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Indictments Target Three From State Board
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Indictments Target Three From State Board

BY Connie Mabin

Two members of the State Board of Education and one former member have been charged with violating the state's open meetings laws after an 18-month grand jury investigation. A Travis County grand jury Thursday indicted board members David Bradley, R-Beaumont, and Joe Bernal, D-San Antonio, and former board member Bob Offutt, R-San Antonio, on two misdemeanor charges. The elected board's responsibilities include managing the $17.4 billion Permanent School Fund, which sends money to Texas' public schools. "Because of the huge amount of public money that's involved, it's especially important that members of the State Board of Education who are managing that money comply with both the letter and spirit of the Open Meetings Act," Jim Connolly, assistant county attorney, said Friday. The charges stem from a lunch the three had at a deli in August 2000 with three financial advisers. The advisers - Joe Alderete, Russell Stein and Brian Borowski - also were indicted. All six are charged with conspiring to circumvent the Texas Open Meetings Act and holding a closed meeting. The misdemeanor is punishable by a fine of up to $500 and six months in jail. Bradley said he is confident he will be cleared of wrongdoing. "I am disappointed that after cooperating and waiting for the county attorney that he is now, two years later, pursuing a false misdemeanor charge," Bradley said. Telephone calls to the other board members, the advisers and Board Chairwoman Grace Shore were not immediately returned. Bradley said last week he believed the investigation led by Democrat Travis County Attorney Ken Oden's office was politically motivated. Bradley is running against Democrat Richard Hargrove and Libertarian William McNicoll in the general election for the District 7 seat on the board. Bernal is unopposed this year. Offutt lost in the 2000 primary. At the time of the lunch, the three board members were on the board's finance committee and would have constituted a quorum of the committee. Bradley's attorney, Rusty Hardin, told the Austin American-Statesman that the men ate at Katz's Deli and Bar that day but said it was not an illegal meeting. "How can you have a closed meeting in a public restaurant, where other members of the public are present?" Hardin said. "They were not conducting official business at that meeting, or that lunch." Three Texas Education Agency employees saw one board member dining with a financial adviser, and the other two members dining with other advisers at a nearby table, according to a report by the House General Investigating Committee, a bipartisan group of lawmakers that is still looking into the issue. The employees said they saw documents on both tables pertaining to the hiring of money managers and reported seeing members reviewing reports. Later that day, the full finance committee screened applicants for consultant positions to invest a portion of the school fund. The full 15-member board ultimately awarded contracts to manage $3 billion in taxpayer money based in part on the committee's recommendations. The education board, particularly its handling of the school fund, has been under the microscope for several years. Oden's investigation into the matter started in fall 2000. In separate reports, the state auditor and the House committee accused the education board of a lack of financial expertise. Some members were accused of having adversarial relationships with TEA staff and conflicts of interest with money managers. The grand jury will continue to hear testimony regarding allegations of conflicts of interest and improper use of influence regarding investment decisions about the fund. Peggy Venable, director of the conservative Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy, believes opponents of the board are trying to distract attention from the members' protection of the school fund during a state budget crunch. "These efforts are being engineered by several legislators who have been eyeing the $17 billion fund as a potential revenue source to pay for their overspending," Venable said. Rep. Terry Keel, the Austin Republican who co-chairs the House investigating committee, said, "That statement that there's some theme by lawmakers to steal the money is just a simple falsehood." The committee wants to protect the fund by correcting management problems and has no interest in Thursday's indictments, Keel said.

08/30/2002
A Thank You to Bob Bateman For Schools Service
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A Thank You to Bob Bateman For Schools Service

On Aug. 15, we had the pleasure of attending a dinner given by CSE, Citizens for a Sound Economy, in honor of Bob Bateman and his 20 years as an Orange County School Board member. As we sat, surrounded by family, friends and supporters, we each thought back to 20 years ago when we all began this journey as a family. Over those years we put up signs, handed out cards and, on election days, stood on our feet and thanked voters for their support from dawn to dusk. We celebrated victories and shared disappointments. We've watched him work diligently on other people's campaigns, only to have them turn on him when his support was no longer needed. We've read letters opposing his views and, in recent years, had to watch as a small group of people tried to ruin his name and reputation. But more importantly, we watched him give over 20 years of his life to something he believed in wholeheartedly. No matter how bad things got, he never gave up. He never forgot the commitment he made to the people, and the children, of Orange County. So, as this chapter in our lives comes to a close, we, Bob's children, would like to take the opportunity to say thank you. Thanks to all the people who worked so hard to organize the tribute to our father. Thanks to the voters for giving him the opportunity to make a difference. We'd like to thank those who, through the years, not only supported our father, but supported us with your kind words and encouragement. We'd like to thank our mother, who never chose to be in politics, but has endured it all, just the same. Most importantly, we want to thank our father for being exactly who he is. We learned the importance of hard work, honesty, integrity, loyalty and love, all by example. Life is a dance. Thank you for teaching us the steps. We love you. Mark, Kim and Lori Hillsborough

08/29/2002
Forestry Reform is a Burning Issue
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Press Release

Forestry Reform is a Burning Issue

Although many may remember the summer of 2002 for the spate of corporate scandals and bankruptcies, federal mismanagement also has been responsible for a tragedy on at least as grand a scale. Misguided policies, financial mismanagement, and a bloated bureaucracy resulted in fires destroying almost 6 million acres of forests across the nation. Without significant reforms, next year’s fire season may be just as dangerous. In fact, 190 million acres of public lands are at risk unless federal forestry policies are changed.

08/28/2002
Mailbag: Reader Comments from August 21, 2002
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Press Release

Mailbag: Reader Comments from August 21, 2002

Related Story: The President Leads

08/28/2002
Numbers to Make Your Head Spin
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Press Release

Numbers to Make Your Head Spin

In “The Road Not Taken” poet Robert Frost ponders at a fork in the road and whether or not to choose ’the one less traveled.’ It has always been assumed that this ‘less traveled’ road was the choice for innovators and leaders - for who else would have the temerity to take the road less traveled with all of its pitfalls and potential dangers? Congress now finds itself at a fork in the road. Will they take the more traveled road of more spending and bigger government? Or will they take the less traveled road of fiscal discipline?

08/28/2002
Limited Government on the Anniversary of September 11
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Press Release

Limited Government on the Anniversary of September 11

As the anniversary of September 11 approaches, conservatives will again be presented with the opportunity to explain how their view of the proper role of government squares with the harrowing realities made evident by the heinous terrorist attack. For those who do not understand conservatism, or wish to mischaracterize it for political gain, September 11 was supposed to be a death knell for the ideology: A harsh, yet unmistakable reminder of the primacy of the state in the life of its citizens.

08/28/2002
Strength in Numbers
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Press Release

Strength in Numbers

America heads into the Labor Day weekend with great uncertainty. A war with Iraq may be on the horizon. The economy could be on the road to recovery, or slipping back into recession. The most recent data shows consumer confidence is dropping, but consumer spending on durable goods surging. The country’s mood is undecided with the people almost evenly split on the question of “is the country headed in the right direction or wrong direction?” A baseball strike looms. And, we don’t even know if Steve Spurrier’s offense will work in the NFL.

08/28/2002
CSE Property Rights Activists to Participate in "Sawgrass Rebellion"
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Press Release

CSE Property Rights Activists to Participate in "Sawgrass Rebellion"

A CSE core principle: "Environmental laws must respect the rights of property owners." For years, this principle has been violated by radical environmental groups. The Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, the Nature Conservancy and others have relentlessly filed lawsuits, misusing the Endangered Species Act to restrict property use and confiscate private property without compensation..

08/27/2002
Various Groups Say Publishers Willing to Alter Textbooks
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Various Groups Say Publishers Willing to Alter Textbooks

BY Jim Suydam

As the State Board of Education ground through the second of three public hearings on proposed history and social studies texts, it became clear Friday that the dozens of publishers at the hearing were listening. Of the more than 500 points of contention brought forward by one pro-business interest group, nearly 40 percent already had been addressed by publishers, said Chris Patterson, director of education research at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The group, which paid more than $100,000 for an academic review of the texts, has posted scores of the publisher's changes in response to their criticism on their Web site. Others, from private citizens representing no one but themselves to organizations representing tens of thousands, such as the pro-free market Citizens for a Sound Economy, also reported dealing with publishers willing to alter their books to correct errors and avoid criticism. Although some board members pointed to the changing drafts of history as proof that the state's textbook adoption process improves the quality of the final text, others, such as Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, worried that the board members' grip on the content of Texas textbooks was slipping. "You are not elected, you are not appointed, you're simply people making recommendations to our board," Berlanga said, warning publishers to not be so quick to make the changes requested by anyone other than the board. Board member Alma Allen, D-Houston, agreed: "I don't want the publishers running out and making changes every time your group comes up here to speak." The publishers have the right to do what they want, board chairwoman Grace Shore, R-Longview, said. The State Board of Education only gets to vote on the final texts. "The publishers are free to meet with anyone they want and make any editorial changes they want," Shore said. Austin lawyer Joe Bill Watkins, who represents the American Association of Publishers, said publishers have always been willing to work with anyone interested in developing textbooks. But the increased interest and organization of groups, such as Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, have required more work by publishers. "To some extent, this is what they are used to dealing with every adoption," Watkins said. "There is just more of it in this adoption, in part because it's social studies and there's just more issues." The board's decision to add an additional public hearing, scheduled for Sept. 11, has also brought out more people wanting to make a comment. In November, the board will vote on more than 150 proposed social studies and history texts, selecting which ones make the list of books from which Texas school districts may buy. Making that list means a lot to publishers. Texas will buy 4,681,500 history and social studies books and will spend about $344.7 million on the books and other materials up for review. By the time a publisher takes a book before the board, about 80 percent of the company's investment has been made. Because Texas is the nation's second-largest textbook consumer, it can dictate what other states get as publisher's target their offerings for Texas.

08/24/2002
Perspectives on the President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security
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Press Release

Perspectives on the President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security

The President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security was appointed in May 2001 to formulate proposals that would protect benefits for today's retirees; enhance Social Security's fiscal sustainability for the long term; and give younger workers the opportunity to invest part of their payroll taxes in personal retirement accounts that they would own, control, and be able to pass on to their children. The commission's three reform proposals, delivered to the president in December, fulfill those obligations.

08/22/2002

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