Friday, December 23, 2011

Dare to Dream

My housemate has the hobby of cross-stitching and showed me her latest effort.

"Dare to Dream". I like to think I'm halfway bright, I get all political, but this bit of fabric really woke me up.

Of course we must "Dare to Dream"; I'd just never put the thought in those words. Science, politics, medicine, the Boson particle or parking cars in the yard, we must "Dare".

Left, right, progressive, Libertarian; Communist for that matter at least you're thinking!

"Dreams" gave us airplanes; crude bi-wings, but airplanes, and now we have 747s with First Class and free drinks if you can afford it. Dreams gave us commercial electricity: OK Edison's Pearl St Station was DC, but when I flick the switch today, the light comes on!(Well as long as I pay the bill.)

Google Joseph Schumpeter. Dreams creatively deconstructed the iceman's job, Put him and herds of ponies and carriage builders out of work when the refrigerator was invented. I'm very fond of indoor plumbing, I've done the "outhouse" thing, Sears catalog and all

Thank you Janet. "Dareing to Dream" is a core concept of capitalism, and if you think capitalism is "evil", Try one of the alternatives! We didn't militarily destroy the USSR. It collapsed of it own weight!

If you think we have a wicked system, go try to "occupy" Beijing or even Moscow. Putin would eat you for lunch and not even burp as an afterthought.

Actually, the beauty of capitalism and the USA; It wasn't "invented" Adam Smith discovered it, explained it, reported it in the "Wealth of Nations" but it had already come about. I do note; Publication of Wealth of Nations; 1776, somewhat coincidental with a World-changing Declaration of something or other out of Philadelphia.

I've had a world-class case of the flu this week; wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

Merry Christmas to all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rent to Blown

I must apologize to our readers for not writing more lately. Been busy drumming up part time work to make up for the weakness my bank account is feeling in this economy. Money is still tight, but we should be able to write more in the future. It's not that there haven't been plenty of issues out there.

The most visible issue right now is probably rental properties. In August Craig Meyers of the WTOS brought a number of problems to the attention of city staff. After a few meetings with the staff, Craig brought this list of problems before the City Council on August 30th during public comments. It wasn't on the agenda for that meeting so all council could really do was tell staff to work with Mr. Meyers and present a recommendation at a future council meeting. Simple, straight forward and very routine so far. Staff should get with Mr. Meyers and others to define the real nature of the problem, what the city is currently doing to address the problem, what tools and resources, whether city or not, are available to address the problem, a look at how other cities are addressing these problems, and a few recommendations to get the ball rolling. Like I said, simple, straight forward, routine.

A couple months later we see a notice and stories in the paper for 2 public meetings on an ordinance to register rental properties . Both of these meetings are scheduled to be held only 2 days apart at the church where Mr. Meyers used to be pastor. Not an auspicious beginning. A council meeting happened to be in the morning on the day the first meeting was to be held. During the public comments, Mayor New asked why the public was being asked to comment on a proposed ordinance the council didn't know about and had never seen. He stated that staff was “overdriving their headlights.” It seems that council members phones had been ringing off the hook since a recent construction board of adjustments and appeals meeting where a proposed “Rental Housing Standards Ordinance” was presented for discussion (Item V on the agenda.) I'm not quite sure why it was brought before this board as it's there “ to hear appeals and variances regarding building construction codes and make decisions regarding demolition of dangerous buildings. ” Don't see much about ongoing rental issues there. Some members of the Board were upset and started passing around what they had received in the meeting to the rest of the city and by Councils meeting on the 15th, staff was in full damage control mode. They started a refrain of “There is no proposed ordinance. We're just looking for information.” This was carried on through the two subsequent meetings. Even when asked directly if the news story quote about a proposed ordinance being discussed was accurate, Mr. Salas took around 7 or 8 minutes to say that he was incompletely quoted and what he had said was something to effect that “If an ordinance was to be presented, it would have to look a lot like the one from Garland.” Yeah, right. The discussion with the Construction Board meeting was just theoretical and they got the agenda wrong.

This isn't to say there are not problems with rental housing in San Angelo. There are. Out of an estimated 4600 single family rental houses in the city, there are going to be problems. Not all people are honest and trustworthy. Some landlords will not fix anything. Fixing things costs money. Some renters are a nightmare. They don't care about the house and fixtures. It's not theirs. I'm quite sure that Mr. Meyers didn't make up the problems he brought to staff and Council. Problems like this need to be addressed. A little basic internet research shows that there are already many laws on the books. Chapter 92 of the Texas Property Code covers most aspects of residential rentals. The Texas Attorney General has a lot of information on his website . Various organizations like Texas C-bar , TALHFA , etc. have information available like this Problem Properties Toolkit . Cities all over the state are dealing with health and safety problems in rental properties including substandard and unsafe buildings and serious crime problems. These problems impact neighborhoods and the community at large, not just renters and landlords. Some cities, like Garland and Frisco have some form of registration requirement. Others have various approaches such as partnerships for community engagement, neighborhood volunteer organizations, voluntary inspection programs that landlords can use in advertising, and inspections targeted at properties that have been problems in the past. In addition, all of the various assistance programs have ways to help there customers. Vulnerable groups have resources such as CPS, APS, and MHMR that can intervene to help children, seniors, or those with mental challenges and other disabilities. There are building and property codes, nuisance, health, and safety laws, etc. that can all be brought to bear.

There are no doubt problems with some rental properties. Problems like those talked about at the different public meetings need to be addressed. With that said, these meetings didn't accomplish as much as they should have or could have. It's really hard to present coherent, clear, and sensible ideas against a background chorus of mistakes, denial and damage control in three part harmony. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Problems with the Proposed Water Rate Hike

I did a simple analysis of the proposed rate increases for residential users from the agenda packet currently online. I noticed something very disturbing. The percent increase on the usage rate for the lower water users is dramatically higher than on the larger water users. The usage rate at the bottom rung increases by 129.7%, while at the highest rate increases by only 37.3%.

Back in 2007, when the city was considering its first base rate increase in almost a decade, the initial proposal was for a flat rate increase of $15 per meter. A lot of discussion and a quick analysis showed that that type of increase was not equitable and placed too much of the burden on those using the least water and those least likely to be able to afford such an increase. That was replaced with a series of tiered increases, where the smallest meter size got a much smaller increase than the large users with big meters. Doing a flat, $1.31, increase is also inequitable, and regressive. It puts a higher burden on the small water users, those actually conserving. It gives the big water users a quantity discount, which is exactly the opposite of what we need to be doing. A much better solution is to do a percentage increase on the current rates of around 60%. That would still bring in about the same revenue (I might be off in my estimates) and shift the increased costs of water more evenly and fairly across all the water users. What ever rate increase is finally adopted it needs to be a percentage increase, not a flat rate.

Just to be complete and fair, the increases proposed to the base rates are roughly 29% across the board. That is the right way to do a water rate increase. Now lets do the same thing to the usage rate increases.

Building Meter Current Rate Proposed Rate Proposed Increase Proposed
Fairer Increase Fairer Rate Fair % inc

% Increase

0–2,000 gallons $1.01 $2.32 $1.31 129.70%
$0.61 $1.62 60.40%
Next 3,000 gallons $2.15 $3.46 $1.31 60.93%
$1.30 $3.45 60.40%
Next 10,000 gallons $2.76 $4.07 $1.31 47.46%
$1.67 $4.43 60.40%
Next 50,000 gallons $3.06 $4.37 $1.31 42.81%
$1.85 $4.91 60.40%
Next 35,000 gallons $3.21 $4.52 $1.31 40.81%
$1.94 $5.15 60.40%
Next 100,000 gallons $3.51 $4.82 $1.31 37.32%
$2.12 $5.63 60.40%

Monday, May 30, 2011

Free Thinking and Frisky

What's the song title, "Too Much Time on My Hands"? I get bored and have this compulsion to share my thoughts with anyone we can tease into reading the Blog. So random thoughts, it is.

Folks, And BTW, I'm gonna run down a rabbit trail right now. Why do I use the term "folks" often as I do? In my day the general personal pronoun was he, him. English does not have a gender specific term. Suggestions are welcome but I HATE the awkwardness of "he/she" even when I have to use it in say drafting rules.

