Monday, September 09, 2019

Council Never Discussed Stopping Recording City Board Meetings

The last two City Council meetings tackled City boards and commissions.  City Clerk Julia Antilley and City Attorney Theresa presented staff recommendations for Council to consider.

City Manager Daniel Valenzuela said it all came down to Council preference.  City Council approved ordinance changes last October for many city boards.

Changes Council approved in September came after considerable discussion:
One thing Council did not address publicly was the cessation of recording city boards/commissions.  I noticed the change and asked staff about it.  When communication stopped I submitted public information requests to understand how and why this decision was made.

The City chose to invoke attorney-client privilege and not reveal the rationale for no longer recording meetings for the public to view.  In January 2019 citizens could keep up with the following boards.

That commitment changed on the city's website in mid-April, four days before the scheduled Animal Shelter Advisory Committee meeting:

City staff made these changes without informing City Council.

I informed Mayor Gunter in mid-August and she was not aware of the change in practice, then four months old.  After contacting the Mayor I learned the city does not have a policy on recording board/commission meetings.

The City of San Angelo has a website statement on recording and televising board meetings for the public to view.  Many would see that as a policy.  At a minimum it is a written commitment to the public, which changed dramatically with no input from City Council or any applicable board.

Citizens can longer view the following boards going forward on Channel 17 or the City's YouTube channel.  I totaled the number of views for the specific board meeting.

The City has a new face for SATV, per a recent news release.  Let's hope more public service reductions are not on the way.

Many elected officials run on government transparency and openness.  There was none of that in the decision to stop recording three city boards/commissions.  That should be concerning to Council and citizens wanting to remain informed in specific areas of local government.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Municipal Court Revenues Down, Expenses Up

City Council's budget workshop on 8-27-19 had staff projecting a nearly $400,000 decline in Municipal Court revenues.  When asked why revenue had fallen the manager said the number of tickets written declined.  A second why question from Council got a deflection.

The Municipal Court manager was not the person to answer why the number of citations declined.  What manager fails to ask why when numbers differ from projections?  Staff frequently are unable or unwilling to answer the most basic questions from elected officials.

Curious as to the long term trend I pulled financial figures from the City's annual budget documents.  The numbers below are actual for 2012 to 2018, while 2019 takes the first ten months of the year and annualizes those numbers.  2020 is staff's projected budget.

Municipal Court revenues varied over the last seven years while expenses rose.  Assistant City Manager Michael Dane mentioned a reorganization that reduced court staff expenses but city numbers do not show an expense reduction for the year of Judge Gilbert's retirement or the upcoming budget year.

Judge Gilbert, now President and Consulting General Manager for Ener-Tel, retired from City employment after 44 years.  The Judge's reorganization got him full retirement benefits from the city, the top job as a major local employer that does significant business with the city and a $60,000 a year consulting gig with his former employer.  That doesn't count the Judge's spice business or his small court fill-in gigs at nearby towns.   Often employees suffer financially in a "reorg."  Not Judge Gilbert.  City Council approved the Judge's consulting agreement in March under the consent agenda.

I trust the revenue and expense numbers for each year until 2020 projected.  Finance staff like to under-estimate revenue and over-estimate expenses, sometimes called a budget cushion or sandbagging.  Time will reveal the accuracy of staff's predictions. 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Council Talked Interest on Fund Balance, Not Current Balances

On August 13, 2019 City Council held a budget workshop on the major funds.  Council tackled water, sewer and solid waste funds at the beginning of the meeting.  They discussed interest income as coming from fund balance but not the amount the city currently held in those funds.  Water, sewer and solid waste fund balances are up $20 million since September 2016.

Finance Director Tina Diershke mentioned the water rate plan intended to fund new projects.  City residents paid dearly since this plan was enacted in 2016.

Water fund rose over $11 million through June 30, 2019, smashing the 75 day cash on hand target.

Sewer revenue rose and its fund balance grew.  The City refers to sewer as water reclamation.

Water reclamation fund balance rose nearly $6 million though the end of June, reaching $13.4 million.

Trash (Solid Waste) revenues and fund balance grew over the period.

Fund balance more than doubled for Solid Waste, increasing nearly $3 million.  With almost $5 million in the fund the city has 2.5 years cash on hand.  That's way more than 75 days.

San Angelo's City Council and citizens deserve a clear presentation on major fund balances as they are substantial.  Council is responsible for the strategic direction of the city and the annual operating and capital budget.  Going through a budget process without addressing these significant funds shortchanges elected officials and the interested public.  City staff have a history of doing just that.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Fires in Irion and Tom Green County

I saw the second wildfire of the day when I headed out for errands this evening.   This picture is from the Foster Road bridge over Loop 306.  The next picture is from Sam's Club parking lot.

Around noon I saw a fire west of Arden Road in Irion County.  I thought about stopping to take a picture but traffic on 67 prevented me from pulling over.

A few minutes ago I noticed ash had fallen on the hood of my truck.  It reminded me of the fires north of San Angelo years ago.  Stay alert and Lord, keep everyone safe.

Update 8-21-19:  San Angelo Live did a piece on the fires.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Council Should Hear Reasons for CAFR Restatement

The City's annual report overstated 2018 revenue in four major funds, water sales, sewer service, stormwater fees and solid waste service.  Both finance staff and auditors missed errors totaling $4.2 million until after the comprehensive annual report had been presented to and approved by City Council.

Finance staff did not state why the errors occurred in their memo to council and City Manager Daniel Valenzuela has the item on the consent agenda for 8-20-19.  Hopefully Mayor Gunter or members of City Council will pull the item for the public to hear.  Coming clean on errors, that would be excellence in financial reporting.  

