Saturday, February 28, 2009

RoundUp Exclusive: Officials exploring surface water options for Wimberley

The twin specters of "running dry" and the "surface water/runaway development " scenario is for Wimberley, a monumental – 'rock and a hard place

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By Bob Ochoa
RoundUp Editor

Officials from the city of Wimberley, the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority, and the offices of State Rep. Patrick Rose and State Sen. Jeff Wentworth have been huddling recently to explore options for bringing a surface water supply into the Wimberley Valley.

A meeting of stakeholders was held last week, Thursday, Feb. 19. Another meeting has been set for Friday, March 6, in Austin.

Thus far, a small circle of folks has taken part in these latest talks, including Rose, Wentworth's staff, GBRA General Manager Bill West, Wimberley Mayor Tom Haley and city administrator Don Ferguson. The March 6 meeting is expected to include Hays County Judge Liz Sumter, and possibly others.

"We are exploring a lot of different options," Mireya Zapata, a top aide to Rep. Rose, told the RoundUp. "Next week things could start jelling."

"I think it's too early to say if I'm optimistic," city administrator Ferguson said in a phone interview earlier this week. "It's a critical issue facing our community, and I'm talking about the valley, not just Wimberley. We're in month 17 of a drought that nobody knows (when it) will end." He added, "It's an issue that this community has to come to terms with pretty quickly . . . even in the rainiest of times, you can't wait."

As everyone knows, bringing a supply of surface water to the Wimberley valley is a highly sensitive and complex matter that touches on the sensibilities of many people – and it is fraught with huge consequences.

Some argue surface water will open the floodgates to development that will rapidly replace the quiet country atmosphere and scenic vistas with track housing and big boxes. Good bye serenity. Hello sprawl and gridlock. One has only to look down the road to Kyle to see what occurred when ample water supplies were secured.

Then there is the obvious predicament in which the Wimberley valley finds itself –
growing little by little, totally dependent on groundwater, in the midst of a hundred year drought, and no telling when the groundwater supply will reach bottom.

The twin specters of "running dry" and the "surface water/runaway development" scenario is, for Wimberley, a monumental – 'rock and a hard place.'

Hopefully, the folks sitting at the table negotiating Wimberley's water future will engage in some common sense give and take. For instance, if (and it's a big if right now) a deal is reached to bring in surface water,
Rose and Wentworth, in turn, should be leading the fight to bring more development controls and authority to the county.

Rose was to introduce a bill this week allowing Hays County a local option (voters decide) for increased development authority. Rose aide Zapata says the bill itemizes all the powers that would be granted. That's a great start, but a good negotiator might want to delay concluding any water deals until the Rose bill is signed and sealed and passes the muster of local voters, or some variation of that.

Chapter 36 not likely to get much traction

An issue that is not likely to make it to the negotiating table is "full" Chapter 36 authority for the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District – despite the groundswell of local support it is attracting of late. Zapata recalls a bill Rose sponsored in the last legislative session proposing only small changes to the local groundwater district that went down in flames. "It's not about whether we want or not want (to allow local option taxation)," Zapata said. "The bill two years ago didn't have taxing authority and still got tons of opposition. It's about what the constituents don't want. Many said, 'We don't want our district empowered.'"

Now for the 64,000-dollar question. What are the surface water options under discussion?

First, all the players interviewed agreed that a supply from the LCRA is not an option. That door has closed pretty conclusively. In this time of water scarcity, lawmakers don't seem to be in the mood for granting transfers of surface water supplies from one river basin to another. Second, direct permitting from the GBRA for surface water via Canyon Lake was an option Wimberley had several years back (and didn't take it), and has since closed. "All that water has been committed," says GBRA's general manager West.

A recent photo of a Canyon Lake shoreline showing the effects of the drought.
– Photo courtesy WOAI San Antonio

Nevertheless, the focus is back on the GBRA. What might still be available is surface water from the GBRA that is permitted to neighboring cities with surplus supplies, like Kyle and San Marcos.

As West explains it: "We're looking at those customers that have signed a contract and have commitments from us of stored water out of Canyon Lake with supplies that will take them out for several years, where Wimberley would use some of that for say ten years until the original water contract holder demand materializes and needs that water in which time theoretically we would have additional supplies."

Past entreaties for sharing water from Kyle and San Marcos have failed. The current thinking is to give it another shot.
Said one source, "We've been working hard on it. San Marcos, Buda and Kyle are going to want to be real neighbors."

Should a sharing arrangement be reached, and it meets the financial and legal tests, West says there are other hurdles ahead. "There's still a component of folks who aren't interested in any new water because of the growth question. That's a sensitive issue we're going to have to deal with."

Another challenge is the need for a partnership of Wimberley valley water suppliers and consumers all working toward the same goal of water security – the biggest entities being the city of Wimberley, Wimberley Water Supply Corp., Aqua Texas and the city of Woodcreek.

West assures, "We can get the water (pipeline) to the city limits,"
if all the pieces fall nicely into place. But it will not come cheap. West estimates the capital cost would be equal to about $4 per thousand gallons – double the current price paid by most water system users around Wimberley. That does not include the added cost of transportation and distribution.

This story has long legs. If you hear anything new, make sure to share.

Some observations and questions going forward:

It would do well to reexamine the groundwater emergency declared several years ago in northern Hays County under Jim Powers' commissioners court. The emergency was declared on the basis of a few wells going dry in Sunset Canyon. The declaration triggered the LCRA surface water solution, ostensibly to serve then current residents. Of course, the clear result has been an explosion in new residents, subdivisions and commercial projects around Dripping Springs.

Some questions: a) Will the general public get an opportunity to participate in the talks? b) Will Rose and Wentworth include a requirement for rainwater capture in their legislation for the county, or at least greatly increase incentives for builders and homeowners? c) How much of this push for surface water now is being driven by developer interests?

Finally, a hat tip to those fearless stakeholders and officials who are willing to talk to the media on the record, or even on background. Your trust in the public wisdom and the right to be informed is indispensable.

Friday, February 27, 2009

From today's New York Times: Texans angry over Perry's refusal to accept stimulus money

Harry Cabluck/Associated Press

"As governors in nine states, mostly in the South (including Texas), consider rejecting millions of dollars in federal stimulus money for increased unemployment insurance, there is growing anger among the ranks of the jobless in those states that they could be left out of a significant government benefit."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hays County government: By and for the well connected people

When voters remove these special interest supported public officials from office, the deposed officials are often rewarded with jobs. Typically, these jobs are to use their connections to influence the new officials. It is this long-standing symbiotic relationship that has led to a culture of corruption in Hays County

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Part I – How Special Interests Become Well Connected to Government

By Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.

Being well connected to public officials is a recipe for financial gain. Making substantial election campaign contributions is the most obvious means of demonstrating connections with elected officials, and the bigger the contribution the stronger the connection.

Business interests, especially those outside the election jurisdiction, have no political interest in an election outcome. The only reason for special interests to make financial contributions to election campaigns is their expectation of future financial reward. Careful review of campaign financial reports can identify the special interests seeking these financial rewards from public funds.

Our election laws make some attempt to address campaign corruption by prohibiting direct corporate campaign contributions. Still, loopholes in the law allow contributions by corporation owners and employees, and by political action committees (PAC) that are funded by corporations and professional firms. Frequent users of these loopholes include engineering firms, law firms, construction firms and consulting firms.

These loopholes create opportunities for corporations to shortcut campaign laws. We uncovered one case where employees of an engineering firm vying for the Hays County 2001 road bond management contract contributed $1,500 each to Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Bill Burnett (son of PEC Walter “Bud” Burnett). The three Turner Collie & Braden employees lived in Ft. Worth, Houston and Austin. Through his direct intervention in the County Review Committee process, Commissioner Burnett was able to get the court to award TCB the management contract, and Burnett collected at least $4,500 in campaign contributions.

Suspected illegal activity is not investigated in Hays County

We believed this was a case of illegal quid pro quo and campaign laundering of corporate contributions similar to the case involving U.S. Representative Tom DeLay that former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle successfully prosecuted. Suspected illegal campaign behavior isn’t actively investigated or prosecuted in Hays County. Burnett, while serving as county commissioner was also employed by Houston firm, Dannenbaum Engineering, and now works for Loomis Partners of Austin, another special interest firm currently feeding at the Hays County public trough. Dannenbaum was awarded a contract valued at more than one million dollars.

Many public projects involve an array of professional services, and firms will often collaborate to support a particular candidate for office. For example, a road bond project involves a bond attorney, financial advisor, an eminent domain attorney, transportation consultant, design engineering firm, project engineering firm, road construction firms, and the list goes on.

County Commissioners Jeff Barton (Pct. 2, D-Mountain City) and Will Conley (Pct. 3, R-Wimberley)

Recent examples of collaborating to elect special interest candidates include Loomis Partners, Inc., Prime Strategies, Dannenbaum Engineering, Klotz Associates Inc., and Smith, Robertson, Elliott, Glen, Klein & Bell, L.L.P.. Principals and/or employees from each of these firms made significant financial contributions to the election campaigns of county commissioners Jeff Barton and Will Conley, and collectively these companies have been awarded millions of dollars in contracts for Hays County projects. These special interests may have also laundered campaign contributions that we did not catch.

Even though the processes through which public contracts awarded to well connected special interests are camouflaged, alert citizens are able to spot the connections.

Conley, who used to openly detest citizen advisory committees, was converted by Barton who regularly uses the committee approach for his political cover. These commissioners’ court appointed citizens advisory groups are typically packed with citizens who follow the bidding of commissioners Barton, Conley and Debbie Ingalsbe, and when they do act independently, as in the case of CPAT (Citizens Parks Advisory Team), commissioners’ court simply by-passes and ignores committee recommendations.

The road bond – a very expensive case in point

The 2008 road bond is an excellent case in point of official camouflage. After suffering a stinging defeat from voters in 2007, a more orchestrated approach was created by Barton to “sell” his extravagant, wasteful and unnecessary 2008 road bond for his special interests.

First, local government entities were invited to submit their highest priority road projects. Then a consultant firm was hired to quickly conduct “public workshops” to give the impression of public input, when in fact the options presented in these hastily organized and poorly attended public workshops were predetermined by Barton and Conley.