First time in too many years, I went to a Chili-cookoff yesterday. I had forgotten how much fun that can be. Predictably got drafted as a judge, believe it or not had an adult beverage or three, and contributed to the charity de jour. Another BTW, retired San Angelo Fireman Mark Harrison is now running the Terlingua Ghost Town Saloon beerjoint, he'd love to see old friends if you go there. For those who keep up with such; I will boldly go forth into Republican/Democrat/Libertarian politics, but I ain't touching chile cookoffs with a pole!

Stray thought: when you park on the street, look back before you open the door. I have come too close to taking a door off a car three times in the last two weeks. Guess what, if I had, I (or my insurer) am NOT going to buy you a door. You (or your insurer if you have one) will buy me a new headlight, grill, front quarterpanel.

What's the price of gas today? Over $4 and steaming towards $7? I don't really keep up, outside the lawnmower, I don't use the nasty stuff, still paying about $2.50 for Propane on the pickup. Still, I seem to have seen a $3.55 sign, looks like price is coming down just as we head into high use season with many refineries shut down due to flooding. How can this be?

Federal mandates, that's got to be it, nothing else could outweigh the economic might of the oil companies! Oops, forgot, the feds are still figuring out which conspiracy to sue for what. Now there is this niggling little detail: gasoline consumption has dropped over 10% over 4 months. No mandate, no rationing, nothing out of DC, we, the free consumers, decided we would drive fewer miles, buy less gas and the mighty oil companies were brought to their knees by nothing more than our individual free choice.

The concept has been called a "free market". Not to get too radical, but one might want to look at the idea.

Memorial Day

I have shamelessly neglected this space since my last post, my apologies. Let's try to make today interesting.

First, I checked on the final return of Shuttle Endeavour's final return flight. Great news for those of us who don't sleep much! It is scheduled for a "pre-dawn" return to Florida. Been done before, the actual landing is scheduled for 2:35 AM Wed. which will have it directly overhead about an hour before that here. I've had the luck to see this a few years ago, it is a spectacular show, well worth getting up for.

First time I saw a predawn return, I didn't know what it was at first, I was on a delivery truck. Looked up and saw this huge contrail, arcing from west to east really fast. Mind you, this contrail goes from west horizon to out of sight east in maybe three minutes, I'm thinking this has to be supersonic, where is the "boom"? Well, the sonic boom, actually a "double boom" comes about the time the contrail goes over the eastern horizon and it finally comes to me, has to be the shuttle, nothing else is high enough for that delay.

For background, I just thought, old fart that I am becoming, I'm talking to (I hope) two generations of people who have never heard a "sonic boom". When an aircraft breaks the "sound barrier", about 720 MPH, the airflow over the wings becomes a shock wave. In the 50s it was an awesome thing to design planes that could do that and not self destruct. I was living in eastern NC then, heard them all the time. Supersonic flight is now banned over most of the US, but it was a fact of life then. That shock wave literally broke window panes, scared the hell out of livestock and people would sue the military for damages. I recall the response: "Citizens, that is the sound of Freedom"! Really. Got to remember, the Cold War was at full throttle shall we say. The Russians were coming!

NASA loves early landings, they usually keep the crosswind problem minimal. Remember, this over-priced, under-used, but still beautiful piece of machinery is on landing, an overweight ungainly glider! It has no power, there is no wave off and approach again, this mother is going to land once approach is started, only question is whether it lands here or there and in one piece or not. Ain't the way I'd have designed a railroad, but our tax dollars at work. Whatever, we've already paid for it and it is a good show if one is awake for it. Time is tentative, everything depends on a 12 MPH crosswind limit in Florida.

On to more planet-bound concerns. I have had my sanity questioned on account of my recent divorce. No, I did not go nuts and get married again, but after many years, I have formally divorced the Republican Party, and taken up with the Libertarian hussy.

Why Ryan, I'm asked, why go to a Party with no chance of winning, why waste your vote? People, look at the Republican Presidential field. It isn't even a good joke. The Democrats are saved from similar embarrassment only by having an incumbent. I leave it to the reader whether that is a joke.

The man who recruited me into active Republican politics started the county Republican Party in 1952, the year I was born. Back then, the Republicans could hold a county convention in a phone booth and not inconvenience a caller. The Democrat Primary was the effective election. With a few exceptions, his vote and effort was "wasted" for nearly 30 years, in fact the obituary of Gov. Bill Clements today brings to mind a huge turning point in Texas politics, 1979. Anybody care to look at the state officeholders today and tell me Bob "wasted" his time?

