Friday, November 30, 2012

Second Unapproved $101,000 Expenditure

An October 4 e-mail from City of San Angelo Purchasing Director Roger Banks indicated two $101,000 items needing City Council approval.  The first, now known as Furniture-gate or the Furniture Fiasco, came to light on October 16.  No purchase order was issued "as required by local and state law" prior to the selection and installation of Water Department furniture.  Over several months the furniture amount rose from $91,000 to nearly $101,000.

The second $101,000 project also involved City Hall, specifically Change Order #7.  I search city council agendas and minutes and couldn't find this item in October or November.

Councilman Johnny Silvas asked new City Manager Daniel Valenzuela to check into "other purchases of over $50,000 that are out there" via e-mail.  Change Order #7 is one, at least in the eyes of the city's Purchasing Chief.

Click on the image above to make it larger (more readable)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Council Agenda to Show Water Department Audit?

San Angelo City Councilman Dwain Morrison asked to put an audit of the water department on the agenda for the next council meeting.  Morrison said he'd gotten 42 e-mails in the last week regarding a petition to audit the Water Department.  Morrison asked that it be on the agenda for December.  He closed with "It may be time to do that (audit)."

Morrison already expressed concern about a possible conflict of interest with Hickory employee on November 6th.  That employee turned out to be the son of Will Wilde, fired from the City and not eligible for rehire.

Since the November 20 meeting Water Chief Will Wilde and his assistant Tom Kerr retired.  Will that remove the pressure?  The agenda should be posted tomorrow.  I look forward to seeing if a Water Department audit is up for consideration. 

Update 12-8-12:  It didn't make the agenda and Councilman Morrison shared his disappointment that his request wasn't honored. The City met with some petitioners and has a committee on audits looking at what might be done.  

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Furniture Fiasco: The Production

The City of San Angelo's Furniture Fiasco began in early March of 2012.  In some ways it's ongoing, giving the sudden resignations of Water Chief Will Wilde and his Assistant Tom Kerr.

I offer the following slide set which shows a timeline of events, information from city documents and e-mail communications from key leaders.   I attempted to put a voluminous amount of information (kindly shared with me by Matt Waller of The Standard Times) into succinct, chronological order.   

Clearly, top city leaders had their fingerprints on this problematic purchase, which violated state and local law according to Roger Banks, the City's purchasing director, by not issuing a purchase order.

Water Utilities Assistant Director Tom Kerr played the largest role, while Water Chief Will Wilde served as furniture overseer.  Assistant City Manager Elizabeth Grindstaff cheered the initial order, something she omitted in her October 16th characterization to City Council.  CFO Michael Dane was Interim City Manager for virtually the whole timeline and the City Manager's office also cheered the order.

Purchasing Director Roger Banks seemed out of the loop until September, when he cited three concerns about the furniture situation.  However, Banks was the recipient of hand me down Water Department furniture from Kevin Krueger, a Water Engineer.

Bottom Line:  The responsibility to initiate the purchase order fell with the Water Department.  It's their budget and furniture.  Failure to work with the Purchasing Department and Interim City Manager Michael Dane in late May, early June resulted in furniture being ordered and installed in violation of policy and law.

There's more to the story, like how the parties reacted while being questioned by new City Manager Daniel Valenzuela.  Water Chief Will Wilde had the added pressure of a possible conflict of interest from his son Blake, fired by the City for cause and not eligible for rehire, working as a subcontractor for the Hickory pipeline project (a story broken on this blog).

As Councilman Alexander stated during the October 16 furniture discussion, "Grace is under pressure."  City Manager Valenzuela finished his investigation and meted out justice.  Hopefully, a large dose of honesty can relieve more of that pressure.

Update 11-28-12:  Kerr and Wilde finally spoke to their sudden retirement, citing a desire to slow down.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

Financial Audit & Pension Liability

Armstrong Backus presented the results of their audit of the City of San Angelo's financial statements to City Council.  Two items struck me.  One, the city's deficiencies in accounting for federal grants and two, a looming financial hammer from unfunded liabilities.

