Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Comedy or tragedy? Thre Three Stooges of Smith County: Cary Nix, JoAnn Hampton, Jeff Warr

Please read this article and others on the new blog, here: https://smithcountytexas.blogspot.com/2017/07/comedy-or-tragedy-three-stooges-of.html  

The REAL Three Stooges

It occurred to me the other day that many young people probably don't know who the Three Stooges were.  Most of those who do know of them are familiar with them because they watched many of the short films they made in the 1930's and 1940's on television in the 1960's and 1970's.  The premise was basically this:  Three loveable, bumbling buffoons manage to get themselves into a variety of unlikely situations where they reek havoc.  They settle conflicts among themselves by beating the crap out of each other for a minute or so, then go back to whatever zany thing they were doing.  In many of the episodes they take on short-term jobs for which they are egregiously under-qualified, like moving a piano or plumbing.   Some scenes would never pass "political correctness" muster today:

"This house has sho' gone crazy!"
(Actor Dudley Dickerson in the episode "A Plumbing We Will Go")
Good clean, moronic, slap-stick hilarity.  But like most comedy, it existed within the context of troubling social realities.  The sketches were set against the backdrops of the Great Depression and later, World War II.  In many of the skits, the Stooges were day laborers, taking on any job they could find in order to survive.  Many young men in that day would have identified with their characters.  They even did a spoof on Hitler's regime before most Americans started disliking Hitler and the Nazis.

This county has sho' gone crazy:  The "Three Stooges" of Smith County

The Three Stooges of Smith County:  Cary Nix (Larry),  JoAnn Hampton (Mo'),  Jeff Warr (Curly)

If you watched the Three Stooges as a child, you might remember the "lost" Stooge, Shemp, who was eventually replaced by Curly.  We have our own "Shemp" here in Smith County--Joel Baker--who is gone but not forgotten.  A couple of his antics were hilarious.  You had "Cameragate which was funny because, well, mugshot:

FORMER Smith County Judge Joel Baker

And then you had "Sexting-gate," which was funny because, um, "sexting" and because it involved pictures of his hoo-ha.  On the other hand, not funny--because taxpayers had to pick up the tab for the legal fees caused by "Cameragate,"  and because the Sexting-gate story went nationwide and "cast discredit" on the Texas judiciary and the commissioners court. (Like they needed any help with THAT!)

You have "Curly" (Jeff Warr), but I couldn't think of anything funny to write about him yet, so I'm giving him a reprieve.

Then there's Cary Nix, AKA "Larry."  Like his Stooge namesake, Nix plods along, going along with whatever ridiculous schemes the other Stooges come up with.  He's sort of an afterthought--comedic filler, kind of like cabbage is to Chinese food.  For the life of me, I can't understand why Precinct 2 hasn't found someone to replace him.  Anybody with an IQ above room temperature without a criminal record would be an improvement.

Ah, but speaking of criminal records, we have Commissioner JoAnn Hampton (Moe).  She's really got the slapstick thing down.  Earlier this year she was arrested for allegedly assaulting an elderly woman.  According to the police report, Hampton and the old woman were a-feudin' over something that had to do with decorations down at the Baptist church.  The elderly woman went in to talk to her pastor about the situation in private, and Hampton barged in and got into a shouting match with her.  Things escalated, and Hampton allegedly pushed the woman, injuring her wrist.

If it were fiction, it would be funny like a scene from a Madea movie.  And of course funny, because, again, mugshot:

No, we're not all going to look back on this some day and laugh.

But not funny--rather disturbing actually--because the alleged victim was an elderly woman.  Troubling, because sheriff's deputies, armed with more than enough evidence for "probable cause" were unable to get a warrant from a judge in Smith County.  Not funny because Mrs. Hampton has always held herself up as a leader in the African-American Community.  She's supposed to set an example.  Instead she has shown herself to be lacking in good judgment and self-control.  Want to re-elect her as your representative in a government body that is responsible for public safety and manages a $90 million a year budget? Want someone like her "representing" your community?

Funny if you don't live here.  Not funny if you do.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Whites only: Another Rose Festival rant and who's going to pay to renovate Harvey Hall?

Hey, faithful CCUSA followers!  Please read this article and comment on the new blog, here: https://smithcountytexas.blogspot.com/2017/07/whites-only-another-rose-festival-rant.html

I was doing pretty good there for a while, wasn't I?  But within the past week there have been THREE feature articles in the Telegraph about the RF and I got that letter from the RF people soliciting a donation.  A donation?  So rich people can afford to have their annual debutante ball and glorify themselves?  Oh, and the letter points out that if I make a cash donation, I will be given the "privilege" of getting to purchase tickets to an event early, on a "VIP basis."  Notice it didn't say I would get "VIP tickets."  I take that to mean, if you send us some money we will let you come to our party, but you have to sit at the back with all of the other...well, you know.

What pushed me over the edge was Friday's 410-word article about how the Rose Queens and Duchesses or whatever are practicing how to walk in high heels and stand up straight and bow and stuff.  Really?  It blows my mind that there are people out there who really care.  Then, while I was face-down in the dust, the Telegraph hit me with another front-page article about it.  Hey, it's your rag, Mr. Clyde, so you can publish what you want.  But have you wondered why your circulation numbers are so low and why an attempt to set up a paywall for your online edition a couple of years ago failed so miserably?  All I can say, is hey, this "small-town newspaper" thing ain't workin' for most of us.

Don't get me wrong.  I don't think the RF should be banned or anything.  It is an elitist, "whites-only" affair and hey, people in this country have the right to assemble in elitists, whites-only groups and do whatever they choose as long as they don't hurt anybody.  I put this thing up there with the rebel flag in that it doesn't need to be whitewashed out of history, but neither does it need to be overly glorified.  And the taxpayers shouldn't have to pay one red cent to support it.  (As far as I know, we don't.  But I don't know whether the RF pays for the increased need for law enforcement presence at their events and other hidden expenses that the community incurs...)

