|Volume 6, Issue 39 · Friday, Oct. 3, 2008|
Fed spending bill sends billion to bases, colleges
Money for disaster assistance, defense, construction, security
The federal appropriations bill, signed recently by the president, directs billions in federal funds to Texas military bases and universities to spend on disaster assistance, defense spending, military construction, veteran's affairs and homeland security funding. Included in the Fiscal Year 2009 Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance and Continuing Appropriations bill are the following:
- $1.3 million to Sheppard Air Force Base to begin planning and design of a proposed $14.6 million, 36,000-square-foot Technical Support Facility to consolidate nine services now scattered across 20 different locations at the base;
- $4 million to Stephen F. Austin University, Texas Tech University, Lamar University and The University of Texas at El Paso for the Columbia Regional Geospatial Service Center System to continue its role in delivering the most up-to-date geospatial information and tools for regional support such as the Texas State Guard;[more]
Hurricane's road-damage costs expected to pass $75M
Nearly 2,000 TxDOT employees deployed to assist with damages
Road-damage tallies left in the wake of Hurricane Ike total an estimated $75 million so far in Texas, which includes the deployment of 1,700 TxDOT employees to assist in cleanup, repair roadways and replace highway signs. The dollar amount is expected to increase as some Gulf Coast areas remain submerged in water and as TxDOT continues to evaluate damages to bridges and highways.
So far the federal government has contributed $3 million for highway repair.
TxDOT Assistant Executive Director John Barton said the agency is working around-the-clock to make repairs.
Deborah Giles, Deputy Inspector General, HHSC Office of Inspector General
Career highlights and education: As the Deputy Inspector General of Operations, I'm currently responsible for strategic planning, communications, fraud technology analysis and quality assurance within the HHSC-Office of Inspector General (OIG), consisting of 654 total staff and an annual budget of $52 million dollars. I've held positions in both the private and public sectors including chief of staff in the Texas State Legislature, manager of government relations for a global oil and gas company, executive director of a private trust company and vice president of a political consulting firm. While living in Washington, D.C., I worked on Capitol Hill for the Committee on Banking, Finance & Urban Affairs in the U.S. Congress. I am a Certified Inspector General through the Association of Inspectors General, a Certified Public Manager (CPM), and a graduate of the Governor's Executive Development Program at The University of Texas at Austin. My bachelor's degree is from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio.
What I like best about my job is: the mission of combating fraud, waste and abuse. I view my job as a small step toward ensuring that the needs of the hard-working citizens of Texas are well served and that the tax dollars they provide are used efficiently and effectively.
The best advice I've received for my current job is: "It is what it is." The concept of "it is what it is" reminds me to face current reality without assumptions or false expectations, so that I can confront and resolve the true issues.
Advice I would give a new hire in my office: Guard carefully the public trust - it is a gift of enormous responsibility bestowed on few. It is often hard-won, and always easily lost.
If I ever snuck out of work early, I could probably be found: I would certainly be found spending time with my daughter. She is grown and lives in another city, so I cherish each moment I spend with her.
People would be surprised to know that I: completed the Marine Corps Marathon.
Book, magazine or newspaper article I've read recently that really influenced my thinking: Good to Great, Jim Collins, because it defines how organizations endure by defying the bounds of mediocrity.
Each week, the Texas Government Insider profiles a key government executive or decision-maker. If you would like to suggest a "Lone Star," please email us at email@example.com.
State preparing for voter registration deadline
Hurricane-impacted counties making plans for meeting voter needs
While late last month citizen coalitions urged Gov. Rick Perry to extend deadlines for voters registering in counties ravaged by Hurricane Ike, it appears the deadline will remain Monday, Oct. 6. Allison Castle, a spokeswoman for the Governor's Office, said no county has requested a registration deadline extension so far, which is required for the office to consider the delay. The citizen groups had been rallying for a seven-day extension. If granted, the delay would have marked a first in the state's history.
Secretary of State Hope Andrade (pictured) is reminding Texans of the Monday registration deadline for those who want to vote in the November General Election. She said there's a lot of energy around this campaign and that she expects to see a larger voter turnout. Registration forms can be found at most libraries, post offices, county elections offices and the VOTEXAS Web site.
This week, Texas Secretary of State staff met with election officials in Galveston and Chambers counties, those pummeled hardest by Ike. Secretary of State Communications Director Randall Dillard said he and his team came away very impressed with the voting preparations the counties had made in the face of so much devastation.
"Even for those impacted most by Ike, there are numerous ways to participate," he said. "We're working very hard with county officials...I know Galveston County is extending early voting hours."[more]
TexasSure program rolls out statewide
The state's auto insurance verification database, TexasSure, has been rolled out statewide to law enforcement agencies in Texas. The program, mandated by the Texas Legislature, is a joint effort of the Texas Department of Insurance, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Information Resources, that seeks to reduce the number of uninsured motorists in Texas. It is estimated that some 4 million vehicles on Texas roads - one in five - do not have state-mandated insurance.
