Friday, October 11, 2013

Roy Morales Campaign -Fact Check

I am a citizen watchdog who has been reporting on the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) for the past couple of years. Because of that, I have copies of the HCDE board meeting minutes back to 2006 which I acquired through public information requests.

Roy Morales served as an elected HCDE Trustee from 1/2007 through 12/2012.

I live outside the Houston city limits so I have not been paying attention to the Houston City Council race this year. But when I received this email the other day from the Roy Morales Campaign something didn't seem right to me. So I dug up some old HCDE board meeting minutes to double check the official record.

roy morales campaign email

After reviewing the HCDE meeting minutes from 2009-2010, I felt the voters who live within the Houston city limits deserve all the facts in order to make an informed decision on their choice for Houston City Council.

#1. Roy Morales claims:

I'm the only candidate that has experience as an elected official.

This may be true because I know nothing about the political background of other candidates in this race. But “experience as an elected official” to most people implies faithful attendance and active participation in the meetings of the government entity to which you were elected.

HCDE only holds 11 regular board meetings per year. Looking at Roy Morales’ attendance record, the chart below shows that as an elected official, Roy Morales was present for entire HCDE regular board meeting for only 8 out of the 22 meetings in 2009-2010. That is well below 50%.

Of the 22 regular HCDE board meetings held during that time frame, Roy Morales was ABSENT for 6 of the 22 which means he was ABSENT about 27% of the time.

On top of that, he arrived late and/or left early for 8 of the 22 meeting or about 36% of the time.

Meeting
Date
Morales
Attendance
Morales
Left
Meeting
Adjourned
1/21/09
Present


2/24/09
Present


4/21/09
ABSENT


5/19/09
30 min. late


6/16/09
Left early
10:50
1:10
7/21/09
Present


8/17/09
ABSENT


9/21/09
ABSENT


10/19/09
10 min late/
left early
1:45
4:09
11/16/09
ABSENT


12/14/09
Present






1/15/10
Present


2/22/10
Left early
2:47
3:40
4/20/10
Present


5/18/10
Left early
3:50
4:29
6/15/10
*? (present)


7/20/10
Left early
2:03
3:57
8/17/10
Left early
1:55
5:12
9/21/10
Left early
2:00
3:38
10/19/10
ABSENT


11/16/10
Present


12/14/10
ABSENT


* Minutes not available so counting "present" to give benefit of the doubt


Or you can look at it this way. While serving as an elected HCDE Trustee, Roy Morales attended the entire regular board meetings about  37% of the time from 2009-2010.

Is that the type of “experience” Houston voters want on their City Council?

#2. Roy Morales claims:

As a Republican Harris County School Trustee, I either froze or reduced your property taxes

Most people reading this would assume that this statement means that the taxing entity being discussed either maintained or reduced its burden on the taxpayers during Roy Morales’ term. (1/2007 - 12/2012)

Yet, HCDE’s own publication shows the HCDE tax rate was reduced twice during that time, but the tax levy INCREASED every year that Roy Morales served on the board. Not only that, in the six years Roy Morales served as an HCDE trustee, the HCDE Tax Levy increased by about 20%.

image

I guess it can be claimed that Roy Morales “either froze or reduced property taxes” because he was ABSENT from the meetings in 2009 and 2010 when the HCDE board voted to approve a tax rate that was higher than the year before.

Roy Morales was ABSENT from the meeting on 9/21/09 when the HCDE Board approved the tax rate increasing from .005840 to 006050.

roy morales absent 9.21.10 page 1 roy morales absent 9.21.10 page 2

And Roy Morales left the board meeting early on 9/21/10, right before the board voted to approve the tax rate increasing from .006050 to .006581.

roy morales 9.21.10 page 1 roy morales 9.21.10 page 2

And this only shows how Roy Morales represented his constituents in 2009-2010. It doesn't even touch on all the shenanigans that Roy Morales pulled in October of 2012 when he pushed for a tax increase to fund $1 million in “seed capital” to start another HCDE revenue producing business – that time in cloud computing.

The HCDE board meeting minutes from 10/23/12  show that Roy Morales was the trustee who actually made the motion to increase the tax rate from .006581 to .006617  by approving what is called the "effective tax rate." Immediately after making his motion and voting FOR the higher rate, Roy Morales returned to his standard M.O. ---- the minutes read:
Roy Morales left the meeting and did not return
roy morales 10.23.12
I recommend that Houston voters who want all the facts, take the time to read through minutes available from HCDE online so they know more about the record of the “only candidate who has experience as an elected official” – experience as a Harris County School Trustee.

