There’s quite a lot of lame reporting when it comes to the creation and running of the new City of Sandy Oaks. Some reporters from San Antonio are just too lazy to take 1 hour to drive down to Sandy Oaks and walk around and get some actual facts or actual stories. But when I came across an article written by someone outside of Bexar County, it caught my eye.
Jess Fields is a senior policy analyst for the Texas Public Policy Foundation located in Austin, Texas. He recently wrote an article for the Express News titled “Sandy Oaks strikes blow against big government.” Now with this sort of title you’d think that somehow the Sandy Oaks city “leaders” would have done something heroic against a larger outside entity. But instead, Fields is talking about the “blow” against the idea of using property tax to fund the concept of government.
Perhaps Jess Fields should try to analyze something besides policy once in a while and actually look at the facts surrounding what he wants to use as an example. You see, Fields uses Sandy Oaks as an example to push his ideas and concepts. And that’s fine if he wants to do that. But he should at least have a vague concept of what he’s choosing for an example.
First, Fields suggests that Sandy Oaks, by choosing not to establish a property tax this year, is joining a growing crowd of communities that want to “get residents out from under the thumb of big government.” It’s pretty odd to use Sandy Oaks as an example for this considering the primary reason the city exists is because a couple of people worked in near secrecy for 3+ years and only announced the vote for incorporation less than a few weeks ahead of time. The vote to incorporate only needed 1 vote to pass, and the Committee to Incorporate Sandy Oaks gave the community about 4 days to debate the issue. Basically, the city now exists because Pedro Orduno wanted to have city services and Jim Clement wanted to have a leadership position running a city. These 2 individuals created a governing body over a group of people that many of whom moved to the area to avoid city government.
In every election since the vote to incorporate almost more than double the numbers of voters have turned out. The primary reason the vote to incorporate Sandy Oaks saw fewer voters is because the majority of residents in the area thought that the vote had to deal with Sandy Oaks… That is, the original Sandy Oaks, a community 3 miles away from the current location of the city now known as “Sandy Oaks.” You see, the area that is now the “City of Sandy Oaks” is an area that everyone for the last quarter of a century has called Waterwood. Confused? So were the residents of Waterwood who didn’t want to become a city and only had a few weeks to organize against CISO’s 3 years.
Fields shows further admiration for the City of Sandy Oaks for not “rushing to tell landowners how to use their own property” and instead focusing on “sound fiscal policies.” Obviously Jess Fields has never bothered to attend a single city council meeting or talk to a reliable source who has. Mayor Jim Clement did exactly the opposite of what Fields reports. In one of the first city council meetings Clement tried passing an ordinance to ban sexualized businesses because “Anyone can move in and set up a shack in their back yard.” Most people in attendance laughed at the idiocy of the notion and the city council shot it down simply because it sounded so absurd. The only person who seemed to care about the ordinance was Art Martinez De Vara, the city attorney, who made an excuse for it. But then again, like many items on early agendas, Art Martinez de Vara probably placed it on the agenda himself.
Jim Clement told Fields that 52% of the population in Sandy Oaks lives below the poverty line. Fields adds “Establishing a property tax would have placed a large burden on many of these residents.” And he’s right, it certainly would have and it certainly will in the future when property taxes will be established next year. So I wonder what Fields would think about the fact that Jim Clement presented a budget that would have more than DOUBLED property tax for Sandy Oaks residents. Not only did Jim Clement want a new .38 property tax, he didn’t mind that it was a retroactive tax that would have forced people to pay for up to 4 months before the creation of Sandy Oaks in May. How much time would people have had to come up with the money to pay this new tax for the entire past year before the bill came out? Less than a month.
Jess Fields mentions fiscal responsibility. Everyone loves fiscal responsibility, right? I only get to buy things that I have money for and I’m willing to bet that Fields has a balanced family budget too. But to keep this sort of budget balanced we all have to be conscious of only spending money on things that are necessary. Which is why Fields would probably be very cautious about congratulating Sandy Oaks if he had actually looked at Jim Clement’s proposed budget. Or maybe he would be even more shocked to learn that the city council didn’t bother doing a line by line analysis as to why Clement wanted to spend what he wanted.
Probably the most shocking piece of information regarding the budget is that Jim Clement didn’t actually create it. At the end of the budget hearing Clement was asked who created the budget and he simply pointed to the city attorney, Art Martinez de Vara, and said “the attorney.” Which might explain why the budget included a $36,000 salary for the city attorney, three times the amount Martinez de Vara, mayor of Von Ormy, pays his own city attorney. Clement probably wouldn’t care though, because the budget kicked him 2.5 times the amount Martinez de Vara gets as mayor in Von Ormy for “mayor expenses.”
Sure, the Sandy Oaks City Council didn’t pass Martinez de Vara’s budget. Well actually, they did pass it, but they did so by accident and then had to go back and re-vote to not pass it. But whoever is feeding Jess Fields “facts” probably didn’t mention that.
What’s sad about Jess Fields’ article is that it completely misses the point about property tax in Sandy Oaks and also damages the city by making it appear to be something that it’s not. Jess uses the “no new taxes” to push his idea of property tax being a bad thing. But what he ignores is that Sandy Oaks will certainly have an incredibly high property tax starting next year. The city aldermen (not mayor) didn’t wish to impose a retroactive tax because Sandy Oaks incorporated mid year. But in order to survive, the city needs revenue and will certainly have a property tax in the future.
Take the City of Von Ormy as an example, which is working to eliminate a .25 property tax. In 2013, 2/3 of its revenue came from commercial sales tax. This is possible because it already has established businesses at the intersection of 2 major highways where people from out of town make purchases. Sandy Oaks only has two convenience stores and a fireworks stand that are located out of view from the highway and that have to compete with lower priced stores 1 mile away at a more popular location. Any revenue from sales tax in Sandy Oaks will come from residents, not outsiders. Sandy Oaks will bring in significantly less in sales tax revenue than Von Ormy for triple the population.
But back to the point of Sandy Oaks vs Big Government. If Jess Fields studied what was really going on in Sandy Oaks he would have instead written an article titled “How Sandy Oaks Represents Big Government.” Politicians in Washington blindly vote for things because they’re told to; in Sandy Oaks we call him Alderman Joel Ortega. A news media that covers for politicians and lies to the public? That would be the “Sandy Oaks Chronicle”, a newspaper created by Art Martinez de Vara which had a 2 page “voter’s guide” that conveniently left out non-SOPAC candidates and lied about inviting them. Then again, the fact that we had an election at all is amazing, considering the Committee to Incorporate Sandy Oaks (Jim Clement and Pedro Orduno) failed to announce the deadline to run for office and instead hand chose people to run. And big business buying politicians? The second largest contributor to SOPAC was a law firm that specializes in evictions and is currently seeking to be hired. Jess Fields is wrong to use Sandy Oaks as an example of anything besides deceit, corruption, laziness, cronyism, and ineptitude. Aka…big government.
Jess Fields’ manipulation of facts regarding Sandy Oaks to push his own agenda feels as if the city has lost a potentially strong friend. On the back of Field’s card for the Texas Public Policy Foundation the mission of the foundation is stated thus:
The Foundation’s mission is to promote and defend liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise in Texas and the nation by educating and affecting policymakers and the Texas public policy debate with academically sound research and outreach.
Without sound research and without any outreach, Fields’ article perpetuates falsehoods, promotes injustices, and glosses over details about how the liberty of Sandy Oaks residents is being trampled on. That’s quite a hard blow for Jess Fields to strike against Sandy Oaks.