Early voting begins

Early voting for the Texas Democrat and Republican primaries began yesterday with a light turnout. You can vote at any of the locations indicated below.

Be sure to bring a drivers license, U.S. passport or other approved photo identification with you to vote. Your voter registration card is helpful to the polling place workers but it is not sufficient identification to vote.

The majority of Lubbock County’s early voting locations are at United Supermarkets. This is an anomaly for the state.

United Supermarkets provides the locations at no charge to the taxpayers. If this were a profitable thing everyone would do it. United Supermarkets provides an important public service by allotting thousands of square feet of retail space for eleven days of early voting. They are a great corporate citizen and deserve our thanks.

Thanks also to Dorothy Kennedy and all of the employees of the Lubbock County Elections Office. It is a government office you can count on.
Main Polling Place:
Lubbock County Elections Office
February 18th–February 28th, 8:00 a.m.– 8:00 p.m.
Except Sunday, February 23rd, 1:00 p.m.– 6:00 p.m.
1308 Crickets Ave, Lubbock

United Supermarkets — Locations listed below:
Monday, February 18th – Friday, February 28th 8:00 A.M.– 8:00 P.M.
Except Sunday, February 23rd 1:00 P.M. – 6:00 P.M.

2630 Parkway Dr
4425 19th St (19th & Quaker Ave.)
112 North University Ave
2703 82nd St (82nd & Boston Ave)
401 Slide Road (4th & Slide)
8010 Frankford Ave (82nd & Frankford Ave)

1701 50th St (50th & Ave Q)
4205 98th St (98th & Quaker Ave) Market Street

Other early voting locations:
Texas Tech University
Dates: February 18th – February 28th
Student Recreation Center
Hours: 8:00 A.M. – 8:00 P.M.
Except Sunday, February 23rd, 1:00 P.M. – 6:00 P.M
Texas Tech Campus
Hartford Ave & Main St

Slaton ISD Administration Office
Dates: February 18th – February 28th
Hours: 8:00 A.M. – 8:00 P.M.
Except Sunday, February 23rd, 1:00 P.M. – 6:00 P.M
140 E Panhandle, Slaton

Roosevelt Clubhouse
Dates: February 18th – February 28th
1400 CR 3300
Hours: 8:00 A.M.– 5:00 P.M.
(Closed Saturday and Sunday)

Shallowater Community Center
Dates: February 18th – February 28th
902 Avenue H, Shallowater
(Closed Saturday and Sunday)

Sandstorm Scholar endorses: Ann-Marie Carruth for JP Pct 4

We covered the attempted hijacking of the Justice of the Peace Pct. 4 race by the current office holder Jean Anne Stratton, and her daughter Margaret Anne Brown.  The lack of respect for the electoral process shown by Ms. Brown disqualifies her from any consideration by the Sandstorm Scholar.

In our opinion, Ann-Marie Carruth is by far the most qualified to hold this seat.  She is a practicing attorney, and has spent time in courtrooms around West Texas.  She won’t have to get on-the-job-training to learn how to run the JP court, as each of the other candidates would.

Ann-Marie also has a solid resume of community service, and has shown both intelligence and wisdom in our conversations with her.  We believe she will make a sound Justice of the Peace.

The other four candidates are a former JP Constable, a current Lubbock County Sheriff’s deputy, a retired firefighter, the aforementioned daughter of the current officeholder.

We appreciate KFYO AM790 radio for covering this race with short on-air interviews of each Republican candidate. Click on each name and listen for yourself, and vote in the Republican Primary.

Early voting begins Tuesday. We have listed the candidates in their ballot order.

Brenda Willis

Margaret Anne Brown

Debra Burton

Gary Vaughn

Ann-Marie Carruth

NELCDC funding fraught with appearance of impropriety

Part 2 – More hats than the Sandstorm Scholar

Don’t think this is a scheme concocted by a couple city employees. It is not.

It is Councilwoman Latrelle Bright Joy’s law partner, former mayor David Langston, who has for many years been the driving force behind the North & East Lubbock Community Development Corporation. Their law firm, Mullin, Hoard and Brown, an Amarillo-based firm that boasts over 40 attorneys, is paid to represent NELCDC and has done so since 2006.

