Monday, October 29, 2012

The Power of Will


San Angelo's Water Czar unilaterally made two decisions for City Council in October.  The first one was to keep pumping water from Twin Buttes South Pool.  A press release stated the item would be on the Council agenda for October 5th.

The City has been pumping water from Twin Buttes’ south pool to its north pool. Those pumps have been shut down to save on expense until the City Council decides Friday whether to continue the pumping operation.

Council did not take up the issue, as promised.  City Council went off Level III Drought restrictions in that meeting, so the urgency to pump was gone.  With elected leaders abdicating their publicized responsibility, Will Wilde unilaterally decided to keep pumping.

On October 17th City leaders tried to sneak $100,000 of already purchased and installed furniture by the rest of Council and the public.  It became clear Will Wilde perpetrated the furniture buy (inferred from comments made by city staffers).

Stranger was the soft pedaling on the unauthorized purchase by Mayor Alvin New and Councilman Kendall Hirshfeld.  New looked like he was caught trying to sneak the item through on the consent agenda.  His usual style of summarizing and directing disappeared into super-sized silence.

Hirschfeld tried to justify the purchase by the "wise reuse" of Water Department furniture, but even that line of questioning turned ugly.  At the end, Mayor New said council was a policy body, apparently one that doesn't enforce its own policies.  New tried to evoke an image of budget justice, but it came off as "just us" good ole boys, watchin each others' back.

Something smells bad. It has the distinct odor of hubris. San Angelo continues to surprise, thanks to Will Wilde and a council which seems to willfully follow his dictates.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

City to Ramp Up Utility Bill NonService?


Citizens with concerns regarding their City of San Angelo comprehensive utility bill may soon hear an automated voice when they call.  The city published a request for proposal for a non-customer service solution.

Most companies know that consumers hate their automated phone systems, called IVR or Interactive Voice Response. But they also know that automation makes financial sense.

A company may spend 50 cents to $1 a minute when a representative answers your call compared with 5 cents a minute when an automated phone system does the work, said Paul Kowal, a Boston consultant on customer-service quality.

The City of San Angelo is requesting proposals for an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) solution that:

1. Enables customers to process credit card payments over the phone
2. Integrates with our current CIS vendor - SunGard Private Sector
3. Integrates with our current credit card payment processor - Automatic Merchant Systems Inc.
4. Is a PCI Level 1 compliant Service Provider
Currently calls are funneled through our customer service main number and directed to our billing department where the calls are answered as agents are available. The Billing and Receipts representative accesses our cash receipt application and keys the customer information directly.

The City of San Angelo:
Customer accounts - Approximately 35,000 customer accounts
Call volume - Bills an average of 1,750 customers Monday – Friday, monthly
• Host database environment - SunGard Public Sector
• Host credit card environment – Automatic Merchant Systems Inc
• Has four cash receipts agents
Payment call volume - An increasing average of 800 calls per month
Pricing Proposal
Provide a detailed basic unit list needed to install and implement the system.
1. Include your proposed ongoing support and maintenance plan.
2. Include separate pricing for transaction fee model
3. Include separate pricing for convenience fee model

What happens when the city layers an Interactive Voice Response system on top of defective electronic water meters, originally intended to improve customer service?

The daily readings include the amount of water used each hour during the previous day, which will assist the City and residents in researching unusual water usage patterns that may result from leaks or malfunctioning sprinkler systems.

Might it be customer purgatory squared?

Update 5-27-14:  The new system starts Monday, June 2, 2014. 

MedHab to Drive Down Hospital Readmissions?


Could rainmaker and MedHab CEO Johnny Ross sell water to a drowning man?  Maybe, given his latest effort garnering MedHab free publicity.  The Dallas Business Journal reported:

Most companies love repeat customers. Hospitals, not so much.

Hospitals love repeat business, just not within thirty days of an overnight hospital stay for the same clinical condition.   Here's MedHab's solution to "drive down readmissions:"

MedHab, another medical device company based in Fort Worth, has a product that helps orthopedic surgeons evaluate whether patients are doing their rehabilitation exercises correctly after they leave the hospital.

How many orthopedic surgeons treat heart attack, heart failure or pneumonia?  Those are the three clinical conditions for which hospitals can be fined by Medicare. In 2015 penalties can be imposed for readmissions due to COPD, CABG, PTCA and other vascular conditions. Still no knee surgery.

The other issue is how much knee surgery is done on an inpatient basis, i.e. with an overnight hospital stay.  If total knee replacements are outpatient surgery, I expect tendon and ligament repairs go home the same day.

Failure to do knee rehabilitation exercises correctly is not a contributor to hospital readmissions, not by any stretch of the imagination.  Johnny Ross sold MedHab as a solution to a nonexistent problem.  Dallas Business Journal swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker.

Update 11-9-12:  The fiction continues on Upstart Business Journal

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Texas PUC Sends Electricity Rates up 200% by 2015


Texas wholesale utility rates were $3,000 per kilowatt hour this summer.  In August the Public Utility Commission (PUC) increased the maximum rate to $4,500 per kwh.  For some reason private companies didn't rush to build new electrical generation the last eighty some days.  Thus, the PUC vote for another increase.  Bloomberg reported:

The cap, which is typically reached during the hottest days or a sudden shortage of supplies, will be raised to $5,000 a megawatt-hour on June 1, 2013, $7,000 a megawatt-hour on June 1, 2014, and $9,000 a megawatt-hour on June 1, 2015

The $9,000 per kwh rate, a 200% increase, should provide visibility for the next Enron to set up a series of sham companies and lever market disequilibrium, be it from super hot or frigid days.  I expect Texas electrical consumers to be burned from high bills.  The PUC looks more like a private corporate commission, but that's pure Perry

Monday, October 22, 2012

Preying Yantis: Water District Had No Internal Controls

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Yantis Green stole $62,800 in water utility funds over a five year period.  He did so via over 1,000 illegitimate credit card transactions.  The Standard Times reported:

The second transaction that Green made with the credit card, in June of 2007, is described as "Romney for President" for $100. The Romney campaign was also the beneficiary of a later donation, as well campaigns conducted by Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.

The system failed at two levels.  First, internal controls failed to ensure Water District funds were spent appropriately.  Who reviewed and signed off on Green's monthly credit card statements?

Second, who conducted the Water District's annual fiscal audit?  Sarbanes-Oxley was intended to identify fraudulent use of funds by higher ups.

Five years with no internal controls and no effective audit?  It sounds like the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).

Update 1-29-13:  Green will serve one year in federal prison, face two years parole and pay a $3,000 fine for his crimes. 

Update 4-14-17:  Green is now a contributing writer for San Angelo Live.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

COSA Furniture Fiasco: Tale of the Tape

San Angelo's Channel 17 chronicled the extent to which paid leaders embarrassed themselves in buying and installing over $100,000 worth of furniture without City Council's approval, as required.  The players were:

  • Michael Dane, CFO and Interim City Manager when the furniture was requisitioned
  • Elizabeth Grindstaff, former Assistant City Manager in charge of the City Hall renovation project
  • Will Wilde, Water Chief and benefactor of the $100,000 furniture purchase

The discussion began with Michael Dane passing this off as a simple capital budget item, one already endorsed by council.  However, council members didn't have the same recollection and quickly honed in.  Leaders sheepishly admitted the furniture was already in use.  No one stepped forward to explain.  All pointed to Will Wilde, stating he had "the background."

In Will's world, other departments needed the Water Department's used furniture in an effort to economize.  Thus, his department required new furniture.  Will stated the purchase was "a complete replacement of furniture for the Water Department within City Hall."  The $100,000 bought furniture for two offices and one large work area with multiple work stations.

Mayor New, normally very astute, didn't jump on the prior installation.  He said to Councilwoman Farmer, "It's here because of the (purchase) amount."

Dane asked Wilde, "This is the furniture in your office?"  Wilde replied, "That's correct."

Former project leader Elizabeth Grindstaff happened to be in the audience.  She spoke at the request of council.  Below is my summary of what she offered,

The furniture budget Council approved for the project was over $200,000.   At some time "they" decided to change the furniture in their suite.  At no time did Mr. Wilde and I have a discussion over new furniture for the Water Department.  Another city employee worked with Will on this.