Following the hasty, expensive and propaganda purpose public workshops, commissioners’ court approved, under Barton’s initiative, expenditure of hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to pay for a road bond web site, and to create an expensive propaganda brochure that was mailed to about 60,000 Hays County households. Barton and Conley were also members of the special interest PAC, Citizens for Safe Roads and Mobility, who put out the same false and misleading information about the road bond. The Barton newspapers then used this PAC information as a cover to broadcast the official road bond propaganda. Barton, part owner of Austin engineering firm, Doucet & Associates Inc., and Conley are now in the process of rewarding their special road interest firms. Property owners will see the higher taxes for many years.

Left unchecked, government becomes dominated by special interests, and a culture of corruption becomes established. Special interests finance the elected officials who in turn reward the special interests.

The three most lucrative official avenues for rewarding well connected special interests are through development permitting, influencing where public infrastructure is built, and awarding public project contracts.

Our elected officials oversee public employees, control the public purse string and make decisions on how public money is spent.

This authority is not lost on special interests, and what better way for special interests to make a connection to public officials than to make significant election campaign contributions.

When voters remove these special interest supported public officials from office, they are often rewarded with jobs. Typically, these jobs are to use their connections to influence the new officials. It is this long-standing symbiotic relationship that has lead to a culture of corruption in Hays County.

Corruption in government results in wasteful spending, cronyism, selective enforcement of our laws, special favors, higher but unequal taxation and a diminished community.

Part II of Government By and For the Well Connected People will describe the culture of corruption as it exists now in Hays County, and will expose specific cases of corruption, unfairness and injustice in county and municipal government.

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

Friday, February 20, 2009

PEC retains counsel to investigate former law firm

Press release from the PEC Feb. 20, 2009

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

Johnson City, Tx -- Pedernales Electric Cooperative has retained Jimmy Williamson, principal of Houston law firm Williamson & Rusnak, to spearhead an investigation of the Cooperative’s former legal partner, Clark, Thomas & Winters. Williamson will probe Clark, Thomas & Winters on issues revealed by the Navigant Consulting investigation report made public in December 2008.

The investigation will focus, among other things, on questionable payments made by Clark, Thomas & Winters while the firm served as counsel for PEC. Williamson’s firm also will develop and recommend possible actions the Cooperative can take to protect its members’ interests.

“We conducted a thorough search to find the right representative to lead this investigation,” said PEC Interim General Counsel Luis A. Garcia. “Williamson’s experience in complex commercial litigation convinced us he was the best choice for the job. We look forward to working with him to secure PEC a favorable resolution of this matter."

Williamson’s firm has more than 30 years of experience in the area of legal negligence and malpractice. The firm practices throughout Texas and also has handled cases in New York, Florida, Louisiana and California. Williamson has been a member of the State Bar of Texas since 1978 and has been named a Texas Super Lawyer for the last five years.

“In taking this action, PEC is upholding its fiduciary responsibility to the membership,” said PEC General Manager Juan Garza. “I am satisfied this is a strong choice for the Cooperative at this time, and we welcome the experience and expertise Mr. Williamson will bring to the table.”

Wimberley city council drops re-zoning plan

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From the office of City Administrator Don Ferguson and the City of Wimberley website:

Wimberley City Council voted unanimously Thursday night Feb. 19 to stop the pubic hearing process and further consideration of a proposed citywide zoning map.

In addition, the council is expected to consider a resolution on March 5, 2009, directing the Planning and Zoning Commission to proceed with the process of zoning only those unzoned tracts of property based on their existing use and provide property owners wishing to change their current zoning a City fee free opportunity to do so.

Meanwhile, the Planning and Zoning Commission is expected to continue efforts to implement the modifications to the City's planning areas and development standards as recommended in the recent update of the City's Comprehensive Plan.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Coming soon: Hays County government's widespread ethical failure

In an upcoming series, local government watchdog and investigative writer Charles O'Dell exposes in excruciating detail what he describes as the "long-standing symbiotic relationship" between special interests and office holders that has led to "a culture of corruption in Hays County"

Mr. O'Dell is not one to play loose with the facts. His work is well documented and carefully edited to avoid unwarranted allegations. Having observed this culture of corruption and its supporting cast for many years, the RoundUp fully expects loud and angry protestations from some of the players involved. That is the way it works. The larger question here is, as always, when will the local authorities shed their good old boy cloaks and begin to represent the public trust?

Stay tuned.

Here's an excerpt from O'Dell's first installment:

Left unchecked, government becomes dominated by special interests, and a culture of corruption becomes established. Special interests finance the elected officials who in turn reward the special interests.

The three most lucrative official avenues for rewarding well connected special interests are through development permitting, influencing where public infrastructure is built, and awarding public project contracts.

Our elected officials oversee public employees, control the public purse string and make decisions on how public money is spent.

