Although it was by the slimmest of margins the county did raise the tax rate in next year’s budget. Since the state keeps shifting more and more of the burden to local taxpayers this is not surprising.
The Williamson County Commissioners Court on Tuesday adopted a $216 million budget, funded by a tax rate of 48.9 cents per $100 valuation. For the year ahead the average homeowner’s county tax bill increased by $2.87, officials said.
Following a lengthy and sometimes contentious summertime process, commissioners on Tuesday unanimously adopted a $210,929,795 budget, to be funded by a 2011-12 tax rate of 48.8 cents per $100 assessed valuation.
If Perry and the GOP regressives continue with their plan to not implement the ACA, local taxes will get much higher in the near future. It’s also doubtful Williamson County, with it’s current court make up, would join with counties around the state that are going to go around Perry and the regressives.
The budget, it can be argued, is still too bare bones. In a fast growing county like Williamson it’s probably best to prepare for the future, instead of constantly playing catch up.
The budget – which takes effect Oct. 1, at the start of the county’s new fiscal year – includes the hiring of three new 911 dispatchers, three new EMS paramedics and employee merit raises of up to 5 percent.
“We’ve seen a 50-percent increase in call volume in the last 10 to 12 years,” EMS Director Kenny Schnell stated, noting the county’s population has just about doubled during that same time period.
“We’ll probably have to add more EMS [personnel] next year, too,” Gattis said.
In addition to the three 911 dispatchers and three paramedics, commissioners also approved three other new hires for fiscal 2012-13, at a total cost of $650,000, Budget Officer Ashlie Blaylock said.
The budget commissioners approved Tuesday is about $5 million more than the budget for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.
$2 million set aside for raises
The new budget consists of approximately $129.3 million in general fund (day-to-day operating cost) expenses, plus $18.6 million for the road and bridge fund as well as $68.2 million for debt service. The latter consists of payments on large construction projects – such as roads and buildings – that have usually been approved by voters during bond elections.
Salaries and benefits account for about 63 percent of the county’s general-fund budget.
Included in the general fund is $56,759 for 3-percent raises to be paid to 19 elected county officials, as well as $2.1 million in merit raises for non-law enforcement personnel.
Raises for law enforcement, fire, first responders, and county employees is needed and will certainly help the county’s economy.
“It’s a serious issue to a lot of folks. It’s my fault for not doing a little more homework on it.”
- Republican Williamson County Commissioner Ron Morrison, Precinct 4
The story of the GOP Commissioners Court in Williamson County and how they, willy-nilly, decided to cut the funding for the county trapper program is a microcosm of how they prefer to govern. The just assume, without even doing a little homework, that all government funding is the same – equally bad – and that cutting government, no matter how necessary it may be to someone, is a good thing. Via the AAS, Commissioners give county trapper his job back.
Williamson County commissioners this morning voted to resume funding the position of county trapper, which they had eliminated in the county’s recently adopted budget.
The trapper will be paid for at least partially through fees paid by landowners who take advantage of the trapper’s services.
“It looked like little hanging fruit to me — just pluck it,” County Commissioner Ron Morrison said, echoing what many argued: that the decision was made without having enough knowledge about the position.[Emphasis added]
It’s key to understand that the county trapper does not cost the county millions of dollars, it’s $28,000/yr., not something to sneeze but it’s not breaking the bank. But the commissioners just saw it as another line item in the budget that could be plucked to keep them from having to, bless their hearts, raise the tax rate.
There’s still details to be worked out – involving a controversial assessment of user fees – but after hearing citizen complaints and talk of 700 petition signatures, the Williamson County Commissioners Court on Tuesday reversed an earlier budget decision and restored $28,800 in funding to the county trapper program.
On Tuesday – and following up on discussions from earlier this month – farmers and ranchers from throughout the county told commissioners about services the trapper provides.
While reinstatement of the trapper program enjoyed broad support from the members of the agriculture community in attendance, a proposed pay-for-service fee structure proved less popular.
Gattis proposed that those who use the trapper for predator removal (as opposed to just consultation) pay a fee, based on their acreage.
All fees would be assessed annually, like renewing a hunting license, Gattis said
Those with up to 10 acres of land would pay $25. Those with 11 to 100 acres would pay $100. Those more than 100 acres would pay $200.
“I don’t think $200 is going to break anybody,” Gattis said, stating ranchers should have “skin in the game.”
Shell objected, stating: “There’s no fees for the fire department responding to calls. There’s no fees for the sheriff’s department responding to calls. They [trappers] respond to calls, protecting property.”
But Pct. 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman of Brushy Creek stated county government runs the EMS service, which does charge “if you can pay.”[Emphasis added]
The fees are not yet in place and are pending review from the commissioners court’s legal advisor, Hal Hawes.
The commissioners, undeterred, are doubling-down. After making a bad decision, cutting the trapper which they now acknowledge was a mistake, they are now going to punish those affected by their bad decision by making them pay for the service. I certainly hope many in Williamson County will think twice next time they check the box next to the incumbents name on election day in Williamson County. I’m not sure an incumbent commissioner has ever lost in this county, it’s probably time one did and some accountability was brought to our county government.
What this shows is how the GOP prefers to govern. They would rather our government be fee for service, corporate-style government, instead of the kind of system our founders created. This is just the further shredding of the social contract in our country. There are certain things that we long ago agreed that we/our government should do, things we agree promote the general welfare of the people. Like building roads, keeping the elderly and the least among us out of poverty, and providing health care to all, to name a few. Now the GOP wants to toll every new road, privatize Social Security, and we’ve never had a sane health insurance system like almost every other industrialized nation in the world.
But as long as all our elected leaders, at all levels, care about is the cost (tax rate) – not to mention do some homework – and not what is actually needed to promote the general welfare, we will continue to get this kind up “plucked up” government.
It seems that every year when the final county budget is approved the thing that gets the headline is what happened with the tax rate. And this year is no different, Williamson County commissioners vote to keep taxes steady. But should the tax rate be the main concern for the county every year during the budget debate? Certainly to those on the right of the political spectrum that is their only concern. But for a growing county like Williamson the level of service, which includes being able to hire and keep quality employees, certainly must be at least an equal part of the equation.
The Wilco Watchdog does a great job of breaking down much of the budget shenanigans, The Wilco 5 Adopt Their Smoke and Mirrors Budget. Their outrage and call for accountable government in Williamson County, (and the traditional media), echoes what we’ve been saying her for years.
It’s doubtful the mainstream media will pick up on this fact, so once again, we will report it. Much of our local media has an “if the commissioners say it, it must be true and we will print it” mentality. The Williamson County Sun’s journalistic integrity is front and center with many in the public in agreement reporting on County issues is favorably written for the Commissioners Court.
The latest from the Sun is their reporter has the County Judge quoted as saying“Alright reporters, I want the headline to be Williamson County lowers tax rate”, and guess what the Suns headline reads?“Commissioners cut budget, tax rate”.
This practice is a great disservice to Williamson County taxpayers, but it also explains the rising popularity of alternative media outlets including the Wilco Watchdog. The grandstanding has begun but at the end of the day, members of the Williamson County Commissioners Court are the only real losers in this game. Besides losing the respect of an entire workforce along with many county citizens, voters can – and hopefully will – express their dissatisfaction in upcoming elections.
March 2012 is fast approaching and we will say it here first. It is time for a change in the Precinct 1 and Precinct 3 County Commissioner positions. The back room secret deal-making policies must stop. So also must the good ole boy cover game played by placing other members of the good ole boys network into positions of power so as to facilitate questionable activities and obstruct attempts for corrective action. This type of governance is costly and has been tolerated for too long in Williamson County. It cannot, it should not continue.
It’s time we the citizens of Williamson County take our county back!
But the reality is that this is a fight, at least the way Williamson County politics are right now, that will only play out in the GOP Primary. Where challengers to incumbents are likely to lose. For real accountability we must have a strong and vibrant two-party system in the county. All incumbents in Williamson County will be vulnerable in 2012, a Presidential general election year where turnout will be high. In 2008 was when Democrat Diana Maldonado won a state House race in Williamson County, and Democrat Mike Grimes came withing 321 votes of knocking off Commissioner Lisa Birkman in Precinct 1. A Democratic campaign run on the issues of education, support for county employees, and support for working and middle class tax payers would do very well in November of 2012.
As we’ve said many times about Republicans, and especially the right-wing one that rule in Williamson County and in Texas, you can’t expect well run government from people that don’t believe government can be run well. Those who currently run our government believe that if everything was privatized it would run better and more efficiently. They’re wrong, but if that was done it would certainly enrich those who donate to their campaigns. (see, Austerity budgeting comes to Williamson County).
Instead of focusing on the almighty “tax rate”, next year when the budget debate rolls around, we should have a discussion of what we would level of service we would like our county government to provide for us, the taxpayers. It’s well-documented that Texas is a low tax, and therefore a low service state. Most of that stems from the fact that Texas does not have income tax, and therefore the wealthy and corporations don’t pay their fair share of taxes. (See Who Pays Texas Taxes).
If we want a government that serves us well it can’t happen on the cheap. If we want great public schools, well paid teachers, law enforcement, fire, EMS, and all county employees everyone must pay their fair share. And the only way that is going to happen is if we elect new people. For voters in Williamson County it should be obvious what to expect if Commissioners Birkman and Covey are reelected – more of the same. To keep electing the same people and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.
In case you haven’t noticed the GOP has a plan. Over the years it’s been called “Voodoo Economics” or “Trickle-down or Trickle-on Economics”, (depending on one’s vantage point). They talk of getting government so small it can be drowned in a bath tub. They denigrate social programs that provide medical care to the elderly and dignity to those who can’t take care of themselves, as well as keep the elderly and children whose parents die, out of poverty.
They want to take those social services away from the government and hand them over to for profit corporations, who they believe, (falsely, ignorantly, and often times corruptly), can do a better job. In other words they want to privatize government services and let their friends, and campaign contributors, profit from them. That’s their plan for education, and it will soon, if left unchecked, trickle-down to law enforcement, fire, EMS and all other government employees.
In the 11 years that Beatriz Roman worked at ASU, she waxed the floors and dusted the insides of five buildings. She even knew exactly how much toilet paper each building needed. Eight rolls, for every floor. Then, at the very end of last school year –
BEATRIZ ROMAN: The lady, she comes and she says, oh. I have bad news.
That lady was an ASU administrator.
ROMAN: Everybody lose their job. Everybody’s working only two more weeks.
The university laid off its entire custodial staff. All 191 were offered jobs with private companies that would take over ASU’s cleaning duties.
ROMAN: After this, I’m depressed. I’m very depressed.
Roman is a widow and the mother of a teenager. But she turned down the offer. In fact, only three people took the job. Custodians say the pay and vacation days were less. Health insurance premiums were more expensive. Plus, there were no state retirement benefits, and if Roman accepted the work, she’d lose her university severance package. That pays $1,100 bucks a month, the same as her previous salary after taxes. With a pet parakeet chirping behind her, I ask what happens when the money runs out in November. [Emphasis added]
ROMAN: Good question. Good question. I need find job. Soon.
The commissioners slashed $348,000 from the budget by cutting the 1.5 percent pay raise proposed for law enforcement. The court also cut the pay raise proposed for civilian employees from 3 percent to 1.5 percent, which saved $626,500.
The court also cut two full-time and one part-time clerical position from the Department of Public Safety office in Georgetown, which saved the county $65,500.
It was understandable when people would get up in arms about government overspending on defense contracts and too much waste., but we’re way beyond that now. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, teachers, cops, and firefighters those are needs, not luxuries or waste. Citizens in Williamson County and across this country have to wake up and realize what we’re losing with these austerity measures.
