The Kyle Report

The Kyle Report

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Fogley, Tenorio win council seats in runoff

Two political newcomers, EMS paramedic Damon Fogley in District 5 and homemaker Daphne Tenorio in Place 6, cruised to victories Saturday in the runoff election for Kyle City Council.

Fogley captured almost 59 percent of the votes cast in a victory over former city council member Jaime Sanchez and Ms. Tenorio collected 55 percent of the vote against Place 6 incumbent Tammy Swaton, who was just elected for the first time a little more than a year ago to fill a council vacancy..

"I want to thank every singe person who turned out to vote, every single voter who participated in the electoral process and every single person who cares about the city of Kyle," a jubilant Ms. Tenorio said after she learned of her victory this evening. "I can’t wait to represent them on the city council and give them the voice they’ve never had."

Calls placed to Fogley were not returned.

It will be interesting to see how these two new faces will fit on the council. Something tells me Ms. Tenorio is going to be someone who is going to raise interesting questions, especially when it comes to action items in which it appears the city is unfairly burdening future homeowners just so new subdivisions can get off the ground. I also get the feeling she is going to be someone who will try to make city government, especially its budgeting process, far more transparent and easier for the public to understand and measure whether the city is fulfilling its promises.

Fogley, on the other hand, seems to be someone who will be willing to speak out to support the majority opinion.

Only time will tell.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Don't be alarmed but it seems a rabid bat was found in Kyle shopping center

It seems a tad late to be telling us this now – five days after the fact – but the city is just today informing the public a rabid bat was found Sunday on the ground outside the Kohl’s department store on Kyle Parkway. Maybe it took all this time to test the bat to confirm it had rabies. I dunno. Plus, I’m also hoping that anyone who came in close physical contact with this mammal headed straight for the family physician immediately afterward. I know when it comes to untrained animals of any variety, my inherent cowardice is going to immediately propel me as fast as possible in another direction. I don’t know how many of you saw the movie Wild, but, if you did, you might remember a scene in which the Reese Witherspoon character encounters a rattlesnake and she cautiously creeps around the dang thing. And I’m silently screaming at the screen "You’re still too close! You’re still too close! Go to the other side of the mountain!"

Now I’m guessing there are a lot braver souls than I when it comes to dealing with creatures such as this. And for all of you, the city passes along the following advice:

"As soon as a grounded bat is found, it should be isolated to prevent further contact with people and animals. If you can isolate the bat, wear leather gloves cover it with a pail, coffee can or similar container and place a heavy object such as a brick or rock on top of the container to secure it. If a human exposure has occurred the bat will need to be tested for rabies."

So, in an effort to not be completely useless in situations such as this, if you need someone to find a coffee can or a brick, I’m your man. If you’re talking about the isolating part, not so much.

Thank goodness there’s someone at the city who thinks along the same lines. This wise person is Kyle Animal Control officer Briana Brecher. Read what she says on the subject:

"Bats can be really cool to watch when they're flying around in large groups, but you should never try to get close to a bat. If you see a bat, alive or dead, please stay away from it and don’t touch it. If the bat is in an enclosed area like your home, please call Kyle Animal Control at 512-268-3232."

Amen to that.

Now the city is asking me and anyone else within shouting citizen to say if you or anyone you know did come in contact with this web-winged monster, you should immediately contact Kyle Animal Control at the above mentioned telephone number.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

He's baaaack!!!

Just received the following from the city which I am reprinting here with no additional comment (at least, not for now):

KYLE, TX – Kyle City Manager Scott Sellers has returned Police Chief Jeff Barnett to duty effective Thursday, May 28th. Chief Barnett had been placed on paid administrative leave on May 6th for the purposes of adjudicating a civil service matter. Charles Edge, a former police chief with the Waxahachie Police Department, was appointed Acting Police Chief and has concluded his role in the adjudication of the matter. Under the Texas civil service statute, all personnel decisions must be completed by the department head. In order to ensure full and complete impartiality, the city manager placed Barnett on leave due to his involvement in the matter. Barnett was not the subject of the investigation.

“I’d like to thank Chief Edge for the professional manner in which he handled the very important personnel matter,” said Sellers. 

The result of the adjudication process was that Kyle Police Officer Jessie Espinosa was suspended indefinitely. The City of Kyle will have no further comment at this time in order to protect the integrity of Mr. Espinoza’s appeal of this suspension. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Negative campaigning in the city council election

Update at 6:21 p.m.: Dex Ellison did get back to me and said "I never asked a voter to vote for anyone other than me and I definitely never told anyone not to vote for anyone else."

Original story: Unfortunately, "negative campaigning" has become a part of the our country’s political process so I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised that negative campaigning has become a part of the Kyle City Council election. What does surprise me, however, is (1) the form this campaigning has taken and (2) it’s not even being directed at a campaign opponent.

Ever since all six of the candidates filed for the two seats up for election in this campaign, I have heard undercurrents of opposition directed toward Place 5 candidate Jaime Sanchez. Nothing overt, mind you, with the possible exception of one elected official hinting to me that Sanchez was "a crook." There was also an e-mail that Mayor Todd Webster sent to five of the six candidates saying he was willing to donate $100 to all the campaigns except for Sanchez's. There has been this subtle message floating around that Sanchez "is not one of us," which is strange since he is the only candidate running who has lived in Kyle since his birth. I couldn’t help but feel that much of the campaign for District 5 involved more "Vote against Sanchez" than vote for one of the other candidates and that many of the city’s "establishment" rallied behind one of Sanchez’s opponents, not because that person was a particularly viable candidate, but because they would do anything to keep Sanchez from being elected.

Then yesterday I spoke to a woman, Rayma Stone, who told me the strangest thing: two city council candidates, Tammy Swaton and Dex Ellisson, neither of whom were running against Sanchez, both came to her house located north of Goforth in Kyle and told her and other voters gathered in her home that, no matter what else they did, they should not vote for Sanchez. (I have left messages for both Swaton and Ellison to respond, but so far neither has chosen to do so.) Stone told me Swaton was particularly "very harsh and mean" when it came to Sanchez, saying the voters there should not cast their ballots for him because, among other things, he once sued the city.

And that’s certainly true. He did sue the city. And you know what else? He won that suit. The court determined Sanchez was right and the city acted illegally when it tried to take from him land for which he had legal title. But just because he sued the city doesn’t make him anti-Kyle. It means he fought the attempts of some city officials to, as the court determined, illegally take from him property he owned. To me, at least, that makes him very much pro-Kyle: He is going to do whatever he can to make sure the citizens of this city are treated fairly and legally.

Stone also told me Swaton said this about Sanchez to a group of voters gathered in her home: "We don’t want him in office. He has his own agenda."

Now, if Stone has accurately reported to me what Swaton said, I find her use of the word "We" extremely compelling. For all practical purposes it confirms my notion there is an organized effort among the city’s establishment to conspire to keep Sanchez from winning the election. I am also struck by her allegedly saying "He has his own agenda."

As if that’s a bad thing. From my vantage point, I think it’s high time there was someone on the council with his/her own agenda. Let me explain. Except for possibly the vote on the recently passed revised wrecker ordinance (which, I have been told, is a farce because it is not being enforced), just about every single item that comes before the city council is either approved or disapproved by a 7-0 vote. There is no dissension, thus there is no discussion.

I, for one, would love to see someone with his/her own agenda on the council. That’s not to say I would agree with that person’s opinion. In fact, I might disagree 100 percent of the time. But the important thing is that dissenter is going to promote additional, hopefully intellectual discussion of the items on the weekly agenda. And without that extra discussion, we the citizens live in ignorance because all we hear is one side. If we, as the voters who are supposed to control the ultimate destiny of the city we call home, are denied all sides of a particular issue, we are denied that basic freedom of choice and become nothing more than marionettes dancing to the tune of those pulling our strings.

And what’s the worst thing that could happen? Well, instead of having all these 7-0 votes, we now have 6-1 votes. And the winner is us, because we become much more informed on at least two sides of many issues, not just the one we are force fed.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Kyle Knight Rises

The first two words in a recent Austin Chronicle story about Electro Purification and its attempt to pump water in Hays County were "Lila Knight." The Kyle resident has been working tirelessly to protect the county’s water supply and to bring a reasonable solution to a controversy that I am not going to detail right now.

For reasons not necessary to explain and are too painful to discuss even if they were necessary, I could not attend tonight’s Planning & Zoning Commission (or the Charter Review Commission that followed it). But I have attended enough P&Z meetings to know how they operate and tonight’s gathering promised to be a real "wham-bam" affair. The entire meeting, if it had gone as the city had planned, would have ended in less time than it will take me to describe how short the meeting should have been.

The first three items on the agenda are always the same: Call to order, roll call of the seven commission members, and citizen comments. When it comes to that third item, chair Michael Rubsam usually gazes for a second at all the empty chairs in the city council chambers and closes the public comments section the meeting five seconds after he opens it. Then if the staff has taken the time to prepare minutes of past meetings, they are routinely approved. Then comes the consent agenda.

For the uninitiated, the consent agenda can be a tricky deal. Theoretically, it is supposed to contain only those items that need not be debated or discussed. They are supposed to be routine, non-controversial items, not requiring individual consideration. By grouping them all together they can be passed by one motion, one second and one vote. There’s no limit to the number of items that can be placed on the consent agenda. I have attended city council meetings (not in Kyle, by the way) where it is routine to have as many as 85 or more items grouped into the consent agenda.

At tonight’s P&Z meeting, the consent agenda consisted of just three items, two of them consisting of approving the final plat of a new 22-acre subdivision located on the northern side of Windy Hill road, about a mile off I-35 in northeast Kyle. Now it did not say so on the agenda itself, but in the materials accompanying the agenda it said the city of Kyle would provide wastewater service for the subdivision but that its water would be "provided by Goforth Water Supply."

Ding! Ding! Ding!

Goforth is one of the three entities – the other two being the City of Buda and the Anthem subdivision located in Mountain City – to contract with Electro Purification for water. But because of the efforts of the aforementioned Lila Knight, a grassroots organization called Save Our Wells, state Rep. Jason Isaac and other watchdogs, that effort seems to have been nipped in the bud. Thus, the Goforth Special Utility District, which was contracted to receive three million gallons of water per day (more than the other two entities combined) from Electro Purification may indeed need to be scrounging elsewhere for its water supply.

But even if EP gets to pump water to Goforth, it is estimated that it will take about a year and a half to construct the pipeline from the wells near Wimberley. Now the way I understand it, there can be absolutely no doubt of the existence of a water supply for the final plat of a subdivision to be approved.

That’s why, at tonight’s P&Z meeting, the opening of the citizens comments section of the agenda was not met with stone cold silence. Ms. Knight stood up, strode to the podium and quite gently and politely, I’m sure, let the commissioners know there might be some question about the availability of water to this subdivision. And it was absolutely certain said water supply could in no way be "certified."

Thus, when it came to the consent agenda, these two items were pulled for individual consideration during which commissioners tried to question staff about whether any of this about :certified water" was true.

The flummoxed staff, however, couldn’t summon up an adequate answer, so the commissioners tabled the items. Which means they will rear their ugly heads at least one more time at a future P&Z meeting.

Watch this space.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

If we build it, will they come?

According to Assistant City Manager James Earp, the economic development cadre at the City of Kyle would consider the landing of a nice hotel somewhere within the city limits a huge feather in their cap. Not another La Quinta or a Best Western like we already have (both of which, incidentally, are doing quite well, Julie Snyder of the Kyle Chamber of Commerce told the city council last night). But a real hotel, one with an in-house restaurant as well as meeting and banquet rooms which could become the sites of small conventions. A hotel that possibly even provides shuttle service to the Austin airport, the Circuit of the Americas or to UT and Texas State football games.

Problem is, every time the city approaches representatives of these types of hotels, the representatives come back and say "Sorry, the numbers just aren’t there to support that level of an investment in Kyle." Not willing to take "no" for an answer, Earp said the city went first to the company that is consulting them on all things retail and that company said it really didn’t have the expertise to advise the city on the subject of hotels, But, it knew someone who did, Dr. Jeremy Stone, who runs a company called Stone Hospitality and Real Estate. Stone has a bachelor’s degree in environmental design, a master’s in land development and a doctorate urban and regional science. Granted, all three degrees are from Texas A&M, but I am willing to let that slide for the time being. His bonafides appear to be in order.

Last night, the Kyle City Council authorized dipping into the Hotel Occupancy Tax Funds to the tune of $15,000 to $20,000 to pay Stone to, in Stone’s own words:

  • "Perform an in-depth evaluation of the market for operation of a hotel facility.
  • "Investigate potential and existing demand on a local and regional scale to determine market sources of demand including transient, weekday/weekend meeting demand characteristics and other trends pertinent to the project.
  • "Develop recommendations pertaining to the nature and extent of facilities and services that would be the most effective in attracting and accommodating the identified and existing market sources of demand, and evaluate the proposed facilities’ ability to meet future needs."

Or, to put it more succinctly, to determine if what all these other hoteliers have been telling Kyle economic development people is true and, if not, exactly what hotel brand(s) would be the best fit for Kyle.

I asked Earp after the meeting what happens if Stone comes back and says "Yep, everything you’ve heard is true. Kyle is not a good prospect for a hotel of this type." Doesn’t that mean you spent $15,000 to $20,000 for nothing?

Earp, ever the optimist, replied, "Well, at least we will learn what we have to do to attract such a hotel."

Stone promised to deliver his analysis "within four to six weeks after receipt of your written authorization (signed proposal), retainer and the required information." That means we could know something by the end of June or mid-July at the latest.

Watch this space.

City decides to purchase wastewater facility

Kyle's wastewater facility

The relationship between the City of Kyle and Aqua Operations, the company that maintains and operates its one wastewater treatment plant, is about as sweet as the sewage flowing into the plant on a daily basis. It has resulted in a lawsuit that was filed April 25, 2013, by Aqua in the 428th District Court of Hays County that is scheduled for a jury trial beginning Aug. 24. Between the original filing date and now, the two sides have been going back and forth over such matters as evidence, summary judgments and all the other matters attorneys haggle over in cases such as this. My personal favorite came last Oct. 30 when Kyle filed its "reply to Aqua's response to Kyle's objections and motion to strike Aqua's summary judgment evidence." The attorneys for both sides are earning their keep with this one.

Speaking of the attorneys, the Kyle City Council decided it wanted to huddle with their attorney Tuesday night and thus went into executive session to discuss the status of the suit. When they emerged Mayor Pro Tem Diane Hervol announced no action was taken while they were in executive session but now that they were back in public view "I’d like to move to purchase the wastewater treatment plant based on the terms discussed in executive session and bring back the final agreement to council to be approved and executed by July 1, 2015." Council member David Wilson seconded the motion, and the council approved it 6-0 (outgoing council member Samantha Bellows excused herself about an hour earlier to handle some lane closings in I-35).

Whether this brings an end to the acrimonious relationship between the city and Aqua remains to be seen. I guess we’ll know the answer to that by July 1, which falls on a Wednesday, not your typical council meeting day. In fact, the last regularly scheduled council meeting before July 1 would fall on June 16, more than two weeks before the deadline date.

The city first asked Aqua to build and operate a wastewater treatment plant near the end of the last century. Things appeared to be OK for about a dozen years but then in November 2012 more than 100,000 gallons of partially treated sewage spilled into Plum Creek. That spill occurred the day after former Kyle City Manager Lanny Lambert sent Aqua Operations a letter claiming the company had breached their contract. He offered three examples, the first being that more than half of the water quality tests over the past four years showed E. coli levels "seriously above the acceptable levels," proving that Aqua wasn’t maintaining the minimum amount of chlorine in the water required by law." Lambert further alleged in the letter that solids that should be removed during the wastewater treatment process were not, and that if not for filters created by the Plum Creek Golf Course, the solids would be illegally discharged.

Aqua’s lawsuit countered that E. coli levels in a stream have many causes, such as feces from livestock and wildlife, and that the tests don’t accurately represent how much chlorine is in the water that’s discharged from the plant.

And it’s gone round and round from there.

From the limited amount of research I’ve been able to do, the California-based Aqua Operations appears to have a fairly reputable reputation. And since its clients include the City of Los Angeles, IBM, and the U.S. Army, I’m thinking they’re not going to lose much sleep over having to shed themselves of their responsibilities here, especially if this deal means an end to all the litigation. I’m also hoping the city isn’t biting off more than it can chew by trying to purchase and operate the plant itself. We’ll find out soon enough.

