Sunday, December 30, 2007

Crystal Ball Time

For the third time, we will try to fire up the old crystal ball. You might enjoy looking at our previous prognostications here and here.

Infrastructure will be in the news frequently in the coming year. There will be continuing work on the water and sewer systems, and the roads might get the first serious traffic studies in decades. The city might even bring the traffic signals up to late 20th century standards. Expect heated discussions about the need for infrastructure improvements and its impact on private property and businesses. The inclusion of the Capital Budget in the city charter makes this an easy prediction.

Public safety will be a hot topic. First, we have both Chief of Police and the Sheriff up for election. All candidates will promise to "do something." It remains to be seen whether these will be new, creative ideas or just more of the same old same old. There will be heated discussions on introducing technologies that intrude on privacy in the name of public safety and security. Hopefully we will be able to have realistic and effective limits, checks, and balances in place. This won't happen if we don't get more private citizen involvement. This will have to come from all stakeholders (ie. citizens) in the city. Youth involvement will be especially critical. All aspects of public safety and the criminal justice system will have tough questions asked. I am cautiously optimistic that we can come up with some good answers, but it will take a lot of work.

One of the most critical youth issues, Education, is likely to show little positive progress. The problems that were there during the last bond election are still there, only worse. Inflation has increased the cost of all potential projects, but realistically money was not what caused the failure of the last bond election. Poor communication and bad information lost the last election. There has been no improvement there. If anything it has gotten worse. With all the fanfare of Dr. Bonds soliciting input and covering her office walls, there has been little real output. Poorly communicated management methods such as "sweeps" will add to the problems the school district has selling any bond package. The comments and discussions on Sweeps have not shown the openness or communications skills needed to sell anything to the voters. The slow pace of progress also makes it likely that the School Board will delay the bond issue till the November ballot. Unless they have a very compelling package and an excellent sales plan, they will not fare very well in the heavy voter turnout of a presidential election. If they don't have a package ready by May, they can probably forget a bond.

ASU will have a very good year. There will be lots of cussin' and discussion about Johnson street and traffic in the area, but in the end there will be the start of a plan to fix a long overlooked problem. With its first endowed chair, and an expanding curriculum, they will be on track for the growth they want. They will have to address space problems and that will be a long term challenge. Repairing bridges to the community will also have to be a top priority.

Business and economic development trends will not change very much. There will be a slow down in retail building, and some of the growth will move away for the southwest part of town. The TIRZ zone and the new Supercenter will both draw retail growth, but it will take a while to get any momentum. There will be new industries coming, but these will put the quality of our workforce to the test. The days of good paying jobs for unskilled labor are gone. If you happen to be looking for a job, be prepared to get training. We will start to see some upward movement of the average income. Expect major changes in grants and handouts to businesses. Expect the focus to shift more to homegrown, local businesses.

Expect changes in the cities approach to parks and recreation facilities. The candy store approach will not disappear, but expect to see changes. More creative involvement by all the groups concerned will be required to get anything positive done. Look for more multi-use facilities.

Energy will also start to have more of an impact on the local economy. The wind farms in the area will have spin off and positive collateral impacts. The cost of fuel will keep oil in the area booming, but will have a negative affect on other growth. The greatest impact will be on those with the lowest paying jobs.

Last prediction is that our election office and election workers will continue to do an outstanding job in the coming year. There will be some problems and issues, but they will be minor.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Traffic, Transportation, Studies and Plans

There are two real hot button issues out there right now: The future of Johnson Street, and red light cameras. These issues share two major components. They both show the need for realistic, thorough and comprehensive traffic studies, and they both should be addressed by the San Angelo Metropolitan Planning Organization.

According to their website, "SAMPO is the transportation planning body for the City of San Angelo and adjacent areas." They are responsible for the long range Master Traffic Plan and they are where all the different local groups working on transportation and traffic are supposed to come together to get things done. While I browsed the site recently, I noticed a couple of interesting things. First off, ASU is not represented in SAMPO, even by a non-voting member. This oversight is probably one of the reasons that Johnson Street is such a major issue right now. There has been no effort to coordinate the SAMPO Master Traffic Plan with ASU's Centennial Master Plan. SAMPO is still planning on routing 13,000 vehicles a day down a street that ASU is planning to close. A definite failure to communicate.

The second thing I noticed is that we are in the public comments period for revisions to the various plans that SAMPO uses. It is time to get in touch with them at by email or phone them at (325)657-4210. Do it quickly. The comment period ends on January 19th.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Red Light (Camera) District

The best thing that can be said of SB1119, the statute on red light cameras, is that it at least regulates what had been a wide open race for the easy money. City Manager Harold Dominguez relates that various vendors had been beating a path to his door, trying to get San Angelo to rush into this before Sept. 1, when this statute took effect. A system adopted before that may well get a grandfathered escape from such regulation as Chap. 707 puts into law. Thanks for that, Harold.

Some of the provisions of Chap. 707 mandate that the city actually studies any intersection where they propose to install these money generators. They must include data for 18 months prior, they must study alternatives, specifically intersection design, synchronization of traffic signals, and perhaps most importantly, lengthening the yellow phase of the signal. The city must appoint a citizens committee, one appointee per Council member, and this committee shall study the question and alternatives.

The best thing that might come out of this proposal could be that the city will be forced to make an honest attempt to synchronize signals, something any driver knows we now rate an "F" on.

Key to the statute is designating the result of a red light camera as a civil matter. On the one hand, it allows the authority installing the cameras to sidestep some of those pesky "rights" granted to any criminal defendant. On the other hand, it means a camera generated "ticket" will not go on one's driving record, presumably would not affect insurance rates, but the bill leaves that to the discretion of your insurer. One cannot be arrested for failure to pay the "civil liability", but just to encourage payment, you won't be allowed to renew vehicle registration with an unpaid ticket, pardon me, "civil liability" out there.

One can contest such "notice of civil liability", but the deck is neatly stacked in the camera's favor. The city has to appoint a hearing officer to take up such contests, but they are free to designate as that officer an employee of the vendor operating the cameras. In such a hearing "Liability" (note: it is civil; guilt/innocence are irrelevant terms.) is established by the more lax "preponderance of evidence" common to civil cases rather than the "clear and convincing evidence" rule used in criminal matters. Reliability of the cameras is all but a given, may be established by "affidavit", said affidavit given by the vendor who probably employs one's hearing officer. The presumption that the owner was the driver is enshrined in statute, unless of course the "owner" is a rental/lease firm, or a car lot letting a driver take it for a spin, in which case they are compelled to rat you out.

From there, the "suspect" can appeal to municipal court, if one is willing to pre-pay costs of the court and take another day off work. With the charge limited to a $75 "liability" (remember, this is civil, "fine" is also an irrelevant term.) with a $25 late fee cap, the encouragement is going to be to just pay the damned thing and get it out of the way.

Looking at what is available in the way of "studies", can be confusing. As the Standard-Times notes, the National Motorists Association's lead guy on the topic, Greg Mauz lives just down the road in Christoval, I'm sure our citizens' committee will hear him, but NMA's bias is clear. Similarly, the Federal Highway Administration has embraced these devices as a matter of policy, so their data is similarly suspect. It's kind of like listening to a debate on global warming between Al Gore and the American Coal Council.

One thing that is crystal clear, safety issues are in dispute, but these suckers are one money generating machine. No debate about that at all. Under Chap 707, the money is split between the city and a regional trauma account, most of that half helps pay for uncompensated ER expenses. The city's half is limited to more or less traffic related use, but money is fungible, budget dollars replaced by red light camera income can be spent as the city pleases.

One provision of Chap. 707 requires any entity adopting these cameras to make annual reports to Texas DOT, which must publish same by Dec. 1 of each year. I submit, that San Angelo has lived without these things this long, we can hold off for a year until we have a relatively clean data base of real world use to judge them by.

To be honest, my opinion is similar to Councilman Morrison's, and the term "Big Brother" comes to mind. My impression is of a cash cow wearing a little "public safety lipstick". Whatever one's opinion, I do believe we ought at least wait on some less polluted data which will be available next year.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tech Regents contact info

Keeping to our mission as a source of information above opinion, interest has been shown in contact info for the Texas Tech Board of Regents. Any use of eminent domain would need their approval. This has been posted on the S-T site, but seems more ephemeral there.

Locally, Dr. Joseph C. Rallo, e-mail is

Christina Martinez, Executive Sec. to the Board, or 806-742-2161, PO Box 42011, Mail Stop 2011, Lubbock, Texas 79409

F. Dueser
400 Pine St. Abilene, Tx. 79601
(325) 627-7155

Bob L Stafford
1600 Wallace Blvd.
Amarillo, Tx. 79106

Windy Sitton
9204 Utica Av
Lubbock, Tx. 79424

Larry K. Anders/ NA
(972) 247-5300

Mark Griffen
4601 10th St.
Lubbock, Texas 79416
(806) 791-5713

Daniel Serna
6031 Interstate Hwy. 20, suite # 251
Arlington, Tx

Diane S Turner
PO Box 249
Blanco, Texas 78606

In view of the announcement Wednesday, I will withhold most comments, in hopes this all works out. In the meantime, it cannot hurt to let ASU's new regents feel a little of the community's opinion on this closing.

One thing I will say, in my opinion, the "safety of students" issue is bogus cover. Were it not, someone would be out there with a list of deaths, injuries and near misses. I pointed out during the school bond debate that much younger Central students negotiate 8 lanes of Bryant Raceway going to McDonalds every lunch period. These young adults are considerably brighter and more agile than Dr. Rallo wants to give them credit for.

If it is determined that the value of an undivided campus is greater than the inconvenience to 10,000 drivers a day, so be it, but I am glad to see the city at least nominally involved in that decision again.

Don't forget the meeting Dec. 13, 7:30 PM, I believe City Auditorium.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanks for so Much

If it seems that all anyone does here is gripe, well that goes with the territory. If we didn't love San Angelo, we wouldn't have taken up the hobby of trying to improve things around the edges of an essentially very nice small city. Indeed, one of the things to celebrate about San Angelo, we have a government so open that from time to time a truck driver and a computer geek can actually get the city's attention and have some measurable effect.

Just a few musings on a day of Thanksgiving. We live in wonderful times. Don't let the media drumbeat of this that or the other crisis get you down. Bad news sells papers. I have lived long enough to get a little perspective on all this.

Chicken Little squawks the price of oil will ruin us all, drive us into bankruptcy, crisis! Right, and we are setting records this year for holiday travel by car, air, whatever moves people. Anybody seen a gas line lately?

Income disparity is growing, there are more poor than ever before, woe is us, Squawk! I seem to recall an itenerent prophet out of the Middle East a couple millenia back said something like "The poor will be with us always". A lot of this is definitional, in that whoever is at the bottom of the heap will be poor by that day's standards. For the first time in human history, a major problem amongst our poor is obesity. For virtually all of history, and in 90% of today's world, making that statement would convince a listener that one was delusional, a crazy man, yet that statement is very much true by American standards of poverty.

As never before, Chicken Little tells us the environment is on the brink of failing, we are raping the planet on an unprecedented scale, Squawk! I remember my first airplane trip, Atlanta to Dallas, north window seat. It was an unending view of visible smokstack plumes, each a hundred miles long and overlapping. Major rivers literally caught fire, they had so much gunk floating on them. Only loons ate fish caught in most Eastern domestic waters. I don't say forget environmentalism the job's all done, but I can tell you, we live in a vastly cleaner America than I was raised in.

Locally the San Angelo Foundation just received a headliner of a donation, and that's great. One of the things I am impressed by is the smaller scale, but still stunning in aggregate generosity of San Angelo's people. People give their volunteer time to a host of causes, from feeding the elderly, to rebuilding and building houses, helping children, name a cause, our citizens open their pocketbooks and give of their time.

Personally, I am thankful for a day of nearly complete sloth. With luck my high point of activity will come when I leap up to celebrate one of many Dallas touchdowns. However you spend yours with whomever, have a good Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanks for the warm welcome

Dr Joe Rallo has a strange idea of how to get off on the right foot in a new town. He is proposing to exercise eminent domain in order to close down Johnson St. through campus. Never mind negotiating with City Council, forget taking community comment or inconvenience into consideration. Dr. Rallo has decided that since he can, he will.

No one has bothered to justify this in terms of cost/benefit. If there has been a rash of student pedestrian injuries, no one has made that case. The inconvenience is undeniable. Johnson is described by the city as a level F feeder and handles over 10,000 vehicles a day. Parents of Crockett students, residents of the area, anyone wanting to get from Knickerbocker to Av N, all that traffic will either go to Bryant on the east, the construction constricted Sherwood, or jam up residential streets never designed for heavy traffic.

Turns out, city has looked into this possibility. Seems that if ASU exercizes eminent domain, as a state entity, ASU wins. Dr. Rallo may be feeling a bit bullet-proof, with good reason. He can't be voted out, no one in the city has any authority to dismiss Rallo. Winning hand all the way 'round, trump suit. Pardon me if I ask, does he really want to play it?

Dr. Rallo might want to check with Mayor Lown about the trash can episode from Lown's first term. Lown had supported a plan by Trashaway to go to an automated pickup system, would have saved gas, money, time, looked great on paper. Problem was, San Angelo residents were unexpectedly proud of their private trash cans. San Angeloans are some of the most welcoming people on the planet, ask the veterans who recently were feted to a parade and deer hunt. Still, those warm hearted folks keep a handy supply of the metaphorical pitchforks and torches if one crosses them. I was most recently on the wrong end of that when I supported an appointed Police Chief.

Dr. Rallo, ASU is a real jewel-in-the-crown asset for San Angelo, no one doubts that. When ASU desired the change to the Texas Tech system, the almost unanimous public support helped our State Rep. Drew Darby make it happen. I'm here to tell you, if you do this folks will still be cussing you ten years from now.

There are alternatives. You could add to freshman orientation a short course folk in my generation learned in kindergarten; Look Both Ways Before You Cross the Street. Seriously, some have suggested a pedestrian overpass, but I counsel against that. Look at the one on S Bryant. By the time one adds the ADA serpentine ramps on either end, it is a huge time-waster, all the healthy kids still cross the street and jump the low median fence. One I have seen is a pedestrian tunnel. It's as quick as crossing the street and by nature ADA friendly.

Hold off until Rosemont can be opened as a detour, briefly close Johnson, build the tunnel. The students are safer, the short inconvenience is quickly forgotten, the pitchforks stay in the closet, everybody's friends and we all live happily ever after.

I live on the other side of town. I think I have used Johnson St maybe 4 times in the last year. When I first heard about the eminent domain plan, it hit me as arrogant, autocratic, pick an unpleasent adjective. I can only imagine how people who actually depend on Johnson feel. Friendly advice to a newcomer; San Angelo is chock full of great people, it's easy to make friends for life, folk who will watch your back when you need them. Leave them feeling like you have crossed'em and gotten over on them, they will never trust you on anything. Real sure you want to go there over a glorified crosswalk?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Rangers reports: Updated twice

The reports by Texas Ranger Shawn Palmer are available and they are interesting reading. There are 691 pages in the file we have just received. This contains a request letter and three reports. I have made these scanned reports searchable and more compact. Right now report 1 and report 2 are ready and online. Report 3, the largest, is split into 4 parts of about 200 pages each. They available as part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4. There may be some errors in the searchable text, but the information displayed should be accurate. We have done a lot of checking but some errors may have crept in. Let us know if you find any errors so we can get them corrected.

These reports show the amount of detail required for an investigation. They also contain important information that hasn't been available previously. We are still studying these reports and will have analysis and comments later. I do want to say that my initial reaction is one of disappointment and we will leave it at that.

Update 2. The Standard Times now has these reports online here. They have more bandwidth so they should be more readily available, if not as easily searchable.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Chief Comparisons

A comment was made on that deserves much further explanation: "(When it comes to appointing the police chief) "Hiring" a President to lead the military, would amount to the same thing." Sounds good, but the comparison is seriously flawed.

The Presidents powers as commander in chief are spelled out in Article II, section 2 of the Constitution. There he is given control over all military branches, including the militias when called into the actual Service of the United States. He also makes treaties and agreements, receives and appoints ambassadors, and appoints most other federal officers and judges with the advice and consent of the Congress. In Article I he is given the power and duty to approve laws, including the budget passed by congress (with the exception of those laws where his veto is overridden.) He is given the power and duty to enforce those laws.

At the city level, equivalent powers are distributed between the Mayor, City Manager, and City Council. The Mayor is in charge of all public safety services, including law enforcement, in an emergency because he is by ordinance and state law the Emergency Management Director. The City Manager, by city charter and state law, shall see that the laws and ordinances of the city are enforced. The city manager develops the budget, which is then approved by the City Council, including the Mayor. The number of city employees, including police officers, is set and approved by the City Council. All agreements with other government entities are approved by the city council and signed by the Mayor or City Manager as appropriate. All contracts are subject to council approval. The police chief can't negotiate or sign a contract without prior council approval for that specific contract.

The Police Chief is really closer to the Chief of Staff of the Army. He controls the largest, but not the only, law enforcement organization the city has. He has little say on the laws he must enforce. He has no control over how much money his department gets. He doesn't control the number of officer positions available. He doesn't set the pay rate for his officers, that is done by the city council. He doesn't set the promotion requirements, that is done by the civil service commission. The only positions he can promote to are the assistant chiefs positions. If he fires or suspends an officer, that can be overridden by the civil service commission. He is in very much the same position as an Army General who is given a command and told to go carry out the mission that the President directs him to.

With the Police Chief having only daily operational control over a part of the overall law enforcement or public safety resources of the city, it is hard to see his job as being in any way comparable to the Presidents. There have been countries that have tried electing their generals in the past, but they have all abandoned that as a bad idea. If you are looking for the local equivalent to the President, that would the Mayor.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Trust or Consequences

In the course of discussing Prop 26, the appointed police chief, a recurring theme has been how much distrust voters have for the City Council, the City Manager, city gov't in general. Typical would be something like "It's all about the monied, old boy network that has always run San Angelo, they don't care about anything but themselves, can't be trusted", etc, etc and so forth.

Now it is understandable that the average citizen doesn't really pay attention to city gov't until they see utilities bills or taxes going up and it's check writing time. I have to remember, most people have a life and are not political junkies.

That said, let me point out a couple of "inconvenient truths". I have been following city affairs far more closely than most people for over twenty years. First thing, no Council ever took office by martial law, voters put them there, to the extent we are spreading blame, save a bit of that peanut butter for ourselves. Second, the "old boys" aren't there. City manager, Mayor, Councilmembers, no one has been there six years yet. In fairness, it took way longer than that for the pipes to rust out and the potholes cave in. The neglect that rose up and bit us in the nether regions last year was not the fault of the current city gov't, but it was definitely a steaming bowl of offal dumped in their laps.

Another inconvenient truth is that life ain't always fair, and nuttin's for free. We all want good streets and dependable water and by the way find a way to do $200 million of infrastructure without raising my bills. Sorry, the good infrastructure fairy seems to be out to lunch, and the money will eventually come from the same source as all gov't expenditures, our ass pocket. If you have some secret formula to make the necessary repairs at little or no cost, please share it with us.

