Monday, August 29, 2016

Plaid Pants Development

There is no way around it, Colorado’s population is growing by leaps and bounds. By the end of 2016, there should be approximately 5.474 million people living here, and it is estimated that the population will grow to 7.8 million residents by 2040. 

By United States coastal population standards, those numbers are pretty wimpy and do not garner much attention outside of our state.  But in Colorado,  a state that is already experiencing drought and long ago gave away most of its rights to the abundance of water from its mountains, it is a huge and looming problem on the horizon.  People need water to live and if we do not start responsibly advocating for water conservation today, our children and grandchildren are going to have real problems with water shortages.

Population growth is inevitable and not really the point of this article.  Elbert County will be experiencing population growth by leaps and bound in the northwest corner of the county as Aurora and Parker continue to expand.  Those who suggest that anybody who questions development projects are simply antigrowth need to reconsider their stance. There is only enough fresh water to go around, and once the Denver Bedrock Aquifer System is depleted, Elbert County has a real problem on its hands.  Like it or not, the county has no rivers and too little rainfall to sustain much growth without tying into the Denver Metropolitan water complex.  It is expensive and will continue to become even more expensive by the time our population approaches the aforementioned figures projected for 2040.

So let me delve into a common development issue in Colorado.  I grew up around golf. My father’s construction company helped to pull the Valley Country Club out of a bind due to damage from a tornado back in the day. My family became members. That did not mean I was any good at it, but I tried to do the best I could. One golf instructor described my abilities at the game as, “…remarkably dangerous!  I have never seen what can only be described as a terminal hook.”  Despite that I understand the draw of a pastoral and neatly manicured course on a sunny day.

I am not just picking on golf, but developers have long known of it ability to draw homeowners. People who move into neighborhoods built around golf courses for what a golf course can do for property values.  I do not know whether it is the game itself or just the sense of freedom that comes from spending an afternoon with friends clad in brightly colored pants.  But make no mistake,  golf has become an American passion.  

There is a downside to this concept and that is that golf courses use a tremendous amount of water. In 2005 it was reported in a federal government study of Colorado golf courses and their impact on water resources reported that 5,647.8 acre-feet was used annually in Jefferson County on its courses alone!  That was eleven years ago.  My point is that if we are going to develop in Elbert County where 98% of our homes use wells, the public needs to understand the implications of just how growth needs to be done in concert with responsible foresight.

I am not trying to suggest that any new development currently under consideration in Elbert County is going to be a golfing community. But, it could happen and it has happened in the past. This is just one of many possible scenarios that must be scrutinized when new growth occurs.  Problems could just as easily be traffic related impacts, wildlife habitat infringement or simply issues surrounding the absence of adequate schools in an a
rea. Developers, cash strapped county governments, and yes, even golfers, need to have  open minds and be prepared to engage in honest discussion with the public about the use of all available resources.

Going back to my example about a water impact issue like a developer trying to build a golf course community:  It is fair to expect that people will have serious questions for which they will demand answers.  Many people would obviously just want some assurance that they will not end up with a dry domestic well and no prospects for selling their home in the event that the growth predictions come true. Can you blame them?

There is nothing dirty about the words “smart growth.” There is however, something very troubling about a county discouraging citizen input on planning for the future.  We owe residents who are already living here and paying taxes at least the same consideration we are affording people we are trying to attract as future residents. I don’t care how sporty I look in plaid pants while wearing a jaunty Panama Jack golf hat, I need water to live out here in Elbert County.

Monday, August 22, 2016

What the Dunn Memorial Should Teach Us All about Leadership

I spent some time on Saturday, August 22nd, at the Gates Mercantile Building in the town of Elbert helping to say goodbye to an old friend, John Dunn.  The function started at 11:00 AM and lasted until 2:00 PM.  The hall was full for the entire event.  It was a tribute to a man who was viewed as a loving family member, a strong civic leader, a good neighbor and an invaluable friend.  I felt honored to be asked to  participate and  to help say farewell.  

If we are being honest with ourselves, most of us have spent at least a little time reflecting on who, if anyone, would show up at a funeral or memorial if we were to suddenly pass away.  It is a human metric that people everywhere use to to measure the impact of their life.  The notion is that, the more people show up, the better your conduct must have been viewed as you travelled along the highway of life.  In teacher parlance, John Dunn passed this test of life value with flying colors.  Nobody is perfect and neither was Mr. Dunn, but when you put his life on the scales of impact of those who were in the room on Saturday, he was measured a success.

The people in the hall on Saturday was a who’s who of leadership in Elbert County.  Commissioner Robert Rowland was in attendance to show his respect.  Sheriff Shayne Heap came to say goodbye.  Community leaders, a whole host of former employees, farmers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, business leaders, teachers, family and friends all showed up to reminisce about John.  The most amazing thing is that there were many people in attendance who would not normally be inclined to socialize together given the current climate of political polarization in Elbert County. They were there to simply pay their tribute.  We were all equals in the palpable atmosphere of loss that was in the room, and so all political boundaries were dropped.  Former disagreements were put aside and everybody grieved in their own way without apprehension.  Just like John would have wanted it.

So what is the point of this blog posting under the curious title of mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur? Simply put, we need to take a page from John Dunn’s book of life and get about the job of building positive relationships that lead to positive results.  John knew that you do not have to see eye to eye on every single issue to forge important alliances.  John also knew that welcoming ideas from every quarter made for better solutions because there was greater consensus in the community. He knew that when many voices were heard the government is actually being more responsive. He knew also that whatever extra time he took gaining consensus was future time he spared himself arguing with people who felt that they were left out of the process.

As we head into what is one of the most confusing commissioner races in decades I hope every candidate reflects on why John Dunn was viewed with such long-lasting respect.  The list is much longer than this, but these are just a few of the principles that John employed that just might help to bring our county together as we head into the next four years of leadership with an entirely new BOCC.

• The state gives the commissioners the power of the purse.  If a department is not in compliance with leadership requirements of the BOCC, hold that department accountable by withholding funding until the impasse has been cleared.
• Open up as much transparency as is humanly possible and within the boundaries of the law to restore confidence in elected officials.  John Dunn  understood that transparency might make elected officials uncomfortable at times, including himself, but in the long run it always was the best policy.
• Sit down with the county employees on a regular basis and listen to their ideas on what might improve relationships with the citizens of the county.  This not only will result in better community relationships but will also give the employees a sense of worthiness.
• Demand fiscal accountability.  Pay attention to the budgets of all departments.  Pay strict attention to the bidding process when making purchases.  Seek financial advice from Colorado Counties Inc. (CCI) when entering into loans or long term leasing programs.  CCI has seen it all and will give the county sound advice based on historical experiences across all of Colorado’s county governments.
• Reduce frivolous litigation.
• De–emphasize the role of the County Attorney who John believed had become the equivalent of a fourth commissioner.  He believed the position of County Attorney was necessary but merely advisory in nature.  John believed the County Attorney too often had the effect of making the public feel intimidated.
• Bring laughter into the courthouse in Kiowa.  This starts by being able to laugh at yourself.  John knew this better than anyone.

In the spirit of bipartisanship, I believe candidates of all political parties need to learn from their predecessors; learn from what went wrong and what went right.  As a Democrat, I can say without equivocation that we need leadership from people, not from political parties.  It is my belief that had we had a few more Republicans or dare I say it, Democrats who understood leadership the way John did, we would be in a better position today as a county.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Independence Development Questions

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have no doubt heard of the proposed large housing project north of County Rd.158 known currently as Independence.  It was formerly known as the Bandera development.  The new set of Denver developers are registered as Craft Companies, LLC.  They are proposing a two part project (Independence West and Independence East) which will include 920 homes. The original project, Bandera, was approved early in 2009.  The project never got off the ground and sat undeveloped ever since.  

It is my opinion that this project should be required to start over from scratch for a myriad of reasons which will be addressed later in this posting.  The developer has a different view and  wants the people who live in established developments that are adjacent to this Elbert County project to calm down and listen to all of the wonderful reasons why Independence is going to make all of their lives just a little bit better.  

Make no mistake about it; we should all listen very carefully to the representatives of Craft Companies, LLC.  We should also be acutely aware of all of the players involved in this project.  We should recognize that there will be impacts both positive and negative that will arise. We need to listen to both sides of this story so that we are prepared to make our voices heard regarding the direction this high density Elbert County housing project takes in the immediate future.

