Sunday, February 18, 2018

Money Used to Hire PAWS Needed to Hire PAWS Again

Former Shelter Director James Flores sold contracting shelter adoptions to Concho Valley PAWS for $60,000 per year.  A year ago Flores justified the expenditure:

“Majority is coming from chemical medical …We no longer have a veterinarian. We no longer perform surgeries. Majority of money is coming from that line, chemical-medical.” 
Council members Lane Carter, Lucy Gonzales and Harry Thomas heard the above rationale given by staff January 17, 2017.

Unfortunately more changed than Flores represented.  Changes resulted in numerous shelter pets going without rabies vaccinations and spay/neuter surgery when adopters missed veterinary appointments.

City Council will hear a proposal for the city to pay PAWS $50 per pet for veterinary services.  The memo from Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden indicated veterinary services would be for adopted pets.

It does not say if the fee applies to all adoptions or just unaltered pets.  If the $50 fee is only for unaltered pets the projected amount paid to PAWS is nearly $66,000.  If it applies to all adoptions PAWS would get roughly $88,000.  The difference amounts to $22,000.  Why would the city pay PAWS $50 if the pet only needs a rabies shot?  (Projections are based on 2017 Animal Shelter statistics)

Morgan's memo is silent on which organization pays for anesthesia, medical instruments, medical supplies, sterilization of equipment and post surgery pain medicine/antibiotics and IV fluids.  If these are the city's responsibility then chemical-medical costs return..

It is ironic the cost savings used to hire PAWS will return as expenditures under a different PAWS arrangement.

City staff needs to be clear regarding details of the proposed arrangement.  The memo is not a contract and the background packet does not contain contract language for City Council to review and approve.  The memo to Council lacks important details regarding the arrangement.

It is missing historical and projected expenditures for restoring in-shelter spay/neuter services, as well as historical and projected volumes.  This is odd given Morgan's background as Budget Manager for the City of San Angelo.

On 12-19-17 the city stated in response to a public information request:

100% of dogs adopted have had their rabies vaccination.
This statement came under question after area veterinarians cited a high rate of missed appointments for shelter pets.  Those appointments included vaccinations and spay/neuter surgery.

In December friends found two unaltered dogs whose microchips cited the City Animal Shelter.  One dog was no longer with their adopter.  He'd given the dog away, making followup problematic if not impossible for city staff.  No spay/neuter meant no rabies vaccination for these two dogs.  Area rescues received other unaltered, unvaccinated shelter pets in the last few months.

City ordinance states (per the 2-20-18 background packet):

All animals adopted from the animal shelter shall be spayed or neutered and microchipped prior to release.  No animal shall be eligible for adoption unless spayed or neutered and microchipped.
As I sought to confirm the city's assertion of 100% rabies vaccinations I learned staff had not held PAWS accountable.  The city does not have in its possession information on rabies vaccination compliance (Texas law) or spay/neuter compliance (local ordinance).  Nor has the city compelled contractor PAWS to produce such documents.

Animal Services has provided an update that this (rabies certificate) is not a document of the city – an external vendor provides these services.
The City has been unable to produce documentation supporting Morgan's statement to City Council on 1-23-18 regarding a "trusted reconciliation process that ensures all shelter pets are spayed/neutered."  The city said the reconciliation is "done digitally" and therefore "no documents exist."

Morgan's memo for the upcoming Council meeting shows the changes became standard practice for the city:

We currently contract with PAWS to provide adoption services which includes coordinating off-site rabies vaccinations, spaying and neutering of adoptable animals.
This is not what the city required in its initial RFP for Adoption Services.  It specified rabies vaccinations be given before the pet leaves the shelter.   Had the rabies shot been given in the shelter the certificate should be in the city's hands, not the contractor's.

The bottom line:  Morgan's memo confirms changes which result in no rabies vaccination when a spay/neuter appointment is missed.  The unresolved question remains how many shelter adoptions remain unaltered and unvaccinated?

