While the budget and more pressing economic issues in Texas and the nation have kept us busy lately, we’ve neglected what’s been going on locally here in Williamson County. With two freshman state Representatives and a state Senator that’s from Bryan, Williamson County has played a much smaller role this legislative session then in the recent past. Below is a little bit of what’s been going on.
Earlier in the session during Texas House redistricting Williamson County found out that they would, as thought, get a third House district. The first attempt at a drawing that new district was ridiculous. After Williamson County Democratic Chair Brian Hamon’s testimony at the next hearing the districts in Williamson County were drawn in a more rational manner.
Of course a third district in Williamson County means there’s an open seat for 2012. And certainly many will see it as an opportunity to move up the political ladder. The first opportunist appears to be Precinct 2 County Commissioner Cynthia Long. Via Mcblogger, Fight Club (Williamson County Edition).
There’s a ridiculous little fight brewing up in WilCo that should come to head Tuesday evening. On one side, we have Georgetown Councilmember Pat Berryman and on the other we have Georgetown’s Mayor, George Garver. Normally, in a fight between two Republicans, I’d prefer to sit back and just watch the bloodsport from a distance that would guarantee no blood on my shoes. However, in this case I can’t do that because
1) I have a bunch of friends in Georgetown
2) Berryman is really acting as a stand in
It’s number 2 that really irritates me because Pat is really just a sockpuppet of teabagger WilCo Commissioner Cynthia Long, the same one who has taken money over the years from the developers who’ve been trying to get something going near 183/620. The fight began a few years ago with a simple request to have a bridge over 35 in north Georgetown (the Lakeway Bridge) rebuilt with money available to CAMPO through ARRA (the so-called Federal stimulus bill). This particular bridge is, I can tell you, a terrible piece of public infrastructure on which there has been at least 6 fatal accidents. Mayor Garver put the bridge on the agenda and Cynthia Long, who was serving as Vice Chair of CAMPO in 2009 made a few strategic moves and got that particular bridge project pulled even though it was shovel ready.
The two County Commissioners that are likely running for reelection appear to be trying to burnish their tea party credentials by taking on so-called government waste in the Hot Check Department of the County Attorney’s Office. Yes, the same County Attorney that filed suit to remove the County Judge earlier this year. And after winning reelection the Precinct 4 Commissioner has gone back to sleep.
And last, but not least, the WCGOP is re-drawing the Commissioner/JP/Constable Precincts in Williamson County, County officials to redraw precincts.
Redistricting can bring with it a long list of concerns and complications.
The county’s redistricting committee, which was formed in early 2011, said its goals for the process are: to balance populations at close to 25 percent; limit splitting of government lines; preserve existing precincts as much as possible; keep elected officials in their precinct; create geographically compact precincts; and use major roads and natural features as boundary lines.
“We’re trying not to change things more than necessary or without reason,” Semple said. “We’re not going to be able to do all these things.”
The committee includes commissioners Birkman, Precinct 1, and Valerie Covey, Precinct 3, along with Semple, other county staff and legal representatives.
“There’s a lot of complications. That’s why it takes so long to get a map,” Birkman said. “It most likely won’t be a straight taking from one precinct and giving to another … because that ignores [communities of interest].”
The county is seeking public comment on redistricting, and everyone is encouraged to participate. The current proposed map can be view at, www.wilco.org/redistricting.
This being an election year and all, Williamson County Commissioners Court once again issued on March 30 what has become its seemingly obligatory announcement about planned technology improvements to the County’s antiquated system of responding to and dispatching 9-1-1 emergency calls. The WCCC made similar announcements in the 2006 and 2008 election cycles. What’s surprising this election year, however, is Precinct 1 Commissioner-turned-hobbyist-journalist Lisa Birkman admits to the primitive nature of the system Williamson County uses to handle and dispatch life-or-death 9-1-1 calls.
“The current [9-1-1] dispatch system uses a sticky note pad and a paper map,” writes Commissioner Birkman in her Examiner.com blogger column on March 30, 2010. In her blog post, Birkman refers to first making this statement in 2005. Thanks to Birkman, Long, and others, this very same 9-1-1 dispatch system is still being used by the County today.
