Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lewis Drove Autonomy Theme for COSADC

Development Chief Shawn Lewis drove the agenda for the joint meeting between San Angelo City Council and COSADC, the City's development corporation.  COSADC's November 14 agenda had this for item 16:

Discussion and possible action regarding the proposed Joint Session with Council and the COSADC Board (presentation by Shawn Lewis, Director of Community & Economic Development)

The agenda packet for that meeting offered:

A review of COSADC proposed bylaws changes to achieve the following:
     a. Gain Council approval for all items approved in the annual                      budget document
     b. Gain Council approval for all actions—excepting contracts and
          incentive grant agreements—that are contained within                      a planning document approved by COSADC.

Shawn's clearly sought a wide range of autonomy, although he left before achieving his goal.  Lewis left before Christmas to join former City Manager Harold Dominguez in Longmont, Colorado.

The joint meeting occurred on January 22, 2013.  Shawn effectively setup his development board with draft bylaw language effecting the above strategy.  City Council did a nice job of listening and bringing everyone toward something they could support, streamlining while Council remained accountable for spending taxpayer money.

Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer asked "Why" this request and "Why now?"  One board member cited "the former director" as the driver of autonomy.

Councilman Johnny Silvas pointed to a former abuse of "autonomy" in the purchase of over $100,000 in furniture without required approvals.  Four players in that move are no longer employed by the city.  Two found new jobs before the debacle broke and two resigned, apparently as a direct result of the Furniture Fiasco.

Oddly, the man who couldn't corral this layer as Interim City Manager was promoted to Assistant City Manager/CFO. Adding to the oddity, the November Development Corporation packet included almost $50,000 in unbudgeted items Lewis wanted to purchase.

Note:  Some of these are capital items that Lewis proposed buying with operational savings.  This brings to mind the strange website update/proposal that, when explained, tried to mix capital and operating money.  That presentation was put off.

Apparently, COSADC did not act on Shawn's proposed tradeoff.  Furniture was on the COSADC agenda for 1-23-13.  It will be interesting to see how council reacts to the next furniture proposal presented to them.   Will Wilde and Shawn Lewis left a wake. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Healthcare: Texas Governor's Anti-Agenda

Texas Governor Rick Perry gave his seventh State of the State address to the 83rd Texas Legislature.  Straight from the horse's mouth:

.... My office, in fact, has built a web site to get your feedback on tax cuts.  You can find it at my main site, gov-dot-Texas-dot-gov.

While Washington, D.C., can sometimes seem entirely non-responsive and is increasing the tax burden on Americans, and other states are scrambling to grab every tax dollar they can, I'm proud that in Texas, we're talking about the best way to give money back.

Our approach is even more important as Washington raises taxes and the costs of the Affordable Care Act begin to pile up.

We have made it clear Texas will not expand Medicaid under the ACA, as Chairwoman Kolkhorst can tell you.

We won't set up a state exchange, as Chairwoman Nelson can attest.
Texas will not drive millions more into an unsustainable system, and that stance has not changed an iota.

However, the costs of ACA will still fall on the backs of individuals and employers across the country, and it falls to us on the state level to do what we can to alleviate the federal burden as much as we can.

Time and again, we've seen that when people keep their money, they invest it wisely and selflessly in things important to them.......
Time and time again, Governor Perry and the Texas Legislature have ignored the plight of legions of uninsureds.  Nonprofit, community hospitals, like Shannon Medical Center pay a steep price for this abdication.

Six years ago I wrote an opinion piece lamenting the merger of Shannon and Community Medical Center, then owned by Triad Hospitals.  I would not blame Shannon if it sold out today.  Beleaguered nonprofit, community hospitals do what they must to survive in an exponentially stressful environment.

The San Angelo Chamber of Commerce highlighted Representative Drew Darby's impact on our community in naming him citizen of the year.  Healthcare, one of the area's largest employers, got not one mention.

Let me sum up the healthcare portion of Governor Perry's speech:  "Tax cuts, No to covering more people, Tax cuts.  Send me to Washington in 2016."  I await Representative Darby's position. 

Update 1-30-13:  Perry wants to break into the Rainy Day fund, while the sun shines brightly.  In contrast to the financial debacle two years (when Perry didn't want to touch the fund), Texas' economy is vibrant.  Perry loves corporations, the likely target of $4.7 billion in Rainy Day money for infrastructure and tax breaks.  Watch the money.  The media seems incapable of doing so.

