Category: State of Texas
After a two week trial, a jury gave David Cary 14 years in the penitentiary, effective immediately.
Cary was charged with Organization of Criminal Activity, 6 counts of Bribery, and one charge of Money Laundering in the campaign of Suzanne Wooten.
The jury convicted him of all charges, and each with 14 years in Huntsville.
Suzanne Wooten was an elected 380th District Judge in Collin County in 2008. Two years ago, Wooten was convicted of Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity, 6 counts of Bribery, Money Laundering, and Tampering with a Government Record to Defraud.
All four defendants were named in the case: Suzanne Wooten, James Stephen Spencer, Stacy Cary, and David Cary. The State proved that the judge took $150,000 from the Cary's. Stacy Cary provided and sent the $150,000 to Stephen Spencer for the Wooten campaign.
David Cary has been involved in a million dollar divorce case that began in 2003 (and still is being litigated). Cary has been driven to remove Judge Charles Sandoval, who presided over his mega divorce saga in the 380th District Court.
In 2008, Suzanne Wooten defeated Sandoval in the Republican primary using mostly money that was given by the Carys' to Spencer.
Stephen Spencer was Suzanne Wootens consultant and the campaign manager. He pled guilty to Criminal Organization, one Bribery charge, and Money Laundering. He was given, in a plea bargain, 100 days in county jail, a $10,000 fine, and 10 years probation including $83,000 in court costs.
Stacy Cary was found guilty by a jury, and sentenced by the judge 30 days in the county jail, a $10,000 fine and 10 years of probation. Stacy is appealing her case.
Suzanne Wooten's portrait in the courthouse
David Cary was sentenced by a jury. Lawson Pedigo, Cary's attorney, asked the jury to give probation - Cary had never been convicted of any crime.
The State of Texas Assistant Attorney General, Harry White, asked the jury to sentence Cary to "11 years or more than you think". White told the jury that Cary would not be capable for meeting the requirements of probation. He told the jury that Cary had not paid his $415,000 assessment ordered by a court in his divorce case, and that Cary was hiding his income from the court. (Cary was getting his salary as cash, not a check.)
In less than an hour and a half, the jury returned with a sentence of 14 years in the penitentiary on each of the six charges, running concurrent.
The Dallas Visiting Judge John Nelms told Cary that since his sentence is more than 10 years, he was unable to gain an appeal bond. According to an article on the Dallas Morning News, Cary will have to serve at least 1/3 of his term before given parole.
Suzanne Wooten was found guilty on all charges by a jury. Wooten worked out a sentence deal with the Assistant Attorney General, Harry White. She was given only probation for 10 years, a $10,000 fine, and community service. Wooten also was removed from office and then suspended by the Texas Bar.
Last week, the County removed Suzanne Wooten's portrait at the courthouse.
A three panel of the San Antonio US District Court has approved, and ordered, the redistricting maps (on a 2-1 decision) for the Texas House, and Senate. The court has approved that Texas Legislative candidates will file on these new plans.
Filing for candidates begin today, on November 28. The filing period ends on December 15 at 6:00 PM.
The question is… Will the court ordered maps be the final ones for the election? On last Wednesday, the court announced his decision, but today, Greg Abbott, the Texas Attorney General petitioned the US Supreme Court to grant an Emergency Stay to hold the implementation of the court ordered restricting maps.
The AG has, “explained that a stay of the election process is needed because ‘elections should not proceed based on legally flawed maps that are likely to be overturned on further review.’”
If the Supreme Court grants the State’s stay, the primary dates will likely be moved out.
On Saturday, the court has issued and ordered their maps to be used for the congressional districts.
The maps can be downloaded and viewed at the below site at the Legislature GIS site:
- The Congressional ordered plan: Plan 220 [map]
- The Texas House of Representatives ordered plan: Plan 302 [map] [order,]
- The Texas Senate ordered plan: Plan 164 [map] [order]
These local races will be on the 2012 primary ballot:
- United States Representative – District 3 (Johnson)
- United States Representative – District 4 (Hall)
- United States Representative – District 32 (Sessions)
- Texas State Senator – District 8 (Shapiro, not seeking re-election)
- Texas State Senator – District 30 (Estes)
- Texas State Representative – District 3 (vacant, new district)
- Texas State Representative – District 66 (Taylor)
- Texas State Representative – District 67 (Madden, not seeking re-election)
- Texas State Representative – District 70 (Paxton, not seeking re-election)
- Texas State Representative – District 89 (Laubenburg)
- Texas State Board of Education - District 12 (Clayton)
- 199th District Court (Dry, not seeking re-election)
- 380th District Court (vacant)
- 401st District Court (Rusch)
- 416th District Court (Oldner)
- County Court at Law #2 (Lewis not seeking re-election)
- Sheriff (Box)
- Tax-Assessor Collector (Maun)
- County Commissioner Precinct 1 (Shaheen)
- County Commissioner Precinct 3 (Jaynes, not seeking re-election)
- Justice of the Peace – Precinct 3, Place 1 (Lewis, not seeking re-election)
- Constable Precinct 1 (Elkins not seeking re-election)
- Constable Precinct 2 (Barton)
- Constable Precinct 3 (Presley)
- Constable Precinct 4 (Todd, not seeking re-election)
Dallas attorney Michael Li has done an amazing job in reporting all to do with Texas Redistricting. His site “Texas Redistricting” is exhaustive. He keeps the news very current, and with intelligent, in-depth analysis. He’s unbelievable!
The Texas House Districts
The Federal Court Proposed Plan
The 2011 enacted plan
The current plan prior to 2011
The San Antonio Federal Court has released their proposed maps of the Texas House and the Senate District.
The Texas Democratic Party, the NAACP, the LULAC and several Democratic elected officials have sued Texas Legislature's 2011 redistricting maps. The federal courts in Washington, D.C. and in San Antonio have held that the Texas plan dilutes the vote of minorities.
Redistricting is in its nature a political operation. The Republican majority legislature drew several districts to elect more Republicans. That is perfectly legal.
The Democrats however have charged that the legislature gerrymandered the districts to fragmented minority communities to disfranchisement those ability minority elected offices. The federal courts have agreed that the Texas plans are illegal under the Civil Rights Law writing:
The courts decision have left the Texas voters confused. They can not know who can and will be able to run for election in their own districts. The court have promised final maps in the following month.
The court has extended the filing period. Until the decision is final, the court has allowed candidates to file in their previous districts if the court does not act in time.
If the legislature fails to draw a legal map, then their failure gives the authority to the federal courts. And the courts do their decisions for their own logic. The Democratic issues were mostly involved gerrymandering in Austin, San Antonio and Fort Worth - not that involved Collin County. Nevertheless, the court offered substantial changes to the county's house districts.
The legislature made some significant changes to the Collin County house districts. The newly created District 33, was carved out of District 89 (Jodi Laubenberg) drawn from Rockwall to Frisco. The federal court is planning to also move of District 70 (Ken Paxton) into the District 33 (and renumbered to Dist. 3).
The maps to the right show:
- The proposed Texas House districts. (Plan 298)
- The 2011 legislature enacted districts.
- The previous districts prior to the last redistricting.
Collin County has two Texas Senate Districts. Senate District 8 encompasses the north-east quadrant of the county, including Plano and Allen. Three quarters of the lesser populated remainder are in Senate District 30.
The legislature was taken a substantial part of Dallas from District 8. The court did not make any major changes to the legislature plan.
Both the legislature and the court has changed the huge 30th District. District runs from Wylie along the Red River to Wichita Falls and south to Erath County. However the legislature and the court have made few changes within the District 30th within Collin County. But the Court has removed very little in Senate District 30 within Collin County. However, the court has made large changes in the remainder of the 30th Senate District by removing Erath County will added the Denton County voters could change the rural demographics adding the ratio to suburbanites in Collin County, and change the locus from Wichita Falls to Denton and Collin County.
(Click the maps to download a pdf larger map)The Texas legislature has maps that show all of the plans here.
The Texas Senate Districts
The Federal Court Proposed Plan
The 2011 enacted plan
The current plan prior to 2011
Jerry Madden has posted his statement on his campaign website:
Message From State Representative Jerry Madden
It is with a heavy, but happy heart, that I have decided I will not seek re-election to Texas House of Representatives in Senate in District 67.
It has been my honor to serve the citizens of House District 67 for the past nineteen years. I believe that I have reached the pinnacle of achievement for a State Representative. This year I was chosen as the 2011 American Legislation Exchange Conference (ALEC) Legislator of year nationally for my work on Corrections, in 2010 I was honored by Governing Magazine as their Public Officials of the Year for my work on changing the Corrections system in Texas and was previously chosen one of the 10 Best Legislators in Texas in 2007.
These honors, and the national respect of my peers that lead to them, are the highlight of my career.
As the national spokesman for Texas I have had the honor of spreading our Conservative, Smart Texas response on Criminal Justice to the nation. We have become national experts on justice reinvestment and on Right on Crime. As Chairman of the Criminal Justice committee my efforts saved the taxpayers of Texas over $240 Million dollars in this session alone.
A few of the bills I am the most proud to have authored or sponsored in the House are the Judicial Campaign Finance Bill, the overhaul of Juvenile Justice in SB103 in 2007, the expansion of Drug Courts, the consolidation of the Juvenile Probation and Youth Commission, and the development of the Nurse Family Partnership.
I love Texas and together we have accomplished a great many things that make me proud to be a Texan. This would not have been possible without the help of so many people across our state. I could not have done it without a great staff, three whom have been with me since the beginning: Mark Hey, Karin Tucker and Denise Voss, and more recent additions Marsha McClain and Teri Avery.
It has been the opportunity of a lifetime to serve the citizens of Plano, Richardson, Dallas and most of Collin County for almost 20 years. It has been a privilege few have received and I thank all of the citizens of District 67 for the faith and trust they have placed in me. Having accomplished more than I imagined possible when I first took office, I now look forward to spending a lot more time with my wonderful wife Barbara and on working on what has become the passion of my life, the changes we have made in the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems in Texas and being the spokesman nationally for programs in Criminal Justice.
While it is with a sense of nostalgia I close the door on my years of service in the Texas House, it is an exciting challenge to discover the many doors that have opened to me to continue my work on a national level.
My term in the Texas House does not end until January 2013. I will continue to serve you at my District and Austin Capitol offices until that time, so please do not hesitate to contact me.
I am grateful to the citizens of Collin County and other Texans, who chose to work with me to make the changes that have made Texas an even better place to live, raise a family and grow a business. I have been blessed with the opportunities that came my way, the work I have been able to accomplish and the friends I have made along the way.
With Jerry Madden and Florence Shapiro leaving the legislature in 2012, the Collin County delegation will have no effective veterans in the legislature.
Reporter Robert Garrett of Dallas Morning News Trail Blazer blog, has written, "Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, said Monday he won't seek re-election to an 11th term in the Texas House. Madden, 68, said as the candidate-filing period approached, he toted up the pluses and minuses of going into the lists one more time and realized, lo and behold, "I've gotten just about everything done that I've ever wanted to get done."
"Madden was asked if the recent announcements by two much younger Republicans that they'd run against him in the March primary was a factor in his decision to quit."
"'No. I'm leaving on top,' he replied."
"The two challengers, lawyers Jon Cole and Jeff Leach, have courted the support of tea party adherents..."
"Madden declined to say if he'll endorse a successor. He noted the uncertainty over political boundaries of all legislative seats, including his 67th House District. Three federal judges sitting in San Antonio are likely to revise the redistricting plans for legislative and congressional seats that were passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature earlier this year."
"'Better wait and see who's running,' Madden said. He called himself 'the happiest camper in the world' to be picking his own time of departure, and to exit feeling he has accomplished something."
Collin County had a pathetic 3% voter turnout, but statewide it was 5%. It is interesting that the county which has a much higher educated and an affluent (and apathetic) population, but still voted about 40% lower rate than the rest of Texas.
The County did not vote to approve half of the Constitutional Amendments. Collin County voters refused to approve: Prop 3 (Bonds for college loans), Prop 4 (Bonds for blighted redevelopment), Prop 6 (To distribute for money from the permanent school land funds), Prop 7 (Bonds for conservation and parks), and Prop 8 (To appraise land for water-stewardship purposes).
But statewide, the voters approved all of the constitutional amendments except for, Prop 4 (Bonds for blighted redevelopment), Prop 7 (an El Paso County permission to form a reclamation district) and Prop 8 (To appraise land for water-stewardship purposes).
All the local propositions including Plano and McKinney were approved by the voters.
Collin County has all polling place results. The turnout was 3.1%
The State of Texas statewide results are not complete, but 96% of the precincts have reported. The statewide turnout 5%.
1. "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of all or part of the market value of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a 100 percent or totally disabled veteran."
- For: 10,560 (80.65%)
- Against: 2,534 (19.35%)
- For: 82.86%
- Against: 17.13%
2. “The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of additional general obligation bonds by the Texas Water Development Board in an amount not to exceed $6 billion at any time outstanding.”
- For: 6,956 (53.55%)
- Against: 6,033 (46.45%)
- For: 51.43%
- Against: 48.56%
3. "The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of general obligation bonds of the State of Texas to finance educational loans to students.”
- For: 5,899 (45.29%)
- Against: 7,126 (54.71%)
- For: 54.45%
- Against: 45.54%
4. "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit a county to issue bonds or notes to finance the development or redevelopment of an unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted area and to pledge for repayment of the bonds or notes increases in ad valorem taxes imposed by the county on property in the area. The amendment does not provide authority for increasing ad valorem tax rates."
- For: 5,314 (41.01%)
- Against: 7,643 (58.99%)
- For: 40.20%
- Against: 59.79%
5. "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to allow cities or counties to enter into interlocal contracts with other cities or counties without the imposition of a tax or the provision of a sinking fund."
- For: 8,023 (62.03%)
- Against: 4,912 (37.97%)
- For: 57.93%
- Against: 42.06%
6. "The constitutional amendment clarifying references to the permanent school fund, allowing the General Land Office to distribute revenue from permanent school fund land or other properties to the available school fund to provide additional funding for public education, and providing for an increase in the market value of the permanent school fund for the purpose of allowing increased distributions from the available school fund."
- For: 5,750 (44.29%)
- Against: 7,233 (55.71%)
- For: 51.44%
- Against: 48.55%
7. "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit conservation and reclamation districts in El Paso County to issue bonds supported by ad valorem taxes to fund the development and maintenance of parks and recreational facilities."
- For: 6,168 (48.41%)
- Against: 6,573 (51.59%)
- For: 48.24%
- Against: 51.75%
8. "The constitutional amendment providing for the appraisal for ad valorem tax purposes of open-space land devoted to water-stewardship purposes on the basis of its productive capacity."
- For: 6,280 (48.81%)
- Against: 6,586 (51.19%)
- For: 46.94%
- b>Against: 53.05%
9. "The constitutional amendment authorizing the governor to grant a pardon to a person who successfully completes a term of deferred adjudication community supervision."
- For: 7,490 (57.77%)
- Against: 5,476 (42.23%)
- For: 57.18%
- Against: 42.81%
10. "The constitutional amendment to change the length of the unexpired term that causes the automatic resignation of certain elected county or district officeholders if they become candidates for another office.
- For: 7,413 (57.40%)
- Against: 5,501 (42.60%)
- For: 55.91%
- Against: 44.08%
Jerry Madden, the veteran state representative for the 67th district, is facing two young candidates seeking to unseat the 19 year veteran in the 2012 Republican primary. Jerry Madden was first elected to the Texas Legislature in 1992, and he now serves in the legislature as the chairman of the Corrections Committee.
Both of his opponents are under 30 years old. Jeffrey Leach and Jon Cole are both attorneys in Collin County. Four years ago Jon Cole gave Jerry Madden a spirited contest in which Madden won by less than
650 256 votes. The voters can expect a very interesting well-fought race.
The 67th District is in central Plano, parts of Richardson, Allen and Dallas. The district is made of 27% of Plano (69,280 from Plano), 4% of the City of Dallas (46,883), 29% of Richardson (28,495) and also 424 in Allen and 266 in Garland. (The map to the right is of the 2011 redistricting plan.) This map is still being challenged in federal court in San Antonio. The complainants [the Democrats] are asking the court to redraw the map to eliminate excessive gerrymandering. An example is Collin County's new District 33 which runs from West Plano and Frisco and along the north part of the county to the eastern border including Royse City and all of Rockwall County. The Federal Court has put the Texas House plans for the Congress districts in jeopardy. Jerry Madden served on the Texas House Redistricting Committee.
Jon Cole received his bachelor's degree from the University of Texas at Austin with a double major in history and government and graduated from the Institute of Comparative Political and Economic Systems at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Cole graduated from the University of Texas Law School and was admitted to the bar in 2010.
On his campaign website, he describes himself, as “a proven conservative leader in the private sector and our community. A finance attorney and healthcare investor… A finance attorney and healthcare investor, …[and] a partner in a Dallas merchant banking firm and board member of a Dallas technology company.”
Jon has worked as a volunteer state coordinator for a Texas anti-drug organization. He touts that he “led conservative and law enforcement groups from around the state and nation to kill “The Drug Dealer Protection Act” that would have released thousands of drug dealers into our communities.” He also states that he “was part of a task force comprised of elected leaders, judges, and law enforcement officials, formed to eliminate new synthetic narcotics that were creeping into Plano and Allen public schools. This group’s efforts led to the passage of Senate Bill 331, which was signed into law by Governor Perry in 2011.”
He has served as a legislative aide in the Texas House of Representatives, has worked in the Governor's Criminal Justice Division analyzing Texas' drug court system and assisting the Texas Crime Stoppers program. He also assisted the Governor's Office of Homeland Security in producing the state's emergency communication network.
He writes that he also, “knows the issues facing job-creators as he interacts with entrepreneurs, CEOs, and financial institutions on a daily basis to help grow companies, create jobs, and assist struggling businesses to meet payroll.”
Jon said he is running for the Legislature because, “We’re coming together because ‘business as usual’ is no longer tolerable in Austin. We depend on our elected leaders to represent our values and beliefs. Instead, we get business as usual from our elected officials – saying one thing at home and doing another in Austin.”
And that he will, “work to earn your vote and be your honest conservative voice to Austin. With your help, I’ll work to bring back our economy, secure our borders, rein in out of control government spending, and restore accountability to Austin. Most importantly, I will take our shared values of faith, family, and freedom to Austin.”
Jon Cole's second attempt to unseat Jerry Madden ran a much criticized campaign which included "push polling", misleading flyers and mean-spirited attacks.
The Collin County Observer wrote of the 2008 campaign, "This is old-fashioned, shoot-em-up, nasty Texas politics." Cole's tactics almost worked; he garnered 48.27% of the votes in the March, 2008 GOP primary.
Jeff Leach graduated from Plano Senior High School, and Baylor University in 2005 with a degree in Political Science. He obtained his Law Degree at SMU in 2008, and was admitted to the Bar in 2009. He is an Associate at Griffith Nixon Davidson, P.C., and on the Governmental Affairs Committee of the North Texas Association of General Contractors (TEXO).
At Baylor, Leach was elected twice as the Student Body President in 2003-2005, and was a Texas State Society Scholar in 2004.
Leach is an active member of Prestonwood Baptist Church where he has served for several years in the Young Families Ministry.
On his campaign website, Leach writes that his “conservative convictions are deeply rooted. He is dedicated to reducing the size and scope of government and lowering taxes to create more economic freedom for individuals, families and businesses in Texas.”
He describes himself as, “an attorney with deep roots in the community, is committed to bringing strong conservative values back to the district.”
Leach writes that, “As the next true conservative State Representative in Collin County, I will aggressively work to eliminate wasteful spending, fight to lower taxes and will be committed to improving education by sending more dollars directly to the classroom where they do the most good instead of on ineffective and inefficient administrative bureaucracy.”
“A lifelong conservative, Leach is an advocate for tort reform and has worked over the past few years with Texans for Lawsuit Reform to further reduce the frivolous lawsuits that clog up the justice system in Texas. He is also strongly committed to traditional conservative values and will fight to preserve our Second Amendment freedoms, safeguard traditional marriage, and protect the sanctity of every human life.”
Leach states that he, “demonstrated his commitment to conservative values, serving President Bush in the White House Office of Political Affairs and at the Republican National Committee helping to elect Republicans across the country.”
He writes, “The days of politicians saying one thing to voters at home and doing another in Austin are over.”
Jerry Madden, graduated from West Point with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering. He then spent six years in the Army, including one year in Vietnam and two years in Germany, before bringing his family to Richardson, Texas, in 1971. In 1979, he obtained a Master of Science in Management and Administration Sciences from the University of Texas at Dallas.
Madden worked 11 years for Texas Instruments, 8 years for Teledyne Geotech, and in 2000 formed Jerry Madden Insurance to offer group health plan coverage options to small businesses out of his independent agency's Plano offices. In July of 2008, he sold his company and retired from the insurance business.
Madden on his campaign website, describes himself, “As a 38 year resident of Collin County, Jerry has been involved in numerous veterans' and community organizations, holding positions such as President of the Collin County School Board, and Chairman of the Collin County Hospital Board as well as serving on the Advisory Board of the Plano Chamber of Commerce.”
He also writes that he was,” Dedicated to the Republican philosophy, Jerry was elected Precinct Chairman in his local neighborhood in 1974, and Chairman of the Republican Party of Collin County in 1984.”
Madden was first elected to the Legislature in 1992, and has been re-elected 8 times.
Madden serves in the legislature as the chairman of the Corrections Committee, and is a member of the Judiciary and civil jurisprudence committee, the Redistricting committee, and on the Election Contest committee. Prior committee appointments have included Calendars, Public Education, House Select Committee on Public School Finance, State Affairs, Urban Affairs, Public Safety, Elections, State, Federal and International Relations, and Rules and Resolutions.
He states that in 2005, the Speaker of the house first appointed him to Chair the Corrections Committee with his marching orders, "Don't build new prisons. They cost too much”
Madden is one of the most influential and well-respected members in the legislature, and is considered one of the nation’s leading leaders in reforming the penal system. In 2007, Texas Monthly named him as one of the ’10 Best Legislators’.
Madden writes that he is, “especially proud to have been the first recipient in 2007 of the Carmen Miller Michael Mental Health Advocate Prism Award, being presented in March of 2009 with a University of Texas at Dallas Distinguished Alumnus Award, being named as a member of the Board of Directors of the Council of State Government’s Justice Center in April of 2009, and in July of 2009, being nominated to serve as Chairman of the Law and Criminal Justice Committee formed by the National Council of State Legislatures.”
Madden writes that, “[he] continues to exhibit the commitment and drive which he first brought to the Legislature. Always accessible to his constituents and sensitive to the changing needs of Texas and District 67, Representative Madden seeks to promote limited government, fiscal responsibility, safe and thriving communities and successful families and businesses.”
The Constitutional Amendments election is on November 8th. The polling places are all center votes, so that any voter can vote at any polling place in the county. The list of sample ballots and polling places can by found at the Elections Department.
- "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of all or part of the market value of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a 100 percent or totally disabled veteran."
- “The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of additional general obligation bonds by the Texas Water Development Board in an amount not to exceed $6 billion at any time outstanding.”
- "The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of general obligation bonds of the State of Texas to finance educational loans to students.”
- "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit a county to issue bonds or notes to finance the development or redevelopment of an unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted area and to pledge for repayment of the bonds or notes increases in ad valorem taxes imposed by the county on property in the area. The amendment does not provide authority for increasing ad valorem tax rates."
- "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to allow cities or counties to enter into interlocal contracts with other cities or counties without the imposition of a tax or the provision of a sinking fund."
- "The constitutional amendment clarifying references to the permanent school fund, allowing the General Land Office to distribute revenue from permanent school fund land or other properties to the available school fund to provide additional funding for public education, and providing for an increase in the market value of the permanent school fund for the purpose of allowing increased distributions from the available school fund."
- "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit conservation and reclamation districts in El Paso County to issue bonds supported by ad valorem taxes to fund the development and maintenance of parks and recreational facilities."
- "The constitutional amendment providing for the appraisal for ad valorem tax purposes of open-space land devoted to water-stewardship purposes on the basis of its productive capacity."
- "The constitutional amendment authorizing the governor to grant a pardon to a person who successfully completes a term of deferred adjudication community supervision."
- "The constitutional amendment to change the length of the unexpired term that causes the automatic resignation of certain elected county or district officeholders if they become candidates for another office.
- VoteTexas.org is run by the Texas Secretary of State
- League of Women Voters of Texas
- The Dallas Morning News, Editorial: Slate of state amendments deserves a ‘yes’ vote [may require subscription]
- Paul Burka the Senior Executive Editor of The Texas Monthly offers a curmudgeon's opinion of the 10 amendments
- The City of McKinney will seek approval of 3 propositions; one is Prop 3 which is to increase City Council members terms to 4 years.
- Lowery Crossing is asking to increase sales tax by 1/4 cents for maintenance and repairs of streets.
- The City of Plano is requesting the voters to approve 3 propositions. Prop 1 will change city council member terms will be 4 years.
- The City of Melissa is asking to adopt a Home Rule Charter.
- The City of Murphy is changing the use of 1/2 cent of sales tax to create The City of Murphy Municipal Development District.
- The Wylie Northeast Special Utility District is holding an election for a Director. The candidates are, Brenda Kellor, Joseph T. Sebring, Greg Lutz, and Sue Jones.
- The Collin County Water Control and Improvement District #3 is asking voters to confirming the creation of the District, the election of the directors (whose names are not listed?), and the issuance of $87 million, and a tax levy of $1.20 per $100 of valuation.
- Monday, Oct 24
8 am - 5 pm
- Tuesday, Oct 25
8 am - 5 pm
- Wednesday, Oct 26
8 am - 5 pm
- Thursday, Oct 27
8 am - 5 pm
- Friday, Oct 28
8 am - 5 pm
- Saturday, Oct 29
8 am - 5 pm
- Monday, Oct 31
8 am - 5 pm
- Tuesday, Nov 1
8 am - 5 pm
- Wednesday, Nov 2
8 am - 5 pm
- Thursday, Nov 3
7 am - 7 pm
- Friday, Nov 4
7 am - 7 pm
Tuesday, Nov 8
7 am - 7 pm
Valliance Bank, 5900 Lake Forest Drive, McKinney
Oct 24 - Oct 28: 9am-4pm &
Oct 31 - Nov 4: 9am-4pm
The 15 year County Commissioner Joe Jaynes has "non-announced" that he might run for the 70th District in the Texas Legislature.
Under the Texas Constitution, if Jaynes announces that he is running for another position less than 1 year at the end of his term, is automatically resigned from his commissioner's court seat. Since the legislature has changed the dates for the deadline to file for a race would be 13 months before the end of his term. If he 'officially' runs, then his seat is declared vacant, and the County Judge, Keith Self can replace a new interim precinct 3 commissioner.
The special elections for the Constitutional Amendments' election is on November 8th. The 10th amendment on the ballot will allow an official to hold his position and run for a different office if his announcement is 1 year and 1 month from his term ending without resigning his seat.
Joe has sent a letter to his friends, by email and on his Facebook page. He writes:
- I have never voted for a tax increase;
- I authored the 5% county homestead exemption;
- Collin County was one of the first counties in the state to receive a AAA bond rating;
- We have approximately $2 billion worth of transportation projects underway;
- The commissioners' court placed our employees on a pay for performance system as opposed to the traditional step system that most government entities have in place;
- I led the effort in freezing taxes for senior citizens;
- We cut the county property tax to one of the lowest in the state.
Unfortunately the state of Texas is not as well off. For the upcoming legislative session in 2013, Texas could be facing another deficit. It is during these trying times that Collin County needs a state representative with the necessary experience to make the hard decisions necessary to keep this state great.
My pledge to you would be to approach the difficult issues with three core beliefs that I hear every day from constituents which are:
- People want less government intrusion in their lives
- Counties, cities and school districts should have more local control
- No new taxes
I would also make as my platform the following issues which I believe are so important to the future of Collin County:
- No new toll roads - Collin County does not need to be one big gated community;
- Water -- in this fast growing area it is essential that we develop long-term water resources;
- Local control for our school systems -- If Austin is going to cut funding for schools they should cut unnecessary regulations as well;
- Unfunded mandates - There should be a constitutional amendment prohibiting unfunded mandates for cities, school districts and counties;
- End diversions -- almost half of gas tax revenues meant for roads are diverted to other areas of the state budget.
I plan on using the time between now and December 2 to listen to you in order to find out what you want to see in your next state representative. Please send me your thoughts and ideas on these issues and others.
As always, it is a pleasure serving you.
District Attorney Greg Willis
Judge Suzanne Wooten
DA Greg Willis
Today, District Attorney Greg Willis has filed a motion in Judge Suzanne Wooten’s bribery case. Willis is asking the judge to remove the special prosecutors, Assistant Texas Attorneys General Harry White and Brian Chandler.
Judge Suzanne Wooten has been indicted on nine charges, including bribery and money laundering. Former DA John Roach began the investigation in 2008 before she took the bench in the 380th District Court. For two years, Roach office’s and two Assistant Attorneys General presented the case to four different grand juries -- a grand jury indicted Wooten and 3 other defendants in October, 2010. Roach then recused himself and asked Judge Mark Rusch to appoint the Texas General Attorney to act as a special prosecutor.
Willis wrote, “The citizens of Collin County deserve to have an impartial and disinterested attorney appointed by this Court to assess and determine how this prosecution should move forward. To that end, the undersigned District Attorney, also requests permission to recuse himself and requests that this Court appoint an impartial and disinterested attorney pro tem…”
Willis argues that White and Chandler may find themselves defending themselves.
Willis wrote, “This matter has been mired in politics, speculation, and allegations of conflicts of interest since its inception. Regardless of the existence of actual conflicts of interest, this prosecution is cloaked in the appearance of impropriety and should not continue on its present course.”
Wooten’s attorney has charged that an FBI report refers to, “Defendant Wooten as ''the victim," named members of the Collin County District Attorney's Office as targets and subjects, and confirmed that the FBI questioned White and Chandler regarding their involvement in the investigation and prosecution of Defendant Wooten. Willis then admits that, “The undersigned District Attorney does not know the status of the FBI investigation.”
Since John Roach recused himself, Willis argues that he is the current elected County Criminal Attorney and he is not disqualified to prosecute the case. Willis has stated that, he too, will recuse himself, but he still believes that he can require the judge to terminate the special prosecutors, and re-appoint a new one. “A prosecutor should be independent, unbiased, without conflicts of interest, and not witnesses to any of the concerns presented to the grand jury.”
