The Kyle Report

The Kyle Report

Friday, September 22, 2017

Signs point to 30-day grace period on car calling ban enforcement

Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett said today all the required notification signs are in place to enforce the city’s ban on using a wireless communications while operating a motor vehicle or bicycle, but it might be as long as 30 days until the city knows if the wording on those signs passes state muster and KPD can begin ticketing violators.

The city council voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt the ban. The 7-0 approval means the ordinance didn’t need to come back for a second reading. Kyle adopted such a ban in 2016, but earlier this year, the Texas Legislature passed and the governor signed legislation that prohibited texting while driving. That legislation also effectively revoked all city ordinances on the subject, but gave municipalities room to adopt stronger rules. The only caveat was that, if stricter city regulations were put in place, signs had to be placed at the city limits on all roads bearing numbered highway designations.

Barnett said those signs are in place in Kyle "and we are consulting with our legal representation to review current wording and to recommend any additional language, if necessary. Enforcement on the city ordinance will take place only after the wording is adjusted and posted. If we do need to adjust the currently posted language, I would estimate the placing of those signs to be less than 30 days."

It is a common practice for police officers to position themselves along major arterials with devices designed to measure whether a motorist is exceeding the posted speed limit. Barnett said the KPD will not employ such tactics to snare drivers using their wireless devices illegally.

"Officers will enforce the new state law as they perform their patrol duties," the chief said.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

City maintains bills accurately reflect water usage

While acknowledging the water bills customer received this month may be higher than usual for a couple of reasons it maintains are legitimate, City Finance Director Perwez Moheet carefully and methodically outlined the city’s procedure for measuring and billing for residential water usage during Tuesday night’s city council meeting and concluded residents are invoiced accurately for the water they use.

Moheet said the latest bills customers received on Sept. 15 accounted for water usage between July 6 and Aug. 8, 33 days.

"We normally have 29 to 30 days" in a billing cycle, he told the council. "This one happens to have 33 days. This is the longest billing cycle in our fiscal year. Of those 33 days, 27 days were with 97-plus degrees with no precipitation. That’s 82 percent of the days in the total billing cycle. This included 10 days of 100-plus degree temperatures with two of those days being 106 degrees."

Moheet said residents who use automatic sprinkler systems to irrigate their lawns in the summer can use 16,000 to 20,000 gallons of water a month "very fast." Other typical causes for higher than normal water use, he said, include leaks in internal plumbing such as toilet flaps that have caught, are hung or have shrunk over time; faulty shower heads; faulty faucets; leaking faucets outdoors and indoors; leaking connections to clothes/dish washers; replacement of water heaters; swimming pool repairs; outdoor manual sprinklers that are inadvertently left on too long; and children playing with running water hoses.

"On automatic sprinkler systems, most people set them up to where they come on between midnight and 6 a.m.," Moheet said. "If you have a broken sprinkler head most people don’t see it until they get their bill. Just one broken sprinkler head can spew 200 gallons in one cycle. And if you have a number of those, it adds up pretty quickly.

"If a customer losers power, their irrigation control system reverts to the factory setting which is every day," he said. "So if the customer doesn’t catch that and update it, they will be using more water."

Moheet said during the August billing cycle, the average amount of water used per customer was 8,186 gallons. That compared to 7,424 gallons for the same month in 2016, which was a wetter year.

He also mentioned that Kyle, like many other municipalities, has a tiered water rate structure "that is designed to encourage water conservation." The first 4,000 gallons are billed at $4.40 per thousand gallons, the second 4,000 is $5.50, the third is $6.61, the fourth is $7.69, the fifth is $8.80 with a final increment for those who use 50,000 gallons or more in a month and they are charged $13.20 per 1,000 gallons.

After the meeting I posed a hypothetical to Moheet on a customer whose water usage for one month was 10,000 gallons. Specifically I asked whether he was billed (a) at the $4.40 rate for the first 4,000 gallons, the $5.50 rate for the second 4,000 and the $6.61 rate for the final 2,000 or (b) was the customer billed at the $6.61 rate for all 10,000. His answer was option (a).

"This customer’s water bill will total $86.05," Moheet said today. He said that total comes from adding $33.23, which is what he called the "minimum water charge," $17.60 for the first 4,000 gallons, $22 for the second 4,000 and $13.22 for the final 2,000. He said the customer’s water bill would be itemized to show the separate $33.23 for the minimum charge and a separate line item of $52.82 for the water usage charge.

"In this billing cycle we had 9,331 water meters that we read," Moheet told the council Tuesday night. "It’s electronic meter reading. The water meter has a device on top of it that sends an electronic signal to our meter reader that drives by neighborhoods and picks up signals. So there is no human touch of the meter reading in the process," a process, Moheet maintained, that eliminated the possibility of human error in meter readings. He said approximately 5,000 of the meters are west of I-35 and the remaining 4,300 are on the east side.

Moheet said the first thing that happens when the city receives those readings "is to catch those meter reads that show up as some anomaly." These could be zero reads or bad signals. He said meter technicians go to those locations to determine why meter readings were not recorded. "They then physically read the meters," Moheet said. "They actually open the meter box and they have the hand held device that they scan. They make sure the meter is not broken." Moheet said 90 percent of the times those faulty readings are the result of ant mounds, even rattlesnakes in the meter boxes or irrigation water that has flooded the meter boxes. "Se we clean all that out," he said. Moheet said of the 9,331 meters read last month, only 111 had to be re-read manually.

"So that’s the first cut," he said.

After that, the billing system searches for high and low, he said. Every month the system looks at a customer’s three-month average for the same three months in the prior year. "If it’s two and a half times less than or two and half times more than your last average it will spit it out for additional review," he said.

In all, he said, the system has 10 different such categories that it tests for.

"During non-summer months, we typically have about 800 accounts that we have to review based on these parameters," the finance director said. "For this billing cycle that we are talking about, we had 1,327. That’s because most of these were high-usage customers." Specifically, he reported, 679 were for high usage, 189 for low consumption, 233 for zero consumption and the rest for other miscellaneous reasons.

"Each one of those was looked at," he stressed. "It normally takes us three days to run these inspections and checks. It took us five days to run these. Every single one of them had a reason that their bill was approved."

Although Mayor Pro Tem Damon Fogley said he understood the city manager telling him the last audit of the city’s water billing system was in 2009, Moheet said the truth is the city is has been audited annually since 2004 by a company called Johnson Controls. Last year’s audit, he said, revealed a meter accuracy rate of 99.9 percent.

"Our meters are in good shape," he said. "We are above what the rating associations say is acceptable."

He said the meters that are pulled are sent to a certified laboratory with no connection to either the city of Kyle or Johnson Controls "and those results are then shared with us."

Moheet concluded by posing a question: "If the billing system or the meter equipment system had some gremlin in it, why does it only show up in the high usage months and then it normalizes? If there was a system error, then that anomaly would show every month."

Council member Travis Mitchell asked Moheet whether the billing could be adjusted so that a 32-day interval fell during periods of low water usage instead of during the summer months and Moheet said he would investigate whether the billing software could be reprogrammed to make that adjustment.

