Landfill Vote Tomorrow - New HCG Newsletter

Posted in Commissioners Court, Bad Government Republicans, Landfill, Privatization, Williamson County at 3:45 pm by wcnews

Tomorrow the Williamson County Commissioners Court is scheduled to vote on the new landfill contract with Waste Management, Inc. (WMI). The agenda is here [.PDF], the landfill is #27 for those scoring at home. An interesting aside, #28 is a presentation by NASCO.

There are several interesting points in the new Hutto Citizens Group newsletter, Will Tuesday be a day of disaster for Williamson County? [.PDF].

Click “Read the rest..” for full story.

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Rick Noriega Garners Endorsement of Briscoe, Hobby And Ellis

Posted in US Senate Race, Election 2008, 2008 Primary, Around The State at 1:03 pm by wcnews

Today Rick Noriega held a press conference with to announce receiving the endorsement of Texas Gov. Dolph Briscoe, Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby, and State Sen. Rodney Ellis. In his statement Gov. Briscoe said this:

When I think of Texas, with all of her storied past, her sense of independence, and her history of great leaders, I also think of the responsibility that comes with being a U.S. Senator from this great state. Texas needs someone who will represent us well, fight the good fight, and make us proud.

That humble public servant is Rick Noriega.

I think in these times an essential criteria for representing Texas in the United States Senate is service in the military, a person who has walked the walk. Rick’s service to his country in Afghanistan makes Texans proud. And he does not shirk from his duty as a citizen either, speaking out on the need to honor our veterans with the health care they deserve, and the need to remove partisan rhetoric, and the rhetoric of fear from the debate over our presence in Iraq.

Rick understands that Texans are not afraid, and that we are not followers.

In the legislature, Rick speaks out not just for his constituents, but for the state as a whole. A leader, a volunteer, a humanitarian … Texans must seize this opportunity to elect a United States Senator who represents the best Texas has to offer.

Now an excerpt form Rick Noriega’s statement at the press conference.

Public service. Looking to the future. Bringing Texans together.
And holding our leaders accountable.

This is the standard that was set for us, but it is one that we are allowing to slip away. Today, a private in the US Army is held to a higher standard of accountability than a United States Senator.

John Cornyn, our state’s junior senator, has failed to use independent judgment. He’s failed to plan for our future. He has failed the people. He has failed Texas.

He has been an active pawn in a concerted effort to question the patriotism of those who exercise their civic duty by questioning their government about the war in Iraq. It’s every American’s right, every American’s duty, to question our role, our mission, our soldiers’ safety. To question such failures as the Administration’s inability to provide proper health care for our veterans. To question untruths as a basis for sending our sons and daughters across the world.

John Cornyn voted against SCHIP, even though Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured children who qualify for CHIP but are not enrolled in the program.

John Cornyn voted against the Webb Amendment, which would have guaranteed equal amounts of time for combat and for rest for any military member deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq.

And John Cornyn continues to play out the ineffective and inappropriate tactic of dividing us as he beats the empty drum of immigration, serving political purposes and using it as a wedge issue.

Cornyn says he opposes a border fence while in South Texas, but then votes in Washington to fund the border fence. The fact of the matter is, John Cornyn proves that playing politics doesn’t solve problems, it makes them worse.

The standard for leadership and service has been set by the gentlemen behind me; not by the man who occupies the Texas Junior US Senate seat.

The secret to a brighter future is not neglecting our children, using wedge issues for short-term political gain, or wearing out our military for an ideological obsession.

No, as I said earlier, Texas stands as it’s greatest when we plan for the future, bring people together, and hold our government accountable.

So…now it’s time to hold John Cornyn accountable.

As we ratchet up our exploratory campaign, Texans will get a chance to see the many faces and many perspectives that our campaign represents. Each time, the picture will grow. Because this campaign is not just about me. It is about us; it is about We the People, about duty … it’s about living up to a higher standard … it’s about answering the call to reclaim our state and our country.

Together we will; we will…answer the call. Thank you.

Strong statement. Don’t forget to give him a dollar or two.

