Good morning Kerr County!
It was nice to wake up to some rain on Wednesday morning. Of course, that gave way to muggy conditions later in the day. The National Weather Service expects the cloudy and muggy conditions to continue today but come Friday, we're going to see that cool down we've discussed. Veterans Day is looking like a rainy one, but with the added bonus of some seasonal temperatures. The National Weather Service says we can expect lows on Friday into the high 30s. However, the weekend looks like it will be seasonably cool and sunny.
On today's The Lead Live!
We dive back into our discussion with veterans, and former Marine Jeff Harris comes onto the show and chats with Assistant Sheriff Chris Lalonde — another former Marine. It's fitting because today is the Marine Corps' birthday. And we'll have others stop by to share their stories, including Hunter Schmidt. Join us at 9 a.m.
Things to do today!
- Texas Furniture Makers Show — Kerr Arts and Cultural Center, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Information: https://www.kacckerrville.com The details: Texas Furniture Makers' Show® is an annual statewide Competition of the Finest Custom Furniture Makers in Texas. The show is held at the beautiful Kerr Arts & Cultural Center.
- Works We Love Show — Museum of Western Art, 10 a.m. Information: https://www.museumofwesternart.com The details: "Works We Love," featuring Fred Harman, creator of "Red Ryder and Little Beaver." Also on display are works from our permanent collection.
- Texas Golf Association Stableford Championship — Riverhills Country Club, through Nov. 13. Information: https://www.txga.org The details Men's golf tournament using the Stableford scoring system.
- Bill's Jam — Joanne Marie and Me Wine Boutique, 6 p.m. Information: https://www.facebook.com/wineboutique1
Five big stories from Kerrville's City Council meeting
Even with the results from the election battling for attention on Tuesday night, the Kerrville City Council meeting proved to be the biggest draw (we have some interesting metrics from our video), but here are five remarkable moments from the meeting:
- Kerrville Mayor Judy Ecyhner executed a lightning pace through eight short-term rental approvals — all getting a nod of approval. With a huge agenda in front of her, Eychner was strong out of the gate before getting waylaid by the following item.
- The City Council spent nearly an hour wrestling with a request by Ingram Ready Mix not to extend utilities to one of its quarries south of the Kerrville-Kerr County Airport. The city staff recommended not granting a waiver not to extend utilities, and the two sides argued back and forth about the plan's specifics. However, Councilmember Joe Herring Jr. stopped the back-and-forth by asking the two sides to work through a compromise and bring it back to the City Council in December.
- Then short-term rentals returned to the agenda with the first reading of regulations permitting new short-term rentals in the future. There were a ton of redlines and changes to the document. Still, the Council said it was comfortable with adopting the first reading under the promise that changes recommended by the Council would be presented next month during the second reading.
- While most were waiting for the talk about library books, the City Council approved a first reading of the city's water and wastewater plan — no residents spoke about the plan. However, this is an approximately $100 million long-range water plan that will affect residents in the coming years.
- The City Council narrowed the list of design-build firms from eight to five to construct the $45 million public safety building — a crucial first step in building the complex that will house the police department, fire administration and the municipal court.
Kelly doesn't rule out possible tax hike, additional bond in 2023
With the defeat of Proposition A and B, Kerr County Judge Rob Kelly said he's disappointed by the voters rejecting the bonds that would pay for courthouse improvements and an overhaul of the indoor arena at the Hill Country Youth Event Center. Prop. C, which authorizes more than $5 million in bonds for a new animal shelter, passed.
Kelly, however, is not ruling out another crack at passing a general obligation bond. He's also not ruling out a tax increase in the coming year to pay for improvements.
"All in all, we have our work cut for us, but we are the county, and we find ways to "make do," Kelly said. "That's what got us in this situation, kicking the can down the road and making do. I expect there will be another bond election again next year."
For nearly three years, the county's Capital Improvement Project committee of Brenda Hughes, Chris Hughes, Pete Calderon, Fred Hennecke and Robert Templeton toiled to make a list of recommendations to repair, expand or replace facilities across the county. The primary aim was the now century-old Kerr County Courthouse.
