Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Outsiders

There was a recent article in a local paper that spoke of several area residents who were trying to get out of the Aubrey Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (ETJ).  They were apparently trying to get a nearby city to allow them into their ETJ because of concerns with the Aubrey subdivision regulations.  The article went on to discuss how these ETJ members were treated at an Aubrey City Council meeting.  They stated that they were being “cursed” at and called “outsiders” by Aubrey citizens.  I was at this meeting, but was unable to hear any of these insults from my seat on council.  However, the way this meeting was orchestrated, it certainly added to the divide in our community. 

This was not the first time I had heard the term “outsider”, I have been called an “outsider” by some here in Aubrey.  The person who referred to me in this manner was the wife of a councilman who I thought prided himself as being not being part of the “insiders”.  However, I guess that line is blurrier than I thought.  When I ran for office, I ran on the platform of not being an “insider”.  One of the reasons for that is that the term reeks of the establishment, and “we’re going to do things the way we’ve always done things, even if it’s wrong”, and “don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up”.  This is not a group that I want to be a part of.    

There were two groups of people who showed up to that meeting.  The “insiders” and the “outsiders”, and one of these groups were not sure what they were there for, this group of course was the “insiders”.  They were apparently made to believe that we were on the verge of selling the municipal water system and the EJT members were there to make sure that happened.  This issue was discussed and discarded several months prior and was not an item on this agenda.  There was an item to approve an over 5 million dollar bond package, but the option of selling the system was not on the table. 

Why would rumors be spread about the intent of this vote?  It’s a simple deceptive political strategy called wagging the dog, or a diversion from the real problem.  It was portrayed to the “insiders” that the “outsiders” (ETJ members) were at the meeting to support the sale of the city’s water system; however, they were really there to voice their displeasure over the subdivision ordinance.  Most of those in the ETJ had no idea we were even taking action on the water bond, and this action has no effect on them.  Therefore, most of them had no interest in this item, they were there to discuss their property rights.

Normally, all of the public comments were taken at the beginning of the meeting.  However, in this meeting, all of the “insiders” were allowed to speak at the beginning.  However, the meeting was broken up into two sessions.  After all of the “insiders” got to speak on the false water crisis, we voted on the water bond.  However, before the ETJ members were allowed to speak, there was a long intermission.  Initially, they were told that they could elect a couple of ETJ members to speak for the group, but all of the members would not be allowed to speak.  However, the ETJ members were insistent and were eventually allowed to speak.  By the time they got to speak it was very late in the evening and all of “insiders” had left, which the plan all along. 

The real reason that the members of the ETJ showed up to this meeting was that Aubrey passed an overreaching subdivision ordinance.  You see Aubrey is a general law city, and has extremely limited authority in the ETJ.  However, the subdivision ordinance, which I do not support, is from a home rule city, which has more authority in the ETJ.  Therefore, the city gave themselves authority that they legally did not have.  Once, the folks in the ETJ realized this, they of course were upset.  You see, the city of Aubrey was trying to impose an ordinance on people who have no input on what happens in the city government.  It is a situation of regulation without representation. 

The ETJ members got organized and had a large meeting to discuss this ordinance, and at the last minute, I was an invited guest speaker.  However, the mayor of Aubrey showed up uninvited and was asked to leave.  This upset her, and was what prompted the manner in which the previously referred to meeting was laid out.  To put it simply, she was upset because she was thrown out of the ETJ member’s private meeting, and therefore retaliated against the people in the ETJ during the city’s public meeting.  She lied to the “insiders”, and then organized the meeting to cover the lie.  Unfortunately, the “insiders” took the bait, hook, line and sinker. 

Since the outcry over the subdivision ordinance, there has been some modification to make it less impactful.  There has been some public statements from councilmembers that they knew that there would have to be changes to the ordinance.  They said that we “had” to get something in place, and we would make modifications later.  I do not recall us having that discussion, perhaps it was at a meeting that I was not in attendance.  However, I doubt that any of the other members of council or the mayor had a clue that they were doing anything illegal, and probably don’t really know the difference between a general law city and a home rule city, they were just telling another lie to cover their ignorance. 