ACLU, ICE Reach Agreement On T. Don Hutto Lawsuit - UPDATED

Posted in Immigration, T. Don Hutto, Around The Nation, Around The State, Williamson County at 12:18 pm by wcnews

No details just the news the two sides have an agreement. From the AAS.

On the eve of a court date, a settlement has been reached in federal lawsuits challenging the confinement of children at the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor.

A trial had been set to open today in federal district court in Austin.


Details of the settlement were unavailable.

It’s not surprising that ICE probably doesn’t want what happened to these children in court records. We’ll know more when/if the details are released.

A little more information from ABC News.

The settlement includes an agreement for a federal magistrate to conduct periodic reviews of conditions at the former prison, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement. Other terms of the settlement weren’t immediately released.

Texas Blog Round Up (August 27, 2007)

Posted in Commentary, Around The State at 8:39 am by wcnews

It’s time once again for the weekly Texas Progressive Alliance blog round-up. This week’s round-up is brought to you by Vince from Capitol Annex.Getting this week’s round-up off to a great start, we want to thank our friends over at the 50 State Blog Network for taking note of our round-up and mentioning it in their round-up.

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Cities, County At Odds Over Accountability At Animal Shelter

Posted in Commissioners Court, Bad Government Republicans, Animal Shelter, Williamson County at 12:26 pm by wcnews

A letter sent to the county by Round Rock mayor Nyle Maxwell, and similar ones by the three other cities (Hutto, Cedar Park, and Leander), “are calling for more oversight and review of the facility”. AAS has the story, Cities urge county to take action on animal shelter, and a link to the letter [.PDF] from Mayor Maxwell.

The four cities partnering with Williamson County on the struggling regional animal shelter are calling for more oversight and review of the facility.

The city councils of Round Rock, Cedar Park, Leander and Hutto recently approved letters outlining a number of desired actions. Some of the letters were sent to county officials Friday.

It’s definitely understandable how the cities can be a little skittish about a shelter run by the county with their money. Especially since the county has been so unable to admit to and take responsibility for the problems at the shelter this far. Not sure yet whether this is the solution. The cities and the county would do themselves a great favor if they’d put some citizens, or non-interested third parties on this executive committee they propose. just a another committee, filled with insiders from the same old groups, won’t do much to change things.

There is an animal shelter board made up of representatives from all entities, and some cities’ officials say that the board should be making most of the shelter decisions, not the county.

“There is no clear accountability of who has the control and who doesn’t,” Rye said. “Under the current agreement, the county is responsible for hiring the executive director, but the board is responsible for reviewing performance. An ideal contract would specify who does the hiring and who does the firing.”

But some city leaders said the bigger problem is that the county is not listening to their concerns and recommendations.

No surprise in any of this. The county doesn’t listen to much of anyone. It would make sense, that if they create this board for performance reviews, they should also have the ability to hire and fire. The county does have one city official on their side.

Leander Mayor John Cowman praised the county’s recent efforts.

“We’re encouraged by the steps that have already been taken,” he said. “I think the judge has indicated his willingness to tackle the situation. It’s a regional effort, and we’re going to continue to . . . work through it.”

The saga continues.


File And Abuse

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Had Enough Yet?, Around The State, The Lege at 11:01 pm by wcnews

Tip to Chisme, for the link to this HChron article. It’s about Allstate going to the courts, and around a Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) ruling earlier in the week, to get a restraining order to stop the TDI from doing it’s job - regulating the insurance industry.

Allstate has persuaded a judge to temporarily block efforts by state regulators to keep the company from immediately increasing homeowners’ insurance rates statewide.

Allstate filed for its rate increase on Monday, making it effective immediately. Texas Insurance Commissioner Mike Geeslin issued an order halting the rate increase.

But Allstate won a temporary restraining order against Geeslin on Thursday from state District Judge John Dietz on the grounds that state law requires the insurance commissioner to give a company 20 days’ notice before blocking or lowering a rate that already is in effect.

This was all made possible by a bill passed during the 78th Legislature in 2003.

Texas in 2003 adopted a “file and use” insurance rate system that allows companies to file a rate and then use it pending review by the state insurance commissioner.

