Tuesday, July 30, 2013

City "Working" on Feral Cat Issue for Two Years

The City of San Angelo's Animal Services Board and Animal Shelter Staff began discussing the issue of feral cats in August 2011.  It's nearly two years later and the city has done nothing but take an aggressive, intimidating stance against the very people working to address the problem with volunteer time and resources.

Consider the Animal Services Board minutes from  August 18, 2011:

Dr. Russell – it’s obvious we have a problem around town with feral cats so here’s where we discuss how to deal with them. Any ideas? 
Faye – what about TV time? Or we could offer cages to trap them for the shelter
Julie – we get calls all the time about this issue and we advise where to by the traps. We have a few on hand and would love to supply them but people have abused the privilege before so we no longer can. Harbor Freights, I believe, is the cheapest. 

Faye – this is a real problem in San Angelo. We need to get the message out to the general public. Sometimes people don’t think about how they can help with the problem 
Julie – there are organic remedies on how to get rid of them like cayane pepper or mothballs and not feeding your animals outside. 
Linda – the city seems like it wants to throw the problem onto the citizens but the city needs a program in place to deal with this 
Susan – the goal is to decrease the population 
Julie – we do already pick up all trapped feral cats 
Linda – this is not against you, but the city needs to take responsibility for this. Right now it’s on the home owners and citizens and the city needs to step up. Spay and neuter or kill the cats. All of your suggestions throw all responsibility back on the public 
Julie – I am sure the city would want to help in any way they can but there’s money involved 
Susan – I don’t really feel like there’s enough awareness out there and that brings me back to TV/radio advertisements. I think more people would be more responsible if they were more aware 
Linda – I know some people will feed these cats and like having them around, but they see them as semi-pets and they’re not taking responsibility for them
Julie – yes we have certain ‘problem’ houses that we will go to and talk to owners about. We do try to go out and educate 

Tom – I have a comment about killing cats. That may be a great idea to get rid of feral cats but the problem is that that could also affect owned cats 
Linda – yes but owned cats are not supposed to be outside as far as city ordinance is concerned but it’s not enforced. 
Dr. Russell – does anyone know if any other cities have policies in place
Linda – I’ll ask Abilene 
Dr. Russell – it seems like the problem is bigger here but I’m sure it’s not a problem that’s unique to us. I disagree with poisoning and would much prefer trapping because you never know what you might kill with poison and it’s more humane 
Linda – but by having a lot more trapping, the shelter would have a lot more cats to handle. How many are adoptable? 
Julie – we hold them for the stray hold if they’re not sick but we judge what is adoptable by their temperament 
Faye – do you let people know that some of these cats are feral? 
Julie – we have a wild cat room where we place the feral cats so while we have some people who have reclaimed their wild cat we don’t adopt out cats that have the potential to hurt someone 
Faye – has anyone wanted to specifically adopt out a feral cat?
Julie – no, we can’t adopt them out 

Linda – can the shelter handle the larger influx of cats if we had some kind of trapping program? 
Julie – we would have to. We do what we can 
Dr. Russell – ok we can check more into that later and possibly come up with a proposal
Health Services Director stated in a February 13, 2013 Animal Services Board meeting that she'd done research on other cities' feral cat ordinances

Sandra – I put this issue on the agenda to find out what y’all want to do. I did some research about other cities’ feral cat ordinance. Dallas has a TNR program and those colonies are managed by 2 rescue organizations. Denton’s colonies are registered and managed by the city. Ft. Worth, in my opinion, has a really good program. The animal groups have to comply with the ordinances and the city approves sponsors (rescues) to manage these programs. Caregivers who fall under sponsors have responsibilities and it’s all laid out on paper in defined rules. Lubbock and Alamo Heights have the city run their whole program which I think is too much. So see what y’all want to do about this. Do you want to pursue it or leave as is?
Linda – I see no reason to pass an ordinance because we don’t enforce what have now. And there are no groups stepping up to fix the issue because they can’t afford to
Julie – yes we do manage cats, we just can’t chase them around with a snare pole. We will pick up cats in traps or injured cats and we have traps to loan out
Linda – why does the city insist people by their own trap? It’s ridiculous. The city should purchase these traps 

Julie – we had them at one time and they were damaged by people, the resources were depleted and some people would just rather buy their own. We don’t have the resources to handle everyone 
Linda – I’m tired of fighting about this. No one cares; no one wants to take responsibility. We should just take it off the agenda 
Wendy – we try but we have a hard time with not enough staff 
Linda – I understand 
Tom – the city should require a deposit for the trap that way when it’s returned without damage, they can get the deposit back 
Julie – that’s a good idea and we had that at my other job, but San Angelo people don’t have the money for that. We go out and chain the trap and log it and talk to people about feeding feral cats. We have a handle on it 
Faye – is there a length of time that they have the traps? 
Julie – it depends but usually 7-10 days 

Two citizens spoke about the feral cat issue to City Council on July 16.  They followed up with Animal Services Board on July 18.  The Animal Services Board was completely unaware of the City's heavy-handed interdiction with one feral cat colony and City staffers unwillingness to meet with concerned citizens.

Yet, sanity prevailed when a board member and local veterinarian volunteered to chair a subcommittee to draft feral cat ordinances that would allow feral cat colonies to legally conduct Trap - Spay/Neuter - Return - Maintain in the City of San Angelo. 

This subcommittee has representatives from community animal service organizations and at least one opponent of feral cat colony management to decrease the population.  The subcommittee meets Wednesday, July 31.  How long before they have an ordinance proposal for the Animal Services Board to consider?  It could conceivably be by the end of their meeting. 

This subcommittee could accomplish in one meeting what the Board and management have been unable to do for nearly two years.  If past behavior is any indication, I expect city staffers to throw up roadblocks.  There hasn't been progress because Animal Control and city leaders don't want it.  That's clear.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Overreaching Animal Enforcement Continues

Feral cat colony volunteers directly experienced City Animal Control Officers heavy handed tactics.  They banded together with community animal service organizations to challenge officers' abuse of the law and get the intimidation stopped.  Those same organizations received reports from citizens of similar abuses. 

The city only sees one type of cat, the family pet.  It makes no space for feral cats.  The pattern has officers threatening citizens with arrest for feeding cats.  Animal Control Officers do not have the ability to arrest anyone.  Officers ordered citizens not to feed, which violates a city ordinance on animal cruelty.  They left at least one citizen with a poorly-worded letter threatening a $200 fine if the problem wasn't completely resolved within ten days.

In one case officers declared the cats a nuisance.  City ordinances have a clear procedure for declaring an animal a nuisance.  It involves the Municipal Court and gives both parties a chance to be heard.  This procedure was not followed.  Animal Control willfully ignored the nuisance city ordinance, then ordered citizens to violate another city ordinance, to impart cruelty to cats. 

It takes a citizen complaint to get authorities, like the Texas Rangers involved.  So far no one has come forward to make an official complaint.  If Animal Control continues their heavy handed, legally questionable tactics, it's a matter of time before they threaten a citizen willing to stand up for their rights.

Two voices came forward at the July 16 San Angelo City Council meeting.  They made two requests.  Back off on hyper-enforcement.and rewrite animal ordinances to make space for feral cat colonies.

A subcommittee to rewrite ordinances has been established, with at least one questionable appointee.  Given citizen intimidation continues, it looks like surface accommodation to date.   As City Manager Daniel Valenzuela plays the bad hand he inherited, we'll find out if the city is capable of true cooperation .

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Scripps Paywall & The Standard Times

E.W. Scripps hoped to stem its long newspaper revenue decline by implementing a paywall for digital newspaper content.  The change hurt San Angelo Standard Times readers in that Scripps charged a 45% premium relative to our Abilene neighbors to the north.  It also shut down the Standard Times active online commenting community.  All of the most commented stories yesterday evening had fewer than 10 comments.

Scripps' newspaper revenue decline is pictured above (source: December 2012 investor report. That trend continued in Q1 2013:

Total revenue from newspapers in the first quarter was $99.5 million, down 4.7 percent from the first quarter of 2012.  Advertising and marketing services revenue, at $63.3 million, was down 5.1 percent compared with the year-ago quarter.  Subscription revenue decreased 3.6 percent to $30.5 million

The paywall went up during the second quarter.  The Standard Times implemented theirs in surprise fashion in early May.  Q2 earnings will be out August 5.  Will the paywall have increased subscription revenue as planned?  How might the decline of online eyeballs from absent freeloaders impact advertising?  There will be a story to tell.  We'll see how Scripps spins it in their earnings call.

Update 8-6-13:  Scripps earnings news release had this to say:  "Subscription revenue decreased 1.9 percent to $28.1 million. During the quarter, Scripps launched bundled digital and print subscriptions in 11 of its 13 markets.  More than 20 percent of subscribers established their digital accounts with full access to content on their smartphones, desktops and tablets. The rollout was late in the quarter and therefore did not impact second-quarter subscription revenue."    

