This is a package of seven articles, published in three successive issues of the Williamson County Sun, in Georgetown, Texas. The articles, which were published just a few weeks before election day, are about an elected official who accomplished a lot in his first term as a county commissioner, but whose moral compass was not always pointed in the right direction. The commissioner was defeated in his bid for reelection.
As a result of these articles, the Williamson County district attorney subpoenaed financial records and presented evidence to a grand jury that indicted the official on two, third-degree felony charges. He was ultimately sentenced to two years’ probation.
The National Newspaper Association awarded this series of articles first-place in the investigative reporting category.
About 15,500 words
The Ron Wood Story: Poverty to Power
Special Report by Ken Martin
Sun Political Editor
Ron Wood’s first term as Precinct 1 commissioner has been nothing if not controversial. on November 8, the first Republican commissioner since Reconstruction faces his first reelection bid in a district that votes heavily Republican. He is being challenged by Democrat Mike Heiligenstein of Round Rock.
Wood’s first four years on the country court have brought mixed blessings to Precinct 1 and the county. By most accounts, Wood has been effective in bringing badly needed roads and bridges to his constituents—particularly in the densely populated southwest end of the county. His quick wit and energetic charm has earned him many admirers.
Nonetheless, he has shaken up county politicians of both party stripes with fighting words and combative tactics. Among Wood’s more controversial acts: he formed two political action committees that funded local Democrats as well as Republicans, bulldozed a developer’s road into a subdivision, and angered farmers with remarks about the “plowboy mentality” he said defeated the $32 million county bond proposal for more roads.
In recent months, Round Rock Mayor Mike Robinson secretly tape recorded a meeting in which Wood described himself as a “vicious and vindictive person” and warned that “those who do things to me will suffer later.” He added that if Round Rock officials supported his opponent Heiligenstein, “they’ll have four more years of raping coming, and I will. It’s just my nature….”
Who is the man behind the headlines? In a series of interviews that took place over a period of 16 months, the incumbent commissioner and others told the story of Ron Wood. This is the first group of articles in a three-part series.
At age 42, Ronnie Bruce Wood dresses well but talks tough, like the street-wise Army trooper he became when he was 16.
“Nothing scares me, friend, nothing. Things anger me. There’s very little that scares me. I’ve been beaten, stabbed,” he said last year.
“I feel like I came from the worst possible circumstances, from poverty, with an alcoholic father beating me and my mother.”
Born December 1, 1945, in Trenton, New Jersey, where his father was stationed at Fort Dix, the family moved back to their native Virginia home when he was five. From then on, he was raised mostly by his grandfather.
He lived with grandparents on a 50-acre farm near Tazewell, Virginia. They cut wheat, oats and firewood by hand, he said. They relieved themselves in an outhouse. They carried water from a spring. Wood got his early education in a three-room schoolhouse, where seven grades were taught.
“My grandfather put me to work when I was seven-and-a-half on that farm,” Wood said September 22. “I started milking the cows and taking care of the wood, the coal, the kindling, hoeing corn.”
Sometimes he hired out for cash money, 50 cents a day, he said. The boy saved his money and bought calves, which he raised and sold.
“We were poor but I didn’t realize it. Everybody else was pretty much in the same boat,” Wood said.
Wood’s hard-working but sheltered life was shattered when, at age 13, his grandfather died. The boy returned to his mother, and to difficult times.
“She was strapped to raise five kids,” he said. “I quit school when I was 14 and left home. I was very fortunate to have the mental ability to get away from that and go to [college].”
The scrawny boy, barely into his teens, hit the streets of Trenton and sold magazine subscriptions door-to-door. He did not attend school again until adulthood. He lived alone in a boarding house, without relatives, from nearly two years until he joined the fraternity of fighting men.
Wood enlisted in the Army February 1, 1962, in Roanoke, Virginia. He and four buddies signed up together for Special Forces. He was just two months past his 16th birthday, a spindly 104 pounds stretched over a five-foot, two-inch frame.
It was Wood’s first chance to see the world. After boot camp at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, he went through advanced infantry training. From there he was off to Fort Benning, Georgia, in June 1962, for paratrooper school.
Injured on his second jump, he left shortly for on-the-job training at Fort Riley, Kansas, then returned to Fort Jackson as a clerk in February 1963. Four months later he landed in Germany.
“I was going to stay 20 years, but I didn’t think Viet Nam was my kind of action,” Wood said.
“I have an honorable discharge from the United States Army. I served proudly and I am a disabled veteran, drawing a disability [check] every month,” he said recently.
There is more to the story.
In December 1963, while stationed in Germany, Private First Class Wood, an E-3, reenlisted for six years. The privilege of reenlistment is not extended to an individual with serious disciplinary problems.
But 10 months after his six-year reenlistment began, Wood was booted out of the Army as a busted-down Private E-1. After two years, seven months and 18 days of active duty, Wood was out on the streets. He was not quite 19 years old.
Like a lot of high school dropouts, Wood earned his high school equivalency diploma while in the Armed Forces. That enabled him to attend college when he was discharged from the Army. He spent a year in school in Lynchburg, Virginia, where his mother lived, majoring in accounting and business. Later, he picked up more college in California. And in 1976 he attended Austin Community College.
“I need another year to graduate, but I never will,” he said last year.
From the time he left Lynchburg in the mid-1960s until he came to Williamson County in 1974, Wood moved around a lot. He spent a year in North Carolina doing accounting work for a restaurant chain. He worked in Connecticut for a certified public accounting firm. He became office manager for Nestlé in California.
“It’s an ideal way to see America,” he said of his footloose days. “I’ve been to all but six states. There’s a lot out there, a lot of history. When you don’t have anything tying you down, go take a peek. You could go two or three lifetimes seeing all the wonders that are out there.”
In 1969, he settled in Las Vegas for four years and worked for a variety of businesses, including Johns Manville Corporation, the Union Plaza Hotel and Casino, and a corporation that operated wedding chapels and flower shops.
In 1973, he migrated to Wichita, Kansas, where he worked for Cessna Aircraft until the oil embargo laid him off.
In 1974, Wood met Margaret Domel Wood in Little Rock, Arkansas. The couple visited her folks, Ernest Domel and Ruth Ann Neitsch Domel, who live on a farm northwest of Hutto, then went to Las Vegas where they married December 17, 1974. He was 29, she was 23.
The newlyweds moved to Williamson County and both went to work, she for State Farm Insurance, he working with his father-in-law, painting and rebuilding houses. In 1975, Wood worked about a year auditing nursing homes for the State Welfare Department, he said.
In 1976, he approached Victor Stern of Hutto for a job. Stern then ran the Hutto Lumber Company, but he didn’t have an opening, he said in July 1987.
“Wood was working for his father-in-law at the time. Wood said he was drawing a disability check from the paratroopers and his wife was working, so he wasn’t worried about making too much money,” Stern recalled.
In the fall of 1977, Wood found work at the Hutto Co-op Gin, where Stern had become general manager. Wood drove a fuel truck, delivering bulk fuel to farmers, making about $4.50 an hour when he started, Stern said.
One of the duties Wood acquired at the co-op was chasing late bill-payers, a job he performed extremely well. But Wood wasn’t good at getting along with his fellow employees, Stern said.
“When he would get mad at people, he would talk about getting the Mafia to rub them out,” Stern said. “It’s all talk,” he added. “I’ve never seen him do anything but talk. I don’t think he would do anything personally.”
Stern added another thought. “He’s vindictive. He’d cut off his right arm to hurt somebody who hurt him,” he said in July 1987.
While at the Co-op, Wood picked up a part-time job as Hutto’s municipal judge. According to Hutto records, Wood took the oath of office January 8, 1979, starting at $150 a month. The salary was $210 a month by the time of his resignation was accepted March 2, 1981.
During the same era, Wood got in on the ground floor as project manager and coordinator of a budding enterprise that grew under the leadership of the Hutto Co-op Gin. A proposed alcohol plant would turn grain crops into big money and give farmers control of their own destiny.
“He did a pretty good job when he worked for the co-op and he left of his own will. Nobody ran him off,” Stern said in September. “He just got messed up with that gasohol thing.”
This article was originally published in the Williamson County Sun on October 12, 1988.
The Gasohol Dream and How It Failed
Long before he entered politics, commissioner ramrodded $68 million project
Special Report by Ken Martin
Sun Political Editor
A veil of secrecy shrouds an important chapter of the early Williamson County history of Ron Wood, who is approaching the end of his first term as Precinct 1 county commissioner.
The chapter concerns Wood’s involvement in a project that was to help Williamson County farmers double or triple their money from grain crops. The objective was the give them financial independence from grain cartels by providing a high-paying, local marketing cooperative that would turn their grain into alcohol and provide saleable food by-products as well.
Seed money for the alcohol project came through financial contributions from local farmers. More than 550 farmers signed up, contributing more than $650,000.
The dream is dead now. But it lasted long enough for Wood, who worked part-time on the project for about 20 months, to walk out with about 10 percent of everything contributed—more than $65,000.
Wood says the $65,000 he got was to settle his contract and reimburse him for mileage, wages and out-of-pocket expenses.
Piecing together the information gleaned from Wood and others over the past 16 months produces a puzzle with some pieces missing, rather than a crystal-clear picture of what happened—to Ron Wood and the gasohol project itself.
In the late 1970s, Ron Wood worked full time handling bulk fuel deliveries for the Hutto Co-op Gin. He was Hutto’s part-time municipal judge. Through the fuel operation, he got in on the ground floor of a budding enterprise that promised to give farmers control of their own destiny.
The Central Texas GPI Marketing Cooperative was incorporated in Hutto in May 1979. Its purpose: to plan and organize an operating refinery that would manufacture 20 million to 50 million barrels of ethyl alcohol a year from home-grown grain.
The program called for selling the alcohol to refiners or distributors of gasoline, who would blend it into gasohol. If the plant succeeded, farmers would be producing a profitable end product from their crops instead of peddling grain to middlemen, who reaped the profits from processing.
“The whole idea was to put farmers together and redistribute profits to farmers,” Taylor attorney Ted Hejl said in a July 1987 interview. Hejl was legal counsel for the alcohol project.
The start-up capital to plan and organize an operating refinery was targeted at $1.5 million. The funds were to come from farmers themselves. They were to pitch in $357 apiece for each 100,000 pounds of grain they wanted to sell annually for alcohol production, when the plant started up.
Management of the cooperative was vested in a board of 10 directors that included Kenneth Johnson of Hutto, Roland Wieland of Pflugerville, Wayne Decker of Hutto, Wilburn Beckhusen of Buckholts, Ed Carlson of Taylor, Joe Mathews of Dilly, John W. Scott Jr. of Granger, Victor Stern of Hutto, Wilbert Vorwerk of Taylor and Harry Taylor of Elgin.
As of May 1, 1980, directors were entitled to receive a fee of up to $100 a day while attending a board meeting or when contributing time to the development program, according to a membership brochure sent out with a letter dated July 21, 1980.
The board elected Johnson chairman and president, Wieland vice president and Decker secretary-treasurer, constituting the executive committee. These three conducted the day-to-day business. But none of the directors worked full-time on the marketing cooperative because they had demanding businesses of their own.
An offering circular issued in January 1980 warned of the high risk of investing. “Should it be found to be economically unfeasible to construct the refinery, the project would be abandoned and the investor may not receive back any portion of his invested funds from the cooperative,” the circular read.
Wood was named project coordinator and manager and received compensation.
It was a ground floor opportunity for Wood, who had started in the fall of 1977 working for about $4.50 an hour as a fuel truck driver at the Hutto Co-op Gin, delivering bulk fuel to farmers, general manager Victor Stern said.
Stern was not only a board member of the marketing cooperative but also Wood’s boss at the Hutto Co-op Gin.
Before coming to the co-op, Wood had finished a few years of college, where he majored in business and accounting, and had spent a year auditing nursing homes for the state welfare department.
By the time the alcohol project came along, Wood was also doing some bookkeeping and bill collecting for the co-op, drawing praise from board members for chasing down late-payers. The executive committee picked him to ramrod the alcohol project and be their public speaker.
“Wood got involved because he was taking care of our fuel operation,” Stern said.
“We got to buying alcohol and make gasohol. We were blending it at our service station.”
Most of Wood’s work on the gasohol project was done at night, but he got some time off from the Hutto Co-op Gin. He was 33 years old and plenty energetic.
“I just thought he was pretty aggressive,” Johnson said last month. “He’s a hustler. He believes in what he does and works at what he does.”
The bylaws of the Central Texas GPI Marketing Cooperative called for the project manager and coordinator, Wood, to run the business, supervise its employees and answer to the board of directors. All checks written by the cooperative required the joint signature of Wood and secretary-treasurer Wayne Decker.
Among Wood’s duties for the alcohol project, he said July 10, 1987, were gathering information; meeting with engineers, scientists and others in the business; visiting other plants; and testifying in committee hearings of the State Legislature concerning tax-relief legislation.
Wood also helped solicit cash subscriptions for grain commitments and organized meetings for the board of directors and subscribers, Johnson said.
A June 14, 1979, article in the Sun quoted Wood in connection with a meeting the marketing cooperative’s board held with Taylor bankers.
“Gasohol’s time has come,” Wood said then. “Our aim is to extend the area’s fuel supplies by 15 to 20 percent and help the farmers, too.”
The article said the co-op hoped construction of the “$30 million plant” would start as early as September 1979—only five months after the marketing cooperative was incorporated.
The effort had the strong backing of State Representative Dan Kubiak of Rockdale, who was then Williamson County’s legislator.
The hope of beginning plant construction in 1979 soon faded, but early reports for the success of the alcohol plant were optimistic. A February 21, 1980, letter signed by Decker, the secretary-treasurer, said a study required by lenders was under way and “several sources of financing were available.” He wrote that ground breaking for the plan was targeted for the late summer of 1980.
Memberships were solicited and studies commissioned, including a $100,000 technical feasibility study and a $160,000 site feasibility study. A managerial firm was hired for $15,000 a month and a public affairs company was hired for $12,800 a month to lobby for profit-boosting, tax-relief legislation.
Wood said September 22 the consultants were “impressive,” even taking a group from the Hutto alcohol project for a Washington, D.C., meal with Rosalyn Carter, the nation’s first lady. “We had breakfast with congressmen and senators in the Capitol. They razzle-dazzled them,” Wood said with a chuckle.
Although Decker’s groundbreaking projection was clearly not coming on line, cooperative president Johnson issued a glowing letter of progress September 9, 1980, saying the project had accumulated enough grain commitments to feed an alcohol plant capable of producing 20 million gallons of the stuff a year.
Johnson’s letter promised even higher profits from a larger plant. That meant more grain subscriptions were needed. He called for greater participation by subscribers and offered to refund the initial $357 seed money from expected plant profits for those who signed up within a month.
Through March 1981, more than $657,000 in cash memberships were raised, according to financial statements prepared by Harold V. Simpson and Company of Austin, certified public accountants.
Plans forged ahead for an alcohol plant in Georgetown priced at $68 million. On May 14, 1981, a leased, plush corporate jet winged board members and others to Lynchburg, Tennessee, to visit a Jack Daniels distillery. Since the marketing cooperative’s plant would create alcohol just like the whiskey factory, except that the alcohol would be denatured to render it unfit for drinking, a look at Jack Daniels provided assurances the Georgetown facility would not harm the environment.
In August 1981, after six years of effort by Representative Kubiak, a nickel-a-gallon state tax exemption for gasohol passed in a special session. The victory would have boosted profits for a plant producing the quantities intended for the Georgetown facility by $10 million a year, according to the consultant’s estimate written March 10, 1981.
The project began to falter for lack of financing. In January, 1982, a letter from Johnson told members that work on the project was continuing, but the 1982 crops would not be used for gasohol.
As it turned out, the project failed. Farmers lost their investments, just as the literature warned they might.
“We haven’t disbanded. But we haven’t met in months and months and months. I just don’t think we can pull if off anymore,” Johnson said September 11.
“Personally I think the people they hired [for consultants] were in fact working for the oil companies. I’ll always believe they led them down the path,” Wood said in September. “I think these guys were in bed with [the oil cartels and grain cartels]. I think they were on their payroll and bled this group down until they couldn’t possibly do it and then walked them.”
Wood is not alone in holding a conspiracy theory about the project’s failure.
“I think the grain cartels and oil companies fought it,” opined board member Mathews of Dilly. (Farmers in his area were absorbed into the Central Texas GPI Marketing Cooperative after they, like farmers in Williamson County, were unable to gather sufficient grain commitments.) “It would go real smooth up to a certain point, then come to a screeching halt,” he said.
“We had the farmers together, but it’s hard to get the banks,” Johnson said. “They didn’t understand the farm operations and financing grain as collateral.”
In 1986, “We had some pretty good contracts but it fizzled out just like before,” board member Stern said in July 1987. “You’d be right up to signing papers and off it’d go again. If I didn’t know better, I’d think the oil companies or somebody was sabotaging this thing.”
Despite the numerous disclaimers in the material furnished to the farmers who put up money for seed capital, many who look back on the project are disillusioned. The farmers wrote it off their taxes, but they couldn’t erase it from their minds.
Hutto area farmer William Albert said in June 1987, “I think power and money went to people’s heads.” He said the farmers who invested had not been happy to hear of far-flung trips taken by directors, some with their wives along—especially when they found out directors had put themselves on a $100 per-day pay schedule.
Albert said the directors’ pay wasn’t publicly known until he questioned the board in a meeting. “I felt like I was kind of misled,” Albert said in dismay.
Other farmers share similar sentiments.
“Sometimes when you go to bed at night, you wonder where the money went,” Jonathan Fritz, a Hutto farmer and president of the board of trustees of the Hutto Independent School District, said in June 1987.
Fritz said he has good friends on the board of the alcohol cooperative.
“I don’t want to cause them trouble, but I think they owe me an explanation and I never got one. I wonder how much money is left, but I’ve been afraid to ask.”
As the project unraveled, many of the directors poured in personal cash, trying to keep the dream alive.
“The last few years, the directors kicked in the money to keep it going,” Stern said in 1987.
“The directors are in for over $50,000. I personally put in over $5,000. If it ever got going, we would get the money back, but I don’t think we’ll ever do it. It was so good, somebody didn’t want us to do it. They didn’t want the farmer to get that power.”
To keep the project alive, eight members of the board of directors guaranteed a line of credit at the Farmers State Bank in Round Rock for $50,000, Stern confirmed September 15. When that was used up, they signed another note elsewhere, he said.