2018 Rose Festival royalty:  What a diverse group!
(If by 'diverse', you mean one of them is fat.)

Another thing worth considering is the message the RF sends to little girls and young women:  It's not like hey, you can do great things if you work hard, study, stay off of drugs and don't get pregnant--Maybe you can be a doctor or a CEO of a company, or maybe even a member of Congress.  It's more like, sweetie, you can never be like one of us unless you are well-connected and rich.  While your family worries about a mortgage and how they are going to send you to college, our families are so wealthy they can spend $30,000 dollars a pop on frivolous crap like ridiculous-looking dresses.  But make sure your mommy and daddy buy tickets for you for our fabulous events so we can continue to fund our annual debutante ball at their expense!
This is a blog about local government and politics.  So what does the RF and the recent free advertising for it in the 'Graph have to do with any of that?  I'll tell you, Tylerites:  Your city council just voted to move ahead with a radical makeover of Harvey Hall and the Rose Complex that is projected will cost over $17 million.  Yet, plans for building a convention center--that would have likely contributed to the local economy year-round--have seemingly put on the back burner, if not removed from the stove entirely.  No sooner had the news come out about a proposed convention center than a bunch of people started wringing their hands, worrying about what was going to happen to Harvey Hall.  So, voila!  We now have a plan to build a real purddy place for the Rose Festival!  Yeah, I know there's more to it than that. like the football and baseball fields and the Rose Garden.  But no one seems to be publicly musing about whether the rebuild is going to pay for itself.  I take that to mean that there is no evidence that it will.  They also haven't talked about just who is going to fork over the $17 million.  Taxpayers?  Private donors?  I have an idea:  The Rose Festival people obviously have a lot of money.  Lease Harvey Hall to them for $1 a year for 20 years and let them pay for the project.  Let them keep the revenue generated by event fees and such, and see if they can make it work!
Okay, I'm gonna go take my blood pressure medicine now.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Looks like Commissioner JoAnn Hampton may cop a plea

Hey, faithful readers, please go to the new blog to read and comment on this article: https://smithcountytexas.blogspot.com/2017/07/looks-like-commissioner-joann-hampton.html

This is definitely not a surprise:
I hate how our criminal justice system works.  Something like 90 percent of all criminal cases are disposed by pre-trial agreements.  For public officials like JoAnn Hampton and Joel Baker, it means that they get a slap on the wrist.  And the embarrassing details of why they were prosecuted for a crime in the first place never see the light of day in open court.
With less fortunate defendants, it means that even those who are innocent are forced to plea guilty to avoid having to wait in jail until their court date if they cannot post bail.  Harris County is now dealing with a crisis involving HUNDREDS of defendants who were falsely accused of drug possession on the basis of false-positive results of unreliable field testing kits.  Many of those individuals are now having to live with a criminal (drug) record and cannot afford to seek exoneration.
On the other hand, the cast of characters here is in itself somewhat amusing.  First you have clownishioner JoAnn Hampton herself, the star of the show:

Source:  Smith County Jail

And currently the case is in the 241st District Court, which is Judge Jack Skeen, Jr., who's also on my "Ten Worst Politicians" list:
Judge Jack Skeen, AKA "Junior"
And then we have Mrs. Hampton's attorney, Clifton Roberson:

Attorney Clifton Roberson

I thought the name was familiar.  Back in 2013 Roberson got into a tiff with District Judge Christi Kennedy.  Roberson was a no-show at an afternoon hearing for a burglary defendant.  Roberson claimed that he had notified Kennedy's colleague, Jack Skeen and a member of Kennedy's staff that he had to go to a local hospital to be with his family at his aunt's deathbed.  Kennedy ordered that bailiffs locate Roberson and haul him back to court in handcuffs.  The humiliated Roberson threatened to file a grievance, but apparently nothing ever came of that. (There just HAS to be more to the story!)
On a more serious note, in 2004 Roberson had to go to court and defend his representation of a capital murder defendant who was convicted in 2002.  On appeal, the defendant claimed he got inadequate representation by Roberson and co-counsel Brandon Baade.  The case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court and the conviction was upheld.
Fun, fun!  Can't wait for the show to start!

Smith County's bogus "public input" meetings = free campaign advertising for incumbents

7-12-17 Correction:  When I originally published this post, I thought the "public input" meeting was on Monday, July 10.  It actually occurred Tuesday, July 11.  But my comments about it are still the same.

Now I'm going through one of those phases when I think that I'm wasting my time on this blog, because it seems little has changed in Smith County in the past 4 years.  Yesterday your kownty klownishioners held the first of a series of meetings ostensibly seeking "public input" for a master road plan.  I didn't go because it would have been a waste of time.  The paper hasn't reported how it went yet, but I don't really care.  I just have one word to say about this:
Anybody remember late 2013 as the 2014 elections approached?  Joel Baker and Commissioner Cary Nix made a big show of holding "town hall" style meetings seeking "public input" about a special taxation zone to fund an extension of Loop 49.  Well the "public input" they received was that the "public" didn't want to "input" any more county money into the project.  Did Baker and Nix care?  No!  in December of 2014 they passed a proposal to create the taxation zone.  The whole "town-hall" meeting thing was a public relations ploy to get free campaign advertising for Baker and Nix.
So here we are, four years later.  I'm still on the fence about Judge Nathaniel Moran.  But Cary Nix has been in office since 2011 and JoAnn Hampton has been in office since 2003.  Except during their campaigns for re-election, have either of them shown any substantial interest in developing a plan to repair the county's roads and bridges?
And look at the proposed 2018 budget.  If I'm understanding this article in the Telegraph correctly, it looks like the road budget, including funding for "special projects" is going to be $3.2 million less than the previous year.  With the total road and bridges budget for 2018, we will be able to repair a whopping 50 MILES out of our approximately 1,200 miles of county roads!  Why?  The clownishioners' reasoning is that we need to develop this imaginary "plan" before we spend more money.  Is it really necessary to have a full-blown 10-year comprehensive plan in place before you adequately fund the roads budget so that at least basic repairs and maintenance can get done?
Here's why I think it's bogus:  MOST of the "plan" is going to have to be how to repair and maintain our EXISTING roads.  It was my understanding that since the 1950's the county has used a "unit system" to determine what roads get serviced and when.  That means the county engineer makes repairs to roads without regard to whose precinct the roads are in and who lives there.  The system is designed for the purpose of keeping politics out of the process.  So, when a road needs repair, it shouldn't matter whose precinct it's in and how many rich people have sent e-mails to the county judge.  I wonder what they are going for here.  Are they going to dramatically throw up their hands and say, well, looks like we're going to have to borrow $100 million?  Then we can have a bond election and the public would likely vote it down.  That would give them the excuse of claiming the public rejected the plan, then they could go back to business as usual.
So have you looked at the "input" form they want people to fill out?  They want your name and what precinct you live in, etc.  Seems pretty innocent, but...
Don't fall for it, sheeple.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Why Commissioner JoAnn Hampton is bad for the African-American community