Willis states that, “In view of his decision to voluntarily recuse himself, the District Attorney further moves the court to appoint an impartial and disinterested attorney pro tem pursuant Texas Code of Criminal Procedure article 2.07. Upon granting the recusal, the trial court may appoint any competent attorney" to perform the duties of the district attorney,”
Willis ends his arguments slamming the previous DA, “The citizens of Collin County must trust in the integrity of countywide elections, and also in the integrity of those who investigate and prosecute allegations of public corruption in the same manner. The proximity of the Texas Attorney General 's Office and that of the former Collin County Criminal District Attorney to the allegations which are at the heart of the indictment, and to the related federal investigations into the same, have placed that trust in jeopardy.”
Last week Peter Schulte, Judge Suzanne Wooten’s attorney, has filed a motion to remove the Attorney General from the case.
“The Attorney General's Office must be disqualified in this matter due to the
fact that they have placed themselves in the dual role of ‘attorney-witness.’.” White has told the court he will, ''Notice of State's Intent to Introduce Extraneous Offenses, Unadjudicated Offenses, Bad Acts, and Punishment Evidence." White charges that Wooten tries to, “impede the grand jury’s investigation” that she requested, “the District Judges to refuse to sign grand jury subpoena requests issued by the grand jury investigating the Defendant.”
“The Attorney General's Office must be disqualified due to the fact that actual conflict exists based on violations of due process. Schulte’s charges that White has willfully and intentionally withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense.” White, failed to promptly give the defense an FBI report. At the last hearing, White told the judge he ‘forgot’ to give the report to Schulte. Harry White then gave the defense a 47 page ‘redacted’ report. The judge then told White to provide the defense a complete and redacted FBI report, “On August 1,2011, it was discovered by Defendant's Counsel when he went to the FBI office that White and Chandler intentionally withheld from Defense counsel approximately 35 additional pages from the FBI Report the Attorney General's Office had received on July 6, 2011, when they provided to Defense Counsel the redacted 48-page report on July 28, 20ll. Most of the approximate 35 pages withheld were summaries of the investigation by the FBI and correspondence with the United States Attorney's Office. In these withheld documents, the Defendant, Judge Suzanne Wooten, was listed as the "victim" with the suspects listed as John R. Roach, former District Attorney of Collin County, Texas, Gregory Davis, former First Assistant District Attorney for the CCDAO and Christopher Milner, former special crimes chief for the CCDAO. Undoubtedly, this information was exculpatory and intentionally withheld from Defense Counsel.”
And third, Schulte writes, “The Attorney General's Office must be disqualified due to the fact that actual conflict exists based on violations of due process.
“In this proceeding, there is a prosecuting agency (Attorney General's Office), represented by the same attorneys (Harry E. White and Brian Chandler), that has served in two separate and distinct roles involving the same matter: 1) as "Special Prosecutor" - assistant prosecutors of and under the direction and authority of John R. Roach, the then District Attorney of Collin County, Texas, and now 2) as "Attorney Pro Tem" pursuant to Article 2.07 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure after the District Attorney was disqualified in this matter."
Judge Kerry Russell visiting judge from Tyler has not scheduled a hearing on Willis’ and Schulte’s motions.
Coincidentally? On the same day that DA Greg Willis filed the motion on the case of Judge Suzanne Wooten, several of the top Assistant District Attorneys resigned.
The Collin County Observer has been unable to confirm the names and reasons at least two of the DA managers have given their notice.
Our knowledgeable sources have told us that David Waddill, the First Assistant District Attorney and Jim Skinner, the Chief of the Special Prosecution Division have resigned.
The Observer has tried to reach Willis, Waddill and Skinner; none have returned our messages
Valerie Wigglesworth at the Dallas Morning News has added more information on the resignations. Wigglesworth writes,
"The top two prosecutors in the Collin County district attorney’s office resigned Monday.
"David Waddill, the first assistant district attorney, and Jim Skinner, the second assistant district attorney and chief of the special prosecution division, are headed back to private practice.
"Both joined the prosecutors’ office when District Attorney Greg Willis took over in January. Willis said Monday he was grateful for their service, adding that the pair “had been very helpful getting things established here.”
"Skinner confirmed that he was returning to private practice but declined to discuss his reasons further. Waddill could not be reached for comment.
"Both Willis and Skinner said the resignations had nothing to do with the case involving state District Judge Suzanne Wooten."[subscription may be needed to read the article at The Dallas Morning News]
DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S MOTION FOR THE APPOINTMENT OF A NEW, IMPARTIAL AND DISINTERESTED ATTORNEY PRO TEM, Greg Willis - dated August 29, 2011
DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISQUALIFY TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE AS "DISTRICT ATTORNEY PRO TEM", Peter Schulte - dated August 22, 2011
The courts of Texas are allowed a certain amount of discretion in making their judgments and in formulating their own local rules of the court. However, the courts have no discretion in choosing to obey or to not obey the law.
The Collin County State District Courthouse selectively provides the benefits of Texas Labor Code 207.007 to some, but not all of those who file lawsuits under Texas Labor Code 212. In doing so the District Courthouse violates the civil rights of some of the citizens of Collin County. The violation of constitutionally guaranteed rights of even a small group of people is of concern to everyone. Once this kind of judicial abuse is tolerated, no one is immune from its effect and there is no limit to its magnitude. [Add photo 1]
Texas Labor Code 207.007(a) states in pertinent part,
“An individual claiming (unemployment insurance) benefits under this subtitle may not be charged a fee in a proceeding under this subtitle by a court or an officer of a court. A person who violates this section commits an offense. An offense under this section is punishable by:
- a fine of not less than $50 and not more than $500;
- imprisonment for not more than six months; or
- both a fine and imprisonment.”
In passing this law [hyperlink to entire text of law] the State of Texas took the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment right to seek the redress of grievances in the courts one step further by giving the unemployed the right to obtain access to the courts free of charge. When this law was passed in 1985, the Texas Legislature effectively declared the unemployed to be “poor” for the purposes of filing lawsuits to overturn a ruling by the Texas Workforce Commission denying an individual unemployment benefits.
The law not only makes it a criminal act to charge a fee for filing a petition, it is also a crime to charge a fee for transcriptions of a court hearing or a trial; or a fee for a court record prepared for appellate review. No person claiming benefits "shall be charged fees of any kind" by an officer of the court. [hyperlink appellate Court ruling]
In reviewing the public court records of twelve of the most recent cases involving the Texas Workforce Commission and the application of Texas Labor Code 207.007, a pattern of abuse emerges. Different groups of litigants get different results.
Attorneys, in their own cases against the Texas Workforce Commission to obtain benefits, either do not pay the fee or receive a refund. In case number 416-01007-2008, lawyer Grace Soo Way Liang, paid no fee. In case number 429-01477-2010, lawyer Scott Horner paid the fee and later requested and was granted a refund.
One attorney always obtains a wavier of fees. Attorney Raul Loya includes a copy of the law with his original petition and his clients pay no fees. Those cases are 416-03541-2009 and 199-01593-2009.
Texas Labor Code 207.007 has no “catch 22” requirement that a person must request the waiver before obtaining a waiver of fees. The elements of the crime are simple, first an eligible individual asks to file their case and second a court official charges a fee. Civil litigation cover sheets are required to file lawsuits and the clerks need only to look at the 107 boxes provided to see if any are marked “Employment.”
In five other cases, attorneys had their clients’ pay the fee. It is hard to imagine that lawyers taking labor and employment cases would not know the Texas Labor Code. This is especially true of an attorney who is board certified in labor and employment law. Other than ignorance, one possible explanation is these lawyers fear judicial retaliation for failing to “go along to get along.” These five cases are 401-03809-2010, 199-01657-07, 366-01383-2009, 199-01841-2011, and 401-03340-06. One attorney, who asked not to be named, stated because Texas Labor Code 212 cases must be filed within strict time limits, “it was easier to pay the fee” rather than risk having the case dismissed because of missing a deadline caused by the “hassle” of getting a waiver. The waiver should instantaneous and without any hassle at all.
Pro se litigants, those representing themselves, are in the final group. These individuals are asked to pay a an unlawful fee that they cannot afford and then are forced to humiliate themselves by filing affidavits of indigence in order to present their case in court.
Ms. Camilla Thornton (429-01908-2010) jumped through all the hoops created by the administrative review process of the Texas Workforce Commission in order to preserve her right to seek a judicial review of the TWC’s denial of benefits. Ms. Thornton stated when she attempted to file her complaint she was unable to afford the fee and was turned away. The clerk offered no assistance or did she suggest Ms. Thornton file an affidavit of indigence. The clerks are forbidden from offering any legal advice, which begs the question, are they also forbidden from obeying the law?
In a chance conversation with a friend, Ms. Thornton was told she could file an affidavit of inability to pay. Her affidavit was approved and she was able to file her complaint in the 429th State District Court.
Other individuals were not so fortunate. In the review case number 296-00367-08, Mr. Jay Cooper was forced to file an affidavit of indigence that was challenged by the court reporter of the 296th State District Court. Ms. Jan Dugger filed a Contest of Affidavit of Indigence and Inability to Pay Costs. A hearing was held before Judge Chris Older in which Mr. Cooper was afforded yet another opportunity to humiliate himself in a public hearing by truly proving he really was too poor to pay the criminally requested fees. Mr. Cooper prevailed in the hearing.
Others are even less fortunate. Ms. Sandra Parker (401-01641-06) filed the unnecessary affidavit of indigence only to have it denied. Ms. Parker paid the filing fees.
And most unfortunate group is individuals who could not pay the fee and who just walked away. With his or her case never filed, there are no records or proof of the crime committed against them. These unknowns may number in the hundreds and the fact they were not allowed to file their cases without paying filing fees suggests a possible motive for the for the violation of Texas Labor Code 207.007(a).
The courts simply to not want to hear these cases and violating the law is an easy way to keep them out of the courthouse because they always lose. Think of it as a form of judicial euthanasia for lawsuits not likely to survive anyway, but do we really want the courts to have this kind of power?
Of the twelve cases reviewed, only one individual seeking benefits prevailed and this was a case that never went to trial. Attorney Scott Horner’s case was withdrawn by the Texas General’s Office and was remanded back to the Texas Workforce Commission were it was most likely decided in Mr. Horner’s favor.
Almost all cases brought by individuals (with or without legal representation) seeking to overturn a final decision made by the TWC are lost. The reasons vary. First of all the courts are required to provide the ruling of the TWC with a “presumption of validity.” Another reason is some judges possibly look at cases from the point of view of estimating who has the most resources to prevail on appeal.
Filing a lawsuit is a zero sum game and no matter how fair a judge may be, there is always a loser, usually a sore loser at that. Given the fact a judge is going to be criticized fifty percent of the time, the only meaningful benchmark to judicial performance is how many times is a judge overturned on appeal.
The Office of the Texas Attorney General, representing the Texas Workforce Commission, holds a blank check provided by the taxpayers and this gives the lazy judge a clue as to who has the most resources to prevail on appeal.
The District Court may claim ignorance of the law, but the fact some individuals obtained waivers and others did not demonstrates a pattern of abuse. There is little doubt entry-level clerks charging and collecting filing fees don’t know the law. If they did, why would they risk a conviction and six months in jail or even risk the minimum $50 dollar fine? These clerks have little more than on the job training and know only what their superiors want them to know. In fact, the new clerks have large signs posted on their bulletproof windows, “In Training.”
The administrative leadership of the courthouse is legally obligated to properly train, supervise and control its employees to prevent the violation of the constitutional rights of those seeking access to the court.
In 1985 the Texas Legislature passed a law to give a small break to a small group of litigants. The Texas Legislature has a reasonable expectation that the courts will enforce the laws they pass.
So whom do you call when the courts break the law and criminally deny access to the courts based on judicial expedience?
Yesterday, the Texas Eduction Agency (TEA) released it's 2011 Accountability Reports.
Last year, six ISDs were rated "Exemplary", but this year only Frisco ISD and Lovejoy ISD were able to maintain their top-ranked rating.
Allen ISD, Celina ISD, Melissa ISD and Prosper had their status lowered from Exemplary to "Recognized". Six other districts were rated Recognized two years in a row, including, Anna ISD, Blue Ridge ISD, Farmersville ISD, McKinney ISD, Plano ISD and Princeton ISD.
The Community ISD and Wylie ISD were lowered from Recognized to "Academically Acceptable".
|ISD||2011 Rating||2010 Rating||Tax Rate|
(Data from The TEA and tax rates from the Collin County Appraisal District.)
Every two years, the legislature plays a ping pong game of education with complaints from public critics and school districts.
Two years ago the school districts were upset with their low 2008 rankings. In the past several years, many school principles and administrators have lost their jobs over the state's published performance statistics. Cities and chambers of commerce are acutely aware of the effects of low school ratings and property values.
For the 2009 ratings, the TEA used a method called the "Texas Projection Measure" (TPM). Using this model, in many cases while the students failed the TAKS tests at a greater rate, the schools gained higher ratings. By giving less weight to the tests, the TPM used predictions that the students would do better in the future.
In April this year, TEA Commissioner Robert Scott ended the TPM and instituted the "Accountability" system, resulting in the 2011 ratings. The 2011 ratings on average were lower than the 2008 average, before TPM was used.
The criticism leveled against the TEA as a result of the 2009 ratings inspired the creation of the TPM to inflate the schools ratings. Critics then demanded that the TEA change the rating system so it grades the actual current performance of all schools.
Now many Texas school districts are complaining that they are being punished with lower ratings. They say the new system gives greater weight to improvement in the lowest groups that are performing the worst.
The Accountability System identifies groups, such as ethnic groups and economically-disadvantaged students. The report then gives a score on how each of the groups improved in performance in each subject.
The Dallas Morning News reported that Commissioner Robert Scott said, “There will no longer be any allegations that we are pumping up the numbers...the numbers are real this year.”
The Wylie ISD has the lowest rating of the Collin County school districts. The Grady Burnett Junior High School in the Wylie ISD was the only public school in Collin County rated as "Academically Unacceptable", the lowest given rank.
A close look at Grady Burnett Junior High School shows that minorities and poorer students are doing much worse than white, middle-class kids. But all students, including whites, had worse scores than last year. The school's student performance scores in all groups declined in Reading and Writing. All students improved in Social Studies.
But African Americans and economically disadvantage students dramatically declined in performance of Math and Science. Because of those declines in scores Grady Burnett was rated Academically Unacceptable.
The Wylie ISD had 9 schools rated Exemplary, 8 Recognized, and one rated Academically Acceptable in 2010.
In 2011, the Wylie ISD only had 2 schools rated Exemplary, 15 Recognized, 1 Academically Acceptable, and 1 rated Academically Unacceptable.
Schools throughout Texas have been impacted by lower revenues. In 2006, the legislature passed a major rollback of property taxes and limited a school districts' ability to raise higher taxes. Since then, the legislature has provided less and less state tax money for schools. All school districts are in a financial pinch, and they claim that the Accountability Method requires the districts to spend more on the most expensive student groups who need the most improvement.
Property in high valuation districts like Frisco and Lovejoy have been able to maintain an Exemplary rating while keeping property tax rates below the county's average.
However even most of Collin County's districts with more modest property values have been able to provide their citizens' a school rated recognized. For example, Farmersville, not a wealthy community, has been been able to keep a Recognized district and also keep the districts' tax rate ($1.31/$100 valuation) as the lowest in the county.
Plano ISD, which has the second lowest property tax rate in Collin County, has kept the Recognized rating the same as in the previous year. The Dallas Morning News' Plano Blog, reports that although the district is rated Recognized, it has lost from 28 to less than 10 campuses rated Exemplary to Recognized, and that 18 schools have been lower rated as Academically Acceptable from Recognized. "There doesn't appear to be any huge cause of concern," Jim Hirsch, Plano ISD's associate superintendent for academic and technology services said. "We're pleased in general our students continue to perform well."
But in districts with the highest tax rates, three of four have had their Accountability Rates lowered.
Even these highest tax rate districts seem to be giving their children less than the best educational performance. Blue Ridge ISD, which has the county's highest tax rates, has only been able to maintain a Recognized rating. Melissa, Prosper and Celina are high tax districts which have been lowered from Exemplary to Recognized. And Wylie ISD, with the second highest tax rate in Collin County, was reduced to Academically Acceptable, the lowest education rating in the county.
TEA 2011 report on Burnett JR, HS in Wylie
The TEA Accounting Manual, 2010
TEA 2011 Accountability Reports
Collin County Appraisal District table of Tax 2010 rates, and exemptions
Ratings for Texas schools plunge with elimination of controversial rule , The Dallas Morning News, July 29, 2011
December 9, 2010
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
This lawsuit filed in Travis County references e-voting machines manufactured by Hart Intercivic, but there are similar concerns about e-voting machines sold by all manufacturers, including Diebold, the source of Collin County's voting equipment. This is a re-print of Bill's comments about e-voting here in Collin County from a post in December '09, still relevant today:
Collin County has used Diebold's electronic voting machines for several years now, and not without incident. In the 2004 presidential election, a Diebold machine "locked-up" at one polling place, and election officials were unable to get the vote counts from the memory card. The votes were finally counted a week later, but only after the memory card was secretly sent to a Canadian lab for analysis.
Recently, ars technica reported, "Diebold machines have been responsible for dropping votes and derailing elections in several states, including Ohio and Alaska. These high-profile failures and repeated findings of low reliability and poor security during tests have compelled several states to ban Diebold voting machine products. The company has also been sued for a wide range of misconduct associated with its voting machine business, including fraud and even GPL infringement."
Nevertheless, in 2008 Collin County bought 410 more Diebold machines for use in future elections. The county now owns over 1,400 of these "AccuVote" machines.
A couple of years ago, Diebold, concerned about the unlimited legal liability that could ensue from machine errors in contested elections spun off the elections division after it was unable to find a buyer. Renamed Premier Elections Solutions, the old election division was then sold this year to rival Elections Systems and Software, Inc.
(from post "Reuters - Diebold sale challenged" - 12/20/09)
By Chuck Lindell/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN
October 13, 2010
Alleging that Travis County's electronic voting machines are not secure or reliable, a group of voters Tuesday asked the Texas Supreme Court to let their lawsuit demanding changes go to trial.
The lawsuit, filed in 2006 but held up on procedural questions, seeks to force Travis County to provide voters with a paper copy of their just-cast ballot to review for accuracy. That ballot would then be submitted to create a record that can be checked in event of a recount or problem with a machine.
The current system, which tabulates all votes cast on a machine but does not provide individual printed ballots, cannot ensure accuracy or provide a backstop to a voting system that has had problems in the past, the voters say.
But on Tuesday, a lawyer for Secretary of State Hope Andrade urged the state's highest civil court to throw out the lawsuit, arguing that the voters cannot show they have been harmed by the voting machines and therefore have no standing to sue.
Alleging hypothetical scenarios in which votes might be lost because of tampering or malfunctions is not the solid proof of harm that the law requires, Kristofer Monson , an appellate lawyer with the attorney general's office, told the court during oral arguments.
"This is not a case about the right to vote," Monson said. "This is a case about the relative policy merits for two alternative mechanisms for performing recounts after someone has voted" — ballots printed on paper versus the computer tabulation of votes compiled by each machine.
In addition, Monson argued, the secretary of state properly followed the law in certifying in 1999 that the voting machines meet state standards for accuracy.
Travis County purchased its machines, made by Hart Intercivic Inc., in 2001.
Similar arguments failed to sway the District Court in Travis County or the 3rd Court of Appeals, which ruled 2-1 that the lawsuit could proceed to trial.
The state has asked the nine-member Supreme Court to reverse those rulings and dismiss the suit.
Timothy Herman, lawyer for the voters — who include 2006 Democratic attorney general candidate David Van Os and the Austin chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on behalf of its members — said a history of voting machine problems raises valid questions about the reliability of the ballot system in Travis County and elsewhere in Texas.
A paper record, he said, is necessary to protect voting rights guaranteed by state law and the Texas Constitution.
"The right to vote is meaningless unless you are also assured that the vote you cast is going to be counted properly," Herman said.
In briefs to the court, Herman recounted several past failures with electronic voting machines, including the loss of voting records in Collin County in 2004 and the inclusion of 100,000 uncast votes in Tarrant County in 2006.
"If a voter could demonstrate, as these voters have, that they are forced to use a machine which does not comply with the Election Code (requirement for accuracy), then they are in danger of being harmed," Herman said.
"We have right to plead it. All we want is to go back to the trial court and sort it out," he said.
Thirty-two states now require voter-verified paper ballots, according to the Verified Voting Foundation , a nonpartisan nonprofit reform group.
The Supreme Court has no deadline to rule but typically issues an opinion about 13 months after oral arguments. The case is Andrade v. NAACP of Austin, 09-0420.
Additional coverage on electronic voting on the Collin County Observer:
Reuters - Diebold sale challenged
I'm on the TCEQ DFW mail list. Every summer, I get several warnings like the one below --
Several years ago, the Council of Governments formed a Clean Air Committee made up of local officials, business leaders, and environmental activists. The committee was co-chaired by Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher and Collin County Judge Ron Harris.
In 2006 the committee released its North Texas Clean Air Plan to put the region in compliance with then existing federal law.
The committee's plan relied in large part on the reduction of "Point Sources of NOx emissions", such as the Midlothian cement kilns and TXU coal fired generating plants. It also called for the adoption of California style auto emission standards. Claiming that the plan put too much of a burden on industrial polluters, the State of Texas refused to submit the DFW plan to the EPA.
Last month, the EPA took over the permitting process for point sources from the TCEQ and denied an operating permit to the Garland Power and Light generating station in Collin County and to two other companies in Texas. Yesterday, the Texas Attorney General challenged the EPA, filing suit in the Federal Appeals Court in New Orleans.
None of these legal maneuverings keep the air in Collin County from remaining polluted for much of the summer.
Sadly, Dallas County, the largest stakeholder in the region, is embroiled with its own lack of faith in its County Judge and did appoint a member to the Committee.
During the May 10 Collin County Commissioners Court discussion on the appointment of a Collin County representative, Commissioner Jaynes nominated Keith Self to serve on the new committee. Jerry Hoagland seconded, saying that, "Clean Air is a big deal." The commissioners court then appointed Judge Keith Self, who seemed surprised at their decision. Self's obvious discomfort caused Matt Shaheen to dryly comment, "aw, you don't get to Arlington enough anyway".
After the vote appointing him, Self quipped, "You know what that's going to do to the COG - when I appear on the Clean Air Steering Committee?".
He's right. Self has in the past compared the NCTCOG to the Central Committee of the Soviet Union. He sees regionalism as a "slide into socialism".
But the simple fact is that Keith Self needs to be a part of any new plan. Collin County is too large to not be a part of any successful proposal. We're all going to have to find a way to get along or Washington will dictate what measures we will have to learn to live with in order to clean up our polluted air.
The first meeting of the 25 member North Texas Clean Air Steering Committee will be at the NCTCOG headquarters in Arlington at 10:00 AM on Thursday. It's role, according to its web page is:
Meanwhile, if you live in Collin County, limit your outside activities tomorrow. We will likely be under a Level Orange air pollution warning.
The political pendulum may have swung again in Dallas' northern suburbs.
Less than two years after Democrats made inroads in Collin County, Republicans shifted to the right in Tuesday's primary runoff elections.
Van Taylor, who ran on an unabashed conservative platform, soundly defeated the more moderate Mabrie Jackson in the GOP primary to represent west Plano in the Texas House of Representatives.
And Cheryl Williams, a former Plano City Council member who campaigned as a "true conservative," won big over incumbent Jerry Hoagland for a seat on the Collin County Commissioners Court.
To be sure, money and an anti-incumbent air played roles as large as any political message.
Taylor injected more than $700,000 of his own money in the race, among the highest totals ever for a state House primary.
And some voters were eager for a new face to replace Hoagland, who has served for three decades.
"It was a bad year to be an incumbent," Williams said.
Still, both Taylor and Williams tapped deeply into the anti-Washington, anti-tax outrage that has manifested itself in the fervent Tea Party movement.
Although much of the simmering anger is aimed at federal leaders, activists have worked hard to endorse local candidates, often outsiders, who hew to rigid fiscally conservative principles.
"The message is that fiscal sanity needs to be applied to all levels," said Michael Openshaw of Plano, a vocal member of the North Texas Tea Party.
He compared the city of Plano's fiscal habits to "lemmings making for the cliff. Some of us are hearing the surf down there and saying, 'Can we slow down?' "
The Tea Party insurgency also confirmed its presence Tuesday in other House races across Texas, helping to oust a key Republican who helped Speaker Joe Straus come to power last year.
Lubbock businessman Charles Perry, a Tea Party organizer, clobbered longtime state Rep. Delwin Jones, one of 10 original GOP supporters of Straus.
In another Lubbock-area runoff, John Frullo beat Mark Griffin, an establishment-backed candidate, in the race to succeed retiring Republican state Rep. Carl Isett.
The outcomes follow last month's upset of Rep. Tommy Merritt of Longview, another early Straus backer who lost in the GOP primary to a Tea Party-backed challenger, David Simpson.
"The two places where you really saw a strong level of Tea Party organization were in Lubbock and East Texas, the Tyler area," Austin political consultant Todd M. Smith said. "Those are the two places where the Tea Party really flexed its muscle."
Tuesday's results also illustrate the ebb and flow of politics in suburbs such as Collin County, which is a political battleground between Democratic-leaning Dallas and Republican-dominated rural areas.
The 2008 primary and general election drew record numbers of Democrats to the polls in Collin, suggesting changing times in the Republican stronghold.
But in Tuesday's runoffs, Republican voters overwhelmingly responded to a fiscal conservative message.
Taylor cultivated the Tea Party movement while bombarding the district with mailers and ads painting his GOP opponent as a liberal spender.
The strategy apparently worked.
Jackson lost despite securing the backing of Plano's Republican establishment and many business and civic groups.
Likewise, Williams, who was considered a moderate during her days on the Plano City Council, campaigned as a penny-wise outsider and received backing from Tea Party-affiliated groups.
"Both [Taylor and Williams] ran as conservative candidates," said state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, who endorsed Taylor and Hoagland. "They succeeded because they captured the message that is reflective of the voters."
The movement, of course, has had its share of setbacks.
A number of candidates who marketed themselves as fiscal conservatives were crushed in various primary elections across North Texas on March 2.
And the Tea Party-backed candidate lost in a special election runoff last month for Plano City Council.
But the success of Taylor and Williams had been building for years.
The first hints of change came in 2006, when upstart Keith Self, running as a strict fiscal conservative, won the seat of county judge by toppling Ron Harris, a GOP leader who had been in office for 16 years.
Self, who is running for re-election and has Tea Party support, won the GOP nomination handily over Plano school board member John Muns.
Newcomer Matt Shaheen won a seat on the Commissioners Court two years ago, using a similar template to oust 18-year incumbent Phyllis Cole.
Laubenberg said that Taylor's victory, in particular, was telling.
House District 66 encompasses most of west Plano, which has overwhelmingly backed moderate candidates in the past.
"The tougher that times get, the more people look to pocketbook issues," Laubenberg said.
Longtime Collin County Republicans like James Muns, the father of John Muns, acknowledged that political change is afoot.
"We're in changing times," said the elder Muns, who was Plano's mayor when Williams served on the City Council in the 1990s.
"When you've lived as long as I have, you've seen things go up and go down, whether it's good, bad or indifferent. The Tea Party is one of a number of groups in my lifetime that have come and gone. It's just part of politics."
The Observer notes that the article should be titled, "Republican voters in Collin County push more to the right".
This last election was a Republican Party run-off -- by, of, and for Republican voters. Generally, the bulk of the Primary voters (and especially run-off voters) are committed Party members. To assume that the 4% turnout speaks for the county as a whole seems to be a bit of a stretch.
In the ONLY non-primary election this year where the Tea Party had an interest, their candidate, Kathy Fang was defeated.
However, because of the scarcity of well-financed, viable Democratic Party candidates, it is true that the results of the primary run-off will likely shift the political tone map in the county to the right.
Texas House race in Plano a bitter one
Saturday, April 10, 2010
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
Michael McConachie, political science professor at Collin College
After Sam Johnson beat a young Brian McCall in 1984 to represent Plano in the Texas House, McCall drove to his opponent's election party to congratulate him.
A lot has changed in politically genteel Plano as Republicans Mabrie Jackson and Van Taylor now battle to succeed McCall, who won the House seat after Johnson moved to Congress.
The battle in House District 66, which culminates in a runoff election Tuesday because no Democrat is running, has unfolded as Plano's bitterest, costliest and most intense political race in memory, observers agree.
"This is probably the lowest we have seen," said Ken Lambert, a former Plano City Council member who has not endorsed either candidate. "The way to win today's elections, it seems, is to do character assassinations."
Some believe the contest is but a testament to how Plano rarely sees contested state legislative races. Others view this year's primary as a harbinger of heated campaigns to come.
In a broader sense, the contest illustrates the friction between mainstream and hard-line conservatives emerging in elections nationwide.
"Mabrie, a mainstream Collin County Republican, is seen as the natural successor to Brian McCall. And here comes this new guy, this hard-line conservative, outflanking her on the right," said Michael McConachie, a political science professor at Collin College. "It's a microcosm of what the Republican Party is struggling with."
Jackson and Taylor have blasted each other's records, affiliations and ideologies on Web sites, in television ads and in political mailers.
Record amounts of campaign money have only added to the stakes and intensity.
Taylor, a real estate investor and former Marine, had lent his campaign $710,000 as of last week. Experts say the amount is staggering for a local House primary.
Few House candidates have spent more since 2000, according to figures provided by Texans for Public Justice, which tracks money in politics. And those totals were for entire general election campaigns.
Taylor is on pace to spend more of his personal wealth on the House primary than any Texas candidate this year other than Democrat Farouk Shami, who spent millions on a bid for governor, the group's research found.
Jackson, meanwhile, has spent more than $172,000 since late February, the latest campaign finance reports show.
Of the nearly $120,000 that Jackson raised in the latest filing period, more than half came from political action committees and business groups. The former Plano City Council member also received checks from homebuilder Bob Perry ($15,000) and grocery-chain mogul Charles Butt ($10,000).
Topping the mailers and money totals is a palpable sense that the candidates, generally, do not like each other.
Jackson fired the first shot a few days before the March 2 primary when she accused Taylor and a third candidate, Wayne Richard, of misrepresenting their résumés.
Taylor, who came in second in the primary but triggered a runoff election, dismissed the criticism as "negative" and "false."
The salvos continued on Friday.
Jackson took aim at Taylor's personal loans, accusing him of "trying to buy this seat."
"What's he going to do with your money if that's what he's doing with his money?" she asked. "It's an insane amount of money. It's irresponsible to spend that much money on a political opportunity."
She also portrayed Taylor as an opportunist with little connection to Plano. Taylor, who grew up in Midland, ran for Congress in the Waco area in 2006.
