Thursday, January 28, 2010

Link up to Rose, Backus campaigns

We have an interesting race forming in the March 2 Democratic primary for State Representative, District 45. You can follow the campaigns of incumbent State Rep. Patrick Rose here: and his challenger Andrew Backus here:

Sumter warns of possible increase in county tax rate

Note: One of the most disturbing aspects of having to listen to commissioners discuss their multi-million dollar projects and the implications on next year's county budget was that nary a word was said about the plight of hard pressed home and business owners. Only Judge Sumter came close. Commissioners speak of tax rates and appraisals – a one or two penny increase in the tax rate – as though it's no big deal. Business owners and average folks speak of 30% drops in sales, meeting the next payroll and layoffs. Many people are living on fixed incomes. Get real guys, you are not 'serving the people well,' as Commissioner Conley so fondly believes, if you are entertaining even the idea of an increase in the tax rate. Let's hear less about what great jobs you're doing and more about how you intend to reduce your expenditures and our taxes.

Send your comments and news tips to or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

By Bob Ochoa
RoundUp Editor

Hays County Judge Liz Sumter warned this week that even in the best of scenarios, including a 2.5 percent growth in property appraisals, the county may be forced to raise its tax rate by slightly less than a penny in next year's county budget.

"If we borrow everything we're scheduled to borrow, we're looking at (a tax rate of) 47.63 cents, based on a 4.5 percent interest rate," Sumter said. "It's a guess, a projection of what we will be looking at. It is a growth rate that I don't think anybody is anticipating."

In worst case projections, with growth flat or a dip of one percent, Sumter says the county is looking at increases in the tax rate of slightly more than a penny, up to 48.11 cents. The current tax rate stands at 46.92 cents per hundred valuation, a 1.42-cent increase from the prior year's budget.

"What I'm hearing from people is that they are already stretched as far as they can be stretched," said Sumter. "I still think the commissioners court hasn't addressed the overall issue of how do you move forward with these projects without increasing taxes."

Commissioners and the judge discussed their options at a mini-budget workshop Tuesday Jan. 26 during their regular meeting, far ahead of their normal budget deliberations that start in earnest in the summer. Their plate is loaded with expensive capital projects, including construction of a $72 million government center, parks and road bonds yet to be sold totaling about $70 million, improvements to the jail and possible construction of a new jail with projected costs of between $50 million and $60 million.

Two years ago, voters approved $207 million in road bonds and $30 million for parks and acquisition of open space. Voters were informed then that approval of the bonds would likely result in a 5.1 cent increase in the county's tax rate, spread out over several years.

"Yes, the citizens had full knowledge the rate would go up for the roads and parks," said Sumter. "However, the variable today is the economy itself. No one could have predicted . . . that the economy would have gotten this bad. Even if the court has dictated to go ahead, the question is whether or not this is the right thing to do at this time. Do I think we should raise taxes? Not at this time. If that means slowing down some of the roads or pushing money to another location, then I think that's what we do."

Much of Tuesday's abbreviated budget discussion centered on whether to proceed with construction of the new government center. The project has not been brought to voters for approval, although county officials pointed out it has been under discussion for several years. Its total cost has been pared back from $90 million to a little more than $72 million.

"We built in the cost in the budget five years ago," said Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe of San Marcos. "If the growth rate decreases or stays flat, in either scenario, we have the money budgeted."

Dan Wegmiller, the county's bond and financial advisor, presented commissioners with a flex bond sale schedule, with one option to sell the entire $72 million in certificates of obligation and another to split the sale over two years at $60 million and $12 million. "At current interest rates we're still at 4.5 cents (portion of the tax rate), or below, so we're within budget," he said.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford of Dripping Springs touted the efficiency the government center will bring to the county by housing many offices and courtrooms in one building. Ford said, "the choice we have today is one big (bond) issue that takes up pretty much all of that 4.5 cents and not leaving much cushion for implications of what our road bond is taking. We could absorb that next year and not have a tax increase next year. It's just a matter of how you manage your debt (issuance)."

Commissioners later voted unanimously, on a motion from Commissioner Ingalsbe, to publish the court's intent to sell $72 million in bonds in late March for the center's construction, with the understanding the sale would be subject to change.

"A week before the sale we'll know what the interest rate will be and come back to the court and go through the same exercise to figure out what the impact will be," said Sumter.

The county's projects building manager Bob Hinkle of Broaddus & Associates, Austin, informed commissioners that a mock up model of the government center is being constructed at the San Marcos Airport.

Commenting generally on the discussion, Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley said, "I want the public to know we're on top of the issues, on the road bond issues, making sure they were fully informed of the worst case scenarios. We're coming in under (cost estimates), we are getting low interest rates and we are getting low bids. Where I think we need to have a thorough discussion, and a real area of concern, is when the costs of the government center, or anything, is going (over budget). There are many paths we can go down. We have planned accordingly and have served the people of Hays County well through those plans."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Woodcreek North petitions county to take over road maintenance

Note: We're checking for more details on what it will cost the county (and taxpayers) to take over maintenance of Woodcreek North's roads. County road chief Jerry Borcherding says that a cost study was done. We can't help but notice Commissioner Will Conley's largese with the taxpayers' money, at large, inasmuch as he seems to have played a central role in pushing for this latest road adoption plan. We have to wonder who or what is pushing his buttons. Nothing against the good people of Woodcreek North, but this does give one pause to ask: How many more private roads will Flash Conley push for adoption before the county's road maintenance bank goes bust or eventually require higher taxes to pay the mounting costs?

Send your comments and news tips to or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Click on photo to enlarge

By Bob Ochoa

RoundUp Editor

About 60 Woodcreek North and Wimberley Springs community residents attending a Property Owners Association meeting Saturday voted to request that Hays County take over maintenance of about 43,000 linear feet, or 8 miles, of roads in WN and Wimberley Springs subdivisions.

The vote followed a petition signed by more than 300 residents, according to WNPOA president, DuAnne Redus.

The petition, Redus said, "affirmed that it would be a good thing for the county to take over the major roads."

Not included in the plan are many more miles of auxiliary roads that will continue to be maintained with POA fees.

Ms. Redus explained that the genesis for the takeover plan and petition came from Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley. "He (Conley) came to the November (POA) meeting and met with the board and said we're willing to do this if I can get it through the court, and it would help if we could get affirmation from the people."

According to Redus, Conley said in response to a questioner at Saturday's meeting that he anticipated taking the road adoption plan to commissioners court within the next 30 days.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Letter writer calls Barton out for "gross misrepresentations"

Note: We received this open letter from Woodcreek resident Ann Merritt. We are not surprised by Commissioner Barton's "gross misrepresentations," a persistent MO of his. We prefer to call them lies, but hey, we also understand that all's fair in love, war and politics. Just a reminder that some politicians are more prone to lying than others and that alert voters can always to do a little fact checking of their own.

Send your comments and news tips to or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Letter to the Editor:

Recently, Hays County Commissioner J. Barton issued misleading statements in his campaign announcement, most of them directed against County Judge Liz Sumter.

In an article printed by the Austin American Statesman on January 4th that was titled "Hays Commissioner Jeff Barton to Run for Judge," reporter Patrick George quoted Barton as follows: "In his speech, Barton criticized Hays for being the lowest-paying county in the region for law enforcement officers and said he'd restore budget cuts to the county library fund and to emergency medical services."

J. Barton said he will restore budget cuts to county libraries.

Fact: There were no library budget cuts. Libraries in Hays County enjoyed a 23% increase in funding since Judge Sumter took office.

J. Barton said he will restore budget cuts to EMS.

Fact: There were no EMS budget cuts. EMS experienced a 29% increase in funding since Judge Sumter took office.

J. Barton said Hays County law enforcement officers are the lowest paid in the region.

Fact: Hays County law enforcement officers are some of the highest paid in the region. Only Austin and Kyle pay more.

J. Barton said Judge Sumter voted to increase county commissioners' pay.

Fact: J. Barton voted for his own 14% pay raise. Then he announced that he was not going to take the pay raise. He subsequently reversed his position, for unknown reasons, and he took the pay raise.

J. Barton's statements contain inaccurate claims, many of which fall into the category of gross misrepresentations. One would hope that those who rise to the level of Hays County commissioners would adopt a higher ethical standard, one that promotes the Public Good and incorporates reality in pursuit of that goal.

I am going to stick with the facts. In fact, I am going to stick with Judge Sumter.

Ann F. Merritt
Woodcreek, TX 78676

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Bylaws and Member Bill of Rights – PEC is open for business

As part of the bylaws revision, we are proposing a Member Bill of Rights – a measure that incorporates open meetings, open records, and fair and open elections into our bylaws . . .

More information and comments on the bylaws and the bill of rights can be found at:

Note: Dr. Cox, of Wimberley, represents District 7 on the Board of Directors of the Pedernales Electric Coop, your power company.

Send your comments and news tips to, to Patrick at, or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

By Patrick Cox, Ph.D.

Guest Commentary

At Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC), we are changing the way we work and do business. At the “New PEC," we are taking an open approach to our governance, operations and policies.

This is not an interim action taken because of the misdeeds of previous coop administrations. These revisions include a complete revision of the PEC bylaws – the rules that govern the affairs of the cooperative and its members.

As an innovative proposal in our revised bylaws, we are proposing a Member Bill of Rights. The Member Bill of Rights is a first-ever initiative that establishes the importance of the principles of openness and fair elections, by making them permanent fixtures at the cooperative changeable only with member approval.

We have embarked on this open approach in order to re-establish trust with our members and the integrity of the PEC. As the PEC board, management and employees have begun this arduous process to restore the reputation and integrity of the nation’s largest electric cooperative, we have chosen to follow an open path – one that provides openness in our communications, meetings, records, as a standard for conducting our business.

The new board, management and employees have faced many challenges in reforming the PEC. In 2008, the Navigant Consulting Company review of the PEC clearly demonstrated that previous boards and management betrayed the membership and tarnished the reputation of the nation's largest electrical cooperative.

The Navigant investigators stated, "The lack of controls and effective Board oversight allowed PEC's former Senior Management to enter into questionable transactions, receive significant compensation, and operate the Cooperative inefficiently, as well as on a basis contrary to the best interests of the Cooperative's members." The mandate to reform the PEC, and to act to protect the membership and the cooperative, could not have been more clearly stated.

We initiated our reforms by changing our process. We now have open meetings. Electric cooperatives are not required by law to have open meetings. In order to change the organization, the PEC board changed our closed-door policy and opened meetings to members, the media and the public. Agendas are posted in advance, meetings are conducted in an orderly manner, and members are allowed to make statements to the board. All of our meetings are broadcast live on the PEC web site.

