Williamson County Public Policy Coalition newsletter

Posted in Commissioners Court, Landfill, Precinct 4, T. Don Hutto, Uncategorized, Williamson County at 8:39 am by wcnews

The latest newsletter can be downloaded here* [.pdf]. It covers several topics:

  • The county is already abdicating the landfill contract enforcement.
  • WMI, Inc. employee provides false testimony to Senate committee regarding SB 2235.
  • The shoddy work of the $1 million PR firm the county hired.
  • The latest on what’s happening with T. Don Hutto

Be sure and check it out.

*Newsletter has been updated with Precinct 4 County Commissioner Ron Morrison’s response regarding the landfill.


Hutto Citizens Group meeting May 5th

Posted in County Judge, Hutto, Landfill, Precinct 4, T. Don Hutto, Uncategorized, Williamson County at 8:30 am by wcnews

The Hutto Citizens Group (HCG) sent out a press release [.pdf] for it’s upcoming meeting next week. They are having a meeting on Monday to discuss several topics, including the three highlighted below.

At its upcoming regular meeting on Tuesday, May 5, the Hutto Citizens Group (HCG) will hold open discussions on major items that are on the front burner of local and county issues, including the problem of no grocery store in Hutto, the ongoing landfill concerns, and the county’s legal problem of having the county judge serve as the county budget officer.


At it’s April 1 meeting, the group passed a resolution to work on a combined community strategy to attract a grocery store to Hutto. “It’s been an ongoing problem,” said Steven “Bear”
Salfelder, president of the HCG, who added, “and despite efforts by the City of Hutto and the Hutto Economic Development Corporation, no solution has been forthcoming.”

According to Salfelder, the HCG has discussed alternatives to the refusal of major retail grocery chains to serve the local Hutto market. “We’ve developed some practical concepts,” Salfelder said, “including a model that is financially viable which is tailored to meet the specific needs of our local
community, and we’ll be fleshing out those ideas at Tuesday’s meeting.”

Another front-burner topic on the meeting agenda is the legal conflict in which Williamson County finds itself by having the county judge serve as the county’s budget officer, despite a ruling from the Texas attorney general that the arrangement is illegal. “With the county’s upcoming budget now in process, this problem needs to be addressed and resolved,” said Jeff Maurice, chairman of the HCG’s information committee who has researched the issue in detail.

Other agenda items include discussions of ongoing landfill problems and the county’s failure to answer questions about current concerns, planning for the Hutto Cultural Festival, and an update on the county’s contracts to run the T. Don Hutto in prison in Taylor which confines women and children with immigration issues. “The federal court oversight of the prison, which corrected past abuses, expires in September,” Maurice said, “so some answers about safeguards need to be discussed.

The meeting agenda is also available here [.pdf], (which includes location, time and directions). Also read EOW’s reporting on Judge Dan Gattis, Sr continuing to act as the budget officer, in violation of the Texas Attorney General’s ruling here an here.


WCCC unanimously approves new landfill contract

Posted in Commentary, Commissioners Court, County Judge, Had Enough Yet?, Hutto, Landfill, Precinct 4, Uncategorized, Williamson County at 10:58 am by wcnews

(A somewhat final analysis, for now).

Yesterday the Williamson County Commissioners Court (WCCC) Unanimously approved the new contract for the Williamson County Landfill. Via the TDP, Landfill contract approved.

Though the new contract offers many things the former contract did not — it nearly triples the amount of revenue for the county, creates a “host fee” benefiting the City of Hutto and Hutto ISD and indicates several instances in which Waste Management could be found in default — critics still were unsatisfied.

“The fight is now in full force. It may have just begun,” Hutto Citizens Group member Jeff Maruice said.

The Hutto Citizens Group and other interested parties still have an appeal pending over the validity of a contract that was never publicly bid, though Maurice could not say if the new contract would have any effect on the lawsuit. Maurice said the group will likely also appeal the recently approved permit for the expansion of the Hutto-area landfill.

