Saturday, September 16, 2017

Railway Museum Closed for City Sponsored House Cleaning


San Angelo's Railway Museum is not open today, the day after the museum's lease with the City of San Angelo expired.  A sign on the entrance door stated the museum is closed for cleaning and suggested readers come back next Saturday.

This post appeared on the Railway Museum's facebook page on September 4th. 


The City sponsored housecleaning started September 5th when it rebuked Board President David Wood in full public view.  Wood resigned later that evening in a called Board meeting.  Volunteer Executive Director Shannon Carpenter resigned less than a week later.


Downtown San Angelo is promoting the Railway Museum for an event next weekend and for the upcoming Christmas Holidays.  Mayor Brenda Gunther also lends her time to Downtown San Angelo.

City Council will entertain lease renewal at their September 19th meeting but it's hard to believe the nonprofit museum can reconstitute itself in such a short period of time to be worthy of a twenty or fifty year lease.

Oddly the September 5th City Council minutes omit public comment from then President David Wood.

Motion:   Council Member Hiebert made a motion, seconded by Council Member Thompson , not to renew the lease related to 703 S. Chadbourne .
It does not mention that he spoke much less the points he made after introducing himself.


Wood We've been working closely with Daniel (Valenzuela - City Manager) and Cindy on getting all the figures and stuff together for them, that they asked for.  They told us there would not be a problem with renewing the lease.  So this is quite a surprise.  May I ask why?

Valenzuela:  Theresa (James - City Attorney), he's asking why we are not renewing the agreement.  So, he is asking for a response on that.

James:  That was issues that we were discussing in Executive Session and as attorney-client privilege requires I am not able to discuss it in an open meeting, nor will they discuss it as well.

Wood:  Y'all can't say why that just last week Daniel was saying everything is fine.

James:   I will say that in the meantime since you had the meeting with Daniel issues have came up that have degraded our belief that it would be prudent for the city to continue that lease.

Wood:  There's going to be a large campaign going on then, I guess through the media, that we will start today working on. If this release is not renewed let me assure you there will a large community outcry about it.  We've done everything we've been asked to do.  We had a problem with the lady that Daniel asked to come up and be the go-between between with the city and the Depot.  She just did not perform the duties as she said she was going to.  We've hired an Executive Director to take over that and we've been keeping Daniel and Cindy apprised of everything.  We've got everything ready to present to y'all.

We were told it wouldn't be done until next meeting.  We were told there was nothing on the agenda for this meeting.  So this is quite the surprise that this comes up like this.  We've got all the money shown and how where we're going to raise it as you asked for Mayor. We've got projections shown for.  We've been working with ASU even though they don't work with nonprofits normally.   ASU Small Business Development  made sure everything was up to snuff on everything in our business plan.  So this is quite the surprise that y'all decided to not renew this lease.  

Wood sat down and council voted.  The minutes recorded:

The motion carried unanimously seven (7) a yes to zero (0) nays.
Let the record show what a difference a day makes.

Update 9-19-17:  The City gave a decimated Museum board six months to get its act together after the city ran roughshod over the Museum's volunteer leaders 

Monday, September 11, 2017

City Engineer Speculated on Bell Street Project's High Bid


City Engineer Russell Pehl broke the bad news to City Council about bids for Bell Street reconstruction coming in way over his engineering consultant's estimates.  Pehl underwent repeated questioning as to why bids came in high for water and sewer work.


He said he could speculate why the bid came in much higher than estimated. Why would Pehl need to speculate when the contractor submitted bid pricing per city specifications?  The bid sheet broke out specific work for both water and sewer (wastewater).



This is not the first time city staff came across as clueless and uninformed before city council.  A professional engineer should be able to explain the difference between city engineering estimates and a construction bid, especially one that came in nearly a third over budget.  Homework, research, analysis and preparation beat speculation, especially in the engineering world. 

Railway Museum Runs Further Off Track



Volunteer Executive Director Shannon Carpenter resigned after a month with the Railway Museum.  She either could not pull together a fractious board or splintered it with her bombastic e-mails.  The volunteer board declined the opportunity to pay her $85,000 a year to serve as their paid executive director.

Still no word from former Board President David Wood who has to be considering where to take his giant sized railroad set and possibly a defamation lawsuit.  An understanding city management gave the new board President until Friday to submit a business plan worthy of a 50 year lease.  In six short days the City decimated San Angelo's Railway Museum. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Could David Wood Learn from Ken Landon?


The City of San Angelo's treatment of Railway Museum President and founder David Wood made me wonder what strategic moves remain for Wood and the Railway Museum.  Several years ago waterlily expert Ken Landon considered taking his considerable private collection of water lilies out of San Angelo.

Locals worked a deal to create a private organization for the lilies which the city actively supports. The proposed 2017-18 operating budget has over $100,000 for water lily garden operation.  Also, the city's website has numerous references to the waterlily garden.  One states:

One of the jewels of the Central neighborhood is the world-famous International Waterlily Collection, owned and operated through a contract by the City of San Angelo.
The City posted plans on its website for upgrading the Sunken Garden Park area:


The Waterlily website states the following about the legendary Ken Landon:
Ken has been growing, perfecting propagating techniques and hybridizing some of the most amazing waterlilies the world has seen.
He is the founder of the IWC (International Waterlily Collection) and the IWPR (International Waterlily Preservation Repository).
A nonprofit search on Guidestar failed to find a 990 for either of Ken's organizations.  A search of the Texas Comptroller site produced information on the second organization, the International Waterlily Preservation Repository.


The report showed its franchise tax involuntarily ended and someone in that organization would need to request the right to conduct business in the state of Texas.  How does this compare with the city's stance on the Railway Museum? 

The decision to let the lease lapse on Sept. 15 was based upon both those concerns and the museum’s failure to maintain its legal sufficiency.
Both David Wood and Ken Landon are passionate enthusiasts in their respective areas.  Both committed significant personal time and resources to developing and sharing their specialties with area citizens.  I imagine both men would rather focus their time on their passion, not on the details of running an organization.

Ken got the city to support him, as I recall by threatening to leave.  People in the community helped expand his operation and are currently developing plans for a secure lily garden area.

Nonprofits cycle through functional and dysfunctional times. They deserve to deal with challenges privately and outside the public view.  That did not happen with the Railway Museum board, partly due to the pressure of eviction from city property.

David got the city's ire to the point it simply refused to do business with him.  Reports from San Angelo Live revealed significant conflict within the organization, at the board and paid leadership level.  Healing from such levels of conflict does not occur quickly.

The City of San Angelo debased museum leadership in a press release.  City Council members would not speak but the City Attorney hinted at problems with Mr. Wood at the September 5th City Council meeting.   In public comment Wood expressed surprise at the inconsistency of City Manager Daniel Valenzuela and promised a vigorous campaign.  That's all the public heard from him prior to his resignation as Railway Museum Board President.

David Wood no longer heads a nonproft but he retains his passion for everything railroad and his significant collection of historical items.   Surely a community in West Texas has a historical depot building he can help fill.

Ken Landon survived numerous dark days with little official city support for his waterlily passion.   Might David Wood recover from the city switching signals and ensuring a Railway Museum train wreck?

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

City Goes After Railway Museum President David Wood

Anyone who has attended San Angelo's Railway Museum knows the critical role Board President David Wood has played in that operation.  His tours reveal his deep knowledge of San Angelo's rail history and the extent of his personal commitment to the operation as many exhibits are personally owned by Wood.

The railway museum is in the historic Santa Fe Depot and the nonprofit railway museum has operated there for over twenty years.  It's been an all volunteer operation.  The City no longer trusts the museum's number one volunteer who has challenged the city for not meeting its maintenance obligations under the lease.

Oddly, the city gave its auditorium to the San Angelo Performing Arts Council (SAPAC).  It provided $6.2 million in funding and another $1 million in historic tax credits.  The City gave SAPAC years to meet its fundraising goals before forking over millions in direct taxpayer subsidies.  Why the dramatic contrast in support?

City Council will need to explain why it fell over backwards for SAPAC while knocking the railway museum off the rails.  Both nonprofits enrich the community.  Both bring "heads to beds," tourists to town so they can rent hotels and buy meals.

Back in May San Angelo Live reported:
Wood and his board of directors are concerned that the city may be making a move to evict the 20-year-old museum of railroad history for a corporate suitor. 
City Council took the first step toward eviction with its action not to renew the lease.

What happens next with the old depot is up in the air. Rumors are that the City is interested in leasing or selling the old depot to a private company, such as Texas Pacifico, who runs a real railroad operation here. Spokeswoman for Texas Pacifico Liz Grindstaff said her company currently has a lease on their existing location and any speculation about leasing the depot is premature.

City Manager Daniel Valenzuela should recall the pain former Assistant City Manager Liz Grindstaff caused him with her role in the Furniture Fiasco, the unauthorized purchase of over $100,000 in Water Department furniture.  That debacle occurred in Valenzuela's first City Council meeting.

Grindstaff coordinated City Hall renovations, which originally excluded the city auditorium as it was in "good condition."   She left the city to join Texas Pacifico Railroad, which city staff recommended helping with a nearly $250,000 economic development incentive.  After City Councilman Winkie Wardlaw opposed the incentive Liz Grindstaff ran for his seat and won.

City Manager Daniel Valenzuela's investigation into the unauthorized furniture purchase hardly met the standard of competency.  It failed to answer the most basic questions and is unsigned and undated.  Yet yesterday Valenzuela had his attorney ignore the city's log like failures while pointing out the stick in David Wood's eye.

Time will reveal the city's true intentions. The Railway Museum Board must try to read the tea leaves.  If the city is intent on making money from real estate tossing David Wood off the board would make no difference.  It would be sad if the city's opaque approach splintered an all volunteer group with a noble mission.

It's incumbent on City Council to make their intentions clear.   The public can infer the city wants David Wood gone.  The question is do they want the whole operation out as well?

The Railway Museum does not have the city's PR resources which have already been unleashed in surprise attack fashion.  It does have over twenty years of goodwill in the community it can mobilize.  Will David beat Goliath?

Update 9-6-17:  A splintered railway museum board gave city staff the fodder it needed to not renew the lease.  So far all the communication has been from the anti-David Wood camp.  Goliath drove David out.  He resigned last night from the museum board so the organization has a chance to renew the lease.  It has an uphill climb to convince City Council the organization has revamped. 

Update 9-19-17:  The City gave a decimated Museum board six months to get its act together after the city ran roughshod over the Museum's volunteer leaders

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

City Council Booted Railway Museum and Deliberated Budget Public Hearing Behind Closed Doors


San Angelo's City Council looked secretive and unwilling to share the most basic deliberations in today's meeting.  The Executive Session agenda had two items where Council took action but shared no information.  The first involved real property at 703 S. Chadbourne..

b. Section 551.072 Deliberations about Real Property regarding 703 S. Chadbourne 

c. Section 551.071(2) consultation with attorney regarding 703 S. Chadbourne 
Council returned to public session and voted not to renew the lease at 703 S. Chadbourne.  The City  never identified the current occupant in the agenda or council discussion.  That is not honesty or transparency.

Railway Museum Board President David Wood heard about the move and cancelled two doctor appointments to attend.  His testimony informed the public watching live, not City Council or staff.  Wood offered public comment expressing his dismay at the turn of events.  When asked why, i.e. what were council's deliberations, Wood was told that information was under attorney-client privilege.

City Council hid behind attorney client privilege only to have staff produce a slick, scripted press release on the matter.  The press release quoted the same City Attorney who told Mr. Wood the reasons were confidential.  She did not hesitate to share information on Council's decision via news release.

City Council is the accountable body and it should not hide behind attorney-client privilege.  It should not delegate its responsibility to inform the public to a press release.  City Council held deliberations and took a vote in a public meeting.  They need to state the reasons for their action, which cancelled the Railway Museum's lease ten days before it is due to expire.


Oddly, staff moved the mandatory public hearing on the 2017-2018 budget to executive session from the public agenda.  The following item was moved after a nearly two minute silence. 

e.  Discussion and consideration of matters related to the fiscal year 2017‐2018 operating budget including:

1. First public hearing and introduction of an ordinance of the City of San Angelo approving and adopting the budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2017, and ending September 30, 2018. This budget will raise more total property taxes than last year’s budget by $1,540,425 (4.29%), and of that amount, $635,425 is tax revenue to be raised from new property added to the tax roll this year.

2. Conduct a separate record vote to ratify the property tax revenue increase reflected in the budget and place the adoption of this tax rate on the agenda for the September 5, 2017 regular meeting of the City Council as an action item. (T. Dierschke)
It's hard to vote and put the item on the agenda for September 5th when it is September 5th.  The shift to executive session was likely a procedural move due to poor planning.   However, it would be interesting to hear deliberations from Council on an item intended for the public to hear and make comments.  Citizens did not get that opportunity.

Mayor Brenda Gunther and City Council looked off step on the budget item and mean spirited on the Railway Museum.  They serve the public and should not hide behind staff.  Deliberations, even procedural ones, should be shared. 

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Parts Budget Up $200,000, Contract Renewal Nears


San Angelo's City Council will take up a $200,000 increase in repair parts when they return from the Labor Day holiday.  This is significant as the City contracted out its parts department three years ago.  At the time it promised City Council a financial impact analysis.  That never came and when asked the city could not produce one.  It simply referred to vendor's pricing structure and a contract that had the City of Odessa as an example.

The parts department contract is up for renewal as it expires on 9-26-17.  Now would be the time for this City Council to hear the financial impact of contracting out the parts department for the last three years.   They learned of the arrangement August 8th in a Budget Workshop meeting.


This City Council has no members that approved the concept in May 2014.  There has been 100% turnover in elected leadership.  A financial impact presentation would ensure an informed renewal and that council remains complaint with purchasing ordinances.  It may not be required within the letter of the law, but ethically, the spirit requires it.

Update 9-5-17:  There were no deliberations on this item as it was on the consent agenda and no member of City Council pulled it for discussion.  In their August 15th meeting no member of City Council wanted to know why the cost for repair parts increased $200,000 for the current fiscal year.  That held for September 5th.  

Update 9-15-17:  City Council will not take up contract renewal for vehicle parts department operation in their 9-19 meeting.  The city produced no additional financial information.  I wrote my City Council representative with my concerns but am yet to receive a response.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

No Financial Impact Exists on Parts Department Outsourcing


San Angelo's City Council approved contracting out its vehicle parts department in May 2014.  The consent agenda item had no presentation and was supported by a two page memo that said:

The financial impact will be finalized through the negotiation process.
That financial impact is nowhere to be found. When asked to produce the promised financial analysis city staff sent a copy of the signed contract.

The information requested is in "Section 7" of the contract, per the department
Section 7 is simply the pricing plan summary shown above. Assessing financial impact is Assistant City Manager/CFO Michael Dane's territory, not the Parts Department.  No credible financial officer would consider a vendor's pricing structure a financial impact analysis.  However, that is the city's position.


Oddly, Council's shadowy decision occurred in the midst of the city's rush to renew its trash contract with Republic Services. The Vehicle Maintenance Fleet Parts and Supply Management RFP was due April 9, 2014.  City staff opened trash bids the end of March only to learn Republic had over-billed commercial customers for over a decade.  That fact did not deter staff or council from their headlong rush to renew. 

With the public upset over the trash situation I'm sure city officials were relieved that no one raised the most basic questions regarding contracting out parts.

City Council remained out of the loop on the Parts Department until a recent strategic planning session.  As the contract is up for renewal now would be the time for city staff to show a three year financial impact analysis.  That the promised information does not exist should be concerning to city council and citizens wanting effective local governance.

Operations Director Shane Kelton is over both trash and vehicle maintenance.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela signed both agreements.  Mr. Valenzuela is not known for his investigative abilities.   His investigative reports are light to the point they've been unsigned and undated.  These facts might explain why no financial impact exists in City Hall.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Sales Tax Budget Varies Widely in Two Weeks


San Angelo's City Council heard two sales tax stories in recent budget sessions.  On August 22nd staff proposed a 3% sales tax increase over current budget for the city's general fund.  On August 8th staff proposed a large decrease in sales tax revenues for economic development. 


