Monday, September 8, 2014

Valley Politics Part 2 - The War for Water

The valley has farms. Lots of farmland. Its as rural and agricultural as things get in this county. Don't believe me? Well if you ever happen to be in Clint at the I-10 and Clint Cut-Off exit you will find the Cotton-Eyed Joe. One of the best places to eat in the valley and a frequent meeting place of compadres and comadres.

You'll find a hitching post out there near the parking spaces for vehicles and often a couple of horses there.

So what is the most important resource to a farmer.

Water.

Since the areas are largely unincorporated there are only a couple of levels of government out there. The County, which is a very weak form of government with very little power to solve problems and always at a shortage for much needed services.

As a consequence, the other levels of government in the area leverage far more power than you might think. The other levels of government are school districts and water boards.

The various water boards of which there are many (Irrigation District, Fabens Water, Tornillo Water, Lower Valley Water, Horizon MUD, etc...) carry a lot of power in a community dependent on farming. They have also expanded their services in addition to maintaining the canals and arroyos. Some of them provide trash collection services and park maintenance.

Interestingly the water boards get basically no public scrutiny despite the fact that they are public taxing entities. And frankly, if anyone ever needed a little sunshine as a disinfectant, it's water boards.

Take a look at their management teams and you'll see what I mean. It's quite the collection of individuals. Everything from a former congressman's brother who is über political and who's favorite word is mamón (classy right?), a former head of road and bridge who didn't think it was a good idea to give valley elected officials a heads up about water in their system being brown until 2 weeks after the problem showed up, a former manager who is now a board member, and the former head of the Fabens Housing Authority who abruptly quit upon a small amount of scrutiny and a paper-shredding exercise and ends up at a water board.

Trust me, these entities are a bloggers wet dream. See what I did there? The fact that it's a waterboard that is basically the only entity in town that doesn't use the Elections Department to run their elections should at the vary least raise a few eyebrows. The last time an entity wanted to have it's own election and not use the Elections Department it was Socorro under Jesse Gandara. There's some context for ya.

The former manager of Lower Valley Water District was ousted and then ends up winning a seat on the Board. He is currently suing LVWD. So he's a board member of a public taxing entity and an organization he's suing as a former employee. And that hasn't caused any concern? No one in the media thought it might be a good idea to ask about Texas Open Meeting laws, in particular executive session rules as it relates to settlements?

Public taxing entities spend a lot of your tax dollars settling lawsuits. He might not be able to vote on the settlement, or maybe he can, but no one is asking questions. And speaking of lawsuits, there are frequently HR issues that lead to litigation against water boards. Check the agenda of any of the water boards and you'll see what I mean. LVWD had a lawsuit issue on one of their agendas lately and it got me curious and so I started poking around. If what people down in the valley are saying is true, this scandal would be all over the news if it were a school board or other entity that had any level of public scrutiny. It has all the elements of a PR nightmare for a public entity.

The fact that another entity employs a former congressman's brother who is uber-political really isn't a big deal except for the fact that people like that tend to be polarizing and create enemies. That person's enemies become a problem for the entity, especially when dealing with other levels of government. But those problems work themselves out. Eventually someone will start taking an interest in those elections and then that individual will be in political peril.

It is paramount that the people of the valley become engaged in the happenings of the water boards. They need to start asking the tough questions and attending meetings. The media need to play their part in that effort to inform the public. The community need to elect leaders who won't be afraid to ask tough questions and demand accountability.

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