"I'm the only one with experience in Plano," Jackson said. "He isn't beholden to anybody in Plano because he's not from here."
Taylor characterized Jackson's comments as "ridiculous."
"I live 20 miles from where I was born. My mother lives here. It's ridiculous. I have served in this community for years before this election."
Taylor, as he has in a last-minute ad campaign, painted Jackson as "courting lots of liberal groups" such as an association representing teachers that has supported Democrats and President Barack Obama. (Jackson dismissed the criticism.)
Taylor also defended his largely self-financed campaign, saying the personal loans have been "necessary to defeat these liberal interest groups that are coming into Plano and these negative, false attacks."
In general, Taylor said, he believes he has run a "positive, issues-based campaign."
Others would disagree, saying both candidates have bashed each other with equal force. Plano City Council member Harry LaRosiliere, who has remained neutral in the race, said he "can't remember any race being as bare-knuckled as this."
"I certainly hope this is not the direction of our local politics," LaRosiliere said.
McConachie of Collin College noted that more is at stake than election tactics.
"Depending on which side wins," he said, "the election might tell us what the future of the Republican Party will look like."
Yikes! Another special election?
Plano legislator McCall is lone finalist for Texas State University chancellor job
Monday, March 29, 2010
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
State Rep. Brian McCall, who has been Plano's face in the Texas House of Representatives for nearly two decades, plans to resign to become chancellor of the Texas State University system.
The Board of Regents on Monday named the 51-year-old Republican legislator as its sole finalist for the job. Law requires the institution to post McCall's name for three weeks before taking final action.
Board of Regents Chairman Ron Blatchley said the system is "honored by Dr. McCall's interest in leading the Texas State University System as it enters its centennial year."
McCall said, "My interest in higher education has been long standing."
He said he decided in November not to seek re-election to his District 66 seat, which includes most of western Plano, so that he could pursue the Texas State chancellorship. His resignation could compel Gov. Rick Perry to call a special election to fill the remaining term, which concludes in January.
McCall said he plans to meet with Perry today to discuss election options. Republicans Mabrie Jackson and Van Taylor are in a runoff for the House 66 seat.
McCall, who was once a candidate to be House speaker and is chairman of the powerful Calendars Committee, said he plans to move to Austin soon for his new job.
He called his legislative tenure, which began in 1991, a "humbling experience."
"I showed up every day, I voted when I had to, I returned every phone call, I read every piece of mail," he said. "I served in the House without a hint of scandal. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to serve my home."
He stands poised to take over a system of nearly 70,000 students and seven institutions, including Texas State University at San Marcos and Sam Houston State University.
McCall received a bachelor's degree from Baylor University, a master's from Southern Methodist University and a doctorate from the University of Texas at Dallas.
Editorial: We recommend Mabrie Jackson in House runoff
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
The Dallas Morning News Editorial Board
The Republican runoff campaign for the Texas House from West Plano has been a contest over who has the more legitimate claim to the term conservative.
Both Mabrie Jackson and Van Taylor have signed the nationally known "taxpayer protection pledge" against new taxes and posted it on their Web sites. (Taylor touts the fact that he signed his first, on Nov. 19, as his first act as a candidate.)
As for guiding principles, Jackson, 45, vows to "keep the government out of my pocketbook and out of my house" if elected from the House District 66.
Taylor, 37, maintains that he is the sole "really, truly, deeply convicted conservative" of the two and that his "singular goal" would be that kind of representation.
If conservative-minded Republicans need a tiebreaker between the two for the April 13 runoff, it won't be a weak résumé for either. Taylor, for example, is an Iraq war veteran with a career in real estate finance and banking.
What voters won't find among Taylor's credentials are two important things Jackson can claim: deep roots in Plano and a long record of public service to the community, both as an officeholder and civic leader. With a record as a former Plano City Council member, Jackson was the top vote-getter at the ballot box March 2, with 41 percent of the primary tally, compared with 33 percent for Taylor. (Candidate Wayne Richard ran third.)
Another tiebreaker is Jackson's solutions-oriented approach to governing and the priorities she has set, including economic development, public education and keeping up with growth through forward-looking transportation and water policies. The state also must do better fighting child abuse, she says.
Jackson, formerly in marketing for EDS and a manager for Microsoft, has lived in Plano since grade school in 1970. Taylor moved to the district after losing a race for Congress from Central Texas in 2006.
One recent comment by Taylor might give voters yet another tiebreaker: He told this newspaper that he would "starve state government."
That's a handy catchphrase, but it says nothing constructive about how to educate children, pave roads or boost the business climate.
The winner of the runoff has no Democratic opponent in November.
The Dallas Morning News' Diane Jennings retells the story, extensively covered here, of the Open Plea decision by the 5th Court of Appeals in ruling against visiting Judge McCraw in a Collin County case.
The DA's office seems to be begging the question of forum shopping, first denying it, then stating that it doesn't make any difference what their motive was.
Michael Curran, the defense attorney in the case told Ms. Jennings that he was appealing the ruling by the 5th COA. My guess is that he will lose. To correct this problem, the law needs to be changed.
Hunter Biederman at the Frisco DWI Lawyer's Blog adds his own commentary today, stating, "The point the article and I sought to make is that the DA cant stop a judge from sentencing a person. They jury serves no purpose, and is not needed to make a determination of guilt -- because the defendant conceded to his guilt."
Hunter's right -- all the State can do is waste taxpayer money and a jury's time.
Defendant's bid to plead guilty before judge not an open-and-shut case in Collin County
Monday, March 22, 2010
By DIANE JENNINGS / The Dallas Morning News
Robert Blackburn wants to tell a judge that he's guilty. But the people charged with punishing him – the prosecution – won't let him.
When visiting Judge John McCraw tried to allow Blackburn to plead guilty to drug possession charges, saying taxpayers should not have to pay for unnecessary trials, the ruling set off a flurry of legal maneuvers in which the Collin County district attorney's office asserted its right to demand that a jury hear the case rather than let him plead guilty to the judge.
"We're not up here just going through the motions," District Attorney John Roach said. "We have reasons for everything we do – our reason has to do with the promotion of justice."
The spat between judge and district attorney has created a stir in legal circles and the blogosphere. But Roach says the brouhaha over forced jury trials in Collin County, which has arisen occasionally in other counties, is due to "defense lawyers that don't like being made to go to trial."
Roach declined to discuss the Blackburn case, citing pending litigation. But in a peculiar twist due to Texas law, if Blackburn goes to trial, he can demand to be sentenced by the judge, putting the case back where it started after considerable taxpayer expense. Blackburn's attorney is promising to take the issue to the Supreme Court to allow his client to plead guilty to a judge.
Roach said his office doesn't think it is an "honest process" to accept open pleas in which the accused pleads guilty to the judge and the judge decides the punishment without approval by the prosecution.
"A lot of time the defendant and the state, it's just a wink and nod and forcing the judge to decide what the punishment should be," said Roach, who also is a former judge.
Few cases go to jury
Despite the hallowed American right of defendants to face a jury of their peers, 99 percent of criminal cases in Texas never go to trial. Guilty pleas are the grease that keeps the system moving, because it would break down if everyone entitled to a jury trial demanded one.
Texas is one of a handful of states that allow jury sentencing; most leave that task to a judge. But in the few states that do, if you demand a jury trial, you get jury sentencing. Texas is the only state that allows the defendant to choose who sentences the guilty – judge or jury. Only if a Texas defendant pleads guilty to a jury must he or she be sentenced by the jury.
Juries generally are considered less predictable than judges when it comes to punishment.
And in Texas, like many other states, prosecutors must agree to a defendant's decision to waive a jury trial and go before a judge.
Though it is unusual for prosecutors to demand trial when the defendant wants to plead guilty, it's not unheard of.
"It's costly, but it might serve some educational purpose for the public to air the facts," said Nancy King, law professor at Vanderbilt University. "It's a way to test the proof, if there's some doubt about whether the offense actually occurred."
Shannon Edmonds, government liaison for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, said a trial also might \enable the judge to "learn something new in that trial he wouldn't have learned otherwise," and give the victim "their day in court, which they don't get to do if there's a plea."
But judge shopping – by the defense or the prosecution – is always a possibility.
In Blackburn's case, McCraw thought he saw just that. In his December ruling, McCraw accused the district attorney's office of "forum shopping for a particular judge to fix the punishment."
Assistant District Attorney John Rolater, who is handling the Blackburn case, denied it in court.
Attorneys cannot request that a case be assigned to a specific judge, but they can try to gauge a judge's calendar to see when he or she will be presiding.
Hunter Biederman, a Collin County defense attorney who was in court the day McCraw accepted Blackburn's plea, said efforts by prosecutors to avoid certain judges are outrageous.
"If we're going to elect our judges, who are supposed to be neutral magistrates, why are we going to take that [sentencing] power away from them?"
Roach said his office does not target specific judges as some allege. "That's an ignorant statement," he said. The law says prosecutors are entitled to demand a jury trial "and it doesn't make any difference what our motives are."
Rolater also pointed out in court that without a trial, a judge could give Blackburn deferred adjudication in which the accused's record is wiped clean if he or she completes this special probation. Authorities said Blackburn, 27, tried to swallow the evidence and scuffled with an officer. He faces four felony counts.
Prosecutors opposed deferred adjudication in Blackburn's case. But McCraw called that argument a "straw man" because Blackburn did not request deferred adjudication.
"The state wants to control who sets the punishment hearing," McCraw said. "Is that what the fight is about here?"
DA's reasons debated
Biederman, who wrote about the twists and turns of the Blackburn case extensively on his blog, mentioned other reasons the district attorney's office might insist on trials in cases in which defendants want to plead guilty, including giving rookie prosecutors courtroom experience or inflating the district attorney's conviction rate for political purposes.
Roach dismissed those ideas as well, pointing out that young attorneys cut their teeth in misdemeanor court, not felony court, and saying his office doesn't need to "pump up" its conviction rate.
"I'm hired by the people of Texas to try criminal trials – that's what we do," he said. "Who wants an idiot for the district attorney who won't work to try a case?"
When McCraw allowed Blackburn to plead guilty over prosecutor's objections, he said, "I would submit the United States Constitution allows a defendant the right to enter a plea based on the court's request."
McCraw cited "judicial economy" in his ruling, saying the county should not have to pay for up to four jury trials at a cost of about $5,000 per trial when the defendant is willing to plead guilty.
Other costs related to any trial – attorney fees, costs to jurors' time – also would be incurred.
An appellate court overruled McCraw, citing the state law that says the case must go to trial because the prosecutor and judge must consent to the waiver of a jury trial and saying Blackburn failed to "specifically raise a constitutional argument for this court to address."
Blackburn's attorney, Michael Curran, said he is filing a motion asking the appellate court to rehear the issue. If he loses in state courts, as others challenging the law have done, "This thing can go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court," he said. "I intend to take this as far as I can."
Roach stands by his policy to adhere to the law that allows him to refuse to let judges accept pleas without his consent. Even though the law allows Blackburn to be sentenced by a judge after a jury trial.
"I don't think it's a waste of taxpayer money for fellow citizens to make a determination about whether a person is guilty of a criminal offense."
Last week, The Republican Men's Club held a candidate forum between the run-off candidates for Texas House, District 66.
Both Mabrie Jackson and Van Taylor fielded questions posed to them by conservative radio personality Jeff Bolton.
I was disappointed in that the questions asked had little to do with the very real issues that will face the next legislature. Instead, the questions were more of a sounding board for Mr. Bolton to expound on the difference between conservatives vs real conservatives. The candidates responded predictably -- both touted their conservative values; neither offered very many specifics.
No questions were asked on exactly how to fund education, how to wean the DPS and education from any reallocation of gas taxes to roads, how to fund highway construction, etc.
Both Ms. Jackson and Mr. Taylor verbally agreed to sit for interviews with the Observer. I hope to pin them down to specific proposals that address the real core issues that the next legislature will grapple with.
Here are a few clips from Thursday's forum. I have tried to choose the questions that elicited the most thoughtful answers (but I have edited out the bulk of Mr. Bolton's prefatory speechlets):
The North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) is holding a public meeting at 6:30 on Monday night (March 8) at the Allen City Hall to present and get comments on three items:
- Mobility 2035: Determining the Future of Transportation in the Region
NCTCOG is developing the next long-term transportation plan, Mobility 2035. It will be a comprehensive plan that includes projects and policies aimed at meeting transportation needs through the next 25 years.
- Status Report: List of Funded Projects and Economic Recovery
A comprehensive list of funded transportation projects through 2011 is maintained in the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). Projects with committed funds from federal, state and local sources are included in the TIP.
- Advancing Transportation Projects and Drafting Plans for Potential Funding Opportunities
Staff will summarize how $43 million awarded to North Texas on Feb. 17 from the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Discretionary Grant Program will benefit S.H. 161 and the downtown Dallas streetcar project.
NCTCOG is the regional planning authority for federal and state financed transportation projects. It is an association of just about all the local governments in the North Texas Region and is financed with your tax dollars.
Then on Wednesday, March 10, The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is partnering with the NCTCOG to hold a 'Town Hall' meeting at Plano's City Hall to give residents and local officials an opportunity to share their thoughts on local transportation issues and needs.
TxDOT, along with NCTCOG and other local transportation representatives, will be on hand to answer questions and provide information on projects and funding, including a brief perspective on regional infrastructure requirements for the future.
“It’s important to engage Texans in the discussion—to bring citizens to the table so they can contribute to shaping our future transportation system and participate in the statewide funding conversation,” said Amadeo Saenz, TxDOT executive director.
Citizens are encouraged to attend these meetings and provide feedback on regional transportation issues. The information received will be used to help Texas plan and develop an efficient transportation system—one that is sophisticated enough to meet the needs of future generations, he noted.
A webcast link will be available on the TxDOT home page. Viewers can participate in the town hall via the Internet and have an opportunity to submit questions during the meeting.
Doug Reeves, who came in a surprising 2nd place in the Justice of the Peace, Precinct 4 race has been accused of violating "the duties and responsibilities of [his] office as a Notary Public.
Reeves is accused of notarizing his own signature on a campaign ethics filing. State law specifically prohibits Notary Publics from notarizing their own signature.
In a letter to Mr. Reeves from the Texas Secretary of State's office, Reeves was ordered to respond to the accusations within 20 days. He was also asked to turn over to the State portions of his notary log book.
Last month, the Observer pointed out that Reeves campaign ethics reports were the worst we've ever seen. It is our understanding that more than one complaint has been filed with the commission. The errors, omissions and creative accounting on all 3 of his reports will, if sustained, likely subject Mr. Reeves to heavy fines by the Texas Ethics Commission.
Reeves will face incumbent Mike Yarbrough in a run off for the Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Republican nomination.
With this document, settlers in Mexican Texas officially broke from Mexico, creating the Republic of Texas.
The Texas Declaration of Independence was the formal declaration of independence of the Republic of Texas from Mexico in the Texas Revolution. It was adopted at the Convention of 1836 at Washington-on-the-Brazos on March 2, 1836.
The convention was convened on March 1 with Richard Ellis as president. The delegates selected a committee of five to draft a declaration of independence; the committee was led by George Childress and also included Edward Conrad, James Gaines, Bailey Hardeman, and Collin McKinney.
When a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived, and for the advancement of whose happiness it was instituted, and so far from being a guarantee for the enjoyment of those inestimable and inalienable rights, becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression.
When the Federal Republican Constitution of their country, which they have sworn to support, no longer has a substantial existence, and the whole nature of their government has been forcibly changed, without their consent, from a restricted federative republic, composed of sovereign states, to a consolidated central military despotism, in which every interest is disregarded but that of the army and the priesthood, both the eternal enemies of civil liberty, the everready minions of power, and the usual instruments of tyrants.
When, long after the spirit of the constitution has departed, moderation is at length so far lost by those in power, that even the semblance of freedom is removed, and the forms themselves of the constitution discontinued, and so far from their petitions and remonstrances being regarded, the agents who bear them are thrown into dungeons, and mercenary armies sent forth to force a new government upon them at the point of the bayonet.
When, in consequence of such acts of malfeasance and abdication on the part of the government, anarchy prevails, and civil society is dissolved into its original elements. In such a crisis, the first law of nature, the right of self-preservation, the inherent and inalienable rights of the people to appeal to first principles, and take their political affairs into their own hands in extreme cases, enjoins it as a right towards themselves, and a sacred obligation to their posterity, to abolish such government, and create another in its stead, calculated to rescue them from impending dangers, and to secure their future welfare and happiness.
Nations, as well as individuals, are amenable for their acts to the public opinion of mankind. A statement of a part of our grievances is therefore submitted to an impartial world, in justification of the hazardous but unavoidable step now taken, of severing our political connection with the Mexican people, and assuming an independent attitude among the nations of the earth.
The Mexican government, by its colonization laws, invited and induced the Anglo-American population of Texas to colonize its wilderness under the pledged faith of a written constitution, that they should continue to enjoy that constitutional liberty and republican government to which they had been habituated in the land of their birth, the United States of America.
In this expectation they have been cruelly disappointed, inasmuch as the Mexican nation has acquiesced in the late changes made in the government by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who having overturned the constitution of his country, now offers us the cruel alternative, either to abandon our homes, acquired by so many privations, or submit to the most intolerable of all tyranny, the combined despotism of the sword and the priesthood.
It has sacrificed our welfare to the state of Coahuila, by which our interests have been continually depressed through a jealous and partial course of legislation, carried on at a far distant seat of government, by a hostile majority, in an unknown tongue, and this too, notwithstanding we have petitioned in the humblest terms for the establishment of a separate state government, and have, in accordance with the provisions of the national constitution, presented to the general Congress a republican constitution, which was, without just cause, contemptuously rejected.
It incarcerated in a dungeon, for a long time, one of our citizens, for no other cause but a zealous endeavor to procure the acceptance of our constitution, and the establishment of a state government.
It has failed and refused to secure, on a firm basis, the right of trial by jury, that palladium of civil liberty, and only safe guarantee for the life, liberty, and property of the citizen.
It has failed to establish any public system of education, although possessed of almost boundless resources, (the public domain,) and although it is an axiom in political science, that unless a people are educated and enlightened, it is idle to expect the continuance of civil liberty, or the capacity for self government.
It has suffered the military commandants, stationed among us, to exercise arbitrary acts of oppression and tyrrany, thus trampling upon the most sacred rights of the citizens, and rendering the military superior to the civil power.
It has dissolved, by force of arms, the state Congress of Coahuila and Texas, and obliged our representatives to fly for their lives from the seat of government, thus depriving us of the fundamental political right of representation.
It has demanded the surrender of a number of our citizens, and ordered military detachments to seize and carry them into the Interior for trial, in contempt of the civil authorities, and in defiance of the laws and the constitution.
It has made piratical attacks upon our commerce, by commissioning foreign desperadoes, and authorizing them to seize our vessels, and convey the property of our citizens to far distant ports for confiscation.
It denies us the right of worshipping the Almighty according to the dictates of our own conscience, by the support of a national religion, calculated to promote the temporal interest of its human functionaries, rather than the glory of the true and living God.
It has demanded us to deliver up our arms, which are essential to our defence, the rightful property of freemen, and formidable only to tyrannical governments.
It has invaded our country both by sea and by land, with intent to lay waste our territory, and drive us from our homes; and has now a large mercenary army advancing, to carry on against us a war of extermination.
It has, through its emissaries, incited the merciless savage, with the tomahawk and scalping knife, to massacre the inhabitants of our defenseless frontiers.
It hath been, during the whole time of our connection with it, the contemptible sport and victim of successive military revolutions, and hath continually exhibited every characteristic of a weak, corrupt, and tyrranical government.
These, and other grievances, were patiently borne by the people of Texas, untill they reached that point at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue. We then took up arms in defence of the national constitution. We appealed to our Mexican brethren for assistance. Our appeal has been made in vain. Though months have elapsed, no sympathetic response has yet been heard from the Interior. We are, therefore, forced to the melancholy conclusion, that the Mexican people have acquiesced in the destruction of their liberty, and the substitution therfor of a military government; that they are unfit to be free, and incapable of self government.
The necessity of self-preservation, therefore, now decrees our eternal political separation.
We, therefore, the delegates with plenary powers of the people of Texas, in solemn convention assembled, appealing to a candid world for the necessities of our condition, do hereby resolve and declare, that our political connection with the Mexican nation has forever ended, and that the people of Texas do now constitute a free, Sovereign, and independent republic, and are fully invested with all the rights and attributes which properly belong to independent nations; and, conscious of the rectitude of our intentions, we fearlessly and confidently commit the issue to the decision of the Supreme arbiter of the destinies of nations.
Expanding the reach of rail transit in North Texas will take progress big and small on multiple fronts. Here are a couple of areas where things are quietly heading the right way:
In Austin – House Speaker Joe Straus officially invited ideas on new ways of paying for transportation projects. The speaker announced special committees last week to study needs and report to him on, among other things, "using alternative funding options at the state and local levels."
That was the right move. A bill to permit local-option elections on transportation funding crashed and burned spectacularly in the House last year. Straus' leadership team now must sort through possibilities for solving the inarguable problem of urban traffic congestion.
Traffic planners maintain that expanded rail transit is a must, and this newspaper agrees. Last year's local-option bill would have given voters a say on paying for new transit projects as well as badly needed urban roadways.
Lawmakers in both parties are also making a strong case for raising the motor-fuels tax for the first time since 1991, but any such revenue could go only to roads, not rail, under current law.
That's where the special House committees come in. The speaker's proclamation last week also used the words "innovative approaches," and it couldn't have been said better. Innovation in solving traffic congestion is what transportation leaders in North Texas have been pushing for. It's good to see Straus expressing interest in more of that.
In North Texas – A coalition of cities and transportation agencies has stepped up efforts to develop the long-proposed east-west Cotton Belt rail link to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. It would connect northern suburbs and North Dallas to the airport and run through downtown Fort Worth. DART owns the Cotton Belt right of way but doesn't have the money to put the project together.
Again, innovation is called for. The North Central Texas Council of Governments is finishing a report on ways the six cities on the east side of the airport can team up with property owners and DART to start the new line.
For example, developers might be interested in sharing construction costs if passenger stations were located on their land. The University of Texas at Dallas might want to hire a developer to build a station and amenities on campus.
One audacious idea under discussion is encouraging a manufacturer to locate along the Cotton Belt and produce the next generation of diesel rail cars, which are in demand nationwide for new transit lines.
Ultimately, voter-approved money may be needed to put this project over the top. But since nothing is guaranteed out of Austin, North Texas leaders are smart to look for creative ways to achieve the goal of a seamless regional rail network.
Politically genteel Plano is witnessing a testier brand of politics this year.
The GOP campaign to represent West Plano in the Texas House of Representatives is emerging as one of the city's most cantankerous races in years. Candidates are trading barbs over everything from resume discrepancies to charges of tax evasion.
The first volley came Friday, when Mabrie Jackson sent out a mailer and put up a Web site entitled "Plano Resume Fraud." The mailer and site accused opponents Wayne Richard and Van Taylor of misrepresenting their records and other transgressions.
"Don't be tricked by resume fraud in the Plano State Representative Race," Jackson's Web site reads. The mailer blames Richard and Taylor for having "falsified their backgrounds to win votes" for the March 2 primary.
Richard and Taylor have fired back, accusing Jackson of spreading falsehoods and poisoning the political atmosphere.
Taylor charged Jackson, a former City Council member, of publishing "one of the most negative mail pieces in Collin County history." Richard characterized Jackson's allegations as "malicious and hateful."
Such heated rhetoric is unusual in Plano, which has long revolved around a stable of powerful incumbents and has rarely played host to knockdown campaigns.
But the stakes are high. The prize is the Texas House seat representing District 66, which has not been open since 1991. Incumbent Republican Brian McCall? is not seeking re-election.
The turbulent campaign also reflects a deepening battle to court conservative primary voters as all three candidates tilt to the right.
On her Web site and mailings, Jackson accuses Richard of "cheating on his business taxes," hosting a "voyeurism video" Web site and receiving campaign help from "extremists."
She also charged Taylor with being a "political carpetbagger" who is "searching for a political office to run for" (Taylor ran unsuccessfully for Congress in the Waco area in 2006) and of bankrolling his entire campaign.
Jackson declined to comment about the Web site or mailing, which feature her photo and campaign logo. Her spokesman Judd Pritchard called the materials a "comparison between candidates."
"All this stuff is legitimate candidate resume material," he said.
Richard said the accusations are "inaccurate, untruthful, hateful and inappropriate."
Regarding the charge that he has cheated on his business taxes, Richard, who owns a small Web company, said the accusation is false and proof of what he called Jackson's "lack of expertise in business and how she would address legislative issues as a representative."
Richard also responded to questions about his political ties. One of his top campaign aides, Peter Morrison of Lumberton, Texas, keeps a Facebook page on which Morrison has blamed the "Third World" for the Fort Hood shootings and criticized Texas schools for advocating diversity.
"I'm happy to have their support," Richard said of his aides.
Taylor, meantime, said Jackson's "attacks are negative and false." He did not dispute any of her claims when asked specifically about each of them. But he said he had been up front about his record.
"She is attempting to mislead voters that I'm trying to hide something," Taylor said.
Fundraising, like the rhetoric, has picked up in recent weeks.
Taylor, who works in real estate, has loaned his campaign $420,000, including nearly $200,000 since late January. He raised $41,000 from other sources during that period.
He gave more than $1 million in contributions and loans to his 2006 bid for Congress, federal records show.
Jackson has raised $64,000 in recent weeks, according to records. That includes more than $20,000 in cash from political action committees representing interests ranging from natural gas and liquor to finance.
She has more than $110,000 on hand.
Richard reported $47,000 in contributions, though that figure includes more than $37,000 in noncash campaign services.
He has spent $12,000 since late January and reported having no money left in his campaign account.
No Democrats are running for the seat.
....Candidate Mabrie Jackson has gone on the offensive today, publishing a website paid for by her campaign that attacks her foes, Wayne Richard and Van Taylor, on various fronts. The website is called PlanoResumeFraud.com.
It accuses Richard of a number of shortcomings ranging from cheating on his business property taxes and running fringe web businesses to cultivating ties with political extremists. The site also mentions how Richard voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2008. (He has portrayed himself as an arch conservative.)
Meantime, Jackson's website attacks Taylor for being a "political carpetbagger" who abandoned the Waco area shortly after a failed bid for Congress there in 2006. Jackson also mentions how few of Taylor's campaign contributions come from Plano.
The publishing of the website coincided with a mailer that reiterates many of the same factoids. The headline on the mailer: "Stop Voter Fraud and Candidate Fraud."
Richard published a lengthy response in which he calls Jackson's criticisms "malicious and hateful" and "the work of a desperate opponent." Richard said he voted for Clinton in 2008 as part of "Operation Chaos" in which conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh encouraged his listeners to vote in the Democratic primary.
He also defended his business practices as legitimate. For his full statement, click here.
....UPDATE | 7:31 p.m. Candidate Van Taylor responded Friday to Mabrie Jackson's website, calling it "one of the most negative mail pieces in Collin County history."
"In a last-minute attempt to resurrect her failing campaign, Mabrie Jackson has subjected Plano residents to negative attacks, false charges and offensive mailers," Taylor said in a news release. To read his full statement, click here.
The Observer comments:
After the DMN blog posting, there is a long comment conversation that is quite amusing. My favorite comment had to be,"I'm amused that somebody would use 'I did it because Rush Limbaugh told me to' as a defense".
In yesterday's Dallas Morning News' Plano Blog, reporter Theodore Kim posted a portion of the federal finance reports from Van Taylor's unsuccessful 2006 run against Democratic Congressman Chet Edwards in Waco.
According to the 2006 records, Taylor pumped almost $1 million of his own money into his 2006 Waco campaign.
This year, according to Kim, Taylor is once again self-financing - bankrolling his campaign with over $280,000 in personal loans, while only raising about $6,400 from Plano constituents.
One difference between 2006 and 2010 is that now Mr. Taylor describes himself as a real estate investor.
In 2006, according to a Fox News op-ed written by former Congressman Martin Frost, Nicholas Van Campen Taylor (aka Exxon Taylor) was a heir to an oil company fortune, living large on dividends from over $11 million in inherited Exxon Corp. stock and least $1 million in big pharma stock.
DMN - Candidates for West Plano seat in Texas House digging deep into their own pockets for campaign fundsFebruary 15th, 2010
Candidates for West Plano seat in Texas House digging deep into their own pockets for campaign funds
Sunday, February 14, 2010
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
Contenders for West Plano's seat in the Texas House of Representatives are pouring lots of their own money into the fight.
With several weeks to go before the March 2 Republican primary, Mabrie Jackson and Van Taylor have between them invested more than $300,000 in the race, campaign finance reports show.
Fundraising records also have raised questions about the political ties of the third candidate, Wayne Richard, who has gained momentum among Tea Party activists.
The House District 66 seat opened in November when incumbent Brian McCall? said he would not seek re-election. No Democrats filed to run.
Money, of course, has always played a central role in politics. But with few differences separating the three candidates on the biggest issues – all have portrayed themselves as conservatives and said they support low tax rates and fewer state regulations – fundraising has emerged as perhaps the biggest point of contention.
Experts also say the campaign reports provide the latest evidence of how spending in Texas politics continues to escalate, driven largely by the growing role and cost of technology in campaigns.
"Certainly television matters and still has the most significant impact," said Brian Roberts, a professor of American politics at the University of Texas at Austin. "But look what else is going on: You have social media, Web ads. This is opening up a whole new avenue of expense."
The total money raised for state legislative races alone has almost doubled to $95 million since 2004, according to Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit group that tracks money in state politics.
"The cost of elections continues to trend up, up, up," said Andrew Wheat, the group's research director.
That, in turn, has put even more pressure on candidates to dip into their own wallets.
Taylor, who works in real estate, has bankrolled his campaign with $230,000 in personal loans, putting most of that money toward television ads and mailings.
He has collected far less, $21,700, from campaign supporters. A $10,000 check from Taylor's father constitutes nearly half that total, records show.
Of the rest, $6,450 represents contributions from Plano addresses.
Taylor has spent large sums on campaigns before. He put more than $300,000 of his own money into an unsuccessful 2006 bid for Congress in the Waco area.
Taylor said he has local donations "coming in every day" and has a Plano fundraiser scheduled this week.
"I'm getting a great response and running a hard-hitting, grass-roots campaign," he said.
Jackson, a former Plano City Council member and Microsoft account manager, has invested $80,000 in her campaign. She has supplemented that with help from supporters and from interests ranging from real estate to liquor, records show.
Including her cash, Jackson had raised more than $148,000 through late January.
That total takes into account more than $16,000 from at least 20 political action committees that, in the past, had supported McCall?. Among them: the Texas Association of Realtors ($2,500), the Texas Energy Association ($2,500) and the Licensed Beverage Distributors ($1,000).
