Friday, February 17, 2017

Wylie Complaints Cost Taxpayers


The Wylie and Washington Facebook page was at it again today. This morning they published and used the paid promotion feature to promote another complaint against the Wylie Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). This time it is a notice of meeting regarding the creation of a municipal setting designation (MSD). The accusation is that the WEDC does not want to clean up a piece of land with polluted groundwater.

This designation is nothing new to the city. It was sought on another piece of land and it enables them to sell off the property and recoup any costs involved in cleanup. Simply put, they ensure the buyer isn’t going to tap into a water source within a specified area. This is a great option for property where standing water and perhaps a layer of soil needs to be scraped away for cleanup, but the land is still usable for other industry. The idea is to get this land sold and developed so that the new owner can begin paying taxes and help lower homeowner tax burden.

These (not so) anonymous attacks on the WEDC are suspicious. What exactly is the point of all this expense to the city? Is this coming from a sore loser over not getting coveted property once held by the city? Or is this displaced anger because the complainant has never been selected for the WEDC board?

The reality of these complaints means they are costing the city, and ultimately the taxpayers, money in legal fees. The City of Wylie must now spend our tax dollars to defend their employee WEDC executive Sam Satterwhite, who was called out in a formal complaint sent to the AGs office. Seems like this is costing us a lot of money, instead of effecting any real change. Each complaint requires the AG to send a letter to the city, asking for pertinent information, thereby requiring legal representation of the city. Lawyers aren’t cheap.

Nothing will come of the complaints drawn up by the complainant’s lawyer.... Nothing. That will be the end result, and taxpayers will be put out for it.

So why don’t they take their case solely to the people, instead of through lawyers? It seems like this beef is really with those sitting on the WEDC board, who are besties with Satterwhite and the other good old boy club in the city.

Why doesn’t the complainant work to move the compass of public opinion toward removing those causing conflicts on the WEDC, through council changes? Council members are the ones who keep appointing these people to the WEDC board.

I fully understand the premise that the Wylie First Baptist Church (FBC) is controlling a lot of what is going on in the city and on the WEDC, however this individual's actions are costing taxpayers in legal fees to defend the city. I cannot support this tactic.

By all means, we should use public opinion to stop the FBC from infiltrating every aspect of the citizen's lives. We should use public opinion to stop members of the WEDC board from running for other electable positions. That said, lawyers are incapable of stopping or changing who is elected and appointed. So why take that route?

This situation is clearly a result of the quality of candidates running and elected by the people. We all know the FBC works hard to promote their congregation candidates during the election season, but there is nothing illegal about that.

Frankly, I cannot fault Kris Segrest for promoting members of his congregation to help advance his interests. If you were the pastor of the largest church community in the city, wouldn’t you, if you could get away with it? As a result, many of the elected and appointed positions on Wylie's councils, boards and committees are members of the church. This creates a conflict of interest involving the FBC, and their tight control over much of the activity taking place in Wylie.

It is best not to have any particular group holding a majority of official positions, such as WISD board of trustees, city council or any of the dozen or so boards and commissions. Unfortunately, very few people run for these positions and appointments, which results in the very powerful church getting people to step up and even walk in, unopposed for seats. Few people voting even realize this is taking place.

There are, and have been, a disproportionately large number of FBC individuals currently holding these positions. This is part of the problem intertwined with the WEDC complaints being leveled.

Our job as citizens who vote is to inform the public, through whatever means we have available to us, whether it be blogs, social media, meetings, or letters to the editor of the Wylie News, an incredibly under-read newspaper that exists solely at the pleasure of the mayor, rather than the publics they claim to serve.

If this individual would like to pick up the legal tab for the city that has resulted from these complaints, then I would be all for it. Otherwise, people need to work together to find council candidates that aren't beholden to the FBC.

It takes hard work and dedication, but through the election and appointment process, the problem will fix itself when the head (Satterwhite) has no body (board buddies) left to support it. And you can include the mayor in that mix, who has been sitting in his position a little too long for comfort. He works hard to bring new council members into the fold, and I view this as problematic.

Clearly, there are a lot of people in the city who are angry that this situation still plagues us as we hit 50K+ population. Surely there are suitable candidates available to run for council; those, who will help break up the FBC good old boy club once and for all, without costing taxpayers. Just a thought.

Image: City of Wylie

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Paying the Piper: NTMWD Water Pricing Model


Wylie water woes. Now there's an alliteration you need to try saying really fast without feeling like Elmer Fudd.

If you have not heard about the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD) issue, your pocketbook soon will. They are the entity that controls our water in Wylie, among other cities, making them pretty easy to hate on, particularly if you do not like your steadily increasing water bill.

Does anyone remember the days of $43 monthly water bills from the City of Wylie? I do. We were never ones to dump water needlessly into the lawn, so yes, I will indeed revel in your jealousy. But still, mine are more than twice that now and our water use has gone down this year. Especially now that the youngest child unit is away, showering at college, and because he took his rather large wardrobe with him resulting in less frequent climbs of the infamous Mount Laundry.

We know that costs are rising. We get it. But should we expect to take a nitroglycerin before opening future water bills? What gives?

Late last year several member cities flexed some muscle in an attempt to break from their responsibility to the whole. NTMWD serves dozens of communities, with 13 member cities making up the board, and four of those cities are about to cause the rest of us some heartache.

Plano, Richardson, Garland and Mesquite have made a complaint to the Public Utility Commission (PUC) on how the NTMWD sets their water pricing, in hopes they will not be held accountable to pay their fair share. Sorry, but that's the only way I see it.

Nobody likes the rates NTMWD doles out. They pass increases on to cities, who in turn, pass them on to homeowners, but what would happen if these cities, with the help of the PUC, break with NTMWD's take-or-pay pricing model?

We keep hearing this "take-or-pay" phrase, so what exactly is it? When member cities contract with the NTMWD, it requires an immense amount of infrastructure, and debt taken on for each city as it grows. The cities are contractually bound by take-or-pay, whereby their rate is set using the highest year of water usage they have had. It doesn't matter if they use less, if they don't use it, they still have to pay for it. That's take-or-pay.

It doesn't sound fair, or helpful toward water conservation efforts, but when you consider the costs required to bring a city on during their divide and conquer stage, that is a huge financial undertaking. So is the necessary continuing maintenance. The services committed by NTMWD don't end with simple water usage.

To see the reasoning behind their complaint, we can look at one member city. Plano's highest use year was 2001. Now that they are using less water, through conservation efforts, they believe they should have their rate reduced. Plano claims to have spent $78 million for water they have not used since 2001.

Oh sure, the take-or-pay system was favorable to Plano, Richardson, Garland and Mesquite during their peak growth phase, but now that they are generally built-out , the massive infrastructure costs and maintenance still need to be paid by somebody.

Image: US Airforce
Let's not forget the $300 million pipeline that had to be built to stop the spread of zebra mussels, and to return water flow from Lake Texoma to Lavon. During the height of our last drought, the flow from Texoma was turned off because of the little rascals, and because of federal law that prohibits transporting them across state lines. Turns out the pumping station in Texoma was on the Oklahoma side.

It was a healthy cost that went into returning the flow, but that is of no concern to these member cities who appear to be hyper-focused on water usage in their argument to the PUC.

When looking solely at water usage, it is easy to show how "unfairly" they are being charged. Yet what about the other, smaller member cities who are still growing? Is it fair to stick them with the infrastructure bill? The fact is, somebody has to pay the piper.

Member cities have been in talks about this situation for the past year. The other member cities include Allen, Farmersville, Forney, Frisco, McKinney, Princeton, Rockwall, Royce City and Wylie. Though they have been unsuccessful in finding a solution so far, was it right for the larger bullies to pull in the PUC at this stage? Absolutely not. Surely there is a way for member cities to work things out without being pitting against each other. This was a very disappointing turn of events.

Our best hope is that the member cities roll up their sleeves and find a solution, and we must encourage them to do so. Board meetings are held the fourth Thursday of each month at 4:00 p.m. in the board room, located at 501 East Brown Street, in Wylie. If NTMWD is forced to change their pricing model to accommodate the larger member cities, you can rest assured that your water costs in Wylie will triple, if not quadruple.

