The Kyle Report

The Kyle Report

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Mitchell seeks to uncage some critters, KAYAC seeks to increase sidewalk connectivity

City council member Travis Mitchell is seeking to amend the city’s animal control ordinances so that individuals no longer will be required to keep "hens, other fowl and rabbits" on their property confined in a cage. However, the critters will be required, under Mitchell’s proposal he plans to recommend at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, to remain confined to property owners’ fenced-in property or tethered in some fashion.

At the same meeting, the Kyle Area Youth Advisory Committee (KAYAC) will release the details of its Sidewalk Master Plan study which recommends increased pedestrian connectivity, more lighting for sidewalks and a funding system for sidewalk repairs that appears to be in conflict with current city policies.

The current animal control ordinance Mitchell seeks to amend requires these animals to be kept in a pen, coop or hutch designed to "securely confine" the animals. Mitchell is seeking to change the ordinance to remove the confinement requirement and only require that a pen, coop or hutch be "available" and located somewhere on the property that’s "at least 20 feet from neighboring residences and at least 10 feet from the owner’s residence." It also states the animals "must remain on owners property behind a fence, on a leash, or on a tether."

"I didn't think it made sense to require chickens to be kept in a coop at all times," Mitchell said today. "We don't require dogs to be kept in kennels at all times, after all. So I modeled the chicken ordinance after the section on dogs and cats with a few obvious alterations."

Mitchell’s proposal also removes a section that restricts the ownership of these animals to persons living in single family residences zoned R-1-1. He is recommending those changes, he said, due to new state laws pending legislative passage.

"The state Senate recently passed SB 1620 which will allow the keeping of up to six hens in political subdivisions," Mitchell said. "That bill is expected to be passed by the House in the coming weeks. While our current ordinance does allow the keeping of up to six hens, it restricts that use based on ‘qualified zones,’ which is defined only as R-1-1. I am proposing to use a setback rule instead of a particular zone. This will bring our ordinance into compliance with the new state law and will make the ordinance based on distance from residences instead of the illogical restriction of only R-1-1. I call it illogical because the vestigial R-1 zone has the same basic setback rules but technically isn't considered a ‘qualified zone.’ Also, subdivisions like Quail Ridge have very large lots but also aren't considered ‘qualified’ under the current ordinance."

Mitchell did add that "if your HOA doesn't allow chickens, that policy will be unchanged with this minor text revision."

Noting that sidewalks provide environmental, economic and health benefits KAYAC’s Master Plan on this subject calls for more and better maintained sidewalks in Kyle, but does not make any recommendations on exactly where new sidewalks should be located.

"Kyle’s sidewalks currently have a number of flaws," KAYAC’s Master Plan states. "The first is absence, meaning that sidewalks simply are not present in areas where they are needed, including around schools. The second issue is discontinuity, where a sidewalk exists, but features gaps in pavement. Discontinuity is common in downtown Kyle, and becomes more apparent as one moves north or south of Center Street. A third issue with Kyle’s existing sidewalks is the condition of disrepair; that is, sections of certain sidewalks are cracked, uneven, penetrated by vegetation, or too narrow, making them more difficult to pass over."

Specifically, KAYAC called for more sidewalks connecting schools to the residential areas the school serves. It specifically cited the neighborhoods around Lehman High School, especially those living within the two mile radius of the school who are not eligible for bus service. The report cited Lehman Road’s "total lack of sidewalks" and the fact that it crosses Plum Creek requires student/pedestrians to either walk through running water or across a bridge and risk being hit by a motor vehicle.

"The lack of sidewalks around Lehman High School incentivizes parents and students on Lehman Road to drive to school, which increases traffic and indirectly the risk of collision," KAYAC’s Master Plan says. It also added the situation "leads to more pollution from idling cars." The report says similar conditions can be found in the vicinities of Hays High School and Barton and Wallace middle schools.

"It is with regard to the safety of Kyle’s youth that KAYAC recommends prioritizing repairs for and construction of sidewalks around Kyle’s public schools," the Master Plan states.

KAYAC’s report found that "poor lighting was a problematic for Kyle’s sidewalks. This is a valid concern because poor lighting increases the risk of car-pedestrian collisions, even if a sidewalk is present. Additionally, good lighting is important to increasing the safety of sidewalks at night, since good lighting makes it easier for one pedestrian to see when another approaches."

One recommendation that seems in conflict with current policies is one which KAYAC suggests "the city encourages private property owners in addition to housing developers to maintain and/or expand their surrounding sidewalks and paths by offering subsidies. These subsidies can be anything from tax breaks to partial reimbursement depending on the level of expansion or maintenance deemed appropriate by the city to help finance initial expansion and improvement."

Actually, it is Kyle’s policy, as it is the policy of every municipality I’ve been associated with, that it’s the sole responsibility of a property owner to maintain the good condition of the sidewalks on that owner’s property. The only difference among various cities is the methods employed to make this happen. Council member David Wilson recently announced a plan for Kyle property owners to effectively put a sidewalk repair company on retainer so that it could afford to offer property owners a lower-than-average rate for sidewalk repairs.

Most municipalities invoke a petition requirement before undertaking new or expanded sidewalks in residential areas to make sure more than a simple majority of the affected property owners agree to the additional costs for which they will be responsible.

Other items of interest on Tuesday’s agenda include:
  • The only public hearing scheduled for the meeting involves an item that probably won’t even be dealt with — revisions to the city’s Comprehensive Plan. A last minute monkey wrench was tossed into the discussions on the plan at last Tuesday’s Planning & Zoning Commission when a directive relayed to the commissioners from the city’s staff said, in effect, elements of various development agreements had to be included in the revised plan. As far as I’m concerned (1) a development agreement binds the property owner, the city and their respective successors-in-interest for the term of the agreement regardless of any wording contained in a Comprehensive Plan and (2) trying to incorporate the terms of development agreements into the Comp Plan at this stage in the discussion is an unnecessary delaying tactic. However, a motion made during the P&Z meeting to move the proposed plan on to the council failed on a 3-3 vote. At the same time it should be noted that the official published minutes of the January joint council-planning commission workshop shows that the council specifically instructed commissioners to alter the zoning requirements in and the descriptions of two specifically named land use districts in order that they more accurately reflect the development agreements that existed in those districts. Up until last week, the commission had, for whatever reasons, completely ignored those instructions so Tuesday’s vote to postpone consideration of the updated Comp Plan until such changes could be added and approved might simply be seen as a last minute attempt to follow those original instructions. (NOTE: The author of this blog is currently a member of Kyle's Planning & Zoning Commission.)
  • Plans to annex and then de-annex property located on the Blanco River Ranch. It isn’t clear from the wording attached to the agenda item whether the 242.12 acres of the 592.91-acre ranch that is being de-annexed includes the 119.2 acres that is being annexed by the same agenda item. (A map accompanying this item would have been helpful.) Nor is any reason being given for the maneuver, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if it didn’t have something to do with the location of the new RR 150 that could be going through the property. Perhaps we’ll get some clarity during a discussion of the item.
  • The first reading of an amendment to the city’s fire code that would reduce required pavement widths in Kyle for certain newly constructed streets from 24 feet of unobstructed pavement width to 20 feet unobstructed.
  • A possible agreement with BioDAF Water Technologies of Golden, Col., to conduct a pilot program to ascertain whether it has the ability to transform the wastewater treated at the city’s wastewater treatment plan into water that could be reused for irrigation of green areas, cooling towers, industrial cleaning, and the like. You can learn more about what the company will be attempting to achieve here.
  • Following an executive session, presumably so that council members can learn what legal recourse, if any, the city has involving the delays surrounding wastewater pipeline repairs along Center Street that took 81 days longer than expected, and thus cost $35,803.36 more than anticipated, because of its proximity to Wallace Middle School, the city will be asked to approve a pair of change orders that will pay the contractor, Guerra Underground of Austin, a total of $48,406.36 more than the originally agreed upon cost of the project.
  • The purchase of a Ford F450 bucket truck designed to help the Public Works Department expedite the repair of broken street and traffic lights.
  • The purchase of a dual thermoplastic premelter at a cost of $61,605 and I think we can all agree that no self-respecting city should be without its own dual thermoplastic premelter. To be honest, I have absolutely no clue as to what this is, but I think it may have something to do with pavement markings.
  • Although city leaders usually like to make a big deal over honorary designations recognizing the likes of veterans, scouts, orphans, etc., for some reason a proclamation declaring May as Fair Housing Month in the city and urging "all the citizens of this locality to become aware of and support the Fair Housing law" is being buried as part of the Consent Agenda, I guess this is a clue to how little emphasis the city will place on efforts toward providing fair housing in Kyle.
  • On April 17, Hays County Justice of the Peace Andrew Cable awarded $2,970.05 held as either forfeited, found or unclaimed money held by the Kyle Police Department to the City of Kyle, Another item on Tuesday’s consent agenda seeks to allow the KPD to spend $2,529.99 of this money on such items as surveillance cameras, a $900 scanner, a $330 six-foot stainless work table, a $399 digital measuring kit, a $340 thermal label printer and other gadgets presumably needed in the constant battle against the criminal element.
  • Yield signs are currently in place at four intersections located just south of downtown in the vicinity of the Kyle Fire Department station — South Nance Street/Miller Street, South Nance Street/West South Street, South Burleson Street/West South Street and South Main Street/West South Street. According to City Engineer Leon Barba the intent of these signs was to facilitate the free flow of traffic in an east-west direction on Miller and South streets because north-south traffic on Nance, Burleson and Main would be forced to yield. "After receiving a complaint, staff from the Kyle Police Department, the Public Works Department and the Engineering Department visited the subject intersections to observe the existing conditions," Barba wrote in a memo to City Manager Scott Sellers. "Based on our observations, it appears the yield signs are not effective enough to slow down the vehicles going in the northbound/southbound directions, In fact, some vehicles do not even slow down as they go through the intersections." Hence, Item 9 on Tuesday’s consent agenda is the first reading of an ordinance to replace those yield signs with stop signs.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Will the city secretary please call the roll

In my 2½ years writing about Kyle city government, it seemed I could always count on two absolute certainties whenever I trekked down to City Hall every other Tuesday or on those other special days when the city council would conduct a meeting or a workshop: Mayor Todd Webster and council member David Wilson would be in their respective seats on the dais. So it came as sort of a shock to the system earlier this year when Wilson, for whatever reason, missed meetings on Feb/ 7 and April 4 and then, it was an even greater seismic level jolt when a flurry of bills introduced in the current legislative session kept Webster trapped in Austin until some 20 minutes after the comparatively brief meeting earlier this month adjourned.

After a brief recovery period I thought it might be fun to check the attendance records of all those who have been on the council during the last three years. That produced the following chart. Council members are listed in order of the percentage of meetings attended, from highest to lowest. Do with it as you will.

Council person
% Attended
Travis Mitchell
Lucy Johnson
Todd Webster
David Wilson
Damon Fogley
Shane Arabie
Diane Hervol
Tammy Swaton
Daphne Tenorio
Becky Selbera
Samantha Bellows
Ray Bryant
Chad Benninghoff

Friday, April 21, 2017

Solving the Lehman congestion problem

When I wrote about the city council’s response to a proposed ordinance amendment that would attempt to solve the problem of off-campus parking by Lehman High School students by requiring residents in the neighborhoods where the students are parking to twist and turn through and around all kinds of bureaucratic obstacles to obtain parking permits, I mentioned the solution proposed did absolutely nothing to address the root causes of the problem. According to his testimony provided at Tuesday night’s city council meeting, Police Chief Jeff Barnett said the problem was caused by students needing to quickly drive to their after-school jobs and avoiding the congestion that comes from using the school’s parking lot. And, according to council member Daphne Tenorio, the residents of the area affected by the off-campus parking, especially those in the Steeplechase subdivision, were demanding the city pay the costs of installing no-parking signs on the affected residential streets.