Note:  The Standard Times paywall went up May 1, meaning it was in effect for two full months of the second quarter.  That's earlier than late.

Update 8-16-13:  The San Francisco Chronicle took down its $12/month paywall after nearly five months. 

Update 8-21-13:  As of today the paywall is down and I have the ability to comment at The Standard Times website.  It remains to be seen if this is temporary or permanent.

Friday, July 26, 2013

City Appoints Feral Cat Colony Opponent to Draft Ordinances

At the last City Council meeting San Angelo City Manager Daniel Valenzuela said he listened to public comments from representatives of two animal service organizations using volunteer labor and dollars to address San Angelo's feral cat problem.  These citizens asked the city to stop actively opposing their Trap-Neuter-Return-Maintain (TNR) efforts to reduce a subset of the feral cat population over time.  They stated their desire to partner with the city on the feral cat problem and asked for Animal Services' heavy handed, intimidation tactics on this issue to cease.

At a followup Animal Services Board meeting the issue arose again.  Several board members volunteered to serve on a subcommittee.  Those in attendance assumed the task would be drafting ordinances that would accommodate TNR programs, leverage knowledge of local animal service organizations and and meet grant funder requirements.

This aim is clearly in doubt with the city's appointment of a member who stated this about feral cats in Animal Service Board meetings:

I see no reason to pass an ordinance because we don’t enforce what have now. And there are no groups stepping up to fix the issue because they can’t afford to

...someone said it’s illegal to feed these cats. Is that true? Because I see people doing that all the time...it’s every day...no, there’s a people problem...maybe by letting people know it’s illegal (to feed cats)?

This doesn’t stop a feral cat from going into my yard and spreading diseases.

There's more than this obvious roadblock appointment.  The city failed to include the only local organization to ever receive a feral cat colony grant, Concho Valley PAWS, formerly the Humane Society of Tom Green County.  The city also left off grant funders whose voice could guide the city to ordinances that would comply with their requirements.

Let's be clear.  The City of San Angelo has been decidedly unfriendly to feral cat colonies for years.  The simple request is to stake out a section of legal territory that would enable feral cat colonies to exist and volunteers' investment be protected from intimidation and harassment.  That's it.

There's no reason to debate Trap and Kill vs. TNR.  The City will continue to operate Trap and Kill in areas not covered by approved colonies.  The issue should be how the city will allow, even support TNR. 

City staff simply took their war on feral cat colonies underground, covered by a veneer of feigned cooperation via appointing an obvious opponent and insisting on an unnecessary evaluation of "alternatives."  If city staff can gunk this subcommittee up long enough, they can declare it a failed effort and blame feral cat colony proponents for "being uncooperative." 

A sole reliance on Trap and Kill is the lay of the land, part of Daniel's bad hand as new City Manager.  It'll remain until leaders demand a modicum of space be granted for TNR. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Councilwoman Farmer: Carollo Support Corroded?

Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer shared deep concerns on elements of the HIckory Project.  With the pipeline portion of the project nearing completion, Mrs. Farmer turned the unrest around Carollo Engineering into a duet.  Farmer is concerned about Hickory project costs and delays and requested a comprehensive presentation several meetings ago

History reveals Charlotte voted in May 2008 to pursue Hickory Aquifer water, seconded the motion engaging Carollo on the Hickory project, was in attendance four years ago when Council received an update, voted for Carollo's doing the design work, seconded the project financing motion, seconded the third amendment to the Carollo agreement, voted for ion exchange removal and approved well field expansion work for Carollo.  

Minutes and press releases indicate projected dates for actual water delivery, which leaked from March 2013 to July to August.

Mrs. Farmer's request for an update on "what you told us" and "how you did on those commitments" remains unfilled.   This frustration likely spilled over into the Engineering arena, where there was evidence for concern from the beginning.

As an elected official Charlotte Farmer heard Water Chief Will Wilde present Carollo to City Council.  This was September 2008.

Water Utilities Director Will Wilde clarified and explained the scope of work and the Water Advisory Board’s recommendation of Carrollo Engineering. He noted according to state law, the selection of a contractor is done based upon qualification as opposed to cost.
The Water Advisory Board's recommendation came from Wilde and city staff.  The September 9, 2008 Water Advisory Board minutes state:

Will Wilde began by informing the board that we had received six responses to the request for qualifications published in regards to the water supply development project.  He stated that the proposals were reviewed by a committee of city staff including himself, Tom Kerr, Mindy Ward, Kathy Keane and Roger Banks.  This committee narrowed it down to two firms and, after interviews, came to the decision that Carollo was their recommendation to the Water Advisory Board.  Hutch Musallam, Brian Adams and Paul Walker from Carollo Engineering presented information on the firm’s experience and their plans for the project

The City of San Angelo and Water Chief Will Wilde made rain for Carollo.  That may be gnawing in Charlotte Farmer's craw, at least her role in approving such.

