Sunday, May 29, 2005

Memorial Day reflections on Ideas

It's memorial day - a time to remember the sacrifices many have made for our safety and freedom. The daily dispatches from war zones around the world emphasize that the sacrifices are continuing, and will for the forseeable future.

While I was reflecting on the wars and conflicts this country has been involved in during its relatively short life, I ran across an article on the internet that resonated with my thoughts. It is called Why smart people defend bad ideas. Historically most wars start with a bad idea that was defended to the death (usually someone elses death) by some of the smartest people of their age. The seeds of our revolution were fertilized by smart people promoting and defending bad ideas on how to treat colonies. Vietnam had many famously bad ideas defended by the best and brightest. The tradition continues today. On all levels bad ideas are still defended by smart, dedicated people every day.

We should honor the people who made the sacrifices great and small. One of the best ways we can do that is to examine our ideas, especially the ones we are most sure about. Sacrifices should not be made for bad ideas.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Fire at will: Sect 38 special

I need to do a follow up on a previous post. Some interesting points were brought to my attention that will affect how an elected chief, or any city employee, can be protected. First, section 38 of the city charter pretty much prohibits employment contracts and asserts the cities right to preemptory discharge of any employee. It is likely this was added to the city charter in an attempt to discourage unionizing city employees.

Civil service already trumps this section for covered employees. It also appears that this might be in conflict with the Texas labor code. Chapter 101.003 gurantees an individuals right to bargain for terms of employment. There is also a grievance procedure listed in chapter 102 that sets the rules for arbitration and arbitration boards. Chapter 102 doesn't apply automatically, but is a good starting point.

Too bad this wasn't researched before the election on an appointed police chief.

B-36; Shock and Awe, Cold war style

Perry Flippen's article today reminded me of a cold war relic most history books have neglected. As Flippen pointed out, there is no highway marker to commemerate the airmen who died in that crash. The why for that oversight is a tangle of still classified secrets nearly as old as I am.

When I went to Austin for the swearing in of the last legislature, one of the people I met in Representative Campbell's office was a retired Air Force officer who was there to lobby for a highway historical marker noting the event. There really ought to be one, this nearly forgotten warplane is a lesson in itself on how close the human race came to nuclear suicide.

The B-36 was, with the exception of Howard Hughes' "Spruce Goose", the largest piston powered aircraft ever built. Its size was necessary due to the size of the payload, namely nuclear bombs. Powered by six "pusher" prop engines, the three blade, 19 foot props were positioned behind the wings and were biting into airflow coming off the wings. The unintended harmonics of this design made it the loudest big plane ever built. I never personally heard one, but it is reported to have literally rattled windowpanes from 30,000 feet.

The B-36 is also the origin of the term "Broken Arrow", military code for a lost nuclear weapon. One flying out of Alaska was on a hot training mission, armed with a plutonium based fat man style weapon. The pusher prop design made the B-36 especially vulnerable to bad weather, and that was the cause of that incident. Originally thought to have been lost at sea, the wreckage was discovered four years later. The fat man was not there. To this day the Pentagon will not give a direct answer to whether the device was ever recovered, but the rational assumption is no. The bomb was apparantly dumped to reduce weight and gain altitude, it worked well enough to get back over land, but not to a safe landing.

Back to the local incident, Flippen missed a few details. It was a six engine, not ten engine plane. While we built nearly 400 of them, the program only lasted 5 years. The Convair piston driven model was replaced with the Boeing B-52, and since that ancient airframe is still giving good service, credit due to the procurement team that made that choice. Convair tried, with an eight engine jet mode, the YB-60, but the B-52 was way, way the better choice.

Notable was the reference to the seven crewmen found still strapped in their bunks. The subsonic B-36 was designed to carry an oversized payload to any point on the planet and took off with two full crews. In truckers' terms, these seven crewmen were in the sleeper behind the cab. It is doubtful they ever woke up on the way down. One will hear different stories, but I am convinced this was a "hot", or nuclear armed flight. Fortunately, this device was recovered. One thing to remember, this was the early days of atomic weapons. There were no suitcase bombs, we not only did not pack ten W-88 warheads in a MIRV'ed missle, there were no missles to pack such a payload in. Rather than carrying a nuke into New York in an SUV, the fat man bomb casing was nearly large enough to park the SUV in.

