Friday, September 30, 2022

Former City Staffers Touch Council Agenda


San Angelo City Council faces seven consent agenda items and one on its regular agenda.   Two former city staffers touch the upcoming agenda.

Former staff engineer Blake Wilde served as the land surveyor for Rimrick Development Co LLC (Item b on the consent agenda).  Rimrock seeks to donate land from its development to the city for stormwater management purposes.  Blake was fired from city employment but got work on the Hickory pipeline to the concern of some council members.

Former Assistant City Manager Elizabeth Grindstaff is Account Director for Central and West Texas for engineering firm Freese and Nichols.  Council will entertain spending almost $1.1 million for Freese and Nichols to undertake phase 2 of the Lead and Copper Rule Revision Compliance Program.  Grindstaff was a key player in the unauthorized purchase of $100,000 of furniture for the Water Department.

San Angelo's engineering drought created much work for firms like Freese and Nichols.  Council will likely have a short meeting next Tuesday.  It might be a bit longer if they asked why the city has been unable to fill the City Engineer position for nearly two years. 

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Guy Andrews Shares Reasons for Surprise Retirement


The public experienced two surprise resignations of City leaders, Economic Development Director Guy Andrews and Water Utilities Director Alison Strube.  Both announcements came near or after their last day of city employment.

On July 14th Guy Andrews informed City Manager Daniel Valenzuela and Assistant City Manager Michael Dane of his intent to retire effective August 31st.  Dane texted Mayor Brenda Gunter and members of City Council with that news.

The Development Corporation met on July 27th and August 24th.  Andrews said nothing about his impending retirement in either meeting.  No city official acknowledged his accomplishments and contributions.  

I found this odd and asked the city for information about the reasons for Andrews retirement.  They provided e-mails between Andrews and Human Resources regarding the mechanics of his resignation.  There was nothing about why the Economic Development Director stepped down.

That changed in yesterday's Development Corporation meeting when Guy Andrews shared a number of reasons for his surprise resignation.  Andrews disclosed his discomfort with aspects of the agreement with the City of San Angelo for staff services.  He shared instances where city management exercised control over what he viewed as Development Board responsibilities.  Andrews said he "could not stomach it anymore."

Andrews said two projects were imposed on the Development Corporation, the Chadbourne Streetscaping Project and the West Texas Water Partnership.  Andrews referred to bullying tactics by City management and called out Michael Dane for his role that bullying.

Board member John Bariou is a fixture on the Development Corporation, having served multiple terms.  He raised a number of issues facing the board.

City Manager Daniel Valenzuela directed his public comments to John Bariou and Guy Andrews.  He told Bariou his legal concerns had been raised before and could have been addressed outside the meeting.  He chastised Andrews saying his door was always open to directors with concerns and Guy never accessed that opportunity.  Andrews shared his experience with Valenzuela's avoiding significant issues, with city staff taking action to discipline witnesses to a serious situation Andrews elevated to the city manager's office.

City documents did not answer my public information request but city video did.

Update 10-4-22:  City Council spent nearly two hours in executive session.  The only item on the executive session agenda is "Consultation with attorney re:  COSADC."

Update 10-23-22:  None of the leadership issues raised in the September COSADC meeting are on the agenda for the October 26th meeting.  All of the October items are being presented by city staff except the Bylaws Review Committee recommendations.  That items simply lists the name of the Committee and staff for presentation.   

Update 10-26-22:  City Council will discuss in Executive Session on 11-1-22.

Section 551.074 - Personnel matters regarding the evaluation, discipline, or dismissal of John Bariou from the COSADC Board

Update 11-17-22:  So far the City has backed off its battle with Bariou.  Replacing Guy Andrews has become as hard as hiring a City Engineer.  The City plans to hire a recruiter for the Economic Development Director position.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Hiebert Hands On for City Raises


City Council approved a 7% cost of living raise plus market adjustments when it voted for the 2022-2023 budget.

One City Council person was hands on for the raises and salary adjustments, spending 30 to 45 hours interviewing middle management.