The bill that put in “file and use” in 2003 was SB 14 authored by Sen. Mike Jackson (R - Up For Reelection in 2008) - if you’re in Senate District 11 check out Joe Jaworski. From what I can tell this bill changed to burden of proof for insurance rate changes. Instead of an insurance company having to submit a rate change, and then wait for the TDI to approve or deny it, “file and use” allows them to change the rate and start charging it without approval from the TDI. The TDI can deny that rate, but only after it’s been submitted and already been imposed on customers. If denied, the insurance company has to pay rebates to the customers they overcharged. All the while having that money in the bank, drawing interest.

File and use was a disaster in Florida, so much so that they changed the law. Here are some more commentary on “file and use”.

Bob Detlefsen, vice president for public policy at the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, said it is unusual for an insurance company to make a new rate take effect immediately.

He said the system is supposed to create greater flexibility in the market.

“The theory behind file and use was to make it easier for insurers to change their rates faster — both up and down,” Detlefsen said.

Detlefsen said both Texas and Florida are known to be aggressive regulatory states in holding the line on rate increases.

“Maybe Allstate is trying to call the insurance commissioner’s bluff,” Detlefsen said.

State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, was a major player in creating the current regulatory scheme in Texas. He said the state law should give Geeslin enough power to block unnecessary rate increases.

“Senate Bill 14 very clearly gave the insurance department the ability to reject a rate they think is not warranted,” Fraser said.

First, somebody raise their hand if the “market” has ever lowered your rate. That’s what I thought. Second, the TDI did reject a rate it thought was unwarranted and the court won’t let them. Third, Allstate isn’t calling the commissioner’s bluff, they’re saying we own the politicians that appointed you Mr. Commissioner, so do what we tell you.

I was taught very early on that insurance companies are a necessary evil. My Father taught me that most of our elected officials, one way or another, are tied to the insurance industry, thus a law like this. It’s no surprise that in 2003, once the Republicans finally gained control of all branches of government, they wrote a bill that hands the insurance corporations the ability to regulate their own rate increases - let’s call it file and abuse.


Landfill Contract Proponents Met Secretly Today

Posted in Landfill, Williamson County at 4:03 pm by wcnews

An EOW reader informs us that County Judge Dan Gattis called an unannounced meeting this morning to discuss the county’s draft contract with Waste Management, Inc. (WMI). According to our source, members of the County Commission and Hutto City Council met with a representative of WMI to solidify support for the draft contract and prevent further defections.

Our sources have identified the following elected officials in attendance at this morning’s secret meeting:

  • Hutto mayor Ken Love
  • Hutto city council member Debbie Holland
  • Hutto city council member Jason Wirth
  • Williamson County Judge Dan Gattis, Sr.
  • Williamson County commissioner Lisa Birkman Ron Morrison
  • A representative of Waste Management, Inc.

The reason for the meeting, according to our source, was to stop more members of the Hutto City Council from joining a group of public officials who oppose the draft contract between Williamson County and Waste Management Inc. (WMI).

Our source informed us that the meeting was hurriedly called by Gattis in response to two Hutto City council members recently joining a group of public officials calling for the county commission to reject the draft contract with WMI and put an end to landfill permit expansion proceedings at the State Office of Administrative Hearings. A vote by the Williamson county commission on the proposed contract with WMI is scheduled Tuesday morning.

The two members of the Hutto City council who have come out against the draft contract and landfill expansion are Tina Slayton and David Bergier.

Update: EOW has learned that Williamson county commissioner Ron Morrison attended the private meeting instead of Lisa Birkman. Morrison has publicly opposed the draft contract with WMI, so the meeting is not correctly characterized in this post’s title. EOW has obtained independent verification that the meeting took place as reported, however. The agenda remains unclear.

Update2: EOW has received conflicting reports about which members of the Williamson county commission attended this meeting. Due to the haziness of the details, we are now retracting the details of this report except that a meeting including at least one representative from WMI, Hutto city council members and possibly one Williamson county commissioner met privately Friday for the purpose of trying to quell a growing resistance among elected officials to the proposed expansion of the landfill.