Monday, May 18, 2015

What's with all this secrecy at the police department?

Update: Perhaps Sgt. Espinoza is on permanent indefinite suspension, which is tantamount to no longer being on the force. I say this because I just received this non-response response from Chief of Staff Jerry Hendrix: "We have no comment because Mr. Espinoza likely will file an appeal of his indefinite suspension. As it is Mr. Espinoza's right to have an appeal hearing, the City has no comment at this time so as not to affect the integrity of the process. If you¹d like any additional information, please file the request as a Public Information Request and we¹ll respond."

I’m filing.

Original post:
I’m guessing Sgt. Jesse Espinoza, the Kyle Police Association president, has been dismissed from the force.

I’m guessing this because there’s this item on tomorrow night’s City Council agenda that says the council will convene into executive session "Regarding disciplinary action and possible appeal of a police officer." Yes, it could be something else totally separate from the on-going soap opera being played out at City Hall starring Espinoza, Police Chief Jeff Barnett, Louisiana anesthesiologist Glen Hurlston, Hurlston’s ex-wife Suzanna Besse and, most recently, interim Kyle Police Chief Charles Edge. But if it was something totally separate from this, I would have expected city spokesperson Jerry Hendrix to let the world know it was something different, but so far he and the rest of the city has remained mum on the subject despite (1) an inquiry I made on the subject Friday and (2) the fact that no other city in the country has tried to hide actions taken and not taken against police officers in the last year or so.

In fact, I was quite amused this morning when I saw an item in the Austin American-Statesman about Mike Maugere, the recently appointed police chief of Smithville, Texas. According to this item, Maugere actually held a public town hall meeting last week to inform citizens about everything happening with and to the city’s police department. Here’s one telling paragraph from the story:

"With almost five months under his belt as the Smithville police chief, Maugere has instituted initiatives like the town hall to keep his department transparent and communication open with the public."

Kyle could take some lessons from Smithville.

Instead of informing citizens about what’s going on with those who are supposed to protect and serve the rest of us, Kyle city officials erect a Berlin Wall of silence. I’m not suggesting they divulge any sensitive legal strategy, but the results of an internal investigation and the actual dismissal of a police officer are not "sensitive legal strategy." Yes, the city is involved in a lawsuit filed against it by Hurlston, but the Espinoza investigation, although spawned by the suit, is not directly connected to it and, thus, not privileged information. In fact, most observers believe Espinoza’s problems with Barnett began before he ever heard of Hurlston. The firing of Espinoza will not affect the outcome of Hurlston’s lawsuit. Yes, it could spawn another lawsuit, an unrelated one filed by Espinoza claiming he was dismissed in violation of Civil Service procedures, but that, too, is not part of the discussion over whether Espinoza still is a member of the Kyle Police Department.

The internal investigation of Espinoza revolved around allegations he received gifts of paid vacations and donations to help pay for Espinoza’s son’s cancer treatments from Hurlston in return for providing the doctor with information about Barnett. And there are reasons Hurlston would want this information. While he was the chief of police in Princeton, Texas, a fast-growing community of 7,700 persons located just east of McKinney, Barnett had an affair with Besse, who was then Hurlston’s wife. The relationship produced a child, now 4-years-old. About a month and a half before the birth of this child, on Jan. 27, 2011, Barnett announced his resignation at Princeton, claiming he wanted to complete his doctorate. In May of that year, Barnett came to Kyle as its police chief.

In January of 2012, Hurlston was arrested and charged with felony domestic abuse after Besse claimed the doctor attempted to strangle her. The charge was later reduced to a Class A misdemeanor and Hurlston pled no contest to the charges. Hurlston is convinced Besse asked Barnett for help and that Barnett used his influence with his former employer to have Hurlston arrested. As a result, in December of 2013 he filed his lawsuit against Barnett, several Princeton police officers and the cities of Princeton and Kyle alleging "unlawful police actions" that resulted in Hurlston suffering "significant and severe emotional distress; physical pain and suffering; emotion, pain and distress; loss of income; and other damages."

Espinoza’s initial problems with Barnett apparently had nothing to do with Hurlston but the fact that Espinoza wanted someone else named police chief back in May 2011. The internal investigation targeting Espinoza came about when Kyle police learned Hurlston had apparently recruited Espinoza to provide him with information on Barnett. It is known, for instance, that Hurlston and Espinoza, along with their respective families, have vacationed together in San Antonio and Destin, Fla., and that in October, 2013, after Espinoza had initiated an online fund-raising campaign to help pay the costs of cancer treatments for his son, Hurlston donated $5,000.

It appeared a couple of weeks ago that the city’s investigation had provided enough evidence to terminate or, at the very least, demote Espinoza. But because of Barnett’s past associations with Espinoza, any action along those lines could be viewed by some, especially Espinoza, as unjustified retaliation. To avoid having it viewed this way, the city announced two weeks ago it was placing Barnett on administrative leave and bringing in Edge, the retired police chief of Waxahachie, Texas. It was going to be his responsibility, as an impartial department head with no prior involvement in this whole mess, to review the evidence against Espinoza, determine whether disciplinary action was warranted and then take that disciplinary action.

That doesn’t mean Espinoza is buying that "impartial" business, hence the item on tomorrow night’s agenda.

But, like I said, I’m really only guess here because, unlike Smithville, our police folks and others connected with Kyle city government don’t believe in all that "transparency" foolishness.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

P&Z OKs new 24-hour medical facility

The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended unanimously last night the construction of a 14,500-square-foot 24-hour emergency medical facility in the Kyle Marketplace Center at the corner of City Lights Drive and the southbound I-35 frontage road.

The facility, about the size of a typical Trader Joe’s specialty grocery store, will not be accessible from the frontage road.

The commissioners were also introduced during their 20-minute session to Howard J. Koontz, the city’s new planning director, who joined the city’s staff Monday, leaving a similar position in an Atlanta suburb with a population just over 12,000.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Fogley, Sanchez, Tenorio, Swaton Make the Final Four in the City Council Elections

In an election where roughly only 4 percent of the registered voters cast a ballot, both Kyle City Council races ended in a runoff with newcomer-to-city politics Damon Fogley, who only missed winning outright by four votes, will go up against former council member Jaime Sanchez in District 5 and Daphne Tenorio will square off against incumbent Tammy Swaton in District 6.

Fogley seemed a little bit disappointed in the final results, but looked forward to the three-week runoff campaign. Fogley finished with 49.68 percent of the vote, to 38.02 percent for Sanchez and 12.3 percent for Laurie Lutrell in the election’s only citywide race.

"I thought we might have won it without a runoff, based on the early voting results (in which he received almost 53% of the votes cast)," Fogley said "But some of those who wanted to go vote today were eliminated by the 30-day registration requirement and others left town because of Mother’s Day weekend."

Sanchez just barley outpolled Fogley on election day, collecting 122 votes to Fogley’s 121. More than half of all voters, 56.8 percent, voted early.

"I have a lot of respect for Jaime," Fogley said. "He will be a formidable opponent. But I think I am the better person for the job."

Fogley said his campaign was hampered by his poor name recognition, which he tried to overcome by peppering the city with campaign signs. He said although his campaign treasury is depleted, he believes he will be able to raise the money needed for the runoff campaign.

"I plan to keep on truckin’," he said.

Sanchez spent election night with his family at his home and said he was too tired to speak when I contacted him.

In the single-member District 6, Tenorio got more of her voters to the polls on Saturday than Swaton and finished with 42.19 percent of the total vote to Swaton’s 37.11 percent. The two were deadlocked with 58 votes apiece in the early voting, however the one absentee vote cast in this election went to Tenorio. Dex Ellison finished with 20.7 percent.

"I am thrilled to get the opportunity to engage the citizens of Kyle in the election process one more time," Tenorio said. "I plan to knock on a lot of doors between now and the runoff and communicate my ideas to the voters. Communication is what it’s all about."

Swaton also expressed pleasure with the result.

"I’m happy," she said. "I feel good about it. I’m looking forward to the runoff. I plan to show the people in my district just how close this race was (Tenorio finished with 13 more votes than Swaton) and convince them this is why their vote matters, why they need to get out and vote. I’m excited about the prospects."

My attempts to contact Luttrell and Ellison both failed, although I left voice messages asking them to call me if they wished to comment on the outcome of today's election.