From: Hiebert, Tommy City Council Representative District #1
Sent: Wednesday, August 3, 2022 4:50 PM
Subject: Compensation Plan ‐ Current and Future 

Good Afternoon,

After two months of meeting with most Directors and some managers, it has become clear, at least to me, there are:

  • problems within the City's current compensation plan
  • many departments are woefully understaffed
  • inadequate pay throughout the entirety of the organization regardless of level within the organization
  • It also became clear that for the largest single line item in our budget - personnel- and the greatest asset the organization has - personnel - there is no strategy and/or plan(s) to begin addressing these issues.

Council received a presentation on a future compensation plan in last year's budget workshops according to HR Director Brian Kendrick and chose not to commit to the presented goals.  

It undertook the topic in its August 11, 2022 budget planning meeting.  Prior budgets referred to a Compensation and Classification Committee but there is little information on the city's website regarding this committee.

Hiebert talked how other staff have to do the job of the city engineer.  That position has been open for nearly two years.  Former Assistant City Manager Elizabeth Grindstaff works for engineering firm Freese and Nichols.  Former City Engineer Russell Pehl works for Centurion Planning and Design, another engineering firm.  Their firms make money from the city being understaffed in engineering talent.  Angelo State University has a civil engineering program with experienced professors.  

In many cases the issue is pay, but in some cases the issue is management.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela waived the engineering requirement for the Executive Director of Public Works position for two people. Ricky Dickson and Shane Kelton.  How many engineers want to report to and be evaluated by someone without that credential?  The City's headhunter firm should have feedback as to why it is so difficult to fill the City Engineer position. 

The engineer talent pool decreased further after Water Utilities Director Allison Stube left city employment with a $9,000 raise in sight.  Surely, management learned her reasons in an exit interview.  Time will reveal the impact of Council's investment in staff compensation.  It likely will go a long way, but other fixes will be needed for deeper issues not related to pay.

Update 9-29-22:  Tommy Hiebert spent many years on the Development Corporation board.  Did he interview Economic Development Director Guy Andrews during his summer compensation tour?  If so, he may be aware of what came out yesterday in the COSADC board meeting.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Face of the City Animal Shelter for How Much Longer?


Concho Valley PAWS Executive Director Jenie Wilson spoke with San Angelo Live.  Jenie could have admitted that not fixing pregnant shelter pets had contributed to its gross overcrowding.  PAWS provides veterinary services and is responsible for getting shelter pets fixed per city ordinance.

Wilson also had ample opportunity to inform the public of PAWS spay/neuter services while stressing the need for citizens to fix their pets.  She missed it.

For years the city let Wilson be the public face of the City Animal Shelter.  I expect city leaders to pull that role back after City Council meets Thursday.  

How will Council ensure a sanitary animal shelter where pets are housed safely going forward?  A November 2021 crisis in cleanliness had Wilson inviting the public in to clean cages.  During that period someone with shelter access poisoned the dogs, killing three.  The city conducted no investigation and made no operational changes as a result of that poisoning.  The case was referred to SAPD but charges have yet to be filed.  

There is a need for a greater strategic reorientation of shelter services but that requires listening to citizens, local rescues and making the shelter "bad citizen" proof regarding spay/neuter surgeries.  That includes fixing pregnant pets in shelter care.  

Years of widespread spay/neuter can eventually reduce the flow of pets into the shelter.  Until that day comes citizens expect the shelter to not look like a horrific hoarding situation.  

Update 9-22-22:  Oddly, no one from Concho Valley PAWS gave public comment at City Council this morning.  Their all out public relations campaign had a letter to members of Council and city leaders, yet no PAWS representative(s) showed up to make those points to elected officials in person.  Even though it was not on the agenda City Manager Daniel Valenzuela spoke about the city's efforts to gather information to provide a better way forward.  

City Council remains AWOL on these three questions:  How were conditions allowed to get so horrific under shelter leadership?  How can this be prevented in the future?  What can Council do to ensure public trust in Animal Services?

Update 9-23-22:  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela said "Animal rescue groups must work together."  Actually, the City Animal Shelter needs to have quality services that make the shelter "bad citizen" proof regarding spay/neuter.  The Shelter needs strategies that ensure pets safe, sanitary facilities, serve citizens in need, don't exclusively cater to Concho Valley PAWS and over time reduce the numbers of stray/unowned pets in San Angelo. 

