Gov. Perry Reappoints Tesch as Presiding Officer of the CTRMA

Posted in Privatization, Cronyism, Corruption, Had Enough Yet?, Road Issues, Williamson County at 11:43 pm by wcnews

Press release here. Mr. Tesch was a main focus of the Comptroller’s report on the CTRMA for favoritism and self-enrichment. Of course Sal’s pointed out his bankruptcy issues many times. Although this is sad, it was expected and is not surprising.

A Great Read About The Predicament We’re In

Posted in Take Action, Commentary, Around The Nation at 1:04 pm by wcnews

Glenn Greenwald, an excellent writer/blogger, uses JFK’s former speech writer Theodore Sorenson, and A 1957 JFK speech to show us what, ” A real leader, truly devoted to reversing the disasters of the Bush presidency”, should be telling us. Here’s the post, Recovering from the Bush legacy, from OpenLeft. In it he takes on former Kennedy speech writer Theodore Sorenson’s statement that we’re a “We remain essentially a nation under siege.”

The United States is not a “nation under siege.” That is a ludicrously melodramatic description of the terrorist threat and it is precisely the failure to challenge such fear-mongering sloganeering that has enabled so many of the destructive policies of the last six years. Any political figure who is authentically interested in the type of real debate which Sorensen touts will challenge, not bolster, this misleading premise. More importantly, a genuine debate regarding how to recover from the last six years (soon to be “last eight years”) will require a fundamental re-examination of America’s role in the world and, most of all, whether we want to continue to maintain imperial dominance. Contrary to conventional Beltway fears, this is plainly a debate which the American public is not only willing, but eager, to engage.

There’s a lot in that paragraph, it boggle the mind that Sorenson is playing in the neocon frame like that, and much more in the rest of the post. Nothing wrong with Sorenson who’s a great Democrat and was an excellent speech writer. But other than Ron Paul, no candidate of either party, is willing to mention the word Blowback. If we ever want to “fix” what’s wrong with the Middle East and many other foreign policy problems we are currently facing as a result of imperialism, we must be accountable to for our actions if we want to be able to hold others to account.

Freaks like this don’t’ help the discussion.

Perry, Iran, And Voter IDiocy?

Posted in Elections, Had Enough Yet?, Around The State at 11:07 am by wcnews

(Saw this after I posted, Vince was on it first.)

How do those three go together one might ask. It’s simple actually. Apparently Iran is the best issue that Gov. Perry can think of to call a special session about. It will also allow him and his party to try and pass Voter IDiocy legislation again.

He did it repeatedly for redistricting and school finance, and now Gov. Rick Perry says he just might call a special legislative session, if necessary, to require state pension funds to divest any holdings in companies that do business with Iran.

Why is Gov. Perry trying to prove his “war on terra” credentials? With his recent foreign travel, almost $900k in fundraising, and now this, should we wonder if Mr. Perry has political aspirations beyond the governor’s office in 2010? Not to mention the GOP bloviating that will occur over Voter IDiocy if he calls a special session any time before the next regular session.

Animal Shelter Advocates Hire Bill Aleshire

Posted in Cronyism, Animal Shelter, Had Enough Yet?, Williamson County at 10:34 am by wcnews

The AusChron puts it this way, WilCo Animal Advocates Hire Bulldog Attorney. Mr. Aleshire has been hired was to shed some light on what has been, and is SOP in Williamson County, and very secretive investigation, and for the county to stipulate whether or not there’s a criminal investigation of the WCRAS:

In filing the records request, Aleshire seeks to obtain copies of all correspondence relating to the shelter scandal, as well as audio and video surveillance tapes from the shelter. The request also seeks a missing county camera that volunteers say contained images of sick animals, including a pregnant Chihuahua that died uneuthanized, apparently from complications stemming from the pregnancy. Copies of the request were sent to shelter interim director Dana Boehm (filling the post of former director Melanie Sobel, who left office June 1), WilCo Sheriff James Wilson, County Judge Dan Gattis, and county commissioners Lisa Birkman, Cynthia Long, Valerie Covey, and Ron Morrison.

