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Friday, January 30, 2009

Can someone tell me where this water is coming from?


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

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Update, 4 p.m. Friday Jan. 30 -- Hydrogeologist Joe Beery of the BSEACD says the water that filled the detention pond came from a two-day pump test performed by the City of Kyle. The test was on a nearby Edwards Aquifer well, permitted by the District for city water supply. " As far as since (the pump test), how has it been kept filled, is a question for the city," Beery said. " . . . We're not in the business of saying it's okay to fill (amenity) ponds . . . we do not support that." Beery noted that the district currently is in a critical drought stage, requiring a 30% reduction in water use.
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An alert citizen sent the photos below, and has asked: "Can someone tell me where this water is coming from? We are in the most severe drought in more than fifty years and wells are going dry. Somebody is watering grass and filling a surface lake that is evaporating."

Good question. The RoundUp has a call in to the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) and will post an update as soon as we receive a response.


It'd be a crying shame if this lake – in front of the Hays Consolidated ISD's Performing Arts Center off Kohler's Crossing and across the road from the Plum Creek Subdivision in Kyle – is being filled with groundwater from the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer in east-central Hays County.


The RoundUp suggests calling the following sources for some additional insights:


City of Kyle Administration, City Manager Tom Mattis: 512.262.3920

Pct. 2 County Commissioner Jeff Barton: 512.262.2091

Hays Consolidated ISD Administration: 512.268.2141
BSEACD: 512.282.8441


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Five years of insurance over-compensation and premiums are still doubled


Apparently, unless Texans pound on the gubernatorial and legislative doors, communicating via phone and letters, no one will do anything about it and Texas homeowners will continue to pay the highest premium costs anywhere in the nation


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

or pstern@austin.rr.com

Contact your representatives here:
Governor Rick Perry: http://www2.governor.state.tx.us/contact/
Senate (State Sen. Jeff Wentworth): http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/senate/Members.htm

House of Representatives (State Rep. Patrick Rose): http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/welcome.php


By Peter Stern

We need to ask ourselves, "Why?" [does] Texas continue to have the highest home insurance premiums in the nation.

Five years ago with Gov. Rick Perry, then Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) Commissioner Jose Montemayor, and legislators "looking the other way," lax insurance legislation permitted the industry to double overnight the premiums paid by Texas homeowners. Bear in mind that Gov. Perry will have a tough battle for reelection in 2010 from fellow Republican, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Texans now have some "clout" to demand the governor do something before the election.

At that time and during the previous several years, the insurance industry had been experiencing a hard market and was losing revenue; we were told it was due to excessive claims due to storms, winds, flooding, hail, and mold. The industry collectively had called upon the state informally to help with correcting the market, but few listened to its pleas.


As in many previous years of hard markets, the insurance industry elected to act independently on the problem without waiting any longer for government interaction on its behalf. Virtually overnight, it then over-corrected the market by doubling home insurance premiums.


In some instances, the industry decreased the coverage and still increased the premiums significantly.


The reaction of homeowners was disbelief and then anger. They contacted the offices of the governor, TDI, and various legislators. They were told publicly by Perry and Montemayor that by the next year, the insurance industry would refund up to 14 percent of the increased premiums. To date, that has never occurred. Homeowners must have forgotten the promises made by Perry, Montemayor and now Commissioner Mike Geeslin.

So, now it's been 5 years of insurance over-compensation and profiteering and premiums are still doubled!

The governor and state officials continue to permit the insurance industry in Texas to maintain the highest home insurance premiums than anywhere else in the nation.

Currently, we are nearing the end of the 1st fiscal business quarter of year 2009 and are in a softer market. The industry has been reaping substantial profits for the past several years and is still content to keep premiums at this highest-ever level!


Despite high revenues, there is no sign of legislators providing more oversight and/or regulations on the insurance market, nor is the industry on its own considering lowering the premiums of home insurance to a more reasonable amount.


Periodically and when public opinion and discontent require it, Perry gives the issue some lip service and leaves it up to the Legislature to consider, but no one seriously acts on behalf of overburdened Texas homeowners. With ever-increasing property values via appraisals and escalating taxes, home insurance is a close second as the cause of the record number of foreclosure throughout the state.


Apparently, unless Texans pound on the gubernatorial and legislative doors, communicating via phone and letters that home insurance relief is needed now, no one will do anything about it and Texas homeowners will continue to pay the highest premium costs anywhere in the nation. We can NOT depend on the governor, legislators, current TDI Commissioner Mike Geeslin, or the insurance industry to offer homeowners relief. To them, the sweet smell of profits overrides the stench of decay from the American Dream becoming a nightmare for most of us.


We either can remain the docile sheep officials want us to be, or we can move on correcting this unacceptable series of insurance events.


DEMAND REDUCTIONS IN PREMIUM COSTS WITHOUT REDUCING COVERAGE!

Peter Stern of Driftwood, Texas, a former Director of Information Services, university professor and public school administrator, is a political writer published frequently throughout the Texas community and nationwide. Mr. Stern is a Disabled Vietnam Veteran. He holds three post-graduate degrees.

Monday, January 26, 2009

PEC revises election process, reduces number of Directors and redraws district boundaries


A new policy also requires Board members to get prior approval of the Board and PEC General Manager Juan Garza before using PEC staff and resources to release written communication to the media or general public


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

PEC CONTACT: Patrick Cox, Board Member, District 7: patrickcox7@gmail.com
General Manager Juan Garza: juan.garza@peci.com

Johnson City, Tx – At their regularly scheduled meeting held Monday Jan. 26, the Pedernales Electric Cooperative Board of Directors voted to revise the Cooperative’s bylaws by reducing the number of Advisory Directors and approved four revisions to the process used to elect Directors.

The proposal to reduce the size of the PEC Board was submitted by Board Vice President James E. Williams and was approved unanimously. Due to vacancies created by earlier resignations, PEC currently has five Advisory Directors and one Advisory Director-at-Large. With the PEC Board’s actions Monday, all of these positions on the Cooperative’s Board will expire June 18. The Board may still appoint up to four Advisory Directors in the future, but is not required to fill the positions.