The airmen crewing this plane were, at that time, our final, doomsday defense against an aggressive Soviet Union. They well deserve a commemerative plaque at the very least.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Just for fun

No particular subject here, just some random thoughts on the last week's news.

I read where California is proposing to require restaurants to post a written notice that french fries can cause cancer. I don't know what study by whom is supposed to have come to this conclusion. I don't even care if the cancer risk has been incontrovertibally proven, it is one more example of the nanny state runamuck. At this rate, eateries won't have to worry about paint or wallpaper, they can just cover the walls in mandated health warnings that nobody reads anyway.

The Senate debate over its filibuster rules punched one of my buttons. Not the subject itself, but naming it the "nuclear option" brought to the fore one of my pet peeves. Nuclear should be a simple three syllable word, but for some reason, it is overwhelmingly pronounced "noo-q-lar". If the weather is pleasant with no clouds in the sky, is it a "q-lar" day, or a clear day? The last President I remember who correctly pronounced the word was Eisenhower. Even the peanut farmer with nuclear submarine service on his resume said nucular. Is it possible that somewhere between building self-esteem, unrolling condoms on bananas, and football practice the school system might fit in a course on English spelling and grammar?

Ranks right up there with "calvary", a perfectly good word in Christian theology, but now used almost universally in reference to military men on horses coming over the hill to save the day. Sadly, half the generals in command of cavalry units turn them into a geographical hillock in Israel. The word "hopefully" is a lost cause, and the gerund case seems to be a forgotten anachronism. Ah well, hopefully, the grammer calvary will ride to the rescue with their own vershon of the nucular option and that will prevent you decideing whether we need to teech English as a second language to American stoodents. Two brownie points will be awarded to the first person to catch and correct all the booboos in the preceding sentence.

Coming soon at a Blog near you; Star Wars and traffic lights.

Truth in Billing

I have been pushing for what I call "Truth in billing" for water for some time. The Texas Water Statutes require that water and sewer customers be notified at least annually and before any rate increase of all service or capital expenditures not related to water or sewer. This notification must be in writing.

At least half of the park and lake police expense fits into this category. Most of the parks have nothing to do with water. Until this year, the nature center was funded by the water fund. A strong case can be made that overhead expenses and fund transfers such as franchise fees and pilot should be listed separately from other costs. To my knowledge, the city has never supplied this type of notification. Why not?

Isn't it about time the city government told its customers what the water fund is really paying for in detail?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Standard-Times; Why I am Here

In the week before and after the elections, the Standard-Times published some mind-boggling spin on them. I am not one to beef about a paper's right to offer editorial endorsements of candidates, that tradition is too well established. Ideally, it should be kept to the editorial section, but a lot in this world is less than ideal.
First, to clarify my position, I contributed to Lown's campaign before it was known he would have no opposition, and though I do not live in SMD 6, I also contributed a small sum to Farmer's race. As will become evident, I disagree with the Mayor on certain issues, and as her positions become more obvious, I will probably have my disagreements with Farmer, but I did support both this time. Also by way of clarification, this article is not commissioned by, nor has it been discussed with Lown or Farmer, or anyone from either campaign.
This was an unusual election. As far as the Standard-Times was concerned, the elephant in the living room that must be ignored at all costs was the blatantly political motivation behind Mahon's placing the appointed police chief measure on the ballot. The news article reporting that session of Council noted in passing that no further charter amendments could now be brought before the voters for the next two years, but there was no speculation, no follow-up question to Mahon as to his motive for placing this issue at the last legally permissable moment. Yes, it was the last moment, Council had to call a special one item meeting the following Monday to make the state mandated deadline for a second reading approval of adding an item to the ballot.
As the clock ticked down and Mahon did nothing whatsoever to advance the issue he placed before the voters, the Standard-Times continued to tiptoe around the elephant. If the paper ever again mentioned the two year block in a news story, I must have missed it.
During that month Jim Turner and I took such opportunity as we got to point out internal inconsistencies, and variances between city ordinance and state statute in our civil service ordinances. Seems no one had looked closely at this in a long time. Among other things by literal reading of city ordinance we had not had a legal chief election since civil service was established, since our ordinance (effectively contravened and overruled by Texas Statute) forbade any police officer engaging in political activity on behalf of himself or any other elected official!
Both of us were on record as supporting some form of appointment. We pointed out these problems by way of showing that the legal infrastucture which would become very important under an appointive system simply was not ready. To continue the analogy, we were pointing out the ever-growing piles of elephant poop which led me to publically declare before Council that the measure deserved defeat this election.
I suggested we create a charter and ordinance review committee, board, whatever we call it, and once we had all that sorted out, we could in good conscience bring forth a well designed proposal with all the details ironed out. We still had time before Vasquez's term expired to bring a good proposal to the voters and then educate and persuade the electorate, you know, like a real political campaign.
The Sunday before the election the S-T printed its usual blurb for the weekly radio show, "Voices", a local affairs show moderated by the Standard-Times' managing editor Anthony Wilson. According to the Sunday paper May 1, the day of the show, that show would feature both Monte Mahon and Charlotte Farmer discussing their upcoming SMD 6 City Council race. I had to listen to it the second time on AM to be sure I had not missed anything, since Farmer was quite conspicuous in her absence. I cannot say exactly why half the advertised debate was unavailable, but I do know the show is taped earlier in the week. Had he cared to, surely the managing editor carries enough clout at the paper to have had an explanation published on Sunday of why Mrs. Farmer's segment was unavailable.
Midweek before the election the paper ran a front page story headlined "Wrong Direction?". Seems some Council members were shocked, shocked, I say, to see Lown and Farmer running a joint campaign. In the time I have been following Council closely, I do not recall a formal joint campaign, but I have watched different Councils and Council members form into shifting factions and informal alliances over issues and sometimes personalities.
Then in the same news article, Councilman Reeves, who declined to run for reelection, was granted a parting shot worth notice. He contended that Mayor Lown was unduly guided by outside influences, some of which had previously served on Council. Then Reeves continued, "That kid [Lown] hasn't had an original thought in two years." Mind you, this is the same paper which editorially chided Lown as being out of line for stating in a candidate forum that Mahon had made "foolish decisions".
Well, let's see: first Mahon casts the deciding vote for a wildly unpopular water rate hike after blocking less expensive possibilities from consideration; then he cheerfully sacrifices an important charter amendment in a transparant and temporary tactic to embarrass and freeze out a Mayor with whom he has publically feuded for the last term. Having done that Mahon lifts not a finger to even put a little lipstick on this pig, and leaves Matt Lewis and Rudy Izzard to put forth a desperate, last minute, non-binding resolution in an attempt to give it some chance of passage.
Given the election results on both Mahon and the appointed chief measure, it seems possible the voters thought Mahon had made some "foolish decisions".
Back to Reeves' comment; if Reeves is worried that H. R. Wardlaw is tugging the Mayor's puppet strings, why doesn't he come out and say so and back it up? The fact that Wardlaw is close to the Mayor has to rate as the worst kept secret in San Angelo. If you think it is improper, say so and make your case. At least Richard Bastardo, in his editorial submission, had the nerve to come out and say what he meant. My aquaintance with Mr. Bastardo suggests he would be inclined to walk in the living room, kick the elephant in the butt, and tell it to leave and quit pooping all over the floor.
Another poorly kept secret is that Mayor Lown has in mind strengthening the Mayor's office. I have heard the term "limited veto", and some people have speculated Lown would move to make San Angelo a strong mayor city, similar to the measure defeated in Dallas. I have no personal knowledge of such, and repeat these rumors only to set a hypothetical context. If that be the case, why not let it come forth and oppose the real issue headon? The Mayor's popularity notwithstanding, I do not believe the voters would approve a radical restructuring of city government. I cannot see myself being persuaded to such a move.
Now back to the Standard-Times. The week after the election the S-T had some real reaches of editorial analysis. The best single piece has to be Wed. May 11. After avoiding the elephant during the whole campaign, the unsigned lead editorial freely acknowledges the charter amendment as a political tactic. Then, in a twist that would make a good DC spin doctor proud, the S-T states that Lown's lack of leadership on the issue helped prevent its passage! People, I was there when the vote to put appointment on the ballot was taken. Lown expressed his reservations about the timing and poor chance of success, but then, noting his past support of the issue, voted in favor of a motion expessly aimed at doing him political damage. By that act alone, Lown gave the measure as much support as Mahon ever did.
Then, in the same editorial, the S-T claims Lown "did little to boost the passage of the half-cent sales tax". This one leaves me totally baffled. As a leading spokesman against, I was invited to breakfast with the Mayor to discuss the issue. I would describe the session as cordial, but in diplomatese we had a "frank exchange of ideas" with neither being persuaded to the other's view. I know, up close and personal, Lown supported the sales tax. What exactly the paper expected in the way of support from him escapes me. By the nature of the political landscape, Jim Turner and I were set as lead spokesmen for our side, with Matt Lewis and several Chamber of Commerce folk taking the winning position.
One thing about that measure, by the time the vote was held, both sides thought a good contest had been engaged, the winners won honestly, and no hard feelings (well, very few).
Compare that to the "debate" over the appointed chief this time.
Now, back all the way to the title, "Why I am Here". As I stated in the opening, I grant a paper's right to endorse editorially. What I object to is the editorial spilling over into spinning the actual news portions. Nationwide, very few cities have more than one major daily newspaper, the economics of scale involved in putting ink on paper and then dropping that in one's front yard have mandated consolidation nearly everywhere. Before this was true, papers in America more often than openly advocated for one party or the other. It may seem counterintuitive, but that lead to a degree of honesty the press often lacks today.
As an example, I have a book "The Lincoln-Douglas Debates", compiled by Harold Holzer. It is highly regarded by historians since no one at the time thought to arrange for an official transcriptionist. Holzer crawled the stacks of the two leading papers covering the debates, one openly Republican, the other as blatantly pro-Douglas. With each knowing the other was there to keep'um honest, there are amazingly few discrepancies in substance. One paper might note parenthetically a line received "boisterous standing ovation", while the other noted "polite applause", but the words themselves seldom diverge.
With that historical anectdote in mind, in this day of consolidated news organizations, the Blog is rapidly becoming an important news alternative. We hope to put our respective skills together to provide that believable alternative source of information as regards local matters of interest. If anyone else is doing this locally, I am unaware of it. City politics is officially non-partisan, as we attempt to be. I am a Republican functionary of some tenure, while Mr. Turner is an avowed Libertarian who urges me to follow my heart and join his Party.
We both care a great deal for San Angelo. I am as imperfect as anyone, the comments reply here is in place to help you keep us honest. Show me I am wrong and I will 'fess up.
It has never been hard to determine the editorial tilt of the Standard-Times, but this last election we saw more selective reporting of hard news than I recall of late. Laying the defeat of the appointed chief at Lown's feet is analogous to blaming the condemned man for stretching a perfectly good new rope out of shape when we hung him. If you think there is truth in that, clock into us from time to time. We discourage ad hominem attacks, and we encourage citing sources of information, but tell me I'm wrong and show me your case, won't be the first time I've been wrong.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Fire at will

