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Monday, February 28, 2011

Texas Senate public hearing Tuesday on groundwater ownership


Note:
We received this update from Curtis Chubb of Milan County, another one of many Texans who are closely following groundwater-related issues. There must be something in the water.

Send your comments and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com, to Dr. Chubb at
texas.rain@sbcglobal.net or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

First, just found your blog (The Hays County RoundUp) - and was surprised and happy to see that you considered my writing worthy of being cited. Thank you.

Tuesday will be a big day for our groundwater rights - the Senate Natural Resources Committee will be hearing public testimony concerning groundwater ownership. I plan to be there - and possibly speak.

The other purpose of this e-mail is to alert you that Representative Erwin Cain has filed House Joint Resolution (H.J.R. No. 94) which proposes a constitutional amendment requiring that directors of groundwater conservation districts be elected.

Please contact Representative Cain and express your support for his efforts. I live within the boundaries of a groundwater "permitting" district which has directors appointed by the commissioners court - the people have no voice in what happens to our groundwater.

Thanking you for considering my request for help,

Curtis Chubb, Ph.D. Milam County 512/455-9180

PS Representative Cain's Web site is http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/member-page/?district=3

Indy Texans call for statewide moratorium on groundwater permits


Note:
This just received from Independent Texans.

Send your comments and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com, to Indy Texans at
info1@indytexans.org or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Click on image to enlarge
Dear Media Friends:

The Texas Water Development Board, all six Perry appointees, have abdicated their duties to "provide for the conservation and responsible development of water for Texas." We believe they are operating in violation of the Texas Water Code.

What's more is that groundwater contamination is a real threat. If you don't believe it, read this.
This is why we have joined with other organizations (and more are on the way) to urge the Texas Legislature to:

(1) enact a statewide Moratorium on Groundwater Permits, (2) call upon the Governor to call a special session in the summer to address the water crisis, and (3) hold hearings to inform and involve the public.

Please use these documents to understand what we are attempting to do (click here to download):

* Moratorium Request * Moratorium Supporting Information * Bill Summary

Also, please note that media is invited to our statewide ACTION conference (see flier below), "The Texas Water War: Is there a solution and who decides" on Saturday, March 19th from 10 to 5 pm. This event will address legislative, legal and community action.

Thank you.

Linda Curtis
Independent Texans IndyTexans.org
PO Box 6718Austin, TX 7876
2512-535-0989 office
512-657-2089 cell

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Harris letter backfires; board schedules special meeting March 2


As one board member remarked, “Harris could save the membership and himself a lot of trouble and expense if he simply did the right thing and resigned from the board.”


Send your questions, comments and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com, to Mr. O'Dell at codell@austin.rr.com or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story. Call the Dripping Springs Water Supply office at 512.858.7897 for the meeting location and agenda


By Charles O'Dell

Contributing Editor

In a desperate last ditch effort to head off being removed from office at a special membership meeting to be held in about two weeks, Dripping Springs Water Supply Corp president, Steven Harris, mailed a rambling letter to the membership containing statements that further outraged members and caused concern of possible libel and slander suits against the corporation. (Read the letter and related story here.)

So serious are the concerns about Harris’ statements contained in his letter that a special board meeting has been called for next Wednesday night, March 2nd at 7pm in the boardroom.

While the agenda item is vaguely and erroneously worded in violation of the open meetings act, the board meeting will consider substantial financial risk to which Harris has exposed the corporation by his destructive behavior, and in particular his February letter to the membership.

The March 2nd meeting precedes a special membership meeting already slated for March 10th to be held at the nearby First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall at 7pm, when charges against Harris and fellow board member, Larry Brewer, will be discussed and a member vote taken on whether to remove the two of them from the board.

The March 10th meeting was scheduled months after more than ten percent of the membership signed a petition last year calling for the removal of Harris and Brewer. Harris had refused to allow an agenda item calling for a special meeting until the corporation attorney finally advised it was necessary. Those supporting removal of Harris and Brewer include former board president, Chuck Sellers, former board member Oran “Pug” Rippy, and current board member Jim Walden.

Signed proxies of members who cannot attend the March 10th special meeting are requested to be given to members Clarence Cobb, Craig Young, Ron Kelly, Jon Cobb, Dennis Dement, Johnny Hudson or board member Jim Walden. Reports are that many proxies have already been received by those seeking to remove Harris and Brewer.

In a response to Harris’ claims recently mailed to the membership, those endorsing removal of Harris and Brewer noted Harris’ manipulation, contradiction and falsification of information referenced in his February letter to the membership.

These included claims made about the General Manager’s employment contract and retirement package that Harris negotiated; false statements and innuendos Harris made about the corporation’s current and a previous CPA; and repeated and unsubstantiated claims of irregularities and malfeasance by the General Manager.

The response pointed out egregious violations of Harris’ fiduciary responsibilities to the membership, excessive corporation legal expenses run up by Harris and Brewer (amounting to $160 per member in 2010 alone), Harris’ repeatedly exceeding his authority in his incessant attempts to micro manage corporation operations, and repeated harassment and retaliation against employees and members, including interfering with the member’ right to vote for removal.

The March 2nd special board meeting is open to the public but most of it will likely be conducted in executive session.

As one board member remarked, “Harris could save the membership and himself a lot of trouble and expense if he simply did the right thing and resigned from the board.”

For additional information you are asked to call: Ron Kelly (936) 635-0111 or (512) 858-7686, Craig Young (512) 940-0706, Jim Walden (512) 784-7154, Jon Cobb (512) 848-9473 and Johnny Hudson (512) 858-7177.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Dripping Water Supply director Jim Walden weighs in, praises general manager


"I feel it is time for Mr. Cones to get credit for all he has done."

To the Editor,

As a board member, one of my responsibilities is to protect and conserve the assets of Dripping Springs Water Supply Corporation. Assets come in many forms like trucks, equipment, and water lines, but in reality the most important asset of the corporation is the people who work there. Without these dedicated people, the other assets produce nothing for our members.

One of these employees, Doug Cones, the general manager, has been an important asset of the corporation for 24 years. Since he first took charge, the system has been improved to where it has had a continuous “superior” rating by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for years. The corporation has also received praise from LCRA for the innovative conservation program it has implemented.

From the standpoint of members, the company has delivered water reliably and consistently for all the years Mr. Cones has been in charge. Financially, Mr. Cones has enhanced the corporation’s operations. Unlike many water supply corporations, ours does not struggle to pay bills. Mr. Cones has improved the balance sheet of the corporation while keeping up with the explosive growth experienced in the area. Few other Water Supply Corporations have seen the growth in water demand that our corporation has, and yet he has kept ahead of the growth without having to borrow additional money. His performance financially has been excellent.

The financial statements of the corporation are audited every year. Every year, the corporation has achieved a good audit report. Never have any fraud or malfeasance been discovered. The Auditor for approximately 10 years refused to perform the 2009 audit not because of irregularities in the books, but because he cited the board’s dismantling of the internal controls of the organization and because of their micro management in the operations of the company.

The 2009 auditor, Maxwell, Lock & Ritter, gave the same clean report that Mr. Wyatt had done in prior years. The current CPA, Mr. Michael Grimes of Hamilton, Pyle, and Bowman has said that the issues brought forth by Mr. Harris were the transition from a cash to accrual accounting system.

Doug Cones

Mr. Cones has a contract which specifies the performance he is required to meet. At a recent board meeting, Director Travis Garnett, having had his fill of the accusations and disgusting rhetoric about Mr. Cones, asked the rest of the board “Has he fulfilled all of the requirements of his contract?” The answer was YES from everyone.

All the personnel of the DSWSC are assets to the corporation, but Mr. Cones is especially valuable. He has provided excellent and plentiful water for the area. He has met his contract obligations. He has increased the financial performance of the company. He has maintained continuous good relations with the city, LCRA, all of the surrounding water organizations, and the local utilities companies. The company has benefited greatly from these excellent contacts.

I feel it is time for Mr. Cones to get credit for all he has done.

Jim Walden, Director DSWSC

Re: Harris’ letter to members of Dripping Springs Water Supply


Note: Concerned citizen Roy Pursley responds to the letter sent by Dripping Springs Water Supply Corporation Board President Steve Harris to the water supply's member-customers earlier this month. For more background, and a view of Harris' letter, scroll down to the story, "Board president sends alarming letter to Dripping Water Supply members." Harris and fellow board member Larry Brewer are facing a recall petition from members. A special meeting of the board has been set for March 10 to consider the petition. DSWSC is a member-owned water utility. It serves about 1,400 home and commercial customers in the Dripping Springs area.

Send your comments and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com, to Mr. Pursley at
pursleycpa@verizon.net or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story. You can't email the water supply because the office doesn't have internet access.

To the Editor,

I received Mr. Harris’ letter to the membership and was astonished. This letter is full of unfounded charges and complaints against everyone Mr. Harris thinks is his enemy. He even tries to convince the members that the office staff is up to sinister actions by recording the meetings. Every meeting, since March 4, 2010, has been recorded because in discussion it was requested, though a motion was never passed to that effect. Accusing them of not being trustworthy and somehow against him is beyond the pale of reason.

Mr. Harris also rants about the General Manager’s contract. I decided to check this out, so under the open records act, I requested copies of Mr. Doug Cones’ W-2 and his employment contract. Mr. Cones is not paid $250,000 per year as Mr. Harris insinuates. Instead, his salary is $97,522.32 per year. His 2009 W-2 lists his income as 101,585.75. The difference between these two numbers is attributable to the fact that Mr. Cones worked through his vacation, and according to a long standing policy, he is paid if he works through his vacation.

Yes he drives a company truck, this is standard in most service jobs where the employee is on call 24/7. Yes he gets health insurance as does every other employee. Yes the company pays for a phone so the members can get in touch with him 24 hours a day if they need assistance.

Is this a benefit for Mr. Cones? I think not. Mr. Cones carries the phone so that he can meet the needs of the members whenever they need him. The $250,000 figure mentioned by Mr. Harris is overstated and not only includes Mr. Cones’ compensation, it includes normal employment benefits and costs that would be there for service to the members no matter who was General Manager. It also includes longevity amounts which may never be done.

The retirement package mentioned is also overstated. The financial statements issued by the Auditor for 2009 say that the company paid $16,500 into a 457(B) retirement plan for Mr. Cones. Between his salary and this retirement contribution, that is all that Mr. Cones actually received in compensation. There is a supplemental package that is not guaranteed like a normal retirement plan.

If Mr. Cones works for the full 10 years required of the contract, he will get a supplemental payment for his retirement. Mr. Cones will have to work until he is 72 years old to be eligible for this. It is highly unlikely that he will ever see this money. It is not vested, it is not shown as a liability to him, there is no money restricted for him. The board does place an amount in a CD to cover this potential payment, but according to the Audited financial statements, the money has no legal restrictions on it and the board can use it any way they want to.

By my calculations of the formula for this payment, Mr. Cones is not the million dollar man people claim him to be. Instead, after all the deductions specified in the contract, and after the taxes he will have to pay, he will likely have maybe $300,000 left to use as his retirement. This is not a large amount. Mr. Harris says that the company pays all of his taxes too. I find no mention of this in the contract.

Mr. Harris should be ashamed of himself for writing this letter.

Roy Pursley, Concerned Citizen
Dripping Springs, Tx

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Community ignored once again


Most of the passionate people who make known their objections are too hearty and well intentioned to give up and let the HTGCD Board destroy the valley

Note: Ms. Knight was one of dozens of Wimberely area citizens who attended the board meeting of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District Monday in Dripping Springs. She is a member of the board of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association and also serves as a director of the Wimberley Chapter, League of Women Voters. She is speaking here on her own behalf.

Send your comments and news tips to the roundup.editor@gmail.com, to Ms. Knight at dknight17@austin.rr.com or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

By Dorothy Knight
Guest Commentary

The headline says it all – the HTGCD Board meeting held Monday, Feb. 21 was another exercise in futility for the Wimberley Valley Citizens who voiced their concerns and provided many good reasons for the Board to table the requested three-year permits from Wimberley Springs Partners and Wimberley Water Supply Corporation.

Despite testimony from two dozen citizens who requested that the HTGCD wait for determination of the Managed Available Groundwater (MAG) for this region to be set by the Texas Water Development Board in the spring before taking action, the District Board ignored all appeals and acted in accordance with the now famous disregard for the public they are supposed to serve. Less than half a dozen citizens voiced support for the action taken.

The lack of concern for the scientific evidence needed to make sound decisions and the disregard for advice from professional hydrogeologists who cautioned that a water budget needs to be established and incorporated into the district’s management plan before making such decisions are glaring indicators of the road ahead for the Wimberley Valley.

The metaphor invoked by David Baker, vice-president of the HTGCD Board, is that it is granting increased usage of water that is already allocated. It is a form of deficit spending that threatens to dry up not only Jacob’s Well but the whole of Cypress Creek in years to come. The following statements reveal why that is an accurate assessment.

The Wimberley Springs Partners were granted their permit with an increase of 250 acre feet per year, with an additional 250 acre feet guaranteed following a year of adequate rainfall, deemed to be 32” or more. The additional 500 acre feet that could be pumped annually by Wimberley Springs Partners will certainly guarantee the development of the 1,300 platted lots owned by WSP will take place, all in the recharge area for Jacob’s Well.

The three-year permit granted to Wimberley Water Supply Corporation allocates an additional 8% in water usage, from 695 acre feet a year to 750 acre feet. In justifying the request for increased water allotment, Tom Haley, the general manager of WWS, stated that additional water might be needed for growth, including an HEB or other businesses that want to open in Wimberley. Is this an omen of the future of this valley?

Disgruntled citizens who came to the meeting and bared their hearts and souls in both their pleas and threats to protest are settling in to determine their next strategy. Action must be pursued or the alternatives that threaten the resources we now protect will predominate.

Most of the passionate people who make known their objections are too hearty and well intentioned to give up and let the HTGCD Board destroy the valley.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wimberley water wars – residents fight golf course


Many residents were upset because the development (of Wimberley Springs) also includes the possibility of adding another 1,300 homes in the area


Note: This report is from Fox News, Channel 7 in Austin – the only report we could find on yesterday's intense HTGCD board meeting and action at Dripping Springs City Hall. Read it at this link. We have edited it slightly for style. The video story says that one-acre-foot of water equals about 32,600 gallons. The correct number is 326,000 gallons – technically, 325,851 gallons.

Send your comments, questions and news tips to
roundup.editor@gmail.com, to the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District at
manager2@haysgroundwater.com or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Published: Monday, 21 Feb 2011, 9:58 PM CST

DRIPPING SPRINGS, TX - Hundreds of residents (many from Wimberley) packed a meeting Monday to persuade the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District to vote down two deals that would pump millions of gallons of water out of the Trinity Aquifer.

