Estate of Denial™ readers know that we are strong advocates for grassroots activism and aggressive use of today’s online tools. In late 2010, a news story broke about the filing of a federal lawsuit against Williamson County (Texas) due to sexual harassment and other allegations of misconduct on the part of former Court at Law No. 3 Judge Don Higginbotham. Our attention was peaked as Williamson County is a neighboring county in which we own property (and are therefore pay taxes) and also because Higginbotham’s areas of responsibility included probate cases. Williamson County lawsuit suggests county not so “safe” for all was our first piece commenting on appearances of serious impropriety that we have come to view as an ongoing pattern which helps define the county government’s culture.
A new scandal – or at least another highly questionable pattern of activity – has surfaced. We bring this up to once again illustrate how localized community activists’ use of online platforms can be effectively used to highlight an issue or a problem. Here’s how we characterized this effort on the Americans for Prosperity national and state blogs.
Wilco taxpayer-funded lobbying controversy broken by blogs, online journalism
Last week The Williamson County Employees Association Blogspot (http://blog.wilcoea.org/) brought to light an eye-opening situation in Commissioner Valerie Covey and the breaking “Lobbygate” scandal
The original four-part series told of Williamson County Commissioners’ hiring of an Austin law firm to “perform ‘legislative initiatives,’ another name for lobbying.” A next release outlined “Lobbygate” What we know and what’s to come. (http://blog.wilcoea.org/2011/07/10/summary-of-lobbygate-and-whats-to-com…) with subsequent postings providing updates on new information, responses and additional media coverage.
Wilco taxpayers were unaware of their six-figure expenditure and would likely have remained so were it not for this initial reportage that is now being picked up by other blogs and online journalists. In How much can Williamson County taxpayers afford? (http://www.examiner.com/legal-news-in-austin/how-much-can-williamson-cou…), AFP Foundation Policy Advisor Lou Ann Anderson detailed the story along with commentary based upon the Williamson County Commissioners Court ongoing pattern of conduct.
Metareasonable.com (http://gismedia.com/metareasonable/) has since posted a series of Smith, Robertson, Elliott, Glen, Klein & Douglas L.L.P. invoices highlighting legitimate questions regarding the work performed, billing irregularities and the lack of transparency associated with this activity. Ramparts360 also picked up Anderson’s story adding an appropriate The tangled – and expensive – web they weave (http://ramparts360.com/2011/07/the-tangled-and-expensive-web-they-weave/) headline.
The traditional media is now taking interest in this story. Additional press engagement is not only welcomed, but encouraged. But meanwhile, let’s not forget that citizen activists broke and developed this story illustrating that power in today’s journalistic environment is as much about fact gathering, credible presentation and accessible forums as it is about official credentials from an establishment media agency.
In fact, the story is already moving into the mainstream media dialogues as evidenced by comments posted to an Austin American-Statesman article entitled Fish and Wildlife could list salamander by 2013, leading to development consequences (http://www.statesman.com/news/local/fish-and-wildlife-could-list-salaman…). Environmental issues potentially slowing road projects appear the crux of Wilco officials pursuing their lobbying efforts. Comments on this AAS story tie the Wilco Commissioners’ lobbying to the impending Environmental Species Act (ESA) changes referenced. (We at AFP believe the ESA and FWS are too heavy-handed on the regulation and light on the science.)
As interest in this issue has grown, the Williamson County Employees Association posted this statement on its blog:
“If the legislation was so flawed and cost the county taxpayers millions as Commissioner Lisa Birkman and Valerie Covey say, then why pay hired guns hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby legislators? If it was so flawed, then why couldn’t a government group such as a respectable commissioner’s court, with the backing of the Texas Association of Counties and the Texas Conference of Urban Counties visit with lawmakers themselves, point out the flaws, and “fix” the problem? Austin is a 30 minute drive from Georgetown. Any self respecting lawmaker would jump at the idea to save tax dollars and improve flawed legislation. We elect and pay our officials to represent us on a local, state and federal level. We should not be saddled with the added expense of tax payer funded lobbyists. That is the job of those we elect.”
We at AFP agree totally and have a long record of opposing taxpayer-funded lobbying. It’s an issue the legislature needs to get serious about!
Here’s the link to the Wilco EA blog talking about AFP’s following the Lobbygate story. http://blog.wilcoea.org/2011/07/14/lobbygate-national-group-americans-fo… We appreciate the “shout out” and are grateful for the citizen journalists out there!
Blogs and online activists were first-in with this story, no doubt they’ll also be last-out.
We recognize the frustration felt by many probate reform activists when traditional media sources seem less than interested regarding this issue for which many of us have a passion. This story is posted to hopefully help encourage additional thought in how to define and craft your own specific area of interest such that it can be developed into a marketable and promotable issue.