Saturday, November 24, 2012

Tangled Web(site)

Council meetings are usually entertaining and last Tuesday's was no exception. Sat through the morning show and left during the intermission (executive session and lunch break.) Didn't make it back before the afternoon show had started and I missed one of the most entertaining parts. An issue that I really have issues with: the City website.

The contract for the current city website was approved back in 2004. The current site is based on a proprietary system from It took a while for the site to get usable and I have several emails back and forth with city staff on problems and suggestions. Today, 8 years later there are still problems with features such as credit card information handling and keeping the agenda packets on the website. Public information staff has done a lot of work like connecting the city website with social media sites like facebook and twitter and work arounds like using slideshare to hold city council packets and information that won't fit on the website. City staff has done a lot of work to get information out and overcome the limits of the current website. I've also heard from staff members that use the system that it's a royal pain to deal with. I'd heard and seen enough problems with the site that I have been trying to get the city to change system and philosophies for several years. Earlier this year the city finally went out with an RFP for a new website.

In May, they came to council with a request to authorize a contract, not to exceed $40,000 to Vision Internet of California. From the memo in the agenda packet "Financial Impact: The costs for the website design, hosting, and training staff will be $40,000.00." A bit high but not totally unexpected. I remember this being presented to the city council as a complete, turnkey operation. Vision Internet would design and maintain the site, migrate everything from the old site to the new one, train staff to operate it, and host it on their own high availability servers. City council approved the following from the memo in the agenda packet.

  • "a. Approving a recommendation from the Evaluation Team to award RFP: PI-01-
    11/Website Design contract to Vision Internet, in an amount not to exceed $40,000.00
    for design of a new, custom website for the City of San Angelo, and authorizing the City Manager to negotiate and execute a contract with the recommended vendor
  • b. Authorizing a budget amendment for the project funds in an amount not to exceed
    $40,000.00 to cover costs of designing the new website, training staff, and hosting the
    newly designed site."
Looked like a done deal, and I  was hopeful a new website, at least a beta version, might be a Christmas present for the citizens of San Angelo. Last Tuesday, Nov. 20th, there was a budget amendment on the agenda that included $90,000 to negotiate a contract and amend the budget for the new website. Wait a minute. Hadn't this had been approved back in May? All of it including the budget amendment? And what was the extra $50,000 for? Simplest explanation would have been that too much time had elapsed and it needed re-approval. And maybe the $90k was just a typo and $40k was the real deal. I watched the video, and no, staff was saying that $90k was the true amount and that the $40k  was only for website design. The extra $50k was needed for training and new, upgraded servers to host the website. Like I said I wish I had been there but the replay on channel 17 was very entertaining. You could tell that staff was caught completely flat footed. The excuses they gave for the increase don't make sense when you look at what was in the May 1st agenda packet and what was recorded in the minutes. Training costs were included in the original proposal, and there was no need for additional servers at the city because the website would be hosted on Vision Internet servers. Package price, tax title and license $40k as approved in May. One further point I found out is that Vision Internet doesn't sell hardware. If there were additional servers and equipment required, that would need to be an additional contract, probably as part of the city's normal server upgrade program.

This highlights two problems our new city manager must deal with. First, staff has developed a habit of bringing parts of projects to city council piece meal and without complete project information. This time they tried to say that what was approved in May was just a portion of the total project and it was only last Tuesday they were providing information on the rest of the project. Earlier in meeting a similar situation happened on an agreement with SAPAC. The rental/lease agreement for office space was brought forward as an isolated, stand alone item. There have been some concerns about this agreement expressed at prior council meetings, and without some big picture information on the entire auditorium/city hall renovation project and SAPAC's involvement and contribution commitments it's hard to make a good decision. As presented to the council Tuesday the agreement does look and smell like a giveaway of a major city asset to a politically connected group. Add to that the cost overruns and confusion over whether or not the HVAC plant and landscaping were included in the original package voted on as part of the city hall plaza project and it's easy see how council might be getting a bit irritable. I'm sure they feel like they would if they were buying a new car and as the sales manager is handing the keys he says "Congratulation on your new car. I think now we might want to talk about putting tires on it." 
Now that I've wandered into mistakes made in handling the website contract so far, let me make a couple of suggestions. There needs to be a shift in philosophy by the city about the internet. Functionally, the city doesn't have "a" website. The main address is effectively a portal into a series of other internet applications and sites. I could get long winded on this (actually did but erased it) but the city doesn't need a Swiss Army Knife type of website. What the city needs is a functional toolbox that allows people to exchange information and do business using those internet tools, and visible website is really just the box that keeps all these specialized tools where they can be used efficiently and effectively. This needs to be an open standards based toolbox so that as new tools are needed and developed we don't have to keep going back to a single source and hope they have an adequate tool.

Let's get ASU and their computer science department involved. They have expertise and equipment. They might be interested in doing the city's internet projects as a research and training vehicle. 
Get the city involved with projects like Code For America and see what they can surprise us with. 
Go with an open solution, preferably open source, that can help drive down the cost of government and give us greater flexibility to respond quickly in a fast changing world.

We need a new website for the City of San Angelo. We need an updated philosophy on how the city and its citizens use the internet. We need an honest, accurate, and complete plan for the projects that will get us where we need to be long term. What was put before council would barely serve us today and is not what we need for the future. We also need to get staff to keep up and do their homework before they come before city council and keep their story complete and straight.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Daniel in the Lyin Den or Welcome to our new City Manager

Our new City Manager has been here not quite a month, made it through two city council meetings and hasn't snuck back to Eagle Pass yet. He hasn't said much and seems to be taking it all in waiting until he knows the local landscape. I hope that's a sign of good things and that he is just waiting for the right time because there are some major issues he has to deal with.

I'm sure he knew that water would be a major issue when he got here. Bet he thought that reliable water sources would be his number one challenge. Instead we seem to have a number of very public failures with the water department at the center. At Mr. Valenzuela's very first council meeting they tried to sneak by $100,000 for new furniture for the water department. This is in addition to the $200,000 already spent on top of what was budgeted for the city hall renovation. And it doesn't appear that this furniture was to make up for a shortfall of partitions and filing cabinets and a few needed desks. It was a major wholesale replacement with the old furniture, which was obviously still serviceable, spread hither and yon with no accountability throughout other city departments to make up for shortfalls in other offices. Sounds very much to me like staff underestimated their furniture needs several times, and the last time tried to pull a fast one with the water department paying the bill this time. On top of that, required procurement procedures were mostly ignored. This high dollar purchase went forward without required council approval and like kids on a playground, no senior staff personnel saw what happened. We still don't know who signed the purchase order or if it was ever signed. Nice start for your first council meeting wasn't it Daniel?

By the second meeting things were getting even more interesting. Seems there was (maybe still is) a problem with water quality. It's bad that they found the THM levels in our water too high, although the actual health threat is probably not that great. What's more disturbing to me is that it was outside testing that found the problem, not our own testing procedures. The problem sample was from several months ago and just recently were corrective actions taken. Add on the fact that our temporary use of chlorine instead of chloramine probably made the problem worse and we don't really know what affect it had makes me wonder just how good our in-house testing really is. Needs to be looked at closely.

A bit of a side show to the last council meeting, still tied to the water department, is just starting to surface. Seems that an engineer on city staff was relieved for cause with no option for rehire and after a bit of slight of hand to become a private company/subcontractor was back at work as an inspector on the Hickory Pipeline, the city's main long range water project. Doesn't help that the subcontractor is the son of the water department director. Sounds like a problem of ethics and a conflict of interest that needs to be addressed.

As a long term accompaniment to all this there are problems with water bills which start with the new remote reading water meters. There were a lot of advantages claimed for the remote meters including more efficient and accurate results and near real time water usage readings that could alert a customer to potential leaks or other unusual usage patterns. Looking at how well this had worked in other cities (most of which used private contractors to make the switch) we had high hopes that this would be good for our city. Instead we have heard a fairly constant drumbeat of complaints and excuses. In 2005 the city had a chance to get a remote meter system installed for free by Siemens. Their profit, if any, would have come out of operational savings. They would have been on the hook to make the system work right. Instead  our water department has been before the city council asking for big bucks to do the whole project in house. They currently have 2 or 3 years left on the projects and the results so far have been a mixture of confusion, unrealistic water bills, rate increases, excuses and terrible customer service. The much mentioned capability of flagging usage problems doesn't seem to exist yet. Many current bills seem to be "estimates." The transition from an old meter to a new one frequently leads to a usage spike that makes one believe that either meters hadn't been read for a while or that nobody noticed that the meter had been replaced so a new starting reading should have been used instead of the last reading from the old meter. What ever the cause, our citizens and water customers are not being treated right and there are systemic problems that need to be fixed.

Which brings me to another big issue. One that hurts our economic growth and prosperity. Our city government does a lousy job at customer service. The problems in water billing are making news. Look at what happens in planning, permitting, code enforcement and inspections. I've been told that the process is like being in a pinball machine, being bounced around from desk to desk and department to department. Getting close to the end of the process only to be flipped back to another round of bouncing off desks. A process that takes one to maybe two weeks in other cities in the region takes months here. And I frequently hear that projects will almost get completed and an inspector will come out and change the rules. The plans for a roof or a wall that were approved by everyone in city hall before the project even started will get changed at the last minute by some inspector in the field which causes major added expenses and delays. Cheaper to make the changes (even major ones) then to delay business too long and pay a bunch of money to lawyers. Word of this spreads around and keeps business away. And some within city hall will say that used to happen in the past but we have changed. All I can say is what I'm hearing about are recent incidents. The Friday meeting results don't seem to be filtering down to the people on the desks and in the field.

I have been rambling on a bit here and still have only brushed on some of the high points so let me finish by saying again Welcome Daniel. Enjoy your time here in San Angelo. I hope you brought your Kevlar. You just might need it.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Trash talk

Been a while since we posted here. Time to get back to work. Going to start off with excerpts from an email we received on the pilot program on automated trash collection.

First off, here are some key facts that are not widely known that our email writer thought were important.

1. The cans must be aligned precisely with the curb, or they will not be picked up.
2. The approach to the cans must not be blocked, or they will not be picked up.
3. you must use the cans provided by the trash company, no other cans will be picked up.
4. you will be charged a monthly "rental" of $12-15 for your can, in perpetuity, you will never pay it off, and the city keeps the profit from the fees, not the trash company. (this one really ***** me off)

Our writer goes on to say: " now in (my neighborhood) there is currently a pilot program with the automated system. The automated truck drives down the street, and picks up the cans. If there is a obstruction or the can is not aligned properly, a assistant hops out and fixes the issue, moves the can, etc.. Further, a regular trash truck FOLLOWS the automated truck, picking up odd-sized garbage, leaves, branches, etc, that does not get picked up by the automated truck. The kicker is that when the program is implemented, there will be NO ASSISTANT to the automated truck (IE there will be skipped cans) and obviously no truck following behind to pick up the leftover trash. this factor has not been announced to the general public, and the city plans to just spring it on everybody when the automated system is in place."

I think our writer is legitimately concerned. Two things stand out. First, even though this will likely save the  collection company and the city a considerable amount of money, there could be a net INCREASE in your trash collection bill for the "rental" of the special trash cans. As a consumer my total bill is what matters. It does me no good that my "trash collection" bill is lower if I have to pay more for a "rental fee." This is no good for me unless my ENTIRE bill is less.

The next point that stands out is that the pilot test, as the writer reports, is not currently being done the same way it would be implemented. I can understand them gradually shifting from the current system to the fully automated system. By now, they should have made all the pilot projects as close as possible to the way they will be if and when implemented. We need several weeks, at least, of collections where there are not extra hands or trucks following on. We, the citizens of San Angelo and the people who pay for this service, need to see in these pilot projects exactly what it will be like in the future. No smoke and mirrors. No additional fine print and "adjustments" after the deal is done. I'm not saying that Trashaway and the City Council won't do that but I've watched local politics long enough to know that we, the people, need to make sure it's done.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A long run has been online for quite a while. On August 7th it will be 8 years since started life as the website against the first extension of the 4B, 1/2 cent sales tax. In December of 2004 Conchoinfo was rebuilt and redirected towards a more informational and local issue oriented focus. We've achieved some successes and had some failures. We've had an impact. This August the domain name and hosting contract for is up for renewal again. It's not a major expense but it's a personal expense shared among a very few contributors. I'm wondering if I should keep the domain name and site up or just let it go.

Even if we let the domain name lapse, the blog will still be here. We have had a little presence on facebook but I'm thinking of taking that down. A lot of the other ideas I had for conchoinfo have never had enough time, money, people, or other resources to come about. It's never become the information resource I hoped for and can't unless things change. is at a real crossroads. It either needs to grow, which I don't have the time, resources, etc. to do on my own, or it needs to just fade away to become just another footnote in history and a few entries in the wayback machine. I will probably pay for another year of the domain name and hosting but unless something changes this will be the last year for the domain. There's not enough me (and a few others) to do it anymore.

The blog will stay here. Blogger hosting is free. I might still get worked up enough to do some posting and we can be sure Barkeep (Jim Ryan) will. That's not enough.

Ideas and feedback wanted

Jim Turner

Monday, July 16, 2012

Control Yourself

The June 19th council meeting was interesting and entertaining. Some council members were offended that people were saying that the lawn parking nuisance ordinance was really all about control. I can understand why they got upset. In their heart and mind their motives were pure. They were striving mightily to protect local property values and control was the furthest thing from their minds. And they were right, but that isn't the complete picture. Let's take a step down from the council platform and into the ground level where the rest of the citizens, the political observers, and I sit and watch and participate in this whole government process.