A pilot project preceded the statewide rollout of TexasSure, a secure database that matches registered passenger vehicles in Texas with personal auto insurance information.
"After a vehicle is pulled over, the TexasSure database is a fantastic tool that helps law enforcement identify those who are driving without insurance - or with an expired or phony insurance document," said DPS Lt. Louis Sanchez. "If you don't have liability insurance for your vehicle, your chances of getting a ticket just went up dramatically."
The system is designed so that during a traffic stop, officers use either the vehicle license plate or VIN number to query the secure database to see if the vehicle is insured. Driving without liability insurance can result in a fine of up to $350 and hundreds of additional dollars in court costs and fees. Repeat offenders also are subject to a two-year driver license suspension.
Annual TPWD 'Expo' scheduled this weekend
Scuba diving, archery, exotic animals, fishing ponds, rock climbing, kayaking, shooting ranges and a birds of prey show are just a few of the attractions at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Expo this Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 4 and 5) in Austin.
With free admission and parking, the Expo is the nation's largest, free, family-oriented festival, said Tim Harvey, a spokesman for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
"We expect even more visitors this year than the 42,000 visitors who enjoyed the festival last year," Harvey said.
The Expo, which is held on 35 acres on grounds at TPWD headquarters at 4200 Smith School Road in southeast Austin, will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Its purpose is to expose visitors to the state's natural areas and encourage more outdoor activities as well as promote conservation and stewardship of the land, wildlife and natural areas.
Live animals from every continent will be on view when Chris Bellows of SeaWorld brings his "Amazing Animals" to the Main Tent at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day. A master falconer, John Karger, will bring live eagles, hawks and other raptors in flight at noon and 3 p.m. daily.[more]
Kirchhoff promoted to director of TETF
Alan Kirchhoff of Austin was recently appointed by Gov. Rick Perry as director of the Texas Emerging Technology Fund. Kirchhoff will replace Mark Ellison, who was recently appointed as associate vice chancellor of economic development for the Texas A&M University System.
Kirchhoff served as deputy director and chief operating officer of TETF since it was created in 2005. He has a bachelor's degree from Doane College and 15 years experience in private-sector banking and accounting.
TCEQ accepting nominations for environmental awards
Nominations for the Texas Environmental Excellence Awards are being accepted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). And the winners are ... statewide projects that significantly reduce water, conserve natural resources and curb emissions and pollution. A panel of committee members will identify extraordinary contributions in 11 areas, including a new Water Conservation category. TCEQ Chairman Buddy Garcia said water scarcity is one of the most critical issues Texans face, so the commission created the award to recognize innovations in the water conservation field.
Commissioner Bryan W. Shaw (pictured) said the award winners represent "the very best innovative, measureable ways to improve the environment."
To nominate an environmental effort, apply online at the Texas Environmental Excellence Award Web site. Application deadline is Oct. 24.
Comptroller's report addresses Upper East Texas
"Texas in Focus: Upper East Texas," a report from the State Comptroller's Office, notes the economy in that area of Texas is "growing at a strong and steady rate paralleling the growth of Texas as a whole through 2012," according to Comptroller Susan Combs.
The report addresses driving changes in Upper East Texas, 23 counties in the northeast corner of the state, and the factors that may affect economic growth in the region, examining the region's economic development, demographics, infrastructure, health care and education.
According to the report, job growth in the Upper East Texas region will be similar to the state as a whole from 2002 to 2012, increasing by more than 20 percent. The fastest-growing industries will be financial services, professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, construction and educational and health services - all seeing 20 to 40 percent job growth by 2012. The Longview metropolitan statistical area (MSA) will see the highest rate of job growth (23.7 percent), followed by the Tyler MSA (22.9 percent) and the Texarkana MSA (19.4 percent). Delta County, the only Upper East Texas county that falls within the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington MSA, is expected to experience the region's highest job growth rate, at 30.4 percent.
The report also addresses such issues as health care, affordable housing, recreation, education, public safety, tax structure, agriculture, natural resources, workforce and more. To view the report, click here.
TSTC's Hobbs gets vote of confidence with petition
Texas State Technical College-Harlingen interim president Pat Hobbs (pictured) got a vote of confidence this week - at least from students and staff. A petition bearing 300 signatures was presented in support of Hobbs to TSTC Chancellor Bill Segura, asking that Hobbs be given the job full-time. Whomever is chosen will replace retiring president Gilbert Leal.
Four finalists have been named for the position. The petition language calls Hobbs a "strong, effective" leader who has "demonstrated his ability to work with and listen to students, faculty, staff and the community." Hobbs previously served as the college's vice president for student learning before being named interim president. He has nearly three decades of experience in secondary education, 17 with TSTC.
