Sunday, March 30, 2014

Two Drought Related Topics at April 1st City Council

San Angelo's City Council will consider two items suffering from drought this Tuesday.  Council will hear a proposal to re-institute pumping what little water remains in Twin Buttes Reservoir.  But before that Mayor Morrison will offer a proclamation regarding Public Health, decimated by city budget cuts going back over a decade.  The prior City Council nearly finished off public health, expecting state and federal money to supplant what little the city still offered citizens.

Consider this Whereas:

"Public Health has played an important role in laying the foundation for good health and improved longevity, by working to immunize people against disease, identifying and controlling environmental health hazards and infectious diseases; preparing for largescale emergencies; improving the health of mothers and children; and promoting health behaviors in areas such as nutrition."

San Angelo just experienced a deadlyH1N1 flu season.

Consider the wider immunization picture:

The City decimated public health services in stages, first dropping its longstanding primary care clinic.  Then it closed its pharmacy and transferred social services to a community agency.  Public health is a shell of its former self, now dependent on state and federal dollars for the few services left.

Consider the last Whereas:

"Strong public health systems are critical for sustaining and improving community health."
Like nearly everything else "strong" has been redefined down.  San Angelo faces critical shortages due to long term droughts.  Unfortunately, there are few signs either will end soon.  I wish it were an April Fool's joke and not the reality our community faces.

Monday, March 24, 2014

COSADC Board to Consider Monthly Meetings

Item #2 on the Development Corporation agenda is the move to one Board meeting a month.  The background packet stated:

City of San Angelo Development Corporation
Item 3. Consideration and approval of new meeting schedule.

Item Summary
Staff proposes a change of bi-weekly meetings to one meeting a month. Monthly Board meetings will allow for the ability to utilize the staff resources more efficiently and the ability to have sufficient time to produce the research or background information needed for the Board to make decisions. This further allows for transition of other government Board meetings that staff is responsible for.

Staff expects the COSADC Board meetings to be more meaningful, more productive, and a better use of Board member’s time.

The Board has the ability to call for a special meeting, should the Board need to meet for a special project or as needed during interim meetings.

Staff recommends for approval the following meeting dates: April 23, May 28, June 25, July 23, August 27, September 24, October 22, November 19, and December 17.

Financial Impact
Expect savings in terms of staff services time and budget allocations. Staff services includes but not limited to; legal, public information, finance, accounting, economic development staff.

Submitted by
Roland Peña, Director of Economic Development

Recommended motion
Motion to approve the new meeting schedule with the following meeting dates;  April 23, May 28, June 25, July 23, August 27, September 24, October 22, November 19, and December 17.

This comes a few months after Pena started as Economic Development Director.  Usually board bylaws specify a meeting frequency.  That language was not included in the packet.  The COSADC board has a longtime practice of meeting twice a month with called meetings as needed.

I find it unusual for a new leader to reduce time with their governing body so quickly in their tenure, especially as it had not been a theme in COSADC board meetings or board discussion in their recent strategic planning session.  Several members reacted to Pena's suggestion during the planning meeting, but it did not appear to be board driven.

Pena's logic of having one meeting a month to allow staff time "to produce research and background information" does not jive with "savings in staff services time and budget allocations."  How much time will be used vs. saved?  It's a logical inconsistency and one that deserves illumination.

Update 3-29-13:   The COSADC board voted unanimously to approve Pena's proposal.  There was no board discussion on this item prior to the vote.  Board members and longtime COSADC staff could've illuminated for the public why they'd met twice a month for years.  That would've prompted more discussion on whether those goals had been achieved.  Even Roland Pena could've spoken to this history and the current situation.  With these opportunities missed, Pena will present the "savings" at an upcoming meeting.   

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Furniture Fiasco: City's Internal Investigation

Human Resources Director Lisa Marley was charged with conducting an internal investigation on the City of San Angelo's unauthorized purchase and installation of over $100,000 in Water Department furniture for the new City Hall. The request came after this item spoiled City Manager Daniel Valenzuela's first City Council meeting.

I received the embedded document via a public information request.  It is undated and unsigned.  From the writing it appears someone other than Lisa Marley conducted the investigation (as the second paragraph mentions viewing a City Council video with Marley).