At its most fundamental governments at all levels are about control. They may call it laws or ordinances or regulation and use fees and taxes and people with guns for enforcement but governments work by controlling certain types of behavior. They protect rights by trying to control those that would infringe them. Governments don't really build things. They don't grow things. They manage the shared resources of communities which is another way of saying they control things. So at a very fundamental level being in government is about control. It's why they were created. It's what they do. If you're in government, controlling is a major part of what you do.

By now the offended council members are likely thinking “That may be true but that's not why we are looking at lawn parking. True, we are trying to control a nuisance but our goal, our motivation is to protect property values and property owners investments.” Fair enough. So lets look at this whole lawn parking thing from down at the citizen level.

This ordinance is supposed to be about protecting property values and investments. That's a common problem so I did what I usually do and looked at how other cities are dealing with issue. Many cities, in fact most that I looked at, ignore parking on lawns. They leave it up to Home Owners Associations and deed restrictions and neighbors working with neighbors to deal with issues such as cars in the yard and ugly landscaping and paint jobs. Other cities, like Abilene declare “Vehicles in the yard of any residence excluding improved parking surfaces, or areas screened from the public view by an opaque fence” a nuisance. No exceptions. These policies apply to all residences on all streets. No exceptions. There are cities that leave it up to the neighborhood. They have an opt-in mechanism. Get 75% or 80% of the residences on a block or in a neighborhood to petition city hall and your neighborhood will have car free lawns. You and your neighborhood decides, not city hall. Lets compare that with what our city council is looking at.

The proposed ordinance starts out protecting property values by not allowing parking on unimproved surfaces. Then it goes on to add 7 exceptions to this “protection”. The city won't protect your property value if your street is 36' or narrower. No protection if the vehicle has a handicapped plate or mirror hanger. Three exceptions if your neighbors house doesn't have an "improved surface" to park on. In the end, code enforcement will have to have a 100' tape measure, a square or protractor, and probably a copy of the thoroughfare plan to determine whether or not they can write a citation to protect your property values from the nuisances caused by your neighbors. The ordinance as proposed shows an attempt at a fine grained control which in the end protects newer neighborhoods with wide streets while leaving older neighborhoods with narrow streets and dirt parking areas to fend for themselves. And it will still cause unnecessary expenses for residences with a one car curb cut and two car wide compacted dirt parking areas. In the end this ordinance creates a two tier level of “protection.” It will protect and increase the value of protected residences while likely hurting the values of those homes left unprotected. Those citizens who spoke in favor of this ordinance last time need to go check their properties closely. That investment property just might not be protected. Those new homes in the targeted neighborhoods? How wide are those streets again? They just might not be protected as well. Real estate investors? Don't bother looking on these streets. The city doesn't protect the values there. Maybe the property and investment values of all the houses with exceptions will not only not be protected, their values will be damaged as an unintended consequence.

Sitting down here in the peanut gallery it's easy to get confused when the protection is applied unevenly but the control is applied across the entire city. It's really no wonder that many people would think that it's really not about protecting the value of some residences, it's about control.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Revving up Revenue

I almost skipped the recent budget workshop. They are normally boring with few surprises. Still, I haven't missed one in several years and old habits are hard to break. I'm glad I went.

Staff is digging hard to find new revenue sources. Three of them really caught my eye. I've already blogged about the proposed use of water and sewer capital fund money to fix roads. To summarize I still think that the money you pay on your water and sewer bill should go towards those services, not fixing roads. There are two other revenue proposals that really stood out and need to be addressed.

I found it hard to believe they suggested bringing back parking meters. They estimated that after all the expenses of installation, etc. they could still bring in $340k for the first year of operation. That's assuming anyone still bothers to shop downtown after they install parking meters again. Parking meters helped kill off downtown’s across the country. Why pay to park and shop when at the mall or big box store you can park for free? There would be sometimes when you have to go downtown for example business at city hall, but this would discourage people from shopping or eating downtown. We're spending truck loads of time and money trying to revitalize downtown and then discourage people from doing business there by installing parking meters. Seems a bit silly to me.

The next revenue source they suggested was red light cameras. They suggested that they would bring in $100,000 per year. There is so much wrong with this proposal it's hard to know where to begin. First off, red light cameras in Texas are governed by chapter 707.003 of the Transportation code. This sets a limit of $75 on the civil penalty that can be charged and a max $25 for a late charge. It also requires that 50% of the money collected and left over from the expenses of installing, maintaining, and operating the system and collecting the penalties be paid to the credit of the regional trauma account. That means after the system had collected enough to start getting revenue, they would have to issue 2,666 notices of civil penalties to collect $100,000. That's a lot of red light tickets. Then you run into the little problem of chapter 707.008(2) which says “(2)  deposit the remainder of the revenue in a special account in the local authority's treasury that may be used only to fund traffic safety programs, including pedestrian safety programs, public safety programs, intersection improvements, and traffic enforcement.” Kind of limits what you can use the red light camera money for. It's no longer the general revenue source it was when this issue was first brought before council in 2007 and the money wouldn't be useable for very many projects the city needs to be doing. There is also a lot of red tape involved including the requirement to establish a citizens committee on the cameras, the need for a full engineering study before installation and annual reports to the state. The money certainly can't be used to fix streets or other urgent capital projects. It seems that staff really didn't do their homework on red light cameras.

At the end of the budget workshop I had to wonder why these three possible revenue sources were even mentioned. They all have serious flaws. Surprises like this are why I try to make all council meetings. Still, I expected better from staff.

Pilot Program

Several years ago your water bill paid for more than just water. First off, the city was transferring about three quarters of a million dollars a year from the water fund to the general fund. They called it PILOT, and it was basically the city charging water customers for the property tax that the water department would have paid if were a separate, for profit company. Starting in 2005 when a significant rate increase was enacted, we started fighting for the elimination of “PILOT”. First off, it's a bit silly for the city to be charging itself property tax. At the time they tried to justify it by saying that the water department should be paying for services like police and fire protection. Didn't make much sense since at the time the water department paid for their own Lake and Park police department which not only handled issues at the lake but all the city parks. And without the water department what kind of fire protection could really be offered. The water department was already paying for regular services the city provide such as legal, engineering, and finance personnel, etc. through whats called cost allocation. For example, the water department pays a percentage of the city attorneys salary based on how much of the city attorneys time is spent dealing with water department issues in an average years. If it's 25%, then the water department pays 25% of the city attorneys salary. The process is repeated for the rest of the functions the water department uses and that money is paid into the general fund for the services the water department receives. In addition the water department should be paying franchise fees just like any other utility. This is to help pay for the maintenance of the right of ways that the water department uses just like the gas, electric, cable, and phone utilities do. Those two payments should cover any regular expenses the water department causes the city. We have made great progress and what most of you pay on your water and sewer bills actually pays for water and sewer services. Yes, the water bill still pays for stuff like the upkeep of the lake parks and the Pecan Creek Pavilion, but those have at least some connection to water, and they do bring in a little rental revenue. Still, we've made remarkable progress.