Update 7-28-13:  Farmer voted against the bid awarding construction for the new water treatment plant in the July 16 Council meeting.  She was one of two negative votes.  The Standard Times said Farmer will continue to raise her concern over the safety of putting the treatment plant in San Angelo.  What new information does Mrs. Farmer have that changed her mind on Carollo and the location of the water treatment plant? Given the stable properties of radium, i.e. it does not explode, I don't buy Farmer's West fertilizer plant explosion concern.

City Government's Deep Dissension

San Angelo's Standard Times editorial staff got the topic right, there's dissension in city government.  Their piece skimmed the surface.  A deeper exploration involves "asking why" seven times.

Issue :
It's finally clear District 5 City Councilman Winkie Wardlaw had one burning issue he wanted addressed once installed in office.  He sought to depose Carollo Engineering from its perch as the City's go-to firm for water engineering services.  Unbeknownst to the Mayor and city staff, Wardlaw's plan involved hitting the issue hard and fast.

Now to the whys (a mix of Wardlaw's statements and my assessment): 

Why Questions:
1) Why did Councilman Wardlaw want the issue on the agenda?  Because Wardlaw does not trust Carollo, specifically Carollo's Vice President Hutch Musallam.  Those were his words.

2) Why doesn't Wardlaw trust Hutch Musallam?  Because Musallam worked on the City of San Angelo account as a Freese and Nichols engineer.  Wardlaw worked with Freese and Nichols in his former role as Council member.  Also, a prior Freese and Nichols study suggested too many problems with the Hickory Aquifer for the city to pursue as a viable long term water supply.  When Hutch moved from Freese to Carollo he was able to take the City of San Angelo account with him.  This was due to Musallam's relationship with former Water Chief Will Wilde.

The September 16, 2008 City Council minutes indicate Council awarded Carollo the work in the Consent Agenda:

Water Utilities Director Will Wilde clarified the partnership regarding the Engineering Services Agreement between Freeze Nichols, Inc, and the City for the Nasworthy Dam project; and clarified and explained the scope of work and the Water Advisory Board’s recommendation of Carrollo Engineering. He noted according to state law, the selection of a contractor is done based upon qualification as opposed to cost.
Note:  Wilde said Carollo was selected for qualifications, "as opposed to cost."  City staff narrowed six firms to two, but took only one recommendation to the Water Advisory Board, Carollo.

The numbers bandied about in City Council were $15-20 million in fees for Carollo on the Hickory project, both for engineering and construction management.  That doesn't include construction management services for the Water Treatment Plant.

3)  Why did Wardlaw not want to talk to staff about this issue prior to asking for an agenda item to propose the removal of Carollo?  Because, it's no longer about specific issues or concerns.  "There isn't time for that," stated Wardlaw.

4)  Why isn't there time in Councilman Wardlaw's mind?  Councilman Wardlaw has one objective in regard to Carollo, seeing that their work for the City of San Angelo comes to an end.  Any difficulties or delays in getting the item heard impeded his objective.   Even offers with the sincerest of intentions, Wardlaw treated as unfriendly.

5)  Why did Wardlaw react so strongly to his two agenda items being struck from a draft agenda, then moved from the public agenda to Executive Session?   These actions obstructed his wish to have Carollo replaced.  He viewed the act as gross insubordination, thus the shotgun request to discuss whoever might've struck the item from the agenda.  Also, Wardlaw stated he lined up a water engineer he trusted to attend the last Council meeting and had to tell this person not to come.  It's not clear who this water engineer is or the firm he's with.  Wardlaw tried to invoke current water Chief Ricky Dickson as being on his side with concerns regarding Carollo,   Ricky took offense.  The parties took turns silencing the other, making for City Council high drama.

6)  Why this issue, why push so hard and why now?  It's a case of conflict escalated to its highest manifestation.  I imagine Wardlaw's public concerns are but the tip of a West Texas fire ant hill.  Is Will Wilde somewhere in the mix?   Wilde's son Blake worked as a local subcontractor for Carollo, after being fired as a City Engineer.  Musallam told Council Carollo paid $1.4 million to local subs.  It's not clear how much of the $1.4 million Blake received.  