Part of the controversy surrounding the failure of the gasohol plant swirls around Wood, who in early 1980 was let go by the executive committee for reasons that are in contention.
“They didn’t fire me. I continued to work at the [Hutto] Co-op [Gin]. It was just a point where I couldn’t do anything else with it. They had hired the consultants in Washington and Little Rock,” Wood said September 22.
Board member Stern says differently.
“He was canned,” Stern said. “He ran his mouth, got pretty cocky, not just with the attitude toward the board but with the people we were dealing with.
“He was making demands they didn’t think he ought to be making on people who were interested in building the plant or financing it. He’d go in and try to run over them like he was God Almighty. The Wyoming Springs bulldozer incident—that’s vintage Ron Wood,” Stern said in July 1987, referring to an episode earlier that year, in which Commissioner Wood unleashed machinery to tear out a developer’s road that blocked a county thoroughfare.
And there is still the matter of why Wood got a $15,000 settlement.
At one point in a September 22 interview, Wood, when asked if he had a contract for his work on the alcohol project, replied, “They just hired me.”
But when asked later in that interview what the $15,000 settlement he got was for, he said it was for signing a release. “They just bought out my contract,” he said.
Johnson, chairman of the board, said Wood didn’t have a contract. “We just hired him as an employee,” Johnson said September 11. “He was on salary but I could not remember any details. He wasn’t making any fantastic wages, just normal wages.”
Stern said he was not consulted about Wood’s ouster, which was carried out by Johnson, Decker, Wieland and Hejl.
Asked September 11 why Wood left the project, Johnson replied, “He’s just that way. He works at a thing for a while and then gets into something else.”
Except for one interview with Johnson at his Hutto home September 11, none of the three members of the executive committee or attorney Hejl would discuss Wood’s release.
Shortly after Wood left, Central Texas GPI Marketing Cooperative received four cancelled checks totaling more than $50,000 paid to RBW Associates.
Wood said September 22 that RBW Associates was “Ronnie B. Wood.”
Attorney Hejl took the cancelled checks to Ed Walsh, who was then the Williamson County district attorney. But Wood was not prosecuted, Walsh, now a Round Rock attorney, said September 15. The files on the matter have been lost with the passage of time, and Walsh does not recall details of the incident. Hejl will not discuss it.
The board never followed through on the matter. There were fears that any news of mismanagement would kill the project, which was still trying through its consultants to attract venture capital to build the alcohol plant.
“They were afraid if word got out the directors could not handle money, it would kill [the project],” said a board member who asked that his name not be used.
The possibility of prosecuting Wood was not mentioned to all of the seven board members who were not on the executive committee. Stern, for example, never heard any talk of prosecuting Wood. He said in July 1987 he only knew the executive committee “was pretty unhappy with the situation.”
Wood said September 22 he was owed $50,000-plus for wages, mileage and out-of-pocket expenses such as airline tickets and meals for the 20 months or so he worked part-time for the alcohol project.
“There was a tremendous amount of expense in mileage alone. I mean we put the miles on that Olds 98. It traveled. And there was all the airline tickets because I had paid for all of that. I put them on my credit card and I kept the receipts. I … just kept all of that. I mean I didn’t need it. Then I lump-summed it.”
Wood could not recall how much of the money was for wages and how much was for out-of-pocket expenses.
“God, I can’t remember. You’re talking about eight years. I can’t remember what it was,” he said.
He added, “They’ve [GPI officials] got all the receipts and mileage and everything.”
The checks paid to RBW Associates were co-signed by Wood and secretary-treasurer Decker. Decker refused several times to talk about the checks. “I know the facts but I’m not going to comment,” he said September 11.
In that same interview, Johnson agreed to retrieve the checks and allow them to be seen. But the next day, Johnson refused to furnish them or discuss the matter further.
Attorney Hejl—who helped ease Wood out of the gasohol business and went to the district attorney with checks paid to RBW Associates—has been silent on the matter.
One last blow shattered hopes for reviving the gasohol project. An anonymous poison pen letter postmarked from Austin September 29, 1980, was mailed to 35 area farmers and their wives—including the wives of key players in the alcohol venture.
The letter accused Wood and the four men who were instrumental in his leaving the Central Texas GPI Marketing Cooperative—board president Johnson, secretary Decker, board member Wieland and attorney Hejl—of financial and marital improprieties in connection with the alcohol project.
It was a nasty piece of work. The letter instructed all five to step down from their positions of responsibility. “If these gentlemen do not resign within three days, a fully documented report will be sent to the attorney general, securities commission, all news media from Dallas to San Antonio and all members of the three co-ops…. We prefer to keep this quiet so as not to upset the plans for the alcohol plant,” it read.
No proof of the allegations was ever offered. Apparently, no report was ever sent to any authorities or media. But the threatening letter was widely disseminated among Williamson County farmers, and it sent a chill through the agricultural community.
Further financial support from the co-op’s farmer participants dried up. At least one marriage crumbled. And a curtain of mystery closed on the once-so-promising alcohol project, leaving only a residue of bitterness and wistful feelings of what might have been.
This article was originally published in the October 12, 1988, edition of the Williamson County Sun.
First-term Ron Wood
Bridges and Brass
Special Report by Ken Martin
Sun Political Editor
On November 8, Ron Wood, the first Republican Commissioner since Reconstruction, facts his first reelection bid in Precinct 1, which usually votes Republican. He is being challenged by Democrat Mike Heiligenstein of Round Rock.
Wood is a man of many parts, a man who has peppered his precinct with badly needed roads and bridges, but who also has alienated many people with his blunt words and combative tactics. What is the legacy left by Wood from his first term? This is the second group of articles in a three-part series.
In politics as in warfare, two cardinal rules are: reward your friends, punish your enemies. Both are easy for a strong-willed politician ensconced in the halls of power and bent on attaining objectives.
Entering the Williamson County Commissioners Courtroom on a cold New Year’s Day, 1984, Precinct 1 Commissioner Ron Wood took the oath of office before a standing-room-only crowd. He wore a rose in his lapel and carried a nameplate to plunk down in the former place of Carl Lidell of Jonah, the Democrat he had ousted by nearly a 2-1 margin.
Knocking off Lidell was relatively painless in a precinct that had proven itself Republican two years earlier when Margaret Domel Wood, then Wood’s wife, ran for justice of the peace as a Democrat and lost 55-45 percent.
Although Wood filed for office on the first possible day, Wood convinced Lidell he would not really run but would instead resign when it was too late for the GOP to put someone else up against Lidell. While Wood maintained the charade, he also hustled Lidell, who was also president of the Jonah Water Supply Corporation, for water service to serve the subdivision of his business partner and friend, attorney Jack Webernick of Georgetown.
Looking back, Wood was proud of his duplicity because he figured it got rid of an unsatisfactory official. In Wood’s book, the end justifies the means.
“I led Carl down the path. Hey—politics are bad,” Wood bragged in a June 10, 1987, interview.
After only two weeks in office he won a 3-2 commissioners court vote to establish an executive assistant’s position for Mary Posey of Anderson Mill. It was the first time in the county’s history that a commissioner had hired an executive assistant, and it caused quite a stir.
It was Posey who would attempt, less than two years later, to unseat Precinct 2 Commissioner Wesley Foust and create what Foust viewed as a surrogate second vote for Wood.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that she will … vote with Wood consistently,” Foust said in a Sun pre-election interview published November 2, 1986.
These suspicions were not allayed when, after Posey’s defeat, two political action committees controlled by Wood and Webernick handed Posey $6,000 to help pay off her campaign debts.
Although Wood angered agriculturists with his emotional remarks about a “plowboy mentality” that defeated a county bond issue and alienated others when he bulldozed a developer’s road, even his detractors credit him with achievements during his first four years on the job. Wood installed numerous major road-and-bridge improvements in his precinct.
Like all commissioners, he could have completed more projects had there been more money. But stretching his road-and-bridge budget of about $1 million a year is a matter of pride with Wood.
He dragged in money from private developers to augment the funds he put up. Such a public-private partnership helped install the bridge over Brushy Creek on Great Oaks Drive, just north of Brushy Creek Road, west of Round Rock.
He also drew private funds to help replace the Parliament House Road bridge over Lake Creek in Forest North Estates, near Highways 183 and 620, an area long plagued by flooding.
Wood’s precinct funds alone paid to replace a second span in Forest North on Broadmeade Avenue. Together, the two structures over Lake Creek provide much safer travel in the area around Forest North Elementary School.
High waters in Forest North should be a thing of the past, now that private interests have contributed $1.7 million to improve the Lake Creek channel, as a trade-off for on-site drainage ponds that would have done nothing to stem the flood waters.
But there is one major deficit, when totaling up the accumulation of private money for public projects, that trims Wood’s bragging rights.
The Northeast Round Rock Road District, over which Wood has primary sway because it is in his precinct, lost the chance to collect almost $400,000 for road-and-drainage improvements financed with road district bond proceeds.
The reason: Wood didn’t try to get money he could have collected from private developers.
Private developments customarily pay a share of adjacent road-and-drainage improvements and engineering costs, because the developments benefit so much from these improvements.
The Meadows at Chandler Creek didn’t pay anything. The project was owned by The Meadows Venture, a partnership between the now defunct Nash Phillips-Copus Inc. of Austin and Atlas Realty Company of Houston.
