Monday, April 14, 2014

City Council Has Taxing Agenda

San Angelo's City Council went from meeting on April Fool's to Tax Day.   The April 15th agenda is chock full of meaty items.

1.  Approval of April 1 minutes:  Council approved pumping water from the South Pool in the consent agenda.  The proposal cited two possible ways to move water from the South Pool.  Given there was no discussion of this item last meeting, the public is unaware of the city's plans for pumping.  Will this be mentioned?

2.  Energy Demand Response Services RFP award:  Council will consider awarding the our energy saving franchise to Energy Curtailment Specialists of Buffalo, New York.  The energy saved will result from shifting water treatment to lower demand times of day.  The city expects to be paid $163,720.30 annually for its participation.  What additional operating costs come with this?  Will it impact overtime, employee schedules, even employee retention?

3.  Foster Road Gas Station:  One citizen called it a truck stop complete with hookers.  Council will revisit this hot item from last meeting.

4.  Water Conservation Plan:  Once again the city has a vague water conservation plan.  The last council talked for years about having specific incentives for citizens to reduce water use.  Citizens are still waiting.

5.  West Texas Water Partnership:  In Executive Session council will discuss the duty of the attorney to maintain confidentiality and invoices dated 2-24-14 and 3-7-14.

6.  Economic Development Negotiations:  Executive Session.  Who's next for incentives?  The Development Corporation gave no clue.

7.  SAPAC:  The Performing Arts Coalition is back.  They get to sublet renovated City Hall space for market rates while paying $1 per year.  It's nice for citizens to give SAPAC that cash generating franchise.  Councilman Morrison hasn't been a fan of aspects of the SAPAC arrangement.  Will that change as Mayor?

8.  Water Related Matters (in addition to Water Conservation Plan and South Pool pumping from last meeting).  The Water Advisory Board, historically a rubber stamp for San Angelo's Water Chief, will be discussed.  Current water sources are on the agenda as is the city's participation in weather modification.

9.  Water Fee Rebates:  This item is to be considered twice a year, April and November.  These dates virtually ensure citizens won't get a rebate.  The city makes big money off water in June, July and August.  April is too early and November too late.  Also, the city's fiscal year ends September 30.  The time to consider a rebate is in August or September.  It need only be done once a year and that time frame makes much more sense.

Update 4-17-14:  Staff recommended no action and Council concurred.

10.  Val Verde Water Company:   An offer letter will be discussed.

Update 4-17-14:  The offer letter was not discussed as the item needs to be addressed in Executive Session through a West Texas Water Partnership report.

11.  Record Accounting for the Martifer Hirschfeld incentive:    This will be interesting as Hirschfeld, which bought out Martifer, hasn't come close to meeting its employment commitments.

Update 4-17-14:  Council moved this item to their Executive Session, discussion of Martifer-Hirschfeld incentive.  They gave no report on this after executive session.

12.  Animal Shelter Advisory Committee:  I'm sure Bradley Petty is a great person, but his animal bonafides aren't apparent.  San Angelo has many dedicated animal experts and volunteers.  More of these people could and should be advising council.

That's enough for now.  The tale of the tape will be interesting. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

MedHab in Midst of Fourth Capital Raise

SEC filings indicate MedHab is in its fourth capital raise.  Founder Johnny Ross sought nearly $1.1 million in investment with over $770,000 in the bag.  The filing came nearly two years to the day after San Angelo's City Council approved a $3.6 million economic development package for up to 227 jobs.  At the time I wrote:

The City of San Angelo approved a substantial investment in MedHab through job incentive money, paying for renovations, helping with capital equipment costs, paying a portion of a building lease, 100% tax abatement, dirt cheap space and refunding a portion of code compliance fees.
To date MedHab has only used city owned office space for $1 per year.  That could soon change.  The Development Corporation planning meeting mentioned a business incubator tenant moving out in the next six months.  MedHab's website has a different look, one a bit more promising of future developments. 