I was not at the meeting that the subdivision ordinance was passed.  I had some questions regarding the overreach, but was out of town.  From listening to the recording, there was very little discussion on this item before the vote.  Certainly there was no mention of anything that would lead you to believe that we “had to pass something” immediately.  There was also no discussion that would lead you to believe that anyone felt that we would need to roll back portions of the ordinance.  So why would they lie about this?  The ETJ members were very organized and making the administration look like a bunch of fools.  So they needed a diversion (the water issue) to divert attention from the real problem (the subdivision ordinance).  It is shocking how easily the Aubrey “insiders” were fooled into believing this lie. 

It is also disturbing how violent the “insiders” were against the “outsiders”.  The members of the ETJ showed up, because they had a legitimate concern about their property rights.  Yet they were literally attacked because the “insiders” were led to believe something completely different by public officials, in which the people in the ETJ were vilified.  This seems like a scene from a George Orwell book, not a small town in Texas.  With the ease that this vile hatred that was aimed at the “outsiders”, I am starting to understand how Adolph Hitler received almost 90% of the German vote in 1934. 

I can understand why the members of the ETJ are frantically trying to join other cities.  However, I hope that the city administration takes a deep look at themselves and attempts to treat everyone with dignity and respect, not just the “insiders”.  Under no circumstances should the local government overreach into areas that they are not legally allowed.  There has been a workgroup formed with ETJ members and city officials to go through this ordinance.  I hope that the city officials take the requests of the ETJ members seriously, because I for one will not support an ordinance that does not take all stakeholders into consideration, because I will never be an “insider”, and I believe everyone has rights and a voice.  

Sunday, June 26, 2016

If the shoe fits

It is rare that I make a public speaking appearance these days.  In the past, I would travel one weekend or so a month and do a speaking event, usually in some other part of country or even the world.  However, nowadays I try and spend more time at home close to my family.  I still do an occasional event from time to time, depending on the situation.  Recently I traveled to Idaho for a few days for a speaking event.  Typically, with events like this, I spend a couple of days and visit with elected officials, have a public event or two, and do what I can to help the community that I’m speaking in.  I will call this a hobby, as I have never been compensated in any way for this. 

During this trip latest trip to Idaho, I met with several officials; some at the local level and some at the county commissioner level.  I met a mayor of one the small towns, who I immediately liked and he seemed very intelligent and really working on behalf of his citizens.  I also met some county commissioners, who asked a lot of questions and were very engaged trying to make the best decisions for the people they represent.  However, I also met some county commissioners from Payette County, Idaho.  These were more of what I’ve come to expect from elected officials, lots of ignorance and arrogance.  Their minds were made up before I got there and they weren’t going to get confused with facts.

On my flight back to Texas, I wrote an article that was inspired by the county commissioners in Payette County, Idaho.  However, I did not publish this until a couple of months later.  I typically do not share which official is the inspiration for the article as it may apply to many public officials.  Therefore, I do not want to single any one official out.  However, comments were made that would make me believe that a local official here in Texas thought that they were the motivation for this article. 

When I write an article, it is intended to be apply broadly unless stated otherwise, as I have interacted enough with public officials to know that more often than not, they are not “serving” the public, but rather have their own agendas and motivations.  Typically, these motivations involve money, power or both.  They always attempt to make whatever bad idea they’re pushing, to appear to be for the greater good.  However, these items typically only benefit a few, including the officials. 

The guilty conscience seems to kick in when some read my thoughts on many politicians.  This guilt of course comes from the fact that whatever I am saying, applies to them in one way or another.  Whatever I am criticizing public officials for, also applies to them.  The unfortunate part of this is that the ignorance, arrogance, and corruption applies to far too many public officials.  There are far too many that personally benefit from their position in one way or the other, and are in no way “serving” the public. 


It’s also entertaining that someone would be offended over something that they weren’t even a thought for.  First and foremost, it’s pretty arrogant to think that you’re the center of everyone’s universe.  Secondly, you probably have to work pretty hard to become inspiration for an article.  I’ve found that many officials are thin skinned and paranoid, while others may just have that guilty conscience.  In those instances when what I write may be applicable to many or most officials, may I suggest, if the shoe fits, wear it.       

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Corruption of Politics

I have seen firsthand the destruction that an out of control industry can cause.  You can point to this on many different fronts and examples.  Whether we are discussing oil and gas development, the pharmaceutical industry, or Monsanto, there is one thing in common and that is that they’ve captured the government to some extent.  While these examples are ones that everyone has heard of because of their size, these are just the tip of the iceberg.  For profit companies have been given the right to condemn land, poison you, or are handed your tax dollars in subsidies or other kickbacks. Unfortunately, this capture happens at all levels of government, some refer to this as crony capitalism.  However, all of these examples are merely a symptom, the root of all of these problems is the corruption of our political system. 

