Friday, April 28, 2017

Cameragate: The unanswered questions (Hint, hint, Faith Harper, Julia Jenae and Cody Lillich

This post is kind of an "open letter" to local reporters.  You know, KLTV and the Telegraph did a pretty good job of reporting what happened that led to this scandal.  But has anyone really asked why?
Here's where I'm going with this:  As I understand it, Joel Baker and Jeff Warr were the main players in this on the county side from the get-go.  They HAD to know that the public--and other elected officials--would absolutely HATE the deal.  That's obviously why they tried to conceal the whole think from the public until Baker had already signed on the dotted line.  Of course the other clownishioners went along, but then again they often just "go along" on pretty much everything that the county judge proposes.  But Baker and Warr had to know better, and must have known that they were risking inadvertent political suicide.
Sure, there was a lot of money in the deal for the county.  Therefore this would fund their "keep taxes low" strategy while extorting millions of dollars from county residents and others.  Perhaps that was their motivation, but I doubt they'd risk their jobs for that.  I'd keep looking if I were you, and here are some questions that I think should be answered:
  1. Did Jeff Warr and/or Joel Baker take any "fact-finding" trips to ATS' company headquarters in Arizona?  If so, who paid for the trip or trips?  I didn't see any expenditures from their campaign funds for such a thing.  Did they use their "travel allowance?"  I'm not saying that they did in fact take such trips because I don't have any evidence that they did,  but...
  2. Is there any evidence that ATS gave anything of value to any county official?  That is also related to my first question because if ATS paid for airfare, or even just picked up the tab for a nice lunch, it is my understanding that such "gifts" would be illegal under Texas law.  Again, I'm not saying that such a thing happened, but just that it would be worth exploring.
  3. Has anyone really thoroughly explored just what the hell Joey Seeber's role in this whole thing was?
  4. Is the FBI investigation still open?  Does anyone know what they were--or are--looking into?  If the investigation is closed, would the Freedom of Information Act allow an ambitious reporter to take a look-see?
Glad to be of help.  Please contact me if you need further assistance.

The "Cameragate" tapes: Things were--and still are--worse than we thought

Grassroots-WTP excoriates the Smith County commissioners court

I'm perpetually disturbed by the fact that an organization that is considered a "fringe" group by many is often the only group that stands up for the taxpayers of Smith County.  I don't always agree with Grassroots, but the statement they published on their website yesterday hit the nail on the head.  Read it yourself, please, but, since I'm too tired today to whip up my own tirade about this, here are the statements I liked:
...[G]overnment is the servant and not the master of the people...The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.
The evidence, which we posted on our website and released to the media, was shocking and far worse than we imagined, but Grassroots America was hopeful that the officials involved – the Commissioners and the District Attorney – would issue statements of sincere apology to the people of Smith County.
Oh, I'd go much, much farther than that.  First, all four of the commissioners should resign--or at least promise not to run for re-election.  Yes, they should publicly acknowledge their part in this, and...
All four sitting commissioners and Joel Baker should be required to reimburse the taxpayers for the cost of defending themselves in this matter.  Here's how I would calculate what they owe us:  Cary Nix, Jeff Warr, JoAnn Hampton and Joel Baker all participated three meetings that violated the Texas Open Meetings Act.  Terry Phillips participated in one.  There were multiple violations within the meetings, but for simplicity, let's count each time an individual attended an illegal meeting as one incident.  That makes a total of 13 "offenses." The county spent about $46,000 defending Baker and the clownishioners in a criminal investigation.  So, each "offense" cost us about $3,538 dollars.  Baker, Warr, Nix, and Hampton therefore owe the county about $10,600 each.  Phillips owes about $3.500.

And we are about to spend even more money on this.

The statement goes on:
...Instead, the Commissioners Court approved filing a writ of mandamus in the 12th Court of Appeals to determine whether visiting Judge Jack Carter had the authority to issue the order that released the executive session tapes; and even the District Attorney was reported as saying, “I don’t care. I don’t care about it. The litigation is concluded.” This is the Smith County District Attorney’s response when the videos reveal his assigned assistant district attorney sat in on those meetings and failed to make sure the meetings were conducted lawfully? 
How are the people of Smith County served by the Commissioners Court hiring yet another outside legal firm – spending tax dollars to go after a District Judge and to resist the facts made evident in the videos of those closed sessions? Will those expended tax dollars build public trust in the commissioners and the new county judge? 
We are disappointed beyond words that our local officials have decided to just keep digging, when they need to put down the shovel and start working to build public trust.
Judge Moran says he is concerned that county officials might be subject to prosecution if the order is later determined to be invalid.  I understand that is the lawyer in him thinking.  But, seriously?  Who the hell would prosecute them for this?  The Attorney General?  The AG's office has already released the information.  It is illegal for anyone to release records and recordings of legally closed meetings.  So if they went after Smith County officials for this they would be prosecuting them for the same thing they have already done themselves!
Judge Moran's (flawed) reasoning aside, what I think the clownishioners are hoping for is this:  A ruling that the videos and records cannot be released would mean that a judge didn't think the meetings were illegal after all.  Then, during their campaigns for re-election they could say, "I participated in illegal meetings?  What illegal meetings?  A judge has ruled that the meetings were perfectly legal."
Well the good news is that JoAnn Hampton has apparently already committed political suicide.  As long as Precinct 4 produces a candidate, she will be gone.  So that's two down, three to go.
The newest member of the "Mugshot Club"
Commissioner JoAnn Hampton.

Joel Baker:  Member since 2016

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

JoAnn Hampton, Cameragate, and the Smith County Gestapo


I'm not angry with the Telegraph any more.

