05.25.11

What’s been happening in Williamson County

Posted in Commentary, Commissioners Court, County Attorney, County Judge, Precinct 1, Precinct 2, Precinct 3, Precinct 4, Williamson County at 10:35 am by wcnews

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.

10.16.10

Jeff Maurice earns AAS endorsement

Posted in Commentary, Election 2010, Good Stuff, Had Enough Yet?, Precinct 2, Precinct 4, Williamson County at 2:03 am by dembones

The editorial board at the Austin American-Statesman endorsed Jeff Maurice for Williamson County Commissioner, precinct 4.

Maurice, a lawyer and critic of the landfill expansion, is passionate about his cause and uses that as an example of how lax government oversight over development can affect lives as well as property values.

Unfortunately, the AAS, in the same article, endorsed Cynthia Long for precinct 2 commissioner. The editors contort themselves painfully in order to build up a case for Long, and the best they could produce was:

(W)e think the fact that Long has priorities speaks volumes. To lead is to choose, as the expression goes, and Long, 48, has amply demonstrated she isn’t afraid to choose.

In other words, the choices themselves were horrible, but at least she had the guts to make them. This sounds like a rehash of the paper’s 2004 endorsement of George W. Bush.

Some are whispering that choosing to break the law is one of Long’s “leadership” qualities. Those rumors have led to an investigation that burst into the headlines of the Williamson County Sun this past week. Do we expect the all-Republican county government to clean itself up? There’s only one way to wake our county leaders up, and that is to vote as many out of office as possible.

Jeff Maurice and Jim Stauber represent long overdue change at the county. Democrats missed by 300 votes knocking off Lisa Birkman in 2008. No doubt, there are at least that number of Hermine flood victims that voted for Birkman who wish they could have that one back.

09.29.10

It can no longer be hidden, Williamson County must have accountability on the Commissioners Court

Posted in Commissioners Court, County Attorney, Election 2010, Precinct 2, Precinct 4 at 10:43 am by wcnews

Republican County Commissioners vote to grow county government, circumvent the elected County Attorney.

Via the AAS, Williamson County to stop using county attorney’s office for legal advice.

Williamson County commissioners will not be relying on the county attorney’s office for legal help anymore.

The commissioners created two positions Tuesday: an attorney and an administrative assistant who will handle the legal duties of the court, including negotiating and drafting contracts and interlocal agreements, attending executive sessions and handling public information requests.

The commissioners decided Tuesday that the salary and benefits would be $101,801 for the attorney and $50,309 for the executive assistant. Money to hire the attorney would come from cutting one position at the county attorney’s office, said Lisa Zirkle, the county’s director of human resources. Zirkle said the commissioners “would find” the money to hire the administrative assistant. [Emphasis added].

County Attorney Jana Duty has clashed with commissioners over the years on various issues.

Much of this stems from an argument last month, during the budget process, about a new social media policy that the commissioners believed was needed because of county employees who were exercising free speech on their own time.

Here are a few comments from the AAS article linked above:

Appears the County Attorney is now being “Griffinized”. The Wilco Commissioners Court is out of control. Former Constable Griffin was targeted for standing up to them, now it is Duty’s turn. So much for constitutional checks and balances by independent elected officials.

[...]

It is a strange way to organize a government, but having the voters decide who will provide the Commissioners with legal advice, is a far better system than a system—like they have now created—where the lawyer knows he can be fired if he gives the Commissioners any advice they don’t want to hear. The irony of this situation (and my prediction) is that, having rid themselves of an independent source of legal advice, the Commissioners are likely to get themselves in legal trouble.

It’s pretty clear now that when this crew on the WCCC runs into a roadblock they will do whatever they feel like to get the answer and results they want. (Click here to read some of how former Constable Gary Griffin was treated).  It should be obvious to every resident of Williamson County that some balance and accountability must be brought to our one-party county government.

If the two current commissioners running for reelection are returned to office (Cynthia Long and Ron Morrison), and the WCCC is returned intact, then we will get the exact same results – unaccountable and shady county governance. It’s time to bring accountabiliyt to our county government. That’s why we need to elect Jeff Maurice and Jim Stauber in November.

05.27.10

Is Cynthia Long a climate change denier?

Posted in Commissioners Court, Precinct 2, The Environment at 4:01 pm by wcnews

That certainly is the way this AusChron article makes it sound, Green Light for CAMPO 2035 Plan.

The 2035 plan as passed Monday included the contested State Highway 45 Southwest tollway but did not fund it. Travis County Commission­er Karen Huber successfully fought off a last-minute change to swap “letting years” by moving the SH 45 construction start date ahead to 2015 (from 2020) and move the Oak Hill “Y” construction date back to 2018 (from 2015). In a May 21 memo, Cantalupo had recommended the revised time frames based on the likelihood of getting federal funds; Huber argued that need, not funding, should drive priorities. Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt made a successful motion, which passed 13-6 (despite a climate-skeptic speech by Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long), to reinstate into the plan’s policy language a goal to “implement a transportation system that reduces CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions.”

I sure hope she’s not a climate change denier. Becuase the debate is over, An illustrated guide to the latest climate science.

There’s a video below the fold that explains why she may think that climate change, and global warming isn’t happening. The short story is, it’s very complicated, and can’t be hashed out on cable news.

Read the rest of this entry �

04.03.10

Wilco’s 9-1-1 Emergency Response System: In Sticky Notes and Paper Maps We Trust

Posted in Commissioners Court, Precinct 1, Precinct 2, Williamson County at 7:00 am by Citizen Seller

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:

2010:

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:

2008:

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.

2006:

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

03.29.10

Democratic commissioner candidates speak out on the landfill

Posted in Commissioners Court, Landfill, Precinct 2, Precinct 4, Williamson County at 10:57 am by wcnews

Two letters to the editor (LTE) have been published this week about the county’s proposed master site plan for the county landfill.

First this one from the RRL, Landfill  oversight stinks.

The controversial contact between the county and WMI, to run the landfill – which was passed on March 3, 2009 – provides for the county to “hire a qualified and independent Oversight Inspector,” and the contract requires WMI to contribute $50,000 toward paying for that service.

After a seven-month delay following approval of that contract, the county finally issued the RFP to hire the inspector, and apparently four firms responded by the Nov. 4, 2009 deadline. After almost a year has passed, no oversight inspector has been chosen.

A county source told media – and it was duly reported – that the county received proposals for this oversight inspector “totaling upwards of $200,000 a year.”

That figure is more than suspect. There is no way the equivalent of one full-time job, even if performed by a qualified engineer, should cost that much.

Either the county did a terrible job in constructing the Request for Proposal, or in trying to negotiate a final contract – or both.

But, in ether case, the $200,000 figure doesn’t speak well for the county’s ability to oversee the landfill or perform effective fiscal management.

This letter was signed by both Democratic candidates for county commissioner Jeff Maurice (Precinct 4) and Jim Stauber (Precinct 2).

Also this one from Maurice in the Taylor Daily Press, Regarding your March 14 article, “Commissioners consider WM master plan”.

Over a year ago, Hutto-area residents were hopeful that the process of developing the master site plan and master recycling plan for the Wilco landfill would finally present an opportunity for the community to have long-promised meaningful dialogue with the county on ways to address the landfill’s negative impact on local economic development and quality of life. Instead, for the past year, these plans have been drafted without any public input. The notion that the county just wanted to create a starting point for discussion (and that it took a year to do so) is laughable. The starting point was apparent to everyone a year ago.