The situation we are in is why I am especially proud of Prop 25, Capital Improvements. If we pass this measure, no future Manager or Council will be able to say "Gee, nobody told us", there will always be a detailed five year-out plan in effect, and future Councils will see it before anything else on the budget. Then they can fall out and fight for scraps going to tennis courts and lights.

The Charter Committe did not offer Prop 5, a pay raise by whatever name, to reward the oversights of Councils long gone, nor to "pay off" the existing Council. We hoped it might make it possible for knowledgable working folk to be able to afford to run and serve. As Thomas Jefferson observed, a periodic revolution is healthy for the body politic.

I know the bill just recently hit your mailbox, but the genesis of that bill pre-dates our existing city government. We are paying for mistakes made years ago, by people long gone.

Now before someone shouts "pollyanna", I don't claim the city has quite hit perfection, there are a few items left to be addressed. A $200,000 misunderstanding on water bills might be one detail, mind you that is just generating and mailing the bills, no pipes included. I think it would be nice to catch three green lights in a row on Bryant Raceway. Newest improvement there, going south from Harris, unless you floor it you get to stop at Beauregard. Then Washington. Then Av N. Then Knickerbocker.

Zoning is an ongoing nuisance for homeowners, entrepaneurs and developers. Keeping rendering plants out of residential neighborhoods is one thing, making honest businesses jump through hoops over details of fence heights and counting trees, or giving homeowners grief over two feet from right-of-way or adjoining property when no neighbors object is an impediment to growth.

More of the same, that's why government needs interested citizens looking over its shoulder, and making rude noises from time to time. that's part of what we try to do here, but we can use all the help we can get. I try to remember to give the city an "ataboy" when they get it right, this is not all negative.

All the above notwithstanding, on some items, blaming the current Council for problems handed off to them is like blaming the new driver when a thirty year old bus breaks down. We really do have new faces, new attitudes there. Try actually talking to your Councilmember, you might be surprised how receptive they are to new ideas.

By the way, KIDY is generously giving a half hour of valuable air time to a debate/discussion featuring yours truly and Councilman Dwain Morrison on the Charter Amendments. Although we deeply disagree on Prop 26, over the years I have agreed with Dwain more often than not, this should be an informative, respectful discussion of the issues. There will be a "questions" period and KIDY is soliciting questions from the public at If you care, please contribute and listen.

Above all, early voting starts Monday. Please, please, sometime between now and election day, get up and vote. This barkeep never objected to discussing politics in a bar; they don't teach it in civics class, but the two primary sources of the American Revolution were; Chuches and taverns. I do have one rule: if you didn't vote, I don't want to hear it; voting is your license to bitch.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Chief Debate

KIDY is graciously hosting a debate on charter amendments, with emphasis on the elected vs. appointed chief, proposition 26. They are asking for questions on their website so if you have a question, please submit it to the station. The debate will air on Oct. 27th.

Kudos to FOX for this civic service.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Growing our Economy

Back in March, I did a post on growing jobs. We have some good news on this front. Last Friday, Oct 12th, there was a conference on Economic Gardening given by Chris Gibbons, who developed the concept for Littleton, Colorado.

I was one of the fortunate few who attended this conference. There were many key players there. The entire Small Business Development Center staff was there. There members of the CVCED, COSADC, the city council, and various other local groups that are actively involved and interested in our local economy. The conference lasted about 4 hours, and at the end of the conference, I could tell that the concepts and ideas presented generated a lot of interest and excitement. I expect to start seeing plans and programs integrate these ideas very soon.

I will be presenting some of my thoughts about the conference and where we go from here in later posts, but for now I am excited. This conference is a milestone in a better approach to growing our economy.

Chris Gibbons has given a name to fast growing, job producing entrepreneurial companies. He calls them gazelles. I think we need to cross the concept of gazelles with the toughness and independence of our local armadillos. We need to become known for our gazelladillos.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Easy? I don't recall

There are few things more misunderstood in the discussion on the upcoming appointed chief ballot measure than the procedure for recalling an elected official. I keep hearing that it's easier to do a recall election that it is to get an appointed chief fired. Most people don't understand or severely underestimate the effort and expense involved in a recall. It is a very high bar.

First off according to the city charter there are 60 days to collect the names, addresses, and voter registration numbers of at least 30% of the number of registered voters that voted in the last chiefs elections. Roughly 9,500 people voted in the May 2004 chiefs election. That means you have to collect at least 2850 valid signatures with addresses and voter registration number. Figure there will be some spoiled petitions, ineligible voters, etc., and the effort must collect 3000 signatures to be on the safe side. I have researched the results of many petition drives, and the cost has been from a low of about $10 per signature up to almost $100. Let's assume that we are very lucky and can do it for the $10 figure. We are talking $30,000 to get enough valid, verified signatures with addresses and voter registration information.

After they are collected, the city clerk (who does the duties of city secretary) has 30 days to certify the petitions. The official (the chief in this case) would then be notified, at which time he has 15 days to decide whether or not to resign. If he choses not to resign, then an election is scheduled by the city council not sooner then 30 days later. The city charter says that the election should be scheduled no more than 90 days from that date, but election code throws a monkey wrench into that because according to Section 41.001 of the election code, an election must be held on one of two uniform election dates. There is an exception for emergencies but an emergency election must be approved by the governor. That means that if every thing goes right it will probably take 135 days to hold the recall election. If not, it could take almost a year until you could vote the rascal out of office.

Then there is the expense of campaigning and getting the people out to vote. The election itself will cost the city significant money. If it's a close election, there will be a recount. After close to a year, after thousands of dollars in expense, you finally might get the rascal kicked out of office.

Some how that doesn't meet my definition of easy.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Economics of Giving Back

We have been putting most of our effort here on the charter amendments and the upcoming election. That doesn't mean we have forgotten about other key issues such as economic development. Much is happening on that front.

Multi-Chem just received a very large incentive package. I have major concerns about the wisdom of such subsidies, but if you are going to do it, this one makes more sense than most. The pay rate of the jobs is high, the number of jobs is good, the company is growing rapidly and it already has roots in the area. There are risks, of course. They are in a very competitive part of the oil industry. A new competitor could hurt their market share, which is not a very large risk. It is more likely they could be acquired by another company with no roots here. Good for them, bad for us. Still, it's probably one of the more rational subsidies made. During the discussion the idea was brought up of requiring the company to give back something like 1% of the subsidy to the city. I like the thought but think the method needs to be looked at.

I fully support the goal of making sure these companies we subsidize develop a strong connection with the city and give something back. I think that a 1% forced return is not an effective way to develop such a connection. First off, the 1% return ends up being little more than an additional tax or user fee to the company involved. Just another small, annoying, cost of doing business. Second, in terms of economic impact the 1% figure ends up being vanishingly small. Lets just do a little abbreviated table top economic analysis. The goal here is 145 jobs that pay an average of at least $50k per year. That's an annual payroll of $7.25 million per year. Over the 5 year life of the subsidy, that's $36.25 million. With no multiplier effects and assuming that only 1% of their payroll ends up coming back to us in tax revenues they will “give back” $362.5k, which is 25 times higher than the $14.5k asked for. Add in the various multiplier effects, permit fees, property taxes, etc. and their contribution to the tax base will far out weigh 1% of the subsidy. I would be surprised if a full economic analysis didn't put their taxes paid back into the area at least 3 times the subsidy. The real additional impact of the 1% set aside would be very small.

I think there is an even more fundamental flaw with this approach. Dollar figures are a poor way to measure connection with the community and what a company is giving back. It reduces the multi-dimensional space of human and community interaction to a single impersonal dimension of dollars and cents. Let's look at a couple hypothetical examples.

Spacely Sprockets, the multinational sprocket leader, comes to town on the promise of a $1 million incentive. They dutifully put 1% in a special fund, but otherwise remain disconnected from much that happens in the city. At the end of 5 years they move all of their local operation when Midland offers them $2million to put their new sprocktless sprocket plant in Midlands vacant industrial park building.

Wendals Widgets comes to town because one of the owners grew up in San Angelo, and they get a similar incentive. As the company gets established the management team joins various local organizations, the company joins the chamber of commerce and the CIO's husband runs for school board. They put the main office in an historic building downtown and get awards for how well it fits in to the area. Their employees are found everywhere being coaches and mentors.

Which company connected with San Angelo? Which company really gave back to San Angelo? Which one had the greatest benefit.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Free-association Sunday Ramble

My usual free-association Sunday Ramble. One thing about focusing on local items, it allows some distance from Party politics. I found myself today on the S-T site saying for the third time in a month, "a plague on both your houses" this time in reference to the SCHIP veto. Not to get too far from the local focus, basically the Democrats are deliberately asking for more than they can get, Republicans are scurrying for cover, everybody's attention is on re-election, and in the end, it is so much blatherskite and havers, by adjournment Congress will have passed, and Bush will sign, a bill insuring more children than are now covered. We pay them money for this.

SAISD is starting to appear to be genuinely concerned about a new bond measure. Workshop this Monday, but real action the next meeting. Good timing, this Monday WILL find me in front of a TV hoping Da'boys R back. New England won Sunday, but pushed on the point spread, next week, Cowboys /Patriots in big D. If Dallas can avoid looking past a badly hurt Buffalo (third string QB starting) Monday night, next week is THE gameadaweek in the NFL. If you accidentally find an end-zone ticket to that game, you can probably make the next few mortgage payments on E-Bay. Next Monday I will be at SAISD offering my usual free advice.

