Monday, October 6, 2014

Round Rock School Board Election 2014: More at Stake than You Might Think

I know many readers are chomping at the bit to cast a vote for gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott next month, but please note that there are many, many other races on the ballot.  (Check out your Williamson County sample ballot here.)  Residents of the Round Rock Independent School District in particular will enjoy the opportunity to vote in four contests for the Board of Trustees.  (Places 1, 3, 5, and 6).   While few voters really pay attention to local, non-partisan races, there is more here than meets the eye.  To some extent these races are indicative of a power struggle between "the Elected" and "the Appointed" in public education. 

For Place 1, Nikki Gonzales is challenging Claudio Cruz.  Cruz was appointed last year when Brian Sellers suddenly quit before his term expired (a common occurrence in RRISD, maybe because it allows those in power to appoint a replacement without all that darned campaigning & election stuff.)  Being new, Cruz does not have much of a record but is known via his work as an employee of Austin ISD.  Many folks active in Round Rock schools and politics know his challenger Nikki Gonzales from her work with the PTA, the Texas State Legislature, and the Williamson County Sheriff's office. She has strong support from the families and taxpayers of the community who want to have an elected voice on the board.  I would vote for Nikki Gonzales. 

Hands down, Bryan Black is the best choice for Place 3.  A former award-winning journalist, Black is currently the Director of Communications for the Texas Department of Agriculture, has completed the Leadership Round Rock ISD program, and is a RRISD parent.  His goals include making RRISD a role model for districts in not only student achievement and innovation, but in fiscal responsibility and transparency.  The latter is something RRISD could use a little more of.  (See "Shut Up, They Explained," and "RRISD Tries to Silence Whistle Blowers?") 

Black is such a stellar candidate that voters should choose him regardless of who his opponent may be.  It happens however, that he is challenging long-time board member Diane Cox.  Cox is definitely on the Left politically, and the only Round Rock resident who was willing to go on air to support the disastrous Diana Maldonado campaign for State Legislature in 2010.  Even for those who believe that school boards are magically non-partisan, Cox's tenure has been frustrating, and she seems to have been involved in most of RRISD's woes, including everything from the illegal bonus and illegal Student Health Advisory Council scandals, to a rather disastrous re-zoning process.  Cox has barely won her last two elections, usually losing in the Williamson County portion of the district, but scraping up enough votes in Travis County to hold her position.  (In one case by a mere 7 votes.) 

In Place 5 there are three candidates vying for an open seat thankfully being vacated by Catherine Hannah.  Allen McKee, Paul K. Emerson, and Suzi David are running, but the front-runner and most likable candidate seems to be Allen McKee.  Like Bryan Black, Allen McKee is interested in having a stellar school district and promoting transparency and accountability.  There's not a lot of information on Suzi David, but Emerson is mouthing those nice-sounding platitudes about being a "team player" and "non-partisan."  Those terms sound innocuous and comforting, but anyone who has been paying attention to RRISD events for the past decade knows there is a great struggle underway regarding the fundamental role of the school board.  In some minds the trustees should serve the ISD superintendent like an appointed cabinet supports an executive.  For these folks, there should never be dissension on the board since the role of trustees is to implement directives and provide support to the superintendent.  However, many Americans still believe in representative government and see the superintendent as the employee of an elected board:  the superintendent answers to the board, the elected board answers to the people.  This struggle received attention last year when the Texas Legislature overwhelming passed a bill affirming certain rights of elected school board trustees.  Unfortunately, Paul Emerson's rhetoric clearly places him in the "go-along-to-get along" camp, and I doubt he will be willing to stand up for parents and taxpayers if necessary.  Frankly, I think parents and taxpayers want elected representatives who are courageous enough to ask questions and stand up for what is good, true, and right at all levels of government, especially school boards.

Interestingly enough, the most vocal member of the board, Terri Romere, does not have a challenger for her second term.  Huh.  She has been accused of being a trouble-maker for asking questions and demanding answers, but I guess the community is pretty happy with her service.  Parents have praised her for listening to their concerns, acting on those concerns, and refusing to rubber-stamp every proposal.  While certainly one to ask the right questions, Romere is simultaneously a great cheerleader for RRISD and her commitment to the students and families of the district shows.  She will begin her second term unopposed

There is also a contest for Place 6.  Paul Tisch is another appointee, replacing Democrat Glen Colby who, like Brian Sellers, suddenly quit.  Tisch is challenged by Tony A. Pitts.  I can't seem to find a website for Tisch or Pitts, but here's a link to Tisch's Facebook page and Pitts' law offices.  While Williamson County liberals are usually happy with the ISD appointees, they were a bit miffed when Tisch took Colby's place.  It appears Tisch is a Republican and Pitts is a Democrat.  Tisch has not been in office for long, but one hopes his party affiliation indicates his willingness to affirm representative government. 

RRISD has come through a lot of controversy, but seems to be on a better track, especially with new Superintendent Steve Flores.  Voters now have an opportunity to continue this trend by electing solid candidates committed to excellence, accountability, and very importantly, transparency.  In addition, I hope citizens will comprehend the deeper power struggle here between the elected and the appointed in our local government.
Please make sure you are registered (the deadline is TODAY, Monday, October 6,) and please vote early if possible.  Early voting begins on October 20 and continues to October 31.  Election Day is November 4, but don't wait! 

Remember, school board elections are supposedly non-partisan, so if you are a straight-ticket voter, you will still need to make selections on these local races.  

Thursday, September 25, 2014

George P Bush in Cedar Park

George P. Bush, GOP candidate for Texas Land Commissioner, will be making a special campaign stop in Cedar Park next Tuesday, September 30.

George "P," is considered a rising star in Texas politics and has lead efforts for Hispanic "inclusion" within the GOP.  He has a very diverse background, but near and dear to my heart, he is a former history teacher and has been a proponent of education reform. 

He is favored to beat his Democrat opponent this November, (former El Paso mayor John Cook,) but smart candidates never take anything for granted.  If you can't make this event, be sure to support George P. Bush for Texas Land Commissioner.

Just FYI:  The Hansen Family has relocated to Harris County.  I will only be posting limited items on the Williamson County Conservative blogsite from now on.  Not sure what the Good Lord has in mind for the future, but I'm contemplating a new, less local blog.  Will keep ya' posted. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Enter the "Report Government Waste" Contest

Senator Tom Coburn's annual "Wastebook" always leaves me gnashing my teeth over federal government waste.  After all, when American families are struggling with stagnant wages, higher taxes and higher costs-of-living, learning that my tax dollars have gone to essential functions like studying romance or developing zombie-themed video games, can certainly put me in the mood to vote early and often. 

Although the federally-oriented "Wastebook" gets a lot of press each year, let's not forget that our local government entities can be guilty of some pretty outrageously wasteful expenditures.   Usually less subject to public scrutiny, local officials can slip in some crazy purchases.  (They also really seem to enjoy attending very expensive seminars and 'retreats' on the taxpayer dime.) 

Ever in pursuit of more fiscally-responsible, common-sense government, this year Texas Public Policy Action is holding a contest for citizens to expose waste.  Competitors can submit written essays or original creative videos to TPPA by October 24, 2014, and winners will be announced in November.  As important (and fun) as it is just to document government waste, participants in the contest may win cash:  $4,000 for 1st place, $2,000 for 2nd place, and $1,000 for third.  Hey, you could probably use the funds to pay at least part of your property tax bill this year!

I'm really looking forward to seeing more government waste exposed, and just knowing that you are watching might make your local elected officials less arrogant a little more careful!  So please check out the details of the TPPA contest here and see what you can find.   

Good Luck!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Pedernales Electric District Elections This Month

While some of you might be ready to turn off politics for the summer (especially after such a nasty primary run-off,) please check to see if you reside in the Pedernales Electric Cooperative.  If so, congratulations, you have another election this month.  And you should pay attention; for years the PEC has been mired in controversy over transparency and environmental issues.  