I begin with one undeniable fact: 98% of the residents in Elbert County live with a well for domestic use and a septic field. Our county has basically no water infrastructure on which any of us can rely. When you move here, that is the first thing you must accept. You have no other option.  If the water levels in your well significantly drop, you are in trouble. You cannot live here without water.  You can’t even sell your house without a viable source of fresh water.  You must drill deeper and that is a giant expense. Even then, there will be continued pressure on the aquifers as they try and meet the requirements of new development.

Within a stone’s throw to the west of the Independence development is Douglas County.  In an article published by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, entitled Denver Basin Aquifers in Decline

they outline the difficulties that the residents living in areas south of Highlands Ranch are experiencing today, “…but the situation is very different for areas in Douglas County where high volume pumping from the Arapahoe aquifer has caused dramatic declines. In some areas, 40 feet drops per year have been recorded and it is anticipated well flow rates will diminish during the next decade.”  

Folks, Douglas County is our next door neighbor.  The water situation, while bad in 2009, was nowhere near as dire as it is today in 2016. It only seems reasonable that we require a new study on just how the surrounding residents will be impacted by 920 new homes.  Currently, it is my understanding that the developers will be allocating 1/3 acre foot of water annually  to each new home.  In contrast, the rules in the remainder of Elbert County say that each home is entitled to 1 acre foot of water per 40 acre parcel (See my article One third of an acre foot of water is not very much per household.  It does mean that at a minimum, the 1,100 acres of land on which the proposed development will sit will be pumping over 300 acre feet of water annually out of the underlying aquifer. Now tell me again why neighbors should not be worried.

I also would be remiss if I did not mention that the Denver Bedrock Aquifers are designated as a “not nontributary water resource.”  In layman terms this means that the aquifers cannot recharge themselves  unless we wait several thousand years, and it also means that the state gives you almost no legal recourse if your well runs dry.  Colorado regards the water as a finite resource.  It is the risk that 98% of Elbert homeowners take which makes this development even more of a candidate for further and stringent review.

The article Denver Basin Aquifers in Decline discusses how Douglas County residents are having to pick up the tab for switching over from the aquifers to renewable water resources where water is stored in reservoirs, “Among Castle Rock's options—buying river water from Sterling, 150 miles to the north and east; drawing it from the Arkansas River; forming a partnership with East Cherry Creek; or buying into Denver Water's Green Mountain pumpback plan—each scenario is estimated to cost around $300 million.”  When you see plans like this, you have to understand that water is where the money is.  When these plans are thrown around, the same old faces keep showing up.  There is always talk of water districts and it generally will be explained by the likes of Attorney Diane Miller, Karl Nyquist's attorney who is a water expert. Or how about former Elbert County Commissioner Kurt Schlegel who served on a water district with water guru, Attorney Robert Lembke while making decisions on your Elbert County water future without ever once offering to recuse himself.  Did I mention that Diane Miller was in attendance at the presentation by developers with Craft Companies, LLC during a meeting at Pinecrest Community Church on Aug. 1, 2016? (Ms. Miller was there as the attorney representing the water district that will be servicing the Independence development.)   Probably just a freak coincidence, or not.  Call me skeptical…

Let’s move away from the water and discuss the Costs of Community Services (COCS) for a moment.  Any developer worth his salt should be prepared to talk about the amount of money a new home brings into the county coffers in terms of property taxes.  That money should be used by the county to improve roads, provide schools, fire and police protection, just to mention a few.  Here is a short study by the University of Illinois Extension Services on the topic: In this article the author points out that every new community needs to be analyzed for its fiscal impact on the surrounding area.  While everyone wishes and hopes that these new houses will generate much needed revenues to improve the existing surroundings, the truth is that some houses never even come close to generating enough property tax to pay their way.  From the get-go, many developments pose a burden on existing resources and wreak havoc on fragile county budgets.  

Can we honestly go forward without first doing a current COCS Analysis?  It would be pure folly without a complete reboot of this project. Is there anyone reading this who has not heard about our budgetary woes in Elbert County? 

The next iteration of the Elbert County BOCC needs to proceed with this project using the utmost caution.  Questions must be answered.  Where will the water come from if the aquifers cannot provide adequate flow?  What is the impact on existing roadways?  Will these houses generate a desirable tax base that sustains the new residents? What responsibility does the county owe to its current residents over those who do not yet live here?  What are the buildout requirements for the developer so that we know they are a serious and responsible partners with our county?  Where are the jobs for these new homeowners? Does this community provide compatible commercial development?  Have the Open Space requirements changed since this was the Bandera project?  And exactly what happens to the water pipelines that will be put in place for Independence West and East if the project tanks?  

