The Kyle Report

The Kyle Report

Sunday, August 30, 2015

At least two council members will try to lower proposed tax rate, Mayor Webster leaves door slightly ajar

(Updated Monday, Aug. 31, at 5 p.m.)
Near the end of this article the subject of the Hays Consolidated Independent School District not offering a free port exemption was raised by Mayor Todd Webster. I reached out to the Hays CISD about this and received the following reply from Tim Savoy, the district's public information officer:

"Hays CISD Superintendent Michael McKie and Deputy Superintendent Carter Scherff met with the Greater San Marcos Partnership for the first time on Friday. The district will be working with Moak, Casey, and Associates to do an analysis of how the exemption would affect the school district before we make a decision. There is a potential that it would not only affect our tax revenue, but also our funding from the state. We hope to have the Moak Casey report in the coming weeks and we will go from there."

(Original Post)
Mayor Todd Webster says, while there are some budget reductions he could support, he believes the proposed 26 percent property tax rate hike "is necessary to properly run this city." At least two other council members, however, dispute that notion including one who believes the tax rate can be reduced from its current level.

Webster also said it was the Hays Consolidated School District that is "the single biggest obstacle to us landing the game-changing large scale employer that would truly drive down the rate as well as providing great jobs for people who live here." The claim, however, seems a little dubious and I am seeking a reaction to this statement from the Hays CISD.

As usual, Webster was disingenuous, at best, and outright spreading falsehoods, at worst, in a statement he posted recently to a neighborhood website. For example, he wrote "Most of the suggestions I have heard (to reduce the rate hike) have been to cut capital expenditures for equipment and other physical improvements." Now capital expenditures do not come from the General Fund so reducing them would have absolutely no effect on the tax rate. Either Webster doesn’t know this, which makes him stupid, or he does know it, which makes him a demagogue.

Then he goes on to spread the lie he proffered at the first tax rate public hearing Aug. 18, but, at least, didn’t repeat at last Wednesday’s hearing. "There will need to be $1.6M in cuts to offset the entirety of the rate increase, which is an increase resulting from the road bonds and paying down some additional debt." This is simply not true. The rate increase is also needed to pay for an additional 20 new city government employees, including five additional police officers, new equipment and $1.5 million for the creation of "Internal Service Funds for Equipment, Fleet and Facility."

Not that all of these additions are not wanted or even, in many cases, needed; but Webster should simply not be repeating the lie that the entire tax hike is due to the road bonds,

Speaker after speaker at the two public hearings on the rate hike pleaded with the council to lower the rate. Their pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears when it comes to the mayor, but at least two other council members have heard them. One told me right after Wednesday’s meeting it is guaranteed amendments will be offered to reduce the proposed rate of $.6145 per $100 valuation because that particular council member plans to offer them.. (The current tax rate is $.5383 and the effective tax rate — the rate that would bring in the same amount of revenue as the current year — is $.4870.)

Another council member plans to introduce enough amendments to actually reduce the rate to $50455, 3.3 cents lower than the current rate. "However, we have several factors that have not been finalized yet," this official told me. "That includes a possible increase from the EMS contract. I keep hearing the cost of the EMS contract is going to go up by over $200k. I also want to make sure our Police and Fire have all they need. So this is just a starting point for me."

In his statement to the neighborhood website, Webster said:

"Based on the severe deficiency in the city’s capacity to provide the services a city of 45,000 people should be getting, I think this budget, particularly the additional staff for police and utilities is catching up to where the city needs to be. While there are certainly places where some reductions could be made, there will be consequences to those reductions. Most of the suggestions I have heard have been to cut capital expenditures for equipment and other physical improvements, There will need to be $1.6M in cuts to offset the entirety of the rate increase resulting from the road bonds and paying down some additional debt. Some on the city council appear to recognize the budget and the tax increase as an opportunity to score political points. I suppose that is to be expected. For me, I am going to make a decision on this budget based on what I understand is necessary to properly run this city and provide the citizens the level of services that I regularly hear that they want. Many of the additional positions and capital projects are what citizens have been demanding while others are desperately needed items, such as waste water system fixes, that are not visible to most taxpayers. There are some reductions I can support and I am looking forward to seeing what some of the council members’ suggestions (are). As for commercial development offsetting residential taxes, I think we will need to land an additional $1 billion in commercial tax base to see a noticeable impact. To truly have a good chance at doing that, we are going to need the school district, which is the largest taxing entity on your tax bill, to do what other districts have done and adopt a free port exemption. Not having that is the single biggest obstacle to us landing the game-changing large scale employer that would truly drive down the rate as well as providing great jobs for people who live here. Right now, we are excluded from consideration from most if not all major manufacturing and distribution projects because of not having it."

The question remains, however, is how granting tax exemptions is going to allow for commercial development to offset residential taxes. I have reached out to Merideth Keller, president of the Hays CISD board of trustees, for her reaction to the mayor’s statement and will update this post when and if I receive a reply.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hand-held ban to include bicyclists

It appears it might be OK for this guy to use a hand-held device will driving in Kyle

The proposed ordinance to go before the City Council Tuesday would not only prohibit the operators of motor vehicles from using hand-held electronic devices but would also apply to bicyclists as well. Violators could be fined up to $500 (or more for a third violation), although no fines will be issued between the date the ordinance goes into effect and Nov. 1.
 A public hearing is scheduled prior to the council’s debate on the proposal for those citizens who would like to make their opinions known.
The following devices would be included in the ban: a "text-messaging device or other electronic, two-way communication device that uses a commercial mobile service ... mobile telephones, personal digital assistants (PDA), MP3 or other portable music players, electronic reading devices, laptop computers or tablets, portable computing devices, portable global positioning or navigation systems, pagers, electronic game devices and broadband personal communication devices." The use of hands-free electronic devices are permitted.
There will be some exceptions to the rule including reporting a possible illegal activity, communicating with an emergency response operator, a medical emergency, or if there is some other reason to believe a person’s "life or safety is in immediate danger."
The prohibition will be in effect even if the vehicle in question is not moving — stopped at a red light, for instance. However, someone in the driver’s seat of a vehicle may use a device if a car is parked, presumably in a legitimate parking space with the ignition off. "For the purposes of this ordinance, ‘parked’ does not mean a vehicle stopped in a lane of traffic due to either a lawful traffic control device, or the conditions on the roadway, or traffic congestion patterns then existing," the proposed ordinance reads.
Specifically, here are the activities operators of motor vehicles and bicycles could not do under the proposed ordinance:
  • Engage in a call
  • Send, read or write a text message
  • Take or view pictures or written text whether transmitted by internet or other electronic means, or access or view an internet website or software application
  • Engage in gaming
  • Engage in any other use of the device while operating a motor vehicle. This includes holding the hand-held wireless communication device.
No fines will be attached to offenses until Nov. 1 "so that an educational effort by the City of Kyle may be conducted to inform the public about the importance and requirements" of the ordinance. However, beginning Nov. 1 offenders can be fined anywhere from $100 to $500 for a first offense, between $200 and $500 for a second offense and a minimum $500 fine for a third offense.

(Personal note: I wouldn't mind seeing the fines doubled if the offense occurred within a school zone.)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads” (or, my problem with Transportation Plans)

"What I’m asking for is something that isn’t expensive at all. I’m asking for vision. Who are we as a city? I didn’t want to move out here just so that I could be part of some sort of massive, mass-producing set of subdivisions. If we’re the most expensive city to live in in Hays County, it’s because we’re not using vision. We are trying to run an expensive city with lots of dreams on the backs of homeowners. It just doesn’t work that way. We have to be in sync with business development. Already, everybody in the country knows that Kyle is one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. We don’t have to give away anything to get businesses to come here. We need to be reasonable about who we could become. What’s it gonna look like in 10 or 15 years when we have nothing but decaying subdivisions one right after the other? We can do better than that. I think we just need to slow down. Let’s see if we can find a viable vision. I think our economic development plans which to this point have brought us really not much more than more fast food than anybody needs. I think that plan and whoever is behind it should fall on their sword and start all over. So, I’m asking for vision. I’m asking to you to think about each and every homeowner and rental person and mother and father who are trying to put food on the table. Let’s not go crazy with somebody else’s money."

Christina Depperschmidt, a Kyle resident of close to 10 years, said these words last night to the City Council during its hearing on the proposed tax rate. But her plea — "I’m asking for vision. Who are we as a city?" — echoes far beyond one fiscal year’s budget, one year’s proposed tax hike. It resonates even beyond any proposed economic development and especially any transportation plan because those plans fail to answer that question she posed. "Who are we as a city/" as well as the logical extension of that question — the extension that addresses vision — "What is it we want to become as a city?" or as Ms. Depperschmidt said: "What’s it gonna look like in 10 or 15 years" or 25 or 50 or 100 years?

I have many problems with transportation plans. First, they do not exist as a planning mechanism; they exist only as a funding mechanism. The only reason a locality embarks on the folly of a long-range transportation plan is because that locality would not be eligible for state and federal highway funds without such a plan, as if those funds were a good thing to begin with.

Second, as I have said many, many times, transportation plans are a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem. I mentioned this during an urban planning seminar I attended in Austin last week, a seminar where most of those who participated disagreed with my arguments on this. Not only did they wind up agreeing with me by the end of the seminar, one of them went so far as to say he now realized transportation plans are nothing more than an extension of the 19th century concept of manifest destiny.

The word "flow" is attached to describe traffic movement for a reason. Traffic does indeed flow like water. Imagine a river meandering south to the sea. But someone comes along and cuts a channel to create a stream that doesn’t meander, but carries water directly south to the sea. What happens? That channel fills with water, but it doesn’t decrease the amount of water meandering in the original channel. Transportation plans are the instructions for exactly the same result on our roadways. If you’re goal as a city is to grow from a municipality with a half-dozen highly congested roads to a municipality with a couple of dozen highly congested roads, a transportation plan will tell you exactly how to achieve that goal. But is that "Who we are as a city"? Is that really our vision for the future? I hope not.

Which brings me to next problem I have with transportation plans as well as other such plans. They are all regarded out of context with the future of the city as a whole. They don’t answer that overall question of what we want to become as a city. What do we want to look like 50, 75, 100 years from now.

Let’s examine that future by reviewing our past. This is what your cell phone looked like 25 years ago. In 1990, there was no wifi, no Facebook, no Twitter. In fact, laptop computers didn’t really enter the public consciousness until the mid-1990s and even then one cost about $3,000. If you had tried to explain the concept of wifi to a Kyle city leader in 1990, he or she probably would think you should be committed. Today the very notion of existing without wifi seems incomprehensible.

So what’s the world going to be like 25 years from now? I have absolutely no idea and I don’t think anyone around here has any idea either. So why are you wasting your time designing a transportation plan for 25 years from now? (The answer, of course, is not because it's the logical thing to do, but only because of the money.)

My idea of vision is not to look at transportation in isolation, or development in isolation, but at the interrelationships that make up the entire fabric of a city. Here’s my challenge to all you "planners," all you "visionaries" out here. I challenge you to find ways to achieve this goal: Making Kyle the most liveable city possible. How do you achieve that? I’ll be the first to admit, I have absolutely no idea how you achieve that goal. My lot in life is to report about those who do have those ideas for getting there. But I am absolutely convinced that’s the goal we should be striving for and everything we do involving planning should fit within that concept. I am also convinced there are people out there who can begin steering us in the right direction, people like Charles Marohn of Strong Towns and Jeff Speck and even the Governors' Institute on Community Design. The resources are out there, if you care enough about our future to seek them out. I would argue that instead of wasting time trying to conceive a transportation plan, import Marohn, Speck and/or their disciples to help us develop a plan for the future of the entire city, a visionary plan, a plan that not only answers the first question Ms. Depperschmidt posed – "Who are we as a city?" — but also her second " What’s it gonna look like in 10 or 15 years."

Not what kind of transportation plan should we have, not what kind of development plan should we have, but what kind of city should we have and what kind of city do we want to become?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

P&Z moves one step closer to recommending developer-friendly landscape ordinance

The reason, I have been told by a number of city officials, why the city wants to lessen its landscape standards is because of developers’ complaints. "Adhering to these requirements is just too damn expensive," the developers whine and, as a result, the city is besieged by requests for variances from the regulations by developers. So, the argument goes, if we reduce the requirements, we reduce the number of complaints.

In a city where the officials bend over and grabs their knees whenever a developer asks them to, one could argue making life easier for those who actually dictate municipal policy — these developers — makes perfectly good sense. Personally, I think it stinks. Who should the city be beholden to — those who actually live and work here or those that develop the joint and then move on to screw up the next town? I argue it should be the former, but I seem I am in the minority here.

My point is simply this: The developer rarely, if ever, inhabits the project being developed. I will argue landscaping ordinances should be designed to satisfy those who will actually occupy the property in question, not to make it cheaper for that property to be developed. But our elected public officials simply don’t agree with this notion; in fact, they believe the exact opposite is true.

As mentioned in my profile, I used to be a partner in a media/crisis consulting firm. It was a comparatively small company, never employing more than seven persons at any one time. Our building needs were somewhat unique, but not overwhelming: we needed individual offices for each of the employees, a reception area, a conference/teaching room that could comfortably accommodate up to 15 persons and a room that could be used as a television studio. We were never going to construct our own building to satisfy those needs; we always looked for spaces we could alter somewhat to fit our specifications in existing office buildings.

At the same time we wanted to be located in a facility that presented the best possible face. Our clients included the heads of major corporations, owners of professional sports teams, and political leaders (including one client who subsequently became President of the United States). When you host individuals of this stature you want them on a campus that looks nice. Not only that, but we always wanted to come to work each day in a facility we could be proud to say we worked in.

But, as I said, it’s Kyle’s operating philosophy that the wants and needs of those who will live and work in a structure are not as important as those developing that structure and, hence, the need to scale back on the city’s landscape ordinance.

Having said this, however, I must tip my hat to Community Development Director Howard Koontz who has stepped into this fray since the last proposed revision of the ordinance and who did try to add some teeth to it during last night’s Planning and Zoning Commission workshop. For example, the commissioners created a landscaping requirement table that reduced the amount of landscaping required particularly in commercial developments. Koontz simply wanted to substitute that table with language that said all areas of the development not being used for the actual building footprint should be landscaped. But the commissioners were too dang proud of that table to give it up.

Koontz did manage to get language inserted that requires landscaping plans be submitted with the original development request and that those plans must be prepared by a licensed landscaping professional such as a registered landscape architect, a certified arborist,.or a registered forester. He also convinced the commissioners to change a requirement that all protected trees located where a street was to be constructed did not have to be replaced. Now that section reads those trees "that are located within areas designated for the construction of public underground utilities such as water or wastewater lines shall not be required to be replaced," but developers will be required to "submit a tree removal plan with the submittal of public improvement construction plans."

"We’re talking about the private development of a public improvement," Koontz said.

Commissioner Lori Huey argued that making these kinds of demands on developers would increase developers’ complaints that "It’s too hard to build in Kyle." Koontz countered: "When they come in crying it’s too hard to do work here, it’s not too hard to do work here. It’s harder to do quality work here. Any drunken third grader can go out there and moonscape a lot and put a building up in the middle of it. It takes talent and intelligence and quality individuals to put together something that’s visually dynamic and interesting."

My thoughts exactly and now I’m praying that his ideas about quality and developments that are "visually dynamic and interesting" will be reflected throughout the final landscape ordinance.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A brief Q&A with Chief Barnett on proposed cell phone ordinance

Yesterday I wrote about a proposed ordinance requested by Mayor Pro Tem David Wilson that would prohibit the use of a cell phone by someone operating a motor vehicle. At the same time I noted Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett said he was working on such an ordinance and would have one ready by the City Council's next scheduled agenda meeting, Sept. 1. Here is the transcript of a short conversation I had with the chief on this subject via e-mail:

Q; Is the ordinance you are working on one that would just ban the use of hand held cell phones or will it include all hand-held electronic devices -- Ipods, tablets, Ipads, etc.?

Chief Barnett: Everything — all of those mentioned. This is obviously subject to the decisions yet to be made by the City Council.

Q: With the size of the force you will have even with the addition of the new officers in the upcoming budget, how difficult do you think it will be to enforce the ordinance or do you think, like speed limit limitations, posting signs will be effective enough?

Chief Barnett: I personally think that the law itself is meant to be a strong deterrent, but our officers will be keenly aware of the prohibitions and will enforce the same. This will be done in the normal course of their patrol duties.

Q: How many accidents have the police investigated in Kyle in the past two years that were directly caused by one of the drivers using a hand-held device at the time of the accident?

Chief Barnett: I don't have an answer for this, as it will take some time for review by the records staff. Let me check on this one and get back to you. It will likely be a couple of days before I have an answer. Short answer — a very small number — not that the real cause wasn't the operator's use of a device while driving, but rather the lack of admission on part of the driver or other proof of this activity for several reasons.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Kyle to consider banning cell phone use while driving

Last week, when I received my latest issue of the Community Impact Newspaper — the issue in which the lead story bore the headline "Buda cracking down on distracted driving" — I wondered how long it would take for Kyle to follow suit. Turns out the time could be measured in minutes.

Last Thursday night Mayor Pro Tem David Wilson asked Mayor Todd Webster and City Manager Scott Sellers to make sure the Sept. 1 city council agenda meeting contained "an ordinance banning use of hand held cell phones and texting while driving."

Police Chief Jeff Barnett confirmed his department is working on such an ordinance and I have reached out to the chief to determine whether the proposed ordinance would only ban the use of hand-held cell phones, but other portable devices as well such as pads, tablets, mp3 players, etc.. I am awaiting a reply and will update if and when I receive it.

Meanwhile, expect at least a proposed cell phone ban ordinance of some form to be on the council’s agenda week from tomorrow.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Why I won't be attending Tuesday's transportation plan meeting

There's some kind of grandiose Transportation Plan meeting taking place here Tuesday evening at the same time the Planning and Zoning Commission is hashing out its final recommendations for the city's landscaping ordinance. I will opt to attend the latter because what happens in the P&Z workshop will have a more direct and immediate impact on the city while the transportation plan will, without doubt, concern itself only with how we can get more cars on more roads creating more bad air and will have no sensible recommendations such as these "Road Diets," and, of course, will contain absolutely no information about how to make Kyle more walkable. (You really owe it to yourself to watch this 16-minute video.)

Greater San Marcos Partnership appears to shaft Kyle again

Earlier this week I wrote that I believed it was wrong for the city to decrease funding for the Kyle Chamber of Commerce, whose only concern is the promotion of Kyle, while increasing funding to the Greater San Marcos Partnership, whose first, second, third, fourth and fifth concern is promoting the city that bears its name and only then perhaps throwing some small scraps around to Kyle and other neighbors.

Perhaps you might have read the story in today’s Austin American-Statesman (top of page B5) that says Amazon, the largest retailer in the history of the world without a single retail outlet, is locating a distribution warehouse in San Marcos that will create 350 jobs. And if you did read it, you then also noticed the Greater San Marcos Partnership received prominent mention in the story. The partnership boasted the Amazon deal translates into a $21.3 million shot in San Marcos’s economic arm over the life of the 15-year-deal.

Of course, all the planning and negotiating for these types of deals are done under the cover of the tightest secrecy imaginable, but one can’t help but wonder whether Kyle was ever even mentioned in any of these conversations.

City government may not be cheap, but it’s less expensive than the alternative

Listening to the voices coming from the citizens who attended last Wednesday’s special called meeting to discuss the proposed property tax rate, they have four major concerns. What they are demanding is, perhaps not in this order of importance:

  • Better roads
  • A recreational center with an indoor pool and gymnasium
  • Some form of mass transit, especially something for the elderly and the infirmed
  • A lower property tax rate

Anyone else spot the incongruity there? It’s like walking into the H-E-B, picking up some eggs, butter, a package of chicken breasts, some fruits and vegetables and a flat-screen TV and then trying to tell the person at the checkout line you have no problem paying for the food, but you really don’t want to pay for the TV.

Yes, there are certain services your local government should be obligated to provide its citizens, but it can’t be obligated to provide them for free. There are costs involved and the government has the right to charge you for those costs. And, just like what happens at H-E-B, the more items you decide you want and throw into your municipal shopping cart, the higher the tab is going to be at checkout.

This phenomenon is not peculiar to Kyle. In fact, I have yet to attend a budget town hall meeting any where at any time when citizens didn’t demand more and better services and lower tax rates. And as many times as I have witnessed this, it never fails to boggle my mind.

There are two items I believe all municipal governments should be required to provide to its residents: public safety and a clean, healthy environment. Everything else is gravy. But those two required services do not come cheaply; in fact, most cities will devote more than 60 percent of its General Fund budget to public safety alone, primarily police and fire protection. I also include good roads under public safety. But just as sure as the city should make you feel safe and secure in your own homes as well as out in public, so should you be able to enjoy clean, safe, good tasting water whenever you turn on the faucet in your homes. Your garbage should be collected and disposed effectively. Wastewater and stormwater should not pollute our streams and rivers. Properties with dilapidated structures, overgrown weeds, abandoned automobiles or tires or illegal waste dumps should not be tolerated. But it cost money to make all those things happen.

And, of course, just like the possessor of a credit card, the city is required to pay its debts, the money it borrowed to build major (capital) projects, usually defined as something that will last at least 20 years.

Here’s an idea. Let these citizens who want all these rec centers, transit options and other items along with a lower tax rate build their own budgets. Here’s how the city can facilitate this, using both workshops where residents can do it jointly or setting up a process where it can be done through the city’s web site. First the city establishes a baseline: the amount required to maintain public safety, a clean, healthy environment and to pay off on the debt. Then establish the property tax rate needed to pay for those "must-haves." After that, you create a menu and you list all the other items citizens might want and/or need together with the amount the property tax rate would have to be raised to pay for it. At the end, ask them to total their menu choices and, if then submit it if they really are willing to pay that rate for those services. I would recommend the city initiate this right at the start of the next calendar year.

Such an exercise could accomplish two objectives. First, it might go a long way to illustrate the cost of services the city provides to its citizens. But, on the other side of the coin, it might send a message to the city that a significant number of citizens are willing to pay extra to receive these services so perhaps the city manager might want to include them in his upcoming budget.

Just a thought.

Friday, August 21, 2015

You, too, can shave 7 cents off the tax rate

(UPDATED 1:30 P.M., Monday Aug. 24)
Midway through this post I wrote "even just a halfway decent warrant officer will pay for himself" because the outstanding fines he could collect would be far more than his salary. I finally got the lowdown on these numbers, thanks to Chief of Staff Jerry Hendrix. The established salary for the proposed warrant officer is $69,670. The amount of court fines outstanding in Kyle as of Friday is $4,578, 838. That means the proposed officer's salary is a measly 1.5 percent of all fines outstanding. That's potentially an incredible investment. Not only that, but 51.6 percent of those outstanding court fines are two years old or less, according to the numbers Hendrix provided. Let's say that officer only manages to collect 50 percent of that number; that's $1.18 million in found money for the General Fund.

To put this in a slightly different, but still positive, perspective, note that the total General Fund expenditures for the upcoming fiscal year are estimated to be $21,983,344. The total amount of the outstanding court fines is a whopping 20.8 percent of that total. And even if that warrant officer can only collect something in the neighborhood of  the aforementioned $1.18 million, that's enough to fill a lot of potholes.

Kyle city government may be transparent, as it likes to claim, but it’s not always clear.

Take last Wednesday’s public meeting on the proposed tax rate as well as the city’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Are they open? Are they available to one and all? They certainly are. Are they understandable? That’s open to debate.

For instance, during the public meeting Mayor Todd Webster and Mayor Pro Tem David Wilson, the proverbial two peas in a pod, tried to convince those in attendance that the 26 percent increase in the tax rate was due exclusively to the sale of the road bonds which voters approved two years ago. "You voted for it," they seemed to say. "You told us to raise the tax rate to pay for the roads. So we did. We had no choice."

And if you buy that, I’ll toss in the horse it was excreted from for free. If the only additional money needed was that to pay for the road bonds, the tax rate would be .5633 cents per $100 valuation, not the .6145 that has been proposed. (That figure comes from adding the cost of the bonds, $.0763, to the effective tax rate, which is the rate the city would charge to raise the same amount it did this current fiscal year. That rate is $.4870.)

Three cheers for council member Damon Fogley. Unlike Webster and Wilson, Fogley, at least was honest and above-board about the whole thing. He had the courage to correct Webster’s and Wilson’s lies clarify Webster’s and Wilson’s ambiguities. He told those in attendance the tax hike was going to pay for four new police officers, personnel the city needs to hire now that it’s assuming control of its wastewater treatment plant and other infrastructure improvements. Council member Daphne Tenorio let those in attendance know the budget will also cover the salaries of some 17 other new positions. So, unlike Webster and Wilson, at least Fogley and Tenorio were up-front about what’s really going on with the budget.

But Tenorio went one step further. She told the citizens to look at the budget for themselves (you can find it right here), go through it and come back to the second public hearing on this subject, this coming Wednesday at 7 p.m., also at City Hall, and offer recommendations for changes. She noted that for each $200,000 eliminated, the tax rate will go down one cent.

So I decided to take her up on her offer, knowing that anything I would cut must come from the General Fund because that’s really the only one affected. I examined the employee costs first. I know I don’t want to cut the four new police officers; for a city of its size, even with this addition, the Kyle police force is still undermanned. I also don’t want to cut the new warrant officer position because even just a halfway decent warrant officer will pay for himself. If you don’t already know, this person is charged with seeking out all those miscreants who are trying to avoid fines they owe the city. Most of those fines are for speeding or traffic violations, but there are others handed down by the municipal courts and you’d be surprised to know how much is out there. I’m seeking to find out what that dollar amount is in Kyle but I do know that, to cite just one example, in Hattiesburg, Miss. (population 47,000 to Kyle’s 46,000), its municipal court had $21.4 million in unpaid fines in 2013. That’s a heck of a hunk of moolah that should be available for the city of Hattiesburg, but isn’t.

I could argue that the city really doesn’t need a special events coordinator, but this position is only costing the General Fund about $25,000 this year so, in the overall scheme of things, eliminating that position really isn’t going to do that much. Let’s give this person a shot and see just how many new special events are created and what the tax impact of those events are. There’s $77,978 earmarked for a new storm water master plan administrator and, from where I’m sitting, the city has long neglected its storm water management and I’m encouraged that City Manager Scott Sellers is taking initial steps to correct this. I could also question the nearly $50,000 salary for a pr guru, spin doctor, city flak communications specialist. Eliminating that position would knock .0025 off the tax rate which only translates into a savings of $5 a year for the owner of property valued at $200,000.

But then I looked at other General Fund expenditures and I stumbled across what I feel is the elephant in the room: $1.5 million to create "Internal Service Funds for Equipment, Fleet and Facility." Here is the definition I found for Internal Service Funds: "Proprietary funds, which are accounted for on a flow of economic resources measurement focus, which requires full accrual accounting." And there are probably thousands, if not millions, of accountants out there who understand that, but what it comes across to me is little more than a slight-of-hand bookkeeping trick. I’ve seen city managers pull of these kind of maneuvers many, many times.

