Sunday, August 31, 2014

Alvin New Still on MedHab Board

The City of San Angelo Development Corporation heard its second public update by MedHab CEO Johnny Ross since the city granted a  $3.6 million economic development incentive package.  City Council approved the package in January 2012, inking the contract in August of the same year.  Council changed the city's ethics standards such that Alvin New could remain Mayor, as well as a significant MedHab investor and member of the company's Board of Directors.  City leaders tried to pass off Mayor New's role as a member of MedHab's Advisory board.  This blogger caught that lie, which the Standard Times Kia Collier kindly broadcast. 

Fast forward to today, where City Council members can no longer remain in their position if the City provides economic development money to an entity they own or in which they have a stake.  This change came about from Mayor New's replacement, former City Councilman Dwain Morrison, the sole dissenter in awarding the MedHab incentive package.

MedHab CEO Johnny Ross held his cards close to his chest on prior promises and future plans of employment, the main reason for the incentive award.  Over thirty months ago City Council leaders' eyes danced with visions of 227 new jobs.  The August 27, 2014 COSADC agenda packet said MedHab had 4 jobs in San Angelo.  Ross noted with the hiring of one last week, the company now had six San Angelo employees. 

Ross's presentation felt like a sales pitch.  The series of slides on product features may have been impressive for a physical therapy convention, but seemed overkill for an economic development board.

Of his twenty or so slides only one dealt with MedHab's progress, with remarkably little on the $3.6 million incentive package.

One COSADC member was relieved to learn that Alvin New remains on MedHab's Board.  New intends to make big money from his series of investments in MedHab.  I imagine his board service provides significant equity compensation, which would be realized in any sale of MedHab.

COSADC board members learned MedHab's production site moved from Athens, Texas to Watertown, South Dakota.  This does not fit with MedHab's public language, saying San Angelo would be the company's production and manufacturing site.

"It's a manufacturing facility, so it's the primary type of job we would like to have," Mayor Alvin New said. "It's not recirculating money."

Numerous COSADC members encouraged Ross to move MedHab's South Dakota manufacturing jobs here.  Think about that this Labor Day weekend.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Fredd Adams Back After Felony Conviction

San Angelo's City Council appointed Fredd B. Adams II to the Zoning Board of Adjustments.  The unanimous vote came with no discussion.  Citizens may recall Adams third degree felony conviction in January 2013, where he plead guilty to his third driving while intoxicated (DWI) offense.  The Standard Times reported:

Adams was sentenced to seven years in prison, but the sentence was suspended. He was placed on probation for seven years, fined $1,500, given 160 hours of community service, and sentenced to 10 days in jail as a condition of his community supervision. Woodward read out the conditions of probation: 
  • Adams will be allowed only restricted travel outside the state. 
  • He will pay a $60 monthly community service support fee starting in March. 
  • He will pay or make arrangements to pay his fine plus a Crime Stoppers fee, court costs and a DNA fee. 
  • He is prohibited from committing other offenses, possessing or consuming narcotics or illegal drugs except under a doctor's prescription, going to bars, consuming alcohol or associating with other felons. 
  • He will meet with a probation officer once per month, take a DWI intervention program, and attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings twice per week. 
  •  He will perform 160 hours of community service at a minimum rate of 10 hours per month. 
  • He is prohibited from driving, and his license is suspended for two years. 
  • He is on curfew every day from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., with exceptions possible that involve his work as a funeral home director.
One might have expected Fredd to be there in person to talk about his actions since his conviction, how he's made restitution and wishes to contribute to the community again.  He did not.  No one spoke to Fredd's public arrest/conviction or his compliance with court imposed conditions of probation.

To be a San Angelo firefighter a candidate must be "of good moral character with temperate habits.  Applicants with a felony conviction will not be accepted under state laws."

The application Fredd completed states in small print at the bottom:

If you been convicted of a MISDEMEANOR or FELONY, and/or placed on probation, fined or given a suspended sentence such as pretrial diversion or deferred adjudication in court within the last ten years, disclosure of such should be forwarded under separate cover. For a complete copy of the Code of Ethics, contact the City Clerk at 657-4405. 

Did Adams complete the required disclosure?  If so, why was this information withheld from the public?  City Council ordinances state:

It is the responsibility of council members to publicly share substantive information that is relevant to a matter under consideration that they have received from sources outside of the public decision- making process with all other council members and the public prior to taking action on the matter. 
City Councilman Fredd Adams resigned in a firestorm seventeen months ago.  He returned to public service as a member of the Zoning Board with no discussion on what happened since and what makes him an ideal candidate today.

The public deserves to know the "method behind the City's madness," a phrase used several times by Public Information Officer Anthony Wilson as to why and how the city does what it does.

