Follow the Money - Local Politicians Campaign Contributors
Saturday, September 29, 2007
This U Tube Video shot on the floor of the Texas House shows legislators violating House Rules and voting more than once. If the rules had been followed, perhaps toll road legislation and eminent domain for private gain legislation may not have passed.
Craddick is not enforcing the Rules of the House. Members on both sides of the aisle violate them.
- Faith Chatham
Top Dallas city staff members appear to have a cozy relationship with leading advocates for the Trinity River toll road, a series of e-mails among them shows. The disclosure has infuriated toll road opponents and caused City Manager Mary Suhm to caution her top deputies about politicking on the job.
For instance, in a July 6 e-mail, Rebecca Dugger, director of the city office overseeing the Trinity project, encouraged toll road supporters to call a radio talk show to give a positive view of the project.
"I am not going to call. Hope you can," Ms. Dugger wrote in response to a request that she call the show.
Twenty days later, toll road backer and former City Council member Craig Holcomb asked Ms. Dugger if she could assist him in making a presentation before the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce.
"I would LOVE to partner with you. ... Do you want me to attend as a backup/visual eye candy?" Ms. Dugger responded.
And in an Aug. 15 e-mail to Ms. Suhm, Ms. Dugger and other staff members, Mr. Holcomb felt free to take a swipe at council member Angela Hunt, the toll road's chief opponent.
The e-mail was intended to arrange a meeting between city staff and the nonprofit Trinity Trust organization and asked if the group could meet at the Original House of Pancakes. Mr. Holcomb liked the location "[f]or nostalgia's sake, to remember the days before AH," he wrote in reference to Ms. Hunt.
Mr. Holcomb said Friday that he had never asked the city staff to do anything inappropriate and that the staff never had.
He acknowledged being friends with Ms. Dugger and many others at City Hall, and he made no apologies for that.
"If you work with somebody for five years on a project, you get to be friends," he said. "It's deeply troubling to me that because you share a joke with someone in an e-mail, that anyone would question your integrity."
Regarding his joke about Ms. Hunt, he said, "One council member out of 15 wants to derail the Trinity project, and I don't see anything wrong with being nostalgic for a time when that was not the case and we could all work together."
City staffers are prohibited from advocating for one side during an election, and Ms. Suhm said her staff has been careful to avoid taking a position on the Nov. 6 referendum on the toll road project.
But long-standing friendly relationships between some staff members and toll road proponents have at least led to the appearance that the city has gone out of its way to assist those who would see the referendum fail so the road can be built.
Former Dallas City Council member Donna Blumer, who opposes the toll road project, said she was shocked by the e-mails.
"They're pretty damning ... city staff is collaborating with the Vote No! campaign," she said.
Ms. Hunt said that the e-mail exchanges "undermine any argument the city has that they're being neutral on this issue." But she does not plan to pursue the matter through legal or ethical channels.
"I'm focused on November 6th, getting our referendum passed and making sure we get the park we want and not a giant toll road in a floodway. Going forward with it doesn't win this election," Ms. Hunt said.
Mayor Tom Leppert, who said he had not seen the e-mails in question, said the city staff should remain neutral and has tried to do so.
Voters will decide Nov. 6 whether a high-speed highway can be built inside the Trinity River levees. A yes vote prohibits such a highway. A no vote would allow the city's plans to go forward.
The Dallas Morning News obtained hundreds of e-mails originating at City Hall regarding the toll road project, using the state's open records law. The vast majority were between city staff and toll road proponents. Only a handful were from those who oppose the toll road and did not involve requests for information.
Defending the staff
Ms. Suhm broadly defended her staff's handling of what she said has become a delicate, even precarious, balancing act on the Trinity project.
City staffers are required to help the city realize a "Balanced Vision Plan," ordered by the City Council, that calls for the construction of a toll road between the Trinity levees downtown, Ms. Suhm said.
But they aren't permitted to advocate for or against a referendum that, if successful, would undermine that plan.
Further complicating matters is the fact that leading referendum opponents are City Hall insiders, from former council members and mayors to a former city manager.
"It's a hard line. We talk about it all the time," Ms. Suhm said.
As recently as Tuesday, Ms. Suhm cautioned her top deputies about how to handle requests for information about the Trinity project, she said.
"I have been completely wound up about this since the start. I have been a major league nag," she said.
As for Ms. Dugger's e-mails with Mr. Holcomb, Ms. Suhm acknowledged the two are personally close and said that led to an overly friendly tone in the e-mails between them.
