TxDOT To Put The Squeeze On Road Construction Money Even More

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Privatization, Road Issues, Around The State at 4:35 pm by wcnews

TxDOT made public it’s latest scheme to force toll roads on Texans. It’s a plan to take almost $2 billion dollars out of road building money over the next 5 years. Via QR:

TxDOT assistant executive director Amadeo Saenz said at today’s meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission that the proposed shift of funds (about $1.8 billion) would be taken from mobility funds other than the Texas Mobility Fund, district discretionary money and some other strategic priorities. In addition, a portion of the money would come through reallocation of maintenance funds from districts with a high proportion of roads in good shape to districts with a lower proportion.

Saenz said transfers from the mobility funds to maintenance programs would lower what’s available for transportation projects four and five years ahead. The agency will ask districts to continue to develop needed projects but that many projects won’t be able to move forward.

Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said that he anticipated some severe financial and political repercussions as the transportation department starts identifying winners and losers in the process. “I don’t think it will be a fun time over the next few months,” he said.

That’s abhorrent and it’s no wonder most Texans don’t like Ric Williamson. There they go again, dividing Texans and making them fight each other over transportation money. As McBlogger said today, enough already and get on with the modest proposal!!

Chronicling Dana Boehm

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Commissioners Court, Cronyism, Animal Shelter, Had Enough Yet?, Williamson County at 10:02 am by wcnews

The AusChron that is. In this week’s edition Patricia Ruland goes over Ms. Boehm’s short, but tumultuous tenure as interim shelter director, She Could Do No Wrong – Until Police Hauled Her off to Jail.

[Veterinarian Dana] Boehm’s arrest marked the end of a brief yet high-profile era in which the interim director seemingly could do no wrong in the eyes of county officials – even as the animal shelter suffered hit after hit of criticism and complaints of cruelty and neglect. In late June, within weeks after Boehm was appointed to the interim post, shelter volunteers found dead animals decomposing in feces, urine, and blood. They reported the mess to the authorities, prompting a blitz of bad press, a criminal investigation of animal cruelty (still pending in the sheriff’s office), and a $26,000 legal settlement awarded to former vet tech and whistle-blower Kathy Abdella. The settlement was made after Boehm summarily fired Abdella in mid-July, explaining in a memo that Abdella had “created a disruption in the workplace as well as a hostile environment for me.”

Despite continuing controversy at the shelter, Round Rock officials nevertheless praised Boehm’s job performance during a recent meeting about the city’s financial participation in the shelter. Additionally, a who’s who of WilCo municipal and county officials helped Boehm tidy up the shelter the day before veterinarian Beverlee Nix of the Texas Department of State Health Services arrived for what was billed as an “unannounced inspection.”

EOW’s already hearing that the county may be attempting to assist “one of their own” again, (see here for more on that subject). She’s a friend of the family, so to speak, being former Precinct 4 Commissioner Frankie Limmer’s niece. As she went through the system she appears to have caught a least a few breaks.

Even as the so-called Keeper of the Kitties stands accused of having her hand in the office kitty of her former employer, some believe Boehm is getting off relatively light. For one thing, she obtained a generous bond reduction on the day of her arrest. And she remains on the shelter payroll until her three months as interim director are up next week. Confidential sources are also wondering why she isn’t facing a steeper charge of forgery involving a government document. When questioned about the lesser charge, Lt. Dwain Jones of the Hutto Police Department responded that District Attorney John Bradley has required that all queries go through him. (At press time, Bradley was unavailable for comment.) In any case, the Texas Department of Public Safety has confirmed that the Texas Rangers are assisting local police.

Why is her personal attorney DA John Bradley running interference in the case? While it says in the article that this didn’t happen while she was employed with the county, it definitely seems odd that they’re still paying her. The last paragraph in the article leaves us wondering if there will be more shoes to drop in the near future.

