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Let’s talk transparency

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Sydney MurphySydney MurphyBy Sydney Murphy
Polk County Judge

The Polk County Commissioners Court strives to be transparent in all business decisions we make. Commissioners Court meets in open meetings every second and fourth Tuesday (unless rescheduled due to conflicts with holidays or Association Conferences). Commissioners Court agendas are typically posted at least four days in advance of a meeting and are purposefully explicit so that the public knows specifically which items will be discussed. Our agendas are posted to the county website and Facebook pages and the public is welcome to attend and may address the Court during the public comment portion of the meeting. At this time, any member of the public can speak to the Court for up to 3 minutes about any item of county business, whether it is on the agenda or not. The Court can listen, but cannot respond unless the item addressed is included on the agenda.

Since July 2018, because we know that the majority of the population cannot regularly attend our meetings, all Commissioners Court meetings have been streamed live on our YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7RSenHb7QBTPuqSuMzU5ZA. A link to each video is shared on the County’s website and Facebook page following the meeting and we encourage the public to follow these pages to stay abreast of county business. Every elected official is responsible for sharing pertinent information from their offices. However, we strongly encourage them and support their efforts to make documents and services more widely available online.

I encourage everyone to visit our website at www.co.polk.tx.us and browse all of the information available, as there is a trove of valuable tools and resources available from various county and district offices. Last year, we asked elected officials and department heads to provide information about their office, including their roles and responsibilities, and so far have posted several “Spotlight on Polk County” articles, which help to educate the public about the services each office provides.

A click on the county budget link, www.co.polk.tx.us/page/polk.budgets, will take you to all county budgets adopted since August 2006. The Government Finance Officers Association has presented a Distinguished Budget Presentation Award to Polk County each year since our first submission to the award program of our annual budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 1999. In order to receive this award, a governmental unit must publish a document that meets program criteria as a policy document, as an operations guide, as a financial plan and as a communications device.

Polk County also annually receives the GFOA Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for our Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports. This award program was established to encourage and assist state and local governments to go beyond the minimum requirements of generally accepted accounting principles to prepare comprehensive annual financial reports that evidence the spirit of transparency and full disclosure and then to recognize individual governments that succeed in achieving that goal.

Texas County Progress magazine featured the Polk County budget and budget process in 2016 and again in 2021 as a document that stands out for our communication of the budget and what it actually means (out of 254 Texas counties). Find the 2021 article at https://countyprogress.com/vital-communication-tool/. The members of Commissioners Court are extremely aware of their fiduciary responsibilities to Polk County taxpayers and make every effort to provide clear and understandable information.

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Jim Powers eats raw infants

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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According to the latest polling from the non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute, millions of Americans believe that our country’s government, financial and media sectors are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles running a global child sex trafficking operation. 

Many of them also believe that these Satan-worshipping pedophiles running everything in the U.S. traffic children to torture them and then drink their blood for the Adrenochrome.

This is total nonsense, of course. 

Adrenochrome is an easily available compound made from oxidated adrenaline. It’s been studied since the 1950’s but seems to have slipped into the popular consciousness when Hunter S. Thompson was offered it in the movie “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” from his book of the same name.  “That stuff makes pure mescaline seem like ginger beer,” the lawyer said. “You’ll go completely crazy if you take too much.” If ingested, it often results in schizophrenia, and is very dangerous.

Why do I know this trivia about the Adrenochrome conspiracy theory, which is a variation on the Blood libel antisemitic canard? Because it was used as an effort to libel me in the late 1990’s.

When America Online (AOL) first began in the mid 1990’s, it was a self-contained community with “rooms” for all kinds of things and organizations. I was a moderator on the American Civil Liberties Union “Free Speech” area. (Full disclosure, I have been a member of the ACLU for decades) It contained anything goes, no holds barred, chat rooms. Moderators were there to remove spammers and trolls, not to monitor speech.

One day a chatter decided she did not like something I posted in a religion chatroom and started posting a series (ultimately hundreds) of bazaar accusations about me, all titled “Jim Powers eats raw infants.” Which I found extremely amusing since I’m vegan and never cared much for raw infants even when I ate meat. So, I didn’t think much about it. Until she decided to take her nonsense into the real world.

She located me IRL, got a list of my clients from my website, and began to send them letters with this same kind of nonsense as the Adrenochrome conspiracy stuff. A lot of letters (pencil and paper letters). Now, the clients listed on my website I had mostly worked with for years, so they thought it amusing, but her intent was clearly to destroy my business. Subsequently, I tracked her down to a trailer in rural North Carolina, a single mother of three who clearly had a screw loose, so suing her for libel would have gotten me nowhere, and I let it go.

The current Adrenochrome conspiracy is a libel that has real world impact. And that is the point, I guess. To believe this nonsense, and spread it around, is immoral. It is also dangerous. Convincing people that there are Satanists around every corner, kidnapping children, torturing them and drinking their blood creates an IRL danger to you and me. Who wouldn’t feel justified in killing someone they are convinced is part of an evil plot to harvest children for their blood? Spreading this kind of nonsense around is going to get someone killed.

