Band booster busts big business
May 12, 2005 5:25 PM   Subscribe

Midlothian mom looking to raise money for the school band discovers the local TXI cement plant is draining millions from the Texas school system. This while getting paid burning hazardous waste in their back yard. When she seeks to right these wrongs she finds that the environmental regulators include lobbyist for TXI, and their House representative, Joe Barton, cares more about "economic development" than her kids.
posted by betaray (29 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I just learned about this today on KERA's Glen Mitchell Show. I wish there was a way I could share the interview with you. It was very moving just to hear the way these people talked about these issues. I thought the woman was going to cry when she explained that there was obviously no way they could stay if things didn't change.
posted by betaray at 5:29 PM on May 12, 2005

Duh, fraud in Texas? Oh MY GOD!!! Round up double the usual number of suspects!
posted by buzzman at 5:32 PM on May 12, 2005

It's what Jesus would want. Why do you hate America? If we don't pollute, the terrorists win...

It's time we as a nation had a serious dialog about Texas independence.
posted by Davenhill at 5:35 PM on May 12, 2005

Texan independence? I say we cede Texas to Mexico. If Oklahoma has a problem with that, they can say 'adios', too.
posted by mullingitover at 5:46 PM on May 12, 2005

The Dad sure does talk down about his wife alot, but she seems to be alot stronger and brighter than he is.
posted by Espoo2 at 5:55 PM on May 12, 2005

My wife and I wanted a place in the country to raise our kids, so we moved to Midlothian, the cement capital of Texas.

posted by jfuller at 5:59 PM on May 12, 2005

Midlothian Mom is a great band name.
posted by mrgrimm at 6:18 PM on May 12, 2005

Sorry, I used up all my outrage in previous threads, but, what Mrgrimm said.
posted by Balisong at 6:35 PM on May 12, 2005

Good link. Very sobering. Thanks, betaray.
posted by adamrice at 6:46 PM on May 12, 2005

This is great link. Thanks betaray.

Contrary to buzzman and mullingitover, I find a hopeful thread in the couple's Texas roots and conversion from conservatism. Maybe I just need hope today?

I don't exactly understand the details about how the plants are draining money from the schools though. I understand that the plants were reducing the overall tax base, but according to the article those taxes were reinvested in the project. Presumably, there are other, taxable development, income taxes (do they have those in Texas), sales taxes (ditto) that come back to the state. I mean are the government authorities responsible for this scheme completely in pocket. Don't they have some studies that at least _claim_ that there are some economic development benefits?

(The D Magazine site employs one of my pet peeves. I really hate sites that put all their content in scrolling text boxes. They are terrible to read, especially if the size of the textbox is larger than 1 screen.)
posted by tkb at 7:29 PM on May 12, 2005

The Glen Mitchell Show is one of the best radio programs. I should listen to it more often. His best shows are when he doesn't have a guest, and just opens up the phone lines to his listeners. The way it works is he lets anyone ask any question they can't answer, and then other people who think they're an authority on whatever the subject matter is, they call in and try to explain the answer. Sometimes it's very informative, and sometimes it's very hilarious. He calls it "Anything You Ever Wanted To Know" and while it may not be the most original concept for talk radio, Glen Mitchell's no-nonsense yet friendly approach to hosting is for intellectual exploration what Joe Rogan is for grossing people out.

People in Texas who vote conservative generally do so because they think it is the right thing from a perspective of their theology, and also gives them a feeling of security for themselves and their family. However, they really have no excuse being surprised when they learn their politicians are more interested in corporate greed than in protecting children from environmental concerns. The majority of them vote for the right. They get what they deserve. Despite it all, I love my home state, but due to the politics alone, if I actually had the resources to do it, I'd seriously consider moving to somewhere more blue.. But then I couldn't hear The Glen Mitchell Show.

As for Midlothian, all I know about that town is that it's a major speed trap.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:48 PM on May 12, 2005

Texas does not have a state income tax.
posted by amber_dale at 8:00 PM on May 12, 2005

I know there are plenty of Democrats in Texas (except maybe in favorite-son Presidential races), but this guy seemed to treat them like aliens -- much the way yuppies are treated in country-music videos. It was quite amusing to see him write we were for schools and clean air, but we didn't want people to think we were wack-jobs. Because of course being for schools and clean air is so damned radical.

The TIF is a redevelopment tool available to state-designated authorities (in most states, just to cities). The short version is that a city can designate a TIF district, use eminent domain to buy up all the property in the TIF it wants to redevelop, then invite developers to build -- with their tax rates frozen at the pre-TIF level for N years, but pro-rated against the higher value of the redeveloped property. The tax revenue from the TIF are used exclusively to reinvest inside the TIF, e.g. for street or utility upkeep. In theory, it attracts investment and cures blight; in practice there are often insider considerations and suspect politics. My Wisconsin mid-sized city had no objections with its first half-dozen TIFs, but after 20 or so, people wonder.