"I talked to her. I said, 'I know y'all are friends, but you need to keep the friendship part out of the business part,' " Ms. Suhm said.
She added that while she might have handled the matter of the radio talk show differently, she believes Ms. Dugger acted appropriately when she declined to go on the show.
"I would be concerned if she had called [in]," Ms. Suhm said.
Ms. Dugger also defended her correspondence.
"My basic concern is for the facts to be told. If I feel like the facts are not being told, and if others have the facts, then they should get those facts out there," she said.
Ms. Suhm also was the recipient of friendly e-mails from toll road backers seeking help or information.
On July 5, she received a request from former City Manager Jan Hart Black, now the president of the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce.
"We will need a presentation from city staff on the issues and consequences of a successful election," Ms. Hart Black wrote.
Ms. Suhm said Friday that the city regularly fulfills requests for presentations on the Trinity project. Ms. Hart Black also defended the request.
"The city has a responsibility to respond and to provide us information and answer our questions. We request information from City Hall on many issues," Ms. Hart Black said in a prepared statement. "I am sorry that Angela Hunt is attacking city staff for simply doing their job."
In a July 18 e-mail, toll road backer and former City Council member Donna Halstead asked Ms. Suhm to personally review a poll intended to gauge support for the Trinity River toll road plan.
Ms. Halstead said the request was one of many she has made of Ms. Suhm regarding a variety of topics.
"Mary and I have known each other for many years. I ask her and others at City Hall questions all the time," said Ms. Halstead, who heads the Dallas Citizens Council. "I'm very lucky that they feel comfortable giving me answers."
Ms. Suhm acknowledged receiving Ms. Halstead's e-mail regarding the poll. She said she reviewed the poll for factual errors.
"If the other side came and asked us questions or asked us to speak about [the project], we would," she said.
City staff members are permitted to answer factual questions from the public regarding city projects, but Ms. Hunt questioned Ms. Suhm's decision to review the poll.
"I find it unusual that the city manager of the ninth-largest city in America is doing fact-checking on a partisan poll. ... What's she doing? Spell-checking?" Ms. Hunt said.
Texas Ethics Commission attorney Tim Sorrells said e-mail traffic of this nature doesn't appear to fall under his office's purview.
City Attorney Tom Perkins, meanwhile, declined to comment on his office's involvement, if any, in such a matter. Mr. Perkins did note that "we have certainly discussed with staff the permissible parameters of what they should or shouldn't do in a campaign."
Mr. Leppert, meanwhile, said he wants to make sure there isn't any appearance of bias on the part of the city's staff.
"My view is everybody is doing their best to play this thing as neutral and down the middle as they can," he said.
Mr. Leppert, who has become the major voice of the toll road supporters, said that it doesn't help his cause to have the staff seen as tilting toward one side or the other.
"I don't want it to be an issue," he said.
THE RULES FOR CITY OFFICIALS, EMPLOYEES
Dallas Administrative Assistant City Attorney Jesus Toscano sent a four-page memorandum to the City Council, City Manager Mary Suhm and her assistant city managers in August explaining what actions city officials and employees may take during the Trinity campaign. Mr. Toscano wrote that employees:Dave Levinthal
• May not use city facilities, personnel, equipment or supplies in support of or in opposition to the measure, except to the extent and in accordance with the terms that those city resources are generally available to the public.
• May be involved in political activities outside of work that support or oppose the measure, but cannot use their city titles.
• May participate in fundraising activities supporting or opposing the measure in his/her individual capacity, but not on city time.
• May not use the prestige of their position with the city on behalf of a political committee. This also applies to a city measure, if political committees have been formed to support or oppose the measure.
• May make personal contributions to political committees supporting or opposing the measure.
• May place campaign signs in their yards and on the premises of their homes supporting or opposing the measure.
• May display campaign bumper stickers supporting or opposing the measure on their personal vehicles (but not on any city vehicles under the employee's control).
• Should not push any subordinate employee to participate in an election campaign, contribute to a political committee, engage in any other political activity or refrain from engaging in any lawful political activity. A general statement merely encouraging another person to vote does not violate this provision.
Read more in the Dallas Morning News
Friday, September 28, 2007
Citizens in Highland Village (Denton County) have consistently opposed the current route selected for section 4 of FM2499. FM2499 is to connect with I-35 near SH121.