In light of the theft charge, some shelter observers are questioning Boehm’s policy of accepting only cash for adoption fees. According to County Treasurer Vivian Wood, she had to insist that Boehm comply with the legal deposit schedule of three days from remittance, telling Boehm if she didn’t bring in the money received by the shelter – or send it by courier in an armored car twice a week, as all other departments do – Wood would send someone to the shelter to retrieve the funds. When asked whether the county had ordered an outside audit of the shelter’s books, Watson said the Commissioners Court had not requested such outside assistance but that the shelter is regularly reviewed by the county auditor’s office. The Chronicle’s request for a copy of the most recent audit is on file with County Auditor David Flores.

Hmmm…has anyone ever mentioned anything about the need for accountability in our county government? This type of stuff is just becoming all too common in Williamson County. And it won’t stop until there’s a change in leadership.


Tax Bills, Size Of Government Increasing All Over Williamson County

Posted in Taxes, Bad Government Republicans, Had Enough Yet?, Commentary, Williamson County at 11:43 am by wcnews

EOW’s previous post, Good Thing The Small Government Republicans Are In Charge Of Williamson County, first pointed this out. Now Georgetown, Cedar Park, and Leander are following the county’s lead. We’re still waiting to see what Round Rock, Taylor and Hutto will do. While city officials are elected without party label, it’s pretty obvious in most cases what their partisan affiliation is, especially in a county that’s dominated by one party.

The point here is not to argue whether the increases are needed. It’s to point out that those who are responsible for these proposed increases, more than likely, spoke of their “conservative” fiscal philosophy, and said they would do the exact opposite. Remember that when you see the word conservative printed on all those campaign signs during the upcoming elections season.

The Landill, TCEQ Hearing & More Gattis Shenanigans - UPDATED

Posted in Commissioners Court, Bad Government Republicans, Landfill, Williamson County at 9:54 am by wcnews

From this report in THT regarding the Landfill contract vote [being] delayed, the county, WMI and their legal representations strategy appears clear. It has two main points:

  • Attack anyone who’s against the landfill as an agent of TDS President Bob Gregory.
  • Even though this contract is not the best deal for the county, and the citizens of the county, it’s the best their partner WMI will allow at this time.

The county all along has been working with WMI only, and not allowing competitive bidding. Which makes their stance against the citizens groups very hypocritical. And making an argument that they turned a horrible contract into one that’s a little better, is not worthy of praise or sanction by the commissioners court. Remember the only thing that makes the contract better is that the county will get more money because of the expansion of the landfill. The expansion of the landfill is the only reason WMI agreed to negotiate. They want to make the landfill bigger and needed a new contract and permit. The increase in size, taken with the fact that the landfill with become a regional facility, makes the new financial terms much less impressive - especially when what Temple and Arlington are getting [.PDF] is taken into consideration. A marginally better deal is not what they said they would do when they ran for office in 2006. They should be fighting for what their constituents want and this is not it.

The article does tell of the new stipulations in the revised contract. I’d like to highlight one of them.

Changes in the latest version of the contract include specified recycling plans, increased additional terms after the initial 40-year life of the contract and a capped amount Waste Management will spend to defend the county in a possible lawsuit to $300,000.

“We are certainly expecting to get sued on it [the contract],” Ackley said.

In the earlier version, the contract did not place a cap on Waste Management’s spending to defend the county in the event a suit is filed.

So WMI is in for $300K of a lawsuit, that as Ackley said will come, will probably last years, and cost millions. This wasn’t in the previous version of the contract. Why did our county leaders agree to that provision? There go the “Mayberry Machiavellis” again.

The article also reports on a TCEQ hearing that’s taking place about whether the expansion permit for the landfill should be granted:

Three years after the expansion permit was filed with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, two judges from the State Office of Administrative Hearings will review evidence and hear cross examination over the next eight days before submitting a recommendation to the TCEQ.

Williamson County, assisted by lawyers representing Waste Management, will defend their application saying, “We meet all the technical and rule requirements to be granted this permit,” said attorney John Riley.

Riley, a partner in Vinson & Elkins in environmental regulatory law, represents Waste Management, but said he is assisting the county’s attorney because the two parties have a shared common interest in having the landfill expand.