The other three finalists include Cesar Maldonado, a member of the college's board of regents, Hector Castillo, assistant vice president for academic affairs at The University of Texas-Brownsville, and Thomas Boyd, a former president of William Penn University in Oskaloosa, Iowa, and Lambuth University in Jackson, Tenn.
New office for center for missing children to open
A new office for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) will open in Austin.
The Office of the Attorney General's (OAG) Cyber Crimes Unit often partners with NCMEC to implicate criminal activity by child predators within the state. The OAG and NCMEC have partnered to distribute to parents flash drives that are used to locate missing children. The drives provide fast, reliable information to law enforcement officials who, in turn, issue Amber Alerts and community awareness initiatives. A similar measure also locates sex offenders in violation of parole.
NCMEC's mission is to help prevent child abduction and sexual exploitation, help find missing children and assist child abduction victims, their families and the professionals who serve them.
TxDOT to hold town hall meetings for resident input
The Texas Department of Transportation has scheduled three town hall meetings inviting residents to voice their thoughts and concerns on transportation infrastructure needs. The meetings will be held in Abilene, McAllen and the Odessa/Midland area.
TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz said the forums will allow residents an excellent opportunity to provide feedback and help shape discussions about the future of mobility in Texas.
The meetings will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the following locations:
Abilene-Wednesday, October 8
McAllen-Wednesday, November 5
Midland/Odessa-Thursday, November 13
New director named for SFA School of Honors
Dr. Michael Tkacik (pictured), the new director of Stephen F. Austin State University's School of Honors, said his dream job is now his real job. Tkacik overtook the charge as longtime director Dr. Allen Richman retired last year. Tkacik has been at SFA's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences since 1999 and will continue to teach in addition to his new role as director.
Tkacik said, "It's almost not fair" he gets to work with some of the school's best and brightest. The SFA School of Honors seeks to promote intellectual curiosity and capable student growth. Honors students also benefit from early registration, smaller class sizes and exclusive scholarship opportunities. Tkacik said his goal is to increase the number of participating honors students and expand the school to better serve them.
Tkacik holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland-Baltimore, an honors university; a Juris Doctorate from Duke University School of Law; a master's degree from Columbia University and a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland-College Park.
Experts plan meeting to discuss water issues
The "FLOW 2008 - Interdisciplinary Solutions to Instream Flow Problems" conference, one of the nation's largest gatherings of instream flow experts set for Oct. 7-9 will feature speakers from Texas, around the country and from Canada as they discuss strategies for ensuring adequate water to balance the needs of cities, agriculture and wildlife.
The conference is organized by the Instream Flow Council and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department with private funding assistance by sponsors.
Among the conference speakers are:
The conference will include a training session specific to water allocation and instream flow issues. Three international experts will discuss the state-of-the-art in instream flow science, policy and public dialogue, and four instream flow problem-solving case studies will be profiled from the U.S. and Canada. To view the conference agenda, click here.
Safety-belt use tops 90 percent rate in Texas
According to a survey completed by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), Texas motorists continue to abide by the state's safety belt laws - for the most part. For the third year in a row, nine out of 10 drivers and passengers - more than 90 percent - buckle up when on the road, making Texas one of 11 states in the nation to boast that distinction.
Drivers of pickup trucks are the least likely to buckle up, according to TTI's survey. The state has made remarkable strides in seat-belt advocacy efforts. Since 1985, when the buckle-up law became effective, the number of motorists wearing safety belts has increased more than 76 percent.
The Texas Department of Transportation attributes the success of the safety belt effort to the annual Click It or Ticket campaign, which ramps up highway patrol efforts each May in combination with numerous public service announcements. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates some 1,600 lives have been saved since the implementation of the law in addition to 37,000 prevented injuries and economic savings totaling $6.6 billion.
Texas A&M awarded funds for nuclear detection
A proposal submitted by Texas A&M University, in collaboration with Purdue University, is one of nine selected to split $3.1 million in new Academic Research Initiative (ARI) grant awards from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) and the National Science Foundation. ARI provides the academic community with funding for research and development in the detection of nuclear/radiological material and nuclear forensics. The initiative, which is in its second year, will fund up to $58 million in annually awarded grant opportunities over five years.
The Texas A&M/Purdue University collaborative project is titled Tensioned Fluid Metastable State Special Nuclear Material Detection. In Fiscal Year 2007, three Texas universities received AFI awards: Texas A&M University, The University of Texas at Arlington and The University of Texas at Austin.
Blanchard new vice provost at UT-Dallas
Andrew Blanchard (pictured), professor of electrical engineering and senior associate dean of the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science at The University of Texas at Dallas, has been named the university's vice provost. He will work closely with Provost Hobson Wildenthal and other senior administrators in Academic Affairs to continue the duties of former Vice Provost Dr. Robert Nelsen, who resigned to take a new position at Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi.
