The Kyle Report

The Kyle Report

Monday, February 27, 2017

Message to Planning Commission: “Here’s how to do your job correctly”

Back on Feb. 15 I  wrote how the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission attached illegal amendments to a zoning request. Then last week, in a story about the City Council’s agenda meeting, I mentioned the council had "admonished" the commissioners for this illegal act.

The P&Z commissioners were supposed to have this week off. They were told at that Feb. 14 meeting there would be no need for it to hold the second of its two scheduled monthly meetings for February. However, at the last minute, an agenda was posted on the city’s web site for a "workshop" at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow at City Hall for the commissioners.

I have no idea whether this has anything to do with their screw-ups two weeks ago (along with a similar mistake it made when it considered the rezoning of the controversial property at Yarrington Road and I-35), but the workshop agenda contains the following:

"Education and training for P&Z commissioners."

Just saying.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Winfield proprietor confirms compliance is reason for zoning request

Winfield Inn Proprietor Leslie Moore has confirmed the request to change the zoning on the 27-acre lot on which the outdoor wedding venue sits is only designed to bring the venue into compliance as a conforming business operation, a change that is required because the property was recently annexed into the city.

Unless the city has a pre-annexation development agreement, land annexed by the city is, in most cases, zoned for agriculture. Following annexation, the city’s planning staff and the owner of the property arrive at the best zoning category to suit the owner’s use of the land. In the Winfield Inn’s case, that category apparently is retail services.

"The zoning class that we are asking for was recommended by staff since it is the one that closest fits our business as an event venue and inn," Moore said, via email.

A public hearing for the zoning change has been scheduled for March 14 at the Planning Commission and March 21 at the City Council. The zoning request should sail through both bodies without encountering any significant head winds.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Winfield Inn and surrounding property may get new zoning


According to its website, the mansion that currently bears the name Winfield Inn was built on its current 27-acre plot in 1884. No one lives there. It is being used as an outdoor wedding venue and, that same website claims, more than 100 weddings and other outdoor events take place there every year, at prices starting at $3,500 per event. And that does not include catering.

The website lists Leslie Moore as "the proprietor" of the Winfield Inn, but he is more than that. Moore, together with his partner Magdalena Rood are well known, if sometimes controversial, developers in the Austin area. Moore met some resistance in 2009 when he tried to rezone a one-half acre lot at 313 Red Bird Lane (for those familiar with Austin, that’s just north of Stassney Lane and east of South 1st Street, not that far from the Texas School for the Deaf). Moore and Rood are also listed jointly, as are Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Diane Land, as one of the many Waller Creek Explorers, major donors to the Waller Creek Conservancy, a non-profit formed to create and maintain a series of urban parks around Austin’s Waller Creek. Together, Moore and Rood have formed a limited liability company, aptly named MooreRood Properties, LL.C, and it is that Austin-based limited liability company that owns the 27-acre property that’s home to the Winfield Inn as well as a connecting 4.19-acre plot bordering on Stagecoach Road.

And it’s these two pieces of property that Moore and Rood are seeking to have rezoned from agricultural to retail services. Their application for this rezoning is scheduled to be heard March 14 by the Planning Commission and March 21 by the City Council.

I have reached out to the Winfield Inn to see if I can learn more about the request (I've received the automatic "we'll contact you soon" reply), but one reason for it could simply be a wedding venue might very well be considered a non-conforming use and not that MooreRood has any plans to develop the land into a major retail area. The timing of the request, however, is interesting because, just two days ago, the council, on first reading, rezoned 86 acres just northeast of the MooreRood property for a new subdivision that will contain at least 275 new homes. And a major retail center serving that subdivision along with the new homes that will be going into the Blanco River Ranch development further west could be regarded as a valuable asset. Not only that, MooreRood's Facebook page describes the LLC as a "shopping/retail" company.

On the other hand, a major retail center would destroy the ambiance of the Winfield Inn — and let’ face it, its ambiance provides a major competitive advantage — so it’s rather improbable, if not impossible, to see the outdoor wedding venue co-existing with additional retail development. In other words, it’s likely to be one or the other, but not both.

The reason I’m leaning toward the non-conforming use side of the argument is because of the property’s recent annexation into the City of Kyle, and such annexations require these annexed properties to conform with pre-existing zoning ordinances unless the owners and the city have reached a development agreement that exempts the owners from these restrictions. Before it was annexed, the Winfield Inn did not need to be concerned with its zoning, but now it does and agricultural zoning in Kyle only allows "farming, ranching, pasturage, detached single-family residences and related accessory structures, on a minimum one acre tract." No mention of an outdoor wedding venue there.

And we might not get the answers to that at the Planning Commission or the City Council public hearings on the issue because there is absolutely nothing that requires MooreRood to discuss what, if any, changes it plans to make on the property. On the other hand, applicants usually reveal more than they are required to during this process.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Tenorio muzzles council’s attempt to discuss alleged illegal activity

Council member Daphne Tenorio obliterated the city’s attempts at transparency last night by invoking a legal maneuver that prohibited the council from discussing allegations she committed a third degree felony by violating state "misuse of official information" laws, but not before slinging some mud of her own at one of her council colleagues and effectively calling the news editor of the Hays Free Press a liar.

In the process, Tenorio bypassed a golden opportunity to display real statesmanship by putting an end to the entire topic of discussion, opting to take the low road instead.

However, last night’s council discussion, while being forced to stop before the specific allegations against her could be made public, revealed enough information to determine more accurately what those charges might entail. That discussion began with City Manager Scott Sellers, at the request of council member Travis Mitchell, describing in general terms a potential economic development project the council discussed during a series of closed, executive sessions that began last August involving one or more private developers locating a sports complex somewhere within the Kyle city limits on land the city was willing to lease to the developers. The relevant council agenda item that was scheduled to be discussed cited Tenorio’s possible "Misuse of Official Information (relating to Texas penal code 39.06)," which states "A public servant commits an offense if, in reliance on information to which the public servant has access by virtue of the person’s office or employment and that has not been made public, the person (1) acquires or aids another to acquire a pecuniary interest in any property, transaction, or enterprise that may be affected by the information."

Thus, it is not a stretch to surmise the charges against Tenorio were either (a) she purchased an ownership share in the Kyle Stallions basketball teams because of information she learned about in executive session about this possible sports complex and how it could financially benefit the team, and/or (b) as a part owner or prospective owner of the team she failed to recuse herself from discussions about the impending development deal even though the project could be a financial benefit to the team. It’s important to note here, because of spurious countercharges filed by Tenorio’s attorney against Mitchell, that no one is claiming it is any way illegal for her to own the local semi-pro basketball team; the charges against her appear to be related solely to events that allegedly occurred during executive session discussions about a proposed economic development that could have had the effect of boosting the financial worth of that ownership.

