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Hays County threatens Erin Foster

Monday, June 19, 2000 by

With referral to District Attorney Wenk

Civil sanctions also requested against HCWPP and its lawyer

An attorney for Hays County has notified Erin Foster, chair of the Hays County Water Planning Partnership (HCWPP), that she may be the subject of a criminal investigation as a result of her offer to settle a pending lawsuit against the commissioners. In Fact Daily has obtained a copy of a letter signed by Jennifer Riggs of Hill Gilstrap Adams & Graham, who represents the commissioners in HCWPP’s suit charging violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act. The lawsuit, filed May 25 in Hays County District Court, alleges that the 2025 Transportation Plan approved with changes by the Commissioners Court on May 16 was modified afterwards and the modified plan was then filed with the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) (See In Fact Daily, May 26, 2000). Following the filing of the lawsuit, the commissioners met and voted to adopt a map which several people, including Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Susie Carter, say differs significantly from the map adopted on May 16. CAMPO received two maps from Hays County. The roads that changed were Escarpment Boulevard and State Highway 45. However, only Escarpment Boulevard was added to the CAMPO plan on June 12, because of public opposition to the extension of SH 45 past FM 1826 in far south Travis County, Foster said. Riggs’ letter complains that Foster attempted to communicate with the commissioners while they were meeting in executive session on May 30. Foster told In Fact Daily, “I did send a note in to commissioners court when they were in executive session, offering to settle the lawsuit if they would just do the right thing. I sent a note in that said, ‘If you would just agree to the map that you agreed to on May 16…then we'll drop our lawsuit.’” Assistant County Attorney Jacqueline C. Murphy, who also represents the commissioners, attended the executive session and would have been present when the note was delivered, Foster said. The map approved on May 30 was not the map recommended by a Blue Ribbon Committee appointed by commissioners last November to review the road plan and make changes. The minutes of the May 16 meeting state that the Commissioners Court adopted the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Committee with two changes. The lawsuit alleges that other changes–not authorized by the Commissioners Court in open session–were subsequently inserted into the plan and that the map of the roadway plan submitted to CAMPO reflects those unauthorized changes. On May 30, Foster said, commissioners “said they were going to ratify what (they) did on the 16th. You can't ratify something you never voted on.” Riggs’ carefully worded letter was sent to Phillip Durst of Wiseman Durst Tuddenham & Owen, attorney for HCWPP and Foster. The letter cites two sections of the Texas Penal Code which make it a crime to influence or attempt to influence a public official in his official capacity either through coercion or bribery. “Because of its concerns the Hays County Commissioners Court felt it necessary to refer the matter to appropriate legal authority. By copy of this letter we are providing a copy of Ms. Foster’s ‘offer’ to Michael S. Wenk, Hays County Criminal District Attorney. By so doing we are not requesting that he take action or refrain from taking action. Nor do we offer any opinion regarding the applicability of the preceding sections (of the penal code).” Foster said, “All I can say, as a dumb citizen, is everything I did and said was in court and tape recorded. If I was going to bribe or coerce them do you think I would do it in public court where it was tape recorded? It doesn’t make any sense. I truly offered them a chance to do the right thing (to adopt the map of May 16). That was my whole purpose for doing it.” In addition to the criminal referral, Riggs’ letter advises Durst that the commissioners court “will seek sanctions (a monetary penalty) if the petition is not dismissed immediately.” Durst said Riggs filed an answer to the lawsuit for the commissioners toward the end of last week. In that answer, Durst said, Riggs requests the court to impose sanctions on both HCWPP and Durst for filing the lawsuit. Sanctions are rarely imposed in lawsuits, except when a judge believes that a suit is not only without merit but that the attorney filed the suit knowing that it was frivolous. Durst explained his reply to Riggs’ letter, “If you really think that this is moot, because they’ve gone back and cured it (by adopting the plan after it was changed), then why don’t you just pay our attorney’s fees of $1,750 to date, and we’ll dismiss the lawsuit.” Foster said Riggs’ allegations are ridiculous and are an attempt on the part of the commissioners to silence her. “I’m not scared because I’m right. They can threaten me and tear down my character and the (commissioners) court can lie. But I’m still going to stand up for what’s right. That’s the way I was taught. You don’t give in to bullies. You stand up to them, because they’re really just cowards.” Riggs could not be reached for comment on Sunday .

