Tuesday, January 20, 2009

January 20, 2009 Press Release

The plaintiffs who are challenging the conditional use permit granted to Hays Wind LLC last summer filed a Motion for Summary Judgment today in Ellis County District Court. The motion lays out in detail the reasons the plaintiffs claim that the decision was unlawful and must be reversed. The filing identifies dozens of landowners who were not given notice of the planning commission public hearing despite legal requirements that notice be mailed to them. Those include owners of land within the project boundaries, neighbors, and owners of mineral interests.

The plaintiff’s also argue that Hays Wind did not provide the information the Ellis County zoning regulations require before a conditional use permit application can be set for a public hearing. The memorandum also states that Hays Wind improperly excluded from its Conditional Use Permit application some of the land it plans to use for the wind energy conversion system in order to avoid giving notice to some of the neighbors and in an effort to deprive them of the right to file protest petitions.

Tim Davis, a spokesperson for the plaintiffs, said “We have long been saying that this process was corrupted and failed to follow the law. This summary judgment motion backs that up. We believe that the evidence is so clear that the Ellis County Commission, as it did with the cell tower conditional use permit near Victoria last month, should step up to the plate and simply agree the decision should not stand for the reasons our motion explains. Enough effort has gone into trying to defend the indefensible.”

Oral arguments on the motion for summary judgment are scheduled for February 27, 2009. If the court grants the motion, Hays Wind LLC will have the opportunity to file its conditional use permit request again, correctly, following a moratorium discussed by the Ellis County Commission at their meeting on January 19, if that moratorium is implemented. “If the law is followed the next time around,” Davis said, “we believe the conditional use permit will be denied.”

Thursday, July 24, 2008

So Much Misinformation, So Little Time

Much to my chagrin, Thomas Jefferson’s political philosophy seems to be falling out of favor in modern America. It’s terribly unfortunate as Jeffersonian philosophy offers much. For example, we all know that Jefferson enshrined the “pursuit of happiness” in the national conscience. Jefferson said more about happiness though, take for instance; “I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely the happier for it.”

His wisdom doesn’t end there. Wrap your head around this Jeffersonian insight; “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” Unfortunately, with the commission election and the decision concerning the industrial wind development right around the corner, it seems most of what is printed regarding the two, particularly as they relate to each other, makes it seem Jefferson just formed his opinion recently.

Opinions are defended with information (though often not formed with it). Unfortunately, when the issue is as politically charged as the election and as controversial as the proposed wind development just outside of Hays, this information becomes twisted, sometimes violently so.

Though it is quite likely many people have taken Jefferson’s advice already (at least on this issue), for those of you still reading, I urge you to check out everything I say and look up the information I discuss from various sources , those reportedly neutral and those from both sides.

Let’s begin by pointing out that it probably won’t matter what the commission decides. There have been so many problems with this process that the application will undoubtedly end up in district (and possibly appeals) court. As a result, this process will most likely be repeated yet again in a year or so. As such, whatever is ultimately decided will be decided by the commission in place after the election. Speaking of which, now you know why the commission election is so political and so contested (not to mention why some opinions pieces are so venomous).

I get why it is tempting to distort the facts or only present one side of them. Some have stuff to lose while others have things to gain. Take T. Boone Pickens for example. He’s “been an oil man his entire life”, until he found wind. Why the sudden burst of what appears to be environmentalism? I don’t know Pickens, but I do know this; oil companies such as Exxon boast a profit margin of approximately 8%. Most estimates place his potential profit margin in industrial wind at or above 25%. It comes as no surprise, that being a good capitalist, Pickens wants in on wind.

Why then does his campaign sound so political? That’s easy: without the government subsidies and tax breaks, industrial wind couldn’t make money at all, let alone a 25% profit. Makes me think he’s not so much concerned about transfers of wealth so long as the wealth transfers to his account. Without our money (the government) transferring to his account, wind isn’t profitable, and without the profit he won’t build, so he’s depending on us to lobby the government. Sound familiar?

I personally don’t get why people are so down on oil anyway. Oil built this country and more specifically, oil built Ellis County. Ever wonder what Ellis County taxes would be without oil? Taxes on oil are responsible for a huge portion of the county’s revenue.

