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.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Council To Face Leadership Turnover in Key Areas?

San Angelo City Council meets tomorrow morning to begin strategic planning for the coming fiscal year.  City staff posted an agenda for the session which lists the top three priorities.  Will City Council ask questions about turnover in those three areas?  

Water Chief Allison Strube left in September 2022.  Economic Development Director Guy Andrews resigned last July, effective in August.  Both positions are yet to be filled.

San Angelo finally filled its City Engineer position, vacant since Lance Overstreet resigned in November 2020.  The announcement came in a February 2023 press release.

For the city to make progress on its strategic initiatives it needs capable, stable leadership.  That hasn't been the case for much of the last year in two of the three areas.

Update 6-1-23:  Add the Assistant Water Utilities Director to the key leadership vacancy list.  

Also under development:

...there is currently a vacant “Chief Planner” position within the Planning Division. The department has been unable to fill the position with a qualified applicant...

And in the City Manager's Office the Executive Office Coordinator position is newly vacant.  Becky Dunn joins former City Clerk Julia Antilley in leaving their longtime positions. 

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.  Vecellio will have a new employer but will be staying in San Angelo.

Executive Office Coordinator Becky Dunn's last day with the city was April 30th.  She retired from the City of San Angelo.

Guy Andrews landed a Client Relations position with Centurion Planning and Design.  Former City Engineer Russell Pehl's employment with Centurion ended in January 2023 according to his LinkedIn profile.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Development Corporation Director Search Bogged Down


The City of San Angelo went through at least four qualified Economic Development Director candidates with no success.  Assistant City Manager Michael Dane told City Council last July the search would begin quickly.  

It took two years to hire a City Engineer and that happened via an internal promotion.  Water Chief Alison Strube left last September and is yet to be replaced.  

City Council meets this Friday to begin its annual strategic planning process.  Long running vacancies in key positions has to harm city operations and service quality.  

Economic development has been a top strategic priority for at least a decade.  Council has been at odds with two boards operating in this arena, the Development Corporation board and TIRZ board.

There is much to iron out but city leaders are loathe to listen and do the hard work of managing differences.  Top executives prefer to ignore or steamroll those they view as problematic.  That's why former Economic Development Director Guy Andrews is gone and COSADC's board First Vice President got summarily replaced.  

Issues remain after parties are ignored.  They are not automatically resolved with elimination of one of the parties.  That's likely why the city still searches for Andrews' replacement.  It's clearly strategic.  We'll see if Council addresses it in their planning process.

Update 6-28-23:  Assistant City Manager Michael Dane informed the Development Corporation Board the selection process produced two qualified candidates who have been interviewed.  He stated a meeting will occur this afternoon to discuss those candidates. 

Update 7-13-23:  Assistant City Manager Michael Dane stated the search committee will meet tomorrow to decide between the two active candidates and the position could be filled by the middle of of August.

Update 8-30-23:  The City is having difficulty finding candidates and city leaders may "press pause" on the search.  It's been a year since Guy Andrews retired, later sharing his concerns with the COSADC board.  City Council's interaction with Chamber Chief Walt Koenig would give any candidate pause.

Economic Development is a top three priority for City Council and a number of items are in the cue to be resolved between COSADC and City Council, so the answer is to not hire someone and stretch existing staff further?  Will the city do that with water next?

Development Corporation Deals with Chamber Agreement Yet Again


The City of San Angelo Development Corporation eventually gave City Council its desired term for the scope of services amendment portion of the Chamber of Commerce agreement.  It took a trip to Closed Session for the item to be approved.  

The rationale for moving the amendment to closed session was to get the advice of the Assistant City Attorney.  Prior to entering closed session the city attorney spoke numerous times about aspects of the proposal.  

COSADC Board President Max Puello  recalled pushing through the agreement at the 11th hour in December and the up and down process since then which included "good feedback" from City Council.  Puello wanted to flush out a few little details with the city attorney.