So which is it, a projected 3% increase or a large decrease?  It cannot be both.  Sales tax revenue for the development corporation and general fund are directly correlated. 

Using the general fund assumption of $17 million in sales tax revenue for the coming year the Development Corporation would have $8.5 million.  That's $650,000 more than budgeted.

There's a disconnect between 2017-18 sales tax projections in staff budget presentations.  City Council and the public deserve a consistent story from staff.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Murky Vehicle Maintenance Contract to Renew in September


Nearly three years after the City of San Angelo contracted out its vehicle parts department City Council heard information about the arrangement.

In May 2014 City Council approved negotiating with NAPA-Barron Services for vehicle parts and supply management.  The item had no discussion and passed in the consent agenda upon motion by Don Vardeman and seconded by Charlotte Farmer.

The background packet stated:

"The financial impact will be finalized through the negotiation process."
I requested this information after hearing Operations Director Shane Kelton describe the arrangement.  The city could not produce any documents showing the promised financial impact of this arrangement.  It did produce a contract which differed from details shared by Kelton.

"That management fee is set.... about $40,000."
The contract calls for NAPA Barron to be paid in two ways:

A search of the city's website produced amounts paid to NAPA for a six month period.  There appears to be two checks per month and over the half year period the city paid NAPA nearly $500,000.


Hopefully City Council will get the promised financial impact before the contract is renewed.  The initial three year period is up on September 26, 2017. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Water Board Gets Partially Consulted


San Angelo's Water Advisory Board heard a consultant's presentation on the Water Utility Master Plan (at a maximum cost of just under $315,000) before considering the hiring of another consultant for a Water Supply Engineering Feasibility Study (at a maximum cost of just under $575,000).  During the second presentation Water Chief Bill Riley showed a slide titled "Current Water Supplies."

The city's current surface water supplies are ample.
Lake Nasworthy - 8,069 acre feet
O.C. Fisher - 15,164 acre feet
O.H. Ivie - 120,056 acre feet
Twin Buttes - 22,070 acre feet
E.V. Spence - 72,508 acre feet
                      (source: Water Data for Texas)
Those sources currently hold 237,000 acre feet.  Mr. Riley's slide showing a mere 13,820 acre feet would be way off on any truth meter.  His slide would be better titled "Estimated Safe Yield" for water planning purposes.  The Water Advisory Board needs to plan for lots of non-rainy days.   It has a super conservative number to use going forward.

Board member Kendall Hirschfeld recalls our serious water predicament as a City Council member.  He understands the need for finding more water sources for our community, as does the state of Texas.

The 2017 Texas State Water Plan has the following projects listed for San Angelo:


Direct and/or indirect reuse for municipal use - $150,000,000  (year 2020)
Hickory Wellfield expansion in McCulloch County - $27,104,000  (year 2020)
West Texas Water Partnership - $39,175,200  (year 2030)
Desalination of other aquifer supplies in Tom Green County - $57,967,000 (year 2050)
Hirschfeld expressed his concerns about Water Board members being out of the information loop on critical development projects.  Our water board cannot hear updates on the West Texas Water Partnership and its possible $40 million price tag.  Updates on the Hickory Wellfied expansion are not allowed as the city may be suing Alsay and Carollo Engineering for their work on six additional Hickory wells which should have been completed in 2016.   It's hard for a board to do its work with incomplete information.

Planning not to run out of water is hard work and expensive.  It must also be irritating for citizens volunteering their time and expertise to be out of the loop on major projects, regardless of how good the reasons.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Twice in City Council Budget Meeting Staff Offered Mayor Old Numbers


For the second time in City Council's budget planning meeting Mayor Brenda Gunther asked for the current fund balance in a major fund and staff gave a year old budget projection.  The Water fund has over a $3.1 million fund balance as of 6-30-17.  There are at least two high margin months left in the fiscal year, July, August and September.

July's water sales came in at nearly $2.2 million, a virtual repeat of a highly profitable June which experienced a $1.5 million profit (on $2.1 million in water sales). 