I did not know that Texas has its own special brand of TIF, but then again it is a whole nother country. The TIRZ is unique to Texas in the following ways. First, property owners can petition for TIRZ designation individually or collectively. Second, Texas allows much more flexible -- er, vague -- criteria for TIRZ vs. TIF. Third, the taxing body (such as a city or *cough* school board) can agree to forgo a selected percentage of the tax revenue as an added attraction. It seems to be this last codicil that's at stake in Midlothian. Essentially, it seems that the school board agreed that the TIRZ could be established and it wouldn't get any (or substantially less) money out of it. It's not clear to me where the money goes in the interim, but apparently it's only reinvested in the TIRZ -- i.e. presumably the concrete plant has gotten new sewers and streets out of the deal.

The counterargument, of course, is that without the TIRZ, the cement plant might have relocated -- depriving the city of all tax revenue, as well as jobs. Some states have been moving to reduce the competitiveness between municipalities that results from having TIF and other incentives available.

Oh, wait -- it seems that as long as properties in the TIRZ are utilized for other than cement plants, they can get TIRZ benefits -- and under Texas law agricultural use is legitimate, so maybe they can just lease out empty land for farming? At any rate, under normal tax rates TXI would pay about $5 million, but in fact pays only $500,000, and of course even that paltry sum is used exclusively in the TIRZ (or 80% from Boyle's reports).

Jesus. In Texas they really do do things differently. I mean, I knew that schmoozy wheeling-dealing was endemic, but this makes a city's tax accounting look like Enron. Of course the average citizen is confused, even as they pay through the nose.
posted by dhartung at 10:24 PM on May 12, 2005

This is why we Texans knew Bush was going to be a bad president. Everything he did in Texas he's trying on a national level. Voluntary pollution control laws, yup. Screwing over the banking system, yup. Increased pollution as a result of the first, yup. Amazing fraud as a result of the second, yup.

Don't forget that GWB himself said he was glad he wouldn't be in Texas to deal with the aftermath of his crappy laws. Unfortunately, we have to.
posted by sotonohito at 3:55 AM on May 13, 2005

Welp, we learn once again that there is never anything to corrupt, underhanded and double dealin than Texas law and politics. Iv'e lived in here for 35 yrs and iv'e just given up on em. I still vote ....for what it's worth but it's a feeble statement. I NEVER thought that the tide of conservatism
would turn into a tsunami and make this state a republican haven. Excuse me while i reinsert my head back in the sand.
posted by bullx2 at 5:21 AM on May 13, 2005

Wow. Can we try to get these folks a little more press? I mean, Jesus Christ, a thread on John Bolton's sex life gets a hundred comments and this gets 14? It about made me cry to read that article.
posted by klangklangston at 5:51 AM on May 13, 2005

Who cares about educating a bunch of snotty nosed kids? Hells fire, we've got businesses to run!
Corporate fascism has no time for weaklings and little children!

How the hell could a concrete plant "move away?" Hahaha!! Cluetrain time!
posted by nofundy at 6:02 AM on May 13, 2005

She's better off moving anyway, than living close to cement plants that burn hazardous waste. My friend lived in Midlothian, until she developed a rare lung infection and a nasty black spot on her lungs...odd, since she was a young, healthy, non-smoker and worked in an office building. Odder still, the only pharmacy that regularly carried the drugs to treat this rare infection was in Midlothian--none of the pharmacies where she worked in Dallas carried it, despite it being a much larger metropolis. Yep, pretty odd. But I'm sure the hazardous waste burning had nothing to do with it. Nosir.
posted by emjaybee at 7:07 AM on May 13, 2005

So endorse klangklangston. I am a total sucker for the trivial stuff and make no apologies for it - but I wish this post was bulging with outraged comment too...
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:38 AM on May 13, 2005

Without making this about Glen Mitchell, he is the best radio personality on the air today. The "everyman" that asks all the questions you want to know the answers to yourself.

This is new data on the subject, but this is by no means news. Barton has been in TXI's back pocket for a long time. He's been seeking to keep his district out of the air pollution control area that includes Dallas and Fort Worth, mostly for TXI's benefit. I live in Fort Worth, and I think part of reason they removed our area from Barton's district in the recent redraw of the lines is that we were getting wise to him, and our area derives no economic benefit from the cement plants.

And from one band booster to another: Go, mom, go! Go Panthers!
posted by Doohickie at 9:16 AM on May 13, 2005

But then I couldn't hear The Glen Mitchell Show.

Sure you could! You could listen "on the sly".
posted by Doohickie at 9:22 AM on May 13, 2005

Voluntary pollution control laws, yup. Screwing over the banking system, yup. Increased pollution as a result of the first, yup. Amazing fraud as a result of the second, yup.

The buck stops here, yu.... actually, if there appears to be a buck, it must have been invented by the liburl media in an effort to slander God's people! Yup, that's it...
posted by Doohickie at 10:13 AM on May 13, 2005

The way it works is he lets anyone ask any question they can't answer, and then other people who think they're an authority on whatever the subject matter is, they call in and try to explain the answer.

Sounds like AskMe!
posted by five fresh fish at 10:48 AM on May 13, 2005

As for the tax draining comment. The cement plant is taking money from the school district in the form of the TIRZ's lost taxes. This changes Midlothian's school district from a "rich" district to a "poor" district in the eyes of the state's Robin Hood school funding plan. So in reality the TXI is drawing from all the school budgets of all Texas schools, not just Midlothian. There's the counter arguement for "economic development", but when school system is depressed, it's hard to justify giving away the cost of one new elementary school each year for 35 years.

I'm bummed about the lack of comments on this thread as well. I was hoping by posting here that I could get the word out, and see something really worth the outrage on all those political blogs I read.

I did hear on the news last night that Erin Brockovich is coming down here to "investigate", though. Hopefully She'll attract more attention than my sad little post.
posted by betaray at 11:02 AM on May 13, 2005

This while getting paid burning hazardous waste in their back yard.

I was born just a couple miles from Love Canal, I have friends who used to live here.

No school or band is worth it, just move. Don't wait until every single family you know has at least one person with cancer, get out now.

Is it worth taking a loss on the house and starting over from scratch?
Fuck yes.

Want to see the future of that town? Check out some of the disease cluster studies of Western NY.
posted by Kellydamnit at 11:33 AM on May 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

Well, I'm wondering why dios and Kwantsar aren't posting here. But I'm not wondering too hard...
posted by Skeptic at 11:23 PM on May 13, 2005

Sounds like AskMe!

Yes, it's just like that, actually. My favorite radio show. If you click the "listen on the sly" link in my post above from noon to one p.m. (central time) on Fridays, you can hear it. A lot of the questions are of local interest, though.
posted by Doohickie at 8:10 AM on May 14, 2005

Betaray, kudos to you for trying to get the word out. Contrary to what the D Magazine article implies, however, this isn't a new story. These discoveries weren't made by the author's wife.

I was born and raised in Midlothian. (Can still sing the school fight song, much to my chagrin.) When I graduated from high school, the population of the town was 4,400. We had a Sonic, a Pizza Inn, a Golden Fried Chicken, and a Dairy Queen. (And, of course, the evergreen Dee-Tees, mentioned in the article. I can't believe they actually ate there!)

The town has grown so much that I don't recognize it on my trips back for Christmas. Name a fast food restaurant -- they've got it. That might not mean much to you, but it means a hell of a lot to me. It means something. It's a different place than it was when I left in 1991.

Anyway, the toxicity issue is one that, when I was growing up, was not discussed publicly. I didn't learn of the serious health risks facing local residents until I moved to Austin and began working for a liberal magazine. Back in the 80s, it simply was not discussed.

I'm glad people are talking about it now. Since it's now more of a suburb than a small town, maybe the suburbanites will make some progress. Back in my day, there was no chance.

Maurice Osborn worked for TXI before and during his campaign for mayor. TXI has a long history of placing its candidates on the city council and school board. Ralph Marquez, the TNRCC regulator referred to in the article as a "former TXI lobbyist," has been a commissioner since 1995. He's a Bush appointee. (Oops, just googled -- it's no longer the TNRCC, but the TCEQ.)

The biggest advertiser in the Midlothian Mirror (a minor player in the JFK story, by the way) was always TXI. There's a second paper now, and they probably give them a ton of money too.

During most of my childhood, there was only one doctor in town. (Bizarrely, he also played a role in the JFK story. As were the long-time police chief and chief detective. But that's another post.) The doc was on TXI's payroll and reportedly was in charge of keeping the public comfortable with the health risks associated with the local industries. And, if necessary, downplaying any diseases that cropped up. Reportedly.

The annual third grade field trip was to the Gifford Hill Cement Plant. We'd hunt for fossils and sharks' teeth in their quarry. It was the best day of the year.

It was a small town. Cement was the biggest industry. No one dared mention that it might be making us sick.

This is old stuff. Maybe now that the city folk are moving down to Midlo, change will come. But it's nothing new. The octopus is entrenched. The Sierra Club has been trying to save Midlothian from cement kiln dust for at least a dozen years.

Back in the day, Jim Schermbeck and Sue Pope were considered loony by most locals. People didn't listen to them. Were uncomfortable with their allegations. I hope they've gained some credibility, but I doubt it. Not with the old-timers, anyway. People there like nothing better than to plunk their heads in the sand. Or limestone, as the case may be.

I hope the incoming soccer moms turn things around, because I don't know what else will.

My parents still live there. Their house -- the one in which I was born -- has a spectacular view of TXI.

If nothing else, cement dust makes for spectacular sunsets.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:48 PM on May 14, 2005

And P.S.:

I was a member of the Midlothian High School marching band.

If I lived there and had kids, I'd be agitating for the cement plants to put their money towards something other than new uniforms. Like, maybe, scrubbers for their smokestacks?
posted by mudpuppie at 7:51 PM on May 14, 2005

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