County Attorney’s Office request to be dropped from the lawsuit is granted.
Last we heard from District Judge Burt Carnes, on October 18th, he wasn’t sure he had jurisdiction in the county’s lawsuit against Waste Management, Inc. (WMI), stating, “that he probably has no jurisdiction in the matter”. It appears something has changed his mind. I received this via email today:
On Wednesday morning, October 31, District Judge Burt Carnes released his ruling accepting jurisdiction in the lawsuit, Williamson County v. Waste Management. The county filed the lawsuit and an amended petition taking the position that its 2003 Landfill Operating Agreement (LOA) with Waste Management is void because it was not publicly bid, a violation of the Texas County Purchasing Act.
In addition to taking jurisdiction to hear the case, Judge Carnes also granted the petition of a group of taxpayers to intervene in the case. The taxpayers also believe the contract is void and should have been bid. On Friday of last week, that same group of intervenors filed a separate lawsuit mirroring its position in its intervention petition to preserve its legal rights in the event it had not been granted intervenor status.
An interesting sidebar to the case is that Steven Ackley, the assistant county attorney representing the county attorney’s office, requested to withdraw from the case, and that request was granted by Judge Carnes. It means that county commissioners will be represented by Susan Potts of Potts & Reilly (Austin), the outside counsel which is now the sole legal representative for the county in the case.
The ruling by Judge Carnes means that the lawsuit has merit and can proceed. The judge has also allowed the Hutto Citizens Group (HCG) to join the lawsuit as an intervenor, against the county’s wishes remember, Precinct 4 Commissioner Ron Morrison deserves credit, from what EOW understands, for bringing in outside counsel Potts & Reilly. Not only have they taken over the case, now that the County Attorney has withdrawn, but they’re also responsible for turning this from a somewhat friendly lawsuit into one that is now truly adversarial, as it should be.
This lawsuit involves quite a bit of local political intrigue. One of the reasons those in our county government didn’t want to bring a lawsuit against WMI, since the HCG became involved in this, was for exactly this reason, they knew it had merit. The county may have been more interested in not showing a mistake had been made than correcting it. They were also lax in fleshing out why they couldn’t put the contract out to bid. It doesn’t appear that the county did this initially to fool it’s citizens but were, more than likely taken in by WMI, and did this out of ignorance and blindly trusting the word of a corporation (WMI) and it’s lawyers. They we’re told from the beginning that if they put the contract out to bid WMI would sue and it would end up costing them more in the long run.
WMI’s political connections can probably be beneficial to someone looking to further their political career. (Who would have thought a company that deals in garbage could be so successful in politics?) They have a whole cadre of very smart lawyers that were probably telling our “Mayberry Machiavelli’s” not to worry, we’ll take care of it, with a wink and a nod to the future. But not everyone was asleep. That group of taxpayers, better know as the Hutto Citizens Group, kept the heat on and have held our elected representatives to account.
If WMI loses the contract, then the request for proposal (RFP) for a new contractor could include solicitation of proposals for a new landfill design – which is what citizens want. (Not as high, better screening, more recycling, etc.) It’s essential for everyone to keep in mind that this whole mess has transpired because our county government went ahead on this issue despite citizen appeals for input and assistance that were flat-out denied. More than likely much of this could have been avoided if the WCCC would have treated it’s citizens more like partners than bothersome pests.
Two things that occurred at yesterday’s Williamson County Commissioners Court meeting of note. First, was that the commissioners got their price met to continue to be “in the middle” of the T. Don Hutto mess and keep on locking up mothers and children in Williamson County. And, second, new Rules of Procedure, Conduct & Decorum for court meetings were adopted by the WCCC.
On the TDH situation we learn from KXAN’s reporting that the WCCC got what it wanted and needed – CYA money from CCA.
Instead, commissioners approved an amendment to the agreement that will give them legal protection from CCA and $250,000 if the county is sued.
