Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Kelton Promoted to Executive Director of Operations

Shane Kelton’s promotion from Director of Operations to Executive Director of Public Works became effective March 1, 2021.  Kelton's predecessor, Ricky Dickson, served in that role from 2014-2019.

City Manager Daniel Valenzuela waived the Professional Engineer requirement for Dickson.  That waiver remains in place for Kelton.  

Kelton's new position is charged with identifying water users that pose a health/safety risk to the city's water supply.   City ordinances state:

Backflow prevention devices used in applications designated as health hazards must be tested upon installation and annually thereafter

Backflow Preventers. Backflow preventers shall be required by the Director of Public Works in [as] deemed necessary to protect the water system from possible contamination. 

He was invited to attend a March 31, 2021 training session put on by Texas Council on Environmental Quality.  

The City required Kelton to attend the TCEQ training on cross connection control programs.  TCEQ standards have been in place since August 2016.  San Angelo's training occurred six weeks after toxic chemicals entered the city's water supply, disrupting water supply city wide.

Oddly, City staff did not mention the TCEQ training in their final update to City Council on April 6, 2021.

The only other information the city produced on TCEQ's cross-connection control program was a March 2016 inspection.  That inspection found city staff using the wrong form to document cross connection control program inspections.  March 2016 to March 2021, that's a five year vacuum. 

The city's "not zero program" but far "less than rigorous and robust" could go back further than 2016.  Former Executive Director of Public Works Ricky Dickson got the job in 2014.

After Dickson retired his departments got shuffled around.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela took the first stab.

Then Daniel divided Ricky's departments between the two Assistant City Managers.

The city has been challenged in keeping City Engineer and filling engineering positions. It remains to be seen if non-engineer Kelton can reverse that turnover in addition to preventing toxic chemicals from entering the city's water supply and repairing roads that make some San Angelo streets ride like off road trails.  

For decades Kelton has had an oversight role for San Angelo's streets.  Yes, there has been some serious oversight (failure to notice or do something) in more than one arena.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Council Hears of Inadequate Cross Connection Control Program

Elected officials heard from Water Chief Allison Strube that the City of San Angelo did not a rigorous and robust program to prevent cross contamination from industrial water users.  Strube said 25 out of 81 industrial sites needed to add or change their backflow assemblies.  That's 31% or nearly one third of industrial sites inspected by out-of-town customer service inspectors.

The Texas Council on Environmental Quality had standards in place since 2016 on customer service inspections and cross connection control programs.  Strube did not address the city's compliance in her statement the city had more than a zero program.

The path forward means meeting TCEQ's existing standards.

TCEQ will deliver an investigative report which the public deserves to see.  The question is how much will TECQ fine the city for its inadequate practices that led to the February 2021 toxic water contamination.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Council to Receive "Final Update" on Water Contamination

San Angelo's elected leaders will hear a "final update" on the toxic water contamination that traumatized the community in February.  Water Chief Allison Strube will give the update in regular session during the April 6th City Council meeting.  

The Texas Council on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) worked with the city on the contamination concern.  TCEQ has long required public water systems to have an effective cross-contamination control program, including customer service inspections and annual backflow test results.

Customer Service Inspectors came from McAllen, Lubbock, Brownwood and Abilene to inspect 85 industrial sites in search of the source of contamination.  City staff are yet to release how many sites were out of compliance and need to make changes to prevent future cross contamination.  Also, TCEQ is yet to release its report on San Angelo's toxic water incident.

The City of San Angelo plans to hire additional staff to ensure safe water comes out of the tap.

The City of San Angelo will be hiring several CSIs in the near future and will be implementing a more rigorous cross contamination program citywide to greatly reduce the likelihood of an issue like this happening again.

Why did the city not have such persons in place prior to the chemical contamination?  San Angelo city ordinances require annual backflow testing.

 Backflow prevention devices used in applications designated as health hazards must be tested upon installation and annually thereafter

Backflow Preventers. Backflow preventers shall be required by the Director of Public Works in [as] deemed necessary to protect the water system from possible contamination. 

City ordinances left it up to the Director of Public Works as to which businesses needed backflow preventers.  That's not Allison Strube.  It's Shane Kelton and former boss Ricky Dickson, now retired. 

