Saying it would be a waste of tax dollars, one Texas county is censoring legitimate constituent concerns regarding the county’s bond propositions – while simultaneously spending tax dollars to promote the measures to the public.
The two bond propositions on the Hays County ballot are for jail expansion and roads. If passed, the two bonds would increase Hays County’s total debt (not counting interest) by $237.8 million. Over the past twelve years, the County’s debt has soared 608% – outpacing population during the same period by eleven times.
Hays County now has the second highest local debt per-capita of counties with a population above 40,000.
In their zeal to increase those figures even further, the County has been censoring concerns about the bonds on the County’s Facebook page – and in some cases blocking individuals outright. One such individual – Hays County activist Ashley Whittenberger – goes into comprehensive detail about the censorship in this blog post.
“Had citizens left comments that contained foul language, threats, or harassment that served no purpose, I would have expected to see such comments deleted with a report to Facebook for violation of their community standards,” says Whittenberger. “But the comments which were hidden from the full view of the public or deleted were legitimate concerns, facts and questions.”
Commissioner Will Conley addressed the censorship, defending the practice saying that to respond to concerns would be too time consuming and thus, “a waste of your tax dollars.” Although they could have simply left the concerns unaddressed, they did not – such items were selectively edited out, while pro-bond sentiments remained.
They simply don’t want contrary opinions clouding their message. Claiming that responding to constituent concerns and questions is too time consuming and expensive is patently absurd – especially considering the County found $35,000 to spend in hiring GAP Strategies to promote the bond under the guise of “education efforts.”
GAP Strategies’ body of work can be viewed here. A cursory inspection shows exclusively positive messaging regarding the package. Noticeably missing are important concerns and figures, such as the County’s debt level, and residents’ skyrocketing property taxes (26% over the past three years alone). The bias is hardly surprising, especially considering GAP Strategies is owned by former County Commissioner Jeff Barton, who owns several local newspapers which have also been assisting in the effort to sell citizens on the bond.
Hays County residents are already shouldering an inordinately high property tax burden – the second highest in the state per-capita with a population above 40,000. As a result, citizens should be critical of any effort to ramp up spending – especially measures that are riddled with issues, including a discretionary slush fund.