I've been in several relationships like this:  The other person does stupid stuff all the time, violates your trust, disappoints.  You're ready to throw in the towel and break it off.  Then your snookums does something wonderful and you're in love again.  That's how it is with the Telegraph and me.  Recently I've been railing against them for printing crap from the county's propagandist as if it were news and their lame support of a city council candidate.  Then yesterday they printed an editorial about the JoAnn Hampton arrest and the Cameragate videos that was spot-on.

First, the JoAnn Hampton situation.


Just for grins, here's the mugshot again:

This had been bumping around in my mind for a day or so, and I was going to comment on it, but the Telegraph beat me to the punch.  (You can't win 'em all.)  The sheriff had revealed that his people took an affidavit to a district court judge in Smith County who refused to sign a warrant and advised them to take it to an out-of-county court.  Yeah, I know, 'conflict of interest' and all.  But, dammit, this was just a warrant, not a full-blown trial.  We have prima facie evidence that the victim was injured, that Hampton caused the injury, and we have a statement from a reliable third-party who witnessed the incident.  So why can't we know who the judge was?  Could it be that His Honor is up for re-election this year and doesn't want the negative publicity?  And let's be real:  County commissioners hold the purse strings.  And if a judge pisses one of them off, that judge's court may risk not getting favorable treatment come election time.  Maybe so.  But if you don't have enough fortitude to do the right thing in light of the slight possibility that one single commissioner might try to get revenge, you have no business being a judge.  In other words, if you can't stand the heat, get the hell out of the kitchen!

And, yeah, I'm with the 'Graph when they ask why the sheriff can't tell us who the judge was.  He skeered, too?

No accountability.

Cameragate was a big money-grab after all.

Take a look at some of the comments that were made about the program during those illegal meetings :

Terry Phillips:  “I see it as more Big Brother...I’m struggling with it. I love the money - don’t get me wrong - I love me some money.”

And Jeff Warr:  “I may be on the selfish side because I’m kind of money-motivated by nature...We will be looking at a lot of money - I mean a bunch.”

And, of course, Joel Baker: “(Department heads) are placing demands on the Commissioners Court for millions of dollars...The public safety issue is the main attraction and that should be the main attraction, but practically, we need the revenue.”

Cary Nix and JoAnn Hampton expressed reservations, but in the end, THEY BOTH VOTED FOR IT!!!!!!!!

District Attorney Matt Bingham doesn't care.

The editorial author said it better than I could, so I don't really need to elaborate:

District Attorney Matt Bingham’s response to the release of the tapes on Monday - “I don’t care. I don’t care about it. The litigation is concluded” - is also unacceptable, because his office is responsible for upholding the law, whether it’s for a capital murder case or an open meetings violation. His assigned representative sat in on those meetings, and failed to ensure they were conducted properly. That buck stops with Bingham.

Smith County Gestapo

Ah, but the editorial writer pointed something out that I had not seen yet, because I haven't viewed all of the videos:

Commissioners routinely wandered off topic and onto matters that weren’t acceptable for an executive session and/or weren’t posted properly. For example, at one point Baker suggested creating a whole new county division, to serve as a law enforcement branch answerable to him (unlike the sheriff and constables, who answer to voters).
Ho-lee crap!  My initial thought was that maybe Baker was joking.  But then I got to thinking:  Baker was known to be a petulant bully.  He had already tasked Fire Marshall Jay Brooks with the job of overseeing the illegal speeding camera program because the sheriff wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole.  And there is good reason to believe that in 2014 Baker had enlisted the help of his friends in the Tyler Police Department to get revenge on his political opponent by concocting the whole  "Great Campaign Sign Caper" case. So it isn't too far fetched to think that Baker would have liked to have a crew of uniformed, gun-toting thugs at his command.  What's really scary about this is that if Grassroots wouldn't have pushed for prosecution for Baker's TOMA violations, and if he had not been caught sexting while he was supposed to be on official business...Baker would still be in office!  And history has shown us that, had Baker pursued such a plan, the clownishioners would have rubber-stamped it.

I guess Baker would have wanted to choose the uniforms, too.


Who knows what might have happened if Baker had some kind of little praetorian guard at his disposal?  I'm imagining a platoon of Baker's Staatspolizei busting down my door in the middle of the night, storming in and arresting me and charging me for God only knows what, and I disappear into the night...

...Or maybe just to the Smith County jail.

And worst of all, they are going to spend more money on Cameragate!

I've tried to be patient with Judge Nathaniel Moran, because I know he has a hard row to hoe.  But he and the clownishioners have decided to seek a mandamus order or a ruling from a higher court to determine whether the judges order to release the videos is valid.  Moran's argument seems to be that in order to avoid prosecution for further TOMA violations (for releasing records from legally closed meetings) we need confirmation that the original judge's order is valid.  Okay, but Judge Moran...If the higher court rules that the order was not valid and the recordings have already been released...Doesn't that leave you and the clownishioners in a worse position than you started with?!  But, worst of all?  They have already hired the Potter-Minton law firm to represent them in this matter.  That means the taxpayers are yet again going to have to foot the bill to clean up after the clownishioners.  How much are we going to spend on this?  Another $40,000 or so?

Like the editorial said, no accountability.  And yeah, I say it all the time, but VOTE THE BUMS OUT!!!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Joel Baker, JoAnn Hampton: Mugshots, witch-hunts, and Cameragate lives on

Today's first mugshot is Commissioner JoAnn Hampton

Commissioner JoAnn Hampton

Yeah, let's start with her.  If you're following this story, you may be asking, what the hell?  It sounds like some lady down at the Baptist church was mad at JoAnn and went in to talk to the pastor about it.  JoAnn gets wind of this conversation and barges in, screams at the old lady, and things escalate, and Hampton ends up pushing the old lady who falls and sprains her wrist.  I'm not going to debate the merits of the criminal charge against Hampton here.  But what really needs to be pointed out is that this incident demonstrates that Hampton is paranoid, stupid, impulsive, or a combination thereof.  If you live in Precinct 4, ask yourself this:  Is this really the kind of person who needs to be in a leadership position?  Representing a majority-minority constituency?  It's clear:  It is high time to get rid of Hampton, and you can do it in the 2018 primary if she has an opponent!