“..Shared common interest.”, that’s the understatement of the year. The county is being “assisted” by WMI’s lawyer Mr. John Riley. You can read his bio here. As one would expect he’s very well qualified and connected to go before a TCEQ hearing. He’s a former employee and all, back when it was the TNRCC.

Of course, those opposed to the expansion and/or the way the process has gone would like their concerns to be weighed as well:

The Hutto Citizens Group, the Heritage on the San Gabriel, Mount Hutto Aware Citizens, the Jonah Water Utility District, the Hutto school district are among the groups granted party status during a pretrial hearing last year. Parties had to own property within one mile of the landfill.

According to Marisa Perales, who is representing the Hutto Citizens and the Heritage homeowners association, the main arguments against the expansion permit will focus around Hutto’s huge growth in recent years and development making its way to the landfill.

“Primarily, there has been inadequate consideration on the impact on the Hutto community,” said Mount Hutto founder Orlynn Evans. “The fact is that they are putting one of the largest landfills in the state in an area with a burgeoning population.”


Judges heared testimony from Gattis, himself a Hutto resident, Monday. Over the course of the next two weeks, former Chamber of Commerce President Elizabeth Page, Superintendent David Borrer and Evans will testify during the contested case hearing.

“Some of the problems that have been ignored for years will be brought into the open,” Evans said. You never know what is going to come out of the court.”

Well seeing the lawyer that WMI has I’m not that hopeful.

One last thing. From what I’ve heard Judge Gattis was playing more games at yesterday’s commissioners court meeting. During the meeting Judge Gattis cut off public comments about the landfill after only one speaker. The sign-up list at the back said that up to five people would be allowed to speak on each issue, but only Jeff Maurice got to speak on the landfill even though several more were signed up for landfill comments. Ironically, that sign-up sheet was never even picked up and taken to the dais and remained at the entry to the hall during the entire commissioners court meeting. This court needs accountability.

[UPDATE]: Two more points that were received via email:

  • Waste Management is trying to get on the permit as an “operator” or “site operator”, which would give them the ability to amend the permit without the county’s approval, and that is what could build the landfill to over 700 feet high (the cap in the permit is 144 feet). The contract draft also wants to call Waste Management the “operator” instead of the “contractor, reinforcing that control position for Waste Management. Waste Management would use all that extra capacity (from the height) to really make it a mega-regional landfill, which it desperately needs because it’s present landfill east of Austin is going to be full and closed in about three years. They have no place else to put the garbage.
  • The above point makes the regionalization aspects of the contract very key issues. While the contract is represented as having some limits on the tonnage that could be delivered to the landfill, the fact is that the enforcement provisions are so weak that Waste Management could weedle around those limits and take all the Travis County waste to WilCo anyway. The contract lets them exceed the tonnage caps (which are very liberal to begin with), but WM can exceed the caps two out of every three years without a penalty. If they do have to pay a penalty, it would amount to less than two percent of gross revenues if a million tons a day were going into the landfill, and that’s about what it would be once the Travis County landfill closes. The penalty would be nothing more than just a piece of the cost of doing business for WM, and they would still be making more money than if they had won the lottery.


Judge Gattis Changes Landfill Vote, Again - UPDATED

Posted in Commissioners Court, Bad Government Republicans, Landfill, Williamson County at 3:52 pm by wcnews

While this it’s right to change the vote back to the original date, the date shouldn’t have been changed in the first place, and the judge’s actions are becoming ridiculous. AAS has the story, Williamson County won’t vote on landfill contract Tuesday; hearing to expand landfill starts. (Link above is cached, original article. Click here for the updated AAS article).

A hearing on whether to expand the Williamson County landfill began Monday with County Judge Dan A. Gattis declaring that a rival landfill owner was at the root of citizen concerns against the expansion.

Gattis also said he would postpone a vote on a revised contract with the county’s landfill operator until next week.


When asked under oath in the state office of administrative hearings who has been the main proponent voicing concerns about the landfill, Gattis replied, “Mr. Bob Gregory.”

