Friday, July 21, 2017

Animal Shelter Advisory Committee Fails to Get Quorum 2nd Month in Row

Despite appointing three members at Tuesday's City Council meeting the Animal Services Advisory Committee failed to get a quorum for its July 20th scheduled meeting.  Only four members of the current six appointees comprise a quorum.  This is the second month in a row the board did not meet due to poor attendance from appointed representatives.

After the cancelled June Animal Shelter Director James Flores resigned.  His resignation had two dramatically different story lines.  One had Flores the hero, the other saw him resign under pressure from poor handling of a series of events:

1) a shelter distemper outbreak, which may be lingering
2) the failure to respond to dog packs killing small pets near Glenmore Park/Old Christoval Road
3) the extermination of Misty after she'd been hurt by a car but appeared to have non-life threatening injuries
4) the $700 fine for two dogs temporarily being out of their yard and not being micro-chipped.
5) the prospect that the city's former veterinarian did not perform spays/neuters for shelter pets as represented by the vet and former Shelter Director James Flores. 
These issues remain outstanding but none of them were on the June or July ASAC agenda.  In addition, Flores outright lied in his representations to the ASAC on other Texas cities handling of community cats.  This discovery was not made by ASAC members or its chair, the group providing oversight.  It took an interested citizen to submit a public information request on the survey and conduct research which revealed Flores' numerous misrepresentations. 

Oddly, the June meeting only lacked one member for a quorum.  Sitting in the audience was former ASAC Chair Jenie Wilson, who'd apparently submitted her resignation.  As her resignation had not been accepted by the board or City Council I wondered why didn't she start the meeting, allow public comment and then entertain the agenda.  As this scenario did not happen many citizens who took the time to participate in local governance did not have an opportunity to speak in public comment.

The Standard Times article indicated Wilson resigned in time for it to be placed on the agenda, which must be posted 48 hours in advance.  

Jenie Wilson, who served as the chairwoman of the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee and resigned about a week ago, was also in the audience, waiting.--6-15-17

"I have my hands full with Concho Valley PAWS," Wilson said about her resignation. "There are only so many hours in the day and I decided to focus on all the positive things going on with PAWS and the shelter."
City Councilman Tommy Thompson re-appointed Wilson, the person who prevented public comment on the series of issues.  He did so as a new City Council representative, citing staff support as the main reason.  He did not indicate how he helped Jenie find more hours in the day to return to her ASAC role.

Consider approval of the withdrawal of a resignation and reinstatement of the Jenie Wilson (SMD2) to the Animal Services Advisory Committeee.
Thompson did so despite receiving numerous letters of concern about Wilson's clear conflict of interest overseeing a $60,000 contract with the city to run shelter adoptions.  The series of controversies arose under her board leadership and have not been placed on the agenda for the public to hear the results of needed investigations.

The new regime added this to the ASAC agenda:

All agenda items are subject to action. The Animal Services Advisory Committee reserves the right to consider business out of posted order and/or meet in a closed session on any agenda item should the need arise and if applicable pursuant to authorization by Title 5, Chapter 551, of the Texas Government Code.
This language did not exist prior to the July agenda.  In addition to cancelling two meetings in a row the ASAC has two new tools to limit public comment.  Many people who wanted to give comment in June took off work to do so.  Moving items can impact people's ability to offer comment on a listed agenda item.  Addressing an item in closed session completely removes public comment and accountability.

Eventually the newly reconstituted ASAC will meet.  Their first task will be to select officers.  It will be interesting to see who they nominate and elect.  I expect City staff (who engineer the composition of the board) to influence the selection of officers.  It's a longstanding San Angelo tradition. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Two Narratives on Animal Shelter Director Change

Citizens may be confused over why the city promoted its Budget Director to Assistant Director of Neighborhood/Family Services so soon after the resignation of James Flores, letter dated June 21.  Those watching the city's press event are led to believe all is sunshine and warmth.  And what luck the city had the perfect candidate internally to continue the great work started by Chief Bob Salas and sidekick James Flores.

Oddly, James Flores got the Shelter Director role in February 2015 via a similar internal promotion.  Bob Salas and sidekick Flores started with the right words but quickly began excluding people wanting to help.

City Human Resources Director told a different story, one of a shelter in crisis that needed urgent attention after a string of service failures.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela, facing the crisis he'd ignored for years, asked the current Budget Director to fill Flores' role.  Valenzuela charged her with addressing concerns at the shelter over the next six months.

So which version is the springboard for the new director?  One would drive very different actions than the other.  The rosy scenario calls for tweaking, the crisis situation for a near to total rebuild.

Citizens should remain firm in their expectation of investigations and accountability from Salas and Valenzuela.  Those should already be underway.  The new director can ensure their completion and share the results with the Animal Services Advisory Committee.  By working through issues and concerns Animal Services can heal fractured community relationships and take concrete steps toward the rosy picture painted in the press announcement.

Burying or running around issues will not take San Angelo's Animal Services forward.  That's gone on for far too long.   Our community deserves better.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Six Days and a Storm After Flores Resignation

Basic research revealed Animal Shelter Director James Flores lied to the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee in his representations as to how other Texas cities handle community cats.  I posted the findings eight days ago.

Two days after publication Flores submitted his resignation "for personal reasons."  At the time members of the public sought answers on:

1)  the city's extermination of Misty, a deaf pit bull-rat terrier mix
2)  the adoption of a sick puppy from the shelter by a disabled vet and his family.  The puppy had distemper and eventually died.
3)  the overall handling of the shelter's distemper outbreak, including the number of dogs euthanized to control the disease, essentially a canine public health investigation.
4)  the city's responsibility/obligation to address dog packs that killed pets and small animals.  The issue arose after a pack(s) killed many pets on Christoval Road and local citizens had to trap the aggressive dogs near a public park.
5)  the city's fining a couple over $700 for their dogs being out and not micro-chipped
City leaders have two more issues to address:

6)  a Shelter Director fabricating community cat survey results for ASAC
7)  the rush to promote someone internally without addressing items 1-6.  
Neighborhood and Family Services Director Bob Salas said more than once "We're not the bad guys here."  Good guys don't twist other people's words or outright lie.  Salas has been the front man for a service that has not come clean on numerous issues.

