Monday, September 25, 2017

Sunken Garden Park vs. Railway Museum

San Angelo's Development Corporation will entertain supporting $700,000 in planned improvements for the Sculpture Garden at the Sunken Garden Park when the board meets on September 27th.

The Sculpture Garden has been a successful cultural addition to the city for 5 years. The park's visitation has very noticeably increased. Staff finds it to be a perfect use for the space based on its content and location.

For the last few years, we've realized the park needs significant improvements to make it more usable, attractive and fitting for the asset that it is.

The City's Capital Improvement Plan for 2013-2018 estimated Sunken Garden Park would need $275,000 in upgrades for.

Landscape refurbishment of Sunken Garden Park with enhancements to improve access and enjoyment of the new Sculpture Garden. Improvements to include a new irrigation system, new turf in targeted locations, improved accessibility with ramps and stairs, walkways to and around the sculptures and improved lighting.
That grew to $550,000 for the 2017-2022 CIP.  The project description is nearly identical in the city's latest CIP despite the cost doubling.

Landscape refurbishment of sunken garden park with enhancements to improve access and enjoyment of the new sculpture garden. Improvements to include a new irrigation system, improved accessibility with ramps and stairs, walkways to and around the sculptures and improved lighting.
The number is now up to $700,000. Oddly, that's roughly the amount of sales tax revenue that should come available from a combination of recent improvements in sales tax collections and strange budgeting.

The Development Corporation could find significant sums available rather quickly.  It could be used at the Sunken Garden Park or the Santa Fe Depot, home of the Railway Museum, which needs a new air conditioner and parking lot repair.  The City sent Railway Museum Board President David Wood packing but may happily fund Howard Taylor's outdoor sculpture project. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

COSADC to Buy City's Unauthorized Dump

The City of San Angelo Development Corporation board will entertain the purchase of 17.58 acres of land in the midst of new hotel alley.  The area currently houses seven hotels.  The Development Corporation will consider buying the land from the city

The city put the land up for bid in May 2017 with proposals due in mid-July.  Bid documents show the city once had an incinerator on the site and used the land as a dump.

A 2002 Environmental report stated the land had been "transferred to Jack and Wanda Tubb in the early 1980 and subsequently transferred back to the city after discovery of wastes disposed at the site."

Cleanup estimates in 2002 ranged from $162,000 to $244,500 for remediation of a 2 foot layer over 1 acre.  It"s not clear how much household waste dumping the city conducted at the site in the decade after the incinerator closed.

The Development Corporation board and the public deserve to be informed of this property's history under city ownership.  The Development Corporation is a city sponsored entity, as its members are appointed by City Council. 

Apparently, there were no bids from the public solicitation for proposals for the old incinerator site.  Any sale from the city to the Development Corporation should be at arm's length with material disclosures. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

What City Does Not Audit or Correct

In mid-August Citizens learned from public meetings the City of San Angelo does not audit two areas of concern, safety training to reduce workplace injuries and the protocol for euthanizing sick or injured pets.

On 8-15-17 City Council asked Risk Manager Charles Hagan about strategies to reduce workplace injuries.  The topic arose in a Worker's Compensation presentation of an actuarial audit which was completed nearly a year ago (9-30-2016).  Hagan said department managers are responsible for weekly safety training.  When asked if anyone audits to see if such training occurred.  Hagan said he did not review those records.

The Animal Services Advisory Committee (ASAC) heard how the city conducts euthanasia of sick and injured pets.  A public outcry occurred after shelter staff euthanized Misty, a deaf Rat Terrier/Pit Bull mix.

Staff presented the euthanasia policy in ASAC's August 17th meeting.  When asked about the city's compliance with its stated euthanasia policy Neighborhood and Family Services Director Bob Salas said "Hmmmm, I don't know."  He said he would need to check on this and get back with the board.

Salas knew for months the public wanted answers on Misty.  Competent management would investigate Misty's death and conduct a wider audit on euthanasia compliance.  A seemingly basic management question stumped Bob Salas.

In addition the city does not correct the public record when staff present false and misleading information.  Former Animal Services Director James Flores did just that in May with his Community Cat survey.  Flores twisted the results to support his desired strategy for community cats.

