Apples, Oranges, Covid-19, Corporations and Governmental Entities

The water company haters continue to confuse people in our neighborhood with the fiction that our water corporation is a governmental entity. It’s not.

On NextDoor last week they were pressuring the water company for in-person meetings. They said in-person meetings are occuring at the Lakeway City Council and Burnet Commissioners’ Court.

The City of Lakeway and Burnet County are governmental organizations which have “sovereign immunity,” which means they can’t easily be sued or held liable.

Our neighborhood non-profit water corporation is not a governmental organization and as such does not enjoy the privileges of “sovereign immunity.” The corporation can be sued (and has been by a small group of people in the neighborhood in the last few years).

Nationwide there are Covid-19 related suits of all sorts being filed against companies. Learn more here, here, here and here. Why do the water company haters want the water company to take the risk?

Liability insurance and general business insurance will not likely cover the water company in the event that someone were to get sick, become grievously harmed, and allege that the they were contaminated at a water company meeting. Even if all the Covid-19 guidelines issued by national, state and county health organizations were followed, a lawsuit could happen.

Were a lawsuit to occur the water company insurance company would not likely even cover litigation related to that suit, which means the water company — and ultimately its members — would have to pay for litigation costs — or settle. That settlement money would also come directly from water customers.

The water company’s open meetings on Zoom have been great and safe. They protect the water company from liability issues in this Covid-19 era. And they continue to be allowed by act of the Governor.

Praying for the victims of scandal mongering in WO

I went to church this morning to pray for our community and for those who have become the victims of the ongoing scandal campaign against our water company. This week was particularly nasty on NextDoor. I see your anger and your discontent and I am sad for you. It must certainly detract from the joy of living in Windermere and divides our community. In particular, John and Rae, I’ve begun praying for you, and I will try to do so daily, like I do for many others out here.

The Catholic Church defines scandal as:

an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. the person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor‘s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual deathScandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.

Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”85 

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Respect for the Dignity of Persons

Scandals in Windermere are being created daily by ongoing misrepresentations of truth. Here’s just some of the baseless accusations of what we saw this week on NextDoor:

  • “70 k on deposition training.” Come on. Really? I spent three or four hours with a Lloyd Gosselink attorney in November 2019 learning about depositions. I’ve never been deposed before and I was going to be deposed the following week after serving on the Board for only six months! Training for depositions is standard corporate practice. The deposition would be about events that occured 3-4 years before and about which I had no involvement. I was not on any earlier water company boards. Any volunteer would get the same sort of help from any other organization. The attorney probably charged the water company their hourly rate, like $300 per hour. That’s a lot, no doubt, but remember: no lawsuit, no depositions, no costs. Talk to the plaintiffs. When the water company deposes them, they will ask their lawyer for the same type of training. Standard practice. The water company won’t be paying for that.
  • “The WOWSC board spent the better half of an hour disparaging me due to my PIA requests.” Response 1: It may have felt like half an hour to the person but it wasn’t. The Zoom meeting recording is still being processed, and I will post it when ready, but I am willing to bet the time we spent talking about PIA requests will total 5-8 minutes at most.
  • “The WOWSC board spent the better half of an hour disparaging me due to my PIA requests.” Response 2: The discussion about PIA requests provided transparent information to Board members and ratepayers about the number and costs of PIA requests. Does the person want transparency or not? I guess when it involves them, they don’t.
  • “The Texas Public Information act was enacted to bring transparency to organizations like ours, when there is none.” There have been 29 PIA requests in 2020 alone, following on 46 in 2019. All have been fulfilled, except for those deemed to contain attorney-client privileged information. You can download the report here to see a listing of the PIA requests as presented to the Board.
  • “WOWSC avoiding open meetings” The water company has held 11 open meetings this year. See the agendas here. The POA has held four. Water company members are encouraged to attend by Zoom from the comfort and safety of their house to prevent the spread of Covid. As our agendas say, “This is in full compliance with the Office of the Governor’s March 16, 2020 proclamation temporarily suspending certain open meeting statutes in response to the current Covid-19 pandemic and statewide disaster declaration.” We were glad to see that two members of the POA Board attended by Zoom. One seemed to be really enjoying her wine from the comfort and safety of her beautiful home!
  • “The WOWSC board spent the better half of an hour disparaging me due to my PIA requests.” Response 3: Our transparent open meetings occur for Board members and ratepayers to learn about what is going on with the water corporation. In this case, the water company Board needed to be advised of the mounting costs for responding to requests for unredacted attorney invoices, on three different occasions. This goes back to Oct. 9, 2019 when I read a statement about why the attorneys advised us on certain actions. Volunteer Board members have a high duty to follow the advice of attorneys. Again, please read the statement about these invoices on Page 5 of this document. It explains why they can’t be released due to ongoing lawsuits against the corporation.