Since 2020, Kelly led an effort to purchase property near the courthouse for expansion, including a former church that will eventually house the tax and assessors office. Kelly used revenue anticipation bonds — with interest rates below 1% — to make the purchases. So, the county owns the property but can't do much with what it has because of the bond failures.
"I'm not sure what we can do about the courthouse issues," Kelly said. "We haven't been able to get any traction with the old juvenile detention facility. At one point, we considered using it for storage. We may look at that again. We might consider using the 600 Earl Garrett building for storage also. Ingram ISD has been a godsend in helping keep the West Kerr Annex operating, but that is a very short-term solution.
"As for the unfunded mandate for a larger jury room for County Court at Law, we're trying to figure out some way to rearrange our floor plan," Kelly said. "In the past, we considered possibly using the the space where the present law library is upstairs. It's problematic but we're desperate. We might consider moving the law library to 550 Earl Garrett since it's not being used to its full potential."
Kelly said there are serious concerns about the dirt-floor indoor arena at the Hill Country Youth Event Center. The nearly 40-year-old facility faces electrical problems, a leaky and sagging roof, and years of swine, goat, horse, steer, and bull excrement and urine contaminating the floor.
"As for immediate steps, first we must determine the safety of the indoor arena and which repairs are absolutely necessary in order to be able to continue using it," Kelly said. "It is unsafe, we know it's unsafe, and we must repair the roof and electrical, at the very least. Even the opponents recognize its hazards. Those funds will have to come out of fund balance instead of being able to finance the repairs over time. Like it or not, it will require that we increase the tax rate."
Kelly said he was excited about the animal shelter outcome.
"I was thrilled Kerrville Pets Alive and their supporters got the animal shelter across the finish line," Kelly said. "We desperately need a new shelter."
The winners and losers from an epic day of news on Tuesday!
Tuesday night was a dramatic day for Kerr County voters and those who trudged through a Kerrville City Council meeting that lasted more than four hours. On a day that saw two, Kerr County bond measures go down to defeat and a third to construct an animal shelter win shows there were some key winners and losers on the day. However, the epic Kerrville City Council meeting showed that the battle over culture is still present and will be for some time. Here's our look at the winners and losers from Tuesday night:
Kerrville Pets Alive!
For a group that isn't supposed to be political, Kerrville Pets Alive drove the narrative on Kerr County Prop. C, a $5 million plan to construct a new animal shelter. When incoming Precinct 2 Commissioner Rich Paces questioned the need for a new shelter that may have galvanized the group's organizational action. Led by Karen Guerriero, KPA president, the group's members were present at many polling places — some dressed in costume. The metrics, from KPA's persistent attendance at events and its fundraising efforts, make it a formidable group. And with that force of will, KPA pushed through a decisive win to get the new animal services constructed.
The incoming Precinct 2 Commissioner spent nearly every free time campaigning against the bond. Paces' midwestern charm is helpful in convincing voters that the county's plan to spend $27 million was coming at the worst possible time. Paces' argument was sometimes loose with facts and short on plan specifics but was rooted in an earnest belief that the bonds were unnecessary and, more importantly, irresponsible. Paces worked tirelessly at the polling places and events — he was sometimes the sole person holding the no on A-B-C signs. While crediting Kerrville Pets Alive for their win on Prop C, Paces told his supporters that he believes the animal shelter could be scaled back.
In 30 years of covering communities in California, Texas and Colorado, I've never seen anything like Brenda Hughes' blistering City Council speech about the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library banned book controversy. Hughes pushed back against what she determined was a hypocritical approach by those saying the library staff was foisting "sexualized" books on children when books containing sex, bestiality and rape were readily available across the library, including the Bible and a book on the Holocaust. Some, including those commenting on The Lead's live video, couldn't grasp what Hughes was saying, instead arguing that "inappropriate books" shouldn't be available for children to check out. Hughes' point was that the entire library was full of material that could be considered questionable, but her real zinger was that the books in question all had one theme — they centered around LGBTQ+. Now, Hughes is no liberal, but she spoke her mind espousing values that many recognized — like don't tell me what to read, and I won't tell you what to read.
