Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Withhold Your Judgment"– A Poem

Editor's Note: This poem was penned by local retiree Tom McComb.
It first began making the rounds in July of '07.
And a very prescient little poem it is.

“Withhold your judgment”

She pleafully asked.
That we should, say I.
‘Till Blue Hole’s black
The Cypress green
And wells have all run dry.

‘Till charm is gone
And traffic’s jammed
To the Junction and beyond.
‘Till honking horns
And screeching brakes
Go on from dusk to dawn.

‘Till tourists ask,
With some disdain,
“Where’s gone the town pristine?”
“No place to park,
No place to pee,
No welcome mat for me.”

Make new rules,
Throw out the old,
Be sure you get your way,
And woe to those
Whose ideas cross
He who has the say.

“Withhold your judgment”
She pleafully asked.
That we should, say I.
‘Till Blue Hole’s black
The Cypress green
And wells have all run dry.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Wastewater treatment is a big dirty business – and also a big question mark right now for the Wimberley Valley

“… no matter how much money is spent to reduce controllable regulated sources of pollution, the integrity of water bodies has been severely impaired and will remain so if the fast conveyance, end of pipe treatment paradigm alone continues to be the prevailing model.”

Send your comments and news tips to or to Mr. Venhuizen,

To read the comments, or add your own, click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Update, Wednesday April 29: The city of Wimberley and the GBRA submitted an application to the Texas Water Development Board in January of this year for a $4.385 million grant to construct a "phase 1" wastewater treatment plant – of the traditional sludge collection and conveyance variety – for the city. The service area, we are told, would cover 9 square miles.

The city's application is one of more than 1,300 from around the state now being reviewed by the TWDB under the newly funded American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (federal stimulus package). According to the TWDB, a list of the top-ranked applications and projects will be published by the TWDB in its web site and the Texas Register in early May. Wimberley's may or may not make the first round.
Remember that "shovel ready" is an important requirement in order to qualify.

A questionnaire/survey sent to all applicants (which was due April 23) includes 19 questions. Among them are these: "Can you provide executed construction contracts for all aspects of your project requesting ARRA funds before closing your loan or grant?" "Do you have an existing construction contract for your project?" "Does the CWSRF project have Green Infrastructure elements as described in EPA Green Infrastructure?" "Regardless of the population size of your entity, does the CWSRF project meet the criteria for a disadvantaged community?" The RoundUp is hoping the city/GBRA will freely share their responses to these questions with the media and citizens alike. For a look at the entire survey form, click on this link:

By David Venhuizen

In terms of wastewater management, Wimberley has before it the opportunity to leap into the 21st century. From all indications, however, it appears poised to make an expensive retreat to the 19th century. The leap into the 21st century is about how we should be managing water resources in this whole region, but particularly in the Wimberley Valley.

We need to stop managing wastewater as if it were a nuisance, looking for someplace to make it go “away.” We need to start managing it, right from where it’s generated, as a resource, first and foremost. The water realities are that this “waste” water must become a resource, not a waste.

The retreat into the 19th century – that’s the wastewater plan the City is now working on. A presentation about it posted on the City’s web site – my only source of information, as the City is being very tight-fisted with the actual planning documents – informs that the planners have made a conscious decision to consider one, and only one, infrastructure model for delivering wastewater service. This is a very costly conventional centralized collection system piping wastewater from the entire service area to one large treatment plant. Although water supply is a critical issue in the Wimberley Valley, that presentation offers no plan for beneficial use of the water once it gets to “away” and issues from a treatment plant.

So, you might be asking, what is wrong with that? Isn’t that how cities do wastewater service, pipe it “away” and dump it? Yeah, they have in the past. But, going forward, should Wimberley do it that way, given the current and projected water realities? That is the question the planners appear to be scrupulously avoiding. Well then, what else might they look at?

I was asked to make a presentation to the Wimberley Water & Wastewater Advisory Board about “decentralized wastewater.” I made the presentation on February 23, 2009, laying out a “decentralized concept” strategy and the means and methods for implementing it, with particular emphasis on the circumstances and opportunities in Wimberley.

Cut to its essence, the decentralized concept holds that wastewater is most effectively and efficiently managed by treating it – and beneficially reusing it to the maximum extent attainable as close to where it is generated as practical. The system focuses on managing the water resource rather than on a pipe network to make go “away” what is perceived solely as a nuisance.

The most visible and ubiquitous example of “decentralized” is the individual on-site wastewater system – the so-called “septic” system. In a “decentralized concept” strategy, however, these individual systems would be actively managed and would focus on reusing the water – like in a subsurface drip irrigation system – rather than making it go “away” on each lot.

In any case, an individual system for each home or business is often not the best arrangement, for any number of reasons. It may be more efficient and effective to collectivize treatment and/or reuse to some degree, as determined by the circumstances at hand. Factors to consider may include topography, soil and site conditions, type of development being served – both existing and planned – and indeed the opportunities for beneficial use of this water resource.

The technical details of how the decentralized concept might be executed in Wimberley and the reasons why this may be a more fiscally reasonable, more socially responsible and more environmentally benign strategy get into the minutia. Here and now, it is most important to understand why Wimberley should consider such strategies on a co-equal basis with the conventional centralized strategy.

The third, fourth and fifth paradigms – which way for Wimberley?

I have championed and advocated this decentralized concept strategy for almost 25 years, laying it out for a consistently deaf mainstream. However, it is no longer just forward-looking iconoclasts like me that are paying attention now. Other voices are joining in. Like Paul Brown, president of Camp, Dresser, McKee, one of the largest national engineering firms – a voice from the very heart of the mainstream engineering field.

In Cities of the Future, Brown writes that we are presently in a “fourth paradigm” of water resources management. We’ll skip the full history lesson, and just note that Brown’s “third paradigm” originated in the 19th century. The industrial revolution was in full force, city populations were exploding, the stuff was running in the streets, sewage-borne disease was rampant. This “third paradigm” was all about getting the stuff out of the streets, out of the city, away from the people. Brown calls it a “fast conveyance urban drainage system,” indeed focused solely on making the stuff go “away,” to be discharged without treatment into receiving waters.

