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.

The Latest On The WCRAS

Posted in Commissioners Court, Bad Government Republicans, Animal Shelter, Williamson County at 10:54 pm by wcnews

The county will pay a former shelter employee almost $30,000 even though the settlement “does not indicate wrongdoing on the part of the county”. From this we can assume that the county just pays huge sums to former employees that hire a lawyer after leaving. Via AAS,

A former Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter employee who was fired shortly after raising concerns about its conditions will receive $20,625 in a settlement with the county.

Former veterinary technician and staff supervisor Kathy Abdella was fired July 16, less than a week after she called 911 and spoke to the American-Statesman about concerns at the shelter, including the potential spread of disease.

She filed a grievance with the county, saying her termination violated the Texas Whistleblower Act and her rights of free speech.

The $27,500 settlement includes $6,875 for legal fees.

News 8 has a story on last night’s animal shelter board meeting and hoped for improvements. Commissioner Covey certainly isn’t treating her constituents like an elected official that wants to be reelected.

Everyone involved said they would just like to see improvements.

“It’s not about pointing fingers, it’s not about blame. What it’s really about it changing things for the positive for the animals,” Panipinto said.

Former volunteer Panipinto wants to make sure the board is following the law.

“The advisory committee required by the state has not been formed yet. Ms. Covey suggested in a flippant manner perhaps they could meet three weekends in a row and that would suffice,” she said.

But with a new shelter director and more funding in the works, even the toughest critics admit, things seem to be improving.

Shelter Concerns has more on the meeting and an old Republican friend is being brought on board with the WCRAS to make it more efficient. None other than former 2008 Precinct 4 commissioner candidate Gary Coe.

[Precinct 4 Commissioner Valerie] Covey also announced that the cities are aware of the increased budget costs for the shelter for the 2007-08 budget. Williamson County would like to hire Gary Coe, a Business Consultant, to help run the shelter. Leander representatives present at the board meeting were not aware of this. Covey stated that Coe would “get things moving, and would look to make processes efficient. He is able to get a handle on operations out there.” Clarke noted he would “improve efficiency which would impact staffing.” No fee was discussed for his services. The County will vote on at tomorrow’s meeting.

I wonder if the new director is aware of this? I thought that’s the reason they hired a new director. Why does the county need a consultant to look over the new director’s shoulder? Looks like an attempt to get a fellow Republican out there to oversee the new director. Who would be Mr. Coe’s boss and what accountability is there on him? Many, many questions arise with Mr. Coe in the picture. No to mention for all of Covey’s skittishness to spend money she sure doesn’t mind throwing some cash Mr. Coe’s way.

We’re lead to believe that things are looking up at the shelter but only time will tell. Commissioner Covey needs to remember that being cheap and not giving the shelter adequate resources, not just money but workers too, is what go them into this mess in the first place.


Good Thing The Small Government Republicans Are In Charge Of Williamson County

Posted in Commissioners Court, Bad Government Republicans, The Budget, Had Enough Yet?, Williamson County at 11:06 pm by wcnews

How can Williamson County’s Property tax bills [be] expected to rise with Republicans in charge?

The owner of the average-value home in Williamson County probably would pay about $64 more in property taxes for 2007-08, based on the proposed tax rate for next year and a significant rise in property values.

Aren’t Republicans supposed to be the party of less government and lower taxes? Didn’t see this coming. Generally speaking, like with Bush, when taxes or deficits go up Republicans don’t pay a price at the voting booth. Because of their professed, although false, allegiance to “fiscal conservatism” their supporters must believe - just guessing since I’m not one - that they will only raise taxes because they have to be raised. This allows Republicans to campaign against taxes but are then able to raise them without retribution. Just more of the games Republicans play on their base.

The moral of the story is that Republicans can raise taxes and get away with it and the Democrats can’t. Ron Morrison doesn’t care because he can vote against the tax increase and get political cover. The Republicans will still get their tax increase and Ron Morrison gets political cover.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Ron Morrison said he would vote against a tax rate increase.

‘I feel like we’re all trying to be just as lean and mean as we can,’ he said. ‘Nobody wants a tax rate increase, and I think you’re going to see us try to at least keep it stable.’

He must be trying to build up chits with his constituents. Because Morrison’s got a bigger problem than tax increases. He’s got a disaster of a landfill contract to deal with in his backyard. See the latest newsletter from the Hutto Citizens Group [.PDF].