The Police Chief Charter Amendment is the big item on Charter amendments Nov. 6, 'nuff said there, but let us not forget the other 28 measures. Twenty-some are purely housekeeping. They will change nothing in how the city does business, we are cleaning up language, bringing Charter into compliance with state law, doing away with bodies that no longer exist, that sort of thing.

There are important issues out there aside from the Chief measure. My personal top-of-the- chart is #25, which imposes on the budget process a capital improvements presentation. Previous City Councils have ignored pipes and potholes and left us with a crumbling infrastructure. These problems obviously pre-date the tenure of anyone now serving on Council, but the steaming pile is in their laps. This year, Council and City Manager Harold Dominguez put capital improvements at the top of the budget process. Prop 25 will force any future Manager and Council to look at capital improvements first. It does not mean a future Council has to ratify whatever a future Manager gives them as a CIP report, but if we pass #25, it will mean that in the future, we will always have a five year plan for infratructure and Council will not be able to hide behind "Gee, nobody told us". If you missed the "Voices" radio program on this topic Sunday, it can be accessed on the gosanangelo website. Earned your money on that one Harold.

Prop 16 is designed to let us quit being West Texas' Police Academy. Abilene, Lubbock, Midland/Odessa, etc. have shamelessly recruited our officers. Lubbock has a portable sign on south Bell, the Border patrol has a billboard just east of Bell St. and they all go internet. I am told some cities send personal e-mails to our officers trying to recruit them. We spend the training money, they offer a little more pay, our officer jumps and takes the raise. Can't blame him, he's trying to make a living. Prop 16 allows us to make a contract with officers saying "OK, we're going to pay for some valuable schooling, BUT in return, you are going to promise you will stay with for X years or repay the cost if you leave early". Governments and industry do this all the time for sound financial reasons. It doesn't mean Officer Friendly is a "wage-slave" it just says, if you take our freebie to Abilene, you, Abilene, somebody is going to repay the Angelo taxpayer for your college credits. The major problem is in the Police Dept., but this Proposition would include firemen, water treatment plant, any employee whose continuing education is taxpayer funded.

Prop 5, increasing pay for Council/Mayor. The existing compensation, roughly speaking, doodly-squat, is lost in the mists of time. It may have been addressed in 1947, may go back to 1915. Most of us have had a pay raise since then, Council members deserve one too. I argued for higher than Prop 5 allows on the grounds that realistic pay might allow a working man to run and serve without beggaring his family. What we have in Prop 5 might help on that and in the context of an $80 million budget it is revenue neutral. I know how much time these people put in, this is the right thing to do.

Prop 15 should not be controversial. It recognises we have started selling Nasworthy lots instead of leasing them, and allows the city to responsibly manage that Trust fund.

The most important thing to do Nov. 6, if you have not early-voted by then, is VOTE! This election has no Presidential, no Congresscritter, no officeholders at all. Historically, such elections run under 10% turnout and my main job as election judge is to bring a thick book to read. We can do better. You don't have to become a pain, but maybe nudge your co -worker's elbow, mention it to your neighbor, we have not done a Charter review to this extent in thirty years, may be that long doing another. It really matters, take a few minutes and vote.

Nearly forgot, happy Columbus Day. When I was in grade school we all heard the "Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Marie", and of course, Columbus discovered America. Then why aren't we Columbia? Turns out an Americus Vespucchio (optional spelling) never got around to leaving Italy, he was too busy drawing maps. If Columbus did not discover America, (and he never touched the mainland) which he obviously didn't since there were people onshore to greet him and his crew's diseases, where did the greeters come from? Was this "First Contact" a greater genocide than the holocaust or purely accidental ? Did the federal gov't establish Columbus Day to buy off politically crucial Italian immigrant voter blocs in the northeast? Does Minnesota have enough electoral votes to rate a "Lief Erickson Day"? Do I personally wish we could go back to the "Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Marie" without having to adjourn for a navel-lint introspective course in consciousness-raising?

Must be getting old and crotchety. Happy Columbus Day.

Saturday, October 06, 2007


In my last post, I said a possible recall would require 5,000 some registered voters' signatures on a limited time petition, a bar making a recall realistically impossible. Upon further reading, I was relying on the standard used in the liquor sales election, but that was a county, not city item.

Under Charter Section 48, it would require 30% of actual voters in the last election for the office in question rather than 10% of registered voters, or roughly, closer to 2,500-3,000 in a typical city-wide race to petition for an official's recall, and that is just step one. I stand by the position that this is nearly impossible in the 60 day time allowed. Still, I am embarrassed to admit I overlooked a significant item. Ordinances and resolutions are treated differently in Charter than are office-holders.

There is a good reason for that, "impeachment" or its equivalent of any elected official should be reserved for truly egregious offenses. Many years ago, Jack Cowan did his best to convince me such a course of action was foolish, but I was foolish, he was right, and I accomplished nothing save making myself look silly.

One thing I learned from that episode (Hemphill-Wells purchase): make my corrections and retractions at least as publically as I made the original assertion, and do it as quickly as the error is discovered.

I hold that nothing in this error changes the genuine reasons we need to change our method of selecting our Chief, but I cannot in good conscience call Councilman Morrison on a misapprehension of details without admitting my own. Mea culpa.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Chief misconceptions

I decided to wait on the debate Monday night sponsored by the Tom Green Democrat Club as to the elected/appointed Police Chief. Glad I did. A few minor hitches. Councilman Dwain Morrison was unable to be there, and Floyd Crider attempted to work from Dwain's notes as well he could. I point this out in case there was a slip up in communication in that process, otherwise, we have a crucial misapprehension by one of the appointed Chiefs' more prominent opponents.

One reason I was able to support this version, after going against it last time. we have clarified the appointment process, or we thought we had. The appointment itself is made by the city manager, then ratified by the City Council. Should it become necessary to remove a Chief, that is done by the City Manager on his sole authority.

If Mr. Crider's reading of the notes was accurate, Mr. Morrison seemed to believe a Chief could be removed anytime four Council members disliked him.

I suppose the case could be made, but it is a heck of a stretch. Yes, a bloc of four Council members can remove the manager, so in theory they could either threaten to exercize that authority to bend a manager to their will, or in the extremity, actually fire and replace the manager to get to the Police Chief. In practice such a move is nearly always a public relations disaster. Those of us who are old enough to recall the Nixon years can remember how well it worked for him as Nixon went through two Attorneys General in a weekend before a third finally fired Archie Cox.

I mentioned our meeting with WTOS. I do not intend to characterize their postion as a group, so I stress, these were questions from individual members. One set of questions went to the the possible process of removal/replacement under the current elected system. Well, in between four year elections, there isn't much. The recall mechanism was mentioned, but as a political reality, it is virtually undoable. A recall election would need over 5,000 valid signatures just to be scheduled and the group capable of mobilising that effort in San Angelo is non-existent.

A point that came up, what if the police dept. has become so factionalized that we might want to bring in a Chief from outside San Angelo, a qualified candidate with no ties to any group or internal candidate? Under the elected Chief system, that is not an option. While the qualifications for an elected Chief don't even mention a law enforcement background, a candidate has to be a two year resident of the city. On that, under the appointed Chief, by state law, we could hire a Chief from anywhere, but a candidate must have five years experience minimum, with at least an Intermediate Master Officer's certification.

I add, on this last, I would like it if we could "promote from within" when possible, having a new Chief familiar with the city. That would require stability in the Dept. and a process aimed at training a few promising candidates who show leadership potential. We have neither. The "house divided against itself" has been mentioned too often, by too many to be a fantasy. Under the elected system, what encouragement does any Chief have to train up a potential electoral opponent?

I think it is time to tackle this problem. The timing suits. If approved by the voters, the appointment process would take effect at the end of this term in May. We have, aside from the usually divisive election, a felony investigation of Chief Vasquez underway. However that investigation turns out, it points up a huge defect in the elected method.

I know of and understand the reluctance of many voters to yield direct elective say on any office, but in this case, I believe it's time to do so for good reason. Too few voters know the "rest of the story" well enough to make the best decision on this crucial office.

Charter Election Status

We are actively gearing up the education and information campaign on the Charter Amendments that are on the ballot in the November election. We have more information on the main website, we have an informational PowerPoint presentation, and the city has election information here.

Most of these amendments are non-controversial housekeeping measures that update the language to comply with current state and federal laws and how we actually do business. The heavy hitters are the Appointed Chiefs amendment, the Capital Budget amendment, and the raise in allowances for the Mayor and Council Members.

You opinions, as always, are welcome here.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Random Thoughts

I confess JWT and I have shamelessly ignored this Blog of late. We'e been a bit pre-occupied with promoting the City Charter measures, not to mention the ever present reality of making a living and paying bills. We have a reprint of a Standard-Times article from Thursday posted this AM, and I will be posting a follow-up article on the appointed Chief measure later today.

Sunday seems a good day for reflection and less pressing matters. If you follow the S-T online edition with commentary, there have been a few of note this week. A local news story "Two teens arrested in drive-by shooting" has so far generated 134 comments. A cadre of posters using "325" in their screen names have posted comments that are astonishing in several respects. The 325 postings are raw street rage, obviously posted by people "up-close-and-personal" in their knowledge of events. Some have been deleted by S-T staff as over-the-top, but what is there is an insight into the "gangbanger" mentality. This is tribal ethics on display. By that, I mean an ethical outlook based on the notion that might makes right, private revenge for disrepect is acceptable, even admirable, and anything done to anyone outside the "tribe" is justifiable. Collateral damage to the innocent is unfortunate, but perfectly acceptable. It is a hard read for anyone accustomed to reasoned discourse, but it is illuminating as to the mindset of the people in that world.