IN FACT EDITORIAL

Longhorn Pipeline: El Paso and Austin to the Death?

Don't get me wrong, after having lived in Austin for several years, know that I love this city. However, because El Paso will always be my first love, I see both sides of the Longhorn Pipeline issue. El Pasoans believe the pipeline, which originates in Houston and passes through Austin on its way to El Paso, will result in lower gasoline prices. As such, they are prepared to machete through what appears to be an impassable Austin jungle to get Longhorn operational. Austin's concerns over irreparable environmental damage and danger to homeowners–should the 50 year-old "gasoline" pipeline rupture–are incomprehensible to El Pasoans. Austinites on the other hand, are oblivious to the plight El Pasoans have long suffered at the hands of monopolistic companies. Imagine what decades of simultaneously paying the highest electrical rates, gasoline prices, building material costs, etc., in the Southwest must feel like. The why-can't-we-all-get-along part of me wishes that both cities would swap delegations of citizenry for at least a week. El Pasoans would return from Austin with a heretofore non-existent appreciation for trees, natural springs and lakes, that environmentalists (Greens) have fought long and hard to preserve. Pasenos not able to make the trip could imagine El Paso's Upper and Lower Valleys as they once were–lush and green like the country club area near Doniphan. Now imagine that long before environmentalism came into vogue, small bands of El Pasoans, not only successfully preserved the lushness of both valleys, but also developed a permanent citywide consciousness to continue doing so. That should give El Pasoans an idea of what's behind the when-hell-freezes-over attitude that Austinites have towards the Longhorn Pipeline being allowed to operate in Austin. In turn, the Austin delegation would return knowing how every fractional sales tax increase, plus paying an extra 10 to 20 cents per gallon of gas, negatively impacts all those living below the poverty line–more than half the El Paso population. Furthermore, Austinites never having been to El Paso, only have to picture the most depressed section of East Austin and imagine it 10 times worse off economically, and occupying all of the land area east of IH-35. Then add a population rapidly approaching two million people that pours its daily excrement into an open black ditch. The resulting image would be the equivalent of El Paso's sister city, Juarez, Mexico–sharing the same valley, air and water. Highly-educated Austinites would do well to remember that in the case of El Paso and Juarez, basic survival issues rule. All empathizing aside, there's the cold, hard reality of how things are likely to play out. The Greens have elected a majority of the Austin city council, including new Council Member Raul Alvarez. Perhaps this would not have happened if the Hispanic "Old Guard" had not procrastinated in anointing a candidate for the position being vacated by retiring Council Member Gus Garcia. Searching for someone who could offer a compromise led me to Robert Malone, CEO of the most environmentally sensitive pipeline in the U.S., the Alyeska Pipeline in Alaska. Much to my dismay, he told me that no pipeline is 100 percent leak-proof if it is struck from the outside. I realized there is little hope for a compromise when he said, "If properly maintained, a pipeline can remain operational forever." Who knows whether Austin, Texas and El Paso, Texas will ever wake up to the realization that they are in a relationship in which splitting up is not an option? Given their reputations in the Texas Legislature, both cities would gain immeasurably from helping each other overcome their respective differences–instead of engaging in more of these "to the death" battles.

New Council Member hires assistant..Council Member Raul Alvarez tells In Fact Daily he has hired Veronica Briseno as his Executive Assistant. Briseno has worked as Agenda Coordinator for the City Manager's Office since January 1999. She earned bachelor’s degrees from the University of Texas at Austin in both government and journalism. She also holds a Masters in Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs. For two years she worked as an intern and policy analyst for the Texas Performance Review in the office of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

After years of service… Max Woodfin, chair of the Resource Management Commission, has announced that he intends to retire from the commission at the end of his term, June 30. Woodfin has been on the commission since1987, but has only been chair for about six months, he said. The commission will meet Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in Room 130 of Town Lake Center, 721 Barton Springs Road. It's concrete… Save Barton Creek Association and the Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA) will meet jointly at the Filling Station, 801 Barton Springs Road, tonight at 7 p.m. Amy Johnson, outside counsel to SOSA will discuss SOSA’s lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. After that, members of the city’s Watershed Protection Department will discuss impervious cover on single family residential lots. This mundane-sounding subject should provoke a lot of talk as city staffers explain problems and field questions about concrete.

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