Turnout was high Tuesday evening at the City Council meeting; seating filled quickly and agendas ran out long before the excitement even began. Overflow stood in lines along the walls and in the hall.
Awards and Proclamations and Recognition
The meeting began with Proclamations received by Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council Prevention Coordinator Mary Payton for Red Ribbon Week, which takes place Oct. 28- Nov.1.
Non profit Daughters of the Nile received a proclamtion for the organizations involvement in children’s hospitals, and declared Oct. 26 as “Every Child a Gem Day.” The 100-year-old organization seeks, among other things to offer health care to every child nationwide.
Oct. 22-25 has been proclaimed Medical Assistants Recognition Week. “We’re glad that we can be a part of the community and provide the education for our students to start a new career,” said Sandy Buschardt upon receipt of the signed proclamation.
Recognition for two awards from the Texas Municipal League were given, both in the category for cities with populations over 25,000.
The first award went to the City of San Angelo’s Neighborhood Clean Up Blitz program. “On behalf the city staff and all the partners here we want to thank you for the recognition,” said one of the program leaders. “This is truly a community effort and shows our community spirit.”
Charlotte Farmer drew to attention that the program started at the request of the former city manager’s wife, and stated that she puts her full support behind the program.
Additionally, Christy Youker of the Upper Colorado River Authority was present to receive recognition for her and the Aqua Squad’s role in the City project “A Creative Approach to Storm Water Education,” which won the Texas Municipal League of Excellence Award for Public Works in the category for cities with populations over 25,000.
The round of recognition concluded with a speech from Tim Archuleta, former Editor of the Standard-Times, who is leaving San Angelo after 10 years of service.
Dr James Phelps, an ASU professor that teaches Homeland Security, terrorism, emergency management, and a number of other related courses, wanted to address the need for an emergency manager in San Angelo. Citing major drug busts and other criminal activity, Phelps draws attention to the fact that the position of EM has been open for eight months. Mayor Morrison and City manager Valenzuela stated that there are several applicants and assure that the city is prepared to deal with emergency situations.
Vera Kirkpatrick, resident of the Twin Oaks, Preston Wood area is still concerned about the proposed zoning change from last meeting’s agenda, and as such has circulated a petition, which she says has now over 130 signatures. Kirkpatrick hopes to maintain the single-family dwelling zoning in her area.
Jerry See Wants to give credit to the city for sealcoating 19th Street, however, while in the area heard complaints from a resident of the area, who stated that the street is part of a school bus route which many drivers ignore. Citizens are concerned for the children’s safety.
“Some fool coming through there is going to kill one of those children,” Jerry said. He further stated that police have been there once since the beginning of the school year, but that problems persist. “There must be something done,” he said. And concluded with a mention of crosswalks that are unmarked and that may also pose a threat to children
Another citizen, who lives in the Bluffs, says that he’s dissatisfied with the quality of the road repair in the area. Mayor Morrison says he’s also heard that complaint.
Finally, Carl White of Parks and Recreation made a plug for the River Fest this weekend, and mentioned a free concert on Friday night.
All of the Conent Agenda was approved, with numbers 9,10, 11, 14-17 and 22 being moved to the regular agenda.
Airport Director Luis Elguezabal petitioned for authorization to make renovations to the airport, including rental car areas, engineering and consulting and runway lights, to be funded by the Airport Fund.
Lee Bell, a concerned citizen, summed up his stance on the airport renovations with a single sentence. “That sounds awful high,” he said of the amounts well into the hundred thousands the project is anticipated to cost. Item passed 5-0.
Health Department Grants
Health Director Sandra Villareal approached the Council for approval to apply for grants from the Texas Department of State Health Services, to address funding emergency preparedness goals.
Villareal stated that the Health Department has received the grants for 10 years, and that it only covers the salaries of those working in the department of emergency planning.
A second grant is meant to accrue funds earmarked for paying for nursing space. There is currently no space for the nurses to operate.