I am one of the few posters on the site who self-identifies, most like the anonymity. I do not know if there is a connection, certainly could not prove it, but late Friday, while waiting a cab home from my local watering hole, a person I have never seen, never chatted with, never personally offended to my knowledge, came out of nowhere and punched me out. I still heal quick, but if you think grafitti is the worst symptom of the gang problem, you are dreaming. I am thankful he left his gun under the pillow.

In the "Cheers & Jeers" section, there was a short article about a truck which spilled waste oil for several blocks of Bryant Blvd. Just happens I was working that jobsite and was on the way to McDs for lunch when I saw that truck. By the time I got close to the trail of sludge, I was smelling "knock-a-buzzard-off-a-gut-wagon, and called 911. By the time I could get a fish sandwich, we had an officer directing traffic and two trucks of Fire Dept. personnel cleaning up. Less than five minutes, gold stars all around, great response guys.

Jeers section, I called last week to report the Bryant Blvd traffic lights had gone from fairly good sequencing to stop every two blocks mode. Bryant is a state highway, but the lights are controlled by city, both TXDOT and city confirmed that. So far, the best result is that I now get to stop even more often. I noticed a City Traffic pick-up sitting in the islands of S. Bryant Thursday, I guess they did attend to it, but so far, not well. Maybe they want to assure that the $180,000 worth of irrigated trees we are blocking lanes to put in, but are not yet there, are properly appreciated by the traveling public while we wait for the light to turn green. I mention that because the money for the water-sucking trees is about the amount necessary to sequence downtown lights. Which would you prefer, trees or good traffic flow? DUH!

Thursday, JWT and I met with WTOS, a local minority advocacy group that is well on the way to being a force to be reckoned with in San Angelo politics, speaking on the Charter Amendments. There was no vote taken, certainly no endorsement given either way, but we got a polite welcome and many thoughtful questions. Thank you, WTOS. By the way, if you have a civic group interested in the upcoming election, let us know. Most of the Charter Committee members are actively promoting the package, I'm fairly sure we could schedule a speaker for nearly any open date.

Vote, just vote

This posting was first published in the Standard-Times Thursday, Sept. 27, and is reprinted with their kind permission.

November has the potential to be a low turnout election with no Presidential or Congressional to vote against, and in reality, more voters get off their duffs to turn out to vote "agin" than "for" anything.

I remember my grandfather telling me how he liked the old Texas ballot where one marked through the rascals one was voting against rather than politely checking off the right fellow. It just seemed to be more fun.

The Legislature has given us little in the way of meat and potatoes to attract voters on state Constitutional Amendments, so the driver in this election is going to be the City Charter Amendment package.

It is going to look like a lot of items; state law requires each topic to be sequestered, but the bulk of this is overdue housekeeping. Of the 29 items on ballot, I count 20 as updates that change nothing about the way we actually do business, they only update Charter language to comply with existing law.

Duplicative bodies will be abolished and Charter provisions will be updated to comply with state law and so forth.

I got a surprising nomination to the Charter Review Committee, and I tell you, this was not some "ol' boy network" hangover. I know I got chewed on by my appointing Council member, but I was there, and promise you that each of us used our individual judgement on every issue.

The San Angelo City Council took our recommendations, amended some, dropped one and put in another. At the end of the day, our members agreed to form an SPAC in support of that which is on the ballot. {Note here that was not in the article: I have since heard that former Mayor Dick Funk has declined to be an SPAC member. My apologies in advance if I mis-state his position, but it seems he actively supports the package, he just does not choose to join PACs}

We want to hear from the voters. Texas makes it absurdly easy to vote- by mail absentee voting, two weeks of early voting, including five hours one Sunday, and under a unique provision of Texas Election code, if you are an astronaut detained on the space station that day, you STILL get to vote!

Speaking of voting rights, the single most controversial item on the ballot will be the question of elected/appointed Police Chief. Our committee took this up reluctantly, but we were given a petition signed by a majority of serving officers, and we heard not a single dissenting voice from the Dept., including current candidates for the office.

When we last saw this issue about two and a half years ago, I voted against it. It had been used as a parliamentary block against other Charter Amendments, (by state law, cities must separate Charter Amendments by at least two years) it was never supported by the people who put it on the ballot, and it never received a fair hearing.

This time, the appointive process has been spelled out, the entire Department is asking us for it, and I have to support it. Just imagine if your workplace elected the boss. Can you see a potential conflict of interest?

By the same logic used by the keep-our-right-to-vote side, the same voters who just elected a hypothetically defective City Council- which must approve any appointed Chief- are better informed to choose a Police Chief for a four year term than the Council members they just elected for staggered two year terms and are therefore never more than one year from our chance to turn at least half the rascals out.

I promise you, the hot breath of the electorate is more urgently felt down the back of Council's neck than that of a four year Chief. Do I hear a "DUH!" in the background?

Agree or disagree, it won't matter if you don't get out and vote. If I hear you beef and moan on Nov. 7, and you admit you failed to actually vote, I will hoot and howl and point out to anyone in earshot that you are a lazy hypocrite. Please, this is a really important vote. Take a few minutes and help make a difference, it's our future on the ballot.

If you care to help, CASA, Charter Amendments for San Angelo, will accept donations of time or money at P.O. Box 5002, 76902. For more info, (325) 234-0436 or (325) 340-7685.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Chief Concerns

A recent comment on an earlier post brought up some questions that need answered about an elected vs. appointed chief.

Question 1: Who would appoint the police chief if we do appoint the chief?
  • That is spelled out in LG 143.013. The City Manager (CEO) would appoint the chief with confirmation by the City Council (governing body).

Question 2: What are the qualifications for an appointed or elected chief?
  • Appointed chiefs requirements from the above reference are "A person appointed as head of a police department must be eligible for certification by the Commission on Law Enforcement Officer standards and Education at the intermediate level or its equivalent as determined by that commission and must have served as a bona fide law enforcement officer for at least five years." The city manager, with input from the council and public could add other requirements. These requirements don't apply to an elected chief.
  • The qualifications for the elected chief start with section 61 of the City charter that says "The Chief of Police shall have been a resident of the City of San Angelo for a period of at least two years immediately prior to his election and shall possess the qualifications of electors in said city." The state adds some requirements in Occupation Code 1702.302. It says in part "in an elective office must obtain a license from the commission not later than the second anniversary of the date the officer takes office." It also states that if the elected officer (police chief in this case) fails to obtain or maintain the license within the 2 years he can be removed from office.
Question 3: Who has oversight of an appointed or elected chief?
  • In the case of an appointed chief, he would serve at the will of the City Manager, who would be also be his direct supervisor. As an appointed department head he would also be subject to investigation and inquiry by city council.
  • An elected chief has no real supervisor within the city government. The council can "adjust" the chiefs pay, and the council does control the police budget, but they have no real authority to remove or discipline the police chief. The voters can remove an appointed chief at the next regular election. In theory, the voters could petition for a recall election, but that requires a large number of signatures on petitions, and a full blown election with all the time and expense involved in that process. The council can't call a recall election. That has to start with a citizens petition with sufficient signatures.
  • Either chief can be removed for conviction of a felony or a crime of moral turpitude. Neither chief is subject to review or oversight by the civil service commission.
Hope that answers some of the basic questions on the mechanics of appointed and elected chiefs.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Sunday Ramblings

Well, I got unexpectadly published in today's Standard-Times, something I submitted quite a while back on ethanol. Better late than never, but along with a lot of online contributors, I am a bit puzzled by the editorial policy.

Go to Standard-Times online and check into the "breaking news" icon. Friday's top of the page headline was an allegation of assault in a local nightclub against Chief Vasquez made by an unnamed female confidential narcotics informant recruited by Jeff Davis, one of Vasquez's opponents for the office. By the time I got off work Friday, I had gotten an earfull, wanted to follow up. More than making my own comment, I really wanted to read the 50 comments already posted. This is a story with implications on the November Charter measures and the next Chief election, assuming there is to be one. When Vasquez asked the city to investigate, Mindy Ward, for very good reason, told him essentially, you are a separate elected part of city gov't, no way am I stepping in this steaming pile of excrement. We end up with our Country Attorney reluctantly taking it up, and I do not envy him this job. Last time I smelled this, an 18 wheeler coming the other way had just run over a skunk. At least that stench dissipated before I got to Eden. I mean, really, I couldn't have scripted a better ad in support of losing the elected Chief idea.

Sorry, someone pulled the entire discussion and heavily edited Paul Anthony's original story, of which I fortunately have the print version. As someone on the trembling verge of old-fartdom, I am not so averse to electronics as our old pal Jack Cowan, but I still find my stack-of-newsprint archive useful from time to time.

Today's paper, top headline, a story on VA care, something I care a lot about. I can read about the First Lady's pinched nerve, but our failure to follow up on our commitment to veterans seems to have vanished from the online paper.

I can't even logically follow an idealogical bias in the sorting of what does and does not make it online. There does not seem to be a consistent liberal/conservative break so much as sheer sloppiness. One consistency, I do see, about the time a comment thread gets really hot, our moderator seems to incline to pulling the whole topic rather than the offensive individual posts. As I have pointed out to folks on the S-T site, conchoinfo has rarely pulled any comment, those only for blatant libel, and otherwise, we are fully archived, every post, every comment, every retraction from day one is available, no pricey subscription necessary.