City staff put out a proposal at the budget workshop to take $2 million a year from the water and sewer capital funds and use it to fix our streets. I can sympathize. Our streets need lots of work, and at the current rate of spending we'll never catch up. We do need to get on top of this. Still, since 2005 every council has agreed that the water fund and the water bill should be going to furnish water to the customers and nothing else. Water here is a scarce, precious commodity. It is so necessary that the sunset was removed from the 4B sales tax so that the majority of that ½ cent money could be used to subsidize the development of long term water sources. Now staff has suggested taking money that you are paying for water and spending it on roads. Mr. Morrison has asked staff in the past to rebate any excess money in all the water funds back to the customers and was told by staff that it was essential to keep the capital fund money in the fund because it would be needed to pay for identified capital needs and possible emergency needs. If the needs are so big and urgent we can't give it back to the customers then we can't justify using it to fix roads.

We need to fix our roads. There is no doubt about that. There are lots of options such as a street maintenance sales tax, cutting more unnecessary services, etc.. Taking money from our water customers is not the way to do it.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

What a lucky man

It comes to me, I don't mean to be a compliainant all the time. Yes, I pick at Council, yes, I try to call them down when I see them exceeding the bounds of what my Libertarian soul sees as proper governance.

That said, it came to me that I am an incredibly lucky man. I do have to work, they keep selling me defective Lotto tickets, BUT: I get to live in a very nice house, in a decent neighborhood. The fact I can scribe this says everything needs be said on internet access. I might dissent from Council, but I can access government douments online at my convenience, and that I promise you has not always been the case.

The AC works, the water runs, the trash goes away. I can listen to great music at the touch of a button, more TV channels than I can follow or wish to. I have a lifestyle at under 30k net income that Kings and Royals of old would have envied. Yes them castles were imposing, but the fireplace didn't always keep up with the weather AC didn't exist, and the cable connection...

Point is, we are at a place in history where I can live comfortably, have the spare time to chime in on politics, and not be at risk of being literally burned at the stake for offending the powers that be. That is a recent, within my lifetime, evolution of political power.

Back when I was actually tending bar, one of my standards was someone would start beefing about this or that, get noisey enough to irritate the other patrons: I'd inquire, "did you vote last election?" Thought so. While you were busy not bothering to vote, I was taking the day off to be a precinct election judge.

We can make changes, yes, just thee and me. I have seen such change in my lifetime, BUT you got to get off your ass and make it happen. Serious now did the Civil Rights Act just trip over LBJs knee? No, Martin Luther King rattled cages that had never been rattled. Kind of hard to ignore a million or so people on the Capitol mall. I promise you this, locally a dozen citizens present and heard on any issue would blow Council's hair back!

Getting back to the Title: Yes I do consider myself an extremely lucky man.

Leave me A Lawn

Good morning and a happy July 4 to all. Among the surpises, San Angelo is not the national hot spot. Not even close, and God willing, we might get rain today. The heat and rainfall we can only pray for and hope. By the way, saw my first Cardinal of this year this morning, and I mean the red bird, not the Catholic in the funny hat. Not being disrespectful, one of my aunts is a nun, but the bird really caught my eye

On to matters we can control, let's begin with City Council and the parking ordinance. As approved last time, with some amendments, parking vehicles on unimproved surfaces would be prohibited. Last meeting of Council we saw some changes, I'm not sure anyone has specific language yet. Is the street 36 feet or 32 feet, is the parking area 90 degrees (perpindicular to, though some time was spent defining perpindicular, do we teach geometry anymore?) from the street, how many cars, etc.

Just for fun, I am including some snapshots of my block in Northeast Angelo. When I moved here twenty years ago this block had myself, a widow, one self- employed fellow, a retiree, and two dope dealers. The widow died, the retired guy sold his house to a good family, and at least one of the drug-peddlers got busted. Folks, it's a really nice neighborhood, I don't lose sleep if I forget to lock the truck.

Now look at the snapshots. The nice family is multi-generational, when everyone is home at the same time, they have 7 cars. OK, the block in general looks like a used car lot.

What I want Council to understand is they are writing law for all of San Angelo. Not Bentwood or Paseo de Vaca, but all of us paycheck-to-paycheck rednecks in north-east Angelo. OK I will drop the dreaded word, "Lakeview". I hope to live long enough that becomes a distant memory.

On my block, having a parking problem is a sign of prospertity, something to be celebrated, "Hey Carlos, I see the kid I used to buy school candy from worked hard enough to buy a car". Sometimes we do well not to park in one another's driveway or block the mailman. Yes, Neanderthals that we are, we have on street mailboxes and 50 foot frontage. One vehicle or nasty notes from the mailman. We deal with this without help from Council.

As I understand what is coming up for second reading, MY driveway will be illegal. Same drive that was here twenty years before I moved in and the twenty years since, but a 12 foot single car curb cut, Jan or I will have to decide who rides the bus, and who sells the car. Ain't gonna happen. Jan isn't giving up her car, and I'm not walking to work! Paul I'm not putting you down, but don't ignore us. We don't have the choices available to you.

One of my closing comments last time was "If this passes, maybe we can hope it is as aggresively enforced as doggie limits or garage sales, in which case it will actually bother no one". That wisecrack BTW, really pissed some folk in the room.

We have I think 8,000+ open warrants, Sheriff deputies, Warrant officers, SAPD, they are not ignorant of this but Jeez Louise, we have so many people and so much time; which side of the pile you want us to start on, and feel free to grab a shovel. Oh and do we put the current domestic abuse call on hold while we chase down a three year old open warrant?

Here is my problem with this "Cars-on-the-Lawn" ordinance. It is an open door to selective enforcement. Does it cover the boat and trailer; how about the RV one might see parked by a home? A lot of people have limited space for their "stuff". Yes, my Libertarian instinct reacts negatively to any cheese-eating ordinance we can live without. You want a good "nuisance ordinance" I want one forbidding lazy people from pulling up and honking the horn instead of getting off their duff and knocking on the door.

Here we are talking property rights, the "home as a castle" rights, and I am reluctant to give any of that power to anyone. Am I allowed to tell my neighbor "Hey, you have too much furniture on the front porch, it looks tacky and might diminish my property value if I choose to sell. Which I'm not, but I'd like to control your property, just in case". If that sounds like an improbable stretch of logic it is probably because it is. What if I choose to paint my house the color of Pepto-Bismol, or Irish green? Does City Council own my house or do I?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Lawn & Order

Well, the nuisance ordinance against parking on lawns is on the agenda for Tuesday. There have been some letters to the paper here and here written against this proposal. The majority of the comments online were against the ordinance, and I think there are some real problems with this whole proposal.

First, there are going to be a large number of homes that will have trouble complying with this proposal. We have a short slideshare show that shows a small sampling of houses with too few available parking spaces. In a few cases, like the first and last picture, there are no "improved surfaces" available for off street parking. In many cases it's apparent that there are just not enough spaces available for the number of cars owned. If the residents own the house, they might be able to make suitable parking areas available if they can find the money. If they rent, it depends on what they can work out with their landlord. If the landlord says tough, they don't have much choice except to move.

