Saturday, May 25, 2013

San Angelo Development Corporation Developments

The May 8 San Angelo Development Corporation minutes state a number of presentations "were made."  They don't include important details like:

1.  Three companies are in active discussions with the City for economic development assistance.

2.  City economic leaders are telling companies to bring their workers with them, so as not to upset local employers who don't want turnover or rising local wage rates.  How did Jerry Sea react to this statement given he spoke to the board in public comment, sharing his concern regarding increased cost of living for senior citizens?  I'll add the disabled on fixed incomes to the list of already impacted.  

How can the city justify using local tax dollars to "bring jobs" to San Angelo that local people have no shot at?  Other interesting developments include:

3.  Hirschfeld Wind's incentive and rebate request is with the city's legal department.  City staff treated this like a political hot potato, saying the barest minimum.  It raised questions as to why Hirschfeld's submission required additional legal scrutiny?

4.  The City's deal with Lucas Oil for off-road races in the Industrial Park has been pushed back a year or more.  The "numbers aren't working" for Lucas Oil, so it will be 2015, if ever, on the land based version of Showdown in San Angelo.

Lastly, there was a strange dance between the board and the interim leader on two issues, selecting a new Executive Director and setting their next meeting date.  I expected a City Human Resources professional to lay out a proposed process to the board, given the critical role the Executive Director will play in our community.  It would likely involve a subgroup of board members specifying criteria that could be used to rank candidates.  The door would be open for the board to adjust the process to better meet their needs.  This did not happen.

The interim director, who may or may not be a candidate for the position, suggested he and the only other employee narrow the list of sixty to a top ten.  The board seemed taken aback by the casualness of the proposal.  Selection of an Executive Director is significant board responsibility.  Given the last director left a bad taste in their mouth, the selection process matters.

The session closed with picking their next meeting date.. The interim director had a firm conflict with May 22nd, which turned into a significant obligation, before becoming something that could be rescheduled and eventually evaporating altogether.  While it's not a major item, just one paid staff member's time vs.six public minded citizens', this interchange didn't inspire confidence.  It strengthened my impulse to have more eyes reviewing the candidates.

I'll let you judge the state of economic development in our community.

Correction:  Anthony Wilson, Public Information Officer, shared the position discussed was "not the Executive Director but a development coordinator position, which would also manage the Concho Valley Center for Entrepreneurial Development. That's the job most recently held by Cindy Hartin."

The City posted the Economic Development Director position on 1-4-13 and the Economic Development Coordinator on 2-22-13.  Might a new Executive Director want to help select key staff members?

Update 5-26-13:  Call me slow given City Manager Daniel Valenzuela's pattern of promoting "interim's" to permanent job holders.  If the Interim Executive Director becomes permanent then he'll have selected his staff. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Water Operating Fund: Lost Decade Found

Months ago San Angelo City Councilman Dwain Morrison asked for an explanation on the water operating fund and why citizens rarely got a rebate.  The resulting presentation seemed sparse.

Wanting more information I perused City budgets and audited annual reports.  I looked hard, but could not find the two bits of information I desired, the Water Operating Fund balance at fiscal year start and end.  City staff kindly provided that information.

Only once in the last decade did the Water Operating Fund end/start off negative.  That was in 2004.  Every other year the Water Operating Fund was in the black. 

The City enacted water rate increases in 2007 and 2011.  Also in 2011 the City conducted a "one-time transfer of $3.5 million into general fund reserves from the water utility."  Those items are pictured below.

Given the actual Water Operating Fund balances weren't in the annual financial audit, this information could be new to City Council members.

For those who like raw data, I offer the audited figures as well as budget estimates, (which City Council members saw during the budget process):

Looking at audited vs. budget numbers one can see a lag in the two lines.  However, something changed the last two years, when the city experienced major increases in actual water operating funds vs. budget.

Another noteworthy item for the last two years are budgeted transfers out of the Water Operating Fund, $5.4 million and $6.1 million.  It's not clear how these transfers are reflected in the charts or graphs pictured here.  Such transfers likely relate to the city's debt obligations for the Hickory pipeline and planned new water treatment plant.