In a related item Tuesday, the council approved the expenditure of $374,579 for something that wasn’t clearly explained on the agenda but turns out is a system that unifies all the city’s computer-based accounting technologies into one system.

In other action citizens should be aware of, the council passed on final reading an ordinance that adds using a wireless device to "engage in a call" while operating a motor vehicle or bicycle in Kyle to the texting prohibitions already enacted by the state.

The council also approved zoning changes that would allow for an auto body shop to relocate from South Front Street to the corner of Rebel Road and Porter Street and for a medical facility to be built on the Dacy Loop.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Mayor pro tem seeks solutions to water bill complaints

Mayor pro tem Damon Fogley said Saturday complaints he has received about "excessively high water bills" prompted him to place an item on Tuesday’s City Council agenda that reads "General discussion regarding water billing practices and billing audit."

"A lot of people are concerned about this," Fogley said. "A lot of people are complaining about their bills. The reason I put this on the agenda is to have a general discussion about billing practices and if there’s any type of trigger mechanism in place when someone does have a spike."

Fogley is hoping to make public exactly how the city staff reacts to customer complaints about high water bills and, particularly whether technicians test water meters for accuracy.

"I think we need some kind of program in place," Fogley said. "I’ve had some residents contact me about excessively high water bills that they’ve had recently. They’‘ve had a huge spike during the summer months. They went from having an average bill of $100 that tripled when June and July came around."

The mayor pro tem said he researched what remedies have been undertaken by other cities and he said he especially liked an ordinance adopted last year in Austin that reads if a customer receives an abnormally high water bill they could be eligible for an adjustment if:
  • The customer’s water usage is greater than or equal to three times their normal usage;
  • They have at least 12 months of water billing history at the address in question;
  • They have not had another billing adjustment or credit within the previous 24 months; and
  • They file a form reflecting the high usage within 90 days of receiving the questionable bill.

If they are deemed eligible, the customers will have half of the excess charges credited to their account and the other half adjusted to a lower billing rate.

Fogley noted that Austin conducted an independent audit of its water utility billing system, the results of which were released earlier in 2016, that revealed it operated at 98.86 percent accuracy. The audit was authorized because of customer complaints about excessive bills.

"When I asked (City Manager Scott Sellers) when our last billing audit was, he said it was 2009 and there weren’t too many details about this audit," Fogley said. "I’m not sure they actually looked at the meters we had or whether it was just strictly about billing practices. I want to know what is our allowable percentage of error."

Austin’s audit began by testing the city’s 1,138 water meters for accuracy and the auditors recommended the city test their meter accuracy annually. Austin City Council member Ellen Troxclair, who recommended the above referenced ordinance to remedy customer complaints, pointed out that while a 98.86 accuracy rate might seem good at first glance, the city’s contract requires a rate of 99.9 percent.

"I want to know what our accuracy rate is," Fogley said, "I think we should discuss having a company come out and do an audit on our billing system and all our meters."

Fogley was asked whether a Kyle’s customer complaint automatically triggers an inspection of the meter’s accuracy or, at a minimum,. a check of the meter for possible leaks, an incredibly simple procedure,

"No, I don’t think it does," the mayor pro tem replied, "I think if someone requested it, they would go out there. That’s one of the reasons I put this on the agenda, I think there needs to be a mechanism in place for that."

Other items on the council’s Tuesday agenda include spending more than a half-million dollars — $632,405, to be exact — on five big-ticket items. Specifically, the agenda includes:
  • The first reading of an amended ordinance regarding the use hand-held wireless devices while operating a motor vehicle or bicycle. The city had in place an ordinance prohibiting texting and/or calling on such devices, but earlier this year the Texas Legislature passed and the governor signed a bill that banned texting while driving statewide, Kyle’s amended ordinance would add using these devices to "engage in a call" to the activities the state prohibits.
  • Spending 59 percent of that aforementioned $632,405 ($334,579) on "incode software modules, data conversion services, installation services, and hosting services for the city's Finance, Utility Billing, Human Resources, and Municipal Court" that "allows for the City of Kyle and Tyler Technologies to begin moving forward with plans to begin development of the various products." There are probably computer/technical geeks out there who can explain what that language means, but, frankly, this type of gobbledegook is beyond my comprehension. I must say I’m especially interested, however, in that line about spending this amount of money to pave the way "to begin development of the various products." What products? For whom? Will this development require the spending of additional money, i.e., is the city spending $334,579 to make it easier to spend more money later on? Hopefully, answers the public can comprehend will be provided during the council session. It is worth noting that the Tyler Technologies referenced in this material is a company that calls itself "the largest software company in the nation solely focused on providing integrated software and technology services to the public sector — cities, counties, states and school districts." So there’s that.
  • Spending $168,000 to purchase and install a 300 kilowatt diesel generator that will provide emergency backup electric power to the Public Works building. This is also from this year’s budget — $45,000 from the General Fund, $45,000 from the Water Utility Fund, $45,000 from the Wastewater Utility Fund and $33,000 from the Stormwater Utility Fund.
  • $40,089 for one of these and another $19,637 for two of these, both for the Stormwater Utility Department.
  • Spending $30,100 to purchase one of these things. According to Park Department officials, "One of the goals of the Downtown Beautification Plan (EDITOR’S NOTE: I believe the city is referring here to the "Downtown Beautification Plan," although the agenda material calls it the "Downtown Beautifaction Plan") is to keep the streets and sidewalk throughout the downtown swept and clean. The Public Work’s street sweeper does a great job of sweeping the thoroughfare. But the two-man crew of the grounds division of the Parks Department spend hundreds of hours each year hand picking and hand sweeping the beer cans and bottles, trash, leaves, crickets and various debris and trash. The Smithco Sweep star will allow the same crew of two to sweep the sidewalks, drainage inlets, parking lots and up next to curbs quickly and effectively. The piece of equipment will also allow the parks crews a quick way to clean up parks after major events."
  • What appears, on the surface, to be two routine zoning change requests — one that would allow an auto repair shop on Rebel Road and another for a medical facility on Dacy Loop in what is rapidly becoming a medical complex in Northeast Kyle — and two requests for waivers from the Rural Subdivision Standards, one of which would allow for the construction of a wastewater line for the Anthem subdivision.
  • City Manager Scott Sellers is expected to formally announce the City Council’s first October meeting will be held Wednesday, Oct. 4., because the regular meeting date, Oct. 3, conflicts with National Night Out.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Council OKs 911 merger

The City Council listened to a parade of county officials predicting a centralized 911 call center serving all of Hays County, minus San Marcos, will be the envy of the state’s 253 other counties and then voted unanimously Tuesday night to merge Kyle’s emergency response services into a collaborative effort while giving the city wiggle room to back out at a later date.

"This is a community effort to come together to provide the highest levels of public safety that we possibly can in this county," Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley told the council. "We have traveled this state and looked at most facilities. We have studied this issue for over a decade. This mechanism presenting before you tonight is not perfect. But it is head and shoulders better than what we have today. Lives will be saved. There will be a higher level of public safety and professionals running that institution if we approve this and move forward today."