Think about that for a moment. The residents were demanding the city fix a problem caused by the school. These same folks that scream about the notion that the city’s property tax rate is so high come running to the city screaming for it to shell out money to fix a neighborhood problem the city is not even responsible for causing. Don’t these folks realize that only 20.6 percent of their total property tax bill goes to the city, yet 54.2 percent — more than twice as much — goes to the school district? And residents must pay that school district property tax even if they don’t have children attending Hays CISD schools? Get a grip here — the school district needs to help fix the problem.

And here’s how it can do exactly that:

As I understand it, the congestion is caused by the fact that all the students parked on the Lehman High parking lot must exit onto Lehman Road, just south of that road’s termination at Goforth, an intersection where traffic is controlled by three stop signs. The students exiting the parking lot, combined with other traffic going north on Lehman quickly form a long queue from the intersection blocking the exit from the student parking lot.

To fix that problem, the school district, or perhaps simply Lehman High School independently, needs to contract with the Kyle Police Department to hire a pair of off-duty uniformed officers to direct the traffic. One officer is stationed at the parking lot entrance to temporarily start and stop the traffic going north and south on Lehman, directing the student vehicles exiting from the parking lot, while the second is positioned at the intersection to temporarily start and stop the traffic on Goforth, negating the need for the Lehman traffic to stop at that intersection during this time and preventing the backups. I would expect the total time the officers would be required to expedite the flow of traffic would be 30 minutes each school day. ThaT should not be a high ticket item, especially for a school district that is seeking voter approval next month on a quarter of a billion dollar bond package. This arrangement, in fact, would mean a more rapid after school exit for those in the Lehman High parking lot than for those parked in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Incidentally, voters will be asked to vote on that bond package the same day the district has scheduled a parade to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Go figure.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

On sales taxes, parades, Sunday deadlines, administering by committee

  • Kyle’s sax tax receipts for April were $1,159 more than anticipated for the month, but the city still has yet to overcome its dismal haul from two months ago. For the year, Kyle’s receipts are $82,682.32 less than what the fiscal year budget forecast. Again, that does not mean the city is that much in debt, only that it has that much less available to spend than it planned. Plus, the city’s strong reserves more than compensate for this budget gap. The main contributor to this gap appears to be the fact that consumers spent far fewer sales tax dollars during the Christmas holiday period than anticipated, resulting in February’s receipts being $56,000 less than forecast. April’s numbers were a scant 0.24 percent above what was projected; however they are $46,055, or 10.37 percent, higher than April 2016's collections, a sign that the local economy continues to grow.
  • Interestingly, Mountain City has established a Sunday deadline for those wishing to be considered for its city administrator position. Sunday seems like a strange deadline to me, but who am I to tell Mountain City how to conduct its business. I have to wonder, however, who gets to man City Hall that Sunday to wait around in case Federal Express brings one final delivery or someone personally delivers a resume in a plain brown wrapper sometime before 5 p.m. As outlined in the official job description, "The city administrator (CA) serves as the administrative manager under the direction of the mayor and city council and is responsible for the efficient administration of the affairs for the city. The CA will work closely with the mayor, council, city personnel and support staff towards accomplishing short and long term objectives. The CA supervises and coordinates city activities to ensure that all laws and ordinances are faithfully performed and enforced. The CA should be a positive leader, a self-starter, and a person of high moral character and integrity. The CA is expected to be responsive to the needs of all stakeholders and strive to work toward positive, effective, and fiscally responsible solutions." The notice also says the city administrator must be a resident of Mountain City, so I guess that means anyone wishing the job who lives outside the city only has less than a 100 hours in which to relocate.
  • In preparation for writing the story on possible fixes for the Lehman High neighborhood parking kurfuffle, I asked city spokesperson Kim Hilsenbeck whether the city manager had given any consideration to forming a separate department to handle any and all situations involving mobility and the city’s street infrastructure. Her reply: "We have an internal committee that functions the same as the department you proposed. The committee is made up of the chief of police, our public works director, the city engineer, and several members of our city administration team. Those folks make decisions about mobility infrastructure together." So therein lies the problem, folks. By definition, such a committee could not accomplish what a separate department composed mainly of engineers trained in municipal mobility issues could achieve. It could, however, produce proposed ordinances like the one the City Council wisely and unanimously shot down earlier this week. As we’ve recently seen, such a committee can come up with answers to a problem, but not solutions.
  • Received a notice from the Hays CISD yesterday announcing it will be staging a parade eginning at 10 a.m., Saturday, May 6, the day, according to the notice, that "marks the anniversary of the vote taken in 1967 to consolidate the Buda, Kyle, and Wimberley school districts into one." I’m trying to convince myself that it’s just a coincidence that this parade will take place the same time the Kyle City Council will be conducting its first workshop to consider ideas for the 2017-18 fiscal year budget. And I am the last person in the world to be considered a conspiracy theorist. But, still …

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Solving the Lehman neighborhood parking problem

The Kyle City Council recognized during last night’s meeting a problem existed with Lehman High School students parking in adjacent residential neighborhoods instead of the school’s parking lot, but also decided unanimously the proposed solution to the problem was tantamount to curing a head cold with a guillotine.

The council voted 5-0 (Mayor Todd Webster was involved with legislative matters in Austin and Mayor Pro Tem Damon Fogley is on vacation in Southeast Asia) to reject a proposed ordinance designed to regulate parking in neighborhoods adjacent to the Lehman campus. The ordinance involved an admittedly convoluted permitting system by which only automobiles bearing permits issued to residents by the Kyle Police Department would be allowed to park on the designated residential streets.

According to council member Daphne Tenorio, whose district includes the school and the residential neighborhood, citizens concerned about automobiles driven by students clogging their streets wanted the City to install signage that would prohibit such parking. The problem with the signage idea, however, as Police Chief Jeff Barnett pointed out, is the streets are not the property of the residents; they belong to the City, which means any "no parking" signs on those streets must apply equally to everyone, even the residents.

