Monday, January 30, 2017

COSADC's Hiebert Politely Questions City Engineer

COSADC President Tommy Hiebert asked about the length of time it took city staff to design and seek bids on a sewer line at the city's Industrial Park.  City Engineer Russell Pehl referred to the project as "relatively straight forward.  It's just a straight line sewer main with three manholes and it's about 1,500 foot long."

1.  COSADC approves project - February 24, 2016
Consideration of authorizing the City of San Angelo Engineering Services Department to design, prepare all bid documents and oversee the bidding & construction of approximately 1,260 linear feet of 8” sewer main at the San Angelo Business and Industrial Park, the estimated cost of the project to be approximately $110,000.  The motion carried unanimously seven (7) ayes to zero (0) nays
2.  City reaches MOU with Engineering Department - August 3, 2016

3.  Contractor bids open - February 14, 2017

COSADC President Tommy Hiebert expressed remarkable control.  That may have been the most polite dressing down I've ever seen.

I did find it odd that Pehl mentioned a specific contractor, Darnell Construction as excited and ready to get going when bidding is still open.  That may be Russell's next coaching from above.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

City Investigations Brief and Unsigned

Twice the City of San Angelo conducted investigations into potential malfeasance, $6 million in unauthorized billings by the city's trash hauler Republic Services  and the unapproved purchase of over $100,000 in Water Department furniture for the renovated City Hall.  Neither document is signed.  It's not clear who conducted either investigation.  One is undated while a date appears to be in the title of the other.

Both documents are brief, one page for the Republic unauthorized charges investigation and three pages for the Furniture Fiasco.  San Angelo Live sought more information on commercial trash over billing, while I researched the furniture debacle.

Oddly, Water Chief Will Wilde's leaving in the wake of the furniture situation made room for Ricky Dickson, a key player in long term trash unauthorized billing.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela chose to promote Dickson five months after the trash fee revelation.  Did he know at the time that Dickson had been made aware of the over billing in 2011?  That would've required a thorough and competent investigation.  

Friday, January 20, 2017

Citizen Gets City to Share Details on Hirschfeld Settlement

An interested citizen queried city leaders on basic details of Hirschfeld Energy Systems economic development settlement with several City entities.  City Council's background packet contained was missing all numbers other than the $1.4 million settlement.  The resolution referred to attorney fees and refunds due to the city and its development corporation but provided little else.  Fortunately, Steve Hampton asked city leaders to paint the picture for the public, otherwise it would not have happened.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

City Knew in 2011 of Unauthorized Republic Fees

San Angelo Live reported city leaders knew trash hauler Republic Services charged fuel fees above those allowed by city ordinance.  Operations Director Ricky Dickson investigated a commercial complaint in August 2011 that should've caused concern that Republic wasn't complying with the contract and city ordinances in place at the time. 

Dickson and Trashaway dropped the unauthorized fees from one customer's bill.  That move set the stage for Republic to say it owed $6.5 million in refunds for customer over payments.

Fraud:  wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.
City Manager Daniel Valenzuela should have known this information after April 15, 2014, when the public became aware of unauthorized fees Republic charged commercial customers.  The city's internal investigation cited Republic's Environmental Recovery Fee, which had never been authorized by Council.

What happens when city leaders uncover fraud but turn the other way like Ricky Dickson?  A mere five months later Valenzuela created a new Executive Director of Public Works job for Dickson, waiving the Professional Engineer requirement for the second time.

At the time of Dickson's promotion in September 2014 I wrote:

Frankly, I wonder what price the community will pay ten years from now from the leadership combination of Valenzuela-Dickson.  I expect it to be significant.
The city hired Ricky's son Brandon as Assistant Director Water Treatment Plant last summer.  This upgraded position is roughly $37,000 higher in annual pay and comes with the potential for two $5,000 bonuses for certifications required to be considered for the position.  Brandon's pay started at $92,950.  Oddly, Ricky told a reliable source that Brandon would return to city employment in January 2016, before the search process began.

Republic perpetrated a $6.5 million fraud against commercial customers.  The unauthorized fees investigation provides evidence of Ricky Dickson's choosing to support a vendor vs. acting in the wider public interest.  The investigation came from outside City Hall.  These two facts should be concerning to the public and elected officials. 

Update 2-17-17:  Investigative journalist Wayne Dolchfino and San Angelo Live continue asking questions about the city's work in this arena.  City Public Information Officer Anthony Wilson produced a defensive piece that ignored the issue raised in this post as to why the city only refunded one customer in 2011 when responsible leaders learned of the unauthorized billing.   

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Council to Consider Less Recycling for Increased Bulk Pickup

San Angelo's city staff will propose changes to trash collection for Council to consider this Tuesday.  The 1-17-17 City Council background packet states:

Providing every other week bulk pick‐up and every other week collection of recyclable.  

Provider shall manage the initial delivery of one additional Recyclables cart for each residential address that subscribes to waste collection services.  Delivery of additional Recyclables carts shall occur only if requested by a residential customer that subscribes to waste collection services. Residential customers that request delivery of one additional Recyclables cart shall not be charged for delivery provided the request is made within 6 months of the effective date.
 Citizens who fill their recycling cart every week can get a second cart delivered free.

If a customer desires additional cart(s) beyond one for Acceptable Waste and one for Recyclables, then City may charge such customer for the carts in accordance with the fee schedule approved by City Council.
The city provided Exhibits A and F to clarify fees.

Exhibit F leads one to belief the second recycling cart will cost citizens as the base price only cites one recycling cart.  Exhibit A states:  Additional cart fee – recycling (beyond 2 carts).

For now it appears current citizens can request a second recycling cart and not be charged extra.  What happens after the six month window?  Will citizens have to pay both a delivery and monthly fee for an extra recycling bin?

Update 1-19-17:  Citizen's must watch to ensure fair and appropriate treatment as the city and vendor have a history of not doing so.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Hirshfeld Energy Ready to Refund City $1.4 Million

San Angelo City Council will entertain a resolution delineating the distribution of the $1.4 million refund from Hirschfeld Energy for the failure of former joint venture Martifer-Hirschfeld to fulfill new job promises.  The city and Hirschfeld reached agreement in May 2016.

The resolution states the $1.4 million will be reduced by the cost of attorney fees, which were split evenly between the City of San Angelo and its Development Corporation.  City Council documents do not specify how much attorney's fees cost.  It will be interesting to hear if that comes out during Tuesday's meeting. 

Update 1-20-17:   Local citizen Steve Hampton asked for details on the settlement, otherwise this information would likely not have been shared.