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:

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:

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:




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.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The "Ten Least Wanted List" gets whittled down

The "Ten Least Wanted" list

This is Part 2 of a two-part set.  Click HERE if you have not seen Part 1.

It dawned on me after the 2014 election that cleaning house in Smith County was going to be a long-term project.  I figured it would take 2-3 election cycles to drain the swamp.  What I'm presenting here is a somewhat optimistic outlook, but I think it is pretty realistic.  Success here hinges non only on getting rid of these scoundrels, but also on replacing them with leaders who have integrity.

The list presented in Part 1 represented the situation as of 2014, before the primary.  But Skip Ogle lost.  And Joel Baker subsequently self-destructed, without any help from us.  So here's the current list, with the members who have already been eliminated marked out:

Joel Baker (Former County Judge)

Matt Bingham (District Attorney)

Carole Clark (Judge, 321st District)

JoAnn Hampton (County Commissioner)

Henry Jackson (Constable)

Cary Nix (County Commissioner)

Skip Ogle (Politician, Lobbyist)

Randall Rogers (Judge, Court at Law #2)

Jack Skeen (Judge, 241st District)

Jeff Warr (County Commissioner)
So, it looks kind of discouraging, because it looks we made no progress in 2014.  All we did was keep Skip Ogle out of the legislature.  Buuuuuuuuuut...The 2014 election was apparently a kind of watershed here.  After that, the two main news outlets actually started actually reporting useful information about local government.  Coverage of "Cameragate" led to public outcry, which was what probably what convinced the attorney general to prosecute Baker.  Then KLTV aired the "Sexting-gate" story, and the game was over for Baker.  And my own blog, Corruption Capital USA got over 200,000 hits by 65,000 users in two years.  So apparently people are starting to pay attention.
But, still, 8 of the Ten are still in office.  But if you look ahead to the next election, things really start looking better.



Okay, first a word about the upcoming election.  If you are thinking about running against one of the incumbents, you should have already started campaigning and raising money.  After all, the incumbents get year-round free campaign advertising in the form of press releases from the county and coverage in the news for crap like taking cakes to some school teachers, so you are already behind.  And listen up, students, because this is important:  Remember that you are not so much campaigning for yourself as you are campaigning against the incumbent.  That means that to some degree, you are going to have to run a "negative" campaign in that you are going to have to point out why your opponent needs to be removed from office.  But you can't overdo it.  You may have to depend on the news people (iffy) and me (a sure thing) to expose the dirt on the incumbents.  It's a bad idea to communicate directly with me about "interesting" stuff voters might want to know.  But, there's nothing anybody can do about maybe one of your supporters (without your knowledge, wink, wink) contacting me with truthful, verifiable information that might be useful...
Just a thought.  Okay, back to the list.
Matt Bingham says he won't run again, and Randall Rogers is retiring.  So we can mark them off right away.
Next, we have our token Democrats on the list, Henry Jackson and JoAnn Hampton.  I'm pretty sure Jackson is done-for.  After all, he is facing sentencing for some serious tax evasion convictions, which was not his first go-round with the criminal justice system.  And if he runs again, I'm thinking pretty much anybody with a law enforcement license and a functioning brain stem will defeat him.  Hampton is also facing a criminal charge:  felony Injury an Elderly Person.  I'm sure that will be downgraded to a misdemeanor somehow.  But still--slapping down a 72 year-old woman over an argument about decorations?  Furthermore, Hampton supported Cameragate, and she is tainted by her affiliation with--and support of--Joel Baker.  So, if somebody runs against her, I think she will probably lose.  That said, there is a political dynamic within these majority-minority districts that I don't quite understand, so I may be wrong.  But this is an optimistic essay, so I'm going to take her off the list.
Then there's Cary Nix.  On the one hand, Nix is also tainted by his association with Baker, and there is a growing anti-incumbent sentiment.  The Grassroots people would not likely endorse him, and he was entangled in the Cameragate mess.  So someone who is reasonably intelligent and articulate who is not a fruitcake might be able to beat him, if anyone runs.  But on the other hand, no one has stepped up yet to challenge him.  And, after what happened to John Furlow in the "Great Campaign Sign Caper" thing, people in the Republican precincts are maybe a little skittish about sticking their necks out.  So, I think I'm going to split the difference on Nix by leaving him on the list (in parenthesis with a question mark) for this term, then remove him in 2022-2023.
Now look at the list...

