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.

Read the rest of this entry »


TxDOT To Put The Squeeze On Road Construction Money Even More

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicling Dana Boehm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Allstate Gets Smacked Down, Again, On Rate Hike

Posted in Good Stuff, Health Care, Around The State at 3:52 pm by wcnews

My new hero in Texas Department of Insurance Commissioner Mike Geeslin, Insurance commission halts Allstate’s homeowner rate hike.

Allstate’s increase in home insurance rates was abruptly canceled by state Insurance Commissioner Mike Geeslin on Tuesday, just one day after the company announced it was raising them to cover potential increases in property losses.

Besides rejecting the insurer’s proposed 5.9 percent statewide rate hike, the commissioner also slapped the company with a related order that blocks Allstate from raising premiums without prior approval from the Texas Department of Insurance. Only one other company – State Farm – is under such state supervision of its rates.

Mr. Geeslin said he had no choice but to act quickly since Allstate announced Monday that it would immediately increase the cost of its homeowner policies as they came up for renewal.

Anyone that takes on insurance companies like this is great. There’s more.

Ben Gonzales of the insurance department said the decision to put Allstate under greater supervision was based on the pattern of their recent filings. The company filed for a 6.9 percent rate hike earlier this summer and then withdrew it when regulators balked at its size. Allstate lowered the increase to 5.9 percent in its second filing on Monday.

Consumer groups applauded the action but also called for the commissioner to take further action to reduce Allstate’s rates.

“Rejecting this latest rate hike doesn’t guarantee that Allstate’s policyholders are no longer being overcharged. It simply means they won’t be overcharged 5.9 percent more than they already are,” said Alex Winslow of Texas Watch.

In another rate case involving Allstate, the company has been ordered by a state judge to reduce its current rates for home insurance and refund more than $56 million in overcharges dating back to 2004 to its Texas customers. Allstate has appealed the decision.

Great quote from Alex Winslow. Now if we can just get the insurance companies out of health care then everyone can have health care.

Graduation Prayer At Three RRISD High Schools Draws Lawsuit

Posted in Public Schools, 80th Legislature, Around The State, Williamson County at 3:10 pm by wcnews

AAS has the story, Round Rock district is sued over student prayer, and Americans United has an article as well, Religious Liberty Watchdog Group Says School Officials May Not Promote ‘Majority Rules’ Prayer At Graduation. I can’t find a press release or any official statement on the RRISD web site. Here’s what this is all about:

The plaintiffs, some of whom describe themselves as atheists, argue that the district violated the First Amendment when it allowed students at four high schools to vote on whether to have a commencement prayer.

It’s the US Constitution that determines whether or not a prayer can be said in this situation, not a majority of the senior class. From the AAS story here’s what RRISD Superintendent Jesus Chavez had to say:

Superintendent Jesús Chávez said the district consulted closely with lawyers while formulating its latest policies and actions and will defend them.


Chávez said Round Rock school leaders crafted their policy and actions regarding graduation prayers with care.

“Through the graduation process, we worked with our attorneys, and we followed federal court cases as closely as possible,” he said.

“As closely as possible”, leaves it open to interpretation that they didn’t follow the letter of the law. Which would mean they strayed somewhere along the line to allow for the prayers at graduations. Americans United article paints quite a different picture:

“Graduation ceremonies should welcome all students, regardless of their beliefs about religion,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Religion is personal, and decisions about it should never be the subject of a ‘majority rules’ vote.”

The school district policy allows a yearly vote by seniors on whether to include prayer in graduation ceremonies. In 2007, three of the district’s four high schools decided in favor of prayer. Americans United charges in its lawsuit that school officials organize, oversee and attempt to manipulate the votes on whether to include prayer at the ceremonies.

For example, earlier this year, officials at the district’s four high schools conducted the votes on whether to include prayer at the 2007 graduation ceremonies. The senior class at Westwood High School was the only class to vote against prayer, and it was promptly ordered by district officials to conduct a re-vote. Westwood seniors, however, again voted against prayer at their graduation ceremonies.

“There could be no mistake among the students that the vote was an official school-sponsored event: school officials crafted the ballot and orchestrated and carried out ballot delivery, collection, and tabulation,” Americans United argues in its Does v. Round Rock Independent School District lawsuit. “And there could be no mistake among the students about which way the District expected them to vote: the one senior class that voted to reject the invocation was promptly ordered to re-vote on the issue.”

As Capitol Annex points out with their analysis of this issue, expect more of this:

You can bet, after RVAA is fully implemented, we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of this

Not familiar with the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act (RVAAO)? Well your legislature passed it last session and it’s creating quite a stir leading into this school year. To get familiar with it, it’s highly recommended to read this letter from Rep. Scott Hochberg (D- Houston) regarding ” the bill’s model policy”.

I have been contacted by various school district officials regarding the implementation of HB 3678 and, in particular, regarding the correspondence discussing that bill from Mr. Howard and Mr. Chisum which is posted on the TEA site. As you know, I participated in the debate on that bill on the House floor, and much of that debate was transcribed and published in the House Journal for purposes of intent.

I have long been an ardent advocate for religious freedom. I was the primary House sponsor of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and have passed numerous other bills to protect the right of each Texan to practice one’s religion as one chooses.

Inherent in that right is the right of parents to control the religious training and influences of their children, and this right should not be abrogated by attendance in public schools.

There are several important points concerning the adoption of a policy under the bill which I believe should be emphasized to your membership, as follows:

Click the letter link above to read the entire letter. Here’ the letter from Rep.’s Charlie Howard and Warren Chisum referred to in Rep. Hochberg’s letter.

What does all this mean? It means there will be much wasted time, money, effort and frustration on both sides, rehashing an argument our Founding Fathers settled well over 200 years ago.

Tax Bills, Size Of Government Increasing All Over Williamson County

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

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

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

The Landill, TCEQ Hearing & More Gattis Shenanigans - UPDATED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Capitol Annex, Shining The Light On Craddick’s Late Session Antics

Posted in Cronyism, 80th Legislature, Had Enough Yet?, Around The State, The Lege at 9:04 am by wcnews

Vince Leibowitz at Capitol Annex has been doing a series on some new documents he acquired regarding Speaker Tom Craddick’s late-session shenanigans. It’s a series of three posts, so far, that are making, what at the time seemed like odd coincidences, appear to be part of a carefully orchestrated plan. There a must read and linked below:
Documents Show Keel Was Crafting Way For Craddick To Retain Power Before He Was Parliamentarian

Documents obtained by CapitolAnnex.com under the Texas Public Information Act reveal several new twists in the ongoing saga surrounding the resignations of former House Parliamentarian and Deputy Parliamentarian Denise Davis and Chris Griesel.

Tom Craddick: Keel Memo Is The Smoking Gun

Yesterday, we detailed some facts and released some documents in the ongoing saga related to House Speaker Tom Craddick and his attempts to hold on to his position during the waning moments of the 80th Legislature. Given the amount of information we threw out there, it’s not surprising that the focus was more on the documents than what they really meant. Today, we address the latter part of the equation in several posts

Terry Keel’s Troubling Memo

The more one examines Terry Keel’s memo of May 21 relating to the procedures for removal of the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, the more troubling it becomes.

This is a great investigative reporting series so far. Excellent job. Capitol Annex is fast becoming to Texas politics what Talking Points Memo is to national politics.

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