Sunday, January 20, 2008

Another Sunday Rambling

Well, the Cowboys are out, Al Gore let me down on Global Warming, no suntan today, I might as well pass on a few thoughts while I casually watch my NFL investments.

It has been an interesting week. Last week at their "this one doesn't really count" pre-agenda meeting, SAISD reviewed Superintendent Bonds' performance, but more importantly, we heard our first inkling of what might lie in store for us as relates to a bond issue. Last year, I served as treasurer for the SPAC opposing the last bond. As I later said in both the Standard-Times and here, our involvement was not truly necessary to the defeat of that bond. A city which had never befrore declined to support school bonds kicked this one back by over 2 to 1.

Last week, Trustee Gallegos opined again that he felt the bond failed due to lack of voter education. Others have claimed it failed due to "low" turnout. In fact, for this type election the turnout was unexpectedly high. Voters understood the bond all too well, they just plain did not like it. Hiring a better salesman is not going to sell bagged ice to the Eskimos.

Our SPAC agreed the district needs money, and by law, school districts can only raise major infrastructure money by a voter-approved bond issue. I told the Board we could sell a bond for the amount of the last one, maybe a bit higher, IF a proposal were put forth in line with what voters want. I don't second guess the decision not to hire another consultant firm. I do have concern about the charge given the new citizens' advisory committee. If the S-T is accurate, they "will study the same information a larger facilities task force used" last time. A point we raised last time was the relatively subjective standards used by Huckabee to evaluate facilities. In that Huckabee only got the big payday if the bond sold, they had about 7.5 million reasons to exaggerate structural problems and lobby for new construction as opposed to refurbish/remodel. Is the Huckabee evaluation going to serve as a base for this committee's deliberations?

Will the new advisory committee look at all options? With new population growth going southwest, does it make sense to lock into existing attendance districts? Will this committee at least peek at a three 4A high school model? Are the meetings of this committee open to the public? The City Charter Committee I served on was.

From a purely political strategy view, SAISD has already burned too much daylight. A "hot" Presidential election guarantees a high turnout, especially in the precise demographic one does not want for school spending; lots of older voters with less involvement in schools and a high interest in keeping their often fixed incomes safe from any additional levys. I still believe SAISD can sell a bond in the $130-140 million range, I'd love to be able to help support a good bond for our future, but it had best be a bond pitched at what the buyer (taxpayer) has in mind for policy.
I will be on hand Tuesday evening, join me if you can.

On the really good news front, the new library finally got close enough to full funding to approve actual construction. After all the wrangling, the old Hemphill-Wells Bldg. will finally get a new start as the jewel in the crown of downtown revitalization, and do so at minimal taxpayer cost. Kudos to Ralph Hoelscher for sheer dogged determination on this issue. I take a wee bit of pride remembering when Mayor Fender chided me for being unrealistic, "Don't you know the H-W Bldg is structurally unsuitable for a library? Do your homework before you waste our time." Thanks Fender, seems Ralph didn't know it either.

There's been a lot of flack over the "new" $25 fire inspection fee. This is more a problem of failure to communicate than actual money. Pretty much all the public representation stuck with this $25 bit, and that is misleading at best. Most businesses will pay at least $50-$100, some $300, plus whatever upgrades the inspection mandates. The new ordinance, Sec. 12.100 does gather fees from all over the code into one place, a legitimate housekeeping function. There really is an upside, if the more aggressive inspections result in raising the city's ISO compliance, we could see lower, or at least not higher, insurance rates and deductibles.

Problem is, these inspections have not been aggressive in the past, they were not well communicated to the businesses affected, and in some particulars, it appears the fees target "who can pay" more than the actual cost of inspection. For instance, Alcoholic Beverages Licensed Establishments (this includes the corner grocery selling beer as well as bars) gets a $100 fee. Expolsives; Hazardous Materials: Flammable and combustible liquids; etc. get a $50 fee. I didn't know beer was that big a fire hazard, in fact at least once in my life I have used a well shaken beer as an emergency fire extinguisher. One neighborhood retailer I know got hit for $1,800 total costs, and the way it was presented to him, I can see why he feels as if he has been blind-sided.

This is one more aspect of a long standing peeve I have with the city's relations to small business. We tax ourselves for economic development, but the business too small to appear on COSADC's radar gets flack from the inspections/permits instead of help. From amusement parks to new retail, the prospective entrepaneur gets hoops to jump through. City should set this up such that a new business gets one person, one number to call, one helpful person to guide it through the thicket of regulation and ordinances. This is not to say give in on every point, but the entrepanuer should be able to get a clear answer as to what they need to do, what they can do, or even what they cannot do without spending all day on hold or playing "telephone tag". This is not just businesses, how long did we have to scrap for the right to build carports in a hail prone area? Have you tried to build a fence or get a driveway curb cut lately?

All too often, it doesn't matter if no neighbors object, or even are responding favorably to an idea, planning seems to take the attitude if they didn't think of it first, it can't be a good idea, burden of proof on the property owner.

Other news, the Police Chief race is plenty hot with 6 candidates. We may see a couple drop out, but it will decidedly be the headliner come May. With Councilman Cardenas electing to go for the better paying job of Precinct One Commissioner, SMD 3 Council seat is wide open, SMD 1 &5 are also up, but with incumbents. As mentioned, last May's election was high turnout. The November election on Charter Amendments, San Angelo had the highest percentage turnout for a city our size in the state of Texas. With a new elections administrator (congratulations Vona)and new faith in our voting system itself, I expect this high involvement to continue through the March primaries and the May city elections.

God knows, with the writers' strike going on, we won't be much distracted by the boob toob. This week I was treated to ads for a new "reality show", "Parking Wars", which promises to enthrall us with the travails of the meter maid as she goes about chalking tires and writing tickets. I am not making this up. I lack the imagination to make this up. Maybe that's why I drive a dump truck and do plumbing for a living and someone else gets rich on meter maids. Wait a minute; "Crack Wars; Plumbers at Work": how about it Hollywood?

Never mind, I'll settle for watching the Presidential silly season. Who knows? They may finally get around to actually examining what any of these candidates hold as policy instead of the "process" matters of who leads in which poll.

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