One thing that became clear is that most of the houses with problems are actually trying to make the best of a bad situation. Between Dad and Mom having separate jobs (which require 2 vehicles just to get to work), junior going to ASU while still living at home to cut down expenses, and possible extended visits by relatives, there are many cases where the "required" 2 parking spaces aren't enough (if they exist at all.) They are making their best efforts to be good neighbors, and realistically it won't affect neighboring property values much one way or the other if cars they have parked are sitting on an improved surface.

In closing I would like to quote KayTee's comment from my article to the Standard Times

"Many current zoning changes have driven down residential property values in order to support or allow nearby businesses. Ugly paint jobs and fences, bad landscaping, noisy animals, irritating neighbors and too many parties can all affect property values."

Excellent point. Nothing else really needs to be said. The city isn't and shouldn't be a substitute for an HOA. Those that want rules placed on their property that are based strictly on aesthetics can and should move to a neighborhood with an HOA.

Fortunately, I don't live in a neighborhood where lawn parking is necessary. I do have a neighbor several houses down who constructed a carport roof with a garage door and another who thought it was a good idea to paint their house the color of Pepto-Bismal. Another who has been doing renovations for the last 4 years necessitating (apparently) their indoor furniture to frequently reside on their front lawn. Should we start advocating more ordinances for these such things? Or should we MYOB and cut our losses and move when we decide our environment no longer suits us?

Exactly. What more does need to be said? Lets keep government off our lawns.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sharing the Love

Following the example of our City Government, ConchoInfo has set up a slideshare account. We will be uploading documents and slideshows that won't fit on our blog. Hope you find this useful.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday Free for All

Hi folks , it's been a while, I'm embarrassed for neglecting this site. Been keeping books for candidates. There is a reason I've never tried to make a living betting ponies at the track: I'd lose!

We had a low turnout, and I want to talk about that more than winners. I know Paul and Kendall and Chief Vasquez; they are good people doing a pretty good job, and I thank them for their service. Really.

That said, I don't love our new local election process. I have been a precinct election judge or alternate judge since '92: Judge/Alt goes by last election Gov. vote, and I've been on both sides of that in a minority/majority district. Really doesn't matter, my Democrat compatriots at Belmore Baptist were a joy to work with, all we wanted was an honest election.

When you go to vote, the people who process you do get paid; not a lot, I take a serious pay cut when I do it, but yes, we are paid. Promise you, nobody does it for the money.

That's background, now we move to nuts & bolts. City elections were limited to 8 polling places. Normal even with some cost-saving combinations, would have been 22 polling sites, 27 county-wide for Primary races May 29. Now we look at a process that for general (Nov) or Primary partisan elections we have the 22 places in the city limits. Then next year City, we are all supposed to remember the 8 places for Council or SAISD, and this I report of personal knowledge; SAISD is pissed!

Well think; I just found my way to a City polling place. NOW on Monday you expect me to find my way to the sort-of-usual, recently combined local precincts for the start of early voting on that race. As the late Mr. Rogers might have put it: "Children, can you spell Voter Suppression"

Tell you a short story, or I'll try to be short. Thursday I am going home a little early, rain-out. I cross that crater at Concho and Magdalen, decide to beef about it. For starts I call Street&Bridge, silly me, it is a street by a bridge, but Whoops! wrong Dept. I get kicked over to Inspections, I'm finally told "hey that was part of the sewer job, that goes to Water Utilities".

Pardon the language, but screw the hired help, I talk to Will Wilde. He tells me this is wrapped up in civil law trying to get the contractor to fulfill the obligation, please understand Mr. Ryan, these things take time.

OK, says I, but you stay up their ass, my concern is a drivable surface. BTW Mr. Wilde if it ain't happening soon here is my suggestion: We have signs all over the place promoting the Concho St. Historic Dist. Forget the expense of an actual repair (which my employer could do in oh, maybe three hours): No put up new signs designating that crater as the "Concho St. Historic Pothole". Wilde chuckles, I chuckle And I sign off thanking him for taking my call.

Now Saturday I stop by the Blues Festival on Oakes St and by accident run into a city staffer. I tell him this story and he says, " You haven't driven home yet today, have you" No, I reply but I'm about to".  he continues, " I wondered where that work order came from but you will find that crater has been filled in, packed and hot-patched with paving" and God is my witness, it was. A temp job, not something I'd want to hang my name on, but it's there.

Point of today's lesson: Yes you can "fight" City Hall. Trick is to work with them, come together and get something done. Somebody downtown did not want to hear me next Tuesday at Council meeting making that wise-ass crack about "Historic Potholes" for the camera; Don't know who or what shortcuts were taken, all I give a rat's about is the crater got fixed, thank you whoever. It really isn't so much "fighting" city hall as working with them. Old, old saying: squeaky wheels get the grease.

Friday, April 06, 2012


Animal control issues have been around San Angelo for years and every so often something will hit the local news and a new batch of ordinances will come before council, most of them ill considered. Unintended consequences usually pop up and make the ordinances look stupid, and enforcement costs (real enforcement costs) are not considered. This link shows most of the coverage we've done here at ConchoInfo.
In 2009 a series of ordinances and amendments were passed. Among them were changes that changed how a dog can be housed, and virtually eliminated the ability to tether or chain a dog out. This issue came up again and was discussed at the last council meeting. There are factual errors that need to be cleared up.
First off, it was stated that state statute HS 821.076 thru .078 doesn't allow for tethering of a dog for longer than 3 hours. It's easy to get that impression from the slides presented at council because the the definitions and exceptions were on different slides. HS 821.077 states in part “(a) An owner may not leave a dog outside and unattended by use of a restraint that unreasonably limits the dog's movement” and then goes and defines unreasonably limiting a dogs movement as

(b)  In this section, a restraint unreasonably limits a dog's movement if the restraint:
(1)  uses a collar that is pinch-type, prong-type, or choke-type or that is not properly fitted to the dog;
(2)  is a length shorter than the greater of:
(A)  five times the length of the dog, as measured from the tip of the dog's nose to the base of the dog's tail; or
(B)  10 feet;
(3)  is in an unsafe condition; or
(4)  causes injury to the dog.”

Chains and tethering are legal under state law, they just have to not unreasonably restrain the dog. The part that everyone focused on was HS 821.078, which the list of exceptions to unreasonable restraint requirements and particularly “(3)  a dog restrained for a reasonable period, not to exceed three hours in a 24-hour period, and no longer than is necessary for the owner to complete a temporary task that requires the dog to be restrained;” This gives exceptions such allowing a tether less then 10' long.

This confusion over what state law actually says basically derailed the logic of the discussion that was before the city council. It reduced the debate to “if the state only allows 3 hours, why bother to raise it from 2”, and then it go hung up on how hard it was to make a safe trolley system, etc.. The bad information made a rational, accurate assessment of the situation impossible. In the end, the council did the best they could under the situation.

