The Kyle Report

The Kyle Report

Monday, October 23, 2017

Committee accepts 33 of 34 recommendations proposed in KPD Audit

The Operations Review Committee accepted today all but one of the recommendations contained in the recently unveiled audit of the Kyle Police Department and, in the process, enthusiastically endorsed the methodology the auditors employed to arrive at their conclusions.

Of the 34 recommendations the audit suggested, the only one rejected was one to "begin utilizing the victim services coordinator to conduct welfare checks during normal business hours."

Assistant City Manager James Earp told the other committee members that he, City Manager Scott Sellers and Police Chief Jeff Barnett had reviewed the audit and that they agreed they heartily endorsed the audit’s recommendations with the possible exception of the one involving the victim services coordinator. He said he understood the reason for the recommendation was to relieve patrol from having to perform these functions.

"But, after thinking it through, I’m not sure I’m real comfortable with it," Earp said. "One, she doesn’t have a gun. Two, she can’t make entry if she shows up on the scene and realizes there’s an emergency on-going. Those are probably the two biggest things because not all welfare checks are routine. With the exception of that one, we’re completely on board with this."

"I strongly recommend not implementing that one," KPD Capt. Pedro Hernandez said.

Readers can learn more about the current responsibilities of the victim services coordinator here.

Police Association President Sgt. Tim Griffith said he had some concerns about the data the auditing firm used to reach some its conclusions, but added he completely agreed with the methodology used to arrive at those results and believed the department should embrace that methodology in the future when computing certain staffing levels.

Most of the recommendations have budget implications and, as a result, probably won’t begin to be implemented until the next budget cycle. It is expected the city manager will incorporate many, if not all, the audit’s recommendations in his next proposed budget which is expected to be made public the last week of July or the first week of August 2018.

Readers can find a summary as well as a link to the draft of the audit here.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Council to meet in special session Nov. 4

The City Council last night scheduled a special meeting for 9 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 4, to conduct a public hearing on the creation of a Public Improvement District (PID) in connection with a development planned for property immediately west of the railroad tracks, between Opal and Roland Lanes, that, if recent history is any indication, will attract a number of persons who will talk about everything but the subject of the public hearing.

As regular readers are well ware, I am no friend of Kyle’s PID policy, but I have absolutely no problem with this proposal. Let me see if I can explain why. First, let me tell you why I oppose, generally speaking, Kyle’s way of handling these funding mechanisms. As already noted in the first paragraph, the "I" in "PID" stands for "Improvement." Kyle, however, employs PIDs, for the most part, to help finance developments, not improvements. The way a PID is created is quite simple. The owners of the majority of the properties wishing to have a PID for a specific project must formally approve its creation, knowing that by approving it they are pledging to pay for the bonds sold to finance the project as well as the interest on the bonds. Usually they are committing to pay these costs in monthly installments over the life of the PID. However, when it’s used to finance a new development, there is usually just one, perhaps two, owners/stakeholders who agree that a PID should be created, but it’s repaid, not by those original owners/stakeholders, but by all the individuals who purchase homes in the development and had absolutely no voice in the creation of the PID. That’s why I have claimed Kyle’s PID policy amounts to taxation without representation.

But this PID is different — markedly different. First, and most important in my mind, is the fact that the most of the money derived from this PID will be used for improvements, not development. Specifically, it will be spent on widening and improving Roland and Opal lanes from the entrances to the development across the railroad tracks. It will also be used to improve drainage in the immediate neighborhood of the development. But even more important than that, the PID will be used to finance the installation of quiet railroad crossings on Roland and Opal Lanes. Those installations, combined with the city-financed quiet crossings at Center and South streets, will eliminate the need for trains to sound those irritatingly loud horns anywhere in the city of Kyle, thus drastically improving the quality of life here. I hope readers noticed I many times I used a form of the word "improve" in this paragraph.

Here’s the second reason I can support this PID. Because of changes to Kyle’s PID policy instituted by council member Travis Mitchell (who joined the council after the original PID policy was adopted) anyone purchasing a home in this development must be made aware, before that purchase, that they are also committing to pay an additional $120 a month — in addition to their mortgage payment, in addition to any homeowners association fees, in addition to their property taxes — as a PID assessment. If that home buyer agrees to that, then that, to me, is tantamount to voting for the creation of the PID in the first place.

