Tuesday, December 31, 2013

TTU's Feral Cat Non-Collaboration Escalates

Texas Tech University committed to collaborating with local animal service organizations on reducing the number of cats in the university's longstanding feral cat colony.  Here's what collaboration looks like.

Plan - Involve feral cat caretakers, TTU students and staff, in ascertaining the feral cat population on campus.  Determine solutions to identified concerns in conjunction with caretakers.  Test those strategies to see their impact.  Identify who is responsible for various parts of the plan.  Meet regularly to share feedback on actions taken and course correct.   Have agreed upon measures for success and methods for communicating when surprises arise. Be forthright, open and honest in dealings with one another and the public.  

Tech did none of the above with the university's feral cat caretakers.  Facilities Chief Hugh Cronin and Marketing's Chris Cook started Tech's Feral Cat War in the heat of summer, which has been ably continued by new Facilities Chief Chief Kent Meredith.

TTU accelerated cat trapping and removal during the Winter break.  The university had the audacity to steal bowls provided by cat caretakers and use those inside their traps.  This move came after Tech staff removed shelters donated by cat caretakers.

Tech repeatedly shut out the very groups it promised to work with, thus it's clear the university's intent was never to collaborate.  At every turn Tech acted unilaterally with arrogance and hubris.

Top administrators ignored expressed objections, breaking their silence only with worthless replies to EthicsPoint complaints.  I queried EthicsPoint on Tech's non-investigation and hapless response, which reiterated on September 14, 2013:

Hugh Cronin is no longer with the university. After his departure, administration continued to seek opportunities to partner with the campus and the student organization in an effort to strengthen the viability of the program intended to relocate the feral cats away from residence halls, dining halls, and child development center. 
Over three months later Tech's collaboration mantra remains unfulfilled.  EthicsPoint advised me to submit the concerns yet again.  I may do so next year.

Might TTU actually fulfill it's longstanding promise to collaborate with feral cat caretakers in 2014?  Might it look like the Plan picture painted above?  The ball is in (and has always been) in Tech's court.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Deadly Flu is Spreading in San Angelo

Two months ago City officials informed the public the Health Department had limited flu shot availability.  At year end the city issued a press release encouraging citizens to get a flu shot:

The San Angelo-Tom Green County Health Department is urging citizens to get influenza vaccinations and take precautions in the wake of an increase in local flu cases. 
The Texas Department of State Health Services recently report the level of flu-like illness is classified as “high” statewide, and medical providers are seeing an increase in flu across the state, including in San Angelo. 
It takes several weeks to build immunity after getting a flu shot.  For citizens to have optimal protections they needed the shot before a widespread outbreak.  
San Angelo's City Council under Mayor Alvin New contributed to a more severe flu season in 2012-2013 with massive budget cuts.  While a fraction of the budget has been restored, immunizations are conducted only on Tuesdays, not the five days a week prior to the $138,000 cut.  
Flu vaccines are administered during the Health Department’s weekly immunization clinic on Tuesdays from 8 a.m.-11:30 a.m. and from 1 p.m.-4:30 p.m. in its offices in Suite 9 at 2030 Pulliam St. The clinics are open only to walk-ins (no appointments). 
Once upon a time the Health Department had a primary care clinic and a pharmacy to fulfill its current recommendation:
Antiviral treatment is recommended for anyone with confirmed or suspected flu who is hospitalized, has severe or progressive illness or is at a higher risk for complications. 
They don't suggest how flu stricken Health Department clientele are to obtain such medicines. 

What's clear is the level of service reduction.  This is the state of public health in our city and state.  Be sure to thank your elected officials. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Council Gives Development Consultant Six Months

City council 12 17-13 downtown development plan from City of San Angelo Texas

The Standard Times reported:

The City Council advanced San Angelo’s Downtown Development Master Plan without dropping a cent.  The council voted to give Catalyst Urban Development a 180-day window to seek investors and developers for three pieces of city property in areas between Oakes Street and Irving Street and Edgewater Inn.  The city won’t spend any additional money on the plan during that span.

The second phase, estimated to cost at least $60,000, involves developer outreach, identifying fundraising strategies, property acquisition and market outreach.  The council will vote on advancing to the second phase at a later date.
I didn't expect this council to be as free with development dollars at the last one.  It will be interesting to hear the discussion at that later date.

Update 5-27-14:  San Angelo's Downtown Development Council and the City will conduct a special meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday, June 5, in the McNease Convention Center to discuss and consider the next steps to executing the strategies outlined in a master plan for continuing the revitalization of downtown San Angelo.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Hirschfeld Industries Up for Sale?

The City Council background packet for December 17 directly expressed the heretofore subtle economic development theme of helping local employers hit hard by competition for workers and rising wages.