I wondered if TCEQ inspections over the last four years identified San Angelo's cross connection control program as lax.  The City of San Angelo provided one TCEQ inspection report from 2016 in response to a public information request.  TCEQ cited the city for not using the required "customer service inspection report."

The city responded in 2016 with "customer service inspections are performed by licensed plumbing inspectors in the City's Inspections Department and they will begin completing the forms and maintaining them on file."

The failure to prevent chemical contamination cost the city dearly and exposed citizens to toxic chemicals.  City Council should make clear this is not the final update on the incident.  Council should ask staff to post all investigative reports, internal and external on the city's website.  

Accountable leaders would ask why the chemical contamination occurred and why the city's water department was unable to prevent toxic substances from reaching citizen's homes.  What program did the city have in place and how well did it comply with TCEQ requirements?     

Pushing a "final update" without hearing responses to those questions and seeing official investigative reports would be a disservice to citizens.

Update 4-12-21:   City Council heard the final update and thanked Allison Strube for her presentation and for her hard work.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

City Failed to Prevent Chemical Contamination

The City of San Angelo admitted it was lax in preventing toxic chemicals from entering the water supply.

The City of San Angelo will be hiring several Customer Service Inspectors in the near future and will be implementing a more rigorous cross contamination program citywide to greatly reduce the likelihood of an issue like this happening again.
Guest inspectors from McAllen, Lubbock, Brownwood and Abilene visited 85 industrial sites in the PaulAnn area. 

As a result, locations with inadequate protection will be required to upgrade or install additional backflow devices to help protect the City’s potable water supply.
City staff did not say how many of the 85 inspected sites need to make improvements.  Staff failed to mention the last time the city inspected any of the 85 industrial sites per Texas law.  That information should be shared with the public.

The city slowly trickles out information while using language of minimization, rare event, one time occurrence:

This is truly a needle-in-a-haystack kind of investigation because the chemical volume that caused the contamination could have been less than a gallon. We do believe this was a one-time occurrence rather than an ongoing issue. 

It isn't a one time occurrence if numerous industrial sites have production water migrating back into the city water supply.  Would you want water from a meat packing plant entering the public water stream?  How would you like to be the next customer down the water line?

This was a one time failure, just like a City of San Angelo water main break or street pothole.  All are part of Ricky Dickson's legacy.  He was the last Executive Director of Public Works (EDPW), the person responsible for backflow prevention according to city ordinances.  

TCEQ requires water providers to meet standards to obtain, treat, and deliver water. A public water system’s Cross-Connection Control Program is inspected during routine investigations made by TCEQ regional staff. Technical assistance in the area of cross-connection control is offered to public water systems by staff from TCEQ's central office.

Dickson served in that role from 2014 to 2020, so surely he got feedback from TCEQ on San Angelo's contamination prevention practices.  Prior to that he was Water Chief and oversaw Operations, which included Water Distribution as well as Street and Bridge.

EDPW Dickson hired Water Chief Allison Strube in 2018 but backflow connections remained his responsibility until his 2020 retirement.

TCEQ revised their advice for controlling cross connection contamination in August 2016.  Four and a half years later the City of San Angelo may catch up.  

It's not lack of funding that caused the PaulAnn water contamination.  The Water Enterprise fund balance grew from nearly $624,000 in 2016 to over nearly $19 million in 2019.  During that same period the Water Fund transferred over $10.5 million to other city accounts.

San Angelo lacked the ability to prevent toxic chemicals from entering our water supply and promises to make change.  It sounds a little like the Texas legislature on the power grid failure.  I look forward to reading the TCEQ investigative report as well as the city's internal investigative analysis.  Surely City Council will require one be conducted and shared with the public.

Update 4-2-21:  City Council will hear a "final update" on the toxic chemical contamination in their April 6th meeting.  This update indicates city staff remains unaware of the business that introduced dangerous chemicals into our public water system.

Rep. Drew Darby on Grid Failure

After watching portions of the two days of committee hearings on the power grid failure, I searched for Rep. Drew Darby's take on what he'd learned.  Darby believes bringing more minds to the table will help.

CBS DFW reported:

Republican state Rep. Drew Darby, who sits on the House Energy Resources Committee that is digging into the outages.  

His rural district includes two or three homes in the Texas oil patch that burned down as the power lurched off and on, and he heard of plants that couldn't burn piles of frozen coal outside. Even before the storm dropped six inches of snow as far south as San Antonio, generators in Texas were required to submit safeguard plans for cold weather. Darby suspects enforcement was scant.

“Typically, you know, the Texas Legislature pushes back on overregulation; Darby said. “However, my view on something as basic to human survival and need is we need to have reliable power and water.

Darby spoke with 6News after the public hearings:

"Certainly communication was one of the great failings of this incident," Darby said. "Communication and lack of regulatory oversight in spite of legislative direction."

It has become clear over the last few weeks that freezing weather had caused many outages at power plants across Texas. Neither ERCOT nor the PUC had power to enforce any such winterization regulations, but it was the lack of solutions and clear answers from agency leaders that had Darby and other lawmakers concerned. 

"I sensed a total, especially with the PUC, a detachment if you will," Darby said. "From the questions we were asking to the responses we were given, the vagueness and elusiveness of some of the responses, the lack of information and clear direction the agency had, was very troublesome."

The system did what it was designed to do by the Texas Legislature.  It failed millions while overcharging, even price gouging in a crisis.  Political appointees dodging responsibility in a crisis is an age ole tradition.

Darby said frozen infrastructure in the natural gas pumps, pipelines and plants was clearly an issue that needed to be addressed. ERCOT's Magness would not give personal recommendations on how such preparations could be regulated Thursday. 

Darby told 6 News the PUC would need to be given authority to enforce such measures, though he didn't know what the complete solution should look like. 

"I think clearly we've got to establish what those weatherization or winterization standards are and then we need to have the PUC implement those standards and make sure that generators follow those standards," Darby said. "Follow up with enforcement. Follow up with verification."

Another issue was the lack of reserve power available in Texas for when the grid is in danger of falling short. Darby said Texas has a reserve margin of only 13 percent. He did not know if that was actually required by the state or if it was another voluntary "best practice" that may or may not be followed by ERCOT. 

Darby shared a stage with Rep. Hugh Shine at a Temple town hall:

One factor in the lengthy power outages for thousands of Texans was failure of operators to winterize generating plants.

“We’ve made choices to prepare for the extraordinary hot summers we have here in Texas that we have every year, absolutely we prepare for that and they prepare for that,” Darby said.

But what he says they weren’t prepared for, was a winter storm as long and widespread as the historic freeze.

“We’re going to change that dynamic so there’s a lot of talk about what we can do and will do and what we have the appetite to do,” he said.

Darby says another problem was communication.

He says ERCOT had to have seen the issues with the power grid coming, but left Texans in the dark in terms of information.

“There was a failure, an utter failure, to communicate that this was not a rolling blackout situation as that term was used, your power was going to be off for a period of time.”

It was millions of Texans without power, not thousands.

The public awaits change and the opportunity to hold accountable those responsible for going days without power in life threatening conditions.  At least fifty seven Texas died during the winter storm, most from hypothermia.

Update 3-21-21:  Neither the Texas Legislature nor the Texas Supreme Court chose to deal with Grid Failure.  Markets win, citizens lose.

A move in Texas to wipe out more than $4 billion in electricity overcharges from last month’s devastating blackouts appears dead in the water after deeply divided lawmakers left town without taking final action on the proposal.

Immunity from accountability wins, citizens lose. 

The all-Republican high court split 5 to 4, with the majority deciding that a legal technicality prevented it from weighing in on the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’s claim to governmental immunity in a case that predated the February disaster. As a result, a lower court ruling granting government immunity to Ercot stands for now.

Piss poor leaders gave Texans a system that not only failed millions but overcharged in a time of crisis.  That system remains firmly in place.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Council to Undertake Restricting Animal Services to City Limits

City Council will entertain restricting Animal Services to San Angelo city limits under the consent agenda on Tuesday, March 16th.  Staff believes there is no need to for the public to hear discussion on the item.  Yesterday, I wrote members of Council asking the item be moved to regular session.

The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee discussed this item in their January meeting.  Health Director Sandra Villareal asked about area rescues picking up the load should the city further restrict Animal Services.  The committee heard that area rescues do not allow the Animal Shelter to give out their information as they have been overwhelmed by the rise in demand from a series of shelter changes and the last year's pandemic.