Monday, January 28, 2013

ASU Searches for Finance VP Replacement

An Angelo State University press release took a circuitous route in announcing the resignation of Finance Vice President Michael Reid:

Angelo State University President Brian J. May has appointed a nine-member search committee to make recommendations for a new vice president for finance and administration to succeed Michael L. Reid, who has resigned, effective March 15
The release eventually got to Reid's reason for leaving.

Reid announced his resignation earlier this month to accept a position as vice president for administration and finance at the University of Montana in Missoula.

Apparently that announcement wasn't press release worthy. .Reid will join James Limbaugh in Big Sky country.  Limbaugh is Chancellor for Montana State University-Northern in Havre, Montana. 

I searched the Standard Times and found no article on Reid's resignation.  Concho Valley Homepage ran a news clip on January 7.  Reid started at ASU on March 1, 2011.  He resigned after 22 months on the job.  Given it takes months to land a job like the one at the University of Montana, when did he start looking?

"i can say that without a doubt that ASU is second to none of them, it is truly a pinnacle institution and one that I'm sure I will look back on during my career and be proud that i was a part of ASU, it doesn't need to apologize to anyone, it is an institution that's got everything."

Except Michael Reid as VP Finance come March 15..

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Wilde Effect & West Texas Water

On December 18, 2007 the City of San Angelo gave Tom Green County farmers a Christmas present.  Water Utilities Director Will Wilde personally benefited from the agreement authorizing the use of Twin Buttes water for the Tom Green County Water Control and Improvement District #1.  I assume Will Wilde and TGCWCID Manager Yantis Green negotiated the deal.

Below is the area served by the Water Control District:

Did Mayor Lown or any Council members know of Will Wilde's apparent conflict of interest in this matter?  Will Wilde has a 300 acre "hobby farm" near the head of the irrigation canal.  The image below roughly corresponds to the yellow box above.  The yellow X's show where the canal crosses Highway 765.  Will Wilde's cotton farm is adjacent to this crossing.
The public certainly wasn't made aware.  City Manager Harold Dominguez wouldn't put his name on the agreement, instead deferring to the Mayor.

Fast forward to 2012 for Yantis Green and Will Wilde.  TGCWICD Manager Yantis Green plead guilty of embezzlement.  Here's how that story broke in August:

The FBI takes material from a local water district after district manager Yantis Green is terminated. In a letter to the district board, Green admits he had used a district credit card for personal expenses. After his termination, he also gives up his seat as a delegate to the Republican National Convention.

October found Yantis giving up his other public service position, after Green admitted stealing from his former employer 1,000 times..

Yantis Green resigns his position as a Tom Green County commissioner. He stole almost $63,000 from the Tom Green County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 while he was manager, a federal court document states. He later pleads guilty in the theft case and faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Will Wilde had a difficult October as well.  A similar consent agenda item hid the fact Will's Water Department purchased and installed $100,000 in furniture without required Council approval.  If Wilde counted on the same luck he had in 2007, that wasn't the case.

Wilde threw rotten egg on his new boss' City Council debut.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela promised an investigation into the Furniture Fiasco.  Within weeks, the public learned of another Wilde conflict of interest.  Will's son Blake had been fired by the City for cause and wasn't eligible for rehire.  Lo and behold, Blake got on with the firm contstructing the Hickory Water pipeline, rumored to be making a multiple of his former salary.  Fortunately, the Wilde's weighed in, assuring the public of no conflict of interest.  Council never addressed the issue publicly.

By the end of November a stone faced Will Wilde resigned. Items contributing to his demise included poor customer service, bizarre water bills, the Furniture Fiasco, Son Blake's firing and rehiring for Hickory, and how Will responded to these issues, publicly and internally.

Rest assured, the Wilde's aren't done with West Texas water.  Will joined Blake at Wilde Engineering. 

I'd venture their firm will get back in on Hickory and other projects.  As long as its done through a contractor, the public will never know.  How might the Wilde's join the other father/son water team, Stephen and Chuck Brown?

If not for the stroke of luck in removing the furniture item from the consent agenda, Will's water dynasty would likely be intact.

As for the fourth estate holding leaders accountable, The Standard Times looked at all the above and decided the Water Department does not need an investigation. I disagree

The next issue is reclaimed water, which the City considers re-purposing.. There was zero chance of that under Wilde.  Have the odds improved with his resignation?

Carollo Engineering is in a unique position.  Surely, they are grateful for the $30 million in engineering business from the city from the current spate of projects.  Will Wilde won't hesitate to remind Carollo who steered the business their way.  What will Carollo recommend on reclaimed water?  The answer will be a sign.

