Monday, November 11, 2013

West Texas Partnership Bill Marked Past Due

San Angelo City Council took up the issue of payments for its share in the West Texas Water Partnership with Abilene and Midland.   Council tabled the item until members could get more detail on the August and September invoices.  The tabling does not preclude the City from cutting a check for June and July, as Council already approved those invoices.

Two other oddities occurred around the water partnership.  The first was the resolution to negotiate.  City Manager Valenzuela acted like this was the first official resolution, when one was enacted by his predecessor Harold Dominguez and Mayor Alvin New.  The resolution presented in the November 5th meeting did not have a provision in the motion to let Council know when the bill exceeded $100,000.

The other oddity was keeping City Council in the dark regarding invoice details for the $29,000 because one Council member breached confidentiality.  That Council person did not attend the meeting.  A former Executive Session had this person's conduct as an agenda item, until that member asked that any discussion be placed on the public agenda.  Apparently, some public work is better done in private.

San Angelo's water saga is far from over.  Water Chief Ricky Dickson cited his progressive stance as part of his qualifications for the job.  His former job duties included the city's trash service and landfill.  The public learned in City Council that these services had never been bid out over a thirty year period. This hardly sounds progressive.  As a frequent viewer of City Council proceedings I learned more about our landfill in a ten minute presentation from a potential vendor than I did from city staff.

The tension between disclosing public information and the need to keep details confidential will grow under the West Texas Water Partnership.  It will be interesting to see how varying City Council's and staff negotiate this balance, especially as the bills soar.  The partnership is competing for scarce water supplies against other municipalities and oil companies, given fracking's huge water demands.

That said, keeping information away from elected officials because one leaked is poor policy. At some point the total price tag will be revealed and officials will have their chance to be on record with their vote. The public should become aware of these matters at the soonest possible time.  Each citizen will have the opportunity to offer their voice or vote with their hands, wallet or feet. 

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