The type of rancorous and demeaning comments we are seeing on NextDoor are being caused by this ongoing scandal mongering campaign of a few people.

Truly, to those victims who are angry and lashing out because of the scandal mongering, I am praying for you! And I am praying for those who make the scandals too. It is why I created this page and am now responding on NextDoor.

Our Water Company – Such a Blessing

Last night the water company Board held another great meeting discussing the challenges we face in operating a neighborhood water and wastewater service company.

The solutions are never immediately clear but they seem to work themselves out when people of goodwill combine in their efforts. We saw that happening last night.

Indeed, the productive and informative discussions caused me to reflect on all past Boards’ similar discussions over the decades, the fruits of which are an affordable and responsive water service for our neighborhood.

Be of no doubt on this: God has blessed our neighborhood with many natural and recreational delights. He has also blessed us all with volunteers for both the POA and the water company over many decades.

The scandals which a handful of people conjure out of nothingness to divide us should not steal our joy of residing in such a blessed neighborhood.

I hear from many people who feel so down about the enmity sown by just a handful of people in our neighborhood. We should not let them get us down.

And we should not let them defeat the blessings which we receive daily. The water company haters will someday move on or move out. When they are finally unsuccessful in their effort to bring this water company down, they will move on to other targets, hopefully outside this neighborhood.

Our water company, ably managed by volunteers of great goodwill, will still be here, serving us all. And so it should be. It is what creates community.

Financial Management of Water Company in 2018 — Also Excellent

Following on to my previous posts, let’s look at the days cash on hand guidepost to consider how well the 2018 volunteer Board managed the company’s finances.

As the chart above from NewGen Strategies shows, there were 124 days cash on hand throughout 2018. They managed this even while dealing with two substantial financial challenges.

First, they were dealing with a lawsuit brought against the water company by a small group called TOMA Integrity, Inc., and John Richard Dial. Their lawsuit was filed in December 2017.

Then the 2018 Board was unexpectedly dealt a bad hand when the pumping barge was pulled from its anchors on October 16, 2018. The 2018 Board could not have predicted the $60,000 barge repair costs ahead.

The Board, with the help of its manager, was able to see the water company through the tough times that year. Water service to the neighborhood continued seamlessly. The water quality report for 2018, published in June 2019, showed no violations. The barge was completely repaired and back on line in April 2019.

And the 2018 Board successfully prevailed in defending the water company from TOMA Integrity Inc. and John Richard Dial. The most easily understood summary of the case and the courts’ decisions are in this document, written by Chief Justice Josh Morriss of the Texas Court of Appeals, Sixth Appellate District of Texas at Texarkana.

The neighborhood spin machine misleads and divides Windermere neighbors by claiming that the plaintiffs “won.” If they won, why did they have to appeal the trial court decision, through the Appeals Court and then all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, twice each? Why were they denied their appeal each time?

In truth, the water company received the outcome it sought, namely “All other prayers for relief in this case are DENIED.”

Our neighborhood volunteer Boards do a good job of managing the company through the trials which Mother Nature and a small group of people have put upon it in recent years.

Financial Condition of Water Company — Excellent #2

In June last year the Board directed our accountant to begin including new financial measures on the monthly report on income and expenses. We quickly saw that our DCOH was much higher than the recommended 90 days:

1001000

DCOH jumped from 149 days in June to 219 days in August due to the awesome work of our manager George Burriss and Board Member Dorothy Taylor. They captured and submitted expenses to our insurance company for the $60,000 the company had spent to repair our pumping platform. It had been ripped from its anchors during the October 2018 flood of Lake Travis. We received a $59,000 check in August 2019.

