Friday, July 31, 2009
Send your comments and news tips to email@example.com or click on the "comments" button below the story.
Editor's Note: A very alert citizen sent us this intriguing missive. We'll keep his name anonymous. Maybe someone out there who speaks Latin as a second language can lend us a hand with that closing phrase.
Is it possible that the case can be made on the basis of this provision that Rick Perry's repeated support of secessionists constitutes a violation of the 14th Amendment and that he is no longer eligible to serve as an executive officer of the State of Texas? That would be "a holy kick in the pants!"
Woodcreek North, by god
Section. 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
Ego operor non sino fossor laetus.
Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Mr. O'Dell, email@example.com and Mr. Barton, firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor's Note: HaysCAN president Charles O'Dell sent us an e-mail this morning with his responses to Mr. Barton's comments in the story below this one. Mr. Barton is welcome to chime in with one last round. We're thinking that now that Mr. O'Dell has asked the county's special counsel to reveal all the info he has in his records in this matter (including his own phone calls) we'll all get a little closer to the truth. Let's cross our fingers that special counsel Mr. Kennedy (email@example.com) will follow the letter of the law, as well as the spirit of the law – the Texas Public Information Act . Related links: Texas Watchdog, Sunshine Review. Find a down loadable 2008 handbook of the PIA here. In the handbook's first page, AG Greg Abbott says, the people "do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for them to know or what is not good for them to know."
Mr. O'Dell: If Commissioner Jeff Barton, Precinct 2, were Pinocchio his nose would be a foot long –and getting longer. Barton’s own inconsistent and false statements clearly demonstrate just how disingenuous and untrustworthy he is.
–Barton admits, and official records show, that he received reimbursement from Hays County for official calls that he made on his personal cellular telephone during his first six months as a county commissioner, a cellular number that was bundled in a family plan, and Barton claims, "It's my choice what a personal or county business call is.”
–Barton falsely asserts, “…to the best of my recollection I was not involved at all.” “I mean they told me about it in a sort of passing conversation." And Barton claims HaysCAN received a copy of his official calls made on his cellular telephone, ”…my understanding is he received all those phone calls.”
–"I don't know exactly what Dr. O'Dell got because I didn't prepare it or give it to him."
If Barton is the one who chooses what a personal or county business call is; if Barton was not involved at all in responding to our open records request, and was told about it in a sort of passing conversation; if Barton doesn’t know exactly what we received because he didn’t prepare or give it to us, then how could any of Barton’s official calls that he made on his personal cellular telephone have been turned over to us?
In fact, not a single Barton cellular call was given to HaysCAN in response to our open records request, and Barton knows this because he didn’t give any of his reimbursed official telephone call records to the special counsel’s office.
Despite Barton falsely claiming his non-involvement, he did provide one page of the Barton family June 18, 2007, forty one page cellular telephone bill revealing 29 calls made on his wife’s cellular number. We didn’t ask for his family telephone records, only for those that Barton made on his cellular telephone and for which he was reimbursed by Hays County taxpayers.
Commissioner Barton violated the open records act, but we still want the phone records we requested and to which the public has a legal right.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
"The Public Information Act . . . has no real sanctions, just public embarrassment, if you can be embarrassed. That's the sad part about it. The strongest aspect of the PIA is that it gives the public access to behind-the-scenes activity by public officials . . . "
Send your comments and news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org * Read the comments or add your own by clicking on the "comments" button below the story.
Pct. 2 Commissioner Barton
(D-Mountain City, Buda, Kyle)
Compiled by Bob Ochoa
This just in: The Hays Community Action Network (HaysCAN) and its president Charles O'Dell have filed a formal complaint against Precinct 2 County Commissioner Jeff Barton, claiming that Barton is violating the Public Information Act.
Friday, July 31 – Mr. O'Dell, in a letter dated today, has now made an open records request directly to the office of Special Council, Mr. Kennedy (and staff), for "all forms of correspondence conveyed to or received from Commissioners Barton and Conley regarding our 2/29/08 PIR referenced above. Time period is 2/29/08 through the date of this Public Information Request."
Thursday, July 30 – Commissioner Barton returned our call for a comment this afternoon. See his comments below.
Wednesday, July 29 – We put in a call to Commissioner Barton's office this morning for a comment from the commissioner. So far no call back. Fyi, his office number is 512.262.2091 in case any of you alert citizens & taxpayers out there care to give him a shout. Here's his e-mail address: email@example.com
"I don't answer open records requests. That happens through the legal counsel's office. We want somebody who is nonprejudicial. We want a reasonably objective party answering open records requests, somebody who really knows and understands the law.
"I don't know exactly what Dr. O'Dell got (from the original open records request) because I didn't prepare it or give it to him. What I presume he got was every phone call I made on county business . . . I asked to be reimbursed for phone calls I made (from) my cell for county business and my understanding is he received all those phone calls.
" . . . It's my choice what a personal or county business call is. Hays County is only paying for those calls that are clearly expressly county business calls . . .
"It was the special counsel's office (that handled O'Dell's public information request) and to the best of my recollection I was not involved at all. I mean they told me about it in a sort of passing conversation."
Asked if he is still requesting reimbursement from county taxpayers for use of his cell phone to conduct official county business, Barton said, "No, I am not."
We failed to ask the commissioner when he decided to quit asking for reimbursements, and who in the county instructed him on the proper procedure for certifying the reimbursements.
Here are special counsel Mr. Kennedy's comments. He said he was in receipt of HaysCAN's complaint. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
"Normally the AG's office receives the complaint and tries to sort through the details with my office. In this case, Charles appears to have sent the complaint to me and copied the AG's (Attorney General's) office. I have called the AG's office and have not gotten a call back yet . . . I only contacted them and left a message saying I'm calling regarding this complaint and left my number.
"I'm not going to comment on it, on the substance of the complaint, until I've ascertained how to proceed by working with the AG's office on this.
"There are numerous nuances to the way the act (Texas Public Information Act) operates. (The "Act" is part of the Texas Government Code, Chapter 552). I can say that we do our very very best, earnestly do our very best, to meet every letter of the act and make sure the information gets out to the requesters.