The “fourth paradigm” commenced in the mid-20th century, when it was recognized that the waters at “away” were being fouled and treatment prior to discharge was required. Brown writes: “… our fourth paradigm … could also be called the ‘end-of-pipe control’ because the predominant point of control … is where the polluted discharge enters the fast conveyance system or the receiving water body.” Brown then observes about this fourth paradigm that “… no matter how much money is spent to reduce controllable regulated sources of pollution, the integrity of water bodies has been severely impaired and will remain so if the fast conveyance, end of pipe treatment paradigm alone continues to be the prevailing model.” In short, he is saying, this management model is not sustainable.

Indeed, Brown proceeds to introduce sustainability as a necessary goal for water resources management, and then describes the “fifth paradigm,” toward which he asserts society needs to move: “The need for ecological sustainability of watersheds and water resources leads us to a fifth paradigm of water management, a model of sustainable and resilient waters and watersheds. This paradigm adopts a holistic, systems approach to the watershed, rather than a functionally discrete focus on individual components characteristic of earlier models.”

After describing the drivers and benefits of this “fifth paradigm,” including the idea that “all components of water supply, stormwater, and wastewater will be managed in a closed loop,” Brown states, “Closing the water loop may require decentralization of some components of the urban water cycle in contrast to the current highly centralized regional systems employing long distance water and wastewater transfers.”

This shows there is nothing compelling about a centralized wastewater system that makes the stuff go “away,” rather it is largely just a tradition. There is increasing recognition that the way we’ve always done it may not be the way it should be done in the future. Today we face 21st century problems and issues. A system architecture developed to address the problems perceived in 19th century cities may not be the best response to these current realities in a small town, and it is by no means the only possible response, much as those running the planning process in Wimberley may like to assert that it is.

Wimberley is ground zero for the “fifth paradigm." The water resources realities of the Wimberley Valley demand that we get by that 19th century idea that “waste” water management is all about making go “away” what is perceived solely as a nuisance. Rather, we need to recognize from the start that this water is a resource that should be husbanded to the maximum extent practical. As Brown stated, this resource should be addressed by integrating it into a holistic water resources management strategy, not segregating it in a traditional wastewater system.

All concerned should encourage the planners to take another look, to consider the full range of options that are available for formulating a water resources management strategy for Wimberley, to not restrict their studies only to an infrastructure model that is informed by 19th century issues and attitudes. Rather they should move boldly to address the water realities of Wimberley in the 21st century.

David Venhuizen is a professional engineer. A resident of south Austin, Mr. Venhuizen has promoted the use of “innovative” and “alternative” wastewater and stormwater management concepts for over two decades. Besides working in Texas, he has consulted on projects in California, Colorado, Idaho, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, South Pacific islands, El Salvador, and Mexico. While some of his work has included research aspects, the major focus of Mr. Venhuizen’s efforts has been cost efficient real world implementation of innovative/alternative strategies. He has also conducted seminars on innovative/alternative small-scale wastewater management in Colorado, Massachusetts, Texas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and El Salvador.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Groundwater district declines Rose's bill and offers a substitute with major concessions

Editor's Note:
The RoundUp Friday received a copy of the letter below from Andrew Backus, board president of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District.
Updates on the progress of legislation for the groundwater district will be provided as they become available. The mission of the district, in short, is to preserve and protect the groundwater resources in western Hays County. The board is made up of 5 representatives elected by voters in the region.

For a map of the district and more information on its activities, follow this link:

Send your comments to or to Mr. Backus at

Dear Senator Wentworth, Representative Rose and Staff,

We appreciate your continued willingness to work with us to resolve the many issues facing the District. As you pointed out, your predecessor’s legislation significantly hampers the District’s ability to do its job under State law.

The input we have received since S.B. 2530 and H.B. No. 4796 were filed makes it clear there is significant opposition across a broad spectrum of our constituents. Therefore, rather than risk increased animosity we prefer not to pursue that option at this time.

Instead we offer the attached proposed committee substitute. The substitute is based on the last draft bill we provided to you in February, but makes several important concessions to those who have voiced opposition to bringing HTGCD up to the level of other GMA-9 districts.

First, it removes all powers of eminent domain authority. Second, it limits the ability of the district to enter property to inspect exempt wells. Third, it limits any property taxes authorized at a property tax election to no more than 5 cents per $100 valuation. Fourth, it makes clear that metering an exempt well is an owner decision. Finally, we add limitations on the fee rates the district may charge for new wells, new water taps, transferred well ownership and transferred water taps.

The recommendations we make to you are the result of a Board decision at the HTGCD’s April 23, 2009 Board meeting and are based upon thousands of hours of volunteer time of professional experts on and off the board, and meetings with stakeholders, county, regional and state officials.

The HTGCD board has served the community with the highest degree of integrity, transparency and professionalism for more than 6-years. We believe our proposed legislation is a good and necessary compromise that adequately addresses all the objections to prior versions but allows the District to protect well owners and to operate according to State law, and we look forward to your support in filing this as a substitute to your bill.

Greg Ellis, District Counsel, will provide a revised bill analysis by this afternoon.


Andrew H. Backus
Board President

Friday, April 24, 2009

Update from appraisal cap story: An alert reader makes a connection with Jacob's Well anti-incorporation forces

Editor's Note: A) It truly would be interesting to know if the signs are being paid for and posted by citizens actually residing within the proposed new village boundaries. B) Why would anybody with a choice want to remain under the county's current political and jurisdictional management with its 'same as it ever was' approach to 21st Century-size challenges and opportunities?

This from Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley: "The only position I take is a public position. (He said he does not have a 'private' position). This is a decision the neighborhood needs to make and anybody who owns property in the neighborhood. If they have any technical questions about incorporation and what that means with their relationship with the county, I am here to offer information if people want it. I am not really informed about what is being proposed in the incorporation. I have never seen the detailed plan."

Alert reader said:

In order for a small unincorporated area of Hays County to gain a stronger voice within the larger Community, the Committee for INCORPORATION for a Village of Jacobs' Well is seeking once again TO incorporate its neighborhood.

The time to vote yea or nay on this issue will be on May 9th with early voting to begin April 27. Certain residents of Woodcreek North who are NOT within the ETJ of the prospective Village limits are seeking to derail this effort for whatever reason other than being hand-in-glove with the neighborhood nemesis...the Precinct Commissioner and the developers of the Wimberley Springs Community who are, of course, mightily concerned about being in an incorporated area.

