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