I find it interesting the PAWS veterinary contract came before council so quickly after the issue of unvaccinated and unaltered pets came to the fore.  Damage control involves denying problems while working a rapid fix.  It feels like a rush to patch/repair in the midst of an obfuscation campaign intended to diminish legitimate compliance concerns.

Update 10-17-19:  San Angelo Live did a shelter story yesterday.  It came as City staff prepare for PAWS contract with the shelter to expand in size and scope.  Local rescues and area citizens filled in what Live reporters missed.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

City Wants Television Studio in City Hall

The City of San Angelo issued an RFP for a new television studio.

Provider agrees to provide Services for the development of a television studio in the City Hall Annex, 301 W. Beauregard Ave., San Angelo, Texas. That includes a comprehensive and integrated system of audio-visual technology that enhances video productions broadcast on the City’s government access television channel and posted on the Internet; and to provide maintenance services for the A/V system for a period of five years.
A former City Council approved a new audio visual system from Rushworks in May 2015 at a cost not to exceed $325,000.  The Rushworks' system was installed in November 2015.

A portable system that includes four cameras, switching equipment and a wireless audio system will allow the recording of meetings in other locales, such as last year’s strategic planning session at Fort Concho. 
That rational did not apply to the Development Corporation's recent strategic planning meeting. No one in City Hall would accept responsibility for not recording this meeting in another locale.

Not long ago City Council added to this system by approving a new camera and audio equipment for SAPAC and the City Auditorium.  Media Rushworks got the nod to add to the current system.  The 1-9-18 memo from PIO Anthony Wilson stated:

The total cost of the video recording and streaming system in the Murphey Performance Hall in City Auditorium is $63,633. 
The new RFP due 2-6-18 requires:

1. The vendor will design a comprehensive and integrated audio/visual studio set-up in Suite 202A in the City Hall Annex. The City will use some of its existing inventory of cameras.
2. The system must include the following: remote camera controllers, switching equipment, easily manipulated on-screen graphics (such as titles), studio lighting that enhances broadcast quality, high-quality audio (including a mixing board), touch-screen technology, high-def screens and monitors, a connection to the computer server for the City’s Public Education and Governmental Channel (PEG) channel, and a sound booth for recording voiceovers.
3. The system must produce video files that will be compatible with the Public Information Office’s television channel server. Specifications for the server will be obtained at the mandatory site visit.
4. The system must provide for real-time live streaming from the studio on the City’s website and social media, and on its TV channel.
5. The vendor shall provide a five-year warranty and a maintenance agreement.
6. The proposal must be turnkey in nature, from the design to the equipping to the installation to the training and maintenance.
7. The installation must not interfere with the work of the Public Information staff in two adjoining offices. 

The project is expected to cost from $200,000-$300,000 and take 90 days to complete.

City Council will have spent $550,000 to $650,000 in three years on video recording equipment.  Style does have a price.

Update 3-3-18:  City Council will hear a proposal to spend $294,000 on its new TV studio.

Update 3-6-18:  City Council passed the item unanimously.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Proclaim Public Compliance Data on Spay/Neuter

City Council proclaimed February Spay/Neuter Awareness Month in its February 6th meeting.  Elements of the proclamation included:

Despite the declaration San Angelo's Animal Shelter changed processes which harmed the compliance rate for spaying/neutering shelter pets.  Shelter data from 4-1-17 to 11-30-17 revealed 688 dogs were unaltered and needed spay/neuter surgery by area veterinarians.  Two veterinarians cited numerous missed appointments for City adoptions, such that 100 pets missed their initial spay/neuter surgery and rabies vaccination.

Mayor Brenda Gunther asked for statistics on missed spay-neuter appointments and received a number of answers.  Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden started off with "rare", said she might need to defer to PAWS, upped it to "occasional" and then referenced a trusted process with reconciliation on who needs to be fixed and who does not.  The Mayor did not get any statistics in response to her question.

The City does not have information to share from the trusted reconciliation process Chegwidden cited before City Council.  When asked to produce such information the city replied:

In accordance with the Public Information Act of the State of Texas, Animal Services has response that they do not have a record of the requested information.  The reconciliation process does not create a document.
Eight months of Animal Shelter 2017 data showed 75% of 988 dogs adopted left the facility unaltered.  Direct information from area Veterinarians and their staff produced the 100 dogs with missed appointments number.  That doesn't sound like a reconciliation process that one can do in their head. 