The city's inadequate handling of federal grants was its third strike in this arena, given it was an audit finding twice before.  The root cause cited was lack of knowledge of federal accounting requirements, which would normally point to greater support from the finance department.  Yet, this did not happen.  Auditors expressly pointed away from having finance take over federal grant accounting due to gross under staffing.  This would seem a great reason to add accounting support staff.  Instead the city will look to name/hire a grant administrator.

The problem arose from the city investing federal grant proceeds.  The feds don't like grant recipients making interest off their money.  This provided a chuckle given the city's sitting on $343,000 in federal ERRP money for over a year.

The auditor spoke of a $38 million unfunded liability from Texas Municipal Retirement System, the city's pension provider.  This liability will hit the city's balance sheet in 2015.  Councilman Hirschfeld spoke of other unfunded liabilities, like retiree health insurance.  Mayor New shared his concern regarding the expected rate of return for the city's two pension funds.  Under a low return environment, the city must pony up more to meet pension obligations.

The pension topic arose later in the agenda when council entertained the idea of re-instituting a 70% cost of living adjustment (COLA) so retirees could conceivably get a bump up in their pension checks.   When the city cut the pension benefit by decreasing the COLA from 70% to 50%, it effectively froze many retirees pension checks, some permanently.

Retired Police Chief Russell Smith spoke to the tremendous difficulties many retirees face as their pay was 40-50% below area and benchmark cities.  This low pay is the basis for their retirement benefit, meager for many at $500 or less per month.  Smith stated, "Not one good thing came out of that committee."  The city took away the pharmacy, decreased the COLA and raised dependent coverage 10 times what employees paid for health insurance.

The cost to return to a 70% COLA is projected at just over $1 million per year.    The city's current cost for the retirement benefit is $5.99 million.  It would rise to $7.02 million, an increase of 17.2%.  If the unfunded liability increased similarly, the $38 million would rise to .$44.6 million.

This City Council isn't interested in adding to unfunded liabilities.  Mayor New wants to explore investment returns, which could lead to riskier investments like private equity.  I expect another committee.  Will be a redux, one where nothing good comes to retirees?  It remains to be seen, whether benefits are raised or razed..

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Council to Revisit City's Website

San Angelo's City Council postponed a $90,000 request to update the City's website.  Council approved $40,000 for a new website six months ago.  The meeting minutes from May 1, 2012 stated:


Requested by Councilmember Morrison and responding to questions from Citizen Jim Turner, Multimedia Coordinator Brian Groves presented background information regarding the capability of the various functions the web host would build and design; the cost, related expenditures for the project, and the timeframe to complete the project; and the length of the contract.

General discussion was held on the capability of the web host, continuous technology changes, open source solutions, user friendly features, back office capability, and possibly considering Code for America as an open source framework provider.

Public comments were made by Citizen Jim Turner and Ann Joseph.

Motion, to accept, as presented, was made by Councilmember Adams and seconded by Councilmember Alexander.  Councilmember Morrison expressed his concern on the specifics of the proposal and the unknown facts to move forward with the website design.

A vote was taken on the motion on the floor. AYE: Alexander, Adams, Hirschfeld, and Farmer. NAY: New and Morrison. Motion carried 4-2.
Anthony Wilson was not in the Public Information Officer role when council addressed this subject..  Ty Meighan was.  However, Anthony is the one explaining the need for $90,000 today.  I look forward to his presentation.

Update 11-25-12:  ConchoInfo, the Jim Turner mentioned in the minutes above, ran a piece on the recent council discussion regarding the city's new website.  It's worth the read.

Update 12-8-12:  The Public Information Office will apply for funding for a server through an Emergency Preparedness grant.   This may or may not impact the amount of funds requested for the website, given servers can perform multiple functions. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wilde & Kerr Quit Water Department

The Standard Times reported:

The two top administrators in San Angelo's municipal water department both announced their retirements today, effective immediately.

Will Wilde, water utilities director since 2004, and Tom Kerr, assistant director since 1994, are leaving. No reason was given in the announcement, which came out through a public information division news release.
This is big news.  It's highly unusual for someone in such a critical role to retire, effective immediately.  It's even more unusual for their #2 to do likewise at the same time.  I'd love to hear from the fly on the wall during these discussions. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

ASU's Third National Search May Promote Internal Candidate

Might Angelo State University's national search for a top slot land an internal candidate for the third time in a row?  It May.  At least the first two searches did.  Dr. Brian May beat out a national panel for the Provost/Vice President of Academic Affairs slot in April of this year.  A mere six months later Texas Tech named May ASU's President from a national pool of applicants under an AGB Search.

May's second national victory opened the Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs position for yet another national search.  Which internal candidates could get the nod?  Interim Provost Nancy Allen is not a candidate for the permanent job, much to the relief of ASU office coordinators

College of Health and Human Services Dean Leslie Mayrand sat on the Presidential Search Committee which recommended May.  Could this be a feather in her cap for the Provost slot?  It May.

President May,  Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Mayrand, they both have a nice ring. Ah, I've gotten ahead of myself once again.  Let the search process run its course.  I've yet to see a timeline, but I hope it culminates in May.

Update 12-5-12:  The National Search Committee has been named.  ASU's website states the search committee will "make recommendations for a new provost and vice president for academic affairs by May 1."

Update 3-10-13:  The top 3 candidates for Provost/VP of Academic Affairs are all outsiders, like Anthony Blose.   Leslie Mayrand helped Brian May become President, but the favor was not returned.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Giving the City Its Due

I submitted questions to the City of San Angelo on the possible conflict of interest regarding the Hickory Pipeline Project, which I stated "were yet to be answered."  They included:

1.  When did Blake Wilde's Wilde Engineering become a subcontractor on the Hickory Pipeline project?
2.  Please send me Wilde Engineering's proposal with scope of work and conflict of interest documentation for doing business with the City
3.  Please send me Water Chief Will Wilde's conflict of interest filing with the city regarding Wilde Engineering's subcontractor work for the project Will oversees.
4.  Please share how much Wilde Engineering has been paid between June and now for subcontractor work on the Hickory project.
I said I'd post City responses after they're received.  Truth be told, Anthony Wilson responded to these questions on two occasions.  Here is his response to questions #1-4 on Halloween (10-31-12)

As for your remaining questions, the City’s contract for the Hickory Aquifer project is with Carollo Engineers. The City has no contractual relationship with any subcontractor Carollo may be using. Questions regarding its subcontractors should be directed to Carollo

That's answer #1.  As Carollo has no obligation to share information with the public, I pressed the city more directly.  This reply came the next day (11-1-12):

It would be atypical for pay applications from a general contractor, such as Carollo Engineers, to the City to include any invoicing from a subcontractor. In almost all circumstances, those pay applications are based upon certain benchmarks the contractor has met toward completion of the project. 

You are, of course, welcome to obtain copies of those pay applications. Because they are voluminous and may include Carollo tax identification numbers that may have to be redacted, we’d ask that you please fill out an open records request. You will need to fill out the form only down to where you, as the requestor, signs it. The rest of the form is for internal use and tracking. Also, here’s a link to the City Clerk’s open records page, in case you need further info about such requests. 
That's answer #2.  I'd hoped the information would be readily retrievable from the City's financial records or on EADOC, the computer software specified for use on the Hickory Project:

The CONTRACTOR shall utilize EADOC (EADOC is a registered trademark of EADOC LLC) for submission of all data and documents (unless specified otherwise in this Section) throughout the duration of the Contract.
1. EADOC is a web-based electronic media site hosted by EADOC LLC.
2. EADOC is paid for by the CONTRACTOR.
3. EADOC will be made available to all CONTRACTOR’s personnel,
subcontractor personnel, suppliers, consultants, and ENGINEER.
4. The joint use of this system is to facilitate electronic exchange of information, automation of key processes, and overall management of Contract Documentation.
5. EADOC shall be the primary means of project information submission and management

EADOC has financial applications.

A. Schedule of Value, Pay Estimates, and Change Request Proposals shall be submitted on EADOC. Supporting material for Pay Estimates and Change Requests shall be submitted on EADOC as PDF attachments. Examples of compliance submittals include, but are not limited to:
1. CONTRACTOR’s Schedule of Values.
2. CONTRACTOR’s Monthly Progress Payment Requests.
3. Contract Change proposals requested by the OWNER

I hoped a quick financial records/EADOC search could produce the information.requested, without printing voluminous pages and redacting confidential information.  It was not to be.  As Anthony Wilson told me over the phone, the city answered my questions, just not to my liking.  That fact we agree upon.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Minutes on Hickory Possible Conflict of Interest

Within a spirited discussion on the Hickory Water Project, draft City Council minutes state:

Councilmember Morrison commented on a potential conflict of interest and asked staff to review the issue.

After listening to the taped meeting several times, I heard Mr. Morrison ask Carollo's Hutch Musallam to call him regarding a possible conflict of interest with one of Carollo's employees.

I never heard Morrison ask staff to review the issue.  I did see City Manager Daniel Valenzuela slide his chair over and say something to Morrison.  His words weren't audible to the general public.  Might Valenzeula have said something about a review?  Could this be the reason it made the draft minutes?

Wildes Say No Conflict of Interest: Investigation Needed

The Standard Times ran their first story on the fired son of Water Czar Will Wilde and his hiring as an inspector on the Hickory Water pipeline project.  
Blake Wilde said his father has no involvement in his work.

If Blake read Texas law on conflict of interest, he'd know:
A local official is considered to have the same interest in a business entity that his or her close relatives have in that business entity. 

Conflict of interest applies to elected and paid positions.  "Within a governmental unit, “local public officials” are defined to include:
1. elected officials such as the members of the city council or county commissioners (whether paid or unpaid); and
2. appointed officials (paid or unpaid) who exercise responsibilities that are more than advisory in nature.

The City's Comprehensive Annual Financial Audit lists Principal Officials, one of which is Will Wilde:

Given principal officials exercise responsibilities that are "more than advisory in nature," state conflict of interest law would seem to apply.

As I read the Standard Times piece, many of the statements didn't add up.  While the city is yet to answer my first set of questions (including how much Wilde Engineering has been paid to date), I offer these additional questions:
1.  Did Carollo's Musallam know Blake had been fired from the city when he hired Blake as an inspector? There may or may not be an issue of misrepresentation.

2.  What kind of engineering work did Blake do for the city and does that qualify him for work on a water pipeline?  Blake's website shows roads.  There could be an issue of competency.

3.  If Musallam talked to the city attorney prior to hiring Blake, was he told by city officials of Blake's termination status, not eligible for rehire?  When did the conflict of interest conversation between Musallam and the city attorney occur?

4. The safe thing for "cautious people" to do would be to fill out conflict of interest forms.  Did either Blake or Will do so in regard to Wilde Engineering's work as a Hickory subcontractor?  If so, the city could easily produce these for the public

I doubt Hutch Mussallam got the whole story prior to hiring Blake, but I've been wrong before and will be again.  Musallam is now caught between a proverbial rock and a hard place.  Two councilmen chewed Musallam's backside on the schedule.  The same duo gave Will Wilde wide berth on the unauthorized purchase and installation of $100,000 in furniture for the Water Department.  Mr. Musallam would get council's wrath long before Wilde.

Precedent on conflict of interest had city officials misrepresenting Mayor Alvin New's Board of Director position with MedHab, a company receiving $3.6 million in economic development assistance from the City.  While New filed two affidavits in  regard to his MedHab investment, these were not produced for the public to view.  The public found Council's relaxing local conflict of interest standards to not pass the smell test.  Has the odor returned?
City residents will need to conduct their own "smell test" and ask whether they see a director unfairly singled out, or whether they smell something gone afoul.

It's not residents job to ensure paid city leaders act ethically and responsibly.  That's City Council's and the City Manager's.  I see paid city leaders not answering my questions, when they freely did so in the past under Ty Meighan's tenure as Public Information Office.  I've yet to see follow up in council on concerns previously identified, like the furniture fiasco.

So far it's been sweep, sweep, but that could change.

Update:  GASB is very concerned about conflicts of interest, as is the Engineering profession. Other groups, like most local nonprofits, have higher conflict of interest standards than the City of San Angelo.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

City's New Website Jumps in Cost

San Angelo City Council will consider a budget amendment for the redesign of the city's website.  Council approved the redesign in May for $40,000.  For some reason this original amount is not mentioned in the budget amendment.

Is the original $40,000 spent and the contractor needs an additional $90,000 to bring the project to fore? If so, something's wrong with the city's bid generation and evaluation process.

Why the omission of the original contract amount? This comes on top of the purchase and installation of over $100,000 of furniture without required approvals.

If I were a City council representative, such behavior would lead me to question the intent of staff.

Update 11-19-12:  City Public Information Officer Anthony Wilson called to inform me the $90,000 amount is for more than the Vision web site contract.  It includes servers to host the city's website, as well as equipment used to video and produce City Council meetings and content for Channel 17.  When I asked why this information was not in the packet, Anthony said his memo was "inartfully worded."

Update 12-6-12:  City Council approved a grant application that would provide the Public Information Office with $17,000 in technology, including servers.  It's not clear how these servers relate to the initial $90,000 budget request.

Update 12-15-12:  The web redesign went from information lite to information overload in the council packet.  It shows multiple options on services and maintenance.  Halfway through the memo, I felt I was reading Vision Internet's marketing brochure.  The proposal deals with redesign and hosting only.  There are none of the servers or video equipment/software mentioned as in the $90,000 on 11-19.
Despite having twice the amount of the project in a special fund, the presentation mentions possibly charging a fee for departments or users in FY 2013.

Will Wilde: Rainmaker

The City of San Angelo produced a graph (cartoon) showing the impact of its business-type activities in its latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

Principal Officer Will Wilde, Director of Water Utilities, is the city's biggest rainmaker.  Between Water and Sewer it looks like the City produced $12 million in profits on nearly $40 million in revenue.  A 30% profit margin, that's PEU sweet.

Update 12-6-12:  Despite making $8 million off water alone last year, the City has a $4.8 million fund that could be used for rebates.  Council targets 90 days of water revenue, roughly $4.9 million.  That should be closer to $6 million a quarter from the graph above.  While the rainmaker retired, questions remain as to how the bounty has been used.  It's not much a stretch for citizens concerned about Will Wilde's ethical gaffes to wonder if he acted like Yantis Green with the public's money.

City's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report

Item #9 on City Council's November 20 agenda is approval of the City's financial audit by CFO Michael Dane and accounting firm Armstrong Backus.  I found a few items curious from the year ended September 20, 2011.

First, health insurance provided over $1 million in cash from operating activities.  Over $250,000 was invested, leaving a nearly $750,000 increase in cash, bringing the total to $967,000.  The statement does not show whether the $250,000 investment is obligated to employee/retiree health insurance or if it can be used anywhere.

This extra million came from the city imposing draconian premium increases on employee and retiree dependents.  Their health insurance premiums rose from 36 to 58%.  City Council chose not to apply any ERRP funds to break the hardship.  As a result nearly 200 people dropped city sponsored health insurance. 

Ironically, this Council meeting has a 2012-2013 budget amendment for $343,000 in ERRP funds, buried in item #15.  Might it take three years for early retirees to benefit from federal money intended to make health coverage more affordable?.

Also odd about the audit report, the city claims it is 100% responsible for health insurance risk.  The city has reinsurance that shifts a portion of that risk to an insurance company.  Also employees and retirees share in both risk and premiums.  The city paid 70% and employees 30% of premiums during the audited fiscal year.  

A review of the document reminded me of the City's stepped up efforts to hide over $1.1 million in 2011-2012 health insurance savings    Nearly a year after Council approved an exclusive provider arrangement with Aetna using Community Medical Center, they executed a last minute budget amendment which purported to have equal offset.

I'll have to wait another year for Armstrong Backus to report what actually happened. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

No Answers Yet on Furniture Fiasco Investigation

The Standard Times ran a piece titled "City Council Sitting on Furniture Details."  However, story content pointed more toward paid city leaders not sharing the results of any investigation. 

Despite getting hundreds of pages of documentation on the unapproved purchase, the paper was not able to identify who signed the purchase order or put together a timeline showing:

1.  The beginning of communications with West
2.  When the purchase order was executed and who approved it
3.  When the furniture was delivered and installed
4.  When West first requested payment
5.  When the item was placed on City Council agenda for approval and by whom
This information may come, however there's another odd thing about the piece.  The Standard Times produced a story on the furniture fiasco without the name Wilde in it.  Water Chief Will Wilde stated in the October Council meeting, "We were given the furniture."  Any investigation needs to ask Will, by whom?  

The two names mentioned in the piece are  Assistant Water Director Tom Kerr and Assistant City Manager Elizabeth Grindstaff.  At the October Council meeting Grindstaff clearly stated the purchase occurred outside her bailiwick.

I wonder how many violations of city policy occurred in this one purchase? New City Manager Daniel Valenzuela deserves some latitude in this matter, as everything but the final approval occurred before his shift.  That said, enough time has run (nearly a month) for an investigation to be finished.  Time is not any investigator's friend.

The story stated:

City Manager Daniel Valenzuela said he might talk with Human Resources about what to do regarding the furniture purchase.

"I have a request I've submitted to HR," Valenzuela told me. "It's still an internal matter. It's something that is being addressed."
Public trust eroded with the unauthorized purchase.  Sharing the results and any corrective action will help regain that trust.  The only problem is another investigation calls regarding Will Wilde.  It involves Wilde's son Blake, fired as an engineer for the City, yet hired as a subcontractor on the Hickory Water project.

Might there be a drought of ethics in the City Water Department?  Rapid, thorough and transparent investigations are badly needed.  That's Valenzuela's responsibility.  It's a bad hand, but it's his to play.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Councilman Morrison's Hickory Stand

San Angelo City Councilman Dwain Morrison stood during Tuesday's council meeting and asked Carollo Engineering's Hutch Musallum to give him a call.  Morrison wanted to discuss a potential conflict of interest with a Hickory Water project employee.

The Carollo employee is actually subcontractor Wilde Engineering, started by Blake Wilde.  Blake is the son of San Angelo's Water Utilities Chief Will Wilde.

Blake Wilde started Wilde Engineering in June 2012.

Prior to forming an engineering firm, Blake Wilde worked for the City of San Angelo.

Anthony Wilson, Public Information Officer, shared Blake's employment history (after an information request):

Blake Wilde was hired Oct. 8, 2007, and was terminated for cause on June 8, 2012. He was earning an annual salary of $65,100 at that time. He is not eligible for rehire.
Surely, Blake's father had some idea as to why his son had been fired from the city.  It's not clear if Carollo's Hutch Mussallam knew of Blake's termination for cause before subcontracting with Wilde Engineering.

It seems odd for a fired employee to suddenly become a "go to" project inspector for getting Hickory pipe laying back on track by working 80 hours a week (at what hourly rate?).  

I submitted other questions, which are yet to be answered.  They are:

1.  When did Blake Wilde's Wilde Engineering become a subcontractor on the Hickory Pipeline project?
2.  Please send me Wilde Engineering's proposal with scope of work and conflict of interest documentation for doing business with the City
3.  Please send me Will Wilde's conflict of interest filing with the city regarding Wilde Engineering's subcontractor work for the project Will oversees.
4.  Please share how much Wilde Engineering has been paid between June and now for subcontractor work on the Hickory project.
I'll post City responses after they're received.

Morrison's stand happened after City Council pressed Carolla's Mussallam on the project schedule.

I expected a similar grilling from Mayor New and Councilman Hirschfeld on Water Czar Chief Will Wilde's unilateral expenditure of $100,000 on furniture, but that never happened.