And, if these are indeed the allegations that were to made against Tenorio, they are easily supportable and provable. For one thing there are plenty of witnesses to what happened, namely the other council and staff members, as well as the prospective developers, who participated in these executive session discussions. Not only that, Section 551.103 of the Texas Government Code states "A governmental body shall either keep a certified agenda or make a recording of the proceedings of each closed meeting, except for a private consultation permitted under Section 551.071 (which only covers seeking the advice of an attorney concerning "pending or contemplated litigation.") That means official records should exist of what transpired during the executive sessions in question.

Tenorio herself signaled the executive sessions discussions about the economic development project were directly linked to the possible criminal charges against her by recusing herself during the time Sellers outlined the pending project.

Now, however, Tenorio’s attorney, E. Chevo Pastrano Jr., claimed in a letter dated yesterday "To date, council member Daphne Tenorio, has not purchased the American Basketball Association’s ‘Kyle Stallions’ semi-professional basketball team …," a direct contradiction of the news story that appeared in last week’s edition of the Hays Free Press, headlined "Kyle semi-pro basketball team gets new local owner," written by the paper’s news editor Moses Leos III, that said "Tenorio was given, and ultimately accepted, the opportunity to buy ownership of the Kyle Stallions basketball team." Leos also wrote "Her motive, however, was driven by the prospect of potential profitability in the business." By maneuvering to stifle the discussion of the issue, the public does not know whether she realized "the prospect of potential profitability" through information she was privy to in council executive session discussions.

I spoke with Leos today and he told me he pursued the story after seeing many statements posted by Tenorio herself on various social media outlets in which she claimed ownership of the Kyle Stallions. "In my conversations with her, she held herself out to be an owner of the basketball team," Leos told me. "In fact she also told me she was talking to a prospective new general manager for the team, and you can’t do that unless you’re an owner."

Leos’s story also contained this paragraph: "Because she wasn’t initially prepared to take on the (ownership) role, Tenorio made the call to end the 2016 season early, as she needed time to plan." Only an owner can make such a "call to end the 2016 season early." There is absolutely no reason for Leos to manufacture that statement. I’ve worked alongside Leos long enough to know he would not write that unless Tenorio had told him that.

Which means just one thing: Either Tenorio lied to Leos or she’s lying through her attorney now.

And that’s one of the problems of engaging the services of an attorney in the first place. In a story I wrote this past weekend, I suggested Tenorio should hire a crisis communications consultant. Having been one of those myself for more than 20 years (although I am officially retired and the purpose of that story was not because I was trolling for clients) I know a crisis communications consultant would have advised her to issue a statement along the following lines: "It has come to my attention that a perception might exist in the Kyle community of improprieties involving myself and private discussions held in executive session concerning a pending economic development project. I strongly object and vigorously deny any comments that suggest I engaged in any activities that might be labeled illegal or unethical. However, to remove any doubt concerning my actions I have taken steps to guarantee that the Kyle Stallions basketball team will have absolutely no association with this possible economic development project."

If she had just said something like that, the story is over. Finished. Done. A statement such as the one I proposed above contains absolutely no admission of guilt — just the opposite, in fact, it declares innocence — and it does not even suggest she owns the basketball team because the "steps" referred to are actions she could take quite reasonably as a member of the city council.

But instead of taking that high road Tenorio, through her attorney, petitioned for a declaratory ruling from the ethics commission which effectively removed jurisdiction from the city council to the ethics commission. "Any discussion today is non-sworn, non-binding, and I believe … could possibly influence your independent body that makes these decisions and determinations," City Attorney Frank Garza told the council, arguing the council should stop discussing the matter.

Here’s the problem, however: That doesn't immediately silence official discussion and accusations -- it simply prolongs it through the Ethics Commission procedures and the trouble with that is simply this:  Bad news is like dead fish. The smell doesn’t improve with age.

I hate to even bring this subject to the table, but the ridiculousness of the charges  Pastrano made against Mitchell need to be addressed and refuted. In his letter to Garza, Pastrano writes "Mitchell Family Motor Trikes collected a total of $1,929.66" according to the city’s accounts payable ledgers. He further alleges those payments mean Mitchell violated sections of the Texas Penal Code.

What makes these charges unfounded, at least to these eyes, is because a person, by definition, must have taken some action in order to be charged with committing some form of criminal activity. Mitchell took no action in his role as a city council member in these transactions. They never came before the city council for approval. And even if they had, no criminal activity would be involved if Mitchell had recused himself from any and all council discussions and actions involving such transactions. There is nothing illegal in a city purchasing goods and services from a concern owned by a city council member or official as long as no coercion was involved in the purchases. And Pastrano is not alleging coercion, only that the purchases were made. He is not even alleging the city received some kind of discount not available to anyone else making the same purchases. His allegations make as much sense as saying it would be illegal for any council member to own stock, either directly or through a mutual fund, in an company that manufactures any of the snacks or drinks council members have at their disposal during meetings and workshops.

The only other item to generate any real controversy during last night’s meeting was one that ultimately passed on a 4-3 roll call vote to create a PUD on 35.5 acres located at the northern terminus of Creekside Trail. The controversy was generated by the NIMBY reaction to the project, some of which concentrated on drainage problems residents who live along the road are experiencing — problems that appear to be completely irrelevant to this property because it slopes in the opposite direction, thus draining would flow in the direction of Plum Creek and not down Creekside Trail. One of the more interesting claims (I swear, I’m not making this up) is that the cul-de-sac at which the development plans to locate is already an overnight refuge for motorists leaving San Marcos "who are too drunk to make it to Bastrop." Another one of the NIMBYs actually said they had no objections to a senior living facility "just don’t locate it next to me."

A more pertinent argument involved who would make the necessary improvements to the one lane section of Creekside Trail leading to the development as well as who would pay for these improvements. Ultimately council members Becky Selberra and Shane Arabie voted against the rezoning issue because of these road concerns. Tenorio was a third vote against it but she said she wanted to wait until the residents and the developer could come to terms on a development agreement, a strange thing to say for a couple of reasons. The first is, if she had understood what the NIMBYs were saying during the public hearing on the item, she would realize the residents are not going to agree to any development on that property with the possible exception of another single family residence. The second is, the very next item on the agenda was the approval of another such development agreement and Tenorio cast the only vote against approving that one.

Mitchell said this was one of the toughest zoning decisions he has had to make "in the last two or three months." But the reality, he said, is the city is growing and development is going to happen, not only on this property but on those adjacent to it "Everything I see makes me think the applicant does intend to put in a quality project and all things considered I must side with the applicant," Mitchell said

Council member David Wilson agreed with Mitchell. "The senior living aspect is something that’s in demand in my community," he said. "I hear it from it from friends and family members all the time."

Before this request was originally considered by Planning & Zoning, I visited and took pictures of the site and expressed some concerns of the pond I saw there. It turns out, the applicant said, the pond will serve as a gathering spot for the active seniors who will reside at the facility. That certainly alleviated any concerns I might have had.