The entire meeting went about 6 hours and the board approved those two requests for water.

One of the requests was for developer Wimberley Springs Partners, to use 250 acre feet (81 million gallons) of water per year for a golf course already on the property. The other request was for the existing Wimberley Water Supply Corp. [to] expand its usage from 695 to 770 acre feet per year.

To put it into context, 1 acre-foot equals a football field (covered in one foot of water). A large majority of the residents who spoke out at the meeting stated that 1 acre-foot of water is too much.

"Those of us here are extremely concerned about staying here and having water. Nobody will be able to come here. They'll be no growth if there is no water," said Linda Kaye Rogers, a Wimberley area resident.

All of the water permitted on Monday is pumped out of the Trinity Aquifer. The golf course development is also in the watershed recharging zone for Jacob's Well. Many residents were upset because the development (of Wimberley Springs) also includes the possibility of adding another 1,300 homes in the area.

Board members were split. Board Vice-President David Baker who is also executive director of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association voted against the deals saying they're already pumping about 2-thousand acre feet per year more than their plan for the Trinity Aquifer allows.

Board President Jimmy Skipton says Wimberley Springs Partners has been around longer than the district so they've been allowed to pump even more water than they permitted during that time.

"These permits that were granted today are essentially like deficit spending. It's deficit pumping. It's pumping more than annually comes into the aquifer and it's going to continue the degradation and depletion of our groundwater in the hill country," said Baker.

"For 5 years they've tried to get a permit and have not been able to. With us issuing this permit for 250 acre feet. They will now fall under our jurisdiction which means they'll fall under our district which means they'll follow our drought management plans and we'll know exactly what they're pumping," said Skipton.

Exactly how much more water can be safely pumped from the Aquifer? That number is what's called managed available groundwater (ultimately set by the state) and those estimates varied widely. One report found only 331 acre per feet should be pumped a year another report said 5,000 acre feet.

In the coming weeks board members with the conservation district will have to find a number that gives them a better idea of what the Aquifer can take.

Wimberley Water Wars - Residents Fight Golf Course: MyFoxAUSTIN.com


Monday, February 21, 2011

Census counts 2,626 Wimberley residents; water main on the Square to be replaced


Six Wimberley streets are on the fast track for repaving and reconstruction before the end of the current fiscal year which ends on September 30. Mill Race Lane, Cliffview road, Malone Drive, Rockwall Road, Smith Creed Road and Twilight Trail


City Hall Briefs is written and edited by Bob Flocke to inform the citizens of Wimberley about city activities. It is neither an official nor an authorized publication of the City of Wimberley. The Briefs is distributed by e-mail to anyone who wishes to receive it. If you wish to receive a copy, email Flocke at rflocke@austin.rr.com or call 512.847.5421.

Send your comments and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com, to Mr. Flocke, or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

2010 Census figures are in – Wimberley has 2,626 residents


The local results for the US Census Bureau's 2010 census were released Friday. In its first official count since incorporation, Wimberley has 2,626 residents. That number is up from the Census Bureau's 2008 estimate of 2,610. The 2010 Census shows there to be 1,482 housing units in the city and that 83 percent of Wimberley residents are 18 years old or older. The 2010 Census lists the population of Woodcreek as 1,457, down from a 2008 projected population of 1,600. Wimberley incorporated in 2000 with an estimated population of some 5,000 people.

The question will no doubt be asked, with the 2010 Census count for Wimberley coming in below the estimated population at the time of incorporation, does that impact the legal status of the City and the size of its extraterritorial jurisdiction? The answer to both questions is no.

WWSC to replace water main on Square this week

The Wimberley Water Supply Corporation will be replacing an existing 2 inch water main with a 6 inch main on the Square starting February 21 and ending on February 27. Construction will begin on the west side of the Square in front of Blue Bacon Toys and run along the north side the Wimberley Café, extending approximately 375 feet to the corner property line between Chick-A-Dees and Wimberley Log Homes. This line is being replaced due to age, its limited size and the problems with the location of the existing line.

The work will be done during the overnight hours to minimize the inconvenience on merchants and their customers. As such, water outages should not be a problem. Along with replacing the existing main, a new fire hydrant will be installed during construction to enhance fire protection in the merchant district. The merchants have been notified of the planned work.

TML supports Wimberley's request for AG opinion on discharge of firearms in city limits

The Texas Municipal League has filed a brief supporting Wimberley's request for a Texas Attorney General's opinion regarding the city's ordinance prohibiting the discharge of firearms within the city limits. State Senator Jeff Wentworth made the request of the attorney general's office on behalf of the city of Wimberley following a municipal court case in which the judge decided a case in favor of a citizen who had been charged with discharging a shotgun on property within the city limits.

The judge cited a state law which prohibits cities from regulating the discharge of firearms on tracts of 10 acres or more in areas that had been annexed. In his decision, the judge said that there was no difference between incorporation and annexation. The defendant's property was part of Wimberley's original 2000 annexation. An attorney general's opinion should be forthcoming within 180 days.

No candidates have filed for city council election


As of close of business Friday, no one had filed as a candidate for Wimberley's May 14 city council election. Three council seats are up for election, and the filing period began on February 14 and runs through March 14. The seats to be filled in the election are Place 1, currently held by Marilee Wood; Place 3, currently held by Bill Appleman and Place 5 which is held by John White. The city is holding a joint election with the Wimberley Independent School District and the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District.

Sheriff favorable to Wimberley using off-duty deputies for local traffic enforcement


In a meeting last week with Wimberley officials, Hays County Sheriff Gary Cutler indicated that he was in favor of the city hiring off-duty deputies on a part-time basis to enforce local traffic laws. Cutler met with Mayor Bob Flocke and City Administrator Don Ferguson to discuss city-county law enforcement issues. The deputies would be paid $35 per hour by the city, and their patrol cars would be an additional $10 an hour. Citations written by the deputies while they are being paid by the city will be adjudicated in Wimberley's municipal court, and any fines would be paid to the city's general fund. The city and county attorneys will draw up an interlocal agreement which must be approved by the city council and Hays County Commissioners Court.

Council approves first reading of water quality ordinance


The Wimberley City Council at its regular meeting last week approved on first reading a water quality protection ordinance to control potential pollution of groundwater and surface streams. The proposed ordinance was developed by the Planning and Zoning Commission with a goal to maintain or enhance the existing water quality of the groundwater and surfaced water within the city and its extraterritorial jurisdiction. The ordinance contains a series of general prohibitions relating to the discharge of certain wastes, substances or materials such as oil, anti-freeze and sediment into a storm water drainage system.

In addition, the ordinance establishes a series of pollution controls for new subdivision development and new commercial development including pollutant loading performance standards, setbacks from streams and critical environmental features, erosion control requirements and impervious cover limitation for such new development in the city's ETJ.

The pollution controls are intended to address larger scale developments and do not impact individuals seeking to build single-family residences on existing platted lots. For those individuals, the most notable impact of the proposed ordinance is a requirement that an erosion control plan be submitted with their plans for a building permit which shows the steps to be taken to provide erosion and sediment control during construction.

To encourage water quality protection, the proposed ordinance offers impervious cover incentives such as rainwater harvesting and transferable development rights. Also, the ordinance provides a process to seek a waiver from the regulations in those cases where a hardship may exist. If the council passes the ordinance on its second reading at the March 3 meeting, it becomes law as part of the city's code of ordinances.

