Texas Government Insider
Volume 10, Issue 1 - Friday, Jan. 6, 2012

Nearly $3.8 million in HUD grants awarded to three Texas entities


Cities of Austin, Garland, Heart of Texas COG garner sustainability funding

Lee LeffingwellThree government entities in Texas - the city of Austin, the city of Garland and the Heart of Texas Council of Governments in Waco - have been awarded collectively nearly $3.8 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant funds. The proceeds from the grants will help defray costs that will result in a master-planned, sustainable community pilot in Austin, the transformation of distressed, auto-dependent retail centers into vibrant mixed-use activity centers in Garland and creation of a regional plan for sustainable development in cities, counties and special district in the Waco-based HOTCOG.


The three entities are among 27 communities and organizations throughout the country named recipients of a total of nearly $96 million in HUD Community Challenge Grants and Regional Planning Grants. The goal of the projects funded is to assist communities and regions as they seek to improve their economic competitiveness. This is achieved through connecting housing with good jobs, quality schools and transportation. (To see a complete list of projects, the amount funded and an explanation of each, click here and look under "Recent Reports."


Austin garnered the lion's share of the funds coming to Texas, with $3 million. With the funds, the city will master-plan more than 200 acres of publicly-owned, vacant property in the Colony Park community in East Austin. "We have an incredible opportunity to design a model mixed-income community that is sustainable and can be replicated in other parts of Austin," Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell (pictured) said. He added that residents of Colony Park would have available an area for both residential and commercial activities as well as having parks, trails, jobs and new housing.


The city ultimately hopes to enter into public-private partnerships to create neighborhoods with affordable housing for mixed-income families, retail space and viable transportation options.




HHSC Information Technology Division restructuring continues


New divisions, new directors named, new roles for some existing staff

Leah Burton Hope MorganThe organizational restructuring of the Information Technology Division at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) is continuing into 2012, with a host of new IT divisions and directors already having been named. Additionally, HHSC Chief Information Officer (CIO) Bowden Hight this week named two key IT staff members who will be assuming new roles.


Hight has chosen Hope Morgan (left) as Director of Technology Research. Morgan will work under the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and will have responsibility for evaluating new technologies for use within the Commission and Enterprise IT divisions. Additionally, Leah Burton (right) has been named Business Technology Architect. She, too, will work under the supervision of the CTO and will be charged with developing interoperability and architectural standards in support of HHSC business process improvement initiatives, including the Eligibility Modernization Project, said Hight.


The new organizational structuring began after Hight was named CIO, with a goal of combining HHSC and the various Enterprise IT divisions into a single, more efficient HHSC IT Division.  


Hight already has named new directors and new IT divisions. These include:

  • Chief Technology Officer - Clark Snodgrass;
  • Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) - Brian Engle;
  • Applications - Jim Macek;
  • Operations- Paul Diaz;
  • Customer Service - Brent Dahl; and
  • IT Business Services - Laura Wolbrueck.

In a memo this week to HHSC and Enterprise IT employees, Hight noted he hopes to have all five Customer Service liaisons in place by the end of January. These positions, he said, are designed to focus on individual HHS customers to ensure they are provided proper service and support.


Hight said departments and units have been realigned under the new directors, and organizational changes he is putting in place will become effective Jan. 9.


The HHSC CIO called the new organizational structure "a work in progress," but said he is hopeful the transition is completed by summer 2012. 


Strategic Partnerships salutes Texas' Lone Stars


Mary Spangler, chancellor, Houston Community College


Career highlights and education: My undergraduate education is from Chestnut Hill College (BA, English) in Philadelphia, a women's college that has since gone co-ed. I then went West to find my fame and fortune by pursuing my graduate education at UCLA where I earned my MA in English. I entered the ranks of the faculty, became a Professor of English at Los Angeles Valley College, where I co-authored four textbooks on writing, and had a full career before entering administration and returning to pursue doctoral studies at UCLA. Rising in the ranks of the LA Community College District over the next 10 years, I served as Associate Dean of Admissions and Records, Dean of Student Services, VP of Academic Affairs just before earning my ED.D. with a specialization in Community Colleges in 1994, and president of Los Angeles City College from 1997 to 2003. At that point, I left to become Chancellor of Oakland Community College in Bloomfield Hills, MI (2003-2007). From that position I was recruited and selected for the position of chancellor of Houston Community College where I have served since 2007. 
What I like best about my job is: The opportunity to make decisions that will positively impact the lives of students who want and have a right to expect the very best in affordable, high-quality teaching and learning from this community college. I like the chance to enact our institutional vision to make it a reality. We strive every day to be the most relevant community college in the country, to be an opportunity institution for every student we serve. I am truly honored and humbled to be leading an institution that is essential to our community's success.
The best advice I've received for my current job is: Houston is a great place to be, and I am glad I got here as soon as I could!
Advice you would give a new hire in your office: We are a team working together. We are happy to have you here to join us and share our vision of making HCC the best community college for our students that we can be. We welcome you and hope you will contribute your talents and experiences to advancing the college to that end. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

If I ever snuck out of work early, I could probably be found: I don't sneak out of work...I am usually the last to leave. And I am at the computer in the morning before almost everyone else. It is out of my sense of enjoyment and accomplishment. This is not about pressure. For me, every day is about a new experience, a new challenge to face. I think of it as a blessing.   
People would be surprised to know that I:  In addition to enjoying knitting and crocheting, my real passion is photography. I also love reading mystery novels but have developed a sincere interest in reading about leadership and organizational development. There is always something to learn about how others view the challenge of leading organizations, especially from a psychological perspective. I want to know what makes people do the things they do. In many ways, all the years in the classroom have never left me. I am still basically a teacher at heart, and I approach challenges from the perspective of a teaching/learning relationship.

One thing I wish more people knew about Houston Community College:  Houston Community College has undergone a transformation in the last five years since my arrival. It is not the same institution it was or that people used to talk about. We have changed the organizational structure, the administrative team, the operational procedures, the Board policies and efficiency and effectiveness. Do we still have more to do? Yes, of course, there will always be opportunities to improve and to strengthen the operation and to advance our goals and objectives. We are focused now on providing our students the means to complete their educational objectives by securing a degree or certificate, and strengthening the workforce to advance the economic development of our region.