In other action last night, the council:
  • After admonishing the Planning & Zoning Commission for attaching the same illegal amendment to two separate, but related zoning requests, voted 6-1 to approve the requests to apply R-1-3 residential zoning to land located between Scott Street (immediately west of the Public Library) and Stagecoach Road after removing the offending amendments. Selberra cast the lone no vote after voicing concerns over the effect developing the property would have on flooding on nearby Center Street.
  • Postponed hearing a similar rezoning request for property on Beebee Road until March 21, even though the agenda item stated the "applicant is seeking to postpone the request until the March 7 city council meeting." At the conclusion of the meeting, Sellers told me the city received the amended delay request from the applicant just that morning.
  • Heard a report from Police Chief Jeff Barnett that the city is as clean as the driven snow on the subject of racial profiling in 2016.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Tenorio must persuade the persuadables

Before I officially retired, I spent 20 years as a partner in a media consulting/crisis communications company and in that line of work I attracted a large number of political clients from all over the country, up to and including clients running for President of the United States. One piece of advice I gave to all these political clients was that their audience could be divided into three sections: (1) those who fervently agree with everything you say and stand for, (2) those who just as fervently disagree with everything you say and stand for and finally, (3) those who haven’t made up their minds one way or another. I argued that addressing just that first group was like preaching to the choir. You want to make sure they stay on your side, but you can’t win by devoting all your attention exclusively to them. I also said trying to talk to the second group was not only a complete waste of time (you’re never going to get them to admit "You know, you’re right and I’ve been wrong all these years" — that’s never going to happen), but sharing the conversation with this group gives them another opportunity to get their grievances aired. The group you need to speak to — the group you need to convince — is that third group. Persuade the persuadables.

This is advice council member Daphne Tenorio needs to follow right now.

I say this because of the publication yesterday evening of Tuesday’s city council agenda, specifically items 9, 10 and 11 on that agenda.

I’m not sure of any of the actual specifics but here’s what I expect to go down at Tuesday’s potentially spirited meeting. During the discussion on Item 9, council member Travis Mitchell, possibly joined by one or more of his council colleagues, will outline discussions held in executive session designed to attract an economic development to Kyle. Either during that discussion, but most likely in the discussion on Item 10, Mitchell, again possibly joined by one or more of his council colleagues who participated in these executive sessions, will allege that Tenorio either (1) failed to disclose her ownership of a business interest that stood to benefit from this economic development and thus failed to recuse herself from the discussions designed to pursue the development or (2) based on the information she gained in these private executive sessions she then purchased ownership of a business interest that would benefit from this economic development.

Then comes Item 11 in which Tenorio apparently plans to speak "about potential, perceived or real conflicts of interests as it relates to all council members."

In other words, she’s going to play her (President) Trump Card. Her message is essentially going to be: "OK, I’m dishonest. I’m a crook. But I thought I could get away with it because all the other council members are just as dishonest and just as crooked as I am." Just like Trump’s blame game, I’m betting that message will play well with her base (in fact anecdotal evidence suggests it already is), but it’s not going to convince anyone else. It won’t persuade the persuadables.

Item 10 on the agenda says "discussion and possible action" regarding whether Tenorio might have committed a felony or simply an ethics violation. The possible actions that could be taken include, I’m guessing, asking the Hays County district attorney’s office to pursue prosecution, turning the matter over to the Texas Rangers for additional investigations, remanding the issue to the city’s Ethics Commission (which contains at least two avowed Tenorio supporters), asking for Tenorio’s resignation, a censure, a reprimand, or taking no action at all. A number of these aforementioned options involve legal proceedings and it’s important to remember that in any legal proceeding there is a presumption of innocence on behalf of the defendant, at least until a final judgment has been rendered.

But there is another court at work here, the Court of Public Opinion, which for someone’s political present and future is just as important as the courts of law. And immediately speaking, the Court of Public Opinion might be even more important in this situation. How Tenorio handles that court will determine her immediate political future.

My advice to council member Tenorio right now would be to bite the bullet and hire a crack crisis communications strategist, one with a record of successes in the world of politics, and then follow that person’s advice on what to say, when to say it, where it should be said, how it should be said, and, equally as important, who should actually be saying it. Lay out a strategic communications course of action. Don’t deviate from it one bit. Don’t go off-script, not for a second.

This is the only way she will have a chance to successfully persuade the persuadables.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Council poised to sanction Tenorio; she plans to turn it into a cat fight.

The allegations against council member Daphne Tenorio could be worse than I ever imagined. Tuesday’s City Council meeting plans to include "discussion and possible action" over whether Tenorio committed a felony.

Tenorio’s defense appears to be along the lines of "Everybody here is just picking on me," because the following item, which she added to the agenda, involves "potential, perceived or real conflicts of interests as it relates to all council members." That agenda item is labeled "an open discussion." However, it’s more likely to be akin to a monologue, since I doubt many, if any, of the other council members will engage in a conversation about their "potential, perceived" conflicts of interests. It appears, on the surface, to be a re-enactment of the final scene of Captain Queeg’s court-martial in The Caine Mutiny, with Tenorio in the role of the Naval captain. Whatever, it does not come across as a sound legal defense and it looks like what she really needs right now is a sound legal defense.

The sequence of the items following the Consent Agenda as they appear on Tuesday’s docket makes for interesting speculation. First, council member Travis Mitchell has an item involving "a general discussion" related to a potential economic development project. Now before anyone jumps to the conclusion I have inside information on potential economic development projects that might be coming to Kyle, let me emphasize that I don’t. But I do pay attention to items listed as topics that will be discussed when the city council goes into one of its seemingly interminable executive sessions and all the economic development projects the council plans to discuss in executive session are given colorful names on the agenda, names like steel blue, shocking pink and the like. So when I see that the item Mitchell wants to discuss is "Just Peachy," I recall from past executive session agendas that is a potential economic development project.

The item immediately following that is also Mitchell’s: the discussion and possible action that could be taken against Tenorio for violating the Texas Penal Code and the Ethics Code. It’s not a stretch to link the two items and reach the conclusion that the council is going to accuse Tenorio of acting on items she learned about in executive session for her personal benefit. As I said yesterday, that section of the Penal Code referred to in that agenda item reads: "A public servant commits an offense if, in reliance on information to which the public servant has access by virtue of the person’s office or employment and that has not been made public, the person (1) acquires or aids another to acquire a pecuniary interest in any property, transaction, or enterprise that may be affected by the information." Acting on information she learned in executive session, presumably about a potential economic development project code-named "Just Peachy," would fall under the code.

Of course, it must be assumed that Tenorio is innocent of any charges lobbed in her direction until such time she is found guilty of those charges in a court of law. But depending on just how serious the allegations are against her, I don’t see how she has any other choice but to resign her council seat for both the good of the city and so that she can devote all her energies and resources to fighting the charges.

