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The wrong side of town

Almost two years after Winter Storm Uri crippled the unprepared Texas electric system and knocked out power to 40 percent of buildings, Winter Storm Mara slammed a broad swath of Texas. Buildings that lost electricity stretched from as far...

Legislation would bar appraisal district lawsuits against property owners

If legislation introduced March 8th by State Senator Drew Springer (R-Weatherford) gets through the legislative gauntlet and is signed into law his bill will snatch away the authority of chief appraisers to sue property owners. Springer’s Senate Bill 1923 would...

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Bulldog Investigations Draw Attention

While we've been out pursuing other investigations, the regional press has been following and building on our work. The latest recognition comes courtesy of The...

Bad Planning or Magnificent Deceit?

Posted Thursday May 27, 2010 1:25pm
Bad Planning or Magnificent Deceit?
Commentary by Bruce Melton

Bruce MeltonCAMPO, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization that coordinates regional transportation planning for Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis, and Williamson Counties, has committed our region to a transportation development plan that, for the second time in ten years, assumes excessively aggressive traffic growth.

How do we know that CAMPO was overly optimistic with its projections for the 2030 and 2035 plans? The 2035 Plan projects future growth in traffic almost identically to the 2030 Plan. But actual traffic counts and total miles traveled, on average, are flat or actually falling. (See accompanying chart, “TxDOT Traffic Counts.”)

Why have trends changed?
Data from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), indicates that traffic volume has not increased since the turn of the 21st century. This has occurred even in the face of significant

Council Member’s Pay Violates Texas Constitution

Posted Tuesday May 4, 2010 2:39pm
Updated Wednesday May 5, 2010 10:56am
Georgetown Council Member’s
Pay Violates Texas Constitution
Investigative Report by Ken Martin

Pat BerrymanPat Berryman, who is serving in her second term as a member of the Georgetown City Council, was paid a lump sum of $13,600 by the City of Georgetown in an apparent violation of the Texas Constitution.

The payment was requested by Berryman as reimbursement of expenses from July 2008 through December 2009.

The payment is reflected in a copy of Council Member Berryman’s city payroll record obtained from the City of Georgetown using the Texas Public Information Act.

During the entire period for which Berryman claimed reimbursement, she was a state employee working for State Senator Steve Ogden (R-Bryan), according to state payroll records obtained from the Secretary of the Texas Senate through an open records request.

Section 40(b) of the Texas Constitution prohibits a state employee who is a member of a governing body from drawing a salary. A state employee serving as a council member may be reimbursed for actual expenses but must prove that the expenses equal or exceed the amount reimbursed.

Council Member Berryman has not met that requirement.

How it happened

Mark-SokolowIn a December 15, 2009, e-mail to Georgetown City Attorney Mark Sokolow, Berryman requested reimbursement of expenses from July 2008 through December 2009.

The $13,600 she was paid represents 17 months at $800 a month.

Berryman’s e-mail to Sokolow lists 16 items, or types of expenses. The e-mail provides no indication of the amount of expenses incurred for any or all of these items. Berryman provided no receipts for the stated expenses.

Reimbursement previously refused

According to the minutes of the Georgetown City Council Meeting of April 8, 2008, under Agenda Item T, the council voted 7-0 to approve a change to the compensation schedule for the mayor and council members.

The new schedule was based on recommendations of a compensation committee appointed by the council to study the matter.

The compensation schedule authorized:

• “Base compensation” of $450 a month for the mayor and $300 a month for each of the seven council members.

• An “optional stipend” of $800 a month for the mayor and council members.

The minutes of that council meeting do not fully explain the compensation, but the minutes specify—as the compensation committee recommended—that the mayor and council members “would not be required to explain their reason for accepting the stipend.”


