by Johnnie Belle Reagan
Municipalities are only held accountable by the voters and the voters don’t show up for local elections. Approximately just a little over 10% of the eligible voters showed up at the last local election in Palestine, Texas.
Lack of interest facilitates the same leadership getting voted back in by a select group of supporters or even better they run unopposed. The importance of your vote in local elections is paramount. Please get off your couch and go to the polls. Not only are your representatives being lazy and turning over power to lobbyist, they are not looking out for your best interests. Bad behavior is ramped.
Just over the past 5 years that I have been watching the on-going plight of the City of Palestine I have become aware of misuse of City credit cards, City employees circumventing computer security to make purchases outside procedure, construction projects lacking the bid process escalate over 3 times allotted budget, dirty land deeds, grants awarded to expired non-profits, selective code and zoning enforcement, law suits that were either unauthorized or active unbeknownst to the City Council, City Attorney operating with conflicting interests and questions lingering over missing assets.
The fact that years of mismanagement by local leaders and City Officials have left a much-neglected infrastructure. The City had not focused on street maintenance, water and sewer systems. While the streets seem to be improving the water is still brown and stinky.
Much to the dismay of residents the Athletic Complex had to be closed due to pending litigation over the lack of ADA access. The City youth are no longer able to play football or baseball. This leaves little to attract families with young children. It seems they grow-up and move away. The ADA non-compliance doesn’t leave much for the retiree either although some would like to think of Palestine are a retirement community.
It is hard to listen to the current City Council continued efforts to invest time and money into revitalizing the decaying downtown area when there is little to no private property owners buy-in to improve. The downfall is due to allowing non-compliance of ordinances regulating minimum maintenance standards within the historic district to exist for years. For many of the buildings at this point a bulldozer would be a better investment.
Texas Public Corruption has reported in previous articles that the local news paper is controlled by City Officials with close contacts withing the community threaten to influence advertisers to pull their financial support from the paper if a subject matter isn’t complimentary of the City.
Better yet, in the last election for Mayor the paper was influenced to publish a negative story on the challenger. It worked. The gap between the need for a run-off election was approximately 41 votes. The incumbent was ultimately re-elected. So, if you want to win, just have the local paper run an article 3 days before the election about your opponent “Police Association accuses Ethridge of Fear Mongering”, swing that vote your way…
Most recently local officials flexing power and using the same tactics were successful in having a local talk show removed from the radio. Former Mayor of Palestine turned local activist, Bob Herrington, hosted a morning show called “Meddling in the morning with Bob and Darla”. He has been removed from that duty because complaints and threats to management of the radio station. Official Oppression?
It is clear an understanding of the Constitutional Right of Free Speech and Due Process fall short in Palestine, Texas. You should not accept the responsibility of Public Service, Servant or Official if you can’t take a few on the chin. Our duty as voters is to question and vocalize discontent. How else would you know?
There is never room for any Public Official to threaten an employer of someone that disagrees with them or is critical. Definitely not ethical to say you will influence local advertisers to pull support or threaten a law suit, although It worked. How easily they forget the Oath of Office they swear to uphold the US and State Constitutions. Last I checked that included Freedom of Speech and Due Process, pesky bothersome things…
Because we, citizens and tax payers, have been complacent and turned a blind eye to the shift, our local government is now being overtaken by one of the largest lobbying groups in the country, National/State Municipal League. Your lazy self-serving City Council that is sitting in representation of the people, will follow along like the lemmings. Unfortunately, the agendas these groups push isn’t in the best interest of the people. But your City Council won’t care because they are operating on their own personal agendas.
Last year the Texas Municipal League made a wave to tip the power to the hands of the Municipality and away from the private property owners. They rallied against the SB6. This Bill which did pass in 2019, allowed property owners who are in the City’s Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) near largely populated cities are allowed vote on annexation. One of the ways that Municipal Government raise income from property tax is encompassing more payers.
More and more City are leaning on Texas Municipal League and their affiliation with Strategic Government Resources to fill key decision-making position within the City Government. Position such as City Manager, City Financial Officer and Police Chief. Palestine has used these services to fill all those key position over the last 5 years. The current City Manager, Financial Officer and Attorney all initiated employment through those entities.
It probably isn’t a stretch to assume those employees would and will make business decisions based on the practices and teachings of Texas Municipal League. So as the call went out last week to hurry and take advantage of the COVID-19 disaster relief 8% property tax increase without a constituent vote, of course, the three employees on the “TML team” made sure it was on the Monday July 27th City Council Agenda. It didn’t pass. The fact that is was presented to City Council gives weight to those loyalties.
Don’t worry, no-one is coming to your rescue. This may get a little attention but ultimately, the Municipalities, like Palestine, already know that no higher power or authority is going to get involved. It is by far the most powerful governing body due to that simple fact. They just hope that you don’t get interested enough to vote. As long as you don’t, the elected officials will continue to foster personal agendas and work against the tax payers and activist that try to keep the public informed and the policy makers in check.
The power of the day to day management is turned over to Strategic Government Resources and Texas Municipal League.
Check your City, I bet they are already there and it won’t be long before their hand is in your pocket…
A Response to the City of Palestine
Yes, it is very much so circulating. Most of the groups on social media have seen your agenda and therefore are VERY concerned. The verbiage insinuates a tax increase and utilizing the tax loop hole due to the pandemic.
1. Before additional taxing has all resources for additional funds via the Cares Act been exhausted?
2. Has all FEMA grant money and possible additional grants been applied for?
3. It is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY and the Council to clearly communicate with your citizens. If you do NOT want miscommunication then YOU control the narrative and inform the public clearly instead of allowing others to do so.
4. Be Nice. It doesn’t cost you a thing.
The group I serve:
Residents and Businesses For Remaining OPEN.
The agenda still appears and reads as though there is a tax increase coming.
Transparency and Communication… it’s EXPECTED.