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The Lead April 5, 2022: Kerrville candidate forum set for tonight; fire danger put into greater context

The City Council and mayoral candidates meet tonight at Schreiner University.

Good morning, Kerr County!

Get used to it — Red-Flag Warning. That's what we're facing today. Whatever rain we got will be dried out as we head toward a high of 93 degrees (or warmer) and low humidity today. And, oh, by the way, it will be breezy. That reality led the Kerrville Parks and Recreation Department to issue a red-flag warning in the city parks — that means burn nothing (not even your hot dogs). "No ash-producing fires are allowed in city parks, and use of the standing grills are prohibited during this time," the city said via a press release.

On today's The Lead Live!

Becky Babb will tell us about her wedding, doubling as a fundraiser for Kerrville Pets Alive! Kerrville NAPA Auto Parts store owner Cindy Colbath will discuss National Car Care Month, and NAPA is also working on a KPA fundraiser. We'll get a visit from Jennifer Natale and Sisters in Service. The nonprofit organization is hosting a fundraising event on Saturday to support their community work. Join us at 9 a.m.

Today's events

Public meetings

  • Ingram City Council — Ingram City Hall, 6 p.m. Information:


  • Job Fair — Kerrville Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, 12-3 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. Information: The Details: The Kroc has 18 positions open, and they're looking for help immediately. Bring your resume and a photo I.D.

(Recurring events)

  • KACC Exhibits — Kerr Arts and Cultural Center, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Information: The details: Three exhibits are running at KACC through April 16. The Hill Country Youth Art Exhibit; Kerrville 1940-1960, a photographic history of the community sponsored by the Kerr County Historical Commission; Passion Project: Our contributions to the world, a collection of work from Schreiner University, senior art students.
  • Heaven's Declare Art Exhibition — Museum of Western Art, 10 a.m. Information: The details: Featuring works by renowned artists who celebrate the heavens. The exhibition will feature works by Phil Bob Borman, G. Russell Case, Tim Newton, Laurel Daniel, Linda Glover Gooch, David Griffin, David Grossman, Michael Magrin, Denise LaRue Mahlke, Phil Starke and John Taft.
  • The Fiber Show and Sale — Hill Country Arts Foundation, Ingram, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday-Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Information: The details: An exhibit of fiber art by artists from across Texas.

Wednesday, April 6

  • Job Fair — Kerrville Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, 12-3 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. Information: The Details: The Kroc has 18 positions open, and they're looking for help immediately. Bring your resume and a photo I.D.
  • EduScape Talk and Tour — Riverside Nature Center, 10:30 a.m. Information: The details: The UGRA EduScape is an award-winning demonstration garden that contains numerous examples of water conservation and stormwater detention practices that you can incorporate into your landscaping. The EduScape Talk & Tour will feature presentations by leading experts, followed by a tour of the EduScape.
  • Friends of the Library Book Sale — Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library, 1-3 p.m. Information: The details: Looking for a great read? Or better yet, come down and support the work of Friends of the Library. Maybe find a banned book? That sounds like a fun day to us.
  • Live music by Tom Prasada-Rao — Schreiner University, Junkin Campus Ministry Center, 7 p.m. Information: Dr. William Davis, Dean of Faculty, at or 830-792-7415. The details: This unique event presents an intimate conversation with a professional musician about his life, songs, and musical process. Music and Conversation feature audience participation and great original songs as illustrations. Tom Prasada-Rao is a musician's musician – an unassuming presence on the folk scene since the early nineties. His voice belies his musicianship and his extraordinary songs. From Rishi's Garden with its homage to Ravi Shankar to the groove of Sleeping Beauty, Tom's music is melodic, ambitious and reverent.

Sheriff's Office investigates shooting death

An Ingram man is dead, and another is sitting in Kerr County Jail accused of murder.

The Kerr County Sheriff's Office said a verbal altercation between roommates escalated into a shooting on Sunday. The sheriff's office said they received a 9-1-1 call from the 200 block of Beaver Road in Ingram with a shooting report.

Read more here:

Here comes the candidate forum

The Kerrville Area Chamber of Commerce is presenting our first look at the candidates running for the Kerrville City Council, including two who have pending litigation against the city.

The candidate forum is set for 6 p.m. tonight at Schreiner University. The lineup:

  • Place 3: Joe Herring Jr. and Katy Chapman-Hanna.
  • Place 4: Robin Monroe and incumbent Brenda Hughes.
  • Mayor: Brent Bates and Judy Eychner.

Monroe filed a lawsuit last month asking a district court judge to stop the May 7 municipal election. Monroe claims the election violates the city charter and state law. The city, however, issued a statement last week that it's moving forward with the election, and the Texas Secretary of State has their backing.

"The action of postponement was limited to 2020, pursuant to the gubernatorial proclamation. It did not authorize permanently moving the next election date for that term," said the Secretary of State's legal counsel. "The governor's proclamation only authorized a move to November 3, 2020. There is no authority for a local political subdivision, on its own order, to move an election to any other date."

