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.
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.
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 email@example.com 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.
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.
Print these out and take them to the polls with you.
Williamson County candidates:
National and statewide candidates:
Both The Williamson County Sun (not online) and the Austin American Statesman seem to be going out of their way to find excuses to endorse the incumbents in the contested county races.
The WCS went so far as to have a separate section, (Courthouse races – On campaign contributions and learning curves, in the Our View section), to try and justify their endorsements of the incumbents in the Precinct 1 and Precinct 3 county commissioner races. The case they make is, essentially, that a county commission should be comprised of a group of people that have served on the county commission for a long time. Harkening back to the “good ‘ol days” of the previous commissioners court that had its members fined by the Texas Ethics Commission.
They may have had faults, but the “old hands” knew the county landscape really well. They had tons of experience dealing with the minutiae of county business. They were skilled politicians who had made their share of mistakes and learned form them.
They then go on to say that current the current group has “..done some good work and they have made mistakes..[but]..they are learning from their mistakes”. That they have made mistakes isn’t debatable, that they’ve learned from them, on the other hand, is a matter of opinion. The entire court’s penchant for secrecy and their contempt for the public’s input in the decisions the court makes, are two obvious lessons that haven’t been learned.
Essentially the only reason the WCS gives for endorsing Lisa Birkman over Mike Grimes in Precinct 1 is because she is an incumbent, “Birkman provides something essential to the court – continuity”. That’s no reason to keep an incumbent that has made mistakes. Grimes has lived in the county for 37 years and as the WCS says, “has deep knowledge of his district”. Obviously it would be better to be rid of a mistake-prone commissioner sooner, rather than later.
As for the Precinct 3 race between GOP incumbent Valerie Covey and Democrat Greg Windham, the WCS gives her the same treatment, while barely mentioning Windham. Saying she’s made mistakes and learned from them while showing little proof – that the SH 29 loops South as opposed to North – of lessons being learned. And siding with her on the SH 29 expansion the WCS calls it “a good idea that was poorly carried out” – a gross over-simplification at best. Take that Liberty Hill.
The AAS for it’s part shows its ignorance of the “goings-on” in Williamson County over the last several years with its endorsements. In Precinct 1, they claim that Grimes’ opponent won election in 2004 on a reform platform but do not mention a single “reform” she championed as commissioner. The AAS is parroting the WCS reasoning that there are two good candidates, but stick with the incumbent.
They essentially endorse Covey over Windham in Precinct 3 because of the recent WCGOP smear tactics in the race. The “road projects” and “mental health” center are issues that will be continued no matter who is elected in either of these races. Both endorsements are intellectually lazy and ignorant of the facts on the ground in Williamson County.
The WCS did not endorse, as of yet, in the Williamson County Attorney’s race. A non-endorsement of an incumbent can be seen by many as a tacit endorsement of the challenger, Democrat Jaime Lynn. The AAS, on the other hand, did endorse in this race but the endorsement has some serious problems. While the AAS goes out of their way to highlight GOP incumbent Duty’s clashes with the all GOP commissioners court that, in and of itself, is an extremely thin reason to endorse her. Obviously Lynn would be just as vigorous, if not more so, in challenging the court as county attorney. They, like the WCS, point out that Duty has made mistakes, and also say she’s learned from them without providing any evidence she has. Duty has done nothing to enforce the AG’s opinion that County Judge Dan Gattis, Sr. can not longer be the County Budget Officer. She has also done nothing about the possible constitutional issues regarding the new rules the WCCC has put into place.
These endorsements make it seem like both editorial pages had to come up with some reason to endorse the incumbents in these races. Making excuses for the incumbents repeated mistakes and “thinking” they’ve learned form them is not good enough to endorse these candidates. By returning these incumbents to office it would be seen as an ratification of their current direction, and encourage more of the same, or worse. Keeping an all GOP, unaccountable government in Williamson County would be a mistake, and only bring more of the same contempt for the citizens of the county from its elected officials. It’s time for a change in Williamson County and it can’t occur if the current incumbents are returned to office.
