On the heels of last week's piece in support of District Two Councilwoman Aja Edwards' personal efforts to develop a support program for LGBT youth, we're going to dive right into race issues. It's a civil rights double shot, y'all, with all of the accompanying hazards for your faithful writer. You see, writing about race is like defusing a bomb. I make one move based on a bad assumption and the whole thing will blow up in my face. Right in it. Fortunately, I'm used to the risks, and people like to watch a man walk a tightrope. With a bomb.
On Tuesday, September 23, I received the following text from District One Councilman George Green: "News Flash - Comal County Fair Association denies City Councilman George Green entry". That got my attention. He then requested that TX Citizen staff accompany him to the Fair the following Friday and Saturday. The next text that came through read, in part, "Please Recall the contract between the City and CCFA". Holy cripes! Hardball.
Green went on to explain, via the same text, that he was told of a code violation at the Fairgrounds on Friday, September 19, but the following day was denied entry to the parking area where it occurred (an area he said he had been using for the past 50 years). He went on to detail how he was born and raised here, how he is the first African-American City Councilman in New Braunfels' history, and how he's "dealing with the same mind set as the 60's and 70's in NB today in 2014", at which point it became clear where this was going. I was being handed a live bomb.
We didn't attend the Fair with Green the next weekend, but that Friday night, (September 26), I received yet another text from him, reading "The CCFA ordered me to leave an area because it's a restricted area for rodeo contestants. I've been going to that area for years." If you're wondering what I was thinking, it was this: Logistics and personnel change over time, and with them, so do the rules. This didn't look like Green was being singled out.
Green went on to let me know he had been in touch with both a private and Texas Municipal League attorney regarding the lease agreement between the City and the Fair Association, and that "The consensus was I have every right to be anywhere on the property since I'm a city official." This was getting real - real fast.
After another message which included references to a past when "black and brown people (were) not allowed to drink out of the water fountain on the Plaza", and the present, with both local school district's decision to not close for Martin Luther King, Jr Day, and the "first elected African-American City Official in 170 years denied entry to it's (the City's) own city property", I agreed to meet with him. After all, that thing with the lease might have had legs.
After talking with a variety of people over the next few days, I decided to drop the story, because Green has a reputation for "Don't you know who I am?" behavior around town, and this was looking like more of the same. A story with no substance in which Green was going to end up with egg on his face for complaining about being denied a measure of respect he believed he deserved, justified or not. Before I rake a politician over the coals, which is kind of my thing, somebody was going to have to really go past the line - I'm not going to kick the guy over what I, a white guy who's never experienced a quantum of racial animus, sees as a non-issue.
It's important to keep in mind that regardless of today's situation, Green actually lived through a time when it was way less fun to be a black man in Texas. The fact remains, however, that if I'm going to back up charges of racism made in this column, I'll need hard evidence. That evidence never materialized, but on Monday, October 13, Green took two firm, official steps over the aforementioned line when he demanded Council vote on an audit of the Fair Association's contract with the City.
The Fair Association was at the meeting and came out swinging, with Past-President Arlon Hermes outright making the charge that the proposed audit had no legitimate basis and was purely retaliatory in nature, prompted by the Fair's refusal to let Green park in a restricted area. As it turned out, prior to Green's demand for the audit, two separate City inspections were carried out, on his behalf, on the electrical work that he was concerned with, and both ruled the work in compliance. City Building Honcho, Bob "The Builder" Kinsey, dang near lost it while explaining to Green that the work that was being done, a fixture replacement that one might do at home, did not require a licensed electrician to carry out. Snap.
Then Mayor (and Eighth Wonder of the World) Barron Casteel got into it. Honest to gods, my jaw dropped as Casteel chastised Green with what might be considered the greatest display of diplomacy since Nixon went to China. Here's Casteel conversing with Psychic City Attorney and "You know" enthusiast Madame Val Acevado during the meeting:
Mayor Casteel: "I have a question, and I don't mean to interrupt Councilman Green, so if I'm interrupting you, tell me, because I wanted to ask the City Attorney a question.
(To City Attorney Acevado) I want to ask you a question. Not putting you on the spot. If I, as Mayor, or any of the Council members on this dais, decided to go out and do some inspection at any location, we're now doing that outside the scope of our authority. I'm not a licensed inspector. Neither is any member of this... not for the City, I'm not your City Inspector, nor am I your City Attorney. When I step out of my role as Mayor, or Councilperson, that's a dangerous problem for us, correct? You've told me, or we've talked about some of this."
Madame Acevado: "Right. You know, I mean, a lot of times, a Councilperson is elected to do certain things within his or her district, so they, you know, do a lot of, you know, inspecting in their neighborhoods. If you have a constituent complaining about something, you know, the Councilmember will go, as a guest, not as a trespasser certainly. They don't have any other rights different than any other citizen to be on that particular property, you know.