Aleshire’s letter to county officials also explains his motive for filing the public-information request. “If the sheriff’s office is conducting an actual criminal investigation, we understand that could affect whether Williamson County is required to disclose some of the requested records to us at this time,” the letter states. “On the other hand, if there is no actual criminal investigation under way, we maintain that we are entitled to prompt disclosure of all of these records.”

The AusChron reminds us that an employee critical of the shelter has been fired and tells us of a few “family ties” in Williamson County’s latest troubling issue.

The situation turned even stickier last week with the abrupt firing of shelter vet tech and staff supervisor Kathy Lopez (Abdella), a vocal critic of the shelter’s practices. While making her rounds at the shelter July 12, Lopez said she came across a parvo-infected dog languishing in its own waste and vomit. She summoned two animal-control officers on duty, but no one was able to access the “drug drawer” containing euthanasia fluid because the locks had been changed. “I was told the dog should have been euthanized yesterday,” Lopez recalled of the incident. “It was inhumane.” Not only that, Lopez said she saw as many as 19 cages that were piling up in the un-air-conditioned sally port – an area where impounded animals are dropped off – two times the recommended number of sick animals in quarantine.

When volunteer Rogowski called WilCo Capt. Richard Blake to report the dog’s illness, along with overall conditions at the shelter, he told her he could not take any more of her “hysterical calls,” Rogowski said. Tempers boiled over around midday, Lopez said, when interim director Boehm chastised her about working too many hours. “I’ve never gotten mad at her, but we told her I wouldn’t have to be doing this if we hadn’t become fucking animal hoarders,” she said. It was shortly after that discussion, Lopez continued, when Boehm confiscated her keys, security card, and badge and escorted her out of the building.

Lopez said she called 911 later that afternoon to report the worsening conditions at the shelter, and within the hour, Capt. Shawn Newsom, a brother of shelter worker Jack Shannon Newsom, called her and reportedly insisted his officers had seen no evidence of cruelty or neglect.

Aleshire believes serious conflicts of interest are clouding the county’s ability to investigate and resolve the shelter’s problems. For one, Boehm is the niece of former County Commissioner Frankie Limmer (who was no stranger to conflict-of-interest charges during his tenure), and Newsom’s phone call to Lopez may have compounded the nepotism conflicts, Aleshire said. “Having Captain Newsom directly involved in the investigation of the shelter is an obvious conflict of interest, considering that his brother works there,” he said.

It should also be noted that Lopez was fired two days after a July 14 Statesman story quoted her saying she feared that mass euthanasia would soon be the county’s only recourse. Lopez said she received no advanced warning that her job was in jeopardy, although in a memo given to her at the time of her dismissal, Boehm stated Lopez was fired because she had “created a disruption in the workplace as well as a hostile environment for me.”

Where would Williamson County be without nepotism? But the problem with all this, as the AusChron points out at the end, is that it’s hard to imagine anyone will be “chomping at the bit” to come in and be the next scapegoat for the Mayberry Machiavelli’s of Williamson County govenrment.

“It is amazing that no one involved in this project has any knowledge or experience in shelter management,” Sobel told the Chronicle, possibly pinpointing a more plausible reason for the shelter fiasco. Nevertheless, at last week’s council meeting, officials announced their intention to conduct a “nationwide search” to hire the “best pro” in the country to take the reins of the shelter. But with all the bad publicity, it’s questionable whether even the “best pro” would want to accept the job. Maybe the county will just have to hire another family member.

Unless, of course, they’re related to somebody in county government. Any Gattis relatives with veterinary experience?

Happy Blogosphere Day!

Posted in Take Action, Democratic Events, Commentary at 9:28 am by wcnews

What’s that you say? What the heck is “Blogosphere Day”?

The tradition we now know as Blogosphere Day began in 2004 when, in a surprise statement, incumbent Rep. Jim Greenwood (PA-08) announced his retirement. Democratic challenger Ginny Schrader, with $7000 in the bank, came to the attention of the nationwide blogosphere via the
front page of DailyKos, and over $30,000 poured into her campaign that day. Just three weeks earlier, a brand new fundraising platform for Democrats — ActBlue — was launched, and quickly adopted by those raising who were raising funds for Ginny Schrader.