What would this do to their appraisals? What would this do for their planned community? How would planning and zoning affect them? How would this affect their collective pocketbook?

Mega signages at entrances of Woodcreek North encourage residents to vote NO regarding incorporation, totally dismissing the benefits of incorporation. The benefit of controlled development, the benefit of having a real voice in the negotiation of fees with utilities, i.e. Aqua Texas, IESI, etc; application for grants to possibly better the Community with parks, rainwater harvesting systems, community gardens.

Maybe questioning your neighbors about these issues would give one a better understanding about what is REALLY going on here regarding appraisal concerns and a lot more!!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Guess which Hays County group benefitted most from the 10% Property Appraisal Cap in 2008

It is clear that any form of property tax relief that relies on a percentage applied to appraised value will provide proportionately more benefit to those residence homesteads with the highest appraised values

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or to

By Merle Moden

I suppose that many of the voters who supported the 2007 constitutional amendment to amend Article VIII, Sec. (i) of the Texas Constitution to limit the annual increase in estimated market value for a residence homestead to10% believed that this proposition would lead to some property tax relief. This 10% appraisal cap now makes it constitutional to levy property taxes on residence homesteads on an unfair and inequitable basis.

An analysis of the 2008 impact of the 10% appraisal cap from data provided by the Hays Central Appraisal District (HCAD) produces some interesting results. The lion’s share of the property tax relief went to the folks with the most expensive homes.

Out of 28,849 residence homesteads in Hays County in 2008, 1,654 – 5.7% – were subject to the 10% appraisal cap. In this analysis, appraised value is the HCAD’s estimate of market value, and assessed value is the value resulting from the application of the 10% appraisal cap. To perform the analysis the data were arranged in two steps:

(1) rank-ordering the capped residence homesteads according to appraised value from the highest to the lowest amount, and

(2) separating the rank-ordered data into five separate groups each containing one-fifth (20%) of the total residence homesteads with such groups referred to as quintiles.

The 1st through 4th quintiles had 329 residence homesteads and the 5th quintile had 330 residence homesteads. This analysis included 1,646 residence homesteads, as eight records were removed from the analysis, since they had duplicate parcel identification numbers.

The tabular data below provide the means to compare the benefits of the application of the 10% appraisal caps for 2008. Some amounts may not sum exactly due to rounding.

As one would expect, applying a percentage to a large number produces a larger number than when applied to a smaller number. Consequently, any approach to property tax relief that applies a percentage to appraised values will favor those with the highest appraised values. While the residence homesteads in the 1st quintile comprise 20% of all capped residence homesteads, they account for 37.5% ($10,577,856 out of $28,190,665) of the total amount of capped appraised values.

From Peter to Paul, and no real tax relief at all

Total assessed value for the 28,849 residence homesteads in 2008 is $5,490,023,140. The $28,190,665 loss in assessed value due to the appraisal caps on residence homesteads amounts to about ½ of one percent (0.5%) loss in assessed value. Consequently, the impact upon the budgets of all the political subdivisions relying on the property tax in Hays County are minimally affected.

However, the better question is, who benefits? It is clear that any form of property tax relief that relies on a percentage applied to appraised value will provide proportionately more benefit to those residence homesteads with the highest appraised values. Consider, also, that any losses in taxes due to losses in assessed value attributable to the appraisal caps must be made up with higher tax rates for those not being capped.

Aside from the fact that the 10% appraisal caps result in unfair and inequitable taxation, at least for 2008 they provide no meaningful property tax relief. When only 5.7% of residence homesteads are impacted by the 10% appraisal caps as a property tax relief strategy, one must conclude that it fails miserably.

Real property tax relief can be achieved with higher homestead exemptions and lower tax rates; however, property tax revenue losses to local subdivisions would need to be overcome from other revenue sources. Other such revenue sources would include increased State funding for the schools, and shifting the burden of road construction from county property taxes to gasoline and diesel fuel taxes.

Merle L. Moden is a retired economist. He and his wife, Joy, moved to the Wimberley area from Austin in 1997. He served on the Austin Electric Utility Commission for several years, chaired a citizen’s committee on City of Austin Water and Wastewater cost of service, served on the Travis Central Appraisal District Board of Review, and was president of two neighborhood associations in Austin.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Traffic radar and cancer: Do you know the number of 'hits' you are receiving?

What is fact is that there is very legitimate suspicion that traffic radar causes cancer . . . Also for sure, we are getting very high doses of radar from the huge number of hits we are getting almost, if not, every day

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Update: From a commenter, below. To read all comments, or to add your own, click on the comments button at the bottom of the story.

FACT: I saw a cop no more than once per week in the 1st 10 years I lived here. Because Will Conley lobbied for more cops here, and because we've had a rash of fatalities (1 in a parking lot), I see 2 or 3 every single day. In the old days the cops were to "serve and protect".

Nowdays, the motto is" "To lurk and suspect".

Editor's Note: The following was published in the Saturday April 18 edition of the Wimberley View. Dr. Morales resides in the Wimberley area.

By M. David Morales, M.D.

After being pummeled by radar 13 out of the last 13 times I have driven through Wimberley (plus almost every other time), I feel compelled to write this. I must say at the outset, that I have only had one traffic ticket many, many years ago and that I don’t try to exceed speed limits.

I do have a radar detector to protect against a time I might not be watching the speedometer, AND so I can monitor how many hits of traffic radar I am getting.

It is well known that many respected scientists believe there may well be an association between radar and cancer, particularly leukemia, lymphoma, and testicular cancer. Radar is a microwave energy beam, similar to what heats your food in the microwave oven. Historically, law officers who, in earlier days, kept the radar guns on their laps, when not pointed at a car/person, developed an amazingly high incidence of testicular cancer and weird, soft tissue cancers of the thigh in that area, as reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

From a medical perspective, it certainly seems feasible that chromosomes could be damaged by repeated, sudden microwave blasts, particularly where cells are dividing rapidly as in the bone marrow, testes, and other areas. I could continue on about this, but if you are interested you can do a Google search on traffic radar and cancer.