Members of the public showed up for an Animal Services Advisory Committee wanting city response to their concerns (at least items 1-6 above).  The meeting was cancelled.  A subsection attended the next Council meeting and raised animal service issues.

The work of public interaction and accountability remains to be done.  Bob Salas has proven he is not capable of delivering.  The gentleman who witnessed a horrific heart stick euthanization by city staff shared his concern with Council in public comment in February.  No city leader followed up with him on his concern of animal cruelty on 2-12-17. 

City Manager Daniel Valenzuela has no record of credible investigations, despite repeated opportunities with the Furniture Fiasco and Republic Waste overcharging commercial customers for over a decade.

Eight days after I reported James Flores lied to a public body the city stood ready to make an announcement.  I expected something along the lines of:

The City of El Paso is recruiting nationally for a highly experienced, compassionate, ethical, and dedicated Animal Services Director to manage the day-to-day activities and operations of the newly established Animal Services Department. Animal Services became a stand-alone department in February 2016; previously Animal Services was a division of the City’s Environmental Services Department. The new Animal Services Department has approximately 120 full-time employees organized within the Animal Services Operations, Shelter Operations, Medical Operations, Community Programs, Marketing, and Administration divisions. The FY 2017 Departmental budget is approximately $9.7 million. This position requires a Bachelor’s degree and 8 years of professional administrative experience or animal control experience including 4 years of management or supervisory experience. The starting salary will be dependent on the experience and qualifications of the successful candidate.
Not Surprising San Angelo!  Our announcement stated:

Morgan Chegwidden, the City of San Angelo’s budget manager, has been promoted to assistant director of the Neighborhood/Family Services Department, where she will manage the Animal Shelter and oversee Code Compliance.

Chegwidden served on the board of Sadie's Rescue, which ceased operations several years ago.  There are likely hundreds of citizens who served on the board of a local animal rescue group.  They weren't given the opportunity to apply for the position that appeared to be opening up on July 13, the date Flores resignation would become effective.

It took City leaders a mere six days after accepting Flores resignation to officially appoint Chegwidden.  That included a weekend with a horrific storm for which the city is seeking a disaster designation.  During the three non-weekend work days the city prepared a slick video on Chegwidden's promotion.   This feels too packaged and rushed for an area the city has historically underfunded and poorly managed.

The City rapidly appointed a trusted employee of Assistant City Manager Michael Dane.  Morgan Chegwidden deserves a chance to succeed.  She'll need to prove herself by working through not avoiding, bullying or intimidating.

It appears the Animal Services Advisory Committee was left out of the loop once again.  Also, only one local rescue was invited to the announcement, the one with a $60,000 contract with the city.   Actions speak louder than words and in this promotion a number of them are questionable.

New Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden has many lingering issues to address if Salas and other city managers allow it.  I hope they don't pass the buck to the guy who's gone.  That wouldn't be honest or have integrity.   

Monday, June 19, 2017

Director Manipulated Survey Data for Animal Shelter Advisory Committee

Animal Shelter Chief James Flores presented a community cat survey to the City's Advisory Committee in their May meeting.  He represented:

I asked the city for a copy of the survey results.  It is two legal pad hand written pages and can be seen below.  To the right of Flores written words I added research comments that confirm or call into question his findings/representations.:

Of the seven cities Flores said had mandatory city registration three definitely do not, Garland, Arlington. and San Antonio.  Garland and Arlington have voluntary registration through local animal services organizations, just like San Angelo's current ordinance.

In the case of Garland's sponsorship model the city pays for all spay/neuter services.  Flores knew this from a May 12, 2017 e-mail from Garland's Shelter Director.

San Angelo contributes no money to Critter Shack, the only local sponsoring organization helping citizens wishing to practice trap, neuter, return and maintain for community cats

San Antonio funds the program for certain zip codes:

If you live in any of the zip codes listed below under San Antonio's ACS Community Cat Program, you are eligible to receive a FREE cat trap and spay/neuter services.
Even San Marcos, the preferred site mentioned by Flores, has a sponsor model in their current city ordinance.

Unfortunately their nonprofit is no longer manned to run the voluntary community/feral cat program.  San Marcos is the only city surveyed to have had their nonprofit partner pull back.  Their shelter plans to move to mandatory registration.

Galveston also utilizes a community partner to address the island's feral cat issue.

The Galveston Island Community Cats Program is operated through the Galveston Island Humane Society and has provided sterilization for healthy stray or feral cats for years.
The only two of the seven cited that fit Mr. Flores description of current mandatory registration with the city are Kileen and Wichita Falls.  Both of their ordinances require a city permit for a cat colony manager.  Neither had information on their city websites about the requirement or how to register/get a permit.

Wichita Falls has an active nonprofit fixing community cats.  The City of Kileen does not appear to have any community partners helping with free roaming cats.. 

Flores said seven Texas cities had no TNR program.   Waco clearly has one.  It's on the City of Waco's website.  It too utilizes a local nonprofit sponsor, one that has been on the job since 2007.

While the City of San Angelo danced in and out of pet neutering Critter Shack remained in the low cost spay/neuter space.   One San Angelo colony manager endured the city's heavy hand in 2013.  She watched city staff trap cats she fixed with her personal resources and haul them away for extermination.  That prompted people practicing TNRM to ask the city for safe legal authority which it granted in 2015.

James Flores' misrepresentations to the ASAC are a continuation of Animal Control obstruction and intransigence in the community cat arena.  Since the ordinance passed one appointed member of the Animal Board has obsessed about the location of managed cat colonies.  The Board never told her to chill out, back off or shut up and viewed Critter Shack's honoring their commitment to keep colony location confidential as noncompliance.  I find it odd that following the current ordinance is viewed as problematic by a body charged with public oversight.  That's been the case for over two years.

