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Monday, March 30, 2009

It’s a church; it’s a government center; no — it’s a special interest, tax payer rip-off




The investors make more than $1,000,000 on their investment and the Hays County government would have functioned as a bank for the City of Wimberley and purchased property appraised at $1,350,050 for $2,400,000, and spend an additional $600,000 for renovations

Wimberley Ctiy Council Special Meeting tonight, 6 p.m. See the agenda.

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

or to codell@austin.rr.com

By Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.


Here’s how it works.

In anticipation of building a new facility, the First Baptist Church in Wimberley sold its land and existing buildings to a group of investors who operated as Wimberley Crossroads LLC. The purchase price was $1,350,050. Wimberley Crossroads paid $350,050 down; the church held a note for $1,000,000. Wimberley Crossroads also agreed to lease the property back to the church so the congregation would have a place to meet while the new facility was under construction.


Enter the first of the deal makers, the realtor/investor …


On March 12, 2007, Tim Fulfer, the local realtor who represented the Wimberley Crossroads investor group and who was, himself, one of the investors, wrote a letter to Wimberley Mayor Tom Haley. In that letter, Fulfer suggested that the Wimberley City Council give consideration to purchasing the property. After all, as Fulfer argued, an abandoned church facility could serve as a perfect city hall and government center.


Enter the second of the deal makers, Precinct 3 County Commissioner Will Conley …


The next thing we know is that Commissioner Conley was on board, roaming all over Wimberley proclaiming the benefits of a combined county-city government center. The City of Wimberley, in the form of City Manager Don Ferguson and his slick power point presentation in a couple of community meetings was proclaiming the many benefits of such a center. Just think of it — city and county satellite offices, and even some state offices, in one centralized location. Sounds good — right? Maybe it sounds like a good idea until you look at the numbers and the behind the scenes shenanigans.


Consider the following:


-- Conley’s original proposal was to have Hays County purchase the property for $2,400,000 and spend an additional $600,000 for renovation. The City of Wimberley would then enter into a lease-purchase agreement for half of the property.

-- Wimberley Crossroads LLC had an appraisal dated January 10, 2007, indicating a market value of $2,585,000.

-- The City of Wimberley commissioned an appraisal; its appraisal dated April 14, 2008, yielded a market value of $2,642,000.

-- But what about Hays County? What did the Hays County Central Appraisal District say? That’s where the problems begin to surface.


As it turns out, the Central Appraisal District had never appraised the church facilities. At first, that may sound normal — after all, it was a church, a tax-exempt entity. But let’s look a little closer.

Over the years, the Central Appraisal District had been appraising the church land, but the church didn’t have to pay taxes because of its tax-exempt status. The buildings, though, had never been appraised. And even when the property changed hands — when it was sold to Wimberley Crossroads LLC, a private entity, there was no change in the appraisal value. The Wimberley Crossroads group owned the property from July 20, 2006, to June 7, 2008, without having to be assessed for any taxes on buildings that are now taxable property.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Will Conley was planning and advertising a community meeting in Wimberley. It would be a time for the public to learn more about this plan for a joint city – county government center. The date of the meeting was June7, 2008. For some reason, and we can only assume that the approaching community meeting that made it necessary to tidy up any questionable matters, the Central Appraisal District finally appraised the buildings. Remember the dates: The community meeting was June 7, 2008; the date of the first full CAD appraisal was June 6, 2008.

So what was the Hays County Central Appraisal District market value? The value for June 6, 2008, was shown as $1,977,720. Eventually, Conley, on behalf of Hays County, and without any formal approval from the Commissioners Court, entered into a contract to have Hays County purchase the property for $ 2,400,000. That’s right; Conley was proposing that Hays County purchase the property for $2,400,000, even though the Hays County Central Appraisal District value was $1,977,720.

That’s bad enough, but it gets worse. A month later, the Central Appraisal District dropped the appraised value by more than $600,000. As of July 18, 2008, the appraised value was reduced to $ 1,350,050…the land dropped to $276,910, and the buildings dropped to $1,073,140.


At the risk of asking the obvious, did your property appraisal drop some 32% last year?

Here’s where we stand now…

The City of Wimberley City Council is holding a special meeting on Monday (this evening), March 30. The City Council will take another look at the proposal. The owners, Wimberley Crossroads LLC, are placing a value of $3,000,000 on the property; the property is appraised by the Hays County Central Appraisal District for $1,350,050.


Commissioner Conley’s plan hasn’t changed. The County would pay $3,000,000 for the property and its renovation. The money, of course, would come from the pockets of tax payers throughout the county. The City of Wimberley would, though a lease-purchase agreement, get space for a bigger and presumably better City Hall.

The long and short of it is this: The investors make more than a $ 1,000,000 on their investment and the Hays County government would have functioned as a bank for the City of Wimberley and purchased property appraised at $1,350,050 for $2,400,000, and spend an additional $600,000 for renovations. As someone from San Marcos said, “It’s a great deal for Wimberley. The folks in Wimberley still don’t pay property taxes, but we do. Why should we finance their new city hall?”

Stay tuned.


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.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

April 15 public meeting in Wimberley kicks off $200,000 countywide water & wastewater study


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


By Bob Ochoa
RoundUp Editor


Wimberley area residents interested in helping shape a comprehensive countywide water supply and wastewater plan should plan on attending a public meeting April 15, 7 pm - 9 pm, at the Wimberley Community Center.


"We'll be looking at both water resources and the handling of wastewater in the county," said Hays County Grants Administrator Jeff Hauf. "As the county continues to expand, water is rapidly being used up. This (meeting) is to get the whole community together and ask, 'What do we need to do to ensure our water resources into the future.'"


The Wimberley public meeting will kick off a $200,000 study, supported by grants from the Texas Water Development Board, various cities and water suppliers and the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority. Two additional public meetings will take place before final recommendations are presented to county commissioners. HDR Engineering of Austin is the lead project consultant.


Hauf said an important aspect of the study is that citizens be heard and their views be acted on.

For more details, Hauf can be reached at his courthouse office, 512-393-2211.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

From today's NY Times: Texas Legislature making big push for solar dominance



One state representative has introduced at least five green bills this year (including a measure that would allow local governments to create a property tax financing program for solar, along the lines of several California cities)



Kelly LaDuke for The New York Times
Texas wants to be No. 1 in producing energy this way.

By Kate Galbraith

Link to the full article: http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/25/texas-aims-for-solar-dominance/?hp

The Lone Star State leads the country in wind-power. Now Texas aims to ramp up its solar production too.


This week the state senate is considering an avalanche of bills that would boost state incentives for solar power, and the entire legislative session has become known as the “solar session.”


Altogether, according to David Power, the deputy director of Public Citizen Texas, a consumer and environmental advocacy group, there are 69 renewable energy bills before the legislature, and over 50 of them promote solar power — far more than ever before.