Denials from government agencies are not evidence-based

Government agencies that run traffic radar will argue that traffic radar hits produce very little energy, and that it is safe. However, their denials are not evidence-based, not scientific, and definitely motivated by the huge amount of revenue they receive from speeding tickets. Actually there is very little in the way of well-controlled scientific study of this subject as not too many folks want to volunteer to be zapped by radar to see if they will develop cancer.

What is fact is that there is very legitimate suspicion that traffic radar causes cancer, as mentioned above. Also for sure, we are getting very high doses of radar from the huge number of hits we are getting almost, if not, every day.
Recently, I left the DFW area on a Saturday morning to return to Wimberley. I got no less than 11 radar hits before I was out of that area. I received many more hits through the various towns en route. Oh, and don’t forget the construction areas where they have radar running constantly to remind you of your speed. Couldn’t we just look at our speedometers? People that speed through those areas know what they are doing and deserve a double price ticket.

All this doesn’t bother me as much as the daily hits through my hometown (remember 13 hits for 13 trips). Hays County has radar in every Sheriff’s car, the Constable’s car, and every motorcycle. Now Wimberley has radar in the town Marshall’s car. Of course every car belonging to the Texas DPS has radar too.

And I never pass through Kyle on Center St. by the police station without finding they are leaving their radar units running while their cars are out in the parking lot.

Yeah there's pressure for revenues and traffic control, but what about the public health?

There is no doubt this is seen as big money to Hays County, Wimberley Village, the State of Texas, and every little burg in every state – especially those without much of a revenue base. Personally, I think it is a huge problem. If I had my way, traffic radar would be like medicines, it couldn’t be used until proven relatively safe! Don’t forget though, with medicines you get a certain dose, whereas with radar who knows what dose you are getting. We just know it is a big dose.

Now I know that all this will not stop by guessing that the officers running all this radar are probably more at risk of damaging their chromosomes with microwave radiation than the rest of us, although this seems logical. I know that by surmising that we are more at risk of harm from this radar than from speeding vehicles, all this will not stop. There are methods other than radar for catching speeders; but they aren’t as effective, thus not as lucrative.

What I am hoping for at the very least, by writing this, is that these radar units, at least in Hays County, Wimberley, and Kyle, will be turned off when not actually pointed at a car/person the officer thinks is speeding. DPS is better than the others about leaving radar off when not in use, although they are far from perfect. I am hoping that the Sherriff’s units particularly will quit leaving their radar unit on constantly while going through Wimberley from one end to the other. They do this even when traffic is in a solid line and couldn’t possibly be speeding.

So, Sheriff, Wimberley Marshall, how about doing yourselves and us a favor and leave the radar off unless actually being used at the moment? I would further urge each officer to research this subject on his/her own so that he/she might be encouraged to keep the radar off at least for their own personal safety. Sooner or later there will be class action lawsuits over this as there are in other countries and perhaps, but not to my knowledge, in the USA.

Can’t you just hear it now on TV? “Have you been hit repeatedly by traffic radar and now have developed ________ cancer?” Call the law offices of Dewey, Cheatum, and Howe at

Sunday, April 19, 2009

From today's NY Times: Twitters from Texas

We don’t want to blame all Texans for the high jinks in Austin. It’s a state full of lovely people, three-fourths of whom, according to a recent Rasmussen Reports poll, have no desire whatsoever to secede from the United States

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Link to the full story:

Published: April 18, 2009

Op-Ed Columnist


Tony Cenicola/
The New York Times

Let us pause to consider Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, and his feelings about seceding from the union.

This all started during the recent anti-tax protests. You undoubtedly saw the pictures of the demonstrations full of people wearing teabags or tricorner hats who kept comparing themselves to the founding fathers at the Boston Tea Party. True, when it comes to taxation without representation, they were slightly different from colonial New Englanders
on the minor point of having representation. But let’s not be picky.

Have you ever noticed that the states where anti-tax sentiment is strongest are frequently the same states that get way more back from the federal government than they send in? Alaska gets $1.84 for every tax dollar it sends to Washington, which is a rate of return even Bernard Madoff never pretended to achieve. Yet there they were in Ketchikan waving “Taxed Enough Already!” signs and demanding an end to federal spending.

Also, have you noticed how places that pride themselves on being superpatriotic seem to have the most people who want to abandon the country entirely and set up shop on their own?
“What a great crowd,” Perry twittered, referring to the protesters he addressed in Austin, some of whom were waving American flags and yelling “Secede!”

Afterward, he told reporters that Texas had come into the union with a unique right “to leave if we decided to do that.” This is a beloved piece of state folklore despite its unfortunate drawback of being totally untrue.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Texas politics killing Texas families – a slow, painful, agonizing financial death

Beware of promises! Year after year Gov. Rick Perry and legislators promised to make school financing and high property taxes the sole priority. Well, blatantly stated, they lied!

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By Peter Stern

Special interest politics and economic power-plays are killing Texas families in their wallets and quality of life, slowly but surely.

After years of scamming the public by sliding through "back-door" meetings and "piggy-backing" legislation, the corporate sector and their in-pocket state and local officials are working hard to put the screws into their taxpaying constituents.

Point of Fact: Several election revolutions are needed to kick-out a lackluster governor and a few dozen incompetent special-interest elected legislators and appointed officials, a.k.a., "the do-nothings."

During the past 7 years legislators circumvented resolving the unfair, inadequate financing of Texas public schools and the repercussions of that avoidance hit homeowners hard in their property taxes. In five years property taxes of some homeowners sky-rocketed from $2,400 to more than $10,000 per year. Part of the cause for record foreclosures are diversion of state responsibility onto local government, ongoing and uncontested property appraisal jumps, increasing tax rates and ongoing road and school bond packages.

Beware of promises! Year after year Gov. Rick Perry and legislators promised to make school financing and high property taxes the sole priority. Well, blatantly stated, they lied! They did NOT resolve the school finance issue, nor were homeowners provided any relief. In fact, property taxes via tax rate and/or appraisal values rose again and again.

Furthermore, since the state consistently refuses to resolve the urgent inadequate public school finance issue many districts have had to hold several bond elections to repair or build schools. When bond issues are approved by voters, property taxes increase again. In addition, when bond issues are approved the state has pushed its own responsibility onto local government.

Another issue hitting Texans hard is that families no longer can afford to send their children to private higher education institutions thanks to the governor and legislators, who pushed the legislation for tuition deregulation.

