Wednesday, September 20, 2017

What City Does Not Audit or Correct


In mid-August Citizens learned from public meetings the City of San Angelo does not audit two areas of concern, safety training to reduce workplace injuries and the protocol for euthanizing sick or injured pets.

On 8-15-17 City Council asked Risk Manager Charles Hagan about strategies to reduce workplace injuries.  The topic arose in a Worker's Compensation presentation of an actuarial audit which was completed nearly a year ago (9-30-2016).  Hagan said department managers are responsible for weekly safety training.  When asked if anyone audits to see if such training occurred.  Hagan said he did not review those records.

The Animal Services Advisory Committee (ASAC) heard how the city conducts euthanasia of sick and injured pets.  A public outcry occurred after shelter staff euthanized Misty, a deaf Rat Terrier/Pit Bull mix.

Staff presented the euthanasia policy in ASAC's August 17th meeting.  When asked about the city's compliance with its stated euthanasia policy Neighborhood and Family Services Director Bob Salas said "Hmmmm, I don't know."  He said he would need to check on this and get back with the board.

Salas knew for months the public wanted answers on Misty.  Competent management would investigate Misty's death and conduct a wider audit on euthanasia compliance.  A seemingly basic management question stumped Bob Salas.

In addition the city does not correct the public record when staff present false and misleading information.  Former Animal Services Director James Flores did just that in May with his Community Cat survey.  Flores twisted the results to support his desired strategy for community cats.

Below is my interaction with City staff on the topic:

Question:  How does the City of San Angelo correct incorrect information, willfully or inadvertently shared and recorded for the public to view?

Official City Response:  This does not meet the requirements of a open public records request. Additionally, I am not aware of any records that would respond to this sort of request.

Followup Question:  So the city has no policy, practice or legal requirement ensuring the public gets correct and accurate information?  If no such things exist, please send me the City Manager and Public Information Officer job descriptions.
The city sent the requested job descriptions, nothing more.

The public information officer must know:
· Legal, ethical and professional rules of conduct for public sector employees.

The city manager:
• Supervises and provides advice and counsel to department directors regarding policy interpretation relevant to City programs and services, and confers with department directors in planning and carrying out special projects. 
Neither party admitted the falsehoods perpetrated by James Flores which reside in the city's public record.  However, the Animal Services Advisory Board learned of Flores' lies during their August 17, 2017 meeting.

The city's call for management excellence rings hollow in a number of arenas.  It makes one wonder how deep the hollowness goes.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Railway Museum Closed for City Sponsored House Cleaning


San Angelo's Railway Museum is not open today, the day after the museum's lease with the City of San Angelo expired.  A sign on the entrance door stated the museum is closed for cleaning and suggested readers come back next Saturday.

This post appeared on the Railway Museum's facebook page on September 4th. 


The City sponsored housecleaning started September 5th when it rebuked Board President David Wood in full public view.  Wood resigned later that evening in a called Board meeting.  Volunteer Executive Director Shannon Carpenter resigned less than a week later.


Downtown San Angelo is promoting the Railway Museum for an event next weekend and for the upcoming Christmas Holidays.  Mayor Brenda Gunther also lends her time to Downtown San Angelo.

City Council will entertain lease renewal at their September 19th meeting but it's hard to believe the nonprofit museum can reconstitute itself in such a short period of time to be worthy of a twenty or fifty year lease.

Oddly the September 5th City Council minutes omit public comment from then President David Wood.

Motion:   Council Member Hiebert made a motion, seconded by Council Member Thompson , not to renew the lease related to 703 S. Chadbourne .
It does not mention that he spoke much less the points he made after introducing himself.


Wood We've been working closely with Daniel (Valenzuela - City Manager) and Cindy on getting all the figures and stuff together for them, that they asked for.  They told us there would not be a problem with renewing the lease.  So this is quite a surprise.  May I ask why?

Valenzuela:  Theresa (James - City Attorney), he's asking why we are not renewing the agreement.  So, he is asking for a response on that.