Precisely what the council approved was how the center, which is not scheduled to commence operations until sometime in 2019, will be run. But in approving the method of governance, the city effectively said it will soon be getting out of the 911 business and turning that operation into a joint one with the City of Buda and Hays County. The decision also means the city will be forgoing its state-of-the-art emergency response computer software system for one that is already being used by Buda and the county.

Voters approved in a county election last November a bond package to finance the construction of the joint facility, which will be located in San Marcos.

City manager Scott Sellers told the council that Kyle employees working at the city’s 911 call center who move to the co-located one will remain Kyle employees, meaning they will not lose seniority and, perhaps more importantly, their city health care and pension benefits.

"There is no more basic fundamental service we should be providing than the highest level of 911 communication and emergency communication," Conley told the council. "It is at the time when our constituents have the most stress, at the highest need — when their child is choking at the kitchen table, when their home is broke into, when they’re being held at gunpoint. That’s where the rubber meets the road. All the other services that we do are important, but those are the basic, core, fundamental services that we should be the best at, that we should be exceptional."

Hays County Sheriff Gary Cutler said "I’ve been in law enforcement 43 years. Dispatch communications is the toughest job in law enforcement right now. I’m looking forward to the day when we reach out and hug the communications operators here in Kyle and bring them under one roof.

"I’m going to be really shocked if Hays County is not a model for some of the other counties in Texas," Sheriff Cutler continued. "I think they when they see how we’ve brought this together they will want to come visit and see how we’re doing it here."

Precinct 1 County Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe acknowledged Kyle city officials made a number of demands (she called them "requests") before an agreement on the interlocal agreement which the council approved Tuesday night was reached. "We have honored those requests at no additional costs to the City of Kyle and I’m here now asking that you look upon this favorably," she told the council "I think it’s a great benefit to our citizens and taxpayers."

The major benefit of the collocation is that it, in effect, obliterates certain territorial jurisdictions when it comes to answering 911 calls. To give just one, albeit somewhat improbable example: A 911 caller seeking help because a gun wielding madman is pursuing the caller down I35 will, under this new service, no longer be forced to wait while his call is being transferred as he crosses the Buda city limits into Kyle.

Sheriff Cutler and Lon A. Shell, the chief of staff of the Hays County Judge’s Office, said outside the council chambers following the council’s 6-0 (council member Daphne Tenorio did not attend the meeting) vote that it is expected construction on the joint call center will begin in November and they expect it to be operational within 14 to 18 months of that time which translates into an opening anywhere between January and May of 2019. Although they acknowledged the subject had not been formally addressed, it is possible, they said, that 311 functionality could be incorporated into the facility’s operations at a later date.

Council members Travis Mitchell and Shane Arabie, who, along with Mayor Pro Tem Damon Fogley, handled much of the city’s negotiations on the terms of the agreement, said it was important for them that Kyle’s operators kept their own licenses to serve as emergency response dispatchers in case the city decided at any point to pull out of the deal, which, they said, the city could do by providing a two-year notice.

In other action last night:
  • The council decided it wanted stricter rules than the state has provided governing a motorist’s use of handheld communication devices and directed staff to return with an amended ordinance that maintains the city’s restrictions on using those devices for calling as well as texting, while incorporating the necessary language in the new state law that simply prohibits texting (but not game playing) on such a device while driving.
  • Following additional kudos for the city manager’s proposed budget from council member David Wilson, Fogley and Mayor Todd Webster, the council formally adopted his $75.5 million budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 and set the property tax rate at $.5416 per $100 of assessed taxable valuation. Although that tax rate is 3.3 cents lower than the current rate, most property owners will still be faced with a higher tax bill because of increased property values combined with the fact that the City of Kyle was the only one of the eight taxing entities governing Kyle residents that did lower its tax rate.
  • The council passed the first reading of an ordinance amending two sections of the city’s "rural subdivision standards" that were in conflict with one another. One section required that "all lots in rural subdivisions be greater than one acre in area" while the other said "the minimum residential lot size in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction shall be 9,600 square feet" and all lots in these areas served by a septic system shall have a lot size of 20,000 square feet. The change keeps the second rule allowing for 9,600 square feet foot lots, but only if they are connected to an off-site waste-water treatment line. Those using septic systems must be at least an acre and must employ county-approved advanced septic equipment. The amendments passed 4-1 with Mitchell dissenting and Arabie not present when the vote was taken.
  • Sellers told the council between 9,000 and 10,000 persons attended last weekend’s Pie in the Sky Festival. "For a first-year event, that’s phenomenal," Sellers said. Mayor Webster echoed Sellers, calling the festival "the most successful event the city’s ever had." Sellers also said the council’s first meetings in October and November conflict with National Night Out on Oct. 3 and Election Day Nov. 7. The preliminary thought was to advance both meetings to the Mondays prior to those dates.
  • The council authorized one more year in the lease the city has for three Harleys for its motorcycle cops, but Police Chief Jeff Barnett hinted the city may change to a different make beginning with the next fiscal year.
  • The council unanimously voted to spend $35,000 for a video surveillance system for parts of City Hall.
  • The council unanimously approved the appointments of Travis Robinson and Leslie Denise Blok to the Planning & Zoning Commission, but indefinitely postponed Tenorio’s political patronage appointment of Nancy Fahy to the Ethics Commission, presumably because Tenorio did not attend the meeting.
  • Without any discussion or debate, the council unanimously adopted a resolution documenting the annual review and update of the city’s investment policies.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

City may take first step to co-locate emergency call center

I've been trying to wade through all the paperwork accompanying the item on Tuesday’s City Council agenda concerning what is being referred to as the Combined Emergency Communication Center (CECC) and three thoughts immediately come to the forefront. First, the organizational chart outlined in the 30-year interlocal agreement looks like typical bureaucratic quicksand. Second, the agreement’s language covering the operations and maintenance of the CECC is typical bureaucratic gibberish. And third, if this is such a great idea, why isn’t the City of San Marcos or Texas State University participating?

First things first: the organization chart. The CECC combines Kyle together with Hays County and the City of Buda. All 9-1-1 calls from any of those jurisdictions will be routed to a centralized call center located within the city limits of San Marcos (go figure). The CECC is operated by three layers of boards, which are, in the order in which they appear on the organizational chart, the executive board, the advisory board and the management board. That’s right. Three boards at the top of the organizational chart and not a director to be found. The first time any mention of a director, or supervisor, or boss comes in the agreement is in Section 7.03 which specifies the duties of someone referred to as the "Hays County Emergency Communications Director." I promise I’m not making this up. This is the first paragraph of that part of the agreement that specifies this director’s responsibilities: "Supervise the Shared Employees, however, the Hays County Emergency Communications Director will not supervise, manage, or direct any non-Hays County Party’s Agency Specific CECC Employees, who shall nonetheless cooperate and coordinate with the Parties’ Agency Specific CECC Program Employees and the Shared Employees." Huh?

It turns out there will be two types of employees at the facility — "agency specific employees" who are employed directly by one of the three participating government entities and "shared employees" who are employed by Hays County and whose salaried are funded by the shared contributions of the parties involved. Yet, the bylaws of the organization state the "CECC Program means the Combined Emergency Communications Center Program, which includes the CECC, the Shared Employees, and all of the CECC Systems housed and managed within the public safety facility." What about those "agency specific employees’? Are they not part of this deal? This is just one example of the gobble-de-gook that has me scratching my head over this entire deal.