The City is "currently working with four local companies to assist their needs in restructuring, expansion and transfer of ownership." 

City Council discussed an offer to Hirschfeld Industries in their December 3rd Executive Session. Insight Equity has owned a controlling interest in Hirschfeld since April 2006.

Insight targets a 6-8+ year investment horizon.  Hirschfeld is months away from 8 years of Insight ownership.  Insight Equity is a private equity underwriter (PEU).  Hirschfeld paid nearly $100 million in partner distributions from 2006-2009 with sponsor Insight getting the lion's share.  It's not clear how much they paid to their PEU owners from 2010-2013.

Texas Governor Rick Perry renegotiated a Texas Enterprise Fund agreement with Vought Aircraft Industries right before The Carlyle Group sold Vought to Triumph Group.  Buyers don't want to be saddled with failure to perform job incentive obligations, especially one requiring repayment of $35 million for cutting 35 jobs over a six year period.  That's right Perry gave the Carlyle affiliate $1 million per job lost.

Hirschfeld may or may not be the local company for sale mentioned in the City Council packet.  If it's not now, Hirschfeld's turn on the auction block will come.  Insight expects exceptional returns from Hirschfeld Industries.  I imagine they're happy for San Angelo taxpayers to add to their bounty.

Council to Consider Phase Two of Downtown Development

A very different San Angelo City Council will accept the draft Downtown Development Master Plan document from Catalyst Urban Development this week.  Mayor Alvin New and a development oriented council approved engaging Catalyst in December 2012.  Council member Kendall Hirschfeld made the motion, while Charlotte Farmer provided the second for the unanimous vote.  That motion required city staff to bring back work product from any finished phase and obtain council's approval to proceed to the next.

At the time city leaders had not designated the source of funding.  This was several months after closing the Sexually Transmitted Disease clinic and drastically cutting immunizations due to "lack of funds."

In May 2013 Mayor New, Kendall Hirschfeld, Paul Alexander, Marty Self, Johnny Silvas and Charlotte Farmer voted for the four phase contract with Catalyst, while Don Vardeman voted against it.  The contract authorized $68,000 in consulting fees and $22,000 in reimbursable expenses for Phase 1, which was expected to take six to eight weeks.  To date the city paid $66,000 in fees and $7,200 in reimbursable  expenses. 

Phase One:  Downtown Master Development Strategies document

"Land use demand has been calculated for the downtown study area that includes demand for over 600 multifamily units across multiple residential densities, 6 new restaurants, and over 220,000 sf of new office space in various tenant configurations." 
The plan showed existing restaurants downtown. 

It will need to be updated to reflect Sealy Flats' closing.  I drove by Friday evening and was surprised to see Sealy Flats dark.  San Angelo's Chaos Marketing confirmed what I saw.

I'm not going to get in to the semantics of why Sealy Flats has closed down. I don't know the reason why and as many out there already have, I can only make an educated guess.
The report shows how projected population growth will drive the need for more downtown restaurants:

The study did not state where water will come from to supply 17,000 new citizens, but it did delineate a number should live along the Concho River:

Residential riverfront development "efforts should be economically incentivized to achieve initial catalytic investment."  The plan lists a myriad of financial methods to support or subsidize recommended development and concludes with:

This analysis suggests these efforts be particular to inducing restaurant, energy sector employment, and new housing over the next 10 years.

Council will accept this report and consider moving to Phase 2, which was originally proposed as:

Phase Two -- Upon approval from City of San Angelo, Catalyst will progress into the second phase.  To complete these tasks, Catalyst would receive $10,000 per month until project-related development agreement(s) are executed. It is anticipated that this will occur with a 6 month time period. If the City chooses to acquire property, Catalyst would be entitled a fee of 3% the purchase price as City’s consultant.
The City stands to pay out large amounts should it go forward in Phase Two with Catalyst.  I look forward to watching the presentation and council discussion. It could be very different or very similar to prior council discussions.

Update 12-16-17:  San Angelo Live did a story on Sealy Flats closing.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

San Angelo's Sad ERRP History

Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer asked Human Resources Director Lisa Marley to explain ERRP funds, its purpose and history:

The ERRP is Early Retiree Reinsurance Program is what it stands for, and what it, the reason it was developed because more and more employers were dropping retirees from their coverage and so they used that as an incentive for companies to offer insurance to their retirees with this promise that there would be refunds made to your plan, or reinsurance where it comes back to the plan.--Lisa Marley
The missing history:  Four months after being approved for ERRP reimbursement the City of San Angelo raised dependent coverage for employees and early retirees from 34 to 58%.  Council chose not to apply a penny of expected ERRP reimbursement to lessen the crushing increase.  As a result nearly 200 people dropped health insurance.