Texas State Parks appeal nets $335,000 in donations in first weeks

Three weeks after Texas State Parks officials appealed for help, donors have given more than $335,000 to help make up a $4.6 million budget shortage caused by record heat and drought, devastating wildfires and a decline in visitation and revenue.


Park officials are stressing three ways nature lovers can help keep state parks open:

Make a tax-deductible donation at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/helpparks. Make a donation when renewing motor vehicle registration. Visit state parks often with family and friends.


The parks department has also developed a Spread the Word Web page where supporters can forward a YouTube video appeal, add an "I (heart) Tx Parks" wrapper to their Facebook profile photo and download banners for Web sites and blogs.


World Energy Webinar

TxDOT may not charge tolls for new Falfurrias highway bypass

Citing low revenue projections and complaints from residents of Brooks County, Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officials recently backed away from plans to charge tolls for using a new highway bypass on US281 at Falfurrias.


Due for completion in the later months of 2012, the new bypass at Falfurrias is part of a $241 million American Recovery Act project to remove highway bottlenecks by building new overpasses on US281 in Ben Bolt, George West and Falfurrias. Highway officials are spending $87.5 million in federal stimulus funds to build five overpasses on a six-mile stretch of US281 in Falfurrias. Plans also call for spending an additional $21 million to build a railroad overpass and right turn lane in George West. A $13 million overpass at Ben Bolt already is finished and open for motorists.


TxDOT had planned to charge a toll only at the bypass in Falfurrias, but projections are that the anticipated tolls would not cover the cost of operations and maintenance, said Mario Jorge, district engineer for TxDOT in the Rio Grande Valley. Texas Transportation Commission officials are expected to make a final decision on charging tolls at the Falfurrias bypass at their next meeting, Jorge said.



Another step taken in ongoing Travis County civil courthouse

Another step has been taken toward a new civil and family courthouse in Travis County. County officials met this week and hired a consultant to study a possible public-private partnership to build the facility. The proposed 500,000-square-foot facility would be located on Guadalupe Street. The consulting firm will study the 21 responses the county received when it asked for proposals for developing concepts and objectives for a public-private partnership (P3) endeavor. County officials are looking to a P3 as a way of saving money and finishing the project quicker. Commissioners also voted to enter into a contract with a law firm for legal services related to the feasibility study for the project. 


Sudduth is new director of federal relations for Texas A&M system

Scott SudduthChancellor John Sharp recently appointed Scott Sudduth (pictured) as the new director of federal relations for the Texas A&M University System. He will be based in Washington, D.C.


Sudduth previously was associate vice president for federal relations for the University of Chicago and served in similar positions at The University of Texas System and the University of California, where he was part of the team that helped retain management of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He also was an aide to U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and chief of staff for two members of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas.


Sudduth has a bachelor's degree from The University of Texas at Austin and a law degree from the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America.



Rosenberg discusses $8.6 million in upcoming capital projects

Members of the Rosenberg City Council recently met to discuss capital projects and certificates of obligation for 2012. Among the items on the drawing board for which funding was approved are Fire Station No. 3, a fire pumper ladder truck, a storage tank for water well No. 5 and a Terry High School reuse project. Together, these projects will cost a maximum of $8.6 million. 


Texas courthouse preservation program wins another award

The Southwest Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians (SESAH) recently awarded the Texas Historical Commission a Best of the South Award for its courthouse restoration program. The award recognizes projects that preserve or restore a historic building in an outstanding manner demonstrating excellence in research, technique and documentation.


Since its inception in 1999, the Texas Historic Preservation Program managed by the Texas Historical Commission has awarded more than $227 million to counties restoring and renovating 40 historic courthouses throughout the state. These courthouse restorations have resulted in more than 8,679 jobs, said Stan Graves, program director for the preservation program.


The preservation program in Texas is a national role model that has been very visible in small and rural communities where courthouse renovations served as a catalyst for revitalizing downtowns in many rural communities, said Benjamin Ross, chairman of the SESAH awards committee. SESAH is a chapter of the national Society of Architectural Historians representing 12 southeastern states.


Contracting Opportunities

Brown County to ask state for closed juvenile facility

Brown County commissioners recently agreed to ask the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) commissioners to transfer the Ron Jackson detention facility to the county to use as a holdover detention facility and offices for county juvenile probation officers.


TJJD Commissioners could make a decision on the request as soon as Jan. 20, County Judge Ray West said. The county's current facility is in need of major repairs and the state detention facility offers room for expansion, West said. State law now allows transfer of property to a county with a population of less than 100,000 if the transfer benefits the state, he added. The county will operate the facility only as a juvenile holdover facility where the juvenile can be held only 48 hours without transfer, he said. No attempt will be made to operate a regular detention unit as it would be too expensive to operate because of the requirements of additional staff and medical facilities, West said.


Quinn Jenkins joins facility maintenance at Prairie View A&M

Quinn JenkinsPrairie View A&M University officials recently named alumnus Quinn R. Jenkins (pictured) director of facility maintenance. He succeeds Larry Watson, who now serves as assistant vice president of the physical plant.


Previously, Jenkins worked for Dallas County Community College District and the University of Houston, as well as for architecture firms in the private sector.


In his new role, Jenkins is responsible for creating and maintaining safe and healthy learning environments on campus.



Reduced truck tolls on SH130, SH 45SE extended until Jan. 25

A two-week truck toll promotion that started Dec. 21 of last year has been extended through Jan. 25. It was slated to end Jan. 4. But TxDOT officials said the program was so successful that they decided to extend it two more weeks. All truck tolls on SH130 and SH 45SE will remain at the reduced rate of $9 or less on the 56-mile SH130 and SH 45SE toll bypass through Jan. 25. That is the same rate as a two-axle passenger vehicle. TxDOT officials point out that for trucks with four or more axles, that can result in a savings of more than 67 percent.


TxDOT points to an increase of more than 39 percent in truck transactions on the two highways, and a 10 percent increase for passenger vehicles for the same period over last year. Because I-35 from SH 71 to US 183 is the fourth most highly contested roadway in the state, motorists are encouraged to use the network of tollways as an alternate route. TxDOT encourages motorists to sign up for a TxTag to pay their tolls. Toll rates on other Austin-area toll roads remain the same.