It remains to be seen how Will and Blake complied with conflict of interest requirements.

The document states:

Q:  What is considered a “substantial interest” in a business entity (such that it would amount to a potential conflict of interest)?

A:  Close family member with any of the above interests: If a close relative of the local official has any of the above types of interest in a business entity. A local official is considered to have the same interest in a business entity that his or her close relatives have in that business entity. In this context, close relatives of an official would include persons who are related to the official within the first degree by consanguinity (blood) or affinity (marriage).18 Such relatives would include an official’s father, father-in-law, mother, mother-in-law, daughter, daughter-in-law, son, son-in-law and the spouse of the official.

There are many questions that need answering.  Like the Furniture Fiasco, the public deserves transparency.

Update 11-16-12:  Draft minutes of the November 6th City Council meeting state:  "Councilmember Morrison commented on a potential conflict of interest and asked staff to review the issue."   Did he really?  I only heard Morrison ask Hutch Musallum to give him a call in regard to a possible conflict of interest.  I'll have to rehear the tape. 

Sunday, November 04, 2012

City Council Minutes Hide Extent of Furniture Fiasco

San Angelo City Council minutes soft pedaled the purchase and installation of $100,000 in furniture for the Water Department, prior to required Council approval.

Councilmember Morrison expressed his concerns of the additional expenditure required for office furniture at City Hall and recalled the meeting when staff presented the item.

Clarification:  The item was $200,000 in furniture and council members were assured this would be the last change order on the renovation project.

Assistant City Manager/Chief Financial Officer Michael Dane explained City Council approved the purchase for general fund departments and had understood the other departments with their own funding sources would purchase furniture for their offices within City Hall and Community Development Departments.

Clarification:  Where is "this understanding" reflected in any city documents or city council presentations on the project?  Also, Dane stated the $100,000 request came across his desk and he flagged it for council approval.  Yet, that didn't happen.  Not only did Interim City Manager Dane not bring it, somebody executed the purchase order without required approval.  

General discussion was held and concerns expressed regarding the approval of the furniture purchase, the City’s purchasing policy, a department director’s authority to make purchases over $50K when such actions are required by policy to be reviewed and approved by City Council, and directive to staff to implement preventative measures to ensure the proper procedures are followed.

Concern:  There was no approval.  Someone acted unilaterally.  Why can't the minutes state a city employee executed a $100,000 purchase and installation of furniture without authorization?  Why do the minutes talk about preventive measures, when they should ask for an investigation, with possible disciplinary action?

Councilmember Silvas suggested former Assistant City Manager Elizabeth Grindstaff clarify the furniture budget approved of $200K. Ms. Grindstaff remarked the scope grew out of the balance funds remaining from the project budget and another staff member was working with departments on the office furniture purchase.

Clarification:  Grindstaff clearly stated the $100,000 purchase occurred outside her responsibilities as project manager.  Who is the staff member that worked with the Water Department to execute the unauthorized purchase?  Not one City Council person asked for their identity:

Motion, to approve the purchase, with the understanding the City Manager will follow up on the purchase and related procedure, was made by Councilmember Adams and seconded by Councilmember Hirschfeld.

Further concerns were expressed noting dissatisfaction with the process, the integrity issues among staff, the obligation to pay the vendor, and the responsibility of such action to the voters.
Expectation:  Given the wording above, one might expect a presentation on the investigation, its findings and any disciplinary action at the next City Council Meeting.  It's not on the agenda for November 6, 2012.. 

The first mention of the infraction came as Mayor imposed a measure of "justice."
Mayor directed the City Manager to find savings within the Water Utilities’s budget to make up for the unauthorized expenditure. Council concurred.

A vote was taken on the motion on the floor. AYE: New, Alexander, Silvas, Adams, Hirschfeld, and Farmer. NAY: Morrison. Motion carried 6-1.

"Just us" done.  Issued buried.

