Sunday, January 19, 2020

San Angelo's Former Elected Police Chief Charges with Bribery

The Department of Justice press release stated:

Timothy Ray Vasquez, 49, was charged Wednesday with one count of receipt of a bribe by an agent of an organization receiving federal funds and three counts of honest services mail fraud.

“We must insist that law enforcement leaders personify integrity,” said U.S. Attorney Nealy Cox. “Former Chief Vasquez abused his office for personal financial gain. We are determined to root out corruption wherever we find it. Public officials cannot be allowed to violate their sacred trusts.”

“The defendant manipulated a government procurement process to personally profit for years. This abuse of power affected a system that is supposed to be fair and unbiased,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Dallas Field Office Matthew J. DeSarno. “Public corruption is one of the FBI’s top investigative priorities. We will continue to hold elected officials accountable for violating the trust of their constituents.”

According to the indictment, Mr. Vasquez allegedly used his official position to help a radio system vendor land two government contracts worth more than $11 million. In return, the vendor and its affiliates allegedly funneled him and his band, “Funky Munky,” more than $130,000.
City records show Council's actions on the updated radio system in late 2014-mid 2015.

Vasquez presented the item alongside IT's Bucky Hasty to City Council on June 2, 2015 when Council approved over $5.7 million for the purchase of the P25 radio system upgrade.

The city did not bid the P25 radio system, a $6 million capital budget item.

The city did bid the CAD-Records Management-Mobile Computing system during the same time period.  The city later sued Spillman Technologies for $3.5 million for fraudulently representing the system's performance.

Vasquez' indictment noted his ill gotten gains as the initial radio system was wearing out:

By 2015, Mr. Vasquez and Funky Money had collected more than $84,000, including $38,200 the defendant deposited directly into his personal bank account and $29,800 he withdrew in cash.
To keep the cash train going Vasquez needed vendor Daily and Wells Communications Inc. to win the new contract.

In an email with city employees, Mr. Vasquez indicated he wanted to “use the same vendor” for the new equipment, and urged the City Manager to support Vendor 1. In another email with a city employee, he discussed an exemption from the competitive bidding process that would allow San Angelo to award the contract to Vendor 1.
Following a presentation made by then-Chief Vasquez and another employee, San Angelo awarded a new $5.7 million contract to Vendor 1 in June 2015. 
Council approved Chief Vasquez' recommendation on June 2, 2015.

In total, Mr. Vasquez and Funky Munky received at least $134,000 from Vendor 1 and its affiliates, including at least $88,200 he deposited into his personal bank account and $29,800 he withdrew in cash.
The public deserves information on how the former Police Chief manipulated a government procurement process to personally profit for years. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

PAWS Changing of Guard at ASAC

San Angelo's Animal Services Advisory Committee will continue to have two board members that work for adoption services/veterinary contractor Concho Valley PAWS.  PAWS Executive Director Jenie Wilson will no longer oversee herself as of the end of January 2020.  PAWS Assistant Director Jen Murphy will take over her boss' slot, providing public oversight to Mrs. Wilson, the person who conducts Murphy's performance evaluation.

The two PAWS board slots combined with two City staff slots gives this combination a majority vote on any ASAC agenda item.  Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden provides public oversight for herself.  Health Department Director Sandra Villareal fills the other staff ASAC board seat.  Villareal previously oversaw the Animal Shelter and once referred to following nuisance animal ordinances as "the red tape way."

Not mention in today's Animal Shelter Advisory Committee meeting:  1)  Ordinance updates planned for November 2019 (but later cancelled) and 2) Draft adoption services/veterinary care RFP (with broadened scope of services and full fiduciary responsibilities).

PAWS Veterinarian and ASAC member Dr. Victor Schultze missed his third meeting in a row, which could trigger discussion of his removal if all were unexcused.

PAWS new building next to the Animal Shelter is underway.  There is no official opening date in any of the Standard Times or San Angelo Live news articles published to date.

Citizens who read the news were told not to take pets to the shelter in November 2019.  The articles did not come from the city's juggernaut Public Information Office and the city claimed to not know the source of the articles, which quoted PAWS Executive Director Jenie Wilson.  This was not the first time the city and PAWS were on different public relations pages.

Yesterday the Animal Services Advisory Board celebrated the reduction of animals taken into the shelter from October-December 2019 and corresponding declines in euthanasia.  Pets Alive policies constrain a citizen's ability to surrender their pet via managed intake and encourage managed intake of unowned pets.  In addition PAWS steered citizens away from the shelter with their "Shelter is Full" public relations campaign. 

The City of San Angelo does not allow a citizen to surrender their pet due to owner illness, health decline or death.  Moving out of town is not a reason that allows an owner to surrender their pet at the Animal Shelter.   The only two reasons a pet can be immediately surrendered at the shelter are aggression to humans residing in the home and natural disaster.

The City does not allow adopters to return their pet to the Animal Shelter under managed intake, instead steering them to pet rescues other than Concho Valley PAWS (the contracted adoption coordinator).  Area rescues have seen owner surrenders from Shelter adopters soar since the city began "managed intake."  Many of these surrenders have been unaltered, a violation of city ordinance.

PAWS Director Jenie Wilson told the ASAC in October 2019 she had compliance data on shelter pets meeting the spay/neuter ordinance but a December public information request had the city claiming no such document exists.  Standard contract language on the city's purchasing website addresses public information, ownership of documents and the city's right to ensure a contractor meets applicable regulations.  Apparently none of these terms apply to Concho Valley PAWS.

A PAWS for PAWS exchange is coming to the oversight board, courtesy of City Council.   It will occur this coming Tuesday.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

City Staff/Contractors Control Public Animal Services Board

The City of San Angelo updated its website for the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee (ASAC).  Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden has the unique role of providing oversight to herself, as do PAWS Director Jenie Wilson and PAWS Veterinarian Dr. Victor Shultze.  PAWS is the shelter contractor for adoption and veterinary services.

City Health Director Sandra Villareal formerly oversaw the Animal Shelter.  Years ago she referred to the city following animal ordinances as the "red tape way."  The public board is made of a majority of city staff/contractors who have a pattern of hiding behind one another when asked for basic information about shelter operations (shelter compliance with state law and city ordinances).

PAWS Director Jenie Wilson stated she had compliance data in the September 2019 ASAC meeting but the city had no documents when asked to provide that information.  

The City of San Angelo frequently hides information behind attorney-client privilege, as it did on the appointment of Chegwidden to the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee.  It has asked the Attorney General to withhold an e-mail chain regarding the community cat program, citing attorney-client privilege.  Community Cats is a top four strategy for the shelter under Pets Alive, which encourages shelters to be completely transparent on their operations.  

Transparency is not the city's strong suit in the animal services arena.  City actions do not inspire public confidence that relationships are arm's length and actions are above board.

Update 1-16-20:  The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee met today.   Changes since last year, plus the shelter is full call out by Concho Valley PAWS, reduced intake over 10% for most of the last quarter.  Two of the three pets cited in the update were dogs and both made it back to the shelter since their highlighted adoption/reunion.  The third was a community kitten who grew into a cat.  After a year in the shelter he rules his old neighborhood.  Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden and PAWS Veterinarian Victor Schultze missed today's meeting.  This is the third ASAC meeting in row Dr. Schultze missed.

Update 1-17-20:  City staff nominated Assistant Director for Concho Valley PAWS Jen Murphy to the Animal Services Advisory Committee.   PAWS Executive Director Jenie Wilson's term ends 1-31-20.  I assume this will be a PAWS for PAWS substitution.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

City Won't Ask PAWS for Compliance Information for Public

The City of San Angelo said it had no documents available in response to the following public information request (however it did answer the first two questions as seen in graph above):

“Please provide information on the animal shelter's compliance with the mandatory spay/neuter ordinance during 2019 (January to September). Please indicate:

1. Total animals adopted
2. How many were already altered before arriving at the shelter?
3. How many adopted animals had their spay/neuter surgery prior to leaving the animal shelter?
4. How many adopted animals left with an appointment for spay/neuter surgery?
5. Of those that left with an appointment, what was the wait time between leaving the shelter and the spay/neuter appointment (minimum, maximum and average)?
6. How many animals in this category made their appointment and were successfully spayed/neutered as required by city ordinance?