Please read this article and comment a the main blog, here: https://smithcountytexas.blogspot.com/2017/07/why-commissioner-joann-hampton-is-bad.html

I've been debating with myself whether I should publish a post like this.  I know what I am about to say here is certainly provocative, if not outright inflammatory.  But our county government is still a mess and it is high time Smith County residents took an honest look at their county commissioners.
So here's JoAnn Hampton's mugshot from the Smith County Jail:

Smith County Commissioner JoAnn Hampton
Source:  Smith County Jail

We'll get to that issue later.  Let's talk about Commissioner Hampton's absolute FAILURE to represent her community.

Going along to get along

Hell, I'm guessing that if Hampton has an opponent in 2018, Smith County's establishment Republicans are going to secretly support Hampton.  After all, Hampton--the lone Democrat on the commissioners court--has proven to be more of an establishment Republican than anyone else on the court.  She consistently supported the FAILED policies of former Smith County Judge Joel Baker and often travelled with him to conferences where she was potographe at his side, accepting bogus awards for (ironically) stuff like "transparency in county government."

Putting more black men in jail

Hampton and her fellow commissioners have consistently increased the budget for the district attorney's office at a rate that is much higher than the population growth of the county.  And, they pushed and pushed for an expansion of the county jail until voters finally approved a $35 million bond package to add a 384-bed maximum-security facility to the existing jail.  But Smith county incarcerates its residents at a rate that is about double the state average.  Has Commissioner Hampton ever urged county leaders to explore why that is?  Did Commissioner Hampton ever speak out and demand that county leaders look at safe alternatives to pre-trial incarceration for non-violent offenders?
You see, a draconian legal system like we have here in Smith County disproportionately incarcerates young African-American men.  For one thing, African Americans are more likely than whites to be arrested for low-level offenses like drug possession, for a variety of reasons.  Once they are arrested, minority defendants are less likely that whites to be able to post bail or to afford adequate legal representation.  Therefore a young black man is much more likely to stay in jail awaiting trial than a white defendant.

Letting her precinct crumble

For almost ten years under former County Judge Joel Baker, the county commissioners spent millions of dollars on unimportant pet projects while the county roads and bridges crumbled.  During that time the sheriff's department was chronically understaffed, and response times for emergency calls in rural parts of the county were way too long.  Many of Commissioner Hampton's constituents are low-income African-American and Latinos living in rural parts of the county.  They are the ones having to contend with washed out roads and inadequate law enforcement, and Commissioner Hampton has failed them!


"Cameragate" is a name I've given to an illegal, unconstitutional plan hatched by county commissioners to allow an out-of-state company to set up automated camera devices to catch speeders in school zones.  So what does this have to do with the African-American community?  The answer is that it would have likely disproportionately affected low-income--and therefore minority--drivers.
Let me explain.  You see, if you get a "regular" traffic ticket from a police officer, you have the opportunity to appear in court before the fine is assessed.  Therefore, if you can't afford the fine, the judge might work with you on setting up a payment plan, reducing the fine, or letting you do community service instead.  Not so with this asinine plan.  The out-of-state company would send the "offender" a bill for $150, called a "civil penalty."  The plan was for the county to withhold vehicle registration renewals for those who didn't--or couldn't--pay the fine.  Can't get your vehicle registration renewed, you can't drive (and get to work) or you keep driving and risk getting a ticket for that.  Cant pay that ticket?  You get a warrant issued for your arrest.  Then if you get pulled over again, you go to jail and possibly lose your job, can't pay your unpaid fines, and it goes on and on.  It's called "debtors' prison."

A bad example

Okay, so back to the mugshot.  Earlier this year, Commissioner Hampton was indicted and arrested for allegedly assaulting and injuring an elderly person.  Of course her guilt or innocence will be determined by a judge and/or jury.  But the incident was witnessed by the pastor of her church and was carefully investigated.  The story went something like this:  Commissioner Hampton and an elderly woman at her church were having a dispute over decorations at the church, of all things.  The older woman went in to discuss the matter with the pastor in private, in his office with the door closed.  Hampton barged in and confronted the woman and a shouting match between the two escalated to the point where the woman was pushed to the ground and injured.
Now I don't know if Hampton actually intended to injure the woman.  But ask yourself this: Mrs. Hampton is supposed to be a "leader" in her community.  Is this a good example to young people in how to resolve conflicts?  And please excuse me for saying something that may make some of you very uncomfortable:  Does this not help perpetuate the racist stereotype of blacks as being volatile and lacking in self-control?
You decide.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Stupid attorney tricks and why Joel Baker needs to make a video (of himself)

Hey, faithful readers, I'm trying to move this whole operation to a new blog.  Please enjoy this article here: https://smithcountytexas.blogspot.com/2017/07/stupid-attorney-tricks-and-why-joel.html