The city had 20 days to respond to Monroe's lawsuit, but that deadline isn't until next week. Monroe is facing Hughes, who is actually at the center of Monroe's court argument. Elected in November 2020, Hughes' first term will be just 18 months due to the postponement of the municipal election that year.

Bates federal lawsuit accuses the city of improperly stopping work on a Water Street office building that is nearly complete. Bates and the city are at odds over several issues, mainly about firefighting sprinklers and access. Bates argues that the city's occupancy rules are wrong, that only about 50 people will be in the building at any one time, while the city argues Bates building is large enough to accommodate 200.

Bates is facing a battle against current City Councilwoman Judy Eychner, who has easily won two terms on the Council. Both are looking to succeed Mayor Bill Blackburn, who is not seeking re-election after two terms.

To replace Eychner at Place 3 is a race between former Mayor Joe Herring Jr. and nurse Katy Chapman-Hanna.

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What are the issues in the race?

Common sense dictates that there may be substantive conversations about real issues — like long-term water supply, affordable housing and managing the city's roads. However, we're not hopeful.

Both Monroe and Chapman-Hanna have appeared at City Council meetings. Monroe is a part of the "Let Us Vote" group that helped stop the city from issuing certificates of obligation to build the proposed public safety building. Chapman-Hanna spoke at a meeting to complain about the municipal election date.

The one issue that may be contentious is the public safety building — now expected to cost $45 million. Both Eychner and Hughes have backed the proposal, but this will be our first on-the-record statement from Bates, Chapman-Hanna and Monroe. Herring has told The Lead he's supportive of the plan, and he's also engaged in the effort to build the Heart of the Hills Heritage Center adjacent to the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library.

The No. 1 issue facing Kerrville is the city's efforts to attract new home construction, and the answers to that question will be insightful. There are two issues here: should Kerrville work to attract more production builders to scale up housing inventory?; or should the city count on the efforts of local builders to meet the market needs?

The Kerrville Area Chamber of Commerce's governmental affairs committee leads the effort and moderates the panel.

Find the Democrats

Questioning the legitimacy of a candidate's political affiliation is a tried and true method, and it looks like we'll see partisan activism in the decidedly non-partisan Kerrville City Council race.

In an email to its supporters, We The People, Liberty in Action — a hard-right political group — said it wanted its supporters to expose the Democrats who say they're Republicans.

"We need folks to ask tough questions of the Democrats masquerading as Republicans in these races," said the group. "They'll never agree to any other debate."

Except this isn't a debate. This is designed to be a polite forum.

Speaking of debating, GOP race turns nasty

From left, Raul Reyes, Lamar Lewis and Peter Flores discussed issues in District 24 Senate race during a forum hosted by the Republican Women of Kerr County. Reyes and Flores face each other in a May 24 runoff election for the Republican nomination.

The Texas Tribune had a story about Raul Reyes, facing a May 24 runoff election against Pete Flores for the 24th State Senate District Republican nomination. It wasn't exactly flattering. The current senator, Dawn Buckingham, told a Republican gathering in Burnet that she did not appreciate the campaign Reyes was running and called him dishonest. There were gasps in the audience, according to The Tribune.

Reyes' campaign has been a full-on attack against Flores and the Republican establishment. During a candidates forum in Kerrville earlier this year, Reyes used name-calling and attacks against his opponents leading to complaints by competitor Lamar Lewis, who finished third in the GOP primary.

Reyes earned 41% of the vote in Kerr County — six points ahead of Flores. Reyes, however, received 33% of the vote in the district.

For more on the story read here:

The fire danger in Kerr County in greater perspective

During the April 1 episode of The Lead Live, Kerrville Public Utility Board CEO Mike Wittler revealed that the utility was now working to mitigate wildfire hazards.

Wildfires caused by downed powerlines or faulty equipment only account for a small number of blazes each year, but some of those fires have proven catastrophic — mainly in California.

"Well, wildfire mitigation planning is is really a new topic to us," Whittler said during the interview." The PUC, the Texas Public Utility Commission has just issued revised rules that bring municipalities into requirements that require a wildfire mitigation plan. So, thinking about things specifically from a wildfire point of view is actually new to us."

The estimates — depending on the source — suggest that downed power lines cause between 8% and 10% of U.S. wildland fires. Kerr County's recent fires led Whittler to look again at the regional position for wildfire exposure.

"I'm glad you brought this up and and got me to look at it because really we have to do some work that that I wasn't really aware of," Whittler said. "I was surprised to see that we're right in the middle of probably the highest wildfire risk area in the state."

And the state ranks No. 2 when it comes to wildfire risk, just behind Gov. Greg Abbott's No. 1 rival, California — a title we're confident the governor doesn't want to wrest away from the Golden State.

