The Kyle Report

The Kyle Report

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Upcoming council session to focus on stormwater fees, revisiting old subjects

Tuesday’s City Council meeting will devote a significant amount of time discussing items that have already come before the body, such as economic incentives for RSI, billboards, stop signs, rezoning along Lehman Road, the (somewhat) new Impact Fee Advisory Committee, the Union Pacific Railroad siding, Goodwill Industries and, in private, executive session, the city’s own Professor Moriarty, Jesse Espinoza.

But the item that will have the biggest effect on Kyle residents is the one on the proposed and much-discussed stormwater fees.

Tuesday’s meeting has on its agenda the first reading of the ordinance officially designating a Stormwater Utility, already agreed upon when the council passed its FY 2016-17 budget, and the necessary fees to finance the new department, fees that were not part of the fee schedule outlined in the budget. No public hearing is scheduled as a companion piece to this agenda item; that will come when the council holds its second reading on the ordinance, which is currently scheduled for Nov. 15. That means anyone who wants to speak on anything regarding the subject of stormwater mitigation must do so during the citizen comments period which comes right at the beginning of the session.

In its proposed ordinance, the city is saying it is creating the utility in order to "maintain the public health and safety, within the city limits, by protecting the community from the loss of life and property caused by surface water overflows, surface water stagnation and pollution arising from point source and nonpoint source runoff within the boundaries of the service area of the utility, as established in this ordinance;" as well as to "offer and provide drainage service on nondiscriminatory, reasonable and equitable terms within the service area."

Homeowners associations or other property owners may retain ownership of drainage facilities on their properties. However, the ordinance states "Private drainage improvements not conveyed by dedication to the city as right-of-way or drainage easement shall be maintained by the user. A maintenance schedule and maintenance plan shall be submitted to the city prior to approval of construction plans. Existing drainage facilities will have 180 calendar days after the effective date of this ordinance to submit a maintenance plan to the city. The city has the right to do periodic inspections of privately owned and maintained drainage improvements to ensure that the maintenance schedule is being implemented. Failure to adhere to a maintenance plan will be a violation of this ordinance."

And, it should be noted, violations can be punishable by fines as severe as $2,000 a day.

As already mentioned ad nauseam, the proposed stormwater fee for single family residences is $5 per month and will appear as part of the customer’s monthly utility bill. The commercial rate is somewhat more complex:

  • Monthly Fee = Monthly Base Rate x Impervious Cover (sq. ft.) x Adjustment Factor
  • Monthly Base Rate = $0.0021 per sq. ft. of impervious cover
  • Adjustment Factor = The adjustment factor is unique to each commercial property and is based on the percent of impervious cover. It is calculated using the following formula: (1.5425 x % of impervious cover) + 0.5064.

Got that? If you do and do the math for a typical commercial property in Kyle, which I have done a couple of times, it is evident commercial customers bear the brunt of the overall cost of financing the new utility.

The council is also scheduled to be forced to sit through presentations on microsurfacing, billboard requirements and Goodwill Industries. None of the three presentations were made available for public consumption ahead of the meeting so there’s no telling exactly what these presentations will involve.

I do know microsurfacing is used, similar to slurry seal, for road repair projects so I am guessing this has something to do with the road bond projects or the resurfacing of other roads in Kyle. Microsurfacing is applied in order to help preserve and protect the underlying pavement structure and provide a new driving surface. Roads chosen for microsurfacing application generally have low to moderate distress and narrow crack width. Microsurfacing is similar to slurry seal. It consists of the application of a mixture of water, asphalt emulsion, aggregate (very small crushed rock), and chemical additives to an existing asphalt concrete pavement surface. Polymer is commonly added to the asphalt emulsion to provide better mixture properties. The major difference between slurry seal and microsurfacing is in how they "break" or harden. Slurry relies on evaporation of the water in the asphalt emulsion. The asphalt emulsion used in microsurfacing contains chemical additives which allow it to break without relying on the sun or heat for evaporation to occur. Thus, microsurfacing is an application that hardens quicker than slurry seals and can be used when conditions would not allow slurry seal to be successfully placed. Streets that have a lot of shade and streets that have a lot of traffic are good candidates for microsurfacing. It is a temporary fix; i.e., roadways chosen for cyclical microsurfacing applications would typically be treated every five to seven years.

Pursuant to Chapter 395 of the Texas Government Code, which requires a member of a city’s Impact Fee Advisory Committee to be a resident of the city’s ETJ, the council will consider the appointment of civil engineer Freddie E. Dippel Jr., who lives in the Century Acres subdivision near Mountain City, to the commission. However, the city has been injudiciously silent on another requirement of Chapter 395 which requires a member of that committee to be a representative of the "real estate, development or building industry."

The Lehman Road rezoning issue is the second reading of an ordinance that has divided both the Planning & Zoning Commission and the City Council and that’s one to rezone five acres at 245 Lehman Road, most of which is in the 100-year floodplain, from agriculture to retail services so that it can be used for purposes normally reserved for warehouse zoning, specifically a retail outlet selling flags and giant flagpoles and the facilities required to warehouse all those items it sells. Since most of the company’s customers are not only out of state, but many of them are out of the country, the walk-up, storefront activity is not expected to be all that heavy. The argument against the request is that its detractors want to reserve Lehman Road for normal retail service activities. The argument for it is if anyone was interested in developing that area for retail services, it would have done so long before now and it’s better to have some taxable- revenue-generating business located there than for it to sit vacant.

Two items on the agenda involve stop signs. The first is in response to instructions from the council for the city to propose a policy that removes politics from the discussion of where to put stop signs in the city. Under the policy proposal the council will consider Tuesday, "the city (will) install (stop or yield) signs in locations where the city engineer, in the exercise of his/her judgment, determines that such installation is appropriate." Citizens will still be able to make a request to the police chief and/or the public works director for stop signs in certain locations. If a visit to the proposed location along with a review of accident records for the spot calls for it, a more comprehensive traffic study could be undertaken. If the study says a sign is not warranted, it won’t be installed. If those who requested the sign want to appeal that decision, that appeal , under terms of the policy under discussion Tuesday, "will be reviewed by a panel consisting of the police chief, director of public works and the assistant city manager. The panel will make a recommendation to the city manager, who will make the final decision on the appeal." Under current policy, citizens could appeal the decision not to install a stop sign directly to the City Council, whose members found it politically expedient to make the wishes of their constituents a higher priority than whether the stop sign was warranted. This proposed policy effectively places a stop sign on that avenue of appeal.

Coincidentally, right after this discussion, the council will decide whether to approve a three-way stop sign at the intersection of Lockhart and Front streets, at the corner where the Library’s Thrift Store is located.

