Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Council Bristles on Hiring Five CSIs to Meet TCEQ Requirements

The City of San Angelo has an August 3rd date to respond to three of the four deficiencies cited by the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality for toxic chemical intrusion into the public water system in February 2021.   Staff never shared the TCEQ report findings in a public meeting and the required dates for response.  Today's budget session tackled the customer service inspection requirement and the number of staff needed to perform the work that has gone undone since at least August 2016.

Water Chief Allison Strube requested five new CSI positions during the discussion.  Council members mostly felt a jump to five was too great.  There were no TCEQ representatives in the budget session to educate Council members on their cross connection control program failures and actions needed to meet those standards.  Note:  City staff ignored these water standards for nearly five years and the public paid a very severe price for this extended incompetence.   

Mayor Gunter did not want money diverted from the capital account to pay for the five staff members.  No council member noted the current $28.5 million fund balance in the water operating fund.  Citizens paid higher and higher water bills for the last seven years for water that could easily have been contaminated due to city staff and leadership negligence.

On February 10, 2021, the City's Customer Service Department identified a meter, associated to Lone Star Beef, as showing a reverse flow (Attachment #6). 

The 3-meter accounts between December 1, 2020 and February 10, 2021, showed an estimated eighty (80) single hour events, instances with a negative consumption amount, totaling approximately -1,372,838.2 gallons of reverse flow. The account records showed forty-five days of zero ( o) readings as the total daily consumption, and six (6) "No Reading" listed as the total daily consumption. 

How many citizens drank, washed their hands or bathed in water that flowed backwards out of a meat processing plant?  No City Council member expressed a public concern about this finding.  

I hope TCEQ representatives watch the July 27th budget session.  It reveals city staff not being straightforward on TCEQ's investigative report and a reluctant city council in providing the public a competent water department and safe water supply.

Fixing gross incompetence comes with an urgency and a price.  There's little will to push and pay, and no energy for accountability.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Staff Conducted Community Cat Theater for ASAC

Backstory:  The City of San Angelo Animal Shelter reduced intake via multiple changes in 2019.  This reduction in services caused citizens to search for other ways to address their pet issue.  Many needed help finding a new home for their animal.  The Shelter began referring newly excluded pet cases to area rescues.  Staff printed up and distributed a list of rescues with contact information. 

Area rescues quickly became overwhelmed by calls from people needing to get rid of their pet(s).  Several rescues asked shelter staff to no longer give out their contact information.  They eventually issued a cease and desist letter to garner compliance.  

In early June Councilperson Lucy Gonzales asked staff to share what they do to help citizens with cat overpopulation problems.  

Community Cat Theater:   Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden revealed the shelter contributed to the overpopulation problem by releasing unaltered cats into neighborhoods.  She also referred to the cease and desist letter in her memo to Council.  The  6-15-21 City Council background packet stated:

Animal Services is required to refer callers to a sponsoring organization and scan cats for microchip. Referring citizens became difficult as certain sponsoring organizations issued a cease and desist letter in October 2019 prohibiting animal services staff from referring citizens. 

Morgan never contacted Critter Shack Rescue in 2019 to explore how to refer citizens under the community cat ordinance in light of the cease and desist letter.  

Critter Shack representatives saw Morgan's information in the City Council background packet and contacted her via e-mail on 6-11-21:

Morgan- I see on the next City Council agenda that there is an item that suggests that Critter Shack (an unnamed rescue that is the contact for community cat colony registration) has refused to allow our contact information to be given to community cat caretakers for information about cats or about registering colonies. While we did ask that shelter personnel refrain from giving our our name and number multiple times a day a year or two ago when these people were refused help at the shelter, resulting in dozens of calls many days for all of our area rescues, we never asked that colony caretakers who needed information about registration or advice be turned away. The many, many calls that we were receiving that were referrals from the shelter were primarily about dogs; I remember none that were requests from colony caretakers. We are fortunate to be able to offer some concrete advice and help for those people who are interested in learning more about TNR and we are happy to do so.

We are the contact for many caretakers who are actively practicing TNR, through our web site, through our low-cost spay/neuter clinic, through our partnership with Cassie’s Place for our West Texas Fix program that entirely focuses on cats, through our new voucher program, “Fix Your Critter,” and through our efforts in outlying communities to offer free or very low cost spay/neuter services to many caretakers. We deal successfully with hundreds of colony caretakers in the Concho Valley and any suggestion to City Council members to the contrary is simply untrue. We have an ever-growing list of caretakers and offer as much assistance as we possibly can to these men and women. Since the passing of the ordinance that offers some protection to the caretakers, our programs have focused on providing help to these colony caretakers and a large part of our annual budget is aimed at helping colony caretakers and cat owners in education, financial assistance and low-cost spay/neuter programs. If you or Council members have any questions about our caretaker registrations or programs, I would be happy to meet with you to discuss our efforts in these areas. The ordinance has been a step forward in protecting caretakers who are actively working with TNR and the cats in their care.

Members of City Council received the above information on 6-12-21.  Anyone viewing the ASAC meeting video will realize Morgan deliberately misrepresented the situation to a volunteer public board.  

Morgan had significant assistance in offering inaccurate information from Health Services Director Sandra Villareal, who ironically chaired the ASAC subcommittee that developed the community cat ordinance.

Morgan and Sandra distorted the development of the community cat ordinance and did their darnedest to paint Critter Shack Rescue in the worst possible light.  Morgan's boss Bob Salas sat in the audience as their sick theater unfolded.  He may have been the choreographer.  If not, Salas never rose to challenge any of the false information.

Sandra knows the ordinance does not limit community cat sponsorship to only one organization.  PAWS had over six years to meet the requirements to be a community cat sponsoring organization under the ordinance.  They chose not to do so.  However PAWS began fishing for cat colony managers in 2019 with the promise of a spay/neuter coupon.

Oddly, "Silent Bob" Salas presented the community cat ordinance to City Council in February 2015.  His memo to Council mentioned the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee but had no mention of Critter Shack Rescue.  The ordinance was expressly not written for Critter Shack Rescue, as erroneously stated by Morgan.

So why the theater?  Because the city's exclusive animal services partner does not play well with other rescues and doesn't want to meet the requirements to be a community cat sponsoring organization.  PAWS only wants to meet some of the stated requirements  That's why Morgan offered that very suggestion.

Morgan would be wise to consider that PAWS wants to serve all the animal needs for the city as a paid contractor.  That could put Morgan out of a job.  

Critter Shack received zero funds from the city for serving as the only community cat sponsoring organization since February 2015.   The Shelter's release of unaltered cats for nearly three months cost Critter Shack and cat colony managers money.  They paid real dollars to fix unaltered cats dumped by the city.  Also, the Animal Shelter did not inform Critter Shack or the public that it was releasing unaltered cats into San Angelo neighborhoods, an absolute no-no in the community cat world.

Their is no need to character assassinate the only local rescue helping San Angelo citizens conduct trap-neuter-return, the very solution Morgan proposed to City Council to deal with nuisance cats.  Yet, Morgan and Sandra did just that, with Bob Salas sitting silently in the room.  

Who was not invited to City Council or the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee to talk about resources to help citizens with cat problems?  Critter Shack was not invited.  I can only conclude the aim is to demean via  false narratives.  An invitation would bring actual information to City Council and the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee.

Morgan has long had no interest in collaborating with Critter Shack Rescue on community cats.  The city started community cat Return to Field without contacting its only sponsoring organization.  Three e-mails over four years is the sparsest of communication, especially for a public-private partnership that costs taxpayers zero dollars.

The shelter continued choking off intake in 2021 and even considered not accepting community cats in the April ASAC meeting.   .

Mayor Brenda Gunter believes the program City Council approved will not work.  She has reason to be concerned given PAWS poor performance in their veterinary services contract for the city.  

Community Cat people know trap-neuter-return works to reduce cat colony populations and improve behavior in areas where people wish to co-exist with cats.  Angelo State University and San Angelo State Supported Living Center have long had successful community cat colonies.  

The ASU Cat Coalition website states:

  • Since February 2012, through spay/neuter, adoption and attrition, we have reduced the cat population on campus by over 65 percent.
  • We have prevented over 4,000 new kittens, 64 litters and subsequent litters.
  • 226 cats have been vetted.
  • Through our partner, Critter Shack Rescue, we have adopted 131 kittens/cats that were social or socialized by our coalition members into good homes.

At this time, 39 cats remain across campus.

It took much more than a six month pilot and $5,000 to achieve these results and that was with all volunteer staff.  The City will pay overtime to animal control officers to trap.  PAWS does not have Critter Shack's knowledge, experience or resources for community cats.  But they do have Morgan's ear. 

Who's writing Morgan's, Sandra's and Bob's lines?  And how does City Council respond to staff telling outright lies to a public board?

Thursday, June 24, 2021

TCEQ Investigation Cites Four COSA Failures, Disturbing Findings


The Texas Commission for Environmental Quality completed their investigation into the February 2021 PaulAnn toxic water contamination in the City of San Angelo (COSA) public water supply.  City records show the Notice of Violations letter was sent to Mayor Brenda Gunter and Water Utilities Director Allison Strube.  The Mayor's letter arrived in City Hall on June 10, 2021.  

The letter specified four violation areas in the city's compliance with TCEQ's cross connection control program requirements which have been in place since 2016.  The slide below (without the yellow text) was presented to City Council on June 15th.  I added the highlighted information and below the image is text from the TCEQ investigation.

1.  Failure to conduct customer service inspections (CSIs) prior to providing continuous water service to new construction, on any existing service either when the water purveyor has reason to believe that cross-connections or other potential contaminant hazards exist, or after any material improvement, correction, or addition to the private water distribution facilities.

2.  Failure to adopt an adequate plumbing ordinance, regulations, or service agreement with provisions for proper enforcement to ensure neither cross-connections nor other unacceptable plumbing practices are permitted.

3.  Failure to record the date, location, and nature of water quality, pressure, or outage complaints received by the system and the results of any subSeL1Uent complaint investigation.

4.  Failure to ensure that all backflow prevention assemblies which are installed to provide protection against health hazards are tested and certified at least annually by a licensed backflow prevention assembly tester.

The city had ten days to appeal the findings but chose not to appeal.

Page 9 of the investigative report revealed significant backflow from a meat processing plant over a 71 day period.  The plant was not the source of the February chemical contamination but is a disturbing revelation regarding the city's "near zero" cross connection control program.

On February 10, 2021, the City's Customer Service Department identified a meter, associated to Lone Star Beef, as showing a reverse flow (Attachment #6). A meter technician was immediately dispatched by the City to shut off the meter. A combination meter, that is read as two separate meters, also associated to Lone Star Beef, were reviewed, and indicated reverse flow at one of the two readings (Attachment #6). The combination meter is a single unit; however, two meters are read, one meter for high flow and one for low flow. The City decided to lock out both meters, bringing the total to three meters shut off. City staff visited the facility to determine if any additional meters and/or City service water lines were connected to the facility. Multiple days were indicated to have reverse flow across the meters. 

The meter consumption spreadsheets provided by the City, and that the City used to determine that reverse flow was occurring include both total daily consumptions, as well as a breakdown of hourly consumption rates as water flows through the meter. Mr. Louder was informed that the data supplied by the meter accurately reflected the total amount of flow per day. However, when the meter encounters an error reporting hourly values, it will take the total consumption amount for that day, and place that average amount over 24 hours into the periods it had errors reporting. [I.E. the total value divided by 24 = X which is used for hourly periods where a meter read error occurred] 

The 3-meter accounts between December 1, 2020 and February 10, 2021, showed an estimated eighty (80) single hour events, instances with a negative consumption amount, totaling approximately -1,372,838.2 gallons of reverse flow. The account records showed forty-five days of zero ( o) readings as the total daily consumption, and six (6) "No Reading" listed as the total daily consumption. 

