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The Lead Jan. 25, 2022: Buyer backs out of deal to buy old Kerrville middle school

It was a busy day around Kerr County, especially when it comes to public meetings.

Good morning, Kerr County.

So much for the rain. The amount of rain that was supposed to fall Sunday night and into Monday morning proved to be an allegation at best — maybe less than a tenth of an inch. We're expecting more cool and dry weather over the next few days. Yawn.

On today's episode of The Lead Live

We will chat about looking good and feeling good. The team from Boutique M — Margaret Raymond and Sterling Stark — will join us to talk fashion, style and maybe a game or two. Humbling Bloom owner Stephanie Stewart will join us to talk about yoga, massage and their offerings at her Kerrville studio.


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Catch up with The Lead Live's past shows

We had a terrific conversation with the Republican Women of Kerr County during Monday's show about their upcoming forums for GOP candidates running for local and state offices.

To watch the video interview:

To listen to the podcast:–Jan–24–2022-e1ddqt1

Issues we're following today

In a bit of good news for Kerrville's public safety building

The Kerrville Independent School District announced Monday that the buyer for the former Hal Peterson Middle School on Sidney Baker Street had backed out of the deal.

"The district will re-advertise the sale of real property in a local newspaper on two separate occasions," KISD Superintendent Mark Foust wrote in a letter to the board of trustees. "In consultation with the attorney for the board of trustees, the district will publicly re-post a request for proposals and establish a timeline for accepting proposals."

There was speculation that the city of Kerrville sought the property to house the new public safety complex but that it lost that chance when a petition drive stopped the city's use of certificates of obligation to fund the purchase of the nearly 30-acre property.

The city's public safety building committee recommends constructing a 69,000-square foot building on 7 acres. However, finding 7 acres in a central location may have proven challenging — until now.

The Kerrville City Council is in action

The Kerrville City Council meets tonight with plenty of second readings of ordinances and annexations. There's a 5 p.m. workshop ahead of the 6 p.m. regular meeting. Just some of the topics are:

  • The second reading of the controversial annexation of 16.85 acres along Coronado Drive in northwest Kerrville is an issue that split the City Council earlier this month. The annexation would clear the way for the construction of about 45 homes.
  • The annexation of 168 acres to the south of Peterson Regional Medical Center will clear the way for a new parking lot at the hospital. Peterson will not develop all of the property, but the hospital will extend Lehman Drive into the parking lot, which will serve as an overflow lot. This spring, Peterson will break ground on a new surgery center in the hospital's current parking lot.

It's official — they're running

After waiting for a few days, Kerrville City Councilwoman Judy Eychner formally announced her candidacy to succeed Bill Blackburn as mayor. Eychner filed her paperwork on Monday. Place 4 Councilwoman Brenda Hughes filed her re-election paperwork on Monday. No other candidates have filed to run — so far. They have until Feb. 18 to return the applications.

CVS says we need a break

If you're a customer of CVS Drug Store's pharmacy in Kerrville, you may have received a message that it will close from 1:30 to 2 p.m. daily so employees can take a lunch. That may be one of the strongest signals of the challenges on the workforce — from staffing shortages to COVID-19.

Congrats to Julie Davis!

Kerrville Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Julie Davis celebrated her 20th anniversary with the organization on Monday. Congratulations.

Ah, the commissioner's court

If you want high drama, that's the place to be, and on Monday, it didn't disappoint. Kerr County Judge Rob Kelly said only six people could speak about the American Rescue Plan Act funding the county was expected to accept. For weeks, the court has been under pressure from ultra-conservative constituents to hand the $10 million back. The courthouse was packed with potential speakers waiting for their say. In the end, the court voted 4-1 to hold on to the money.

Why is this an issue?

A simple explanation is in the terms and conditions of the agreement with the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Here's the specific language:

"Recipient agrees to comply with the requirements of section 603 of the Act, regulations adopted by Treasury pursuant to section 603(f) of the Act, and guidance issued by Treasury regarding the foregoing. Recipient also agrees to comply with all other applicable federal statutes, regulations, and executive orders, and Recipient shall provide for such compliance by other parties in any agreements it enters into with other parties relating to this award."

It's the following element that bothers those opposed to receiving the money: "Recipient also agrees to comply with all other applicable federal statutes, regulations, and executive orders."

The speakers' common perception is that this means vaccination and mask mandates, but a final rule from the Treasury Department says presidential executive orders are recommendations. There are two such executive orders in the terms and conditions, each from former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

  • Clinton signed an order to encourage seat belt use in 1997.
  • Obama signed an order to discourage people from texting while driving in 2009.

Treasury's final rule, which goes into effect in April, does limit what recipients can do with the money — like not undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

"In other words, recipients may not use funds for a program that undermines practices included in the CDC's guidelines and recommendations for stopping the spread of COVID-19," the Treasury Department wrote in its 437-page final rule.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Jonathan Letz provided clarity on the situation the county was facing.

"The sentiment of the current federal government, the Biden administration and the overreach, I couldn't agree more," Letz said. "But the financial side of this money is not impacted by that. We are already subject to executive order — this county is. (A speaker) mentioned the sewer project, this language is in the sewer project."

The agreement does require compliance on civil rights issues, that non-English speakers receive information, and compliance with established federal laws.

After naming a long list of programs and county-run departments that receive federal funding, Letz said he doesn't like being beholden to the government, but that's the reality the county faces.

"We're in bed with the federal government," Letz said.

Letz's comments didn't sit well with Precinct 1 Commissioner Harley Belew, who argued the funding was another way of government overreach to force mandates.

"I don't trust these guys and everything they said so far they've gone back on," Belew said.

Selective facts

Belew started the conversation about the ARPA funds by presenting his particular brand of selective facts that sound like a warning sign on the face of it. Belew cited a Wall Street Journal article about Arizona suing the federal government over the Treasury Department's threat to take back ARPA funds over a dispute about masks. There is truth in the comment, and there's also one big but in the story. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey took the ARPA funds for education relief, putting the funds into several buckets for distribution. However, Ducey disqualified school districts that had implemented mask mandates or closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

"It's important to know that this has already begun," Belew said.

But it hasn't begun. Arizona passed laws against mask mandates, which the state's Supreme Court tossed. The Treasury Department's final rule says you can't do things that actively undermine public health — like a mandate against masks. In turn, the U.S. Department of Justice is considering civil rights litigation against several states where anti-mask mandates may have violated children's rights with disabilities.

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