Elsa Murano passed over for president of University of New Mexico

Elsa MuranoFormer Texas A&M President Elsa Murano (pictured) was among five finalists for the position of president of the University of New Mexico, although UNM announced this week that they have chosen chose Robert Frank, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Kent State University, as the next president.


Other finalists in addition to Murano and Frank were:

  • Douglas Baker, provost and executive vice president of the University of Idaho;
  • Meredith Hay, special adviser to the chair for strategic initiatives for the Arizona Board of Regents; and
  • Elizabeth Hoffman, executive vice president and provost of Iowa State University.

Austin to get $900,000 from state in weatherization money

The City of Austin will receive $900,000 in federal stimulus funds to weatherize about 180 homes for low-income residents. 


The funds will improve the energy efficiency at 54 units at the Mount Carmel housing development in east Austin and about 128 units at the Chase Village development in north Austin.


Austin Energy staffers are meeting with prime contractors and minority businesses to review workloads produced by the funds, which must be spent by March 31.


A&M-Commerce to upgrade Internet technology

Dan JonesAs part of an technology upgrade throughout the Texas A&M System, officials of Texas A&M University-Commerce recently announced significant improvements will be made in Internet accessibility at the main campus.


The technology improvements, including installation of a new fiber optic cable, will provide sufficient bandwidth for campus users for the next 10 years, Dr. Dan Jones (pictured), president said. The technology upgrades also will increase Internet speed for students, faculty and staff as well as create dedicated networks separate from the networks used In residence halls, Jones said. The technology upgrade will permit A&M-Commerce to provide instruction through online classes to students at remote campuses in Mesquite, Dallas, Midlothian and Corsicana, Jones said.


Funding includes a $6.6 million grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program National Telecommunications Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce and $3 million in matching grants, including a $1.5 million grant from a telecommunications company.

P3 Opportunities

Loss of funds closes Texas Consumer Health Assistance Program

A year after opening, the Texas Consumer Health Assistance Program, which aims to help Texans find affordable health insurance, will close due to lack of funding.


The federal health reform law initially financed the program with a $2.8 million grant that paid for staffing a toll-free hotline that 6,000 Texans called in the last year. The nine employees also traveled the state, educating Texans about coverage options.


The health reform law authorized future funding for the program but left the appropriations to Congress. Last year, the program was shut out when the House and Senate passed a budget that continued only existing appropriated programs.


Alumnus commits $25 million to Sam Houston State University

Frederick PirkleSam Houston State University alumnus Frederick Pirkle (pictured) recently announced he would give his alma mater $25 million to establish a new engineering technology program, including a new state-of-the-art facility with laboratories, advanced equipment and technology.


The gift, which will also support a permanent scholarship fund for engineering students, is the largest in Sam Houston's history.


Pirkle, who holds a bachelor's and a master's degree from SHSU, is the founder of a company that manufactures temperature control valves and devices.


Cedar Park officials to market naming rights for center

Cedar Park officials plan to market the naming rights of the multipurpose Cedar Park Center, which attracts about 500,000 visitors each year with numerous concerts, shows and minor league sporting events.


Officials also plan to develop an adjacent 17 acres into more than 180,000 square feet of retail and office space. The management group has not said when they will break ground.


Center officials have hired a Maine-based company to market the naming rights to potential buyers. Targeted businesses will include technology, telecommunications and insurance companies familiar to consumers, officials said.


SPI Training Services

Dallas bond issue for 2012 to place more focus on basic needs

While planning for the city's first bond proposal since 2006, Dallas city officials are focusing on projects such as street repairs, flood control and economic development to fulfill basic needs rather than asking for new libraries, recreation centers or major park projects in a bond proposal council is considering for November. In 2006, Dallas voters approved $1.35 billion in bonds for capital projects.


City officials can issue up to $550 million in bonds without a tax increase and that funding would pay for only a small fraction of the $10 billion in needed or wanted projects already identified in public hearings. Just paying for street projects in the Capital Improvement Plan would total $4.4 billion, city officials said.


Andrews to vote on $59 million bond for new hospital

Proposed hospitalThe Permian Regional Medical Board recently approved plans for a new $59 million hospital.


The next step is for voters in Andrews to vote in May on a proposed $59 million bond issue to pay for the new hospital and wellness center (see accompanying artist's rendering).


The new hospital will replace the current facility built in the 1960s that is experiencing problems with plumbing and the air conditioning and heating system, said a spokesman for the Permian Regional Medical Board.


DOE/NNSA ready to seek bids for Pantex wind farm project

In an effort to save about $2.5 million a year in electricity costs, officials of the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) recently agreed to seek public bids in early 2012 to build a wind turbine project at the Pantex plant, northeast of Amarillo. The proposed wind farm, planned to operate with seven turbines, will be located on a 1,500-acre government-owned tract of land east of the plant.


Officials of B&W Pantex, which operates the nuclear weapon storage facility for DOE/ NNSA, previously OK'd an agreement with Texas Tech University to study the possibility of building a wind farm. Pantex now spends about $4 million a year for electricity to operate the nuclear weapons facility.


Current plans are for a contract that calls for a $25 million investment by the company submitting the winning bid. The agreement for the wind farm will permit major access to Texas Tech researchers to the wind farm at the Pantex plant. The wind farm at Pantex should provide more accessibility for research that could lead to lower energy costs throughout the state.


Burleson, Joshua law enforcement agencies to share software

Burleson city officials recently agreed to share law enforcement information technology resources and costs with the city of Joshua.


Burleson implemented the software system in 2009 and last year began sharing the technology with the Johnson County Sheriff's Office.


Joshua officials will pay Burleson a system fee of $9,000 per year plus a not-yet-determined annual maintenance fee to use the system. 


Need Federal Contracting?

Federal funding available for employment, training services

An estimated $98.5 million in funding from the U.S Workforce Innovation Fund is available for a range of organizations to pay for employment and training services, particularly for vulnerable populations, said Hilda Solis, the U.S. Secretary of Labor. The federal grants should help the public workforce system by identifying, evaluating and expanding programs that are successful in producing sustained employment for program participants, Solis said.