The key for her, however, is "fighting the charges." She gets nowhere fighting all the other members of the city council. Possibly her most devoted followers will buy her "I’m straight and the rest of the world is crooked" routine, but it’s not going to sell to an educated, objective listener. That is not a defense. That is a desperate attempt to change the subject.

The other items of note on Tuesday’s agenda involve taking actions on recommendations made last week from the Planning Commission, even a pair of illegal ones (it will be interesting to see how the Council deals with those), although the applicant for the one rezoning, the one on Beebee Road which the Planning Commission recommended both unanimously and legally, is aasking the council to postpone its action for two weeks.

All in all, it’s a comparatively sparse agenda. I can’t help but wonder if other possible agenda items were "evacuated" to get them out of the path of Hurricane Daphne.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

On the Kyle Report Smell-O-Meter, this measures Eviscerated Decomposed Body

A little more than two months ago I posted an article in the Kyle Report that began: "I may be in the minority here but, still, I don’t like the idea that the City of Kyle is using taxpayer resources to promote a pair of privately owned athletic teams that are so completely irrelevant even the local newspaper doesn’t report on them."

I didn’t push the issue after I wrote that. I figured I had made my point in that article and I let it rest. Besides, at three quarters of a century in age, I’m way too old to launch a crusade of any kind. So I let it rest.

But I can’t do that any longer — not after reading this story in the current Hays Free Press. While the story appears, to me at least, to be celebrating the fact that council member Daphne Tenorio owns the Kyle Stallions semi-pro basketball team, it sets off all kinds of alarm bells in me.

The most obvious one, of course, is what role, if any. did she play in the city’s decision to promote the Stallions on its website and in its weekly newsletters? This question is important because the obvious result of such a promotion would compel persons who otherwise might know about this enterprise (like I wrote earlier, except for this week’s article, the local newspaper does not cover the Stallions, does not cover their games, doesn’t even include the current ABA standings in its sports section) to purchase tickets to watch the team play. And purchasing tickets provides income for the team’s owner(s).

But that is not the only questions I have. Has she used her position as a member of the city council to in any way, shape or form, to influence any area private businesses to make sponsorship donations of some sort to the Stallions? This is a semi-pro team which usually means players do not receive salaries; the normal means of compensating a semi-pro athlete is through employment agreements. Has council member Tenorio used her influence as a city council member to gain employment for anyone on her team?

I’m not formally accusing her of anything, I’m just asking the questions and I know I can’t trust getting any truthful answers from anyone directly involved. That’s why I’m hoping someone — perhaps even the county district attorney’s office — will look into the matter. In fact, I’m insisting some form of independent investigation be launched to look into all of this.

Here’s why: Section 39.06 (a) of the Texas Penal Code reads "A public servant commits an offense if, in reliance on information to which the public servant has access by virtue of the person’s office or employment and that has not been made public, the person (1) acquires or aids another to acquire a pecuniary interest in any property, transaction, or enterprise that may be affected by the information." Violation of this section is a third degree felony, punishable by up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine (although I would fully expect a local elected official found guilty of anything related to the issues I’ve spelled out above to receive a probated sentence).

But the city needs to know if someone on its council, someone who represents the city with other municipalities, someone who is listed as the head of the Association of Hispanic Municipal Officials for the Texas Municipal League, has committed a felonious act. By the same token, our citizens need to be reassured that her ownership of the team represents absolutely no conflict of interest, if that is indeed the truth.

In either case, the City must act quickly, either by authorizing an independent investigation (the preferable option because it would be viewed as the least biased) or, at the very least, conducting a thorough investigation of its own. The City must realize two courts are sitting in judgment here and one — perhaps the most important one — is the court of public opinion. If our city leaders want to be retreated with respect we must be assured they are completely above approach. This situation gives the city somewhat of a black eye and as I told my former clients who used to hire me when they were dealing with crisis situations: "Bad news is like dead fish; it doesn’t smell better with age." And as I tried to suggest in the headline of this article, this smells putrid. Therefore, the sooner it’s dealt with, the better it will be for everyone involved.

One more thing about all this that troubles me. The Kyle Stallions play their home games in the Lehman High School gymnasium. Tenorio’s husband, Willie, is a member of the Hays CISD school board.

Coincidence? Personally, I don’t believe that much in coincidences.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

P&Z approves unanimously, but arguably illegally, contentious zoning issue

I get it. Planning & Zoning Commissioner Timothy Kay is an ardent anti-growth zealot. Which is fine. He’s entitled to and should be given the latitude to express whatever his feelings on growth in Kyle that he has. And, if he wants to make a difference in Kyle’s path of growth, he should try to get himself elected to the city council where he could possibly have some effect on the formation of city policy. But he should no longer be able to advance his agenda by attempting to sabotage zoning issues that come before P&Z.

He tried it three times at last night’s meeting, possibly even succeeding twice.

The issues involved three applications for rezoning the commission considered. By state law, what an applicant plans to do with land seeking to be rezoned is completely divorced from the actual application. In fact, an applicant is not even legally required to inform a planning commission precisely what he or she plans to do with the property seeking to be rezoned.

However, in complete defiance of state law, Kay not only specifically instructed an applicant what he could locate on the property the applicant wanted rezoned, but Kay acted to restrict the applicant on how he could locate it. He not only did this once, but twice, concerning two separate but related zoning requests. On a third issue, he said he could not vote for a rezoning request without seeing the applicant’s "plans" for the property beforehand. That’s simply against the law. It could also be considered extortion, blackmail – a legislator demanding a citizen engage in an illegal activity in order to gain a favorable legislative decision. Elected officials have gone to jail for actions such as this.

But it’s a more serious problem than just Kay. It has infected the entire commission. I’m not accusing commission members of willfully engaging in illegal activities, but simply not being aware they are engaging in them. In other words, what we’re dealing with here is, to put it bluntly, ignorance, but not deviousness. And the city is not helped by having planning commissioners who are unaware of legal restrictions and the resulting liability. It’s one thing that Kay made illegal amendments to the two related rezoning requests that limited the builder to 3.2 homes per acre on the property, something that can be considered at the site-plan phase of a development, but is illegal at the zoning phase. But it’s a completely separate thing that Commission Chair Dex Ellison didn’t immediately rule the motion to be out of order, which, of course, it was. Here, again, the problem was not that Ellison was deliberately making the city liable for legal challenges to the commission’s actions; he simply didn’t know the motion was out of order. (But try that out in court: "Judge, you must excuse my actions. I had no idea cold blooded murder was illegal.") Then the four other commissioners who attended last night’s meeting, (Mike Torres was absent) became complicit in the illegal activity by voting for the zoning changes with Kay’s amendments attached to them. And, again, I’m going to give these folks the benefit of the doubt and say they voted this way simply because they didn’t know any better and not because there is some sort of deeper conspiracy at work here. I mean this folks obviously don’t know the difference between "discussion" and "debate" so I don’t want to think they are part of some fantastic underground conspiracy to stop all growth in Kyle. But, then, I also believe Oswald acted alone in assassinating President Kennedy and that Neil Armstrong actually walked on the moon. So there’s that, as well.