It is much more emphasized at the federal level, when you see a well-spoken lawyer or insurance salesman head off to Washington.  While they may have made a decent living hustling life insurance or defending DUIs, they all of a sudden become multi-millionaires, flying around on private jets, going to exotic locations for vacations at the expense of their “donors”.  While this may be more publicized this same sort of activity takes place at your state and local levels.  Unfortunately, these levels are highly overlooked by the populace and the organizations that are supposed to regulate these activities.  Therefore, the corruption goes unnoticed, either that or we’ve just become numb to it. 

I have served in local government for 7 of the last 11 years, 4 years, when I didn’t serve, I was active at the state level.  Unfortunately, even over this short period of time, I have noticed a dramatic decrease in accountability and transparency at the local and state levels.  Whenever, I first became a public official in 2005, I went to all of the newly elected official seminars.  These seminars told you what a conflict of interest was, and also what you should and should not use your public office to do.  Of course you should never use your office to personally benefit you.  However, this paradigm has been shifting considerably over the last ten years, as the definition of “personally benefit you” has shifted.  Therefore, this term no longer means what you think it means. 

You often hear politicians brag about their sacrifices for their public service.  They will claim it’s cost them an astronomical amount of money, or took so much of their time, etc.  However, in many cases, any benefit to taxpayers or citizens is incidental to the agenda of the politicians.  They don’t mind helping the citizens as long as it helps their agenda.  These are the ones that fell quickly to the influence of big money and cronyism.  

This corruption has went from subtle to being very obvious.  With 10-15 percent of the population that actually votes, and even smaller amount that actually knows who their voting for, there is no accountability at the polls.  When I was running for office last year, I noticed that most people have just given up.  They vote for who they think will represent them, and then they turn out to be the same as the last guy, so they give up.  Most people have more interest in Dancing with the Stars than they did the last election.  Heck most people don’t even know who their city councilman is, much less a state official. 

This is one reason I support term limits.  Some argue that the process is in place works; however, in many cases the only time an incumbent state official leaves office is when they do something so bad that no one can turn a blind eye, or they piss off the establishment and they drum up some charges that get them voed out of office.  Otherwise they are elected for life.    

There was a courageous politician that stated once, that they will give you whatever you want.  You want money, they’ll give it to you.  You want women, they’ll get them for you.  You want your name on a school, they’ll make sure it happens.  So for many it isn’t about what right or wrong, or even what their citizens want.  It’s about their own wealth and power, and they truly represent the people who give them that, not smucks like me and you.  We know all of this is true, but why don’t we do something about it?  

Friday, June 10, 2016

Buying the Car

We recently approved a 5+ million dollar bond package to expand our water system here in Aubrey, which I did not support.  During the discussion of this bond package, I suggested that we discuss the possibility of entering into an agreement with Mustang Special Utility District.  There were some that used this as a political tool by blowing out of proportion what I was actually trying to accomplish.  While selling the system was one of the options on the table, I never really felt an agreement would be reached.  However, one argument that kept coming up in this discussion was an analogy regarding “buying the car” versus leasing one. 

The “buy the car” argument was used to gain support for the bond package.  It was framed as though we should buy the car, and eventually it would be paid off and give us many more enjoyable years of quality service for the minor expenditure.  However, if it were leased, we would continue to pay the bill into infinity and never get it paid off, thus never owning it.  It was suggested that the water bills would go down once the bond was paid off, which if you believe, I have a historic bridge to sell you here in Denton County.  Several people brought up examples of older vehicles that they had paid off, but continued to drive for years.  I totally get the idea of getting your money’s worth out of vehicle.  I drive a 2007 Ford Focus, with a 120,000 miles on it.  However, one thing that must happen if you’re going to get a long life out of a vehicle, you have to maintain it.

During one of these discussions at a public meeting, it was brought up that a long time resident has had problems with Aubrey city sewer backing up on his property for many years.  It was also discussed that he has mentioned this to many previous Aubrey officials.  However, he had been told time and time and time again that the city couldn’t afford the repairs to the sewer system to fix this problem.  He also talked about one of his previous neighbors that was forced to file a lawsuit against the city after sewage backed up into their home.  However, even after settling the lawsuit, there was never an investment to repair the dilapidated sewer system.  Since this was recently brought to light, there have been some temporary repairs completed to help the situation but nothing permanent has been approved. 