Joel Baker and Joe Murphy

Sheesh.  When I heard that Joel Baker had gone into practice with Joe Murphy, I had to laugh.  For a real WTH moment, check out their address on Google.  If you are seeking representation from that top-notch firm, you can be assured that your attorney will have a perspective on the process that most lawyers do not:  Both Murphy and Baker have been arrested and prosecuted for crimes themselves!
So that brings us to our second mugshot for the day:  Joe Murphy
Right after Murphy resigned from the DA's office, he got arrested for DWI.  And if you are a follower of this blog and you don't know what the deal is with Joel Baker, I can't help you.  You know, if I were one of these guys, I'd be inclined to lay low and try to generate a little income working the traffic ticket defense racket, cheap divorces, stuff like that.  But no!  No sooner had these videos of the illegal closed meetings the commissioners held in 2014 been released...Murphy (on Baker's behalf) starts mouthing off again about the case against Baker being a "political witch hunt"
Joel Baker (Yeah you KNEW I was going to put this one in at some point!)
Just stop it, Joe.  You're just making yourself look like a fool.  Or a liar.  Do they teach this "only present the facts that support your argument" stuff in law school?  Murphy would have us believe that if a case ends in a deal in which the defendant pleads guilty, it's not really a conviction.  He takes it a step further and claims that Baker is not even "guilty."
“If Judge Baker is guilty of this, which he has never been found guilty of..."
Like I said, Joe you are just making yourself look stupid here.  The videos that were just released didn't just reveal  a smoking gun, but so many smoking guns that the air in the Smith County Annex must be pretty hazy about now!
Oh, but Murphy got one thing right--sort of...
"...but if [Baker} is guilty of this then the other four [commissioners] are equally as guilty,” Murphy said, referring to commissioners present in the meetings who later were given immunity.
Damn right, Murphy:  Three of the commissioners (Warr, Hampton and Nix) participated in all of the illegal meetings, and Terry Phillips participated in one.  And Warr, Nix, Hampton, and Baker voted unanimously in that last open session to approve the illegal speeding camera deal! 
Anyhoo, I don't need to go on about this.  The news reports speak for themselves.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Rose Festival crap, city council election, and Joorie Doodie's mad at the Telecrap again

I promised I wouldn't curse on line anymore.  But I can't do this one without cursing, so we'll have to compromise:  I'll put in blanks where the curse words should go, and you fill them in with the expletives of your choosing.

There's an article about the _______ Rose Festival in today's paper.

Last year the Tylerpaper did pretty good on this.  Yes, they had the obligatory article in January when they announced who the Kween was going to be.  Then they did a couple of pieces right before and during the Festival itself.  But none of that year-round reporting on it like they used to do.

But look at this ____ that was front-and-center today on their web edition:

It is _______ April.  The _______ Rose Festival is not until October.  Nobody cares, Tylerpaper people.  Nobody cares.  Just stop it, dammit before I lose my mind.

Okay but maybe it is just a slow news day or something.  I wouldn't have even mentioned it, but I was already mad about this:

The Telegraph endorses Bob Westbrook for Tyler City Council District 6

Now, before I get too far into this let me make it clear that I don't really support this Alan Lizarraga guy.  My previous post on this topic was more of a lament that, election after election, it is just more of the same when it comes to Tyler city government.  And this Westbrook guy looks to be just more of the same-ol' same-ol'.  And, as could be predicted, the Telegraph is endorsing him.  I'm not really mad about that.  Their tired-old argument they've used so many times before is that, well, Westbrook has been on all the right committees and boards and is therefore an insider.  So he knows how things work around here and is therefore more qualified than his opponent.  Their reasoning is flawed, but at least coherent.  It's the same kind of argument they used when they endorsed Joel Baker in 2014:  Baker was the incumbent, therefore had more experience in the office he already held, and was therefore more qualified than his opponent, who was not the incumbent. 

As an aside, it's funny to me that Westbrook has argued that running a bunch of Cici's Pizza franchises has made him a good city council candidate because he is used to operating on a "shoestring budget."  Indeed.  And I might add that he is accustomed to operations that are low on innovation and provide a cheap, low-quality product.  He should fit right in in local government!
Fine if they want to endorse Westbrook.  But what really got me mad was their patronizing comment about Lizarraga:

We commend his opponent, Alan Lizarraga, for his willingness to serve Tyler, and we would urge him to follow through by offering to serve on any of the many boards and commissions that are always in need of eager volunteers.

What the ____ kind of _______ _______ condescending kind of ____ is that?!  LIzarraga may be a little na├»ve and is obviously a liberal.  But he is not a child.  He is not some high school senior who ran for office as a joke or to get extra credit in his civics class.  He is a legitimate candidate.

Ironic that they speak of this guy like he's just not smart enough to figure out how to serve as a city council member. I don't know who "we" in the editorial refers to.  Is it some "brain trust" consisting of several editors and senior reporters, or is it King Nelson IV using the 'royal we'?  Either way, I can tell you this:  The fact that Lizarraga is a college graduate with a science degree is prima facie evidence that he is probably smarter than everybody at the Telegraph (except for maybe their IT people) with their bottom-rung degrees in journalism.  Hell, in the "hierarchy of college degrees," in which stuff like natural sciences and engineering is a the top, journalism is somewhere in the sub-basement, ranked close to garbage like "women's studies" and crap like that.