Jackson made no apologies for receiving PAC money.
"These associations represent industries that create jobs," she said. "They have confidence in my abilities to represent House District 66."
The biggest individual donors so far in the race include construction materials magnate John V. Lattimore, Jr., who donated $5,000 each to Taylor and Jackson; and Fehmi Karahan, the developer behind The Shops at Legacy, who gave $2,500 to Jackson.
Financial reports reveal that Richard, who runs a small Web company, had raised less than $10,000 in cash through January.
More significantly, the records raise questions about his political ties.
Richard has leaned heavily on campaign help from Peter Morrison, a local school board member in Lumberton, Texas.
Records show that Morrison has donated tens of thousands of dollars' worth of signs, mailers, supplies and time to Richard's campaign.
In posts on Facebook, Morrison argues that Texas schools teach a "radical left-wing agenda" and that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is a "radical racist."
Another lengthy post blames "immigration from Third World countries" for the mass shootings at Fort Hood in November.
"The Fort Hood massacre was the predictable result of decades of massive immigration from third world countries, affirmative action, enforcement of political correctness and 'celebration' of diversity and multiculturalism," Morrison wrote Nov. 17.
When asked about his aide's Fort Hood essay, Richard said, "Commanders would agree it was a political correctness situation that allowed the mass shooting to take place."
Asked whether he thinks schools should encourage diversity, Richard said, "I don't believe there's enough American history and positive representations of democracy and liberty that our country provides our citizens in our schools."
If you're not tuned into the three-way GOP primary to replace retiring 10-term state Rep. Brian McCall of Plano, you'll be sorry. The race has it all: the high price of political ambition, reruns of a classic campaign ad and a bikini-clad beauty — plus a fight over ideological bonafides that's very much of the moment. Affluent and highly educated, Plano is one of the state's most reliably Republican areas; there isn't even a Democrat running for the seat in November. Yet the district and surrounding Collin County are "ground zero" for the battle between "real conservatives and the philosophically pliable," says Michael Openshaw, the North Texas Tea Party's self-styled Blog Warrior.
“It’s going to be very close to get into a runoff,” says candidate Mabrie Jackson, a former Microsoft account manager and member of the Plano City Council. “I think we’re all evenly split right now.”
In November, when McCall decided to step down, he called Jackson, who'd told him six years earlier that she'd be interested in succeeding him. But the news couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time — Jackson was just a year and a half into her first term on the Council. “Can you wait two years?” she asked.
Wayne Richard, who had been running against McCall since August, was even more surprised to hear about his retirement. Richard never intended to vie for elective office — until recently, he didn't even pay much attention to state or local politics. But in 2008, his politically charged e-mails to friends morphed into a newsletter under the auspices of a group Richard christened "The National Coalition for Defense of American Sovereignty." He enjoyed his newfound notoriety; one thing led to another, and suddenly he found himself involved with the area’s first-ever tax day Tea Party protest. Collin County Tea Party leader Diane Nusbaum saw in Richard the candidate she had been looking for to retaliate against McCall for helping to oust conservative House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, at the start of the 2009 legislative session. She temporarily left the Tea Party to run Richard’s campaign.
Rounding out the primary field is businessman and Iraq War veteran Van Taylor, who bought a house in Plano in 2007, just a mile away from his great grandfather’s farm, after a failed campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco. With a battle shaping up between Jackson and Richard, Taylor says, “So many conservatives reached out to me and said, 'Van, we have to have a conservative representing Plano in the Texas House. You have to run.'” He threw his hat in on Dec. 7.
Jackson, the granddaughter of a former Port Arthur mayor, caught the political bug early in life. She's the only of the three who has served in public office and is intimately familiar with the issues Plano faces: She cites, for example, the need for more roads and a viable water plan. “She is the only candidate who has been involved in the community at all levels,” says McCall, who endorsed Jackson after she resigned her Council seat on Nov. 16. Jackson has also been endorsed by the Greater Dallas Restaurant Association, the Texas Hospital Association, the Texas State Teachers Association and The Dallas Morning News.
Of the Tea Party movement that has been less enthusiastic about her establishment-friendly candidacy, Jackson says, “For the most part, they’re great people who are just concerned about what’s going on at the national level. I share that concern, and I lose sleep over it, too. But this race is about representing Plano in Austin. It’s not about Plano in Washington."
Richard’s approach is the epitome of grassroots. Running with very little money, his campaign is almost entirely manned by energized volunteers — many of them Tea Partiers — and fueled by in-kind donations, some of the biggest coming from outside the district. “I’ve never seen so many yard signs in my whole life,” Richard says. “Nothing like this has ever happened in Collin County before.”
Richard announced his candidacy in August and began block-walking. By early February, he or someone from his campaign had knocked on the door of every registered area voter at least twice. “Opponents have come and gone,” he says, “but I think a lot of people recognize the political courage it took to get into it from the very beginning to take McCall? on like that. Now we have people trying to jump in at the last minute. For us it’s been like a marathon, but for them it’s been like a sprint.”
Taylor, meanwhile, has a resume. The self-described “lifelong committed Republican” started a GOP club as an undergraduate at Harvard University. As a Marine, he gained experience with illegal immigration issues while serving on the Texas-Mexico border. He serves as state chairman of the National Defense Committee and is the North Texas vice captain of Vets for Freedom, and he touts endorsements from Young Conservatives of Texas, the Texans for Fiscal Responsibility PAC and Republican U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling. Like Richard, he has been “Tea Approved” by the North Texas Tea Party.
The candidates all have hurdles to overcome. Richard's is his bio, which doesn’t read like he grew up with a political career in his sights. For starters, there’s FUBIOV — “Forget U Buddy I’m On Vacation” — which he says was the name of a boat he owned decades ago, a name he tried to turn into a brand with “FUBIOV!” t-shirts and www.fubiov.com, a now-defunct travel website. A web video advertising the site features a girl in a bikini walking near a pool, unaware that she’s being filmed.
"If that’s the best thing they think they can come after me with," Richard says, "then to heck with 'em. I’m trying to stay above board." He claims to be an innocent bystander. “Somebody put a bikini video out there?” he asks. “I can’t control what’s out there.” But YouTube seems to think otherwise. The video was posted on the site in Jan. 2007 by “fubiov,” who claims to be a 55-year-old named Wayne. The user who posted the same video on dailymotion.com, once again using the “fubiov” moniker, also posted a video parodying Hillary Clinton. That video was produced by ICglobal.net, Richard's advertising technology firm.
“If you elect someone who has that,” critiques Jackson, “you don’t want that to come to light later and embarrass your city. And that will be an embarrassment to our city.”
Jackson’s finding out that it might be possible to love her city so much it hurts. When she vacated her seat on the City Council, she believed it could be filled by a 10-day appointment per the city charter. It turned out that state law called for a special election, an event that set Plano back $80,000 — and that was before it ended up being pushed into a runoff. “That’s the price of democracy. We are blessed to live in a democracy where anybody can run,” she says. “I believe that my serving Plano will save the city a whole lot more money in the long run than whatever a special election costs.”
Mention the independently wealthy Taylor in Plano and the conversation will likely turn to the money he’s spent on television advertisements. The ads highlight his conservative bonafides and the military service that took him to Iraq and the Texas Border. But one of them is just a minimally tweaked rehash of an ad he ran in Waco, when he was gunning for a totally different seat. “Pictures of me in Iraq are still pictures of me in Iraq,” Taylor says. “I have the same values and the same beliefs that I’ve held for decades.”
Taylor’s latest ad, called “Only One,” points out the Taxpayer Protection Pledge he signed committing to fighting all tax increases. It claims that Taylor, the "only true conservative” in the race, is the “only one” to sign such a document. Jackson says she signed one on Dec. 17 — but votes count more than pledges do. On the morning after primary day, all that will matter is who's the "only one" left out of the runoff.
FU = "forget you"? Yea right!
The D Magazine's Front Burner blog notes that the fubiov videos have been pulled off of YouTube and Daily Motion.
Plano voters will see something in the voting booth March 2 that they haven't seen in 19 years: a Republican ballot without Brian McCall's name as a candidate for state representative. With McCall not seeking re-election, the three-person GOP race in House District 66 is being closely watched to see who will replace his lawmaking and leadership abilities.
Mabrie Jackson, 45, former Plano City Council member, is the best choice of the three, based on her experience in decision-making, involvement in civic affairs and deep roots in the community. Moreover, Jackson appears best positioned to continue the brand of coalition-building McCall practiced to get things done in Austin.
Jackson has a clearly enunciated list of priorities, which includes economic development, public education, health care and transportation and water improvements. Formerly in marketing for EDS and a manager for Microsoft, she now concentrates on her family.
There are many similarities between Jackson and her opponents, Wayne Richard, 55, a technology company owner, and Van Taylor, 37, an investment manager. All would hold the line on taxes and stress efficiencies to deal with the coming state budget gap.
Taylor would go further and scrap the business tax, and Richard would scrap or reduce it. But neither offered a workable solution to fill that revenue void.
In his first run for office, Richard says he wants to offer fresh ideas, and he points out he was the only candidate to enter the race before McCall's announcement on re-election. Richard says that McCall has been in Austin too long and that his voting record is not business-friendly. Richard says he is relying on grass-roots support, in contrast to his well-financed adversaries.
Taylor lost a race for Congress from Waco in 2006 and since moved to Plano. A Marine Corps veteran who would "starve state government," he says he offers more conservative views than McCall's.
The winner of the race will face no Democratic opponent in the fall.
Primary fight for Texas House seat in Plano tilts right
Sunday, January 24, 2010
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
Think back nearly two decades, when the Persian Gulf War was unfolding, the Dallas Cowboys had yet to renew their dynasty and the word "web" meant spiders.
That is the last time someone other than Brian McCall has represented West Plano in the Texas House.
McCall's decision not to seek re-election means a new face will take his District 66 seat in November.
The campaign's action is in the March 2 Republican primary, where Mabrie Jackson, Wayne Richard and Van Taylor have sought to burnish their appeal among conservatives.
No Democrats filed to run. Other candidates include Libertarians Josef Novak and Benjamin Westfried and independent Eric Roberson.
Moderate Republicans in the affluent district have long anchored support for McCall, one of Plano's most popular politicians.
But with impassioned conservatives showing new life at Tea Party rallies and in groups such as the Collin County Conservative Republicans, the politics of the primary has tracked to the right.
At a packed kickoff event earlier this month, Jackson vowed to keep tax rates in check and adhere to what she called "traditional values."
Taylor has picked up the endorsement of the Young Conservatives of Texas and signed a "taxpayer protection" pledge with the Americans for Tax Reform, a group opposed to most taxes.
Meanwhile, Richard says he is "worried about the direction that Texas can possibly go," wants to lessen the business tax burden and promotes home schooling.
Little sparring has occurred so far, but that could change as March approaches.
Opponents have quietly begun throwing barbs at Taylor, a real estate investor who according to federal records spent more than $300,000 of his own money in an unsuccessful 2006 bid for Congress in the Waco area. He moved to Plano shortly thereafter.
He dismisses the chatter, saying, "My wife and I have always invested in causes that we believe in."
Taylor, 37, has already begun running television and other ads touting his conservative credentials and tenure in the Marine Corps. He said he hopes to restructure state government, bolster border security and encourage the creation of more charter schools.
In general, he said, he would advocate "lower taxation, less regulation and less litigation."
Jackson, a former Microsoft account manager, is the only candidate to have served in public office. She resigned from the Plano City Council in November and has received endorsements from a number of community groups and city leaders, including McCall.
She said she would seek to balance the state's budget and focus on funding the growing needs of Texas' public education system and transportation network.
"I understand the real issues that affect real people every day," said Jackson, 45.
Touting new ideas
Richard said he does not have the name recognition or resources of either of his opponents. But the 55-year-old, who founded a small technology firm, said he would bring new ideas to the table.
For instance, he believes that government and schools could operate more efficiently by turning to new technologies, such as computer tablets instead of textbooks.
He also has started a group called the National Coalition for the Defense of American Sovereignty, which adheres to the view that the U.S. Constitution faces threats from laws created abroad.
Richard said he would "vote 100 percent of the time with the taxpayer."
David Lee Hall, Plano's erstwhile futurist, was tossed off the ballot for State Senate District 8 in the GOP primary. It seems he didn't withdraw his filing for Republican Precinct Chair before filing for Florence Shapiro's Senate seat.
State Law really frowns on candidates running for more that one office at a time.
Plano voters will remember David Hall's run last year for Plano ISD. Mr. Hall has been sending me emails for years now. His ideas run from equating the teaching of evolution to a communist and fascist program, to his latest plan for the economy - annexing Canada and Mexico as the 51st and 52nd states in the USA.
The Republican ballot just got a bit saner.
State Sen. Dist 8 candidate David Hall disqualified
Posted: 15 Jan 2010 10:22 AM PST
Matthew Haag / Reporter / The Dallas Morning News Plano Blog
State Sen. District 8 candidate David Hall, who planned on challenging incumbent Florence Shapiro in the March GOP primary, has been ruled ineligible, Hall says. Shapiro will now run unopposed.
At issue is that Hall filed for both the District 8 seat and for the Collin County Republican primary precinct chair. State election code states that a candidate cannot run for two or more offices that are voted on in an election on the same day. Shapiro's attorneys raised the issue with state Republican Party officials this week, said Fred Moses, chairman of the Collin County Republican Party.
Hall filed for the precinct chair position first and then decided to run against Shapiro. According to state election code, if that happens, each subsequent position to the first one is invalid. Hall needed to withdraw from his precinct chair position first before filing to run against Shapiro.
In an e-mail to supporters last night, Hall wrote, "The other person on the ballot hired some lawyers to protest my candidacy. Unfortunately, I did not withdraw from Precinct Chairman in writing within the time allowed which was earlier than the filing date. Therefore, I will be on the ballot unopposed for Precinct Chairman even though I had originally been removed from the ballot for that position."
The Collin county Observer is planning to publish conversations with many of our local primary candidates. Please bear with me as I learn both how to use this cool video technology and gain in interviewing skills.
My first interview is with Mabrie Jackson who is running in the Republican Primary for Texas House of Representatives, District 66. The district 66 seat became open after veteran lawmaker Brian McCall announced that he would not be seeking re-election.
3 Republicans, 2 Libertarians seeking McCall's Plano seat
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Brandon Formby, Theodore Kim and Ian McCann / The Dallas Morning News
The hottest legislative race in Collin County will be in House District 66. Three Republicans and two Libertarians will vie to replace longtime state Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, who is not seeking re-election for the western Plano seat.
They include former Plano City Council member Mabrie Jackson; Wayne Richard, founder of an advertising technology firm and a group called the National Coalition for the Defense of American Sovereignty; and Van Taylor, a real estate financier and former Marine.
Libertarians Josef Novak and Benjamin Westfried will face off in a party convention in March for a spot on the November ballot.
No Democrats filed to run in any legislative races in Collin County.
In other races:
• In House District 67, veteran state Rep. Jerry Madden of Plano drew no Republican challengers. No Democrat filed for the seat, either.
• In House District 70, incumbent Republican Ken Paxton will be challenged by Libertarian David A. Johnson.
• In House District 89, incumbent Republican Jodie Laubenberg had no challengers in any party.
• In state Senate District 8, longtime Republican Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, will face David Hall, a former Plano school board candidate and self-described futurist, in the GOP primary.
A third candidate has entered the race for Texas Legislature, District 66 presently served by Rep. Brian McCall.
Last week Rep. McCall announced he would not be running for re-election. Former Plano City Councilwoman Mabrie Jackson and businessman Wayne Richard have already announced their candidacies for the District 66 GOP nomination.
Yesterday, Van Taylor, who ran against Democrat Chet Edwards 2 years ago in Waco area congressional contest, has announced he is in the race for District 66. I have not been able to find a campaign web site or picture of Mr. Taylor, however his campaign does have a Facebook page.
Here is the press release put out by the Taylor campaign:
For Immediate Release –
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Contact: Van Taylor - firstname.lastname@example.org
Iraq Veteran, Conservative Leader Van Taylor Announces Campaign for Texas State House
(Plano, TX) – Decorated Iraq veteran and conservative Republican Van Taylor today announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination in State House District 66.
A successful businessman and United States Marine residing in Plano, Taylor said, “Throughout my life, I have fought for our freedoms and founding principles. Whether in Iraq or here at home in Texas, my life has been a series of missions dedicated to defending our conservative values and beliefs.”
“As the rest of America lurches toward liberalism, Texas needs leaders with the courage to provide conservative solutions to the challenges facing our state, and that’s why I have decided to run for state representative. In these challenging economic times, we need business leaders who understand that jobs and opportunity come from the private sector – not government.”
A 7th generation Texan, Van Taylor earned his Eagle Scout at age 13, receiving it from none other than George W. Bush. He is a 1995 graduate from Harvard College, where he started a Republican Club. As the Marine honor grad from intelligence school, Van earned the privilege of leading an elite Reconnaissance platoon. After four years of active duty, he joined the Marine Corps Reserves to continue serving his country while earning an MBA at Harvard Business School.
As a Captain, Van led missions behind enemy lines for the 4500 Marine Task Force Tarawa, including the leadership of the Task Force’s first platoon entering Iraq before the start of the main invasion in 2003. Taylor’s platoon encountered, and defeated, several Fedayeen ambushes. His platoon helped rescue an American prisoner of war and rescued 31 wounded men during a counter-attack by several thousand Iraqis. For his service, the Marine Corps awarded Van the Navy Commendation Medal with a “V” for Valor, the Combat Action Ribbon, and the Presidential Unit Citation.
Upon returning home from Iraq, Van carried the Republican banner as the GOP nominee for Congress from Texas’ 17th Congressional District. A pro-life conservative and Lifetime member of the NRA, Van received the endorsement of the National Right to Life Coalition, the Texas State Rifle Association, and numerous conservative organizations. Taylor has a long history of serving the Republican Party, including attending national conventions, serving as a delegate to Texas Republican State conventions, volunteering on Republican campaigns across Texas and providing financial support to Republican candidates. In Plano, he is a Republican Precinct Chairman and serves on the Collin County Republican Party Executive Committee. Taylor also serves as the state chairman for the National Defense Committee as well as a state Vice Captain for Vets for Freedom.
Van and his wife Anne married after his return from Iraq and are the proud parents of Laura, 4, Helen, 3, and two-month old Susie, the latest blessing to the Taylor family. A lifelong Episcopalian, Van and his family reside in Plano near the land which his great-grandfather farmed during the Great Depression.
In 2007, Texas voters authorized the State to issue up to $5 billion in general revenue bonds for transportation and highways. Last week, TxDOT approved $2 billion of these bond funds for non-tolled highway projects.
Central Texas was the big winner, with nearly $1 billion pledged to expand I-35 from 4 lanes to 6. The North Texas region came out the big loser.
What did Collin County get? For one thing, no new roads, but more than almost any other North Texas County.
The total funding for Collin County is $18.2 million, while Dallas is slated to receive only about $3.77 million for new lanes on I-30 downtown and for repairing I-20 near LBJ freeway.
Denton County will get $11.2 million, Grayson - $3.9 million, Hunt - $20.1 million, Rockwall - $2.6 million. Tarrant County received a paltry $215,000.
The projects whose funding was approved in Collin County are:
- $6.1 million for repairs to FM 543, north of McKinney to Weston
- $3.6 million to rebuild two portions of FM 545, near Melissa
- $4.0 million to rebuild a part of FM 546 near the Collin County Airport in McKinney
- $4.5 million for repairs to SH 6 from SH 78 to the Hunt County Line
The funding for the North Texas region, including Collin County is significantly, and ridiculously below our needs.
One explanation? Our elected state representatives are not doing their job. In a posting on the Dallas Morning News Transportation Blog, Michael Lindenberger reports that one legislator form Mesquite wrote a letter, "to Transportation Commission chairwoman Deirdre Delisi, urging her to table the item [the allocation of bond funds], [it] was signed by just seven other House members from the region. An aide told me last night that all members of the delegation had been asked to sign it, but many had not done so." If our legislative delegations can't at least try to secure the funds we need, the only new roads this region will see built will be tolled.
That's how it has been and how it is likely to remain without some serious political pressure from a unified North Texas legislative delegation.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN – Sen. Florence Shapiro of Plano said Friday that she will file for re-election for her state Senate seat next month, while she keeps her long-range sights set on the U.S. Senate seat now held by Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Shapiro, a Republican, said she will file for re-election on Dec. 3, the first day state candidates can file to run in next year's elections. She has represented Senate District 8, in Collin and Dallas counties, since 1993.
Shapiro is one of several candidates who are having to adjust their plans now that Hutchison has said she won't step down from the Senate until after the Republican primary in March. Hutchison, who is challenging Gov. Rick Perry in the GOP race for governor, had earlier indicated she would resign from the U.S. Senate by the end of 2009 to focus on the contest against Perry.
"I will adjust my U.S. Senate campaign based on the future resignation decision of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison," Shapiro said in a written statement.
Regarding the U.S. Senate seat, Shapiro said she is "very pleased" with the statewide team of supporters she has assembled and that she has raised more than $1 million toward that race.
Plano City Council member Mabrie Jackson to run for state House seat
November 15, 2009
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
Plano City Council member Mabrie Jackson, a political newcomer who has emerged as a contrarian voice on the eight-member board, plans to resign today to run for the state Legislature.
Jackson said Sunday she will launch a bid for the Texas House this week. Longtime state Rep. Brian McCall of Plano is planning not to run for re-election.
Jackson expressed a desire to work at the state level to represent a community "at a financial crossroads and at a political crossroads."
"When I got into this job, I became very aware of policies that affected our cities that we have no control of. And many of those policies came from Austin," said Jackson, 45, a Republican. "When this opportunity arose, I felt like I had to step up."
Her resignation will take effect immediately. The Plano council will have 10 days to appoint someone to serve out her term. It ends in May 2011.
The vacancy arrives as the City Council faces myriad challenges brought on by slowing housing and commercial growth and the economic squeeze.
In September, a divided council approved budget cuts and a slight property tax rate increase. Plano confronts the prospect of a much larger tax increase next year.
Jackson was one of three members to vote against this year's tax increase and the budget.
While the vote burnished her credentials as a penny pincher, she irritated a number of civic leaders who portrayed the measure as necessary to Plano's financial health.
Last year, she and council member Pat Miner also kept a campaign pledge by hosting regular community round tables at City Hall in hopes of engaging constituents.
The sittings often drew just a handful of citizens, sometimes none.
"I hope that I stayed true to my promise that I would be fiscally conservative, responsive and available to everybody," she said.
Jackson won her council seat last year following an energetic campaign, capturing about two-thirds of the vote in an upset over incumbent Loretta Ellerbe.
Beyond the council, she has worked in sales and marketing and served on a number of civic boards. She is married and has two children.
City Council member Ben Harris, who was Jackson's campaign manager before becoming a council member himself, said he was surprised by the announcement's timing. He said the council would miss Jackson.
"She's done a great job during her year-and-a-half on the council," he said. "We wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors and representing us in Austin."
Jackson is expected to have competition for the House District 66 seat, which McCall, a Republican, has held since 1991.
One candidate has already expressed interest publicly: Republican Wayne Richard, founder of an advertising technology firm and a group called the National Coalition for the Defense of American Sovereignty.
Collin County is represented by 4 Texas Legislators whose districts are include large portions of the county. I list here all those candidates I know about. If I've missed someone, it is inadvertent. Please send me a note and I'll make the correction.
Brian McCall has been the District 66 representative for the last 20 years. In the last legislative session, McCall was appointed chair of the House Calendars Committee, making him one of Texas' most powerful legislators. Nevertheless, this weekend, he announced he would not be seeking re-election.
WAYNE S. RICHARD
Wayne Richard is founder and CEO of ICglobal, a provider of new media and advertising technologies. Mr. Richard received his Bachelors of Business Administration in 1980 from the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. He is Chairman of the SMU Cox Alumni Board of Directors and sits on The Salvation Army Plano Advisory Board.
Richard's campaign aims to appeal to the exreme right wing Republican. He has been campaigning at numerous local "Tea Parties" on a platform against secularism and socialism and for sovereignty and limited government. His campaign website features videos of his speeches at several local Tea Parties. In one he stands on a street corner with a bullhorn, as Collin County Judge Keith Self offers encouragement.
Richard is the founder of National Coalition for the Defense of American Sovereignty (NCDAS), whose mission statement is, "to educate and encourage Americans who are hungry for a factual account on domestic and international events and the subsequent governmental actions that frequently undermine the US Constitution."
Richard has been endorsed by the North Texas Tea Party.
MABRIE GRIFFITH JACKSON
Mabrie Jackson resigned her seat on the Plano City Council to make a run for the District 66 seat. She was elected to the City Council in 2008, upsetting long term incumbent Loretta Ellerbe. Jackson earned a degree in communications from the University of Texas. She works for Microsoft Corp. as an account manager. She has previously served as a Legislative Assistant to the Texas Legislature.
Jackson was the former chair of Collin County's Child Protective Services Board, and has served on the boards of the Collin County Assistance Center, and the Visiting Nurses Association. She has been active in community affairs in the city, county and schools and was named one of the “21 Leaders For the 21st Century” by Inside Collin County Business.
Jerry Madden has served Plano's 67th district in the Texas Legislature since 1992. He is the former chair and now the vice-chair of the House Corrections Committee. He also serves on the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudene Committee.
Madden has retired from the ownership of Jerry Madden Insurance.
He is a West Point graduate, and a Viet Nam veteran. In 1979, he earned a Master of Science in Management and Administration Sciences from the University of Texas at Dallas.
In 2007, Rep. Madden was designated by Texas Monthly as one of its 10 Best Legislators. He is the first recipient in 2007 of the Carmen Miller Michael Mental Health Advocate Prism Award, a University of Texas at Dallas Distinguished Alumnus Award, was named as a member of the Board of Directors of the Council of State Government’s Justice Center, and was nominated to serve as Chairman of the Law and Criminal Justice Committee of the National Council of State Legislatures.
Madden's campaign web site has not been updated yet for the 2010 campaign, and touts his accomplishments in the passage of, "highly successful 2007 criminal justice system reforms which sought to divert individuals from prison through mental health and drug treatment programs, provide more opportunities in prison for rehabilitation, and properly utilize probation and parole mechanisms to avoid greater costs if new prisons were built."
The Collin County Observer wrote of the 2008 campaign, "This is old-fashioned, shoot-em-up, nasty Texas politics." Cole's tactics almost worked; he garnered 48.27% of the votes in the March, 2008 GOP primary.
Jon Cole received his bachelor's degree from the University of Texas at Austin with a double major in history and government and graduated from the Institute of Comparative Political and Economic Systems at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. He is the Marketing Director for Total Physician Review, a healthcare consulting group based in Collin County. He has served as a legislative aide in the Texas House of Representatives, has worked in the Governor's Criminal Justice Division analyzing Texas' drug court system and assisting the Texas Crime Stoppers program. He also assisted the Governor's Office of Homeland Security produce the state's emergency communication network.
I am not aware of any challengers to 4 term incumbent Ken Paxton. There are, however persistent rumors that Rep. Paxton is wanting to toss his hat in the ring for Shapiro's Senate District 8 seat. We shall see.
I am not aware of any challengers to 4 term incumbent Jodi Laubenberg.
In this series of previews of the 2010 election:
* Collin County Court at Law #2
* Collin County Court at Law #3
* Collin County Court at Law #4
* Collin County Court at Law #6
* Collin County District Attorney
* Collin County Legislative races
* Collin County's 219th District Court
* Collin County Commissioners Court
* State Board of Education
Today, Burka published two posts on the decision of Plano's Brian McCall not to seek re-election. In the second of the two, Burka relates that in a conversation this morning, Rep. McCall disclaimed any plans to seek election to another public office.
The first post reads almost like an obituary. Burka states that McCall, "was the gold standard for how a legislator should conduct himself."
Paul Burka, Texas Monthly Burkablog
November 15, 2009
I am sad to see the news that Brian McCall has decided not to run for reelection. Brian made the House better just by his presence. He was the gold standard for how a legislator should conduct himself. When he had a bill on the calendar, he put on a clinic about how to pass legislation, with clear explanations and irrefutable policy arguments. His integrity was spotless. His respect for the legislative process was total.
Next to his character, what he will be most remembered for is his opposition to Tom Craddick. McCall was a charter member of the ABCs, the once sizable cadre of Republican members whose choice for speaker was “Anybody But Craddick.” When Craddick was running for speaker in 2002, McCall sent a letter to his colleagues foretelling the dark side of a Craddick speakership. It proved to be prescient. In 2006, Republicans lost five seats in the November elections, and McCall decided to challenge Craddick’s reelection. But a rapid Craddick counteroffensive turned three key McCall pledges, and he eventually bowed out in favor of Jim Pitts. Craddick went on to win his third term after the key vote — whether the speaker should be elected by secret ballot — went his way by a narrow margin.
Readers know the rest of the story. The 2007 session was one of the most tumultuous in memory. Craddick lost effective control of the House, and his frantic efforts to hold onto power, including firing the House parliamentarians and obtaining a new ruling that he could not be removed during the session, only turned more members against him, including several of his own committee chairs. Those were amazing days; we will never see anything like them in our time.
Through it all, McCall never wavered in his belief that Craddick could not be reelected. Neither, however, could McCall. As the ABCs met to choose their candidate for speaker on January 2, McCall had filed papers to run, but his moment had come and gone. As the ABCs took successive ballots to drop the low vote getters, McCall did not make it to the final round. Still, as the story goes, it was his vote for Straus that determined who the next speaker would be.
While there are no doubt many reasons for McCall’s decision to retire from the House, I believe that the closing of the door on his dream to be speaker must have played a part.
McCall went on to serve as Straus's chairman of Calendars. a position from which he could enforce fairness for members of both parties, so that Republicans and Democrats, and combatants in the 07 and 09 speaker’s races, could feel they had an equal chance of getting their bills to the floor, without personalities or political loyalties. He played an essential role in calming waters that are too often roiled, and his performance earned him a place on the Ten Best list. His departure is a real loss.
Veteran Plano lawmaker Brian McCall won't seek re-election
Saturday, November 14, 2009
By CHRISTY HOPPE / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN — Veteran Plano lawmaker Brian McCall, who was a leader of the move to depose Speaker Tom Craddick and restore a more bipartisan tenor to the Texas House, plans to announce Monday that he has decided not to seek re-election.
The surprise move comes less than one year after McCall, a Republican, obtained one of the most powerful positions in the House. As chairman of the Calendars Committee, McCall determined which bills were heard in the House and in what order, and he was credited with helping North Texas lawmakers advance the region’s priorities.
McCall, 51, said he is looking at other opportunities because it is time to try something new after 19 years in the House.