My family recently got rid of a Ford Expedition that we had for well over ten years, and almost 250,000 miles, which I felt was quite an accomplishment for a big vehicle like that.  However, I also invested in the maintenance of this vehicle, most of which I did myself, but I also took it to the dealer regularly to ensure it was properly maintained.  This maintenance cost money, but it also allowed to enjoy the use of this vehicle for a very long time.

So getting back to that “buy the car” analogy, the first requirement of “buying the car” is that you have to maintain the car, or in this case the sewer system, which has apparently not happened thus far.  So the sewer system is in dire need of repairs and must have resources invested, but we’ve never repaired some of these major problems.  However, in the time that this citizen has been having these issues we’ve had other bonds to help expand the system or “buy the car” you might say.  However, we’ve never properly maintained the car we currently have.  To put this in a different perspective, we can’t afford to fix the car we’ve got, and it’s sitting in the yard on blocks.  However, we went a bought a new car (that we can’t afford) and still can’t afford to fix the old car that’s sitting on blocks.  It’s just a matter of time before the old car needs more repairs that we can’t afford.  Therefore, future residents will get to use the new car (until it needs repairs), while the current residents get to use the old car that’s sitting on blocks in yard in disrepair.  

What is shocking is that my peers on council see no issue with spending 5+ million dollars expanding the system, while the current system is in need of vital repairs.  They have no problem buying a Cadillac to attract new residents, while the old residents are left with the car on blocks that doesn’t function properly.  

Saturday, June 4, 2016

What About Campaign Promises?

We're just coming out of election season, and I'm always amazed at the number of campaign flyers we get in the mail or dropped off on the doorsteps this time of year. We just went through the primary as well as our local city council and school board elections. If you read the campaign flyers, they all read about the same. They use the exact same slogans and buzzwords, honesty (yea right), fiscally responsible (sure thing), government transparency (never), etc.   I personally would rather lose an election and be true to myself, than to win as a fraud. 

Here in Texas most claim to be a conservative republican, and in other parts of the country they're liberal democrats. It's all about the same whatever part of the country you're in. Unfortunately, most of the time these slogans appear to be buzzwords only.  Most of the candidates probably don't even know the definition of these buzzwords and have no idea of what it means to be who they claim to be. They make their promises, and after they're elected, they completed forget what they've promised to do, or what they said they stand for.

Another disappointing part of this, is the apathy we have in our society around issues like this. The people vote for someone because of what they’re supposed to stand for or believe, and then do not pay enough attention to determine whether or not they actually did what they said they would do or not. Unfortunately, we trust our candidates to do what they say they're going to do, when they've given us no reason to trust them. I think that a large portion of our society, have completely given up, and don't even bother to vote anymore. They realize that they're being lied to and manipulated so they just ignore politicians and politics all together.

Does campaign promises matter? Do we really vote for someone based on what we think they are or aren't? If we really cared about campaign promises then we should hold them accountable for their commitments to we the people.  Of course that would mean we’d have to take time out of our schedules to pay attention to what they’re doing.  However, we foolishly trust that these candidates will do what they said they’d do. We should have learned by now, that for the most part these candidates do not follow their campaign promises. The ones that attempt to do what they said they would, will probably get voted out of office, because they’ve upset the apple cart of the establishment.  Therefore, they go along to get along, and please don’t foolishly think the "establishment" is only in Washington D.C., you can easily find the "establishment" in your state or local government.  These levels do plenty of back scratching as well. 

For too long, we’ve not paid attention to what our officials are doing.  We’ve trusted they were working on behalf of us, and the reality is that most of them are not.  I know that who is winning dancing with the stars or survivor is important.  However, I challenge you to take an hour a week and get involved in what’s going on.  You can sign up for email alerts for how you congressman votes, and your local and state governments probably have similar options.  Worst case, you can read the minutes from your city council meetings and at least know what a candidate votes for or against. If something interests you, then more research can be done, so that you can understand the issues much better.  Whatever you do, I urge you to not just take someone’s word for it, do your own research, and make your own decisions, and then of course vote for the ones who do what they said they would.  If we hold them accountable for their commitments, you might find that these politicians will start keeping those campaign promises, cause they're obviously not going to do it on their own.