Even with the tuition deregulation, Texans pay additional taxes to higher education institutions via the state's gasoline tax. You know, that tax revenue that is supposed to go to building and maintaining Texas roadways? Well, a large chunk of the gas tax still goes to universities and colleges – and other special interest priorities. Isn't it interesting that now after diverting those taxes to higher education and the Department of Public Safety the governor and legislators say they want to build toll roads because the state doesn't have the money available to build "free" roads?

Special interests via "romancing" the governor and state officials are pushing through toll plans and approving projects contrary to the public's wishes. Texans will be paying infinite toll taxes, which will be a plague upon our children's children.

In addition, the GOP platform of "NO New Taxes" has left the state on this issue. Most elected officials have sold out to the highest bidder – e.g., to toll road icon CINTRA. Meanwhile, mismanaged and corrupt TxDOT is permitted to sit on taxpayer dollars until the need for toll roads becomes paramount. Furthermore, TxDOT has permitted its contractors to perform shoddy road work and then not hold them accountable for unprofessional work (e.g., the resealing of FM 1826 – twice).

There is no question that TxDOT needs an independent panel for oversight to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used more efficiently for the reasons taxpayer provided the dollars in the first place: to build and maintain our roadways.
The list of urgent and controversial issues is virtually endless, but the "do-nothings" live up to their namesake and continue to perform as history has documented – doing as little as possible for the majority of Texans, while catering to and providing all they can for their special interests.

Texas taxpayers, isn't it time for a change?

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

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The game is on! It's no longer IF but WHEN surface water arrives in Wimberley

We did not think to ask about those little add on costs such as all the mailed invitations to dignitaries for the Turn on the Surface Water Ceremony and Ribbon Cutting

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From 2 commenters, below. Read all comments, or add your own, by c
licking on the comments button at the bottom of the story.

" . . . My point is that Wimberley didn't act when many of the surrounding cities created governmental associations for their water needs. I'd rather have my water in the hands of a non-profit government rather than a private corporation."

"My heart really bleeds for the citizens of Wimberley that may have to pay a little more for their water:) My water/sewage bill in Woodcreek North was $165 for 3,300 gallons, last month. Our supplier is Aqua-Texas. It is our wonderful “non-profit government” that lets them get away with it!"

By Bob Ochoa
RoundUp Editor

A chance encounter with a Kyle city official the other day brought this news on the water supply front for Wimberley: "The opportunity is there," he said. "They just need to tell us what they want."

This particular official is one who knows what he is talking about. He has been involved in the whirlwind discussions of late involving officials from Wimberley, Klye, Buda, San Marcos, Hays County, the GBRA and the offices of State Rep. Patrick Rose and Sen. Jeff Wentworth.

The discussions now appear to have entered the negotiating stage.
Or, if you will, the big players are gathering round the high stakes table – and the dealer is shuffling the cards. How much water does Wimberley want, for how long, and what size bankroll has it brought to the table?

Kyle right now is in an enviable position of having more water than it needs from multiple sources. One of its largest sources is wheeled through San Marcos via Canyon Lake. Once upon a time, Wimberley was offered its own supply from Canyon Lake but failed to move on it. Today, the stakes have become far more expensive for the city.

Wimberley Mayor Tom Haley (who in his day job doubles as general manager of the Wimberley Water Supply Corporation – the two hats the mayor wears is what is commonly described as a conflict of interest) recently confirmed that the parties are getting down to crunching the numbers. The mayor volunteered it would cost an estimated $19 million to build the pipeline and associated infrastructure into Wimberley. We're not sure yet if that includes high rise water towers. A
dding in new costs, Haley said end users would be paying in the range of $8 per thousand gallons – three times more than Wimberley Water's current going rate.

We did not think to ask about those little add-on costs like all the mailed invitations to dignitaries for the Turn on the Surface Water Ceremony and Ribbon Cutting.

It is now emerging that a new water source is on its way to Wimberley to give our aquifer some relief. In all likelihood, it is no longer a question of IF, but WHEN. Of course, much will depend on if the city and its silent partners can meet the ante.

No doubt this is a crucial round in the region's water poker contest. It is probably not a stretch to guess that, for some players, this new water supply hand at the table will turn up as an ace high full house. Alert citizens should be asking many important questions.

Perhaps the first question should be directed to the Mayor & General Manager Haley himself: "Which comes first for you, mayor, the interests of
the citizens, your water company and its customers, or the pent up demand from developers desperate for a new source of water to get their projects off the ground, and could grow a whole lot more customers for your water company?"

Any and all with an ounce of interest in this matter will get a chance to offer their thoughts at a community meeting next week, Wednesday, April 15, 7-9 p.m., at the Wimberley Community Center. The gathering is being organized by Hays County as part of a $200,000 countywide water and wastewater study. Be there or be square.

Maybe the mayor will be in attendance and will give us all a quick update on how his card game is going.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

New audit of PEC calls into question bill credits to ratepayers

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Follow this link for the full story:

By Claudia Grisales


JOHNSON CITY – A change in accounting procedures for the latest audit of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative's books significantly reduces the calculation of the co-op's assets and member equity.

Long-awaited financial statements released Monday, using accounting procedures widely accepted in the co-op industry, showed that the co-op reached $1 billion in assets in 2007, up from $899 million in 2006. Using the old accounting method, unique to Pedernales, the co-op had reported $1 billion in assets in 2006.

The audit released Monday also shows that co-op revenue declined 8 percent in 2007, to $457 million from $496 million in 2006.

Co-op officials maintain that the utility is on solid financial footing. It's unclear whether the accounting change will affect the co-op's plans to issue bill credits in a settlement of a member-led lawsuit against the co-op.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Hill Country county officials are seeking basic development tools, and they need your help

Remember how Mom said that nothing worth having comes easy? Well, the county elected officials are doing their part, now we need you to do yours. Contact your state legislators and tell them you support HB3265 — you want to be better neighbors — you just need your county elected officials to have three things — setback, infrastructure cost recovery fees and density authority

Send your comments and news tips to
or to Judge Sumter at

UPDATE: Tuesday, April 7
-- The House Committee on County Affairs has reported HB 3265 out of committee with a favorable vote – 5 ayes, 2 noes, 1 absent and 1 present. The bill now heads to the Committee on Calendars in the House, where it will sit until it is scheduled for a floor vote. Keep your fingers crossed that the bill is actually scheduled for a floor vote. Sometimes proposed legislation not favored by some lobbyist or another gets "lost" in Calendars. So keep your e-mails and letters coming. The bill's lead author is State Rep. Patrick Rose. Joining Rose as co-authors are Rep. Doug Miller of New Braunfels, who formerly served as chairman of the Board of the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA), and Rep. Pete Gallego of Alpine.

