Thursday, September 28, 2023

Development Corporation Recommends Lip Chip LLC Incentive

The City of San Angelo Development Corporation will recommend a $29,700 economic development incentive for Lip Chip LLC.  The company plans to build a plant outside city limits.  The item will go to City Council for approval.

In closed session the Development Corporation board discussed a real estate bid.  In July the city took bids from developers for land adjacent to the new Railport.  This is the third time the city sought bids for this land.  After closed session the board had no report for the public.

The Development Corporation locked in a $2 million incentive for Angelo State University's pilot training program.  No one from the public spoke during the public hearing on this item.  The money will go toward a new facility.  

Assistant City Manager Michael Dane said City Council chose not to set strategic priorities for the coming fiscal year.  He recommended the Development Corporation Board set some strategic priorities as they would help staff focus.

The board endorsed the following three strategic priorities.

Transportation (planes, trains and automobiles)

Business Recruitment/Business Retention and Expansion

Quality of Life

In prior years City Council identified water and economic development as key priorities.  Top staff positions in both areas have been vacant for over a year.  

Maybe a key strategy should be leadership recruitment and retention.  It would help the city achieve its other important aims.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

City Moves Back Animal Shelter Completion


"Emergency repairs" for the San Angelo Animal Shelter are expected to be complete in April 2024.  Staff presented $2 million in short term financing, mostly for Shelter repairs, to City Council in February.  

The City approved engineering design services in May.  Construction Manager Al Torres said the design work would take 45-60 days and then the project could be put out to bid. 

Construction financing normally parallels the project's completion, however the city paid back the note on August 15, 2023.  The city paid over $93,000 in fees and interest and staff stated there were no relevant documents when asked for Shelter renovation invoices paid from the $2 million borrowing.

As of today, the city is yet to bid out Animal Shelter renovations.  City Council meets again next Tuesday.  Their agenda may or may not shed light on the status of this project. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

City Council Funds $2 million for One Nonprofit, Rejects $69,000 for Another, Opens $25,000 Door for Third

San Angelo City Council approved $2 million in  Development Corporation funds for Angelo State University but denied a $69,000 request for TIRZ funding for a north-side nonprofit.  In closed session Council opened the door for the Railway Museum, another local nonprofit, to receive $25,000 in Hotel Occupancy Tax funds.  The Railway Museum's board chair is Suzanna Valenzuela, wife of San Angelo City Manager Daniel Valenzuela.

In the presentation Assistant City Manager Michael Dane referred to Angelo State University as "not a traditional taxpaying entity."  The $2 million in Development Corporation funds would go toward facilities for ASU's Pilot Training Program.  

TIRZ Board Chair Jon Mark Hogg regretted rising to speak on behalf of the Martin Luther King Avenue nonprofit, Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church.   He felt he inadvertently hurt the applicant's chances of approval.  Mayor Gunter raised her concern of the TIRZ board not endorsing Chadbourne Street "street-scaping" North of the freeway.  Council Tom Thompson raised the specter of nonprofits coming out of the woodwork to apply for TIRZ funds should this one be approved.  Thompson voted no for this reason.  Neither the Mayor's or Thompson's concern dealt with the merits of the project as submitted by the applicant.

Over the last year this City Council has gotten cross-ways with the Development Corporation Board and TIRZ board.  Several years ago Council put the Railway Museum Board in its place.  One could view it as progress that two out of three received Council approval today. 

The City Attorney almost directed City Manager Daniel Valenzuela to work out an agreement with the Railway Museum where his wife is Board Chair.  She corrected herself and steered the job to Assistant City Manager Michael Dane.  Dane is taking on multiple roles as Interim Economic Development Director as the search to date has been unsuccessful.

Two nonprofits went at least one step forward, while one received its second rejection from this City Council.  The TIRZ board and development staff want "qualified organizations" to apply for funding.  A minority of City Council members are not helping them.

Update 9-26-23:  The Development Corporation will consider a $29,700 economic development incentive for Lip Chip LLC.  Their facility will be outside San Angelo city limits.

Update 9-28-23:  The Development Corporation approved the $29,700 incentive for Lip Chip LLC and the item will go to City Council for approval.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Council to Consider "Rolling Debt Program"

San Angelo's City Council will consider borrowing millions more to finance short term projects.  The background packet states:

At the General Fund budget workshop on August 29, 2023, the City Council asked staff to bring a discussion item to present options and explain processes and impacts related to a rolling debt program that would provide funds for equipment replacement, public safety equipment, and other small City capital projects or needs. Vince Viaille, Managing Director of Specialized Public Finance, Inc., will be presenting the program and discussing options with the City Council at this meeting. 

Note that the city already borrowed and repaid nearly $2 million, mostly for Animal Shelter renovations that are yet to be bid out.  Issuance fees and interest totaled $93,000.  

Staff left blank the "financial impact" section of the rolling debt program memo in the background packet.

City staff said no invoices existed for shelter renovations paid from that $2 million borrowing.  Council should explore how that initial short-term borrowing was used before committing to future debt issuance.

They have that opportunity tomorrow as a second short term debt instrument of $1.875 million will be presented.

City Council generally avoids cash flow considerations in their annual strategic planning/budget process.  The city's various fund balances are not discussed.  Some are substantial, having grown from higher property assessments, a multi-year increase in water related fees and other fee increases.

Staff have long taken a minimalist approach with City Council and the wider public.  

