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?

Update 8-16-21:  The minutes refer to this discussion during Regular Agenda:

c.  Update on City Council Discussion on Chapter 3 Animal Control, Article 3.10 Free-Roaming Community Cats of the City’s Code of Ordinances.
A presentation was made by Neighborhood & Family Services Assistant Director Morgan
Chegwidden. No action was taken on this item.

The "presentation" was more like a carefully orchestrated character assassination.  It began at the 8:25 mark and ended at 35:38.  The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee meeting scheduled for 8-19-21 was canceled.  

Update 3-28-22:  The June 2021 minutes are yet to be approved as the ASAC has not met since then.  Three meetings have been canceled or failed to achieve a quorum.  The next meeting is planned for May 19, 2022.  The minutes will be at least eleven months old by the time they are approved.

Update 6-2-22:  Consider city leadership's painting "nuisance" cat collections as registered colonies.  This e-mail is from Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden.

I think it’s splitting hairs to distinguish (1) spontaneously occurring cats not dependent on- a human for a source of food and (2) registered colonies.

I understand the ordinance has a specific definition but we’re observing any where that cats congregate – I’d call that a colony. A colony can simply mean a group of one or more community cats.

It's not hair splitting.  There are two drastically different responses.  Cat colony managers are responsible for the health and safety of their community cats.  The City is supposed to contact the sponsoring organization for any issues.  Critter Shack would then contact to colony caregiver and they would work to address problems.  The city is free to deal with nuisance cat collections in the vast real estate not covered by colony managers.  

Animal Shelter leadership's ignoring this basic split is concerning but it follows a longstanding pattern of city staff/leadership viewing animal ordinances as the red tape way. 

Update 8-31-22:  CritterShack Rescue took over 40 pets from the City Animal Shelter yesterday as the Shelter is in the midst of a roach infestation.  Good thing CritterShack Director Sharon Halfmann never watched the video of Morgan and Sandra trashing her organization while Jennie Wilson and Bob Salas sat silent in the audience.  

Of the 31 one shelter cats taken by CritterShack only two had been fixed.  CritterShack had them all spayed/neutered within 48 hours.

Update 12-18-22:  Two elderly ladies in Arkansas were convicted for fixing and feeding stray cats.  

“A warning, an arrest, and a conviction – all because maybe we were about to feed stray cats, and because we were solving a feral cat problem that the city couldn’t solve.”

This is why being aware of government distortions is so important.  

Update 4-29-23:  Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden went on SALive to talk about community cats and never mentioned the only community cat sponsoring organization, CritterShack.  Morgan talked about the need for cats and kittens to stay out of the shelter and mentioned Concho Valley PAWS numerous times. 

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.

Update 8-20-21:  City Council approved $5,000 for the Animal Shelter to continue its "House-Eventually Spay/Neuter-Return" program for "nuisance" community cats.  Over two months ago Mayor Gunter wanted a strong community relations effort to support these funds.  There is no sign of that to date.

Update 3-14-22:  San Angelo's ASAC failed to meet its quorum requirement three times, thus the June 2021 minutes reflecting this agenda item await approval in the next meeting scheduled for May 19, 2022. 

Update 6-2-22:  Consider city leadership's painting "nuisance" cat collections as registered colonies.  This e-mail is from Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden.

I think it’s splitting hairs to distinguish (1) spontaneously occurring cats not dependent on a human for a source of food and (2) registered colonies.

I understand the ordinance has a specific definition but we’re observing any where that cats congregate – I’d call that a colony. A colony can simply mean a group of one or more community cats.

It's not hair splitting.  There are two drastically different responses.  Cat colony managers are responsible for the health and safety of their community cats.  The City is supposed to contact the sponsoring organization for any issues.  Critter Shack would then contact to colony caregiver and they would work to address problems.  The city is free to deal with nuisance cat collections in the vast real estate not covered by colony managers.  

Animal Shelter leadership's ignoring this basic split is concerning but it follows a longstanding pattern of city staff/leadership viewing animal ordinances as the red tape way.

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. 

Update 3-27-22:  The City received over $385,000 in Section 1115 Waiver funds for the two fiscal years during which the clinic was "postponed."  The funding came from the federal government/state of Texas for a critical public health service.  Other local health providers were able to regain their footing and serve patients.   

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."  

Update 6-2-22:  Consider city leadership's painting "nuisance" cat collections as registered colonies.  This e-mail is from Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden.

I think it’s splitting hairs to distinguish (1) spontaneously occurring cats not dependent on a human for a source of food and (2) registered colonies.

I understand the ordinance has a specific definition but we’re observing any where that cats congregate – I’d call that a colony. A colony can simply mean a group of one or more community cats.

It's not hair splitting.  There are two drastically different responses.  Cat colony managers are responsible for the health and safety of their community cats.  The City is supposed to contact the sponsoring organization for any issues.  Critter Shack would then contact to colony caregiver and they would work to address problems.  The city is free to deal with nuisance cat collections in the vast real estate not covered by colony managers.  

Animal Shelter leadership's ignoring this basic split is concerning but it follows a longstanding pattern of city staff/leadership viewing animal ordinances 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.  

Update 11-8-21:  The ASAC agenda for October 2021 had a compliance report from Concho Valley PAWS on its spay/neuter compliance with city ordinances.   This is the first such report since the city engaged PAWS as its adoption contractor in early 2017.

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.