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