Orginally it was to be a two-lane oil top road. Now it is planned as a 4 lane road with plans to expand it to 6 lanes. Much of it will be elevated 11 feet above playgrounds and residents. Over 1000 children in Highland Village will live within 1500 feet of this road. It is anticipated to have traffic counts exceeding 45M cars daily which is the threshold which scientific studies find results in irreserviable lung function in children. Schools, playgrounds, recreation areas, and day cares are located within 1500 feet of this proposed route.
It will cut through residential neighborhood, federal wetlands, recreation areas. The current route is the only one which cuts across three tributaries of Lake Lewisville. Lake Lewisville is the drinking water source for Dallas and Denton counties. The secion of the lake where these bridges will be constructed is the part of the lake which already registers excessively high MTBE. MTBE is a fuel additive which cannot be filtered out of water with currently available technology. Because of Federal Legislation sponored by Joe Barton, manufacturers of MTBE are protected from envionmental liability.
The current route selected is the most costly route. The budget for this project was recently doubled! The most environmentally dangerous route requires doubling the budget because of the necessity of constructing costly bridges over Lake Lewisville's fragile ecosystem.
John Mullens, a resident of Highland Village who has joined with his neighbors (Highland Village Parents Group) in opposing this route responded to TxDOT's attorney.
Ms. Noble (Texas Dept. of Transportation),
Thank you for your response on September 21 (attached) to the concerns of the Highland Village Parent Group. Although your response was not timely, we do appreciate receiving it. As you probably expect, we do not agree with the conclusions of your letter and have commented below.
First, however, we would like to comment on the story in today's front page of the Dallas Morning News describing the financial woes suffered by TXDOT.
TXDOT can save $47 million by permanently canceling the section 4 portion of FM 2499 (probably more as costs continue to escalate). The majority of citizens in Highland Village do not want this highway, and are very vocal about it. At the public hearings there were 3015 written opposing comments submitted, and 1186 opposing signatures on petitions (all voters ).
Only a few politicians want this highway and only God knows why as we have provided them with the USC/Lancet Study (as well as supporting studies/reports), so they are fully aware of the significant lung damage our children will suffer.
We ask TXDOT to direct these scarce funds to more worthy projects where the citizens actually need and desire the transportation improvements, as opposed to wasting the money to satisfy a few. At the very minimum, a full Environmental Impact Study (EIS) should be performed to insure the safety of our children. Most people with knowledge of the circumstances know that a full EIS will result in the project being terminated or re-routed.
Following are our comments about your response (attached PDF file) to our recent e-mails:
1) You state "The Lancet Study is one of several recent studies that come to the conclusion that there are potential health effects from living within close proximity of a roadway. However, the results of the Lancet Study are specific to the study conditions."
We believe you are over-complicating this issue. There are highways in the USC/Lancet Study in California with traffic similar to FM 2499. The vehicles are the same, and emissions actually are significantly reduced in California per their emissions laws. So, you have similar highways with similar vehicles, obviously you would have similar results: average 10%, irreversible, lung damage for children who grow up within 1500 feet of a major road. The study conditions all wash out, we are not that different in Texas than California (these are two of the largest states in the U.S.), and actually we should even increase the 10% lung damage expected in Texas to account for the more dangerous emissions levels (CA has the strictest emissions laws in the country).
2) You state that "The Clean Air Act requires EPA to 'establish air quality criteria for pollutants that accurately reflects the latest scientific knowledge useful in indicating the kind and extent of all identifiable effects on public health or welfare…'". The latest scientific knowledge is the USC/Lancet Study, as well as numerous other studies that validate the common sense that a highway 25 feet next to a house is harmful to children.
Why can't TXDOT be a leader in environmental protection instead of following the EPA who is obviously not able to protect our kids? We ask you to use your own judgment in this matter.
3) You say that "TXDOT takes human health very seriously". We do not believe this when you will not even suggest a full EIS to protect our children from the conclusive results from the USC/Lancet and numerous other studies. To the taxpayers it appears that TXDOT does not take human health seriously at all.
3) You describe the complicated process that TXDOT goes through in conjunction with the EPA to determine effects on human health, but admit these processes are not effective. We taxpayers are not concerned with the reasons why you cannot protect our children, we are only interested in results. We are also not interested in EPA guidelines. If EPA guidelines allow inflicting lung damage on children, then those guidelines must be fixed and not followed. The "I am only following orders" rationale is not acceptable.