Now, why do I say that this planned public hearing "if recent history is any indication, will attract a number of persons who will talk about everything but the subject of the public hearing." It’s because, within the last eight days, two different city panels, the Planning & Zoning Commission and the City Council, had items relating to this development on their respective agendas that attracted individuals who came to talk on a subject that had nothing to do with what was on those agendas. So I don’t see why this Saturday’s meeting should deviate from that norm. On Oct. 10, the Planning & Zoning Commission’s agenda included an item for the commissioners to consider a preliminary plan for the development and to possibly suggest changes to that plan that didn’t violate the Development Agreement already in place for the development but possibly aligned it more closely with the recently approved Design Guide. A number of speakers, most of those living near the planned the development, came to the meeting wanting the commissioners to stop the development, a subject that was not up for discussion. During last night’s city council meeting that contained an item to consider accepting the PID application and petition (by the majority of stakeholders, which, in this case, was one) to create the PID, most of these same individuals who showed up at P&Z the week before came to the council to voice their complaints, not about the PID, but by the proposed density of the project and the fact that it will include (horror of horrors!!!) a multi-family component. Again, not the subject of the agenda item.

So I’m predicting (although I really do hope I am wrong about this) many of these same folks will find the willpower to get to City Hall early on the first Saturday in November to complain some more. Here, however, is why I hope I am wrong. How can anyone in their right mind oppose road improvements, drainage improvements right outside their homes that they don’t have to finance through their own tax dollars? How can they oppose making their community eminently more peaceful by eliminating trains blaring their horns right outside their doors that they don’t have to pay for out of their tax dollars either? But I’m predicting they will. I could even foresee one city council member arguing against it. But their only arguments have to be off the subject, because arguing on the subject simply doesn’t make any sense. At least, as far as I can see. All those coming to speak against the likely agenda item on Nov. 4, regardless of the words that come out of their mouths, will be those still arguing not to locate the development there and refusing to accept the reality of the situation which is, frankly, that ship has sailed, that subject has been off the table for quite some time now. Sisyphus lives in Kyle.

Perhaps as many as three members of the council thought last night’s meeting might be their final one as a member of the council and, in somewhat of an ironic twist, the Nov. 4 meeting adds one more to their list. But Mayor Todd Webster believes it isn’t an added burden.

"My goal in these last few city council meetings is to complete all those projects we started," he told me "That’s why there have been what might be viewed as a large number of items on these recent agendas. "This next meeting will complete those projects.".

The following also happened during last night’s council meeting.
  • Of the 20 agenda items the council voted on, 19 of them passed unanimously. However, those unanimous votes were 6-0 because council member Daphne Tenorio, who obviously was suffering from something health related, said at the beginning of the citizens comment period she had just been released from a hospital only hours before the meeting began and was "in a great deal of pain." She asked to be excused from the remainder of the meeting, a request the rest of the council readily agreed to. However, before she left, she said she would have opposed two items related to improvements and changes in the Cool Springs subdivision (although one of those items was the only one on the agenda that received a dissenting vote), all the proposed zoning changes and "the Plum Creek business parks." She was not clear on which of two items involving development in Plum Creek she was referring to, but I’m going to naturally assume it was the one to approve a plat for two commercial lots and not the one involving an agreement with the Plum Creek Development Partners, Ltd., that will save the city close to $10 million.
  • It is also worth noting that one of the rezoning items — to allow for RV zoning — was denied by a unanimous vote so her opposition to that proposed change would have made the final tally 7-0 instead of 6-0.
  • The city formally accepted the Police Department Audit and I learned the Operations Review Committee will meet at 1 p.m. Monday to decided which one of the audit’s recommendations should be implemented. "We are very excited about the opportunity to discuss and implement the recommendations they brought forward," Police Chief Jeff Barnett told me after the council meeting adjourned at 11:59 p.m. "Because I truly believe all the recommendations can improve our operations, we’re excited about any all of them that will come out of that committee."
  • City Manager Scott Sellers made a special presentation to "allow the council to reflect on three great years" and "what we have accomplished together" in that time, before reading from a lengthy and impressive list of those accomplishments. Sellers concluded by telling the council members the city staff had willingly bought into "four core values that truly guide us in all that we do. And those core values spell the word "Kyle" — Knowledge, Yes Attitude, Leading Edge, Employee Accountability. We live by our core values. They are hung in our departments. We wear ‘Team Kyle" wristbands. It is something we live and we’re happy to live it. It has shaped the way our citizens feel about living in our city — they are proud to live in the city of Kyle. All of our new employees quickly learn about our fantastic culture here and that culture is set from the (city council) dias. We couldn’t be happier for the progress we have made or the direction we have received for the tasks and the great projects we have been able to carry through together under your guidance and leadership. And I want to thank your for that. And I want to thank the staff that’s worked tirelessly to bring all that about over the last three years."
  • After the vote to deny the RV zoning on Dacy Lane, council member Shane Arabie sharply criticized certain comments made during the public hearing on the item. "Every time we’ve had something come in front of us that somebody didn’t like it was always the sex offender talk or it increased the crime rate. And that’s with every piece of property somebody didn’t like next to them. It’s not about ‘I don’t like it in my back yard," because that doesn’t give you the right to say what can go there. They own that property. Not you. You didn’t buy the property. They bought it. Just like you bought your home and you can decide what to do with it." After mentioning he currently resides in an RV Park, along with a close friend "who makes six figures a year," Arabie told the audience ‘So every time you say there’s a sex offender living there, look at me, because I’m the person that going’s to be living in these upscale, nice RV parks. So remember, when you put that picture out there, you’re talking about me and my friend that works in the physics department whose making the part that works in almost every piece of electronics you hold in your hand — people who I guarantee are among the top 1 percent educated on this planet. So just be mindful of who you’re talking about when you talk about this,"
  • After the council heard a presentation that the city can save as much as 75 percent on vehicle maintenance costs and 25 percent on fuel costs, the council voted to implement a one-year pilot program to turn over the city’s acquisition and maintenance of its non-heavy vehicle fleet to Enterprise.
  • The council also authorized the purchase of five gateway signs and at least 16 wayfinding directional signs.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Chief says city doesn’t want to tip its hat to bad guys

