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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 roundup.editor@gmail.com, to Mr. O'Dell at codell@austin.rr.com, 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.

Garnett
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.

Purcell
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.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Where do you get all your information from? And was Doug called out for a work "emergency" or a personal "emergency".

Charles O'Dell said...

My report is based on information obtained from attending board meetings, open records documents, public records, Internet research and interviews with members.

All information is documented.

Of what significance is whether it was a work or personal emergency?

Anonymous said...

If everything is accurate in this story, the members have every right to show Mr. Harris the door. What business does he have lining up other outside powerful forces against the general Manager Cones?

Have the charges Harris has alleged against Cones and staff ever been proven or seen the light of day by an impartial third party? All those frivolous lawyer expenditures could just as well have been spent on upgrading or expanding the water system for the customers.

What a shame these corrupt people are allowed to have their way. And what a good thing this is being reported.

As for the "emergency" I have heard of important county officials being called away from important business on account of a pet dog emergency and no big deal.

News Reader said...

Mr. O'Dell your "information obtained by attending board meetings, etc., etc." - did you interview Mayor Purcell to see if what you allege is true? Or Mr. Foulds, also a City Councilman? How do you know that the information that you report concerning them is true? Are you just taking the source of someone at the DSWSC? Perhaps just using the secondary source without confirming it of Mr. Brewer's statement?

Mr. O'Dell, how is that good reporting? How is that even objective or balanced reporting? I think you are better than that if you didn't bother to follow-up the story that someone like Mr. Brewer said in a meeting regarding another person who wasn't there to confirm or deny the charge that is leveled against them.

Mr. Ochoa, is this what passes for good reporting? Do you edit or review the material that is submitted for accuracy as most real papers or news sources do to vet the statements or accusations made in "news stories" or "reports"? I can believe that Mr. O'Dell's source information for much of his report is factual based on what was said in a meeting he obviously attended, he might have even confirmed through public records the liens on Mr. Harris' house; but to go so far as to show his bias against the Mayor and the other Councilman without confirming the details is poor reporting by any good reporting standard that is trying to be unbiased and objective? (This is an unbiased and objective reporting outlet isn't it?) Aren't you trying to establish the Roundup as a legitimate news source? If so, please use reputable and reliable reporters. Mr. O'Dell's inflated pieces of blarney belong on an editorial or opinion page; and if not careful will wind up the source of a lawsuit for slander for making unsubstantiated claims solely based on supposition that he makes up from thin air. (How does he know that Mr. Harris' financial problems have created the desire to have Mr. Cones' job? Has Mr. Harris told him that? Has someone told Mr. O'Dell that someone told them that and he is reporting that as a source? Really, anyone that has had Journalism 101 knows that such shoddy reporting is why Mr. O'Dell is not a real newsman or even one that would be credible in liberal circles. Shame on you. I had such high hopes for this news source.

Anonymous said...

There defintely needs to be some revamping here! Harris, Brewer and the attorney need to go ASAP. If the members do not take action now then they have no one else but themselves to blame when water rates begin to esculate. If the city gets involved that is a certainty because the fact that Purcell may be getting involved is not good. All you have to do is look at the financial situation of the city under his reign.

Anonymous said...

Yes sir, the City's in really bad shape; sales taxes are way up; property tax is the lowest per $100 valuation in Hays County. No bonded indebtedness except the Wastewater plant; hello Austin!

Charles O'Dell said...

@ News Reader

You wrote: "...did you interview Mayor Purcell to see if what you allege is true? Or Mr. Foulds, also a City Councilman? How do you know that the information that you report concerning them is true?"

News Reader, are you claiming the information reported is untrue?

Are you claiming DSWSC Director Gilbert Wolf lied when he reported in open session he recruited Mayor Todd Purcell to serve on the DSWSC Committee?

Are you claiming the past efforts by City officials (including Purcell and Foulds) to gain control of DSWSC didn't happen?

Where dd you get your information?

Your comment appears to be no more than another veiled, if not clumsy, effort to discredit me and the RoundUp.

You, Mayor Purcell, Councilman Foulds, Board President Harris or anyone else is free to challenge any element of my report.

Whining doesn't help readers discover the truth. Come out in the open with your facts.

Anonymous said...

Newsreader's "ifs and possibilities" of Mr. O'Dell's article being incorrect reaks of sensationalism and provocative posting comments without any proof of wrongdoing.