James:  That was issues that we were discussing in Executive Session and as attorney-client privilege requires I am not able to discuss it in an open meeting, nor will they discuss it as well.

Wood:  Y'all can't say why that just last week Daniel was saying everything is fine.

James:   I will say that in the meantime since you had the meeting with Daniel issues have came up that have degraded our belief that it would be prudent for the city to continue that lease.

Wood:  There's going to be a large campaign going on then, I guess through the media, that we will start today working on. If this release is not renewed let me assure you there will a large community outcry about it.  We've done everything we've been asked to do.  We had a problem with the lady that Daniel asked to come up and be the go-between between with the city and the Depot.  She just did not perform the duties as she said she was going to.  We've hired an Executive Director to take over that and we've been keeping Daniel and Cindy apprised of everything.  We've got everything ready to present to y'all.

We were told it wouldn't be done until next meeting.  We were told there was nothing on the agenda for this meeting.  So this is quite the surprise that this comes up like this.  We've got all the money shown and how where we're going to raise it as you asked for Mayor. We've got projections shown for.  We've been working with ASU even though they don't work with nonprofits normally.   ASU Small Business Development  made sure everything was up to snuff on everything in our business plan.  So this is quite the surprise that y'all decided to not renew this lease.  

Wood sat down and council voted.  The minutes recorded:

The motion carried unanimously seven (7) a yes to zero (0) nays.
Let the record show what a difference a day makes.

Update 9-19-17:  The City gave a decimated Museum board six months to get its act together after the city ran roughshod over the Museum's volunteer leaders 

Monday, September 11, 2017

City Engineer Speculated on Bell Street Project's High Bid


City Engineer Russell Pehl broke the bad news to City Council about bids for Bell Street reconstruction coming in way over his engineering consultant's estimates.  Pehl underwent repeated questioning as to why bids came in high for water and sewer work.


He said he could speculate why the bid came in much higher than estimated. Why would Pehl need to speculate when the contractor submitted bid pricing per city specifications?  The bid sheet broke out specific work for both water and sewer (wastewater).



This is not the first time city staff came across as clueless and uninformed before city council.  A professional engineer should be able to explain the difference between city engineering estimates and a construction bid, especially one that came in nearly a third over budget.  Homework, research, analysis and preparation beat speculation, especially in the engineering world. 

Railway Museum Runs Further Off Track



Volunteer Executive Director Shannon Carpenter resigned after a month with the Railway Museum.  She either could not pull together a fractious board or splintered it with her bombastic e-mails.  The volunteer board declined the opportunity to pay her $85,000 a year to serve as their paid executive director.

Still no word from former Board President David Wood who has to be considering where to take his giant sized railroad set and possibly a defamation lawsuit.  An understanding city management gave the new board President until Friday to submit a business plan worthy of a 50 year lease.  In six short days the City decimated San Angelo's Railway Museum. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Could David Wood Learn from Ken Landon?


The City of San Angelo's treatment of Railway Museum President and founder David Wood made me wonder what strategic moves remain for Wood and the Railway Museum.  Several years ago waterlily expert Ken Landon considered taking his considerable private collection of water lilies out of San Angelo.

Locals worked a deal to create a private organization for the lilies which the city actively supports. The proposed 2017-18 operating budget has over $100,000 for water lily garden operation.  Also, the city's website has numerous references to the waterlily garden.  One states:

One of the jewels of the Central neighborhood is the world-famous International Waterlily Collection, owned and operated through a contract by the City of San Angelo.
The City posted plans on its website for upgrading the Sunken Garden Park area:


The Waterlily website states the following about the legendary Ken Landon:
Ken has been growing, perfecting propagating techniques and hybridizing some of the most amazing waterlilies the world has seen.
He is the founder of the IWC (International Waterlily Collection) and the IWPR (International Waterlily Preservation Repository).
A nonprofit search on Guidestar failed to find a 990 for either of Ken's organizations.  A search of the Texas Comptroller site produced information on the second organization, the International Waterlily Preservation Repository.