The Board’s move to reduce its membership falls in line with an analysis submitted to PEC in December by Navigant Consulting, Inc. “The Navigant review of Directors’ compensation made a big issue of having too many people on the payroll,” PEC Board President R.B. Felps commented. “These are big changes.”

The changes to the Cooperative’s Director election process were submitted by the Board’s Governance and Oversight Committee comprised of District 7 Director Dr. Patrick Cox, District 2 Advisory Director Rusty Allen and Advisory Director-at-Large Lamont Ramage. In proposing the changes, the committee considered input gathered from members at a public meeting held Jan. 12.

The adopted changes include:


Number of votes per member: Each member will now have one vote, regardless of the number of meters they have. The approved voting regulation is consistent with most other cooperatives and agrees with Internal Revenue Service recommendations relating to tax statuses and democratic control for cooperatives. PEC will make changes to its customer information system to limit members with multiple meters from receiving duplicate votes.

Board residency rules: Candidates for Director positions will now have to maintain a primary residence in the district they will represent, rather than simply having a meter or business in the district.

Number of signatures required for nomination: To be considered as a candidate for the Board, potential nominees will be required to gather 50 signatures from PEC members on a written petition. In 2008, 25 signatures were required.


Board districts and balancing member voting population: The Board voted to adopt redrawn Director district boundaries submitted by PEC’s engineering staff that more evenly distributes member population. The new boundaries range in size from approximately 30,000 members in District 4 to approximately 36,000 in District 1. Under the prior Director boundaries, member population varied drastically, from approximately 14,000 in District 1 to about 64,000 in District 3.

The Board’s Bylaws Committee plans to meet Jan. 30 to finalize bylaws revisions related to the election changes. The Board decided to table a policy proposal submitted by Williams on Director term limits.

Also approved by the Directors was a new policy for internal and external communications by PEC Board members, submitted by Williams. The approved policy instructs Directors to “clearly state whether he or she is speaking as an individual Board member or on behalf of the entire PEC Board” when addressing the media or the public about Cooperative matters.“This [communications policy] is not a new and novel concept,” Williams said. “Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits and government agencies have communications policies.”

In creating his proposal, Williams stated he researched policies implemented by other organizations and “endeavored to choose the best practices from what I hoped would be most applicable.” Members present at the meeting commented both for and against the policy prior to its approval by the Board.


The new policy also requires Board members to get prior approval of the Board and PEC General Manager Juan Garza before using PEC staff and resources to release written communication to the media or general public. The communications policy also routes internal communication by Board members to PEC staff through Garza or his designee. The measure passed by a 5-2 vote, with Cox and District 3 Director Kathryn Scanlon voting against the new communications policy, with Cox saying “it’s our responsibility to be able to use our judgment and use the resources that we have and be able to provide our opinions [to the membership.] It’s our right to communicate and provide information to our members.”


Cox reported that a bank account titled “Bennie Fuelberg Trustee Account,” which was opened by prior PEC management to fund a political action committee, is no longer active. Garza reaffirmed that PEC will no longer hire lobbyists after active contracts end. Garza also announced that consultant Bill Cunningham’s contract will not be renewed after it expires at the end of this month, bringing the number of third-party contracts PEC has from 10 to one.


In other business, the Board approved renewing memberships in state and national cooperative organizations, heard a report on PEC’s Member Assistance Program and approved guidelines and funding for the Cooperative’s Light the Way program. Garza also reported the Cooperative will receive a fuel charge decrease from the Lower Colorado River Authority, but since PEC did not pass on to members the last increase in cost from the LCRA, and because the Cooperative is working to finalize a comprehensive rate study, PEC rates will not change.


The next meeting of the Board is planned for Feb. 23 at 10 a.m. at PEC’s Johnson City headquarters building. Nomination petitions for members interested in running for an open position on the PEC Board are scheduled to be made available on PEC’s web site in early February.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Notes from the Inauguration: Closing a circle, and reminders of things political back home


Obama's new lobbying rules ban aides from trying to influence the administration when they leave his staff. This reminded me of how special interests have financed the election campaigns of Commissioners Barton and Conley and benefited with public contracts

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

By Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.

It’s likely that if Americans had not been subjected to the past eight years of bumbling, stumbling and conniving by George W. Bush and company, voters would not have turned out in record numbers to elect a leader who exudes the same quality of leadership that our founding fathers exercised when establishing this great nation.


President Barack Obama is the ideal national leader. A devoted father and husband, a person of deep personal integrity and ethics with compassion and empathy for others, confident, decisive, well educated despite the odds and smart as a whip, President Obama lights up the whole nation with an infectious smile that is full of genuine emotion and good humor. He has a clear vision for our country and we the people share that vision.


It is my good fortune to be married to an Independent who has connections with Democrat movers and shakers. She obtained tickets to the Texas State Society Black Tie Inaugural Ball held at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center on the evening of January 19, 2008. The Ball was a prelude to why we went to Washington, DC…the Inauguration.

Our first indication of how popular the Inaugural event would be occurred 6AM Friday morning at Austin Bergstrom International Airport. Gambling that we could locate Inaugural tickets, Susan had booked our tickets two months before on the last available Southwest flight from Austin to Baltimore. On this Friday morning, ABIA was packed with passengers leaving for DC.


Racial diversity of passengers and discussions held during our flight gave me hope more citizens are realizing that the wages of voter apathy is a disastrous government. The more voters there are the more difficult it is to fool them.


We left Austin in 36 degree weather and arrived in Baltimore to 12 degrees. On Saturday morning it was 8 degrees in Silver Spring, MD. I’d forgotten how cold the winters can be in the DC area…but they don’t have Ashe Juniper.


Susan and her sister Anne worked feverishly preparing an Obama 2009 Inaugural Tea they hosted Saturday afternoon for friends and former associates in the Virginia, DC and Maryland area. Every food item was made from scratch by these two gourmet cooks, and two presidential plate patterns graced the table.