Colleen Vera

Friday, October 4, 2013

Cy-Fair Officials Off Task

UPDATE: 10/11/13
After months of heated meetings and the ESD threatening to defund CFVFD, the ESD workshop on 10/7/13 was actually respectful. Because it was a workshop and not an official board meeting, no vote was taken, but it appears the ESD and CFVFD have settled on an agreement.  It also appears that the majority of the ESD board will vote to continue funding CFVFD  at their next meeting on Oct. 16, 2013.

VERY BRIEF Summary of  the ESD9 workshop/meeting held on 9/29/13.

Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department (CFVFD) presented their plan to reorganize their leadership structure to the Emergency Services District (ESD) 9 Commissioners:

  • CFVFD board would change from 12 members elected by station to 7 members --- 4 elected at large from CFVFD and 3 elected from the community
  • After a national search, the new board would hire a Fire Chief who would serve as the CEO of CFVFD
  • The new Fire Chief would then select his/her own management team 

4 of the 5 ESD9 Commissioners did not accept CFVFD’s plan. They insisted on having the power to appoint their own people to re-write CFVFD’s by-laws and select the CFVFD leadership.

All votes were postponed again. ESD9 used a loophole in the law allowing them to extend the date they must adopt their tax rate to Oct. 23, 2013.

ESD9 refused to remove their threat of "defunding" CFVFD on 1/1/14 from the table.

ESD9 set two more meeting dates to continue discussions:

  • Board Workshop - Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 @ 7:00pm     ( 9630 Telge Road)
  • Board Meeting – (Tentative date) Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013  @ 7:00pm     (9630 Telge Road


My personal commentary:


The comments and emails on my original story about this meeting have been very heated. But, it is totally understandable when you consider the situation.

People feel threatened. Some are afraid of losing their jobs. Some are afraid of losing fire and EMS services. Some are afraid of losing power and control. Some, like me, are afraid of our government trying to control everything and everyone.

The actions of the ESD9 board have forced people to take sides against their friends and colleagues– even if they don’t want to. They have been forced to choose between the ESD (and the ex-fire chief) and the current CFVFD leadership.

If the ESD9 Commissioners had acted in a professional manner from the beginning, they wouldn't be caught up in of this he-said-she-said childish mess now.

Think about it using an analogy.

Let’s pretend that Texas Health and Human Services (HHS) did not renew the contract of the Texas Medicaid director. So Kathleen Sibelius hired him as her “Texas Medicaid Liaison” and placed him on a “task force” to evaluate the leadership of Texas HHS. From their report, she threatened to stop all Medicaid funding to Texas unless she could appoint the leadership of Texas HHS and re-write all their rules and regulations.

Liberals would be overjoyed. Conservatives would be up in arms.

Some people will say this is a terrible analogy, so I will include a couple of examples:


  • When Texas contracts for the building of roads and bridges using tax dollars, the state doesn't insist on dictating the leadership of the construction firms that are awarded contracts.
  • The government does not insist on dictating the leadership of non-profits such as The Greater Houston Partnership just because they receive support from public funds. 

Yet, even the two ESD9 Commissioners who ran as “conservatives,” seem to think that they, as elected government officials, shouldn't just oversee how public funds are distributed to provide services, but should threaten to withhold those funds if they can’t dictate the leadership of private corporations under contract.

Either they weren’t “conservative” in the first place, or it is true that power can corrupt the thoughts of even the most decent of men/women.

Poor Leadership Leads to Conflict

Here is a second analogy.

Let’s pretend a college football coaching staff cut their 2012 starting quarterback from their 2013 roster. The college board of trustees then appointed both the released quarterback and his replacement to a “task force” to evaluate the football coaching staff.

Now, anyone who has any experience with human beings can guess the outcome.

Conflict would be unavoidable. Not only would everyone involved in the football program be forced to choose sides, but you can guarantee plenty of name calling and mudslinging would take place. Some people would likely have their reputations destroyed, and the damage done among teammates and colleagues would last a lifetime.

All because of poor leadership shown by the college trustees.

That leads us back to the ESD9 Commissioners.

Their actions have caused this same sort of damage in CFVFD and in our community.

If the ESD Commissioners felt the CFVFD was in need of a review, they should have handled it in a more professional and objective manner.

They should have commissioned an outside firm to evaluate both the ESD and CFVFD structures, compare their costs and services to similar entities across the nation, and make recommendations for improvements as well as a plan for future needs.

