Saturday, April 30, 2011

Woodcreek survey confirms attitudes about Aqua Texas: Not so good, to beyond the pale

". . . I hope Woodcreek will explore water catchment and other sewage options to become self sufficient & to heck with this water company! I want them gone!"

Note: We've reprinted the recently completed Woodcreek survey verbatim, with some deletions/editing for length and spelling. The residents’ perceptions survey report lacks any editorial comment, but the views of Woodcreek area residents are very clear, to say the least. Simply put, customers are not happy with the cost of service from the Aqua Texas utility. What’s more, it appears that the Aqua customers were eager to speak out (see written responses below) with more than 900 Woodcreek area residents taking the time to respond.

Send your comments and news tips to, to the City of Woodcreek at the website,, to AquaTexas (Austin)
512-990-4400, to an Aqua America customer service rep at, taken from Aqua America's website, or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the story

See the Better Business Bureau report on Aqua Texas Inc. here

The City of Woodcreek created a Water/Wastewater Taskforce (WWT) in the Fall of 2010. The purpose of the WWT was to explore options that the City of Woodcreek had in terms of water and wastewater services. Residents of the City of Woodcreek, and a defined unincorporated area including Woodcreek North, receive water and wastewater services from Aqua Texas, a private utility. The rate structure in effect at the time the WWT was formed had been established in 2005; the term of the rate structure is set to expire in July, 2011.

It would be an understatement to say that residents are concerned about what they perceived as extremely high rates. The local newspaper routinely carries articles and letters to the editor in which the high rates are mentioned. Stories circulate about retired couples having to move away from the community because of the high rates. The rate situation with Aqua Texas, at least as it applies to water/sewer service in the Woodcreek area, is perhaps best described as follows: The monthly cost of service is in excess of $125.00, and that is before a tap is turned on or a commode is flushed.

It was in that context of service rates that Aqua Texas, through its corporate offices, distributed a questionnaire to customers in the Woodcreek area at the beginning of 2011. Not knowing the extent to which the results of that survey would be made public, members of the WWT believed that it would be beneficial for the WWT to distribute a similar survey.

Toward that end, the Center for Social Inquiry of The Department of Sociology at Texas State University was asked to assist with the design and management of the survey on behalf of the City of Woodcreek and the Woodcreek Property Owners Association on a pro bono basis. For all practical purposes, the questions from the WWT survey mirrored many of the concerns covered in the Aqua Texas survey.

A total of 2150 surveys were mailed to registered voters in the City of Woodcreek and the surrounding area, including Woodcreek North, along with a postage paid, return envelope, and a request that the surveys be returned to the Center for Social Inquiry by March 21, 2011.

As of the deadline date of March 31, 2011, a total of 928 surveys had been received (a return rate in excess of 43% and a margin of error of less than 2.5% at a 95% level of confidence).

The third (and final) section of the report presents a random sample of 30 responses to the open-end additional comments. All of the additional comment responses are available on a CD at The City of Woodcreek City Hall, 41 Champions Circle, Woodcreek, Texas 78676.

Survey note: Just to avoid any confusion, please note that this survey about your water and sewer service is not being sent to you by Aqua Texas. The City of Woodcreek, under the auspices of its Water / Wastewater Taskforce, and The Woodcreek Property Owners Association are conducting this survey.


ITEM (%) – Strongly Agree / Agree / Neutral / Disagree Strongly / Disagree / No Response

Aqua Texas’ services are a good value:
Strongly Agree - 1.0%
Agree - 2.0%
Neutral - 6.0%
Disagree Strongly - 21.6%
Disagree - 68.6%
No Response - 0.8%

Aqua Texas’ rates are affordable:

SA - 0.9% / A - 1.6% / N - 3.3% / DS - 15.8% / D - 77.8% / N - 0.5%

Aqua Texas’ water rates are comparable to nearby communities:

0.4% / 0.9% / 8.3% / 18.5% / 69.3% / 2.6%

Aqua Texas’ services are reliable:
1.9% / 20.4% / 30.0% / 20.2% / 26.8% / 0.8%

Aqua Texas repairs water or sewer problems quickly and effectively:

2.3% / 10.1% / 32.2% / 19.9% / 33.3% / 2.2%

Please write down one word that best describes your view or your opinion of Aqua Texas as a water / sewer service provider. 97% Responded 3.0% No Response.

The top 22 words used:

Words / Frequency / Percent













No Response






















































Other words used, from the survey chart: "lousy, robbery, adequate, unfair, corrupt, robbers, thief, average, fair, good, greed, irresponsible, ok, pitiful, ridiculous, rip-off, unacceptable, bandits, evil, negative, rapacious, rape, sorry, unethical, crap, disappointed, disgusted, disgusting, extortionist, gouger, opportunistic, pirates, questionable, reliable, thiefs, unsatisfactory, avaricious, criminals, deplorable, despicable, disgraceful, dishonest, exploitation, improvement, inadequate, incompetent, inefficient, mediocre, nasty, outrage, predatory, profit, profitable, reprehensible, satisfactory, satisfied, scam, selfserving, stinks, suck, sufficient, theft, too expensive, unconcerned, unreliable, very expensive, $$$$, abhorrent, absurd, alienating, arrogant, at best average, awesome, bandit, baron, bitter, bloodsuckers, callous, carpetbagger, censored, cheaters, Communisticdictatorshipcorporatethugs, competent . . ." (The list goes on.)