“There are senators and representatives that are talking about solar that have never mentioned the word probably in their lives,” he said. “We’ve actually heard the term ‘global warming,’ and two years ago that was called ‘the G word’ — you didn’t talk about it.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Debate over Chapter 36 and groundwater district brings out the forked tongues


He didn't elaborate at the time why we couldn't insist that our local groundwater board had the same kinds of rights and responsibilities as all the other ones around the region, but we should be satisfied to know that Mr. Conley knows what is best for us and our water

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

Guest Column

By Susan Cook
Driftwood, Tx

County Commissioner Will Conley's conspiratorial diatribe that has been making the rounds of newspapers and online blogs this past week must have been written by someone other than Commissioner Conley. I recently heard Mr. Conley talk all about this issue and he never mentioned any of these apparently new opinions about the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District.


I attended the meeting of the Commissioner's Court just a couple of weeks back where Mr. Conley extolled the merits of having a strong and fully-funded groundwater conservation district and he made it quite clear in several respects that the only reason he felt that a resolution not granting them full Chapter 36 authority was simply a matter of trying to get a compromise bill passed by the Legislature. He was just being moderate so we could get our GCD all the authority they need to protect and preserve our local water resources.


He let us know that we just should not ask for too much from our elected officials because well, we just would not get what we asked for. He didn't elaborate at the time why we couldn't insist that our local groundwater board had the same kinds of rights and responsibilities as all the other ones around the region, but we should be satisfied to know that Mr. Conley knows what is best for us and our water.


He plum forgot to mention that this was a "government takeover!" My, my, my . . . you would think he would have remembered to mention that. Ya know?


Mr. Conley said in Commissioners Court that he recognized that we needed wise and knowledgeable people to oversee our water resources, he didn't even tell us at that time that these were "big government promoters" who want "unlimited control and power over all the citizens of the western portion of the county." I sure wish he had mentioned that.


Mr. Conley certainly made no mention at that time, in that public meeting, of his real fears about what a strong, competent and fully-funded Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District was all about, in essence "Power and Control" over every aspect of our lives here in these parched hills. Was he just trying to protect our delicate sensitivities from the real dangers of water conservation, wise-use water resource planning and scientific inquiry into how much water we have and how to make it last?


He completely left out the part about how we had to be afraid, very afraid of hydrogeologists and their real plans to "take over our lives," "run up the cost of living" (he forgot to mention just why they would want to do this, but surely they do or he would not have said such a thing, right?) and in general take away our freedoms.


He must have just forgotten about all this in that Commissioners Court meeting that day. Just must've slipped his mind. That is the only thing I can figure.

Monday, March 23, 2009

PEC calls April 4 public hearing on new ratemaking standards and effects on members


The proposal would increase the
residential monthly establishment fee from $20 to $35 and the $17 for water wells to $32. And low energy users would be among the "losers" in the proposed new rate structure

Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net or to Hays County's representative on the PEC Board, Patrick Cox: patrickcox7@gmail.com


Johnson City, Tx –– Pedernales Electric Cooperative invites members to attend a public hearing on PEC’s proposal for implementing the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA) ratemaking standards, as amended by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA).

The hearing will take place at noon, Saturday, April 4, at PEC’s E. Babe Smith Headquarters Building at 201 South Avenue F in Johnson City.


In its proposed determination, PEC is considering four new policies that would put into action modified versions of the four new ratemaking standards relating to integrated energy efficiency resource planning, rate design modifications that promote energy efficiency investments, consideration of smart grid investments and smart grid information.

The Cooperative also must examine how the proposed standards would affect PEC members, and whether the standards would fulfill the purposes set forth by the act.


To view the proposed determination, visit the
PEC web site . Members will have an opportunity to comment and ask questions about the proposal at the hearing. If members are unable to attend, they may submit comments on the proposal to Dale Jones at Pedernales Electric Cooperative, Inc., P. O. Box 1, Johnson City, TX, 78636, or by e-mail to purpa@peci.com no later than March 31, 2009.

Driving directions to PEC’s headquarters building also are available through the web site, or by calling 1-888-554-4732.

Basic service increase seen
in proposed new PEC rates


By Jodi Lehman, Horseshoe Bay Beacon
March 18, 2009
For the full story: http://www.blancocountynews.com/news/article/13666

Consultants hired by the Pedernales Electric Cooperative unveiled a proposed new rate design plan at the PEC Board of Directors meeting in Marble Falls on Monday afternoon. David Hedrick, Vice President of C.H. Guernsey & Company said their proposal “balances conflicting concerns” and like any change in business philosophy, it will “create winners and losers.”

Hedrick and two other Guernsey representatives explained the major changes contained in the report. They propose increasing members’ monthly establishment fee charge and eliminating the “one size fits all” line extension charge.

The consultants suggest increasing the current monthly establishment fee of $20 for residences to $35, and the $17 for water wells to $32, along with a lowering of the rates charged for energy use. They calculate that the bill for residences using 1,271 kWh per month will decrease by a dollar a month under the proposed system.

The “losers” under this plan will be residences that use 1,000 kWh or less per month. Monthly bills would increase approximately $2.50 for 1,000 kWh users and $14 for 50 kWh users. The “winners” would be residences that consume more energy. Guernsey calculates that residences using 5,000 kWh per month will realize a monthly saving of $47 if the PEC adopts the concept of raising the monthly establishment fee from $20 to $35 and lowering energy charges.

Apparently, our lawmakers want to take us taxpayers on a real TOLL ride!


Give your representatives a piece of your mind. Tell 'em to head off the stampede in the Legislature to convert our highways and byways
to tollways

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


Contact your representatives here:

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

Senate, District 25: (State Sen. Jeff Wentworth): http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/senate/Members.htm

House of Representatives, District 45: (State Rep. Patrick Rose): http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/welcome.php


1) KILL SB 220! Contact your Senator NOW!


Under the guise of protecting taxpayers from freeway to tollway conversions, Senator Robert Nichols authored a bill, SB 220, that would actually LEGALIZE taking FREEways and converting them into tollways (like on parts of 281, 1604 in San Antonio and on 290 in Austin, etc.)! He refused to take sections 1, 3, & 5 out of the bill (which is the disastrous language that MUST be removed) in committee and now the bill is being FAST TRACKED to a floor vote ANY DAY! We want the house version of the bill to become law, Rep. David Leibowitz' bill, HB 13.


Call/write your Senator and ask him/her to VOTE NO on SB 220! Tell them we want the House version to become law.

2) Register in favor of HB 2557


Representative Linda Harper-Brown ( watch her defend taxpayers in this video ) authored this bill to revoke a TxDOT Minute Order that requires ALL new capacity to Texas highways be studied for tolls FIRST. TxDOT's Minute Order is not only bad for taxpayers, it violates FEDERAL LAW (NEPA). HB 2557 will be heard in the House Transportation Committee Tuesday.

Read the bill here: HB 2557

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hays County Parks Bonds: 'Bait and Switch,' and the pesky Texas Constitution



While I am sure that all of these projects are worthwhile, none is owned or controlled by the citizens of Hays County, you know, the folks putting up all the money. If we buy something, we should own it

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

By Merle Moden


On May 12, 2007 Hays County voters approved a $30 million parks bond proposition. The ballot language for this proposition was “THE ISSUANCE OF $30,000,000 OF HAYS COUNTY TAX BONDS FOR PARKS, NATURAL AREAS, OPEN SPACE, AND RELATED PROJECTS, AND THE PRESERVATION OF WATER QUALITY, AQUIFER RECHARGE AREAS, AND WILDLIFE HABITAT, AND THE LEVYING OF A TAX IN PAYMENT THEREOF," and was approved by the Hays County Commissioners’ Court on March 12, 2007.