According to the agenda, the item concerning the RSI incentives amount a "technical amendment" to those agreed to earlier this month. This entire discussion ensued because of a mixup on property taxes, specifically who was responsible for paying those taxes. Both the county and the city assumed partial responsibility for the mixup and therefore agreed to a joint $246,000 grant to RSI that will be forgivable if, during the next decade, RSI adds 82 full-time employees to its workforce, which currently consists of 50 employees. The city is also providing RSI with a $234,000 interest-free loan which must be repaid in equal installments over a 10-year period. In return, the city will be the second lien holder on the company’s property at 1670 Kohler’s Crossing. One interesting part of this agreement that has been largely overlooked requires RSI to "retain and maintain a local intern program and provide opportunity for at least two Hays CISD students for an internship each year of this agreement."

For those who haven’t heard, Jesse Espinoza, the former Kyle police sergeant who was suspended last year because of allegations he accepted a $5,000 bribe to provide inside information on Police Chief Jeff Barnett to someone pursuing legal action against the chief and then lied about all of this during his arbitration hearing, filed a federal lawsuit against the city on Wednesday. You can read more about all this here. I still haven’t seen a copy of Espinoza’s suit so I don’t know what remedies he is pursuing, but I do know the council plans to go into executive discussion Tuesday to consult with its attorneys about the lawsuit.

Other items on Tuesday’s agenda include:

  • "Discussion and possible action" on whether to write a $270,000 check to Union Pacific to pay for "preliminary engineering services" in connection with relocating the rail siding that is currently blamed for the myriad train stoppages that block traffic on Center Street.
  • An update from City Manager Scott Sellers on serious FM 2770 drainage problems that Sellers said at a recent council meeting could cost close to a half million dollars to fix.
  • The approval of two additions, Mike Torres and Rick Koch, to the Planning & Zoning Commission. Neither of these two nominees were vetted by P&Z, which is supposed to be the process for committee appointees, so there's no word on actually who made these recommendations. Also in here is a recommendation to name interim commission Allison Wilson to a full term. The two new members will replace Lori Huey and chairman Mike Rubsam. Rubsam's knowledge and expertise in zoning issues will be missed and difficult to replicate.
  • Condemnation of about 1.4 acres that the city maintains is necessary to complete the Burleson Road improvement project.
  • The expenditure of $46,999.83 (an expenditure already approved during the passage of the current budget) for the purchase of a Ventrac tractor. Here’s everything you need to know and more about this machine.
  • The second of the two required public hearings (no one came to speak at the first one) concerning the annexation of 51½ acres southwest of FM 2770 and FM 1626 in the Plum Creek PUD.

You can read the complete city council agenda here.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Brief, passing thoughts on traffic congestion, local speed limits

Cameron County has one street on the list. So do Denton, Montgomery, Williamson and Collin counties. A portion of Mockingbird Lane in Dallas makes the list. So does a stretch of Oak Lawn Avenue in Dallas. But not a single street or highway in Kyle, San Marcos or anywhere else in Hays County makes the list of the 100 most congested roadways in Texas.

That’s something to think about on election day when you are deciding whether the county should go further into debt to pay for new and expanded highways in the county.

Enforceable speed limit sign
stumbled across this interesting list while researching laws governing speed limits in residential neighborhoods because I’ve been hearing a lot of clamoring, especially among my neighbors in the Plum Creek area, about speed limits and the enforcement of same. I’ve seen all these very well-meaning signs pop up around the hood pleading with motorists to "Drive like your kids live here," which is fine. But then at the bottom of those signs appear the words "Speed Limit 25 MPH."

Just because the locals want a 25 MPH speed limit doesn’t mean that is the speed limit or that wishing it was makes such a limit enforceable.

Unenforceable speed limit sign
The de-facto speed limit on residential streets in Texas is 30 miles an hour. Kyle, of course, may adjust those speed limits anywhere in the city where it sees fit to do so but it must, according to the Texas Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, post an accepted device and only an accepted device "(1) where the speed limit changes; and (2) beyond major intersections and at other locations where it is necessary to remind road users of the correct speed limit."

In other words, although many vigilantes wish this were not so, the police cannot legally stop a motorist for speeding who is driving 30 miles an hour through an area of Plum Creek, or any other neighborhood in Kyle, unless one of the accepted, recognized speed limit signs is in plain view.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Koontz, P&Z step in deep doo-doo

Some 13 years ago, in 2003, Kyle adopted zoning ordinances that established minimum standards for the construction of single family homes in the city. Those standards included (1) the homes had to be a minimum of 1,600 square feet, (2) lot sizes had to be greater than 8,190 square feet, (3) garages could be no smaller than 480 square feet and (4) 100 percent of the exterior of every home had to be constructed of some form of masonry.

On Nov. 22, 2005, the national NAACP, the Texas State Conference of the NAACP, the Austin branch of the NAACP, the National Association of Homebuilders and Homebuilders Association of Greater Austin joined together to file a housing discrimination lawsuit against the city in federal district court claiming the revised zoning ordinance violated the Federal Fair Housing Act aimed at prohibiting discrimination in housing. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel heard the case in February 2008 and handed down his ruling in favor of the city on March 30, 2009. Judge Yeakel stated in his decision that "the Austin HBA and NAACP failed to conduct a proper statistical analysis" to support their claim that the city was trying to price minorities out of the housing market in Kyle. While the FHA prohibits municipalities from using their zoning powers in a discriminatory manner, Judge Yeakel ruled, "a dollar impact on home construction costs alone" does not establish a prima facie case of discriminatory effect.

Then City Manager Tom Mattis called Judge Yeakel’s decision "a clear and decisive victory, not only for the City of Kyle, but for all cities everywhere. We believe that is was a thinly veiled attempt by the Home Builders Association to thwart a city’s right to decide how to best plan and direct growth." Mike Gonzalez, Kyle’s mayor at the time, said "Had the HBA prevailed in this suit, every city would have been in jeopardy of losing their ability to make decisions on how to best plan and direct growth based on the special needs and circumstances of the city."

On April 29, 2009, the NAACP, the NAHB and the HBA of Greater Austin appealed Judge Yeakel’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The city argued before the appellate judges it had a legitimate, non-discriminatory purpose in enacting the ordinances, and that plaintiffs failed to show that a less discriminatory alternative would equally serve that purpose. According to documents filed with the Fifth Circuit supporting the city’s position, "Congress enacted the FHA to prevent discrimination in housing practices and policies, not to prevent cities from exercising legitimate legislative judgments through zoning and building regulation. Plaintiffs’ arguments could undermine their governmental authority, placing them in a position of serious uncertainty. To hold that Plaintiffs’ possibilities-and-contingencies statistics carried their prima facie burden could require cities to anticipate, predict, and quantify the unpredictable and unquantifiable. Cities would first need to determine whether a municipal action might have an economically discriminatory impact and consider every variable that may affect such potential discriminatory impact into the future. This would place cities at the mercy of every group that has a vision of growth, development, or developmental controls different from the cities’ lawful and legitimate regulations."