So I went to the city and asked for an explanation for this $1.5 million expenditure. Here’s the reply, verbatim, I received from Chief of Staff Jerry Hendrix:

"These funds were established as a way to keep up with the replacement requirements of the various assets the city owns and that are critical in carrying-out basic municipal functions. Examples would be heavy equipment, police vehicles, technology, and facilities. As growth and development of our city continues, it is also creating an urgency for timely replacement of such assets. Each year, it is becoming a competing prioritization challenge to budget funds for acquiring new assets to meet expanded demands for service delivery while having to continually defer the replacement of existing assets.

"In an effort to rectify this structural shortcoming and the resulting funding gap, the city manager in his budget for FY 2015-16 has proposed to establish an effective management system by which funds will be budgeted and dedicated each fiscal year for the timely and planned replacement of these types of assets by the end of their economic useful lives. The proposed budget, as amended by city council on Aug. 1, includes $1,616,384 to seed the three internal service funds. The principal source of funds for establishing these three funds was the $1,250,000 accumulated balance in the City's Emergency Reserve Fund which the City Council repealed under Ordinance No. 826 which was passed on September 16, 2014.

"For a growing and progressive city such as the city of Kyle, the ramifications of delaying the implementation of a comprehensive asset replacement program can be significantly expensive for the taxpayers when considering such cost factors as for safety, reliability, service delivery, emergency response, customer service, maintenance and repairs, salvage value, replacement cost, etc. It is important to note that there is absolutely no guaranty that either funding will be available next year to implement this much needed program or that other higher priority projects will not defer it for yet another budget cycle. "

So there you have the explanation and it sounds reasonable, up to a point and that point is the current proposed tax rate increase as well as the fact that I could find plenty of other expenses in the budget for vehicles ($75,000 for a police patrol vehicle; $59,000 for a truck/trailer for the parks crew; $50,000 for a roller/trailer for Public Works, etc.) Now I guess it could be argued that the internal service fund is money being set aside to replace those vehicles that haven't even been purchased yet (as well as others in the fleet). But does that mean the more equipment the city buys, the more has to go into the fund?

But, as Tenorio said, for every $200,000 you cut from this General Fund expenditure, you reduce the tax rate by one cent and if you defer $1.4 million of this fund until next year, at least, the owner of that $200,000 property is now saving $140 a year and that could go a long way toward buying school supplies during the next tax free weekend.

Now let me be clear on this. I’m not taking a position on these internal service funds. I’m just saying to look at Hendrix’s explanation for this, weigh it against your own budget and decide which is more important to you right now: Establishing these internal service funds for the reasons Hendrix cited or taking a one-time savings of $140.

Whatever you decide, make sure you show up at City Hall next Wednesday at 7 p.m. and let your voice be heard. This is your money these folks are playing monopoly with and you have the absolute right — I should say you have the responsibility — to tell them exactly how you want it raised and how you want it spent.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Kyle’s growth strategy: Orderly But Dumb

There’s a section on the op-ed page of the Austin American-Statesman called "The Water Cooler." You can find it just about every day in the lower right corner of the page. Normally I don’t pay much attention but today a picture of the Kyle city limit sign immediately drew my attention to that lower right corner of the page.

I’m not sure exactly what The Water Cooler is all about, but looking at it I’m guessing it comes from comments readers place on the newspaper’s Facebook page in reaction to certain stories. This particular story apparently reported "An Austin-based homebuilder is moving forward with plans for a master-planned subdivision on the 673-acre Nance Ranch in the fast-growing area in Hays County. The project could have up to 2,200 homes once it is completed in phases over the next 10 to 15 years."

Here are all the comments the Statesman reprinted:

  • Shawn Marie: My great-grandfather used to live and work on the Nance Ranch, To hear my grandma talk about it, one would never imagine such a development there.
  • Luis Rivera: That’s a lot of homes. Traffic on RM 150 in that area will be horrible.
  • Christie Smith: And the water is coming from where?
  • Tammy Svjagintsev: I’m sick of master-planned.
  • Randall Stephens: Get ready for the high cost of expanding police, fire, EMT and school service.
  • G.L. Werchan: Will there be a day when the market isn’t the gatekeeper of land use? Or are we just going to pave over the land until we’re Tron?
  • Tom Brown: Hope they throw in a few dollars to improve expand the road system — or maybe even offer public transportation. FM 1626 us gonna get hit pretty good.

I’m a voracious reader, especially of non-fiction. If you ever see me out in public, I am usually carrying reading material with me. If you ever attend City Council meetings you will notice me more often than not buried in a book during those times when the council is in executive session. I never dine out alone — if it’s not another person or two or three joining me, it will be a book. I am also an avid reader of newspapers and scholarly studies exploring subjects I have a particular interest in.

One of those subjects is urban planning and it just so happened that a week or so ago I came across this study that theorized municipalities follow two methods of growth. The first is Orderly but Dumb. The second is Chaotic but Smart. I found it fascinating that Dallas, where I lived for almost 50 years before relocating here followed both methods, depending on the area of town in which the growth occurred. In short, Orderly But Dumb is the way most cities have grown since the end of World War II, carefully master planned without any consideration given to the ultimate ramifications and financial consequences of that growth. It is always car-centric. Chaotic but Smart development is more self-contained and usually created outside the influences of municipal government. It is more organic and walkable. It’s piecemeal and incremental.

I learned there’s an organization called "Strong Towns" (you can check it out here). The vision statement of Strong Towns reads as follows: "We seek an America where our cities, towns and neighborhoods are financially strong and resilient. There is no shortcut to that enduring prosperity. It must be built, block by block, day after day, by people who care about the places they live in." Strong Towns was started back in 2008 as a blog by Charles Marohn who describes himself as a "recovering engineer." And that study I referred to earlier quoted Marohn quite extensively. He said the Orderly But Dumb method, which is obviously the growth strategy embraced here in Kyle, began right after World War II at a time when that philosophy worked, it paid for itself and was extremely popular.

"I was there, too," Marohn was quoted as saying in the study authored by Dallas writer Jim Schutze. "I worked for developers for a number of years and for cities, doing these kinds of projects. The thing is that the developers are right. They do pay for the infrastructure. For the city, the cost to build that new development is very, very low. You might have some staff time or other costs, but the bulk of the cost is being paid for as part of that development transaction.

"Here's the catch. As part of doing that project, the city takes on the long-term liability to maintain it. The city says, 'OK, you build it, and then we'll take over, and we'll fix it. We'll maintain it indefinitely. When the road gets bad, we'll replace it.' Well that works really well. The city will be cash-flow positive. The city will have a lot of money through the first life cycle, because everything was paid for by someone else and the city wasn't having costs. You've got basically 25 years of cash-flow positive. The problem is when you get to the end of that first life cycle, then you have to go out and fix stuff. What we (Strong Cities) find is that the money isn't there. There isn't enough cash to actually fix stuff.

"So cities respond in two ways. Cities respond by trying to create more growth. If you can create more growth, you get a lot of cash, and you can use that cash to make good on all the promises you made a generation ago. The second thing you do is you take on debt, and cities have become really, really good at creative ways to take on debt to do basic maintenance that should be paid for from cash flow.

"So it creates a Ponzi scheme, a kind of situation where a city enjoys essentially one generation of growth, and then you've got another generation of kind of hanging on. We call that the stagnation generation, where you try to maintain the same level of service, and you may cut back a little bit, but you also take on a bunch of debt. And then you reach the generation of steep decline."

What this means is that Kyle’s building policies and its culture of incentivizing growth will wind up bankrupting the city in the long run. Why do city leaders follow this path? Because the bankruptcy won’t happen in their lifetimes. It may not even happen in their children’s lifetimes. And city leaders never really look any further than that, if that far.

According to Marohn, the automobile should be used as a barometer in growth decisions. Where growth is auto-dependent, as it is in Kyle, the costs of maintaining the infrastructure gradually exceed the community’s ability to pay for maintaining it. But growth not totally dependent on cars can pay its own way because the maintenance costs are so much lower.

"The more people can walk, the more financially productive the place tends to be," Marohn said. "When you have places where people don't walk or can't walk, those places tend to be the least financially productive. And by walk, I don't mean that you can physically get out and walk. I mean the place is designed so people can be comfortable walking.

"The city likes orderly," he continued. "One of the primary functions of orderly is that the city is able to figure out, 'Here is how many new subdivisions or apartment buildings we need, and here is where they are going to be. Here is how much commercial we need. Here is where it's going to be.' And they are able to finely calibrate that from the top down. But the reality is that cities have never been able to do the math. What you wind up with is being able to do things that look good in the short term but have no ability to withstand the test of time.

"We can go back to 'urban renewal.' We can go back to the projects to get rid of blight. We can go back to all kinds of things and look at the projects we built in the '60s and then just see that despite our best intentions, despite the fact that we thought we knew what we were doing, time has revealed that we are not as smart as we think we are."

The Chaotic But Smart approach does limit size but that also means limiting the size of mistakes.

"The Chaotic but Smart approach is where you've got people trying things on a small scale," Marohn said. "There will be failure. Things that will be tried won't work. But they won't be large-scale failures. They'll be small-scale failures that over time can be overcome. That's a huge difference in terms of the ability to be resilient and withstand fluctuations in the market over time."

I don’t know if the Kyle Chamber of Commerce has the ability or even the interest in pursuing this, but I would really like to see if it could attract a representative of Strong Towns to come down to speak at an upcoming luncheon. Perhaps it could be co-sponsored by a presentation the organization could make to city planners at an public meeting.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Webster’s Folly: Mayor abuses both charter, Roberts Rules to ram through ineffective resolution that can’t be enforced

Mayor Todd Webster, acting more and more every day like a petty despot seeking revenge on those who disagree with him and less and less like anyone resembling a leader, abused the Kyle City Charter, the council/manager form of government and Roberts Rules of Order last night to pass a resolution that will accomplish one thing and one thing only: create more lasting animosities among those in municipal government. It will also have the side effect of making him the butt of many jokes inside City Hall.

Webster is upset that council members Diane Hervol and Daphne Tenorio are taking their responsibilities on the council more seriously than the other members and appear to be doing this by, among other things, asking City Manager Scott Sellers a lot of questions about items on the council’s agenda or even general questions about what the city is doing on a variety of topics. Webster wants to deal with council members who only know what he wants them to know and only think the way he thinks, so any independent thought or action is strictly verboten under Webster’s style of rule. To put it simply, he wants to dumb down the council members as much as possible, while Hervol and Tenorio are seeking increase their knowledge about the best way to govern a city like Kyle. So he introduced an illegal resolution designed to force Sellers to deflect many of Hervol’s and Tenorio’s questions to Chief of Staff Jerry Hendrix, who, if Sellers had any intention of adhering to this resolution, would probably have to get the answers from Sellers anyway, delaying the entire response process. But then that’s Webster’s other intention.

Now, if the other three council members present (Shane Arabie was absent from last night’s meeting but he not only fits with this group as well, he takes great pride in belonging to it) had been as inquisitive as Hervol and Tenorio, perhaps, they, too, would have learned Webster’s resolution violated the council/manager form of government. But, sadly, no. They are not about to start thinking on their own, they are content to subsist on the pablum spoon fed to them by Webster.

Here’s why, regardless of Webster’s illegal maneuvering, Sellers will continue to conduct business at City Hall just as he always has. Sellers is not only wise in the ways of government, he’s also ambitious. Sellers knows Webster’s resolution violates the very core of the council/manager form of government. He also hopes Kyle is not going to be the last stop of his professional career and when that day comes when he has the opportunity to move to a more prominent city manager’s position in another municipality, he doesn’t want to be saddled with the reputation of someone who violated the tenets of the council/manager form of government. He has his own career to protect. I’m also betting Sellers is smart enough to know the resolution is impossible to enforce. It has all the impact of the ordinance passed immediately prior to Webster’s folly, an ordinance amending the city’s sign ordinance to allow certain billboards to be converted to variable electronic billboards. Problem is, no one who owns a billboard in Kyle has any desire to convert their signs. The council might just as well passed an ordinance informing the Oakland Raiders they could build a football stadium in Kyle.

If it wasn’t so sad to witness, it would have been laughable watching council members Damon Fogley, David Wilson and Becky Selberra stumble through their reasonings for supporting Webster’s revenge tactics. In their desperate search to find a reason — any reason — to support Webster, they kept arguing that they were actually doing Sellers a favor. (Which brings to mind the old adage, "With friends like those, who needs enemies?") I can’t speak for Wilson or Selberra, but I think Fogley’s ramblings, just like all the mistakes he made during his election campaign (incorrect financial reports, claiming he had a PAC that didn’t exist and accepting illegal campaign contributions), spring forth not from any intentions to deliberately attempt anything illegal, but simply from the fact he just doesn’t know the right way to conduct himself in this arena. He is like someone trying to play bridge without knowing any of the rules of the game. I know in legal terms ignorance of the law is not a defense, but I’m willing to give Fogley the benefit of the doubt. In this case, I simply believe he really doesn’t know enough about the council/manager form of government to realize Webster’s resolution was a gross violation and thus unenforceable. But it should give citizens some concern to realize that our City Council is comprised of Diane Hervol, Daphne Tenorio and four dummies controlled by a puppeteer. How else do you explain that they believe a section of the charter titled "Prohibitions" grants them "Permission"?

Webster’s abuses of Roberts Rules of Order have been documented previously and are glaring at every single council meeting. But this time it crossed over into the absurd. Webster allowed the council to, in violation of Roberts, debate the pros and cons of a motion for 23 minutes without a motion being placed on the item and then when a motion finally did arrive on the scene, from Fogley (again out of ignorance, not deviousness) it was to ask for a roll call vote on a motion that had never been made. I know I’m dating myself here, but try to picture Harpo Marx presiding over a meeting of The Three Stooges and you may get somewhat of an inkling of what it’s like to watch the Kyle City Council in action. I was relieved only by the fact that the entire matter was completely inconsequential.

In other matters last night:

  • The council heard presentations from Julie Snyder, CEO of the Kyle Chamber of Commerce, and Adriana Cruz, president of the Greater San Marcos Partnership. Snyder told the council how much she is doing for Kyle with less money from Kyle taxpayers and Cruz told the council how little she is doing for Kyle with additional money from Kyle taxpayers. See anything wrong with that picture? First of all, if Kyle is to participate in the latter organization, that organization needs to change its name to rid it of the "San Marcos" identification. Anything called the Greater San Marcos Partnership is going to have a built-in San Marcos bias and the truth is, most of the "big trophies on the wall," the partnership can take credit for have all gone to San Marcos. Later this month the partnership is sponsoring a small business forum. Bet you can guess which city is hosting the forum. Not only that, Cruz had the unmitigated gall to say she hopes she can convert Kyle into "the Arlington of Central Texas." My lord! Anyone who has spent any time at all in North Central Texas knows the last place you want to aspire to be is Arlington, a city that has burdened its taxpayers to pay for two pro sports stadiums, has decaying infrastructure, major teen gang and drug problems, a lot of infamously high-crime strip clubs, and narrow potholed-ridden streets. OK, there’s Six Flags. I’ll give you that. But these days Six Flags in Arlington is known more for the patrons it has killed than for its entertainment value. And Six Flags doesn’t contribute that much to the local economy because those that visit there find food and lodgings in either Dallas or Fort Worth (which is also true of those attending events in the sports stadiums). If you’re picking a city between Dallas and Fort Worth, at least go with Irving which, in its Las Colinas neighborhood, is the home of major corporations (Exxon’s world headquarters are located there), a PGA golf tournament (the Byron Nelson) and one of the most prestigious hotels in the state (the Omni Mandalay). But, no, the Greater San Marcos Partnership’s goals are not nearly that lofty for Kyle — they want to transform us into Arlington. Ugh! I say "Kyle: Get out of the partnership while the getting is good, enact a 4B economic development program and do more to help our own Chamber of Commerce."
  • No one showed up to speak either for or against a plan to annex a little less than 136 acres of land located west of Old Stagecoach Road, adjoining the southernmost part of Hometown Kyle during a public hearing on the annexation. However, Tim P. Miller, who told the council he was the "one certified organic farmer in your town," spoke out against it strongly during the citizen comment section of the agenda meeting, claiming all the additional traffic on Old Stagecoach Road will "pollute me out of business." Miller also expressed concerns about tree mitigation in the area to be annexed as well as the environmental impact of constructing "600 homes" in an area he said is the habitat for some endangered species. The public hearing was the first of two state-mandated such hearings on the subject and they will be followed by two readings of the annexation ordinance. Planning Director Howard J. Koontz said the entire annexation process should be completed by October. The next public hearing, however, will technically be an illegal public hearing and I’m willing to bet there’s not a single person on the city council who knows why.
  • The council voted unanimously to rezone a half-acre of land on North Old Highway 81, immediately south of where it splits off from the I-35 frontage road, from single family residential to retail service district zoning because the property’s owner, Ypolita Cruz Saucedo, who currently resides in Lockhart, can sell the property at a higher price with that revised zoning and because, frankly, it is perfectly consistent with the surrounding area. The current resident of a house on that property spoke against the rezoning but her stated reasons for opposing it had to do with flooding prevalent in the area, which, of course, is totally unrelated to its zoning.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Mayor Webster trying to destroy Kyle’s form of government; council members need to display some backbone and prevent it

There are basically two forms of municipal government — the council-manager form and the strong mayor form. Kyle employs the council-manager type, which is perfectly suitable for a city of its size. The strong mayor type is usually reserved for cities with a population hovering around or exceeding 1 million — cities than can afford to have a full-time mayor who is also the city’s administrator.

Under the council-manager form of government, all council members are relatively equal. The mayor is little more than the chair of the council, but only has one vote, the same as every other council member, and has absolutely no veto power. The council appoints a city manager who is charged with running the city. The council is a policy making body only and is absolutely forbidden, under the council-manager form of government, from getting involved in the day-to-day operations of the city. If it has any questions or concerns about those day-to-day operations, it directs those concerns to the city manager.