The third grant on the agenda was meant to address public health immunization and disease prevention services in Tom Green County. Lack of funding resulted in the closing of the STD clinic last year, however the state came in and provided funding for one-day immunization clinics. “[This grant] pays for two environmental health sanitarians. It has been pretty level for the past 10 years,” Villareal said.
Councilwoman Farmer reminded Villareal that funding is out the Council’s control when the grants stop.
Villareal recognizes this and stated that she herself was hired under a grant. The fear is that the grants may disappear and result in the loss of space and staff, such as food inspectors, nurses, or, as has happened in the past, the STD Clinic.
Zoning by Nasworthy
Zoning was another contentious issue at the meeting. The majority of the concern seemed to be that a contract has already been granted to a company named Gateway, whose plans are to build a housing community. Citizens worried that a zone change might be “putting the cart before the horse,” and questioned whether there was coordination between the entities.
The public meeting addressing the plan will not take place until Monday, thus muddling the issue from a public perspective.
San Angelo Resident Rick Abbott voiced his concern on this issue, followed by many others during public comment.
“We’re changing it to single-family residential, It could be changed to something much worse than that,” councilman Fleming said.
Fleming says the Gateway plan has been reviewed extensively by the Council, who reached a unanimous decision accepting the plan, and assured its coherence with the zone change.
Former councilmember Richard Bastardo, however, was outraged at the zone-change proposition. After several minutes strongly lecturing the council, he began heatedly claiming that there was no 3-5 minute limit placed upon his commenting, to the point that he nearly had to be removed.
Before stepping away from the podium, Bastardo began yelling about his rights as a minority citizen, which halted the laughter of those in the meeting room and he was asked to sit down.
Following a short break, the meeting was brought back to order at 7:09 p.m., beginning with a presentation by ACAP Health representative David Toomey, and continuing with the Regular Agenda.
David Tooomey, a former health care executive, was called in 2012 to assist the City in overcoming challenges of health care costs for city officials. City leadership authorized work under a percentage of savings arrangement, meaning payment would only be given if 30 percent of savings could be arranged.
Toomey received an email stating that Valenzuela was pleased to be a part of the agreement following his takeover of the City Manager office, however no follow-up was made as of November. Eventually, several follow-ups were made, and Toomey says his company has made savings over the past two years amounting to over $3.9 million, but has yet to receive payment for his services.
An email received expressing challenges concerning the execution of the contract states: “Initially, the City was told that ACAP was an affiliate of Holmes Murphey and later found this not to be correct.”
“We’ve delivered the services, we’ve saved you over $3.9 million, I just want to be paid,” Toomey pleaded.
Red Arroyo Hike and Bike Trail
Following the payment plea, City Engineer Karl Bednarz gave an update on the Red Arroyo Hike and Bike Trail Project, which started back in 2004. The project costs $4 million, some of which is covered by a grant received from the state.
The project runs from Sherwood Way to Knickerbocker, and covers approximately 4.7 miles. Currently, they are working on three parking lots including 66 new spaces for people who wish to enjoy the services of the area.
The project is a joint-venture between COSA and TxDot, and includes things such as lighting, stormwater ponds, and project design, to name a few. The project is tentatively planned to be completed in July. It is currently in its final design.
“The timing is what bothers me,” councilwoman Farmer stated following the presentation. “The funding is there,” she said, “I’d like to do whatever it takes to push this through and get it done.”
“I think what I’m hearing is, getty up!” Mayor Morrison said, following further comment.
Public comment drew attention to health issues. “Did I hear concrete?” asked a concerned citizen. The man explained that as a runner, concrete is the most destructive on the body and suggested ceder as an alternative. “It will also help cut back on health costs,” he said to laughs.
Pedestrian Issues on Gun Club Road
Fleming introduced the next item on the agenda with a personal story of his own love for walking on Gun Club Road. The agenda item was set to address the issue of parking, as well as safety issues for both pedestrians and drivers on the road. Residents showed up in numbers to speak on the issue, many of which seemed downright angry about the increasing problem.