On Nov, 11, 2011, almost six years to the day from when the original lawsuit was filed, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit ruled the plaintiffs did not have standing to file its lawsuit, ruling "there is no evidence in the record showing that a specific member of the NAACP has been unable to purchase a residence in Kyle as a result of the revised ordinances that went into effect in 2003. There is also no evidence showing when and how the revised ordinances may deprive a NAACP member of the opportunity to acquire a new residence in Kyle. Instead, Plaintiffs have pointed only to evidence suggesting, in the abstract, that some minority members may be less able to afford such residences due to the revised ordinances. This is insufficient for associational standing because the alleged injury is neither concrete nor imminent."

That ruling should have ended the discussion. However, and (to give them the benefit of the doubt) perhaps unwittingly, Planning Director Howard Koontz and the Planning & Zoning Commission not only re-opened that nasty, festering wound at its workshop last night, but actually considered the notion that perhaps the plaintiffs in this suit were correct, that these ordinances should never have been passed and perhaps now is the time to change them. In effect, Koontz and the commissioners are taking a position in opposition to one the city spent time, energy and a whole lot of money defending. Whether it’s the ethically correct thing to do, I’ll leave to the philosophers. I do know it’s certainly not the politically correct thing to do and I do not believe relaxing the building code is in the best interests of this city’s future. I began this blog with one thought in mind: I want Kyle, the city I have to chosen to call my home for the rest of my life, to be the best city it can be and in order to be the best, it must impose and enforce certain standards. Over a decade ago, municipal leaders decided what those minimum standards for single family residences should be and then were forced to fight a lengthy court battle which resulted in the city’s right to set those standards. But now Koontz and the P&Z commissioners are saying, in effect, "Naw, let’s forget about those standards, Let’s admit we were wrong in going to the barricades to defend our right to set those standards and let’s change those standards to accommodate every type of home possible in Kyle." I am convinced this type of thinking on the part of Koontz and the commissioners borders on suicidal. I predict it will get, at best, an icy reception from those further on up the chain of command, if for no other reason, simply because of the battle history I just described above.

‘Costs are really on the rise and it is driving out affordability," John Zinsmeyer, vice president of planning and development for KB Home’s Austin division, told the Planning & Zoning Commissioners last night. KB Home is currently concentrating in the Brooks Crossing subdivision. "When I started 20 years ago here, we were selling houses for what we are now having to pay for the lot. So the affordability has really, really been challenged here."

Specifically, Zinsmeyer wanted the P&Z to approve changes to the ordinances that would permit 5-foot side setbacks for single family detached residents built in areas zoned R-1-A, not zero lot lines. "Who wants to have a neighbor walk up the side of your house and look in your window?" he asked, obviously rhetorically.

He also said he was concerned that the "minimum (square) footage in R-1-2 is 1,200, but in R-1-A, you can have a 45-foot lot and the minimum footage of the home is 1,000. So there’s a big disparity in the size product allowed on one zoning category versus the other but the lot sizes are quite a bit different. There might be room in the middle there for a different zoning category."

The issue as I see it, however, is not whether there is a disparity but whether the city has a right to create such a disparity. And I am convinced the city does and if the citizens don’t agree then they have the right to come to the polls and elect leaders who believe otherwise.

Another one of the topics that come up was a Kyle standard created so that garages did not appear to be the dominant feature of a residence. The requirement states that a garage cannot be more than 50 percent of the front facing of any single family residence in Kyle.

Zinsmeyer also made, what came across to me as a form of a threat, when he told the commissioners he hoped they would consider changes to these ordinances "because we would like to continue working here."

"Would the idea of that was put forward about allowing variances to the 50-50 percentage rule of the homes built be a benefit to you in making a decision to build here?" P&Z chair Michael Rubsam asked Zinsmeyer.

"I think it would," Zinsmeyer replied.

Then the builder phrased the fundamental argument at the heart of this entire discussion: "Do you reduce your rules to allow builders come in and do what they want to do or do you apply rules that you would like to have in your city and have them comply with those?" I am on the side of the latter and I know the city fought a long, costly legal battle in defense of the latter option. I don’t perceive that the city, regardless of what Koontz is suggesting and the commissioners appear to be leaning toward, have any notion of abandoning that stance. But what Zinsmeyer seems to be professing now is "We went along and played by the city’s rules for a long time, but changing economics argues we shouldn’t have to do that any more." In fact, what he actually said was:

"We complied with those rules a couple of years ago. We came in and partnered with you and made it work. We had a successful business — a very successful business, We’ve sold out in less than two years from the time we put the first lot on the ground. So, are there some things in there that are a little difficult and perhaps put Howard and his staff into a position where they have to be the judge over whether this architecture is satisfactory or not? Yes. Is it a time-consuming task for your staff? There are other builders besides just us and there’s a lot of people out there trying to get property to develop. That’s a lot of time for your staff to have to review individual plans and make individual judgments on those plans."

And perhaps it does take a lot of time, but if that’s what it takes "to make Kyle the best city it can be," then it’s time well spent.

Rubsam endorsed the idea of changing the guidelines by asking Koontz "Do you need any more input from us to go back and rework some of these numbers?"

The issue just may be exactly what "numbers" Koontz and the commissioners are actually talking about. Are they referring to lot widths, which did not seem to be a part of the original 2005 lawsuit? Or are they talking about the minimum size of garages, which were?

"Would you want to do something like a certain percentage of either a phase or a total project would be required to have a certain percentage on one side and a certain percentage on the other?" Koontz asked. "You want to say some of them can be less than 480 square foot garages? You want to say some of them can be more than 50 percent of the overall front façade?"

Rubsam answered "I was thinking more of the 50 percent of the front façade, but that didn’t seem to be one of the main issues with our gentleman from KB Home."

"It hasn’t been an issue with KB from what I can tell," Koontz responded, "because they’re building such a wider product. As lot sizes become more and more narrow, forcing home sizes to become more and more narrow, the percentages become greater in terms of actual feet. My expectation is from what I’ve thought about this is clearly (the city of Kyle) doesn’t want to see the narrow lot, narrow home product as prolific as it has been. I’m administering a code here that clearly discourages narrow lots, especially a house that’s any narrower than 35 feet." A functional garage, Koontz maintained, must be at least 19 feet wide; therefore a house that narrow must have a garage that consumes more than 50 percent of the front facing of the house. As a result, he said, "You have to make sure builders have something in their portfolio that’s at or exceeds 38 feet just to get over that 50 percent requirement.

"What keeps me up at night," Koontz said, "is I don’t want to chase anyone away who might have a quality product. I like the style of administrative code that says ‘Here is the minimum standard. Meet it.’ On the other side, however, when everyone who comes through the door says we need to relax our standards, I’ve got to wonder whether a new standard needs to be developed."

This entire discussion only served to illustrate an even greater problem which seems to be the reality that a critical disconnect exists between the City Council and the Planning & Zoning Commission. The first time I spotted this was when the P&Z commissioners failed to carry out its assignment for a midterm update of the Comprehensive Plan. Then, in discussions I had with several P&Z members after last night's workshop, they believe they will only have to convene one time as an Impact Fee Advisory Committee and that's in a couple of weeks to set the overall maximum rates. It was also evident on last night’s agenda concerning amendments to the food truck ordinance. The City Council quite clearly and quite specifically said the ordinance first advanced to it by the P&Z was too complex, that it had to be separated into at least two ordinances, one regulating self-propelled mobile food trucks and a second regulating those that have to be hitched to another vehicle in order to move from place to place. However, what the commissioners were told last night was that the City Council did not like the idea of more permanent presence of food trucks in the city, which the ordinance was designed to promote, and that’s why they rejected it. Not only that, last night’s discussion evolved into whether the ordinance should include provisions for a food truck park, similar to an RV park, which contained a permanent infrastructure that allowed food trucks to just plug into. All the while, I’m thinking to myself "That sounds like a nifty idea if it’s done correctly. But I’m betting the City Council would want that to be a third separate ordinance, not something incorporated into one they already believe is too convoluted."

But, then, what the hell do I know? I’m merely that barnacle on Kyle’s ship of state who likes to take out his frustrations by writing this blog.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

How many times will Kyle force a homeowner to pay for the same infrastructure?

The above video tries to explain in wildly esoteric terms exactly what it is the company calling itself HDR, Inc., does. I’m not sure that I get it, but I also must admit subjects like engineering consulting are way above my head. My Hero will get it. She’s both an engineer and a consultant. Me? Not so much.

What I do know is that a representative from HDR is scheduled to make a presentation to a Planning & Zoning Commission workshop Tuesday evening on the subject of impact fees, which are the fees Kyle imposes on new or proposed developments to pay for, in this case, the costs of providing water and wastewater service infrastructure to that development.

Behind this presentation is the desire by the City Council to have the Planning & Zoning Commission double as a Impact Fee Advisory Committee. This committee will be assigned to verify that the maximum possible fee has been properly determined and to recommend to the council the actual impact fee to be levied against the developer. At least, that’s what I’m reading into this presentation.

It’s worth it to examine the actual impact of impact fees. The most important thing to note about these fees is that they are not paid by the developer of a new subdivision or even the individual homebuilders creating product within a subdivision. This from a National Association of Home Builders’ Handbook on Impact Fees: "Similar to any tax or other costs imposed on businesses, the ultimate burden of payment will, to varying degrees, be passed to new home buyers in the form of higher house prices (or, equivalently, smaller houses with fewer amenities), or come from suppliers of products and services utilized to build and deliver the home in the form of lower prices paid for those products and services."

Not only that, the Handbook goes on to say "NAHB research shows that, on average, regulations imposed by government at all levels account for 25 percent of the final price of a new single family home built for sale. Every time a local or regional government raises construction costs by, for example, increasing the price of construction permits or impact fees, the cost of building a house rises. In fact, the final price of the home to the buyers will usually go up by more than the increase in the government fee. This is because each time construction costs increase other costs such as commissions and financing charges automatically rise as well. As a result, most cost increases are passed on to the buyers with additional charges. … The bottom line is that a $1,000 impact fee imposed at the time of development approval will typically increase the costs to builders and developers to at least $1,390." According to this presentation, Kyle is looking at a maximum fee of $6,391 which, according to this formula would add, on the average, $8,883.49, to the purchase price of a new home in Kyle. According to a study conducted two years, a $1,000 impact fee that increased the price of a home $1,390 priced 282,588 potential households out of the market nationwide. That same study, found in Exhibit A of the NAHB Handbook, showed a $1,000 increase priced out 1,285 potential households in the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos market. Imagine how many potential home buyers in Kyle would be adversely effected by an $8,800 hike!

"To the extent that impact fees raise the price of all homes in a given community, the affordability of housing in that area is reduced," the NAHB Handbook states. "A reduction in housing affordability will have a negative effect on attracting and retaining workers and will have a direct impact on local governments as police officers, firefighters, teachers, and other public sector workers are heavily impacted when home prices rise. In addition, the shortage of affordable housing will make it difficult for the community to retain its own sons and daughters as they leave their parents' homes and look for affordable first homes of their own."

It appears from this presentation, Kyle is raising its maximum allowable impact fees a whopping 47.56 percent to $6,391, as compared to Buda's, our neighbors to the north, of $4,718, and San Marcos's, our neighbors to the south, of $5,791. Of course, there could be another motive at work here. Kyle has earned the reputation as the affordable home market for those priced out of living in Austin. Maybe the city is deliberately trying to rid itself of this reputation.

There’s something else to consider here. What if the council has approved one of its nefarious PIDs for the developer that’s also being charged impact fees? These PIDs allow developers to sell interest bearing ponds, the proceeds of which are also supposed to pay for required infrastructure improvements. The developers then charge homeowners monthly PID fees to recoup these costs. So now it appears homeowners are being stuck paying for these infrastructure improvements both through the increased costs they impose on the price of their home as well as via the monthly PID fees. I hope I’m wrong about this and I hope to learn whether this form of double payment is possible during Tuesday’s workshop. In fact, I’m hoping one of the commissioners raise the question, but I don’t hold out much hope for that.

Now consider this as well: All those priced out of the Kyle homeowners market obviously aren’t going to be around here to spend money in local stores, which results in a depression of sales tax receipts. What is the city going to be forced to do to compensate for that? Raise property taxes? The new home buyers in Kyle are now paying for the cost of their infrastructure through higher home prices, PID assessments and increased property taxes.

Other items the Planning & Zoning Commission are expected to hash out during its workshop, scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m., are design and construction standards for single family homes and how the city should regulate food trucks. You can find the complete agenda here.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Sound the retreat!

Yesterday I wrote about how I am convinced it’s a complete waste of time for the City Council to conduct a retreat for the sole purpose of conducting a retreat. And it should not be held in order for various council members to wax poetically about their thoughts on the city’s "vision" and/or to complain alarmingly and annoyingly about the city’s lack of same. One of the important points I failed to mention yesterday is the fact the city already has a vision statement. It’s called the Comprehensive Plan. Read it. It’s all there. Not only that, it’s blessed with fluidity, a important ingredient most "vision statements" sorely lack.

If the City Council is going to have a retreat it must do so to learn about and begin the steps to accomplish one or more (but "one" is usually the perfect number to handle for each retreat) long-range goals for the city. Yesterday, one idea I floated as an example to illustrate this concept was a retreat to learn about various possible options to realize City Manager Scott Sellers’s vision to make Kyle a destination city.

Today I want to bring up another example of what could make a City Council retreat both viable and valuable.

I have repeatedly and consistently bored the life out of anyone who had the patience to endure my rants on the subject of Budgeting for Outcomes. I am a big fan of Budgeting for Outcomes. (Here's an excellent story on this model and how it works.) I worked for the City of Dallas when it decided to transition from the type of budgeting model used today in Kyle to the Budgeting for Outcomes model. The difference between the two models, to put it simply, is the Kyle model is one only a CPA could love, while the Budgeting for Outcomes model is more of a contract between the City and its citizens that can be monitored and scored by the City Council.

