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By Bob Ochoa

Tuesday, February 11, 2003 by

The City of Kyle, apparently squeamish over media coverage of its ongoing attempts to settle $129,124.71 in groundwater over-pumpage fees and fines with the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD), has made a final offer of its own: it will pay the full fine if the district—among other conditions—maintains silence on the details of the deal before it is reached.

The district’s five-member board of directors is set to meet Thursday and vote on a final order. The case dates back to last August when it was learned that Kyle had over-pumped its groundwater permit by 89 million gallons. Last month, the district set Feb. 13 as the deadline for a settlement. (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 30, 2002 ; Oct. 4, 2002; Oct. 23, 2002 ; Jan. 16, 2003 . )

Floyd Marsh, general manager of the BSEACD, said on Monday that in the most recent discussions between BSEACD and Kyle city attorneys—late last week—there was mention of a media embargo.

“What they are proposing is a compromise and settlement agreement where they will pay the entire fine,” Marsh said. ”A proviso of this compromise and settlement agreement is not to go to the press and elaborate on the details as they allege the district did last week . . . So I guess I shouldn’t be talking to you.”

A column written by the district’s board president, Jim Camp, was published in the Tuesday Feb. 4 editions of the Kyle Eagle and the San Marcos Daily Record. In it, Camp spelled out the district’s final settlement offer to the city.

The publicity given to the district’s final offer in advance of talking first and formally with Kyle city officials provoked a surprisingly stiff response from the city. Following a lengthy executive session Tuesday night last week, Kyle council members voted unanimously to boot a presentation from BSEACD staff off the agenda.

Marsh, who along with two staff members of the district had waited patiently over an hour in anticipation of that presentation, was visibly shocked by the vote. As he hurriedly exited the council chambers, Marsh was overheard telling Mike Gershong, an Austin water law attorney hired by the city, “Mike, I have to say, what an insult!”

Any chance of a friendly Texas resolution to the water fine imbroglio very nearly vanished. “It was an opportunity for the Kyle City Council to hear directly from our staff about the (over-pumpage) problems from our perspective,” Camp later said in response to the council’s vote to table the presentation. “We are the ones that permit the water and they need to be more open-minded towards us.”

For now, both sides are publicly pointing fingers at each other for the failed negotiations.

In a press release issued on Wednesday, Kyle City Manager Tom Mattis said the council’s decision to forego a presentation from the BSEACD staff (the presentation was placed on the agenda the prior week at the request of Councilman Troy Bearden) “was a culmination of frustration” with the district in the city’s attempt to settle the over-pumpage “in a mutually agreeable manner.”

Camp said he had no problem with a council directive that the district must now discuss negotiations exclusively with the city manager (and not council members), but added, “I can tell you the board and staff has been very frustrated with Mr. Mattis.”

In a brief phone interview Monday morning, Mattis said an important point lost in the all the external noise is that the city was left with almost no incentive to negotiate after Camp laid out the final version of the district’s settlement proposal. “We were making progress (under an initial nine-point proposal), then the next proposal we get is back to square one,” Mattis said. “We felt we were close to working out . . . components that were mutually beneficial. That’s all we had sought all along.”

Mattis said that although the strong consensus of the Kyle City Council is to pay the full fine “and move on,” the council still must vote to accept any final order and fines that come out of the district’s Thursday night meeting. “Are we headed towards that? Yes. Something significant would have to happen to change that, I think.”

City of Austin's representation proportionally reduced by vote

To merely say the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Action Committee voted unanimously to expand to a full three county region ignores the subtext of the motions leading up to last night’s final decision.

Underneath the votes was a comment on the balance of power on the CAMPO board, more specifically, how much power the City of Austin has on board decisions. It’s a polite battle between the urban and suburban representatives on the board: rarely articulated by board members, but laid out in the series of motions that were proposed last night.

The motions clearly indicated those in the developing areas outside Travis County are not yet ready to share the power and resources of CAMPO with Bastrop and Caldwell counties. Terry Bray, representing the Capital Area Transportation Coalition, who also sits on the board of directors for Envision Central Texas, addressed some of those points when he testified that the three-boundary decision was a logical conclusion for CAMPO expanding to three counties.

“Those three counties already are in populated areas and areas that are expected to be populated,” Bray said. “To the east, the counties are somewhat more sparsely populated. SH 130, and other road projects, are going to happen. That population trend may increase the chances of these outlying counties joining us, in the sense of becoming much more populated, and therefore justifying the expansion of CAMPO.”

Under the proportional representation proposed by Executive Director Michael Aulick, full membership on CAMPO would give each county one vote apiece. It would also give access to limited federal dollars CAMPO funnels to local road projects. Aulick suggested one alternative that clearly sat well with the suburban counties: to include Caldwell and Bastrop counties as ex-officio members on the board and revisit the inclusion of those two counties in CAMPO two years from now. Only portions of Hays and Williamson counties are currently included in CAMPO.

