TURF COURT HEARING: AG admits more taxpayer money to be spent on ad campaign

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 
TxDOT attorney admits ad campaign is ongoing
 
Austin, TX, December 20, 2007 – Today in Travis County District Court, Judge Orlinda Naranjo did not sustain TxDOT’s objection to the requested material’s merits to the case, but ruled TURF’s document request was worded too broadly and needs to be resubmitted as part of the discovery phase of TURF's lawsuit against TxDOT for illegal lobbying and use of taxpayer money to sell the public on toll roads.

“After tweaking the wording of the request a bit, we’ll be back in business. The Judge clearly agreed we have a right to get access to this information. She wanted to be sure we weren’t buried in piles of irrelevant documents,” notes a positive Terri Hall, Founder of TURF.

The court also granted TURF another 30 days to give them time to reword the document request and to depose witnesses based on the information discovered.

The most significant admission from the State was that the Keep Texas Moving ad campaign does have multiple phases (as the documents we presented to the court show that the State tried to deny), and that TxDOT is obligated to hand over any new documents related to any current lobbying or that relate to spending public money to promote toll roads.

“That’s HUGE! We went from a sworn affidavit saying the ad campaign is over therefore the case is moot, to an admission the campaign has multiple phases and is ongoing. We believe TxDOT is in the midst of rolling out Phase II or III of the Keep Texas Moving campaign since the public hearings for Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) 69 project start in February and are the target for the next phase of the campaign. The State admitted it MUST turn over any current information related to these allegations. It keeps the case alive and means we have a real shot at stopping the use of taxpayer money to promote the TTC!” Hall predicts.

The Attorney General Counsel representing TxDOT, Kristina Silcocks, tried to attack the merits of the case once again stating there is no ongoing lobbying of Congress and argued the Forward Momentum report sent to Congress in January that asks for legislation to allow them to buy back and toll existing interstates is in the past and cannot be explored in this lawsuit.

“Once again, TxDOT is wrong. An appropriations bill before the President RIGHT NOW includes an amendment PROHIBITING TxDOT from buying back interstates. There is CURRENT legislation pending as a direct result of TxDOT’s lobbying (in this case, as a backlash to TxDOT’s lobbying efforts). So for the State to tell the court TxDOT isn’t currently engaged in efforts to effect the outcome of legislation or support for toll roads, they’re quite mistaken,” notes Hall.

This lawsuit is brought pursuant to § 37, Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. TxDOT’s expenditure of public funds for the Keep Texas Moving campaign is illegal, and an injunction prohibiting any further illegal expenditures in this regard.

TxDOT has violated § 556.004 of the Texas Government Code by directing the expenditure of public funds for political advocacy in support of toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor, and have directly lobbied the United States Congress in favor of additional toll road programs as evidenced in its report, Forward Momentum as well as the Texas Legislature when it tried to defeat HB 1892, a private equity toll moratorium bill.

October 18, 2007, Judge Naranjo granted TURF a 90 day continuance and allowed them to move to discovery and take depositions. On Monday, September 24, Judge Naranjo did not grant a temporary restraining order (TRO). TxDOT unearthed a law that says they can advertise toll roads (Sec 228.004 of Transportation Code) and the citizens invoked another that says they can’t (Chapter 556, Texas Government Code). The burden to obtain a TRO is higher than for an injunction.
 
“TxDOT is waging a one-sided political ad campaign designed to sway public opinion in favor of the policy that puts money in TxDOT’s own coffers. School Boards cannot lobby in favor of their own bond elections, and yet TxDOT cites its own special law to line their own pockets at taxpayers’ expense,” says Hall.
 
Hall also notes that TxDOT’s campaign goes beyond mere advertising, “It’s propaganda and in some cases, the ads blatantly lie to the public! In one radio ad (scroll down to radio ad “continuing maintenance”), it claims it’s not signing contracts with non-compete agreements in them and yet last March TxDOT inked a deal with Cintra-Zachry for SH 130 (read about it here) that had a non-compete clause (which either prohibits or financially punishes the State for building competing infrastructure with a toll road).”

On August 22, 2007, TURF filed a formal complaint with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle to investigate TxDOT’s illegal lobbying and asked him to prosecute TxDOT for criminal wrongdoing. See the formal complaint here. The petition seeks immediate injunctive relief in a civil proceeding to prevent any further lobbying or expenditure of public funds to promote toll roads.

To read about TURF’s victory in court October 18 and to read TURF’s amended petition and supplemental affidavits go here. (Scroll to the bottom for links to the petition and affidavits)
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Hearing to compel TxDOT to hand over documents regarding illegal lobbying

PRESS ADVISORY

TURF court hearing to compel TxDOT to hand over documents regarding illegal lobbying
TxDOT stalled document inspection by two weeks then left out half of the documents; TxDOT fights to keep Chair Ric Williamson from being deposed under oath

In Travis County District Court before Judge Orlinda Naranjo on Thursday, December 20, 2007, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) will ask the Judge to compel the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to hand over documents regarding its involvement in lobbying the U.S. Congress, the Texas Legislature, and other local elected officials.

WHO: Texas taxpayers through TURF
WHAT: Lawsuit seeking injunction to halt TxDOT’s taxpayer-funded illegal ad campaign & lobbying activities
WHEN: Thursday, December 20, 2007@ 2 PM
WHERE: Travis County District Court before Judge Orlinda Naranjo, 1000 Guadalupe, Austin, Texas
HOW: The press needs to register request for cameras in the courtroom in advance through the court clerk. Contact Warren Vavra at (512) 854-9093 for more information. A pool camera has been allowed in previous hearings.

This lawsuit is brought pursuant to § 37, Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. TxDOT’s expenditure of public funds for the Keep Texas Moving campaign is illegal, and an injunction prohibiting any further illegal expenditures in this regard.

TxDOT has violated § 556.004 of the Texas Government Code by directing the expenditure of public funds for political advocacy in support of toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor, and have directly lobbied the United States Congress in favor of additional toll road programs as evidenced in its report, Forward Momentum as well as the Texas Legislature when it tried to defeat HB 1892, a private equity toll moratorium bill.

October 18, 2007, Judge Naranjo granted TURF a 90 day continuance and allowed them to move to discovery and take depositions (http://texasturf.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=262&Itemid=26). On Monday, September 24, Judge Naranjo did not grant a temporary restraining order (TRO). TxDOT unearthed a law that says they can advertise toll roads (Sec 228.004 of Transportation Code) and the citizens invoked another that says they can’t (Chapter 556, Texas Government Code). The burden to obtain a TRO is higher than for an injunction.

“TxDOT is waging a one-sided political ad campaign designed to sway public opinion in favor of the policy that puts money in TxDOT’s own coffers. School Boards cannot lobby in favor of their own bond elections, and yet TxDOT cites its own special law to line their own pockets at taxpayers’ expense,” says Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF.

Hall also notes that TxDOT’s campaign goes beyond mere advertising, “It’s propaganda and in some cases, the ads blatantly lie to the public! In one radio ad (scroll down to "continuing maintenance"), it claims it’s not signing contracts with non-compete agreements in them and yet last March TxDOT inked a deal with Cintra-Zachry for SH 130 (read about it here) that had a non-compete clause (which either prohibits or financially punishes the State for building competing infrastructure with a toll road).”

On August 22, 2007, TURF filed a formal complaint with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle to investigate TxDOT’s illegal lobbying and asked him to prosecute TxDOT for criminal wrongdoing. See the formal complaint here. The petition seeks immediate injunctive relief in a civil proceeding.

To read about TURF’s victory in court October 18 and to read TURF’s amended petition and supplemental affidavits go here.. (Scroll to the bottom for links to the petition and affidavits)
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TURF Founder named San Antonian of the Year

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TURF Founder named San Antonian of the Year

Toll road issue catapulted a grassroots movement across the state that got lawmakers to take notice

(Friday, December 14, 2007, San Antonio, TX) TURF Founder and Director Terri Hall was named San Antonian of the Year by WOAI News Radio in San Antonio today.

“What a surprise! This honor belongs to the PEOPLE of Texas for their indefatigable passion and support that started as a small band of concerned citizens that later launched a movement across the state,” shared Hall.

Hall got involved in the toll road fight in 2005 after attending a Texas Department of Transportation meeting that announced her main lifeline (US 281) for business, medical care, and shopping was going to be converted into a toll road. Then a mother of five children (now she has 6), Hall knew she and her family would be priced off the highway and forced into a difficult life-altering situation if she didn’t get involved and try to stop it. After contacting her legislators and getting nowhere, she knew it was going to take organizing fellow citizens to get lawmakers attention.

The group soon became a movement causing a firestorm of controversy all the way to the halls of Washington D.C.  At the crux of the issue is HOW the toll roads are being implemented more than the projects themselves.

“This is being foisted upon Texans without their consent. Appointed boards are making multi-billion dollar toll tax decisions that will literally impact peoples’ everyday lives. Decisions about where folks live, work, and play are being deeply affected and the people aren’t being given a say in the matter. Let the people vote!” notes Hall. “The citizens need to be put back in the driver’s seat when it comes to transportation decisions, especially how transportation is financed. "

“TxDOT has too much power, they’re not accountable, and they’re deaf to the citizen outcry, so much so they’re spending $9 million in TAXPAYER money to sell us toll roads. It’s time for a sweeping change, and we intend to make it happen,” Hall promised.

Read about TURF’s lawsuit to stop TxDOT from spending taxpayer money to lobby for toll roads here.

Read about how the study of TxDOT’s misuse of taxpayer money to lobby for toll roads has been added to the Texas House of Representatives Interim Charge here..

###

MPO Chair McNeil to taxpayers: "Those people can afford the tolls"

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Terri Hall  /  PHONE: (210) 275-0640
Founder/Executive Director
Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom (TURF) & San Antonio Toll Party
Contact: Tommy Calvert, Jr. / PHONE: (210) 481-0198
President & CEO
Calvert International Consulting

VIDEO SHOWS MCNEIL LIES ABOUT CITY DATA PRIOR TO TOLL TAX VOTE

Distortion At Public Forum Shows Toll Advocates Resorting to Class warfare & Lies Prior To Tax Increase Vote

San Antonio, TX, Friday, November 30, 2007 – During a meeting of the United Homeowners Improvement Association (UHIA) on Wednesday, Councilwoman Sheila McNeil (Dist 2) and Chair of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (SAMPO), was so taken aback by constituent opposition to tolls that she multiplied city statistics by ten times in an effort to silence discontent over toll road proposals.
 
“Those people can afford the toll roads. The average income up there is $300,000 a year," McNeil told her constituents. The City of San Antonio's website contradicts McNeil’s statement as it notes the per capita income in District 9 is only $31,000. McNeil admits she’s fine with voting to toll the northside, just not in her backyard, leaving out the fact that many of her constituents travel, go to school and shop in the job-rich northside. 

See video of McNeil’s hacking of facts on YouTube:

(You Tube account terminated...)


Noting the obvious commute that many District 2 residents take to the northside everyday, Dr. Joyce McCullen, district 2 neighborhood leader and former VP of the PTA exclaimed, “It’s already hard enough to make ends meet with gas over $3.00, now they’ll take money we use for groceries and prescription drugs to make construction companies rich.”

McNeil also told her constituents to take the access roads if they couldn’t afford the toll roads, essentially telling them to contend with traffic congestion while the wealthy get an expressway.
 
McNeil attended a cozy, closed door meeting at Valero October 19, that the Chamber of Commerce crowd called to rally the business community to gain approval of the toll roads at the SAMPO meeting on December 3. Her loyalties appear to be with big business and not her constituents whose average household income by contrast is $14,512 a year.
 
“I don’t think San Antonians like their politicians making our city the Neo-Fascist capitol of America.  Mussolini is looking up from hell and thanking pro-tollers for carrying on his legacy of authoritarianism and a corporate-run state.  Then our elected officials pretend there is the option of allowing us to use alternate streets when they are giving control of those alternate routes to the toll operators.  When they give away the maintenance of the feeder streets to the toll owners as part of the non-compete clause their financeers require, how would any right-minded person be expected to believe its in the best interests of those toll owners to maintain those roads?  This reminds me of plantation segregationists engraving the words ‘colored’ over a black school and calling it ‘separate but equal’. Real American leaders take us toward a more perfect union, despots divide and conquer.  It’s a sad day when a Black elected official in essence slaps the ‘colored’ sign on our freeways and stereotypes people based on income because of the side of town they live in,” notes Tommy Calvert, Jr. president and CEO of Calvert International Consulting.
 
 
"We're creating a segregated highway system: One for the wealthy and one for the rest of us. It's horrible to pit one part of the community against the other. We need to be doing what's in the best interest of the entire community. These are federal and state highways that don't stop at the district or county line," said Terri Hall, Founder and Director of the San Antonio Toll Party and Texans uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF).
 
Over 80,000 automated telephone calls have been made urging people to turn out to Monday’s SAMPO meeting at 1:30 p.m. at the VIA building on San Pedro & Evergreen to tell the Board to vote no on tolls, no matter where they are planned.
 
The SAMPO is likely being asked to vote FOR a non-compete agreement that would prevent the expansion of free roads surrounding the 281 tollway like Bulverde Rd., Red Land Rd., Stone Oak Pkwy, and Blanco Rd because the bond investors require them to guarantee a return on their investment. But we don’t know because TxDOT is keeping it SECRET ahead of Monday’s vote!

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TURF seeks injunction, alleges MPO a “front” for toll road builders, operating outside Constitution

From the steps of the John Wood U.S. Federal District Court in Bexar County, TURF announced its motion seeking an injunction against the San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization (SAMPO) for violating the citizens Constitutional rights (in the First and 14th amendments) and hijacking the Board to benefit road contractors.

“By filing this injunction today, we hope to put transportation decisions back in the hands of the people,” said Terri Hall, Founder/Director of the grassroots group TURF.

TURF is asking the court to intervene before December 3 where SAMPO is to vote to approve the financial terms (toll rates and rate increases) for the US 281 toll project as well as to shift yet more tax money to building toll lanes on EXISTING corridors, amounting to a TRIPLE TAX (once for what’s already there, a second for building the toll lanes, and a third toll tax).

TxDOT is keeping vital financial information on the 281 toll project SECRET ahead of the MPO’s vote to approve the financial terms. Board members are being asked to vote on information that has NOT been disclosed, including whether or not a non-compete agreement will prevent free roads surrounding the 281 toll lanes from being expanded.


MPO Board members State Representative David Leibowitz and Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson submitted affidavits (see links below) to the court with ample evidence to prove the MPO has violated the First Amendment and 14th Amendment as it relates to citizens opposed to toll roads.

TURF attorney David Van Os described the actions of the MPO this way: “The self-serving business interests that will reap huge profits off toll roads are manipulating the processes of the MPO to stack the deck against those opposed to tolls. They’re keeping their voices from even being heard which violates their Constitutional rights.”

Adkisson, who has been prevented from representing his constituents’ opposition to toll roads by the MPO’s bullying tactics used Thomas Paine’s words to describe the corrupt practices at the MPO, “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it the superficial appearance of being right.”

He went on to object to unelected members of the MPO serving on the Board which, in effect, dilutes the votes of elected officials. “Unelected members aren’t accountable at the ballot box,” said Adkisson.

The injunction seeks to halt all activity of the SAMPO Board until it’s reconfigured to have only elected officials with voting powers. TURF’s lawsuit against the SAMPO was originally filed on October 22 and TURF is now seeking an injunction as the next step in that lawsuit to force the unconstitutional composition of SAMPO to be re-configured to have only elected officials with voting powers.

SAMPO allocates tax dollars to transportation projects in Bexar County and approves toll rates and toll projects. The lawsuit alleges that the composition of the SAMPO Board is unconstitutional and Chairwoman Sheila McNeil has been a party to denying the First Amendment right of free speech to the constituents of elected MPO Board members like State Representative David Leibowitz by blocking an agenda item and any debate on an issue brought up at his request (see on YouTube here read about it in his affidavit, link below).

TURF recently scored a victory in STATE COURT in a different lawsuit against members of the Texas Transportation Department and Transportation Commission.

TxDOT keeps toll study SECRET

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TxDOT keeps toll study SECRET, refuses to divulge financial terms ahead of 281 vote
MPO Board asked to vote FOR possible non-compete agreement preventing expansion of free roads

San Antonio, TX, Thursday, November 15, 2007 – Ahead of a monolithic vote to approve toll rates for 281 at the San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization (SAMPO) on December 3, citizens and MPO Board members alike have more questions about the 281 toll rates than answers. The MPO is likely being asked to vote FOR a non-compete agreement that would prevent the expansion of free roads surrounding the US 281 tollway like Bulverde Rd., Red Land Rd., Stone Oak Pkwy, and Blanco Rd because the bond investors require them to guarantee a return on their investment. But we don’t know because TxDOT is keeping it SECRET!
 
“The public and even public officials are being kept in the dark on critical financial terms in the 281 toll study. This is an assault on open government!” cries Terri Hall, Founder and Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF).
 
Here’s a sampling of vital information that we don’t know:
1.    Is there anything that could make the annual toll rate increase at a rate higher than CPI (like higher cost of construction or high gas prices)?

2.    How much traffic will divert from the tollway onto neighborhood streets to avoid paying tolls thereby increasing traffic, putting the safety of neighborhood streets in jeopardy, and increasing the cost of road maintenance for the City or County?

3.    Where are the entrances and exits to the tollway so a person can calculate how many fees or other hidden costs add to the cost per mile?

4.    Is the tollway feasible with gas prices at or above $3 a gallon (as other studies have concluded)?

5.    And most importantly, will the bond investors require a non-compete agreement that would prevent any new roads or the expansion of existing roads near the 281 tollway, like Bulverde Rd., Red Land Rd., Stone Oak Pkwy., and Blanco Rd.?


On October 17, TURF did an Open Records request to see the 281 market value and toll feasibility studies performed by TxDOT and the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA). The Governor’s counterfeit toll moratorium bill, SB 792, includes a nice wide-open loophole [SUBCHAPTER B. OVERSIGHT Sec.A371.051.10 (d)] for TxDOT to leap through to make these financial studies perpetual “draft” documents so they don’t have to release them to the public until after the bonds are sold and contracts signed. This language appears to apply only to private toll contracts, but TxDOT is invoking it for a public toll project!

 
TxDOT wants to have it both ways. They’re asking the MPO to vote on the ‘final’ toll rates but conveniently call the document ‘draft’ to keep the financial guts SECRET,” notes Hall. “This maneuver now enshrined in law isn’t government in the sunshine, and refusing to disclose vital tax information prior to a vote for final approval is malfeasance, plain and simple!”

In SB 792 under SUBCHAPTER D. Sec.A371.151, DISCLOSURE OF FINANCIAL INFORMATION, it requires public hearings disclosing financial information on all toll projects, and the only hearing the Alamo RMA is holding is on December 10 at Barbara Bush Middle School (“to transfer the project from TxDOT to the RMA,” but no mention of financial disclosure, AFTER the MPO December 3 vote to approve the terms.

“The taxpayers are being had! The purpose of this provision in the law, which we testified in favor of, is to allow for full disclosure, transparency, and a chance for the taxpayers to weigh in BEFORE any final decisions are made,” Hall voices.

TxDOT SHROUDED IN SECRECY
Then, State Representative Nathan Macias whose district is affected by converting 281 into a tollway, asked for the 281 studies. TxDOT also refused to give the studies to Rep. Macias UNLESS HE SIGNS A CONFIDENTIALITY AGREEMENT! This means the Legislature approved a bill, SB 792, at the behest of the Governor and special interests that prohibits a public servant from getting access to information on a tax hike prior to a contract being signed and let [SUBCHAPTER B. OVERSIGHT Sec.A371.051.10 (d)]. What happened to open government! If he or any other elected official were to sign a confidentiality agreement, he cannot share any of the information in the toll studies with ANYONE, including the press, his constituents, other legislators or the MPO Board members! This provision also seems to contradict the financial disclosure section of the same bill, SB 792.

Ironically, Rep. Macias is the one who tried to strip this problematic language from SB 792 (after we brought it to his attention for this precise reason, knowing TxDOT would use it to keep more document SECRET), only to have it thrown in his face when he tried to get access to toll tax information prior to any final decisions being made.

IN THE DARK
The MPO Board is being asked to approve the market value study and toll rate formulas on December 3 without knowing ANYTHING other than what the RMA or TxDOT has told them in a 10 minute briefing.
 
“We all know how horrifically the public has been betrayed regarding toll rates and financing to date, so this ‘trust me’ is certain to have a BIG FAT GOTCHA for politicians and taxpayers just around the corner! How can a SINGLE ELECTED OFFICIAL sign-off on anything while still being in the dark and prevented from openly discussing any toll tax variables, especially whether or not the City or County can expand nearby streets? Make no mistake, the taxpayers will be fleeced or forced onto congested surface streets if the MPO Board approves this plan,” predicts Hall.

Oil price hits 1980 high, toll roads no longer financially viable

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Oil price hits 1980 high, toll roads no longer financially viable

TURF will work to NIX toll roads from State’s plans


San Antonio, TX, November 1, 2007 – Oil prices have soared to new highs closing at $96 a barrel yesterday, which will not only wreak havoc on the global economy, but also could signal the end to the push for toll roads. According to Vollmer Associates in a toll feasibility study for two tollways in Austin (read about it here), once oil hits the price equivalent to the crisis of 1980, the toll roads studied are no longer financially viable. The Associated Press article says $96 a barrel is on par with the oil crisis of 1980. TOLL ROADS ARE NO LONGER FINANCIALLY DO-ABLE! Not enough motorists will be able to afford to use toll roads with gas prices at or over $3 a gallon with no end in sight.

“We’ve been sounding this alarm for years, and now the reality of ghastly expensive oil is setting in for the long haul. It’s time to pull the plug on toll roads. Motorists are feeling the squeeze at the pump and there won’t be enough extra in the family budget to pay for tolls all over Texas freeways,” notes Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (or TURF).

“Continuing the push for new toll taxes is not only foolish but certain to bring financial disaster to the State and hence the taxpayers who will have to bail out these failed toll roads which will likely bankrupt the next generation. There won’t be enough political cover if politicians allow this to happen,” Hall warns.

“Politicians have tried their best to create a congestion crisis, but the Federal Highway Administration’s statistics show that traffic has not grown since 2005 despite increases in population. Driving stats have been flat since the steady rise in the price of gasoline started in 2005. So once again, taxpayers have been misled, but the jig is up and it’s time for real leadership in order to bring other transportation solutions to the table. Simply continuing down the path of "maxing out" the proverbial bond debt credit card with taxpayers as collateral is dangerous. Toll roads are both a political and financial LOSER,” comments Hall.

Link to AP story on oil prices topping $96 a barrel here .

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TURF sues SAMPO for unconstitutional composition & actions

TURF to sue transportation board for equal protection
MPO Board composition violates First and 14th Amendments to U.S. Constitution

San Antonio, TX, Monday, October 22, 2007 – In what could change the way toll roads are decided and approved in Bexar County, TURF filed a NEW lawsuit in FEDERAL COURT to put the power over transportation decisions back in the hands of the PEOPLE. TURF recently scored a victory in STATE COURT in a different lawsuit against members of the Texas Transportation Department and Transportation Commission.

A lawsuit has been brought against the San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization (SAMPO) Transportation Policy Board that allocates tax dollars to transportation projects and approves toll rates and toll projects and San Antonio Councilwoman and MPO Chair Sheila McNeil. The lawsuit alleges that the composition of the SAMPO Board is unconstitutional and Chairwoman McNeil has been a party to denying the First Amendment right of free speech to the constituents of elected MPO Board members like State Representative David Leibowitz by blocking an agenda item and any debate on an issue brought up at his request. This novel lawsuit cuts to the heart of how toll roads are approved.