The city council hoped to solve three problems with the resolution it passed in support of an appointed chief. First, it wanted to make an appointed chief more attractive. It didn't succeed.

Second, it proposed a better way of selecting appointed officials than has been used in the past. I hope that the idea behind that is refined and applied to a much greater extent in future hirings. They do need to cut down the influence of labor organizations though.

The last problem it addressed, protection of the chief, was really fire-at-will vs. terminate-for-cause. Texas is basically a "fire at will" state. There are very few restrictions on why an employer can fire an employee. Employees serve at the pleasure of their boss unless there is a contract or employment agreement that says otherwise. An employer can fire for anything or no reason at all. That can cause problems in some situations, especially in jobs related to public safety.

The local civil service was set up to protect public safety officers, ie police officer and firefighters, from arbitrary threats to their job. In the late 19th and early 20th century, police and other political jobs were given out as rewards for political favors. Texas, like most states, developed and implemented the local civil service for public safety to remove these abuses from the rank and file officers. The police chief was and is mostly outside of the civil service protections. The local community has the responsibility to protect their chiefs. We currently do that through the electoral process. If we move to an appointed chief, we have the responsibility to set up a good, solid, system to protect the chief from politics and special interests. We need to ensure that once we have a good chief, he is only removed for good cause, not at the whim of some politician or special interest group.

