11.15.07

Carnes Allows Ackley To Withdraw - UPDATED

Posted in Landfill, Williamson County at 3:42 pm by wcnews

Heard through the grapevine:

Judge Carnes ruled today that Ackley (and perhaps the county attorney’s office) can withdraw from the case.

More to come.

[UPDATE]: Via AAS.

Ackley told the judge that his participation in the case might violate disciplinary rules. He would not say why.

He said he disagrees with the county’s position — that its contract with Waste Management is void because commissioners did not seek bids in 2003.

Krusee Retiring(?), Not So Fast

Posted in HD-52, Election 2008, 2008 Primary, Commentary, Williamson County at 2:21 pm by wcnews

With no further word on the possible retirement of Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Irrelevant) - and none of regulars like BOR, Kuff, QR, Burka, AAS, reporting further on this - it may well have just been a rumor, or wishful thinking on the GOP’s part. If he stays in the race Krusee has a long way to go to reelection. He’ll more than likely get a primary challenge and if he survives that he’ll have an even tougher challenge in Democratic opponent Diana Maldonado.

It’s worth noting that there is Speaker’s politics involved in this race. With Krusee and Craddick making nice recently, this may be a race where Craddick thinks he can hold onto a vote by getting Krusee reelected.

Whether he retires, loses in March, or loses in November makes no difference, as long as he’s not sworn in for the 81st.

FREE Entertainment: EWCDC Presents Kilowatt Ours In Taylor Tonight

Posted in Good Stuff, Take Action, The Environment, Democratic Events, Williamson County at 12:25 pm by wcnews

A new documentary film designed to help consumers cut their energy bills and improve the quality of the environment is coming to the historical HOWARD THEATRE in TAYLOR, TEXAS as many Americans face record-high energy bills. The public is invited to view Kilowatt Ours: A Plan to Re-Energize America, NOVEMBER 15 (Texas Recycle Day). This acclaimed film advocates energy conservation methods and clean, renewable power sources available as alternatives to the high costs of energy.

When: THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2007; 7:00 PM

Where: THE HISTORICAL HOWARD THEATRE, 308 NORTH MAIN STREET, TAYLOR, TEXAS

Admission: FREE!

Widespread problems revealed in ‘Kilowatt Ours’ include mountaintop removal, air pollution, global warming, childhood asthma, and mercury contamination. The film, by film maker Jeff Barrie, illustrates practical solutions that help homeowners save more than
$600 per year
on energy bills while helping the environment and protecting human health.

The film screening is sponsored by East Williamson County Democrat Club, as the second in it’s Documentary Film Series, highlighting local issues pertinent to the citizens of this county. Local environmentalist, Janice Bezanson, Executive Director of Texas Conservation Alliance, will be present to speak about the related topics. Information about purchasing the DVD, and becoming part of the film maker’s movement will also be available.

View the flyer for the event here [.PDF].

Couple Of Williamson News Items

Posted in Commissioners Court, Landfill, Williamson County at 11:41 am by wcnews

News 8 has an article up on the new rules of the WCCC, Residents upset about new Commissioner’s Court rules. That headline is still not quite right since it was the “residents” that forced the WCCC into implementing rules in the first place. But leave it to the GOP in Williamson County to go to far.

“They have stated that people attending meetings must come in attire appropriate for business meetings. First of all, I don’t know what that means. Secondly, they don’t have the right to do that,” [Mary Ellen Kersch] said.

Bradley countered Kersch’s point, saying, “they decided not to adopt any rules about particular forms of dress.”

But in writing, the rules say if someone isn’t in business attire they can be removed from the meeting. The new rules also prohibit anyone from using insulting or threatening language toward any elected county official.

“If they don’t want to hear what people have to say then they should say ‘no, you can’t speak.’ But once they say the public has the right to comment, I don’t think they can restrict what they can say. That’s sort of a gag rule,” Kersch said.

The American Civil Liberties Union agrees that rule is a red flag for concern. They’re looking into any possible legal violations, but Bradley claims there aren’t any.

Residents feel that the new rules infringe upon their First Amendment rights.

“I simply closed the file without any further investigation because there was no basis for a criminal investigation,” Bradley said.

But Kersch isn’t giving up. She believes the rules are an infringement on citizens’ First Amendment rights.

On balance this is definitely much better media coverage of the issue, compared to what we’ve been getting. Kersch has filed a second compliant with Bradley regarding the new rules and will continue to pursue her first complaint as well.

Also today Judge Burt Carnes is having a hearing on Assistant County Attorney Stephen Ackley’s request to withdraw from the county’s lawsuit against Waste Management, Inc.

The lawsuit between the county and its landfill operator continues today with a 9 a.m. hearing in District Judge Burt Carnes’ court over whether the county attorney’s office can withdraw from the case and hand it over to an outside law firm.

[…]

The county attorney’s office maintains that the contract is valid, but at least one of the outside firms, Potts & Reilly of Austin, told commissioners that the contract was void because it was not bid out in 2003.

The judge could rule today on whether Stephen Ackley, an assistant county attorney, can withdraw from the county’s lawsuit against Waste Management and let Potts & Reilly become sole counsel.

11.14.07

Breaking: Mike Krusee Not Running For Reelection?

Posted in HD-52, Election 2008, 2008 Primary, Williamson County at 5:44 pm by wcnews

Via the AustinPoliticalReport:

Veteran Williamson County Republican Mike Krusee will reportedly be appointed to a state transportation job before the end of the month, making him ineligible to continue serving in the Texas Legislature.

The Transportation Committee chief has been rumored to be on the retirement treadmill for months, ever since he delivered an emotional diatribe at the close of the legislative session in May that many Capitol observers said sounded like a farewell speech.

Round Rock school board vice president Diana Maldonado, a Democrat, has already announced her plans to run for the seat.

Paging Nyle Maxwell, Nyle Maxwell.

More to come, either way, we’re sure.

The Latest Installment Of…Republicans Say The Darndest Things

Posted in Privatization, Bad Government Republicans, Road Issues, Commentary, Around The Nation, Around The State at 3:40 pm by wcnews

Today’s contestant Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters, (Via Sal, Via CorridorNews), comparing freeways to welfare:

Mary Peters believes transportation changes need to come from local and state leaders, much like the changes made to welfare in the 1990s.

She said that welfare programs began to have too many federal regulations and the costs to operate the programs skyrocketed. State leaders tried to get the federal government to be flexible on welfare reform, but the federal government did not listen - making the states take change into their own hands. The changes caused federal reform programs.

“And I see the same kind of ground swelling in transportation today,” said Peters, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

That’s not the ground swelling that’s fat cats coming after our infrastructure, and that’s not the case in Texas at all. In Texas the state government has starved the roads of funding, on purpose, to create a highway funding crisis. Comparing tax payer funded roads to welfare is probably not going to win her many friends outside of the “wing-nut” crowd. This statement should not be surprising coming from a former industry insider.

Prior to joining President Bush’s Cabinet, Peters worked in Phoenix, AZ, as the national director for transportation policy and consulting at HDR, Inc., a major engineering firm. She was responsible for building a management consulting practice and formulating public policy initiatives for the firm’s transportation program.

This has been another installment of Republicans say the darndest things.

Courthouse Restored(?) But Still Far From Finished

Posted in Commissioners Court, Commentary, Williamson County at 10:12 am by wcnews

(EOW received this via email from an attendee at yesterday’s first WCCC meeting in the newly restored(?) courthouse.)

The first meeting of Williamson County commissioners in the restored courthouse had it’s lowlights on Tuesday November 13.

Apparently someone failed to test the new, expensive sound system before the meeting. Except for Commissioner Birkman (whose microphone seemed to be working OK), no other speaker (including those at the public comment microphone) could be heard beyond the second or third row. At times, the system would cut in and then cut out, resembling a very bad cell phone connection, but there was much more cut-out than cut-in. The sound certainly was worse than the squawk box at Jack-in-the-Box. To make matters worse, no one on the dais spoke loud enough for anyone in the back half of the room to understand what was being said. When commissioners exited for their executive session, the KLBJ-AM reporter covering the meeting worked on the system to try to fix it, and her conclusion was that new microphones are needed.

Special guests at the meeting were members of the past commissioners court who had initiated the courthouse restoration while in office. In introducing these past commissioners, County Judge Dan Gattis introduced “Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom McDaniel, who is not here.” (McDaniel died of a heart attack while in office in February of 2006.) Gattis gave no reason for McDaniel’s absence. Jack Noble, another ex-commissioner from Precinct 3, who preceded McDaniel, was introduced, along with McDaniel’s widow, who was sitting in the audience with Noble. No mention was made of the fact that McDaniel had died while in office and was in charge of the courthouse restoration at the time of his death. There was no mention of his death, and there was no memorialization, no resolution, no motion, no plaque, no nothing. The prayer offered at the beginning of the commissioners court session by a guest pastor did not mention him. Anyone who did not know that McDaniel died while in office would have thought that he was out of town or otherwise conflicted so that he couldn’t come to the meeting.

