Editorial hypocrisy produces Flores endorsement

Lubbock’s daily newspaper, we like to call it the Daily Nickel, has come out with its endorsements. They are notable but only for their hypocrisy.

Sedeno
Commissioner Sedeno

The Daily Nickel’s endorsement of former Commissioner Gilbert Flores for county commissioner over incumbent Bubba Sedeno in the Democratic Primary was, in its best light, a blatant act of doublespeak. It also renews questions about how relevant a daily newspaper can be when it is owned by a Georgia media conglomerate and has little or no corporate memory.

The argument for editorial hypocrisy is found in the editorial’s reference to Sedeno’s vote for a raise for commissioners. That vote was 4-1 for the raise and Commissioner Bill McCay, who received the Daily Nickel’s endorsement for Pct. 1 Republican Primary, also voted for the raise.

Flores made the motion for a twenty percent raise.

A further demonstration of the duplicity at work is found in a July 24, 2001 article in the Daily Nickel. There we learn that during his previous tenure on the commissioners court Flores himself made the motion for a larger, twenty percent pay raise. The commissioners approved that raise by a 4-1 vote also. McCay was not on the commissioners court at that time.

One of the underlying reasons for the Daily Nickel’s duplicity is found in its ignorance. Ignorance is a sad accusation to make of a media outlet however the Daily Nickel boasts a lack of any institutional memory of itself or the community it presumes to serve. imageTwo thirds of its editorial board are new transfers to Lubbock. Collectively, editorial board opinions are a vivid demonstration of the absence of any historical context.

This is the same publication that in its December 27, 2015 edition announced on the front page that it would soon feature a new column edited by a former Lubbockite who at the time also appeared on the state’s registered sex offender list. The article no longer appears on the paper’s website yet no retraction can be found.

One assumes that Daily Nickel management, when confronted with public outcry over the outrageous move, backed down and attempted to cover up all trace of the lapse. Had management merely looked up its new columnist in its own archives it would have learned the truth. Ignorance on the front page.

Sedeno refuses to be a token.

But ignorance is not the only reason behind the specious endorsement. Unlike his opponent, Bubba Sedeno refuses to be a token. He didn’t take office to get along with the rest of the commissioners. He has consistently challenged the status quo and boldly represented his district without apology.

The commissioners court has long been run by a Queen Commissioner and her Duke. Those two believe their districts, although equal in population to Sedeno’s, merit better and more attention from taxpayer dollars. For years, while Flores was commissioner and without his objection, those two commissioners ran the county with an iron fist behind a cloak of secrecy that produced questionable expenditures and backdoor raises to favored employees.

Commissioner Sedeno has fought for transparency. Unlike Flores, he’s not satisfied to merely collect a paycheck. But the power establishment at the county and the Daily Nickel abhor a minority who isn’t there to just get along.

The power establishment at the county and the Daily Nickel abhor a minority who isn’t there to just get along.

If Sedeno “erred” past offending the Queen and her Duke, both of whom have the ear of the editorial board, it was in cooperating with any media outlet except the Daily Nickel. The editorial board is punishing Sedeno for not realizing that the Daily Nickel and it’s ever shrinking circulation is the only game in town. Except it isn’t the only game in town and Sedeno made no mistake when he refused to bend his knee to the Queen and her Duke.

Whether on the front page or the editorial page, the Daily Nickel has become the marionette for establishment interests and the politicians who cater to it. That calls in question the legitimacy of every endorsement it makes.


They’re back…speeding cameras from ATS

They’re back. Perhaps taxpayers thought they’d rid themselves of the pestilence but like unwelcome relatives and seasonal influenza, traffic enforcement cameras from American Traffic Solutions are trying to make a comeback in Lubbock County.

This time it is in the form of school crossing zone cameras. Anything for the kids, right?

Tonight’s KCBD/Sandstorm Scholar Investigates report by Sarah-Blake Morgan focuses on American Traffic Solutions’ attempt to convince Lubbock County Commissioners to bring photo enforcement to Lubbock County’s school crossing zones.

Anything for the kids, right?

By some quirk of the Texas Constitution county commissioners are reportedly the final authority for installation of enforcement cameras in school crossing zones for both county roads and municipalities. The county commissioners we talked with were of mixed minds.

Commissioner Mark Heinrich had one response, “no.” His opponent for the Precinct 2 seat, Jon David Brugel, agreed.

Commissioner Bill McCay was more open-minded saying he felt he should talk to the school superintendents first to determine whether they believed there exists a problem of enforcement in school zones.

Then there is Bubba Sedeno, possibly the most conservative official in county government. Commissioner Sedeno was a little more colorful but his response was essentially the same: “no!” And no, the irony is not lost on us that the most conservative Republican in the courthouse may be a Democrat.

School zone speeding cameras are not the same as red light cameras. There does not exist the same data showing that speed zone cameras contribute to traffic accidents. Speeding is a cut and dried issue. You are or you aren’t.

The most conservative Republican in the courthouse may be a Democrat.

Traffic stops can be dangerous for enforcer and offender alike. And one can argue that if revenues are going to be raised it is better they come from fines than from taxes.

But this is Lubbock, America. We live here because there are certain elements in the rest of the country that we’d prefer to put off as long as possible. Photo traffic enforcement has clearly been one of those things.

There are constitutional issues involved with photo enforcement technology. And while we acknowledge that traffic stops are a dangerous part of an officer’s duties we are reminded it is at routine stops that some of law enforcement’s best interdiction work is done. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was caught by a state trooper in a traffic stop for no license plate. There is no substitute for the human element in law enforcement – even at the traffic enforcement level.

American Traffic Solutions sells itself on the safety issue but it has the purest of motives: profit. In exchange for 50% of the ticket revenues ATS proposes to provide the equipment, process the tickets, bill the offender and remit 50% to Lubbock County. That’s a virtual guarantee the program will have the best equipment and tightest enforcement standards possible. Sandstorm Scholar trusts a profit motive. It is the only motive we can consistently predict.

There is no substitute for the human element in law enforcement – even at the traffic level.

However if Lubbock County Commissioners expect to introduce school crossing zone radar enforcement cameras we hope they are prepared to commit the energy necessary to sell the public on the need for increased policing and value of photo enforcement. This requires a greater effort at persuasion and public interaction than the commissioners have traditionally shown the willingness to commit.

A vendor approached the commissioners and they are entertaining the solution. As Commissioner Bill McCay said, this is only in the beginning stages. But at the Sandstorm Scholar, we remain unconvinced.


County Road 1440 is an education in county government

The County Road 1440 project is a comedy of missteps, mistakes and misspent money. And it has been a learning experience; if not for the county, certainly for the Sandstorm Scholar.

Lack of transparency at the county level

There is a reason why there is so much more focus on the city of Lubbock than on Lubbock County: transparency. If the city of Lubbock gets a B+ for transparency then Lubbock County gets a D. It receives a passing grade only because there are people there we are fond of and don’t want to alienate completely. In public education that’s called social promotion.

Nick Olenik briefs Commissioners.

At the city of Lubbock you see every flaw. Staff cheerfully offers up virtually every piece of information requested. In fact, city staff is so cooperative, that when elected officials interfere in an effort to impede the process, and it happens, it is obvious and easy to call.

The City Council Agenda merits special mention because it is not only posted online many days in advance it also features hyperlinks with extensive background material.

quote12Lubbock County is a different story altogether. We’re reminded of the M*A*S*H episode when Trapper and Hawkeye were asking questions of General Mitchell who answered, “Now just a minute! This is a press conference! The last thing I want to do is answer a lot of questions!”.

Sadly, that is almost a direct quote from one county custodian of records who told the Sandstorm Scholar, “we’re not here to answer questions.”

At Lubbock County, Public Information Act requests are met with surliness, evasion and weeks of delays. We were charged hundreds of dollars for our CR 1440 requests that included as many as six duplicate copies of the same document but we were charged for each copy with the flippant excuse that it would have cost more if they’d charged us for the time to do the job properly.

It is an expensive and excruciating process to extract information from your county government.

Best Republican commissioner is a Democrat

Likewise, County Commissioner meetings are exercises in obfuscation. At City Council meeting Councilwoman Latrelle Bright Joy will occasionally pause the process to clarify to those listening what is going on, but in Commissioners Court the only thing clear is that the last thing they want to do is to give out information.

quote11Deliberation takes place and decisions are made before Commissioners ever get to the dais in the official meeting. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are approved and spent without a single figure being mentioned. Everything is tailored to keep the ordinary citizen from knowing what is going on.

When newly elected Commissioner Bubba Sedeno asked in the last meeting what is the projected cost of CR 1440, County Road Supervisor Nick Olenik deflected with precise numbers about several projects in Sedeno’s district but never answered Sedeno’s question about CR 1440.

It is a sad day when the best Republican on the Commissioners Court is a Democrat but that’s how County Commissioner Bubba Sedeno is shaping up these days. He asks questions in open session that allow citizens to know what’s going on.

Build now, plan later

Lubbock County transgressed its own donation policy with CR 1440. The policy calls for residents to donate land for the right-of-way and donate “sufficient funds to pay for the cost to complete all elements of the project” but residents along CR 1440 not only were bailed out on their project but also received much of their money back in the form of payment for damage done to property and landscaping.

It was a real bargain for residents and a financial boondoggle for taxpayers.

But even if the dollars can be overlooked, the failure to plan cannot be. The County allowed the work to begin and then performed an engineering study and a drainage study. “Let’s build it now and plan it later” seems to have been the rationale.

We quote County Road Supervisor Nick Olenik that the three most important things about building a road are “drainage, drainage and drainage”.

Knowing that, why did the county do the drainage and engineering study after it authorized a private contractor to begin paving the road? Bad planning, poor management and wasted money.

quote10Although construction began in February of this year, right of way was still being accepted as late as the last Commissioner Court meeting. During the three months we have been watching CR 1440, right of way markers have zigzagged and wiggled like a kindergarten lunch line.

Who builds a road with this little planning and forethought? We’ve seen children expend more time planning a Lego’s project than Lubbock County spent before it allowed work to begin on CR 1440.

Lubbock business still owed money

Taxpayers are not the only victims in this farce. Campbell West Construction hasn’t been paid all the money it is owed. It is the small business that gets burned when dealing with big government. And make no mistake, county government is big government.

Campbell West would not go on record with the Sandstorm Scholar for fear of jeopardizing its chances of being paid what it was owed. Lubbock County ought to step up and pay Campbell West what it is owed for the work it performed.

It took weeks of waiting for Public Information Act requests, some of which have yet to be answered, and the hard work of veteran Sandstorm Scholar correspondent James Clark to get this much from Lubbock County on a single project.

Lubbock citizen activists might well consider turning some of their attention to the Lubbock County Commissioners Court.


He Really Said That…

You’ve got to love Lubbock County Commissioner Bill McCay. Just when you think a story is dead he hands one to you on a platter. In a local news source this morning we find this quote.

McCay said the gathering are a chance for him and Tech officials to visit one-on-one in an informal setting.

McCay noted he reports the gathering as a contribution on his regular filing to the Texas Ethics Commission.

The reader needs no comment to understand that. We do wonder, Commissioner, however well intentioned your attention to detail may be, is that a corporate contribution you’re reporting?

Postscript: The Sandstorm Scholar spoke with Commissioner McCay who clarified this for us. “I report the tickets as a gift on my annual personal financial statement filing with the Texas Ethics Commission.”

Two things to note here. First, as we understand it, that is the correct procedure for accounting for gifts. The tickets are not campaign contributions. Second, the County Commissioners are not subject to the provisions of the City Charter and are not prohibited from accepting such things.


FOUR CYLINDER ENGINE WITH THREE WORN-OUT SPARK PLUGS

Lubbock County Courthouse A reader’s post regarding his LP&L experience reminds us of our frustration calling into the Lubbock County Courthouse yesterday.

Initially, you receive a 30 second greeting in English, then a redirect to press 1 if you want English. What? I thought we just heard this in English?

After three calls and finally learning to maneuver within the system quickly it still took exactly one minute and thirty seconds for me to hear the # for the extension I wanted to reach (Elections Office). If you try to shortcut the system to an operator by pressing “0” it redirects you to the beginning. “Beam me up, Scotty, there’s no intelligent life down here.”

Now of all of the places to cut the budget, why did the commissioners choose the primary interface the public has with the Courthouse? Possibly because they aren’t inconvenienced by the system themselves since they call on direct lines? Wouldn’t you think they could lend to the taxpayers a live person who at least answers the phone when you press “0”?

The Lubbock County Commissioners Court may not be broken, but it is a 4-cylinder engine limping along on 3 worn out spark plugs and one shiny new one who, we hear, is trying hard to not become co-opted by the system.

We’ve yet to figure out what it takes to get their attention. Complaints about the phone system fall on deaf ears. We’ve tried that.

Where does that leave us?