And nowhere in three paragraphs of the director’s duties does it specify his or her relationship to the three boards that supposedly run the show. Is the director answerable to one or more of the boards? I dunno, the agreement doesn’t say. The first of those three boards, the Executive Board, is to be comprised of two members of the Hays County Commissioners Court, one member of the Kyle City Council, Kyle City Manager Scott Sellers or his designee, one member of the Buda City Council, the Buda city manager or his designee and a representative from the Emergency Services District. I was thinking that Kyle council member Damon Fogley, because of his ESD experience, would be the ideal Kyle City Council representative. He told me today "It was mentioned that I might serve but no decision has been made." He added such an appointment might be a part of Tuesday’s council discussion.

Now to the important part, i.e., the money part. According to this document, 911 call percentages have "been used to determine the cost allocations for shared expenses related to the CECC." However, all of Buda’s 9-1-1 calls came through the Hayes County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), so there is really no precise way to determine Buda’s share. So they decided to come up with Buda’s share by computing the number of "calls for service" received by the Buda Police Department and compare that to the "calls for service" received by the HCSO. It turned out that Buda PD’s calls were 18.627 percent of the HCSO total. So, the number crunchers figured, Buda’s 9-1-1 calls are also 18.627 percent of the total such calls received by the sheriff’s office. So when the 9-1-1 calls of all three entities are combined, Kyle’s percentage comes to 25 percent of the total, the county’s 61 percent and Buda’s 14 percent and those will be the percentages used to calculate the costs each will contribute, Got it?

There are also costs involved in updating KPD’s computer systems to make them compatible with those of the other entities. If I read what is being called the "CECC Interlocal Cooperative Agreement" correctly, Exhibit A on Page 8 suggests Kyle’s costs for this upgrade is in the neighborhood of $437,927. And that figure is $100,000 more than anticipated for three reasons. First, the cost for the "installation, system configuration, training, on-site operations" of the "CIS Professional Services" was $10,000 higher than originally budgeted. Second, the cost of the "interface between CIS CAD and the KPD CMS," nearly doubled, from $65,000 to $125.000. Third, a $30,000 cost was added to pay for the Grande "fiber connection to City of Kyle."

The way I see it, the takeaway here is the city is looking to participate in a deal that only a dedicated bureaucrat with access to an attorney proficient in double-talk knows what’s really involved. As for the rest of us, I guess we have to put our faith in those bureaucrats and attorneys.

As to why San Marcos chose not to participate, the answer appears to be the city didn’t think it made financial sense for it to participate, but it also thinks it is a great idea for Kyle, Buda and other parts of Hays County. In fact, when I posed the very question I asked in the last sentence of this first paragaph of this story to the City of San Marcos’s Communications Department, Kristi Wyatt from that department forwarded me a response from Police Chief Chase Stapp.

"The Hays County Combined Emergency Communications Center is a project that started its planning stages close to 10 years ago," Stapp wrote. "At that time, the City of San Marcos also began studying the feasibility of participating in the center. As the project progressed over the years, the City of San Marcos continued to fund critical upgrades to its own 911 Communications Center to include technology and spacial needs. When the final Hays County CECC project costs were released, the City of San Marcos had to conduct a cost versus benefit analysis to determine whether the added cost of participating in the new center was a financially sound decision for the City. At that time, the City's 911 Communications Center was functioning well, and we had identified a plan to expand the center to meet our growth needs in the future."

Chief Stapp also said his city’s 911 center could serve as a valuable backup to the CECC and concluded with: "The San Marcos Police Department is in full support of the Hays County CECC, and we believe the project makes a great deal of sense for the participating agencies."

Other items of interest on Tuesday’s agenda include:
  • The final approval of the city’s FY 2017-18 budget and the fixing of the property tax rate.
  • Even though the fiscal year doesn’t officially begin until Oct. 1, the agenda includes an item to spend money from this budget, specifically $35,000 of the $35,697 in the upcoming budget designated for the Court Security Fund to provide video surveillance at City Hall. For some reason, this expenditure comes under the jurisdiction of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
  • Adopting a resolution that documents the city’s ultra-conservative investment policies (and when it comes to investing taxpayer funds, I’m very much in favor of the "ultra-conservative" approach)..
  • Police Chief Jeff Barnett is expected to update the council on the fact that a new state law which prohibits using wireless communications for texting while driving supersedes any city ordinances on the subject, but that the city may continue to enforce ordinances prohibiting the use of such devices that are not hands-free for phone calls as long as signs are posted "at each point at which a state highway, U.S. highway, or interstate enters the city" notifying motorists of such an ordinance.
  • The 12-month renewal of a lease on three Harleys to be use by the KPD which will give council member Travis Mitchell, who, because of his business, has knowledge about such items, the opportunity to explain why using Harleys might not be the best way to employ city funds.
  • The appointment of two persons to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Travis Robinson, an engineer whose experience includes designing and overseeing the permitting process for residential and commercial development projects, is the nominee to replace commissioner Brad Growt for Seat 3. Hays County Food Bank CEO Leslie Denise Blok is the nominee to replace commissioner Allison Wilson for Seat 4. The council will also consider a political patronage nominee for the Ethics Commission.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

City manager says Kyle’s preparations avoided storm damage

City manager Scott Sellers stood in a room the floor of which was still being dried by a pair of industrial fans because water had seeped through under the walls and damaged or destroyed much of the carpeting and told the city council this evening that Kyle "prepared very well" for the weekend onslaught of rain and no major flooding occurred in the city as a result of the storm.

Much of the carpeting on the north end of the council chambers had been ripped out and water stains were evident on what was still in place. Fortunately, the floor of the council chamber is covered with carpet tiles so, if the city can find matching tiles, the entire carpet might not have to be replaced. The two giant fans drying the room were turned off just before the council meeting began at 7 p.m. to allow those inside to hear what was being said and were turned back on once the meeting adjourned.

Sellers spent time this weekend manning a power vacuum personally trying to suck up some of the water that blanketed the floor of the council chambers, the result of 50-plus straight hours of incessant rainfall that dumped eight-plus inches of rain on the city.

"The City of Kyle prepared very well for the hurricane," Sellers told the council, although, to be accurate, Hurricane Harvey which devastated and continues to devastate a large swath of Coastal Texas, did not hit Kyle, per se; only rains and some wind gusts produced by the storm affected us.

Sellers said the city began meeting with county emergency officials early last week and by midweek the city was making its "pre-disaster preparations which involved going through and unclogging any clogged culverts. We went to all of our known flooding areas and ensured that any debris was removed from those areas and that culverts were cleared. We encouraged our citizenry to pick up litter and check their storm drain lids. We staged barricades around the city. We strategically placed sandbags around the city and we also handed those out to homeowners on properties we knew were prone to flooding."

What Sellers did not tell the council was that sandbags were also placed strategically outside the north wall of the City Hall chambers but they did not prevent the water from seeping through.

"All in all, we had everything ready for this disaster which we learned from the last two major storm events here in Kyle," Sellers said. "And that pre-planning paid off. We were fortunate not to have any major flooding here in the city. We did not activate any emergency shelters here. We did have to close all our major low-water crossings, but not for long."

