Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Deep in the Heart of Texas a Scandal is Born, Chris Boldt Plays a Supporting Role

 "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time, And all our yesterdays have lighted fools, The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing." Shakespeare's MacBeth

By: Rich Bergeron

     Dripping Springs, Texas was Christopher Boldt's stage during the early years of his career. He was a player in the legal realm, strutting and fretting his way through major land developments, always backing up his partner Rex Baker III. One of the resulting lawsuits against the city as a result of Baker and Boldt's shady development projects led to the city having to draft and implement new ethics and zoning rules

     We spoke to the dedicated resident who started that suit recently. Robert Baxter created the Friendship Alliance of Northern Hays County by banding together more than 750 homeowners in the area where a series of major developments covering over 4,000 acres would forever change the character of the community. The problem, he explained, was that there were only about 1,500 people within the city limits, but there was also the matter or extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ). 

      Only those residents who lived within the city limits could vote on major issues. Even if there were 50,000 people in the outer limits of the city that made up the ETJ, those residents would have little to no ability to sway local politics. 

      Baxter called the saga the Texas version of the famed Jack Nicholson movie "Chinatown" which follows a young investigator getting up to his neck in corruption surrounding water usage in Los Angeles. 

     The water issues made this case a perfect example of politicians and lawyers putting profit over preservation. The developers needed water, or there would be no development. So, a woman on a zoning committee complained that her well went dry, Baxter recalled. He said her false cries for help and her position of influence led to an emergency declaration where there was no real emergency. This was enough justification for placement of a water pipeline on these false pretenses. Baxter used another reference to a famous story by characterizing this as a "Chicken Little, the Sky is Falling" attempt to bypass much slower and more regulation-prone efforts to bring water to the proposed new developments in the area. 

   The scheme worked, and the developers secured their pipeline, but it was also the strongest piece of evidence in regard to the Friendship Alliance lawsuit. Baxter insisted the settlement of the case involved a classic back room meeting with the mayor of Dripping Springs. Attorney Baker's termination as the city's formal legal counsel was a key point of discussion. The mayor had apparently already planned to oust Baker according to Baxter. The people in city government were so impressed by Baxter's work that they brought him into the inner folds of their own system in the wake of the settlement. 

    "It was never really about stopping development," Baxter explained. "It was more about managing it more efficiently." 

      Though he was not very familiar with Boldt's contributions to the development effort, Baxter speculated that perhaps Boldt moved to New Hampshire for the same reasons Baker ended up in Dripping Springs. It was too far away for anyone to know who he was. Baker had apparently worked for the big family firm prior to his stints as Justice of the Peace and City Legal Counsel in Dripping Springs. Baker's legal wrangling attracted too many lawsuits against that firm, so it seems the Dripping Springs opportunity only came after he was figuratively banished from big city legal wrangling. He found himself a small city to corrupt instead. 

     Baker and Boldt as a firm "were the kind of attorneys that give attorneys a terrible name," said Baxter. He remembers the story from more than two decades ago surprisingly well since he's always being told he should write a book or a screenplay about it all. He insisted some of the issues involved went all the way to the White House and involved heavy influence peddling through the Bush family. 

     "The only problem is they already did that movie," he joked, referencing Chinatown again.

     Right around the time Rex Baker started his own legal shop in Dripping Springs, the Save Our Springs Alliance began advocating for the aquifer supplying residents with their water in the county. More than a decade after the founding of this water protection brigade, this band of concerned citizens also filed a lawsuit over the irresponsible and secretive behavior of the developers and the city of Dripping Springs. 

     It is Christopher Boldt himself who had a large part in keeping the whole plan secret, as evidenced by a letter from John Cornyn's Attorney General's Office to Boldt, which contains this key paragraph: 

"You represent to this office that the submitted information relates to a draft regional plan for land development within the city limits and extraterritorial jurisdiction of the City of Dripping Springs. You inform us that the city asked your law firm, as counsel for the city, to prepare the draft plan. You also inform us that your firm engaged a consulting engineering company, Murfee Engineering Company ("Murfee"), to assist with the project. You state that the information at issue is comprised of drafts, exhibits, and transmittal correspondence created and held exclusively by your law firm and Murfee. You indicate that the land development plan will eventually be presented to and considered by the city council. Based on your representations and our review of the submitted information, we conclude that the city may withhold this information from disclosure in its entirety under section 552.111 of the Government Code. As section 552.111 is dispositive, we need not address sections 552.101, 552.103, or 552.107."

      This is just the publicly available documentation of how city officials and developers kept the affected population from learning about the development plans until it was too late to stop them from being carried out. 

    The full story of what happened with these hastily planned and aggressively pushed developments is worth a read, especially if you want to know how these types of schemes get stirred up in the first place. These stories by dedicated local newspaper reporters also provide clues and context for the reader to be able to understand how to stop such corrupt, unchecked power in its tracks and take their town or city back from those who corrupted it:

Clouds Over Dripping Springs: Questions about vision -- and ethics -- in a town transformed - News - The Austin Chronicle

Matter Over Mind: The Future Rolls Toward Dripping Springs -- Riding Bulldozers and Money - News - The Austin Chronicle

Aquifer district votes to oppose - Austin MonitorAustin Monitor

Rocky Road for Cypress: A controversial Dripping Springs development proposal is facing new challenges in the new year. - News - The Austin Chronicle

Baker and the Benney Tract: Dripping Springs economic development, the city attorney, and the Benney Tract - News - The Austin Chronicle

Naked City: The Secrets of Dripping Springs - News - The Austin Chronicle

Read and Share the entire Christopher Boldt Series:

The Plan B Justice Group: To Be or Not To Be... Corrupt to the Core, The Christopher Boldt Series (Part One)

The Plan B Justice Group: Deep in the Heart of Texas a Scandal is Born, Chris Boldt Plays a Supporting Role (Part Two)

The Plan B Justice Group: Christopher Boldt's Texas-Sized Mistakes Follow Him to New Hampshire (Part Three)

The Plan B Justice Group: Stealing Power: Christopher Boldt Helps Municipalities in New Hampshire Squeeze Utilities For More Tax Dollars (Part Four)

The Plan B Justice Group: Tax Breaks for Town Officials in Berlin Raise Questions About Christopher Boldt's Lack of Legal Ethics (Part Five)

The Plan B Justice Group: Rigging the Rates Against the Deepest Pockets Doesn't Stop at Utilities for the Boldt and Sansoucy Gravy Train (Part Six)

The Plan B Justice Group: Gorham's Businesses Struggle Under Financial Pressure from Town's Deliberate Property Tax Gouging Scheme (Part Seven)

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