Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Hiring Brandon Dickson: An Engineered Outcome?

A concerned citizen wrote City Council members on June 13 regarding the hiring of Brandon Dickson as the Assistant Water Treatment Administrator.  The citizen expressed their belief that Executive Director of Public Works Ricky Dickson's son was being hired in at a significant premium to other 2nd tier management positions within the water department.  City leaders quickly mobilized to quell the nepotism concern which had reached the Standard Times news desk.

I learned of Brandon Dickson's hiring from a confidential source the week before he officially started on June 16.  That source prompted my research into the city's process.  The official timeline shows:


City staff provided the following information on the selection process.
The Assistant Superintendent Water Treatment Plant is a new title that was created by upgrading the vacant Water Treatment Supervisor. This was part of the succession planning efforts of the City of San Angelo.

The Assistant Superintendent Water Treatment Plant position was posted to outside candidates from February 26, 2016 through March 11, 2016.  The position was posted once for internal and outside candidates together.


The panel consisted of Bill Riley, Director of Water Utilities; Allison Strube, Assistant Director of Water Utilities; and Charles McGuire, Water Treatment Administrator. 

Thirty four applicants applied for the position; five were interviewed by the panel; Mr. Brandon Dickson was selected.
The panel reported their recommendation to Lisa Marley, Director of Human Resources, who consulted with the City Attorney for review against the nepotism policy of the City. When the City Attorney confirmed no conflict, the recommendation was approved by Lisa Marley and Bill Riley, Director of Water Utilities, was notified of the approval. At that point, the panel’s recommendation was finalized.

Brandon's base salary is $84,500 plus two 5% bonuses for his Class A Operators license in both water and stormwater. His annual pay is $92,950 plus relocation expenses. Given the Class A Water Operator license from TECQ was a basic requirement for the position I thought it odd that this would result in a bonus. 

Also, the city bridged Brandon's time such that his start date with the city is 8-28-2000, which gives him benefits at over the 15 year seniority level.  That makes a difference in both vacation and retirement benefits.

I followed up with several questions for city staff and their responses can be reviewed below:

1)  If the Class A Water Operator license was a requirement for the position,as stated in the job posting, why would that result in an extra 5% bonus?  It would seem to be part of the position's base pay as it is a basic requirement to get the job.

1. There are no documents responsive to this request. In March 2009, the practice was implemented to pay 5% for each Water or Wastewater Operator license that was received by any Water or Wastewater operators up to the Superintendent level. This was a result of the pay and classification study that was completed in 2008. It was determined that it was necessary to augment the pay scales in order to reduce attrition. In July 2014, the practice was expanded to include Water or Wastewater employees other than operators.
2)  In a June 14th 10:24 pm e-mail City Manager Daniel Valenzuela said he wanted to quash concerns about Brandon's hiring with city council.  He said he wanted to update City Council tomorrow, which was June 15.  The information I reviewed lacked what Daniel did with City Council.  I would be interested in knowing Daniel's response to the citizen's concerns to members of City Council, the means and content of his communication with Council members.

2. Please find the attached email from Daniel Valenzuela. Portions of the e-mail included: 
The Assistant Water Treatment Administrator position was not “given” to anyone. We advertised the position, received 34 applications which included several good candidates, 5 of which were invited and interviewed.
Prior to offering Brandon the job, we checked with Lisa Marley in HR as well as the City Attorney to make sure there was no conflict considering his father’s position. Both were confident that there would be no conflict due to the fact of the multiple layers of supervision between father and son. It is also important to point out that this process was conducted with no involvement from Ricky Dickson.
3)  What was the pay range for the position before it was upgraded to Assistant Water Treatment Administrator?  What is the new pay range for the upgraded job?  How does this compare to information in the most recent wage survey for that position (information the city uses to keep its wage and salary program competitive?  Where does the city benchmark itself overall for competitive purposes?  Where does this position fit competitively relative to the city's overall pay program?

3. There are no documents responsive to this request. There was never a classification of an Assistant Water Production Superintendent. The previous position was the Water Treatment Supervisor, grade 20. The current salary range for that grade is $36,526 - $54,790. (The FTE from the vacant Supervisor position was used to create the new classification. The position is not replacing the Supervisor position.) The new classification is Assistant Water Treatment Administrator, grade 31. The current salary range for this grade is $61,516 - $91,991. The grade placement of the new position is in line with the current pay plan, based on requirements of the position and similar positions within the City. 