The legal profession in shambles

Most Americans are not aware of this but the legal job market is a mess.  For decades, U.S. law schools have churned out thousands more graduates per year than the job market can bear.  You'd think that in free market, this situation would correct itself, but it is only getting worse, because new law schools keep opening, and existing law schools are going to great lengths to keep enrollment up.  Awareness of this situation, ironically, has actually worsened the problem in that smart college kids are staying away from law school, while the law schools keep lowering admissions standards.  At the same time, law school tuition is at an all time high, and crappy law schools typically charge as much as prestigious institutions.  It's gotten to the point where anybody with a  pulse (who can also borrow $150,000 in federal student loans) can get into law school somewhere.  So, not only do we have too many lawyers, we are churning out bad lawyers faster than ever.  To make matters worse, tort reform in Texas has limited "non-economic" damages (i.e. "pain and suffering") to a degree that personal injury attorneys can only hope to profit from cases involving severe injuries or extremely costly damage.  It used to be that a shyster lawyer could make a living with a "sue everybody and see which suits stick" approach.  But there are only so many torts to go around, or only so many ambulances to chase, so to speak.  So, even for established law practices, business is down, as are attorneys' incomes.  No, we're not talking about having to settle for a pre-owned Lamborghini instead of brand new.  Newly-minted lawyers are having a hard time finding jobs that pay more than $60K per year, if they can find work at all,  and solo-practice attorneys have to really hustle to bring in $70K.

This state of affairs might make your high school reunion a little more enjoyable in that you can now laugh at that smug jackass of a classmate who used to brag about "going to law school" and showed up at the 10-year reunion in a BMW.  But this overabundance of bad lawyers is really causing some problems for the rest of us.  After all, some of these dolts from low-ranked law schools manage to pass the bar (after several tries) and get to practice law.  Most judges are lawyers, as are most of our state legislators.  And American voters typically choose such down-ballot candidates on the basis of party affiliation and name-recognition, not academic or professional qualifications.  I shudder to think about what our already dysfunctional criminal justice system is going to look like in ten years!

And then you have these hordes of hungry lawyers looking for ways to generate income, by any means necessary.  For example, a few years back a gaggle of local attorneys tapped into a mother-lode and managed to rack up $1.33 million in charges in a single year--paid by Smith County taxpayers--to provide ad litem services related to child custody matters handled by one court!  Finally you have our very own de-frocked county judge, Joel Baker who had worked for the DA four a couple of years, dabbled a little in private practice, and then went into local politics, where he could set his own salary and come and go (pun intended) as he pleased (pun also intended).  He had a good thing going, then he threw it all away.

As an aside, here I must mention that some good things came out of the Joel Baker saga.  It put our dysfunctional county government under a microscope, and now the county commissioners cannot so much as fart without the public knowing about it.  And it was good, cheap entertainment for many of us.  (I'd say "free" entertainment, but Baker's misconduct has cost the county something around $50,000 in legal fees, so divide that among all of the taxpayers and it cost us each a little.)  On second thought his shenanigans put the county government in disarray for about a year, so maybe it wasn't so good after all...

Joel Baker, Attorney
Source:  Smith County Jail

I snickered a little when I heard Baker went back into private practice.  More power to him, I initially thought.  But, if you remember the scandals I called "Peepergate and "Sexting-gate" you can understand why I got an icky feeling when I heard through the grapevine that he had been representing some juvenile defendants.  I dunno...form your own conclusions.


Crazy lawyer stunts

What got me thinking about Baker's plight was seeing this video, which has gone viral:

It's Bryan Wilson, a Fort Worth lawyer whose video antics have made him a hit on YouTube.  This one is over the top.  My favorite part is when he lights one of those exploding shells that work kind of like mortar rounds, tosses it like a grenade, and it detonates a few feet away while he is "running away" on a treadmill!  My first response was to laugh my head off.  Then I got to thinking:  Some kids are going to see that and think it is perfectly okay to shoot Roman candles at each other and set of packages of firecrackers on their heads!  So much for Mr. Wilson's sense of social responsibility.

But, I got to thinking--this guy is on to something here.  What an ambitious private-practice attorney like Joel Baker needs is a shtick--something to make him stand out in the crowd.  And I say if you are already known nation-wide for something scandalous, embrace the notoriety and make the name-recognition work for you!

Joel Baker needs to make a video advertisement.

Here's what I'd suggest:

The first scene is Baker dressed up in a tuxedo, James Bond-style, at a roulette wheel in a casino, with several scantily-clad, attractive, young women hanging on him.

Baker:  The legal system in East Texas can be a real gamble.  Don't leave it up to chance.  You need a lawyer who knows the system from the 'inside'.  You need ME!  Traffic tickets?  (Cut to the next scene which shows an exasperated housewife who smacks herself on the forehead as she looks at a document titled something like "Automated Speed Enforcement Violation Notification.")

Baker:  Drunk driving?  In this scene, a police officer is talking to a driver while the camera cuts to empty liquor bottles on the passenger-side floorboard.  (To save money, Baker's law partner can play the part of the driver.)

Baker:  Divorce?  In this segment, a husband is scrolling through sexually provocative messages and images of women wearing lingerie on his phone as his wife, standing in front of him with one hand on her hip, wags her finger at him

The final scene has Baker in an elegant hotel room, his bowtie loosened and the first few buttons of his shirt undone.  He turns and points the camera on his iPad towards an open window in an adjacent hotel and starts recording a young Hispanic woman in lingerie as she bends over to plug something into an electrical outlet.

Baker:  Did something naughty?  Don't get caught with your pants down!  Stop hiding: TEXT OR CALL ME. Baker points the screen of his iPad to the camera and displays his phone number.

I think it'll work.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Smith County politicians want "local control" when it comes to raising taxes; Taxpayer funded lobbying


Ah, the special session...

Thanks to this so-called "Freedom Caucus" (of which our very own Matt Schaefer is a member) in the Texas House, our legislature will go into special session this year.  Votes on a number of important bills were blocked and will not see the light of day until the next legislative session, if ever.  By the way, one such bill would have saved taxpayers millions of dollars in jail expenses and law enforcement resources by eliminating arrests and jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

But that's off-topic.  Take a look at this article in yesterday's Telegraph: Tyler, Smith County leaders concerned over local control issues in Texas Legislature special session

Taxpayer-funded lobbying?