A sampling of respondents written comments, some shortened for length:
Aqua Tx is cold and indifferent to the monetary plight of retired fixed-income families . . .

Rates are high and we see leaks all the time they do not fix them very quick which wastes water

Our water has ruined every appliance we have. It tastes like chlorine water. If we had comparable rates it would be one thing but we're paying nearly $100 a month for this awful water, and this is with try(ing) to con(s)erve as much as possible . . .

Sewer smells continually come thru our toilet.

Aqua Texas has done everything they can to resolve every problem I've had. Their employees are respectful and courteous. I have no complaints.

The deeds say Aqua Texas is responsible for the sewer service yet the owners have to pay electric for the grinder pumps, and pay for repairs needed for them. For the price we pay for water and sewer services Aqua Texas should be able to fix them and pay for the power to run them. Perhaps they should be investigated as was PEC.

The service does not provide what I would call "drinkable" water and do not trust it to drink nor cook with. It is also very hard water causing discoloration (bleach) to plants and hard water deposits in commodes, sinks and clogs up dishwashers. It smells like chlorine. To top it off, the price, when combined with water & sewer & fees, is the equivalent of a used car payment! Even if you conserve water, the bill does not drop significantly.

If the water loss information is correct then why do we put up with such poor service.

They are devoid of local representation. We talk to people in Penn. when we have issues. They now have us all over the barrel and we are helpless to do anything about it. Woodcreek sold her soul when they sold the water utility to Aqua Tex. They want us to pay for repair for aging, leaky water lines after gouging us for years. If there was a choice, 90% of us would quit Aqua service.

My San Marcos Water Bill was $30 a month. Not $169.00.

They replaced my meter and charged me over $900 in water I never used. I'm sorry we don't have other source for our water.

The cost of water and sewer services are ridiculously high! Our water bill exceeds our electricity bill most months! And our home is all electric! The total cost should be reduced by at least 50%.

Aqua Texas does have the monopoly over Woodcreek North as being our only option for water/sewer services $ they can charge whatever rate they choose. I use at least $47.00 in water/month and before I even turn on the spigot I pay $125 or more just to have service to my house – very unnerving.

Dirt in the water – see it in the toilet tank
Pressure varies
Too expensive to water lawn

The only word I have about service is the outrageous price. Habitat for Humanity doesn't build in Woodcreek because the homeowners would not be able to afford the water – what a commentary to make in America . . .

The minimum water & sewer prices are the absolute highest I have ever paid in my life. The high cost of living in Aqua area affects the selling of real estate. No one wants to live where the minimum water/sewer cost is $150/month! Outrageous!!!

Sadly our Texas departments in charge of rules - standards and regulations for water-sewer companies simply turn a blind eye to the practices of Aqua Tex. - aka - Aqua America . . .

. . . I hope Woodcreek will explore water catchment and other sewage options to become self sufficient & to heck with this water company! I want them gone!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Bills favorable to rainwater collection moving through the Lege

House Bill 3391 would tell financial institutions that they may consider financing homes using 100% rainwater collection for their water source

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

By Barbara Hopson

Special to the RoundUp

Few bills concerning rainwater collection were introduced by legislators in the current session of the Legislature because those politicians knew that the items that Governor Perry deemed emergency measures would require almost all their time and energy.

However, companion bills HB 3372 (Tracy King, D-Eagle Pass) and SB 1073 (Mike Jackson, R-La Porte) are making some headway through the Legislature. The bills don't really legislate much, but at least they indicate that it will be permitted for citizens to use rainwater collection in conjunction with a public water supply source. What is stressed in the bills is that "appropriate cross-connection safeguards" must be in place to prevent one system from contaminating the other. The Sierra Club is on record as approving Jackson's bill.

King's House bill has already passed the full House. Sen. Jackson's SB 1073 was actually improved in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and was passed favorably out of committee yesterday (April 28).

Contact Senator Jeff Wentworth ( to vote for SB 1073 when it comes before the full Senate soon. Then HB 3372 and SB 1073 can, hopefully, be reconciled and passed into law.

House Bill 3391 (Doug Miller, R-New Braunfels) was passed out of the House Natural Resources Commitee with a favorable vote of 11-0. That bill would 1) tell financial institutions that they may consider financing homes using 100% rainwater collection for their water source, and 2) legislate that new state buildings of a certain (large) size must include at least some rainwater collection in their building plans.

These bills are a nod of the Legislature in favor of promotion of rainwater collection.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wimberley: Early voting, Appleman resigns, hike n' bike trail opening, and street improvements

City Hall Briefs, written and edited by Bob Flocke to inform the citizens of Wimberley about city activities, is neither an official nor an authorized publication of the City of Wimberley. Any views or opinions expressed are those of the writer, and they do not necessarily reflect official policies or positions of the City of Wimberley, other members of the City Council or the city staff. Anyone who wishes to be added to the distribution list should send their email address to Mr. Flocke at (512-847-5421).

Send your comments and news tips to, to Mayor Flocke, or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the story. The Briefs has been edited by the RoundUp for length.

Appleman resigns from city council

Place 3 City Councilman Bill Appleman resigned his position at the end of the council’s April 21 meeting after stating his disappointment with council actions regarding the status of Mill Race Lane.