“Their main concern with what is happening out there on Gun Club is safety," Fleming said. "It is pure luck that nobody out there has been hit.”
There is currently no designated parking area, and people are parking illegally. Some citizens have advocated closing the area off to runners and walkers, but Fleming is not for that, he says. He wants to address the parking problem.
Fleming states that some 200-250 people run or walk down through the area each day, and that this is a major concern. Fleming suggests closing in the park with metal piping and utilizing the Lake Nasworthy fund to pay for it.
Tad, who lives in the area stated, “I’m forced over on the side of the road at least once or twice a week. Our main concern in safety. I don’t want to be the one that runs over a mother or a baby,” he said.
He further cited part of the problem as people’s sense of entitlement to the pedestrian use of the road, stating that oftentimes people are walking three abreast along the center stripe. “Someone is going to get maimed or killed,” he concluded, “it’s just a matter of time.”
“When we moved there in 2007, rush hour was maybe 20-25 people walking,” said another resident of the area. Now, it’s up to 300, he states, however about 1/3 he says do not obey Texas pedestrian law.
“I personally…have had multiple near-misses,” he continued. “I’ve had to slam on my brakes, I’ve had to swerve. This is in a place where the speed limit is 25-30 miles per hour.” He also mentioned near-misses involving runners and walkers not wearing reflective gear at night, and the environmental effects the traffic is having on wildflowers in the area.
Several citizens voiced similar concerns, and Fleming verbalized once more that he is seeking consideration from the Council on making the area a no-parking zone, and removing the trash cans and picnic tables that have been set up in the area, which encourage parking.
Chief of Police Tim Vaquez suggested many avenues for addressing the concerns of the area, including privatizing the road or even banning walking and running, which is not what anyone wishes to do.
Vasquez added, “My officers need to spend more time fighting crime, and not dealing with pedestrian issues.”
Downtown San Angelo 2nd Quarter Reports
The meeting moved forward as Del Velasquez, Executive Director of Downtown San Angelo (DSA), Inc., and Brenda Gunter, DSA President presented their 2nd quarterly reports.
“One of the things we do to measure the success of the downtown area is to take a look at the sales tax and the liquor tax of businesses in the area,” Gunter said.
The business district is divided into two sections, and together they have brought in a combined additional $90,000 in revenue. Liquor tax sums show that 30 percent of the mixed beverage revenues in the entire city stem from downtown, Gunter reported.
The DSA also looks at permits for businesses downtown, and noted several improvements made to businesses in the area. Of the investments, $365,000 was spent on the Texas Financial Bank, which Gunter named as the most important investment in downtown recently. Starbucks also made an honorable mention with its new location on Highway 87.
The sums of these improvements and new business openings have resulted in $79 million being reinvested in downtown San Angelo over the past two years, with a $727,000 increase in the second quarter.
And as Gunter's presentation continued to name revenues from varying alcohol-serving establishments, Fleming asked, “Are we trying to target other businesses aside from bars?”
Gunter assured that they do try to encourage retailers to invest downtown, but states that the area isn’t a mall, so they cannot force businesses to stay open on certain days and at certain times.
Since most retailers are closed on Mondays and work odd hours, it makes it difficult for the area to attract new retailers.
Following another short break, the meeting continued at 8:23 p.m.
COSADC Annual Reports 2012
Interim Economic Development Director Bob Schneeman of the City of San Angelo Development Corporation (COSADC) kicked off round three of the meeting with a presentation of the 2012 Annual Report, which included a presentation of the corporation’s balance sheet, marketing and business objectives and recruitment initiatives.
Schneeman’s presentation concluded with a discussion of possible action regarding goals, objectives, and procedures for COSADC, which included business retention and expansion, which they are currently brainstorming. Schneeman also outlined five target industries including: energy, agri-business, regional goods and services, IT and the arts.
A conceptualized Business Resource Center was also mentioned, which has yet to come to fruition. Schneeman emphasized the goal of the project.
“Basically the bottom line is to create a business-friendly environment,” he said.
