Monday, November 11, 2013

Clarifying Muddy Issues

There seem to be some issues about that are pretty muddy. Some of them are recent, some are old and some of the muddiness is from confusion about the old and new issues. Probably won't clear away all the mud but can at least make a start and point to references that can help make the mud transparent.

Good place to start is with the SMD-2 City Council Seat, currently held by Marty Self. For those who haven't been paying attention I ran against Mr.Self and lost. He ran a pretty good campaign and I, for reasons not for here, didn't. I say this in the interest of full disclosure. I also need to say that when I was on the charter review committee in 2007, we looked at section 9 of the City Charter dealing with qualifications for city council and found several problems with it. The amendment that we ended up getting on the ballot was defeated so those problems are still there, which brings us to the issue at hand.

Marty Self's company, Automatic Fire Protection, is a subcontractor to another company on an airport contract. Not real surprise there. They are one of the few companies in Texas that does that type of work. This is on a contract that predates Marty's current term on council by a few years. Not likely any political favoritism was part of how Templeton selected AFP. Still, a strict interpretation of the city charter could lead one to the opinion that Mr. Self is not qualified. This brings us to the first problem with the charter section. It's very broad. There are several past council members and candidates that probably wouldn't pass such a zero tolerance interpretation. And that might be the proper interpretation, which brings us to the second problem. The one that the city attorney, among others including 3 on the charter review committee, found was that there was no real enforcement provision. No teeth. The city could, if it chose, cancel it's contract with Templeton (can't cancel a contract with AFP because the city doesn't have a contract with AFP, only with Templeton) but they didn't seem to want to start that contract over. They might even be able to force Templeton to fire AFP but that would only create delays and higher project costs. A lawsuit might be able to do it that would be expensive and divisive and divert attention from critical matters like water, etc.. An attorney generals opinion might also clarify the situation but no one within the city government can officially ask for an attorney generals opinion (here's the list of those who can). Best bet would be to convince the county or one of the district attorneys to ask for us. They would probably tell us that a local district judge could do it much quicker. In the best of circumstances OAG opinions take 3 to 6 months and will probably take a bit longer now since our current attorney general is busy getting his campaign for Governor up to speed. This approach seems unlikely to give us a timely resolution.

So what can the city do if there might be a conflict of interest or unethical conduct? Might want to look at the state law. On the AG's publications site there are pamphlets such as Traps for the Unwary, Conflict of Interest Laws Made Easy, Nepotism Laws Made Easy, and Ethics, Gifts and Honorarium Laws Made Easy. Important point is these are state level laws that all have enforcement provisions, etc. AKA TEETH. They have well defined limits and several levels of remedies. Even if our city charter had no section on ethics or qualifications Texas State law does and is enforceable.

Now I bet you're asking yourself a couple questions. You probably are wondering why the city council doesn't just put before the voters. You know, ask for a recall election. Really simple answer. The city can't. By the Texas Constitution and State election code, the city council council can't put anything before the voters unless it's specifically authorized by the US Constitution, Texas Constitution, Texas Statutes or our own City Charter. None of the allow the the city to do a recall election. Our city charter does allow for a citizen generated recall election with petitions and everything but the process is long and drawn out and the bar is set pretty high so it's unlikely that a successful recall campaign could happen before the seat is up for election again. What about a lawsuit you say? Yes, that could force the issue. Of course your tax dollars would end up paying for the lawsuit and much as I'd like another shot at that council seat real soon I'd rather San Angelo's tax dollars (my tax dollars) be spent on streets instead of lawyers. Unless Mr. Self is using his position on council to promote his business interests, I can't see wasting time on this matter. So far no such evidence has been presented.

One other point of confusion has been brought up trying to compare this situation to what we saw earlier in with Blake Wilde, son of the former head of the Water Utility. There really is no comparison. First off Mr. Wilde was not an elected official or even senior staff so the city charter rules don't apply. Second Mr. Wilde was "terminate for cause with no rehire" from working for the city. He was a direct hire of the city, not working on contract or subcontract when he was fired. We don't know if there was a conflict of interest or what caused his termination but it wasn't because he was a "subcontractor". I doubt it was because he had another, outside job. Many city employees have second (sometimes third) jobs. Normally not a problem. In fact it's often what allows some city employees to keep working for the city. We don't overpay most city workers. The questions about young Mr. Wilde were how did someone who got so totally terminated from directly working for the city end up indirectly working for the city as a subcontractor. There was, technically, no legal reason that he couldn't work for Corrallo but at the same time it kind of makes you wonder how it all happened, especially if the rumor mongers got some of  it right. Still, this is a very different situation then what we have with Mr. Self.

The other issue that seems to be a bit muddy is why SAISD didn't get their variance to water their baseball fields. From the beginning of the discussion it seemed like SAISD had chosen the losing negotiating strategy of  "Give me what I want or I'll do something you won't like." They did it with a tone deafness that came across as bullying little short of blackmail. Mr. Fleming gave the SAISD team many clues and chances to re-frame their request into something more cooperating and more sensitive to local water needs. I, in my public comments, stated I was sympathetic to the need to water the baseball fields but found their approach counterproductive and it came across to me as pretty much a poor attempt at blackmail. If they had changed there approach and reframed their request just slightly, they would have probably secured the one vote they needed to get their variance. As I've stated on another site I really think Mr. Elson from ISD needs to spend more time reading books like "How to Win Friends and Influence People" or maybe "Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In" and less time learning how to negotiate on school playgrounds. After all, nobody likes a bully. And the real point is we all have to make sacrifices in a drought starting with all government organizations including the city, school district, state and federal agencies, universities, etc.. Former councils may have been generous with variances but this one seems to be very serious about conserving water and doesn't respond well to poorly framed threats.

Things are probably still a bit muddy but hopefully just a little bit clearer after I've stirred things up. Or not.