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2013-02-21

Hilderbran, BCRAGD work to change election date

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

For the second time, the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District (BCRAGD) is attempting to change its election date from May to November. The change in the calendar would make BCRAGD board elections coincide with city, county, school district, state, and national elections.
In order for the river authority to make that change, a bill must make its way through the state legislature, granting the move.
When the BCRAGD attempted to accomplish that during the 2011 state legislative session, the Bexar Medina Atascosa Water Control & Improvement District (BMA) submitted some attachments to the bill that concerned the BCRAGD board. As a result, the board asked Rep. Doug Miller to drop the bill.
With this second attempt, BCRAGD is once again concerned about possible attachments or amendments to the bill that would go beyond what the board wants.
"We just want to change the date of our elections," said BCRAGD General Manager David Mauk. "If we have our elections at the same time as the other entities, we split the cost, saving the taxpayers money....We want to move with everyone else to also insure that voters are not disenfranchised."
After hearing that a group of Bandera County residents had met secretly to discuss the election bill with Bandera County's State Representative Harvey Hilderbran of Kerrville, the BCRAGD board took action at a called meeting held Friday, Feb. 15, by hiring a lobbyist to look after their interests.
The board voted to hire Greg Ellis "to lobby on our behalf and safeguard the rights and protect the interests of our District and the citizens of Bandera County." Ellis served for many years as the general manager of the Edwards Aquifer Authority in San Antonio, and is the son of Sally and Walt Ellis of Bandera. In a statement, Mauk said, "Mr. Ellis is one of the leading experts in water law in Texas....highly respected, extremely competent, and will safeguard our county's rights."
Also in the statement, Mauk alleged that Jim Hannah "has been actively trying to change the bill and manipulate our enabling legislation.
"I believe Hannah is trying to strip us of our river authority powers....Those powers were established by the citizens of Bandera County and the Legislature in 1971 and re-affirmed in 1989 [when the Springhills Groundwater District was formed] to not only protect the natural resources in the county but to protect the rights of the citizens of Bandera County and keep outside interests from controlling our destiny."
Mauk said his concern was that the citizens' group was allegedly attempting to eliminate or substantially change the river authority's arm of the BCRAGD. "Anyone who believes if we go away, an outside entity will not come in and fill the void is very naïve. That outside entity will have their interests at heart, not the interests of our county.
"That is why local control is vital," Mauk said.
Hilderbran said Hannah "communicated with my office multiple times recently and I met with him two times in the last couple of months."
Hilderbran also met with Mauk and representatives from BCRAGD. "My concerns have been satisfied," the representative said. "I feel like most of the concerns have been dealt with, or are irrelevant to the issue, so I'm ready to submit the bill." He indicated he would likely submit the bill this week.
Hilderbran said the reason he met with Hannah's group of critics was because he felt he had to "do my due diligence and to decide if their concerns were relevant."
Once filed, progress on the bill can be followed by constituents on the state legislative website. There will also be a public hearing on the bill scheduled at some point for more public input. The public may also go to Hilderbran's web page and email him regarding the bill to change the election date.
When the BCRAGD tried to change its election date in 2011, rumors flew around the county, encouraged by statements in a newsletter from the local branch of the Ranchers and Landowners Association of Texas, that alleged BCRAGD was attempting to become a WCID (a water control and improvement district), when, in fact, the river authority had all the powers of a WCID given to it in its enabling legislation when it was founded.
BCRAGD board member Ernie DeWinne abstained from voting on hiring the lobbyist since he had attended a Feb. 1 meeting Hilderbran had with Hannah. Three others allegedly attended that meeting, but The Courier has not been able to obtain their identification.
"A couple of the guys were concerned with the references to a WCID in the bill, but Chapter 36 [of Texas water law] has had that wording in it," said DeWinne, "so I don't think that's really a concern."
DeWinne said there was no discussion of "stripping the river authority of any of its powers at the meeting I attended."
DeWinne said that there was "some discussion of reducing the number of board members to five, like Commissioner's Court."
While DeWinne said he believes that there are some areas that need improvement at the river authority, he concluded, "no question, we have to have a river authority."

Pictured: Courier file photo
The Bandera County River Authority wants to change its election date to November, without losing local control of the county's most beautiful natural resource, the Medina River.