Saturday, December 30, 2006

Thoughts on Voting

The elections commission decided Friday that Vona McKerley will be the elections administrator. She will have her hands full and I wish her luck. She has a big job ahead of her.

I must confess I know Vona, and not the other applicants for the office. Based on my observations, however, I am sure she will bring leadership, openness and a strong work ethic, not politics, to the job. She does have the most elections experience of those that applied for the job.

She will have to hit the ground running. There are voting systems examinations due in January, May or August. There are elections in May and November. There is a lot of training needed, and a lot of work rebuilding the elections office and system into something the voters will trust. We will be following the progress here.

We wish Vona luck. She will need it.

Monday, December 25, 2006


It's Christmas, and the ConchoInfo BLOG has recently been given a couple gifts.

If you haven't noticed, we now have another blogger - Allie Devereaux. She brings a fresh perspective to the issues that affect the area. I look forward to her continuing participation.

The second gift was from Google, which hosts our blog on They have updated their blogging software and interface. The two most visible changes are the ability to add category labels to posts, and in the way the archive index is arranged. You can now open a month and see the articles from that month.

Have a great Christmas, and stay with us in the new year.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Rethinking the Energy Farm

In October I wrote an article in which I advocated solar and wind farms as alternative energy projects to a municipal solid waste gasification plant. I was not fully confident in doing so at the time and would now like to revisit this prospect. In the current political climate there is pressure to embrace these big “alternative energy” solutions and there is currently a lot of campaigning related to this issue by the legislative figures.

In light of the lawsuit that is currently under way against FPL Energy and their Horse Hollow wind farm in Taylor County we should consider that these massive energy farms are not the best solution and in fact may leave us with another flawed but entrenched technology as the massive infrastructure required for such operations bogs down our ability and willingness to keep moving toward new and innovative ideas.,1874,ABIL_7959_522335

The energy “farm” concept is based on current energy model and a common flaw is shared --- the energy is derived from a primary source and then mass distributed. While we may benefit from the cleaner energy that is generated from a wind farm, we are still just as vulnerable to “rolling blackouts,” and price gouging as we were before.

Our water distribution is handled in the same way and we have recently witnessed in the south part of town businesses closing down, hospitals and nursing homes without water, and homeowners dipping water out of neighbors swimming pools with trash cans so that they can flush their toilets.

As humans we are instilled with the gift of reason, which should tell us that erecting massive energy farms and monolithic power lines to disperse electricity to far away lands only benefits the corporate “providers.”

Not only that, but it is probable that in the long run the energy farm concept will serve a greedy bureaucracy as land owners begin to sell their heritage to developers and the state as their love for the land is sacrificed to taxation and as industry creeps into our sacred spaces.

Truly it seems that today there is a deliberate and joint effort by political and corporate powers to herd us out of the rural areas and into more manageable and profitable urban configurations. The TransTexas corridor and the National Animal Id Program are other ways we see rural existence in America becoming inconvenienced if not rendered impossible due to taxation, regulation, and imposing infrastructure.

We saw a massive migration out of the rural areas with the coming of the Industrial Age. The family farm population continues to dwindle. But this is where our stability and sanity lies as a society. In energy production and food production and in many other aspects of our lives we need more independence, not more reliance on international corporations and bureaucracy. Yet these influences are growing in massive proportions.

As we are losing our knowledge of relevant and accurate history, we are repeating it. The founding of America truly was a shining moment of hope in a long history of humanity filled with oppression and subversion; but with each deviation from the principles that this country was founded upon, the opportunity to start anew unravels and the patterns that have plagued humanity from the beginning reestablish.

We do not need corporate wind farms subsidized by government. If here in San Angelo we had solar panels mounted on every home, business, and public building in town, we could generate much more energy than any solar or wind farm could muster, and there would be more to spare. Some may argue that it is not economically feasible, but if those who could afford it started the trend, commerce would be generated and the cost of the equipment would go down. I would gladly vote on a bond package that would enable the rest of us to rig our homes with solar energy, trade our electric bills that are as much or more as our monthly mortgage payments for checks from the energy companies as we sell excess energy back to the grid. If land owners wanted to erect windmills that they themselves finance and own, that would beneficial to all as well. This is as feasible as a corporate energy farm if we decide to say that it is --- the only difference is: more energy, more commerce, more jobs, more financial freedom for the citizenry and less of our hard earned money in the pockets multinational corporations and federal, state and municipal coffers.

Don’t believe anyone who says it’s not possible. Sustainable developments are already becoming established in areas that have less energy potential than we have here. New residential developments in the US, Europe, Japan and elsewhere have homes equipped with solar and wind power, innovative plumbing designs that harvest rain water, recycle grey water and send solids into methane digesters for the creation of heat and additional energy. No municipal waste problem, no energy problem, no massive aging infrastructure to deal with down the road that will cost millions of dollars to fix, less pollution, and an enhanced sense of community.

Let’s make San Angelo into a true model community wherein ingenuity flourishes and the people truly fare well. This all begins in thinking for ourselves, thinking outside the box, and abandoning the idea that improvement only happens with bureaucratic oversight and that government exists to orchestrate and define our future for us…

Friday, December 22, 2006

Water they up to

The water main break is the big story in town right now, and for good reason. Water is essential to the citizens and businesses of San Angelo. Basic maintenance shouldn't have been ignored for as long as it was. That is not acceptable.

Before we break out the torches and pitch forks and go after the city council, lets take a deep breath and look at some basic facts. Our current city council is relatively new. Three of the members just took office this year (although Mr. Cardenas had been on council 10 years ago.) The majority of the council has less than 2 years in office. Only Mr. Cardenas has more than 4 years experiance on the council, and much of his is not recent.

The current council has not ignored maintenance issues. They finally stopped treating water as little more than a revenue source when they eliminated the PILOT transfer of money from the water fund to the general fund, and started looking at water as a fundamental service. They directed staff to come up with a plan on maintenance and improvements to infrastructure. They specifically asked about using the current 1/2 cent sales tax to fix some of these problems. They have been trying to fix a problem that was left for them by previous councils and city managers.

There has been some interesting timing for these water line problems. The Honey Creek fire happened just before the council had a 2 day workshop. When tough questions were asked about why the hydrants weren't working in the honey creek area, it was pointed out that a previous council had eliminated the hydrant and valve inspection and maintenance team in the water department to "save money." Other "savings" such as eliminating some road and bridge maintenance capabilities were also mentioned. Council put money into the budget for the hydrant and valve maintenance program, allocated a much higher amount of money to maintenance, and directed staff to come back with more information and to develop a plan of attack including priorities.

Money was allocated to fix the mains in the current budget. They were planning for when and where to start when the mains made that decision for them. A capital improvement plan outline was presented to the council last Tuesday. This presentation had been scheduled long before the main broke. It added emphasis to the presentation, but didn't change the core of it. The picture presented was not good. The false economy of putting off maintenance by previous councils and management is going to cost the city millions of dollars to fix. The current council is at least addressing the issue head on.

One question that keeps coming up is "why don't they use 1/2 cent sales tax money to fix some of this?" Short answer is that by law they can't. Type 4B economic development sales taxes can't be used for capital and infrastructure unless it is an improvement that will help promote or expand business, or is tied to another 4B project. Check here for more information. The ballot language voters approved for our local 4B tax further limits how that money can be spent.

There are alternative sales taxes available to cities. They can adopt a sales tax that is dedicated to road and bridge projects. They can also adopt a sales tax to reduce property taxes. Any of these options would have to be voted on by the citizens of San Angelo. It is probably time to look at these options. Lets see if the council will bring this before the voters.

The council and city staff have a lot of work to do. They have a problem to fix that is left over from their predecessors. Let's give them a chance to do a long term fix. The infrastructure didn't get this bad in 2 years, it won't get fixed in 2 years. Let's also remind the other local government bodies, like the school board, that maintenance must be a priority. And let's not forget to thank previous mayors and council members for the fine shape they left the city in.

Friday, December 15, 2006

TTC: Another sign of things to come

We recently mentioned the Trans Texas Corridor on this BLOG, and how it is also our issue. Apparently someone else realizes it because I saw this sign just south of town on Hwy 67.

While you want to check their website, you also want to check out They have information that is hard to find. Also check out this report and this article.

My opinion on this project so far is that it would be a disaster for West Texas. I am especially concerned that they are trying to pull the Port to Plains project into this mess, and that I-10 and I-20 will likely get "improved" into toll roads as part of the TTC. There has got to be a better way to build roads.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

School Bond Off to a Bad Start

I have been hearing from people about the poll commissioned by the school district regarding the bond proposal. As luck would have it, I finally got the call myself. For full disclosure, I supported the last bond in '96, wrote a guest column in the Standard-Times and urged voters to approve. At this point, I have too little information on certain specifics to make a final declaration one way or another on this bond issue. I speak here only as regards the poll itself.

I am not a political neophyte. There is a campaign tool called a push poll. The term means a phone campaign called a poll, but designed more to influence voters than to measure sentiment. I usually find myself embarrassed when my Party's candidates resort to this rather shabby device, but candidates are generally allowed to spend money foolishly if they wish. It is flatly illegal for a governmental entity to do this.

Towards the end of this poll the lady asking me questions veers from opinion sampling to saying, “I am going to read a series of statements. Please indicate whether what you hear makes you more or less likely to vote to approve the bond issue.” This is followed by a list of declarative sentences having to do with the wonderful things that will happen if we approve the bond. A quick Google search got me the content of polls this Raymond Turco and Assoc. has done in Windsor, Lewisville, and Bryan, Texas. These were legitimate opinion measuring polls. The bit of work being conducted in San Angelo is so far over the line, I recommend the County Attorney get a copy of the caller's transcript and determine whether this is an illegal governmental expenditure in furtherance of a ballot measure, should the bond actually move to a ballot issue.

It is possible SAISD got good enough legal advice to skirt an actual violation, but if so, they have still flouted the intent of the statute, not to mention wasted $15,000. The caller speaking to me was unable, or just didn't bother to conceal that the responses have been largely negative.

If this exemplifies the SAISD's opinion of the voters, the board is off to a poor start in regaining our faith in them. Frankly, my reaction to the “poll” was “Gee you guys must think I'm stupid.” To be sure, it has inspired me to look more closely than I have at the specifics of the proposal, but it did nothing to incline me favorably toward either the bond or the body that spent my money on this shabby bit of foolishness.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Something Positive

We have been doing Concho Info and this blog for a little over 2 years now. With all the issues out there, it is easy to overlook the positive things that are going on in our community.

Keep San Angelo Beautiful is doing some good work to live up to their name. At the last council meeting, they showed off a fleece jacket that a result of their successful plastic bottle recycling program. The jacket was unique for two reasons. First, it was made of 100% recycled material (30% from the plastic bottles, the rest from recycled fabrics.) Second, 2000 of these jackets came back to the community for free distribution as a reward for the local effort.

We will continue to talk about curfews and gasification plants and taxes, etc.. We will try to point out the positives more often. After all, the positives are why we stay here instead of moving to New York City.