Police Chief Jeff Barnett said today the section of the Police Department audit that will be presented tonight to the city council that’s marked "CONFIDENTIAL (NOT FOR PUBLIC DISCLOSURE)," was deliberately withheld from the public to prevent revealing strategic information to "would-be criminals."

According to a news release distributed by the city today and available here on the city’s web site, the blank page near the end of the audit "contains information about police deployment and response times. Another section of the appendix discusses the security features of our facilities."

The title of the blank page is Appendix C — Patrol Staffing and Property and Evidence Analysis and Recommendations,

"By providing the number of police officers on duty at any given time or providing our average response time to calls, we could inadvertently compromise the safety of our officers and the community at large," Barnett was quoted as saying in the city’s release. "Telling would-be criminals about our security procedures and facilities is also not in the interest of public safety."

The city’s staff believes the audit endorses previous actions the city has taken in regards to the Police Department, according to today's release.

"The results of this comprehensive review of Kyle Police Department show that the steps we’ve taken to date to hire more staff and upgrade technology have had the desired effect," the release quoted Assistant City Manager James Earp as saying. "When combined with implementing the recommendations from the audit, we are confident that our police department will be even better able to meet the needs of our growing community well into the future."

However, the release also suggests it’s still open to question concerning which, if any, of the audit’s recommendations will be implemented. According to the release, if the city council signs off on the audit during tonight’s meeting, it will then go to something called the Operations Review Committee, the five-member board created by the city to select the company to conduct the audit. That committee will then "review the report and decide which recommendations to implement," the release said.

The release offered no clue as to when this committee might reconvene. There also doesn’t appear to be any information on the city’s web site as to the makeup of the Operations Review Committee.

City council campaign: Mitchell leads in fund raising, Villalobos leads in spending

Mayoral candidate Travis Mitchell received substantially more monetary contributions for his campaign than any other candidate seeking a position on the city council in next month’s elections, but District 4 candidate Alex Villalobos led the pack in expenditures.

According to the campaign finance reports filed by each of the candidates, Mitchell received $2,788.66 in political contributions during the period, almost four times the $737 raised by District 1 candidate Marco Pizana, who was second to Mitchell in the amount of monetary contributions received. Pizana’s report was also noteworthy because it says that all his contributions came from individuals who gave him $50 or less.

Austin homebuilder Clark Wilson and Hays County Commissioner Will Conley, who contributed $500 each, were the leading contributors to Mitchell’s campaign. Outgoing Mayor Todd Webster was the third leading Mitchell contributor, donating $233.66. Mitchell’s itemized campaign expenses totaled $2,898.44. He was the only candidate with money left in his campaign treasury, $1,093.93. Mitchell also loaned his campaign $2,000 in July.

Bill Sinor was the only one of Mitchell’s challengers to claim any political contributions and his amounted to $120, just 4 percent of Mitchell’s total. Sinor also claimed all his contributions were $50 or less. He also reported spending only $90 on his campaign. Nicole Romero-Piche reported no campaign contributions and $25.64, for business cards and name tags, in campaign expenditures. Jaime Sanchez, the fourth candidate in the race, apparently failed to file the required paperwork.

Pizana was not only the fund-raising winner in the District 1, he also spent more than Dex Ellison, the other candidate in the race. Pizana listed his campaign expenditures at $1,538.16 while Ellison claimed his were $1,064.14, all of which came out of his own pocket.

The District 4 numbers were interesting for a number of reasons. Villalobos listed $353 in campaign contributions — including $100 from Angelita and Rosalio Tobias and an identical amount from Teresa and Michael Tobias — and $3,050 in expenditures, that included a $2.15 expenditure at a CVS Pharmacy in Kyle and an $8.99 expense at a Walgreen’s in San Marcos on the same day. He listed both of those expenses under the category "food/beverage," while a $4.01 expense incurred four days earlier at the In & Out Burgers in San Marcos was listed under "other."

Tim McHutchion, the other candidate in that race, reported receiving $450 in monetary contributions to his campaign, $250 of which also came from Wilson. However, it appears David Salazar, who is also listed as McHutchion’s campaign treasurer, spent $1,509.19, which was listed on McHutchion’s report as "in-kind contributions," to help finance the campaign’s "advertising expenses." McHutchion reported he spent just $415.02 from his campaign fund on campaign expenses during the reporting period, which comes to just under 14 percent of what his rival spent.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Police audit appears to prevent public from learning key findings

In somewhat of a strange twist, a long-overdue independent audit of the Kyle Police Department classifies Kyle as safer than average, recommends a major change to the department’s structure at the top levels, an increase of five positions, beefing up code enforcement and animal control activities, but concludes with saying many of its recommendations should not be revealed to the public.

Page 118 of the 121-page audit, labeled "Appendix C — Patrol Staffing and Property and Evidence Analysis and Recommendations," is otherwise blank except for the notation in all capital letters "CONFIDENTIAL (NOT FOR PUBLIC DISCLOSURE)," which seems somewhat counter-intuitive since this audit was paid for by public funds. (A copy of another audit performed by Texas Commission on Law Enforcement comprises the final three pages of this audit.)

The results of the audit are part of Tuesday’s city council agenda, which also includes another particular twist: a presentation by City Manager Scott Sellers that is the second item on the agenda, ahead of the Citizen Comments period, which usually holds down the No. 2 spot on the agenda.

That ‘CONFIDENTIAL" notice on the final page of the police audit is noteworthy because the document does contain a number of recommendations throughout its findings. It is also sad that the audit did not come in on schedule because those recommendations might have had a significant impact on the formulation of the city’s budget that went into effect at the beginning of this month.

Something else that is glaringly missing from the audit is a response. Every audit I have ever witnessed performed on a department of a municipal government contains some kind of section-by-section response from the department that is being audited.

Here’s one theory on that blank page and I am going to admit right up front I have absolutely no proof of any kind to support this theory. Nearly three months ago, on July 16, I wrote Sellers asking about the audit and noting at the time it had been 23 weeks since the council authorized what it called "a 14-week contract" to conduct the audit. He told me the next day "We received the draft last Thursday and are in the process of reviewing it now. It will definitely be made public as soon as we receive the final draft, which hopefully will be in the next several weeks." That was back on July 17, exactly three months prior to Tuesday’s council meeting. My unsupported theory is that the city’s staff, even perhaps some members of the council who might have previewed the audit, were adamantly opposed to one or more of the major recommendations contained in the audit and wanted those recommendations removed. I’m thinking that after some back-and-forth a compromise was reached where they wouldn’t be formally removed from the audit, but would be hidden behind a mask of ‘NOT FOR PUBLIC DISCLOSURE." What kind of a recommendation could trigger such a response resulting in this long of a delay? I have absolutely no idea, but I did find it interesting that the audit’s Appendix A, an analysis of a survey the auditors conducted among police department personnel, revealed only 8 percent of them agreed with the statement that "Current Police Department facilities are adequately sized." It further notes: "Staff across all groups agree that the existing facilities are inadequate." In other words, they overwhelmingly believe a new police headquarters is needed, a notion that also has some community support, but is opposed by staff and most elected officials because it would involve incurring more debt than the city is willing to take on at this time. So instead of giving supporters of a new police headquarters building some additional backing, it was agreed that recommendation — and perhaps others — would be classified ‘NOT FOR PUBLIC DISCLOSURE."