Like other boards and councils, we have executive sessions for board meetings that are closed to members and the press. The purpose of an executive session is only to discuss real estate, personnel matters, contracts, security and proprietary matters.

Like open meetings, records should be open to members. In the past, previous PEC boards and management withheld information relating to finance, policies and decisions that coop members should have been entitled to review and discuss. Nearly all records and information are now open. We have imposed restrictions on confidential information relating to the corporate and personal records of members that are not released. As part of our commitment, we are placing as much information as possible on the PEC web site to keep our members informed.

We have also reformed the election process. Members nominate directors and can vote in director elections either by mail, online or at the annual meeting. We now have one member/one vote. No member can cast more than one ballot in a director election.

We have opened our bylaw revision process to our members. The PEC bylaws cover issues relating to meetings, directors, elections, and many other member and governance issues. The PEC Governance, Bylaws and Legal committee is currently accepting member comments and suggestions. Information is available on the PEC web site and at local PEC offices throughout the service area.

As part of the bylaws revision, we are proposing a Member Bill of Rights – a measure that incorporates open meetings, open records, and fair and open elections into our bylaws. If these are approved and adopted, only the members will have the ability to make any future changes on these specific issues in our bylaws.

More information and comments on the PEC bylaws and the Member Bill of Rights can be found at:

In the new competitive environment and the evolving era of corporate accountability and media scrutiny, we need to meet the challenge of being open and more responsive. While openness may not always be the most efficient and may sometimes even be embarrassing, a standard of openness and accountability will be a positive benefit for the PEC and its members.

Friday, January 22, 2010

PEC Board: ‘This Cooperative is not for sale’

TO: All PEC-area newspapers
MEDIA CONTACT: Anne Harvey, (830) 868-4933; Austin line, (512) 219-2602

January 20, 2010

Read the whole story at this link:

Johnson City, Tx – Pedernales Electric’s Board of Directors clearly stated at its meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 19 that the Cooperative is not for sale. The Board made this declaration after meeting in executive session to discuss an offer to purchase the Cooperative made by New Jersey-based Quentin Capital Management LLC. In 2008, Quentin Capital also made an offer to buy PEC.

“We remain committed to the position — as previously stated by the Board on Sept. 15, 2008 — that this Cooperative is not for sale,” said PEC Board President and District 6 Director Larry Landaker. The Board directed staff to create a formal response to Quentin Capital and to develop a policy for Board consideration to address any potential future offers.

In other business, the Board heard a report about a new contract that the Lower Colorado River Authority signed with a wind farm near Corpus Christi. PEC’s long-term contract with the LCRA ensures that the Cooperative will be allotted approximately 60 megawatts of power from the new facility. When the wind farm comes online, it will bring PEC’s electric capacity from renewable resources to approximately 277 megawatts.

The Board received an update on the proposed Bylaws revisions and possible creation of a Member Bill of Rights. District 7 Director Dr. Patrick Cox — who is the chairman of the Governance, Bylaws and Legal Committee — stated that the committee will continue accepting feedback until Monday, Jan. 25.

“We are still accepting comments on the proposed bylaws revisions and also are asking for specific comments on the proposed member bill of rights,” said Cox, who directed members to PEC’s Web site for more information.

E-mail your comments on the proposed bylaws revisions to this address:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Aqua files application to expand service area around Woodcreek

Editor's Note: We received word today that Aqua Texas is seeking to expand its service into an approximate 50-acre area about .2 miles northwest of "downtown" Woodcreek. (See copy of notice below, edited for length). By law, Aqua must publish its application to the state to amend its Certificate of Convenience and Necessity in the classifieds section of a newspaper within the general area of the expansion. We thought we'd lend Aqua a hand in getting the word out, just in case the legal notice fails to appear in a local newspaper read by the local folks affected. If you're an enterprising sort, be on the lookout for a "Westridge Legal Notice," or something to that effect, in Hays County newspapers, or farther out, (with general circulations outside of Woodcreek and Wimberley). We're hoping Aqua does not go down the road of trying to camouflage its intentions.

Has anybody got any idea where "downtown" Woodcreek is? We're stumped.

For more details and questions, contact Glen Lewis, Aqua's Corporate Development Coordinator in Austin at 512.990.4400 Ext. 104, or shoot Glen an e-mail . . .



Aqua Utilities, Inc. dba Aqua Texas, Inc., has filed an application to amend CCN No. 11157 with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to provide water utility service in Hays County.

The proposed utility service area is located approximately 0.2 miles northwest of downtown Woodcreek, Texas, and is generally bounded on the north by Coleman Canyon Road; on the east by Mount Sharp Road; on the south by Warblers Lane; and on the west by Elm Street. The total area being requested includes approximately 50 acres and 0 current customers. The proposed amendment affects customers and/or areas located in the following zip colde: 78676.

A copy of the proposed service area map is located at Aqua Texas, Inc., 1106 Clayton Lane, Suite 400W, Austin, Texas 78723 or by calling 512/990-4400.

A request for a public hearing must be in writing. You must state (1) your name, mailing address, and daytime telephone number; (2) the applicant's name, application number of another recognizable reference to this application; (3) the statement, "I/we request a public hearing"; (4) a brief description of how you or the persons you represent, would be adversely affected by the granting of the application for a CCN; and (5) your proposed adjustment to the application or CCN which would satisfy your concerns and cause you to withdraw your request for a hearing.