So what happens next? Between the end of last night’s meeting and noon today I spoke about this with five different attorneys, all of whom are licensed to practice law in Texas although none of whom have a concentration in municipal zoning. All five confirmed Kay’s actions in all three cases were illegal — that they were, indeed, decisions reserved for site plan deliberations but could not be considered in zoning decisions. Where they differed in their opinions is when I asked them what could happen next.

Most of them said legal action was not likely because essentially the applicant was not denied the zoning he requested and that only those who opposed the zoning request from the outset could seek restraint based on the illegalities in question. However, they said, the question could be what those opponents could seek in the form of relief. It would, they told me, be almost impossible to prove the commission’s actions, however illegal they were, harmed them because the amendments made the development more restrictive than it was without the amendments. But a lengthy court battle, whatever the outcome, could delay the start of the project (one of the attorneys told me) for as long as a decade, not only depriving potential home buyers of a worthwhile development, but also denying the city and the rest of its taxpaying citizens the millions of dollars in revenue from impact fees and property taxes.

Others told me the city council, when it rules on the commission’s recommendation (which I expect to happen at its next meeting on Tuesday) could simply ignore the amendments and rule on the original zoning request. And one other attorney told me he would recommend the council remand the recommendation back to the Planning Commission with the instructions "to get it right this time."

I posed the what-happens-next question to the city’s planning staff and assistant director William Atkinson told me "City staff is currently discussing the very recommendation that you're asking about. When we have an update, we'll provide an answer."

Which, at the very least, means the staff recognizes it has a serious problem on its hands. And that’s a start.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

They’re baaaaack!!! and the Planning Commission’s got ‘em

One of my all-time favorite residential neighborhoods is called Bryan Place in Dallas. Bryan Place came into existence just east of downtown Dallas in the early 1980s during the height of that area’s boom in suburban housing sprawl. New residential subdivisions were sprouting like wildflowers, mainly north and east of the Dallas city limits, in places like Mesquite, Garland, Richardson, Plano and Carrollton. Many of these subdivisions featured residences designed for first-time home buyers and built by a company called Fox & Jacobs. A 1978 story appearing in D Magazine began: "Fox & Jacobs sells houses the way Procter and Gamble sells detergent. And as a result, it sells more of them than anybody else." The magazine estimated Fox & Jacobs was building and selling in the neighborhood of 100 homes a week, all of them priced under $50,000.

That D Magazine profile specifically mentioned the possibility of a Bryan Place: "Fox & Jacobs has no intention of cutting back, either. With the initiation of the project to build houses in East Dallas, just a few blocks from downtown, F&J struck out in a direction that clearly indicates its desire to seek out buyers other than middle-income suburbanites."

Still, it was somewhat of a surprise when Fox & Jacobs built Bryan Place, an atypical F&J  community completely unlike anything the builder provided before or since that for its first 20 or so years of existence was a collection of zero lot line homes along narrow streets with virtually no front-yard setbacks. All the previous F&J developments -- those described in that D Magazine article -- were for those young, first-time homebuyers trying to escape the big city. Bryan Place, on the other hand, was smack dab in the middle of the city designed to attract the empty nesters, the young married professionals who did not necessarily want children at this stage in their lives or the single person who wanted to own, not rent. The hearty folks who first purchased those homes were regarded as some form of urban pioneers, home buyers brave enough to fly in the opposite direction of the typical white flight migration to the suburbs. Today, Bryan Place has been augmented by townhomes, condos and apartments. And those charming zero-lot line homes that sold for under $50,000 in the early 1980s are now priced at between $300,000 and $500,000. Bryan Place is now one of the most sought-after places to live in Dallas and, as I said at the beginning, one of my all-time favorite residential neighborhoods. (Here's a picture of a typical Bryan Place Street.)

I have no idea whether that land pictured above immediately north of Scott Street between the Kyle Public Library and Opal Line will be transformed into a community as unique and as charming as Bryan Place. That depends on KB Homes, which could build a wonderful community with homes such as this in that area. It also might depend on whether Kyle’s Planning & Zoning Commission has the strength and the leadership to do the right thing by rezoning this 86 acres to its "highest and best use," as it is commissioned to do, or whether it displays weakness by bowing to the public pressure that might be applied by a handful of neighborhood residents who are resistant to any kind of change and who are being energized by the lies being fed to them by the city’s no-growth contingent,

The Planning Commission is scheduled to make these decisions when it conducts public hearings and then votes on two separate items (Agenda Items 5B and 5C) at its meeting Tuesday, which begins at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall.

If there is the resistance I halfway expect to occur, those who will be arguing against will claim their challenges are based on water runoff and traffic concerns, neither of which contain any validity. (They may also be arguing against rezoning the land to R-1-A, which is what the agenda item states, but actually the applicants will be asking the commission to re-zone the land under the provisions of the recently created R-1-3 zoning category, which is more restrictive than R-1-A. That latter zoning, which also permits attached residences, would have permitted between 310-320 new homes on the site. The R-1-3 zoning reduces that number to 270. It is this R-1-3 zoning that could create another Bryan Place-type development.)

"It needs to be stated that as a function of initiating any new development project in the City of Kyle, development professionals are required to make provisions for storm water management and traffic based on the expected impact the project will have on property following construction," according to materials provided to the commission by the city’s development staff. "City of Kyle regulations do not permit stormwater discharges from new development to discharge at a greater rate than predevelopment conditions."

That takes care of the flooding argument, not that the protesters will pay any attention to that, however.

As to the traffic, studies prove that more compact, denser residential neighborhoods such as the one proposed here actually promotes walkability and an accompanying reduction in vehicular uses. Or, as the city staff states: "The development of the property adjacent to and in proximity to public services (public library, parks, public schools, etc.) reduces the reliance on the automobile in these areas (emphasis mine), while increasing desirability and value of residential development."

To put it simply, this development, if done correctly, makes Kyle stronger and more economically viable because, as the staff analysis says, "Due to downtown Kyle’s central location creating convenient access to nearby emerging residential, more citizens will naturally travel to the central business district, which is expected to increase the demand for more businesses supporting that new housing."

Which is why, even if the Planning Commission is too timid to buck that vocal minority that wishes to turn back the clock, the City Council would undoubtedly vote in favor of it when it considers the same proposal at its Feb. 21 meeting.

In fact, if I lived in the neighborhood, I would not be against this new development, but would, instead, be advocating for a more direct link between the library on Scott Street and Rebel Road. Then I would be pushing for a developer to locate something like a Whole Foods or a Sprouts or a Trader Joe’s — some kind of unique grocery outlet — near the corner of Rebel and Center Street that not only would be easily walkable from this new development but also from Silverado and Hometown Kyle. How sweet would that be?

Then, again, in the spirit of love and harmony that is supposed to accompany Valentine’s Day, perhaps the protesters will be a "no-show" Tuesday. One can only hope, but I usually prepare for the worst.