As far as what actions the council actually took during its 15-minute meeting (that was extended by an executive session that last three times as long as the regular meeting), it amended the city’s sign ordinance to permit businesses to erect more distinctive signage than the current ordinance permits and passed on first reading the ordinance adopting the budget for the upcoming fiscal year and a 3.32-cent reduction in the property tax rate. It is expected the budget and the tax rate will be formally adopted at next week’s council session.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Storm update might be most interesting part of council meeting

Tuesday’s city council meeting is, for the most part, routine and should be over in less than an hour, although this council is known for spending an extraordinarily long time in executive sessions. The most interesting item is what, following a normal weekend, would have been the most benign and that’s Item 4, the City Manager’s Report. This is a standard item that appears on every agenda and offers City Manager Scott Sellers the opportunity to update the council and the rest of the interested world "on various capital improvement projects, road projects, building program, and/or general operational activities where no action is required." Although this week this item was supposed to give Sellers an opportunity to talk about Wednesday’s 1:30 p.m. Alsco Linen groundbreaking ceremony, I’m betting Sellers will spend most of his time discussing the city’s staff response this weekend to the effects of Hurricane Harvey, especially with the news that Wednesday's groundbreaking ceremonies have been postponed, presumably because of Harvey.

Other than that, this meeting appears to be a real snoozer. The council will pass, probably 6-1 (with you-know-who dissenting), the first reading of the ordinances to approve the city’s proposed $75.5 million budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 and the corresponding $.5416 per $100 of assessed taxable valuation property tax along with the second and final reading of an ordinance relaxing the city’s sign ordinance to allow for more unusual signs. You can probably safely bet that this, too, will have at least one dissenting vote. It is interesting that the sign ordinance is the only item on the Consent Agenda and a one-item Consent Agenda is an oxymoron, but there you have it.

Still depending on how long the council spends in executive session discussing a pair of economic development projects, including the athletic facilities at Kyle Vista Park (dubbed Project Just Peachy) and how many misinformed citizens show up once again to speak during the citizen comment period, this meeting should adjourn by 8 p.m.

Not that it will. Just that it should.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Wait a minute there, what was the last thing again?

How successfully can you hide a dinosaur in Kyle, and hope everyone just doesn’t pay it any attention? That’s what I thought when I read the City of Kyle’s announcement about what it plans to do to prepare the possible onslaught of Tropical Storm Harvey.

Here’s how that announcement begins:

"With Tropical Storm Harvey potentially headed straight for Central Texas, the City of Kyle is mobilizing staff in preparation of severe weather including heavy rain and high winds.

"Here is a list of just some of the things Kyle is doing in anticipation of Harvey:"

Then the list appears in bulleted form:
  1. placing barricades at low water crossings,
  2. preparing communications plans,
  3. cleaning drainage culverts,
  4. draining Lake Kyle,
  5. staffing appropriately,

Whoa! Stop right there! Go back! What was that Number 4 again that you tried to sneak right by? You’re draining Lake Kyle? Like you’re actually planning on taking all the water out of this much-loved and treasured city amenity?

On reflection, I guess this sorta, kinda makes strategic sense, especially if the city does indeed get hit with what some predict could be as much as 24 inches of rain during the weekend. But I can’t help but think the city could wind up with a lot of egg on its huge face it the rains don’t come, at least not in those catastrophic amounts, and Lake Kyle Park becomes Dry Hole Park. Does the city have a plan to refill the lake in case that happens?

I dunno. It just seems a tad drastic to me, but then I’m not the one who would be held responsible in the worst case scenario. Hold on tight.

Secretary of State’s office torpedoes Rizo’s council candidacy

Robert Rizo had every reason to believe he lived inside the city limits of Kyle, if, for no other reason, than the fact he’s been billed for and dutifully paid his city property taxes for close to three decades, if not longer. It was only when he filed to run for the District 2 seat on the Kyle City Council that he learned otherwise.

A copy of Rizo’s application to be a candidate, along with the applications of the nine other candidates who filed to run in the November election, were sent to the Secretary of State’s office, which oversees all elections in Texas and which reviews all such applications to make sure all the candidates meet all the state eligibility requirements. And that’s when, multiple sources have told The Kyle Report, the Secretary of State’s office informed city officials that, while a small sliver of the land Rizo has been paying taxes on lies within the city limits, the overwhelming majority of it, including the residence Rizo listed on his application and, even more importantly, on his voter registration, does not. Thus, the Secretary of State’s office ruled, Rizo was ineligible to run because state law requires a candidate to be registered to vote "in the territory from which the office is elected."

The city, these sources said, tried to find some kind of a loophole to let him stay on the ballot, but, in the end, were not successful.

The only upside of all this for Rizo, the sources confirmed, is that he is eligible for a refund on the city property taxes he’s paid, but only those he’s paid during the last five years. None of the sources who talked about this on background said they knew of a legal recourse available to Rizo to get his name back on the ballot, meaning Tracy Scheel will become the next city council person for District 2 following the November elections.

Bill Sinor was also indirectly affected by the Secretary of State’s ruling. Sinor originally filed to run for the District 2 seat, but subsequently withdrew his candidacy for that position and threw his hat into the ring with three others to run for mayor. I do not know whether Rizo’s decision to run in District 2 had any effect on Sinor’s decision to drop out of that race, but records show Sinor withdrew after Rizo filed.

Scheel now unopposed in District 2

For reasons that are not all that clear, Tracy Scheel is now the only person who will be listed on the ballot for the Kyle City Council District 2 seat being vacated by Becky Selbera. City Secretary Jennifer Vetrano informed Scheel of the development today during the drawing for the order in which the candidate’s names will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Vetrano said name of Robert Rizo, the only other candidate to file for the District 2 seat, has been pulled from the ballot. Vitrano said the reason Rizo was disqualified from running was "Article 141.00A6" of the Texas Election Code. Such an article doesn’t exist, however. The closest thing I could find was Section 141.001 (a) (6) which states a candidate for election must "on the date described by Subdivision (5), be registered to vote in the territory from which the office is elected." My efforts to reach Rizo were unsuccessful.

That means, of course, barring unforseen legal actions, Scheel will be the District 2 city council representative.

As a result of today’s drawing, here’s the order in which the names will appear on the ballot

  • Bill Sinor
  • Jaime Sanchez
  • Nicole Romero-Piche
  • Travis Mitchell
City Council District 1
  • Marco Pizana (although it might appear as Pizana, Marco)
  • Dex Ellison
City Council District 4
  • Alex Villalobos
  • Tim R. McHutchion

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Webster calls budget proposal “a landmark for the city”; Mitchell, Sellers explain beautification plan

Council member Shane Arabie made an excellent point after tonight’s City Council meeting adjourned. He measured the level of excellence of the city manager’s proposed budget by the number of people who came to the public hearing to talk about it. Two. Only two people spoke during tonight’s public meeting and one of them was incredibly misinformed about the contents of the budget (she erroneously thought the "Beautification Plan" was part of it) and the other admitted she didn’t have a clue about how to read the budget. The fact that the second person is an announced candidate for mayor should set off some alarms, but there you have it. Of course, that might not be as strange as a sitting council member being absolutely clueless about the funding sources of a projected spending item.