In the Budgeting for Outcomes model, instead of simply a line-item expense, a service target is projected. In other words, you inform the council and, in the process, the public why these funds are being requested. Here’s an example lifted from the City Comptroller’s budget for a city which shall remain unnamed:

  • Service target for FY 2016-17: Reduce the cost per payroll transaction to $1.22.
  • Major budget items: Three Payroll Specialists were transferred to the Human Resources Department.

What this allows is simple: At the end of the fiscal year the council and the public can determine the worth of the budget item simply by determining whether that $1.22-per-transaction goal was reached.

Here’s another example lifted from the Animal Services Department budget:

  • "Service target for FY2016-17: "Reduce loose animal service requests through increased community engagement, expanded education, and community partnerships.
  • "Major Budget Items: The FY 2016-17 budget includes startup funding for 15 positions for targeted initiatives. The increased funding will be used to strengthen and engage targeted neighborhoods' sense of responsibility for animals and address existing animal issues. The staffing will include: 1 Manager, 2 Coordinator IIs, 4 Animal Service Officers, 2 Office Assistant IIs, 2 Crew Leaders, 1 Veterinarian, 1 Manager II, 1 Coordinator III and 1 Animal Keeper II."

Here’s an example of how it could work here in Kyle. Instead of a line item, like one that was a part of last year’s budget, to hire eight additional police officers, the budget would say something like:

  • Service target for 2015-16: Reduce police response time by 13 percent.
  • Major Budget Items: The FY 2015-16 budget includes the addition of eight additional police officers.

I think you see where I’m going here.

Successfully switching from one budget model to another one is not as simple a task as it may appear from my description here. That’s where the retreat can come in handy. If the city decided to make an idea like this the subject of a retreat, it should be able to offer presentations from officials who have already made the switch, it has to include step-by-step instructions on how to make the switch and it must give the council the opportunity to debate and decide on its budgetary approaches. For example, budgeting for outcomes, does not list budget items by departments but according to specific targets the city has agreed to concentrate on. Where I came from, these targets were referred to as "key focus areas" and it’s the responsibility of the City Council to determine what those key focus areas should be for its own municipality. Admittedly, this should not be that difficult of a chore because most communi8ties agree on what the five key focus areas should be for any municipal operation: 1. Public Safety; 2. Economic Vibrancy (and there is a key difference between "vibrancy," which takes into account the city’s already existing economic engines, and "development," which refers only to adding more cars to the existing train); 3. Clean, healthy environment; 4. Culture, Arts, Recreation and Education; and 5. Efficient, Effective and Economic Government. I don’t believe you could pinpoint anything a municipal government does that couldn’t be assigned to one of those key focus areas. You also have to learn and understand the concepts of "setting the price of government," "soliciting offers to deliver desired outcomes," "internally as well as externally negotiating performance agreements with chosen providers." But the point here is a retreat provides the perfect setting for the City Council to learn and understand Budgeting for Outcomes and then, if it decides it wants to move forward with this model, agreeing on its key focus areas.

Regardless of whether a retreat is scheduled to further Sellers’s destination city vision, to change the model of municipal budgeting or a completely different objective, any retreat scheduled by the city for the City Council must have some specific objective designed to enhance Kyle’s long-term future as its purpose. There’s nothing wrong with merely conceptualizing at a retreat — in fact, retreats provide a perfect setting for such idealistic visualizations — but it must be on a specific, concrete (i.e., not abstract) subject that’s decided and agreed upon before the retreat is actually scheduled.

That’s my two cents.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

“I’ve got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals”

At the end of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, City Manager Scott Sellers said he recognized the council’s desire to conduct a retreat "to discuss goals, priorities for the future — for the year 2017 and beyond." He then asked the council whether it still wanted to stage such an event and, if so, where and when.

Boy, was that a mistake.

After Mayor Todd Webster said he wasn’t that much of a retreat fan, council member Shane Arabie countered that he thought it was a "good idea."

"I think it’s good to get on the same page," Arabie said. "I think this would be a good clarification to let staff know the direction in which we expect them to head."

Then came that awful inevitable, this time from council member Daphne Tenorio.

"I’d like to see us work together on vision," she said. "One of the things I hear a lot is the city’s lack of vision. I’d like us to do a better job of advertising that vision and come together to make sure we’re all the same page."

Anyone versed in such notions as successful outcomes can spot the problems here many miles away. This is nothing more than "Let’s rent a barn and put on a show" without first thinking about what kind of show you want to put on and, even more importantly, why do you want to put on a show in the first place.

A retreat should not be treated as a destination. It can, however, be one of the vehicles employed to arrive at a destination. In other words, don’t plan to have a retreat. Strategically conceptualize actual goals, priorities, programs, outcomes — whatever — then determine if a retreat would be a useful way to, at a minimum, to recognize and solidify them. I don’t know of anyone who says "I want to buy an airplane ticket," but I know a lot of people who say "I need to get to such and such a place" and then determine purchasing an airplane ticket is the best option to get them there.

You know your retreat idea is in trouble when people begin discussing such nebulous ideas as "vision." What does anyone really mean when they say that? If you want clarity of vision, visit an optometrist. By definition, cities can’t have vision. And while many corporations, and even some governmental entities, love to have them, there is nothing less useful than "a vision statement." They are superficial. They are meaningless. And, like palm trees, they readily bend with the prevailing winds of current public opinion. I remember back in the days when most vision statements revolved around the idea of "quality," that "Quality was Job 1." Then along came another slick huckster and said "No, vision statements should not be about quality, that should emphasize customer service." And then it was "Customer service is not what should be emphasized, it’s customer satisfaction." And round and round it goes. Vision statements are, on the one hand limiting, but even more importantly, especially for a city like Kyle, they can be divisive. Does anyone really think the city could fashion a vision statement that could be supported by all the city’s residents? Does anyone really think the city could fashion a vision statement that could be endorsed by both political leaders such as Mayor Webster and civic activists such as Lila Knight? It’s never going to happen so why waste time at a retreat to try and make it happen.

What is needed is making sure the city has "people of vision" in leadership roles and, for my money, the city took an important step in that direction when it hired Sellers. I have had two extended (more than an hour) one-on-one, on-the-record conversations with our current city manager, many more shorter talks with him at various functions and even a handful of late-at-night, off-the-record talks in darkened, deserted parking lots and during all of these he has illustrated to me his passion for the future success of Kyle. His goal of making Kyle a destination city is not simply part of a strategic plan, it is a desire rooted deep within his soul. He desperately wants to make this happen. But he can’t do it alone. He needs help. And to date I have seen absolutely no one willing to step forward to partner with him on this endeavor and right now I am pointing a finger directly at the members of the City Council. This is where the help needs to come from. This is where the support for this vision must emanate. Don’t be saying the city needs to create a vision, i.e., a worthless vision statement; instead, agree to work in partnership alongside someone with that vision, to help shape that vision and ultimately to achieve that vision.