This may be the weirdest election process in Texas, so pay attention, here's how it works:

Members of the PEC should have received either a ballot in the snail mail or an email containing voting instructions.  However, if you haven't already mailed in your paper ballot, it's really too late to do so and be sure your vote will be counted.  (And according to a note on the PEC website, they've already really messed up the mailed out ballots.)  You may still vote via the online process until June 13, OR in person on June 21 at the Annual PEC Board Meeting in Cedar Park. 

This year PEC members will vote for directors in District 2 and District 3.  Although these are nominally 'single member districts,' the bizarre PEC election process allows ALL members of the entire Co-op to vote in each district election.  So, no matter where you reside in the PEC, you control who represents the other districts.

District 2 includes portions of Williamson County; some residents of Cedar Park, Leander, Georgetown, and Liberty Hill all reside in PEC District 2.  The candidates for this District are Emily Pataki and William Boggs.  Incumbent Boggs is part of the "Green Initiative" movement that continues to drive up costs and hurt PEC families.  Pataki, a seventh-generation Texan, is a fiscally conservative businesswoman (and Mom) who is concerned about the direction of the PEC.  Please check out the candidate forum and Emily Pataki's website, and take the time to vote this month.

I'm not as familiar with the candidates for District 3; there are four of them, which makes it hard to unify behind any particular candidate.  They include Judy Pokorny, Kathryn Scanlon, Arnold LeVine, and Don Zimmerman.  Zimmerman is a well-known fiscally conservative activist from Travis County. 

This is one of those low-profile but high-impact elections that residents ignore at their own peril.  Please take the time to make an informed vote. 

Best bet:  Vote IN PERSON at the Annual Meeting on June 21, 2014.  

When:  June 21, 2014, 8:00-10:30 AM
Where:  Cedar Park High School, LISD South Performing Arts Center, 2150 Cypress Creek Road, Cedar Park, TX.  Map.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Cedar Park's Lowell Moore: Mo Jahadi's Criminal History Should Matter to Voters UPDATED

Updated to include Press Release regarding Mo Jahadi's apparent failure to comply with Ethics Commission requirements. 

The City of Cedar Park is one of many localities holding elections this Spring, and earlier this week the Austin American-Statesman reported that one of the candidates seems to have a troubling legal history.  In addition to convictions for writing bad checks and drug-related charges, candidate "Dr. Mo" Jahadi also apparently has a warrant out for his arrest in another state.

From the Statesman article:
The lawyer Jahadi has retained said he could “neither confirm nor deny” that the speeding ticket belonged to his client, and is in the process of obtaining information from the Salome Justice Court.    “We’re still ascertaining whether the person accused of speeding is Mohammad Jahadi, who’s my client, or another Mohammad Jahadi,” lawyer James Sustaita said.

Jahadi is challenging incumbent councilman Lowell Moore, who is a pretty decent, conservative guy, and I'm not sure why Jahadi doesn't like him.

Although Jahadi seems to be downplaying the unpaid ticket and subsequent warrant as no big deal, Councilman Moore has pointed out that the City of Cedar Park itself has thousands of outstanding, unpaid tickets resulting in about $3 million in lost revenue for the city.  (Moore's press release is below.) 

Most Texas municipal elections (city councils, school districts, etc,) will take place on May 10 this year, with early voting beginning Monday, April 28.  In case you are suffering from 'election confusion,' this is not the same as the Republican Primary Run-off Election.  That election takes place on May 27, with early voting beginning on May 19.  Clear as mud?  (Why is it that some folks think presenting identification to vote is a burden but having to keep track of four or five elections a year is not?  Hey, at least it's not a Labor Day election this time.)

(CEDAR PARK, TX)  On April 24, 2014 the Austin American-Statesman published an article titled, “Attorney for Cedar Park candidate questions old warrant from 1997 ticket”.  The story detailed an outstanding arrest warrant and multiple convictions of Cedar Park city council candidate Mohammed Jihadi.  The story listed the criminal history to include:

-An outstanding arrest warrant for an unpaid speeding ticket in Arizona
-A conviction for writing a bad check
-A conviction for drug possession and failing a related drug test

In the article the interviewer wrote that Mr. Jihadi said that at the time of his convictions he was a “teenager” and was “young” and “stupid”, but his most recent conviction occurred recently when he was in his twenties.  “The detailing of Mr. Jihadi’s convictions and open arrest warrant raise serious questions about his fitness for office,“ said Cedar Park Councilmember Lowell Moore.  “Being an elected member of city council is an office of public trust.  The citizens of Cedar Park expect their elected officials to live up to the highest standards of respecting the law and taking personal responsibility for their obligations to society”.