Blanchard has worked with the Houston Advanced Research Center and in the University of Missouri's School of Engineering prior to joining UT-Dallas. He also played a key role in creating the research and development consortium Texas Fusion (Future Semiconductor Commercialization).
Blanchard earned his Ph.D. from Texas A&M University and is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Tech awarded nearly $600K food safety grant
Texas Tech University has received nearly $600,000 of $13.8 million awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to improve food safety. The grants, issued through the National Integrated Food Safety Initiative (NIFSI), will be used to bolster food safety measures through research, education and outreach. TTU is the only higher education institution in Texas to receive the grant.
Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said the prevention of food-borne illness most often comes through education and safe handling practices, and that sound advice about food safety is "based on good research to pinpoint pathways of contamination."
The USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) awards the grants through NIFSI so that teachers, researchers, farmers and food service workers can share information regarding food contaminates through outreach and educational programs.
UT-Permian Basin receives $5 million grant
The University of Texas of the Permian Basin recently received a two-year grant totaling $5 million to strengthen its engineering program. The grant will be used to help increase knowledge and availability of the engineering program to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students, said UTBP President David Watts (pictured).
The grant is expected to fund a resource center for students studying engineering, software to support mathematics achievement, classroom technology, a chemical engineering operations lab, a heat transfer lab, a radiation protection lab, a reactions lab, a mechatronics lab, controls lab and a data communications lab, Watts said.
If the Higher Education Coordinating board approves the new engineering program, Watts said he expects to begin classes in September 2009.
UNT cites new deputy chief for student development
Dr. Mona Hicks has been named deputy chief for the Division of Student Development at the University of North Texas. Hicks will also serve as interim dean of students. In her new post as deputy chief, Hicks will assist in the operation of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students, and help with personnel management and staff development.
Hicks previously served as senior director for Strategic Initiatives & Assessment, and as assistant vice chancellor and senior director of student campus events at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. She received her bachelor's degree from Saint Edward's University in Austin, a master's degree from Western Illinois University and a doctorate from Vanderbilt.
UNT's student development department was formed in 2003 to study transfer students' needs and better understand factors affecting them.
New chair appointed at TTUHSC department
Dr. Edward Yeomans (pictured) has been named chair of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology by School of Medicine Dean Steven L. Berk, M.D.
Yeomans completed his medical degree at Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Neb., in 1980 and completed his residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Wilford Hall USAF Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in 1984. In 1987, he completed a Maternal-Fetal Medicine fellowship at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
In addition to being a member of several national professional organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, Yeomans is certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Tarleton reorganizing two separate departments
Tarleton State University recently announced plans to shift its Department of Mathematics, Physics and Engineering into two separate departments: the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Engineering and Physics.
Dr. Javier Garza, former head of the original department and now head of the mathematics department, said the reorganization will better position Tarleton "to enhance the growth and quality of impacted departmental programs." This shift, he said, will allow faculty to better contribute to the improvement of the academic environment.
Dr. Daniel Marble will serve as head of the engineering and physics department, which will feature the addition of two engineering programs and a computer science program.
WTAMU picks Hallmark as provost/vice president
Dr. James Hallmark (pictured) has been named provost/vice president of West Texas A&M University, pending approval by the TAMU System Board in December.
Hallmark has been serving as interim provost/vice president since June, following the resignation of Dr. Brian R. Chapman, who accepted a position at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Hallmark, a member of the WTAMU faculty since 1991, previously served as dean of the university's Graduate School and Research. He is director of the Attebury Honors Program. Hallmark earned his bachelor's degree from Oklahoma Christian College and his master's and Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma.
Tarrant County to use grant to buy foreclosed homes
Tarrant County officials plan to use $3.3 million in grants from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program of the Department of Housing and Urban Development to purchase foreclosed homes to help prevent them from bringing down home values and producing blight in neighborhoods.
Also receiving funding from the stabilization program were Arlington, which received $2 million; Fort Worth, which received $6.3 million; Dallas County, which received $4.4 million; Dallas, $7.9 million, Garland, $2 million, Grand Prairie, $2.3 million and Mesquite, $2.1 million.
Congress authorized the funding in the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. The money can be used to purchase foreclosed homes, land and property, to demolish property or to renovate abandoned properties. It also may be used to offer down payment and closing cost assistance to low- and moderate-income homebuyers who are qualified and to purchase vacant lots for development. In North Texas, some 1,380 homes were posted for foreclosure at the October auction. Arlington has averaged about 100 foreclosures a month for about a year, said David Zappasodi, the executive director of the Arlington Housing Authority.
City of Tyler may get Armed Forces Reserve Center
The City of Tyler may soon be home to the Armed Forces Reserve Center thanks to $29 million in appropriated funds, part of the Fiscal Year 2009 consolidated security, disaster assistance and continuing appropriations bill. Tyler Economic Development officials anticipate the reserve center to be located on a 25.5-acre tract of land in west Tyler.