" . . . Under the act we are not allowed to ask what the requester wants the information for. Oftentimes we just process it and make sure it doesn't have nondisclosable information.
" . . . I think normally the AG would issue a finding (and contact the complainant) at least by phone call . . . the AG is a check and balance for every county, every local government in the state in terms of public information and how that information is processed . . . that is why we get them involved . . . if it's a request, there's a timeframe; the AG's office is going to drive it."
HaysCAN and O'Dell (email@example.com) have asked for Barton's cell phone records for a six month period, from December of '06 to June of '07, Barton's first six months in office. Included is a short period before Barton's official swearing in, for which O'Dell says Barton requested reimbursement from the county.
Here's what Mr. O'Dell had to say: "The point I want to get across is that I expect public officials to obey the law, all the laws, not just the ones they want to. Barton's efforts to side step (HaysCAN's original public information request) actually provided evidence that what he refused to give us was in fact in the public domain. We continue to ask for those records and expect to receive them.
" . . . He (Barton) gave us one page out of a 41-page phone bill in which it had 29 of his wife's phone calls of the 108 that she made. I was looking to see who he's talking to. He obviously has some calls to and from folks he doesn't want us to know about. What is it about his official phone calls using his cell phone that he doesn't want the public to know about?
"The reason I asked for these first six months of his term is because this is what he had come back with showing he (was) reimbursed for the use of his cell phone and he admits it was for use of official county business and therefore the county government has a right to them and we have a right to them, the public, because taxpayer money was used to pay for a portion of the bill . . .
"HaysCAN is a nonprofit tax exempt organization founded in July 2003. We have wide support in Central Texas. We are members (one of 45 members) of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, an organization headquartered in San Antonio. Our source of funding has been grants, fund raisers and donations from the public. We have been asked for our membership list, the City of Drippings Springs tried it, Barton has tried it. We maintain our constitutional right of not disclosing for fear of retaliation against our supporters.
"The Public Information Act . . . has no real sanctions, just public embarrassment, if you can be embarrassed. That's the sad part about it. The strongest aspect of the PIA is that it gives the public access to behind-the-scenes activity by public officials. To the extent they are unwilling to break the law, they will just give us the information."
Monday, July 27, 2009
And then there's the windfall from the stimulus bill itself. As a recent analysis in the Wall Street Journal ("After Voting No, Republicans Tout Funds") showed, Alaska was near the top of the list in several areas of ARRA spending
Send your comments and news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor's Note: Not sayin' Republicans have a monopoly on the Hypocrisy Market, just sayin' Republicans have been among the loudest and harshest critics of federal earmarks and the stimulus program.
As a 2007 analysis of federal spending per tax dollar received by state shows, the reddest states generally reaped the most green. Eight of the top 10 beneficiaries of federal largesse voted for John McCain for President. Unsurprisingly, all 10 states at the bottom of the list - those whose outflow of tax revenue is funding programs elsewhere in the country - all voted for Barack Obama in 2008.
The data for Sarah Palin's Alaska (type in Alaska in the graph search window) is particularly telling. Back in the early 1980's, Alaska was a net contributor of tax revenue to the federal government in Washington, DC. But in recent years, the state has been the beneficiary of a massive geographic transfer of wealth from the Lower 48. By 2005, Alaska ranked third in feeding at the federal trough, taking in $1.84 from Washington for each dollar sent there. That performance puts Sarah Palin between fellow stimulus refuseniks Haley Barbour of Mississippi ($2.02 payback on each dollar) and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana ($1.78) atop the charts.
But when it comes to earmarks, the woman who mythically said "thanks, but no thanks" to the Bridge to Nowhere almost always says, "yes." In the $410 billion omnibus spending bill passed this spring by Congress, Palin's Alaska led the nation in per capita earmark spending. Alaskans hauled in almost $210 per person in earmarks, while Californians got $16 and New Yorkers $13 in comparison.
And then there's the windfall from the stimulus bill itself. As a recent analysis in the Wall Street Journal ("After Voting No, Republicans Tout Funds") showed, Alaska was near the top of the list in several areas of ARRA spending. Alaska ranked #1 among the states in the per capita allocation of $72 billion in education funds contained in the stimulus bill. The state came in second as a per capita recipient of housing (HUD) funds, anti-crime spending and money for job training. For per person spending on water projects and health care, Alaska is third and 10th, respectively.
Friday, July 24, 2009
. . . state leaders rarely mention the $12 billion in stimulus dollars they received when they discuss what great work they did to balance the budget, and because Gov. Rick Perry was one of the country’s most dogged critics of the stimulus dollars
Send your comments and news tips to email@example.com
From the Statesman
By Jason Embry
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Read the full story here.
Gov. Rick Perry's opposition to federal stimulus dollars for unemployment benefits earlier this year boosted his standing among many Republicans. But other issues surrounding the state's unemployment program could create political headaches for Perry in the next year and a half.
With unemployment rising, the state will have to borrow more than $643 million from the federal government in the coming months to keep paying benefits, even though that money will come interest-free for 18 months. And the Texas Workforce Commission is planning to ask employers to pay more in taxes to repay that money and keep the unemployment trust fund healthy.
Texas Relied Heavily on Federal Stimulus Dollars
By Jason Embry
First Reading Blog / Read more here.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
A new report from the National Conference of State Legislatures shows that federal stimulus dollars played a large role in allowing Texas lawmakers to balance their budget this year without tapping Rainy Day Funds.
The national group asked states to say how they closed their budget gaps for the 2010 budget year, and 35 states responded. Of those, 25 said they used federal stimulus dollars to close budget gaps, and Texas reported that it relied most heavily on stimulus dollars, using those dollars to provide 96.7 percent of the gap-closing solution. Nebraska was next at 88 percent.
At least 11 states (not Texas) raised taxes to close their gaps. At least eight states (not Texas) tapped their rainy day funds. Montana and West Virginia (not Texas) relied entirely on spending cuts.