While stately and clean after the restoration, the courthouse still had some rough edges-unfinished molding, center-aisle carpeting in the courtroom which was too long because it was not cut back, and a loud hissing sound from the room’s rear air ducts which made listening to the speakers impossible (in addition to the sound system problem). The county’s consultant on the restoration from Broaddus Corporation had told commissioners on November 6 (the previous week) that the punch list for repairs included several hundred items. The walls were barren-no pictures.

When commissioners returned from executive session Tuesday, they fired the restoration contractor (Browning Construction) and the consultant (Broaddus Corporation). It appears the remaining problems in the restoration program will have to be cured by county employees or new contractors.

11.13.07

Immigration And 2008

Posted in HD-52, Immigration, Election 2008, 2008 Primary, Around The Nation, Commentary, Around The State at 4:23 pm by wcnews

Yesterday at a Hispanic Scholarship Consortium (HSC) luncheon, their mission is increase college enrollment of Central Texas Hispanics, former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros had a three things to say regarding the immigration and the 2008 election.

1) Go ahead, Republicans running for president. Make his day. Keep flogging the immigration issue. See if you don’t awaken a Hispanic voting juggernaut nationwide, as former GOP California Gov. Pete Wilson did in the ’90s in the nation’s most populous state.

[…]

2) Smell the coffee, Democrats. Battleground states next year that have large Hispanic populations include Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona, he said.

[…]

3) The flap over what Democratic frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton thinks of giving illegal immigrants in New York a driver’s license won’t cost her many Hispanic votes.

Quick Aside: RRISD President, HSC Board Member and HD-52 Democratic candidate Diana Maldonado was in attendance and had this to say.

Diana Maldonado, president of the Round Rock Independent School District and board member of the consortium, said schools need to integrate the higher education process in its curriculum. She said many Hispanic students fear college because they are unaware of the higher education processes.

It is the school’s task to create an outreach program to inform unaware families, she said.

“You have to talk to the abuelitas and the family members to let them know that we are here for them,” Maldonado said about relatives like grandmothers. “We need to bridge the gap because every student has the opportunity to succeed.”

There’s no doubt that family involvement is key to a child’s education. That shows the kind of common sense leadership Maldonado will bring to the legislature.

What Cisneros said regarding immigration and 2008 seems about right. One thing that came to mind while working on this post was discussion from Chris Bell had in 2006 with bloggers and what he said when asked about immigration:

One of the bloggers asked about the “I” issue, immigration. Apparently, it was a problem to the questioner. According to Chris Bell, “why should we make a Republican issue our issue?” Bell also asked the question, “Has anyone at this table lost a job that was taken up by an immigrant?” Now, that’s the type of response ALL of the candidates should be using. I mean, really, who’s bringing up this issue? Is it coming from the poor neighborhoods? Is it coming from the rural areas? No, it is coming from highly Republican, wealthy areas that would be hardly affected by undocumented workers working service jobs. In other words, it is a divisive, racist issue that Republicans will use to hide their ineffectiveness on the issues that Democrats should be discussing-a failing education system, improved access to health care, tax reform that benefits the working and middle class, and environmental reform. But, more than anything, Chris Bell hit the nail right on the head: This is a federal issue that needs to be taken care of in Washington, DC. And after that, Democratic federal candidates should NEVER villify people or call them “illegal” or “aliens” or anything derogative just for the purpose of gaining a vote.

That all still seems about right too. Which is why when Democrats start playing in the Republican sand box on this issue it’s not a good strategy. Democrats have been able to seize the high ground on the immigration issue largely by staying out of the “Lou Dobbs/MSM” fight that’s dividing the GOP. That is a battle inside the GOP, between the corporatists and the racists. In this LAT article about a supposed battle inside the Democratic Party over immigration, let’s hope there’s not much reality to it, A fine line for Democrats on border issues. While it may make sense for some Democrats in Republican leaning districts to get into this fight, it makes absolutely no sense for the Democratic Party as a whole to change it’s stance in any way.