It took a public information request to get actual costs for the (Series 2023A) notes Council approved.  Issuance fees are $49,000, bond counsel fees $3,500 and interest costs $41,327 (as the city shortened the term of the note to August 15, 2023).  Those total $93,827, a significant amount that could fund may a low cost spay/neuter surgery program.

I believe those same forces are in play with the series of short term debt instruments.  

To date City Council has expressed little curiosity as to the need for the short term notes, the cost of issuance plus interest expense and whether existing fund balances/cash flow can cover the costs of the various projects.  That could change tomorrow.  Then again, it may not.

Update 9-19-23:  City Council endorsed the idea of a rolling debt program as a way of occupying 2 cents of the 11.4 cents tax rate for its interest and sinking fund.  Council did not ask about cash flow projections but seemed excited that the city could buy more things within a budget period with this "short-term financing for short-term projects."

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

City Gives Up on Filling Economic Development Director

San Angelo's city leaders "pressed pause" on their search for a new Economic Development Director.  Over a year ago former Director Guy Andrews resigned.  At the time Assistant City Manager Michael Dane expressed optimism that a replacement could be found quickly.  Two rounds of headhunter led searches produced no viable candidates. 

Economic Development is a top three priority for City Council.  The Development Corporation pays the city huge dollars annually for support services, which includes the Economic Development Director.   

That contract was an issue for Guy Andrews and former board member John Bariou.  Both questioned the fairness of the arrangement and its impact on the independence of the Development Corporation.  City staff staunchly defended what they bring to the table, so it's disappointing for staff not to deliver on hiring a quality candidate.  Dane even said the position might not need a full time person.  How many faces do these guys have?

Money was mentioned as a stumbling block but sometimes it's "you can't pay me enough to do that job."  Any candidate could watch City Council and Development Corporation meetings and see a lack of alignment.

The Development Corporation held two budget workshops that likely addressed the various splits.  Those have not been shared with the public outside written minutes.  At least one workshop meeting had an audio recording.  

Pressing pause in an audio recordings  mean less visibility for the public, which includes possible future Economic Development Director candidates.  Much is said in the space between words.

City Council and their appointed COSADC board need to work through a number of issues.  Until then hiring a new Economic Development Director will be challenging.

Update:  The July 26th Workshop minutes state:

The board would like to align strategic priorities with City Council.

The public should be able to hear this discussion.

The Development Corporation approved a lease extension with Centurion Planning and Design as the firm's new space is not yet ready.  This is interesting as Guy Andrews works for Centurion.

Update 9-26-23:  The meeting minutes state "Per Michael Dane, the hiring of the Economic Development Director position is on pause."

Sunday, September 03, 2023

Shelter Pet Labor Day


Volunteers at San Angelo's Animal Shelter are provided by Concho Valley PAWS and can only assist shelter pets during PAWS operating hours.  PAWS announced their Labor Day closure. 

San Angelo pets face a different kind of labor, that associated with pregnancy.  PAWS stopped issuing low cost spay/neuter vouchers over four of the last nine months, but plans to restart the program in September.

Vouchers were not available for December 2022 and January 2023 and stopped again the last two months, July and August. 

PAWS is the Animal Shelter's veterinary service provider and available shelter statistics do not include the number of shelter pets spayed/neutered under this arrangement. 

SNIP Voucher restarting is yet to make PAWS website but is shown on their Facebook page.

San Angelo and Concho Valley residents interested in "being the change" will have an option to accomplish that goal.  

As the late Bob Barker said, "Have your pets spayed or neutered."

Update 9-4-23:  PAWS volunteers gave feedback to Shelter Chief Morgan regarding dog walking in the afternoon's of our record blistering summer heat.  It's not good for the dogs or the volunteers, many of whom are elderly. 

Update 9-10-23:  A PAWS volunteer gave public comment at Thursday's City Council meeting.  It was not an endorsement of shelter leadership or City Council's burying their heads in the sand regarding the harm from the shelter following Pets Alive policies.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Heartbreaking, Strange Animal Services Budget Session

City Council revisited Animal Services at its 8-29 meeting after loose, aggressive dogs attacked at least one resident's pet (possibly more) on Jackson Street.  Members of City Council were light on details of the past weekend's incident in referencing "an e-mail chain."

Unrestrained dogs killed a beloved ASU cat at the Facilities Department on Jackson Street on August 10th.  An Animal Control Officer came out and wanted to do a "bite report."  That seemed insufficient since the grievous injuries to the cat included "multiple fractured ribs, abdominal tears, herniated organs, torn aorta, collapsed lungs and more." Other than the dog inflicted injuries an autopsy showed the cat was “free of disease or dysfunction.”  For many years that cat did his job of controlling rodents on ASU property.

I wondered if the dogs that killed the ASU cat were the same ones involved in the Jackson Street incident mentioned at City Council.  That is yet to be determined by professionals based on evidence.  ASU Police have video of the loose dogs that marauded through Facilities on August 10th.

Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden referenced her department's "data driven approach" but had remarkably little data to share with Council regarding their concerns.  Issues included loose dogs in our community, unaltered pets and aggressive animals.  Some can be all three, unfixed, dangerous and running free.

Last year the City Animal Shelter was bursting at the seams with cockroaches and puppies.  City Council approved a focused effort by the City Attorney's office to write citations to people who had taken shelter animals (adopted or reclaimed) and not gotten them spayed/neutered as required by city ordinance.