Council sets priorities for street repair


City council action placed six Wimberley streets on the fast track for repaving and reconstruction before the end of the current fiscal year which ends on September 30. Mill Race Lane, Cliffview road, Malone Drive, Rockwall Road, Smith Creed Road and Twilight Trail. The council allocated $201,000 for street repair in this year's budget. The estimated cost for the work on all six streets is $235,830. Malone Drive ($17,400) and Rockwall Road (23,730) are at the bottom of the FY 2011 priority list and will be repaired this year if the other projects can be done for less than the estimates. If those two streets are not paved this year, they will be at the head of the priority for repair for FY 2012. The city's Transportation Advisory Board and the city staff developed a priority list for Wimberley's 88 streets, and the council decided to try to repair and repave them over a ten year period. The process started last year with the paving of three streets in the northern part of the city.

2011 Blue Hole admission fees established


The city council approved Parks and Recreation Commission recommendations for the 2011 swimming season at Blue Hole. The fees for daily admission will remain the same as for the 2010 season with several changes to the age group categories. Children three and under are free. Children ages four to 12 will pay $3 each and all children 12 and under must be accompanies by an adult. Juniors from 13 to 17 will pay $7.00 as will adults 19-59. Seniors 60 and over will pay $3 for admission. Season passes are $30 for ages 4-12 and 60 and older. Ages 13 to 59 will be charged $50 for season passes. New this year is a 10-admission punch pass that is transferable. These passes may be used for up to 10 admissions by anyone in the appropriate age groups in possession of the pass. The cost for the punch passes are $24 for ages 4-12 and 60 and older. Ages 13-59 can get a punch pass for $56. The swimming hole is scheduled to open on Memorial Day weekend provided that Blue Hole Regional Park development construction is completed in the swimming hole area.

City accepts Wood, Grinstead $30,000 Blue Hole Contribution

The city council accepted a donation of $30,000 from Marilee Wood and Tevis Grinstead for planned improvements at Blue Hole Regional Park. The Wood-Grinstead donation is dedicated to the development and maintenance of a small amphitheater at the park. In accordance with the city's naming policy for Blue Hole, the amphitheater will carry the name of the donors or another name designated by the donors for the life of the improvement. Wood is a member of the Wimberley City Council, and Grinstead, a local attorney and member of the Wimberley Board of Adjustment, is her husband.

Major shift in County borrowing policy contributed to jump in County debt


The year 2010 marked a major turning point for Hays County, however. Our elected officials made a conscious decision to use two new ways of borrowing money, both of which bypass the traditional voter approval process


Update, Thursday, Feb. 24 – For clarification: Judge Liz Sumter was the only member of the 2010 Commissioners' Court that voted against borrowing $850,000 for the land purchase near Jacob's Well. Also, on March 23, 2010 when the court authorized their financial advisor to move forward on a bond issuance for the Government Center, Judge Sumter was the only member of the court that voted "NO".

However, when the court voted a week later to authorize issuance of the bonds and levy an Ad Valorem tax to pay for them, Judge Sumter joined the rest of the Commissioner Court and voted "AYE". (Reference court minutes 3-23-2010 item #26948, and 3-30-2010 item #26965)

I asked Judge Sumter to clarify why she voted NO on March 23rd and YES a week later. Her answer was that there are always two votes when a bond is issued. The first vote is a decision to use bonds to borrow money. The second is to formally approve the contracts used to issue the bonds. It is her philosophy that once the court had voted and approved the decision to borrow money, it was her role as judge to work with the court to make sure they received the best deal possible.

Note: The RoundUp spoke with County Auditor Bill Herzog last week. As of Octboer 2010, Herzog said, the county's debt stood at $215,649,998.00 and is projected to rise to around $400 million once all the road bonds are sold. The $400 million probably is a little high due to road projects coming in below their projected costs. Over time – a long, long time – the county expects to recoup an estimated $133 million from TxDOT as reimbursements on the qualifying "pass through" road projects. Thus far, the county has received pass through payments from TxDOT totaling $1.9 million for the Hwy 290 reconstruction. Meanwhile, the county is paying a pretty penny on principal and interest on its whopping debt – expected to reach $17 million in 2011, up from $7.5 million in 2009.

We'll add another avenue to Ms. Lovejoy's list the county can use to go around a vote of the citizens: A revenue bond. It is one method being bounced around to finance the purchase of LCRA's 290 water line and operation in Hays County – so says County Commissioner Will Conley. A due diligence review on the water line operation is currently being led by Pct. 4 Commissioner Ray Whisenant, Dripping Springs. LCRA is carrying a $140 million debt on the line, which probably would be assumed by the county if a deal is ever reached. This water will certainly come at a high price to consumers and the taxpayers.

Send your comments and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com, to Ms. Lovejoy at leneel@centurytel.net or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story. Look for more reports from Lovejoy at her new watchongov.com website.

By Lenee Lovejoy
Special to the RoundUp

In 2010 the Hays County government quietly began borrowing money in new ways that bypass the need for a voter proposition election. This contributed to the record increase in county debt that has occurred over the last several years.

This change in how the county borrows money is significant because most of the money spent by county government is raised from taxes and fees paid by those who live in the county.

Just how much money has our county government borrowed? According to county auditor, Bill Herzog, county debt is expected to reach $400 million by the end of fiscal year 2011. The county government only takes in about $81 million dollars in revenue each year.

The amount of debt held by our county government affects the pocket books and quality of life of all Hays County residents. This is because county debt works somewhat like our personal credit cards: the more we charge, the higher our monthly payments become. This leaves less money for other household expenses.

The same thing happens with our county government: As the debt level goes up, the payments on the debt go up, leaving less money available to provide county services. As a result, the county government must eventually choose to either cut services or take more money from the pockets of the citizens of the county.

Prior to 2010 the county government borrowed money mainly by using something called General Obligation Bonds (GO). These are sometimes called voter bonds because voters must pass a proposition before elected officials can borrow the money. These were used in May of 2007, when citizens agreed to take on debt and approved a $30 million bond proposition to purchase parks and open space. Again, in November, 2008, citizens agreed to borrow and passed a $207 million road bond proposition for the county.

The year 2010 marked a major turning point for Hays County, however. Our elected officials made a conscious decision to use two new ways of borrowing money, both of which bypass the traditional voter approval process. In March, 2010, county officials borrowed $84 million dollars by using something called Certificate of Obligation Bonds (CO); they then issued an additional Ad Valorem tax against all taxable property in the county to pay for these bonds.

The Certificates of Obligation (CO) are different because they allow the Commissioners Court to borrow money without permitting the citizens to vote on a proposition. This method of borrowing had previously been reserved for use in emergencies, that is, special situations where there is no time to hold a voter proposition.

In 2010, however, our elected officials used the Certificate of Obligation for a non-emergency: the construction of the new Hays Government Center. In November of 2010, Commissioners introduced another method of borrowing large sums without voter approval: they borrowed $850,000 from a national nonprofit organization, at above market interest rates – 6%, to purchase land for conservation.

Money was still available from the county’s 2007 Parks Bonds, at 4% interest, when the decision to borrow additional money was made. The elected officials who decided to borrow without voter approval were County Commissioners Debbie Ingalsbe, Will Conley, Jeff Barton, and Karen Ford, and County Judge Liz Sumter.

Commissioners Barton and Ford, and Judge Sumter lost their bids for re-election last year; Conley and Ingalsbe do not come up for reelection until 2012.

