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;
(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


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