While my curiosity may be greater than the average citizen, I expected something along these lines in response to any City Councilperson's inquiry.  It happened the one who asked is still in the running for Mayor.  .  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mayor New's Impromptu MedHab Update

Mayor Alvin New provided the following comments in response to Councilman Johnny Silvas' request for a MedHab update, made in mid-April but yet to be honored:  Silvas indicated he had no axe to grind, he simply wanted to know about jobs.  New responded at the 4:22:30 mark

"Take a look at the COSADC paperwork that was sent out.  No but, that's fine with me, I don't mind at all, but it's been brought up multiple times in the election, so that you know, it is what it is.  The issue, if you look in the paperwork that was handed out, there are no dollars being spent at this time.  There are basically four jobs and I know a lot more than that, but let's go by what is presented.  OK."

Let's be clear, virtually nothing has been presented since Council and MedHab inked the deal.  Circulating a COSADC meeting packet to Council members isn't close to a public update.

Ironically after the April 16th Council meeting, I received a message from Public Information Officer Anthony Wilson that an impromptu update by the Mayor would've been out of bounds. 

The mayor could not have talked about MedHab at the last meeting without violating the Texas Open Meetings Act since a discussion of that topic was not included on the agenda.
I believe the council that approved MedHab's robust incentive package deserved a public update, especially before members step down or change roles.  That didn't happen.

Tech Fort Worth gave the update neither COSADC nor the Mayor shared:

Initially – beginning June 1 – the device will be marketed to athletic trainers and coaches for use in strengthening the legs of healthy athletes, but Ross said he hopes to win Food and Drug Administration approval so that physicians and physical therapists can begin prescribing the device for their patients before the end of the year.

Where will this production occur?  After garnering a $3.6 million economic development package, Ross stated retail production would occur outside San Angelo, something not represented to Council   

MedHab had a large commitment the day after the May 14 Council meeting.  The company had been nominated for a TECH Fort Work IMPACT Award, one of nine finalists.

MedHab didn't win the the TECH Fort Worth IMPACT Award for 2013, but it will have the opportunity to present to accredited investors:

All nine finalists will have an opportunity to pitch June 20 to angel investors from Cowtown Angels, the North Texas Angel Network and other Texas investors. 
Rest assured, those folks will get a more complete story than San Angelo's City Council, provider of a potential $3.6 million nondebt, nonequity capital injection.

Councilman Silvas need not apologize for wanting to know what's going on.  Promises were made.  What's the performance to date and what are the company's plans?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mayor New to Serve Through Runoff Election

San Angelo Mayor Alvin New will serve an extra month, given today's election will continue via a June 15th runoff between Mayoral candidates Kendall Hirschfeld and Dwain Morrison.

Ironically, two of the three Mayoral candidates will continue as Council members as their districts are also headed to a runoff.  Paul Alexander's district will see Rodney Fleming vs.Trinidad Aguirre.  Kendall Hirschfeld's district has H.R. "Winkie" Wardlaw vs. David McBride.  Marty Self, Don Vardeman and Charlotte Farmer were the outright winners in today's meeting.

Only Dwain Morrison will cease to serve as City Council member as a result of today's election.  He'll have a choice as to how his spend his time, sitting in the audience and making observations or out campaigning.

I'd bet Morrison will be present when the MedHab update hits the agenda, which won't be Tuesday, May 14.  Will Councilman Silvas ask why his request wasn't honored?

Given Silvas was Mayor Pro Tempore when Council gave final approval for the "robust" economic development incentive package, he is well within his bounds to ask what's happened in the interim.  Minutes from August 21, 2012 stated:

Councilmember Silvas resumed the meeting as Mayor Pro Tempore.

Silvas is not going away, regardless of who becomes Mayor.  It would behoove paid city leaders to honor his request.  If history repeats itself, Mayor New will not be present for any MedHab related business, which I expect to apply to MedHab updates 

Alvin New may not want his two hats to collide, his San Angelo Mayor hat and MedHab Board of Director's cap.  Will the MedHab update come before New hangs up his Mayoral hat?  We may find out on the 14th.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

"Most Commented" Numbers Fall Precipitously

San Angelo's Standard Times new pay-wall has been in place for one week.  The surprise change decimated the paper's active online community. 

Comments are a fraction of prior levels.  Will Scripps bean counters run the numbers?  If eyeballs fell at the same rate as comments, advertisers might be concerned. 