Persons who wish to intervene or comment should write the:

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
Water Supply Division
Utilities and Districts Section, MC-153
P. O. Box 13087
Austin, TX 78711-3087

within thirty (30) days from the date of this public notice


If you are a landowner with a tract of land at least 25 acres or more, that is partially or wholly located within the proposed area, you may request to exclude the tract from the proposed area (or "opt out") by providing written notice to the Commission within (30) days from the date that notice was provided by the applicant.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Sumter schedules Jan. 26 workshop for reality check on finances, projects, taxes

Are Commissioners willing to raise taxes if we cannot find enough to cut and the devaluation of property is 2 or 3%?

Editor's Note: What's the old saying: The chickens are coming home to roost. Here it means our county commissioners have been on a spending spree the last couple of years, and now find themselves in a heap of financial trouble. Not the least of the chickens is the growing debt from the sale of the '08 road bonds. Judge Sumter is showing real courage to lay it all on the table and ask for input from the citizens. Kudos to her for that. Evidently the advice and actions of her fellow commissioners, up to now, has not been very helpful. Sumter has scheduled a commissioners court workshop Tuesday, Jan. 26 to explore options moving forward. Remembering that there are 5 votes on the court, we see the workshop as a direct challenge to commissioners to wake up to the economic reality that surrounds us all. It will be an interesting dance, but they must address this challenge by reducing costs and debt if they are to avoid handing us another tax increase in next year's county budget.

Send your constructive comments and news tips to, to Judge Sumter at, or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

From Judge Liz Sumter
To Hays County Citizens

People all over Hays County are losing their jobs and homes. Some people have been able to keep their jobs and homes, but they’ve had to tighten their belts.

Your county government should not be any different. In my view, here’s how a prudent person behaves. She thinks in terms of a family budget - what can I really afford among all the needs I have without increasing my already ballooning debt?

As your County Judge, it is my responsibility to lead the court through these uncertain economic times. To do that, I look at the county's needs, as a whole, prioritize them, and then decide what we can afford to do and what might have to wait. I look at national, state and local indicators such as unemployment, employment growth, foreclosure numbers, and sales tax revenues. I also consult with Appraisal Districts throughout the region to get an idea about where property values might go, and I take a good look at social services to see if the service demand is growing.

Here’s the reality for Hays County:

– Unemployment has risen from 3.8% in 2007 to 6.9% in the third quarter of 2009.

– Employment growth has declined from 6% in 2007 to .3% in the third quarter of 2009.

– Foreclosures are up from an average of 100 per month last year to an average of 143 per month over the past four months.

– Sales Tax Revenue has fallen from $9,758,657.29 in 2008 to $9,476,550.80 in 2009, and the decline has continued through the past five months.

– The food bank in Hays County has seen a 20% increase in people needing food in 2009, while corporate donations are down 81% and civic group donations are down 42%.

My conversations with several Appraisal District chief appraisers in the region, including our own, lead me to believe that the best we can hope for is a flat valuation of property this year but more likely a decrease in property values. That means entities that rely on property taxes to fund their services and capital projects will have less money for the same tax rate.

Here’s the challenge:

– Voters have approved roads totaling $226 million dollars ($60 million is borrowed debt).

– Voters approved park projects totaling $30 million ($20 million is borrowed debt).

– The Dacy Lane improvement totaling $8 million is on the drawing board ($8 million is borrowed debt).

– The Government Center, currently estimated at $73 million, is under consideration.

– Cost estimates are being developed for a Jail, as well as Precinct 2 and 3 Offices.

Everything on the list is necessary, but the list, taken in whole, is very expensive — particularly the road and Government Center expenditures. Accordingly, I have asked our team of experts involved in the road and Government Center projects to answer a number of questions, including:

– What are the operational costs of the new government building?

– How many new people would we need to support the building?

– Since the building is not within the budgeted tax rate can it be scaled down?

– Can we shell in some of the courtrooms and spaces?

– If we decide to eliminate a floor how easy would it be to add on in the future?

– If we need to slow down the borrowing on roads, what can be accomplished with what we have borrowed and spent so far?

In the next few weeks, I will be presenting a variety of options to the Commissioners on the Court. Each Commissioner will have to bring his/her best judgment to the table. The specific questions they will have to answer include:

– Should we wait to make a decision on borrowing until we get firm numbers from the Central Appraisal District in April/May? If we do, what does that do for the schedule of the government building?

– Should we stop borrowing on roads for awhile and shift funds to roads we can complete with the money we have on hand now?

– Apart from jail improvements that are tied to compliance issues, should we save our cash and see how much of a cushion that can provide for the next budget year?

– If we decide that building roads, parks, and government facilities is not what we cut, what services should we cut?

– Are Commissioners willing to raise taxes if we cannot find enough to cut and the devaluation of property is 2 or 3%?

My job, as County Judge, is to direct the traffic on the Court, so to speak. When the discussion about these critical issues starts, my job is to make certain that individual Commissioners have the information they need so they can make informed decisions. It is also my responsibility to keep the focus on Hays County as a whole.

I want to hear from you. I have scheduled a workshop for Commissioners on Tuesday, January 26th. The workshop will address these important issues. I hope you will find time to attend. Remember: My office is in the Courthouse, but you — the citizens — own the building.

Trinity Aquifer still unprotected

Comal County Commissioners voted Thursday to tell TCEQ they would prefer to form a district with Hays and Travis counties

Thanks to alert citizen Susan Cook for forwarding this story from the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung.