And, although no one on the council mentioned this, the proposed solution to the problem did absolutely nothing to address its root causes. Barnett told the council the students were parking in the neighborhoods instead of the school’s "ample" parking lot not because of the price the school charges students for parking on campus ($25/per semester, $50/school year), or because they were trying to hide the fact their vehicle was uninsured or that the student did not have a valid driver’s license. Barnett said officers interviewed students walking to and from their off-campus-parked cars and "they actually said it was to avoid the afternoon traffic jams so they could get to their afternoon job and to get home and do things. So they were parking in whichever neighborhood that provided them the easiest access to get to their four o’clock or four-thirty after-school jobs. We all know that’s a very congested area when school lets out."

At the risk of seeming overly simplistic here, it appears that addressing that congestion problem could go a long way to solving the parking issues.

So, after giving this admittedly no more than just a couple of hours of casual thought, here are six steps I think the City could take to alleviate these problems.

Step 1: Remove jurisdiction and oversight of the city’s streets from the Public Works Department and create a separate "Mobility and Street Services" Department, the head of which is appointed by and answerable directly to the city manager. The city is growing and with that growth comes many additions to the city’s street inventory and the need for additional street planning. There exists in Kyle today a growing need for a department that is exclusively responsible for the design, construction and maintenance of the City's mobility infrastructure in the City's right-of-way. To add some emphasis to the importance the city council places on streets, last night’s discussion of a proposed three-party agreement involving the development of Pecan Woods focused exclusively on the quality of the streets to be located there. For some unknown reason, the Police Department has been given the responsibility of coming up with ordinances designed to solve such issues as where and how to erect parking signs as well as how to regulate parking. These are administrative issues, not law enforcement concerns (at least, not until such policies/ordinances are actually on the books). The problems of traffic congestion need to be addressed by engineers trained to deal with mobility issues and these engineers should be staff members of a Mobility and Streets Department that can deal with these and the myriad of other needs revolving around the city’s mobility infrastructure.

Step 2: Quit thinking in terms of "either/or" and realize that addressing neighborhood parking, not only in the Steeplechase subdivision adjacent to Lehman, but in residential areas throughout the city, might need to be addressed with a combination of solutions, involving but not limited to, both permitting and signage. In fact, the city should quit thinking of terms of addressing needs such as this on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, but come up with solutions that will solve identical problems wherever and whenever they might arise — address the problems as city-wide concerns, not just individual neighborhood ones.

Step 3: KISS. If the city sees the need to implement some form of residential permit parking, then Keep It Simple, Stupid. If residents of a neighborhood are requesting relief from outsiders parking on their streets and a quick and simple study (one or two drive-bys should do the trick) by the Mobility and Street Services Department confirms action should be taken, initiate a parking permit policy by which all any resident has to do is call the Streets Department and request parking permits. The City then mails a maximum of four parking stickers, which can be affixed to a car’s windshield either immediately above or below the registration sticker, and two hanging permits which can be given to visitors to attach when needed to their rear-view mirrors. These stickers/permits are good for the life of the car — they do not have to be renewed. If a resident purchases a new or an additional automobile, he simply calls the city requesting another sticker and the city mails it to that address. It is no problem for the city to cross-reference the address in question to ensure it’s on an eligible street.

Step 4: Post a sign at the end of every block where parking permits are required that say "On-street parking by permit only."

Step 5: Make enforcement simple as well. If a resident of a street where permits are required for on-street parking believes a significant number of cars without permits are parking, only then involve the KPD. Call a special hot-line to report the problem so that a dispatcher can notify a nearby unit to drive to the neighborhood and, if necessary, begin writing parking citations.

Step 6: Give the Mobility and Street Services Department the assignment of solving major congestion issues wherever, whenever and however they occur in the City and that includes those mobility problems that stem from railroad crossings as well as schools, shopping areas, etc.

I’m not saying the above outlined steps are THE solution to the Lehman/residential or other potential neighborhood parking issues, only one possible solution. I’m always open to other suggestions.

Other newsworthy events during last night’s council meeting:
  • In the absence of both the mayor and the mayor pro tem, council member Shane Arabie chaired the meeting and moved items along expertly, efficiently and expeditiously. In fact, the entire meeting lasted only two hours and eight minutes and slightly more than a third of that time — 43 minutes — was consumed by an executive session.
  • Of the 14 votes taken during the session, only one was not unanimous. Tenorio voted against an item she pulled from the consent agenda for a $100,000 reimbursement to Union Pacific Railroad to cover the costs of engineering studies involved in the creation of four rail crossing quiet zones in the city.
  • It was announced that the Plum Creek Development Partners, Ltd, have sold the Plum Creek Golf Course to a limited partnership based in Corpus Christi called PC Golf Partners. A quick Google search on the new owners proved fruitless.
  • Four acres of land located between the La Quinta on I-35 and Windy Hill Road was rezoned from warehouse to retail services.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Memo to students: “Quit parking your cars in our hood”

Tuesday’s City Council meeting seems, just by glimpsing the agenda, to be pretty routine. The most fascinating item on the menu is a proposed amendment of the city’s parking ordinances that on the surface appears to prevent Lehman High School students from parking their cars on nearby residential streets during school hours.

Specifically, the change would require any automobile parked on Brutus Drive, Onion Cove and Casper Cove, located across Lehman Road from the school’s campus, as well as all vehicles parked on Lake Washington Drive, between Goforth and Town Lake Bend, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. from Aug. 1 to June 1 (except between Dec. 24 to Jan. 2) to have a parking permit displayed on its windshield.

Anyone occupying any commercial enterprise or single family home on any of the above mentioned four streets may obtain from the chief of police "or his designee" two parking permits and up to two visitor parking permits. The applications for these permits "shall be made on a form prepared by the City and shall include the name of the owner or operator of the vehicle, his or her address, the license number of the vehicle, and the owner’s driver’s license number," according to the wording of the new ordinance.

Parking permits will be free, but the City plans to charge $5 for each visitor permit. Permits must be renewed annually and are valid from Aug. 1 to June 1. That means, if someone moves into a home on, say, Onion Drive next March 23, he or she can apply for a parking permit, but it will expire in 70 days.

In addition, one of these parking permits will be "valid only for its designated area," which I assume means a permit allowing someone to park on Washington Drive won’t apply for parking on Onion Cove and vice versa. However, the way I read the proposed ordinance amendment, a single permit covers Brutus Drive, Onion Cove and Casper Cove.

What’s missing from the proposed ordinance change is any mention of penalties involved for parking in one of these areas without a permit. All it says is (1) it’s unlawful for any car without a permit to park in these areas during the specified times and dates and (2) "This ordinance may be enforced by commissioned peace officers employed by the City of Kyle, and civilian enforcement employees, including code enforcement officers." I’m guessing anyone allowed to enforce the ordinance could arrange to have a non-permitted car towed.

There is no public hearing accompanying this item so any citizen who desires to speak on the subject must do so during the Citizens Comments period.

Other items on Tuesday’s agenda include:
  • An agreement among the City, Hays County and the developers of the 763-acre "master-planned mixed use community" known as Pecan Woods, the details of which will be of interest primarily to policy and land-use wonks, but is necessary because it appears that only 40 acres of the development are actually within Kyle’s city limits and the rest of the property is located in the city’s ETJ. Here’s something I found fascinating, however. According to the wording of the agreement "it is contemplated that portions of the property currently within the ETJ of the city and portions of the annexed property currently within the corporate limits of the city will fluctuate throughout the term of this agreement (e.g. some of the currently annexed property may be de-annexed and thereafter covered by this agreement and some of the property currently in the ETJ may be annexed.)" Go figure.
  • Three public hearings are scheduled, but the corresponding items for two of them — proposed changes in the city’s sign ordinances and a proposed zoning change for property off West FM 150 and Old Stagecoach Road — have been delayed by the Planning & Zoning Commission. The third is attached to another proposed zoning change that would allow a volleyball court and beer garden (and possibly other retail services) on close to four acres located on Windy Hill Road between an auto junk yard and the Amberwood subdivision, right behind the La Quinta on I-35.
  • A move to suspend for up to 45 days a rate hike proposed by natural gas distributor Centerpoint Energy because "additional time and information is needed for (the city council) to study the proposed rate adjustment and tariffs and the reasons therefore," and because the council "has determined that it is in the best interest of its citizens and ratepayers to suspend the proposed rate adjustment." The City said "The proposed interim rate adjustment would raise rates by $2.04 for residential, and $4.13 for small commercial, and $25.06 for large commercial."
  • Proposed changes to make the city’s stormwater regulations stronger, including the ability to more stringently prevent trash and construction waste from leaving construction sites; to give the City the power to assess "monetary, civil or criminal penalties" for violations of the ordinance; and to allow the City to "withhold a temporary or final certificate of occupancy, or fiscal security until the City has conducted a final stormwater inspection and given approval."
  • The donation by the Kyle Police Department of a light bar, a siren and a siren speaker to the Kyle Fire Department, which will install the items on a truck used "in swift-water circumstances," according to a letter from Fire Chief Kyle Taylor, who went on to write "This truck will be an asset to have in the city during bad weather situations." The Police Department purchased the items in 2008 and removed them from police vehicles last year. Police Chief Jeff Barnett told city officials "The Police Department has no current or future anticipated use of this equipment," which he valued at $300 or less.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Pies, ethics bookend council meeting

Last night’s City Council meeting began, for all practical purposes, with City Manager Scott Sellers announcing his intentions to make Kyle the center of the pie universe and ended, for all practical purposes, with Mayor Todd Webster Sellers announcing his intentions to completely rewrite the city’s ethics code and to completely reshape the city’s Ethics Commission.

Sellers also announced a Labor Day weekend hot air balloon festival to officially inaugurate Kyle’s designation as the Pie Capital of Texas.

In between discussions on pies and ethics, the council routinely and, even more importantly, harmoniously dispensed with mostly routine agenda items. Of the 12 items requiring council action on last night’s agenda (I’m grouping the three consent agenda items into one since they were dispensed with a single unanimous vote), 10 were approved unanimously. In fact, last night’s meeting, even including an astoundingly brief 18-minute executive session, lasted only two hours and five minutes, way below the average length of council meetings during the last 2½ years.

"We have applied to become, by trademark, the ‘Pie Capital of Texas’," Sellers revealed immediately after the Citizens Comment period at last night’s meeting. "We looked at doing that legislatively, but just to make sure we didn’t pit one community against another we thought we’d go this route. Part of that designation means we actually utilize the brand, utilize the trademark."

Interestingly, a Google search of "Pie Capital of Texas" turned up zilch (except for magazine articles on where in Texas to eat great pies) and another search for a "Texas Pie Festival" only brought to my attention an event reserved for pecan pies only that is held annually in Tatum, about 280 miles northeast of Kyle. Sellers didn’t mention the possibility of a pie festival, although I’m betting one is in some form of a planning stage. He did say:

"So we have several events that are coming up that would involve pie to one degree or another. One of those I’ll announce right now is a first ever — as most events are right now in Kyle — our inaugural hot air balloon festival. That will be over Labor Day weekend this year. And the event is entitled Pie in the Sky. We’re very happy to have several balloon aficionados that have joined us to plan the event. It should be a great destination and we’re looking forward to that being a success.

"Some of our other events that are already planned involve some sort of a pie-eating competition," Sellers continued.

Just a suggestion, but something like what’s depicted in the following video could be a lot of fun.

Seriously, however, I have been giving this a lot of thought since Sellers’s revelation. One thing that came to mind is the fact that when the word "pie" is mentioned, most people here think of a desert treat. However, in Europe, especially in Great Britain, pie, especially some form of a steak pie, is considered a primary dinner entree option. If you’ve ever attended a Premier League game in England, you know the halftime routine consists of visiting and purchasing a pie and a drink from one of the many various meat pie concessionaires in the stadium. Nothing beats a hot, good tasting meat pie and come coffee or hot chocolate during a chilly English day at halftime of a football game. So why not, in some way, introduce meat pies to Kyle, perhaps trying to coax a restauranteur to open an eatery downtown devoted to English cuisine?

Another thought was to try to convince ACC to open and operate a culinary arts school in downtown Kyle devoted to the teaching and training of pastry chefs.

"Kyle has been looking for a destination," Sellers said. "There have been no shortage of meetings to discuss ‘what is our destination’. We sent out a survey to all households in the city, had focus groups, talked to the chambers. When it came down to it we realized our main destination right now is people coming off the interstate to enjoy our downtown and specifically to get a slice of pie. It seems like just about every meeting we have here at the city — and, granted, proximity helps — adjourns to the Texas Pie Company immediately thereafter or just prior to the meeting.

"It’s not our intention to support just one company," he continued. "It’s our intention to support an industry and a current destination. We feel we have a built-in destination. Brands and destinations are earned, not given, and one we have earned at this point is ‘the pie capital of Texas’. Here in Kyle, we’re very fond of our pie."

Just before the start of the comparatively brief closed, executive session which was nominally the last item on the agenda, Mayor Webster, who was obviously battling the effects of what he called a serious case of the flu, said that illness prevented him from preparing a revision of the ethics code in time for last night’s council session.

"My intention was to come in here with a list of (ethics) items I had identified," Webster said. "There are four things right off the top of my head that I think are big bucket issues that need to be addressed."

Those "big bucket issues," according to Webster, included "the way we make appointments — having each individual council member make an appointment to the Ethics Commission has created a situation where you could end up without a quorum."

Under current procedures, if one city council member filed an ethics complaint against another council member, the Ethics Commission members appointed by those two council members must recuse themselves from deliberating on the matter. Only last month, the council was faced with a situation in which as many as four council members were prepared to file an ethics complaint against another member, which would have effectively eliminated five of the seven commission members, rendering the entire exercise moot.

"There’s a conflict with the City Charter with respect to the City Attorney," Webster continued. "I think the charter says the Ethics Commission is supposed to have independent counsel for a meeting and I don’t believe the ordinance says that."

The mayor also said he believes the current ethics ordinance is too complex and "has created a condition where technicalities and procedural issues could create situations where there aren’t substantive reviews of issues."

Webster said he wants to make a list of all the things he thinks should be changed, but his illness prevented him from getting that job finished. As a result, the council voted 6-0 (council member Daphne Tenorio, citing family conflicts, was excused from attending last night’s meeting) to postpone the discussion of "revisions needed to strengthen" the ethics code until a later meeting, probably the one scheduled for April 18, but no date was actually specified.

"I think we need to simplify this a great deal," Webster said. "It’s a very complicated ordinance, which, in itself, could make enforcement of it difficult."

In response to a question from Mayor Pro Tem Damon Fogley, who wanted to know if the mayor planned to collaborate with the Ethics Commission on a revised ordinance, Webster said he planned to do come up with something to offer the council on his own.

"The ordinance itself has some process in it that says that they (the commissioners) are supposed to rewrite it," Webster acknowledged. "But I’m planning on starting from scratch."

He added he believes other cities may have ethics ordinances that would be more appropriate for Kyle and that he might use those as resources.

In other action last night:
  • Council member David Wilson presented a plan that would provide homeowners an option to purchase sidewalk repairs at a discounted price. Under the city’s ordinances, all residential sidewalk repair costs are to be borne by residents and not the City.
  • The council confirmed the city manager’s appointment to the Civil Service Commission and two appointments to the Planning & Zoning Commission.
  • The council approved the second reading of three proposed zoning changes. One was approved unanimously. Council member Travis Mitchell voted against one to rezone a proposed residential neighborhood adjacent to the Amberwood subdivision since the current zoning was identical to the one currently applied to Amberwood and he saw no need to change it. Council member Becky Selbera voted against one to rezone property located in her district from agriculture to retail services because of concerns she has expressed previously concerning flood mitigation in those areas roughly bounded by Scott Street and Old Stagecoach Road.
  • The council awarded Halff Associates the contract to develop a Stormwater Master Plan, approved an interlocal agreement involving the construction of a water line extension, approved the wording of and individually signed a letter of appreciation to the Hays CISD Board of Trustees for its vote last week to grant qualifying businesses a freeport exemption, and approved a resolution indicating support for the realignment of FM 2001.
  • The council approved Mitchell’s suggestion to spend $2,500 to help defray the cost of the construction of a wrought iron decorative fence to separate the historic Kyle Train Depot from the Union Pacific tracks — an expense item Mitchell said has been contained in several recent budgets — and granted the required permission for the Hays County Historical Association to begin soliciting private funds to pay for the restoration of the caboose located immediately north of the depot.
  • Sellers announced a new city survey is available online to receive resident input as part of the preparation process for next fiscal year’s budget. Residents may access that survey by clicking here.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Mayor seeks to “strengthen” city’s ethics ordinances

Possibly in response to alleged ethics violations that have never been completely vetted, Mayor Todd Webster plans to initiate during Tuesday’s City Council meeting "discussions regarding revisions needed to strengthen the Code of Ethics."

Although the agenda provides scant information on precisely what triggered the mayor’s decision to initiate these discussions, they do not appear designed to close loopholes that would lead to possible ethics complaints for any past transgressions some night believe have not been successfully adjudicated.

"It is the mayor's intention to bring forward at a later date revisions to the Ethics Ordinance that would correct conflicts within the ordinance, procedural problems, reporting requirements and other concerns," the item on Tuesday’s agenda reads. "Any changes in the ordinance would not apply to ethics complaints or other actions derived from conduct that have taken place prior to the date of council approval."

In other words, Webster seems to be declaring this discussion as well as anything that might result from these discussions are not intended as retribution.

That, of course, leaves unanswered many questions about the recent spat of ethic violation claims involving council members Daphne Tenorio and Travis Mitchell, including, but certainly not limited to:

1. What are the specific ethics violations, if there really are any, that Tenorio allegedly committed? We know the charges Tenorio made against Mitchell because those charges were made public. Tenorio’s attorney’s used a legal maneuver to silence any and all discussions on the part of the council concerning possible allegations against her.