Citizen Jim Turner, also a member of the Zoning Board of Adjustments, cited the city's moves to share less information on several fronts as it purports to be more open with the public.  The information void on the reappointment of Fredd Adams to public service may or may not fit into this category, however I expected some discussion on Fredd's arc since his precipitous fall.  Council and staff failed to address the elephant in the room.  There's no denying that.

City Engineering to Go Further Underwater

With the departure of Water Department Assistant Director Kevin Krueger the City of San Angelo's engineering capabilities will be further depleted.  The Standard Times reported Krueger's impending departure, but the city is yet to issue a press release.

Krueger's fourteen and a half year's with the city might merit a going away reception, as did Clinton Bailey's eighteen years.  Bailey left as the City's Chief Engineer, a position Krueger also held at one point.

At some point engineering split from a single city wide department into a two division function.  Oddly, the Water Department Chief position requires a professional engineer.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela waived that requirement for Ricky Dickson to become San Angelo's Water Czar. 

Krueger's opportunity, like Bailey's, was one ""he could not pass up." 

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. 

Especially for a city unable to fill other positions requiring a professional engineer.  From my count this is the sixth professional engineer to leave city employment in the last few years.  Only one has been replaced to my knowledge.

San Angelo's engineering deficit pushed back a number of projects, Avenue P drainage and Chadbourne Street improvements, which included streetscaping. A 2011 grant funded project will enter engineering design, approved at the at 8-21-14 City Council meeting.  Said in Council chambers:

"And you know the staff problems I've had with not having enough staff." -City Engineer Karl Bedardz 
"We at the city lost numerous valuable employees." - City Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer 
"It's unfortunate the city can't get on these things and get them out the door timely so they can get something that's in line with what they anticipate for the money they have at the time." - Chris Cornell, Recce Albert contractor for Chadbourne street improvements.

Krueger's leaving comes as the City's new water treatment plant nears completion.  Our cities growth and critical water projects depend on having an ample supply of competent engineers in operating and leadership positions.  The need for engineers is magnified by our vast need to reconstruct and renew aging streets and water infrastructure.  The engineer exodus is concerning given the city's priorities and responsibilities.

Curiously, I found the city's May 2013 press release on Clinton Bailey's departure did not make the migration to the new website.   That must have been part of the "avalanche of information" that overwhelmed users on the old website.  It seems a different avalanche took many of the city's professional engineers. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

City Intends to Teach, Not Listen

City Manager Daniel Valenzuela said in his state of the City speech:  "We are launching several initiatives in an effort to encourage citizens to be more engaged in their city government.  Those include the following:"

1.  COSA University will be a citizens academy that we hope will spark interest in serving on City boards and commissions. If you’re already interested, applications are available at 

There are at least four people who applied for the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee that got no response at all from city staff.  All four are leaders with local organizations caring for animals and their welfare.  They donate their time and considerable resources to caring for animals, often discarded or in line for extermination.  

2.  Citizens 101 will be a monthly evening session at which folks can learn about specific programs, tools and resources that will help them build a more positive, sustainable community

There are many people working toward that more positive, sustainable community for local animals.  They do so on a volunteer basis with personal resources.  The city has targeted a number of these people with aggressive, heavy handed enforcement actions.  In the animal service arena the city has worked against building a more positive, sustainable community.

Local nonprofits repeatedly offered to pay for city staff to attend workshops on animal services topics.  Their generosity has been rebuffed.    A recent attendee at a seminar stated, "We are five years behind everyone else."  If city staff refuse to learn best practices from other communities, how are they in  position to teach?

3.  And Lunch and Learn will be a monthly session to provide information about specific City services and regulations to targeted industry professionals. 

Regulation enforcement has been the city's modus operandi in animal services.  There is no partnering.  As a result the City and local nonprofits will continue to miss out on significant grant opportunities to deal with local animal concerns.

For significant change to happen city staff has to listen.  That hasn't happened in the animal service arena and it won't if staff call all the shots, including who gets appointed to the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee.   

Update 8-23-14:  PIO Anthony Wilson had this to say about COSA University. "What this is meant to do, hopefully is to accomplish two things.  The first is we're hoping to create a training ground for prospective board members for our nineteen city boards and commissions.  Of course you guys know we're always in need of volunteers to serve on those boards and we think this may be a springboard into that type of service.  The second thing we hope to do is cultivate some well informed community ambassadors for municipal government.  What we mean by that is we want some folks out there in the community who are well informed on what we do and how we do it and the method to our madness."  So when they get questions, or there's discussion in the coffee shops, the workplace or whereever, they can help educate or inform their neighbors, friends, family or coworkers about why it is the city does what it does and how it does what it does." 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

State of the City: Shiny & Light

San Angelo City Manager Daniel Valenzuela invoked hope eternal in last week's state of the city speech at the West Texas Training Center, once the site of a Levi Strauss manufacturing plant.  Prior to Daniel's arrival three local organizations, Angelo State University, Howard College and San Angelo Independent School District, collaborated to develop the West Texas Training Center with state and local government support.  Today Howard College occupies the whole facility.  It is now Howard's main San Angelo campus, which in the process of adding buildings

Valenzuela nailed our city's growth.  The first oil boom brought San Angelo The Cactus Hotel.  The current oil boom has hotels and apartment complexes exploding.  Unmentioned were deadly traffic accidents and soaring crime.  Valenzuela cited airport deplanings, but omitted jail bookings. 

He did note the impact of oilfield on hiring city workers:

When it comes to attracting and retaining high-quality employees, the City of San Angelo is no different than any other employer in this room. It’s a challenge, if not a downright struggle. That’s especially true of workers who are good with their hands, with tools and with heavy pieces of equipment. The City of San Angelo is desperate to hire that talent … but so is the oilfield. While we can’t compete with oilfield wages, we can offer stability and, this year, a more attractive salary.

Daniel didn't mention that the city is no longer trying to hire a number of positions, janitors, electricians, plumbers, HVAC technicians, veterinarians and storm water engineers.  It seeks to contract them out, which provides no stability, no long term security, no benefits like retirement or health insurance. I believe many of our region's  oilfield jobs are contractor positions with no benefits.  What happens to local healthcare facilities when jobs, city and otherwise, provide no health coverage? 

The shiny vision offered by Daniel Valenzuela may end up like the original West Texas Training Center.  It will morph into something else.  Rest assured our growth will not benefit everyone and citizens already feel the unmentioned dark side. Truth telling is one mark of a leader.  Balance is another.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

City to Pursue Citizen Engagement

Item 20 on this Thursday's City Council meeting is a discussion of new citizen engagement initiatives, including COSA University.  Recent city council meetings have had ample citizen engagement.  Crowds gathered to be heard on awarding the city's trash and landfill franchises, as well as several development projects. 

City Council acted counter to recent public input.  I assume that's why citizens need education at COSA University.  It's sad when an organization with an award winning website, its own television station and an aggressive image management department can't have its messages understood by the public.  People are smart enough to recognize public intimidation isn't public service.

I expect COSA University's public library to be rather sparse, after it ditched its former website rich with historical documents.  Institutional memory isn't what it used to be.  I do hope COSA University offers an ethics class.

We'll see what citizen engagement occurs at upcoming city council meetings.  I expect future crowds to provide feedback on soaring commercial trash/landfill bills and to weigh in on retiree/employee health insurance rates when they return to the agenda for action.  Stay engaged citizens!

Update 8-17-14:  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela spoke on this subject during his State of the City speech.  "COSA University will be a citizens academy that we hope will spark interest in serving on City boards and commissions. If you’re already interested, applications are available at"  I know three people who applied for the Animal Services Board, all active, responsible leaders in local animal service organizations.  None ever heard back from the city, even as the board had two open positions for many months.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Commercial Customers Fund City's Trash Bonanza

San Angelo Live reported:

San Angelo businesses received their notices and new trash invoices indicating that the commercial trash rates have increased significantly this month, and they don’t like it.

Rates increased 73%, 92% and 31% for businesses cited in the article.  These are the same commercial customers Republic overcharged for over a decade.  It appears the past is a predictor of the future.

Republic's language is typical nowadays, where no one accepts responsibility for their part:

“The City of San Angelo has adopted a change in ordinance increasing landfill and collection rates.” 

Actually, the City put out an RFP for trash and landfill services, narrowed it down to Republic, negotiated the "best deal" it could on behalf of citizens, then signed contracts establishing landfill and collection rates for customers.  Republic agreed to charge such rates, in part to meet the city's demand for upfront money.

The city will clear nearly $1 million alone from charging landfill Cell 11A back to Republic.  

The July 1 City Council presentation clearly showed the increase for residential customers.

Despite showing four slides of new commercial pricing, not one showed an anticipated increase for typical business customers.  TDS President/CEO Bob Gregory gave public testimony on commercial rates the day City Council approved the contract:

"This contract could be up to and over $2 billion...  It's the biggest contract any council has ever considered...  If you go to Tab 5 you will see a comparison of commercial rates.  It was said in the press conference recently that commercial rates were comparable (between Republic and TDS).  As it turns out that we see rates now, it is not true.  TDS commercial rates are less than the rates proposed in this contract.  They are laid out very carefully.  This is a very significant contract increase for commercial rates coming on August 1."

