Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Down the Rabbit Hole

These comments were presented at the December 27th session of the Bastrop County Commissioners Court. FOX 7 News said they were going to be there but stood us up!! Maybe next time . . .

There’s a lot going on in Bastrop County these days and its becoming more and more surreal. It’s as though the County has fallen down the rabbit hole to another dimension where up is down, left is right and nothing is quite what is seems. Obviously we’re not in Mayberry anymore.

First we had the whole eco-merge, greeny goodness spin coming from Carpenter & Associates.

Now the County is trying it’s hand at the art of spin. Let’s take a look at the the newly penned ‘Mission, Values and Objectives’ statement that now graces the wall outside this courtroom. It’s right up there at the top of the the spin-o-meter chart. Just how do all those noble ideals line up with the reality of what’s gone on with regard to the Central Texas Airport? Let’s take a look.

The ‘MISSION’ statement opens with these words:

‘To promote the health, safety and welfare of our citizens . . .’ In light of the 381 Agreement with Carpenter & Associates for the Central Texas Airport, perhaps a better rendering would be ‘to promote the health, safety and welfare of our corporate financial partners’.

Then comes the treasure trove of spin titled ‘VALUES’:

‘ACCOUNTABILITY’ promises ‘. . . accepting responsibility for our actions . . .’ OK, Judge McDonald . . . if you practice what the Mission statement preaches, just when are we gonna have that public hearing?

‘STEWARDSHIP’ suggests ’striving to make the most efficient and effective use of our natural resources’. The focus on using rather than preserving is very telling and disturbing.

Onward to ‘COLLABORATION’, which’ extols ‘Actively seeking citizen participation . . .’ You have got to be kidding!! Not one ordinary taxpaying citizen was consulted or asked to participate in any part of the CTA approval process. Instead, this airport has been imposed on us unilaterally by this very Court via the 381 Agreement.

The ‘MISSION’ statement closes with a list of ‘PRIMARY OBJECTIVES’ which offers more unkept promises:

Just how does an airport located within a Wildlife Hazard Zone ‘Provide for the safety and security of our citizens’?

Just how do toxic chemicals, acres of tarmac, screaming jets, increased traffic, plummeting property values etc. ‘Protect the environment and our quality of life’?

The entire ‘Mission’ statement reeks of strategy from a corporate attorney or clever marketing consultant. Just who are you trying to convince? Well, we see right through all of it and we’re not buying what you’re selling. Actions do speak louder than words.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Public forum brouhaha

On April 13, 2009, the Bastrop County Commissioners Court granted Jim Carpenter an opportunity to present information about the proposed Central Texas Airport and possible legislation to create a Municipal Utility District (MUD) to support the project.

The County and City of Bastrop had been aware of the project for several months but the public had been kept out of the loop until just prior to the meeting. The citizens of Bastrop County were not pleased and many attended the SRO event.

At that presentation, someone from the audience asked the Court if citizens would have an opportunity to express their concerns publicly at a later time. The judge hemmed and hawed and conferred with Commissioner Dildy and when pressed, blurted YES, there would be an opportunity to do that.

Now fast forward to 2010. In June just over a year after that presentation, the Commissioners entered into a 381 Agreement with Jim Carpenter which included a 75% 30 year tax rebate for the airport. The good citizens of the County were never offered the opportunity to express their concerns about the deal in a public meeting as promised by the Judge.

However, demand for a public meeting has continued during the citizen’s comment period at the Commissioners Court sessions. On November 22, the demand prompted an impromptu hallway meeting with the Judge. He tried to explain that he MEANT that the meeting was for the MUD though MUD was not referenced in proximity to his 2009 promise. His fancy semantic two-step around the issue just doesn’t ring true in light of the recording of the presentation.

So the Judge didn’t keep his word and the 381 is a done deal. Do politicians ever keep their word? If the citizens who attended Carpenter’s presentation had pressured the Court immediately following that presentation, things might have been different. But they didn’t and now that ship has sailed. Let’s get over it, move on and not let another opportunity slip by.

The Bastrop Advertiser report of this Court session was never published online but you can see a scan of it here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Scourge of ‘ED’

These comments were presented by StopCTA at the December 13 session of the Bastrop County Commissioners Court.

Bastrop County is suffering from a severe case of ‘ED’. ‘ED’ is a driving force of the rich and powerful that is often implemented with government complicity. It is an affliction that is gripping the county, the country and in fact, the entire world. ‘ED’s’ goal is a proverbial pot of gold . . . but at what price? ‘ED’ is responsible for untold suffering of those unable to protect themselves and for the destruction of natural resources and established communities.

By now you should have realized that the ‘ED’ I’m referring to is the scourge of ‘Economic Development’. And boy, does Bastrop county have it bad!

Judge McDonald . . . in Saturday’s Advertiser you are quoted as saying “. . . We want to make sure we are not putting the county at risk. We want to make sure the county is protected . . .”

Well, isn’t that some carefully constructed political jargon. Why? Because the ‘county’ to which you are referring is the administrative entity. The county consisting of real, live, breathing people and the natural resources that will be negatively impacted by the proposed Central Texas Airport isn’t even a consideration.