The total contract for extending FM 3406 (Old Settlers Boulevard) was almost $1.3 million. According to custom—which Wood had taken advantage of to draw funds for the Parliament House and Brushy Creek bridges—The Meadows Venture would have paid approximately $400,000. That would have covered half the cost of constructing 3,200 linear feet of a five-lane roadway and a five-lane bridge.
As it was, the road district absorbed it all.
During the same period, Precinct 2 Commissioner Wesley Foust, in dealing with Cypress Mill Joint Venture—a partnership between Nash Phillips-Copus Inc. and Emile Jamail of Austin—secured a contract that calls for the Southwest Williamson County Road District to be reimbursed not to exceed $275,000 plus interest.
That will repay the road district for building Lakeline Boulevard through the Cypress Mill tract. Repayment is guaranteed by a property lien on 60.8 acres of Cypress Mill’s high-dollar land.
Perry Blanton, now a partner in MVB, an Austin property development firm, was general manager and later vice president of land development for NPC until early February, when the once wildly successful firm went belly up.
Blanton, who negotiated with both Foust and Wood, said September 7 he and Wood had discussed having The Meadows Venture pay the road district for improvements on FM 3406 but Wood told him it wasn’t necessary.
“Ron Wood intimated to me that the rest of the money that the road district would pay for improvements on FM 3406 adjacent to Meadows at Chandler Creek and there would not be a need for reimbursement of any kind. That included the full width of the road and a bridge structure,” Blanton said.
“This was all verbal, but he stated that on more than one occasion,” Blanton said.
Blanton said he told Wood his company would “do what [was] expected of us, whatever their standard assessment was for doing the improvements.”
Blanton noted Thursday that NPC was the managing partner in both Cypress Mill and The Meadows joint ventures, and he was personally responsible for negotiating with both Wood and Foust concerning the assessments made by the respective road districts.
Wood said September 22 he didn’t go after NPC because they were bankrupt—a fact that didn’t deter his Precinct 2 counterpart, Foust.
Wood’s thinking was that Round Rock would collect the money for the road district later.
“We had an agreement with the City of Round Rock,” he said September 22. “The City of Round Rock will get the 300 and whatever thousand dollars to reimburse the road district when it’s platted.”
Not so, according to Round Rock’s chief planner, Joe Vining. Asked September 27 if there was an agreement between the road district and the city to effect reimbursement, Vining replied, “I never heard of one.”
Vining said there is no mechanism for the city to collect funds if the city hadn’t paid for the improvements.
Bob Bennett, Round Rock’s city manager, confirmed the city will not obtain funds for the road district. “Any agreement on the Northeast Round Rock Road District would be between the developer and the county,” he said October 12.
Round Rock Mayor Mike Robinson said October 12, “the City of Round Rock never committed to collect” for the road district.
Not that the Northeast Round Rock Road District doesn’t need the money. In fact, it is in danger of collapsing. It needs every dollar it can muster to ease the debt service on $10.2 million worth of bonds sold to build roads and drainage.
Many of the land owners are up in arms over the threat of skyrocketing road district property taxes, which could scare off the job-bearing industries needed to build up the tax base and spread the debt.
Wood has recently been working to establish an Enterprise Zone and/or a Reinvestment Zone that would take in a larger area including the Northeast Round Rock Road District and provide tax abatements and other incentives to attract private investment. While these zones, if created, should help brighten the financial picture in the road district, so would $400,000.
If Wood’s performance in handling county business were the only issue at stake, he might look pretty good at the end of his inaugural term. But with Wood, there is sometimes a dark side at play, creating controversy and stirring enmity that undercuts his effectiveness.
In 1987, the Williamson County Juvenile Board was locked in a death struggle with the commissioners court over which body would decide appropriations for juvenile services. The juvenile board wanted more than the commissioners court would give.
During the court’s budget hearings August 13, 1987, Wood moved to kill the $6,200-a-year salary supplements that went to District Judges John Carter and William Lott, the two senior members of the juvenile board.
The court voted unanimously to remove the supplements, recovering in one fell swoop $12,400 of the funds the commissioners court was losing elsewhere in raises the district judges wanted—raises over which the commissioners court had no control.
But Wood apparently had an old score to settle with Judge Carter, who had presided over a March 1982 trial in which Wood lost the case and wound up sharing a $150,000 judgment with partner Dean Noffsinger of Austin.
It was during that trial that Wood admitted under oath he was having an affair with a real estate agent who represented his clients that had sued Wood for shoddy practices and deceptive acts in building their home. (The same real estate agent’s name showed up in 1986 on reports indicating she helped control a political action committee, when in fact she was fronting for Wood, he said in a Sun series in 1986.)
The jury assessed damages of $28,000 because Wood knowingly “committed unconscionable acts or engaged in an unconscionable course of action,” producing damages to plaintiffs in the amount of $33,000.
If Wood wanted to hurt Carter he succeeded. The district judge got so angry the day his salary was cut he “stomped around the office all day kicking furniture and cussing,” he said later. The loss hit him hard because he had a daughter just entering college and had counted on that money to help with the extra expenses. Instead, he went into debt.
The enraged district judges issued a court order September 14, 1987, that instructed the commissioners court to fully fund the budget for juvenile services or face fines and jailings for contempt of court.
It was after that court order was issued that Wood revealed another motive for whacking Carter’s supplemental pay.
Wood had gone to the third floor of the courthouse to check the law books, to see what could be done about the court order. While Wood was in the office of Sara Naylor, an assistant county attorney, Naylor told him the commissioners court should give the judges back the $6,200.
Naylor related the story September 7.
“I voiced my opinion about the level of maturity being displayed by everyone concerned. I told him they needed to work it out to reinstate the judges’ supplement,” Naylor said.
“He said that was ‘never going to happen if I have anything to say about it.’ He told me about a lawsuit Judge Carter was judge on…. In his opinion the judge had arbitrarily increased the damages. It was clear it was something he thought Judge Carter had control of,” Naylor said.
“He said he had even voted for the raise to allow Carter’s family to get used to it, so he could take it away later. He used the term ‘vindictive’ to say he was vindictive. I find it hard to believe, personally, that he would go through that machination to take away the supplement.”
Naylor is mystified why Wood would confide his motives to her.
“I don’t know him very well,” Naylor said. “I probably don’t see him once a month. Why he decided to sit here and tell me this I don’t know. I wish he hadn’t.”
“No, absolutely not,” Wood said September 22, when Naylor’s charge was related. “What I told her and the judge—she was sitting there with [County] Judge [Don] Wilson and myself—was that I was looking for ways to cut and make up for what we couldn’t find elsewhere….”
Wilson said he does not recall being at such a meeting with Wood and Naylor.
“I don’t remember being in Miss Naylor’s office while Ron Wood was doing research,” Wilson said September 28. “I definitely never heard him say the reason we reduced the supplemental pay was because of the lawsuit.”
Naylor was amazed that Wood denied her charges.
“It disgusts me he would lie about it. Of all the things he’s been accused of, that’s hardly worth lying about,” she said September 28.
When asked if Wilson was in the meeting with her and Wood, Naylor said he wasn’t—but added that Karen Flack, a former assistant county attorney, had been present.
Contacted that day and told Naylor’s and Wood’s versions of events, Flack said she recalled the meeting.
“I can say for sure that Wilson wasn’t there,” Flack said.
“I walked in and heard the conversation between Sara and Wood,” she said. “I do recall him talking about that lawsuit and Judge Carter’s involvement in it, and that if he had anything to do with it he wasn’t going to reinstate their supplements.
“He seemed vindictive, wanting to get back at Judge Carter in some way. That was the feeling I got,” said Flack, now a staff attorney for enforcement with the State Board of Insurance.
Lashing back at people in a public forum, even if ulterior motives are at play, is one thing. Threatening to smear personal lives is another.
And that’s what Wood did, according to attorney Steve Sheets, of the Round Rock law office of Mauro, Wendler, Sheets and Associates. Sheets is the city attorney for Round Rock.
The story came out in an August 25 interview with Mike Heiligenstein of Round Rock, who is Wood’s Democratic opponent in the November 8 general election.
Heiligenstein said he had received a threat from Wood through a third party that if he didn’t get out of the race with Wood, then his alleged marital infidelities would be exposed.
Heiligenstein would not divulge the name of the person to whom Wood had allegedly conveyed the threat. But in the course of the ensuing interview, when telling about his response to the threat, Heiligenstein said, “It was probably June, mid-June, because I remember telling Steve he could give Wood my home phone number if he thought he had anything [on me].”
“Steve,” it was learned in further probing, was Steve Sheets, with whom Heiligenstein shares office space.
Sheets was extremely reluctant to talk about the incident, but ultimately did so in the course of a long interview. He said Wood called him into his Georgetown office, in Webernick’s building across from the courthouse.
“I’m virtually positive it was in June,” Sheets said, flipping through his appointment calendar for a reminder. “I’m pretty sure it was on a Wednesday, because the deadline was on Friday,” he said.
“We met at the courthouse and he asked me over to his office … I was sitting down across the desk from him … He was talking about how awful it would be if this political race resulted in some of my friends ruining their lives, getting divorces and embarrassing their children, and that some people he knew were gathering information of a highly sensitive nature concerning morals, or lack thereof, on Mike Robinson and Mike Heiligenstein, and that—as he put it—he was having a hard time keeping these people from making this stuff public.