Will the newly elected members of our County Commissioner Court continue this dangerous borrowing trend? County Judge Bert Cobb and Commissioner Ray Whisenant have both gone on record to say that they will not use borrowing methods that bypass voter approval. I have not yet had a chance to talk with Commissioner Mark Jones regarding his position on this.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Citizens Budget Project schedules meetings for public input


From 2007 through the end of 2011, Hays County’s debt will have risen over 500%, from $64 million to about $400 million. Capital project spending will have soared by 1,300%


The first public meeting will be held Wednesday, Feb. 23, 7pm-8:30pm at Rogelio’s Banquet Hall in San Marcos


Send your comments and news tips to roundup.edtor@gmail.com, to Mr. Brannon at sam_brannon@hotmail.com or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

By Sam Brannon
Guest Commentary

Every day the news channels and newspapers churn out stories about the growing national and state debt and budget problems. And for all the talk about the scope and scale of the issues involved, the average taxpayer has precious little impact on the outcome of either.

We hear a lot less about the financial conditions of our local governments. That’s interesting to me because we can actually have an impact at the local level. Our elected officials live in our neighborhoods. We run into them at grocery stores, ball games, coffee shops, at church, and if all else fails, we can show up to the weekly Commissioners Court or City Council meetings to get the latest updates. More or less.

To me, it seems that we won’t have any real influence on debt and spending at the national or state level until we get our local governments’ finances in order, in our own proverbial backyard. That’s where our influence is greatest, should we decide to use it.

A quick review


As some readers will recall, it was last September that I and 50-plus other Hays County residents addressed the Commissioners Court regarding the simultaneous property tax rate increase and elected official pay raise that were being proposed for 2011. We were all relieved that our elected officials listened to us, and that neither the tax rate nor their pay were increased for this year.

That event caused a few of us to begin looking closely at the 2011 budget as well as the recent trends in spending and debt. Early last December we began the Hays Citizens' Budget Project to gather a more complete view of the county finances. We are more than a little concerned about what we found, too.

From 2007 through the end of 2011, Hays County’s debt will have risen over 500%, from $64 million to about $400 million. Capital project spending will have soared by 1,300%. Although the population only grew 13% since 2007, the County’s spending on normal government operations has increased by 40%. If these numbers seem a little unreal, rest knowing that they have been confirmed by the County Auditor.

Growth in debt and spending
have far outpaced Hays County’s
population growth over
both 4-year and 11-year periods


Meanwhile, over the same time period, unemployment has doubled, food stamp recipients have doubled, over 4,000 Hays County residential properties have gone into foreclosure, and commercial foreclosures such as Springtown, Sanctuary Lofts and StoneCreek Crossing are on the rise.

A growing number of people and businesses in our community are feeling very economically pressed, and that pressure will surely increase along with the property tax rate increases on the horizon.

On the horizon – more debt and spending projects

The county recently announced its interest in purchasing the LCRA water operations in Hays County. The price mentioned so far is $140 million. We have a 911 dispatch consolidation project that could cost $5 million to $10 million. There’s still talk of a new jail for somewhere between $20 million-$70 million. The Habitat Conservation Plan calls for another 15,000-30,000 acres to be purchased in the coming years for somewhere between $100 million-$500 million. And of course there are more road expansions being proposed.

It's fair to say that there will always be more spending projects being evaluated and that there will always be compelling arguments made for why they are important to us. But ultimately it's up the taxpayers to determine if we want them and if we can afford them. To do our job well, we need to be informed.

Your Participation is Requested

The Hays Citizens’ Budget Project has two presentations scheduled this coming week where we’ll be discussing the current trends, and how we can reverse them, should we decide to do so. The 2012 budget planning is set to begin in earnest in April, and there are about $100 million in new construction projects also set to begin in April. In our opinion, given the situation, all spending and projects should be on the table for discussion.

It is important to realize that your voice belongs in the discussion, and we’re working with our Commissioners Court to see that this happens. The Hays Citizens' Budget Project is requesting that formal Public Hearings be held in each precinct during March, in San Marcos, Kyle/Buda, Dripping Springs and Wimberley. This will allow an open community conversation on the financial situation and how we wish to move forward.

County Judge Bert Cobb has confirmed his support for the Public Hearings in March, and I’m very hopeful that we’ll receive the same support from the rest of the court. These Public Hearings are important so that our elected officials will have the opportunity to explain why the current debt/spending trends are or are not sustainable, and allow us to ask smart questions and receive direct answers.

We taxpayers will be able to share our concerns about the financial direction of the county, and we’ll provide direct answers to the smart questions from elected officials. This is as it should be - open community dialogue on important issues.

Everyone in Hays County is invited to join Hays Citizens’ Budget Project presentations. We're calling them “Hays County: At a Crossroads.”

The first public meeting will be held Wednesday, Feb. 23, 7pm-8:30pm at Rogelio’s Banquet Hall (the door to the left of the restaurant) 625 S. LBJ Drive, in San Marcos. This meeting is open to the public, sponsored by a group of San Marcos small-business owners.

Other scheduled meetings:


* Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011 Time: 7pm-8:30pm at
The American Legion/VFW Hall, Dripping Springs, RR 12 at Mercer, one block north of Hwy 290. This meeting is open to the public, sponsored by the Dripping Springs 9-12 Project.

* Tuesday, March 1, 9 am, at the Hays County Commissioners Court Meeting, Hays County Courthouse, San Marcos Square. Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe confirmed that she’ll slot us for a 20-minute presentation of our findings to the court, and discussion will follow. This is open to the public.

We’ve already had two public meetings and a number of small private presentations, and the feedback has been that we should proceed with great caution on all spending. We’re also working to secure presentation venues in both the Kyle/Buda and Wimberley areas, and we’re happy to do as many as we can across Hays County. If you’d like to invite us to your Chamber of Commerce, Neighborhood Association, grass-roots or other organization, write to me at: LoveHaysCounty@hotmail.com

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Wimberley Springs seeks 324 million gallon groundwater permit


The groundwater district's 5-member board will consider the application at its regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Monday, Feb. 21, 1 pm, at Dripping Springs City Hall, 511 Mercer Street

Note:
Below is information in the application filed by Winton Porterfield with the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) for a permit for Wimberley Springs Partners to become a Public Water Supplier (PWS). The public rarely gets a chance to review detailed communications between the District and permit applicants. The Q&A, between Mr. Porterfield and the District's GM, Rick Broun, is informative and very timely. Decide for yourself. Is groundwater best used for the build-out of a dense development at Wimberley Springs and irrigation of golf courses? Is anyone checking if the irrigated effluent contains harmful bacterial and chemical residue?

There's a good chance the permit will be approved. If it is, it will the first new large volume groundwater production permit allowed by the Board since last May's election when three new board members were seated.

Wimberley Springs Partners (WSP) states below that they have an agreement until 2037 with Aqua Texas to accept up to 600,000 gallons of effluent per day on the two golf courses. The golf courses are really just a matrix to accept sewage. (As golf courses, they reportedly are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for WSP.)

In the answer to question 8, WSP states, "Our goal is to get 80% effluent irrigation, but the mechanical systems to irrigate effluent are more expensive than [for] groundwater, so we want the flexibility to sell or lease groundwater rights [to others] in order to fund improvements to the effluent distribution system."

Some believe WSP's plan is to get a permit in their name, but then lease rights to others (probably Aqua Texas, who is not popular at the moment with TCEQ) to pump much of the water they persuade HTGCD to permit them (WSP). It's questionable whether this practice is legal.

Send your comments, questions and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com, to HTGCD board president Jimmy Skipton at jimmyskipton@gmail.com or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Click on this link to download a copy of the meeting/public hearing agenda (Feb. 21 on the calendar) and directions to Dripping Springs City Hall.

Subject: Wimberley Springs Partners Permit

Board and Staff,

On Thursday, February 10, 2011 I met with Wimberley Springs Partners (WSP) / Winton Porterfield at the District office. We met for over three hours and I have been in communication via email and telephone concerning his application to the District. There were some follow-up action items that WSP has now provided the District, see attachments.

The following are the questions, answers and notes regarding his permit application. Included within the following are geological and science-based points.

1) Question: WSP has 6 wells listed in its application and 6 wells on your quarterly reporting. We'd like to know all 6 well names and how much they produce.

Answer: The only well producing is the Doolittle well, located within the City of Woodcreek. The other 5 wells are: Bull Frog, Maintenance 1, Maintenance 2, Park Well and Section 25 well.

Production History of Doolittle: 2006: 36,806,400 gallons or 112.95 AF (acre-feet) 2007: 30,326,400 gallons or 93.06 AF 2008: 38,620,800 gallons or 118.52 AF 2009: 24,962,400 gallons or 76.60 AF 2010: 15,038,900 gallons or 46.15 AF Total: 145,754,900 gallons or 447.3 AF Average over 5 Years: 89.46 AF

Note: WSP has owned these 6 wells since April 2001, all drilled prior to the formation of the HTGCD (District) / 1973,1976 & 1998, see maps. 5 wells were tested for pumping capacity in early 2001. The wells are capable of groundwater production from the Middle Trinity, Cow Creek formation. Test production ranged from 33-425 gpm. 4 wells were completed "open-hole". The Park well (908) was packed with gravel from 183 to 284 feet (T.D.). The Bull frog well (902) was classified as "abandoned". Those wells not in use have been capped. There has been some minor pumping from the other 5 wells, but only when WSP lowers a pump to check if wells are capable of production.

2) Question: Which wells does WSP use to produce for the current golf course and which wells will be used for the rebuild golf course.

Answer: Doolittle well will continue to be used for WSP's current use. For our rebuild golf course, WSP will use Section 25 well and Park Well.

Note: WSP wells are in close proximity to Aqua Texas wells, Wimberley WSC public supply wells and Jacob's Well. According to WSP, Aqua Texas acknowledges and approves of WSP's permit to produce in such close proximity even though WSP will be within Aqua Texas' CCN.

The District has evidence that pumping from Aqua Texas wells 21 and 23 (Aquifer Pump Test) impacts Jacob's Well by reducing flow. The District has no information on the impact of increased WSP pumping on the public water supply wells or on Jacob's Well. The District has a geophysical log from one well, Maintenance 2. WSP has also allowed the District to place a transducer in the Maintenance 2 well for monitoring purposes.

Normal faults from the Tom Creek Fault System cut the property from southwest to northeast. A geologic cross-section constructed from Aqua Texas 23 to the South Golf Course well (703) indicates a drop of 270 feet to the southeast between the two wells. The water levels between the two wells however, are within 5 feet. It appears that the fault is not sealing.

3) Question: Will unused wells be plugged?

Answer: Yes. Once the golf course has been planned and designed, unused wells will be plugged. In the mean time, they will be fenced to restrict access and covered.

Note: Wells not in use have been capped.

4) Question: Are there any other wells WSP plan to use and will you drill any new wells.

Answer: Depending on the golf course design, those wells included in our application. WSP doesn't plan to drill any but it's possible if we determine, along with the District, that it is desirable to drill a new well to better locate the pumping and lessen potential impacts.

Note: Domestic wells are not allowed in the subdivision. All new wells will require an Aquifer Test.

5) Question: Does the effluent that WSP uses come from Aqua Texas? If so, is it treated and might it cause concern to the neighbors?

Answer: Yes, the wastewater effluent is treated as per a permit that Aqua Texas has with the TCEQ. The disposal area included in that permit includes both golf courses.

Answer: Wastewater effluent has been used for golf course irrigation on both courses for more than 20 years. Deed restrictions for lots on both courses includes statements about the use of sprayed wastewater effluent, so home owners and potential buyers should be aware of this fact.

6) Question: Does WSP have a contract with a supplier for an amount of effluent each month? If so, how much and how might that change over time?

Answer: Yes, with Aqua Texas, up to 600,000 gallons per day. Currently Aqua produces about 200,000 gallons per day.

Answer: Aqua's contract runs until 2037

7) Question: WSP did file a Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) with the District some time ago, would you like to review the DCP or fill out a new one?

Answer: We can use the original for the purposes of the permit application. I am also willing to use the cutback percentages we had in the draft standstill agreement, as permit conditions.

8) Question: In 2010 WSC pumped 49 AF (15.9 million gallons), please explain the need for 250 AF (81.4 million gallons) per golf course.

Answer: The amount we pump is dependent upon rainfall and when we get that rainfall. Rainfall for 2010 was 40 inches, well above the 32 inch annual rainfall average for the region. Our average annual groundwater usage since 2002 for the one golf course has been 114 acre feet. Add a second golf course (with turf that will need to be established) and 250 is a conservative number for the maintenance of two golf course until more effluent is available. Our goal is to get 80% effluent irrigation but the mechanical systems to irrigate effluent are more expensive than groundwater so we want the flexibility to sell or lease groundwater rights in order to fund improvements to the effluent distribution system.

Note from the District GM: WSP permit application is requesting 997 AF (324.8 million gallons). There are two areas requiring groundwater: Woodcreek and Woodcreek North. This is not my recommendation, but rather the break-down of WSP's permit request. 125 AF/Yr. for Woodcreek, 125 AF/Yr. for Woodcreek North, and 250 AF/Yr. to re-establish golf course vegetation. Once the new golf course has been established, that 250 AF/Yr goes away. Depending on when WSP requires the additional 250 AF for re-establishing vegetation, the permit should be flexible. An example for a 3-Year permit: First Year: 250 AF Second Year: 500 AF Third Year: 250 AF

General Notes: As WSP is applying with the District as an Irrigation and as a Public Water Supplier (PWS), connection fees are in effect and will constitute a $300 per household connection fee as stated within District Rule 12.1 B. Neither the District permit nor the District Rules state the selling or leasing of groundwater, but perhaps Greg Ellis (HTGCD attorney) can confirm.

Quarterly Reporting, District Rules including compliance, Loss and fines, Water Conservation and Drought Contingency Plans, the entire permit shall be acknowledged by WSP and followed. WSP will follow all guidelines as stated by the TCEQ and their PWS policies. WSP and Aqua Texas acknowledge that WSP will be pumping within the CCN of Aqua Texas. Reviewing the District Rules, we can't force WSP to comply with an Aquifer Test ($20,000 -$30,000) as their wells are not new.

Administrative Check List for a pre-existing well permit: 1) Operating Permit Application: Completed 2) Proof of published notice: Completed 3) Proof of mailed notice: Completed 4) A Water Conservation Plan: Completed 5) A Drought Contingency Plan: Completed 6) A location Map: Completed 7) Evidence of annual production quantities, unaccounted for water and water levels in all production and monitoring wells over the past 5 years: Completed

Friday, February 18, 2011

Board president sends alarming letter to Dripping Water Supply members


Corporation attorney calls for immediate special board meeting to oust Harris


Reporting from the field, Charles O'Dell . . . Send your comments and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com, to O'Dell at codell@austin.rr.com or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Embattled DSWSC
board president Steven Harris

A bad situation at Dripping Springs Water Supply Corp (DSWSC) just got worse when board president Steven Harris – already under pressure to resign from the board for harassing DSWSC employees and open meetings violations – mailed a rambling three page political letter to members that repeated unsubstantiated charges against DSWSC employees. The letter, sent last week, also addressed a former CPA of the water supply and attacked a member-signed petition calling for a special membership meeting on March 10th to hear charges filed against Harris and to vote on whether to oust Harris and fellow board member, Larry Brewer, from the board.