The report showed its franchise tax involuntarily ended and someone in that organization would need to request the right to conduct business in the state of Texas.  How does this compare with the city's stance on the Railway Museum? 

The decision to let the lease lapse on Sept. 15 was based upon both those concerns and the museum’s failure to maintain its legal sufficiency.
Both David Wood and Ken Landon are passionate enthusiasts in their respective areas.  Both commit-ted significant personal time and resources to developing and sharing their specialties with area citizens.  I imagine both men would rather focus their time on their passion, not on the details of running an organization.

Ken got the city to support him, as I recall by threatening to leave.  People in the community helped expand his operation and are currently developing plans for a secure lily garden area.

Nonprofits cycle through functional and dysfunctional times. They deserve to deal with challenges privately and outside the public view.  That did not happen with the Railway Museum board, partly due to the pressure of eviction from city property.

David got the city's ire to the point it simply refused to do business with him.  Reports from San Angelo Live revealed significant conflict within the organization, at the board and paid leadership level.  Healing from such levels of conflict does not occur quickly.

The City of San Angelo debased museum leadership in a press release.  City Council members would not speak but the City Attorney hinted at problems with Mr. Wood at the September 5th City Council meeting.   In public comment Wood expressed surprise at the inconsistency of City Manager Daniel Valenzuela and promised a vigorous campaign.  That's all the public heard from him prior to his resignation as Railway Museum Board President.

David Wood no longer heads a nonproft but he retains his passion for everything railroad and his significant collection of historical items.   Surely a community in West Texas has a historical depot building he can help fill.

Ken Landon survived numerous dark days with little official city support for his waterlily passion.   Might David Wood recover from the city switching signals and ensuring a Railway Museum train wreck?

Update 9-23-17:  It's time for Lilyfest, the 12th annual event celebrating San Angelo's unique international water lily collection. 

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

City Goes After Railway Museum President David Wood

Anyone who has attended San Angelo's Railway Museum knows the critical role Board President David Wood has played in that operation.  His tours reveal his deep knowledge of San Angelo's rail history and the extent of his personal commitment to the operation as many exhibits are personally owned by Wood.

The railway museum is in the historic Santa Fe Depot and the nonprofit railway museum has operated there for over twenty years.  It's been an all volunteer operation.  The City no longer trusts the museum's number one volunteer who has challenged the city for not meeting its maintenance obligations under the lease.

Oddly, the city gave its auditorium to the San Angelo Performing Arts Council (SAPAC).  It provided $6.2 million in funding and another $1 million in historic tax credits.  The City gave SAPAC years to meet its fundraising goals before forking over millions in direct taxpayer subsidies.  Why the dramatic contrast in support?

City Council will need to explain why it fell over backwards for SAPAC while knocking the railway museum off the rails.  Both nonprofits enrich the community.  Both bring "heads to beds," tourists to town so they can rent hotels and buy meals.

Back in May San Angelo Live reported:
Wood and his board of directors are concerned that the city may be making a move to evict the 20-year-old museum of railroad history for a corporate suitor. 
City Council took the first step toward eviction with its action not to renew the lease.

What happens next with the old depot is up in the air. Rumors are that the City is interested in leasing or selling the old depot to a private company, such as Texas Pacifico, who runs a real railroad operation here. Spokeswoman for Texas Pacifico Liz Grindstaff said her company currently has a lease on their existing location and any speculation about leasing the depot is premature.

City Manager Daniel Valenzuela should recall the pain former Assistant City Manager Liz Grindstaff caused him with her role in the Furniture Fiasco, the unauthorized purchase of over $100,000 in Water Department furniture.  That debacle occurred in Valenzuela's first City Council meeting.

Grindstaff coordinated City Hall renovations, which originally excluded the city auditorium as it was in "good condition."   She left the city to join Texas Pacifico Railroad, which city staff recommended helping with a nearly $250,000 economic development incentive.  After City Councilman Winkie Wardlaw opposed the incentive Liz Grindstaff ran for his seat and won.

