Saturday, August 31, 2013

Texas Tech Should "Do Right Thing" by Community Cats

Texas Tech's treatment of feral cats must be examined in light of the university's values and commitments.  Take the completed QEP "Do the Right Thing."  

As members of the Texas Tech community, faculty, students, staff, administration, and all stakeholders accept responsibility for abiding by and promoting the ethical principles of the university described below. Although legal behavior and ethical behavior overlap in many areas, they are quite distinct from each other. While we follow legal requirements, an ethical institution goes beyond them to achieve the following values.

Animal cruelty is illegal behavior and also unethical.  TTU knows this from their history of cat abuse.

When we make promises, we must keep those promises. 
TTU administration failed to deliver on its promise to collaborate with area animal service organizations on trapping and removing cats.

We strive to do what is honest and ethical even if no one is watching us or compelling us to “do the right thing.”

TTU refused to work with those organizations on concerns expressed in the way facilities management barricaded cats under buildings without food or water.  Tech took offense to the watchers and compellers.

A sense of institutional and public responsibility requires careful reflection on one’s ethical obligations and the duty to respect commitments and expectations by acknowledging the context and considering the consequences, both intended and unintended, of any course of action.

TTU's careful reflection had facilities management installing physical shields so the public could not visualize cats barricaded without food or water.

TTU's leaders did the wrong thing at nearly every turn.  They've taken an aggressive, intimidating approach from the get go, remained isolated in execution and responded viscerally to any public concern expressed.  The question is when will Texas Tech do the right thing by its community cats? 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Hugh Cronin's TTU Cat-astrophe at End?

Assistant Vice President Hugh Cronin, perpetrator of barricading TTU's community cats under buildings without food or water, will leave Texas Tech today.  It's not clear if this provides TTU leaders space to remove the sheet metal blocking the public's view of any barricaded cats.  Will Facilities Management test other strategies?  They include:

1.  Simply open the grates, place box traps baited with food and water right at the entrance inside the building, and then replace the mesh grates.  Check the traps frequently.  Do not leave traps unattended for more than a few hours.
2.  Or at night, set a drop trap right outside of the entrance.  Remove the grate.  Wait for the cats to exit the building and enter the drop trap. 
3.  Or place a one-way excluder door over the entrance.  This would allow any cats out of the crawl space but not back in.
It seems Tech has spoken with one cruel voice on this issue the last ten days, Hugh Cronin's.   Cronin provided Communications and Marketing Director Chris Cook with his lines, many of which were outright lies.  Tech's top leaders steered everything to Hugh, even after it was clear an unhinged Hugh was at war with Tech's community cats and their volunteer caregivers.  With Cronin the Barbarian gone, how might Tech change their interactions with others?  That remains to be seen.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

TTU Animal Cruelty Postcards

Feel free to print and mail to Texas Tech administration as long as Tech's community cats are barricaded under buildings without food and water.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Defending Tech's Animal Cruelty under Chancellor Hance

The Daily Toreader published a letter encouraging the complete dismantling of Texas Tech's feral cat program.  The author is a  Chancellor's Graduate Fellow who has done several studies on birds.  I'm sure Chancellor Kent Hance was grateful for someone other than slippery Chris Cook or an unhinged Hugh Cronin to state Tech's case on why the cats should be removed.

The letter did not defend Facilities Management's cruel methods employed.  I'm sure Jon McRoberts would not want ocellated turkeys or lesser prairie chickens barricaded behind a metal plate without food or water.

Texas Tech, an emerging research organization could learn from other university's experience after removing managed feral cat colonies.  Since they don't want to learn from sister institution Angelo State University, Tech could conduct an experiment.  The problem is Tech knows nothing about the cats and wants to hide the cats they're intent on killing.  Chris Cook repeatedly admits they don't know how many there are.  There are just "too many."  He says the population "hasn't been managed," but Tech's feral cat colony spayed/neutered over 300 cats and socialized/adopted many kittens. 

Take away the cats and their volunteer caregivers and see where Tech is in two years.  I'll bet the situation will be worse and far more costly to Tech's award winning facilities management. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

TTU Circles Wagons Around Cruel Cronin

It's hard to believe TTU leaders circled the wagons around the very person responsible for an ongoing animal cruelty campaign, but that's what happened.  TTU administrators continue to defend the man who should be fired for repeatedly lying and barricading cats under buildings without food or water.

Cronin lied about who Tech was working with to manage down its longtime feral cat colony.  First, Cronin promised to work with The Humane Society of West Texas and Tech's Cat Colony.  He never delivered on that vacuous promise.  Then Cronin or Tech mouthpiece Chris Cook tossed in PETA.  PETA officials later stated TTU had never contacted them.

Cronin and Cook repeatedly assured the public no cats were barricaded.  They were proven wrong late last week.  Cronin's response included putting in a visual barrier so any imprisoned cats could not be seen.  Someone removed the sheet metal and two cats could be seen yesterday.  Another cat was seen today.

One might expect an award winning facility management department to live up to its promises to collaborate and not lie about animal organizations the department consulted.  One could even expect creativity, installing a one way excluder door that would allow cats out from under buildings and not back in.

Hugh Cronin waged war against Tech's feral cat colony in early summer.  He's escalated it at every turn, with the apparent support of Tech's highest up.  TTU has a history of cat cruelty.  Cronin's final week of lies, as well as his coverup of cat starvation and dehydration, should be an embarrassment to the Board of Regents.  Faculty and students who oppose animal cruelty should be up in arms.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Cats Still Trapped Under TTU's Drane Hall

A TTU Feral Cat Colony caretaker reported:
UPDATE! Cats are indeed trapped under Drane Hall. Someone removed the sheet metal and caretaker reported two cats still trapped - and probably more. TTU police have been called and leaders notified. Say a prayer!!