Much more on Blogosphere Day below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »


It’s Not The Size Of The Shorfall, It’s How It’s Made Up That Matters

Posted in Privatization, Road Issues, Around The State at 11:26 pm by wcnews

Now from Ben’s headline, Texas’ tolls too low, new audit says, an “independent” audit commissioned by TxDOT supposedly confirms everything TxDOT’s been saying for years - toll roads are the answer to all our problems. But the point is not that we have a transportation funding shortfall due to neglect by our state leaders, there’s little, if any, debate about that. The point is, what is the best way to make up that shortfall.

First we’re told that the report says that tolls are too low.

Moreover, the audit by Dye Management Group Inc., said that, in general, toll rates on Texas turnpikes are too low, set simply to cover costs rather than generate surplus revenue, and should be raised.

Well that’s true. If all we’re going to use to fund our transportation is toll roads than tolls are going to have to be really high. Then we’re are told that we have a big transportation funding shortfall. Again no news there. Remember the cause is lack of leadership/neglect.

Response to the agency’s solicitation for auditors was light. Dye, based in Bellevue, Wash., and founded in 1990, was the only company to bid on the transportation funding audit.

The agency and its leaders, particularly Williamson, the Texas Transportation Commission chairman, are coming off a rough few months during which lawmakers questioned the aggressive turn toward the private sector for tollways.

The agency, based on its 2004 estimates, had said that the state would be $86 billion short of what it needs for transportation projects between now and 2030 and that private capital is critical to closing that gap.

A private report released last fall indicated that much of the shortfall could be closed with an increase in the gasoline tax, but the Legislature did not seriously consider raising the 20-cents-a-gallon levy.

Lawmakers, particularly those from Dallas and Houston, made it clear that they — and their constituents — would prefer that government, not the private sector, run whatever tollways are deemed necessary.

Dye’s report, which does not take into account legislation passed in the spring that places minor limits on private toll roads, estimated that gasoline taxes over the next generation will raise $15 billion less than the agency’s 2004 estimate showed. Even with $30 billion in tollway revenue, $5 billion of that from private tollway leases, the audit put total revenue through 2030 at $117 billion.

That is $71 billion less than what the agency estimates is needed.

Williamson and his commission colleagues clearly relished what the audit had to say.

“I feel real bad about people who spoke out of ignorance over the last six months,” Williamson said.

It’s funny how this draft report is taken as gospel by Mr. Williamson and how the one from last year was not not taken serioulsy. How serious TxDOT takes a report, it seems, depends on which side of the toll road debate it comes down on.

Not matter the size of the shortfall we all know we’re in a large hole when it comes to our long term transportation funding, that’s obvious. The question is, and has been, through this whole thing, what is the best way to make up that deficit? Corporate toll roads, plain old toll roads, raise and index the gas tax, or some combination of them all. EOW thinks the gas tax option is the best way to do this. This audit does nothing to change that, despite Mr. Williamson’s ignorant snide comment.

DMN has more of the same here.

Hutto, Fast Growth And It’s Problems

Posted in HD-52, Landfill, SD 5, District 31, Had Enough Yet?, Williamson County at 2:21 pm by wcnews

The Hutto News has a couple of stories that are worth reading.

First this one on the ever-increasing population, Hutto growing, but how big?

The population signs in Hutto indicate it has 1,250 inhabitants - a figure that’s no doubt mismatched in this city where houses seem to sprout faster than weeds.

But just how large it’s grown depends on who you ask.

In 2006, the City of Hutto released a population estimate of 17,227. Matthew Lewis, director of community development for the city, said he based the 17,227 figure on housing unit estimates in the incorporated area of the city, where he found 4,904 housing units. His total estimates about 3.5 people live in each household.

Lewis’ estimate of the population within Hutto’s extraterritorial jurisdiction is 37,465.

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released its population estimates for Texas communities, assigning a more conservative estimated population of 9,572 to Hutto.

Link to the Texas spreadsheet here (.XLS). Not only is it Hutto, but Round Rock is estimated to be 92,000+ and Pflugerville at almost 30,000.

With that growth come issue like where to put all the trash created by those new residents. Which leads to the second article, Waging war over waste. It’s quite a bit of the same information that was written about at EOW last week. It does show the renewed actions by the coalition and it’s efforts to inform citizens of the county about this issue:

“Since local organizations are so well organized, we are seeking the county’s eyes,” Zac Trahan of Texas Campaign for the Environment said.