Then ESD9 should have held public hearings on the report, evaluated all the recommendations, and then included what is needed in the Request For Proposals they submit the next time they bid for services in 2014/15. If CFVFD’s bid could not meet those specifications, then ESD9 would have to use other providers or become the provider themselves.

That method is simple, straightforward, and unbiased. It doesn't put neighbor against neighbor, colleague against colleague, or the ESD against the CFVFD.

Why did ESD9 choose to hire the ex-fire chief as their “consultant” in the first place? They had never needed one in the past.

Why did ESD9 choose a task force composed of persons intimately involved in the situation? Were they not able to reason that this method would be highly charged, subjective and confrontational?

Citizen Comments

wasn't he only one questioning the ESD’s actions. Some comments from citizens who attended the meeting:

“This ESD board is on a power trip!”
“How do we get rid of ESDs? This is a total waste of our tax money.”
“So they lied to us about the new sales tax going to CFVFD?”
Examples of comments from citizens speaking directly to the ESD9 Board of trustees…
“I think we should build a throne for you to sit on.”
“Implication that you will defund us is nothing short of blackmail.
Some comments from the ESD board during the meeting:
Commissioner Kyle, (speaking of the ESD threat to defund CFVFD) “The ESD drew a line in the sand. That is how we got here.”
After CFVFD presented its plan to reorganize its leadership structure, ESD Commissioner Davis replied, “I hear (you say) the fire department will be making their own decisions.” Thus, she could not agree to the plan.
There was also an ESD comment questioning the fact that someone on the current CFVFD might get elected at-large to serve on the new CFVFD board, making it quite clear to the audience that this situation is actually about the ESD controlling the persons on the CFVFD board, not just the structure itself.

The most ridiculous of all was ESD9 Commissioners arguing that they could not fund CFVFD next year if CFVFD refused to name their Fire Chief a CEO. CFVFD argued that the title of “Chief” is tradition in fire departments and very familiar to fire fighters across the country. The ESD refused to budge.

The audience couldn't believe it was even happening.


 One comment I received from a tax-payer, 
“Using this logic, this ESD would probably insist that the US Army change its title of General to CEO.
It appears that this ESD has neither understanding of - nor respect for - the pride and traditions of first responders. 

In my opinion, the citizen who said, “This ESD is on a power trip!” truly summed up the whole situation.

Duties of ESD Commissioners

It also appears that this ESD has no respect for the Harris County Tax Office either.

It is the duty of ESD Commissioners to adopt a budget between August/September in order to adopt a tax rate by Sept. 30 so the Harris County Tax Assessor can mail out property tax bills in late October or early November.

But instead of performing those basic duties, ESD9 has postponed every vote using an extension loophole which allows them to count “60 days after receipt the county appraisal rolls” to remain legal.

Do they need the extra time?

No. Their budget is ready and they know the tax rate they want to approve. They are holding up the Harris County Tax Office and causing an emotional drain on Cy-Fair first responders in order to “blackmail” the CFVFD into submitting to a takeover by the ESD Commissioners.

ESD9 has not stated at any public meeting that CFVFD breached its contract to provide services through 2015.

The ESD Commissioners have not publicly commented on any alternative plan they have to provide services to Cy-Fair on 1/1/14 if CFVFD does not submit to their takeover. They apparently have not approved bids for alternative service providers at any public meetings either.

If ESD9 does not fund CFVFD in 2014, CFVFD will have no choice but to use the courts to force ESD9 to fulfill its contract with CFVFD.

All this is leading the public to question not CFVFD, but the ESD itself.

ESD9 actions have angered some citizens so much that they have already contacted an attorney to look into the possibility of suing ESD Commissioners individually for damages to lives and property suffered by any resident if there is any reduction in services on 1/1/14.

Other citizens are looking into the legal process of removing ESD Commissioners from office using Texas Statute 775.0423.

Some have already contacted their Texas House and Senate representatives about the need to repeal Texas Statute 775.0345 which requires elections for ESD boards in counties of over 3 million. That would allow Harris County to go back to ESD Commissioners who are appointed by the County Commissioners Court.
  
Another Concern

During the meeting, an ESD commissioner mentioned something about a “new partnership” with the Cy-Fair Chamber of Commerce. So I asked around.

It seems that for “political” and “PR” purposes, ESD9 is going to lease space in a building owned by ESD9 to the Chamber of Commerce. That is HIGHLY QUESTIONABLE for two main reasons.

1. First, we just held a tax election to add a new sales tax for ESD9 because they claimed they needed extra funds in order to provide buildings, equipment and services for new developments in Cy-Fair as well as to prevent the reduction of current services. But now we find they have been overbuilding so much that they have to lease out extra unused office space!!!

If some go along with the argument that collecting rent is good for the ESD because it brings in revenue, than what is to prevent them from using our emergency services tax dollars to construct more buildings they do not need simply to “produce revenue?” Is that really what we passed that new ESD taxes for?

2. Second, there is that pesky thing call “the law.” Texas statute governing ESDs states:

Sec. 775.031. DISTRICT POWERS. (a) A district is a political subdivision of the state. To perform the functions of the district and to provide emergency services, a district may: 
(8)construct, lease, own, and maintain real property, improvements, and fixtures necessary to house, repair, and maintain emergency services vehicles and equipment;
Sec. 775.251. SALE AND DISPOSITION OF SURPLUS OR SALVAGE PROPERTY 
(c) A district may contract to supply surplus property to any volunteer fire department or district in this state at fair market value.

Reading this statute I find nothing that allows an ESD to lease property to anyone other than a volunteer fire department or another ESD -- or to lease for a purpose other than providing emergency services in Cy-Fair.

The Texas Attorney General has stated in numerous opinions that political subdivisions only have the authority designated by statute.

So, where is this ESD getting the legal authority to use tax dollars collected for the specific purpose of providing emergency services to build out office space for non-profit corporations that do not provide emergency services – no matter how many votes they might bring in on election days?

And again, why aren't the two commissioners who ran for office as “conservatives” questioning this? Where is their insistence that an Attorney General Opinion be requested BEFORE this goes any further?

(Note: I filed a request for public information with ESD9 for all documents and communications concerning this “Chamber Partnership” but have not yet received a reply.)

Off Task

All this tells me that the ESD9 Commissioners have gotten off task. They need to be reminded by the people of their designated roles and responsibilities.

Because the commissioners provide NO CONTACT INFORMATION on their website other than the a phone number to answer questions concerning ESD9, 
281-550-9649 Cy-Fair residents must attend the meetings listed on the top of this post if they would like to voice any concerns directly to their elected ESD Commissioners.


Colleen Vera

Saturday, September 28, 2013

9-1-1 for Cy-Fair Residents!

Action Alert for all property owners serviced by the Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department (CFVFD).


Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013 at 2:00pm the Emergency Services District (ESD) 9 Board will decide if it will continue contracting with CFVFD for emergency services or cancel their contract as of 1/1/14 and attempt to provide the services themselves.


The meeting agenda is NOT posted on the ESD9 website but it is posted on the door of their main building.

cfvfd agenga on door
History:


For many years volunteer fire departments like CFVFD paid for their own operations through local fundraising. The Texas Legislature established the ESD system  (Texas Health and Safety Code 775 ) as a practical way of providing a tax base  so volunteer departments could spend less time find raising  and more time training and providing services – thus reducing fire and medical response times to save lives and property.


ESD9 is a political subdivision of the State of Texas which consists of 5  elected board members who have the authority to set the tax rate and contract for or provide services needed. They have always contracted with CFVFD to provide emergency services in our area.

CFVFD is one of the largest volunteer fire departments in the nation covering 156 square miles with over 18,000 emergency responses per year.


CFVFD is a 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation  operating under its own by-laws and overseen by its own elected Board of Directors. It is responsible for selecting its own management and providing the day-to-day operations necessary for the community to receive emergency services.


In short - ESD9  collects the tax and then distributes the funds by contracting with CFVFD to provide direct services to the public. When you call 911, you are not calling ESD9, you are calling someone ESD9 contracted with to provide you with emergency services.


Conflict:


Major conflict between the CFVFD Board and the ESD9 Board began last year when the CFVFD Board voted 10-2 not to renew the contract of their Fire Chief. Instead, they requested funds from ESD9 to  conduct a nationwide search for a new Fire Chief.


Even though the ESD9 Code of Conduct for Commissioners states:
Commissioners must not attempt to influence (the Fire) Department on the making of appointments, awarding of contracts, or selecting of consultants…
the ESD9 Board did not agree with the non-renewal of the Chief’s contract and discussions have gone back and forth, with no solution.  The  CFVFD Board  extended the Chief’s contract awaiting a solution, but none was found. When the contract extensions expired, the CFVFD Board appointed an interim Chief until a new Fire Chief could be hired.