It seems logical that if they’re not going to use that money to hire workers then maybe it’s time the poeple, in the form of the government, started taxing that money and using it to create jobs. Our main economic problem is lack of demand. High unemployment means there are many people who can’t afford to buy stuff. Until they have jobs, and money, the can’t buy stuff. And until they start buying more stuff, that corporations make, the corporations won’t start hiring again. Therefore if the corporations won’t hire then the government must. There’s much to be done.
It’s taken decades for the anti-worker, cheap labor conservatism, to trickle-down to the local level but now it has. And unless it is stopped soon we will be paying our most needed public employees like they’re clerks at a convenience store.
[UPDATE]: From last night’s Countdown – The War on the Poor.
A discovery made in researching court records has upped the ante considerably on the need to declare a man who has been in prison almost 25 years innocent of murder. The document, which has not previously been cited or published by media, also begs for a fresh and complete investigation of the Williamson County commissioners court and its attempt to protect a lawyer who was involved in that murder case, as well as commissioners court’s apparent retaliation against the county attorney who tried to confront the protection practice.
And perhaps of greatest importance, especially in light of this new document, are the motives, actions and practices of Williamson County’s present district attorney, John “Marty” Bradley.
In 1987, Michael W. Morton, a Williamson County resident, was convicted by a Williamson County jury of murdering his wife, Christine, in 1986. On August 17, 2011, after a relentless effort by The Innocence Project and Morton’s attorneys, the Austin American-Statesman, the Houston Chronicle, The Texas Tribune, and other media, including electronic media, broke the news that Morton’s attorneys had been successful in having key evidence subjected to DNA analysis, with the result that Morton now appears not to have committed the crime. Other exculpatory evidence has also been brought into play by this development in the case. During efforts on Morton’s behalf to acquire and test the evidence, John Bradley, the current district attorney in Williamson County, went to extensive efforts to keep the evidence from being released and tested.
And now, close on the heels of that initial breaking news, there is additional and significant information which has not been previously published by media. Research has turned up documentation pointing to the conclusion that Bradley apparently is not alone in the effort to sequester key evidence. The prosecution team in that 1987 trial, and one member of that team in particular (second chair), has been identified by the new documentation as being in the center of the exculpatory evidence controversy.
In an aftershock related to the person in that second chair, the controversial conflict between County Attorney Jana Duty and the Williamson County commissioners court (which is still ongoing because of grievances filed by that court against Duty with the Texas Bar Association) is shown in a new light, pointing to a conclusion which supports Duty’s actions in trying to hold members of commissioners court, and County Judge Dan Gattis in particular, accountable for alleged improprieties which include, of all people, the person in the second chair at the Morton trial as well as District Attorney John Bradley.
Additional controversy in Williamson County is ongoing in another developing and fast-moving plot in which commissioners court appears to be attempting to exact retaliation on Duty and some members of her staff for their attempts to hold members of that court accountable for their actions. And a sidebar to the perspective involves commissioner court members apparently deciding to discontinue important, safety-net, social service and human service aspects of the county’s obligation to provide for the welfare of its citizens.
The Williamson County Commissioners Court on Tuesday cut thousands of dollars from social services in the proposed 2012 budget, including for programs that provide meals to the elderly and transportation for needy people in rural areas, early childhood intervention programs, and protection for abused women and children.
The commissioners voted to cut the county’s entire $20,000 contribution to the Capital Area Rural Transportation System, which provides rides to people in rural areas without access to bus service.
They also cut the entire $15,000 budget for early childhood intervention programs run by the Bluebonnet Trails Community Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center and eliminated funding for two positions for Child Protective Services caseworkers in the county, which saved $50,000. The CPS caseworkers were hired by the state to focus on Williamson County, and the county paid for 68 percent of the costs, said Ashlie Blaylock, the county’s budget officer.
The commissioners also reduced spending on Meals on Wheels by 60 percent, from about $37,000 to $15,000, and slashed their support for Hope Alliance, which provides shelter and counseling for abused women and children, by more than $13,000, leaving it with $54,000.