What they are saying is something like this:  Aw, sweetie, you're to little to play baseball with your big brother and his friends.  You'll get hurt.  But you can sit in the dugout and be the 'bat boy'...Adam, honey, you can't be on the City Council--that's for big kids who have been on the Chamber of Commerce and stuff.  Besides, you don't have a very white-sounding name.  But if you want, you can 'volunteer' to be on some bogus board that nobody cares about or some committee that no one listens to.  Or, hey, you can go out to one of the city parks where the poor kids play and pick up trash, because you know we can't afford to pay people to do that any more.  Or even better--you and a bunch of your liberal friends can get together one Saturday in October and go pull weeds and clean up a the Rose Garden to make it pretty for the Rose Festival.


Commissioner JoAnn Hampton arrested for felony assault...


Smith County Commissioner JoAnn Hampton arrested for assault...



Here's the mugshot.

...Of an elderly person

...Which is a third-degree felony or state jail felony, depending on whether the assault was "intentional," or "reckless."

Hmm..yet another high-ranking Smith County official who has trouble with impulse control problems .  Looks like we might have the start of a little club here...the "Mugshot Club."

Joel Baker: Open Meetings Act Violations
JoAnn Hampton:  Injury to an Elderly Person

Friday, April 21, 2017

Recordings of secret, illegal commissioners court meetings to be released

Cameragate lives!

Took a look at the Grassroots-WTP website last night and saw that they posted a notice indicating that they succeeded in getting a court order for the release of recordings of three illegal commissioners court meetings that occurred in 2014.  It was in those meetings that an illegal, unconstitutional deal with an out-of-state company was hammered out that would have allowed that company to issue "civil penalties" to drivers twho were allegedly caught speeding in school zones by automated camera devices.  It may seem that the Grassroots people and I are beating a dead horse here, but...
Election time is coming up.
Hopefully a few brave souls (not Skip Ogle) will step up and challenge incumbent commissioners Cary Nix and JoAnn Hampton.  If so, voters need to know why commissioners Cary Nix, JoAnn Hampton, and Jeff Warr supported this cockamamie plan when they should have known from the get-go it would be hated by their constituents.  I don't expect any earth-shattering surprises here.  After all, we know that Nix, Hampton, and Warr participated in three illegal closed "executive sessions" in which this deal was concocted.  We know that Joel Baker was indicted for three counts of Texas Open Meetings Act violations for the three meetings and that he was convicted on one count after he agreed to a plea deal that spared him and the commissioners the embarrassment of a full trial.  As a result, documents and recordings from those meetings were not made public via criminal proceedings.  But those dad-gum people at Grassroots just wouldn't let go of it, so here we are.  Yeah, maybe the sheeple of Smith County will forget about this by the time the primaries roll around. (Not if I have anything to do with it.) But it will at least raise the "sphincter pucker factor" down at the Annex for a while!

The Joel Baker mugshot, again.
(Just because I can't resist doing this any time this topic comes up.)


Democracy works...sometimes

True democracy depends on transparency in government and the free-flow of accurate, pertinent information to voters.  And I think in that regard we have been seeing a trend in the right direction in Smith County over the past two years.  It started with those pesky bloggers who published things about incumbent politicians that the local news outlets wouldn't have dared publish at the time.  Then the newspaper and later the TV stations figured out that people might be more interested in reading and watching the news if they put out some "news you can use" from time to time.  This has two effects:  One is that incumbent politicians who are doing stupid or unethical stuff get voted out of office.  But even if they can't get voted out of office right away, they tend to change their behavior because they are afraid of getting voted out of office.  The cup is at least half-full.
So, that's what has apparently happened with the Smith County clownishioners.  They've pretty much been on their best behavior since we made a big public example of Joel Baker and ran him out of town on a rail.  So they've stopped building on to the Smith County Kremlin in downtown Tyler and--for goodness sake--they've actually paved a few roads this year!  And, hell, they apparently picked a decent guy to replace Baker.  You could say, well, even a broken clock is right twice a day.  But maybe they had just enough sense to know that if they picked another Establishment person, there would be hell to pay.
But the cup is half empty, too.  An analogy to what has happened with the clownishioners is this:  You can train your dog not to crap in the house by scolding him and whacking him with a newspaper whenever he does.  But that doesn't necessarily make him into a seeing-eye dog of a hunting dog.  So all that has happened with the clownishioners is that they have learned by operant conditioning that if they do something they know their constituents will hate, it will be all over the news (and blogs) and there will be hell to pay.  So they've stopped doing some of the stupid stuff they were doing, but that does not make them good leaders.
Good leaders have a plan.  Our county commissioners do not.  Oh, the last big "plan" they supported was Jeff Warr's $35 million jail expansion.  But that one was half-baked, because when construction was nearing completion, they acted confused when the sheriff pointed out that they were actually going to have to pay to staff the jail!  You know, like hiring jailers to make sure inmates don't kill each other or escape--stuff like that.  And there's never been a long-term, comprehensive plan for dealing with the county's deteriorating infrastructure--roads and bridges.  Yeah, they've thrown a little money that way this year.  But we are apparently somewhere in the ballpark of about $80-100 million behind on this, and some difficult decisions are going to have to be made in order to get things back on track.  That's especially important because the county's population is growing and traffic is just going to increase, especially near populated areas.  And as cities annex more territory, taxpayers in those cities will have to foot the bill to rebuild horrible roads.  So, taxpayers are going to have to foot the bill for this, one way or another.
I've been patient with Judge Nathaniel Moran, because I'm sure that since he took over, he's spent much of his time putting out fires and cleaning up the toxic waste dumps that were left by his predecessor.  But I'm hoping that in the next year or so, he will get on the stick and try to guide the clownishioners in the right direction, if the same ones stay in office.  I'll forgive him for this little gimmicky "Connecting Communities" public relations program, because the county really did need to improve relations with the local municipal governments.  But it's time to get on the ball.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Skip Ogle...again?

  Is Skip Ogle going to run for office...again?