"In past budget public hearings, I have seen this room jammed with people who wanted to complain about the budget for one reason or another," Arabie said. "And tonight, there were just two. Only two. That’s amazing and illustrates just how good this budget is."

Mayor Todd Webster and council member Travis Mitchell, a candidate for mayor (but, I hasten to add, not the candidate I referred to in the first paragraph) both expressed their pleasure over the budget during the council’s discussion on whether to amend it at all. One of the ways I could easily measure the council’s affirmative reaction to the city’s proposed budget is that, for the first time since I’ve been in Kyle, not a single change to the budget was recommended during this second consideration of the document. Not only that, no amendments were offered at last week’s hearing either.

The current budget will be the fourth Webster has witnessed since becoming mayor and he went through other budget deliberations while serving on the council between 2003 and 2006. He said his frustrations with those earlier budgets stemmed from the fact "There were so many needs, so many things that we had to get done and we were always having to put off things. The revenues weren’t there. The economy hadn’t grown to a point where we could address very important infrastructure issues. To my recollection I don’t remember us doing anything that was comprehensive in terms of quality of life issues and things that people said that they wanted. Even three years ago, I felt we were still behind the curve.

"For the first time with this budget I feel like we’re ahead of the curve. We’ve addressed the infrastructure needs that really must happen. We’re addressing the water, the wastewater and the stormwater issues. We finally have a street maintenance program. We have so many infrastructure projects in the pipeline we had to add two positions just to inspect them all. To be able to do that and still be able to address a handful of the quality of life amenities and things that people have consistently been begging for over the last two decades and at the same time to offer a tax rate reduction I think is really extraordinary — something I never imagined could have happened during my time up here. I recognize this budget for what it is — a landmark budget for the city. It’s evidence to me that we’ve turned the corner."

Council member Daphne Tenorio mistakenly thought the $14,000 projected cost of relocating an electronic sign from City Square Park to the Public Works Building was an actual budget item, but Sellers corrected her and said it was just that — a projection of something that might happen, but, as it turns out, won’t.

The target of the one of the two speakers at tonight’s budget hearing was the city’s so-called Beautification Plan which Mitchell, "just as a point of clarification," pointed out was just a presentation, but also not part of the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

"The Beautification Plan, as originally approved by council a year ago, basically took certain items from the budget that were beautification related and put them in a plan just from a priority standpoint," City Manager Scott Sellers added. "We took items from that plan and helped prioritize some items in this budget and then went back and looked at other priority projects related to beautification and put them in the plan to help shape future budgets. So at this point it really is just picking and choosing.

"One of the big projects of the Beautification Plan, for example, is Center Street widening — sidewalks, etc.," he continued. "We’ve had that in our CIP for quite a while. That’s $5.5 million. Lehman, Burleson, Marketplace — each of those are technically considered beautification. Sidewalk additions, nice pedestrian-scaled lighting, etc. So it was really just helping the council and the staff establish priorities in the future. It really wasn’t intended to set any sort of budget at all.

"Over the last several years and probably even much longer than that the city has been somewhat criticized for spending too much money on the intangibles, the non-visual improvements, which were extremely important because they were infrastructure-related," Sellers said. "But the quality of life initiatives, the improvements to the parks, the visual improvements to walkability and visibility were not prioritized. What the Beautification Plan was intended to do — and I believe doing a good job of — is highlighting those items we actually are working on that fit into that quality of life category and that we will continue to work on over the years."

Mitchell called Sellers’s beautification presentation "a great plan" and objections to it "much ado about nothing."

"It was literally just putting some projects in front of us and giving us the opportunity to provide some feedback for the future on many projects we have regularly put off because they don’t rise to the level of spending city tax dollars on them at this time," Mitchell said. "But they still are good projects that we want to look at for the future and keep them on the list because if the time ever came when we could identify funding or where the funding made sense for us, we could move forward. So it was a great plan.

"It’s pretty incredible just how far we’ve come," Mitchell said. "We’ve had to do a lot of heavy lifting in the past. Just the fact that we’re even able to start to talk about a Beautification Plan and to start to look at some of these projects while simultaneously having a $10 million lighter budget than last year and a three-cent lighter tax rate on citizens after another 1-cent tax rate the previous year means we’re leading Hays County without question over those two years in taxes related to the citizens while still being able to finally look at projects like beautification.

"I couldn’t be happier, "Mitchell added, "I don’t know how we could do a better job at this point of presenting a budget that meets the needs of the community while simultaneously helping to provide tax relief. I think we often talk about those two items being in tension with each other. This is an incredible budget. It’s allowing us to do the impossible — provide both."

In other matters on the agenda last night:
  • As expected, Tenorio pulled consideration of the revised Ethics Ordinance off the consent agenda and then announced her appointee to the Ethics Commission, Teresa Tobias, has resigned from the commission. Tobias is a member of the Hays CISD school board and one of the changes in the ethics ordinance forbid elected officials from serving on the Ethics Commission, although the council agreed to exempt Tobias from this provision until her term expired. Webster said additional changes to the ordinance were made on the advice of the city attorney. One prohibited people from suing the city, which Webster deemed unconstitutional and thus was removed from the proposed ordinance. Webster also said the city attorney agreed that a separate attorney, independent of the city attorney’s position, would provide legal counsel to the commission. The council then voted 6-1, with, as also expected, Tenorio dissenting, to adopt the ordinance.
  • After revealing the council had, back in January, made a deal with the devil that permits garages on certain homes to project further than any other part of the front of a home (a concept Mitchell said he objected to then and voted against when offered as an amendment tonight) the council ultimately voted to adopt the so-called Design Guide as well.
  • In its last decision of the evening (other than deciding to adjourn, of course) the council voted to indefinitely suspend consideration of an agenda item that would have called for another council position to be included on the Nov. 7 election. The council reasoned consideration was unnecessary because no additional council places were vacated.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Three challenge Mitchell for mayor

A trio of candidates — two of them who could be called political perennials and the third a political neophyte — have filed to challenge city council member Travis Mitchell’s bid to become mayor of Kyle in the November elections. In addition, only two candidates filed to fill each of the three open city council seats meaning the chances are overwhelming those races will be decided without a runoff. And because of Mitchell’s depth of support, it is possible he could win election on Nov. 7 as well.

I said the chances are overwhelming the two-candidate races will be decided without a runoff only because, in the city’s most recent council general election, one two-candidate race ended in a tie vote. I know all about lightning not striking twice, but, when it comes to things like lightning, I’d rather not take too many risks.

Jaime Sanchez, a 50-year resident of Kyle and a former city council member who was unsuccessful in his last city council race in May 2015, losing in a runoff to Damon Fogley, waited until just before the deadline to file his application to run for mayor. Sanchez was elected in February 2010 to fill the unexpired District 5 council term of Lucy Johnson, who vacated the seat to run for mayor. He chose not to seek re-election when the term expired in 2012.

