Thursday, December 18, 2014

Community Cat Ordinance Neutered

San Angelo's Animal Services Advisory Committee needed but a few wording changes in its proposed policy on Community-Free Roaming Cats for the group to vote.  The committee specified the language in their November meeting with a city attorney present.  Staff failed to implement the committee's directive, thus no ordinance was available for the Committee to consider (despite this item being on the agenda).   The neuter definition that applies here is: "To render ineffective or powerless."   

What will the New Year bring?  Hopefully not more of the foot dragging, heel digging, obstinacy community animal groups have experienced for years from animal services.

Update 1-18-15:  The New Year brought a new Community-Free Roaming Cat Ordinance.  It's expected to go to City Council in February.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Nasworthy Development to Progress on Two Fronts

The City of San Angelo is moving forward with developing two areas around Lake Nasworthy.  The Standard Times reported:

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board voted Thursday to recommend that the council give city staff the go-ahead to start seeking bids for concepts on the development.

The development was recommended in the Gateway Planning Group’s Lake Nasworthy master development plan, which the council adopted in late 2013. The plan recommends a hotel, restaurant or entertainment venue for the 19½ acres at Mary E. Lee Park to enhance public access and minimize environmental impact.

Earlier this year the city issued a request for proposal for development of surplus land near the old WTU power plant.

The City of San Angelo is soliciting proposals for the development of certain vacant land consisting of two (2) tracts located in the southwestern portion of the City of San Angelo, known as Railroad Right of Way, near the Old WTU Power Plant. The subject parcels are located near Red Bluff Road and Hillside Road. The City of San Angelo is interested in selling the surface estate only of the described parcels of land , to an entity with experience in mixed-use development.

City Council will entertain the sale of said land to Psalm 100 Development LLC during Tuesday's council meeting.  Russell Gully is listed as Psalm 100's registered agent.  Gully is the owner of SKG Engineering, which has done several projects for the city, including the new pedestrian access improvement project.

WTU surplus land bid documents revealed:
Each firm will be expected to supply a reasonable and probable use that supports the highest present value of vacant land; taking account the contribution of the specific use to the community and act in accordance with the 2013 Lake Nasworthy Master Plan and Implementation Strategy.
The selection committee was specified in the RFP:
The selection committee will consist of representatives from several City departments that are currently involved with the development process in the subject area. 

It will be interesting to hear how public access will be enhanced, learn specific uses to the community and understand how the city determined the highest present value for development.  Oddly, purchase price garnered a mere 15% weighting.  For a new landfill cell it was 75%.

Psalm 100 Development LLC registered with the State of Texas on August 21, 2013.  That makes the company just over a year old.

In another interesting twist Russell Gully sits on the City's Water Advisory Board and is in his third term. Also, a Gully (no first name) leases 2.6 acres of land around Lake Nasworthy for $392 a year.     

It remains to be seen if Nasworthy development mirrors Lake Jackson's elimination of Dow Park, once a hugely popular place for runners, cyclists and walkers.  The public park was eliminated for development of high dollar real estate lots.  

I look forward to hearing Executive Director of Public Works Ricky Dickson's presentation.  I trust it will clarify the nature of Mr. Gully's role with Psalm 100 Development LLC. 

Update 1-18-15:  Executive Director Public Works Ricky Dickson's presentation made no mention as to how public access would be enhanced.  He did not speak of any specific uses to the community.  He never spoke as to how the city determined the highest present value for development. 

Sunday, December 07, 2014

City Council Special Meeting 12-9

San Angelo's City Council will hold a special meeting Tuesday, December 9th.  The agenda states:

To deliberate the purchase, exchange, lease, or value of real property (Spur Parking Garage, east of 40 W. Twohig Ave., San Angelo)

A commercial real estate listing for the sale of the Spur Building states:

Very Charming Office Building in central downtown San Angelo. Must see pictures and visit to greatly appreciate the value and characteristics of this one of a kind investment opportunity. Completely refurbished in 1984. A new elevator was installed within the last 4 years. Parking garage attached and accessible to the building owned and maintained by the City of San Angelo.

Councilman Rodney Fleming said he'd close the parking garage in a recent council meeting rather than pay city funds for renovation or refurbishment.  The City estimated the project could be completed for $1.8 million, however that would rise to $2.95 million if phased.

What's not clear is the city's legal obligation to provide and maintain the parking garage for Spur Building tenants.  That will be interesting to learn.

Update 12-8-14:  The Standard Times ran a piece on this topic.

Update 12-10-14:  The city will lease the parking garage to The Spur Group LLC.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Rep. Mike Conaway: House Ethics Nontraining

Houston Harte once said the newspaper business is not for the chicken-hearted.  I believe he also found a way to make any story local.  This graphic is in his honor.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Frac Sand Train Derailed Five Days Before Pfluger Hearing

San Angelo Live reported:

A train pulling 100 cars of frac sand derailed at 1 a.m. this morning near Ballinger. According to Texas-Pacifico spokeswoman Elizabeth Grindstaff, the train was destined for Big Lake when it derailed near milepost 20 east of Talpa.  The event resulted in the damage of 15 of the 100 cars loaded with frac sand.

The accident occurred five days before the City of San Angelo's Zoning Board of Adjustments will take up a challenge to the automatic approval of Lee Pfluger's sand offloading facility.  Petitioners Jesse Martinez, Mark Thieman, Dennis Grafa, Chris Cornell and Winkie Wardlaw assert Planning Director Patrick Howard erred in deciding that a silica frac sand operation is permitted in a Light Manufacturing Zoning District.

Texas Pacifico is in the midst of replacing track throughout San Angelo, installing heavier rail to handle higher volumes of oil field products.