“Mr. Jihadi’s failure to pay his speeding ticket and the related arrest
warrant is something that one may easily dismiss as not being important,” said Moore.  “However, as an experienced councilmember I know that the City of Cedar Park currently has more than 3300 outstanding tickets over 10 years old that equals nearly $3 million dollars in lost revenue to the taxpayers of Cedar Park.  Collecting money from fines not only serves the purpose of exacting justice for violating the law and hazarding public safety, but also helps pay for the critical law enforcement activities that help keep Cedar Park one of the safest cities in Texas”.

“I respect the men and women in our public safety departments and our municipal court system and I know that we as citizens must honor the laws that govern our society.  It seems clear, in view of my opponent’s criminal history, that there is a stark difference between the choices voter have in this election.  I respectfully urge the voters of Cedar Park to return me to city council where I pledge to continue to craft conservative budgets, control taxes and proudly keep the police and fire departments the number one budget priority for the continued protection of the citizens of Cedar Park,” said Moore.

About Lowell Moore: 
Councilman Lowell Moore is a former Senior Vice President with a Fortune 500 Company and if given the opportunity to serve for the next two years he will continue to focus on bringing strategic economic development to our city.  He was instrumental in the development of the Cedar Park Center that now is home to the three major sports teams, over 150 events yearly, and rings thousands of visitors to our city each year.  Moore was elected to City Council in 1998 and served for four years.  He returned to the council in 2008 and presently serves on council.

Election information:
Early Voting begins on April 28 and runs through May 6.  Election Day is Saturday, May 10, 2014.
Update:  It seems that Mr. Jahadi has not complied with Ethics Commission filing requirements as of Tuesday, May 7, 2014.  Councilman Lowell Moore released the following statement:

“The Texas Ethics Commission publishes rules and regulations regarding campaign finance.  Title 15 of the Texas election code, regulates political funds and campaigns” said Cedar Park City Council Member Lowell Moore.  “Title 15 specifies what must be reported, the format of the report, and certain dates which must be met for required reports. “ One such date is 8 days prior to an election.  Opposed candidates must file a campaign finance report with the appropriate authority.  According to the City of Cedar Park, as of Tuesday May 6, Mohammad (MO) Jahadi had not filed the report required 8 days prior to the election, which was due Friday, May 2nd.  Moore said “This is an important issue and shows continued disregard for the law”.

Click here to read the full press release from Lowell Moore.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

We Know Carlos Salinas by the Company He Keeps

One way in which Democrats often attempt to gain a foothold in Republican areas is through so-called 'non-partisan' offices.  We've seen this repeatedly through the local school board in Round Rock, but highly partisan 'non-partisans' are also a problem on the City Council.

Round Rock City Councilman Carlos Salinas has tried to reassure the city's Republicans that he is really not that partisan, but his recent re-election campaign efforts are telling a different story.

Salinas kicked off his campaign (at his possibly illegal  downtown headquarters,) with a whole slew of Democrats from out-of-town.  Until last weekend, his Facebook page proudly displayed photos of himself with some rather surprising characters.  Most notably, former State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin,) Democrat candidate for State Senator Joel Shapiro, and Democrat Congressional Candidate Louie Minor have all journeyed to Round Rock to help re-elect their Democrat comrade. 

Former State Senator and staunch Democrat Gonzalo
Barrientos drove up from Austin to attend Salinas'
campaign kick-off.

