Where It All Began

50 Years in the Making...Where It All Began
By John Heidman  - LI0000002
Pioneer and Leader in the Irrigation Industry, Founder of Irri-Tech, LLC, Former President of TTIA (TXIA)

This whole thing started more than 30 years ago, and since many of the original cast of characters are retiring, or worse yet have passed away, its time to chronicle the key events for the sake of posterity. Some of the facts seem to be getting a little blurred and unfortunately some of the people that made our licensing law happen are getting lost in the shuffle. With the benefit of hindsight, I now feel that there were two very critical times in the life span of our licensing law. The first one was obviously when we tried to passed the law for the first time. The sec- ond was when we almost lost the law in 1979 due to Sunset Legislation! The story of the irrigator licens- ing law is in fact a story of people. It takes leader- ship and dedication to pass legislation. Fortunately for our industry, we have had two Texans at different points in time who were willing to make an almost sacrificial commitment in time and money to lead the way at both of these critical times. The first was W. C. (Bill) Kleine of San Antonio and the second was Dale Ousley of Fort Worth.

Just for the record, I had a chance to witness much of our early history in the making and watched both of these men in action. I was at the convention when the TTIA was formed and have been involved ever since. I was one of the original three board mem- bers when this new law expanded the Texas Board of Landscape Architects to include irrigation. I hold license #2 which makes me one of the original 312 ir- rigators licensed under the grandfather provision of the law back in 1973. That was the first of my two ap- pointments made by the Governor(s) of Texas to the two different Boards (and later the Irrigator Council) that spanned fifteen years.

The whole idea of a state organization and some kind of a irrigator licensing law was without any question the idea of Bill Kleine. He owned Texas Lawn Sprinkler Company of San Antonio. If memory serves me correct he was a 5th generation Texan and his bride Sarah is a 7th generation Texan. Think about that one for a minute! His office was an exact replica of the early German ranch house so common in that area of Texas a hundred or more years ago. Bill had a very deep resonant voice and a story tell- ing mannerisms that could keep you entranced for hours as he gave you a physical tour through his of- fice and a minds eye tour through a little part of his families' Texas history.

Bill did not want to be a plumber in the lawn sprinkler business. He wanted his irrigation business to have the legitimacy of its own license. The first question he had to deal with was, how do you orga- nize the irrigation industry in a state the size of Texas in order to get a grass roots effort started? His answer was to approach Max Snoddy who owned Weather- matic (Telsco Industries) in Garland. Weather-matic held a meeting each year for their family of thirty to forty contractors who were located in Texas and the southwest. Max gave Bill 30 minutes at the 1965 meeting and that is how and when the Texas Turf Ir- rigation Association was formed. Understandably, Bill was chosen as the new association's first presi- dent. At that meeting Bill announced his motivation for forming the association. His stated goal was to create a grass roots base of contractors across the state that would help him eventually seek legislation for an irrigator license. You need to understand that this new licensing law was not just a desire on Bill's part, it was an obsession in its purest form.

In 1966 the new association held their own first convention at the Gondolier Hotel in Austin and the primary subject was the need for a state licensing law. There were a lot of folks who liked the idea of a licensing law but they really weren't ready to head for Austin on their own time, much less on their own nickel. The association also had a problem with membership because a lot of non-Weather-matic contractors in the state thought the association was purely a Weather-matic ploy for state control. Many contractors would not join up, including Hall Sprin- kler Company, which at the time was the largest ir- rigation company in the state.

At that same point in time, my life was dramati- cally changing. I started Dallas Weather-matic in September of 1968 and I was immediately confront- ed with the problem that Bill was talking about. One industry (the plumbers) were recognized by the cit- ies and could take out the required permits I needed, but our industry was doing the work. The plumbers were actually selling the privileges of their license for anywhere from $25 to $100 for each permit. It was the threat of the plumbers having a strangle hold on my new livelihood that sent me my wake up call. Bill now had one of his first real allies!