I believe that IF this development is viable and able to improve Elbert County, then it should be built.  But I also believe that there are some serious red flags. If it is not built to the highest standards with all of the aforementioned questions answered to the satisfaction of the residents of the surrounding communities, then it should go away. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Leveling the Political Playing Field

Leveling the Political Playing Field 

Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur.   
The world wishes to be deceived, so let it be deceived.  

That simple Latin phrase says so much in so few words.  In this current election season,  we are being regularly bombarded with political memes on social media. These memes are designed to appeal toward ideas we wish to be the incontrovertible truth. All too often they are not true at all. We skip that step where we exercise our intellectual curiosity to make sure that we are not being misled just because we want something to be correct.  It is a human trait, and we are all given to falling for falsehoods like these.

On any given day on Facebook you are apt to see a portrait of a Founding Father and on it is printed in beautiful script a quote supporting what sounds suspiciously anti-government. Perhaps it is the teacher in me, but I check those all of the time to see if they are accurate.  And,  I find that, about nine times out of ten, the quote is spurious in nature and was never uttered by the person in the meme.  It is a trick used by logicians and advertisers who use an authority figure to represent a false statement knowing that the average person will never check its veracity. If Dr. Black says smoking is good for you, then who am I to argue? If Abraham Lincoln says Ford trucks are the best in class, how can he be wrong? It’s Honest Abe! It is just that ridiculous.

Politicians stretch the truth and count on the fact you won’t check to see if they are telling the truth.  Year after year we listen to commercial after commercial denouncing everybody in the opposition party as being corrupt and having hidden agendas.  As a Democrat in Elbert County who has run for office, I can tell you it can get pretty ugly.  When I ran for county commissioner in 2008 I was accused of wanting to take people’s guns away, that I would increase local taxes, that I would stop all growth, that I was a Communist and that I hate personal property rights.  It did not matter that as a commissioner from the minority party in the county that I would have no power to do any of the things of which I was accused.  It did not matter that I was and remain a property rights activist encouraging people to adjudicate their most basic of property rights, the rights to the water beneath their feet.  It just mattered that the party leaders of the Republican party said it was true.  They wouldn’t lie…or would they? 

The truth is that while the Republican party is and will remain the majority political party in Elbert County for years to come, there is almost no opportunity for national political party platform issues to be enacted at the county level.  Gay rights, gun control, income tax, immigration reform, nuclear proliferation and the topic of abortion will not be changed by an elected county commissioner, clerk or treasurer.  They have jobs to do and it almost never involves party politics.  The State of Colorado has a handbook on the responsibilities of county government at the following link:

If you go there you will see just how unglamorous and pedestrian our local government officials' duties really are. From that booklet:

County Powers and Responsibilities
Mandatory services. Counties have the powers, duties, and
authorities that are explicitly conferred upon them by state law. Specific
statutory responsibilities include the provision of jails, weed control, and
establishment of a county or district public health agency to provide, at
minimum, health and human services mandated by the state.
Discretionary powers. Counties also have several discretionary
powers to provide certain services or control certain activities. Listed below
are other commonly used powers or services that a board of county
commissioners is authorized to implement. Under state law, counties have
the authority to:

• provide veteran services;
• operate emergency telephone services;
• provide ambulance services;
• conduct law enforcement;
• operate mass transit systems;
• build and maintain roads and bridges;
• construct and maintain airports;
• lease or sell county-owned mineral and oil and gas rights;
• provide water and sewer services;
• control wildfire planning and response;
• promote agriculture research and protect agricultural operations;
  • administer pest control; and
  • operate districts for irrigation, cemeteries, libraries, recreation, solid waste and disposal, and various types of improvement districts. 

What I am saying is that whether you vote for a Democrat, a Republican  or an Independent, if you want better local government ask yourself who is best qualified to do the things on the list above.  Pick someone based on their ability to do the job and not just who is the most steeped in the national party platform.  The ones with the most flags or the best mascot should not even enter into the equation.  Ask yourself, "Does the candidate know the issues? Does the candidate listen to the voters?  Does the candidate have special training or skills?"  All of those things should be more important than party affiliation when voting at the county level.