Assistant Director Water Utilities Allison Strube shared how revenue is highly seasonal and revenue/profits occur mostly over our dry summer months.  This means City Council has to be patient to see if  the city will sell enough water at the end of the budget year to meet projections.  Strube said water revenue is on target to meet projections.

My longtime point has been that it makes no sense look at the Water fund balance in winter or spring to consider giving citizens water rebates  Any water rebate discussion should come after the money gusher and before staff can transfer overflowing water funds to other accounts. 

July is over and the accounting books have been closed.  The City's Water Fund balance could easily be over $4 million with two good months remaining. 

The Mayor asked for actual numbers.  City staff offered a budgeted fund balance number nearly a year old.  It happened first with the Solid Waste fund, then with the Water fund.  The city's not wanting to reveal current fund balances to Council or the public is beginning to look like a pattern.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Kelton Defers on Solid Waste Fund Balance


Operations Director Shane Kelton presented the need for the city to build its fund balance to fund an expanded or brand new landfill.  Shane got the obvious question from Mayor Brenda Gunther, "What's your fund balance now?"

Kelton's reply:  "I'd have too....  Do you have the Bluebook Tina?"

Discussion continued on various ways to expand the landfill while Finance Director Tina Dierschke flipped through paper.  Rather than give the current Solid Waste fund balance of nearly $2.5 million with three months left in the fiscal year, Dierschke gave the projected budget fund balance for year end of just over $2. 5 million.


Mayor Gunther clearly asked for the current solid waste fund balance.  The $2,463,745 could grow another $200,000 if the current spread of revenue over expenses continues as it has for the first nine months of the fiscal year.

I find it odd staff cannot answer a simple direct question, one that should be easily anticipated within the city's highly recognized budget process.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

City Council to Consider Building Fund Balances


City Council will consider the 2017-2018 budget for major departments on Tuesday.  Both the Water and Solid Waste budget have excess money going to increase fund balance.  Yet, city staff failed to provide a current fund balance for either fund.  The City sold lots of water in June and continues to make big money off late charges.  It has nearly $3.2 million in the Water Enterprise fund balance as of the end of June.  As dry as July has been I expect that number will soon be much higher.


The Solid Waster fund has nearly $2.5 million as of the end of June.  These numbers should be part of a conversation as citizens pay the freight for the continued building of fund balance. 

Saturday, August 05, 2017

City Council to Hear about Economic Development Funding on 8-8-17


Economic development was the major theme at City Council's strategic planning session on 7-27-17.  The City's Development Corporation conducts economic development for San Angelo.  It is funded by a voter approved, half cent sales tax.

Sales tax proceeds rose significantly during our oil boom 2014-2015 and fell afterwards.  City staff present regularly to Council and the Development Corporation on sales tax proceeds, as it is an important funding source for both entities. 

City Council will hear a budget presentation on  August 8th.  The presentation highlights major departments including the Development Corporation. 

The Development Corporation is primarily funded through the type B sales tax, 72% of which is earmarked for ballot projects and 28% of which is allocated for economic development initiatives. Staff proposed sales tax at a large decrease which subsequently decreased both the ballot and economic development expenses in order to balance.
A slide shows budgeted sales tax revenues for the current year of $9 million.  I couldn't find this number anywhere in city documents.


It's not in the proposed COSADC budget. Nor is it in the City's most recent monthly financial report, which indicates both an original and current budget.  Staff already revised sales tax proceeds down nearly $800,000 for the current fiscal year.


Staff will present the new $9 million number to City Council, which includes a former Development Corporation board member who approved last year's budget of $8.85 million.

The current fiscal year has two one-time gains, $1.1 million from the Hirschfeld-Martifer settlement and $1.6 million from asset sale gains.  These two items won't reoccur.  However, MedHab's economic development package with the city, originally estimated at $3.6 million, could expire in 2018.  Add back the city's planned support for OneEnergy's Mesquite Solar farm and more economic development funds could be freed up.

As of June 30 the Development Corporation had $14.5 million in cash and investments on its balance sheet.  These funds could cushion the projected sales tax decline from the current budget of $240,000.