It’s based upon the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, 28 U.S.C. §1331, and 28 U.S.C. §§1343(3) and (4). The section of the post-Civil War civil rights enactments codified as 42 U.S.C. §1983 provides the Plaintiff’s enabling cause of action. A faction of governmental officials with the help of unelected board members have shut citizens and voters who oppose toll roads out of equal participation in the political process. The case will also argue that actions like Chairwoman McNeil’s removal of an agenda item asking for the funds TxDOT is spending on the Keep Texas Moving ad campaign be returned to building roads.



By way of recent example, in a SAMPO Transportation Policy Board meeting of September 24, 2007, Defendant McNeil, using the badge of authority of Chairmanship of the Board, arbitrarily removed from the meeting agenda a motion by State Representative and MPO Board member David Leibowitz calling for SAMPO to object to certain expenditures of public money by TXDOT promoting toll roads, which expenditures Representative Leibowitz believed to be inappropriate.

Defendant McNeil, acting under color of law, removed Representative Leibowitz’s motion from the meeting agenda even though Representative Leibowitz had properly and legitimately placed it on the meeting agenda and SAMPO had included it in the public posting of the agenda pursuant to the Texas Open Meetings Act. Defendant McNeil, acting under color of law, refused to permit Representative Leibowitz to present his motion because of her disfavor of his attempt to provide a voice for his constituents who oppose turning free public highways into toll roads.

TURF will be asking for both a temporary and permanent injunction to suspend ALL activities of the MPO until the case is decided and the Board’s composition is changed to reflect proper Constitutional representation allowing equal protection under the law per the 14th Amendment.

The unconstitutional MPO has blocked agenda items, voted against an independent review of toll plans that would bring accountability to the gross misuse of taxpayer money in these toll plans, voted against restoring the gas tax funded overpasses on 281 (281 in particular DOES NOT NEED TO BE TOLLED, what’s needed are overpasses and they’ve been paid for since 2003, the money is STILL there, they could do it tomorrow, but this un-Constitutional Board persists in preventing the simple solution that’s already paid for!

The MPO Board has also delayed votes, blocked the succession of the next Chair, and changed the bylaws to allow yet more illegal representation on the Board.

“The people of Texas are FED-UP with out-of-control abusive government. We’ve done everything in our power to exert the political pressure to change this unconstitutional Board, but when the deck is stacked and a powerful unelected voting block is allowed to persist unchecked, we have no choice but go to court to address our grievances. This is taxation without representation and we cannot and will not allow it to continue,” says Terri Hall, Founder and Director of TURF.

TURF to announce a NEW lawsuit

PRESS ADVISORY
Press conference Monday at Via Metro Center

San Antonio, TX, Monday, October 22, 2007 – In what could change the way toll roads are decided and approved in Bexar County, TURF will file and announce a NEW lawsuit in FEDERAL COURT to put the power back in the hands of the PEOPLE. TURF recently scored a victory in STATE COURT in a different lawsuit (read about it here) against members of the Texas Transportation Department and Transportation Commission. The lawsuit to be announced Monday is a NEW case that cuts to the heart of how toll roads are approved.

WHAT: Press conference with TURF attorneys announcing lawsuit to bring greater accountability to taxpayers in toll road decisions

WHO: Texas taxpayers through TURF

WHEN: Monday, October 22, 2007@ 1:00 PM

WHERE: Via Metro Center, 1021 San Pedro, San Antonio, Texas

TURF prevails, lawsuit moves forward, allows depositions of TxDOT’s top brass

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 

TURF prevails as Judge grants continuance, allows discovery
TURF attorneys may depose top TxDOT officials

Austin, TX – Thursday, October 18, 2007 - In Travis County District Court today, Judge Orlinda Naranjo granted Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) a continuance allowing TURF to move to the discovery phase and depose top Transportation Department (TxDOT) officials, including Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson himself. Allowing discovery is vital for TURF to force TxDOT to hand over key documents that they’ve been withholding via Open Records requests. TURF is seeking to immediately halt the illegal advertising campaign and lobbying by TxDOT (read petition here).

The State was attempting to throw us out of court with their favorite “get out of jail free” card (called the plea to the jurisdiction), but TURF’s attorneys, Charlie Riley, David Van Os, and Andrew Hawkins outmaneuvered Attorney General counsel Kristina Silcocks to file a motion for a continuance to allow TURF to move to the discovery phase to gather evidence to show TxDOT’s top brass broke the law with the Keep Texas Moving (KTM) ad campaign and lobbying Congress to buyback interstates.

“This is a great victory for Texas taxpayers!” an elated Terri Hall, TURF’s Founder and Executive Director proclaimed. “This egregious misuse of $9 million of taxpayer money by a rogue government agency is one MAJOR step closer to being stopped.”

The tide seemed to turn when Riley showed the affidavit by TxDOT’s Helen Havelka was false. TURF uncovered this August 13, 2007 memo by Coby Chase (read it here) through an Open Records request showing the Keep Texas Moving campaign was not over and in fact it has multiple phases planned with the next one fashioned to influence the upcoming Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) hearings planned for early 2008.

With a clear attempt to mislead the court by causing Judge Naranjo and the public to believe the KTM Campaign was over when in fact it isn’t, the State’s credibility and case went downhill from there.

“I wonder what TxDOT’s top brass is saying tonight as they’re being informed they’ve now been added as defendants and may be deposed under oath about their lobbying and ad campaign activities,” pondered Hall. “My guess is the phones are ringing and the paper shredders may just get fired-up."

This lawsuit is brought pursuant to § 37, Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. TxDOT’s expenditure of public funds for the Keep Texas Moving campaign is illegal, and an injunction prohibiting any further illegal expenditures in this regard.TxDOT has violated § 556.004 of the Texas Government Code by directing the expenditure of public funds for political advocacy in support of toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor, and have directly lobbied the United States Congress in favor of additional toll road programs as evidenced in its report, Forward Momentum.

On Monday, September 24, Judge Naranjo did not initially grant a temporary restraining order (TRO). TxDOT unearthed a law that says they can advertise toll roads (Sec 228.004 of Transportation Code) and the citizens invoked another that says they can’t (Chapter 556, Texas Government Code). The burden to obtain a TRO is higher than for an injunction.

“TxDOT is waging a one-sided political ad campaign designed to sway public opinion in favor of the policy that puts money in TxDOT’s own coffers. School Boards cannot lobby in favor of their own bond elections, and yet TxDOT cites its own special law to line their own pockets at taxpayers’ expense,” says an incredulous Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF.

Hall also notes that TxDOT’s campaign goes beyond mere advertising, “It’s propaganda and in some cases, the ads blatantly lie to the public! In one radio ad, scroll down to radio ad “continuing maintenance”), it claims it’s not signing contracts with non-compete agreements in them and yet last March TxDOT inked a deal with Cintra-Zachry for SH 130 (read about it here) that had a non-compete clause (which either prohibits or financially punishes the State for building competing infrastructure with a toll road).”

On August 22, 2007, TURF filed a formal complaint with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle to investigate TxDOT’s illegal lobbying and asked him to prosecute TxDOT for criminal wrongdoing. See the formal complaint here. The petition seeks immediate injunctive relief in a civil proceeding.

Amended petition

Motion for continuance

Request for production

Supplemental affidavit

Response to plea to the jurisdiction

-30-
The tide seemed to turn when Riley showed the affidavit by TxDOT’s Helen Havelka was false. TURF uncovered this August 13, 2007 memo by Coby Chase (read it here) through an Open Records request showing the Keep Texas Moving campaign was not over and in fact it has multiple phases planned with the next one fashioned to influence the upcoming Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) hearings planned for early 2008.

With a clear attempt to mislead the court by causing Judge Naranjo and the public to believe the KTM Campaign was over when in fact it isn’t, the State’s credibility and case went downhill from there.