Most Americans, myself included, being descendants of immigrants understand, from family lore if nothing else, the draw of America to those looking for a better life. That’s probably why large majorities of Americans favor a path to citizenship. Immigration is and will continue to be, as long as we’re a free county, a controversial issue. But building a wall is not the answer. People are coming here for a better life and the only people being punished is working America, in the form of depressed wages, and that needs to change. The attacks will keep coming. EOW urges everyone to read this recently released Progressive States Network Strategy Memo, Fighting the Anti-Immigrant Movement in the States, to learn how.

Toll Roads..They Get You To The Bottleneck Faster

Posted in Road Issues, Central Texas, Williamson County at 11:23 am by wcnews

News 8 asks the question, Have toll roads helped or hurt traffic?

“It’s been more good than bad I would say. [Drivers] used to spend more time trying to get to MoPac, now when they get to MoPac they get there faster but it bottlenecks,” TxDOT spokesperson Marcus Cooper said.

[…]

The toll roads do save time and are rarely congested. But many say that although they offer more direct route, drivers often end up meeting a bottleneck on the other end.

[…]

In short, the toll roads have meant better and faster access for some, but for others it’s meant waiting on crowded access roads and new bottleneck trouble spots.

That’s what EOW would call a definite maybe.

New Rules, Here We Go Again

Posted in Media, Commissioners Court, Commentary, Williamson County at 10:13 am by wcnews

Last week EOW posted about the way that the AAS framed it’s article about the WCCC adopting rules for their meetings. They left out the fact that this issue would have never come to a head as it did if it wasn’t for an Open Meetings Act Complaint that was filed by Mary Ellen Kersch:

[The AAS article] gives the false impression that the reason the rules were drawn up and put into place, is because of the crowded meetings they’ve been having over the last year.

[…]

The only reason this became an issue was because of the Open Meetings Act complaint that was filed against the WCCC..

Now the RRL’s report on the new rules adopted by the WCCC tries to do a similar thing. From the first paragraph the obfuscating starts.

Williamson County commissioners stopped short of adopting a dress code, like they’d talked about, but they have adopted a set of formal rules for speakers addressing them at meetings.

Again read through this earlier EOW post, which contains a link to the new rules, and you’ll see that a dress code was adopted. Although it was one that was left open to interpretation, which may be a violation of the OMA. The traditional media is buying County Judge Dan Gattis, Sr., and Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman’s line that they’d been thinking about this for a while, and virtually ignoring the impact of Kerch’s complaint on the new rules.

County Judge Dan Gattis and the four commissioners perceive they are dealing with more controversial issues - and more of them - than past courts. Therefore, they say, it is more important to make sure everyone gets to have their say, in a way that is verifiably fair.

Commissioners - borrowing from standards other counties use - adopted the new procedures Oct. 30 and they went into effect for the first time at the Nov. 6 meeting.

“We had been talking about this for a long time,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman of Brushy Creek said. “I think the rules are important when you have more controversy. I think there are more controversial issues now.”

For most of this year commissioners have heard a lot of public comment at meetings, regarding hot topics such as the Regional Animal Shelter in Georgetown, the county landfill in Hutto and the T. Don Hutto immigrant detention center in Taylor.

Now, Gattis and the court have codified what were more informal procedures in the past, such as limiting speaking time to two or three minutes for each speaker.

“You don’t want to have wide-open discretion,” Assistant County Attorney Dale Rye told commissioners during an October discussion of the new rules. “People are going to come back and tell you you’re abusing your discretion.”

That, in fact, has already happened. Two frequent speakers at commissioners court - Jim Dillon of Liberty Hill and former Georgetown Mayor MaryEllen Kersch - have complained Gattis sometimes is inconsistent in his policies.

Maybe Mr. Stutzman and Ms. Mixon will buy that but EOW won’t. Looking at the timeline of this one can see that it wasn’t until DA John Bradley ruled on the complaint that the WCCC even put this issue on it’s agenda.

  • Sept. 21, 2007: Mary Ellen Kersch files OMA complaint with Williamson County DA John Bradley
  • Oct. 19, 2007: Mary Ellen Kersch receives notification from DA’s office that the complaint did not warrant criminal charges.
  • Oct. 23, 2007: First time the Rules of Procedure, Conduct, and Decorum appear on a WCCC agenda.

Now I’m no investigative reporter but that seems like a very good case that this never would have been put on a WCCC agenda if it wasn’t for the OMA complaint that was filed by Kersch. These two traditional media outlets (AAS and RRL) received the same press releases that EOW did, so they were not in the dark about Kersch’s complaint and the DA’s ruling. Their decision to accept and use the WCCC’s narrative on this story is leaving out the rest of, and the most important part of the story.

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