It should be noted that multiple Customer Service Inspections (CSis) have been conducted at the facility since February 10, 2021, as well as investigations conducted by the TCEQ Region Office. The CSI records indicated deficiencies regarding internal cross-connections. However, at no time were any of the chemicals identified in the water found at the facility.

The city had not conducted annual backflow testing at a number of locations required for health reasons.  The report cited on page 13.

By rule, backflow devices installed as a protection against a health hazard are required to be inspected annually by a licensed backflow prevention assembly tester (BPAT). 

These facilities that have a backflow prevention assembly in response to a health hazard include but are not limited to facilities with graywater and irrigation with chemical feed initially tested/installed on July 13, 2015, May 2, 2016, June 16, 2016, December 13. 2016, February 15, 2017, March 22, 2017, March 31, 2017, as well as Medical/Dental/Laboratory/Mortuary facilities with initial installation/testing dates of June 25, 2019, December 17, 2019. Additionally, a wash bay with an initial installation/testing dates of November 29, 2019 requires annual testing.

TCEQ's investigator Jarrett Louder had a number of challenges working with city staff.

Additionally, Mr. Louder again requested complaint records for the City. Mr. Louder noted that a news article posted on March 3, 2021, included references to complaint logs that the TCEQ had not received during the previous February request.

On March 8, 2021, Mr. Louder emailed Mrs. Strube inquiring if additional out of town Customer Service Inspectors were assisting the City. Mrs. Strube replied informing Mr. Louder that at that time, the City did not have any out of town inspectors assisting the City. She also indicated the City was working on contracting with a 3rd party to perform inspections until they had their program up and running.

On March 16, 2021, the City provided an update on the water contamination issue at a city council meeting. The update included that "the chemical volume that caused the contamination could have been less than a gallon". Additionally, the City posted a press release with the update information as well as a "Frequently Asked Questions" (FAQ) document on their website regarding the water contamination (Attachment #3). 

Mr. Louder followed up with Mrs. Strube at a later date to inquire how the City had determined that amount that could have caused the contamination event. Mr. Louder was informed that the City and their consulting engineer determined the amount based on flow models and distribution maps, based on the properties of the chemicals of interest. It is noted that Mr. Louder had previously requested from the City an estimated amount that they believed could have caused the event, and no information had been provided in response to that request.

Water Utilities Director Allison Strube expressed concern about sizeable fines.  Louder said those do not come into play if the city complies with the recommendations within TCEQ's time frame.  Three of the cited failures have an August correction data, while one must be completed by October 2021.  Being five years late in complying with regulatory standards for a public water utility is far less than excellence. 

TCEQ Searchable Investigation Report 1705422 by alan_prest on Scribd

Monday, June 21, 2021

New Staff Needed to Address TCEQ Water Quality Violations

City Council will consider adding five positions to comply with TCEQ cross connection control standards.  The top part of the form is pictured above and reveals personnel costs of $310,600.  Text from the bottom portion is below:

Justification: Provide a brief summary of the need and purpose for this proposed position

The Water Quality division provides laboratory services to the City in the sampling, analyzing, evaluating, reporting and consulting on City water / wastewater quality and plant operational issues. The division is also responsible for preparing the annual Consumer Confidence Report and administering the city’s backflow prevention program and industrial waste program. With only 5 personnel in the division, this does not provide enough staff to perform the tasks of a robust backflow prevention program and maintain the regulatory compliance for both the water and wastewater systems. Following the events of February 2021, the TCEQ will be monitoring the City's efforts to enhancing the program.

The addition of a Water Protection Crew within the Water Quality division will allow for personnel to ensure Customer Service Inspections (CSI) are performed on new construction (as part of plumbing inspection); material improvement, corrections, or addition to existing plumbing; periodic inspections of commercial and industrial customers; or if there is a complaint or other suspicion for residential.

Note* = One FTE will replace the FTE that was utilized from Water Distribution that was used to create the Backflow Technician (Grade 21) currently employed. 

I received this information from a public information request asking city staff to answer Mayor Brenda Gunter's question during the last City Council meeting about not conducting inspections prior to toxic chemicals entering the public water supply:

The question is, because of the PaulAnn issue we had to do these inspections, but why weren't inspections done prior to contamination to have seen some of this a year ago, two years ago, six months before the contamination?--Mayor Brenda Gunter

Adding a Water Protection Crew was the only information provided regarding the city's failure to meet TCEQ requirements in place since August 2016.  The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality conducted an investigation which found a number of disturbing items.  TCEQ completed their investigation in early June.  It provides historical information, along the lines of the Mayor's request.

City staff received a Notice of Violations (NOV) Letter from TCEQ on Wednesday, June 9th.  TCEQ sent the Notice of Violations via certified mail to Mayor Gunter at City Hall and Water Utilities Director Allison Strube.  The city had ten days to appeal the notice.  TCEQ and city staff indicated the city chose not to appeal the findings 

The June 4, 2021 dated Notice of Violations listed four areas which comprise TCEQ's cross connection control program.  A March blog post noted those four areas.  City Council viewed the same four areas in their last meeting, held June 15th.

Three of the four violations must be corrected by early August, while the one involving city ordinances has an October 2021 due date. The city does not face fines from TCEQ if it addresses all identified issues within the specified time frame.

Council meets tomorrow to discuss budget priorities.  Complying with TCEQ requirements will be front and center.  Executive Director of Public Works Shane Kelton and Water Utilities Director Allison Strube will present on strategy #1-Infrastructure, which includes water/wastewater.

Update 6-23-21:  The Strategic Planning event was postponed from 6-22-21 to 6-28-21.  The city later added the Notice of Violations letter TCEQ sent to Mayor Gunter in response to the public information request..  