4) You discuss a loophole that allows TXDOT to ignore the published policy in your environmental manual that typically requires an EIS in cases of highways of four or more lanes in a new location. We find it completely unacceptable that you would not apply your "normal" standards to a case as serious as this where children's health is at risk.
5) The City of Flower Mound website clearly describes the intention to convert section 4 to six lanes. It states that "Sufficient right-of-way would be acquired to allow for its eventual expansion to an ultimate six-lane divided urban arterial." Here is the link http://www.flower-mound.com/2499_information/index.php
6) We would like the name of the consulting firm that you have hired so we may verify their independence.
In summary, we hope that this consulting firm and the FHWA will reach the correct conclusion that their most important role is to protect our children, and therefore recommend that a full and thorough EIS be prepared prior to any construction taking place. We still are hopeful that TXDOT will step up and take a leadership role in protecting our children.
Highland Village Parent Group
Thursday, September 27, 2007
TxDOT and Rick Perry say there's no way to build and maintain roads and bridges in Texas without tolls yet TxDOT is spending billions of dollars on lobbying and ad campaigns. TxDOT "mislabeled" millions of dollars of PR spending as engineering.
The Governor's manion needs renovating. The State is spending $9,900.00 a month to rent Rick Perry a mansion. Taxpayers are footing the $1000.00 pet deposit for Perry's dog.
The real danger isn't the probablity of the dog damaging the mansion. It's the reality that this Governor and those he has in charge of policy and spending are "doing it to the people of Texas!"
Conservative? Definitely not.
Prudent? Absolutely not.
Legal? Probaby since the Governor's veto and threat of veto helps determine what remains legal or becomes legal!
Moral? That's for you to determine.
Personally, I see it as absolutely obscene that it was proposed, let alone approved to spend nearly $120,000 a year rent for a residence for ANY ELECTED official.
Who's the landlord? Perhaps we should follow the money and examine the relationships between those who located and approved this property and those who contributed to the decision makers. There may be no conflict of interest. Again there may be.
Money to assist Texans on the Gulf Coast whose homes and businesses were damaged by Hurricane Rita remains undisbursed. It is taking YEARS for Gov. Perry's administration and FEMA to distribute the money in Texas! (The excuse cited is they were trying to be sure that there was not graft and corruption and fraud! Perhaps we should put the people who have been so careful to insure that there is no "fraud" in the Rita distributions in charge of spending in the Governor's office and for administration costs by TxDOT.
Ironically, as time for TxDOT to be reviewed by the Sunset Review Committee nears, some rumblings are circulating about whether Texas should retire the Sunset Review committee!
The real question is whether the Sunset Review Committee will have the integrity to honestly assess corruption, mismanagement, and misappropriation of taxpayers funds and TxDot's failure to deliver necessary services.
AUSTIN — Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle said Wednesday that his office is ready to go to trial on remaining charges against former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay after the state's highest criminal court upheld its earlier dismissal of a separate charge.
"We're preparing for trial," said Earle.
But Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin, who represents DeLay, said he doesn't expect any trial until another Texas appeals court rules on a case involving accused co-conspirators John Colyandro and Jim Ellis.
DeGuerin said Colyandro and Ellis' case, which was argued to a panel of Austin's Third Court of Appeals more than a year ago, "has to do with the balance of the case" against DeLay.
DeLay is not directly involved in the case pending at the Austin appeals court.
The Court of Criminal Appeals Wednesday rejected Earle's motion for a rehearing on its June dismissal of a charge that DeLay conspired to violate state election laws in 2002. The court held that such a charge wasn't made a crime until 2003.
"District Attorney Earle's decision to pursue lengthy, frivolous appeals in this matter purposefully denied Tom DeLay his day in court in a timely fashion," said DeGuerin.
DeLay, Ellis and Colyandro are accused of conspiring to funnel illegal corporate campaign contributions to Republican legislative candidates the year the GOP captured its first majority of the House in modern times. A Republican majority pushed through a controversial congressional redistricting plan sought by DeLay.
DeLay, a Republican from Sugar Land, resigned from Congress last year and is working as a consultant in Washington, D.C.
Colyandro and Ellis, former political associates of DeLay, are fighting the money laundering and conspiracy to launder money indictments.
Lawyers for the two argued that the state's money-laundering statute in 2002 did not include transactions involving a personal or business check. The Legislature in 2005 expanded the definition of "funds" to include checks and money orders.
Read more in the San Antonio Express News
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A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have. - Thomas Jefferson