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Letter to the Editor

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It WAS NOT election time mudslinging! Freshly defeated State Representative Ernest Bailes needs to be cleared or held accountable. He can blame his loss on losing votes to people who are "for taxpayer money going with students who choose to go to non-government-controlled schools" and the Governor inserting himself in a local election, but the fact of the matter is, he might have won had he simply answered some of the questions he was asked by voters concerning Colony Ridge. His refusal to cooperate made things difficult at election time, but the people of District 18 still deserve to know what part, if any, Bailes's relationship to Trey Harris and Colony Ridge has played in its success and survival. 

It was so serious that Plum Grove's investigation of Colony Ridge led to the filing of a criminal complaint against the State Representative Ernest Bailes. Missing in that investigation because he refused to provide them, are the State Representatives' phone records that were sought to establish the nature of his relationship with developer Trey Harris: Why the secrecy if he is innocent? Why, specifically, did Bailes refuse to deny acceptance of any trips or private business from Harris?  

Upon investigation, the Office of the Attorney General found that Colony Ridge in particular was made possible by a specific arrangement created by Senator Robert Nichols and Representative Ernest Bailes. Municipal Management District (“MMD”) authority was specifically granted to create an advantageous carve-out for the Colony  Ridge development to act virtually as its own city. According to Bailes, Liberty County asked for help. But MMD is a substantial deviation from lawmakers' original intent for MMDs. Bailes and Nichols in 2017 should have known that and not put their integrity out there to get it done. In 1991, the legislature created the Municipal Management District authority through Chapter 375 of the Texas Local Government Code.

Legislative Findings and Purposes in Chapter 375 generally show that MMDs were intended to be used to revitalize already-developed urban commercial areas rather than to develop raw land. MMDs were originally used as an extension of city government, providing tax authority to residents to beautify their communities and improve local economic conditions. Nevertheless, in 2017, Representative Ernest Bailes and Senator Robert Nichols specifically took action on behalf of Colony Ridge to enact HB 4341 (Chapter 3795 of the Special District Local Laws Code) which established a small, five-acre Municipal Management District from undeveloped land in Liberty County. Did Liberty County asks for this specific "help"….. an MMD? Is it even possible by 2017, these two politicians were unaware of the pitfalls of MMDs? Did Bailes collude with Harris and respond to Liberty County in a way that, instead of giving Liberty County more control over Colony Ridge, it gave Harris more control? 

Critically, this MMD was surrounded by countless more acres of undeveloped land owned by Trey Harris, whom the statute made President of the MMD Board of Directors and who remains in that role. Four of the five current board members work for Colony Ridge. The five-acre MMD Harris then annexed tens of thousands of acres of land is also owned by Mr. Harris. Thus, Bailes "help" made Harris much more powerful and, ultimately, richer rather than being a small urban revitalization district, it is a sprawling, highly populated settlement that will soon outpace the population of many cities in Texas. On top of that, it is ungoverned by any meaningful authority other than the Harris, whose primary interest is selling and re-selling more property to new residents, many of whom are illegal immigrants. 

Also needing review is the additional $40 million that was given to the Department of Public Safety for border operations and law enforcement in the Colony Ridge development in Liberty County under SB3. How was that arrived at as a solution? The so-called "solution" seems to be a boondoggle again for Colony Ridge.  

Bailes said, "The additional funding for Liberty County law enforcement will support the growth my rural district has experienced, and I'm thankful to witness these resources  

directly benefiting House District 18."  

Again, did Bailes put his integrity out there and help pass something he knew would be a plus for Colony Ridge? Bailes likes to pull other people in and point out they voted for the same thing, or they got a political contribution from Harris, but he needs to answer questions and be open so the people of District 18 can know there was no quid pro quo involving him and stop deflecting. Has Trey Harris started a new advertising claiming Colony Ridge will be safer than any community in the nation because of the budget being spent on law enforcement? 

Before the MMD, Bailes obtained the MMD for Harris. Isn't it true that if he observed Colony Ridge failing to adhere to legal requirements, wasn't it his duty to report these issues to the appropriate authorities? And we know that he did not report anything. Rep.Bailes remained silent. Was this because Bailes and Harris had a tight friendship, or was there an actual business relationship?  

Election day has come and gone by the time this post, and while Bailes decided to stay silent during the election and call it all a mudslinging operation, he should now be deposed and forced to answer questions. He works for the people of Texas, and his phone records should be chased with a subpoena. This willingness to even talk a little about Colony Ridge came after countless people have suffered devastating losses.  

Even then, Bailes chose to run ads and start a game of finger-pointing rather than prioritize questions his constituents asked over political gamesmanship. The election's end should not be the end of questions to Ernest Bailes, and it should not be allowed to be dismissed as some kind of election attack that he is the victim of. After he finally answers the questions, voters will know whether his defeat was caused by his actions or simply his refusal to answer to his voters. It was one or the other. 

- Richard Pegues