Bill Sinor, who has also unsuccessfully sought locally elective office previously, originally filed for the council seat currently held by Becky Selbera, who announced she would not seek re-election, but unexpectedly withdrew that application on Friday and decided to file for mayor instead. I am not absolutely certain of this, but it appears Sinor ran unsuccessfully for the District 3 seat in 2013, an election won by Chad Benninghoff, then again in a special election called the next year when Benninghoff resigned, an election won by current council member Shane Arabie.

Although all three of these individuals have run for political office before, I am fairly certain none of them are experienced in a November political campaign which produces a much different voter turnout than ones held earlier in the year.

The fourth mayoral candidate is school teacher Nicole Romero-Piche, who calls herself "a mom on a mission" with a website that displays a certain naivete about municipal financing. However, as I have done in the regular and runoff elections The Kyle Report has covered during the 34 months of its existence, I hope to sit down for recorded conversations with each of the candidates and reproduce the transcripts from those interviews on this blog so voters may get an unedited picture of each of the candidates from their own words.

One of the two candidates seeking the Place 1 seat being vacated by Mitchell is Dex Ellison, a bank manager and the chair of the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission, who captured 20 percent of the vote and finished third in a bid to be elected to the District 6 seat in an election ultimately won in a runoff by Daphne Tenorio. Only 4 percent of the registered voters bothered to cast ballots in that election; it is anticipated the turnout will be somewhat higher, at the very least, on Nov. 7. He, too, waited until the last day to file his application. The other candidate is Marco Pizana Jr., who lists his occupation as a Hays CISD CTE internship coordinator. To my knowledge, this is Pizana’s first run for a political office.

Tracy Scheel, a healthcare manager at REM Sleep Center, a member of the city’s Parks Board, and a regular attendee at city council meetings, and Robert Rizo, who lists his occupation as "construction," will oppose each other for the District 2 seat Selbera is vacating.

Plum Creek resident Tim McHutchion, who owns a storage facility in east Kyle, will face Hometown Kyle resident Alexander Villalobos, a Texas State University police officer, for the District 4 seat which became open when David Wilson announced he would not seek re-election.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Council to consider potentially provocative agenda

As I see it, the Kyle City Council is divided between two conflicting camps with opposing agendas. The first camp wants to establish policies that would enable a staff to continue to expertly manage the day-to-day operations of the city as well as to create optimistic, innovative, creative, yet realistic targets for the city’s future. The second camp wants to throw a monkey wrench into the gears of that well-managed machine forcing progress to grind to a halt, to drag the city back to a somewhat corrupt and self-serving management style prevalent during its not-too-distant past. I purposely used the word "divided" and not "split," because "split" denotes there is roughly, if not exactly, an equal number of council members in each camp, which is obviously not the case. The overwhelming majority of the current Kyle City Council belongs to the first group. They may have conflicting ideas among themselves about the exact nature of the policies that will insure their objectives are met, but at least they agree on the objectives. I am not going to identify which council persons belong to which group. I’ll let the local population make their own judgments on that. I will say, however, Tuesday’s city council agenda will make that identification task as easy as counting from one to seven (the latter, of course, being the number of persons on the city council). And I have this sneaking suspicion, although absolutely no proof to support this suspicion, that the agenda was set up with exactly this in mind — for the public to easily identify who’s who.

The reason I say this is because the "consent agenda" has reappeared. For those who might not be familiar with the mechanisms of a legislative hearing, a "consent agenda" is a device designed to expedite the process — it’s a group of supposedly non-controversial, largely routine matters that can be acted on collectively, items where it is felt individual debate on their merits has either been exhausted or is not needed. It’s not unusual, for example, for the second reading of an ordinance to be on the consent agenda because all debate on its pros and cons should have taken place when the measure was considered on first reading — any further debate would simply be redundant and lead to demagoguery. A consent agenda has been absent from the last couple of Kyle City Council agendas because council members were pulling every item from the concent agenda — they were demanding that each item be considered individually anyway, so the concept of a consent agenda became irrelevant and its inclusion became unnecessary.

But the consent agenda is back. Why did it make a reappearance for this special called meeting? Whether this was the intention or not, I will tell you it will serve as a valuable tool for separating the pragmatists from the obstructionists, should the latter decide to run the risk of deliberating exposing themselves and their motivations. It’s quite possible they will decide not to risk public exposure. The wise thing to do would be to simply keep mum and continue to work deviously outside the view of all but their most fervent base of supporters. But I have found that for some reason it’s impossible for the obstructionists to shy away from the spotlight. The term "quiet demagogue" is an oxymoron. These people simply can’t help themselves. A perfect example of this is Donald Trump’s tweets. It’s the story of the spider and frog all over again — it’s their nature.

And because it’s their nature, that’s why I think (and I not usually a conspiracy theorist) this agenda was constructed to expose them, to possibly call them out for who and what they are and why they are trying to achieve, or, to be more accurate, what they are trying to prevent the city from achieving.

To put it quite simply, those who have joined Darth Vader on The Dark Side (i.e., the "second camp" as described above) can be spotted because, unwisely, they will deliberately expose themselves by pulling, at least, items 4 and 5 from the consent agenda, two items that were discussed and debated at length at last week’s marathon council meeting, were passed, each with only one dissenting vote. Not only is it unlikely that either will attract more dissenting votes this time around; it is far more likely that each will receive one more affirmative vote. So what would be the point of pulling them off the consent agenda? There would be no point, except to give a demagogue an opportunity to inflame a shrinking political base, shrinking in terms of percentage if not actual numbers.

The goal of Item 4 is to improve the quality of life in Kyle, particularly in future residential neighborhoods, to advertise to the world Kyle is synonymous with quality, perhaps a little higher quality than other communities might be willing to demand. The goal of Item 5 is to strengthen the city’s ethics code, to not only remove loopholes that allow city officials, either elected or staff, to escape punishment for ethical violations through technicalities, but also to eliminate politics completely from ethical considerations. Or, to put even more directly, Kyle wants to show the world it is a city governed and run by individuals above reproach because its judgmental and evaluation processes are above reproach.

Both of these ideas, which are commendable, are somewhat new to Kyle. While the city did have housing standards, they were so strict they prohibited a lot of diversity in housing stock and they created residential areas devoid of many of the amenities that made them actual communities. Although one can lament the fact, no one can deny that the concept of creating "neighborhoods" has been abandoned in favor of the concept of suburban sprawl. But that doesn’t mean a city has no choice but to create what will become, in 20 years or so, a series of suburban residential ghettos and Kyle has decided to take the steps now to try and prevent just such an eventuality. And one would think it would be a wise move to tell the outside world it is adopting an ethics code to proves to one and all that decisions made by Kyle’s government will be based on merit, not on politics.

But the simple fact that these are changes is proof that this is not the way the government in Kyle has always operated. Kyle is now adopting a philosophy of a government that serves the best interests of all the people, just not a handful of long-time residents. And any council member who pulls these two items from the agenda will be identifying themselves as someone who wants to return to that latter ideal because they are among those long-time residents who benefitted from those non-inclusive policies.