“I wonder what TxDOT’s top brass is saying tonight as they’re being informed they’ve now been added as defendants and may be deposed under oath about their lobbying and ad campaign activities,” pondered Hall. “My guess is the phones are ringing and the paper shredders may just get fired-up."

This lawsuit is brought pursuant to § 37, Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. TxDOT’s expenditure of public funds for the Keep Texas Moving campaign is illegal, and an injunction prohibiting any further illegal expenditures in this regard.TxDOT has violated § 556.004 of the Texas Government Code by directing the expenditure of public funds for political advocacy in support of toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor, and have directly lobbied the United States Congress in favor of additional toll road programs as evidenced in its report, Forward Momentum.

On Monday, September 24, Judge Naranjo did not initially grant a temporary restraining order (TRO). TxDOT unearthed a law that says they can advertise toll roads (Sec 228.004 of Transportation Code) and the citizens invoked another that says they can’t (Chapter 556, Texas Government Code). The burden to obtain a TRO is higher than for an injunction.

“TxDOT is waging a one-sided political ad campaign designed to sway public opinion in favor of the policy that puts money in TxDOT’s own coffers. School Boards cannot lobby in favor of their own bond elections, and yet TxDOT cites its own special law to line their own pockets at taxpayers’ expense,” says an incredulous Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF.

Hall also notes that TxDOT’s campaign goes beyond mere advertising, “It’s propaganda and in some cases, the ads blatantly lie to the public! In one radio ad, scroll down to radio ad “continuing maintenance”), it claims it’s not signing contracts with non-compete agreements in them and yet last March TxDOT inked a deal with Cintra-Zachry for SH 130 (read about it here) that had a non-compete clause (which either prohibits or financially punishes the State for building competing infrastructure with a toll road).”

On August 22, 2007, TURF filed a formal complaint with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle to investigate TxDOT’s illegal lobbying and asked him to prosecute TxDOT for criminal wrongdoing. See the formal complaint here. The petition seeks immediate injunctive relief in a civil proceeding.

Updates to TURF’s petition and supplemental affidavits will be posted soon.

Contact info for TURF's attorneys:
Charlie Riley - 210-225-7236
David Van Os - 210-821-1700
Andrew Hawkins - 512-477-2320
David Rogers - 512-301-4097


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SECRET briefing on toll rates for BIG BUSINESS before public gets access

SECRET briefing on toll rates for BIG BUSINESS before public gets access
Private meeting spurs citizens to get a briefing FIRST (TONIGHT @ 6 PM)!

San Antonio, TX, October 16, 2007 – As noted in a front page story in today’s San Antonio Express News, TURF was alerted to a SECRET meeting of a taxpayer-funded coalition of road contractors called the San Antonio Mobility Coalition this Friday, October 19.
 
The San Antonio Mobility Coalition, SAMCo, led by Joe Krier, will be hosting the meeting at the Valero campus. The SAMCo meeting was going to take place prior to even the PUBLIC getting access to toll tax information for Hwy 281 at Monday’s San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meeting October 22.
 
“Citizens have to take time off work and head downtown to a place where parking is scarce (MPO mtgs at Via) just to hear this information on their own dime, yet our public agencies bring this vital toll tax information right to the business community's doorstep while they're all on the clock (some of whom are on the taxpayer's dime, too!),” notes an outraged TURF’s Founder, Terri Hall.
 
“Just like TxDOT’s  taxpayer funded ad campaign to push toll roads, it seems there’s no line these agencies will not cross to get unfettered access to our wallets!” Hall said.

This secret meeting prompted citizens to get an advance briefing of their own tonight at the TURF Meeting.

PRESS ADVISORY –

What: San Antonio TURF Meeting
Where: Chester's Burgers at 16609 San Pedro Ave. (between 410 & 1604), San Antonio
WHEN: 6:00 PM
 

“Government ought to be operating without even the APPEARANCE of impropriety, this SAMCo meeting smacks of corporate cronyism and backroom deal-making which has become the norm with Perry and his highway department,” Hall voiced.
 
Not only will the highway lobby be treated to the potential pricetag road contractors can reap for tolling our public highways, the stated purpose of Friday’s meeting is to strategize on how to influence the upcoming MPO vote that must approve the toll rates to move forward. To quote SAMCO’s invitation:
 
“The purpose of the briefing is to provide:
 
1) An advance preview of the US 281 and Loop 1604 financial plans prior to these critical MPO meetings;
2) A forum to discuss cooperative action and joint strategy to support the financial plans and SMP amendments at the October 22 and December 3 MPO meetings.
3) Coordination of supportive resolutions, letters, emails, testimony, editorials, etc. prior to the final MPO votes.”

Plea to jurisdiction hearing on lawsuit to stop TxDOT lobbying

PRESS ADVISORY

TURF to present NEW evidence 


at today's hearing for lawsuit to STOP TxDOT’s illegal lobbying


In Travis County District Court before Judge Orlinda Naranjo on Thursday, October 18, 2007 at 2 PM, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) has asked for a motion to reconsider the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to immediately halt the illegal advertising and lobbying by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) contained in the original petition (see it here) in light of NEW EVIDENCE obtained through the Public Information Act.

An August 13, 2007 memorandum (see it here) by Defendant Coby Chase confirms that TxDOT intends to spend public money for the political purpose of influencing upcoming public hearings for Trans Texas Corridor 69, and that the Keep Texas Moving campaign will continue into 2008.

TURF's attorneys Charlie Riley, David Van Os, and Andrew Hawkins have also asked for a continuance of the hearing for today’s scheduled plea to the jurisdiction since TxDOT has failed and refused to provide all documents responsive to Plaintiff’s Public Information Act Request, thus preventing the opportunity to conduct written discovery and depositions.

WHO: Texas taxpayers through TURF
WHAT: Lawsuit seeking injunction to halt TxDOT’s taxpayer-funded illegal ad campaign & lobbying activities
WHEN: Thursday, October 18, 2007@ 2 PM
WHERE: Travis County District Court before Judge Orlinda Naranjo, 1000 Guadalupe, Austin, Texas
HOW: The press needs to register request for cameras in the courtroom in advance through the court clerk. Contact Warren Vavra at (512) 854-9093 for more information.

This lawsuit is brought pursuant to § 37, Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. TxDOT’s expenditure of public funds for the Keep Texas Moving campaign is illegal, and an injunction prohibiting any further illegal expenditures in this regard.
TxDOT has violated § 556.004 of the Texas Government Code by directing the expenditure of public funds for political advocacy in support of toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor, and have directly lobbied the United States Congress in favor of additional toll road programs as evidenced in its report, Forward Momentum.

On Monday, September 24, Judge Orlinda Naranjo did not grant a temporary restraining order (TRO). TxDOT unearthed a law that says they can advertise toll roads (Sec 228.004 of Transportation Code) and the citizens invoked another that says they can’t (Chapter 556, Texas Government Code). The burden to obtain a TRO is higher than for an injunction.

“TxDOT is waging a one-sided political ad campaign designed to sway public opinion in favor of the policy that puts money in TxDOT’s own coffers. School Boards cannot lobby in favor of their own bond elections, and yet TxDOT cites its own special law to line their own pockets at taxpayers’ expense,” says an incredulous Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF.

Hall also notes that TxDOT’s campaign goes beyond mere advertising, “It’s propaganda and in some cases, the ads blatantly lie to the public! In one radio ad (http://www.keeptexasmoving.com/index.php/stay_informed, scroll down to radio ad “continuing maintenance”), it claims it’s not signing contracts with non-compete agreements in them and yet last March TxDOT inked a deal with Cintra-Zachry for SH 130 (read about it here) that had a non-compete clause (which either prohibits or financially punishes the State for building competing infrastructure with a toll road).”

On August 22, 2007, TURF filed a formal complaint with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle to investigate TxDOT’s illegal lobbying and asked him to prosecute TxDOT for criminal wrongdoing. See the formal complaint here . The petition before the court today seeks immediate injunctive relief in a civil proceeding.

Updates to TURF’s petition and supplemental affidavits will be posted soon.
-30-

On Monday, September 24, Judge Orlinda Naranjo did not grant a temporary restraining order (TRO). TxDOT unearthed a law that says they can advertise toll roads (Sec 228.004 of Transportation Code) and the citizens invoked another that says they can’t (Chapter 556, Texas Government Code). The burden to obtain a TRO is higher than for an injunction.
 
“TxDOT is waging a one-sided political ad campaign designed to sway public opinion in favor of the policy that puts money in TxDOT’s own coffers. School Boards cannot lobby in favor of their own bond elections, and yet TxDOT cites its own special law to line their own pockets at taxpayers’ expense,” says an incredulous Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF.
 
Hall also notes that TxDOT’s campaign goes beyond mere advertising, “It’s propaganda and in some cases, the ads blatantly lie to the public! In one radio ad (scroll down to radio ad “continuing maintenance”), it claims it’s not signing contracts with non-compete agreements in them and yet last March TxDOT inked a deal with Cintra-Zachry for SH 130 (read about it here.) that had a non-compete clause (which either prohibits or financially punishes the State for building competing infrastructure with a toll road).”

On August 22, 2007, TURF filed a formal complaint with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle to investigate TxDOT’s illegal lobbying and asked him to prosecute TxDOT for criminal wrongdoing. See the formal complaint here. The petition seeks immediate injunctive relief in a civil proceeding.
-30-

No restraining order, but case to STOP TxDOT's lobbying moves forward

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

No restraining order issued

Hearing on injunction still to come


Monday, September 24, 2007 – In Travis County District Court today, Judge Orlinda Naranjo did not grant a temporary restraining order (TRO) to immediately halt the Texas Department of Transportation’s Keep Texas Moving ad campaign. TxDOT unearthed a law that says they can advertise toll roads (Sec 228.004 of Transportation Code) and the citizens invoked another that says they can’t (Chapter 556, Texas Government Code). TURF and its Founder Terri Hall, sought a temporary restraining order against the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to stop its political advertising and lobbying, but the burden to obtain a TRO is higher than for an injunction.

The defendants counsel in the Attorney General’s office, Kristina Silcocks, presented no evidence and was unprepared to argue potential damages to the State if a TRO was granted. Judge Naranjo seemed incredulous at such a shoddy case, but not incredulous enough to grant the TRO.

“The citizens will fight on. TxDOT is waging a one-sided political ad campaign designed to sway public opinion in favor of the policy that puts money in TxDOT’s own coffers. School Boards cannot lobby in favor of their own bond elections, and yet TxDOT has its own special law that may allow them to get away with such a blatant conflict of interest,” says an incredulous Hall.

Hall also notes that TxDOT’s campaign goes beyond mere advertising, “It’s propaganda and in some cases, the ads blatantly lie to the public! In one radio ad (scroll down to radio ad “continuing maintenance”), it claims it’s not signing contracts with non-compete agreements in them and yet last March TxDOT inked a deal with Cintra-Zachry for SH 130 (read about it here.) that had a non-compete clause (which either prohibits or financially punishes the State for building competing infrastructure with a toll road).”

The next step is a hearing on the State’s plea to the jurisdiction, likely to happen next week. Then if TURF gets past that hurdle, a hearing for the injunction will be set.

TURF will keep the press advised as to the next hearing date.

-30-

Hearing for lawsuit to STOP TxDOT’s illegal lobbying Monday!

PRESS ADVISORY
 

Hearing for lawsuit to STOP TxDOT’s illegal lobbying Monday!


In Travis County District Court Monday, September 24, 2007, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) will have their petition heard before Judge Orlinda Naranjo for a temporary restraining order against the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to immediately halt its illegal lobbying and taxpayer funded toll road campaign.

 
WHO: Texas taxpayers through TURF

WHAT: Lawsuit seeking Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and Injunction to halt TxDOT’s taxpayer-funded illegal lobbying activities

WHEN: Monday, September 24, 2007 @ 10 AM

WHERE: Travis County District Court before Judge Orlinda Naranjo, 1000 Guadalupe, Austin, Texas 78701
 
This lawsuit is brought pursuant to § 37, Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. TxDOT’s expenditure of public funds for the Keep Texas Moving campaign is illegal, and an injunction prohibiting any further illegal expenditures in this regard.

TxDOT has violated § 556.004 of the Texas Government Code by directing the expenditure of public funds for political advocacy in support of toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor, and have directly lobbied the United States Congress in favor of additional toll road programs as evidenced in its report, Forward Momentum.

On August 22, 2007, TURF filed a formal complaint with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle to investigate TxDOT’s illegal lobbying and asked him to prosecute TxDOT for criminal wrongdoing. See the formal complaint here http://texasturf.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=178&Itemid=26. The petition seeks immediate injunctive relief in a civil proceeding.

View petition and affidavits:

http://texasturf.org/images/stories/pdf/POP-and-App-for-TRO.pdf

http://texasturf.org/images/stories/pdf/Affidavit-PR-injunction3-1.pdf

http://texasturf.org/images/stories/pdf/Barkeraffidavit2.pdf


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Lawsuit to stop TxDOT's illegal ad campaign on path to fast track appeal

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Lawsuit to STOP TxDOT’s illegal lobbying postponed to Monday!

State objected to judge, will attempt to throw it in an appeals court black hole
Thursday, September 20, 2007 – In Travis County District Court today,TURF Founder Terri Hall, filed a petition for a temporary restraining order against the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to immediately halt its illegal taxpayer funded, toll road campaign. Judges from all over the state are at a conference in Galveston, TX so a visiting judge, Bill Bender, was assigned the case. The lawyer with the Attorney General’s office, Kristina Silcox, representing individuals employed by TxDOT who are named in the suit, objected to the judge, and having no available replacement, the hearing for a temporary restraining order was postponed until Monday.

Judge Bender was apparently unacceptable to the State since he resides in Seguin, which happens to be in the path of the Trans Texas Corridor.

“TxDOT didn’t want this case heard before a judge whose community is deeply affected by the Trans Texas Corridor,” thinks Hall. "Every day this case isn't heard is another day TxDOT illegally spends taxpayer money on a toll road ad campaign."

Silcox also entered a plea to the jurisdiction, which is the State’s new playbook to force a strong case into an appeals court abyss (as they did with a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Planning Organizations filed in October of 2005 and is still stuck in an appeals court black hole: read about it here.). The State’s argument will not hold up but it won’t matter. The code, changed in 2005, allows the State to dump any good case it stands to lose by doing a fast track appeal as soon as they lose a motion and BEFORE the case is EVER heard! If they win the motion, the case is dismissed. Either way, they’ll call it a win.

“Not so fast,” says Hall. “These fast track appeals are the State's get out of jail free card and resemble the State's fast track eminent domain that forcibly removes landowners in 90 days. We knew they’d try this and we’ll combat it so that this case is heard and TxDOT is FORCED to comply with the LAW! I thought we are a nation governed by the rule of law, but since Governor Perry took office and started promoting his toll road schemes, he and his transportation commission rule more like an oligarchy. Even with a stacked deck, the people of Texas seek justice and will fight on.”

This lawsuit is brought pursuant to § 37, Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. TxDOT’s expenditure of public funds for the Keep Texas Moving campaign is illegal, and an injunction prohibiting any further illegal expenditures in this regard.

TxDOT has violated § 556.004 of the Texas Government Code by directing the expenditure of public funds for political advocacy in support of toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor, and have openly indicated TxDOT’s intention to directly lobby the United States Congress in favor of additional toll road programs.

On August 22, 2007, TURF filed a formal complaint with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle to investigate TxDOT’s illegal lobbying and asked him to prosecute TxDOT for criminal wrongdoing. See the formal complaint here . Today’s petition seeks immediate injunctive relief in a civil proceeding.

“Between TxDOT’s PR campaign, report to Congress asking that all limitations on tolling be lifted including buying back existing interstates, and Chairman Ric Williamson's recent trip to D.C. lobbying for the same, it's clear they've not only crossed the line into illegal lobbying, but they leaped over it,” says Hall.

TxDOT’s report to Congress, Forward Momentum, ignited a category 5 blowback that prompted Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and U.S. Representatives Charlie Gonzalez,and Ciro Rodriguez to file legislation (S 2019 and HR 3510) to halt the tolling of existing interstates and to prohibit TxDOT from buying back interstates for the purpose of tolling them (read more here). TxDOT’s actions also prompted Rep. Rodriguez to call for a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on converting interstates to tollways and on TxDOT's ad campaign (read more here.).

View petition and affidavits:
Petition
Terri Hall's affidavit
Bill Barker's affidavit
-30-

TURF Founder files lawsuit to STOP TxDOT's ILLEGAL ad campaign


IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Lawsuit filed to STOP TxDOT’s illegal lobbying
TURF Founder seeks temporary restraining order to halt public relations campaign

Thursday, September 20, 2007 – TURF Founder Terri Hall has filed a petition for a temporary restraining order against the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) in Travis County District Court and the case is scheduled to come before visiting Judge Bill Bender at 3 PM.

The petition also seeks injunctive relief, including Temporary Restraining Order against Steven E. Simmons, P.E. Individually and as Interim Executive Director of the Texas Department of Transportation and Coby Chase, Individually and as Director of the Texas Department of Transportation Government and Public Affairs Division.

This lawsuit is brought pursuant to § 37, Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. TxDOT’s expenditure of public funds for the Keep Texas Moving campaign is illegal, and an injunction prohibiting any further illegal expenditures in this regard.

TxDOT has violated § 556.004 of the Texas Government Code by directing the expenditure of public funds for political advocacy in support of toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor, and have openly indicated TxDOT’s intention to directly lobby the United States Congress in favor of additional toll road programs.

On August 22, 2007, TURF filed a formal complaint with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle to investigate TxDOT’s illegal lobbying and asked him to prosecute TxDOT for criminal wrongdoing. See the formal complaint here . Today’s petition seeks immediate injunctive relief in a civil proceeding.

“Between TxDOT’s PR campaign, report to Congress asking that all limitations on tolling be lifted including buying back existing interstates, and Chairman Ric Williamson's recent trip to D.C. lobbying for the same, it's clear they've not only crossed the line into illegal lobbying, but they leaped over it,” says Hall.

TxDOT’s report to Congress, Forward Momentum, ignited a category 5 blowback that prompted Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and U.S. Representatives Charlie Gonzalez,and Ciro Rodriguez to file legislation (S 2019 and HR 3510) to halt the tolling of existing interstates and to prohibit TxDOT from buying back interstates for the purpose of tolling them (read more here). TxDOT’s actions also prompted Rep. Rodriguez to call for a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on converting interstates to tollways and on TxDOT's ad campaign (read more here.).

The report and ad campaign have been the topic of many editorials across Texas, including the Houston Chronicle (read more here.) and Express-News, and even TV newsrooms are weighing in with the General Manager of KSAT 12 TV in San Antonio giving a scathing review of the ad campaign (read more here.).

“The citizens of Texas are fed-up with TxDOT’s blatant disregard for the public's disdain of toll roads and their infinite attempts to cram toll roads down our throats using TAXPAYER MONEY to do it! It’s high time someone puts a stop to it!” Hall admonished.


View petition and affidavits:
Petition
Terri Hall's affidavit
Bill Barker's affidavit
-30-

Hutchison amendment progress, but won’t stop the trainwreck just yet

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Hutchison amendment progress, but won’t stop Texas toll proliferation
Citizens say step in the right direction, but a long way yet to go

San Antonio, TX, September 13, 2007 - We applaud Senator Hutchison for attempting to begin the long process of reining-in not just our rogue state agency, TxDOT, but also many of her colleagues who claim banning managed lane projects (adding new toll lanes to existing corridors to "manage" congestion, which is also a DOUBLE TAX) was a non-starter.

This amendment does little overall to stop any current toll projects in the works throughout Texas. The State can still bulldoze our existing interstates to its heart's content and re-arrange the pavement to make way for toll lanes down the middle. They call them "new lanes" but they're using our existing right of way already paid for with gas taxes. So it's still a DOUBLE TAX. The State can also continue to toll existing STATE highways, all or in part, unabated.

Consider TxDOT's tricks to replace "existing lanes" with frontage roads or to narrow the width of the existing lanes (after they destroy them, then re-build them, taking twice the construction time as a freeway at more than double the cost), it will slow down or manipulate traffic in such a way as to maximize the number of people on the tollway (or steal the entire existing freeway making second class citizens out of those who cannot afford tolls by relegating them to frontage roads).

“So it begs the question, if politicians fell all over themselves to be the first to repudiate tolling existing interstates (like Texas State Senator John Carona, State Representative Lois Kolkhorst, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, San Antonio Councilwoman Sheila McNeil), then why won’t they stop TxDOT and the tolling entities from tolling our existing STATE highways?” asks a frustrated Terri Hall, Founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF).

“The people of Texas are tired of tough talk and no action. They’re tired of politicians playing games with the plain meaning of words. TxDOT is tolling EXISTING STATE HIGHWAYS and rights of way, which is no different than tolling existing interstates, which they claim to object to. So why don’t we stop the tomfoolery and end this. If they want to build toll roads, make them completely NEW roads, but stop tolling our existing corridors (whether federal or state highways),” Hall challenges.

“So this amendment is a start, but doesn't come close to addressing the fundamental concerns of taxpayers outraged by what’s happening in this state,” notes Hall.

When the Texas A&M Study says we don't need toll roads, it's confounding that some politicians still march ahead over the people's objections.

“This battle is far from over and Senator Hutchison vows to continue to fight this DOUBLE TAXATION in its many forms. We surely hope so!” said Hall.
-30-

Citizens call for immediate resignations of TxDOT's top brass

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Lawmakers call for TxDOT to cease using taxpayer money to lobby for toll roads

Citizens call for immediate resignations of TxDOT leadership

San Antonio, TX, Tuesday, September 4, 2007 – Several Texas lawmakers, Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, and State Representatives Joe Farias, David Leibowitz, Nathan Macias and concerned citizens stood shoulder to shoulder to call for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to cease and desist from using taxpayer money to lobby for toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor. The citizens went a step further and called for the immediate resignations of TxDOT's top brass. Both also called for TxDOT to immediately install the original gas tax funded improvement plan for U.S. Highway 281 and drop all plans to convert that existing state highway into a toll road.

“TxDOT should begin (improving its relations with the public) by installing the overpasses and improvements at an estimated cost of $100 million and already paid for by our gas taxes instead building the hugely intrusive $400 million toll plan for US 281 at four times the cost (and double the number of lanes),” demanded Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, who also sits on the San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). Adkisson listed other failures in transportation policy, including the failure to index the gas tax, accelerate other modes of transportation, implement creative solutions like contraflow, repair Texas being a donor state giving away more of our gas taxes than we get back despite being asked to bear the burden of NAFTA related traffic, and illegal lobbying (Texas Government Code Chapter 556) by TxDOT.



Representative Nathan Macias (R- Dist 73) also insisted TxDOT install the gas tax improvement plan for US 281 saying it is DOUBLE TAXATION to toll an existing highway and noted that the highway department was cherry-picking, “There’s money in them thar hills, and TxDOT is comin’ after it.” He also pointed out that every major artery used by his constituents in the Texas Hill Country is slated to become a toll corridor including, I-35, US 281, I-10, and SH 16. Macias sits on the House Transportation Committee and led the charge AGAINST SB 792 which allows the highest possible tolls. He challenged TxDOT's cost escalation for the 281 and 1604 projects that have doubled and even quadrupled in some estimates. "The math just doesn't add up."

Representative Joe Farias (D-Dist 118) told how he introduced an amendment to put Loop 1604 and US 281 under the two-year private toll moratorium, SB 792, but explained how the Senate stripped it out. He’s gravely concerned with the economic impact to his constituents who struggle to put gas in their cars much less pay tolls, too. Farias has been threatened by a highway lobbyist for introducing that amendment.