Monday, May 06, 2013

One Less Chance for Immunizations Before Price Hike

San Angelo citizens will have one less opportunity for immunizations before prices increase June 1.  Here's the reason:

The San Angelo-Tom Green County Health Department’s weekly immunization clinic on Tuesday, May 14, will be postponed as local health department officials assist the Texas Department of State Health Services with tracing contacts of those suffering from communicable diseases. The next immunization clinics will be on Tuesday, May 7, and Tuesday, May 21.

Postponed?  As I didn't see a makeup date, I believe the word should be cancelled.  The reason involves tracking communicable diseases.  Is that Tuberculosis or Sexually Transmitted Diseases? 

Such tracking is a normal public health function.  Why should immunizations be displaced, especially with a nearly 50% price hike on the horizon? 

On June 1, the fee for eligible children will increase to $22.06 per child per visit. The new fee for eligible adults will be $22.06 per vaccination. 
Given immunizations prevent communicable diseases, how might restricted access and steep fee increases come back to harm our community?  Maybe in a few years, someone can ask Mayor New and the band of soon to be ex-Councilmembers. 

Preliminary Medhab Update

Councilman Johnny Silvas asked for an update on the City's economic development agreement with MedHab during deliberations on agenda items for the next Council meeting.  At the time Council considered moving the meeting up to April 30.  After Silvas' request I detected a change in Mayor Alvin New, a MedHab board member.  New stated he wasn't inclined to hold a council meeting before elections on May 11. 

San Angelo Development Corporation will meet on May 9.  Their board packet showed MedHab received no money thus far from the City.  MedHab founder Johnny Ross called the city's economic development package robust, but defended it as performance based.  In Ross' words:  Zero funds means zero performance. 

We'll see if that's the case on May 14, when the MedHab report is due. 

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Paywall Obliterates Commenter Community

The Standard Times paywall, nearly a week old, wiped out a vibrant commenter community.  The front page looks like a lightly read blog, with zero comments next to every headline and top story.  Of five "most popular" stories, two had a comment, as in singular.

"Most commented" had 38 comments under the Publisher's Letter announcing the move, which came with no, as in zero, notice.  The other four "most commented" ranged from six to two in number.

The Standard Times even turned Rick Smith's column into a comment-less zone.  I wonder how zero compares to Rick's historical average.  I hope the bean counters at Scripps run that number.

I wonder how the discussions went inside the Publisher suite on the new paywall.  I bet they said, "We have loyal readers."  "What alternative local news sources do they have?"  "We offer premium local content which has value." 

Who suggested pricing the digital version at $14.99 per month, when Scripps' other Texas papers offer the same service for $9.95 a month?  Let's assume the Standard Times' loyal online readers were willing to consider paying for access   How might they feel showing up one day to find the rules changed overnight?  The vibrant online community didn't have the opportunity to discuss their reactions, give any advice or share their plans.

Also, I wonder how much the active online community contributed to the overall value proposition?  With community interaction gone, how much is the site worth per month?

The Standard Times razed its active online community in the interest of profit development.  This is a metaphor for San Angelo, from Lake Nasworthy to the Cline Shale, which will boom, then bust. What's coming may be premium priced, i.e. not for existing users.   

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Lake Nasworthy is Economic Development

In small print above the slide states:

"The designs and concepts in this presentation are for illustrative purposes only."

Actually the designs and concepts are from a series of stakeholder meetings, public meetings, and interaction with city leaders and planning staff.  Four consulting groups added their expertise from doing similar work in other parts of Texas and the United States.

Oddly, the project boiled down to one thing, economic development.  This was not a surprise for those watching City Council the last three years.

The Consulting Four Horsemen "illustrated" putting public space on private land and private development on public land. 
Public use on private land is the light purple area above, termed the Special Opportunity Zone.  It's the former WTU Power Plant, where the team suggested creating a Heritage Center with educational and entertainment aspects.

The consultants did not identify the current owners of the WTU property, but they did identify possible funding sources for such an endeavor.  The list included Brownfields money from the federal government and a foundation or nonprofit led fundraising campaign.

As for the private development on city land, consider the proposed Harbor-side Village, the small bright red area pictured above.  The name brought to mind HarborPlace in Baltimore and Waterside in Norfolk, each experiencing the need for significant reinvestment after 30 years, some of which is public money.