Also, the last six months show signs that sales tax revenues could be stabilizing.  There might not be a shortfall at all.

Budgets tell stories about the present and the future.  I look forward to hearing the story of the $9 million and its precipitous fall of $1.15 million.  It might be a barn-burner..

Update 8-20-17:  The latest sales tax figures for COSADC show this revenue source is back on track.  Sales tax proceeds increased 13.5% from last July, putting the development corporation just over budget with two months left in the fiscal year. 

Update 8-22-17:   The $9 million sales tax projection came from April 2016.  City staff did not say why budget staff went so far back to fish out a number that has since been revised twice. 

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Resignation Letter Submitted Six Days Before Cancelled ASAC Meeting


Citizens turned out for the June 15, 2017 Animal Shelter Advisory Committee meeting.  Their opportunity to be heard died due to lack of quorum.  The failure to achieve a quorum rested on the committee's former chair, who sat in the audience.

The Standard Times story on the non-meeting addressed Ms. Wilson's surprise resignation, which referenced her not having "enough hours in a day."  For those who are curious her second resignation letter from the ASAC is below.  Only Bradley Petty, ASAC member, got left off her e-mail. 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Kendrick, Bryan
Subject: FW: Resignation from ASAC
From: Jenie Wilson
Sent: Friday, June 09, 2017 1:29 AM

To: Flores, James ; Salas, Robert ; 'Mo Soupiset' ; 'Faye Doepp' ; 'Sara Bennett' ; David Howard ; 'Dr Schulze'  

Subject: Resignation from ASAC 

Dear Mr. Dane, Mr. Salas, Mr. Flores and Animal Advisory Board Members, 

It is with much regret that I submit to you my letter of resignation of service to the Animal Services Advisory Committee. It has been an honor to serve with you and I know you will continue to strive to be a positive force of change for the welfare of the animals and good of our community. 

I visited with Mr. Flores at length earlier this evening, and he shared with me concerns that some of the advisory members expressed this evening regarding a statement I made to Standard Times Reporter, Ms. Rashda Kahn in reference to the injured dog that was euthanized on Saturday. I offer my sincerest apologies to anyone who took offense to my statement. Despite this unfortunate incident, I still have great respect for the Mr. Flores and the positive changes he has made for the San Angelo Animal Shelter. I understand that difficult decisions must be made every day and I do not envy the positions that he and his staff are put in daily. I will always acknowledge and praise the good work I have seen, however when I feel something is wrong or could or should have been handled differently, it would be wrong of me to stand silent. Silence has never brought forth positive change. 

As a representative of rescue, I will not always agree with the decisions made by people in the animal control industry and that is acceptable, as I am sure people who work in animal control do not always agree with the perspectives of rescues. But a mutual respect and desire to achieve a common goal can make a working relationship possible and successful. I hope that even though I disagree on occasion with San Angelo Animal Control, we can remain focused on our common goal to end the killing of adoptable pets. Mr. Flores has accomplished a great deal since he took over the shelter and I know there is more that needs to be done and more he wants to do. I wish Mr. Flores and the advisory board the very best in achieving these goals and I hope PAWS can continue to be a part of advancing adoptions though our partnership. 

For months you have heard me advocate for animals. You’ve heard me express a desire to help show the value that these lives have. I have said on many occasions that the only answer to our community’s complex issues with animal control is to put the responsibility back on the owners or guardians of these animals. That is a belief in which I stand firm. However, when humans fail these animals, I believe all of us have an ethical responsibility to protect them, aid them and shelter them, and I believe animal control should lead in that role. 

At this time, I do not think it is appropriate for me to continue serving in the capacity of chairwoman of the Animal Services Advisory Committee. I believe I can achieve more and be of greater assistance by focusing on my work with Concho Valley PAWS. 

I have enjoyed working with you and have had the privilege to learn from each of you. I am very grateful for the opportunity you have allowed me. 

Respectfully, 

Jenie Wilson
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

City staff said her first resignation letter was not available.  Yet the Standard Times wrote:

"First appointed to the committee on Feb. 18, 2009, and resigned Aug. 19, 2010, citing a conflict of interest." 
It was a conflict of interest for a newly hired rescue leader to serve on the Animal Service Board.  That conflict has only grown more egregious with the city paying the same rescue $60,000 a year for adoption management.