“When I took my first oath of office, Bill Clinton was the governor of Arkansas and George Bush had never run for state political office,” said McCall?, a businessman and investor.
He said when he first ran for the Legislature, he set a few simple goals, most of which he said he’s accomplished.
“The fifth one was to leave on a high note,” McCall said. “So few in politics know when to get off the stage.”
House Speaker Joe Straus praised McCall as a friend, leader and consensus builder.
“His career has been nothing short of outstanding,” said Straus, R-San Antonio. “He helped set the tone for effective governing in the House.”
In 1999, McCall was the author of a compromise tax bill that is credited with saving taxpayers $3.6 billion. The bill included the now-famous three-day sales tax holiday that precedes the start of school each fall.
The major tax cut helped launch Bush, then governor, into his campaign for president.
Before that, as a junior lawmaker, McCall was tapped by Gov. Ann Richards to carry a bill that would create a criminal penalty for stalking.
He said he recalled traveling the state to speak with sheriffs and police chiefs, and heard repeatedly that stalking is a crime that “happens in Hollywood, not in Texas.”
Regardless, he persisted in educating lawmakers about the prevalence of harassment and threats and succeeded in getting the state’s first anti-stalking bill passed.
McCall said that because he decided not to seek re-election, he is returning all the campaign contributions he raised — about $150,000 — since the legislative session ended in June.
Three years ago, McCall shocked many in his own party by announcing that he would challenge Craddick, a fellow Republican, to lead the House.
While Craddick, a staunch conservative, was revered by the right wing of the party, his strong-arm, take-no-prisoners style was resented by many members. They felt forced into unpopular votes and saw the Republican majority dwindling as a result.
McCall lost and suffered as a result; he had to struggle to pass legislation. But this year, McCall and other renegade Republicans joined with Democrats in elevating Straus into the speakership.
He said he is most proud during his tenure “that I helped restore the process of the House rules and empowered the members.”
The Dallas Morning News writes that some parents in North Texas are questioning their local schools' policies of teaching only abstinence in sex ed.
In the article, titled "Texas sex educators take tentative steps beyond abstinence" the DMN's Jessica Meyers wrote that one parent at a recent McKinney school district's curriculum information night was frustrated that she couldn't even find the word 'condom' in the glossary of the district's health ed textbook.
New state laws require now that local school districts include parents and community members in the decision making process of setting up sex education curricula. The News article notes that, "A newly amended law requires that districts spell out their human sexuality curriculum to parents. It also stipulates that school health advisory councils meet four times a year and consist of at least five members, a majority of whom are parents."
As far as I know, all Collin County school districts teach a draconian brand of abstinence that research proves doesn't work.
The article notes that, "Texas is regularly singled out for its clashing statistics. More government money is spent on abstinence education here than any other state, but Texas leads the country in the percentage of teen mothers who've given birth more than once. It has the country's third-highest teen birth rate.", and then goes on to quote a Frisco High School junior as saying, "They just kind of say, 'Don't do it,'... "And then before prom, they say, 'Don't go to Motel 6.' "
# # #
Don McLeroy has been on the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) since he was first elected to the Board in 1998. He has been a staunch opponent of teaching evolution and has led many of the SBOE's more far right efforts to restate science, english language and social studies curricula to a more fundamentalist christian cant. He represents District 9 which includes a large part of Collin County.
McLeroy, a dentist from Bryan, does not have a campaign website that I can find. He does, however, maintain a site titled "A Little Clear Thinking About Texas Public Schools" where he explains his philosophy of education.
Last year, Gov. Perry nominated McLeroy to be the chair of the SBOE, but the nomination was defeated in the Texas Senate.
The Plano Star Courier article quotes Ratliff saying, “My opponent has shown time and again that he wants to work for public education by telling teachers and education professionals that he knows better than they do what public education needs,” he said. “I simply do not agree with this approach or belief.”
“I want to work with the folks that have been there and know what they need from the State Board of Education,” he said. “I believe in public schools and trust those involved in our public schools to know what is best for our children’s education.”
On his campaign website, Ratliff explains why he is running against McLeroy, "I am running for the SBOE because I want to work for public education by asking what I can do that will help. My opponent has shown time and again that he wants to work for public education by telling teachers and education professionals that he knows better than they do what public education needs. I simply do not agree with this approach or belief."
The race for SBOE, District 9 will mirror many of our local races in Collin County that highlight the schisms within the local GOP between moderate conservatives and the new far-right conservative movement.
# # #
The Plano Downtown Development Fund is flush with cash, reports Theodore Kim, Matthew Haag, and Valerie Wigglesworth in today's Dallas Morning News.
The fund is fueled with property taxes from the downtown businesses and was expected to bring in about $25 million, according to the article. However, because of rising property values, the fund could find itself with $43 million at the end of its life in 2014.
What to do with all that money?
Some $16 million has already been spent on downtown development projects, like the "Courtyard Theater and a multiuse school facility known as the Cox Building".
Now the city want to spend the remainder in consolidating property for development, and the PISD wants some of it to fund an $11.5 million reconstruction of Mendenhall Elementary School, which is just north of downtown and is the city's oldest elementary school.
Aging older schools in east Plano that primarily serve low income, minority students is a major issue in PISD and is a main driver in the district's attempts at redrawing attendance zones in east Plano.
# # #
This afternoon, Collin College and 5 area universities signed an agreement to open the Collin Higher Education Center.
The Center will be located in the new Collin College Administrative Campus being built at the intersection of SH121 and central Expressway. The Center is scheduled to open in January of 2010.
At the Center, students will be able to complete junior- and senior-level college classes and master and doctoral programs offered by Dallas Baptist University, Texas A&M University-Commerce, Texas Woman’s University, The University of Texas at Dallas, and the University of North Texas. The CHEC fills a major gap in Collin County which has no 4 year university.
Dr. Cary Israel, the president of Collin College pointed out that the CHEC will offer convenience to area students and will "save thousands and thousands of gallons of gasoline" with students able to pursue their studies locally.
And speaking of Collin College, last Friday night, the College hosted its "Living Legends" award ceremony at the new library on the Central Park Campus. The Living Legends program honors citizens whose dedication to education have made an extraordinary difference in the county.
The College honored 4 new Legends. for the first time, the College honored a company and a group of citizens. The 2009 Living Legends are, The Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano, the Citizens of McKinney, Texas, Plano attorney David McCall, and Frisco ISD superintendent Dr. Rick Reedy.
Collin College is celebrating its Silver Anniversary this year. It also is celebrating the naming of its 25th Living Legend. As part of ensuring a lasting legacy of the Living Legends, a naming opportunity has been established with a goal of raising $250,000 to name a room that recognizes the Legends on one of the campuses. More than $100,000 has been raised to date. Photographs and profiles will be displayed near the naming site so their legacy will be a lasting memory.
Want to make a Collin County Constable mad? Compare our constables to those in Dallas County.
I don't blame our guys for being angry and a little embarrassed by the shenanigans and felonies perpetrated in our larger neighbor to the south.
Their issues are not our issues.
Having said that however, it must be noted that most of the problems with the Dallas Constables began after they began a serious effort to enforce traffic laws. And it should also be noted that some constables here in Collin County are trying to embark down the same path. And for the same reason - to raise revenue.
Recently, for example, a vendor gave Constable Chuck Presley the gift of an old clunker police interceptor. It had almost 100,000 miles on it, but more importantly to Presley, it also had a siren, light bars, radar and the rest of the equipment needed to patrol and run radar traps.
Does Collin County need four more police agencies setting up speed traps?
Yesterday, the criminal justice blog, Grits for Breakfast, posted a very interesting article about how some Texas legislators are beginning to question the need for constables at all.
I don't necessarily agree with all its conclusions, but I do think Grits offers an intriguing perspective on an issue that does affect Collin County.
Here's a pair of must-read articles from Ed Timms and Kevin Krause at the Dallas News on the evolving role of constables over the last 15 years and whether they've seen too much mission creep:
- Dallas County constables' growing ticketing said to boost safety - and county coffers
- With little scrutiny, Dallas County constables have turned offices into de facto police departments
According to the first story:
[Will] Hartnett, a Republican state representative from Dallas, is concerned with what he sees as a "dramatic expansion" of constables' duties. Constituents, he said, are upset about constables "setting up speed traps and stop-sign traps" – more to write a lot of tickets than to enforce traffic laws.
"There's a difference between enforcement and traps," he said.
Traffic enforcement by constables is praised by some community leaders as a public service that makes Dallas County roads safer. But for a county that relies heavily on fines and fees to pay the bills, such energetic traffic enforcement also is an important revenue stream – especially during an economic downturn. And traffic enforcement has contributed to an unprecedented expansion of constables' operations.
Some justice of the peace courts also are helping to get money from errant motorists into the county's coffers as quickly as possible. They do so by offering deferred disposition – with a probationary period of just a day – for some traffic offenses. If offenders complete the probationary period without another offense, the traffic violation stays off their record.
Such practices have produced results.
Constables are responsible for the majority of traffic cases that end up in JP courts. Revenue from traffic cases in JP courts was about $7.3 million in 2003. It topped $25.8 million in 2008 – an increase of more than 250 percent.
It's interesting to me that it's Republicans like Will Hartnett and Bob Duncan who are raising the most poignant and important questions about constables:
"The question is, in modern-day society, do we need independently elected constables?" said [Robert] Duncan, the state senator from Lubbock. "Because they're basically serving the same function as a [sheriff's] deputy could and probably should be serving."
But this isn't a particularly partisan issue, or it shouldn't be, but really a matter of basic good governance. I absolutely agree that constables are redundant in many of their modern duties and also less accountable generally than municipal PDs and county Sheriffs. Constables are relics; one hundred years from now, I've little doubt history will view them as the same kind of quaint joke as the recently abolished county inspector of hides and animals.
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has announced that it will hold a public hearing Wednesday, September 30 at 4 p.m., at the Maribelle Davis Library, 7501 Independence Pkwy, Suite B, Plano, Texas.
According to TxDOT's press release, the hearing will be to, "gather comments from interested persons regarding the proposed transfer to the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) of a portion of State Highway 121 from Hillcrest Road to Watters Road in Collin County."
The press release then goes on to state that, "Following the public hearing this portion of SH 121 mainlanes will become part of the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) system and will become an extension of the recently renamed Sam Rayburn Tollway; however, the service roads will retain the SH 121 designation. The new seven mile segment of roadway is scheduled to open today."
TxDOT really wants to hear you opinion of what they have already decided to do! A citizen has got to ask, "What's the point?". All decisions have already been made, the grand opening of the new road is already planned the signs are printed. What does TxDOT want? A pat on the back for a new toll road?
Cities, School Boards, the county, the NCTCOG and all sorts of agencies hold public meetings to "gain public input" on proposed projects and bond issues. I know, I've attended many.
I have frequently heard the organizers of these public hearings bemoan the fact that so few citizens bother to show up and speak their mind.
Most of theses hearings are organized and conducted by hired staff or contracted engineering firms. Rarely are the real decision makers present to listen and engage the citizens. Fancy slide shows and easels are displayed, not to present choices, but to convince attendees that the government or agency is working for the good of the community.
So all too often the public leaves with the impression that they attended a propaganda event, not a fact finding hearing.
Most taxpayers I have talked to tell me that they couldn't be bothered to attend a public hearing unless it was to try to stop the government from running a freeway across their front lawn the next morning.
These folks simply believe that their input doesn't matter - that the public hearing is just a show put on after all the decisions have been made.
Sadly for our Democracy, TxDOT has just proven them right.
Video camera company claims WatchGuard Video had unfair advantage in winning state contract
By Matt Pulle | Monday, August 17th, 2009 | Texas Watchdog
When MPH Industries, a Kentucky-based company that makes digital video cameras for patrol cars, lost out on a state contract, it claimed it never had a chance. That’s because, the company argued, the Texas Department of Public Safety wrote the requests for proposals in such a way that only one bidder would win.
That bidder was Watchguard Video, which at the time it landed the contract in 2006, had two state representatives–Republicans Ken Paxton and Byron Cook – among its initial investors. Another financial backer, Bob Griggs, was a former GOP member of the state House.
|State Rep. Ken Paxton|
In correspondence with state officials obtained by Texas Watchdog, MPH Industries does not mention its rivals’ well-connected investors, and it’s unclear if the company knew of them. But MPH claims that Watchguard Video may have received favorable treatment from Texas officials.
MPH's argument was highly technical in nature, but their main point was clear: State officials outlined a very specific type of digital camera that it wanted – and Watchguard was the only company that made that type of camera. That device wasn’t better suited to the demands of police work, MPH claimed. It was just uniquely positioned to take advantage of the state’s bidding process.
“The manner in which the specifications are written is so narrow that the Watchguard is the only system on the market that can meet them,” wrote acting president Kevin Willis in a letter to state officials obtained by Texas Watchdog. “We hope the state will give due consideration to our product, which has been on the market longer and has much wider use than Watchguard.”
In a story first reported by the Associated Press, Paxton and Cook were among the early investors in Watchguard Video, while Cook served on the company’s board. Both Paxton and Cook voted for massive spending bills that funded the state’s contract with the company they partly owned.
Watchguard's deal with the state, which could be worth as much as $10 million, calls for trooper vehicles in Texas to be fitted with WatchGuard? digital cameras. Last year the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department also awarded a contract to the firm.
The Associated Press reported that in April 2008, Watchguard Video claimed that its net earnings skyrocketed 250 percent. About three months later, Cook sold off his investment, with Paxton unloading most of it. On their personal financial statements on file with the state, both Paxton and Cook had disclosed ownership in Watchguard Video in past years. But in the form filed in 2008, and covering calendar year 2007, Paxton did not disclose his ownership share.
Paxton and Cook’s stake in Watchguard Video may have breached the state constitution, which prohibits lawmakers from benefiting from a contract put in place by the legislature. But even if their ties merely place them in a legal gray area, political observers say that Paxton and Cook shouldn’t have anything to do with a company doing business with the state.
“How can Texans ever come to believe that their government acts in the citizens’ best interests when their legislators can’t keep from mixing up their investments with their votes?” says Bill Baumbach, the editor of The Collin County Observer, a local news and political Web site. “And then when found out, these same legislators emit smoke screens that all too frequently go uncontested by the press.”
‘Not a small-time enterprise’
At issue is whether Watchguard benefited by having two lawmakers sign on as investors.
Tela Mange, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety, says nobody at the agency had any contact with Cook or Paxton at the time they were evaluating bids for the videocam contract. She says the agency choose Watchguard because it made the precise type of digital recording device it was looking for.
Robert Vanman, the CEO and founder of Watchguard, says he didn’t divulge the names of his investors to the state, so it’s not like he could have used them to curry favor during the bidding process.
Still, the Plano executive does admit to one curious thing: Using Paxton and Cook’s status as elected officials to build the name of his fledgling firm. An early profile for Watchguard Video noted that his company is “held by an influential shareholder group that includes three state representatives, a judge, and a number of distinguished entrepreneurs.”
If Paxton and Cook were not significant investors — as Vanman is now claiming — why reference them at all?
“The candid answer, ” he says, before a deep pause. “That original profile was on our Web site during the start-up phase of our company, and it was intended to help demonstrate the case that the funding of Watchguard was significant and this was not a small-time enterprise. That was the point of putting that in there.”
One ethics expert says that’s hardly a good excuse.
“The CEO’s logic seems to be if the state has no knowledge that these lawmakers have a vested interest in the company receiving the contract, then it’s all cool,” says Bruce Barry, a management professor at Vanderbilt University. “But concerns about conflict of interest in public affairs are as much about the appearance of conflict as the corruption that may result. The lawmakers who voted these spending bills knew they were investors in firms bidding on state contacts. So they have a vested interest in the contracting procedure.”
The North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) is charged with the operation of tollroads throughout Collin, Denton, Dallas and Tarrant Counties. According to its web site, NTTA is ",a political subdivision of the State of Texas under Chapter 366 of the Transportation Code, is empowered to acquire, construct, maintain, repair and operate turnpike projects; to raise capital for construction projects through the issuance of Turnpike Revenue Bonds; and to collect tolls to operate, maintain and pay debt service on those projects."
Governance of the NTTA is through a nine person Board of Directors. Each of the 4 member counties appoints a Director to staggered 2 year terms. The Governor also appoints one Director, who must reside in a county adjacent to the region. Many argue that since NTTA collects taxes (tolls) and can compel the payment of fines and fees, its Board should be elected, but in fact the legislation creating the NTTA prohibits elected officials from serving on its Board of Directors.
Mr. Wageman, who is serving his second term as President of the Board, is a partner in the law firm of Winstead PC. He was first appointed to NTTA's Board in 2000; his 5th term expires in 2010.
Gary Base is the President/CEO of ViewPoint Bank, and was a former trustee of the Plano ISD. His term also expires in 2010.
Last week's Commissioners Court Agenda included an item on NTTA for discussion in executive Session (secret meeting), "To deliberates the appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline or dismissal of a public officer or employee. NTTA Board." The executive session was postponed until next weeks meeting, but the Collin County Observer has learned that the subject of the meeting will be to discuss the appointment of a replacement for Mr. Base, who according to knowledgeable sources, wants to retire from the NTTA Board.
The Collin County Commissioners Court and the NTTA Board of Directors have had a tumultuous 2009. The court, unhappy with rumored plans that would have moved a portion of the future Dallas North Tollway extension into Denton County, reneged on an agreement with NTTA. The Commissioners then formed the Collin County Tollway Authority and attempted to take over the DNT extension, moving it well into Collin County.
The NTTA Board fought back. Using their connections in the Legislature, the NTTA wielded considerable muscle in sponsoring legislation that would have killed Collin County's ability not only to usurp the DNT, but also to build the Outer Loop or other toll projects. Appearing in a Senate committee, Wageman charged that, "Judge Self and the commissioners have had on their agendas, at least twice over the last few months, essentially court orders to issue contracts on elements [DNT] of our system that are either owned entirely by the NTTA or under contractual arrangements."
The Collin County appointees to the NTTA Board were actively supporting the board's regional outlook - not the county's.
Collin County and especially Judge Keith Self came under withering criticism from members of the legislature. At one point, Senator Carona told Self, "I don't think Collin County plays nice lately. I don't think they have a regional concern, but only for provincial Collin County".
While the county did retain its ability to construct their portion of the Outer Loop, the commissioners are very concerned that the next legislature could severely restrict their authority to build or operate tollroads. The commissioners need the NTTA on their side, if they are to be allowed to maintain their own county toll authority co-existent with the much more powerful NTTA.
Mr. Base's retirement gives the commissioners their first opportunity since the dispute to directly affect the makeup of NTTA's Board. They will get their second chance next summer, when Paul Wageman's term expires.
Given the animosity that has existed between NTTA and the county, it seems that the commissioners would seize the opportunity to further their goals of developing an independent county toll authority by appointing directors who share the court's parochial inability to focus on the good of the region as a whole. That would be a mistake.
The transportation needs of Collin County absolutely require regional solutions. We are not an island.
UPDATE August 9, 2009
On Friday, The Dallas Morning News' Michael Lindenberger confirmed that Gary Base would be stepping down from the NTTA board.
It been impossible for me to post anything this week. We've had family in from out of town, and my evenings have been full.
I would have wrote more on these if I had the time:
Collin County vs. Collin County Auditor.
Our readers will remember that after losing both suits against their auditor, the county commissioners filed a notice of appeal with the Texas 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas. They were due to file their brief last month, but instead asked for an extension that expired on April 15. On the 13th, the commissioners asked for an additional extension - until April 29.
In their first extension request, the commissioners explained that they needed the extension because they were actively involved in mediation with the auditor, and that any agreement would have to be voted on in an open meeting.
It's probably safe to assume that the untimely death of Homer Reynolds, the auditor's lead attorney, has slowed any negotiations.
I note that the agenda for Monday afternoon's Commissioners Court workshop includes an executive session (secret meeting) to discuss the case. I doubt that the court will be able to take any action at a workshop, but I suspect that if there is to be a settlement it will be decided at the scheduled April 27th meeting of the commissioners court.
The Local Option Transportation District bill:
After Keith Self's dismal performance at the Texas Senate hearing on SB 855 last month, the Senate Transportation Committee passed Senator Carona's bill that would allow voters in several Texas suburban counties to call an election to vote on creating a mass transportation district that could levy taxes.
Almost all of the counties in suburban areas in the state have been very supportive of the bill which was passed by the entire Senate on April 14 on a 29-9 roll call vote.
The House version of the bill is styled as HB 9. The House Transportation Committee has scheduled a public hearing on HB 9 for this Tuesday, April 21. Unlike the Senate Transportation & Homeland Security Committee which Senator Florence Shapiro is a member, there are no Collin County representatives are on the House Transportation Committee.
Most agree that passage of the bill in the House will be much more difficult than in the Senate. However, it is expected to pass.
I do not know if Judge Self is planning on attending Tuesday's committee hearing. The Commissioners Court is scheduled to discuss HB 9 and other legislative priorities at Monday's workshop.
Collin County's State House Representative Jodie Laubenberg serves on three legislative committees. Most committees meet in the morning. Texas House records show that this session, she has missed morning committee recorded quorum calls over 85% of the time, including over 60% of the meetings of the House Public Health Committee.
Most of the 8:00 AM Public Health Committee meetings were recessed after the House was called into session and met again later in the day. Rep. Laubenberg did show up for most of the afternoon sessions of the committee.
Of the 11 meetings of the Public Health Committee held since February 24 and for which minutes are posted on the Legislature's web site, Rep. Laubenberg was absent for 2 and missed the morning session on 5 more.
Because of her attendance, Ms. Laubenberg was marked "absent" for 60% of the roll call votes in the committee. Since the legislative session began, the Public Health Committee has voted to pass 70 bills to the full House. Laubenberg was marked "absent" on all but 28 of those 70 roll call votes.
The Natural Resources Committee has posted minutes on 10 meetings, 6 of them began at 8:00 AM. Ms. Laubenberg missed 6 of the 10 quorum calls, including all but one of the 8:00 AM calls. However, since she did eventually make it to most of the committee meetings, she was marked "absent" in only 13 of the 85 roll call votes on bills.
The Local & Consent Calendars Committee has met 4 times this session. Ms. Laubenberg was marked absent in 2 of the 4. In those 2 absences, she also missed the recorded votes to pass bills to the House floor.
I have sent the following email to Representative Jodie Laubenberg:
Rep. Laubenberg (R-Parker), who is serving her 4th term as representative from District 89 in south-eastern Collin County, was the past chair of the Public Health Committee. After the previous chair, Dianne Delisi decided not to run for re-election, then Speaker Tom Craddick appointed Laubenberg chair in July of 2008 after the 80th Session ended.
The Collin County Observer has criticized Ms. Laubenberg for not issuing a report to the legislature on regional health care.
Last session, Laubenberg authored HB 3154 , which called for a series of public hearings on regional approaches to public health. She held only one meeting, which was highly orchestrated and allowed no public testimony. No public hearings were ever held, and the committee report that her bill mandated to be submitted to the legislature by September 1, 2008 has still not been released.
HB515 was introduced by Reps. Allen Vaught and Carol Kent, both Dallas Democrats. The bill would allow citizens to file a petition forcing an election to merge the Dallas County Hospital District (Parkland) with a contiguous county. Elections would have to be held in both the petitioning county and in Dallas County, and voters in both would have to approve it for the merger to take place.
The Collin County Commissioners Court vehemently opposes the bill. Merging with Parkland is one of their worst fears.
Dallas County Judge Jim Foster and Parkland President Dr. Ron Anderson both testified that the merger was to the benefit of all counties, and might be needed so that Parkland could remain a level 1 Trauma center. If Parkland were to give up their level one status, the closest level one center would be in Houston. It was pointed out that when a traffic accident in Collin or Rockwall Counties results in a horrific trauma, the patient is almost always airlifted to Parkland - whether or not the victim is insured. Loss of access to Parkland would inevitably cost the lives of some suburban residents.
Dr. Anderson and members of the committee pointed out that Parkland not only served the poor and indigent, but also insured Dallas and suburban residents with the region's premier trauma center, burn unit and 24 hour psychiatric center.
Parkland's indigent care covers uninsured citizens who earn up to 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL). Judge Foster testified that last year, Parkland absorbed over $20 million in unpaid bills from suburban residents. Collin county covers up to 100$ of FPL, but also subjects applicants to an asset test that disqualifies more poor folks than the income level does. Other counties have more stringent income qualifications.
At one point during his testimony, Dr. Anderson quoted the Ellis County Judge as telling him, "Why buy the cow, if I can get the milk for free."
While County Judge Keith Self attended the hearing, he wisely (after the drubbing he got the last time he appeared before the County Affairs committee) did not testify. Commissioner Kathy Ward and the County's Health director, Candy Blair spoke on behalf of the commissioners court.
Commissioner Ward was closely questioned by several members of the committee, especially Chairman Garnet Coleman and Rep. Valinda Bolton. The Chair, in particular was inclined to lecturing on the history of health care benefits and legislation in Texas. Commissioner Ward, however remained poised and gracious, and the committee reciprocated. Her reception was in stark contrast to the last two legislative appearances by our county officials.
Ward testified that the county was willing to explore new ideas in indigent care, but that they were opposed to HB515 because the election would be too expensive and because it wasn't clear how much of Parkland's debt Collin County residents would have to assume.
Ward also stated that Collin County paid its bills. She noted that last year, the county paid Parkland on 143 invoices for 'qualified' Collin County indigents. What she did not list was the number of bills that went unpaid, because the county would not grant benefits because of income or asset tests.
Ward noted that an election would cost the county over $400,000. She rightly stated that HB515 would allow only 50 voters to file a petition to force an election. Ward pointed out that Collin County had any number of political activists who could go to any 7-11 and get 50 signatures before lunch.
Ward's $400,000 figure would be correct if the referendum was the only item on a county-wide ballot. However, HB515 does not mandate a special election. Nothing in the bill would prevent the commissioners from scheduling the election at the next regular election date. Combining the referendum with normally scheduled elections would drastically reduce the cost.
Ward also objected to a provision in the bill which would grant Dallas County commissioners the right to appoint the Hospital district's representatives from the annexed county. She stated that there was no way Collin County Commissioners would agree to that. She is right on target with that - in order to be fair to all sides, that provision of the bill needs to be reworked.
As to the debt issue, it is addressed in the bill, "If the district has outstanding debts or taxes, the voters in the election to approve the annexation must also determine if the annexed territory will assume its proportion of the debts or taxes if added to the district."
Candy Blair told the committee that according to Parkland's own statements during its last bond election, 90% of patients from suburban counties were insured and their bills were paid at a much higher percentage than patients from Dallas County.
With both HB515 and the Local Option Transportation Bill (SB855) asking local voters to take control over their own destinies by using the ballot box to decide if they want to support mass transit or improved health care. The 81st legislature is blazing a new trail in proposing innovative approaches to some of the most difficult political problems we face in suburban Collin County.
The legislature is not dictating new taxes, instead it asks the voters, "Is a mass transit system worth paying higher taxes?" and "Is improving health care access worth paying a hospital district tax?"
The county would do well to negotiate with the legislature to remove the more objectionable provisions of these bills - and then let the voters decide.
The hearing on HB515 begins at time stamp 4:26:25.
Kathy Ward's testimony begins at time stamp 4:55:33.
The Dallas Morning News Transportation Blog today published an unsigned "talking points" memo from TxDOT designed to counter media and public criticism of its handling the Central Expressway HOV lanes.
In its memo, TxDOT insists that there are no design flaws in the HOV.
They do, however, state that the original design was for a reversible lane with concrete barriers. (After complaints from local politicians in Richardson and Collin County and after two studies, TxDOT relented.) The transportation department confirms that another study is ongoing.
The memo lists three traffic fatalities that have occurred on Central since the HOV lanes were opened, two of them were caused by drivers illegally jumping the lane barriers.
What got to me was the statement TxDOT makes about future plans, "While interim efforts within current funding, right-of-way and other constraints will continue, long-term planning for optimal facilities is ongoing. 635/The New LBJ project is under development and will provide a case study on separated managed lanes. Current advanced planning is underway to address I-35E with plans to implement similar managed lane design similar to The New LBJ. As noted earlier, long-term planning for the US 75 corridor is beginning and will continue. Performance of managed lanes on The New LBJ project is the template for the future."
Managed lanes, such as what's planned for I-635 are toll lanes, very expensive toll lanes. I call them Lexus Lanes.
So TxDOT's solution to the HOV complaints is to toll more?
Good Lord, when will it end!
When Ed Housewright of the Dallas Morning News published his story, "Collin, Denton officials debate path of future Dallas North Tollway extension" on the conflict between Collin and Denton Counties over the DNT extension, my first reaction was, "Good Lord, it's about time someone at the DMN noticed!". After all, it was back last spring when the Collin County commissioners rescinded their agreement with Denton County and began taking the first steps to creating the Collin County Toll Road Authority.
Now after Senator Carona filed a bill to force Collin County to submit to NTTA and after Keith Self got a tongue lashing from Senators Carona and Watson over the County's high handed actions, NOW the Dallas News catches on.
So it would appear that now NTTA wants to float an idea that is a win-win for both counties.
Why not have two Dallas North Tollways?, says NTTA. We'll take one up northwest through Denton County to I-35 and the other northeast through Collin County to US-75. Of course, they say, this "Y" is phase 4 of the DNT extension, and is at least 10 years away from beginning construction, so we have a lot of time to work out the details with you.
The only problem is what is Collin County to do with the Outer Loop? Last month, the county commissioners approved spending over $3 million to begin engineering on Phase 3 of their portion of this new toll road.
Phase 3 of the Outer Loop connects the Dallas North Tollway to US-75 only 3 miles south of the proposed "Y". Does the region need 2 tollways between Proper and Celina that make a connection to I35 and US-75? I doubt it.
Should Collin County wait 10 years to find out? Or should they gamble with 3 million dollars?
Delaying the engineering, will delay the project and make it much more expensive. But building the "Y" puts the entire regional Outer Loop in jeopardy with two toll roads competing for the same traffic.
Is it more likely that NTTA is playing a game with our intrepid commissioners?
One glance at a map tells the story. The "Y" is a direct threat to the regional Outer Loop. (I've sketched in the green "Y" and orange Outer Loop. The Dallas North Tollway phase 4 extension is the red dashed line.)
There is no reason to have two toll roads only three miles apart that make the same connections. There just isn't enough traffic to Oklahoma to justify both.
NTTA's Chairman, Paul Wageman told the commissioners a few weeks ago that the Outer Loop is not a Collin County exclusive. It is a regional highway covering 6 counties and possibly connecting to the Trans Texas Corridor. It is much bigger than Collin County - no matter how important it is to our county, it has regional and statewide significance.