This week several Council members recalled this financial commitment and asked about the data.  I expected the City Attorney to say something in response to Council's inquiry.  Nothing.

Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden talked about staffing and how the City "added" an Administrative Assistant to assist with data collection.  It may have been budget sleight of hand.  Cut two Office Assistants.  Add one Administrative Assistant.


Morgan highlighted "budget constraints" as a former budget manager.  Animal Services spent $750,000 in FY ended  2015.  The budget for the coming fiscal year ended 2024 is over $1.25 million.  That's a $500,000 or 66% increase.  It does not include the nearly $2 million in planned shelter renovations.

Morgan also informed Council the shelter does not use the words "no kill."  Oddly, those words are in the first line of Concho Valley PAWS most recent RFP submission for shelter adoption and veterinary services. 

The City's NFS-02-20 RFP specified scope of services.  The first two items in that document were:

Support San Angelo Pets Alive and become the city’s partner in such initiatives 

Adopt the lifesaving vision as set forth in American Pets Alive

The Animal Shelter still follows the Pets Alive model:

American Pets Alive:  Our mission is to end the urgent crisis facing shelter animals by helping save the millions of dogs, cats, and other potential pets needlessly being killed across the country each year.

Pets Alive turned San Angelo's Animal Shelter into mostly a long-term care facility for large dogs.  Their model does not prioritize spay/neuter services or include spay/neuter compliance in their "data driven" statistics.  Through a series of intake, geographic and shelter capacity restrictions it is extremely difficult to surrender a pet to the city shelter.  It is so complicated the shelter instructs citizens on "the path to shelter intake" for pet owners, as if it's a path to home ownership or the path to a comfortable retirement.

Last summer's horrific hoarding conditions at the shelter came in part from three dogs that had litters.  One of those three had multiple stays in the shelter.  Shelter staff and PAWS vet had two months to identify the dog was pregnant and have her altered.  They did not.

This is the second year in a row Animal Shelter issues roared to the forefront during Council's strategic planning/budget preparation cycle.  Questions asked indicate there is more work to be done.  Answers given raise doubts as to the city's seriousness or capabilities in addressing them.

Update 9-4-23:  PAWS Volunteer Handbook states on page 2:

We are in partnership with the City of San Angelo on a No Kill Initiative.

Concho Valley Homepage ran the following article in April 2021:

"Working Together, Concho Valley PAWS and San Angelo Animal Shelter are achieving the “No Kill” Goal"

The story was written by PAWS and it misrepresents actual euthanasia statistics. 

Update 9-13-23:  The agenda packet for next week's City Council is available on the city's website.  There is no item on the agenda for Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden to close the loop on questions asked during the budget meeting but not answered.  

Minutes state the following:

Neighborhood and Family Services Assistant Director Morgan Chegwidden and Director Bob Salas addressed concerns regarding the Animal Shelter.

The video showed more than that.  Mayor Gunter indicated at least one child's safety was at risk from the Jackson Street incident.  A drive around town reveals third world levels of loose animals. 

Update 9-27-23:  The City's Capital Improvement Plan has a 4-30-24 completion date for Animal Shelter renovations.  The project is yet to be bid on the city's purchasing website.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

City Council Approved Another $2 Million in Short Term Notes

- -

San Angelo City Council held a special meeting to consider approving seeking bids for $2 million in short term financing.  The term of the notes would be one year.  City Council approved the matter by a 7-0 vote.  Not one Council member asked about the costs of issuance.

This is concerning as the City paid back a similar $2 million short term note on August 15th.  The vast majority of those funds were sold as shelter renovation financing.  

That note cost nearly $100,000 in issuance fees and interest.  City staff said not one invoice related to shelter renovations was paid from those borrowings.  So how did the city utilize those funds prior to paying them back?  It  is a mystery.

Update 9-18-23:  City staff will ask City Council for approval to issue a series of short term bonds in tomorrow's Council meeting.  That discussion will be worth watching.

Friday, August 25, 2023

City Paid Off One Short Term Note, Needs Another

City Staff is requesting to borrow $1.875 million for "the construction of certain public works,
including park improvements, street improvements, and public safety facilities."

The City paid off nearly $2 million in short term notes on August 15, 2023.  Those funds were primarily targeted toward Animal Shelter renovations, which are yet to begin.  

Council approved $118,000 for an outside engineering contractor on.May 17th.  The city is yet to seek bids for the Animal Shelter renovation project.

The mismatch in project timing vs. available funds was foreseeable.  

I will wager the $2 million tax note will be paid back before shelter renovations are completed.
The city spent significant funds on the just retired short term note.

It took a public information request to get actual costs for the notes Council approved.  Issuance fees are $49,000, bond counsel fees $3,500 and interest costs $41,327 (as the city shortened the term of the note to August 15, 2023).  Those total $93,827, a significant amount that could fund may a low cost spay/neuter surgery program.

Putting funds towards low cost spay/neuter would've provided a greater service to the community.

I submitted another public information request for shelter renovation invoices paid from the just retired $2 million tax note.  Due to changes City Council approved last December I will have to pay for any documents produced.

Hopefully, someone on City Council will ask about project timing and borrowed fund availability (October 19, 2023).  Also, Council's background packet does not state the term of the $1.875 million note, only that it would be repaid by fiscal year end.  That also should be made clear to the public.

The City has become a low information sharing entity. 