Texas was one of the few states to avoid a budget shortfall in the current year. But the report also projects a budget gap of $4 billion to $5 billion a year starting in the 2012 budget year. This is all worth pointing out because state leaders rarely mention the $12 billion in stimulus dollars they received when they discuss what great work they did to balance the budget, and because Gov. Rick Perry was one of the country’s most dogged critics of the stimulus dollars.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Check out this link: http://lacounty.solarmap.org/
Zoon in on the map, move it around. Point on the red dots. It'll tell you the number of solar panel installations and electricity produced, the cost savings and estimated equivalent reduction in CO2 emissions.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
One commissioner in particular is looking to challenge current County Judge Liz Sumter. It makes sense for him to start collecting chits from the developer and real estate community in the western half of the county . . .
Send your comments and news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org
*Read the comments or add your own by clicking on the "comments" button below the story
By Bob Ochoa
Reports are arriving that last night's Tuesday, July 21 commissioners court meeting & workshop on the proposed new subdivision rules was a wing-dinger. "It was overwhelming," said one attendee, "people came out of the woodwork; they were packing in there like sardines."
Wimberley, we are told, came out pretty solidly in favor of the much debated 6.5 acre proposed rule. Dripping Springs, led by its chamber of commerce, said 'no way, Jose.'
A representative from the Texas Homebuilders Association said forcing larger minimum lot sizes on developers, like the proposed 6.5 acres versus the current 2 acres, would hurt the feelings of many real estate agents and home builders and hasten new sources of imported water into our region. The RoundUp thinks that's a low hand bluff. There doesn't appear to be a lot of "surplus" water out there that wouldn't cost an arm and a leg to import. If imported water ever does arrive, you might want to plan on cashing in your gold ingots.
"About 200 people were present. It was so warm (inside) with so many people it was like a pressure cooker feeling," said David Baker of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association. "It really wasn't quite as contentious as I thought it would be. There were about 27 speakers. Only five spoke out against the 6.5 acre recommendation.
"The northern side of the county (Dripping) seemed to be more interested in the economics of being able to subdivide for smaller lots, and the southern part (Wimberley) saying you have a responsibility to protect my groundwater in making sure you spread out the lots more."
Baker added this insightful note: "We need to figure out how to cut back and actually reduce aquifer pumping . . . others don't see that limitation as an impediment. (Our aquifer is being way over-pumped, by some estimates, 500 million gallons a year more than is sustainable without tons of rain recharge). We have two different sets of values approaching this. When it becomes a political vote, not based on hydrology, then we're really pitting two factions of the community against themselves that is not in either of their interests."
Commissioners heard from a lot of folks. Public comments lasted about 2 hours. The meeting started around 6 p.m. at Wimberley council chambers and adjourned around midnight. Commissioners could have voted to adopt the new subdivision rules, but, no surprise, decided to punt down field. County Judge Liz Sumter later explained some commissioners "just were not ready" to vote. Other issues arose in the proposed rules that needed some cleaning up, she said.
The judge said a commitment was made to vote on the new subdivision regulations at the commissioners court's Aug. 11 meeting. A final discussion on lot sizing will take place a week prior, at the Aug. 4 meeting. Judge Sumter noted that, "the last statement made (at Tuesday night's meeting) was somewhere between five and a half and six and a half (acres). That will be the fighting ground" in the final vote.
We asked the judge, what's the big difference between five and six and a half acres? She said, "There is a major difference. Going to five acres doesn't incentivize to think about water differently. Going to 6.5, it does . . . the best we can do is vote for something that will change the way people think about development of the land and buy us some time to the next legislative session (two years away)."
Sumter pointed out that three major efforts in the last legislative session – to give counties more control over development, provide more authority to our groundwater conservation district and provide more incentives for rainwater collection – ALL FAILED. The judge was polite enough not to mention the stellar performances of our representatives in Austin – Rose and Wentworth – in the failed legislative attempts. Now, Sumter said, "it comes down to the county doing what it can."
It was evident, said one observer, that during the meeting some on the court were playing up to some in the crowd and ignoring the wishes of others.
One commissioner in particular is looking to challenge current County Judge Sumter in the Democratic primary next year. It makes sense for him to start collecting chits from the developer and real estate interests in the western half of the county to undercut Sumter's and Pct. 4 Commissioner Karen Ford's home bases, Wimberley and Dripping. The old 'divide and conquer' routine. Only this is Dem on Dem – makes one wonder where this guy's loyalties lie, outside of his over-stretched ego.
The mystery challenger, who is more SHAMocrat than Democrat, probably thinks he's already got the eastern half of the county sewed up. Give you three guesses who it might be. Lord have mercy, drought, followed by the arrival of a plague of special interest toadies.
NOAA: Warmest June on Record for Global Ocean
The world’s ocean surface temperature was the warmest on record for June, breaking the previous high mark set in 2005, according to a preliminary analysis by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. Additionally, the combined average global land and ocean surface temperature for June was second-warmest on record. The global records began in 1880.
PEC’s governing body voted to streamline its committee structure, dissolving all prior committees except the Audit Committee
Send your comments and news tips to email@example.com to PEC Board President Larry Landaker, firstname.lastname@example.org or to District 7 Director Patrick Cox, email@example.com
MEDIA CONTACT: Anne Harvey, (830) 868-4933; Austin line, (512) 219-2602
July 21, 2009
Johnson City, Tx – Setting a new foundation for conduct at its meetings, the Pedernales Electric Board of Directors voted July 20 to adopt Robert’s Rules of Order. The Board will abide by the rules contained in the 10th edition of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, with specific attention to its “Procedure in Small Boards” section.
“We deemed Robert’s Rules of Order the best and most widely used procedures for conducting board meetings,” explained District 7 Director Patrick Cox, who sponsored the resolutions with Board President Larry Landaker, District 6 Director. “The ‘Procedure in Small Boards’ more closely defines the type of business we will be addressing.”
PEC’s governing body voted to streamline its committee structure, dissolving all prior committees except the Audit Committee. That committee, chaired by District 3 Director Kathryn Scanlon, remains the only standing committee.