The crowd on Sunday had numbered half a million. Inauguration Day it was four times as large and even more excited. We arrived on the Mall about 9 am and took a spot in front of a large screen near the Washington Monument. It was still cold but we brought snacks, water and a couple of folding chairs we let an elderly woman use. You could feel the anticipation grow as more people filled the Mall and distinguished guests were introduced.


A statistic I saw later was that despite an estimated 2.5 million visitors there wasn’t a single arrest. As we waited for noon and the oath of office I remembered leaving work at USDA forty six years ago and walking to almost this same spot on the Mall to hear Martin Luther King deliver his “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial behind us. It now seemed to have come full circle.

Will the fresh new ethics and openness
trickle down to Hays County?


"Families are tightening their belts, and so should Washington," said the new president, and he froze the salaries of about one hundred of his highest paid White House staff. I thought about the grandstanding and insensitive pay raise our commissioner’s court recently gave themselves.

In an attempt to deliver on pledges of a transparent government, President Obama said he would change the way the federal government interprets the Freedom of Information Act. He said he was directing agencies that receive requests for information to err on the side of making information public — not to look for reasons to legally withhold it — an alteration to the traditional standard of evaluation. I thought about how Commissioner Barton conducted official business on his cell phone but refused to surrender his phone records in response to an open record request.


“Just because a government agency has the legal power to keep information private does not mean that it should," Obama said. “Reporters and public-interest groups often make use of the law to explore how and why government decisions were made; they are often stymied as agencies claim legal exemptions to the law.”


Obama's new lobbying rules will not only ban aides from trying to influence the administration when they leave his staff. Those already hired will be banned from working on matters they have previously lobbied on, or to approach agencies that they once targeted. This reminded me of how special interests have financed the election campaigns of Commissioners Barton and Conley and benefited with public contracts.


Will the new ethical, transparent and inclusive government in Washington trickle down to Hays County? That will be up to Hays County voters.


I’ve never felt more connected to my county as I do following the Inauguration of President Barak Obama. What a thrill this past week has been for me. I’m fired up and ready to go!


On the way home I visited with one of the few remaining Tuskegee Airmen. Thanks for your service, Dr. Williams.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Oldtimers comparing present dryness to Drought of '50s


Conservation is truly our “ace in the hole” in a time of water shortage. It is possible to live quite well on much less water than we normally use


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net or jhollon37tx@yahoo.com

A special report from Jack Hollon
Member, Board of Directors
Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District

As neighbors meet these days, talk often turns to water... or, rather, drought. Old timers are beginning to compare the present dryness with conditions in the 1950s drought, the Drought of Record.

The web site “U.S. Drought Monitor,” contains a map that shows (Jan. 20, 2009) over 70 percent of Texas in one of the five drought stages. About a dozen counties in the Hill Country define a sort of Bull’s Eye, centered neatly on Hays County and representing the most severe D4 Stage: Exceptional Drought. Areas of Extreme, Severe, and Moderate Drought radiate out from this area… toward Abnormally Dry.

The Board and Staff of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District urge all citizens in western Hays County to do their part in conserving scarce water resources. Elimination of most outdoor watering is requested; confine times of watering for special plants or garden to evening hours, to reduce evaporation; (rare) washing of vehicles with bucket and sponge only. Reduce shower time, and use the Marine Corps tested method: turn off the water while soaping or shampooing. Take care to do only full loads of washing or dishes.

These are some of the ways people can save (or are saving) water. Others include ingenious ways of using water for more than one task like taking dish water out to water a special plant, or using bath water to flush a commode.

Doing a careful job of detecting and repairing leaks is critical. Even a “small” leak can, over time, waste huge quantities of water.

Conservation is truly our “ace in the hole” in a time of water shortage. It is possible to live quite well on much less water than we normally use... a reassuring fact. (Note: many conservation-oriented rainwater users are doing well.)


Signs are being posted by the District as reminders concerning Drought and the need to Conserve Water. The goal is to achieve a 20 percent to 30 percent reduction in use. To those already doing these things we say “Thank you.” For the rest of us, “Time to pitch in.”


Expect more soon on drought planning by HTGCD, local water companies, and municipalities. The long-range weather outlook predicts more dry days ahead.

More information on the subject matter can be found at the “Drought” and “Conservation” links on the left side of our web site: www.haysgroundwater.com


Mr. Hollon represents the Wimberley Valley area on the board of directors of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Why property appraisal caps are a bad idea – some taxpayers are subsidizing the property taxes of others


The practical effect is that those who live in areas with high market value appreciation rates will be subsidized by those who live in areas with low market value appreciation rates


Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net or mlmoden@texas-skies.com

Contact your representatives here:
Governor Rick Perry: http://www2.governor.state.tx.us/contact/
Senate (State Sen. Jeff Wentworth): http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/senate/Members.htm

House of Representatives (State Rep. Patrick Rose): http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/welcome.php


By Merle L. Moden

Local governments and school districts in Texas rely heavily on the property tax for the revenue needed to provide services. The Texas Constitution in Article VIII, Sec. 1 states: (a) Taxation shall be equal and uniform, and (b) All real property and tangible personal property in this State, unless exempt as required or permitted by this Constitution, whether owned by natural persons or corporations, other than municipal, shall be taxed in proportion to its value, which shall be ascertained as may be provided by law.”

The Texas Legislature established in the statutes creating appraisal districts that “value” means “market value” which is the benchmark for fair and equitable taxation. Appraisal districts must estimate the market value for each and every parcel of real property.


In 2007 a constitutional amendment was approved by the voters to amend Article VIII, Sec. (i) of the Texas Constitution to limit the annual increase in estimated market value for a residence homestead to10%. This 10% appraisal cap now makes it constitutional to levy property taxes on residence homesteads on an unfair and inequitable basis.

The practical effect is that those who live in areas with high market value appreciation rates will be subsidized by those who live in areas with low market value appreciation rates. While current economic conditions will most likely slow the growth in market values in the near term, recent experience in the Central Texas area points to more explosive growth when the economy recovers.