The audit revealed the Police Department has allotted for 80 staff positions — 36 in patrol, 7 in criminal investigations, 14 in special services, 15 in communications, 4 in records and 4 in the chief’s office. The audit recommends a staff of 85 — 35 in patrol, 8 in criminal investigations, 14 in special services, 18 in communications, 5 in records and 5 in the chief’s office. It must be noted, however, that the auditors recommended the three additions to the communications staff based on the premise the city would not be co-locating its 9-1-1 call center, which, of course, it has decided to do.

Local residents should take comfort in the fact that the auditors reported "Kyle is safer than most communities." Specifically, the audit reported, "Violent crime has steadily declined since 2011, though Kyle’s population has grown approximately 33% during the same time period. The violent crime rate is 1.58 crimes per 1,000 residents. The average national violent crime rate in 2015 was 3.8 crimes per 1,000 population. Kyle’s violent crime rate is one-half the national average."

And even though property crimes in Kyle have risen, according to the audit, they are still "well below" the national average. "Interestingly, the property crime rate has increased at the same rate as Kyle’s population," the audit stated. "The property crime rate was 13.74 crimes per 1,000 population in 2015. In 2015 the national property crime rate was 24.9 crimes per 1,000 population."

The audit noted that the department’s Code Compliance division is comprised of one full-time and two part-time officers who were tasked last year with dealing with 7,635 reports of code violations. "As Kyle continues to grow and see more development, it is expected that the number of code enforcement complaints received will continue to increase," the audit reported. "While many property maintenance issues arise from older properties that may not be maintained, complaints received for new construction are a significant workload driver. New construction complaints typically stem from improper securing of trash and placement of dumpsters, illegally parked vehicles, noise complaints, construction without permits, care of premise which includes overgrown lots. These types of complaints can be time consuming as it is a challenge to locate the appropriate party who has committed the violation. As the city and Code Enforcement continue to evolve, it is important to have consistency in staff handling the active caseload. In order to achieve this, it is recommended that Code Enforcement transition to two full-time employees and one part time employee."

The audit also noted that two full time employees are assigned tom complete animal control functions and that their workload has increased roughly 13 percent during the last three years. "As the population of Kyle continues to grow and more undeveloped land continues to be developed, it is expected that the workload for Animal Control will continue to grow," the audit said. "Similar to Patrol functions there are many unknown factors associated with Animal Control duties. In order to meet the current increase in workload, a part-time animal control officer should be hired for up to 19 hours per week. If the workload continues to grow, as one would assume it would in a growing city like Kyle, the position may be easily transitioned to a full-time position."

The audit said the chief’s department could become more efficient by cutting in half the number of positions that directly report to Chief Jeff Barnett. "The chief has four direct reports and is the direct supervisor over the Criminal Investigation Division and the Communications Division supervisors," according to the audit. "This results in the chief spending too much time on day-to-day operational issues with these areas and less on strategic administrative duties. In order create a more consistent and streamlined reporting structure throughout the KPD, the project team believes an effective solution is to create a second lieutenant position. The second lieutenant position will allow for more effective oversight of the support services associated with the department. In addition, implementing an additional lieutenant position will allow for the chief and captain to focus on management and strategic issues for the department while allowing the lieutenants to focus on the daily operation of their respective functional areas. Based on the recommendations in this report, each lieutenant will have a similar number of employees under their span of control, noting that the patrol lieutenant will have a greater number of direct reports. The ‘patrol lieutenant’ title should be changed to ‘operations lieutenant’ and the second lieutenant should be titled ‘support services lieutenant.’ With the addition of a second lieutenant, the result of the organizational structure is that both the chief and the captain will only have two direct reports each. This proposed structure will allow the chief and captain to focus more on establishing a strategic direction and providing a high level of managerial oversight and decision making."

