Saturday, May 04, 2019

Parks Master Plan to Get Update

City Council unanimously approved hiring a consultant to conduct a master plan for City Parks.  The process took less than two minutes.
Award of RFP PK-01-19 Comprehensive Parks and Recreation Master and Strategic Plan to Dunaway Associates (Midland, TX) for professional services in the amount of $70,000 budgeted for purchase, fiscal year 2019, and authorizing the City Manager to execute any related documents (Carl White)
The last master plan happened in 2012.  Council did not hear how much had been accomplished in the 2012 plan before approving the creation of a new master plan.

The vision of the Parks & Recreation Department is to be the premier provider of parks and recreation to make San Angelo the West Texas standard for opportunity, prosperity and quality of life. Our mission is to acquire, develop, operate and maintain a parks and recreation system that enriches the quality of life for residents and visitors alike, and preserves it for future generations.

Council also did not ask about the city maintained park at Twin Buttes Reservoir, which required a separate plan in 2013.  There was no council discussion of the expected demands on Twin Buttes from a recreation standpoint now that it has water galore.
Parks is responsible for the maintenance of City parks. This includes the repair, upkeep and replacement of playground equipment, restrooms and other amenities, watering and mowing of parklands and playing fields, maintenance of trees and emptying trash.

City Public Information Officer Anthony Wilson put together a ten minute video on this item which highlighted the opportunity for citizen input and how an updated plan's qualifies the city for state grant funding for park improvements.

They mentioned funding for the grant came from two sources, a Texas Healthy Communities grant and operational savings from operating the Parks Department without full staff.  Unfortunately, citizens have seen how operating on the cheap for decades destroyed city streets and turned Twin Buttes into a "no man's land."  That's a quote from Parks Director Carl White..

Park service holes mentioned were the Bluffs, Southland and Lakeview.  They did mention the 2012 plan but did not present how prior citizen desires had been addressed.  They did not talk about the City maintained park at Twin Buttes, which has been a several decade long service hole.

The 2019 plan should be completed in ten months to a year which will make it a 2020 plan.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Neptune Software for Automated Water Meters

City staff asked City Council to change the water meter software arrangement in their April 16, 2019 meeting.

The City of San Angelo contracted in April 2013 for software that would enable the city and citizens to see their water usage history.  The background packet stated.

Neptune N Sight IQ Software
Financial Impact:  No hardware required by City
Presentation:  None
That software cost roughly $15,000 per year.  City Council minutes reflected:


Water Utilities Director Ricky Dickson, and Charlie Trimble and A.B. Grigsby of Neptune Technology Group presented background information. A copy of the report/presentation is part of the Permanent Supplemental Record.General discussion was held on the positive impacts of the software benefits, support of the software capability, customers without the AMR meter, AMR installation projected completion date of 2015 with 68% installation completed, purchasing a URL to redirect customers to the feature, mobile version capability, $11,900.00 annual hosting fee and $2,900.00 annual web portal maintenance fee, prior customer’s history not available due to security and privacy issues, Neptune procedural audit recently conducted, the savings to the City by the vendor providing the service,

Councilmember Morrison spoke in opposition of the software and AMR system. He recalled the additional service was part of the initial AMR project selling point and implementation. 

Recall Ricky Dickson's presentation which stated no hardware would be required by the city as City Council prepares to take up the item:

Consider authorizing a software service agreement with Neptune Technology Group and its vendor Core and Main in the amount of $6,500 for Year 1 for web hosted meter collector data software platform and option for two additional one year periods (Year 2 pricing $0.75 per meter with estimated annual payment of $28,125; Year 3 pricing $1.05 per meter with estimated annual payment of $39,375), replacing in-kind locally hosted servers and software and authorizing the City Manager to execute any related documents.

Core and Main is the sole provider of Neptune Technology Group products. Neptune meters are the City's metering technology for water service connections. Currently, the City has a locally hosted server collecting the meter usage data. Over the years this server has had to be updated and rebuilt on multiple occasions. It has gone through these extensive updates and rebuilds almost annually as software requirements increase and as the number of connections increase. The current server platform is once again in need of a major platform update to continue handling meter data. The
metering company now offers a web hosted platform which would eliminate the need for local servers creating a more stable platform and all future software upgrades would be included in the web hosting. 
Executive Director of Public Utilities Ricky Dickson will not give the presentation.  Assistant Director of Water Utilities Lance Overstreet will answer City Council's questions, if any.  I hope Lance does better than last time when he failed to answer the most basic questions regarding water collections agencies.

Update 4-17-19:  City Council did not pull this item for public presentation and discussion.  They passed this item as part of the consent agenda.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

City Engineer Pehl Poached by Centurion Planning?

City Engineer Russell Pehl will leave public service to work for David Alexander, the former office manager of KSA Engineering and co-founder of Centurion Planning and Design. 

On August 7, 2018 San Angelo's City Council approved hiring Centurion Planning and Design for airport planning services. 

The regular agenda item stated:
Awarding RFQ AP-01-18 Professional Services- Airport Planning Services to Centurion Planning and Design, LLC in the amount of $826,334 for Task Order 1, budgeted for purchase FY2018, and authorizing the City Manager to execute any related documents.
Since then the City hired Centurion for three more projects:

1.   Professional consulting services offered pursuant to RFQ AP-01-18 “City of San Angelo Professional Services-Airport Planning Services”, required for ancillary airport land use development strategy and planning for various undeveloped properties located at the San Angelo Regional Airport—Mathis Field, relating to proposed development of a business and industrial park at the airport for $120,991.

2.   Planning and design services for a hangar and related infrastructure improvements to municipal airport property utilized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations (CBPAMO) for $46,435.

2.   Additional professional engineering and surveying services required by TXDOT on permit applications for driveway access to a portion of the Remainder of Block 1 San Angelo Gateway Addition Section 1 of the San Angelo Business and Industrial Park, for a sum not to exceed $7,500.
Centurion is a Civil Engineering firm with offices in San Angelo, Texas and Lee's Summit, Missouri.  It's LinkedIn page showed five employees.  Centurion's website highlights two employees.

While at KSA Engineering David Alexander did work for the City of San Angelo.  Alexander worked on the airport renovation and expansion.  He also designed the reconstruction of Martin Luther King Boulevard.

As recently as November 2017 Centurion's founders worked for the City on an airport project as KSA Engineering staff.  Ten months later Centurion won an $826,334 contact for airport planning services and then received three more engagements from the City of San Angelo.

Pehl made three presentations to City Council as City Engineer on March 19, 2019.  The city's public information webpages do not yet mention Pehl's pending departure. 

The City's Engineering Department had to contract out millions ($) in work due to low staffing.  How much more work will Centurion receive after poaching City Engineer Russel Pehl?

Update 4-30-19:  After weeks of silence the City announced new City Engineer Lance Overstreet.   The press release stated Pehl would work for a private sector engineering firm.  It failed to mention the firm does significant work for the City of San Angelo.  Let's hope does a better job of answering City Council questions than he did with the water collection agency change.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

No Fanfare or Presentation for Rehiring of Judge Gilbert

For months the City of San Angelo was atwitter over the retirement of Municipal Court Judge Allen Gilbert. On February 19th the City's Twitter feed noted the Judge's looming retirement.

March 1 the public was invited to his retirement celebration,  The Twitter post did not mention City Council discussed hiring Gilbert Consultants in executive session on February 15th

On March 4th the City led the public to believe Judge Gilber's last day would be Friday. 

City Council rehired Gilbert on March 5th  

Not one word was uttered for the public to hear about re-employing Judge Gilbert as a contractor for $60,000 a year.  There was no Twitter post celebrating Judge Gilbert's return to the City's Municipal Court.

