Campaign finance forms

I’m working on a story about the information in these reports for one of the weekend papers. But here are all the campaign finance forms filed so far.

Because I loaded them in DocumentCloud, they are somewhat searchable. This application, developed with journalists in mind, makes images “readable.” But it’s not a miracle worker. Hand-written information can be a problem.

I look forward to hearing how all our clever readers put the search tool to work.

I checked the Texas Ethics Commission website a few minutes ago for the report from the local PAC, Citizens for Local Governance, but no report appears there yet.

UPDATE MONDAY MORNING: The report function worked on the state’s website this morning. Here is the full report.
CLG PAC CampFinance Report

TREPAC, the political action committee of the Texas Association of Realtors, has donated $4,000 to Greg Johnson’s re-election bid. Another $3,000 was contributed to Joey Hawkins in opposition of his recall. (Hawkins disclosed this on his Facebook page, not on campaign finance forms).

It’s important to note that Sam Ortiz pledged not to raise or spend more than $500, so he is exempt from filing the paperwork. So is Mayor Chris Watts (even though he’s spending money to recall-proof his re-election) because he is officially unopposed.

Analysis of email

Some readers have asked about the analysis of Joey Hawkins’ emails from May to November 2015 reported in my April 19 story, Hawkins responds to recall criticism.
At the latest data journalism conference and training session in Denver, I learned more about DocumentCloud and Overview analysis tools. I used DocumentCloud to turn the stack of emails into readable, searchable documents. (Both these tools have been developed with journalists in mind but have proved useful to other disciplines.)

I used Overview to code and search the emails for some simple analysis.

For example, Overview read all the emails and generated a word cloud that I could use to tag and sort the emails.

Probably the most important sort was the month tag. After that was done, I had to go back into each document to check any that had been tagged more than once. For example, an email sent in June might be setting up a meeting in July. I would delete the “july” tag from such an email to make the month-by sorting as robust as possible.
I also used the search feature to help me quickly read and sort the emails in simple ways, such as the “To: ” and “From: ” lines.
Search - Fr Hawkins
Overview doesn’t have the capabilities of “publishing” your work. But DocumentCloud does. Here are the emails, with a search tool, for your perusal.

City manager recommends Brattle Group for renewable energy study

Last fall, Denton Municipal Electric rolled out an ambitious plan to take advantage of the growing wind energy market in Texas — and perhaps walk away from its partnership in a coal-fired power plant that has provided Denton electricity for 30 years.

The initial plan included a proposal that the city spend about $220 million (that cost estimate has risen in the past six months and will likely rise more) to build two new natural gas-fired power plants. One would be erected west of Denton Enterprise Airport. The other has been proposed for a spot on Shepherd Road in eastern Denton, where a natural gas pipeline and power lines meet.

According to DME officials, those power plants would make it easier for the city to get the best price on contracts for wind and solar energy.

But that has proven to be a hard sell with some residents who would like to see the city move to energy from 100 percent renewable sources. They advocated for the city to hire an independent group to review the gas-plant plan.

City Manger George Campbell has recommended that the City Council hire the Brattle Group to perform the study. He places the international firm above Navigant, which performed a similar analysis for Austin that has been met with skepticism.

The Brattle Group’s website claims expertise with renewable energy and its effects on the electric market. We’ll see how the council reacts on Tuesday night, when the matter comes before them.

Sheltering from a storm? Grab your bicycle helmets

On a recent Insight, we answered the question of what to do when you hear a tornado siren.

A reader sent in a helpful suggestion if you find yourself sheltering from a tornado or hailstorm:

Most advisories are similar in suggesting deep interior room safety in the absence of an underground shelter. Often, the advice includes gathering in a bathtub using a mattress to protect against falling debris. Head injuries are very prominent in the injuries from storms.

A simple, low-cost protection from head injuries for all members of families caught in such situations is a bicycle helmet.
They are inexpensive and available for all sizes in a family. Bicycle helmets are in many homes for outdoor sports and should be a part of any emergency shelter preparation kit.

From the way-back machine (or, more on criminalizing speech)

If you haven’t read the story about Denton’s 10-year-old ordinance that could make criminals of City Council members who talk about City Hall secrets, you can catch up here.

I asked the city secretary to find for me the minutes of the May 2006 meeting and the original copy of the ordinance signed by then-mayor Euline Brock on May 16, 2006.

I’ve attached the documents below. You will note there is little discussion recorded in the minutes, other than the council unanimously approving an ordinance that was ostensibly recommended by the city’s ethics committee. Interestingly, the item was presented by former city attorney Ed Snyder.


May 16, 2006 Minutes

Did he or didn’t he?

I’ve had more than one reader ask me to check out whether Texas oil and gas powerhouse attorney Shannon Ratliff wrote House Bill 40.

I put that task on my to-do list for this Sunday’s piece, a thorough question-and-answer on HB 40. Reaction from various attorneys and others who watch challenges to municipal authority call HB 40 everything from legislative overreach and a really bad law, to a reasonable compromise.

