Texas Government Insider
News And People

Volume 14, Issue 48 - Friday, December 30, 2016
Texans vie for remaining cabinet position
Elsa Murano
Susan Combs
Sid Miller
Three Texans are reportedly being considered for one of the remaining positions in President-elect Donald Trump's cabinet. Top contenders for secretary of agriculture include former Texas A&M University President Elsa Murano, former Texas Comptroller and Texas Agricultural Commissioner Susan Combs and current Texas Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller.

Murano met with Trump on Wednesday at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla. She also served as under secretary of agriculture for food safety in the administration of Pres. George W. Bush. 

Vice President-elect Mike Pence met with Combs earlier this month. A second meeting with Trump is scheduled for today in Florida.

Miller is also meeting with the Trump team today. He currently sits on the president-elect's agricultural advisory team and serves as a point of contact for the transition team on agricultural and border security issues.

If one of the candidates is selected for the Secretary of Agriculture position, he or she would become the third Texan nominated for the presidential cabinet. Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson was nominated for secretary of state and former Governor Rick Perry was nominated for secretary of energy.

HRO releases upcoming legislative topics report 
The Texas House of Representatives' House Research Organization has released a report on prominent issues expected to be considered in the next legislative session, which begins on Jan. 10. 

Lawmakers are expected to consider proposals to reduce property taxes, revise criminal offenses and penalties, reform Child Protective Services and the foster care system, address abortion issues, expand school choice, revise public school testing and accountability programs, address college affordability, review voter identification requirements, address water needs, revise regulations and fees for those carrying handguns and other issues.
Pension committee urges immediate action
The Texas House Committee on Pensions, chaired by Rep. Dan Flynn, has submitted an interim report. The Texas Legislature is charged with oversight of pensions under state statute. More than 90 pension plans exist in the state with over $200 billion in assets. The plans have approximately $60 billion in unfunded liabilities for a funded ratio of around 80%. 
The pensions committee was charged with analyzing the pension plans, some of which are in danger of insolvency, and developing solutions. 
The committee recommended that all pension plans work with their respective cities to come to an agreement that works for both the members and taxpaying citizens while it is still financially feasible to do so.

"It is imperative that cities understand that if they do not act now, the cost to repair plans will be beyond the means of any city (large or small) to sustain any of the current pension plans. If a suitable agreement is unable to be reached, severe actions will need to be taken to ensure the financial sustainability of pension plans," stated the report.

The committee recommend that a combination of pension obligation bonds and excess bonding capacity be used to make up for historic shortfalls in actuarially recommended contributions.
Feds grant $500M for TEX Rail
Fort Worth Transportation Authority officials have been awarded a $499 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration to help pay for a $1 billion project to provide rail service from Fort Worth to the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Airport. 

Local and state funding will pay the remaining cost of the TEX Rail project that is designed to span nearly 27 miles with nine stops in North Richland Hills and Fort Worth to Terminal B at DFW Airport. The TEX Rail project also will share two passenger stations with the Trinity Railway Express that runs parallel to Interstate 30 from Dallas to Fort Worth.

The rail project is the western portion of the Cotton Belt Rail Corridor. Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials also have announced plans to build the eastern portion of the rail corridor running east from DFW Airport to Plano within ten years.
Strategic Partnerships salutes Texas' Lone Stars
Mike Morath
Mike Morath, Commissioner, Texas Education Agency

Career highlights and education: I have a BBA in Finance from George Washington University. I founded one dot com that ended as a massive failure. But I then led and subsequently sold my interest in a successful software company.

What I like best about my job is: The ability to help support the education of almost 5½ million kids.

The best advice I've received for my current job is: Visit as many places you can and listen to the parents and educators there to learn what our kids needed.

Advice you would give a new hire in your office: Seek to understand how schools and teachers will use whatever you are working on to improve student outcomes.

If I ever left work early, I could probably be found: Playing with my kids.

People would be surprised to know that I: Rode across the U.S. on my Harley, twice.

One thing I wish more people knew about TEA:
 The people at TEA work hard to try to balance policy so that it does the most good for the most kids, but ultimately success comes down to local parents, teachers and principals, and the strength of the relationships they have with our kids.
Dallas pension fund policy revised
Dallas Police and Fire Pension Board members voted earlier this month to suspend withdrawals. However, on Thursday, the board voted to partially reopen withdrawals for some retirees.

The board suspended lump-sum withdrawals after Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings filed a lawsuit to stop the payments in December. The actions followed reports that the $2.1 billion pension fund was headed for insolvency and a flood of withdrawal requests were submitted. Retirees had requested $154 million in withdrawals from the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, known as DROP, in one week.

The board plans to continue to revise the withdrawal policy next month, pending a judge's ruling in the ongoing litigation.
Cornyn claims eight laws this year
John Cornyn
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas may be the most prolific lawmaker of the past Congressional session with eight sponsored bills signed into law this year. 