As for the question "Where does the city benchmark itself overall for competitive purposes?"


4)  A number of e-mails copied City Attorney Theresa Adams.  I never saw a reply from her.  Water Utilities Director Bill Riley wrote City Manager Daniel Valenzuela "Prior to offering Brandon the job we checked with Lisa Marley as well as the city attorney to make sure there was no conflict."  I would be interested in knowing when city legal staff advised on the process which resulted in the interviewing, hiring and employment of Brandon Sanders (dates and times).  If there is any further information that can be shared in this regard, I'd be most grateful for the opportunity to review it.

4. Lisa Marley worked with Bill Riley on his email response to Daniel, and she asked that he include that Theresa James was consulted on the hire. Lisa spoke with Theresa to be sure there was no conflict with the City nepotism policy once Brandon Dickson was the selected candidate. There are no documents associated with this conversation other than the nepotism policy, which is attached.

5)  Public Works Executive Director Ricky Dickson was copied several times in e-mails and there were no replies from him.  Did he at any point in the process expressly recuse himself from the hiring process once he learned his son was a candidate?  If there are any other e-mails from Ricky relative to the upgrading of the position, prior to his circulating the job descriptions on February 8th, I would appreciate the opportunity to review them.

5. There are no documents responsive to this request. Ricky Dickson did mention to Lisa Marley that he wanted to stay out of the process concerning Brandon. To her knowledge, the job description was the only input or involvement Ricky had in the process.
A confidential source believes Dickson set up the process for his son to be chosen for a greatly enhanced position with nearly an immediate opportunity for promotion. The reason they believe this is Ricky Dickson told them Brandon would be returning to city employment. The source says this conversation occurred in January, prior to Ricky's kicking off the search by circulating the revised job description in early February.

The last time a citizen challenged Brandon's hiring leaders went into overdrive defending the action.  I've shared the city's stance extensively in this post and added information that could call the process into question.  Those who really know Ricky Dickson will have a sense as to what is true.

Update 1-19-17:   Ricky Dickson became aware in 2011 that trash hauler Republic Services was charging fees outside those allowed by city ordinance.  Rather than investigate the case for wider fraud Dickson had Republic stop billing one account for unauthorized fees.  Documents indicate Dickson was aware of Republic's fraudulent billing and helped sweep it under the rug.

Update 3-25-17:  Three of the people involved in hiring Brandon Dickson were featured in a San Angelo Live piece on employee recognition.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

City of San Angelo Courting Two Interstate Highways


The City of San Angelo Development Corporation funded the city's sponsorship of Ports-to-Plains/Interstate 27 and Interstate 14 running through town.  Interstate 27 would be a North-South route while Interstate 14 would be more East-West.  These two efforts are in sync, according to the Ports-to-Plains blog.

“Overall I view this as positive for Texas and Ports-to-Plains,” said PTP President Michael Reeves. “It shows that there is a recognized need for new interstates in Texas, provides a valuable new connection for the Ports-to-Plains Corridor, and also the potential for collaboration on an extension of Interstate 27.”
That collaboration involves the section of Interstate between San Angelo and Sterling City.  It would be branded both I-27 and I-14.

The Development Corporation approved $20,000 in sponsorship for the Ports-to-Plains Annual Meeting to be held in San Angelo September 13-15.  The budget called for $5,000 for a Port-to-Plains Summit and money for travel to a number of meetings, including PTP.  Annual dues for the year were estimated at $60,300.

City Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer said San Angelo City Manager Daniel Valenzuela approved another $20,000 in sponsorship money from the public coffers bringing the city's total donation to $40,000 for the upcoming Ports-to-Plain annual meeting.

San Angelo could go from no Interstates to two in a relatively short period of time.  Many people attribute San Angelo's charm to not being on an interstate.

Citizens recently turned out to share their concerns about local trash service, which city leaders designed and bid with little public input.  It will be interesting to see if and when city leaders update citizens on their interstate plans. 

Update 8-15-16:  The Standard Times reported Interstate 14 is in Congressional hands.