Appleman said that he thought the council had made the determination at its March 3 meeting that no prescriptive easement exists for the use of Mill Race Lane as a public street without completely understanding all of the information and history of ownership of the street.

Appleman was elected to a two-year council term in May 2009. The Place 3 council seat will remain vacant for the one remaining regularly scheduled meeting before the May 14 election.

Appleman and his wife Pat own Creekhaven Inn on Mill Race Lane.

Council approves rules for city-county hike and bike trail, official opening set for May 21

The city council at its April 21 meeting approved rules for the Wimberley-Hays County hike and bike trail and set the official opening ceremony for Saturday, May 21 at 10 a.m.

The 3.1-mile trail which winds through Blue Hole Regional Park and along Winters Mill Parkway is a joint venture between the city of Wimberley and Hays County. Local residents and visitors have been using the trail for several months, and the official opening will mark the end of construction. Improvements will continue.

The rules which were previously approved by the county are oriented to providing safe use by walkers, bicyclers and pets.

City staff given go-ahead to seek bids for FY 2011 street improvements

The city council approved five streets for improvement as part of the 2011 City of Wimberley Street Improvement Program and authorized the city staff to prepare bid specifications and to award a single contract for all five street projects.

Streets slated for work are Cliffview Dr., Smith Creek Rd., Twilight Trail, Malone Dr. and Rockwood Rd. The budget for the proposed street work is $201,894.

Early voting for the May 14 city council election begins Monday, May 2

Voters will be electing council members for Places One, Three and Five. Cynthia Marion and Tom Talcott are competing for the Place 1 seat being vacated by Marilee Wood. Place 3 candidates for the seat held by Bill Appleman are Scott Johnson and Matt Meeks. Place 5 incumbent John White is unopposed.

Election day is Saturday, May 14, and polls will be open at the Wimberley Community Center from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Early voting will be held at the Community Center on Monday, May 2, from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.; Tuesday, May 3 through Friday, May 6, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.; Saturday, May 7, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.; Monday, May 9, from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.; and Tuesday, May 10, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.

City to seek coalition to address sidewalk development on FM 2325

The city council approved a proposal from the Transportation Advisory Board to form a community coalition to lead efforts to secure future funding for development of sidewalks along FM 2325.

The TAB recommended forming a coalition because the development of sidewalks in an area heavily traveled by pedestrians will require significant funding. Those who would have an interest in or benefit from such sidewalks will be asked to form a task force comprising stakeholders to pursue funding from federal, state and local sources. The proposal suggested that the stakeholder group include local individuals and organizations including the Lions Club, Katherine Ann Porter School, Wimberley ISD and business owners along FM 2325.

Council approves types of evidence to be used to establish "grandfathered" status

At its April 21 meeting, the city council approved on second and final reading changes to the city's Code of Ordinances relating to the determination of pre-existing, non-conforming-grandfathered-use status.

The City Code did not detail what evidence may be presented to the city to help determine the grandfathered status of a land use. It also did not provide a process for a land owner to appeal the city staff's determination of a grandfathered status.

The approved amendment permits the grandfathered status of a land use to be proven by a preponderance of evidence including sworn affidavits, legally filed plats, sales, use, income and occupancy tax records, building and on-site sewage facility permits, construction receipts or any other information requested by the city. In addition, the amendment grants the city administrator the authority to determine the grandfathered status of a non-conforming land use and provide a process for appeal of that determination to the city's Board of Adjustment.

The amendment was previously approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pissed off at the gas pump? “Deny, Baby, Deny”

Perhaps we’ll get serious when gas reaches five dollars a gallon, and demand change when gasoline reaches ten dollars a gallon

Note: The Trickle Down theory of economics seems to be working overtime in reverse. These days, it's "Trickle Up," by the barrel.

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

By Rocky Boschert
Financial Editor

As gas prices soar, Republicans and oil company executives are starting to revive the same old tired and ignorant rallying cry that echoed around the country in 2008, the last time gas prices spiked and took us into recession.

The totally asinine “Drill, baby, drill!” chant – spewed by Republicans in Congress and around the Gulf even after Deep Water Horizon are addicted to big oil money. They do everything they can to keep Americans addicted to oil by pushing more dangerous drilling in environmentally-sensitive areas and continue our reliance on climate-changing fossil fuels.

Yet, as usual, the big corporate oil Republicans continue to posit a seductive and simple idea: The U.S. has untapped resources that ought to be put to good use. If only big bad federal policy allowed more drilling, gas prices would drop, following standard rules of supply and demand.

But like so many simple ideas, this one is political fodder based on political opportunism and shortsightedness. The U.S. cannot drill its way into free-flowing, low-cost oil and then gasoline. The clear truth is the supply of U.S. oil isn’t anywhere big enough to make a dent in our current oil demands. It is scientifically proven that we have only about two percent of the world’s known reserves.

The larger supply problem is one of worldwide demand (though speculators and Middle East turmoil are too often blamed for current price spikes). As nations such as China and India grow more prosperous, they want their share of the world’s limited energy resources. Like Americans, members of the Chinese and Indian middle-class now view cars as symbols of prosperity and independence.

Anyone with a normal sense of business knows that if you have a limited product that lots of people want, you can charge a lot for it as we see with the Apple iPhone and iPad. That common sense business rule suggests that prices at the pump will likely continue to spike and then ease slightly, as they have for the past few years. But they’re unlikely to drop significantly.

