Monday, August 8, 2011

What is Wrong With the Victoria CAD, Volume 1

As many people know, I have been quite critical of the Victoria Central Appraisal District in recent years. I won't go into what got me started down that road, mostly because it is irrelevant. Let's just say the more I looked into what they were doing, the less I liked it.

Most people make two simple mistakes when they encounter criticism of appraisals. First, they take it personally. They think that if you point out their property or someone they know as being undervalued, then you are making it personal. This logic is no more sound than the person whose property is overvalued, taking it out on those whose properties are undervalued. Second, they don't grasp the idea that we are all in this thing together. Property values not being assessed properly harms everyone whose properties are assessed properly. If the taxing entities are not collecting the proper amount of tax on a particular property, then that disparity must be made up somewhere else. Sooner or later, your property could be that"somewhere else".

There are many things I could say about the Victoria CAD, but this blog is only going to touch on one simple thing. I plan on doing a series of blogs on this subject, as there is so much to say. The main problem with jamming too much information into one blog is that everything I say is fact, verified by hard figures. Any time people look at numbers, the law of diminishing returns tends to kick in rather quickly.

It has long been an assertion of mine (backed up by hundreds of hours of research) that working-class homes in Victoria are valued by the CAD at a much higher percentage of their actual values than the homes located in more affluent neighborhoods. Let me be clear about one thing. This is not a witch hunt, and I do not engage in class warfare. However, what's right is right, and what's wrong is wrong. I have no reason to point out that certain property owners should pay more in property taxes, but I can no longer sit back and watch the working middle class of Victoria get squeezed.

For this particular blog, I performed a simple experiment. I logged onto Woolson Real Estate's website and performed two separate searches. Their search engine allows you to search properties by entering a multitude of criteria. For my two searches, I set the minimum price at $100,000 and $300,000.

Then I took the top 10 properties from each search, and looked up their assessed valued on the CAD website. What I found further confirmed what I already knew. The more expensive the property, the lower percentage of actual value the assessments seem to be.

On average, the homes listed from $100,000 and up had assessed values at 90% of the list price, with the low being 67% and the high being 122%.

The homes with $300,000+ price tags were only assessed at 76% of their asking price, with the lowest being 54% and the highest being 96%.

Now, some may be wondering why this is so important. Consider this - if the more expensive homes were valued at the same percentage of the asking price of the $100,000 homes, the difference in taxable value would be $399,620. Think about it. That is an entire $400,000 home that is not being taxed at all. But here is the really interesting part - this is only for ten homes, that were found in succession on one website. No cherry-picking here.

Now extrapolate that over the entire neighborhoods of Country Club, Country Club Village, Woodway, Benchmark, Springwood, Kingwood Forest, etc. Think how much we could lower all of the tax rates if property were simply assessed correctly in Victoria County.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Tim by any other name is no Tim at all

Just when I thought cooler heads were prevailing, and all was returning to normal in the world of Victoria Higher education, Tim Hudson gets a new job. For those outside the reach of The Victoria Advocate, which will not possibly allow you not to know, Tim Hudson will be the new Vice Chancellor at Texas Tech University. While I am happy for anyone being presented with new and exciting opportunities, could we please gain some perspective? For crying out loud, could the worship be any more pronounced?

OK, I get it. Timmy is an important dude. He was the President of a very small University, within a not so large University System, for a relatively short amount of time. We got it. We all got it. Can we please move on now?

Or am I missing something? Is there some body of water in the Greater Victoria area that this man successfully walked across? If so, please don't let Denise Rangel know about it, or she will try to label it with historical status and dedicate thousands of acres around it as park property in perpetuity.

Maybe Timmy is the real reason God made Arizona. Maybe that country song was really about him, and both genders were speaking to and about him, because he carries such a universal appeal. Or maybe Michelangelo really painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in tribute to Timmy. Who knew? Michelangelo is probably rolling over in his grave that people today think that famous statue is of David. I can hear him screaming, "It's Timmy! Get it right!"

If you ask me, we should rename the Mona Lisa the Dr. Tim. I mean, how could anyone believe that anyone anywhere besides Timmy could have that smile? What about the Hudson Diamond? Now that is one precious rock.

But I digress. Enough of the funny stuff. Let's talk about the Good Doctor Timmy. I will not attempt to delve into the man's entire career, mostly because I don't care. But I will share with you what my limited experience was with the man. My ex-wife (while we were married) attended and graduated from UHV. And even though you may not believe it, I paid for every penny of that education. There were no grants or scholarships. We did it the old-fashioned way, with cold hard cash.

My first glimpse at what the Hudson Administration was all about was when my wife complained to me one day that she was going to have to commute to Katy twice a week for a night class. Immediately, I suspected that the class in question was some fringe elective that she had been putting off, and now she had put herself in a bad spot. To my surprise, I found out that it was a curriculum course that was part of her degree plan. Naturally this piqued my interest, so I inquired further. As it turned out, 14 students from the Victoria campus signed up for the class and 8 students from the Cinco Ranch campus had done the same. The professor for the course was from Victoria as well. This was a night class, which was going to put my wife and mother of three back in Victoria at around 11:00pm. Additionally, the course was not being considered for video conferencing, which is weird, because I just read that Timmy is super duper special at all that techie stuff.

So the wife went to the Dean, along with several of her classmates, and they voiced their concerns. According to what they were told at the time, the Dean agreed with them, but Timmy was adamant that the plan was set, and would not be changed. The Dean suggested they meet with The Tim personally, and bring more people. From what I remember, I think all 14 of the affected students eventually met with The Tim. It wasn't easy though, as the first 2 requests were denied. When they finally got in to see Tim the Magnificent, he was non-committal, but said he would see what he could do. After some serious perseverance, he finally caved and did what should have been done from the beginning. The class was ultimately taught in Victoria and video conferenced to Cinco Ranch. Too bad Timmy Terrific didn't just do the right thing from the beginning.

My next encounter with All Things Tim was when the wife was about to graduate, and I learned that her graduation was being held in Katy. My initial thought was, "Wait a minute, isn't the name of the school, The University of Houston - VICTORIA?" Had we been filling out the checks incorrectly? Completely miffed, I called UHV and asked to speak with Timmy Boy. He immediately wanted to know who I was, and refused to speak to me if I did not tell him. Yeah, like I care if you know who I am? I even spelled my name for the genius. Anyhow, so I let him know that while I was confused and a bit upset at the thought of having to drive to Katy to see my wife graduate from a University with the word VICTORIA in it, I would at least give him an opportunity to explain it to me. After an introduction to the situation that clearly conveyed to me the superiority that Tiny Tim had in the intellectual department with this backwoods hick, his explanation was as follows. He said UHV used to use Faith Family Church for their commencement ceremonies. OK, I knew that. Then he told me that FFC had increased the rent considerably for the event, and UHV would not be able to pay the tab. OK, I was with him so far. Then he lost me. He told me that UHV had campuses in Katy and Sugarland, and they needed to be included in the commencement process. Hold up there, professor. My question to him was whether or not those folks understood they were attending UH-VICTORIA when they enrolled? He said they did. I then explained that those folks made a conscious decision to attend UH-VICTORIA, and, unlike the students in VICTORIA, they had other options. At this point, The Tim Story is in full spin mode. He told me that the fall commencement was sizeable, and there were no other venues in Victoria to host the event. So I asked him where the spring commencement was held, already knowing the answer. Then I asked him another question that I already knew the answer to. That question was which ceremony was larger, the spring or fall?

At this point, I was wondering who this guy had duped in order to get his job. After becoming a little frustrated, I said "Do you even realize what you just said? Let me analogize it for you. Let's say I have 2 trees that I want removed from my yard, and you are in the tree removal business. One of the trees is 30 feet tall, and the other is 50 feet tall. After looking over both trees, you tell me that you can remove the 50 foot tree, but not the 30 foot tree. When I ask why you can't remove the smaller tree, your answer is that the shorter tree is too tall." Get it? At this point, I figured there would be nothing constructive coming from further conversation with Timmy Boy. What an ordeal. I am so glad it's over.

There is so much more to this story, but I will have to revisit it in another blog.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Does He Not Have a Mirror?

This blog is in response to a blog recently authored by Jared on the Victoria Advocate website. The topic of the blog was blogging. Jared points out some of the benefits to hosting a blog, as well as some inevitable drawbacks. Let me start out by saying I think Jared is truly genuine with what he writes. He has never shied away from a discussion with another, even though the viewpoints may not coincide. Because of this, I have absolutely no problem with his blog. I think Jared is truly interested in expanding the dialogue, even though it may sometimes run counter to his perceptions.

Where I began to have a problem was when Chris Cobler decided to make a few remarks on the blog. According to Peaches,"As we look for a new interactivity editor to replace CJ, we're hoping to find someone who can actively recruit more voices to the community conversation here."

Um....excuse me? The same guy that has been deleting the accounts of anyone who dares to buck the local establishment is now looking for "more voices" in the "community conversation"? That's a joke, right? The same guy who cannot handle any disagreement of any sort? The same guy who looks to silence all opposition to the local government apparatus? The same guy who deletes any comment from anyone who dares to mention the fact that his wife works for UHV? The same guy who deletes accounts of people that post comments that are against the A&M switch, but are completely factual?

This is the guy that now wants more inclusion? What is that smell? Is it excrement from a male bovine?

One of my favorite songs is one from Aaron Tippen, and I quote it often. There is a verse that states "We might've been better off, or owned a bigger house, if Daddy'd done more giving in or a little more backing down. But we always had plenty, just living his advice, 'Whatever you do today, you'll have to sleep with tonight.'"

Another way of putting it is that you don't want to have to do anything that would cause you not to be able to look yourself in the mirror.

Hence, I wonder if Peaches even has a mirror...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Thank you, Dan Branch

Well, it appears as though Morrison's HB 2556 will not be considered by the Texas Legislature this session. Regardless of your stance on the issue, Representative Branch's decision to hold a meeting of all interested parties in Victoria has to please you. I always believe that open discussion is often the best cure for a festering problem. It is far easier to despise someone you don't have to see or talk to. This will be a great opportunity for all parties to express their concerns, and possibly be taken to task for spreading false information.

Since this entire ordeal began, I have repeatedly heard statements that either cannot be proven, or are just outright false. I keep hearing that A&M has an undeniable track record of growing universities in rural areas, which is not true. I keep hearing that A&M is a better "partner" for Victoria than UH, which cannot be proven. I keep hearing words like "destination university" and "accessible education", with no meaning attached to them. 

Hopefully this will be a REAL meeting, accompanied by a public hearing section. I want to hear the truth, straight from the horses' mouths. I want to know what A&M plans to do. I want to know what UH has to say. I want to know what both chancellors and the elected officials think of higher education cannibalism, and what sort of precedent they think this could set.

So let's have this meeting, and let's demand that it be for real, instead of some going through the motions spectacle. I can't wait to watch people like Pozzi, Patillo, Fowler, Burns, Polasek, Vivian, and Crew have to explain the propaganda they have been spreading. They should bear in mind that facts are stubborn things.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Call From The RPT

Some unfortunate soul drew the task of having to lob me a phone call this evening for the Republican Party of Texas and attempt to solicit funds. Apparently he was looking to renew my membership at a rate of $45, which is funny, because I don't recall ever having secured a membership before. This guy goes into one heck of a diatribe about how terrible Democrats are, and how the only force on this planet that can stop them from the complete destruction of the human species is the Republican Party. Once he had finished, I let him know that I regretted to inform him that I had no intention of cutting a check to any Republican organization any time in the near future, and my purpose was two fold.

First of all, my main focus was going to be on individual local races, which is completely understandable and appreciated by the RPT. The second reason was not quite as welcomed by the young gentleman on the other end of the line. I had to explain to him that I was done with the two party system, and in particular the left/right paradigm. 

Here's the deal.

I am sick and tired of being lied to. I am done with believing that Republicans mean what they say, any more than the Democrats do.

Think about some of the big political topics of the last couple of years:

Financial responsibility? You're kidding, right? After George W. Bush? Are you insane?

States rights? Uh, yeah, OK....When is this Republican-heavy State that believes so strongly in States rights going to actually have a State Legislature that can pass a resolution stating such? I sat right there in my Republican County Convention in 2010 and watched Geanie Morrison keep her seat when we voted on that plank of our platform. When is the State of Texas going to kick the BATFE out? Oh, that's right...Obamacare is the ONLY legislation that is unConstitutional. Try that on the idiots that believe it.

Or shall we talk about some old political hot topics that just never seem to go away?

Maybe, oh, I don't know....abortion? OK, that works. The Republicans always claim to be steadfastly opposed to abortion, right? If that is the case, then someone will have to explain to me why, for the six years starting in 2001, they did nothing about it. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the Republicans have the Presidency, the House, the Senate, and seven of the nine Supreme Court justices? Oh, I must be missing something....I guess only immigration laws can be challenged by States. Silly me.

Family values? Do we really even need to go there?

So basically what I told this poor guy is that the RPT needs to get their collective "you know what" together before they will ever see another dime from me. Call me irrational, but I am tired of being made a fool of.

The analogy I finally left the fellow with was that giving money to one party or another was akin to thanking one neighbor for not stealing near as much from me as another neighbor. They both steal from me, but the one who does it the least deserves my respect and thanks?

No thanks! Feel free to lose my number.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Government Power is a Bad Thing, ALWAYS!

Several years ago I came to the realization that any time the voters give the government more power, they will eventually end up regretting it. I used to be fooled by the idea that a powerful government was OK, just as long as "my guys" were in charge. Unfortunately, most people are still stuck in that matrix. Most people are still slaves to the left/right paradigm. Sadly, many still believe that Republicans are pro-gun and anti-abortion, and that Democrats are pro-working man and anti-war. Hopefully someday, those lost souls will reach at least a recognizable level of enlightenment and consciousness.

So why do I think that granting government more power is a bad thing? Because government and those who advocate for it will tell you whatever is necessary to gain the power, but will not follow through on any of the promises. Having learned this lesson, a few months back I decided to start asking a few questions and doing a little digging around about the origin of the Victoria Sales Tax Development Corporation.

The first thing I wanted to know was what the voters had in front of them when they made their decision "for" or "against" the 1/2 cent sales tax. Namely, what was on the ballot. Here is how it read:

Proposition No. 1
The adoption of an additional sales and use tax within the city at the rate of one half of one percent as authorized by Section 4B, Article 5190.6, V.T.C.S., as amended (the Development Corporation Act of 1979), with the proceeds thereof to be used and applied to the purposes authorized by the Act. La adopción de ventas adicionales y usar el impuesto dentro de la ciudad a razón de una mitad de un por ciento como autorizado por Sección 4B, Artículo 5190.6, V.T.C.S., como enmendó de (la Corporación del desarrollo Actúa de 1979), con los beneficioses que se emplear y aplicar a los propósitos autorizado por el Acto.

 Naturally, that leads to two questions...

1. Who in the world actually read Section 4B of the Development Corporation Act of 1979?
2. What does Section 4B say?

Whatever the answer to the first question is, it was definitely not enough. As for the second question, wonder no more:

Creation of Corporation; Texas Small Business Industrial
Development Corporation
Sec. 4. (b) There is hereby created the Texas Small Business Industrial Development Corporation which
shall act on behalf of the state to carry out the public purposes of this Act. The Texas Small
Business Industrial Development Corporation shall be considered to be a corporation within the
meaning of this Act, shall be organized and governed in accordance with the provisions of this
Act, and shall have all of the powers, and shall be subject to all of the limitations, provided for
corporations by this Act, except as otherwise provided by this section. For purposes of this Act,
the state shall be considered to be the unit under whose auspices the Texas Small Business
Industrial Development Corporation is created and the department shall be considered to be the
governing body. To the extent that the provisions of this section are inconsistent with other
provisions of this Act, the provisions of this section shall control as to the existence, powers,
limitations, organization, administration, operation, and affairs of the Texas Small Business Industrial Development Corporation.


Notice how many times the words "small" and "business" appear in succession just in this one section? Do you think this Act would have passed if the truth had been told - that it was a way to make big businesses a lot bigger? Who among us would consider Caterpillar a "small business"? Starting to see how the government lies to get what it wants? But wait, it gets better.

Once the idea was sprung, the City of Victoria had to act as though they were objectively considering the creation of such an entity, rather than licking their chops at the idea of a slush fund that very few would pay attention to. After all, who ever checks the sales tax rates in a given town before they decide to shop?

Once they had all their ducks in a row, the City issued a Statement of Position. I am not going to go over this document point by point, but I recommend reading it several times. With the knowledge of what has transpired over the past 15 years, some statements made in this document should raise your blood pressure just a little bit.

Then the City passed a resolution to place the measure on the ballot. An interesting excerpt from the resolution:

"WHEREAS state law allows cities to hold an election for the purpose of submitting to the voters a measure for adopting up to an additional one half of one percent sales and use tax for the purposes of funding a Development Corporation as authorized by Section 4B Article 5190 6 V T C S as amended the Act with the proceeds thereof to be used and applied to the purposes authorized by the Act including but not limited to public street traffic control drainage parks water and wastewater improvements and the maintenance and operating costs associated with such projects
WHEREAS the City Council finds that funding such projects as authorized by the Act through such a tax will be less costly to the City than deferring maintenance or issuing bonded indebtedness and
WHEREAS the City Council desires to hold any property tax increases to City residents to a minimum;"

Um, yeah, you are reading that correctly. Let it sink in just a moment. you may want to wrap your head with duct tape to keep it from exploding.

But this is not where the story ends. You see, corporations have these pesky little things called Articles of Incorporation. These Articles perform several functions, among them is spelling out the tax status of the corporation, along with any requirements and prohibitions that may affect said tax status.

The Articles of Incorporation for the Victoria Sales Tax Development Corporation say several things, including:

In accordance with the provisions of Section 501 c 3 of the United States Internal Revenue
Code the Corporation a shall not pay dividends and shall not permit any part of the net earnings
of the Corporation to inure to the benefit of any private individual except that reasonable
compensation may be paid for personal services rendered to or for the Corporation in effecting one or more of its purposes b shall not direct any of its activities to attempting to influence legislation
by propaganda or otherwise
c shall not participate in or intervene in including the publication or
distribution of statements any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office and
d shall not attempt to influence the outcome of any election for public office or carry on directly
or indirectly any voter registration drives"

That bold part is pretty interesting, considering recent developments, wouldn't you agree?

