Saturday, November 27, 2010

There's more than meets the eye in the county's latest contribution to Jacob's Well

The county will not qualify as a bona fide purchaser for value - but the county is about to put $1.7 million into this deal without having significant title issues resolved

Update, Nov. 29: We had a little confusion about the e-mail obtained by Mr. Davis in his Open Records request. The last three paragraphs have been revised to clarify the information.

We have this insightful update sent from Driftwood area resident and attorney Bill Davis (La Ventana) with information compiled from his own research and observations of the county's funding of the Jacob's Well project. Commissioners, after a very long discussion at their Tuesday Nov. 23 meeting, finally approved additional money for the Jacob's Well Natural Area to acquire an adjacent parcel of land. Davis attended the meeting in which he said commissioners questioned his late-to-the-table interest in the project. Here he adds more background to the all the fun funding and legal hoops the project has had to jump through, and still is apparently.

Please send your comments and questions to Commissioner Conley at, to Commissioner Ford at, and to Mr. Davis at Otherwise send your comments and news tips to or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

By Bill Davis
Guest Commentary

Both (Commissioner Will) Conley and (Commissioner Karen) Ford chose to try to engage in personal attacks rather than addressing the fundamental issues.

First of all, Conley cast this as just "purchasing 51 acres to save Jacobs Well." However, the county was free to do that at any time it wished. Instead, WVWA expected the county to pay a premium price for the 51 acres, give the WVWA 15 of the original 46 acres that the county previously paid for, give WVWA a management contract worth approximately $1 million, convey all the development rights in the land to "The Nature Conservancy" which really offered nothing of value, and pay The Nature Conservancy twice the going interest rate for a "loan." The county could have acquired the 51 acres and kept all those rights for the same prices. This was a gimme yet again to the WVWA and its affiliates.

One not-so-small problem with all of this is that the previous 46 acre purchase (that the county gave WVWA $3 million for but let WVWA retain title) was subject to a 'conservation easement'. The conservation easement absolutely prohibited subdivision of the 46 acres and required that the 46 acre parcel be conveyed in the entirety. SOS has an ownership interest in the conservation easement. In order to "make the deal work," insiders at WVWA and at SOS filed an "amendment" to the conservation easement purporting to allow the 46 acre parcel to be subdivided.

A major problem with this scheme, however, is that SOS is in bankruptcy and the conservation easement is part of the bankruptcy estate. When a debtor conveys an interest in property for less than its value during bankruptcy, such a transaction is known as a "fraudulent conveyance." Bona fide purchasers for value have some protection against a "clawback" due to a fraudulent conveyance. Although the taxpayers of the county did not know, the county, WVWA, The Nature Conservancy, and SOS were all very much aware.

The bottom line is that the county knows that SOS' ability to amend the conservation easement during bankruptcy is in question. FYI, SOS' bankruptcy claim was kicked out of the trial court and is presently on appeal to the 5th Circuit. The oral arguments for that case are going to be heard on December 7, 2010. If SOS wins, then it stays in bankruptcy and the conservation easement is part of the bankruptcy estate. Accordingly, approval from the court is required for this transaction. If SOS loses, then it is out of bankruptcy and the conservation easement is just one of a number of assets that SOS' judgment creditors have a claim superior to that of the county for. In either event, the county's "right" to the 31 acres is in doubt - yet the county commissioners insisted that this deal had to be done "now," etc.

An Open Records request resulted in the production of documents illustrating that county personnel and at least one commissioner had personal knowledge of the bankruptcy of SOS that was not addressed at any public hearings. One such document is an email from David Baker (WVWA) to Will Conley (Commissioner, Pct #3) dated July 2, 2010. This email was forwarding an email communication SOS had sent to Hays County attorney Mark Kennedy, representatives of WVWA, and others. Certainly Conley had knowledge as early as July 2, 2010 and the other commissioners were put on notice no later than November 23, 2010 that there might be problems involving the conservation easement.

Keep in mind that at present SOS' Chapter 11 petition has been thrown out by the bankruptcy court and thus the property is subject to prior claims by the existing judgment creditors. Even if SOS wins on appeal to the 5th Circuit, the bankruptcy court will have the authority to void this transaction. Any entity that does not qualify as a bona fide purchaser for value will have its contribution at risk of loss.

The SOS communication from SOS' president stated "Our view is that Judge Gargotta will do nothing there, pending a ruling by the Fifth Circuit on the bankruptcy appeal. It is not in the Alliance's best strategic interest and we do not believe it would be consistent with our understanding of the law to enter as though no approval were required, into any agreement that would normally require the approval of the bankruptcy court."

Nonetheless, on July 30, 2010 insiders from WVWA and SOS executed an "amendment" to the conservation easement. There was no bankruptcy court approval and no notice to creditors. If this amendment is void ab initio, then the transaction contemplated by the county runs a risk of being unraveled with no clear right to receive the money back. The county is about to put $1.7 million into this deal despite significant title issues. At the very least, surely the county could wait until after the 5th Circuit rules.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Flying public not fond of new tougher airport security procedures

Note: Contributing editor Charles O'Dell says in this e-mail of earlier today he was prepared to ride the bus home from Virginia rather than subject himself to the invasive "back scatter" x-ray scanners and full body pat downs now being done at many big city airports. The media has been reporting widespread distaste of the procedures from the flying public. New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt is one of many lawmakers who are calling on the Transportation Security Administration to explain the new tougher security screenings, their invasions of privacy and potentially dangerous health effects on children and senior citizens or to anyone susceptible to skin cancer.

Update (just now received)
: O'Dell called to say he's taking the bus tonight for a day and a half ride back to Austin.

Send your comments to, to Mr. O'Dell at, call Congressman Holt's office 202.225.5801 ( or click on the "comments" below

O'Dell's e-mail to Congressman Holt, copied to the RoundUp

I read your November 19th letter to Administrator Pistole regarding body scanners and pat downs at airports and was heartened by your stance against the necessity, lack of proven efficiency and violation of 4th Amendment rights and personal decency.

Neither of these procedures is in our Austin airport but I will be flying out of BWI today where I may encounter both. I have vowed to take a bus back to Austin, Texas before submitting to a device that may increase the incident of basal cell carcinoma (I had two removed) or being patted down in the manner that violates my personal rights.

Your letter has strengthened my resolve to stand firm against this mindless bureaucratic path that gives comfort to our enemies by making us a fearful nation.

I hope all goes well at BWI today but I will not submit to this attack on our personal freedom in the false name of security.

Thank you for your active stand and request for clarifications.

Update: Commissioners pass Jacob's Well, Nicholson Ranch, Harrison Park

Toward involvement, anyone wanting to get together and do some serious budget analysis with me, I'm looking for some help . . .
I'd like to submit a citizens budget to the County, and generate some public conversation about it

Note: Just a quick one to say the RoundUp has a generally favorable view of the county's long range habitat conservation plan. If bonafide wildlife habitat is identified and not purchased at inflated prices, it could have a double good effect: Preserving land for endangered songbird species and taking land out of the market that if otherwise developed in the conventional method could wind up costing taxpayers a whole lot more to support – higher appraisals, roads and schools.

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

By Sam Brannon
Special Report

This was a big week at the Hays County Commissioners Court meeting. There was lots of spending on the agenda. In a lame-duck session two days before Thanksgiving, that spells trouble.

For those of us with "less taxes and less spending" on our minds, Tuesday was a pretty rough day. And a long one, too, twelve hours gavel-to-gavel, ending at 9pm.