The truth is that Texas has more than 5,000 wildfires per year and owns a somewhat fragile electric grid. When it comes to the Hill Country, fire is a genuine threat.

Whittler said there's plenty of work to mitigate the threat: ensuring lines are clear of branches and debris. The No. 1 cause of wildfires in Kerr County is debris fires that have escaped containment. In the case of the fires last month, lawnmowers were the cause of ignition.

While it's unclear how many fires are set by electrical equipment in Texas, the risk is evident, especially on windy days.

For California, high winds have played a hand in damaging electrical equipment, leading to colossal fires. Those fires resulted in the deaths of more than 110 people and the destruction of more than 25,000 homes since 2017.

Finger-pointing about the causes has been a political game, and the truth is the wildfire threat doesn't seem to care about party affiliation, but it's where homes sites near wildlands present the most significant challenge.

The U.S. Forest Service provides an assessment of that threat for every city and county in the nation. Kerr County ranks in the top third of U.S. counties with the number of homes with direct exposure to wildfire — 64% of homes here have that exposure.

It's a metric that is — at least for now — supported by the Texas A&M Forest Service, which estimates that Kerr County's exposure is about 75%.

Another metric, this one calculated by an insurance think tank, suggests 7% of Texas homes face wildfire threats — putting the state into the top 10 nationally. If that number seems low, remember that it is more than 700,000 Texas homes.

So, how does the U.S. Forest Service define the number? Here you go: "Directly exposed homes are located in an area considered to be covered by flammable wildland vegetation. Because of this, homes may be exposed to wildfire through direct flame contact or radiant heat from burning wildland vegetation, as well as indirect sources such as embers transported through the air from vegetation or homes burning nearby."

The Texas A&M Forest Service closely monitors the wildland and urban interface — meaning lots of flammable (cedar) and houses. In its data, Texas A&M says large chunks of Kerrville are in this dangerous zone — where flammable grasses and cedar bump up against homes. The forest service ranks these from zero to minus-9 (the highest), and the defining measurement is flame length.

Both the Texas A&M Forest Service and U.S. Forest Service provide resources on preventing a wildfire from damaging or destroying your home and forecasting models.

Texas A&M Forest Service forecasts extreme fire danger for West and Southwest Texas in the coming days. Prolonged drought is the chief culprit for the forecast, and here in Kerr County, we've now had four consecutive months with less than an inch of rain.

"In the western Hill Country were' seeing super dry fuel, especially those ash juniper," said Walter Flocke, Texas A&M Forest Service's wildland-urban interface coordinator.

The first line of defense is volunteer fire departments, but the state is moving to a heightened state of alert by requesting out-of-state firefighters and aircraft from the USFS and the Bureau of Land Management.

Here are links to prevention:

The facts speak for themselves with economic development

In a post from the Texas Economic Development Corp., the group touts positive economic data — but doesn't tell the whole story.

If there was ever a need for journalistic independence working with Texas agencies is an excellent reason to start, especially regarding the propensity to brag. Even worse, it's more about crafting propaganda than a real message.

As we've said before, the braggers gotta brag syndrome is alive and well in the Lone Star State. Don't take it the wrong way; there's a lot to love and brag about here in Texas.

However, the Texas Economic Development Corp. is one of the worst when telling the truth — or giving real context — about the state's economic story. Here's the headline (in large red type): "TEXAS' ECONOMIC DOMINANCE CONTINUES, RANKS NO. 1 IN U.S. IN GDP GROWTH"

The headline is partially correct. In the fourth quarter of 2021, Texas' gross domestic product was the best in the nation, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis — a federally-funded agency that tracks GDP. The TEDC release doesn't say that Texas finished outside of the top 10 in percentage growth from 2020-2021, with 5.6% growth. The No. 1 state for GDP percentage growth? How about Tennessee. Texas was 19th.

Of course, Gov. Greg Abbott is never one to miss an opportunity to cheerlead: "Thanks to the hardworking people of Texas, the Lone Star State leads the nation with the largest increase in fourth quarter GDP," Abbott wrote. "This achievement is yet another testament to the prosperous economic climate we have cultivated by developing a highly skilled workforce, cutting red tape and investing in our robust infrastructure."

There's an argument that the lack of investment in the electrical grid led to the state's relatively poor performance in 2021. That is measurable in the 4.2% growth in the first quarter of 2021 — winter storm time.

Here's another nugget not shared by the TEDC: "Real estate and rental and leasing increased 7.1% nationally and contributed increases in all 50 states and the District of Columbia," the BEA wrote. Those soaring housing prices were the No. 2 factor for Texas' increased fourth-quarter GDP output. While two of Texas' signature industries were negative (oil and ag), the state's emerging tech and scientific sectors were booming to help power that robust fourth quarter.

But here's another way to look at it: Californians moving to Texas are one of the reasons for that bump in GDP by driving up housing costs. There's probably some correlation in helping drive up wages, but that might be giving them too much credit.

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