Read the whole story at this link:

Published January 12, 2010

Comal County Commissioners recommended forming a new three-county groundwater conservation district on Thursday, as they continue to work with the state to protect water within the Trinity Aquifer.

Almost two-thirds of Comal County sits atop the Trinity, and those areas are the only piece of the Hill Country that lack a conservation district to manage and protect water resources.

Groundwater conservation districts were created by the state legislature to manage usage and monitor both the quantity and quality of underground water in Texas. The portions of Comal over the Edwards Aquifer receive protection from the Edwards Aquifer Authority.

Comal County officials have lobbied for the creation of a local district for the Trinity since the 1990s, with voters twice rejecting it at the polls by large margins in 1995 and 2001.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Push poll reportedly linked to Rose is classic political misrepresentation

Note: The voter alert below was making the rounds late last week. Rep. Rose is welcome to contact the RoundUp if he wishes to comment, at, or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story.


Democratic Primary March 2nd

Patrick Rose's push polling operation has started. The calls (at least during this round) are tied to a 555 number, and the caller, if asked, will tell you that he/she is based in Florida.

The call starts out like a typical survey. Have you heard of Candidate X? What is your opinion of Candidate Y? Then the caller reads a list of all the wonderful things that Rose has done. Finally (and this is what it is really all about) the caller starts reading a list of misrepresentations and lies about Rose's opponent, Andrew Backus. That's why it's called a push poll – it sounds like a poll, but it's designed to push you in a certain direction.

This sort of activity is not new to the Patrick Rose team. Remember – one of Patrick's biggest contributors is Bob Perry of Houston. Perry is perhaps best known in political circles as the man who funded the swift boat operation against John Kerry. For more information about Bob Perry and why you should be concerned about Rose's close connection to him, go to: Link to Bob Perry

If you get a call, use your own judgment. Take the call. Give the caller the run around. Tell the caller you know what the game is. It is your choice. Just remember: It's a push poll. It's a dirty campaign trick. And it is classic Patrick Rose.

Citizens are demanding more than dirty tricks, misrepresentations, and ties to special interests. Unfortunately, Patrick Rose has become the poster boy for all of those. Rose doesn't deserve your support. District 45 can do much better.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Members weigh in on PEC bylaws, member bill of rights

Members can go to to see a video of the forum and to learn more about the bylaws and member bill of rights. Members are encouraged to e-mail suggestions or comments before Jan. 25 to

Send your comments and news tips to or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

January 15, 2010
TO: All PEC-area newspapers
MEDIA CONTACT: Anne Harvey, (830) 868-4933; Austin line, (512) 219-2602

Pedernales Electric Cooperative’s Governance, Bylaws and Legal Committee hosted a forum on Wednesday, Jan. 13 to receive member input on possible revisions, updates and improvements to the Cooperative’s bylaws. The meeting also included a discussion of a proposed member bill of rights.

Members of the committee — District 7 Director and Committee Chairman Dr. Patrick Cox, District 4 Director O.C. Harmon, District 6 Director and Board President Larry Landaker, and Advisory Director Lamont Ramage — presided over the forum, and the committee also invited Monica Schmidt, the vice president of National Consulting Group at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, to offer her expertise on governance and ethics.

“The fact that I am sitting here is an indication of the Cooperative’s willingness to look at best practices around the country,” Schmidt said. “It’s very exciting for NRECA to now have PEC as part of the cooperative family.”

Thirteen PEC members addressed the committee on topics such as term limits, single-member-district voting and open records requests. While opinions varied, most of the members praised the Board for hosting the forum and for helping PEC continue its commitment to openness and transparency.

“Last year, I participated in the predecessor to this forum and found it to be a best practice,” said PEC member Dave Collins. “I am delighted to see that practice has been maintained by this committee. This is one of many things that have occurred in the last two years of which we can be proud and which we should continue.”

“Last year, PEC held a forum similar to this to gather information from our members on the Director elections,” said Cox. “We incorporated much of that information into changes in our election process, which we believe was very successful. Actively soliciting input from our members worked so well that we decided to continue this forum.”

The committee will continue to gather additional member comments online and through feedback forms available at all PEC offices. The committee will discuss all member feedback received prior to its next meeting on Monday, Jan. 25.

“The most important thing is to hear from the members,” said Ramage. “We want to hear from members so the right decisions can be made, so our decisions will be your decisions.”

Members can go to to see a video of the forum and to learn more about the bylaws and member bill of rights. Members are encouraged to e-mail suggestions or comments before Jan. 25 to, or mail them to:
 Pedernales Electric Cooperative, Inc.; Governance, Bylaws and Legal Committee; P.O. Box 1; Johnson City, Texas 78636-0001.

Politics 2010 . . . time to re-energize, or repeat of the same old, same old?

The same incumbents get re-elected every year even if they are doing a lousy job. It is an enigma worth viewing and one that needs a solution

Send your comments and news tips to, to Mr. Stern at, or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Note: When it comes to elections and candidates, some of us may suffer from SOBS (Same-Old Burnout Syndrome). Unfortunately, the symptoms are low interest and low turnout at otherwise crucial elections. Because of it, bad apples often get elected that have no business in public office. Sometimes we get lucky. The upcoming March 2 primary is one of those crucial elections. Time to re-energize, get informed and have some fun. There are a few gems among the pile of candidates running, and some real duds. Here's a link to the Hays County Elections Office with candidate information that can get you started:

By Peter Stern
Guest Commentary

November elections and re-elections are less than one year away. The incumbents and candidates are squaring off, starting to play political hardball. History repeats itself and no one seems to learn any lessons from it.

