Sonny is grounded

There will be no sweetheart deal in Austin for Dallas businessman William "Sonny" Oates this year. Last Friday, Governor George Bush vetoed a nifty little piece of legislation that would have made Oates a small fortune and cost the citizens of Texas millions of dollars in new document filing fees. The Dallas Observer first reported on Oates' pet bill in an April 10 story, "Not so fast, Sonny."

"The governor was concerned that the bill allowed new and, he felt, excessive fees for filing of public documents," says Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes.

Oates owns a Dallas-based company called Government Records Services, Inc., which makes money by restoring old documents--like land records and deeds--for county clerk offices. Oates says that of the 254 counties in Texas, he does business with more than 100, including Dallas County.

This legislative session, Oates set aside some $100,000 for lobbyists to push a bill that would have required all county clerks to charge an extra $10 for every document filed with them during the next seven years. Those documents include things like property titles, plats, assumed business names, liens, and public notices of foreclosures and auctions.

The new revenue would help pay for document restoration. Amazingly, that is what Oates' company does.

But the very people who were supposed to benefit from Oates' legislation--the county clerks--didn't want it.

In March, a coalition of county clerks managed to water down the bill's language. Instead of forcing the clerks to increase the filing fees by $10, the new language gave clerks the option of increasing the fees.

The change prompted the County and District Clerks Association of Texas to withdraw its opposition to the bill, though many still fervently opposed it. The bill ultimately passed both the house and senate.

But resistance grew when scores of people who work in the title and real estate business began sending Bush letters expressing opposition to the legislation. As of last Friday, when Bush finally vetoed the bill, he had received 113 letters against the bill and 25 in favor of it, according to Hughes.

While downplaying the importance of the letters, Hughes says Bush vetoed the legislation because he didn't believe the state should stick its nose into this sort of county business.

"He felt that counties who want to improve their document restoration can make it a priority in their county budgets," Hughes says.

Dana DeBeauvoir, Travis County Clerk and co-chair of the clerk association's legislative committee, could barely contain her glee.

"Well, what a shocker. I'm completely shocked. I thought this was a done deal. I'm completely stunned," says DeBeauvoir.

Oates could not be reached for comment.


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