As we reported in 2008, Williamson County’s 9-1-1 computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system was wholly obsolete when purchased in 1996 in that it did not meet even the most fundamental criteria for circa 1980 CAD systems. A 9-1-1 CAD system – by definition – aids dispatchers in the process of selecting and dispatching police, fire, and EMS in response to 9-1-1 calls by automatically verifying addresses and making unit recommendations. The county’s so-called CAD system can’t do that. After all, sticky note pads and a paper map are about as far away from an automated system as carbon paper and a typewriter.
Is the County’s lack of a 9-1-1 CAD system really a big deal? Well, it is if you value speed and accuracy in an emergency. Instead of literally taking a couple of seconds to notify first responders and get them moving to an incident (like your home or your child’s daycare center, for instance), Wilco’s set-up takes several minutes to accomplish the same task – and there’s no telling if those first responders are the closest or most appropriate units. So, you could be waiting a good long while for help to arrive.
The original certificates of obligation were approved by the WCCC in 2006 and included $1 million for a new 9-1-1 CAD system. So why the endless foot-dragging?
The County’s March 30 news release features rah-rah quotes from incumbent candidate for Precinct 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long, who coincidentally is leading the latest incarnation of the Wilco CAD project. But don’t get too excited by the announcement issued on March 30. Collateral damage to those calling 9-1-1 for help notwithstanding, there’s no reason to rush things when you’re repeatedly milking an issue for political purposes.
According to the County’s news release, Long and her fellow Commissioners will continue to keep residents and first responders in peril for at least another 18 additional months – the “anticipated” completion data of the “new” technology. That timing also happens to coincide with the 2012 election cycle. See how that works??
For background and source documents, read:
“Court Awards Public Safety Technology Project Contract to SunGard,” Wilco news release, March 30, 2010
Lisa Birkman’s blog post as Examiner.com’s “Williamson County Conservative Examiner,” March 30, 2010
AAS “Wilco Wired” 3-30-10 blog entry on Wilco’s contract with SunGuard:
“County to Upgrade Dispatch System,” Williamson County Sun, May 16, 2008
“EMS Adds Staff, Will Get New System,” Austin American Statesman, May 16, 2008
Statesman reports WCCC officials told they could have a new system installed within a year
(Note: This article is located in the Statesman’s archives, for which the outlet charges a nominal per-day fee to access.)
“County Still Dragging Feet on 9-1-1 Emergency Dispatch System Replacement,” EOW, July 23, 2008
On Wilco’s stonewalling of CAD replacement efforts and implications.
“WilCo Sends Another One Packing,” Austin Chronicle, April 25, 2008. On departure of Wilco department head frustrated with County’s obstruction of 9-1-1 CAD system acquisition.
“County Plans for New Emergency Operations Center,” Community Impact, September 7, 2006
“Commissioners Court Names Program Director,” Wilco news release, June 20, 2006, on hiring of Gary Oldham as Public Safety Project Director
“County Names 911 Center Director,” Round Rock Leader, June 23, 2006
Before going into what has been taking place at the county’s open houses on the Transportation Update Plan (TUP), just a reminder that there is only one open house left. On Thursday April 16, 2009 from 2:00pm – 8:00pm, in the Commissioners Courtroom in the Williamson County Courthouse, 710 S. Main Street, in Georgetown. From what EOW has heard some of the meetings were not very well attended, and it’s in all of our best interests to show up and tell the county’s consultants what we think about the future of transportation, not just roads, in Williamson County. If you can’t attend then send them an email, or at the least fill out the comment card online [.pdf].
The TUP news web page has information from the open houses in all four Williamson County Precincts. From the proposed projects links on the site for Precinct 1 ($177.8), Precinct 2 ($851.19), Precinct 3 (?), and Precinct 4 (322.2) all are[.pdf] documents, we can tell where the money is proposed to be spent. (With no number listed for Precinct 3 we can only surmise the rest, [$448.81] is allocated for that Precinct). That would make all of the proposed $1.8 billion in transportation spending accounted for in the county’s 2035 plan. The biggest chunk of that spending is going to Precinct 2, likely much of that for the SH 29 expansion/toll road.