Newsreader, either put up proof of your obtuse comments or shut-up.

Mr. O'Dell is usually correct in his postings, whereas you don't even use your real name when attacking the man with unsubstantiated comments.

Prove one of O'Dell's comments incorrect and I will then start listening to you, but only if you include further substantiated comments. Your "ifs" mean nothing.

Ralph said...

News Reader, or is it really "News Reviser":

Which person being reported on in the article are you friends with - or work with? You clearly have your own agenda to question the integrity of the article. Are you a budding PR person trying to spin bad news so you can use your comment as a portfolio writing sample?

The most telling statement you make is the veiled threat of lawsuits to the Roundup. If you were a legitimate "news reader" you would know public officials are open to such criticism - legit or not - as a matter of being in the public view.

News Reader? Or News Distorter?

News Reader said...

You're the reporter Mr. O'Dell. You have done a magnificient job on avoiding the question. Did you or did you not verify Mr. Wolf's assertion? This is not an attempt to smear you; you don't need help with that. You are a poor excuse for a news reporter and it shows by your lack of follow-up on statements that involve others that its known that you have a personal vendetta against. You write in a slanderous fashion, using guilt by association "Mr. Metcalf is a friend of Mr. Brewer." You can't even respond with the truth in your response when you say that Mr. Wolf recruited Mayor Purcell. In your "article" you said it was Mr. Brewer. Who was it Mr. O'Dell? Brewer or Wolf?

A REAL news reporter confirms a story; he does not use slander or inuendo, or allow his person ill will towards someone to cloud his reporting ethics and certainly not to get in the way of the facts. If the story is true, then follow the path to its source (ala, Watergate) no matter where it leads.

How dare you question my integrity when I am THE READER? You such an egotistical SOB that no wonder you have the reputation that you have. You make an assertion that I have information other than what you have, I don't. I am just asking good questions about your sourcing of information. Did you interview the accused parties before you made your assertions? Apparently, from your response, you didn't. You got your johnson caught in your zipper and you're too embarrased to admit it. Now come off of it man, and say whether or not you pursued the accusation made at the meeting with the person it was made against.

And from what I am told, the past attempts of the City to acquire the Water Supply Corporation are not what you represent them to be, but again that is not the point of my first posting; it is questioning your integrity and journalistic ethics. I noted that you are "contributing editor" meaning you take some credit on being a journalist.

— Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
— Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.

These two items are the FIRST TWO ITEMS ON THE SOCIETY OF PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISTS ETHICS CODE OF ETHICS!!! You broke them both by NOT "seeking out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respod to allegations of wrongdoing". Secondly, and test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid errors at all cost." (The link is: http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp).
Now, Mr. Ochoa, again I ask, is this the level of professional journalism that you want to bring out to say that you are an ethical, objective, and serious news source? I use the term "professional" loosely as it regards Mr. O'Dell since he cannot seem to exercise the first two rules of a Professional Journalist's code of ethics. If you want my money to help support your effort at serious news reporting, get serious news reporters who adhere to the code of ethics of your profession.

Charles O'Dell said...

In my response to News Reader I wrote, "...DSWSC Director Gilbert Wolf...".

I should have written, "...DSWSC Director Larry Brewer...". It was Brewer who reported in open session that he had recruited Mayor Purcell to serve on Brewer's code of conduct review committee, not Director Gilbert Wolf.

A review of my meeting notes and the taped proceedings confirm the error in my comment. The RoundUp report reports it correctly.

Anonymous said...

How about actually answering the questions asked Charles?

Anonymous said...

I am not able to attend the WSC meetings on Monday nights. I wonder how many members are really worried about this? To read Mr. Odell's story it implies that this is a major story. I do know for a fact that Mr. O'dell has not had any 3rd part confirmation of his "facts". Bob if you are going to allow this type reporting please make sure that it is true.

Anonymous said...

O'Dell:

On the topic of water, information, and honesty, why not write an exposé on Jim McMeans and his CARD group? They've been telling all sorts of stories to solicit signature for their faulty petition.

You might be surprised to learn that McMeans has equated voter election to a "hostile takeover" of the HTGCD.

DSWSC members should be concerned because DSWSC permits and other water utility permits are what McMeans is trying to disrupt. He considers people in other districts to be hostile and considers granting permits to the three major water utilities in this area to be an "end run around future conservation efforts".

