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informina designs FileMaker Database Designs Since 1989 Sales Contacts Inventory Workflows Registrations Membership Reports More Austin, Texas 512 263 2039 George Perry, Principal [email protected] The Herb 13 WI sr “Best place to cure what ails you” Explore our Oasis of Earthly Delights! extensive array of natural health and bodycare products comprehensive collection of herbs great gift ideas and much more! 200 West Mary 444-625 1 Mon.0Fri. 10-6:30 1 Sat. 1-5 served as a quiet steward for the millions of acres of land Texas ownsmost of it under the Gulf of Mexico or in lonely stretches of West Texas. It leased out mineral rights and funneled the money to the Permanent School Fund. Lately the GLO has been getting into the development business, buying land and setting up development deals in Texas cities. Now it wants to operate even more like a private development company, and is asking lawmakers for permission to keep details of its dealings secret. House Bill 699 would extend the amount of time the GLO can withhold the terms of a state land sale from the publicand from officials in the city where the land office might be working the deal. Now state land sales are subject to open records requests as soon as deeds have been transferred to new owners. According to Rep. Sylvester Turner, that places the land office at a disadvantage. In some complex real estate deals, the deed may transfer before all the terms are final. Or the land office might sell one parcel of land, but still be haggling with potential buyers of other parcels. It doesn’t help if everyone learns the terms of the first deal. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson says keeping details of land deals private until the last parcel is sold helps guarantee that he can raise as much money as possible for the Permanent School Fund. Critics of the bill point out that the government isn’t just selling the land it acquires. The land office can function as a developer as well, or enter longterm leases, and when it does, it has huge advantages over private developers: freedom from paying property taxes or obeying local zoning laws. Doing its deals in the sunshine and having to answer to the public has been a sort of trade-off for that governmental heft. Under HB 699, if the state enters a deal with a developer, choosing to lease the land for a period of years instead of selling it outright, all records of the deal, and what the land might be used for, would stay sealed. This is great news for private companies, which would otherwise have to open their records of deals with the government. But it would make it tough for cities, which would have no way to find out what the land office plans to do with the properties it owns, San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz told the House Land and Resource Committee at the bill’s February 21 hearing.. “They can conduct their business without public scrutiny,” says Narvaiz, who was surprised to learn last year that the state planned to develop 600 acres it had bought along Interstate 35 and lease space to big-box retail stores. The stores would move out of their current San Marcos locations. Under HB 699, which would close off records until the last subdivided parcel of land is sold, getting that information would be impossible. The GLO could, theoretically, keep the details of a land deal secret forever by leaving one small parcel unsold. Bo Tanner, the GLO’s deputy commissioner of asset management, told legislators at the bill’s hearing they shouldn’t think of the land office as a developer, but as “purveyors of capital:’ The land office was only recently granted the right to be a developer, and there are three places in Texasthe Wal-Mart distribution facility in Baytown, the Triangle Square development in Austin, and the CertainTeed Corp. plant in Shermanwhere the GLO has developed the property. In somewhat of a contradiction, another land office witness, Noelle Letteri, said that in fact, the bill was about helping the GLO in its role as a developer. In the case of San Marcos, Narvaiz said the GLO’s decision to develop the land along 1-35 disrupted a city development plan that was six years in the making. “All we wanted was up-front communication,” Narvaiz said. Though it passed out of committee on March 14, HB 699 is still sitting in the Calendars Committee, waiting for a date on the House floor. Your average American black vulture weighs in somewhere between 4 and 5 pounds. Your African Griffon vulture, on the other hand, hovers more in the 15pound range. They come in all shapes and sizes, but birds of a feather… well, you get it. Observer writers of various weights and sizes continue to circle the Capitol looking for legislative carrion. We crave suggestions for Bad Bills, so e-mail them to [email protected] . LETTERS TO THE EDITORS 307. W 7th Street Austin, TX 78701 ed [email protected] 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 20, 2007