At least two voices are missing from this investigation, Purchasing Director Roger Banks and Interim City Manager (at the time of the unauthorized purchase) Michael Dane.  These two roles are critical and the document indicates neither were interviewed.

Banks could lay out how the process went vs. how it should have gone.  On April 26, 2012 Banks advised Assistant City Manager Elizabeth Grindstaff on proper procedure for West Office Supply furniture (with only $14,000 for Water Department furniture).  He referred to several aberrations in this e-mail.

"There is still nothing in the background memo requesting authorization for the actual expenditures.  Nor do the official minutes (or a written resolution exist) reflect authorizing the Interim City Manager to award the purchase to West Office Supply."

Dane controlled what items went to City Council during this period.  In March 2012 Dane instructed Elizabeth Grindstaff to not give Council the full picture of the "finish out" costs for a renovated City Hall.  Even a parsed presentation to City Council did not go over well.

When Council questioned Elizabeth Grindstaff on the $100,000 in Water Department furniture she said she never had a conversation with Water Chief Will Wilde on their new furniture.  City documents show a number of e-mails and phone calls between the parties.

While I understand Grindstaff and Dane's desire to run from this situation, it does not inspire public confidence, especially as Elizabeth Grindstaff could soon be a City Council representative.

The more the public learns about this situation, the clearer top leadership dysfunction appears between the big three names, Elizabeth Grindstaff, Michael Dane and Will Wilde.  The investigation concluded Wilde responsible.  From my seat it looks like a gang effort.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Councilman Vardeman's Incredible Patience

Just having passed St. Patrick's Day, there's another saint that comes to mind when I think of San Angelo City Councilman Don Vardeman.  It's Saint Monica, the patron saint of patience.  Consider how long Vardeman wanted council to examine the half cent sales tax:

October 1, 2013 - Council Vardeman said council had already talked about the half cent sales tax and he wanted to keep that on the forefront, along with stormwater as to what they can use it for, what they want to use it for, the bare minimum and what we're doing (with those funds currently). 

November 5, 2013 - Councilman Vardeman said he'd been asking for Council to look at our stormwater fees and half cent sales tax and how much is going where.

November 19, 2013 - Councilman Silvas raised Don's issues, half cent sales tax money and stormwater fee.  He wanted to make sure those were coming to council soon for discussion.  That same meeting Councilwoman Farmer asked that a COSADC report showing the various half cent tax projects from the 1999 ballot, the 2004 ballot, and the 2010 ballot.  The report showed the amount approved, the amount spent and the current project status.  She asked that this be generated quarterly for City Council as it had been done until February 21, 2012.

Five months after his initial request City Council had the half cent sales tax funds and projects on the agenda. 

March 6, 2014 -  Vardeman asked "Were there specific amounts listed here (on the various ballot projects).  Is that ironclad?  What is our status of those?  Have all those monies been spent, are they in process?  Did we borrow money to complete those and that's the debt you're discussing?"

Assistant City Manager/Chief Financial Officer Michael Dane replied, "Don, I'm not sure we've got the details on what exactly has and has not been started or completed, but as far as, you said something about ironclad, there was a difference in the viewpoint on this ballot, in that in past ballots estimated amounts were circulated.  We think the coliseum will be x amount, then the scope of the project changed and the amount of the project went up.  With this ballot, I was told it was written this way, so the project amounts were capped at the amount in the ballot and that half cent sales tax could be used up to that amount, but not beyond that amount."

Vardeman replied, "On Item E, River Improvements for $4 million.  Have we capped that?  Is it maxed out?  And I guess what I'm asking for is if we can have a status of each one of these.  If they're already completed, already maxed out, I'd like to know that.
Councilman Vardeman waited five months to not have his questions answered.  That's patience, not only a virtue, but a requirement for City Council members trying to get their questions answered from staff.

Update 3-30-14:  City Council minutes state "Councilmember Vardeman suggested staff prepare a report regarding the monies dedicated to the various projects and obtain the status of the various 4B projects."  I suggest the Secretary accumulate the number of times Vardeman has made this very request and put it in parenthesis. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

New COSADC Director Recommends Board Drop to One Monthly Meeting

Less than two months into his new job Director of Economic Development Roland Pena recommended the Development Corporation Board of Directors reduce their meeting frequency to monthly in his review of organizational priorities.  He cited the burden of preparing for two meetings a month, as he talked about adding staff, especially a full time office professional to solely support economic development.

This recommendation came after Interim Economic Development Director Bob Schneeman and Senior Administrative Assistant Nora Regino successfully prepared for two board meetings a month for over a year.  It came at Pena's third meeting with the COSADC board.

Call me clueless but I sensed an undercurrent in the room.  After supporting San Angelo Economic Development via the Chamber of Commerce for three years, Vice President John Dugan is headed to the Metroplex.  Dugan is restarting his economic development consulting firm.

When Pena was hired Dugan offered:

“We can always see changes, and we’re going to learn what his priorities are,” explained John Dugan, Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce. “I don’t think our general mission will change.”
Watching the dance between the partners during the planning session it made me wonder if Dugan threw his name in the hat for San Angelo's Economic Development Director.  He kept saying he didn't have a dog in the hunt, but Dugan's bark, his hard work for three years, was clearly present.

SanAngelo Live reported on Dugan's move to McKinney:

“It has been great to facilitate and watch the growth in all sectors of business.  San Angelo is fortunate to have a great partnership among economic development support groups, and this is a time to leverage those assets to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the ongoing energy surge, he related.

“San Angelo’s future is very bright. I wish the community nothing but the best, and I look forward to watching the development efforts continue with the strong local partnerships that have emerged for job retention, expansion and creation” concluded Dugan.
I assume Dugan meant what he said, which raises questions as to why he's leaving.

I found it odd that Roland Pena would detail many organizational changes so quickly and delineate them in his first board level strategic planning session.  I heard numerous "I's" in his presentation and very few, if any "we's".   It felt a bit like former Director Shawn Lewis, who had a way of dictating to the COSADC board.  The economic development dance will continue and it's clear who's in the lead.

Update 3-22-14:  The Board background packet with the one meeting a month recommendation is out and will be considered on Wednesday.

Update 5-3-15:  As a result of meeting once a month COSADC board made a change to disbursements to vendors.  They approved paying checks over $1,000 without their prior approval. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Governor's Office Coming to Town

Governor Rick Perry will send representatives from his office to San Angelo on May 1 for a Town Hall meeting to discuss the Texas Enterprise Fund, water finance, Skills Development Fund, and the Emerging Tech Fund.  May 1 is a Thursday and the Town Hall meeting will start at 11:30 am.

Local angles to this story include:

1)  Hirschfeld Industries direct receipt of Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) monies, much of which has been refunded to lack of performance 

2) Hirschfeld Industries indirect benefit from Skills Development Fund monies, intended to train 133 employees at their wind turbine plant through Howard College.

3)  This blogger who noticed Vought Aircraft Industries abject failure to meet its TEF promise of 3,000 new Texas jobs, yet got to keep $35 million for six years before refunding the money a trickle at a time.  The Carlyle Group owned Vought for the whole performance period and greatly appreciated Texas taxpayers' nondebt, nonequity capital injection with the tiniest of strings attached.

Rest assured the Governor's Office is not coming to town for PEUReport - StateoftheDivision who repeatedly showed this massive corporate handout followed by blatant lies of "jobs created."  The Governor must have a new present for citizens or want to wrap up a prior project in a nice bow.  Time will reveal PEU Governor Rick Perry's intent.

--Cross-posted from PEUReport due to its local content

Sunday, March 09, 2014

City Seeks Bids to Pump Twin Buttes

The City of San Angelo placed a March 12 deadline on pumping system proposals for Twin Buttes Reservoir.  The request for proposal details the need for pumps at both the North and South Pool.  Currently only the South Pool has water to give. 

The city plans to pump the South Pool down ten feet from its current elevation of 1921.1 feet.  Since October the South Pool has risen 5.5 feet.

In other water related news the Texas Supreme Court has been asked to invalidate the City's municipal water permit by Concho River Basin Water Conservancy Association.  The group filed the petition in mid February.

Red Arroyo Water Project: Clear as Mud

Two father son teams come to mind when water is mentioned in our area, Stephen Brown and Chuck Brown with the Upper Colorado River Authority and former San Angelo Water Chief Will Wilde and his son Blake.  The Brown team appeared before City Council last week to propose a water project involving the Red Arroyo.  UCRA Director Chuck Brown led the presentation.

Very early on we realized the Red Arroyo is a significant water producer.  Through Tarleton's modeling efforts and our on the ground monitoring stations, we realized that pretty much every time we had an inch rain in San Angelo the Red Arroyo produced about 500 acre feet of water. So, theoretically in our average rainfall year, which would be 20 inches of rain, the Red Arroyo could produce upwards of 10,000 acre feet of water, which is annually 2/3rd's of the City of San Angelo's municipal water usage.
I've only lived here since 1994 but I've never seen twenty one-inch rains in one of those twenty years. I instantly was curious as to how Red Arroyo water flows varied from the average.  What might they be in wet years vs. dry?

Brown and the UCRA recommended building a stormwater storage basin near the bottom of the Red Arroyo watershed.  Their slide stated:

Approximately 11,550 acre-feet will be captured by the basin in an average rainfall year. 
Yet the city only has water rights to 5,000 acre feet in any one year.  UCRA Consultant Stephen Brown said that 5,000 acre feet for the City is "guaranteed almost every year."  This assertion quickly came under challenge.

A respected consultant modeled the City's take from the Red Arroyo using San Angelo's sixty year rainfall record and the 5,000 acre feet restriction.  His projections showed the City's take varying from near zero to 4,900 acre feet in any given year.

Chuck said the project would cost roughly $20 million.  Yet his "Opinion of Probable Cost" slide mentioned a much higher figure (in the notes section):

The preliminary cost estimate to construct a storm water basin to provide a storage volume of 2860 acre-feet and the infrastructure for transferring the captured water to the treatment plant is $76.9 million. The cost estimate assumes that the high powered and low powered electrical lines running across the site will be relocated as part of the construction. The single largest contributing factor to the cost is the excavation cost at 60% of the total estimated cost. 

After hearing all the presentations, the situation is as clear as the Red Arroyo after a heavy rain.  City Council faces two studies on water, a deeper geotechnical/engineering study on the Red Arroyo project and a reclaimed water use study.

Reclaimed water brings to mind the other father-son team, Will and Blake Wilde.  Former Water Chief Will Wilde's hobby cotton farm benefits from reclaimed water, which is solely purposed for irrigation.  Wilde arranged the deal and successfully defended it in dry years.  Might the Red Arroyo save reclaimed water for hobby cotton farmers?  Time and rain will tell.

Correction:  I erred in giving Stephen Brown the moniker for his son Chuck in the original version of this piece.  My apology.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

City Council Background Packets Not Available

Local citizens used to pouring over the voluminous City Council agenda packets have more free time on their hands as these documents are not available on the City's new website or SlideShare, their former home.   These documents used to be available the Friday before the Tuesday City Council meeting.

The background packet frequently has information of interest on city topics I follow.  I hope Public Information returns to its former practice.

Update:  The 457 page agenda packet became available the morning of the meeting for download at the City's website.  That's an absurd amount of material for interested citizens to read in waning hours before the meeting.

Monday, March 03, 2014

American Eagle to Leave San Angelo?

I flew in the seat next to an American Eagle pilot months ago.  He informed me that Eagle shut down its LAX operation and that top brass was considering closing Miami and DFW.  He said "it's all about the numbers."

As a longtime Eagle pilot he said he still made a decent salary, but the company was making it harder to do so.  He stated he needed to stay with his aircraft which the company moved far away from his home in East Texas.  The pilot lamented he would not be able to support his family on the low wages being paid new pilots and may need to make a different career choice. 

I thought this conversation odd in light of city leaders' efforts to recruit another regional airline to serve San Angelo and the number of full planes I'd flown in the last several years.

Yet, his story is borne out in a GAO study on regional airline pilot low pay.  Some regional carriers are choosing to shutter capacity rather than raise wage rates.  American Eagle is one of them. 

The Star Telegram recently reported:

American Eagle, the regional subsidiary of Fort Worth-based American Airlines Group, may get smaller after a pilots union rejected a proposed 10-year contract agreement.