2. What is Tenorio trying to hide? The city attorney rendered a formal opinion on the charges Tenorio filed against Mitchell that completely exonerated Mitchell of any conflicts of interest arising from a company he owns doing business with the City. We know that to be true because Mitchell voluntarily released the complete text of the attorney’s opinion. We learned during the most recent Ethics Commission meeting that the city attorney has also issued an opinion on the allegations against Tenorio. Why hasn’t she followed Mitchell’s example by releasing the text of that opinion?

3. Will Tuesday’s "discussions regarding revisions needed to strengthen the Code of Ethics" try to answer or even raise any of these or other questions? This type of obfuscation does nothing to enhance the public’s trust in municipal government.

Here is one Catch-22 mess a revision of the ethics code could prevent in the future. The City Council had an item on its Feb. 21 agenda that could have led to one or more council members formally filling either an ethics complaint or criminal charges, possibly even both, against Tenorio. Those discussions never took place — no criminal charges or ethics complaints were ever lodged — because Tenorio’s attorney sought a declaratory judgment from the Ethics Commission, and City Attorney Frank Garza said any further council discussion on the matter could prejudice the Ethics Commission. However, when the matter came before the Ethics Commission last month, it ruled that there was nothing to investigate because no real allegations had been made. The reason they hadn’t been made, of course, is because Tenorio employed some legal chicanery to keep any from being made.

As a result, the public still has absolutely no clue as to what is going on here, a fact that certainly does not promote transparency in our city government. That’s just one loophole that needs to be addressed in any future revision of the ethics ordinance

In chronological order, here, however, is what we do know about certain events swirling around this mess:

Last Aug. 12, an email from "soccerkyle" addressed to Hays CISD CEO Carter Scherff, Lehman High School Assistant Principal Rick Garza and former Lehman head football coach Todd Raymond said "Within these past weeks, we have been working hard to prepare for the Kyle Stallions ABA team as Sylvia Gallo went on August 3rd to speak about our team coming to Kyle and see about using the gym at Lehman high-school."

On Sept. 22, Michelle Richardson, the secretary to the athletic coordinator at Lehman, wrote to a number of CISD officials saying "I want to keep each of you in the loop of my most recenter interaction with Mrs. Gallo. Mrs. Sylvia Gallo just called. She explained that I had given her approval via email. That is not the case. The only communications I have had with her were about gym availability. She is trying to state that by me responding that some days the gyms were available that it means she was ‘approved.’ This is the same issue I had with her last year in regards to other requests (soccer) and the year before with the previous Athletic Secretary. When I told her we could not accommodate her requests, she went above me. I explained (again) to her that she has to fill out an application and provide a COI (Certificate of Insurance) before anything can be ‘approved’. As of right now, I am waiting on her to send me the email where I ‘approved’ these dates (for Lehman HS)."

Approximately 3½ hours later, Richardson sent the following e-mail to Geoff Harner, at the time the Stallions’ general manager: "I appreciate you taking the time out of your day to speak with me. Moving forward, we will need the District Facility Use Agreement completed. … Once we receive the completed agreement(s) and a copy of your certificate of insurance, we will move forward with the ‘approval’ process …

The next day, Ms. Richardson received two communications on this subject. The first was from Evann Radabaugh, who identified himself as an intern with the Kyle Stallions assigned to serve as the organization’s Office Administrator, who wrote: "We apologize for the miscommunication for the scheduling on October 1. We were under the impression that October 1 for Lehman High School was confirmed with Geoff Harner. At any rate, I have filled out the Facility Use Agreement and the Insurance certificate needed." The second, about six hours later, from Stallions Director of Operations Brandon Wakefield, said: "Did Evann, my intern admin get all the docs you needed for us to have authorization to use Lehman on October 1st next week?"

On Oct. 17, Harner sent Richardson a list of 16 dates between Nov. 5 and March 4 that the team wanted to play home games at Lehman’s "Blue" gym.

On Dec. 9, Hays CISD Facility Use Coordinator Ester Tavarez began notifying district officials the Stallions we cancelling games When Richardson tried to reach out to the team’s ownership to learn more about the cancellations, she was ultimately informed on Jan. 18 by Rachel Ates "We are no longer going to continue our ownership of the team at this time." In the same message Ates described the new owners as "interesting people and good luck with that."

On Jan. 29, Richardson wrote to district officials "I have reached out to the Kyle Stallions several times in the past two (2) weeks requesting an updated schedule. They have cancelled games and have ‘no shows’ which has resulted in our facilities being OPEN without personnel on campus. I was informed they have a new team owner and only have 2 games left for this season. I have yet to receive any schedules or other information. At this point, I feel it is in our best interest to protect our facility by cancelling all events previously scheduled, Please cancel all security opening, closing, custodians, AC/Heat, and any others. In the event that I receive an updated schedule, I will have Kyle Stallions submit a NEW contract with those dates."

On or about this same time, Hays Free Press News Editor Moses Leos III told me later he began seeing number of Facebook postings in which Tenorio claimed to be the new owner of the Kyle Stallions. Based on those postings, Leos said he contacted Tenorio requesting an interview on the subject, which she agreed to.

On Feb. 7, an email sent to Ms. Richardson from Tenorio’s personal email account said "Japan cancelled. So we must cancel our game."

A little more than a week later, in the Feb. 15 edition of the Hays Free Press, a story bylined by Leos appeared that began: "For the past several months, Kyle resident and District 6 city council member Daphne Tenorio had envisioned herself as a potential franchise business owner. Little did she realize her dream was quite literally a phone call away. By fielding a call from friend Leticia Luna earlier this year, Tenorio was given, and ultimately accepted, the opportunity to buy ownership of the Kyle Stallions basketball team."

Then, the Feb. 21 City council agenda included three related items.

The first was one posted by Mitchell as a "general discussion to project ‘Just Preachy’," which turned out to be a potential development project involving a multi-purpose athletic facility located on land leased from the city. The second concerned "discussion and possible action regarding Misuse of Information … by Daphne Tenorio." The third was an obvious, President Trump-like retaliatory item placed on the agenda by Tenorio for "Open discussion about potential, perceived or real conflicts of interests as it relates to all council members."