Tyler Mayor Barbara Bass (pictured) said the center will be a great asset, calling it "absolutely fabulous," adding she had been hoping the appropriations came through. "(The center) will bring jobs and people into the community," she said.
The appropriations bill nets more than $2.7 billion for Texas military construction, and Base Realignment and Closure projects.
Texas counties to seek property taxes from WaMu
Several county governments in Texas recently filed claims to help them collect property taxes on foreclosed homes and other real estate holdings of Washington Mutual Inc., which filed for bankruptcy last week.
Elizabeth Weller, a partner at a Dallas law firm that represents several Texas counties, said many county officials are concerned that WaMu, which owns a number of branches and foreclosed properties in Texas, will pay the property taxes on these properties when they come due at the end of the year. To keep updated, Weller said she filed a "notice of appearance" in the Delaware bankruptcy court to ask the court to notify her clients of development in the bankruptcy filing. It is unclear which part of the business is in bankruptcy and which is not, she said.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. acquired WaMu's banking operations and loan portfolio for $1.9 billion in an auction conducted by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., leaving the WaMu holding company and its affiliates to chart their own course. More than 500 entities, including counties and cities throughout the country, hold unsecured or unsecured subordinated debt in the WaMu holding company and its affiliate, court documents indicate. In its bankruptcy filing, WaMu listed $32.9 billion in assets and $8.2 billion in total debts.
Smith County approves 'pay-as-you-go' upgrades
Smith County commissioners recently agreed to move forward with some renovations to the county courthouse using available funding. Commissioners agreed to add lighting to the exterior of the courthouse, replace first and second floor windows with ballistic glass and reflective window tinting and upgrade security equipment within the courthouse.
Commissioners did not approve timelines or provide cost estimates for all of the projects included in the "pay-as-you-go" facility improvements discussed; however, they approved the purchase of a $20,000 double door to prohibit civilians and vehicles from entering the sallyport of the courthouse. Steve Christian, director of the physical plant, said he would provide a timeline for the projects at the commissioner's next meeting.
Other projects under consideration are cleaning the exterior of the courthouse, adding windows to the sixth floor, removing and replacing landscaping recommended for security reasons and making interior and exterior improvements to the Cottonbelt Building.
Anderson County earns $20,000 housing inmates
Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor (pictured) told commissioners the county has generated $19, 516 since it began housing out-of-county inmates on Sept. 8. An average of more than 25 out-of-county inmates per day are generating $34 per inmate per day in revenue to the county. The money earned from housing the outside inmates is used for jail expenses, Taylor said.
County officials signed a contract with Community Education Centers, which operates private jail facilities in Groesbeck, Lufkin and Texarkana, to take in outside inmates. The county also signed similar contracts with Smith and Houston counties although those two counties have not sent inmates to Anderson County in recent months, Taylor said.
Officials of Freestone County and the city of Tyler's marshal's office also contacted him about housing inmates, but have not signed a contract. The new and old wings of the Anderson County Jail feature a total of 305 beds. Voters approved a $10 million bond package in 2005 to add on to the existing jail facility.
Bellaire approves rehab of water, wastewater facilities
The Bellaire City Council recently approved a four-year $11.7-million plan to rehabilitate water and wastewater facilities and a preliminary $2.8 million design plan for the Bellaire Towne Square.
Cost of rehabilitating the city's water and wastewater facilities is estimated to cost about $11.7 million through fiscal 2012, said City Manager Bernie Satterwhite. The city may need to issue two revenue bonds to raise $10 million for the project next year, he said.
The Towne Square design includes a playground with play structures, swing sets, a train and a five-station fitness system. The city expects to begin building the playground and a trail system north of the Aquatics Center by next spring, Satterwhite said. Electrical upgrades at the Central Water Plant and the Wastewater Treatment Plant costing about $4 million are planned in 2009.
Pine Tree ISD to give employees a choice of plastic
Trustees for the Pine Tree Independent School District recently gave its 700 employees a choice between direct deposit of their paycheck or receiving a plastic debit card that will be reloaded every pay period.
To reduce the cost of issuing paper paychecks, Pine Tree ISD switched to debit card payroll technology in October. The district is one of only a few in Texas to offer debit cards in lieu of paychecks. About 200 of the district's 700 employees received paper paychecks while the remaining employees use direct deposit for their paychecks, said Vickie Echols, the district's information coordinator. District employees are paid on the 25th of each month.
A deposit will be made into a payroll card account at the participating bank and employees can withdraw cash from the card at an ATM and use the payroll card to purchase items at stores, pay bills and transfer funds from it to other accounts, she said. The service was offered free to the district by the bank. The program will be evaluated after a few months to determine if it offers benefits to the district, said Judy Downing (pictured), the director of finance for Pine Tree ISD. Houston and El Paso ISD also use the payroll cards, she said.