7)  What about San Angelo's city government led to this situation?  One must have some idea of the history of the parties involved, as well as the terrible hand City Manager Daniel Valenzuela was dealt by former Councils and City/Interim City Managers. 

It's bad enough when the surprises come from inside City Hall, as happened in Valenzuela's first Council meeting with the Furniture Fiasco.  While it seems out of left field with a new Councilman, it's clearly rooted in history and relationships.

In 1996 Freese and Nichols was awarded a National ASCE "Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award Nomination" and the State of Texas "Oustanding Civil Engineering Award" for the O.H. Ivie Project.  The dam at O.H. Ivie is named the "Simon W. Freese Dam."

I'm sure Mayor Morrison wishes this hadn't happened so early in his term. 
City Council has a right to expect more from staff on multiple levels.  However, Wardlaw's issue appears too narrow and personal to effectively make this point.

San Angelo is full of history and relationships, some prettier than others.

Update 9-20-13:  Steve Salmon, former Water Advisory Board member, spoke at the 9-17-13 City Council meeting in public comment on San Angelo's partnership with Midland and Abilene to find future water sources.  He stated the Water Board was given one recommendation for the firm to engineer and manage the Hickory Project and that came from City Staff.  He was clearly disturbed by the way City Staff limited the Water Board's ability to perform its job.  Salmon spoke around the 1:45 minute mark. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

City Staff Finally Hear Public Feral Cat Concerns

Local animal health leaders pressed their case this week to both San Angelo City Council and the City's Animal Services Board.  For a month the group shared their concerns over the City Animal Service's aggressive and intimidating action in regard to a feral cat colony behind a local restaurant.  Prior to these two meetings, city staff refused to budge.

Two citizens came forward at Tuesday's City Council meeting and educated Council on the city's heavy handed approach.  Their comments occurred during public comment and could not be acted upon by Council.  However, Mayor Morrison graciously heard these ladies and asked City Manager Daniel Valenzuela if he got the messages.  Daniel said he would follow up with a meeting.

The Animal Services Board meeting occurred on Thursday, where the issue once again arose.  Two veterinarians sit on the Animal Services board and were shocked at the City's hard nosed action on this feral cat colony, especially since both vets had donated time to spay/neuter a number of cats that the city shelter exterminated.   Fortunately, one veterinarian volunteered to lead an effort that would fulfill citizen requests by drafting ordinances supporting feral cat colonies instead of taking an antagonistic approach. 

The heavy handed methods, while briefly mentioned, at the Animal Services Board meeting were declared off topic by Assistant City Manager Rick Weiss.  This will likely be City Manager Valenzuela's next investigation.  Weiss would not be the person to conduct such an investigation, given more than an arm's length view is needed to ensure accountability.

The end result is the City backed off.  Leaders recalled the deadline on the cat colony in question, allowed the formation of a subcommittee to rewrite ordinances supporting feral cat colonies and expressed a willingness to partner with area animal groups already donating time and resources to address this community problem.

Citizen advocacy at two public meetings produced the impetus for change.  City leaders proved their ability to listen.  For that a number of citizens are grateful.  The true test is what happens next.  The city is capable of both lip service and collaboration.  Which will it be? 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

MedHab Followup Reveals Board Turnover

Curious how Assistant City Manager Michael Dane followed up on Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer's MedHab concerns from July 2, I went through the agenda and background packet for the July 10 Development Corporation meeting.

The agenda lacked Mrs. Farmer's MedHab concern regarding specific time frames associated with the various incentives provided by the City.  If a company didn't use the funds in an identified time frame, Farmer thought the monies should be reduced.  Dane said he thought those terms were in the MedHab contract and he'd follow up with the COSADC board on Farmer's concern.  That didn't happen on July 10.

The Board background packet showed MedHab had not received any economic development funds, outside free rent.  The packet showed MedHab reimbursed the city for water and electricity expenses incurred in their free office space.

I also watched the meeting on SATV and there was no mention of MedHab.  Surely, Randy Brooks, a MedHab investor, watched or later learned of Dane's MedHab update for Council on July 2.  What was apparent at the July 10 Development Corporation meeting were the number of new faces and the absence of leaders who'd approved the MedHab deal.

The Development Corp's top position of President was vacated with the eviction of Larry Teague.  First Vice President Chris Cornell was also gone, causing Scott Tankersly, Second Vice President, to chair the July 10 meeting.  Oddly, there was no agenda item filling officer roles or approving temporary appointments until the Board could elect replacement officers.