Those eligible for the federal funds include state workforce agencies, local workforce investment boards and other businesses and organizations considered for WIA Section 166 grants. More information on the funding can be found here


Denton Municipal Electric seeking solar project proposals         

Denton Municipal Electric is seeking bids for a solar power project that could bring a solar manufacturing facility to the area.


The utility wants to provide 10 to 20 megawatts of solar electricity through the project, which would include a generation facility within 50 miles of Denton and three smaller demonstration projects within the city.


Officials will give preference to bids that include locating a manufacturing plant in Denton. Bids are due on Wednesday, Feb. 22.


Crowley seeking bids for expansion, renovation of fire station

Crowley City Council members recently approved plans for a 2,621-square-foot addition to Fire Station #1 and plan to seek bids this month for the estimated $450,000 renovation project for the fire station.


Currently, the fire station, built before the city had paid firefighters, does not provide adequate sleeping or eating spaces for firefighters who are on duty 24 hours, the fire chief said.


Plans call for relocating administration offices, a reception area and conference rooms to be located in the area of the bays. The fire station will be attached to the city hall to allow easier public access to fire station offices, the chief said.

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Austin ISD eyeing prefabricated kits for new classrooms

Looking for an alternative to dreaded portable classrooms, Austin Independent School District officials are exploring the possibility of using a new type of prefabricated construction for additional classrooms that can be available sooner.


The new ready-to-assemble kits are assembled by local contractors after delivery and would serve as permanent modular classrooms rather than as a temporary solution to overcrowding, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said. The kits, which can begin construction during the site development period, are most useful for single-story additions and include insulation that provides very efficient energy usage, she said.


Local contractors can begin assembling the kits as soon as the foundation is completed and can reduce construction costs from 20 to 45 percent, a company representative said. From 12 to 20 modular sections can be assembled in from three to six weeks and interior finishing completed in about four weeks. District staff will continue to study prefabricated kits and other alternatives as the school district is unlikely to have funding available for new construction until voters approve a new bond issue, Carstarphen said.


Nueces County commissioners pick councilman for tax assessor

Kevin KeischnickNueces County commissioners recently appointed Kevin Kieschnick (pictured), a Corpus Christi city councilman, to serve out the unexpired term of county tax assessor-collector.


Longtime Tax Assessor-Collector Ronnie Canales has been hired as chief appraiser for the Nueces County Tax Appraisal District.


Kieschnick will serve out his term, which expires in November. He will run for the position as a Republican. Three Democrats also have filed to run.


Midland officials gearing up for what could be 2012 bond vote 

Midland school district officials are gearing up to call a bond election for renovations, additions and new school construction by the end of 2012.


The school board released a request for qualifications from architecture firms last December.


Superintendent Ryder Warren plans to ask the community for funds to build high schools that hold ninth through 12th graders, junior highs that serve grades 6 to 8 and elementary schools of students in prekindergarten through fifth grade.



Burleson to interview five finalists for city manager

Beginning Jan. 24, Burleson City Council members will begin interviewing five finalists for city manager in executive sessions to be completed by Jan. 25. Council members plan a second round of interviews with a narrowed field of candidates in February.


The five finalists selected for the first round of interviews are Dale Cheatham, a town manager in Brownsburg, Indiana, who previously was city manager for The Colony; James Earp, an assistant city manager in Kyle; Charles Ewings, an assistant city manager in Longview; Tom Godwin, town manager in Fairview; and Elizabeth Grindstaff, an assistant city manager in San Angelo.


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Abilene looking at $1.7 million in capital projects for 2012

The Abilene Planning & Zoning Commission members recently began reviewing $1.7 million in capital improvement projects for 2012. The 2012 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), which proposes $20,000 more funding for capital projects than in 2011, contains several road improvement projects and upgrades of athletic fields at several parks, the director of planning and services for the city said.


Funding recommended in 2012 for sidewalk repairs is only $175,000 rather than the $300,000 recommended in the 2011 plan, he noted. However, the police chief told commissioners that the sidewalks in front of the law enforcement center are sinking and city officials are gathering information on the cost of that repair, which could take all or most of the funding recommended for sidewalk repairs in 2012.


After a recommendation from Planning & Zoning commissioners to the city manger, council members are expected to approve a final CIP plan in late spring.



San Marcos, Hays Co. to partner to upgrade former justice center

San Marcos and Hays County officials recently agreed to work together in public-private partnership to redevelop the former Hays County Justice Center and other projects to revitalize the downtown area of San Marcos, including the possibility of building a commuter rail station.


San Marcos council members approved allotting tax revenue from downtown property values that rose by 7 percent to help fund the justice center project and avoid the former grocery store from becoming abandoned property. Hays County commissioners created a 244-acre tax increment reinvestment zone (TIRZ) from Interstate 35 to the southern boundary of Texas State University to help pay for some of the downtown revitalization projects and help the county dispose of recently abandoned county offices. The TIRZ is expected to collect as much as $331,019 by 2017, county officials said. County officials are attempting to dispose or sell four downtown properties in San Marcos left unoccupied after a move to a new 232,000-square-foot county facility on Wonder World Drive.


Plans call for the county to work with a master developer to demolish the 39,546-square-foot justice center and construct a mixed-use facility. That facility is planned to have as many as five stories, with residential space on upper floors and retail space on the ground floor. City and county officials also have looked at adding civic spaces such as a commuter rail station, storm water detention ponds, sidewalk upgrades and bicycle racks with the funds from the TIRZ if plans to redevelop the former justice center are unsuccessful. 


Chief deputy of Hockley County named interim sheriff

Paul ScarboroughHockley County commissioners recently named Chief Deputy Paul Scarborough (pictured) the interim sheriff, effective Jan. 13.


Scarborough replaces Kevin Davis, who resigned last month after stating that he never intended to serve as sheriff too long.


Scarborough will serve out the term and then run for office in November. At least five people have filed as candidates for the office.


Houston officials rolling out their plans for Convention District

Houston officials recently unveiled long-range plans for the eastern edge of downtown, which they want to brand the "Convention District."