Who was the unnamed other city employee?  No one asked Grindstaff to clarify.

As the money came from the Water Department budget and the furniture was for the sole use of Water Department employees, it's obvious in my mind Will Wilde perpetrated this premature purchase.

One might expect Mayor New and Councilman Hirschfeld, as former captains of industry, to come unglued.  Neither did.  Hirschfeld asked about the disposition of the old water department furniture.  Dane said "We do not know what piece went where."  He thought some water department furniture had been reused elsewhere.

I recognize Michael Dane was Interim City Manager during budget preparation and he was working hard doing two jobs.  However, failure to track final use or disposal of city assets through a major project is concerning.

Councilman Hirschfeld let the sloppy handling of inventory slide.  He seconded the motion to approve the $100,000 furniture expense.

Mayor New's curious proposal was for new City Manager Daniel Valenzuela to find a $100,000 offset from the offending party's budget.  It evoked a "scales of justice" image, one with budget dollars on both sides.  . 

Entrepreneur Paul Alexander called the fiasco "an administrative fumble."  That analogy would apply if paid city leaders acted like a team.  It looked like Will Wilde declared the football his, running to the West end zone to buy furniture for his new stadium suite.

Councilman Paul Alexander stated "grace is under pressure."  He commented on Council's responsibilities to various groups, the furniture vendor and voters.  Alexander promised to talk to City Manager Daniel Valenzeula this week about the issue.

The City Attorney never said a word during this agenda item. 

The tape revealed several fracture lines.  Yet, it's amazing how little real information was shared.  Outstanding questions include:

1. Who signed the purchase order and when?  
2.  Who signed the delivery/pick up documents?  
3.  Who noted the vendor fulfilled their obligation? 
4.  Where is the $100,000 furniture item in any Council approved budget? 

The blame game continued in a Standard Times piece.  It reported Dane knew of the requisition and refused to sign it, citing the need for Council approval. As Interim City Manager Dane had the duty to bring the item to Council for vote.

"From our end the city manager's office was handling all the remodeling of City Hall," Wilde told me. "All we knew about it was we were to pick up the furniture we were given to replace it."

Who did the giving?  It's clear a power play occurred.  Someone unilaterally spent $100,000 of citizen's money without proper approvals.  The city may have a monarch within its ranks.  If that's the case, the City Manager and Council may be irrelevant.

City of San Angelo's Web Domain


Having caught only part of City Council's discussion of the furniture fiasco, I searched Google for Channel 17 to see when I might watch the meeting online.  The web address showed the City's website but the display showed something completely different.  It had two buttons from Network Solutions enabling one to bid on or renew the domain name.

The city approved a web redesign in May.  This could be a temporary issue during a domain migration.

Public Information Officer Anthony Wilson e-mailed me the city's web address, which remains in operation.  However, something changed, given links I posted, just days ago, no longer work.  They produce the same Network Solutions image.

I assume most of the links to the City's web site on this blog are now broken. 

Update:  I removed a statement about the city not paying for their domain and it expiring.  In looking at links that no longer work, they have a .org extension.  The bad Google links also have a .org extension.   Why are these links broken and why do they produce a page that encourages the web owner to renew? Computers are funny things, but fooling Google and a heavy website user in the same day is quite an achievement.  I look forward to finding out what changed.

Update 10-26-12:  Public Information Officer Anthony Wilson never acknowledged the Google search issue, but Councilman Paul Alexander did.  Today, the City's website directed web pages with the dot org extension to the correct page.   My links are no longer broken.

Update 4-23-13:  The City announced another new web domain, ostensibly to make it easier to find.  Given most people use Google or another search engine, this reason seems inadequate/inaccurate.  My guess is the city wants the old domain to expire, such that links will break.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

MedHab to Offer $750,000 in Equity

SEC filings showed MedHab returning to the equity market to raise funds.  In their October 10, 2012 filing, MedHab indicated it would seek $750,000, with $23,542 already committed.

MedHab raised $1.8 million in 2011 and $255,000 in 2010.  All three combined don't come close to San Angelo's $3.6 million nondebt, nonequity, multiyear capital injection for MedHab.