A third face, John Bariou, was missing on July 10.  This observation made my mind wonder as to why Bariou argued at the July 2 City Council meeting that Council had no vacancies to fill on the Development Corporation Board.  I found out Bariou remains on the board and was merely absent..

City Attorney Lysia Bowling told John that Council by appointment of a new person, vacated the old.  While I'm sure Council has that legal right, there was no public thanking of Larry Teague or Chris Cornell for their service on behalf of citizens.  It remains to be seen if that happens.

Another item from the July 2 City Council meeting was not mentioned.  Mayor Duane Morrison wanted a return to ethics standards for the Development Corporation to those in existence before January 3, 2013.  That was the date ethics standards were reduced for MedHab LLC. It remains to be seen if the Mayor's wish will be granted.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Will Projected Rains Counter One Month of Unapproved Pumping?

San Angelo City Council approved pumping water from the South Pool at Twin Buttes Reservoir with the requirement that the subject return to council for deliberations 60 days after pumping was initiated. Pumping started in mid April, so mid June would've been the time for Council to rehear the issue. That didn't happen. 

The picture above shows South Pool water levels in reference to two posts.  Sometime between July 10 and today these posts were damaged, with one removed and the other laid over.  I'd venture the city pumped 10-12 feet of water from the South Pool, with four feet of that in the last few weeks.  All three pumps hit air and are no longer in operation.  I don't expect them to be restarted at such low lake levels

Former City Councilman Paul Alexander once stated a "medium rain" would refill the South Pool overnight. That didn't happen last September when the area got a soaking, that sent 7,000 acre feet into the North Pool. However, the forecast looks good for runoff rain next week.

I'm praying for it. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Councilman Wardlaw's Two Agenda Items

Two items San Angelo City Councilman Winkie Wardlaw submitted, but were removed from the regular agenda for July 2, made the July 16 agenda.  They are:

12.  Discussion and possible action concerning further employment of Carollo Engineers (Requested by Councilmember Wardlaw)
13. Discussion and possible action concerning the employment of a new water consultant for the Hickory Project and other water matters (Requested by Councilmember Wardlaw)
It will be interesting to hear Councilman Wardlaw's perspective and what other water consultants he has in mind.  Is former Water Chief Will Wilde circulating on the sidelines?

I didn't think Will Wilde would go away, not by a longshot.  It's not clear that this is his opportunity to reenter the scene, but with Wilde's irrigation water at risk for diversion for city use, now would be the time for Wilde to press for re-involvement.  We'll learn more on Tuesday about this issue. Until then, consider this speculation.

Pumping the South Pool did not make the agenda despite Council's desire that the topic arise 60 days after initiation of pumping.  It will be 90 days without the new Water Chief honoring Council's request.  That hardly sounds proactive.

Update 7-15-13:  The Standard Times reported "Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer requested a full breakdown of the finances in the Hickory Aquifer Water Supply Project. She was especially interested in the budgeted amounts and amounts spent on construction and engineering costs."  This will be the Water Chief's third crack at fulfilling Farmer's information need.  "The other discussion item came after Councilman H.R. 'Winkie' Wardlaw III expressed displeasure that it was not placed on the July 2 meeting, as requested. The item calls for discussion to employ a new water consultant for the Hickory project, but no additional background information was available." What happened to the reclaimed water engineer RFQ?

Update 7-21-13:  City Attorney Lysia Bowling advised Council speak about Carollo in Executive Session as that was a better place to maintain attorney-client privilege regarding a pending contract.   The discussion happened in public session (after the 3 hour mark).

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Water Drying Up

Water concerns moved closer to San Angelo.  It started with Barnhart's public wells running dry due to the oilfield.  The town proposed buying water from the City of San Angelo.

Now residents in Irion County are upset over Spring Creek's not flowing and well levels dropping.  One Sherwood resident is selling water to the oilfield and his neighbors are hopping mad.

The South Pool at Twin Buttes dwindles daily.  Nearly three months ago the land pictured above was under eight feet of water.  The South Pool is the only body of water with historically reliable water flow from the South Concho River.  Unfortunately, the South Concho is in peril in our current environment.

The San Angelo Standard Times quoted oilfield activity as a 1% user of water statewide.  Water demands in the Eagle Ford Shale rose 5 to 7% from oilfield activity.  The area around San Antonio gets more moisture than West Texas.  I'd imagine the increased demands will run around 10% in our region.  Combine that with a drought and it's easy to see how neighbors get mad at neighbors.

San Angelo's recently retired Mayor said the oilfield "smelled like money."  That may be true for him and those selling water to the oilfield, but it smells like misery to many other longtime residents.