It goes on to state "No part of the Corporation s income shall inure to the benefit of any private interest. No dividends shall ever be paid by the Corporation and no part of the Corporation s net earnings
remaining after payment of its expenses shall be distributed to or inure to the benefit of the director
or officers or any individual firm corporation or association other than the City of Victoria."

This statement would appear to me to be a prohibition against the expenditure that is transferred every single year to VEDC. VEDC is a corporation, right? And they are not the City of Victoria, right? OK, just wanted to make sure.

Just to recap:

Idea to get more of the public's money - CHECK!

Sell only the most palatable portions of the law - CHECK!

Make people think they will actually be saving money by allowing an additional tax - CHECK!

Make people think that someone else is paying for the additional tax - CHECK!

Annihilate all opposition by calling their concerns and reservations stupid and stone age - CHECK!

Get the local propaganda machine (aka The Victoria Advocate) to sell this beast to the serfs - We will explore that in a later blog...

The moral of this story is that the government is not to be trusted. I was once told by a man that whenever an agent of the government speaks, ask yourself this question - How does the government benefit if I believe what I am being told?

That is good advice, considering it is impossible to un-ring that bell.

Friday, April 1, 2011

VEDC and Chamber of Commerce: We got a man down!

Well, It appears as though the first readings are registering on the Geiger Counter Victoria from Mayor Will's nuclear warfare. In an interesting turn of events, UHV has decided to suspend their memberships in both the Victoria Chamber of Commerce and VEDC. This may not seem like much, but it could turn into something more. I have to hand it Don Smith. He did the right thing, and he did it with grace and integrity.

But as in most things, I tend to want to use this as an opportunity to discuss an aspect of VEDC that has been puzzling me for some time. According to VEDC's website, they have 74 voting members. I was thinking about breaking them down by category, but I think I will save that for a future blog. What I would like to focus on are just a few of their members, namely those that are government agencies. VISD, The Victoria College, and Citizens Medical Center are all voting members of VEDC. My thought is, Why? Why are these entities, two of which have direct taxing authority, helping fund an agency whose purpose it is to attract business? I am sure someone will comment on this blog, explaining how all things are interrelated, the leg bone is connected to the knee bone, synergy, strategic partnership, blah, blah, blah. You can save it. I have heard it all before.

Let me tell you what I think about it. I think it is just another way of taking public dollars and funneling them through a private agency, whose disclosure standards are nowhere near as stringent. I think it is more manipulation by those who believe in an unholy alliance between government and business.

In the past, I have referred to VEDC as the Victoria Economic DESTRUCTION Corporation. While I still think that title is appropriate, not to mention that it is acronymically correct, perhaps a more perfect name would by the Victoria Government Development Corporation.

I will go further into detail in Part 2. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Just When You Think It Can't Get More Ridiculous...

The latest propaganda piece by Gabe Semenza, A&M VS UH: Universities Compared is really something else. To me, this is a sure indication of the desperation of those attempting to sell the public on this idea of realignment. Honestly, what does comparing A&M and UH have to do with UHV  or the possibility of TAMUV? If you answered "nothing" you would be correct.

I am not going to waste all day debunking every single point made in the article, but I will touch on a few. I think most rational adults already see this for what it is anyhow.


According to the "article", in-state tuition at UH is higher than at Texas A&M. Again, I almost feel dumb even having to address this. So I did about 36.7 seconds of internet research, and came up with this official A&M System Website and this article. I will let you decide what the numbers say.


This is an interesting statistic. According to the "article" since 2000, A&M has had 50 Rhodes and Fullbright Scholars. I wonder how many of those attend classes at Texas A&M International? I'm sure Texas A&M Commerce is chock full of these scholars, right?


Umm, yeah...because now all those people that drive from Victoria, Edna, Hallettsville, Port Lavaca, Refugio, etc. to College Station to watch games at Kyle Field will just come here to watch the TAMUV (insert nickname) not play football on Saturday mornings? Are you kidding me? I don't think I even have to expand on this one.


This is an interesting one. I wonder how much of the $53.3 million in donations came from graduates of Prairieview A&M? What about West Texas A&M? Or perhaps Texas A&M Corpus Christi? The REAL Texas A&M (the one in College Station) is an institution. Generations of family members go there. There is a brotherhood amongst the former students. When was the last time someone you knew bought a blue or gold car because they went to A&M Kingsville? When was the last time you were in Beaumont or Odessa or McAllen or Fort Worth, and saw a Texas A&M Texarkana bumper sticker?  REAL A&M stickers (that represent the REAL A&M in College Station) can be found in every city in this state. Have I made my point clear enough yet?

For the umpteenth time - Texas A&M College Station is not coming to Victoria. If this deal goes through, we will have Texas A&M Victoria, no more, no less. Even VEDC will not be able to get anyone from A&M to build us a replica of Kyle Field...or Olsen Field...or Reed Arena. Get it? Good.

What I really can't figure out is why Gabe stopped where he did. Why not use murder statistics comparisons between College Station and Houston as a reason we should change University Systems?

Or how about Phi Slamma Jamma as a reason to stay with UH? After all, we are being led to believe that whatever University System we have, we can just superimpose it over the local campus.

You know, traffic is much lighter in College Station than Houston, so I think that is reason enough to make the switch.

But where are all the high and mighty history buffs? Why aren't Gary Dunnam and Sharon Steen demanding that we stay with UH, since Houston has far more history than College Station?

Why don't we just consider the schools equal, since they have the same number of Heisman Trophy winners?

Victoria, plenty of people around the State are now watching. Now is the time to make an impression. As a Victorian, I am embarrassed  with the manner in which our community is being represented by a small group of mostly non-elected people. Of course, when the best elected representation they can muster to support this thing are the likes of Pozzi, Burns, and Polasek, what do you expect? While we're at it, why don't we go ahead and ask John Clegg what he thinks.

Just how stupid does the Victoria Advocate and their gang of public coffer snoutbearers think we are?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Why Can't They Just Tell the Truth?

You know, I often wonder what the government-is-always-right crowd thinks of people like me. Do they think that those of us who have the audacity to question the benevolence of our wonderful elected officials do it just for kicks? Do they think we just woke up one morning and proclaimed, "I'm going to be against anything and everything that local government attempts to do"? Do they ever even consider that maybe...just maybe...we oppose or support things based on a set of principles, or a political philosophy, perhaps? Or maybe we just have BS detectors, that end to go off nearly every time we are being sold a new idea? Nah, that kind of abstract thought doesn't seem to be congruent with the persona of the sheep.