There’s also one other item I found interesting on the agenda, one that might cause some consternation among the more politically devious of our citizenry. And that’s Item 10, the first reading of a "just-in-case" ordinance authorizing an election to be held Nov. 7 for any council seat that might be vacated between the time this story is published and the 5 p.m. Monday filing deadline. This is designed to prevent a council member from waiting until the very last minute to file to run, for instance, for mayor, with the belief that should he or she not be successful in that endeavor, the candidate could still have time seek to hold onto his or her council seat in a future election. I brought up this subject Saturday during a lunch I had (at the Texas Pie Company, of course) with someone regarded as a legendary political strategist in Central Texas who told me this is a common strategy used by most cities to prevent this sort of backhanded political tomfoolery.

Tuesday’s agenda also contains yet another opportunity for citizens to voice their opinions during public hearings on the city’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 as well as a proposal to lower the tax rate by 3.3 cents, which is likely to make the city of Kyle the only taxing identity in all of Hays County proposing a reduction in its tax rate. Similar public hearings were held at last Tuesday’s council meeting and I bemoaned the fact that no one took the city up on its offer. A "concerned citizen" pointed out, however, that, in truth, .002 percent of the city’s population did appear. So I stand corrected. At the same time I would argue that if we made an agreement that for every dollar you gave me, I would give you .002 percent of that dollar in return, you would quickly complain that, in reality, I was giving you nothing back. With that, I rest my case.

This is probably also as good an opportunity to punch holes in some myths I’ve heard floating around the city recently concerning the proposed budget. Myth #1 concerns a $100 million debt. Not only is this not true (the city’s current debt is $85.6 million), that debt has been managed so expertly that the percentage of the city’s tax rate used to pay off the debt has been reduced from 58.33 percent in this budget to 52.97 percent in the proposed one. Second, the size of a debt is secondary to the ability to pay off that debt. I, for example, would find myself in serious trouble if I was $1 million in debt. Mark Zuckerberg, or Warren Buffett or Bill Gates would not find that situation much of a problem.

And, yes, additional debt is proposed (although not yet even authorized. let alone issued) to pay for the expansion of the wastewater treatment plant as well as an economic development project. But General Fund money (i.e., money provided by the property tax rate) will only be used to repay that debt in the unlikely events that Utility Funds are insufficient to completely cover the cost of the former and Hotel Occupancy Taxes are insufficient to completely cover the costs of the latter.

Second is the myth that the city manager’s proposed municipal beautification plan included $14,000 to relocate the electronic sign at City Square Park. The sign’s removal has absolutely nothing to do with the city manager’s beautification proposal. In fact, the sign’s removal was not even proposed by the city manager. And finally, anyone who attended last week’s city council meeting or watched it from a remote location knows it was recognized by all involved that, if needed, the sign could be successfully relocated for a fraction of that $14,000 figure.

Other items on the council’s agenda for this coming Tuesday include ones that would allow the city to have some say as to where wireless carriers can place antennas, approving a utility franchise agreement with Pedernales Electric Cooperative that’s far more favorable to the city than the existing contract (another example of that city staff management expertise I referred to earlier), a housekeeping provision to rezone a sliver of property along Old Highway 81 from residential to retail services, and the authorization of a 45-day extension of an agreement involving the use of reclaimed water to irrigate of the Plum Creek golf course to ensure that the agreement will be transferable with the sale of the course.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Espinoza labeled “an embarrassment to his profession”

The former acting Kyle police chief who conducted his own investigation into the performance of former police sergeant Jesse Espinoza testified today he ordered Espinoza’s indefinite suspension because he viewed Espinoza as insubordinate, unethical and "an embarrassment to his profession."

That testimony came from Ellis County Sheriff Charles "Chuck" Edge during the fourth and final day before an extended recess of the civil service arbitration Espinoza sought in his attempt to be re-instated by the Kyle Police Department. The hearing is scheduled to resume "some time in October."

"Sergeant Espinoza committed acts in both an official and a private capacity which tended to bring reproach, disgrace and embarrassment to his profession and the police department," Edge testified.

Edge said he was "happily retired" when the Kyle City Council authorized his appointment as a temporary police chief to oversee an investigation of Espinoza, who was charged with wilfully disobeying orders by refusing to produce documents demanded by the city and by ignoring instructions from the city manager to report any and all contacts with an individual who had filed a federal lawsuit against the city and Police Chief Jeff Barnett. Edge appeared to be the final witness the city plans to call in the hearing. Because his testimony extended so late into the afternoon, hearing examiner Dr. Paula Ann Hughes said Espinoza’s attorneys could delay their cross examination of Edge until the next session and then recessed the hearing until "a future date." When asked a few moments later when that future date might be announced, she said, because of previous commitments made by everyone involved in the hearing that extend through September, it would most likely be "some time in October."

Edge said his investigation, which consisted of reviewing the investigation of a private investigator, as well as a series of interviews he personally conducted with Espinoza and others involved in the matter, proved to him the following:
  • Espinoza never complied with an order issued by assistant city manager James Earp to turn over documents, including a check for $5,000 from someone who had filed a lawsuit against the city, money the city characterized as a "gift," but Espinoza called a "loan," and that failure to comply with this order constituted an act of insubordination.
  • Whether the $5.000 was a gift or a loan was irrelevant; the acceptance of the check in whatever guise, especially from someone suing the city, constituted a violation of Kyle’s ethics code and police department policy.
  • That Espinoza acted in conjunction with and at the direction of Dr. Glen Hurlston, the Louisiana anesthesiologist who filed the federal lawsuit, in a concerted effort to get Barnett dismissed from his position as Kyle police chief and that such actions by a subordinate constituted insubordination.
  • That while Hurlston claimed the $5,000 was a gift to Espinoza to help defray the costs of his child’s medical expenses, receipts uncovered during the investigation revealed the money was never used to pay medical costs.
  • Espinoza was insubordinate during his interviews with Edge by refusing to directly answer questions Edge claimed required simple "yes" or "no" answers and that when asked to defend his own actions would instead "go on a rant" about the bad actions of others, usually Chief Barnett. "It was never his fault, always someone else’s," Edge said of Espinoza’s answers to questions, which he described as "arrogant and disrespectful responses."
  • Espinoza willfully violated standard police procedures in the manner in which he entered the home of then city council member (now mayor) Todd Webster and although that offense occurred outside the 180-day window for prosecuting civil service offenses, Espinoza lied about the incident during his interviews with Edge. Espinoza told Edge he was responding to a call for service, although Edge’s investigation could uncover no record of such a call in the police department’s records. Edge’s investigation also revealed Espinoza’s shift on that particular day had ended more than two hours before the incident took place and, thus, Espinoza was off-duty when it took place.
  • That while Espinoza denied spreading any "rumors" about an alleged extra-marital affair involving Webster and former council member Samantha Bellows, he did admit he conveyed those allegations to other people without being able to produce any evidence to substantiate the allegations and that just by conveying allegations he couldn’t prove, whether or not they were called "rumors," was a dereliction of duty and displayed "a lack of good moral character."

"Sergeant Espinoza conspired with and cooperated with Glen Hurlston in an attempt to get the City of Kyle to fire Chief Barnett," Edge testified, "Those acts of misconduct are evidence that Sergeant Espinoza, while on and off duty, failed to follow the ordinary and reasonable rules of good conduct and behavior."