Mandatory community cat colony registration is a solution to a nonexistent problem.  Everything the city wants to do, it can already do.  The way to tell if a citizen is practicing TNR is to talk to them.  Flores said he knows where people are feeding large groups of cats.  For some reason he and his staff won't talk to them to find out if they are fixing.  If not, Flores can educate them and steer "feeders but not fixers" to Critter Shack, the only local resource willing to help.

Normally the parties in a public-private partnership, the City and Critter Shack, would have regular meetings to see how the partnership is going, work through operational issues and plan changes and improvements.  That has not been the case since Council passed the ordinance.  There has been only one consistent request

Most Texas community cat partnerships are clearly promoted by city animal services via websites, news and videos.   Other cities provide a range of education and resources as part of their end of the partnership.

The City of San Angelo has taken a minimalist at best approach in this regard.  Searching the city's website I found the following information:

Research showed other Texas cities with vibrant public-private partnerships for community cats.  Those require trust and collaboration, something the City of San Angelo has abused in the recent past.  The Community Cat ordinance was adopted on Neighborhood and Family Services Director Bob Salas' and James Flores' watch.  Critter Shack volunteers have done the work and have many compelling stories to tell, much more than who is the colony manager and where are they located.  Four community cat representatives spoke to Council in February and will likely do so again.

The question is why Flores would manipulate a survey toward mandatory registration for people practicing TNR with their personal time, energy and resources?   Evidence shows he did just that.

Update 6-24-17:  Flores resigned his position with the city.  It came two days after this post.

The Standard Times ran a story as well.  City PIO Anthony Wilson replied in the comments. I imagine citizens want to know a few basic facts about Animal Shelter leadership going forward.  We'll see if the city releases any information via news release, video, City Council agenda, etc.   

Saturday, June 17, 2017

ASAC Quorum: Did One Exist on 6-18?

A quorum may have existed when the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee cancelled its meeting last Thursday.  Here's the scenario:

If ASAC Chairperson Jenie Wilson's resignation is not official until accepted by the Committee, then there were four committee members in the room. which constitutes a quorum. 

Here's what the city did in the case of Bill Richardson:

District 1 City Councilman Bill Richardson submitted a written resignation to Mayor Dwain Morrison this morning.

According to a Texas Attorney General opinion, the resignation will become effective once it is approved or accepted by the City Council or once eight days have passed since receipt of the resignation.

The City Council will meet at 9 a.m. Thursday to engage in its annual strategic planning session. City Clerk Bryan Kendrick said a special meeting may be called prior to the planning session Thursday morning for the Council to consider acceptance of Councilman Richardson’s resignation and to discuss its options for filling the seat.
Should the above information apply to the Animal Board the ASAC meeting could have begun, public comment been accepted and business started.  ASAC bylaws do not speak to resignation of board members, so City Council behavior/practice is one place to turn for precedence.

The Standard Times reported the evening of the cancelled meeting that Wilson "resigned about a week ago."  That's in time for her resignation to have been added to the agenda and accepted by the board.  It's also before the eight days that had to pass before a City Council members resignation was effective.  Four ASAC members may have been in the room last Thursday but no meeting was convened.  Would that be a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Public Shows Up, San Angelo's Animal Board Doesn't

The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee had large numbers of citizens in attendance for today's scheduled meeting.  The meeting never adjourned due to poor attendance from appointed representatives.  The ASAC had three members show up, Dr. Victor Schulze, Maureen "Mo" Soupiset and David Howard.  Oddly, Committee Chair Jenie Wilson was not on the dais but sitting in the audience.  Had she been with the other members the committee would've reached the quorum requirement of a simple majority. 

Director of Neighborhood and Family Services Bob Salas informed an attendee that Wilson had resigned from the Animal Services Advisory Committee.

So why the huge public turnout and missing appointed representatives?  Various interest groups attended the meeting today.  Some may have wanted to speak on recent animal control issues:

1)  The euthanasia of Misty, a rat terrier-pit bull mix.  The public has serious concerns about her case and raised a number of customer service issues.

2)  The board's move toward mandatory community cat registration as expressed in their last meeting.  This visceral response came from the board wanting to know the location of community cat colonies, something purposefully kept confidential in city ordinance.  Shelter Chief James Flores twisted survey information he presented to the board last month and some people attended to refute his inaccurate claims.

3)  Animal Control's fining a couple over $700 for their two dogs not having microchips and being temporarily out of their back yard enclosure.  At the time of the citation both pets were in the front yard, the owner was aware and coming home.  Both dogs had collars with tags and were spayed/neutered.

4)  The recent distemper outbreak at the City Shelter, which involved adoption staff wiping goop from a dog's eyes before showing it to their new owner.  The owners spent thousands of dollars to help their new pet, already sick from its time in the shelter.  The husband of the adopting family is a disabled veteran.

5)  The city's failure to address at least one pack of wild dogs that killed pets and wildlife around Glenmore Park and Old Christoval Road.  Citizens had to trap the wild dogs in the middle of the night and had challenges getting Animal Control to respond.  Shelter Chief James Flores cited "supposedly dogs" in the May ASAC meeting.  This statement came after necropsies, pictures and two aggressive dogs were picked up by the shelter. 

I am aware of at least one more issue an interested citizen wanted to raise based on their interaction with the shelter but I don't want to steal their thunder.  Hopefully, the meeting will be rescheduled with lots of notice.  That way people who wanted to speak today have a chance of being heard.

Democracy showed up today.  Appointed representatives did not.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Misty's Case Falls Short of City Vision, Mission and Values

What happens when a public service organization fails to serve the public?  People speak up, sometimes in droves. 

The service failure arose last Saturday when Misty, a 5 year old rat terrier-pit bull mix escaped from her home.  Misty was deaf, which contributed to her being struck by a car and sustaining injuries.  Fortunately, a former veterinary technician lived nearby and examined Misty.  The dog needed medical attention but her injuries were not life threatening.  This citizen took pictures of the dog, which indicated the location of the tire marks and the extent of her injuries.

An Animal Control Officer responded and took Misty to the shelter.  The owner and local rescues communicated via and all stood ready to help get Misty the medical attention she needed.  Both PAWS and Cassie's Place contacted shelter staff within hours of her arrival.  Their calls were not returned.