The City Charter declares the runoff must take place "on the third Saturday following the election," which, by my calendar, means May 30. Of course, the charter also says "The general city election shall be held annually on the first Saturday in May," which means this election should have taken place last week. But there is a caveat. That clause in the charter continues with these words "or if such not be authorized the date nearest thereto as may be established by law."

So I’m figuring there was a "thereto" or three thrown into the scheduling along the way.

Why Chief Barnett was placed on leave

Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett
In making all the changes at the Police Department, the city announced last week "Kyle City Manager Scott Sellers has appointed an acting police chief to lead the Kyle Police Department for the purposes of adjudicating an ongoing civil service matter. Police Chief Jeff Barnett has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the conclusion of the matter. As additional clarification, under the Texas civil service statute, all personnel decisions must be completed by the department head. In order to ensure full and complete impartiality, the city manager has placed Chief Barnett on leave due to an ongoing civil service matter for which Chief Barnett is not the subject." This was a revision of an earlier statement in which the word "matter" at the end of the second sentence replaced the word "investigation" in the original statement.

If you look at that carefully, it seems plain to see what’s happening here. The key is that word "investigation," which the city tried to eliminate in its revised statement.

On Feb. 26, the Austin American-Statesman posted a news story that began "The president of the Kyle police association has been stripped of his duties and is the subject of an internal investigation into whether he improperly received $5,000 from a man embroiled in a lawsuit against the city and police chief in exchange for potentially sensitive insider information."

There’s that word "investigation" again and it appears in the same paragraph as the words "police chief." By the way, the president of the Kyle police association is later identified by the Statesman as Sgt. Jesse Espinoza.

The second paragraph of that same story says "In a continuing saga that began with Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett’s romantic relationship with a married woman in 2011, officials have hired a Fort Worth law firm to conduct the inquiry."

So there you have it. Obviously, "Chief Barnett is not the subject" of the Fort Worth law firm’s investigation, Espinoza is. It’s not a stretch to believe that Fort Worth law firm has given the city, if not all the results of its inquiry, at least enough evidence for it to take some form of punitive action against Espinoza. But, as the city’s revised statement of last week said "all personnel decisions must be completed by the department head." That would be Barnett, but if the chief acted against Espinoza it could be viewed as a conflict of interest at least and retribution at worst. Either way, it could be grounds for another lawsuit against the city.

To solve the dilemma, the city decided to give Chief Barnett some time off and bring in a ringer to handle the dirty work, or, as the city put it, "for the purposes of adjudicating an ongoing civil service matter."

Sounds logical, right? And until someone from the city is willing to go on the record and swear under oath I’m way off-base here, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Police Chief Barnett placed on temporary leave pending outcome of "investigation"

City Manager Scott Sellers announced at the conclusion of tonight’s city council meeting he has placed Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett on administrative leave pending the conclusion of a Civil Service investigation Barnett is not the subject of. In the interim, Sellers has convinced former Waxahachie Police Chief Charles Edge to come out of retirement to lead the Kyle Police Department.
Your guess is as good as mine as to what is going on here, but there are clues. The first sentence of the news release announcing this action says "Kyle City Manager Scott Sellers has appointed an acting police chief to head the Kyle Police Department for the purposes of adjudicating an ongoing civil service matter."

The key words in that sentence are "an ongoing civil service matter." I say that because Chief Barnett has been involved in civil litigation filed by a doctor in Louisiana who has also accused the city of not doing its due diligence in its hiring of Barnett. That lawsuit, however, would not, on the face of it, be an "ongoing civil service matter." Neither would be the hiring of Barnett since the police chief is an at-will employee hired by the city manager. Plus, city officials revealed after the council meeting concluded Barnett "is not the subject of the investigation."

Tangential to that lawsuit, however, have been allegations that someone from the Kyle Police Association accepted gifts from the same doctor.

Therefore, it’s conceivable that some conspiracy theorist trying to add two plus two could quite possibly leap to the conclusion that Chief Barnett demoted or took some other kind of disciplinary action against a certain someone who has subsequently appealed that disciplinary action under civil service rules that allows him to file such an appeal. And you, dear reader, are free to guess who that "certain someone" might be. I’m not going to speculate on that, but in such a situation, Chief Barnett would not be the subject of a civil service investigation but would play a significant role in the investigation.

I’m not in any way saying that’s what’s going on here, but I am saying someone could possibly catapult to that conclusion from the skimpy information that’s been made public.

For the record, I have asked the Kyle Police Employee Association to comment on all this. So far, I have not heard back and, frankly, I'm not holding my breath.

Acting Kyle Police Chief Charles Edge
Edge retired as Waxahachie’s police chief effective last July 4 after 32 years in the law enforcement field. Waxahachie, the county seat of Ellis County, is a town of about 29,000 that lies just beyond the southern suburbs of Dallas.

Edge started his career in law enforcement in 1982 with the Baytown Police Department. He served in Baytown for 21 years with his last assignment as a field commander with the Harris County Organized Crime and Narcotics Task Force. From Baytown, he served as the chief of police of the Palestine Police Department for four years before coming to Waxahachie in April of 2007. During his career, Edge took a civil service leave of absence serving honorably in the military with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division and the First Armored Division. Edge is also a graduate of the 222nd session of the FBI National Academy and a graduate of the Leadership and Command College of the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas.

In another significant development, the City Council rejected the recommendation of the Planning & Zoning Commission to rezone slightly more than six acres behind the 7-Eleven at I-35 and RR 150 for an apartment complex. The council agreed unanimously with Mayor Todd Webster who said he felt "apartments were not the best use of the property." Instead, it appears the council favors a more urban-style development on that land, including restaurants, entertainment venues, possibly even a hotel and office spaces. In other words, an extension of downtown Kyle across the interstate.

On its consent agenda, the council passed an ordinance allowing Centerpoint Energy to raise its gas rates, but not before council member David Wilson levied some stern criticism against the utility, charging it was harassing some of its customers and misleading (actually outright lying to) officials about the reasons for its requested hike.

Conversations with City Council Candidates: Daphne Tenorio, District 6

Why in general are you running for city council and specifically why are you challenging an incumbent?

Actually, I had intended to run the last time. But my husband was running for school board and there was just no way we could juggle two campaigns at that same time. But I was adamant and I was very vocal that once this term ended I would be running.

What would you do differently than the incumbent?
To be honest, I don’t know much of what she has done. One of the neat things about my position is that I bring with me my husband’s family which has a huge history in this area. So my goal is remembering the things of the past to bring into the present so that we build for the future. And I think that’s something other candidates don’t have — that commitment to the community that goes back multi-generations. And that’s not a bad thing and it’s not a good thing. I want my children to be raised here like their father was and their grandparents were. But I also want to make this place a pleasant community which I obviously know it already is and I want it to continue.

Do you think it might be going in a different direction?
I do.

In what ways?
It’s gotten real big and it’s growing really, really quickly. It’s not a bad thing to be growing but we’re not really growing properly. We’re not maintaining what we have. We’re not taking care of what we need to take care of. It’s a policy of "Let’s not worry about the roads. Let’s not worry about the wastewater. We’re going to take care of that later." In order to build you’ve got to lay the proper foundation and then maintain it. And we’re not maintaining that foundation. We have these multi-million dollar packages for roads, we’re worried about our water and our wastewater and that’s because of poor planning. And that, to me, is a problem.

So in order to manage this growth would you do differently?
There’s a lot of things to do. We need to focus on the maintenance first. And that’s not something that has been done. That is one thing that is different. I would be very strong on that — that we would need to maintain what we have and make sure things are working before we add to it. And what I’m talking about is those additional incentives we offer to developers and businesses. We have to make sure we can keep our city’s foundation and we’re not doing that. We’re seeing cracks here, cracks here, cracks here, cracks here and that’s one of the things I’m going to pursue — to make sure were are not just patching those cracks, but fixing those cracks so that when we add more weight, which is adding new buildings, adding new development, adding new people, our foundation isn’t going to break.

How do you feel about giving tax incentives to businesses?
I think it’s a necessary evil. But I don’t think we have to give everything away. I think we can limit and lower the amount of incentives. We need to do them. I get it. But we don’t have to be everything. I really want to review what we’re doing.