The plan focuses on expanding the 1.2-million-square-foot George R. Brown Convention Center, adding hotel rooms and amenities such as shops and restaurants.


Officials hope to attract about $6 billion worth of new development including a new convention center hotel with at least 1,000 rooms. The hotel could be built across from Discovery Green park, and connected to the convention center with a tunnel or skywalk.


The additional hotel rooms would help Houston match the ratio of hotel rooms per exhibition space in cities such as San Antonio, Denver and New Orleans.


Parker predicts Houston will get new crime lab next year           

After years of scandal, the Houston crime lab will soon become independent of the police department by the end of 2012, Houston Mayor Annise Parker recently announced.


Parker has not announced how much the new lab will cost or where it will be located.


Further in the future, the city and county might form a regional crime lab, but no deal has been reached.


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TEA offers one-year extension to Premont ISD

Texas Education Agency officials recently offered a one-year extension to allow the Premont Independent School District to remain operating if district officials agree to institute several improvements proposed by the agency.


TEA earlier ordered the district to close by July 2012 and merge with a nearby school district because of academic and financial concerns. The TEA agreement, which is non-negotiable with no appeal allowed, calls for the district to shift focus and allot more funding to accomplish 11 standards, including cleaning up mold damage, to open two functional science labs, repay $400,000 on the district's line of credit and hire more qualified teachers.


Superintendent Ernest Singleton noted that the district might not be able to meet the strict standards set forth in the agreement. And even if the district meets the standards, Singleton said the agreement contains no guarantee that the TEA commissioner will allow Premont ISD to remain open. Trustees are set to meet on Jan. 9 and 11 to discuss the extension proposed by TEA.


Tuloso-Midway ISD trustees to discuss $36 million bond program

Paul MostellaThe Tuloso-Midway school board will soon begin interviewing architects and engineers for several construction projects across the district.


New building and renovation plans, which include a new baseball field, performing arts center and agriculture barn, will be financed through a $36 million bond package that voters OK'd in November.


The district will implement the upgrades in stages. The first phase, at a cost of $10 million, will likely include removing mold from the walls of eight high school classrooms, said board president Paul Mostella (pictured).


Copperas Cove to select architect for new fire station

Copperas Cove City Council members recently authorized City Manager Andrea Gardener to negotiate with a Plano-based architecture firm to design and develop a cost estimate and timeline for a new fire station.

City officials are aiming for a $3.5 million or less price tag and for construction on the new fire station to replace fire station #2 in January 2013, Gardener said. City officials also are seeking a contract calling for the proposed new fire station to be open by January 2014, the city manager said.


Council members also most likely will need to ask voters to approve bonds to pay for the new fire station that city officials said could help the city obtain a better ISO rating by allowing a faster response time to structures located in the facility's service area.


Fort Worth ISD kicks off interviews with finalists for superintendent

Fort Worth Independent School District board members recently kicked off interviews with six finalists for superintendent with a goal to select a finalist by Feb. 13 and for the new superintendent to begin work on March 1.


While trustees declined to identify the six finalists, a consultant said most of the finalist candidates are from Texas. Included in the six finalists is Walter Dansby, the interim superintendent who has received public support from a teacher's group and at least one board member to be selected as superintendent. Trustees said all six candidates will be equally considered and trustees have made no predetermination on the finalist for the job.


Prescribed burn alliance formed after record wildfire season

Roel LopezFire experts across the state have come together to form the Texas Alliance of Prescribed Burn Association, which aims to use prescribed burning to reduce the risk of devastating wildfires.


Prescribed burning - the controlled application of fire to reduce fuel buildup and decrease the chances of serious hotter fires - has been used sporadically for decades, said association Associate Director Roel Lopez (pictured).


The alliance of 11 prescribed burn associations was created with the help of the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources and Texas AgriLife Research and the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, all located in College Station. Funding for the alliance came through a Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Innovation Grant.


Pantego looking at $4.35 million in upgrades to water system

Pantego City Manager Sean Fox plans to urge city council members to consider raising the average water bill by $23 a month to generate revenue for a special fund to pay for upgrades to the city's water system.


The proposed plan includes 19 separate projects costing about $4.35 million and includes replacing deteriorating water pipes and installing larger water lines in areas that serve commercial and retail businesses, Fox said. Some of the water pipes were in place in 1952 when the city purchased a private well and a network of pipes from a private landowner, he said.



Port Arthur expected to hire city manager this month

Port Arthur officials expect to have a new city manager in place by February to replace Steve Fitzgibbons, who steps down Jan. 15.


Several qualified people have applied for the job, officials said. When about 15 applications are collected, City Council will review them and select about half for thorough vetting. Finalists will be selected from the vetted group. The community will have the opportunity to meet the finalists in a public forum.


TxDOT sets Small Business Briefing series in Austin, Houston

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) will conduct its Small Business Briefing Series in Austin and Houston. The briefings are designed to provide small businesses with information regarding how to do business with TxDOT and other major state agencies such as the Department of Information Resources, Health and Human Services, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and others. The Small Business Briefing will provide information on how these agencies procure services and purchase products. General industry sessions will include an overview of TxDOT construction projects, professional services (engineering), consulting contracts and state contracting for information technology products and services. Those attending will also have an opportunity to bid on On-the-Spot contracts under $25,000. To participate in the On-the-Spot contracting, participants must register online at http://tti.tamu.edu/conferences/sbb12/. The Austin briefing will be held Wednesday, Jan. 25, at the Norris Conference Center http://www.norriscenters.com - 2525 West Anderson Lane, and the Houston briefing will be Thursday, March 1, at the OMNI Houston Hotel Westside- 13210 Katy Freeway. For exhibitor and individual registration, click here. For more information, contact Alta Alexander at 512- 486-5524. 