That is a start but there is more that needs to be done. I was discussing this issue with a city employee when they asked "Why give special protection to the chief?" I responded that the chief was an important, high visability position easily subject to abuse. On reflection, my answer was incomplete. The chiefs position does deserve protection from arbitrary firing. It is based on a special trust between the chief and the citizens of San Angelo. Truthfuly, the same can be said of any city employee. We expect the Police Chief, City Manager, Public Works Director, City Attorney, and the guys fixing the streets, reading water meters and running the waste treatment facility to do the best job they can, and do the right thing to protect the city and citizens of San Angelo. That is also a special trust. The city employees deserve protection from arbitrary termination as part of that special, mutual trust.

A high profile position such as a police chief or city manager can wait to accept a job until a contract with acceptable protections such as outside independant arbitration is agreed upon. Lower level employees don't have that luxury. They can theoreticaly be let go for matters that have nothing to do with their job or the best interests of the city and its citizens.

We need to protect our chiefs from the threat of aribitrary termination. We need to do that for all of our city employees.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Water Rates Redux

Give the Standard-Times points: after a week of editorial leads that had left me scratching my head, the paper gave front and center Sunday paper exposure to two editorials calling them out, one of them mine. Water is my subject here, I will try to stay on topic.
The most common reaction to the rate increase has been that we, the taxpayers, did what was asked of us, conserved water as asked, and being rewarded with a rate increase isn't fair. Absolutely true, but now that such sentiment has accomplished a rearrangement of the Council, absolutely irrelevant to dealing with the existing set of facts. So sorry, but a lot of times life isn't fair. The water utility is in a serious shortfall, and the contingency fund cabinet is bare. What we need now is for Council to put the utility back in the black with the lowest rate hike possible and make some needed changes to keep this from happening again.
The water conservation rules were written as though San Angelo was still totally dependant on the resevoir water, and as low as the lakes were, made sense in that context. The elephant in the living room everybody ignored was our contract for Ivie pipeline water. We buy 15,000 acre/feet annually from Ivie, take or pay, a number that made a lot of sense when we were using over 20,000 ac/ft. Unfortunately, a combination of a great conservation effort by the people and an unusually wet, cool summer left us with way over a million gallons of water the utility had bought, but could not sell. For a number of reasons, we didn't even take the excess and dump it into O. C. Fisher Puddle.
The summer weather was beyond anyone's ability to predict a year ahead, but there is no good reason the utility income shortfall should have come as a total surprise. Public works should have been putting Council on alert that we have a dramatic change in useage and income looming long before the pile of elephant poop in the living room became unignorable.
The recent rate hike was not the lowest available, it certainly wasn't the only plan available, but it was the plan with four votes, and because of that we never got a good look at options. Councilman Morrison tried to introduce an unspecified plan as an amendment to a motion by Councilman Holguin. Morrison stated his amendment was allowed under Robert's Rules of Order, at which time it was pointed out the Council had never adopted and did not operate under Robert's. That discussion devolved into pocedural discussion, and really none of it mattered anyway, the four votes needed were there, and we got this rate hike. Specifically what Morrison had in mind, we still don't know, save he stated repeatedly he would not vote for an increase of over 10%, so I presume his plan came out to that.
I do have some specific ideas, I hope we can get Council and staff to look at them. Some money could be raised by tinkering with the base rate, or meter rate increase. Roughly 8,000 of the 36,000 meters in town are the larger capacity, up to six inch meters. I believe we could raise those larger meter rates, even double them, if in the tradeoff the price per gallon for everybody, large industrial users included, went down. I have not been able to get numbers on how many of which size meters we have and what the gallon sales through them are, so I cannot set a figure on how much total revenue that could produce. It would be nice if staff, which does have those numbers at hand could give us some revenue projections there.
The one compromise that was accepted was to extend the period to recoup the contingency fund from two years to three. That reduced the water sales component of the increase substantially. Going to four years would have reduced the necessary increase more, but that was resisted because doing that could cause the bond rating people to lower our credit rating for future borrowing. I agree, we have a commendably good rating there and don't want to see it drop. Is that lower rating a "might", a "probable", or a "maybe, who knows, we ain't really asked"? In dealing with a very real rate hike vs. a somewhere down the road maybe, I am inclined to want to hear more about the real likelihood of hit on our credit rating. Adding one year to the rebuilding of the contingency fund would lower the rate increase noticeably.
The four vote majority did not care to entertain the idea of giving ourselves a tax break at all. The water utility is treated in many respects as a separate corporate entity. The city cannot tax itself on property the city owns, but it charges the water utility something called PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes. Last year this was $704,000, money that still is the city's but counts toward the water utility shortfall of $1.4 million. We could give ourselves a 50% reduction there, the same sort we give corporations we want to attract or keep. It is true that unlike the corporations we give this ad valorem break to, the water dept. is not going to pick up and move, so I guess Council didn't see that PILOT break as necessary to economic development and job retention. The fact that giving the water utility a tax break would give us common folk a break didn't tweak the interest of "gang of four" voting to bump rates.
I suggested that we could use 4B sales tax money to pay for some capital projects, specifically the new water tower planned for southwest Angelo. That got shot down, as it was not specified in the ballot language, and Lewis was not sure it was a legal use of those revenues. I have done some research on the Attorney General's website looking at attorney general's opinions. One out of Sonora, JC-0400, seems on point and would allow such a use. The Sonora request for an opinion had to do with a type of park not specifically mentioned in the ballot language, but where that language had included parks generally. The opinion does note that a ballot proposition on water supply or water conservation projects must "clearly describe" the water supply facilities or water conservation program. In our case, while some $20.5 million was designated for water supply projects, no specific project, ie pipeline, lake, well or such was further specified; in fact one of our objections to this item in the sales tax reauthorization was that the amount given would not be enough to fund any of the major options such as Hickory pipeline or full scale Deslination plant and indeed, at no time in the sales tax debate did anyone specify precisely what project that money would fund. We will grant that the ballot language was sufficient to pass the "clearly describe" test, but then contend that since no specific project was named, and the ballot language did not exclude such as a water tower, we fall back on the next protection under 5190.6 Sec.4B. Under that, the city must publish its intent to use 4B money for specically that water tower and then, if no one comes with a petition opposing same signed by 10% of the registered voters within 60 days, it flies with no further voter approval needed.
Now somebody tell me that if we propose to lower the water rate increase some more to reflect that megabuck item, that 10% of the voters will hasten down to challenge it. I believe the bids are still open on the water tower, but I recall hearing $2 million as a working estimate. I am quite confident that those residents who don't even have enough pressure to make lawn sprinkler heads pop up will consider that tower a legitimate water supply project.
Whatever specifics finally get settled out, I am convinced the new Council will revisit rates and eventually lower them. The other thing Council needs to do is institute a regular, rather than crisis-driven ongoing review of water rates so we are not again shocked when we step in the pile of elephant poop. As part of that, I would hope they change up the department structure so that our water/sewer/trash bill pays for just that and nothing else. I see no reason for my water bill to pay for Park Police to chase graffitti artists out of the skate park, we have a couple hundred regular officers for that.
Any suggestions to lower costs and rates are welcome. My last bill was $44 for 3,000 gallons. I think we can do better than that.