Moving on, I violated my own bumper sticker yesterday, the one that says "yes this is my pickup, no I will not help you move". At least the young lady was cute. Barring a late season miracle, Algore notwithstanding, we have seen our first summer without a single 100 degree day in somerthing like 40 years. Where's my global warming Al? Just kidding folks, unlike a lot of vocal people on the topic, I do know the difference between climate and weather.

In support of the notion that I do not always beef and moan, a well deserved kudo to the oft-maligned city. For those of us who were around for the '95 storm and who recall the piles of tree limbs and debris along what is now the Houston-Harte freeway, one of the better bits of serendipity to come of that, instead of filling our landfill with brush, we bought an industrial strength chipper and set up a huge composting site out on City Farm Rd. Instead of filling the dump, that recyclable moves from one end to the other of a well-designed mulch plant, and comes out as high grade topsoil.

By day's end, I hope to have a post on SAISD. Upon review, as the NFL refs say, I seem to have been a bit harsh, verging on paranoid, in my last post on that topic. We still have high hopes that a well designed bond comes forth that we can support. We really do have a better than average school system that really does need serious money. Go to the "Voices" program on the S-T site, the interview with Superintendent Bonds is worth a listen.

I now break to take advantage of our unglobally warmed day and mow the grass that has come up due to a blessedly wet summer. For all that I speak of improvements that could be made, I would not choose to live anywhere other than San Angelo.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Sixty Years: Time for a Raise

There are two reasons I supported a pay raise for City Council: it is the right thing to do, justifiable on the grounds of the real cost of being a Council member; and it just might give us a more representative Council.

The Charter Amendment on the ballot will provide a modest raise, ($500 per month Mayor, $300 per month for Council members) which will increase in step with the average San Angelo median wage, as given annually by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for our area. As a Charter Amendment, it means this level cannot be further tampered with by future Councils without a supporting vote of the electorate. In fine, no future Council can expand on this by a 4-3 vote. This point also goes to the objection I hear a lot: "They knew what the job paid when they ran, they should accept it or resign". This is not an ordinance. The Council is not, cannot be, unilaterally giving itself a raise, as this only happens if the voters approve it.

I hold it is the right thing to do because I know the costs of the job. Between Council meetings and other duties, a Council member spends a minimum of 20 hours a week in constituent services and preparing for the upcoming agenda. This is time away from the real income earning job, time away from family, other hobbies or leisure time. Current compensation is laughable, far less than minimum wage. Some hold the salary was set in 1915, one source thinks it might have been set as late as 1943, but in either case, most jobs have seen a pay raise in the last 60 years.

The increase in this Amendment is still under minimum wage, assuming the 20 hour/week estimate, and frankly, I lobbied for a more generous level. No workman at any task should be denied fair compensation. I have come to personally know a few Council members over the years, and I know my 20 hour a week estimate is usually conservative.

My second point, the benefit to the city of an expanded pool of potential Council candidates is very real. As things stand, only an individual with both time and money to skip out of work at need can realistically run for office. Though I think Council low-balled the figure even with the increase, it is possible that a good, well-informed working class representative might find the additional money just enough to run for and perform the job without beggaring his family. I think we can agree that in most cases, having a credible opponent improves the voters' position. An opponent, even without winning, can force an incumbent to respond on record to issues that might otherwise be ignored.

Former Standard-Times editor Jack Cowan made the comparison recently between elections in the 90's with a herd of candidates and our current tendency to incumbency by lack of opponent. Now I happen to think some of the "old boy network" noise is a bit overblown for a Council whose two oldest members are only in their fifth year. I happen to believe current Council is catching the heat for some decisions that predate them, just because the public actually felt the inconveniences during current Council's term. One of my all-time favorite Council members (not my district) ran without opposition last term. Regardless, I strongly believe future Councils will be improved if a lively opposition holds each candidate's feet to the fire of public debate.

In the context of the total city budget, the full package of Council pay raise proposed is less than a pimple in an eight figure budget. Whatever your opinion of today's Council, I know and well remember worse. If we reject this nod to minimal fairness, we might find ourselves, God forbid, with a Council that demonstrates the old saying, "You get what you pay for".

Monday, September 03, 2007

Police Under Pressure

As the only Charter Amendment sent to the voters without unanimous vote of City Council, one has to assume the measure providing for appointing the police chief rather than electing him is the most controversial item facing voters this November. It has been pointed out, by among others my (I hope still) friend Councilman Morrison that the issue has been voted on numerous times, most recently only just over two years ago. It was for just that reason the Charter Review Committee decided early on we would not bring this issue up of our own accord.

Then, late in our deliberations, representatives of both major officers associations came to us requesting the issue be put out again. By the end of our meetings, we had been presented with a petition signed by a majority of serving officers, top to bottom ranks, insisting that the quadrennial election resulted in inevitable factions, with officers feeling pressured to sign on to one or another electoral candidate. While the petition was not unanimous, I have yet to hear from a single officer, current candidates included, who prefers the current elected system for the long run.

Speaking personally here, when this was put on ballot last time, though I support the concept, I opposed that measure, said so before City Council. Honestly, it had been used as a parliamentary blocking manuever to prevent, by state law, any other Charter Amendment for two years, and its sponsors never gave it any support, having acheived their goal by putting it on the ballot. A few minor details had been left unattended to, for instance; who makes the appointment by what process. That has been addressed in the current Amendment package, City Manager will make the appontment, with advice and consent of Council.

My top priority in urging the change rests on an all too possible hypothetical, and I hasten to add, this is hypothetical, no reflection on Chief Vasquez or any current candidate for the job. Suppose in some future election we find we have elected an amiable campaigner, very good at the grip&grin and baby-kissing of an election, but lost at sea as an administrator. Worst case, we elect someone who turns out to be ethically challenged and embroils the whole Department in scandal and suspicion. Under our elected system, we are stuck so long as that person avoids a felony conviction.

Taking this scenario a step further, should we be faced with a scandal-plagued department, we may find ourselves wanting to bring in a leader from outside, someone with no prior connections to any suspect faction in the situation, a new broom as it were, to clean house. That would be unimaginably difficult, realistically impossible under an elected system.

I would hope that an appointed system would continue to promote from within whenever possible, there is normally an inherent advantage, especially in police work, to having a Chief who knows the city and the department well. Had it been possible, I would have insisted on language to that effect in the Charter Amendment, but the Charter is not the appropriate place for non-binding, advisory wordage.

We all hope the scenario I hypothesize never comes to pass, but even a casual reading of the news tells us it is something that does happen in the real world. Should it come to pass, the intentionally cumbersome process of Charter Amendment would preclude a timely response to a critical situation.

I contend the voters will still have a strong, if less direct effect on selection. Council members only serve two year terms, and selecting the Police Chief is likely to be right at the top of the list of important votes cast by a given member when that Councilperson comes up for re-election. I doubt a Council is likely to commit political suicide by approving a Manager's appointment of a Chief completely out of synch with the voters' wishes. Should such a selection actually come to pass, with staggered terms, the voters will never have to wait more than a year for the chance to throw half the rascals out and send a strong corrective message.

Police work is a demanding, stressful job and the people who perform this critical function deserve our support. Through our committee and subsequently through Council, our officers have come to the voters asking that this change be made to improve the environment in which they work. Picture if your workplace elected or even took part in electing the boss. Can you see the potential for divisiveness?

If one discounts the validity of the most recent plebicite, and I for one do, it has been a long time since this issue was last given a thorough airing, with both sides making their best case. Much has changed in that time, but I contend the most important change relevant to this issue is the clear request from the personnel on the "thin blue line" for some relief. We owe them at least our open-minded consideration of this Charter Amendment.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Extreme Self-Esteem

Let joy reign unconfined! In a Tuesday meeting the SAISD Board has determined they are doing a fine job. In a four hour meeting moderated by Kay Douglas of the Texas Association of School Boards, the Board rated itself "excellent" on 45 of 60 questions. I do note that the 19 page list of guidelines and questions used in this self-evaluation, available on SAISD's website, states that well-functioning boards typically have meetings lasting no more than two hours. It's been a while since SAISD had one of those. I was unable to attend either Monday's or Tuesday's meetings and I find nothing on the website specifying how each Board member rated his/herself or others. Also worth noting, this celebration of self-esteem came one day after Board suffered a technical glitch in which most of Monday's meeting was recorded over, apparantly leaving the re-broadcast record unretrievable. Not to worry, nothing important was missed, just discussion of upcoming tax rates, status of capitol improvements, you know, usual trivia.

I noticed a distinct lack of agreement from the comment writers at the Standard-Times online site, but those are likely the same barbarians who recently handed SAISD its very first bond defeat by a huge electoral margin. I cannot help but think of the annual polls which show American public high school students have the highest self-esteem in the world while performing at the bottom of the industrialized nations in actual accomplishment. While one hates to pile on, I would be negligent in my duty if I did not at least lightly beat on this deceased equine.

One of the many issues that doomed the last bond was maintenance. A package of $500,000 in Central improvements stalled out in a sqabble about contracting methods until it was too late to get those items done over the summer break. Blame for this goes at least partly to staff, which should have put this to the Board earlier, knowing the Board's aversion to making final decisions on much of anything. Still, it would have been a good start, and an industrious Board would have found a way to make it happen. I may have had a bit of fun at Mr. Van Hoozer's expense over athletic costs for the new Central in the bond proposal, but on this, I was on his side. It was a reasonable package, would have served to demonstrate some dedication to fixing some of the problems that sank the bond. His frustration was clear at the June meeting. He was reminding Board of the window of opportunity time limits and he was asked, "Are you saying we have to do this tonight?" Van Hoozer replied, "Well, you don't have to do anything.", and that was precisely what Board decided to do, nothing.

To be fair, Board has decided to give Maintenance Director Jim Elson some new positions. Not quite making up for the 2000 reduction-in-force, but a step in the right direction. There is also a new Forward Maintenance Crew, sort of a roving trouble-shooting crew. They are directed to light work, it is specified they do not do renovations or changing out "major system components". Preventive maintenance is listed as this crew's first benefit, but by all accounts, they will be plenty busy stomping out brushfires, it is likely going to be some time before they can catch up to what a reasonable person would call preventive maintenance.

About the only decision Board showed no hesitation about was the sale of the Travis property, over what I saw as reasonable objections from new member Coookie Roberts. As Roberts pointed out, for the money involved, we should retain the property at least until a new bond proposal is nailed down and passed, it would give us a useable option to either current Crockett site or the "Albert" property, the latter being another key nail in the coffin of the last bond. For the money involved, about a quarter million, we surrendered an option we cannot easily replace.

With every other meeting being a "pre-agenda" meeting as I characterized in my last SAISD missive, Board is down to one effective meeting a month, and not doing terribly well on efficiency there. As I hypothesized in e-mails to staff last week, I can envision this Board on being told the building they were meeting in was on fire, taking leisurely comments around the table, then deferring until a later meeting a final decision on evacuation routes.

When we formed the STEER group in opposition to the last bond, we stated clearly we believed SAISD needed money and lots of it. We did not object to the amount of spending, but its direction. After the bond went down, we provided Board with a three page item we found, "How to Get Your Bond Passed". It stressed polling, surveys, and building a network of support amongst community leaders, nothing beyond common sense. None of this was done last time, and beyond Superintendent Bonds' online survey and her "Wall" of comments, none has been done since.

There is no realistic chance of passing a bond this November. The real deadline is Sept. 5, last day to place a measure on the Nov. ballot and Board has one meeting left before that. Now two possibilities come to mind. The next meeting has on the agenda receiving the report from whatever is left of the Facilities Task Force, and a final decision on tax rates for next year. If Board tries to put a new Task Force proposal on ballot with no groundwork laid in, STEER won't have to do anything but watch it predictably crater. If Board chooses to pay for a $50 million package of Central improvements by setting a tax rate of $1.37, or any number above the allowable $1.11, that will trigger an automatic recall election. That would be seen as a back-door mini-bond and will just as predictably die.

Board needs to get in gear, do some real polling, not the push-poll that so poorly informed them last time, come up with a detailed plan for improvements, and do it all in time for the May elections. This should have been priority one from the day after the last bond failed. I would love to be part of the team pushing for a good, well-thought out bond that will serve our needs for the forseeable future. Sad to say, the betting line on that is looking worse as time passes.

The four hours spent patting themselves on the back Tuesday was a huge waste of valuable time. This Board should be feeling kinship with the Baltimore Orioles' dressing room the night the Rangers set a modern baseball record, winning 30 to 3.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Email from San Angelo Ex-Pat


I originally sent this to one of your partners in crime, but believe now I should have sent it to you since you as Webmaster solicited input from the huddled masses. Anyway...

I am a San Angelo ex-pat. I was born and raised there, moved away and back a number of times for reasons of no great import now, and currently reside in the DFW Metroplex (or MetroMess, as some describe it). I am retired and working diligently on becoming an obstreperous grizzled old fart, and doing rather well at it (according to those who know me).

Over the years I have had occasion to describe San Angelo to a number of folks, and in summary I deem it to the Largest Small Town In The United States. In terms of population some might consider it to be a city. In terms of attitude, atmosphere, and governance it clearly is not. It is a small town. I see this every time I visit, and when I'm driving there and hit Bronte I say to myself, "Self, remember where you're going. It ain't Dallas. Slow down. Put your gun in the trunk. Be civil. Smile more.".

This is not a bad thing. I have long maintained that God put some of the best people on His Good Green Earth in San Angelo, and I love 'em all... or at least, most of 'em. However,...

I read the Standard-Times Web page every day in a feeble attempt to keep current with the happenings there, and find your site to be a very worthy addition to my sourcing. I must say over time I have been at times amused and at other times distressed.

I have read of the monetary issues regarding the school district and of the deterioration of SACHS, from which I graduated in '65.

I was there when a significant part of the water supply system cratered.

I read statistics related to average pay in the area and wonder how anyone can live even reasonably well on such. If the area counts on burgeoning local job growth that is call center based, it must be acknowledged these are in general not well paying and rather crappy jobs to boot.

I noted in one of your blogs that someone considered nuclear power to be a potential godsend for the area (someone please explain the economics, licensing, waste disposal, cooling, and site location realities to this person. It ain't gonna, nor should it, happen.).

I read about the benefits of corn-based ethanol processing plants in the area when in reality the program is simply a sop for corn growers and processors like ADM. If one looks at the numbers it's a disaster, with both Republicans and Democrats proving themselves to be whores regarding the issue.

I read of water sourcing ills and proposed solutions like energy-intensive desalinization and pipelines to more reliable sources than currently available (like the Mississippi River). Face it, guys, you live in a semi-arid area that is doomed to become ever drier as population grows and farmers continue to draw down the water table with their irrigation. Then there's the issue of long-term projections of rainfall...

And the good Mr. Blaine takes his party somewhere else because of BYOB-phobes. I don't blame him.

Ah, the theatre, large and small, attendant in all this. It is entertaining, and I have touched on only a small portion of it.

Of course, I have no all-consuming answers for the ills of the Pearl On The Concho. I'm smart, but I ain't that smart. I love the place and always will. It's just that at times I find the whole thing amusing, especially when I read of things like ASU's now sucking up to the Texas Tech way of doing things and this being portrayed as being a Big Fat Hairy Deal when the area has infinitely more important issues than a local college's affiliation. I knew Drew Darby a thousand years ago. I'm still looking for him to do something significant, if he's so influential.

But then, what the hell do I know?

Peace, my new friend. Forgive my ranting.

San Angelo Ex-Pat

Monday, July 30, 2007

Cumulative Distraction

The storm over the cumulative voting idea coming out of Charter Committee is unfortunate. Now obviously, I thought the idea had merit, or I would not have passed it along. We really didn't go off and lose our minds entirely. Among the supporting documents were a thirty page article from Hispanic Law Review, another by Lani Guanier, both extolling the virtues of cumulative voting for minority voters and candidates. Having put that out there, if the resistance by Council and voter is as great as it appears to be, I will lose no sleep if the item fails. It was one of the last two items our Committee acted on, and far from the top of my agenda in importance

On other matters, we are being second guessed also as to putting the appointed police chief back up when it has been so recently defeated. We saw this coming, in fact at the Council meeting creating the Committee, long before I had any notion I would be on it, I addressed Council on just this, explaining that while I would not be the one to bring it before the Committee, someone doubtless would. I recall that led Councilman Morrison to comment, "That's twelve" (items that is).

When our Committee found itself listening to Chief Vasquez, his sole announced opponent and a petition representing both police organizations signed by a majority of serving officers, all declaring the election process was tearing apart the force, it was terrible for morale, that is no longer a possibility, it is a self-evident truth. Realistically, the vote of two years past doesn't strike me as compelling. The measure was put on ballot by Monte Mahon for reasons having nothing to do with the measure itself, if after putting it there, Mahon said a mumbling word in public supprt of it, I didn't hear it. Matt Lewis and Rudy Izzard jumped in and tried to support it, but too little, too late. When one has the people who do the job complaining that elections make the job harder, that is hard to ignore. It would have been like a doctor telling a patient, "No you don't have that headache, you just think you have a headache."

I wasn't eagar to revisit the topic this soon, but I wasn't willing to look these guys in the eye and tell them their headache was all in their head. At the same time we agreed to put their request before Council, we advised them that politically this was going to require a lot of educational effort on their part if it were to have a chance, they claimed to be willing to do the work. All I ask on this one, voters, if you hear the officers making their case, open your minds, be aware, these are the guys who would know telling you they have a problem. Not just management, as far as we could tell, top to bottom of the force, and we heard not one voice from the force supportive of electing the Chief.

One of my pets predicted to be controversial; compensation for Council. On this one, we hardly set the pay at a level which will tempt people to toss over lucrative careers, but it just might be the difference that makes it possible for a good working class guy to serve without breaking the family budget. As best we can tell, the current pay, to use the term loosely, was set in 1913. Come on voters, most of us have had a raise since then.

Mostly, I do not want any one item to taint the Committee's whole work. Most of what we did was overdue housekeeping. It makes for a lot of ballot items because election law insists we put every change out separately. Council will determine the final ballot content and language. In fact, Council is perfectly free to scrap us entirely and pass its own agenda, or none at all. We hope not, but I throw that in to remind, we are not some power-grabbing clique, we are not given that authority if we wanted to be.

We might ought to have done a more agressive job of keeping everybody up to speed, I did forward my sponsor meeting minutes as we went along. Unfortunately, our meetings got zero press, until the last meeting, and that was the meeting the cumulative voting hot potato came along.

Council will get this from us formally on Aug. 7, they will have until Sept. 5 to decide how much of it the voters get to look at. Between now and the actual election in Nov. there will be a lot of time to listen, learn, and decide. If it seems like a large plateful, we really didn't intend to get overly ambitious, but this job hadn't been done in 30 years.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Raising the Bar on Indecision

Last Monday I attended my first pre-agenda workshop of SAISD. Somewhere, there may be a better example of how to institutionalize inefficiency in a governing board of something, but I will have to be shown evidence of it before I believe it.