Speaking just for me, what normally gets me motivated to oppose something is when I am told something that is either completely untrue, has had the facts manipulated, or just plain does not make sense. At that point, I feel it is incumbent upon me to do a little research and attempt to present the facts. After all, I do believe in the political process and I fully understand that you win some and you lose some. While I can accept that things won't always be seen by others as I view them, I cannot accept people making decisions without having the facts.

Over the past few weeks, quite a few claims have been made by those supporting the UHV-A&M switch. Some have been made by Dale Fowler, some by the City Council, some by members of VEDC, and some by people posting on the VA website. I don't intend to attribute each comment to its appropriate source, and it isn't even really relevant to do so. From what I have seen thus far, each and every person in favor of the switch to A&M will agree with any statement that showers favor on that endeavor, regardless of the level of veracity.

When this whole ordeal began, I knew virtually nothing about university systems. Of course I knew that several state universities had campuses in other locations, but I was unaware of how pervasive it was. I also was unaware of the switch from  Texas State to Texas Tech by Angelo State University. I don't pretend to know everything that transpired prior to that action, but I do know one thing for sure. I know that situation and this one are not identical. Some have attempted to make that point, and it is disingenuous to say the least.
As I stated earlier, there have been many claims made by many people. There have been more than a few projections floated, as well as promises made. There is no need to rehash it all, but I would like to focus on a few claims that are easily dispelled with just some rudimentary statistical analysis. I have heard several times that the Texas A&M System has a track record of taking university campuses in rural settings to levels never dreamed of before. Some are making it seem as though A&M can do no wrong and is just the fix for any situation similar to the one here in Victoria. Then there is the claim being made that this will grow Victoria and the economic boost will be so great that none will be able to deny it. We all heard Joe Truman tell us that this would garner a thousand fold return on investment. I think most of us heard Joe then stand behind his statement. So, me being the fact-checker that I am, I decided to take a look at the matter.

Of the current eleven universities in the Texas A&M system, there are only three that I can reasonably compare to UHV. One is A&M Texarkana, but there is not enough history there to have established a true record. So that left me with West Texas A&M and Texas A&M Kingsville. Neither of these universities are 100% comparable either, but it was as close as I could get.

So what numbers did I look at? Well, first of all, I checked to see how long each of the universities had been a part of the A&M System. I also thought it was pertinent to know their year of inception. After all, particularly in higher education, legacy can be a great selling point. Then I wanted to know the historical enrollment figures. Since so many people seem to think that A&M has been wildly successful in growing the student population in each of their System universities, I wanted to verify it. Lastly, I wanted to see the population trends of the communities in question. Since economic impact has been a focal point of much of the dialogue concerning the switch, I felt it was pertinent to analyze the growth or contraction of the respective communities. While population growth is not always indicative of prosperity, I think you would be hard pressed to offer up an example of prosperity without population expansion.

So here is what I found:

TAMU-Kingsville was established in 1925 (under a different name, of course). It joined the TAMU System in 1989. I was unable to locate a complete historical enrollment for TAMU-K, but I was able to find enrollment figures for a few years. They are as follows:

*1971 – 8,096
1989 – 5,783
1992 – 6,415
2000 – 5,949
2004 – 6,166
2008 – 5,698
2010 – 6,595

*Largest enrollment in the history of the institution

So, what do these numbers represent? To me, it is pretty clear that the enrollment at TAMU-K has remained fairly constant, with only a 14% increase in the 21 years it has been in the TAMU System. The Fall 2010 enrollment is also 1,501 shy of the record attendance achieved in 1971.

West Texas A&M was established (again, under another name) in 1910. It joined the TAMU System in 1990. Here are some enrollment figures for West Texas A&M:

*1969 – 7,935
1980 – 6,559
1990 – 6,191
2000 – 6,775
2010 – 7,842

*Largest enrollment in the history of the institution

In the 20 years since West Texas A&M has been in the A&M System, enrollment has increased just under 27%, or by 1,651 students. Again, the Fall 2010 enrollment is below the record enrollment in the history of the University.

Now let’s take a look at the population trends for Kingsville and Canyon, where West Texas A&M is located. The website that I collected the following numbers stopped with the 2006 estimates, but I used it because it was operated by the US Census Bureau.

Kingsville population numbers:

1990 – 25,276
2000 – 25,575
2006 estimate – 24,394

That is a decrease in population since A&M took over the local University in Kingsville.

Canyon population numbers:

1990 – 11,365
2000 – 12,875
2009 estimate – 14,529

So after 19 years of their local University in the A&M System, the population of Canyon, TX has increased by just under 28%. Let’s see how that compares with Victoria, where, according to some, we are in desperate need of the boost that only Texas A&M can provide.

Victoria population numbers:

1990 – 55,076
2000 – 60,603
2006 estimate – 62,169

That reflects an increase of roughly 13% in population since 1990. I am sure that number would have exponentially higher with A&M in town. The UH System should be ashamed for holding us down. Will any of this change anyone's mind? Probably not. But at least now a few people will have a few facts with which to formulate an opinion.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A&M? Really?

The whole UHV situation has gotten bizarre. There may be a better word to describe it, but I can't think of one. Last week the citizens of Victoria were told that the Victoria Sales Tax Development Corporation (VSTDC) had approved a $100,000  transfer to VEDC for "an unnamed economic development project." Then a blog was posted on the Victoria Advocate website that suggests the $100,000 was for the hiring of a lobbyist to align UHV with another University system. While the blogger admittedly qualified the information as unsubstantiated, it certainly does raise some eyebrows. The story seemed to come full circle earlier this week when a group of Victoria's most wonderful citizens traveled by bus to Austin for "Victoria Day." To those that had heard of the shady deal surrounding the $100,000 the announcement by State Representative Geanie Morrison that day of the filing of a bill to realign UHV with another system was enormously predictable. What was not predictable was that the new system would be Texas A&M. I don't know anyone that saw that coming.

