Saturday, May 31, 2014


Been doing some house cleaning in emails, etc. and ran across something I wrote to a friend of mine that has some very different ideas on politics. Think it's time to share it with more people.

You asked me an interesting question the other day: Do I consider you to be radical? You seemed disappointed when I answered yes. I did tell you I didn't consider that a bad thing, but I want to give you a more complete answer.

I would be terribly disappointed in you if you weren't a radical. I
could bring up the fact that every one of our revered founding fathers
and the framers of our republic were radicals but you already know that.
I could point to countless mythical heroes and the founders of most
great religions and state that they were also radicals, at least for
their day and age. Lots of examples to show that it's okay to be
radical. Of course it's okay. That's not even the point. The question is
why be "radical?"
It's really simple. Progress doesn't happen in the middle. Growth and
change and innovation happen at the edges. Meaningful change is always
radical. You and I both want positive change for a better world. Radical
comes with the territory. We will seldom agree politically but don't
ever stop being radical. It's how we make a difference. It's how we
change the world.
Guess it's time to be radical.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day Thoughts and PBR

It's memorial day and every news outlet, social media site, and most blogs rightly have something to say about the true meaning that so often gets forgotten on this weekend of Bar-B-Que and the Indie 500. It is a time to reflect on duty, honor, and country. And it's been said in many ways and many places far better than I can say it here. So I'm just going to share a memory. A thought, feeling or meme if you will from my own life.

The least expensive beer 6 packs that Wal Mart had this weekend were for PBR. It's been on sale there for a little while and I picked some up. It seemed fitting to me for this weekend.

Forty years ago I was almost finished with my tour in Okinawa. Most troops had already been withdrawn from Vietnam. Ground troops were "officially" gone. Pallets of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer that were originally destined to support forces in Vietnam ended up in Okinawa instead. The EM club on Torrii Station where I worked and lived had a lot of specials on PBR. A cheap way to party with comrades in what I now know was a special place and time. My PBR this weekend helps me  remember the people I worked, lived, and partied with for just over 20 years. We share a common bond of an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. There's a lot more I could say here but really it's already been said, and in most cases much better than I possibly could.

So today I will drink my PBR and remember those I drank with back then. And the only thing I can add is my sincere thanks.

Friday, May 09, 2014

A pause for a look back

It's been almost a year since the last election. It seems fitting that we should review the speech that Mayor Morrison gave after he was sworn in. He made a very strong case for what needed to happen as the city moved forward during his administration. At around 3:12 in the video he emphasized the need for all decisions to be made openly and transparently before the public in the council meetings, not behind closed doors. At about 4:00 he charges staff to present complete and accurate information and be prepared to answer tough questions. At 6:34 he expresses the need for a united city to address many issues and at 9:26 he observes that there are problems that the city government doesn't have the answers to and asks for public support.

With another city election coming to an end and the half way mark of Mayor Morrison's first term fast approaching I think it is time for the citizens of San Angelo to review how well his goals and aspirations have been met. I, as my previous post probably make clear, have an opinion but this is not about my opinion. I think now is a good time for you, my friends and neighbors and your friends and neighbors to review in your own mind and your own way how well this city and its government are carrying out the vision expressed in our Mayor's speech.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

The future

I've been thinking a lot about the future of ConchoInfo and my involvement in politics and issues. Here is where I am today.

I will keep the conchoinfo blog and website up for the foreseeable future. The expense is minor and it doesn't take much to keep them on the web. I will probably do more posting from time to time but really, I'm stretched pretty thin and need help. There are lots of issues out there, especially on things like school boards, county government etc. that need independent citizen coverage that I just can't do. There are a few other blogs, like State of the Division, and other online news sources like San Angelo Live that are finally covering local issues but these are spread out and do require a bit of effort to follow. I had hoped, and probably still hope, that ConchoInfo could be a source of information, analysis and institutional memory on issues in the Concho Valley. Hasn't quite worked out that way yet.

I've been very discouraged lately. About a year ago we had a major city election and we had a major changing of the guard. We have four new council members and a Mayor with a very different approach than our previous one. I thought things were about to change, and they did. Unfortunately, not all the changes have been for the better. There have been positive changes. We've had evening council meetings. The capital improvement plan is being taken seriously and starting to function like intended. We are seeing movement on the street maintenance sales tax proposal. After a slow, long start, the city's newly redesigned website is getting up to speed and they no longer have to rely on slideshare to host agenda packets and other key public information. There is a lot of hard work being done and a lot of good information is being made easily available. A lot of what is going on in the newly renovated city hall is very good. Unfortunately, there is also a lot that isn't.

It's great we have basically a new council. Good to have fresh ideas and new perspectives. Unfortunately we lost some institutional memory and picked a few previous members who seem to think that this is the same council they were on 15 or 20 years ago. For example, Mr. Fleming keeps saying that the RV/mobile home park moratorium wasn't intended to affect existing businesses and by the time he got elected and voted on it that may be the case. On the other hand it is clear that the previous City Council wanted to keep the much feared "man camps" out of the city even if that meant restricting and possibly hurting existing businesses. Many of my recent comments before council have been to try and fill in this memory hole caused by the changes in membership. There are however a lot of things that concern me about the current City Council and city staff.

