Friday, October 31, 2014

Valenzuela Waives PE Requirement Yet Again

San Angelo City Manager Daniel Valenzuela hired a new Water Utilities Director, a position advertised as requiring a professional engineer credential.  Bob Riley has loads of experience and qualifications, but he is not a professional engineer.  The city's PE dearth continues and the questions rises:  why can't San Angelo recruit engineers in staff or management positions?  Why does the City Manager repeatedly wave this core requirement, first for Ricky Dickson and now for Bob Riley? 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Trust Needed Before City Can Ramp Up Animal Collaboration

For the last five years the City of San Angelo's Animal Shelter has primarily focused on animal control, ignoring or even working against local animal groups, nonprofit and otherwise.  That was the message Friday afternoon to city leaders.  The list of concerns fell into two major groups:

1)  Intimidating, retaliatory and uncooperative behavior by staff and shelter management to local animal service groups and their volunteers, as well as whistle blower reports of animal cruelty and illegal behavior.

2)  The opportunity to collaborate with local animal groups in larger ways.  This opportunity was explored several years ago when local animal service organizations looked to merge and take over the city's animal shelter.  These talks fell through when the city wouldn't guarantee a consistent revenue stream for the ongoing operation of the shelter

It was interesting to hear layers of city leaders explain away concerns or blame the volunteers for something they had once done improperly.  

How would city leaders react if the Chamber of Commerce or Angelo State's Small Business Development Center said city staff was retaliating or intimidating their staff or potential new businesses considering locating in San Angelo?  Community partners are community partners.  For years a collaborative relationship has not been pursued in the animal services arena.

The Standard Times recently reported:

Cats: They’re on rooftops, in the trees, in the bushes and running wild on the streets of San Angelo.  Are they “community” or “feral” cats?

That was one question the city’s Animal Shelter Advisory Committee raised at its meeting Thursday. The ordinance proposal, which was revised by assistant city attorney Maxwell Branham with the guidance of the group’s subcommittee, to regulate cat colonies changed the verbiage from “feral” to “community.”

That revised ordinance was tabled until the next meeting because it was not made available to committee members until minutes before they convened.
Not only was the revised ordinance not made available to Animal Shelter Advisory Committee members, it was not made available to several members of the subcommittee drafting the proposed ordinance.  Those members are local leaders in animal service organizations doing yeoman's work to control San Angelo's cat population.  They expected to have the ordinance to share with local cat caretakers for feedback purposes.

The word "regulate" shows the city's primary orientation is control, not partnership.  Local cat colony volunteers requested this legal ground after the animal shelter ignored existing ordinances in their effort to remove cats from Mejor Que Nada.  This heavy handed  response to Mejor is also a reflection of the current regime.

Prior shelter managers collaborated with cat colony volunteers who spend their time and money to spay/neuter, vaccinate and care for San Angelo's cats lacking a human home.  Former shelter leaders did not need an ordinance to collaborate.

Back to Friday's meeting:  City leaders admitted animal control was their priority, despite several years when the operating budget placed spay/neuter and adoption as higher priorities.  If the city is truly interested in animal control, those are the methods to employ, especially for cats.  Simply put, the City cannot kill enough animals if spay/neuter and adoption are ignored as principle strategies.

The city has numerous partners in this area and it is hard to believe city management allows staff to work against or shun them.  But that was the story on Friday, told over and over.

Themes included how other rescues and animal groups around the state and nation don't like working with San Angelo's Animal Shelter.  This came from a local dog rescuer who works with Pilots N Paws.

NBC News reported

Pilots N Paws is an airborne rescue mission spiriting homeless dogs from traditional kill shelters where they quite likely would have been euthanized and flying them to new permanent loving homes all arranged by volunteers.
San Angelo operates a traditional kill shelter and there is much community interest and energy in shifting to a low kill shelter.  The City first needs to address the repeated concerns of retaliatory and illegal behavior.  This involves investigation, not explaining away by the leaders who allowed this situation to deteriorate the past five years.

Once that investigation is complete and a collaborative action plan created and committed to by the city and its community partners, then the groups can explore ways to more significantly collaborate.  If the first doesn't happen, there is no basis for undertaking the second.  Trust is nonexistent.  The City must earn it back.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

MedHab Partners with MJP Inc.

MedHab's press release stated:

"the company has established a partnership with Olympic champion and world record holder, Michael Johnson, and his athletic training organization, Michael Johnson Performance, Inc., to enhance the functionality of MedHab's lead device, RPM2
Our goal as a company is to leverage relationships, such as the relationship with MJP, to further enhance the capabilities of RPM2 to provide benefits to all athletes." 
RPM2 is listed on the partner page of MJP's website.  As of now it's simply a heading with no text underneath.  It will be interesting to read their representation of the partnership.  The press release stated:

Regarding RPM2, Michael remarked, "We tested RPM2 on a number of our team's professional coaches and believe this system will provide us with valuable feedback when monitoring our clients' performances. Our coaches are well trained in helping athletes improve their skills; however, we're now able to more objectively observe the mechanics involved in our clients' movements to enhance their abilities and avoid injury. RPM2 will be used as a regular part of our athletes' training.  Having competed professionally, I can personally attest to the importance of ensuring bilateral equivalence for optimal performance."
It will be interesting to see how mechanics come into play given Micheal Johnson's unusual sprinting style.

