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2015-06-11

BCRAGD gets election changed - FINALLY!

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

It's taken five years, but the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District has finally been successful in changing the date of its elections to November.
The BCRAGD board voted in October of 2010 to change their election date from May to November. They asked Doug Miller, Bandera County's representative in the Texas Legislature, to file a bill to make the change.
Subsequently Miller filed HB 1086 in the Texas House 2011 session. According to the Texas Constitution, altering the qualifications or terms of office of the members of the governing body of the district require an act of the Legislature.
Due to changes in election law, several other governmental entities were able to change their election dates to the General Election day in November. However, the City of Bandera's council and the boards of the independent school districts were allowed to make their changes by a simple vote of those governing bodies. Only the BCRAGD had to have the legislature act on their behalf.
Members of all of these governing boards acted in the hope that having all the local elections on one date would lead to a higher voter turnout and save money by consolidating election costs.
When originally submitted, a group of local citizens opposed the bill as presented, claiming it made BCRAGD a Water Control and Improvement District. However, upon examining the enabling legislation that first created the water district, it was clear that BCRAGD had indeed been a WCID from its inception in the 1970s.
However, what had seemed like a pro forma procedure soon became a legislative nightmare for the water district. In March, then General Manager David Jeffery advised Miller to drop the bill. In a surprise move, BCRAGD's sometimes adversary in Bandera County's water issues, the Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Counties Water Control & Improvement District No. 1 (BMA) had added some amendments to HB 1086.
Those amendments appeared to be an attempt by the irrigation company that controls the water in Medina Lake to assert BMA's control over every drop of water in Bandera County. Part of the amendment read: "Sec. 8847.102. LIMIT ON WATER CONTROL AND IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT POWERS. The district may exercise the powers of a water control and improvement district, including the powers provided by Chapters 49 and 51, Water Code, in the areas of the district that do not include the territories of the Bandera County Fresh Water Supply District No. 1 or any body or stream of water, or any body of land, or any easement owned or controlled by the district subject to regulation by the Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Counties Water Control & Improvement District No. 1." (underline Courier's)
"The amendments change the bill so that it goes beyond what the board authorized," said Dave Mauk, BCRAGD's assistant general manager at that time.
In 2013, BCRAGD proposed a second attempt to change their election date legislatively. This time, they hired lobbyist Greg Ellis to shepherd HB 3898 through the process in Austin. Once again, BMA, with the apparent support of a group of Bandera County citizens, worked to add amendments to the bill.
They met with Bandera County's new representative, Harvey Hilderbran, seeking to add language to the bill that would give BMA priority rights to water in Bandera County.
BCRAGD representatives, Ellis, and Hilderbran met to clarify the river authority's intent in the bill, which was simply to change the election date. Hilderbran then successfully carried the bill through the House where it was voted on and approved on May 14. The bill then went to the Senate for approval, where it was supported by the county's State Senator Troy Fraser.
On May 22, however, the bill was removed from the list in the last minutes of the calendar committee's last session. It was something of a puzzling mystery that the person who requested it be removed was Senator Kevin Eltife, chairman of the committee, and Senator Craig Estes, who represented a legislative district north and west of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
A staffer with Senator Fraser's office said a BMA lobbyist had approached Fraser about adding an amendment, but when Ellis said no, Fraser supported that. The staffer assumed BMA then approached Estes with the amendment and/or the request to remove the bill from the calendar.
Mauk said BCRAGD felt "bushwhacked" by the last minute shenanigans, however, the water district apparently learned how to work with the legislature to get a bill passed.
The district opted to keep Ellis on and work on SB 363 began long before the 2015 State Legislature met in session. As a result, the bill passed the Senate on April 9 with a vote of 31 yeas, 0 nos; and passed the House on May 19 with 146 yeas, 0 nos; and has been signed into law by the Governor on June 1. The bill was authored by Senator Fraser and sponsored by Representative Andrew Murr. The bill takes effect on Sept. 1, 2015.