My first disappointment is in how "furnituregate" was handled. (Don't you just hate it when someone adds "gate" on some supposed misconduct.) This happened at the very first meeting our new City Manager was part of and the new city manager and then Councilman Morrison, who later campaigned on this issue for Mayor promised a full and public hearing/audit/investigation of how $100,000 were improperly spent on furniture. Granted, many of the principal players in that fiasco are no longer employed by the city (retired, left for other jobs) but the only public disclosure has been by a fellow blogger over at State of the Division as a result of his public information requests. He covers most of what I would say. I was and am disappointed that if that is the complete investigation report, why were some key officials not interviewed, and where is the section about corrective actions to ensure that we don't repeat the same thing in the future? This is especially relevant because one of the people at the center of this issue is now running for city council. This lack of transparency makes it hard to trust the system.

During the last year, I've felt that the quality of many staff presentations has declined. I can sympathize with Mayor Morrison's desire to have the meetings over at a reasonable hour. Still, it seems to me that staff has been showing up missing some answers to key questions that have been asked by the public and even council members. The agenda packets are available on the city website before hand but again, on some key issues the information seems to be less complete than it used to be.

That brings us to the council meeting that happened just before my last blog post. I was terribly disappointed in the presentation made about the RFP selection process for trash collection and landfill operation. What I consider to be very basic questions such as how much the contract has been worth and how the proposals were scored what the scores were, etc. were not available. The only answer was that was the past and what we're looking at is a completely new and different contract and so anything in the past is not relevant. First of the dollar value of the contract is not going to change that much just because we have a new contract with a few new procedures. At the minimum we need to know how the cost of the new contract compares to current contract and rates and services. An estimated $400 million contract will not all of a sudden become only a $10 or $20 million contract. They did hold a news conference last week that addressed at least some of these questions but all of this information should have been available at the April 1st meeting. It would have went a long way towards establishing trust

I've also spent more time than I can afford going over the RFP and comparing it to the previous contract and the past is very relevant. Some sections of the previous contract have been copied as boilerplate into the RFP. In addition some parts such as the requirement for any new contractor to pick up the liability for faults or mistakes made the current contractor would be a huge disincentive for any new company to respond to the RFP. At least that's what addendum 1 seems to say and that was basically what was stated at the news conference the city staff held on the selection of Republic. Kind of hard to understand when the current contract says that

"The indemnity provided for in this Agreement shall survive the expiration of this Agreement and the discharge of all other obligations owed by the parties to each other hereunder and shall apply prospectively not only during the term of this Agreement but thereafter so long as any liability (including but not limited to liability for closure and post closure costs) could be asserted in regard to any acts or omissions of Contractor in performing under this Agreement."

I could be wrong but it seems the RFP wants any new contractor to let Republic off the hook for any past liability. That may not be the strictly legal interpretation of the full RFP but even in addendum 1 it says

"Section C7.2: Scope of Services: What expectation does the City have for the new operator to assume liabilities for prior violations, historical contamination, or other environmental tortuous liability claims?

Response: Proposals to assume all liabilities are requested. Proposals for such will be evaluated to determine feasibility and value and the results thereto will determine the extent of the City’s expectations for assumption of liabilities during contract negotiations."

This is also pretty much what the city manager said during the press conference. I may be reading this wrong but on its surface it looks like the city is asking any new contractor to assume the liability for any problems or issues that Republic would be on the hook for. Why would a sane bidder take on the liabilities left over from a previous contractor? I have a feeling there are other such disincentives in the RFP. Its a big document so I can't say if any such disincentives were intentional but they shouldn't be there. I also find it a bit hard to believe that staff and the selection committee were actually able to thoroughly read, let alone evaluate, the responses to this RFP in the short time they had it.

Add to this that back in August of last year, the council members that were on the selection committee either moved or seconded a motion to automatically award Republic the built in 5 year extension of the current contract and then hope we could get the changes we needed in the contract through negotiation after the fact. Fleming did have the good sense to withdraw his second when several members of the public said that no business person in his right mind would award a contract until and unless all negotiations were finished. Of course, that didn't stop Wardlaw from seconding the motion that Farmer had made and wouldn't change. Wardlaw basically said that we could trust Republic to do the right thing. Interestingly enough, as a result of the controversy dredged up by this RFP and selection process the city council will be meeting in executive session next council meeting to "to consult with attorney on pending or contemplated litigation relating to 1) alleged non-compliance with Agreement for Waste Collection and Disposal and Landfill Lease and Operation between City of San Angelo and Republic Waste Services of Texas effective August 1, 2004." Just one of those things that make you want to go Hmmmmm.

I am not a lawyer and I don't have access to all the information that city staff or council does but I have been following local politics closely for a long time. I am frustrated almost to the point of throwing in the towel because contrary to my hopes and expectations, the city government is less transparent than it used to be and much of the information that is available makes it difficult to trust what is going on. Far too much information that should be readily available at council meetings just doesn't seem to be there any more. And no, a news release that ends up behind a pay wall on the Standard Times website is not where citizens should have to go for city public information.

I'm frustrated almost to the point of giving up. I'm not making any progress by "lecturing" city council or staff. At least that's what I've been told. I've been told by city staff and council members that they appreciate what I do but recently that comes across as being patronizing. Not sure if or when I'll post again but for now I needed to vent this one last unreasonably long lecture.