“We’re really in a desperate situation to cut services,” said County Judge Dan A. Gattis. [Emphasis added]
To be clear the WCCC had plenty of other options. To give this some context the WCGOP County Commissioners just last week decided to give a corporation $75,000 in tax incentives. This week they are taking away $71,000 from some much needed social services. The county does have many other options, but for some reason decided to balance the budget on the backs of the neediest citizens. From last week’s article on their WCGOP commissionsers options.
Options for officials for closing that potential gap include cutting spending, increasing the tax rate, using county reserves to make up the difference or some combination of cuts and tax increases. County staffers did not propose a possible tax rate when they presented the budget Tuesday. [Emphasis added]
But just like their legislative counterparts the GOP commissioners would rather afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable, and not dip into any surplus money. Here’s a great comment from the article. Some who commented early we’re trying to blame those who are in need as being greedy. This hopefully set them straight.
I think it is really sad when so many people in our society can’t read. The story plainly states that the cuts involved here don’t affect “5th generation Chee-to eaters,” but elderly people who won’t get a hot meal or a ride to the doctor, abused women who won’t get shelter, and children at risk who won’t get services. Speaking of Chee-tos, a tax increase of $21/year for the average homeowner amounts to the cost of 1 bag a week from a vending machine. I’m amazed that anybody would rather have a child raped than give up their snack. That doesn’t reflect the values of the Williamson County I know (or used to know).
It’s beyond sad, it’s greed and selfishness, and will only hurt the county in the long run. Commissioner Ron Morrison’s words certainly don’t inspire confidence.
The cuts and tax rate increase are still not enough to balance the budget in its current form. Commissioners said they plan to make more cuts to the budget at their regular meeting Tuesday .
The general manager of CARTS, David Marsh, said losing money from Williamson County will not have an “immediate effect.”
“Local government support is an essential commitment to the value of our service locally, but it is a small part of what supports CARTS service overall,” Marsh said.
Andrew Shell, the executive director of Williamson Burnet-County Opportunities, which runs Meals on Wheels, said the group is “deeply disappointed” about the funding cut.
“A cut this significant will result in a reduction in the number of meals the program can provide to homebound seniors by approximately 5,000 meals,” he said, and the agency will have to start a waiting list.
Patty Conner, the executive director of Hope Alliance, said the budget cut was “a significant amount of money for us.” She said she didn’t know how the nonprofit organization would be affected because she was waiting to hear about funding from a couple of cities.
Commissioner Ron Morrison, who previously served on the board of directors for the Hope Alliance, said he did not want to see the county making big cuts in the budget for the group. It provides services to people escaping from such bad circumstances that they only “get out with the shirts on their backs,” he said.
“I don’t know who handles this if they don’t,” he said.[Emphasis added]
Who handles it is the legal/court system at a much higher price to the county. Certainly the commissioners could have taken $71,000 from surplus to cover these needed services. Or they could have instituted a little higher tax rate for homes over a certain value. The main thing is they could have done many other things than what they did but they chose not to. Instead they chose to take from the powerless, which for them was the easy way out.
Williamson County’s proposed budget for 2011-12 includes employee raises, new voting machines, nine new county positions and extra money to pay for fuel increases. Commissioners don’t yet know how they will pay for all of it.
The budget of about $129.55 million spends about $4 million more than the county expects to get in revenue, assuming the current tax rate is not increased. It would increase spending about $5.19 million over this year’s budget, a 4.1 percent increase.
Options for officials for closing that potential gap include cutting spending, increasing the tax rate, using county reserves to make up the difference or some combination of cuts and tax increases. County staffers did not propose a possible tax rate when they presented the budget Tuesday.
Of course Precinct 4 County Commissioner Ron Morrison knows exactly who must pay for this. That’s right, the least among us.
Commissioner Ron Morrison said he didn’t know specifically what could be cut. “The only thing in jeopardy might be the public assistance contracts,” he said. Those contracts include the money that the county provides to social service agencies. [Emphasis added]
Why do they always come after the neediest first?