The ESD9 Board responded by hiring the Fire Chief released by CFVFD  as an “ESD9 Consultant” and named him to the “Go Forward Task Force” to design a new “organizational structure” to deliver emergency services to the Cy-Fair community.


That “Task Force” then recommended that CFVFD  change its corporation by-laws to relinquish all control over its own 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation by allowing the ESD9 Board to appoint a “Transition Team” who would then appoint a new CFVFD Board of Directors. All future CFVFD Board members would then be appointed by this new Board.

Threat:

At the ESD9 Board meeting 9/19/13, Commissioner Kevin Kyle made the motion to delay approval of the 2013 tax rate and the 2014 district budget until CFVFD Board agrees to do what the “Task Force” recommends. If CFVFD disagrees, the ESD will NOT FUND CFVFD after 12/31/13 and ESD9 will become the Cy-Fair “service provider” on 1/1/14 in place of CFVFD.

In other words, it appears that the ESD Board wants to take over all control of CFVFD and threatens to “fire” them all if they don’t submit. (Is this really what we elected them to do?)

The ESD9 Board has called a special meeting for Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013 at 2:00pm to hear from the CFVFD Board and make their final decision. The tax rate deadline is Sept. 30 so they cannot  delay again.

My Questions:

As a taxpayer to ESD9, I had some questions I had to answer before I could decide which side to support. So I did some of my own research.

1. Is the CFVFD Board structure truly so unorthodox that the ESD Board is justified in forcing takeover of the CFVFD Board?

I dug up the current Operating Guide for ESDs published by the Texas Department of Agriculture. It is so detailed that it even includes a sample of Texas volunteer fire department by-laws. Page 65 of the sample by-laws reads:
Section 1: The business of the (fire) department shall be performed and governed by the (fire department) Board of Directors 
b. Board members must be active members of the (fire)department.
c. Board members will be elected during the (fire department)Annual Business meeting 
Section 3: The (fire department)Board shall have the following powers: 
a. select, employ and discharge in the name of the (fire)department such persons as may be required to fulfill objectives and purposes of said organization. Supervision shall be the responsibility of officers designated by the (fire department) Board…
So, the answer to my question is,”No.” The sample given by the State of Texas shows that CFVFD’s practice of electing their own Board of Directors to oversee their fire department by employing and discharging their own personnel is normal practice.

Even further support for CFVFD’s current structure in which the Board President is a representative and spokesperson for the fire department is found on page 10 when describing persons the ESD Board should include in needs assessments:
Such meetings should always include a representative of the governing body of the proposed emergency services providers, such as the president of the volunteer fire department board of directors or the appropriate representative of a municipality.
2.  As a political subdivision of the State of Texas, does an ESD Board have the authority to control the day-to-day operations of a private non-profit corporation with which it contracts for services?

Again, the answer can be found in the Operating Guide for ESDs. Pages 14-19 state:
ESDs generally have no jurisdiction or general authority over contracted volunteer fire/EMS departments or their investments, as they are separate legal entities, usually non-profit corporations…  
But with that said, ESDs have full authority over the funds that are provided to the contracted entities. A contract mutually agreed to by both parties that defines the responsibilities of both parties is necessary to establish the services to be provided, the compensation to be received, and the authority to act or interact between the contracted parties…
Once the rules are established, (ESD)board members should avoid the temptation to get involved in personnel matters, particularly of the contracted emergency services providers… 
Always stick to policy and avoid personal involvement in day-to-day operations…
So again I find the answer to my question is, “No.” The ESD Board should not be involved in CFVFD’s selection of a Fire Chief, except for approving the funds involved. As a matter of fact, the State of Texas recommends the ESD Board stay out of personnel matters altogether, a policy the ESD9 Board is not following.

3. Is the ESD Board taking the right stand  in threatening to cancel their contract with CFVFD on 1/1/14 and attempt to provide the service to the community on their own?

I think the Operating Guide of ESDs covers this too on pages 10 &19 when it reads:
Determine which entity or entities will be in the best position to provide emergency services to the ESD…
…Remember that volunteers to the emergency service entities are very valuable and provide a great savings to the district. They should be recognized as such and efforts made to work together for the good of the tax payers as emergency services are provided…
Furthermore,  the “Task Force” stated in its final report:
      • The Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department was first organized about 50 years ago when the community population was approximately 10,000 people.
      • Today, more than 500,000 people reside in the community and the population is forecasted to grow to between 1 million to 1.5 million in the next 5 to 10 years.
      • CFVFD provides fire and emergency services in such a way that it is recognized as a “model” for the delivery of those services to volunteer fire departments across the United States.
So again, my answer is, “No.” CFVFD has been successfully providing emergency services to our area for over 50 years. It is in the “best position” to continue providing these services. If CFVFD is a “model” for other volunteer providers across the US, why would any ESD Board member threaten to cancel their contract?

