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Racist reference brings calls for official’s resignation

Friday, March 21, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

Local elected officials have called on the general manager of the Creedmoor-Maha Water Supply Corp. to step down over racist language he used in an agenda posting, but any real retribution for Charles Laws’ comments will have to come from the Legislature.


City Hall Reporter Crystal Cotti of Fox 7 was the first to reveal the posting for Creedmoor-Maha WSC’s Wednesday night meeting, which appeared on the Secretary of State’s website. In the posting, Laws provided a meandering list of items for potential water service that included possible action on “Dempsey’s proposed old Harmony Hills tract and possible holding pen for wetbacks.”


The item appeared to be consideration of water service out to a potential immigrant detainee facility in the Creedmoor-Maha WSC service area, said Council Member Mike Martinez. That language has since been removed from the SOS website. A copy of the agenda language was provided to reporters at a news conference on Thursday afternoon.


Martinez led a delegation of local and state officials at a hastily called news conference on Thursday afternoon. Council Members Lee Leffingwell and Sheryl Cole, plus Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin), joined Martinez. Members of the local chapters of LULAC and the National Organization for Women joined them.


“It is my understanding that Mr. Laws has offered an apology to members of the press who have contacted him about this, but I can assure you that this was not the tone when he and I spoke today, and if it takes negative press for someone to admit and apologize for the use of such hateful, inflammatory language, I think the overall judgment is called into question,” Martinez said. “And I think he ought to step down.”


Rodriguez said Laws had expressed no regret over his choice of words prior to the news media’s intervention. He called Laws’ words offensive and dehumanizing and said he would not stop his efforts until Laws resigned from his post.


“Not only as a state representative who represents this area, but as a Mexican-American, I intend to do whatever I can to get this man to resign… I will not stop until this man resigns,” said Rodriguez, drawing applause from the small audience of supporters who crowded into the press room.


Rodriguez also read a statement from Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) that condemned Laws’ choice of words, saying “everyone deserves equal and fair treatment by all government agencies – particularly those that provide water.” Rodriguez, who represents the Creedmoor-Maha service area, echoed that sentiment. And Leffingwell noted that the use of such derogatory and inflammatory language was inappropriate, regardless of the variety of views on immigration and especially in an official public document.


“At the minimum, I would expect an apology, and hopefully also for his resignation from his two posts,” Leffingwell told reporters.


Laws is not only the general manager of the Creedmoor-Maha WSC; he’s also the Mayor Pro Tem of Mustang Ridge. Laws, 74, declined any request that he resign from either his job or his elected position, telling reporters his generation “just talked that way.” Laws apologized for his word choice for Wednesday night’s agenda.


“I wouldn’t do it again. I picked out the wrong words,” Laws said. “When you’re in a rush and you don’t check it, you can make a mistake. Normally, I go over things.” But Martinez said he had heard from the Secretary of State’s Office that Laws had been questioned about his choice of language before the agenda was posted.


Creedmoor-Maha WSC holds a certificate of convenience and necessity, or CCN, for a couple of thousand acres of land along State Highway 130 that straddle the Travis-Hays county border. Not every area of the state is served by an established municipal water utility, so the Legislature created CCNs so developers in rural areas know which providers are intended to provide water to what areas.


By securing a CCN from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, a municipality, water supply corporation or water district – such as Creedmoor-Maha WSC — declares it intends to provide water service and is given an exclusive water franchise over its CCN territory.


The Laws family is a major landowner in the Creedmoor-Maha territory. The water utility serves about 2,050 homes, or 8,000 residents, in the area. Back in 2002, the Laws family went to court to fight the City of Austin for the right to secure its CCN.  The Laws won and created the Creedmoor-Maha WSC.


Creedmoor-Maha WSC has been less successful in securing a consistent water supply source. The WSC began on a $3 million loan from the Texas Water Development Board’s Rural Water Assistance Fund back in 2002. Creedmoor-Maha has had rather fruitless negotiations with the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, as recently as late last year, to increase its permitted pumping.


Martinez plans to look at the contract between the City of Austin and Creedmoor-Maha WSC. The city provides water on a wholesale basis, which the water supply corporation then sells to its retail customers.


The only ways Creedmoor-Maha could lose its CCN would be to either charge fees that might be considered “onerous” by the state or if the WSC agreed to be bought out by another entity. In Creedmoor-Maha’s case, that would likely be the City of Austin, which has far more capacity than the small WSC and some desire to provide service to the area.


After the news conference, Rodriguez confirmed that it was the Legislature – and not the Council – that has the most power to do something about Creedmoor-Maha WSC. Both electric co-ops and CCNs are state-created entities that serve rural areas; both have limited oversight from local or state authorities mostly due to the strong support of rural lawmakers in the Legislature, Rodriguez said.

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