I may rave about Constitutional shortcuts, but we still live under a government that moves incrementally, it was so designed and still limits the passions of the day. As it should be. I don't want "Change" to happen overnight, I know full well I will spend the rest of my life nudging this country in my small way in what I see as the correct direction.

At my age, I will be worm-food before we see a Libertarian President, and shortly after that, another political insurgency will rise up against the Libertarian abuse of power, I leave the naming rights to a future generation, BUT unless we have cratered as a civilization, the wheel will turn, something like this will come to pass. Ask the ghosts of the Federalists or the Whigs. Seen them on a ballot lately? They used to run the country.

The late William F Buckley is remembered for his declaration in the 50s "I stand athwart history and proclaim 'STOP'".

We are on the trembling verge of bankrupting the greatest nation in history. If America collapses, a Dark Age we cannot imagine will be our heritage. The Middle ages only had rats and plague, our world has nuclear weapons. It is time to holler "STOP!".

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Nanny State never Quits

News Flash! April 22, 2011. AP news from Atlanta, Center for Disease Control: CDC hopefully announces it anticipates an effective 50 state ban on smoking in "public places" by 2020.

Personal Log, Stardate 2022.

I had not seen my friend Mike in 10 years, he has been working in Asia. Of course, he is visiting, he is welcome in my home.

When we get home from the airport, I told him, "grab a couple beers, I'll get the luggage, you've had a long flight."

I come in and Mike is in my kitchen SMOKING A CIGARETTE! I go into panic mode, fan the doors, try to get rid of the fumes, but the alarm goes off anyway. Mike is puzzled, asks "you got the smoke detectors set a bit low or what?"

I have to confess to being a "registered smoker". "say what", says Mike?

Yeah, well in '16 we had to register as smokers to be able to purchase tobacco; still legal, but only if I show my registration card at the store. That triggered a "home investigation" by Childrens' Protective Service. We 'fessed up, the grandkids visit here regularly. We promised not to smoke around them, but CPS' mission is to protect children above all.

We had to install tobacco detectors at our expense, real-time connected to a monitoring center. If the detectors sense active smoking in a house children might visit, the alarm sounds and we get a visit.

Mike, I know you didn't know this, but that alarm means the smoke cleaners will be calling shortly. I can select which, but they must be licensed, and it will tickle you; they will show up in "moonsuits" and act like they believe this crap, but Hell, it's their rice bowl.

They will come in, sniff the house electronically, and clean up any potential residue on walls and ceilings. No, Mike I can't do it, now that the smoke-nannies have been alerted, I gotta pay for a licensed cleaner to come make my house safe for children, or we can no longer allow anyone under 18 in the house.

Mike softly curses in the Mandarin he learned as a company rep in China, slows down and asks, "What the Hell happened to the free country I left in 2010"?

"Ah Mike my friend, you haven't been here", says I. "We are still free to say anything that offends no one; we can still fly commercial flights as long as we are willing to have our 5 year olds groped by strangers, and we are still free to smoke in a tiny corner of our backyards. Automobiles, only if we certify that no child will ever ride in it. Violate these rules once is a $500 fine. If the DA finds a "pattern of abuse" we are subject to felony charge of "Reckless Endangerment".

We finish a six-pack in my limited smoking area catching up on old times and Mike books a flight back to Taiwan, where they have better things to worry about. Mike wonders why he served two terms of enlistment, and chews me out for not doing a better job here preserving freedom on the homefront.

Obviously a future fiction, but tell me it won't go there. The Smoke/cholesterol/salt/ethanol nannies truly want to control our lives. It's in our best interest don't you know.

Pardon me, but my "best interests" are none of your freaking business. My insurer perhaps, but I expect to outlive another couple of agents half my age.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Stephens Library

I made time this morning for my first tour of the new Library. Impressed is an understatement, it is beautiful! I saw 20 computer stations open, where the older library had had a waiting list. Lots of people using the terminals, but open ones too.

The Law Library on 2nd floor has two Westlaw terminals!

One carryover from the Ed Keyes Library; the new one still has the slowest elevators in Western Civilization. Upside of that I rode down with a kid, 12-14, he was bubbling over with excitement. Big advantage of the space available, kids have their own section downstairs, and it is a dream come true. The little reading cubbyholes are great. I remember my favorite reading space was the shelf of a bay window, curl up with a good book and the world goes away.

At my age, a Library is a research resource, and that is a good thing. For our youngsters, a Library is a window to the world. That is an investment in our future to be treasured.

One thing I would like to see is prominent recognition of Ralph Hoelscher's part in making this happen. The Stephens deserve the name, a huge contribution from them. My point is, Ralph brought City Council and County Commissioners together for a rare joint meeting and made the old building available. From there, the effort involved hundreds, really thousands of generous people, and they all rate a big "attaboy", but until Ralph kick-started it, the Hemphill-Wells Building was just a hole in the downtown landscape.

I leave the quibbling over windows and bricks to others. My opinion, this will be the jewel in the crown of downtown rebuilding, and the taxpayer portion is nearly zero. It doesn't get better than this.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

On a Mission

Today's Standard Times has an interesting article on the new mission statement for the city's comprehensive plan. It bothered me during the discussions the city council held, and today it finally hit me why.

First, let's look at what the mission statement is: "By the year 2027, San Angelo will be measurably the most desirable mid-sized city in the state of Texas." First, the key word here is desirable. From Websters online desirable is having pleasing qualities or properties : attractive <a desirable woman>. Desirable is about aesthetics. It's about attracting people and groups. It's about emotional responses. It's about feelings. It's about things that can't really be measured.

We need to be careful when we focus on desirable. We could have council ending up like a group of beauty pageant moms, doing whatever it takes to make the city more desirable in the hopes of winning recognition. Spending money on projects that amount to little more than expensive make up and costumes, with little thought on the basics of what make a good, healthy, safe, happy, and free community.

There has already been a lot of hype about the "desirable destinations" poll out there. Seems too much like American Idol. I don't want to see San Angelo continually competing to win Americas Favorite City Contest. I would say a healthy, safe, growing community is more important than one that is merely desirable.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Advisory Boards

It has been almost a year since Council agreed it would be a nifty idea to exercise some oversight as to the 20-plus advisory Boards/committees/commissions we have here. As I recall, we were going to start with Civic Events and move forward about one per month.

The idea was that each Board would be reviewed at least once every two years or so (surprisingly co-incidental with Council terms) for: let's short-circuit this; What have you Done for Us Lately.

I have served on one Committee, testified before several. I applaud the theory of opening access, I am all for Open Government / Open Records. San Angelo is ahead of the pack there. Nonetheless, comes a time we need to look back and see what is or is not actually working. We have Boards which routinely post cancellations due to lack of business; we have boards with overlapping areas of interest; (how many Downtown/Hysterical District Boards do we have: 6-8, a dozen?)

It is not a huge budget item. No Board member is paid; some meetings provide maybe pizza or finger sandwiches for a mid-day meet, BUT as to city staff support, someone has to open the door, record the minutes, provide staff advice and lock up after the puppies get done meeting. Not a huge item per meeting, but we have mid-twenties, 12 times a year times a few bucks per? Doesn't take long to move into 6 figures. Not saying Staff is overpaid, but they get paid more to supervise than I miss in pay when I show up.

I am a patient man, but a persistent one. I'm not going anywhere, when do we start Board Review?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thoughts on Startups

During the City Council meeting this week, while they were discussing garage sales I came to an important realization. With the zoning restrictions we have in place, and the restrictions they want to place on garage sales, none of the top 3 computer companies in the world could start today in San Angelo. Apple, HP, and Dell all started by doing business out of a garage at home.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Valentine's Day Message

My latest missive had to do with a Street Maintenence Tax. This year Valentine's Day coincides with another important date: Initial filing to run for City Council. Anyone running has to be doing it for love, it sure isn't the princely sum of $45 a month

All the even numbered seats and Mayor are up for challenge. Four out of seven, there is potential for change here. I do not play the endorsement game, and my SMD is not up in any case. I'm not even suggesting any particular Council member is in need of being replaced. A lot of people got a chuckle out of the accusation I was a "lap-dog" for Council, seriuosly, we have a good Council now, better than most in my opinion, BUT...

Any job is well served by competition. Wal-Mart's prices might be higher if Target weren't right around the corner and breathing down their neck.

We are fortunate we don't "get what we pay for" on Council. At $45/ month, it costs Councilmembers to serve. SAISD, we are even luckier, we have not had an election for SAISD in three cycles, nothing corrupt, but no competition.

Hey guys, May will bring on a few changes. Algore's global warming might finally kick in. Side bet: we will see a 100 degree day before May 15.

Oh yeah, back to politics, May will bring a new Council, new issues, who knows, possibly a new New. No offense Mayor, that was too good to pass up.

I would love to see contested elections all around; even if all incumbents win, they will be better for having had a challenge.

If you are bothering to read this obscure Blog, you are interested. I literally can't afford it, and my boss can't really afford to give me two Tuesdays a month off. Maybe retired, maybe independent owner, maybe you can afford this volunteer post, because God's honest, that is what it is.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Street Maintenence Tax

This Thursday my article in favor of a Street Maintenence Tax was published in the Standard-Times. I won't reprint it here, it is available at

I do want to expand on the topic and cover some issues that came up in comments at gosanangelo.

I was promoting a diversion of one-eigth cent of the existing half-cent tax to streets. As is our current half cent tax, this is regulated by state statute. Actually, it could be twice that, but has to move in eigth-cent increments. It cannot increase our total tax, we are capped there by state law.

It can only be put in effect with voter approval. Council can decide to give us the option, but only if voters approve can this happen. As I mentioned in the article, unlike the 4B we now pay, a street tax HAS to "sunset" or come up for reapproval by voters again, every four years.

Legislature has provided for the street tax in a capped city to take place in one ballot proposition. In other words, we cannot find ourselves in the absurd position of approving a street tax but not approving the reallocation of the 4b tax.

The sales tax eigth-cent has to be accounted for. It cannot be used for new streets. It cannot be used for sidewalks along streets. It can only be used for "maintenece of existing streets". Sealcoat, potholes, total resurface if needed, yes.

I mentioned in the article; an eigth of anything sounds small, but here, depending on the economy and total sales tax receipts that is at least $1 million, $1.5 million
in a good year, and we've seen a bit better than that. Now we are talking eigth-cent that could replace the general fund money we now spend on streets.

Here we come to why this is a winner. While the limits on using Street Maintenence sales tax revenue are strict, the use of the general fund money freed up is limited only to what a home rule city can do now. Money is fungible. If we decide to spend that $1.5 money doubling up on street expenditures; if we decide to spend it on employee benefits; if we decide to use it for (Heaven forfend) tax reduction: we can do any of the above or any mix of the above. I would hope for some reasonable mix.

Look at it this way, if you had any involvement in last year's budget process, wouldn't you have absolutely loved a buck-and-a-half wiggle room?

The down side, if one wants to call it that is this. The 4b tax we just extended without a sunset had certain specific projects in it that are now locked in from coliseum/fairgrounds improvements to river improvements to sports facilities. Let us not forget the "water" issues, but those, being on ballot, are inviolable, they will be done. Uh, no, it won't pay for all the Hickory costs, sorry about the voters who thought that, but no one ever quite said that, best case 4b will pay about $30 million out of $150 million.

No the down side is if we approve a Street Maintenence Tax, the City of San Angelo Development Corporation will have less money to spend on what I rudely call "corporate bribery". I cannot buy the idea of government picking winners and losers and doing it better than the market. Governments love to brag on it when "economic incentives" work and hope voters will forget the ones that don't. Anybody remember Taylor Publishing? If you know someone who can use a nice empty building east of town, we have one; CHEAP!

Me, I have a job, might like better pay, but I'll get that on my own before the city gets it for me. I'd be happy with good streets to get to and from work on.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

They keep on giving

The elections have been over for three months now and we will soon be seeing the impacts. In just a few days the smoking ban will go into effect, and we will finally see the impact this ban will have on local businesses. I hope the small neighborhood bars can weather this storm.

We also had a hint of the impact the Hickory water project will have on the local economy. They finally admitted in the last city council meeting that city water bills will have to go up by an average of $10 to $20 just to pay for the construction of the project. That is before they actually throw the switch and start pumping Hickory water. When that happens, if the city estimates are close, another $10 to $20 will have to be added to our water bills to pay for the utilities, people to operate the system, and everything else it takes to operate and maintain this project for the next 30 years. This doesn't take into account the fact that we're likely going to be draining the aquifer faster than it can recharge. We will probably have to fight lawsuits from the people who live over the aquifer whose wells are going dry. We might actually still have water there when we pay off the loan.

I'm sure some of you want to know who made this all possible, and the simple answer would be to check the campaign finance reports. They are on the city website under the city clerk's election section. All of Speak Out San Angelo's reports are there. Unfortunately both Smoke Free San Angelo and Citizens for San Angelo's Future are late with their required January 15 semi-annual filing. Hopefully, they will correct that ASAP. Once you check those reports, I'm sure you will know the appropriate way to thank everyone involved.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Cradle of Civilization

I typically write about local issues, but events in Egypt have distracted me (and the White House and the State Dept and anyone else not living in a cave).

This morning's news shows ABC lead. Somehow Chritianna Amanpour got personal interviews with both President Mubarak and his new and controverial VP. Fox news gave up and did its entire show talking about the Superbowl, live from the stadium. You don't think that might have had something to do with Fox having the broadcast rights tonight?

The one item that caught my ear; a "Man-on-the-street" interview with an Egyptian protester: In perfect English he said "We need a book, something like your Constitution. If we get that, we get tired of a President, we don't have to do this, we just don't re-elect him".

This unnamed Egyptian showed more understanding of our representative democracy than most of our own voters have! We have the immense luxury of not having to risk our lives and shut down the whole economy, we have these fabulous things called elections!

At this point, nobody, least of all me, can safely predict how Egypt will shake out. A lot of the experts were unsure about a "domino effect", possibly moving to Lebanon, maybe even Syria, and while it hasn't uttered a mumbling word, the House of Saud has to be scared silly.

Let us hope for the best, that is really all we can do. Let us also take a moment to remember that anonymous Egyptian "man-on-the-street". We HAVE what his people are risking lives for. Turn out on election days and help keep it

Just for fun, I'm not calling the game, I hope for a good game, a close one, but my money is straight over. OK, 27/21 and I ain't saying who.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fries with that?

I left the last Council meeting with a strange feeling. The discussion on the garage sale ordinance and garage sales in general made me think that I had wandered into a board meeting of McDonalds. It made me think they were trying to create the next happy meal.

There are a number of issues associated with garage sales. Parking, trash, outside storage, safety, etc.. The vast majority of these are already addressed by ordinances dealing with traffic, parking, public nuisances, signs, and the health code. Granted, these ordinances are often ineffective. They don't help with the problems created by garage sales. Of course, they also don't help with a rowdy super bowl party or family barbeque. They won't help when smoke easys start cropping up after the smoke ban goes into effect. They don't really help if you neighbor is just a slob, garage sales or not.

So why did I think happy meal? A happy meal is a standardized, commoditized, lowest common denominator set of products combined around fad based marketing. They're probably okay for an occasional meal when out shopping with the parents, but not close to balanced nutrition. It's a one size fits all solution that can pass for a meal targeted at kids and their parents.

The garage sale discussion seemed headed for a happy meal solution. A one size fits all solution to the fad issue of the day targeted against a specific group. The basic ordinances that address the real issues were talked about because they failed. On problem after problem, whether it was parking in alleys, outside storage of items, trash, etc. the refrain was that the current ordinances took too long or were ineffective. The gentle push was for a garage sale ordinance that limited the number and addressed again what the other ordinances already couldn't handle. We could easily end up with a happy meal of an ordinance. One that's not very nutritious, one size fits all, and driven mostly by the current fad issue.

Let's fix the problems with the current ordinances that don't work. I don't want to hear the council asking if we want fries with the next ordinance.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Year's Message

The Standard-Times poll for New Year's day asks whether 2011 will be better or worse. Among the omens and portents, gold closed the year over $1,400 and silver cracked $30. Same time, Germany is making rude noises about bailing out of the Euro. Merkel is hanging on by the fingernails and the productive populace of Germany is disgusted with picking up the tab for the profligate Greeks and Irishmen not to mention the Spanish and Portugese whose cards are maxed out and their bartab is soon coming due.

San Angelo is actually in relatively good shape, but we cannot insulate ourselves from a world full of foolishness. Canned goods friends, canned goods and commodities, just in case. Even in good times I advise having at least 30 days of food/water stocked; pretend that for some reason you cannot leave your house for a month.