The audit also recommended the number of warrant officers on staff should be cut in half, from two to one. Council only recently doubled to two the number of warrant officers in KPD>

Other items on Tuesday’s agenda worth noting:
  • The consideration of a resolution approving the issuance of just under $9 million in bonds on behalf of the city to pay the first installment on its share of the costs of the Alliance Regional Water Authority’s project to provide water to the area. This is the smallest of the three planned bond issuances; another one for $24 million is scheduled two years from now and a third for nearly $27 million is set for 2021. The city has yet to formally declare how this debt will be repaid but it is expected to come predominantly from major increases to the city’s water rates. A public hearing is attached to this item.
  • ‘Consider an agreement with Enterprise Fleet for procurement and disposal of City of Kyle fleet." I’m not exactly sure what is being proposed here, but I think it’s a deal with Enterprise (you know, the outfit with this commercial) to lease instead of purchase city vehicles. What is not clear is whether this is an idea the city is exploring or whether it’s already happening and this is just some kind of a revision or amendment to a current policy.
  • An amended PID application and a change in the Development Agreement for the multi-use development to be located between Rowland and Opal lanes just west of the railroad tracks that will require the developer, among other things, to install quiet crossings at the railroad crossings at both Roland and Opal lanes as well as to "finance a portion of the offsite wastewater facilities sufficient to serve the property."
  • A resolution (which reminds me of the classic Rodgers and Hart song Where or When; you know, the one that begins "It seems we stood and talked like this before, we looked at each other in the same way then, but I can't remember where or when.") calling for a public hearing on a so-far undisclosed date (the "when" part) to get citizen input on the possible creation of a Public Improvement District at a so-far undisclosed location (the "where" part). But the fact that this comes immediately after the item referenced in the preceding paragraph and the development agreement associated with that item requires the creation of a PID, it wouldn’t be a stretch to guess the two are intertwined.
  • Awarding a contract for $172.236 for gateway signs to be placed at five different highway entrances to the city — on the north and south of I35, the northwest and southeast of 150 and at the northern city limits on 1626 — and another $38,760 for wayfinding signs to be located in at least 16 different spots in the city. The money will come from the city’s Hotel Occupancy Tax fund and was already approved as part of this year’s budget.
  • Although the agenda appears lengthy, unless something unexpected happens that requires seeking legal advice, an executive session is not likely to occur.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Personal observations on last night’s candidates forum

Trying to find anything newsworthy in last night’s forum featuring all but one of the candidates seeking positions on Kyle’s City Council is as fruitless as trying to find anything newsworthy in the fact that H-E-B is open today.

And that’s not just my opinion. After the forum was over I pigeonholed five persons I considered completely neutral, including one of the main organizers of the forum, and asked them if they found anything newsworthy about the event, and they all shook their heads and said "no." I asked others if anything happened during the event that caused them to change their minds about who they might vote and all of them also said "no" as well, although one confided "I’m now concerned whether it’s even worth spending my time to go out and vote."

There are, however, some takeaways from the forum and here are a few:

  • If more of these are held in the future, the format on what and how questions are asked must be changed. Last night, attendees were asked to write their questions on index cards and those cards were randomly selected and their questions posed by Judge Beth Smith. Unfortunately, way too many of the questions posed to the candidates were designed specifically to inflame, not to inform. They were composed by those not seeking information on where the candidates stand, but to promote the individual agendas of the questions’ authors. And I am somewhat dismayed that Judge Smith shed any semblance of impartiality by even asking some of the questions. She positioned herself, whether or not she intended to, not as an objective moderator, but as a part of some conspiracy formed to cast a shadow over city government. The questions should be prepared by and agreed to by a panel composed of individuals with at least modicum of knowledge about municipal government that address the specific, credible and realistic issues the city is facing or is about to face. The closest we came to a question like that at last night’s forum was the one posed to each of the mayoral candidates: "What is your vision for Kyle?". A legitimate question and arguably the only legitimate one asked all night. Too many of the questions asked last night were based on false premises or, as a judge should phrase it, "assumed facts not in evidence."
  • Which brings me to my next observation which is that the candidates, with the notable exception of mayoral candidate Travis Mitchell, danced around directly answering the questions as if they were some ritual bonfire. Unless, that is, the question asked afforded them to opportunity to pander to that segment of the audience that shared his or her particular preconceived agenda, those not seeking information but with an axe to grind. And even then the candidates did just that – pander rather than have the courage to take a position or directly answer the question. These candidates approached this forum with the mind set of "I’m just going to try not to offend anyone instead of trying to convince these people I’m the type of leader they should elect." Candidates for public office must have the courage to stand up and tell their constituents truths even if those constituents may not want to hear or are uncomfortable dealing with those truths. Like I said earlier, except for Mitchell, I failed to see that necessary character trait in any of the candidates last night. I’m not saying these candidates don’t possess that quality; only that, if they do, they failed to put it on display during this particular forum.
  • Given that, however, I heard some eye-opening, startling, and even scary comments from the candidates last night. For example, mayoral candidate Bill Sinor argued that basic public safety should not be provided for a certain segment of Kyle’s population and that the city should surrender whatever competitive advantage it might have in trying to lure new business to the city. In his opening remarks, Sinor criticized the city for "outrageous spending" (without citing specifics, of course) and claimed, if elected, he would make sure the city never spent more than it budgeted for. What he failed to say, is that city’s are required to only spend what’s in their budget and, as for Kyle specifically, it has actually recorded a budget surplus during the last two fiscal years and perhaps even longer. District 1 candidate Marco Pizana erroneously claimed the city was "growing too fast’ without offering any evidence to support that claim. Of course, the only evidence that could be offered would be to prove the growth is happening faster than the city’s ability to provide for that growth and, the truth here is Kyle City Government has successfully managed, so far at least, to stay far ahead of that curve. He also offered no solutions. He also suggested he doesn’t have the stamina for long city council meetings, which led to his opponent, Dex Ellison, providing the night’s best zinger when he said, in effect, without mentioning Pizana by name: "If you don’t have the stamina for public office, you shouldn’t be seeking it." I heard both District 4 candidates, Tim McHutchion and Alex Villalobos, argue that the city should spend much more money each year on sidewalk repairs without offering any suggestions on what the source of those funds might be. When two of the candidates were asked the question "Why is my water bill so high?", neither of them possessed either the courage or the knowledge (perhaps both) to directly answer the question. Not only that, they also lacked the courage to tell these potential voters to prepare themselves now for the fact that the bills are going to increase dramatically very soon. Mayoral candidate Nicole Romero-Piche, an educator, tries to relate everything to what she has experienced in the classroom, whether or not the comparison is applicable. At one point she said "If I give my students a test and only two of them turn in the test, whose fault is that? The same is true with city government." Huh?

The question most people want answered after a forum such as this is "Who won?" I don’t know. In my mind, the one thing that can be said for certain is that the voters lost — lost, at least for that moment, an opportunity to get straight, truthful responses from too many of these candidates even though, admittedly, most of the questions weren't even worthy of soliciting any kind of response. One thing I can say, however: More people left the Plum Creek Community Center last night carrying with them "Travis Mitchell for Mayor" yard signs than with yard signs offered by any of the other candidates. So there's that.

Oh, yes, as far as that candidate who failed to appear: That was mayoral candidate Jaime Sanchez who told me, when I interviewed him Sunday for my regular candidate Q&A I publish each election cycle, that he had every intention of attending.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Council OKs multi-use development on once-contentious property

In what city council member Travis Mitchell called "a home run for the city," the council unanimously approved a tax incentive agreement with a developer last night that paves the way for what is being called the Kyle Gateway, a retail development that will include an anchor store of at least 50,000 square feet, a hotel, additional retail outlets and "non-drive-through restaurants" to be located on 47.74 acres that many feared two years ago would become a massive truck stop.

According to the agreement, Kyle Gateway, located on the northwest corner of I35 and Yarrington Road, will include a 50,000-square-foot "department/grocery store anchor" that must open for business by the end of 2025. It will also be the site of "a national flag chain hotel having a minimum of 81 rooms" and "additional retail and non-residential facilities (i.e., office space) having an aggregate square footage totaling approximately 300,000 square feet." The agreement also specifies "front pad sites will be reserved for sales tax generating retail and non-drive through restaurants." The developer is required to have enough of these retail outlets open and in operation by the beginning of 2025 to be able to employ at least 100 full-time equivalent employees.

Except for the aforementioned deadlines, there is no construction timetable for the project although Economic Development Director Diana Blank Torres said she expects work to begin on the project "almost immediately." Mayor Todd Webster wasn’t so sure, however. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if PGI Investment, the company Kyle entered into this agreement with, flips the property.

"This is what we’ve been saying all along with go on this property," Webster said, "We have now simply put sone numbers around it. It’s about $5,2 million in roads, wastewater and water."