The economy still is a mess at the national and state levels, but there is no shortage of "Elmer Gantry" types promising rain if your land is parched, money if your wallet is filled with cob webs and a much better life if you need one. Heck, most of us do need a better life.

The same old, same old is that we are being offered empty promises.

I am glad to see the "juices" flowing around the nation, even though a lot of it is misplaced anger and arrogance. Many people are getting more agitated and involved. Many want that better life, but few know how to get there. Many are unhappy with our legislators, but there are no clear answers on how to reform our Congress. Also, there are few solutions to cleaning house on the state and local levels.

An ancient Latin saying exclaims: "Belua multorum es capitum" – The people are a many-headed beast, and nowhere is it observed better than in the political arena and especially during election time. The same incumbents get re-elected every year even if they are doing a lousy job. It is an enigma worth viewing and one that needs a solution.

Those who run consistently are wealthy and have special interests. Being wealthy with special interests is one thing, using that wealth and power continuously against the best interests of the community and majority of people is the problem and that's exactly what many career politicians do.

We all see this at the national, state and local levels.

I am a Republican; however, I have always distrusted and disliked this sort of political maneuvering. In particular, I dislike a person professing to belong to one party when in reality, they have a different focus and action plan. It occurs too frequently with Democrats AND Republicans. On the national level, it is like Senator Joe Lieberman, another parasite out for his own good. Much as an unethical used car salesman, he will say and promise one thing, yet will change his story depending on who is listening.

In Texas at the state level, Representative Patrick Rose and at the local level Hays County Commissioner Jeff Barton act with the same longtime practice of deception. They profess to be Democrats and run under that party umbrella, but their voting history and actions show they are NOT Democrats. Historically their actions and voting are as Texas Republicans. However, year after year they get re-elected.

The same old, same old is that this is occurring throughout the nation at all levels of government. The "many-headed beast" still re-elects the deadwood incumbents.

It is the deception by these people and how they do so little for the community good that will have me voting for their opponents. I will vote for the candidates opposing Governor Rick Perry, Patrick Rose, Jeff Barton and others like them.

They are like sharks in a feeding frenzy. They are natural in their habitat, but you don't want to be in their vicinity when they are feeding and doing what comes naturally to them.

They continue to do what they do because we permit it.

I also heard that former Representative Rick Green is running for some office again. Here's the guy who got so angry and frustrated and then physically attacked Patrick Rose. The guy should be in jail, but he's out running for political power again.

"Birds of a feather flock together." Get ready for the same old, same old.

Peter Stern, a former director of information services, university professor and public school administrator, is a disabled Vietnam veteran who lives in Driftwood, TX.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Off Topic, or . . . the ADD ward

Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save.
– Will Rogers

Send your comments and news tips to, to (an agency of the Texas Health and Human Resources System), or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Editor's Note:
Here's a post where you can comment totally off topic to your heart's delight.

From commenter Rocky Boschert: On Thursday evening Visa and Mastercard have now agreed to waive their transaction fees as well for credit card paid donations to Haitian earthquake relief.

From commenter Left the Right Behind:
Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show to NOT send money to Haiti for disaster relief. He said not to do it because the Haiti relief effort would only benefit President Obama and his "light skinned and dark-skinned" Black constituents.

- A skunk insisted he needed neither flight nor strength to frighten off any creature.
- If all is not lost, where is it?

- Living on Earth is expensive, but it does include a free trip round the sun.

- Lead me not into temptation (I can find the way myself).

- It's not hard to meet expenses . . . they're everywhere.

Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.
– Shakespeare

Am reserving two tickets for you for my premiere. Come and bring a friend - if you have one.
– George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill.

Impossible to be present for the first performance. Will attend second - if there is one.

– Churchill's reply

He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know.
– Abraham Lincoln

In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.
– Mark Twain

If you make any money, the government shoves you in the creek once a year with it in your pockets. All that don't get wet you can keep.
– Will Rogers

Rick Perry is a schmuck of infinitesimal proportions.
– Political Mpressions

You Can Lead a Politician to Water, but You Can't Make Him Think.
– Book subtitle, by Kinky Friedman

An economist is a man who states the obvious in terms of the incomprehensible.
– Alfred A. Knopf

It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly American criminal class, except Congress.

– Mark Twain

Government, for protecting business only, is but a carcass,
and soon falls by its own corruption and decay.

– Amos Bronson Alcot

Monday, January 11, 2010

Backus: On a fool's errand, or man with a mission?

Backus cites the need to make government more efficient and less costly, improve our public education system and reduce the embarrassingly high high school drop-out rate – starting with Hays County

Send your comments and news tips to, to Mr. Backus at, or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Andrew Backus
By Bob Ochoa
RoundUp Editor

Andrew Backus is plain spoken. Do not expect polished political platitudes from this man, who some argue is on a kamikaze mission to unseat State Rep. Patrick Rose in the March 2 Democratic primary.

"If you're content with Patrick, fine," Backus, 48, told the RoundUp. "If you're not, then I'm here to serve.

"My position is one of trying to manage things in a sustainable manner, whether water resources or human resources, or any resource. . . . unless we pull together and make better decisions, the sort of status quo vision is to pave over the Hill Country. I don't think that's the quality of life people came here to live."