Here's what the Four Consulting Horsemen pictured for what is now Mary Lee Park, the Nature Center and the shuttered marina.

The image above shows development on both sides of Knickerbocker Road.  On the Southeast side of the road would sit four or five story buildings.  The side closer to the water would have one or two story buildings.  The major tenant would be a hotel with surrounding shops and restaurants.

I am particularly interested in how current users of Mary Lee Park would be impacted by development.  My windsurfing launch would be replaced by a hotel.  Where else might I be able to put in to sail this main body of water?  Consultants spoke of windsurfers using the Community Activity zone (the light blue area).  I've never launched from that area.

The economic development card is finally on the table.  We've been informed, however I need more information to consent.  As an existing user of Mary Lee Park, how can I retain access to the lake?  If this site is gone, how will the city accommodate, i.e. provide other launches places around the lake where I can sail in various wind directions?

As I think of other users, especially the Swim Beach at Mary Lee Park, I wonder how many locals would continue swimming and grilling out should the above development occur?  Might a byproduct be gentrification?  Will redevelopment achieve it's aim? 

“A carefully planned public-private partnership that results in a functional blend of improved lake access and supporting infrastructure for residents, open space/greenbelt areas, selectively approved economic development activities by private investors that do not negatively impact existing recreational activities for San Angelo residents, and non-motorized connectivity enhancements that mitigate motorized vehicle traffic issues and promote increased physical activity on the part of residents and visitors.” - Bill Cullins, local author and exercise enthusiast.

in addition to Bill's running, swimming and cycling prowess, he is a talented windsurfer.  Look for us on the water testing possible windsurfing launches, hopefully under improved lake access.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Lake Nasworthy Development: From Stakeholder to Public Meetings

It took five weeks for Gateway Development and Peter A. Ravella Consulting to incorporate stakeholder input and City of San Angelo priorities, culminating in a public meeting the morning of May 1.. Gateway's Scott Polokaw facilitated input in both sessions.  I attended the first Stakeholder session on March 27 where we identified the following concerns:

Access for small craft launching (I'm a windsurfer)
Lake levels (which impacts safety)
Potential displacement
Potential fees
ADA access
Nonmotorized access to lake area
Restroom facilities
Boat ramps
I did disclose that Lake Nasworthy is our least popular place to windsurf, but lack of water in other area lakes drives us to sail Nasworthy.  I also stated the City doesn't want beginner windsurfers on Lake Nasworthy in the summer, when there's high boat traffic.  It's a risk management issue.

The City's Public Information Office posted a video of the May public meeting, which is embedded below.  I encourage anyone with an interest in our area lakes to watch this session (I hour 22 minutes). 

Polokaw introduced Gateway's conceptual framework for Lake Nasworthy, comprised of five zones:

1.  Action Sports Zone - West and Southwest side of lake
2.  Nature Education Zone - West and Southwest side of lake
3.  Community Activity Zone - East side of lake
4.  Harbor Village - South side of Lake, including Mary Lee Park, the shuttered Marina, the current Nature Center and Goodfellow Rec Camp
5.  Opportunity Area - North side of lake, including Gun Club Hill and old WTU Power Plant

The meeting included several strong pushes for hotel and new housing development.  Possible hotel sites included Mary Lee Park and the old WTU Power Plant.  Restaurants and shops were mentioned in the same locations.

Those who've followed this City Council knew serious development was the aim. Other Council threads could be seen in "discouraging ad hoc walking" on Gun Club Road, moving Mary Lee park for future development and land currently owned by the city will eventually be owned by a private investor.

“Lake Nasworthy is brimming with opportunity,” said AJ Fawver, interim Community Development director. “If we are to take full advantage of that opportunity, we must have a comprehensive blueprint and roadmap for doing that. In crafting a plan, it’s vital that we hear from the public so we can ensure the end result serves San Angelo and its citizens well.”   
The spate of "options" presented to the public for feedback on May 1 will turn into a recommended direction on May 2.  I look forward to viewing the recording.  I hope Peter Ravella talks in that session.  Ravella and I share an interest in North Carolina beaches, where the Outer Banks are a windsurfing destination.  I'm traveling there in June.  I look forward to San Angelo's area lakes having clean, sustainable beaches for recreation.

Update 10-11-13:  The final plan has windsurfing at the Opportunity Area.  Huh?  If the Gun Club Road folks don't like walkers and runners, I can't imagine they'll be fans of vehicles pulling windsurfing trailers.  I couldn't pick a worse site for windsurfing than the old WTU Power Plant.  

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Clinton Bailey's Send Off

With the retirement of Water Czar Will Wilde the City of San Angelo had the opportunity to do something grand, given the Water Department is a major public face of the organization.  City leaders sent a clear message.  Qualifications didn't matter.  Internal candidates, as in plural, weren't given the opportunity to apply.  "Go along, get along" seemed to be the sole criteria.

In the midst of this less than inspiring period, City Engineer Clinton Bailey interviewed and accepted the job of Director of Public Works and Utilities for the City of Fredericksburg.   Bailey had the ethics, managerial skills and temperament to erase the water department stain.  As a professional engineer Bailey seemed a lone voice in City Hall for long range infrastructure planning and street preventive maintenance. 

Bailey spearheaded the City's Stormwater Management Plan, an unfunded federal mandate that involved education, street sweeping and cleaning drainage ways.  Bailey worked with the Upper Colorado River Authority to install ten stormwater quality monitoring stations, an investment of $1 million. San Angelo is the only city its size to undertake such an effort, which Stormwater Magazine covered.

Bailey recalls. “A major difference between our program, as a Phase II city, and other ones around the state is that we are actively sampling and analyzing stormwater runoff in tributaries to our rivers throughout San Angelo. We’re doing that to establish background data for three main purposes. First, we want to identify what the real problems are. Then, we plan to build a model so we can build BMPs, detention ponds, gabion structures, things like that to prevent this pollution. Third, this will guide us to reduce the overall effort and dollars it takes to manage the entire system.”  

San Angelo's Water Department could use a leader with such priorities.

The project Bailey considers his greatest achievement is Avenue P drainage remediation.  Bailey went to a public meeting on Avenue P flooding with City Manager Harold Dominguez and Councilman Johnny Silvas.  Citizens challenged them with a long history of failed promises, including ones from Will Wilde fifteen years prior.  During the fifteen year period of inaction twenty homes flooded.

Bailey's tenacity on this issue began in 1996 when he wrote the grant application for hazard mitigation, resulting in a master drainage plan for the city.  In 2000 the city reduced 57 identified problem drainage areas to 25 using eight criteria.  After the public meeting, Bailey fought for funding.  He and his team then designed the Avenue P remediation project, which broke ground in 2013.

Bailey will miss his hometown and his team of professional engineers.  He leaves knowing he accomplished many worthwhile things for area citizens.

The City issued a press release on a going away reception for Bailey.  They did so on May 1 (for immediate release)

The City of San Angelo will host a farewell reception for City Engineer Clinton Clinton Bailey from 4 p.m.-5:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 1, in the lobby of City Hall, 72 W. College Ave. 

The Standard Times covered the reception and kept the content in front of their new paywall.   The public is invited to comment here.

Clinton Bailey proved his worth repeatedly. 
“San Angelo will always be in my heart,” Bailey said. “Y’all take care of things while I’m gone.”
It's a shame another Texas town gave him the opportunity to interview and rise to the top.  

"Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering." - Theodore Roosevelt

We'll have one less industrious leader on the job.  Godspeed.

Update 7-27-13:  City Council approved the Avenue P project in their July 16 meeting.  Bailey's name arose several times.

Update 1-1-14:  In 2014 the city will request quotes for a comprehensive survey of all San Angelo streets, proposed by former city engineer Clinton Bailey before he left the city.  Oddly, Bailey's replacement is a former TEXDOT engineer.  Also oddly, this could open the door for Blake Wilde's Wilde Engineering.  Blake primarily worked streets/bridges before being fired for poor performance.  

Update 4-24-22:  The City of Fredericksburg promoted Clinton Bailey to City Manager effective May 1.  Bailey was promoted to Assistant City Manager/ Director of Public Works and Utilities in October 2016.  Clinton proved his ability to provide quality city services while holding leaders to ethical standards.

Update 7-5-22:  The city finally finished a project designed to reduce flooding on Avenue P.  The detention pond is complete and ready for Chamber of Commerce blessing.