Public fails to sway board to keep Sheril Smith
As published in the Giddings Times & News January 26, 2023, Vol. 133, No. 37
During an annual vote for officers at the Lost Pines Conservation District meeting last week Wednesday night in Elgin, the Board of Directors elected Elvis Hernandez of McDade as its new president.
Hernandez, who is a retired engineer, previously served on the board as secretary-treasurer.
Sheril Smith of Blue, who has led Lost Pines GCD as president for the past year, still remains on the board in a director’s position.
Many consider the move controversial, since a majority of the public seemed to favor keeping Smith as president. Several concerned citizens, including those on a committee of stakeholders, addressed the board during the public comment portion of the meeting prior to the election.
All who spoke about the election asked the board to keep the current leadership intact. Each believed Smith was doing an excellent job as president, taking on the water marketers and making the plight of local well owners known to the Texas Legislature. Since the new 88th Legislature is now in session, those who spoke believed a unified front was best, and now was not the time to change horses midstream.
Local citizen Don Hardy told the board,
“I think she’s done a great job. She’s got backbone. She’s very knowledgeable, experienced. She’s been very involved. Everywhere I go, whether it’s senate hearings, symposiums, or Austin Aquifer Storage Recovery meetings, I see her everywhere. She’s committed so much time to this. For anyone who is running against her as president, I don’t think we could do better than Sheril.”
Another citizen, Nancy McKee*, praised the current Lost Pines GCD leaders for providing oral testimony to the Texas Legislature and working with lawmakers to strengthen the authority of the GCDs.
“For the first time we’ve seen the establishment of a House Water Caucus composed of 38 legislators to make water a top priority this session,” she said. “Mitigation is now getting a sympathetic ear in the legislature to change permits that would require the permit holder to pay for mitigation via the export fee.”
(Note In last week's LIV News, we named McKee
as our Citizen of the Year in this article)
McKee added that in order for the work to continue, it will require a unified front from the Lost Pines board to keep the issues moving.
“I ask this board to please consider allowing the current president to be re-elected another year while the legislature is in session to allow the continuing of the positive momentum we’ve experienced this last year,” she stated.
Linda Curtis, on behalf of the League of Independent Voters, told the board,
“The Legislature is captured by the vision of ‘The Texas Miracle,’ which is turning into the ‘Texas Nightmare’ -- using water, development, and economic subsidies to keep bringing 1,000 people a day to Texas. Any 4-year-old will tell you that’s not sustainable. Please complete the work you started, and make sure you have the leadership in place to get it done. As far as I’m concerned, ya’ll should stay where you are. Because we’re going into a legislative session, we need this board to unify. I know there’s tension, and not everybody gets along. Such is life. Please, get through your differences, unify your board, and make sure we are ready to go!”
Speech time limits
Board member Mike Simmang interrupted the proceedings, stating that the first three speakers all exceeded three minutes, the time window allotted for public comments.
Simmang asked President Smith, “How far are you going?” She responded that she did not have a set time, and said the board’s rules give her the option of allowing more than three minutes if she so wishes.
Of the first five speakers, only McKee actually exceeded three minutes by 10 seconds.
Emma Smith, president of Lee County 4-H and a Lexington High School senior, presented the board a letter signed by Lost Pines stakeholder committee members in both Bastrop and Lee Counties that encouraged the board to keep the current leadership. “I along with 60 other members who have signed the letter, did so to express our sincerest gratitude for the work you did as current board members, and especially to you, President Smith, for the work you helped to do this year,” she said.
“I confidently speak on behalf of the other 60 members along with countless residents of Lee County when I say the work of this organization implementing practice and policies that work to better recognize private property rights, groundwater ownership, and the conservation, preservation, protection, and prevention of waste of groundwater, is extremely appreciated,” she concluded.
Lost Pines board member Dr. Tom Arsuffi of Elgin made a motion to retain the current slate of leadership for one more year.
“I think Sheril, Kay and Elvis have done a tremendous job leading the board and making necessary changes and improvements that everybody has commented on.”
Dr. Arsuffi specified the board’s work in handling a TCEQ audit, and other initiatives launched by President Smith as his reasoning for her presidency to continue.
“I think this current leadership of Lost Pines GCD needs one more year to finish up all those good things they started,” he said. “If the board wants to make some changes, keep your pants on -- one more year isn’t going to bust your britches. This current board deserves one more year. That’s why a lot of organizations are going to 2-year terms for the presidency. They recognize that one year is not long enough.”
Natasha Martin, general counsel for Lost Pines GCD, told the board Dr. Arsuffi couldn’t make a “slate motion,” unless the board adopted the process. She stated the election methodology must follow Robert’s Rules of Order because there were no bylaws governing the election process.
The board voted against adopting the slate procedure 6 to 4, which resulted in separate nominations and elections for president, vice president, and secretary treasurer.
In the end, the public’s pleas to retain Smith as president fell on deaf ears. Vice President Kay Rogers nominated Mike Simmang Secretary-Treasurer Elvis Hernandez for the presidency.
Directors Billy Sherrill, Mike Simmang, Larry Schatte, Herb Cook, and Kay Rogers verbally voted for Elvis Hernandez, and Hernandez voted for himself.
Tom Arsuffi, Melissa Cole, and Phillip Cook verbally voted for Sheril Smith, and Smith voted for herself.
With the vote 6 to 4, Smith declared Hernandez elected.
Dr. Arsuffi announced, “I’m disappointed in the board. We’re getting rid of a good president over petty crap.”
None of the directors who voted for Hernandez made any public comments about their decision, or why they did not support Smith.
Smith stated, “I do appreciate those of you who stuck by me through thick and thin.”
After Smith completed her last sentence, Hernandez countered,
“What’s with the name calling here? I really don’t need to be name-called.”
Dr. Arsuffi replied, “That’s not name-calling.”
Hernandez claimed that he was called a (curse word) and pathetic. However, those sentiments, or who spoke them, were not audible to the public.
Smith continued with the nominations for the other positions, which saw Kay Rogers maintain her position as Vice President with a vote of 8-2. Mike Simmang was elected Secretary-Treasurer 10-0.
After the elections were declared and before stepping down, Smith declared, “I wish the best of luck to you and I’ll support you any way I can.”
Lost Pines GCD is currently dealing with a handful of large permit applications. “We’re in litigation with most of them,” general manager Jim Totten said at a public meeting in October. One such lawsuit involves LCRA, which has gone into appeals.
It’s been speculated by those who closely follow the Lost Pines GCD that the majority of its board wants to take a less “hands-on” approach than it has under Smith’s reign, and allow the general manager to take more of a lead role.
There is also concern if the committee of stakeholders, who have helped the board identify priorities, will be allowed to continue.
Board members are appointed by the county commissioners courts and serve 4-year terms. The terms of Sheril Smith, Melissa Cole (Elgin), Phillip Cook (Cedar Creek), Billy Sherrill (Blue), and Larry Schatte (Giddings) expire Dec. 31, 2023.
The terms of Hernandez, Kay Rogers (Bastrop), Michael Simmang (Giddings), Tom Arsuffi (Elgin), and Herbert Cook (Giddings) expire Dec. 31, 2025.
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