“But if I conveyed to Robinson that if he resigned as mayor [of Round Rock] and Heiligenstein would step down—withdraw from the race—then he would see to it that this information was not submitted to the press. And they had until noon Friday to do these things,” Sheets said.
Sheets said he rushed back to Round Rock and individually called Robinson and Heiligenstein to his office to tell them what Wood said.
“Their reaction was essentially to tell him that it was no deal,” Sheets said. “I didn’t do anything. I figured if I didn’t say anything, that was enough, that would convey the answer.”
But an explicit answer was sought.
“Mary Posey called me up on Friday, in the early afternoon, and said Ron was out of town and asked me if I had a message to convey to Ron. I said, ‘Just tell him the answer is no.’ I think that’s what I said. She said, ‘Thank you,’ and hung up. I can’t say she had any idea what was going on.”
That was the last time the matter was mentioned, Sheets said.
“I’ve talked to Wood since then. I don’t believe it ever came up again.”
Asked if he didn’t try to dissuade Wood from his alleged threats, Sheets said, “I remember I said something like, ‘Are you sure you really want to do this, is it best for your campaign?’
“He said these are other people he’s trying to keep from taking this to the press, and it really wasn’t him.
“He wasn’t asking for my advice,” Sheets said.
In a September 22 interview Wood laughed frequently while hearing the scenario laid out for him concerning Sheets’ charges.
“I don’t know why he would tell you something like that except that [Heiligenstein’s] his business partner. [Sheets and Heiligenstein until recently were partners in some rental property in Round Rock.] “But no, I didn’t say any of that. And that you’d tell me that, that he said that, gives me cause to perhaps go see someone. I don’t know how he could say things like that, if he in fact said it, since he’s my attorney.”
Sheets said in a subsequent interview that he has never represented Wood. The firm, however, has another attorney who frequently works for Wood, in Wood’s official capacity as county commissioner.
Wood said what he told Sheets were in fact rumors he had heard on the street.
“And I don’t know who it is, certainly not friends of mine—or they may be friends of mine and I just don’t know it—that I have heard rumors on the street, period.”
What kind of rumors, Wood was asked.
“Well, about their moral character … I told him that I heard that was going to happen. There’s no way I could stop it because I didn’t know who it was,” Wood said.
Reminded that on July 21 he had given the Sun a package of information which contained allegations of marital infidelities by both Heiligenstein and Robinson, Wood replied, “I was Xeroxing for you what had been given to me. Okay? But I think the two [the alleged threat and the action] are separate and apart…
“The rumor I heard on the street was that information was going to be mailed to everybody in the county. That was what I heard on the street. Not that it was going to be given to the press or anything, but that information was going to be mailed.”
If the threat was never conveyed, there’s been a coincidence. Heiligenstein stayed in the race. Robinson stayed on as mayor. And Wood furnished information about their personal lives to newspaper reporters.
In July, Wood released information to the press concerning, among other things, the names of women with whom Robinson and Heiligenstein were allegedly involved, where they would meet and where they would go.
An article appearing in the Austin American-Statesman exposed the connection of Wood’s executive assistant, Posey, in distributing the information to that newspaper.
The Sun got its package from Wood himself. The commissioner invited a reporter to his office in Georgetown July 21, where Wood reproduced an 11-page packet.
The information indicated copies were also being sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, the State Attorney General and the Williamson County District Attorney.
In formal interviews, Wood invariably stresses that he is “not into revenge.”
“We have a business to run, the county business, and everything, every issue, is separate and apart from the next one. You have to keep it that way,” Wood has said repeatedly.
“It’s like two lawyers going into court. They do battle, they leave it there and go have a drink. That’s the way it should be. They don’t need to get personalities involved, because it destroys everything….”
But Wood called the Sun July 1, shortly after KVUE-TV Channel 24 ran reports on June 28 and June 30 about alleged bid rigging in Round Rock. Wood was anxious to furnish tips about Round Rock wrongdoing, ostensibly to get back at Robinson for taping their February conversation and giving it to a grand jury.
The tips, if true, would also diminish the political threat posed by the candidacy of Heiligenstein, who until February was a Round Rock councilman.
In that same July 1 telephone call, Wood said he might be giving out lists of “who was sleeping with who” and “I doubt if I’ll have an opponent … in 10 days.”
In the course of relating his information, Wood at one point said the tape recording made by Robinson had been altered, because he had said he was “not” there to ask for Robinson’s support, and the word had been struck.
But he added, “One thing was true—I’m vicious and vindictive.”
“When somebody [messes] with me I get them. It takes time. One guy took 10 years.”
This article was originally published in the October 16, 1998, edition of the Williamson County Sun.
Wood Fan Club Points to Concrete Successes
Special Report by Ken Martin
Sun Political Editor
Ron Wood gets things done, and an intensely loyal group of supporters want the commissioner back for another four years.
David Ruehlman, with the Austin engineering firm of Lichliter Jameson and Associates Inc., recently gave Wood’s campaign $250. The firm does no work for the Williamson County Commissioners Court, he said.
“He’s a friend, Ruehlman said Wednesday. “But I think he does a good job for his local constituents there. He seems to have the vision to get roads and bridges built.
“He’s somewhat controversial, but he goes to bat for his constituents—no matter how many times he sticks his foot in his mouth,” Ruehlman said.
Johnny Bryant, president of the Forest North Neighborhood Association, figures residents of the 600 homes owe Wood a big debt of gratitude.
“He hasn’t done everything I wanted him to do, but he’s been straightforward and told me what he was going to do and why. I appreciate that honesty,” the association leader said Tuesday.
Bryant said the commissioner promised he would help solve the perennial flooding problems that plagued the populous area east of Highway 183 and south of Highway 620. And he did.
Wood replaced two bridges over Lake Creek, with $135,000 from private developers helping, and expedited a privately funded $1.7 million project to improve the creek channel.
“He was an active participant in making sure the whole thing got done,” Bryant said of the channel project. Wood “had to make an effort to get out of the way. If you make people come to you for approvals and bow and scrape, it requires unnecessary energy to get the same results.”
With the Lake Creek channel improved, Bryant predicts Wood will soon follow through on his vow to cure the remaining spot-flooding caused by blocked bar ditches.
Already under way, Bryant points out, is the widening of McNeil Drive that will greatly enhance access to the Westwood High School Annex.
“I’m supporting Ron because he has done a good job,” he said.
Bryant said the only major problem in his neighborhood beyond Wood’s solution is the ongoing war between the Town and Country Optimists, who run a recreational complex, and neighbors who say the noise and lights are unbearable.
Wood hosted a meeting between Optimists and the neighbors, but they didn’t reach a happy middle ground. Their problems are now in the lap of a district court to reconcile.
“He needs a little bit longer before he opens his mouth,” Bryant said. “He may say the truth, but people don’t like to hear that all the time.”
David Conrad, president of Williamson County Municipal Utility District Number 2, sings the praises of Wood on projects the commissioner completed in the Brushy Creek area west of Round Rock.
The bridge over Brushy Creek joined two residential areas and provided access to school buses and fire trucks, said Conrad, who lives in Brushy Creek North.
“To people who live in Tonkawa Springs, Great Oaks, Brushy Bend Park and Brushy Creek subdivisions, having that bridge is quite an asset,” he said. “It enables fire trucks to reach all areas of the fire district during periods of high water.”
Conrad said he knew that Wood obtained money from developers working in the subdivisions to help fund the new bridge.
Conrad also appreciates Wood’s rebuilding of Sam Bass Road (County Road 175) from Round Rock to Farm to Market Road 1431. “Before, it was a very narrow, winding, unsafe road,” he said.
“He and Mary Posey have been much more responsive to our requests when roads needed repairing or ditches needed cleaning out.”
Nobody in Williamson County loves local Republicans more than John Gordon, who, for five years until March 1987, ran their political machine and was instrumental in making this a two-party county.
Gordon, a Round Rock resident, likes the projects Wood completed around that city, such as Quick Hill Road (County Road 172), a main feeder that empties several west Round Rock subdivisions onto Farm to Market Road 1325 for the morning shot to Austin.
Gordon said Wood took a strong negotiating position with private land owners, worked with the railroad to get permission to widen a crossing and completed the work in record time.
“He got it built quickly, and it’s a damn good road,” Gordon said.
Which, to Gordon, said shows Wood’s “ability to identify critical paths to get a project done.”
Wood leveraged his limited precinct funds, Gordon said, like when he got developer support to speed the replacement of a low-water crossing over Brushy Creek with a spanking new bridge.
That’s a “major north-south access route,” Gordon said.
Wood cleared hurdles to expedite the state’s completion of an eight-mile route from Round Rock to Cedar Park, FM 1431, by installing fences and moving utilities.
The former chairman said he personally saw Wood walking through Forest North after a flood, putting his hand in the hand of residents, and promising to “do something about drainage out there.”
Starting off using his road crew to clear the undergrowth from creeks and ditches, knocking down obstructing trees, Wood made way for the water to get out of the subdivision.
The bridges and channelization, praised earlier by Bryant, followed.
In terms of the big picture, Gordon credits the commissioner with vision.
“He recognized southern Williamson County is a critical area, associated with Austin in many ways. Without a good road plan we might get choked off in mobility and opportunity,” he said.
The way Gordon sees it, Wood’s passionate caring for the problems of the precinct is what caused some of his public relations gaffes, like the “plowboy mentality” remarks that followed the county’s defeat of the $32 million road-and-bridge bond in 1987.
“He becomes so emotionally attached, he feels personally injured,” Gordon said. That’s why a politician shouldn’t “take the vote seriously,” he added.
“His greatest weakness is not that he doesn’t get stuff done and is not a forward planner, but that he becomes too emotionally attached to his ideas, and when they are not accepted he says things he probably should not have said.
“He’s not been a very good public relations person for himself …
“But if you had a problem in your neighborhood which could be solved by your commissioner, I can’t think of a better commissioner these past four years to help you,” he said.
This article was first published in the October 16, 1988, edition of the Williamson County Sun.
Slump Slugs Wood With Building Losses
Special Report by Ken Martin
Sun Political Editor
Ron Wood’s first term as Precinct 1 commissioner can be safely called controversial. On November 8, the first Republican commissioner in Williamson County since Reconstruction faces Democrat Mike Heiligenstein of Round Rock.
Wood’s first four years on the county court have brought mixed reviews. Most people credit him with building needed bridges and roads in his district, but his blunt words and combative politics have alarmed many others. Among his more controversial acts: Wood secretly formed and controlled two political action committees that funded local Democrats as well as Republicans, bulldozed a developer’s private road, and angered farmers and ranchers about the “plowboy mentality” he said defeated a $32 million road bond.
More recently, Round Rock Mayor Mike Robinson secretly tape recorded a meeting in which Wood described himself as a “vicious and vindictive person” and warned that “those who do things to me will suffer later.” He added that if Round Rock officials supported his opponent Heiligenstein, “they’ll have four more years of raping coming, and I will. It’s just my nature….”
Who is the man behind the headlines? In a series of interviews, the incumbent county commissioner and others tell the story of Ron Wood. This is the last group of articles in a three-part series.
Ron Wood is nearing the end of his first term as Precinct 1 commissioner. He touts strong business orientation, just as he did when he ran for the office in 1984. But Wood, like nearly everyone in the building industry in Central Texas, has gone from boom to bust in the space of the past four years.
“I went from being comfortable to having nothing,” he said September 22.
“There’s not too many politicians I know that went into office with a lot of money and at the end of a first term don’t have any money. I think there’s an awful lot of politicians who went into office with nothing and came out with a whole lot,” he said.
“I have tried for three years to take care of my obligations with my bankers. I have spent everything that I had, and sold every property that I owned outright, and borrowed against everything that I could to take care of my obligations—as I should because they are my obligations. And I’m to the point now where I don’t have anything left to take care of my obligations.”
Not all the assets Wood had last year are available to creditors. In Wood’s divorce decree approved in March 1987, his wife of 12 years was awarded a Georgetown condominium, a 1984 Mercedes 300 SD, a 1986 GMC van and child support of $600 a month for some 18 years.
Wood has made contradictory public statements about whether he faces bankruptcy. In a Sun interview September 22, asked if bankruptcy was a probability, Wood said, “It is still very possible, of course. And I’m in good company. It’s the times that are beyond our control.”
But an October 5 article in the Austin American-Statesman quoted Wood as saying, “I haven’t thought about bankruptcy. I’ve got county business and a campaign to run.”
Wood has properties posted for foreclosure and he has been hit with lawsuits. But that shouldn’t matter to voters, he said.
“I don’t think it should. The public should view it that Ron Wood was busy taking care of county business. And certainly if you look at the record of accomplishment … you can see I spent all my time taking care of county business, and that’s a responsibility that I asked for and assumed January 1, 1985.
According to the property records of Williamson County, several of Wood’s Precinct 1 employees have bought real estate from Wood or sold real estate to him. In another instance, Wood borrowed $26,000 from his county road-and-bridge foreman.
Wilma Veazey, who left Wood’s payroll last July, was Precinct 1 secretary when Wood took office January 1, 1985.
A year later, Veazey paid nearly $40,000 to the Farmers Home Administration for some 5,300 square feet of land in Florence, in the unplatted Hunters Point subdivision. The warranty deed conveying the property to Veazey was executed January 10, 1986, by Wood and Barry Lauger, an insurance salesman who in 1986 ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate for Precinct 2 justice of the peace.
The commissioner said last year that Veazey purchased a home under a program offered by the Farmers Home Administration.
At the same time Veazey bought the property from Wood, her name was listed on reports filed with the Secretary of State as one of the people who determined how funds would be disbursed from a political action committee called Williamson County Citizens for Better Government, formed December 30, 1985.
Wood admitted in 1986 that he himself had formed that PAC and another one, and had recruited friends and business associates—people he described as “totally unfamiliar” with the operation of PACs—to front for him on the disclosure statements filed with the Secretary of State. He said he personally filled out all the papers and had his friends sign them.
“I make the decision where the money goes. [It’s] me and me alone,” he said in a July 27, 1986 Sun article.
In 1987, Veazey bought more Hunters Point property. On May 7, 1987, CLW Joint Venture, a partnership consisting of Ronnie B. Wood and Tim Lear of Georgetown, conveyed to Veazey a warranty deed for 6,345 square feet of property.
Wood said Monday he also built a home for William Johnson, who is on his road-and-bridge crew. Johnson was listed as treasurer of the other PAC Wood formed December 30, 1985, Responsible Government for Williamson County.
According to the deed records of Williamson County, the land for that house, located off County Road 107, was purchased from Ernest Paul Domel Jr.—Wood’s brother-in-law—by William Johnson and his wife, Jennifer Johnson, for $35,000 in 1981. A warranty deed was executed to the Farmers Home Administration for $30,000 in February 1982.
Jennifer Johnson was one of the people who fronted as a decision maker for the disbursement of funds from Wood’s PAC, Williamson County Citizens for Better Government.
The people listed as decision makers on how funds would be distributed from Responsible Government for Williamson County were Wood’s longtime business associate and friend, attorney Jack Webernick of Georgetown, and the woman with whom Wood admitted—under oath during a March, 1982, civil trial—he had had an affair.
In yet another instance of connections between Wood’s official county payroll and his private business dealings, Winnie Bates, the secretary who replaced Veazey, bought property in Hunters Point before she got a job with the county. CLW Joint Venture, on a warranty deed signed by Wood and Lear December 9, 1985, conveyed 7,824 square feet of property to Bates.
In August, 1986, Bates was hired as a clerk in the office of the Precinct 1 justice of the peace. Terminated when a new justice was appointed early last June, she began working as Wood’s secretary later that month.
Mary Posey, Wood’s executive assistant, conveyed a lot in the Family Acres subdivision to Wood last March.
That same month, March 1988, Wood borrowed $26,000 from his foreman, Curtis Lee McDaniel. Wood pledged as security a lot in Tonkawa Springs, a Round Rock subdivision.
McDaniel started on Wood’s road-and-bridge crew in March 1987. In July, Wood conveyed to McDaniel by warranty deed a lot in the Family Acres subdivision, for which McDaniel paid the Farmers Home Administration more than $40,000. The lot Wood sold McDaniel was the same one Wood got from Posey in March.
Six years ago—two years before Wood entered office—he built a home on County Road 107, between Hutto and Georgetown, for Joseph Holdread. Holdread had purchased his half-acre lot from Wood’s parents-in-law, obligating himself for $33,000, including construction funds, in September 1982. Holdread began working for Wood in June 1987.
Another employee having real estate dealings with Wood was Roger Havins, who left the Precinct 1 payroll in May 1987. Havins lived in the unplatted Hunters Point subdivision that Wood developed in Florence, where Veazey and Bates also owned homes.
Wood left the employ of the Central Texas GPI Marketing Cooperative in 1980, a venture that tried to build an alcohol plant to double or triple the prices paid for local grain. Wood took with him a nest egg of more than $65,000.
Since then, he has started, joined or been involved in at least eight business partnerships and corporations. They include San Gabriel Builders Inc., Ron Wood Custom Homes, Big Chief Properties, Noffsinger-Wood Inc., Live Oak Development Company Inc., South Fork Investments Inc., CLW Joint Venture and Raintree Venture Inc.
In a May 1987 interview Wood said that building houses for sale through a government-subsidized housing program was his way of repaying society.
The people who buy dwellings through the Farmers Home Administration “try but they don’t have the ability to acquire things. I don’t build [the houses] to the bare minimum standards. I make them so I could live in them myself. It gives them pride and makes them part of the system,” he said.
“There’s no profit. Most of them, I lose money on, up to $500 to $2,000 a house. Some I make $2,500 on, depending on the cost of the lots. If I could not afford to do it, I wouldn’t.”
In interviews last year, Wood described his business endeavors.
In 1980, Wood began building houses in the River Ridge subdivision, on the north side of Leander Road in Georgetown. In partnership with Elmer McLester, formerly of McLester and Grisham Real Estate, insurance agent Owen Smith and builder Dean Noffsigner. Wood bought land east of River Ridge and resold it, “flipped it” in real estate parlance, a few months later.
He also bought five acres on County Road 107 north of Hutto. He cut that into five lots, selling three and building houses on two.
He built houses in Jarrell. Without partners, he created the Foxwood subdivision in Theon. In Florence, in CLW Joint Venture with Carter Callan and Tim Lear, president of the Greater Texas Bank of South Austin, he built homes in the unplatted Hunters Point subdivision. Callan later left the partnership.
Back in Georgetown, he constructed houses in Rabbit Hollow, in Quail Valley and on Seventh Street by the cemetery of the International Order of Odd Fellows. In partnership with insurance agent Owen Smith he built Smithwood, a duplex subdivision on Highway 29 east of Georgetown.