One might think that a 10% appraisal cap would be large enough to allow most, if not all, to fit under it. Estimated market value data from Travis County indicate otherwise. From 2007 to 2008 in Travis County the estimated market value of the median home increased by 11.3%. Detailed data for 59 zip codes indicate changes in estimated market value varying widely, ranging from -2.2% to +40.1%.

It is reasonable to expect wide variations in Hays County as well, as some areas are booming and some areas are not. It is clear, however, that a 10% appraisal cap applied to Travis County in 2008 would result in substantial unfairness and inequity, as those with increases in estimated market value at or below 10% would be taxed at 100% of estimated market value and those with increases over 10% would be taxed at less than estimated market value.


An area legislator is now proposing that the appraisal cap be lowered to 5%. This proposal would exacerbate the existing unfairness and inequity inherent in the current 10% cap. The inequitable taxation effect of appraisal caps are immediate and obvious.

Let me illustrate with three sample homesteads – H1, H2, and H3 – located in various parts of Hays County with each having the same $250,000 appraisal from last year. Using Wimberley area tax rates and homestead exemptions as examples, their tax levies would have been $3,868 each. For this year, let’s assume that due to differing market conditions and differing rates of appreciation in market value in the three areas in which these sample homesteads are located, appraisals increased 5% for H1, 10% for H2, and 15% for H3.

The appraisal ratios and tax impacts would be:
–With the current appraisal cap of 10%, H1 will pay 100% of estimated market value with a tax levy of $4,087, H2 will pay 100% of estimated market value with a tax levy of $4,309, and H3 will pay 96% of estimated market value with a tax levy of $4,309.
–With the proposed appraisal cap of 5%, H1 will pay 100% of estimated market value with a tax levy of $4,087, H2 will pay 95% of estimated market value with a tax levy of $4,087, and H3 will pay 91% of estimated market value with a tax levy of $4,087.


The current 10% appraisal cap produces inequitable results, since H3 receives a $217 tax subsidy. The proposed 5% appraisal cap produces additional inequitable results, since H2 would receive a $222 tax subsidy and H3 would receive a $439 tax subsidy. H1 gets to pay 100% of estimated market in both scenarios, simply because its estimated market value has increased 5% – not 10% or 15%. Consequently, appraisal caps provide the greatest tax subsidies for the homesteads with the highest appreciation in market value, while homesteads with market value appreciation at or below the appraisal cap percentage get no benefit from such caps. It is a fallacy to assume that these appraisals caps will provide property tax relief for all taxpayers.


The reductions in revenues to local governments and school districts resulting from the application of these appraisal caps will result in reduced services, increased tax rates, or both. In the event that tax rates are increased due to appraisal caps, the effect will be a shift in the burden of property taxation from those with increases in estimated market values above the appraisal cap to those with increases in estimated market values below the appraisal cap.

While I have no Hays County data to address the impact upon various areas of the county, one must wonder how this shift in property tax burden affects real people. For example, are capped appraisals more prevalent in affluent neighborhoods, less affluent neighborhoods, or are they evenly distributed across neighborhoods.

7 other ways to skin the property tax cat
Property tax relief could have been accomplished by means other than introducing unfair and inequitable appraisals. The Legislature can:

1) Ensure the most accurate appraisals by requiring the reporting of all sales prices to put the most up-to-date and accurate sales data in the hands of the appraisers

2) Increase the homestead exemption where all property taxpayers get relief

3) Lower tax rates and replace with State funds where all property taxpayers get relief

4) Eliminate the freeze at age 65 on appraisals for school taxes, and replace with a means tested system. What sense does it make to give homeowners with substantial incomes a freeze on their appraised values when they are 65 or older?

5) Eliminate the sham agriculture exemptions and sham open space exemptions by requiring more aggressive audits of these exemptions by appraisal districts, and tighten the requirements for these exemptions

6) Accumulate the tax subsidy amounts for capped residence appraisals and require their payment when the property is sold, and,

7) Increase motor fuel taxes (gasoline, diesel, and propane) sufficient to meet the State’s needs and to provide motor fuel tax rebates to local governments. Since motorists drive the demand for roadways – not residence homesteads, the burden of road and bridge construction and maintenance at both the State and local levels should be borne by motorists through motor fuels taxes, not by property taxpayers.
Merle L. Moden is a retired economist. He and his wife, Joy, moved to the Wimberley area from Austin in 1997. He served on the Austin Electric Utility Commission for several years, chaired a citizen’s committee on City of Austin Water and Wastewater cost of service, served on the Travis Central Appraisal District Board of Review, and was president of two neighborhood associations in Austin.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Property tax vs. state income tax, and questioning Gov. Perry's truthfulness


Texans were promised that if they voted for this proposal, they soon would see a reduction in the costs of health care and medical related services


Send your comments to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net
or pstern@austin.rr.com

Contact your representatives here:
Governor Rick Perry: http://www2.governor.state.tx.us/contact/
Senate (State Sen. Jeff Wentworth): http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/senate/Members.htm

House of Representatives (State Rep. Patrick Rose): http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/welcome.php


By Peter Stern

In response to all those Texans who believe that it is "time for a state income tax . . ." unfortunately, many Texans have been deceived by the propaganda pushed upon them by various legislators and special interests.

Contrary to popular belief, a state income tax is NOT the "penicillin" many people believe it is. For example, most states already have had a state income tax in place for many years; however, those states share similar economic problems that Texas has --- including, inadequate school financing and the sky-high property taxes that most of us keep complaining about.


Furthermore, one look at how our legislators use the tax dollars currently mandated, e.g., those tax dollars slated via lottery for public education, the gas tax to build and maintain roadways, and money supposed to go to various social services, one observes how our legislators and various special interests divert those mandated dollars to other venues. An example is that a large percentage of collected gas taxes goes to higher education, even after legislation permitted the deregulation of tuition costs. Why? It's time to stop diverting our tax dollars to other interests.


Consequently, instead of resolving urgent issues and problems a state income tax merely increases the total tax dollars that would be available for the further diversions of legislators and their special interests. Forget about a state income tax. It is a placebo dream.