Update 8-28-23:  The city paid $93,827 for construction financing it did not use:

“Please provide copies of all invoices for Animal Shelter renovations paid for by the nearly $2 million in funds borrowed for that purpose that were paid back on August 15, 2023. I am willing to pay for the production of these documents. Thank you.” 

Their response was:

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

Why would the city borrow money for a stated purpose, not use it for that project and pay it back prior to even starting Animal Shelter renovations?  Hopefully, someone on City Council will ask. 

Update 9-27-23:  The City's Capital Improvement Plan has a 4-30-24 completion date for Animal Shelter renovations.  The project is yet to be bid on the city's purchasing website.

Friday, August 18, 2023

ASAC Public Comment Insightful

Several Concho Valley PAWS volunteers provided public comment in yesterday's Animal Shelter Advisory Committee.  A PAWS foster volunteer submitted public information requests regarding spay/neuter enforcement.  She found:

"44 out of 650 pets provided proof of spay/neuter after impound.  Of the 606 unaltered 400 had a complaint filed and all had been released to owners.  206 are out there unaltered, more than the shelter's current capacity."

"In 2022 and 2023 (year to date) ten breeders permits were issued total, most to a single breeder of dogs that provides a high percent of shelter numbers. And they were issued to individuals who had an impounded dog."

A PAWS volunteer who fosters primarily large dogs reminded the committee of former Shelter Chief James Flores words before City Council when the mandatory spay/neuter ordinance passed on 2015.

"We have to do a better job with dogs running loose all over the community.  It's not just one or two neighborhoods anymore."
She encouraged promoting the city's spay/neuter and microchip requirements while upping enforcement.

A longtime PAWS board member closed the public comment.

"San Angelo has turned a blind eye to the plight of shelter animals far too long."

Concho Valley PAWS is the City of San Angelo's shelter contractor, responsible for veterinary care and adoptions.  The City also relies on PAWS for counseling for citizens wishing to surrender their pet to the Shelter (see above graphic). 

"...We can spay/neuter our way ou-t.  Humans created this situation and we must find a solution."

I found these comments interesting given my prior public information requests regarding shelter spay/neuter compliance.  City statistics showed vast numbers of unaltered animals entering and leaving the shelter (2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021-2022.)  

"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 2022.  Her puppies contributed to the gross shelter overcrowding condition. seen last year at this time.

PAWS stopped issuing low cost spay/neuter vouchers twice since it launched a public relations campaign on "being the change, spay/neuter your pet."  The first stoppage covered December 2022 and January 2023.  PAWS stopped again in July and is yet to restart the program as of today (also in above graphic).

I am glad other members of the community are using public information requests to obtain shelter data the city could easily provide.  It's ironic it's PAWS volunteers.  I consider PAWS complicit in the widespread release of unaltered shelter animals.  

PAWS Executive Director has said many times that all shelter pets had been spayed/neutered.  The focused audit started in the midst of the shelter crisis throws doubts on those assertions.  Results of the City Attorney's audit should be shared with Council and the community.

When the aim is not to serve, some information is best unshared.  As for the signposts to "the path to shelter intake" most say "Do Not Enter."

Update 8-19-23:  Here's another insightful comment from a longtime contributor in the animal welfare community:

For every one dog picked up by a Good Sam "program", there hundreds more without this safety net. We have no real animal control. City of San Angelo can not or will not pick up strays as needed, and won't let anyone bring them to the shelter, "let them roam" is the motto. It is virtually impossible for the average owner to surrender an unwanted pet to the city shelter. Almost no one can follow the proposed intake policy. Forms, appointments, counseling, waiting, etc. another euphemism for "program" that doesn't fly. So they are gonna end up being conveniently dumped in our streets. City powers and its exclusive vendor can continue to blame the irresponsible public instead of taking accountability for its own obligations according to state health codes.

Update 8-30-23:   City Council discussed an incident on Jackson Street over the weekend in which loose dogs killed at least one family pet, possibly more.  Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden spoke about data but failed to share any.  The Shelter added an office assistant to assit with data compilation.  One might expect the Shelter to share all "this data" with the public via the city's website.  That has not been the case.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Nature Center Closed After Top 5 Ranking in Parks Master Plan

San Angelo Mayor Brenda Gunter asked Parks Chief Carl White about budget priorities aligning with the 2020 Parks Master Plan.  She asked that this effort be undertaken in a City Council strategic planning session on May 26, 2023.  The Nature Center ranked in the Top 5 for Indoor Facilities Amenities.

Public Art ranked in the bottom three.  

City staff requested no funding for Nature Center improvements for the period 2023-2029.  On August 3rd the city issued a press release on the permanent closing of the Nature Center at 8:11 am.  

City Council meet nineteen minutes after that press release hit the wires.  Two young citizens gave public comment that morning opposing the closing.  Not one staff or council member explained the situation that led to the closing and why closing was the only alternative.

They certainly did not reference the Master Plan and how closing the Nature Center fit into that strategic framework.  The Mayor made a good suggestion and it would have helped the public understand why we lost the Nature Center.  

Years ago a different set of consultants worked to develop city land near Mary Lee Park.  Their conceptual plan had the Nature Center being relocated.  Lake Nasworthy development returns as a priority with the completion of the new sewer line.  

Should the Mayor ever get her parks meeting I don't expect city staff to talk about the closing of the Nature Center.  It's not in their nature.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Record Heat, Drought and Texas Water Rights

At least twice this summer residents along Spring Creek east of Mertzon experienced no creek flow for days at a time.  The reason was water rights users pulling water for irrigation purposes.  Once those users stopped pumping creek flow returned.  

Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ) manages water resources in each major river watershed.  The Concho River and its tributaries have a Watermaster to manage water use. TCEQ has water flow models and its website refers to "environmental flows."  

For months I took pictures of diminished creek flow and emailed them to the Watermaster.  Replies included terms like:

 “We are monitoring the creek and will adjust diversions as needed.”

“Nobody is approved to pump until the creek has time to recover.”

Restrictions are still in place.”

This language combined with "environmental flows" led me to believe water rights users could only pull a portion of available water with some designated to keep the estuary healthy.  The Watermaster tried to inform me I was incorrect. 

I contacted Representative Drew Darby with the aim of having the creek not stop again in the midst of a drought with record heat. He kindly called me that day.

Representative Darby explained the evolution of Texas water rights, noting its complexity.  He said that 100% of Texas water has a claim on it.  The state wanted some amount of water to go toward environmental flow, but the only water available was unclaimed water.  Thus the state designated that excess water over current claims as "environmental flow."

I was wrong in assuming "environmental flow" meant base flow to maintain the health of a waterway.  For those who remain confused, as I was, a better term might be "surplus water"  or "unclaimed water" vs. "environmental flow."  

Another way to view it, if the environment provides ample rains and water is abundant, you have environmental flow.


Rep. Darby said those with longtime water rights users have the ability to take 100% of creek flow for days at a time.  He said those taking the water have an obligation to use good agricultural practices so that water is used effectively.

The other aspect of water rights in Texas is "use it or lose it."  That distorts government budgets and may cause some people to use water when they might not otherwise.  

That said, I'm sure everyone is doing their best to make it through this record heat and nearly rain-less summer.  I've been praying for rain.  I'm counting on the Lord to eventually say yes and send life giving rains.  Until then, the creek may yet again run dry.

Update 8-24-23:  Day two of no flow in Spring Creek.  Contacted Watermaster to find out when flow might return.  No response yet. 

Update 9-9-23:  The creek stopped flow at least seven times thus far this summer.  Praying for God to send us some of that unclaimed water.

As for TCEQ, the Texas Tribune reported citizens' rights to challenge upstream pollution activity are limited.

Sunday, August 06, 2023

Headhunter on Job for New Water Utilities Director

The City of San Angelo hired Strategic Government Resources (SGR) to find its next Water Utilities Director.  Allison Strube announced her resignation on September 7, 2022 with it becoming effective the next day.  The City's Human Resources department sought qualified candidates for the last eleven months.  

City leaders chose to engage the same recruitment firm it is using to find a new Economic Development Director.  Assistant City Manager Michael Dane indicated two finalists in mid July, one year after Guy Andrews submitted his resignation.  This is the second round of candidates from SGR for the Economic Development position.  Candidates from the earlier round either withdrew or were not considered qualified.  As SGR's job is to find qualified candidates it is likely most or all candidates from that earlier round withdrew.

Oddly, the July 26th COSADC board meeting made no mention of that SGR search and the two finalists. Water and economic development are among the City's highest priorities.  Both searches are nearly a year old.  Let's hope they don't stretch to two years, the length of the City Engineer search.  That was finally filled with an internal candidate.  

Critical leadership positions have been or are currently difficult to fill.  City Council is in the midst of its strategic planning process and could shine light in this area.  Their next opportunity is August 11th at 8:30 am when the Council takes up Enterprise Funds.  

Thursday, August 03, 2023

Citizens Surprised by Sudden Closing of Nature Center

Two young citizens shared their disappointment over the closing of the San Angelo Nature Center at today's City Council meeting.  The two testifiers enjoyed the center as they grew and volunteered for the organization.

They asked city leaders to reconsider the closing and explore fundraising and public-private partnerships.

Not one elected official responded to the concerns other than Mayor Gunter thanking them for their comments.  No paid city leaders offered a word on what most citizens found to be a sudden and shocking development.

Public Information staff removed most of its web pages regarding the Nature Center, however it remained in the description of the city's Recreation Department.

The Recreation Division manages facilities such as the City's three recreation centers, Municipal Pool, the San Angelo Nature Center and the Texas Bank Sports Complex. Additionally, Recreation is responsible for a host of programming, including Senior Services, Athletics, an aquatic program, summer day camps and special events like the annual Date Night.

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board minutes and agendas for 2023 make no mention of problems at the Nature Center. 

City Council is in the midst of its Strategic Planning sessions.  There has been no sharing of concerns at the Nature Center in Council planning sessions, this year or for the last several.

City Council members charged Parks Director Carl White to look ahead thirty years in planning for improvements at the River Stage.  Contrast that with today's news regarding the Nature Center and City Council's silence.  It closed without a peep.

The closing of the Nature Center removes one obstacle in developing the area around Mary Lee Park, a longtime goal of the city.  Once the new sewage line is in place the development doors should swing wide open.  

I commend the two young persons who rose to speak at City Council today.  It may be their first real lesson in civics.  Their suggestions deserve an answer.  

Update 8-10-23:  City Council minutes state:

Citizens Jason Davis (SMD5) and Cecile Goodman (SMD5) spoke against the closing of the San Angelo Nature Center.
And they received not one word in reply to their concerns and requests.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Millionaire Wins Millions from Pauper in Defamation Lawsuit

Respected businessman Lee Pfluger sued local citizen Zane White for defamation and won a $3.1 million judgment.  