This trial balloon "Y" proposal seems designed to reinforce that lesson on the country boys in McKinney.
Collin, Denton officials debate path of future Dallas North Tollway extension
Monday, March 23, 2009
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
A simple line on a map could translate into billions of dollars for either Collin County or Denton County.
That line represents a proposed extension of the Dallas North Tollway, and the adjacent counties are squabbling over the alignment because of the economic bonanza it could bring as homes and businesses spring up around it.
Collin and Denton county officials had agreed the 7-mile stretch should be on the counties' common border to let each share in the riches.
But now Collin County commissioners insist on an alignment entirely within their county.
"This thing is like pure gold as far as the tax base is concerned," Collin County Commissioner Jerry Hoagland said. "Office, retail and so forth will spring up when it hits the ground."
Denton County officials accuse Collin commissioners of reneging on a written resolution in 2005 to share the extension right of way.
"I was very disappointed," Denton County Commissioner Andy Eads said. "Everyone represents their own jurisdiction, but we also have to wear the hat of regionalism."
The North Texas Tollway Authority alone will decide the path of the expansion, from FM428 in northern Collin County to its border with Grayson County.
Despite the agreement between Collin and Denton counties, the agency has never committed to build the extension along their boundary, said Paul Wageman, NTTA board chairman.
An alignment decision is more than a year away, he said. Construction probably wouldn't be complete for more than a decade.
"We're not going to make a political decision," said Wageman, a Collin County appointee to the board. "We're going to make the right decision for the agency."
The tollway authority recently proposed an extension alternative that could please both counties.
Instead of a single roadway northward, the agency is considering a branch that would veer northwest across Denton County and another northeast into Collin County.
"It's the best of both worlds," Collin County Commissioner Joe Jaynes said.
If the NTTA board decided on the so-called Y alignment, the Collin County branch probably would be built first because it's growing faster than Denton County, Wageman said.
Each leg would connect with another major thoroughfare.
The Collin County extension would run into U.S. 75, while the Denton County arm would meet Interstate 35, Wageman said.
"It gets both counties what they ultimately want, which is greater access into the metroplex and all the development that goes along those roadways," he said.
Dave Denison, a Denton County appointee to the NTTA board, said he's willing to consider the split extensions.
"It's got some interesting possibilities," he said. "But it probably hasn't been studied enough yet to really draw a conclusion."
However, he said he still likes the alignment that would straddle the boundary of Collin and Denton counties. Mr. Denison said he's angry that Collin County commissioners voted last year to rescind the 2005 agreement.
"The alignment was fair for both counties," he said. "Nobody likes to have a partner renege on them."
Collin County commissioners also riled NTTA board members recently by creating a separate county toll road authority.
The new body hasn't taken any action yet. But commissioners want the option to operate county toll roads and keep the fares.
Now, Collin County partners with Denton, Dallas and Tarrant counties in the North Texas Tollway Authority.
Fares collected on the Dallas North Tollway, Bush Turnpike and other roads are used for improvements throughout the four counties.
But the NTTA has so many projects under way it won't be able to build toll roads fast enough in booming Collin County, officials say.
"We can't wait for the NTTA," Hoagland said. "We've got to take matters into our own hands."
Wageman, however, said Collin County should focus its energies on supporting the NTTA and its regional approach.
"They are a one-quarter owner of our agency," he said. "We have a tremendous investment in Collin County."
County Judge Keith Self has posted his written statement given to the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee on SB855.
|Sen. Watson lectures Keith Self at SB855 hearing|
The written statement is very different from Self's oral testimony last week. Both however refer to the Local Option Transportation Act as a "tax increase". That characterization was hotly disputed by Senators Carona and Watson during Self's appearance at the committee hearings.
In a phrase reminiscent of Self's February, 2008 weird blog post comparing the NCTCOG to the Soviet Union's central planning, Self several times refers to the bill as building "a command economy".
On Sunday, the Dallas Morning News wrote an editorial piece on Self's appearance at the hearing. Calling it the, "Keith Self side show", the editorial noted that "Keith Self doesn't speak for all of Collin County", and that the senate bill gives local taxpayers a choice on whether to tax themselves or not.
On Monday, Judge Self is expected to brief the Commissioners' Court on his testimony and the status of SB855 and other bills the court has labeled priorities. At his briefing at the last court session, Self described the committee hearings as no place for "sissies". I wonder if he'll now be comparing Austin to Golgotha.
After the near lynching Keith Self has received in his last two appearances before a legislative committee, the Commissioners Court might do well to appoint one of its more rational members as their spokesman for any future committee testimony.
Update: March 25 - by a 7-2 vote, The Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee passed SB855 to the full Senate.
Judge Keith Self should have seen it coming. After all, he told the commissioners court last week that testifying before a legislative committee was "no place for sissies."
Tuesday, members of the Texas Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee proved him right about at least that one thing.
The bill would allow cities to require a commissioners court to call an election where the voters could create a taxing district that would be able to develop mass transportation projects.
Self, ignoring the fact that the bill allows the voters to choose to tax themselves or not, has been charging that passage of the bill, "Would add a whole new set of taxes to fund every sort of transportation and transit project, as well as give authorities over those tax funds to an entity outside the county."
As Judge Self learned, while email and blogs can get away with inflammatory and half true statements, its not a good idea to use the same tactic in a legislative committee hearing.
SB 855 has the support of most of the cities and counties in the region. Representatives from Denton County, Dallas County, Hunt County, the cities of Plano, McKinney, Frisco, Richardson, Greenville, Commerce and Arlington, the Fort Worth, Arlington and Dallas Chambers of Commerce, DFW Airport and DART all testified for passage of the bill.
Opposition came from several anti-tax PACs and of course from Judge Keith Self.
After more that 2 hours of testimony, the drama came when the Committee called for Judge Self and Commissioner Hoagland to testify.
Self led off, beginning with a comment that over the last ten years, state spending had grown twice as fast as the increase in population and inflation. Self then stated that, "This is a tax increase". When he later repeated the tax increase charge, it was too much for Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) to bear.
Watson said, "You just indicated that we're passing a tax increase. I think you're wrong about that. I hope that what you'll do is go back and look at the bill."
Watson added, "When you say we're passing a tax, that is not true. It is responding to a request from local elected officials and local communities, saying,'We need some help'.".
Wagging his finger at Self, Watson added, "But to say we are passing a tax increase is just a wrong statement. And I just want to make sure that you're clear about that, because I think it is inappropriate... The local community has to make the decision as to whether to have an election, and then would have to have an election."
Watson then told Self, "I know that in politics it's fun and it gets some people some support by throwing around words that's not entirely accurate, but I would ask you that when you're appearing before this committee, that's working as hard as it can to meet the needs of people across this state, that you take care in the way you characterize their work."
Self should have seen it coming.
If he did, he shrugged it off and plowed on. After the Judge completed his statement calling the result of the bill a 'hodge-podge system', Senator John Carona (R-Richardson) weighed in.
Carona let loose a blast at Self, saying, "Judge, we would welcome your help, but thus far we haven't seen any of it. The only thing I've seen so far is a series of emails you've sent out to the various anti-tax groups like yourself. But we would welcome your constructive input."
"But given the fact that overwhelmingly the cities in your county support this, it seems to me that you do a disservice to the community by sending out the missives you've sent out before you even knew or understood what the bill said."
Carona concluded with, "And then divorcing yourself from any opportunity to make the bill better or to offer anything constructive is really tragic. It is especially tragic that in a progressive part of the state like Collin County that this would represent the future leadership of the county."
After the whipping on Self, it was Commissioner Jerry Hoagland's turn to speak. Hoagland began his testimony by pointing out that when he was first elected commissioner, the county's population was 144,000. It is now over 750,000, Hoagland said, and will be as large as Dallas County is now by around 2042.
Reading from a prepared statement Hoagland said that failure to plan for future growth would result in log jams on our highways streets and toll roads.
Calling those who call the county's tax rate too high are playing "chicken little, the sky is falling", Hoagland pointed out that Collin County citizens pay some of the lowest county taxes in the state.
"I believe there is something worse than paying a few dollars in taxes. That something is sticking our heads in the sand and not planning for the future. Growth will gridlock us in the future and therefore cost us more tomorrow if we don't deal with this problem today.", said Hoagland.
Hoagland testified that the people have said they want rail mass transit, and that local government officials have no right to say that the people can not choose to tax themselves by holding an election and voting.
SB855 offers voters a choice of several tax schemes. It allows cities to require a countywide election where the taxes and district would be voted on by the county's voters. Senator Shapleigh (D-El Paso) objected to the bill because he believed it would create a number of districts instead of a united highway and rail system. Shapleigh and several Senators stated that the best way to fund transportation would be to raise the gasoline tax. While many on the committee agreed that a gas tax is a simpler and better approach, it was noted that a gas tax raise is impossible to enact since Governor Rick Perry has vowed to veto any gas tax hike.
SB855 is expected to be approved by the committee in a few days, after some tweaking.
After the fireworks over SB855, the committee then held a hearing on SB882.
SB882 is NTTAs response to the attempt by the Collin County Commissioners Court to hijack a future portion of the Dallas North Tollway. SB882 would give a regional transit authority, namely NTTA veto power over toll projects created by the Collin County Toll Road Authority.
In his testimony, NTTA Chairman Paul Wageman of Plano said that it made no sense for two public agencies to be at loggerheads over the same project without some level of cooperation.
Wageman then charged that, "Judge Self and the commissioners have had on their agendas, at least twice over the last few months, essentially court orders to issue contracts on elements of our system that are either owned entirely by the NTTA or under contractual arrangements."
Senator Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) tried to set the stage for a compromise, saying, "surely there is one way we can meet in the middle." Shapiro seemed surprised to learn that the county had tried to expropriate a part of the DNT.
Senator Carona jumped in, asking to be part of any negotiating team, saying, "I don't think Collin County plays nice lately. I don't think they have a regional concern, but only for provincial Collin County".
"Bad things happen if you don't play nice", Carona added.
Judge Self did testify, pleading that the county had already spent over $3 million on the Outer Loop and that the agenda items were a clerical mistake.
The bill was left pending further negotiations.
The county judge has now made two trips to the Capitol this month to testify at public hearings. Both ended poorly for him and his cause - in both Self was embarrassed to find that his brand of bombast and half truth might work in McKinney, but it is a real mistake to try to carry the same approach to Austin.
After the last legislative hearing, on the County Auditor bill, Self said he learned that the committee hearings were no place for sissies. It's too bad that's all he learned.
It's not about sissies. It's about integrity. It's about leadership.
Update 9:30AM on March 19
The Dallas Morning News blogs covered the hearing and the Collin County Observer:
The public hearing was captured on video tape and can be seen on the Texas Legislature's web site.
Judge Self's testimony on SB855 can be seen at time stamp 2:10:35
Jerry Hoagland's testimony is at time stamp 2:15:50
Hoagland's written statement is here.
Discussion of SB882 begins at time stamp 4:13:00
Frisco's Allen Biehl writes for The Frisco Enterprise and posts many of his columns on his blog, The Frisco Line. Beihl is certainly one of the better local commentators. I enjoy his writing - it is usually thought provoking, and is rarely predictable.
On March 6, he published this piece on the Texas Legislature's attempts to control the governance of HOAs.
On the hierarchy of human needs, shelter ranks pretty high. Depending upon your situation, it’s likely right up there with food, water and watching football. Sadly, it’s this need that is most imperiled by today’s economic downturn. Foreclosures are at an all-time high, as homeowners struggle to meet their mortgage payments.
Consider, then, the case of homeowners who have met their mortgage obligation, yet still face foreclosure. You see, Texas is one of the few states that allows Home Owners Associations to initiate foreclosure for non-payment of fees. Granted, HOA dues are a contractual obligation that buyers know about before they sign on the dotted line. But unpaid fees can be made up of more than just dues. Penalties. Fines. Special assessments. All can add up – and in some cases, compound – until a homeowner is facing a hefty sum.
The scary part this is that, unlike most other governing bodies, HOAs are not subject to the same rules that apply to city or county governments, or even school districts. HOAs are guided only by their by-laws and declarations, which may vary widely from group to group, and may not even be publicly disclosed. They’re often controlled by people with little or no experience in public policy. This has led to cases where homeowners have racked up serious fees, often for minor “offenses” having nothing to do with dues. Push comes to shove and the next thing you know, they’re facing the loss of the roof over their heads.
At least two Texas legislators have had enough. Burt Solomons (R-Carrolton) has filed House Bill 1976 to try and curb some of the power HOAs wield in Texas. State Senator Royce West has filed a similar bill (SB429) in the Senate. Solomons' bill seeks to curtail HOAs in several areas, but the most significant is that it removes their ability to foreclose on a homeowner’s mortgage due to unpaid fines. They can still file a lien against the property, but in most cases they’ll have to wait until the property is sold to collect.
Taking the fight one step further, Solomons’ bill would change how HOAs do business. First of all, it requires that HOAs follow the same Open Meeting guidelines as every other government entity. No more closed door sessions and behind the scenes machinations. Everything out in the open, folks.
Two State Senators and four State Legislators represent the voters in the Texas State Legislature from districts that include parts of Collin County.
We the voters elect these folks to represent our interests, yet many of our local governments believe they have to hire expensive and well-connected lobbyists in order for their voice to be heard.
It would be near impossible to determine exactly how much of your tax money has been spent by local Collin County governments and quasi-governmental bodies to lobby the current session of the Legislature. However, the Texas Ethics Commission does require lobbyists to register and to reveal who they are representing, along with an estimated billing of their efforts.
I have listed below those lobbyists who have reported that they represent local government bodies, as well as government associations that our tax money pays dues to, and quasi-governmental bodies that operate with your tax dollars.
All this lobbying begs the question, Why do we need to pay others to insure that our elected officials look out for us?
The following list is distilled from Texas Ethics Commission Reports. The list shows the client, followed by their lobbyist(s), along with the lobbyists registration number and the anticipated reportable revenue from that client.
City of Allen
Hill, Fred (00020297) $25,000 - $49.999.99
City of Celina
Scott, Rider (00035064) Less Than $10,000.00
City of Frisco
Aghamalian, Brandon T. (00059188) $10,000 - $24,999.99
Carr, Snapper L. (00039466) $10,000 - $24,999.99
McCartt, J. (00050674) Less Than $10,000.00
Russell, Kerry E. (00017375) Less Than $10,000.00
City of McKinney
Erben, Randall H. (00013689) $25,000 - $49.999.99
Wakefield, Kakhi Huffaker (00062269) Less Than $10,000.00
Yarbrough, Brian G. (00037475) Less Than $10,000.00
City of Richardson
Hill, Fred (00020297) $50,000 - $99,999.99
Collin County, Texas
Hudson, James Greg (00036094) Less Than $10,000.00
Conference of Urban Counties
Hill, Fred (00020297) $50,000 - $99,999.99
County Judges & Commissioners Association of Texas
Allison, James P. (00050989) $100,000 - $149,999.99
Dallas Area Rapid Transit
Brown, Jay P. (00039172) Less Than $10,000.00
Gibson, Machree Garrett (00028312) Less Than $10,000.00
Graydon, Galt (00013173) Less Than $10,000.00
Hill, Fred (00020297) $10,000 - $24,999.99
Propes, Jay W. (00014474) Less Than $10,000.00
Swan, Shannon Lea (00014744) Less Than $10,000.00
North Texas Municipal Water District
Embrey, Ty H. (00056282) Less Than $10,000.00
Lewis, Ron E. (00020172) $25,000 - $49.999.99
Martinez, Mindy M. (00060781) Less Than $10,000.00
Rochelle, Martin C. (00053106) $10,000 - $24,999.99
Russell, Kerry E. (00017375) Less Than $10,000.00
Sledge, Brian L. (00041086) Less Than $10,000.00
Valdez, Gerald A. (00053423) $25,000 - $49.999.99
North Texas Tollway Authority
Acevedo, Julianne (00053651) Less Than $10,000.00
Cain, Randy C. (00025263) $25,000 - $49.999.99
Eschberger, Brenda (00029854) Less Than $10,000.00
Johnson, Michael J. (00055885) Less Than $10,000.00
Kelley, Russell T. (00013737) Less Than $10,000.00
Kemptner, Sara (00057952) Less Than $10,000.00
McCarley, James Bradley (00034739) $50,000 - $99,999.99
McGarah, Carol (00051437) Less Than $10,000.00
Waldon, Barbara (00057030) Less Than $10,000.00
Texas Association of Counties
Boethel, Carey (00013205) Less Than $10,000.00
Brown, Timothy W. (00060546) Less Than $10,000.00
Casteel, Carter (00051154) $50,000 - $99,999.99
Emerson, Paul K. (00060548) Less Than $10,000.00
Erskine, Candis B. (00035590) $ 0.00
Erskine, John M. Jr. (00012969) $25,000 - $49.999.99
Flores-Ortiz, Aurora (00060541) Less Than $10,000.00
Forbes, Nanette (00056550) Less Than $10,000.00
Ford, Victoria C. (00060035) $10,000 - $24,999.99
Garcia, Laura (00060547) Less Than $10,000.00
Hill, Fred (00020297) $150,000 - $199,999.99
Leo, Myra (00034631) Less Than $10,000.00
McGinnis, Larry D. (00013432) $25,000 - $49.999.99
Nicholes, Laura (00053596) Less Than $10,000.00
Norris, Karen A. (00013179) Less Than $10,000.00
Roberts, Cary L. (00033594) $50,000 - $99,999.99
Sugg, Paul J. (00050735) Less Than $10,000.00
Thompson, John (00053597) Less Than $10,000.00
"It's not going to be for sissies." That's how County judge Keith Self cautioned the members of the court on testifying before a Texas House Committee. Self was relating to his experience at the Texas House Committee on County Affairs hearing on HB561 last Monday.
In his description of the hearing he said "it was all there, the politics of destruction and demonization." What he meant to say was, "There were a lot of witnesses there who disagreed with me." He then charged that he was chastised by two counties whose IT efforts were still in the dark ages.
In fact, there were no personal or nasty attacks. HB561 is a bad bill; it drew a determined opposition from auditors from around the state. The County Affairs Committee saw the bill as an attempt by the county to circumvent the verdict of the court in Collin County vs. Collin County Auditor
Self noted that he "learned a lot" from the experience. He was warning the court that Collin County efforts to support a bill allowing a county to require engineers, architects and surveyors to compete for county business by competitive bid would face strong opposition.
Self was speaking about the county's support for HB1105. That bill, authored by Jodie Laubenberg and Ken Paxton was written at the request of the Collin County Commissioners.
Self is right, he's going to face some very stiff opposition to HB1105. And he'll likely lose.
He might as well get used to it. It would appear that none of the county's legislative agenda will make it into law.
Collin County has defined these bills as its Legislative Agenda:
Author: Jerry Madden, Plano
"Relating to the authority of county auditors with respect to computer software and data of other local officers or departments."
This bill aims to strip the county auditor of the ability to monitor software. It was filed at the request of Collin County, and was presented in public hearing on Monday. It will not get out of Committee.
Author: Jerry Madden, Plano
"Relating to certain employment functions of county government."
This bill is also seen as an attack on the Collin County Auditor. It was debated in Monday's public hearing. I suspect its only chance of getting enacted will be if all mention of the auditor are removed.
Author: Jerry Madden, Plano
"Relating to the use of video teleconferencing systems in certain criminal proceedings."
This bill would allow video testimony in grand jury proceedings and in certain plea hearings. It is generally considered unconstitutional, and will not get out of committee. It was written at the request of the Commissioners Court.
Author: Jodi Laubenberg, Parker | et al.
"Relating to procuring contracts for certain professional services by a governmental entity."
This bill would allow the county to add a competitive bid dimension to the process of selecting engineers and architects for large construction projects. It was also filed at the request of the commissioners court. While the bill has some merit, it will draw powerful opposition. I doubt it will survive.
SB855 & HB9
Author: John Carona, Richardson & Truitt | et al.
"Relating to local options regarding transportation and mobility improvement projects in certain counties."
These bills would allow citizens to hold an election to form a mass transportation district that could levy a variety of taxes. It has wide support of most of the larger cities, and of DART and the RTC. It is expected to pass. The County opposes the bills.
HB2334 & SB882
Author: Geren & Carona
"Relating to the powers and duties of a regional tollway authority, including the establishment of an administrative adjudication hearing procedure; creating an offense."
These bills would gut the ability of the Collin County Toll Road Authority to build any toll road without getting the approval of the NTTA. The bills are seen as an aggressive self-defense move by the NTTA after Collin County tried to take over a portion of the Dallas North Tollway. By grasping for a piece of the DNT, the commissioners may lose the ability to build the Outer Loop. The bill sets the stage for a David and Goliath political battle. The problem is that the county forgot to bring their sling. Or as I remember from the "Untouchables", the county brought a knife to a gun fight. The commissioners are asking NTTA to negotiate a truce.
Since April of 2008, The Collin County Observer has been the only news source covering this expensive ongoing turf war. We're happy that WFAA and Mr. Shipp's investigative skills have finally 'uncovered' this ongoing waste of taxpayer dollars. (We're also happy to include WFAA among our regular readers.)
In fairness, Shipp and Gloria Campos did a fine job of reporting. They even almost got it right most of the time. The video and accompanying story are posted on WFAA's website.
At the last minute before the hearing, Rep. Madden replaced his bill with a watered down "committee substitute" bill. The committee substitute still removed authority from the Auditor and gave department managers a veto over his ability to audit software. Madden told the committee that he wasn't finished rewriting the bill, and he would submit another rewrite.
I testified at the hearing, which lasted almost 3 hours. There was a good representation of auditors from around the state who testified against the bill.
The only people who spoke in favor of HB561 were Collin County Judge Keith Self, 2 county employees and Donald Lee, from the Texas Conference on Urban Counties (CUC).
You might remember that it is the CUC who is selling the Odyssey software to Collin and other counties around the state.
Testifying against the bill was the former Collin County Auditor, Pasco Parker, the current auditor Donald Cozad and 2 of his staff. Also offering testimony against the bill were representatives from El Paso County, Tarrant County, Travis County, Gaines County and the Texas Association of County Auditors.
By the end of the hearing, it seemed clear that the committee members believed that the bill would attempt to, in the words of one committee member, "change the rules for all 254 Texas Counties - only because the Collin County couldn't find a way to get along with their own auditor". Several committee members seemed embarrassed that this bill was brought before them.
My prediction is that HB561 is DOA - dead on arrival.
The hearing was recorded, and can be seen on the Texas Legislature's website.
The commissioners can drag this on at even more taxpayer expense. They have an appeal pending at the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas. Their brief is due by April 15.
They can drag it on, or they can save us a whole lot of money by making peace with Mr. Cozad. They should give him the access he needs, and if they feel like suing someone, let them sue Tyler Technologies, who wrote the Odyssey program that couldn't be audited in accordance with state law.
Then, instead of paying the $600/hr that Peter Vogel is charging them, I'm sure Mr. Cozad could refer the commissioners to a good $250 an hour attorney.
Shortly after I wrote "Collin badly understimulated", I heard a rumor that Tarrant County, TxDOT, and the RTC were working on a deal.
Tarrant County was not going to be able to collect the SH 121 funds promised it in the contract with NTTA, so the wheelers and dealers came up with the plan that Fort Worth would get the lion's share of the stimulus funds and in return, Collin County would get TxDOT money for US 380 and other projects.
It looks like that's exactly what happened.
On Thursday, Michael Lindenberger reported in the Dallas Morning News that the "DFW Connector" in Tarrant County would receive $250 million in TxDOT stimulus funds. The DFW Connector is a $917 million project containing both free lanes and tolled "managed" lanes.
The RTC voted to send another $144 million of stimulus funds to Tarrant County for interchanges on the Southwest Parkway, a toll road to be build by NTTA.
These decisions mean that all of the stimulus money earmarked for large projects in North Texas will be spent in Tarrant County.
The McKinney Courier-Gazette reports that the RTC also voted to send $27.5 million of TxDOT funds to complete the US 380 expansion. The US 380 project is one of the increasingly few "non tolled" projects (at least it is for now) for which TxDOT has committed funding.
Several legislators were critical of the plan TxDOT proposed to spend the federal stimulus money. They charged that 70% of the funds were going to tolled roads or "toll-related" roads.
Of course, the missing link in this deal is the $2+ billion in concession fees for SH 121. That money is still embargoed by TxDOT. They have promised to release it for projects approved by the RTC that are connected to the State Highway system, but with the legislature in session, and especially with legislators ticked off at TxDOT, anything could happen.
The Texas House County Affairs Committee has scheduled a public hearing on Rep. Jerry Madden's bill to restrict the ability of a county auditor to audit software financial transactions.
Madden's bill, HB561 was filed at the request of the Collin County Commissioners Court. The commissioners have lost 2 law suits so far in their attempt to keep the auditor from accessing financial transactions in several large software packages.
The Legislative Budget Board description of HB561 is:
After spending over $300,000 in legal fees on their suits, the commissioners asked the Collin County legislative delegation to draft a bill to accomplish their goal of thwarting the constitutional checks and balances built into the auditor's responsibilities.
The commissioners, who chafe at any restriction on their authority, have also asked the legislative delegation to draft a bill limiting the authority of the purchasing board. Both the County Auditor and the County Purchasing Agent are appointed, and their salaries are set by judicial boards outside of the commissioners' authority.
Plano Republican Representative Brian McCall has authored a book that is being published by the University of Texas Press, this month on the power of the Texas governor. It looks to be an interesting read, and I've ordered my copy.
Dr. McCall earned his PhD from UTD in 2006 writing his dissertation on Texas governors. In the fall, he will be teaching a course in SMU's graduate program. It will be called "The Use (and Misuse) of Power in Politics."
From the University of Texas Press website:
"Texas governors who enjoyed the most success had high aims, ones that they articulated clearly, as well as patience in deliberation, a sense of balance, firmness, ability, and principle. They rose to the occasion, and, often, they created those occasions. They dealt effectively with crises and emergencies. They hired and appointed reliable, capable people. They gave to the office more than they took from it. They exhibited courage and charm. They had a sense of history. They had an innate sense of knowing which battles were worthy of the fight and which were not. They understood that principles are eternal. Governors fail when they abandon these essential qualities of statesmanship. The worst not only fail to 'honor the principles of statesmanship, but also they fail to recognize them, having failed to learn them, having failed to want to learn them.'"
The book, The Power of the Texas Governor, Connally to Bush can be ordered online from the UT Press.
Summary: TxDOT shortchanges Collin County, really stimulates Austin. Tarrant County is the big winner.
On Wednesday, The Texas Department of Transportation delivered its final project recommendations for stimulus spending to the Texas Legislature. The state has been allocated $1.2 billion in federal stimulus funds for highway construction.
TxDOT did not propose spending for any major projects in Collin County, however, they did include as a maintenance item $2.5 million for "Safety improvements" on Preston Rd. at Legacy Dr.
The $2.5 million proposed for Collin County represents about 0.21% of the statewide $1.2 billion allocated.
To put the proposal in perspective, Collin County accounts for approximately 3.1% of the state's population. The stimulus would equal $3.42 for each person in Collin County.
By any measure Collin County is shortchanged: per capita, Collin will receive less than 7% of its fair share; per vehicle, less than 8%; and about 25% of its fair share per lane mile of highway.
Tarrant County (Fort Worth) will be the most stimulated. It is slated to receive almost $252 million.
The other big winner is Travis County (Austin). Its $137.7 million in stimulus is over 11% of the total, while the county has only 4% of Texas' population.
PER CAPITA TXDOT STIMULUS PROJECTS
County Population* $ Stimulus (millions) $ per capita Tarrant 1,717,435 $ 251.8 $ 146.65 Travis 974,365 $ 137.7 $ 141.38 Collin 730,690 $ 2.5 $ 3.42
* Population figures are TxDOT's
While no local state representatives serve on the House Transportation Committee, Senator Florence Shapiro is on the Senate's Transportation and Homeland Security Committee which is chaired by Senator John Carona of Richardson.
On Monday, The Texas Department of Transportation provided the Texas House Select Committee on Federal Economic Stabilization Funding information on its efforts to implement its portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), commonly known as the Economic Stimulus Package.
Collin County looks to get shortchanged once again by our good friends at TxDOT.
Out of a 20 page list of projects totaling over $2 billion, Collin County is included on only 3 of the smaller projects totaling $30 million. Based on population, the proposed spending for Collin County is only half of its fair share of the stimulus funds.
TxDOT's list will be cut in half, so it is very possible that out of a projected state total of $1.2 billion in federal stimulus spending, Collin County would receive nothing.
The 3 projects listed by TxDOT are:
- $27 million to widen US 380 from Lake Lavon to Farmersville.
- $2.5 million for intersection improvements on Preston Rd. @ Legacy.
- $485,000 to construct a left turn lane on SH5 @ FM 455.
Don't our legislators do anything to protect Collin County?
We have commissioners here who campaign for office based on their ability to forge relationships with legislators and state officials. What exactly is that influence getting us? Only screwed six ways from Sunday by TxDOT on pass-through financing, on SH121, and now on stimulus spending.
I'm starting to believe that Austin's only interest in Collin County is toll revenue and reliable Republican votes (votes that Austin doesn't have to work for).
TxDOT released a list of transportation projects that would require $2.2 billion in stimulus funds that department staff will eventually narrow to projects requiring $1.2 billion. TxDOT also provided the committee with a list of maintenance projects that would require $508 million in stimulus money.
The committee was also provided with a list of $600 million in projects that could be funded through the state’s Proposition 14 bond initiative, a program created by the Texas Legislature.
The Texas Transportation Commission will meet in Austin on Wednesday, February 25, and Thursday, February 26. Wednesday’s commission meeting is scheduled to include a discussion of TxDOT’s work to prepare for the expenditure of stimulus funds. Thursday’s meeting is scheduled to include commission action on projects from the state’s share of stimulus funds and from the state’s Proposition 14 bond program.
County Judge Keith Self, whose record on campaigning for transportation issues has proven to be pretty dismal, is leading a personal blog and email campaign against the "Texas Local Option Transportation" bills introduced in the Legislature.
In an email to supporters (and on his blog) Self charged that, "something must be done or a catastrophe will happen".
Currently the voters have no ability to call a referendum on mobility projects.
His last foray into transportation elections was in the 2007 Bond Election, when Self campaigned against the bond package.
He wanted the county to use "pass through financing" from TxDOT to finance large construction projects, leaving the cities to pay for their own smaller secondary road improvements. His plan was a bad idea then and was soon proven to be a very, very bad idea, when not long after the election, the state killed the whole "pass through" program.
It would appear that Judge Self doesn't trust the citizens to vote in their own best interests. He and our commissioners would rather tax us without an election by using their newly created Collin County Toll Road Authority to build highways that tax by the mile.