This authority is not lost on special interests, and what better way for special interests to make a connection to public officials than to make significant election campaign contributions.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Citywide re-zoning proposal stirs lots of interest and concern from property owners

'(The plan) has grown to propose zoning every unzoned property in the city, mostly businesses but some residences to the highest possible zoning designation – hundreds of them . . . in every respect, in every case, it is commercial

In less than a month, the council could pass the plan into law as it now stands. And once passed you can't take it back. That's the law in the state of Texas

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Compiled and edited by Bob Ochoa
RoundUp Editor

Thursday night's Feb. 12 public hearing at Wimberley city council chambers over a proposed citywide re-zoning plan attracted an unexpectedly large crowd of citizens. Local media has provided only scant coverage of this important matter. Many in attendance expressed surprise at the magnitude of the plan and others expressed concerns about its effects on their properties. The RoundUp is also hearing concerns that unnamed interests and members on the city council and planning & zoning commission appear determined to push through a transformation of Wimberley into a landscape of high intensity commercially zoned properties.

Here's a question to consider: Unless there's a really good reason to rush to judgment, shouldn't the city council delay final adoption of this re-zoning plan until after the May election? One would think a proposal this sweeping deserves more transparency, and a lot more open debate among the general population. Three council seats are up for election in May. Candidate filing is now open. Wouldn't it be best for all concerned to let the candidates campaign on their positions, and let the voters decide the best course to follow?

Following are the views of three well informed people who attended the Thursday night public hearing:

First View

Last night there was a public hearing attended by I estimate 80-100 people
on the proposed citywide zoning plan. As you probably know Wimberley has taken a different tact than many cities concerning zoning since our incorporation. We started with a Comprehensive Plan developed through a citizen's stake-holder driven process that expressed the vision of what we want Wimberley to be. Based on this plan zoning ordinances were recommended by the appointed P&Z Commission to the elected City Council for approval.

Here is where the difference occurred. Wimberley initially allowed its
residents to come forward and seek residential and commercial zoning on a tract specific basis. Through time a number of larger platted residential subdivisions were also zoned free of charge as our residential zoning is based primarily on lot size and single or multi-family use. Now with development pressures mounting the City Council felt it was time to finish the zoning of all remaining unzoned lots which are primarily commercial uses and those residential areas which haven't been zoned because they were either small, complex, or have grown topsy-turvy.

Last night there was agreement on the concept of Citywide zoning, but
disagreement on whether the proposed zoning map was consistent with the Comprehensive Plan which was reviewed and revised by the Council last year. There were about 20 people who spoke about their specific concerns while the P&Z Commissioners listened.

Next Wednesday at 6:00 PM the P&Z Commission will hold a workshop concerning developing regulations for the highway entrance corridors. There will be another Public
Hearing before the Commission on February 26th. I hope other concerned citizens will turn out so they understand what is occurring and participate in making their concerns known.

Second View

It was standing-room only. Some folks were sitting on the floor, and people were lined up in the back of the room. Most of the council was there. There was a groundswell against the proposed zoning, and a clear voice against commercializing the river and Cypress Creek as well as the neighborhoods off River Road and the area off FM2325.

There were more people at this hearing than were at the meeting on the sewer system at the Community Center. Eighteen people spoke against it in some fashion. There was a petition signed by 43 people against the whole thing. Ten people living on Blue Heron signed a petition opposing the commercial zoning of that street. Five people on Loma Vista signed a petition against (commercial) zoning along Blue Heron and Cypress Creek.

One knowledgeable participant made what I think was the best argument against it – that the plan is not a map of Wimberley and is inconsistent with the city's Comprehensive Plan, and that it is illegal because it allows spot zoning; it puts dense development along the creek and river; not legal in terms of the zoning ordinance (single land uses can't dominate entryways). He urged taking this off the table and starting over.

P&Z Commissioner John Stefanowicz agreed. Lila M. tried to tell folks that, given our size, we wouldn't be the site for big-box stores and our zoning ordinance limits the size to no more than 20,000 square feet. LeAnn M. from Hoots Holler called for devising design standards before adopting new zoning. It was resoundingly criticized for what appeared as no consideration for buffer zones, green space, protecting Blue Hole, the creek or the river.

Residents living in the neighborhood along Rhodes and Jewell lanes opposed the change to commercial as well. A former city attorney was concerned about the lack of process in this huge rezoning effort as well as the impact on property values from all the commercial zoning (several were concerned about this point). Scott S., along with the former city attorney, said it "goes too far, too fast." He was especially concerned with the dense development (C-2) around schools and the need for sidewalks for the students who walk along there (3 schools and 2 school zones along there).

Don Ferguson gave an overview of the proposal at the beginning, and Tracy Dean moved quickly into taking public comments. There was no room for a motion. There was some discussion of this during the next agenda item, where the various commissioners were able to speak.

Folks were concerned their values would increase significantly, and although Don Ferguson said the chief appraiser at the appraisal district indicated they don't look at zoning when valuing properties, other folks said the values increase anyway. Another concern was placing more intense zoning along the river, which residents of South River did not like.

Third View

I have no idea what has driven this to such an extreme. I was at the council meeting where the initial charge was given to the planning and zoning commission. What council said then was do a city-initiated zoning of existing business. That would be great to do since we've avoided it in the past. But it has grown from that to we need to zone every unzoned property in the city, mostly business but some residences – and what is shown in the map is to put the highest possible zoning designation on those properties – hundreds of them. In very respect, in every case, it is commercial.

