Saturday, June 30, 2007

Cumulative Voting

There is a system out there called cumulative voting that has been brought to the attention of the charter review committee. I am still studying it, but want to get your reactions before giving you my thoughts. More information is available here. One of the committee members submitted this paper(updated 7/25/2007) on why he thinks we should consider it. One issue is how this would be done on voting machines such as ours. I'm sure it can be, I just don't know the difficulties involved with the programming and testing.

You will likely hear more about this in the future. Some cities, such as Amarillo, are already using this instead of the traditional Single Member District method of selecting elected officials.

Please give us your feedback either here or by e-mail.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Water Water Anywhere?

Water has been in the news a lot lately. First there is some disappointing news from the test wells just west of here. The results show they were getting too much sand from the wells at that location, which makes it unsuitable for a well field. It is likely that drilling in another location will solve this, but we won't know until the next test well is drilled. It would be a shame if we can't get to the water because of the sand.

The next big news about the water is the rate increase. It may not seem like it, but a heck of a lot of work was done to keep the rates down. They have been working on this for over a year. This has been a balancing act of 3 competing objectives.

The First objective was to keep the water and sewer departments finances transparent and independent of the rest of the city finances. Up until a few years ago, a significant part of the water departments revenues were moved into the general fund, even when the water department was loosing money. After the previous rate increase, the council finally took steps to eliminate that transfer, and make the water department effectively a stand alone, revenue neutral department. There are some areas, like the lake and park police, that need to be looked at, but the water department is not being drained by the rest of the city government. The decisions they made much earlier on the water fund reduced the rate increase that would have been needed otherwise.

The next objective was to have a safe, dependable, well functioning water system. Almost a year ago a fire destroyed the Honeycreek Apartments. What should have been a relatively easy to contain fire got out of hand for two critical reasons. First, the nearest hydrant to the apartments was broken. It had a tag on it indicating that it had been awaiting repair for a while. When they found a working hydrant, the pressure was too low to adequately fight the fire. The water department didn't try to raise the pressure for fear of busting a main. Soon after the Honeycreek fire, the city council instructed the city manager and staff to come up with a plan to correct the current problems and a long range plan to prevent a recurrence. As part of a two day workshop the initial results were presented and these became the foundations of what is now the capital improvement plan. They were starting to implement this when the 27 inch main broke just before Christmas. The situation was very bad, but it would have been worse if the planning hadn't been started in the summer. The council and city government were late in getting started, but at least they had started. We now have a clearer long range plan for fixing and maintaining our cities infrastructure.

The last objective is to keep the rates fair to all rate payers, keep the rates affordable, and to not have a regressive rate that hurts the poorest water customers. The final rate for the lowest water user is about half what was initially proposed. First, they when to a tiered or stratified rate structure where the larger water meters, and thus the largest water users, paid a proportionately larger increase than the smaller water users did. They looked at financing and repayment options by the hundreds, looked for savings, and eventually came up with a plan that traded a little initial pain for a faster solution, and a plan where our grandkids won't still be paying high interest payments.

There is still a lot that needs to be done and is being done for the long term health of our water system. We are eventually going to have to start using underground water and build a pipeline and plant as part of that water source. We must get better at addressing maintenance issues. We do need to build in money saving technologies such as remote reading water meters. Water, like all of our infrastructure, is an ongoing project. The city government has it's work cut out, and we need to keep watching to make sure they do it.


It's been a while since we've posted here. It's not that there aren't important issues out there. I have been busy working for a living and doing research. Expect to see articles on water, economic development, elections, the city charter, etc. in the near future.

Sorry I have been so slow in posting lately. Will try to do better.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Random Thoughts from an Unquiet Mind

I {suffer from; co-exist with; adapt to; or just plain have;} a mood disorder that keeps me on the shy side of a good night's sleep rather often. As I start this, it is 3:00 AM, and I have come in from a walk. I have heard of the demise of the songbirds due to environmental poisons. Believe it not.

In my neighborhood, just off Bell St. I have come in from an hour's worth of nocturnal serenade that is worth passing along. One has to move about a bit, then sit quietly just to tone down the ever vigilant watch-dogs, but it is worth the effort. I was able to hear at least four birds, distinctly separate by position, making a variety of calls worthy of a Hollywood special effects studio. One particular Caruso of the night was notably dominant, pitching out variations on a theme ranging from chirp-chirp-chirp to too-wheet too-wheet to chitter-chitter, closing out with a nearly basso profundo throat clearing noise. His friends in other trees would respond, but Caruso was clearly the class of this American Idol show, and seemed to know it.

Interestingly, I just spent a week on site in the wilds of Gouldbusk, Texas. The crew bunked in a ranch house about 15 miles southwest of East Undershirt, middle of nowhere. We watched a doe cross casually munching at midnight upwind of us on the porch, the stars and planets were spectacular, but I heard more birdsong tonight here in Angelo than I can recall in the wild. Anne Matthews has a book out “Wild Nights” telling about her two year survey of New York City, especially the lower east side. She documents coyotes, foxes, even flocks of turkeys in the abandoned sections of one of the most densely populated cities on the planet.

I have allowed a consuming political passion to dominate my time, I am likely to continue following that passion. In this, I am reminding myself, hoping to remind the reader, take the time, sit still and alone. Let the stray thoughts you have no time for during the day to wander casually across your mind. Promise you, it will not be wasted time, a comfortable porch swing is a good investment.

To some degree, we overestimate ourselves as far as our impact on nature. I have seen deer grazing shrubbery on Paseo De Vaca. On my side of town coyote, fox and bobcat have been seen, and skunk frequently smelled. Horned toads still thrive anywhere they can find an acre of ground where no one poisons the ants they eat. One bit of advice, if you spot a predator species in daylight and it does not run from you, RUN FROM IT! It will almost certainly be rabid.

Since I seem to be in Dear Abby mode, let me get simple: Do not seek confrontation, but do not run from it; seek serenity, treasure it when you find it, but expect it not; and keep the mind open to serendipity. This last word, “serendipity”, is my favorite six syllable word. The closest new age terminology comes is “Thinking outside the box”, a newspeak term for being open-minded enough to recognise a gold nugget when one trips over it while searching for the car keys. Looking back, some of the best things in my life popped up while I was searching for something else.

San Angelo is a great place to live. I hope I do not come across as a naysaying critic. If I did not love this town, I wouldn't take the time to try to improve things. No, I do not think I am always right, another bit of advice. As I have told people, I not only don't expect everyone to agree with me, I know I don't always agree with myself. I strive for some continuity of thought, but from time to time I go trolling through my archives and find something I wrote say 5, 6 years ago. I end up sitting gap-mouthed and thinking, “Jeez, had a bad hair day, huh?”.

To the extent I have a point today it is this: be true to your passion. Mine is political, other people give time to a wonderous array of charitable causes. The almost inexhaustible resevoir of volunteers here continues to amaze me. Find something outside yourself, give some of yourself to that cause in whatever measure you can afford, you will find the reward is in the effort itself.