Representative Patrick Rose –

Senator Jeff Wentworth –
Representative Doug Miller –
Representative Pete Gallego –
Representative Garnet Coleman (Chair, County Affairs) –
Representative Bryan McCall (Chair, Calendars) –

To read the bill, go to this link:

By Liz Sumter
Hays County Judge

Our mothers told us that nothing worth having comes easy and boy was she right. For decades, counties have struggled with growth, economic development, natural resource and property value issues with limited success.

County officials have come under fire from their constituents for not protecting their property values, letting their wells run dry or allowing a not so desirable neighbor move in next door. Rightfully so for heaven’s sakes, after all we are the closest elected official, reachable at all hours of the day and the one you see at church, the post office, grocery store and yes, every so often the local eating and drinking establishment — we are your neighbor and we are supposed to fix it.

We share your frustration and we intend to fix it. Eighteen months ago more than 40 Texas Hill Country elected officials came together to discuss our common challenges and despite our differences — yes, there are differences from county to county — chose to work together to fix it.

Our biggest common challenge — being located in a fragile region experiencing a tremendous rate of growth. Ninety percent of the Texas Hill Country lies in unincorporated areas governed solely by county government – a government that has little to say about how and where development occurs. Scary? You betcha. Worth fixing? Without a doubt. Easy to fix? Well, that depends on the state legislature and the county elected officials.

We don’t have to tell you that our water resources are becoming scarce and are at serious risk; that our ranches and farms are being sold and fragmented into subdivisions; our roads are becoming overcrowded; and the locals' increasing frustration with that god awful neighbor. It is the topic of discussion that permeates throughout the counties local watering holes.

Every legislative session in Texas, bills are filed to grant our counties some very basic planning tools common in just about every other state. So far, we haven’t succeeded.

This year is different, the Hill Country region built consensus around very modest, necessary legislation that will allow us to be better neighbors with each other. We believe, now more than ever, counties need authority to chart a new course for responsible growth in the Hill Country.

We are asking for three ways to better manage growth.

First, we want to be better neighbors to each other. We recognize that development is a good thing, vital to our existence, and should be encouraged. We also recognize that sometimes being good neighbors means being a little further apart. We need the authority to establish minimum setback requirements between incompatible land uses. Today, new industrial or commercial developments can be located right on the lot line of an existing neighborhood, school, home or family ranch. This can make for bad neighbors, whether it negatively impacts on public health and safety, agricultural activities or property values, really doesn’t matter — the result is the same — bad neighbors, just because they are too close to each other.

Second, infrastructure cost recovery fees. Just a fancy way to say, new developments get to share the financial load with the rest of your neighbors. It is no secret that the monies for building roads are getting fewer and the burden of upgrading county as well as state roads are up to the folks in the county. With the rapid growth we are experiencing, many county roads are too narrow and are designed for limited traffic volumes. Increases in traffic, brought on by new development, often cause the county and/or state road that accesses the development to become overcrowded and unsafe. A dedicated fee from developers is necessary to make the roadway safe and provide for proper drainage to share the financial load.

Third, we don’t want our wells to go dry if we can avoid it. The ability to set density rules in areas that are particularly vulnerable to water depletion and water quality degradation would help us manage growth and plan for future development. The Texas Hill Country region’s topography, flooding issues, fragile aquifers and limited water supply warrant special legislative consideration.

Remember how Mom said that nothing worth having comes easy? Well, the county elected officials are doing their part, now we need you to do yours. Contact your state legislators and tell them you support HB3265 — you want to be better neighbors — you just need your county elected officials to have three things — setback, infrastructure cost recovery fees and density authority. Then the next time we see each other in church, we can talk about healthcare.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

What we have in trying to manage our scarce water resources is a failure to communicate, and a lot of waste

Councilman Flocke was certainly right when he said we need to be talking to each other, not going off into separate camps to imagine what our “opponents” are thinking and doing
If we want a real issue to discuss, the 3.15 million gallon “water loss” by Wimberley Water Supply in February was more than the total water sold (3.05 million gallons)

Send your comments and news tips to

or to Jack Hollon,

For a map of the groundwater district in western Hays County and more information visit the district's web site,

Guest Column

By Jack Hollon

At its April 2 meeting, the Wimberley City Council considered a resolution supporting new legislation and funding for the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD). Near the end of the discussion Mayor Haley stated that in an email exchange with the District’s president he had learned that the GCD wanted to charge a fee on water used for fire fighting. He then pointedly asked me (a GCD Director in the audience) if this were true. I said that I had seen the emails and that water for fighting fires was not the main issue.

I was cut off and asked to give a “yes” or “no” answer. When I requested to make a statement to provide context, the Mayor said “No.” I was not allowed to speak, and the Council moved on.

So perhaps I can speak here.

The main issue addressed in the emails concerned production fees – one possible way of funding District operations. As part of proposed funding, the GCD had suggested a production fee of up to 17 cents per thousand gallons, to be charged on water produced from permitted wells, such as those that supply Wimberley Water (WWSC), Aqua Texas Inc, and Wimberley Springs Partners’ golf course(s).

The question the mayor and Wimberley Water Supply general manager Haley asked in his email was: Would that fee be placed on the quantity of water pumped (produced from the aquifer), or on the quantity sold to customers?

Mr. Backus’ reply was that he thought it should be charged on the water pumped, as this provides an incentive to keep the difference between “pumped” and “sold,”… the gross system “loss,” as small as possible.

There is no doubt that if this issue came before the groundwater board, the policy would likely be to exempt water used for fire fighting from the production fee. However, Mr. Haley seized on this hot button as an opportunity to criticize the District and make it look insensitive to an emotional subject, fighting fires – even though the quantity of water and money at stake is relatively small.