New efforts will focus on making all county residents aware of the landfill issues and broaden discussion beyond Hutto and Eastern Williamson County, Trahan said. A press statement released by TCE is peppered with quotes and concerns from individuals and city officials from Circleville, Round Rock and Leander.

Texas Campaign for the Environment has been in the fight since 2004, when county commissioners approved a permit application to expand the landfill from 225 to 575 acres and raise the height cap from 74 to 140 feet. At the time, the TCE canvassed the Hutto area, moving door-to-door to inform residents, Trahan said, but they have slowly backed out of the forefront of the issue as local grassroots groups took over the expansion protest. They will return to canvassing Hutto from now until August, Trahan said.

“Texas Campaign for the Environment has been less involved over the last seven or eight months,” said Jeff Maurice, chair of the landfill committee for the Hutto Citizens Group, a local grassroots organization involved in the coalition. “With the permit application reaching its critical stages, with the contract with Waste Management reaching critical stages, it is a good time to invigorate their efforts.”

The article does go into the coalitions partnering with one WMI’s competitor Texas Disposal Systems.

In a flyer mailed to county residents describing these key points, four Web sites are listed for more information linking to the TCE, the Hutto Citizens Group, and the site for A Better Wilco.

The fourth Web site, wmiinformation.com, links to several public sources and articles chronicling WMI landfill violations across the United States. A disclaimer at the bottom says the site was developed by landowners near the Williamson County landfill and is administered by Texas Disposal Systems.

“The county has made comments on a number of occasions that we are just puppets of TDS,” Maurice said. “However, I believe that in doing that, they are just trying to swing the focus away from the real issues of expansion and operation of the landfill, which is critical and will have a critical impact on our community.”

Noted. This is the classic smear the messenger, if they can’t win the argument they’ll smear their opponent. this information is of little consequence as long as the county continues to do business in secret and doesn’t allow competitive bidding on the new landfill contract.

Form more information on this issue be sure and check out A Better Wilco and the landfill page that has with loads of information by the Texas Campaign for the Environment.

And, last but not least, be sure and show up at Carmine’s Pizza in Hutto tonight at 6:30pm for the Hutto Citizens Group meeting.

TPJ Investigative Report On “Privatization Boondoggles”

Posted in Health Care, Cronyism, Privatization, Corruption, Had Enough Yet?, Around The State at 10:11 am by wcnews

In their continuing series called Watch Your Assets, “…investigating abuses and misuses of public assets for private gain”, they don’t let us down. In the latest edition, Peddling Welfare-Privatization Boondoggles, they do an excellent job of spotlighting just what a scam that these privatization schemes have been. Notice as well that these scams are always run on the poor and needy, those who cannot afford to or are unable to defend themselves.

They start out by telling us a story about Grandma who, at one time, thought privatization schemes were the best thing since sliced bread:

A top privatization cheerleader, former Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, pledged in stump speeches to privatize most any government function that could be performed by businesses listed in the phone book. This “Yellow-Pages test” made for a crowd-pleasing conservative pitch. Yet the real world has stubbornly resisted the notion that the private sector can do just about anything cheaper, better and faster than government. After climbing the Yellow Pages to the comptroller’s office, Strayhorn soon found herself issuing audit reports excoriating state agencies and their phone-book contractors for squandering mountains of taxpayer funds. The frenzied pace of state privatization scandals in recent years have kept the media, public and lawmakers playing catch up

It’s tough to know what she really believed with all the party-switching she did over the years. Generally whatever was best for her political aspirations is how it seemed. But the TPJ does a damn good job of showing what the problems have been with privatization schemes form the beginning. (As you read this keep the TTC in mind).

Thanks in large part to the wonders of the revolving door, the lines between state officials, lobbyists and state contractors often are illusory. Too often architects of Texas’ social service privatization schemes appear to have ensured that privatization would fill their own pockets and those of their past or future employers. Meanwhile they have failed to adopt adequate safeguards to protect the interests of taxpayers and recipients of health care and food assistance. The central failing of Texas’ social service privatization experiments is that they have sought to privatize too many social services too fast with too little oversight of private contractors. The result is that many aid recipients have been hurt and taxpayers have been fleeced.