The unauthorized letter is designed to affect the March 10th membership election. It contains charges already shown to be false and was mailed using DSWSC funds, all apparently in violation of laws governing non-profits, libel laws and US Postal laws.

DSWSC attorney, Phil Haag, is reported to be concerned that Harris’ letter may place the corporation at risk for numerous slander and libel suits. Harris used the DSWSC postage permit on his unauthorized political letter and obtained reimbursement from the corporation for more than $750, including $429.27 in “printing” costs.

Harris submitted a personal receipt for the printing he claimed was done commercially, and promised to submit the printer’s original receipt as requested. So far, Harris has failed to deliver the receipt from a commercial printer. Harris’ letter may have turned what was once a messy internal DSWSC dispute into a matter for law enforcement.
Click on pages to enlarge
Excerpts from the Harris letter:

"So, as members, we have to ask what this is all about. Is all the fuss about your best interest? Is (general manager Doug) Cones serving us, or his wallet? Is Walden just a noble ex-member living nearly 30 miles away who has tons of free time to spend riding around with Cones every week? Is all the time in the field (at your expense) just to serve you and I, or is the plan to get a job? You need to know that Cones is only a year or so out from retirement, according to his version of the contract. The version he tried to write his own contract with our professionals! Is this right? Can the employee negotiate his terms with our representative and present it to the employer for approval? I did interrupt this plan for a five-year term with no requirements and plenty of payout. That is true. The Board approved an offer that was presented to Cones and he accepted.


"This petition is going to cost the membership a lot of money. Then, immediately following is the regular annual meeting where another election will be held for the seat held by Mr. Wolf, the Secretary/Treasurer. Your votes will decide whether conservative votes remain on the Board, or more of Cones' handpicked yes-men will be in place. Do you want another mess like what happened to P.E.C.? Do you want more like Garnett who does not read the minutes or plans and yet votes. So often, he votes once he asks Jim Walden what to do or looks up at Cones and nods or shakes his head to vote yes or no . . .

"Whatever happens, I encourage you to vote based on facts and not the emotion of half-truths that continue to make headlines. Consider the source. Is the author a member? What does this serve? Who does this serve? So much of the paper and blog information is coming from non-members and quite possibly staff. The office staff has been seen passing recording devices in meetings. Does the staff work for us, or outsiders? Should we be able to trust the staff to defend the board, their employer?"


















Memories of Barbara Jordan


Barbara and I were born only 162 days and 147 miles apart in 1936, but in entirely different worlds. How remarkable that our paths would cross so significantly thirty four years later


“My faith in the Constitution is whole, It is complete. It is total. I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.”

~ Barbara Jordan, July 25, 1974, Opening Statement to the House Judiciary Committee
Impeachment Hearings for Richard Nixon

Send your comments and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail, to Mr. O'Dell at codell@austin.rr.com or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

By Charles O'Dell
Contributing Editor


Since 1976, February is officially celebrated as Black History Month in America. My life experiences, beginning when I worked in the fields as a farm boy, taught me about the dignity of those facing racial injustice.

We all need models in our lives who inspire us and who we can emulate. For me, Barbara Jordan was a model citizen, the consummate public servant and a decent human being. She was hard working and committed to duty, skillful, and an inspirational leader.

Born February 21, 1936, Barbara Jordan died fifteen years ago on January 17, 1996, at the early age of 59.

It was my good fortune to have met and worked with her – first in 1971 when she served in the Texas Senate, and three years later in Washington, D.C. where she was a U.S. congresswoman from Houston.

Barbara and I were born only 162 days and 147 miles apart in 1936, but in entirely different worlds. How remarkable that our paths would cross so significantly thirty four years later.Barbara Jordan/biography

We first met in the Spring of 1971, when I was serving as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Federal Liaison Officer stationed at Prairie View A&M College, the second oldest educational institution in Texas. Prairie View, a black Land Grant college (one of thirteen colleges created under the second Morrill Act in 1890), is located near Houston in rural Waller County.
In an act of collective conscience, the U.S. Congress had appropriated $50 million for development projects at the long neglected thirteen black land grant colleges and prestigious Tuskegee Institute. The Under Secretary of Agriculture for Education at USDA was designated to oversee program expenditures.

A call went out from the Under Secretary’s Office, and as a USDA Economist and designated equal employment opportunity coordinator (EEOC), I agreed to write a job description for Federal Liaison Officers who would be stationed at the fourteen schools. In return for writing the job description I got to choose the school where I would serve. After visiting several campuses, I chose Prairie View A&M College in Texas. Little did I realize the life long implications of that choice.

In late summer of 1970, I took leave from my graduate studies at Maryland University and moved my wife and three young children to nearby Hempstead, Texas, because there were no homes available in Prairie View.

Barbara Jordan was in her fourth year as a state senator from Houston when I arrived at Prairie View A&M College to, “help build the institution,” as I had written in the job description. The College was something out of the distant past and I saw clear opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of dedicated faculty and many poorly prepared students seeking a college education. But first, there were important political lessons for me to learn.

Prairie View is part of the Texas A&M University System and Dean of the Agricultural College, H. O. Kunkel, wasn’t happy to have a direct channel open between Prairie View and Washington, D.C. that could bypass his office.

As Federal Liaison Officer I could call USDA, the Pentagon, The White House or any other federal agency in Washington, D.C. to make requests associated with needs of the black college. When the college Department of Nursing made an appeal to me for sorely needed teaching equipment and supplies, I called an army general I knew in the Medical Services Corps at the Pentagon and requested help.

For the most part, campus buildings, dormitories, classrooms and laboratories at Prairie View were in deplorable condition. Decades of neglect were clearly evident in the outdated or missing laboratory equipment and classroom furnishings. The college’s operating budget came through College Station and it became clear to me that the parent university needed to establish a closer relationship with its orphaned charge.

A good way to foster improved relationships was through reciprocal teaching programs involving visiting professors from both campuses. This cross-campus experience would open faculty eyes at College Station, create opportunities for shared responsibilities and growth of faculties at both institutions and strengthen curriculum for students. My proposal was well received by faculty at both schools but both administrations were cool. It was viewed as loss of control.

I taught several introductory Economics classes at Prairie View, and over time created a rapport with students and with other faculty through shared experiences. A school policy was to take class attendance but I had students who were working their way through college, as I had at Texas Tech, and my policy was to grade on what they learned, not on attendance. Ample handouts and open office hours worked well for my students.

Prairie View A&M today

The Administration at Prairie View was oppressive and controlling of faculty and students. I became aware of at least one professor who traded grades for sex, and the student handbook was insulting. As reported in the Houston Post, “...rules governing student conduct are demoralizing and designed for elementary school children.” When Prairie View President Dr. Alvin I. Thomas posed the question, “If they dislike the college so much why do they remain?” Students reportedly responded, “You don’t solve a problem by running away.”

Thomas ruled faculty and staff through fear and intimidation. It was understood that if dismissed, you would be unable to sell your home in the Prairie View community since the only jobs were with the college and all hiring had to be approved by Thomas.