Update 10-21-22:   The "It's not our fault" PAWS PR tour worked.  PAWS remains the public face of the city Animal Shelter.  A shelter update has been requested for City Council.  Will it address PAWS assertion that shelter staff are overworked and underpaid?

The city continues to exclusively promote Concho Valley PAWS as a source for low cost spay-neuter.  The more things change the more they stay the same. 

Update 10-27-22:  The City issued a press release with "A message from our adopting agency Concho Valley PAWS."  It's on the shelter being full of long stay, large dogs.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

PAWS Political Power Play

Concho Valley PAWS is mobilizing supporters to challenge the City of San Angelo's recent changes to Animal Service operations.  PAWS serves as the shelter's adoption coordinator and veterinary service provider.  The City has frequently deferred to PAWS as its voice on animal issues.  PAWS was present and working as the shelter deteriorated into disturbing unsanitary and overcrowded conditions.

San Angelo's City Council should have at least three questions on their mind.  How were conditions allowed to get so horrific under shelter leadership?  How can this be prevented in the future?  What can Council do to ensure public trust in Animal Services?

Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden said this summer's overcrowding was primarily the result of litters.  How were pregnant pets allowed to deliver litters in the Animal Shelter?  PAWS recently wrote:

"PAWS employs a licensed veterinarian to spay and neuter all shelter pets upon adoption."

An unaltered Husky gave birth to seven puppies on her third stay in the Animal Shelter.  The shelter and PAWS had two months to conduct spay/neuter surgery before the dog gave birth in June.
 
The City and PAWS have long been less than forthcoming in information about fixing shelter pets as required by city ordinance.  That continues:

 
When asked which veterinarians fix shelter pets the city responded adopters "are told the date, time and location to report for their pet's surgery."  PAWS does not have which vets accept their spay/neuter vouchers on their website and did not respond to several inquiries for that information.
 
If PAWS wanted to push spay/neuter why letters to City Council, free yard signs and $10 t-shirts?   Why not make information on PAWS spay/neuter services widely available to the public?  PAWS has a new surgery suite with the city's former veterinary services equipment.  Why not show City Council all it has done to alleviate shelter overcrowding by fixing pregnant pets in shelter care?  

It's the city's job to manage, to hold people accountable.  It's City Council's to provide the strategic focus.  
 
Council had an opportunity to revisit the Shelter's pursuit of Pets Alive strategies which resulted in choking off intake such that some people had no choice but to dump their animal, regularly releasing unaltered animals from the shelter, holding large dogs for years in cages, not holding citizens accountable for failure to spay/neuter their pet as required by ordinance, not fixing pregnant pets in shelter care and shifting the public animal response burden to SAPD.  Council passed on that and now must deal with a public outraged by the shelter's and PAWS horrific treatment of animals in their care. 

Update 9-19-22:  The latest spay/neuter shelter compliance data PAWS shared with the ASAC indicated 34% of shelter pets were spayed/neutered by partnering veterinary clinics.  
 
After asking which locations shelter animal adopters have been instructed to take their pet by PAWS the city responded:
 "The vast majority of shelter pets are spayed/neutered through Concho Valley PAWS at their facility.  In the rare circumstance a pet is adopted out on an unaltered contract, they are notified of the date/time to deliver/pick up the animal at PAWS clinic.  It is a rare time indeed PAWS directs an adopter to a private vet clinic.  I cannot recall the last time that happened."

Update 9-23-22:  San Angelo Live reported the impact of Pets Alive choking off shelter intake and not prioritizing spay/neuter services:

Valenzuela said the number of pets abandoned inside the city limits has greatly increased over the past year.

Update 10-21-22:   The city and PAWS made up paving the way for PAWS to continue as the voice of the city animal shelter.  Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden informed the ASAC yesterday her shelter released 671 unaltered dogs to their owner/guardian in FY 21-22.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

PAWS "Shelter Horror" Defense is Offense


What happens when the public face of the San Angelo Animal Shelter turns on the hand that feeds it?  Adoption contractor Concho Valley PAWS has done just that in a number of Facebook posts on the recent crisis.  Many were picked up by local media.