45 employees/retirees and 147 employee/retiree dependents dropped coverage for 2011.
Back to Lisa Marley's testimony on 12-3-2013:

And so the program, I think actually they passed it into law in 2010 and we applied for it, were granted it.  It was a long process where you, there's a threshold that has to be met.  You could only turn in claims greater than $15,000 but less than $90,000 and then they were only going to reimburse a percentage of those claims.  But it was only on retirees who were retired and less than age 62.  

We received $343,288.  It's now $201,000.  We used the $142,000 last year.  We were going to have to raise our premiums last year by $142,000, so you all allowed us to use that for everybody, current employees and early retirees.  We did not raise any premiums last year.

I didn't answer your question about what you can use it for.  The government was really specific on, that it could only be used for three reasons, to offset the plan costs, to offset the employer's contributions to the plan or to offset the participants' costs.
Marley apparently forgot her original promise when the City was approved for ERRP:

“It will either be a better (health insurance) benefit or their premiums can be lowered.”
She also failed to mention the only real stipulation for employers, that federal funds not displace local funding, the maintenance of contribution requirement.

The city saved over $300 per month from 45 employees/retirees dropping coverage, which totals $162,000

She also failed to mention the city must use all ERRP funds by December 30, 2014. 

That program has been finished.  It ran out of money.  They had a set amount of money nationwide for for this program, for all employers it was a free for all.  We were one of the first twelve cities in Texas that actually were awarded the program.  We had outstanding claims that we turned in but they ran out of money before they got to them on the list.
She didn't mention the first eleven beat San Angelo to the ERRP window by a handy margin.  Eight months into the program here's the Texas tale of the tape:

Austin--$1.7 million
North Richland Hills--$45,000
San Angelo--$0
From the beginning City leaders were less than forthcoming on ERRP funds.  Here are their characterizations when retired police chief Russell Smith prematurely said the dreaded four letter word, ERRP:

"I don't have those numbers"
"There is not clarity"
"These things are hard to predict"
"When one time funds go away, you have problems"

One sitting City Council member equated ERRP money to a lottery ticket.  I wrote at the time:

ERRP is more akin to a bank.  Uncle Sam is shouldering 80% of claims from $15,000 to $90,000.  Funds are coming, soon.  The question is how much?  In that regard, the city has years of experience, six months are directly reimbursable.  I've never seen a lottery ticket with those attributes.

How many of the City's 51 retiree dependents will drop coverage, unable to pony up more than $500 a month?  The irony is this.  The more retirees the City drives from the plan, the less opportunity for ERRP reimbursement.

Retired spouses may have $377 to spend on lottery tickets in 2011, one option for funding future health care expenses.  It's a high risk strategy, but what alternative do they have?

Which leads us back to Lisa Marley's statement on 12-3-13 "employers were dropping retirees from their coverage."  Marley should've confessed that this is exactly what the city did after its ERRP application was approved.

Relative to the baseline, the city never offered better benefits or lowered plan premiums.  Council sat on the money for years, finally planning to utilize the bulk as the federal due date approaches.

I would suggest the players in this sad story forged a chain link or two.  Heed the words of the other Marley (Jacob) in the Christmas Carol.

BUSINESS? Mankind was my business! Their common welfare was my business! And it is at this time of the rolling year that I suffer most!

I wear the chain I forged in life! I made it link by link and yard by yard! I gartered it on of my own free will and by my own free will, I wore it!

Ah! You do not know the weight and length of strong chain you bear yourself! It was as full and as long as this seven Christmas eves ago and you have labored on it since. Ah, it is a ponderous chain!

When the city applied for ERRP it covered 280 early retirees. It expects to cover 215 in 2014, a drop of 65 people or 23%.  The story for employees shows a decrease from 933 to a predicted 754, a drop of 179 people or 20%.  The City of San Angelo provides health insurance for 244 fewer people than it did when it applied for ERRP program.  That's the untold tale of the ERRP.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

City's "Stop Loss" Wager Results Unclear

San Angelo's City Council increased the amount the city would pay before stop loss insurance coverage would kick in from $125,000 to $150,000  The minutes from January 8, 2013 are less than clear on this change. 



Human Resources Director Lisa Marley presented background information.  A copy of the presentation is part of the Permanent Supplement Record.  Motion, to approve and select AmWins, including changing terms and related increased cost, as presented, was made by Councilmember Adams and seconded by Councilmember Hirschfeld. 

General discussion was held on the extension of the terms and analyzing the costs and terms for future years. A vote was taken on the motion on the floor. Motion carried unanimously.
Slides from the meeting reveal the missing details.

HR's Lisa Marley stated on January 8, 2013:

"We recommend increasing the deductible to $150,000. We've only hit stop loss seven times in the last five years. In the claim year for 2012 we had one claim that hit stop loss." 

Now that the year has nearly passed, how did Council and Marley do?  Lisa stated on December 3rd:

"This year we've had one of the biggest years in a long, long time in the number of people hitting stop loss."  
They cost the city $25,000 per head.  Also, the city's consultant Holmes Murphy helped negotiate down the huge stop loss increase for 2014 to 10%.  This is the same consultant who said the city would benefit by taking more risk in the stop loss arena.  It's not clear if Holmes Murphy's prediction came true.  That wasn't reported:

Last year's ten slide presentation on stop loss was reduced to a single slide for 2014.  I'm not ready to declare Holmes Murphy the "stop loss" hero yet, especially given they brought ACAP Health and their ridiculous cost sharing model into the mix.  Too little information has been shared to make that determination on both counts.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Chilly Update on Texas Tech Feral Cats

West Texas' early and icy winter aided President Duane Nellis' war on Texas Tech's Feral Cat colony.  Here's part of the continuing story of the Tech feral cats. 

The sad thing is that during this horrible frigid weather, the cats that do remain don't have any shelter.  Tech removed the existing shelters when they dismantled all but three of the eleven feeding stations.  A volunteer had paid for all of them (as well as all the feeding bowls and supplies) and wrote Kent Meredith, the interim Director of the physical plant, about the financial loss she experienced from these things being stolen/removed.  She never got a reply.  
Tech's story all along is that they collaborated with area animal rights groups and Tech Feral volunteers.  If that were the case shelters would've been relocated or returned to volunteers, not removed and trashed.  Adding to the collaboration illusion is the string of e-mails to varying levels of TTU leadership that never got a reply.

Tech administrators reneged on their promise to collaborate long ago, choosing to escalate its cruel tactics when challenged by the cats' longtime caretakers.

Tech said it contacted PETA when PETA representatives clearly state otherwise.  It may be time for Jackson Galaxy to pay a visit to Lubbock.  Might Jackson's insightful questions for Tech administrators lead to a change of heart?  If the Grinch could do it, so can Chancellor Hance and President Nellis.

Ethics Point Has No Quality Control

After filing two reports with Texas Tech University, the first citing unethical and unprofessional behavior by two TTU leaders and the second on TTU's hapless investigation, I wrote the maker of EthicsPoint software:

I utilized TexasTech's EthicsPoint system and found the quality of investigation to be abysmal.  My concerns were not investigated but summarily dismissed. 

I shared the shoddiness of the investigation by filing a second complaint.


Does EthicsPoint monitor the quality of investigations performed by member institutions?  If so, I'd like to offer my unsatisfactory experience for consideration.
StateoftheDivision/PEU Report
Here is their reply:
Thank you for contacting NAVEX Global Client Care.  NAVEX Global is a third-party organization that provides hotline and case management systems for the organizations we serve.  NAVEX Global provides a system to receive your report information and then transmits that information to the appropriate parties.  However, our clients are the ones actually responsible for carrying-out the investigation of your report. 
If you wish to file a report or follow-up on an existing report, please consult the appropriate resources at your organization, or visit www.ethicspoint.com and click on "file a report" or "follow up" in the top-right corner of the page. Or you may call the general EthicsPoint hotline at (866) 384-4277. 
Kind regards,
NAVEX Global
Once again my experience with Texas Tech and its compliance vendor has been ethics pointless.  The lawyerization of management covers animal cruelty with doublespeak and no real recourse.  Dare I file a third complaint, based on the recommendation of software vendor EthicsPoint?

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Hirschfeld Energy to Reseek Economic Development?

San Angelo's City Council agenda for December 3rd had the  the following item under Executive Session:

Section 551.087 to discuss an offer of financial or other incentive to Hirschfeld Energy Systems, LLC with whom the City of San Angelo is conducting economic development negotiations and which the City of San Angelo seeks to have, locate, stay or expand in San Angelo.

It does not say to discuss performance regarding an existing economic development agreement.  The language implies this a new agreement and earlier this year economic development staff suggested the city was in negotiation with existing employers hit hard by oil field wage increases.

Hirschfeld Energy Systems is part of Hirschfeld Industries, which includes Hirschfeld Steel Group.  If this is a new economic development package for Hirschfeld what number will it be? At least the second.

In December 2010 The City executed a $2.6 million package for Marifer-Hirschfeld, which became Hirschfeld Energy Systems.

I recall Hirschfeld Steel playing Abilene, San Angelo and Lynchburg, Virginia off one another, but don't know how economic development funds played into any moves.

It will be interesting to hear a report from City Council's executive session.  That they've named the company in the agenda, any new deal could be close.  If it's an update on the old deal the item is poorly worded. 

The Hirschfeld name is synonymous with San Angelo, but loyalty means little to those seeking maximum profits.  Public subsidy money is a non-debt, non-equity capital injection.  It may be habit forming.