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.


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.


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.


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.


Yesterday’s Comissioners Court Meeting - Landfill Edition

Posted in Commissioners Court, Bad Government Republicans, Landfill, Williamson County at 9:53 am by wcnews

There are two media accounts of yesterday’s meeting regarding the issue of the new landfill contract. With the public finally able to air their grievances with about the contract to their elected representatives, the commissioners decided to punt the issue down the road a bit, Williamson County landfill vote put off until August 28.

After a roomful of people told Williamson County commissioners that they weren’t happy with a proposed contract with the county’s landfill operator, the commissioners decided to postpone a vote on the contract two weeks.

Commissioners Valerie Covey and Ron Morrison asked for the delay until Aug. 28, but neither would say whether the concerns brought up in court Tuesday prompted the move. The vote was originally set to be taken Aug. 14.

“I’m listening to all the input, and we’re trying to get the best contract for the taxpayers that we can,” Covey said.

Although a county attorney argued that there are only two options, that didn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Stephen Ackley of the county attorney’s office told the commissioners Tuesday that only two options existed: remain with the current contract that has no end date and allows the county little control over the landfill; or accept the new contract, which has at least 18 provisions that could lead to Waste Management defaulting on it.

Many of those who spoke Tuesday mentioned another option for commissioners to consider:

“Pull down the expansion permit, and Waste Management suddenly has an incentive to sit down with you,” Hutto resident Mahlon Arnett said.


“You folks act like you don’t call the shots, but you do,” Robin Schneider, head of Austin-based Texas Campaign for the Environment, told the commissioners Tuesday.

There is more that the county can do to negotiate a better deal, the citizens know it, and that’s what causing most, if no all, of the frustration with the court. There are many ways to make the other side bargain in a negotiation and the county’s inability to use any of those tactics is what makes people start wondering what’s going on. It also appears, because of his unwillingness to take his constituents seriously, that Judge Gattis has gotten his feelings hurt.

The group brought signs calling the landfill “Mount Gattis,” after County Judge Dan A. Gattis.

Gattis said he heard “no big flaws in the contract” Tuesday and that many of the issues are problems with the expansion permit.

He called some of the comments personal attacks.

“They’re not worrying about what’s good for Williamson County, and they’re trying to make it a personal vendetta,” Gattis said.

That goes both ways Judge. It is personal Judge when the county wants to increase the size of a dump near a citizens house and the county won’t listen to them. It’s also politics and you didn’t have to run for office.

The Hutto News also has a story on yesterday’s hearing, County hears concerns on new landfill contract“>County hears concerns on new landfill contract. Not much new in this article but there are a couple of good items from the meeting.

“Waste Management feels they have you over a barrel,” Carl Liddel of Jonah said. Liddel served as Pct. 1 county commissioner during the late 1970s and through the ‘80s, when the operation of the landfill was first contracted out to the company later absorbed by Waste Management.

“Either you are going to take the old contract or the new contract,” Liddel said during his comments against many amendments within the new landfill agreement.


“We seem to be put to this question of two choices: a horrible 2003 agreement or a bad new agreement,” said Hutto resident Jeff Maurice, landfill committee chairman for the Hutto Citizens Group, a grassroots organization fighting the landfill contract and proposed expansion. “Where is the option for the best agreement?”


The lack of an open, competitive bidding process is the most concerning issue, Pct. 4 Commissioner Ron Morrison said, but he said “it’s just not something we really can do right now.”

The county attorney’s office had previously stated that Waste Management could sue the county if the agreement was broken and put out to bid. The value of such a suit could be $200 to $400 million - the estimated revenue over the life of the landfill, Ackley said in a previous interview.

Morrison’s precinct includes the landfill, which is just north of Hutto, and although the other commissioners may look to him to take the lead on the decision, Morrison said the issue is countywide and possibly one of the most significant decisions facing the court.