Update 7-22-21:  City Council will entertain water funds as part of the budget process.  It's not clear where staff put the $310,600 for new CSI staff to comply with TCEQ requirements.  To avoid future fines the City must comply with TCEQ standards that have been in place since 2016.  Council has not taken up the TCEQ investigative report in public session since the report was issued.

Update 7-27-21:  Mayor Gunter challenged the need for five people to do the work required to comply with TCEQ's Cross Connection Control Program in today's budget session.  Water Chief Allison Strube admitted the work should have been done years ago and staff added along the way.  No one said the city must comply with the TCEQ investigative report or face fines. Current water fund balance is $28.5 million.  Three of the cited failures have an August correction date, while the ordinance deficit must be completed by October 2021. I hope TCEQ staff watch today's City Council meeting.  They will learn how the City of San Angelo operates. 

Friday, June 18, 2021

ASAC Got Bad History Lesson on Community Cat Ordinance

The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee met yesterday and heard highly inaccurate information about the history of the city's Community Cat Ordinance.  Morgan told committee members the ordinance was "drafted largely by a special interest group, a private group" and that it "was written by the special interest group that requested to be the sponsoring organization."  Wrong.

One person in the room knew it, ASAC Subcommittee Chair for the Community Cat Ordinance, Sandra Villareal.  Villareal told the Standard Times in August 2013:

"You also really need to get them spayed and neutered, so there are a lot of responsibilities that will come with colony caregivers.  If they're willing to do it and the city will allow it...(and) as long as there are no complaints, they can continue caring for the cats and things will be more specifically to feral cats."

The draft of an ordinance will need approval from the Animal Shelter Services Board and the City's legal department before being presented to City Council. "It's a lengthy process, so it's not going to be in the next month or so," Villareal said.

The subcommittee had well known community cat hater and ASAC member Linda Marcelli on it for "balance" purposes.  Morgan's boss Bob Salas made the presentation to City Council in February 2015. 

The ASAC Community Cat subcommittee crafted the ordinance, based on researching other cities' community cat ordinances.  Consider what the Standard Times wrote in October 2014 as that work progressed:

Cats: They’re on rooftops, in the trees, in the bushes and running wild on the streets of San Angelo.  Are they “community” or “feral” cats?

That was one question the city’s Animal Shelter Advisory Committee raised at its meeting Thursday. The ordinance proposal, which was revised by assistant city attorney Maxwell Branham with the guidance of the group’s subcommittee, to regulate cat colonies changed the verbiage from “feral” to “community.”

That revised ordinance was tabled until the next meeting because it was not made available to committee members until minutes before they convened.

The newspaper noted three groups involved in the proposed ordinance, the ASAC, city attorney and the ASAC subcommittee.  That is largely the appropriate city channel for decision making.

Consider some of the people who supported the ordinance before City Council.

A respected local veterinarian and university President encouraged City Council to approve the ordinance. Council passed it unanimously.

Why would ASAC member, committee liaison and Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden give a distorted view of the creation of the city's community cat ordinance?  Why would Sandra Villareal not share the true process with the current Animal Shelter Advisory Committee?

These are several of many questions that arose after viewing the video of yesterday's ASAC meeting.  There were multiple inaccuracies, which frankly is sad.  It reminds me of former Shelter Director James Flores lying to the ASAC via his fraudulent community cat survey.  There's an agenda and time will reveal the city's and its exclusive partner Concho Valley PAWS' intentions.

Update 6-19-21:  It appears Morgan's boss Bob Salas sat in the audience while she distorted the history of the Community Cat ordinance.  Bob put up with James Flores bullying and lying.  As Sandra and Bob went along with Morgan's misrepresentations I can only view this as official city position.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Mayor Gunter's Question Deserves Credible Response

San Angelo citizens were significantly impacted by toxic water contamination in early February 2021.  City Council heard a recommendation from staff to implement customer service agreements as part of a solution.  

Mayor Brenda Gunter:  The question is, because of the PaulAnn issue we had to do these inspections, but why weren't inspections done prior to contamination to have seen some of this a year ago, two years ago, six months before the contamination?

Those inspections have been required since at least August 2016, the date of TCEQ updated its Cross Connection Control Program.  The man to have answered that question is City Manager Daniel Valenzuela, hired in 2012.

Assistant Water Utilities Director Andy Vecellio:  ... You can't go back and fix the past.  We can only take a look at the past, review it, analyze it and develop a program moving forward to reduce the potential for it to happen again.

The Mayor's question deserves a thoughtful exploration and response.  The city is not known for conducting investigations, much less thorough ones. 

Valenzuela promoted the two men responsible for ensuring water safety, Ricky Dickson and Shane Kelton.  They occupied the Executive Director of Public Works/Operations.  Dickson held the job from 2014-2019.   The city has no documents reflecting Dickson fulfilled his role requiring backflow preventers, as stated in city ordinances.  Valenzuela oversaw Operations and Water Utilities until he promoted Kelton to the role.

An unanswered question from Mayor Gunter remains on the table.  Why weren't TCEQ required inspections done since 2016?  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela should provide answers from a competent investigation.  In his message to citizens in the midst of the crisis Valenzuela said "I too want answers."

Entering problem solving mode after the system broke is but more of the same from city leaders.

STD Staff's "Closed" Clinic Lasted 15 months

As COVID neared in March 2020 the Health Department's nursing staff communicated internally on the closure of all clinics offered by the City of San Angelo, Immunizations, Tuberculosis, HIV and STD clinics.  

City leaders used a different word to describe keeping the HIV/STD clinic shuttered for nearly fifteen months.  Health Services Director Sandra Villareal used "postponed."

She started using postponed when she informed the City Manager and his assistants.

The public learned the clinics were closed when the city announced they would reopen June 7, 2021.