Joel Baker

Matt Bingham

Carole Clark

JoAnn Hampton

Henry Jackson

(Cary Nix ?)

Skip Ogle

Randall Rogers

Jack Skeen

Jeff Warr

Lookin' good, eh?  SIX of the Ten will likely be gone in less than a year and a half from now!  But now let's move forward another 4 years and see what might happen:


Warr has said he will not run again.  Assuming we can take his word for it, he will go away at the end of 2020.  In Texas, judges who have reached the age of 75 cannot serve another term, so Skeen will be out.  So, optimistically assuming Nix will have gone away by then, look at the list;

Joel Baker

Matt Bingham

Carole Clark

JoAnn Hampton

Henry Jackson

Cary Nix

Skip Ogle

Randall Rogers

Jack Skeen

Jeff Warr
So, as of January 1, 2023, nine of the ten will be gone!  That leaves Judge Carole Clark.  But I'm okay with that for several reasons:  Nine out of ten ain't bad!  And as long as we have good leadership on the commissioners court, she will not be given a blank check to pay every attorney who comes along wanting to do ad litem work.  And mostly, as long as one of the Ten is still in office, I still have work to do.  I grew up believing that God does not call his faithful servants home until their work on this earth is done.  Therefore as long as Carole Clark is in office, I will not die.
Long live Carole Clark!


Friday, June 9, 2017

The Smith County Politician Hall of Shame

Please go to the new blog to read this article and comment:  

Smith County, Texas:  A modern-day Sodom

Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”
Are other county governments like this?  You hear of a few bad apples in every bunch.  But here I've identified TEN politicians who just need to go away.  Forever. Here they are in alphabetical order:

Judge Joel Baker

Source:  Smith County Jail
I debated whether to include Baker on this list, because he is technically no longer a "politician." But I want his story (along with the toxic results that come up when his name is Googled) to be a cautionary tale for any like-minded individuals who might want to run for office. 
Political affiliation:  None.  (Nobody wants to claim him!)
There's just so much to be said.  But in the interest of brevity, I'll hit the high points.  Pay attention to the underlined terms in bold face, because I will refer to them again later in this post:
  • Gave himself a series of generous pay raises during the Great Recession, while he raised taxes and the county had to reduce staffing.
  • "Peepergate." I'm tired of writing about this.  Follow the link and form your own conclusions.
  • While the county's roads and bridges crumbled, he added on to his own little "Smith County Kremlin" in downtown Tyler year after year at taxpayer expense by buying new properties, renovating county buildings, an buying equipment for those facilities.
  • Tried to create an illegal special taxation zone (the Loop 49 Transportation Reinvestment Zone, or "TRZ") which would have diverted even MORE money from the general fund to build pet projects, including a multi-million-dollar parking garage/transportation hub in downtown Tyler.
  • Accused his opponent in the 2014 campaign, John Furlow, of stealing campaign signs, leading to a bogus and expensive police investigation and prosecution. (AKA the "Great Campaign Sign Caper")
  • "Cameragate":  an illegal and unconstitutional plan to allow a private company to catch speeders with automated camera devices and issue bogus "fines" in the form of "civil penalties."  This led to Baker's conviction (via a nolo contendere plea) for Texas Open Meetings Act violations.
  • Disregarding the First Amendment, enacted by decree a set of "Rules of Decorum" that were used to prevent speakers from criticizing him in commissioners court meetings.
  • And, finally, "Sexting-gate." Again, form your own conclusions.

Status of political career:  Gone.  Kaput.  He's outta here!!!!!!!!