Don’t just listen to misinformation from either party.  I am a Democrat and I am telling you that you need to vote for the candidate who can best fulfill the duties of their job even if it means voting for someone of a different party.  Yes, Democrats, that may mean voting for a Republican.  And yes, Republicans, that may mean voting for a Democrat. But in order to do that, you will have to look past the hyperbole and exaggerations.  You will have to do the hard work that is necessary to get at the truth.

And finally, when a candidate is thrust into a commissioner race due to an unfortunate mistake, such as Jill Duvall recently has been, at least try to get the honest facts about her candidacy. Allow her to begin on a level playing field whether you have already decided to vote for Chris Richardson or not.  The Elbert County News wrote a fairly accurate piece on just how Jill Duvall became the Democratic candidate for District One.  I was a bit sorry to see Chris Richardson put the blame on Jill, but that may have been his understanding.  That said, after reading a reader comment and talking to some of my Republican friends, it is clear that there is a great deal of misinformation being spread about Jill.  Please avoid some of the popular myths that are floating around about the former head of the Elbert County Democratic Party.  I will attempt to give you a head start on your research.

• Jill Duvall never sued Elbert County.  She issued a complaint to the Colorado Secretary of State as a private citizen concerned about misuse of taxpayer money.  Any county money wasted on lawsuits came from our own BOCC. Even after the acting county attorney at the time advised them against it, Commissioners Rowland and Schlegel forged ahead and lost. 

• Jill Duvall never changed her party affiliation during the primary election to vote for Grant Thayer.  She would have had to resign as the Democratic Party Chairperson.,  Elbert County Elections Manager Rhonda Braun  has verified that no such change of party was made.  She will be providing me a state printout which I will post on this site when I receive it. 

• Jill Duvall is not against property rights.  My wife and I have done numerous workshops to show people how to adjudicate their water rights and Jill has assisted us on many occasions.  In Elbert County, because water is such a precious commodity, protecting the water under your property has always been a priority to Jill Duvall. She believes that when the inevitable development comes to Elbert County,  our groundwater resources must not be compromised by over allocation or mismanagement of grey water in larger high density developments.  Wanting assurances that our water will not be put at risk by developers wishing to cut corners for higher profit margins is not the same thing as anti-property rights nor anti-growth.

There are factors to consider in this upcoming election that are factual.  Our practice of passing budgets with large deficits is truly concerning.  The 2016 budget that was passed has us going down by an additional $3,000,000. The same developers, whose questionable designs on county water resources, keep showing up like bad pennies and quite honestly some of our candidates haven’t got the historical perspective to pick these characters out of a lineup.  

It is time to recognize that the skills necessary to become good commissioners are not bestowed upon people by their party but instead by their ability to work hard, be creative and be responsive to the county residents. If that person just happens to be a republican, a libertarian, an independent or god forbid a democrat, so be it.  Remember, this is not the level of governing where a party platform comes into play, so pick someone who can get the job done.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

John Dunn

Former Elbert County Commissioner John Dunn died Tuesday, August 2, 2016.   I lost a true friend, and I am deeply saddened by his passing.  My heartfelt condolences go out to his wife, Jackie, and their wonderful family. John's presence will be sincerely missed by almost everyone who had the good fortune to know him. He was truly one of a kind.

John lived pretty close to where my wife and I have our farm.  The Dunns' ranch is a beautiful place with an historical back story that is quite amazing.  It has what remains of the little ghost town of Sidney.  Across Elbert Road, John’s airplane runway  was built on the site where one of the historic Gomer’s Mills once stood. 

John was a true steward of the land.  He fiercely loved his ranch and was prepared to protect its serene beauty. He did that on a number of occasions in the time I knew him. 

I had met John on numerous occasions over the years, but I really got to know him when news of Ray Wells and his SuperSlab project (the boondoggle, 210-mile long proposed toll road planned for Colorado's eastern plains from Fort Collins to Pueblo) raised its ugly head in 2005.  One of the routes of the toll road would have come very close to both of our homes, and I was one of the founding members of the Elbert coalition of Toll Road Warriors,  a group of citizens who united to defend our homes from this project that was clearly a land grab.  I enlisted John’s help to go down to the Colorado State Capital Building to protest proposed legislation which would have given Ray Wells the green light to proceed with his road project.  John did not have to be asked twice.  He was “all in” on stopping the project and his testimony before the committee set to approve the project was invaluable.  Our friendship was forged almost instantly.