This development occurred despite repeated assurances that no cats remained from Chris Cook, Director of Communications and Marketing at TTU.  This adds to the list of hollow words offered by TTU administration on this matter.  It also sinks Hugh Cronin's legacy as one of cruelty, hubris, insensitivity and retaliation.  TTU's actions aren't focused on the ethical treatment of cats or their longtime caregivers.

TTU can't manage what it doesn't understand.  The blowback from this will come in many ways.  The short term impact is animal cruelty with cats suffering and dying. With animal service relationships destroyed, Tech will pay in time and money for what area groups once did for free. 

Texas Tech leadership is responsible for allowing Hugh Cronin's mendacity, with Chris Cook playing a strong supporting role.  Tech already wore the animal cruelty yoke for cruel cat treatment.  They should have been loathe to re-don it. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Texas Tech Blocks Any Collaboration, Much Less Oversight on Feral Cat Removal

For two months Texas Tech made sure local animal service organizations knew who's in charge.  Tech dangled collaboration in an early press release, then failed to follow through.  The Humane Society of West Texas and Texas Tech's Feral Cat organization have been shut out for some time.  Tech administrators repeatedly took offense to concerns shared and offers to work with facilities management on cat removal

TTU's Department of Communications and Marketing lied on multiple occasions.  Chris Cook wrote that Tech "consulted with PETA and are following their recommended procedures for humanely removing cats from under buildings."  When Tech's animal cruelty was reported to PETA their representative stated they'd had no contact from TTU and were highly concerned that cats could be barricaded under buildings without food and water.    I'm sure the two shunned groups would be stunned by Cook's other characterization:

When we met with the organizations on campus, including the Humane Society of West Texas, in May, we asked for their assistance to explore places to relocate the cats. At this point, we've received very little assistance 
Both the Humane Society and Tech's Feral Cat Organization made multiple pleas and offers the last two months, only to get snarky e-mails in return from facilities management.

Communication and Marketing said the University had been overrun with reports of cats trapped with no food or water.  Once again Tech did not invite area animal service representatives, many of whom know the cats, to assist or provide oversight.  Tech's latest insult involved putting up sheet metal behind the grate over areas that "have been cleared of all cats."

If the cats are truly gone, why would Tech need to put up sheet metal? Because Texas Tech is in an "all out war" against the Humane Society and its longtime Feral Cat Organization.

Nothing about this makes sense.  That's the way war is.  President Nellis deserved better from his top lieutenants, but since they can't behave in a truthful or collaborative manner, Nellis needs to intervene.

Update:  Might the Texas Tech Student Legal Defense Fund raise concerns over TTU's animal cruelty?   They intervened before when the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center intubated and killed cats from Odessa's Animal Shelter.  Here's to their penning another letter to the student newspaper. 

TTU's Office of Cruel, Poor Communications

Texas Tech University's original communication on June 3rd stated:

In conjunction with the The Humane Society of West Texas, the City of Lubbock Animal Services and the TTU Feral Cat Program to promote a healthier environment for our faculty, staff, students and visitors to campus, the university will begin implementing a safe and humane plan to better control the feral cat population on campus in the coming weeks. With the assistance of these organizations, we will begin relocating the cats to more suitable, safe off-campus locations. While this process will take some time and will not result in the removal of all cats, it will allow the university to bring the number down to a manageable level.

After two months of trying to get TTU to honor their above commitment two animal service organizations went to the media with concerns about Tech's animal cruelty.  The first news report found Chris Cook on the offensive

Managing Director for the Office of Communications and Marketing Chris Cook says the university has done nothing wrong.

The university failed to work in conjunction with its stated community partners. Cook went on to say:

"Our intent is not to harm these animals," he said. "There are individuals that are being notified every step of the way, every time a cat is trapped. We are doing this safely and humanely as possible to trap the cats in a safe manner. We are paying to have them spayed or neutered upon removal and we have no intention to harm the cats," Cook said.
Intent and reality are two different things.  Tech's barricading community cats inside crawl spaces deprives these animals of food and water, which is defined as animal cruelty under Texas law.

Note that Cook does not identify the individuals being notified.  Tech shut out the very groups that would ensure humane treatment of the cats.  His statement that Tech is paying to have already spayed/neutered cats spayed/neutered is nonsense. 

A Friday evening Fox News story produced evidence of more lies:

Despite valiant efforts by the Feral Cat Program, Tech's spokesman, Chris Cook, said the population is not under control.

"Animal services with the city of Lubbock has come in and they set traps. Once the cats are removed there, they're taken to the shelter." Cook said.
TTU's feral cat program spayed/neutered over 300 cats.  This causes the feral cat population to shrink over time.  Did unaltered cats make their way onto Tech's campus and produce a kitten boom?  If that didn't happen, then Cook offered another lie.

Cook said the health and safety of those on campus is a top priority, but with the current population of ferals, it is at risk. Especially for kids who play outside the Childhood Research and Development Center.

"It does take quite a bit of resources every morning to clean the urine, feces, vomit and other things that are in those areas that could be hazardous to children." Cook said.
There are deterrent strategies for keeping cats away from specific areas, like a playground's sand box.  Did Tech's award winning facilities department test any deterrents?  Farmers and ranchers have long had barn cats for their beneficial health reasons.  They keep away rodents, which keeps away snakes that like to feast on rodents.  What different can of worms are Hugh Cronin and Chris Cook opening for kiddo's in the future?

