Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Openness Followup

My last post was on the cities website and agenda packets. Time to do a followup. First, the city clerk is trying to work out a solution to this issue. Not all of this is under the city's control. They are using an outside service to host the website. What was a good, forward looking solution just a few years ago is now difficult to use and too limited for what the the city needs. One of the limits is how the space is allocated on the website. There is also an issue with uploading large files. As a temporary patch, they will be putting the agenda packets online in pieces. This will mean some internal links will not work but all the information will be there. You will just have to manually search for it. A reasonable trade off until a better system can be put in place.

It is time for the city to look at a different approach and different system for their website. Based on my experience they can have a better website with more flexibility and fewer limitations at a better (i.e. lower) price than what they have today. We will see what it looks like in a year. I'm hopeful.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Openness and modern technology

If you've been following us any time at all, you know we have been after the city government to put some additional information on their website. We have been very persistent about getting the agenda packets, which we consider an essential part of the agenda and minutes, online. They have recently been putting agenda packets up sometime the day before the council meeting recently, and taking the old one down before putting the new one up. There have also been a few problems with some of the packets not reading properly. Thought we were making some small progress towards more openness.

This weekend, I saw this notice in small print under a heading called 'New Feature' in its original type size

"As a courtesy to our citizens and the media, Agenda Packets are posted along with the respective agenda.  Due to limited space on our website, the packets are only available for that particular meeting and will remain on the website until replaced.  Every and all attempts will be made to post the packet in a timely manner before the actual meeting; however, due to the size of the packets and any related technical difficulties, we cannot guarantee this service for all meetings.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What's at stake

There is only one sales tax measure on the ballot in November but it encompasses several major issues and concerns for San Angelo. It is first and foremost a referendum on local tax policy. Does San Angelo really need one of the several optional sales taxes that are available in Texas? Should it be a 4B economic development tax or would a street maintenance sales tax be better, or maybe a sales tax to reduce property tax? Maybe a mixture of these taxes or even none of the above? Can't at least some of these projects pay there own way? How did they decide, and is it time to rethink the decision.

This is a vote on a strategy for meeting the water needs of San Angelo and the Concho Valley for the long term. Is the Hickory Aquifer the best available option? How much will have to be added to the water bill to pay for the pipeline and to pump and process the water? Are we using our local water resources wisely? What about conservation and reuse efforts?

The vote in November will also affect our efforts to clean up the river. No doubt the river needs critical attention, but is this how we should do it? Is this about what's best for San Angelo, or just an attempt to mimic San Antonio?

This will be a referendum on how we do economic development and create jobs. Is the current use of incentives bringing us real value for the money spent? Are we spending to little or too much. Are we, perhaps, wasting time hunting snipe with handouts and industrial parks when we should be doing more to support existing businesses with strategies like Economic Gardening and Business Facilitation.

In addition, this will be a referendum on how we select, prioritize, and develop special projects. Besides water, the river, and job creation there are six special projects that aren't critical to the cities future like water, and that will never create good paying jobs. You might call them quality of life projects, but how were they selected? I don't remember any town hall meetings or recent polling on these projects like we had before the last sales tax election. I can't find where they were recommended or even looked at by any of the numerous citizen advisory boards the city has available. What was SADC's involvement? Out of the dozens of projects that have been discussed in the past and are in plans like RUDAT and the Strategic Plan, how did they decide on these?

Lastly, this will be a vote on the openness of our city government, the effectiveness of its communication, and the quality of the connections city hall has with the citizens of San Angelo. Isn't it interesting that we have been completing sales tax projects all over town for the last nine years but it wasn't until just before a new election on the sales tax that we are finally seeing signs in front of these projects telling us about it? Is this the type of communication we want with our city government? Is this openness or just an attempt to market taxes and services like hamburgers and corn flakes?

I will be writing more on all of these issues before the election, but I wanted to give you an early glimpse into where I'm going and what I see as the points that need to be covered. Lots to think about, and I may miss something so give me your feedback and ideas. I want the critical questions about the sales tax answered before we vote in November. This is an important election. The future of our city is at stake.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sales Tax Election 2010

One of the two local measures on the November election is a re-authorization of the current 1/2 cent 4B sales tax for economic development. We plan on publishing a series of articles where we look at the issues surrounding this measure in depth and get some little known and critical facts before the public. We will try to fill in some of the missing numbers to help create context and clarify real impact. We will cover subjects like what's at stake in this election, what is a 4B sales tax and what can it be used for, local water history, local tax history, the Hickory Aquifer and alternative long term water possibilities, the impact of this proposal on our water bill, and a look at the special projects that are part of the measure we will vote on in November.

A disclaimer is needed here. I actively campaigned against the previous 2 sales tax propositions. Conchoinfo grew out of the last sales tax campaign. I am not automatically against optional sales taxes such as the 4B sales tax we have today. They can be useful and do have their place. Still, I have some serious concerns about what is being put before the voters, and I keep finding problems with the Hickory Aquifer and how they are trying to fit it into a dependable long term water supply for San Angelo and the Concho valley. I will try to make it clear what is fact, what is analysis, and what is just my opinion. I also welcome your feedback, analysis, and opinions. Just keep it relevant to the topic of the post, and don't make it personal.

In my opinion, you seldom get a good election result without good information and discussion of all the issues. This isn't about selling a position to the voters. The long term water supply and economic health of our community shouldn't be marketed like just a fancy box of Cracker Jacks.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Labor Day Thoughts

I have neglected this site recently; been a little busy catching up from a 3 month lay-off due to a broken right arm. Darn the luck, didn't even happen on job, no benefits there, pretty much drew my resources to the bottom of the well. As I told one of our Councilmembers, another two weeks, you'd have seen me on a promising intersection with a sign reading "Will write ordinance amendments or editorials for food"!

I speak from experience, I'm a long-time gambler, if Boise St pulls out a one point game,I will have made a perfect week on football. That Karnak Turban, which I shamelessly stole from Johnny Carson also goes to real issues. BTW, after a break Boise St pulled a minor miracle, Karnak Rules! Karnak made more money on college ball than he did working last week.

Well that was all fun, but seriously we are talking long range water problems. I think we have a focus on Hickory that has a dubious return on investment. Hickory is not our only water option. We have an investment there and it is not to be discounted. That does not leave Hickory as our only option. Have we explored Lake Brownwood? Have we looked at deep water saline wells, below the sanded shallow wells west of here?

Yep, the shallow test wells didn't show much promise, but there are tons of production oil wells west of here yielding a barrel of oil for 10 barrels of old Permian Sea saline water. What the geologist calls a "reef" has nothing to do with photogeneic brain coral and pretty fish, but it's real as Dallas and involves a LOT of water!

Depending on one's belief, maybe it got laid down while Cowboy Bob and Barney Flintstone rode a Brontosaurus to work, or maybe a few (million) years before that, but a whole lot of the old Permian Sea is still trapped in West Texas. Desalination is getting cheaper every year, ask anyone in the Navy.

It's late, I'm tired, but think on these things. I fear Council and staff have a mind-lock on Hickory to the exclusion of all alternatives.