In response to those who claim he is a one-issue 'save our groundwater' guy, Backus cites the need to make government more efficient and less costly, improve our public education system and reduce the embarrassingly high high school drop-out rate* – starting with Hays County (see links below).

"I've been speaking to teachers and retired school administrators," he said. "The people I've spoken to don't like the standardized testing and the fact that the state is delving into their retirement funds to finance other programs in the state.

"The state doesn't rank well in so many areas (health care and education) . . . the amount of pollution we spit out. The state is advancing at the expense of the environment and its population."

Backus is Rose's first primary challenger in his eight years in office. Rose is shooting for his 5th term and ten years, placing him in that category of office holder that we all start to become wary of right about now – that of career politician.

We might ask, "What good is Rose's experience, tenure and status if he continues to drift away from the interests of the little people who elect him and closer to the people who pay big bucks to keep him in office?"

Backus is a 14-year resident of Hays County, lives in the greater Driftwood area and inside the "enormous" ETJ of the city of Dripping Springs. He is married, 14 years, to Jean Carpenter-Backus, a CPA. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Geology from Washington and Lee University, Virginia; and in 1990 received a Master of Arts in Energy and Mineral Resources from UT-Austin.

We asked Backus, why are you doing this, challenging Rose. What kind of support do you expect to receive?

He said, "I'm trying to come up to speed on the issues and want to represent the constituents. That's just the honest truth on where I am. There's an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with Patrick Rose. In the Democratic base there's a significant portion not happy with his performance. I have no idea who I will get support from. If I don't then the people have spoken and say they're quite happy with the politician that has raised enormous sums of money from outside the district."

Backus says he'll have a web site up and running very soon where folks can follow developments in his fledgling campaign.

IDRA’s annual attrition study finds that in 2008-09, Texas schools lost 31 percent of their students. The same study found the attrition rate in Hays County to be the same as the state rate, averaging 31 percent among Black, Hispanic and White students. See this link:

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Backus to challenge Rose in March primary for state rep

Patrick Rose is not new to the sweetheart deal. Earlier he persuaded the Legislature to create a MUD (Municipal Utility District) that benefited only the owners of the development then called True Ranch

Send your comments and news tips to, to Ms. Hopson at, or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Note: Andrew Backus, former president and current member of the board of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, will challenge Patrick Rose in the March Democratic Primary election for State Representative, 45
th District. We'll have more details later on Mr. Backus's campaign plans and platform. Meanwhile, e-mails have been circulating on the upcoming state rep horse race, like the one below from Wimberleyite Barbara Hopson – an indication of the passions surrounding this race and the incumbent.

See this link for a summary run-down of Hays County candidates:

RoundUp Photo

Backus, far right, is one of the staunchest defenders of the Trinity Aquifer against waste and abuse. The Trinity is the main (and only) water source for an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 residents in western Hays County.


Have you paid an additional sales tax when eating at the Salt Lick? If so, you can thank Patrick Rose, our State Representative. He proposed to the Legislature that they create a single-member taxing district in our area, and the Legislature obliged. That tax district contains only property belonging to the owners of the Salt Lick Restaurant, and the Salt Lick can happily use the sales tax they collect from us to enlarge their facilities and build homes on their property to sell and to suck up water from the aquifer.

Patrick Rose is not new to the sweetheart deal. Earlier he persuaded the Legislature to create a MUD (Municipal Utility District) that benefited only the owners of the development then called True Ranch.

If you don't want more Rose taxes and sweetheart deals, vote for Andrew Backus. He's running against Patrick Rose in the Democratic primary election for State Representative.

Barbara Hopson, Wimberley

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Re-elect Hays County Judge Elizabeth "Liz" Sumter

. . . the fact that Judge Sumter does NOT respond to the finger-pointing, badgering and allegations of Commissioner Barton shows the class she brings to the position of County Judge

Send your comments and news tips to, to Mr. Stern at, or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Editor's Note: We concur with Mr. Stern's observations, and would add that Mr. Barton's attacks on Judge Sumter for supporting a pay raise is a straw man. Barton, we all recall, made headlines back in September '08 when he announced on the commissioners court dais that he would refuse to accept a pay raise, only to slip a note to the personnel office later when the lights had dimmed saying he would take the raise after all. We are also well aware of his disrespect for the state's Public Information Act. Last night at the eleventh hour, Barton announced he will challenge Sumter, a fellow Democrat, in the March primary, for no really good reasons. We suspect he has been cajoled to run by special interest associates who stand to gain substantially with a compadre in the county judge's office. Barton is a fool me once, fool me twice kind of politician. He should not be given the opportunity to fool the taxpaying public any longer.

By Peter Stern
Guest Commentary

Judge Elizabeth "Liz" Sumter just may be one of the more intelligent officials Hays County residents depend on. While we do not always agree on all issues and decisions, I have the utmost respect for her.

In contrast, Commissioner Jeff Barton should cause concern to Hays County voters in considering him for this important position. During his tenure as a commissioner, his allegiances at best have been questionable, as to whether he wants what is best for the county or for his wealthy campaign contributing special interests.

Barton is fond of pointing his finger at Sumter re: voting for Commissioner pay raises, but he himself did little to push aside that proposal.

In addition, Barton has made it quite clear that he has little respect for Sumter and it is interesting that 2 supposed Democrats can NOT get along. It makes one wonder if perhaps Barton has joined the Democratic Party not so much as a real Democrat, but as a means for expediently rising up the political ranks?