Which brings me back to the why and if the council should have a retreat. I would like to see the council plan a two-day retreat for the sole purpose of listening to and considering various specific options for making Kyle a destination city. Where do these options come from? I’ll let Sellers and his staff decide that. But it seems he has developed an excellent relationship with Texas State University and perhaps he could convince a professor or two or three in their public affairs disciplines to make that idea a class assignment or project: Come up with a concept for making Kyle a destination city and the city staff, together with the educators, could decide from all these concepts at least five that have legitimate chance of a successful outcome. Then ask the five students who developed these concepts to create a full-fledged presentation that includes mockups, architectural renderings — any sort of persuadable visual aide — and then award those students the opportunity to, on Day 1 of the retreat, make those presentations themselves to the council, the city staff and anyone else at the retreat. That evening, a casual social event could be staged that would allow these students along with their professors to enjoy a buffet dinner followed by social interaction with city leaders, both elected and staff. Day 2 of the retreat would be reserved for the council to, first of all, decide once and for all if it wanted to firmly advance the concept of making Kyle a destination city and, if so, discuss the various presentations that were made the day before or any variations or derivatives of those presentations.

A successful retreat would be one at which, at the end of Day 2, the council had agreed on a firm concept to follow to achieve Sellers’s vision and had directed staff to begin the journey to arrive at that vision.

And with that, the bifocals could come off.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Seeing who salutes

I’ve never seen a single episode of the television series Mad Men, although, from everything I’ve heard and read, it was an excellent drama. I do know that its first season depicted the activities in an around an advertising agency in 1960, which to most observers was the heyday of Madison Avenue’s influence on America’s culture and mores. It gave rise to the classification of executives known as "the men in the grey flannel suits" and the annoying habit of adding the suffix "wise" to many words, as in "What kind of a year has the company had, revenue-wise?" or "Exactly how much of the population are we talking about here, percentage-wise?" It also produced many expressions that are mostly regarded as cliches today such as "the whole ball of wax" and my personal favorite, "Let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes," meaning, of course, let’s try this idea or this product out and see if it receives a favorable reaction. Here’s a fact I’m betting not many individuals living in Kyle are aware of: Jan. 2 of every year is officially designated as "Run it Up the Flagpole to See if Anyone Salutes Day." The purpose of this designation is, according to Holiday Insights, to set aside one day each year "to allow people to … be creative, (to) use this day to try and test new ideas and concepts. Don't limit the ideas to business applications. In your personal life, try out a new dress or clothing style, perhaps a different haircut." Why Jan. 2? I could not find anyone who had the answer to that so I’m going to guess that someone, probably someone on Madison Avenue, figured early in the new year, the day after people made their "resolutions," would be the best time to convince folks to try something new.

I was thinking about all of this during last night’s Kyle City Council meeting because it seemed to me the theme of the meeting was (in one case, quite literally) "Let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes." Most of this feeling came during a series of presentations that were more notable for what wasn’t said than for what was. In fact, in one case, nothing was said. The very first presentation on the council’s agenda was called "Presentation of ABA Basketball" (that redundancy comes from the agenda wording, not me). For those not familiar with the ABA, it is a an altogether flaky and a not-particularly-honest basketball league consisting of, believe-it-or-not, 109 teams no one outside its participants are even aware of. That’s right 109 teams. How many of them can you name? I call it not particularly honest because, on its website, it claims to be a direct descendant from the original American Basketball Association that was formed in 1967 and produced such teams as the New Jersey Nets, the Denver Nuggets, the Indiana Pacers and, yes, the San Antonio Spurs, that are still alive and well today in the NBA. That claim, however, is simply not true. The only connection this new league has with the original one is that the new league’s co-founder, Richard Tinkham, was at one time an executive with the Indiana Pacers when it was an ABA team before that leagued merged into the NBA in 1976. Tinkham, who’s also largely responsible for the construction of Market Square Arena (which was the former Indianapolis home court of the Pacers until it was demolished in 2001) and his partner Joe Newman (who, to tie this back to the original topic of this article, is an advertising executive), simply licensed the ABA name from the NBA. The reason I call it "altogether flaky" is because, on the average, only 35 percent of its scheduled games are actually played in any given season, at the end of which, between 10 and 50 teams cease to exist. One of the newest of the 109 ABA teams is the Kyle Stallions, which is supposed to play their home games at the Lehman High School gym, which, I’m guessing, was the reason this phantom presentation was on the council’s agenda. I have been trying to track down the name of the "owner" of the team, but, to date, have not been successful. I do know that its general manager is Geoff Harner who is involved in youth basketball programs in Austin and played pro hoops in Lithuania, and its head coach is 23-year-old Damien Goodwin, who coached AAU basketball in his home of Buffalo, N.Y. One of the many things you won’t find on the ABA website is a schedule or any team rosters.

Following the precedent set by a majority of the teams in the ABA, Sylvia Gallo, who was scheduled to make the presentation to the council about the league, was a no-show, so this idea never even made it to the base of the flagpole. Figures.

The next presentation was "on FM 2770 Stormwater" which concerns a major flooding problem along that road near the Hays County Precinct 2 headquarters. What was missing from that presentation, an ingredient both the council and City Manager Scott Sellers recognized, was where the city was going to come up with the money needed, perhaps close to a half million bucks, to install the necessary culverts or possibly even a pedestrian underpass required to solve the problem. So, in this case, the flagpole was simply described, but no one tried to run anything up it.

Then came Precinct 2 County Commissioner Mark Jones who ran up the flagpole the notion to salute the Hays County road bond proposals. What was missing from his presentation were maps, so it could be seen clearly exactly how many of these projects were actually in Kyle or could be reasonably defined as benefitting citizens and/or motorists of Kyle. He did tell the council, however, "We have a web site that you can go to if you want to look at any of these other projects — it’s haysbonds,com — and there’ll be a map on there and you can click on any project on the red dot and it will tell you all about it." Well, I went to today and found nothing even remotely like what Jones said I would find. However, I finally decided to ignore Jones’s advice and instead tried "" and found what I was looking for and what Jones was describing. Not only that, I quickly discovered why Jones wanted to obscure these maps by giving out a false web address because they clearly show only two of the projects are actually in Kyle, one of which, the FM 150 realignment, Jones omitted from his discussion because, I guess, it’s technically not in his precinct. And the only one that is both in Precinct 2 and in the city of Kyle and, which, admittedly, would have a far-reaching positive effect on traffic flow, is the $1.5 million for the relocation of the Union Pacific Railroad siding near downtown Kyle. Here’s the problem with that, however: First, that project constitutes only 4.2 percent of the entire Precinct 2 bond proposal and only 1 percent of the total Proposition 2 bond proposal. Second. It’s true that Jones and others are promising no property tax rate hike should the proposition pass and I believe this forecast is accurate. However, it does fill up bond capacity; i.e., the county will be unable to borrow any additional funds anytime in the near future on capital projects that might benefit Kyle without a tax rate increase. Third and most important of all, the passage of the proposal does, in no way, guarantee the problem will be fixed. For those not familiar with the situation it is, in its simplest terms, this: Through most of its journey though Kyle, the Union Pacific rail line consists of one track, which can be a logistical problem when a train heading north meets one coming south. There is, just north of downtown, a siding where the train heading in one direction can pull into to let the one going in the other direction pass. The problem is, one of those trains has to stop while the other enters the siding and many is the time the train that stops does so in a way that blocks traffic across the Union Pacific tracks on Center Street, resulting in massive traffic tie-ups. The solution is to move that siding closer to the Kyle Parkway overpass and the $1.5 million in the bond proposal is the amount the county pledges to contribute towards that move. The problem is, from what I’ve been told, the actual cost of moving that siding is at least 10 times that $1.5 million amount. And, for the county to actually pledge that money, Kyle city government would have to match it. If the city is having problems finding the funds required to fix the aforementioned life-threatening flooding problems on 2770, how is it going come up with more than three times as much to fix what is basically a problem of convenience? Not only that, where is the other $10 million coming from. I understand the city and the county are in talks with state and federal officials about this, but that’s all there is: talk.