Now retired from the legislature, Senator Gonazalo Barrientos is well-known not only for being allowed to stay in office after his DWI arrest and conviction, but for his 100% Pro-Abortion voting record from the National Abortion Rights Association (NARAL).  He also stinks on 2nd Amendment Rights and received an overall "D" rating from both the TSRA and NRA.  Barrientos' ratings on Budget, Spending, and Tax issues ranges from a low of 5% to a high of 25%.  I'd say he is pretty darn partisan, but gosh he sure seems to like Carlos Salinas.

 Democrat Congressional Candidate Louie Minor
 drove down from Bell County to help Salinas.  This
photo has now disappeared from Salinas' page.

Also helping out with the Carlos Salinas campaign is Democrat Congressional Candidate Louie Minor.  Mr. Minor joined the demonstrations in Austin last year in support of late-term abortions, and favors expanding the government takeover of healthcare.  He is running against Round Rock's Congressman John Carter on the November 2014 ballot.  These aren't exactly moderates showing up here to help Salinas.

Interestingly enough, shortly after my post last week on how Salinas is benefiting from the $400,000, 5-year, interest-free loan he voted to give to a local developer, someone has 'scrubbed' Salinas' re-election page removing embarrassing photos like the one above of Louie Minor.  The only photos available from last Saturday's fundraiser are of...the food.  Now why wouldn't Salinas want everyone to know who his powerful friends are?

Salinas is also a member of the Democrat Municipal Officials association, a national group whose stated goals include building a "Democratic future," and "capitalizing on America's cities and towns as laboratories for policy innovation."  (emphasis added.)   The group also provides members with sample press releases and statements that will make them sound reassuringly conservative to those pesky Republicans in their respective districts.  According to the Democrat Municipal Officials' promotional video, as a member Salinas gets to network with other municipal Democrats from 'successful' cities like Newark and Chicago


The problem with these hardcore Democrats holding local 'non-partisan' seats is that local offices are the launching pad for higher office.  In fact, the above-mentioned Democrat Municipal Officials video specifically states that they are teaching folks like Salinas to "run for other offices."  You would think Round Rock residents would have learned their lesson after the Diana Maldonado disaster of 2008-09.  Serving on the 'non-partisan' school board led to her election to the State House, where her pro-abortion, anti-business, pro-tax partisan stripes became painfully apparent.

Democrat Carlos Salinas will face local businessman Will Peckham in the May 10 Election.  A Round Rock native, Peckham has been active in the community and unlike Salinas, isn't trying to fool anyone into thinking he's something he's not.  He has served in many non-partisan and partisan roles on behalf of the Republican party.  (Disclosure-He and I have been fellow delegates to the State GOP convention on several occasions.)  Most recently, Will Peckham served as chairman of the Organization Committee at the Williamson County Republican Party Convention.  

Early Voting begins Monday, April 28 and concludes on Tuesday, May 6.  Election Day is Saturday, May 10.  The Williamson County Elections website has a full list of times and locations.  

Update:  Apparently Democrat candidate for Williamson County Commissioner Tom Mowdy is assisting Salinas too:  According to his campaign finance reports Mowdy donated $200 to the campaign.  Another former Democrat candidate, Brig Mireles donated $300.  Again folks, don't let Salinas fool you- he is a committed Democrat. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Round Rock Councilman Salinas Violating Law With Sweetheart Deal? Updated

Salinas Campaign Headquarters in the Historic Nelson Hardware Building
whose owner received an interest-free loan from the city to purchase and
 is now leasing the space back to Salinas at an estimated 80% reduction from market value.

UPDATED:  This post has been updated to include "Exhibit A."  See bottom of page. 

Although the City of Round Rock is notorious for canceling elections due to a literal lack of interest, this year there are actually two contested seats on the city council.  This is a good thing in that it invites citizens to scrutinize the activity of the council and its respective incumbents.  It may, however, be a really, really bad thing for incumbent Councilman Carlos Salinas.

Salinas has sat on the Round Rock City Council for some 9 years unchallenged and appears to be benefiting from his position in a way that violates both city and state codes.
According to official City Council Meeting Minutes from October 25, 2012, Councilman Salinas (and other council members,) voted to approve a development agreement [Resolution Number R-12-10-25-H3] for the City of Round Rock to provide a $400,000, 5-year, interest-free loan to a local developer in order to complete the purchase of the historic Nelson Hardware Building.  Supposedly this transaction was to further the City Council’s goal of making the “Main Street area an authentic dining, entertainment and retail shopping destination for local citizens and tourists alike.”  While we can certainly argue the merits of government choosing economic winners and losers in this way, there is an even more disturbing aspect to this story.

Rather than an attractive new restaurant or shop, now it appears that the Nelson Building's main tenant is...Councilman Carlos Salinas.  During the first week of March 2014, Councilman Salinas' re-election campaign began occupying ground floor space at 201 East Main Street.  Since then, Salinas has held numerous campaign meetings and fundraisers with his out of town Democrat allies (like Travis County's Gonzalo Barrientos and Democrat congressional candidate Louie Minor of Bell County, who is running against Round Rock's John Carter.)

Is this the dynamic downtown development Round Rock taxpayers are supposed to be subsidizing?

Photo posted on Salinas' website of Austin Democrat former State Senator
Gonzalo Barrientos
with Councilman and Mrs. Salinas in Round Rock.

The real kicker is that, according to Salinas' financial reports, he is 'renting' the Nelson Building space for a mere $1,000 per month.  Based on the advertised price of the lease space and estimates by local brokers, the market value for this location is estimated to be approximately $5,500 a month, making this a sweet $4,500 monthly financial benefit for Salinas.

Not only does this apparent 'gift' seem unethical, it is also clearly illegal. 

Such a gift would be in violation of Section 2-118(a)(2) of the City of Round Rock Code of Ordinances, which states:
Gifts. No city official shall intentionally or knowingly solicit or accept any contribution, gift or economic benefit with actual or constructive knowledge that is given in consideration of the favorable exercise of such official’s judgment or discretion in the past.
Even more serious than the city ordinance is Councilman Salinas' possible violation of state statutes, specifically Section 39.02(7) of the Texas Penal Code, which states:
An a felony of the first degree if the value of the use of the thing misused is $200,000.00 or more.  
Salinas voted for the $400,000 interest-free loan, and therefore cannot claim he did not know about the agreement with the city.  Since a campaign office is clearly not a part of the original development agreement, Salinas could be guilty of official misuse of city subsidized property.  Legally speaking, some $400,000 of that building is government property, which would make abuse of the building a first degree felony

Councilman Salinas’s use of the Nelson Building does suggest an abuse of the city development agreement’s intent and stated purpose, which violates both City Ethics and State Abuse of Official Capacity laws.  Furthermore, Councilman Salinas’s below market lease rate could constitute an illegal gift, which violates both City Ethics and State Abuse of Official Capacity laws.

If you’d like to go see the Nelson building and the benefits of incumbency for yourself, Mr. Salinas is holding a fundraiser in his totally awesome taxpayer-subsidized digs this Saturday, April 12 from 11:30-3:00pm.  (201 East Main Street)  Admission is only $10, unless of course you're counting your taxpayer-funded loan to the owner.

This entire situation demonstrates the importance of holding elections, vetting candidates, and electing individuals who aren’t afraid to ask questions.  Our local leaders manage huge amounts of money and wield tremendous power over the community.  The last thing we need are a bunch of officials sitting around a dais holding hands and singing Kumbaya instead of delving into the implications of their decisions.  As the recent arrests of Leland Yee, Patrick Cannon, and Ron Calderon demonstrate, corruption is rife in politics.   It’s time to start paying attention to your local government and local elections.  Now.

This year Salinas has a worthy challenger in Will Peckham.  A local small business owner, Peckham has long been active in the community and has served in a variety of volunteer and leadership roles.  His campaign website is here

Early Voting begins Monday, April 28 and concludes on Tuesday, May 6.  Election Day is Saturday, May 10.  The Williamson County Elections website has a full list of times and locations. 

Update:  In my original posting, I left off the below document:  "Exhibit A,"  which details the problematic agreement between the City of Round Rock and"Lewis".  I do not know if other developers were invited to apply for this 'super special' loan.