The Rates and Resources Council will have direct input on LCRA decisions affecting rates and resource planning.

• Stabilizing factors. Solidifying a long-term contract mitigates risk and helps stabilize both organizations in the eyes of the financial community.

“This contract redefines the relationship between Pedernales Electric and the LCRA,” said PEC General Manager Juan Garza, “and signals a new era of partnership between the LCRA and its wholesale customers.

PEC members have the opportunity to view the presentation outlining the contract online at, and to further comment on the proposed contract at the next Board meeting on Nov. 17. In addition, the Cooperative will discuss provisions to the contract at three governance and legislative leadership meetings throughout the service area.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Bush 2004 Chief Campaign Strategist Dowd Speaks at Unity Church of Wimberley

Says it all comes down to "fear and love"

Email your comments to

Matthew Dowd, George W. Bush's chief campaign strategist in 2000 and 2004, delivered a moving message Sunday, Nov. 9 at Unity Church of Wimberley. His visit to the church was a surprise to many. His presentation was entitled, "Coming Home: A Journey Through Life."

Dowd shared a number of difficult and disappointing challenges in his life, both personal and political. "All choices," he said, "come down to (choosing between) fear and love." After many years in the rough and tumble world of political consulting, Dowd said he chose to make his home in Wimberley.

Dowd is a frequent guest political commentator on national networks and cable tv. He broke ranks with the Bush administration last year over the Iraq war and failed leaderhip. In the presidential campaign, Dowd criticized John McCain's pick of Sara Palin as his running mate.

A Michigan native, Dowd began his political career as a Democrat and once worked for Texas Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock. He switched parties in 1999 and joined the Bush campaign for president.

Farmers Requests 10 Percent Hike in Homeowners Insurance, Effective Feb. '09

Letter writer asks, 'What's up with that! We already have the highest premiums in the country'

Email your comments and news tips to

Dear TDI Commissioner Mike Geeslin and Texas Legislators:

This request for a hike in homeowner insurance is an outrage (see story below). Four years ago Farmers Insurance, along with other companies in Texas, doubled insurance premiums and now it wants even more. In some cases the coverage of homes dropped while the increases were applied.

Currently Texas has the highest cost of homeowner insurance premiums in the nation.

The insurance commission should say "No!" to Farmers and the legislature needs to cut down on the lax legislation provided to the industry.

There is no justification for another increase at this time no matter how Farmers tries to defend it to the commission. Currently I pay more than $1,700 per year for my basic homeowner policy. Some homeowners pay more. Isn't that enough?

In addition, if Farmers gets an increase – no matter how much – the other insurance companies in Texas will follow suit.

It is time the Texas Department of Insurance and elected officials protect homeowners in Texas from yet another financial assault by a greedy insurance industry. We have paid enough!

Peter Stern, Driftwood, Tx

Farmers Insurance plans to up rates

AUSTIN — Farmers Insurance has filed for an average rate increase of 9.9 percent for homeowners insurance policies effective in February, state and company officials said Friday.

The Texas Department of Insurance says it is reviewing the rate increase, which is to take effect Feb. 16 on typical homeowner policies across the state.

"There will be ample time for us to make sure that it's a good rate," said insurance department spokesman Jerry Hagins.

Farmers spokeswoman Michelle Levy said the rate was filed earlier this week and that the increase is intended to cover the increased costs of labor and materials. It has been under consideration for several months and is not occurring because of Hurricanes Ike and Dolly, both of which struck Texas this year, she said.

Texas has a "file and use" policy that allows a company to file a rate and use it, though the state insurance department can review whether the rate is fair.

Friday, November 7, 2008

President-Elect Barack Obama: Finally Moving America Forward

There was a telling qualitative difference in the crowds' responses to Obama's and McCain's election night speeches that spoke volumes

Email your comments and news tips to or

By Rocky Boschert

The telling difference between Barack Obama and John McCain was exemplified at the very end by the supporter response they each got during their respective election night speeches. Obama’s acknowledgement that John McCain “has sacrificed more than anyone can imagine for the country he loves” was greeted with applause and appreciation. John McCain’s recognition that Obama’s resounding victory was an historical American milestone was greeted with boo’s and jeers.

Clearly, one Presidential campaign exemplified hope, good will, positive thought and youth while the other exemplified divisiveness, distrust, and a sort of ‘business as usual” contempt. It is this qualitative difference that propelled Barack Obama to be President-Elect of the United States of America. The United States and the world will be a better place with a Barack Obama Presidency.

With this Presidential election, a majority of Americans finally agreed that for our nation to effectively lead and prosper in a 21st Century global economy, the US President must 1) be intelligent, 2) work from a compassionate multicultural perspective, 3) hire competent help, 4) listen to all sides, 5) try to find mediation and solutions to conflicts, using war only as a last resort, and 6) help others prosper, both inside and outside our country. These are the qualities George W. Bush was unable to instill in his presidency. And in the end, compared to Barack Obama, voters didn’t believe John McCain had these leadership qualities.

Good Riddance to Republican Party Divisiveness

What was rejected on Tuesday, November 4 was a narrow minded, fear-based Republican mindset that tried once again to keep Americans divided and confused with outdated platitudes and false ugly accusations. The election of President-Elect Obama was a national statement signaling an end to the divisive post 9-11 indignation that the Republican Party has exploited all these years to stay in power.

For example, voters ultimately rejected the insipid and phony white, blue collar symbol of “Joe the Plumber.” Joe was in fact neither a licensed plumber nor an entrepreneur nor the average guy looking for economic answers. His image was really an ill-conceived Republican advertising ploy that failed to resonate with the economic multiculturalism of a comprehensive America. In reality, Joe the Plumber seemed more like one of those exploited wrestlers you see on the WWF pay per view events. In the final analysis, Joe the Plumber was Joe the Scammer, going rogue and using the RNC to further his own entertainment career.

The election of Barack Obama to the US Presidency also exposed the lack of competence inherent in the Republican Party leadership. Remember when Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin, as part of their convention speeches, both asserted that Obama’s “community organizing” background was a clear sign of his vapidity and inexperience? Well, Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Palin, it is those inner city “community organizers” from Chicago that kicked your butts and the butts of the Karl Rove-engineered Republican sleaze machine. Forever changed are the strategies and tactics to be used in future election campaigns.

In reality, President-Elect Barack Obama is the best thing that could have happened to the Republican Party. No longer can the RNC and its state and local clones continue to rely primarily on right wing extremists and/or mindless free markets fanatics to get their candidates elected. What is very telling about the current state of the Republican Party is that most of the Party’s moderate intelligentsia ended up endorsing Barack Obama. As a result, a new bi-partisan cooperative America may have emerged from the smoldering ruins of mean-spirited Republican politics and the new confirmed hope of Barack Obama.

In reality, the honeymoon won't last long – progressives must walk the walk

In the end, however, the historic Obama election honeymoon won’t last long. The US economy is in taters and the world needs reconciliation and a coordinated economic plan. Obama and the Democrats need to make good on most of their promises. It is time for liberals and progressives to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Obama has the good will of most of the country now and hopefully he and his party won’t screw it up. All truly patriotic Americans will support Barack Obama as long as he shows common sense and intelligence in matters both domestic and foreign.

Finally, with the election of Barack Obama, we can now take a rest from two endless years of presidential campaigning and three sadly laughable months of Sarah Palin’s political beauty pageantry.

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.