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.


  1. I would have preferred an older, large city experienced individual who had decided to leave the big lime light for a small city.

  2. San Angelo City Manager Daniel Valenzuela was on KLST’s 12:00 news show as a guest of Pat Attebery this past Thursday Dec 6, 2012

    I called and asked Mr. Valenzuela if San Angelo Water Department Director Mr. Wilde had given a proper notice before retiring or if he had just walked out the door? I also asked him if former San Angelo Water Department Director Will Wilde’s son, who had recently left the water department and immediately came back as a contractor on the Hickory Pipeline project, had explained the perceived conflict of interest problems?

    Mr. Valenzuela totally avoided answering the questions.

    1. Not sure there is a legally required notice for someone retiring from the City. Normally bad form to quit on such short notice (although in this case I would make an exception) but probably legal. Doesn't relieve him of any legal responsibilities he has for decisions as head of the Water Department.

      As to Blake Wilde, he didn't work directly for the city as a subcontractor. He worked for Carollo who had and has the responsibility of doing due diligence on all their hires whether employees or subcontractors. They didn't do that and they are the ones that need to answer the question about how that happened.

  3. Wondering who “conchoinfo” a.k.a: TheTEAPary/Libertarian Party is supporting for San Angelo Mayor? A serious question?

    1. Just a couple of points. First, ConchoInfo is independent from the Tea Party and Libertarian Party which both have their own websites/blogs/facebook pages. Yes, the main writers for ConchoInfo are very active in the Libertarian Party but ConchoInfo is independent.

      Next point is that ConchoInfo doesn't endorse candidates for office. Hasn't in the past. Not going to start now. We have posted videos of debates (did so before the local paper did) and have been very vocal on election issues but we don't endorse candidates.

  4. I Support Dawin Morrison for mayor

    “Councilman Dwain Morrison said he wanted city administration to publicly admit that there are problems and that they are making efforts to rectify those issues."It seems that there is no admittance from city staff and city administration that there is even a problem," he said.

    He shared three emails he received the past two weeks regarding a particular audit of the Water Utilities department where they received one very large bill one month and the following month received a bill that was a credit. Having recently worked closely with Ricky Dickson, interim director of the department and Toni Fox, water conservation coordinator, he said he had confidence they were trying their best to resolve the issues.

    With close to 475 citizens who have signed to petition for an audit of the department, Morrison said there is likely an issue with the meters either functionally or with how they are read.

    "We want to contact every single one of the individuals that have signed this petition," Valenzuela said.”

    There is nothing in the San Angelo City Charter which gives the San Angelo City Manager the right to require citizens to explain themselves to the San Angelo City Managers Office or the right of the San Angelo’s City Manager to contact or question San Angelo Citizens.


    "SECTION 28. POWERS AND DUTIES OF CITY MANAGER: The City Manager shall see that the laws and ordinances of the City are enforced, shall appoint all appointive officers or employees (who report directly to the city manager) of the City (except the Municipal Judges) with the advice and consent of the Council (such appointments to be made upon merit and fitness alone) and may at will remove any officers or employees appointed by the City Manager. The City Manager shall exercise control and supervision over all departments and offices that may be created by the Council and all appointed officers and employees. The City Manager shall have the right to take part in the discussion at meetings of the Council but shall have no vote. The City Manager shall recommend to the Council such measures as the Manager may deem necessary or expedient. The City Manager shall keep the Council fully advised as to the financial condition and needs of the City and perform such other duties as may be prescribed by this Charter or which may be required by ordinance or resolution of the Council. (Amended 5/6/89 and 11/16/07)"

  5. This is off topic however I am curious about the up coming mayors race and if Mr. Morrison and Mr. Alexander will remain as council members during the election. I believe both have over a year left in their terms.

    1. Morrison is up for election in May and can only run for one office at a time therefore if he runs for Mayor, he can't run for his current council seat.

      Alexander's term is not up until May of 2014. Technically, he doesn't need to resign to run for Mayor. If he doesn't resign from council, and he wins the race for Mayor, his current council seat would then be vacant and would need to be filled by appointment and/or special election as called for in the City Charter.

      They will both be on council until the votes are canvassed after the election and new council members are sworn in.

  6. So if Paul loses he retains his seat for SMD-1? What if that seat is challenged? Will he campaign for Mayor and SMD-1?

    1. The SMD-1 seat is not up for election this May and will not be on the ballot unless Paul resigns to run for Mayor He doesn't have to do that. No need for him to campaign for SMD-1. If he doesn't win the race for Mayor he just continues serving the unexpired rest of his SMD-1 term.

      Even numbered seats are up for election this year, odd numbered next year.

      Hope this helps clear it up.