‘There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.’ “1984”, George Orwell

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At the root of democracy: Free flow of information

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By Kelley Shannon
Executive Director,
Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas

As Ukrainians fight and die for democracy, Russia is arresting its own citizens who are protesting the war and threatening prison for journalists who report the truth.

The attempt to crush a democratic government and stop the flow of information comes as American news organizations and transparency advocates observe Sunshine Week from March 13-19, a time for highlighting government openness and a free press.

Certainly, let’s commemorate the freedom of information we enjoy – and constantly strive to improve – in the United States. But it’s imperative to contrast it with what’s happening around the world and understand how devastating it is when a government allows only its own tightly controlled version of events to trickle out.

Earlier this month, Vladimir Putin’s government changed its domestic media laws to make it a crime to distribute what it deemed to be “false news” about the war. Doing so could mean up to 15 years behind bars. Many news organizations pulled journalists out of the country or shut their operations; the government also cut off access to major social media sites, the Neiman Journalism Lab reported in its thorough rundown on the severe restrictions.

The censorship amounts to an “information dark age,” according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which called on journalists everywhere to stand in opposition.

Thwarting free speech isn’t only happening in Russia. We simply need to think back to the Olympics a few weeks ago to remember the spotlight on China’s crackdowns on dissent and free expression and its control of internet content. And, of course, there are other examples.

It’s astounding – and a lesson for us all.

Blocking information is a favorite weapon of authoritarian regimes. Information is essential for democracy to flourish. The ability to examine public records and tune in to independent news sources enables us to speak out and hold our leaders accountable.

In our state, we are fortunate that the Texas Public Information Act, originally known as the Open Records Act, was established in the early 1970s to ensure citizens have the right to watch over government. It gives us the ability to obtain public documents and largely forces state and local officials who want to withhold information to argue to the attorney general’s office – an umpire, of sorts – as to why information should be kept secret. The law presumes all records are open unless a specific exemption in law states otherwise.

In short, the Texas law is intended to give an advantage to the individual information requestor, not the government, unlike some states’ information laws.

Public officials are only the custodians of our public records. They do not get to tell us what information we have a right to view. Texans want to see basic police reports, documents relating to a local school district’s property purchase and a state university’s athletics consulting contract. That’s just a small sampling of how our state’s Public Information Act is used.

The law is not perfect. There has been incremental weakening of it over the years, but open government supporters work every legislative session with lawmakers of both political parties to strengthen the act. We should fight with all our might to protect it.

In the end, in a democracy, the people get to judge their leaders and decide whether they will remain in office or get voted out. The free flow of information is the people’s path to questioning authority. That, ultimately, is real power.

Kelley Shannon is executive director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, based in Austin. For more information go to www.foift.org.

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Not sure why this is a problem

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FromEditorsDesk Tony$2.97. $3.18. $3.45. $3.86. $3.99 and counting …

And let’s not forget the 9/10th of a cent, cause that adds up real quick.

I’m one of those guys that personifies the word commute, and watching the gas prices heading upward at a pace that reminds me of Bugs Bunny cartoons has gotten me more than a little concerned.

Thinking back just a little over two years ago when I was paying less that $2 a gallon, I’m wondering how things got out of control so fast. Actually, we all pretty much know the answer to that — Trump lost the election.

In a previous job I had during the Trump administration, I remember seeing gas at $1.19 a gallon at a couple of places. Not only are those days gone, but there is a certain lack of concern on the part of a whole lot of people, especially current President Joe Biden.

If you haven’t seen it yet, look up any saved video where Biden blames Russia and its aggressions toward the Ukraine as the reason for American gas prices. It’s even being referred to as the Russian price hike at many levels of federal government.

More to my point, and even more concerning, is that quite a lot of the fine people of this country are buying that swill.

The first question people need to ask is how is $4 to $8 per gallon gas in any way building back better, as is this president’s credo? He did say that he was going to hold oil companies accountable for prices, yet now the line is Russia Russia Russia, and we’re supposed to pretend that the last two years’ worth of rising gas prices didn’t exist?

The second question is why the president is so cavalier about what this government is or is not prepared to do to solve the problem. If whatever it was worked under a president so reviled was successful, it should work again. 

Yet what I hear, and what I read, and what is being reported, is not only an abdication of responsibility by a sitting president and his administration, but an acquiescence from a population that has abdicated its liberty.

Seriously. One conversation said that gas prices in the Czech Republic are the U.S. equivalent of more than $8 per gallon, and that everybody has to suck it up, and so should we, and that poor Unca Joe really isn’t at fault here.

I’m not an economist. I’m a writer, and as one I read and research and compile my information. Having done that, there’s a simple explanation for how things work: more demand, less supply, costs go up. More supply, less demand, costs go down.

