Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Referendum On Obama & Pelosi? How About Reality?

When is it not okay to say you don't understand? Every day, it seems

Meridian, Texas – About 50 people crowded into the District Courtroom of the Bosque County Courthouse, their eyes glued to the big screen where a clerk entered numbers into an Excel spreadsheet.

The evening's burning question was this.

Would the voters of tiny Bosque County, 2000 population 17,204, approve a general obligation bond issue of just a fraction less than $10 million to build a new law enforcement center and County Jail?

Members of the staff of the Sheriff's Office joined their boss Anthony Malott, County Commissioners and County Judge Cole Word, a fifth-generation Judge of the Constitutional Court, to find out - one way or the other.

It's a burning issue revolving around an unhappy question because the county has been having trouble with the state's Commission on Jail Standards for the past 10 years in trying to reach a state of compliance with health and safety regulations. At present, taxpayers are paying a hefty fee each day to house prisoners in a neighboring county's lockup. The situation puts a strain on staff time and transportation resources hauling the prisoners back and forth to court, appointments with attorneys, medical visits and other administrative chores that require their presence at the County seat of Meridian.

County Commissioners authorized a year-long study to design a state of the art building, pick a sight and negotiate a price, and sell the idea to the public in a series of town hall meetings at six locations scattered around the community.

When it came down to a vote, the Commissioners' Court balked. They refused to issue the bonds under the Court's own imprimatur. Three of the four voted to not finance the project that way, to place the matter on the ballot for voters to decide. They said they thought taxpayers would be much more concerned with their buying diesel fuel to keep the roads graded, the cost of gravel and concrete to keep the roads of this rural county perched on the edge of the state's arid Edwards Plateau about 30 miles northwest of Waco in good repair. It's been one of the wettest years on record. The weather has kept roads washed out and bridges inundated far more than usual.

In the meantime, the cost of the debt service could have risen with the prime rate, the way the cost of steel, diesel, and other necessities of construction skyrocketed. Copper products alone have risen in price by 30 percent, according to the architect's estimates.

As the numbers came in from each precinct, the contest between voters' approval and disapproval see-sawed back and forth. One entry from the precinct that encompasses the city of Meridian put the bond issue ahead by almost a hundred votes, prompting cheers from the dispatchers' staff who were seated in the court room. As the last two entries were made in the cells of the database reserved for the bond issue, the crowd became totally silent and stone-faced.

But when the final two precincts were entered, the bond issue had failed by 78 votes. Dejection and woe spread through the law enforcement crowd of patrol officers, jailers, detectives and a Constable while detractors of the project most of them seated around the County Commissioners who had disapproved the bond issue to start with, tried not to gloat.

County Clerk Betty Outlaw, a pleasant lady with a mild manner, handed over a photocopy of a tally of the night's voting totals for Governor, U.S. Representative and a host of other state officials. As in the rest of the red states, it's a near Republican sweep – 60 to 40 percent or thereabouts in all the races, a real referendum on Obama-Pelosi, taxes and Washington politics.

Surprisingly, the total votes against the bond issue totaled 2,641 over 2,468 approving the question.

But the totals shown upstairs in the court room were 3,321 against compared to 3,244 for – a whopping difference of 1,456 votes between what the specatators had been told and the official count recorded.

Asked why the huge discrepancy between the totals, she said, “I don't know. I was down here counting the votes. I wasn't up there.”

She was nearly overcome with the fatigue of a 12-hour day of polling, followed by more than three hours of intensive counting with the Opti-Scan system.

Finally, she said, “It doesn't matter. These are the numbers that have been reported to the State (Elections Division of the Secretary of State's Office).”

The Legendary quizzed her a little further and she said that they had trouble with the central computer system that processes the precinct tally sheets onto discs. After making adjustments and corrections, they came out with the figures and they are unofficial until provisional ballots are counted and the vote is canvassed by the Commissioners' Court.

“It won't be enough to make the results different, though,” she predicted.

Disgusted, County Judge Cole Word told The Legendary “Hit the road, Jim. Everybody's had enough of you for one day.” Likewise, I'm sure.

The County Republican Chairman, Dr. Tom Bratcher, a math professor from Baylor University who heads a doctoral program in statistical analysis, has vowed to bring about a 100% turnover in the line-up of constitutional officers in the Bosque County Courthouse.

“There is no one up there competent to do the job,” he said recently.

Strong words.

A proponent of the jail project and a member of the citizen's advisory committee who worked with the architectural firm, construction manager and financial officer hired to ramrod the job, he said, “The people won't accept any new tax obligations - No new taxes.” He shrugged.

“One thing for sure. We got out the vote.”

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