I watched the City Council meetings on video and hope my page counts weren't used in assessing the fine as White's assertions made no impact on my regard for Mr. Pfluger.  

I'd hoped to read the four page judgment but the Tom Green County website indicated I lacked the appropriate permissions.  I did note an "affadavit of indigency" in the court record.

Pfluger indicated he sued in part to challenge the notion that the City of San Angelo is a corrupt institution.  He considers his victory vindication in that regard.  That may apply in this sad and tragic case but the city runs a vast operation.  

There are current and former city board members with questions about ethics and fairness (COSADC and TIRZ).  Fortunately, they have not been sued by influential local leaders.

Mr. White and several disability champions showed the public they can be demeaned by Council members and city managers for offering public comment.   Now there is a significant financial penalty for saying critical things on tape.

Congratulations to Mr. Pfluger on his win, although he never lost in my mind.

Update 7-11-23:  The TIRZ board recommended the city fund Mr. Pfluger's Angry Cactus expansion up to the maximum allowed ($75,000) should current funds allow.  Angry Cactus owner Tim Condon referred to Mr. Pfluger as his landlord.  The item will go to City Council for approval.

Update 8-5-23:  Council awarded Mr. Pfluger $72,294 minus the amount of accrued interest ($2,883).  Pfluger will receive $69,411.

 The charge to reduce the award was led by Mayor Gunter who owns a competing restaurant a block away.  The Mayor did not declare a conflict of interest and failed to recuse herself from discussing this agenda item.  The motion passed 7-0, including the Mayor's yes vote.

Sunday, July 09, 2023

Concho Valley PAWS Skips Spay Neuter Vouchers for July (add August)

For the third time in the last eight months Concho Valley PAWS will not be offering low cost spay neuter vouchers to the public.  PAWS indicated via Facebook it would not issue vouchers in July, having missed December 2022 and January 2023.  The program was relaunched in February after funding and contract agreements had been finalized.

PAWS dedicated veterinarian Dr. Victor Schulze recently left the organization.  PAWS SNIP Clinic is one of four sites accepting the vouchers.  It's not clear if his departure impacted the decision to not offer vouchers.

The City of San Angelo Animal Shelter contracts with PAWS for adoption and veterinary services.  The shelter has a separate contract with Dr. Schulze for state mandated services.  The city's website has no information about any changes in operations for shelter pets needing veterinary care.  

Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden and PAWS Executive Director Jenie Wilson have assured City Council multiple times that shelter pets are being spayed/neutered.  

Those assurances were called into question by a focused audit of unaltered shelter pets conducted by the City Attorney's office.  The city issued citations to adopters who'd failed to spay/neuter their shelter pet.  The results of that audit are yet to be presented to City Council or the public.

Pets Alive encourages shelters to be very forthcoming with information.  That has not been the case with the City Animal Shelter or its adoption/veterinary service contractor Concho Valley PAWS. 

City Council chose not to devote any funding to low cost spay neuter for the current fiscal year despite staff's recommendation to allocate $10,000.  The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee has requested Council consider devoting funds for this purpose but that has not yet made it on the agenda.

Update 8-3-23:  PAWS website currently states:

Vouchers are currently sold out.  Please check back in August for availability.

Update 8-16-23:  PAWS has not changed the information on their website.  It still states "check back in August for availability." 

Update 8-30-23:  PAWS provided no information on future low cost spay/neuter opportunities for citizens in their Concho Valley Homepage article.  Their website still says "check back in August."  There is one day left in the month.

The story is titled from "streets to loving homes."  Sadly, for some pets it's "streets to streets."  San Angelo has become third world in terms of loose animals, many unaltered, and some aggressive.  Councilman Tom Thompson's November 2022 direction that the shelter can cap the pet population turned a low response shelter into nearly a no response facility.

Update 9-4-23:  PAWS posted on their Facebook page that SNIP vouchers would again be available come September 10th.  This is the second two month period in the last nine months where PAWS provided no low cost spay/neuter vouchers.  I updated this post's title with (add August).

Update 9-20-23:  Concho Valley Homepage reported PAWS new facility, the Stephens Dog Dorms will open after it receives an occupancy permit.  In April 2021 CVH reported:

Currently under construction is the Stephens Dog Dorms which will house adoptable dogs awaiting adoption.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Councilman Thomas Concerned about Turnover

City Councilman Harry Thomas expressed concern at the last Council meeting over the continued loss of key leaders in the Water Department.  He attributed turnover to pay scales but often people say "you can't pay me enough to work here."  That requires clarifying issues and coming up with strategies to deal with shared concerns.

Fortunately the Council is in the middle of its annual strategic planning process and would only need to take a slight detour to add "staff retention in priority areas" as a key objective.

Having watched this same Council ignore a deteriorating Animal Services during last year's planning process I am not sure Councilman Thomas will get wider support for his concern.  

Animal Services blew up as the budget neared approval from a roach infestation amidst horrific hoarding conditions.  The City Manager imposed a game plan for future operations.  Two months later Council allowed the shelter to shutter intake transferring loose animal responsibilities to citizens.  For many poor service turned into no service.  

The City has numerous buildings used to house thousands of animals multiple times a year.  City leaders want the Department of Defense to grant them millions of dollars to improve the City Coliseum and surrounding buildings.