It was Langston who made a presentation to the Council on February 28, 2013 (agenda item 7.1) as a member of the board of directors and immediate past Chairman of NELCDC. The presentation was a work session item that was a prelude to the March 14, 2013 council vote to fund the first $251,000 grant in 2013. The second grant was approved in September.

While he serving as chairman of the board for NELCDC, Langston was also its legal counsel.

In that February 28 presentation David Langston spoke to the city council about north and east Lubbock saying from May 10, 1970 [sic] “until perhaps 1992, it was an area in decline”. Coincidentally, Langston was elected mayor of Lubbock in 1992.

In that meeting Councilwoman Joy praised Langston for his efforts to bring the needs of north and east Lubbock to the attention of the Council.

While he serving as chairman of the board for NELCDC, Langston claims he was (and continues to be) also its legal counsel. He is asserting that all communications on city email servers between himself and city employees Thomas Harris and Quincy White are protected from disclosure by attorney-client privilege.

In fairness to Councilwoman Joy, when we interviewed her on February 7, 2014 the Councilwoman indicated that she had been unaware of her firm’s representation of NELCDC until the firm’s recent work arguing that NELCDC records are not public.

“Even though I’m in the firm, the relationship between NELCDC and its attorney are still confidential. We don’t share information.” Hers is a large firm with many partners and hundreds, if not thousands, of clients.

Councilman Victor Hernandez recuses whenever a matter affects a non-profit board on which his wife serves.

But even with that knowledge Councilwoman Joy doesn’t believe there is any appearance of impropriety with her votes to fund NELCDC. In 2013 she voted three times to fund NELCDC for a total of over $1 million while knowing that her law partner, Langston, was NELCDC’s chief proponent and board member.

Councilwoman Joy explained in her interview with us that there is no defined legal conflict in her votes to fund NELCDC.

The American Bar Association has what might appear to be applicable rules of conflict (1.10 & 1.11) however they are model rules, not binding, and probably require an attorney to interpret them. It is interesting to note that Councilman Victor Hernandez recuses whenever a matter affects a non-profit board on which his wife serves.

The appearance of impropriety, on the other hand, is determined by the reader. But Councilwoman Joy isn’t the only city council member that NELCDC influences.

community-champions-price-hernandezNELCDC holds an annual Community Champions banquet. The money for the banquet is raised independent of its Council funding albeit city employees are still involved. At its September 24 banquet NELCDC gave Councilmen Floyd Price and Victor Hernandez its Community Champion Award.

A timely award and no doubt given because the pair sponsored the May 9, 2013 (agenda item 6.2) resolution awarding NELCDC the majority of the proceeds of the city’s mineral royalties. Those royalties to NELCDC could exceed $700,000 this year. It was timely because at the time both council members were facing the possibility of a recall election.

Gratitude is appropriate even when politically auspicious. But while funds are raised independently for the banquet, historically $35,000 to $40,000, we are reminded that money is fungible. Funds raised for one purpose free up existing money for another.

These characters wear more hats than the Sandstorm Scholar.

If NELCDC can raise $40,000 for a party perhaps that money can be better spent offsetting tax dollars or supplementing its credit counseling program.

Quincy White summed up the problem of giving money to NELCDC, or any government funded bureaucracy, in this way. “It’s kind of like that old saying, something about ‘the hog will eat all you give him'” (2/28/2013 council meeting agenda item 7.1).

This is the NELCDC lineup. It should be remembered that while these characters appear to wear more hats than the Sandstorm Scholar, there is no allegation here of criminal behavior.

  1. Quincy White: an Assistant City Manager for the city of Lubbock who is check signer for NELCDC, former Executive Director of NELCDC, contract signer for the city of Lubbock and member of the board of directors of NELCDC. According to Langston’s 2/28/2013 presentation to council White spends ten to twenty percent of his time with NELCDC. It was White who “misspoke” about the nature and reimbursement of Thomas Harris’ employment.
  2. Thomas Harris: Assistant City Secretary for the city of Lubbock who is advocate for NELCDC, hired as Executive Director of NELCDC Oct. 1, 20113 and member of the board of directors of NELCDC.
  3. David Langston: former mayor and law partner of Councilwoman Joy, board member of NELCDC, self-described immediate past chairman of the board (2/28/2013) of NELCDC while at the same time paid legal counsel for NELCDC. It is Langston’s and Joy’s law firm that NELCDC engaged to prevent its records from disclosure.