Other projects of the COSADC include Affordable Housing, Helping Hands, Blitz, Rio Vista Park Renovation, The Hickory Aquifer and many others. Some have been completed, others are still in progress, Schneeman said.
Watering by City Entities
Following the COSADC presentation, water once again took issue, however this time it was limited to the watering of city parks, sports fields, Santa Fe Golf Course, and Fairmount Cemetery.
Operations Director Shane Kelton and Parks Superintendent Roger Havlak addressed the Council. In the interest of saving time, the presentation was spared save for the last few slides, which began with the water budget issues.
Currently, the budget is rather limited at around $208,000. The concern is that there are not sufficient funds to adequately water public spaces.
Wardlaw stated that as far as the four entities are concerned, he’d prefer not to put any limitations on the watering for a 12-month period.
Mayor Morrison pointed out the city’s current shortage and stated that he was not a fan of giving an unlimited pass to anyone in the community. There are only 14 months of water left in the city’s stores, and making a plan for the next 12 months doesn’t seem responsible, the Mayor said.
Wardlaw maintained that a city entity can be trusted not to abuse the water resources, however Farmer mentioned that the city is charging for the water, and under Wardlaw’s proposal, they’d also be footing the bill.
Fleming stated that he doesn’t want to lose any more trees either, however providing water to the citizens should take precedence over watering trees and grass.
“I’m not saying that we couldn’t modify what we’re doing…if we run out of water, we’ll have to modify everything. I’m not trying to lock anything in,” Wardlaw said.
Further clarification was added to the motion, stating that the water usage would not be unlimited, only the payment aspect would be exempted for city departments for any amount in excess of what the current budget allows.
Mayor Morrison said, “I’m not going to support this at all. It may look to us like a book-keeping trick, but that’s not something the public can do,” he said, in reference to the notion of allowing the city to slash costs for the sake of keeping those entities lush and green when clearly such liberties would not be appropriated to the public.
Further, Mayor Morrison stated, “Three months out of drought stage three is the wrong time to be talking about 38 inches of water on a golf field.”
Jim Turner addressed the council with the concern that the water will have to be paid for somewhere, and that the citizens may have to foot the bill.
A vote on the motion was a tie, and thus non-conclusive. The entities will continue operating under the current ordinance.
Press Releases and Bloggers
Several items were moved to the next meeting, and the final item covered addressed First Amendment Rights and the classification of news media and bloggers in the community.
The issue stems from a case of a local blogger who was removed from the email list for city press releases.
“We had a blogger who was reporting on issues related to the city,” City Public Information Officer Anthony Wilson said. Despite offers to give the blogger interviews and opportunities to speak with city officials, the blogger declined, Wilson said.
“The blogger was reporting one side of the story without representing city management’s side,” Wilson continued. He stated that they were only interested in commentating in a manner that did not meet the standards of professional media. Thus, the blogger was removed from the email list.
“What is the difference between a blogger and a media person?” Farmer asked the councilmembers. “I looked it up…and a blog is an online journal…they’re considered to be diaries,” Farmer said.
She then compared this definition to that of a news reporter and stated that numerous outlets and forms of publications are covered under the definition, thus making classification ambiguous and debatable.
Farmer’s stance, and that of Wardlaw, is that the denial of press releases to bloggers begins to infringe upon First Amendment rights, and that it’s not the place of City government to categorize media entities.
“We don’t make the decision as to who a blogger is, and who the media is. If we do press releases, we’re going to give them to everyone,” Farmer stated.
Farmer’s motion not to get involved in media classification was supported by two members, two were opposed, and a decision was not reached.
Action on Executive Session
Atmos Energy asked for a rate increase of $22.7 million. A group of 60 cities meet to negotiate the rate. Negotiators got it down to $16.6 million, which is roughly 74 cents per month for private individuals and $2.16 per month for commercial entities. Council had been advised that they could fight it, however were told that if it went to the Railroad Commission, a win would be unlikely. Council accepted the terms.