“We feel like this is a better clause that gives us more protection from that standpoint and the amendment gives us the opportunity to have somebody on site that can help us understand the day-to-day operations,” said Williamson County Commissioner Dan Gattis.
Also MaryEllen Kersch was interviewed and she makes it seem like the commissioners had already made up their minds.
“There was some very persuasive arguments made, and they seem not to have heard. They certainly didn’t make any impact,” said Georgetown resident Mary Ellen Kersch.
The county’s price was $250,000 from CCA if it is sued and new county position, “to have somebody on site” at TDH, that pays $5,000/month.
Next comes the WCCC’s reaction to their inability to follow the Open Meetings Act (OMA). In an attempt deflect criticism from the fact that they’ve been operating outside the guidelines of the OMA they decided to try and make this an issue about the actions of those that attend the meetings. The quote in this TDP article pretty much shows the mind set of the court on this issue.
Although the District Attorney’s office ruled last week that there was not enough evidence to warrant a criminal investigation, County Judge Dan Gattis, who runs the public meeting, agreed that it was important to have a written set of rules clearly stating the county’s policy on public comments.
â€œI don’t know why there was never one done before… (but) I can tell you that we are trying very hard to operate the county government as open as possible and certainly trying to obey the rules and laws,â€ Gattis said in a previous interview.
Ignorance is no excuse Judge, but now you know. Two reasons you were operating outside the guidelines Judge, (1) It’s just easier to run a meeting however you want, and (2) Nobody has ever held the court to account for this before.
Several items in the new list of rules address the concerns raised in Kersch’s complaint.
For a citizen to place an item on the following weeks agenda for discussion, a request must be filed and approved by a commissioner, which then must be approved by the county judge. Requests must be submitted no later than noon the Thursday prior to the meeting.
Members of the public can address the court with comments by filling out a Public Participation Form prior to the start the meeting, which begins at 9:30 a.m. The public comment section of court will last a maximum of 45 minutes, allowing at least 10 speakers three minutes each for comment.
According to the rules, the court intends to choose 10 speakers that will fairly represent both sides of an agenda item. However, the commissioner’s may use a majority vote to extend or shorten the amount of time allotted to an issue if the issue sparks a lot of public interest.
Fairly representing both sides can be a problem. Especially with an issue like the landfill where almost everyone is against it. Allowing one person from each side to represent a “fair and balanced” take on an issue could give a false impression that there’s an even divide on an issue where there is vastly more support one way or another.
At least they’ve decided to start following the rules, that’s a step in the right directions. Thanks again to MaryEllen Kersch for taking action on this and getting the court to start following the OMA. The article said the new rules are on the county’s web site but I haven’t been able to track them down yet.
[UPDATE]: RRL adds it’s two cents, Wilco keeps, but tweaks, contract.
home : news : news October 31, 2007
10/31/2007 11:57:00 AM Email this article â€¢ Print this article
Wilco keeps, but tweaks, contract
The T. Don Hutto immigrant detention center in Taylor is only one facility, but it conjures up at least three different images, among three different groups who have competing priorities.
For human rights protestors, it is about morality. Children – some from families seeking political asylum – are held at the converted prison and opponents say that is wrong.
For the 280 people who work there – Corrections Corporation of America employees who say they treat detainees with dignity and respect – it’s about a steady paycheck that will go away if T. Don Hutto does.
And for Williamson County Commissioners it is also to some degree about money ($15,872 per month) as well as a middleman role commissioners are uncomfortable in because they believe it leaves them open to legal liability.
Since county commissioners were the only ones voting on this, their point of view prevailed Tuesday morning.
After taking public input – but offering no comments of their own – commissioners voted 5-0 to modify, but not end, the controversial contractual relationships Williamson County has been in since May 2006.
“The contract is going to end anyway [in January 2009],” Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman of Brushy Creek said during a break after the vote.
Birkman, at this point, is the only member of the five-person court who will state she’s leaning toward not renewing the county’s contract with the private jail firm CCA. The others, at least in their public statements, are taking a wait-and-see approach.