As a partner in Noffsigner-Wood, Inc. with Dean Noffsinger of Austin, in 1981 Wood built a home in Georgetown that turned out badly. The resulting lawsuit cost the partners a judgment of $150,000.
In 1984, Wood acted as point man to organize the Indian Creek subdivision on Highway 29 east of Georgetown. He negotiated the land purchase and obtained water service.
The subdivision was owned by banker Doak Fling, engineers Charles Steger and Don Bizzell, businessman Allen Grimsley and attorney Webernick, all of Georgetown, Wood said. He bought five lots there, building and selling homes on some. On October 13, Bizzell said Wood was also a partner in Indian Creek.
Wood put $20,000, he said, into a corner lot with commercial building on Highway 29 at County Road 102, east of Georgetown. That was in partnership with more Georgetown men: engineers Steger and Bizzell, dentist Euclid McLeod, optometrist Stephen Schaefer and Webernick. Bizzell said October 13 that Wood’s interest in the property was bought out in 1987.
Wood invested in a 90-acre farm just inside Bell County with a half dozen others, including Webernick.
In a corporate venture called Live Oak Development Company, formed in 1986, Wood put up the College Place condominiums at Second and College streets in Georgetown. The corporation’s directors were attorney Charles Crossfield, president; Wood, vice president; attorney Parker McCullough, secretary; and attorney Bill Connor, treasurer.
Wood said he owned 40 percent of the corporation.
“We’re not partners. We own stock in a corporation,” Wood pointed out June 10, 1987. Crossfield put up sweat equity and did the legal work for his share.
The condominiums were posted for foreclosure in August on debts of $294,000, then pulled back so the debt could be restructured, McCollough, the Democratic nominee for state representative, said August 25.
A representative of Georgetown National Bank said October 6, “The payments were made and the loan is current.”
Wood borrowed from the Round Rock National Bank to build homes in the Round Rock area in the Somerset and Peachtree Valley subdivisions. These three properties were posted for foreclosure for $165,000 in April. The homes were sold for less than Wood owed. he was subsequently sued for the difference, some $29,000, plus 18 percent interest from the time the homes were sold in April and $5,000 in attorney’s fees.
In 1987, despite bad times, Wood scarfed up lots in the Raintree subdivision on the southeast outskirts of Georgetown that had been foreclosed on by the Bank of the Hills. Doing business as Raintree Venture Inc., Wood borrowed money to build some 14 homes, all but one of them for a low-interest program sponsored by the Farmers Home Administration.
In August, Raintree Venture Inc., of which Wood is president, and San Gabriel Builders Inc., a company founded in 1982 by attorney Webernick, were sued by Wickes Lumber for nonpayment of some $66,000 in materials for the Raintree project. The suit sought to foreclose on some 14 houses to secure the money.
Six of the Raintree properties were posted for foreclosure by Bank of the Hills in October for a total of $243,000.
Raintree Venture is in danger of having its incorporation revoked. Liz Serrano, enforcement officer with the State Comptroller’s office, said September 28 that a delinquency notice of non-payment of franchise taxes was mailed August 26. On October 10, the state comptroller cancelled Raintree’s corporate privileges. If franchise fees are not paid by February 10, the corporation’s charter would be subject to termination.
Wood said Monday that the lawsuits filed by Wickes and the Round Rock National Bank were both “settled this morning.”
In his capacity as county commissioner, Wood was sued by Milburn Investments Inc. in March 1987, after Wood ordered his crew to bulldoze a developer’s road which obstructed a county road. Wood subsequently filed a counterclaim for $5 million after receiving a letter indicating Milburn Investments would drop the suit in return for a reduction in taxes in the Northeast Round Rock Road District. The trial on this lawsuit is scheduled for December.
When asked how these lawsuits affected his ability to function as a commissioner, Wood said, “They don’t affect it whatsoever. Every commissioner over there has lawsuits filed against them … It doesn’t affect me at all.”
This article was originally published in the October 19, 1988, edition of the Williamson County Sun.
Power, Politics and Parmer Lane
A Special Report by Ken Martin
Sun Political Editor
Without being asked, Precinct 1 Commissioner Ron Wood denied in a September 22 interview that he had ever threatened to kill the $21 million extension of Parmer Lane.
“I know there’s a question that you want to ask me,” Wood said.
“Someone put a bug in your ear on Parmer Lane, that I was opposed to it, that I would kill it.”
Wood said he was not opposed to the roadway but simply hewing to a hardball negotiating tactic.
“No right of way, no roadway. The same applied to Parmer Lane,” Wood said.
There’s another side to the story. One man says Wood tried to hold the highway hostage to win passage of a road district bill Wood badly wanted, and another says that after the road district bill was defeated, Wood tried—by doing nothing—to doom the Parmer Lane extension.
“Wood was hot. He was wound up. He was mad. He was pulling out all the stops to try to get me off the road district bill,” attorney Richard Suttle said October 12 of his encounter last year with Commissioner Wood.
The road district legislation was House Bill 131, authored by lawyer-lobbyist Ed Wendler Sr. and carried by State Representative Randall Riley of Round Rock. It was defeated July 18, 1987, in a special session of the Texas Legislature. The death blow was a point of order; the bill had not been advertised 30 days before its introduction in the Legislature, as required by the State Constitution.
Wood and Suttle met near the Austin City Council chambers, two days before the road district measure was killed. Suttle, who is with the Austin law firm of Armbrust and Brown, was working to defeat the road district bill on behalf of his clients, who A.H. “Spike” Robinson later identified as Bill Milburn and himself.
“I got there and Wood met me in the parking lot as I was getting out of my truck,” Suttle said. “He was somewhat confrontational. He told me he knew I was out fighting the road district bill at the Capitol.
“He said I needed—I don’t remember how he put it—to get off the bill, or quit fighting the bill, and get behind it. And if I didn’t, that Parmer Lane was dead.
“I don’t remember his words, but he said he would take it out on my clients in Williamson County,” Suttle said.
Was the threat credible?
“He’s only one commissioner. I’ve always gotten fair treatment from the rest of the court and expected that would have been the case in the future. But he might have been able to make my job harder.
“It’s very possible he could not have done anything but make my life miserable,” Suttle opined.
As Suttle and Wood parted, Suttle added, “[Wood] said, as he was walking away, ‘And you know what? This conversation never took place.’
“And I never forgot it,” Suttle quickly added.
Read the foregoing account Monday, Wood said he didn’t recall meeting in a parking lot but a meeting in the Capitol. But he agreed with Suttle’s account of the conversation.
“It’s very possible I said that because I was down there to keep the bill alive.
“That’s right—that’s hardball politics. That’s done every day. You use what you have to get done what you feel is important for your constituents,” Wood said.
But Wood theorized that Suttle was working not to kill the road district bill but to modify it to include a provision to absorb the debts of existing road districts. Wood thinks that would have helped Bill Milburn, a client of Suttle’s who owns property in the troubled Northeast Round Rock Road District.
“I’m not sure to this day he was opposing that bill. I think Suttle is the one who changed the language in the legislative road district bill.
“How? Well if he got hold of it he could change the language. And language was put in to assume the debts of the other road districts … That language was never in there, nor would I have supported it,” he said.
Had the road district debt been spread across Precinct 1, Milburn’s residential subdivision, and anything else within the Northeast Round Rock Road District, would have become more competitive.
Wood said he and lawyer-lobbyist Wendler delivered the draft legislation to Representative Riley’s office but the wording had been changed by the time Riley mailed copies back to elected officials for their comments.
“The [bill] Wendler and I took there did not have that language in it,” Wood said.
Contacted later Monday, Suttle said Wood’s claims were “not true.” And Suttle pooh-poohed Wood’s effort to pin the legislative change on him.
“That was the whole provision that scared us to death on that bill,” Suttle said. “Once a bill is filed, a lobbyist doesn’t change it … By the time I got involved the bill already had those provisions in it.
“Wood came up with this story when the whole thing blew up,” Suttle theorized.
Two days after House Bill 131 had died a legislative death, Robinson was at a Round Rock party celebrating the expansion of road systems in Williamson County.
Robinson said that Wood approached him and spoke these words: “Parmer Lane is dead.”
Robinson said Wood made the statement at a July 20, 1987, reception for William Garbade, who had taken over the reins as district engineer for the Highway Department’s District 14.
“Wood, like a little bulldog, came to express his displeasure” at the death of HB 131, Robinson said.
Robinson, along with his joint venturer in Millwood, Bill Milburn, had hired attorney Suttle to work against the road district bill, Robinson said. As major land owners, they saw the possibility of having to pay enormous tax bills if the road district was created.
“I hired [Suttle] and paid the bill, much to Ron Wood’s disgust,” Robinson said October 5.
Robinson said he didn’t take Wood’s boast too seriously.
“I didn’t think at the time it was a serious threat [that] he could kill Parmer Lane but a quick, angry response, so he could let me know he didn’t like what I was doing with the road district,” he said.
Did Wood tell Robinson “Parmer Lane is dead?”
“Yeah, but that didn’t have anything to do with the road district legislation. That had to do with the stance I was taking on Parmer Lane—no right of way, no roadway,” Wood said Monday.
“That got back to the negotiating [tactic]—scare him up and make him believe Parmer Lane wasn’t going to happen,” he said.
