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The July 27th edition of the Williamson County Sun had front page stories covering drought, wildfires, and plans for additional future expansions of Samsung operations in the county. My hunch is that most readers are beginning to make the connection between these stories.
In Central Texas, drought is a regular part of our climate cycle. But climatologists warn that drought conditions are likely to become more frequent and prolonged, perhaps even permanent. Already during this young Summer, Williamson County has experienced multiple wildfires due to the dry conditions. Meanwhile, the biggest issue facing our county continues to be how to manage the unprecedented growth and development that is occurring, signified most recently by the decision by Samsung to build a massive facility near Taylor. The connection between all these stories is, in a word, water.
Water is our most precious natural resource. Residents of Cedar Park and Leander get 100% of their water from Lake Travis, one of the Highland Lakes that serve as the primary water supply in Central Texas. These lake levels are dropping by the day with no rain in the forecast and historically low inflows. While a proposed pipeline to the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer may be the answer for the massive new plant being built by Samsung in the eastern part of the county, that does not account for the hundreds of thousands of new residents expected to flood our county over the next several years. More people – less water. That’s what we’re looking at in the coming years.
As the next chief executive of Williamson County government, I spend a lot of time thinking about my future duties and responsibilities. Increasingly, I am focused on the duties and responsibilities that are most necessary.
Promoting economic development is not a required activity of county government. It is allowed, but not required. The necessary responsibilities of county government include (among other things) public safety, emergency management, public health, and building and maintaining roads and bridges. In other words: It’s not the job of county government to entice companies to do business in our county. County government’s job is to prepare for any eventuality with the infrastructure and services that will be required to meet the needs of a growing county. I’m not totally opposed to all economic development initiatives. But WilCo is already an attractive destination for businesses and residents. The question is: Are we really prepared for what lies ahead?
Our current County Judge’s record indicates that his highest priority is giving corporate interests a front row at the public trough, while his record on performing the necessary functions of county government is dismal.
- Gravell’s calendar shows that during the pandemic his focus was on meetings with Samsung. We know from exchanges in Commissioners Court during this time that his colleagues expected him to step up and pay more attention to an orderly rollout of vaccines. Williamson County was embarrassingly inept at this. Our senior citizens had to travel outside the county–as far away as Houston and Dallas–to get a vaccination.
- After Winter Storm Uri, Gravell boasted to a reporter that Gov. Abbott got ONCOR to sit down with Samsung “to assure the company that industrial users on Oncor’s network did not suffer outages during last winter’s massive Texas snow storm.” I wonder if Gravell ever attempted to use his connections with Abbott to give the residents of Williamson County the same assurances?
- Gravell told reporters that Williamson County is now the “technology super highway of the world.” Yet he refused to even listen to a proposal from a fellow Commissioner to study broadband needs in rural areas of our county.
- In 2018 when he ran for this office, he promised that he would cut homeowners’ property taxes. Four years later, not only have we continued to pay more (except for those who turn 65 and have their tax bills frozen), but Gravell instead championed a 90% tax break for one of the richest corporations in the world.
- Rather than supporting our first responders and ensuring that we have the best possible public safety and emergency response, Gravell has repeatedly politicized public safety and emergency management in Williamson County.
- Amid swirling concerns around Gravell’s political contributors, his family ties to businesses winning lucrative contracts with the county, and his side hustle performing weddings for cash, I felt compelled to make this common sense Pledge of Ethics to the People of Williamson County.
When it comes to water……
- Gravell actively lobbied against bi-partisan state legislation to study groundwater conditions in Williamson and surrounding counties Central Texas.
- Just this Tuesday, August 2nd, Commissioner Cook brought a resolution to the court that would urge the LCRA (which manages the Highland Lakes) to update its Water Management Plan with the most current and accurate data around population growth and drier climate patterns in Central Texas. This resolution was nearly identical to one that was unanimously passed by other neighboring counties (both Republican and Democratic led). Gravell let this motion die for lack of a second.
- Of all 254 counties in Texas, Williamson County has the largest number of quarries, or “aggregate production operations” (APO). Quarries use large volumes of water, and in our county they are located in areas where access to water is even more challenging. We need state legislation to require APOs to adopt industry best practices, such as recycling the water they use. To date, we have not heard what Gravell’s position is on this important issue.
Time and time again, Gravell has chosen politics over principle, serving the powerful over the people, and self-promotion over statesmanship.
When I am Williamson County Judge, my focus will be on the most necessary functions of county government. I won’t play divisive partisan games with other elected officials, and I will not use my office for my own personal benefit. I will serve all the people of our county by working to ensure that we have the best infrastructure and public safety services possible.
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