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.

Update 2-21-24:  GoSanAngelo's 2019 story stated:

The San Angelo Animal Shelter partnered with Concho Valley PAWS in 2017 and embraced a no-kill initiative.
Update 3-24-24:  The City of San Angelo's website states:

If a pet is in need of immediate medical care due to illness or injury, the pet will be impounded to receive the network of services available through the San Angelo Pets Alive! coalition.

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.