The Hays County Commissioners’ Court appointed a group of citizens – the Citizens Parks Advisory Team – to recommend projects for funding out of the proceeds of the sales of the $30 million in tax bonds. The Citizens Parks Advisory Team and the Hays County Commissioners’ Court proceeded to allocate the parks bond proceeds to several projects sponsored by an individual, nonprofit corporations, and municipal corporations, and no allocations were made for new county-owned parks, natural areas, open space, etc.


When I voted for the parks bond proposition, I thought that parks, natural areas, open space, etc. meant county-owned and controlled parks, natural areas, open space, etc. I did not know that “parks” meant parks for the City of Buda, the City of Dripping Springs, the City of Kyle, the City of San Marcos, and the City of Wimberley; that “related projects” meant athletic facilities for the Village of San Marcos, the Gary Sports Complex, the North Hays Optimist Foundation Sports Complex, and the Dripping Springs Youth Sports Association; that “natural areas” meant funding for land at Jacob’s Well for the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association; and, that “preservation of water quality, aquifer recharge areas, and wildlife habitat” meant a conservation easement for the individual who owns Dahlstrom Ranch.

While I am sure that all of these projects are worthwhile, none is owned or controlled by the citizens of Hays County, you know, the folks putting up all the money. If we buy something, we should own it. Had I known the uses to which the bond proceeds were to be put, I would not have voted in favor of these bonds, notwithstanding the fact that I am a member of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association and support the efforts to preserve Jacob’s Well, and I contribute to and support the development of the Blue Hole Regional Park in the City of Wimberley.


$21.4 million spent and not one square inch is new county park land

As of January 23, 2009, the Citizens Parks Advisory Team and the Hays County Commissioners’ Court have allocated $21,430,249 (71.4%) of the $30 million, but have not committed funds to purchase one square inch of new county park land. It is difficult to understand how one can have a new county park without new county park land. However, $19,845,336 have been allocated to these non county-owned and controlled projects:


– $8,629,000 for various city parks in Hays County

– $775,000 for the City of Buda, Stagecoach Park

– $775,000 for the City of Dripping Springs, Harrison Park

– $2,479,000 for the City of Kyle, Northeast Regional Park

– $2,600,000 for the City of San Marcos, combined park projects

– $2,000,000 for the City of Wimberley, Blue Hole Regional Park

– $2,966,336 for various nonprofit corporations and the City of San Marcos for athletic facilities, including $500,000 for the Gary Sports Complex which lies entirely in Caldwell County, but within the city limits of San Marcos (I’m sure the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court is real tickled by Hays County taxpayers paying for a Caldwell County sports complex.)

– $3,000,000 for the nonprofit corporation, Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, for purchase of land adjacent to Jacob’s Well, and

– $5,250,000 for the individual who owns Dahlstrom Ranch.

– $4,900,000 for a conservation easement (whatever that is) which represents about 49.5% of the $9,900,000 total asking price for this easement

– $500,000 for Phase 1 Public Access Park (whatever that is) consisting of about 375 acres upon which the public will be allowed to tread, at some unknown time in the future, out of a total of 2,252 acres


Out of the original $30 million, only $1,311,500 has been allocated for a county-owned and controlled park, and that was for improvements to an existing county park – Five Mile Dam Park. After subtracting an allocation of $273,413 for “Other Commitments," there remains $8,569,751 of unallocated parks bond proceeds.


This strange allocation process took a bizarre twist when the Hays County Commissioners’ Court passed a motion (5 for and 0 against) on December 4, 2007 “to adopt a policy which states Hays County Commissioners Court interest and intention to expand our parks program to include ownership as the court believes is in the interest of the citizens of Hays County and is deemed feasible by the court.”

As of the date of this statement of policy, only one project had been allocated any funds – the county park improvements to Five Mile Dam Park – which were approved on August 14, 2007 for an amount of $826,500 (an additional $485,000 was allocated on August 12, 2008). It appears that this statement of policy by the Hays County Commissioners’ Court had no force and effect, since no subsequent allocations have been made for new county-owned parks, naturals areas, open spaces, etc.


Taxpayers get the "bait and switch," and a troublesome constitutional question looms large

If the Hays County Commissioners’ Court only decided on December 4, 2007 that it had “interest and intention to expand our parks program to include ownership," what were its intentions when it adopted the ballot language on March 12, 2007? If their intent on March 12, 2007 was to allocate these funds to individuals, nonprofit corporations, and municipal corporations, then why was that not spelled out on the ballot? Had I known of their true intentions, I would have opposed these bonds. I believe this was a classic “bait and switch.”


Another troubling aspect of the allocations of parks bond proceeds to an individual, nonprofit corporations, and municipal corporations is that Article 3, Section 52 (a) of the Texas Constitution expressly forbids such allocations. This provision states that “(a) Except as otherwise provided by this section, the Legislature shall have no power to authorize any county, city, town or other political corporation or subdivision of the State to lend its credit or to grant public money or thing of value in aid of, or to any individual, association or corporation whatsoever . . .”

There is no exception for any of the items listed in the bond proposition. The allocations of parks bond proceeds to this individual, these nonprofit corporations, and these municipal corporations are clearly unconstitutional. Hays County legal staff would not address the question of the constitutionality of these allocations. They preferred to obfuscate the issue by quoting various and sundry statutory provisions and Attorney General opinions which are all irrelevant to the question of constitutionality. The Texas Legislature or the Texas Attorney General cannot grant what the Texas Constitution forbids.


The oath of office in Article 16, Sec. 1 of the Texas Constitution requires, among other things, that each County Commissioner “ . . . will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State . . .” Since the Hays County Commissioners had no qualms in engaging in a “bait and switch” regarding their true intentions for the use of the parks bond proceeds, little wonder that they would violate their oaths of office by ignoring the prohibitions in Article 3, Section 52 (a) of the Texas Constitution.


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.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A letter from Commissioner Barton: 'Mr. O'Dell, you are a *!@$#/!, self-serving watchdog'


Send you comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net
, to the_bartons@mac.com or to codell@austin.rr.com


Editor's Note: The RoundUp decided to post this letter from Precinct 2 County Commissioner Jeff Barton in the spirit of fairness, a little humor, and an openness to all points of view. Fair warning though, Mr. Barton has a reputation for rhetorical flourish and long-winded monologues. Readers should take special note that this latest effort to discredit his political critics is, as usual, long on wind and short on substantiation – a textbook technique of distraction by politicians who are feeling the heat. The RoundUp recommends that Commissioner Barton spend less time blowing smoke and more time cleaning up his own many and well documented ethical lapses in office.

To the Editor:

Your media company publishes a regular blog or column by one Charles O’Dell on an electronic website. You promote him in the newspaper, and he presents himself on your pages, as an unbiased “government watchdog.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. O’Dell alleges a “culture of corruption” in Hays County because of influence peddling by high-dollar campaign donors and special interest groups. He fails to mention that he is the most active lobbyist in Hays County. Or that he was the largest single money-giver to any local campaign in the reporting period before the last election – he gave $4,100 to one San Marcos candidate in a district where Mr. O’Dell does not live, out of $4,150 total received by that candidate in the final report.

Finally, this self-described “well documented” investigator neglects to mention that he himself was an aggressive, partisan principal in several campaigns while simultaneously “reporting” about them as if he was an impartial observer.

Mr. O’Dell is bitter for one reason: he lost.

That gives him the right to carp. We all do it.

But Mr. O’Dell does not stop there. He invents “facts” to suit his arguments. He distorts others. He bullies the weak, sows discord, and threatens anyone who does not cow-tow to him and his special interests with retribution in his “column.”

Repeatedly he has tried to intimidate government employees to do his bidding, and to benefit certain landowners over others. Like a false patriot quick to cover himself in the flag, whenever Mr. O’Dell is challenged for his misconduct he changes the subject, loudly proclaiming himself to be a poor public watchdog. Meanwhile, he refuses to disclose funding sources for one of his special interest groups. Another political action arm, a PAC with which he is closely associated, is violating state ethics requirements by failing to disclose contributions and expenditures. The candidate he gave $4,100 to has failed to file required ethics disclosures since the election, thus effectively hiding whether Mr. O’Dell’s money was an on-going loan or a gift, and how much more money followed. Mr. O’Dell also stands convicted of violating city ordinances in Dripping Springs.

Your online editor responsible for supervising Mr. O’Dell checks neither Mr. O’Dell’s facts nor his conflicts and will not even return phone calls from his targets, much less print corrections. This fails to meet even the most basic tenets of journalistic integrity.

I have come to understand Mr. O’Dell’s self-serving machinations. I continue to hope for better from your media company.

Sincerely,
Jeff Barton
County Commissioner


UPDATE:
Wednesday March 18, 2009 9:38 am

O'Dell fires back: 'Commissioner Barton, you are a self-serving little whiner'

Precinct 2 County Commissioner Jeff Barton certainly has good reason to be whining about my postings on this blog, and about my letters to the editor and comments about articles published in other venues, including the Austin-American Statesman, Austin Chronicle and through e-mail distribution. His bad behavior as a public official is often the subject of those postings, letters and e-mails. That Barton is compelled to complain is a sure sign these reports of bad behavior are resonating with Hays County citizens.

It’s encouraging the Roundup editor saw fit to give Commissioner Barton an opportunity to whine. That’s more than Barton did for me in his newspaper when I called attention to his refusing to turn over records for a cell phone he uses to conduct official county business; or reported the special interests financing of his election campaign; or his trying to sneak the Pct.1 Martinez septic system variance through commissioners court; or using his office to protect Tom Pope from accountability; or exposing him as the biggest tax and wasteful spending commissioner since voters turned him out of office in 1997, to name a few.

Here are Barton’s claims against me and my responses:

1. That I am the most active lobbyist in Hays County.
If Barton means that I support open government and full Chapter 36 authority for our Groundwater Conservation District, and opposed the special interest road bond he is correct.
2. That I made the largest single contribution to a candidate in Hays County.
Barton has his numbers wrong, but I did pay a campaign bill that I knew might not be reimbursed. It hasn’t been yet.
3. I am an aggressive, partisan principal in several campaigns.
If Barton means that I’m an active citizen who believes in open elections, regardless of political party, then he’s right.
4. I’m bitter because I lost.
I firmly believe in the democratic process…regardless of an election outcome.
5. I invent facts.
If I invent them are they really facts, or is Barton just making this up?
6. I distort other facts.
Not the invented facts that aren’t really facts, but the real undistorted facts?
7. I bully the weak
Would Barton expect me to bully the strong? Does Barton feel bullied by me?
8. I sow discord
I do admit to recently sowing okra and tomato seeds, but not discord or datcord.
9. I threaten retribution in the Roundup for anyone who does not cow-tow to me and my special interests.
Charles Soechting would sue me for slander if I made such a false statement about you.
10. I tried to intimidate government employees to do my bidding.
If Soechting were my attorney he would beg me to sue you for slander.
11. I tried to benefit certain landowners over others.
I do support protecting owners of existing water wells from harm by future water well owners.
12. I refuse to disclose funding sources for one of my special interest groups.
The only interest group to which I belong is HaysCAN, a public interest non-profit organization. Trust me, many citizens contribute to HaysCAN, and I know what would happen to them if I released their names. No chance, and we’re protected by the Constitution.
13. A PAC with which I am closely associated is violating state ethics requirements.
I’m not closely associated with any PAC, but if a PAC is violating ethics law, then I suggest you file a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission.
14. I stand convicted of violating a Dripping Springs ordinance.
The Belterra developer got City officials to file charges against me in retaliation for our year long educational demonstrations protesting effluent discharge into Bear Creek, and that conviction is in the Third Court of Appeals on constitutional grounds of peaceful assembly, free speech and other failures of the City’s sign ordinance.

The self-serving use of your newspaper for political and special interest propaganda, your whining complaint to the Roundup, and your selective support of constitutional protections all speak loudly about what’s wrong with our government in Hays County.

I hope you don’t consider my response as intimidation or bullying, but merely as self evident truths.

2nd UPDATE: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 2:30 pm

'I'll take O'Dell's version of good government over Barton's
any day '

Editor:

I read Jeff Barton's tirade against private citizen and local good government activist, Dr. Charles O'Dell, with a mixture of humor and outrage.

Since when does the owner of a newspaper that has been constantly used to promote his own issues and political campaign get to accuse an online blog whose contributors are citizens of all stripes, of being used to further political aims?

C'mon Jeff, isn't this a bit of "the pot calling the kettle"?

You and your family have used the Hays Free Press to promote not only your political campaigns, but the multi-million dollar road bonds and the massive development projects going on in the Buda and Kyle areas.

When I hear you complain that Buda/Kyle are in desperate straits over water issues, I can only think, "Well, what were you people thinking when you decided to invite commercial and residential interests into your neck o' the woods so you could become one of the fastest-growing parts of the country?" You helped make sure all those housing developments cleared the City Councils and Commissioners Courts. You and your family have used your newspaper and your various connections to make sure this happened.

Did you think these decisions were water neutral? Did you ever think about what those massive housing schemes were going to mean in terms of the depletion of natural resources? Overcrowding? Transit nightmares? Pollution and run-off issues? Environmental degradation? Did anyone stop to think of anything more than how much money they might make building houses and strip malls and handing over road contracts to engineering firms?

When did trying to protect local water resources become a reason to condemn a private citizen? The people in the western part of the county are very concerned about our future as regards water availablity. Tying development to whether or not the land can actually sustain that development is apparently not a concept that has entered your mind.

Dr. Charles O'Dell is a tireless advocate for open government and for sustainable development. If this is threatening to you and your financial contributors, then the rest of us need to pay very careful attention to exactly what it is that you folks are trying to achieve in this County.

Many of us consider Charles O'Dell to be a Local Hero, not the villain you choose to characterize him as. For my money, for my future, for the existence of honest government and the health of our environment, I will take Dr. O'Dell's version over yours any day of the week.

Susan Cook
Driftwood, Texas

Monday, March 16, 2009

PEC settlement robs co-op membership


The members who were looking for closure, for atonement, for justice, will have to look elsewhere. But not in civil court. That boat has sailed


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

Editor's Note:
The following editorial is from Marble Falls-based The River Cities Daily Tribune March 10, 2009 edition, page 4:

Right about now, the 220,000 members of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative might be thinking, "We were robbed."

And they would have every right to do so.

The Texas Third Court of Appeals decided last week to uphold a lower court's decision to settle a civil suit against the co-op that protects PEC leadership from any further legal action.

The appellate court also reaffirmed 250th state District Judge John Dietz's
decision to award only $23 million in capital credit rebates to members, not the original $226 million sought by the litigants.

PEC has argued it needs all those millions to continue investing in growth,
new technology and member services. Fair enough. As Dietz said, it is important to make sure the lights turn on every time a PEC member flips a switch.

Yet a quick calculation that takes into account directors' and advisory
directors' salaries covering the time when the lawsuit was filed two years ago adds up to a hefty sum not re-invested but squandered by a self-indulgent board of directors.

What is also galling is the fact the settlement protects PEC board members
who were in power at the time the suit was filed from further civil action.

They literally get to walk away, an outrageous proposition at best. In a
nutshell, PEC members have been robbed of the right to redress any wrongs in a future civil action against those responsible for questionable or disastrous business practices that plagued the co-op for years.

These are the same leaders who ran up tremendous expense accounts on Las
Vegas shows, lived the high life at fancy restaurants, overpaid themselves tremendously simply by attending a couple of meetings a month, maintained a closed election system that anointed hand-picked successors, invested in subsidiary companies that lost millions and awarded themselves checks from a forgotten bank account because they felt like they were doing a good job.

PEC would say any further civil action could result in the members
themselves having to pony up for more legal fees and damages.

The members who were looking for closure, for atonement, for justice, will
have to look elsewhere. But not in civil court. That boat has sailed.

The only true winners are the lawyers on both sides who walked away from the
proceedings with plenty of capital lining their own pockets after the settlement was reached.

What emerged from the original filing was a watered-down agreement that
indemnified an ethics challenged board and guaranteed that justice was put out of reach.

There may still be hope. A Blanco County grand jury is looking into possible
criminal violations at PEC, and the settlement from the civil suit does not absolve any PEC leader from criminal charges.

In the meantime, Appeals Court Judge Diane M. Henson's 27-page opinion
upholds the settlement in the civil lawsuit, which was issued in May 2008 by Dietz in Travis County.

David Allen Hall of Blanco, who filed the appeal, said he is not sure
whether he'll continue to seek redress, which would involve turning to the state Supreme Court.

The class-action suit filed in 2007 by plaintiffs John Worrall, Glenn Van
Shellenbeck and Linda Evans accused the co-op's board of directors of negligence and breach of contract, claiming directors wrongly overcompensated themselves while overcharging PEC members and refusing to return the extra cash.

The plaintiffs also called for the immediate resignation of the co-op's
board of directors and senior leadership.

More than 260 co-op members voiced or wrote their objections to the
settlement. They were in an uproar.

They should be in even more of an uproar now.


To be sure, PEC has undertaken a wave of reforms. There is new leadership
that has been progressive, open and willing to change.

The co-op also commissioned an outside audit that revealed decades of
questionable business practices.

Yet four original board members continue to sit and draw pay though they
looked the other way as PEC took a wrong turn: Vi Cloud, R.B. Felps, O.C. Harmon and Val Smith.

In this instance history will show the judge sold co-op members short.

As the old boxer once opined, "We wuz robbed!" And when it comes to this fight, PEC ko'd its own members, thanks to a legal decision that was certainly unfair.

Still no relief for Texas homeowners


It's amazing how these politicians make it sound like they have "walked on water" for the people of Texas

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


Three years ago when Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Tom Craddick and various other elected officials smacked each other on the backs --- because they stated publicly that Texas State Legislature had provided Texans with "real" property relief --- I wrote an article telling the truth about that fairy tale.


Currently the truth, which is finally being realized by media editors and the public, highlights that there is no REAL relief for overburdened Texas homeowners and there doesn't appear to be any in sight.


Foreclosures are currently at an all-time high and will continue to escalate. More Texans are losing their jobs; consequently, more will need unemployment insurance and other public assistance.


Overburdened homeowners still need property tax relief. Home insurance premiums still are the highest in the nation.


Getting back to our Texas leaders, in reality there has NOT been a property tax cut. The legislature simply replaced one tax with another and diverted more taxes [formerly the state's responsibility] onto local governments.


It's amazing how these politicians make it sound like they have "walked on water" for the people of Texas.


Far from it!


It's high time Texans get rid of these useless, special-interest elected officials - like Perry, Dewhurst and Craddick - and their appointees and replace them with more honest and (as of yet) unbought replacements.


Texans must see the realities and demand more of our lawmakers.


Texans still need relief from sky-high property taxes.

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, March 13, 2009

From today's Telegraph/UK: World's leading scientists in desperate plea to politicians to act on climate change



The world's leading scientists yesterday issued a desperate plea to politicians to act on climate change, amid warnings that without action the world faces decades of social unrest and war



Increasing average temperatures could mean massive rises in sea level and whole areas devastated by hurricanes Photo: GETTY



Editor's Note: This report from the British newspaper The Telegraph is not in the usual lineup of RoundUp posts. But its urgent tone bears some attention.
Just saying, we're all in this together. The Telegraph was founded in 1855. In January 2009, according to Wikipedia, the Telegraph was the highest selling British 'quality' paper, with a certified average daily circulation of 842,912.

By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent in Copenhagen

Last Updated: 8:29AM GMT 13 Mar 2009


In what was described as a watershed moment, more than 2,500 leading environmental experts agreed on a statement that called on governments to act before the planet becomes an unrecognisable – and, in places, impossible – place to live.

At an emergency climate summit in Copenhagen, scientists agreed that "worst case" scenarios were already becoming reality and that, unless drastic action was taken soon, "dangerous climate change" was imminent.

In a strongly worded message that, unusually for academics, appealed directly to politicians, they said there was "no excuse for inaction" and that "weak and "ineffective" governments must stand up to big business and "vested interests." Steps should be "vigorously and widely implemented," they said, to reduce greenhouse gases. Failure to do so would result in "significant risk" of "irreversible climatic shifts", the statement added.

The plea came as Lord Stern, the former chief economist of the World Bank whose report two years ago drew attention to the possible results of global warming, told the conference that unless politicians grasped the gravity of the situation it would be "devastating."

Increases in average temperatures of six degrees by the end of the century were an increasing possibility and would produce conditions not seen on Earth for more than 30million years, he said. That could mean massive rises in sea level, whole areas devastated by hurricanes and others turned into uninhabitable desert, he claimed, forcing billions of people to leave their homelands.

Lord Stern told the summit that politicians continued to underestimate the impact of climate change and that scientists needed to redouble their efforts to get them to understand. "Much of southern Europe would look like the Sahara. Many of the major rivers of the world, serving billions of people, would dry up in the dry seasons or re-route. "What would be the implication? Hundreds of millions of people would have to move, probably billions. What would be the implication of that? Extended conflict, social disruption, war essentially, over much of the world for many decades."

The British economist was speaking as the Prince of Wales warned that nations were "at a defining moment in the world's history'' over climate change. As he continued his tour of South America, he delivered his most impassioned and urgent plea yet on the need to tackle global warming, saying there were "less than 100 months" to save the planet.

The Copenhagen conference is intended to publicise the latest research on climate change ahead of December's meeting of world leaders. The United Nations Climate Conference, which will also be held in Copenhagen, aims to draft an updated Kyoto-style agreement on reducing emissions. Under the Kyoto deal, developed nations have to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by 2008-2012.

However, during the meeting scientists have frequently spoken about how former assumptions about the risks have had to be redrawn. They have repeatedly warned that higher than expected emissions have meant that temperatures will rise at rates far higher than thought just a few years ago. This in turn will lead to disastrous sea level rises, melting of the icecaps and acidification of the oceans.

The weather will also change, scientists warned, resulting in destruction of the rainforests, widespread droughts and flooding. Prof Kevin Anderson, the research director at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Manchester, said: "Scientists have lost patience with carefully constructed messages being lost in the political noise. We are now prepared to stand up and say enough is enough."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wanted: A comprehensive water management approach for the Wimberley Valley


'We cannot be successful if we undertake one aspect of water management, such as
bringing surface water in to relieve the pressure off of the aquifer, without tending to all of the other steps simultaneously'

Send your comments and news tips to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net or to Judge Sumter at lizsumter@co.hays.tx.us

By Liz Sumter
Hays County Judge

Water is the topic of the day, the fight of the future, and the I told you so of the past. While we can’t avoid it being the topic of day, particularly in the middle of a drought, we can lessen the fight of the future and maybe even eliminate the I told you so of the past.

The Trinity Aquifer is being over-pumped today; we are depleting our groundwater resources faster than we can recharge them. If we are to avoid pumping the aquifer dry, we must take a comprehensive water management approach. That approach must give us the ability to manage our groundwater resources, enforce strict conservation methods during drought conditions, encourage conservation during water rich periods, bring in surface water to relieve the over pumping pressure off of the aquifer, and make all of us equal partners in our water management future.

The notion of equal partners is extremely important, so let me define partners for you — water utility providers, well owners, rainwater system owners, and government entities that determine policy that affects water usage, management, and movement.

We cannot be successful if we undertake one aspect of water management, such as bringing surface water in to relieve the pressure off of the aquifer, without tending to all of the other steps simultaneously. To do otherwise puts the burden on one or more partners — while the other partners enjoy the benefit. Everyone must share equally — financially or otherwise, the burden and the benefit of water to be successful.


Now is the time to take several steps simultaneously toward a sustainable water future. The legislature should give Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District full Chapter 36 status with one exception — current residential well owners should be allowed to continue as they are today — provided this exception comes with the following conditions: (1) the current residential well owners, in times of drought, should abide by the same drought management plan everyone else does in the district and (2) the pumping limit should be lowered from 25,000 to 10,000 gallons a day and (3) if the well owner repeatedly wastes water then the exemption should be removed. Further the exemption of a current residential well owner should expire and be permitted when one of the following conditions change: the owner of the property changes hands or the usage of the water (residential) changes.

At the same time, surface water should be secured and brought into the district solely for the purpose of reducing pumping from the Trinity aquifer. Remember, we are currently over-pumping the aquifer. In times of drought, we need to reserve water for existing wells and replenish rainwater tanks. Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, surface water for certain areas in the district will be tenuous, at best. Our rights to water will be junior to anyone else’s rights from which we secure surface water. We must be sustainable with our one groundwater resource and encourage as much rainwater collection as possible.

It is a tall task, but I am confident that all of us — elected leaders, water utility providers, well owners and rainwater system owners — are up to the challenge and that we will insist that the right thing be done.

The case of the disappearing Hays County voter fraud investigation


Despite numerous open record requests over those three years, requests that were brushed aside by the current Hays County District Attorney, Sherri Tibbe, and Tatum, the ACC voter fraud and forgery committed in San Marcos more than four years earlier was quietly disposed of without bringing anyone to justice


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

By Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.

On December 17, 2005, the Hays County Sheriff Department filed a charge of Unlawful Use of Criminal Instrument against Mark Littlefield, campaign manager for state representative Patrick Rose.

San Marcos/ACC Yes! Coalition, run by Littlefield and financed primarily by well connected local developer Randall Morris, was collecting registered voter signatures calling for an election that would result in a multi-million dollar Austin Community College campus for San Marcos. Morris expected the campus would be built on his new 70 acre mixed-use commercial development site.

Following a citizen tip, the Hays County Elections Administrator certified that at least sixty-nine people had signed sworn affidavits their signatures were forged, and hundreds of more names, apparently of deceased people and from old voter lists that did not appear on current voter registration rolls.

Official incompetence or deliberate stalling?

Nearly a year later (September 5, 2006), Hays County commissioners’ court voted to appropriate $50,000, and authorized the Hays County District Attorney office to appoint a special prosecutor to examine alleged voter fraud.


In an interview following the commissioners’ court vote, Hays County District Attorney Mike Wenk acknowledged the request dealt with “irregularities involving the Austin Community College annexation petition,” a case Wenk had been investigating since April 2005, with the state attorney general’s office. Prosecutors said they were waiting to receive results of forensic tests including handwriting evaluations.


A special prosecutor was never appointed and those forensic and handwriting results have never been released to the public. Were they comparing the handwriting of the principles involved in organizing the election petition drive to the forged voter names?

Assistant State Attorney General, William R. Tatum was made a Hays County Assistant District Attorney and over the next three years he reportedly continued to investigate the alleged voter fraud for the State Attorney General Office.


Despite numerous open record requests over those three years, requests that were brushed aside by the current Hays County District Attorney, Sherri Tibbe, and Tatum, the ACC voter fraud and forgery committed in San Marcos more than four years earlier was quietly disposed of without bringing anyone to justice.



On February 23, 2009, Tatum changed the charge against Littlefield from the original Unlawful Use of Criminal Instrument, to a charge of Possession of a Forged Writing by information in his Motion to Dismiss. In a meeting without public notice, and after having “duly considered” the Motion, County Court of Law Judge Howard S. Warner ordered the revised complaint dismissed “in the interest of justice.” No one knows what Judge Warner “duly considered” since there are no pubic records available and the public was not given notice of the court hearings. In the absence of public notice these hearings were essentially conducted behind closed doors.


Special justice by and for the well connected


Clearly, major voter fraud was committed in San Marcos, but after more than four years of official investigations we could only find three pages of public documents: two pages of the initial criminal complaint, and the one page motion and order to dismiss. No pleas, no public hearings, no evidence, no nothing, just official concealment and silence…with one exception.


In a telephone conversation with Tatum on July 23, 2008, I was repeatedly assured that this case would not be dismissed as indicated in Judge Warner’s Register of Actions.


HaysCAN has an open record request pending with the Attorney General, but we expect all important public records will be excepted from disclosure...through an opinion to be rendered by an internal AG Office group. Neither Hays County District Attorney Sherri Tibbe nor Judge Warner would discuss the Littlefield case with us, even though it was closed and no longer active.

Who are our county and state officials shielding from justice?

According to the Austin-American Statesman, others have also faulted Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott for spending $1.5 million investigating election fraud but finding very little.



Hays County and Texas, we have a problem.


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

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Voter ID bill clears state senate – Dems, GOP weigh in


What about you – FOR or AGAINST a state voter id card?


Send your comments to online.editor@valleyspringcomm.net


From Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie on the Texas Senate’s approval today of SB 362:


"Texas Senate Republicans began the legislative session on a bitterly partisan note, doing away with the venerable two-thirds rule in order to ramrod photo Voter ID legislation through that formerly bipartisan deliberative body.

"Last night and through this morning, our Senators heard nearly 24 hours of testimony featuring overwhelming evidence that voter impersonation is virtually nonexistent and that photo Voter ID legislation would disenfranchise countless Texans. In spite of this, the Senate “Committee of the Whole” approved the voter suppression bill with a vote along party lines.

"With this vote, Senate Republicans chose destructive partisanship over preserving the most fundamental cornerstone of our democracy. Instead of choosing to move Texas forward by addressing the real issues, Senate Republicans want to throw our state in reverse, back to the era of poll tax. We remain hopeful that our State House members will rise to the challenge of seeing this bill for what it is – bad legislation for all Texans.”

From the Texas Republican Party web site:


What’s odd is that there’s any debate at all. To many, if not most Texans, requiring a voter to show his or her ID at the polling place is a no-brainer, and an obvious step for those who want to protect the sanctity of elections

In a 2006 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, for example, 80 percent of those polled supported the idea of voters showing some sort of photo ID at the polling place

Gov. Rick Perry, in an interview with The Courier Sunday, said requiring voter identification is common-sense legislation supported by most voters.

“I don’t understand why anyone is not in favor of it. This is strictly about stopping voter fraud, and I think it polls up in the high 80 (percent) for Republicans, and in the high 70s and 80s for Democrats, so just from a public policy standpoint, I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t support it.

If it passes, Texas will join Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan and South Dakota in requiring a photo ID.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Voter alert: Senate Hearing March 11 on Wentworth bill to restrict citizen participation


The purpose of SB 690 is to further restrict citizen participation in local government. SB 690 effectively cancels a right Texans have enjoyed for decades – the right of citizens in home rule cities to propose amendments to their city charters


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

or to Mike Ford at www.InitiativeforTexas.org

This Wednesday, March 11, at 9:30 AM in Room E1.028, the Senate Intergovernmental Relations Committee is going to meet on SB 690 – Sen. Jeff Wentworth's bill to dramatically reduce citizen participation in their government. Wentworth represents Senatorial District 25, which includes Hays County.

The Committee members are:


Chair: Sen. Royce West – Royce.West@senate.state.tx.us
Vice Chair: Sen. Robert Nichols – Robert.Nichols@senate.state.tx.us
Member: Sen. Mario Gallegos, Jr. – Mario.Gallegos@senate.state.tx.us

Member: Sen. Dan Patrick – Dan.Patrick@senate.state.tx.us

Member:Sen. Jeff Wentworth – Jeff.Wentworth@senate.state.tx.us


Before the meeting at 9:15 AM, Independent Texans, Initiative for Texas,
and ChangeAustin will be holding a press conference outside Room E1.028.

BACKGROUND

On February 5, Sen. Wentworth introduced Senate Bill 690 –
proposing to double the threshold percentage of signatures required for citizen initiated municipal charter amendments, from 5 to 10 percent of registered
voters.

SB 690 is fasttracked to be effective September 1, 2009.

SB 690 does not fix any problem. The purpose of SB690 is
to further restrict citizen participation in local government. SB 690 effectively cancels a right Texans have enjoyed for decades – the right of citizens in home rule cities to propose amendments to their city charters.

If Sen. Wentworth had any respect for the citizens of Texas,
he would be proposing to reduce the number of signatures required – not doubling the signatures required.

Please call and write Sen. Wentworth asking him to drop SB 690.


Sen. Jeff Wentworth

925 North Frost Center, 1250 N.E. Loop 410

San Antonio, Texas 78209

Voice - (210) 826-7800 – (512) 463-0125

FAX - (210) 826-0571 – (512) 463-7794

Jeff.Wentworth@senate.state.tx.us

Friday, March 6, 2009

Hays County Government: By and for the well connected


Unethical behavior is just a short step away from unlawful behavior. When government officials violate ethics and laws the result is unnecessary public waste, a waste that is reflected in higher taxes, lost opportunities and diminished quality of life

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


Part II -
The Culture of Corruption and How It Works

“Money is choking our democracy to death. Our elections are bought out from under us and our public officials are doing the bidding of mercenaries.”
– Bill Moyers

Campaign money “opens the door so we can have an audience. We are competitive in everything we do, and that includes making contributions.”
– Dale Linebarger
“The firm has tried to build political networks - as would any other business.”
– Dale Linebarger

By Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.

There are many examples of public officials doing the bidding of mercenaries in Hays County. Part II highlights only a few of them. Dale Linebarger (class of ’61) and Randall Morris (’55) both graduated from San Marcos High School and have been designated Distinguished Alumni.

Over the years, Dale Linebarger has been a top political campaign contributor and the Linebarger firm has employed former tax collectors for government entities; a former county judge in Dallas; former Texas Gov. Mark White; former U.S. Rep. Craig Washington Jr., D-Houston; current and past state Reps. Debra Danburg, Senfronia Thompson and Larry Evans of Houston; state Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown, R-Lake Jackson; former state Rep. Orlando Garcia, now a federal judge; the wife of former U.S. Rep. Albert Bustamante, D-San Antonio; state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio; and a Canadian lobbyist who was a fund-raiser for Mike Harris, former premier of Ontario.

The San Marcos connection

According to archived newspaper reports, when San Marcos Mayor Kathy Morris decided not to run for reelection in 1992, she denied claims of insider dealings with her local developer husband Randall Morris had anything to do with her decision.

Today, Randall Morris is a major campaign contributor to San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz, Hays County Commissioners Will Conley, Jeff Barton and others. Morris has benefited financially from transactions that Narvaiz, Conley and Barton have supported if not guided.
See: Good Ole Boys

Mayor Narvaiz brought City sewer and water infrastructure to a Morris subdivision development project south of town when he needed it, and widened State Hwy 123 with turn lanes for Morris. There are those who believe local attorney Dale Linebarger, a partner in the largest delinquent tax collection firm operating throughout Texas, and whose wife was a Pedernales Electric Coop (PEC) board member until pressured to resign, is a silent partner of Morris.

In 2004, the City’s nonprofit Village of San Marcos suddenly retracted its offer for another campus location and purchased flood plain property from Morris at an inflated price. Morris was left with a few remaining prime lots that were rezoned for commercial use and valued many times the price he paid for the entire property he flipped to the City.

Pressing Morris’ financial advantage still further, Mayor Narvaiz, with help from Pct. 3 County Commissioner Will Conley, worked to obtain $1.6 million from the County’s parks and open space bond fund for sewer and city street extensions that increased the value of Morris’ remaining commercial lots. The Morris property is located in Pct. 1, but Morris is a big contributor to Pct 3 Commissioner Conley.

The only reason for special interests to make financial contributions to election campaigns is their expectation of future financial returns. In 2005 the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District (SMCISD) board chose to build its new high school adjacent to a 71 acre tract owned by Morris even though more suitable sites were available, and despite a major problem of redirecting considerable storm water runoff onto adjoining property. Diverting storm water runoff onto adjoining property is illegal, and yet the City of San Marcos Planning and Zoning Department recommended and Narvaiz’s City Council approved the project in total disregard of the City development ordinances and state laws designed to protect individual property rights. This is what political influence is about.

Morris, Narvaiz and the school board were all aware that locating an Austin Community College (ACC) campus on Morris’ property would make his subdivision development much more valuable. The ACC project was derailed in the summer of 2005 when massive voter fraud occurred during the petition drive by the ACC San Marcos Yes! Committee, funded almost entirely by Morris, and who offered to donate 38 acres for a satellite campus on his State Hwy 123 subdivision.

“If this ACC petition fraud isn’t taken seriously, then how can the state legislature be serious about voter ID?”
– Joyce Cowen, Hays County Elections Administrator

Public officials and well connected people are not prosecuted in Hays County.

Mark Littlefield, Campaign Manager for State Rep. Patrick Rose, apparently took the fall but the matter has been quietly bottled up in the State Attorney General Office for three years. Morris and his son Carter have contributed $14,330 to Rose’s campaign.

Randall Morris also stands to benefit financially from the $30 million FM110 developer road pushed by Narvaiz and Hays County Commissioners Debbie Ingalsbe, Will Conley and Jeff Barton. Given Morris’ financial contributions to Precinct 3 Commissioner Conley, it was not surprising when Conley took an active role in Precinct 1 to convince property owners that construction of FM110 would be to their advantage.

After one 80-year-old couple politely insisted that Conley leave their property, Conley retaliated by having the San Marcos law firm handling right-of-way acquisition for the county, Duvall Gruning & Dietz, PLLC, file an illegal suit against the elderly couple. Conley did so without commissioners’ court authorization and in his sworn affidavit made false claims. Attorney James Duvall surely knew the suit was illegal. We believe Duvall’s action has violated his professional code of ethics and that he has engaged in conflicts of interest with Hays County.


When HaysCAN sided with the elderly couple Conley promptly had his illegal suit withdrawn. During Conley’s blatant abuse of authority Commissioner Ingalsbe remained silent regarding his retaliation against two of her elderly constituents. According to public financial records, Morris has also invested in other elected officials and his influence is widely felt in San Marcos.

Other insiders also know how to play the game to benefit financially from public projects approved by elected officials whose election campaigns these insiders help to finance. Tom Loomis who lives in Austin has also made sizable campaign contributions to a number of elected officials, including San Marcos City Council member Kim Porterfield, wife of Winton Porterfield. Winton is Hays County point man for Loomis Partners, Inc., formerly Loomis Austin, a firm that continues to participate in projects throughout Hays County, including the new SMCISD high school, the County’s habitat conservation plan project, the Wimberley loop project and others. Commissioners Barton and Conley both received substantial contributions from Tom Loomis.

Unethical behavior is just a short step away from unlawful behavior. When government officials violate ethics and laws the result is unnecessary public waste, a waste that is reflected in higher taxes, lost opportunities and diminished quality of life. Such official misbehavior also undermines the foundation of our representative government.

The Hays County Road Bond connection

Susie Carter, a Kyle area Republican and former Precinct 2 Hays County Commissioner, was the bane of Good Ole Boys and she had to go. Attacked by Good Ole Boys from both political parties in the 2006 election, Carter didn’t stand a chance against Democrat Jeff Barton, who, along with former County Judge Eddie Etheredge had been turned out of office in 1997 amid cries of corruption and wasteful spending. The influx of new residents during the following nine years effectively erased voter memory.

Commissioner Barton wasted no time in attacking fellow Democrat Liz Sumter who engineered a stunning upset over Republican County Judge Jim Powers in November 2006. Barton had his own agenda and at the top was to get a huge special interest road bond passed that would expand three state roads and pave the way for still more development in Hays County, including in the Kyle/Buda area where the Barton’s own many properties.

These road and development special interests had funded the campaigns of Barton and two years earlier Republican candidate Will Conley for Pct. 3 County Commissioner. Now Barton and Conley had to deliver on those special interest investments.
The Barton/Conley 2007 special interest road bond proposition failed after a citizens group gave voters factual information about the state highway projects to be funded by local property taxes.

Barton and Conley were undeterred by the voters.
In the 2008 presidential election Barton and Conley got commissioners’ court to approve over a half million dollars of tax revenues to launch a propaganda campaign directed at new voters who live in Hays County but work in Austin. The campaign worked and now our local property taxes are being diverted to pay for state and federal highway projects costing over $225 million dollars that will reward Barton and Conley special interests.

Political corruption is the use of governmental powers by government officials for illegitimate private gain. An illegal act by an officeholder constitutes political corruption only if the act is directly related to their official duties. Governments are susceptible to political corruption. Forms of corruption vary, but most common are bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, patronage, graft and embezzlement.

The Environmental Health & Road and Bridges connection

No department exhibits a history of cronyism, nepotism, or patronage more than the Hays County Environmental Health or the Road and Bridges departments. Allen Walther, who headed up EHD during the Etheredge/Barton 1990’s, retired in the first weeks of Sumter’s term after she had campaigned to root out government corruption. That left Tom Pope, EHD Programs Manager for onsite septic system facilities (OSSF), to carry on the non-enforcement tradition of EHD. But Pope got himself into what should have been serious trouble when he was caught permitting a non-compliant OSSF for Nick Ramus and then, we believe, tried to cover it up.

The remedy for unethical public officials is removal from office, and unethical professionals can have their professional licenses revoked or be barred from practice. Public officials and their accomplices who violate our laws should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Barton and Conley’s opportunity to save Pope came just four months into the Sumter term in the form of a 3-2 commissioners’ court vote that voided the illegal Ramus commercial OSSF permit issued in September 2006 by Tom Pope. Barton and Conley voted against revoking the permit and thus began a campaign to save a corrupt EHD by holding up Ramus as a victim of bad government. The details of this sorry episode of corruption, cover-up and orchestrated failure to investigate and prosecute crime in Hays County are the subject of Part III.

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.