Another proposed change restricting shelter access involves Community Cats.  The ASAC was to have taken that up in February but their meeting was postponed. That item will come to council in the near future.

City Council should balance Pets Alive's repeated cuts in services to area citizens with actual community need.  It would behoove Council to hear from area rescues on items before acting.

Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden's wording in the memo does not paint an accurate picture. 

Although some programs have marginally decreased intake, more work is necessary to achieve a 90% live release rate by 9/30/21.

FY20 intake was 4,560, 3.2 times best practices. Uncontrolled intake is unmanageable for staff and programming. We do not have sufficient resources to provide a live release for these animals.

The Animal Shelter achieved a 90% live release rate for the last several months.  Intake is down from nearly 8,000 in 2016 to nearly 6,000 in 2018 to roughly 4,500 in 2020. 

The city does not have uncontrolled intake.  It has managed intake for pet owners, which does not allow for an owner to surrender their pet to the shelter for illness or death.  It has managed intake for people who bring a stray pet to the shelter. 

Funding went from $750,000 in 2015 to nearly $1 million for the 2020 budget.  Staff rose from 12 in 2015 to 16 for 2020.  

It is also odd that a former budget director would not make savings projections from this move.  The memo shows financial impact as "Unknown".  Surely there would be savings from not having to provide care for sick animals. 

Best practices may apply in a community where owners spay/neuter their pets, keep them well fed and watered, up to date on vaccinations and out of the elements.  They may be a disservice in our community given what the city's adoption contractor said in November 2019:

PAWS Director Jenie Wilson said "San Angelo still has a population crisis coupled with a population of irresponsible pet owners which makes it a constant struggle for the shelter and PAWS to prevent euthanasia for space.”

Best practices involve working upstream on causes and reducing the need, like spay/neuter.  It is not a best practice to lop off services in pursuit of a metric.  Kitten season looms and the next cut is in the area of community cats, a top four Pets Alive strategy for the City of San Angelo.

The memo to Council states:

We ask that animals only be allowed into our programming if residing in San Angelo city limits only.

Tom Green County communities frequently receive dumped animals, many from city residents.  County residents contribute to the city's finances via sales taxes.  

An Assistant City Manager and PAWS Executive Director do not live in San Angelo city limits. If they were to bring in a stray pet from their homes in Wall would the shelter take them?  I would venture the Shelter would. 

If someone who works in San Angelo, but does not live in city limits, finds a stray pet while commuting inside city limits, can they bring that animal to the shelter?  The animal "resides in city limits".

Council should bring the item to regular session.  Mayor Gunter is known for asking good questions.  I hope she does just that.

Update 3-16-21:  City Councilman Harry Thomas pulled the item to the regular agenda.  Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden said communities in the county are already taking care of their stray animal issue.  If that were true there would be no animals from outside of San Angelo going to the shelter and no reason to further cut intake.  Morgan said 10% or 450 pets came to the shelter last year from Tom Green County, effectively countering her previous characterization.
Councilperson Billie DeWitt asked about health as a reason for a citizen to give up their pet.  Morgan said the sick person would make an appointment with PAWS, foster their pet for a period of time and if not successful PAWS would take the pet, not the city's Animal Shelter.  In a round about way Morgan confirmed the shelter does not take pets from San Angelo residents suffering from major illness.
Council did not seem the least bit concerned over the poor working relationship with area animal service organizations.  This should be a huge red flag.  Area rescues have written off the City Shelter and understandably so.
They approved further restricting Animal Services by a vote of 7-0.  Local rescues will once again bear the burden.

Update 4-13-21:  Cutting community cat intake is a topic at the April 15th meeting of the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Gilbert Consulting to Get Another $60,000 from City

San Angelo City Council will entertain hiring Former Municipal Judge Allen Gilbert for a third year of services.  The item is on the Consent Agenda (H) and will not be discussed for the public's benefit unless it is pulled into Regular Session by a councilperson.  Gilbert shifted from employee to contractor in early 2019.  

City staff are yet to provide information showing Judge Gilbert's contributions to Municipal Court, hours worked, cases closed, etc.  The contact will have been renewed twice without the public learning of the Judge's impact.