Good reporting by Faith Harper in that she brought up something that most sheeple don't know about:  Some lobbyists in Austin are funded by taxpayers!  Yup, that's right.  Some of the lobbying (All of which should be illegal in my opinion.) going on at the capital is paid for by local governments, Tyler and Smith County included.
Tyler engaged a lobbying firm, Focused Advocacy, to help in the regular session, and that service will continue to the special session.  
The firm has begun pulling data to help tell the city’s concerns over proposed regulations, and what is sees as the best ways to resolve issues.  
“We will work with (the firm) to see what information the House and the Senate need and the points we need to provide to them to help with their arguments to not move forward with much of this state-mandated regulation.”  
[Smith County Judge Nathaniel] Moran said the county is leaning on the Texas Association of Counties and Texas Conference of Urban Counties.
I'll focus on Smith County's government here, because it's motivation for such wangling is what concerns me most.  The Texas association of Counties and the Texas Conference of Urban Counties are both organizations that are funded by dues from their member county governments and employ lobbying groups to represent them in the legislature.*

They want to be able to raise taxes without voter approval.

There are several pieces of legislation on the table here that have to do with "local control."  One is a measure that would require county or municipal governments to have direct voter approval to raise taxes by more than 4 percent.  This is one that is really causing some sphincter-puckering down at the County Annex building.  But why?  Smith County's tax rate has been among the lowest in the state.  "Keep taxes low" is the mantra that every county judge and county commissioner has been chanting for as long as we can remember.  Is it even remotely possible that they may want to enact a big jump in taxes and therefore such a restriction would cramp their style?  Surely not.
Oh, but think again.  For almost a decade under former County Judge Joel Baker, the commissioners court has neglected the county's roads and bridges, choosing instead to spend millions of dollars on less important capital improvements in downtown Tyler.  And now those chickens have come home to roost, and it looks like it will cost $84 million to $124 million just to bring our existing road system up to acceptable standards.  Three of the commissioners who have supported this stupidity--Cary Nix, JoAnn Hampton, and Jeff Warr--are still in office.
The "Three Stooges" of Smith County
(Commissioner Cary Nix)

(Commissioner JoAnn Hampton)

(Commissioner Jeff Warr)

How in the Sam Hill are we going to pay for this?  Let's do the math.  For simplicity, I'll round off that cost to approximately $100 million.  Let's say we try to get the roads into shape within the next ten years.  That means the commissioners court is somehow going to have to find an additional $10 million per year, which is a little more than ten percent of the current budget, that currently hovers around $90 million.  So far, they have been pulling funds out of the "rainy day" fund, but that can't continue.  These people are not going to be inclined to cut spending for the district attorney, incarceration costs, or the downtown bureaucracy.  They like to buy votes from county employees by increasing their salaries every four years or so.  So they are either going to have to severely cut services to county residents or raise taxes if they go through with their "comprehensive road plan." (Which has YET to materialize.)
Not to be forgotten:  "Shemp"
Okay, let's say this legislation passes.  Then the clownishioners figure out that they are going to have to raise taxes by 5 percent to make substantial progress on getting the roads back in shape.  Hey it has to be done, so I'd vote for such a tax increase, as long as every penny of the increased revenue was dedicated to fixing roads and bridges.  But let's say they try to throw in some other spending increases, like even more expansion and improvement of their little downtown Smith County Kremlin.  Then county residents could vote down the tax increase and send the clownishioners asses back to the drawing board until they came up with a budget that met the county's actual needs!
The take-home message, sheeple, is PAY ATTENTION!  (Oh, yeah--and VOTE THE BUMS OUT!)

*A 2008 court ruling prohibits the Texas Association of Counties from spending "general fund" revenues, e.g. taxpayer-funded dues on lobbying.  But it still pays lobbyists with revenue derived from other sources such as funding from private interests.  Scary.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Ah, it's election time again!


And Smith County Commissioners claim--yet again--that they are ready to put together a road plan.

It's comical how predictable the Smith County clownishioners are--comical and pathetic.  Every two years when some of the members of the commissioners court come up for re-election, they start giving lip service to fixing our roads and bridges.  This has been going on for about a decade now, and we still got nothin'.  So, yesterday, this brain trust--the clownishioners court--announced a big plan to, well, start working on a big plan:

So why the hell didn't this happen about six months ago, so part of the plan could be implemented in the budget for the 2018 fiscal year?  I'll tell you why:  BECAUSE NOBODY WAS RUNNING FOR RE-ELECTION!  No sooner than Judge Moran and Commissioner Cary Nix had announced their plans to run that all of a sudden they've concocted this big, showy plan to seek "public input."  Of course "public input" is going to include a number of "town hall" style meetings at which some or all of the members of the commissioners court are going to be present, right?  And I'm sure there are going to be a series of press releases by their propagandist (journalism flunky Casey Murphy).

During campaign season.

It's called "free campaign advertising" for the incumbents.  (Well, if by "free," you mean at taxpayer expense.)

Another good thing about the timing of this is that they won't have to really start talking about the cost until after the March primaries, in which most of our county political races are decided.  That way they can avoid the politically inconvenient truth about this until the election is over:  that they may have to raise taxes or cut county services to make up for a decade of neglecting this problem.

Typical rural road in Smith County, Texas

But this is a good thing

In the past, an incumbent county judge or commissioner could simply give lip service to "coming up with a road plan" to placate voters, then go back to business as usual as soon as the election results came in.  But ever since Joel Baker screwed things up and got everybody's attention directed to county government, that's not going to work any more.  You've got reporters sitting in on commissioners court meetings, taking notes, tweeting and submitting articles within hours.  You've got this obnoxious blogger out there... This is not even a plan yet, but a "plan to start planning," so it is in effect, nothing.  Yet.  But it is the first time they've actually taken any substantive formal action to move ahead.  And if they don't make progress we're going to know about it and it will become an issue in the next election.  So, given that two of the commissioners come up for re-election every two years, that means that we can probably expect at least a little progress every couple of years.  Hey, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, right?