American will look for other regional carriers to fly its new aircraft on short-haul flights after the leaders of Eagle’s pilots union decided late Wednesday not to send a proposed contract to members for a vote, a top executive said Thursday.
In a letter sent to all 14,000 Eagle employees, the regional carrier’s president, Pedro Fabregas, said American has “no choice but to begin looking for another regional carrier.”

“I have no reason to believe American will offer us new large regional jet flying after these unsuccessful negotiations,” Fabregas wrote.

Tensions are running high between American Eagle’s management and the Air Line Pilots Association. 

The union said American has threatened to shrink and eventually liquidate Eagle, which is being renamed Envoy this spring as American expands its use of outside carriers to fly routes under the Eagle brand. As a result, the union said, it will help its pilots find other careers at a time when the industry has a shortage of qualified pilots.

San Angelo was mentioned in the piece as a feeder city:

With its hub network, analysts say, American needs the passengers whom Eagle feeds into its hubs to fill up the larger planes it’s buying for transcontinental and international flights. Analysts also question how fast American can reach a deal with other regional carriers that are also dealing with pilot shortages.

“I don’t know how seriously intended this is, nor do I know how seriously American has considered how quickly it could re-create the lift it needs for their hubs,” Mann said.

But aviation consultant Mike Boyd disagrees that American would be hurt if Eagle is downsized.

“It’s an entity that has declining value in the marketplace, and with the pilot shortage, they should have shut it down in bankruptcy,” Boyd said.

In an analysis of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, Boyd said Eagle brings in about 4 percent of the passengers. If Eagle were liquidated, the passenger traffic would likely be picked up from other markets, since American is running relatively full flights at its largest hub.

“The feed you’re getting from San Angelo, if it went away, it’s not going to kill the airline,” Boyd said.
We may be a pawn in the regional airline war.

During labor negotiations, it’s difficult to know whether threats by the company or the union are going to come true

Time will tell.

Update 3-7-14:  Dallas Morning News reported the pilot union will vote on the contract after all.

Update 7-19-15:   American is storing jets it intends to sell at SJT.  Airport Advisory Board minutes from 5-7-14 show American will lay off 45% of their pilots by selling these aircraft, i.e. reducing services.
ead more here:

Sunday, March 02, 2014

MedHab's Recent Olympic Press

Chelsea McCullough, Executive Director of Texans for Economic Progress, authored two pieces on MedHab's signature product, a recreational device known as RPM2.  On January 23rd McCullough ran a post on Texans for Economic Progress' Blog.  Here's the intro:

TEP was fortunate to meet RPM2 Co-Founder and CEO, Johnny Ross at our recent MedTech event with Tech Fort Worth. This technology combines the latest advances in wearables and mobile applications to let athletes know exactly when, where and how they step. Amazing innovation and made possible by our robust broadband infrastructure. This is tech policy at work and we’re happy they’re making it all happen here in the great State of Texas. Please enjoy this blog post from RPM2 that highlights their latest innovation.
The second piece conjured up visions of Olympians using high tech training devices at the Sochi Winter Games.   The Push reported:

Whether you were casually watching the Sochi Olympics from your living room sofa or live streaming every second on a mobile device, I’m willing to bet there’s one aspect of the winter games you completely overlooked — wearable tech

The first two products were actually used at the Winter Olympics by snowboarders and ice skaters.  McCullough squeezed in MedHab, before returning to another device used by an Olympic mogul skier.  She wrote the following about MedHab:

Another wearable manufacturer focused on keeping athletes healthy is the Dallas-based company, MedHab. MedHab is responsible for a shoe insert called RPM2 (Remote Performance Measurement/Monitoring), that provides detailed, real-time analytics for athletes who put a lot of strain on their feet. 

The article closed with needing ubiquitous access to the internet so these devices could provide real time feedback.

As our phones, cars, home appliances, and now shoes and workout clothes get “smarter,” the pressure is mounting to ensure that modern policies are in place to provide an infrastructure that keeps our devices well-connected. After all, our future Olympians depend on it.

Wow, that statement is packed full of public subsidy, at least that's my take.  Stay tuned for more from Texans for Economic Prosperity and MedHab.

COSADC Hires Another Planning Consultant

The City of San Angelo Development Corporation approved the hiring of a consultant, Alicia Cook LLC, at their recent meeting.  Economic Development Director Roland Pena recommended using a facilitator for the four hour planning meeting scheduled for the morning of March 5.  The cost would be $1,000 plus travel and hotel.  Pena has worked with Alicia Cook in the past. 

Board members expressed a desire to talk about the Business Retention Expansion Program (BREP) and trying to get money for local businesses to expand.  I'd hoped to hear discussion on Texas Pacifico, in light of City Council's refusal of the Development Corp's recommendation of nearly $250,000 for moving their corporate headquarters and providing 35 jobs.  That didn't happen in this meeting.  We'll see if Alicia Cook facilitates such a conversation. 
I find the Development Corporation's concern about using local vendors and helping local firms interesting as they approved hiring an outside facilitator.  How many local facilitators had the opportunity to share their skills, background or abilities? 

As for Alicia Cook's role Pena said her deliverable would be top strategic priorities for the Development Corporation for the coming fiscal year.  Pena said the current strategic plan will be used in planning.  It consists of three documents:

1.  Market Assessment
2.  Target Industry Analysis
3.  Action Strategy and Final Recommendations

Since then City Council hired a Lake Nasworthy Master Planner and Downtown Master Developer.  They presented their plans to Council last fall.

4.  Lake Nasworthy Master Use Plan
5.  Downtown Master Development Plan

Add the plans authored and facilitated by Lauren Shrum of Texas Outdoors Consulting:

6.  Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan
7.  Twin Buttes Recreation Master Plan 

The Development Corp may need to consider other plans including:

8.  San Angelo Cultural District Planning Study
9.  City of San Angelo Capital Improvement Plan (underway)
10.  West Texas Water Partnership

It may want to invite representatives from partner organizations:

11.  San Angelo Chamber of Commerce
12.  Downtown San Angelo
13.  Concho Valley Angel Network

That's alot to consider prioritizing for the coming year.  I look forward to seeing the process Roland Pena and Alicia Cook have devised via SATV's airing the meeting. 

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Grand Court Residences' $200,000 Loan from City

City Council approved an endorsement of Grand Court Residences, a low income housing project across from Sam's Club on Sherwood Way.  City staff said at the time that Council was merely showing its support, nothing else.  That changed with last week's Development Corporation meeting, which approved a $200,000 loan at 3% interest to the project's developers.

How many council members were aware of this next step when they made their vote?  It not only seems pertinent for council, the public would benefit from city leaders painting a bigger picture.

MedHab's Ross Coaches Enterpreneurs

MedHab founder Johnny Ross shared his entrepreneurial wisdom with Angelo State University students in early NovemberRAM TV aired his talk, which I caught most of.  He advised students:

  • Make sure to have integrity
  • Don't miss your milestones
  • Under-promise and over-deliver to investors
  • Don't be afraid to ask
  • You set the standard
  • Remember those who helped you
  • Make sure you can speak to the finances
  • Keep your balance sheet clean
  • Don't give away your equity too quickly

Ross stated he'd raised $4 million from investors.  He walked through his public capital raises.  The first raise was $250,000 which cost Ross 7% of the company.  Next he raised $1.8 million with investors getting just over 20% of MedHab.  The third raise was $750,000 and investors received 5%.  That totals $2.8 million for roughly a third of the company.

Ross didn't detail the remaining $1.2 million of "investment."  He did describe needing $600,000 for working capital to buy Chinese components, but did not identify its source.

He gave great credit to Angelo State University as it served as MedHab's product development department.  I never heard mention of the City of San Angelo's $3.6 million economic development package for MedHab.  Ross did sing the praises of Tech Forth Worth and paying $1,250 a quarter for rent.  The City of San Angelo did better providing rent for $1 a year, which he failed to note.

Oddly, Ross over-promised and under-delivered to the City on jobs and their timing.  Interested City Council members wanted an update on MedHab's plans.  They got a verbal sidestep, which paled in comparison to what Ross did for ASU students.

FDA approval is an expected 14 months away, according to Ross' talk, putting it at late 2014, early 2015.  That's a big change from 2012.  Two years late sounds like another over-promise and under-deliver.  No wonder Ross won't show his face at City Council.