The Kyle City Charter, in Section 4.03 (p) also grants the City Council the power to "Appoint and remove the city attorney, the municipal judge and the associate municipal judges." Then there is Section 4.05 of the charter, called "Prohibitions," which, as that title suggests, prohibits council members from inquiring directly with anyone on the city staff except those individuals the charter permits the council to appoint; i.e., the city manager, the city attorney, the municipal judge and the associate municipal judges.

The overwhelming number of council inquiries, however, will be directed to the city manager and it is the city manager’s responsibility, under the council manager form of government, to answer these inquiries as accurately and as expeditiously as possible. Now the manager may decide the best way to accomplish this is to have some other member of his staff — the assistant city manager, the chief of staff, the finance director, the parks department head, etc. — to research the information and relay that information to the council. But that is a decision for the manager to make.

Kyle Mayor Todd Webster, who is acting like a petty despot using his office to exact revenge on those he feels opposes him, is blatantly and illegally trying to subvert Kyle’s established form of government. He blatantly misinterpreting Section 4.05 (Pay attention, mayor. The word "prohibition" is defined as "A law, order, or decree that forbids something." Even you should be able to grasp that concept.) is trying to push through a resolution that would effectively abolish a basic tenant of the council-manager form of government. Hopefully the other six members of the council will display some backbone and have the courage to stand up to Webster’s tyranny. And if the rest of the council is too weak to stand up to Webster, than City Manager Scott Sellers should submit his resignation immediately simply because the council is not allowing him to do the job they hired him to do and the job the council-manager form of government requires of him. Sellers needs to place himself on a much higher ethical level than the muck the mayor is trying to drag him into.

What Webster is trying to do is block council members’ access to the city manager, one of the few city officials the council is permitted to interact with and the only person who, under the charter, can address the council’s questions about the city’s operations. He is trying to pass a resolution that would direct the city manager to refer all requests for information to Chief of Staff Jerry Hendrix. This is not only in direct defiance of the council manager form of government (i.e., th mayor getting involved in the day-to-day operations of the city), but it also erects an unnecessary roadblock in the flow of information. Like I said, if Sellers believes Hendrix is the best person to expeditiously handle a council member’s request, he has the discretion to instruct Hendrix to handle it. But it’s the manager’s decision to make on an individual basis, not the mayor’s to make on a blanket basis. Let me repeat: What Webster is attempting is an example of the one member of the council getting involved in the day-to-day operations of the city and that is strictly prohibited under the council-manager form of government.

Webster’s subversion of the charter also robs the council of its accountability functions and the other six council members must step up and prevent this from happening.. Under the charter or the council-manager form of government, the council can’t hold the chief of staff accountable for anything. That position reports to the city manager, not the council. If Hendrix fails to respond to council inquiries, there’s not a damn thing the council can do about it. But, when you get to the nub of it, that’s Webster’s motive. He is seeking to silence those council members, specifically Diane Hervol and Daphne Tenorio, who disagree with him. That’s all this is about and it’s absolutely shameful, despicable and petty.

Here’s hoping the other six members will have the courage to stand up to Webster, to tell him "We refuse to allow you to deny us our basic right to communicate directly with the city manager as the charter directs us to, we will not allow you to subvert the council-manager form of government and destroy our system of government in Kyle by getting directly involved in the day-to-day operations of the city. You are nothing more than one member of this council without the right to act as dictator over us." And if they lack that courage, I hope City Manager Scott Sellers has the integrity to say "You are putting roadblocks in my path to doing the job you hired to me to do, you are prohibiting me from acting the way a manager is supposed to act in a council-manager form of government, so I’m submitting my resignation so that I may go to a community that respects and values my talents and abilities." Sellers doesn’t deserve to be treated with the mayor’s kind of disrespect.

It is worth noting that if Hendrix really was a "chief of staff," instead of someone with the title, but not the responsibilities, it would be natural to make all inquiries through that position. By definition, a chief of staff "provides a buffer between a chief executive and that executive's direct-reporting team. The chief of staff generally works behind the scenes to solve problems, mediate disputes, and deal with issues before they are brought to the chief executive." But that is not Hendrix’s role with the City of Kyle and the proof of that is the fact that on page 4 of the city manager’s proposed budget, the page that lists the "City Management Team," Hendrix’s name appears third, behind that of Assistant City Manager James Earp. Besides that, under the council-manager form of government, the city manager is just that, the manager, and is not a chief executive.

So there’s that, as well.

But here’s the proof that Webster is acting in direct defiance of the charter as well as an illustration of how ludicrous his idea is.. His resolution does not just state the position which the city manager should direct inquiries to — it actually cites Hendrix by name. That, has the affect of prohibiting the city manager from ever assigning Hendrix to another position within the city; i.e., the mayor is prohibiting the city manager from doing is job. And what happens if Hendrix should resign or retire? Under this resolution, all council inquiries would cease until the city manager could find another person named Jerry Hendrix to accept the job.

This just so wrong for so many reasons. It is illogical as well as illegal. The mayor should apologize for even suggesting it.

Finally, for what it’s worth, here’s some advice for the mayor on how to act for the rest of his time in office:
  • Stop micro-managing. Quit trying to rip apart the fabric of the council-manager form of government by dictating how the city staff should do its job. Let the city manager do what you hired him to do.
  • Treat each and every member of the City Council with dignity and respect, regardless of how you feel about them personally. Ennoble them, empower them, encourage them. Honor their individuality and give them the freedom to be different and act differently than you might in a similar situation. If their individual constituencies do not approve of their council performance, they will make that known if that council person seeks re-election. Promote unity not divisiveness, which will be the result of this resolution. Work as hard as you can to create an atmosphere of trust, not suspicion, among council members. And never forget, you can achieve unity, you can achieve respect, you can achieve harmony without having 7-0 votes on every issue.
  • If a reporter asks you a question, answer it, even if you can’t stand what that reporter writes. Remember, if you’re in the news, someone’s going to tell your side of the story. It can either be you, who really knows your side better than anyone else, or the reporter, who doesn’t. It’s your choice.
  • Rise above all the petty differences and be the leader this city elected you to be. I am absolutely, 100 per cent confident you can do this. I know you have it in you.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

P&Z changes its meeting format

The Planning & Zoning Commission, at the request of Director of Planning and Community Development Howard J. Koontz, decided last night to alter the format of its meetings, at least through the end of this year, so that action items are decided on the second Tuesday of each month and the fourth Tuesday is reserved for workshops and discussions.

Koontz recommended the change primarily because the task of updating the city’s Comprehensive Plan will be undertaken by the seven P&Z commissioners this year. The plan is updated every five years and usually a consultant has been hired to perform this duty, but, according to Koontz, the city has not been happy with the consultant’s performance.

"So why throw good money after bad?" Koontz rhetorically asked.

He said there may be some instances when an individual will need a zoning case accelerated and if that happens an action item could make the fourth Tuesday agenda.

The change takes effect immediately. P&Z will spend the majority of its Aug. 25 meeting time fine-tuning a revised landscape ordinance it will recommend to the City Council and the fourth Tuesday meetings for the remainder of the year will deal with the Comprehensive Plan.

In other action last night, the commissioners:
  • Voted unanimously to change the zoning on residential property located at 713 and 715 Old Highway 81 from Residential to Retail Service. According to Alberto Saucedo Sr., who appeared before the commission on behalf of the owner, his mother Ypolita Cruz Saucedo, the family has absolutely no plans to do anything with the property but realized they could get a higher price when they decided to sell it if it was zoned for retail. Koontz reminded the commissioners that a Mexican restaurant bordered the property on the north and he expects all the property fronting I-35 to be developed for commercial uses..
  • Voted unanimously to recommend the City Council approve the city manager’s draft five-year Capital Improvements Plan. In addition to the road bonds, most of the funds proposed between now and 2019 involve improving the city’s water and wastewater infrastructure.
  • Voted to ease the landscape requirements at Miscellaneous Steel Industries, which is expanding its facilities at the corner of Bunton Creek Road and Goforth. Normally I don’t favor action of this type because I’m all about having as attractive a city as possible, but in this case the action makes sense. Because of the Goforth Road improvement project, the city has to relocate the path of its underground utilities and that path will be directly beneath where MSI would normally be required to install the required landscaping features.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

One more piece of evidence to prove the PID monsters lied

At the invitation of My Hero, I spent the weekend in Dallas casually celebrating my birthday. She lives just east of downtown Dallas and close to a green space called Griggs Park. When I lived there, we used to meet at Griggs to let our dogs play together there, but shortly before I moved the city temporarily closed the park for renovations. Those renovations are now complete enough so that the park has reopened and this weekend we once again took our dogs there for a couple of romps. During one of them, I was struck by a plaque, pictured above, that is part of the archway main entrance to the park. As you can see, this plaque says these park improvements were financed by a PID (the details of which can be found here).

Now if you have been following what history will refer to as "The Pillaging of New Kyle Homeowners," you might recall the crooks that helped shape Kyle’s PID policy say such a PID could not exist. It was impossible. Could never happen. In fact, the lying lawyer who represented the Development Planning Financial Group, the outfit that will administer collect the graft from Kyle’s PID actually stood at the podium during Kyle City Council meeting and said such a PID could not happen.

By the way, this PID illustrated above, the one Kyle leaders say can’t exist, is also administered, not by some private company composed of liars who will extort a fee from residents like we have here, but for free by a volunteer board comprised of the very citizens who petitioned for the PID.

Kyle Mayor Todd Webster has been throwing a childish hissy fit of late because he believes two members of the City Council he will not name publicly, (but I will: Diane Hervol and Daphne Tenorio), have been asking too many questions during City Council meetings. I'm thinking just the opposite. I believe more questions need to be asked. About everything. I’m wondering if council members had asked even more questions when the PID policy was being discussed whether the duplicity behind the policy might have been exposed. If someone had simply asked "Since you have blatantly lied to us about what PIDs can and cannot be used for, what else are you lying about?" Probably not. The fix was in. At least Hervol and Tenorio possessed the intelligence, the courage and the morality to vote against the Kyle PID policy which forces new homeowners to pay twice for infrastructure improvements to their neighborhoods.

But there is still a way the other five – Webster, Mayor Pro Tem David Wilson, Shane Arabie, Damon Fogley and Becky Selberra — can still redeem themselves and prove to the citizens of Kyle they are not hypocrites. They could each obtain a petition and secure the signatures of at least 50 percent of the residents in the neighborhoods where they live and form a PID so they, too, can repay the city for their infrastructure installations.

And what do you think the odds are of that ever happening?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Mayor and mayor pro temp mangle City Charter during debate over whether council members have enough information to make informed decisions

(Updated to include response from a member of the Charter Review Commission)

Council member Diane Hervol had the temerity during the end of Tuesday’s three-hour and 41-minute council meeting to suggest that the regularly scheduled council meetings may not take such a long time if a pre-agenda meeting was scheduled that would allow council members to explore the topics that will be on the agenda more in-depth. (It should be noted that this council meeting did not have an executive session which have, of late, been averaging more than two hours in length.)

This suggestion was met by much moaning and groaning and changing of the subject by certain (but not all) fellow council members who complained they already have to come to City Hall two Tuesday evenings of every month and to ask them to do anything more in the service of their citizens was simply out of the question.

"I have a constitutional problem related to our charter," Mayor Pro Tem David Wilson said, "Our charter says when our meetings are going to be."

Well, yes and no, but mostly, no. All the charter says on this subject is "The council shall hold at least one regular meeting each month." But is says nothing of any particular day of the week or even time of day. It goes on to say "as many regular or special meetings may be scheduled and held as the council deems necessary to transact the business of the city."

So, sorry Wilson, but the charter doesn’t prohibit anything of the sort that Hervol is proposing; just the opposite, in fact.

But then Wilson went on about secret meetings and "smoked-filled rooms" that had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with what Hervol was proposing.

"I want the conversations to happen right here during our charter-designated time," said Wilson, who, if he ever read the charter, would know there is no "charter-designated time."

Council member Daphne Tenorio believed Hervol’s idea was worth additional discussion in the face of Mayor Todd Webster telling her "I’m in favor of having this meeting at 4 o’clock in the morning on Sundays. How’s that?" He immediately said he was joking, but his patronizing attitude was made abundantly clear. Then he challenged Tenorio to set a day and time for the meeting when the public could attend which, of course, was not the point of Hervol’s proposal. It would seem to make sense, at least to me, to agree on a procedure before trying to establish a time for a procedure which, so far, doesn’t exist.

Hervol’s point was simply this: City Council members may have questions of staff concerning some agenda items that the staff may need time to research the answers to. Hervol said her idea was to hold a meeting the Thursday or Friday prior to the Tuesday agenda meeting so the questions could be posed then and the fully researched answers could be delivered during the regularly scheduled agenda session. She said these sessions would also be valuable in learning what questions other council members may have.

"There are times when I come into this meeting and I feel like maybe there have been questions that have been asked that maybe we’re all not privy to," Hervol said. "I want to hear what the discussions are, or if there are any discussions. I only see questions from council member (Damon) Fogley and council member Tenorio. Do the rest of you not have questions regarding the agenda before it is posted?"

"I read the material," countered council member Shane Arabie.

Hervol: "You read the material so you don’t ask staff any questions in regard to anything?"

Arabie: "Like I said I read the material beforehand."

Hervol: "So you read the material and you don’t ask staff any questions until we get here?"

Arabie: "I have the material in front of me and I spend my time before the meeting going over the material in front of me. I read the supporting documents. I read resources that go with these supporting documents. If I have a question I e-mail them.. I feel like I make good decisions based on the information I have in front of me. So I feel I have enough information at that time. That’s my opinion."

Council member Becky Selberra: "I’m not going to be sending the city manager tons of e-mails when I know he has things to follow up on. I’m not going to take his time so he can answer something I can go out there and look at. I cannot change my schedule. (To Hervol) Your schedule may be flexible, but not mine. I am not going to rush over here just because I have to be here by 5 p.m. just so that we can have a pre-agenda. No, that’s crazy. We can discuss everything just as we’re doing now."

Fogley: "I like to plan my calendar out ahead of time. I have my work schedule laid out until January and I have a pretty full calendar. I do a lot of stuff outside the city council and I just kind of think this just adds to the overall city bureaucracy. If I have to stay here until midnight, that’s fine. I come here prepared. I come here well rested ready to go knowing that we have a lot of items we need to address. Just because a school board does it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do for a municipality. So I am opposed to it for that reason. Also we have a lot of other people who try to make it to our meetings so asking them to come to another meeting may be difficult for them also."

Tenorio said she had asked the city manager to compile a list of questions posed by and answers sent to council members and then to send that list to all the council members because : "I just want to make sure every single council member is able to make the best decisions for the city that’s possible. If it’s just sticking them on one report and ‘here it is’ at the end of the week, then so be it."

In an attempt to correlate what Tenorio said with her original suggestion, Hervol said "For me, this is about whether the information is in front of you is not sufficient and there’s additional information a council member is requesting, that council member should have the freedom to be able to ask those questions in whatever forum is necessary for them. I just feel like there are times that there are questions being asked and I want to make sure they are all being distributed."

Webster conceded the fact that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any council member desiring to seek additional information. But then he, too, completely misinterpreted the city charter.

"The charter specifically says how the agenda is supposed to be set," Webster said. "It specifically says the city manager sets the agenda in consultation with the mayor. It says the council members are free to put items on there but that has been limited to no more than three items per member per agenda."

And, that, dear friends, is simply not true. Everything the City Charter says about the council agenda is contained in Section 3.07, the last sentence of which reads: "The mayor or city manager shall approve meeting agendas and a council member may require any item related to city business to be placed on an agenda for which notice may be given." That’s it.

Even in section 7.01, which specifically outlines the duties of the city manager, there is no reference to the City Council’s agenda.

Now I’m not saying there’s not some ordinance or resolution tucked away somewhere that says what the mayor is claiming, but he is totally incorrect when he says this is mandated by the charter.

But he didn’t stop there. He compounded his error.

"Section 4 of the charter — it might be 4.08 or 4.05 — anyway Section 4 of the charter says if getting information, obtaining information is a problem, the charter actually anticipates this’ Webster said. "That council members might feel they weren’t getting enough information prior to the meetings, that kind of thing, it specifically says that to insure council members are obtaining the information necessary to become good council members that we’re supposed to appoint an information officer. That’s what it says in the charter."

Which is a complete and utter fabrication. There is not one word in Section 4 that comes anywhere close to what Mayor Webster is claiming and I have yet to find any other section of the charter that mentions this. I have, however, reached out to members of the Charter Review Commission, who are arguably more familiar with this document than anyone right now, to see if they know what the mayor is talking about. One member, who shall remain nameless, got back to me with this message: "If things are said frequently and with great authority, does that make them so?  I think not."

In fact, Section 4.05 of the charter, titled "Prohibitions," was intended to make sure that when council members deal with the city staff they do so only through the city manager, the city attorney, the municipal judge or the associate municipal judges.

City Manager Scott Sellers said: "Every request that I receive from a council member, I respond to all council. That has been the policy. That’s what I have done and there is a definite difference between the questions I get from one council member over another. Some I don’t get any questions from. Verbally is going to be a little different, so I would request from council that you put any clarifying question about an agenda item in an e-mail. It just makes it easier. The one thing I will say, my time makes it very difficult for me to aggregate these during the week and then send out a weekly report. That’s why I send them out as I do. It also ensures that the information is current. We try as a staff to anticipate all council questions and I think we do a fairly good job of that. We make every attempt to answer every request as quickly as possible and we’ll continue to do that. We don’t try, from a staff perspective, to withhold any information at all. But it does help to get them in writing."

Then Arabie acerbated the situation by criticizing Tenorio because she questioned a charter provision that doesn’t even exist. It was if he was lashing out at Tenorio for not agreeing with the mayor that the Martians had landed in Kyle and were working at Mama Fu’s.

Meanwhile, Hervol just sat their stunned, like Captain Phillips, possibly wondering how her suggestion that the council may want to consider holding agenda review workshop meetings got hijacked into an argument about something that’s not found in the city charter.

I asked her after the meaning if she felt the subject she had raised had been drastically changed during the course of Tuesday night’s discussion. She simply nodded. Hijackings will do that to you.