Before going into the comments from the commissioners on the new contract from the article above a things must be kept in mind. The original contract was a bad deal, aka “Limmer Lemon”, originally negotiated mainly by Frankie Limmer with the help for former County Judge John Doerfler. The new landfill contract was never negotiated on the basis of what was best for the county, this was a political issue for the WCCC from the beginning. The only considerations were how to get the best contract for WMI, and enough political cover for the WCCC, so the county wouldn’t look too bad for not competitively bidding the contract.

There has been a back-and-forth played the whole time between Judge Gattis primarily, but the WCCC as well, and the corporation Waste Management, Inc., and it’s powerful Texas GOP connected law/lobby firm Vinson & Elkins. The key for Gattis and the corporate team was to make it look like the generous corporation was doing the county a favor by negotiating, and balancing that out with not giving away the “store”, but giving Gattis and his cohorts on the commission enough political cover, allowing them to say they did the best they could.

When the county decided not to call WMI’s bluff about suing the county if they put a new contract our for bid, this deal was essentially done. At that point WMI knew it could toy with the county on a contract until it got what it needed. WMI didn’t necessarily want a new contract, but they did want to expand the landfill. That landfill expansion was another negotiation tactic that the county never used to it’s full potential. The question EOW asked back in the October 2007 was this:

From all of this it appears that what stands in the way of WMI’s name being taken off the permit are the county’s outside attorneys, two of which work for Vinson and Elkins and also represent WMI. This seems to boil down to two questions. Why does a major Texas lobby and law firm, that has it’s hands deep into Republican politics all over the state of Texas, seem to care so much about a little ‘ol landfill in Williamson County? And why is the Commissioners Court in Williamson County allowing this to happen, when it’s something they apparently don’t want, the people of Williamson County don’t, and only their outside lawyers do?

Obviously this contract which will make WMI considerably more money than it would have had the contract be put out for bid. (See, Less cash for trash? Williamson County charges landfill operator lower rates than other municipalities do). EOW has posts going back almost two years on this, click Landfill category to see them all. The Hutto Citizens Group (HCG) over that time has done all they could to try and get the WCCC to answer their concerns regarding the landfill contract, mostly to not avail.

In the long run if these elected officials are rewarded politically for this contract, it won’t be done in an obvious way. And unfortunately many citizens of Williamson County aren’t even aware of this issue. But for these commissioners they will be left with having to answer a question. Not did they get a better deal in this contract than the previous one. No, they’ll have to answer the question of whether or not they did their duty, stood up for the citizens of Williamson County, and got the best deal they could have gotten. Anyone who’s been paying attention knows the answer to that question.

Here are the comments of the commissioners form yesterday as reported in the TDP:

Though County Judge Dan Gattis said Monday little discussion would be offered prior to a vote, commissioners offered parting thoughts on the journey to a new contract. Commissioner Lisa Birkman said commissioners had not worked on any issue more than the landfill contract and the time for debate was over, considering the gargantuan amount of input offered over the years.

Commissioner Ron Morrison said he at some point had to put his trust into the attorneys the county had hired to write the contract.

County Judge Dan Gattis offered closing remarks, complimenting Waste Management for participating in negotiations they could have easily avoided.

“We sued Waste Management,” Gattis said, recalling an unsuccessful lawsuit to to void the 2003 contract. “But even after that lawsuit … to their credit, (Waste Management) came back to the negotiating table.”

Gattis remarked the facility will go forward with increased recycling facilities on a promise from Waste Management. However, increased recycling facilities could put the Weir-area Williamson County Recycle Center out of business.

Owner Jerry Tidwell condemned the court for taking an action that may end his business, however Birkman said people in her precinct, which includes parts of Austin, would not be willing to drive to Weir to drop off hazardous recyclables.

“Some of those people in Austin don’t even know where Weir is,” Birkman said, “They will not drive to Weir to (recycle). It’s too far. We’re too big of a county to just have one place.”

Of course, those same people probably have no idea where the landfill is. What’s left out is the fact that the county will be subsidizing WMI’s effort while Tidwell’s business is not subsidized. Ms. Birkman telling Mr. Tidwell, sorry you should have started you business in a much convenient location to her constituents is rude, to say the least. (See this EOW post and comments regarding this issue. The distance between the landfill and Weir is not that much, especially if you have a toll tag [sarcasm]).

In the final analysis the county never used it’s leverage, either by calling WMI’s bluff on a lawsuit if they put the county out for bid, or by holding up approval of the expansion permit until a deal comparable to what other counties and cities are getting for a comparable contract. And since the citizens of Williamson County wound wihtout the best contract possible, it leaves many wondering why our elected officials have allowed this to happen.


Local News Items

Posted in 81st Legislature, Commentary, Commissioners Court, HD-52, Landfill, Precinct 4, T. Don Hutto, Uncategorized, Williamson County at 2:30 pm by wcnews

Via the TDP Precinct 4 Commissioner Ron Morrison says three to four more weeks before landfill contract is released for all to see, Landfill contract unresolved.

“If I could get it released today, I would do it,” Pct. 4 Commissioner Ron Morrison said Friday. “I’ve been through this mess so long, I would like to get it signed tonight.”

Morrison said there was no definite timeline as to when the contract will be signed and approved, though he estimated it would take three to four weeks.


Negotiations continued Friday afternoon, and Morrison said a contract could be posted by Monday.

“From our standpoint, we’ve reached a consensus on all major terms. Now there’s just a few things to tie up,” Waste Managements Regional Landfill Operations Manager Steve Jacobs said.

Lawyers are still fine tuning the language of the contract, Jacobs said. Though the contract would cut into Waste Management’s profit margins, he said the company has been cooperative creating a new agreement.

“We started down this road at the request of the county several years ago. Throughout that whole process, it has been voluntary. We recognize the commissioners’ court has changed and the issues are different,” Jacobs said.

Maurice said he recognizes the proposed contract would be more beneficial for the county, but he still takes issue with the TCEQ permit, based on what he said are murky, inconsistent definitions of the landfill’s operator and permittee. His fears are that somewhere down the line, if the county decided to terminate its agreement with Waste Management, it would be unable to name a new company as the operator as long as Waste Management’s name is listed as the operator.

Maurice said it is likely interveners will appeal the permit once TCEQ orders its execution.

“I think that’s pretty certain,” he said.

Or course this article again brings up some questions. If a contract was agreed to on February 10th, why were negotiations still going on this past Friday, February 29th? And why is “language still being fine tuned”? Sounds like the contract is still not finalized, or agreed to, as was stated back on the 10th of February.

A documentary on T. Don Hutto, The Least of These, will have it’s world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival. It will been shown three times altogether at the festival.

World premiere at SXSW 2009

Screening schedule:
Mon March 16, 11 am, Alamo Ritz (320 E. 6th St)
Wed March 18, 7 pm, Alamo Lamar (1120 S. Lamar Blvd.)
Frid March 20, 11 am, Paramount (713 Congress Ave.)

There will be a Q&A after each screening with the directors and special guests.

Film listing on the SXSW website

Will post the trailer when it becomes available.

Diana Maldonado files two bills to expand Texas State’s Round Rock Campus.

“I am proud that the Texas State University System is working to greatly expand their presence in Williamson County,” Maldonado said. “These two bills would provide new opportunities to high school graduates and help to train a new generation of health professionals which Texas so desperately needs.”

Full press release can be read in the rest of this entry.

Read the rest of this entry �


Long’s careless Op-Ed on the landfill

Posted in Commentary, Commissioners Court, Landfill, Precinct 2, Precinct 4, Uncategorized, Williamson County at 9:23 pm by wcnews

Precinct 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long has a Op-Ed in the RRL about the new landfill contract telling us how good it it, Landfill contract is better for Wilco. She even directs readers to the wilco.org, “For more details on the improved contract terms”. Only problem is the contract on the web site it still the previous version dated 2/3/2009 [.pdf], before final negotiations with Waste Management were complete. We’d love to see what a great “deal” we have but we can’t!

If it’s such a good contract then why are the citizens of Williamson County not being allowed to see it? In the Op-Ed, after telling us that a new deal has been reached, Long asks a seemingly thoughtless question, “who cares?”. Then contradicting herself later by mentioning all the citizen input.

Many of you are saying, “Who cares?”

Good question.

The approval to expand the landfill will allow the county to meet the waste disposal and recycling needs of the citizens of Williamson County for decades to come.

The new contract terms mean a much better deal for the citizens and more county control over what happens at the landfill.

We have spent many months negotiating with Waste Management, seeking better contract terms for the county.

I am pleased with what we agreed to on Feb. 10.


We received and are appreciative of the valuable input from the citizenry regarding the contract.

I believe we have a better contract because of this input.

The process, while it may have been frustrating at times, has yielded a much better product for the citizens of Williamson County.

This is just a commissioner who is up for reelection in 2010 trying to put a good face on a bad deal. She’s either hoping most citizens in the county won’t care enough to find out what a bad deal this really is for the citizens of Williamson County, or will forget by election day. Oh, and who cares? Well all those people who have been coming to commissioners court meetings for the last several years, that’s who. Or you can just ask Precinct 4 commissioner Ron Morrison, he’ll tell you.


“Zero confidence” in Wilco commissioners court

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Commissioners Court, County Judge, Had Enough Yet?, Hutto, Landfill, Precinct 4, Williamson County at 4:40 pm by wcnews

That’s the gist of a Hutto Citizens Group press release [.pdf] today.

At a well-attended meeting held on Tuesday, February 17, the Hutto Citizens Group (HCG) unanimously authorized announcing “zero confidence” in the members of the Williamson County commissioners court for their “ill-advised actions on the county landfill which will have a disastrous result unless there is immediate remedy.”

For some reason that does not seem to have a valid explanation, the Williamson County commissioners court (WCCC) is refusing to release immediately the written version of the so-called verbal “agreement” it claims to have reached with Waste Management of Texas (WMTX) on February 10 to run the county landfill north of Hutto, according to representatives of the HCG. According to the HCG, it appears that members of commissioners court, and County Judge Dan Gattis in particular, “oversold the contents and certainty of the county’s so-called verbal agreement on the landfill in order to justify moving forward on the landfill’s major expansion.”


“It’s pretty clear that whatever agreement the county thinks it has with Waste Management isn’t locked in concrete,” said Steven Salfelder, president of the HCG. “If the WCCC is clear on what is in the agreement, then it should have no problem releasing the written version that was so rock-solid at the end of the day on February 10.”

The rush to announce an agreement created a chaotic process on the afternoon of February 10 as commissioners convened two executive sessions sandwiched around secret negotiations involving representatives from both sides, including Pct. 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long and Pct. 3 Commissioner Valerie Covey.

“It was a process within an environment that smacked of desperation,” Maurice said. “It’s clear that the WCCC was willing to go to great lengths in order to be able to announce that an ‘agreement’ had been reached prior to TCEQ convening for the permit hearing the next morning, But now, the county is unwilling to release the ‘agreement’, which it apparently is still negotiating with Waste Management.”

According to Salfelder, the sleight-of-hand substitution of a tenuous, verbal “agreement” for what should have been a final, written “agreement” throws good government out the window, especially in light of the high stakes involved in the county’s largest asset and a prospective, 40-year contract.

“If you thought the county was having a tough time negotiating with Waste Management before the permit expansion was approved, what kind of leverage do you think the county has now as negotiations continue?” Salfelder asked. “It really looks like our commissioners court has gone south on the best interests of citizens and the county.”

Maurice said the “zero confidence” statement was made after serious deliberation and discussion. “The HCG seriously considered all the components of the issue, and in the end it was clear that members of commissioners court are either in over their heads or have an even worse reason for the way this matter has been handled, and the fact that none of them has spoken out in disagreement means that all are complicit,” he said.

Welcome aboard. Now it’s time to get to work to vote these a few of these bum out in 2010.


Still no signed landfill contract between the county and WMI

Posted in Commentary, Commissioners Court, County Judge, Hutto, Landfill, Precinct 4, Uncategorized, Williamson County at 10:42 am by wcnews

Despite the fact that on February 10, 2009 the county stated it had a verbal agreement with Waste Management, Inc. on a new contract for the county’s landfill, as of this posting it still hasn’t been signed or released for the public to see. Here’s some context from the latest Hutto Citizens Group newsletter [.pdf]:

And on February 10, after a marathon session of contract activities which included shuffling people and handwritten documents among rooms in the county courthouse, the
WCCC emerged from its second executive session of the day at just after 5 p.m., and County Judge Dan Gattis announced that the county had reached a final agreement with WMI on the
landfill contract, and that the new “agreement” would be posted on the county’s website.


Consistent with the release of the two previous contract drafts on February 3 and February 10, citizens and the public reasonably expected that this new “verbal agreement” would
be posted quickly on the county’s website, in accordance with Gattis’ statement on February 10. But in the days following the announced finalization of the terms of the “agreement” on
February 10, a written document containing the “agreement” hasn’t been posted on the county’s website and hasn’t been otherwise released, despite a variety of promises and explanations.


Changes to the county’s proposal won’t be released until attorneys from both sides put it in writing, which may take a few days, said County Judge Dan A. Gattis, chairman of the
Commissioners Court. The contract will be posted before commissioners vote, possibly in two or three weeks, Gattis said. There were no major changes from what the county proposed last week, he said.

So, regarding the timing, which is it—a few days or two or three weeks, and why is there such a broad discrepancy within the same paragraph, not to mention the discrepancy from what Covey said?

On the afternoon of February 11, Morrison told a member of the HCG that he expected the contract to be released in “a day or two”, and he even offered to check on its progress. But then,
on the morning of February 12, he told attendees at the Hutto Economic Development Corporation’s “power breakfast” (as reported by an HCG member) that the agreement wouldn’t be
finalized for another three to four weeks, and in perhaps two weeks “if we’re lucky.”

Meanwhile, Connie Watson, the county’s public information officer, told a member of the HCG on February 11 that she expected the written agreement to be available before the end of the week. But on Friday, after being re-contacted, she said it wouldn’t be available before Tuesday, February 17, since WMI attorneys had to review and return the language, and then Covey and Long (as members of the negotiating committee)
would have to review it before anything could be released.


If Williamson County really believes it has a solid agreement with WMI, it should release its written version of that agreement immediately. Based on what has already been said by the county regarding this entire matter, there is no justification for waiting even a day more. In fact, it should already have happened.

Yes, minor changes usually take three weeks to a month to add to a contract. This is just par for the course in Williamson County.


New landfill deal will force local business to close

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Commissioners Court, County Judge, Landfill, Uncategorized, Williamson County at 3:03 pm by wcnews

Another unfortunate circumstance of the new landfill contract in Williamson County has come to light. The Williamson County Recycle Center (WCRC) in Weir, east of Georgetown, will be put out of business as a result of the new contract the county signed with the corporation Waste Management, Inc. The family owned business, which deals with household hazardous waste, will have it’s business undercut by the county and WMI.

Here’s what family member Jerry Tidwell had to say in a press release [.pdf] yesterday:

“Williamson County Commissioners Court’s apparent decision on a landfill contract has wider implications than just determining who will operate the county owned facility,” said Jerry Tidwell, whose family owns the Williamson County Recycle Center, based in Weir, east of Georgetown.

Tidwell said, “Lost in the rhetoric is the fact that a small, taxpaying, family-owned business will be forced out of business because of a key provision in the draft contract”.

According to Tidwell, County Judge Dan Gattis led the initiative for the new contract to mandate that WMI incorporate additional business activities off site from the landfill and operate a fee-based household hazardous waste collection center that would force Williamson County Recycle Center (WCRC) to close its facility.

When contacted about exactly how the WCRC would be forced out of business Tidwell had this to say:

Our business will be will be undercut by the corporation plus WMI will be subsidized by the county by allowing WMI to have a county based fee rate in addition the county will seek grants to offset WMI’s costs. It is impossible for a small business to compete with large international corporation using a subsidized program in a free market system.

The actions of the commissioners court mandates WMI to have two collection events plus set up a daily collection facility at the landfill to collect “paint, batteries, oil, household products, etc..”. Sixty per cent of our revenue is generated from paints alone.