Update 1-29-13:  Judge Sam Cummings sentenced former TGCWCID Manager Yamtis Green to one year in federal prison (Big Spring boot camp), two years supervised release and a $3,000 fine.  Green has until March 1 to show up for his sentence.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Replacing Fredd Adams

San Angelo City Councilman Fredd Adams resigned "effective immediately" last Friday.  A unanimous vote of City Council could fill Fredd's empty chair.  A city press release stated:

Under the City charter, Council vacancies shall be filled by a unanimous vote of the remaining Council member(s) within 30 days of the vacancy. If Council members cannot unanimously agree on an appointment for the remainder of the unexpired term, the office shall be filled by a special election within 90 days of the vacancy. No election is held if the term expires before 90 days.

Who might council name to fill Fredd's seat?  Will anyone be proposed in the January 22nd Council meeting?   It remains to be seen.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Councilman Fredd Adams Latest Resignation

The City of San Angelo finally had an elected leader join the spate of resignations in City Hall.  City Councilman Fredd Adams stepped down in the wake of his third Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) arrest. He submitted his resignation letter to Mayor Alvin New and provided a copy to the Standard Times.

Adams seat will likely sit empty until May elections.  It's up to the public as to how to interpret Fredd's empty chair.  Will it represent the ghost in the room on ethical breakdowns, ranging from Mayor New's actual relationship with MedHab to Water Chief Will Wilde's son being fired from the City, then hired to work on the Hickory water pipeline construction?  For some it might be the empty chair from a loved one killed by a drunk driver.  For now, it's Fredd Adams:  Empty chair. 

Update 1-20-13: Councilman Adams seat may be empty a matter of days.  A unanimous vote by remaining members can fill the seat.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Permanently Replacing Will Wilde

Mayor New implied City Manager Daniel Valenzuela had made a decision on leadership for the beleaguered Water Department in the January 8 Council meeting.  Valenzuela has only mentioned Interim Director Ricky Dickson in the numerous discussions on Water Department problems.

Dickson served as Director of Operations for the City, a position parallel to the Water Department.  Dickson worked alongside Wilde for years.  They had distinctly different responsibilities.

While I'm sure Ricky Dickson is a good, ethical person, I'm curious about the minimum qualifications for the Water Department Director position.  What were those qualifications under Will Wilde?  Have they changed since Will's retirement?  If so, were they enhanced or relaxed?

The public deserves the most qualified, ethical Water Department leader possible.  Citizens were more disturbed than Council members regarding the series of Wilde undeclared conflicts of interest.

If a credible search is conducted and Ricky Dickson rises to the top, great.  There are no clues that's in the works.  I hope I'm proven wrong. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Council's Role in San Angelo's Widespread Flu

The Standard Times reported:

San Angelo has not been immune, as Texas and 46 other states were labeled to have "widespread" instances of the flu by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from Dec. 30 to Jan. 5. Additionally, the intensity level for influenza-like illness is ranked high in Texas.

What role did San Angelo's City Council play in the widespread flu plaguing the area?  Council severely reduced immunization services October 1 of last year, the time preparations should have been well underway to battle the flu season.

A City of San Angelo press release stated:

Immunizations offered by the City of San Angelo Health Services Department will be offered on Tuesdays only, effective Oct. 1.  

Previously, immunizations were offered each weekday. The Health Services budget was reduced $78,000 in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, eliminating a nursing and an administrative assistant’s position, and reducing services.
Out of the fifteen Tuesdays since October 1, the City offered immunizations on twelve.  On October 30 the clinic was closed as staff attended a meeting in Austin.  The clinic was closed for the Christmas and New Year's Day holiday.

The New Year had Council approving $150,000 for Phase 1 and 2 of a Downtown Master Developer without identifying the source of funding.  That's more than the $138,000 City Council cut from the Health Department budget for the current year.

San Angelo's elected leaders knew immunizations would be drasitcally reduced:  Health Services Director Sandra Villareal testified to council.

From a general comparison of patients from January to June of this year, Villarreal estimates that about 2,500 to 3,000 patients will be affected by the cut in immunization offerings.

With the City abdicating its public health responsibility, Blue Cross/Blue Shield will partially fill the void:

Blue Cross Blue Shield will provide 1,800 free flu mist vaccinations for San Angelo children today.  The free Blue Cross Blue Shield vaccination clinic will be from 2-4 p.m. today at McDonald's, 4330 Southwest Drive. Vaccines will be given to children 6 months to 18 years old if they are American Indian or Alaskan Native, have Medicaid or are uninsured or insured without vaccination coverage.

The City's Immunization Clinic serves the exact same population, according to a City press release.

What's the cost to our community from City Council's decision?  Sicker people, for one.

