Saturday, February 25, 2017

The county judge goes to Austin

The new county judge goes to Austin

I've heard nothing but good things so far about Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran.  Since he took the helm, things have at least stabilized after more than a year of disarray in county government.  At least the 2017 county budget was a start when it came to addressing infrastructure needs.  And we are not building more on to the Smith County Kremlin this year!  Most of all, he actually shows up to work instead of spending his time playing around on social media and attending every conference, committee meeting, and awards ceremony that catches his fancy.  So hey, I understand that being an effective local leader includes representing our interests in the legislature.  Nonetheless, I'm a little creeped out, because Moran's predecessor, Joel Baker, seemed to enjoy going to Austin just a little too much...and it got him into trouble!

Read the whole article here:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Profiles in failed leadership: Smith County Commissioner Cary Nix

Meet Smith County Commissioner Cary Nix


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.  But 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.

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?

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!

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: