Sunday, August 15, 2010

Thoughts for when I'm on the Jury

Because of jury duty, it's unlikely that I will be able to be at Tuesday's City Council Meeting. If I'm not selected, I will be at the meeting but the selection starts at 9:00am. These are some of the issues I would like to address to council if I were there.

First, during the public comments, I would like to know when the Board and Commission review process will start. The process was adopted in March, and here it is half past August and we have yet to do any of the boards or commissions. This was seen as very important by the council at the time, and was supposed to start shortly after the election. I realize that there have been some complex problems surface since then, such as problems with the Anti-Smoking initiative, and a $2.3 million budget short fall that has since been addressed. Still, this is important and needs to be started very soon.

I would also take back an atta boy we gave the city in May for putting agenda packets online. They still don't have it quite right. First, they only leave the agenda packets up until the next council meeting, second they have missed getting some of the packets online. Third, some of the packets are not readable with the free Adobe reader. They are somehow getting corrupted. Last, but not least they are not put up in a timely manner. They should be there on Friday the same time as the agenda is. This is something the School Board does much better.

I am sure I would have some comments on the discussion on Hillside Drive/Gun Club road pedestrian use. There needs to be a balance of all traffic needs whether pedestrian or motorized. At the same time, the regulations need to be limited to only those necessary for the safe flow of traffic, public safety, and protection of property owners rights. We need to be careful not to go overboard.

There are 16 deals for easements for the Hickory Pipeline. Total $75,546.00 if my spreadsheet is right. Not an outrageous amount of money, but this looks like this is most of the easements in Tom Green and Concho Counties. Somehow I got the impression from earlier council meetings that most of these easements were already acquired. I guess we will have to wait for more information, but it makes me want to go Hmmm.

We follow this with easements for the 50 th street extension project. This project started shortly after the last ½ cent sales tax election in 2004, with the actual full plan approved about 2 years ago. We need to be very careful that construction doesn't end up going on during the main money making months for the Fair Grounds and Colosseum complex. Bull riding through road construction is not an approved rodeo event. Why did it take this long to get here?

Next, the old Edgewater Inn property is being bought by the city. What are they buying it for? What is the reason we are taking it off the tax roles? What kind of project do they have in mind, and is it likely the master developer will agree? Inquiring minds want to know.

Getting to the end of the agenda, we come to the final hearing and adoption on the two special elections for November. There is nothing more to talk about on the Smoke Free Initiative. The process was extremely rocky and not handled very well, but the initiative will be on the ballot in the form Smoke Free San Angelo put before the petition signers. It will be an interesting campaign. Vote for Freedom - Speak Out San Angelo.

At last we come to an item I wish I could support – the extension of the 4B sales tax. I really wish I could support this. In truth, there are parts of it I do. I support using the sales tax money to spread out the burden of developing long term water resources. I can support using it to finish cleaning up the Concho River, which should be the jewel of this city. When done right, the job creation projects have shown their worth. Don't need to waste more money on the industrial park but there have been more successes than failures. The affordable housing projects are off to a good start, and the cost is minimal and support probably should be continued till the program is self supporting. If the extension only authorized these uses, I could support it. Unfortunately, it doesn't stop there.

There are 5 additional projects included in the 4B sales tax extension. At the last council meeting, I critiqued the process by which these additional projects were selected. In response, the Mayor made the following assertions. First, he stated that these projects complied with or were in the comprehensive plan. To some extent, that's true. The comprehensive plan, and its updates in the strategic plan, is 123 pages of long range goals for twenty years in the future. It is a view from orbit of what we would like the city to look like in 2030. Dozens of projects and possibilities are in the comprehensive plan, including, in a very broad and inclusive sense, these. There is no ranking or priorities of projects there. There are almost no specifics. It is, for the most part, guidance on land use so that you have balanced communities, a strong economy, and a high quality of life. The first line of the Vision Statement from the current plan states “By the year 2027, San Angelo will be acknowledged as the most livable mid-sized city in Texas.” A wonderful goal, but the plan is very general and takes a very broad, long view. It talks about the types of projects and the areas where they would be suitable. It does not give guidance or sufficient detail to select between projects such as the City Auditorium or the Texas Theater or a water park or a new recreation center. Any tax funded project should fit in within the framework of the comprehensive plan, but that framework is pretty broad and hundreds of projects could fit the plan. It can't be used to get us down to these 5. Any process or plan that can fairly and objectively decide between the multiple quality of life projects this city deserves needs to come down from orbit and do a real comparison at ground level. We need a criteria based rating and planning process like we are using for capital projects. Which brings me to the next statement the Mayor made.

It was stated that these projects were in the CIP. Looking over the proposed CIP and the CIP's from the beginning these projects for the most part aren't covered. None of them are in the ½ cent sales tax section, although you might be able to say that the little league field improvements fall under “ sports consolidation”. There are plenty of projects for Ft. Concho listed but all of them are listed under general fund. There are no additional projects listed for the City Hall or Auditorium Plaza beyond those currently funded and under construction. Phase 3 fairground projects don't exist at all in the CIP. And no airport projects show no projects that fit the description of the proposed airport project. The Mayor is right that they will have to go on a future CIP, but they aren't there today, so the CIP can't be used to justify them.

Much was made of the fact that some of these projects could be seen as continuations of existing projects, and that does have at least some merit. Still you have to ask at least three questions. First, aren't some of these projects really new projects next to old projects? Second aren't some of the projects that we are “continuing” at a natural break point where they have met the original project goals and we should see if there aren't other projects that might be better? And last, aren't there other, probably better ways we can pay for some of theses projects instead of using tax dollars? Isn't the fairgrounds complex successful enough that at least part of phase 3 can be paid for out of gate receipts and merchandising? Isn't there potential for a revenue stream there that could pay for most, if not all, of several of these projects?

One last point that the Mayor made causes me great concern. He stated that some of these projects may have been impacted because some of them are related to executive discussions about real estate. Real estate considerations for any QoL type project, as in most projects, should come after the basics of the project have already been discussed, priorities assigned and the project given the go ahead. It should not interfere with those project discussions not dealing directly with acquiring real estate for the project. I trust that the Mayor misspoke or I misunderstood, but I would hate to think that the city in executive session proposed a project just to support a land deal. The city already owns a lot of land that it has no use for. We need to be very careful here. We have been getting better at transparency and openness.

So if we take everything that was said in response to my comments, I still see no process here. We need to have a Quality of life project planning, prioritizing, and selection process that is comparable to the CIP. Until then, I will wait for them to bring back a better sales tax extension proposal. The next election opportunity is in May. Maybe they'll be ready by then.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Jury Duty

Next week starting on the 17th, I am scheduled for jury duty. I never look forward to it but don't try to avoid it either. It is something that must be done and done the best I can.

The only real down side is that I won't be able to be at the city council meeting on Tuesday and probably not the Election office open house on Thursday.

Will have more later.

Practicing being fair and impartial.