Shocked Reader said...

Chucky, You know better than to answer a question with another question! That is weakest attempt to defend your accusations I have ever seen. It is pretty bad for even you. I think News Reader nailed you on this one.

The sad thing is that you are probably right on the story but your "facts" may be guesses. Good Guessing, Chucky.

Anonymous said...

No one has ever accused Charles of being a reporter

Just Curious said...

To Mr. O'Dell's off-the-wall critics:

What exactly have you people accomplished for the community. At least Mr. O'Dell tries to gain hold of the truth (which usually is NOT easy) and inform the community on various issues.

So, what have you people done that is worth anything in comparison?

RoundUp Editor Bob Ochoa said...

Thanks for your comments, News Reader.

We are sure of three things: One, we are meeting more than the basic requirements of journalistic investigative reporting and informed commentary; two, as you point out, there is more to this story (the Watergate principle) than what Mr. O'Dell has thus far revealed in his good reporting; and three, no other media venue in Hays County has taken a ten-foot pole to this complex and controversial issue of great importance to Dripping Springs' current and future water customers.

The chips will fall where they may. We look forward to learning more.

Randolph K. Barnes (aka, News Reader) said...

Bob,
Thanks for at least trying to answer the questions. However, the question is that if Mr. O'Dell is a good reporter, then why has he in one article violated the first two principles of journalistic ethics? And, irony of ironies, on a story that has a part of the controversy surrounding a "employee code of conduct"? Get it? Code of conduct? Journalist ethics? Notice anything slightly out of kilter here?

Okay, Bob, I want to think you may have a point that this is a story. So why don't you sit cub reporter O'Dell down at the coloring book section of the blog to let him draw up the funny papers, and you take a crack at the story since you are supposed to be an award winning reporter. (Which I have read your stuff for years and think you're reasonable and fair.)

O'Dell violates the idea of fairness and unbiased reporting when he makes accusations of "conflict of interest" due to his assertion that Mr. Metcalf is a friend to Mr. Brewer, even though Mr. Wolf asked him to serve on this same committee of reviewing the employee code of conduct. How is being someone's friend a conflict of interest? Is Charles your friend Bob? Wouldn't that now make him writing objectively for your paper subject to the same ridicule and charge that it is a conflict of interest?

No, Charles is an egotistical bastard who has such a high opinion of himself that even when confronted with specific allegations of his journalistic malfeasance, not only does he avoid the question, you cover up for him by saying he is a "good reporter". Well, Richard Nixon was a "good President", but he was still a crook, ala Watergate. See the connection Bob? Charles is NOT a good reporter, and as you will note that in both of Charles' responses to my posts he avoids taking credit for violating journalistic ethics. Shame on you for that Bob.

Mr. O'Dell, again, I implore you to show us your reporting of the facts. Did you do what you ought to do as a journalist and interview or give an opportunity to be interviewed any of the parties you disparage? From your lack of a legitimate response, my guess is no. I have no beef with you, just hate to see shoddy reporting. So, are you going to respond to the charges of ethical violations or not? Silence is a sure sign of guilt, and it sure appears that you are guilty of journalistic ethics violations.

Waiting to hear your apology and your answers.

Anonymous said...

If either Mr. O’Dell or You want to do some real investigative reporting and a community a service, turn to Aqua-Texas. They are not government entities but they are certainly a pack of liars and corrupt to the core. Water/Sewer bills in excess of $160/mo. and they are again poised to ask the TCEQ for another rate increase. They have asked the HTGCD for a 3 year permit and increased pumping from the Trinity Aquifer, even though they waste half of what they currently suck out of the ground. Maybe you feel safer going after government organizations out of fear of litigation. As they say, “Whiskey is for drinking, Water is for fighting”

DSWSC Member said...

Friends and Neighbors; I think you're missing the point here. Yes, O'Dell's reporting is biased and inflammatory. But there are several more significant issues here:

1. This little company, with approx. $1 million in annual revenue, is spending 15%-20% of their revenue on legal services. That's just a waste of money that could/should be used for system improvements and reducing the USDA-RUS loan. Former board president Chuck Sellers began the legal wrangling. During his reign from 2000-2005, DSWSC spent over $500,000 on legal fees. The current board is on course to beat Sellers' wasteful spending.

