Leon County Day in Austin

TRIP TO AUSTIN -- Leon County residents spend a day in Austin at the State Capital. Pictured are Chase Glick, Julie Prejean, Jerrod Jones, Clayton Loftin, Dianne Ryder, Senator Charles Schwertner, Representative Trent Ashby, Tommy Neyland, Betty Heffler, Susan Wilder, and Kyle Workman. Not pictured is Corey Theis.

A group of nine residents from Leon County enjoyed a day at the State Capital Wednesday, February 28th, thanks to Leon County Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) President Tommy Neyland who arranged the trip with Representative Trent Ashby.

Ashby, who has been consistently involved with the rural areas of his district, including Leon County, was a gracious host. The group also met Senator Charles Schwertzer who represents Leon County. Both gentlemen joined the group for a lunch provided by Ashby. Each spoke briefly and stayed available for questions and a few pictures.

The group to Austin consisted of Neyland, LCEDC Vice President Chase Glick, Buffalo City Councilwoman Dianne Ryder, Friends of Fort Boggy Secretary/Treasurer Betty Heffler, Nucor Environmental Manager Julie Prejean, Centerville Chamber of Commerce Director Clayton Loftin, Buffalo City Councilman Jerrod Jones, Buffalo Chamber of Commerce Director Corey Theis, and Buffalo Express Reporter Susan Wilder. Also joining the group in Austin was Kyle Workman who is a Leon County resident and the President of the Texans Against the High Speed Rail.

When we arrived at the Capital, we were met by Judd Messer from Ashby?s office. Messer had helped plan the day and arrange the afternoon speakers. We started with a tour of the Capital and a brief Texas history review. We also heard a narrative on interesting facts about various governors and legislators who have walked the halls of this historic building. We stopped for a few minutes to hear the House and then the Senate in action. For many in the group, it was the first time to tour the four stories of the underground addition to the capital that was added about twenty years ago when additional offices were needed.

After lunch Messer took the group to the old State Supreme Court Courtroom to listen to four speakers who addressed us in a relaxed, informal way, answering all questions and listening to all concerns.

The first speaker was Workman who talked about the recent headway The Texans Against the High Speed Rail has made in the courts, including the decision in the Leon District Court that ruled in favor of the land owner, establishing again, that Texas Central is not a railroad and does not have eminent domain.

Workman focused on the impact the High Speed Rail is making today even though no tracks have been laid and no final exact route has been settled. But the problem for the landowners who are in the possible path of the train, is that land is being devalued today. They can not sell their land for what it was worth because they must disclose to a buyer that the High Speed Rail could take in the property.

Workman mentioned Texas Central?s public relations tactics to overwhelm and drown out any words of opposition to the High Speed Rail project. But, though the original investors in the project were told that construction would start in 18 months, years have gone by, and the project does not seem any closer to being started. According to Workman, the environmental studies and safety aspects alone will take years to complete.

Workman praised Leon County Judge Ryder and Commissioners for their continued support in the fight against the High Speed Rail including passing laws and measures to make it more difficult for the rail line to be built by protecting the existing county roadways from being changed or compromised by construction of a High Speed Rail system.

The second speaker was Carter Smith who has been the Director of Texas Parks and Wildlife for eleven years. Carter, familiar with Fort Boggy State Park, thanked Heffler and all the Friends of Fort Boggy for their work in securing the funds that allowed the construction of five cabins inside the park.

According to Heffler?s reports, the cabins have brought an 80% increase in visitors to the park. Families who want to enjoy the pond for fishing and swimming, the hiking trails, and the peace and quiet of nature are keeping the cabins rented almost every weekend.

?It?s a state jewel,? said Carter about Fort Boggy and stressed the importance of maintaining the state?s 95 parks, so that Texans have a place to leave the urban communities and revisit the rural areas. Carter also spoke on the work being done now in the state legislature to recapture the portion of the sales tax from outdoor supply businesses, like at Academy and Bass Pro, that was meant to help fund the state parks. Currently, Friends of Fort Boggy are focused on getting a portion of the funds to build a restroom facility at the park.

Education Advocacy Consultant David Anderson addressed the group on the desperate need to recreate the school finance system. Anderson, as the writer of the 1994 Robin Hood Bill, said that bill was meant to be temporary. ?But, due to benign neglect,? said Anderson, ?no real measures have occurred to improve the system.?

But, according to all the speakers we heard from, this legislative session is focused on school finance and property taxes. Anderson also said that the best economic circumstances anywhere in the state, are located within 30 miles of an interstate. The potential for growth, if you are located on or near an interstate, is wide open at the present time as Texas is becoming an urban state with increased traffic moving steadily from one city to the other.

The last speaker of the day was Ross Ramsey who is the Editor and Co-Founder of The Texas Tribune. Ramsey has been observing and writing about the state?s political system for many years and has an extensive knowledge of how the process works.

Ramsey entertained the group with stories of individuals and their work and struggles to get things done in a system full of checks and balances that seems complicated and cumbersome at times. Persistence, patience, as well as an ability to build relationships, and sometimes personal attributes and character seem to be the keys to most of the achievements this 100 plus building has seen.

Neyland was pleased with the first Leon County Day in Austin. ?I think it was a good start at giving our local EDC more exposure to current legislative topics. I think we will have more days like this one in the future, and more people will be able to attend.?