Granted, that’s probably a simplistic view, and I’m sure there are other factors I’m not considering. We did, though, cap our oil reserves, and one of the first things Biden did was kill the Keystone Pipeline. So we stopped relying on ourselves for oil, and started back relying on other countries, and now things got out of control.

If we were producing and consuming our own output, as well as selling any surplus, these prices wouldn’t be skyrocketing, cause we could charge whatever we saw fit. 

I’m sure there’s also a connection to the prices and the government’s push of a climate agenda and the use of electric cars (which are even more harmful to the ecology, according to my research), but that would mark me as a conspiracy theorist, right?

In any case, if you take an apathetic population and match it with an equally apathetic leadership, you  have a recipe for disaster.

Tony Farkas is editor of the Trinity County News-Standard. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Another Brick in the Wall

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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“We don't need no education

We don't need no thought control

No dark sarcasm in the classroom

Teacher, leave them kids alone

Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone

All in all it's just another brick in the wall

All in all you're just another brick in the wall”

Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall


Have you ever encountered a situation for the tenth time, say kids leaving bicycles on the sidewalk creating a walking hazard and said to yourself (or anyone who would listen), “There ought to be a law against that.”? In fact, there probably is, but it is being ignored. As are speeding laws, stop signs, seat belts, child safety seats in cars, and on and on and on.

Every time you say the words, “There ought to be a law,” you lay another brick in the prison of laws you are building around yourself. Which brings us to Texas S.B. 8. 

S.B. 8 is a clearly unconstitutional law (Roe V Wade is still in effect at this time) that authorizes any person to sue any person who performs an abortion after fetal cardiac activity can be detected, facilitates it, or “intends” to do so. The person doing the suing can live in any state and doesn’t have to have been personally injured to sue. Texas’ novel twist here is that no state or local officials can enforce the law, an effort to get around the constitution.

I’m not arguing here whether abortion is right or wrong. My opinion (because this is an opinion column) is that I have no standing to tell another human being what they can do with their body. I can find no instance of a comparable effort to exercise control over men’s bodies, so something else must be at hand when primarily male politicians pass laws controlling women’s choices.

Misogyny is a word that was coined in the 17th Century and was rarely used until the 1970’s in America. It came into common use in the ‘70’s with the rise of the women’s movement. It means hatred of, aversion to, or prejudice against women.

If you were born after 1980, when equal treatment for women had finally started to move forward, you need to know that it was not always as it is now (even though there is still a lot more improvement needed). Even in the 1960’s and 1970’s, women were still very much second-class citizens when compared to men. Just a couple of examples.

In 1969, when I was 18, if I had a steady job and good credit, I could walk into Knapp Ford in Woodville by myself, sign my name to a loan, and drive out with a new Mustang.

In 1996, I bought a used 1969 Mustang from a woman who was selling her late mother’s. Her mother was 25 years old, a teacher, and had been living on her own for several years. But her experience with buying a car would be very different than mine. The lady I bought the car from had all the paperwork from when her mother bought the car and pointed out to me the signatures on the loan, her’s and her father’s.

Back in ’69, a woman usually was unable to get a loan without either her father (if she was single) or her husband co-signing the loan. Even if she had a good job. The assumption was that a woman was eventually going to marry, get pregnant, quit her job, and spend the rest of her life keeping house and raising kids, so was a credit risk.

In 1979, my wife needed surgery that was not optional. The issue was life threatening. But fixing the problem would mean she would never have children. This wasn’t a concern for us. We choose not to have children, so no big deal. My wife was 31 years old, had been a teacher for years, and owned her own home when we married.

Just before they took her to surgery, someone came into the room with a form for me to sign. The form gave my permission for the surgeon to do a procedure that would leave her unable to conceive. I was baffled by it and noted that SHE was the one being operated on, and the decision was completely hers. But it wasn’t. I was told that without my written permission, they could not do the surgery. If I hadn’t signed, would they have let her die? Scary, huh?

That was the world for women for much of the 20th century.

And now a lot of politicians appear bent on taking us back to those days. If you think these folks are concerned with the rights of fetuses when they pass unconstitutional laws that restrict the rights of women to control their own bodies, what they really seem to want is to take us back to the bad old days of the 1950’s through 1970’s when they really did control every aspect of a woman’s life. And the word for what is happening here is misogyny.

Nobody that I’ve ever met is pro-abortion. I would like to live in a perfect world where every child was born into a loving family, was well nurtured, well fed and well educated and went on to live a wonder life. But that is not the real world. Too many children are born into poverty, abuse, and abandonment. 

And too many women are forced to make choices that are bad for themselves by people whose motives are extremely suspect. We don’t need more laws restricting people’s right to control their own lives and bodies. And we sure don’t won’t to go back to the middle of the 20th century. I lived there. If you were a white male, it was a time of great privilege. If you were black or female, not so much.

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