“Any job of inspector or inspecting, if they're going into, uh, maybe, you know, um, private property to inspect something, make sure something's up to code. At that point, they could be in danger, uh, you know, um, of being harmed themselves, and, uh, you know, possibly being tres... being trespassed themselves, a trespasser on private property. Um, as a Councilperson, you can again certainly explain to them, 'Oh, I'm just here because I have a complaint about flooding, from some people down the street'. And if they want to let you in to take a look, then, then, you know, you're more than welcome to, as a Councilperson. But you do not have a right of entry, or anything like that, any more than I would."
Casteel: "And the same would ring true, the Fair Association has a lease, I think the first option ends in 2015, the other one in 2084. It is their property"
Casteel: "Regardless whether or not the City has ownership, it is their property under that leasehold interest. And if they said, 'No, Mr. Casteel, you're not allowed to come in and do this' or 'You may not drive on this', they have certain rules. Whether I find that to be offensive or not, that is their ability to make that choice. And so, at that point, I depart from my ability to investigate?"
Acevado: "Yes, sir. They could certainly welcome you on. They could certainly, if they have their rules in place, um, you know, and they..."
Casteel: "I have to abide by those rules."
Acevado: "Yes, sir. You wouldn't have the right to enter. Neither would the City Manager. Uh, but our Inspectors certainly would under color of the ordinance. It gives them authority to be there to conduct certain inspections. As we heard from the Building Official, we've never been denied access, uh, when requested, to enter upon, regardless of the time of day."
The way Barron navigated that minefield was epic. Everyone got the message, and Green was permitted to keep his dignity. Very well done. I'm starting to love this guy. #mancrush
In the end, Council voted against the audit, with Green contributing the sole "aye" to the roll. As for the Fair Association, well, they were just getting started.
Here Comes the Pain
On Wednesday, October 15, I got a request from a member of the Fair Association to attend their meeting later that night. I already knew that the Association was considering an ethics grievance against Green, as Hermes announced that possibility before Council, and whether or not that was going to be a thing was to be announced at this meeting.
First of all, let me say this: If I ever harbored any doubt about there being two New Braunfels, it was blown to bits at that meeting. It's clear that there are Fair people, and then there are Wurstfest people. Wurstfest people wear whimsical costumes and take group vacations to Germany and are very, very secretive about what goes on behind Wurstfest doors. Fair people wear blue jeans and feed caps and clearly do physical work for a living. I don't belong in either group. Maybe there are three New Braunfels. Wurstfest people, Fair people, and, um, "other" - the third group consisting of those that don't own leather pants, refuse to lift things, and burn bridges for a living.
Anyway, after some formalities, it was announced that yes, the Association would indeed be filing a complaint with the City's Ethics Commission, with an eye toward censuring Green, or whatever it is that an ethics board in Texas' Most Corrupt City™ can be expected to do. But that's not all. They've sent their grievance up to America's Hottest District Attorney™, Jennifer Tharp, with the intent of having criminal charges filed against Green on some kind of abuse of power basis.
Association President Warren Montague told me that should Tharp decline the case, they have a Plan B ready to go, in which they'll file a complaint with New Braunfels Police, which the Fair hopes will trigger an investigation by Texas Rangers - although that might be a tough row to hoe should Tharp opt out. They could also petition the Texas Ethics Commission. This is all going to get very, very confusing in the coming weeks. Should be a barn burner.
What we know for sure:
1) Green told us that the Association denied him entry. This was not true.
2) Green reported the Fair to the City for code violation conditions which did not exist.
3) Green called for our support of the revocation of the contract between the City and the Fair without legitimate cause.
4) Green officially demanded an audit of the Association, again without cause.
5) The Fair Association is taking this very seriously.
6) Green is, in general, a very nice person, but he ###### up on this one.
The horrible part of all of this is that both Green and the Fair have endured years of abuse from people in power. Green grew up in a time when blacks were treated so poorly that I still can't believe the entire country didn't suffer a violent revolution, and the Fair has had to put up with various Council members trying to stick it to them for decades. The now-deceased District Four rep Robert Kendrick and still-alive, former District Six rep Juliet Watson before him come to mind. Green had it worse, but that's not going to fly if this thing winds up in court.
Fun Fact: I wrote the first draft of this article while on a road trip, at the Waffle House in Vidor, TX. The name of the town sounded familiar, so I asked the waitress what they were famous for:
Waitress: "Hash browns, mostly".
Me: "No, I mean the town. I've heard of Vidor but I don't remember why."
Waitress: "Oh. I don't know. I'm from Beaumont."
Me: "Of course you are." (That much was clear from the condition of her teeth.)
So I Googled "Vidor, TX". The irony of writing this, in the middle of there, wasn't lost on me. What a world.
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Like many libertarians, I struggle during election time to find a candidate that really reflects my beliefs. Things have gotten better in recent years as the Libertarian ticket has gained strength and fielded candidates of some consequence. In those cases, I feel very comfortable voting for the candidate with an "L" in front of their name. Other times, the Libertarian candidate is too far out of the mainstream for me to feel comfortable giving them my vote even if it's unlikely that they would ever win. On those occasions, I almost always lean Republican simply because they are less likely to see a government solution to every problem.