Straight talk would've informed the public how much of Judge Gilbert's time the court will receive for $60,000 and for how long. Neither City Manager or City Council did that.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Judge Gilbert Retires, City to Hire Gilbert Consultants

On January 29, 2019 the City of San Angelo published a video on the retirement of Municipal Court Judge Allen Gilbert after 44 years of service.  February 5, 2019 City Council recognized Judge Gilbert for his longtime service and recognized special guests

On February 19, 2019 City Council entertained "contract negotiations with court consultant" in Closed/Executive Session.  There was no report to the public after the closed session.

On March 5, 2019 City Council will consider a consent agenda item:

Consider awarding a contract to Gilbert Consultants for Municipal Court consulting services in the amount of $60,000 and authorizing the City Manager to execute all related documents (Daniel Valenzuela)
The City's purchasing department has not issued a request for bids/proposals/qualifications for Municipal Court consulting services.

The background packet indicated:

This contract is to allow Allen Gilbert to serve as a consultant to Municipal Court and to serve as an associate judge on an as needed basis. Historically, Municipal court has had two judges. Declining citations and more efficient operations of the court will allow the court to operate with one judge.

During this time of transition of the court this contract will allow the court administrator and municipal court judge to draw on the vast experience of Allen Gilbert to ensure the court continues to move forward in a professional and efficient manner.
Will Council celebrate Judge Gilbert's un-retirement?  The public deserves to know how much of Judge Gilbert's time will the court get for $60,000 and for how long as the city moves to one judge.

Update 3-10-19:  The public received no presentation by City Manager Daniel Valenzuela on the rehiring of newly retired Judge Gilbert on a contract basis.   Not one City Council member pulled the item for the public to hear. 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Animal Services Committee to Add City Staff

San Angelo's City Council will entertain nominating Morgan Chegwidden, who took over the city's Animal Shelter upon the resignation of James Flores.  Chegwidden served as staff for the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee.

The ASAC's purpose is to advise and assist the Animal Services Manager.  Yet, no city employee has that title on the Animal Services webpage.

Chegwidden took few items to the ASAC since her elevation to overseeing Animal Services.  Consider the key items Morgan took directly to City Council.

The ASAC did not oversee the city's compliance with its spay/neuter and rabies vaccination ordinance.  The shelter released 500 unaltered dogs over a six month period.

Should City Council approve Morgan's nomination she will join a board with numerous city staff/animal services contractors.  She will provide oversight, advice and assistance to herself.

Staff, employed or contracted, should not serve on city boards that oversee their specific area.   They belong on the staff side of the board table and owe citizen volunteer board members good information so those citizens can fulfill their public responsibilities.

Update 2-24-19:  The video showed City Council did not take up Morgan's nomination for the Animal Services Advisory Board.

Update 3-3-19:  Minutes showed Council acted on the nomination, although it is not clear in what session, closed or open, this occurred as the City's YouTube video omitted this action. 

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Answers to Council Questions on Water Collections

City Council asked staff a number of basic questions about a new collection agency for past due water bills on 1-18-19.  Assistant Director Water Utilities Chief Lance Overstreet had slides ready but never made it past the first one.   Citizens did not get to see any of Overstreet's slides, one of which had projected collections of $132,000.

A recap of Council questions Overstreet could not answer is below.  I sought answers from the City and included those:

 1.  What percentage of the uncollected amounts are commercial vs. residential?  "I don't have that particular number."

 2.  How many accounts does this represent?    "I don't have that number exactly....18,000 sticks in my to mind."   
          Actual number 12,700 City RFP,  11,309 with Current Collection Agency

 3.  In the last three years how much money did the first company collect?  "I'd have to go back and look at documents on that.  I have seen that but I don't recall."  
         Actual number $277,515.22

The "first company" collected the following amounts for the city over the last three years.

Overstreet sold Online Collection Services (from Winterville, North Carolina) as doing credit reporting.  That was the same reason given for hiring the previous vendor in January 2016.  So it is odd Overstreet told Council the city has not had the benefit of credit bureau reporting for the last three years.