For me personally, I don't have any allegiance to either A&M or UH. I was raised in an Aggie household and I am a fan of Aggie sports, but the various campuses that are under the several University systems have nothing to do with the flagship University. They don't bear the same mascot names, and usually don't even share the same team or school colors. Graduates of UT-Tyler are not Longhorns, graduates of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi are not Aggies, and neither are the graduates of West Texas A&M. More on that later. My two cents is that these University "systems" are not a very good idea. There may be positives that I am unaware of, but I think they restrict effective branding. Does anyone honestly believe that UTEP will ever be mentioned in the same breath as UT? Will Texas A&M Kingsville ever be on par with Texas A&M? I guess the immediate financial resources are a plus, but that is all I can see. From where I sit, these "system campuses" will always be known as the younger brothers. No matter what they do, they will always have a big brother. If these campuses stood on their own, they could possibly compete with and even exceed the reputations of the other universities, at least in one area or another. Does anyone think that any single department of UT-Pan American will ever be considered superior to its counterpart in Austin? What about Texas A&M International? I don't think so.

OK, so there's nothing we can do about the administrative and legislative structure of University systems. I get that. I just wanted to toss the idea out there. Anyhow, ever since the story broke about the filing of Morrison's bill, it seems as though most people have firmly aligned themselves either for or against the idea. I don't really care whether out local university is aligned with UH or A&M, but I want everything that transpires to be above board. I also don't want any of this business to have unintended consequences. It is this that I think has been overlooked. More on that later as well.

I would like to go back to the idea of these exterior campuses that are placed under another University system. Most of the folks that are in favor of the alignment with the A&M system seem to think that we are now going to magically become College Station. They don't seem to understand that the main Texas A&M campus is not shutting down. None of those students will be transferring to Victoria. There will be no Corps of Cadets. Kyle Field is not being placed on train cars. Reed Arena will still be located in Brazos County. The Aggie baseball team will be playing at Olson Field, and not Rosebud Stadium. You see, this is not the same as a franchise. When the people of various towns around the country hear they will be getting a Super Wal-Mart, they get pretty much the same thing as every other town with a Super Wal-Mart gets. The same goes for Burger King, Walgreen' get the point. This is something completely different.

Now let's explore the idea of unintended consequences. Keep in mind that I have no inside knowledge of any of the hypotheticals I am about to share. These are all just things that have been swirling in my head since the filing of Morrison's bill.

1.  What if A&M doesn't want UHV? It seems as though everyone is assuming that A&M would be more than happy to set up shop in Victoria, but can anyone make that claim with 100% certainty? From a logistical standpoint, the acquisition doesn't make much sense to me for A&M. If you will remember, the majority of the underclassmen that attended UHV's first year of downward expansion were from the Rio Grande Valley. Evidently that was an area that was overloaded with prospective students. It made sense for UHV to recruit there, because there were no other UH schools in the area. The same cannot be said for A&M. Do you really think A&M is going to recruit students from the Valley to Victoria, and imply that they ignore the two other A&M campuses that they pass on their drive north? I just don't see it. Also, how do you think UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville will react to active recruitment in their vicinity from their main rival?

2.  How hard will UH fight to keep UHV? This is really the key to the whole deal. From what I understand, the Morrison Bill would transfer not only the Victoria location to A&M, but also the Cinco Ranch and Sugarland locations. If it were only the Victoria campus, they might not put up much of a fight, but I can't see them letting A&M come right into their backyard and snatch of two campuses in the Greater Houston area. So let's assume for a moment that UH resists the move. If that is the case, and the bill passes anyway, it could be harmful for Victoria in the future. If there is any amount of solidarity amongst the many Houston area Reps and Senators, they could do quite a bit as payback for Victoria in the future. They could block appropriation bills, or block State agency locations in Victoria, or a number of other things.

3.  What if A&M doesn't see much value in the current UHV, and puts them on the back burner? As it stands now, the A&M System has quite a bit on its plate. Galveston has always played a major role for A&M, and they appear to be very aggressive in Amarillo and San Antonio right now. So what happens if they take over UHV, and then don't pony up the new campus? Do you think the State Legislature will care if Victoria comes back them whining about A&M?

4.  To my way of thinking, some of this posturing is akin to a kid asking for a really expensive Christmas gift right after Dad gets laid off from work. There is no denying the current financial quandary that the State of Texas finds itself in. We all know there is a serious shortfall, and we all know that education was the first areas mentioned for cuts to get the numbers straightened out. So here comes Victoria, which already gets a considerable amount of State money, and it wants the proverbial pony. The difference between the spoiled child and Victoria in this analogy is that the child is not expected to understand the error of his ways, but political and business "leaders" of a community should know better. I just hope all this foot stomping doesn't cost us down the road. Whether we like it or want to accept it, we only have one State Rep. Someone please enlighten me, how many does Houston have? Once again, I think you get the point.

In summation, there are two areas of concern for me in this ordeal. The first is that everything done is legitimate and legal. The second is that we don't end up with egg on our faces. I guess whether my fears are founded or not is something that only time will reveal.

In my next blog, I will delve more deeply into the $100,000. I am waiting to get the whole story on that one before I comment fully.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Good Times, Good Family, and Good Friends

It is Sunday evening, and I have just returned home from a gathering for a friend's father's 70th birthday party. The man in question was afflicted with an illness prior to our introduction that has severely hampered his abilities to socially interact. However, I have come to know well many people who were good friends with him in earlier times. To a man, each has lauded Robert Moore's friendship. I wish I had known him before the terrible misfortune, but I am still glad to know him and his family now.

I was struck by the number of folks that attended this party. There were former coworkers, fellow Legionnaires, neighbors, friend and family. There were children too young to walk, and a few so old they walked with difficulty. It was great to see that Mr. Moore and his family had forged so many strong friendships during their time. Mr. Moore's youngest son made a comment that everyone there was like family. Most of them had known him and his brother since early childhood, and remain close to this day.

This is what is most important about life. It is about the relationships that we are able to create and nourish. It is about giving so freely of yourself that others give of themselves in return. Days like today remind me that while life may be a long journey, we are seemingly never able to devote as much time as we desire to the things we enjoy most. It is sobering to be mindful that we can never truly spend enough time with those we enjoy and love. My only purpose in writing this short blog is to remind us all that life is never too busy to make a simple phone call to a friend or loved one that we haven't seen in a while. We never have too much going on to drop by an old friend's house on our way home from work. If we ever find ourselves of this mindset, then it would behoove us to clear out some of the clutter in order to make room for the things that are really important.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Allow different ideas to be heard when planning for community

I decided to use the same title that the Victoria Advocate gave to my recent letter to the editor. Below is the letter that was printed. 350 words is nowhere near enough to fully explain my ideas I was wishing to represent, but hey, rules are rules. I'm thinking of doing a blog later, but for now the letter will have to suffice. Hope you enjoy, and weigh in with your thoughts and criticisms.