A few far-sighted politicians and our most thoughtful prognosticators have known this reality for years — and said so. Indeed, analysts for a large British bank, HSBC, warned last month that the world may have no more than 50 years worth of oil left, at current rates of consumption, and such demand could lead to “very significant price rises.” (For those of you who don’t want to live in a right wing, American oil company propaganda information closet, read the British magazines the “Economist” or the “Financial Times” for your political and economic news.)

Despite multiple warnings, the American political system has become so dysfunctional that very little has changed since a president named Jimmy Carter tried to get us to get serious about reducing our dependence on oil based gasoline. Sure, cars and trucks get better gas mileage than they did back then. But the nation still lacks, after 40 years, a coherent policy for radically reducing fossil fuel consumption.

Families struggling in the post-recession economic landscape (some still jobless, many earning less than they used to just two years ago) are hard-pressed to fork over more and more money at the gas pump. And for many of those families, driving has become a necessity. They’re not taking leisurely spring-break road trips. They’re trying to get to work, to the doctor’s office, to the grocery store.

Over the last 30 years, suburban and ex-urban development, especially in fast-growing Sunbelt and Bible Belt cities have produced sprawling mega-suburbs, wherein workers may live an hour’s drive (or more) from the workplace. Those suburbs aren’t exclusive enclaves of the affluent, either. Many suburbs, like Plum Creek in Kyle, are economically middle class and racially diverse, so more families of modest means must drive up to an hour to work. A dime a gallon increase can hurt the budget, and twenty cents a gallon can break the budget.

It’s easy to look back and see what might have been: If Congress and state legislatures had adopted sensible energy policies back in the 1970s that promoted renewable energy development, discouraged never-ending sprawl and encouraged public transit, we would have slowed our dependency on polluting fossil fuel consumption and minimized the current pain at the pump.

But even those progressive energy policies of the 70s could still be adopted — pouring serious money into research and development of alternative fuels and boosting public transit, for example. But they continue to be stalled by ignorant and lobby money corrupted Congressional bickering and inertia.

Perhaps we’ll get serious when gas reaches five dollars a gallon – and demand change when gasoline reaches ten dollars a gallon. But don’t forget who you voted into office last November and who their major campaign contributors are.

County imposes immediate ban on use of fireworks

The Keetch-Byram Drought Index was at 671 out of 800 and was expected to go higher due to continued low humidity, high winds and long-term drought conditions

Press Release
Contact: Laureen Chernow
Hays County Communications Specialist
Office: 512.393.229

Hays County Courthouse, San Marcos, TX – Hays County Judge Bert Cobb, M.D., late Monday signed a local disaster declaration for Hays County and a proclamation prohibiting the use of all fireworks or pyrotechnics within Hays County.
Click on map to enlarge
The ban was approved Tuesday by the full Commissioners Court at its regular meeting.

The declaration cites
numerous reports of individuals using fireworks and the determination that the drought and other weather-related conditions pose a significant threat to Hays County citizens, their property, and wildlife. The ban will be in effect until the Governor’s Statewide Disaster Declaration is rescinded or the County determines the need for the ban no longer exists.

The Commissioners Court currently reviews the countywide burn ban at its weekly meeting and will include consideration of the fireworks ban at the same time. The County has been under a burn ban since mid December 2010, but by state law fireworks are not part of the standard burn ban.

Violations of the ban can result in a Class C misdemeanor citation with up to a $500 fine. Hays County Fire Marshal Mark Chambers noted that damage to property from a fire started by fireworks can also result in civil lawsuits being brought by the affected parties.

Chambers said that as of Tuesday morning, the Keetch-Byram Drought Index was at 671 out of 800 and was expected to go higher due to continued low humidity, high winds and long-term drought conditions.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hays County jointly forms Utility Development Corporation

New corporation represents a coalition of local governments that will investigate options to purchase LCRA water utilities

Press Release
Contact: Laureen Chernow
Hays County Communications Specialist
Office: 512.393.2296

Hays County Courthouse, San Marcos, TX
– The Hays County Commissioners Court Tuesday approved 4-1 forming a utilities development corporation that will be part of a coalition of other local government corporations designed to gather information from the LCRA. The information is not otherwise available to governments due to confidentiality restrictions imposed by the LCRA. The articles of incorporation make it clear that the corporation will not be able to issue debt on behalf of the County.

Mark Kennedy/RoundUp

“Hays County wants to determine if it is in the best interests of its citizens to acquire water and wastewater systems from the LCRA that serve residents of northern Hays County,” said Mark Kennedy, Chief of the District Attorney’s Civil Division who serves as legal advisor to the Court. “Formation of a corporation under the Transportation Code gives local governments in LCRA’s service area a vehicle for collaboratively exploring options and providing an indicative bid for acquisition of LCRA’s systems.”

The cities of Leander and Bee Cave have jointly formed the corporation with Hays County and joined the coalition, and others are expected to join.

The LCRA had been asked by several local jurisdictions to give local governments whose citizens are impacted by its intended sale of water and wastewater utilities the first right of refusal and to delay the sale until the end of 2011, but LCRA declined to do so and is moving forward to sell the utilities. Kennedy noted that the Court had to move quickly to form the corporation, allowing affected governments to make a collaborative, informed decision.