Goodfellow - Safe for now

We can breath a sigh of relief. Goodfellow was not on the BRAC list. It is unlikely that it can be added. We can now get on with other issues, but we still need to pay attention to what is going on with the process.

Monday, May 09, 2005

emergency management and preparedness

When the resolution on the public safety committee was proposed in hopes of making an appointed chief attractive, it was added as an after thought that the committee should recommend the "director of emergency preparedness". A search of the City Charter, Code of Ordinances, city website, 2004 city budget, and the texas statutes has failed to turn up a position with that title. There is an emergency management director for the city as described in the code of ordinances here. The problem is that by ordinance, the emergency management director is the Mayor or in his absence the Mayor pro-tem. That might be a problem. Just who was this committee supposed to be recommending? They can't recommend the emergency management director. Maybe they mean the crisis/emergency management coordinator which is part of the same ordinance and works in the risk management office and oversees the daily operation of the emergency management program. Read the ordinance and see if that makes sense to you.

Should I ask what they were thinking? Isn't it about time the city government took a real hard look at public safety instead of just guessing? These are my thoughts. What are yours.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Election Results

Our May 7th election is over. The face of the City council will be much different, and we will still elect our chief.

I expect the new Council to do 2 things. First, I expect the water rate issue to be re-addressed. Both Charlotte Farmer and Emilio Perez Jimenez had expressed opposition to the current rate hike. It will be interesting to see their follow thru on this issue.