Below is my interaction with City staff on the topic:

Question:  How does the City of San Angelo correct incorrect information, willfully or inadvertently shared and recorded for the public to view?

Official City Response:  This does not meet the requirements of a open public records request. Additionally, I am not aware of any records that would respond to this sort of request.

Followup Question:  So the city has no policy, practice or legal requirement ensuring the public gets correct and accurate information?  If no such things exist, please send me the City Manager and Public Information Officer job descriptions.
The city sent the requested job descriptions, nothing more.

The public information officer must know:
· Legal, ethical and professional rules of conduct for public sector employees.

The city manager:
• Supervises and provides advice and counsel to department directors regarding policy interpretation relevant to City programs and services, and confers with department directors in planning and carrying out special projects. 
Neither party admitted the falsehoods perpetrated by James Flores which reside in the city's public record.  However, the Animal Services Advisory Board learned of Flores' lies during their August 17, 2017 meeting.

The city's call for management excellence rings hollow in a number of arenas.  It makes one wonder how deep the hollowness goes.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Railway Museum Closed for City Sponsored House Cleaning

San Angelo's Railway Museum is not open today, the day after the museum's lease with the City of San Angelo expired.  A sign on the entrance door stated the museum is closed for cleaning and suggested readers come back next Saturday.

This post appeared on the Railway Museum's facebook page on September 4th. 

The City sponsored housecleaning started September 5th when it rebuked Board President David Wood in full public view.  Wood resigned later that evening in a called Board meeting.  Volunteer Executive Director Shannon Carpenter resigned less than a week later.

Downtown San Angelo is promoting the Railway Museum for an event next weekend and for the upcoming Christmas Holidays.  Mayor Brenda Gunther also lends her time to Downtown San Angelo.

City Council will entertain lease renewal at their September 19th meeting but it's hard to believe the nonprofit museum can reconstitute itself in such a short period of time to be worthy of a twenty or fifty year lease.

Oddly the September 5th City Council minutes omit public comment from then President David Wood.

Motion:   Council Member Hiebert made a motion, seconded by Council Member Thompson , not to renew the lease related to 703 S. Chadbourne .
It does not mention that he spoke much less the points he made after introducing himself.

Wood We've been working closely with Daniel (Valenzuela - City Manager) and Cindy on getting all the figures and stuff together for them, that they asked for.  They told us there would not be a problem with renewing the lease.  So this is quite a surprise.  May I ask why?

Valenzuela:  Theresa (James - City Attorney), he's asking why we are not renewing the agreement.  So, he is asking for a response on that.

James:  That was issues that we were discussing in Executive Session and as attorney-client privilege requires I am not able to discuss it in an open meeting, nor will they discuss it as well.

Wood:  Y'all can't say why that just last week Daniel was saying everything is fine.

James:   I will say that in the meantime since you had the meeting with Daniel issues have came up that have degraded our belief that it would be prudent for the city to continue that lease.

Wood:  There's going to be a large campaign going on then, I guess through the media, that we will start today working on. If this release is not renewed let me assure you there will a large community outcry about it.  We've done everything we've been asked to do.  We had a problem with the lady that Daniel asked to come up and be the go-between between with the city and the Depot.  She just did not perform the duties as she said she was going to.  We've hired an Executive Director to take over that and we've been keeping Daniel and Cindy apprised of everything.  We've got everything ready to present to y'all.

We were told it wouldn't be done until next meeting.  We were told there was nothing on the agenda for this meeting.  So this is quite the surprise that this comes up like this.  We've got all the money shown and how where we're going to raise it as you asked for Mayor. We've got projections shown for.  We've been working with ASU even though they don't work with nonprofits normally.   ASU Small Business Development  made sure everything was up to snuff on everything in our business plan.  So this is quite the surprise that y'all decided to not renew this lease.  

Wood sat down and council voted.  The minutes recorded:

The motion carried unanimously seven (7) a yes to zero (0) nays.
Let the record show what a difference a day makes.

Update 9-19-17:  The City gave a decimated Museum board six months to get its act together after the city ran roughshod over the Museum's volunteer leaders 

Monday, September 11, 2017

City Engineer Speculated on Bell Street Project's High Bid

City Engineer Russell Pehl broke the bad news to City Council about bids for Bell Street reconstruction coming in way over his engineering consultant's estimates.  Pehl underwent repeated questioning as to why bids came in high for water and sewer work.