The four members of commissioners court other than Pct. 4 Commissioner Ron Morison have said that they are looking to Morrison to lead on this issue, and that they will follow his lead. We’re confident that Morrison will see what a bad deal the draft contract really is and vote the will of his constituents in Precinct 4, and when he does, the other members of commissioners court already have committed that they will follow.

We’ll see. It’s pretty shaky ground to ask a Republican to choose their constituents over a corporation. If Mr. Morrison and his cohorts on the court would work out a better landfill deal they might not need to raise taxes to pay for their government expansion. If this deal goes through in his precinct the Democrats will win Precinct 4 in 2010 for sure, it’s already trending that Democratic. The Republican Party has grown government more than any other party over the last 30 years. Next time a Republican says they stand for smaller government and lower taxes do what I do, laugh and laugh and laugh.

You can read the proposed budget here.

A Corporate Toll Road Is A Corporate Toll Road

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Privatization, Road Issues, Around The State at 3:28 pm by wcnews

No matter what Ric Williamson and the corporations that toll want to call it - this time it’s availability payments - it’s still selling out our infrastructure to a private corporation so that they can profit off of the neglect of the last 35 years. Ben Wear at the AAS tells us all about it, ‘Availability payments’ are TxDOT’s newest idea for bringing the private sector into the toll road game.

Availability payments — you gotta love the perfect bureaucratic inscrutability of that name — are an attempt to split the difference between government-run tollways and the privately financed and operated toll roads that had the public and Legislature steamed up earlier this year. In theory, it would be a best-of-both-worlds thing, tapping the private investment sector’s purportedly bounteous piggy bank while leaving full ownership and operation of tollways in public hands.

In theory, this would stand in contrast to concessions. With those, a private entity (like Cintra-Zachry, which is building the next 40 miles of the Texas 130 tollway) gets a long-term lease from the government to finance, build and operate a tollway, including the right to set the tolls (within contractual limitations). Concessions can be accompanied by upfront payments to the government, money that can be used for other transportation projects.

The Legislature said it didn’t like concessions and put a two-year moratorium on them, although the promise of those upfront payments and quickly getting critically needed roads built moved lawmakers to allow about a dozen exceptions across the state.

How would availability payments work? The private entity (probably some sort of consortium) would use its own money to design, build and maybe even maintain the road. In return, its contract with the state or a local toll authority might guarantee minimum and maximum payments.

The size of those periodic payments would be based on how well the toll road performs, fluctuating based on the money “available.” Thus, the name.

They can play semantic games all they want but it’s still a duck.


WCRAS Euthanizes Family Pet, Being Investigated For Cruelty And Neglect

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Animal Shelter, Williamson County at 11:57 pm by wcnews

(To keep up with all the latest on the WCRAS the Shelter Concerns site is the place to go).

The bad news just keeps coming from the Williamson Count Regional Animal Shelter (WCRAS). Last weekend a family pet was euthanized at the shelter. Video here from MyFoxAustin. News 8 has more in this story, Family says shelter euthanized pet after 3 days.

Toby the dog used to be part of a pair.

“Toby’s a different dog now. When Reba was here they used to wrestle and run around. Now all he does is sit on the porch,” owner Gilbert Angelle Jr. said.


“She came out and said ‘Daddy, Reba’s not there. I said ‘What? How could she not be here, she’s checked in here,’” Gilbert said.

After hours of searching, Angelle was given some bad news.

“She lost eye contact with me, sat down, and she said ‘I hate to tell you this, but we euthanized Reba this morning.’ And I couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘You euthanized a pure bred black lab that is totally adoptable. That doesn’t make sense,’” he said.

Shelter procedures say that stray animals without identification should be held for a minimum of three days, not counting the day of impoundment.

By these standards, Reba had technically only been there two days.

The WCRAS is also be investigated for animal cruelty and neglect, Attorney hired for Willco animal shelter investigation.

A group of concerned citizens hired a well-known Austin attorney to do a separate, more vigorous investigation. Austin attorney and former Travis County Judge Bill Aleshire is fired up.

“This is not a well-funded and well-operated shelter. This is a death trap for pets,” Aleshire said.


“I do worry about if they’re putting far more energy into covering this up than they are to fixing the problem,” Aleshire said.

He said the only fix is to make sure the truth is known, admitted, and faced up to. After all, it’s not just about holding the county government accountable and also about ensuring humane treatment of the county’s helpless animals.

