Monthly Archives: April 2018

Infamous “swamp thing” photo degrades city election

Several weeks back, the Bill Blackburn campaign ran an ad in the newspaper that announced an endorsement by six former mayors of Kerrville. That ad is pictured below. This image also made the rounds on social media, and had a noticeable impact on conversations around the election.

Then, last week on social media, a different Facebook post went viral. The post was from a person who had just finished casting a ballot at the early voting center. Afterward, she was introduced to the Mayor’s husband, Robert White. Robert asked her if she’d like to see something funny, and showed her an image on the back of his campaign yard sign.

The image was a Photoshopped version of the Blackburn ad — the ad depicting six former mayors endorsing Bill. Instead of the six mayors, the photo featured “swamp creatures” shopped onto the heads of these six previous mayors of Kerrville.

This alleged behavior infuriated many voters and other members of the community. Many described this type of behavior as “juvenile” and wrong. Folks on both sides of the mayor competition expressed dismay that our politics have been taken into the gutter thanks to this type of behavior.

Here’s the Facebook post:

This post went viral, with scores of shares and reactions in 24 hours. Some of the folks who shared this post had their post deleted by Facebook, apparently because it was anonymously reported as offensive. This made them re-post it even more frequently.

Some commenters thought this might not be true. They asserted that there was no proof of this alleged photograph. As of this morning, we have proof. An anonymous source had this photo below sent to them by a White supporter.

Aside from the potential copyright infringement issues, the image is troubling for a number of reasons. For one, it suggests that Kerrville voters don’t have a say in the election, which couldn’t be further from the truth, as the polls are still open and turnout seems to be on the rise from last year.

Two, the ad suggests that every former mayor is somehow a member of the metaphorical “swamp.” If this is the case, does the swamp not also include Mayor White, since she has served on council for three years now? The truth is that there is no swamp in Kerrville. Your city council representatives are your neighbors, friends, and fellow citizens. They have day jobs and are not career politicians. They serve for effectively zero compensation, giving countless hours of their time to try to improve their community.

Co-opting the “swamp” metaphor from the national political scene does not serve our community or do anything to improve it. To the contrary, it leads to even more polarization, degrades the election process, and attempts to bring our local political system down into the mud.

You still have a chance to cast your vote in this citywide election! Early voting is open on Monday and Tuesday from 8 AM to 5 PM, and the polls are open on Saturday, May 5, from 7 AM to 7 PM. Make your voice heard!

What we know about the “rebate for votes” issue

On Thursday, April 19, the Kerrville Daily Times published a letter to the editor from Mayor Bonnie White with the heading, “Paying for votes?”

The mayor expressed her “astonishment” about a flyer that appeared in a housing community’s newsletter that offered a $20 rent rebate to “anyone bringing in a physical presentation of an ‘I Voted’ sticker.”

The mayor asked, “Is someone paying people to vote? Is this legal?”

The newspaper added an editorial note at the bottom of the letter: ” A spokesman with the Texas Secretary of State’s office said the office ‘strongly discourages offering any kind of financial benefit for voting, as it may constitute a violation of the Texas Penal Code on Bribery.’ On Wednesday evening, the rent rebate offer was rescinded.”

So what’s the deal? Was someone paying for votes? In a manner of speaking, yes. But here’s why the letter is misleading…

The statements above were part of a newsletter (and maybe flyer) announcing a “meet and greet” with candidates Bill Blackburn, Judy Eychner, and Delayne Sigerman. The mayor seemed to imply in her letter that these candidates had something to do with the rebate offer, and this is untrue. The candidates have no control over what promotions and offers a private landowner and landlord offers to his tenants. Further, the candidates are not attorneys for, or consultants to, any landlords, and do not have the expertise or inclination to offer legal advice to anyone — landlord or otherwise.

Meet and greets are a regular function of campaigns and take place on almost a weekly basis during campaign season. They are hosted by a variety of groups and individuals, many of which own businesses or residential rental facilities like apartments or assisted care facilities. The candidates do not have the time, energy, or inclination to investigate all of the goings-on at a location before they appear there to meet with potential voters.

Therefore, after we asked numerous questions of the candidates and others familiar with the matter, it is our conclusion that the candidates did not run afoul of any rules or laws.

Further, this rebate was not offered for a specific vote, but rather for ANY vote. In other words, the intention seems to be to increase voter turnout generally, and they did not ask for specific votes or proof of any vote for a specific candidate. There would be no way to verify who the person voted for, even if that WAS the intention. All that was asked is that a person show up wearing an “I Voted” sticker for their rebate.

The voter turnout for our citywide elections is embarrassingly low, coming in around 14% in last year’s election, and only 5% for younger voters. We must come up with creative ways to increase the voter turnout so that a wider variety of voices are represented in our city government. Was this the right idea? We’ll leave the conclusion up to you, but from all accounts, the intentions were honest.

Local developer blasts Mayor White and EIC

On the first day of early voting, Monday, April 23, a guest column was published in the Opinion section of the Kerrville Daily Times authored by Justin MacDonald, President of The MacDonald Companies, a residential housing developer.

The article makes several claims:

  • The EIC, constituted by a majority of White-majority appointees, has dragged its feet on the consideration of MacDonald’s workforce housing project on Thompson Drive
  • The EIC considered and approved an out-of-state applicant’s request for funding to demolish and improve the Econo Lodge site on Highway 16 North
  • The Econo Lodge project received 100% of their request for funds to demolish and rebuilt the highway entry, even though the grant they applied for is restricted to only 40% of demolition costs.
  • The EIC’s debate took place in executive session, so no public record has been made of the deliberations that took place leading up to this approval
  • The Mayor and her husband own tracts of land on each side of the Econo Lodge project, and their two tracts of land are included in this transaction, yet the mayor has not made any public statements at this point

Kerrville United is currently researching this topic and will share all information that we uncover.

Read the full article below:

KEDC Impact Study Released

Almost a year ago, the Kerrville City Council was shaken up by the 2017 election. Two new councilmembers were sworn in: Vincent Voelkel and George Baroody. Together with Mayor Bonnie White, this three-person majority began making sweeping changes to the way the council and its boards work, and made changes to the makeup of those boards. For example, in one of the very first meetings of the new council, the White majority removed a member of the Economic Improvement Corporation that was eligible to serve an additional two-year term, and also replaced the city council liaison to the EIC with newly elected councilman George Baroody.

Mr. Baroody, from his chair on the EIC board, was dismissive of the efforts of the Kerr Economic Development Corporation, or KEDC, an private nonprofit corporation made up of representatives from the City of Kerrville, Kerr County, and other stakeholders. The KEDC is a “one stop shop” for economic development, interfacing with businesses and investors to assist them with incentives from the various government agencies. Also, importantly, the KEDC is not a government entity, per se, and therefore they are not subject to open records requests, which allows them to maintain the privacy and confidentiality that these businesses need when negotiating new business deals. The KEDC is funded primarily from EIC funds.

In one meeting last year, Mr. Baroody even went so far as to suggest that the KEDC should be closed down entirely and its functions brought in-house to the City of Kerrville. This comment immediately spurred a backlash from community leaders and KEDC supporters, and the idea was spiked. But that comment caused widespread confusion and concern, and led to the immediate resignation of one of KEDC’s employees. Then, months later, led to the resignation of the Executive Director of the KEDC, Brian O’Conner.

The current council majority continued to be critical of the KEDC, attempting to reduce its budget, and challenging the corporation over the role it has played in economic development over the past few years. Baroody and White have been especially skeptical of the role of the KEDC, and have questioned whether or not the entity is even necessary, and whether or not the city is getting a good return on its investment.

So, recently, the KEDC hired an independent firm to evaluate its impact on the local economy. Impact DataSource, an Austin-based consultant group, evaluated the role of the KEDC over the past four years on four specific projects: Mooney International, Fox Tank, James Avery, and Nature Blinds. Their findings are surprising and impressive.

These four projects pumped over $1.4 billion into the local economy, and added a total of 672 jobs, directly and indirectly. The total workers’ earnings created by these projects over the past four years is a whopping $89.3 million.

And most importantly, to counter the argument that the KEDC is not providing a worth return on investment, the study concludes that the City of Kerrville is receiving a 255% ROI based on its investment in these projects, and the EIC is also receiving a 23% ROI based on its large investment in the KEDC over the past four years.

Although the report does not state the KEDC alone was the sole driving force behind these projects, the consultants do state emphatically that the KEDC is critical to a good economic development program:

“…Impact DataSource believes that such one‐stop center for economic development services is critical to a community’s economic growth and many of these investments may not have occurred without the efforts of KEDC.”

Read the full report via the City of Kerrville’s web page at this link: https://legistarweb-production.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/attachment/pdf/172135/KEDC_performance_report.pdf

Interview with Place 3 Candidate Judy Eychner

Earlier this year we invited all of the candidates in the city election to join us in studio for a conversation about the campaigns, local issues, and their qualifications to serve on our city council. Our first volunteer is Mrs. Judy Eychner, a candidate for Place 3.

We have reached out to the other candidates, too, and we will bring you an interview with Bill Blackburn in the near future. But we have not heard back from Mayor Bonnie White or Place 3 candidate Gary Cooper. If they take us up on our invitation, we’ll bring you those conversations, as well.

Remember that early voting begins on April 23 and election day is May 5. Get out the vote!