The Planning Commission’s agenda also contains one other item along these same lines, the one on the more heavily wooded property pictured above located on the opposite side of Beebee Road from the relatively new Hays Village Apartments. This agenda item also seeks to have those 53 acres between Beebee and the Amberwood Loop zoned R-1-A, but I also believe that applicant would rather have that new R-1-3 zoning as well. The reason I believe that is because all three of these items have appeared on the Planning Commission’s agenda twice previously and both times the applicants have asked their requests be postponed. The city created that R-1-3 zoning between that last postponement and Tuesday’s meeting and this time around, it does not appear any additional delays are being sought.

The Commission will also be asked to rezone the land pictured here from agriculture to retail services because, according to a letter sent to the city from one Diana Salazar, administrative assistant with Capital Construction Management of Houston, "We are building a gas station with a fast food retail center, and car wash" on the property. It is located on Dacy lane immediately in front of the Bluebonnet Estates manufactured home park that is going in there. The property is bisected by Fountain Grove Drive (the above picture is looking north from the Fountain Gove-Dacy Lane intersection) which connects the manufactured home park to Dacy Lane.

"The property requesting to be rezoned is sited in an area that is rapidly developing into a hub of commercial and residential activity," according to the city staff’s analysis of the zoning request. "This ‘node’ is centered on the intersection of Dacy Lane and Beebee Road. … The section of Dacy Lane adjacent to the parcel has already been widened to allow appropriate increased traffic and Hays County is in the process of widening Dacy Lane north of Beebee Road to improve traffic flow. Beebee Road is also planned to be improved in the future. With its location along the Dacy Lane collector, proximity to residential and commercial growth, the future of Vista Park, the rezoning of this parcel from A to RS is appropriate for the City of Kyle and the development of the area."

Somewhat more problematic, to me anyway, is the item on Tuesday’s Planning Commission agenda to rezone the land pictured above from Agriculture to a Public Utility District, which allows for a number of zoning uses, in this particular case neighborhood commercial, condominium and agricultural. The reason why the applicant, Garza EMC, LLC, of Austin, wishes to cover this many bases is because it plans to use the property "for the purpose of providing housing and care for elderly and disabled residents needing a wide range of medical assistance." The development will include "residential cottages" ranging in size from 800 to 1,100 square feet each (hence the condo zoning request) and a 10,000-square foot community activity center and administrative facility (which, I guess, the neighborhood commercial allows for). In my mind, I never associate "residential cottages" with "condos;" however, the city defines a condo as any residence "designed to allow ownership of a dwelling unit … without also having to own the land."

The problem I have with the property is that pond pictured in the above photograph I took yesterday of the property and what this says about the water table there. Of course, there’s always the chance that Garza EMC, LLC, plans to do a much better job of draining the swamp than Donald Trump did. Or the pond could become a decorative feature outside that 10,000-square-foot community activity center. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Hard (hiring) freeze forecast for Kyle

February’s sales tax numbers have been posted and, simply put, they border on being disastrous — over $56,000 below projections which more than doubles the city’s budget gap.

What makes this even more troubling is what happened last year when the city’s sales tax receipts fell drastically below projections in the last months of the year. Last year's February receipts were actually $14,478.73 above projections, but the city was already $33,542.28 in the red and it finished the year $281,897.11 dollars below projections.. That’s a loss of $248,354.83 during the final seven months of FY 2015-16. This month, however, the city is $92,916.86 in the red — obviously, a far weaker financial position than at the same time last year. A decrease of that magnitude this time around could put the final budget gap at $341,451.69 or 1.6 percent of the entire General Fund budget for the fiscal year).

Council member Travis Mitchell, who unsuccessfully lobbied his council colleagues to reduce the sales tax projections during last year's budget preparation negotiations, said he was "frustrated" by the budget gap.

"I was concerned about the sales tax projections during budget preparations," Mitchell said, via e-mail. ""That's why I advocated reducing our forecast by at least $200,000. My attempts to rein us in were unsuccessful and I'm absolutely frustrated by the deficit. There's really no excuse for being this bullish in our projections."
Now the city is not about fo plunge into some kind of financial abyss — there’s plenty in the city’s reserves to compensate for these losses. But I’m convinced efforts should be made to find ways to reduce expenditures in the current budget and one area I would start with would be to institute a hard hiring freeze for the remainder of the fiscal year, or until such unlikely time before Sept. 30 when the city’s sales tax receipts are back on the plus side. The city seems to be functioning quite well with the employees currently on the payroll, so there’s no reason to supplement that number by filling any empty FTEs — whether they be new positions or those lost to attrition — between now and the end of the fiscal year.

Mitchell did not second my idea of a hiring freeze but he did say "Something needs to be done. I have no confidence in our Q3/Q4 projections."

Again, you can read the entire sad tale of the city’s sales tax receipts here.

More on that planned police department audit

Earlier this week I wrote that during a brief intermission in Tuesday’s city council meeting. I asked City Manager Scott Sellers whether the Matrix Consulting Group’s planned audit for the Kyle Police Department that the council had authorized just moments before "would reveal whether (1) the police department was operating at peak efficiency, (2) the department was effectively serving its customers and (3) was the department wisely spending taxpayers’ dollars" and that Sellers replied "Absolutely." (He elaborated further you can read in his entire response in the first bullet item contained in this story.)

But I decided to pose exactly that same question to Richard Brady, the president of the Matrix Consulting Group and the person in charge of the company’s government consulting practice and he replied: "The simple answer is yes, our study will address all three objectives."

The company’s web site says much the same thing.

"Our overall approach to evaluating law enforcement services is one which strives to balance community demands for service with the equally strong need to provide services efficiently," it says. "To accomplish this we work with our clients to clearly define their service level expectations so that our analysis can show the cost and service implications of each decision regarding staffing, deployment and operations."

So there’s that.

For the record, Brady holds a doctorate from Oxford and, according to the company’s website, his "experience encompasses over 30 years in the analysis of every local governmental service in hundreds of jurisdictions throughout the country."

So there's that, as well.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Do warning labels serve a valuable purpose?

It’s time once again to play Let’s Pretend. This time, let’s turn the clock back 50 years and pretend you’re a member of Congress in the mid-1960s with a background in the medical/health field. Being part of that austere body you are one of the first to learn In 1964 that the surgeon general of the United States is about to issue a report which states unequivocally that the nicotine and tar in cigarettes cause long cancer. As a health practitioner as well as a lawmaker, what do you do?

You could, of course, propose a complete ban on cigarette sales in the United States. That, however, would be a risky move. After all, tobacco has a long and storied history. It was the first crop grown for money in North America: In 1612 the settlers of the first American colony in Jamestown, Va., grew tobacco as a cash crop. It was their main source of money. Tobacco helped finance the American Revolution. George Washington, the recognized "father of our country" and the first President of the United States, grew tobacco, for crying out loud. By 1944, U.S. tobacco companies were producing and selling 300 billion cigarettes a year (helped immensely by the two world wars during which the tobacco companies shrewdly distributed cigarettes for free to American servicemen.)

But then, 20 years later, the surgeon general issues his report. A complete ban, you figure, will never pass muster because of the political influence of the tobacco industry so you try the next best thing — an end run. You propose legislation in 1964 to switch regulatory control of the tobacco industry from the Treasury Department to the FDA. Because the tobacco industry was smart enough to realize it could make millions of Americans hopelessly addicted to their products by handing them out for free to American servicemen during wartime, they are also wise enough to see through this plan and realize such a switch in regulatory authority would have exactly the same effect as an outright ban. So they marshal their immense lobbying and campaign financing power behind an effort to kill your legislation and are ultimately successful in that effort.

Then the next year, another bill is introduced on this subject, one that doesn’t ban tobacco products, but which mandates that every cigarette pack must have a warning label on its side stating "Cigarettes may be hazardous to your health." (Of course, this is not pretend, It was called "the Cigarette Labeling and Packaging Act" and did, in fact, pass Congress in 1965.) But the question I want to pose in our Let’s Pretend game here is this: How do you vote on this proposal? Do you vote in favor of it because you feel that such a label will, at the very least, protect your constituents by warning them of the possible health hazards of smoking? Or do you vote against it on the principle that when it comes to selling tobacco products, nothing short of an outright ban will suit you?

City Council member Daphne Tenorio faced that identical situation at last night’s council agenda meeting and chose the latter option.

The subject was Kyle’s screw-the-homeowner PID policy which Tenorio wisely opposed when it was introduced and passed in 2015 after the so-called "experts" the city hired to formulate and administer the policy lied to the council and the public about how PIDs work. As I’ve written many times before, the problems with the city’s PID policy is that (1) it amounts to taxation without representation (an idea early Americans so opposed they staged a revolution to fight it); (2) it forces a homeowner to pay twice for the same thing; and (3) the "I" in PID stands for "improvement," but Kyle doesn’t use PIDs for improving properties, it uses PIDs for developing properties. Conceptually, one could argue "improving" and "developing" are the same thing, but semantically there are major differences between the two terms.

Last night, the council considered amendments to that PID policy, and one of those changes would, in effect, slap a huge warning label on neighborhoods with PIDs. This label that would essentially state "Warning potential home buyer: Purchasing a home in this subdivision will cost you a lot more than purchasing that exact same home in another subdivision that does not contain a PID." Then, if the homeowner ignores the label and decides to purchase the home anyway, the purchaser forfeits the right, according to theory, to complain about getting suckered later, much the same way, in theory, the smoker forfeits the right to blame the tobacco company for the smoker contracting lung cancer since the packaging on the product warned the smoker in advance this would be the probable outcome.

The PID amendments passed 6-1 with Tenorio casting the lone dissenting vote.

In other action last night:
  • The council awarded Matrix Consulting Group a contract to conduct an audit of the Kyle Police Department. I’m a big believer in a concept known as 3-E Government, a concept that requires governments, particularly municipal governments, to be effective, efficient and economical. Now those goals may seem overly idealistic, but unlike beauty, to cite one example, they are not subjective — they can actually be measured quantitatively. And one of the best ways to measure whether a municipal government is fulfilling its promise on these 3-E deliverables is through a performance audit. So during that brief interval between item 16 on last night’s agenda, the city manager’s report, and item 17, executive session, I asked City Manager Scott Sellers whether this audit that was just approved would reveal whether (1) the police department was operating at peak efficiency, (2) the department was effectively serving its customers and (3) was the department wisely spending taxpayers’ dollars. This is what Sellers told me: "Absolutely. Absolutely. This audit should confirm the great job we say we are doing. If there are recommendations from the audit or findings that don’t substantiate our commitments to quality, our commitments to culture, our commitments to being responsible stewards of the taxpayer dollar, then we want to address those. We want to have the best police department that we can possibly have. There have been a lot of comments over the years about our police department, for good or for bad. But we want to make sure we can put substance behind what we say about our police department and rectify anything we need to." I will admit, Sellers is a shrewd manager and may have intuitively told me only what I wanted to hear. But, I must admit, I trust the guy and  his response did alleviate most my concerns that the audit was structured only as a platform on which the department could complain it didn’t have enough resources. Not only that, his response did give me ammunition — however effective that ammunition might be — to use in case those police complaints are the only findings of the audit.
  • Sellers also spoke more on a subject that was announced last week — for the first time in the city’s history, a MUD was planned inside the city limits. I didn’t write about it at the time it was announced because the printed announcement did not say who was asking the Texas Legislature to create the MUD or the purpose of it. As the city manager explained it last night, the MUD would be implemented by Plum Creek to pay for the infrastructure required to create a commercial corridor on close to 400 acres located on either side of FM1626 north of Kohlers Crossing, 176 acres south of Kohlers and east of the Union Pacific tracks and another 37 acres also south of Kohlers just west of 1626. Sellers told me there are conceptual, but not specific, plans for development on one or more of those properties. "I believe it was around July of 2015," Sellers told me, immediately after he addressed the council on the MUD, "we talked about an agreement for an uptown project that would include a relocated city hall. That could be surrounded by a variety of other developments similar to Southlake, Sugarland or Bee Cave. It’s that same uptown development that we continue to move toward. The MUD helps in that conversation. Since the MUD is intended to be all commercial or industrial, that is really what we are targeting here. But I can honestly say there is not a specific commercial component today that we are negotiating with." Coincidentally, during that time the council was in executive session, in the council chambers Parks Director Kerry Urbanowicz, Finance Director Perwez Moheet, Economic Development Director Diana Torres, City Secretary Jennifer Vetrano and Chief of Staff Jerry Hendrix were talking about how crowded it was at City Hall, with Torres claiming there were no more additional electrical outlets available in city hall; Urbanowicz claiming that even if such an outlet existed, one more attachment would overload and collapse the building’s electrical system; and Moheet specifically discussing the idea of installing temporary buildings between the current city hall and the police headquarters, an installation that might be problematic since the city recently extended the lease of Wells Fargo’s drive-through facility, which is currently located there.
  • The council applauded and congratulated Public Works Director Harper Wilder for completing the emergency repairs on the Lehman Road bridge at a cost that was 22 percent below what was budgeted for the repairs.
  • The council unanimously passed on first reading (which means there will not be a second reading) an ordinance to rezone land many residents of both Kyle and San Marcos feared would be the location of a truck stop from agriculture to retail services, a zoning designation that does not allow for such a use.
  • Council members unanimously approved granting a taxi franchise to the recently formed On Tyme Taxi & Courier Service.
  • The council unanimously approved a pest control measure that allows residents to purchase their own live traps to capture unwanted critters on their property instead of being forced to have Animal Control loan them such a trap. The amendments also allow pet owners to register their pets at a veterinarian’s office.
  • An ordinance that would have prohibited the mass release of balloons and Chinese lanterns in city parks was rejected on a 5-2 vote, with Mayor Pro Tem Damon Fogley and Tenorio registering the two affirmative votes.
  • Council member Shane Arabie was appointed, on a 6-1 vote (Tenorio voting against) to replace Mayor Todd Webster as one of the city’s representatives to the Hays Caldwell Public Utility Agency. Webster said Arabie’s engineering background as well as his interest in water projects made him the best qualified member of the council to serve on an agency whose stated mission is "resolving the long-term water needs for its participants" (those participants being Kyle, San Marcos, Buda and the Canyon Regional Water Authority). Tenorio said she voted against it because the agency doesn’t publicly post the qualifications needed to be a member. The agency does, however, have a frequently-asked-questions page on its web site which states "If you have a question about the agency not answered in the FAQs above, we're happy to answer it. Please fill out the form below and someone will get back to you." So there’s that.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