On top of that they have decided to rezone numerous properties commercial that are currently zoned residential – like all those properties along Rhodes Ln. They've taken all those little homes that are currently residential zoned and converted all that to commercial zoning. The big open field on RR 12 across South River – this map proposes to rezone it commercial even though the owner went through expense and time to get that property zoned agricultural.

In addition to that they've decided (no one by the way will take responsibility for the map that has been drawn up) that those planning areas we have in place now are not right. So they've suggested more intense zoning than would not otherwise be allowed in the planning area. An example, there's those new storage units by the high school, and the empty adjacent property there that should only be zoned residential, agricultural or neighborhood services – very low intensity. For some reason somebody decided that those properties should be Commercial 2, the second most intense commercial development allowed by the city. I don't understand it. And
they put C2 and C1 zoning on properties that front Cypress Creek and the river.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

From today's New York Times: 'Worst drought in nearly 100 years racking three-quarters of Texas'

Michael Stravato for the NewYorkTimes

“The last time we had a drought this bad was in January 1918,” said John Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist. “The droughts in the 1950s in individual years were not as bad as this.” Mr. Nielsen-Gammon, a professor at Texas A&M, said the weather had been unusually dry for the last year and a half, but since August, much of the central part of the state — a broad swath from just south of Dallas, through Austin and San Antonio and down to Corpus Christi — had gotten little or no rain. Even last year’s hurricanes, Dolly and Ike, did not help, he said.

See the story here:

For drought updates:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My progressive libertarian view of the inauguration and the first 30 days

Even with these Obama miscues, Americans are ten times better off now than we were with the incompetence of the Bush Administration and the deceptive "Joe the Plumber" Republican economic policies forced on us for too long

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By Rocky Boschert

It seems everyone somehow got tickets to President Obama’s Inauguration but me. Charles O’Dell was there. And two Sundays ago a couple of those leftie WimDems types presented accounts of their own in-person attendance at the Obama Inaugural. Well, I have something to say about the Obama phenomenon too, although mine is from a “progressive libertarian” perspective, watching it all unfold on pay per view commercial media, also known as cable television.

First of all, as I was watching the massive Inauguration crowd accumulating around mid-morning, I had to wonder if they were really there to see our first African American President Barack Obama get sworn in – or to see George W. Bush get away without being impeached. I have to say it was like a big weight had been lifted while I watched Dubya leave in that helicopter. However, I began to worry at one point as the helicopter started to circle back. I thought maybe Dick Cheney had somehow organized a coup d’etat and Mr. Bush got word that he was back in the saddle.

And speaking of Dick Cheney, didn’t he look wonderful in that wheelchair dressed up like a Truman Capote version of Dr. Strangelove, the ominous post-Nazi scientist from the famous Stanley Kubrick film. I kept waiting for Cheney to uncontrollably extend his right arm out in a Gestapo-like salute while his other hand tried desperately to pull the extended arm back -- so not to expose his true sentiments. You have to admit Dick Cheney was a macho man’s Vice-President. He was indignant to the end, refusing to admit he was in part responsible for the death of over 4000 American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilian woman and children.

Some things have a happy ending though. Five years after invading Iraq, Halliburton’s stock price has collapsed to a recent multi-year low of around 20, after hitting a high of 53 not too long after the invasion. Hopefully Cheney is still holding his HAL stock shares. Now that would be a bit of poetic justice (and hopefully the end of a political career that benefited few and harmed many) .

Obama gets off to a weak start

Once everyone took a big sigh of relief that Goofball and Darth Vader were gone for sure, everyone settled in to observe the new President in action. As for me, I had to take a break from MSNBC once the election was over. Frankly I was exhausted from watching the “liberal triumvirate” programming on MSNBC that ran during the early evening just so I could feel like I have a life. And when I knew the Democrats weren’t going to blow it once more, I even started exercising again. I felt hope, relief, and some peace. But it didn’t last long.

The first thing I noticed after the Obama victory is his best effort trying to be bi-partisan to a bunch of Republicans who would probably still make him sit at the back of the bus if they could get away with it. For me, I would have told Senator McCain to go have his post-election loser party up in Mystery, Alaska where he could hang with “Mr. Intellectual” Todd Palin and his Saturday Night Live wife and have some really heavy conversations about secessionism and voodoo Christianity. But then, I’m a guy.

My wife, being much more forgiving and sensible than me, thought it was great that Obama was trying to mend wounds and turn the mood of America around from ugly divisiveness to cooperation and national problem solving. I hope she’s right. Most guys I know think Obama is acting like a typical liberal: trying to be nice and fair to people who are self-righteous and sometimes mean spirited -- even though it won’t do any good.

Cabinet appointments and other mistakes

Of course Obama and his team had to start off with controversy. First, he nominates three very qualified tax cheats to run two Cabinet posts and one top department. The Treasury guy makes it though the nomination process but the other two withdraw their nominations. Oops! Well, maybe we just have to accept that sometimes smart, competent politicians cheat on their taxes. I guess it’s the American way. Or in this case top Democratic Party Americans.