If you replay the testimony from the March 23 House Energy Resources Committee, about an hour in (the entire bill’s history is here), Ratliff is on the panel and fielding many questions from state representatives about the bill. It’s not hard to see why some people would come to the conclusion that Ratliff wrote the bill.

Ratliff: The fact of the matter is, we attempted in this bill, to connect it with a well established principal in oil & gas law and that is the reasonable and prudent operator rule.

Ratliff: What we’ve tried to do, is put some standards in place to deal with the general statement about it’s health, safety and welfare. And what we’ve done there, is we’ve taken activities that cities have typically engaged in such as setbacks for all kinds of activities …

Rep. Tom Craddick (to Ratliff): What about the legal aspect in this, the lawsuits? I mean, obviously no one seems to know—you may know because you wrote it—but no one seems to know what commercially reasonable is…

The two then share a joke about how the new definition of “commercially reasonable” would put attorneys in great demand. (Yet another descriptor I’ve read for HB 40, an attorney’s right-to-work bill.)

Loyal readers of Texas Monthly may remember a 2009 piece by Mimi Schwarz that detailed a long and storied battle between ExxonMobil and the prominent O’Connor family of South Texas.

It was in that story we learned of Ratliff’s impeccable credentials as an attorney and as one of the state’s power brokers; how his success before the Texas Supreme Court earned him the nickname “the Dark Knight of Oil and Gas law.”

I called him and asked him today if he wrote HB 40. He acknowledged the joke from the hearing, but denied writing HB 40.

Ratliff said State Rep. Drew Darby wrote it.

Revisiting term limits

Term limits for Denton City Council members have been in the city’s charter since the 1980s. In 2008, some voters disagreed with the city attorney’s interpretation that council members should be allowed to vacate one kind of council seat, whether at-large or district-specific, and reset the clock on another kind of council seat. They filed suit to keep term limits at three terms, or six years.

An ad hoc committee proposed a set of charter amendments that were, ultimately, looser than the original three-term limit and codified the interpretation. Voters approved the propositions in 2009.

Here’s how it rolled, according to a news report by Lowell Brown we published on Nov. 4, 2009:

Proposition 1 keeps the existing limit of three consecutive two-year terms and applies the limit separately to each of the council’s seven seats. It essentially codifies the city’s longtime practice of not counting past years of service against council members who switch seats or take a break in service. The proposition was designed to settle a debate over whether Denton term limits applied per seat or across all seats. Past years of service don’t count against council members who run for a different seat, including mayor, or sit out a term.

Under the new amendment, residents will be limited to 12 consecutive years of council service. The amendment includes no limit on the number of terms someone could serve in a lifetime. That means a council member could serve up to 12 years in a row by switching seats, sit out a year and then run again.

Proposition 2, which says council members representing the city’s four geographical districts must remain living in their district throughout their term in office. The charter previously didn’t prevent council members from staying in a seat after moving out of the district in which they were elected.

Proposition 3, which says vacancies in the mayor’s seat will be filled by special elections. Before, the mayor pro tem would have completed a mayor’s unexpired term.

Proposition 4, which makes clear that the council can’t interfere with the personnel decisions of any of its four appointees. The charter already prevented council members from interfering with the city manager’s personnel decisions, but the restriction didn’t extend to the city attorney, city auditor and municipal court judge.

Denton street width and bike lane rules

In “Insight,” on page 2 of the Sunday paper, March 29, we explored the question of what rules of the road bicyclists must to follow. Here it is again:

The Texas Transportation Code makes bicyclists subject to the same “duties of the road” that apply to drivers, such as observing stop signs and yielding right of way. 

Bicyclists must use hand signals to signal their intent to stop, turn left or turn right. Every bicycle must have a brake, and when riding at night, bicyclists must use a headlamp that emits white light visible at 500 feet. On the rear of the bicycle, they must also use either a red reflector visible at 300 feet or a red lamp visible at 500 feet. 

In addition, the code dictates that when moving slower than traffic, bicyclists should ride to the right edge of the roadway, not the shoulder or gutter — which, by definition, is not the roadway. 

Where a road is too narrow to safely share with a vehicle (including those less than 14 feet wide), Denton allows bicyclists to ride in the middle of the lane. [emphasis added] Bicyclists may ride two abreast on a multi-lane roadway, but they may not impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic when doing so.

Carry your driver’s license or state identification with you when you ride. Bicyclists can be cited when they violate the rules of the road. Denton police wrote 26 citations to cyclists in the past 12 months, most for riding without proper headlamps or rear lighting. Bicyclists also got tickets for running stop signs and for riding on a sidewalk, the wrong side of the street or the wrong way along a one-way street. 

At the time I was gathering information, I was hoping to get the answer to how many Denton streets were 14 feet, or less, across. It seemed a key piece of information to know, as a driver, how often you might expect to see a bicyclist in the middle of the lane because the street is too narrow.

Turns out, it’s a lot. The answer came recently from the city’s new bicycle and pedestrian coordinator: “Most of the streets in Denton are 14 feet or less. There are very few that are 16 feet.”

Keep that important fact in mind when you are driving the city’s narrow streets, Denton.