She may be gone by the time 2009 rolls around.
From The Politico, It’s not fraud, it’s alienated voters, (Tip to Sirota). The article does a great job of pointing out that voter fraud is almost non-existent.
Americans are quite familiar with imperfect election administration. Human errors by election officials, technological glitches, voter intimidation and missing ballot boxes occur somewhere, in some election, approximately as often as it rains.
Proponents of laws that do not address these irregularities but that do result in substantial disenfranchisement of legitimate voters, market a misnomer and conflate the above problems with “voter fraud.”
But voter fraud they are not. Voter fraud, to the extent it exists at all, involves real people casting ballots despite knowing that they are ineligible to vote.
As a practical matter, voter fraud involves extraordinary criminal risk, including prison and fines, for almost zero personal gain.
Unsurprisingly, exacting scrutiny of the 2004 election in Ohio revealed a possible voter fraud rate of 0.00004 percent. Americans are more likely to be struck by lightning. Granted, lightning does strike, but we’re not yet ready to pass legislation requiring a dome for the planet.
It also urges looking for real solutions and not “Voter IDiocy” gimmicks like the Texas GOP tried last session.
Finally, states are passing stringent voter ID requirements that disenfranchise rightful voters, particularly the elderly, the poor and minorities. As election scholar Rick Hasen has pointed out, it is not an accident that legislatures have passed or proposed such legislation on party-line votes.
Indeed, in a 2007 article in the Houston Chronicle, Royal Masset, the former political director for the Republican Party of Texas, expressly linked spurious voter fraud allegations to photo identification laws and their expected partisan impact on legitimate voters.
Among Republicans, it is an “article of religious faith that voter fraud is causing us to lose elections,” Masset said.
He doesn’t agree with that but does believe that requiring photo IDs could cause enough of a drop-off in legitimate Democratic voting to add 3 percent to the Republican vote.
Last week on Capitol Hill, the House Committee on Administration confronted these complex challenges. In evaluating reforms, federal and state lawmakers alike should eschew the rhetorical distraction of “voter fraud” and employ rigorous cost-benefit analysis.
Solutions that disenfranchise legitimate voters fail that test. Instead, proposals must be narrowly tailored to solve actual, rather than phantom, problems. The right to vote shouldn’t depend on luck. It deserves careful design.
It can be done, we just need people that believe government can solve problems back running our government again.
Here’s the story:
Williamson County leaders backed off plans Tuesday to sever ties early with the owner of a much-criticized immigrant detention center in Taylor.
Instead, county commissioners voted unanimously to continue their contract with Corrections Corp. of America, which operates the T. Don Hutto Residential Center. Earlier this month, commissioners took steps to end the contract with CCA by October 2008. While the facility has been controversial, commissioners said they were worried about the county’s potential liability stemming from its relationship with the center.
CCA subsequently offered free legal protection and $250,000 for the county should it ever face litigation. Commissioners said Tuesday that CCA’s offer assuaged their fears.
A unanimous vote. That means CCA met the price of all the court members to continue to allow locking up mothers and children in Williamson County.
(LTE, by OMA Complainant MaryEllen Kersch regarding the latest moves on meeting procedures by the WCCC.)
Within days after Williamson County D. A. John Bradley declared â€œunworthy of criminal chargesâ€ a complaint filed on the Williamson County Commissioners Court for violating the Texas Open Meetings Act, county judge Dan Gattis posted an agenda item to institute rules for citizens wishing to address that body. The emphasis was less than in the spirit of the Act, proposing measures that seem designed to protect the officials from having to listen to things they prefer not to hear. First, Gattis declares the WCCC has â€œjudicialâ€ powers, then asserts the right to issue â€œContempt of Court Citationsâ€ for citizens’ violations, including:
1) A dress code requiring: â€œâ€¦attire suitable for professional or business engagements.â€
2) â€œNeither is it the intention of the Court to allow (citizens) to insult the honesty and/or integrity of the Courtâ€¦or other public officials,â€ and prohibits “..insulting â€¦language directed toward the Courtâ€¦.â€
Arbitrary rules favoring those in power are not conducive to open government, or good government.
This will happen today as the WCCC takes up agenda item #25 [.PDF] – Discuss and take appropriate action on Williamson County Commissioners Court Rules of Procedure, Conduct, and Decorum. This was reported by EOW late last week from an RRL article that made it seem like this came up because of people who dress bad, say bad things about commissioners, and citizens who “rant and rave”. The article didn’t mention that a formal compliant had been filed against the WCCC which is what made this an issue to begin with.
In an attempt to shift the blame, so to speak, from their disregard of open meeting requirements, the WCCC has decided to put an item on the agenda that’s a minor problem at the most, in hopes that people won’t notice their disregard for the OMA. While there are many people that have an issue with the casual dress of modern America, that alone is no excuse, in EOW’s opinion, for not allowing someone to speak.
The bottom line in all of this is to have uniform rules, no matter what they are, so that all citizens know what they are beforehand. The WCCC, and Judge Dan Gattis, Sr. in particular, also need to publicly acknowledge that they’ve been operating outside the guidelines of the OMA and vow to begin following the law.
[This round-up of election news and endorsement posts is brought to you by the Texas Progressive Alliance in anticipation of the November 6 general election. Some of the blogs and sites included in this round-up are not member sites of the Texas Progressive Alliance, but are included in the hopes of giving voters a wider picture of the many issues facing voters in local races around the state. The round-up was compiled by Vince at Capitol Annex.]
On November 6, voters all across Texas will have the opportunity to go to the polls to vote on a variety of issues. First and foremost, voters across Texas will vote on 16 amendments to the Texas Constitution including Proposition 15, the much-touted amendment to fund cancer research in the state.
In addition, voters in some municipalities, most prominently Houston, will be casting votes for city officials including mayors and city council members. College districts, independent school districts, and special districts across the state will also hold elections for their members. A number of cities and school districts will also hold bond elections to fund everything from jail construction to parks and recreation and additional school facilities. Some school districts will also hold tax rate elections to authorize tax rates higher than those allowed by the tax reform plan passed by the Texas Legislature in special session back in 2006.
Texas bloggers have dedicated a considerable amount of coverage to election issues across the state, from the statewide constitutional amendment election to local issues. Much of this coverage is highlighted below.
Local Elections, Bonds, & Referendums
Charles Kuffner at Off The Kuff has exhaustive coverage of local elections in Houston from city council elections to college district elections and city bonds. There are a large number of posts, but mosts can be found in two categories, here and here.
Bill Howell in Stoutdemblog comes out for a vote Yes on the Dallas referendum on the Trinity River at River Don’t You Weep.
Texas Cloverleaf has a round up of campaign spending on the Trinity River campaign.
Grits for Breakfast has a round-up of jail-related propositions on the ballot across the state, including in Smith County (Tyler).
Bill Howell in Stoutdemblog comes out for a vote Yes on the Dallas referendum on the Trinity River at River Don’t You Weep.
North Texas Liberal explores the pros and cons of the Trinity River referendum in Dallas.
Other Key Local Election Coverage:
Homophobia Rears Its Nasty Head in Fort Worth City Council Race (Doing My Part For The Left)
Endorsements & Voter’s Guides: Statewide Amendments & Local Races
Non-partisan voter’s guides on the 16 statewide Constitutional Amendments: Texas League of Women Voters, Texas Legislative Council (full version), Texas Legislative Council (condensed version–warning, this is a .doc file), Texas House Research Organization
Newspaper Endorsements For Constitutional Amendments: Dallas Morning News, Austin American-Statesman, Waco Tribune-Herald (split editorials: here, here, here, here, here), El Paso Times (Prop. 4) Lufkin Daily News, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, San Antonio Express-News.