Regarding foreign affairs, Obama not surprisingly appoints Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. I expect it will be hard for Clinton to offer fair and balanced diplomacy concerning the Palestinians. Hillary Clinton has received so much lobby money from Jewish special interest groups that it will be difficult for her to see the Israeli attack on the Palestinians in Gaza for what is was – part religious war and part first steps to a land grab. But Clinton’s appointment may not make much difference, since most Americans have no idea what is really going on in Gaza. Americans seem to ignore the fact that Gaza is essentially an Israeli-controlled concentration camp.

Last but not least, almost all of Obama’s economic advisors seem to be Wall Street centrists. Although the stimulus package is designed primarily to expand and foster the most sensible aspects of American free enterprise such as re-installing prudent regulatory powers, enhancing opportunities for the American small businessperson, and creating jobs through education and infrastructure spending, Obama also seems inclined to continue bailing out some of the crony parts of Wall Street. When will we finally see the Federal Reserve Board for what it really is?

Let’s not forget where we came from

On the other hand, even with these Obama miscues, Americans are ten times better off now than we were with the incompetence of the Bush Administration and the deceptive “Joe the Plumber” Republican economic policies forced on us for much too long. Even now we see some of the same mindless, conservative free markets delirium of the Bush years, although currently it is forcing its slow ruination more at the state and local level now that Obama and the Democrats are running the Federal government.

After all their recent failures and deception, the so-called free market conservatives are still successfully convincing local voters that it is in the community’s best interest to use tax dollars for special interest projects. These “projects” include roads, highways, water and septic infrastructure systems – mainly for more business expansion and future real estate development – which our deteriorating economy and overstretched property tax revenues can hardly support.

Call me old-fashioned but...

What I want to know is whatever happened to “muckraker” journalism, whistleblowers, boycotts, Wall Street crooks going to jail, government leaders being prosecuted for unethical behavior, and regulators going after corporations who are poisoning children and families living downstream or downwind from the company’s dioxin-producing plants?

And what ever happened to local residents questioning why it is so essential to have “growth” when we have a pretty good idea unfettered growth will inevitably destroy a town’s spirit? It’s embarrassing how it seems at least half of the citizenry of our once great country have become so senseless they allow themselves to be complacent to a mode of thinking that trashes our water and environment, willingly abdicates personal rights to corporations, and buys junk they can’t even pay for with cash.

Oh yes, back to bi-partisanship

A few days ago all the House Republicans voted against President Obama’s economic stimulus package – even though they voted for almost all of President Bush’s massive deficit spending bills. For some reason, now they have principles. They are all of a sudden fiscal conservatives again because borrowing and spending tax dollars to bolster the American economy and limit the length of soup lines would be bad government.

Clearly the Obama economic stimulus package isn’t perfect. It is written mostly by upper income Democrat politicians and economists who are smart and say the right things but are still trying too much to protect their corporate masters. In a small way, because of the bi-partisan effort, we are seeing more of the same from Obama. But it is still ten times better than what we got from the Republicans for almost a decade.

Political funnies

Finally, the Republican National Committee (RNC) recently appointed the chameleon-like ex-Lieutenant Governor of Maryland Michael Steele as the new head of the GOP. You remember Steele. He was the patronizing loudmouth who yelled out at the last Republican Convention “drill baby drill.” The most interesting part of the Steele nomination is that he is African-American. Gee, it’s good to see that the Republicans are not obviously copying the Democrats. And I’m sure they are not trying to use race as a political tool.

And kudos to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in her upcoming Texas Gubernatorial race. It appears Governor Rick Perry got the black widow endorsement of Sarah Palin, which goes to show that Mr. Perry is not the brightest light to shine in the Governor’s mansion. Palin’s endorsement of Perry, or Perry’s willingness to be endorsed by her, is a sure sign he needs to go.

God Save America and Texas at this point. Hope for the best and plan for the worst. It will get more interesting from here.

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.

Monday, February 9, 2009

PEC Board nomination materials now available online

Press Release from the PEC

February 9, 2009

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

Johnson City – Pedernales Electric has made nomination-by-petition materials available on its web site,, for eligible members interested in running for an open position on the utility’s Board of Directors. Positions up for election in 2009 are for District 1 Director, District 6 Director and District 7 Director. Members may also call PEC toll-free at 1-888-554-4732 to have the petition materials mailed to them, or they can drop by any Pedernales Electric office to request the forms in person.

The materials include instructions for submitting biographical information, nomination requirements, a background verification authorization form, sheets for collecting member signatures and a map showing the recently revised Director districts. Completed nomination petitions must be postmarked or received by the Secretary to PEC’s Board by April 6 for candidates to be eligible for the election, which will conclude at the Cooperative’s June 20 annual membership meeting. Incumbent Directors seeking re-election are required to complete the petition process.

“Last year’s election demonstrated our desire to have open and democratic elections, and the participation from the membership was wonderful,” said PEC General Manager Juan Garza. “Our commitment to democracy remains true for 2009, and we believe our nomination procedure for Directors is one of the most open processes in the country.”