Conclusion:  On June 3rd the Shelter knew or should have known the dog had an owner interested in her well being and several rescues willing to help Misty get medical care.  The city did not reach out to the rescues as they had done in the past..

The owner contacted the shelter Monday, June 5th to learn Misty had been euthanized and the city represented her injuries as more significant than experienced by the neighbor vet tech.  Ways to explore this apparent contradiction would be via pictures of the animal prior to euthanasia or having Misty's body back.  The city had neither.

"Unless picked up by owners, deceased animals, including most from vet offices, are surrendered to Republic."  Bob Salas - Director of Neighborhood/Family Services
In a written statement city officials said her body had been surrendered to Republic Services, our local trash hauler.  The statement did not say what time Republic picked up Misty's body between Saturday evening and the time the owner called on Monday.

Conclusion:  The city does not have evidence to support the change in Misty's condition and her body was not kept for her owner.  The city had knowledge of an interested owner Saturday evening.

Misty's owner indicated city staff threatened to cite him for neglect.  It's not clear if that was before or after he asked for her body back. 

The owner communicated with both rescues about Misty's euthanasia and all were surprised by the change in events.  They expected her to be treated for minor injuries and reunited with her owner.  The rescues, one a partner with the city on animal adoptions, consider her case to be a service failure.  Area rescues mobilized to have Misty's case investigated and are seeking support for changes in city practices.   

The City of San Angelo chose to approach KSAN and KLST News rather than explore what happened.  Animal Services Director James Flores spoke to KLST reporter Daija Barrett in defense of the city's actions.  KLST did not show Misty's owner or either of the two rescues involved in trying to help her.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela and Public Information Officer Anthony Wilson had to approve Flores going on television, which turned out to be more than once in this case.

Flores did not tell the reporter or public the city was investigating what happened and looking to make operational changes to address elements of Misty's case.  He stated he wanted to get ahead of social media reports.  The Standard Times ran a more balanced piece on Thursday, June 8th.  For that story Animal Shelter management gave written answers via e-mail. 

Conclusion:  The city is more interested in aggressive image management than good customer service.

What would good customer service entail?  Assuming Misty's injuries were as represented by the city, shelter staff could have contacted the owner that Saturday evening and shared the tragic news.  They could have offered to refrigerate her body, as other animal shelters do, and have the owner pick Misty up on Monday.

As the city did not offer this basic courtesy, the owner and rebuffed rescues wonder if Misty's injuries were as the city described.  Several months ago another former veterinary technician testified to City Council of Animal Control's extermination of a dog with non-life threatening injuries (City Council meeting 2-21-17 at 22:40 mark).  The public heard his horrific description on Channel 17 but never anything about an investigation or follow up by city leaders.

Pets are part of quality of life in our community.  Misty's story falls short of best management practices in customer service.  It fits with the city's historical view of animal control as an enforcement duty.  Our local Fox News had James Flores on again last night.  Flores remained defensive.  He referred to the groups that helped connect the stray with the owner and stood ready to help Misty get vet care as "supposed rescues."

The City's all image campaign comes at the expense of competent leadership.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela is not known for conducting thorough investigations.  He has a reputation for avoidance in the Furniture Fiasco and Republic Services overcharging cases.  His office produced short, unsigned internal investigations for disturbing actions by city leaders.  There's not a hint of an investigation in Misty's case.  That would've made one of the city's television news stories.

Misty's case came with multiple surprises and communication failures.  Those reflect the poor customer service Misty and her owner received.  It came from the shelter that adopted out Misty, the group that should have ensured her microchip was up to date.  

The microchip focus is somewhat of a red herring as her owner had been identified by two rescues and they were trying to work with the city to see what Misty needed.  It's the shelter who didn't communicate back Saturday evening or Monday morning.  Once people shared the story and began speaking up the city communicated like crazy with local television news reporters.

The city did not bring together everyone who touched Misty Saturday evening to build a common picture of what happened, identify lingering questions and ways to get them answered.  From the city's view it euthanized a stray, injured dog that didn't have an accurate microchip.  From the rescues' view they identified the owner for the city within hours and stood ready to help an injured dog as they'd done before, but never got the call from Animal Services.  The owner is heartbroken over Misty's death and at a minimum wanted her body back and an evidence backed explanation for her euthanasia.

Questions include:  What are the city's responsibilities when an injured dog is picked up by Animal Control?  Does it document with pictures and video the animal's state prior to being euthanized?  How does it communicate with owners, those with accurate microchips and those rescues have identified for the city?  What commitments does the shelter make to hold the body for owners?  How did Misty's handling match the city's customer service aspirations?

Shelter Director James Flores is not answering the above questions.  Instead he is hurt by a social media outcry and speaking in person to a willing news media.  Excellence, service, accountability, resourcefulness and stewardship:  Misty and her owner deserved them all from the city.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

City Council Tackled Ordinances Staff Didn't Follow

San Angelo's City Council learned city staff did not follow adopted ordinances in two areas, animal control citations and purchasing requirements. 

Neighborhood/Family Services Director Bob Salas stated

"As you know positions change, names change.  Unfortunately, that causes problems during court proceedings."
Management's changing position titles the last two years caused the problem Salas cited. Therefiore, Council needed to bail out Animal Shelter management by adopting a vague statement.  Staff's solution creates a mystery for the public as to who can actually write an animal control citation. 

Cleanup of the city's code of ordinances continued with the proposed removal of the full detail of purchasing practices.  Purchasing detail would move from ordinance to resolution, i.e. city policy.  Staff proposed removing policy level details by voting this and the next City Council meeting.  Once removed, said they would have policy details for the next meeting.  The rationale is codification is expensive to maintain and leaves room for errors, i.e. situations where purchasing actions do not match ordinance requirements.  Therefore, Council needed to redact aspects of the purchasing ordinance.

City Attorney Theresa James clarified the area the new resolution will cover once presented.

"It spells out those rules for any purchases less than $50,000."
Assistant City Manager Michael Dane:

"The key today is we're moving this from code to policy adopted by council."