Despite rescheduling the initial meetings, (see earlier EOW post, The future of transportation in Williamson County), EOW learned that Commissioners Valerie Covey and Cynthia Long didn’t bother to show up for the open houses in their respective precincts, but the consultants (URS and Prime Strategies) did.
Some concerns that have been relayed to EOW regarding the plan so far is there has been a lack of information about how these projects will be financed. This list of projects will eventually be scrutinized further for what will be sent to CAMPO for inclusion in their 2035 plan. Another problem with the plan is that it is not really multimodal. It has some reference to Round Rock’s and other local governments’ efforts in providing transit and the proposed Austin-San Antonio Intermunicipal Commuter Rail line but nothing about what Williamson County’s participation would be. It has nothing about hike and bike trails such as the Brushy Creek Trail in the county.
There’s been little if any media, (TDP had this), of the open houses thus far beyond announcements. Hopefully we’ll see more soon. After the open houses and feedback is taken into consideration, the commissioners want to have a plan approved for CAMPO by early in May. The important thing is for people to look at the little bit of information that the county has provided about their $1.8 billion dollar (construction cost only) plan and let the commissioners and judge know their opinion about what they have seen so far.
Great report at the ACRE Texas blog, New Wilco Transportation Plan looks like it might leave Coupland, Blackland Prairie, alone for now.
Williamson County hosted the Precinct 4 Open House to present its updated Transportation Plan yesterday in the Taylor Public Library. The Plan covers the next 25 years. After the presentations to the public, the Commissioners will vote on the plan in early May. If they approve the Plan, it will be submitted to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization to be included in its 2035 plan.
The maps displayed at the Open House projected that growth and congestion in Williamson County will occur in the cities along IH-35 and west, and somewhat in Hutto. Less growth is projected for the communities along Hwy. 95—Granger, Taylor, and Coupland. The growth that is expected for Taylor is projected for the northwest in the area of the Loop. With less population growth expected for Coupland, no new road projects were proposed for our area.
Here’s the county page on the Transportation Update Plan (TUP). You can read an FAQ [.pdf] on the TUP, and there are links to the presentation from Precinct 1 [.pdf] open house on the TUP page as well. Anyone can send email comments to regarding the plan to email@example.com. There are still three open houses left:
- Precinct 2 - Monday, April 6, at Pat Bryson Hall, 201 N. Brushy Street, in Leander.
- Precinct 3 – Tuesday, April 7, at the Central Maintenance Facility, 3151 S. E. Inner Loop, in Georgetown.
- County-wide open house – Thursday, April 16, from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., in the Commissioners Courtroom in the Williamson County Courthouse, 710 S. Main Street, in Georgetown.
[UPDATE]: TDP has this article on the open house in Taylor, Future of transportation.
Here’s your chance to discuss and give guidance to your elected officials about the future of transportation in Williamson County.
Open Houses planned for updated Transportation Plan.
Williamson County will hold several open houses to get public input on its updated transportation master plan. The County is seeking feedback on what roads should be built or improved over the next twenty-five years, as well as various transit options, to help address expected growth; it is this plan that guides these future capital improvements. The engineering firm URS was hired to manage and develop the plan for the County, working in close collaboration with each of the cities in the County. A draft plan will be available for the public to review at the end of March.
Williamson County Commissioner Valerie Covey, Precinct 3, will hold an open house on Tuesday March 24, at the Central Maintenance Facility, 3151 S. E. Inner Loop, 6 to 8 p.m. Commissioner Cynthia Long, Precinct 2, will hold on one Thursday, March 26, at the LISD LEO Center, 300 S. West Drive, in Leander, 6 to 8 p.m. Commissioner Ron Morrison, Precinct 4, will hold a meeting Tuesday, March 31, 6 to 8 p.m. in the Taylor Public Library Meeting Room 801 Vance Street, in Taylor. Commissioner Lisa Birkman, Precinct 1, will hold a presentation for the Round Rock City Council, Thursday, March 26, at 7 p.m. and will hold an open house Monday, March 30, 6 to 8 p.m. at the Rattan Creek Community Center, 7617 Elkhorn Mountain Trail, in Austin. A county-wide open house will be held on Thursday, April 16, 2 to 8 p.m., in the Commissioners Courtroom in the Williamson County Courthouse, 710 S. Main Street, Georgetown.
Information on the plan also will be available on the county’s website at www.wilco.org. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 943-1195.
While we often criticize, and rightfully so, our local elected officials for doing things out of sight and not seeking citizen input. We should also show up and give them our input, if possible, when they ask for it.
Via the AAS, Williamson leaders opt to give money to nonprofits. It’s just an ideological thing for County Judge Dan Gattis, Sr., and he makes clear he doesn’t think these groups deserve tax payer money in the future.
As part of the motion to approve the money, commissioners noted that the public assistance groups should not expect assistance from the county after this year. Judge Dan A. Gattis, who presides over the Commissioners Court, said he didn’t think it was the government’s position to finance these kind of groups.
Commissioner Lisa Birkman disagreed.
“I would submit to you that taking care of the poor and the needy is one of our duties as commissioners,” Birkman said. “Providing for these services is way more cost-efficient than us doing it on our own.”
While EOW may disagree with Birkman at times, on this issue we are in total agreement with her. It’s much better for everyone to keep these services going, especially in the current economy.
It was a 4 – 1 vote with Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman being the only dissenting vote, thank commissioner Birkman. via the AAS, Willco renews contract with detention center.
Williamson County commissioners today extended a contract with a private company to run a much-criticized immigrant detention facility north of Taylor.
Commissioners voted 4-1 to renew the contract for the T. Don Hutto Retention facility, a 512-bed facility that holds families who are awaiting hearings.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman voted against it, saying that although she agrees with the need to enforce immigration laws and the need for the jobs created by the facility, it is still a prison. The facility is a former medium-security prison.
Birkman’s announcement garnered applause from residents who attended the meeting in opposition to the facility, 23 of whom spoke before the court. Corrections Corp. of America will continue to operate the facility for another two years. The company has had a contract to operate the facility since 2006. Williamson County and Corrections Corp. can terminate the contract within 120 days.
MaryEllen Kersch, a former mayor of Georgetown, said she thought the vote was “reprehensible.”
“they didn’t respond to the basic business issues or that the county is being maligned around the world for participating in the holding of children.”
She said opposition to the facility is “not going to go away and is only going to grow.”
At least it’s not a unanimous vote anymore. Maybe that close race this year had some effect on Birkman, maybe not. But there are two races commissioner’s race coming in 2010 and the incumbents in Precinct 2 and 4 will have to answer for this vote.
Their rationalizations for their likely votes are weak at best, Commissioners to vote on contract to operate T. Don Hutto.
That contract is set to expire Jan. 31, but County Judge Dan A. Gattis announced at Tuesday’s court meeting that a vote to renew the contract will be on the agenda for the Dec. 23 meeting. That agenda has not been posted yet.
Gattis and commissioner Ron Morrison, whose precinct includes the detention facility, said they are leaning toward renewing the contract. Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman said she was undecided. Calls to Cynthia Long and Valerie Covey have not been returned.
“I’m leaning to renew because I did the last time,” Morrison said. Commissioners voted to renew the contract in October of 2007. “I based it on touring the facility and looking at the situation. I like the idea that families stay together, are fed, clothed and in a comfortable place — as comfortable as an ex-prison can be. You can’t hide the fact that it was once a jail cell.”
“Unless something jumps up and bites me, I will vote to renew,” Gattis said. “I think we’re going to need time to assess what the administration wants to do, and we’ll support what they want.”
Birkman, who voted for renewing the contract in 2007 “with reservations,” said she understands the reasons for the facility. “But on the other hand, I would feel more comfortable if they were not in a prison setting,” she said.
Of the three, of five, from the WCGOP WCCC that gave responses it seems: Morrison is a yes, doesn’t want to be appear to be a flip-flopper; Gattis is a yes unless someone puts a tack in his chair and; Birkman is a waffler and can’t make up her mind. That’s two for, one maybe…maybe not. It’s probably pretty safe to assume that at least Covey will vote to keep incarcerating children in Taylor, and that means Long can vote her conscience.