He said he could speculate why the bid came in much higher than estimated. Why would Pehl need to speculate when the contractor submitted bid pricing per city specifications?  The bid sheet broke out specific work for both water and sewer (wastewater).

This is not the first time city staff came across as clueless and uninformed before city council.  A professional engineer should be able to explain the difference between city engineering estimates and a construction bid, especially one that came in nearly a third over budget.  Homework, research, analysis and preparation beat speculation, especially in the engineering world. 

Railway Museum Runs Further Off Track

Volunteer Executive Director Shannon Carpenter resigned after a month with the Railway Museum.  She either could not pull together a fractious board or splintered it with her bombastic e-mails.  The volunteer board declined the opportunity to pay her $85,000 a year to serve as their paid executive director.

Still no word from former Board President David Wood who has to be considering where to take his giant sized railroad set and possibly a defamation lawsuit.  An understanding city management gave the new board President until Friday to submit a business plan worthy of a 50 year lease.  In six short days the City decimated San Angelo's Railway Museum. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Could David Wood Learn from Ken Landon?

The City of San Angelo's treatment of Railway Museum President and founder David Wood made me wonder what strategic moves remain for Wood and the Railway Museum.  Several years ago waterlily expert Ken Landon considered taking his considerable private collection of water lilies out of San Angelo.

Locals worked a deal to create a private organization for the lilies which the city actively supports. The proposed 2017-18 operating budget has over $100,000 for water lily garden operation.  Also, the city's website has numerous references to the waterlily garden.  One states:

One of the jewels of the Central neighborhood is the world-famous International Waterlily Collection, owned and operated through a contract by the City of San Angelo.
The City posted plans on its website for upgrading the Sunken Garden Park area:

The Waterlily website states the following about the legendary Ken Landon:
Ken has been growing, perfecting propagating techniques and hybridizing some of the most amazing waterlilies the world has seen.
He is the founder of the IWC (International Waterlily Collection) and the IWPR (International Waterlily Preservation Repository).
A nonprofit search on Guidestar failed to find a 990 for either of Ken's organizations.  A search of the Texas Comptroller site produced information on the second organization, the International Waterlily Preservation Repository.

The report showed its franchise tax involuntarily ended and someone in that organization would need to request the right to conduct business in the state of Texas.  How does this compare with the city's stance on the Railway Museum? 

The decision to let the lease lapse on Sept. 15 was based upon both those concerns and the museum’s failure to maintain its legal sufficiency.
Both David Wood and Ken Landon are passionate enthusiasts in their respective areas.  Both commit-ted significant personal time and resources to developing and sharing their specialties with area citizens.  I imagine both men would rather focus their time on their passion, not on the details of running an organization.

Ken got the city to support him, as I recall by threatening to leave.  People in the community helped expand his operation and are currently developing plans for a secure lily garden area.

Nonprofits cycle through functional and dysfunctional times. They deserve to deal with challenges privately and outside the public view.  That did not happen with the Railway Museum board, partly due to the pressure of eviction from city property.

David got the city's ire to the point it simply refused to do business with him.  Reports from San Angelo Live revealed significant conflict within the organization, at the board and paid leadership level.  Healing from such levels of conflict does not occur quickly.

The City of San Angelo debased museum leadership in a press release.  City Council members would not speak but the City Attorney hinted at problems with Mr. Wood at the September 5th City Council meeting.   In public comment Wood expressed surprise at the inconsistency of City Manager Daniel Valenzuela and promised a vigorous campaign.  That's all the public heard from him prior to his resignation as Railway Museum Board President.

David Wood no longer heads a nonproft but he retains his passion for everything railroad and his significant collection of historical items.   Surely a community in West Texas has a historical depot building he can help fill.

Ken Landon survived numerous dark days with little official city support for his waterlily passion.   Might David Wood recover from the city switching signals and ensuring a Railway Museum train wreck?

Update 9-23-17:  It's time for Lilyfest, the 12th annual event celebrating San Angelo's unique international water lily collection.