“Any way we go, we’re going to have second thoughts on our choice,” he said.

Yes, Ron Morrison can talk, the silent one speaks!

The commissioners have extended the time before the final vote on this issue for two weeks. Why? Are they now saying they don’t have only two options? Are they actually going to go back to WMI and try and negotiate a better deal, a third option? Or are they just trying to buy a little more time in hopes that once the kids are back in school this whole thing will blow over? We’ll just have to wait and see.


Commissioners Will Get An Earful On Landfill Today

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Commissioners Court, Animal Shelter, Landfill, Had Enough Yet?, T. Don Hutto, Williamson County at 9:37 am by wcnews

AAS has this story up regarding today’s Commissioners Court meeting where the new landfill contract is on the agenda, Williamson landfill contract gets airing.

Williamson County commissioners will hear today what residents think about a proposed contract with the county’s landfill operator.

They shouldn’t expect ovations, according to three groups fighting the contract.

“I am really fed up trying to help the court solve anything,” said Orlynn Evans, head of Mount Hutto Aware Citizens. Evans’ concerns prompted the county last year to renegotiate its 2003 contract with Waste Management of Texas to get a better deal.

But the draft of a revised contract that was released last week did nothing to assuage concerns, Evans said.

Although county officials say it’s the best possible deal, Evans’ group, the Hutto Citizens Group and Texas Campaign for the Environment oppose the new contract.

“I will be asking them to not take action on the contract until the numerous flaws in the contract are corrected,” Evans said.

As will many, many others we can be sure. The Texas Campaign for the Environment was calling residents to invite them to today’s meeting. I know because I got one.

The Hutto Citizens Group has a couple of items to read for anyone that won’t be going to the meeting. They have an analysis [.PDF] of the current contract, as well as, a nice chart [.PDF] comparing the current and proposed contracts in Williamson County with two recent contracts negotiated under similar circumstances with WMI in Arlington and Temple. Looking at that chart, it becomes pretty obvious that this is a poorly negotiated contract, financially speaking at the least, despite what Jana Duty and Stephen Ackley say.

Expanding the landfill, which would yield millions of dollars for Waste Management, was a point of leverage that the county was prepared to use had the company resisted renegotiating the contract, County Attorney Jana Duty said in an e-mail.

“When the media and all the neighborhood groups began their attacks, it was very tempting to just say, ‘Screw this, we have a contract, we are done,’ ” Duty said. “But that would not have been what was in the best interest of the people of this county.”

The new contract is the best deal “considering the circumstances,” said Stephen Ackley, chief litigator in the county attorney’s office.

Among the changes: The contract now has an end date, in 40 years; Waste Management must immediately give the county $250,000 for park development; and trash is to be measured more reliably, in tons, not yards.

Wow! That makes all the bad stuff so much better. Making the corporation do what it should have been doing all along and for the millions they will make off this deal they’re kicking back a meager $250,000 for a park. The contract our “Mayberry Machiavellis” have hammered out doesn’t seem to be close to being in the best interest of the citizens of Williamson County.

Two other issues that the CC needs to hear about are the continuing problems at the WCRAS and it might be nice to mention to them how much money imprisoning Mothers and their babies is making for CCA.

Management revenue from federal customers increased $20.7 million, or 16.0%, to $150.0 million during the second quarter of 2007 from $129.3 million during the second quarter of 2006, as a result of higher inmate populations from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (”ICE”) and the U.S. Marshals Service (”USMS”). Federal revenues were positively impacted by a new management contract from ICE at our Stewart Detention Center that began receiving detainees in October 2006 and a full quarter impact of a new management contract at our T. Don Hutto Residential Center that became effective in May 2006. Additionally, federal revenues were favorably impacted by the backfilling of the vacated beds in our Florence Correctional Center with additional USMS detainees as a result of the commencement of operations at our new Red Rock Correctional Center in July 2006.

That new contract was unanimously approved by this court.

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