The last point I want to make is that it is possible to safely tie out a dog. You do need to make sure that he can't get hung up on a fence or wrapped around a pole or tree or lawn furniture. That is probably taken care of by the definitions in (b)(3) “is in an unsafe condition” but we could add clarifying language to our ordinance that says “a restraint that allows a dog to get tangled or wrapped in such a way as to limit restraint length to less then 10 feet shall be unlawful”.

I saw the pictures presented at the council meeting of the case that brought this item to the agenda. It would have been helpful if those pictures and the rest of the information in the presentation had been part of the agenda packet on SlideShare (that's a rant for another day.) The dog was not restrained properly as he could easily get tangled in the fence and could still get over the fence if he had the urge to. It looked to me like was restrained in an unsafe way. There are several ways that he could have been restrained safely but as it stands now that may not be an option.

We euthanize far too many animals in San Angelo as it is. If we get more vigorous on enforcement of unrealistic ordinances such as our tethering ordinance, we won't have more dogs leading better lives, we'll just have more euthanized animals in our landfill. We need to remove our current restrictions on tethering and at most add in the clarification on a safe restraint.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Redistricting for Dummies

A few stray thoughts first before I get to "Redistricting for Dummies"

I'm driving home when an SAPD marked car comes behind me on Bryant Raceway, lights and siren, northbound. I pull to the near curb; I also notice no one else in 4 lanes reacts at all. People, they are called "emergency calls" for a reason, get out of the way!

Another peeve of mine; driving S Chadbourne, I have learned to get in the center lane. On that section we have 4 lanes and parallel parking. I have had to stand on the brake to avoid tearing off an idiot's door three times this month. Driver opens the door without a glance back. I wouldn't mind taking the door and costing them instructive money, but the part where I untangle the detached left arm from my grill guard; that might give me nightmares.

Redistricting: what a FUBAR! SD 25 State Senator Jeff Wentworth has had a bill on the table since his first term on the issue. His proposal; at the decennial redistricting put 4 Rep, 4 Dems and a retired judge emeritus both parties can agree to, and that body draws lines. Legislature still has to approve or not, but coming out of such a body, Legislature is likely to approve.

This FUBAR, We have the San Antonio court, drew up new lines. The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) told that Court to try again. Then parties to the lawsuit appealed to the Washington, DC Circuit Court, claiming racial/ethnic discrimination. The Texas response on that: "Yes your honors, we did our best to Gerrymand districts to Republican advantage for the next ten years, but we were discriminating against Democrats, not any racial/ethnic group covered by the Civil Rights Act." This rather unique argument so surprised the Court, DC retired to chambers and might rule by this time next month.

The San Antonio Court has a hearing this Wednesday, the 15th. One can hope they have maps drawn as a fall-back, I do not expect an agreement between litigants. IF the San Antonio court puts its map in place, both major Parties can have June Conventions, with Primary elections April 17th but that is looking dicey. San Antonio has until Feb 20 to do what SCOTUS said was its job, maybe they will.

Yeah, this is "political junkie" land. Most of you have families, jobs, and hobbies. This is my hobby, I read Court rulings for fun. We may have a Texas Primary or even a "split" Primary in our lifetimes, that is now up to the Courts.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Gun Club Planning

The Gun Club Hill area has been before the city council several times lately. The last few presentations reminded me of this.

Seems to describe what's happening pretty well.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

State of the Onion

I'm disappointed on both sides: I find it ironic we have lightening and thunder during the speech. Repubs chose Daniels for the respondent for good reason, not bad but Mitch sounded like my accountant explaining my 1040, a little short of inspirational.

OK There are folks after SC hoping Daniels will step up. I don't think he will, something short of 7 figures money just to start a Presidential campaign.

Note I took from the speech: President Obama reiterated twice that we "support the State of Israel". OK, so do I but I noticed Sen. Chuck Schumer lept to his feet, Leon Panetta carefully sat on his hands. Also mentioned twice, Iran and nuclear potential: "We take nothing off the table to prevent the capability". From the President of the US, that is a dead-slap serious policy statement. Are we going to war again?

BTW; I'm not fond of him, didn't vote for him, but I address our President with respect, respect he deserves.

Let's try to keep the conversation civil.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Jan. 17 Council Agenda

I meant to write this yesterday, but my aging vehicle had a front end problem and my aging house had a plumbing emergency, between them took up my Saturday. On the plumbing end, when I went out to cut off the water I had to dig out several inches of silt that had built up and totally covered the meter and cut-off. With a friend working top-side and me in the crawlspace all afternoon, I had plenty of time to think. I remembered getting my new water (OK, formally "Utility")bill Friday, charging me for 4,000 gallons, about normal, but I wondered, how did anyone read that meter a couple weeks ago? In fact, I had to scrape an inch or so of dirt off the meter box cover before I opened it and found the meter covered up. I don't think anyone has flipped the lid and read that meter in a while. Gentle Reader, you might want to look at your meter, a little more difficult than say, the electric on your outside wall, but if we're getting billed on a "Guess and Bigosh", might be worth your time.

I did scan the City Council Agenda packet. This has become far more inconvenient since Slideshare took it over. Hint: if you ever want to look it over, set up your account and password on Slideshare, then finally get to the Agenda Packet for the right day, then forget reading it! Slower than death; download the rascal, then it behaves as a good file should. My thanks to Mr. Turner, who taught me this trick.

First thing caught my eye was Council will order the May 12 Municipal election. Officially they will vote yes or no, but they WILL order the election, time frame being what it is, they no longer have any choice.

Two things in the Packet on this issue. City Clerk's Memo (p.178) tells Council they will be considering a May 14, 2011 election. The cost estimate in that Memo is based on last election, estimated at $40,000. This ignores the additional cost of equipment, closer to $100,000.

In the Ordinance language itself, someone got the date right. Then in Sec. 3 we are told "That voting at and on said election shall be by use of digital scan ballots". Anybody downtown hear of HAVA? According to the Help Americans Vote Act, ALL polling places WILL have at least one handicapped accessible voting station; E-Slates under the system we use, Hart Intercivic. Could be E-Slates and cost of same aren't listed because City dithered until the last moment and has not paid for the equipment because it won't be here in time.

Then under Appendix A where the election day 8 voting sites are listed, at least four precincts off top of my head simply vanish! 108, 145, 155, and 338 are not listed at all!

City missed a beautiful chance to dodge all this by moving all municipal elections to odd-numbered years where there is no conflict with Primary elections. SAISD will not share our costs or legal troubles, they moved their elections to odd years back in Sept.

Now to Item 15, a Paul Alexander special; pedestrian use of Hillside/Gun Club Rd on the north side of Lake Nasworthy. I am quite familiar with this loop around the hill. It is very popular with walkers. Fairly narrow rd. but wide enough for two-way traffic IF you and the car you are meeting aren't dodging pedestrians with dogs, kids, baby-buggies and the like. It is just scenic as all giddyup, giving an elevated view of the lake for most of the 2 mile loop.

