Monday, July 22, 2013

Report From the Eighth Seat

Well it's been an interesting week and I'm awake very early. Can't get back to sleep so I'll blog a bit and see if that doesn't help.

A lot happened at the last council meeting. Started out with a good airing of citizen concerns on the feral cat issues and a challenge to the city's sudden change of policy towards Trap, Neuter, and Release. More can be found at State of the Division. In addition during public comment, I expressed my concerns about one of the items for executive session. The third item was supposedly there "to deliberate the appointment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline, or dismissal of the San Angelo City Manager, Assistant City Managers, all the Department Directors, and Acting or Interim Department Directors". Major problems with it as stated. First off, this appears to be a direct challenge to what is in the city charter. The city manager the council can hire and fire and discipline at will. Beyond that, the council does not do the appointment, evaluation, reassignment, etc. for the rest of the city staff and work force except for the Municipal court Judge. All of that is among the duties and responsibilities of the city manager as spelled out in sections 28 & 28a of the City Charter. In addition, this item appeared to be a discussion of personnel policy and as such personnel policy has to be discussed in open session, not behind closed doors. There are several Texas Attorney General opinions on this but the simplest place to find it is in the Open Meetings Handbook, Page #43 (49 in the pdf). There ended up being quite a bit of discussion which has been covered pretty well by the SAST and State of the Division. I will be expanding on this more in a bit. Once we got into the regular agenda, Mr. Wardlaw's two items that were mishandled on the previous meetings agenda were there as requested. They dealt with Carollo engineering and the Hickory water project.

I will be among the first to say there are problems with the Hickory project. It's expensive. It probably won't supply us with nearly as much water as they claim, and there are likely some improprieties in how this has been done. There is probably a lot there that should be looked at and investigated. So what was it that was on the agenda? An item to fire and replace our current project engineer when the project is almost completely engineered. The pipeline is almost done. The treatment plant has plans. Over 90% of the engineering has been done. And all of this was done with the recommendation of city staff, the Water Advisory Board, and approving votes from past city councils. The engineering costs are high. That's right. Just like they told previous councils and previous councils voted to approve those high costs. There are problems with the single source for the filter system. True again, but approved in open session by a previous council after staff recommendation. Mr. Wardlaw said he had 14 issues with Carollo, and he well might but only a very few were ever put forward and those that were had all been discussed and argued before previous councils and approved by majority votes. For example, the concerns with treating the ground water at the current treatment plant were discussed many times in the past but council, in May of last year, voted to go forward with Carollos recommendation and put an Ion Exchange treatment system at the current treatment plant location. The rest of his issues are probably similar but it's hard to say because he refused to give anyone a copy of his 14 issues. Not a good way to get issues dealt with.

Much of the rest of the agenda was relatively routine, but the meeting was very long and the third item for the executive session was delayed until almost the very end of the meeting, and the results were not very satisfying. We did get a short briefing from the Mayor after they reconvened in open session but there is a lot more that needs to be discussed.

It's clear that many people don't quite understand that the city manager is responsible for the day to day operation and management of the city. He is, by city charter, the CEO and runs the operation on a daily basis. He doesn't need the city council bypassing him and giving conflicting direction to staff or workers.There are very few people the council should be dealing directly with and in the end, they need to make sure the city manager can do the job, is doing the job, and not get in his way. At the same time, there is a key section of the city charter that has been ignored as of late. When it comes to staff appointments the charter says the city manager "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)." They have ignored the advice and consent part of the appointment process and that needs to stop. City council has the right, and the duty to give an up or down vote of approval for every appointment that reports to the city manager directly. That's all senior staff, department directors and similar positions. Our new finance director needs to be introduced to city council and voted on instead just showing up at a meeting to give a presentation after a press release to the local paper. The city manager has an obligation to ensure that the council has enough information that they can be sure that these appointments are based on merit and fitness alone. Needs to be done. No excuses. There are a number of recent appointments that have yet to be brought before council and that needs to be corrected.

There is probably more I could be reporting on but that will have to wait for later. For now, I finally think I can get a little more sleep.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Short Observation and Question

In my ongoing research I noticed that according to the city website, there have been no scheduled meetings of the Water Advisory Board this year. The last meeting scheduled was for August of last year and the last meeting we have minutes on is from January, 2011. This has been a very important board in the past and deeply involved in the search for new water sources and planning long range water solutions. What are they doing now? Shouldn't they be very involved with the City Councils review of drought restrictions, water use and re-use and long term policies and solutions? By ordinance, the membership has special skills and input from the Chamber of Commerce that would and should be used for any water decisions. Something for the current council to look at.