Tech is swamped with complaints about cats trapped under buildings. Cook said trapped animals are being rescued as soon as possible. The last thing the university wants is to do any harm. If you see a cat in need of rescue from under a campus building, you can call the Tech Physical Plant at (806) 742-3314.  

If Tech actually rescued the cats under the buildings they wouldn't need to put up sheet metal behind the mesh.

Why block sight into the crawl spaces if all the cats have been removed?  Tech's words and actions are at odds yet again.  It's hard to see Chris Cook as credible when his words are unpacked.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Cronin's Cat War to Jeopardize APPA Excellence Award?

Texas Tech Facilities Administrator Hugh Cronin escalated his war on Texas Tech's community cats by removing mesh grates and installing sheet metal coverings.  This move prevents the public from seeing cats imprisoned with no food or water.  Cronin's version of solitary confinement came after a NBC News Report on TTU's animal cruelty.

Hugh Cronin misrepresented the cat roundup from his very first memo on June 6.  His behavior should jeopardize TTU's just received Award for Excellence from the APPA (Association of Physical Plant Administrators).

APPA award criteria include:

How leadership of the facilities department promotes and ensures ethical behavior in all interactions.
Facilities leadership lied, broke Texas animal cruelty law, then ramped up their heavy handed approach when challenged by the very community organizations TTU was supposedly "collaborating with."  Writing nonfactual sentences and speaking untrue words are not ethical behaviors.

Hugh Cronin said the following in an article about the APPA Award of Excellence:

"We are stewards of the environment."
How many stewards lock up creatures and deprive them of food, water and now sunlight?  Cronin's Cat War should jeopardize TTU's three week old award.  That is, if the APPA has any internal quality control measures.

But it's much more than Facilities Management, who repeatedly removed water bottles for trapped cats.  TTU's Public Relations staff reiterated bald-faced lies or offered new nonsense statements when the public could clearly see imprisoned cats.

How does a Facilities Manager with one week left in his tenure get to escalate the situation to this degree?  Cronin did so with the explicit or implicit approval of TTU's top leaders.

Trapped cats may not live beyond Cronin's barbaric final week.  President Nellis is accountable for TTU's escalating war on community cats.  How hard is it to order the unlocking and removal of metal grates?  I offer a possible script in case anyone is at a loss for words:

"Use this key.  Turn it.  Free the cats and live up to our university's two month old promise to collaborate with local animal service organizations and TTU's longstanding cat colony." 

That would behoove an emerging national research university.  Anything less is cruel. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

TTU Feral Cat Situation Dire

Texas Tech administrators declared war on its longtime feral cat colony.  For twenty five years community and student volunteers spayed/neutered, vaccinated and fed cats at no cost to TTU.  Tech offered the following in a June 6 memo:

In conjunction with the The Humane Society of West Texas, the City of Lubbock Animal Services and the TTU Feral Cat Program to promote a healthier environment for our faculty, staff, students and visitors to campus, the university will begin implementing a safe and humane plan to better control the feral cat population on campus in the coming weeks. With the assistance of these organizations, we will begin relocating the cats to more suitable, safe off-campus locations. While this process will take some time and will not result in the removal of all cats, it will allow the university to bring the number down to a manageable level.

This memo is balderdash given the University hasn't had the support of the TTU Feral Cat Program or the Humane Society of West Texas.  Both groups have actively opposed the University's cruel treatment of cats for the last two months. 

University leaders have dismissed these group's concerns and done nothing to stop the purposeful killing of cats by withholding food and water, hardly "safe and humane."  Cats are trapped underneath buildings by locked metal grates.  Tech administrators have ordered employees not to tamper with locked grates and workers have removed water bottles affixed to the metal bars.

This has been a unilateral decision, imposed with heavy handed tactics.  Cats haven't been taken to an idyllic ranch where they'll live out their days keeping rattlesnakes away.  They're dying at the Lubbock Animal Shelter or in a TTU created prison without food and water.

The irony is two former ASU chiefs work in Lubbock, former President Dr. Joe Rallo and Facilities Manager John Russell.   John knows what happened at ASU when the feral cats were removed under Dr. James Hindman.  The University experienced a severe rodent infestation which cost tens of thousands of dollars.  Dr. Hindman brought the cats back.

Dr. Rallo served as President during the next cycle of feral cat removal.  After trapping and killing nearly thirty cats, ASU leaders allowed the formation of ASU's Feral Cat Colony, patterned after Texas Tech University.  Did Dr. Rallo or John Russell offer their advice?

KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

This is hardly the issue a new President needs to cut his public teeth on, unless he wants to show who's in charge. President Nellis should order the grates unlocked and fulfill the University's promise to collaborate with the TTU Feral Cat Program and the Humane Society of West Texas.  Leadership is what leadership does.  As of now Nellis is heavy handed and cruel.  The ball's in his court to prove otherwise

P.S. - It's hard to take seriously a spokesman who says the University is paying to spay/neuter cats that have already been spayed/neutered.  It fits with the mendacity displayed to date by University leaders regarding Tech's community cats.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Standard Times Paywall Gone: Temporary or Permanent?

This evening I noticed no markers indicating exclusive content on The Standard Times website.  I went to the Opinion page and clicked on an editorial.  My right to leave a comment had returned.  It remains to be seen if this is temporary or permanent.

The Standard Times implemented the paywall with little notice and less than robust communication to loyal readers, paying and otherwise.  How will the paper communicate removal of the paywall, if at all?  Will commentors return after nearly a four month hiatus?

Here's the paper's take on comments shortly after the paywall went up (from ConchoInfo):

Out of over 395,000 people monthly, less than 400 ever took the time to write a single comment.

In one readership study, it was found that almost 90% of all readers of news sites NEVER read the comments. Out of nearly 3 million page views, only a thousand or two could be traced to comment activity. Almost 85% of comments were written by a handful of very vocal and prolific commenters. It is of those people I heard the loudest complaints, yet only a small subset of the commenting crowd saw any value to keep up their commenting habits.

We shall see how long the paywall stays down and who returns.

Update 8-22-13:  The paywall breach was temporary.  

Council Reverses Mayor New-MedHab Loophole

By a 7 to 0 margin San Angelo's City Council reinstated ethics standards for elected/appointed officials and companies in which they have a significant investment interest.  Council returned to standards in place before January 3, 2012.  The former City Council relaxed economic development standards by a 4-2 vote just before approving $3.6 million in subsidies for MedHab, with investor, board member and San Angelo Mayor Alvin New.

Council returned to a policy allowing firms to receive public money which cannot come until conflicted officials have been away from public service for six months.

Update 8-21-13:  The Standard Times bought Councilwoman Farmer's line that the relaxation of standards was to put the city in line with State law. City Council minutes from 1-3-12 clearly state the MedHab connection.  "Councilmembers Alexander, Hirschfeld, and Adams spoke in favor of the amendment and proposed MedHab incentive (item immediately following this item)."

Update 5-9-14:  The Development Corporation has not yet added this language into their bylaws.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Undoing the Alvin New - MedHab Exemption

San Angelo City Council will take up the following agenda item on Tuesday, August 20th:

8.  Consideration and possible action regarding a revision to the City of San Angelo Development Corporation Guidelines for Job Creation Assistance regarding Eligibility of Applicants 

(Requested by Mayor Morrison and presentation by Interim Economic Development Director Bob Schneeman) 

It will be interesting to see how this City Council responds.   The former Council changed the rule just prior to approving a $3.6 million economic development package for MedHab. 

San Angelo Mayor Alvin New filed two affidavits declaring his substantial conflict of interest in MedHab.  New also served on MedHab's Board of Directors at the time.  None of these facts were shared with Council by City staff.

Mayor Morrison wants to revert the loosening of standards that enabled Mayor New to keep his MedHab investment and remain Mayor.  I applaud his effort. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

MedHab Ready to RPM2

MedHab finally has a date for introducing its first product, RPM2, pronounced "RPM-Squared." gave a preliminary review of MedHab's retail product:

The basic idea of the product is this: Put four force measuring sensors and an accelerometer inside of a shoe insole and start gathering data. Transmit that data wirelessly to an iPhone or Android smartphone. Use this tool to learn information about the athlete’s range of motion, cadence, stride distance, and other metrics.

RPM2 says that you may use the device every day if you wish, but its real intent is for periodic testing and evaluation. How often should you use it? The baseline recommendation for most people is once per week. With that amount of regular use, they quote that the system will last for two years, depending on the weight of the user and duration of each session.

There are two models of RPM2, which determine the amount of features you get. The standard model costs $599 and is meant for running and other land-based sports, such as golf, tennis, and basketball. The ‘Triathlete’ model sells for $649, and includes everything that the standard model does – plus additional cycling features.

RPM2 also sells a ‘dummy’ version of the insole sans electronics for $30, for those that want to use the same insole for all of their activities. 

What the heck do I do with the data it provides? They were clear with me – RPM2 is like a power meter; it can only provide data. What you do with it is up to you and your coach, doctor, physical therapist, or other qualified expert. 
The official release date for RPM2 is September 1st, 2013. Note that the initial version is only for Android phones, as the iPhone software is still in the approval process with Apple. RPM2 quoted me an expected iPhone release date of October 1st, but that they’re hoping for sooner.

Note that there is a fee for use of the App, called a Monthly Monitoring Fee. The retail price for this is $20 per month for a month-to-month basis. RPM2 is offering reduced pricing for the initial product introduction, seen here:

RPM2 - $599

RPM2 Triathlete - $649

Monthly Monitoring Fee (purchased Sept 1 – Nov 30): $10/month for the first 12 months

Monthly Monitoring Fee (purchased Dec 1 – Feb 28): $15/month for the first 12 months

Monthly Monitoring Fee: $20/month or $180 for 12 months at any time
Company officials said RPMSquared will last two years under once a week use.  For innovators and early adopters that's 104 uses for $839, or $8 per use. 

The City of San Angelo beat out Abilene for MedHab production, only RPM-Squared will be manufactured in Athens, Texas and "finished in Rhode Island."  Units will be tested and distributed from San Angelo, which will house RPM-Squared's call center.

As for the San Angelo economic development agreement, it's front and center in MedHab's promotions:

MedHab needed to build alpha units in order to prove its concept and secure funding. TMAC’s Fernandez was charged with writing a gait algorithm that sensor manufacturers said couldn’t be done. However he succeeded and the alpha unit’s success helped the company secure $3.1M in private equity investment and $3.2M with the City of San Angelo. The success of the alpha units also contributes to the Federal Food and Drug agency approval process.

The project truly defines a collaborative effort. The company’s Operations VP in San Angelo is working with the TMAC office in WestTexas to write grant requests to the Texas Workforce Commission.  Besides TMAC’s technical projects, Angelo State College and Howard Community College will also be tapped to provide additional workforce development.
As for the Workforce grant request, it's no surprise that MedHab is tapping local, state and federal subsidies.  That's one way private equity firms lever returns.  I imagine Angelo State University and Howard College, MedHab collaborators, expected their current names to be used.