Bill Howell at Stoutdemblog provides links to analyses of the amendments, then compares different stands taken on them by some other bloggers and Republicans and Libertarians, then gives his own personal stands on each at Web Resources On The Endless Amendments.
Muse at Musings urges voters to vote the opposite of the Harris County Republican Party’s endorsements.
Capitol Annex has endorsements of the 16 Constitutional Amendments with detailed information behind the reasons for their picks in their four endorsement posts.
Gary at Easter Lemming News in Harris County finally has his thoughts straight on all the propositions, amendments and bonds to follow his election page.
WCNews at Eye on Williamson has Early Voting in formation for Williamson County along with several guides and couple of opinions on the amendments .
Off the Kuff gives his recommendations for the state and local bonds and propositions.
CouldBeTrue at South Texas Chisme points at some resources to decipher the proposed Texas constitutional amendments.
Other Notable Statewide Amendment Coverage:
Proposition 4 (Off The Kuff)
Proposition 15 Ramps Up (Off The Kuff)
KXAN had a story Sunday night about protesters walking form the T. Don Hutto facility to the Georgetown for the Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday. Our good friend Jose Orta was interviewed.
“We want people to stop and say, â€˜Hey, what are these people walking for?’ There’s a lot of people who even live here in this town that still have no idea that this type of facility exists, and it’s in their own backyard,” said JosÃ© Orta, president of Taylor League of United Latin American Citizens.
Well said.Â There’s a video at the KXAN link above as well.
From the RRL’s preview of tomoorw’s meeting it looks like Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman wants out of this deal but not for moral reasons. See if you can find her talking point.
But at least one county commissioner isn’t sure the potential headaches are worth the $15,872 every month.
“My general feeling still is I’m going to have to be convinced why the county is still in the middle of it,” Pct. 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman of Brushy Creek said Friday.
Birkman said it might be best if the county gives ICE and CCA notice it will end the contracts. That way, ICE can enter another intergovernmental agreement – maybe with Taylor city government – or devise some other sort of arrangement with CCA.
“I don’t want to leave them stranded. That’s what we had talked about before to give them notice, but I still don’t understand why the county has to be in the middle of it. They have other options,” Birkman said.
“Some things, like the landfill, we don’t have a choice being in the middle of,” she said. “We have a [county] jail. There’s a lot of things we are stuck doing. But this one is not one of them.”
Birkman said she will solicit opinions from Gattis and other commissioners but “my general feeling is I still don’t see the point of us being in the middle.”
In other words Birkman’s doesn’t have a problem with locking up children she just wants to make sure the county doesn’t get stuck in the middle of a lawsuit.
Text of petition reads:
We, the undersigned, recognize the importance of collectively providing for the health care and wellbeing for our nation’s children regardless of their parents economic status and ability to pay. We believe that the SCHIP program is an important investment in our children because it provides healthcare rather than sick care and keeps children out of our emergency rooms, the most expensive care.
In a nation of our affluence, the $40 billion cost of the program over the next 10 years amounts to only about a $13.30 per year contribution from each and every man, woman, and child, a cost that we think is well worth it to ensure that innocent children are taken care of.
We therefore strongly urge you to give the SCHIP renewal and expansion your support, knowing that we do not consider $13.30 per year to be an unreasonable burden.
Click here to sign the petition.
It’s Monday, and that means it’s once again time for the Texas Progressive Alliance Blog Round-Up. This week’s round-up is complied by Vince from Capitol Annex.
Refinish69 from Doing My Part For The Left is outraged with certain politicians in Fort Worth,Texas. Homophobia Rears Its Nasty Head in Fort Worth City Council Race tells who is being a jerk and how to contact one of them.
Muse was at Armando Walleâ€™s campaign kick-off and reports why itâ€™s time for a change in Texas House District 140. Kevin Bailey (Craddick D) has been serving Craddick and not the district. Walle, who is from the district and has a proven track record of service and leadership, already has a large group of supporters lined up to help him take back 140 for the people.