North and east Lubbock does have pressing needs. In our final article we will look at what ought to be done with the funding.

NELCDC funding fraught with appearance of impropriety

Part 1 – City employee appearance of impropriety
Imagine this, Lubbock. What if two city of Lubbock employees lobbied the city council to fund several $251,000 contracts to a city vendor for which they sat on the board of directors?

What if, whether intentionally or by accident, one of those employees misspoke as to pertinent facts of that contract when advocating for it before the council? What if the other was present and said nothing then or later to correct that misstatement?

What if the employee who misspoke also signed the contracts on behalf of the city? What if, at the same time, he was signing checks on behalf of the corporation receiving the contract?

What if a city employee was personally benefiting from the proceeds of the contract he lobbied for?

What if that money wasn’t spent the way that the corporation said it would be spent?

And further, what if one of those employees went to work for that vendor and was paid from the proceeds of the same contract that the city awarded the corporation? Yes, what if that city employee was personally benefiting from the proceeds of the contract for which he lobbied the city council?

What if some or all of the time he spent working for the vendor was on city time while he was being paid his $80,000+ city salary?

And what if none of those associations were disclosed when the employees were lobbying for the funding?

If you can imagine that, Lubbock, you can imagine what is happening with North & East Lubbock Community Development Corporation funding.

NELCDC advocates do not hesitate to invoke its close connection with the city of Lubbock when it suits them. They use phrases like “when Mayor McDougal started this” and “work started by the city of Lubbock” when asking for money from the city.

If NELCDC fails the liabilities of Parkway Place “potentially could be the city’s liability.”

The NELCDC website touts the association this way, “The organization is a charitable, tax-exempt corporation that was created in February 2004 as part of the mayor’s vision to spur growth and investment in the target area. Consequently, the City of Lubbock currently provides operational funding.”

Does that sound like an organization conceived and operated by the city of Lubbock?

Most of its funding comes from the city of Lubbock. It is run by city of Lubbock employees. Its checks are signed by city of Lubbock employees. Even its job openings are advertised by the city of Lubbock Human Resources Department.

We began our investigation because of a near empty shopping center with no “for lease” sign. That shopping center, Parkway Place, is owned by NELCDC in a partnership according to a February 28, 2013 council presentation (agenda item 7.1).

In a March 14, 2013 Lubbock City Council meeting (agenda item 5.3), NELCDC board member, Assistant City Secretary and soon to also be part-time employee of NELCDC, Thomas Harris, lobbied for funding for the failing organization. Harris told the council that if the NELCDC fails the liabilities of Parkway Place “potentially could be the city’s liability.”

NELCDC is an organization conceived by city of Lubbock actions, funded with city of Lubbock money, run by city of Lubbock employees and its liabilities are potentially city of Lubbock liabilities.

May all city employees collect two paychecks on city time?

But when asked to open its records to the public this development corporation suddenly claims to be a private corporation exempt from open records and open meetings law. Its attorney argues that it operates in the same relationship to the city as a vendor with a contract for services.

But what vendor can negotiate a contract with the city then hire the city employee who recommended the contract to the council?

May an employee in the water department recommend a contractor then get paid part time to work for that contractor once the bid was awarded? Or, may an employee in the finance office moonlight with the accounting firm she recommended the city hire?

Parkway Place liabilities could become
the city’s liabilities.

May all city employees collect two paychecks on city time? Why doesn’t everyone have the right to take a second job, ten or twenty hours a week during the work day?

Or, are those opportunities reserved for a privileged class among city hall employees? The vast majority aren’t looking for ways to tap the taxpayers for a second salary. They serve to the best of their ability and when their work is done they pick up the slack for others.

Has NELCDC paid other city employees? We can’t know, because it consistently refuses open records requests.

Tomorrow we look at how the NELCDC board of directors intersects with the city council.

The Raveling of NELCDC

It began with an empty shopping center.
The Sandstorm Scholar would have never investigated the North & East Lubbock Community Development Corporation (NELCDC) if it hadn’t been for the near empty shopping center called Parkway Place. It wasn’t just an empty shopping center, it was an empty shopping center without a “for lease” sign.

It started with an empty shopping center.
Parkway Place (Aug. 2013)

It was in the winter of 2013 when traveling Marsha Sharp Freeway and Parkway Drive through east Lubbock several dozen times that the Sandstorm Scholar began to wonder why a new shopping center was 75% vacant but had no “for lease” sign.

Who owns Parkway Place? In this economy what kind of business can afford to feel no urgency in leasing empty space?

The answer: Parkway Place is owned (in a partnership) by a non-profit corporation supported by tax dollars called the North & East Lubbock Community Development Corporation. NELCDC is a development corporation authorized by the city of Lubbock in 2004.

An organization that, to quote its executive director, was “flat-lining” last winter before the Lubbock City Council voted to shore it up with a $251,000 grant in March. The grant dollars were used to pay administrative costs. Salaries. Or at least that’s what the vague budget submitted to the Council indicated.

What we found while investigating NELCDC is secrecy and the appearance of impropriety.

In May 2013 NELCDC was back at the city trough. This time it was a resolution to give to it 75% of 90% of all of the city of Lubbock mineral royalties for the fiscal year ending September 2013. This, subject to Council approval, amounts to somewhere between $700,000 and $1,000,000.

In September 2012, NELCDC was again asking for money. This time Council gave it another $251,000 grant for administrative and overhead expenses.

All of this money was given to NELCDC in exchange for a dozen lines or less of proposed budget numbers that probably haven’t been adhered to.

We say “probably”, because your tax dollars are at work to prevent the public from knowing what really goes on at NELCDC.

The Development Corporation Act specifies that development corporations are subject to open meetings and open records law. But NELCDC has hired a law firm in an attempt to keep from disclosing its records. What may surprise you is whose law firm is being paid to assert that NELCDC’s records are secret.

Unethical? Is there better word for institutional incest?

What we found while investigating NELCDC is secrecy and the appearance of impropriety.

We found the appearance of impropriety in a city employee who is double-dipping at taxpayer expense.

We found it in city employees lobbying the City Council to fund an organization from which they profit and/or for which they sit on the board of directors. One employee even operated as advocate for NELCDC, city staff signer of the grant contracts, check signer for NELCDC and member of its board of directors.

And we found the appearance of impropriety in a City Council member who voted three times last year to fund NELCDC but whose partnership takes money from the organization.

All of this happened with no disclosure. Indeed some of it happened through outright deceit.

Illegal? We’re not attorneys, but the city seems able to justify anything it wants to do.

Unethical? It appears so from here. Is there better word for institutional incest?

What is NELCDC hiding?

Let’s be clear what is the issue: it is the mechanism, not the need, that we question when we ask about funding to NELCDC.

We don’t argue against the need to dedicate money to north and east Lubbock. It is the mechanism that is suspect and whether public funds should be spent under the cloak of secrecy.

The question becomes, what is NELCDC hiding?

That’s what the Sandstorm Scholar hopes to find out.

A near-empty shopping center with no “for lease” sign. It is a symptom of what happens when people are spending someone else’s money. Your money.

Check out Sarah-Blake Morgan’s KCBD/Sandstorm Scholar two-part investigative report Wednesday and Thursday. And stay tuned as more information comes to light.

Debut: KCBD/Sandstorm Scholar Investigates

Tonight at 10:30 p.m., after the prime time Winter Olympics broadcast, the Sandstorm Scholar begins an endeavor with KCBD as an independent contributor with the Investigative Reports team. This is a partnership that has been several months in the making and we’re excited to be working with the KCBD news professionals.

KCBD-Sandstorm Scholar Investigates will carry the same tough investigative work you’ve grown accustomed to on the Sandstorm Scholar combined with the impact of television and the investigative professionals at KCBD. I would be less than candid if I didn’t say I’m proud of this opportunity.

KCBD investigative reporter Sarah-Blake Morgan.

Sarah-Blake Morgan will deliver the reports with her own unique style and the Sandstorm Scholar will contribute and, in many cases, co-write the stories.

KCBD and the Sandstorm Scholar remain separate and independent entities and each will be ultimately responsible for its own content but we will work together on KCBD/Sandstorm Scholar Investigates in hopes that you will find that the whole is better than the sum of the parts.

After the newscast check here for the back story, more information and the decidedly unsweetened editorials you have come to expect from the Sandstorm Scholar.

Wednesday and Thursday nights we examine the North & East Lubbock Community Development Corporation.

What we’ve found may surprise you.