James added:

"The main thing our code of ordinances does it creates a penal code, essentially, so you are not going to fine me $200 for not following purchasing policies.  We might have other penalties but it's not going to be a criminal fine.  There's no point in having this kind of policy in a criminal statute."
Ordinances are not a commitment to the way the city does business, with obligations and requirements of city staff and citizens.  Ordinances are a means to fine and punish citizens.  James' comments explain why there are no consequences for staff not following ordinances.

The June 6, 2017 City Council meeting was instructive for citizens interested in these two items.  We learned:

1) When staff doesn't follow ordinances
2)  It's up to Council to change them to something vague
3)  Or drop them altogether.

What lessons await in future council meetings?

Friday, June 02, 2017

Animal Services Seeks Citation Clarity from Confusion Caused by Management

San Angelo's City Council will undertake an agenda item compelling citizens to appear in court for violations of Animal Services ordinances.  Here's the rationale:

Currently, the Animal Control ordinance of the City of San Angelo adopted in 2015 does not effectively designate those employees that should be authorized to issue citations for violation of this ordinance. The current language identifies specific positions that have changed names over the past few years which causes confusion during court hearings.

Current language: (d) Any person employed as a city peace officer, animal services director, animal services officer, animal services technician, or animal services dispatcher shall have the authority to issue citations for violations of this chapter.
Position names don't change spontaneously.  That's the job of Animal Services management.  It would be their and City Manager Daniel Valenzuela's job to keep operations consistent with ordinances.  Clearly, they did not since 2015.  Management created the confusion for Municipal Court in two short years.

Historically, Animal Services has picked and chosen which ordinances to apply and when.  During the City's extermination of Mejor Que Nada's community cats City Health Director Sandra Villareal defended animal control workers not following ordinances for nuisance animals, calling those procedures "the Red Tape way."

Here's the new language:

Any duly authorized agent of the City who meets all requirements imposed by state law shall have authority to issue citations for violations of this chapter.
Under the current ordinance citizens expect to be cited by an Animal Services worker, manager or a peace officer.  Those I can picture.

I cannot image a "duly authorized agent  of the city who meets all requirements imposed by state law for issuing citations for violations of Chapter 3:  Animal Control."  That sounds like a line in a job description or a qualification for job consideration.  This language is not a move to clarity for the public.

Updating the job titles management changed would be the best benefit for the public.  As Mayor Morrison stated months ago to City Council it's hard to see public benefit as the aim of Animal Services.  This proposed change may be another window into that world.

City Council should ask questions before approving this item.  One, will code compliance officers be able to write citations for animal control ordinances?

Two, how will Animal Control  handle situations when it's not following ordinances under this section?  It happened in 2013 and will surely happen again.  Will they ticket themselves?

And three, what was the recommendation of the Animal Services Advisory Committee on this ordinance change?  The item has not appeared on the ASAC agenda the last few months, so management skipped its advisory committee yet again. 

We have a new Mayor and a number of astute new City Council members.  We'll see if they allow an illogical change that makes it more confusing for the public to know who can issue them an Animal Control citation.

Update 6-6-17:  City Council accepted that management changed titles to make the ordinance problematic in Municipal Court.  Council approved the vague wording "Any duly authorized agent of the City who meets all requirements imposed by state law shall have authority to issue citations for violations of this chapter."  The vote was 7-0.  Council learned the Director had not focused on this part of his job for several years.  The number of Animal Control employees able to write citations went from 6 to 3 certified with 3 in training, to 3 certified with 2 in training and one having to use a workaround process.  Shelter leadership broke the ordinance by not following it.  As Council let them off the hook James Flores told an ever changing story.  New Council members have been oriented. The public has no idea which city employees can write citations.  Will Code Enforcement be able to write animal control citations?  No City Council members asked that question.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Aggressive Dogs Torment Area Citizens

The Standard Times revealed other citizens experienced the tragedy of pets killed by loose dogs in San Angelo.  An aggressive dog pack killed thirty pets around Christoval Road and Glenmore Park in late February/early March.  Our experience is chronicled in three posts on this blog:

Pets Dying on Old Christoval Road -  March 9, 2017
The city placed numerous obstacles in the way of this clear public safety hazard, as evidenced by the number of phone calls to Police Dispatch on the deadly dogs.  The city said it had no traps and for concerned citizens to trap the dogs themselves. 

Dogs Continue Small Pet Hunting Behavior - March 13, 2017
Once trapped Animal Control said citizens needed to bring the trapped dog to the Animal Shelter.  However, the city was willing to pick up killed pets for a $25 fee.

Second Dangerous Dog Trapped - March 15, 2017
City Councilman Lane Carter helped motivate Animal Services to come out in the middle of the night to pick up a second trapped dangerous dog.

Local citizens dealt with 99% of the problem without the support or interest of Animal Services.  It appears other area citizens have a similar story to tell.

I found odd the reply from Bob Salas, Director Neighborhood/Family Services (via e-mail).

He added that animal control doesn't respond to animal-on-animal attacks.
"That is a civil issue," Salas wrote. "If a pet dog is attacked by another dog, the owner can file a complaint with the City prosecutor and case will be heard by the (municipal) Judge."
There is a difference between a public safety concern and legal remedies available to harmed citizens.  An animal that attacks another animal is a potential hazard to children.

In our case there was no pet dog.  There were loose packs of unowned dogs roaming the streets, including Glenmore Park, where many children congregate. 

The City's website states for Animal Control:

... calls involving immediate injury or harm to a person from an animal or an injured animal are the highest priority.

If my pet is attacked and harmed by another animal I have an "injured animal" which the city says is high priority for response.  I don't understand how Bob Salas can parse this into something the city ignores completely.

Mayor Morrison had significant concerns about Animal Services  winnowing down their job.  He read a laundry list of services Animal Control no longer provides (3:00:41) in the January City Council meeting. That very meeting City Manager Daniel Valenzuela said Animal Services would focus on animal control and public safety (3:24:15).  Valenzuela said:

"We look at health and safety for the community...  For any city it's animal control and making sure that no one out there in the community is ever placed in any type of harm from animal population that has gotten out of control."
Less than six weeks later citizens needed their help and it was mostly unavailable.  It's sad to read our story has been replicated by others. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

City Staff Go Small for Huge Community Problem

The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee met today.  It spent two thirds of the meeting on Community Cat Colony Registration.  Cat Colony registration took over twice the time the Committee spent on the Shelter's deadly distemper outbreak.