PAWS acknowledged the shelter's horrific hoarding conditions and defended its work internally to get attention to the problems.  PAWS "stayed in its lane."  The lack of cleanliness and overcrowding brought significant public outrage.  

PAWS publicly lamented its lack of audience with city leadership, the city's not taking PAWS up on its many offers to help mitigate the disgusting conditions animals endured and the city's poor pay/working conditions for shelter staff.  

PAWS is also the city's veterinary service provider.  Widespread unsanitary conditions impact animal health.  Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden told the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee on August 18th that litters of puppies and kittens were mainly responsible for the overcrowding conditions.  The roach explosion occurred the following week.

Saturday, September 3rd Critter Shack's Sharon Halfmann wrote (as the shelter received roach treatment):

It is, above all, true that the failure of pet owners to spay/neuter/vaccinate/microchip/provide proper care is the primary reason for the large numbers of unwanted/abandoned animals that we see here every day. 
 
It is also true that San Angelo has a ”mandatory spay/neuter/microchip ordinance” requiring animals to be spayed/neutered at six months, with some exceptions. The ”quotes” signify that this ordinance is rarely enforced; we would ask why the CIty is so hesitant to enforce this important ordinance? Obviously, it would not be easy, but wouldn’t the fines generated pay for an enforcement officer -or two, or more? Does the City place less importance on the lives and well-being of dogs and cats than they do on the length of our grass or of overhanging branches in alleyways? 
 
It is true that many of the people and rescues in our area stepped up to help foster, adopt, give supplies for, or offer support for many of the dogs and cats that were housed in the Shelter during this recent closure - that is extremely heartening to see and shows how animal lovers can come together and work for a common goal. 
 
While it is true that the dog/cat overpopulation problem is due to irresponsible pet ownership, once an animal is accepted into a shelter or rescue, that animal becomes the responsibility of that entity and proper treatment/housing of those animals is part of that commitment. When a shelter or rescue reaches maximum capacity, they have an obligation to the animals in their care to NOT overextend and fail to provide reasonable care to the animals they are responsible for. For rescues, that decision is usually to limit or stop intake - a City Shelter faces a more difficult choice. If capacity is reached, if many more animals are coming in than are being adopted, fostered, transported, then choices are limited and harsh. However, warehousing dogs/cats for weeks, months or years in crates, cages or small pens is not a humane answer. Continuing to house more animals than can be properly cared for by insufficient numbers of caretakers/workers is not a humane answer. 
 
So, what can we do? Can citizens, rescues, veterinarians, city officials, shelter administrators work together to better the lives of our animals? Can we figure out a way to offer as much low cost spay/neuter as possible? Can we help educate pet owners and offer help with proper pet ownership? Can we enforce a spay/neuter ordinance aimed at reducing the overbreeding of pets? Can we put our agendas aside to help animals? Critter Shack is ready to work with groups or individuals to find some reasonable, workable solutions to address the plight of animals in our area. Let us know what positive ideas/possible solutions or steps in the right direction you have. 

Yes, city leaders could have said "The bugs have been treated and the shelter is clean.  We'd like to listen to citizens and area rescues and find a better way forward."  They didn't do that.

PAWS could have said "What role did we play in overcrowding by not spaying pregnant pets in shelter care as the city's veterinary provider and releasing unaltered shelter pets back into the community?  How can we change those practices?"  They did not.

The two parties that created the mess are at odds.  PAWS has gone on offense by repeatedly reaching out to the public with its case.  I expect next week's City Council meeting to have lots of public comment.  Mayor Brenda Gunter will have a challenge if she is back from her bout with the flu.

The public deserves to know how we got here and why we should trust the people who created the horrific conditions to make lasting improvements.  

One local rescue is "ready to work with groups or individuals to find some reasonable, workable solutions to address the plight of animals in our area."  The way forward will reveal if there is more than one.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Chokehold on Shelter Intake Remains as Capacity Reduced


The City announced shelter changes.  It appears the same group that brought the Animal Shelter to its recent horrific conditions is navigating the way out of its numerous dysfunctions.   Overcrowding and incapable operations turned the shelter into a roach infested, bad hoarding situation.  Pictures of San Angelo's shelter went viral in the worst way.