City attorneys have been involved at both the COSADC and City Council level for six months.  Issues raised by Mayor Gunter and members of City Council had little to do with city legal advice.  They linger from last year's resignation of Economic Development Director Guy Andrews and concerns shared by Board First Vice President John Bariou.  

Council tried to admonish Bariou in closed session but removed the item after he asked that it be held during open session for the public to hear.  They dropped the item but later replaced Bariou on the COSADC board.  

New Second Vice President Rick Mantooth tried to speak to the conflict by saying the Chamber's relationship with the Development Corporation had never been in danger.  He didn't say the Chamber agreement became one method for City Council to share its irritation over Andrews and Bariou publicly raising concerns.

The Development Corporation has been headed by Assistant City Manager Michael Dane since August 2022.  The first round of four candidates from a recruiter failed to produce any candidates qualified or willing to go forward.  Two candidates are currently in process from the recruiter and visits could be scheduled in the next week or two.

It remains to be seen how settled the situation has become.  I thought City Council would return to a more collaborative stance once it surprise replaced First Vice President John Bariou.  That is yet to happen.  This may or may not have been discussed in Closed Session.

Flashback:  Michael Dane texted on July 14, 2022 that the city would quickly begin the process for filling Guy Andrews position.  

Update 6-1-23:  The Chamber of Commerce agreement is back on City Council's agenda for June 6, 2023.  Amendment 1 has ping-ponged between COSADC board and Council for seven months.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Shelter Renovations to Finish January 2024, Debt Due in August

San Angelo's City Council approved $118,000 for engineering design services for Animal Shelter renovations.  Freese and Nichols will create the plans.  The firm employs former Assistant City Manager Elizabeth Grindstaff.

Council person Lucy Gonzales pulled the item from the consent agenda and asked about the time frame for renovations.  The city's construction manager said the design work would take 45-60 days and then the project could be put out to bid.  He deferred to Animal Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden on a final completion date.  She said renovations would be complete in January 2024.  


The construction schedule no longer fits with the financing City Council approved just months ago.  The $2 million in borrowings will need to be repaid in the early phase of shelter renovations.  The main reason for the short term borrowing was to finance Animal Shelter renovations.  No member of City Council asked about this shift in timing and staff did not speak to it.  

The public learned this because Council person Lucy Gonzales asked for more information.  She has consistently cited the problem of loose animals in her district and shared complaints from residents about lack of response from Animal Services.

City Council avoided the Animal Shelter in last year's Strategic Planning efforts.  The situation blew up as final budgets were approved due to horrific hoarding conditions in conjunction with a roach infestation.   

Councilman Tommy Hiebert admitted there has been no long term thinking for Animal Services facilities.  Renovations are only to restore the facility to a usable condition.  

Council will soon start its strategic planning sessions.  Public Safety was a priority last year.  It remains to be seen if City Council will address Animal Services in any substantive way.  

Hopefully, they will ask for information on the special review of unaltered shelter pets undertaken by the City Attorney's office.  Council approved the hiring of a part time staff person to conduct that study and assist in the citation process.  That data has not yet made its way back to City Council.

Update:  Council's first strategic planning session is May 26th at 8:30 am. 

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.

Update 12-15-23:  City Council members received updates from staff on citations issued to shelter pet owners for failure to spay/neuter but that information was not shared with the public, nor was it provided in response to public information requests.

Update 2-8-24:  And what number of "originally" is this?

Although originally planned to proceed in November 2023, complex engineering needs prompted a new timeline to break ground this summer.
This information was included in the 1-16-24 City Council background packet.

Update 3-7-24:  The latest schedule information is:
....the bid phase is delayed to May 2024 with estimated construction completion in November 2024.

Thursday, May 04, 2023

City Council Won't Let Go of COSADC Conflict

San Angelo's Chamber of Commerce must be shaking their head.  Their hard work on behalf of the City's economic development arm has been the subject of numerous City Council debates since September 2022.  Council considered a three year contract with the Chamber with the opportunity for several one year renewals.