Header image: Express Tribune

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Those WEDC Rascals


Looks like the good old boys in Wylie have put themselves into a pickle, and they are inadvertently dragging our excellent school district down with them in the court of public opinion.

Sam Satterwhite
A new Facebook page popped up on Saturday, called Wylie and Washington. Published on the page are images of a formal complaint sent to the Texas Attorney General's office and also Collin County regarding unseemly transactions made by the Wylie Economic Development Board (WEDC). 

The complaint calls into question ethics of the WEDC, their board President Marvin Fuller and Executive Director Sam Satterwhite. I'm not surprised this is coming full circle.

I have consistently complained about the conflicts of interest presented with the WEDC and their board members who keep running for and getting elected to various seats around the city. I reported on this land deal as well, in Holy Shrieking Shizballs. The bounty these dual positions reap is astounding when you consider how "deals" are brought about. Sure, they may excuse themselves from votes, but they were certainly present during the behind the scenes activities preceding them. There are other less noticeable conflicts as well. 

Kathy Spillyards
 and Mayor Eric Hogue
For example, the fact that Mayor Eric Hogue is a realtor seems like no big deal. Yet, how many activities has he voted on that ultimately turn into future profits for him? The same can be said for former councilwoman Kathy Spillyards, who inadvertently capitalized on official actions taken previously. When you vote on minimum home sizes required of a developer, ensuring a certain home value, and turn around and sell one of them a couple years later, you are making a profit off your votes. 

The same holds true with the various WEDC members who found themselves elected through the years. More recent conflicts of interest have included Mitch Herzog who has served for years as a Wylie Independent School District (WISD) trustee and also as a WEDC board member, and the former councilman Todd Wintters who served on the WEDC and was also elected to the city council which I reported in Wintters of our Discontent

The very notion of serving in elected posts and sitting on the WEDC board should have been carefully scrutinized by voters before they placed them in these positions. It wasn't as if I didn't warn anyone, what with my continuous blogs vetting the cast of characters that run for these seats  in Wylie. Still, year after year delirious voters make their way to the polls without a clue, and clearly without a Google search.

I have suggested for years that these board members should resign from the WEDC. Turns out, that public opinion has finally caught up with this stance. But what about legal opinion? 

Turns out, we may not like what is taking place, but it is all legal. And so is the WISD land sale. Whether we like how it went down or not, it did not require WISD to do "extra marketing" of the property either, as is one premises of the complaint.

Mitch Herzog
Controversy in Wylie is nothing new. Does anyone remember when Baron Cook sold land to WISD for $800K when he was serving as a WISD trustee? It's how Ronni Fetzer took his seat away, because people were annoyed with how unethical the land deal looked. Then there was that time the WEDC got in trouble for holding closed-door meetings. Oops. Now their board meetings are held at o'dark hundred. So much for the open meetings act.

Ethics laws require public officials to file a declaration on the conflict of interest and to abstain from voting on it, both of which appear to have been performed with the property WISD sold and also with the Baron Cook property WISD purchased. Though it looks sketchy and shady as hell, it is legal. Move along, nothing new to see here.

What concerns me is the witch hunt that is behind these allegations. The Facebook page was published nearly 24 hours ago, and the hidden agenda has me a tad curious. Exactly who is behind this complaint? Why don't they man-up?

Marvin Fuller
I honestly do not see this as an attack on the school district so much as I see it as an attack on the WEDC. Especially when the complaint specifically lists Marvin Fuller and Sam Satterwhite, yet speaks little, if at all, of their complicit activities in the documents. Why wasn't Mitch Herzog's photo made part of the complaint? What about WISD superintendent Dr. David Vinson? Why not just list all WEDC and WISD board members? To my point, this seems to really be about Satterwhite and Fuller. Who did they piss off?

Don't get me wrong, I have always felt Fuller and Satterwhite needed to go. They have been part of the good old boy system of secret handshakes for years. Like the time Satterwhite was arrested for drunk driving in 2009 but the city council looked the other way instead of firing him like the employee manual suggested. 

Seems Fuller and Satterwhite have made quite the enemy and it will be interesting to see how this plays out. If I had to venture a guess? The AG's office has more pressing matters and this too shall pass.