Given so much cash on hand to run the company, the 2019 Board authorized purchase of an $80,000-ish propane generator. This was required by regulators because our system had grown above 250 customers. Check out this video to see the generator pass its first test of running our pumps when after our operator cut the electricity.

This post relates to the first post about NewGen Strategies report because our 2019 Board had invited their Grant Rabon to a Board meeting in May 2019. He helped our Board members understand the value of financial measures in decision making.

Financial Condition of Water Company – Excellent

The water company Board received a really insightful report from NewGen Strategies at its Aug. 27 Board meeting. NewGen helps utility companies like ours understand their financial health. You can view their report here.

In my next few posts, I will offer some observations about their report.

For example, the table below tracks “Days Cash on Hand.” DCOH is money our company had available to meet short-term operating expenses as if not another dollar would come in from customers. Most companies try to have 90 days of cash on hand.

The company had no problem maintaining much more than 90 days of cash on hand in 2017 and 2018.

But in 2019 the DCOH fell to 79 days. Last year was extraordinary in these respects:

  1. NEW LAWSUIT AGAINST WOWSC. The corporation had to defend itself from a new lawsuit, even though the previous lawsuit (filed by the same plaintiffs) had been resolved in the company’s favor. The Texas Supreme Court finally dismissed their last appeal in 2020.
  2. PUBLIC INFORMATION ACT REQUESTS. We also incurred legal expenses related to fulfilling 46 Public Information Act requests, most from the allies of plaintiffs and the plaintiffs themselves.
  3. NEW GENERATOR. After attempting to buy generators in previous years, the company finally purchased one in order to comply with regulations.

At least by this measure, the volunteer Boards of the water company have done a good, conservative job of cash management for regular operations.

As a side note, the Supreme Court brought the first “TOMA” case to final conclusion on February 14, 2020 — St. Valentine’s Day — in favor of the corporation. St. Valentine is remembered for miraculously healing, on the day of his execution, his jailer’s blind daughter and leaving a note for her, signed “Your Valentine.” We should pray for St. Valentine’s intercession on behalf of our neighborhood, so that those who are blind may see.

Tremendous effort reducing lost water and saving money

Our water company manager and Corix Utilities have focused on fixing leaks and valves around the neighborhood. The chart below says it all. A fantastic reduction in the amount of water lost in August compared to water lost in August of last year.

Utilities produce water using chemicals, processes, and pumping equipment. So any leaks that take water out of the system before reaching paying customers’ homes cause real financial loss to the water company.

KXAN has done stories on water loss at the city of Austin’s water company due to their aging pipes and valves. They lost 6.1 billion gallons in 2018 costing Austin’s utility $2.37 million. https://www.kxan.com/investigations/austins-losing-more-water-through-leaks/ Our system is aging as well and we occassionaly have valves that fail or tree roots that break pipes.

Congratulations to our water manager and Corix operators for greatly reducing our losses in August.

Possible Record Water Usage in August

Windermere water customers and the utility itself used 2.35 million gallons in August. They used 1.8 million gallons in August 2019. That’s a 30 percent increase. Our community is growing and this may be one of the highest monthly usage reports in our history.

I’m glad the Board committed to applying for an LCRA grant for conservation projects last year. Read about it here. We received $14,000 last month from LCRA and I’ve heard that we are close to finishing some projects that will have meaningful impact in lowering the water company’s own use of water.

Judge Favors WOWSC Director Defendants Motion for Protection

Here’s a sentence from the Judge’s final ruling: “…the court finds that good cause exists for the entry of this Protective Order governing the use of deposition videos in this case…These postings have led to the Director Defendants being harassed and even threatened with bodily harm.”

Please take a moment to download and read why the volunteer members of the Windermere water company Board sought protection from cyber-bullying and threats of bodily harm.

Directors Reply to Plaintiffs Response against a protective order (166 downloads)

The plaintiffs tried to deny the current and former directors protection from threats and cyber-bullying.

Ultimately, the Judge sided with the water company’s current and former directors, ordering the plaintiffs to move full deposition videos to a private hosting site for water company members. It is what the directors wanted!

You can see the ENTIRE order by the court here . A previous image posted by another person on NextDoor failed to show the first page of the Judge’s order:

Judge's Signed Protective Order for Defendant Directors (162 downloads)