Heidi Brooks, owner of Cactus Car Washes in San Angelo shared this with City Council before the vote:

"We need to get all the information out on the table, to all small businesses, to all residents."
Stanley Mayfield, owner of Mayfield Paper, offered:

"I urge you to slow this thing down, air it out.  Let the citizens look at it.  Let the business community look at it.  We appreciate your endurance in doing so."

Council did not endure. They approved the contracts.  At the next meeting builders spoke out saying their costs would increase greatly under the new contract.  It turns out they weren't alone.

Update 9-3-14:  A board member for the city's Development Corporation commented on the large increase in his trash bill in their August 27 meeting,  He noted, "It's a doozy."  

Saturday, August 09, 2014

City Seeks Multiple Contractor Bids

This summer the City of San Angelo sought bids on its benefit plans, which include medical, dental and life insurance.  Just before and after it bid out a number of jobs, changing them to contractor opportunities.  How many paid positions shifted from benefits to no benefit in this series of moves?  How many more are planned to go to contractor, i.e. no benefit status?

The City states it wants to be competitive with pay, which includes benefits.  It appears more and more people will be working for the city in a benefit-less role

Update 8-12-14:  San Angelo Live reported  "City employees will be awarded a 5 percent pay raise this year."  Contractors are not employees. 

Update 8-16-14:  Add Plumbers to the list of contracted services.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Solar Energy Farm Coming to City Owned Land

In Executive Session on August 5th San Angelo's City Council approved the negotiation and execution of a lease of approximately 80 acres to OE Renewables Texas LLC.  A search of state databases lead to OneEnergy Renewables.

Their website states:

“Utility-Scale” solar refers to projects with a generating capacity greater than 2 megawatts (MW) that provide power directly to the electric grid. To put this in perspective in terms of required land, a 2 MW solar project would require roughly 15 acres of land, and a 10MW solar project would require roughly 60 acres of land.

The land City Council approved for lease could support a 12.5 MW solar project.  Representative Drew Darby pushed for the state to subsidize industrial scale solar in the 2011 Texas Legislature.  I expect that push to return.

From the time we sign a lease, it typically takes 1 to 3 years to complete the solar development. This includes 18 to 24 months for the development phase and around 12 to 18 months of construction. Actual timelines vary by project and may take up to 5 years depending on market variability and state regulatory processes.

COSADC, the city's development corporation, worked the deal which council approved.  It will be interesting to hear more details.  I assume they will come before the public at some point, especially as OneEnergy's #2 commitment is to "be transparent."

It doesn't hurt that Texas wholesale energy prices are fixin' to jump into the stratosphere:

Peak wholesale energy prices will soar to $9,000 per megawatt hour in 2015 from $5,000 today.  They went from $3,000 to $4,500 in 2012.   
 Watch this deal and how the average citizen benefits. 

Monday, August 04, 2014

Seeking Basis for Health Insurance Projections

The City of San Angelo's award winning website states:

Public Information answers inquiries from the public daily.

Last Thursday evening I submitted the following question to Anthony Wilson, Public Information Officer.  I had just viewed City Council's budget session and sought more information on two different health insurance numbers bandied about the last few weeks.

Please have Michael Dane or Morgan explain the difference between the $2 million number and the $639,418 shown for health insurance in the budget workshops.

The video showed the lower number presented to council today.  There has been very little discussion in council sessions and the basic assumptions remain unshared.  I would appreciate knowing those.

The basis for these projections is important, especially as the city badly missed  its health insurance budget for 2012-2013.  The city's most recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report revealed a $500,000 miss.

Revenues are to go up roughly $1.85 million, with the city planning to pick up $640,000.  That leaves $1.21 million for employees and retirees to bear.

Hopefully answers will be shared with the public tomorrow.  If not, I await clarification from the Budget Division whose aim is to "budget costs with all due transparency." 

Friday, August 01, 2014

Republic Snubs Overcharged Commercial Customers

Legal cases often show a company's true colors.  Consider Republic Services defense of a decade of overcharges to commercial customers.

Republic issued a general denial of owing anything at all, at least to the plaintiffs. The response said:
  1. Plaintiffs’ claims and the relief sought are barred in whole or in part by the applicable statutes of limitations.
  2. The voluntary payment doctrine precludes Plaintiffs’ claims and the relief sought.
  3. Plaintiffs’ claims cannot be maintained as a class action on behalf of the putative class alleged in the Petition.
Republic claims their egregious behavior occurred too long ago to be legally compensible.  They also cite that commercial customers willingly paid unauthorized charges, allowed by lax city staff as they never audited Republic's compliance with contract provisions. 

The City of San Angelo is yet to release their findings on Republic's overcharges under the commercial franchise agreement.   One City Councilmember said contract negotiations were the only leverage the city had on behalf of 2,000 commercial customers.  It appears this person was right in their assessment.