On July 28, the fax machine in Governor Rick Perry's office whirred into action, spitting out an urgent message from John Scott, the director of Galveston County's Water Conservation Improvement District 12:
"William E. King is a frightening person and I have the deepest concern for the board of directors of Gal. Co. WCID #12, therefore I am requesting you give state police protection..."
The request might not have been all that unique except for one thing: King, the guy described as frightening, is also the mayor of Kemah.
Three days after that fax, the Clear Lake Shores Police Department received a letter. "On Friday morning...William King was in front of my home," wrote Scott. "I feel that this stalking action is very strange since he was quoted in the (Galveston County Daily News) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 as saying he thought 'I was mental and need help.'"
Maybe there's something in the water that drives northern Galveston County residents mad. The communities on the west side of Galveston Bay have long battled bitterly over annexations, noise, sight lines, roads and other issues (see "Showdown at the Shore" July 18, 2002, and "Wall Brawl Truce" December 26, 2002). But that feuding has taken another bizarre twist, with police being sought to protect a water district official from the mayor.
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King says the only thing he's threatening is legal action. He says he walks "over five miles several times a week for exercise," and that his route goes by Scott's home.
King says that what Scott really fears is losing power. He says Scott is holding up the annexation of two neighborhoods, South Kemah and Kemah Oaks, because allowing those 200 or so residences into the water district would ensure Scott's defeat in the next election.
Scott says King "wants to upset the balance of voters so he can take over the district," but "I'm on the board for the next three and a half years. It doesn't matter to me."
WCID 12 provides water, fire and sewer services to Kemah, Clear Lake Shores, parts of League City, the Lazy Bend subdivision and several unincorporated areas. But hundreds of its 1,500 connections are outside the water district.
The two Kemah neighborhoods are "out of district" customers. They pay regular water and sewer rates, plus a surcharge for the equivalent of what their property taxes would be if they were within the WCID 12 boundaries. However, they can't vote for, or serve on, the water board. "That," says King, "is taxation without representation."
King e-mailed Scott on July 18 saying, "I will not tolerate these folks being taxed and not having the right to vote in WCID elections. Get the annexation done as you promised and you and I will not have a problem. If you keep playing the games you are playing now, then we are going to have a big problem. "
Scott soon sought police protection.
Chris Richardson, the attorney for WCID 12, says the dispute stems from developers, including Kemah's former mayor, promising home buyers in South Kemah and Kemah Oaks they wouldn't have to pay property taxes. They don't, but in 1995, facing a negative balance and a $10,000 fine for non-compliance with state regulations, the water board determined that it wasn't fair that in-district property owners were paying more for the same services than those living outside the district. The water board, including the newly elected Scott, added the surcharge. Unlike property taxes, it is not deductible from federal income taxes.
King is representing residents in a lawsuit against the developers of Kemah Oaks. According to him, they won some issues in mediation and lost others in a trial. They appealed and a retrial is set for next year.
Since becoming mayor in 2001, King has also sued the former mayor of Clear Lake Shores for slander and threatened legal action against the wife of a WCID 12 board member. He accuses the wife of illegal campaigning.
Those aren't the only recent conflicts. The water district wants to annex a nine-acre tract in Kemah that includes an Office Depot. Scott says King won't consent without assurances that Kemah Oaks and South Kemah will also be annexed. King denies that, saying Kemah has already agreed to the annexations.
King accuses Scott of "bending over backwards" to annex the Office Depot site while stalling the annexation of the Kemah neighborhoods. Scott says there's a reason: Developers of the Office Depot tract put up $15,000 to cover the surveying and paperwork costs associated with annexation. As for the Kemah neighborhoods, "These people haven't put up a nickel," says Scott.
King also opposed the ouster of the former chief of the Kemah Volunteer Fire Department, David Dockens, after it was discovered he had a 1987 conviction for sexually assaulting a ten-year-old girl. Dockens was forced to resign in 2002 due to pressure from the water board, which controls the department's funding. Water board members say they were incensed that King and other Kemah city officials knew of Dockens's past long before his appointment as chief.
King argued that Dockens had completed the probation assessed in the case and that he had done an excellent job as chief. He says the case stemmed from a messy divorce, and believes Dockens is innocent.
Dockens "told us he confessed to a crime he didn't commit," says Richardson, the water district's attorney. "The board decided he wasn't qualified to ride in a fire truck."
Another problem is last month's denial by the Kemah City Council to allow construction of a new bubble-style water tower. WCID 12 had a $350,000 state grant through the city of Kemah, but King insisted on a lighthouse motif to appeal to tourists. That idea was rejected because it would have doubled the cost of the project.
The core conflict seems to be between those who want to attract tourists to the Kemah Boardwalk, and other residents who want a more bucolic lifestyle. "There's a new generation moving here," says King, "but that old crowd still controls the water board."
Richardson says "King and his Fort Worth-sized ego would like to run the water board. It's a cash cow and he sees it as a source of income." Dead broke ten years ago, WCID 12 now has a healthy surplus.
When asked whether Scott was being a tad paranoid in requesting police protection, Richardson points to King's "big problem" e-mail and one Scott received from "Debra" who wrote, "I am a resident of Kemah Oaks and have been made aware of your political advances concerning WCID #12. My husband and I will be watching, and will not tolerate this kind of underhandedness. We are watching."
Debra did not respond to e-mail inquiries from the Houston Press.
Clear Lake Shores Police Chief Paul Shelley says of Scott's stalking complaint against King, "We're not going to take any action because he's dealing with the state."
However, the governor's spokesman Gene Acuna says, "It doesn't look like we have any jurisdiction." No law enforcement agencies have contacted Scott or King.
"We used to be friendly," says King. "I voted for John Scott." Scott even sent King a congratulatory e-mail after his election as mayor. He says, "I wanted to work with him."
But King claims Scott is reneging on a campaign promise to annex the Kemah neighborhoods. Scott says King "is an outright liar. There's a not a bit of truth to him." He says he made no campaign promises regarding annexation. Scott ran unopposed and the election was cancelled.
Scott says his requests for protection are a precaution. "I'd rather be safe than sorry. He's got some friends over there that are pretty bad people," says Scott. "They're like cockroaches. Turn on the light and they run for cover."
Scott says he's open to the annexations of Kemah Oaks and South Kemah, and that the water board will receive their petitions for annexation at the next board meeting. If accepted by the board, the annexations would still have to be approved by a majority of voters within the district.
Richardson doesn't foresee an end to the bickering anytime soon. "You're talking about communities that would rather yell than talk," he says, "They seem to revel in it."
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