PEC expects to announce confirmed candidates at its April 20 Board meeting and plans to mail

ballots to PEC members in May. As in 2008, PEC has hired Election Services Corporation, an independent election services provider, to distribute, receive and tabulate ballots and handle other election matters. PEC members will be able to vote for the candidates of their choosing by mail, online or in person at the annual meeting on June 20.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

PEC replaces and will investigate former legal counsel

“I am going to use the authority given to me by the Board on this matter to ensure that there is accountability for any potential wrongdoing and uphold fiduciary responsibility to the Cooperative membership.”

-- PEC General Manager Juan Garza

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February 6, 2009

TO: All PEC-area newspapers

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

Johnson City, Tx – After the discovery of irregular payments to its longtime legal partner, Clark, Thomas & Winters, Pedernales Electric Cooperative is taking expedient action in replacing the firm and investigating the billing irregularities brought to light through an investigation completed in December by Navigant Consulting.

On Jan. 26, the PEC Board of Directors voted unanimously to end the relationship with Clark, Thomas & Winters and authorized PEC General Manager Juan Garza and Interim General Counsel Luis A. Garcia to seek new counsel to represent the Cooperative and investigate the billing issues at Clark, Thomas & Winters.

PEC has announced that the Cooperative has retained Doug Alexander of Alexander DuBose & Townsend LLP from Austin, Texas as legal counsel to replace Clark, Thomas & Winters and represent PEC on the appeal of a settlement in a civil lawsuit.

“It has been our primary focus to replace Clark, Thomas & Winters on all legal matters at the cooperative as quickly as possible,” said Garcia, “and I’m pleased to announce the appointment of Doug Alexander as counsel on the civil case.”

PEC also is finalizing its search to engage legal counsel to conduct an investigation of the irregularities identified in the Navigant Report in regards to payments made by Walter Demond, a lawyer for Clark, Thomas & Winters, while he served as outside General Counsel for the Cooperative. PEC expects to announce this appointment early next week. This counsel also will be developing options for action by PEC to protect the interests of its members and the Cooperative.

“I am going to use the authority given to me by the Board on this matter to ensure that there is accountability for any potential wrongdoing and uphold fiduciary responsibility to the Cooperative membership,” said Garza. “We are determined to expedite a thorough investigation and bring a speedy resolution to this matter.”

Thursday, February 5, 2009

There will be drama at the Pedernales Electric Cooperative

Directing his comments to Director Cox, President Felps announced in a stern tone, "I will remember this." He then went on to call for board interaction "from a more civilized standpoint"

Editor's Note: In case you missed it, back in December in an op-ed piece new board member Dr. Patrick Cox of Wimberley, among other things, called for the resignations of old guard board members R. B. Felps and O. C. Harmon.

Guest Commentary

By Dave Collins

Johnson City – Watching the Pedernales Electric Cooperative saga and history unfold these past months has frequently brought to mind the 2007 Oscar-winning movie, "There Will Be Blood." That tale of small-town corruption, greed, family influence, and violence offers interesting parallels to what was most certainly a "family affair" over the decades at the PEC. However, save vague, whispered rumors from the past, the PEC tragedy lacked the blood and violence of the movie. Perhaps that is about to change.

At the January 15th PEC board meeting, Patrick Cox, one of the three newly elected, voting directors, introduced a motion asking board President R. B. Felps and Secretary/Treasurer O. C. Harmon to step down. The resolution called for a board vote to remove them from their positions as board officers for just cause should they refuse. The resolution failed 4-3; Old-Guard Directors voting "against" and Elected Directors voting "for." President Felps cast the tie-breaking vote to defeat the resolution to oust him from his position.

Following that vote, President Felps engaged in what can fairly be described as a victory demonstration, though not as animated as those we see in an NFL end zone. Fortunately, and a true sign of the reforms at PEC to date, the event was recorded on video. The curious may view that dramatic scene here.

Fair warning - it is not an Oscar-candidate performance. And turn up the volume; President Felps tends to mumble a bit.

Directing his comments to Director Cox, President Felps announced in a stern tone, "I will remember this." He then went on to call for board interaction "from a more civilized standpoint." Felps said that in the future if Cox thought he had done something "a little bit wrong" Cox should "have guts enough to tell me face to face," all the while glaring into Director Cox's face. Felps concluded by noting that, "if you are wrong, one of us is going to get skinned up."

Since it seems that President Felps is of the opinion that the model of civilized behavior is to be found in good old Fist City, PEC members may now be able to look forward to a return of Friday Night Fights - at the very next meeting of the PEC board.

Just when we thought it couldn't get any stranger, R. B. Felps proves us wrong.

Stay tuned!

Mr. Collins resides in Johnson City.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Another pond, another mystery . . . where's the water coming from?

All that's missing is a large highway sign announcing: "What drought? We've got plenty of water!"

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nother water-filled pond was spotted about 3 miles west of Wimberley on the north side of FM 2325. The RoundUp is stretched for time at the moment but has put out a call for information that might help answer the question: What precious water source is keeping this nicely landscaped pond filled and able to spray the surrounding grounds . . . in a time of high drought?

We'll keep you posted as information becomes available.