It’s sad that two days before Christmas our elected officials will treat mothers and their children in this way. The paralells to story familiar to many, especially Christians, is striking. Put forth in this statement by Milton Jordan, retired United Methodist minister, which was delivered December 7, 2008 on the steps of the Williamson County Courthouse, Nativity and Immigration. Hopefully they will see the paralell as well.
That’s up to you.
There’s a lot of discussion going on right now about whether Williamson County will turn blue, is turning blue, etc… and whether it’s a blip or a sign of things to come. And the truth is no one knows for sure. But what the last two election cycles show pretty clearly is that Williamson County is trending Democratic, with Democrats improving their numbers over the last two election cycles. As pointed out so well yesterday by Dembones awesome map, and similarly in today’s article in the AAS, Is Williamson turning blue?
Although Barack Obama did not receive help from Williamson County on his way to being elected president, he had more support here than Democrat John Kerry did in 2004, preliminary voting numbers show.
That increase in support and the strong showings by several down-ballot candidates have Democrats talking about a gradual shift in the Republican stronghold.
“We’re starting to see a demographic change, with more individuals moving into Williamson County that are Democrats, and they’re moving into Precincts 1 and 2,” county Democratic Party Chairman Richard Torres said. Precinct 1 contains parts of Austin, Georgetown and Round Rock. Precinct 2 contains parts of Austin, Cedar Park and all of Leander.
Straight-ticket Democratic votes increased 64 percent this year, and Obama received about 24,000 more votes than Kerry did in 2004, election results show. Overall, John McCain won the county by about 88,000 votes to about 67,000. The totals are still not official; the results will be canvassed today.
Although Republicans won almost every contested race in the county, Democrat Diana Maldonado of Round Rock was elected to the state House of Representatives, and the race for the Precinct 1 seat on the Commissioners Court was close, with GOP incumbent Lisa Birkman beating Mike Grimes by fewer than 300 votes.
Only thing I would add to that is that Precinct 4 is trending Democratic as well where the Democrat in 2006, Brig Mireles, lost 56 – 44 and will be contested in 2010, especially with Ron Morrison’s lackluster record on the court thus far. The Hutto News had a recent article that showed Hutto’s two voting precincts giving winning margins to different parties.
However, voters who cast ballots in Hutto seem to be geographically divided as in their choices for president and state representative. South Hutto tended to favor Democrats while northern Hutto went for Republicans. Hutto’s two voter precincts border on U.S. 79. Precinct 420, which extends north from U.S. 79 to Jonah, voted solidly for McCain and Daniel. However, Democrats earned narrow majorities south of U.S 79 in precinct 426, which spans from the highway to the southern county line.
Before continuing, It can’t be lost sight of what a monumental win it was for Democrats to elect Diana Maldonado in HD-52. it cannot be overstated how groundbreaking it is to get an Hispanic female elected in a district that was thought to be a GOP stronghold. If that’s not a sign of a Democratic trend then what is?
But the main question is, will the trend continue? Now that we have an elected Democrat no one will be asking that question anymore – everyone is well aware now that there are Democrats in Williamson County. The key to remember is that these trends did not just happen. There has been a lot of time and effort put in by what started out as a few committed Democrats and has grown much larger, and must keep growing, for these trends to continue. The momentum and enthusiasm that was generated must be carried over to the next election cycle, and the next, and so on. Those who called, block walked, talked to their neighbors and families, etc.., have to stay involved and bring more into the fold.
The Williamson County Democratic Party (WCDP) is planning to keep the office from the 2008 election open on a permanent basis, but that takes money. If you have $5 or $10 a month to give, or a one time donation, it would be money well spent and greatly appreciated. It’s not just that. We all know well qualified Democrats are out there and they are needed to run for the offices that will be on the ballot in 2010. Maybe that’s you, or someone you know, that just needs a little encouragement to run. Now, unlike in the past, there’s an organization and supporters to back them up and help them win. But most important of all it’s now clear that Democrts can win in Williamson County. So rest up and be ready to get back to work in 2009.
Print these out and take them to the polls with you.
Williamson County candidates:
National and statewide candidates:
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