“In a great part of the world”

During a presentation on "attracting quality development on the I-35 corridor," the outfit the city has contracted with to attract that development told the City Council Tuesday evening that they had attended a shopping center convention and that they were "tracking 54 retail prospects."

Which, I guess, means "quality," like "beauty," is in the eye of the beholder.

But just when I thought that all anyone was after was more minimum wage jobs, Mayor Todd Webster asked the representative at the podium, whose name escaped me, "I want great, but can wanting great get in the way of good or anything at all?"

The representative replied: "Most of the owners of these properties don’t see themselves as developers. They see themselves as value-add sellers. But they don’t really know what ‘value-add’ means. They’re getting hit by single-use. This is common. This is all over the state. They’re getting hit by single use proposals or a single project, whether it’s a retail center or a multi-family project or a commercial or industrial project. And all of the decisions being made typically by that seller or by that partner/developer and ultimately by the city is around that single use. It’s almost always done in isolation. Very rarely is there a question about what are the adjacencies, what are the synergies, what are the common infrastructure and resource questions that cross the property lines. If those were at least framed in a more common way then the land use decisions would have a different value consideration in terms of your question about ‘good’ or ‘great’.

"You’re in a great part of the world as far as I’m concerned. Everything that’s on all the major highway corridors in Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, El Paso, wherever needs to be great. That doesn’t mean that it’s not affordable. That doesn’t mean that you’re not delivering projects with rents in accessible retail and a range of housing types or a range of commercial types. But the areas in which any of those single uses are implemented that overall area should be great and you should be making decisions about any particular project on whether it’s great, not just good."

In other words, Kyle should be thinking along these lines and this, and not just this or this  Only time will tell if the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission and ultimately, the City Council changes its tune and follows this advice. I’m not holding my breath.

“You're part of the traffic you’re stuck in”

The subject of zone can be confusing. First, there’s the ozone layer, which is a good thing. The ozone layer is one layer of the earth’s stratosphere, located between six and 30 miles above the Earth’s surface, and it performs a valuable function. It acts as sort of an outer space sponge by absorbing some of the sun’s radiation before it strikes Earth. We need some radiation to survive, but too much of it can be harmful and the ozone layer protects us from getting too much of it, especially that form of radiation known as ultraviolet radiation which can cause everything from sunburns to cancers.

Then there’s ground-level ozone which is not that good of a thing. It is essentially man-made, formed from the photochemical reaction between two major classes of pollutants, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. The most common sources of volatile organic compounds are chemical plants, gasoline pumps, oil-based paints, auto body shops and print shops. The most common source of nitrogen oxides are power plants, industrial furnaces and boilers, and motor vehicles.

However, even if you live in an area like Kyle, where you wouldn’t think a multitude of these sources are to be found, wind can carry ozone hundreds of miles from their source points. That’s why, in places where ozone is formed, it is usually heaviest during the afternoon when the heat is the most intense. However, areas downwind from the source points can have its highest levels during the late afternoon or early evening hours.

Breathing this ground level ozone can harmfully affect the human respiratory system, decrease lung functionality and inflame human airways resulting in coughing; throat irritation; pain, burning or discomfort in the chest when taking a deep breath; and/or chest tightness, wheezing or shortness of breath. Evidence also suggests highly daily ozone concentrations are associated with increased asthma attacks, hospital admissions and deaths. Some have compared ozone’s effects as having a sunburn inside your lung.

Ozone is most likely to be at its highest levels on hot, sunny days; however high ozone levels have been found in mountainous sections of the western United States when snow was on the ground and the temperature was near or even below freezing.

There are steps people can take to reduce ground level ozone:
  • Conserve electricity and set air conditioner thermostats at higher temperatures
  • Try car pooling to work or, if you don’t live far from your place of employment, bicycle or walk to work.
  • Refuel cars and trucks after dusk.
  • Combine trips as much as possible; i.e., grocery shopping or errand running on your way home from work.
  • Limit engine idling. (This means the last thing we need in and around Kyle is a Godzilla truck stop where diesel engines are constantly idling.)
  • Use household, workshop and garden chemicals in such a way that it limits evaporation and don’t use them at all on days forecast to be high ozone level days.
  • And speaking of high ozone level days, don’t, on these days, light up your fireplace or wood-burning stove, don’t use gas-powered lawn and garden equipment, and don’t burn leaves, trash or any other materials.

Right now, these above precautions are not that necessary for Kyle because, as Fred Blood, air quality program specialist for the Central Texas Clean Air Association, told the City Council Tuesday night "Right now in Central Texas we are well in compliance with all the regulations having to do with air quality." But then he cautioned: "We are close to the level of being over in the non-compliant level for ozone."

"Generally, we have good air quality on 70 percent of the days,’ Blood said. "The days we don’t have good air quality it’s usually due to what they call particulate matter. We also have high ozone days."

Blood said the EPA re-examines its air quality standards every five years and the new five-year report is due around October. He said the agency is about to reduce the safe/unsafe ozone level standard, but no one knows for sure what the standard will be until that report is made public.

"Right now they are talking about a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion," he said. "Our level in this region is 69 parts per billion. So if they lower it to 70, we’re OK. If they lower it to 65, we’ll be non-attainment, which is something you don’t want to be."

Blood said the population at risk on high ozone days includes "children under the age of 11, people over the age of 70, people that already have pulmonary problems and people working heavily in the environment (i.e., outdoors)" and that could amount to almost 40 percent of the local population.

"We don’t want to be in non-attainment because it makes it difficult to build new roads," Blood said. "You have to prove the roads will be in compliance and not create more ozone."

He said it could also affect industrial growth. For example, he said, Toyota originally planned to locate a plant in Fort Worth, but because that area had a non-containment designation, the construction regulations were strict enough that it forced Toyota to instead locate the facility in San Antonio.

"Anything that has federal money in it is going to be harder to get because you’re going to have to prove the impacts on whatever that money is on ozone levels," he said.

Blood said the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition was formed to convince communities to take actions to reduce ozone before the feds come in and ordered such actions. He said Kyle, Leander, Lakeway, Lago Vista, Manor are the only cities in Central Texas with a population of at least 5,000 who are not members of the Coalition, and Leaner appears set to join before the end of the month.

"I’m here tonight to see if I can get you to join," he said. However, not only did no one on the council even hint at the possibility of joining the coalition, the notion was met with some hostility from council member Shane Arabie who demanded from Blood "What’s in it for us?" should the city join since, he said, the city could act on its own to reduce ozone levels.

"Just the recognition of being part of the group that does that cleanup," Blood said.

Blood said the goal of the coalition is to make sure Central Texas stays in containment when it comes to ozone levels. "We want to continue to reduce the amount of ozone," he continued. "If we get in violation of the standard, we want to get back into the standard as quickly and as cheaply as we can. In the meantime we want to reduce exposure of vulnerable populations. We want to minimize the cost to the region of non-attainment designation."

He said members of the coalition are asked to take at least three steps to reduce ozone levels "and this could be as simple as direct deposit of pay checks," informing residents of high ozone days "so they can protect themselves," and equipment replacement.

"The single most effective way we have to reduce ozone is what we do with our vehicles," Blood told the council. "And particularly the big diesels you might have for construction or those owned by the contractors that you hire to do the construction. Make sure that they have the newer diesels because they are much cleaner."

In response to a question from Mayor Pro Tem David Wilson, Blood said "One of the requirements if we go into non-containment is probably going to be what they call an emissions reduction program where they require an inspection of every vehicle on the road to pass an emission test that’s part of the safety inspection for the area."

He said Travis and Williamson counties are the only two counties in the country that require such testing even though they are in containment. "That was the commitment those counties were willing to make sure that we had clean air." He said Hays County commissioners voted unanimously to do the same thing but because the city of San Marcos, by one vote, nixed the idea, it was dropped. Wilson wanted to know if the reason San Marcos opposed it was because of the "burden on the poorest of our citizens."

Blood said the emissions test themselves add about $20 to cost of a state inspection and there are programs in place for lower income drivers so that "We can pay for them to fix up their car or replace it." He said that program is funded with $2 of that $20 fee.

Mayor Todd Webster asked Blood how much of the Ozone problem was Kyle actually responsible for. Blood said 70 percent of the ozone comes from someplace else, "so we have 30 percent we can play with. Of that, about half of it comes from on-road vehicles, thanks to the interstate and NAFTA traffic. We like to remind people that when you are struck in traffic you’re part of the traffic you’re stuck in."

In response to a question from council member Damon Fogley on the ozone-level difference among the various counties, Blood said a lot of that was due to "ambient wind direction" and the weather.

"The perfect ozone weather is between 95 and 105 degrees, no wind and what we call the dog days of summer," he said. "Over the last 15 years, all except for about a half dozen cases, our highest ozone days have been between the middle of August and the middle of September. I think part of that is due to the climatology of this area when we hit the hit, stagnant days of summer. I also think a lot of it has to do with the start of school and people trying to figure out how to get around and a bunch of students trying to figure out how they are going to get to and from classes. We have a lot of activity on the roads at that time that you don’t have earlier in the summer."