Sunday, August 25, 2019

Council Talked Interest on Fund Balance, Not Current Balances

On August 13, 2019 City Council held a budget workshop on the major funds.  Council tackled water, sewer and solid waste funds at the beginning of the meeting.  They discussed interest income as coming from fund balance but not the amount the city currently held in those funds.  Water, sewer and solid waste fund balances are up $20 million since September 2016.

Finance Director Tina Diershke mentioned the water rate plan intended to fund new projects.  City residents paid dearly since this plan was enacted in 2016.

Water fund rose over $11 million through June 30, 2019, smashing the 75 day cash on hand target.

Sewer revenue rose and its fund balance grew.  The City refers to sewer as water reclamation.

Water reclamation fund balance rose nearly $6 million though the end of June, reaching $13.4 million.

Trash (Solid Waste) revenues and fund balance grew over the period.

Fund balance more than doubled for Solid Waste, increasing nearly $3 million.  With almost $5 million in the fund the city has 2.5 years cash on hand.  That's way more than 75 days.

San Angelo's City Council and citizens deserve a clear presentation on major fund balances as they are substantial.  Council is responsible for the strategic direction of the city and the annual operating and capital budget.  Going through a budget process without addressing these significant funds shortchanges elected officials and the interested public.  City staff have a history of doing just that.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Fires in Irion and Tom Green County

I saw the second wildfire of the day when I headed out for errands this evening.   This picture is from the Foster Road bridge over Loop 306.  The next picture is from Sam's Club parking lot.

Around noon I saw a fire west of Arden Road in Irion County.  I thought about stopping to take a picture but traffic on 67 prevented me from pulling over.

A few minutes ago I noticed ash had fallen on the hood of my truck.  It reminded me of the fires north of San Angelo years ago.  Stay alert and Lord, keep everyone safe.

Update 8-21-19:  San Angelo Live did a piece on the fires.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Council Should Hear Reasons for CAFR Restatement

The City's annual report overstated 2018 revenue in four major funds, water sales, sewer service, stormwater fees and solid waste service.  Both finance staff and auditors missed errors totaling $4.2 million until after the comprehensive annual report had been presented to and approved by City Council.

Finance staff did not state why the errors occurred in their memo to council and City Manager Daniel Valenzuela has the item on the consent agenda for 8-20-19.  Hopefully Mayor Gunter or members of City Council will pull the item for the public to hear.  Coming clean on errors, that would be excellence in financial reporting.  

Update 8-20-19:   City Council Representative Billie Dewitt asked city staff and audit accountant about this agenda item.  The auditor said city staff presented information differently this year that resulted in auditors overstating revenue for September 2018.  That makes sense for water, sewer and stormwater.  It is hard to believe 42.1% of solid waste revenue fell in the last few weeks of the fiscal year.

Update 2-15-23:  The City was honored yet again for its annual financial audit.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

City of San Angelo No Longer

The City of San Angelo no longer records the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee for the public to view on Channel 17 or the City's YouTube channel.

As a result I attended the 8-15-19 ASAC meeting at the new Fire Training Station behind the Animal Shelter.  Although the committee met in a new training room the audiovisual computer system was not operational.  In public comment I shared my desire to watch the committee's 4-18-19 discussion on American Pets Alive and was disappointed to learn the meeting had not been recorded.  

In late June I asked the City to:

Please provide all available documents, e-mails and other forms of written communication on the decisions: 1) to hold the 4-18-19 Animal Shelter Advisory Committee meeting in a different location than the Convention Center 2) to not record the meeting for the public to view
The City chose to not share substantive information regarding these two questions.  They appealed to  Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton requesting an Attorney-Client privilege withhold which was granted. 

Mayor Brenda Gunter was unaware of the city's decision to stop recording ASAC meetings, as well as a number of other boards/commissions.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela has to answer to City Council.  Decisions impacting openness of government fit under Council purview.  Many elected officials included openness in their election platform.  

After the April ASAC meeting the City engaged American Pets Alive  to reduce the number of exterminated animals coming into the shelter.  The Pets Alive model has twelve strategies of which the shelter chose to address four.  Community Cats is one of the four.

This is a welcome change for citizens practicing Trap, Neuter, Return and Maintain for community cats.  At times the Animal Shelter has taken an antagonistic stance toward TNRM under two shelter directors. Citizens received legal protection to practice TNRM in February 2015.  CritterShack gave City Council an update during a February 2017 meeting.

Former Shelter Director James Flores offered false information to the ASAC on Texas cities and their community cat efforts.   Flores distorted survey results toward his preferred end, a regulatory control community cat approach.  

Pets Alive's community cat model is aligned with TNRM and a huge change for the city.  Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden informed the ASAC on 8-15 that the city was already returning community cats to the field.  One would expect the Shelter to reach out to CritterShack Rescue, the only rescue doing TNRM under City ordinance and make them aware of changes. 

Pets Alive visited the shelter in late May.  The City has not contacted Critter Shack regarding community cats changes, however shelter contractor PAWS positioned the organization for community cat grants by fishing for cat colonies.  