The question is what happened to those 100 dogs?  Did they go on to get another appointment, one the pet owner honored?  Did they die as implied by Morgan before City Council?  Did they not get spayed/neutered and are contributing to the animal overpopulation problem plaguing our city?

These questions remain unanswered despite efforts to obtain data/information from city staff.  I expect the city to ensure shelter compliance with State Law (Rabies) and City Ordinance (Spay/neuter) as part of any contract.  When asked for copies of rabies certificates for dogs adopted between 4-1-17 and 11-30-17 the city replied:

Animal Services has provided an update that this (rabies certificate) is not a document of the city – an external vendor provides these services.
This answer is odd given the RFP required pets get their rabies shot in the Shelter prior to adoption.  That would imply the shot record is the city's, especially as the agreement is silent on the matter of records, who keeps what and how those are maintained.

It's a poor answer for citizens expecting open and accountable government   Surely the City of San Angelo wishes to assure the community that all pets adopted from the shelter had their rabies vaccination, especially after the rabid skunk incident in PaulAnn.

It's disappointing the City is being so opaque on such a basic performance standard, Animal Shelter compliance with the law.

Update 2-16-18:  City Council will review Animal Control ordinances on 2-20-18.  Information in their background packet shows the following ordinance:  "All animals adopted from the animal shelter shall be spayed or neutered and microchipped prior to release."  Council failed to put to bed the issue of unvaccinated and unaltered pets leaving the City Animal Shelter in 2017.  Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden defended the practice in the 1-23-18 City Council meeting. 

Update 11-19-19:  Assistant City Manager Michael Dane offered a regular report on shelter compliance with state law and local ordinance as a compromise in yet another expanded RFP for Adoption Services for Concho Valley PAWS.  Will he produce the report prior to Council deciding on the coming RFP?  I doubt it. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Economic Development Enters Tumultuous Year

Economic Development Director Roland Pena resigned two days after presenting the 2017 Development Corporation Annual Report to City Council.  His resignation will become effective at the end of the month.

It was interesting to hear him comply with COSADC bylaws by giving the annual report in the specified time frame, something Pena avoided for years while the City of San Angelo sued Hirschfeld Industries for nonperformance on the Martifer economic development agreement.

Director Pena seemed excited about two items in his report, ACT Work Ready program and the AEP development in the city's Industrial Park.  Might either of these organizations become his future employer?  Pena worked for AEP in the past.

Not mentioned were two potential challenges facing the Development Corporation in 2018.  MedHab's economic development agreement ends in August and Hirschfeld's obligation to construct a rail spur must occur this year.

Hirschfeld Industries new owner is Alleghany Capital, which bought the company from Insight Equity.  Alleghany merged Hirschfeld into another steel making affiliate, WWSC Holdings based in Oklahoma City.  Alleghany Capital acquired WWSC in April 2017 for $164.5 million. 

WWSC Holdings is "one of the largest structural steel fabrication and erection companies in North America.  Headquartered in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, W&W|AFCO provides fabricated steel through six state-of-the-art facilities for use in large construction projects primarily in North America."
A SanAngeloLive story on the Hirschfeld-WWSC buyout  referenced the failed joint venture with Martifer

Not building wind energy towers, or hiring as many employees as promised, didn’t sit well with the City of San Angelo Development Corporation. The City wanted a refund from Hirschfeld for Martifer’s incentives.

Soon, the City hired a Dallas law firm and filed a lawsuit against Hirschfeld. Dennis said he felt blindsided by the lawsuit and the bad press his company was receiving from the City of San Angelo.
The recent COSADC board strategic planning session was not recorded for the public to view but  notes from the session show Mr. Pena saying:

Hirschfeld’s rail spur has to be built this year. They have to submit their fulfillment every year. They have until March to submit this. This year is the year for MedHab’s contract to expire as well.
It's not clear what impact Insight Equity's flipping of Hirschfeld Industries might have on their rail spur commitment and employment levels.  Companies merge in part for cost saving synergies.  WWSC does not need two corporate offices, one in Oklahoma City and another in San Angelo.

The addition of Hirschfeld places Alleghany Capital in position to profit from massive infrastructure projects envisioned by President Trump.  Alleghany Capital is a wholly owned subsidiary of Alleghany Corporation.  It oversees investments on behalf of its publicly traded parent.

It will be interesting to hear about Roland Pena's next move.  I bet it won't be with Hirschfeld or Alleghany Capital.  However, Texas Pacifico might need someone with Roland's connections.  That said, I've been wrong before and will be again.

Update 3-31-18:  New COSADC board member Elizabeth Grindstaff brokered the settlement with Hirschfeld that required construction of the rail spur.  Grindstaff is an executive with Texas Pacifico railroad.  It will be interesting to watch her role relative to Hirschfled's commitment, especially if they once again fail to meet their promise to the city.  Grindstaff is yet to make the Development Corporation website.

Update 6-14-18:  City Council discussed Hirschfeld's agreement in its June5, 2018 meeting, doing so in executive session.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Huge Water Rate Increase Started Before 1-1-18

City water rates went up January 1, 2018 without a peep from City Council.  When our water bill arrived I was shocked by the increase.  The water portion of our January bill soared 11.6%.  The breakdown of the city's rate change is shown below:

I didn't expect the bill to go up so much since roughly half the usage would've occurred under the old rate had the bill been prorated.  I asked New Water Chief Allison Strube if I was charged the old rate for water usage from 12-18 to 12-31-17 and new higher rates for 1-1-18 to 1-18-18.  Strube informed me the bill was not prorated.  Thus our water rate increase occurred on 12-18-17, nearly two weeks earlier than indicated.

Council last addressed water rates in November 2017 when it tackled late fees and the water deposit.  That same month Council refused to give citizens a rebate from chronically high water bills.  It took creativity for staff to reduce $6.76 million in water funds to $3.58 million.

In December 2015 City Council approved an 11.5% increase in 2018 water rates, which was supposed to raise the average bill by $7.32 per month.  Our water bill rose $10.58 from the prior month and came in one tenth of one percent higher than what Council approved.

The current council did not address the automatic January increase.  They've been hand's off on water bill relief for citizens. 

Friday, February 02, 2018

Development Corporation: Available Funds Balloon for 2018

San Angelo's Development Corporation received a windfall in its January meeting.  First, TimeClock Plus returned $326,000 in incentives in return for the city cancelling the economic development agreement.

Second, COSADC's board approved adding $650,000 in improved sales tax revenue expected this fiscal year to the budget.  This move eliminated the odd discord in sales tax projections between the City and Development Corporation.

Improved sales tax and the TimeClock Plus refund means COSADC has nearly $1 million in extra funding to mobilize.

Third, MedHab's $3.6 million economic development agreement will expire August 2018.  The Development Corporation projected MedHab would use $796,250 to ramp up Steprite production.  That hasn't happened in the last five and a half years.

Nearly $1.8 million in Development Corporation funds could be re-purposed this year.  That makes the January 5, 2018 COSADC board strategic planning meeting more important.  Unfortunately, this meeting was not recorded for the public to view.  City Staff wrote:

The meeting for 1-5-18 was a workshop that was held at the BRC, it was not a meeting recorded by our Public Information team.
PIO Anthony Wilson created an expectation that new video equipment would enable the city to record meetings held outside Council Chambers in August 2015.  At the time Public Information staff estimated equipment cost at "up to $325,000."

Wilson sold Council by saying the new system would allow them to video meetings in rooms outside council chambers.
The city has the capability to keep the public informed of board strategic planning discussions.  It chose not to do so for the Development Corporation which looks to have roughly $2 million in extra funding.

Update 2-3-18:  TimeClockPlus announced an executive change.  Ernie Nabors replaced Jordy Moorman as President of the company.  Moorman served in that role for the last three years.

Update 2-11-18:  Economic Development Director Roland Pena resigned his position effective at the end of February.