The new special policy committees, to be formed and approved at the next Board meeting, are Governance, Bylaws and Legal, chaired by Director Cox; Energy, Conservation and Renewable Generation Programs, chaired by District 2 Director James Williams; and Financial Strategies, Contracts and Budgets, chaired by District 1 Director Cristi Clement.
Committee guidelines also were adopted, including requirements for charters, meeting minutes and limitations on the number of meetings per year. Committee chairs also were given latitude to appoint PEC members and other individuals to serve as volunteer advisors.
The Board also recognized the effects of the heat wave gripping Central Texas, unanimously approving a resolution to waive any $100 reconnection fees assessed to PEC members from June through September 2009.
“This reflects the tremendous effect the very hot summer has had on our members, as well as the bad economy we’re in,” said PEC General Manager Juan Garza, as he explained his reasons for the waiver request.
In other action at the meeting, the Board:
– Heard a report that more than $566,000 had been legally deemed Texland funds; that money will be disbursed after a meeting between Texland’s owners.
– Approved major infrastructure projects in the Cedar Park and Kyle areas.
– Decided that ideas for a long-term strategic planning session would be presented at the Aug. 17 Board meeting, to be held at PEC’s E. Babe Smith Headquarters Building in Johnson City.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
This is the swamp of propaganda and corruption that passes for "democracy." At least we can be aware of it, and stop pretending rank-and-file voters' cultural conservatism automatically means they want their congressman to be an economic corporatist
Send your comments and news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor's Note: We're admittedly straying from the farm a little bit with the column below from political commentator and author David Sirota. We promise not to make it a habit, being that there's many hot topics and oodles of behind the scenes political chicanery going on right under our noses here in Hays County. It's just that health care reform, the very high cost of health care, and the debate over what's best for the country is huge right now.
On one critical aspect – the politics – Sirota hits the nail on the head.
So please remove your red and blue tinted reading glasses and try to come at this from your erudite selves. Have some fun. Make a list of all the congress critters (or local critters) you know who fall into the category Mr. Sirota describes. We haven't checked his contributors' list, so we're can't say whether our congressman Lloyd Doggett fits the profile. Warning, Sirota uses some colorful language (some of it edited).
By David Sirota
Taking a moment away from my book and column-writing, I just want to make a really important point that we all need to remember about the so-called "Blue Dogs" and "conservative Democrats" who are working their asses off to prevent real health care reform.
The Villagers in the D.C. media (i.e. the power-worshiping pundits and journalists who preen around the nation's capital telling the Rest of Us what to think) continue to incessantly claim that "Blue Dogs" and "conservative Democrats" come from "moderate districts," and this is supposed to clearly explain their opposition to health care reform and progressive taxation to pay for said health care reform. If you've turned on a television, radio or computer, or if you are one of the few still reading newspapers, then you've been subjected to this meme repeatedly over the last few weeks. And this meme is propaganda at its worst - or, propagandists might say, at its best.
Polls have long shown us the country is basically unified in support of progressive economic positions. Indeed, there have been so many polls showing Americans strongly supporting universal government-sponsored health care, more progressive taxation, fairer trade deals, a Wall Street crackdown, and an end to grotestque bailoutism that I'm frankly sick of linking to all of them so much.
If, as the irritating red-versus-blue storyline goes, we are a divided nation at all, we are divided on a few select hot-button cultural issues (guns, god, gays, yadda yadda...we've all heard it before). So sure, when Villagers in D.C. portray a senator like Max Baucus (D-MT) as representing his state's fondness for guns when he votes against gun control, that's an accurate portrayal. But when Villagers depict Baucus, who represents one of the poorest states in the country, as opposing real health care reform because he's from a "conservative state" and is merely forwarding along his constituents alleged desire for insurance-industry shilling, that's a lotta horsesh*t.
And it's the same for "Blue Dog" Democrats from Appalachia and the rural South (and also, by the way, for Republicans from these same regions) - when they differ with Obama on cultural issues, it's probably because their constituents differ with Obama on cultural issues. But when they differ with him on a core economic issue like, say, taking on the health insurance vipers and reforming the system, they are, for the most part, shi**ing all over those same constituents.
What's really going on is this: "Blue Dogs" and "conservative Democrats" tend to represent swing states and districts - that is, states and districts that are among the very few that aren't gerrymandered and therefore actually play host to competitive elections. Because of this, their re-election races tend to be especially expensive, which means these politicians have to raise a ton of cash for television ads.
How, pray tell, do career politicians raise a ton of cash? They trade their votes and legislative maneuvers for corporate campaign money, most of it coming from special interests in Washington who have little to no grassroots support/connection to the politician's state/district. The special-interest, D.C.-centric nature of these bribes is only enhanced by the fact that many of the "Blue Dog" and "conservative Democratic" districts/states are rather poor, meaning the money-sucking politicians are all but compelled to rely on out-of-state cash for their warchests.
All of this creates a closed circuit that serves the status quo. A "conservative Democratic" politician from a swing state needs to raise millions to finance a competitive campaign. There's not a lot of loose money lying around the district, considering the recession and the destitution of the very kind of district "conservative Democrat" tend to come from. So the "conservative Democrat" ends up relying on money from D.C. special interests like, say, health insurers - interests that are largely hated in the "conservative Democrat's" state and have little grassroots connection to the state. That money then buys votes that prevent stuff like health care reform that would most benefit the constituents of economically struggling states like the "conservative Democrat's" state.
In the end, because of this kind of transaction, the state remains destitute, and the politician remains in office, keeps raising out-of-state cash, and keeps insisting with a sh*t-eating grin that it's crazy - just crazy! - for anyone to think their votes could be influenced by millions of dollars. Meanwhile, the cycle starts right over on whatever new economic issue is coming down the pike - all while the stick Villagers in D.C. use euphemisms like "conservative Democrats" and "moderate districts" to explain it all away with an absurd storyline that insists because a politician comes from a state that likes guns, loves Jesus and/or hates gay people, he has to oppose health care reform.
