Friday, February 28, 2014

Furniture Fiasco Cheerleader to Run for Council

The Standard Times reported:

Elizabeth Grindstaff files to run in Single Member District 5

The lady who lied to council on the Furniture Fiasco could soon occupy a seat on that very body.  Should Grindstaff win she'll sit next to Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer.  Even after Grindstaff's bald faced lie, Farmer nominated Grindstaff to serve on the Airport Board.

The Development Corporation recently tried to throw roughly $250,000 to Grindstaff's employer, but Councilman Winkie Wardlaw, the current occupant of SMD #5, moved to deny the request.

Things are starting to heat up in local politics.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Documents Cut Drastically with City's New Website

City Council never discussed the fate of the treasure trove of online documents when Council approved a new website design in April 2012. The item returned to council in December that same year without directly addressing online documents.

One slide shows the vendor charge for migrating 50 webpages, but there is no information on the size of the city's former website and how many pages and/or documents city administrators planned to migrate.

City Council approved a new look and added functionality.  I did not hear any discussion about slashing the website's rich list of resources, but that's what happened.

The city's intent in this regard remains to be seen, but citizens got a clue from Public Information Officer Anthony Wilson's presentation to Council last week. He illuminated four goals:

1.  Navigation or User Friendliness -- 

"Our previous site had a wealth of information but sometimes it took five and six clicks to get to that information, if you could even find it."

2.  Informative -- 

"Again, the predecessor of this website had a wealth of information.  I would almost say it was an avalanche of information that tended to overwhelm the users.  And so we worked with department managers and directors to ensure we have just the right amount of information here, so that, as I told our planners, our engineers, and our storm water people the citizen doesn't need to know everything that you need to know about your area of expertise.  So we tried to provide information that people want and need without overwhelming them with information.  And again, there's plenty of places to get contact information if you're wanting to ask more questions about that.  Again, the contacts on this site are very easy to find.

3.  Interactive -- 

"We want to conduct more city business online."

4.  Aesthetically pleasing -- 

"We want this site to be a good first impression to those thinking about moving to San Angelo, relocating their business here, coming and touring here."

How much of the information formerly housed on the website will return?

"We're slowly building our archives again."
Time will tell.

Update 2-28-14:  Anyone wanting to research City of San Angelo issues will need to consider what information is stored where.  The city issued a press release that it will no longer use Slideshare to make background packets and presentations available to the public.   Over the years I noted a number of council presentations that were never posted to Slideshare.   Slideshare will continue to house city documents from March 1, 2011, to Jan. 7, 2014, but no new ones will be added.  Also, the past practice of having the Council agenda packet available online the Friday before was not fulfilled for the March 4 meeting.

Update 3-8-15:  The City celebrated the one year anniversary of its new website.   It makes a great first impression, which is the intent.  It is not the rich repository of historical information the former website provided.

Update 11-5-17:  The city has news releases from 2016 and 2017 on its website.  That means those from 2013, 2014 and 2015 are no longer available.  That's archive destruction.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Water Fund Slides to Show?

Prior City Council presentations on the Water Operating Fund have been a drought of information.  That may change when new Finance Director Tina Bunnell presents her slides for the following agenda item:

21.  Discussion and possible action related to the impact of current drought level restrictions and the sustained financial performance of the Water Operating Fund.

I offer a few questions for consideration:

1.  What's the history of the Water Operating Fund, recent and otherwise? 

2.  What transfers occurred from the Water Operating Fund, when, for how much and for what purpose(s)?  

3.  How much has the city collected from citizens for pumping fees vs. the actual cost of pumping?  What other water associated fees have been added the last few years and how to they relate to any underlying costs?

4.  How does this concern relate to the reclaimed water study approved for negotiation in the last City Council meeting?  How much value does 8,000 acre feet of reclaimed water have on an annual basis?

We'll see what information the City provides.  Hopefully, it's substantive.  This topic merits a complete presentation and time for digestion. 

Council action should wait for citizens to be heard, especially those who can't spend most of a work day to publicly weigh in.  Two weeks wait should be doable.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

New Website's Memory Problem

City Public Information Director Anthony Wilson will present the City's new website to Council on Tuesday.  Below is the background information on the new site.

To: Mayor and Councilmembers

From: Anthony Wilson, Public Information Officer

Subject: Agenda Item for Feb. 18, 2014, Council Meeting

Caption: REGULAR Item - Presentation of new City web site.

Summary: The City has launched its new web site at The new site, developed by Vision Internet along with a team of City employees, is more inviting, more interactive and more informative than its predecessor.
History: The City Council on May 1, 2012, approved a contract with Vision Internet for the design of a new website at a cost not to exceed $40,000. Public Information negotiated a cost of $30,860, chiefly by opting to conduct training remotely and migrating all but 50 of the website’s nearly 400 pages ourselves. (That proved to be valuable, hands-on training.)

Following Council approval on Nov. 26, 2013, of a subscription services
agreement with Vision that includes hosting the site, a team of four City
employees began working with Vision on the new site’s structures and features.  The chief goals were to ensure the site offered a wealth of information that was easy to navigate, that it offered more opportunities for conducting City business online, and that it was engaging in its look.

From Jan. 2 through Feb. 5, when the site debuted, our Internet team of
Multimedia Coordinator Brian Groves, IT Network Analyst AJ Deardorff, IT Administrative Assistant Jade Baucom and Public Information Officer Anthony Wilson painstakingly created and migrated more than 300 pages worth of content, ensuring that each page is consistent in its information and presentation.

Additionally, Groves created an interactive map of the City’s public facilities, Deardorff masterminded a tab specifically for visitors, Baucom crafted a comprehensive directory of all City employees with email addresses, and Wilson adapted online forms for everything from obtaining a health permit to adopting a cat to reporting a pothole.

Work on the site continues as the team looks for greater ways for citizens to conduct more business online, particularly making payments to the City.

Financial Impact: The site’s design cost $30,860 – 23 percent less than authorized by Council.

Reviewed by Director:  Michael Dane, Assistant City Manager, Feb. 5, 2014

It fails to mention access to documents available on the old website.  A search by topic would produce webpages, but also potentially a long list of documents that went back a decade or more.  Those appear to be gone.   

The old website did a credible job in making public large portions of the city's institutional memory.  I'm not sure the new one is up to the task, especially for a city and public information officer determined to reduce that memory to the last three years.

It would be interesting to know how many documents were available, loaded, searchable on the old website and how many will make the migration to the new?

City's Falling Flu Shots Come During Deadly Season

The deadly flu season in Texas continues.  On Valentine's Day reported:

In all, 77 flu deaths have now been reported across North Texas.

They've more than doubled from month ago reports.  In early January The Standard Times reported four deaths from flu at Shannon Medical Center.   That article stated:

Marie Aguilar, nursing manager for the San Angelo Health Department, had not heard reports on the fatalities, adding that state law requires only the reporting of pediatric influenza fatalities.
One might expect flu related deaths to be high on the radar of any public health department, state or local, especially given the CDC's age profile of patients hospitalized for flu this season:

Age groups below 65 years comprise  a greater percentage of those hospitalized, like 2009's H1N1 flu.  That's because the H1N1 flu is back.

State officials are urging the public to get vaccinated for flu shots during the 2013-2014 flu season. Adult vaccinations are available at the (San Angelo) Health Department, Aguilar said. Children’s doses are also available at the health department, but are only administered to uninsured children or children covered by the Medicaid program in accordance with the Texas Vaccines for Children Program.

Historically San Angelo's Health Department gave between 15,000 - 20,000 immunizations in a given year.  Flu shots would've been a portion of the total.  I queried city officials on historical flu shot numbers, specifically those from 2003 to present.    The City could only supply flu shot data on the last five years, which begins with the H1N1 flu pandemic of 2009-2010.

The graphic below shows the same information numerically, as well as the number of flu shots left at the Health Department in early January:

The federal government and the State of Texas provided free vaccine to the Health Department in 2009 for the H1N1 pandemic.  As a result roughly 3,000 shots were given free to the public.

This year's deadly flu season is driven by the same version of the flu, H1N1.  Statistics show H1N1 to be over 70% of laboratory confirmed flu in Texas and over 60% nationwide.  Contrast the 2009 widespread outreach with later efforts, the 2012 slashing followed by a limited 2013 offering.

This is but the latest example of city leaders' decade long decimation of local public health services.  The situation is so dire that local public health, with its long term focus, suffers from memory loss.

In response to my request for data back to 2003, city leaders stated:

"By law we are only required to keep three years worth of statistics. We cannot answer for things prior to that time period nor could I or anyone in this department even hazard an estimate (of the historical percent of immunizations used for flu shots)."--Sandra Villareal, Health Services Director

"The data is unavailable beyond three years. We follow state law."--Anthony Wilson, Public Information Officer 

Since when did a legal minimum become the offered maximum?  Public health information reduced to a three year data window, that's surprising San Angelo and a sad state of affairs. 

Update 2-17-14:  The city gave 500 flu shots to employees through the City's Wellness Program, as reported by SACMC at the January 7, 2014 meeting.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Police Pay Perpetually Behind Comparable Cities

San Angelo Live reported on City negotiations with Police Department representatives on pay:

“Our plan includes an adjustment of the midpoints of the ranges, including recruit, probationary PO, police officers, sergeants, lieutenants—moving the midpoints of those ranges to 85 percent of the survey data,” Dane said.

With the City's new website useless on historical issues like police pay, I reached out to former police chief Russell Smith with several questions.  First, I wanted to know how far behind San Angelo was on police pay for many years.  His response:

We were 46 percent behind those cities before they started trying to average with them. A Sargent now makes what I did as chief in 99.  

Next I was curious as to the target leadership and council were shooting for under City Managers Tom Adams and Harold Dominguez:

I thought they were going to try to stay in 90 percent range but the other cities have always given raises.
The target in 2008 was 95%, according to the Standard Times:

The council has committed to increasing pay for city employees to bring them within 95 percent of the average for similarly situated cities in Texas.
The city missed their target by 15%, given local officers are currently paid at 80% of comparable cities.  What happened since 2008 that the city fell behind so significantly?

Yesterday's abysmal pay and today's lower wages have a lifelong impact on city employees, including police:

Our much lower pay percentage means we retired with a much lower annuity than those others and that is why I keep reminding the city council. 
Underpaid now and underfunded in retirement.  No wonder half the new recruits since 2004 took their training and ran.  City Council and City Manager Daniel Valenzuela set policy.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out in upcoming budget workshops.

Update 2-27-14:  San Angelo Live shared how the city continued to fall behind in a contract intended to catch up and keep police pay competitive.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Midland to Repurpose Waste Water for Fracking

The Midland Reporter-Telegram reported:

City staff briefed City Council Tuesday on a plan to upgrade its wastewater treatment facility to create effluent good enough to sell back to oil companies for hydraulic fracturing purposes. Even though a study and a request for proposals, both pending council approval, are needed before the renovations begin, early cost estimates for the project are at $50 million.

During the council briefing, staff said there are two ways to fund the project. The first option is to have a private company fund the capital cost of the plant’s upgrades and then make a contract with the company to buy the treated water at a reduced rate. The second option is for the city to fund the upgrades and then have contracts with water buyers at a set rate for a specific amount of time.

At the next meeting, council members will vote on a study that will determine the cost to upgrade the treatment plant and then subsequently authorize a request for proposals for interested partners.

Contrast this with San Angelo City Council's recent action approving staff negotiate with Alan Plummer on a new reclaimed water study.

The city currently gives 100% of its treated water for irrigation purposes, which happened to benefit then Water Chief Will Wilde's cotton hobby farm.  The $1 million pipeline delivers water to the irrigation canal right at Wilde's place.  It takes a year's notice for the city to do anything different with its reclaimed water. City Council also discussed oilfield companies pulling up to water hydrants and taking City water.  A number of council members expressed concerns about water theft and the city not being paid properly for water taken from hydrants.

The City considered two methods for treating Hickory Aquifer water, ion exchange and reverse osmosis.  It will be interesting to see if the choice of ion exchange under Will Wilde causes greater expenditures in repurposing treated water.

West Texas water is a story with many twists and turns.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

City Council History Reduced to Three Months

Anyone expecting the City's new website to have the rich historical trove of the old is sorely disappointed at this stage.  City Council history has been reduced to three meetings and unfilled spaces for the last two years.  Searches on critical issues of the last few years produced nothing.

This morning I had a simple question:  How far has the city come in pegging starting police salaries at 85% of comparable cities?  I recall City Council having discussions on this topic under City Managers Tom Adams and Harold Dominguez.  Fortunately, I had a former police chief to contact.  He's aging, but his mind is a treasure trove.  I considered the City's former website in a similar vein.  It's gone for now.

Update 2-13-14:  "The City Clerk is slowly loading past Council minutes and agendas on the new website. It’s a lot of materials, so it will take a little time."--Anthony Wilson, Public Information Officer

Update 2-17-13:  The City website has 23 sets of City Council minutes for 2013 and 16 for 2012.  Missing are the minutes from 10-16-12, City Manager Daniel Valenzuela's first Council session and the debut of San Angelo's Furniture Fiasco

Monday, February 10, 2014

City's Website Lighter in Budget Information

A quick look at the City of San Angelo's new website revealed citizens will have access to less historical information, at least in the budget arena.  The new budget page shows three years of budgets.

The old website had at least nine years.  For those interested in history the new website looks good but has far less substance.  That might be the mantra for leadership nowadays. "One third prettier with two thirds less meat."

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Texas Pacifico Incentive Replay

City Council took up a recommended $247,500 economic development incentive for Texas Pacifico Railroad in their February 4 meeting.  Here's the logic presented by Economic Development Director Bob Schneeman:

As the Council is aware, this is an item that came from the COSADC board, the Development Corporation board, recommending an incentive or grant to Texas Pacifico Railroad for moving their headquarters here and for creating jobs here, also for bringing a building that previously had been off the tax rolls in a nonprofit situation back onto the tax rolls where they now have their headquarters.  

Under our guidelines a company moving their headquarters to San Angelo is eligible for up to $10,000 per job, by our guidelines based on jobs created or retained.  COSADC in addition felt that this particular item was something of a relationship builder, that we're looking to support local businesses and that we're trying to establish a longer term, sort of goodwill relationship with Texas Pacifico, who is going to be a very large contributor to our local economy over the years to come, whether that be through oilfield or through moving other goods and services through the city.  

This is an item that was voted on by COSADC and was unanimously approved by the board and so staff brought it to council.  At this time we'll open it for any questions the board may have for me.

Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer spoke first in support of the proposal:

It's a proven fact to me that this firm has created secretarial jobs, payroll jobs, yard jobs, considerable jobs, jobs that weren't there and the people that are there are very thankful that these jobs have been created.  I see participation from us and taking the recommendation of the COSADC board is something that we can do to create goodwill for this company moving their headquarters here.  It certainly has been a long process and has taken awhile to get here.  I'm not for the full incentive amount.  I am against that and would like to see that cut back to only $2,000 per job.  And I'll make the motion, move to make the motion that we approve that amount for those jobs, per the COSADC's recommendation, but only less than what they recommended.

Schneeman, in clarifying the motion, noted for the first time the number of jobs incentivized, thirty three.  Farmer's motion received no second, thus it failed.  Councilman Winkie Wardlaw moved to deny any economic development incentive to the railroad, which Councilman Johnny Silvas seconded.  After no council or public discussion the motion to deny passed 5-1.

Council may have had a highly informative discussion on this item in Executive Session, but the presentation lacked substance for members of the public interested in COSADC's or Texas Pacifico's case for giving/receiving public money.

Take the headquarters move.  The Standard Times reported in October 2011:

The Texas Pacifico headquarters moved recently from Brownwood to new offices at 3814 Sherwood Way in San Angelo, Hammond said. The line employs 18 people, with another eight full-time positions contracted on two full-time maintenance crews.
Texas Pacifico had a headquarters in San Angelo for more than two years, a fact not mentioned by COSADC, Bob Schneeman or Councilwoman Farmer.

Yes, it did make a later move to the old WTU building downtown, 106 South Chadbourne Street.  Ironically, the City used the old WTU building for offices while contractors renovated City Hall, a project also managed by Elizabeth Grindstaff. 

I expressed my concern regarding the timing of former Assistant City Manager Grindstaff's employ with Texas Pacifico and the term of the economic development proposal.  The 33 jobs were for 2013-2014, one year of which has already occurred.  Elizabeth Grindstaff joined Texas Pacifico in October 2012, a mere three months before the start of the proposed economic incentive period.  I also felt Grindstaff had a clear role in the Furniture Fiasco, which she publicly denied to City Council as a Texas Pacifico Vice President.

According to Grindstaff in a May 2012 e-mail the $100,000 in Water Department furniture was needed ASAP to avoid expending "any additional funds on rent and utilities at WTU." Grindstaff and Interim City Manager Michael Dane put off the big furniture presentation in March 2012 and the issue did not come back until City Manager Daniel Valenzuela's first Council meeting in October, where it exploded.

I have long had concerns about the lack of complete information staff brings to council and the public.  This week the public saw not one slide with supporting logic from Bob Schneeman on a Texas Pacifico economic development incentive package.

While this is not the most egregious case I've seen, the public deserves a clear rationale with supporting information on how an employer deserves nearly $250,000 in public funding, especially for deeds long accomplished.

Update 2-10-14:  San Angelo Live did a story on Texas Pacifico's investment in the South Orient Rail Line.  Texas Pacifico has a lease on the track through 2091, so the company will get full value of any money it invests.  Also, track updates have been subsidized with state and federal funds.  The state legislature gave $5 million to the company in its last session, which Texas Pacifico plans to use in San Angelo.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Public Information Suffers Technical Issues: TV & New Website

The City of San Angelo has a new website, stunning in design and numbing in use from repeated page load failures.  Oddly, the first page failures I experienced were under City Council.  The link to today's City Council meeting failed.  The news link on "SATV experiencing multiple difficulties" also failed.

I look forward to both the website and Channel 17 being rich sources of information once again.

Update 2-5-14:  "The reason you had problems with the new website last night was that you probably were accessing it at the time it was loading. Vision Internet says that typically takes a few hours. You might try again. Point your browser to  And thanks for helping promote our stunning new site." Anthony Wilson, Public Information Officer, City of San Angelo, Texas

Update 2-6-14:  I obtained a DVD of this week's Council meeting from Anthony.  While there he asked about my experience with the website.  I said I searched "reclaimed water" and nothing came up.

I told Anthony a similar search several days ago produced dozens of documents.  Anthony said the new website uses Google search and it could be weeks before it populated searches to the level of the previous website.   I'll keep searching "reclaimed water" and let you know when the website is back to its prior level of performance.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Elizabeth Grindstaff's Short Cooling Off Period with City

Assistant City Manager Elizabeth Grindstaff's last day with the city was October 2, 2012.  She left to become Vice President for Texas Pacifico, our regional rail hauler.  Within four months City Council appointed Grindstaff to the Airport Advisory Board. 

City Council will consider whether to approve nearly $250,000 in economic development funds for Texas Pacifico for up to 33 jobs created for the period 2013-2014.  If Council acts on the Development Corporation's recommendation, the city could be funding Texas Pacifico jobs created a mere three months after Grindstaff left city employment.  City Council members need to be off Council for six months prior to being eligible for economic development funding.

Given Elizabeth Grindstaff's clear role in the Furniture Fiasco, I'm puzzled by the rush of love shown after she quit City Hall.  This is why City Manager Daniel Valenzuela should release the results of his internal investigation into the ordering and installation of over $100,000 in Water Department furniture without required approvals.

I believe truth and reconciliation are in order for Elizabeth Grindstaff's or Will Wilde's employers to garner city business or taxpayer funded incentives.  Yet, that prospect looms this Tuesday for Grindstaff and Texas Pacifico.

Update 2-5-14:  City Council denied the Development Corporation's request for nearly $250,000 for 33 jobs. As the meeting is yet to be televised, I must rely on the Standard Times report.

Update 2-27-14:  Grindstaff filed to run for City Council in Single Member District #5.  If she wins she'll sit next to the Councilwoman who appointed Grindstaff to the Airport Board.  

Reclaimed Water Study: Alan Plummer Associates Flashback

San Angelo's City Council will consider hiring a consultant to provide advice on reclaimed water use.  The Standard Times reported:

The city will consider hiring experts to explore uses for San Angelo’s wastewater.

“We always look for alternatives when it comes to water, whether there’s a long-term drought or not,” said Kevin Krueger, the city’s assistant director of Water Utilities. “We want to make sure we look at the big picture of wastewater usage.”

On Tuesday, the City Council will consider authorizing staff to negotiate a contract with Alan Plummer Associates Inc. — a regional water consultant — for a reclaimed water alternatives study for San Angelo.

The study will explore nonpotable and potable reuse, offer a summary of state regulations and identify potential projects.
If this feels like a deja vu, consider City Council minutes from March 7, 2006:

Water Utilities Director Will Wilde presented background information and reported staff had received a final report on the Reclaimed Water Feasibility Study (submitted by Allen Plummer Associates, Inc. and part of Supplemental minutes). He stated the consultants were charged with looking at the various options available to the City, had identified potential customers for the reclaimed water, suggested options for direct use, and identified treatment updates to accommodate the reclaimed water. Mr. Wilde advised studies continue on various new chemicals, reuse of effluent water, underground aquifer treatment, and reverse osmosis treatment process with associated cost varying up to $50-60 million.

Mayor Lown directed staff to develop a condensed executive summary listing the various water projects, a status report of each project, funding mechanisms available to the city, and a timeline for completion.
Water Chief Will Wilde had one use in mind for reclaimed water, cheap irrigation water for his hobby cotton farm.  He executed that strategy in December 2007.

Given Will Wilde hired Alan Plummer Associates in 2006, might Alan Plummer return the favor and subcontract work to Wilde Engineering in 2014?  Alan Plummer's bid represented a team of consultants.  Will the broader team be identified at City Council this Tuesday?  Remember, it's Surprising San Angelo.

Update 2-4-14:  Alan Plummer Associate's partners on this study include Enprotec/Hibbs-Todd and LBG-Guyton Associates.  If a Wilde were to work on the project it would have to be a secondary subcontractor role.  That would be one level deeper than Blake Wilde's work on the Hickory pipeline.  It appears no Wilde's will be on the reclaimed water team.

Update 2-5-14:  City Council approved negotiations with Alan Plummer on the reclaimed water study.   The Standard Times stated the reclaimed water irrigation deal Wilde sealed requires parties give a year's notice before backing out.