Minutes from the August 19, 2010 Animal Services Board meeting show Wilson resigning at the end of the meeting, just prior to adjournment.  Anyone wanting to make public comment got their opportunity that day.

The minutes refute City Clerk Bryan Kendrick's recent assertion that Wilson served out her allowable term the first go round.  He shared his belief at the City Council meeting where she was reinstated to the board.

The last official Animal Services Advisory Committee meeting had the former director outright lying to the board and public.  There's lots of air to clear since that May meeting.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

City Council to Consider San Angelo's Latest Water Study


San Angelo's City Council will entertain hiring Alan Plummer Associates, Inc. to fulfill RFQ WU-3-17 at a not to exceed price of $547,000.  Proposals were due January 24, 2017.

The purpose of this project is to assist the City of San Angelo in developing a plan of action to address its current and future water supply needs. The primary goals of the project are to: 
  • Evaluate San Angelo’s current water supplies and develop a plan for future use of these current supplies; 
  • Identify potential new water sources and water management strategies; 
  • Evaluate risk factors associated with new water sources and water management strategies; 
  • Develop planning-level project concepts of new water sources and water management strategies, including preliminary opinions of project development costs and operations / maintenance costs; and 
  • Prepare a Water Supply Engineering Feasibility Study that presents a comparison of options for meeting existing and future water supply needs for the City. 
San Angelo City Manager Daniel Valenzuela waived the engineering qualification required of the top two water positions.  His first waive enabled Ricky Dickson become our local Water Chief.  After kicking Dickson upstairs to Executive Director of Public Works Valenzuela waived the engineer requirement again for current Water Chief Bill Riley. 

Water Director Bill Riley wrote several months ago:

2017 will be spent pursuing that next water source, improving infrastructure and fortifying the Water Utilities Department’s financial standing.
City Council will consider an engineering proposal that focuses on finding our next water source(s) but it comes at significant cost, a nearly $550,000 maximum.  That will eat up some of the current $3.2 million in Water Enterprise fund balance as of 6-30-17.

The city last hired Alan Plummer in 2014 to conduct a study on using reclaimed water.  The study had a not to exceed price of $190,000.  City Council contracted with Alan Plummer for the direct potable use pilot study at a cost of $1.2 million. The Water Advisory Board did not go through with the use of reclaimed water.

The Water Advisory Board learned of the city's $43 million purchase of the Ford Ranch over the Hickory Acquifer at the same time as the general public.  In May 2016 the Water Advisory Board began narrowing down possible water projects for serious consideration.


After the city hired Riley it has gone on to hire/pay consultants for numerous projects

Raftelis - Water Rate Study for an initial $90,000 + a $17,000 add on (November 2014)
CDM Smith - Water Master Plan $314,460 
Gateway Planning - Lake Nasworthy development  $335,000
Consider Riley's background as a water consultant:

He served as the water and wastewater utilities manager at College Station for 11 years, although he worked for the municipality for about 17 years.

From 2000-02, Riley managed the water and wastewater consulting practice of Reed, Stowe & Yanke, providing financial, management and operations guidance to public sector clients, the release stated.

For the past 12 years, Riley served as president and general partner of Water Resources Management LLC — a water resources consulting firm that helps water utilities develop strategies for their operational, management, financial and resource challenges, according to the release.
So the city hired a non-engineer water consultant who has repeatedly hired other water consultants. I don't expect this pattern to end anytime soon.

Update 8-7-17:  The Water Advisory Board will hear a report on the CDM Smith study on 8-9-17 and consider approving the $547,000 study by Alan Plummer.

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. 

Update 7-31-17:  Ms. Wilson's resignation letter was sent on Friday, June 9, 2017 at 1:29 am to Michael Dane, Bob Salas, James Flores and five members of the ASAC.  Oddly, current ASAC member Bradley Petty was not included in the e-mail list.  The scheduled meeting for June 15, six days after her resignation, was not held.

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.