Phillip Martin of Burnt Orange Report provides a detailed chart and analysis updating what’s going on with the Craddick D’s. The post brought forward an interesting reader response as well.
Xsharon at Bluedaze gives the Texas Railroad Commission Protection Money Breakdown. and makes it easy for you to take action. So, please take that action before you become the next victim of RRC Malpractice. .
Hal at Half Empty wonders whether FEMA has finally taken a page out of George Orwell’s book when they held a ‘news conference’ this past week without a single journalist in attendance.
WhosPlayin notes that he would gladly pay the $13.30 per year per person to pay for SCHIP.
McBlogger takes a look at the strange world of Focus on the Family and the very odd people that attended their Values Voters conference.
CouldBeTrue at South Texas Chisme notes that Perry appointed a public corruption figure to the UT System Board of Regents.
Johncoby at Bay Area Houston finds the highest and lowest costs for electricity in the Houston area. Power Watch: Highest and lowest electricity rates for November.
Stace at DosCentavos features the trailer to the upcoming Jesse Salmeron film, This Is America. “This is America” is the story of a family torn apart by deportation.
NatWu at Three Wise Men exposes the truth about why we need Net Neutrality, especially with all the recent Telecom shenanigans.
North Texas Liberal‘s Texas Toad gives a breakdown on the factions of the “Trinity Vote” in Dallas Weighs Pros and Cons of Trinity Toll Road.
WCNews at Eye On Williamson wonders What Will John Carter’s Excuse Be This Time For Voting Against Health Care For Children?
Off the Kuff gives his recommendations for the state and local bonds and propositions.
NYTexan at BlueBloggin asks how many wars and how many enemies can Bush have?
Vince at Capitol Annex notes that Tom Craddick has borrowed a page from Warren Chisum in announcing that trial lawyers were behind efforts to remove him during the 8oth Legislative Session and wonders why, since he reported it some months ago, it is suddenly “news” to the mainstream media.
In the wake of the Houston Chronicle’s announcement of a “position-elimination program”, PDiddie at Brains and Eggs recounts his personal experience with Hearst newspapers, budgets, and staff cutbacks in The Trouble with the Newspaper Bidness.
The RRL is reporting that the Williamson County Commissioners Court will formalize procedures for their meetings, making the the rules fair for everyone involved, and protects the members of the court from legal challenges to their decisions. In the article, from what County Judge Dan Gattis, Sr. says, it seems clear that the court hasn’t been operating under the OMA guidelines.
But Gattis said the court seeks to codify what have been informal policies, such as limiting the number of people who can speak for or against a particular issue, as well as limiting each speaker to two or three minutes.
Gattis acknowledged he’s liberally used his own discretion in the past; sometimes letting people talk beyond three minutes and other times – such as during the landfill contract debates – asking if there’s anybody else in the audience who’d like to speak.
But Assistant County Attorney Dale Rye – who serves as special legal counsel to the Commissioners Court – told commissioners last week that can be a recipe for trouble.
“You don’t want to have wide-open discretion,” Rye explained. “People are going to come back and tell you you’re abusing your discretion.”
That, in fact, has already happened on at least a couple of occasions. Dillon and former Georgetown Mayor Mary Ellen Kersch – a T. Don Hutto opponent – have each recently complained that Gattis lets some people talk longer than others.
Rye told commissioner they can set whatever public comment rules they want “as long as it doesn’t look like you’re targeting any particular group.”
Commissioners are also looking at adopting a dress code, for people who want to address the court, much in the same way the district court judges have dress codes for people who have business before them.
“You used to be able to tell people to dress for court the way they dress for church,” Rye lamented. “That doesn’t work anymore.”
EOW readers are already well aware of what was transpiring at meetings and what spurred their sudden interest in setting and following rules that should have been in place from the day this court was sworn in. Great job Ms. Kersch! This shows us all that one citizen can hold it’s elected representatives to account.
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