Another year, another capital raise, another logo. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

City's Furniture Fiasco Spoils Valenzuela's Debut


San Angelo City Manager Daniel Valenzuela's debut City Council meeting had a $100,000 furniture fiasco.  Council documents showed Water Czar Will Wilde reviewed the request on October 5, 2012.  On paper it looked like a simple budget amendment.  The live meeting indicated otherwise.

Item 4 concerned authorizing the purchase of wall systems, furniture, filing and storage system, and equipment for City Hall for $100,659,68 from West Office Interiors.

Councilman Dwain Morrison said the city authorized an additional $200,000 for office supplies, and now there was another $100,000, and he wanted to know what was going on.

Finance Director Michael Dane said the previously approved money was for the individual departments to purchase furniture. These moneys come from a different fund, Dane said.
City of San Angelo purchasing policies apply to the various buckets of money under Council's control.  

Purchases in amounts of $50,000 or greater – are subject to the requirements of the competitive bid process unless specifically exempted by State Law.
There are no furniture bids in the first or second half of 2012.  Returing to today's council meeting:

"I clearly remember them asking, 'Is this all?'" Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer said about the previous $200,000. She said she wanted to know more details about the new money.

City Water Utilities Director Will Wilde said the funds included the furniture in his department.

Dane said department heads had to come to council when asking for more than $50,000.
Note the dance here, given Dane and Wilde are the two men with information to fulfill Councilwoman Farmer's desire for details.  The council packet showed:

"$100,659.68 budgeted in Water Operating Fund."   
If funds had actually been budgeted and bids received, a simple council motion could release $100,000 for the furniture purchase and installation.   Yet, this wasn't the case.

"But this is after the fact?" Farmer said.

Dane said the furniture had already been installed, but the vendor hadn't been paid.
That brings us to the next problem the City faced under its purchasing policies:

The City of San Angelo is subject to the State Prompt Payment Act, which requires payment within thirty (30) days of the receipt of both a valid invoice and the acceptance of goods and services. The thirty-day period begins when the invoice is received or when goods or services are accepted, whichever is the latest. 
The goods had been accepted and the city was on the hook to make good in thirty days.  Council mostly let Wilde and Dane skate without a public lashing.

Councilman Fredd Adams said he didn't like how things had been done, but that the purchases should be approved. He did warn staff to not have the situation happen again.

This debacle not only fouled Daniel Valenzuela's City Manager debut, it silenced two captains of industry (New & Hirshfeld), an entrepreneur (Alexander) and the city attorney, (inferred from local news reports).  I'll watch the tape to hear what city leaders, elected and staff, really said. 

If it went down as reported, Water Chief Will Wilde is clearly in charge.  That's a valuable lesson for a new city manager, who has ready access to who signed the purchase order.

Nevertheless, Public Information Officer Anthony Wilson has a stink bomb with which to contend.  How can this story be rewritten to hide inattention, with possible incompetence or outright hubris?

Update 10-21-12:  The Standard Times reported City Manager Daniel Valenzuela said he is "looking into what went wrong.  I'm currently looking into the situation.  It is something that you don't want to happen in your first council."

Monday, October 15, 2012

Recreation Plan Hints at City Plans for Lake Nasworthy Development


Embedded in the October 16th City Council packet is a Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan (pages 384-616).  The Lake portion essentially calls for updating all of Lake Nasworthy's public parks.  Mary Lee Park received special attention for development as a public-private partnership.  The document proposes moving the Nature Center to a new Nasworthy-Twin Buttes park and providing modern marina facilities for Concho Cruises, which operates out of Mary Lee Park.

Staff recommends council adopt the plan tomorrow.  Should council do so, the public would have no time to review proposals and provide guidance to their City Council representative.  

Texas Outdoor Consulting, the creators of the proposed plan, sought public input in creating the plan.  I participated in a meeting on Twin Buttes Reservoir, as one of four windsurfing representatives.  

The City "operates" the park on the north side of the North Pool at Twin Buttes.  I would give the city an "F" on maintenance in my eighteen years of windsurfing from the shores of this park. City workers do pick up fireworks after the annual July 4th trashing, but that's about it.  A Texas Department of Parks grant provided a new boat ramp, but left out the promised rest rooms.