Gregory owns Travis County waste company Texas Disposal Systems Inc. He is a party in the hearings opposing the expansion through a separate real estate company that owns land within a mile of the Williamson County landfill.

Gattis’ position that the furor over the landfill was a “whipped” up by a rival of Waste Management (WMI) is laughable. This was a big issue during last year’s campaign and all the candidates know it. None of them complained about Mr. Gregory or TDS then. They all said they would fix this, and thus far haven’t come up with a contract that does. Whether it was Mr. Gregory who initially brought this to the community’s attention is a moot point. It’s there now and the judge and commissioners, as the county’s elected official have to deal with it. After all , that’s what they were elected to do.

Another sticking point has been whether the county is the sole owner of the landfill and whether that will be reflected in the contract. Gattis says…er…maybe.

Gattis also declared that the county is the sole owner of the landfill and its permit, a sticking point with groups opposing the landfill who want Waste Management of Texas’ name taken off the expansion permit application. Waste Management is the private company that has run the landfill for 20 years.

Gattis said he’d have no objection to the company’s name being taken off the application if officials at the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality requested it. In the past, county officials have refused to remove the company’s name.

In other words not if the citizens want it, but if the TCEQ tells reguests it. As Robin Schneider, executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment, makes clear, the votes been delayed and that’s a good thing.

Amid vocal citizen dissent, the commissioners were to vote on the new contract Tuesday, but Gattis said Monday morning that he will delay the vote by a week because the county did not get the contract revisions finished in time for citizens to review it.

“There were a lot of citizen comments, and we take those very seriously,” Gattis said, explaining that he and attorneys spent 10 hours going through citizen complaints about the draft contract.

“That is at least fair of him,” said Robin Schneider, executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment.

“This is very good news for us that they’re putting it off a little bit because we were feeling it was very unfair for them to change the vote,” Schneider said. Last week, Gattis said the vote would be pushed up a week to allow more time for budget discussions Aug. 28.

Schneider said the latest draft of the contract was out of step with citizen concerns on at least one point. She said the length of the contract was extended from 40 years with five-year renewals to 40 years with 10-year renewals.

“If they were trying to be responsive to citizen comment, that wasn’t responsive,” she said.

There will still be a hearing on the contract tomorrow, so be sure and show up and let the court know what you think. You can call as well.

Dan Gattis, Sr., County Judge (943-1550)

Comm. Pct. 1 Lisa Birkman (733-5380)

Comm. Pct. 2 Cynthia Long (260-4280)

Comm. Pct. 3 Valerie Covey (943-3370)

Comm. Pct. 4 Ron Morrison (238-2111)

[UPDATE]: Information received via email:

What Lorenz missed is that after Gattis made his statement about Bob Gregory being the major proponent opposing the landfill expansion, under direct examination, Marisa Pirales, attorney for the Hutto Citizens Group and Heritage on the San Gabriel Homeownwers Association, cross-examined the judge and got him to admit:

1. Orlynn Evans, head of the Mount Hutto Aware Citizens, has been the most longstanding proponent for finding a solution for the landfill problems.
2. Evans and his organization are not a front for anyone else, including Gregory.

Somehow, this information didn’t make it into the article.

Also, under cross examinaton in the SOAH hearing on Monday, Roy J. Murray, the owner of the Houston engineering firm that prepared the landfill permit expansion application, admitted that Waste Management, Inc. told him to insert the extra pages into the application which made Waste Management a co-applicant with the county. Asked if the county approved this co-application step, Murray said that the county didn’t comment on that aspect of the application before it was submitted.


Landfill Vote Tuesday, Get Informed, Call Your Commissioner

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Commissioners Court, Take Action, Landfill, Williamson County, Uncategorized at 11:31 pm by wcnews

The Commissioners Court has moved the vote on the landfill again. This time they’ve made it a week earlier, it’s this Tuesday August, 21st and they will not allow any public comment. This is, more than likely, more shenanigans by Judge Gattis and his cohorts to confuse and make it harder for citizens to participate in this issue.

Two this to read in preparation for Tuesday’s vote:

This analysis [.PDF] on the significant flaws of the contract.