Texas State, City of San Marcos offer economic opportunity forum

Texas State University and the City of San Marcos Economic Opportunity Forum is slated for Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the San Marcos Activity Center, 501 E. Hopkins Road in San Marcos. Texas State's HUB Outreach Program and the City of San Marcos will provide an afternoon of networking and training to provide businesses an opportunity to connect with various state, city, county and other government agencies and learn about their procurement opportunities and how to do business with government. Following the welcome, the agenda includes a Business Expo, followed by HUB subcontracting plan training and closing with a session on "How to Respond to a Procurement Solicitation." For more information and to RSVP (by Jan. 6, 2012) contact: Yolanda Strey, Texas State University HUB Specialist, 512.245.2523 or ys12@txstate.edu or Cheryl Pantermuehl, City of San Marcos Purchasing Manager, 512.393.8175 or CPantermuehl@sanmarcostx.gov.


Leadership Fusion Summit planned for Feb. 15 in Houston

In its fourth year, Leadership Fusion 2012-Lead Empower Transform builds on a strong tradition of presenting some of the nation's foremost leaders and change makers in business and education. The event will be held on Feb. 15, 2012, at the Region 4 Education Service Center, 7145 W. Tidwell Road in Houston. This year's lineup includes visionary leaders who are recognized for shaping and altering their respective industries and professions and achieving success through turbulent times. Featured speakers include Howard Putnam - Former CEO of Southwest Airlines and author of The Winds of Turbulence: A CEO's Reflections on Surviving and Thriving on the Cutting Edge of Corporate Crisis; Desi Williamson - CPAE Speaker's Hall of Fame Inductee (joining such notable figures as General Colin Powell and Zig Ziglar), motivational coach for the Minnesota Vikings and author of Where There's a Will, There's a Way; and Jennifer James, Ph.D. - world renowned cultural anthropologist, educator and the author of Thinking in the Future Tense: Leadership Skills for a New Age. Click here to learn more or e-mail leadership@esc4.net .


P3 workshop planned in Austin, Texas, on Jan. 25

Recent revisions in Texas law provide for additional opportunities for public-private partnerships (P3s) at all levels of government. The new law addresses a wide range of project types that include public buildings, water and wastewater systems, transportation and energy projects. The National Council for Public-Private Partnerships will host a workshop in Austin, Texas, on Jan. 25, 2012 on "PPPs and Texas SB 1048: New Tools for Meeting Facilities and Infrastructure Needs. Among the topics are fundamentals of PPPs, an outline of the statute, first steps in the process, examples of how they have worked and financing tools. The workshop will be at the Hilton Austin, 500 E. Fourth Street, 78701. Sponsorships are available. More information on the workshop will be announced at a later date. To view the agenda and to register, click here.


TSABAA Mid-Winter Conference scheduled for Jan. 11-13, 2012

The 32nd Annual Texas State Agency Business Administrators' Association (TSABAA) Mid-Winter Conference is scheduled for Jan. 11-13, 2012, at the Inn of the Hills Resort and Conference Center in Kerrville. It's a great opportunity to participate in an exciting conference program agenda and to take advantage of more personal networking opportunities during the day and after hours. Among the topics to be discussed are how to boost morale through communication, inspiring trust in unpredictable times, recognizing signs of fraud, recruiting and selection and using data analytics tools and techniques to increase program efficiencies and outcomes. For more information and to download a registration form, click here.


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Mary Scott NabersBy Mary Scott Nabers, CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.


We're celebrating a very special event this week! With today's edition of the Texas Government Insider, we enter our TENTH YEAR of publication.


Ten years!!! Wow...is that really possible? It seems like only yesterday that we launched what has become one of the most recognizable government e-newsletters in Texas. Our subscriber base now reaches every corner of the state and includes thousands of public school teachers, mayors, city managers, commissioners, administrators and employees and executives in higher education, health care and state and local government. We also have a number of loyal private sector readers along with just plain folks who want to keep up with what is happening in Texas.


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Bonham ISD to seek construction manager for facility upgrades

Bonham Independent School District trustees recently agreed to hire a construction management firm and continue working with an architect to upgrade an intermediate school and develop a cost estimate for other possible facilities projects.


 Board members also scheduled a public meeting on Jan. 9 to discuss the facilities plan and possible changes to previous plans for the gym, band hall and office space at the intermediate school. The board also plans to develop a priority list of facilities projects if any funding remains after completing the intermediate school project.


Trustees approved preparing a request for qualifications for a construction manager-at-risk for the intermediate school upgrade and advertising the request in the newspaper. The next step is for board members to schedule a bond election to ask voter approval of funding for the facility upgrades, district officials said.


Abilene employees retire from city with 80 years experience 

Two long-time Abilene city employees - Community Services Director Mike Hall and Assistant Director Tony Neitzler - recently retired from the same department on the same day.


Hall has worked 37 years for the city, while Neitzler has served 42 years. They both work in Community Services, which oversees parks, libraries, health services and athletic programs.


Health Administrator Larry Johnson will serve as interim director, and the city will begin searching for the right candidates to fill the positions permanently.


Isbell named president of

Texas Fire Chief's Association
Officials with the Texas Fire Chiefs' Association recently named Midland Fire Chief Robert Isbell president of the group. Isbell will serve in the position for two years. He previously served in the association's three vice president seats.


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George West ISD clearing

space for $8.6 million high school

Ty SparksGeorge West Independent School District officials recently began demolishing a building behind the main high school to clear space for a new $8.6 million high school slated to begin construction in April.


The old science, agriculture and home economics building should be demolished in early 2012 and a contract awarded for building the new high school in March, Superintendent Ty Sparks (pictured) said. The goal is for the new high school to be completed in the fall of 2013.


Caldwell County fire department wins $25,000 grant for project 

The Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative and the Lower Colorado River Authority recently awarded a $25,000 grant to the Southeast Caldwell County Volunteer Fire Department.


The funding will be used to build an addition with two bays and a multi-purpose room onto the current fire station, said Louise Watts, grants administrator for the fire department. The new multi-purpose room will be used for training sessions, meetings, storage for equipment and for community events such as birthday parties and ice cream socials, Watts said.


Galveston park board accepting construction bids on pavilion

Galveston city officials are taking construction bids to rebuild the R.A. Apffel Park pavilion, which was damaged during Hurricane Ike in 2008.


The city wants the new East Beach pavilion to be an elevated 5,000-square-foot facility with a stage for live music and with outdoor showers.


Bids will be opened Jan. 18; construction could start in February and finish by June, city officials said.