The City no longer takes owner surrendered pets due to things like owner illness or death.  (ASAC approved 4-19-19)

The City no longer will euthanize a pet for a resident of San Angelo. (ASAC approved 8-15-19)

Pets Alive is a data driven model intended to reduce annual intake to 1,400 pets a year.  Aggressive spay/neuter strategies are the lever to reach this goal over time.  That takes time, energy and money, things the City of San Angelo generally lacks when it comes to animals.

One can solve problems or push them off on others.  I am aware of one citizen who is being dumped on by a "friend" moving to the East Coast.  My guess is the new mandatory owner surrender policy is a factor.  Moving out of town is not one of the approved reasons for animal surrender at City shelter. 

The City reduced Animal Services such that former Mayor Dwain Morrison listed the things the city no longer did for citizens in one Council meeting.  We have three new "no longers" for the former Mayor's list.  My guess is there will many more as the city imposes more bureaucratic means to constrain shelter intake (mandatory owner surrender process, optional stray surrender program). 

Update 8-19-19:  American Pets Alive emphasizes No Kill Shelters have an organizational culture of transparency.  

Update 8-19-19:  A public information request produced the following answer:  "The City of San Angelo does not have a policy relating to recording board meetings." 

Update 8-20-19:  City Council reviewed ordinance changes for boards and commissions.  The proposal changed expectations but was silent on recording meetings for the public to view.

Update 8-31-19:  The Animal Shelter reopened dog intake from the public.

Update 10-17-19:   American Pets Alive encourages collaboration with area rescues. One might expect Pets Alive to facilitate a meeting with rescues on issues/barriers and strategies to resolve them.  That hasn't happened and City contractor PAWS went public with the deteriorating relationship with local rescues.  Good leaders ask multiple why questions.  The obvious question is why is the shelter being overun with infants in a town with mandatory-spay neuter ordinance?   How many of those infants came from former shelter animals?

Update 12-4-19:  A friend visited the Animal Shelter and overheard a citizen needing to surrender their pets as they were going into Assisted Living.   This person was told that is not a valid reason for the shelter to accept this person's pets.  I hope that person shows up at City Council to share their customer experience with the City Animal Shelter.  Shelter contractor PAWS has their Helping PAW  program which assists citizens in times of crisis.  Shelter staff referred this person to other area rescues for help.  They did not offer PAWS as a possible resource.

Update 3-9-21:   The City refused to share documents and communications regarding its Community Cat Program in response to a public information request.  The ASAC postponed its February 2021 meeting, but on the agenda is reducing the intake of Community Cats due to lack of funding.   

Update 10-20-23:  The City of San Angelo's website has the ASAC bylaws (established June 2016) which state under Article IV City Liaison:

The liaison will be responsible for facilitating ASAC meetings to include providing a venue for meetings and coordinating with the city’s Public Information Officer to ensure meetings are recorded for future viewing by citizens.

The City may "not have a policy regarding the recording" of board meetings but the ASAC bylaws show it to be a requirement.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

City Fails to Inform Public: Animal Shelter Intake/Adoptions Stopped due to Illness

Yesterday evening Concho Valley PAWS posted the shelter would be closed for animal intake/adoptions due to sick animals in the City Animal Shelter.  It made the announcement via Facebook.  Earlier that evening PAWS Executive Director Jenie Wilson went on local television promoting the upcoming Clear the Shelter adoption event on Friday, August 16th from 10:00am to 6:00 pm and shelter changes.

Concho Valley Homepage added an update to their story after the Clear the Shelter event was moved to allow treatment of ill shelter pets:

The City of San Angelo is yet to produce any information for the public on the illness situation at the Animal Shelter.  Just before 5 pm the City Calendar suggested the program was still on for Friday, August 16th.

I returned to the City's website to find a calendar update around 8:00 pm but no information on the shelter being closed to intake and adoptions due to illness.  This is important information for the public to know.

The City did update an August 6th Facebook post with a new graphic.  I don't know how many people would scroll through eight days of posts and notice the change.

PAWS ED Jenie Wilson was to do a live remote interview on KLST's 6:00 pm news program.  I'll watch late news this evening to hear what she said.

Bottom line, it's the city's animal shelter and there is little communication on shelter animal illnesses, stopping intake/adoptions and the now September 7th event, which begins at 10:00 on the updated graphic and 2:00 pm on the City Calendar.

Update 8-15-19:  The City put out a press release on the situation at the shelter.  The release said the decision was made today vs. two days ago per PAWS Facebook page.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Judge Gilbert's Ener-Tel Consulting Gig

Municipal Court Judge Allen Gilbert retired in March after 44 years of service.  The city held an extended celebration for the esteemed judge before quietly rehiring him as consultant for $60,000 per year.  The judge performed outside work for over a decade while employed full time as a public servant.

The City eventually became an extra gig for the enterprising Judge post retirement. Judge Gilbert next showed up at Ener-tel as Consulting General Manager and President of Ener-Tel Services. 