Another striking characteristic of Texas’ social service privatization disasters is that nobody takes responsibility for them. The buck stops nowhere. As custodians of the public purse, the ultimate responsibility for these boondoggles belongs to the many state officials who approved them and failed to supervise them effectively. The contractor companies that have so little to show for hundreds of millions of tax dollars also richly deserve major responsibility. Finally, an oft-overlooked culprit is the army of lobbyists who sold these privatization schemes.

This study looks at four state programs to privatize human services. In 1996 Texas awarded a contract to develop a fingerprinting system that would prevent Texans from fraudulently helping themselves to duplicate social service benefits. In another scheme two years later Texas launched a pilot project to use private HMO contractors to oversee certain health care services for Medicaid recipients. Texas then launched the mother of all welfare-privatization plans in 2001, paying a contractor to design the Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System (TIERS). This massive system was supposed to streamline the state’s handling of enrollment and benefits for a slew of social service programs. HHSC in 2004 also outsourced its own employee administration functions to a private contractor. State officials, contractors and lobbyists sold all four of these privatization projects as ways to deliver welfare services more efficiently and to save mountains of public funds. Taken together, they have done just the opposite. They have burned through hundreds of millions of tax dollars with little to show except for the enrichment of contractors and lobbyists.

Over the past decade, 13 contractors for these four privatization projects have paid 102 Texas lobbyists up to $11.3 million. Yet the top 41 social service privatization lobbyists accounted for 70 percent of these lobby contracts and 87 percent of the resulting revenue. Many of these top lobbyists are discussed below. These hefty lobby expenditures were a relatively modest price to pay to land $2.1 billion in state contracts. Even the House Appropriations chair recently acknowledged that the special-interest lobby writes much—if not most—of Texas’ laws. This report identifies some of the highest paid peddlers of social service privatization schemes run amok. Next time these individuals come peddling ways to save the state money, the state might save much more by exercising a bit of skepticism.

Boondoggles, schemes, scams, call them what you will, it doesn’t matter. What’s clear through all of this is that it’s a racket by corporations and lobbyists to scam taxpayers of their money using the politicians they fund as a conduit. That’s just a few excerpts, go here to read the whole thing.


Shame On Senator Cornyn

Posted in Had Enough Yet?, Commentary at 3:21 pm by wcnews

The only question that Sen. Cornyn needs to answer is, why did he decide to go to a fund raise instead of showing up to honor Texas’ first First Lady as a US Senator from Texas should?

As first reported at Stop Cornyn, Cornyn Refuses to Honor Lady Bird:

Why was Cornyn the only major public figure not at the Lady Bird funeral today? Is it because:

  • he died in a plane crash on the way
  • had a fundraiser already scheduled somewhere else
  • 0r is just too ideological and small a human being.

Everyone was there but him (including Rick and Anita Perry). Everyone. “I couldn’t make it” is no excuse. Frail Nancy Reagan came all the way from California to join the others. Even frailer Betty Ford sent her daughter Susan.

Then expanded on at BOR, John Cornyn: The Final Straw: Sen. Cornyn decided to fund raise rather than do his duty as a US Senator form Texas and come honor a former First Lady form Texas.

The passing of a former fist lady from Texas. What on earth could be so important that Texas’s “Junior” Senator couldn’t make it when so many of his political colleagues could? Where was he- Fundraising? Strategizing? Campaigning?

We as Democrats have always disagreed with Sen. Cornyn’s politics. But now we as Democrats must question his priorities. In the last year we as Texas Democrats have lost three of our greatest voices- three women who have advocated against the type of politics and priorities that Cornyn holds.

We have lost Gov. Ann Richards. May she rest in peace.

We have lost Writer Molly Ivins. May she rest in peace.

We have lost First Lady Lady Bird Johnson. May she join Lyndon in peace.

There have been many great Democrats that have embodied the spirit of Texas. But slowly they are slipping away from us as time takes it’s toll on the era of FDR, JFK, and LBJ. It is up to us of the modern day, the next generation, to pick up their banner and proudly march forward. It is up to us to keep that spirit alive and breathe new life into what it means to be a Texas Democrat. It is up to us.

Vince has more here, John Cornyn’s Shun To Lady Bird Johnson.

Would it have hurt a few people’s feelings in Abilene if Cornyn had canceled to go to the funeral? Sure, but they’d have understood.

Some people have also noted that perhaps it’s a good thing he didn’t go because most Texans don’t like him anyway.

That, however, is not the point. The point is about giving respect where respect is due on the most fundamental levels.

A former First Lady–from Texas–was being buried. For the state’s junior sitting United States Senator to not show up or at least make a public statement about why he wasn’t going to be there is a fundamental disgrace. It’s such a disgrace.

It’s about showing a family that you are there as a representation of the respect the people of your state show for the deceased even if you yourself don’t share their feelings. And, that doesn’t matter who it is—Lady Bird or someone else. You show up as a reflection of the respect your constituents have even if you don’t really care one way or the other.

Not even the 44 percent (or whatever the number is today) of people who still support Cornyn, I’d venture to say, fail to respect Lady Bird Johnson. He even disgraced his (remaining) supporters by not being there.

It’s also been picked up by Evan Smith of Texas Monthly, Re: The Lady, Always:

Well, it turns out he was in Abilene, giving what sounds like a routine speech about health care. What gives, Beckwith?

This was especially galling because it was as a US Senator from Texas where her husband was able to do so much for Texas. Shame on you Senator Cornyn.

As Cedar Park Turns

Posted in Williamson County at 2:34 pm by wcnews

A couple of weeks ago Cedar Park City Council Member Stephen Berry resigned. The AAS had a pretty mundane article about the resignation and reported that nobody knew why it happened. They did mention that Berry raised concerns in March about possible violations of the open meetings act, which in Cedar Park these days raises a red flag. If you’ll recall, Cedar Park got in trouble for open meetings violations back in 2004.

The HCN also had a story on this that added some information to the tale:

Berry got elected for his first term in May 2006. Berry, usually one of the less-talkative members, stunned the council at a March 22 meeting when he made a motion to have City Attorney Charles Rowland fired. That happened after Berry made a motion for the council to show a vote of “no confidence” in Rowland. Both motions died when neither received a second.

Berry accused Rowland of violating the Texas Open Meeting Act and allowing the council to participate in illegal executive sessions during council meetings.

After the meeting, then Mayor Pro-tem Cobby Caputo said job performances are typically discussed in executive session and the legislation built that into the laws. An employee can be evaluated in public only if he chooses.

“I know Mr. Berry doesn’t like Mr. Rowland,” Caputo said. “There are some significant factors, not the least as to who he’s dating. I was unaware he intended to do something like that [last week].

“It may be different if he wasn’t dating someone in the city attorney’s office. I’m pretty uncomfortable with where the situation has gone.”

The city has no rules regarding a council member dating a city staff member.

That’s just great. Putting 2 and 2 together it appears that a city council member goes after a member of the city attorney’s office that works with his girlfriend. By raising concerns of violations of the open meetings act and trying to oust him. This is only speculation but Mr. Berry’s silence isn’t helping his cause.

Today the AAS is reporting that WCDA Bradley decided not to purse this any further, District attorney won’t prosecute Cedar Park officials. It appears that the investigation has concluded, with the WCDA and the city officials working together, they have ironed out any issues that may have existed with open meetings violations. That’s the important part after all.

Cedar Park City Attorney Charles Rowland acknowledged that some of those examples were insufficient, Bradley said. He also said that some did not give enough information about what was being discussed in the session.

After *Antle and former Council Member Stephen Berry, who resigned July 6, spoke up in March, Rowland said, he began revamping agendas to make them clearer, at the direction of the council.

The city has since done a good job of posting notice on executive session items, Bradley said.

Antle said he does not plan to raise other concerns at this time.

“If the city attorney and City Council are moving toward improvement, then it’s all good with me,” Antle said. “We’ll just see how they do.”

(*) That’s former council member Bob Antle who was part of the 2004 violation.

Hopefully this is a satisfactory solution for all the concerned, those on the council, the county, but more importantly the citizens/tax payers of Cedar Park.

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