I and others spoke against the
$5,000,000 Nicholson Ranch contract that was signed last week. We asked that the County allow the deal to die quietly and forfeit the $100,000 earnest money contract, and pocket a $4.9 MM savings. I have continued to speak against Nicholson because it's a really bad use of taxpayer dollars.

Unfortunately, the deal may have closed even before the Thanksgiving holiday officially began. I don't like it for many reasons, including the price, the lack of necessity and the fact that it serves no real purpose for the People of Hays County. It's classified under conservation, but the real conservation value is suspect as far as I can tell. It allows the bulldozing of endangered species habitat in one area if you buy "credits" from land that's already being conserved by conservation landholders. Conceptually, I file that under "maybe kinda works," if you do it just right. In real life that "just right" rarely happens in the hands of government.

A few years ago, counties began implementing the habitat mitigation banking programs, similar to the "cap and trade" model. The 1,000-acre Nicholson Ranch purchase is Hays County's first step into the habitat purchase plan outlined in the Hays County Habitat Conservation Plan (HCHCP), which has yet to receive final approval from U.S. Fish and Wildlife. To put this in perspective, let's say that Hays County has 200,000 people. $5,000,000 is a $25 tax requirement for every man, woman and child in this county, plus interest on the bond. And that's just the first 1,000 acres.

The goal is 32,000 acres (50 square miles), or 7.4% of Hays County. They will be limited or no public access to these areas, so they are "parks" that you can't play in. All that for over $800 dollars in tax from every man, woman and child, or $3,200 for a family of four.

My biggest objection to the County-run habitat mitigation plan (and to the Nicholson Ranch deal) is that this is not essential County business. Roads, law enforcement and elections are County business. Not land purchases with taxpayer dollars. There are many other ways that local governments can participate in and guide the process, but using taxpayer dollars will substantially hurt most Hays County residents. According the the HCHCP, Hays County can expect "moderate adverse financial effects" by implementing the plan that is proposed.

I love the outdoors, appreciate a good hike, and am more than a little disappointed that I couldn't make my hike today at Purgatory with a very good guide - I love that place. There are obvious reasons to take conservation of habitat and water seriously, but we'd be well-served to be very conscious about it, rather than to jump behind anything labeled "green" or "sustainable." The price for not paying attention is too high.

The next few years promise to be difficult years financially for the County, and for the people who call Hays County home. There's enough fluff in the budget to meet all of our obligations, and still find room for some nice tax cuts for 2012. Most of the people I know want less taxes from their cities and school districts, too. Whether or not we get this tax relief is not up to President Obama, or even our County Commissioners. It will be up to us.

Jacob's Well project passed with a 4-1 vote. Jacob's Well is a treasure, and needs to be preserved, no doubt. But the fact that this item was discussed for 7-plus hours Tuesday should tell you there was some complexity and resistance to the deal, and I feel that resistance was warranted. In the end the momentum on the court won and the deal was approved, but there were some very concerning questions left unanswered. One attendee suggested to the commissioners that "you're stepping into water, and you don't know how deep it is."

The Harrison Ranch Park (City of Dripping Springs, sponsored by Pct. 4 Commissioner Karen Ford) passed 5-0, the only new project to get funding that day. The rest of the Parks Bond money has already begun to be negotiated.

There will be a public meeting on changes to the On-Site Sewage Facilities (OSSF) regulations on December 21. If you're a landowner with an interest in septic systems, you won't want to miss it.

The real bright light for me was that about 120 people attended the meeting, and it was SRO. Not bad for two days before Thanksgiving. That number included a lot of folks in support of their favored parks projects, naturally, but all in all, I was pleased with the participation from folks who want our County government to start saying "No" from time to time. I thank everyone who came out, regardless of their objective. The more involved we become in the process of government, the more likely we are to be satisfied with the results.

Toward involvement, anybody wanting to get together and do some serious budget analysis with me, I'm looking for some help. I need some folks that enjoy the detail aspects of it to help bucket up some numbers, and others with either interest or experience in County government operations and budgeting. I'd like to submit a citizens budget to the County, and generate some public conversation about it. Let me know if you can help.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Groundwater district update: Bank thief wired money to Dallas, Wisconsin

The RoundUp has learned that David Baker is the member of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District Board of Directors who someone impersonated in a bank fraud theft of $17,500 of District funds in early November. A source familiar with the investigation told us the money was wired to banks in Dallas and Wisconsin.

The bank theft was announced at the District's board meeting Thursday of last week.

District General Manager Rick Broun said Wells Fargo Bank of Dripping Springs reimbursed the District the full amount and the bank is conducting it's own investigation of the theft. As of today, he said the Sheriff's department had not reported any suspects.

The impersonator did not access the groundwater district's bank account electronically with a log in name and password. Someone apparently contacted the bank by phone, identified himself as David Baker and used Baker's Social Security number to confirm his identify.

We have a call in to Mr. Baker to ask him who in the world he thinks might have impersonated him, using his SS number, to rob the groundwater district's bank account of $17,500.

In other matters, District board president Jimmy Skipton told the RoundUp today he has no intention of posting his bio on the groundwater district's website as he was pointedly requested to do by a citizen at the board's Thursday meeting (scroll down to the story and video). Too much risk these days of identity theft, he said.

Skipton is the only board member of the 5-member board of directors who does not have a bio posted on the website. His cell number and e-mail address are posted though. Folks can give him a call and talk about groundwater issues that are before the board any time, he said. He suggested we ask the other board members why they don't have their cell phone numbers listed.

Skipton said he hopes to add more information on future meeting agendas, including a brief backgrounder on individual agenda items. The bare bones agenda now provided to the public at the board's monthly meetings was another issue that came under criticism by citizens.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Commissioners' holiday shopping list will make you blush

The People of Hays County spoke in the last election against "business as usual," and I'm suspicious of the efforts to push all this stuff through 2 days before Thanksgiving. This agenda does not reflect the will of The People, and it's obvious we'll have to show up strong to assert our will

Editor's Update, 8 p.m. –
We are informed that the Swimberley park project scored second from last in the county's parks and open space advisory board's review; and the shooting range project (not mentioned in this report) landed at the bottom of 12 projects, with a score of 50.1. We're also picking up that an agreement between members of the current and newly elected court members to put off approval of all pending parks projects until the new court is seated is unraveling over a push to approve the $1.7 million Jacobs Well project and possibly the highest scoring (84.6) Harrison Ranch Park, $1.7 million, City of Dripping Springs. Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley is said to be gaining traction as the court's lead deal maker (and spender). The two projects, along with the proposed $5 million Nicholson Ranch acquisition, essentially will close the book on the remaining funds in the county's $30 million parks and open space bond fund. Voters passed the bond in 2007 in a small turnout (11% of registered voters, 6,963 For | 3,286 Against).

Note: San Marcos resident Sam Brannon (originally of the Woodlands) quickly dived into local community activism when he returned from a 5-year tour of Europe, including a couple of years in Turkey where he was an English instructor. He took a gambit at running for Congress as an Independent, 25th District, but didn't make it on the ballot. One of Mr. Bannon's most recent public stands was against Pct. 2 County Commissioner Jeff Barton's campaign for County Judge, with a particularly poignant standoff at Barton's late October Kyle "Showdown" with his critics.

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

By Sam Brannon
Guest Commentary

Self-government never has been easy. I was talking with a friend this weekend about the County "business" going on. She asked, "Where are all the big people who should be stopping this?" My response was, "We are They." She got the point. I hope you get it as well, and support our efforts for honest, open and responsible government.