The motions then followed. First, Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) of Williamson County proposed expanding CAMPO to include all of Hays and Williamson Counties, with ex-officio status for Caldwell and Bastrop. Then Mayor Gus Garcia offered a substitute motion for a five-county region, which failed. His motion was followed by Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) suggesting a three-county CAMPO, with no decision on representation until April. That motion failed, but just barely. And, finally, Krusee’s original motion was approved unanimously by the 21-member board. Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) was absent.

A peer review committee recommended expanding the CAMPO PAC to include the five-county region. It was countered, during the three months of discussion on the CAMPO board, by a proposal to expand the group to the full three-county region.

The sticking point was representation and the mandate for proportional representation set out by the federal government. CAMPO expanding to a five-county region would have practically no impact on Austin. Either way, Austin and Travis County have 14 representatives on the board—a number of which represent suburban interests. That was reflected by the urban colleagues who joined Garcia in his motion: Council Members Daryl Slusher, Danny Thomas, Will Wynn, Capital Metro Representative John Trevino and Rep. Elliott Naishtat (D-Austin).

Suburban and rural neighbors are quick to point out that Austin has both city representation and county representation, although the goals of Austin and Travis County have often varied on the priority of road projects. Nineteen elected officials from three counties sit on the CAMPO board, plus three that represent more than one county: TxDOT Engineer Bill Garbade; Trevino, representing Capital Metro; and Dwight Thompson, mayor of Westlake Hills, representing the Alliance of Cities .

Expanding the board—even to a three-county area—presents some issues that conflict with the current Joint Powers Agreement. Under the federal mandate for proportional representation for metropolitan planning organizations, the current population of Hays County would dictate an additional representative on the board, bringing the number of Hays County representatives to two. However, under the current Joint Powers Agreement, Williamson County would add a second representative immediately, notwithstanding the number to be added for Hays County.

Add to that Aulick’s proposal that other major transportation authorities, such as the Capital Area Rural Transportation System, the Travis-Williamson Regional Mobility Authority and the new commuter rail system be added to the board. As Krusee told his colleagues, the board is adding members to the point of being “unwieldy.” A full vote on which representatives would be added to the board will be put off until April.

Krusee’s and Dukes’ motions varied only slightly. Under Krusee’s motion, Rep. Dan Gattis (R-Georgetown) would be added to the board immediately, as required by the standing Joint Powers Agreement. Dukes’ motion would have suspended the Joint Powers Agreement until the PAC could decide on future representation.

Dukes’ motion drew support from the urban representatives of the board: Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin), Dukes, Naishtat, Trevino, Wynn, Slusher, Thomas, Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) and County Judge Sam Biscoe . The vote failed by a one-vote margin.

CAMPO does have some choices on who to add to the board. Other options for new members of the board, suggested by Krusee, could include Rep. Patrick Rose (D-Dripping Springs) or Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio). Wentworth picked up a big portion of the southern end of Travis County once represented by Barrientos.

So Gattis will join the board next month, and CAMPO will take up the two additional steps that must be considered with expansion: amending the Joint Powers Agreement to reflect new representation and deciding if the board requires a new balance of representation. The board could agree to keep its current representation, although an additional Hays County member would more fairly reflect new Census numbers.

Gov. Rick Perry must approve the CAMPO board decision to expand.

Wednesday

, Thursday,

Friday.

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

City Council health care subcommittee meets today . . . The meeting will be at 10am in Room 304 of City Hall. Topics for discussion include the name of the new hospital within Brackenridge and recommendations on proposed legislation for a health care district . . . Message to KLBJ talk show host Jeff Ward . . . Emma Cravey, the intern in Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman’ s office whom you badgered last week after she said she did not want to be on the radio, took your call in stride. Contrary to your humorous speculation, Cravey did not cry. And she was positively delighted to have the opportunity to send this message to you: she doesn’t cry and your call was not the worst she has handled . . . New mayoral candidate . . . William A. Dyson has appointed himself as treasurer for a run for Mayor of Austin. He lives in downtown Austin . . . Reappointed . . . Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman has reappointed Karen Paup to the Community Development Commission. The Council made no other appointments last week . . . Cap Metro community meeting . . . Those interested in development of the East 4th and 5th Street corridor, which is the subject of an upcoming Cap Metro Request for Qualifications, will meet at 6pm tonight at Dario’s Restaurant, 1800 E. 6th Street. Javier Reyes of Capital Metro said the meeting would provide an opportunity for neighborhood leaders and business people to have further input on the RFQ, which has generated a great deal of interest. Reyes said those who plan new development in the area have been invited to make short presentations to the group. For more information call 389-7435 . . . Ready to celebrate . . . Like Christmas, the birthday of Texas comes but once a year. Members of the Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Park Association are getting ready for a two-day event to commemorate the 167th anniversary of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence March 1-2 at the park. The free celebration promises to bring the Republic era of Texas to life with historic re-enactors, craft demonstrators, a black powder gun salute and circa 1836 music. Visitors can tour Independence Hall, explore the Star of the Republic Museum and experience life as it was then by walking through Barrington Living History Farm. Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historical Park is located halfway between Brenham and Navasota on State Hwy. 105, approximately one hour northwest of Houston. Directions and more information are available online at www.BirthplaceofTexas.com .

© 2003

In Fact News, Inc. All rights

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