How might a recent frac sand derailment impact the Zoning Board's deliberations?   After City Councilwoman and Texas Pacifico spokeswoman Elizabeth Grindstaff refused to answer "operations" questions, City Council had to rely on a retired railroad worker to challenge regarding Lee Pfluger's representations.  Let's hope Texas Pacifico has the right person in attendance this time to answer questions

Sunday, November 23, 2014

City to Consider Endorsement

San Angelo City Council discussed an insurance product for water and sewer lines.  Council reconsidered endorsing the product for purchase by area citizens, having done so in 2012 with no action taken.  City Councilwoman Elizabeth Grindstaff asked that the item return to council's agenda.  She supports service line warranty products on the belief pricing could be more affordable for citizens.

Mayor Morrison opposed the concept, citing citizen's freedom to buy such products now and saying it's inappropriate for Council to endorse banks, car dealerships, grocery stores, and realtors.  Citizen Jim Turner said "I don't think the city should be giving an exclusive endorsement to any business doing any service like this any more than they should be giving an exclusive endorsement to Stripes or Allsup's as a convenience store"

Six of the seven council members wanted to learn more about such products, including how much revenue could become available to the city and how the city can support low income citizens with water or sewer line breaks who don't buy the insurance product.  The role of the city may change fundamentally should it choose to lend its name to various product or service offerings.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

RailPort Won't Compete with Texas Pacifico

San Angelo Chamber of Commerce Vice President Michael Looney reported on the City's efforts to recruit a national railport company to the area.  Looney recognized City Councilwoman Elizabeth Grindstaff for steering the Chamber to two suitable tracts of land.  Looney shared the railport operator does not want to be a short hauler, but wishes to operate a switching station with alot of tenants on the ground (a giant one at that).  They would not want to move in on any of Texas Pacifico's territory. 

Looney went out of his way to say the prospective railport would not compete with City Councilwoman Grindstaff's employer.  I found this interesting in light of the discussion the next day at the Development Corporation Board meeting.  They discussed conflicts of interest and how it would be inappropriate for a Board member to keep out competition for a venture in which they had an interest.  

To date there have been no packages presented or votes taken.  As this project moves forward it will be interesting to see if the city funds or subsidizes the railport in any way.  Should that occur citizens deserve information to ensure things are proceeding on an ethical track.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Railport, Engineering & Call Center

San Angelo's Development Corporation heard good news in their October meeting.  A national railport is looking for up to 500 acres and another call center company may test the waters.  Each project could bring 75 new jobs to San Angelo.  The development corporation board learned Engineering Services will shift from Planning to the new Public Works department headed by non-engineer Ricky Dickson.

It was odd hearing the talk of sustainable development, when our oil boom is its very antithesis.  San Angelo's leaders know what comes with rapid, widespread oil and gas drilling and they welcome it with open arms.  Water demands grow from drilling, which uses millions of gallons per well, and from population growth.

Rapid growth places great demands on community infrastructure.  Decades of underinvestment turned San Angelo's streets into crumbling chunks of asphalt and water pipes into giant soaker hoses.  This happened under Ricky Dickson's watch as Operations Director, where he supervised both street maintenance and water distribution.

Former Water Chief, now Public Works Executive Director Ricky Dickson scored engineering, as well.  The city doesn't have engineers to design fixes for our current infrastructure problems, much less address growth associated infrastructure demands.  It remains to be seen if Ricky's supervision solves San Angelo's deep engineering shortage.  I expect Ricky will do for Engineering what he did for San Angelo's streets and water pipes. 

It's fascinating to see Dickson follow Will Wilde's footsteps, although Will never had Executive in his title.

Bad leaders serve their interest, be it monetary, ego or power needs.  Good leaders serve others and leave things in better shape than when they started. The jury is out on San Angelo.  Something will be built.  It's likely it won't be maintained (like the water feed from Lake Spence).  We'll see how sustainable these executive arrangements are over time..

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Green's Grocery a New Venture

Green's Grocery's opening is the talk of the town.  The opening shifted from Spring to August to November, but the public jumped at the chance to check out the new store, cafe, coffee and dessert bar.  Three articles in San Angelo Live left the entrepreneurs behind the venture a mystery. Even the company's website had nothing to offer on the parties behind the venture.

Thank heaven for San Angelo's Chamber of Commerce.  Their May newsletter identified the local investors.

Some citizens may recall San Angelo Mayor Alvin New and Development Corporation Board member Randy Brooks as investors in MedHab, which received a $3.6 million economic development grant from the city.  That deal left a bad taste in many people's mouth.  Fortunately, this can be removed by ingesting fresh fruits and vegetables from Green's Grocery.  Bon appetit!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Talk of a Partnership

San Angelo City Councilwoman challenged the draft minutes from the last council meeting.  She stated:

In the minutes concerning the discussion of light and heavy manufacturing I made no remark about talks of a partnership. 

The tape shows Councilwoman Grindstaff saying on October 21, 2014:

My company has no relationship with Mr. Pfluger other than the requirement to provide transportation services to and from his site.  There has been some talk of a partnership.  That has gone nowhere with our management. So, at this time we're, we have the obligation to Mr. Pfluger as we do to any other developer on the rail to provide transportation as we are part of the national transportation network."
It's surreal when leaders say they did not use words that exist on tape or in e-mails. 

Monday, November 03, 2014

City Retirees Should Know

Two weeks ago City Council members discussed employee/retiree benefits.  City retirees count on ex-Police Chief Russell Smith to speak their truths and he did not disappoint.