Mayor Brenda Gunter gutted the proposal by calling it "unrealistic" and said the arrangement needed to wait for a new Development Corporation Executive Director.  Councilman Tommy Hiebert tried to bring it back to the arrangement is simply "business as usual."

Assistant City Manager Michael Dane said recruitment for an Economic Development Executive Director had to start over after the top four candidates either were eliminated or withdrew.  That is indicative of the unsettled situation.

Chamber President Walt Koenig spoke on behalf of his team in public comment.  Koenig said his staff are pawns in the conflict between two boards (City Council and the Development Corporation).  I thought Council won that fight after it attempted to discipline First Vice President John Bariou (October 2022) before replacing him in the 2023 board reappointment process.

Koenig highlighted his staff's dedication and talent.  He lamented the lack of respect shown to his team and closed with his being appalled by the process.

This City Council has gotten crossed with two boards, the Development Corporation and the TIRZ board.  Open government rules make it difficult for mediation to happen between Council and the two boards, but clearly something different needs to be done.

Citizens appointed to these boards have expertise that may be worth Council actually hearing.  City Council direction is important but the annual strategic planning process is not rigorous or robust enough for every city board to have clarity regarding Council's mindset.  

Dialogue needs to occur but it appears the majority of one party may not be listening.

Update 5-7-23:  The TIRZ board is yet to announce their next meeting.  The Development Corporation board declared their interest in having a more collaborative relationship with City Council.  It meets next on Wednesday, May 24th at 8:30 am.

Update 5-12-23:  The minutes state:

"Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Walt Koenig asked Council to approve the agreement as presented."

He said lots more than that.  Not writing, not listening.

Update 5-20-23:  The Development Corporation background packet for 5-24-23 makes no mention of last week's City Council meeting.  It does not include Mayor Gunter's statement that the list of services is "unrealistic."  City staff refer to direction given back in November 2022, not Council feedback given in the May 4 meeting.  City Council members shared their ideas/direction after denying the amendment.

The Development Corporation took up the agreement in Closed Session during their April 26, 2023 meeting but had no report to the public after executive session.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Council to Accept 2022 CAFR Unavailable to Public

San Angelo's City Council will hear the results of annual financial audit of city finances in its meeting tomorrow morning.  There will an opportunity for public comment after a presentation by the city's auditor.  That will be difficult as the financial audit is not included in the meeting background packet, nor is it posted on the city's website.  

City staff included the audit in the meeting background packet in 2019.  It has not made the financial audit available for the last three years.

The city has been growing its various buckets of money for future projects.  The audit is an opportunity for Council to highlight the funds at its disposal.  From 2019 to 2021 the net position of the Water Department grew from $153.3 million to $182 million.

Total net position in the Sewer Fund grew from $56.6 million in 2019 to $74.5 million in 2021.  A citizen concerned about ongoing high water and sewer bills would not be able to see the 22FY end balances of these accounts as the document is not available.

The CAFR states:

This financial report is designed to provide our citizens, taxpayers, customers, investors, and creditors with a general overview of the City's finances and to show the City's accountability for the money it receives

City staff don't like to fulfill public information requests, yet officials avoid including information in public background packets.  It's not a new development. 

Update 5-4-23:  Mayor Gunter asked for public comment on "this particular audit and the information attached."  The agenda packet had no information attached so it's no surprise there was no public comment.

Staff went on to present an incremental $13.4 million borrowing for the Hickory well field expansion.  The Mayor questioned how the city will pay for this additional debt.  Had the financial audit presented the current Water Fund net position that would have been clear.  Once the 2022 CAFR is actually available to the public I will share that figure.

Update 5-23-23:  City Council will conduct its first strategic planning session on Friday.  Staff published an agenda for the meeting but there is no agenda packet available.

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