Hays County Commissioner Precinct 4 Ray Whisenant will be one of three current board members in the corporation, joining Frank Salvato of the City of Bee Cave and Pix Howell, City of Leander. Board membership may grow as other local governmental entities opt to join in the coalition.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ingalsbe responds to questions on Old Bastrop Highway project

We’d be well served to have full-on Public Hearings on this and every road on the county’s construction schedule, or we can expect to pay higher taxes than necessary

Tuesday's April 26 commissioners court meeting agenda includes a slew of interesting items. Including the Executive Session on the Old Bastrop Highway Project (#21), there is an Executive Session pertaining to right-of-way acquisition for the RR 12 project (#20-Conley), a 10 a.m. "workshop and update" on the HTGCD from Board President Jimmy Skipton (#16-Cobb) and an Executive Session pertaining to the infamous THK L.L.C. vs Hays County lawsuit (#22-Cobb). Check us on this, but we are informed that THK (Texas Heritage Kitchens) has gone out of business and if so, why would the plaintiff's (THK) lawsuit still have justiciable standing in court?

Send your comments and news tips to, to Mr. Brannon at, to Judge Cobb and commissioners court members at;;;; or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the story

From Sam Brannon

Hays Citizens' Budget Project

Week before last, the RoundUp published my story regarding the Old Bastrop Highway project in Precinct 1, a $6 or so million project on a 1.8 mile stretch of lightly-traveled rural highway.

Click on the link for the story:
Click on map to enlarge
This project, on tomorrow's commissioners court's agenda is part of the $100-plus million road bond projects that are due to begin in the coming months. It also happens to be one of the many reasons that the taxpaying public should be paying closer attention to how and where our money is spent, and demanding more thoughtful answers to our questions. Many of us believe Public Hearings are in order.

I wrote to Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe for more detailed justification on why this road needs to built now, and received the following list of reasons from her to publish via an article here.

Below are her responses with some of my commentary in italics:

Com. Ingalsbe
Thank you for contacting me regarding the Old Bastrop Highway Project. I’d like to share reasons I believe the project is important to our county:

1. First of all, this road was part of the priority roads passed in the 2008 bond package.

I frequently hear “The people voted for this. Case closed.” Well, the people first voted “No!” in 2007. If we can be asked again in 2008, we can certainly be consulted again in 2011 as we face a very difficult economy and shrinking property tax base.

2. It is a road that has seen a tremendous increase in traffic, in part, due to the high school that was built. According to our road department, on this particular section of roadway from Center Point Rd to the Comal County line, in June and August 2009, there were approximately 2,200 vehicles per day counted.

Figuring 16 hours of use in a 24 hour day, that’s 2.3 cars per minute. I’m sure this roadway was built to safely move far more traffic than that.

[This is the after school rush hour at 4:12pm, a south view from Centerpoint]

3. I have seen students walking to school on this stretch of roadway.

4. The High School Athletic Department uses Old Bastrop Hwy, including this section, for practice runs. This is a huge safety issue since there are currently no shoulders on a large section of this roadway.

These reasons fail as legitimate justifications for this project. The stretch of road from Hwy 123 to Centerpoint, which runs directly in front of the high school, has only 18-inch shoulders (same as this stretch). If student/athlete safety were legitimate concerns, the county would be improving that more-heavily traveled piece of road rather than the piece that begins 1 mile south of the high school.

5. This roadway is utilized for scheduled bicycle and running races/events. Again, because the lack of shoulders, the participants are on the roadway which has blind hills. S.O. deputies and/or other agencies are contracted for these events for traffic control and safety issues.

Again, this fails as a legitimate concern for various reasons. Perhaps chief among them that bicyclists are choosing this road for its current characteristics, which include its remarkably light traffic. In any event, we don’t improve roads for occasional bicycle/running events.

6. This roadway is part of the City of SM Transportation Master Plan.

7. The city of San Marcos has elected to focus and direct growth east of IH 35 to help protect the aquifer and more sensitive areas of our county.

These answers don’t indicate any reason to widen or buy additional right-of-way in 2011, or any other point in time. What is their specific relevance to this road today?

8. There are two very large subdivisions proposed very near and on this section of roadway. The Galesteo Ranch Development, which is approximately 500 acres and has recently initiated discussions with the City of SM regarding their development. They are obtaining utility information for line sizing and discussing roadway and other improvements. They are planning for a mix use including residential, retail, commercial and office. Also, an approximately 1000 acre development at the intersection of Old Bastrop Hwy and Francis Harris. (I am currently waiting on an update from the City of SM on this project.)

Okay, now we’re onto something. But when is the plan likely to be approved? When are utilities scheduled to be installed? What year would home/office/etc. construction begin? What is the anticipated build-out plan?
(Question from the RoundUp: Is anyone currently doing business with Hays County, planning consultant, engineer, etc., involved in ownership or any other aspect of these two planned developments?)

Given the economy and the extreme contraction of private sector investment homes, retail and office space, as well as the lack of population growth in San Marcos in recent years, these projects would be considered highly speculative at this point.

In short, I still don’t see any case for improvements to this road in the near future. And again, if we could revisit the road bond in 2008 after defeating it in 2007, there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be re-justifying each road in today’s difficult economy.

We’d be well-served to have full-on Public Hearings on this and every road on the county’s construction schedule, or we can expect to pay higher taxes than necessary.