I imagine the City's economic support has been a great selling point in Medhab's last two capital raises.  After missing many milestones MedHab could be closer to the rosy scenario painted on January 3, 2012. 

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Turner Ends ConchoInfo

After ten years Jim Turner stopped blogging on ConchoInfo.  He has provided an important voice in our community, especially at San Angelo City Council meetings.  Jim will be missed.

While Jim won't be adding new content, I hope ConchoInfo remains available as an important historical record.  I wish him well in his work and personal endeavors. 

Friday, April 04, 2014

Furniture Fiasco: Grindstaff's Micromanagement in Reverse

The Standard Times reported:

“We are not going to be throwing any mud,” said Elizabeth Grindstaff, who is running for SMD 5. “At least that’s not my intention.”

Grindstaff said she hopes to make San Angelo a friendlier place for business, having had experience both in city government and in the private-business sector.

“I believe in a kind of grass-roots approach,” Grindstaff said. “I believe in making development easier in San Angelo, in spreading out that tax burden.”

She added that she thinks the council should be a policy board and, while it should expect a lot from city staff, it shouldn’t micromanage.

And candidates shouldn't have lied to city council about the role they played in Council's biggest embarrassment, the purchase and installation of over $100,000 in Water Department furniture for the new City Hall.

A star player in the Furniture Fiasco Production could soon be sitting on the City Council dais.  That's not mud, but a simple fact.  Surprising San Angelo!

Update 4-7-14:  The Standard Times reported on a candidate forum hosted by the Tom Green County Democratic Party.  Elizabeth Grindstaff said:  "The city has a staff paid to do a good job, and council needs to listen and act accordingly.  The city needs to be willing to instill a conservation ethic in the community."  “We need people to get involved,” Grindstaff said. “Don’t wait until something is wrapped in a bow and ready for council to approve it, get involved in different committees, go to the hearings.”

Update 4-12-14:  Grindstaff's campaign finance report shows a number of donations from prominent locals, i.e. there are a lot of good people on this list.  With this kind of support I expect her to win a Council seat.  Council won't be able to reconsider a Texas Pacifico economic development grant with Grindstaff on council.  She would need to resign and Texas Pacifico wait six months before such an award could be considered. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Two Drought Related Topics at April 1st City Council

San Angelo's City Council will consider two items suffering from drought this Tuesday.  Council will hear a proposal to re-institute pumping what little water remains in Twin Buttes Reservoir.  But before that Mayor Morrison will offer a proclamation regarding Public Health, decimated by city budget cuts going back over a decade.  The prior City Council nearly finished off public health, expecting state and federal money to supplant what little the city still offered citizens.

Consider this Whereas:

"Public Health has played an important role in laying the foundation for good health and improved longevity, by working to immunize people against disease, identifying and controlling environmental health hazards and infectious diseases; preparing for largescale emergencies; improving the health of mothers and children; and promoting health behaviors in areas such as nutrition."

San Angelo just experienced a deadlyH1N1 flu season.

Consider the wider immunization picture:

The City decimated public health services in stages, first dropping its longstanding primary care clinic.  Then it closed its pharmacy and transferred social services to a community agency.  Public health is a shell of its former self, now dependent on state and federal dollars for the few services left.

Consider the last Whereas:

"Strong public health systems are critical for sustaining and improving community health."
Like nearly everything else "strong" has been redefined down.  San Angelo faces critical shortages due to long term droughts.  Unfortunately, there are few signs either will end soon.  I wish it were an April Fool's joke and not the reality our community faces.

Monday, March 24, 2014

COSADC Board to Consider Monthly Meetings

Item #2 on the Development Corporation agenda is the move to one Board meeting a month.  The background packet stated:

City of San Angelo Development Corporation
Item 3. Consideration and approval of new meeting schedule.

Item Summary
Staff proposes a change of bi-weekly meetings to one meeting a month. Monthly Board meetings will allow for the ability to utilize the staff resources more efficiently and the ability to have sufficient time to produce the research or background information needed for the Board to make decisions. This further allows for transition of other government Board meetings that staff is responsible for.