Editor, the Advocate:
The controversy surrounding the University of Houston-Victoria story is certainly interesting, to say the least. Taking a stance on this issue is difficult. Like most Crossroads area residents, I want the best for my community. If that means a continued relationship with the UH system, then so be it. If that means a venture with another system, then let's do it.
Even though that ultimate decision is what is most important, I see this as an opportunity to explore a facet of our community that I find troubling. Back in September 2008, while everyone else was lauding the efforts of UHV, I put forth some concerns regarding my experience with the university. Being a voice of reason at that same microphone where the rest of the speakers were caught up in a frenzy was a lonely place to be. All I was asking was that our "leaders" evaluate what UHV's commitment to Victoria had been. Is it really unreasonable to ask that course curriculum classes comprising set degree plans be offered at the home campus? How about being afforded the opportunity to see your graduates walk the stage here in Victoria?
My efforts earned me scorn, ridicule and name-calling. All I was asking for is what the students of every other university automatically get. Why do I bring this up now? Well, here comes along another group of "leaders," who are asking for far more than they could ever lay claim to. Why, all of a sudden, are their opinions broadcast as the prevailing sentiment of this community? Was their support for a brand new campus a surprise? Who elected them?
Victoria has become a place ruled by an oligarchy. This community has a bad habit of restricting the free flow of ideas. Before placement on any board or commission, certain people will have to be assured that you will "play ball." Independent thought is shunned. We must stop this sad practice. We must begin to judge ideas on their merit, rather than from whose lips they escape. Expansion of the talent pool is imperative for Victoria.
Matthew J. Ocker, Victoria

Saturday, February 19, 2011

2011 Knowledge Bowl

On Monday evening, I got an unexpected phone call from my good buddy Chad Byrd. The purpose of his call was to ask me if I wanted to participate in the Knowledge Bowl, as a member of his team. I had never heard of the event, but could surmise what it was all about. My initial reaction was "Are you SURE you want me on your team?" You see, Chad is a freaking genius, and I am not just tossing that term around. The guy is brilliant. The last thing I wanted to do was drag down the team. But Chad thought I could be beneficial because in the past there had been quite a few Constitutional questions asked. So I agreed to join the team.

Rounding out the team were Chad's lovely wife and his father-in-law, who is as cool as the other side of the pillow. We felt as though we had a pretty nice team. I am somewhat of a history buff, with quite a bit of a math background, and I have a decent knowledge of sports and entertainment. Chad is a whiz at math, knows politics, and can hold his own in physics and chemistry. Meredith seems to have a good grasp on pop culture, and she knows her biology. Mike...well...I'm not sure what he knows...but he IS old. I guess we figured experience counted for something. Seriously, I don't know enough about Mike to know where his knowledge is most focused, but he is undoubtedly a very sharp fellow.

 So now we're all set. We have our pencils sharpened, we have our thinking caps on, our cell phones are off, and we are ready. As the questions begin, we are feeling pretty good about things. Some we know without a doubt, some we have made educated guesses, and some we can't even conjure up a guess. But as the questions progress, we become more and more bewildered. There were so many questions that were straight statistics questions. One question even referenced a poll that was taken. That's right, a SINGLE POLL! Instead of the questions being reflective of general knowledge, quite a few of them were percentages and derived directly from news clips.

For example:

What percentage of the land in the State of Texas is used for agricultural purposes?
I will bet I can find several different answers to this question, and all from credible sources. For one thing, this number is not static. With the extraordinary growth being currently experienced in Texas, who can say with all certainty what this number is?

What percentage of the world's supply of cotton comes from Texas?
Once again, this is a fluid number that is nearly impossible to calculate. Is there really someone that keeps track of EVERY pound of cotton produced in the world?

There are 890 million gallons of milk produced in Texas every year. This is enough to fill the Astrodome how many times?
Well, wouldn't that depend on some unlisted factors? Is this during a huge football game, where the stands are packed with people, the vendors are fully stocked with supplies, etc? Is it just factoring in the exterior dimensions of the Astrodome? Again, I find this question impossible to answer. Let's say the average person is the equivalent of 25 gallons. I think that would be a fair assumption. So if there are 65,000 fans in the stands, 300 players, coaches, and support staff, 1,000 staff, reporters, security personnel, etc., let's just call it 67,000 people. That alone would consume over a million and a half gallons. That says nothing about the truckloads of equipment that are used to supply a place like the Astrodome.

Anyhow, that's enough of the criticism. The event was a great deal of fun, and I saw some folks there that I would not have expected to see. The fact that the proceeds go to benefit the Adult Literacy Council makes it that much better. There aren't many things that I get very emotional about, but I would say that adult literacy would fall into that category. Having been fortunately blessed with parents that valued education, as well as wonderful teachers in my formative years, reading and writing has never been a concern for me. Because of that fact, I am very sensitive to the feelings of those that have difficulties in the area of literacy. The ability to read and write is the ultimate ability to free oneself and liberate one's mind. I am reminded of the scene in the movie "Primary Colors" where Jack Stanton visits the library where the lady is teaching adults to read. If that scene doesn't tug at your heartstrings, you may not have any. Mikelti Williamson did a brilliant job in that scene, as did John Travolta.

So it was a great event that benefited a great cause, and I had the opportunity to visit and compete with some great friends. Not too shabby for a Friday night in Victoria. And even though we didn't know the catcher's name in Abbott & Costello's "Who's on first?" skit, or what Moses' wife's name was, or who ended a World Series by being caught stealing, or how many Psalms were attributed to Moses, I think we are all still pretty smart. I hope I got that one right!

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Valentines

As I sit here this evening, Valentine's Day 2011 has nearly come to a conclusion. Uneventful for me in this latest edition, for reasons beyond my control, but still not have I lost the warmth of importance of this affectionate holiday. My Valentines are three in number, and equal in station.