How this relates to the upcoming election

This sudden and uncharacteristic show of concern for constituents' needs is a form of campaigning.  Maybe nobody will run against Commissioners Cary Nix and JoAnn Hampton.  If that happens, I'm just wasting keystrokes, but so be it.  But if you are thinking about running against Hampton or Nix, you'd better get your ass in gear.  Now.  The campaign started about four years ago and you are already running behind.  But here are a few considerations to think about if you are tempted to take on Smith County's Establishment this time around:

  • Look in the mirror.  I mean, take an honest assessment of what you see.  If you are not as physically attractive as the incumbent, you will probably not win the election.  It's an unpleasant reality, but it has been demonstrated by research.
  • If you have any skeletons in your closet, stay away.  The Establishment will use them to crucify you.
  • If you have run for local office more than once in the past (school board, county commissioner, etc.) and lost, stay away.  You cannot win this election.
  • If more than one of you want to run for office, get together and try to figure out which candidate is most likely to beat the incumbent.  If you are not that candidate, drop out of the race.  Multiple candidates will split the opposition vote and the establishment candidate will probably win.
  • If you run against JoAnn Hampton, you need to run as a Democrat.  If you run against Cary Nix, you will need to be a Republican.  These elections are won and lost in the primaries.
  • If you run as a Republican, you'll need to have a cute, photogenic family--ideally, an attractive spouse and a couple of kids, maybe some grandkids if you are older.  If you are single or don't parade your family in front of the public during the campaign, Smith County people will suspect you are divorced, or even worse, gay.  And we can't have THAT kind of thing here, can we?  (I'm being facetious if you haven't figured it out yet.)
  • If you are kooky, eccentric, weird, or espouse some fringe political ideology, stay away. Or at least don't run in the Republican primary.  You know who you are.  You'll get, like, 27 votes.  Instead, please devote your time and energy into helping some decent, ethical, intelligent candidate get elected.
  • You'd better be an active member of a "good" church, preferably already serving in a leadership position, i.e. as a deacon or on some committee. Denominational rankings (politically speaking) from "best" to "least desirable" are:  Baptist > Church of Christ > Pentecostal > Methodist > Episcopalian > Roman Catholic > other religions.  And within denominations, certain congregations are better than others:  Green Acres > First Baptist > any other church, and so on.
  • And don't forget--I'm here to help.  If you're a candidate you probably don't want it known that you are associated with me.  But, if some of your supporters decide to feed me information about your opponent without your consent or knowledge, well...
Okay, who wants to sign up?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Re-elect Commissioner Cary Nix? Just say no!

Meet Smith County Commissioner Cary Nix


I just saw the news that Smith County Commissioner Cary Nix is going to seek re-election for another term.  Nix has to know that if he has an opponent this time, he is going to be hammered mercilessly by the Grassroots people, his opponent, me, and others.  As for me, I intend to dog him for the rest of his pitiful political career.  Why doesn't he just go back to what he knows best--selling dirt and rocks and sod and stuff? There must be some kind of "magic number" in terms of years of employment with Smith County that compels these commissioners to seek at least three terms.  Retirement benefits, perhaps?    On my old blog, I used to refer to Commissioner Nix as "Sidekick Nix" because he seemed to always march lock-step with former Smith County Judge Joel Baker.  To Nix' credit, he was known to oppose Baker on some issues. I don't think Cary Nix is really a bad guy, just incompetent. Overall, Nix has proven he cannot be trusted as a leader in local government.  Let's take a look at a few examples of Nix' failed leadership.

Building the Smith County Kremlin--while your roads and bridges crumbled

For a decade, county leaders have been neglecting critical local infrastructure such as roads and bridges.  And now, according to a study that was done in 2014, it may take as much as $124 million to bring the existing county roads up to acceptable standards.  Yet, there was always plenty of money whenever commissioners wanted to renovate or buy county facilities in downtown Tyler.  Commissioner Nix went along for the most part.  To his credit, however, Nix did vote against Joel Baker's 2015 fiscal year budget, that added a six-figure salary for a "county administrator" to do much of the work the county judge and commissioners were already being paid to do.  But otherwise Nix has kept his mouth shut and kept to a "go-along-to-get-along" mentality when it has come to the commissioners court's fiscal insanity.  And to date, Nix and his fellow commissioners have yet to come up with any plan to fix the county's roads.  Pathetic.

Transportation Reinvestment Zone (TRZ)

Ostensibly, the purpose of the Loop 49 Transportation Reinvestment Zone was to earmark some of the tax revenue from land near Toll Loop 49 and "reinvest" it into local "transportation" projects.  In reality, the TRZ was a SCAM by Joel Baker and the county commissioners to divert funding away from much-needed county infrastructure improvements to support pet projects such as a toll bypass route around Lindale, and possibly to add a multi-million dollar facility to their own little Kremlin in downtown Tyler.

When Nix and Baker were running for reelection in the 2014 campaign, they set up "town-hall" style meetings to get "public input" about the TRZ.  But opposition to the plan was so fierce that they set aside their plan until after the election.  Despite public opposition, Commissioners Cary Nix, Jeff Warr, and JoAnn Hampton hastily voted to create the TRZ in December 2014 with little opportunity for additional public input.  (Link to article)  Fortunately for taxpayers, however, the TRZ died on the vine later that winter--Not because commissioners listened to constituents, but because the attorney general issued an opinion that counties do not have the authority to set up special taxations zones.  In other words, this scheme was ILLEGAL from the get-go.