District Attorney Matt Bingham

Ah, Matt Bingham, our "tough on crime" D.A.  To get a sense of his professional ethics, look no further than the overturned "Mineola Swingers' Club" convictions/debacles and his handling of Kerry Max Cook's recent bid for exoneration.  Bingham says he's not going to run for re-election in 2018, but some fear he may have other, more frightening political aspirations in mind!
Political affiliation:  Establishment Republican (with fascist tendencies)
  • Railroading defendants in cases that had little merit, i.e. the "Mineola Swingers' Club." cases.
  • Initiated the prosecution of John Furlow in the "Great Campaign Sign Caper" case, which ended in a mistrial and cost the county $42,000 in legal fees.
  • Out of control spending:  His department's spending went up by about 49% during the tenure of former Smith County Judge Joel Baker even though neither the crime rate nor the population of Smith County increased by a fraction of that amount.

Status of political careerOn his way out the door, hopefully.


Judge Carole Clark

Source:  Dallas Morning News

Lording over the 321st District (Family) Court, Clark gets mixed reviews.  To some, she is a tough, no-nonsense jurist who does whatever it takes to protect children from abuse and neglect.  To others, she is a man-hating, capricious tyrant with an itchy trigger-finger when it comes to removing children from their parents' custody.  One local Libertarian refers to her as "The Kidnapper."  I've never been in her court (thank God) but the gut feeling I get about the few anecdotes I've heard about her make me think she might be a nut-job.  But what do I know?  She's up for re-election in 2018 and, alas, no one has stepped up to run against her.
Well, here's what I do know:
Political affiliation:  Establishment Republican
  • Fiscal insanity.  Somehow, in fiscal year 2013, Clark's court managed to pay out over $1.1 MILLION in legal fees to ad litem attorneys representing indigent parties (parents, children) who had the misfortune of being brought before Her Majesty's Court.  At the hourly rate the county was paying those attorneys, that comes out to approximately 60 hours of legal services rendered every day her court was in session!

Status of political career:  Still going strong.


Commissioner JoAnn Hampton

Source: Smith County Jail
I haven't really figured out JoAnn Hampton yet.  I think I've narrowed it down to stupid, crazy, or a combination of both.  Ironically, as the commissioners court lone Democrat, she was functionally the best Establishment Republican the Establishment Republicans could hope for:  She supported or gave her stamp of approval on just about everything Joel Baker proposed!
Political Affiliation:  "Go-Along-to-Get-Along" Democrat
  • Voted for a series of generous pay raises for herself during the Great Recession while tax rates were being increased and the county was having to cut staffing.
  • In 2014 came back AGAIN demanding another pay raise.
  • Supported Joel Baker's program of adding on to the Smith County Kremlin.
  • Supported and voted for the TRZ
  • Supported and voted for Cameragate.
  • Violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act related to Cameragate.
  • Supported Joel Baker's unconstitutional "Rules of Decorum."
  • And lastly, Hampton has been indicted for the alleged FELONY ASSAULT of an elderly woman.  I say "alleged" here, but the attack was witnessed and confirmed by Hampton's church pastor.  Apparently, Hampton and a 72 year-old woman got into an altercation at the church over decorations (of all things) and Hampton pushed the old woman down, injuring her.

Status of political careerIn deep doo-doo. (As long as someone will run against her in 2018)


Constable Henry Jackson

Source:  Smith County Jail
Yep, that's another mugshot.  Jackson is small potatoes.  But if there are two things I can't stand, they are corrupt politicians and dirty cops.  Constables are elected, so Jackson is both.
Political affiliation:  Who cares?
  • Indicted for 7 felony counts of tampering with government documents and 3 counts of "official oppression" in 2008.  The "documents" were employment records for employees of his private security firm who were allegedly "double dipping" by getting paid by the county while they were working for Jackson's security company.  The "official oppression" charges stemmed from accusations that he had sexually harassed a county employee.  The ten charges were eventually downgraded to 2 misdemeanor convictions and Jackson got off with probation and a 6-month suspension of his law enforcement license.
  • Most recently, Jackson has pleaded guilty to four counts of tax evasion.  He failed to file federal tax returns for four consecutive years and did not pay approximately $160,000 in federal taxes owed.