Somebody recently saw something that looked kind of like a political ad on one of those video billboards that said, "Skip Ogle:  Community First."  Interesting:  Ogle still maintains an active Facebook campaign page, a regular promotional website, and a presence on just about every social media platform known to man.  He was still filing campaign finance reports as of January of this year.  He only had about $1,400 and some change left and did not raise any funds in 2016.  But...
It's the timing of this most recent sighting of an ad that concerns me.  Wouldn't this be about the time of year when candidates start hinting at wanting to run for office and raising money?  So, I wonder what he's thinking.  Another bid for Matt Schaefer's seat in the Texas House of Representatives?  Or something else?  Is he thinking he can slither into politics at a lower level and work his way up?  County Judge?  County commissioner?  The last address I could find on him was in Cary Nix' precinct?  Damn, I'd almost rather have him in the legislature, where he would not be able to do as much damage locally!

Who is Skip Ogle?

Skip ogle ran for Texas House of Representatives District 6 in 2014 against incumbent Matt Schaefer.  I know this is sort of "guilt by association" thinking, but a look at Ogle's campaing finance reports from the 2014 campaign reveals that he was backed by the same damn people who backed the likes of former County Judge Joel Baker and Matt Bingham!  In other words, Tyler's Establishment, who like things just the way they are.

Skip Ogle is a lobbyist.

During the 2014 campaign against Schaefer, Ogle tried to hide behind his small home-building business to conceal the fact that he was a lobbyist.  He was 35 minutes into a debate with Schaefer until he finally admitted that he was a lobbyist, despite repeated inquiries from his opponent about his status as a registered lobbyist.  In fact, Ogle is an executive with Suddenlink, and his main job is to lobby for his company in Austin.  One of his claims to fame is his effort to get corporate welfare for his company and other internet providers from the state in the form of funds that come from surcharges on our telephone bills that are supposed to be for 911 service infrastructure!  Okay, so am I clear?  SKIP OGLE IS A LOBBYIST!
Skip Ogle.  Did I mention he is a lobbyist?

Skip Ogle has a criminal record.

During the 2014 campaign, a police report was circulated showing that Ogle had been arrested in Dallas in 1995 for evading arrest, which is a felony.  A Dallas police officer on a bicycle attempted to stop Ogle, who was driving a sports car at a high rate of speed. In the report, officers said they attempted to detain Ogle for speeding but he “took evasive action in order to elude the officers by intentionally fleeing.” Ogle would later claim that he didn't see the officer trying to stop him, but the report said Ogle “looked at officers as they signaled for him to pull over” and then “sped up and fled.”  When they finally caught up with Ogle and his passenger at a restaurant, the arresting officer documented that Ogle was not sober.  In the end, the charges were downgraded to a misdemeanor and Ogle got probation, after which the charges were dropped.
Okay, I'd write this whole thing off as youthful hijinks--two college guys who were out carousing and got carried away.  But Ogle was well into adulthood--28 years old--at the time, old enough to know better.  But still, we've all made mistakes that we have lived to regret.  But it was Ogle's response to the incident that put off the Grassroots people and a lot of other voters.  Basically he laughed the whole thing off.
“It’s always been a funny story to tell because I had a sports car and two bicycle officers caught up to me,” Ogle said.
Very funny, Skip.  If you run for office, you can laugh and laugh as this is published again and again for all the world to see. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

County Judges Behaving Badly (Happy "County Government Month")

But your Honor, I was just tryin' to breathe...

Yes, faithful readers, I know you visit here to get the scoop on local issues.  But a recent news item about the county judge from Limestone County getting arrested for DWI started the wheels turning in my head.

(Limestone County Judge Daniel Burkeen)
Okay, let's have a little civics lesion for those of you who don't know what a "county judge" is.  The county judge should not be confused with judges who preside over other courts such as district courts, county courts-at-law, etc.  The county judge is an elected official who presides over the county commissioners court, which is the governing body of a county.  In most Texas counties, the county judge may also have some judicial duties, such as mental health and probate hearings.  So, except for the limited judicial duties, you can think of a county judge as being like the "mayor" of a county.

So, back to Limestone County Judge Daniel Burkeen.*  He got pulled over and arrested for drunk driving in the town of Mart, TX.  Admitted later that he didn't even know how he got there.  Two hours after getting to the jail, he blew a blood alcohol level of .114 (legal limit 0.080) on a breathalyzer.  Run-of-the-mill drunk driving story except it is an elected official, a "judge."  Again, boring.  But what puts this one over the top is Burkeen's excuse:  He was suffering from a bad asthma attack and in desperation used a "home remedy" which was a mixture of whiskey, lemon and honey.  WTH?  Has Judge Burkeen not heard of these things called inhalers?  Nebulizer treatments?  He's the county judge, for cryin' out loud--does he not have access to healthcare?

You can get it now with the honey already mixed in...
That's the part that made me think this was worthy of a post.  Burkeen must be a complete idiot, or he thinks his constituents are complete idiots, or both.  I did a little "scientific research" by using some website that calculates blood alcohol levels.  He blew a .114, but that was at least two hours after he was stopped, which meant that he was probably driving with a level closer to about .140 or so.  The average male of his age would have to drink something like 7 or 8 shots of whiskey in an hour to get his BAL to that level, more if he consumed the whiskey over a longer period of time!  Oh, and I like how he tugs on the heartstrings with this tear-jerker story from his childhood:

"I've had asthma all my life but never like it's been the last few weeks and I was thinking about my dad and thinking about this old home remedy where they mix whiskey and honey and lemon. I think my dad would make me drink it and I hated it, it was just an act of desperation, I was tired of struggling for breath."

What, was that like in the pioneer days, or during the Great Depression or something?  I'm imagining the family in some rustic, one-room cabin, lighted by a single kerosene lantern.  Young Daniel, barely holding on to life, gasping, struggling for each breath.  Something has to be done.  Pa comes in from the barn with a half-consumed bottle of whiskey he only gets out on special occasions, or when he needs to do business with the Injuns.  Ma goes to the cupboard to get a jar of honey they got from a beehive they found in an old hollow tree...