The employee who was fired for reporting animal cruelty reached a settlement with the county Tuesday. Aleshire said his next step is meeting with the sheriff to see where he stands.

That sounds like our Mayberry Machiavellis. Shelter Concerns has more on the settlements.

County Commissioners approved a settlement Tuesday with a former animal shelter employee who was fired last month after raising concerns about shelter conditions to the American-Statesman. Terms of the settlement were not released Tuesday because the former employee, veterinary technician and staff supervisor Kathy Abdella, had not signed off on the deal, said Stephen Ackley of the county attorney’s office. In a letter to county officials, Abdella claimed that her termination violated the Texas Whistleblower Act and her right to free speech. Commissioners said Tuesday that the settlement in no way signified wrongdoing on the part of the county.

It’s always better to admit a mistake right away. It’s time for the county officials to come clean and fix this mess once and for all.

AG Abbott Attempts To Lower GOP Expectations For 2008 - [UPDATED]

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Election 2008, Around The State at 2:37 pm by wcnews

Tip to Kuff, for this article in the Galveston Daily News, AG challenges GOP to pick up the slack. Keep pulling!!

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Thursday told Galveston Republicans that times were getting tougher in the state for the GOP — particularly in big cities like Houston and Dallas.


The 2008 election cycle could be tough for Texas Republicans for reasons other than dwindling numbers in the state’s biggest cities.

The state’s population is becoming increasingly Hispanic, a group that has traditionally voted Democratic. In addition, President Bush and the war in Iraq have become unpopular.

“We need to be prepared for a closer, tighter, tougher battle,” Abbott said of the coming election.

I agree with Kuff their problems have more to do with their incompetence, their inability to govern effectively, neglect of infrastructure, and their inability to do anything for the middle class down, than demographic shifts. Keep running on the fallacies of lower taxes, smaller government, and “social conservatism”. Please.

[UPDATE]: Somebody needs to tell Sen. Kim Brimer that denial and Craddicks Speaker reelection strategy is not a very good strategy. Via QR:

Those fires were stoked yesterday by a Lone Star Project sponsored Opinion Analyst poll suggesting that Brimer’s name ID was subterranean (49.7% had not heard of him), the kiss of death for a public official.

The release from the Lone Star Project was originally posted in yesterday’s Executive Summary and can be found here.The district is solidly Republican, especially with Hillary at the top of the ticket say Brimer team

According to their release, only 27.4% were ready to re-elect the incumbent with 25% approving of an as of yet un-named Democrat. The Lone Star Project also argues dismal Republican top of the ticket approval numbers (42.9% for Bush, 31.6% for Cornyn) likely means no coattails for Brimer.

Not so fast said Brimer’s consultants.

In a memo received this afternoon from the Eppstein Group, Brimer spokesman John Shults said, “based on 2006 election returns, State Senate District 10 is strongly a Republican District. US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison received 62%. The collective Republican Congressional vote vs Democrat opponents was 58%. The collective Republican vote for Republican state rep candidates vs Democrat state rep candidates was 55% and the average Republican Statewide candidate including Gov Perry’s 39% vs Democrat opponents was 55%.”

Denying reality and banking on people to turnout to vote against someone else in order to vote for you is a loser. Especially for a corrupt politician. Run on that and we’ll have at least one new Democratic Senator in Texas in 2009.

Join The Fun

Posted in Commissioners Court, Bad Government Republicans, Take Action, Williamson County at 1:49 pm by wcnews

There’s an interesting conversation going on in the comments of yesterday’s AusChron article on the County Commissioners and the Constable’s budgets. Of course one side has turned to name calling instead of focusing on the issues. Join in the fun.


This Week’s Landfill Wrap-Up

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Take Action, Landfill, Had Enough Yet?, Williamson County at 3:26 pm by wcnews

The Hutto Citizens Group (HCG) has weighed in with their latest newsletter [.PDF], regarding not only Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting, but also the Hutto City Council Meeting that night. I appears that Judge Gattis has changed his tune a bit.

Following a suspense-filled meeting of commissioners court on Tuesday morning, in which commissioners decided to postpone any vote on the landfill contract until at least August 28, County Judge Dan Gattis told the Hutto City Council Tuesday night that he would have sought to “get out of the 2003 landfill contract” with Waste Management if WMI had not agreed to renegotiate that contract.

A major item of discussion in commissioners court in Georgetown on Tuesday morning and in Hutto on Tuesday night was the so-called “two-option limit” the county says it has regarding what to do with the 2003 landfill operation contract which has been repeatedly acknowledged
by county officials as a “terrible contract.”