City leaders failed to accept responsibility for the disaster caused by Pets Alive's misplaced priorities.  Choking off shelter intake meant citizens could only surrender their pet for two reasons,  aggression towards people in the home or natural disaster.   The shelter refused to take pets from San Angelo residents moving overseas or going into a nursing home.  The death of a pet owner is not a reason for the shelter to accept an animal.  

Intake from owner surrenders went from almost 3,000 pets in 2016 to a mere 77 in 2021.  The City recently further tightened its chokehold by "asking" citizens to hold onto found pets for two days before bringing a lost animal to the shelter. 

Three years of severely limiting intake resulted in large numbers of unaltered dogs roaming city streets.  Recent overcrowding at the shelter was caused in part by pets having litters in shelter care.  One Husky had been in the shelter twice before and delivered seven puppies two months into her third shelter stay. 

Pets Alive does not prioritize spay/neuter as a means to prevent unwanted pets.  Concho Valley PAWS contracted with the city for spay/neuter services multiple times.  PAWS and shelter leadership assured Council that shelter pets were spayed/neutered through a "trusted reconciliation" process.  This "trusted" process allowed that Husky three unaltered stays in the Animal Shelter.

San Angelo's version of Pets Alive resulted in overfilling the shelter with large, unaltered, difficult to adopt dogs that resided in the shelter for years.  City Council had a months long strategic planning/budgeting process to consider the impact of Pets Alive strategies.  I saw no evidence of Council deliberations in this arena.  The roach infestation occurred as budgets were being finalized.

Last week at City Council Mayor Pro Tem Tom Thompson assured the public changes were underway.  The crisis included spending over $23,500 on temporary dog cages.  It also paid a professional contractor for roach treatment and another for deep cleaning the shelter.

Four business days after hearing from the public at Council the city announced the result of that work. 

As usual, city leaders missed the opportunity for wider citizen input, the opportunity to leverage area rescues knowledge/energy and a deeper discussion on institutionalizing spay/neuter of shelter animals making it "bad citizen" proof.   

Choking down shelter capacity is layered on top of years of choking off animal intake.  Less service for more money.  That may as well be the City's motto.

Update 9-23-22:  San Angelo Live reported the impact of Pets Alive choking off shelter intake and not prioritizing spay/neuter services:

Valenzuela said the number of pets abandoned inside the city limits has greatly increased over the past year.

Update 10-23-22:   A journalist examined the deterioration of Pets Alive into its current form.  Pets Alive encourages:

...policies that result in friendly kittens and other needy animals being left on streets. In Austin, this included a proposed vision of “not accepting strays at the shelter” as a way to limit intakes and to reduce shelter budgets accordingly.

...shelters embracing this APA model have also stopped taking in healthy strays, including kittens, telling people to handle it themselves, to turn them loose, or to simply leave them on the sidewalk. 

Four years of leaving pets in the streets and releasing unaltered dogs to owners has the Animal Shelter in crisis.

Friday, September 09, 2022

Citizens Express Concerns over Shelter Operations


City Council heard concerns from a number of citizens about Animal Shelter operations.  The recent roach infestation caused a partial evacuation of the building.  Conditions deteriorated during the crisis to what looked like a horrific pet hoarding situation.  

Mayor Brenda Gunter had the flu according to Mayor Pro Tem Tom Thompson.  Thompson assured citizens that Council is aware and that a group is "working hard behind the scenes to address the situation." 

City Manager Daniel Valenzuela, Director of Neighborhood/Family Services Bob Salas, Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden, PAWS Director Jenie Wilson and Pets Alive got the shelter to where it is today.  It will take more than this group to chart a better course.

Prior to the roach outbreak the shelter was occupied by large dogs with long stays, many multi-year.

 

Pets Alive strategies choked off intake to a fraction of its prior level.  No longer would the shelter take a pet if its owner died or needed to go into a nursing home.  

 

City Council heard in public comment about loose animals in the community that killed a cat sitting outside on the porch.   

The San Angelo Police Department increasingly took up the issue of problem animals in the community.

 

Pregnant pets give birth in the City Shelter adding to the overpopulation problem. Councilman Harry Thomas cited irresponsible citizens for the shelter's plight.  The city has had seven years to learn how irresponsible citizens are and design systems to do what they won't, spay/neuter pets in the shelter's care and prevent unwanted litters. 

 

There is a need for change, for wider citizen input.  There is an opportunity to leverage area rescues knowledge and energy.  No-Kill remains a laudable goal.  It's what nearly everybody wants.  San Angelo wants to be like the communities receiving our shelter pets via PAWS transfers.

These communities are long standing no-kill communities where spay and neuter practices have successfully reduced the population of shelter pets.

Daniel, Bob, Morgan and Jenie brought the shelter to where it is today.  More of the same insular strategies won't cut it.  Spay/neuter needs to be made "bad citizen proof" and the shelter needs to never become a horrific hoarding situation again.

Update 9-9-22:  ConchoValleyHomepage got on the story of horrific shelter conditions.  The city did not respond as of the time the article was released at 6:43 pm.

Update 9-13-22:  The City announced shelter changes.  As usual, they've missed the opportunity for wider citizen input, the opportunity to leverage area rescues knowledge/energy and a deeper discussion on institutionalizing spay/neuter of shelter animals making it "bad citizen" proof.   

Update 9-14-22:  Animal Shelter adoption contractor PAWS put out a statement challenging the city's planned changes.  Their response avoided PAWS role in releasing unaltered shelter pets into the community under Pets Alive.  This lack of spay/neuter resulted in numerous litters being born in the shelter.  That practice needs to end.

Update 9-15-22:  Concho Valley PAWS has gone on the offense regarding spay/neuter, encouraging citizens to spay/neuter their pets so fewer animals will be killed in the shelter.  PAWS had a direct role in releasing unaltered animals into the community from the shelter and in scores of litters being born inside the shelter.  Puppies and kittens were a major cause of the recent overcrowding that resulted in a roach infestation and what appeared to be horrific hoarding conditions.  

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Water Utilities Director Strube to Leave COSA


The City of San Angelo issued a press release this afternoon.

Effective Sept. 8, Water Utilities Director Allison Strube will be leaving her position with the City of San Angelo.

Strube has accepted an opportunity with the Colorado River Municipal Water District.

The CRMWD posted an Engineering Services Manager job in mid-June.   

The city's press release highlighted Stube's accomplishments which include:

Serves as chairwoman of the Region 9 Flood Planning Group and a voting member of Region F Water Planning Group.

That is the Upper Colorado River Regional Flood Plan.  

Former City Engineer Lance Overstreet remained the Municipalities representative and serves as Secretary of the Flood Planning Group.  Overstreet left his position as San Angelo's City Engineer in November 2020 and the city continues to recruit for his replacement. 

Water is a precious resource in West Texas, as are professional engineers.  It hurts to have a drought of either.   

Update 9-8-22:   Strube went from reporting to Assistant City Manager Michael Dane to Executive Director of Public Works Shane Kelton.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela waived the professional engineer required for the top Public works position for Ricky Dickson and then Shane Kelton.  Might that have contributed to the city's difficulty finding and retaining engineers?   Kelton will "oversee the Water Utilities Department until Strube’s replacement has been found."

Update 9-27-22: Strube left with a $9,000 raise in the budget from a 7% cost of living raise.  Her pay would have risen to $137,763.

Friday, September 02, 2022

Facility Maintenance on Roach Infestation: Run

San Angelo City employee John Long e-mailed the top two Facilities Maintenance managers and an HVAC specialist about the Animal Shelter roach infestation.  Management's response was "Get out of there" and "something needs to be done before I will send any of our guys back to your facility."

Other city e-mails equate the shelter's roach conditions to working around wastewater (sewage).  The problem can be addressed safely with proper personal protective equipment and ventilation.  I found the "Run response" a bit odd given facilities maintenance's role in preventing pest problems.

Facilities Maintenance management may have changed their tune and did work to ensure MDK Systems had proper access to all necessary portions of the building for the fumigation roach treatment.  They did help assemble the new dog kennels/crates.  The roach treatment occurred last night and the facility must be empty for 48 hours.  Then it will be safe for staff to return, including facilities maintenance.