And speaking of illegal:  Cameragate

In January of 2015, Smith County Judge Joel Baker signed a 10-year contract with a company in Arizona called "American Traffic Solutions," or ATS.  In the agreement, ATS would supply 10-20 automated camera units that would catch speeders in school zones and issue "fines" that would be assessed by the company.  When the program was finally announced to the public in April, 2015, there was outrage, especially among other elected officials, including the sheriff.  First off, the program was unconstitutional in that it violated defendants' Sixth Amendment right to face their accusers in court.  Second, Texas' counties to not have the legal authority to set up such programs.  And finally, the plan was hammered out and approved in three commissioners court meetings that violated the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA).  As a result, this scheme erupted into a major local scandal that some of us called "Cameragate."

Commissioners Cary Nix, Jeff Warr, and JoAnn Hampton were present at all three of the illegal meetings.  And all three of them voted for the plan and supported it until it became a scandal.  The attorney general of Texas and the FBI launched investigations into the matter, and the AG's case resulted in Joel Bakers' conviction for TOMA violations.  However, probably for political reasons, the county commissioners were never prosecuted, even though they participated in the illegal meetings, which is a crime.  Nix would later claim ignorance of the TOMA violations.  But county commissioners are required to take 16 hours of continuing education annually and are each given a $5,000 yearly allowance for travel and education.  And TOMA is like one of the "basics" of local government.  But Nix claimed ignorance?
Perhaps Nix' claim of being "ignorant" is ironically true.  After the deal went public, resulting in outrage by the public and other elected officials, Nix would try to claim that he never saw the contract.  Never saw the contract?  Then why did he vote for the deal if he was not fully aware of its details?  So much for his fiduciary responsibility to his constituents and the other taxpayers of Smith County.  "Ignorant" is right.  I'd maybe add "incompetent" and "irresponsible."

After the AG's criminal investigation was initiated, county commissioners ended up approving the expenditure of approximately $46,000 in taxpayer funds to defend themselves.  And to add insult to injury, Nix and the other commissioners would later consider using taxpayer funds to reimburse themselves for additional legal fees they incurred for individual representation!  Well, enough is apparently not enough in Smith County, because last spring, the commissioners court approved even MORE spending for a private law firm to try to prevent the county from releasing recordings and transcripts of the illegal meetings, even though those materials have already been released to the public.


Disregard for the First Amendment

In 2012 Nix and his fellow commissioners approved and signed a list of "rules of decorum" that prevented speakers at commissioners' court meetings from making derogatory comments about members of the court.  In March of 2014, County Judge Joel Baker was caught sending and receiving obscene messages while he was supposed to be attending hearings of the state's judicial ethics commission and while he was attending taxpayer-funded educational activities.  In following weeks, Baker used these bogus rules to cut off speakers who were calling for his resignation.  Did Nix or any of the other commissioners protest during or after those hearings?  Nope.  They sat there like they always did, with dumbfounded looks on their faces.
Did the commissioners try to change these unconstitutional "rules"?  Well, they did the cowardly politician thing by appointing a "committee" to study the issue that was led by their own employee, the county administrator.  The committee did make some recommendations for changes, but months went by, and still, nothing.  Last September they "considered" the issue one last time and again, avoided responsibility by agreeing to have the county's attorneys look at the committee's recommendations.  We're still waiting.


Just say NO to Commissioner Cary Nix

Cary Nix comes up for reelection in 2018, which will be here sooner than you think.  Hopefully he will have an opponent, and he and Commissioner Hampton will be the first two to go down in our push to "vote the bums out."

Read more about Smith County government here:  smithcountytexas.blogspot.com

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Smith County commissioners appoint themselves to another board and skimp on law enforcement


Commissioners appoint themselves to the downtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) board

One thing about following local government here is that it is entertaining in a way.  It's like watching old cartoons in which the characters are so ridiculously predictable that you can usually predict their next moves even if you haven't seen that particular episode before.  Our county commissioners have become silly caricatures who would be hilarious if they were not in control of $90 million of the taxpayers money every year.

What this is about is that the city of Tyler has created a new special taxation zone for downtown Tyler known as TIRZ #4.  A "TIRZ" is an arrangement where a local government earmarks revenue derived from new development and increased property values within the zone and reinvests that money into special projects within that zone.  I don't really like these TIRZ things for a couple of  reasons:  First, this arrangement diverts tax revenue that belongs to local governments to another entity governed by a board of officials who are appointed, not elected.  Doesn't that skirt the boundaries of taxation without representation?  Second, I don't like the practice of local governments earmarking revenue this way for special purposes.  As we have seen here in Smith County, it is just a set-up that allows special interests to siphon money away from the general fund and dedicate it to their pet projects.

So, Smith County and Tyler Junior College have agreed to participate in this TIRZ.  What that means is that Smith County gets seats at the table when it comes to deciding what to do with the money.  On Tuesday , the commissioners court appointed Commissioners Jeff Warr and JoAnn Hampton and county administrator Lorenzo Brown to their three positions on the nine-member board.  JoAnn Hampton nominated herself, and County Judge Nathaniel Moran remarked that she was already on his 'list'.  Now, in some strange alternative universe where I was one of the other commissioners, I would have said something like, "Um, Judge Moran, you are aware that Commissioner Hampton is facing felony criminal charges, right?In other words, I don't think JoAnn Hampton should be appointed to ANY governing board of ANYTHING at this point.  I don't think Smith County should participate in this thing at all.  Smith County has already spent enough of the county taxpayers' money in downtown Tyler.  After all, it is the fault of the current county commissioners that the city's previous attempt to revitalize downtown Tyler failed.  Remember?  The previously TIRZ that was set up for downtown didn't generate any revenue in part because the county bought up property in the zone and held on to vacant properties they owned in the zone, crowding out new development and keeping those properties off of the tax rolls!

Commissioner Hampton's Mug Shot
(I've mentioned she has been charged with a felony, right?)

Commissioners are going to skimp on law enforcement (again)

Already enraged by Tuesday's budget deliberations, I opened up the Telegraph today and saw this: Sheriff's department denied request for new vehicles as work continues on Smith County's budget.