Nederland EDC picks five

finalists for executive director

A search committee for the Nederland Economic Development Corporation recently narrowed its search for a new executive director to five candidates. The new executive director will replace Tracie Killian, who resigned from the position she has held since 2006.


Committee members reviewed about 50 applications, conducted telephone and personal interviews with numerous candidates and selected five finalists, two from Texas and three applicants from Florida, Illinois and Ohio, said Jim Wimberly, interim director of the EDC. Committee members expect to select a finalist for the position this week, he said.


SAISD financial chief resigns

to accept Northside ISD job

Steve BassettThe Northside school board recently named Steve Bassett (pictured) of the San Antonio district the new assistant superintendent for budget and finances, effective later this month.


The Northside school district is larger than the San Antonio district, with 30,000 more students, 5,000 more employees and 30 more schools, officials said.


Bassett will recommend Larry Garza, senior executive director of financial services, as interim CFO. Applications for the permanent position will be accepted until Jan. 13.


Midland County libraries to get structural upgrades this year 

The Midland County Public Library system is scheduled to receive some structural updates during 2012.


In November, Midland County purchased the Alldredge Home building for $3.2 million and is in the midst of signing a contract with an architect from Dallas to redesign the shopping center space off Loop 250. The downtown library also will undergo some changes as part of the upgrade.


County Judge Mike Bradford said the county hasn't set a specific budget for the upgrades to the two library facilities.


Northrop Grumman

Garland City Secretary

Kayser takes job in Fort Worth

Mary KayserThe Garland City Council recently discussed appointing an interim city secretary to replace Mary Kayser (pictured), who appears to be headed to Fort Worth.


She is expected to replace retiring city secretary Marty Hendrix, who served for seven years. The City Council is expected to OK the offer next week. Kayser has served in Garland since 2006 and previously worked as city secretary in Burleson.


Three Rivers ISD mulling bond election for new elementary 

Three Rivers Independent School District officials recently began discussions about scheduling a bond election to pay for a new elementary school.


The district is building an $11 million, 60,000-square-foot facility for both junior high and high school students and district officials have discussed using the land on which the old high school and middle school are located as a site for the new elementary school. Board members scheduled a workshop later this month to discuss the new elementary school.


Commissioners could spend $11 million in arena upgrades

Midland county's budget includes $11 million that could go toward an addition to the Horseshoe Arena.


The proposed addition would be located east of the Horseshoe's education facility and be a conference center-type facility. The addition would be connected to the Horseshoe through a breezeway. An additional $500,000 was budgeted for a roof that will go over the outdoor arena at the Horseshoe.


All capital expenditures are paid for through the county's reserve fund, which at the close of fiscal year 2011 was more than $42 million.


Parkland names Mary Eagen

as new Chief Nursing Officer

Officials at Parkland Health & Hospital System recently named Mary K. Eagen executive vice president and chief nursing officer, effective Jan. 30.


Previously, Eagen worked at Christus Health Southeast Texas in Beaumont, where she served as the regional chief nurse executive. Prior to that, she was the associate administrator and chief nursing officer at Christus Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christi.


Eagen holds a bachelor's degree from California State University in Los Angeles and a master's from Texas Woman's University in Denton.


LeFleur Transportation

Kilgore ISD to build new elementary, middle schools

Kilgore Independent school District officials plan to begin construction on two new middle schools in 2012 using $55 million in bonds voters approved in May 2011.


The two new schools, which will replace two existing campuses, will be located on a 100-acre tract of land, district officials said. Contractors are set to begin clearing the land for the new schools in early January, he said.


Frenship finalizes land purchase for new elementary campus

Frenship school district officials recently OK'd the purchase of 19.2 acres of land, which will be home to a seventh elementary school in the district. This construction project marks the final major project from the 2007 bond package, which nearly 70 percent of voters approved.


Sunset Commission sets first meeting of year on Jan. 10

The Sunset Advisory Commission, a 12-member legislative body that identifies and eliminates waste and inefficiency in government agencies, will meet Jan. 10 to set the year's agenda.


The commission reviews the policies and programs of more than 150 government agencies. This year, commission will review 24 agencies including the Texas Education Agency, Texas Commission on the Arts and Texas Board and Department of Criminal Justice.


Each agency is reviewed at least every 12 years.


HDI Solutions

Houston ISD to sell more

ad space on school buses

Houston Independent School District officials recently launched a campaign to sell advertisements on district school buses to help raise revenue to help make up for an expected $160 million budget shortfall next year. District officials already sold 50 advertisements and expect to sell more of the advertisements that cost $175 per month minimum, Superintendent Terry Grier said. The district operates 900 school buses each day and will ensure the advertisements are appropriate and where the ads are placed to make sure students are not distracted while entering or leaving the buses, Grier said. The first sold are to an organization that will place advertisements encouraging students to pursue higher education, he added.


Brownsville creating new municipal call center

Brownsville city officials recently announced the creation of a new municipal call center to respond to questions, process requests and direct complaints or compliments to the correct city department. The city also is launching a new Web site to provide citizens with easier access to information about city meetings, parks and other city events.


The new city hotline will be open Monday through Friday fro 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to offer citizens a more organized method to ensure the city properly responds to their questions, complaints and needs, the mayor said. The new call center is based in the public library and current city employees from several city departments are receiving training for their new duties, he said.


San Elizario ISD selects

Sylvia Hopp as superintendent

Sylvia HoppTrustees for the San Elizario Independent School District recently named Sylvia Hopp (pictured) as the superintendent. Hopp has served as interim superintendent since late July when she replaced former Superintendent Mike Quatrini, who left the position. She previously served as assistant superintendent of planning and instruction for the school district.


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Midlothian ISD buys land

for new elementary, high school

Using bond funds approved in 2004, Midlothian Independent School District trustees recently purchased 14 acres of land for a new elementary school and a 10-acre tract near the high school for a new band practice area, parking area and to add to the baseball field.


District officials have not decided yet whether the land for the elementary school will be used as a site for elementary school #7, approved in the 2004 bond election, but Superintendent Jerome Stewart said the land will be used for a future elementary school.