What did you think of the Planning and Zoning Commission’s recommendations to relax the city’s landscaping standards?
If you’re coming here building a business, your business should fit into the area. If that area already has a high standard for landscaping, that business needs to fit. I believe we have to look pretty. I really like the word "charming." I like the charming tagline. And it’s part of our character and part of our uniqueness. It’s something we need to keep. I don’t like getting rid of everything and I don’t think it’s a big deal. If you want to be a success, you’re gonna want to look pretty, you’re gonna want to make yourself look attractive to your consumers so I don’t think it should be a big deal to follow the rules to maintain the Kyle character.

How do you feel about town hall meetings?
I love them. This is something I really liked that Samantha Bellows did. She had this meeting every Saturday at Casa Garcia’s and invited people. To me a meeting – whether or not people come – they need to feel welcomed. And just that simple invitation that says "Hey. I’m here, I’d like to speak with you" – you’re inviting them into the conversation. I know you can have postings on the web site or whatever. But let’s be honest, it’s just kind of air. People don’t go check the city web site to see what’s going on unless you really have an interest in it. But having town hall meetings says "Hey the doors are open, this is your city" and I’m all for it.

What do you think of the city taking steps to have its own television station?
If it’s grant funded, fine, but not if it comes from taxes. And I would like to see what the city would do with it. My husband and I lived in Austin for two or three years when we first got married and he was part of Austin’s cable television station. So he worked on getting television shows and he enjoyed that. The show that he worked on was musicians so they were able to showcase local talent. And I think you need a lot of that to show art, to show what our kids are doing, to highlight what our city is really about. I see no problem with it.

What specifically do you think are the top issues facing the city right now and what are your plans to deal with those issues?
Growth, which includes the roads. The wastewater plant issue — the lawsuit that needs to be addressed as well as maintenance of the wastewater issues. Another issue I have is we recently voted to approve our building size to 15 stories which is pretty big and I’m concerned that the fire department may not be equipped for a building that size. I want to make sure that if something happens they have the safety equipment they need to take care of something that size.

How do you feel about the idea that Kyle doesn’t even have its own fire department?
I think that what we have is working. It won’t work forever because we’re growing really fast and eventually need our own dire department, but at this time it’s working OK.

What do you think the major budget priorities should be the for the upcoming fiscal year?
Roads, water and wastewater and maintenance of our facilities. The roads need to be repaired. I voted for this humongous bond package and all I have to show for it is this sign that says "part of the bond package" and I haven’t seen anything. Granted, there’s stuff that’s happening behind the scenes that the citizens don’t see but we need to start seeing more happening. I don’t know if you know but the City of Kyle requested an easement from Hayes CISD in front of a fire station. They wanted an easement to expand that road and it was denied by the school district. It’s going to take tough negotiations to get the easements on all those rads – not just Bunton. But Bunton is a big concern for me because it’s that feeder road to the school. I think we just need to get on the wagon and get it done. I’ve been living here for 15 years and 15 years ago when we bought this house we were told the city is going to take care of this really soon, Fifteen years later we’re still waiting and nothing’s been done. And I was extremely disappointed when I talked with Mr. Sellers (City Manager Scott Sellers) at the road development meeting and learned that he had not driven the roads. So he had no idea what was happening. That was a little disappointing to me. But now he has driven them so I’m hoping that will get the ball moving.

Are you happy the council voted to sell all the remaining road bonds at the same time to accelerate the construction process?
I’m not sure that was a good idea – to do that kind of construction all at one time. They’re cutting off three major roads when you’re talking about construction at the same time in the same area. Lehman is here, Goforth is here and Bunton is here. That’s a big deal. If they did the roads one at a timer it would have also saved taxpayers money because you’re now drawing down all the funds at one time. When we voted on those bonds, we were told the roads would be rebuilt in order. So following through on what you presented to the voters is a necessity. How do they intend to do all the roads at one time — even staggering them? We had a bridge go out on Lehman Road and that caused a small chaos. So I can’t imagine seeing Goforth, Lehman and Bunton going on at the same time while trying to get all those high school students to school. That’s going to be a nightmare.

What are your feelings on the city manager’s desire to make Kyle "a destination city"?
This was my destination. I’m already here. I think it’s great, but until we fix our foundation, until we have a solid foundation, I have a problem with adding something to the top. You can’t put frosting on top of mud and call it a cake. You have to have a cake and our cake is crumbling.

What are your feedings about the proposed changes to the city’s committee structure?
I’m a little bit in between. I want to make sure we have an open government where citizens can come to speak. And I know it’s the same people who always volunteer. It’s the same everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re with the school, it doesn’t matter if you’re with the city – it’s always the same people. I’d like to see our city actively looking to engage more citizens. Do I have the magic key ingredient to say this is the way to do that? No. But I would really like to see us engage our citizens more.

How do you feel about TICS and PIDs?
I really don’t have an opinion, I need to do more research. (Note: Ms. Tenorio subsequently did research the subject and told me after this initial conversation, in essence, she could support PIDs that are homeowner originated, but has problems with those given to developers.)

Do you think the city should spend tax funds on items that some might find frivolous like art in public places?
I never consider art frivolous. Art is an expression, especially if that art is something that is highlighting our community, I don’t have any problem with it. I think it needs to be budgeted for but I think it’s an important part of creating a uniqueness to the city. I have no problem with it at all, and I would actively look for funding for that.

What are your thoughts on the current council makeup of three at-large and three single-member districts?
I think we need to increase our single-member districts to get more voice. I don’t know yet whether that should mean adding an extra chair or changing one of that at-large positions to a single-member one.

How do you feel about having council elections every year.
A staggered election cycle is necessary. It allows for some stability on the council because it means you have some people that have served the year before who have some knowledge about what has happened. Otherwise you would run risks of losing all your council members at one time. So, yes, I think I having a council election every year is a necessity.

What are your feelings on the council-manager form of government?
I’ve seen it work and I know it can work. It’s obvious there’s a huge division on the council and I don’t know what that division is and I’m not even going to guess. But you can see that division and one of the things we’re going to need to do is remind council members you’re not here for your personal issues, you’re here to represent the people who voted you in. You’re here to make the city work and to be a place for people to come to – to live, to work. But I do like the way it’s set up. It does work. There are just some issues that need to be resolved.

Such as?
I’m not going to get into those because I don’t play that game.

What changes would you like to see made to the city charter?
I want the charter to be reflective of what my community wants. We have a charter committee and I have given them my ideas. I want the charter to be reflective of what the people want. I really don’t have any major changes just little ones here and there and I I’ll be happy to e-mail you what I e-mailed them.

What do you think the city can do to attract more salaried job opportunities?
I think they’re coming slowly because they’re running out of land everywhere else. I live off of Bunton so I see when those warehouses go up. The buildings are periodically for lease. But it’s interesting how quickly they fill up. They don’t stay empty for too long at all,. So I know we’re in a prime location. I know they’re coming. I know a minimum of incentives are going to be necessary, but it’s happening. And it’s great to bring these big retailers in but we want to start focusing on small businesses because small businesses are the heart of a community. And I don’t think we’re doing enough to nurture those businesses. I know those businesses are going to come. I have no doubt in my mind.

Do you think the city is getting to the point where it needs to invest in mass transit and, if so, what form of transit?
I’m comfortable with what we have now. Do I see in the future that we need it. I do see eventually that train is going to need to come because we’re no longer Kyle. We’re an extension of Austin and we’re becoming an extension of San Antonio and we do need to plan for some type of way to keep our citizens safe and off the roads. I-35 scares the heck out of me. I don’t like the idea of putting my 16-year-old, my 18-year-old on that road. If he had the opportunity to jump the train to San Antonio, so be it.

What steps would you take, if elected, to give more citizen input into the city manager’s proposed budget?
Here’s one thing that interests me. When the Parks Department wishes to do something boy I hear about it. It’s everywhere. It’s on Facebook. It’s on Twitter. It’s on Instagram. It’s everywhere. But when we had that budget workshop, where was it? It was hidden on the city’s web site. Why couldn’t it have been Facebooked, Twittered, Instagrammed and sent out? It’s a form of inviting and that’s a big deal to me. You have to tell your citizens what’s going on. One of the things I wasn’t happy with was that there was no public comment at that budget workshop, information hadn’t been provided beforehand so you couldn’t have notes. I really would have liked to seen that information be made available prior to the meeting so that a citizen could have written some notes, come to the meeting and be able to talk about it and give their ideas to the city council. Otherwise it’s just a closed meeting.