These proposed plans contain very little that is new or innovative. Worse, they still fail to address the community’s main concerns about the negative effects of the landfill height (as tall as the Jonah water tower) and its massive 575 acre footprint. Colorful graphics of a new “entrance” with a few trees and a new sign may make for good press, but they don’t come close to addressing the real issues. Even those parts of the plans that appear to offer benefits are short on detail and lack any commitment whatsoever.

There’s much more in both letters and you can read EOW’s previous reporting on the landfill master plan here.

01.28.10

Voting precinct changes in Williamson County for 2010

Posted in 2010 Primary, Cedar Park, Commissioners Court, Election 2010, Hutto, Precinct 2, Precinct 4, Williamson County at 2:08 pm by wcnews

There have been three new voting precincts created, and several more adjusted, in Williamson County for 2010.  The changes occur only in commissioner precincts 2 and 4, Cedar Park and Hutto respectively. From the Elections page on the county web site.

January 1, 2010 Redistricting changes are effective. Early in 2009 we identified three voter precincts that had over 5000 registered voters to reduce the number of voters we began the redistricting process. Three new precincts were created 201, 402 and 403 additionally boundary adjustments were made to precincts 254, 273, 277 and 293. [Emphasis added].

They have links to the new maps and orders of the changes too, [All links are .pdf files].

More on this from the Round Rock Leader, Changes to election precincts approved.

According to Rick Barreon, Williamson County Elections administrator, changes to precincts were made as a result of Precinct 426’s violation of Texas Election Code because it contained more than 5,000 registered voters as of May 12, 2009, when the changes were adopted by Hutto.

The document states that after consultations with Precinct 4 County Commissioner Ron Morrison, and the chairs of the Republican and Democratic parties, Bill Fairbrother and Richard Torres, recommendation was made to adjust the boundaries to election precincts 420, 424, and 426 to create precincts 402 and 403.

The county states that new voter registration cards were mailed late last year reflecting these changes. There is a conflicting message regarding a mailed notice to all affected voters. The county web site states, ” voters will also be mailed a notice the first week of January notifying them of the change and their polling place”. While Candi Zaccheus, county Elections Geographic Information System analyst, in the RRL article above states that “..a notification would be sent out to residents about precinct changes”.

It’s highly recommended that anyone that lives in the Cedar Park, or Hutto areas double check their precinct and voting location if they plan to vote on election day. These changes have no effect on where or when anyone can early vote.

01.05.10

2010 Filing Wrap-Up

Posted in 2010 Primary, Around The State, Commentary, Commissioners Court, Election 2010, HD-52, Precinct 2, Precinct 4, Williamson County at 12:52 pm by wcnews

Texas Democrats were able to get strong candidates to file in almost all statewide races, (excluding Comptroller).   For a complete list of statewide, as well as Congressional, and state legislative races check out the handy Election 2010 database the Texas Tribune put together.

SCTXBlog has The list of candidates for Texas Supreme Court seats in 2010.

Kuff has commentary and many links on filings, Filing deadline overview, Harris County.

[UPDATE]: BOR has this too, The Dallas Morning News’ Filing Day Coverage Is Incredible Journalism.

Democrats in Williamson County were able to find quality candidates for the most important races in the county for 2010.  While it would have been great to have a candidate for every race in the county, it’s best with limited resources, for Democrats in Williamson County to focus on the races that are most winnable and will help build the party in the future.

Reelecting Diana Maldonado to the legislature in HD-52 is the top goal for Democrats in Williamson County.  Running a close second is to get either, if not both, Jeff Maurice and Jim Stauber elected to get a Democrat and some balance on the Commissioners Court in Georgetown.