The agreement calls for the developer to initially bear that $5.2 million cost. However, it would be reimbursed to PGI over the next 10 years by the city rebating 50 percent of the city sales taxes generated by the outlets on the property., with the option of extending that another five years if the $5.2 million is not completely reimbursed. The initial 10-ear period begins Jan. 1, 2020.

"The folks that we’re dealing with build convenience stores and truck stops," Webster said. "What took so long is we’re working this thing out with people who don’t have experience doing large scale developments. The agreement is transferable if the city approves. I don’t know what their plans are, but I suspect it could be something that could be flipped to somebody that has experience in developing that kind of real estate. That would be my expectation."

The $5.2 million would cover the costs of a 3,500-linear-foot spine and cross road from Yarrington to Post Road, a traffic signal, a 2,400-linear-foot eight-inch water line, a 400-linear-foot 12-inch water line, 10 fire hydrants, a 2,300-linear-foot 12-inch wastewater line and 10 manholes.

‘They’re gonna have a lot of work ahead of them as far as infrastructure down there," Torres said, "because it’s a big dip down."

"I thought I would have this thing done in three months and it took two years," Webster said.

When PGI first announced its plans to locate a truck stop on the property in 2015, citizens, the overwhelming majority of which lived on the south side of Yarrington in San Marcos, overflowed City Council Chambers Jan. 26, 2016 during a Planning & Zoning Commission hearing to consider a change in the zoning that would allow for the truck stop. Although the commission voted 5-2 against, the vote was deemed illegal because many of the commissioners said expressly they were voting against the truck stop instead of deciding a zoning issue. As a result, it appeared the truck stop idea would move forward. The announcement of the illegality of the P&Z vote resulted in former San Marcos Mayor Daniel Guerrero threatening retaliation in the form of a condemnation resolution against Kyle if the truck stop wasn’t halted. Webster responded by saying he had tried to meet with Guerrero a number of times to resolve the issue, "and I each time I got blown off." Webster added defiantly "People of action don’t write resolutions."

That exchange led almost immediately to Guerrero seeking an audience with Webster to resolve the issue which ended with the announcement of a development that was, for all practical purposes, identical to the one provided in the agreement approved last night except that San Marcos is no longer providing previously agreed-to wastewater services. San Marcos has since claimed wastewater could not flow via gravity from the site to its wastewater treatment facilities.

"We will collect 100 percent of the property taxes from this substantial development," Mitchell said, "and 50 percent of the sales tax from that development for 10 years. That other 50 percent would go to rebate them for the construction of this public infrastructure that the city would otherwise have to pay. So it’s a very, very good project."

Mitchell, joined by council member Becky Selbera, then thanked Mayor Webster and others who Mitchell claimed worked tirelessly to get the deal done. "We had a situation where there was a land use proposed that wasn’t very desirable and we are absolutely turning the corner on that into a project that we can all be really proud of. Absolutely, from a financial standpoint, a home run for the city."

In other action last night:
  • The council heard assistant city manager James Earp refute all the claims made by the 11 persons, seven of whom spoke longer than the three minutes allotted to them, trying to prevent a bridge over the Blanco River from being a part of the city’s Transportation Master Plan, and then voted unanimously to incorporate the bridge and four other changes to the plan.
  • Voted unanimously to add Office/Institutional to the city’s list of zoning categories .It is expected another new category that will allow for mixed-used developments, will appear on the council’s agenda next month.
  • Voted unanimously to nominate Community Impact publisher Rick Koch as a member of the 2018-19 Hays Central Appraisal District board of trustees. Interestingly, the council had not settled on a nominee when the item came up on the agenda, but readily agreed Koch would be the perfect choice after council member Shane Arabie pointed Koch out in the City Hall foyer.
  • The council unanimously voted to reappoint three the persons mentioned in this story to the Planning & Zoning Commission as well as the three cited in that same story to the Economic Development & Tourism Board.
  • The council reaffirmed the correctness of the minutes of its Aug. 1 meeting before approving them and three other sets of minutes. Council member Daphne Tenorio questioned the validity of the Aug. 1 minutes because it recorded one vote was 6-0, yet all seven council members were present. It turned out the 6-0 vote was correct because Tenorio herself had abstained from voting on that item and that abstention wasn’t duly recorded because Tenorio failed to complete and submit the required abstention forms. Tenorio did not attend last night’s meeting and thus perhaps saved herself from some embarrassment on this matter.