Specifically what I’m talking about is citizen input between that approximately six-weeks time when the city manager actually presents his proposed budget and when the council votes to finalize it.
Advertise it. Let them know the budget is here and come and look at it. Let’s have a public comment section. E-mail your representatives. "What do you like? What don’t you like?" I want the people to know that they can pick up the phone, they can e-mail and if you need to come to my house and knock on the door and say "Hey, daphne, I don’t like this," then OK come tell me why. I want to hear because you have a voice. But If I’m not giving you the opportunity to speak about it, how are you going to know what I want. And we’re not giving the people the opportunity to speak about anything and that’s a concern for me. I’ve had this conversation with Mr. Sellers. I want transparency, I want people to realize government is their’s. Kyle is a citizens city. It’s not the city council’s city. It’s not the administration’s city. It is the citizens’ city. We’ve elected these people to do a job for us but if we’re not vocalizing what we want then we’re just hurting ourselves. I expect the city to have public comment meeting. I want people to know what my e-mail address is, what my phone number is. I want people to be comfortable to talk with me. And I tell you they already do. That’s part of being a member of the community.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Conversations with City Council Candidates: Tammy Swaton, District 6

Why are you running for re-election?

I started in this 10 months ago because I feel like everyone needs to give back to their community. In 10 months I realized how much there is to do -- how much I’ve learned in 10 months and how much more I want to do. Kyle is really exciting right now. We’re moving forward. The future looks incredible. I want to be a part of that. I want to be a part of the leadership.

What are some of the things you wanted to get done in those 10 months but could no get done?
Of course, we’re working hard on the roads. That took a while. So I would like to see those started and put in. I think we need infrastructure all the way around to bring in businesses. We need businesses, something like manufacturing that will bolster our sales tax income. And I would like to tighten up our zoning ordinances. I want to work with developers but there are people who are already here so I don’t think developers should be allowed to come in here and do whatever. But I don’t think they should be in a stranglehold either. It’s a fine line. People think I’m against apartments. I’m not against apartments. I’m just against somebody looking in my backyard so close.

What do you think the best ways are to communicate with constituents?
I like what we’re doing to our Web page. I think we’re putting more on there. We’ve got (software) programs now that will allow people to write in and say more. I think it’s really important for citizens to go to City Hall and listen to the City Council. Usually when it’s packed, it’s for one certain thing and then everybody leaves. I’m not sure how to do that. I want the community to feel that everything we do impacts them because it does. But I do like that we have started with the new programs on-line that they can be involved with. I also think walking is important, but I have found that in a couple of neighborhoods I went to I walked to between 400 and 500 houses and out of that I maybe talked to 20 or 30 houses. And the rest were just "OK, whatever." And they shut the door. So how do you make these people want to care? I think that’s something all of us have to be concerned about. My home address is on the web site. My personal cell phone number, which I have with me 24 hours a day, is on the web site. Walking is one thing, getting people to City Council meetings is another thing and promoting our Web page more. Other than that, I don’t know how to get people interested.

Do you think that attitude among residents might because citizens here feel this is just some place where they come to spend the night?
I know what you’re saying, but we’re growing. I moved here before we had the H-E-B and all that and it was nice. I liked that. As we grew and as we started getting more people in, it seemed like we grew really fast. It’s hard to get those young families in and those older families in and mix that. I was lucky. I lived in Travis Heights (a historic neighborhood in South Austin bounded by Lady Bird Lake on the North, I-35 on the east, Congress Avenue on the west and Oltorf Street on the south) before I lived here and Travis Heights was just a mix of everything. I’d be standing on the street corners on Saturdays with retired people and professionals and we’d be drinking our coffee and talking. And that’s what I love. But I think just going from what we were to what we are now has happened so fast. I think it will settle out but until we get to that point where we’ve kind of leveled out it’s not going to happen.

What do you think about town hall meetings?
I like town hall meetings. I’m big into town hall meetings. But how do you promote them? How do you get people to attend them? Presidential races is where I saw them first and I love them.

How do you feel about town hall meetings specifically designed to get constituent feedback on the city manager’s proposed budget?
I think everyone should have a voice, but they would have to come early in the budget process. I think it’s a god idea for people to see where we’re at and I think they need to have a right to say things about the budget. It would just have to be really early on. And we do need to know what the people think about the budget. And I would be up for trying it just so long as we did it right after the city manager proposed his budget. Look, if 90 percent of the people say we should go in another direction than what’s in the budget that’s huge and we need to know that. So I’m not against that idea at all. And it would also help just to explain budget items to constituents. If people, for example, realize we only have two police officers at night and what happens when one of them is sick and the other one is at the jail. What do you do when you have to respond to an incident? So it gives us a chance to explain things in the budget as well.

What are the major issues facing Kyle?
Infrastructure. Getting the roads done because it’s been so long. That’s on everybody’s mind so that’s going to be the biggest push. Taxes is another push. I’m hearing "No taxes, no taxes, no taxes." Well, with the roads there’s going to be some increase but if you can bring in enough business, you can offset that increase. So that’s what we need to do. We have to bring in business to offset possible increases in taxes. Water we’re sitting pretty good at. I’m really proud with what the city has done in regards to water. So going forward it has to be business and infrastructure.

Kyle seems to be doing a good job in attracting retail. What can be done to attract more salaried jobs?
I don’t want a Dell here, but I would like to see someone who supplies Dell here. Big manufacturing is what is going to help our sales taxes. We have the land, we need to get water and sewers put in. One thing I have to say is that Kyle works well with others, like other cities. That’s a big help right there. We can show businesses that we mean business. We go to conventions like the retail one upcoming in Las Vegas and they are great. We need to do that. Somehow we need to do that with other types of businesses. We need to look further into that. I know that there’s been businesses looking at us and they’ve been great and they really like what we have so I think it’s going to take getting one of those to start things off. I don’t know what that little edge is to get that one but we’re going down the right track with what we’re doing. We’re able to show a full package. We’ve got our water, electricity. We just need to finish getting sewer and the water lines in some places. But as far as being able to supply it, we have it. As a package, I think Kyle has everything it takes, we just need to get our name out there. And we’re starting to do that. Like I said, we have businesses looking at us. They’ve been pleased, according to all the feedback we’ve received. It’s just going to take one and then you’re going to see it grow from there.

What do you think of the city manager’s idea to make Kyle a destination city?
He gave us some examples and I liked his examples, so it’s hard to say I don’t like that when I liked what he said. I don’t think we want to become a bedroom community — a place like you said where people just come to spend the night. I don’t think we are that and I don’t think we’re going to be. We have the opportunities and the abilities to become a destination city. I don’t want us to put ourselves on the map for just anything, but for the right reasons, yes, I would like Kyle to be a destination city.

What are your views on the recent recommendations to reformulate boards, commissions and committees?
In the past some of these committees had really good charges but then those charges waned and if you don’t update them you just have people hanging out there, trying to do the best they can. It’s not necessarily what we’re looking for or anybody else is looking for. So I think we need really good charges. I do think we can get rid of some committees. There’s no doubt about it. I think there are some committees that don’t disappear forever, but you just call on them when you need them. There are ones I’m behind. The Library Board is one. Economic Development — I’m probably behind that one, but there are some things I’m behind but we can definitely get rid of some of them.

What do you think of TIFs and PIDs?
I have been asking for months to have a workshop on just this topic. Because the things I’ve found out so far really come to us. It’s really up to us as a city to decide what the requirements are and I don’t want to just throw something together. We have a community that hasn’t been treated very fairly at all. And I don’t want anyone else to wind up like that. So the first question I have is how are you going to let the buyers know that they’re going to have this. The answer I get is it’s in the documentation. Well, if you’re a first-time home buyer do you really read all that documentation? I think we need to talk to lawyers and other experts on PIDs to find out what we need to know. For someone on the council to just say, "OK, let’s approve them because the developer wants us to," that’s just not right. So I am not a huge supporter of them as they are done here currently but I am not absolutely against them. I just want to know more about them. I don’t think any of us know enough about them. And I don’t want another community going through what some of the ones we have are going through.