Update 7-13-13:  Two homes burned in Big Lake due to fire hydrants not operating due to lack of pressure.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Morrison Vows to Eliminate MedHab Loophole

San Angelo Mayor Dwain Morrison vowed to restore the City's ethics standards to those existing before January 3, 2012.  City Council lowered the standard in January 2012 to enable the City to provide a $3.6 million economic incentive package to MedHab LLC and have Mayor Alvin New remain in office.

Ethics standards, in place during the City's negotiations with MedHab, required Mayor New to resign his office and be gone for six months before a deal could be struck.  Those standards disappeared just before Council took up MedHab incentives.  City staff misrepresented New's role with MedHab as advisory board when he sat on MedHab's Board of Directors. 

The six month time frame, cited by one Councilman as a reason to make the change, ended up a nonfactor given MedHab's failure to procure FDA and Medicare payment approval.  Economic Development Director Shawn Lewis' indicated San Angelo should have between 29 and 85 MedHab jobs by now.  A recent update revealed MedHab employs four people, however it's not clear how many of those work in San Angelo. 

Two days after Mayor Morrison vowed to restore longtime ethical standards, our country celebrated Independence Day.  There's a difference between public service and personal enrichment.  Unfortunately, the two have become intertwined in Gordian knot like fashion.  Mayor Morrison intends to cleave the two for San Angelo.  I applaud his vision.

San Angelo's New Mayor Not New

San Angelo's new Mayor Dwain Morrison is not New. First, he's been on City Council for quite some time. Second he made it clear he's not Alvin New, the mayor he's replacing.

Morrison explicitly told City staff to do their homework, to know what they plan to talk about and be prepared to answer questions.  On numerous occasions I expected Alvin New to express his displeasure at the quality of staff presentations and analysis, something he'd never suffer as CEO of Town & Country.  That didn't happen.  New viewed Council as a policy body, apparently not responsible for quality of operations. 

Mayor Morrison told the public he wants to be the unifier after a divisive election.  He asked for forgiveness for offending anyone in the past.  He wants to represent all citizens and will treat people with honesty and fairness. 

Morrison promised not to lie, steal, betray or to deceive.  He promised to be honest, open and transparent in everything Council does.    Morrison said "Let's unite.  Let's work together.  Let's support each other.  Let's help each other."  I agree with Mayor Morrison.  San Angelo needs it. 

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Dane's MedHab Sidestep

In response to Councilman Silvas' longstanding request for a MedHab LLC update, specifically a ten to fifteen minute Powerpoint update.  Assistant City Manager/CFO Michael Dane offered (at the 2:47:26 mark). 

Thank you, Mayor.  This would normally be handled by Bob Schneeman, our Interim Director of Economic Development .  Bob is on the trip to recruit another airline, same place Daniel is, so I'm going to hit some high points and I'll ask for your indulgence on the high points part of it.  If you want a more in depth recap of what the contract calls for or a little more in depth review of what's happened, we'll probably try to get Bob back up here.  I thought we'd make sure we got this on the agenda, had some conversation about it and gave Mr. Silvas an opportunity to talk or ask questions or whatever his pleasure was. 

Recall that COSADC and MedHab have an agreement for approximately $2.795 million in incentives to be paid based on performance of milestones.  Recent activity on that includes in December MedHab signed a lease with the Concho Valley Center for Economic Development (CVCED) and they moved into location on West Beauregard.  Remember where COSADC was for a while and they've got that annex.  They moved into that location in January.  MedHab currently has four full time employees and plans to hire two additional staff within the next few weeks.

MedHab has not requested, nor have they received any incentive payments from COSADC at this point.  The Development Corporation through the CVCED has forgone the collection of rent on that facility in accordance with the terms of the agreement.  All other exceptions with the exception of building maintenance are borne by MedHab.  Again, they haven't started the big hiring that is anticipated, but they do see a little bit of growth.  They do have some employees at this time.    Those are kind of the high points, the latest on that at this time, Mr. Silvas.  Of course we'd be glad to pursue any questions you have or try to bring back a more in depth review, if that's what you'd like (2:49:40).

Silvas' longstanding request for a comprehensive update was a two minute, fifteen second verbal dodge.  How many of MedHab's four employees live and work in San Angelo?  The only employee listed on MedHab's LinkedIn site is CEO Johnny Ross, who lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. At best there are three possible San Angelo employees. 