Wood said vengeance toward Robinson for the death of the road district bill would have been pointless, because it was not Robinson’s lobbyist who got the legislation scuttled.
“I know who killed that bill. It wasn’t Suttle,” he said.
Which is true. Wood credited Jake Johnson of Round Rock, a former legislator, with devising the parliamentary weapon that killed the legislation on a point of order.
Wood expressed his displeasure on that point publicly, in commissioners court, the Monday morning following the Saturday death of the bill.
That was the day of the Garbade reception, when Wood told Robinson Parmer Lane was dead.
Wood’s threat turned out to be empty. The highway is under construction. The State Department of Highways and Public Transportation awarded a contract in August 1987 to pay to extend Parmer Lane from Farm to Market Road 1325 (Burnet Road) in Austin to Highway 620 west of Round Rock.
In retrospect, there’s no way to know if the highway would have been killed or built, had two other commissioners not gotten involved.
Wood’s key role in the extension of Parmer Lane was to obtain right of way that became necessary when the Highway Department redesigned the new roadway’s intersection with Highway 620. The right of way for Parmer Lane itself had been dedicated by Austin White Lime before Wood was elected.
Part of the land Wood needed was held by the Robinson Ranch. Robinson said the ranchland was more than 1,000 feet from the Parmer Lane-Highway 620 intersection but it was needed for an elaborate interchange. He felt the Robinson family would not have benefitted from the donation. Hence, he insisted on compensation.
Time was running out on acquiring the land. Without it, the Highway Department could not award a contract to build Parmer Lane. Wood didn’t budge.
“Wood didn’t do anything,” Robinson said. “Finally, I was contacted by [Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry] Mehevec and [Precinct 2 Commissioner Wesley] Foust on what it would take to get the right of way. I finally wound up negotiating with Mehevec on how we would do it.”
It cost the county $100,000.
Could Wood have killed the roadway?
“The only way I know he could stop the roadway is if he didn’t produce the right of way for the state. That would stop it,” Robinson said.
“If Foust and Mehevec had not come to me, maybe [Parmer Lane] would not have gotten started.”
Did Wood Negotiate?
Wood said that after the Garbade reception he had Wendler, who had “known Spike for years,” working on Robinson to obtain the donation of right of way needed for the Highway 620-Parmer Lane intersection.
But with the passage of time, Wood said his position on the Robinson tract evolved. Instead of insisting the right of way be donated, Wood said he would have softened when the Highway Department made it clear that the project would be set back.
“The state said if we didn’t go out to bid soon, it would be out of the funding cycle and it would have to wait a year or more,” Wood said. “We had to buy the right of way or take a chance of losing Parmer for at least another year. And it’s too critical for that area for the county to wait another year.”
But by then, Foust and Mehevec had already entered the picture.
Asked when he stopped negotiating with Robinson, Wood replied, “I didn’t. They just moved in on the process …
“Had they not stepped in, I would have gotten the word from the Highway Department we were out of time and I would have done the same thing they did—I would have bought the right of way. And I voted to … buy the right of way,” he said.
Actually, Wood voted July 15, 1987, to authorize a public hearing on the issue of whether to finance the right-of-way purchase through non-voter approved time warrants.
He was absent on vacation August 5, 1987, when the court held the public hearing and voted 4-0 to issue the time warrants.
Wood has continued to insist, to all who would listen, that the “meddling” of Mehevec and Foust in the Parmer Lane affair cost county taxpayers an unnecessary $100,000.
But Wood was in court taking credit September 28, when his executive assistant, Mary Posey, snapped pictures of him delivering the $100,000 time warrant to a smiling Spike Robinson.
This article was originally published in the October 19, 1988, edition of the Williamson County Sun.
Wood’s Future: Home and No Reporters
A Special Report by Ken Martin
Sun Political Editor
If party preferences mean anything, Williamson County’s Precinct 1 Commissioner Ron Wood—the first Republican elected county commissioner since Reconstruction—should win another term. He unseated a two-term incumbent Democrat by nearly a two-to-one margin in 1984.
Precinct 1, which takes in south Georgetown, most of Round Rock and the unincorporated subdivisions east of Highway 183 in southern Williamson County, has elected Republicans as county commissioner, justice of the peace and constable.
But Wood is facing a formidable opponent in former Round Rock Councilman Mike Heiligenstein, a Democrat, in the November 8 election.
Win or lose, Ron Wood says he will not run again. Although he broke his first-term campaign promises not to raise taxes and not to vote a salary raise for himself, the two-term-and-out pledge is carved in stone, he insists.
In the last of a three-part series on the controversial commissioner, Wood talks about life after politics.
“Certainly not another term as commissioner,” says Ron Wood, when asked what’s in store after a second term.
“I said in 1984 that it should be limited to two terms, eight years, just like the president or governors. If you cannot get in there and bring something new to the county, to help the county’s future and get it done within eight years, you don’t need to be in there. You don’t need to be there looking for a retirement check.”
But don’t expect a new Ron Wood if he wins reelection in 1988.
“I can’t change me. I’m a businessman, and I’m used to making things happen,” he says.
As for new goals, things to make happen in the next four years, Wood said September 22 he would start October 1 on a program of rebuilding all roads within his precinct, all 300 miles of them, minus the newer ones in subdivisions that don’t need it.
“I’m talking primarily of the county roads, with county road numbers on them.”
One thing he won’t do, he said, is to reintroduce legislation for a precinct-wide road district. He tried that with disastrous results in 1987, after a county bond election failed—by 188 votes—to approve $32 million in road-and-bridge improvements. The road district measure was killed by a point of order during a special session, because the bill had not been advertised 30 days before its introduction, as required by the State Constitution.
“No, I think we have enough in place,” Wood said.
Besides dolling up the old county roads, Wood’s highest priorities are gathering up right of way for a batch of big highways.
Foremost on the list is the proposed $336 million highway between Georgetown and Austin known as MoKan. To get the ball rolling, a group of public officials and property owners met September 30 in Austin. (Wood was not there. He had had eye surgery the preceding day.)
Wood said in that September 22 interview he expected to have possession of the necessary deeds within two weeks for extending Parmer Lane from Highway 620, west of Round Rock, all the way to Farm to Market Road 1431, east of Round Rock. A $21.4 million construction contract is already under way to extend Parmer Lane from Burnet Road in Austin to Highway 620.
Wood will also be looking for the right of way needed to extend Howard Lane from the Travis County line to Farm to Market Road 1431, north of Round Rock—assuming Howard Lane is designated as MoPac North, he said.
Finally, the commissioner wants the land needed to push an alternate Highway 183 through on the east side of Cedar Park and Leander. A legislatively created road district already exists, but the tax base is considered too small to build the necessary roads to relieve the congestion on Highway 183.
To restart Round Rock’s once jet-propelled industrial recruiting machine, Wood wants to establish a Reinvestment Zone and/or Enterprise Zone to help the city and the Northeast Round Rock Road District. The idea is to take advantage of a natural industrial corridor lying along and between Interstate 35 and the future MoKan, an area well served by utilities and rail transport.
Wood also says he’s working with Georgetown attorney Randy Grimes to boost the hope of a regional sewer project that could handle whatever new industries need. Grimes is chairman of the county Republican Party and sits on the board of the Lower Colorado River Authority.
“I have no political aspirations,” the commissioner said, looking beyond a second term.
Asked where he hopes to be in 10 years, Wood said, “I hope to be here in Williamson County, enjoying a good way of life and a good financial future …
“You know, I don’t have any goals other than to be here in this county. This county’s been good to me. I like it here and I want to stay here to see the fruits of my labor as a commissioner be out there for everyone. That’s what it’s all about.”
The more Wood talked about the future, the more animated he became.
“This ain’t political bull. This is stuff I tell you every day,” Wood said, thumping on his desk. “This is what I believe. This is what I’m here for.”
What about 20 years from now, when Wood is 62 and reaching Social Security age—does he have any big goals?
“No, I’ve never cared about being wealthy. When I was very young I was very poor on that little dirt farm with my grandfather, working with a team of horses.
“I discovered then that I had a much as anybody else. The richest man in the world may have 15 vehicles to drive, but he can only ride in one at a time. He may have a house with 50 or 100 rooms, but he can only be in one of them at a time.
“We had an old International pickup truck, so we had a vehicle to ride, and we had clothes on our back and food in our belly and a roof over our head, which is as much as anyone had. And my only goal, for myself, is just to be comfortable.
“And my main goal, what I’m concerned about, is the future of this county, for everyone, for my children. You know, I’ve got a son 18 months old, and I’ve got one in the Navy. I’m concerned about their future. I want them to have a good future.
“And if I could put everything in place to ensure that, then I’m in fact ensuring my own future,” Wood said.
One thing he would do differently, if he could replay and touch up the first term, he said, is to quit talking to reporters. Like lots of elected officials, Wood believes the press creates most of the problems politicians face, rather than merely reporting them.
“I would never talk to the press because the press has a way of twisting, taking out of context, printing part of a sentence and not all of it. And that’s by and large what I would do differently.”
The commissioner is, if not in favor of shooting the messengers, then at least not giving them a glimpse of the man behind the votes.
“The only controversy that I’ve had has been brought about by the press … You know that as well as I do. If I never talked to the press, there wouldn’t be near the controversy.”
This article was originally published in the October 19, 1988, edition of the Williamson County Sun.