May's 21st Day: Goodbye Rallo

Angelo State University will hold a going away reception for President Joe Rallo Monday morning.  November 5th is the twenty first day since Dr. Brian May was named the sole finalist by the Texas Tech Board of Regents.  Texas law requires a final candidate be named prior to the vote.

Texas Tech University's website stated:

The governing body of the institution must give public notice of the name or names of the finalists being considered for the position at least 21 days before the date of the meeting at which final action or vote is to be taken on the employment of the person.

Monday should be a busy day with a goodbye reception, an installation and an unpublicized  TTU Board of Regents meeting to take the final action or vote on Dr. Brian May.

Update 11-7-12:  The Board of Regents named May President today.  I'll look for minutes for 11-7-12 on Texas Tech's website.  It may take awhile for them to be posted (if ever).  

Update 11-11-12:  Texas Tech Board of Regents used teleconferencing to hold a meeting on September 11.   In that session the Board approved Texas Tech TV as negotiated by Learfield Sports.  Fox Sports Television is the major network for Texas Tech TV.  ASU President Brian May could have been appointed by teleconference, like the TV deal. 

Update 2-8-13:  The Committee recommended May to the full board for vote in the November 7 meeting.  

Missing Ross McSwain

West Texas lost another treasure with the passing of Ross McSwain, noted columnist and author.  Ross loved the written word, so much so, he taught noncredit writing classes at Angelo State University and served as President of the San Angelo Writer's Club.

Between teaching, the newspaper and writer's club, Ross mentored many writers.  I met Ross in 2005 when I took his Folklore class through ASU. 

Also, I had the honor and privilege of serving under Ross, as Vice President of Programs for the Writer's club.  From our interactions, I offer a few of Ross' written words. 

Ross had a unique way of closing a number of his e-mails:

See you tomorrow night, provided the creek don't rise or we get a two foot snowfall.  Regards, Ross McSwain

God willing and the dam don't break, I'll be there.
On technology:

I got a call from a guy this evening wanting to come and tell us about his online writers group, but we got cut off and he has not called me back.  I hope he doesn't think I hung up on him, because I was in the middle of a sentence about the club.  I think he was using a cell phone.  I detest those damn things - another good subject matter to discuss.  The pros and cons of using telecommunications equipment.  See you tomorrow evening if everything goes well.  Ross

On outsourcing news writing to India (a CNN story):

I hate to see such garbage as this start, or be publicized.  Others will be doing it to save money and scripps is among the worst for having bean counters.  I hate to think what the future will be with big business running the government and still making money by hiring the cheapest.  As you know we sent men to the moon on an outfit built by the lowest bidder.  Cheers, Ross

On nominations for Writer's Club President in an October 23, 2008 e-mail:

I have not heard back from (possible candidate).  They have a farm place in Comanche County and may be over there.  Do you have any other ideas for the presidency (besides McCain or Obama)?  Ross

Ross is survived by his wife Jean.  In October 2007 Romance writer Ken Casper spoke to the club.  Ross had a conflict and couldn't be there.

I have a favor to ask.  I have to be out of town that day on a trip with my wife and I don't expect to be back in time for the meeting.  Would you please chair for me and give my apologies to Ken for not being there?  I would appreciate it very much.  My bride and I don't get to travel much together, so I am taking this opportunity to go with her to Brownwood for an all-day event.  Thanks, Ross McSwain

Ross expertly wrote about Texas Politics and Greed.  In my estimation it's a particularly bad time to lose someone with investigative reporting skills.

On Saturday, August 22, 2009 Ross e-mailed with the sad news of Elmer Kelton's death.   I returned the favor March 14, 2011, informing Ross of the passing of Dr. Preston Darby.  Nearly a year to the day later, Dr. Ralph Chase died on March 16, 2012.  Now we lose Ross McSwain.

San Angelo's treasures live in our memories, in the stories we tell.  Ross would call that folklore.  He'd want us to record stories, so we don't lose history.

God bless Ross McSwain, his family and loved ones.  Another great man is gone.

Update 11-8-12:  Rick Smith ran a column with Ross' thoughts for the ages.