When Vietnam veterans began enrolling at Prairie View they were unwilling to accept the status quo. Prairie View operated the only Naval ROTC in a predominately black college. As veterans of the war returned they expected to receive a college education and to be treated with respect. When an air force vet organized a student march on the president’s home to demand needed reforms, all hell broke loose. A small shed was set afire and the Waller County Sheriff Department was called on campus to break up the student demonstration. The air force veteran was arrested and thrown into Waller County jail, and 139 students were expelled from school, many who weren’t even on campus when the march occurred.

Thomas controlled the media news with his version of what was happening on campus. He claimed that only six students had been expelled for serious offenses but I had received a copy of the Thomas directive distributed among his administration that listed 139 “trouble makers” who had been expelled. We sheltered about a dozen students in our Hempstead home because they feared arrest by the Waller County Sheriff Department. One expelled student produced an airline receipt showing that he had been visiting in New Jersey during the demonstration.
I counseled student leaders that a more productive course of action for meaningful change was a lawful one and directed them to the nearby Houston ACLU.

Several days later I received a phone call in my office from an ACLU attorney who didn’t believe the conditions being described by the students were true. I told him problems went far beyond what the students were describing from their experiences and agreed to quietly assist any litigation protecting students’ legal rights. ACLU filed a class action suit on behalf of the students against the college. Because it is a state school the Texas Attorney General Office provided legal defense against the suit.

In an ironic twist, the AG attorney assigned to defend the college happened to be a family friend and when he called me for an informal report on matters I could not disclose the confidences entrusted in me by the students and ACLU. It was an uncomfortable situation for me.

In the meantime, I contacted state Senator Barbara Jordan’s office and described some of the Administration’s corruption that I had documented, including misuse of federal funds for infrastructure construction, and Senator Jordan called for a senate hearing. Many of the faculty had entrusted me with their stories of intimidation, favoritism and abuse by Thomas and the time had come to hold his administration accountable. I prepared to drive several faculty members to testify at the Capital. But the situation began to turn badly.

Behind the scene I countered the Administration’s spin on media news with documents showing the false claims being made. Each day I attended federal court as a spectator and to observe the false information being offered into testimony. Then one day the young ACLU attorney had President Thomas on the witness stand and asked Thomas how many students had been expelled in connection with the student march. Thomas testified under oath, “six.” The attorney then showed Thomas a copy of the list of 139 expelled students his office had circulated to certain college administrators and that I had turned over to ACLU.

I was sitting on the fourth row looking directly at Thomas and sensed immediately this was going to be troublesome. Unfortunately, the judge was an elderly man from Waller County who clearly was racially prejudiced.

Thomas paused only a moment before blurting out, “That was stolen from my office.” Of course the list wasn’t stolen but the judge immediately seized the opportunity and said to the young ACLU attorney, “Tell me where you obtained that stolen document.” After a long pause, the attorney responded, “Can we retire to chambers on this matter?” “No,” the judge said. “I want you to tell me in open court or I will have you both disbarred!” After a brief discussion between the two young attorneys, one of them looked to the judge and said, “Your honor, we obtained the list from Charles O’Dell.”

The cat was out of the bag, but I had other problems. Wives of the faculty members who were to testify at Barbara Jordan’s senate hearing forbade them from testifying in fear of reprisals. The wives somehow sensed that the status quo would not be overturned that easily and knew there would be retribution by Thomas.

Senator Jordan held her hearings and exposed the long neglect of Prairie View by the white power structure but no one was willing to step forward and verify the widespread internal corruption at Prairie View. To my knowledge, Thomas got away scot-free.

USDA Secretary Earl Butts had me recalled to Washington, D.C. because the FBI was concerned for my safety in Waller and Hempstead Counties. My office and home phones had been tapped and I received anonymous threats against me and my family. I retuned to my work at USDA, continued graduate studies at Maryland University and wrote a report of my tenure at Prairie View. USDA awarded me an accommodation but it was my friendships at Prairie View that I valued most.

Three years later I had the opportunity at a Texas State Society event to discuss Prairie View with Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. I thanked her for her efforts and expressed my disappointment in not being able to deliver faculty members to her hearing. She seemed to understand much more than I expected and said to me in her clear eloquent voice, “You saw your duty and made a difference.” I believed her.

Each time I walk through Bergstrom International Airport I’m reminded by Barbara Jordan’s statue of how blessed I am to have had her life touch mine and the lives of so many others. Her personal and public integrity, her courage, her human dignity and duty to public service still inspire me, and that’s what drives the work of HaysCAN.

"But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed, confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice, government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people, the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas. They are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere."
~ Obama in Cairo in 2009

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Off the beat: Thyme & Dough and The Leaning Pear are truly local


We received this latest update from the local community news website, Things Dripping
. Anyone wishing to publicize local events and news items can do so also by sending the information to the Roundup at: roundup.editor@gmail.com

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GroACT, Growers Alliance of Central Texas, a group of local, sustainable and organic farmers and ranchers, surveyed its members to help citizens identify restaurants that buy regularly from area farms and Dripping's own Rolling in Thyme & Dough makes the group's list of "who's truly local" along with big and nationally acclaimed Austin restaurants. Hooray Fabienne! Also, cheers to two other restaurants just down the road, Jack Allen's Kitchen in Oak Hill and The Leaning Pear in Wimberley!

For more on how the restaurants were ranked and who made the list, visit the Growers Alliance website.

And this related story published in the Austin Chronicle . . .

Local Is as Local Does
– Why area farmers want you to beware of faux local

By Virginia B. Wood | Fri., Feb. 18, 2011

Austin certainly has the reputation as a city that values keeping it weird and supporting local businesses, but a group of area farmers is very concerned about what it sees as the fluctuating definition of "local" when it comes to fresh produce.

The buying local trend is hot all around the country just now, prompting restaurants, grocery stores, and produce distributors to use the "We Buy Local" banner as an effective but sometimes misleading marketing tool.

So, how does Austin define local? Does it have to mean produce grown in our home county, or could the parameters expand to include the entire big state of Texas? Area farmers adhere to a definition that includes produce and food products grown within a 150-mile radius of Austin. This is the same standard used by most of our farmers' markets, with a few seasonal exceptions for items such as citrus, bison, seafood, and apples not regularly produced in Central Texas.

Why is the definition of what constitutes local so critical? A newly formed coalition of area farmers and ranchers called Growers Alliance of Central Texas, or GroACT, maintains that diluting the definition of local to include produce from anywhere in the state deceives consumers while threatening area farmers' livelihoods.

If so many people are really buying local, they ask, why aren't their farmstands and farmers' market stalls selling out? Why is it now necessary for many of them to sell at two or three farmers' markets in order to make the same (or less) income they used to generate with one stall? While several factors are surely involved here – the soft economy, the number of overall farmers' market shoppers being diluted by the proliferation of markets, and even the resurgence of backyard gardens and chicken coops – GroACT members remain convinced that defining local is a serious economic issue for them.

Austin's modern local food movement began in the early Nineties with a small, dedicated group of organic farmers who sold produce from the back of pick-up trucks and off folding tables at small neighborhood markets. When Whole Foods Market built a flagship store at Sixth and Lamar in 1996, the same farmers offered a weekly market in the parking lot there for some time. The movement grew slowly over the next 10 years, as it did around the country, until it blossomed fully in the national consciousness about four years ago.


Read the complete story at this link: http://www.austinchronicle.com/food/2011-02-18/local-is-as-local-does/