What are your feelings about roundabouts in general and specifically one to replace the four-way stop sign at Kohlers Crossing and Kyle Parkway?
As a parent in a subdivision I like that. I like that a lot. I have a hard time getting out of Plum Creek so I would feel pretty safe having children over there. They have them in Austin around Town Lake and I never feel comfortable with them. Do you go? Do you not go? People are waiting and all of a sudden everybody’s there. It’s worse than a stop sign is. Does it help traffic? I don’t know. I’d really want to see more studies on that simply because as a driver I am not so sure of them.

What do you think about the concept of using tax money on items some might find frivolous such as art in public places?
I work at UT and they have just installed some new art there and it’s really interesting,. I believe in beautifying our city. And I believe that art can possibly be a part f that. And I’ve seen it in places where I think it’s very well done. I would consider it. It’s not something I would just pull out of my pocket and say let’s go spend all this money on art. But it definitely is something I would consider for beautification. So it’s not a top priority, but I would consider it.

What do you think of the current council makeup of three at large and three single member districts?
I believe it’s OK. I believe for what I have in my district, it is good. So I think having half and half works out OK. If we went to one more single member district in place of one of the art-large districts that would probably be even better.

What are your thoughts on having council elections every year?
That costs money. It’s the money I’m concerned about. I would have no problem if it didn’t cost us money but it does. Putting more elections together saves us money and that’s the way to go.

Are you a fan of the council manager form of government or do you prefer a strong mayor type?
I definitely am a supporter of the council manager form,. I understand the mayor does a lot. He’s even busier than us as far as outside work.. But I like everyone having one vote. That’s why we hold elections. We are the voice of the people and I think that’s the way it needs to stay.

Any changes you would like to see to the city’s charter?
I don’t know about changes as much as we need clarifications. There are terms in there that too many people can read in too many different ways. We need to take everything and determine what we think it means. The mayor will say this is what the city charter says and I’ll say this is what it says, so which one is it? What’s right? And we need to get to a point where we can all agree on what it says. This is what it means. Period, End of conversation. This is how much you need to save. This is how much you can spend. This is what you can do. Right now there’s too much discussion about what that is. So we need to streamline it so we can put it out there and say this is what it means. And if we’re there, then we can think about other major changes, Yes, there are changes I think have to be made especially concerning about what funds we can spend money from. But until we get those clarifications, I don’t want to go into great detail.

Do you think the city should invest in any form of mass transit and, if so, what form should that be?
I drive into Austin every single day. And if you don’t leave by five thirty in the morning, you’re going to sit there for an hour or two. I believe, as we move forward — it’s not necessary right now — we may need to think about this. I think there needs to be something to get us there, whether it be bus, train or whatever. I lived in the Chicago suburbs and we used the train constantly. Easy travel, nice travel, there and back. I also lived in San Diego and you could take the train up to L.A. and back. I do believe in mass transportation. I think we’re going to have to look at that so the day never comes when we look back and say "Gee I wish we would have." That’s something that needs to be planned out and needs to be thought about right now. And there is talk, research talk. But we do need to move forward with something.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Another reason to switch to single member council districts

If only to remove the geographical imbalance and bias on the Planning & Zoning Commission, the Charter Review Commission needs to change the makeup of the Kyle City Council so that all six council members are elected from single member districts.

I’ll get to the problems with P&Z momentarily, but I’m not sure the city’s current system of three single- member districts, three at-large districts could withstand a court challenge. According to the most recent demographic data, the city has a population that’s more than 50 percent Hispanic, yet only one council member, 14 percent, has an Hispanic surname. It would be a much better idea and far less divisive if the city decided to change the council makeup instead of having the federal courts do it.

Once the council is comprised of six persons elected from individual districts with the mayor elected at large, the boards and commission appointment process needs to be changed so that each council person has the opportunity to appoint someone living in their district to each board/commission with the mayor electing the chair of that board/commission.

Which brings me back to the Planning & Zoning Commission which contains a geographical imbalance that staggers the imagination. Here’s the breakdown: Five of the seven P&Z commissioners live in two subdivisions within the city. Three of them – Michael Wilson, Mike Rubsam and Michele Christie – all live in Plum Creek. Two others– Dan Ryan and Lori Huey – live in Kensington Trails. Only one of the commissioners – Timothy Kay – lives in the downtown area.

I’m not making any accusations of geographical bias against the commissioners. But anyone can see at a glance that the entire city is not adequately represented on what is, next to the City Council itself, the most influential body in municipal government.

It stinks. And if the Charter Review Commission doesn’t change the council makeup, then the council should, on its own, change the composition of P&Z by dividing the city into six districts of equal population and then making sure only one P&Z commissioner represents each district, with the chair named at-large.

At least then P&Z could pass the smell test.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Conversations with City Council Candidates: Jaime Sanchez, District 5

Why Are you running for city council?

I’m running because I feel I have something to offer our city. From my past experience as a council member, also my profession in engineering, construction, project management, contract administration. You deal with those issues on a daily basis and the number one survey taken by the city – the top three things are roads, roads, roads, infrastructure, water and wastewater – that’s my forte.

What would you do differently than your predecessor?
I would do most of it differently. If you look at the history of most of my predecessors, the way they evaluated or attacked the budget every year, there are looking at putting out fires with that budget, they’re looking at feel-good projects instead of looking at the big picture – the holistic picture of what our problems really are and investing in solutions to those problems. And as you can tell we have a deficient infrastructure, no roads, no maintenance on roads we do have for the past 10 years. That tells you they have not looked to the future and looked at our problems that are coming our way. So I would do most of it differently.

Do you think the new city manager is going to be looking at the budget any differently than his predecessors?
We had that first budget meeting and from what I saw, the answer is "no." We’re getting $3 million in new money for this year and a projected $3 million for each of the next five years – that’s our conservative values. So that’s $15 million and the proposal for 2016 alone is $26 million. If you look at the budget there’s some ridiculous things in there. Again, they’re not looking at the big picture to see what’s coming our way.

What do you think are the best ways to maintain communications with your constituents?
Definitely attend council meetings and attend any public events. Support city events and during all these events communicate with your constituents. I think what (outgoing council member) Samantha (Bellows) did — I think she was the first one to start it — is allocating one day solely for meeting with citizens. I think that’s a great idea. That’s something I would definitely look into.

What do you think of such a meeting to outline the manager’s proposed budget to constituents and elicit their feedback?
That’s a great idea and something I would think about. That’s something that needs to be done. I would push for that. Of course, we have budget meetings. They are very long. You go line item by line item. I would like to provide cookies, cake, lemonade — something to attract the citizens to this type of meeting — you gotta make it exciting for them.

What do you think are the major issues Kyle should address over the next decade?
Roads and infrastructure. The infrastructure is a little more critical because you’re talking about water and wastewater. As they city grows you’re always going to have to expand the capacity of your water lines, the size of your water lines, the size of your wastewater lines. That’s always going to be an issue. You’re never going to overcome that because most cities, most states, most federal agencies don’t say "I’m going to put in a 42-inch line for 40 years." It doesn’t work that way, it’s not feasible, So you’re always going to have that issue and it’s always going to be a big issue. The more development you have, it becomes harder to build these things because now you don’t have right-of-way or you’re under a road whatever. So utilities are always a major issue, always. Spending is always going to be an issue because there are different philosophies of spending, I like this, but you like that. Spending is always going to be an issue, especially through our growing pains. Water in 10 years is going to be a hot topic. I call water "gold." That’s what I say to people. We’ve done a good job to buy some water rights. I think water will be a big issue. It will determine if we stay at 30,000 population or grow to 100,000. Infrastructure also means wastewater plants. Of course you can build a water plant within a year or two so it’s easy to do but there’s still the cost.

Do you think the city should build and operate its own wastewater plant?
The city right now is in a legal dispute over trying to buy that plant. The contract allows us to buy it back. The city forever was paying about three-quarters of a million collars to three gentlemen to operate this thing. And yet what we owe to buy it back is still in same price range as it cost us to build it, even though we’ve been paying three quarters of a million dollars per year for it. Actually, I started that conversation when I was on council. "Hey, why are we paying three-quarters of a million dollars? Why not just hire two guys from public works?" So I started that conversation. I would buy it even if it cost the same amount we paid for it originally and operate it ourselves. In the long run, you’ll see the rate of return.