In 1969 and 1970 Bill and I met with several leg- islators in Austin and we were very quickly told that there simply were not enough people in the irriga- tion industry to warrant a state licensing law. Work it out on a local level is what we heard time after time. We are not going to create any new licensing boards--we have too many already and we are (the legislators) going to make some of them go away! We heard nothing encouraging from anyone. So we switched directions and went to a few professionals. The first one was a lobbyist named Jess Young who was a friend of Bill's. Jess filled us in on the mechan- ics of how our new bill would pass through the sys- tem to become law. But, those of you who are a little older will remember the famous Sharpstown scan- dal in the late 60's. It seems that several of the legis- lators got caught with their fingers in the cookie jar and all hell broke loose. In the next election many of these good old boys were thrown out of office. From that point on, and to this day, you didn't even men- tion the idea of votes for sale in Austin. Campaign re- form had hit Texas in a big way and with it came the big break our industry needed. With the new legisla- tive climate in Austin we started from scratch with another new plan. If the legislature would not cre- ate a new board for us why not attach ourselves to some existing Board. With that in mind we sat with Ms. Jan Ash who was the executive secretary for the Texas Board of Landscape Architects. Jan immedi- ately jumped on the idea of expanding their Board to include us because their Board was literally broke. They had too few fees from too few landscape archi- tects and a very expensive Uniform National Exam they had to buy from ALCA. If we added our income from renewal fees and exam fees to their income the Board could become solvent. In effect, the merger would save the day for both industries. Armed with this information the three L.A. Board members were contacted and an understanding was reached very quickly that we both could live with. The chairman- ship would always remain with the L.A.s and our name would not be added to the Boards title. But their principle motivation was that we had to let them change the wording in their portion of the law. At that time their law only protected the name landscape architect, but it did not prevent practice. They desperately wanted to change it into a “cannot practice” law.

We had a second stroke of luck. Bill and I were introduced to Mr. Robert Johnson, a very key play- er on the Hill! Bob held the position of Legislative Council, which means he was the legal advisor to the legislature. To our amazement Mr. Johnson was very sympathetic to our cause and sat with Bill and I right then and there. With in a few hours we had drafted the first version of the law that would add the provi- sion for irrigator licensing law to the existing L.A. law.

Our first effort at legislation was in 1969. But we didn't know our way around the system and our first lobbyist, Jess Young, was only being paid a pittance collected from a few members of the Association, and the bill never really got off the ground. But we had gained recognition from many of the legislators and their staffs who were becoming genuinely sym- pathetic with our plight. In 1971 the stage was set for what we felt would be our first really serious leg- islative effort. We finally had a war chest with some major bucks. We had good sponsors for our bill in both houses, and we had a lobbyist. What we did not know was that there were a whole bunch of “profes- sional(?)”landscape architects that did not want their law prostituted by “contractors”. What is even worse is that we didn't realize how desperately many of the 27,000 plumbers across the state wanted to kill our bill. Selling the privileges of their license to us made them look really bad to the legislators.

In spite of it all we made it through the entire process except for the third and final reading in the Senate. For some reason our sponsor, Senator Ike Harris of Dallas, would not ask to be recognized by the Lieutenant Governor (who presides over the Senate). The last hurdle was the 60 second formality of the third and final reading. Passage was virtually assured! But, somebody twisted his chain, probably the plumbers with more money then we were offer- ing through our WetPAC fund, and he never asked for the last reading. We lost it all in the last few min- utes of the fourth quarter. We were back in 1973 with different sponsors (no more Ike Harris), a bigger war chest, and it all worked! Senate bill #SB237 was passed by both the House and the Senate. Governor Dolph Brisco signed the bill into law and the pen he used is on a plaque hanging on my wall. The first real landscape irrigator licensing law in the United States was now in place in Texas of all places! A hand full of irrigators worked the floor; so hard that the Senators and Representatives jokingly said they were begin- ning to think that everybody in Texas was an irriga- tor. The Governor appointed W.C. Kleine, George Hall Sr. and myself as the first irrigator members of the Texas Board of Landscape Architects. (George Hall, Sr. was not active in the passage of the legislation but he was one of the few in the industry that could afford to travel at his own expense to board meet- ings for the first two years. The Board had no Irriga- tor Funds until the l975 General Budget was passed). During the first meeting of the new irrigators on the Board the first three license numbers were given to the three Board members. Bill Kleine was issued the coveted #1 license number because it was his vision. Bill died of cancer in 1992 at age 67 but he lived long enough to see his obsession become reality. I was issued license #2. George Hall Sr. was issued License #3.

George has also died of cancer. The next license numbers were given to the past presidents of the TTIA in the same order as their service. We licensed 312 people under the grandfather clause. As of this date only about 120 of the original grandfathers are still licensed. The next order of business was to ask the members of TTIA to help with the creation of the irrigator examination by submitting text questions to us. I volunteered to act as a committee of one to compile these questions into an examination. The first examination was given in l974 with less than twenty people sitting for this exam. If you don't have a warm and fuzzy feeling about the value of your li- cense it may be because you weren't around when we didn't have one. After 23 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal expenses and WetPAC funds we finally have a working law that is raising the standards of our industry. If we ever lose this law the permit privileges will revert back to the plumbers and you can kiss this industry off! Don't get complacent and lose it. YOU WILL NOT LIKE THE ALTERNATIVE!

Died February 3, 2012