Hays County residents have already asked our elected officials to halt all new projects until Public Hearings are held. I encourage readers to share your thoughts with all of our elected officials at Hays County.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Procession to a killing

Events over the years leading up to that deadly November weekend in San Marcos are viewed by many as the culmination of a long procession that was bound to end with someone being killed. In Hays County corrupt officials protect each other – and justice isn’t blind

Note: This is not fiction, folks. O'Dell has spent countless hours painstakingly researching the public record. He has crossed his t's and dotted his i's, as is the trademark of all of his reporting. Sometimes we think there is enough fodder in behind-the-scenes political shenanigans in Hays County to fill a three-volume crime and corruption mystery novel. All the more reason for the need for public watchdogs in our ranks. Feel free to contact O'Dell for more background and his information sources.

Send your comments and news tips to, to Mr. O'Dell at or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the story

By Charles O'Dell
Contributing Editor

In Hays County corrupt officials protect each other. When one gets caught others quickly and smoothly do their own internal investigation to address the problem and appear as if they are serving justice and the public.

It’s like asking an alligator to investigate any problems with missing people in the swamp. If you’re politically protected in Hays County you can get away with murder.

It was only a matter of time until protection of corrupt officials in Hays County led to someone getting killed.

It almost happened on September 5, 2008, when Nick Ramus, who lives next door to the San Marcos High School and was Will Conley’s candidate for Hays County Precinct 1 commissioner, pointed his shotgun (illegally loaded with five shells and a slug in the chamber) at Carolyn Logan, but fortunately thought better about pulling the trigger. Judge Linda Rodriquez found Ramus guilty of deadly conduct on April 27, 2010. Ramus is currently into his second attorney as he plays his typical delay game with the criminal appeals court. Logan still fears for her personal safety.

Ramus’ deadly conduct conviction is a side story. The larger Ramus story includes Hays County officials who allowed Ramus to break the law, then covered up for him, and together with Ramus became protected players in a broader scheme of corruption that some believe has resulted in the killing of a 19 year old who was at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and in unexplained circumstances.

A Brief History of Corruption and Official Protection

In March of 2005, when Tom Pope, Hays County Environmental Health Department OSSF Program Manager, was accused of violating state and county permitting laws he responded, “I’m the one who decides if and when I enforce the OSSF laws.”

After years of violating public health and safety laws rather then enforcing them, Pope issued Nick Ramus a permit on September 1, 2006, to operate his non-compliant oversize commercial septic system that Pope knew to be unlawful, and which still remains inoperable today, with the alarms turned off. Ramus only uses his illegal system to dispose of residential sewage. Protecting Ramus, Tom Pope, Conley and Barton, the Environmental Health Department and Hays County District Attorney Sherri Tibbe remain blind to the inoperable system and the Ramus property’s public nuisance condition.

In January 2007, Tibbe refused to investigate documented allegations of longstanding misconduct by Pope and others in the Environmental Health Department. Tibbe also refused to prosecute Ramus for being a public nuisance despite ample evidence and two previous convictions of his being a public nuisance. Just as Hays County Commissioners Will Conley, Debbie Ingalsbe and Jeff Barton did, Pope and Ramus came under Tibbe’s protection.

When commissioners’ court revoked the Ramus permit on April 17, 2007, commissioners Jeff Barton and Will Conley acted to protect Tom Pope by encouraging Ramus to sue Hays County. “We protect our staff,” said Conley. Barton and Conley also had hopes of using a Ramus lawsuit to force County Judge Liz Sumter out of office. Their dirty tricks almost succeeded.

Three months after having his permit revoked, Ramus sued Hays County as he had been encouraged to do by Barton and Conley, and in early 2008, was granted a partial summary judgment by visiting judge Robert Pfeuffer from New Braunfels. Carolyn Logan, who had her civil and property rights violated by Ramus with official approval, and who would become a target of deadly conduct by Ramus, filed as an intervener in the Ramus suit to protect her livestock and her land. Her intervention also foiled the Barton/Conley plan to engineer a large settlement with Ramus at taxpayer expense and blame Judge Sumter. As Logan put it, “My civil and property rights have been violated with help from public officials and no one should be rewarded for breaking the law. Ignorance of the law is no excuse and Ramus and his California partners knew that laws were blatantly being violated with Tom Pope’s blessing.”

The tide of fortune changed in the three years that followed.

Barton was defeated in his 2010 bid for county judge; Ramus and his attorney, Skip Newsom of Dripping Springs, let Judge Pfeuffer’s judgment languish for so long without taking any action (three and a half years) that Judge Pfeuffer recently declared his intent to dismiss the Ramus suit for want of prosecution; and Tom Pope continued to bask in the protection of Commissioner Conley and District Attorney Sherri Tibbe.

A San Marcos Weekend Turns Deadly

Early on the Saturday morning of November 13, 2010, Julie Parsons, Tom Pope’s first wife, made a 911 call to the San Marcos Police Department at 4:55:25am and reported a “break-in” and fondling of her 18 year old daughter, Emma Pope. Parsons told the 911 operator, “They took her cell phone and they were in a bedroom and there is porn on the computer.” “Oh my god,” Parsons is heard to exclaim.