In addition, Barton continually overburdens home owners with increasing property taxes, e.g., as when he and Commissioner Will Conley last year pushed heavily for the bond package to build extravagant and questionable road projects that could only positively affect specific sections of Hays County, while billing the entire county for this massive expenditure.

As a prospective future judge, it may be that Barton would like to position himself as a more controlling entity in Hays County on behalf of his wealthy road and development special interests.

Judge Sumter should be re-elected by Hays County residents as she has proven herself to be the best choice for the position after replacing the borderline corrupt and often ineffective rule of former county Judge Powers. She is an intelligent, responsive and fair individual. She is a strong supporter of open government.

In addition, the fact that Judge Sumter does NOT respond to the finger-pointing, badgering and allegations of Commissioner Barton shows the class she brings to the position of County Judge.

Both Sumter and Barton have public records of service, which should be reviewed by the voters before making a major decision that will affect the county's direction and growth for the next several years.

The people would be wise to re-elect Judge Sumter, the best and most proven candidate for the position of Hays County Judge.

Peter Stern, a former director of information services, university professor and public school administrator, is a disabled Vietnam veteran who lives in Driftwood, TX.

Monday, January 4, 2010

County Judge Liz Sumter: '2009 was busiest and most productive ever'

"Looking ahead and planning for the future remains a top priority. The national economy is not yet on steady ground, so we must continue to find ways to reduce our operating budget, while becoming more efficient."

Send your comments and news tips to, or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Editor's Note: We'll add to the judge's year-end 'good news' review that our county taxes were raised a notch in 2009 due to road bond indebtedness. That's the not-so-good news, and not the judge's fault alone. The tax hike came despite all the ballyhoo over the Pass Through road construction financing agreement with TxDOT, and the savings we were supposed to realize. Judge Sumter mentions the county will soon receive its first road rebate check from the state. Our question is, where will the rebate be spent? Will we all get a check in the mail? In an earlier interview, Judge Sumter said the road bond projects are likely to require an additional bump in the tax rate in next year's budget. What good are the rebates from the state if our county taxes continue to climb? That said, we appreciate Judge Sumter's hard-work ethic and her penchant for keeping special interests at arms length. Lest we forget, Commissioners Jeff Barton and Will Conley were the court's biggest promoters of the 2008 road bond referendum. The two now seem comfortable in their roles as TxDOT's most enthusiastic sales reps in Hays County.

To Hays County Citizens
From Judge Liz Sumter

2009 In Review

As your County Judge, I’ve declared 2009 the busiest and most productive year ever. This was the year the legislature was in session, county-wide studies were completed, and implementation began on a number of efforts.

It was an interesting legislative year with much activity and hope, but there were no major successes to report. The 15-county Hill Country County Coalition worked hard to get its bill through the legislature only to have it die in committee. Had the bill passed, we could have moved toward regulating density based on water availability, instituting buffer areas for incompatible land uses, and implementing road impact fees. The good news, however, is that the coalition has re-affirmed its commitment to try again with their first meeting scheduled in February.

The County was successful in securing state and federal grant funding for a regional drainage study that will identify areas that are at risk for damage due to flooding. The study will also allow us to mitigate those damages in advance. Onion Creek and its tributaries will be the first area studied; the Barton Springs area will follow.

On the transportation front, our first pass-through road section was opened in Dripping Springs on US Hwy 290, and I expect to see our first reimbursement check from the state in the late spring of this year. Additionally, three projects in Hays County were selected to receive federal stimulus money — the Buda Main Street Bridge, the RR12 center turn lane from Pioneer Trail to the San Marcos Baptist Academy, and the Buda Truck Bypass Bridge. We may also be awarded additional money later this month for improvements for the intersection of SH21 and High Road.

It was nearly one year ago that I put together a committee of experts and citizens to assess the feasibility of an Alternative Dispute Resolution Center (ADR) for the county. Today, we have an ADR up and running. This center will provide low cost to no cost mediation services for citizens who cannot afford the $200.00 an hour rate that is typically charged by private sector mediators. Hays County is now the 40th Texas County to institute an ADR system.

I remain concerned about healthcare issues in our county and committed to increasing both the quantity and quality of service in that area. The first Federally Qualified Health Clinic (FQHC) opened in January 2009 in San Marcos; the second one will open in June of this year in Kyle. Communicare Health Centers of San Antonio is our partner in this effort. Without Communicare and other private sector health service providers, Hays County would not be as far along as we are today in meeting the healthcare needs of our citizens.

Looking ahead and planning for the future remains a top priority. The national economy is not yet on steady ground, so we must continue to find ways to reduce our operating budget, while becoming more efficient. This year I will be evaluating our data/voice services, energy usage, software age and capabilities, and grant opportunities. I believe we can become more efficient, save tax dollars and maintain our level of service.

As I begin looking at my 2010 calendar, I can’t help but reflect back on all the entries in my 2009 calendar. The weekly Commissioners Court meetings were far outnumbered by meetings that frequently took me out of the courthouse and into areas throughout our county. For example, I logged in more than 294 meetings with citizen groups and public ceremonies. I also counted some 30 presentations or meetings with city councils and independent school districts throughout the county. I attended 50 regional, board and committee meetings, as well as numerous workshops and presentations in conjunction with 50 or so Commissioners’ Court meetings.

I hope you know that my door is always open to you, as are the weekly Commissioners Court meetings. As I always make a point of saying, my office is in the County Courthouse, but the citizens own the building.