This is the swamp of propaganda and corruption that passes for "democracy." At least we can be aware of it, and stop pretending rank-and-file voters' cultural conservatism automatically means they want their congressman to be an economic corporatist.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Send your comments and news tips to email@example.com or to Congressman Doggett, firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 202-225-4865
Editor's Note: We're not sure yet if our (Hays County) representative in Washington, D.C., Congressman Lloyd Doggett, will support the amendment described in the story below. You can bet his ears will be burning from calls from the insurance lobby. This is what Mr. Doggett's web site has to say: "The rising cost of health care for America's small businesses and the fact that an estimated two million of our Nation's seniors are still unable to afford their prescription drug costs are among my top concerns when it comes to reforming the United States' health care system."
At least ten states have active single payer efforts in their legislatures (Texas is not one of them): California, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington. Other reforms (link) Congressman Dennis Kocinich is seeking include bringing into standard coverage complementary and alternative medicine, reducing prescription drug costs by ending the pharmaceutical industry's sharp practices manipulating physician prescribing habits, and a requirement on insurance companies to disclose the cost of advertising, marketing and executive compensation expenses.
Here's a short list of myths & facts being passed around on the subject. You can take 'em or leave 'em:
Myth – If we have government run health care then health care will be rationed.
Fact – Health care is rationed now in the U.S. to a much greater degree than any other developed country, it’s just that it’s rationed to who can pay rather than to who needs it most.
Myth – Government run health care won’t let you choose your doctors.
Fact – Private insurance companies don’t let you choose your doctor, if the doctor you wish to see isn’t in your network, either you don’t see them or you pay the bill yourself.
Myth – Government run health care will tell your doctors which medications they can prescribe.
Fact – Private insurance already tells your doctors which medications they can prescribe by limiting what they will pay for or how high your co-pay will be.
WASHINGTON, July 17 /PRNewswire/ -- The nation's largest union and professional association of registered nurses today hailed passage of a key amendment in the House Education and Labor Committee to the national healthcare reform bill this morning that would enable individual states to go a step farther and adopt single-payer, Medicare-for-All style reforms.
Introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, the amendment would remove potential legal impediments for states to pass single-payer bills by waiving federal exemptions that apply to employer-sponsored health plans.
The amendment passed on a bi-partisan vote of 25-19, with the support of both progressive, single-payer Democrats and many Republicans who endorsed the ability of individual states to pass their own versions of health care reform.
"This is a historic moment for patients, for American families, and for the tens of thousands of nurses and other single-payer activists from coast to coast who can now work in state capitols to pass single-payer bills, the strongest, most effective solution of all to our healthcare crisis," said Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee.
"There are many models of health care reform from which to choose around the world - the vast majority of which perform far better than ours. The one that has been the most tested here and abroad is single-payer," said Kucinich in urging passage of the amendment.
"Under a single-payer system everyone in the U.S. would get a card that would allow access to any doctor at virtually any hospital. Doctors and hospitals would continue to be privately run, but the insurance payments would be in the public hands. By getting rid of the for-profit insurance companies, we can save $400 billion per year and provide coverage for all medically necessary services for everyone in the U.S.," Kucinich said.
The nurses noted there is a long road ahead for the amendment. It will still need approval from the full House and in a final version from the Senate. Nurses and other healthcare and community activists made numerous calls to legislators in support of the amendment, and will continue to press for its enactment in the final bill.
For those who have opposed the proposal, DeMoro called it "a very modest amendment that simply protects choice for residents of individual states who favor more comprehensive reform."
Recent reports from both the Department of Health and Human Services and the prestigious medical journal Health Affairs have documented that compared to people with private insurance, Medicare enrollees have greater access to care, fewer problems with medical bills, and greater satisfaction with their health plans and the quality of care they receive.
The reason for improved access, quality, and lower costs under Medicare, said DeMoro, "is that under Medicare, insurance companies, whose central focus is profits for their shareholders not delivery of care, don't have the ability to deny care, limit coverage, or continually raise prices that endanger the health and financial security of patients."
"The successes and standards of Medicare should be the model for reform for all Americans," said DeMoro. "If the final national bill will not meet that test by establishing Medicare for all, then let's give Americans the tools to pass it in individual states."
Currently, if states were to pass single-payer laws, as California, for one, has twice, only to have the bill vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, it could be subject to immediate legal challenge due to the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) which applies to all employer-paid health plans. The Kucinich amendment would provide an ERISA waiver.
NA/NNOC is the largest and fastest-growing organization of RNs in the U.S. with 86,000 members in all 50 states.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
By Claudia Grisales
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Link to the full story: http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/2009/07/18/0718pec.html
The former top executive and former top lawyer for the Pedernales Electric Cooperative have entered not-guilty pleas in the criminal grand jury investigation of former officials tied to the Johnson City-based utility.
Court filings in Blanco County show Bennie Fuelberg, the co-op's former longtime general manager, and the utility's former lawyer, Walter Demond, entered their pleas July 7.
On July 10, their attorneys also filed notice that the two defendants would waive their right to an arraignment, a largely perfunctory court proceeding originally slated for Friday. A status hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 4.
Last month, a Blanco County grand jury handed down indictments against Fuelberg and Demond. The investigation has been led by the Texas attorney general's office.
Friday, July 17, 2009
From the Austin American-Statesman, July 16: http://www.statesman.com/news/content/gen/ap/TX_Texas_Drought.html
LUBBOCK, Texas — Texas continues to grow ever drier, and new data show the state has the most land in the worst stage of drought in nearly a decade.
The U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday shows about 18 percent of the state to be in exceptional drought, up from just more than 14 percent last week.
Central and South Texas are hardest hit and are the only regions in the U.S. in extreme and exceptional drought. Ovenlike temperatures and no appreciable rain are the culprits.
Records on the drought monitor Web site show Texas hasn't had this much land in exceptional drought since at least January 2000. The previous high was in late August 2006, when about 16 percent was in the worst dryness stage.
From the Houston Chronicle, July 15: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/business/6530381.html
An alert Texan, JC Dufresne, comments in an email: "State Farm to raise homeowners insurance rates up to 20%. After rate hike announcements by Allstate and Farmers in the last month, State Farm has completed the rate hike trifecta. Inaction by the state legislature on insurance reform has clearly emboldened insurance carriers."