Next, I hope the Council starts a City Charter and Ordinance review process. The problems that were identified before the election are just the tip of the iceberg. We can't change the charter for two years, but that is not a long time to get this process underway.

Public safety needs to be a major focus of this review process. People have shown they will not support poorly thought out, thrown together last minute solutions for one of the most important functions a city has. Any changes to Public safety in the future must be done right.

These are my thoughts, what are yours.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Faith Based Prison part 2

The movement for the faith based prison is getting some traction. Two points were obvious at the steering committee meeting yesterday, May 4th.

First, communication and information flow in the Concho Valley has major problems. Many of the opposition that showed up said they had heard little or nothing until very recently. The information they did have was incomplete or inaccurate. The members of the steering committee were surprised by opposition after what they consider a major effort to be open in their meetings. Apparently, the nomal media didn't consider this very newsworthy until it started getting controversial.

Next, there is a lot of concern about the impact of a prison. There are numerous studies, some of which will be listed on . The common points made are that prisons do have an impact. They do provide jobs that are stable over the long haul. There is evidence that they tend to reduce other economic development in the area as few businesses seem willing to locate close to a prison. There also seems to be a negative impact on property values in the immediate area that tends to balance out over a metropolatin area. This is, however, not your normal prison. Faith based programs in regular prisons are relatively new, and the first faith based prison in the country was just recently opened in Florida. Add in the factors that this is to be a private prison with a partnership with industries that will operate inside the prison and the old rules likely don't apply.

Bottom line, this prison is an experiment. It is breaking new ground. This prison planners will have to be very proactive in communicating with the community. There will have to be SOLID and TRUSTED channels of communications. Block parties, citizen forums, townhall meetings, and other meens of citizen involvement will be necessary.

If this was just another prison, I would not support it. With the plan that is on the table, I have an open mind. I expect more information and more communication before I make up my mind. Leave me your comments. Lets get the information flowing. Don't forget you can share comments here. Click the comments link at the end of the article

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Hail to the Chief

As you probably already know, there is a charter amendment to appoint the chief on the ballot for May 7th. I have many problems with this initiative.

First, there are pro's and con's to electing or appointing a chief. My problem is the lack of planning and the likely outcome if we approve appointing the chief.

The proposal was put on the council agenda at the last possible minute. It was submitted with such a short time available that a special second council meeting had to be called. Because of some of the weaknesses noted in the proposed amendment, especially when the lack of protections for the chief were brought out, a resolution that was a sense of what the council planned to do was submitted to the council and passed the day before early voting started.

It is obvious that there was no planning or research before this was proposed. It's true that they had talked about it off and on for quite a while, but it was obvious at the council meeting where this was proposed that the council members had no idea of the depth of impact this amendment would have, and how it was affected by other laws and statutes, especially civil service. It was obvious that the councilman that proposed the amendment thought that the chief would automatically be protected just like any other civil service covered employee, which is not the case.

Then we get to the resolution. As it was proposed, the resolution creates a public safety committee with 4 out of 7 members being labor organization representatives, one member the personel director, and 2 members being retired public safety members. This does keep regular politics out of the selection and review process, but gives labor special interest groups a majority on the committee. If the purpose of the committee is to prevent undo political and special interest influence on the chief, it fails right off the bat. It is also interesting that there is no room on the committee for just a regular citizen. Might be good for a selection committe, but not a very good makeup for a committee to review terminations.

There is also the problem that what the city council can give in an ordinance, it can take away. If current city council passes a sensible set of selection and termination review criteria in an ordinance, a majority of any city council can also change or remove those criteria. It only takes about a week to pass an ordinance change. Under normal circumstances, council meetings are 2 weeks apart, and final agenda is ready the friday before the meeting. Two regular meetings and an ordinance can become law if you can keep a majority voting for it. In special circumstances, 72 hours notice, meeting, 72 hours notice, second meeting, ordinance is changed. No voter approval required.

Bottom line is that any protections and requirements not in the city charter can be changed at the whim of the majority of the city council.

These are my thoughts, what are yours?

Faith Based Prison

Corrections Concepts Incorporated is proposing a "faith based" medium security prison to be located in the San Angelo Industrial park. There are a number of problems I see with this proposal. I have information on , but I want feedback and information from other people. Let me have your thoughts.

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Welcome to those interested in the future of San Angelo and the Concho Valley.

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