I am not "into" buying every harbinger of doom. Remember when first bird flu, then swine flu was going to mutate and result in a pandemic eclipsing the Spanish flu of WWI? Perhaps you recall the massive eruption of an unpronouncable volcano in Iceland, all of Europe trembled in fear of nuclear winter. Turned out the bigger, if less photogenic problem was honest Icelandic fishermen trying to become international bankers. Ponzi would be proud, Bernie Madoff would be embarrassed, and if I had that kind of money, I would "short" the Euro this year.

Another note; from the west coast, across the northern Plains states, to the American northeast and on to most of Europe, hundreds of thousands of air travelers spent the holiday week camped out in airport terminals. Algore will have to further increase his "carbon footprint" flying about in his private Gulfstream to remind us of the eminent demise of Western Civilization due to global warming. Again with an old saying "Climate is what we expect; weather is what we get". Hope you checked your antifreeze, Mon. morn is supposed to be 23 degrees.

Enough of the fun part, back to local matters. It looks as though we will continue with Harold Dominguez as City Manager. I wish Harold the best, would offer my congrats if he does get a better paying job, but my opinion, we are lucky to have him. God knows we've had worse.

Last year was an anomaly. Revenues were down, Council and staff waded deep into the weeds making up a $2 million+ shortfall without curtailing essential services. Angelo did better than a lot of Texas cities, BUT... Something I hope we don't see again is the shortcuts on the budget process.

A legacy of the Mayor Lown era, an item Conchoinfo is proud to have had our small part in, was Sec. 59A of City Charter. It insists that Capital Improvements shall be on the table "no later than 5 months before final date for submission of the budget". Moving that from practise to ordinance to Charter was a real accomplishment. In our past, in some cities to this day, when one reads "Capital Improvements" think "Earmarks". Tennis fans want lighted courts. Rodeo fans wants fairground improvements. As Yul Brynner said in "the King and I", etc. etc. and so forth. Typical year we have Cap Improv projects suggested that exceed the total city budget for about 5 years.

Obviously there has to be a winnowing process. Sec. 59A puts rule of law to the process. Hearings are held, public comment is taken, and the "wish list" is prioritized from "we need this NOW" to "maybe in a couple years" to "well maybe someday if we win the lottery" to fuggedabowtit.

Last year, this got not much better than a kiss and a smile as staff scrambled to make up the deficit without raising taxes. Hard times make for hard choices, I'm not saying we were poorly served, but this time around we have plenty of notice. Let's do it right this year.

I will once again suggest that Council consider setting aside one-eigth cent of our half cent sales tax to a "Street Maintenence" tax. The money could only be used for improvements of existing streets and by Texas Statute, has an automatic 4 year "sunset", voters will get to look at it after 4 years.

If we have this, something over $1 million/year comes out of general budget and money being fungible, could be used for anything the law allows the city to do. For instance, a park to replace Northside Rec.

Speaking of which, a terrible decision. I'm not 100% in favor of the current caliche pit, but before we closed Northside we should have at least budgeted, if not built, its replacement. Now Lakeview has one more reason to believe it is San Angelo's "red-headed stepchild". The only quadrent in town without a real city park.

In my last missive here, I spoke of buying 12 volt air compressors for myself and brother-in-law. Turns out both of us had ocassion to use them them and Stripes' little quarter-suckers were bereft of our pocket change. Also our smokes and beer purchases, lotto tickets and other incidentals, including the $200 or so a week I used to spend on diesel for the work truck.

Prediction time. Council, in my opinion wisely, chose to let the electorate have its way on the smoke ban, with exceptions agreed to by the winners. I opposed it, but I will live with it. By this time next year, Council will move to exempt bars. By then, we will be looking at real world, not pipedreams. The smokefree crowd will not have flooded the smoking bars with new business, especially the small beerjoints. Some bars will be hurting, some out of business, perhaps some moved out of city limits with resulting loss of revenue to the city. With that reality to support such action, Council will exempt bars along with pipe shops and bingo halls. Unfortunately, it will cost a few bar owners and their employees the investments and jobs, but hey; who ever told you life was fair?

All in all, I look to a good New Year. I'm trying not to let the TCU win/over influence that, but overall, San Angelo has the potential to be an island of stability in an unstable world. I am proud to have been born here, happy to live here. Shalom, peace, and a prosperous New Year to all. Keep on truckin' !