Update 8-20-19:   City Council Representative Billie Dewitt asked city staff and audit accountant about this agenda item.  The auditor said city staff presented information differently this year that resulted in auditors overstating revenue for September 2018.  That makes sense for water, sewer and stormwater.  It is hard to believe 42.1% of solid waste revenue fell in the last few weeks of the fiscal year.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

City of San Angelo No Longer

The City of San Angelo no longer records the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee for the public to view on Channel 17 or the City's YouTube channel.

As a result I attended the 8-15-19 ASAC meeting at the new Fire Training Station behind the Animal Shelter.  Although the committee met in a new training room the audiovisual computer system was not operational.  In public comment I shared my desire to watch the committee's 4-18-19 discussion on American Pets Alive and was disappointed to learn the meeting had not been recorded.  

In late June I asked the City to:

Please provide all available documents, e-mails and other forms of written communication on the decisions: 1) to hold the 4-18-19 Animal Shelter Advisory Committee meeting in a different location than the Convention Center 2) to not record the meeting for the public to view
The City chose to not share substantive information regarding these two questions.  They appealed to  Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton requesting an Attorney-Client privilege withhold which was granted. 

Mayor Brenda Gunter was unaware of the city's decision to stop recording ASAC meetings, as well as a number of other boards/commissions.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela has to answer to City Council.  Decisions impacting openness of government fit under Council purview.  Many elected officials included openness in their election platform.  

After the April ASAC meeting the City engaged American Pets Alive  to reduce the number of exterminated animals coming into the shelter.  The Pets Alive model has twelve strategies of which the shelter chose to address four.  Community Cats is one of the four.

This is a welcome change for citizens practicing Trap, Neuter, Return and Maintain for community cats.  At times the Animal Shelter has taken an antagonistic stance toward TNRM under two shelter directors. Citizens received legal protection to practice TNRM in February 2015.  CritterShack gave City Council an update during a February 2017 meeting.

Former Shelter Director James Flores offered false information to the ASAC on Texas cities and their community cat efforts.   Flores distorted survey results toward his preferred end, a regulatory control community cat approach.  

Pets Alive's community cat model is aligned with TNRM and a huge change for the city.  Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden informed the ASAC on 8-15 that the city was already returning community cats to the field.  One would expect the Shelter to reach out to CritterShack Rescue, the only rescue doing TNRM under City ordinance and make them aware of changes. 

Pets Alive visited the shelter in late May.  The City has not contacted Critter Shack regarding community cats changes, however shelter contractor PAWS positioned the organization for community cat grants by fishing for cat colonies.  

The City no longer takes owner surrendered pets due to things like owner illness or death.  (ASAC approved 4-19-19)

The City no longer will euthanize a pet for a resident of San Angelo. (ASAC approved 8-15-19)

Pets Alive is a data driven model intended to reduce annual intake to 1,400 pets a year.  Aggressive spay/neuter strategies are the lever to reach this goal over time.  That takes time, energy and money, things the City of San Angelo generally lacks when it comes to animals.

One can solve problems or push them off on others.  I am aware of one citizen who is being dumped on by a "friend" moving to the East Coast.  My guess is the new mandatory owner surrender policy is a factor.  Moving out of town is not one of the approved reasons for animal surrender at City shelter. 

The City reduced Animal Services such that former Mayor Dwain Morrison listed the things the city no longer did for citizens in one Council meeting.  We have three new "no longers" for the former Mayor's list.  My guess is there will many more as the city imposes more bureaucratic means to constrain shelter intake (mandatory owner surrender process, optional stray surrender program). 

Update 8-19-19:  American Pets Alive emphasizes No Kill Shelters have an organizational culture of transparency.  

Update 8-19-19:  A public information request produced the following answer:  "The City of San Angelo does not have a policy relating to recording board meetings." 

Update 8-20-19:  City Council reviewed ordinance changes for boards and commissions.  The proposal changed expectations but was silent on recording meetings for the public to view.

Update 8-31-19:  The Animal Shelter reopened dog intake from the public.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

City Fails to Inform Public: Animal Shelter Intake/Adoptions Stopped due to Illness

Yesterday evening Concho Valley PAWS posted the shelter would be closed for animal intake/adoptions due to sick animals in the City Animal Shelter.  It made the announcement via Facebook.  Earlier that evening PAWS Executive Director Jenie Wilson went on local television promoting the upcoming Clear the Shelter adoption event on Friday, August 16th from 10:00am to 6:00 pm and shelter changes.

Concho Valley Homepage added an update to their story after the Clear the Shelter event was moved to allow treatment of ill shelter pets:

The City of San Angelo is yet to produce any information for the public on the illness situation at the Animal Shelter.  Just before 5 pm the City Calendar suggested the program was still on for Friday, August 16th.

I returned to the City's website to find a calendar update around 8:00 pm but no information on the shelter being closed to intake and adoptions due to illness.  This is important information for the public to know.

The City did update an August 6th Facebook post with a new graphic.  I don't know how many people would scroll through eight days of posts and notice the change.

PAWS ED Jenie Wilson was to do a live remote interview on KLST's 6:00 pm news program.  I'll watch late news this evening to hear what she said.

Bottom line, it's the city's animal shelter and there is little communication on shelter animal illnesses, stopping intake/adoptions and the now September 7th event, which begins at 10:00 on the updated graphic and 2:00 pm on the City Calendar.

Update 8-15-19:  The City put out a press release on the situation at the shelter.  The release said the decision was made today vs. two days ago per PAWS Facebook page.