Enough about history, what about the future?  It's hard to know given this City operated park received no mention in this proposed Master Plan.  Also, the report does not mention any of the following words, North Pool, South Pool, windsurfing or sailboarding.

I e-mailed Parks Chief Carl White for insights regarding my questions. If this is the plan for Twin Buttes, it's clear as mud.  If it's not, I'd like to know when that plan might be out for public review.

Update:  The Twin Buttes Recreation Plan will be a separate document (as clearly stated in the report's Executive Summary).  

ASU Faculty & Staff Cheer May's Naming as President


Beleaguered faculty and staff at Angelo State University shook off their being left out of Presidential selection process.  They ignored the fact the local paper knew Sunday evening and employees wouldn't be near the first to know in San Angelo.  They gave common courtesy to Chancellor Kent Hance, the man who designed the secretive process which kept nearly everyone at ASU out of the loop.  They set aside a selection process seemingly designed for this very outcome.  

Like the people in Who-ville, the morning after The Grinch's raid, ASU faculty and staff joined hands and rang a chorus of joy over the "finalist" appointment of Dr. Brian May.  The human spirit remains alive at Angelo State.  It does my heart good to know that Texas Tech leadership and a chinsey state legislature couldn't completely crush it. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

ASU Presidential Finalist to Be Named Monday

Lubbock's Fox News reported:

One decision made by Texas Tech's Board of Regents at their meeting Friday won't be public until next week.

Chancellor Kent Hance said he will announce the finalist for president of Angelo State University in San Angelo on Monday.

Texas Tech's Presidential search has been couched in such secrecy that the Board of Regents indicated it "may discuss" ASU's Presidential replacement.  "May discuss" turned into a finalist. 

Monday should start the twenty-one day public notice required by state law before the board can authorize a hiring decision.  What Board of Regents meeting will occur in three weeks to meet the legal requirement?

Update 10-14-12:  The Standard Times announced Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance will reveal the name of ASU's new President at 10:30 am at the UC.  

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

ASU's Presidential Appointment Nears

Angelo State University's hush-hush Presidential search should be nearing an end.  Four finalists were unnamed on September 10th.  Rumors have Dr. Brian May and a woman in the final four.  Could it be Dr. Nancy Allen?

Texas Tech's press release stated:

The four recommended candidates will be interviewed by Hance and members of the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents later this month (September). The final selection will be made by the chancellor, who will make the appointment with the prior approval of the Board of Regents.

The Board of Regents won't consider officially naming ASU's new President until satisfying Texas law's 21 day notice requirement.   That means Tech's Board of Regents can't hire anyone at their October 12th meeting.  They could name one finalist, the one chosen by Chancellor Hance, and make them official in their December meeting.  A name (or names) could come at any time.  That's been Texas Tech's prerogative from the start.

Update 10-11-12:  ASU's President will be named tomorrow.  The latest rumors have someone from Texas Tech coming to clean house.  Which rumor will be on target?

Thursday, October 04, 2012

ASU's Niche $10,000 Degree


Governor Rick Perry ignored his role in growing college tuition costs during his terms in office.  Drastic cuts in state funding caused colleges to add a plethora of new fees while shifting costs to students  Governor Perry arrived at Angelo State University to push his four point plan for Texas Higher Education.
Angelo State became the tenth university to offer a Perry chastised $10,000 degree plan.  However, ASU's "Ten Grand Degree" comes with numerous asterisks.  First, the student must be a high achiever (which also helps ASU with their outcome based funding).  Nearly 14% of ASU's 7,000 students finished in the top 10% of their high school class.  That leaves 80% of ASU students out.

Second, students must be interdisciplinary studies majors.  Only three first time majors selected interdisciplinary studies in Fall 2011 and 82 had this major campus wide.  That's a mere 1.1% of ASU's students.

Third, the $10,000 degree is achieved by large university subsidies, i.e. scholarships.  ASU provides $5,000 per year in support.  That makes it a highly subsidized $30,000 degree.

Once again Governor Perry displayed his math shortcomings.  Maybe math and computer whiz Bill Gates will school the governor.  ASU's $10,000 degree program stands to impact few actual students.