It remains to be seen how much the city will collect from its new contract with Online Collection Services. It took three years for staff to bring this item back to Council, January 2016 to January 2019.  How many years before Council hears a report on actual collections vs. staff's projection?

Update 4-30-19:  After weeks of silence the City announced new City Engineer Lance Overstreet.   The press release stated Pehl would work for a private sector engineering firm.  It failed to mention the firm does significant work for the City of San Angelo.  Let's hope does a better job of answering City Council questions than he did with the water collection agency change.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

December 2018 Accounting Documents for the City of San Angelo

Posted here as the City of San Angelo removed Bluebook accounting documents from its webpage:

The City also removed its monthly revenue and expenditure report.  Below is December 2018 Revenue and Expenditure Report for anyone interested:

Monday, January 28, 2019

Four Years Since Public Works Chief Last Presented to City Council

Executive Director of Public Works Ricky Dickson had three regular agenda presentations to San Angelo City Council since his promotion in November 2014.  Those presentations occurred in December 2014.

Executive Director Dickson hasn't presented to City Council in a regular meeting in four years, which seems odd given the city's emphasis on water, the series of changes in the Republic trash contract and the need to fix San Angelo's horrible streets.

Dickson did talk to Council in a March 2016 Strategic Planning session about buying a building for the Water Billing department.   Dickson has referred to Water Billing staff as "the girls" in the past.  They are now in the old First Financial Bank building downtown, renamed City Hall Annex.   His comments were not a presentation, but a head's up.

While Dickson did not appear before City Council he was busy overseeing a Public  Works Department that hired his son in April 2016.  It took an internal uprising in August 2017 to prevent the city from employing his son-in-law in a newly created project manager role.  Several courageous people spoke up and prevented this from occurring.

Dickson is in the best position to explain why city streets have gone to heck as he had a major role in street maintenance during his nearly three decades with the city.  What key decisions were made over the years that contributed to the city's vast under-investment in street upkeep?  That presentation should be made to City Council and soon.  

Monday, January 21, 2019

Development Corporation 2017 Compliance Audit

City of San Angelo Internal Auditor presented a summary of his compliance audit to the Development Corporation Board on December 19, 2018.  That document is shown above.

There was remarkably little information in the presentation so I asked city staff for additional information.  I received the following summary:


The audit revealed on page two that MedHab's agreement would expire 1-1-2019 and there has been no action on OneEnergy Renewables Mesquite Solar farm on city land.  Page three showed the Development Corporation spent nearly $50,000 on studies of the former City Dump just uphill from hotel row on the Houston Harte frontage road.

The Development Corporation Board will address MedHab and Hirschfeld/Martifer in Executive Session on 1-23-19.  The agenda has a $300,000 in additional BREP funding for Principal LED.  The audit showed Principal LED received $516,123 as of 2-17-17.   Blank are the Summary/History and Financial Impact sections of the report to the Board on additional BREP funding for Principal LED.  This information seems important to understand the total funding picture from public coffers.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

City Council to Consider Benedetti Machine Buyback Provision

The City failed to execute its vision of resurfacing San Angelo's rapidly deteriorating roads with an internal crew.  City Council will entertain returning the Hot in Place Asphalt Recycler (HIPAR) machine at its January 22nd meeting.

Council approved spending $1.2 million to buy the equipment and later approved higher pay for the crew operating the Benedetti Phoenix. 

The staff memo stated:

After 18 months of utilizing the HIPAR process on various roadways throughout San Angelo, Staff has concluded that the operation does not meet an acceptable rate of efficiency on San Angelo's roadways.
City documents indicate city crews operated the machine a mere four months for the period October 20217 to October 2018.  The city had the equipment for 18 months but did not operate it for most of that period.

The city projected resurfacing 60,000 square yards with the equipment.  It did but a fraction of that.

The vendor expressed his desire for the City of San Angelo to be a model for his company's road resurfacing equipment and is likely disappointed to learn of the city's plan to exercise the buyback provision.

As for the "acceptable rate of efficiency" how much of the responsibility belongs with the equipment and how much to the operating crew?  That can be difficult to discern.