While MedHab's website is under construction, RPM-Squared's is up and running, complete with a White Paper recommending the product's use.  Customers can earn reward points and affiliates can help sell RPM-Squared and receive "a residual of $2.50 per person per month from the monthly monitoring fee, as long as the individual account is active and in good standing."  Everybody wins in this extrinsically motivated world, athletes/discount earners and coaches/therapists/affiliates.

Also, MedHab is "transitioning to an “S” corporation and is in the process of carefully selecting its Board of Directors."  Things are looking MedHabulous!

Update 7-3-15:  Slowtwitch has a MedHab-RPM user page

Thursday, August 15, 2013

City Health Insurance Numbers Fail to Add Up

How does the City of San Angelo end FY 2012 with a $1.57 million health fund balance and begin FY 2013 with only $915,000 in the same account?  What happened to $655,000 at the stroke of midnight?

It's hard to tell given the finance department's recent history with health insurance.

FY 2012 saw city leaders maintaining budget fiction to the bitter end

Despite Council's approval of the Community exclusive provider arrangement which saved nearly $500,000, the budget was never updated for the public in the 2011-2012 FY.  The City stuck to its $7.9 health insurance million budget, only showing a $6.4 million when the final 2012-2013 budget was released.  Oddly, the Health Insurance Fund Balance is based on the prior 2012-2013 budget of roughly $8 million. The City Budget document shows $6.4 million for health insurance on page 122 and $8 million on page 91.  This is transparently bad financial management because it doesn't paint a consistent, much less clear picture.
Did city leaders siphon off $655,000 in health fund balance for other needs?  They diverted $250,000 to an investment account the year before.  I've yet to see that transferred back. 

At the end of 2012 the City seemed flush with cash, the $1.57 million plus the $343,000 in unused ERRP funding.  This $1.9 million somehow got whittled down to a projected $572,000 for the fiscal year about to end.

It's incongruous that the City had a bad year experience wise, given health insurance projections are $500,000 lower for the coming year.  The numbers don't add up.  

Update 8-19-13:  The City changed its budget projections. restoring the $655,000 in missing fund balance in its latest budget update..  It did keep the nonsensical $500,000 projected savings though.    

City Expects Nearly $500,000 in Health Insurance Savings for 2013-14

The City of San Angelo's draft budget calls for a 7.25% cut in direct employee-retiree health insurance costs for the coming year.  The draft budget shows $6.6 million for the current year falling to $6.1 million for 2013-2014.  This would be the third out of the last five years where the city would spend less on health insurance than the prior year.

The potential problem with this trend is a federal requirement that came with Early Retiree Reinsurance Program money.  The City qualified for ERRP funding in August 2010.  Three years later, it's not clear how much of the $343,000 in ERRP reimbursement the city has been able to utilize.

City employees know deep inside if the the city fulfilled their ERRP promise to make health insurance "a better benefit or their premiums can be lowered."   How many employees and early retirees recall the draconian dependent premium increases foisted on them in Fall 2010?  Paid city leaders were well aware of the certainty of federal ERRP reimbursement, yet refused to inform City Council or recommend mobilizing a single ERRP penny to break crushing premium increases.  Nearly 200 people fell from the rolls of City sponsored health insurance that dark January 2011. 

The one stipulation for employers accepting ERRP funding is they maintain their level of contribution to employee health coverage.  

The city's move to repeatedly cut health insurance funding since August 2010 imperils federal money intended to help early retirees keep coverage.  Federal money cannot supplant local funds in this regard.

How might the misuse of ERRP funds make health insurance more expensive for employees and early retirees in the future?  I didn't think that question was possible in November 2010.  Yet, it's the reality today as painted by the City's draft budget. 

Update:  HR's Lisa Marley told council her group would have new numbers next week, i.e. the week of August 20, 2013

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Foot Dragging City Staff Find Feral Cats Jokeworthy

City Animal Control leadership has done nothing for two years other than talk about San Angelo's feral cat problem.  Their public position changed in June when Animal Control Officers began a heavy handed, enforcement action against the Mejor Que Nada feral cat colony and its longtime citizen volunteer.  Local animal service organizations and volunteer citizens wondered what changed.

A public information request produced a handful of e-mails with content on the city's "Trap and Kill" policy toward community cats.  One was particularly insightful:

PIO Anthony Wilson's words speak for themselves.

Health Services Director Sandra Villareal, with her Smiley Face reaction, appointed the very person who would agree with Anthony "Killer" Wilson to an ordinance subcommittee dealing with community cats.   Cat Hater Linda long proved her ignorance of existing ordinances in Animal Service Board minutes and that was on display in the first subcommittee meeting.  It's clear that Linda is part of the city's obstructionist plans regarding feral cats.

The city says it wants something done to address the feral cat problem.  They could consider a leap back in time.  From 2003 to 2007 the City Animal Shelter collaborated with the forerunner to Concho Valley PAWS and its 25 feral cat colonies.

Today's Standard Times article, "Colony of Feral Cat Colonies Far Smaller," had Health Services Director Sandra Villareal stating:

"You also really need to get them spayed and neutered, so there are a lot of responsibilities that will come with colony caregivers.  If they're willing to do it and the city will allow it...(and) as long as there are no complaints, they can continue caring for the cats and things will be more specifically to feral cats."
For some reason paid city staff can't speak what these citizen volunteers have done.  One group ran free spay-neuter feral cat clinics, sterilizing nearly 500 community cats in the last year. Another started Angelo State University's feral cat colony, which prevented over 800 new cats since its establishment.  ASU President Brian May is a strong supporter of this employee led group, which has some student volunteers.   As some colony caregivers have done this for the last decade, their willingness is not in question. However, the city's desire to make safe, legal space for community cat managers to operate is in question.

The City of San Angelo once partnered with community groups on feral cats.  However, personnel changed and the City shifted to an adversarial, enforcement posture.  It's clear Animal Control leadership will use every tool in its arsenal to slow or derail progress. 

The draft of an ordinance will need approval from the Animal Shelter Services Board and the City's legal department before being presented to City Council. "It's a lengthy process, so it's not going to be in the next month or so," Villareal said.

The City's legal department already played a restrictive role in fulfilling the public information request.  The City Attorney filed a request with the Texas Attorney General to withhold the Mejor Que Nada complaints.  Health Services Director Sandra Villareal held up a folder in a meeting with local animal service organizations on the Mejor situation.  She said, "Here are the complaints from my Animal Control Officers.  Just kidding!"  The jokes keep coming.  I believe the Attorney General should deny the City's legal request to withhold documents filed by city workers in the conduct of their job. 

The City's "lengthy process" means San Angelo will likely miss out on a $100,000 grant opportunity.  No grant funder would approve funds to spay-neuter community cats in our current legal no man's land.  It's time for City Manager Daniel Valenzuela to ask his crew to cut the funny stuff.

Friday, August 09, 2013

MedHab's Strip Center Manufacturing Site in San Angelo

The  story below piqued my curiosity as to MedHab's manufacturing facility in San Angelo. 

Texas Manufacturers Assistance Center (TMAC) recognizes a handful of Texas companies annually with its Customer Performance Excellence Award. MedHab will be honored August 7 at its manufacturing facility in San Angelo by U.S. Congressman Mike Conaway.

Two questions arose.  One, how does a company with no current customers get a Customer Performance Excellence Award?  And two, where is MedHab's new manufacturing facility?  The Standard Times reported on the latter:

Ross told a crowd of about 40 people at the company’s San Angelo office during an award ceremony and open house Wednesday in the Concho Valley Center for Entrepreneurial Development annex, 2009 W. Beauregard Ave.
A number of dignitaries attended the award ceremony in what looks like a old strip shopping center vs. an award winning factory:

Ross received a Customer Performance Excellence Award from TMAC on Wednesday. U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, ASU Associate Dean of the College of Business Karen Shumway, Texas State Rep. Drew Darby and ASU President Brian J. May spoke at the presentation. Conaway said that Ross’s plan was a “great model” for private and public cooperation because, “the risk rests with the private sector.” 

San Angelo's $3.6 million MedHab public subsidy reduces that risk considerably and is a nice selling point to investors and capital markets.  What federal, state and other municipal support does MedHab have to manufacture in Athens/Rhode Island vs. San Angelo?

The feds are behind the National Institute for Standards and Technology (Department of Commerce).  TMAC is an affiliate of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program of National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). 

The Athens Economic Development Corporation established the Biotech Manufacturing Center of Texas (BMC). 

Located in Athens, BMC is a nonprofit biotech incubator providing a full-scale manufacturing environment for qualified medical device development. The BMC is the only medical business incubator in the U.S. that offers total manufacturing of newly conceived medical devices.  (

The AEDC clearly has its sights set on biomedical :

Medical devices are a primary target market for AEDC business recruiting strategy.” 
The Biotech Manufacturing Center received grant funds from the Texas Workforce Commission  and the AEDC.   It seems MedHab mined several levels of PPP.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

MedHab Production Site is Athens!

For all the show San Angelo and Abilene made in recruiting MedHab's production site in early 2012, the company's initial product will be assembled in Athens, Texas.  MedHab founder Johnny Ross hedged on San Angelo production when he mentioned a redundancy location in February 2013 to San Angelo's Development Corporation Board.

Concho Valley Homepage reported:

The inserts will be tested and distributed from San Angelo. Medhab will also have a tech support team and call center at 2009 West Beauregard. 

The reporter stated assembly will begin in Athens, Texas on August 16th.   That didn't make Assistant City Manager Michael Dane's recent update to City Council.  Might City Council invite Johnny Ross for dialogue on the company's revised plans?  The timeline receded, fewer jobs added than anticipated and production has been located elsewhere.  It shouldn't be a problem for C-Suite communicator Johnny Ross to explain what changed and why. clearly stating the company's plans going forward relative to San Angelo.  Frankly, it's past time.

Update 8-8-13:  The Standard Times stated "MedHab will manufacture a movement monitoring device and software, called Remote Performance Measuring/Monitoring, in Athens, Texas.  The RPM2 devices will be built in Athens, finished in Rhode Island, then shipped to San Angelo for software testing before they are sent to customers, said Ross."  Also, Ross "plans to move the production side of the company from Athens to San Angelo, said Jackie Brown, vice president of operations."  City Council thought that's what they bid on in January 2012. 

Update 8-31-14:  MedHab's new production site is Watertown, South Dakota, as told by MedHab CEO Johnny Ross to the City of San Angelo Development Corporation.  

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Farmer's Trash Hauling Nonconflict, Conflict, Nonconflict

Republic Services 

San Angelo City Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer felt Republic Services/Trashaway did not need competition during the July 16 Council meeting.  Farmer made a motion denying another trash hauler the right to use city streets.  After her motion failed City Council seemed poised to grant the competing trash company's wishes.

Councilwoman Farmer asked for a recess to talk to the Mayor and City Attorney Lysia Bowling about a possible conflict of interest.  After the confab Mayor Morrison said Charlotte recused herself from the discussion due to a family relation (cousin) having ownership in a trash hauler.  Fair enough, but it seemed curious after Charlotte fought hard to defend Republic, even making a motion to keep competition out.

The Standard Times reported on today's council meeting where Mrs. Farmer sought to extend Republic's contract with the city.  What happened to the conflict of interest declared several weeks ago?  The paper was silent in this regard.  I haven't yet seen the Council meeting video, but it's a question I'll be looking to resolve. 

Scripps Earnings Call & Standard Times Paywall

E.W. Scripps released earnings on Monday.  Their conference call had several interesting revelations regarding their newspaper division, which includes The Standard Times.   Here's the state of the newspaper division:

Subscription revenue decreased 1.9 percent to $28.1 million. During the quarter, Scripps launched bundled digital and print subscriptions in 11 of its 13 markets.  More than 20 percent of subscribers established their digital accounts with full access to content on their smartphones, desktops and tablets. The rollout was late in the quarter and therefore did not impact second-quarter subscription revenue. 

The second quarter includes April, May and June.  Rather than late in the quarter an executive revealed the roll-out happened early, with most papers doing so in April and May.  The Standard Times implemented its surprise roll-out pay-wall May 1.  Also embedded in this strategy is a price increase.  Newspaper executives refused to give an average price increase to an analyst.  

Newsprint expense decreased 13.7 percent, due to lower volume and lower price.

Under questioning Scripps executives revealed 7% or half the decline came from lower volume, while the other half came from cheaper newsprint prices.   The 7% volume decline could be due to skinnier papers or fewer subscribers.  Executives said they currently have 550,000 customers with home delivery.  That represents 35% of households in those newspaper markets,  Executives said 65% of households have no relationship with Scripps, at least not a paying one.  

Scripps is "hiring and developing digital-only sales people, streamlining the digital sales process, and creating digital content." 

Executives said they plan to add 100 digital sales people, which they expect to be very aggressive in pushing Scripps content (70%) and other organization's content (30%).  They plan to add digital sales and sales management people in many newspaper markets.

Interestingly, political campaigns and health care providers/insurance companies provide profitable ads for Scripps TV and newspaper properties.  Those have been down in 2013.  Scripps counts on healthcare/insurance turning around this year and political ads being a bonanza in 2014.  

Scripps does not want to cut sizable expenses on the newspaper side.  If that became necessary, they would reduce distribution frequency.  Currently, they believe it's important to continue home delivery and publish papers seven days a week.  Their clear expectation is their new paywall with enhanced digital content will stop the hemorrhaging of subscribers.  Their plan is to grow.  

Update 8-16-13:  The San Francisco Chronicle removed their $12 a month paywall after nearly five months.  The Dallas Morning News instituted a change of its own.

Update 10-26-13:  Scripps 3rd quarter earnings call will be Friday, November 8th. It will be interesting to hear their paywall story. 

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Mayor New's Other Accomplishments

The Standard Times provided former San Angelo Mayor the opportunity for reflection on his four years in office.  I expect many people have recollections of the Mayor's accomplishments.  City employees remember Alvin New for changes in the city's health benefit.

Mayor New clearly stated there was "no new money" to help with draconian health insurance increases, 34 to 58% increases for retiree and employee dependents.  Nearly 200 people dropped city sponsored coverage.  Council made this decision knowing the City had been approved for Early Retiree Reinsurance Program (ERRP) funding.  They did not allocate a penny of the expected proceeds to ease this burden.  In dealing with higher premiums the City paid 25% and employees/retirees shouldered 75% of the increase.  That same year Council increased the fee to be seen at the Employee Health Clinic to $100 per visit for those without insurance.

Mayor Alvin New and City Council again targeted health insurance   The City sought bids for an exclusive provider arrangement.  Aetna and San Angelo Community Medical Center won with an expected budget savings of $483,000.  The City passed 25% of this amount to employees, keeping the other 75%.  This arrangement's eventual savings totaled over $1 million.  Employees acutely felt the impact of this exclusive deal given over 70% had Shannon physicians.  Oddly, the city dragged its feet in updating health insurance budget numbers after this major change.

MedHab Board member Alvin New benefited from City Council changing its ethics standards for economic development awards.  New was in Australia on behalf of MedHab on January 3, 2012 when council lowered its standards.  The old rule would've required New to step down as Mayor, given his significant investment in the company, and for MedHab to wait six months to receive economic development aid.

City staff presented Alvin New as an advisory board member for MedHab. That assertion was patently false.  New served as a full fledged, fiduciary bound Board of Directors member.  New filed two affidavits with the City clerk on his MedHab stakes.  Neither were produced for the public to see.   The end result was Alvin New didn't have to make a choice, Mayor or MedHab investor/board member.  MedHab received a $3.6 million economic development incentive to eventually provide up to 220 new jobs.  Council gave the company a six year window to access funds per the agreement.

Citizens needing immunizations or treatment for sexually transmitted diseases may or may not know the role Mayor New played in drastically cutting availability for treatment.  During 2012-13 budget preparations New publicly shook down a Texas Department of State Health Services physician.  The City cut $138,000 from the budget, closing the STD and Immunization clinic.

Under New's Mayorship the City applied for a federal grant that would reinstate the STD clinic, including the purchase and renovation of a building.  The Medicaid Section 1115 Waiver grant criteria clearly state the service requested must be new and that funds not go toward an ongoing service.  The City asked for federal funding beginning October 1, 2012, having closed the clinic September 30th, the day before.  In addition, city staff are on record, in newsprint and at council ,as saying the city was still treating some citizens for STDs, i.e. the city was providing an ongoing service, albeit severely limited.

Mayor Alvin New's term, like President George W. Bush's, will be associated with several fiascoes.  Bush had Hurricane Katrina and the Financial Crisis, while New had the aforementioned MedHab and the Furniture Fiasco, the unauthorized ordering and installation of over $100,000 in Water Department furniture without Council approval.  The Furniture Fiasco contributed to Water Chief Will Wilde's resignation under an ethical firestorm, already fueled by citizen complaints regarding outrageous water bills and the hiring of Will's son Blake by Carollo Engineers for the HIckory Pipeline project.  Blake had been fired by the city and deemed not eligible for rehire.

Despite Will Wilde's numerous ethical lapses, Alvin New and three other Council members voted against an outside investigation into the Water Department, preferring it remain an inside job.

Mayor New takes pride in his impact on water.  In the midst of his term as Mayor, citizens experienced a 47.5% increase in their water bills.   Alvin New's service as Mayor is memorable in a number of ways.  Some may not recollect so fondly.

Update 10-10-13:  New is the winner of ASU's Distinguished Alumnus Award for 2013.  

Saturday, August 03, 2013

City's Nonpublic Stance on Feral Cats

The City of San Angelo Animal Services Board raised the topic of feral cats two years ago.  It revisited the subject several times, but never produced a draft of new policies or ordinances for the Board, much less City Council, to consider.

City Animal Services chose to target a longstanding feral cat colony in mid-June.  Animal Control Officers threatened a community volunteer with arrest and huge fines if they continued feeding feral cats, many of which had been spayed/neutered at the volunteer's expense.  Others had been spayed/neutered with grant funds.

City staff trapped four feral cats on private property without permission from the owner and stole food bowls sitting on same private property.  The Animal Shelter killed the four cats, three of which had been sterilized with grant funds. 

Community animal service organizations quickly asked questions.  City leaders were obtuse and circumspect on the change in strategy.  They stated they had complaints and called the animals at this particular colony a nuisance.   Much of the city's actions and supporting logic are not supported by ordinance.

The document below has information produced in response to a public information request.  E-mails from Health Services Director Sandra Villareal and Animal Services Manager Julie Vrana haven't provided a consistent legal foundation for the city's intervention.  The tone of their communication indicates why there has been no change, no willingness to collaborate with community organizations on managing San Angelo's feral cat problem.

The last two slides in this document detail the public information request and the City's response to date.  

These documents support the city's insensitivity and intransigence on this issue.  However, there is an opportunity for change and collaboration.

Community animal service organizations want one thing, space carved out to manage feral cat colonies legally and without harassment.  For the vast majority of San Angelo's landscape Animal Services can continue its "Trap and Kill" approach toward feral cats.  These groups simply want the right to manage approved feral cat colonies via "Trap-Spay/Neuter-Return-Maintain."

It's clear from e-mails that city staff have little interest in change.  However, there is a new sheriff in town.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela could create the expectation that obstructionists become proponents, that city staff collaborate and perform the required leg work.  If that happens our community could have a shot at significant grant funds to address San Angelo's feral cat problem.

For their to be a public-private partnership, the public portion has to be willing to collaborate with the private.  The next two months, roughly the length of a cat pregnancy, will be telling.

Friday, August 02, 2013

MedHab Gets Manufacturer Award Before Product Launch

The federally supported Texas Manufacturers Assistance Center honored MedHab for “world class and next generation manufacturing practices, including innovation, workforce development, collaboration, growth and market development, sustainable practices and continuous improvement.”  CityBizList-Dallas reported:

TMAC recognizes a handful of Texas companies annually with its Customer Performance Excellence Award. MedHab will be honored August 7 at its manufacturing facility in San Angelo by U.S. Congressman Mike Conaway.

“MedHab is a wonderful example of collaboration with multiple TMAC regional centers as well as strategic partners such as Tech Fort Worth, Athens Bio-Medical Manufacturing Center, the SBA’s Small Business Development Network, municipalities such as San Angelo, other colleges and universities and the private sector,” said Deborreh Wallace of TMAC. “Working with MedHab to advance its product toward commercialization has been challenging and very rewarding; we look forward to its market success in the sports and healthcare sectors.”

During November 2012, MedHab made a strategic shift to develop new software to create a device that helps athletes and coaches determine bi-lateral equivalence of the legs. Athletes that are bi-laterally equivalent are stronger, faster and perform at a higher level. To that end, MedHab developed RPM2 (remote performance measurement and monitoring), which launches August 2013

One might expect San Angelo City Leaders to know more about MedHab than they recently displayed to City Council members seeking an update.  Award winning MedHab has a product launch this month.  How many of those jobs are in San Angelo vs. municipalities such as Athens?

Update 8-4-13:  Congressman Mike Conaway will be in town for the West Texas Legislative Summit, which will focus on federal immigration reform.  During this trip Conaway will sprite over to MedHab's construction facility in San Angelo to present the award.

Update 8-7-13:  MedHab's assembly site is Athens, Texas.  Surprise, San Angelo!

Update 8-8-13:  The Standard Times reported:  "The company has three full-time managers and has hired four ASU grads on a contract basis to work on software development, Brown said. The company should have a full-time technical support employee and has been working with the Texas Workforce Commission to hire five or six workers to help with distribution in September when the RPM2 goes on sale."