Next up was this idea designed to salute the other Hays County bond proposal that will go before the voters in next month’s election and that’s $106.4 million to renovate and expand the Hays County Jail, to build a new facility to house the sheriff’s office, crime labs and training centers and improvements to the Hays County 9-1-1 center. What was omitted here was not only any talk about the jail or the new facility for the sheriff but also the fact that two entities are balking at the idea of co-locating their 9-1-1 services in the proposed county facility. The pitch from Erika Carpenter of Hays County was designed to persuade the council to co-locate its 9-1-1 operations with the county’s. The original idea was to merge the emergency dispatch services of Buda, Kyle, Hays County, San Marcos and Texas State University into the one center. But San Marcos has flatly rejected the invitation and the police chief at Texas State is recommending the university not participate either. I asked council member Daphne Tenorio if she was aware of the actions by San Marcos and Texas State. She replied that she wasn’t, but that she definitely wanted to examine those decisions more closely. I then asked council members David Wilson and Shane Arabie "Does it give you pause to know that San Marcos has opted out of the co-location program and Texas State’s police chief is recommending the university do the same." I was met with absolute silence and a stunned look on each of their faces, which I interpreted to be, quite naturally, "a pause," i.e., the affirmative answer to my question. Council member Travis Mitchell said he is still to be convinced that co-location would make sense financially. Only Police Chief Jeff Barnett told me he had actually talked to San Marcos and Texas State officials.

"In meetings where they gave their position they said it wasn’t the right timing for their business model," Barnett told me. "I heard San Marcos mentioning that they were able to expand their current dispatch center in their current facility and that negated some thoughts they had several years ago about trying to find a new location. I heard the university mention that they currently offer a lot of services that they want to continue to offer on campus and moving their dispatch facility at the current time just wasn’t in their business model either."

There’s also personnel problems involved in such a co-located arrangement. Who would the employees actually work for? Who would pay them? Would some still work for and be paid by the county and others still work for and be paid by the cities of Kyle or Buda? What happens when people doing the same job, but work for different government entities, are paid differently or receive different benefits, particularly retirement benefits (which are considerably different between municipal and county employees). Who would they regard as their bosses, the county commissioners who would be the overall directors of the center or the persons who sign their respective pay checks? Who would perform their evaluations and would those evaluations be automatically recognized as acceptable by another government entity? None of these questions were addressed in the presentation.

The final presentation was one on the proposed ESD No.9 and what was omitted from that discussion was any mention in actual dollars how it would effect the tax bill of the average Kyle homeowner. The cost of to the taxpayer of the proposed emergency services district is .047 cents per $100 of appraised property value which, for the owner of a home valued at $200,000 means a $94 addition to his or her tax bill every year, assuming that value of the property remains constant and we all know they ain’t gonna happen. The other issue here, of course, is one of double-billing: Should residents be forced to pay these costs both through their health insurance premiums and their property tax or will voters even be asking themselves this question when they vote on the issue next month?

The literal "run it up the flagpole" item I referred to back in the second paragraph of this missive was the one I discussed ad nauseam in my report on the last Planning & Zoning Commission hearing and that was one to rezone five acres of land at 245 Lehman, a nice looking plot located not more than a quarter mile from Garcia’s Mexican restaurant, from agriculture to retail services with the caveat it could be used for warehouse purposes, specifically "interior and exterior storage." What I think most people envisioned, including, I must admit, yours truly, was a self-storage facility going up there, but, according to Lyndee Jordan, who owns the property along with her husband, that’s not what their plans are. They are talking about flagpoles and I don’t mean virtual ones on which to run up an idea, but actual ones for actual flags.

Jordan told the council last night that she and her husband have operated their business, U.S. Flag and Flagpole Supply, for a quarter of a century.

"My husband built it from nothing," she said. "He does do monster flag poles — a 500-foot pole for the king of Jordan, a 400-foot flag pole in Wisconsin. Right now our office is out of my guest house in Wimberley. We manufacture everything in San Antonio so we’re not going to manufacture our big poles here. When we were in Beaumont for 20 years, everybody knew us because we had a retail store that sold flags, flag poles, collegiate items. We had a nice retail store. We were very well known because we donated flags and flag poles to the area schools. We gave. We supported. Now we want to get this business out of our house in Wimberley and move it to Kyle. It’s a business I’m very proud of. I guess it hurts me that you wouldn’t be proud to have it here."

She went on to describe her husband as someone who is "very vain," which means he will make sure "his storefront is going to look very good." The storage request is one so that the owners can have space both inside and outside the building to store flags, poles and other items required to conduct their business.

Mayor pro tem Damon Fogley moved to run this one up the flagpole and Arabie and Mitchell were the only two council members who chose not to salute.

In other action last night, the council:

  • Unanimously approved the appointment of Silvia Torres to the Ethics Commission
  • Held another one of its public hearings — this one involving the voluntary annexation of 51½ acres southwest of FM 2770 and FM 1626 — at which no one came to speak.
  • Approved on second and final reading the revisions in the city’s landscape and impervious surface ordinances.
  • Authorized by a 5-2 vote (Tenorio and Mayor Todd Webster voting "no’) the one-year renewal of a contract that will allow Kyle motorcycle cops to keep riding their 2014 model Harley-Davidsons.
  • Unanimously approved a resolution to accept a federal grant that would pay for 57 percent of the salary for the Kyle Police Department’s juvenile justice officer.
  • Heard about an idea from Sellers about a possible "council retreat," which I will expound upon more in the not-too-distant future.
  • Following an executive session that was scheduled, according to the agenda, to allow the council to discuss "property acquisitions for road bond projects," directed the staff to prepare an ordinance "to begin condemnation for property located at 1119 South Old Highway 81, the Mattox property," according to Arabie. I had two questions about this that went unanswered. First, should this address have been 1199 South Old Highway 81 and not 1119? Second, what does any property on South Old Highway 81 have to do with the current "road bond projects"?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Sales tax receipts: Both good, bad news

First the good news about the city’s sales tax receipts for the first month of this new fiscal year: They were above projections giving the General Fund a surplus of $7,028.19 as the city kick starts FY 2016-17. Not only that, they exceeded last year’s October receipts by a comfortable $67,517.31

Now the bad news: In that first month of the last fiscal year, which turned out to be somewhat of a disastrous one in terms of sales tax receipts-against-forecasts, the receipts were a comfortable 15.92 percent above what was forecast, even though those forecasts turned out to be on the, shall we say, optimistic side. This year’s October receipts, on the other hand, are only 1.45 percent above what our municipal financial gurus expected the city to collect.