We need your help tomorrow at the Commissioners Court meeting. We need you there, with a friend or two. We need a statement from everyone willing calling for "No Action" on the following:
Nicholson Ranch, in Open Comments. Agenda Items #11, 12, 13, 17, 18, 21 and 23 (details below).
The agenda has been updated to include other Parks Bond projects, and other items of concern. It can be found at this link:

On the Parks Bond

Nicholson Ranch is under contract, and I've been speaking weekly against it. It's a terrible use of $5 million in taxpayer obligations, and it's basically a developer subsidy in the cover of "sustainable development" (on a thousand acres in far western Hays). This is NOT an agenda item, and I / We will be speaking on it in open comments at the beginning of the meeting, and we'll be pushing for "No Further Action," letting the contract expire without closing.

The Swimberley Project is essentially a county-wide funding project for a Wimberley High School swim center. It's saddled with problems, including its association with Aqua Texas, the local water utility that wastes half of the water they pump. Aqua Texas is also slated to handle the wastewater though they have ZERO capacity to do so. Another ugly deal. This and other new items fall under Item #11 on the agenda, and again we'll push for "No Action" on this and other new projects.

The Jacobs Well Project has its issues, including that about 15 acres of it looks to be headed to private hands, and in which the conservation restrictions could be unilaterally removed on this parcel. The county has already invested millions but best we can tell, has little to show for it among the various transactions that have taken place. This is Item #21 on the agenda, and we'll push for "No Action" on this.

Other deals on the agenda that we want to stop

Item #18, buying land for the Pct 2 Commissioners' office (Kyle/Buda) - I can't figure out why Commissioner Barton is trying to buy land for an office when he will no longer be on the Court as of January. This must stop.

Item #17
, hiring K. Friese and Associates for engineering work for U.S. Food's road. This was a very controversial deal, and it can wait until the new court convenes in January.

Item #23, taking the CR 266 right-of-way purchase into Executive Session. I can't figure out why they want to build a 4-lane road on a lightly traveled 2 lane on the edge of the County, that connects pretty much nothing to pretty much nothing. I drove it yesterday, and am thoroughly at a loss on this one. This can wait for the next court.

Item #12, expansion of Purgatory Creek. This may be an excellent project, but it can certainly wait for the new court.

Item #13, proposed changes to County development regulations. 'll support this only if the public hearing is after January 1.

Milton Friedman reminded us that there is no political freedom without economic freedom. We're being taxed to oblivion by all levels of government today, and this needs to stop if we wish to remain free people.

The People of Hays County spoke in the last election against "business as usual," and I'm suspicious of the efforts to push all this stuff through 2 days before Thanksgiving. This agenda does not reflect the will of The People, and it's obvious we'll have to show up strong to assert our will.

I think the votes we'll need will be found among Commissioners Ingalsbe and Conley, and Judge Sumter, if they are to be found at all. Please call and write them today, and show up tomorrow for a civil - and emphatic - conversation with them.

Last thing, and just to be clear, I am not anti-development, and I am not anti-conservation, though I've been accused of both. I am neither Republican nor Democrat or Libertarian or Green. I am all about honest, open and responsible government, and about getting out from under mounds of debt our governments have placed us under. This starts here at home in Hays County, and tomorrow can be a big day if we make our voices heard.

No more asking "When will they stop this?" We are They.

Pass the word, and please join us 9am at the County Courthouse on the San Marcos square tomorrow, 3rd floor. Sign up sheets to speak are to the right of the door as you enter. Get there 15 minutes early, and we'll help get you set up to speak if you wish, or we can speak on your behalf.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hays Trinity Groundwater District 101 - Its Authority and Management Options

Note: If you're into public affairs and education, please forward this video to anyone you know who has asked, "What's a groundwater district?"

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

Local musician accused of sending "disturbing" e-mail explains and apologizes

The RoundUp made contact yesterday with accomplished local musician and guitarist Slim Richey. He forwarded the e-mails below to help explain things, including an apology. Richey was accused - unfairly we think - as having sent a threatening e-mail to members of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District Board of Directors. The accusation was made by the District's board president Jimmy Skipton (District 1 - Henly) in front of a large crowd Thursday afternoon at the Wimberley Community Center
(see story & video below). Skipton said Richey's "disturbing" e-mail had been referred to the Sheriff's Office. Richey was not present. Richey, we know, is not a "disturbed" person nor dangerous.
Slim Richey
Visit Richey's website where you can follow his schedule of musical engagements:

Send your comments and news tips to, to Mr. Richey at, to Mr. Skipton at, to board member Mrs. Jernigan at or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Bob, I sent an apology letter to the three people I had emailed. I copied you on it. You have permission to reprint it.

Slim ~ Not Really Dangerous Guitarist in Texas

Original e-mail to board members . . .

From: Most Dangerous Guitarist
Date: November 15, 2010 10:45:16 PM CST

Subject: Wasting ground water.

Hey Jimmy, David and Joan,

Your names were given to me as persons who want to waste ground water. I protest and think you should be ostracized for this. I've pledge to do this. I'm for conserving water. I'm told you are putting profit over the general welfare of society. Perhaps the water is on your own property and as such, it belongs to you. But wasting it is unnecessary and we all pay for the unnecessary shortages you cause. I will pass your names to others and recommend forceful action. Your names are known by the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) and activist Brenda Freed.

Slim ~ Most Dangerous Guitarist in Texas

Apology e-mail . . . sent Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010

To Jimmy, David and John (Joan),

Let me assure you that I am not violent, don’t recommend violence and that my being a dangerous guitarist is because I play explicit notes. That’s my regular email signature and not designed to intimidate you, though I can see I should have edited it in this case. Back-ground on this matter: I got a letter from Brenda Freed saying that some bad people were wasting ground water. I asked her who was doing it. She sent me three names.

So I didn't apologize to David because I didn't think he got the email. It was returned as undeliverable. I've known David for a long time. I was surprised that he would be listed as someone wasting ground water. The other two, I didn't know so I was taking Brenda Freed at her word.

The forceful action I recommend was one of protest and political action and not one of violence. See my above letter to Brenda about protesting forcefully, (but not armed protest)!

Origin of Richey's moniker . . .

My moniker, the "Most Dangerous Guitarist in Texas" wasn't just on my email to these guys but it's my regular signature. I played guitar for the Jazz Pharaohs for about 15 years. I was introduced as Slim Natural Smiles Two-tone Shoes Richey, the most dangerous guitar player in Texas, banned in Pflugerville and Sun City. For any one naive enough to ask Stan Smith why I was banned, he would say for playing explicit notes. The joke was kinda like if you want to sell a book or movie or music, it's best if someone calls it dangerous and it's banned.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Groundwater district meeting draws record crowd, and a strong rebuke from citizens

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

Here's the link to the groundwater district's website:

By Bob Ochoa


The Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District Board of Directors met yesterday at the Wimberley Community Center. Too bad if you missed it. To say the meeting was "lively" would be an understatement.

More citizens were in attendance, more members of the media were present and more video cameras were rolling than had ever been seen at a Board meeting in the District's near 10-year existence.

The meeting started with a real shocker. District General Manager Rick Broun announced that in early November someone impersonating a member of the board had illegally withdrawn more than $29,000 from the District's Dripping Springs bank account. (See it in the video below.) Then board president Jimmy Skipton issued a warning to the public to be careful about sending threatening e-mails to board members, citing one worrisome named e-mail in particular.

More than half of the marathon 5 and 1/2 hour meeting was consumed by citizen comments, many delivering stern reminders to the board of its main mission to preserve, protect and prevent the waste of groundwater.