"I'd like to say two things.  One is a reminder that up until a few years ago our benefits in this area, medical and stuff, we didn't have dental, but in medical it was the same as employees.  And then a few years ago, under a different City Manager (Harold Dominguez) all that changed.  I'm just trying to remind y'all that.  We were paid 40-50 percent less and today you try to pay your employees 80% against those same cities.  Those other people retire making 40-50% more than we do in retirement.  So, y'all are already aware of this.  I'm not going to beat a dead horse. The other thing I'd like to say, a 5% increase (in dental or health insurance) is big.  Thank you."

Several council members asked questions about the number of retirees on the dental plan.  Assistant City Manager/Chief Financial Officer Michael Dane gave a hypothetical number of 400.  When pressed he said the number was surely far smaller than his example.  Not one person in the room knew the number of retirees off the top of their head.  None, in this day of instant information, had quick access to it.  That includes two Holmes Murphy consultants engaged by the city for benefits advice, Human Resources Director Lisa Marley, Dane or Finance Director Tina Bunnell.   

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Thirty Days Until Frac Sand Appeal

The City of San Angelo Zoning Board of Appeals will entertain the approval of a frac sand offloading/transfer facility in downtown San Angelo.  Lee Pfluger received approval for the facility under the site's existing zoning classification of light manufacturing.  Pfluger spoke before City Council on October 21 on his planned facility.

Mr.Pfluger referenced the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ) several times in his presentation.

"There's a lot of dust concerns and this is a true concern.  The dust concerns are real. It's controlled by the TCEQ.  The frac sand itself,  two different deals.  A lot of people talk about Barnhart.  Barnhart's got a water problem.  TCEQ says you've got to water the caliche.  They don't have any water in Barnhart and they're not watering the caliche.  But it makes a mess and I agree with that.  That's a difference in operation."
Did Mr. Pfluger statements reveal that TCEQ requirements are optional if the town has no water? There's been talk in the past of Barnhart buying water from San Angelo.

Lee Pfluger is a respected businessman and likely reads the Wall Street JournalWSJ ran a story on this very subject in April of last year.  It stated:

Traffic on the railroad, which had been on the verge of extinction several times in the past century, has tripled in the past five years, to more than 10,000 rail cars a year, and is on pace to double in 2013. That is because the millions of pounds of fracking sand coming into this region—and a fairly large portion of the crude oil exiting it—are now riding its rails. 

Barnhart "is the center of our petroleum universe," said Elizabeth Grindstaff, a vice president of sales at Texas Pacifico Transportation Ltd., which operates the rail line. "My bosses call it the belly button." 

The town, located on the eastern edge of the Permian oil field, is now chock-a-block with rail cars. Dozens of train hoppers were parked on new sidings off Highway 67 one recent day as their cargo of sand was being unloaded onto trucks for delivery to new oil wells
The article cited the very concerns expressed by San Angelo citizens in regard to the proposed facility.

When trains stopped to unload sand in Big Lake, they blocked emergency services from reaching houses south of downtown until a new rail siding could be built. When the wind blows from the south, unloading the tiny pebbles used in fracking can create small sandstorms that reach the few houses nearby.
The Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on December 1 should be interesting given the power players involved.  Who will show up from Texas Pacifico to address questions about rail traffic as City Councilwoman Elizabeth Grindstaff would not at City Council?  Will Lee Pfluger finally answer the retired railroad worker's questions on shipment methods, projected turnaround time and the prospect of blocking street traffic for long periods of time?

Another level of intrigue is the neighborhood composition of the group appealing Pfluger's frac sand facility.  Most live in Santa Rita, the neighborhood served by City Councilwoman Elizabeth Grindstaff, the very railroad Vice President of Sales who collaborated with Lee Pfluger on his planned operation.  While Grindstaff appears to be a solid proponent, her predecessor Winkie Wardlaw leads the opposition charge.  Stay tuned.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Water Rate Study to Include Reclaimed Water

Even with layers of new management in public works and the water department, the City of San Angelo will engage yet another consultant to study water rates.  Item 5 on the Consent Agenda is:

Consideration of selecting Raftelis Financial Consultants, Inc. for WU-10-14 Water and Water Reclamation Rate Study, budgeted in FY 2014 -15, and authorizing staff to negotiate a contract with said contractor (R. Dickson) 

Note that reclaimed water will be included. The price of reclaimed water should cover any infrastructure expenditures recommended in a different study by Alan Plummer Associates.  It appears the Plummer study needs to provide key input information for the Raftelis study.

I expect CFO Michael Dane and/or Finance Director Tina Bunnell are more than capable of doing this study.  It's also odd that numerous staff have been added in Finance, Public Works and the Water Department, yet outside consultants must be employed.   

Ricky Dickson's 2014 looks much like Will Wilde's 2004 when one person headed up Public Works and employed a cornucopia of consultants. 

Valenzuela Waives PE Requirement Yet Again

San Angelo City Manager Daniel Valenzuela hired a new Water Utilities Director, a position advertised as requiring a professional engineer credential.  Bill Riley has loads of experience and qualifications, but he is not a professional engineer.  The city's PE dearth continues and the questions rises:  why can't San Angelo recruit engineers in staff or management positions?  Why does the City Manager repeatedly wave this core requirement, first for Ricky Dickson and now for Bill Riley? 

Correction 11-3-14:  Thanks to PIO Anthony Wilson for the correction.  Mr. Riley's first name is Bill, not Billy or Bob or Billy Bob.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Trust Needed Before City Can Ramp Up Animal Collaboration

For the last five years the City of San Angelo's Animal Shelter has primarily focused on animal control, ignoring or even working against local animal groups, nonprofit and otherwise.  That was the message Friday afternoon to city leaders.  The list of concerns fell into two major groups:

1)  Intimidating, retaliatory and uncooperative behavior by staff and shelter management to local animal service groups and their volunteers, as well as whistle blower reports of animal cruelty and illegal behavior.