Legislation passed this year includes the Justice for Victims Trafficking act of 2015 to help victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation; an extension of the timeline of authority for the Starr-Camargo Bridge Company to maintain and toll a bridge that crossed the Rio Grande River; the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 to boost the Freedom of Information Act and improve government transparency; the POLICE Act of 2016 to support law enforcement and first responders responding to active shooter response; the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which allows families of terrorist attack victims to sue foreign states that fund terrorism. 

This month, three more bills were signed into law. The Cross Border Trade Enhancement Act establishes a public-private partnership to boost infrastructure at U.S. ports of entry. The Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2016 aims to strengthen victims' rights in the courtroom and to reduce the national rape kit backlog. The Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act allows the heirs or owners of Nazi-confiscated art to recover their belongings, without regard to statutes of limitations.
Travis County to take over federal courthouse
Photo by Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0
Federal officials on Thursday approved Travis County's application to take over a U.S. courthouse on Eighth Street in Austin for the county's probate court and clerks offices. The building has been vacant for four years and is being given to the county free of charge. 

County officials have been seeking a solution to overcrowding for some time. A bond referendum for a new courthouse failed last year. 

"Thanks, Uncle Sam, for a wonderful Christmas present," County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said. "We have a process ahead of us. This is a beautiful grand lady of a building, and we will have some work to be done on it in order to keep it in the grandeur that our community expects." 

The building, constructed in 1936, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Officials estimate it will cost $28 million to renovate the building and expect it will open in 2020. 

Although the courthouse will relieve some overcrowding issues, county officials are still looking for sites for a new civil and family courthouse. The Travis County Commissioners Court is expected to review recommendations for those sites in February.
Plano considers $49M facilities
Facilities Manager Jim Razinha of Plano urged city council members to include $49 million in capital improvement projects in an upcoming bond election being considered by city officials. 
The facilities projects include a new $15 million training center for fire and rescue personnel that would include a training tower, a technical rescue training village, a burn house and classrooms. The proposal also includes a new $12 million police substation. Both facilities would be located at the northwest corner of McDermott Road and Robinson Road.
Troy seeking proposals for downtown square
Troy city officials are again seeking proposals from developers interested in transforming the property that once was the site of city hall into an "economic and community anchor" on the downtown square. The city cleared the property for redevelopment in 2011. 

The project should fit the style of the other buildings in the neighborhood and provide access to the riverfront. The deadline for the proposals is Jan. 20.
SPI announces Special Services Division
John Barton
Brad Livingston
Debra Vermillion
Strategic Partnerships, Inc. announced the creation of a Special Services Division to help connect companies with exceptional national experts on government contracting. Division leaders include John Barton, Brad Livingston and Debra Vermillion. 
Barton is a veteran public-sector executive who served for more than a decade as deputy executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation and held leadership positions in numerous national transportation organizations.

Livingston is a former executive of one of the largest departments of criminal justice in the nation, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and a budget and procurement expert with many years in other executive-level government positions

Vermillion is a former director of the Crash Data & Analysis section in the Traffic Operations Division at TxDOT. She is an expert in data analysis for safety and transportation planning.

"The consultants in this division are well-served to offer assistance to clients because of their government executive leadership experience, decades of project experience and their relationships throughout the country. They are available to provide insight, guidance and assistance as companies develop strategy, Go-To-Market plans, communication outreach and opportunity pursuit plans," said Mary Scott Nabers, SPI's president and CEO. 
Nabers said the new division is already functioning and new consultants will be added in the very near future. To learn more about SPI's Special Services Division, click here or send an email to sales@spartnerships.com.
Schertz-Cibolo-University City ISD move on new school, upgrades
Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District board members agreed to issue up to $87 million in bonds in January to pay for new schools, renovations and upgrades to district facilities. Voters approved $137 million in bonds in November to fund the capital improvement projects. 

District officials plan to vote on final design plans in January for a $72 million project to expand and renovate Clemens High School and begin work on that project in May 2017. Other projects included in the bond proposal are building a new elementary campus estimated to cost about $38 million; replacing heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at three campuses for an estimated $10 million; and $5 million to upgrade technology.
Elgin plans $4.3M emergency shelter, recreation center
Elgin city council members are planning to build a new $4.5 million multi-purpose facility that will serve as a recreation center and as an emergency shelter for up to 50 people. The new center also will provide office space near the reception area for parks and recreation staff members. 

The city received a $1.5 million disaster grant from the General Land Office following a wildfire in Bastrop County in October 2011 which will help pay for the facility. Officials expect to award contracts at the first meeting of the year in January. The project is expected to take one year to complete.
El Paso reevaluates downtown arena site
The El Paso City Council cited neighborhood opposition when voting to back away from plans to build a new downtown arena south of the convention center. Council members told the city manager to reevaluate the convention center site and property within 1,000 feet of the convention center campus.

