Georgetown council member Berryman may have violated Texas constitution
City Attorney hired in secret
The Austin Bulldog has done yeoman’s work in bringing two issues to light in the last week. First, Georgetown city council member Pat Berryman has been receiving pay as a member of the city council member. At the same time she was working for the state, for Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan). It is a violation of the state constitution for a state employee to also receive payment for being on a city council. The Bulldog asks, Who Will Hold Berryman Accountable?
Georgetown City Council Member Pat Berryman has taken $13,600 from the taxpayers of Georgetown to which she is not legally entitled. As detailed in the accompanying investigative report, she appears to have violated both the Texas Constitution and her oath of office.
In investigating this matter, using the Texas Public Information Act, I filed the seven open records requests with the City of Georgetown between February 12 and April 15. I have obtained some of the records requested and the accompanying report is based on those records. City Attorney Mark Sokolow referred many of the open records requests to the Texas Attorney General for a determination.
Berryman—who was a state employee barred by the Texas Constitution from drawing a salary for serving on the city council—was informed of that by the city manager in July 2008. The city manager’s letter told her she would be reimbursed for her actual expenses if she supplied receipts. She did not do so.
She waited 17 months—until the city hired a new in-house attorney—to request payment. Even then she provided no information that would satisfy the requirements of the Texas Constitution, as interpreted by several attorney general opinions. The new city attorney—who serves at the pleasure of the city council—facilitated the back payment.
Council Member Berryman has not been forthcoming about this matter. She has not responded to numerous requests for an interview. She has stonewalled and evaded responsibility for her actions.
City Attorney Sokolow conveyed a transparently flimsy offer on her behalf: “If requested by the State, Council Member Berryman is quite willing to provide additional documents to state officials who so request.”
Who are these “state officials” to whom Berryman would be accountable? Neither Sokolow nor Berryman say. Would a call from the attorney general’s office suffice? Will a prosecutor be needed to unearth the truth in this matter?
Obviously no one can be compelled to talk to a journalist. But if an elected official refuses to answer pertinent questions about her conduct and defend her actions in the court of public opinion, it would appear more a matter of evasion than the transparency to which the governing body of Georgetown, Texas, professes it aspires.
Georgetown Mayor George Garver told The Austin Bulldog, in an interview at city hall after the April 27 City Council meeting, that he was not aware of the payment of $13,600 made to Council Member Berryman. It seems no one on the city staff bothered to tell him.
“I was not aware that she was being funded with any of the city’s compensation. Later through the grapevine I heard something to that effect, but I never inquired into the particulars, nor was I offered any information. That wasn’t transparent.”
They have the full investigative report on this issue on their website, Georgetown Council Member’s Pay Violates Texas Constitution.
The second issue points this out, Georgetown City Attorney Hired In Secret.
Read the rest of this entry �
The Williamson County Democratic Party was in the parade at the Red Poppy Festiveal in Georgetown on Saturday.
There are many more to see at the Williamson County Democrats Facebook page.
Local elections are coming up May 8th with early voting starting on Monday. Here are the local races, via the Williamson County Elections page, (includes early voting schedule):
Liberty Hill ISD
Round Rock ISD
City of Cedar Park
City of Georgetown District 3
City of Granger
City of Hutto
City of Jarrell
City of Leander
City of Liberty Hill
City of Taylor (citywide)
City of Taylor District 4
City of Thrall
Block House Creek MUD
Brushy Creek MUD
Fern Bluff MUD
Wells Branch MUD
Anderson Mill Limited District
Chisholm Trail SUD
Austin Community College
Below are some recent news articles on the elections. Any candidates or supporters of candidates have any articles to add for any of these races or information on the candidates, feel free to do so in the comments.
Get to know the candidates: 2010 Leander City Council Candidates.
Get to know your candidates: 2010 Cedar Park City Council.
RRISD School board candidates address issues at PTA forum.
Hutto Council races heat up.
Impact News has a good synopsis for Georgetown, Hutto, and Taylor.
Taylor Council candidates respond to city issues.
From the AusChron, ACC Board Elections: Meet the Candidates.
(Received via email).
This weekend at Southwestern University the Student Peace Alliance National Conference, (click link to register and/or check out the agenda),will be taking place. The conference has 500 attendees from across the country who have come to together to find common ground across the political spectrum. Topics include: how we can prevent young people from delinquency, or how to prevent conflicts escalating into wars. Our speakers come from a variety of backgrounds and will cover various topics. The conference even features a performance from the Grammy winning rapper Common.
If you have any questions you can contact myself or Aaron Voldman at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a very cool story, Southwestern to Be 100 Percent Wind-Powered With City of Georgetown Agreement.
Southwestern University and the City of Georgetown signed an agreement today that makes the University 100 percent wind powered for the next 18 years.
The agreement makes Southwestern the first university in Texas to have all of its power supplied by renewable energy and one of only six universities in the country to have a totally “green” source of power, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. [Emphasis added].
The wind power agreement for Southwestern was the result of initiative by Students for Environmental Activism and Knowledge, an environmental student group at Southwestern. The students met with Assistant City Manager Jim Briggs and Southwestern administrators to investigate the idea of powering Southwestern with renewable energy.
At the announcement, President Schrum recognized the key role of Southwestern students from SEAK who were in the council chamber. “What’s driving this [agreement] are these bright, moral, and courageous students. They were the ones that came down here and met with you. Our students have been leading this effort.”
More on this from the SEAK web site, ‘An Historic Moment for Southwestern’.
Georgetown City Council cites “misunderstanding” to keep local group from speaking. Via Re-Energize Texas, Georgetown Council Snubs Students Over Nuclear Power.
SEAK’s charismatic President, Connor Hanrahan, went to the mic and spoke politely about hoping to form a positive “working relationship” with the city as they discussed aspects of the energy plan and in particular a provision to purchase 30% of their electricity from nuclear power plants.
“We are not here to protest nuclear,” he said, “but want to discuss new information that affects this plan.”
And then the Mayor dropped a bomb. Citing a “misunderstanding” about City Council procedures, he informed Connor and the group of students and allies he’d brought with him that they would not be allowed to speak at the meeting that evening. To his credit, Mayor Garver did make an effort at conciliation by offering Connor the opportunity to nominate 2 members of his party to speak for 3 minutes apiece, but the notion was quickly rebuked by Councilwoman Pat Berryman, a known proponent of nuclear power.
Does this sound familiar to anyone? Think Pedernales Electric Coop and CPS Energy. These two major electric utilities in Texas have been recently embroiled in controversy over failure to provide information, give the public access to speak, and making bad, even corrupt decisions from positions of power. As a result, reform candidates have been elected to the PEC Board of Directors and two of its former members face multiple felony indictments. At CPS, two executives have been placed on leave while its board investigates why the utility failed to disclose new cost estimates to the public and the San Antonio City Council.[...]
The Georgetown City Council should know that this kind of stonewalling can only hurt them. PEC stonewalled its customers and got one of the biggest utility scandals in Texas history. CPS did a little better regarding the public but nevertheless erred on the side of closed-door-meetings and non-disclosure and has put itself on very thin ice with the City Council and the public.
Being open and transparent is not as much of a hassle as you might think, and especially not in a small town. Had the City Council bothered to listen to its own residents, they might have learned that programs aimed at efficiency could save residents money. They might have learned that nuclear power is generally the most expensive form of energy commercially available. They might have learned that reliable alternatives such as solar power with natural gas back-ups cost far less than energy from new nuclear reactors. Those crazy environmentalists with their fiscally responsible approach to energy policy!
The members of SEAK, Mr. Foster, and representatives from Public Citizen and ReEnergize Texas will be back in two weeks. We will jump through the new hoops City Council has erected, or we’ll just ask Councilwoman Patty Eason to represent the students of Southwestern, who live in her district, by making the energy plan a Council Action Item or whatever terminology they need it to be in order to sit through the unwanted babbling of their own citizens. But beware, City Council. That babbling has had a strange way of coming true lately, particularly when it comes to nuclear power, and if the CPS experience is any indication that’s one train you don’t want to get hit by.
That sure doesn’t reflect well on the Georgetown City Council.
Southwestern students planning to speak at the Georgetown City Council meeting tonight at 6 p.m. in opposition to the city’s support of the proposed CPS nuclear plant expansion in Bay City.
Southwestern University students from SEAK (Students for Environmental Activism and Knowledge) and representatives of ReEnergize Texas, Clean Water Action and Public Citizen will speak at the Georgetown City Council Meeting tonight. They will ask them to rescind the City’s support for San Antonio CPS’s proposed nuclear plant expansion in Bay City and reevaluate their 2030 energy plan with a public process in line with the citizen participation clause in the plan.
The meeting is from 6 pm to 10 pm tonight at the Georgetown Council Chambers, 101 E. Seventh Street, Georgetown, TX.
Watch the video of their press conference in October here. Read the full press release below the fold.
Read the rest of this entry �
Press release from the Students for Environmental Activism and Knowledge (SEAK) about the event is below:
Today at noon, Georgetown and Austin area students and community members, in partnership with SEAK (Students for Environmental Activism and Knowledge) at Southwestern University, held a press conference and awareness rally at the Williamson County Courthouse in regards to the proposed nuclear reactors by the South Texas Expansion Project and CPS Energy of San Antonio.
Three speakers presented arguments against the proposal and Georgetown’s support of it. Connor Hanrahan, SU Senior and president of SEAK, spoke about the lack of transparency in the Georgetown City Council’s energy policy process and the inappropriateness of the City’s support of a plan that has public opposition in San Antonio. Matthew Johnson of Public Citizen’s Texas Office spoke about the unnecessary financial risk associated with the plan.
“Given that the estimated cost of the nuclear expansion at the South Texas Project has doubled since Georgetown’s city council approved a 25 year power generation plan,” Johnson said, “there’s a strong case to be made that rethinking that plan with new assumptions would be appropriate to protect ratepayers.”
Noting that LCRA has requested the current drought be classified as worse than the 1950s era “drought of record,” Trevor Lovell of ReEnergize Texas expressed concern about the impact the new nuclear reactors would have on water flowing in the Colorado River.
“In a drought year the 2 reactors currently at STP consume half the flow of the river. Adding two new reactors will put wetland wildlife at substantial risk and may wipe local rice farmers out completely.”
The coalition plans to speak at the Georgetown City Council meeting next week and deliver a letter to each Council member asking them to rescind their support of the project and reconsider their commitment to 30% nuclear in their current 2035 energy plan.
Here’s an article from last month on the subject, Heated nuclear debate continues
Both sides in the contentious nuclear debate made one last attempt to sway CPS Energy’s board in the face of the upcoming decision to spend another $400 million on the project.
Opponents of the plan to add two more reactors to the South Texas Project outside Bay City continued to hit on the themes of unknown and potentially skyrocketing costs and the lack of a long-term solution to nuclear waste.
Several called for a voter referendum. Supporters for the first time at a public meeting included leaders from three electric cooperatives around the state that want to buy electricity from the expanded facility. These were the Kerrville Public Utility Board, Central Texas Electric Cooperative and the city of Georgetown.
More at cleanwateraction.org.
Rep. John Carter (R-Round Rock) loves to to tout his “fiscal conservatism” and rail against government spending, but he also likes showing up and publicizing government spending when the money comes home. Case in point, last week this article came across my email alerts, Georgetown receives funding for solar power plant.
The City of Georgetown will be able to continue improving energy alternatives as part of a $100,000 project to develop a solar panel facility, Congressman John Carter (TX-31) announced today.
The city is in the planning and engineering stages of the solar project at the Georgetown South Commercial Park, in a partnership with GREX and the Life Sciences Center.
“Building a solar facility not only is important for the city to diversify its energy alternatives, but the solar plant will help keep prices affordable for residents in Georgetown,” said Carter, who helped secure the funding. “It will help the community decrease its reliance on fossil fuels.”
This facility will serve as a pilot project to encourage other commercial users to consider solar options as a means of reducing the consumption of power generated from fossil fuels. Solar facilities can also help cities control voltage and maintenance.
The project has been approved by the Georgetown City Council.
It’s part of the Energy & Water Appropriations Project for Fiscal Year 2010
The Texas Lfie Sciences Collaboration Center (TLCC), mentioned above, describes itself like this on it’s home page.