It was plainly evident that people are waking up to the crucial role of the District's 5-member Board in managing the Trinity Aquifer's finite groundwater resources in the western half of Hays County – virtually the sole source of water for an estimated 35,000 inhabitants.

Drawing a lot of attention of late is a contentious and controversial proposal by the District and its sister groundwater districts in the Hill Country (Groundwater Management Area 9) to allow a 30-foot drawdown of the aquifer over the next 50 years. (You can go to the RoundUp's report of the board's last meeting here for more details. Or enter Hays Trinity in the blog search window in the left hand column.)

Click on map to enlarge
The aquifer's underground water reserves reportedly are being pumped faster than they can be replenished by normal rainfall – already, conservation advocates say, there too many users and too much water being withdrawn. Another school of thought contends there is plenty of water beneath the ground and plenty of recharge from annual rainfall.

The two sides are colliding. Perhaps the best course is set by the old dictum: Better to be safe than sorry.

Public attention has become particularly acute since the drought of 2008-09, and the results of the election in May of three new members to the board. They include board president Skipton of District 1 (Henly and the western environs of Dripping Springs); Joan Jernigan, District 5 (Wimberley and environs); and board treasurer Mark Key, District 3 (Dripping Springs eastern and southern environs).

The seats of the two other members -- David Baker, District 4 (Woodcreek and western environs) and Greg Nesbitt, District 2 (Dripping Springs north) will be up for election in May of 2011.

The board's current makeup is weighted more heavily to representation from the Dripping northern region than to the southern Wimberley/Woodcreek region, 3 seats to 2. This is why clashes on the board over management policies and political views
, since the May election, are being characterized increasingly as a showdown between the Dripping Springs and Wimberley contingents.

Here's a video of the citizen comments portion of the meeting. If it is slow to load let it play to the end then replay it without interruption. We'll have more coverage of the meeting in upcoming posts.

LCRA Water Utility News - Sale of Retail Water Assets Planned

The following report was sent by Andrew Backus, who until last May served as a director on the board of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (District 3). He remains very much in the mix. Backus says he heard about LCRA's decision to sell its retail water systems and followed up to confirm. See the press release. At this point we can only speculate that private for-profit water companies will begin snatching up these small water utilities. To the future owners' customers, we say, woe to you and good luck.

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

At the LCRA Board meeting on Nov. 17, 2010 a resolution was passed directing management to seek bids for the sale of their 30 retail water systems as a complete package so that the LCRA may focus on wholesale water and electrical power generation and distribution. This information was confirmed by telephone with Heather Richardson, Public Affairs Representative for Hays, Caldwell and Llano Counties, LCRA, yesterday morning. A press release is pending at this time.

I did not attend the meeting but it is fairly safe to say that LCRA is not interested in selling these assets because they are proving profitable for them. LCRA water customers must also know that alternative water supplies that are envisioned for the Hill Country and Central Texas will cost at LEAST 3 to 4 times what water from the Highland lakes costs. Maybe LCRA just doesn’t want to fight the fight of charging customers what it really costs to operate a water utility? Which means any new system owner is guaranteed to have to raise rates to operate profitably.

Woodcreek, Texas (just north of Wimberley) is facing the dilemma of an aging water system (owned by Aqua Texas) that needs $5-million of rehabilitation to come within industry standards for water loss that will be paid for by substantial water rate increases. LCRA owns 30 such systems, with some degree of the same problems that no longer seem so valuable now that the building boom has slowed. The value of these utilities is their monopoly service area and the State law that allows them to raise rates that cover the cost of operations. The risk to the utility is: Can those served afford to pay the necessary rates to keep the system operating within State and Federal laws?

All of a sudden rainwater systems and individual water wells are going to become even more interesting for those in need of water.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

$10 million Swimberley proposal under review – is it viable?

Note: An alert citizen sent this report to the RoundUp. The Swimberley proposal has been floating around for quite some time and has finally come up for review, in line with several other projects, by the county's parks and open space panel. Final scoring of the projects, we are informed, was completed Wednesday night. Carl Owens, a Wimberley resident and a chief advocate for the estimated $9.5 million 10-acre swim park, butted heads with county commissioners this summer, claiming the review and approval process for county parks and open space projects ($30 million total) was fraught with political favoritism for projects hand-picked by commissioners. His criticism caught their attention and now his project has become a contender for a portion of the $3 million remaining in the park bond fund. While the project has some merit and positive community aspects to it, serious questions remain as to the project's long term financial viability and sustainability, its water supply source and others noted in the report below. We welcome responses from the project's coordinators and supporters.

Send your comments and news tips to, to Mr. Owens at Swimberley, to Commissioner Will Conley at, to County Judge Liz Sumter at, or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Dick Whipple, on the Board of Directors of Swimberley, gave a Power Point presentation about the proposed Wimberley Aquatic Recreation Park at the Wimberley Community Center Wednesday night, Nov 17. Presentations were also scheduled at 10:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 18.

The WARP was incorporated as a non-profit 501(c)3 entity on November 1, 2005. It has an eight-member Board of Directors and an Advisory Board.

They propose to build a recreation center on 10 acres near the intersection of Jacob's Well Road and FM 2325, on the south side of 2325. The land would be far enough south of 2325 that noise from cars would not be heard at the center, stated Whipple. He was not willing to state from whom the land would be purchased or donated.

The total project includes far more than merely swimming pools. There would be pavilions which could be rented for private events, horseshoe pits, concessions, 3/4-mile walking/jogging trail, and a 3,000-square foot "fitness area," plus bleachers from which spectators would watch swim meets.

The entire project seems designed to be a swimming venue for the high school swim team primarily. Indeed the Power Point program included a voice over comment from Wimberley school Superintendent Dwain York about how beneficial the Aquatic Center would be for the high school. The center would be used for area swim meets. And obviously as a practice venue for the high school swim teams.

To make the swim center more palatable to the public, Swimberley has added the other amenities. Whipple stated that "pools lose money, traditionally," and that Swimberley needs the other features to rent out and otherwise bring in more revenue. (Based on the non-success of the Wimberley Community Center as a money-producing entity, it's hard to see how WARP believes it can do better.)

One audience member who regularly swims at Barton Springs in Austin stated that the proposed dome-covered, 8-lane indoor pool doesn't seem very appealing. There are very few windows in the building, by design. Those who envision swimming in the open air and getting a tan will be disappointed.

The main building will be 41,000 square feet. There will be an elevator in it. The center will be open 7 days a week. The cost of the project will be over $9.5 million, not including the land. Whipple stated that the land could cost $1 million more ($100,000 an acre).

Though the project's website ( states that the project will provide construction jobs, how likely is it that a local builder will be chosen to put up the unusual domed, round building?

If the center should open, Whipple stated that there probably would be 4-5 salaried employees, 5-6 full-time hourly employees, and 25-35 part-time hourly employees. Some of the hourly employees might be high school students, he said.

The water supplier for the center would be Aqua Texas. That fact alone is troubling, in that Aqua Texas already is committed to process more wastewater than its facilities can handle.

(Remember the frac tank at Woodcreek North? And with Wimberley Springs Partners' proposed new subdivision near the new elementary school on tap, Aqua's well pumps are going to be going full speed around the clock.)

There will be daily use fees and monthly-plan fees at the center. To visit the center one day will cost $6 for adults and $4 for each child. Monthly passes will cost $40 a month for an individual and $74 for a family pass (up to 5 people).