Dane went on to offer under questioning:

As far as the specific time frames with the different milestones associated with this contract, we'd be glad to bring back an itemization, a summary of that.  We can do that as part of a council meeting in a subsequent presentation, if you'd like or we can put together an executive summary and get it to you in the Friday packets.

Why didn't the update include updated time frames associated with different milestones, the very thing Silvas asked for?

Dane's update lacked the current state of MedHab's plans, especially clarification of MedHab's declared move to shift non-FDA production elsewhere.  Given Ross' statement I find it hard to believe MedHab's early hires are here.

The economic development agreement is valued at $3.6 million.  The $2.8 million represented by Dane is actual cash incentives.  The unmentioned difference is roughly $800,000.

Councilman Silvas must be tired of trying to get the full story on behalf of his concerned taxpaying constituents.  Michael Dane's casual, imprecise, half-hearted update is symbolic of a dysfunctional administration.  Reasonable questions are minimized, eventually responded to with half truths and spin.  This administration works hard to make the asking individual look bad.

The public face of San Angelo would be much improved by taking elected official and citizen concerns seriously and preparing a thorough response that does not attack the person questioning.

Update 7-14-13:  Any messages Dane was to send back to the Development Corporation did not make the agenda for their July 10th meeting.  

Update 8-8-13:  More of what Michael Dane left out.  The Standard Times reported:  "The company has three full-time managers and has hired four ASU grads on a contract basis to work on software development, Brown said. The company should have a full-time technical support employee and has been working with the Texas Workforce Commission to hire five or six workers to help with distribution in September when the RPM2 goes on sale.

Reclaimed Water Engineering RFQ & Councilmember Concern: Related or Not?

I poured through City of San Angelo bid opportunities searching for a health insurance request for proposal.  While one is yet to be issued, I did find a bid for

Water Utilities:  Professional Engineering Services, Reclaimed Water Alternatives Evaluation
I pondered if Wilde Engineering, with two former City of San Angelo employees, would bid on this project.  Former Water Utilities Director Will Wilde left in a firestorm of public concern.

One issue was the firing of Blake Wilde, Will's son, from the City and Blake's later working as a contractor for the Hickory pipeline project (a story broken on this blog).  The Wilde's deemed it not a conflict of interest, but many residents smelled something foul.

Blake formed Wilde Engineering, which father Will later joined.  They promote their skills and experience on their website:

WE, LLC has 45+ years of in-depth knowledge and project experience that will work for you. Areas of expertise:

Municipal Water and Wastewater Systems
Environmental Regulations
Stormwater Management
Street and Bridge Design
Drainage Design.

The City's stated aim for the RFQ is to perform engineering services in the preparation of an evaluation for reclaimed water alternatives.

Will Wilde directly benefits from reclaimed city water via his cotton hobby farm.  He renegotiated a City deal with the Bureau of Reclamation to use allocated irrigation water year around.  The City struck a deal giving 100% of its wastewater to area farmers via the Tom Green County Water Control and Improvement District.  Recall Will Wilde is one of the area farmers receiving wastewater for irrigation.  Here's Wilde's position in 2011:

According to San Angelo’s water manager Will Wilde, the city is nowhere near actively pursuing the use of wastewater for municipal use.
Will Wilde counted on keeping his position to protect irrigation use of reclaimed water.  With that gone what's the best way to influence the city;s considerations?  It could be by speaking with elected leaders, but the greatest leverage would come from serving as engineers on the project.

Oddly, a newly elected former City Council member referred to an item he wanted on the public agenda which involved the city's hiring of consultants.  The item was removed from the public agenda and steered to Executive Session.

"Governmental bodies may not meet in closed session to discuss employment of independent contractors, such as engineering, architectural or consulting firm."  Texas Attorney General Opinion #MW-129

Note:  The Engineering RFQ is the only consulting oriented bid opportunity in the last five months.  It will be interesting to see how these two tracks vector in the near future

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Health Insurance Savings Credit

San Angelo Mayor Alvin New's final task was recognizing elected officials for their contributions.  New cited Councilman Kendall Hirschfeld's saving the city $500,000 during budget preparation.  Although New didn't specify the source, Hirschfeld was clearly behind the health insurance move to an exclusive provider arrangement.  It's fitting citizens and employees recall Hirschfeld's expectation of no additional funds for employee or retiree coverage as new bids will soon be sought. 

This is the same City Council that sat on $343,000 in Early Retiree Reinsurance Program funds for three years.  During that time New and company raised employee and retiree dependent premiums by 36 to 58%.  I believe employees and retirees will clearly remember this City Council.  I don't expect it to be with fondness.