You would never find his rigid, upright stance, low knee lift and piston-like arm movement in any coaching manual.
He seemed to lose momentum by almost waddling from side to side in his lane, yet inevitably came out of the final bend ahead, like a wind-up toy that had just been let go.
Johnson is the star with name recognition.  What did MedHab have to give to partner with Michael Johnson Performance Inc.?   Is it an equity stake in the company, an annual fee or some other arrangement.  It's a private company so that's confidential business information.  However, it might be something future investors may wish to know.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Frac Sand Loading: The Grindstaff Position

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Grindstaff spoke to her and Texas Pacifico's position on and interest in the proposed frac sand facility:

"For those that don't know I am an employee of Texas Pacifico Railroad (Vice President of Marketing), which is the railroad through the City of San Angelo that proceeds on down to Presidio  It is a property and track that is owned by the State of Texas and the company that I am employed by is the operator of that.  I have no ownership position in Texas Pacifico and am merely an employee.  In my position I work with a number of customers that are looking for transportation on the track, as Mr. Pfluger has in this.  In serving this area.  My company has no relationship with Mr. Pfluger other than the requirement to provide transportation services to and from his site.  There has been some talk of a partnership.  That has gone nowhere with our management. So, at this time we're, we have the obligation to Mr. Pfluger as we do to any other developer on the rail to provide transportation as we are part of the national transportation network."

A retired railroad employee asked Councilwoman Grindstaff how the train would handle the frac sand loads:

Retired Railroad Employee:  "This question is for the railroad.  I worked for the railroad for 43 years and all these times and everything they are quoting.  That ain't going to happen.  Are you going to take these cars to his spot?  Are you going to hotshot them out to the yard at his unloading facility or are going to stop the westbound train to do the switch?

Councilwoman Grindstaff:  "I'm not the operations department.  I can't speak to that."

Retired Railroad Employee:  "O.K.  If they take the westbound train.  How many cars?  150, 100 cars.  If they stop there, they're going to stop short of the switch.  They're going to block all of the cars crossing across Oakes and Chadbourne Street with their train to go in there and get those empties out and put the load in there.  So there's going to be lots of delay on this train track.

Councilwoman Grindstaff:   "Generally the empties are picked up on a separate route. You're right."

Retired Railroad Employee:  "O.K.  Are you going to bring his loads by itself or are you going to have to stop a 150 car train."

Councilwoman Grindstaff:  "I don't know.  I think you'll have to ask Mr. Pfluger what his operational plan is.  That would answer that I think more clearly for everyone."

Mr. Pfluger did not rise to answer this question. Neither the frac sand hauler or unloader answered this man's question. 

Retired Railroad Employee:  "Like I say if you stop that train there going to Barnhart you're going to have to block everything east of there.  Time they get their empties out of there and get their air tests run and everything like that.  I worked 43 years for the railroad.  Like I said I know how long it takes to do stuff like that and it ain't going to happen (as described by Mr. Pfluger)

I applaud local citizens with knowledge educating the public and City Council on issues.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Pfluger & Grindstaff Behind Frac Sand Facility

Local tycoon Lee Pfluger owns Southwest Orient Properties LLC, the company installing a frac sand offloading facility in downtown San Angelo.  City Councilwoman Elizabeth Grindstaff helps rail oriented businesses find property and get established in our area.  The WSJ had this to offer about frac sand offloading in Barnhart:

When the wind blows from the south, unloading the tiny pebbles used in fracking can create small sandstorms that reach the few houses nearby.

San Angelo has more than a few houses nearby.  I heard an employee of the town of Big Lake talk about frac sand this morning.  They said it was from one end of town to the other.  This happened after offloaders promised it would be safely handled and spread would be minimal.

Longtime local leaders are behind the location and operation of San Angelo's new frac sand plant.  Citizens should remember their names should San Angelo's experience mimic Big Lake's.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

City Council's Frightening Agenda

San Angelo City Council's agenda packet for their October 21 meeting is a scary 868 pages long.  I searched for it Friday and Saturday to no avail.  It appeared today in the form of two documents. 

There are other spooky items besides health insurance.  They include:

1)  Potential concerns over the proposed use of the subject property as a sand transloading facility has prompted the request to provide an informational briefing, clarifying the distinguishing allowed uses within the Light Manufacturing Zoning District versus those that are allowed within the Heavy Manufacturing Zoning District. Residents in the adjacent neighborhoods to the east and west of the subject property are fearful of a significant increase in heavy truck traffic, in additional to the likelihood of potentially harmful sand particles going airborne, threatening the health of both children and adults living in the area. 

Note:  City Councilwoman Elizabeth Grindstaff's role with Texas Pacifco is to help locate new rail oriented businesses in our community.  Her district will likely have some impact from offloaded sand.  When the north wind blows sand dust could fall in Santa Rita. 