City of San Angelo policy states:

All fulltime employees must obtain prior written approval from their manager/supervisor before any outside employment is accepted. Employee requests for approval to accept outside employment, including self-employment, must be submitted in writing to the employee’s manager/supervisor by completing the Dual Employment Request form which can be obtained from the Human Resources Department. The request form requires listing any pertinent information about the outside employer, the nature of the job, and the hours of employment.  Employees are not to solicit or conduct any outside business during paid working time. 
The City had no record as to when they officially adopted this policy.  San Angelo's City Clerk indicated the policy had been in effect when they started in 2014.

City records reveal Ener-tel e-mailed the City's Engineering Department in regard to their new shop building and permanent fencing.  The first communication happened in early December 2018 with a followup in January 2019.  Both times Ener-tel included Judge Gilbert among the recipients.  As the issue stood outside Judge Gilbert's court responsibilities one can conclude the Judge was working for Ener-tel.

Ener-tel owner Scott Wisniewski e-mailed Judge Gilbert in April 2018:

First, thank you again for taking the time to meet with us to improve communication and service between our entities. I would also like to offer any help and assistance we can provide to bring all parties(city, county, ASU, SAISD, etc) onto a camera system to create more efficiencies and overall safety to our city. 
It appears Ener-tel employed Judge Gilbert as a consultant between April and December of 2018.  Wisniewski's first e-mail to Gilbert occured in December 2017 and came after the Standard Times did a story on the Judge's spice business.

By 2016, Judges Choice rubs were in more than 150 H-E-B stores and nine barbecue joints, making the circuit of various cooking competitions and about 80 small "mom and pop" stores.  For now he's enjoying wearing multiple hats and living multiple dreams..
The Judge had at least two outside gigs while employed full time with the City of San Angelo.  He did file a Dual Employment Request with his supervisor and City Human Resources for his spice business, doing so in January 2018.

That means the Judge was aware of the form and his obligation to complete it.  He did complete it on 1-3-2018, his 43rd year of city employment.  Gilbert had conducted some of his outside work for at least a decade.  Judge Gilbert's supervisor City Manager Daniel Valenzuela chose not to sign the Dual Employment form.

The Judge had one public admonition for failure to follow city policy prohibiting sexual harassment:

On the morning of November 8, 2006, Judge Gilbert, while reading the local newspaper, noted an advertisement for a local “gentleman’s club” announcing the upcoming performance of an exotic dancer with a name very similar to that of the assistant city prosecutor assigned to his court.

Judge Gilbert shared the advertisement with several people employed by the city and over whom he had supervisory authority. Together, the judge and several city employees created their own flyer out of the advertisement in an effort to make a joke at the city prosecutor’s expense.

The flyer consisted of a letter-sized copy of the original advertisement promoting the exotic dancer, along with the following captions added to the bottom of the page by Judge Gilbert’s court staff involved in the prank: (1) “Let her take your law into her hands!” (2) “Let her handle your case!” and (3) “[She] wants to prosecute you!”

With Judge Gilbert’s tacit approval, several of these flyers were placed in public areas around the courthouse.

That same morning, the city prosecutor saw the flyers as she arrived at the courthouse and began removing them from where they had been posted.

According to the city prosecutor, when she inquired as to who was responsible for posting the flyers, Judge Gilbert told her that he had found the advertisement in the paper that morning and stated he “could not resist.”

Following the meeting with the city prosecutor, Judge Gilbert carried an unknown number of the flyers to the headquarters of the San Angelo Police Department, where he posted at least one of the flyers on a door, and left a second one with a senior officer.

The city prosecutor, having been told that the flyers had been posted at the police department, proceeded to that building where she observed Judge Gilbert as he was leaving.

When the city prosecutor arrived at the police department, she found a dollar bill attached to one of the flyers, placed there by someone at the department, not Judge Gilbert. She removed the offending flyer.

That afternoon, the city prosecutor accompanied Judge Gilbert and another court employee to Mertzon, Texas, where Judge Gilbert was to preside over the court docket for that city.

Upon arriving in Mertzon, Judge Gilbert shared the story of the flyers with court personnel. Additionally, Judge Gilbert’s employee informed those present that an additional comment had been considered for the poster, to wit: “She wants to beat your case,” or words to that effect.

On November 11, 2006, Judge Gilbert was placed on paid leave by the San Angelo City Council, pending an investigation into the incident.

On December 5, 2006, the city council voted to suspend Judge Gilbert without pay for two weeks, finding that he had violated the city’s policy against sexual harassment and citing his “bad judgment” and “irresponsible behavior” in the matter.
The Judge's Mertzon work was not declared until January 2018, even though he was publicly admonished for behavior in the Mertzon Courthouse the afternoon of November 8, 2006.

Gilbert violated City policy by not completing the Dual Employment form for his Ener-tel consulting work prior to leaving City employment.

Judges are to declare conflicts of interest.  How many decisions did Judge Gilbert influence to the advantage of Ener-tel while he was paid by both Ener-tel and the City of San Angelo?