Let’s do a little comparison. If it is built, the proposed wind development will (hopefully) voluntarily pay $600,000 per year in lieu of actual taxes. If that same capital investment were in oil, that figure would be more on the order of $12,000,000 and that wouldn’t be subject to the companies’ “generosity”. I’m all in favor of alternative energy and finding renewable alternatives to exhaustible energy sources, but I’m not in favor of just any alternative. If you really wanted to eliminate the country’s dependence on foreign oil, wind is not the answer (an infinitesimally small percentage of electricity is produced by oil). If however, you are willing to do just about anything, I suggest replacing all motorized vehicles with horses. Unlike wind, this would actually work, but my guess is most of us would not support such a move, and as such, you are also on to my point that doing anything is not what we need.

Even if I grant you that wind is the answer, not only for the nation and the state and for Ellis County (all different questions), I still don’t understand the commissioners’ insistence on this particular project. Many people have posited that there is something happening behind the scenes here in Ellis County, much the same way that there is clearly something happening behind the scenes of Pickens’ new found support for wind energy. Again, I can’t say for certain what is happening, but let’s take a look at what is known.

There are four wind developments on the table for Ellis County. Most all players involved recognize that without additional transmission lines, only one project can currently be built. Everyone also acknowledges that the one currently under consideration is by far the most controversial and most contested. Given that only one can be built for sure why do two of our commissioners insist on unconditionally supporting the one project that is tearing our county apart? For that matter, why does a company claiming to be such “good neighbors” insist on pushing though the only one of their three projects that will leave division and hard feelings in the community that will last for generations? Why would either of them risk harming the growth and lifeblood of Ellis County by placing the one project so close to Hays?

Let me leave you with a final Jefferson quote. “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Though Jefferson was at times quite frustrated with the press, he was rightly more wary of a government that isn’t open, transparent or responsive to the people. As a fan of Jeffersonian political philosophy, I also share his belief in the power of “We the people”. As such, I am optimistic that the people of Ellis County will become informed, utilize common sense and hold their representatives accountable for their actions.

I urge you to find out what is happening in local government, not just with industrial wind, but with the budget, the rule of law and adherence to regulations, the county building proposal and other county issues. Talk to the candidates. Study their positions and past record. Support a candidate that offers common sense solutions, vision and leadership in government, not lingering questions.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Something to Hide?

(submitted to HDN July 16, 2008)

The recent decision of our County Commission to change their mind on requiring financial disclosures of appointed officials is surprising enough, but their reasons for doing so are mind-boggling. Board members threatened to resign if forced to disclose their financial interests.

Should we not view resistance to public disclosure as evidence of guilt? Are these not people whose resignations we should encourage, if not demand? As Commissioner Henman pointed out, the requirement was adopted specifically to address apparent conflicts of interest on the Planning Commission, and these are obviously the people opposing the requirement. When Dick Klaus says "You get people…on there for years and know a lot about the way (the board) works, you'd hate to lose them" he speaks for himself, not the community. Having personally witnessed 'how the board works' I would say these are specifically the people we need to lose – those that have been there so long they think they can do what they want without obeying their own rules or being held accountable for their actions. If they can't reveal their financial interests, they obviously have something to hide. Throw them out.

Dale Wing's assessment that financial disclosure will make for "an extremely difficult time in re-appointing members of the planning commission" is completely false. Many qualified people volunteered to serve on the board in June and were passed over so that Commissioners Berens and Pfannenstiel could re-appoint their pro-wind cronies – and now they have given these same people special permission to keep secret their leasing agreements with Iberdrola. How cozy.

The County Commission essentially thumbs its nose at state law by de-coupling the oath of office from financial disclosure. How can anyone objectively represent a community's interests in a development of this magnitude when they stand to gain financially from the developer's success? I have no appointed or elected responsibility and yet, as an employee of the state, I am required to make a conflict of interest disclosure annually – in case I might be conducting state research designed to benefit some company in which I hold a substantial interest. Why should people charged with drafting regulations to protect our community be let off the hook for public disclosure precisely when they are in a position to sell us all down the river for their own financial gain?

The obvious answer is they should not. This decision is an affront to open government and an insult to the citizens of Ellis County. And it is further evidence of the complicity of these commissioners in the corruption of county-wide zoning. As if we needed any.