How can you NOT realize that siting an airport smack in the middle of a Wildlife Hazard Zone puts CITIZENS at risk. How can you NOT realize that siting an airport on the banks of the Colorado river puts the RESOURCES of the county at risk. The 381 Agreement does absolutely nothing to protect the county’s citizens or its resources.

Then you talk about “. . . a fair system of evaluation that protects the citizens while providing for positive economic growth.” What have you been smoking?

Just WHAT is fair about the sacrifice of the ‘expendable’ on the altar of ‘ED’? Why has the county failed to arise to the occasion of protecting its citizens? Why does the Court keep posturing and pretending that you care about anything but your own bureaucratic behinds?

Considering the world economic climate, it would be easy to excuse what’s happening under the desperate-times-require-desperate-measures category. Maybe. But the choices being made are destructive to self-governance. The shift of priorities from protection to acceptable risk is one that reeks of a corporate strategy rather than the equality and democracy that you have been entrusted to uphold. The road you are going down is very troubling. Please come to your senses before it is too late.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The REAL Culprits

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents obtained from Bastrop County regarding the Central Texas Airport have revealed an unsettling truth. One so unthinkable it was never even considered.

This is a bit complicated so let’s get up to speed. In Section 1(b) of Bastrop County’s 381 Agreement with Carpenter & Associates, the Central Texas Airport is exempted from having to adhere to the FAA’s 14 CFR Part 139 rules. These rules contain guidelines for safe operation of airports. Since airplane collisions with birds or other wildlife can cause planes to crash, these rules contain Wildlife Hazard Zone management recommendations which help to protect the safety of those in the air and on the ground. Bottom line is that the exemption says the Central Texas Airport doesn’t have to follow them. And that’s very dangerous.

For weeks we have been hammering the Court about this exemption to the 14 CFR Part 139 that puts the safety and security of Bastrop County citizens at risk. We just couldn’t understand how the vetting process missed the exemption! We tried to rationalize that Carpenter’s attorney must have slipped it in at the last minute. Or how it was overlooked in the excitement of giving away that huge tax subsidy to an operation run by someone with a less than stellar development track record.

Well, here’s the shocker. You might want to sit down.

Carpenter’s attorney sent the first draft of the 381 Agreement to the Court on August 31, 2009. There was no exemption to the 14 CFR Part 139 rules in this draft.

It took three months for the Court to complete their first revisions. The December 07, 2009 cover letter to the revisions sent to Carpenter’s attorney, explains:

“These changes are based on comments we received from the members of the Commissioners Court and other County officials. Please let me know if you have any questions concerning the County’s suggested changes and I will be glad to explain the basis for the requested change.”

A quick look at the infamous Section 1(b) in the revised document revealed an unthinkable but undeniable truth. THE PASSAGE CONTAINING THE EXEMPTION WAS ONE OF THE REVISIONS ADDED AT THE COUNTY’S REQUEST! Our very own Commissioners are the culprits responsible for the exemption!!! Do they care so little for the safety and security of the County’s citizens? Are we that expendable?

It is unimaginable that the County has said NOTHING to set the record straight in all the months this exemption has been front and center during the Citizen’s Comments at the Court sessions, in conversation with individual Court members, in the press and online. Did they really think they could keep this a secret?

We are hoping the the County or their attorney will be kind enough to offer those of us put at risk by this exemption the same courtesy offered in the cover letter - an explanation of the basis for this addition.

Then it will be time for the Court to ‘man up’ . . . to apologize to the citizens endangered by this exemption and finally, to void the 381 Agreement. That’s really the only way to make things right.

The the documents referred to above can be accessed on the FOIA page

Monday, November 29, 2010

Abuse of Power

Abuse of Power was published in the December 10, 2010 Smithville Times. It included some rather amusing editorial additions.

At the last two Commissioners Court meetings, Judge McDonald, in his very affable manner, quietly announced a change in order of the agenda. The new order, moved the Citizen Comments which are routinely scheduled for the top of the agenda to the end after most other Court business had been tended to.

Citizens who have made the effort to come to the Courthouse to participate in their ‘representative’ government deserve better than to be sent to the end of the line. Some who come to speak take time off work to do so and lose income in the process. By adding an extra burden of up to an hour wait, the Court shows an insensitivity to and lack of respect for anything us ‘ordinary folk’ might have to say or the effort it takes to get there or the financial loss it might incur. It seems to be their not so subtle way of saying ‘go away and stop interfering with our usual bureaucratic routine’. It could also be interpreted as an attempt to silence opposition to the proposed Central Texas Airport.

Well, we will not be intimidated or silenced!

Keep in mind that even if the agenda is followed, each speaker only gets 3 minutes which flies by in a heartbeat. Go past three minutes and you are unceremoniously ‘terminated’.

The Judge has also noted on several occasions that the Court will not respond to questions during the comment period but that the Court will carefully consider what has been said. Well, after months of offering comments to the Court, there has been ZERO indication that anything we have presented has made one bit of difference. So please, either engage us in dialog or stop pretending that what we say matters.

The 381 Agreement which was only presented to the public as a fait accompli and the charade of Citizens comments illustrates a pattern that could easily be interpreted as an abuse of power.

As our elected representatives, the Commissioners are supposed to be working with us and for us. They do not ‘own’ the Court nor are they its ‘rulers’. But that’s exactly what it feels like from where we sit. An attitude readjustment from the Court is in order and overdue.

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