Parsons then called Tom Pope, who had just moved back into the home of his second wife, Michelle Pope, from whom Tom had been divorced just three weeks earlier. Police officers arrived at the Parsons residence twenty minutes after the 911 call was made. They found no evidence of forced entry and nothing was missing from the home. Emma’s cell phone had been lying beside the laptop. Emma and a girlfriend had arrived home at 2:30am and the two of them went to bed without waking Parsons (Emma’s mother). The girlfriend who Emma had said, “slept right next to me,” reported sleeping while the intruder was in the house and Emma said she couldn’t identify the intruder. Yet, Police Incident Report No. 84912, dated 11/13/2010, indicates burglary of habitation and identifies Elijah Espinoza as Offender # 001, despite nothing reported missing from the home and no identification or physical evidence linking Espinoza.

Tom Pope arrived at the Parsons house that same morning and spoke with officers investigating the reported break-in. One of those conversations appears to have given Pope an idea for the deadly plan he put into play that night.

Pope would later tell Officer Duwayne Poorboy when he was investigating Pope for shooting and killing 19 year old Elijah Espinoza, that a female officer had told him the day before, “It’s pretty hard to catch people like this. One of the best ways is for homeowners to shoot them.” Pope would tell a detective that, “It’s frustrating when you see your kid get hurt and you weren’t there to do anything about it and you feel like – I was going to do something about it if I could.” Early Sunday morning, November 14, 2011, another 911 call was made from the Parsons house, this time by a distraught older daughter, Ava Pope, visiting from college and reporting that, “My father shot and killed a young man in their yard.”

Judge, Jury and Executioner

Pope told the police that he rode his scooter over to the Parsons house on Saturday and parked it in the garage. “I didn’t drive my car over to the house. I didn’t want anyone to know I was at the house,” Pope said. Detective Dan Royston asks, “When you say anyone, do you mean the neighbors or anyone?” Pope answered, “I mean molesters, potential intruders.” When Royston asked if Pope had any previous involvement with the police, he responded, “We do a lot of shooting at my brother’s place east of Sequin and the neighbor across the street is a police officer for San Antonio. He never complains but a new neighbor complained one night when we were shooting at 2am.” “I’m pretty practiced with guns – shotguns, pistols,” said Pope. “We have this old refrigerator and would blast away at it.” “I got a ticket for trespassing when I was in college,” Pope added.

Pope went on to describe how he made preparations for what he expected to happen. After Emma and Ava came home about 1:45am Sunday morning, “We sat around and talked till about 2am, then went to bed. Ava went to sleep on the couch. I turned out all the lights and milled around the house,” Pope told the investigator. “I had the revolver in my pocket,” a 38 caliber Smith & Wesson. Pope said that he also had a loaded 44 magnum pistol in the pantry and had brought a loaded shotgun with him that he placed under the sofa on which Ava had fallen asleep that night. “About 2:30 or 2:40, I walked outside to see over the fence. We sort of suspected that maybe the neighbors – there’s like three or four college kids, boys that moved in and one of them had left a note on one of my daughter’s friends car telling her she’s cute or something like that. I went back in the house and turned off all the lights. I suspected the guy was coming back.” “Do you have any idea why this guy would have picked Julies’ house,” Detective Royston asked Pope? “Well, he had 30 friends in common on Facebook with Emma,” Pope replied. “He probably saw pictures of her, you know, on his common friends,” Pope said.

Pope told Royston that he considered his father/daughter relationship to be “average.” His daughter was, “Not really dating anyone but pretty interested in a guy who plays for the University of Texas football team. She’s always got boys interested in her.” “Any boys that you don’t approve of,” asked Royston. “I told her college football players are not necessarily the best to get involved with. She tells me to, fuck off when I say that,” Pope said. “Is he black, white, Hispanic,” asked Royston? “Black” said Pope. Emma would tell investigators after the shooting that, “A black guy had sent flowers to my house on my birthday and he rides a bike to the gym. Creepy guys are everywhere I go.”

Premeditated Execution

“I turned off all the lights. I suspected the guy would come back. I walked around. I was watching the back door a lot.” Here’s Pope’s chilling description of the killing. “He came around the back yard. I watched him and he knew exactly what he was doing and where he was. He made a beeline for that back door. He wasn’t trying to be careful at all, you know, you know. He wasn’t snooping at all. He was in a hurry (long pause) – yeah.” “I saw him moving real fast toward the back door and he had his hand about to open the door. That’s why I opened fire on him – all five shots. Then I opened the door and he turned around and ran and I went after him. I tried to shoot again but the gun was empty. And I followed him out and he fell down out front. I looked at him, shined my flashlight at him and ran back into the house. We called 911. I grabbed the phone but was shaking too much to call. Then after we called I went back out to see how he was doing and he was struggling to breath. I figured he was close to death and I came back in and the police showed up. That’s about it.”

The autopsy showed gunshot wounds near the neck, in the chest, in one arm and in the middle of his back. Tom Pope, who had laid in wait in the darkness, shot five times though the back door window, opened the door and ran after the unarmed mortally wounded boy and tried to shoot him in the back, claimed to police that he “feared for his life.” “What was I supposed to do?” Pope asked as Ava spoke with the 911 operator.

One option clearly would have been to lock the back door, call 911 and let the police do their job. Instead, Pope acted out his “frustrations,” and, “did something about it if I could.” What if the young man was a friend of Emma’s or her girlfriend, Bertie Schneider, who had slept next to Emma on Saturday morning? Espinoza’s cousins, Sarah Garcia and Eliyona Cuevas were good friends of Bertie. What if Espinoza had been invited to the house and was about to knock on the door? No one knows or is saying.