This has been mentioned to Council at least twice, August and again Sept. 22. I, among others suggested that since it was A) popular for pedestrians and B) purely a residential loop as to vehicles an obvious, inexpensive solution came to mind. Make the road one-way for vehicles, put up some signs and paint the road, Voila! we have a pedestrian walkway. Keep the vehicles against the hill, the strollers get both the exercise and scenic view.

Far too simple. See Agenda packet, pages 134, 135, the city is proposing to spend $234,000 on a walkway at the top of the hill, with its only entrance a parking lot across from KOA Campgrounds. This ignores the fact that a majority I'm sure, of the pedestrians City is getting ready to "protect" live on the loop. What they want is to walk out the door and take a walk down their street. What a concept! Any of you ever walk down your street?

They are probably thinking; "Please, don't help me!". Query; when was the last pedestrian injury/fatality on this loop. This is no more a high-speed, high-traffic street than the one in front of my house. Why should we spend $234,000 to irritate residents who do not want to have to drive somewhere to start their walk?

Maybe the City has a new policy of building walkways where nobody wants to walk. Good thinking I guess; if nobody uses it, they won't wear it out. I mean, Red Arroyo walk/bike path. The southern part will give one a scenic view on one side of people's back fences and trash cans. Raked over scrub you want to stay out of on the other.

Enough for today, hope I haven't bored to tears already.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Regular Ramble

First, and just for fun; a lesson I learned early "Never fry bacon nekkid"

We had a gosanangelo poster comment on access, how easy it is: This I am glad to see. Our former Mayor, JW Lown finally took me for real one Sunday; Drizzling cold rain, he is driving by and I'm standing under a bumbershoot taking notes of the posted agenda for City Council outside the old City Hall. I couldn't for the life of me tell you what I was taking notes of; Had something to do with economic development funding, I'm not sure which bit of foolishness in particular, RG Barry maybe.

Point is, Mayor Lown drives by, sees me doing this when any sane person would have been home under the covers: well he calls me later that Sunday; wants to know if I'm that crazed or that dedicated. If I recall correctly, by end of that conversation JW was convinced I was both.

Brings me to the point about "access". I have a copy of the Jan 16 2001 City Council Agenda packet,(All 32 pages of it then) the second time we "paid" for Hickory water rights, a project now held up over deer hunters' rights! God forbid we interfere with someone's God-given right to sit in a propane heated plastic box and drink cheap whiskey one Sunday while "Hunting" deer and watching the NFL games on an over-priced cell phone!

Well, I told everyone last year, I'm not totally "sane", I'm manic/depressive, I sleep like a day-walking vampire, but just for fun, I keep up with City issues. A recent Agenda Packet from December ran 312 pages and nobody but Mr. Turner and I read it. Old saying, sometimes the best place to "hide" something is in plain sight, just buried under a ton or two of rubbish

Brings me to the MedHab grant. There was little to nothing in the Agenda Packet on this if one went to the trouble to read it. $3.6 million, about 3 times what San Angelo spends on street maintanece a year (Driven down Bell St lately; great job we're doing on streets, eh what?)

What little info presented was done in "excutive session" (closed to public "access" BTW) while Mayor New, an investor, was coincidentally "vacationing" in Australia, the only country on Earth which permits the only Patent MedHab owns to be sold, if this storefront shop ever gets an actual product on an actual shelf!

OK, that last sentence was "windier" than Mayor New, and that's a stretch. Council had to change its own rules as to COSADC to allow this grant, some little quibble about "conflict of interest". Even then, Council forgot this inconvenice known as City Charter, which cannot be changed without a full-blown election! Which Election, thanks to Council, will cost 3-4 times as much as the old style election, but heck, what do I know, I just be a truck driver, I don't knows nuttin'.

Folks, I worked hard to beat this half cent tax during the 90s; With a lot of help, we beat it 3 times running. My primary arguement was always that this will inevitably turn into a irresitable pot of gold, sought after by herds of leprechauns.

Where the heck did I put that Karnak the Magnificent Turban? Folks I'm an old style, hard-drinking Irishman, politcal from birth; think Tip O'Neill, who would have as Speaker of the House, put Newt Gingrich ever so subtly to shame. Tip knew how to bring home the bacon (Not that he ever tried to fry it nekkid).I'll tell you one thing; Tip's olfactory sense would have detected the strong oder of snake-oil emmanting from this deal half a continent away!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

My Take on MedHab

We are surprised and concerned by some of the developments at last Tuesday's City Council meeting. An executive session item about possible economic development incentives to a “medical devices” corporation has frequently been on both Council and Development Corporation agendas for months. Last Tuesday we finally got a name: MedHab, and a presentation. Now that we have the name and have had time to do basic research, there are lots of things to be concerned about on this whole deal. On this issue another local blog, State of the Divison, beat us to the punch. They have covered the basic issues very well so far. We will be covering this in more detail but you need to start by reading them and the initial story in the Standard Times. Our initial impression from the research we've done so far is that this deal is not a good one for our city.

One of the biggest issues that gives us pause here is potential conflicts of interest. Right before the vote on MedHab came up, the council voted to change the rules on a companies eligibility for incentives and what constitutes a conflict of interest. They voted to eliminate the following rules

1. No member of the San Angelo City Council, or person related to a council member within the second degree by consanguinity or affinity, shall be eligible for assistance from the COSADC during his/her tenure or for six months thereafter.

2. No member of the San Angelo Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors, or person related to a board member within the second degree by consanguinity or affinity, shall be eligible for assistance from the COSADC during his/her tenure or for six months thereafter.

3. No employee of the San Angelo Economic Development Corporation, or person related to an employee or supervisor of the Department within the second degree by consanguinity or affinity, shall be eligible for assistance from the COSADC during his/her employment or for six months thereafter.

After the changes, state and federal laws are all that governs. It probably wouldn't affect the current project because this aid is to an LLC, not to individuals. Still, there is some major confusion because both Mayor New and Randy Brooks, who sits on the board, seem to have substantial interest. They do if MedHab's SEC filings are correct. According to state law anyone with an investment over $15,000 has a substantial interest in a company. Doesn't matter how small a percentage that is of the total companies worth, that dollar amount makes it substantial. According to MedHab's SEC filings, the smallest investment they would accept is $25,000. If the reports that Both Mayor New and Mr. Brooks have individually invested in Medhab are correct, that means both have invested at least $25,000 which make their investments a substantial interest by state law. It does appear that they have recused themselves from all votes so we may have dodged that bullet.