For example, if a hundred thousand gallons were used in fighting a fire, at the 17-cent rate, that is only $17. And the quantity of water is only about 3% of the gross “water loss,” in the February 2009 data for WWSC – water mostly lost to leaks and line breaks, but also including fire-fighting and line-flushing.

In fact, if we want a real issue to discuss, the 3.15 million gallon “water loss” by Wimberley Water Supply in February was more than the total water sold (3.05 million gallons) to the 1,208 accounts, out of 1,667, that each used less than 6,000 gallons for February in the Wimberley system. Mr. Backus’ statement was aimed at this serious conservation problem. WWSC’s general manager Haley changed the subject and attacked the District for suggesting a fee on wasted water as unfair.

From the email: “If Hays Trinity is going to use water produced as their guide line, then Wimberley Water will do everything in its power to see that chapter 36 fails. We cannot support something that is totally unfair for the people in the Wimberley Valley.”

Mr. Haley gave no reason why charging a fee for wasted water is “…totally unfair for the people in theWimberley Valley.” I expect citizens would support the District on this one.

One reason why we have this huge “loss” problem (and Aqua Texas loses far more than WWSC) is that water from the aquifer is regarded as a free good – which our old Rule-of-Capture mentality says we can take without regard for our neighbor.

But the number of “neighbors” has grown exponentially, so much so our collective demands now threaten decline or destruction of this basic resource. That is the reason we need management, not because of “…hunger for power and control… by some imagined bureaucracy...,” as implied by Mr. Rietz and Mr. Huth in their statements to the Council, and by the ruminations and context-free excerpts from Chapter 36 read by some Council members. These folks need to attend a few GCD meetings to observe first-hand what is going on.

On the one hand we have a real aquifer, facing real problems, which require intelligent management. Local volunteers are working hard to deal with the problems, in a lean and effective way. On the other hand we have dark suspicions and fears, and little trust in the ability and integrity of local people, operating in an open process, to act in the best interest of the community.

This is a sad situation. And we are receiving no real leadership from Rep. Rose and Sen. Wentworth, or from the City ofWimberley. County leaders are divided.

Councilman Flocke was certainly right when he said we need to be talking to each other, not going off into separate camps to imagine what our “opponents” are thinking and doing. Those of us from the District must do more to support timely and accurate communications about our water resources. We shall keep working on the problems.

I welcome your views – Jack Hollon, HTGCD Director, Place 5/Wimberley

Friday, April 3, 2009

Update on the church/government center – still a rip-off, and another sign of more taxes to come

County taxpayers can’t understand why Conley still wants to rescue the LLC church
property investors with a $2.1 million taxpayer financed bailout, and spend another $600,000 so half of the church space can be made into a new Wimberley city hall that puts county taxpayers at risk

Send your comments and news tips to or to

Editor's Note: Wimberley residents and business owners take note – the handwriting is plainly visible on walls everywhere of a soon-to-come city property tax. Just what we all need, right – a brand-spankin' new tax, brought to you by the very same crowd who promised it would never happen, not on their watch. "Read my lips!" On a 3 to 1 vote Monday night March 30 (Thurber voting no), the city council gave its blessing to pursue a plan sponsored by Pct. 3 County Commissioner Will Conley & Co. that nudges the city's fair residents closer to a city tax showdown.

All arguments aside that Conley's plan is on its face a total fly by night deal, down range it will play right into the list of excuses city hall will use to impose a property tax – no voter approval needed. (Small wonder Mayor Haley will not be seeking re-election at the end of his term.) In case you missed it, come October, the town's community center is to be handed over to the city for full management and operational responsibility. Everyone knows that community/convention centers are notorious for not paying for themselves. Who will pay for the losses the center incurs – currently operating at a $40,000 to $50,000 annual deficit? Road maintenance is a growing concern and an expensive enterprise, and city hall staff and support certainly is not shrinking. What it all adds up to is more expenses than the city's meager revenue base of sales tax and franchise fees will be able to handle. There's only one source left to close the gap. That would be you, dear taxpayer.

So, remember the Alamo! And down the road, remember this latest log on the pile brought to you by the miracle worker himself, Commissioner Conley.

By Charles O'Dell

It was a strange Wimberley City Council special meeting this past Monday night, March 30, “To Discuss and consider action on the possible development of a joint governmental services facility in Wimberley.” By all appearances it was just another public orchestration by Commissioner Will Conley and Mayor Tom Haley to resurrect the failed purchase of former Wimberley First Baptist Church property at an inflated price, under the guise of a joint governmental services facility. Wimberley would play, county taxpayers would pay.

In 2006, a group of church insiders formed the Wimberley Crossroads LLC and purchased the WFBC property for $1,350,050…$350,050 in cash and a $1,000,000 note held by the WFBC. Last year, Conley was promoting county purchase of the LLC owned property for $2.4 million, spending another $600,000 converting it into a government center and leasing half of it to Wimberley for a new city hall. The Hays County Central Appraisal District appraised the property at $1,350,050. The LLC insiders would net a quick $1 million profit.

There were as many officials present at the meeting Monday night as there were folks in the audience which, surprisingly, included Hays County Tax Collector Luanne Caraway, and County Pct. 3 Constable in uniform.

Commissioner Conley began the meeting with a twenty minute history of how in late 2005 or early 2006, commissioners’ court had decided to switch from leasing to owning county office facilities, and how he had met with the Wimberley school district and members of the library to discuss a joint facility. Both dropped out but Conley kept looking, and now was seeking a council resolution of interest for a joint facility that he could take back to commissioners’ court.

Conley pointed to the $2.1 million sitting in the county’s capital improvement account that, if not spoken for now would be used for a new county Justice Center being planned in the next two years, and asked if the city agrees in a joint facility, what did the council think about the WFBC as a site?

Mayor Haley responded on queue that an early study indicated WFBC would work. This study was news to us since a site comparative study wasn’t produced last year in response to our open records requests.

Councilman Flocke observed that when the project went silent several months ago he assumed it was dead. Conley said the November 2008 election and death of sheriff Bridges had consumed his time.

Mayor Haley kept bringing the council back to the need for a resolution of interest that included the WFBC. Haley insisted that WFBC be included in the letter.

