Landfill Vote Delayed!! - UPDATED

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:16 pm by wcnews

Very Sorry. In EOW’s haste to get the story posted we forgot to give huge congratulations and credit to the Hutto Citizens Group, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Mount Hutto Aware Citizens, A Better Wilco, and Eye On Williamson for spreading the word on this and getting this victory for the citizens of Williamson County.

[UPDATE]: Hutto Citizens Group reporting [.PDF] on today’s landfill vote. The operative phrase seems to be “indefinitely delayed”.

AAS has the story, Williamson commissioners delay landfill vote again.

After several minutes of debate about a controversial landfill operating contract today, three Williamson County commissioners said they had concerns and wanted to put the vote on hold.

“It appears to me this contract is probably going to fail today,” said County Judge Dan A. Gattis.

Commissioner Ron Morrison told the court — and the dozens of spectators in the standing-room-only crowd — that the pending permit to expand the landfill and the contract are intertwined, and he wanted to wait for the permit hearings to finish before he signs a contract.

Commissioners Valerie Covey and Cynthia Long agreed. They named the length of the contract, 40 years, and discrepancies between the permit application and the contract as reasons for their concern.

Closing arguments in the expansion permit hearings are expected later this week.

Today’s non-vote was the latest in a string of postponed votes on the landfill contract. Commissioners have come under increasing pressure by citizens groups to turn down the contract. Some have even threatened to sue the county if the renegotiated deal passes.

Gattis supports the new contract and said today that commissioners who feel otherwise had plenty of opportunities to bring up concerns during negotiations.

Commissioner Lisa Birkman sided with Gattis today, saying, “If y’all want to vote it down, then that’s your choice.”

But Birkman ended up siding with Covey, Morrison and Long in a 4-1 vote to table the vote on the contract.

Thank you Commissioners Morrison, Covey and Long. Cooler heads have prevailed it seems, at least for now. The words and then actions of Commissioner Birkman are quite humorous. I guess she wanted to make sure she wasn’t on the wrong side of one of those infamous “3-2″ court votes that were talked about so much during the 2006 campaign season.

There’s no mention in the article of the major sticking point of the Hutto Citizens Group which is the fact that Waste Management, Inc. (WMI) is still on the contract as the operator which, if allowed to continue, would give WMI complete control of the landfill for the length of the contract.

Today’s vote delay means there’s quite a bit riding on the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) permit case regarding whether to allow WMI to expand the landfill. This will again shine a spotlight on the WMI, their lawyers from Vinson and Elkins, along with County Attorney Jana Duty’s brief denying the commissioners the ability to use outside counsel without her permission. My recommendation to the commissioners and Judge, not that they’re looking for EOW’s advice, would be for them to get a disinterested third party to evaluate the contract on their behalf. If WMI doesn’t get the expansion permit it’s likely the contracting process will stall or end altogether. All eyes will now shift to the SOAH permit case.

More On CAMPO & Tolls

Posted in Privatization, Road Issues, Central Texas at 11:44 am by wcnews

The “Breaking News” article from yesterday has been updated. It’s here, New tollway plan taking shape. There’s a little more of the same information and some quotes from The Muckraker/Sal Costello, but the gist of the article is the same, more tolls are coming and there’s no end in sight.

The biggest problem EOW has with this whole process is the fact that all of this if framed as toll roads or no roads. What Watson and most tollers should have a phrase added to the end or every sentence. It’s like the silly game people play with fortune cookies when they add the phrase, “in bed”, to the end of each one. Here’s how it would go with Sen. Kirk Watson’s words on transportations funding. Add the phrase, “with toll roads” to the end of every sentence. Try this one to see how it works.

“We have a big and growing mobility problem and limited funds to address it,” Watson said. “We have been working very hard in an open and accountable way to figure out how we can get the biggest bang for our buck [with toll roads].”

In this case is doesn’t make it any more fun but it does clarify what he’s saying. Sen. Watson and his CAMPO cohorts believe that, because of the neglect of our transportation infrastructure over the last 2 decades, the only way to solve the problem is with tolls and tolls only. When, in actuality, the question that voters should be asked is, do you want roads built now that you’ll be paying for as far as the eye can see, or would you like your state Senator to get busy doing the hard work of leading, and getting the gas tax raised and indexed, so we can pay for our roads like we used to and not have tolls?

Sen. Watson and CAMPO are going to vote to toll ever new road, from here to eternity, unless they get a clear signal that tolling is not acceptable any longer.


CAMPO Leaning Toward More Tolls

Posted in Privatization, Road Issues, Central Texas at 4:36 pm by wcnews

AAS reporting, Board leaning toward tolls for five Austin roads. Leaning? EOW thinks the decision has already been made.

A scaled-back plan to expand and put tolls on four Austin highways, and build a fifth tollway from scratch, drew cautious support today from the board charged with making Central Texas transportation decisions.The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board will make a final decision Oct. 8 on the five roads, which have been a source of controversy since 2004.

“We need to be continuously very forthright and upfront,” said Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, a CAMPO board member who had opposed the 2004 toll plan. “We don’t have the dollars to do this without tolls.”

Bob Daigh, the Austin district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation, told the CAMPO board that he can build the five tollways — while maintaining free passage along the same rights-of-way — for $1.45 billion. The roads, which would constitute the area’s second wave of tollways after five have opened or initiated construction in the past year, are U.S. 290 in Northeast Austin, U.S. 183 in East Austin, Texas 71 in Southeast Austin, U.S. 290 and Texas 71 in Oak Hill and the proposed Texas 45 Southwest. The expressway portions of Texas 71 and U.S. 183 opened in the past year, will remain free to drivers under the plan.

In other words ALL new roads will be tolled, none of the roads that are already built will be tolled. Without new leadership this will continue.

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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