Something Fishy?

Not knowing all the people involved in this mess, it is easy to take a step back and look at the big picture from a non-emotional perspective. But what we all learned as children usually holds true – if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it usually is a duck.

Step 1 – CFVFD Board did not renew Fire Chief’s contract

Step 2 – ESD9 Board hired ex-Fire Chief as “consultant”

Step 3 – ESD9 Board formed “Task Force” with ex-Fire Chief

Step 4 – Task Force recommended CFVFD Board dissolved

Step 5 – Task Force recommended ESD9 appoint new board

Step 6 – Task Force recommends new Board hire new Chief

That puts the following illustration in my mind:

image
Something seems fishy to me – does it to you?

Consequences

We all remember Nancy Pelosi’s famous line concerning ObamaCare –“We must pass the bill to find out what is in it.”

The same holds true here.

If  ESD9 follows through on its threat to “unfund” CFVFD 1/1/14, we will then find out exactly what will happen.

Anyone who has ever attended an ESD9 Board Meeting and seen first hand their definition of “government efficiency” will start praying now for the first Cy-Fair resident who has to call 911 at 12:01 am News Years Day if ESD9 becomes our direct service provider.

Does anyone really think that ESD9 – a Board which can’t even get their own meeting agenda posted on their own website 24 hours before their meeting to vote to unfund CFVFD, will be able to bid out service contracts to cover over 500,000 people, and have everything up and running smoothly with all new employees under all new management in less than 13 weeks – with Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years in between?

Does anyone really think that other fire departments are going  bid for service with ESD9 after they just fired one of the largest volunteer fire department in the US which was considered a “model” for the rest - because they wouldn’t submit to a takeover?

Does anyone want to bet on how fast our insurance premiums rise when the insurance companies find out CFVFD has been fired by ESD9?

The Vote

The 5 member ESD9 Board votes tomorrow (9/29/13) on whether or not they will:
  • allow CFVFD to continue to operate its own 501(c)(4) and provide emergency services to Cy-Fair area funded by ESD9 – as it has done for over 50 years
  • force an ESD9 Board takeover of CFVFD before they will fund operations in 2014, or
  • cancel all CFVFD contracts as of 1/1/14
The battle begins at 2:00pm (yes, smack in the middle of the Texans game) with a “workshop” then the official meeting with Public Comments allowed beginning at 3:00pm.

Location: 9639 Telge Road
                Houston  77095
                Map

If you can’t attend, you could normally email your elected ESD9 Commissioners to let them know how you’d like them to vote. Sorry to inform you that this board does not list any contact information in their webpage.

Special Note: If the ESD9 Commissioners do the unthinkable and cancel our contract with CFVFD, the community uproar will be enormous. If so, check this site weekly for updates on exactly what you can do to fight their decision. 

Note: 3 of the 5 ESD9 Board members are up for re-election May 2014.

Colleen Vera








Friday, September 20, 2013

Brainwashing Your Kids???

After lessons with bias against Christianity, Capitalism and American Exceptionalism were discovered last year,  Texas parents started asking their school districts the question, “Do you use CSCOPE?”

When told, “No, we don’t use CSCOPE here,” there was a sigh of relief.

But now there is a new question Texas parents need to ask their schools, “Which anti-bullying program do you use?”

Of course, no one wants their child to grow up angry and hateful. No one wants their child labeled a “bully.”

Most have never thought about anti-bullying curriculum  as something a parent should preview BEFORE their child is exposed to the material - so the parent can decide if the lessons teach children to respect  people's differences without having to condone others' opinions or actions, or if the material might sway children's values or opinions.

As an example, the programs produced by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) with titles such as “No Place For Hate”  and "Community of Respect" claim to be an anti-biased resource for schools. But a closer look may cause some parents to want to know exactly how the materials will be used in their child’s school.

For example, a “Calendar of Observances” is included in the ADL’s materials along with suggested activities, as well as aGlossary of Observances” with a description of each special date.


But a parent might question if the religious holidays are treated equally in the materials.