The city's position will be heard at Council.  The agenda had a letter from Assistant Operations Director Patrick Frerich and indicates Operations Director Shane Kelton will make the presentation.  There are no slides from Kelton in the background packet.

Will any Council members inquire as to how the city performed relative to its original cost projections?  The projected costs can be seen in staff's slide.  What were the actual costs?    

Also, the vendor might have something to say about the situation and how things progressed to the city's exercising the buyback provision.  This information may be useful as Council considers alternatives for addressing street disasters in our community.

The City of Fredericksburg, Texas prides itself on having zero potholes and they reconstruct minor streets with internal crews.  Their Public Works Director was once our City Engineer.  Council may want to cast a wider net for advice in dealing with our crumbling street infrastructure.

Update 1-22-19:  San Angelo Live ran a story on the city asking the vendor for a refund as the composition of city streets wasn't conducive to the machine's operation.

Update 1-25-19:  Operations Director Shane Kelton informed City Council many cities in the Northeast are using the Benedetti machine successfully but the City of San Angelo Street Department could not perform as well. Only Akron, Ohio appears in a promotional video for Benedetti.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Water Department to Use New Collection Agency

City Council approved a new collection agency for past due water, sewer and trash service bills on 1-8-19.  Online Collection Services from Winterville, North Carolina is the new collection vendor.

Three years ago City Council approved use of a collection agency to collect past due water bills.  An RFP document provided background information:

The City of San Angelo Water Utility Department is soliciting RFPs for debt collection services for unpaid water, waste water, trash and storm water past due bills. This service is currently being provided through an amended legal services contract that was originally awarded through municipal court to collect on traffic violations. The original contract because it falls under legal services did not go through any formal RFP process. 
City staff was unable to answer the following questions from Council:

1.  What percentage of the uncollected amounts are commercial vs. residential?  "I don't that particular number."
2.  How many accounts does this represent?    "I don't have that number exactly....18,000 sticks in my to mind."
3.  In the last three years how much money did the first company collect?  "I'd have to go back and look at documents on that.  I have seen that but I don't recall."
4.  How long is the contract for?  "They are basically going to be one year terms, the first term may be two years."

Staff highlighted the new firm's capabilities vs. the current vendor:

"This company does have some fairly aggressive means in that they actually do credit bureau reporting, which is something we have not had the opportunity to do in the past."

"We have been not able to do the credit bureau reporting."
Flashback to January 2016 and the justification memo written by then Assistant Water Utilties Director Alison Strube:
The 1-5-2016 memo states:
The proposed amendment will modify City Ordinance to allow the utility to turn over delinquent accounts to a third party collection agency and place the burden of the collection fee (20% of unpaid balance) on the collection account instead of the Water Utilities department. The collection agency will also be reporting these owed monies to the credit reporting agencies (i.e. Equifax, etc.)
The City's purchasing department provided additional information to potential bidders via an addendum:

The document included a lengthy narrative to answer a number of vendor questions.  It stated:
In recent fact finding inquiries with other entities the City Water Utility department feels it may be able to get a collection service company that could provide a better return rate while at the same time receiving a higher success/recovery rate percentage

The current amount of outstanding debt being carried by the City Water Utility Department is approximately 3.6 million dollars and held under 12,700 accounts extending back to 2009 and possibly earlier. Although the collection agency does not have to be located in Texas or in San Angelo established municipal utility experience with collection in the state of Texas is paramount. Prior to placing accounts in collection the Utility makes several attempts over a 60 day period to notify account holders by phone, email, US mail and door tags. 

Selected candidates will be given a percentage of both new and existing accounts for collecting. The Utility would expect collection service providers to at a minimum provide monthly updates including accounts that have been collected, dollar values, and accounts that have been reported / filed with credit bureaus.
Only Councilwoman Lucy Gonzales served in January 2016 when the first collection agency was approved.  She did her part by asking good questions. City staff need to step up their game by preparing and providing good answers.