Serving Kerr County with a Conscience

HISTORIC CAMP VERDE ROAD SAVED

There were archaeologists; a beleaguered Kerr County Historical Commission Chair; a Native American; old-timers and recent immigrants; a recused Kerr County Commissioner; and a friendly, smooth-talking spokesperson for a multi-million dollar international corporation—the Kerr County Courthouse had its share of drama on Monday, Feb. 28, when the Commissioners Court met to receive public input on a proposed plan to abandon and sell the historic Camp Verde Road (owned by Kerr County) to Saint Christopher Properties, LLC (see accompanying article by Frances Lovett.)

After three hours of presentations and testimony, it appeared to be the impassioned pleas of old Kerr County families that swayed the Court, and caused Mr. Felipe Jimenez of Saint Christopher Properties, LLC (SCP LLC), to relent and withdraw the company’s petition.

THE COMMISSIONERS’ COURT

Guy Overby, Precinct Two’s new Commissioner (chosen by Judge Tinley for the Precinct, to replace deceased Commissioner Bill Williams) ignored the pleas of many of his own constituents by supporting SCP LLC’s petition. After huddling with Jimenez, Overby spoke vigorously and at length, reciting the economic benefits that he believed SCP LLC’s new restaurant would bring to Kerr County. Jimenez hinted darkly that the new restaurant wouldn’t happen without the road abandonment. Overby’s figures didn’t change the minds of the protesters.

Bruce Oehler, Commissioner for Precinct 4, might be called the hero of the day. Early in the afternoon, during Jimenez’s presentation (also lengthy), Oehler said that he “wasn’t convinced” that SCP LLC’s petition carried enough merit to outweigh the concerns of Kerr County residents. Rumor had it that Oehler received an onslaught of emails and telephone calls against the abandonment.

H.A. “Buster” Baldwin (Precinct 1), the Commission’s Liaison Appointment to work with and support the Kerr County Historic Commission, didn’t say a word, but beamed upon hearing that Robert E. Lee, while at Camp Verde, kept a pet rattlesnake.

One of the protesters’ dramatic triumphs of the day occurred when Commissioner Jonathan Letz (Precinct 3), the Court’s “enfant terrible,” recused himself from all proceedings on the subject, a scant few seconds before the meeting began. Several of the audience planned to ask Letz about rumors that his landscaping company was doing business with SCP LLC. Just before the meeting, Kerr County Attorney Rob Henneke was asked if Letz had filed a disclosure statement about this apparent conflict of interest. Although Henneke responded, “Yes, I think so,” the Kerr County Clerk’s office had no record of Letz’s disclosure statement.

Commissioner Letz, supposedly taking charge on an ill Commissioner Williams’ request, originally brought SCP LLC’s abandonment request before the Commission on Dec. 13, 2010. Due to the fact that the item on the Agenda was misworded (“Verde Creek Road” was used instead of the proper name, “Camp Verde Road”), Judge Tinley moved the issue to a later date, in spite of Mr. Letz’s urgings to continue.


THE COMMUNITY

Two Kerr County Historical Commission Chairpersons were largely responsible for the word getting out about the proposed action. Joseph Luther, Ph.D., a former Historical Commission Chair and professional historian, has extensively researched the Camp Verde historic site. On Nov. 5, 2010 he emailed numerous local contacts about the abandonment. Luther then went to the Hill Country Archaeological Association (HCAA) and asked them to support a request to the National Park Service, Dept. of the Interior, to designate the area as a National Historic Landmark. The HCAA rallied to the cause and many of its members were present at the hearing. Steve Stoutamire, President of the HCAA, gave an excellent presentation to the Court on the proposed historic designation plans.

Julia Mosty Leonard, the current Chair of the Kerr County Historical Commission, had the unenviable job of supporting the community’s concerns, while at the same time being politic with the Commissioner’s Court, which provides all of the Historical Commission’s funding. Monday’s decision proved her to be an exceptional and valuable champion of history in Kerr County.

The historic road appears to be an icon of the Hill Country, as passionate Kerr County residents spoke of their feelings for the road today and their memories of it in the past. One woman, moved to tears, drove from Houston to testify, and remembered driving the road with her mother and father. A tall, gray-haired man spoke haltingly of how he “just likes to drive down the road.” Gerald Witt, a former pilot and author of one of the County’s seminal histories (which now sells for over $100 a copy on Ebay), spoke eloquently to the Court about the road’s significance and the need for its preservation. Dan Simpson, a Native American and Vietnam Vet, spoke to Commissioners Baldwin, Tinley, and Oehler, and told them shortly that the abandonment “just shouldn’t happen.”

The clincher came when Mrs. Clarabelle Snodgrass, 97, tottered up to the podium and told the Commissioners to save the road. Snodgrass has dedicated at least 30 years of her life to the placement of historic markers around the County. She recently received the Governor’s Award, the Texas Historical Commission’s highest commendation.

BIG BUSINESS

Mr. Felipe Jimenez, representing SCP LLC, graciously conceded defeat when he withdrew the company’s petition, citing the overwhelming community response. Remaining cool and collected throughout the day, Jimenez reflected the sophistication and unusual business savvy shown by Saint Christopher Properties. It was obvious that the company had become convinced that community support was more important than the road abandonment. After the hearing, a large group of protesters adjourned to the Camp Verde Store for lunch—and Jimenez footed the bill.

Mary J. Matthews, for Kerr County Conscience

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