Staff expects the COSADC Board meetings to be more meaningful, more productive, and a better use of Board member’s time.

The Board has the ability to call for a special meeting, should the Board need to meet for a special project or as needed during interim meetings.

Staff recommends for approval the following meeting dates: April 23, May 28, June 25, July 23, August 27, September 24, October 22, November 19, and December 17.

Financial Impact
Expect savings in terms of staff services time and budget allocations. Staff services includes but not limited to; legal, public information, finance, accounting, economic development staff.

Submitted by
Roland Peña, Director of Economic Development

Recommended motion
Motion to approve the new meeting schedule with the following meeting dates;  April 23, May 28, June 25, July 23, August 27, September 24, October 22, November 19, and December 17.

This comes a few months after Pena started as Economic Development Director.  Usually board bylaws specify a meeting frequency.  That language was not included in the packet.  The COSADC board has a longtime practice of meeting twice a month with called meetings as needed.

I find it unusual for a new leader to reduce time with their governing body so quickly in their tenure, especially as it had not been a theme in COSADC board meetings or board discussion in their recent strategic planning session.  Several members reacted to Pena's suggestion during the planning meeting, but it did not appear to be board driven.

Pena's logic of having one meeting a month to allow staff time "to produce research and background information" does not jive with "savings in staff services time and budget allocations."  How much time will be used vs. saved?  It's a logical inconsistency and one that deserves illumination.

Update 3-29-13:   The COSADC board voted unanimously to approve Pena's proposal.  There was no board discussion on this item prior to the vote.  Board members and longtime COSADC staff could've illuminated for the public why they'd met twice a month for years.  That would've prompted more discussion on whether those goals had been achieved.  Even Roland Pena could've spoken to this history and the current situation.  With these opportunities missed, Pena will present the "savings" at an upcoming meeting.   

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Furniture Fiasco: City's Internal Investigation

Human Resources Director Lisa Marley was charged with conducting an internal investigation on the City of San Angelo's unauthorized purchase and installation of over $100,000 in Water Department furniture for the new City Hall. The request came after this item spoiled City Manager Daniel Valenzuela's first City Council meeting.

I received the embedded document via a public information request.  It is undated and unsigned.  From the writing it appears someone other than Lisa Marley conducted the investigation (as the second paragraph mentions viewing a City Council video with Marley).

At least two voices are missing from this investigation, Purchasing Director Roger Banks and Interim City Manager (at the time of the unauthorized purchase) Michael Dane.  These two roles are critical and the document indicates neither were interviewed.

Banks could lay out how the process went vs. how it should have gone.  On April 26, 2012 Banks advised Assistant City Manager Elizabeth Grindstaff on proper procedure for West Office Supply furniture (with only $14,000 for Water Department furniture).  He referred to several aberrations in this e-mail.

"There is still nothing in the background memo requesting authorization for the actual expenditures.  Nor do the official minutes (or a written resolution exist) reflect authorizing the Interim City Manager to award the purchase to West Office Supply."

Dane controlled what items went to City Council during this period.  In March 2012 Dane instructed Elizabeth Grindstaff to not give Council the full picture of the "finish out" costs for a renovated City Hall.  Even a parsed presentation to City Council did not go over well.

When Council questioned Elizabeth Grindstaff on the $100,000 in Water Department furniture she said she never had a conversation with Water Chief Will Wilde on their new furniture.  City documents show a number of e-mails and phone calls between the parties.

While I understand Grindstaff and Dane's desire to run from this situation, it does not inspire public confidence, especially as Elizabeth Grindstaff could soon be a City Council representative.

The more the public learns about this situation, the clearer top leadership dysfunction appears between the big three names, Elizabeth Grindstaff, Michael Dane and Will Wilde.  The investigation concluded Wilde responsible.  From my seat it looks like a gang effort.