Christian (Western) Islamic Baha'i
Christmas- Commemorates the birth of Jesus. Ashura- A day of fasting observed on the 10th day of the month of Muharram to celebrate Moses’ exodus from Egypt. For Shi’a Muslims, it also marks the climax of the ten-day Remembrance, which mourns the martyrdom of Hussein at the Battle of Kerbala in 680 CE. Ayyam-I-Ha  or Intercalary Days – The Ayyam-i-ha or “Days of Ha” are devoted to spiritual preparation for the fast, celebrating, hospitality, charity and gift giving. They are celebrated the four days, five in leap year, before the last month of the Baha'i year.

They might also question if the descriptions given in the glossary show a liberal bias.

For example, the ADL’s materials include this account of “Wounded Knee Day”:
On December 29, 1890 more than 200 Lakota Sioux were massacred by US troops at Wounded Knee in South Dakota.”

A parent might be concerned with the conclusion their child could draw from this for a few reasons:


  • there is no mention of the fact that the massacre happened because the US Government sent the troops to confiscate the Indian’s guns
  • events in which US troops were slaughtered, such as Pearl Harbor Day, are not included
  • events in which US citizens were slaughtered, such as 9-11,  are not included
  • observances  such as VJ Day and VE Day, when American and Allied Troops liberated the world from tyrants, are not included

Parents might also be concerned that observances listed include LGBT issues such as:

  • “Coming Out Day – Encourages honesty and openness about being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Commemorates October 11, 1987, when 500,000 people marched on Washington, DC, for gay and lesbian equality.”
  • “Day of Silence – Students take a day-long vow of silence to protest the actual silencing of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students and their straight allies due to bias and harassment.”
  • LGBT History Month – Marks and celebrates the lives and achievements of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the United States.
  • "LGBT Pride Month  - Commemorates the anniversary of the June 28, 1969 Stonewall riot in New York City, the incident that initiated the modern gay rights movement in the United States. LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Pride Day is the last Sunday in June.”
  • "Transgender Day of Remembrance - Memorializes those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice.

But these are not balanced with five observances that stress Traditional  Marriage or Traditional Family.

Parents may also question that events honoring liberal leaders and organizations are stressed in the ADL's materials such as:

  • "Cesar Chavez Day - Honors Mexican American farm worker, labor leader and activist Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) who was a nationally respected voice for social justice." 
  • "International Worker's Day - Also known as May Day, it celebrates the social and economic achievements of  workers worldwide. The day commemorates the Haymarket Riot in 1886 in Chicago, in which police and protesters clashed following a worker's strike for an eight-hour work day."
  • "United Nations Day - Commemorates the founding of the world organization in 1945." 
  • "World Religion Day - (Baha'i) Observance to proclaim the oneness of religion and the belief that world religion will unify the peoples of the earth."

Yet, no days for conservative leaders,organizations or events such as Gun Appreciation Day,"Boston Tea Party Day," or Ronald Reagan Day.

But parents don’t know what materials are used in their schools unless they ask. All they need to do it contact their child’s teacher and ask to view any anti-bullying or anti-hate curriculum before it is presented to their child, including projects, videos, and/or guest speakers.

Parents want their children to show respect to others who may be different from them, and that is the purpose behind anti-bullying lessons. But parents need to make sure that is all that is being taught, not someone else's political agenda.

Colleen Vera

Monday, September 16, 2013

HCDE–Laws & Courts–Phooey

When the 14th Court of Appeals refused to step in to overrule Judge Emmett’s decision not to put the HCDE tax increase on the ballot this November, many hoped the fight to prevent HCDE from using Equalization Tax dollars to fund child care  was over for now. At least until Early to Rise comes back with a better worded petition in 2014.

But not so. It seems HCDE will be doing some of the work themselves. And in their usual M.O., they hid it deep inside their 723 page September 17, 2013 Meeting Agenda.

On page 632, using the term “transfer”, HCDE is asking the board to approve  $550,787 Equalization Tax dollars to be used alongside $340,000 in  Houston Endowment donations to match $1,807.943 in federal funds  for “direct child care” and “child care quality improvement” – the same type of thing the Early to Rise petition wanted a private non-profit to do.


hcde child care quality improvement

It isn't the $30 million per year Early to Rise wanted, but it is a start using the tax HCDE already collects.

The Agenda item reads:
6G - Consider approval of a certification contribution agreement between the HCDE CASE Division and the Gulf Coast Workforce Board for the period of 10/01/13 through 9/30/14. HCDE will certify $890,787 to receive matching funds from the Gulf Coast Workforce Board for the CASE Partnership Project in the amount of $1,307,943 (approximately 2,000 students served.)

hcde 6g

But can the Equalization Tax, which is collected for “the maintenance of the public schools (TEC 18.01)” in Harris County, be used to improve the quality of child care?

