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.