Next, this press release [.PDF] from the Hutto Citizens Group regarding a contract that’s still bad despite the revisions.

“In our opinion,” [Jeff Maurice, chairman of the HCG’s Landfill Committee] said, “this landfill mess reveals a level of government arrogance, indifference to local concerns, and corporate welfare that we have never experienced previously in this county. We hope that all citizens in Williamson County take note of what the county is doing to the Hutto area, one of the fastest-growing areas of the state. If the county will do this to Hutto, it will do it to you.”

The consensus appears to be that no matter how bad the 2003 contract is were better of with that than this new abomination. The county needs to open the landfill up for bidding and then, and only then, will the county get a deal worth signing.

Give them a call. Be polite, and assertive.

Dan Gattis, Sr., County Judge (943-1550)

Comm. Pct. 1 Lisa Birkman (733-5380)

Comm. Pct. 2 Cynthia Long (260-4280)

Comm. Pct. 3 Valerie Covey (943-3370)

Comm. Pct. 4 Ron Morrison (238-2111)


Judge Gatttis, Commissioners Court, Playing Games At Meeting

Posted in Commissioners Court, Bad Government Republicans, Landfill, T. Don Hutto, Williamson County at 12:56 pm by wcnews

I received this report via email:

Tuesday’s (Aug. 14) meeting of the Williamson County Commissioners Court was one of the most bizarre sessions ever witnessed:

After posting an initial agenda on the county’s website the previous Thursday which listed public comments and action on the landfill issue as the first item on the agenda after the uncontested items, the county distributed a hard-copy agenda on Tuesday morning which removed the landfill from its top spot and pushed it to the very end of the agenda. People planning to arrive at the 9:30 start time, make their comments and then leave (to go to work, for example) faced a difficult choice. The agenda item involving the T. Don Hutto prison controversy also was at the very end of the agenda, but Judge Dan Gattis moved that item to the very beginning—to the public comments section—so people who planned to arrive in mid-meeting to comment on the prison contract at the end of the meeting got there too late. (It gets worse.) As commissioners proceeded through the agenda, Gattis saw some landfill-interested citizens leave the hall to prepare comments for the landfill item at the end of the agenda, so at that point he moved the landfill item forward immediately, apparently hoping to get through it before the landfill-interested citizens could return. (He was unsuccessful—they returned in time to comment.) THEN, he announced that the previously-announced date for voting on the landfill contract (Aug. 28) was being changed to Aug. 21, and that on Aug. 21 he would allow NO PUBLIC COMMENT on the landfill.

On August 7, when people were signing the sheet to speak on the landfill, the sheet noted that they would each have three minutes to comment. After several had signed up, WilCo PIO Connie Watson pulled down that sheet and replaced it with a sheet that said people would have two minutes in which to make comments, and she asked everyone to start over and sign that sheet instead of the other one.

Who’s on first?

Very nice. Is this what Judge Gattis meant when he campaigned on his,”..dedication to always upholding the principles of honesty and integrity at each turn”?


Dr. Dana Boehm, Interim WCRAS Director, Arrested For Theft Of Tax Refund Check

Posted in Commissioners Court, Bad Government Republicans, Animal Shelter, Williamson County at 4:45 pm by wcnews

It’s unrelated to her work at WCRAS. News 8 has the story, Wilco shelter director arrested for theft.

n the latest chapter in the embattled Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter, the current shelter director, Dr. Dana Boehm, has been jailed for felony theft.

Boehm is accused of stealing an IRS refund check from her former employer, the Hutto Vet Clinic.

John Holmstrom, who owns the Hutto Vet Clinic, said he never received a tax refund for $3,270 from the 2005 tax year. He found out the check was cashed at a bank in Taylor with the stamp of his signature that he uses for prescriptions.

An affidavit states that Boehm admitted Aug. 3 to Holmstrom’s wife, Linda Welch, that she took the IRS check and cashed it.

Boehm is charged with felony theft over $1,500 but less than $20,000. If convicted, Boehm faces up to two years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

The “Mayberry Maciavelli’s” record of success continues. More from Shelter Concerns.