I don't know where the lemon would come from.  But does this guy with his cockamamie story remind you of someone?

Former Smith County Judge Joel Baker!

In 2011  Baker was investigated by police on suspicion that he was trying to make an illegal video recording of a young woman in the middle of the night.  Her bedroom window faced a residential "investment property" that Baker owned.  She called the police who discovered Baker had set up a video camera that was pointed toward the woman's home.  Baker's excuse--which the police accepted?  He was trying to catch someone who was stealing electricity by plugging into his outdoor outlet.  Um, your Honor, wouldn't you want to point the camera at the outlet instead of the neighbors' house?  Ah, never mind.  But I have to give Baker a "pass" on this one because I'm pretty sure I'm smarter than him and I would have had trouble thinking up something better.

Whew!  Got through that ordeal okay.  But in 2016  Baker was indicted for holding three illegal commissioners court meetings that blatantly violated the Texas Open Meetings Act.  Baker's defense was simply that he never "intentionally" engaged in any "technical" violations of TOMA, and the whole thing was just a "political witch-hunt."  Gotta admire that one just because of its sublime simplicity.  He got convicted, by the way.

Just for grins and giggles, here's the mugshot again.
But Judge Burkeen's  story about the asthma and the whiskey-honey-lemon home remedy reminded me of this one:  In March, 2016, television station KLTV aired a shocking, carefully researched  news story in which they revealed Baker had exchanged over a thousand obscene messages--including pictures of his own genitalia--with a woman he'd never met in person.  Some of those messages were sent and received while he was supposed to be sitting in hearings for the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, of which Baker was the vice president!  Baker also exchanged some naughty messages while he was on a taxpayer-funded trip for continuing education.  It was Baker's response to this one that left me speechless.  He babbled on about "anonymous blogs" (mine) and "ridiculous allegations."  Then this:

I was contacted in early January by an anonymous caller telling me there were people out to get me who had hired a private investigator to “dig up dirt” on me, and they were planning to use a female to catch me in a compromising “rendezvous” situation.  This new revelation took the situation to the next level and caused me great concern for the safety of my family...Thinking she might be the person that the anonymous caller referred to, my wife and I agreed that I would continue the conversation with (identity withheld) to find out who was behind this mess.  [She] sent two sexually explicit videos of herself.  She asked to meet me and I agreed to meet in an attempt to determine who she was working with and/or to confront these people.

Oh, and he outright denied sending any naughty pictures of himself.  But those sneaky people at KLTV (who must have been in on this whole thing from the get-go) went the extra mile.  The found the hotel room where Baker stayed in Austin--where some of the naughty pictures were taken--and the room matched the room in the naughty pictures in every detail!  And another picture of Baker's nether-parts was taken in a vehicle with an interior that was an exact match to Baker's Toyota Camry.  Wow!  What a conspiracy!

Um, okay Joel, the key to successful lying is to make your lies at least sound plausible.  If they have pictures of your junk, don't try to say that you didn't send pictures of your junk.  When you're outright caught in the act, or "red-handed," so to speak,  your  best option might be to take the route celebrities often take, which is a sort of mens rea defense:  Claim that because of some medical or mental condition you were completely out of your mind when you did the naughty behavior.  Popular options include "bi-polar" disorder or some kind of sexual addiction stemming from deep-seated anguish, preferably going back to traumatic experiences in childhood.  Or, hey, sometimes just admitting guilt and acting really sorry about it is the best way to go.  I might have had just the tiniest, microscopic shred of respect for Baker if he had just gone all-out Jimmy Swaggert on us and stood at the podium, tears streaming down his face, confessing his horrible sin and begging his constituents for forgiveness.

So, where am I going with this?

Crime wave

Well, it just seems like lately every time you turn around, some county judge in Texas is getting into trouble.  My rather unscientific research on this, which amounted to about 30 minutes of searching on Google, yielded six other arrests of county judges in the past five years:
Okay, counting Judges Burkeen and Baker, that makes eight county judges who have been arrested in the past five years; six just in the past year!***  Those are only the ones that we know about because the news stories were available online.  I'm wondering how many others were either swept under the rug or were reported in small-town newspapers that don't keep all of their stories online.  And we would never be able to ascertain how many incidents of possible criminal behavior--like Joel Baker's alleged peeping-Tom incident--were "investigated" and resulted in a "have a nice day, your Honor." Considering that there are only 254 county judges in Texas, doesn't that seem like a lot of arrests and criminal charges?  Sure, that still yields an arrest rate far below the state average for the general population, but these are judges for crying out loud!  By comparison a search for "mayors arrested [in] Texas" only yielded a handful--and there are almost five times as many cities in Texas as there are counties.  I was too lazy to do similar research on county commissioners.  But it just seems that they also get caught up in corruption investigations and other scandals far too often.

So what is it with county judges?  I can only speculate, but I think this phenomenon may have something to do with the nature of county governments.  County governments are kind of "invisible" to most people.  The average college-educated Joes or Janes on the street can usually name their mayor, their member of congress, the governor.  Maybe their state legislators.  But ask them about county government and you usually get a blank stare.  Most Texans have very little knowledge of how county governments work or what they do.  So when it comes to being informed about candidates at election time?  Pitiful.  So losers and scoundrels running for county commissioner or county judge seats can slither into office via low-turnout elections, and there they stay.   Once they become incumbents, they become difficult to remove because of the "incumbent advantage" e.g. name recognition, political clout, control over the counties' public relations machine etc.