No citizen voted for the Toll Road Authority. There has been no election or referendum on the Outer Loop - the commissioners court makes the decisions.
Remember, this commissioners court also campaigned for and approved the SH 121 toll scheme - evidently without reading the fine print. It was the fine print that enabled TxDOT to grab all $3.2 billion of the concession fee. Collin County has yet to see a dime.
Now there is much wrong with the 2 bills submitted to the legislature. There needs to be a lot of work done to insure that local county citizens are not expected to bear the entire burden of building their transportation infrastructure. Traditionally the Federal and State governments have shouldered the lion's share of the costs of major highway and inter-urban rail projects.
They still need to do so. We need to be assured that passage of these bills does not ease the pressure we must put on our state and national leaders to help us build for our future.
The trend of "pushing down" the responsibility for major infrastructure financing needs to be reversed. If we don't how long will it be before we require small cities like Melissa or Fairview to pay to improve Central Expressway?
Other parts of the bill will require a lot of analysis and compromise. The bills offer a wide range of fee and tax options that voters could choose from in the referendum. Some, like $1/hr parking fees need to get deep sixed. Nevertheless, these bills offer a way for Collin County citizens to become the masters of their own fate with regard to construction of commuter rail and major highways.
In his email, Self writes that, "This bill is structured with the belief that you, the voter, will vote for any tax that is put on a ballot with no discernment whether or not the added tax is absolutely necessary or not.". I can't speak for the bill's authors, but it seems that in any election the voters can say "Yes" or "No".
Why doesn't Self trust our citizens to make responsible choices? Because they voted for him?
Judge Self's reasoning become clearer when in his next sentence, he wrote, "Where is the review to make sure that every tax dollar is being spent as wisely as possible before we add yet another tax? Where is the prioritization to make sure that your tax dollars are being spent for the most important government functions?". Obviously he feels that the wisdom to decide resides solely in the Collin County Commissioners Court.
I'm going to disagree with that.
The text of HB-9
A recent Texas Municipal League Legislative Update contains a good "plain english" explanation of HB-9
An interesting analysis of HB-9 by Dallas Morning News' reporter Michael Lindenberger published Feb. 16.
Keith Self's Blog
Barbara Walters is the president of the Texas Democratic Women of Collin County, and Bea Warner is the outgoing secretary of the TDWCC. Both ladies traveled to Austin this week to take part in Collin County Days at the legislature. They've asked me to publish their impressions of the 2 day event.
I am pleased to do so
Collin County Legislative days
By Barbara Walters
and Bea Warner
Two of us from TDWCC attended Collin County Legislative Days in Austin 2/9-10. It was a well-organized and informative event with: Gov. Perry speaking at lunch and all County Commissioners present. Senator Shapiro (SD8) and Senator Estes (SD30) spoke to us about their committee assignments (Education and Agriculture respectively). TX Representatives from all CC House Districts were there, as well as mayors and city council members from the major cities. Several speakers commented on the great gains of Democrats in Collin County and in Texas and how people are looking to this tri-county area for big changes and see our turnout in Nov. helping to move Texas to a two-party system.
Health Care Panel highlights: Panelists were: Arlene Wohlgemuth, Founder of Three Point Strategies, Devon Herrick, PhD, National Center for Policy Analysis, Anne Dunkleberg, Center for Public Policy Priorities. Their focus was on the rising costs of Medicaid and Medicare for Texas as well as physician and nurse shortages. They speculated about the impact of the economic stimulus package for Texas and what that will do to help / hinder the state budget. All three are against socialized medicine and government bureaucracies. They advocated health saving accounts or retail medicine solutions, but none of them answered the question, "Who will pay for those who can't?"
Transportation Panel highlights: Panelists were: Deidre Delisi, Chair of the Texas Transportation Commission, appointed by Gov. Perry through 2013 and Steven Polunsky, Committee Director of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee led by Sen. Corona (R-Dallas) and vice-chair Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin). We were impressed that 16 issues were addressed during the interim between legislative sessions. Funding is a big issue whether through bonds or the gas tax. Collin County attendees are concerned about the $2.1 billion being held hostage by TxDOT and the continued diversion of gas tax revenues for non-transportation needs.
Workforce Development Commission Highlights: Panelists were Doug Ridge of the Tx Workforce Commission and McGregor Stephenson of the Tx Higher Education Coordination Board. They attribute Texas’ still relatively strong economy to effective linkage between businesses moving into areas like Collin County and the educational system’s ability to train the workers needed at all levels before a given company even opens its doors. Upcoming sectors of economic development include nuclear and wind power and biotech. Our biggest competitors are Brazil, Eastern Europe and Ireland.
Taxes and Spending Highlights: Panelists were Michael Quinn Sullivan, President and CEO of Empower Texas (a PAC), Mary Katherine Stout, Director of Budget, Planning and Policy (Governor’s Office) and Will Newton, Executive Director of the National Federation of Independent Business/Texas. Panel members were like-minded re: the need to preserve what’s left of the “Rainy Day Fund” after it’s been dipped into to pay a roughly six billion dollar shortfall in the state budget. Shortfall, they say, was due to the enactment of the ‘gross margins tax’ in an (unsuccessful) attempt to reduce property taxes.
Over breakfast we got to hear bipartisan intelligence from Harvey Kronberg of the Quorum Report and Ross Ramsey of Texas Weekly. They definitely see the two-party system returning to Texas. The almost-even split in the House: 75 Republicans (plus Speaker) and 74 Democrats, in a year when Gov. Perry and Sen Hutchison will be looking at everything they say through the lenses of their gubernatorial race, is going to make the TX Legislature a very exciting and unpredictable show!
Joe Straus, the new Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives published his list of committee appointments today.
The Collin County delegation lost 2 chairmanships while picking up one.
The local winner was Plano's Brian McCall, who gained the chair of the powerful Calendars Committee.
As expected, Parker's Jodi Laubenberg lost her gavel on the Public Health committee.
Rep. Jerry Madden of Plano was also demoted. He will not be chairing the Corrections Committee. However, Madden will continue to have a powerful voice in prison and justice reform issues as he remains on the Corrections Committee and will serve as its Vice-Chair. In an article on Burkablog, Texas Monthly's Paul Burka notes that Madden and the new chair Rep. Jim McReynolds, (D-Lufkin) will be able to work together smoothly.
Rep. Ken Paxton from McKinney was a big looser - Straus stripped him of both his committee Vice-Chairmanships.
Here are the committee appointments of the Collin County delegation to the 81st Texas Legislature:
Rep. Jodi Laubenberg
- Local & Consent Calendars
- Natural Resources
- Public Health
Rep. Jerry Madden
- Corrections, Vice Chair
- Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence
Rep. Brian McCall
- Calendars, Chair
- Culture, Recreation & Tourism
- Higher Education
Rep. Ken Paxton
- Land & Resource Management
- Ways & Means
Sen. Craig Estes
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs, Chair
- Business & Commerce
- International Relations & Trade
- Natural Resources, Vice Chair
- Veteran Affairs & Military Installations
- Select Comm. on Base Realignment and Closure
Sen. Florence Shapiro
- Education, Chair
- Transportation & Homeland Security
It would seem that Madden and McCall will be able to wield considerable influence in the 81st, while both Paxton and Laubenberg have been sent to well deserved exiles in Siberia.
Both local state senators will chair important senate committees: Sen. Shapiro retained her gavel in the Senate Education Committee and Sen. Estes (whose sprawling 30th Sen. District is mostly rural) will chair the newly created Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee.
In the opinion of this writer, both Speaker Straus and Lt. Governor Dewhurst did a reasonable job in their committee appointments. If Collin County citizens want more influential representation in the next legislature, those voters will just have to elect better representatives.
Local Chambers of Commerce have for the past several years sponsored events and a trip to Austin for community leaders and citizens during Collin County Days. There are usually several opportunities to meet and network with state leaders and the local legislative delegation. And so it is this year.
Governor Rick Perry will give the keynote address at the opening luncheon.
I am giving some serious thought to attending. I even scheduled vacation time for those 2 days. The $125 registration fee didn't seem overly expensive, since there was a lunch reception included. But then I read the planned schedule of events.
The program includes a series of informal panel discussions. Looking at some of the leaders of those panels I realized that I would be paying $125 to listen to lobbyists' propaganda.
For example, the healthcare panel is to be led by Arlene Wohlgemuth, Founder and President, Three Point Strategies. I've called Ms. Wohlgemuth the "Pied Piper of Texas", as she played a legislative tune while leading hundreds of thousands of poor children off a cliff.
Ms. Wohlgemuth was a Republican legislator instrumental in the ruinous privatization of Texas's social service system. Her role and the disastrous effects to the poor of that privatization was graphically documented in a recent Dallas Morning News investigative report titled "State of Neglect". Ms. Wohlgemuth's firm, Three Point Strategies lobbies the legislature primarily on behalf of health care companies.
The Taxes and Spending panel is led by Michael Quinn Sullivan, a lobbyist and conservative activist, and former press secretary for Ron Paul. He is described as a devotee of the "Austrian School of Economics", which believes in a radical laissez faire government policy. He is presently the director of Empower Texans, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and the Empower Texans PAC.
The other two panels are not led by lobbyists, but by State officials.
The Energy Panel is led by Barry Smitherman, the Chairman of the Public Utility Commission. His PUC is largely responsible for the fact that Texans pay some of the highest electricity prices in the nation.
The other panelist is Dub Taylor, the Director of the Comptroller’s State Energy Conservation Office. Mr. Taylor had previously served on the Texas Railroad Commission and now is a leader of the state's efforts towards energy efficiency and sustainability.
The Transportation panel will be chaired by Steven Polunsky, the Committee Director, Texas Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security. Mr. Polunsky is a former policy maker at TxDot and was Director of Research at the now defunct Texas High-Speed Rail Authority. The Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corp., an outgrowth of the High Speed Rail Authority gave a presentation to the Commissioners Court last week. The Collin County Commissioners declined to endorse its plans believing them to be too expensive and not cost effective.
There's no balance on the discussion panels. No representatives from Common Cause, from the Center for Public Policy Priorities, Public Citizen or from any group except right-wing lobbyists and state agencies. While some of the speakers, especially Mssrs. Polunsky and Taylor can offer some real technical insight into the issues, only one works at the legislature. This is supposed to be a legislative trip.
Where are our state legislative leaders on these 4 subjects? I'd really like to hear from Dallas's Senator Carona the chair of the Transportation Committee on our $1.2 billion of SH121 funds,. Or from our own Senator Shapiro on the effects of property tax cap bills on education.
Businesses and citizens in Collin County have a real stake in many of the deliberations of the 81st Legislature. They deserve the respect of our state leadership. Instead, it appears my $125 would go largely for attendance at a far right pep rally.
That's too bad.
The Collin County Commissioners, acting for the first time as the Collin County Toll Road Authority (CCTRA), met on Tuesday. The Directors of the Authority are the County Judge and County Commissioners. They listened to a presentation on the status and costs to complete the controversial Outer Loop project.
Last year, the Collin County Commissioners Court, disappointed in the way TxDOT handled the financing of SH 121 and seeing no way to insure state or federal funding for large road projects such as the Outer Loop, formed the Collin County Toll Road Authority.
Recent state and federal legislation had made it possible for a regional or county toll authority, such as the CCTRA to pursue alternative financing schemes in order to build new roads, and to have the authority to preempt TxDOT in controlling the future of specific road building projects, while keeping financial revenue local.
The alternative financing schemes are generally private or public contractors leasing the rights to build and operate the new highways as toll roads. Frequently, the contractor must pay a large "upfront" payment in exchange for the right to build and operate the tollway. The county, not the State of Texas would collect and keep the upfront fees and excess toll revenue.
There are few other "County Toll Authorities" in Texas. Besides the new Collin County Toll Authority, Harris and Montgomery counties have formed their own toll road operations.
Collin County has been struggling to find a way to finance its portion of the Outer Loop. State and federal funds are increasingly scarce. As a result, toll roads have become the default mechanism of choice for funding new road construction.
The commissioners court wanted to both finance the new highway and generate revenue for future mobility projects.
The Outer Loop was conceived by local planners as a regional beltway around the DFW metroplex. The Collin County portion is the "upside down L" shaped turn from the road's northern segment to the eastward run. The eastern part of the Loop is in far east Collin County running north from the Rockwall County line (south of Nevada) past US 380 and turning east north of Blue Ridge, then intersecting with the Dallas North Tollway at the Denton County line between Prosper and Celina.
Other regional segments of the Outer Loop run west of Fort Worth and south of Dallas.
Besides the Outer Loop the CCTRA hopes to develop the future Phase 4B of the Dallas North Tollway from FM 428 to the Grayson County line.
Much to the displeasure of the Commissioners Court, NTTA had proposed moving most of the Phase 4B tollway extension into Denton County.
Because of the anticipated development generated by the highway, the Court wanted to keep the road in Collin County. By using their newly created Tollway Authority, the commissioners hope to gain the priority claim to the rights to construct and operate this northernmost extension of the Dallas North Tollway.
Actual construction of these roads is several years out. Right now, the CCTRA is in the process of determining the exact path the road will travel, getting the engineering done, and acquiring the land for the right of way.
No decisions have been made as to who would operate the toll roads or how much the tolls would cost consumers.
In my article on Rep. Madden's bill to limit the authority of the county auditor, I wrote, "Madden's bill will most likely gain support from the Texas Association of Counties and other county centric organizations. Citizens groups and accounting lobbies are likely to oppose it."
I wrote that based on listening to the commissioners talking about seeking guidance and coordination from the TAC before the suit against the auditor was filed.
However, TAC never actively entered the suit, although the Texas Conference of Urban Counties did file an amicus brief supporting the county commissioners. In my article, I should have mentioned the CUC not the TAC.
I received the following letter today from the Director of Media Relations at TAC:
I regret the error.
Plano Representative Jerry Madden has filed a bill in the Texas Legislature that seeks to limit the ability of a county auditor to audit software and IT systems.
Presumably at the request of the Collin County Commissioners, on January 12, Madden filed HB561, "Relating to the authority of county auditors with respect to computer software and data of other local officers or departments."
The bill specifically removes the authority of the auditor to have "continual access" to the financial data, books and records of county officers. Instead of "continual access", the bill would only allow the auditor to "examine and investigate the correctness" of these records.
In addition, the bill prohibits the auditor from having direct access to "real time" data under the control of another county department without written permission from that department. Lastly, Madden's bill would remove any authority the auditor might exercise in mandating the use of specific software or components by other county departments.
At a legislative workshop held late last year, the commissioners specifically asked for one of the Collin County legislature's representatives to file this legislation on their behalf.
The Commissioners have lost two lawsuits seeking to limit the auditor's authority to access computer systems and data. While they have filed a notice of appeal, those I've spoken with believe an appeal is unlikely to succeed.
Repeated defeats in a court have not deterred the commissioners in this turf war over control of data.
The auditor is not under the control of the commissioners court, but is hired and answers to a board made up of the county's District Judges.
The Texas Constitution and the state's Government Code specify a number of county officials whose operations and budget are not under the control of the county commissioners court. Along with the auditor, the law makes the Purchasing Agent, Court Reporters and the Probation Departments independent of county commissioners court control.
In the case of the auditor and purchasing agent, the independence is designed into the law as a check and balance to try to thwart graft and corruption by elected officials. Such graft is not unknown in Texas (or in McKinney)- back in the 1980's a Collin County commissioner resigned after the auditor uncovered insider dealings between the county and a gravel operation owned by the commissioner. The commissioner ended up in the federal penitentiary for tax evasion.
Such checks and balances seem to rankle our commissioners. They've acted as if they resent any check on their prerogatives. Lately, in the commissioners court agenda, they have even begun to list all contracts and expenditures by departments not under their control with the caption, "Decisions mandated by legal entities outside of Commissioners Court authority". In addition, they have asked the county's legislative delegation to sponsor bills to limit the independence of the purchasing agent and auditor.
Two years ago, the commissioners court was unsuccessful in convincing the legislature to give control over the court reporters to the county commissioners court.
Madden's bill will most likely gain support from the
Texas Association of Counties [Texas conference of Urban Counties] and other county centric organizations. Citizens groups and accounting lobbies are likely to oppose it.
Since the commissioners can't win in court, they have declared war, Madden is their hired mercenary.
Correction made 1/28/09 by Bill. See TAC objects...
With the election of a new Texas Speaker of the House, Plano Rep. Brian McCall has moved from the outhouse to the manor.
Paul Burka, of Texas Monthly, is reporting that Speaker Straus has named McCall to head the powerful Calendars committee. Calendars and Ways and Means are the two most powerful legislative committees.
The Calendars Committee sets the daily legislative schedule which decides what bills that have cleared a committee will go before the full House for a vote, and when.
The news today is that Tom Craddick will not be re-elected Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.
The election of a new speaker will affect many state house committee assignments, and especially committee chair appointments. Craddick is well known for freezing out those that displease him and rewarding his faithful with powerful committee assignments.
Following the election of a new speaker, two Collin County legislators may loose their powerful committee chairmanships.
Plano's Jerry Madden, [unfortunately] a loyal Craddick supporter, has become a highly respected expert in prison and criminal justice reform. He was the chair of the Corrections Committee, Co-chair of the committee for oversight of the Operations and Management of the Texas Youth Commission, and co-presiding officer of the joint Criminal Justice Oversight Committee.
Rep. Madden earned high marks for his handling of the TYC scandals that broke onto the news as the last legislature was just beginning. I hope the new speaker will recognize Mr. Madden's work and expertise. Texas needs substantial prison and criminal justice reform. Jerry Madden has proven that he can build consensus, and look beyond rhetoric in seeking innovative approaches to making our state safer on a limited budget.
Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, another Craddick sycophant, is chair of the Public Health committee. Frankly, I hope the new speaker recognizes that she is utterly unqualified and is ill-suited for such an important position.
I first met Ms. Laubenberg shortly after the 79th legislature killed much of the CHIP program. I attended a town hall meeting she had called. We listened to her read from a Craddick playbook and blame all budget cuts on prior democratic rule (even though the last legislature had left a huge surplus). Answering my question, she asserted that, "not one Texas child would loose benefits" under the stripped down CHIPs appropriation she voted for.
In fact, over that year and the next, more than 100,000 Texas children lost their medical benefits.
The Dallas Morning News is currently publishing an investigative series that, in part, details the horrific effects of Craddick's policy to privatize public health benefits. Ms. Laubenberg has not the intellectual heft, independence, nor the imagination that will be required to reform a broken healthcare system.
An example of her handling of difficult issues: In the last legislature, Ms. Laubenberg authored HB 3154, a bill that called for a task force to hold public hearings on seeking a regional solution to indigent public health care. As I detailed in "Laubenberg throttles regional health care committee", there were no public hearings, the committee only met once, and the report which was due on September 1st has still not been written.
The whole process was a sham, as is Jodie Laubenberg's concern for the millions of Texas' uninsured.
Plano's Brian McCall is not a committee chair - he made the mistake of challenging Speaker Craddick a few years ago for the speakership. McCall presently serves on the Financial Institutions committee and is vice chair of the Education Committee. Rep. McCall is a seasoned legislator and is highly regarded by his peers.
He is well positioned for advancement after being one of the "Gang of 11" Republican legislators who chose and pledged support for Joe Straus of San Antonio to be the next Speaker. Look to see his star ascend in the upcoming legislative session. My guess is that he will pick up a very important committee chairmanship.
Rep. Ken Paxton has shown little to recommend himself to either the past or future leadership. He currently is Vice Chair of the State Affairs committee and Vice Chair of the Property Tax relief and Appraisal reform committee.
Now if just one of these guys could get back our SH 121 billions.....
District Judges in both Collin and Denton Counties are requesting new courts, and in both counties, the County Judge is skeptical.
At today's commissioners' court meeting in McKinney, several judges and lawyers stood up to speak out on the need for additional courts. County Judge Self, wanted to make their testimony moot by offering a motion to decide the issue immediately, even though District Judge Dry and Commissioner Cole asked him to postpone a decision until the next meeting because the Administrative Judge, Chris Oldner, who wanted to testify, could not attend the commissioners' meeting.
Judge Oldner's wife had just given birth.
Commissioner Phyllis Cole made the announcement of the newest red-headed Oldner in supporting the postponement of the vote. After Jerry Hoagland stated that he had already made up his mind, but he thought the court ought to let the visitors speak first, Self withdrew his motion.
Several judges lawyers spoke of heavy caseloads that caused, in some cases, year long delays in setting complex trials. After each person spoke, Keith Self debated them with his statistics against their experiences.
Several responded to Commissioner Joe Jayne's comments last week.
Jaynes was quoted by the Dallas Morning News as saying, "I just don't see the courts overflowing with people. It just seems like if they're that busy and in need of three courts, why are so many courtrooms empty in the afternoon?" to which Judge Oldner retorted with, "To infer that an empty courtroom is in any way indicative of how hard a judge is working is to ignore the reality of what a court does and what a judge does. "It is no more instructive than dropping in to find an empty commissioners court."
Meanwhile, the Denton Record Chronicle reports that State Senator Jane Nelson has filed a bill asking for an additional district court in Denton County.
"Nelson co-authored SB 88 with Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, in response to an independent, statewide study of Texas courts and their caseloads."
"The National Center for State Courts published its findings in June, showing that among the state’s most populous counties, Harris, Bexar, Collin and Denton needed more judges."
"Weighted calculations showed Denton County needed the equivalent of 1.6 judges; Collin County, 2.4; Bexar County, 6.7: and Harris County, 27."
The Record-Chronicle noted that Denton County Judge Mary Horn, "reiterated her concern from last spring that establishing another court could cost the county as much as a million dollars per year, since the state pays only the judges’ salaries. Comparing Denton County’s court makeup to Collin County’s, she pointed to the possibility that Denton County may be able to upgrade one of the county’s courts-of-law to a district court instead."
Last month, Judge Oldner asked the commissioners court to petition Collin County's legislative delegation to ask the Legislature to authorize 3 new courts.
Self and the commissioners have opposed the size of the request, citing other statistics and the cost of new courtrooms.
Self was quoted by the Dallas Morning News saying, "Yes, we are growing, but we are handling it". Self noted that statistics don't indicate that the courts are clogged.
"In 2007, 18,203 state district court cases were filed, compared with 10,956 in 2000, according to the Texas Office of Court Administration. But the Legislature created three courts during that period to handle the extra volume", Mr. Self said.
In the article, published Sunday, Dallas Morning News reporter Ed Housewright wrote, "Judge Oldner, however, said the county's breakneck growth has outpaced the addition of courts.
"For instance, Collin County has one district court for every 93,700 residents, compared with a statewide county average of one for every 53,700 residents, according to the court administration office."
"Each new district court costs Collin County about $650,000 in annual staffing costs, officials said. But Judge Oldner said start-up of the three courts he is seeking could be staggered to save money. For instance, one could begin operating in 2009, one in 2010 and one in 2011, he said."
"Mr. Self said he's undecided how he'll vote. Mr. Jaynes and Commissioner Jerry Hoagland support one additional court. Commissioners Phyllis Cole and Kathy Ward said they want one, and possibly two."
This debate takes place against the backdrop of the county commissioners' suit against the County Auditor, who is employed by and reports to the district judges.
The next commissioners court meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, November 18.
Judges, commissioners debate need for more courts in Collin County, The Dallas Morning News, November 9, 2008
Senator files bill for new court, Denton Record-Chronicle, November 11, 2008
In 2007, the Texas legislature passed HB 3154. Written by Rep. Jodi Laubenberg of Parker, HB 3154 called for the creation of a "Review Committee" or task force to, "to conduct public hearings regarding, and to study the implications of, implementing regional health care service to address indigent health care in the region.".
The committee was charged specifically to:
- "(1) examine whether a regional system to provide indigent health care should be offered throughout the region;
- (2) examine whether there should be a mechanism for additional counties to participate in the regional health care system;
- (3) perform a review of funding and financing options, including a review of funding indigent health care in the region."
In simple English - many counties, including Collin, are deathly afraid that public hospitals, such as Parkland will try to expand and regionalize their reach into suburbia. Yet simply because of where they live, thousands of Texans are denied decent health care due to lack of access to these public hospitals. The committee was to bring together institutional stakeholders to discuss and propose solutions.
From the beginning, HB 3154 was criticized because while its membership included all State Representatives, all County Commissioners and all Hospital CEOs in 19 county North Texas Health Region 3, only 2 of its members represented public hospitals. There were no representatives from the charitable clinics, nor from the public itself. The committee was a stacked deck in favor of the status quo.
Laubenberg's bill required that, "The initial meeting of the committee must take place before September 30, 2007. At the initial meeting the committee shall:
- (1) adopt rules governing the committee; and
- (2) establish a work plan and schedule for future meetings."
With much media attention the committee did hold its first meeting at UTD on September 20, 2007. I was there, so was the media.
The conversations were interesting and diverse opinions were heard, but no conclusions reached. Rather, the tone of the discussions seemed to be more in the nature of opening statements. I'm sure everyone present believed there would be more meetings - just as the law required.
While there was discussion among the members of the committee, the public was not permitted to speak. I wrote Ms. Laubenberg after the meeting:
"I thought the Task Force had made some progress towards bringing together some of the different stakeholders in Health District 3. I asked you to have your office update me on future meeting schedules and agendas.
"When I said that I was looking forward to the public hearing phase of the Task Force meetings, you replied that there would be no public hearings - that the purpose of the Task Force was to allow only "policy makers" to participate.
"You further asserted that HB 3154 made no provision for public hearings.
"I must respectfully disagree and protest."
Rep. Laubenberg's response was terse:
|"Thank you for your email. Please let me clarify the issue. I was the author of HB 3154. I know the intent and purpose of this legislation. All meetings are open to the public. However, because there is no specific legislation filed, there will not be outside testimony beyond the parameters of those participants as outlined in HB 3154."|
Since I had asked to be informed of future meetings, and since I knew that the committee report was due by September 1, 2008, I recently asked Suzanne Bowers, the Chief of Staff for Ms. Laubenberg why I had not received notice of any other meetings. "There were no other meetings", she told me, "but the committee was working hard on getting the report done by the deadline".
Laubenberg's bill calls for the committee to:
"issue a report on indigent health care that summarizes:
- (1) hearings conducted by the committee;
- (2) studies conducted by the committee;
- (3) any legislation proposed by the committee; and
- (4) any other findings or recommendations of the committee."
It will be interesting to see what a committee that only met once, and never held hearings will write in the report since:
- The Committee never held hearings.
- They never conducted studies.
- They never proposed legislation.
- They never proposed recommendations.
The committee existed only to obfuscate the real issue of access to public hospitals that beg for real answers. This is old fashioned "Good ol' boy politics" at its worst.
So I ask, Who is writing this report? There's nothing to write unless Laubenberg's staff simply writes her opinion.
It is becoming obvious that this committee existed only to further the agenda of those who do not want indigent health care to be debated in the public forum.
Any report issued in the name of this committee must be presumed discredited. The committee was a sham, and because of that, any real discussion on the need to improve the indigent health care system has been stifled.
In an editorial today, the Dallas Morning News noted that Speaker Tom Craddick just appointed Rep. Laubenberg chair of the House Public Health Committee. Her actions in throttling the North Texas review committee does not bode well for the plight of the millions of indigent and uninsured in Texas.
The fox is in charge of the hen house.
Apres Delisi, le deluge - Bukablog, Texas Monthly August 10, 2008
HB 3154 - Text of Enrolled bill
HB 3154 - Bill analysis State of Texas Senate Research Center May 16, 2007
State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg has reflected the political philosophy of her high-wealth, high-growth Collin-Rockwall County district during three terms in the Texas House. Her voting record last session earned her a 96 percent approval rating from the conservative Heritage Alliance, the highest score among 150 state representatives.
But Ms. Laubenberg has just been assigned a new constituency – the entire state of Texas. Speaker Tom Craddick last week promoted her from vice chair to chair of the House Public Health Committee, a job that broadens her responsibilities.
Ms. Laubenberg must adjust if she is to effectively mold public policy for a state with chronically high levels of poverty and children without health insurance.
In a column published in this newspaper last year, Ms. Laubenberg accused Dallas' Parkland Hospital of having an "insatiable appetite for more taxpayer dollars" and a goal of "socialized medicine."
Parkland, in fact, is not the enemy. It is the foundational public health provider for much of the region and often struggles financially to fulfill its mandate. If anything, the Legislature must find a way to ensure that surrounding counties pay a fair share when their residents receive treatment at Parkland. Another Republican committee member, Jim Jackson of Dallas, advocates that kind of regional approach; if Ms. Laubenberg keeps the chair next year, she should help him shape that concept.
For her part, Ms. Laubenberg tells us she knows her new role requires openness to all viewpoints, and she pledges that approach – a positive sign.
Another lawmaker from North Texas, Lewisville Republican Jane Nelson, has shown it is possible to stick to conservative principles while molding compassionate health policy. As chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Ms. Nelson has developed into a reformer with a grasp of the complexity of health law and finance.
The job takes zeal for the subject matter and the willingness to govern with the interests of more than 24 million Texans in mind.
Ron Harris, who lost the 2006 primary re-election bid to County Judge Keith Self, is quoted in the McKinney Courier-Gazette, as saying he is interested in running for Florence Shapiro's Texas Senate seat.
Since his defeat, Harris has been working as a consultant to billionaire Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens and Mesa Water. Last year, Pickens' engineered the formation of a panhandle "Fresh Water Supply District" consisting of two voters in Roberts County. The two voters: Pickens' ranch manager, Alton Boone, and his wife, Lu.
The Roberts County Fresh Water Supply District is now poised to purchase or condemn thousands of acres of private land from the panhandle to DFW, and to pay for the easement with $101 million in tax free bonds already authorized by the Water Supply District.
It seems insane, but it is legal.
Those two 'bought and paid for' voters now have the power, and Pickens has the will, to drill wells into the Ogallala Aquifer and construct a massive pipeline across 12 North Texas counties from Roberts County to the Metroplex.
The Ogallala Aquifer is a huge underground reservoir that is already threatened or depleted over much of the American prairie. Even so, Pickens asserts that he can pump billions of gallons from the high plains with no effect on the local environment or future water supply.
“I think there is a lot of work to be done. Now, that I’ve been working with Boone Pickens I’m aware that we’ve got big water supply and electricity needs in North Texas. His water and electricity is going to be little more expensive, but what would it look like if the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal had headlines that said, ‘North Texas is out of water’”
Well to hear Harris and Pickens, consumers in DFW will. So will the Roberts County ranchers who will sell their underground water to Pickens' Mesa Water. And so will the property owners who will be paid fair market value for their land - whether they like it or not.
Ron Harris has spent the last year working to convince local governments and ranchers that the pipeline and the expensive water it carries will be good for them.