It’s impossible for any family owned business to compete against, not only a corporation, but one getting grants as well. It’s similar to a local business competing against Wal Mart. This wasn’t just some last minute provision. Tidwell is on record having pleaded with the WCCC not to do this back in 2007, HCG press release August 19, 2007 [.pdf]:

Jerry Tidwell, who owns a commercial business which collects hazardous household waste, pleaded with the commissioners on August 7 to remove Section 5.5 from the contract which provides that WMI will collect such waste twice a year for the county and take it to a landfill certified to accept it. Tidwell told commissioners court that the provision, if left in the contract, would put him out of business. When the final revisions to the contract were released on Friday, that Section remained in the contract.

“That one was a big surprise also,” Arnett said. “At face value it doesn’t cost the county anything to take out that Section so that the county isn’t competing with private enterprise any more than it already is doing.”

And it remains in the current contract [.pdf], Section 4.5 (page 24). This is a senseless provision in this contract, especially in these tough economic times. Tidwell closes the press release by saying this:

“Until citizens take back control of their governmental bodies, more of these backroom deals will continue to be made using corporate contracts to buy votes.”

Well said.


More on the landfill

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Commissioners Court, County Judge, Hutto, Landfill, Uncategorized, Williamson County at 9:00 am by wcnews

Jeff Maurice of the HCG wrote this LTE:

Letter to the Editor

Re: Feb. 11 article “Commissioners, operator make verbal deal on landfill contract.”

Today’s article describes the new “verbal deal” that the Williamson County commissioners court said it reached with its landfill operator. Why is this important? It’s important because that same commissioners court, especially Precinct 4 commissioner Ron Morrison, had previously said that they would stop today’s permit hearing on a massive landfill expansion if the county and the contractor had not signed a new landfill contract prior to the hearing. Well, yesterday, the time for the permit hearing was coming fast, and still they had no signed contract. So, Ron Morrison is quoted in the article as saying that they let the permit hearing go forward because they received this “verbal commitment.” The problem, as any first year law student knows, is that a “verbal deal” covering a 40-year contract is totally unenforceable under Texas law. So, Morrison and the court allowed the multimillion dollar landfill permit to go forward (and be granted) today based on the expectation of an unenforceable “verbal deal.” No prudent businessperson would run their business like that, but apparently County Judge Gattis, Commissioner Morrison and the rest of the Williamson County commissioners court will.

Jeff Maurice

He also had this to say about what the new expansion permit will allow.

Everyone, well, today is not a good day for the residents, homeowners, schools, and businesses of Commissioner Ron Morrison’s Precinct 4. Today, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality rubber-stamped Williamson County’s request to expand the volume of the Williamson County Landfill by 500%. The TCEQ approved the County’s application to expand the landfill from 202 acres to 575 acres and from 70 feet high to 144 feet high. The TCEQ also gave the County and Waste Management increased operating hours for the landfill – from 3am – 10pm Monday through Saturday!!

Despite over two years of expressing the community’s concern over this massive expansion to Commissioner Morrison, and pleading with him to help, in the end he did NOTHING to try to stop it or to minimize its impact on the Hutto community. For that, we should all hold him accountable.

It’s extremely likely now that Morrison will be a one term commissioner. It’s long past time to hold the WCCC accountable for it’s actions.


Landfill expansion permit approved by TCEQ

Posted in Hutto, Landfill, Precinct 4, Uncategorized, Williamson County at 12:07 pm by wcnews

Via the AAS, Willco landfill expansion ok’ed.

The landfill, located just north of Hutto, will be able to grow from 202 to 575 acres under the plan approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

“I’m very pleased that the permit is out of the way. I’m sure it will be appealed but from our standpoint, we can move on,” County Judge Dan A. Gattis said after the vote.

During his testimony at the TCEQ hearing this morning, Gattis said the expansion is needed to accommodate growth in the county, which he said could have more than one million residents within 20 years.

The Hutto Citizens Group, which has fought the landfill expansion, has vowed to fight today’s decision. It was not immediately clear how the group would do so.

“The fight is just starting,” said Jeff Maurice, chairman of the group’s Landfill Committee.

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