According to both Gattis and Steve Ackley, the assistant county attorney who provided a sketchy synopsis of the revised contract draft in commissioners court, the county believes it only has two options regarding the bad 2003 contract: (1) leave it in place so it can continue, or (2) renegotiate it in order to get a better deal for the county.

Gattis’ statement to the Hutto City Council on Tuesday night was a major shift in that position.
Now Gattis is saying, in essense, that the county’s options were to renegotiate the contract if that is possible, but “get out” of the 2003 contract if that isn’t possible.

Essentially, Waste Management’s failure to agree to terms acceptable to the county is no different than refusing to renegotiate the contract at all, since both positions achieve the same result—no acceptable new contract.

This whole landfill issue and the disaster the county has turned it into comes down to two things the Judge and Commissioners have done wrong from the beginning: (1) the county has not negotiated effectively with WMI - allowed WMI to set the terms of the negotiation - and should have used their power to open up the bidding on the landfill to force WMI to agree to the most beneficial terms for the county, and (2) the commissioners and judge have ignored the citizens of the county, their constituents, and not involved them in the process.

Granted many of those on the court now were not around when the negotiations started, but they all promised to fix this Limmer lemon when they ran. I doubt any of them would have won if they’d have run on what they’re doing now. Everyone knows a project like this will turn out much better when those that live in that community are involved in the process of determining the course of action. Community buy-in is key to an issue like this and the county has done a poor job in that area. Jeff Maurice, the HCG Lanfill Committe Chairman, had this to say at the end of the newsletter that sums up pretty well what’s needed.

Maurice continued, “It should be abundantly clear that during these long and detailed discussions, we have sought to work with the county to cure the problems with the permit and the contract, and to end up with a project that is as beneficial as possible to county residents and the landfill neighbors. Unfortunately, the proposed permit and contract fall
far short of that goal, and we have worked long and hard to cure those situations, but we never have said that the entire landfill project should be shut down, and we want the judge, the commissioners, the public and the media to take notice of that fact.”

Duly noted. They don’t want the landfill stopped, but if they have to live next to a dump they deserve to have some input into how it will be administered. That’s not too much to ask and why these citizens are so upset. Williamson County residents understand that very well too, and ignoring their input is wrong and looks bad. This isn’t going away and the longer this goes on the worse the commissioners and judge look.

Judge, Commissioners Still Going After Constables, Griffin

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Commissioners Court, Take Action, Election 2008, The Budget, 2008 Primary, Williamson County at 12:04 pm by wcnews

It’s A long story, goes all the way back to the Blogspot version of EOW, Why does Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley want to abolish the constable’ office? Mr. Griffin, not wanting to “play ball” with the commissioners, but mainly Lisa Birkman, back then decided to accept the inevitable defunding of his office.

Today the AusChron has an article, Constables: The Rodney Dangerfields of Police Work, about how sparse the funding for all commissioners was in the current budget process until they decided to speak up. They’ve since remedied the situation a bit, except for Precinct 1, Gary Griffin’s precinct.

At first blush, it seemed that all Williamson Co. constables would end up as empty-handed casualties in the annual county budget war. But as the meat-grinding process has played out over the past two weeks, only one constable, Precinct 1’s Gary Griffin — long a political thorn in the side of the Commissioners Court — was left with the emptiest pockets. The commissioners’ tightfisted fiscal strike against Griffin likely stems from his ongoing legal battle against the court for cutting his budget by 70% in mid-2005. The lawsuit is pending in Austin’s 3rd Court of Appeals.

I guess that’s what the people of precinct 1 deserve for electing Griffin as their Constable. It continues:

For a while it looked as though all the constables would end up in the same boat as Griffin. County Judge Dan Gattis’ initial recommendations, discussed at a July 24 budget hearing, would have denied the constables any increases in personnel or operational funds.

The constables each told the court they desperately needed increases in resources because a “tsunami” in their workload, as Precinct 3 Constable Bobby Gutierrez put it, will hit once a monetary cap on lawsuits handled by justice courts doubles from $5,000 to $10,000, effective next month.

As in previous budget battles, each of the four constables again appeared before the court to define and defend their elected positions. “I’m proud to be a constable. If not for us … victims would go without justice,” Precinct 2 Constable Dale Vannoy told the court. (Commissioners might also wish to consult the Texas Constitution, the Texas Statutes Code of Criminal Procedure, and their own website, www.wilco.org/constables, for further understanding of the office.)