Read the rest of this entry �

01.04.10

Democrats that filed in Williamson County

Posted in 2010 Primary, Good Stuff, HD-52, Precinct 2, Precinct 4, SD 5, Williamson County at 9:41 pm by wcnews

Via WilcoDemocrats.org:

TX-Sen, SD 05:
Steve Wyman, Georgetown

TX-House, HD 52:
Diana Maldonado, Round Rock (I)

County Commission, Precinct 2:
Jim Stauber, Liberty Hill

County Commission, Precinct 4:
Jeff Maurice, Hutto

County Court At Law #1:
Teresa Duffin, Round Rock

County Court At Law #3:
Allyson Rowe, Round Rock

Chair, Williamson County Democratic Party:
Paul Stempko, Round Rock
Greg Windham, Georgetown

11.25.09

RRL on Stauber and Maurice running for Commissioners Court

Posted in 2010 Primary, Commissioners Court, Election 2010, Precinct 2, Precinct 4, Williamson County at 6:00 am by wcnews

Democrat Jim Stauber will challenge GOP incumbent Cynthia Long for spot on the Commissioners Court in Precinct 2, Democrat aims for place on all-GOP Wilco court.

Stauber wants change

Although Stauber has not lived in Williamson County for as many years as Long, he is also no stranger to local politics.

Stauber is active in the Williamson County Democratic Party and four years ago unsuccessfully challenged Dist. 20 state Rep. Dan Gattis (R-Georgetown).

Stauber told the Leader he is entering county politics because he perceives the commissioners court to be a Republican-dominated “rubber stamp.”

County Judge Dan Gattis and all four commissioners are Republicans, as is every other elected official in Williamson County government.

“They have had that tied up for a couple of decades,” Stauber said. “There really is no dissension on the court. I want to get the little man’s opinion in there and change the way of thinking.”

Stauber worked for General Motors for 35 years and has been a member of the Unite Auto Workers union for more than 45 years.

When Stauber retired from GM in 1997, he and wife Carol moved to Liberty Hill, settling in the Durham Park subdivision off FM 1869.

Stauber serves as president of the Durham Park Water Supply Corporation.

He is also vice president for Hope Alliance of Williamson County (formerly the Williamson County Crisis Center), which assists women who are domestic violence victims.

Stauber – who four years ago ran as an opponent of toll roads – said he is also against a proposed Liberty Hill bypass that might someday be built off state Highway 29.

Additionally, he is against increases in toll road fees.

Despite the party’s recent setbacks in Williamson County, Stauber said he thinks 2010 might be a good year for Democrats – if they can get people to the polls.

“The biggest thing with an off year (non-presidential) election is getting people out to vote,” he said.

Stauber is definitely right about needing some balance on the WCCC.  And he would give those opposed to the WCCC’s mishandling of the SH 29 project last year.

In Precinct 4,  Maurice to challenge Morrison.

Stating he is “frustrated by political gamesmanship,” Hutto attorney and Williamson County Landfill opponent Jeff Maurice this week declared he will run for the Pct. 4 Commissioners Court position currently held by Republican Ron Morrison.

Maurice said he will enter the race as a Democrat, during the Dec. 3 to Jan. 4 filing period.

“It’s time for the citizens of Pct. 4 to be represented by someone who has their best interests at heart,” Maurice said. “From the Hutto landfill to property tax rates, the citizens of Pct. 4 have been repeatedly ignored when it comes to issues that have the greatest impact on our community.”

Maurice has lived in Hutto for six years. He and wife Shawn reside on a ranch, where they provide shelter for homeless animals.

Maurice said he is dedicated to public service.

The former Dell attorney currently serves as an elected board member on the Jonah Water Special Utility District, which represents about 4,800 water customers.

He is perhaps best known, politically, for serving as chairman for the Hutto Citizens Group’s landfill committee. For the past several years that group has been locked in disputes with county government concerning landfill operation, expansion and contracts.

“I’ve found out that you can make change happen if you approach issues professionally and with persistence, and that’s the approach I intend to take on the commissioners court,” Maurice said. “Like many Williamson County residents, I’m frustrated by political gamesmanship. As county commissioner, I’ll always consider the needs of my constituents first and foremost.”

Putting two Democrats on the court would surely bring some accountability to our government in Williamson County.

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