The sheriff wants nine vehicles to replace vehicles that have been driven over 200,000 miles.  And he wants ten more deputies to staff our oversized jail.  The commissioners' response?  Well, those vehicles are in fine shape.  And according to Commissioner Hampton, we can just have them refurbished by some local firm that nobody has heard about.  As for the jailers, well, we can just keep paying overtime to the jailers we already have.  Has it occurred to these buffoons that, in an intensive, dangerous work environment like a jail, employee fatigue often leads to inattentiveness and mistakes?  And in a corrections facility, inattentiveness and mistakes lead to injuries and deaths!

What I see here is a return to the behavioral patterns we saw during the days of Joel Baker's reign.  Judges want new computer stuff and software for the courthouse?  Here's a million dollars.  Commissioners want to add on to their Kremlin in downtown Tyler?  Done! Want a couple of more administrators to add to the county bureaucracy? No problem.  Sheriff requests enough deputies to staff the jail and patrol the county or decent vehicles for those deputies to do their jobs?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The proposed Smith County 2018 budget: Less on roads, more or bureaucracy

To comment on this article, read it on the main blog, here: https://smithcountytexas.blogspot.com/2017/06/proposed-smith-county-budget-for-2018.html

The answer to government waste?  More bureaucracy!

Yes, kids, it's that time of year again--budget time!  The first of series of budget meetings and workshops was held by the commissioners court on Tuesday...

...and I don't like what I'm seeing.

Judge Moran is proposing creating two new administrative positions:  a "fleet manager" to manage county-owned vehicles and a "budget analyst."  The argument for the fleet manager position is that it could increase efficiency, reduce waste, and therefore pay for itself in terms of reduced costs to the county.  Sounds good, but when have you ever seen that actually happen?  What I've observed within organizations is that such measures mostly result in increased paperwork and red tape.

Next you have this "budget analyst."  Moran has three arguments for creating that position:

Moran said by 2021, the county will be required by statute to redefine the budget officer duties because of its increase in population, which is anticipated following the next census. County Judge Moran currently is the chief budgetary officer for the county.

What Moran is talking about is that by law, a county judge cannot be the budget officer in a county with a population of over 225,000.  Smith County is likely to reach that number by the 2020 census.  That will be an interesting development here in Smith County in that it will greatly dilute the power of the county judge, whose control of the purse strings can be used to bully just about every other official in the county.  So, Moran is thinking ahead by creating the position.  But 2021 is three and a half years away.  Can we not wait another year or so?  And I thought the county auditor was heavily involved in helping with the budget.

Moran wants this administrator to answer directly to him, not to the other commissioners.  If his predecessor would have proposed this, I would have been greatly concerned.  But consider this:  The last thing we want is for the current set of clownishioners going in and out of this person's office, demanding that certain things be included and excluded from the budget, threatening to have that person's head on a platter if they don't comply!

Another argument Moran makes is that hiring this analyst may save more money than it costs:

The judge said he is hopeful the budget analyst would be able to find savings.
“I believe the money we would pay for that position we will get back if we can get our offices more efficient and get good data analysis,” he said.
Perhaps.  I'd answer that maybe we could use outside consultants for that, but it seems like you can't get one of those firms to do anything for less that about $50,000.  Maybe it would be cheaper to just hire someone.
But the part that sent shivers down my spine was this statement:
“As the county budget officer, it’s my responsibly to serve the chief financial officer of the county, but anyone that has sat in that chair knows there are a number of hats the county judge wears,” Moran said. “There’s no way for the county judge to get into the weeds with all the lines in budgets to see if we are being as effective as we can.”
When have we heard this kind of thing before--that the county judge has too much to do and the taxpayers need to pay for a full-time administrator to do much of his work for him?  Try 2014, when FORMER County Judge Joel Baker inserted a position for a full-time "county administrator" into the budget, because it was just too hard for Joel to look after the day-to-day operations of the county, which was interfering with his more interesting activities like traveling to Austin and sexting and setting up surveillance equipment to catch electricity thieves.  I know I'm comparing apples to oranges here and that I need to give Moran the benefit of the doubt, but I'm just sayin'...
Please, Lord, don't let us go through that again!

Pay increases for county employees

The proposal calls for a 1-3 percent pay increase for all county employees, including elected officials.  How many of YOU, faithful readers, have gotten regular "cost of living" pay increases in the past 10 years?  What can I say--It is election time, after all.

To comment on this article, go to the main blog, here: http://smithcountytexas.blogspot.com/2017/06/proposed-smith-county-budget-for-2018.html




Less for roads and bridges, still no plan

They're still taking money out of the 'rainy day' fund for special (roads and bridges) projects.  And they will only dedicate $2 million to such projects next year, compared to $4 million this year.  Again, Judge Moran makes a sound argument for slowing down spending for the time being...
I’m certain this next year we will have a strategic plan in place to deal with road and bridge long-term,” Moran said. “As a result of that, I want to slow down the growth in that department and get a full scale plan in place before we continue to spend as much money as we did last year.”
I agree that before we go throwing millions of dollars at this problem we need a plan.  I'm going to give Moran another pass on this, because he has only been in office going on a year now.  I'm guessing he has spent much of that time cleaning up the mess that his predecessor left.  But we paid for an expensive comprehensive study of the roads in 2014, so the county judge and commissioners ought to have at least a basic outline of what need to be done.  Therefore, there had better be a plan In place by this time next year, or else...
As for the clownishioners, they have no excuse.  All of them have been in office for 8 years or more.  Every election season they make noise about coming up with a "plan," which has yet to materialize.  It's interesting that they had no problem concocting a series of plans for the jail expansion, ranging in cost from $125 million to the $35 million plan they finally sold to the public.  They didn't bat an eye last year at paying $64,000 to study the possibility of turning the Carlton Hotel into a Taj-Mahal courthouse, which would have cost as much as $46 million!  What I think may be happening here is that the commissioners are kicking the can down the road to avoid the unpleasant reality that the county may eventually have to raise tax rates to get caught up on infrastructure needs because for a decade they have favored their pet projects in downtown Tyler over the rest of the county.