Mind you, this entire session was dedicated to discussing whether or not to discuss agenda items on the real agenda come next Tuesday. The handout I was given was titled, " Agenda of Pre-Agenda Workshop Meeting". I did not make this up. This format precludes any actual decisions on Agenda items beyond deciding to place or not place an item on the real Agenda. I am told this increases the probability of unanimous votes on items, but I must ask; when did Board unanimity become the over-arching goal of any representative body?

The actual effect is to render half of the Board's meetings useless. By rule, no decision on any topic will be made, Board merely decides whether or not it might try to decide, as opposed to table, an issue next time.

At least this exercize in sleep-avoidance was moving along briskly until we got to item "O", "Consider legal representation". Apparently, (and I use the term advisedly, very little was truly apparent), the firm currently representing SAISD had presented a new contract proposal. Now the logical things for a governing body to consider on such a question would be; overall cost, compared to last year's contract; payment schedule; if we decline this offer and the firm refuses to renew existing contract, do we renegotiate or look for new lawyers.

Here we commenced the first of the night's politically incorrect ethnic firedrills. It shortly became evident that neither staff or Board of our educational system had done the respective homeworks. No one seemed sure what was in the text of either contract, let alone what the implications of the new contract might be. The audience was treated to the sight of two assistant superintendents ($100,000+ salary each) dashing back and forth making copies of the contracts in question so that Board members could at least pretend to know what they were discussing whether or not to discuss next Tuesday.

The crowning moment in this exercize came on the final Agenda of the Pre-Agenda agenda, item X; "Consider construction method for various projects at Central High School". Now to set the stage, in case you have been sharing a cave with Osama Bin-Laden, SAISD just lost its first bond election ever. A large part of that vote was based on poor maintenance of existing facilities. The proposed projects at Central were designed to demonstrate that SAISD was at least going to try to accomplish some long overdue repairs while students were on summer break.

In order to expedite this process, administration elected to use a device called "job order contract". It is perfectly legal, it does get things done, but it put $500,000 into a Ft. Worth firm, avoiding the more time consuming process of requesting and approving bids for individual parts of the work from local firms.

Here member Tim Archer pointed out that under job-order contract the carpet, for instance, would cost nearly three times a locally available rate. Assuming his figures are correct, and I have no reason to doubt them, this is Mr. Archer's business, that does seem a bit steep for timely performance. Then citizen Burk steps up and basically reads the board the riot act on why job-order contracting is a poor idea responding to to anything short of fire or tornado.

Friends and neighbors, what we have here is a failure to communicate. These contracts should have been put to bid locally, about the time Board put the bond on the ballot, if not before. Given the designed inefficiency of the trustees' process of deliberation, it seems to take at least six months to approve six weeks, and I am including generous beer breaks in the six weeks, worth of actual work.

JWT and I have met with Dr. Bonds. Our impression was of a very bright, dedicated lady who was hired into a situation not of her own making. For instance, she had no input on the bond we defeated, but as part of the job, had no choice but to support what had been decided already. I hesitate to get warm and fuzzy about anyone running anything, I am just saying, we did not detect from Dr. Bonds the all too familiar odor of smoke being blown up our backsides.

Someone, somewhere in highly paid administration dropped the ball on this. It might have been my first view of the pre-agenda format, but by now anyone knocking down six figures a year should have had the process down cold.

The summer vacation window of opportunity has already been missed. That is not to say the jobs cannot be done, just that it will take longer, inconvenience more people (students and teachers for instance) and not exactly persuade obviously reluctant voters that SAISD is ready for prime time.

I know Dr. Bonds is aware the school system needs a large sum of money, STEER accepted from the start of our bond opposition that SAISD needs a large sum of money. I think the Board members believe the system needs a large sum of money, I know some members do, but at the current turtle's progress, they will be lucky to have a viable bond designed in time for the May election, forget about November.

There is a world of blame to be passed around, this Board, former boards, current administration. What gets done now, their fault or not, lies with the serving Board. The deliberative process must be streamlined. The portion of blame I have not mentioned yet is ours, the voters.

If I were to tell someone from another locale that a school Board which just suffered the worst electoral bond defeat since McGovern, the first bond defeat here, ever, had also gone through the same election without a single member having opposition, they would cackle at me, thinking I was tugging their lower limb. Well, folks, that is just what we just did.

There are good members on this Board, but there is also a lot of, as Texas Monthly calls inactive legislators, furniture. The ball's in our court. There is no excuse for our ignoring school trustee elections anymore. It might be an electoral afterthought while things are going well, why fix it if it ain't broke. Problem is, our Board is obviously, glaringly, record-settingly broke.

Step up voters. Denying them money for grandiose schemes is one thing, at least it was a good wake-up call. Now we have to insist that something positive gets done. The amateur hour show last Monday would have been funny except the cover charge for the show ran into 9 figures.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Buying Jobs

Economic development is back in the news. There are actually two stories here. First, we have the same old story where we use "incentives" (i.e. tax money) trying to snare jobs from corporate herds that might pass our way. This type of economic hunting (where we try to steal jobs from other communities) is seldom very effective. The good news is that call centers have been successful here, so there is a strong likelihood that these jobs might outlast the incentive payments.

The second story is really more important. We now have a loan program, the Grow San Angelo Fund, targeted to small but growing businesses. We are talking about companies that have survived the initial start up pains and are ready to take on the pain of additional growth. These companies, often called gazelles, are where the real economic growth (somewhere around 70% of job creation) occurs. This section of our local economy is frequently overlooked and has historically been poorly served.

In my last post on ED, I talked about economic gardening. This fund, if used properly, can grow our own local economic garden. We must use it as fertilizer. We can grow the vast majority of the good jobs we want and need.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Renewable Renaissance

The lifeblood of our civilization today is energy. New innovations in energy technology are arising faster than we can keep up with them. Many of these developments have the potential to enhance our quality of life by dismantling the current infrastructure of corporate dependence that holds us as captives, contributing to a cleaner environment, and by creating high tech and green collar jobs that can’t be outsourced, while others will become obsolete and burdensome soon after being implemented. The city has been looking into waste gasification and nuclear power as potential revenue generating ventures and I think it is important to bear in mind that these are not clean, renewable resources and that there are many more options available that are safer, more equitable and beneficial to our local economy while also being more attractive to potential future residents.

There is an energy renaissance underway in this country, right now. Towns and cities are realizing that they can reap more of the profits and better insure accountability when local people take the initiative, work together to make solid long term investments, and start up these energy projects independently. Aggregate community owned and operated wind farms and biorefineries are up and running, there are models for compact and discrete rooftop turbines that can help power homes and commercial businesses relatively cheaply, municipalities are opting to utilize solar panels, designing new buildings with sustainability in mind and providing tax incentives for the public to do the same, and fuel is being created from landfill gas and grass and woodchips. With all the amazing potential we have right here dormant around us, is it really in our best interest to invite a Japanese company to come in and build a nuclear power plant or to haul in tons of garbage from other towns to be incinerated?

There is talk of plant to be built in San Angelo that will process mesquite to produce energy. I think that a project like this would be most beneficial if it did not simply use combustion to supply power for “the grid.” If we began to look at mesquite as a source of diverse products that would require companion enterprises, we could really begin to diversify employment options for locals and strengthen our local economy. Mesquite has the potential to produce liquid fuel that could be purchased in our community for automobiles, or fine lumber for floors and cabinets, or pellets for efficiently heating homes and schools and businesses, mesquite bean meal sells on the internet for $13 a pound and it is actually a quite delicious, nutritious and helps to regulate blood sugar. We are selling ourselves short to simply allow someone funded by the DOE to come in and harvest our resources so that they can sell it by the kilowatt to someone in Dallas or Ohio.

Around the country public libraries are being powered with solar energy, high school students are designing systems and installing solar arrays in their schools as science projects, small locally owned and operated cooperative wind farms are in operation using discrete designs, native prairie plant species are being harvested to produce energy while improving the soil, surface and groundwaters and sequestering carbon dioxide… This all barely scratches the surface.

I asked the city council on Tuesday to investigate all the options, let the public be involved in the renaissance, let us know what they are doing and planning so we can tell them what we think about it. There are so many changes happening in our world today, that it has never been more crucial that we pay attention and thoroughly research, and the more of us that are involved, the more effectively that can be accomplished.

There is no better way to market San Angelo in this day and time, than to become a real model for sustainability by implementing recycling programs, fostering conservation of land and energy, and by creating commerce from the renewable resources indigenous to this area. I can confidently say that the solutions to our energy needs in the future will be regional. Not large power plants, and massive transmission lines, but homes and offices and cities on closed loop systems producing their own power. There is not anyone in our community who will not benefit from initiating the creation of a whole new network of commerce in our community that raises awareness, increases capital expenditures, helps us to meet state and federal mandates, stimulates the local economy, fosters energy independence, and nurtures the environment, which is our true life blood.

The future of energy is promising and exciting. We are shedding paradigms of oppression disguised as Convenience. It's really just a matter how far ahead or behind we want our community to be.

Imagine... instead of investing $100,000,000 in a plant that will incinerate trash to sell power to the grid, we invest in mesquite ethanol plants, at $8,000,000 a pop. Each plant would create 30+ jobs, and we could support a dozen or more of these, because the plants must be small in order to make the transport of material feasible. We would be helping farmers and ranchers, creating lots of jobs, producing our own fuel locally, improving our existing water suppy, increasing our economic INDEPENDENCE, and... we could invest the money that is saved from diverting investment funds away from losers like gasification and nuclear power in urban rooftop verticle axis wind turbines and solar parking canopies, making rooftops and parking lots in San Angelo components of a collective renewable power plant where, potentially, we can all be shareholders.

For anyone interested in learning more, you can start here: