Saturday, March 31, 2007

Objectives and Reasons

I keep getting asked "When are you going to run for office?" Quick answer is "I'm not." The question is becoming so frequent, I need to give an explanation.

I first got involved actively in politics during the last sales tax campaign. Built the website and did a number of ads and articles. It was a great learning experience. After reflecting on the campaign and digesting the results, was born.

I got involved because I wanted to make a difference. One of the first articles posted was this one by Jim Ryan, one of our other bloggers.

There were two big lessons I learned from the sales tax campaign. First was that information is critical to any issue. Complete information. Information that people can use and understand. That's much more than a laundry list of facts. That includes some analysis and explanation of how these facts are connected, and what the real impacts are. That is my primary goal with this site.

My second lesson was on preparation. In the sales tax campaign the side with the best preparation won. I learned that if an issue is important, you don't wait until it's on the ballot or makes the news to start researching it. Be proactive. Get prepared. Get informed.

Combine these lessons with my belief that truth is essential to freedom, and you have the reason why ConchoInfo exists. It is a very small, open information, volunteer think tank that concentrates on San Angelo and the Concho valley. We look at issues at all levels of government, and provide facts, analysis and some opinions. We also supply ideas as the mood strikes us. This is important to me. ConchInfo needs to be an outside, objective observer, analyzer, and chronicler of the issues we face here. It needs to be totally independent. That is the main reason I don't run for office.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Some assembly required

I talk to people all over town about local issues. I keep hearing the same question over and over. People will run down an inventory of resources we have like the industrial park, our schools, the coliseum, the lily collection, COSADC, etc. and wonder why things aren't better. There are plenty of problems but one common thread is connections.

Everyone has horror stories about assembling a toy or piece of furniture. "Some assembly required" scares many people. Connecting all those parts can be difficult, especially with the average instruction sheet. Now imagine a larger, more complex project where the connections are not always visible, and all you have are bits and pieces of notes on how other people connected their pieces.

A community, whether it's a neighborhood, a city, or a state, is very complex and only works when the connections are right. Take a look at a neighborhood. In any neighborhood you will find a number of houses and apartments and maybe a park, school, some churches and businesses. In a healthy, thriving neighborhood all of these things will be connected. It could be economically such as with a neighborhood grocery store that supplies food and jobs to the neighborhood. It could socially as in a park, club, recreation center, or business where people meet to party, play, or just cuss and discuss what is going on in their world with friends and neighbors. It could be a strong spiritual connection like that found in many small neighborhood churches. The connection could be concerns about the welfare and future of children, especially when schools, parks and sports facilities are concerned. A clean, kid friendly park can be a connecting force for a neighborhood. A run down, poorly maintained park with graffiti and gang activity will break these connections and damage the health of a neighborhood.

Too often in the planning and discussion of schools, parks, sports facilities, etc. community connections are either ignored or treated as only a matter of dollars and cents. It's not uncommon to see discussions about some sports facility end up being bogged down by where it is cheapest to build it or how many (low paying) jobs it might create or how much sales or occupancy tax it might generate if a national tournament, through some miracle, happened to play here. Its connection to the community and how it could be a focal point for a stronger community gets lost among the dollar signs.

Schools have a very special connection to neighborhoods. Any real estate agent will tell you that good schools make it much easier to sell homes in a neighborhood. When you renovate, close or move a school, you are doing heart surgery on a neighborhood. If not done skillfully, the neighborhood might not survive.

In the end, every government worker and elected official should be given a briefing packet with this warning at the beginning "This is our community. You are hired to take care of it. Some assembly required."

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Ethical Standards for Used School Salesmen

This Blog post has already been sent to all school board trustees. It is both longer and more technical than I usually shoot for here, but the presentation we expected last week was delayed until this Monday, 3/26. In that time I have had time to do a week's more research and that is what is presented here. I have little doubt that new information will come out Monday, we will add it to this site and if necessary apologize for my mistakes, but this should serve as a guide for pertinent questions if nothing else.

Open Letter To School Board Trustees:

I offer the results of my research in anticipation of the Election Ethics Training to be offered by Huckabee and Associates Monday evening. I have no reason to doubt Huckabee will be thorough and professional, but it may profit the board members to ponder some of the issues at hand prior to the presentation. Off of the SAISD agenda report on item 6, Ethics training, I read, “There are very clear parameters for written and oral communication about bond elections”. Well, maybe not so much.

The two primary Election Code references are going to be 251.001 and 255.003. Most commonly, people take 255.003(b), the second paragraph allowing “a communication that factually describes the purposes of a measure if the communication does not advocate passage or defeat of the measure.” to be a truck sized loophole permitting almost anything not using specific “magic words” such as “vote for”, “support”, “defeat”, “elect” and therefore avoiding “express advocacy”. Well, maybe not so much.

Let's start with Ethics Advisory Opinions (EAO, henceforth) 37 and 45. (By the way, these opinions can be obtained in their entirety at then scroll down to the #) Both are from 1992, but some important groundwork is laid in. The first, 37, rules on a corporate, non-partisan, get-out-the-vote effort and finds that acceptable, the second rules on a school board's use of its existing internal mail system to support a bond measure, and finds that to be a violation. Most important here are the citations of 251.001 and 255.003 in both, making clear that the same principles which limit corporate expenditures apply also to “political subdivisions”, of which a school board is one. That linkage will come back in later EAOs. In fact, from EAO 45 “Thus, for example, a circular advocating a particular position on a bond election would be political advertising. An officer or employee of a school district is prohibited from spending funds “for” such a circular. Expenditures for distribution [italics by Commission] of a circular or other written materials are within that prohibition.” Did I read somewhere about a planned mailing of the bond brochure to potential voters?

If that seems perfectly clear, it is only because we have not come to EAO 198 from '94, one of the most complex Opinions due to a situation very much in flux. Here, a corporation was going to expand the “get-out-the-vote” principle by including candidates' records, summaries of positions, written answers to prepared questions and info about poll results and endorsements. In one paragraph, the Commission opines, “We believe the Texas Legislature intended section 253.094 to prohibit political expenditures by corporations and labor organizations to the full extent allowed by the Constitution, as interpreted by the US Supreme Court.” Problem was the Supreme Court had appeared to limit “express advocacy” (forbidden) to communications specifically using the phrases I called “magic words” from the Buckley v Valeo case and ruling further limitations as an unconstitutionally overbroad limitation on free speech. In note #2 to this EAO, Commission noted that Fifth Circuit (ours) had not addressed this limitation, but cited other Circuits which had, in short, the Appealate choir was singing off-key. The closest the Commission comes to giving firm direction in 198 is in the final paragraph, “Nevertheless, whether an actual communication constitutes express advocacy can be answered only on a case by case basis.”, which utterly useless direction was repeated in the case summary. If anyone thought it might actually sell a thousand copies, a scholarly book could be written about the confusion that produced 198.

Now comes 1996 with a clutch of Opinions, 327, 336 and 343. Although the first two do refer to 198, the Commission seems to have largely recovered from the case of the vapors it fell into with 198 two years prior. EAO 327 was a corporation which proposed to place candidate-supplied information on its internet site as a get-out the-vote effort. Commission ruled that so long as candidate access was totally even-handed, this internet proposal was legal. In 336, another corporation was proposing to allow candidates to place their literature in a site available to employees, again, a get-out-the-vote effort. In this case, Commission noted that while “express advocacy” would be there, it would be the product of the individual candidates, not of the corporation. So long as both the invitations to candidates and the access by employees were totally unbiased, this idea passed muster. Again, in a nod to 198, Commission stated, “whether a communication expressly advocates the election or defeat of a specific candidate will always depend on the the specific nature of the communication. This Commission therefore cannot give advance approval to a general plan.” and further that, “the answer to this question depends on whether each candidate in the election is given the same opportunity to provide information.”

EAO 343 comes from Austin. The city proposed to provide a televised candidate forum on the city's public access channel, but only available to those candidates who had agreed to an Austin inspired, extra-legal limitation on campaign contributions and expenditures. Commission opens with the statement, “In our view, a forum from which certain candidates are excluded would be a communication in support of those present.” Later; “The answer to this question depends on whether each candidate in the election is given the same opportunity to provide information.” Substitute “viewpoint on a measure” for candidate, which will absolutely be the equivalent if anyone forms an SPAC, well, we see where I'm going.

One last EAO, 443 from '02, last on-point EAO I'm aware of. In this event, some anonymous soul posted a school board candidate's flyer in a teacher's lounge that was not accessible to the public. In EAO 443 Commission states, “The question presented raises two separate issues: whether the situation described involves the 'spending' of public funds and, if so, whether the public funds would be spent “for” political advertising.” “In a 1992 advisory opinion, (EAO 45) we concluded that the “spending” of public funds included the use of school district employees' work time as well as the use of existing school district equipment.”

According to the Presentation Schedule at we are going to send our new superintendent and at least two other well paid SAISD employees on a 30 stop whistle tour of every group that will sit still to listen to them between now and election day. At least seven are listed as “no” on the public welcome column, and all but two of those open to the public scheduled for what those of us with day jobs would call normal working hours. This schedule not only precludes attendance by those of us who work regularly to pay the taxes this bond will increase, it opens the question of whether we will be “spending” compensated employee pay to advocate in favor of the bond. Avoiding the “magic words” from SCOTUS is not a definitive shield. Use of those terms, such as “vote for”, “favor”, or “pass” would constitute a definite violation, but beyond that Ethics Commission warns repeatedly that prior approval cannot be given to a general plan and legality will depend on specific language on a case by case basis.

Beyond the legality, Board would do itself a favor by remembering it is trying this case not primarily before an Appealate Court panel, but before a jury of voters and taxpayers. Any possible legal repercussions will be on down the road. Convince the voters you are skating too close to the thin ice and you will definitely lose an election voters are already thinking is overpriced..

By the way Huckabee, we were slap serious about being even-handed. I've already mentioned your new website and your comments on our site, are welcome and will not be removed for other than the usual rules, obscenity, personal attack, etc. We anxiously await invitations to bond critics to present at the 30 meetings coming up, not to mention the creation of a reader comment section on the new website. It would not hurt our feelings to have some disclosure of exactly who is paying for the cute little 4x5 stick-figure ads in the Standard-Times. Oh, duh, getting slow in my old age, we the taxpayers are, of course. Still be nice to know who is writing the checks off which account.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

School's Back; Form, Function and Finance

Spring break is over, time to get back to school. By the way, Monday 3/19, the school board agenda kicks off with a presentation of the ethical and legal limits on just how the board can spend our money to “educate” us silly voters into approving the bonds on the table.

The decision to split the bond into two ballot measures was made for one reason only: The board fears the issue in its entirety would fail. I am less than enthusiastic about the extent to which the Long Range Facilities Plan, which includes this bond and the next two, depends on new construction. Still, the elementary construction in May's bond is more justifiable, not to mention affordable, than the megabuck Central loosely envisioned.

The board is counting on the work, and it was a long effort, by the Facilities Advisory Task Force to convince voters the community has been consulted in the planning. I can't help but be reminded of Mark Twain's observation that “a camel was a horse designed by a committee”. I have my doubts whether all options were fully considered.

In recent editorial comments to the Standard-Times, two writers, both prominent members of the community, have referred to the current Central as “ready for the scrap yard” and the other, “pretty” and “park-like”. Hard to believe both are discussing the same physical plant. I am waiting for SAISD to have at least a couple weekends of “open house” at the schools named in the Long Range Plan and let the voters get a first hand look.

An earlier post referenced a brochure [here] we found that bragged on Central as “America's First Ageless, Campus Style High School”. It makes clear the original design was intended for adaptability and with proper maintenance, a long life. It just happens I was watching a story on Philadelphia's misuse of eminent domain this AM. People there were scrapping to the last dime and final legal appeal to stay in buildings so old that my Dad was a gleam in Grandad's eye when they were built. I am familiar with some of the buildings slated for demolition. My opinion, we have an upkeep crisis more than we need new buildings to serve a declining enrollment. Coincidentally, Midland is pushing a bond issue this year [here] at a price tag of $37 million, athletic improvements separated from classrooms. Superintendent Perez says “you are looking at something for the next 50 years”. Midland plans to add to and renovate schools, not tear them down, and Midland has growth and oil money we do not.

One point I made at the Saturday board meeting was that if the high school ballot fails, the board should listen to the voters, fall back, trim down and come up with an issue that might pass in November. A “NO” vote in May will not condemn students to an eternity of poor education. One message we might get across is that the board desperately needs a built-in capital improvement plan, something the city is finally getting going, so that we do not lurch along between bonds, spending too little maintaining what we have until suddenly we the taxpayers are presented with a “crisis”. The May ballot is a fine opportunity for us to pass this message to the board and see how it reacts.

I contest a couple of selling points. One is the grade realignment plan. One of the first times I stood to address a public meeting, Wake County, NC where I was in ninth grade, was considering shifting 9th grade to middle school, which I didn't like then. I have kept an interest in the subject since, and honestly, I don't find a scrap of evidence that tinkering with grade alignment a year's worth about the edges has any demonstrable effect one way or the other. It is a matter of fashion, not academic science. As to spending money for bricks and mortar to implement one alignment over another, put the effort into curriculum and teachers, no building ever taught anyone anything. Well, maybe taught taxpayers that new buildings ain't cheap. It is reported that Socrates made do with a shadetree, though I am not quite old enough to personally vouch for that.

I see no evidence that alternative high school ideas were seriously entertained. The idea of making Central and Lakeview roughly equal sized schools, or the notion of a third southwest high school with three roughly equal sized, smaller student bodies, these possibilities never seem to have been on the radar screen. The phrasing of the SAISD “Bond Awareness Survey” questions makes clear that keeping a single 5A high school was a major priority.

As Frank Lloyd Wright put it, form should follow function, not fashion, and at this level of finance, I fully agree.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Charter Review

The charter review committee had their first meeting on Wednesday, Mar 14th. We're off to a good start

Most of the meeting was devoted to setting meeting ground rules, and looking through the 3" binder of information supplied by Mindy Ward and her legal staff. Lots of good information including charters from other cities, model charters, and information from the Texas Municipal League.

We decided that the meetings will be open, but that comment will not be taken from from the public except when specifically scheduled. We will also be meeting the first and third Wednesday of the month at 8:30 am.

I expect good things from this committee (not just because I am on it.) We plan on being open about the process and what we are doing. We will be seeking public input, but not until we are better prepared to handle it. This will not be a total charter rewrite, but a needed look at what changes should be made. The charter is the fundamental law of the city, its constitution if you will, so changes should not be taken lightly. We want the voters to be confident in the amendments they will vote on. The only agenda is a better San Angelo.

There will be a special E-mail address set up for comments and feedback to the committee, and you can also leave me comments here which I will forward to the rest of the committee.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


It's amazing what you discover when you are researching an issue. Here is a handout we found on Central from shortly after it was built. This is their description for "Americas first ageless, campus style high school." How do you think it compares to todays proposal?


The changing face of American Education is symbolized in the brilliantly new Central High School of San Angelo, Texas. It is a living testimonial to the inspired and progressive thinking of this city's school administrators, Board of Education, and the architects, with the full support of an enthusiastic citizenship.
From the inception of the basic idea to its ultimate development, a completely fresh approach has resulted in the nation's first ageless, campus type high school. Its many educational innovations and distinctive features are summarized here, depicting the evolution of an idea into reality.

In 1954 a soundly planned survey was made, analyzing San Angelo's school building requirements for the immediate future. The results were startling. Because of the growth of the city, and the rapidly increasing birth rate, the survey showed that the secondary school enrollment would almost double in eight to ten years.

Thus, the Board was faced with the problem of providing new high school facilities for an ever increasing enrollment. This meant the erection of a high school adequate for current needs, but with a high degree of flexibility for a continuing increase in the number of pupils. The Board recognized its responsibility to solve this problem at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayers, and yet to provide the city with a modem high school that was conducive to the highest possible scholastic standards.

Before reaching any conclusions, the Board and school administrators set out to learn the most advanced thinking in the planning, design and construction of similar schools over the nation. Much research was conducted, and inspection visits to new high schools in other cities were made.

The next step was the selection of a firm of architects with proven imagination and creative ability, and with broad experience in school construction.

Gradually the various phases of the problem began to crystallize, and soon there emerged a preliminary picture of the school you see today.

The school would he centrally located in a park-like area on the hanks of North Concho River; it would be larger than normal; its design would be completely functional, with the elimination of all expensive monumental architectural features; and the plant would be flexible for later expansion as enrollment increased.

In order to combine the known advantages of both small schools and large schools, and to house the students by age groups, permitting a closer relationship between teachers and pupils, a bold decision was reached. The Board decided to build individual schools within the total school plant, resulting in the revolutionary new campus type institution with eleven buildings, each designed for a specific purpose and use. This provides the very definite educational advantage of permitting small units of age-group students to spend about half a day under the supervision of familiar teachers, and the remainder of the day in other buildings designed for elective courses to meet a wide variety of special needs.

The multi-building decision brought many other advantages, of which a notable example is the use of any building at times outside the normal school day without operational expense to the other buildings. Thus, the facilities of the library, science labs, commercial shops, or gymnasium may be used at night without adding operating costs to the other buildings.

Moreover, should the time come when the traditional school day must be expanded into a longer day, or the school used more months a year, or when educational methods require changes, the school plant will be adaptable to all of these and other progressive innovations.

Total air conditioning of the buildings came as a result of a thorough and cautious analysis of all cost factors, and from the experience gained from the operation of another local air-conditioned school. Two basic facts were the significant factors in the decision. Buildings designed for air' 'conditioning are less costly to construct because of the elimination of ventilation windows and other structural details, resulting here in a building cost with air conditioning equipment that was competitive with the cost of traditional buildings. And, through the elimination of dust and dirt by air conditioning, the maintenance costs were decreased by forty to fifty percent, which more than offset the increased cost of the utilities. Moreover, year-'round air conditioning makes the buildings efficiently useful all months of the year, without regard to outside weather or temperature.

Protection of pupils' eyesight through the reduction of eye strain, comes from scientifically designed lighting which provides continuously uniform and glare-proof illumination at all hours of the day or night.

Another facility, one for physical education, which was added without any material increase in cost, is the gymnasium with swimming pool. Water sports are of growing importance, particularly in San Angelo with its rivers and lakes. Instead of the usual two gymnasiums for specialized purposes, a single large one was constructed at a cost which permitted the inclusion of the swimming pool, with its many obvious advantages.

In the type of structures, the architects met the challenge with a completely new approach to the design of school buildings; which resulted in the elimination of expensive ornamental frills; the utilization of many new materials such as glare-proof glass, porcelain and plastics; and other architectural innovations readily apparent to the observer.

The results of these many months of research, planning and building have produced America's first ageless, campus type high school. Its countless educational features can best be summarized by the single statement that it is designed to inspire students with a DESIRE TO LEARN.

In comparison with schools of similar size elsewhere, the cost figures are exceptionally favorable. The building construction cost was $2,604,277 amounting to $12.41 a square foot and $1,042 per pupil. Including furniture, equipment and other related expenditures, the total cost exclusive of the site was $3,042,277, amounting to $14.50 a square foot and $1,217 per pupil.

This, then, is the dramatic achievement of the San Angelo Board of Education and school administrators. The citizens of this city are justifiably proud of the nation's finest school plant - the San Angelo Central High School.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Bonds By Huckabee

A couple of points come to mind on the now two items that will make up our school bond this May. First would be bogus issues as opposed to real ones. SAISD has made mention of the “security” problem with the current Central site, being all spread out in separate buildings. If site security were a real concern, one thing that could be done even at the existing site would be to restrict students coming and going during the school day, at least give such security personnel as we have a perimeter to defend. If that were being done at all, one would not see the lemming-like flood of Central students crossing 8 lanes of traffic at noon to get to the McDonalds across Bryant.

One of the construction sites I work is between the school and the golden arches, and I can tell you without exaggeration, that McDonalds sees hundreds of Central students (not to mention a second wave of younger Edison kids) every noon. Talk about your ultimate pass/fail course, it still strikes me as incredible that an 8x6 lane intersection with regular vehicular accidents is crossed daily by that many students who appear to be simultaneously text messaging, chatting with friends, and indulging in the age-old practice of scoping out members of the opposite sex without being bowled over like unto so many tenpins.

I brought this up a few years ago, and was told Central's cafeteria couldn't accommodate all its students at once. I replied that neither could any school I ever attended, which was why we ate in four shifts over a two hour mid-day period. At that time, Late Dark Ages to be sure, the only students allowed to leave campus for lunch were seniors with both parental approval and a GPA of at least 2.5.

Comments from SAISD backers of the new Central talk about building a more easily securable single building of 520,000 square feet. Well, not quite a single building, we already have an outdoor fieldhouse and a gymnastics building in the proposal that “Athletes Support”. Still, let's assume SAISD is more interested in the 50% of its students who require remedial courses to enter college than in keeping a single 5A football team at whatever expense. Do they really propose to put over 10 acres of floor space in one monolith building?

Here we come to a new question. What exactly do they mean to build? Will it resemble the late and unlamented faith-based prison, a rectangle with open space for the athletic fields surrounded by the building, picture a four sided Pentagon? Memo here: be sure and budget for baseball-proof window glass on the interior walls. Will it be a megolith big box? Maybe we dig out, a la Ethicon, and accomplish security and storm cellar combined in a single stroke. Hard to speculate here, we don't have so much as a back-of-the-envelope sketch of what the board has in mind. Surely they have something in mind, no rational entity, school or corporate would just dump $96 million on an architect and say, “Uh, build us something”.

Huckabee and Assoc. is charged with “selling” this idea what we don't have a clue what it will look like. SAISD has contracted to pay Huckabee $12,500 to “present the facts” to the voters. I use the quotes because Sec. 255.003 Election Code, forbids use of public funds for political advertising, and anything on a ballot is by definition political. Paragraph (b) gives the flexible escape clause of “does not apply to [an ad] that factually describes the purposes of a measure if the [ad] does not advocate passage or defeat of the measure”. The city pushed the envelope on the half-cent sales tax by publishing two inserts in the paper ($30,000) informing voters of the land of milk and honey that tax would lead to, but carefully avoiding the mention of “vote for/vote against”.

Huckabee has been there, done that, I am sure their attorneys know election code and OAG opinions as well as I do. Hint to Huckabee, and yes we know you read us at least twice a day, be careful of the volunteers. Some enthusiastic teacher sends home photocopied “Vote yes or your kids are dummies” letters, you guys are designated by contract as presentation coordinators, could be on the hook. We'll make a deal, we'll publish the address of your website, once you set it up, every time we address this topic, if you will provide a link on your single issue site and ads referring voters to your site.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Growing Jobs

Jobs. We talk about them a lot. We keep asking questions like "Where are the good paying jobs?", "Why aren't there more jobs?", "What about benefits?" and of course the always popular "What are they going to do about it?"

These questions happen everywhere. I hear them in bars, restaurants, parties, and at this weeks joint City Council / COSADC meeting. Everyone wants more and better jobs.

The joint meeting grew out of the recent denial of a monetary incentive to ACT on a very close vote. There were some questions about communications, and some feelings seemed to have been hurt. The recent meeting was to improve communications and to clarify some guidelines such as how wage thresholds are determined. There are unlikely to be any major changes in how business is done as a result of this meeting. Still, I think we remember a quote from former Mayor Izzard from the Jan 9, 2002 Standard Times: "If our votes were unanimous, it would show a lack of oversight." This quote was after the council approved the Taylor Publishing move to the industrial park by a 5-2 vote. There are frequently differences in philosophy, perspective, and ideas on something as complex as economic growth. Still, it is useful to examine some fundamental ideas.

To expand on an idea from a previous post, lets do a simple thought experiment. If our property tax rate was lowered to that of Odessa, our closest benchmark city, how many $25k jobs would that pay for? With no benefits, it would pay for slightly over 180 jobs, with benefits about 150. Considering how slow our job market is growing, that would be quite a boost. Probably not realistic in the short term (that would take over $4.6 million from the city budget) but as a long term goal, I really like the idea.

There are other ideas and approaches besides incentives and tax cuts that need to be looked at to grow the economy and create jobs. One popular idea is to grow local businesses. Long term, it's probably better to grow businesses with deep local roots. To be fair, we have projects such as the ASU SBDC and the CVCED. These are useful, and there have been some successes. Still, we can probably do better by looking at other successful approaches. One such approach is Economic Gardening. This approach was pioneered by Littleton, Colorado in the late 80's after their largest employer up and left town, taking several thousand jobs with it.

Economic gardening focuses on building a nurturing environment for local growth companies. It recognizes that most jobs are created by fast growing small businesses commonly called gazelles. These innovative, entrepreneurial gazelles are what are grown in a successful economic garden. Articles and information can be found here, here, here, and here that will explain the ideas better than I can. Hopefully we can get someone like Chris Gibbons to come and give us more details.

The idea of Economic Gardening is growing. Loveland is using it. The Center for Rural Entrepreneurship promotes it. It is even being used successfully in Australia. It is something we need to look at here. Let's see if we can't cross a gazelle with an armadillo.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Report from the Frontlines

With a Saturday meeting, I was able to attend the school board's bond meeting. I confess, first board meeting I have attended. Long, eye-opening, but seldom dull.

The time consuming battle was over the site of the new Crockett Elementary. In the course of this J B Hall provided the closest to real pyrotechnics. After having been granted one waiver of public comment rules, Hall insisted on addressing the board a third time. Chairman Layman was pushed to the point of threatening to insist on Hall's leaving if Hall did not desist. The chair had the good sense to call a recess, which by that time I am sure several bladders appreciated anyway, and defused that potential head-butting contest in personal conversation with Mr. Hall by the time a relieved audience and board reconvened.

As was pointed out, the eventual Crockett choice went against the recommendations of the Citizen's Task Force, Admin Staff, and the majority of public comment. At least it did come out that the $1.5 million “bridge” to this site mentioned in earlier news reports had been a pedestrian bridge similar to the spectacularly unused one over S. Bryant, and is no longer considered necessary. My comment on this inclined toward the existing property, but realistically, this is probably revenue neutral. Once we abandon the current Crockett site it becomes highly valuable real estate for sale. One board member questioned its value in that it lies between two churches, maybe ASU wouldn't be too hot for it. Another member replied that if so, we have the Baptists on one side, the Church of Christ on the other, perhaps the Methodists would like to be in the line-up.

Humor aside, the property will be very valuable, if for nothing else the parking lots behind it belonging to SAISD. That value may well be higher than the street frontage. The loss here would be in terms of factional support more than dollars.

The vote on the new Central location was predictable. Assuming we do decide the total rebuild of Central is the way San Angelo wants to go, the location is not irrational, and affordable.

Credit to Sid Clemmer for the suggestion that eventually carried the day (well, night, but...). It appeared to catch the board like a deer in the headlights, led to another recess. After comment at some length, the board unanimously approved the bond be severed, with the Central/Lakeview-additions as one item, $106 million total, and the two elementary schools at $24 million the other.

In my opinion, this is the best result available given the political realities at work. I have agreed from the start that A bond is justifiable, but that the Long Range Plan and this specific phase of it is beyond what is necessary in a town where a relatively non-negotiable plumber's bill is about to drive everybody's rent up. The plumbing is hardly SAISD's responsibility, but recognizing and adapting to that economic reality is their job. The question was raised, “but what if the high school package fails?” Well, in that case, we listen to the voters, retrench, rethink, negotiate and come back in November with a slim, trim package that might actually pass.

Prop II, the elementary schools, is almost sure to pass. My opinion, the high school package will be sent back to the drawing board for a strict diet. One Task Force member, Tod Herring, tried to insist that the three year effort of the Task Force be put as a single measure, anything less would disrupt the integrity of the Long Range Facilities Plan. By that standard, the voters should be presented with all three phases of that Plan, complete with a half billion dollar price tag. As a gambling man, I'll take donuts-to-dollars wagers against that. The board's action last night was nothing more or less than accepting electoral reality.