Certainly in Williamson County, still a growing county despite the economic conditions, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the budget is rising. More people means more sheriff, fire, and EMS personnel, etc…and that costs money. What should shock everyone is that the first place they’re looking to make up the difference is from those who are already struggling the most, and not from those who have already have more than they need.
The county should look at instituting a progressive, or graduated, tax structure. One where those who have more will pay a little more, so we can stop balancing budgets on the backs of poor, working, and middle class tax payers while letting the wealthiest off without paying their fair share.
This is not a done deal by any stretch and I would urge any and all Williamson County residents to mark August 30th on their calendar, when there will be a public hearing on the budget. Also contact County Judge Dan Gattis and your commissioner, info here.
Now that the legislative session is behind us it’s time to start gearing up for the primary season in Williamson County, and with that comes GOP infighting. The 2012 season is gearing up to be a bonanza of backstabbing. From the vantage point of an outsider it looks as though not long after the 2008 GOP primary there’s been issues between the County Attorney’s Office, the Court At Law Judges and the Williamson County Commissioners Court (WCCC) – see here, here, and here.
Then late in 2010 and early 2011 the County Attorney and WCCC started filing lawsuits and grievances against one other like they were going out of style – see here, here, and here. The latest in the saga is information that has surfaced regarding the WCCC hiring lobbyists to pass legislation through the Texas Legislature and at the Federal level as well. The tab is adding up, and is likley to exceed $200,000. (Go here, July Archive for the WCEA blog. Scroll to the bottom and start reading – Commissioner Valerie Covey and the breaking “Lobbygate” scandal – Part I.)
The lobbying story was broken by a blog of united Williamson County employees. They are fed up with the WCCC’s claims of poverty, while they continue to spend lavishly, and run up historic levels of debt, (that is the GOP way after all). Meanwhile, county employee pay stagnates and the cost of their benefits – especially health insurance – skyrockets. The county employees are feeling the pain average workers have known for years.
From what’s been reported so far, nothing illegal has been done, save for some possible violations of the procurement act and possibly some record retention lapses. The reason this is just now coming to light is the way the WCCC handled the hiring of the lobbyists. Essentially they hired a law firm, to hire the lobbyists, which kept the actual “hiring of lobbyists” off of the WCCC’s agenda, away from public scrutiny, and, they hoped, political liability. Which is why the after-the-fact claims that this was such a financial boon for the county seem so suspect. (As well as initial claims ignorance of hiring lobbyists, which have since been refuted). From the AAS, Williamson officials defend hiring of legislative lobbyists.
The Williamson County Commissioners Court is facing criticism over spending more than $100,000 on lobbyists to help get a bill passed in the Texas Legislature that speeds up the environmental review process for transportation projects.
The bill, which was approved in the regular session, imposes deadlines for the Texas Department of Transportation to complete environmental reviews. Federal law requires an environmental review before the construction of a transportation project by federal, state or local transportation entities.
Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long said the new law was necessary because the Department of Transportation, when it had no deadlines, took several years to approve a review needed before the county could add a median on U.S. 183 between the San Gabriel River and Seward Junction. During the delay, from 2006 to 2010, she said, the costs of purchasing right of way increased from $10 million to $37 million.
“Had this legislation been in place, the county would have saved $27 million,” she said.
The other part to this story is what it says about the state of our political process and what is left of our democracy. Because as much as we may not want it to be true, what state Sen. Kirk Watson says is true.
State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who was one of the authors of the bill in the Senate, said the people whom Williamson County hired worked with his office and with House members. He said the legislation was important.
“We needed it so that these local elected officials who are on the front line of trying to make improvements on behalf of the counties could get deadlines imposed,” he said.
To get the bill passed, Williamson County had to fight “folks that know this system and know how to kill bills,” Watson said. “TxDOT can create a traffic jam other than on the highway.”
He declined to comment about whether the county needed to hire the lobbyists but said that “this is one of those things that if you’re going to pull out all the stops, it didn’t hurt anything.”
Of course that’s not, in any way, to condone what’s been done or to say that anyone involved in this should not be held accountable for what they’ve done. But it is to say that when we have a state, and local government, whose elected officials have to raise campaign cash from special interests to get elected, we shouldn’t be surprised or particularly outraged when, once elected, they use their power over tax payer money to enrich those who finance their campaigns. Again, not saying it’s right, just that this is how our current system works. And when those working within the system do what’s required of the system, that means we have to change our system, to change what’s going on.
Issues like this will continue to come up as long as we allow special interests to control our political system. Some form of public financing of campaigns would be the logical place to start repairing our democracy.
The fear with what is taking place in this debate thus far, like with the phony debt crisis debate, is that once again we’re getting bogged down in process and minutiae, and not focusing on the big picture. For decades there’s been a concerted effort to demonize government as the problem. That has trickled down to demonizing some of our most important public employees – firefighters, peace officers, and teachers – as greedy for wanting a living wage, benefits, and the pension they were promised when they were hired.
Quite frankly I find it America is stood on it head when we look at a group of workers and say they have something, and other people don’t and say… well… in America we should take it away form those that have (laughter). Remember when we were at our zenith? When people didn’t have something, we looked at it and said why not? How can we get it for them, not take it away from those that do have it.
I’d ask everybody here that when you hear people making jokes about public employees, I wish you would stand up for them. Because they’re the ones that make the country function. They’re in your hospitals, they’re in your towns. They protect your house, they rush into a burning building. They take care of your sick mother, sick dad. They’re there every single day. They teach your kids and your grand kids.
It’s not just public employees, but workers in general, that have been under attack since the 1970s. It’s always been workers vs. bosses and always will be. The only way the workers can gain an advantage is by working together. Since the 1970s, the bosses – corporations and the wealthy – have been successful at keeping workers fighting amongst themselves instead working together for their common good. As this graph shows, As Union Membership Has Declined, Income Inequality Has Skyrocketed In The United States.
As most know, the GOP is a party that caters to the rich and the corporations. They are not, generally speaking, a party that believes in equality, or democracy, in the work place. They believe, by and large, that workers should be happy with what an employer chooses to give them. And that is essentially what has happened in Williamson County. The bosses (WCCC) believe that its employees are overpaid. They are unwilling, not unable, to raise taxes, especially on the wealthy and therefore workers must pay the price. The WCCC and their supporters have been on a tirade for at least a year, demonizing public employees, and it’s time for it to stop.
This is a fight between our county’s elected officials and the county’s public employees. Bosses versus workers. What’s unique is that it is also a political fight inside the GOP in Williamson County. It’s not likely this will end anytime soon and the only ones likely to suffer – if recent Williamson County history is any indicator – will be the taxpayers and public employees.
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.
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].”
Williamson County has agreed to pay a total of $375,000 to settle a federal lawsuit in which two former county employees accused a now-retired County Court-at-Law judge of sexually harassing them and yelling profanities at them over a three-month period in 2009.
Williamson County Court Commissioner Lisa Birkman said at a commissioners meeting in early March that the settlement was not an “admission to any fault by the county.”
“This is a very tough decision and I’ve given it a lot of thought,” she said.
Birkman and another commissioner, Cynthia Long, said it was in the “best interests” of the county to settle because of the expensive legal fees it might face if the case went to trial.
According to the lawsuit, the abuse began in October 2009 when Don Higginbotham, the judge in County Court-at-Law No. 3, uttered a profanity at Lee and told her to shut up.
On another occasion, Higginbotham told one of the plaintiffs to “come here, that he needed help going to the bathroom because it was too heavy for him to hold it up (clearly referring to his penis) because he has a bad back,” the lawsuit said.
In November 2009, Higginbotham told McGuyer to get out of his way, saying “I can’t even see around your butt,” according to the lawsuit. The same month, Lee asked for a peppermint, and the judge made a sexual remark, the suit said.
That money could have certainly gone to much better use, like county employee health care and raises, instead of protecting County Judge Dan Gattis’ miscreant long-time friend.
[UPDATE]: There are reports that Higgenbotham was back working as a visiting judge in Williamson County recently.