I am concerned by two quotes in the paper. First  “Although New and Brooks do not have substantial interest in the company, each having invested less than 1 percent of its overall value, City Attorney Lysia Bowling advised changing the COSADC eligibility guidelines because they contained provisions that "opened it to misinterpretation."” which is clearly not what state law says. The percentage might be below the limit but the dollar amount is not. The second quote “City staff said New and Brooks have chosen voluntarily to recuse themselves from all votes and discussion on the MedHab deal, even though they do not have substantial interest in the company, defined as owning 10 percent or more of the company's voting stock or shares or $15,000 or more of its fair market value.” gets the values right but makes me think that there is a problem with accurate disclosure. Either MedHab's SEC filings or the financial disclosures provided by New and Brooks are wrong.

To bring this to a close, I don't like the way this project smells. There was a lot left out of the presentation on this project and I don't feel comfortable when there is an apparent substantial conflict of interest that City Staff seems unable to recognize. I am not comfortable they have actually applied all the diligence that is really due. It just doesn't smell right.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy New Year

I'm going to wander all over the place today; forgive me, but 2011 has been too interesting to fit in a standard recap/prognosticate model. Besides, I seem to have lost that Karnak Turban, so I'm just winging it.

Hope all of you have a good supply of 100 watt light bulbs, they just turned illegal. Nope, wasn't some socialist conspriracy, this act of Congress was signed by Bush. I'm of an age, I don't personally worry about the gov't in my bedroom, not much of interest happening there anyway, BUT between low-flow toilets, low-flow showerheads and low-light pigtail lights...

In my declining years I have come to cherish certain facts of life. A warm, comfortable well lighted place to read a magazine while I take a crap rates really high on my list.

Remember when Derek Jeter hit a home run for his 3,000th hit; a fan, Christian Lopez caught the ball. Then against all good sense, Lopez gave the ball (retail value about$5) to Jeter. Auction houses have guessed the value of that ball might have been as high as $250,000, but Lopez thought Jeter deserved it on his trophy shelf.

Jeter and the Yankees were so shocked they gave Mr. Lopez season ticket box seats, some autographed bats and other memorabilia along with his 15 minutes of fame. Now enter the IRS. Being all full of the charitable spirit of Christmas the IRS does not want Lopez to pay tax on the putative value of the ball itself, no taxable sale involved: but they toted up a 6 figure sum for the freebies he got, that is income, and could he please send the check in the next thirty days to avoid late payment and interest fees? As I hear late Friday, a corporate sponsor has stepped up to pay the "taxes" owed, but that is just Mr. Lopez's good luck. The IRS ain't backing up at all; WE ARE THE GOV'T and we want a cut of everything anyone does.

Shifting to the positive, we saw the new Library open. It is indeed going to be the jewel-in-the-crown of downtown development, I've toured it, it's wonderful from kid-caves in the basement to Westlaw access I'd have had to pay $500/yr for on the 2nd floor. No two ways, I love it! Naming it after Stephens is entirely appropriate, far the largest donor. BTW, this is one project that cost the taxpayer roughly nothing in the long term. My only beef here, I'm fine with the name, The Kelton statue in the lobby is beautiful and also well-deserved, But somewhere in this splendid site I want to see a plaque, a banner, something recognizing Ralph Hoelshcer, without whom this thing would never have come together.

I was there; a rare City/County joint meeting. Ralph engineered that just so that "resolutions" or some such didn't become so many horse-apples. Both governments same room, same time, decision had the force of law. Presented with the case, neither City or County wanted to stand opposed, but they pretty much threw it to Ralph: "OK, here's the building, now go find about $20 million to make it happen." Not naming names, but there were people who were confident Ralph would fail in spectacular fashion and leave downtown development to the pros (whose track record has been ever so much better).

As Gomer Pyle told Sgt. Carter, "Surprise, surprise, surprise Sgt. Carter". I've known Ralph for over twenty years; no he is not a good public speaker, some people just aren't. I tell you this: underestimate Ralph at your own risk. Hoelscher ran a totally hopeless campaign for Railroad Commission before a lot of voters were born. Yep, he lost big-time: BUT he used that platform to bring up the question of improperly capped or just simply abandoned oil wells that were leaking really nasty stuff into your backyard well or aquifer. Let me tell you folks, and I've been in the business; Still work to be done, but Ralph's "hopeless" campaign for RRC probably improved rural water quality for two generations by 100%.

Remember the Kelo Eminent domain case? Out of New London, Conn. My goodness, New London is trying for an Oscar as to idiot cases. That they keep winning in Court says a lot about the Federal Circuit Courts. Seems one Robert Jordan applied to be a police officer; great resume, maxed out scores on the written test, Oops so sorry Mr Jordan, you are too intelligent. I am NOT making this up! Jordan's IQ of 125 scared the HR (Human Resources; we used to call it the hiring dept or just drop off our resume with the sec. at the desk..)

Oh my, maybe he will want to leave for a better job down the road.

Well DUH! that's life; maybe he will, we used to call this climbing the ladder of success, your top people moved on, HR is there for intake and given a 9% unemployment rate that should be a cushy job.

Any rate, Jordan's appeal to the Fed 2nd Circuit was denied; New London is free to sift for stupid cops just as they were free to steal property and give it to another corporation. (which BTW has backed out of the deal, sorry Ms. Kelo, too bad you had to move from your Grandfather's house which is still standing). Puts me in a strange position, the result being idiotic, I have to back the 2nd Circuit: If a local gov't elects to hire numbskulls and avoid hiring anyone with two brain cells to rub against one another, that is the business of New London and its voters, not a federal Court's.

Speaking of voters, I spent New Year's Eve trolling through statute and Court rules, just for fun you know. Here is our timeline as close as I can resolve it on 2012 elections after the City Council meeting of Dec. 6

Primary elections will be April 3, not "second Tuesday in March". That election, county voters will go to the usual 26 voting sites. Then, come the "second Saturday in May" or May 12, we will have City Council, Police Chief and SAISD elections. For this election, voters will have to find their way to one of the 8 voting sites we are paying $100,000 extra for. Then comes the inevitable Primary runoff, voters will go back to the 26 sites they are used to, unless it is such a minor runoff we collapse precincts to save money.

Meantime, Gods forbid, we have a city runoff. Date uncertain, by Sec 2.025 election code between 20 to 45 days after May 12, date set by the homerule city. Voters in such a runoff will be going back to the 8 sites Council has approved for local elections. Then we get to the "Real Meal Deal" the November elections for such inconsequential offices as President, a US Senator,etc the poor voter has to find his (maybe her, but I don't follow "political correctness" guidelines. Got my own copy of AP Stylebook, a reporter's Gideon Bible, but since I'm not paid to do this I usually ignore it and attend to Shertzer's "Rules of Grammar") back to the poor voter who has to find his way to the usual voting site.

My point is, and I have worked nearly every election since '92; we should strive to make voting a simple, easy thing. God knows we have a dismal turnout at best, why we want to make this exercize of civic duty more difficult escapes me. Unless it is intentional, but I'm not a big fan of conspiracy theories. If I were, I have to say our current Council couldn't successfuly conspire to overcook a rhubarb pie without burning the house down

Enough for now; I need to eat before I watch the Cowboys lose another crucial game