City Council approved a community cat ordinance in March 2015.  This ordinance was crafted in conjunction with local cat colony managers and animal service nonprofits working to implement trap, spay/neuter, return and maintain.  Current ordinance has a sponsorship model where the animal service organization provides resources and education, as well as cat colony registration.  Only one nonprofit stepped up for this role, Critter Shack.

Critter Shack found cat colony managers leery of registration given the city's heavy handed history in this arena.  Yet, local citizens have done the hard work of spreading TNRM with no support from the city.  Critter Shack volunteers and cat colony managers helped the 70 and 80 year old ladies whose yards became overrun with unaltered cats.  The city did not help. 

Some citizens practicing TNRM opted to register their cat colony with Critter Shack.   The form is below:

Others practice TNRM but have not registered.  If colony caretakers don't want to register with Critter Shack they surely won't register with the City. 

For two years individual members of the Animal Services Advisory Committee wanted to know colony locations, which is expressly not in the ordinance.   Time and time again Critter Shack chose to honor their confidentiality commitment to colony caretakers.  City staff and ASAC leadership did not view this as an appropriate response.  They escalated their position to recommending cat colony registration with the city.  

This is the city's solution to San Angelo's community cat problem?  Did they really recommend the registration of the people donating time, money, energy and skills to deal with the city's #1 animal problem, unaltered pets?  Unfortunately, they did just that.

The City of San Angelo has Cat Colony Registration today.  It's free through Critter Shack.  It will be interesting to watch the ASAC workshop on Cat Colony Registration.

The Animal Services Advisory Committee has a list of goals and objectives and community cats are nowhere to be found. 

Shelter leadership focused on cat colony location in their communications with Critter Shack.  Not once did they work on their side of this public-private partnership.  Shelter management never asked to meet to focus on how the ordinance was working from Critter Shack's perspective.  In reality it has been a private effort legally enabled by city ordinance.

Animal Services Director James Flores last contacted Critter Shack in April 2016 about a community cat in the shelter.  He had no problem reaching Critter Shack to demand the location of cat colonies, as recently as last week.   So it was odd to hear him say the city needs colony registration because of a "non-working phone number."  That statement did not ring true.

I don't know how ASAC will convince City Council to change a public-private partnership that costs citizens no money.  I can't see a new Mayor who wants government out of the way supporting a new cat colony registration fee for completing a form.

It's odd watching the Animal Services Advisory Committee and Shelter management continue to mix up managed cat colonies and people feeding groups of unaltered cats.  People feeding and not fixing are the white space in the blue circle above and that's the real opportunity.

City staff and ASAC leadership ignore the potential gold from addressing the actual problem.  The band of cat colony caretakers (in the red box) continues on their dedicated their mission for now.  How long they keep playing remains to be seen. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Chronic Condition: ASAC Wants to Know Community Cat Locations

San Angelo's City Council adopted a Community Cat Ordinance in February 2015.  City Council approved a sponsorship model where local animal services group(s) could coordinate with cat colony caretakers and offer low cost spay/neuter services for community cats.

Critter Shack was the only local animal service organization to step up for community cats.  It served as the city's sponsoring organization for over two years.

At the two year mark Critter Shack representatives shared their successes in public comment at City Council.  On February 7, 2017 four people shared the logic behind trap, spay/neuter, return and maintain (TNRM) for community cats and how it is the most effective solution for reducing the number of cats over time.

Several local colonies are over 60% smaller in number.  The San Angelo State Supported Living Center fixed their 101st cat recently.  This effort prevented well over 60 litters of cats in just one year.

Area citizens used their time, money and resources to prevent countless numbers of new cats that often ended up in the shelter. These four citizens are solving San Angelo's cat problem one small area at a time.  They closed their comments by asking City Council for support educating the public and assisting citizens with low cost spay neuter services, something other Texas cities have done.

Oddly, for the last two years the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee never asked to put community cat education on the agenda.  It never tasked staff to offer low cost spay neuter for community cats.  Collaborating with CritterShack on community cats has been absent from Animal Services' goals and objectives.

Instead the Committee and staff repeatedly catered to the desire of one member to know the location of cat colonies, even though this is not in the ordinance.  Here's the pattern:

September 17, 2015 -- Update on cat colonies.
December 3, 2015 -- Update on Trap Neuter Release Program.
April 21, 2016 Minutes -- Ms. Bennet requested information on the locations of community/feral cat colonies 
May 19, 2016 -- Discussion and possible action on the location for community (feral) cat colonies and points of contact . 
April 20, 2017 --  Discussion and possible action related to feral cat colony registration.
The City does not have a good history with cat colonies.   

City staff bypassed animal control ordinances in 2013 when it targeted the Mejor Que Nada cat colony for extermination.  Animal Control harassed a local cat caretaker who'd reduced the colony from over 200 cats to 55.  Animal Shelter Officers threatened her with arrest, something they are not legally allowed to do.

The ordinance arose from a need to offer legal protection to community cat caretakers to operate without harassment.  Many cat caretakers recall this history.  I don't blame caretakers for fearing the prospect of having their colony wiped out after spending significant time, money and energy to help cats failed by their human owners.

It is critical colony locations not be disclosed so people who hate cats are unable to target them.  It's important to deter people who seek to dump their problem on someone else by not revealing colony locations.  The City Animal Shelter called one colony caretaker and asked if it would be OK to tell citizens to dump cats at their colony.  The answer is a loud "No."

Animal Services Director James Flores lumped citizens who feed cats but don't neuter in with cat colony caretakers.  They are two very different groups.  One is solving the problem while the other is compounding it (feeding but not fixing).  It takes but a few questions to determine in which group they belong.  Kittens generally means it is not a colony, as caretakers trap, neuter and socialize weaned kittens for adoption.

Yes, the city has a huge problem with cats.  It's odd Animal Services is most interested in finding the names and locations of people working to solve it.  Animal Services has virtually no interest in addressing the vast areas of the city that have unaltered free roaming cats and un-managed groups of cats.  Sarah Bennett and James Flores shared two different un-managed cat sites.  Neither spoke to the people feeding but not fixing.  Both were in a position to seek information and provide coaching.  Neither did .

It was odd to hear Flores tell the board:

 "... we can't catch a feral cat.  It's impossible."  
I assumed animal trapping to be a basic skill set for an Animal Control Officer.  Caretakers successfully trap thousands of community cats each year.  Effective cat trappers include a number of women in their 70's and 80's.  I'll venture they'd be willing to train Mr. Flores and city staff.

Assistant City Manager Michael Dane suggested Flores ask nicely and he was sure the information would be provided.  Dane should be the first to refer to the existing ordinance and share why citizens and staff crafted it that way.  Dane should require city staff be clear and precise in their language when talking about what exists.

Effective leaders would share what's working well from both sides of the partnership and what the two groups agree would be an improvement.  That did not happen from Michael Dane, James Flores, Bob Salas or Animal Shelter Advisory Committee Chair Jenie Wilson.

Angelo State University President Dr. Brian May has a PhD in Animal Science.  He understands the benefits of managed community cats on campus.  He argued for the ordinance at City Council in early 2015.  With its passage the city appeared to return to collaborating with community cat caretakers, as it once effectively did under Shelter Director Leslie Hart.  That promise faded.

Flores revealed the number one citation given by Animal Control Officers is for not spaying/neutering.   Animal Services has a group of community partners addressing their top problem for free.

The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee would be better off leaving the existing ordinance and asking CritterShack how the City can collaborate on community cats.  The Committee is at a crossroads, one fork is real collaboration and the other the bureaucratic, controlling, bullheaded stance for which the city is infamous.  Which will it be?

Update 5-15-17:   Oddly the ASAC will take up community cats before they deal with the recent distemper outbreak at the shelter.   Last month Shelter Director James Flores educated the committee that loose dogs are impossible to catch but a loud bang of the hand on the side of a truck door will drive a dog home where the owner is then ticketed.  Flores didn't address the city's limited capabilities in dealing with packs of wild dogs that recently killed pets in the community.  The video will be interesting to watch.

Update 6-11-17:  Staff posted the ASAC minutes for 4-20-17.  It states "Mrs. Bennett asked if we found out who the cat colonies belonged.." and "Mrs. Bennett said the shelter needs to know where the animals are and who manages the colony."  The description of Flores comments has a distinction that I didn't hear when I listened to the meeting.  If I were a member I would consider the minutes inaccurate as Flores clumped people practicing TNRM in with people feeding and not fixing.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Mesquite Solar Project & MedHab Missing from COSADC 2016 Report

The City of San Angelo Development Corporation omitted the Mesquite Solar Project from its 2016 Year End Summary Report.  The project was unanimously approved on August 26, 2015 for an economic development incentive of $583,814.  Development Corporation Chief Roland Pena included an update for the board in May 2016.   It stated: "Still in due diligence, in process of securing PPA."  Pena had nothing to say about the project in his 2016 report.

A Development Corporation video may shed light on the project's status, which was planned for the land adjacent to the city's Industrial Park.  The Mesquite Solar Project, if developed,. would be on uncleared land just above the UP in Super Park (pictured at the top of this post).

COSADC's Year End Summary was also missing a MedHab update.  The company's story changed many times since City Council approved a $3.54 million economic development agreement nearly five years ago.  MedHab CEO seemed poised to bring promised jobs to San Angelo last year with his radio remark their medical rehabilitation product received Food and Drug Administration approval.

FDA approval is big news and worth posting on MedHab's news page.  Their most recent news announcement came on September 4, 2013.  It was also the milestone for MedHab to begin adding local jobs, up to 227.

There are no signs of progress for the Mesquite Solar Park which remains in the dark.  MedHab has been in reverse since it supposedly leapt a key hurdle fourteen months ago for assembling product and producing jobs in San Angelo.  

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

City Finally Informs Public of Deadly Distemper Outbreak

Public health requires effective surveillance for disease outbreaks and mobilization of resources to treat the ill, prevent exposure for those at risk and vaccinate the population.  This applies to animals as well as people.

The City of San Angelo's Animal Shelter is in the midst of a distemper outbreak.  Social media reports suggest distemper cases began weeks ago with a sick puppy being adopted out of the shelter.  Those same reports indicate local veterinarians knew of the outbreak as early as April 11th.  This information was not shared with the Animal Services Advisory Committee on April 20th.

Concho Valley PAWS, the contractor for shelter adoptions, released a statement on April 30th about the outbreak (Source:  San Angelo Live)

Puppies and dogs most often become infected through airborne exposure (through sneezing or coughing) to the virus from an infected dog or wild animal. The virus can also be transmitted by shared food and water bowls and equipment. Infected dogs can shed the virus for months, and mother dogs can pass the virus through the placenta to their puppies.
Local rescue Cassie's Place issued a warning about the distemper outbreak on April 29th at 6:15 am on their Facebook page.  Owners who read the warning were in a position to get their dog vaccinated against distemper.

All dogs are at risk but puppies younger than four months old and dogs that have not been vaccinated against canine distemper are at increased risk of acquiring the disease.
On May 3rd the City of San Angelo issue a press release regarding shelter closure due to distemper.

Initially, infected dogs will develop watery to pus-like discharge from their eyes. They then develop fever, nasal discharge, coughing, lethargy, reduced appetite, and vomiting. As the virus attacks the nervous system, infected dogs develop circling behavior, head tilt, muscle twitches, convulsions with jaw chewing movements and salivation (“chewing gum fits”), seizures, and partial or complete paralysis. The virus may also cause the footpads to thicken and harden, leading to its nickname “hard pad disease.”

Distemper is often fatal, and dogs that survive usually have permanent, irreparable nervous system damage.
Early notification is critical for dog owners to take appropriate action.