I don't know how to fix this, folks.  I can rage and scream and blog until I am blue in the face, but I'm tilting and windmills here.  I have some ideas, but they would require such unthinkable measures as amending the state constitution (It's done all the time.) and actually getting legislators interested in issues that actually affect the average citizen instead of spending half the legislative session arguing about whether transsexuals can go into the women's restroom.  But here they are, for what it's worth:

  • Term limits for county judges and commissioners.  Radical, I know.  But I'm thinking three terms is enough.  By that I mean three terms "total" if a person served as a commissioner then got elected as county judge.  For example, if I were a county commissioner for two terms, then I would only be able to serve as either county judge or commissioner for one more term.  And I'd say no more that two consecutive terms in any office.  (In retrospect, did you not think eight years of Judge Joel Baker was enough?)
  • Take away county judges' judicial powers.  A county judge does not have to be trained as a lawyer, but many of them preside over mental health and probate hearings.  I think they are required to get about one day of training on their legal duties before they take office.  Do you really want a guy--or lady--with one day of legal training ruling in such matters?
  • This one could help some counties, but might hurt others:  Non-partisan elections for county officers.  This would hopefully dilute the power of local political "machines."  It would also make it less likely that uniformed voters would choose candidates solely on the basis of party affiliation.  (How many incompetent officials have been inadvertently voted into office by the "straight ticket" crowd?)  Furthermore, this would give those who voted in the non-dominant party's primary a voice in choosing local leaders.  It works for many cities, so why shouldn't it work for counties?
  • And this one is my favorite--a mechanism whereby with a petition, residents of a county can force a "recall" vote to remove a county judge or county commissioner from office.  Can you imagine what might have happened in the past two years if we had that option here?
There you have it--Joorie Doodie's plan for reforming county government.  Enjoy.

*Juanita Jean might like this:  Burkeen is apparently a recent convert to Republicanism.  He ran as a Democrat in 2010, then ran for re-election in the Republican primary in 2014!

**Doyal's charges were dropped by order of the trial judge, who claimed that the part of the Texas Open Meetings Act Doyal allegedly violated was unconstitutional.  It's a long discussion, but that's total bull, in my opinion.

***Some of these arrests are for drunk driving.  I'm wondering if the recent rise in use of dash-cams and body-cams by law enforcement has something to do with this:  A few years back, if an officer pulled over the Judge and he was drunk, the officer might have discreetly called his Honor's wife to come and take him home.  Now everything would be recorded--the swerving vehicle with the "County Judge" license plate;  the slurred speech.  So it would look bad for the sheriff's department or police if some obnoxious reporter armed with a FOIA request got the video, proving the judge got preferential treatment!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Kudos to Tyler City Council


Maybe the cup is half full...

Just to show you, faithful readers, that it all does not have to be negativity here on Smith County Watchdog, I want to give a shout out to Tyler's city council for some good work yesterday.


Liberty Utilities

Check out this exchange between Mayor Mark Heines, council member Mark Whatley (District 5) and a lawyer with Liberty Utilities:

Liberty provides sewer service to about 500 residents in Tyler and to about 3,000 customers in Smith County.  It wants to raise its rates by about 345 percent.  Heines pointed out that Liberty only seems to be interested in communicating with the city when it wants a rate hike.  Watch the video:  I loved the look on the lawyer's face when Heines and Whatley confronted him!


Economic development in downtown Tyler

The council authorized the sale of a tract of city owned land in downtown Tyler to a developer doing businesses as Three Princes Partners.  This outfit plans to sink about $10 million into a combined residential-retail project.  Contrast that with what the county's policy was during the nine and a half years under Joel Baker's dictatorship:  buying up and holding onto property in downtown Tyler that ended up actually impeding revitalization and economic growth!  That said, under new leadership, the county clownishioners have agreed to let go of the decrepit Carlton Hotel, which could lead to further residential, retail, and hotel property development downtown.

Maybe things are looking up.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Get your free campaign advertising here!

Hey, before I get to complainin', let me just say kudos (mostly) to the Tyler City Council for their work today.  Well, they handed out a tax abatement to Trane, but that's just what city governments do now in the name of "jobs" and "economic development".  Can a leopard change its spots?
But on the positive side, they stood up to Liberty Utilities that provides Water/Sewer services to some Tyler residents.  Apparently Liberty is trying to fleece its customers with a rate increase for sewer disposal of over 300%!  Yikes.  I love how Mark Watley and Mayor Heines took the company's representative to task for only showing up to work with the city when they want a rate increase.  And get this--they are going to sell a parcel of land in downtown Tyler to a developer who is going to put something like $10 million into a condominium/retail development.  Contrast that with Smith County's practice over the past 10 years of buying up or holding onto downtown properties, hindering economic development!
Today's gripe will be brief.  Just take a look at this trash that showed up in the Tyler Morning Telegraph today:
Ah, it's about some initiative spearheaded by Judge Moran to improve relationships between Smith County and the municipal governments within the county.  Fine idea.  But I'm just irritated by the article itself.
First there's the byline:  "CASEY MURPHY, Special to the Tyler Morning Telegraph"  No, she's not a reporter for the Telegraph.  She is the public relations officer for the Smith County Commissioners Court.  Her job is to make Judge Moran and the four clownishioners look good.  Sure, she is identified as such at the end of the article, but I'm still irritated.  I'm just irritated when stuff gets printed or broadcast as "news" when it is really just propaganda, especially if it is propaganda put out on behalf of politicians.  When it gets close to election time, this kind of stuff basically amounts to free campaign advertising for the incumbents.
It's either news or it's not.  If it's news, send a real reporter over to the Annex and ask a few questions about what is going on.  If not, it belongs on the county's website or in the employees' newsletter.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tyler City Council District 5: Alan Lizarraga vs. Bob Westbrook


Am I "bi"?

I mean, "bi-ideologic."  I've prided myself on being a life-long, died-in-the-wool conservative Republican.  Spend less, keep taxes low, small government, etc.  But when you get down to the local level--cities and counties--the draconian, ultra-conservative model of governing seems to break down.  The knee-jerk response to every funding decision--don't spend anything on anything--just seems to lead to living in a city where everything is run-down.