Hours before the meeting, Tenorio’s attorney released a letter claiming Tenorio did not own the basketball team and that he was seeking a judgment on Tenorio’s guilt or innocence from the city’s Ethics Commission. City Attorney Frank Garza advised the council to cancel any discussions on either of the agenda items involving Tenorio and other council members as it could prejudice the Ethics Commission’s hearing.

However, before the general discussion on "Just Peachy" began, Tenorio, without precedent, asked for a five-minute delay in the council’s proceedings to give her an opportunity to consult with her attorney. When the session resumed, she announced she was recusing herself for the duration of the "Just Peachy" discussion. One of the many questions that needs to be answered is why, if Tenorio did not own the Kyle Stallions, as her attorney claimed, did she feel she needed to recuse herself? Did she, perhaps, somehow amend an agreement to allow her to assume ownership at a later date?

But the big question that needs to be answered — what her husband, school board trustee Willie Tenorio recently called "the elephant in the room" in a completely different but related context — is what exactly is the relationship, if any truly exists, between project "Just Peachy" and any real or perceived misuse of information by Tenorio.? And will Tuesday’s "discussions regarding revisions needed to strengthen the Code of Ethics" answer those questions since the agenda makes it clear no action can be taken against Tenorio as a result of any possible revisions. She is has, in effect, been granted immunity.

Other items of interest on Tuesday’s agenda include:
  • The possible awarding of a contract "not to exceed $177,000," to Halff Associates of Austin to produce in 13 months a Stormwater Master Plan. The purpose of the plan is "to develop a comprehensive evaluation of the existing drainage conditions throughout the city by developing an accurate and current understanding of the drainage infrastructure. This understanding will include a comprehensive inventory of existing data, accurate simulation, flooding problem area identification, and flood mitigation solutions. A drainage Capital Improvement Project (CIP) plan, including costs and potential funding mechanisms, will be developed to address flooding issues."
  • Discussing sending a letter to the Hays School Board to show the council’s appreciation of the board’s vote to grant businesses a freeport exemption, a vote that economic development professionals predict will lead to more businesses desiring to locate in the Kyle/Buda area.
  • Approving a resolution showing the council’s support for the realignment of FM 2001 between I-35 and State Highway 21, which the resolution describes as "a discontinuous east-west roadway, requiring drivers to merge onto SH 21 for a distance before accessing the continuation of FM 2001, has numerous 90-degree turns and narrow shoulders" and "has become a confusing and unsafe facility that no longer can address the current and projected mobility needs of the region."
  • The possible approval of an agreement with the Hays Caldwell Public Utility Agency regarding Kyle extending 12-inch diameter water line to a point where it will connect with an HCPUA 24-inch diameter line as part of what is being called the Phase 1A Project "that consists generally of a water pipeline, pump station and related facilities that will serve as a connection between the water distribution systems of Kyle and the City of Buda." There is no cost to the city associated with this project (it claims all costs will be borne by HCPUA, but, of course, the agency is funded by its members, on if which is the City of Kyle). It is also difficult to determine exactly how long the Kyle extension is from the exhibit that accompanies the agreement. Nor is there any specific construction timetable with the exception of a provision that states the completion of the Kyle extension will "occur at the same time as completion of Segment A of the project."
  • Mitchell has placed on the agenda an item to discuss fencing at the Historic Train Depot, across Front Street from City Hall as well as "possible action to approve improvements for restoration of caboose." Based on Mitchell’s previous stands on various issues, especially those involving city funding, it’s highly doubtful he will be asking for the expenditure of any tax dollars for this caboose restoration.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Tenorio tweets mayor ordered phone taps that almost derailed Texas annexation

City Council member Daphne Tenorio, an outspoken foe of forced annexations, tweeted today that Mayor Todd Webster authorized tapping the phones of her ancestors that resulted in the U.S. Senate’s ultimate acceptance of a treaty that annexed Texas into the United States after those ancestors had earlier defeated a similar attempt a couple of months earlier.

Webster countered that (1) contrary to widespread public belief, he wasn’t even alive in 1844 when these events allegedly took place and (2) a wiretap would have been impossible because the telephone was not invented until 32 years after the annexation.

Tenorio labeled Webster’s assertions as "alternative facts."

The entire affair raises questions over whether the Mexican government deliberately interfered in actions — specifically through the spreading of disinformation — that resulted in the Senate’s June rejection, by a significant margin, of the so-called Treaty of Annexation signed on April 12, 1844. There are also questions about whether anyone living in Texas cooperated with Mexican officials in this alleged interference into our government processes.

Tenorio claims that by tapping her ancestors’ phones, Webster discovered their strategy that led to the Senate defeat of then President John Tyler’s treaty in June 1844 and thus was able to engineer the election later that year of James K. Polk who, together with Tyler, managed to get the joint resolution through Congress on March 1, 1845. As any good Texas student can attest, Texas was ultimately annexed on Dec. 29.

Although there have been no claims involving whether the Mexican government used a similar pattern of spreading disinformation to affect the outcome of the 1844 presidential election, Kyle’s Chief of Staff Jerry Hendrix has told Police Chief Jeff Barnett he has "a good story to tell" and he’s willing to tell it over a couple of adult beverages, but only if Barnett, as well as the City Council, grants him complete immunity.

When Barnett was asked about this he responded "Are you kidding me?"

Meanwhile, Assistant City Manager James Earp hastily called a news conference outside City Manager Scott Sellers’s home to announce he had come into possession of some highly classified information regarding these allegations, but refused to say what that information was.

"It’s highly classified," he would only say. "So my lips are sealed."

He then excused himself and went back inside the manager’s residence to brief Sellers about the information he had received earlier from inside the manager’s residence.

Earp's news conference led to a widespread outcry from many concerned Kyle residents.

"You mean to tell us the city manager has a residence?" they yelled. "Who does he think he is? What gives him the right to have a residence? We are demanding answers about this from our elected officials."