City Council approved borrowing nearly $2 million in short term money, the vast majority for Animal Shelter renovations.  Oddly, the funds will have been paid back before the city begins spending significant amounts updating the building. 

Ad hoc nonstrategic interventions require the simple silence of City Council.  Councilman Thomas has spoken out.  How many will join him?

Thursday, June 08, 2023

Benedetti Buyback Deal Hits Third Amendment

The City of San Angelo physically returned its Benedetti Phoenix asphalt recycler in October 2019 and has been waiting for payment since.  The City financed the $1.2 million equipment purchase with the intent of street maintenance crews refinishing deteriorated city streets.  

The plan did not materialize and few streets were redone with the equipment.  In 2021 Council approved spending $1.4 million to refinish Rio Concho, four years after a Benedetti refinish.

The initial buyback agreement was created December 2018.  City Council approved the buyback in January 2019.  Beneditti had until October 30, 2020 to refund the city $800,000 or begin paying 10% interest on the outstanding balance.  

The COVID pandemic disrupted the country in March 2020.  The city understandably wanted the $800,000 and executed a series of amendments postponing payment. 

Amendment 1 ..."the parties executed an amendment to extend the payment date until April 30, 2021"

Amendment 2  ...."provide for a payment date of August 31, 2021"

In April 2022 the city and Benedetti appeared close to resolving the issue.  The company thought they had a buyer for the city's returned equipment.  That did not materialize.

City Council approved the latest amendment at its June 6, 2023 meeting.

Amendment 3 

• The total amount to be collected by the CITY from BENEDETTI as the repurchase price of the EQUIPMENT is equal to $800,000 plus $17,500 in costs of issuance for defeasance of the bonds for a total of $817,500; and 

• A quarterly payment in accordance with the Payment Schedule included in this amendment

City Council approved the plan to refund the financing in accord with the payment schedule. 

Finance Director Tina Diershke noted in an e-mail chain:

....we would like to defease the amount necessary from the 2016 Streets CO to recycle the amount due from Benedetti , Inc. and make that amount available for immediate use for street reconstruction and improvements.

Public Works has been working on the buy-back agreement for several years and has finally come to terms with the vendor.

I believe Council already authorized Daniel to negotiate and execute the agreement several years ago, and this would be an amendment to the original agreement.
It would be the third amendment to the original agreement, all agreed upon terms with the vendor.

Director of Operations Patrick Frerich stated in an e-mail:

We’d also like to budget the entire revenue upfront.

Finance Director Diershke replied:

I was thinking we would need the signed agreement in place prior to the budget amendment as a basis for budgeting the revenues and expenditures.
A Benedetti budget amendment may be on City Council's docket in the near future.

The City of San Angelo's Benedetti Phoenix has been a story of unfilled promise after promise.  I can see why staff want to present as little as possible and move on.

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Council Approved CAFR Not Available to Public

City of San Angelo staff chose not to include the 2022 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report in the May 4th City Council background packet.  So far, they've chosen not to make it available to the public on the city website.  

City Council is undertaking its annual Strategic Planning process.  Years ago they set a goal of growing the city's various fund balances.  Council missed the opportunity of updating the public on those balances during the accountant's CAFR presentation one month ago.

It remains to be seen if those balances will be shared with the public in a Council strategic planning session.  Those figures are not available from FY ended 2022.

Staff wants fewer public information requests but consistently takes a minimalist approach to sharing information publicly.  In 2018 staff removed public access to the city's monthly financial statements.  Council agendas and background packets were unsearchable for a significant period.  A recent software update corrected this problem.

If staff don't want to fulfill PIRs then they should post more information on the city's website.  And City Council should encourage that in their strategic planning sessions.

Update 6-12-23:  The 2022 CAFR is now available to the public on the city's website.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

City Paying $130,000 for Water Leadership Drought

City Council will consider hiring Enprotec/Hibbs and Todd to support San Angelo's depleted water department leadership.  The background packet states:

With the Water Utility Director and now Assistant Director position being vacant, assistance is needed to help navigate many of the routine reports and monitoring activities of the Utility. This change order will be for temporary assistance in managing the regulatory paperwork and reports of the Utility until a new Water Utility Director and Assistant Director are hired.

Consider approving Change Order No 1. to ES-06-19 EHT between Enprotec/Hibbs & Todd, Inc. and the City of San Angelo for Water Utilities Department Assistance up to the amount of $130,000

Patrick Frerich, Director of Operations, Water Utilities

Hiring key leaders for strategic priority areas may need to get in the City's strategic plan given the number of vacancies in top positions.  It took over two years to fill the City Engineer position.

There is a real cost to leadership turnover, in this case up to $130,000.  It is budgeted for this fiscal year and the next.  That's either fiscally conservative or sadly practical.

Update 6-6-23:  Councilman Harry Thomas pulled this item from the consent agenda and expressed his concern that the city is losing another key staff person.  Executive Director Public Works Shane Kelton avoided -the loss of yet another leader in the Water Department in his comments to council. 

Update 6-8-23:  Water Utilities Assistant Director Andy Vecellio submitted his resignation on May 12th and June 2nd was his last day with the City of San Angelo.

Benedetti Buyback Hits City Council Again

San Angelo's City Council will revisit a decision it made over four years ago.  Council decided in January 2019 to exercise the buyback agreement in its contract with Benedetti.  

The June 6, 2023 background packet states:

The City is negotiating an agreement with Benedetti, Inc. in order to execute the buyback provision of the original agreement. The repurchase price will result in $800,000 in proceeds to the City plus an additional $17,500 for expected issue costs associated with this redemption of the 2016 Streets CO. Since the agreement with Benedetti is a multi-year agreement, the City must redeem $800,000 of the original CO to avoid potential Federal tax violations associated with a tax-exempt bond which could potentially affect the City's future ability to issue debt. Essentially, the City will be paying off, or calling, a portion of the bonds at an earlier date than originally planned. The City has this funding available in the Debt Service Fund’s fund balance so that it may be placed into escrow for payments at the relevant call dates. The amount placed into escrow will also include approx. $45,366 to cover the costs of interest associated with the bonds at the date of defeasance.

This defeasance will allow the proceeds from the repurchase to be deposited and budgeted, as received, into the Street Infrastructure Fund.

The City will receive $800,000 in proceeds over a period of four years plus an additional $17,500 to cover issue costs. Beyond the costs of issuance, which are being recovered, there is no additional cost to the City that wasn't previously obligated.

City Council approved the purchase of the Benedetti machine to resurface San Angelo's beleaguered roads in December 2016.  Councilman Tom Thompson asked for an update on the machine in March 2018.  City staff provided a memo in response.  Ten months later the city was asking for its money back.

So it took two years for the City to decide the equipment wasn't working and twice that to garner a refund?  

Update 6-6-23:   City Council approved the item as presented. 

Friday, May 26, 2023

Animal Services is Public Safety

Public Safety is one of San Angelo City Council's top priorities.  Animal Services fits under this area but has not gotten near the attention that Police and Fire Departments have garnered.  Council approved borrowing nearly $2 million in short term money to rehabilitate the City Animal Shelter in their February 21, 2023 meeting.  It was presented as an emergency item.

Finance Director Tine Diershke told council in March "the funds we are using can only be used for debt service and that's why we are using those funds at this time."

"This isn't going to solve all our problems.. for the growth that we've had in our community over twenty years is this facility even the right size to serve our community?"--Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden

Councilperson Lucy Gonzales said "This is not going to be an expansion for more animals.  We're going to leave it the way it is with the amount of animals we are housing."

Councilman Tommy Hiebert offered "It doesn't really give us a long term solution to some of the issues we're facing."

Issuance fees were $49,000, bond counsel fees $3,500 and interest costs will be $41,327 (the note is due August 15, 2023).  Those total $93,827, a significant amount that could fund may a low cost spay/neuter surgery program.

Council began its strategic planning process today.  They avoided dealing with the Animal Shelter in last year's process but a roach infestation and horrific hoarding conditions became an issue as staff was finalizing the budget for 2022-2023.

Last November City Council refused to approve a $10,000 budget item for low cost spay/neuter.  The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee reiterated this request in their April 2023 meeting but it is yet to reach Council.


Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden talked about planned Shelter renovations and reminded Council they just approved engineering design services for the project.  

Councilperson Lucy Gonzales asked about feral cats.  As usual Morgan ignored the city's only community cat sponsoring organization. 

Critter Shack's Sharon Halfman wrote Morgan in Summer 2021.

We deal successfully with hundreds of colony caretakers in the Concho Valley.  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.

Critter Shack's low cost spay/neuter clinic has operated for over a decade.  It transitioned from large MASH like operations to a regularly scheduled clinic once the rescue established facilities in Wall, Texas. 

Concho Valley Homepage was able to understand the local rescue situation.  The City Animal Shelter is myopic in this regard.  

It's great the City finally got interested in assisting community cats.  They shouldn't assume their recent contributions made all the difference.  Within the last few months Animal Services refused to assist an elderly Santa Rita resident with her community cat problem.  Hopefully, they.reached out to her with their recently found money for community cat spay/neuter.  That way the city can add to the number of colonies they assist.  They have a ways to go to reach hundreds.

Update 6-12-23:  The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee meets next on August 17, 2023, two days after the $2 million note has been refunded.  The engineering design for shelter improvements should be completed by then.   Will the project have been put out to bid before the next ASAC meeting?  

Update 9-4-23:  Mayor Brenda Gunter and City Council asked numerous questions of Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden during a recent budget meeting.   The Mayor referenced a Jackson Street dog attack where at least one pet died.  Details were light on the incident.  Details were also light on the city's efforts to control our third world level of loose animals.

Update 9-27-23:  The City's Capital Improvement Plan has a 4-30-24 completion date for Animal Shelter renovations.  The project is yet to be bid on the city's purchasing website.

Strategic Planning: Court Revenues Down Big

Municipal Court revenues are down 50% over the last five years.  Reasons offered for the decrease include changes in collections, reduction in the number of court filings (which includes tickets), and the impact of the COVID pandemic on operations.  Departments issuing citations include Police, Fire, and Neighborhood and Family Services which includes Code Compliance and Animal Services.

A City Marshall shared their ability to track people down for payment.  He said he had unfilled positions and new responsibilities like providing officers at City Council and court security.  Mayor Gunter said she loves expert testimony. 

The City has a paid consultant in Judge Allen Gilbert who retired in March 2019 only to be hired as an outside consultant.  That contract has been renewed every year.  Council may wish to hear from the Judge about changes that contributed to the significant revenue reduction since he stepped down as the City's Municipal Court Judge.  

Otherwise, the city may not be able to afford keeping Judge Gilbert on as a consultant.