Thursday, July 16, 2009
An aquifer, like a bank account experiencing over-withdrawals, needs recharging, i.e. deposits, to keep it in balance and healthy
** Please plan to attend the Tuesday, July 21 Commissioners Court Workshop at 6 p.m. in the Wimberley Council Chambers on RR 12 and support the proposed development regulations including the 6.5 acre sustainable lot size. Call city hall for directions, 847.0025.
Click on the link to download a pdf file of the latest proposed new subdivision rules: http://www.co.hays.tx.us/ProposedDevelopmentbrRegulationDocuments/tabid/154/Default.aspx
Send your comments and news tips to email@example.com or to Mr. Glenn, firstname.lastname@example.org *Read the comments or add you own by clicking on the "comments" button below the story
By David Glenn
Water availability is one of the most critical issues facing future growth and development in Hays County. The proposed Hays County Development Regulations represent a three year stakeholder driven public process to deal with this critical issue in two important ways. First, they protect the citizens and voters who live here and are already invested in the County. Second, the proposed revisions will also provide protection for the people who will be coming as unparalleled growth continues.
This unprecedented growth and development in the Hays County portion of the Austin-San Antonio corridor served as the catalyst for the Commissioners Court taking another look at existing regulations beginning in August 2006.
A stakeholder driven public process led by Naismith Engineering in conjunction with Hart & Hart, P.C. was begun. The goal was straightforward. Prepare an update of the County’s subdivision regulations. Stakeholder representatives from the following groups met from August 2006 through October 2007 to provide public input during the updating of regulations:
*Real estate development community, *concerned citizens, *environmental/public interest groups, *municipalities, *economic interests, *other governmental entities, *agricultural interests, *neighborhood interests, *property owners, and *utility providers.
Other activities including Commissioners Court briefings, workshops, public hearings, public notice of proposed regulations, County-hosted public meetings and a Takings Impact Assessment were conducted during review and revision of the proposed development regulations.
Hays County is located on the edge of the Great Southwestern Desert of North America. Concern about water supply sources and availability arose at the first stakeholders meetings in 2006 and has continued throughout the process. SCIENCE + POLICY = WATER AVAILABILITY was the process agreed to in addressing water concerns.
An aquifer, like a bank account experiencing over-withdrawals, needs recharging, i.e. deposits, to keep it in balance and healthy. Where rural subdivisions are planned that depend on drilling individual lot water wells in the Priority Ground Water Area (PGMA) of the northern half of Hays County, a sustainable minimum lot size of 6.5 acres is proposed to support recharge of the aquifer in this area for the people living on the lot and nearby.
The HTGCD recommended a 9 acre lot size for sustainable groundwater development on individual water wells. Following public hearing input by water experts, public comment, and further technical review the sustainable lot size was further reduced by Naismith Engineering to 6.5 acres which is proposed in Table 705.05.01-Minimum Lot Sizes (in Acres). This lot sizing approach is based on sustainability of the aquifer and should err on the side of caution when the science of the aquifer isn’t perfectly understood.
REMEMBER: 6.5 KEEPS OUR SPRINGS FLOWING AND WELLS PUMPING!
Mr. Glenn is a member of the Wimberley city planning & zoning commission and serves on the Hays County Comprehensive Plan steering committee. Last year, he spearheaded an extensive water study for the city.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
July 14, 2009
Ms. Dana Carmean
Co General Manager
Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District
P.O. Box 1648
Dripping Springs, TX 78620
Re: Non Exempt Quarterly Well Report
Please find enclosed Wimberley Springs’ Quarterly Well Report for the 2nd quarter of this year. We are proud to report that we have pumped 30.3% less than we did in the 2nd quarter of 2008. We have achieved this reduction in part by allowing three ponds at our Quicksand Golf Course to go dry, as well as maximizing our use of wastewater effluent, which is the primary source of water for our golf course irrigation.
Our company has a long history of working cooperatively with the HTGDC to conserve groundwater resources since the District’s inception. Those efforts include:
Voluntarily providing water usage and well level information on a quarterly basis;
Giving tours of our facilities to District staff and board members (Jack Hollon);
Allowing the District to place and maintain well monitoring devices in our wells;
Allowing college interns to map the locations and gather information regarding our wells for the use of the District;
Contributing the time of our water lawyer to participate in a District-sponsored symposium on Texas water law.
Since 2002, Wimberley Springs Partners has cut its use of groundwater by roughly half while doubling the amount of wastewater effluent used. We have achieved this while also dramatically improving the appearance and quality of the golf course, factors that are crucial to protecting both our investment and property values within the community.
Wimberley Springs Partners will continue to work with the HTGCD to conserve and protect our community’s precious groundwater resources, and will continue to work with Aqua Texas and the TCEQ to make the best use of wastewater effluent.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
Monday, July 13, 2009
[T]he Navigant Report, which investigated and detailed PEC expenditures over the past several years, showed that PEC’s controllable expenses were substantially higher than electric cooperatives with more than 100,000 members
Send your comments and news tips to email@example.com
or to Mr. Moden, firstname.lastname@example.org *Read the comments or add your own by clicking on the "comments" button below the story
where the PEC held an expensive training retreat?
Many alert and close observers of Pedernales Electric have already exposed some obvious recent lavish spending by the management, not the least of which was a reported $65,000-plus training retreat at a resort lodge on Lake Buchanan. Who made that call, how is it justified, and how will it be accounted for in the budget? In the run up to the June board of directors' election, we heard a lot of promises of efficiency in spending, lower rates and management transparency. Let's all encourage our new directors to start delivering the goods sooner than later.
By Merle Moden
The Pedernales Electric Cooperative Board of Directors on June 15, 2009 approved a Cost of Service and Rate Design Study conducted by the consulting firm of C. H. Guernsey & Company (Guernsey) with main offices in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The vote for the new rate schedule was six for; none against; and, one absent. The new schedule contained in this study will be effective with August 2009 bills. On June 29, 2009 two new members were seated on PEC's board. The make-up of the board of directors is quite different now; however, it is speculative whether or not the rate schedule would or would not have been approved by this new board.