The TLCC is a non-profit organization with a mission to bring post-incubation biotechnology and life-sciences companies to Georgetown, Texas and the Greater Austin region in order to enhance educational opportunities and further community development. It was founded by grants and support from the City of Georgetown, Southwestern University, the Georgetown Independent School District, and the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce.
It seems like a worthwhile venture. The listings for the TLCC Board of Directors and Advisory Council are still “coming soon”. So it’s still unclear who is actually leading this effort.
But back to Carter and his pension for showing up when the money does. The hypocritical part about what Carter does is that he voted against the Energy & Water Appropriations Project for Fiscal Year 2010. Which funded the money for the solar plant in Georgetown. Of course Carter has a history of doing this since President Obama took office.
He also has been happy to publicize the recent federal funding in Killeen, Killeen gets $1.5M in HUD grants, and Temple, Temple secures over $500,000 from HUD grant.
It’s a fact of life in Texas – where we mainly use two taxes, (sales and property), are used to fund local government – that when one goes down, the other will have to go up. In Williamson County, Round Rock in particular seems to be facing the biggest challenge in the near future.
The Texas Comptroller’s July sales tax figures show the problem. The cities in Williamson county overall are collecting less sales tax this year, down 11.61% in July, and down 10.51% for the year so far. But for Round Rock the news is much worse, where sales taxes were down 19.85% in July, and are down 13.55% for the year so far.
It was possible to keep property taxes low in Round Rock because of the tremendous sales tax revenue it received as a result of being the home to Dell Computer. That will no longer be the case, Tax rate increase sought to help offset decline in Dell sales taxes.
Worried about slumping sales tax revenue from Dell Inc., a huge source of income for the City of Round Rock, budget officers on Tuesday further increased the property tax rate in next year’s proposed city budget.
At a retreat to discuss the 2009-10 budget, officials adjusted the proposed tax rate to 39.66 cents per $100 of assessed property value from the previously proposed rate of 38.91 cents. Last year’s rate was 36.52 cents per $100 of assessed value.
The utility rate will increase by a proposed 5.8 percent in January 2010, which is the last of the scheduled rate increases since 2006 to pay for a partnership with the cities of Leander and Cedar Park to provide water from Lake Travis.
The number in Round Rock are startling because of the impact it now has on the county overall. While the cities in the county, as a whole, so far have taken in almost $7.3 million less than they had at this time last year. A little over $6 million of that is from Round Rock alone. Round Rock represented, at this time last year, 64% of the sales tax revenue, so far this year 62%. It’s easy to see from that why Round Rock, the largest city in the county, is a major part of the county’s economic performance. The next closest in sales tax revenue are Cedar Park And Georgetown which bring in less than 1/4th of the money that Round Rock does.
Another hard hit city in the county is Taylor. Where according the Comptroller they’re sales tax revenue is down almost 28% from this time last year. And the tax rate will being going up in Taylor, Max tax rate set.
The Taylor City Council unanimously approved setting the upper limit of the city’s tax rate at 81.4767 cents— just over 2 cents more than the current tax rate. The council will set the new tax rate Sept. 3.
Property taxes may go up in Hutto as well. Not because of a sales tax revenue decrease, but because of the passage of bond propositions, Hutto’s bond election set.
Hutto City Council approved Nov. 3 as the date for residents to determine if the city should issue more than $22 million of debt for parks and street improvements and lengthening city council terms to three years.
Street improvements include upgrading Farley, East, West, Jim Cage and Metcalf streets and Mager Lane. Sidewalk projects are also included along FM 1660, connecting a network of sidewalks to existing and planned sidewalks and fencing along Carl Stern Boulevard and Front Street.
The remaining three propositions address proposed parks and recreation projects. They would include creating a parks master plan for Fritz Park, future parkland acquisition, creating a 25,000 square foot YMCA recreational center and a sports complex.
If voters approve the projects, property taxes will be affected. City Finance Manager Micah Grau gave an initial estimate of a 20-cent tax rate increase as bonds are issued. Those rate hikes would come over time as each portion of the bond is issued.
Of course the Williamson County Commissioners Court last week made it clear that county property taxes are going to be raised too, Our broken health insurance system is hitting home in Williamson County.
� Previous entries Next Page » Next Page »