Update: Wednesday Feb. 4, 4:30 p.m. -- A representative from the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) and other sources have confirmed that the pond is a part of the Ridge at Wimberley Springs subdivision development. Apparently the water is being supplied by Aqua Texas, whose own water source is, of course, groundwater from our hard-pressed Trinity Aquifer. One hopes that the hundreds of thousands of gallons pumped thus far has at least been properly metered and billed. Several other questions linger about the future maintenance of this so-called storm water retention pond, like whether the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) actually requires that it remain filled at all times, especially during a 3-alarm drought. The RoundUp has been informed that TCEQ recently received a complaint about the pond from an area resident, and has turned the matter over to the HTGCD. "We're going to be checking with our attorney about pumping any more water into that thing," the HTGCD rep said.

If nothing else, wouldn't you agree this manicured pond sure makes a nice selling point for prospective home buyers? All that's missing is a large highway sign announcing: "What drought? We've got plenty of water!"

Monday, February 2, 2009

CARD issues CALL TO ACTION to support local groundwater district in time of severe drought

The Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development supports sustainable development in Wimberley and western Hays County. We strongly support full Chapter 36 authority for the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District

Send your comments and news tips to
or to Jim McMeans of CARD,

As residents of western Hays County, we know what it means to be short of water. We are currently in an exceptional drought, existing wells are going dry, new wells are being drilled every day to accommodate new growth, and water companies are declaring water emergencies. Citizens expect their elected officials to find solutions to providing for basic needs such as reliable water supply, garbage collection, safe roads, sewerage disposal, and fire and police protection.

Of all these needs, a reliable supply of potable water is basic and essential to life.

In the Texas Hill Country most of us depend on groundwater supplied to us by either our private wells or by water company wells. Ten years ago the Texas Legislature created the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District to help manage the aquifer that supplies this groundwater to western Hays County.

An election in 2003 confirmed the district by a two-to-one margin and selected five directors. With an elected board of directors, a small paid staff, and many dedicated volunteers, the district has compiled an enviable record of describing the geologic structure of the aquifer, monitoring water levels in area wells, and where possible, setting well production at rates that maintain a sustainable aquifer

However, the district does not operate under the full authority of Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code, the standard for most other groundwater conservation districts around the state. The Hays Trinity District was intentionally created to be weak and poorly funded. In spite of this structure, the district has done its job and has gained the support of citizens in Hays County who realize the limits of the available groundwater supply. These citizens support a district that has the authority to protect the water that we all depend on. A good example of a district with full Chapter 36 authority that does an excellent job in monitoring and regulating groundwater is the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer District.

The Hays Trinity District needs full Chapter 36 authorization from the Texas Legislature so that it can prevent well interference and over-pumping, set standards for wells consistent with local geologic conditions, monitor and enforce commercial pumping permits, record well conditions district-wide, and fund professional staff to carry out the district’s functions. Chapter 36 allows citizens to call a referendum and vote on a small property tax to support the functions of the district. Currently, the district is woefully under-funded, depending on the support of the Hays County Commissioners Court and fees charged on large commercial wells and new water connections. The District needs a reliable, independent funding source like other groundwater districts in the state.

A stronger Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District will help to maintain a healthy aquifer and a sustainable groundwater supply. A stronger district will help to support property and land values, since water availability is basic to life. Tourism is a major part of the economy of central Texas. Visitors are attracted to the area because of the clear flowing waters. Since groundwater is the source of our rivers and streams during the summer months, it is critical that we manage our groundwater to maintain those rivers, streams, and swimming holes.

The Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development supports sustainable development in Wimberley and western Hays County. We strongly support full Chapter 36 authority for the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District. We urge all elected officials and citizens to call for additional authority, like other Texas groundwater conservation districts, and support legislation to grant that authority.


Please write and call your elected officials and request full Chapter 36 authorization for the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District DURING THIS LEGISLATIVE SESSION.

City of Wimberley – Mayor Tom Haley and City Council Members - 512-847-0025
PO Box 2027, Wimberley, TX 78676 email:

City of Woodcreek – Mayor Gloria Whitehead and City Council Members – 512-847-9390
41 Champion Circle, Woodcreek, TX 78676

City of Dripping Springs – Mayor Todd Percell and City Council Members 512-858-4725
PO Box 384, Dripping Springs, TX 78620

State Representative Patrick Rose - Texas House of Representatives - 512-463-0647
PO Box 2910, Austin, TX 78768 email:

State Senator Jeff Wentworth – Texas Senate – 210-826-7800
PO Box 12068 Capital Station, Austin, TX 78711 email:

Hays County Officials: Courthouse Annex, San Marcos, TX 78666

Judge Elizabeth Sumter - 512-393-2204 email:
111 E. San Antonio St., Ste. 300, San Marcos 78666

Commissioner Will Conley – 512-847-3159 email:
PO Box 2085, Wimberley, TX 78676

Commissioner Jeff Barton – 512-262-2091 email:
PO Box 1180, Kyle, TX 78640

Commissioner Karen Ford – 512-858-7268 email:
PO Box 1158, Dripping Springs, TX 78620

Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe – 512-393-2243 email:
111 E. San Antonio St., Ste. 204, San Marcos, TX 78666