Assistant City Manager Michael Dane said the city would prepare such a report at the September 2019 Animal Shelter Advisory Committee Meeting.”
This issue arose in January 2018 prior to the city expanding their arrangement with adoption contractor Concho Valley PAWS.  Staff dodged Council questions on compliance with the city's spay/neuter ordinance.

Mayor Brenda Gunter asked for statistics on missed spay/neuter appointments.  Morgan started off with calling this rare, then elevated it to occasional.  She said the city has a "tremendous trust in this process where there's a reconciliation.  We know who is outstanding for their surgery and who is not."  One might expect Morgan to have used data from this reconciliation to answer the Mayor's statistics question. 
It arose again September 2018.

Animal Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden informed City Councilman Tommy Hiebert in January that the shelter released approximately 500 unaltered dogs to PAWS or other approved facilities.  The recipients would be responsible for spaying/neutering the unaltered pets.  The City of San Angelo adopted a mandatory spay/neuter ordinance in May 2017. 
Morgan's numbers to Councilman Hiebert indicate the city paid for spay/neuter surgery for 188 of the 688 unaltered dogs adopted from April through November 2017.  That's a mere 27.3% of the unaltered dogs processed and adopted by the shelter during that period.
I raised the concern about the city hiding behind a contractor at the last Animal Services Advisory Committee (September 2019).  I shared that the city did that very thing when I requested compliance data (in late 2017).  Two years ago the City said it did not have the documents (although their external contractor PAWS did).

Animal Services has provided an update that this (rabies certificate) is not a document of the city – an external vendor provides these services.
ASAC member and Concho Valley PAWS Director Jenie Wilson said they have that information and that city data used in my prior reporting was inaccurate.  I said all the more reason for the city to compel PAWS to provide basic compliance information when requested by the public.

The city has the right to compel PAWS to provide requested information at any time but it chooses not to do so.  I suggested Mrs. Wilson use the city's juggernaut public information department and her great ties with area media to broadcast PAWS compliance data with city ordinance and state law for the public to review. That has not happened over the last two years.

The City of San Angelo has defended PAWS in the past by implying it had data.  PAWS Director Jenie Wilson stated to a city board they had the information .  Yet neither party can or will share.  It's a two year journey to find the most basic compliance information.  When will it end?

Update 1-15-20:  Standard contract language for the City of San Angelo states: "PUBLIC RECORDS: Contractor understands that the public shall have access, at all reasonable times, to all documents and information pertaining to City contracts, and agrees to allow access by City and the public to all documents subject to disclosure under applicable law. Contractor’s failure or refusal to comply with the provisions of this section shall be considered a material breach of the Contract and may result in the immediate termination of the Contract by City."

In addition "City may, at reasonable times during the term hereof, inspect Contractor’s work, worksite and facilities and perform such tests, as City deems reasonably necessary, to determine whether the goods or services required to be provided by Contractor under the Contract conform to the Contract terms and applicable codes and regulations."  Compliance with spay/neuter ordinance fits under this provision.

"OWNERSHIP OF DOCUMENTS: Contractor understands and agrees that any information, document, report or any other material whatsoever which is given by City to Contractor or which is otherwise obtained or prepared by Contractor pursuant to or under the terms of the Contract is and shall at all times remain the property of City. Contractor agrees not to use any such information, document, report or material for any other purpose whatsoever without the written consent of City, which may be withheld or conditioned by City in its sole discretion."

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

City Council Ignores High Volume Spay/Neuter Nonprofit for Poor Veterinary Services Performer

San Angelo City Council approved the donation of veterinary surgical equipment to Concho Valley PAWS despite a request from Critter Shack Rescue to purchase the equipment from the city.  Critter Shack operates a low cost spay/neuter clinic that averages 1,800 spay/neuters per year.  It also partners with the city as the only sponsoring organization for the Community Cat program.

City Council contracted with PAWS in February 2018 for veterinary services.  PAWS performed 87 spay/neuter surgeries from May to July 2018 and has done none since that period.  Critter Shack performed 3,000 spay/neuter surgeries during the same period.

Council did not consider the Critter Shack proposal or its track record in serving citizens by providing low cost spay/neuter services.  The city's surgical equipment would have allowed Critter Shack to expand their clinic which benefits the public.

Critter Shack fits staff's stated rationale of "keeping it local, within Pets Alive coalition" better than Concho Valley PAWS.  Community Cats is a top strategy for the city under Pets Alive.  At the September Animal Shelter Advisory Committee meeting Morgan indicated community cats are taking up shelter slots due to the wait for spay/neuter surgeries.

Council did not consider PAWS role in making the current equipment "unused" by failing to perform under their veterinary services contract with the city, nor did it set any conditions for the equipment donation.

This sets the stage for Council to once again ignore PAWS performance on complying with the city's spay/neuter ordinance for pets in the Animal Shelter.  PAWS now will get the city's veterinary services equipment as it leases land next to the Animal Shelter for an adoption center for $1.  The two organizations are firmly in bed with one another as a new, deeper arrangement looms. 

Friday, December 13, 2019

PAWS to Get Animal Services Equipment from City

On 12-17-19 City Council will entertain staff's recommendation to donate Animal Shelter equipment to Concho Valley PAWS.  The equipment is an adoption trailer and veterinary surgical equipment for conducting spay/neuter surgeries.  The item is on the consent agenda which means it can be acted upon with no discussion for the public to hear.  Citizens should hear the reason staff chose PAWS over other area nonprofit animal service organizations, some of whom provide low cost spay/neuter clinics for the public.

Staff omitted two important considerations in their recommendation in the background packet.  The first is how PAWS has performed under their agreement with the city to provide spay/neuter surgeries at the Animal Shelter.  Council approved this arrangement on 2-20-18.  PAWS performed 87 spay/neuter surgeries over a three month period from May to July 2018.  That level of performance should be concerning to staff and City Council.  PAWS veterinarian was supposed to have been utilizing the surgical equipment for spay/neuter surgeries, not letting it sit unused. 

The second consideration that Council should be aware of is a draft RFP for expanded adoption/veterinary services was presented to the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee in their 10-17-19 meeting.  The vendor would set and collect adoptions fees independent of the city and bear the cost of spay/neuter surgeries and rabies vaccines.  The vendor will have full fiduciary responsibility, yet there was no information requested in the RFP to assess the contractor's financial stability or the quality of its accounting/fiscal controls. 

The ASAC discussion of the RFP on 10-17-19 raised concerns that the agreement would be arm's length, so much so Assistant City Manager Michael Dane intervened to coach members on the need for the proposed relationship to appear arm's length.. 

Donating equipment with value should be done within the arc of the proposed changes and the city should understand how cost savings would be passed on to citizens. 

The City has a contract with PAWS for adoption and veterinary services.  Any movement of city assets to this contractor should occur in public view and citizens should have a clear understanding of how such donations will benefit them.

Update 12-15-19:  Critter Shack Rescue is the Community Cat sponsoring organization for the city and it operates a low cost spay neuter clinic for area citizens.  They have performed well roughly 3,000 spay/neuter surgeries since Council approved hiring PAWS for veterinary service.  PAWS did 87.

Update 12-16-19:  Last week Critter Shack contacted Shelter Director and expressed their interest in buying the idle veterinary surgical equipment from the city.  They followed up again today.  So far there has been no response.

Update 12-17-19:  City Council asked two questions before approving the donation of city owned equipment to Concho Valley PAWS.  Mayor Gunter asked why the equipment was not put up for auction and Councilman Lane Carter asked if the equipment would revert back to the city should the adoption services contract end (answer No).  Shelter Director Morgan said the community would benefit from giving the equipment to Concho Valley PAWS for the city's Pets Alive initiative.  No councilperson raised the concern of PAWS nonperformance under the veterinary services contract with the city.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Natural Gas Pipeline to Go Under San Angelo Water Sources

A number of Concho Valley residents recently received letters regarding the planned development of a natural gas pipeline through Irion and Tom Green Counties.  SPGlobal reported last month:

Tellurian has invested in shale acreage and has proposed building four natural gas pipelines. Tellurian recently initiated the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission pre-filing process for one of those pipelines, Permian Global Access Pipeline.
Permian Global Access Pipeline filings with the FERC show the pipeline will cross three tributaries , Spring Creek, Dove Creek and the South Concho River.  Tellurian plans to put the pipeline below each flowing stream/river via horizontal directional drilling.

The pipeline will run between Mertzon and Sherwood. The area below is the most populated the pipeline will traverse in the two counties, Irion and Tom Green.

The next pipeline water crossing also has homes.  It's Dove Creek.

The Permian Global Access Pipeline will cross the South Concho River between San Angelo and Christoval.

All three tributaries feed Twin Buttes Reservoir, a main water source for the City of San Angelo. The City recently proposed replacing a city sewer line under Lake Nasworthy and plans to have the new line inside casement for safety reasons.  It's not clear if Tellurion plans to encase its 42 inch natural gas pipeline under each tributary.

Residents of San Bruno, California learned in 2010 natural gas pipelines can be deadly.

A faulty seam in a pipe owned by PGandE led to a tremendous explosion. The blast flattened or damaged dozens of homes and killed 8 people. To make matters worse, the section of pipe that led to the explosion was incorrectly listed as seamless, meaning it was not part of the safety inspections for sections with seams.PGandE faces numerous criminal charges for this incident.
Concho Valley residents expect their property and water to be safe from hazards.  Will the City of San Angelo take measures to ensure its water sources are not harmed by the planned Permian Global Access Pipeline?  Will elected officials do their part to ensure property is not harmed by the natural gas pipeline?  Citizens in Irion and Tom Green County have legitimate concerns and the time to hear them is now.

MotleyFool wrote in June:

LNG project developer Tellurian (NASDAQ:TELL) has proposed building the Permian Global Access Pipeline to transport natural gas from the region to Louisiana, where it's developing an export terminal. The pipeline would have the capacity to ship at least 2 Bcf/d and could start service as early as 2023. That time frame lines up with when Tellurian hopes to complete its proposed Driftwood LNG export facility.
Pipeline and Gas Journal reported in August: 

Tellurian has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to initiate a review of its proposed Permian Global Access Pipeline (PGAP) following an oversubscribed open season for the 625-mile natural gas project from West Texas to Southeast Louisiana's growing LNG export market.

In its 12-page FERC request to initiate pre-filing review of PGAP, Tellurian emphasized the economic and environmental benefits the 2.3 Bcf/d, 42-inch pipeline would provide as an outlet for stranded natural gas associated with Permian Basin oil production. 

PGAP construction could begin as early as 2021, and the project could begin service by late 2023-early 2024. To meet that timeline, Tellurian anticipates receiving FERC approval for use of the pre-filing process in September 2019, according to the filing.

PGAP is one of three proposed pipelines that would comprise the estimated $7.3 billion Tellurian Pipeline Network, which is integral to its planned $15.2 billion Driftwood LNG export project near Lake Charles. 
Tellurian is an liquefied natural gas (LNG) export playTotal and India's Petronet are the first big investors/buyers for Tellurian's LNG.  Bloomberg reported on Petronet's deal with Tellurian:

India’s Petronet LNG Ltd. signed a $7.5 billion agreement to buy into Tellurian Inc.s proposed liquefied natural gas terminal in Louisiana in what could potentially be one of the largest foreign investments in the U.S. to ship shale gas abroad.

Petronet will spend $2.5 billion for an 18% equity stake in the $28 billion Driftwood LNG terminal -- the largest outside holding so far in the project -- and negotiate the purchase of 5 million tons of gas per year. The remaining $5 billion of the total will come from a debt commitment.
India is one of the fastest growth markets for LNG and should soon become the second-largest LNG importer.
India's need for natural gas is clear.  It need not come at the expense of area property owners or San Angelo water users.

Update 1-2-20:  Tellurian CEO said "Most of the natural gas in the U.S. can be produced for as low as $2 per thousand cubic foot.  In our production in the Haynesville and associated gas in the Permian we can do it cheaper than that.  Less than $1."

Update 1-20-20:  The Standard Times picked up this story and used three of the four maps in this post.