Canine distemper vaccine, one of the more effective vaccines, protects at least 90% of individuals to whom it is given.  Vaccination is crucial in preventing canine distemper.
Timely communication is important to save canine lives and prevent spread of a highly contagious, often fatal airborne disease.

The City delegated  communication to its adoption contractor.  Concho Valley PAWS does not operate the Animal Shelter.  After the problem became widely known in the animal service community the City finally issued its press release.

I trust the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee will ask questions to understand the course of the outbreak and evaluate the effectiveness of the city's response.  Oversight is their role and a deadly disease outbreak requires review.    

Update 5-15-17:  The City Shelter is again taking in dogs.  Dog adoptions will restart next week.  The news release did not state how many shelter dogs came down with distemper, how many with the disease had been adopted out, the status of the distemper cases and what the city plans to do to make whole citizens harmed by adopting shelter pets with distemper symptoms.

Update 5-18-17:   City staff reported they first learned of a shelter associated distemper case on 4-27-17.  The city's first communication occurred on 5-3-17, nearly a week later. 

Update 6-8-17:   Another bad story came out regarding the city's treatment of a beloved pet.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

City to Spend Big on Phase 2 of Industrial Park

The City of San Angelo Development Corporation board approved items for Phase 2 expansion of the Industrial Park.  The first act was the hiring of a grant writer/administrator to pursue federal funding.  The Grant Writer Request for Proposal (RFP) indicated the scope of the project:

The purpose of this project is to obtain assistance in developing a successful proposal in submission to Economic Development Administration’s Grant and response to all aspects of the grant implementation regarding the Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) grant for water, sewer, street, and drainage infrastructure improvements for Phase 2 of the City of San Angelo Business-Industrial Park. The total cost of the project is estimated at between $2.5 and $3 Million.
City staff selected GrantWorks, an Austin based company.  Grantwork proposed a $4,000 fee to write the grant plus 4% of the amount awarded for administration.

EDA documents show criteria for federal funding from 80% of the total project to 50%.  Using the city's numbers the maximum amount Grantworks could earn would be $96,000 for grant administration.  Add the $4,000 writing fee and the city could pay Grantworks $100,000.  The minimum amount Grantworks could be paid for administration is $50,000.  With the $4,000 grant application the total could be $54,000.

Oddly COSADC board member Todd Kolls questioned paying experts $100,000 a year when the city could hire someone for less to perform those duties.  Assistant City Manager Michael Dane responded, saying this would be the only grant the city has not administered by staff.  The city's accounting department and internal auditor assist departments with grant management duties but it is the department's responsibility to oversee any grant. 

No board member asked how Phase 1 came about, how the city pursued grants and managed those activities?  Economic Development Director Roland Pena informed the board that COSADC did not have staff to administer the grant.  Oddly, Mr. Pena's LinkedIn page states:

Director of Economic Development
City of San Angelo Texas January 2014 – Present (3 years 4 months) 

Plan, coordinate, and direct the City's economic and business development activities; develop and implement Strategic Plan, recruit, identify and develop new NAICS eligible businesses; develop and maintain economic development partnerships; negotiate contracts administer grants; oversee municipal economic development projects. 
After approving Grantworks the Development Corporation board tackled engineering services for Phase 2 expansion.  BREP Coordinator Bob Schneeman presented a two year timeline for project completion.   Schneeman revealed a Rail Spur will not be part of Phase 2. 

Staff chose Parkhill, Smith Cooper over three local engineering firms.  Staff did not project a dollar amount for engineering services for the $2.5 to 3 million project.

I take it the $110,000 sewer extension already approved by the COSADC board fits within the numerous activities to expand the Industrial Park.  It will be interesting to see a total for all these associated projects and the cost to buy engineering and grant administration, services the city could conceivably supply from within.

It was odd watching Roland Pena try to spin Grantworks as a local firm as they have an employee/contractor in the area.   The Texas Comptroller shows Grantworks as an Austin company with a President/Director in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land.

Pena tried to highlight PSC as local.  He said PSC's land surveyor lives in the area and would be coordinating the project for its Midland office.  RFQ documents show PSC in Lubbock.

More than one board member wanted the City to use local engineering firms when possible.  The city's depleted engineering department and massive demands for expertise (roads, sewer, water) means the vast majority of engineering work is outsourced.

I understand the need to bring in outside expertise at times, however the City of San Angelo seemingly needs consultants for almost any substantial project.  The Development Corporation is the latest evidence of this practice.

Update:  COSADC board also approved $165,000 for additional fiber optic telecommunications for the Industrial Park.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

San Angelo's Town & Country to Stripes to ?

San Angelo Live teased readers with the prospect of 7-Eleven taking over the town through a buyout of Stripes convenience stores. 

Town and Country Food Stores sold out to Susser Corporation in 2007.  New owners re-branded convenience stores with the Stripes name.

Susser monetized the company by selling a portion to Wellspring Capital Management and planned to spin off its petroleum supply business in 2012.  Susser sold all its divisions to Sunoco LP/Energy Transfer in 2014.  

A new moniker is on the horizon as Sunoco plans to sell separately San Angelo's Stripes stores, along with 200 odd stores that didn't make the cut for 7-Eleven ownership.  Two days ago the company reported:.

Assets being sold to 7-Eleven include approximately 1,110 convenience stores in 19 geographic regions primarily along the East Coast and in Texas, and the associated trademarks and intellectual property of the Laredo Taco Company and Stripes.  As part of the transaction, SUN will enter into a 15-year take-or-pay fuel supply agreement with a 7-Eleven subsidiary under which SUN will supply approximately 2.2 billion gallons of fuel annually.  This supply agreement will have guaranteed annual payments to SUN, provides that 7-Eleven will continue to use the Sunoco brand at currently branded Sunoco stores and includes committed growth in future periods.

Approximately 200 convenience stores in North and West Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma will be sold in a separate process
San Angelo's Stripes stores will learn of their new owner before the end of the year.  I wonder if former Town and Country CEO Alvin New will pull together an investment group to bid on the 207 stores 7-Eleven did not buy.  New is behind the Jack's convenience stores in San Angelo.  Might Stripes get jack'd?