New Abilene city finance director named
Mindy Patterson has been appointed Abilene's new finance director after serving as the post's interim since May.
Patterson has been employed by the city 17 years, beginning as an accountant in 1991 before being promoted to assistant to the city finance director and assistant director of finance. Last year she was promoted to deputy director of finance.
Patterson, who holds a bachelor's degree from McMurry University, is a certified public manager in public administration and a certified government finance officer.
Anderson County approves courthouse renovations
Anderson County commissioners recently approved $300,000 for ongoing renovations to the main courthouse and $150,000 to build a new storage facility for records.
The courthouse renovations include relocating county court-at-law offices from upstairs to the first floor, along with the judge's chambers and clerical office for safety and security reasons, said County Judge Linda Bostick Ray (pictured). The renovation project is pay-as-you-go, Ray said. Renovations already are under way at the county clerk's office and on improving outside sidewalks to be accessible to the disabled.
The county plans to build a new facility to store records on a parking lot behind the courthouse, Ray said. She expects it will be a one-story structure with a climate-controlled room for records. Each department will take care of its own records in an assigned area with a lock on it. Ray expects the county will ask for bids in early 2009.
San Benito fields more than 20 city manager applicants
Two former assistant city managers, Rio Hondo's current city manager and the local public safety director are among the 22 applicants vying for San Benito's city manager position. Scott Starns, former city manager for Eagle Pass, has also applied for the position.
The San Benito City Commission asked for Victor Trevino, who had served as city manager for seven years, to step down in August. The city released the applications and resumes of those applying for the position this week. A salary has not yet been determined.
Officials advertised for the position beginning Sept. 2 with the job description of "proven leader" to work with the city's 30,000-plus population.
Denton ISD to receive federal tax-credit for bus fleet
Railroad Commissioner Michael L. Williams has presented the Denton Independent School District a check for nearly $400,000 representing a grant from the Commission's Propane OEM School Bus Rebate program and a reimbursement from Rush Enterprises. The reimbursement marks the first time a school district has received a rebate based on the federal Alternative Motor Vehicle Tax Credit for its propane-fueled school bus fleet.
The district had recently received a grant totaling $267,309 from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for its purchase of 44 propane buses. Williams said he is proud of the district for "going green and saving green."
The district's fleet totals 158 buses, more than half of which are propane-fueled and 36 of which are fueled by environmentally friendly biodiesel. Williams said these measures are a wise move toward less expensive and more environmentally sound resources, especially in the face of record-high diesel and gasoline prices. "Many leaders have found that the (government) incentives...make propane and natural gas buses a common-sense option," he said.
Dallas ISD could lay off more than 500 teachers
More than 1,000 Dallas Independent School District employees, including more than 500 teachers, will lose their jobs under a layoff plan approved by the district on Thursday. More than 400 of the teacher jobs are said to be in core subject areas such as math, science, social studies and English/language arts. The cuts are estimated to save some $30 million, still leaving the financially strapped district facing a $15 million deficit. Top administrators from the district are expected to travel to Austin next week to seek support for a proposal to pay some 300 teachers with federal grant funds.
Confronted with an $84 million budget shortfall this fall, DISD officials recently laid off 63 employees from the central office and eliminated another 100 vacant positions throughout the district.
The terminations of non-contract personnel are effective immediately and include personnel from technology, business services and dropout prevention, said Jon Dahlander, a spokesman for DISD. The terminated employees will receive one month of severance pay, he said.
Killeen ISD installing new emergency notification system
Trustees for the Killeen Independent School District recently approved the installation of a new emergency notification system following a brush fire behind an elementary school that prompted an evacuation of the school and notifying more than 1,000 parents. The district's current notification system waits too late in the evening to notify parents of absences and sometimes malfunction causing calls not to go through, said John Dye, the director of school safety.
After researching notification systems at other districts and having district employees evaluate several systems, Dye said he recommended a California-based company that allows the district to communicate routine information such as early release days, town hall meetings and student tardiness or absences to parents as well as emergency information. The company also will provide training to key district personnel, Dye said.
The new system can deliver 1,000 personalized voice messages in one minute, or send 1,000 e-mails to computers and mobile phones also in one minute, he said. The sender will record a voice message, select recipients using a computer and transmit the message using a cell phone, home phone or work telephone, a PDA, an e-mail, a text message or voicemail box, he said. No additional hardware, software or telephone lines are required. The system also reports which messages failed to be delivered, thus allowing the district to update emergency information data. The cost is $2.75 per student per year, or about $104,500 a year, Dye said.
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RFID...every Texan will likely encounter it in near future...
By Mary Scott Nabers, CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.
