Our View: All is not well with groundwater board
February 18, 2014, 10:00 am by Phil Schoch
Unfortunately, both journalists and the public have short attention spans when it comes to monitoring the activities of the small governmental cogs that only draw scrutiny when they commit egregious wrongs or fail miserably in the application of common sense.
That’s true of the Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District. When its first attorney churned out a set of bylaws a pack mule couldn’t haul, there were loud calls for them to put in what is still the official language of the United States of America, English. There were petitions and complaints and the board’s meetings were contentious not just about the complexity of the rules governing the production, use and distribution of groundwater resources, but about several ancillary issues.
With a new chair and a new board, it seemed like change would be at hand.
Well, one change is that everyone pretty much lost interest in what the directors were doing – and we are sorry to say that has largely included us. With many agencies to report upon and resources somewhat smaller than those of The New York Times, we turned a good deal of attention to reporting on other overwhelming issues – such as the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), the rice farming lobby and the drought.
Regrettably, the board – even though infused with new and thoughtful members – also has seemed to lose interest. Nothing has been done to simplify the organization’s bylaws.
Now, one of the directors – Dan Brady – is calling upon fellow directors to return their attention to this basic need and asking citizens to remind his colleagues that this business is still unfinished. Yes, that certainly needs to be done so no one needs to employ a team of specialized groundwater lawyers to tell them how to legally drill a water well.
Meanwhile, another reason for the public to have a visit with the directors is a proposal they’re to consider at a Feb. 21 meeting to pay themselves salaries.
It’s one of those things that seems to make sense. But it’s also something that should be done very carefully. Apparently, directors may be more inarguably shielded from personal lawsuits related to their decisions as a board if they are paid a token salary of a few dollars per meeting.
Fine. But the board needs to ensure that any compensatory increase afterward must be approved by a public referendum. And don’t assume that the board has the common sense to do that without public pressure.
After all, when we weren’t looking very carefully a few months ago, the directors awarded a grant to benefit the constituency of one political power broker, opening the door to similar requests by Emergency Service Districts throughout the county. What was wrong with that was an absence of common sense.
ESDs serve limited areas and have taxing authority. So they can vote to finance their own special projects by taxing those in their own neighborhoods rather than asking everyone in the county who pays groundwater district taxes – and will never benefit – to share the expense.
Let them hear from you.
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