For what its worth, Dr. Boehm is former Precinct 4 County Commissioner Frankie Limmer’s niece.


Toll Road Items, Including Krusee Coming To Dell

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Privatization, Road Issues, Around The State at 11:04 pm by wcnews

I drove the western section of SH 45 today and the flashing portable signs made it clear, literally, that the free ride is over, August 24th is the last day to ride free.

With that work done, toll charges on the western part of Texas 45 North will begin Aug. 25. It will cost 75 cents at the main toll plaza west of Parmer, or 67.5 cents with a toll tag. There also will be several entrance and exit ramps with a 50-cent cash charge, or 45 cents for toll tag users.

Sal’s back and he has a couple of doozies. First he points us to this article in the Tyler Paper on what Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler) had to say regarding toll roads and the gas tax.

Toll roads will not solve Texas’ roadway woes, state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, told the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors on Tuesday.

The state must take care of its infrastructure needs, and Eltife said he has always supported indexing the gasoline tax to inflation to ensure funding to handle those needs.

“I think we need to get back to the basics in this state and pay for road and bridge improvements,” he said.

“We ought to index the gas tax to inflation, we should build our own roads,” Eltife said. “The toll roads are a piece of the puzzle; without question they’re a piece of the transportation puzzle in the state of Texas. But 20 years ago we were the envy of the country because we paid cash for all our road improvements.”

Paying cash for roads and bridges is the “conservative thing to do,” he said. Borrowing money is not.

Texas has not raised the gasoline tax in nine or 10 years, and it is falling further behind on its infrastructure needs, Eltife said, adding politicians need to have the courage to say what the needs are and explain how the state will pay for them.

Until Texas does that, it will continue to fall behind in infrastructure, he said.

“You’re not going to get there when you only have 30 percent of the funding you need in TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) to fund it,” he said. “And the answer isn’t to hide behind toll roads and selling toll roads to private contractors.”

Eltife said this makes no sense.

“Toll roads are a huge cash cow for this state,” he said. “Why do you want to give that future cash to a private contractor? We are not a broke state; we have a lot of money. We can go borrow $3 billion to build those toll roads, and in 20 years when they’re paid for that cash stream will go to TxDOT for future road improvements.”

Eltife also mentioned a couple of disagreements with Gov. Rick Perry, one being his opposition to the Trans-Texas Corridor, which Perry supports.

Good stuff. Tolls can play a part but we the majority of our transportation infrastructure should be paid for by the gas tax. Keep it up Sen. Eltife.

Now to Rep. Krusee. Apparently the disastrous design of his toll road (SH 45) where it intersects IH 35 has made 5 o’clock rush hour worse than it was before. He’s coming to speak to Dell employees on August 23rd. This from and email Sal received.

“People are pretty frustrated here, they gave us entrance and exit ramps to the Toll, but closed our Entrance Ramps to I-35 (how nice).

We have Dell (Largest employer in Round Rock, a Super Walmart, a Target, an HEB, and 3 large shopping centers at this I-35 intersection, and they took our entrance ramp ti I-35 away!!!! Now at 5pm we have at least 5,000 Dell employees all fighting through two access road intersections to get to an I-35 entrance ramp.”

Should be interesting to hear Krusee rave about his toll roads to the drivers that have to suffer through them every day.


Oh, The Courthouse Is Still A Long Way From Being Finished

Posted in Commissioners Court, Bad Government Republicans, Williamson County at 11:16 pm by wcnews

Again via the AAS.

The opening of the historic Williamson County Courthouse will be delayed further, possibly for months, officials said Tuesday.

Earlier this month, the county expected to move in this week and hold a grand opening Sept. 8. Now, officials are unsure exactly when they will move in or how long the grand opening will be postponed.


At a sneak peek this month, “all of the contractors told me we were months away,” county Commissioner Lisa Birkman said.

Commissioners agreed Tuesday to hold off on setting a new date for the grand opening, which they said could be as late as December.

I’ll say that’s months away.

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