Whether used for logistics, security or tracking, RFID (radio frequency identification) is becoming an ever-increasing part of Americans' daily lives. RFID technology uses radio waves to automatically identify equipment, files, items - and sometimes people. Here's how it works: a piece of reading equipment that is designed to beam a radio signal gathers and reports information supplied by a data tag. The data tag can be attached to almost anything, even an individual.
While RFID has become a staple in the manufacturing and industrial worlds, public sector entities, too, are using it for a variety of government functions. RFID technology is used to monitor and clear cargo shipments at ports, people at border crossings and vehicles at toll roads.
In Texas, one of the most successful uses of RFID is the application used for the Texas Department of Transportation's TxTag program for toll roads. Motorists using a TxTag are allowed to pass through toll booths without having to stop and pay a fee. The pre-paid tags are affixed to a vehicle's windshield and "read" as the vehicle passes through the toll booth. The owner of the tag is thus identified and the amount of the toll is subtracted from the pre-paid account of the vehicle's owner.[more]
Financial uncertainties may impact Brenham tower plans
The instability in financial markets could impact Brenham's plans to issue up to $6 million in certificates of obligation to pay for a new water tower and extending three miles of water lines, said City Manager Terry Roberts (pictured).
City council members last month approved a resolution approving the issuance of the certificates of obligation. The city does not plan to issue the bonds until late November, which may give the markets some time to improve, he said. The city's financial advisor had projected an interest rate of 5.15 percent on the 20-year debt issuance, but that would change drastically depending on the financial markets in November, Roberts said.
First-time unemployment claims quadruple after Ike
Texas workers filed nearly 49,000 new claims for unemployment insurance last week, many related to Hurricane Ike, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. That is nearly four times more than the 12,449 new claims filed for the comparable week last year, said a spokesperson for TWC. Almost 35,000 claims were directly related to Hurricane Ike. Last week more than 123,000 people filed ongoing unemployment insurance claims, a 42 percent increase from ongoing claims filed during the same period in 2007.
Odessa Schlemeyer Airfield receives TxDOT grant
The Texas Department of Transportation has granted Odessa Schlemeyer Airfield $425,000 to help fund pavement improvements and a terminal expansion project. Ector County and TxDOT's facilities grant program will also fund part of the initiative. A contract is expected to be awarded some time this fall.
Corpus Christi narrows city manager applicants
The Corpus Christi City Council is expected to begin reviewing qualifications of eight candidates for city manager next week. Consultants from the search firm will be available on Tuesday to assist council members during an executive session.
Mayor Henry Garrett (pictured) said none of the eight finalists were local, but declined to release their names. He expects to release the names of those selected for interviews after the meeting on Tuesday. The new city manager will replace former City Manager Skip Noe, who recently resigned.
Jacksonville studying plans for municipal building
The Jacksonville City Council recently received preliminary design plans for a new 20,000 square-foot, $2.2 million municipal building. After viewing the plans, council members suggested some changes, including eliminating space for a tax department, said Mayor Robert Haberle (pictured). The building is designed to house the municipal court, personnel office, finance office and council chambers. Architects are expected to make a presentation of the revised plan to council members on Oct. 14.
A note of importance
Trinity ISD OKs $488,000
6th Biennial Legislative Communications Conference set
The 6th Biennial Legislative Communications Conference is slated for Oct. 7 at the Doubletree Hotel Austin. The conference will feature several panels of government officials, legislators, policy wonks and others who will provide information relative to the upcoming 81st session of the Texas Legislature. The event is hosted by Strategic Partnerships, Inc. and The University of Texas at Austin Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, and is a "must attend" event for anyone with an interest in the legislature and the workings of state government. To view the draft agenda for the event, click here. To register, click here.
'Partnership in Transit' workshop set Oct. 22-23
"Partnerships in Transit," a workshop designed to outline utilization of public-private partnerships to help deliver transit projects, will be held Oct. 22-23 at the Radisson Hotel Central Dallas. The workshop is sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration and the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships. The first evening will feature a networking reception and the opportunity to meet James Simpson, administrator of the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, and other workshop speakers. Among the workshop topics are fundamentals and issues, local and national statutory perspective, case studies, generating private sector financing, transit-oriented development and joint development and more. For more information, click here. To register, click here.
S. Texas Business Contracting Expo slated
The 2008 South Texas Border Business Contracting Expo (STBBCE), is set for Thursday and Friday, Oct. 16 and 17, in McAllen. The expo is designed for small business owners, manufacturers and suppliers interested in doing business with the government or the private sector. Some 500 government agencies, corporations, small business owners, purchasing agents, procurement decision-makers, vendors, suppliers and manufacturers will be on hand to discuss opportunities. The event is sponsored by the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the STBBCE Planning Committee. Keynote speakers include Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, U.S. Congressmen Henry Cuellar and Ruben Hinojosa and federal agency and corporate officials. For more information, click here. To register, click here.
South Texas Nonprofit Summit slated for Oct. 15
The South Texas Nonprofit Summit, sponsored by The Texas Valley Communities Foundation, the Texas State Technical College Nonprofit Resource Center, the American Association of Grant Professionals (Rio Grande Valley Chapter) and the congressional offices of U.S. Congressmen Henry Cuellar and Ruben Hinojosa, will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 15, at the Texas State Technical College Harlingen campus. The free conference is sponsored by a variety of community groups interested in investing in the nonprofit sector of South Texas. One-on-one dialogue with foundations will be available, as will breakout sessions and sessions relating to information sharing, resource expansion, technical assistance and more. Interested parties may register by calling 956-630-3331.
24th Annual Shepperd Leadership Forum set Oct. 10-12
The 24th Annual John Ben Shepperd Texas Leadership Forum is set for Friday and Saturday, Oct. 10-12, at the Doubletree Hotel, 303 West 15th Street in Austin. This year's forum, "Leadership 2010: Challenges and Opportunities for the Next Decade," provides an opportunity for hands-on breakout sessions aimed at discovering solutions to the challenges facing the state. Some of the guest speakers include State Rep. and House Speaker Pro Tempore Sylvester Turner, Sen. Kel Seliger, Aspen Institute Director of Homeland Security Clark Ervin and Texas Lyceum President John Boettiger. Attendees will have time to network, build relationships and collaborate with colleagues. There will be sessions on such issues as policy development, ethics in leadership and public speaking. The Outstanding State Leader Award will be presented at the Saturday night dinner. CLE Credit is available for legal professionals. For more information, click here. To register, click here. Deadline for registration is Monday, Sept. 29.
TML's annual conference, exhibition slated Oct. 28-31
"Texas Cities - Innovation Meets Progress" is the mantra for the upcoming Texas Municipal League 96th Annual Conference and Exhibition. The event is set for Oct. 28-31 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio. The event kicks off with registration on Oct. 28 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday will feature the TML Board of Directors meeting, the Exhibit Hall grand opening and the opening General Session and presentation of awards. Tours of the San Antonio River Improvements Project and the San Antonio Emergency Operations Center highlight the Thursday agenda, along with a luncheon keynote speaker by "Freedom Writer" Manuel Scott. Friday features a Women in Government breakfast, a downtown San Antonio tour via Segway and a delegate luncheon with keynote speaker "attitude kicker" Sam Glenn. Concurrent sessions will be held throughout the conference addressing issues such as energy conservation, workforce development, leadership, media relations, several legislative topics and more. For more information and registration forms, click here. There is a discount for early registration and a discount for online registration.
Tee IT Up Texas government IT tourney set Oct. 24
The Fifth Annual Tee IT Up Texas! Texas government IT customer appreciation golf tournament is set for Friday, Oct. 24, at the Lions Municipal Golf Course in Austin. Check-in and lunch will begin at 11:30 a.m. A shotgun start will begin at 1 p.m. and the awards ceremony is slated for 6 p.m. The format is a four-person scramble with awards to the first and second place teams and individual contest winners for longest drive and closest pin. Door prizes also are available. The maximum number of teams for the tourney has sold out, but companies can still register for the few remaining sponsorships. For more information, click here.
Executive Women in Texas Government set conference
The Executive Women in Texas Government 22nd annual Professional Development Conference will be Monday, Nov. 24, at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort in Lost Pines, Texas. Hailed as a meeting of "ideas, solutions and connections," this year's event will feature keynote speakers Dr. Tina Dupree (AKA as the Chicken Lady) and Major General K.C. McClain, Commander Air Force Personnel Center, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, and workshops relating to development of executive level management skills, expanding leadership capabilities and networking and mentoring. The event will begin with a 7 a.m. registration. The first keynote speaker will be heard during the opening general session at 8:30 a.m. followed by two morning workshops and breaks for exhibits and networking. The EWTG Woman of the Year presentation will be made during lunch, with another afternoon workshop on tap and the closing general session and second keynote speech at 3:15 p.m. Sponsorships are available and exhibitors are also being accepted. For more information on the conference and registration, click here.
Texas GIS Forum 2008 slated for Oct. 27-31
The Texas Natural Resources Information System, a division of the Texas Water Development Board, is hosting the Texas GIS Forum 2008 on Oct. 27-31 at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus in Austin. The forum is billed as the "largest Geospatial Technology forum in Texas." Sponsorships are available and the forum will also feature exhibitors. To register, click here. For information for sponsors and exhibitors, click here. Registration for the forum is available to individuals from government agencies (federal, state, local), universities, industry representatives, sponsors and exhibitors. The group is expecting presentations on issues such as innovative uses for GIS, alternative GIS environments, budget GIS projects, Web-based GIS advancements, GIS or remote sensing for emergency response, etc.