There are three primary cost drivers which determine the cost of electricity for PEC member-customers: (1) energy cost from the costs of power generation which accounts for 59% of total cost; (2) expenses from depreciation, operations, and maintenance which account for 34% of total cost; and, (3) return on investment from PEC’s investment in transmission facilities, distribution facilities, and general plant facilities which accounts for 7% of total cost.
Member-customers need to be assured that the PEC Board of Directors and PEC management are governing and managing the PEC to yield cost-effective rates and services. There are several questions that PEC member-customers need to ask the new board regarding the underlying costs and expenses that support this new rate schedule.
First, since PEC generates no power, its electric rates are driven primarily by the underlying costs of buying power from wholesale power providers of which the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) is PEC’s primary source. The LCRA, in addition to its electric power generation activities, is engaged in other revenue producing activities including the treatment and distribution of water. The PEC entered into a 25-year contract recently with the LCRA for purchased power which was negotiated by the law firm of Clark, Thomas, and Winters. This law firm recently agreed to pay PEC $4.1 million in damages for unspecified failure(s) to provide competent legal services.
As a State Agency, LCRA’s charges cannot exceed its costs. Do the power costs in this new 25-year contract reflect only LCRA’s costs to generate and transmit power to the PEC? What assurances are there that the discredited Clark, Thomas, and Winters law firm represented the best interests of PEC member-customers? The question is, is the LCRA complying with the “charges cannot exceed costs” requirement by misapplying it in the aggregate , or is LCRA correctly applying this requirement to each revenue producing activity?
For example, is the LCRA overcharging its electric generation customers and undercharging its water customers. The LCRA, in response to an Open Records request, refuses to furnish its costs of operation for each of its revenue producing activities to answer this question. Consequently, the extent to which PEC’s member-customers may be subsidizing rates for LCRA’s water customers is unknown. The recent controversy between the LCRA and the San Antonio Water System which, it would appear, will cost the LCRA $18 million raises the question of where LCRA will find the money to pay this $18 million. Will it come solely from its water operations?
Cost per customer rose $400 in two years
Second, the Navigant Report, which investigated and detailed PEC expenditures over the past several years, showed that PEC’s controllable expenses were substantially higher than electric cooperatives with more than 100,000 members (Peer Group). Based upon these Navigant Report data and the new LCRA contract, is the PEC moving aggressively to bring its costs more in line with its Peer Group? The total annual cost per customer rose from $2,005.47 in 2007 to $2,409.68 in 2009, a compound annual rate of growth of 9.6%. This not an encouraging sign that any serious cost-containment is being implemented by PEC management.
PEC is the largest electric cooperative in the U. S. Were the PEC to achieve the economies of scale that its size should produce, electric rates would be much lower. As a result of many years of financial mismanagement, PEC has simply failed to achieve its promise as a low-cost electric cooperative. Only a committed PEC Board of Directors through unambiguous instructions to the PEC General Manager can PEC reduce its excessive expenses.
Third, the Guernsey Study fails to assign cost responsibility in a fair and equitable fashion. Guernsey argues that the failure to implement a $39.90 per customer minimum charge for residential customers – PEC raised the minimum charge to $22.50 – results in large residential customers subsidizing small residential customers. If you use Guernsey’s flawed cost of service and rate design model, that would be the correct conclusion.
What is a fair and equitable rate design model?
However, if PEC implemented a fair and equitable cost of service and rate design model, the result would be that: (1) in the residential rate class small customers would cease subsidizing large customers; (2) in the small power rate class small customers would cease subsidizing large customers; (3) single-phase customers would cease subsidizing three-phase customers; and, (4) customers receiving overhead service would cease subsidizing customers receiving underground service.
From Wimberley Larry Landaker and Patrick Cox,
and Cristi Clement from Marble Falls.
In summary, PEC member-customers do not know one thing and do know two things. They don’t know if their contract with the LCRA is based upon LCRA’s costs of generating and transmitting power, and does or does not include subsidies for LCRA’s water customers. They do know that PEC’s controllable expenses are excessive, based upon comparisons with their Peer Group, as shown in the Navigant Report. They do know that the Guernsey Study is flawed and does not yield fair and equitable rates for electricity.
Only a committed PEC Board of Directors can address and correct these deficiencies. PEC member-customers will not see cost-effective, fair, and equitable electric rates until such deficiencies are corrected.
Merle L. Moden has resided in Wimberley since 1997. Mr. Moden is a retired economist. 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, and served on the Travis Central Appraisal District Board of Review.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Members of the board, from left, Greg Nesbitt (District 2), Jack Hollon (District 5-Wimberley), Doug Wierman-president (District 1), David Baker-vice president (District 4-Wimberley), and Andrew Backus (District 3)
Groundwater is not free to waste! To consider using our precious drinkable groundwater to fill subdivision ponds and water golf courses in the midst of an exceptionable drought is unconscionable
Editor's Note: Much was said, discussed and learned at today's public hearing. We'll be reporting more on the district's efforts to document the effects of the drought, the district's dwindling operating budget and its request to the Hays County Commissioners court for some financial support.
For more background on this report, scroll down to the story titled "Aqua Texas to ask groundwater district for permission to pump 24.5 million gallons more."
Send your comments and news tips to email@example.com
or to firstname.lastname@example.org Visit the groundwater district's web site here.
By Bob Ochoa
City Hall Council Chambers, Wimberley – The five member board of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District voted unanimously today to deny Aqua Texas' request to pump an additional 24.5 million gallons of groundwater for its Woodcreek Phases I & II service areas. The action will effectively hold Aqua at its current permitted pumping limits.
The board also ordered the for-profit water company to come up with a plan in 60 days to start reducing massive amounts of ongoing groundwater losses in its system.
"We want a plan in 60 days, and tell us what you're going to do (to reduce the waste)," board president Doug Wierman told Aqua area manager Brent Reeh, who was seated in the audience.
want his picture taken.
Backus argued that reducing Aqua's currently permitted pumping would "get the attention of the management to reduce the leakage."