Representative David Leibowitz, (D-Dist. 117), who also sits on the San Antonio MPO, called for the board to pass a resolution to stop TxDOT from illegally spending taxpayer money to push tolls and is also asking the Attorney General for an opinion to aid in that effort.

“I have never voted for a single toll road bill in my time in the Texas House,” shared Leibowitz as he described how he expressly placed 1604 under the moratorium through legislative intent in the House journal and now he finds that TxDOT and the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) are flouting that intent and are still trying to involve private entities in tolling that highway. He also shared concerns about the disproportionate share Texas is having to pay for NAFTA.

All encouraged citizens to seek accountability at the ballot box since the vast majority of the Legislature followed the Governor down the path to toll roads (versus indexing the gas tax), which will result in “the largest tax increase in Texas history” according to Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson.

“The citizens support lawmakers’ efforts to put accountability and sanity back into transportation policy,” said Founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), Terri Hall. “With U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison introducing a bill to prevent the tolling of existing interstates this week, calls from U.S. Congressman Ciro Rodriguez to investigate the tolling of existing interstates report, and U.S. Senator John Cornyn and U.S. Congressman Charlie Gonzales adamantly opposed to it, the people may get relief on the federal level first.”

Hall echoed the calls to revert back to the gas tax funded plan for improvements to 281 and stop the tolling of our other existing highways.

“TxDOT has breached the public trust and it cannot be repaired short of cleaning house at that agency. They’ve repeatedly sworn to our faces they’re not tolling existing roads and then lobbied Congress to do just that!” fumed Hall surrounded by dozens of concerned citizens.

“It’s vitally important the public is made aware that several existing state highways and interstates are slated to become toll corridors, I-35 (between San Antonio and Dallas), I-10 (in Houston and San Antonio), 281, 1604, Bandera Rd., and others. If TxDOT and the politicians who enable them have their way, it won’t stop there,” believes Hall.

“TxDOT plans to take every single lane on existing highway US 281 and convert them into toll lanes. The only free lanes will be frontage roads, not highway lanes. The same is true for 16 miles on Loop 1604. When TxDOT already has a plan and the money to install the needed improvements on 281 without tolls and REFUSES to do so after thousands of citizens and many lawmakers have asked them to, it’s clear we have a highway department that’s out of control and not acting in the public’s best interest. In fact, they’re more interested in enriching private road contractors leaving the traveling public left holding the bag,” voiced Hall.
-30-

TURF asks Ronnie Earle to prosecute TxDOT!

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Texas Highway Department advertising campaign prompts citizens to call on Ronnie Earle

Friday, August 24, 2007 – The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) not only crossed the line, they leaped over it! And if citizens want justice, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle (who took down Congressman Tom Delay) is just the guy to deliver. TxDOT gleefully announced this week that it’s spending $7-$9 million in taxpayer money to “sell” the public what Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson called “the largest tax increase in Texas history.” And what pray tell are they selling?

“Unaccountable, eminent domain abusing, runaway toll tax roads and the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC),” admonishes Terri Hall, Founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF). “It’s not just smarmy; it’s ILLEGAL!” (Chapter 556 of the Texas Government Code forbids governmental agencies from engaging in lobbying.)

As if TxDOT hasn’t heard the word “No!” from enough citizens, over 13,000 at last year’s TTC-35 hearings alone, apparently they lack the intellectual capacity to understand one of the most basic words in the English language.

“To add insult to injury, they patronize us further by thinking we just haven’t gotten the message, or that we somehow don’t understand their cash cow, land-grabbing, DOUBLE TAXING toll road policies, therefore they need to spend OUR money to further indoctrinate us into submission,” suggests Hall.

Though the advertising campaign started June 1, it’s not likely to last long since citizens have called on Travis County District Attorney, Ronnie Earle, to come to the rescue.

“The politicians who are ramming this down our throats need to realize they can’t escape the long arm of the law, especially Ronnie Earle’s. Tom Delay couldn’t, and neither will they,” warns Hall.

Read TURF’s formal complaint filed with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle below:
______________________________
Mr. Ronnie Earle
District Attorney
Travis County
509 W.11th St
Austin, TX 78701

August 22, 2007
Dear Mr. Earle:
The citizens of Texas believe the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is illegally using taxpayer money to wage a cleverly cloaked public relations campaign to push the wildly controversial Trans Texas Corridor and toll road proliferation.

According to a memorandum obtained by the Express-News entitled "Keep Texas Moving: Tolling and Trans-Texas Corridor Outreach" sent to transportation officials by Coby Chase, director of the agency's government and public affairs division, TxDOT has undertaken a multi-million dollar campaign including direct mail, billboards, and training of employees to sell the public their proposals over talk radio.

It's not only an inappropriate and wasteful use of our gas tax dollars by an agency perpetually claiming it’s out of money for roads, but it's ILLEGAL for a PUBLIC agency to take a policy position and use the public's tax money to sell them something using an under-handed PR campaign.

The State Auditor already found TxDOT "cooked the books" Enron-style on the Trans Texas Corridor mismarking funds as "engineering" when in fact, they spent it on PR. The Auditor’s office testified to this before the Senate Transportation Committee on March 1, 2007. See the report entitled “An Audit Report on the Department of Transportation and the Trans-Texas Corridor” released in February 2007 (see it here).

Please open an investigation and prosecute this agency for its repeated illegal activities. The people of Texas want justice. When Ken Lay cooked the books at Enron, he was sent to jail. The same needs to happen with those guilty of breaking the law at the highway department.

Sincerely,

Terri Hall
Founder/Director
Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF)
__________________________________

“If a corporate CEO had done this to their shareholders, they’d be in JAIL!” notes Hall.

Citizens gasped when the Texas State Auditor’s office revealed that TxDOT cooked the books at the Senate Transportation & Homeland Security Committee hearing March 1. A record 800 witnesses heard this testimony at the hearing.
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MN bridge collapse wake-up call

Link to article about the tragedy here.

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Minnesota bridge tragedy causes citizens to cry foul
Collapse due to frivolous earmarks, starving the gas tax & diverting funds AWAY from roads/bridges

San Antonio, TX Friday, August 3, 2007 – Citizens against the push for privatizing & tolling our highways in order to address our Nation’s aging infrastructure see the Minnesota bridge tragedy as a transportation wake-up call.

“It’s criminal that our politicians passed a highway bill in 2005 that funded a $223 million bridge to nowhere in Alaska instead of retrofitting this bridge on one of America’s most heavily traveled interstates,” fumes an incensed Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texans United for Reform and Freedom (TURF). “We have serious misplaced priorities in this country and politicians who are derelict in their duties.”

The 2005 federal highway bill  (SAFET-LU) had 6,000 earmarks for frivolous Congressional pet projects taken from our gas taxes at a time when the Bush Administration was pushing the privatization & tolling of our highways saying new taxes were necessary to address congestion and aging infrastructure. By design, they want to DOUBLE TAX toll the traveling public to plug their own leaky boat.


 
“What we have are politicians who are now blaming the taxpayers for NOT giving them enough of our money to pay for infrastructure when, in fact, it is they who have habitually pilfered and diverted billions from both federal and state gas tax funds which has caused our infrastructure to fall into disrepair. Now they are guilty of needless loss of life. Truly blood is on their hands,” reflects Hall.

In Texas, twenty-five percent of fuel taxes are diverted to public schools and another 5% to things that don’t relate to highways. The Texas Legislature has diverted $10 billion from the state highway fund in the last 20 years alone while also defrauding taxpayers into thinking the only way out of our infrastructure woes is to now toll us for what our taxes have already built and paid for and to sell our highway system to the highest bidder while STILL failing to keep our bridges and highways safe.

“Let the revolution begin! The public WILL rise-up to boot these politicians out of office if indictments don’t do it first. Heads need to roll rather than to come after us for tolls,” remarks Hall.
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