City to consider outside audit of police department

The city council plans to consider and probably award a contract during its meeting Tuesday night to a San Francisco Bay-area firm to conduct an audit of the Kyle Police Department that’s designed "to ensure that staff and facility resources are adequate for today’s service environment as a foundation for the future."

The $45,000, 14-week contract most likely will be awarded to the Matrix Consulting Group of Mountain View, Calif., which, according to its website "provides detailed analysis of management, staffing and operational issues for city, county and state governments." Just last month Matrix completed a study of the Code Enforcement Department in the city of San Clemente, Calif., determining "the city has sufficient code-enforcement officers but the system isn’t efficient." Matrix made a series of recommendations for improving the city’s code enforcement policies which that city’s council approved unanimously.

The Kyle PD audit will include seven specific tasks, the last of which will be a report to the City Council that Matrix says will include:
  • "An executive summary of all key findings and recommendations, including opportunities to improve services and operations within existing budget resources, as well as the costs of alternative and additional services.
  • "An analysis of existing operations, organization, and staffing needs based on service level targets.
  • "A review of facilities, systems and equipment needs.
  • "Supporting materials, such as the descriptive profile, results of the employee survey, and the best management practices assessment."

It is not clear when the clock starts ticking on the audit, but if it begins when the council approves the contract, which I fully expect to happen Tuesday, it’s possible Matrix’s findings could be presented as early as the council’s May 16 meeting, although a June or even a July date is more likely.

The audit was included as part of the most recent meet-and-confer agreement between the city and the police association. Hopefully, it will not be the last audit of a city department. Not that I’m questioning the performance of any department, but I am convinced independent audits often find ways to improve performance levels while simultaneously saving taxpayers’ moneys.

In fact, I’m convinced a complete independent audit of the city’s 2013 road bond package, from inception and voter-presentation through planning and execution could provide municipal leaders a valuable guide on how to handle future major capital improvement projects of this magnitude.

Matrix says the first task of its audit will be to "Conduct initial interviews to develop a detailed understanding of the Kyle Police Department … To fully evaluate the issues facing the (the department), as well as to identify the law enforcement needs of the community, the project team will develop our understanding of the department, including attitudes toward existing service levels, as well as the unique characteristics of policing programs and services it provides."

Task No. 2, Matrix says, will be to document "employee attitudes toward department strengths and improvement opportunities, and public safety issues."

The other four tasks Matrix has specified are:
  • Profile the organization, staffing, and operations of the department.
  • Evaluate key staffing, organization, and operational issues through a best management practices assessment.
  • Evaluate the department’s staffing and service delivery needs.
  • Evaluate the department’s organizational structure and management systems.

Other items on Tuesday’s agenda include:
  • Amending the city’s littering ordinance to prohibit the releasing of balloons and lit lanterns in the city parks because such actions, according to the city, are detrimental to the environment and wildlife. "The obvious reason to prohibit lit lanterns is fire danger, but there are no rules prohibiting it on public grounds," according to a city memo on the subject. "Balloons are latex rubber that do not dissolve or disintegrate and when a balloon goes up, it will come down, somewhere. And is trash wherever it lands. Even the expensive bio-degradable balloons take up to six months to degrade, but the ribbons tied to them will never degrade. These items tend to end up in watersheds that eventually make their way to open rivers, lakes and to the coast."
  • Amendments to the city’s PID policy that include, among other items, a recommendation from council member Travis Mitchell that would require (1) MLS listings to include any and all PID assessments that a home buyer will be required to pay and (2) escrow accounts established by these purchasers that are used to handle mortgage, tax and insurance payments must now include PID payments as well. While not eliminating the fact that Kyle’s PID policy still amounts to "taxation without representation," Mitchell’s amendments make the policies far more tolerable.
  • An interesting note that the applicant wishing to rezone four acres at 1381 Goforth Road is requesting that the second reading of this change be postponed to the council’s Feb. 21 meeting. Here’s a brief history on this item. The owner of the property found a purchaser for it who wanted to locate a non-veterinarian petcare facility there, but would only agree to the purchase if the land was rezoned from agriculture to warehouse. The item went before the Planning & Zoning Commission which rejected the warehouse zoning, saying it could eventually lead to a multitude of 18-wheelers on that stretch of Goforth, and, instead recommended, by a 3-2 vote, the more restrictive retail services zoning. I wondered whether the applicant would appeal directly to the council for warehouse zoning and when I posed that question to the applicant’s legal counsel I was told such information would violate client/attorney privilege. But when the item came before the council on first reading, Planning Director Howard Koontz told the council the applicant could live with retail services zoning and the item passed with only Mitchell dissenting (saying warehouse zoning was perfectly appropriate for that area, which, truth be told, is an accurate statement). So why the request for postponement now? Who knows and my inquiries will obviously be met with the same privilege argument. But one can’t help but wonder whether (1) the applicant, after thinking about it for a while, really doesn’t want retail services zoning and wants the warehouse instead or (2) the potential buyer is fed up with the entire process and has withdrawn his/her offer to purchase the property. "Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant.".
  • Another version of the city’s animal protection ordinance that finally allows private citizens to buy and use their own live traps to capture unwanted critters on their property. Previous incarnations of this proposal had required citizens to use only traps loaned to them by the city.
  • Oh, yes, there is also what will forever be known as the "truck stop" ordinance, the one that was supposed to come before council a year ago to pave the way for a developer to construct a Godzilla-sized truck stop at I-35 and Yarrington Road, a proposal, to put it mildly, that was met with some resistance from those both near and some distance from the property. After the request for warehouse zoning was rejected early last year by the Planning Commission, the applicant, PGI, has since (after many months of intense negotiations with Kyle, San Marcos and Hays County officials, among others) amended its application, now seeking retail services zoning for the property, even though the agenda item still states (a legal requirement) warehouse zoning is sought. A public hearing is attached to this item, although I do not anticipate it will attract the attention it would have had this same time last year.