To facilitate these payments, the city devised a form that provided boxes to be checked, to either accept or decline each form of compensation

A warning was printed on the form:

Georgetown City Attorney Hired In Secret

Posted Wednesday April 28, 2010 5:31pm
Updated Friday April 30, 2010
Georgetown City Attorney Hired In Secret
Investigative Report by Ken Martin

The City of Georgetown has legal problems.

On September 8, 2009, the Georgetown City Council made the decision to hire a new, in-house city attorney, Mark Sokolow, in a closed-door executive session. That appears to be a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

James HemphillAttorney Jim Hemphill of the Austin law firm Graves Dougherty Hearon and Moody, serving as a volunteer attorney on behalf of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, described the nature of such a violation.

“While the Open Meetings Act allows deliberation of personnel matters to be held in executive session, it does not have any provision authorizing hiring decisions to be made in executive session,” Hemphill said.

Hemphill pointed to Open Records Decision No. 605, issued by then Texas Attorney General Dan Morales, that states:

“Although deliberation may take place in an executive session, the board may take action to hire an employee only in an open session properly noticed in accordance with section 3A of the Open Meetings Act.”

Strike two
A possible second violation of the Open Meetings Act is also connected to the hiring of Mark Sokolow. This one relates to the description of an agenda item for the executive session. The notice did not adequately describe what the city council was to discuss behind closed doors. The posting for the 6pm session of the September 8, 2009, agenda stated for Item BB:

“Sec. 551.074 Personnel Matters — City attorney.”

Patricia CarlsPatricia “Trish” Carls of the Austin law firm Carls, McDonald and Dalrymple had served as Georgetown’s city attorney for years. She was present and acted in that capacity at the September 8 council meeting. (It is common practice for small cities to contract with outside law firms for legal services rather than hire the staff necessary to provide such services.)

The wording of the agenda item for the executive session is unclear. It could be construed by the public to mean that a discussion of Carls would be undertaken.

What actually occurred, however, was revealed in the minutes of the September 8 council meeting, which under “Action from Executive Session,” reads as follows:

“Motion by (Council Member Pat) Berryman, second by (Council Member Gabe) Sansing that the Human Resources (sic) have the authority to continue his discussions with the

Q&A with ACLU’s Terri Burke

Posted Monday April 19, 2010 2:36pm
Terri Burke
Executive Director of the Texas ACLU

Interview by Gwen Gibson

Terri BurkeQ. You have tackled many controversial issues during your two and a half years as chief executive of the Texas ACLU. Your ongoing efforts to protect the rights of immigrants and to guarantee religious freedom for all seem to stir up the most debates. How do you explain your stand on these contentious issues to your supporters and to your detractors?

A. One of the first things I stress is that we are talking about immigrant rights, we are not talking about immigration reform. The Constitution doesn’t have those words in it. The Constitution talks about people; it doesn’t talk about citizens. The way we treat our immigrants is a reflection of who we are as a people and whether they’re here legally or illegally, whether they’ve broken the law or not, they deserve the due process that everybody in this country gets according to the Constitution. I don’t ask you to believe that immigration policy should be changed. I don’t ask you to believe that 12 million people ought to be thrown out of the country or 12 million people ought to be let in. I just ask you to think about who we are as a people and what are our very most fundamental American values. When we don’t afford these folks the basic constitutional rights they are entitled to, we diminish ourselves as Americans.

Q. How do you respond when people say you are defending criminals when you defend the rights of illegal immigrants?

A. I say it’s no different when you have an American accused of committing a burglary. In this country we believe that every person is entitled to an attorney and a trial and a jury of his or her peers. Am I coddling a criminal when I say that? Maybe you think I am. I think it’s about basic rights. My answer is, “What part of the Constitution is it that you don’t like?”

Q. And what about religious freedom?

Investigative Reports

For more than a decade the Bulldog has published hard-hitting, in-depth investigative reports that have shaped civic discourse and public policy, resulted in criminal prosecutions, and enlightened voters about candidates' records. Here are a few samples of our work:

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