Not only did city management not inform the public they failed to mention this material fact during budget workshops.  Closed clinics allowed them to budget less in 20-21 for nursing in the midst of a pandemic.  At the time it made absolutely no sense. 

The use of weasel words and lack of transparency are not excellence in management practices.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Shelter Released Unaltered Community Cats for Few Months


City Council will entertain community cats during its upcoming meeting.  Councilperson Lucy Gonzales asked the item be placed on the agenda.  The background packet states:

In October 2020, ASAC approved the return-to-field of unaltered cats as no funding was available to continue the shelter-neuter-return program. 

The October 2020 ASAC meeting shows Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden saying "I have $6,000 in donations right now to continue the program."  That's more than "no funding."

The ASAC approved the framework presented, tiers of interventions based on funding.  At no time did Morgan inform the ASAC the shelter would immediately be releasing live unaltered cats into the community.  After the committee voted Morgan said the following:

"For any viewers watching in this is something we hope to continue fully into fiscal year 20 and we never get into that situation.where I'm having to decide to not rabies vaccinate or not spay/neuter cats so donations are welcome and appreciated."
Those watching the meeting would assume the $6.000 would be spent down before the shelter purposely violated the city ordinance requirement that pets be spayed/neutered..  The meeting minutes stated:

Consider approving standard operating procedure for returning community cats to field.A presentation was made by Neighborhood & Family Services Assistant Director Morgan Chegwidden. 

MOTION:  Chairperson Smith moved for approval, seconded by Committee member Wylie. The motion carried unanimously six (6) ayes to zero (0) nays.

It is odd the city did not approach their community cat partner CritterShack Rescue, which operates a low cost spay-neuter clinic for assistance in fixing community cats prior to release.  

City Council's background packet continues with:

This was approved as the previous policy of euthanizing healthy community cats was no longer conducive to the No Kill initiative. This practice occurred for a few months until our rescue partner Concho Valley PAWS collected resources to pull all of our community cats for spay/neuter and return. That is our current protocol for live releasing community cats.

Releasing trapped community cats back into the field unaltered goes against every tenet of community cat care-taking.

Returning spayed/neutered cats to the area of origin stabilizes the population and prevents new cats from coming in.
Releasing unaltered cats causes the population to eventually explode.  That's what the shelter did for "a few months."

Animal Services has a sizeable budget, $1,082,875 for the current fiscal year.  The budget has consistently gone up as the shelter initiated changes that choked off animal intake.

The Shelter also has three special capital projects totaling nearly $190,000 in this year's budget.

Council will consider the following recommendation.

$5,000.00 is recommended for a special program to spay/neuter community cats who are at risk of being deemed a nuisance.

Surely city leaders can spay/neuter and rabies vaccinate animals in their care, including community cats.  It's how the problem of pet overpopulation gets solved.  

Note:  Community cat caregivers spend their personal funds to fix and feed community cats.  Altogether caregivers cover a relatively small area of the city.  The ordinance gave caregivers the freedom to practice spay/neuter, return and maintain without harassment from Animal Control officers.  The city will not help citizens trap unwanted cats.  Citizens must obtain a trap, which the city will not provide, trap the cat and call the shelter to see if they will take it. 

The Shelter and PAWS recently refused to take cats dumped at a major employer.  How would you like to have to take home additional pets because you showed up for work one day?  This story raises doubts as to this statement to council: "San Angelo residents may bring in trapped/secured cats at no charge."

Update 6-15-21:   City Council heard there is a problem with a dozen cat colonies in the community.  It's not clear how Morgan knows if that is an official cat colony or a collection of cats that is not managed using trap-neuter-return-maintain.  No official from Critter Shack Rescue, a community cat sponsoring organization was invited to attend and answer questions of Council.

Update 6-18-21:  City staff not only did not invite Critter Shack Rescue to the Animal Services Advisory Committee meeting, Morgan spent considerable time running down their only community cat sponsoring organization.  Morgan did so after receiving an e-mail on 6-11-21 from Critter Shack's leader offering to meet and share information on the rescue's community cat efforts/successes.

Update 7-2-21:  City Council minutes inaccurately state "Council Member Thompson made a motion, seconded by Council Member Gonzales, to approve the item, as presented allocating $5,000 towards the spay, neuter, release program within known problem community cat colonies, with a communications strategy to accompany the effort. The motion carried unanimously (7) ayes to (0) nays."  The problem is nuisance cats.  It makes no sense for the city to TNR cats that have already been TNR'd.  Also, when not dumping unaltered cats the city's version of TNR is to return the altered cat to wherever the Animal Control Officer decides to dump it.  Those words came straight from the mouth of an Animal Control Officer.

Update 7-8-21:  Council approved the inaccurate minutes without discussion.  City ordinances have a method for dealing with problem community cat colonies.  The shelter is required to contact Critter Shack and work with colony caregivers if the problem persists.  As usual, shelter staff do not follow the ordinance.   City leader referred to following ordinances for nuisance animals as "the red tape way." 

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Shelter Still Lacks Compliance Data on Spay/Neuter Ordinance

The City of San Angelo Animal Shelter does not know how well the shelter complied with the city's spay/neuter ordinance for 2020.  I submitted a public information request:
Please provide information on the animal shelter's compliance with the mandatory spay/neuter ordinance during 2020. Please indicate:

1. Total animals adopted
2. How many were already altered before arriving at the shelter?
3. How many adopted animals had their spay/neuter surgery prior to leaving the animal shelter?
4. How many adopted animals left with an appointment for spay/neuter surgery?
5. Of those that left with an appointment, what was the wait time between leaving the shelter and the spay/neuter appointment (minimum, maximum and average)?
6. How many animals in this category made their appointment and were successfully spayed/neutered as required by city ordinance?

The city responded they don't have the information, despite following a data driven Pets Alive program.  It will take four hours for city staff to calculate the number adopted and how many were spay/neutered.