Critics, however, point out that the big winner is, you guessed it - T. Boone Pickens. Pickens already owns much of the water rights, and his company will win big as his water travels from Mesa Water to Dallas.
Pickens also owns Mesa Power, which is constructing what may be the nation's largest electric wind farm. Electricity generated by thousands of Mesa windmills in Roberts County will be delivered to the DFW region on power lines built on Mesa Water's easement.
How could two voters take control over so much power and land?
Back in 2006, I listened to a presentation given to the Collin County Commissioners by the powerful bond lawyer, Ray Hutchison (the spouse of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison). Hutchison warned the commissioners that the way Texas law was written, Fresh Water Supply Districts, had huge powers that could not be preempted by local authorities.
It would seem that Ron Harris was a good listener.
Now Harris wants to represent Plano's Senate District 8. His goal? Convince the state that it needs Pickens' water and electricity.
Ain't democracy wonderful?
By Brandi Hart, McKinney Courier-Gazette
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Former Collin County Judge Ron Harris announced on Monday that he is running for the Texas Senate District 8 seat, currently held by Sen. Florence Shapiro (Rep.) in 2010, if Shapiro opts to run for the United States Senate seat currently held by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Rep.).
Shapiro is looking to form an exploratory committee to run for Hutchison’s seat if Hutchison were to resign from the senate to run for governor in the March 2010 Republican primary election, according to officials at Shapiro’s Dallas office. Attempts to reach Shapiro about the exploratory committee by deadline on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
If Hutchison were to run for the gubernatorial election in the March 2010 Republican primary, the governor would appoints someone to fill Hutchison’s vacancy and would also call a special election that would be held in May or November to fill Hutchison’s seat as her term expires in 2012.
Matt Mackowiak, press secretary for Hutchison said that Hutchison has not made any statements about running for any gubernatorial races. Hutchison previously told a Texas magazine editor that she would not run for another term in the senate after she was re-elected in 2006, and that she may not choose to serve all of her current term, Mackowiak said.
Harris said that he will not run against Shapiro if she chooses not to run for Hutchison’s U.S. senate seat and to instead seek re-election for her state senate seat.
“I think Florence wants to run for the US Senate. I don’t have any criticisms of Florence Shapiro. She is one of the strongest local government advocates in the state senate,” Harris said.
His goals for office would be to find more water sources and to conserve electricity for North Texas, and use renewable sources of energy and improve the growing transportation needs throughout the areas of Collin County and Dallas County that are in Texas Senate District 8.
Harris is currently working as a consultant for the Mesa Power Pampa, LLC, that is owned by Boone Pickens, who wants to sell and transport water from a West Texas reservoir to North Texas cities, and is building wind turbines in Northwest Texas and using them as wind power. He served as the county judge over the Collin County Commissioner’s Court from 1991 to 2006 and was on the Plano City Council from 1985 to 1990. He has also served on many North Central Texas Council of Governments’ committees, including the NCTCOG’s Regional Transportation Council.
“I think there is a lot of work to be done. Now, that I’ve been working with Boone Pickens I’m aware that we’ve got big water supply and electricity needs in North Texas. His water and electricity is going to be little more expensive, but what would it look like if the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal had headlines that said, ‘North Texas is out of water’,” Harris said.
Previous Collin County Observer coverage:
Two voters approve water district, CCO Nov. 7, 2007
Pickens Water Plan Poised to Gain Bond, Condemnation Authority, Bloomberg Nov. 6, 2007
Pickens-backed Panhandle district likely to pass unanimously, CCO Nov. 1, 2007
Billionaire seeks tax-exempt district for private water project, Austin American Statesman Sept. 13, 2007
Mesa gets Election on Freshwater Supply Scheme, Dallas Morning News Sept. 5, 2007
Ron Harris fronts for Mesa scheme, CCO Sept. 2, 2007
Pickens seeks Kaufman's help to harness Panhandle's water, power, Dallas Morning News Sept. 1, 2007
According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, "TDA has 72 weights and measures inspectors throughout the state checking more than 65,000 fuel pumps a year. An inspector will place an "out of order" tag on any pump not dispensing the correct amount of fuel within the allowable tolerance."
An explanation of the "out of order" reasons is here
Over the last 60 days, TDA inspectors placed "out of order tags" on the following local stations.
7 ELEVEN STORE #34109
1302 W MCDERMOTT DR ALLEN TX
MULTI-PRODUCT DISPENSERS NON COMPLIANT - FOLLOW UP
SHORT MEASURE IN EXCESS OF TOLERANCE
Failed Pumps 7
TRAVEL CENTERS OF AMERICA
2105 S GOLIAD ROCKWALL TX 75087
TWO TIMES THE TOLERANCE [short]
Failed Pumps 2
VALERO CORNER STORE #4527
2255 S GOLIAD ST ROCKWALL TX 75032
TWO TIMES THE TOLERANCE [short]
Failed Pumps 3
C STORE #16
3070 N JOSEY LN CARROLLTON TX 75007
TWO TIMES THE TOLERANCE [short]
Failed Pumps 2
521 HWY 121 E LEWISVILLE TX 75057
GASOLINE PUMP NOZZLES DIESEL PUMP NOZZLES
SHORT MEASURE IN EXCESS OF TOLERANCE IMPROPERLY MAINTAINED
Failed Pumps 3
KWIK CHEK #32
1001 W STEPHENS VAN ALSTYNE TX 75495
DIESEL PUMP NOZZLES
TWO TIMES THE TOLERANCE [short]
Failed Pumps 1
VAN ALSTYNE SHELL FOOD MART
805 W STEPHENS VAN ALSTYNE TX 75495
SHORT MEASURE IN EXCESS OF TOLERANCE
Failed Pumps 1
Out of 13,546 TDA weights and measures inspections carried out in Texas since September 1, 2006, 203 were in Collin County. Of those 203 inspections most passed, however these failed:
15449 HWY 121 N ANNA TX 75409
COMPLAINT NON COMPLIANT - FOLLOW UP
Failed Pumps 1
STONEBROOK MOBIL FOOD MART
6495 N DALLAS PKWY FRISCO TX 75034
NON COMPLIANT - FOLLOW UP
Failed Pumps 1
RSC EQUIPMENT RENTAL INC #689
1533 N MCDONALD MCKINNEY TX 75071
NON COMPLIANT - FOLLOW UP
DIESEL PUMP NOZZLES
Failed Pumps 1
7 ELEVEN STORE #33654
1031 N MURPHY DR MURPHY TX 75094
NON COMPLIANT - REFER TO ENFORCEMENT
Failed Pumps 2
4001 W PARK BLVD PLANO TX 75093
NON COMPLIANT - FOLLOW UP
Failed Pumps 2
600 OHIO DR PLANO TX 75093
NON COMPLIANT - REFER TO ENFORCEMENT
GASOLINE PUMP NOZZLES
Failed Pumps 7
RSC EQUIPMENT RENTAL INC #756
2727 AVE K PLANO TX 75074
NON COMPLIANT - FOLLOW UP
DIESEL PUMP NOZZLES GASOLINE PUMP NOZZLES
Failed Pumps 2
KWIZ MART TEXACO
6000 INDEPENDENCE PKWY PLANO TX 75023
NON COMPLIANT - FOLLOW UP
Failed Pumps 6
600 OHIO DR PLANO TX 75093
RE-INSPECTION NON COMPLIANT - REFER TO ENFORCEMENT
Failed Pumps 5
TIGER MART #45
1099 N PRESTON RD PROSPER TX 75078
NON COMPLIANT - REFER TO ENFORCEMENT
Failed Pumps 4
It should be noted that many of the above stations have since corrected the problems and are now certified.
The TDA website explains that "The station owner or operator is responsible for having a pump repaired by a service company licensed through TDA before the pump can be further used to sell fuel. A TDA inspector will then place a new seal on the pump after it has been tested and found to be operating properly."
The Dallas Morning News reported that, " An entire station can also be put out of service if most pumps are dispensing fuel in favor of the station owner, even if the pumps are within tolerance.
Until late May 2007, fines started at $25. TDA Commissioner Todd Staples quadrupled the fines.
'Gas prices are high enough without consumers getting shortchanged at the pump,' Mr. Staples said in a statement released just prior to the increase. 'Drivers need to have confidence they are receiving exactly what they are paying for every time they fill up.'"
All I can say is that a $100 fine is darn little incentive to keep an honest pump when a fill up cost's me $75.
Consumers who suspect they are being shorted at the pump can contact the TDA:
Joe Benavides, Branch Chief for Regulatory Programs
Good news for the McKinney airport. Bad news for nearby residents in McKinney and Fairview, whose complaints about noise and traffic fall on deaf ears.
Collin County Regional Airport will receive more than $5 million in federal funding to design and engineer an additional runway and a new control tower after years of lobbying and discussing the issue with federal and state representatives.
The Texas Transportation Commission approved the funding Thursday at its regular meeting in Austin as part of a minute order that granted a total of $24,906,780 in federal funds to 16 Texas airports, according to TTC records.
Shown is an artist’s rendering of the new control tower Collin County Regional Airport hopes to start building next year.
CCRA will receive $5,655,556 for the runway and tower projects, the second-largest chunk of federal funding in the minute order behind the $8,233,094 approved for the Hereford Municipal Airport for pavement, lighting and electrical improvements. CCRA will also have to match 10 percent of the funding, according to the minute order.
Ken Wiegand, CCRA director, said about $4.91 million will go to the replacement runway project and the remaining $180,000 will go to the tower project for the initial design and engineering phases.
Wiegand said he hopes TTC’s grant will be the first in a series of grants for the airport’s planned projects. He estimated both projects could cost a total of $56 million over the next six to seven years.
If the North Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) and its Regional Transportation Council (RTC) get their way, (and it looks like they will) not only will all new highways in the region be tolled, but existing freeways will not be quite so free. As a matter of fact, they're going to get very expensive for some drivers. "Managed Lanes", or "Lexus Lanes" as I call them are the next generation of tolled "cash cows" from TxDOT and our own Regional Transportation Commission(RTC).
The RTC's Lexus Lanes are a radical departure from the old policy of building HOV lanes to encourage conservation and traffic reduction through carpooling and mass transit. Instead, these lanes are designed to raise revenue.
The RTC's has approved its "Managed Lane Policies". A reading of these policies clearly shows that the emphasis is on raising cash - a lot of cash, from you the driver.
There are 19 policies, or the new "Rules of the Road". #18 states that the contract with the developer should have a duration to "maximize potential revenue"; #19 says that the tolls will never end.
Most of the other policies define the pricing structure...hang on folks it's complicated AND expensive.
According to the RTC policies, he tolls will begin at $.75/mile and the price will be adjusted every month for the first 6 months. After that the tolls will enter the "dynamic pricing" phase.
The RTC defines dynamic pricing as a base toll that is "market-based". (We can assume that that will be at least, and probably much higher than the $.75/mile base rate). The toll rate will be "established to maintain a minimum average speed of 50 mph". In other words, as the average speeds in the lanes slow due to congestion, the toll price will automatically rise until it prices out enough people to relieve the back-up. The road will use the Law of supply and demand... let the prices rise until demand falls.
Rebates are given if the average speed drops below 35 mph. City buses pay no tolls. Car pools and van pools pay 1/2 rate during rush hour, and full rate at all other times. Trucks pay a higher rate than cars, and motorcycles are considered the same as car pools. There will be no discounts for "green vehicles".
That's how you build Lexus Lanes! The rich can go fast, because they will be able to afford the lanes no matter how high the price is jacked up. Rather than try to move the MOST traffic efficiently, these Lexus Lanes are designed to price commuters off the road, while allowing the elite rapid access.
In a few years, a one way trip from McKinney to Northwest Dallas could easily cost $40 in tolls alone.
The RTC is planning to use the revenue to build new roads in the region, but on these major corridors (Central Expressway and LBJ Freeway) the expansion will be Lexus Lanes - not new public lanes, not increased capacity, not mass transit - but Lexus Lanes for the privileged few.
Early this week I will post Part 3 of "Lexus Lanes". Part 3 will discuss the rationale of tolling, and the failure of the Federal, State and local government policy that has allowed the birth of these Lexus Lanes
Who represents Collin County on the RTC:
Now I know SH 161 isn't Collin County, but Michael Morris at NCTCOG is threatening to take the SH 121 toll revenue, and use it to build the Tarrant County SH 161 if NTTA and TxDOT don't come to an agreement.
What are they disagreeing about?
The disagreement is over how much money TxDOT and the RTC can extort from NTTA and ultimately Texas drivers. TxDOT wants to maximize its "upfront" payment from NTTA. The larger the up front payment is, the more dollars the State and local governments get to spend before the road is even built. But just like taking a second mortgage on your house, the more money you get up front, the more you have to leverage your assets for debt.
In other words, the fight is over how much we want to pawn another highway for. The stakes are almost $1 billion.
TxDOT says there are no state funds to build any new roads, it makes me wonder what they're going to do with that $5 billion in transportation bands the voters approved last week.
State threatens to cancel Highway 161 toll project
TxDOT, NTTA must reach deal in 5 weeks or region could face bill
Friday, November 16, 2007
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN – Plans to expand State Highway 161 into Tarrant County as a toll road could collapse over the next five weeks, taking with them hundreds of millions of dollars for Dallas County highways.
The highly anticipated highway – running 11.5 miles through Irving, Arlington and Grand Prairie – has been touted for years as probably the second-richest toll project in North Texas, after the controversial State Highway 121 toll project.
But on Thursday, Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said if the Texas Department of Transportation's local engineers and the North Texas Tollway Authority can't reach an agreement on basic terms for the toll project by Dec. 21, the state will cancel it.
"If you can reach agreement by Dec. 21, and bring us a Christmas present, then great," Mr. Williamson said Thursday during the commission's monthly meeting in Austin. "If not, then Highway 161 won't be a toll road, and we'll move on to other projects."
The San Antonio Express-News reports that a bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers are leading the effort to restrict the tolling of every darn road in Texas.
Sadly, our national highway policy, pushed by Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, is trying to privatize all roads. In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry and TxDOT Chair Ric Williamson are leading the charge to sell our highways to the highest bidder. They have been lobbying in Washington for more toll roads, and to convert federal highways to tolled roads.
Republican Sen. Kay Baily Hutchison and the bipartisan group of Texas congressmen who are working to protect Texans from the double taxation of toll roads are to be commended for putting Texans ahead of politics. I hope our legislature in Austin will learn from their example
Texas lawmakers thwart bid to strip tolling ban from bill
11/09/2007 11:48 PM CST
Gary Martin / San Antonio Express-News
WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers were instrumental in an effort to keep an amendment in the transportation bill that bans tolling existing federal highways, officials said Friday.
"We are one step closer to protecting Texas taxpayers from paying twice for a highway," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.
Hutchison and House members, including Reps. Ciro Rodriguez and Charlie Gonzalez, both San Antonio Democrats, have sponsored legislation to prohibit the tolling of existing federal highways.
Opponents of the ban sought to strip the language out of a House-Senate conference spending bill for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.
Texas lawmakers, including Reps. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, Nick Lampson, D-Stafford and Chet Edwards, D-Waco, helped muster the votes to keep the ban.
The legislation now goes to full the House and Senate for a vote.
"We put progress over politics for the benefit of Texas"
Ciro Rodriguez, D-Tx
"We put progress over politics for the benefit of Texas," said Rodriguez, a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation and a member of the conference committee that put together the final bill.
Rodriguez said "using toll roads to double-tax Texans is just plain wrong."
Prosper ISD OK's Tax hike, while Royce City's voters said "no".
92 Texas Districts voted to raise taxes after the Legislature mandates cuts.
Austin should know better! The State should let local voters set policy for local issues. If the State of Texas wants to give the citizens a tax cut, let them cut State taxes, not local school, city and county taxes.
Texas voters favored school funds to property tax cut
More districts likely to seek increases after 92 see voters give back part of reductions
Thursday, November 8, 2007
By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN – More than three-fourths of Texas school districts that sought voter approval to hike their property tax rates were successful this week, paving the way for other districts across the state to consider their own tax elections next year.
A total of 92 school districts – including several small districts in North Texas – convinced voters that their schools' financial needs outweighed a big chunk of the property tax relief approved by the Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry last year.
In most of those districts, voters gave up about 40 percent of the property tax reduction they would have received this year under the school finance reform law. The legislation – passed in response to an order from the Texas Supreme Court – traded lower school property taxes for higher taxes on businesses and smokers.
Voters in 26 other districts rejected a higher property tax rate, including the largest in the state to hold a tax rate election – the San Antonio school district, according to TexasISD.com.
Also saying no were voters in the Lake Worth district in Tarrant County and the Royse City district in Rockwall County.
The Dallas Morning News reports -
Two voters approve water district
MIAMI, Texas — Both of the people eligible to cast ballots for the creation of a Fresh Water Supply District in Roberts County endorsed the plan on Tuesday.
Establishing the district would help billionaire T. Boone Pickens deliver Panhandle water to growing north Texas communities.
The two voters: Pickens' ranch manager, Alton Boone, and his wife, Lu.
They also approved $101 million in revenue bonds to acquire rights-of-way through as many as 12 counties for delivering water and wind-generated electricity and chose a five-member board of supervisors by a 2-0 margin in unofficial returns.
The bonds would be repaid from money collected from water and electric customers who benefit from Pickens' water and wind energy projects.
The election is the next step in what has been a five-year effort by Pickens' Mesa Water to market and ship water from the Ogallala Aquifer to thirsty cities.
This district will allow Pickens to condemn land in Collin County for a pipeline and power easement, and to sell tax free bonds that benefit Pickens' Mesa Water and power companies.
AUSTIN – The Railroad Commission of Texas voted 2-1 Tuesday to order natural gas utilities to dig up and replace old compression-style pipe couplings that have been implicated in North Texas home explosions.
The commission gave utilities two years to replace the rubberized couplings that can come loose in North Texas' notoriously shifting soil.
Dallas' Atmos Energy Co. says the couplings are in use at fewer than 100,000 homes in its service area, which includes North Texas. The couplings were installed only in homes built in the 1980s and earlier.
The company estimates the cost of replacing the couplings at between $35 million and $50 million. Atmos has the option of asking the commission to raise its rates to recoup its costs.
The move comes after two fatal explosions in North Texas in which the underground couplings are suspected of pulling out and sending gas through the ground to pool under homes. WFAA-TV and The Dallas Morning News first reported the controversy surrounding the couplings last month.
"We're doing this as an abundance of caution," said Railroad Commission Chairman Michael Williams, who cited home explosions in Wylie and Cleburne when he introduced the measure.
An elderly Wylie couple died when a natural gas leak ignited their home Oct. 16, 2006.
Bloomberg.com reports on T. Boone Pickens "shenanigans" -
Pickens Water Plan Poised to Gain Bond, Condemnation Authority
By Lorraine Woellert / Bloomberg.com
Nov. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Boone Pickens, the high-rolling oilman, may have engineered one of his shrewdest takeovers yet in the form of eight acres of Texas scrubland.
The land in Roberts County, a stretch of ranchland outside Amarillo, holds no oil. Instead, it is central to Pickens's plan to create an agency to condemn property and sell tax-exempt bonds in the search for one of his other favorite commodities: water.
Approval of the district is all but certain when Texans vote today in state and local elections. By law, only the two people who actually live on the eight acres will be allowed to vote --the manager of Pickens's nearby Mesa Vista ranch and his wife. The other three owners, who will sit on the district's board, all work for Pickens.
Pickens ``has pulled a shenanigan,'' said Phillip Smith, a rancher who serves on a local water-conservation board. ``He's obtained the right of eminent domain like he was a big city. It's supposed to be for the public good, not a private company.''
Pickens and his allies say no shenanigans are involved. Once the district is created, the board will be able to issue tax-exempt bonds to finance construction of Pickens's planned 328-mile, $2.2 billion pipeline to transport water from the panhandle across the prairie to the suburbs of Dallas and San Antonio.
Buying the Bonds
If Pickens can't find a buyer for the bonds or for his water -- and he hasn't yet -- he might buy the bonds himself to jump-start the project, said his Dallas-based lawyer, Monty Humble of Vinson & Elkins. The board will spend about $110 million to buy the right of way for the pipeline, using the power of eminent domain to acquire property if necessary, Humble said.
Pickens, 79, chairman of Dallas-based BP Capital LLC, says selling water is a business whose time, amid fears of global warming, may be at hand. His Mesa Water Inc. has bought 200,000 acres of Texas water rights and talks of doubling his holdings.
Water has been a cheap and relatively plentiful resource in the U.S., and massive infrastructure projects like the ones Pickens envisions looked like pipe dreams a few years ago.
Now, states such as Georgia are experiencing shortages, joining the ranks of Nevada, Arizona and other perennially water-poor states in the Southwest. Desalination plants are being built near California beaches, and water pipelines are snaking across the arid West.
Brink of Crisis
Population growth, a prolonged drought some scientists link to climate change, and the expansion of water-intensive industries such as biofuels have put many regions on the brink of crisis.
Last month, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson injected water into his presidential campaign when he said that northern states are ``awash in water'' and ought to export it to the Southwest.
Richardson, 59, drew a rebuke from Representative Bart Stupak of Michigan, a fellow Democrat and chairman of the newly formed Congressional Water Caucus. Stupak brushed off the suggestion, noting that the Great Lakes are at record lows.
``The market is being forced to find more creative solutions for water scarcity,'' said Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analyst Deane Dray.
Pickens says he was motivated to take the plunge on water in 1997, when the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority, the local utility, declined to buy the water under his Roberts County ranch. The utility said there wasn't enough demand.
With the population of Texas on track to almost double to 40 million by 2020, the water authority now wants more water, but Pickens has beat them to the punch by buying up big chunks of water rights.
The Texas panhandle may look arid on the surface, but underground it's a different story. The panhandle rests on part of the 174,000-square-mile Ogallala Aquifer, North America's biggest underground water reservoir and among the most pure. Mesa Water's Web site touts Ogallala's water as ``high-quality, terrorist-resistant, and drought-proof.''
Still, Pickens faces obstacles. To help pay for construction, he plans to piggyback wind power on the water infrastructure. He plans wind farms on the ranch land and wants to run electricity cables along the right-of-way of Mesa's water pipeline.
All told, the wind and water project is projected to cost more than $10 billion. The pipeline alone will run $2.2 billion. Pickens said he has about $100 million invested so far. ``This is a $10 billion project,'' he said in an interview. ``It better be profitable.''
Most of all, he needs a group of confirmed buyers for his water. That's in part because of political resistance to his plan for gobbling up water rights. Several Dallas-area water districts have refused to sign up.
``We have real concerns about private control of water,'' said Ken Kramer, director of the Texas Sierra Club. ``Water is a resource, yet in some respects it is a commodity. It's essential to human life as air. That puts water in a different class.''
John R. Spearman, Jr., a Roberts County rancher and chairman of the Panhandle Groundwater Conservation District, is one of many local critics who contend that Pickens' water play could upset conservation efforts and seeks to profit from shortages of a vital resource.
``He has the legal authority to do it,'' Spearman says. ``We can't stop him.''
After last year's fatal explosion in Wylie, as is typically done here in Texas, the Texas Railroad Commission exonerated Atmos of any blame.
Over the last year, WFAA-TV has broadcast a series of investigative stories detailing the danger older homes face from compression gas couplings, and how the danger was known to Atmos and the State. I have posted the series here.
In the 5th part of the report, released this evening, WFAA has reported that the Texas Railroad Commission is expected to reverse itself and order hundreds of thousands of these dangerous couplings replaced. The 5th part of the series follows -
In mid-October, News 8 began airing a series of stories about deadly natural gas fittings still in use under the North Texas soil. News 8 also reported on the reluctance of state regulators, the Texas Railroad Commission, to do anything about it.
But Tuesday morning in Austin, the Railroad Commission is expected to do an about face, ordering the removal of the fittings.
The original News 8 investigation can actually be dated back to October of 2006, which was when Benny and Martha Cryer of Wylie were killed when their home mysteriously exploded.
Last March, The Texas Railroad Commission released a favorable report absolving the gas company, Atmos, of any culpability. Neighbors expressed outrage.
The Railroad Commission's final report was flawed according to one pipeline safety engineer, Don Deaver of Houston, who said he believes no real investigation was ever done.
The Terrell Tribune reports that 2 voters will approve the creation of the T. Boone Pickens Freshwater Supply District that will then sell up to $101 million in tax free bonds to condemn North Texas property in order to build a pipeline from Roberts County to Collin County region.
There is SO much wrong with this plan, I don't know where to start. The 2 voters are T. Boone's ranch manager, and wife. The water is coming from the Ogallala aquifer, important to agriculture and not an endless supply. The purpose of the fresh water supply district is NOT to supply water, but to supply profit to Mesa. The FWSD will use eminent domain to condemn hundreds of acres of Texas farm land for its huge right of way. The list of injustice here goes on and on.
And our own deposed County Judge, Ron Harris is part of the Mesa team who dreamed up this attack on the landowners and taxpayers of Texas.
Revenge is sweet, eh Ron?
Pickens-backed Panhandle district likely to pass unanimously
Staff/Wire Report / The Terrell Tribune
Roberts County voters - well, two of them - will decide Tuesday whether to go ahead with plans for a fresh water supply district much like the one Kaufman County commissioners tabled in early September.
It won't take long to count the votes on a plan that would help billionaire T. Boone Pickens deliver Panhandle water to growing North Texas communities. There's even less doubt about the outcome.
Just two people - Pickens' ranch manager and the ranch manager's wife - will cast ballots Tuesday to confirm the creation of the district.
Alton Boone, who manages Pickens' vast Canadian River Valley ranch, and his wife, Lu, live within the 8-acre water district and are its only eligible voters.
The couple also will vote to seat a five-member board of supervisors - which would include themselves and three Pickens employees - and to approve $101 million in revenue bonds to acquire rights-of-way through as many as 12 counties for delivering water and wind-generated electricity.
WFAA TV has aired a five part series blasting the Texas Railroad Commission and Atmos Energy.
Part One - Gas leak danger: Lives at risk
A yearlong News 8 investigation has found that thousands of lives in North Texas may be at risk as a result of leaky joints on underground natural gas pipes. Brett Shipp reports.
Part Two - Explosions fuel gas pipeline fittings debate
A deadly natural gas explosion in Wylie last year is fueling a new debate about the safety of many North Texans. At least 100,000 of the questionable couplings that failed in the Wylie case are still in the ground in North Texas. Brett Shipp reports as News 8 Investigates.
Part Three - State's decision on gas blast questioned
The state agency that oversees pipeline safety in Texas is under increasing scrutiny for allowing 100,000 potentially deadly natural gas pipe fittings to remain in the ground. Brett Shipp reports on new evidence that Texas Railroad Commissioners suddenly backed off of a proposal last spring to force Atmos to remove the dangerous couplings.
Part Four - Gas leak discrepancies spark concern
Brett Shipp looks into why thousands of homes have gas leaks that have gone unrepaired.
Watch Part four here
Read Part four here
Part Five - Coupling removal proposed after investigation
Tuesday morning in Austin, the Railroad Commission is expected to do an about face, ordering the removal of the fittings.
Inexcusable Inaction: State neglected to check natural gas pipe fittings
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Benny and Martha Cryer perished as no one should die: blown out of bed and trapped beneath debris from a natural gas explosion a year ago that leveled their Wylie home.
Like 100,000 other North Texans with older homes, the elderly couple didn't know about the potential dangers of outdated natural gas pipe fittings outside their home.
Texas regulators, however, did know – and had for at least two decades. Yet only now is the Texas Railroad Commission asking natural gas companies statewide to check those pipe couplings.
The Railroad Commission's official report lists the cause of the explosion as undetermined. But since the 1980s, pipeline industry officials have known that a compression coupling like the kind linking the meter to the pipe at the Cryer home could fail, with catastrophic consequences. The manufacturer of the coupling had told now-defunct Lone Star Gas that rubber seals could weaken over time and didn't meet federal standards. Also, the federal Office of Pipeline Safety's warning about the problem was common knowledge throughout the industry.
But the public knew little of this history until the Cryers' relatives filed a lawsuit and WFAA (Channel 8) and The Dallas Morning News launched investigations into the circumstances surrounding the deadly Wylie explosion.
It has been both perplexing and troubling that the Texas Railroad Commission has been slower to act than regulators in other states. Faced with a similar situation, Minnesota regulators immediately ordered a gas company involved in an office building explosion to remove the potentially dangerous fittings. The directive cost the utility several million dollars.
But that's not how Texas regulators handled matters. During the investigation into the Wylie explosion, Railroad Commission staffers discussed the possibility that shifting soil had caused a natural gas coupling to pull apart. One investigator raised the possibility that a company digging in the area could have damaged the pipe. Staffers also discussed whether to ask all gas companies for an expedited plan to get the old couplings out of the ground, potentially at a cost of tens of millions of dollars.
But the Railroad Commission's final report inexplicably omitted structural problems with the coupling as a possible cause and instead speculated that an unnamed construction crew might have damaged the pipe. The Railroad Commission began surveying natural gas companies about their couplings, but again stopped short of ordering replacement.
Also clouding the issue is murky court testimony suggesting that political pressure might have played a role in how the Texas Railroad Commission handled this issue. According to Texas Ethics Commission records, since 2000, Atmos Energy's political action committees have donated $20,000 to Commissioner Victor Carrillo and $19,802 to Commission Chairman Michael Williams. Commissioner Elizabeth Jones has received $2,000.
We would hope politics played no role in the inaction. Nonetheless, the Railroad Commission's response has been unconscionably late, passive and inadequate.
Minnesota's response should have been the template for Texas regulators to respond in the public interest. Since the news reports on this subject, Atmos says it has been inspecting and replacing the couplings at its customers' request. No leaks were found, the company said.
It's beyond comprehension why the Railroad Commission didn't do as Minnesota did and call for replacement of the couplings. Today the danger looms, and there's no excuse for it.
GAS EXPLOSIONS IN TEXAS
These accidents may or may not have been caused by a faulty coupling.
Oct. 10, 1998 Three people are injured in a house explosion in Arlington.
Jan. 14, 2000 Two people die in a Garland natural gas explosion that's blamed on a faulty underground pipe.
Dec. 13, 2000 One person is killed and another injured in a house explosion in North Richland Hills.
Nov. 13, 2001 Two people die in a gas explosion in Richardson.
Oct. 16, 2006 The Cryers are killed when a natural gas explosion destroys their house.
Jan. 25, 2007 A home explodes in Missouri City, Texas, injuring one. An initial report blames a loose compression coupling after heavy rain.
May 29, 2007 A home in Cleburne explodes, killing two people. Investigators suspect a loose compression coupling allowed gas to seep into the home's attic.
SOURCE: Dallas Morning News research and archives; legal documents.