So, I've been sort of peripherally following the Tyler City Council races without much to say.  Only one race is contested, anyway, which is District 5.  But a recent article in Tylerpaper caught my eye and got me to thinking...


Alan Lizarraga


The Telegraph has incorrectly identified him as a "laboratory assistant."  It's my understanding that he is actually a laboratory supervisor in the biology department at UT-Tyler.  I originally blew him off as just one of those liberal candidates that pop up every now and then in our local political scene that have about a snowball's chance in hell of winning an election.  But, he's  making better use of social media than his opponent, Bob Westbrook, who apparently just discovered Facebook about two weeks ago.  And Lizarraga is also taking his campaign door-to-door, and I'm guessing he's going to depend heavily on the "college" vote, as UT Tyler and the surrounding communities are in District 5.  It's still a long shot, but feasible.  After all, if we learned anything in the 2014 election, it's that the internet is the great equalizer.  Remember former County Judge Joel Baker?  He was the popular incumbent with a war chest of about $100,000 and the support of Smith County's Establishment.  But his opponent came out of nowhere with about $8,000 in funding and got 43% of the vote.  What happened?  I think the internet is what happened.  Someone posted the  "police report" on Weebly.  Then I started blogging.  I'd bet my bottom dollar that hundreds of voters turned up their noses at Baker after they learned the truth about his behavioral issues and his performance in office.  And remember, these little city council races are often won and lost by just a few votes.  So, if Lizarraga and his supporters mobilize and get younger voters, including college students, to the polls, it could happen.

So what's this guy about?  Well, he's interested in bringing in jobs other than low-paying retail and service-industry stuff.  He's concerned about traffic.  He laments that Tyler is not a very "walkable" city and asserts we need more sidewalks, bike trails, etc.  He wants economic development in downtown Tyler in the form of stuff that might appeal to younger consumers.  Yeah, he's a liberal who supports Obamacare and uses blasphemous terms like "diversity" and "inclusiveness."  But, he's really got me to thinking.

Okay, well I have to disagree with him on Obamacare.  And oh, so many bad ideas have been supported in the name of "diversity."  But hey, he's correct when he points out that Tyler is becoming younger and more diverse.  Conservatives, ignore minority communities at your peril, because that mentality leads to the rise of entrenched "ward politicians" like John Wiley Price of Dallas County and Barack Obama of Chicago.  And don't forget our very own local dim bulb in county government, JoAnn Hampton!

But, hey, would it kill us to build a sidewalk every now and then?  And imagine Tyler with a really happenin' downtown with great places to eat, live music, and cool boutique-type retail outlets!  You see, if these people who are always chanting the mantra "economic development" ever get interested in bringing in firms that offer jobs to degreed professionals, they are also going to have to find ways to attract Smart People to the community so that there will be people to work in those firms.  Oh, but Smart People are like kryptonite to Tyler's Establishment.  Smart People ask questions.  Smart people like decent parks and bike trails and recycling and stuff.  We just can't have that here, can we?

And let's talk traffic.  One of the first things that got cut when tax revenues took, a nosedive this year was funding for the traffic department.  So there's apparently no work going on to tweak our outdated, poorly-coordinated traffic lights.  That's why Loop 323 is like a parking lot at certain times of the day.  And, like it or not, the area's population is growing.  Tyler's population (and therefore traffic congestion) doubles during the daytime as people come into town to work, shop, go to school, etc.  We simply can't keep kicking this can down the road, or we are going to end up a generation from now in a county with 500,000 residents and a virtual gridlock in certain parts of Tyler.

I'd vote for Alan, but I live in District 12.


A look at the Establishment Candidate, Bob Westbrook

His pedigree speaks volumes:

He held leadership roles for local and statewide organizations including: Chairman of the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce; on the executive board of directors of the Tyler Economic Development Corp.; president of Tyler Sunrise Rotary Club...
Pretty much a member of Tyler's "good ol' boy" club.  They must have some sort of factory here where they stamp out stodgy, middle-aged businessmen by the ton.  Look at Tyler's current city council:

Yeah, if we don't watch it, the "White Businessperson Party" is going to be in danger of losing its majority.

I'm thinking a vote for Westbrook is a vote for the same-ol' same-ol':

  • Perpetual neglect of city infrastructure.
  • Mindlessly rubber-stamping every proposal to offer corporate welfare in the form of tax abatements to every company that comes to town with its hand out, as long as the words "economic development" are in the header.
  • Preoccupation with growth in south Tyler in the form of retail and restaurants while ignoring the potential for growth in other areas such as downtown.

And look at Westbrook's supporters here (LINK).  Pretty much the same crowd that has supported the likes of Joel Baker and Matt Bingham.  But did you look closely?

Commissioner Jeff Warr supports Bob Westbrook.

Jeff Warr?  Since when has Jeff Warr supported anything that turned out to be a good idea?  Well, he masterminded the building of our $35 million jail expansion.  But when construction was complete, he and his fellow clownishioners seemed confused when the sheriff pointed out to them that the county would actually have to pay for employees to staff the jail.  Warr supported the failed and illegal "Transportation Reinvestment Zone," a special taxation zone plan that, if enacted, would have siphoned funding from much-needed improvements in roads and bridges to pet projects supported by Joel Baker and the clownishioners.  And speaking of illegal, Warr supported "cameragate":  an illegal plan, hammered out in illegally closed meetings, to allow an out-of-state company to operate automatic camera-based devices to fine speeders in school zones.  And, year after year, Warr supported funding to build on to Joel Baker's downtown Kremlin while our county roads and bridges crumbled.  And finally, Warr supported Joel Baker to the bitter end, even after Baker was indicted for Open Meetings Act violations and got caught sending obscene messages to a woman while he was sitting in hearings for the State Commission on Judicial Conduct!

So Jeff Warr supports Bob Westbrook.  I think we can stop there.