City officials originally planned to use about 20 pieces of land that included apartment buildings, homes and businesses to be purchased for the proposed arena project. The city has spent about $1 million acquiring some of that property and will begin looking at other property in the downtown area.

Bellaire plans $5.6M capital improvement projects
Bellaire City Council members are reviewing plans to begin capital improvement projects totaling $5.6 million that include a new city hall, police facility and court offices in addition to upgrades to the civic center. Voters in November approved bonds to pay for the new and upgraded facilities. 

The first step is to demolish the current city hall, police and court facilities and completely rebuild those facilities, Project Manager Michelle Jordan said. Officials also plan to relocate some activities at the civic center to a temporary location in early 2019 when renovations on the civic center begin.
Brazoria County transit system to seek grants to expand
The Brazoria County transit system, Gulf Coast Center/Connect Transit, plans to expand services. Transit officials will seek grants to help pay for new vehicles, add new transit stops and possibly build a new fleet facility. The transit system has experienced an almost 54 percent increase in riders and staff are developing a cost estimate to determine how much in grant funding to seek, said Connie Westfall, the transit manager. 

Transit system officials have toured a fleet facility owned by the City of Lake Jackson located near the public compressed natural gas station on Medical Drive. The agencies could potentially work out an agreement to move the system's fleet to the city-owned site.
Bastrop seeking bids for renovation
Bastrop city officials are seeking bids for a $500,000 project to renovate and enlarge the police and courts building. The renovations includes developing 1,000-square-feet of unused space to add new offices and redesigned courtrooms as well as new security features inside and outside of the Adell Powell Police and Courts Building. 

Bids for the renovation project are due on Jan. 5. Council members plan to select a contractor in January for the expansion project, which should be completed in about six months.
Calendar of Events

Jan. 23-25, 2017
The Water for Texas 2017 Conference in Austin, Texas, will showcase innovative scientific, planning and financial solutions to water challenges; interactive data and technology; and compelling conversations on water issues that affect all Texans. Panel discussions, workshops, and exhibits will offer the opportunity to network and engage with industry leaders, elected officials and TWDB Board members and staff. A conference agenda is available. Register here.

Feb. 2, 2017
The Houston-Galveston Area Council's 2017 Election Law Workshop will be held Thursday, Feb. 2, in Houston. The event is designed for everyone charged with conducting elections. Participants will receive detailed updates on election laws and step-by-step procedures for conducting an election; including duties prior to election day, on election day and after election day. Click here to register.

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

Construction firms interested in capturing new business in 2017 should definitely not overlook the government marketplace. It's possible that this is where most of the action will be!

Construction is pending on a proposed $150 million Texas project - a new Hidalgo County Courthouse in Edinburg. In Maryland, Montgomery County officials have requested development proposals for a new mixed-use arena in downtown Silver Spring. A $2.9 billion renovation project is planned for the Salt Lake City International Airport and project plans include a new terminal, a $740 million concourse and other work.

A public-private partnership (P3) pilot program will be used to launch a $136 million veteran's medical facility. Watch for similar projects as a result of this pilot program. It allows the Department of Veterans Affairs to participate in P3 projects that use donated private funds to ensure their completion.

Lally to serve as Gonzales city manager 
Sean Lally
Sean Lally was selected as the new city manager in Gonzales. Lally, who has 26 years experience in both the public and private sector, will begin his new duties in Gonzales in late January or early February, according to the interim city manager, Charles Windwehen. 

Currently the chief financial officer for Monroeville, Pa., Lally also was elected to serve as controller in Fayette County, Pa. Lally has a bachelor's degree from Duquesne University and a master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh.
Feds approve $10B LNG project in Jefferson County
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued a permit for a $10 billion liquefied natural gas project at a Sabine Pass terminal in Jefferson County. 

The project includes gas treatment facilities, a self-generation power station, expanding the current pipeline system and adding three liquefaction trains. The project is also subject to wetlands mitigation requirements.

Colleyville city manager resigns
Jennifer Fadden
City Manager Jennifer Fadden of Colleyville announced she will resign effective April 2. She became city manager in March 2009. 

City officials are seeking proposals from executive search firms to assist in finding a new city manager.
Arlington airport seeking $1.2M for fence
Arlington Municipal Airport officials are seeking $1.2 million in federal funding to pay for a chain-link fence to prevent coyotes from roaming onto the runway. The grant would pay about 90 percent of the cost of the new fence to be built near the creek area and to replace an older barrier on the perimeter of the airport, officials said.
Austin Mayor proposes convention center expansion
Steve Adler
Mayor Steve Adler of Austin urged city council members to support funding increases to expand the Austin Convention Center and to develop a new downtown park along Waller Creek to provide more green space in that area. The mayor suggested increasing the hotel occupancy tax by 2 percent or creating a Tourism Public Improvement District (TPID) to pay for expanding the convention center which is unable to book some larger groups because of lack of space. 

To pay for a new park along Waller Creek, estimated to cost about $150 million, the mayor urged council members to extend the life of the Waller Creek Tax Increment Financing District to raise about $100 million and seek $50 million donations from the public. Council members may consider these proposals in January as they begin setting priorities for 2017.

Morrison retiring as Garland ISD superintendent
Bob Morrison
Superintendent Bob Morrison of Garland Independent School District is retiring after joining the district in 2013. Board members agreed to hire a search firm to help find a new superintendent. 

Morrison previously served as a superintendent for Mansfield ISD after stints as the director of student services, the assistant superintendent of secondary schools and deputy superintendent. He also was a principal, coach and teacher in Oklahoma.
Hays County approves $7.4M for disaster recovery
Hays County Commissions approved about $7.4 million in disaster recovery funding to pay for infrastructure that will assist in preventing flooding and to help homeowners and business owners in rebuilding their property following two flooding incidents in 2015. The Texas General Land Office must approve the allocation plan before the funding is finalized. 
Commissioners approved $3.2 million to pay for infrastructure projects in unincorporated areas of Hays County - $1.3 million in Kyle, $307,432 in Buda and $198,147 for Uhland. To pay for housing replacement and rehabilitation, commissioners approved $1.85 million for unincorporated areas of the county and $518,476 for Wimberley. The grant requires that 70 percent of the grant funding be spent in low-income areas.
Jarosek named Canadian city manager
Joe Jarosek
Joe Jarosek has agreed to serve as the new city manager in Canadian. Jarosek resigned as city manager in Vernon in September. He previously worked for the city of Uvalde for seven years. 

Jarosek has a master's degree from Sul Ross State University and a bachelor's degree from The University of Texas at Austin.
MPO raises priority for overpass project in Odessa
Permian Basin Metropolitan Planning Organization board members agreed to update the master transportation plan by raising the priority for an overpass project at East Loop 338 and Yukon Road in Odessa to the third in priority in fiscally constrained priority projects. The project was previously on the unfunded list. 
The project will improve Yukon Road to serve as a reliever route for traffic congestion on 42nd Street, a major thoroughfare that includes Permian High School, several shopping centers, the Ector County Coliseum and the University of Texas of the Permian Basin.

Fannin County to build new office building
Fannin County commissioners are building a new 4,875 square-foot office building to house all county employees during the restoration of the historic county courthouse. The new county office will be located at the intersection of Sam Rayburn Drive and Lipscomb Boulevard. 

Once the courthouse restoration is completed, the new county office building will provide permanent office space to the Fannin County tax assessor/collector and the office of the newly created position of election administration in addition to providing space for all early voting, county officials said.
Conroe moves forward on park upgrades
Conroe City Council members approved a design contract for improvements to Carl Barton Jr. Park. The upgrades include improvements to parking and roads, tennis courts, lighting for the soccer field, a walking trail, sand volleyball court, a pavilion and maintenance building.
Dozens of public-sector jobs are available. New jobs added this week:  
Click here to view more. Send postings to editor@spartnerships.com.

On Our Website 

WIIN Act provides $10B for water projects

Gov. Greg Abbott has announced the following appointments:  
  • Alicia Gray Key, Dripping Springs, State Employee Charitable Campaign Policy Committee;
  • Tabatha C. Vasquez, Austin, State Employee Charitable Campaign Policy Committee;
  • Greg Davidson, Austin, State Employee Charitable Campaign Policy Committee;
  • Todd Boykin, Amarillo, Red River Authority of Texas Board Of Directors;
  • Jerry Bob Daniel, Truscott, Red River Authority of Texas Board Of Directors;
  • Wilson Scaling, Henrietta, Red River Authority of Texas Board Of Directors;
  • David Peeples, San Antonio, Presiding Judge of The Fourth Administrative Judicial Region;
  • Steve Ables, Kerrville, Presiding Judge of The Sixth Administrative Judicial Region;
  • Kelly Moore, Lubbock, Presiding Judge of The Ninth Administrative Judicial Region.
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Texas Government Insider is a free weekly newsletter detailing important happenings throughout the state and summarizing current political issues relevant to individuals interested in government.   
Publisher: Mary Scott Nabers
Editor: Priscilla Loebenberg 
TGI is published by Strategic Partnerships, Inc. (SPI), a research and consulting firm. Founded in Texas in 1995 by former government executives and public sector experts, SPI has developed a national reputation as the premier marketing partner dedicated to helping companies secure contracts in the $1.5 trillion state and local government marketplace.   
To learn more about SPI services, click here or contact our sales department at 512-531-3900. 
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