We The People, Liberty in Action
Say what you will about the truth-stretching "patriot" group, but they worked hard to get the word out about Propositions and did it with simplicity. The message mirrored Paces' chief arguments that you don't pass bonds during a recession. They mailed it out to thousands of Kerr County residents, and the mailer was effective. The group may have learned some lessons after failing to defeat the Kerrville Public Safety Building bond, and we expect they will offer stiff resistance to other public spending plans. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing — only if it derails progress, like the defeat of Prop. A and B likely have done for Kerr County.
There may not have been the red wave that Republicans were hoping for across the country, but the Grand Old Party maintained its grip on the state's electoral process. The Big Three of Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton staved off challenges to retain their positions. The margins were more expansive for the lesser-known state executive positions, including Dawn Buckingham, who won the race for Texas Land Commissioner. The races for land commissioner, comptroller, agricultural commissioner and railroad commissioner were decided by more than 13%-points. Thanks to gerrymandering, there were almost no competitive races for the U.S. House of Representatives. Texas-21 Rep. Chip Roy had one of the closer races with a 62-37 win over Claudia Zapata.
There is a difference between performance and governance, and that appears to be the tact first-term Kerrville Councilmember Roman Garcia is taking — performing. The audience? Hardliners. Garcia is a gifted speaker and analyst, but he's falling into a repeated virtue-signaling trap. On Tuesday, Garcia led the effort to attempt to discuss reviewing collection procedures at the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library and potentially disciplining the librarians. He tried to shame his fellow Councilmembers by questioning their values regarding what he believed was porn at the library. Despite his promising legislative career, Garcia engages in distractions. He has supported defamatory letters about the City Council to be read into the record, accused the city of repeated wrongdoing with the date of the May election, picked a fight with outgoing Mayor Bill Blackburn and has engaged in repeated rows with City Attorney Mike Hayes. On Tuesday night, Garcia's latest move backfired in his face when his colleagues on the dais roasted the narrative presented to the Council. Place 2 Councilmember Kim Clarkson, who frequently battles Garcia, unloaded with a tick-tock of how the library responded to complaints about "Banned Book Week," including pointing out that some of what spread on social media was false. Then it was Councilmember Joe Herring's turn, and he addressed Garcia directly by saying the Council had already considered this matter, just not the one to Garcia's liking.
The Kerr County Taxpayers
Ok, the Kerr County taxpayers are off the hook for not having to pay for courthouse improvements, a new tax office, a new West Kerr Annex and fixing the grubby indoor arena thing at the Hill Country Youth Event Center, but for how long? The issue is the courthouse, and those improvements must be made, but how they will get there remains to be seen. The consequences of not approving Proposition A could come back to haunt the county in the years to come. Considering the proposed developments heading toward Kerrville — about 2,000 residences spread out over the next few years — it could quickly overwhelm the county's aging infrastructure. Incoming Precinct 2 Commissioner Rich Paces indicated he wants to end an interlocal agreement with Kerrville on animal control (probably unlikely because of state law), putting pressure on the city to duplicate services — another taxpayer expense. And then there's the reality of the drive-by rhetoric of saying, "aw shucks, they just need better shelving units," and the reality of good governance. How the commissioners' court will reconcile the needs with the addition of Paces to the dais will be interesting.
There have been many suggestions that Texas is turning purple — not in 2022. The Texas Democrats got hammered across the board, including Beto O'Rourke for governor. Despite enormous ad spending and outside-the-state money, the Democrats made no real gains across Texas and seem to be even further behind than before. Recent polling data foretold O'Rourke's performance in the polls — an easy win by Greg Abbott. None of the races for the state's key offices were close, and that's saying something because Ken Paxton appears to be vulnerable. And there even appears to be slippage in some Democrat strongholds like Harris County, where County Judge Lina Hidalgo barely survived a re-election battle. So, what's next? A careful reconsideration of priorities.
The "show animal" community
One of the things we celebrate here is livestock, and the stock shows in Kerr County are something to behold. However, you wouldn't know it by the absolute invisibility of that community to come out and campaign to support the ag barn improvement bond — Prop. B. Kerrville Pets Alive pulled off a big win, and the indoor ag arena had no visible signs of support and was subsequently crushed at the polls.