Southwest Orient Properties, LLC is the sand offloading proprietor.  Local citizen and MedHab angel investor Lee Pfluger is the only officer and director of Southwest Orient.

2)  Refinancing Series 2007-A Certificates of Obligation for water capital projects. Refinancing will allow the negotiation of a lower interest rate and will create savings for the City.
There will be deal fees associated with recalling the current bonds and issuing new ones.  It will be interesting to hear more details about projected savings and the new term of the obligation.

3)  Staff recommends the City Council authorize staff to negotiate and execute a contract with with Fugro Roadware, Inc. for professional services per Request for Qualifications (RFQ) ES-01-14 Professional Services – Professional Services for Pavement Data Collection and Pavement Management.   Professional Services for Pavement Data Collection and Pavement Management will not exceed $185,000. The funding for this project has been budgeted in FY 2014 -2015.

The lack of staff engineers will cost the city in yet another way.  Look for more details on what's included.  Hopefully, a council representative will ask why the city has to contract out engineering functions it used to complete in house.

4)  Staff recommends purchase of SunGard software in support of City Council priority to “improve the development process,” realizing greater efficiencies due to the ability to perform electronic plan submissions and review, mobile building inspections, automated plan status notifications, and the like.  Financial impact:  $276,876 (one-time cost) plus $46,120 (recurring annual maintenance)
The development software will integrate with SunGard's engineering application.  It's not clear if the city is using other SunGard applications at this time.

5)  Staff requests consideration of authorizing the payment of West Texas Water Partnership invoices as they are received. Currently, all invoices are reviewed by the City Council prior to payment.  Staff recommends automating the process for payment of invoices related to charges for the West Texas Water Partnership.
This proposal comes from the transparency Gold level Finance Department.

There's more fun to be had at this meeting.  The City's Health Department will do something other than shrink as it looks for approval of

6)  A Resolution of the City of San Angelo, Texas City Council Authorizing the City Manager to Ratify the Application, Execute an Agreement and Accept the Department of State Health Services Supplemental FY2015 Health Promotions & Chronic Disease Prevention – Texas Health Communities Grant funds in the amount of $50,000.00.

This isn't the first time staff asked for approval of a grant it already submitted.  The city's contributions will be:

Health Administration will work as the liaison for the TXHC Self-Assessment and work with DSHS Program Staff to devise a plan of action based on the results of the Assessment. The Health Department has no prior history with this grant.

The Assessment is due November 15th and the Project Work Plan December 15th.  DSHS will not devise the plan of action, as stated by Health Services Manager Sandra Villareal.  The program specifies the contractor, the City of San Angelo, will complete both the Assessment and Work Plan. 

San Angelo has public health in the shallowest of ways compared to services offered two decades ago.  This grant will not stem the reduction tide under Villareal.

That's enough fright for one post. We'll see if the council meeting makes these issues more of less terrifying. 

City Council to Act on Health Insurance

Last month San Angelo City Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer talked about getting staff salaries up to 85 to 90% of the national averages.  Other council members offered a different comparison group, cities our size or in our region.  Wages are but one component of total compensation, which includes benefits.  One key benefit is on City Council's published agenda:  

29. Consideration of matters related to Request for Proposal HR-01-14: 

a.Discussion of proposals submitted for Request for Proposal HR-01-14 for benefits regarding health/Rx, clinic, dental, flexible spending accounts, employee assistance program (EAP), voluntary benefits and COBRA administration. 

b. Consideration of selecting Benefit Providers related to Request for Proposal HR-01-14, authorizing staff to negotiate contracts, and authorizing the City Manager to execute said contracts and related documents Presentation by Human Resources Director Lisa Marley) 
The city budget projected health insurance costs to soar, with the city picking up a portion of the increase.  How much will employee costs for health insurance rise?  How much will retiree health costs increase?  Several years ago the city hammered employee and early retiree dependents with massive health increases.  It caused nearly 200 people to drop city sponsored health insurance.  The irony was City Council had access to Early Retiree Reinsurance Program funding and chose not to use a penny.

Last year HR Director Lisa Marley changed faces on health insurance costs between budget and council proposal   In one month the projected number swung nearly $1 million.  (fiscal year)

The City's 2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) revealed the health insurance fund to be much lower than budgeted, $469,000 vs. the expected $1.23 million. (fiscal year).  The actual drop was even larger.. 

In July Marley flashed a slide showing a projected $2 million increase in health insurance costs (fiscal year).  Staff proposed Council fund $750,000, leaving $1.25 million for employees and retirees to shoulder. 

Former Police Chief Russell Smith has been the voice of retirees on this issue.  Their pay was a fraction of their peers in other cities, yet the selling point was city benefits.  These retirees got neither fair pay or the promised free lifetime healthcare. It must gall retirees to see staff get a 5% across the board increase while their retirement income remains fixed.

Both staff and early retirees will pay more for health insurance coverage.  The question is how much?  Another question is how many positions will no longer have health insurance benefits due to the city's contracting out numerous functions formerly performed by employees? 

Council's discussion should include a deep and honest discussion on health insurance.  That has not occurred in years.