In justifying his proposed cuts in surveillance equipment, Gattis seemed to question the legal powers given constables, when sheriff’s deputies are equipped to handle law-enforcement matters. “The court needs to decide — do you want to equip the constables to do traffic?” But then he added, “I haven’t any argument you are a full-fledged police officer.”

Constable Gutierrez testified next, saying: “It’s unreasonable to assume Sheriff James Wilson can handle everything in the entire county. … If we can catch it, we need to be able to clean it.” Commissioner Lisa Birkman responded, “I’ve never, ever seen a constable write a ticket in my neighborhood.” But Griffin quickly corrected that assumption. “We do write tickets in Precinct 1,” he told Birkman. “In fact, I think your husband was stopped, Lisa, as was Judge [John] Doerfler, by a deputy constable.” Birkman brushed off his response, noting that the traffic stop was “only a warning.”

Griffin continued, “I don’t come to your office and talk about the landfill … or the dog pound,” he said of the county’s current trouble spots. “I don’t tell the judge how to judge. You’ve gotta give us some trust. The voters did,” Griffin said. “Why are constables perceived as second-class?”

Nice shot Constable. From what Judge Gattis says and by the actions of the previous court there’s little understanding of what constables do and that Constables are elected by the people and are a mandated by the Texas Constitution. From what I understand in Harris County the Constables Office is the main “law enforcement” agency, the Sheriff’s department only runs the jail.

For all we know this could just be some internal WCGOP political or personality struggle that’s being played in our county government. Ignorance, incompetence and pettiness is no way to run a government. If the current Bush administration has taught us anything it’s that. It’s not clear yet if Constable Griffin will run again, or if he’ll have a primary challenger. That should not dissuade anyone from joining this race on the Democratic side.


Feds Could Cause Trouble With NTTA, SH 121 Toll Deal

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Privatization, Road Issues, Around The State at 10:54 am by wcnews

It’s a done deal except for one small thing. All that stands between the NTTA and sending it’s deal on SH 121 to closing is the Federal Highway Administration, NTTA’s 121 toll road win hits snag with federal funding.

State transportation officials are still awaiting word from Washington on whether letting the North Texas Tollway Authority build the State Highway 121 toll road will result in forfeiture of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds.

With an Aug. 27 deadline looming to sign the Highway 121 contract, the Federal Highway Administration’s seeming displeasure casts another shadow over the already-contentious process to get the toll road built and running.

The FHA’s problem centers on the Highway 121 bidding process. The Spanish company Cintra won preliminary approval to build and operate the road. But the Legislature pressured the Texas Department of Transportation to reopen the bidding.

NTTA stepped in and took the contract away from Cintra by convincing the Regional Transportation Council that its bid was better for North Texas.

As a result, the federal government told Texas it could be asked to return federal funds spent on already-completed portions of the road.

Really? This shouldn’t surprise anyone. What interest do the Feds have in this? That’s right, this administration will side with the corporation every time.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairs the state Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee and has been a strong proponent of awarding the deal to NTTA. He said Tuesday that he remains optimistic the deal will be signed with NTTA but that he is concerned over the slow response by the federal government.

“The only hoop left to clear, the only unresolved issue in this deal is the federal funds question,” Mr. Carona said. “No transportation deal is a done deal until Washington signs off on it, and so I am concerned about this. But if Washington does insert itself here, and goes against the local recommendation to go with NTTA, then all hell’s going to break loose.”

He said he expects to discuss the matter today with U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters.


Mr. Carona said he remains optimistic that the deal will go to NTTA. But he said the U.S. transportation secretary’s support for private investment like that promised by Cintra is well-known.

“Mary Peters is probably the nation’s strongest advocate for public-private partnerships and private investment in transportation,” Mr. Carona said. “That said, I believe DOT will listen to what our local concerns are.”

You better not believe that Senator. They will do what they want when they want. This deal is still very shaky, obviously, and can still go either way. It would be a blow if Cintra winds up with this deal, there’s no doubt. But Sen. Carona, our state elected officials, and the local elected officials can’t have any trust or “belief” that the Feds will do what they want. Those who want NTTA to build this road better watch these pro-corporate tolling Feds like hawks because if this deal dies, then Cintra winds up building the toll road after all. And that’s just what the Feds, Perry and Williamson want. As Yogi said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

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