2)  The opportunity to collaborate with local animal groups in larger ways.  This opportunity was explored several years ago when local animal service organizations looked to merge and take over the city's animal shelter.  These talks fell through when the city wouldn't guarantee a consistent revenue stream for the ongoing operation of the shelter

It was interesting to hear layers of city leaders explain away concerns or blame the volunteers for something they had once done improperly.  

How would city leaders react if the Chamber of Commerce or Angelo State's Small Business Development Center said city staff was retaliating or intimidating their staff or potential new businesses considering locating in San Angelo?  Community partners are community partners.  For years a collaborative relationship has not been pursued in the animal services arena.

The Standard Times recently reported:

Cats: They’re on rooftops, in the trees, in the bushes and running wild on the streets of San Angelo.  Are they “community” or “feral” cats?

That was one question the city’s Animal Shelter Advisory Committee raised at its meeting Thursday. The ordinance proposal, which was revised by assistant city attorney Maxwell Branham with the guidance of the group’s subcommittee, to regulate cat colonies changed the verbiage from “feral” to “community.”

That revised ordinance was tabled until the next meeting because it was not made available to committee members until minutes before they convened.
Not only was the revised ordinance not made available to Animal Shelter Advisory Committee members, it was not made available to several members of the subcommittee drafting the proposed ordinance.  Those members are local leaders in animal service organizations doing yeoman's work to control San Angelo's cat population.  They expected to have the ordinance to share with local cat caretakers for feedback purposes.

The word "regulate" shows the city's primary orientation is control, not partnership.  Local cat colony volunteers requested this legal ground after the animal shelter ignored existing ordinances in their effort to remove cats from Mejor Que Nada.  This heavy handed  response to Mejor is also a reflection of the current regime.

Prior shelter managers collaborated with cat colony volunteers who spend their time and money to spay/neuter, vaccinate and care for San Angelo's cats lacking a human home.  Former shelter leaders did not need an ordinance to collaborate.

Back to Friday's meeting:  City leaders admitted animal control was their priority, despite several years when the operating budget placed spay/neuter and adoption as higher priorities.  If the city is truly interested in animal control, those are the methods to employ, especially for cats.  Simply put, the City cannot kill enough animals if spay/neuter and adoption are ignored as principle strategies.

The city has numerous partners in this area and it is hard to believe city management allows staff to work against or shun them.  But that was the story on Friday, told over and over.

Themes included how other rescues and animal groups around the state and nation don't like working with San Angelo's Animal Shelter.  This came from a local dog rescuer who works with Pilots N Paws.

NBC News reported

Pilots N Paws is an airborne rescue mission spiriting homeless dogs from traditional kill shelters where they quite likely would have been euthanized and flying them to new permanent loving homes all arranged by volunteers.
San Angelo operates a traditional kill shelter and there is much community interest and energy in shifting to a low kill shelter.  The City first needs to address the repeated concerns of retaliatory and illegal behavior.  This involves investigation, not explaining away by the leaders who allowed this situation to deteriorate the past five years.

Once that investigation is complete and a collaborative action plan created and committed to by the city and its community partners, then the groups can explore ways to more significantly collaborate.  If the first doesn't happen, there is no basis for undertaking the second.  Trust is nonexistent.  The City must earn it back.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

MedHab Partners with MJP Inc.

MedHab's press release stated:

"the company has established a partnership with Olympic champion and world record holder, Michael Johnson, and his athletic training organization, Michael Johnson Performance, Inc., to enhance the functionality of MedHab's lead device, RPM2
Our goal as a company is to leverage relationships, such as the relationship with MJP, to further enhance the capabilities of RPM2 to provide benefits to all athletes." 
RPM2 is listed on the partner page of MJP's website.  As of now it's simply a heading with no text underneath.  It will be interesting to read their representation of the partnership.  The press release stated:

Regarding RPM2, Michael remarked, "We tested RPM2 on a number of our team's professional coaches and believe this system will provide us with valuable feedback when monitoring our clients' performances. Our coaches are well trained in helping athletes improve their skills; however, we're now able to more objectively observe the mechanics involved in our clients' movements to enhance their abilities and avoid injury. RPM2 will be used as a regular part of our athletes' training.  Having competed professionally, I can personally attest to the importance of ensuring bilateral equivalence for optimal performance."
It will be interesting to see how mechanics come into play given Micheal Johnson's unusual sprinting style.

You would never find his rigid, upright stance, low knee lift and piston-like arm movement in any coaching manual.
He seemed to lose momentum by almost waddling from side to side in his lane, yet inevitably came out of the final bend ahead, like a wind-up toy that had just been let go.
Johnson is the star with name recognition.  What did MedHab have to give to partner with Michael Johnson Performance Inc.?   Is it an equity stake in the company, an annual fee or some other arrangement.  It's a private company so that's confidential business information.  However, it might be something future investors may wish to know.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Frac Sand Loading: The Grindstaff Position

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Grindstaff spoke to her and Texas Pacifico's position on and interest in the proposed frac sand facility:

"For those that don't know I am an employee of Texas Pacifico Railroad (Vice President of Marketing), which is the railroad through the City of San Angelo that proceeds on down to Presidio  It is a property and track that is owned by the State of Texas and the company that I am employed by is the operator of that.  I have no ownership position in Texas Pacifico and am merely an employee.  In my position I work with a number of customers that are looking for transportation on the track, as Mr. Pfluger has in this.  In serving this area.  My company has no relationship with Mr. Pfluger other than the requirement to provide transportation services to and from his site.  There has been some talk of a partnership.  That has gone nowhere with our management. So, at this time we're, we have the obligation to Mr. Pfluger as we do to any other developer on the rail to provide transportation as we are part of the national transportation network."

A retired railroad employee asked Councilwoman Grindstaff how the train would handle the frac sand loads:

Retired Railroad Employee:  "This question is for the railroad.  I worked for the railroad for 43 years and all these times and everything they are quoting.  That ain't going to happen.  Are you going to take these cars to his spot?  Are you going to hotshot them out to the yard at his unloading facility or are going to stop the westbound train to do the switch?

Councilwoman Grindstaff:  "I'm not the operations department.  I can't speak to that."

Retired Railroad Employee:  "O.K.  If they take the westbound train.  How many cars?  150, 100 cars.  If they stop there, they're going to stop short of the switch.  They're going to block all of the cars crossing across Oakes and Chadbourne Street with their train to go in there and get those empties out and put the load in there.  So there's going to be lots of delay on this train track.

Councilwoman Grindstaff:   "Generally the empties are picked up on a separate route. You're right."

Retired Railroad Employee:  "O.K.  Are you going to bring his loads by itself or are you going to have to stop a 150 car train."

Councilwoman Grindstaff:  "I don't know.  I think you'll have to ask Mr. Pfluger what his operational plan is.  That would answer that I think more clearly for everyone."

Mr. Pfluger did not rise to answer this question. Neither the frac sand hauler or unloader answered this man's question. 

Retired Railroad Employee:  "Like I say if you stop that train there going to Barnhart you're going to have to block everything east of there.  Time they get their empties out of there and get their air tests run and everything like that.  I worked 43 years for the railroad.  Like I said I know how long it takes to do stuff like that and it ain't going to happen (as described by Mr. Pfluger)

I applaud local citizens with knowledge educating the public and City Council on issues.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Pfluger & Grindstaff Behind Frac Sand Facility

Local tycoon Lee Pfluger owns Southwest Orient Properties LLC, the company installing a frac sand offloading facility in downtown San Angelo.  City Councilwoman Elizabeth Grindstaff helps rail oriented businesses find property and get established in our area.  The WSJ had this to offer about frac sand offloading in Barnhart:

When the wind blows from the south, unloading the tiny pebbles used in fracking can create small sandstorms that reach the few houses nearby.

San Angelo has more than a few houses nearby.  I heard an employee of the town of Big Lake talk about frac sand this morning.  They said it was from one end of town to the other.  This happened after offloaders promised it would be safely handled and spread would be minimal.

Longtime local leaders are behind the location and operation of San Angelo's new frac sand plant.  Citizens should remember their names should San Angelo's experience mimic Big Lake's.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

City Council's Frightening Agenda

San Angelo City Council's agenda packet for their October 21 meeting is a scary 868 pages long.  I searched for it Friday and Saturday to no avail.  It appeared today in the form of two documents. 

There are other spooky items besides health insurance.  They include:

1)  Potential concerns over the proposed use of the subject property as a sand transloading facility has prompted the request to provide an informational briefing, clarifying the distinguishing allowed uses within the Light Manufacturing Zoning District versus those that are allowed within the Heavy Manufacturing Zoning District. Residents in the adjacent neighborhoods to the east and west of the subject property are fearful of a significant increase in heavy truck traffic, in additional to the likelihood of potentially harmful sand particles going airborne, threatening the health of both children and adults living in the area. 

Note:  City Councilwoman Elizabeth Grindstaff's role with Texas Pacifco is to help locate new rail oriented businesses in our community.  Her district will likely have some impact from offloaded sand.  When the north wind blows sand dust could fall in Santa Rita. 

Southwest Orient Properties, LLC is the sand offloading proprietor.  Local citizen and MedHab angel investor Lee Pfluger is the only officer and director of Southwest Orient.

2)  Refinancing Series 2007-A Certificates of Obligation for water capital projects. Refinancing will allow the negotiation of a lower interest rate and will create savings for the City.
There will be deal fees associated with recalling the current bonds and issuing new ones.  It will be interesting to hear more details about projected savings and the new term of the obligation.

3)  Staff recommends the City Council authorize staff to negotiate and execute a contract with with Fugro Roadware, Inc. for professional services per Request for Qualifications (RFQ) ES-01-14 Professional Services – Professional Services for Pavement Data Collection and Pavement Management.   Professional Services for Pavement Data Collection and Pavement Management will not exceed $185,000. The funding for this project has been budgeted in FY 2014 -2015.

The lack of staff engineers will cost the city in yet another way.  Look for more details on what's included.  Hopefully, a council representative will ask why the city has to contract out engineering functions it used to complete in house.

4)  Staff recommends purchase of SunGard software in support of City Council priority to “improve the development process,” realizing greater efficiencies due to the ability to perform electronic plan submissions and review, mobile building inspections, automated plan status notifications, and the like.  Financial impact:  $276,876 (one-time cost) plus $46,120 (recurring annual maintenance)
The development software will integrate with SunGard's engineering application.  It's not clear if the city is using other SunGard applications at this time.

5)  Staff requests consideration of authorizing the payment of West Texas Water Partnership invoices as they are received. Currently, all invoices are reviewed by the City Council prior to payment.  Staff recommends automating the process for payment of invoices related to charges for the West Texas Water Partnership.
This proposal comes from the transparency Gold level Finance Department.

There's more fun to be had at this meeting.  The City's Health Department will do something other than shrink as it looks for approval of

6)  A Resolution of the City of San Angelo, Texas City Council Authorizing the City Manager to Ratify the Application, Execute an Agreement and Accept the Department of State Health Services Supplemental FY2015 Health Promotions & Chronic Disease Prevention – Texas Health Communities Grant funds in the amount of $50,000.00.

This isn't the first time staff asked for approval of a grant it already submitted.  The city's contributions will be:

Health Administration will work as the liaison for the TXHC Self-Assessment and work with DSHS Program Staff to devise a plan of action based on the results of the Assessment. The Health Department has no prior history with this grant.

The Assessment is due November 15th and the Project Work Plan December 15th.  DSHS will not devise the plan of action, as stated by Health Services Manager Sandra Villareal.  The program specifies the contractor, the City of San Angelo, will complete both the Assessment and Work Plan. 

San Angelo has public health in the shallowest of ways compared to services offered two decades ago.  This grant will not stem the reduction tide under Villareal.

That's enough fright for one post. We'll see if the council meeting makes these issues more of less terrifying. 

City Council to Act on Health Insurance

Last month San Angelo City Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer talked about getting staff salaries up to 85 to 90% of the national averages.  Other council members offered a different comparison group, cities our size or in our region.  Wages are but one component of total compensation, which includes benefits.  One key benefit is on City Council's published agenda:  

29. Consideration of matters related to Request for Proposal HR-01-14: 

a.Discussion of proposals submitted for Request for Proposal HR-01-14 for benefits regarding health/Rx, clinic, dental, flexible spending accounts, employee assistance program (EAP), voluntary benefits and COBRA administration. 

b. Consideration of selecting Benefit Providers related to Request for Proposal HR-01-14, authorizing staff to negotiate contracts, and authorizing the City Manager to execute said contracts and related documents Presentation by Human Resources Director Lisa Marley) 
The city budget projected health insurance costs to soar, with the city picking up a portion of the increase.  How much will employee costs for health insurance rise?  How much will retiree health costs increase?  Several years ago the city hammered employee and early retiree dependents with massive health increases.  It caused nearly 200 people to drop city sponsored health insurance.  The irony was City Council had access to Early Retiree Reinsurance Program funding and chose not to use a penny.

Last year HR Director Lisa Marley changed faces on health insurance costs between budget and council proposal   In one month the projected number swung nearly $1 million.  (fiscal year)

The City's 2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) revealed the health insurance fund to be much lower than budgeted, $469,000 vs. the expected $1.23 million. (fiscal year).  The actual drop was even larger.. 

In July Marley flashed a slide showing a projected $2 million increase in health insurance costs (fiscal year).  Staff proposed Council fund $750,000, leaving $1.25 million for employees and retirees to shoulder. 

Former Police Chief Russell Smith has been the voice of retirees on this issue.  Their pay was a fraction of their peers in other cities, yet the selling point was city benefits.  These retirees got neither fair pay or the promised free lifetime healthcare. It must gall retirees to see staff get a 5% across the board increase while their retirement income remains fixed.

Both staff and early retirees will pay more for health insurance coverage.  The question is how much?  Another question is how many positions will no longer have health insurance benefits due to the city's contracting out numerous functions formerly performed by employees? 

Council's discussion should include a deep and honest discussion on health insurance.  That has not occurred in years.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

City Sits on Hands while Republic Refunds

The City of San Angelo contracted out its trash and landfill franchises to Trashaway-Republic Services for the last two decades.  Republic's overbilling of commercial customers came to light during the RFP evaluation process, which would determine the trash and landfill operator for the next ten years.  The City abdicated its oversight role, yet again, allowing Republic to audit bills and issue refunds.  At no time dig City leaders call for or conduct an internal investigation into how Republic promulgated these unauthorized fees.  Will Wilde, Ricky Dickson and Shane Kelton all "oversaw" Republic's contract with the city.

Since the city has been hands off Republic can say things like:

All the amounts to be refunded were charged in good faith.

Possibly in good faith that Republic's profits would be maximized, but they did not conform to contract or city ordinance.  The unnamed international accounting firm isn't on record with their findings.  No letter has been made available to the public as to the scope and methodology of their work.

The city failed to explore how this overcharge in excess of $6 million occurred.  No investigative body is exploring the long term bilking of commercial customers.  It's all packaged for public consumption for Halloween, which is symbolic given Republic tricked commercial customers for ten years.   

A class action lawsuit is all that remains between Republic and clear skies.  Republic's legal response to the lawsuit closed with prayer.  Or is it prey-er?

Update 12-7-14:  The Standard Times reported trash customers reaction to the refund and higher trash fees.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

MedHab Ready to Announce Major Partnership

MedHab's big news will be revealed next week at a press conference.  City Council representatives and Development Corporation Board members have been invited to attend

Update 10-23-14:  MedHab is partnering with the Michael Johnson Performance, Inc.  Johnson is still the world record holder in the 400 meter. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Water Rebate Consideration Time is Now

There is only one time during the year that it makes sense for San Angelo's City Council to consider rebating a portion of their water fees.  It is after the close of September's financials.  It is both the end of the fiscal year and the end of high water usage as summer's heat begins to abate.

Somehow the City's award winning financial department conned Council into examining rebates in April and November of each year.  The November account is paltry or empty.  Finance transfers fund excesses, often in the multi-million dollar range, as part of its year end close (done in October).  April is also too early as it's before the Water Department's big summer months.

Recall have far the water revenue budget was behind earlier this year?  A $2.4 million figure comes to mind.  The just approved City Budget for 2014-2014 shows a projected deficit of $606,608 in the Water Operating/Enterprise Fund for this year.  This is after the transfer out of $6.1 million to other accounts.

Budgets are projections, so the final tape on water revenues could be shared at the October 21st City Council meeting.  I hope it is.  The public deserves to know.  If not October, then the public will hear something in November.  The question is what?

Michael Dane: Well, each April and November we have an ordinance on the books that requires Staff to look at the fund balance in the water fund and to consider whether the rates, the revenue generated warrants, or has created the situation where we can provide a rebate to rate payers. We’re gonna do that in November anyway; we’ll be discussing results of operations, the net income, or the net loss; that’d be the perfect time to discuss this opportunity so, if this passes we’re interpreting this as a “Be ready to discuss this in November when you talk about the water fund balance.”

Watch for what staff brings to the meeting. I expect one month's performance for 2014-15 and their usual delta approach on how 2013-14 ended.  Hopefully, they'll bring more, show budget and actual performance while noting any water fund transfers made.

This may not be the year for rebates, but it's also not the year to raise fees dramatically to make up for a prematurely represented deficit. 

City Boards & Commissions Deja Vu

Discussion regarding how the City of San Angelo obtains new board or commission members is not new.  Consider this from an August 2011 administrative report:

Boards and Commissions:

Council approved Board and Commission structure on 3-1-2011.  Various recommendations were made and presented for review on 3-22-2011, specifically related to the recruitment committee and board consolidations. City Manager and City Clerk are working with Liaisons to work out an action plan.  Staff is scheduled to present their findings at the September 20th meeting.

Council discussed board consolidations on September 20, 2011 but did not address the process for recruiting new board or commission members.  City staff remain in charge of which names make it to the board or commission for consideration.  Boards are to provide vision, community input and oversight.

A number of highly qualified applicants heard nothing after submitting their names to the Animal Services Advisory Committee when it had two longtime vacancies.  Council appointed a person who is on record recommending illegal treatment of animals as an interim appointee for very same committee..

Obstruction is a strategy for maintaining the status quo.  It operates at multiple levels in at least one arm of San Angelo City government.  Will it continue in the new board member recruitment process?  

Monday, October 06, 2014

MedHab Contract for COSADC Board

Consider Economic Development Director Roland Pena's comments at the beginning of his presentation to the City of San Angelo Development Corporation on August 27, 2014.
"This is a very well respected board and you are on TV and I get the similar kind of comments."
That same meeting the Board received their long requested update on MedHab Inc.  Economic development staff did not have MedHab's contract at their fingertips when MedHab CEO Johnny Ross gave his update . As a public service the contract can be viewed below. 

How many members of the public could not believe that MedHab was on the agenda and staff did not have the contract?  It's a basic if the aim is to inform.  Otherwise "You are on TV" sounds like theater direction.  

So far the COSADC board has been very compliant with Roland Pena's suggestions.  

1)  The board shifted from two meetings a month to one with virtually no discussion.  
2)  They gave up check signing at their last meeting, allowing this to be done administratively.  Board members did not ask about accounting internal controls and how the new process would comply.    
3)  Roland suggested moving the monthly financial statements to the consent agenda.  After discussion the board decided to have the monthly statements in the background packet and for staff to present quarterly financial reports to the COSADC board.

A key responsibility for any board is fiduciary.  COSADC has the added burden of ensuring its funds go toward primary job creation.  How are they to fulfill this responsibility if checks are cut by staff and financials are only reviewed quarterly?  

BREP starts October 1.  This is supposed to be an automatic program.  If local employers meet the criteria, they'll get a check.  There needs to be much more sunshine in the Development Corporation arena.  Current leadership is dong the opposite, spreading shadows

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Ports to Plains: The Rehabilitation of Charlotte Farmer

City Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer will return to the Ports to Plains Alliance board, given Mayor Dwain Morrison is vacating his position in favor of another, yet unnamed board.  San Angelo's City Council nominated Charlotte during its September 16th meeting.  

This move came a year after the same council removed her from the Alliance board, seemingly in punishment for casting stones at another City Council member, Marty Self.  Charlotte Farmer and Christian Reporter News pushed that Self  had a potential conflict of interest as his firm did significant business with the City of San Angelo.  She also broke a story regarding the Council not approving significant funds for the West Texas Water Partnership.  

Consider City Council minutes from September 17, 2013:


Mayor Morrison informed of the quarterly meeting held in October 2013. Offering Councilmember Farmer the opportunity to step down, Ms. Farmer chose not to step down and wished to complete her two year term.  

Motion, to remove Councilmember Farmer and nominate and appoint Mayor Morrison as the Board of Director representative, was made by Councilmember Silvas and seconded by Councilmember Fleming. AYE:  Morrison, Fleming, Self, Silvas, and Vardeman. NAY: Wardlaw and Farmer. Motion carried 4-2.

Video of the meeting revealed the smack down.  Charlotte Farmer's good behavior for 364 days resulted in her reappointment to the Ports to Plains Advisory board.  

Farmer frequently serves as the institutional memory for City Council.  She spoke to her Ports to Plains role at a recent Development Corporation Board meeting.  Farmer omitted her punishment and period of parole in recapping her Ports to Plains involvement.  Image must be maintained.  It also outranks substance.

Update 10-12-14:  The Texas Pacifico trip to Mexico City encountered travel problems trying to leave San Angelo.  American Airlines cancelled their 6:00 am flight to DFW.  This happened three days in a row to relatives this summer.  City leaders knew to drive to Abilene to fly out. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Grindstaff Recruits Frac Sand Companies

Texas Pacifico's Elizabeth Grindstaff said during her election campaign that she helped businesses using rail services locate in our area.  She won her City Council seat which enabled her to hear citizens concerns about a fracking sand offloading facility which will take train hauled sand and load it into eighteen wheeler trucks.

Citizens Patty Tharp and Jesse Martinez shared concerns about a negative health impact, heavy trucks driving through community neighborhoods and potential damage to physical property.

City Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer said council would consider the definition of light manufacturing which allows the sand offloading facility without any review or approval. 

Grindstaff stayed silent.  It reminded me of Mayor Alvin New saying during a requested MedHab update, "I know alot more than that, but let's go with what's presented.  OK."

Elizabeth Grindstaff knows much about the fracking sand facility.  It's her job to recruit and locate rail oriented businesses to our community, as evidenced by this story in Progressive Railroading.

Since frac sand and crude oil now account for 60 percent and 20 percent of total traffic, respectively, Texas Pacifico's volume figures to keep booming right along with the basin.

"I get a call a day. It's the sand people and the oil people and the pipe people and the hydrochloric acid people — pretty much the people involved in every aspect of drilling," says Federico Díaz-Page, the short line's executive vice president.

The inquiries about rail-served sites for crude or frac sand operations poured in so frequently last year, Díaz-Page in October 2012 hired Elizabeth Miller Grindstaff as vice president of sales and marketing. Formerly San Angelo's assistant city manager, Grindstaff now fields the calls and handles business development.

"We're not really out there selling. We're in reactive mode," she says. "My role is to react to the interest shown, to answer the questions and to find the real estate that suits customers."

Frac sand is 60% of Texas Pacifico's traffic.  It has to be offloaded somewhere.  Texas Pacifico should speak to the process and criteria used to identify the offloading site.  City staff and leaders have an obligation to ensure the plant belongs in an appropriate location and its operations won't harm citizens or property

Grindstaff has a conflict of interest simply by her Vice President of Sales and Marketing position with Texas Pacifico.  That means she can't vote on this issue, but she can speak the truth if asked.

This issue will be interesting to watch because much lies below the surface.  Charlotte Farmer was recently reappointed to the Port to Plains board, representing the City of San Angelo.  Farmer spoke eloquently to the Development Corporation about the tremendous impact Texas Pacifico railroad will have on our economy and community.  Citizens in several neighborhoods may soon experience that very impact.

Watch City Councilwomen Elizabeth Grindstaff and Charlotte Farmer on this issue.  Sometimes they can be two peas in a pod.   Will they be two cars in a frac sand train?  They call it progressive railroading....

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dickson Gets Break & Wilde's Old Job

San Angelo's Water Chief has been promoted to Executive Director of Public Works, which is the position Will Wilde once occupied.  One difference is Wilde was a professional engineer, once a requirement of the top Public Works job and the Water Utilities Chief position.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela waived that requirement for Dickson to become San Angelo's Water Czar.  It appears he brought back the Public Works Director job sans the engineering qualification.

This appointment comes after Assistant Water Utilities Director and engineer Kevin Krueger left the city for unnamed greener pastures.  News reports stated:

Krueger’s last day is Sept. 12, Dickson said, and city management is discussing how to fill Krueger’s position. 

“We haven’t gotten that far yet,” Dickson said.

City management is devising a game plan, Marley said, and likely will send out a news release once they have one. 

“His position will be tough to fill,” she said.

Valenzuela's promotion of Dickson includes the combination of the City's two engineering divisions at a time when the city has a significant dearth of professional engineers.  I don't know many engineers who want to work for someone who is not their professional peer.

Valenzuela is looking to "mine other efficiencies," however the addition of a Public Works super-manager looks like the creation of a new high paying job, as Dickson's old job must be filled and Shane Kelton remains over streets, trash and our landfill.

The city has contracted engineering consultants at a premium price due to the lack of engineering talent/capacity.  Numerous projects are late and material costs have risen significantly. These are major inefficiencies caused by the lack of professional engineers.

I heard no dire warnings from Ricky Dickson as San Angelo's streets were left to rot by prior city councils.  The historical underinvestment occurred on his watch.  Yes, City Manager Harold Dominguez kept a tight lid on who said what to council, but a professional would find a way to warn about the long term consequences of an ongoing failure to maintain public infrastructure.

Valenzuela's appointment of Ricky Dickson is another underwhelming move.    Ricky's rise is even more surprising than Will's, given Dickson's lack of professional credential.

Consider what the city specified the following in recruiting Ricky's replacement:

Director of Water Utilities
The successful candidate should be licensed as a Professional Engineer with the Texas Board of Professional Engineers. Five year's work experience as a director in public sector utilities is preferred. San Angelo will offer a market competitive salary, complete with a full range of leave and insurance benefits. The City participates in the Texas Municipal Retirement System (TMRS) at a seven percent employee deposit rate with a municipal matching ratio of 2:1 and a five year vesting period.

Clearly stated, Dickson is not qualified to fill his old position, the one he just vacated.

If Valenzuela wanted to create a new Executive Director of Public Works position, why didn't he post it and conduct a search for the most qualified candidate?  This is the second job Ricky got under Daniel that was not posted for internal candidates, much less made available to qualified outside parties.

Frankly, I wonder what price the community will pay ten years from now from the leadership combination of Valenzuela-Dickson.  I expect it to be significant.

Update 10-31-14:  Valenzuela waived the PE requirement yet again.  San Angelo's new Director of Water Utilities is not a professional engineer, according to Anthony Wilson, Public Information Officer.

Update 1-19-17:   Dickson became aware in 2011 that Republic Services was charging fees outside those allowed by city ordinance.  Rather than investigate the case for wider fraud Dickson had Republic stop billing one account for unauthorized fees.  Documents indicate Dickson was aware of Republic's fraudulent billing and helped sweep it under the rug.