Alice selects engineering firm

to design new multi-use complex

Alice City Council members recently approved a contract with an engineering firm to perform architectural and engineering design services for a new multi-use complex. The new facility will include an aquatic feature and training center, city officials said.


North Side ISD kicks off search for new superintendent

Trustees for the North Side Independent School District recently agreed to interview search firms to help find a new superintendent to replace Dr. John Folks, who is retiring in June 2012. Board members expect to look nationwide for a superintendent to replace Folks, who led the district for 10 years.


Port of Galveston gives OK to Pelican Island development

Officials at the Port of Galveston recently OK'd terms of an option agreement that would allow a railroad company several years to study, design and obtain permits for the development of a bulk cargo container terminal on Pelican Island.


Port and railroad company officials have discussed building a rail connection between Pelican Island and Galveston. In September, Galveston County commissioners established a rural rail transportation district, which can apply for grants and loans to fund rail projects. 


Pleasanton selects Bruce Pearson as new city manager

Bruce PearsonPleasanton City Council members recently selected Bruce Pearson (pictured) as the new city manager. The contract for Pearson is for a two-year term beginning on Jan. 9 and ending on Jan. 8, 2014. Pearson previously was employed as a senior inspector by the San Antonio Water System for eight years and as a city manager in Cibolo for two years. He was selected from a pool of more than 60 applicants.


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Abilene ISD approves several administrative changes

In a series of personnel changes, Abilene independent School District officials recently moved Gustavo Villanueva to serve as the administrator for instruction at Abilene High School. Villanueva replaces Jennifer Reney, who was named as the new principal at Abilene High School.


Connie Mangin also is the new executive director of special education to replace Larry Davis, who is retiring after nine years in that position and 37 years as an educator, Superintendent Heath Burns said. Mangin has worked 32 years in special education, he said.


Villanueva previously served as a middle school principal, an assistant principal and a teacher. He begins his new position In June. Kathryn Walker, the chief academic officer at Abilene High School, also will begin her new duties as principal of the Woodson Center for Excellence to replace Diana Malek, who is retiring from that post.


Recent Reports

Alice to seek certification

to use effluent water for resale

Alice city officials recently approved applying to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for a 210 certification to permit the city to resale effluent, or raw water, for commercial and industrial uses.


City officials project a water shortage in the future related to the fracking process used in the production of oil and gas and expect an opportunity to sell some of the 82.5 million gallons of raw water produced each month in wastewater treatment plants, said City Manager Ray De Los Santos Jr. A small portion of the raw water is used to irrigate the golf course and some athletic fields, but most is released into a creek, he said. The effluent is treated to a greater standard than the certification the city is attempting to attain, De Los Santos said.


If TCEQ approves the certification, the city most likely will issue a request for proposals from companies to buy some of the effluent produced each month, he said. The certification could be done in as soon as two to four weeks, he added.


Texas Government Insider Archives
Volume 1-8 Archives -1/8/04 - 12/22/11 

TxDOT awards $1.86 million grant to Gillespie County Airport

Texas Department of Transportation officials recently awarded a $1.869 million grant from its Aviation Facilities Grant Program to the Gillespie County Airport. The grant will be used to upgrade airport pavement along with moving and improving the Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS), airport officials said. Work on the pavement improvements should begin in about 60 days while airport officials expect work to kick off on the AWOS about 60 days after bids for that project are opened.


Marble Falls forms group to

study proposed sports complex

Marble Falls City Council members recently agreed to create a committee to decide who should conduct a feasibility study of a proposal to build a new sports complex to bring more visitors to the city. Supporters of the proposed sports complex say the proposed facility will attract more visitors for athletic events, competitions and tournaments and increase revenue at local hotels, restaurants and other retail businesses.



Trevino chosen to serve on

EPA's Good Neighbor Board

Tim TrevinoOfficials at the U.S Environmental Protection Agency recently invited Tim Trevino (pictured) of San Antonio to serve on the Good Neighbor Environmental Board, an independent committee that advises the president and Congress on environmental infrastructure needs along the U.S.-Mexico border.


Trevino currently serves as senior director of strategic planning and agency communications for the Alamo Area Council of Governments. He will serve a two-year term that began last month and ends Jan. 18, 2013.


Farmersville tags White as new interim city manager

Farmersville City Council members recently selected Benjamin L. White as the new interim city manager. Previously the director of public works, White replaces John Moran, who has been city manager in Farmersville since 2009. White holds a bachelor's degree from Texas A&M University.


Rockwall ISD to build

new elementary school

Rockwall Independent School District trustees recently approved construction of a new elementary school near a subdivision in Fate. District officials expect to begin building the new school this spring and open the facility in 2013, a spokeswoman for the school district said. Voters in 2007 approved bonds to pay for the new school, and population growth convinced trustees that the new facility is now needed, Superintendent Jeff Bailey said.


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Manvel selects Kyle Jung

as next city manager

Manvel city officials recently named municipal administrator Kyle J. Jung the new city manager, effective Jan. 17.


Jung currently serves as interim city manager in Flatonia and previously served as city manager of Sour Lake. Jung, who holds a master's degree from Texas Tech University, has also worked for the Texas Municipal League as senior coordinator of affiliate services.


Manvel, population 7,160, is located about 20 miles south of Houston in Brazoria County.


Cell phone restrictions now

in effect for truck, bus drivers About 4 million interstate truck and bus drivers were recently prohibited from using handheld cell phones while driving.  

Violators could be fined up to $2,750 for each offense and could lose their commercial license for multiple convictions of cell phone violations. Additionally, companies that allow their drivers use cell phones while driving could be fined up to $11,000. The rule comes from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.



Victoria moves forward on new $700,000 fire training facility

Victoria City Council members recently approved on first reading an ordinance to transfer $700,000 from the general fund to build a new burn building for the fire department. Plans call for the new training facility to be built on 80 acres of land that will also be home to the new wastewater treatment plant and provide training for county fire departments and local law enforcement SWAT teams, the fire chief said. The current training facility has structural damage, he said.


The Texas Government Insider is a free weekly e-newsletter detailing important happenings throughout the state and summarizing current political issues relevant to individuals interested in government.
Publisher: Mary Scott Nabers
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