By some estimates, Aqua is experiencing up to a 48% loss rate in parts of its Woodcreek system. The Pennsylvania-based parent company, Aqua America, Inc., is publicly traded on the stock exchange. Aqua Texas has nearly 200,000 customers in four major Texas cities.
The groundwater district's public hearing over Aqua's permit was called to order a little after 9 a.m., and concluded around noon. The hearing was heavily attended, with standing room only at one point. Many outspoken citizens came forward to comment for the record – all strongly opposed to allowing Aqua to pump more groundwater in a time of extreme and prolonged drought.
One citizen, Bill Peoples, warned the board and audience, "the issues here are over money. Put the people ahead of the officers of Aqua Texas and Wimberley Springs Partners."
Louis Parks of the Red Hawk Road property owners association told the board that Aqua's request was "obscene, unethical, and it's wrong."
Aqua had withdrawn its request a short time before the public hearing occurred. Mr. Reeh reiterated Aqua's withdrawal at the hearing, but the hearing went on as scheduled, along with some fiery hot comments from citizens. Wimberley Springs Partners had also pulled back its application for additional groundwater for golf course irrigation.
Aside from responding to questions from the board, Aqua (Mr. Reeh) made no public statements or comments for the record during the public hearing. Aqua official Glen Lewis was present, as were Winton Porterfield and a Mr. Johnson, an attorney dressed in a dapper suit with a bright green tie, representing Wimberley Springs Partners. Elected officials in attendance included Mayor Tom Haley, Wimberley Councilman Steve Thurber and Woodcreek Mayor Eric Eskelund. Also present were two officials from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), senior geologist Michael Chadwick, and Brian Dickey from the water supply division. Notably not in attendance were Precinct 3 County Commissioner Will Conley of Wimberley and State Representative Patrick Rose.
Janelle Delaney, with the Woodcreek property owners association, handed over to the board a stack of reports which she said document Aqua system leaks from June '08 to July of this year. The documentation has been shared with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Aqua, Ms. Delaney said, are "chronic wasters of water, the single largest waster in the Trinity and Edwards Aquifers."
Sue, a resident of Woodcreek North II, informed the audience of a $9 million state loan application by Aqua (apparently for system upgrades, as yet unconfirmed by the RoundUp). Sue said a recent Aqua system leak had lost more than 400,000 gallons of groundwater. "These entities must be brought to heel," she said.
Karen Jackson, speaking for the Village property owners association, said, "We ask you to say no to these rapists of our environment."
New Woodcreek Mayor Eric Eskelund invited folks to take a drive through Woodcreek Phase I to see all the parched and brown lawns – evidence, the mayor said, that residents are doing their part to conserve water.
Mr. Eskelund reminded folks that Aqua's pumping directly affects the flow of the revered and iconic and once-mighty natural artesian well, Jacob's Well. "With increased pumping and the prolonged drought, Jacob's Well has completely stopped flowing. When it stops flowing we know we're in trouble."
Curt Busk, with the River Meadows subdivision property owners association, reported two wells going dry in his subdivision. "We don't believe we should pay the price for new people coming in and connecting to commercial water suppliers," Mr. Busk said.
Ed Pope, of the Burnett Ranch property owners association, described the nightmare he is living borrowing water from a neighbor through a 200-foot hose. His well collapsed recently and was forced to drill a new well. "We've had to lower the pump twice and I am still not getting good water." Neighbors' wells, he said, are starting to draw sediment. "I would love to have your wasted water," he told Aqua representatives, and raised a small flyer stating "Waste Not Want Not."
Here's part of a written statement read by Jim McMeans, local organizer of the Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development: "Aqua Texas and Wimberley Springs Partners appear to be working as partners in promoting dense development, unjustifiable use of groundwater, and destruction of aquifer recharge areas. First was the construction of the Wimberley Springs Phase I subdivision with its storm water pond that was filled with over 3,000,000 gallons of groundwater during our current critical drought. The water was supplied by Aqua Texas.
". . . there is a proposal by Wimberley Springs Partners to build another 18-hole golf course. They plan to ask for 45,000,000 gallons of additional groundwater to irrigate the golf course. A perfectly good 18-hole golf course already exists which is irrigated with primarily treated sewage plant effluent.
"The only likely justification for these developers desire to build a second course is to have a site upon which to dispose more treated sewage effluent from the expansion of the Aqua Texas Sewer Plant. The expanded sewer plant would then serve the future subdivision envisioned by Wimberley Springs Partners, who have purchased many of the vacant lots in the undeveloped portions of the original Woodcreek North subdivision."
And David Glenn, a member of the Wimberley planning & zoning commission, read this statement into the record: "We live on the edge of the desert. Many geographers say that 30 degrees north latitude and 98 degrees west longitude is the beginning of the deserts of the Southwestern United States. This location falls in Hays County, near Wimberley, adjacent to the Blanco River in River Mountain Ranch subdivision. Water in this environment becomes a precious commodity and a critical resource. Water is life!
"Groundwater is not free to waste! To consider using our precious drinkable groundwater to fill subdivision ponds and water golf courses in the midst of an exceptionable drought is unconscionable! Over 6,500 private water wells in (western) Hays County depend on the Trinity Aquifer for drinking water. Aqua Texas has treated effluent that it must recycle and reuse, available to irrigate golf courses and fill vanity ponds. Water For People, Not For Profit!"
Wimberley Water Supply Corporation field superintendent Garrett Allen reported that extensive leak repairs and other conservation measures have helped reduce Wimberley Water's groundwater pumping – 4 million gallons less this month than last month. He also asked that the local media, including the RoundUp, not "lump us with Aqua Texas."
Mr. Allen corrected the RoundUp in noting that Wimberley Water does indeed regularly share its pumping and well level information with the groundwater district's staff.
Thanks for pointing that out, Garrett. Wimberley Water is a local member-owned water utility theoretically more responsive to its local customers, while Aqua is a for-profit conglomerate theoretically more responsive to its investors and shareholders.
Maybe the community will consider sponsoring a race to see which of the two utilities could achieve the least amount of waste of our groundwater in the fastest time. And maybe then we'll see who is more responsive to the needs of our aquifer.