John was a Republican.  He was a damned good Republican commissioner for Elbert County. He was the kind of fiscal conservative that my father was.  He believed in running a tight ship.  He believed in keeping reserve funds.  He demanded quarterly budget reports from the departments under his management.  He was frugal and left a significant surplus as an important part of his legacy.  He was well liked, enthusiastic and, for the most part,  quite jovial. But when he had to be, he was tough as nails.  He stood behind his employees and they respected him.  

Because it never came up on the toll road project, John did not know that I was a Democrat  He only learned of it one day when he asked me if I had ever thought of running for commissioner. I told him that I did not think a Democrat stood much of a chance in Elbert County.  He looked at me and calmly and asked if I had ever thought about changing party affiliations.  I told him that I had once been a Republican, but no, I was not going to change back.  He smiled that infectious smile of his and roared with laughter.  He said he thought I must be pretty hard-headed to be a Democrat living in Elbert County, and then told me we could still be friends.  It was the beginning of a long friendship based on mutual respect of each others ideas.  We talked county politics often and my respect for him grew immeasurably.

You see, John appreciated people of all political stripes.  He was not intimidated by ideas that ran counter to his own.  Diverse ideas excited John Dunn.  He was confident in his beliefs and enjoyed a good disagreement.  He always listened and tried to understand those who were on the other side of an issue.  If it came to it, he had no problem standing his ground and firmly letting you know when he had reached the end of his patience.  I loved that about John.

John loved his toys.  We had as many discussions about tractors, trucks, airplanes and snowmobiles as we had discussions of politics.  We both had Kubota tractors and we talked often on the telephone about our “orange children.”  He might invite us over to show us his newest gizmo, to ride a snowmobile, or even to take us up in his plane.  He was always generous, kind and welcoming.  He so loved his land and often bragged about the sweet water that was beneath his feet. 

As I stated earlier, John was truly one of a kind.  He was brilliant, yet down to earth, a joker that knew when to be serious, a tough guy who could also be a softy.  He lived life to the fullest.  He lived for his wife, his family, his friends and his big black dogs.  He enjoyed his parties.  Man, oh man, he loved to entertain.

I will close with this short anecdote.  John always found a common denominator in people he called his friends.  One of the things that John and I had in common was that we both had hearing problems.  Mine was as a result of genetic based hearing loss.  John’s hearing loss came from years of working on airplane engines.  When we were together, if we did not have our hearing aids in our ears, our conversations got pretty loud.  I remarked to him once (forgive my crudeness) that neither one of us could hear ourselves if we were to fart inside a tin bucket.  He roared with laughter and confided in me that he liked it that we had that in common.  It was a struggle we shared and he felt okay talking about it with me.  The little things meant a lot to this lion of a man.  I will miss you dearly, John Dunn.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Curious Tale of Chris Richardson

Notable quote from this past week:

 "I'm trying to get eyes on all county maintained roads prior to taking office." 
- Christopher Richardson, 7/29/16 on his Facebook page. 

This week, my installment of Mundus Vult Decipi, Ergo Decipiatur took a turn at the very last moment. I was originally was working on another topic when Elbert County Commissioner candidate, Chris Richardson, decided that it might be a good idea to wade into my blog topic about the Elbert County 1% Sales Tax.  Mr. Richardson did not originally bother to question me on my blog or the Elbert County Citizen Page.  Instead he chose to write a lengthy piece about the author (me) on his own Facebook Page in which he said I used, “half-truths, false arguments and innuendo.” 

Mr. Richardson went on to provide a chart that he felt certain would crush any argument from anyone who might be in disagreement with his erudite reasoning.  He told his readers they should be proud of the fine job Elbert County has been doing with their financial dealings.  Then he went on to say that 97.5% of the 1% Sales Tax has been spent on road and bridge projects, according to the Elbert County auditor.  Let me give you a moment to applaud both the county and Mr. Richardson.  He obviously knows this topic better than the people who actually have lived in Elbert County long enough to have voted on this issue.

As I stated in my blog post, there is nothing illegal that I can see about what County Manager Ed Ehmann has done with the fund balance.  The way the initiative was written, it allows for this “holding back” of the funds.  My only point was that there is a growing fund balance from the tax monies being collected and when funds are not being spent in a manner consistent with the way the initiative was sold to the voters, those impacted voters should know why.  Mr. Richardson accused me of being “shady.” I explained that what he was calling “shade,” I was calling “sunshine.”