More Official Protection

On November 14, 2010, Tom Pope shot and killed a 19 year old after lying in wait with three strategically located guns. “What was I supposed to do?” Pope had said. Tibbe took the evidence before a grand jury and obtained a “no-bill” (no indictment) of Pope. In their investigation of the killing, San Marcos police rushed to judgment and gave misinformation to the media that defamed the dead boy and prejudiced the public (potential grand jury members). By all appearances they protected Tom Pope. Pope asked Officer Poorboy, “Am I going to get into trouble? Poorboy, “Not in my report.” “I guess either way is fine with me if they take it to the grand jury because that just covers all the bases,” Pope told another investigator.

In his final interview with police on Monday, November 15th, Detective Royston asked Pope, “How are you doing?” Pope replied, “Not everyone gets thrown into state school. Makes me feel better,” referring to the fact that Espinoza had spent time at the Crockett State School, a facility of the Texas Youth Commission. Pope didn’t know this when he ambushed Espinoza at the unlocked back door. It’s safe to assume that Hays County District Attorney Sherri Tibbe did not seek an indictment of Pope for planning to shoot and kill without any warning an unarmed 19 year old young man who arrived on a bicycle and approached the house as if invited. Pope didn’t even lock the back door against an “intruder” of which Pope claimed to police that he, “feared for his life.” Tibbe protected Tom Pope again just as she has done since taking office in January 2007.

Blaming Others

Then, as if to distance himself from the Ramus deadly conduct conviction, justify his own deadly action the night before, and paint himself as a public official victimized for doing his job, Pope launched into a revealing diatribe. “I’ve been involved in my job in the last four years with a big controversy,” Pope told Detective Royston. “I don’t know if you’ve heard about it on Old Bastrop Road. This Ramus guy who got charged with pointing a shotgun at his neighbor. This lady who harasses him, Carolyn Logan, lives next door to him and she’s associated with Charles O’Dell who’s this guy that calls himself a public ah, oh ah, that guy that ah, what do you call guys that are always doing open record requests on everybody?

"He does them to us just to harass us you know, but---anyway, they’re both corrupt people and they’re both, I think our county judge is corrupt too and they have influence over Judge Sumter our county judge who fortunately got voted out.” Pope suddenly asks, “Is the tape recorder on?” Royston indicates that it is. “Oh well,” Pope continues, “Anyway, this Charles O’Dell guy, he’s – he went to Sherri Tibbe about three years ago and accused me of all kinds of stuff. Taking bribes, and drug payments and all kinds of crap and this guy out there he doesn’t like on Old Bastrop Road. So you know - she pretty much – he had three pages of accusations – luckily Sherri Tibbe knew it was bull crap.” “Anyway, my name was thrown around a lot on Newstreamz website here a few years ago, or a couple of years ago on Newstreamz that just came out. I guess you’ve read that. I know some of the guys at Newstreamz but I just don’t want my name or you know, I just don’t think it’s a good idea for me to put my opinion in whatever,” Pope concluded.

Precession to a Killing

Events over the years leading up to that deadly November weekend in San Marcos are viewed by many as the culmination of a long procession that was bound to end with someone being killed. Pope felt that he was protected against any consequences, just as he has been protected in the Ramus fiasco and other violations of the laws Pope had sworn to uphold. In Hays County corrupt officials protect each other – and justice isn’t blind.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Wimberley fire destroys homes

From the Statesman: Officials investigate fire

Three homes burned, couple injured in blaze

An early morning fire in Wimberley on Friday injured two people, destroyed a home and caused significant damage to at least two others, a Hays County sheriff's official said. A man identified as Gary Pigg, 52, was injured in the fire in the 2100 block of Flite Acres Road and was transferred to Brooke Army Medical Center with burns to his hands and feet, officials said. His wife, Gail, who was also injured, was taken to a nearby hospital. Both were treated and released, Sgt. Dennis Gutierrez said. The Hays County fire marshal's office is investigating the fire, he said. One home was destroyed, another was heavily damaged and a third had some damage to its roof, he said.Firefighters from several area crews attacked the blaze that broke out around 4 a.m. in one structure and then spread, Gutierrez said.

Here's the tv news video report and story from YNN, News 8 Austin

Crews from multiple agencies worked to contain a fire that destroyed two Wimberley homes Friday morning.
News 8 Photo
Officials said the fire began on Flite Acres Road between University Drive and Ranch Road 3237 at about 4 a.m. Friday. Three structures were damaged in the blaze and two people were taken to the hospital.

"Upon arrival it (the house) was almost completely consumed with fire, very heavy fire conditions. They initiated fire attack there," Wimberley Fire Dept. Capt. Travis Maher said.

Eric Bedient and his family were staying in a house nearby. He said he heard an explosion and went outside."This over here, the back porch, was like a tidal wave of flames," he said.

Albert Wood was trying to fight the fire when winds quickly pushed the flames into his home."The fire just rapidly destroyed their house and came across under the eaves and took our house out," Wood said. "I was trying to help him. He was fighting it from one direction. I had a hose that was just pissing in the wind there. It was just nothing."

Firefighters were able to keep the blaze from destroying a third home and spreading to the surrounding area.