Saturday, November 02, 1996

Williamson County 'educational brochure,' is heavy on bond promotion, but light on facts.

Bond brochure gives incorrect information

Some Williamson - residents say pamphlet biased infavor of bond package

November 2, 1996

Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 1996

An educational brochure on the upcoming bond election that went out to Williamson County voters this week gives statistics to show why four propositions wereplaced on Tuesday's ballot.

At least one of the statistics is incorrect, and others are stated in a manner that could misrepresentactual situations. Furthermore, some residents charge that the brochure is biased in favor of the bondpackage.

County commissioners hired a consultant to spend up to$20,000 to produce a cable television commercial and 70,000 brochures, which were inserted in five different newspapers this week. The consultant wrote the text for the brochures.

The brochure, referring to county jail overcrowding, states that the county is paying to have inmatestransferred to other counties. That's not true,according to a jail official. While the county islooking into that possibility, no inmates have been sent elsewhere for housing, Robert Webster, a captainin charge of the jail, said Friday.

In a section relating to the proposed extension of Parmer Lane, the proposition that has drawn the mostcontroversy, the brochure shows an out of date mapthat would have the extension starting north of RM620. The road already runs north of RM 620 to RM 1431, where the proposed extension would begin.

According to the insert, "one acre of land inWilliamson County is subdivided every 30 minutes.''Using information from the county's appraisal district, the American-Statesman reported in September that an acre of land is subdivided every three hours on an average day this year.

That figure jumps to every 30 minutes if you onlycount business hours, said Pete Peters, a Round Rock political consultant who calculated the numbers forthe brochure.

The brochures were made in good faith and any errors were unintentional, said Peters and Randall Dennis, the consultant who did the work.

Members of a citizens advisory committee thatrecommended proposals for the ballot were supposed to proofread the brochures, said Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Heiligenstein.

Some people thought the brochure was a political ad.

Georgetown resident Nancy Rister wanted to know who paid for the announcement, which didn't say how it was financed.

"It's hard to believe this is just an informational piece -- it seems more promotional,'' Rister said Thursday. "I have a hard time accepting them spending taxpayer money to try and convince taxpayers to increase their taxes even more.''

David Hays, commissioner for Precinct 3, said the information needed to justify the bonds somewhat.

"How can you say we want to pass $17 million for a new jail expansion without saying that it's
overcrowded now and that it costs more to send them out of the county and it could affect how the court treats crime in the area,'' Hays said.

The inserts also have drawn criticism from Common Cause Williamson County, a local affiliate of a nonpartisan organization that lobbies for open government. The group announced Friday that it plans to file a complaint Monday with the Texas Ethics Commission, asking whether the brochures illegally promote the bond proposals. A ruling probably will not be made before Tuesday's election.

© 1996 Austin American-Statesman: