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.
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.
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.
The list of GOB Worker Ants is long, and not all Worker Ants are equal. At the top of the list are former county judge Eddy Etheredge, Winton Porterfield, former Pct 3 County Commissioner Bill Burnett and Bob Barton. Barton also works with Lupe Carbajal and Bill Cunningham. Except for Barton, these top Worker Ants are on the payrolls of engineering and development firms who finance the GOB candidates.
Barton runs the GOB media propaganda machine through an alliance of The Free Press and Dripping Springs News-Dispatch newspapers, and on-line affiliates Free Press.com, SanMarcosMercury.com and Newstreamz.com.
There is also an independent group of Precinct 1 GOB comprised of Ruben Garza, Ralph Gonzales, and Gary Ingalsbe, husband of Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe. Garza is Executive Director of Southside Community, a non-profit organization and conduit for public funds, including county funds sponsored each year by Commissioner Ingalsbe. Southside provides a political base of support for Commissioner Ingalsbe through the efforts of Garza and Gonzales.
Gonzales is Commissioner Ingalsbe’s father and handler, and Gary Ingalsbe is the highest paid employee in the county road department. Jerry Borcherding, PE, heads up the combined road department that is rife with nepotism, and environmental health department infested by another cadre of GOB Worker Ants.
Most notable are Tom Pope, Bob Pratt and Bucky Smith. These are low level Worker Ants but they do the bidding of Conley and Barton when it comes to approving development plats and on-site septic facilities.
The primary officials who use the direct power of their offices to protect the GOB infrastructure, execute GOB strategies and deliver the goods to special interests are Commissioners Conley and Barton, and San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz. Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe protects her Precinct 1 GOB as a swing vote and is now committed to Barton and Conley.
What’s next that voters should be watching for?
The biggest effort will be dispensing the Barton and Conley $207 million road bond spoils to their special interests. It’s already begun. At the Tuesday Nov. 25 Commissioners’ Court, Barton will sponsor his former assistant, Theresa Schwartz, for a piece of the action (Agenda Item 18).
Barton, Conley and Ingalsbe will vote down any attempt to appeal the Ramus District Court ruling against Hays County even though it will damage the county’s ability to enforce its laws. Their arguments will be about saving legal costs, and “When is this going to end?”
Soechting will work to get the deadly conduct charge against Ramus dropped so Barton and Conley can continue their dirty tricks to discredit Judge Sumter.
Conley will bring back his expensive and outlandish Wimberley First Baptist Church government center project, and begin his efforts to carry out retribution against those who have opposed him.
Ingalsbe will bring forth the new $30 million government center project creating additional county debt and higher property taxes.
The 2008 election is behind us and voters have returned to their daily lives, leaving the Hays County GOB to feast and retaliate against those who opposed them and to prepare their dirty tricks for the 2010 election. The GOB media will publish their spin to fool our voters again, and we will continue to call for accountability of our elected officials.
As co-founder of Hays Community Action Network (HaysCAN) in 2003, Mr. O’Dell strives to carry out the mission of ensuring open, accessible and accountable government. He is a long time and close observer of the workings of the Hays County Commissioners Court. He earned a degree in Agricultural Education and a Masters in Ag Economics at Texas Tech, and, later, a Ph.D. at The University of Maryland while employed as a Research Economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, D.C. Texas born and raised on a family farm, O’Dell is a Hays County Master Naturalist and a board member of the Ethical Society of Austin.