Thursday, June 28, 2012

Finance of greed nets politics of numerical reality

Lone vote of nay points out the pointless

Waco – When the time came to tally the votes, the closed-door negotiations had gone on for months – and a couple of tense days.

Preparing to cast the lone vote of dissent to a deal that would make a bad deal worse for those who must pay the piper, service the debt - rob Peter, pay Paul - McLennan County Commissioner Joe Mashek said, “The white elephant in the room no one is talking about is that the taxpayers are paying the bond debt.”

Here's how it breaks down.

As of Wednesday, there were 238 “overflow” prisoners that would ordinarily be housed in the County Jail on Highway 6 doing their time at the Harwell lockup at the rate of $45.50 per day.

With a bond debt staring them in the face the New Jersey-based corporation, CEC, Inc., drained the downtown jail of prisoners and closed it a year ago while McLennan County spent $1.1 million on new door locks, smoke detectors, escape alarms, skylights – the works – at the old lockup in the Courthouse Annex.

Mr. Mashek recited the numbers that make the measure of the white elephant.

With 238 prioners housed at $45.50 per day, the figure computes to $10,829 every day, multiplied by an average monthly rate of 30 days – equals $324,870 per month.

The tax payers are ultimately responsible to meet that obligation, or the bond rating of the County of McLennan will suffer and the points charged by financiers to underwrite municipal bonds will skyrocket in uncertain economic times.

The bottom line: It all adds up to $3,898,000 per year.

Do you know what we could do with $3,898,000 per year?

The question hung in the air like blue smoke viewed in the reflection of a mirror in the proverbial room of blue smoke.

It wasn't supposed to be that way.

At the time the corporation rushed the Jack Harwell deal through the Commissioners Court, corporate representatives, County Judge Jim Lewis, and assorted bond attorneys loudly proclaimed the feasibility and hard-headed business sense of such a deal. Why not run government like a business? 

They said the proceeds of the deal itself would pay the debt service. Taxpayers, they said, would never be bothered with such a pittance in a future so bright, you had to wear shades to ward off the headaches attached to figuring what to do with all the money.

It ain't necessarily so. The taxpayers who support the corporation known as McLennan County, Texas, the Public Finance Corporation created to erect the Jack Harwell Detention Center, are the ones who are responsible to pay the debt service.


The corporate welfare chiselers have moved heaven and Earth with the cooperation of certain elected officials, County Sheriff Larry Lynch among them, to make the numbers come out right.


There is an entire wing of the County Jail on Highway Six that stands empty, filled with unwanted storage items of some value – plumbing fixtures, building supplies, furniture – but nothing of the value that the stuff should be stored in a high security wing of a lockup built of high density concrete reinforced with hard grade re-bar, tool steel bars, and equipped with the robotic locks, alarms, and other sophisticated electronics and closed circuit video equipment it takes to run a modern prison. This is no warehouse for old commodes and filing cabinets. No way.

That's 24 tanks that hold 10 prisoners each – 240 total. Do the math.

And so, the moment passed. Mr. Mashek voted nay to the extension of the contract for another six months – six months in which the New Jersey corporation will now pay $10,000 per month to not house prisoners at the 300-some-odd bed jail in the Courthouse Annex, unless it begins to repopulate and a “threshold” of 90 percent occupancy of the Jack Harwell Detention Center occurs for any two months in a row, a condition in which CEC, Inc., will pay not less than $40,000 per month to not house prisoners in the Courthouse Annex Jail.

If anyone understands numbers, it's Joe Mashek, a veteran of the wholesale merchandising of a very high mark-up item - spiritous beverages distilled from various grains and other sources of carbohydrates.

Mr. Mashek holds his cards very close to the vest; he has declined to discuss his future plans, political or otherwise.

County Judge Jim Lewis, Precinct 2 Commissioner Lester Gibson, and the Precinct 4 seat formerly occupied by Ray Meadows, now represented by insurance man and former police officer Ben Perry, have split the 5-man vote on the side of the bankers and bond lawyers – right down the line.

There was one note of change in the air. When first-term Commissioner Perry made a motion to extend the CEC contract, he inserted the stipulation that the Court be allowed at least 90 days in which to evaluate and negotiate any subsequent dealings with the corporation.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Kelly Snell, who overcame opposition to be renominated by a wide margin in the GOP primary, chose to abstain.

He said he was out of town last week at an ongoing training session for County Commissioners, missed a closed-door negotiation session with officials of CEC, Inc., and could not bring himself to vote on a question about which he has so little information.


  1. Of course you have to take what Mashek says with a grain of salt, but here I think he did the right thing. The Sheriff has been padding CEC's pockets for some time. I just keep wondering when the Rangers are going to be called in to invesitgate him like they did Buddy.

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