No records exist for items 2-5.

Labor Charged: $60.00 (estimated four hours to compile at $15/hour 

Estimated Total: $60.00. 

The cost estimate above is for compiling the number of animals adopted and how many were spayed/neutered.

In 2019 Assistant City Manager Michael Dane suggested this information could be part of a monthly report at an Animal Shelter Advisory Committee.  The City Clerk wrote:

Assistant City Manager Michael Dane indicated this information could be considered for mandatory reporting in the new adoption services RFP to be executed in 2020.

Apparently, that never happened.

Oddly, the city was able to provide raw data on item one and two in 2017 from their PetPoint system.  That data showed 75% of dogs left the shelter unaltered with a veterinary appointment, often weeks or months away.  Area veterinarians complained of high missed appointment rates from shelter pets.  

For the first nine months of 2019 only 149 out of 879 pets arriving at the shelter had been spay/neutered.  That's 17.5% fixed upon entry to the City's Animal Shelter.  Had they been adopted nearly 83% would need surgery.

Pets Alive states "sharing data with full transparency builds trust with your community." 

That has not been the case for spay/neuter ordinance compliance for many years, despite vague commitments by city executives.  

I should not be surprised given city leaders once referred to following animal control ordinances at "the red tape way."  

Update 6-21-21:  The city issued the Animal Services RFP in April 2020 and City Council approved Concho Valley PAWS for a new expanded contract in August 2020 via a Zoom meeting.  Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden told Council changes were made to be more flexible for the vendor and to further the Pets Alive initiative.  PAWS original bid came in at $96,000 per year.  Changes included:

1.  Assigning the spay/neuter and rabies vaccine expense of adopted pets to the selected vendor

2.  Allowing the selected vendor to set and collect their own adoption fees

3.  Opening the hours of operation to be set by the selected vendor

4.  Hosting counseling appointments for owned pets jointly by both the selected vendor and city staff.

The city did not add any the production of compliance information as suggested by Assistant City Manager Michael Dane.  However, the arrangement means PAWS must meet the city's standard contract language from April 2018 on ownership and production of documents.  PAWS had difficulty complying with the city's building permit ordinances during the RFP request and approval period.

PAWS will get $60,000 the first year of the contract and then a five year adjustment will raise the annual contract amount to just below $70,000.  After that the fee escalates 3% per year. 

Also, PAWS can set the adoption fee "at what ever is appropriate for the market or the specific animal."

Update 7-11-21:   Area rescues are spay/neutering animals adopted from the Animal Shelter via Concho Valley PAWS.  Pet owners with new sets of puppies or kittens say the shelter and PAWS refused to help them. 

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

City Drops Public Information in Multiple Ways

The City of San Angelo's website no longer has a Public Information on its department list.  Citizens need to select Communications instead.  Public Information Officer Brian Groves is now Communication Manager. Don't worry, the award winning abdomen picture remains the same.

In another website change purchasing information is now limited to vendors.   There is no opportunity for citizens to view the city's purchasing solicitations, information once readily available.

The city removed finance documents from public view in December 2018.  Oddly, the Finance Department no longer wanted their documents readily accessible to the public, despite receiving multiple awards for Excellence in Financial Reporting.

The man behind these changes is Assistant City Manager Michael Dane.   He is over Finance, Purchasing and Communications. All are less visible to citizens from changes instituted under his watch.

Friday, May 28, 2021

City's HIV/STD Clinic Closed for Fourteen Months

The City announced its STD/HIV Clinic will reopen June 7th.  Funny, I hadn't heard the clinics had been closed.  The City Clerk wrote yesterday:

In mid-March the clinics were postponed due to staff being redirected to work on Covid.  
I asked if that was 2020 or 2021?  The clerk's answer:

March 2020. I haven’t been able to find anything in our press releases regarding an announcement, I believe it was in conjunction with closing city facilities to public traffic.

City Emergency declarations make no mention of the clinic's closure in mid-March 2020.  The only indication the city was reducing public health services came on March 26th in a partner update.

Nursing Division 

Due to the increased Public Health duties with COVID-19, the Immunization Clinic will be postponed until Tuesday April 7, 2020. This is subject to change, if needed.

The federal government granted the city over $1 million to spend on COVID related expenditures.  At no point did City management recommend an increase in Nursing Department resources to ensure ongoing public health services. 

In the middle of a pandemic City Council approved a decrease in Nursing Department funding and a cut for the Hazards Division, responsible for public health emergency preparedness and response.   

Vaccinations began without the city health department as an administration site.  The City's began offering COVID vaccinations on January 6th of this year.  

I had surgery in March 2020 just as COVID preparations consumed our community.  Shannon Medical Center limited the number of visitors the day of my surgery.  By September I saw my primary care physician in person.   Providers and patients took precautions, but necessary healthcare was being delivered.  

Where does HIV/STD diagnosis and treatment fit into necessary health services?  The STD clinic has been fully funded by a Section 1115 federal grant since 2013.  The grant application stated:

There is no Sexually Transmitted Disease Clinic at the San Angelo‐Tom Green County Health Department, nor any available space, and therefore, hundreds of patients needs are not being met.

The STD clinic never really closed while the city sought federal funding. A nurse told council on December 4, 2012 the clinic was still treating STD patients.

"Anyone who is identified as positive by the state can be treated through us."

The city is historically hesitant to spend its money on public health services but is happy to utilize federal/state funds.  COVID is the latest evidence of this pattern.

How can a public health clinic close for fourteen months with not a peep from city staff to City Council or the general public?  It's surprisingly, head shaking San Angelo. 

Update 5-31-21:  The city received $2.2 million in COVID funding from three rounds, $1.1 million in CARES Act funding, $636,480 from Texas Department of Emergency Management and $582,000 in federal grant money.