City Manager Daniel Valenzuela's investigation into the unauthorized furniture purchase hardly met the standard of competency.  It failed to answer the most basic questions and is unsigned and undated.  Yet yesterday Valenzuela had his attorney ignore the city's log like failures while pointing out the stick in David Wood's eye.

Time will reveal the city's true intentions. The Railway Museum Board must try to read the tea leaves.  If the city is intent on making money from real estate tossing David Wood off the board would make no difference.  It would be sad if the city's opaque approach splintered an all volunteer group with a noble mission.

It's incumbent on City Council to make their intentions clear.   The public can infer the city wants David Wood gone.  The question is do they want the whole operation out as well?

The Railway Museum does not have the city's PR resources which have already been unleashed in surprise attack fashion.  It does have over twenty years of goodwill in the community it can mobilize.  Will David beat Goliath?

Update 9-6-17:  A splintered railway museum board gave city staff the fodder it needed to not renew the lease.  So far all the communication has been from the anti-David Wood camp.  Goliath drove David out.  He resigned last night from the museum board so the organization has a chance to renew the lease.  It has an uphill climb to convince City Council the organization has revamped. 

Update 9-19-17:  The City gave a decimated Museum board six months to get its act together after the city ran roughshod over the Museum's volunteer leaders

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

City Council Booted Railway Museum and Deliberated Budget Public Hearing Behind Closed Doors


San Angelo's City Council looked secretive and unwilling to share the most basic deliberations in today's meeting.  The Executive Session agenda had two items where Council took action but shared no information.  The first involved real property at 703 S. Chadbourne..

b. Section 551.072 Deliberations about Real Property regarding 703 S. Chadbourne 

c. Section 551.071(2) consultation with attorney regarding 703 S. Chadbourne 
Council returned to public session and voted not to renew the lease at 703 S. Chadbourne.  The City  never identified the current occupant in the agenda or council discussion.  That is not honesty or transparency.

Railway Museum Board President David Wood heard about the move and cancelled two doctor appointments to attend.  His testimony informed the public watching live, not City Council or staff.  Wood offered public comment expressing his dismay at the turn of events.  When asked why, i.e. what were council's deliberations, Wood was told that information was under attorney-client privilege.

City Council hid behind attorney client privilege only to have staff produce a slick, scripted press release on the matter.  The press release quoted the same City Attorney who told Mr. Wood the reasons were confidential.  She did not hesitate to share information on Council's decision via news release.

City Council is the accountable body and it should not hide behind attorney-client privilege.  It should not delegate its responsibility to inform the public to a press release.  City Council held deliberations and took a vote in a public meeting.  They need to state the reasons for their action, which cancelled the Railway Museum's lease ten days before it is due to expire.


Oddly, staff moved the mandatory public hearing on the 2017-2018 budget to executive session from the public agenda.  The following item was moved after a nearly two minute silence. 

e.  Discussion and consideration of matters related to the fiscal year 2017‐2018 operating budget including:

1. First public hearing and introduction of an ordinance of the City of San Angelo approving and adopting the budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2017, and ending September 30, 2018. This budget will raise more total property taxes than last year’s budget by $1,540,425 (4.29%), and of that amount, $635,425 is tax revenue to be raised from new property added to the tax roll this year.

2. Conduct a separate record vote to ratify the property tax revenue increase reflected in the budget and place the adoption of this tax rate on the agenda for the September 5, 2017 regular meeting of the City Council as an action item. (T. Dierschke)
It's hard to vote and put the item on the agenda for September 5th when it is September 5th.  The shift to executive session was likely a procedural move due to poor planning.   However, it would be interesting to hear deliberations from Council on an item intended for the public to hear and make comments.  Citizens did not get that opportunity.

Mayor Brenda Gunther and City Council looked off step on the budget item and mean spirited on the Railway Museum.  They serve the public and should not hide behind staff.  Deliberations, even procedural ones, should be shared.