Mr. Richardson has not been in Elbert County for very long.  His historical perspective of what has transpired over the past two decades in terms of shoddy bookkeeping practices leaves much to be desired.  As a person who has run for office, written for local newspapers, been to scores of BOCC meetings etc., I would like to remind Mr. Richardson that standing up for the status quo in Elbert County politics is not always wise nor advisable. 

Mr. Richardson went on to warn people against those who would slam the good folks who work in county government.  I would like him to produce a single scintilla of proof that I slammed any county employee, including our County Manager, in my last blog.  I count many county employees as friends and am grateful to them for being very competent at what they do.

This brings me to the final sentence in Mr. Richardson’s diatribe, which I can only imagine he designed to gain him some cheap political points: “We are blessed with a free press and freedom of expression. But, with these freedoms comes responsibility. Both for those that create content and those that consume it.” I would remind him his words are a two-way street. Since Mr. Richardson chose to call me out on his Facebook page, that was designed for an audience that I would have probably not  have seen if it were not for the tips from some readers, I decided to take the argument to his page. There I told him that I thought his actions were less than honorable.  I also told him that I did not expect that he would leave my comments up on his page.  He shot back that he would never take comments down that were critical of him.  I thought that was a pretty good idea…except he did take down our exchanges.  He did remove his chart; the one he was so certain would prove his points.

So let me clear and specific on a couple of points for Presumptive Commissioner Richardson.  Since Presumptive Commissioner Richardson took down his chart that did not prove what he thought it did, I went to the Elbert County Government website. Readers, you can find all of my information I am discussing at the following link: 

Click on the 2015 Financial Report prepared by the auditing firm of EideBailly.  If you have time, read through all of the 86 pages, but if you don’t, go to page 30 and 31. Under the heading of Special Revenue Funds  look at the column marked  Sales and Use Tax Fund.  On Mr. Richardson’s deleted chart, the balance for the road and bridge funds for the end of year 2015 was well over $600K.  That fund balance grew significantly (estimated at +$400K) from the previous year.  If you could actually parse out the difference between sales tax and use tax on this page you could get a whole lot closer to the true amount being held back from road repairs.  Unfortunately, until one talks to the auditor, the two funds are mingled and show that the combined Use and Sales Tax is actually just short of $2.5 million dollars.  How much of that balance could be used to fulfill the promises that the Elbert County Government made to the voters? We may never know.

Mr. Richardson did not make a compelling case for his statement that this is how the people of Elbert County want their government to proceed.  I suspect that Mr. Ehmann is trying his level best to get the books and the financial standing of the county on firmer ground.  Again, he is not breaking any rules.  But, if you believe that people are not being adversely impacted by the condition of our roads, you are kidding yourself.  Pot holes are dangerous and deteriorating chip seal paving is dangerous.  My wife and I have had to replace a bent axle and a broken wheel in the last two years alone due to the degraded quality of our roads.

Marlene Groves put up the Elbert County Citizens page on Facebook to try and get citizens to come together to share ideas, voice valid complaints or extoll the virtues of people who were making a difference.  It is not an easy task to get people to check their national politics, religious beliefs or biases at the door.  The EC Citizens page has had some rocky moments along the way, but due to bipartisan editing and a laser focus on county issues, it is beginning to take off. She deserves a lot of credit. 

This is my sixth blog entry of Mundus Vult Decipi, Ergo Decipiatur.  Not a single entry has been a sales pitch for the Democratic Party of which I am a proud member.  I have not been critical of any Republican for their political affiliation including Mr. Richardson. I am only trying to shed light on legitimate problems about which Elbert County citizens should be concerned. That is why I post on the afore mentioned Elbert County Citizen page.

And finally, Mr. Richardson did not appreciate the name of my blog, stating that it was Latin and about deception.  I told him he was clueless as to the purpose of the title. So let me further explain in English: We have all been guilty of wanting to believe something that is not true.  I want to believe that there is good in all men.  Sadly, there are some people who are clearly not good.  But that does not stop me from wanting what those people say to be true.  We therefore are all guilty of wanting to be deceived at some point or another in our lifetimes, ergo…we let ourselves be deceived from time to time.  Mr. Richardson, it is not an indictment of a group of people (here, specifically, the Elbert County government employees).  It is exploring the truth and being honest with ourselves.