Swimberley has asked Hays County Commissioners Court for $2 million from the Parks Fund. Commissioners have not yet decided whether to allot the money to Swimberley or to other projects. The project is under review by the county's parks and recreation panel. Even if commissioners decide to award Swimberley a $2 million grant, that still leaves at least $7.5 million more to raise to complete the project. And will the county have to spend more of our tax dollars each year to keep the project afloat?

Water a potential big issue in next legislative session

The story below by Kate Galbraith takes another look at the growing importance of water matters in Texas. We'll try to contact newly elected State Rep. Jason Isaac of Hays County for his views. Meanwhile, the local Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District Board of Directors meets today at the Wimberley Community Center at 4 p.m. The District's long term aquifer management plan (Desired Future Conditions required by the Texas Water Development Board) will again be on the agenda and open for public comment. Also on the agenda is possible action on a water waste agreement with Aqua Texas, and possible action on granting of three-year pumping permits for Aqua, Wimberley Water Supply and Dripping Springs Water Supply.

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

Read the complete story in the Texas Tribune at this link:

By Kate Galbraith
November 17, 2010

Next legislative session, during the few minutes not taken up with the budget, redistricting and immigration, an old stand-by of an issue could creep onto the agenda: water.

Observers say legislative proposals on groundwater rights are probable, given that Texas is just wrapping up a controversial process for planning the allocation of water from aquifers, while environmentalists will be pushing more measures for water conservation.

The discussions will be amplified because the Texas Water Development Board, which finances water and wastewater infrastructure projects around the state, is up for review by the Sunset Advisory Commission, as is the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which regulates water pollution.

Water "should be an important issue in this next session," says Russell Johnson, a water law expert with the McGinnis, Lochridge & Kilgore law firm who has done work for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and the Texas Wildlife Association on groundwater-related matters. However, he adds, "whether it will be or not in light of all the other things that are happening this legislative session is an open question."

Last session, one of few notable water-related bills to pass was a conservation bill carried by state Rep. Allan Ritter, D-Nederland, that tightened water-efficiency requirements for toilets sold in Texas, as well as for faucets or shower heads. (The only other state to enact similar requirements for toilets is California.)

The biggest water issue before the Legislature is likely to be balancing the long-term health of Texas' aquifers with property rights. The state has just completed an intensive planning process, established by the Legislature in 2005, in which local authorities decide how much they will allow their aquifers to be depleted in 50 years (the resultant numbers are called the "desired future conditions" of the aquifers).

The Texas Water Development Board is processing these aquifer-depletion numbers and will soon send back to local authorities calculations on how much water per year they can draw down, given their 50-year outlooks.

Ms. Galbraith
reported on clean energy for The New York Times from 2008 to 2009, serving as the lead writer for the Times' Green blog. She began her career at The Economist in 2000 and spent 2005 to 2007 in Austin as the magazine's Southwest correspondent. A Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University from 2007 to 2008, she has an undergraduate degree in English from Harvard and a master's degree from the London School of Economics.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dripping Springs Water Supply members, board on a collision course

With a history of attempted takeovers by the City of Dripping Springs, the revelation by
Brewer that he had recruited Dripping Springs Mayor Todd Purcell to serve on the Employee Code of Conduct review committee stirred considerable concern among
DSWSC members

Send your comments and news tips to, to Mr. O'Dell at, call the Dripping WS at 512-858-7897 or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Note: Things are heating up between the member-customers of the Dripping Springs Water Supply Corp, its management and board members. Charles O'Dell has been following this story for well over a year of an internal feud that is costing the city's water supplier tank loads of money on legal expenses alone, not to mention the cost of severely frayed relations all the way around. In his third installment, O'Dell reports that things are coming to a head – and it may mean the head of board president Steve Harris.

A rising tide of public reaction

By Charles O'Dell
Contributing Editor

Those in the audience were shaking their heads in disbelief as the Dripping Springs Water Supply Corp (DSWSC) board meeting adjourned at their last meeting on Nov. 1. Board member Jim Walden had been stranded in San Marcos with a failed pickup transmission, and DSWSC General Manager Doug Cones had been called out on an emergency, leaving only four board members in attendance to address agenda items. The meeting provided some unexpected fireworks.

During Citizens Communications a former DSWSC board president stood up and implored the current president, Steve Harris, to stop his infighting because it was damaging the corporation’s reputation and interfering with its operations.
Board member Brewer
& president Harris

Another speaker pointed out the inherent conflict of interest in having board member Larry Brewer, a Harris ally, head up a committee reviewing the Employee Code of Conduct adopted at the October board meeting after Brewer had made a motion at the September meeting to fire the GM and two of his office employees. “How can you be objective in reviewing an employee code of conduct when you are trying to fire those employees?” the speaker asked.

An expensive harassment cover up

This code of conduct for DSWSC employees and another code for the board were both prepared by outside attorney Phil Haag. This was in response to an investigation orchestrated by Haag to deal with a year old harassment complaint filed against Harris by an employee who Brewer unsuccessfully tired to fire during the September board meeting. The investigation report has not been made public or even shared with the employee who filed the harassment complaint against Harris. Instead, it appears Harris and Haag have tried to bury the complaint behind the board’s code of conduct actions.

The board went into executive session just to discuss an invoice from Haag in the amount of $10,700, reportedly in payment for the harassment investigation. According to the Open Meetings Act, such a discussion should have been held in open meeting. This invoice brings legal costs for eleven months to over $125,000. According to public records, little of that cost was for legal counsel. Most of the $125,000 was for non-legal services requested by Harris that could have been obtained for little or no cost from more appropriate sources.

Eliminating transparency and accountability

A third public speaker urged the board to reinstate notice of board meetings on monthly customer bills so members were better informed. Board president Steve Harris, under pressure for his harassing tactics, pushed through a motion at the September board meeting removing that notice to members. Member attendance at board meetings has increased substantially as word of Harris’ disruptive actions spread.

And as if to address Harris’ refusal at the October meeting to accept the outside financial audit, a CPA in the audience remarked that he had reviewed the audit report obtained through an open records request and found the audit to be in good order.

Harris has repeatedly said or implied there are accounting irregularities (none of which Harris could substantiate) and that Cones is trying to cover them up. At the October board meeting Harris claimed personal knowledge of accounting mistakes and said that he personally signed checks for major capital expenditures that records show he didn’t sign. Harris also claimed check amounts that records show were incorrect on checks that Harris did sign.

A personal vendetta or something more sinister?

Harris clearly has a personal vendetta against Cones, and coupled with an apparent controlling personality Harris is a threat to effective water operations. This threat is demonstrated by Harris’ repeated efforts to damage Cones reputation with reckless attempts of character assassination, and by exceeding his authority and undermining Cones’ management efforts that have served DSWSC well for over twenty three years.

Harris repeatedly demonstrates a lack of understanding for even basic accounting principles or tax reporting, but refuses to accept the work submitted by those hired to provide professional services. Instead Harris makes unsupported accusations in his campaign against Cones and other DSWSC employees despite assurances from hired outside professionals.

That disruptive behavior came to a head at the last board meeting as Harris was speaking against Cones during his absence, and after Michael Grimes, the new CPA approved by the board, responded to Harris that Doug Cones had signed his letter of engagement as was normal for a GM to do. Normally a man of few words, board member and Vice President, Travis Garnett had enough and chastised Harris, “For the way you are treating him.” “Cones isn’t a snake,” Garnett angrily said to Harris. Taken aback by Garnett’s stern rebuke, Harris quickly tabled the remaining agenda items and called for a motion to adjourn.

Controlling the message

At the board meeting, Harris pushed through an action that replaces the quarterly DSWSC newsletter with a letter from the president so Harris could control communications with the members. Garnett voted against the action and Walden was stuck in San Marcos. Harris claimed he wanted to, “save members money,” but the cost of printing and mailing his unedited letter to members will have no cost savings. The first President Letter was scheduled to be mailed last week and was expected to contain Harris’ spin on DSWSC affairs.

Harris’ efforts to dominate the board so he can run DSWSC to his personal liking appear to be his undoing. It is reported that DSWSC members have collected a sufficient number of signatures and will file charges against Harris with the Sec/Treas and vote for his dismissal as called for in the by-laws. A 2/3 vote of those voting can remove Harris from the board.

Another takeover attempt?

The question many are asking is, “Why is Harris engaged in such destructive and disruptive behavior that is bringing harm to DSWSC and discredit to himself?”

Some say that’s just the way Harris is. Others report that Harris is having financial problems and speculate that he wants Cones’ job. A review of public records does show that Harris is embroiled in a civil suit and has two federal tax liens filed against his home.

With a history of attempted takeovers by the City of Dripping Springs, the revelation by Brewer Monday night that he had recruited Dripping Springs Mayor Todd Purcell to serve on the Employee Code of Conduct review committee stirred considerable concern among DSWSC members. And board secretary/treasurer Gilbert Wolf also reported that he had asked Ben Metcalf to serve on the same committee. Mr. Metcalf is a friend of Brewer.
Adding to those two unsettling conflict of interest revelations was a report that Harris had approached Mayor Pro-tem Bill Foulds in an attempt to create a supporting witness to the unsubstantiated claims about Cones that Harris had placed in Cones personnel file. As one member put it, “Is Harris just trying to cover his tracks or does he have other plans for the DSWSC?”

Orchestrated efforts by a simple board majority to usurp the General Manager’ authority, to use DSWSC for their own purpose, and to escape accountability for their behavior appears to be on a collision course with DSWCS members.

The DSWSC by-laws provide a legal and democratic process for removing Steve Harris and perhaps his main collaborator, Larry Brewer, and to protect member interests. Those spearheading the petition say their goal is to eliminate Harris’ unwarranted, costly and disruptive behavior that is harming the corporation and that if left unchecked will result in higher water rates and a lower level of service. DSWSC members should not miss the December 6th board meeting.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

County Judge-elect Bert Cobb: "I am owned by no one"

"I only have one vote but I can also be open with the people and let them know that everyone on the court is playing by the rules."

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

By Bob Ochoa
RoundUp/News Photo

A political trivia question: How many voice and e-mails did Dr. Bert Cobb receive the day after he trounced his opponent Jeff Barton by nearly 5,000 votes - 21,690 to 16,915 - in the contest for Hays County Judge?

If your guess is 100 or 200, you are way off. Cobb is still receiving a stream of calls, e-mails and voice mails, and he is reaching out himself during a busy post-election transition time.

Here’s what Dr. Cobb told the RoundUp in an exclusive interview this week: “I had 435 voice (and e-mails) on Wednesday, most were congratulatory, some of those were wanting to set up private meetings . . . the usual suspects. I was appalled at how many of them were so blatant about it . . . saying we didn’t support you but now we want to help you.”

One can look at this as good news – not so much the truckload of fan mail but the openness with which Cobb was willing to speak about it. A lesser newly elected chief executive of Hays County government might have skipped a discussion with the media about his voice mail and quietly tucked away some of the more promising messages in his vest pocket for a later follow up.

Cobb was one of many Republicans who were swept in to office across the state last week on a wave of voter anger and disenchantment. He said his large victory margin over Barton also was due in part because the voters saw him "as reasonable and fair and interested in what's best for Hays County."

"I do not want people outside of Hays County to have an undue influence on what happens in Hays County," he added. "I am owned by no one. My only allegiance is to the people of Hays County and I have stated that up front with everyone who wants to have influence and buy influence with my court. I am the people's voice in the court’s decisions.

"I have had to appoint a temporary chief of staff to deal with all the people that want to bring their opinions. I was voted in on a pledge to have open government and honesty. I'm working as hard as a I can to maintain that pledge."

Cobb also pledged that if elected he would sell his medical practice and become a full time county judge. "That is underway," he said, "the transition from a full time practice to a part time practice, to eventually phasing out totally. There are standards set by the Texas Medical Association (to close or sell a medical practice). I do not plan to give up my medical license."

Cobb says he is learning about the legal aspects of his transition to public office (the Texas Open Meetings Act applies to newly elected officials, for one thing); and he is reaching out to current county officials and to the newly elected commissioners court members.

"What I have asked each of the commissioners to do is a ballpark vision of what they would like to see happen in Hays County, in particular in their precincts. I'd like to have them set some goals. Nothing good happens without a plan. What they are telling me is that they are very glad I asked them to do that.

"It’s such an overwhelming task to suddenly be thrust into office and now having to make decisions. One thing we have to do is find out the progress of projects currently under way such as the government center and building of the highways, improvements of RR 12. I am trying to blend the previous administration with my upcoming administration so we have a continuity of services for the people. I am trying to make the transition seamless for the people of Hays County."

What reforms do you have in mind when you take office in January?

"It would be remiss of me to say that I already have reforms in mind because I really don’t know enough what’s going on in the backrooms. First, I have to have data to substantiate if what we’re doing is the most effective way. My reform is to see if we can do things more effectively. What I'm trying to do is build a team of people who are motivated to do what’s best."

On important water-related issues facing western Hays County?

"My first meeting was Wednesday (day after the election last week) on that very subject. It was not a secret meeting. I’m trying to go to individuals and with the state, meetings with the Texas Water Development Board, the groundwater districts, mainly the Trinity (Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District).

"One of the critical things we are going to have to deal with is how to fund the HTGCD. They have been totally reliant on the (county) and what we have to do is get all the interested parties together and see what are the possibilities for funding. I want private interests to have input into the process. It would be easy to say let’s just tax people, well that’s not a good answer. We need to have the cost borne fairly by everybody."

Would you support legislation to give voters in the Hays Trinity Groundwater District a chance to vote up or down a small ad valorem tax to fund the district's operations?

"If the people choose to be taxed then so be it. If they are opposed then I want to come up with alternatives . . . I am already trying to work with (State Sen. Jeff) Wentworth and (newly elected State Representative Jason) Isaac - everyone who has an interest in water in Hays County. I am not trying to impose my opinion or methods on anyone."

You are only one vote on a five-member commissioners court. How effective do you think you can be in implementing your preferred policies?

"I only have one vote but I can also be open with the people and let them know that everyone on the court is playing by the rules. The judge’s main thing is to set an attitude. I want everyone to know that I will demand that everyone play by the rules and I will chastise myself and others to keep that pledge."

Friday, November 5, 2010

Election season's over, deer season's on, and many possibilities ahead

Note: We've just concluded an exciting election season. Deer season begins at sunup tomorrow. Many variables and questions abound as to how our newly elected officials will answer the challenges of growth. There are a slew of new and proposed new large subdivisions that will require huge amounts of water, many in the north part of the county. The onus is now on new Commissioners Ray Whisenant (Pct. 4), Mark Jones (Pct. 2), and new County Judge Bert Cobb. One of the big questions going forward, "Will the new court follow the extensive positive reforms in subdivision rules and regs adopted by the current court?"

We believe the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District will come under increasing pressure to grant new and increased pumping permits.

The RoundUp will be following these issues and more in the days ahead, including the next scheduled meeting of the groundwater district's board Nov. 18 in Wimberley.

Meanwhile, here is local, state and national political columnist and commentator Peter Stern's response to "one of Sarah Palin's too many promotional articles." Stern says in an earlier missive that he fears a "Palin-Perry" ticket in 2012. Ouch! This one was in The Wall Street Journal, link:

From: Peter Stern
Sent: Thursday, November 04, 2010 7:57 PM

Subject: re: your Sarah Palin article

Sarah Palin is little more than a gubernatorial quitter, someone who quit her job to pursue self-centered objectives. To state that Ms. Palin is one of the top GOP forerunners for presidential candidate is to admit that the GOP lacks REAL potential candidates. Personally, I would like to see the Party support Sen. Bill Bradley, who has more on the ball than most other Republicans. Bradley is as intelligent as the Devil, a Rhodes Scholar who knows how to be a team player, re: years playing with the New York Knicks and his stint as a NJ legislator.

The GOP has not had a viable candidate for the past decade. It would be nice to see the Party select someone with brains, valid experience and charisma and remove itself from the Sarah Palin "hockey mom" and "joe six-pack" mentality. The GOP needs to get more intelligent, reality-based and stop pretending it is producing a TV Reality Show in presenting its candidates.


Peter Stern
Eisenhower Republican

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

May the best, most honest candidates win!

Good luck to the voters who we know have worked hard to get informed and stay informed; and to the candidates and their supporters who have worked so hard to get their message out. May the best, most honest candidates win!

Election Day is upon us. Please exercise your right and privilege (and duty) to choose your public office representatives. Polls will be open until 7 p.m. Check the chart for voting locations. You must vote at the polling location in your election precinct. For example, if you reside in Wimberley voting precinct 333, vote at the Wimberley Community Center; voting precinct 337 at St. Mary's Catholic Church; voting precinct 440 at the Henly Baptist Church west of Dripping Springs. Look for your precinct number on your voter registration card. If you are registered to vote but have misplaced your card, call the county elections office at 512.393.7310 for your precinct number. You can still vote, just show the poll workers a picture ID (driver's license).

Follow today's election returns at this link to the Hays County Elections Office:

Send your comments and news tips to or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story. Looking forward to your comments on tonight's results. (Fyi – the RoundUp is on break. We'll be back in a few days with some of our own post election analysis. Keep your comments coming. Thanks.)

110 Masonic Temple 3024 Hwy. 123 San Marcos
111 Dunbar Center 801 MLK Dr. San Marcos
112 Guadalupe Hall 218 Roosevelt San Marcos
113 Elections Office 401-C Broadway San Marcos
114 Allenwood Homes Auditorium 1201 Thorpe Ln. San Marcos
116 Hernandez Elementary School 333 Stagecoach Trl. San Marcos
120 San Marcos Housing, Residents Office 820 Sturgeon St. San Marcos
127 Tobias Elementary School 1005 E. FM 150 Kyle
221 Performing Arts Center 979 Kohlers Crossing Kyle
223 Kyle City Hall 100 W. Center St. Kyle
224 Buda City Hall 121 N. Main Street Buda
225 Hays High School 4800 Jack C. Hays Trl. Buda
226 Hays Hills Baptist Church 1401 N. FM 1626 Buda
227 City of Kyle Fire Station #2 150 Bunton Rd. Kyle
228 Tom Green Elementary School 1301 Old Goforth Rd. Buda
229 County Line Water Supply 131 S. El Camino Real Uhland
230 Dahlstrom Middle School 3600 FM 967 Buda
234 Goforth Water Supply 8900 Niederwald Strasse Niederwald
315 Doris Miller Middle School 301 Fox Tail San Marcos
330 Lamar Central Office Annex 500 Hutchinson St. San Marcos
331 Grace Bible Church 218 Country Estates Dr. San Marcos
332 First Lutheran Church 130 W. Holland St. San Marcos
333 Wimberley Community Center 14068 Ranch Rd 12 Wimberley
334 Old Fish Hatchery Bldg 201 C M Allen Parkway San Marcos
335 Bowen Campus 14501 Ranch Rd 12 Wimberley
336 Horizon Bay at San Marcos 1720 Ranch Rd 12 San Marcos
337 St. Mary’s Catholic Church 14711 Ranch Rd. 12 Wimberley
440 Henly Baptist Church 200 Henly Loop Dripping Springs
441 Dripping Springs Church of Christ 470 Old Hwy 290 West Dripping Springs
442 Driftwood Community Center 15100 W. FM 150 Driftwood
443 Belterra Clubhouse 801 Belterra Dr. Austin
444 Sunset Canyon Baptist Church 4000 E. Hwy. 290 Dripping Springs
446 Travis Elementary School 1437 Old Post Road San Marcos
447 South Hays County Fire Station 3300 Hilliard Road San Marcos
448 Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church 6000-A FM 3237 Wimberley
449 DSISD Administration Office 510 W. Mercer St. Dripping Springs

Monday, November 1, 2010

Austin Bulldog scours the records of Hays County candidates

Jeff BartonBert CobbRay BryantMark Jones

Karen FordRay Whisenant
The article below was sent by RoundUp colleague, investigative reporter and publisher Ken Martin, of The Austin Bulldog. Mr. Martin's and his
Bulldog's focus are on politics and local government activities in Travis and Williamson counties. Here they venture into Hays County for a look at the records of the candidates running for Hays County Judge, and County Commissioner Precincts 2 and 4.

Tomorrow is Election Day, Tuesday November 2. Hays County Elections Administrator Joyce Cowan has predicted 40,000 voters, maybe more, will cast their ballots in early voting and on Election Day. Approximately 22,000 have voted early. That means as many as 20,000 more voters could visit the polls on Tuesday. If you are one of those undecided voters, take the time to read through this article. It's a long scroll, but it may help you decide who to vote for in these races. The Bulldog's digging unfortunately cannot reveal perhaps the two most important qualifications: Honesty and intergrity. Voters seem to want that most in their candidates. We're sure of this – time and more investigative reporting always helps shine the light.

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

Ken Martin
Editor's Introduction: Rather than selectively quote from our background research, our approach is to use an extensive, organized plan to find, copy, and publish source documents that you can explore to form your own conclusions about people seeking elective office.

Caveat: We found that the officeholders and candidates in Hays County are not required to submit an important document that their counterparts in Travis County must complete and file: Personal Financial Statements, per Chapter 159 of the Local Government Code.

That didn’t seem right, as these statements provide a tremendous amount of information, including sources of occupational income; investments of every kind; debts; business interests; trusts; board and executive positions; and a whole lot more. This is the kind of information that the public needs to be able to monitor the conduct of their elected officials for possible conflicts of interest.

But in researching the law we learned that counties with a population of fewer than 100,000 residents are not required to file these statements. But wait, the 2009 population of Hays County was estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau at 155,545. The kicker is that state law, as stated in the Code Construction Act Section 311.105, defines population as whatever it was in the most recent federal decennial census. That census was taken in 2000, when the population was 97,582.

So, for this election cycle, the candidates and officeholders in Hays County are off the hook and don’t have to disclose information about their personal finances. This is the last election cycle this will be true, as the 2010 census results will make official the higher population and cause the disclosure rules to apply forevermore.

Meanwhile, we’ve dug into the public records and here published what was found, to include voter registration and voter history; campaign finance reports, business records, property records, service on boards, key staff, spouses, web pages, and links to news stories. For some candidates we also found probate records, a physician’s profile, and a condemnation lawsuit.

Commissioners Court majority at stake

Far down the ballot from the high offices in the federal and state government to be decided in the November 2 general election are the meat-and-potatoes positions that more directly affect the day-to-day lives of citizens.

Among the contests deserving voters’ attention is who will control the majority of the Hays County Commissioners Court for the next four years. The office of county judge and two of the four commissioners posts are up for grabs in a rapidly growing county where the population has jumped by nearly 60 percent in the last decade.

Perhaps the most important function of the Commissioners Court is that it controls the purse strings for the entire county government. The Hays County Commissioners Court recently adopted a budget of $243 million for the fiscal year that began October 1, including construction and debt service. The Commissioners Court sets tax rates, decides priorities for building and maintaining roads and bridges, calls bond elections, and allocates money to all county departments to provide essential services. Woe be unto the elected official or department head who loses favor with the commissioners court, as budgets can be slashed with impunity, as officials in Williamson County, for example, have learned the hard way lately.

Longtime Commissioner Jeff Barton, a Democrat who lives in Buda, is trying to move up to be county judge. He defeated the incumbent in the Democratic Primary. Barton is opposed by Bert Cobb, a Republican who lives and practices medicine in San Marcos.

Vying to fill the Precinct 2 Commissioner’s post vacated by Barton are Democrat Ray Bryant, a former Kyle City Council member who lives in that city, and Republican Mark Jones, who also lives in Kyle and serves on the school board.

The incumbent Precinct 4 Commissioner is Karen Ford. She is a Democrat who lives in the unincorporated area on Nutty Brown Road (County Road 163). Her challenger is Republican Ray Whisenant of Dripping Springs.

Here are the results of our investigative research by George "Trey" Hatt:

Candidates for Hays County Judge

Jeff BartonJeff Barton Jefferson “Jeff” Barton (Democrat)
Office sought: Hays County Judge
Judge's salary: $77,490
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Current office: Commissioner Precinct 2

Texas Voter Registration Application and Voter History
Campaign Finance Reports

Personal Financial Statement (Not required in Hays County)

Business Records (1 business)
Property Records

Current boards:

Central Texas Sustainability Indicators Project
Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transit Working Group
Austin-San Antonio Intermunicipal Commuter Rail District
Alliance for Public Transit
Central Texas Housing Finance Authority
Plum Creek Watershed preservation group
Hays County Family Justice Center

Former boards:

President of the nine-county Capitol Area Rural Transportation System
Vice-chair of then three-county Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization
Executive board of the 22-county Central Texas Higher Education Authority
Founder, Onion Creek Cleanup
 Hays Consolidated Campus Leadership
Budafest board of directors
Kyle Lions Club officer
Sigma Delta Chi regional Freedom of Information Chair

Key staff:

Campaign Treasurer: Cyndy Slovak-Barton 512-268-0841
Executive Assistant: Phyllis Burnett 512-262-2091
Campaign Consultant: Amanda Domaschk

Spouse: Cyndy Slovak-Barton, co-publisher, Hays Free Press

Web pages:

Links to stories:

Endorsed by Austin American-Statesman on October 17, 2010
Austin American-Statesman, October 14, 2010

Bert CobbBert Cobb Albert “Bert” Cobb (Republican)

Office sought: Hays County Judge
Judge's salary: $77,490

E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Current office: None

Texas Voter Registration Application and Voter History
Campaign Finance Reports

Personal Financial Statement (Not required in Hays County)

Business Records (3 businesses)
Property Records

Probate Records
Physician Profile

Former boards:

President, Tri-County Medical Society
President, Pan American Allergy Society
Board Examiner, American Academy of Otolaryngic Allergy
President, Rotary Club of Greater San Marcos

Key staff:

Campaign Treasurer: Lon A. Shell 512-644-0848

Spouse: Gaye Cobb

Web pages:

Links to stories:

Austin American-Statesman, October 14, 2010

Candidates for Commissioner Precinct 2

Ray BryantRay Bryant

Ray Bryant (Democrat)

Office sought: Hays County Commissioner Precinct 2
Commissioner's salary: $65,048

E-mail: Use form at

Office held: Former Kyle City Council Member

Texas Voter Registration Application and Voter History
Campaign Finance Reports

Personal Financial Statement (Not required in Hays County)
Business Records (None located)

Property Records

Past boards:

Kyle Planning and Zoning Commission
Kyle Board of Adjustment
North Hays County ACC Steering Committee
Kyle Community Relations Committee
Past President, Amberwood Homeowners Association
Kyle Genealogy Society

Key staff:

Paula Alvarez, Campaign Treasurer 512-268-6030

Spouse: Sandra Bryant

Web pages:

Links to stories:

Endorsed by Austin American-Statesman on October 17, 2010

Mark JonesMark Jones Mark Jones (Republican)

Office sought: Hays County Commissioner Precinct 2
Commissioner's salary: $65,048

E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Current office: Vice President, Hays CISD Board of Trustees
Office salary: $65,048 (Commissioner 2010)

Texas Voter Registration Application and Voter History
Campaign Finance Reports

Personal Financial Statement (Not required in Hays County)

Business Records (None located)

Property Records

Past boards:

Plum Creek Conservation District
Founding Treasurer, Central Texas Life Care

Key staff:

Campaign Treasurer: James Anderson 512-799-4245

Spouse: Kerri Jones

Web pages and social network sites:

Links to stories:

Candidates for Commissioner Precinct 4

Karen FordKaren FordKaren Ford (Democrat)

Office sought: Hays County Commissioner Precinct 4
Commissioner's salary: $65,048

E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Current office: Precinct 4 Commissioner since 2007

Texas Voter Registration Application and Voter History

Campaign Finance Reports

Personal Financial Statement (Not required in Hays County)

Business Records: Owner, White Hat Creative, communications company (No documents located)

Property Records
Eminent Domain Lawsuit

Current boards:

Clean Air Coalition, 2nd Vice-Chair, representing Hays County
Clean Air Force, executive committee and board member
Envision Central Texas, co-chair, Natural Infrastructure Committee
Hays County Water Conservation Working Group, founder/leader
Hill Country County Coalition

Past boards:

Rotary Club of Dripping Springs, co-chair 2009 Veteran's Day Tribute
Cypress Creek Watershed Protection Plan
Nutty Brown Road Neighbors Association, founding member and chair
Hill Country Alliance, board member
Art From the Streets campaign, Chair
Regional Water Quality Protection Plan, stakeholder
Association of Retarded Citizens, past volunteer (ARC-Central Texas)
Big Brothers/Big Sisters, past volunteer

Key staff:

Precinct 4 office 512-858-7268

Barbara L. Stroud, Campaign Treasurer 512-923-7341

Spouse: Nick Burkhalter, custom homebuilder

Web pages:

Links to stories:

Ray WhisenantRay Whisenant Raymond “Ray” Whisenant Jr. (Republican)

Office sought: Hays County Commissioner Precinct 4
Commissioner's salary: $65,048

E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Current office: none

Texas Voter Registration Application and Voter HistoryCampaign Finance Reports

Personal Financial Statement (Not required in Hays County)

Business Records (5 businesses)

Property Records

Probate Records (2 estates)

Current boards:

Texas Ground Water Association, president
Texas Water Well Drillers/Pump Installers Advisory Council, chairman

Past boards:

Central Texas Ground Water Association, president
Dripping Springs ISD Board of Trustees 1981-1990
Dripping Springs Lions Club Chapters
Dripping Springs Senior Citizens Cottages
National Ground Water Association
Hill Country Care Nursing Home
Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission’s Abandoned Water Well Plugging Task Force

Key staff:

E. Wally Kinney, Campaign Treasurer 512-858-4736

Spouse: Connie Whisenant

Web pages:

Links to stories:

Endorsed by Austin American-Statesman on October 17, 2010