What do you think of the city manager’s idea of making Kyle a "destination" city?
There’s two sides to that. I don’t think the people of Kyle being so small — I mean right now we’re going through growing pains, people want to see growth, a lot of people want to see all these economics, economic development, they want to see the new roads — but there is an impact to them. Our taxes go up. I like the small town attitude. That’s why I like it here. There’s a lot of positive things to being a destination because it does bring economic development. People want to come and buy and enjoy our city. I like the small-town attitude and the small-town atmosphere, the friendly people. I prefer to keep it that way, while having the H-E-Bs of the world or the shopping mall close by and jobs close by.

What do you think of the recommendations regarding commissions, boards and committees?
The way we functioned before — and I chaired a couple of committees — basically at that time the mayor asked candidates to be on the committees. Personally, I didn’t question it. I thought it was OK. I’ll do it. Fine. But according to the new mayor the charter doesn’t say council members have to be on a committee or have to chair the committee. It should be a representative of the citizens. And I totally agree with that. I think it should be total citizens — voters who want to give council input because they are the voice of the city. And I don’t think we as council people should chair and direct those conversations. I’m all for having committees. The more committees the better because you get the citizens involved. And that’s the bridge between the voters and the council.

What do you think of TIFs and PIDs?
I’m not for them. We had the LaSalle MUD trying to come into the city when I was on council. I analyzed it from an engineer’s point of view, from a cost analysis point of view, and I don’t see no benefit. I’ve had multiple discussions with council members. Now that I’ve been off council, the first MUD passed. But PIDs and TIFs are basically the same thing but they’re more for commercial development. I think it’s a tool we should use but the way we’ve been giving away the farm is totally reckless. And it has cost us. The citizens are taking the majority of that burden instead of the businesses. There was one last year called R&R, Inc., and that was for $10 million. And if you look at that contract, there’s typically a section that says "city obligations." We will do x. y. and z. And if you look at this one you couldn’t find where the obligation from the developer was. So are way saying "Here’s $10 million?" That’s just reckless. And I have heard from several council members that that is one of the biggest things coming up this year. That’s why a lot of council members are taking for the first time a position to recognizing or assisting candidates one way or another because that is a big topic. It’s my understanding that there’s been talks or discussions where contracts or agreements are being put together by the developer or the economic entity. To me, you’re just giving them a blank check. I worked for the city of San Marcos for three years and everything that came before them was a PID or a MUD. Everything. There was nothing sinful about it. You know they had the economic money because they get a lot of tax revenue from the shopping mall there. So they can do that and I think it has helped them. I’ve never looked or read one of their contracts, but I think they are doing it right. Those contracts are project specific. You’re not going to do the same contract for a 100-house development as one for 2,000. So what Kyle is doing now makes no sense. In Kyle, they are giving the PIDs to the developers which is totally unheard of. In San Marcos, it starts with a conversation between upper city manager – not council, not the mayor – but planning and zoning, engineering department and the developer and says "Instead of a 12-inch water line, I need a 44-inch, so let’s do a PID." You’re asking the developer to go beyond what he is proposing. So at that point it becomes a PID.

What are your views on roundabouts in general and specifically one to replace the four-way stop sign at Kyle Parkway and Kohlers Crossing?
I am very familiar and have done a lot of research into roundabouts. As a construction manager for the city of San Marcos, I built in one my CIP projects the first two roundabouts for the city of San Marcos. That’s in a subdivision called Rio Vista subdivision. A lot of controversy so I had to do my due diligence and research. There is a place and a location for roundabouts. It’s not applicable to every situation. They function when you put them in the right location. TxDOT just does not like roundabouts. They don’t like thinking out of the box. From my research in doing roundabouts, it’s not applicable (at Kohlers and Kyle Parkway). Put in the right location they will function and you will have continuous movement. That’s the intent of them. They also reduce head-on collisions. The problem is it’s not applicable because the speed limit is too high. At that location you have 60 miles an hour. Think about going on a radial at 60 miles an hour. You’re going to kill yourself. It’s not applicable. It’s like trying to put a roundabout on I-35. It does not work because of the speed limit. If it was a 30 mile-per-hour situation, yes. I think where it is applicable and will save the city a lot of money is on Bunton where the city is thinking about adding signal lights on that new road project from 35 to Lehman. There’s a T at Goforth and there’s a T at Lehman and they’re thinking about putting lights there. One light runs about $150,000 average so you put two lights, two poles whatever and you’re looking at $300,000. That would be an ideal location for roundabouts because they’re low speed limit and you have a lot of movement. And it’s cheaper because all you’re actually paying for is curb and gutter. Curb and gutter is a lot cheaper than signal lights. And they’re low maintenance and you can make them decorative architecturally.

Do you support spending taxpayers funds on items some might consider frivolous such as art in public places?
I would not support that. I think the Chamber of Commerce could take that up. It sounds like a tourist item. It might be more appropriate to use HOT (Hotel-Motel taxes) funds for that. I think if we’re going to do an attraction site, an attraction project, something to attract on a big scale, we should use HOT funds to do that. But I would think about using other funds to do a big water fountain or something huge.

Do you support the current council makeup of three single member and three at large districts?
I think it works fine. I think it’s a pretty good combination.

Your opinion on having city council elections every year?
That’s tough. I don’t think tough from the candidate’s perspective. I enjoy doing it. I do it because I like doing it. I like meeting people. I like talking to people. But it becomes cumbersome on the voter because after a while you’re knocking on their door again and their reaction is "Didn’t you just come last year?" It becomes very cumbersome for the voter. I hear complaints from my personal family: "We have to go vote again?" And then you have all the other elections and I think it becomes cumbersome, I think it should be every other year, every second year or every third year. I think that’s a better way to do it.

Do you prefer council-manager or strong mayor form of government?
That’s a loaded question. I am not in favor of a strong mayor. But in the past, in our growing pains, we were a small town and we grew up and our population grew and we had a very strong city manager. It worked for a while until ... I don’t know if the city wasn’t prepared for it or council members weren’t prepared for it, but there was not enough checks and balances to question or to regulate some of his decisions. After a while it became obvious it was not working. And that’s when we changed our first city manager. But I think it should be a combined effort between the entire council and the mayor working with the city manager. That’s the only way you can have checks and balances. I am not in favor of a strong mayor. I would like us to have a strong city manager with foresight.

Are there changes you would like to see made to the city charter?
I participated heavily in the last charter review. A lot of things that were on there were my ideas. Things I would like to see looked into: One, which became very controversial when I proposed it the last time and I hope it comes up again is pay for council members. I think if we pay council members and the mayor a good paying wage they would take the job more seriously. Then they become more accountable for their decisions. They didn’t have the excuse of saying "It’s just a volunteer position." You become accountable for your decisions. And you attract more professionals. Not that we don’t have professionals. I hope it comes back up. I don’t mind paying them. One thing I do want to see on there that’s kind of an odd thing is having two council members who are either married, which our charter does not restrict, or live together. I think that’s an ethical issue. I don’t see how they can vote independently of each other if they are in the same household. I don’t think the current charter prevents that – I don’t think it’s prevented anywhere. And it’s probably not constitutionally correct, but I would love to have that discussion.

What can be done to attract more salaried jobs to Kyle?
I think what we have going for us is opening the doors to the medical arena. I think we should continue with that. I would love to make us a medical hub where you will attract a lot of doctors and nurses which are high paying jobs. We’ve started it. We’ve taken a good first step and we can continue that. Incentives are the way to do that. It used to be all the doctors for my family were in Austin. Now we do all that business right here in Kyle. We should continue on that path. It not only grows the doctors and nurses but there are a lot of other jobs associated with that – maintenance and custodial, The restaurants. It impacts the whole thing. Hopefully with that there’s even been talk of doing a high-end subdivision. It will attract more people like that. I think we should continue that route.

Should the city invest in mass transit and, if so, what form should it take?
I am not for Lone Star Rail. I think the next big topic coming our way is can we avoid it. Probably not because we’re in the middle of the path. So it would be pretty tough to go against it. But I’m not for it. Especially with what’s being proposed: $100 million from our pockets just so we can build one station. If I was a businessman I’d be the last one to hold out. "I don’t think you can change your path. You’re going to come right through our town so I want it for free." They’re not going to change it. That’s the proposed path. I think the longer we wait and if we’re steadfast I think we can get a better deal. And how we pay for it depends on our finances at that point, It’s going to be 15, 20 years from now so a lot of things could change in that time frame.