Update 6-3-21:  Why is it important for critical public health programs to be ongoing?  "Geneticists and infectious disease specialists there have uncovered potentially dangerous coronavirus mutations in a 36-year-old woman with uncontrolled HIV who was unable to shake the SARS-CoV-2 virus for close to eight months. The driving force behind the patient’s rapid accumulation of genetic changes is probably her impaired immune response due to her unsuccessfully treated HIV, the researchers said."

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

PAWS Built Without Permits, Failed Inspections

Concho Valley PAWS announced the addition of dog kennels to their existing buildings next to the City Animal Shelter.  They referred to the project as "Dog Dorm."  The City refers to the project as Phase three.  It will cost $1 million.

San Angelo Live reported on PAWS groundbreaking in August 2018: 

The construction of the facility will have two phases. Phase one will be the delivery and set up of modular buildings that will be used for office space, spay and neuter clinic and cat habitats. This modular structure was purchased for Concho Valley PAWS by philanthropists Judith and David Hirschfeld who are long time supporters of the PAWS mission.

Phase two will include the construction of a large kennel facility with fenced play yards that will serve as an adoption showcase center for adoptable dogs.

PAWS couldn't fulfill all of phase two as envisioned in 2018.  It had difficulty with that portion of the project. 

City of San Angelo Planning staff sent the following e-mail on June 24, 2020:

3142 US Hwy 67 - Concho Valley Paws Adoption Center. This project stared in 2018 with a modular building being added to the large lot. This triggered several items, parking, hydrant, drainage; the typical new construction site requirements. Earlier this month they called for Finals; during inspections it was discovered they are adding on to the modular building; kennels and covered walkway plus and addition building in the back.

The agreement with the Contractor was to submit for a second Building Permit and Site Plan for the additions. Engineering would postpone their requirement of the completed drainage/detention. All other Site items are approved and completed; only Building Finals and Fire Prevention Finals are needed for the modular Building if the detention is postponed to the second phase.

Concho Valley Paws wants to use the front portion of the building now; however they can't get a CO with the new items started without a permit or an approved Site Plan.  Concho Valley Paws has publicly scheduled an open house for June 26th, Friday

It is unlikely the contractor will be able to have an asbestos survey completed, submitted and approved before Friday; thus not allowing occupancy to the Modular building for the Concho Valley Paws Open House.

I think the City will be blamed. I want to let you know so this can go up to 4th floor if you see fit. Also Should anyone be prepared to do enforcement on Friday; or do we wait for a complaint or self discovery?

The City's Development Director send the following message to Assistant City Manager Rick Weise on June 10, 2020.

FYI. Wanted you to be aware of this. Concho Valley Paws is performing construction beyond what they showed on their approved building permits.  We are working with them to get “phase 2”permits for those additions and can issue a Certificate of Occupancy for “phase 1” once they have submitted the plans for phase 2 and had all final inspections for phase 1.  However, depending on how quickly they do their part and how their inspections go, this could delay their planned Grand Opening.
Here's how the city characterized the PAWS project last month:

It's not clear if anyone did enforcement during PAWS June 27, 2020 Open House for their new adoption center.  The building did not open to the public until early September.

The building opened during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Now that the disease burden has decreased PAWS hours are fewer, falling from 24 hours per four day week to 19 hours.   I imagine the Hirschfelds want their generous donations to be utilized as much as possible.

Before the project even started Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden wrote City Attorney Theresa James on April 4, 2018.

Monday, you’d mentioned we needed to order a survey for the PAWS adoption center project. Can we go ahead and get that ordered? What would you estimate the cost to be? I believe I can fund it in my budget but wanted to make sure.

PAWS got free use of the land, the Animal Shelter's veterinary surgical equipment and $1,400 survey.  It appears city staff looked the other way when PAWS held its open house in June 2020. It's a partnership, I'm not sure how functional.

Update 5-29-21:  Former City Engineer Lance Overstreet told the Assistant Planning Director last summer:

Lance has said no, they applicant must get an approved Site Plan and Permit for Phase two.  

I think he is afraid they will continue to do work without a permit and the additional drainage hasn't been accounted for.  6-24-2020 e-mail

Monday, May 03, 2021

"More than Zero" Cross Connection Control Program

San Angelo's City Council heard a final presentation on the toxic water crisis that hit residents in early February.  After learning the City of San Angelo had "not a zero" cross connection control program but "less than a robust and rigorous program" I submitted a public information request.

City of San Angelo ordinances state:   "Backflow preventers shall be required by the Director of Public Works in [as] deemed necessary to protect the water system from possible contamination." 

 I request documents, communications and e-mails from Ricky Dickson relative to the ordinance above. The time frame requested is from his promotion to Director of Public Works/Executive Director of Public Works in 2014 to his retirement from city employment. A simple list of the businesses/locations and dates required by Dickson to have backflow preventers would fulfill this request.” 

City staff responded:

The City of San Angelo has reviewed its files and has determined there are no responsive documents to your request. 

City residents faced soaring water bills due to the cumulative impact of a five year water rate increase, approved by Council in December 2015.  One might expect a portion of those increases to have been used to implement a compliant cross connection control program as required by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 2016.   

As of May 3, 2021 the City of San Angelo finally met TCEQ;s standards.

The water utility has been successful in providing information to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, allowing the northern industrial area to return to normal water usage.

San Angelo citizens deserve what McAllen, Lubbock, Abilene and Brownwood had, a robust and rigorous cross connection control program that protects the water system from possible contamination.  Residents experienced how a program resting with one executive director can fail.   

TCEQ and City Council need to ensure systems are in place that are deeper and broader than one person and that water users get what they paid for the last five years.

Update 6-10-21:  TCEQ issued a Notice of Violations to the City of San Angelo on 6-4-21.  The letter cited four failures of TCEQ's cross connection control program standards.  Three of the four violations must be corrected by early August, while one involving updating city ordinances has an October due date. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Kelton Promoted to Executive Director of Operations

Shane Kelton’s promotion from Director of Operations to Executive Director of Public Works became effective March 1, 2021.  Kelton's predecessor, Ricky Dickson, served in that role from 2014-2019.

City Manager Daniel Valenzuela waived the Professional Engineer requirement for Dickson.  That waiver remains in place for Kelton.  

Kelton's new position is charged with identifying water users that pose a health/safety risk to the city's water supply.   City ordinances state:

Backflow prevention devices used in applications designated as health hazards must be tested upon installation and annually thereafter

Backflow Preventers. Backflow preventers shall be required by the Director of Public Works in [as] deemed necessary to protect the water system from possible contamination. 

He was invited to attend a March 31, 2021 training session put on by Texas Council on Environmental Quality.  

The City required Kelton to attend the TCEQ training on cross connection control programs.  TCEQ standards have been in place since August 2016.  San Angelo's training occurred six weeks after toxic chemicals entered the city's water supply, disrupting water supply city wide.

Oddly, City staff did not mention the TCEQ training in their final update to City Council on April 6, 2021.

The only other information the city produced on TCEQ's cross-connection control program was a March 2016 inspection.  That inspection found city staff using the wrong form to document cross connection control program inspections.  March 2016 to March 2021, that's a five year vacuum. 

The city's "not zero program" but far "less than rigorous and robust" could go back further than 2016.  Former Executive Director of Public Works Ricky Dickson got the job in 2014.

After Dickson retired his departments got shuffled around.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela took the first stab.

Then Daniel divided Ricky's departments between the two Assistant City Managers.

The city has been challenged in keeping City Engineer and filling engineering positions. It remains to be seen if non-engineer Kelton can reverse that turnover in addition to preventing toxic chemicals from entering the city's water supply and repairing roads that make some San Angelo streets ride like off road trails.  

For decades Kelton has had an oversight role for San Angelo's streets.  Yes, there has been some serious oversight (failure to notice or do something) in more than one arena.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Council Hears of Inadequate Cross Connection Control Program

Elected officials heard from Water Chief Allison Strube that the City of San Angelo did not a rigorous and robust program to prevent cross contamination from industrial water users.  Strube said 25 out of 81 industrial sites needed to add or change their backflow assemblies.  That's 31% or nearly one third of industrial sites inspected by out-of-town customer service inspectors.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality had standards in place since 2016 on customer service inspections and cross connection control programs.  Strube did not address the city's compliance in her statement the city had more than a zero program.

The path forward means meeting TCEQ's existing standards.

TCEQ will deliver an investigative report which the public deserves to see.  The question is how much will TECQ fine the city for its inadequate practices that led to the February 2021 toxic water contamination.

Update 5-27-21:  Management best practices would have complied with TCEQ cross connection control program standards issued in 2016.  City of San Angelo Mission:  To deliver excellence in services through best management practices; a dedicated, caring and productive workforce; innovative solutions and a strong commitment to fiscal responsibility.

Update 6-10-21:  TCEQ issued a Notice of Violations to the City of San Angelo on 6-4-21.  The letter cited four failures of TCEQ's cross connection control program standards.  Three of the four violations must be corrected by early August, while one involving updating city ordinances has an October due date.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Council to Receive "Final Update" on Water Contamination

San Angelo's elected leaders will hear a "final update" on the toxic water contamination that traumatized the community in February.  Water Chief Allison Strube will give the update in regular session during the April 6th City Council meeting.  

The Texas Council on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) worked with the city on the contamination concern.  TCEQ has long required public water systems to have an effective cross-contamination control program, including customer service inspections and annual backflow test results.

Customer Service Inspectors came from McAllen, Lubbock, Brownwood and Abilene to inspect 85 industrial sites in search of the source of contamination.  City staff are yet to release how many sites were out of compliance and need to make changes to prevent future cross contamination.  Also, TCEQ is yet to release its report on San Angelo's toxic water incident.

The City of San Angelo plans to hire additional staff to ensure safe water comes out of the tap.

The City of San Angelo will be hiring several CSIs in the near future and will be implementing a more rigorous cross contamination program citywide to greatly reduce the likelihood of an issue like this happening again.

Why did the city not have such persons in place prior to the chemical contamination?  San Angelo city ordinances require annual backflow testing.

 Backflow prevention devices used in applications designated as health hazards must be tested upon installation and annually thereafter

Backflow Preventers. Backflow preventers shall be required by the Director of Public Works in [as] deemed necessary to protect the water system from possible contamination. 

City ordinances left it up to the Director of Public Works as to which businesses needed backflow preventers.  That's not Allison Strube.  It's Shane Kelton and former boss Ricky Dickson, now retired. 

I wondered if TCEQ inspections over the last four years identified San Angelo's cross connection control program as lax.  The City of San Angelo provided one TCEQ inspection report from 2016 in response to a public information request.  TCEQ cited the city for not using the required "customer service inspection report."

The city responded in 2016 with "customer service inspections are performed by licensed plumbing inspectors in the City's Inspections Department and they will begin completing the forms and maintaining them on file."

The failure to prevent chemical contamination cost the city dearly and exposed citizens to toxic chemicals.  City Council should make clear this is not the final update on the incident.  Council should ask staff to post all investigative reports, internal and external on the city's website.  

Accountable leaders would ask why the chemical contamination occurred and why the city's water department was unable to prevent toxic substances from reaching citizen's homes.  What program did the city have in place and how well did it comply with TCEQ requirements?     

Pushing a "final update" without hearing responses to those questions and seeing official investigative reports would be a disservice to citizens.

Update 4-12-21:   City Council heard the final update and thanked Allison Strube for her presentation and for her hard work.

Update 6-10-21:  TCEQ issued a Notice of Violations to the City of San Angelo on 6-4-21.  The letter cited four failures of TCEQ's cross connection control program standards.  Three of the four violations must be corrected by early August, while one involving updating city ordinances has an October due date.How will City Council and the public be made aware of this development?