Because of this, my friends of a liberal persuasion call me conservative, and I've always rejected this notion vociferously. I know that "conservative," to their mind, means socially restrictive, prudish, and oftentimes bigoted. I'm none of those things, and my friends know better, but they can't seem to move past their narrow view of conservative actions on social issues to see the larger picture of conservatism. I am conservative in many respects, just not in the way my friends envision it.
I am unquestionably fiscally conservative. I don't believe the government should make deficit spending the norm. To do so devalues our currency (both literally and figuratively). It takes from those who are responsible enough to save and gives to those who spend irresponsibly. More than that, deficit spending encourages government waste and expansion. When our representatives feel comfortable spending money beyond what's in the treasury, there is no limit to what they might spend it on, and the temptation to use the money for their own political gain is just too great. I can accept deficit spending in extreme circumstances (war comes to mind), but I'm dubious of any attempts to tinker with economic conditions or finance massive infrastructure or social programs in this way.
I'm of the opinion that our government does, and spends far too much now. I support efforts to rein in that spending and shrink government responsibilities considerably. In this respect, I am more conservative than most conservative candidates. Most Republicans at the very least have sacred cows that are never touched by cuts to government spending. I have no sacred cows. I would like all government spending to be carefully examined for waste, fraud, and abuse, and such problems are not limited to only certain sectors of government spending.
I am also conservative in a traditional sense. Conservatives are reluctant to support sweeping change and often look to the past for more appropriate systems. This can be crippling if taken to extremes, but I'm not one to believe in a Golden Age where our society was perfect. That said, I don't watch The Pajama Game or Leave it to Beaver and scoff at the ignorance and backwardness of my elders. There is nothing wrong with faith, family, and patriotism. One doesn't have to denigrate traditional family structures to believe that other constructions are possible. I don't think God is dead. I don't believe that marriage is a tool of the Patriarchy. And, I believe that America has been a force for good in the world.
On this last point I am adamant. There has been no greater force for freedom in the history of the world than America. We have made mistakes in the past, and we continue to make them, but the overall effect has been decidedly positive. America has been on the right side of history consistently and forcefully. The liberal view seems to lack judgment in all cases, and as a result, America holds no special place in history for many liberals. All too often, liberals are actually willing to compare America unfavorably to failed regimes like Soviet Communism or China under Mao. I not afraid to call these people wrong and remind them of the atrocities perpetrated in the name of progressive politics. Che was a butcher, not a liberator.
I'm an ardent Reagan lover. I see him as the best president of recent history, certainly far better than Carter who he replaced and Bush the elder who succeeded him. I give Reagan the majority of the credit for ending the Cold War and toppling the Soviet Union and all of the credit for rekindling the American spirit after Vietnam, Nixon, Ford, and Carter. I don't even try to dispute that Reagan may have been suffering from Alzheimer's during his presidency with my liberal peers. I find it amusing to point out that even if this was true he corrected the slide that Carter couldn't and beat Mondale in an unparalleled landslide for his second term. Reagan was the type of leader we see once in a lifetime, and it's unfortunate that this is true. We could use his like in politics now.
While I am not as interventionist as many conservative politicians, I believe in a strong America, and that includes a strong American military. I would caution that America should not be involved in every conflict on the globe, and being a policeman should probably never be our military's role, but our enemies should most definitely fear us. When at war, America should bring to bear awesome destructive power. Our opponents on the battlefield should be crushed and forced to surrender unconditionally. That's the American way.
I believe that any war on an idea is a mistake and the war on terror is no exception to this. I am happy, however, to have a war on some specific terrorist group, and I would expect us to bring the battle to them and their supporters to avoid having it come to us. Terrorism would decrease worldwide if the terrorists experienced a little more terror themselves. Many terrorists are willing to give their life for their cause; we should be willing to help them out with that.
On social issues, conservatives and I part ways more often than not. I am not overly concerned about "a woman's right to choose" or "marriage equality." Many conservatives seem preoccupied with these issues to an unhealthy degree. I understand the sentiment involved, but my libertarian beliefs prevent me from supporting legislation that would involve the government in private decisions.
Unfortunately for liberals, this attitude flows both ways with me. The liberal mindset also calls for government involvement in private decisions. They hope to enforce their value system as much as the conservatives do. Because of this I am no more "with" liberals than I am "with" conservatives on social issues. In fact, I can rely on the American people and the Constitution to hold much of conservative overreach at bay because conservatives tend to violate areas that already have a good background in precedent when they go too far.
I may shy away from the conservative label, but in many respects, I am conservative. I don't reject the idea of conservatism, only the presuppositions that go with the label in the minds of liberals. But, if I'm forced to choose between a conservative vision for America and a liberal one, there really isn't any contest. Call me a conservative.
You can read more from Kelly Colby at yourfirstshrug.blogspot.com.