It's like every other idea on paper: it looks good, but the reality is that it would NOT cure our ills – in fact, it may add to them considerably.

Reviewing Gov. Perry's claims of tax relief through Constitutional Amendments yields tax increases instead.

Amendments 15 & 12 not bearing fruit as promised

Once a liar, always a liar!

Almost half a decade ago Texas Gov. Rick Perry put on his ten-gallon Stetson, saddled-up his tax-paid plane and rode all over the state lobbying to eliminate what he and his special interest health care industry called "frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits."


Texans were promised that if they voted for this proposal, they soon would see a reduction in the costs of health care and medical related services.


Well, just as in the most recent proposed amendment election where only 8 percent of all registered voters approved ALL 16 amendments, back in 2005 Perry and his good ol' boys got what they wanted. Proposition 12 was approved and Texans were duped.


Looking at it 4 years later you don't have to be an Einstein or brain surgeon to see that Perry was touting another pack of lies, just as he did this time re: Proposed Amendment 15, a.k.a., "the cure for cancer."


Also 4 years ago Perry lobbied to deregulate higher education tuition, promising Texans that doing so would decrease the cost of a college education while making institutions more competitive in associated learning costs. That proposition was approved also. After 4 successive tuition increases since the proposal was accepted, tuition costs are the highest ever in the state.


Texans already have seen what a load of buffalo chips their governor REALLY is regarding Prop. 15.


By the way, I just got another letter from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Texas telling me that they have to increase my family's premium again and another notice from the University of Texas stating it regrets having to increase my children's tuition!

Peter Stern of Driftwood, Texas, a former Director of Information Services, university professor and public school administrator, is a political writer published frequently throughout the Texas community and nationwide. Mr. Stern is a Disabled Vietnam Veteran. He holds three post-graduate degrees.

PEC Board reviews Navigant-related issues, votes to keep current leadership



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

Contact District 7 (Hays County) PEC Board member Patrick Cox: patrickcox7@gmail.com

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

Johnson City, January 16, 2009 – At a special meeting held Jan. 15, 2009, the Pedernales Electric Cooperative Board of Directors met to discuss the ramifications of the Navigant Consulting investigation report released on Dec. 15, 2008.

In light of the analysis and recommendations expressed in the report, District 7 Director Patrick Cox, with support from District 2 Director James Williams, District 3 Director Kathryn Scanlon and District 6 Advisory Director Charles Tesar, proposed a resolution to remove District 5 Director R.B. Felps as President of the Board.

The vote defeating the measure was split 4-3, with Directors Cox, Scanlon and Williams voting for, and Felps, District 1 Director Vi Cloud, District 4 Director O.C. Harmon and District 6 Director Val Smith voting against.

In other actions, the Board accepted the resignation of longtime law firm Clark, Thomas & Winters. A separate motion also passed authorizing PEC General Manager Juan Garza and Interim General Counsel Luis Garcia to find substitute appellate counsel to represent the Cooperative as it contests the appeal of the class action lawsuit settlement reached in March 2008, a role that had previously been filled by Clark, Thomas & Winters. The Board also unanimously voted to conduct a final review of all Clark, Thomas & Winters’ services and invoices in which Pedernales Electric may be involved. The review will be presented to the Board after it is completed.

Revenue forecast: $529 million, and $30 million net margin in '09

PEC Chief Financial Officer Mike Vollmer presented the Board with a detailed revenue and expense forecast for 2009. Based on conservative predictions of 2.5 to 3 percent growth within the service area, Vollmer estimated 2009 revenue of approximately $529 million, yielding a projected net margin of $30 million after expenses. “I am very confident in these projections,” Garza said during the presentation. “I had Mike prepare estimates with flat growth and with a shrinkage of 2.5 percent, and we would still maintain healthy margins in either circumstance.”

Garza went on to explain that he has eliminated open hiring at PEC and has instructed managers to look more critically at the Cooperative’s capital improvement program. “The Cooperative has an obligation to provide service to new members who move into the service area. A portion of capital spending is within our discretion, so we can be involved in those decisions,” Garza said.

The Board also heard a report from Director Williams on implementing key performance indicators for 2009; staff feedback and recommendations for the indicators will be brought before the Board in February.

2009 Board election review


Director Cox, chair of the Governance and Oversight Committee that sponsored a Jan. 12 forum on the 2009 elections, noted there was substantial member comment on the six issues discussed at the forum. The Governance and Oversight Committee will present recommendations on all six issues at the regularly scheduled Board meeting on Jan. 26, and the presentation made at the member forum has been posted to www.pec.coop.


The Board voted to extend a lobbying contract with former state senator David Sibley for one more year. After this contract expires, PEC will no longer hire external lobbyists. The Board also voted to move the strategic planning session originally scheduled for Jan. 29 to a later date, and to take up the remaining agenda items at its regular meeting on Jan. 26. The Jan. 26 meeting will be held at the PEC Training Center in Johnson City.

PEC transfers land to the city of Wimberley

Pedernales Electric Cooperative transferred a 0.158-acre tract of land, located in downtown Wimberley, to the city of Wimberley on Jan. 15. The land, originally purchased by PEC in 1995 to be the site of a transmission tower the Cooperative no longer intends to build, will be landscaped by the city for public use as required by the conditions under which the transfer was made.

The Pedernales Electric Board of Directors passed the resolution to transfer the land at their Oct. 10, 2008, meeting. However, because all PEC property is part of the collateral used to secure the Cooperative’s bond debt, release of the lien was required for the transfer to take place.

Both PEC and the city of Wimberley are benefiting from the transfer. The Cooperative has the opportunity to release land no longer necessary for business without compromising PEC’s bond rating and eliminate annual taxes paid on the property. The city of Wimberley is gaining a centrally located area for public use that will enhance the city’s appearance. “I am pleased that PEC could work in a positive way with the good people of Wimberley,” said PEC General Manager Juan Garza.

Friday, January 16, 2009

In case you missed it: City of Austin announces full hiring, wage freezes



Editor's Note: This is an abridged version of the full blog. Point is, if the City of Austin is retrenching due to a downturn in the economy – freezing hiring and pay increases – why not Hays County?

From the Statesman.com
City Beat blog

By Marty Toohey | Friday, January 16, 2009, 12:55 PM


The City of Austin has put a full hiring freeze in place, and no position within the city will be filled unless City Manager Marc Ott approves it, according to memorandum sent today by Ott's office.


"As we move forward in considering the cost reduction menu," Ott wrote to city employees, "I will do everything I can to avoid employee layoffs and pay cuts things that are already happening all across the country in both the public and private sectors."


Although the memo does not address standard cost-of-living raises, it does address another way the city increases wages. One-third of the city's employees have their pay scale evaluated once every three years, so that in a three-year period everyone's payscale is looked at. This process could result in higher wages. It has been suspended.

Second letter: What about Barton's other job?


If this is the age of transparency and an absence of conflicts of interests surely
Commissioner Barton will tell us about his Doucet connection


Last September, Hays County Commissioner Jeff Barton voted FOR a pay raise for himself and the other Commissioners, but he also made a big deal of telling the public that he wasn’t going to take that pay raise. I thought that was a little strange, but I also thought it might have to do with the fact that he supplemented his just shy of $75,000 County Commissioner pay with money from Doucet and Associates. As many government watch dogs know, Barton is a part owner and the Manager of Land Use and Planning for Doucet and Associates, an engineering and planning firm that does a lot of work in Hays County.

Now we find out that Barton has changed his mind and is taking the pay raise after all, his apparent justification being that a citizens committee says it’s warranted. Okay – maybe so, but I would sure like to know more about Commissioner Barton’s connection to this planning and engineering firm that apparently does a lot of work in Hays County. Can anyone shed any light on this? If this is the age of transparency and an absence of conflicts of interests surely Commissioner Barton will tell us about his Doucet connection.

Susan Cook

Driftwood, Tx

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Do you have that bad taste in your mouth again? You should


While Texans are told that Gov. Rick Perry's pet project, the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) is dead, legislators seem hell-bent to push through various TTC "tributaries" at a huge cost to the Texas community. Tolls are new taxes!

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

Contact your representatives here:
Governor Rick Perry: http://www2.governor.state.tx.us/contact/
Senate (State Sen. Jeff Wentworth): http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/senate/Members.htm

House of Representatives (State Rep. Patrick Rose): http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/welcome.php


By Peter Stern

The Legislature began its 81st session Tuesday, Jan. 13, and already Transportation Chair Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) is extending private toll road contracts for 6 years.

Is this the same guy in 2008 who flipped when then TxDOT Commissioner Ric Williamson (who died last year) arrogantly refused to open discussion on toll activities and contracts with the Transportation Committee? Is this the man who promoted a moratorium on private toll road contracts?

What exactly is going on?

What is happening is that Sen. John Carona is setting the pace for the legislature to go more lenient with TxDOT and its previous questionable actions, contracts and activities during the past 7 years, under the guise that the agency now has more ethical management and that for some reason, previous private toll road contracts should be honored and extended.

Sorry, Sen. Carona and other legislators, Texans do NOT want toll roads and certainly we don't want such roads privatized whereby 80 percent of the revenues from tolls go back to the road corporation. That's just NOT cost-effective in the long run.

* The first order of transportation business is to repeal the law that permits elected officials to divert any gas tax revenue to other interests, e.g., Department of Public Safety and to higher education (UT).
* The 2nd issue is to unfreeze the gas tax and to permit an indexing as per the inflationary and/or cost-of-living adjustment rate.
* The 3rd item is to consider increasing the gasoline tax, which I don't believe we should do.
* The 4th option is to improve or develop rail, light-rail and busing lines.
* The 5th focus on the transportation agenda must be to consider other sources of financing for building and maintaining Texas roadways.

Under no circumstance must the legislature consider toll roads except as a last resort when the previous 4 items have been approved and more revenue is needed.

While Texans are told that Gov. Rick Perry's pet project, the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) is dead, legislators seem hell-bent to push through various TTC "tributaries" at a huge cost to the Texas community. Tolls are new taxes! Toll costs are manipulated by the state and privateers. Toll revenues are diverted to other interests. Generally, tolls remain after roadways are purchased over time. Consequently, tolls are infinite taxes that we pass along to future generations.

TxDOT is still under investigation for fraud and criminal activities. Legislators must review all other options before continuing TxDOT's questionable old ways and certainly toll roads are NOT the first choice of providing the financing for our current and future road needs. All other options must be reviewed first.

Hey, buddy, y'all got a photo ID?

A large chunk of lawmakers again are trying to push through legislation to force voters to show a photo ID as a means to protect us from voter fraud. Exactly how this defends against voter fraud remains unclear.

Too many people are making this a racial issue, which it should NOT be, e.g., how many illegal Mexicans do you know who are showing up at the voting booths to create voter fraud? What exactly would they have to gain?

Most of the Mexicans I know just want to be left alone so they can work and make a life here for themselves and their families. Before you fall-off your horse, I'm not saying the illegal immigration issue is not a major problem, but we need to resolve illegal immigration on another front by enforcing our immigration policy and laws.

Sorry, folks, voter fraud will NOT be stopped when people are required to show photo ID's. That's about as absurd as making a fire in your fireplace on Christmas Eve so that Santa can stay warm when he climbs down your chimney. No pun intended, but it's a smoke-screen issue.

Look, the voting process is easy and fine the way it is. If you are registered to vote, you have a voter registration card you show at the polls so you may vote. If you lost it or forgot the card, you show a picture ID so you may vote.

If elected officials truly want to curb election fraud they should focus more on the electronic voting machine systems, paper trails and vote collection processing throughout Texas. More uniform voting procedures are needed throughout our counties.

Many electronic voting machines are corrupted or have systems issues and are made by manufacturers like Diebold, who actually provided large financial contributions during Bush's two campaigns for President. Conflict of interest, anyone? In addition, every district has some voter fraud issues whether premeditated or not. Mistakes happen all the time. Some issues are fraudulent, some accidental.


In addition, if you want people to vote why maintain a system that makes them wait on lines for several hours as has occurred in several voting districts in past years. If we want to enable people to vote easily and without any corruption or contamination in the system, then let's do intelligent things to make it work better.

Once again, people are being misled by lackluster decision-making and/or special interest needs.

Peter Stern of Driftwood, Texas, a former Director of Information Services, university professor and public school administrator, is a political writer published frequently throughout the Texas community and nationwide. Mr. Stern is a Disabled Vietnam Veteran. He holds three post-graduate degrees.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Church deal revisited: This one has a very fishy smell


'If the county judge doesn't call for a thorough, official investigation of this matter she is derelict in her duties. It's time to take a stand in "Little Chicago"'

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

Editor's Note: Commenters (below) have started weighing in on a plan by Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley to have the county purchase the old Wimberley Baptist Church property for $2.4 million and convert it into a city/county government center. Lots of questions and concerns have been raised, not the least of which involve the role of the central appraisal district, non-transparency, and the names and roles of local investors who could turn a handsome profit if the commissioners court and Wimberley City Council extend their blessing.

For details see Charles O'Dell's eye-opening and well documented investigative report in the RoundUp's October 2008 archives, dated Oct. 5.

Here's an excerpt: Wimberley Crossroads LLC consists mostly of Wimberley insiders, some of whom are reported to be members of the Wimberley First Baptist Church (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.

Conley's proposal is scheduled to be on the Wimberley city council's Jan. 15, 2009 meeting agenda.

Add your comment: The RoundUp encourages reasoned comments from readers of all stripes. Thus far neither the county nor the city appear eager for input from the taxpaying citizens who'll be footing the bill. As we all know, the public comment portion comes after all the official handshakes have taken place largely out of public view. So have at it, if you want to give a ringing endorsement to Conley's church plan, call it a pig in a poke, ask questions, or express your general outrage.

December 22, 2008 4:19 PM

karina macdonald said...

I have been out of county for some time, so perhaps this has been explored/tabled, etc., but I have wondered if there has been any movement to secure the property as a place where the kids of our community could gather when not in school?

Originally touted to include facilities for the village's youth as part of its design when the pitch was made for community support, the Community Center failed as it ultimately left them out. After taking a tour this past summer, I was extremely disappointed that while there was a great, well designed posh area including a fireplace, for seniors to play cards and gather, and an over sized gymnasium sized area for meetings, there was nothing for the kids at all.

I, too, hope it does not become a city/county government center, for all the reasons you've listed. I believe our community's youth are our most under served population. And the Baptist church facility seems like it could become a state of the art center. Yes, these are economically challenging times, but grants and community will still exist.

Any feedback? Has this been explored by any single or collective of groups?

Note: I am closer to being a senior than I am a kid, have kids too old to be served by such a facility but see serving that sector of the population as paramount to the health of the overall community.

Call me a dreamer.

December 11, 2008 8:06 AM

Anonymous said...

I hope the Judge and the rest of the commissioners are strong enough to derail this pay-to-play plan. I've begun calling Hays County by it's true name: "Little Chicago."

I don't know why Judge Sumter didn't derail this idea a year ago. She authorized the initial and subsequent monies to be spent in exploring this idea Conley hatched. And why wasn't this issue publicly raised by Conley's opponent in the last election?

City administrator Ferguson has a civil suit brought against him by a local woman for allegedly covering up an allegation of sexual harassment in the City of Wimberley's offices. He needs to be no part of this church plan as I feel he should be suspended from his current city duties.

Also, Dr. O'Dell has and is uncovering more and more information on the behind-the-scenes efforts of this church story: the Judge would be wise to investigate all of his findings. He is alleging that there has been some serious financial irregularities in this church deal.

I feel this whole church deal will unravel like a house of cards. It's a pay-to-play deal in my opinion. If the judge doesn't call for a thorough, official investigation of this matter she is derelict in her duties. It's time to take a stand in "Little Chicago."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Letter: Commissioners, return your pay raises


Dear Hays County Commissioners
(Judge Liz Sumter, Commissioners Karen Ford, Will Conley, Jeff Barton and Debbie Ingalsbe):

As an 11-year resident of Hays County I want to go on public record that I am requesting you return the raises you all voted for and provided yourselves. Now is NOT the time to take a pay raise, especially one that is a 14-percent pay increase.

In this economy people are not getting such raises. Heck, a lot of folks [7.2 percent] currently are unemployed and soon many more will lose their jobs. Our taxes are escalating and so are cost-of-living expenses.


It’s just not the right thing to do and [all] our commissioners seem to have their own interests at heart, and not just with this salary issue — with quite a few other issues.


Another problem I have with this salary issue is the $10,000 commissioners determined to spend on the salary “study."


Do we have so much money that we can throw it away? If so, I’ll gladly take a few thousand dollars if commissioners want to toss more away, as I’m certain most county residents would as well. And why do the study if you already made up your mind to give yourselves the raise?


Giving yourselves a big raise in these hard economic times is NOT right and commissioners should realize this and return their raise increases and wait for better economic times, like the rest of us have to.


Respectfully yours,


Peter Stern
Driftwood, Tx

Monday, January 5, 2009

With election over, three commissioners change minds and quietly take pay raise


Not only did the three do a 180 on their erstwhile stand on principle, they didn't even wait for the official report from the citizens committee


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

By Bob Ochoa

RoundUp Editor


Three county commissioners who very publicly declined a pay raise back in September when the county's fiscal year 2009 budget was under discussion, have very quietly changed their tune and have each accepted a raise of more than $8,000.


Commissioners Jeff Barton of Pct. 2 (D-Buda/Kyle), Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe of Pct. 1 (D-San Marcos) and Will Conley of Pct. 3 (R-Wimberley) made headlines when they heroically refused annual pay raises.