"Even if you get the flu after a flu shot, the severity is much lower," said Doug Eakman, a pharmacist at Medical Arts Pharmacy in San Angelo.

How many of the 2,500 to 3,000 formerly served by the Health Department got shots elsewhere?  Council's action resulted in many in our community suffering from more severe symptoms.

The end result of Council's reducing seasonal flu vaccinations is higher health care costs.

According to the CDC, influenza-associated hospitalizations between Oct. 1 and Jan. 5 have occurred at a rate of 13.3 per 100,000 people. Two influenza-associated pediatric deaths were reported this week, bringing the total to 20.

Sicker people and higher health care costs, that's this Council's trickle down.  Public health is a weak shadow of its former self, thanks to a decade of funding reductions.  Various iterations of San Angelo's Council executed funding reductions.  The Council bears responsibility for dramatically reducing flu immunization availability.  Symbolically, they caused a pox on many houses.. 

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Water Department Investigation Voted Down

A requested investigation of San Angelo's Public Water Department failed to pass by a 4-3 vote in today's City Council meeting.  The Standard Times reported:

Mayor New agree that, based on the loss of confidence through the large furniture purchase and customer service and meter issues, the department lost a great deal of public confidence.

The final, crushing blow to public confidence came from the Water Department Chief's son being fired as a City Engineer, then being subcontracted to work on the Hickory Water Pipeline.  

After the top two Water Department leaders "surprise" retired, the public saw more red flags.  That's when petition numbers jumped (now up to 477).

Two issues raised ethical concerns of water department leaders, now departed, while the other involved basic customer service. Ironically, identifying inordinately high water usage was a feature of the new electronic water meters:

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.

Rather than prevent such issues, it appears the new meters contributed to the problem.

It's management's job to know the water operation is being run professionally and ethically.  The public has good reason to doubt.  The public watched Council plaster over the purchase and installation of $100,000 in furniture without required approval. The City's Furniture Fiasco investigation was never shared with the public.

The public learned Water Chief Will Wilde's son Blake had been fired and was "not eligible for rehire."  Disgust grew when the public found out Blake's new engineering firm had been hired to work on the Hickory Pipeline. 

One could interpret the 4-3 vote to not conduct an investigation in several ways.  It could be seen as:

1. Council chose to blame the 475 people who signed the petition, most for not coming forward.  
2. Council chose to let nonpublic methods of dealing with issues and concerns run their course.
3.  A combination of the two.

Does Council realize this topic surfaced in the last four public meetings?

"I think for the citizens, an outside investigation is warranted, is needed and is necessary," Councilman Dwain Morrison said. "If I get four votes, it's done and if I don't get four votes, I'll bring it up again."

How long before it returns?  I look forward to hearing the city's plans to replace the Water Department Director.  An ethical, experienced outside person would bring a new set of eyes to San Angelo's Water Department. That could fulfill one aim of an investigation.

Update 1-13-13:  The Standard Times ran an opinion piece supporting the denial of an outside investigation into the water department.   They prescribed management oversight. 

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Water Department Audit Finally on Agenda

On November 20, 2012 City Councilman Dwain Morrison asked that an audit of the Water Department be put on the agenda.  His wish will finally come true.  It's the final agenda item for Council's January 8th meeting.

18. Discussion and consideration of the desirability for an independent audit and investigation of Water Utilities Department; discussion and consideration of the objectives, scope, and parameters of such independent audit and investigation; and, any action in connection thereto.

(Requested by Council member Morrison)

There are different kinds of audits, financial, operational, forensic, to name a few.

The public saw where city purchasing rules were ignored in the ordering and delivery of $100,000 in water department furniture. This raises questions as to whether other city rules were violated by water department leadership.

Operational issues include nonsensical water bills, citizens concerns being dismissed/minimized, and water meter technology that doesn't deliver as promised. Bills are estimated due to the satellite not being able to take meter readings.

If the city is concerned about untoward uses of funds, aka Yantis Green or Debra Brown, a forensic audit is needed.  The aim of the audit needs to be made clear. Conceivably, there could be several different audits with differing aims.

Also, a new Water Department leader is a different set of eyes.  While interim leadership needs to stabilize and make improvements, the greater need is for qualified, ethhical leadership. What are the minimum qualifications for the position, when will the job be posted and how long will a search last (expected time frame)?

Outside eyes include a new permanent director, whether they be a qualified internal candidate or someone from the outside.  That said, given the spate of potential conflict of interest and customer service issues under Will Wilde, a qualified, experienced water director from elsewhere could help create a new culture.