HD-52: Diana Maldonado - Launches Campaign Web Site

Posted in HD-52, Take Action, Election 2008, 2008 Primary, Williamson County, The Lege at 3:13 pm by wcnews

Via Sal, Diana Maldonado has launched her initial campaign web site. Go check it out, www.dianamaldonado.com. Here’s the message:

Thank you for your interest in my candidacy for State Representative in House District 52. In order to get my message for positive change out to the voters of Williamson County in 2008, we are building a professional campaign operation and infrastructure earlier than it has ever been done before.

In the coming weeks we will be launching a full website, hiring staff, organizing supporters and raising those critical early dollars to send the message to insiders and pundits that I can and will win this campaign. Please join me today and make a generous contribution towards this effort to bring change to our community and balance back to the Texas Legislature.

Thank you in advance and I look forward to working with you in the 15+ months to come!

Early dollars are key, donate if you can.

The Texas Trasnsportation Follies Continue

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Privatization, Road Issues, Around The State, Uncategorized at 12:27 pm by wcnews

When, a couple of months back, the The North Texas Toll Authority (NTTA) got the go-ahead on the SH 121 deal there was much emphasis put on the fact that the NTTA had 45 days to get a done done or it would go to Cintra. What a difference 45 days makes. Via the DMN (Deadline for 121 deal gets extended), we find out that yesterday TxDOT voted unanimously to scrap that provision.

Once facing a looming deadline, the North Texas Tollway Authority has been given more time to reach an agreement with the state to build State Highway 121.


They told the commission they could not sign an agreement with NTTA until the federal government completes its review of the Highway 121 project. NTTA officials said Thursday they expect the clearance by September.

In extending the deadline, the commission also voted unanimously to cancel its original agreement with Spanish builder Cintra, the firm that had initially been selected to build Highway 121.

This is no surprise, surely Cintra knew their goose was cooked during the session when this thing went under the microscope. They probably wouldn’t take the deal now even if it was offered to them. It was definitely humorous to read about TxDOT head Ric Williamson’s new found concern toll payers.

But that extra money – sought after by local governments already sorting through proposals for spending it – comes with a price for North Texas drivers, Mr. Williamson said. If NTTA has overestimated the traffic the road will get, it could find that it has overpaid. If so, it’s possible that it would have to raise the toll rates above the limits outlined in Cintra’s proposal.

“It deeply concerns me that the toll payers in North Texas could be overpaying,” Mr. Williamson said.

An overestimated traffic & revenue (T&R) study, that never happens.

Also despite what Sen Kay Bailey Hutchison said a few weeks ago, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is again threatening to take away federal funding from Texas because of this deal. This time because of “..federal law violations in regards to the procurement process for SH 121’s comprehensive development agreement”. Full story via the McKinney Courier-Gazette, Feds threaten to pull future SH 121 funding.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said the day before the August Regional Transportation Council meeting in Arlington, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters personally assured her they would not ask the state to return any federal highway funding for State Highway 121.


“If TxDOT does not remedy the violations, FHWA will enforce the compliance measures outlined in this letter such as those relating to future federal-aid funding and credit assistance,” the letter read. “While the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) may not have any current plans to utilize federal funding for the development of the 121 project, it should be noted that the project will no longer be eligible to receive such funds unless TxDOT takes immediate action to comply with federal law.”

According to documents obtained by the McKinney Courier-Gazette, the FHWA claims the SH 121 procurement process implemented by Texas Senate Bill 792 violates federal laws that require a fair, open and competitive process, and prohibit bidding between public and private entities.

Back to work Senator, especially is she’s running for governor. There’s much more from the letter in the full story. This is idiotic stuff. If our elected representatives would just raise and index the gas tax and this would end.

Power Struggle In Williamson County?

Posted in Commissioners Court, Bad Government Republicans, Landfill, Williamson County at 11:24 am by wcnews

A few weeks back it became known that Williamson County Attorney Jana Duty had filed a brief with the Attorney General. Essentially Duty is asking the AG’s opinion on whether the commissioners court can hire “outside counsel” without the permission of the county attorney. Seems simple enough, but like most things in Williamson County government these days, nothing is simple. It also revolves around one of the most contentious issues facing the county right now, the negotiation of the new landfill contract.

It’s hard to tell what exactly caused this rift between our county’s elected officials but from today’s AAS article, Fight over power in Williamson County heats up, there may be some clues.

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