The front page banner headline in the Kyle Eagle Sept. 17 edition trumpeted: Barton declines pay raise. The top story of the Wimberley View Sept. 13 edition boldly proclaimed: Commissioners turn down raises for themselves

Barton swore in an affidavit he sent to the county auditor and the county treasurer in September: "I do not feel comfortable accepting such a large increase in my own pay . . . In these economic hard times, in this age of cynicism, I feel compelled to go “above and beyond” if we are to reinvigorate the public trust."

Conley and Ingalsbe – both of whom at the time were in the middle of tough re-election campaigns – followed Barton's lead. Ingalsbe said she too felt uncomfortable accepting a large pay hike. Conley went as far as to vote against one of the pay packages then under discussion. All three refused the larger proposed pay increases but agreed to accept a smaller 'cost of living' increase, and together pushed for formation of a citizen panel to review compensation for county elected officials.

Well, of course, that was then. Conley and Ingalsbe won their re-election bids to 2nd and 4th terms on the court, respectively, no doubt having benefited from the well timed and free publicity. The Citizen Committee to Evaluate Pay of Elected Officials completed its work in December, at a cost to county taxpayers of $10,000.

County Treasurer Michelle Tuttle has confirmed that her office recently received written memos from the three commissioners accepting the new pay schedule – with the same generous increase Barton, Ingalsbe and Conley had turned down as unconscionably too high.

So, their salaries this year will climb $8,290, from $56,757 to $65,048. That's a 14.6 percent pay raise, by my calculation.

"The first increase check started in December (for the three commissioners)," Tuttle told the RoundUp. "They have accepted the budgeted amount."

Not only did the three do a 180 on their erstwhile stand on principle, they did not even wait for the full official report from the citizens committee. "We haven't made a presentation to the court yet," a county official who oversaw the pricey salary study, said on Monday, Jan. 5.

Think we'll be seeing press releases from Barton, Ingalsbe and Conley happily announcing their Christmas pay raises? I won't be holding my breath.

The tradition continues: 81st regular session of the Texas Legislature convenes on Jan. 13


It's time that the priority of the House and Senate are focused on the best interests of the Texas community at-large


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

By Peter Stern

Apparently Gov. Rick Perry's important contribution to the 2009 Legislative session is to push through his "Choose Life" vanity license plate. It is unfortunate that most Texans recognize that the governor does NOT care about the issues facing the majority of Texans.


While finally Speaker Tom Craddick has been dethroned from that position are Texans really rid of this tyrannical ruler, or will Craddick be offered a top-level position with one of his wealthy special interest corporate campaign contributors? Or, will he be appointed by his "buddy" the governor to a high-lever state position, e.g., Transportation Commissioner?


What happened to all the decade-long urgent issues:


* Sky-high property taxes
* Deregulated greedy industries, e.g., electric, insurance, higher education, etc. * Alternate sources to finance public education * Doubled home insurance premiums (highest in the nation) * Highest number of home foreclosures ever in Texas history * Unprofessional, corrupt Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) * Need for eliminating wealthy special interest campaign contributions * Prohibiting special interest lobbying in the Capitol during sessions * Stop the diversion of taxes to other interests * Release the freeze on gasoline taxes * Introduce a bill that permits Texans to recall their governor as a balance mechanism * Cut-down on the number of gubernatorial appointments * Make the positions of Transportation and Insurance Commissioners elected positions.

The above are just a few of the many urgent issues keeping Texas politics in the "Dark Ages" and resolutions must be introduced in this year's legislative session.


It's time that the priority of the House and Senate are focused on the best interests of the Texas community at-large.


Peter Stern of Driftwood, Texas, a former Director of Information Services, university professor and public school administrator, is a political writer published frequently throughout the Texas community and nationwide. Mr. Stern is a Disabled Vietnam Veteran. He holds three post-graduate degrees.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Texans need property tax relief NOW!



For the past decade, homeowners have paid dramatic increases in appraisal values, tax rates and/or bond packages that translate into higher property taxes

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

By Peter Stern


What are state officials doing about it?


Naturally, the best way to provide property tax relief is to revamp and/or eliminate the current Property Tax & Appraisal System; however, that is NOT the most expedient path towards "more immediate" relief.


Taxpayers need a legislative "Pepto-Bismol" for immediate relief because every year during May and June, whether or not it is justified, appraisal districts attempt to increase values that continue to skyrocket property taxes.


For the past decade, homeowners have paid dramatic increases in appraisal values, tax rates and/or bond packages that translate into higher property taxes.


While there is an appraisal cap of 10% on residential property, sometimes appraisal districts have no fear or difficulty proposing more than that amount.


Appraisers and Appraisal Review Boards (ARBs) seem to have little compassion or ethics when it comes to dismissing taxpayers’ protests, and so, every year more homeowners are faced with unaffordable monthly mortgage payments, ongoing increases in cost of living expenses and the threat of foreclosures, which currently are the highest in Texas history – with no end in sight.


Yes, several years ago lawmakers approved a token relief package that is supposed to provide a 33-percent decrease in property taxes over a three-year span.


However, that has become a placebo relief as taxpayers find their property taxes rising much faster than their incomes.


Consequently, REAL property tax and appraisal relief are desperately needed now.


Lawmakers are scheduled back at the Capitol in mid-January. It is imperative that they communicate with the governor and each other regarding options that are needed to provide relief to overburdened homeowners.


After 10 years of ongoing increases, Texas homeowners can NOT hang-on for another decade.


In addition, last year lawmakers approved the bill to eliminate property taxes for 100-percent Disabled Veterans and voters approved it in the last election; however, legislators did NOT provide the means to do so. Consequently, there will not be any relief for this needy population prior to 2010.


Since officials don't do the right thing, Texans must demand legislators to provide immediate property tax relief.


Contacts:

Governor Rick Perry: http://www2.governor.state.tx.us/contact/

Senate: http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/senate/Members.htm


House of Representatives: http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/welcome.php


Peter Stern of Driftwood, Texas, a former Director of Information Services, university professor and public school administrator, is a political writer published frequently throughout the Texas community and nationwide. Mr. Stern is a Disabled Vietnam Veteran. He holds three post-graduate degrees.