2. Doug Cones has been angling for years to make DSWSC his personal domain. He recruited Sellers, who pushed founder Alva Hayden aside. Now Cones, with O'Dell's support, is making a case to get rid of Harris, so that Cones can operate DSWSC as he sees fit. Let's give credit where credit is due...Doug is great with a shovel and a back-hoe, but he has no skills to negotiate right-of-way agreements, contracts with LCRA or Wimberley WSC or hire and train employees.

Nobody at DSWSC has "clean hands". Cones is no angel and neither is Harris.

The DSWSC Members would be well served with a new board and a new manager.

Anonymous said...

I guess I am missing some points in Charles O'Dell's commentary and of those of the commenters.

What is the main gist? Is it that the Board is corrupt? It it that the public needs to demand new Board members?

I know that there is a lot of information provided herein, but I seem to miss the point. What steps do residents need to take?

Where are the minutes to these minutes posted so that anyone can read them?

What steps should the public take to correct some of these issues? etc., etc.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Charles,Charles
How can a person defend himself when there is no proof that something happened. What is your proof?? It is only accusations that you put out as fact and then let the public feed off of it until it takes a life of it's own. People that follow you know that you pick a group and bother them until you get bored and then you move a little farther down the road. Please just move on and let us read some real newsworthy stories about hays county. This is nothing more than an empployee and board member not seeing eye to eye.

Charles O'Dell said...

One of the oldest tactics used to shift focus away from a news story content you don't like is to attack the messenger.

All elements of my report are documented with first hand observations, public records and first hand testimony---no third party he said she said.

If you doubt any element of my report then I suggest you:
1. Attend the next DSWSC board meeting and see for yourself
2. Call the named parties, get their reactions and report back to the RoundUp, or,
3. Quit whining about something you haven't taken the time to investigate after being alerted.

Ralph said...

Wow, Randolph K. Barnes, you sure know how to give a guy - actually two guys - an ego haircut. I'm sure O'Dell and Ochoa feel "eunuched" by your journalistic intolerance.

I would like to know what you think about Fox News or the various right wing think tank journals. And can you call it a think tank if their ideas are bad?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying you are a right wing nut. But your self-proclaimed journalistic expertise could have come in handy during the recent elections. Where were you when all the politically insipid talking points were thrown around and voters ended up voting back in the idiots who we threw out just two years ago?

Sorry, but I digress. Randy, we badly need your expertise regarding future articles. Please write us an article that will explain to us mindless readers how we can protect ourselves from the great unwashed "bastard" writers who ungrace the pages of the Roundup.

Sir, us goober readers humbly ask for your guidance and edification.

Btw, you also didn't answer my questions above.

Uncivil Disobedience said...

If O'Dell can raise the wrathe of the Hays County "Deliverance" casting call crowd as he does in the comments above, he is doing something right.

Keep pissing em off, O'Dell.

Anonymous said...

CONTINUED FROM ABOVE......

Everybody has the right to their opinion, which is self evident, but Mr. O'Dell isn't dealing with opinions he is dealing with the facts that he has obtained through open record requests. He has also attended the meetings with a tape recorder adn interviewed other Water Corporation Members that have started to attend meetings. If you all think that Mr. O'Dell is incorrect on his reporting of the legal fees and expenditures then just think of what we, as Members, could find out if we attended meetings and started asking questions. I noticed that there was a question as to how to gather information and the way it's done is by submitting open record requests, attending meetings and doing research of your own, member or no.
For a "little $1 million dollar company" that has been doing business for the last 48 years without having as much controversy stirred up as is happening now, you have to ask yourself "What's changed?". I for one am glad that Mr. Cones has done the time on the shovel, the back-hoe, the pick and whatever other piece of equipment that might even remotely be used in the effort to keep our water system running as smoothly as it does. How is it wrong for someone like Mr. Cones to stand up for the Water Corporation the way he does when we, as Members, should be doing the same thing? Hello?
I close with the facts that the Water Supply Corporation has seven figures in the bank, it is a superior rated system with the State of Texas, has negotiated water for our future, has always provided excellent service for its Members but it now needs our help as Members to keep this going for our children's future. Stand up and pay attention people. Stop being a part of the problem by not attending the meetings and taking part and become part of the solution and help get the job done.