Throughout my life, I have had the good fortune of the intimate company of several sweethearts. Most were really good women, though we left each other in search of more congruent companionship. Some I knew had to go, while others I lacked the immediate appreciation of. Such is not the case with my current love. Susan is the woman I have always wanted, needed, and searched for. She makes every day at the very least a good one, and many of them great. We can be amongst friends, out on the town, or sitting around doing nothing. Environment is of no consequence, as long as we are in each others' company.

The other two Valentines that fill my heart are my wonderful baby girls. My Tooter is as smart as a whip, somewhat sassy, and ever the over-achiever. She was always Daddy's Little Helper. One of my fondest memories is of the first time she grabbed my with both of her hands on the side of my face and brought her head toward mine, in an attempt to give me a kiss. It was a big slobbery one, and it made me smile larger than I ever thought possible. The many times we cuddled with one another will always be cherished. On my 25th birthday I had become pretty ill and was in bed trying to rest. Tooter came into my room, got up on the bed, and began to start speaking, as well as she could, anyway. It took me a few moments to realize that she was singing me Happy Birthday. Once I realized that, I couldn't let her get all the way through the song. I grasped her as tightly as I felt I could without bringing her discomfort, and nearly wept.

My littlest Valentine is my Itty Bitty. She is the most innocent child I have ever known.  Every fiber of this blessing of a child wants to spread love to everyone in her presence. Always one to climb in a stranger's lap, quick to give kisses and hugs, and a constant seeker of companionship. The funny things that Itty Bitty has done in her short time are too numerous to list, but just imagine almost anything. My baby girl has some difficulties in communicating, so she usually has an unorthodox manner of conveying her point. Instead of asking Daddy to unlock the rear windows of my truck, she will claim that she "needs wind." Her idiosyncrasies help define her, and I wouldn't trade a single one of them.

As you can see, I am clearly blessed with some wonderful treasures to be thankful for on this day. Who has your heart?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ashamed To Be His Neighbor

A few days ago a man named Rick Cortez wrote a letter to the editor of The Victoria Advocate titled "Police should have authority to stop criminals". To say that this letter angered and disgusted me would be an understatement. However, it in no way surprised or shocked me. Rick Cortez is indicative of a group of people that have always existed, but whose population I believe has swelled in recent years. I call them the Mob Society. They love their slogans, they defend to the hilt people and groups of people, rather than principles and ideas. They are loud. They are opinionated. They are judgmental. They are arrogant. They are condescending. Most importantly, they are dangerous. The idea that I might someday be on trial for suspicion of a crime, and have a person like this as a juror, scares the living daylights out of me.

Mr. Cortez's opening statement is internally contradictory, and it just gets worse from there. To claim you are a "law-abiding citizen", while espousing the view that condones criminal activity, is inconceivable. In order to be a law-abiding citizen, you must follow the entire law. You can't be a "cafeteria law-abiding citizen". When one chooses to have contempt for the proper procedures by which punishment is conveyed to criminals, he is opposite the law. In this country, punishment is decided and levied by judges and juries, only after guilt has been established. The procedural safeguards against improper accusations and findings of guilt may at times be frustrating, but are essential to a civilized and free society. Many scholars from many disciplines have opined that the presumption of innocence is quite possibly the single most important contrasting factor between a free society and one subject to tyranny. The right to confront and cross-examine any and all accusers is integral to the execution of a proper defense as well. The ability to place under oath, under penalty of perjury, those who would accuse you of a crime, is often the instance that ferrets out either maligned or malicious claims. Rick Cortez seems to employ willful ignorance of these key provisions of "the law" that he claims to abide by. Mr. Cortez's claim of possessing a degree in Criminal Justice not only makes this story more intriguing, but makes it more tragic as well.

Perhaps I have placed the cart a bit in front of the horse. For those unfamiliar with the letter in question, or the incident that evoked it, here is the background. There was a 15 or 16 tear old kid in Houston that was a robbery suspect. He apparently was fleeing from the police. When he was finally surrounded and struck by a moving police car, he laid on the ground and surrendered. Rather than performing their duties of subduing, securing, and placing the suspect in the custody, the officers present surrounded him and began kicking him. One officer repeatedly kicked the boy in the head. Another officer, clearly after the boy was restrained, began stomping on the leg that had been struck by the police car. This entire scene was captured on a stationary video camera. Evidently the video was just recently released, and Rick Cortez decided to write a letter to the editor, claiming that the reason crime is so bad is because cops aren't allowed to "do their job", among other things. Apparently, Rick Cortez is of the opinion that the job of police officers is to "teach criminals a lesson".

I could probably go on about this topic for days, but it has to end somewhere. The bottom line is that those in law enforcement have absolutely no right to either attempt to inflict punishment on a suspect, or to commit crimes themselves. The officers in question did both. Anyone with the tendency to defend such despicable acts is an "enemy domestic" that all who take an oath have sworn to uphold the law and defend the Constitution against.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What's in a Title?

Some may be wondering why I chose this title for my blog. The reason is because I have recently learned (the hard way) that the admirable characteristics of this country's historical Patriots have no place in today's society. We claim to revere the boldness, brashness and resolve that stamped the names of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Adams and Franklin into history, but we simply do not tolerate it today. Most folks will think I am off my rocker for making this observation, as I would have, no more than a couple of years ago. Most people operate with the belief that we have rights in this country, that laws are written to apply to all of us, and that we are free. As I just stated, I was of this belief until recently. The fact is that none of that is true.

The truth is that your rights are predicated on who you are, who you know, and how you can hurt others. After all, isn't that what power is really all about - your ability to inflict pain on others? Why else do we see politicians and government agents as powerful? In a just society, a non-criminal (the vast majority of the population) would not view police officers, District Attorneys, Sheriffs, or Judges as being powerful.

But I digress. Why do I think the traits that made our historical figures great are unwelcome in contemporary society? I think about how Jefferson would be viewed. His ideas on the supremacy of the individual, the evils of government, and his disgust with the mob mentality would probably land him on an "enemy combatant" list. Washington? Forget it. Making soldiers march through the snow with no boots? Yeah right! Executing deserters? No way! "Off with his head!" they would shout.

I could go on and on. The point is that too few of us believe in rights these days. Too few of us see greatness in the citizen who refuses to sit down and shut up. Instead, the majority would love to see him locked away and the key lost. For all of the rhetoric being tossed about these days about how to right the ship in this country, I see this as a fundamental place to start.