In other words, to date this year, the city is $7,028.19 in the black while this time last year it was $67,517.31 on the plus side but finished the year more than a quarter of a million dollars — $281,897.11, to be exact — in the red.

So although this October’s numbers are reason to be pleased, they are in no way something to crow about. And, it must be admitted, as last year proved so dramatically, one month does not a year make. But, in the deep, dark recesses of my gut, I don’t feel all that good about this.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Typically boring presentations dominate upcoming council session

There are certain things governmental entities do very well and then there are other things at which they are absolutely terrible at. At the top of that latter category is presentations. Suffering from insomnia? If you can find a governmental entity laboriously fostering on an imprisoned audience some form of presentation, get there as quickly as you can. I guarantee you will be asleep in minutes. It’s worse that being strapped in a chair and force fed Kenny G music for six hours.

What makes presentations by governmental bodies so excruciatingly painful to sit through are the slides used to accompany the presentation. I’m going to be focusing here on a couple of presentations that will be made by Hays County Tuesday evening to the Kyle City Council, but I am not singling out just Hays County for this criticism Kyle city government itself goes out of its way to make bad presentations. Every single governmental entity I have ever been involved with anywhere in the world does it. I spent almost a quarter of a century traveling around the world teaching various government, business, sports, etc. leaders how to manage a crisis, how to handle media interviews and how to make an effective presentation and, to be honest, I was never much of a fan of visual aids for a presentation. I mean, why go to all the trouble to work on an effective presentation only to tell your audience, in effect, "Don’t pay any attention to me. Just watch what’s up there on the screen."?

But, if the presenter was absolutely adamant about using visual aides and it could be determined that such slides would actually drive the speaker’s point across to the audience, I wholeheartedly approved of using visual aides, but only if they met two criteria. First, they must be visual. Second, they must be an aide.

Governmental bodies completely ignore those criteria. Instead, their slides consist of a lot of words, some printed in such small type that no one beyond the first or second row of the audience can read them. These are not aides — they are the actual presentation script printed out, or at least an outline of that presentation.

There are too many reasons why this is a wrong-headed approach to count, but chiefly among them is this: If you are going to make a presentation, doesn’t it make sense that you want the audience to listen to what you have to say? When you offer slides containing a lot of words, audience members are not listening; they are reading the words. And while you’re talking about the words at the top of the slide, they are reading the words at the bottom of the slide and asking themselves "I wonder what he’s going to say about that?" Or. "I wonder what that means?" The speaker is just wasting his breath.

Here’s a solution: For those insisting they must put all the information they are going to say on slides, simply offer the slides to your audience ahead of time. In fact, anyone who wants to can read two such horrible presentations before the council session because they are attached to the council’s agenda which can be found here. Read them yourselves. But the City Council should be told ahead of time to read them as well and then instead of forcing everyone to sit through your boring presentations, just be prepared to answer any questions council members might have from what they’ve read.

But here’s an even better idea. Let’s examine, to take an easy example, the very first slide following the title card of the presentation on the Hays County Road Bonds. The slide is titled "Projects: Precinct 1" and then it lists four projects: "CR 266 Corridor Improvements," "Dacy Lane Widening," FM110@SH123 Intersection Improvements" and "FM 621 Safety Improvements" and then under each listing is the budget for that particular item. Why not, instead of those words, have slides that contain (1) a map visualization to give the audience an idea of exactly where in the county this project is and (2) perhaps photos of the current state of those roads and an artist rendering of what it would be like when the project is completed? Now you have the audience’s attention. Now you have the audience listening to what you’re saying at the time you’re saying it. I know, that takes a little more work, a little more effort, and governmental entities like to take the easy way out, but the purpose of a presentation should not be just to inform its audience, but also to convince, to sell. In this case, you want the audience leaving the room convinced this is a worthwhile project that deserves widespread support and you should take every step necessary to make sure that’s exactly how they feel when they leave City Hall.

Now, the real bad news here is that the Council and everyone else who attends Tuesday’s meeting not only has to deal with this boring presentation, but four others including two more thrillers from Hays County officials. Here is just one of the eye-popping slides from one of those presentations, one involving "9-1-1 and Public Safety Dispatching Services for Police, Fire & EMS in Hays County."

See what I mean?

The other presentations the council and those brave enough to attend Tuesday’s session in person must waste valuable time sitting through involve ABA basketball, FM 2770 Stormwater and ESD No. 9. Among the other items council members must consider, providing they are still awake following these presentations, include:

  • The appointment of Silvia Torres to the Ethics Commission.
  • The first of two public hearings involving the voluntary annexation of 51½ acres in the Plum Creek MUD that, except for a radio tower, are vacant now, but on which the owner soon hopes to develop under the guidelines of the MUD’s R-2 zoning which allows for single family residences and duplexes but not apartments.
  • The awarding of a contract for lighting enhancements at the Gregg-Clarke Park softball and football fields with Musco Sports Lighting, which has the distinction of recently installing all new lighting at Notre Dame’s football stadium, Ford Field (home of the Detroit Lions) and the University of Maryland’s XFINITY Center, the largest arena in the state and the home court of Terrapins basketball teams.
  • The idea of granting, on first reading, a development agreement that will allow the owner of property located on Lehman Road, most of which is in the 100-year-flood plain, to rezone the property from agriculture to retail services so he can use it for purposes reserved for warehouse-zoned properties. It’s questionable item and only narrowly passed the Planning & Zoning Commission this past Tuesday. There’s a public hearing attached to this item.
  • The second reading of an amendment to the city’s impervious surfaces ordinances. Although the agenda claims the Planning & Zoning Commission approved the amendment 5-0, that’s not true. P&Z commissioners went out of their way to approve an amendment that declared swimming pools were impervious,, which obviously, they are or they couldn’t contain water. The council, in a gutless appeal to the whims of homeowners, especially those in Hometown Kyle, have since changed the amendment from the one P&Z approved to declare swimming pools are not impervious. Go figure.
  • A possibly lengthy executive session to deal with "pending or contemplated litigation" (i.e., someone is threatening to sue the city), acquiring land needed to complete one or more of the road bond projects, "personnel matters" (I have been informed that my suspicions this might have something to do with offering and trying to convince City Manager Scott Sellers to agree to a comparatively long-term contract extension are niothing more than flights of fancy on my part) and "economic development negotiations."