In the end, that’s what the council passed 3 - 1 . . . sort of, and despite objections from Councilman Thurber who supported a joint facility but opposed WFBC being named in the rambling motion by Flocke. City Administrator, Don Ferguson said not to worry, he would take the council’s intent and formulate a letter of interest for a joint facility naming the WFBC site.

Mayor Haley behaves as though he has a vested interest in seeing the county purchase the church’s former property. The $1,000,000 note held by WFBC just came due on March 21, 2009.

After this suspicious insider deal was exposed last year, the LLC insiders had financed construction of the new church facility with a $350,050 cash down payment; and were left with a $1,000,000 note due March 21, 2009; owing back taxes on the former tax-exempt church property, and owning property with a county appraisal value of $1,350,050, in a declining real estate market. What were these insider investors thinking?

Commissioner Conley to the rescue!

(See Roundup archives, published October 3, 2008:
A Tangled Tale of Church, Taxes and Local Politics)

Conley is back and wants to use $2.1 million of taxpayer funds from the county’s capital improvement account that could reduce the amount of county bonds needed for planned capital improvement projects, including a new Justice Center.

County taxpayers can’t understand why Conley still wants to rescue the LLC church property investors with a $2.1 million taxpayer financed bailout, and spend another $600,000 so half of the church space can be made into a new Wimberley city hall that puts county taxpayers at risk.

The County pledges its property tax revenues to secure its revenue bonds, including interest costs, but Wimberley can’t guarantee any long-term lease for the proposed joint government facilities because the City has no property tax.

Conley never votes for tax increases…but he sure works hard for tax increases.

Now's the time to share your views with commissioners’ court members:
County Judge Liz Sumter: (512) 393-2205

Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe: (512) 393-2243

Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton: (512) 262-2091

Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley: (512) 847-3159

Pct. 4 Commissioner Karen Ford: (512) 858-7268

I'm just a drop of water, asking that I be treated fairly and equitably

I've heard on the "drip line," but haven't been contacted, that PR from DS (that's Patrick Rose from Dripping Springs) doesn't plan any TWC36 legislation and is asking the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District board to place an inequitable two-year surcharge on Wimberley Water Supply and Aqua Texas customers to be used for aquifer research only

Send your comments and news tips to
or to

Editor's Note: Mr. Glenn read the statement below at last night's April 2 Wimberley City Council meeting during discussion of a city resolution to support or oppose legislation granting additional authority and funding to the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District. A resolution never made it to the table due to lack of a motion. State Rep. Patrick Rose, meanwhile, is said to be considering legislation that would effectively deliver a long-armed sucker punch to the district. His bill would impose a $2 surcharge on Wimberley and Dripping Springs area water utility customers. The surcharge would fund aquifer research, but you can bet there'll be a lot of unhappy water customer campers when they see this new fee on their bills. Who do you suppose will take the flak, Rose or the groundwater district?

Guest Column

My name is David Glenn and all of you know me as a friend, neighbor or acquaintance. In the past I have appeared before you as a drop of water from our aquifer, so please bear with me. I am neither a Republican nor a Democratic drop.

Because we live on the "edge of the desert," I am the most precious commodity and critical resource in the Wimberley Valley environment. I hope that as a drop of water I can cool down the rhetoric and emotions concerning a Texas Water Code (TWC) Chapter 36 groundwater conservation district and focus on solutions for the key issues, and reality.

Tonight I know this council is under many different pressures within our community and feels pulled to and fro. This is what it's like in the aquifer with many wells pulling different pressures in all directions. Am I to be sucked up by the biggest pump or is there going to be a viable groundwater conservation district managing the aquifer to provide equitable allocation of me and other drops to everyone's water well?

In yesterday's (April 1) Wimberley View, Mayor Mike Gonzales of Kyle stated, "Access to an ample supply of clean water is a basic right that all citizens in Hays County should have." He's absolutely right and he is fortunate to have a full TWC36 BSEACD (Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District) standing behind his voters and their water wells. Western Hays County has the most legislatively flawed and handicapped groundwater district in Texas that I know about.

In fact, I've heard on the "drip line," but haven't been contacted, that PR from DS (that's Patrick Rose from Dripping Springs) doesn't plan any TWC36 legislation and is asking the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) board to place an inequitable two-year surcharge on Wimberley Water Supply and Aqua Texas customers to be used for aquifer research only.

Seems interesting that PR from DS would question the expertise of the HTGCD since it has been operating here in western Hays County before he even got out of Princeton, much less elected, and it is recognized throughout the Hill Country for the outstanding geology and hydrology studies that its volunteers have done, but I will admit he is better funded than the HTGCD.

Now don't you let those "big oil" guys confuse you because it's us drops of water that power the economic engine of this Wimberley Valley. Always have and always will! We started as a mill town with Mr. Winters harnessing what was then called Jacobs Well Creek. Today when I can escape getting pumped out into someone's muddy, murky vanity pond, I like to pop up in Jacobs Well and flow as Cypress Creek down through Blue Hole and under the bridge next to the Square and join up with Blanco, Yee-hah!

Seriously, as the Wimberley Valley continues to grow and develop, us drops of water need a viable mediator to settle disputes between folks and an equitable allocator to see that everybody gets his fair share of our life giving sustenance. I'm asking you duly elected officials to put aside any political disagreements with other duly elected officials and give this Valley, your friends and neighbors, a TWC36 GCD on par with those around us by supporting this resolution. We drops of water can't vote so please support us. Also remember each one of you elects the groundwater district board members of your choice. May God help you and the Wimberley Valley.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

David Glenn coordinated an extensive water study for the City of Wimberley last year, and currently serves on the city's planning & zoning commission.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Food for thought from today's NY Times: No More Hummer Nation

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Op-ed Columnist
Published: March 31, 2009

Read the full column here: No More Hummer Nation

You know you’re in trouble when Old Europe chastises you for being too socialist. But, hey, nobody’s perfect — except maybe Michelle Obama, who landed in London with a huge Obama entourage, wearing a daffodil yellow dress and looking like a confident ray of U.S.A. sunshine.

As President Obama renegotiates the terms of American leadership this week in Europe, those of us left at home struggle to get over our affluenza. That condition, the bane of the middle class, is defined in a book of the same name as “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.”

The president is obviously worried about leaving us alone and under the economic weather; that must be why his Department of Health and Human Services put up some advice Tuesday on its Web site about “Getting Through Tough Economic Times.”