Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Chicken-$#!+ politics, crony capitalism, and it's cold in Canada (Commissioners Jeff Warr, Cary Nix, JoAnn Hampton, Terry Phillips)

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Sanderson Farms is coming!

Indeed.  Smith County Commissioners are already slapping each other on the back for this pending  deal with Sanderson Farms that will give the chicken-producing giant some $18 to $19 million in property tax abatements and other financial incentives (at taxpayer expense) to bring a massive chicken processing plant and a number of other facilities to the area.  Tuesday they did the back-breaking work of agreeing to apply for a grant from the state to pay for some of the necessary infrastructure.  At the end of the grueling session, which took approximately 5 minutes and 30 seconds, Commissioner Jeff Warr wiped the sweat off of his brow and jubilantly issued the imperative, "Eat more chicken!"  What a comedian!  Now, before I go into my tirade about the clownishioners' role in this, let me say that I think this is likely going to be a good thing for the community.  And chances are, if I were a clownishioner, I'd vote for it.  So it's not the results of this particular deal that I take issue with, but rather the process, which seems to be rubber stamped here every time a company shows up looking for a taxpayer-funded handout in return for locating here or expanding their operation that is already here.

The process

I'm sure a lot goes on behind the scenes, because state law allows these deals to be hashed out in secret.  Here, the final details usually get revealed to the public at the last minute, with little opportunity for constituent input.  But what I'm focusing on here is the clownishioners' part in this, which seems to be minimal.  (I'll explain why I even care about that at the end of this article.)  The decision to extend a tax abatement to Hood Flexible Packaging that was made at the  March 14 commissioners court meeting offers us a little window into how the clownishioners operate:

The discussion lasted a grand total of 7 minutes, 30 seconds, including a rehearsed presentation by a representative of the Tyler Economic Development Council (TEDC).  Commissioner JoAnn Hampton asked about the ethnic breakdown of Hood's employee force and seemed satisfied.  (Would she have voted against it if they didn't hire enough minorities?)  Shouldn't that have been information that was already available to her?  Did she or any of the other clownishioners do any research on this issue, or even look at any documents provided by TEDC, prior to the open session?  Commissioner Phillips said that he was "not inclined" to vote for the measure because it involved so few jobs, but he ended up voting for it anyway.  Apparently Smith County was competing with a location in Canada for the company's expansion.  Did anyone do any research on what kind of deal Hood was going to get from the Canadians?  I'm having a little trouble believing that Canada, with its taxes and environmental regulations, etc. could beat us out in terms of taxes and other red-tape even without us offering them a tax abatement.  Ah, but Jeff Warr in his brilliance sealed the deal by remarking that he didn't like the idea of losing to the Canadians and that "it's cold up there."

Yes, sweetie, it's cold up there--in Canada.


Commissioner Jeff Warr:  "It's cold up there. [in Canada]"

Breaking news:  Climate experts agree that Canada is colder than Texas

And in other news...

Geologists discover evidence that Canada is closer to the North Pole than Texas

Map of Canadian climate types:  (In general, colder than Texas.)


Tyler, at latitude 32 degrees north, is generally warmer than Canada.

Sorry--got a little carried away there.  But this is how it's going with this Sanderson Farms deal .  The TEDC people say it's going to have something like "$1.43 billion" in economic impact.  Given that we're going to give $18 to $19 million to this company, did any of the clownishioners think to research that number?  I mean, hell, the way they like to hire expensive consultants to "study" every problem, you'd think they might pay some economist from UT Tyler to at least go over the numbers for a couple of hours and see if they make sense.

And I know this is not something we like to talk about in polite conservative Republican circles, but what about environmental concerns?  I'm not exactly some tree-huggin' Greenpeace nut.  But this thing is going to process something like 1.25 million chickens per week.  That's a lot of chicken guts!  And potentially a lot of Salmonella.  And there will be 80 local "independent" growers to produce those chickens.  That's a lot of chicken poop.  Sure, it ain't exactly a lead smelting operation of a nuclear waste dump, but I think we should be careful.  Tom Mullins' (of the TEDC) answer?  Well, he and about a dozen other people went down to the Sanderson plant in Palestine and there wasn't any smell.

Good.  There's no smell.  I'm sold.

I gotta whole lot of other questions that I know won't be answered before this deal goes through.  I'm not a fan of tax abatements in general and I doubt that tax abatements make or break most of these deals.  I suspect Sanderson Farms and other employers look at a whole host of other factors--workforce, local economy, infrastructure--and that tax abatements are usually just the icing on the cake.  (Oh, and speaking of workforce...Good luck finding $1,700 people in East Texas who can pass a pre-employment drug screen!)


Okay, but in general I am for this thing, so why does this discussion matter?

It matters because it is apparent to me that these deals sort of drop into the clownishioners' laps. They do little work to make it happen, but they vote "yay" automatically because, well, "economic development."  Then, they can take credit for the thriving local economy, even though they have contributed next to nothing.  Hell, in about 30 minutes, I could train a baboon to push the green button instead of the red button to get a food pellet every time it hears the phrase "economic development."     But you can bet your bottom dollar that, come election time next year, Cary Nix and JoAnn Hampton are going to be blabbering on about how they "partnered with blah, blah, blah to bring in over $1.4 billion in economic development blah, blah, blah" and how they should be re-elected because they are all about prosperity and bringing in jobs and we're living in a veritable paradise because of them. 

Smarter than the average county commissioner?


Before you go to the polls in March, ask yourself this:  Do you trust these idiots to do the right thing...or to even know what the "right thing" is?  After all, these are the people who, year after year, directed money to building Joel Baker's Kremlin in downtown Tyler, while your roads crumbled and washed away.  They supported the "Transportation Reinvestment Zone" which, if enacted, would have diverted even more funds away from much-needed infrastructure repairs.  They (Warr, Nix, and Hampton) also voted for "Cameragate," the ill fated and unconstitutional plan to contract with an out-of-state company to fine drivers for speeding in speed zones.  Yeah...THAT Cameragate--the deal they hammered out in three illegal closed meetings and led to Joel Baker's conviction for violating the Texas Open Meetings Act.

There are going to be plenty of waterheads out there who will vote for Nix and Hampton because of name recognition or because they go to church with them or whatever.  But these elections are typically won and lost by a few hundred votes.  If you want things to change in Smith County, you are going to have to show up at the REPUBLICAN PRIMARY in March and VOTE THE BUMS OUT!

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