Status of political career:  In deep doo-doo.  (Somebody please step up and run against this idiot if he does not get sent to federal prison!)


 Commissioner Cary Nix

Smith County Commissioner Cary Nix is perhaps the most benign member of this list in that he is pretty much inert.  But for years he went along with Joel Baker's program of building on to the Smith County Kremlin and has sat idly by while Baker dismantled this county and the roads and bridges crumbled.  To his credit, Nix voted against the 2014 budget, which gave Baker a full-time administrator to do his work for him.  And Nix did call for Baker's resignation after "Sexting-gate" broke.  But the balance is not in Nix' favor.
Political affiliation:  Establishment Republican (Buffoon Caucus)
  • Supported and voted for the Smith County Kremlin.
  • Supported and voted for the TRZ.
  • Supported and voted for Cameragate.
  • Violation of Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA) related to "Cameragate."
  • Supported and signed off on Joel Baker's unconstitutional "Rules of Decorum."

Status of political career:  On shaky ground, because of Cameragate and the TOMA violations.


Skip Ogle

Does Skip Ogle belong on this list?  He tried to slither into the Texas House of Representatives in 2014, but lost against incumbent Matt Schaefer.  So, like Joel Baker, he's not really a politician, right?  Well, Ogle has gotten himself appointed by the governor to the Angelina and Neches River Authority.  He has maintained a presence on just about every social medial platform I can think of, and my informants have recently spotted ads saying "Skip Ogle:  Community First" on some local video billboards.  So maybe he's up to something again.  Mainly I just needed to make the list an even ten.  On the odd chance you're interested in Skip Ogle, click here.
Political affiliation:  Establishment Republican (or whatever gets him elected)
  • Lobbying.
  • Trying to conceal the fact that he had been a lobbyist.
  • Evading arrest.
  • Laughing about his criminal record.

Status of political career:  Dead in the water


Judge Randall Rogers

Smith County Court at Law #2 Judge Randall Rogers put Smith County in the national spotlight in 2015, but not in a "good" light.  It came out that he had been ordering defendants to get married to their significant others and to write Bible verses every day to stay out of jail as a condition of probation.  The "shotgun wedding" thing really troubles me.  But, as a Christian, I am really offended by a judge using learning or reading the Bible as a form of punishment.  And what of the First Amendment, which guarantees the separation of church and state?  The Court is an arm of the state, so...can it order a person to submit to some form of religious practice?
No matter.  Rogers plans to retire at the end of this term, so...
Political affiliation:  Nobody really gives a damn anymore.
  • Joining Matt Bingham and Judge Jack Skeen by wiping his ass with the Constitution.
  • Making the people of East Texas look like a bunch of backasswards rednecks.  (Like we needed much help with that!)

Status of political careerOn the way out the door


Judge Jack Skeen Jr.

Like with Joel Baker, there's just too much to print here.  Follow this link to get a window into the soul of the man who is arguably Texas' worst judge.  Alas, possibly for reasons I've discussed in another post Skeen has decided to run for yet another term.  I can't imagine there is anybody brave enough--or stupid enough--to run against an incumbent district judge in Smith County.  So we are stuck with him for another four years unless nature takes its course and a big piece of atherosclerotic sludge lodges itself in one of the arteries of Skeen's cold, hard heart.
Political affiliation:  Establishment Republican (with fascist tendencies)
  • Prosecutorial misconduct (Morton Act violations in the Kerry Max Cook trials)
  • Judicial bias
  • Wiping his big ass with the U.S. Constitution
Status of political career:  Still going strong

Commissioner Jeff Warr

Smith County Commissioner Jeff Warr is perhaps the smartest--and therefore the most dangerous--of the county clownishioners.  As Joel Baker's Stellvertreter des F├╝hrers he stood by his Leader through thick and thin, to the bitter end.  Pretty much if Baker was involved in something, Warr was right there with him (except for maybe "Peepergate" and "Sexting-gate").  He enthusiastically supported building Baker's Hauptsadt in downtown Tyler while other county infrastructure crumbled.  Included in that program was Smith County's $35 MILLION jail expansion.  But when the jail expansion was completed, Warr and the other clownishioners were appalled at the idea that they were actually going to have to find a way to pay for it and staff it!  Oh, and Warr and Baker were the principals on the County's side of the whole illegal "Cameragete" deal.  In 2016, Warr said this would be his last term in office, so we are stuck with him at least until 2020.
Political affiliation:  Establishment Republican (Buffoon Caucus)
  • Smith County Kremlin
  • Guilt by association (Joel Baker's faithful ally)
  • Cameragate
  • TOMA violations
  • Signing off on Joel Baker's unconstitutional "Rules of Decorum" thereby spitting on the First Amendment
Status of political career:  Still going strong
So that makes ten.  Stay tuned for Part 2:  The 2018 campaign outlook.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Kerry Max Cook suing Tyler and Smith County in FEDERAL court for wrongful conviction

To comment on this article, go to the post on the main blog, here:

It's not like we couldn't have seen this one coming...

On the one hand, as a person who actually cares about justice, I should be happier about this.  After all, this gives Kerry Max Cook another opportunity to stick it to local officials who railroaded him over and over again and sent him to death row, where he spent 20 years.  But on the other hand, I'm not that happy.  Win or lose, this is going to cost the taxpayers of Tyler and Smith County assloads of money.  Think about this:  Smith County recently paid out around $46,000 in legal fees to some local yahoo attorneys to defend Joel Baker and the county clownishioners against misdemeanor charges for Texas Open Meetings Act violations.  This Kerry Max Cook thing is very complex and is going to take place in federal court.  So, of course, the city and county are going to have to outsource their defense to private-practice attorneys who actually know what they are doing.  I'm predicting that the cost of legal representation for the county and city is going to be in the hundreds of thousands.

But if Cook prevails, I can only imagine what the judgment will be.  Hell, plaintiffs have gotten hundreds of thousands of dollars for just a few days of wrongful incarceration.  Cook was on death row for 20 years and was brutalized and repeatedly raped during that time!  Lets see--monetary damages plus pain-and-suffering type of stuff plus punitive damages...and we would also have to pay Cook's legal fees if he won.  Millions?  Are the county and city insured against this kind of thing?  Even worse, a win by Cook could open the litigation door for a multitude of other plaintiffs who have been wronged by Smith County's prosecution machine.  Hmm...can anyone else think of a recent case in which--possibly for political reasons--a person was wrongfully accused and maliciously prosecuted for a crime he didn't commit?

Why you should be angry

Maybe you are thinking this is just the "cost of doing business" in a community that is "tough on crime."  I assert that this could have been avoided.  Three generations of prosecutors have had the opportunity to carefully consider the merits of this case, and have failed to do the right thing.  Let's review the history of this case:

  • In 1977, the Tyler Police Department could have actually done a competent investigation by carefully considering the possibility that the most obvious suspect, James Mayfield, might have actually been the murderer.
  • In the first trial in 1978, District Attorney A.D. Clark III (currently married to District Judge Carole Clark) could have questioned the merits of the case, that was based largely on questionable forensic evidence, a bogus psychological evaluation, and the testimony of a jailhouse snitch.  He could have had a heart-to-heart talk with the chief of police and demanded that Tyler PD take another look at James Mayfield.  (The 1978 conviction was overturned, by the way.)
  • After the 1992 retrial, which ended in a mistrial, District Attorney Jack Skeen Jr. might have considered whether the case against Cook was legitimate.  Instead, he went after Cook again, and...
  • In 1994, Skeen prosecuted Cook again, but that conviction was overturned.  At that point you would think Skeen would have had a "Here's your sign!" moment and put an end to this madness once and for all.
  • In Cook's FOURTH trial in 1998, Skeen and his underling, prosecutor David Dobbs could have waited until DNA test results--which would have almost certainly exonerated Cook--were available.  Instead, they strong-armed the frightened Cook into accepting a plea deal that released him from prison, but left him branded a convicted murderer.
And finally...

  • In 2016, your current District Attorney, Matt Bingham, could have done the right thing and sought justice for Cook, making him eligible for compensation from the state for the 20 years he spent on death row.  But Bingham was more interested in protecting his predecessors, including David Dobbs and Jack Skeen.  So he finagled a deal with Cook's attorneys in which the charges would be dropped, but the prosecutors' misconduct in the previous trials would never see the light of day in open court. 
District Attorney Matt Bingham
(Must have been out with the flu the day they went over Art. 2.01 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in law school.)

Art. 2.01. DUTIES OF DISTRICT ATTORNEYS.  Each district attorney shall represent the State in all criminal cases...It shall be the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys, including any special prosecutors, not to convict, but to see that justice is done.  They shall not suppress facts or secrete witnesses capable of establishing the innocence of the accused.

This could have ended long ago.  But instead of examining facts and doing what was rational and just, three generations of prosecutors have put their efforts into covering their tracks, concealing their misdeeds, and protecting their predecessors.

And you're going to pay for it, sheeple of Tyler and Smith County.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Matt Bingham and his minions scuttle the prosecution of a woman who shot her husband and a 5 year-old child

Please see this article and comment on the new blog here:

Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham


The Tyler Morning Telegraph strikes again, this time excoriating District Attorney Matt Bingham

Sorry it took me so long to get to this.  But I've been kind of busy lately and I had to mull this one over to figure out what might be going on:

Ah, Smith County, Texas--where you can get 35 years in prison for possession of marijuana, but under the right circumstances, attempt to murder your spouse with a gun, injure a child...and suffer no consequences!  What this is about is that last year Constable Henry Jackson's wife Maraland tried to murder him by shooting him.  Astonishingly, the bullet went right through old Henry, missing any vital organs, but struck and injured the couple's 5 year-old granddaughter.  Am I making myself clear, here?  A five year-old child was injured and could have been killed because of Mrs. Jackson's attempt to murder her husband!  There was prima facie evidence that a potentially deadly assault occurred, witnesses confirmed that Mrs. Jackson was the assailant, and the woman herself freely admitted that she intended to kill her husband.

Oh, yeah--did I mention that a child was injured?

Yet District Attorney Matt Bingham and his minions didn't get an indictment from the grand jury.  Notice I didn't say "couldn't."  As the editorial points out, the grand jury system in Texas is a joke.  It exists primarily to rubber-stamp felony prosecutions.  As one seasoned prosecutor once pointed out, "a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich, if that's what you wanted."  Murder attempt, child injured (Did I mention that already?) and a confession from the defendant.  Slam dunk, right?  There are only three plausible explanations as to why this happened:  1.  The grand jury is choc-full-o-idiots.  Maybe--this is Smith County, Texas;  2.  The prosecutor who handled this case screwed the pooch, and 3.  Matt Bingham and/or his underlings did not want an indictment!  Bingham's excuse?  That Constable Henry Jackson and other family members did not want Mrs. Jackson to be prosecuted.  When the hell has that kind of thing ever stopped Bingham from prosecuting in the past?  Of course Constable Jackson doesn't want to be dragged into court:  Maraland's motive for trying to kill him was that she thought he had--or was having--an affair! (The importance of that little bit of information will become apparent later in this discussion!)

Allright, maybe the DA doesn't really want to want to prosecute this case.  Fine.  Why not just drop the charges?  Here's why: If Maraland Jackson injures or kills anyone else in the future and the public cries bloody murder (literally) then they can say that they presented the case to the grand jury, which refused to indict her.  But the unanswered question her is why not prosecute?  After all, the newspaper and therefore many Smith County residents are up in arms about this.  (I did mention that the defendant injured a child, right?)   Why would Bingham want this case to just go away?

Okay, much of the rest of the stuff in this post is theory and conjecture, and is not being presented as factual.  But, let's connect the theoretical dots.  In 2008, Constable Henry Jackson was indicted for seven felony counts of tampering with government records and was also charged for three misdemeanor counts of official oppression related to allegations of sexual harassment.  The "tampering with records" accusations stemmed from allegations that Jackson falsified employment records to conceal the fact that some of his deputies had been working for his private security firm while they were getting paid by the county.  Yet Jackson got off with a deal in which he pled guilty to two misdemeanors, didn't get any jail time, but had his law enforcement license suspended for six months.  Why did he get off so easy?  Who the hell knows?  But I think the sexual harassment allegations may be pertinent to how Mrs. Jackson's case was handled.  You see, if Maraland's case went to trial, both the prosecution and the defense would be very interested in Mrs. Jackson's motive for trying to kill her husband, which was that she thought he had an affair.  And now, because of certain bloggers and new management at the newspaper, more people are paying attention to what is going on in the courts and in county government.  Inevitably, Henry's old case from 2008 would come up and people would start asking the same questions I'm asking here, putting Bingham is a less than favorable light.
Maraland Jackson
Who'd want to cheat on such a lovely woman?

But why would Bingham care about his public image?  He said way back in 2015 that he was not going to run for DA again.  Retiring?  Going into private practice?  Maybe, but I doubt it, given that he is still kind of young to retire and the average income for attorneys in private practice is, well, pathetic.  Ahh--here's where it gets interesting.

A horrifying theory emerges

Again what follows is theory, and I am not presenting any of this as factual.  So let me adjust my tinfoil hat and I'll keep going.

Okay, in 2015, Bingham said he wasn't going to run again.  Then his First Assistant, April Sikes, said she was going to run for DA in 2018.  My initial thought was that 241'st District Judge Jack Skeen would retire during his current term, and the politically astute Matt Bingham would get the governor to appoint him to the bench.  Sikes would in turn seek the governor's appointment to fill Bingham's vacated seat.  Everybody moves up a notch without the inconvenience--and potential embarrassment--of an election and we're all happy, right?

But then something weird happened.

This March, Skeen announced that he was going to try to serve another term.  In April, Sikes suddenly announced that she wasn't going to run.  My little theoretical house of cards came tumbling down.  Okay, but I thought maybe Bingham would change is mind and stay on as DA, and the whole time line would just get pushed forward by several years.  But the fly in that ointment is that Bingham has not submitted any campaign filings and has not raised any money for an upcoming campaign.  Good, I thought.  We are stuck with Skeen for another 4 years but Bingham and his Stellvertreterin, April Sikes, ride off into the sunset or whatever.  Furthermore, Skeen is morbidly obese and his face turns beet red when he is angry, so maybe nature will take care of him for us.

I was feeling okay about this situation, although I was wondering just what happened.  Then a few days ago, a commenter presented a horrifying and plausible theory that might explain this:  Donald Trump is what happened.

Don't let me lose you here.  Follow the time line and it will probably dawn on you before you get to the end.

  • January 2017:  Donald Trump is inaugurated.
  • February 2017:  Trump's pick for U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is confirmed.  Soon thereafter he announces that he is going to be "tough on crime," vows to re-invigorate the "war on drugs," and orders all U.S. Attorneys to pursue the maximum sentences for federal crimes, including drug cases.  He also tells all of the Obama-appointed U.S. Attorneys to take a hike, leaving God-knows how many of those offices vacant.
  • March 2017:  Skeen announces he wants to stay on the bench
  • April 2017:  April Sikes announces she will not run for DA.
Are you seeing it yet?

Is Matt Bingham gunning for a U.S. Attorney position?  I laughed at first, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.  He could give Sikes a Job.  He would fit right in in Sessions' new draconian "lock-em all up and throw away the key" culture.  Furthermore, think about the lure of all of those (unconstitutional) seizures of citizens' money and property via the "civil forfeiture" process!  And, he'd have a steady, prestigious job for at least the next four years.

Ah, the U.S. Constitution.  I sure am going to miss it!

Feel a chill going down your spine yet?  Well then think about a few more things.  Imagine what Matt Bingham might do once he is well-ensconced in the Department of Justice with its seemingly unlimited resources and unfettered power.  Consider the fact that one of the districts up for grabs is the Eastern District of Texas.  If Bingham took that spot, we could give up any hope that any local officials would ever be prosecuted in the federal system for things like corruption and civil rights violations.

Be afraid, sheeple of Smith County.  Be VERY afraid.