Lubbock County Commissioners’ road rush: More things change, more they stay the same

In its 3-to-2 vote to rush a $100 million road bond to voters in May, the Lubbock County Commissioners Court proved Monday you can change some of the faces, but bad habits linger like a fungus.

It was farcical, but no one was laughing.

The saga began last week with the disclosure Expo Center promoters were a little off in their estimates of what the Hotel Occupancy Tax would generate. Off by a factor of two.

How did this happen? Because we were in a rush, that’s how.

What we really heard was self-interested citizens lobbying in the guise of a parent.

There was no malice; no intent to misrepresent. The initiative was a grassroots concept. No one involved pretended to be a professional at putting together Expo Centers funded by a county HOT tax. The professionals were on the dais, the commissioners, and it was their responsibility to add wisdom to the backers’ enthusiasm.

It’s undeniable the entire proposition appears, at the very least, enmeshed in a public relations nightmare. More on that later.

So what did we learn? Not. One. Thing. Commissioners Court seems determined to repeat the past. The game plan? Don’t allow last year’s mistake to keep us from making the same mistake this year.

Dissenting Commissioners Jason Corley and Chad Seay referred to last week’s Expo Center news as a contributing factor in wanting to delay the election until November. Both expressed support for the road projects, just not yet. They asked the Court for more time to evaluate the matter with a view to putting it on the ballot in November.

Gilbert Flores, Bill McCay and County Judge Curtis Parrish dismissed the concerns of their fellow commissioners and voted in favor of putting the bond on the May ballot.

Changing one’s mind when confronted with reality is not altogether a bad sign.

The farce began with the citizens’ comment period. That’s not all citizens, mind you; it was six citizens. According to Judge Parrish, “Everyone who signed up spoke today. The Court reserves the right to limit three speakers per issue … ”

But this is not a debate; nor is it a parliamentary action where limiting debate is acceptable. It is citizens’ comments. Either you listen to us all, or tell us the truth: you’re really not interested in hearing from any of us.

One of the citizens told a heart-warming tale of driving his daughter on Woodrow Road and the hazards he encountered. Another offered a similar story. It’s all about the kids, you know?

But those “parents” who spoke in favor of the bond failed to mention the company they work for will likely design Woodrow Road so what we really heard was self-interested citizens lobbying in the guise of a parent.

Oops.

One wonders if the Court reserves the right to limit the tearjerking kid stories to people who won’t benefit professionally.

More time might have allowed us to ask why is the county financing caliche roads in this package? Why aren’t we doing that out of cash? How many times will we rebuild those caliche roads while we’re still paying for them? 

It’s dejavu all over again.

Not surprising was the massive flip-flop of newly elected County Judge Parrish.

During the Republican primary runoff for county judge, Parrish and former Lubbock City Councilman Gary Boren were asked about a road improvement bond election by KFYO radio personality Chad Hasty.

“Would you support a bond election to take care of roads in Lubbock County?” Hasty asked Parrish.

“No. I would not support a bond election. It puts us in debt. It puts us on a path to where the city of Lubbock is right now,” responded Parrish with no hesitation.

Judge Parrish elected to skip the waiting period and become a full-fledged-flip-flopper right away, having been in office only 42 days before breaking a major campaign promise.

In a Lubbock Lights interview during the same time period, we noted Parrish showed a lack of understanding of how bonded indebtedness and budgets worked. Changing one’s mind when confronted with reality is not altogether a bad sign. New officeholders come in with a lot to learn and Parrish is no exception.

And neither are Commissioners Corley and Seay exempted from the learning curve. We agree, the road bond had its best chance of passing in November, and we expect the two new commissioners will learn to fight all but the biggest battles behind the scenes.

But what concerns us most are Judge Parrish’s comments this week after the meeting when, in another radio interview, Parrish told  the interviewer “I am very confident based on the way we’re structuring this bond out over the next 20 years that we will not have a tax increase.”

Where does this put us? In a mess, for sure.

If you aren’t laughing by now, it’s time to skip to the crying, because the contention is so absurdly false it defies imagination. Like before, there is no intent to deceive, just inexperience and a lack of understanding.

It’s dejavu all over again.

Parrish contends that by waiting to borrow until the funds are needed, and applying all growth in property taxes to the debt payment, a tax increase will be unnecessary. More on this later also, but growth usually struggles just to pay for growth. The idea there is room in the growth of property tax revenue to make up for 20 years of road neglect is not supported in the numbers.

Where does this put us? In a mess, for sure. What Lubbock County faces today is a combination of a failure to act for 20 years, now compounded by a rush to spend $100 million in a staff driven, not data driven, project. This is money we don’t have and can’t afford to waste. And if it was that easy to walk in and conjure a hundred million out of thin air without a tax increase, why didn’t commissioners do this before?

You don’t have to lie to us to convince us to vote for roads. Give us the truth, and we’ll make the right decision.

Twenty years of neglect has left Lubbock County a reported $600 million in road work needing to be done. And while there’s no question this has been another rush job and that alone jeopardizes the bond’s chances of passing, it’s now the job of all commissioners to educate the public with the truth, not with fantasies.