Just this month in the arguments put before the 14th Court of Appeals in the Early to Rise  case,  four different attorneys on the winning side stated that the law requires distribution of the Equalization Tax funds to the school districts of the county:


Found in the Statement of the Case presented by Judge Emmett’s Attorneys, we find:
The board of education shall distribute the moneys collected from the equalization tax according to the express provisions of Section 18.14, which requires that any funds collected under Chapter 18be distributed to the common and independent school districts of the county on the basis of the average daily attendance for the prior year.” Id. § 18.14-App.”
The memorandum brief by Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney reads:
“The Legislature, through the adoption of Section 18.07 of the Texas Education Code, created a mechanism so that every county in the state could collect a countywide equalization tax to be divided among the school districts of the county
And in an opinion issued by William C Bednar, a Texas school law specialist, he states:
The concept embodied in the statute is an "additional countywide school district" funded by a single property tax to be deposited in a single "county equalization fund" to be drawn on and expended by an elected county board of education for a county program of education consisting of distribution of funds to eligible school districts for equalization of educational opportunities and the payment of administration expenses. See, Sections 17.031,18.01, 18.14, 18.26,18.28.
The tax herein provided for shall constitute a part of the school funds of said counties and shall never be levied, assessed, or collected for any purpose other than those herein specified and for the advancement of public
free schools in such counties
.. . . [Emphasis added]…


There is no purpose of early childhood education specified anywhere in Chapter 18.”
The  Texas Conference of Urban Counties brief reads:
“…equalization tax revenue must be distributed as specified by Section 18.14, Education Code. Thereafter, the common and independent school districts of the county are free to use the funds in any legally permitted manner…
There is no basis in statute for such limitation - either to permit the Harris County Department of Education to impose restrictions on the use of equalization tax revenue…”
Yet, the HCDE board still chooses to ignore Texas Statute TEC 18.14,  distributes NO Equalization Tax funds to the ISDs of Harris County and uses the Equalization Tax funds anyway they see fit – like matching federal funds for “child care quality improvement.”

They ignore it so much that they were negotiating a contract with the Early to Rise group to hand over control of  all new Equalization Tax revenue to a private non-profit – when the ballot initiative was stopped by Judge Emmett and the 14th Court of Appeals.

But talk has already surfaced about how Early to Rise can reword their next petition to force it on the ballot in 2014.

Because HCDE is so obsolete, is its own political subdivision of the state of Texas, and operates under repealed statutes, there is no longer an entity which oversees their activities.

The County Commissioners have no control over HCDE and TEA has no control over  the Equalization Tax. The Texas Legislature will not meet again until 2015, and the District Attorney’s Office is currently in flux.

So the people of Harris County have no other option but to ask the Texas Attorney for a opinion on HCDE’s activities.


Texas Statute limits who may request Attorney General opinions to:
  • the governor
  • the head of a department of state government
  • the head or board of a penal institution
  • the head or board of an eleemosynary institution
  • the head of a state board
  • a regent or trustee of a state educational institution
  • a committee of a house of the Texas Legislature
  • a county auditor authorized by law
  • the chairman of the governing board of a river authority
  • a district or county attorney

Our best bet is to ask the most conservative local person from the list above, Senator Dan Patrick – Chairman of the Senate Education Committee,  to come through for us again and ask the Attorney General three questions:

  1. May the citizens of Harris County petition under repealed TEC Chapter 18 to increase the county equalization tax, and if so, can the petition require the increase be used only for a specific purpose?
  2. Must the County School Trustees distribute the Equalization Tax funds to the ISDs according to  TEC 18.14, or may they use the funds anyway they see fit?
  3. Are the Harris County School Trustees limited to providing services to Harris County public schools or may they provide goods and services to anyone they see fit across Texas?

The citizens of Harris County need these questions answered BEFORE the next ballot petition is initiated and BEFORE HCDE spends all the Equalization Tax revenue this school year.


You can help get this done by contacting Senator Patrick and asking him to request an opinion from the Attorney General on these three questions. The more citizens who ask for his leadership in this matter, the sooner he will file the request, and the sooner our questions will be answered.


District Office:
The Honorable Dan Patrick
11451 Katy Freeway, Suite 209
Houston, Texas 77079
(713) 464-0282
(713) 461-0108 (Fax)

Email:  dan.patrick@senate.state.tx.us


Colleen Vera