Each election is a referendum on the current circumstances we find ourselves in. If voters are satisfied with the current mistake-prone county government, that the local papers “think” have learned from their mistakes, they will vote for the incumbents. If instead they’d prefer responsive elected officials that will allow the public access to its government, follow legal opinions, and bring back integrity to our local government, then it’s time to elect new leaders. Those new leaders are Jaime Lynn, MIke Grimes and Greg Windham.
From KVUE, Williamson County state house race could shift political power.
News 8 Austin, District 52 candidates say it’s about the issues.
Austin Chronicle, Taking Back the House.
News 8 Austin, Candidate Q&A: Williamson County Commissioner Pct 3 and Candidate Q&A: Williamson County Commissioner Pct 1.
Impact News Q&A with U.S. Representative, District 31 Candidates.
[UPDATE]: Democratic County Attorney candidate Jaime Lynn was up on News 8 a few weeks ago and was linked from EOW. Don’t mind at all linking to it again.
At last night’s WCDP meeting Chair Richard Torres reported there have been 23,000 new registered voters in Williamson County since the March primary. Here’s what was reported by Philip Jankowski in his recent article, County may be turning blue, in the Taylor Daily Press:
..the Williamson County Democratic Party has made a push to get new voters likely to vote Democrat to register to vote for November’s election.
[WCDP Chair Richard] Torres said the party has registered about 11,000 people in the past two months.
County elections administrator Rick Barron said the county has performed mass deputizations of registrars at the Democratic Party headquarters in Round Rock. Those deputies targeted places they felt blue supporters would be found.
“Apartment complexes, minority churches, there are certain areas we know Democrats hang out at,” Torres said.
Barron could not recall any mass deputizations taking place for Republican registrars.
Since early 2007, more than 50,000 new voters have registered in the county, bringing the total to about 232,000, Barron said. About 20,000 have registered since March’s primary.
The initial signs of a party shift could be traced back to 2006. During the election for governor, the number of precincts won by a Democrat jumped from the two traditional blue precincts, one in Taylor and one in Georgetown, to 26, Torres said.
The changing demographics of the county may also be contributing to the shift. Genevieve van Cleeve, who runs Maldonado’s campaign, said population booms throughout the county have favored the Democratic Party.
“Most of those people moved in recently, less than two years ago,” van Cleeve said. “Those people’s understanding is different.”
Despite GOP chair Bill Fairbrother’s protestations, those numbers are just more bad news for him. That’s just the newly registered. That doesn’t count all the voters who used to vote GOP in Williamson County that won’t this election season. Especially with all the great choices the Democrats have on the ballot this cycle.
Brian Ruiz – Congress District 31
Diana Maldonado – Texas House District 52
Jaime Lynn – Williamson County Attorney
Mike Grimes – County Commissioner, Precinct 1
Greg Windham – County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Great work by all the deputy registrars and volunteers around the county!! There’s still much work to do in the coming to make sure all the our targeted voters get out to vote. Come by the coordinated campaign office and volunteer. Mark you calendars for the Williamson County Early Voting Kick Off Rally on Sunday, October 19th at 3:00pm. Also Rick Noriega will be coming back to Williamson County on October 29th, details when we get them. Accountability comes in November.
When a candidate see’s the issues running against them they have to try and change the subject. Therefore it is not surprising that Valerie Covey and the WCGOP would make this attempt. You can view the smear ad and listen to Greg Windham’s reaction to it here. Windham has a press release [.doc] refuting the charges as well. An excerpt:
I am not surprised that the Republican Party would release this video and present it as facts. The video was cut, chopped, dubbed, and taken out of context to attempt to smear my character and divert the public’s attention away from the issues that are pertinent to this campaign.
This does nothing to change the fact that Covey wants to build a toll road through Western Williamson County, that benefits her campaign contributors. By bringing this up, this late, it must mean that Covey sees her campaign is in deep trouble on the issues. It also doesn’t change the fact that if Covey is returned to office, nothing changes. SH 29 is expanded, and the farm and ranch land passed down from generation to generation will be taken from families, and paved over. The question is, will this cause voters to change their vote? Not likely. As we see at the national level when times get tough the issues matter, and smear tactics lose their effectiveness. The voters in Precinct 3 understand, that in order to save their land and change the direction of Williamson County, Greg Windham is the only option in the race for commissioner’s race.
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