News And People

Volume 14, Issue 5 - Friday, February 5, 2016
Decades of effort pay off in recognition for Texas Tech
Carnegie Foundation names Texas Tech, three others Tier 1 schools 

Some 20 years ago, leaders of Texas Tech University made the decision to boost the school's research efforts and raise its national reputation as an elite university. Not long after that, the Texas Legislature announced its own intentions to increase the number of nationally recognized research universities in the state.

The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University and Rice University have long been considered elite research institutions, and Tech wanted to be included in that group. It, too, had a strong reputation for its research endeavors when it came to its agricultural programs. But it was a concerted effort by university leaders to funnel resources toward the school's larger research efforts that has now paid off with recognition among the "Highest Research Activity" category of the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

"It had always been a strong teaching university," says interim President John Opperman (pictured). "But 15 or 20 years ago, Tech made a conscious decision to be a research university. The goal was to be considered among the top 100 public research universities, and part of that was to be classified as Tier 1 of the Carnegie Foundation classifications and with the AAU (Association of American Universities) schools, which is a more elite group."

The AAU recognizes about 60 universities in the United States and Canada. Just three - UT, A&M and Rice - are in Texas. The Carnegie Tier 1 classification is also an exclusive club.

Strategic Partnerships salutes Texas' Lone Stars
Edward Block, Chief Information Security Officer, Texas Department of Information Resources

Career highlights and education: I've been in both the public and private sectors and have learned quite a bit from seeing both sides. The roles I enjoyed most were building the penetration testing capability at the Department of Information Resources (DIR) in the early 2000s and serving as the first information security officer (ISO) for the Employee Retirement System of Texas. I have a BA in classical civilizations from Loyola Marymount University and a Juris Doctor from the St. Mary's University School of Law. I also hold a number of security certifications, including Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Information Privacy Professional - Government (CIPP/G), Certified Information Privacy Manager (CIPM), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) and Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH).

What I like best about my job is: There is never a dull day. Whether I'm evaluating threats to the state, consulting with agencies or institutions of higher education on their security posture or working with state leadership to help build a stronger cybersecurity culture in Texas, no two days are the same.

The best advice I've received for my current job is: "The truth doesn't care who says it." I don't need to be the person in the room with all the answers. I need to be the person who can hear others' ideas and determine the best course for the statewide security program.

Advice you would give a new hire in your office: Be curious. The best security people I know aren't the ones with the most letters after their names but are the inquisitive people who need to know why an anomaly exists. Why are the logs "weird?" Why is the network slower? Why does the web application crash when I enter 1,000 characters into the password field? I can train people in tools and technologies, but curiosity comes natural.

If I ever decided to leave work early, I could probably be found: Most of the time I leave the office early, it is to prepare for a Boy Scout campout. I'm an assistant Scoutmaster and try to unplug from technology at least one weekend a month. This past summer, I spent two weeks hiking 100 miles with a crew in northern New Mexico. Now, if the question was, why am I awake late at night, I can probably be found playing video games or reading cyberpunk books.

People would be surprised to know that: I am fairly eclectic: I spent three summers on archaeological digs in Israel, I taught ceramic seriation (dating sites based on pottery finds) as a visiting scholar at the University of Southern California, I'm a licensed attorney and I used to have a bright red Mohawk. I also have varied taste in music, from Sigur Rós and Radiohead to George Strait - I am a native Texan, so I think it is in the blood - and Jon Prine. Luckily, Austin provides the opportunity for me to regularly experience great music.

One thing I wish more people knew about my agency: DIR is an interesting place to work because of the diversity of our mission. We serve as a contracting agency, a consultancy, an ISP, a telephone company, a colocation facility, a rulemaking body and much more. In my role, I get to interact with all of these groups on a regular basis and have a great view into the incredible people we have in our agency. For an entity with around 200 people, DIR does a lot for our customers - the agencies and institutions of higher education within Texas.

Weatherford asks hospital district to join in TIRZ
Weatherford city officials recently requested Parker County Hospital District officials to partner in a proposed Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) to fund transportation projects.

The proposed Transportation Investment Partnership would focus on promoting economic development by funding qualified transportation projects along Interstate 20, said Dennis Clayton, executive director of the city's Economic Development Department. Clayton proposed the hospital district allot 50 percent of property tax revenue derived from the difference between the original value of the property and additional value provided by the new development. This could provide about $142,000 annually to the transportation partnership, he estimated.

The city has agreed to provide a $6 million seed loan and a portion of additional property tax revenues expected from the proposed $32.4 million in road projects needed to meet growth and development, Clayton said. The goal is to finalize creation of the TIRZ by March. City officials also plan to ask Parker County and Weatherford College officials to participate in the TIRZ.
Dallas weighing 2017 $800M bond election to fund roads
Dallas City Council members have begun planning for a bond election in 2017 to ask voters to approve as much as $800 million to upgrade roads and infrastructure.

The first step is to instruct city staff to begin surveying city facilities to determine those most in need of repair, council members said. While taking no vote at a recent council retreat, council members did discuss a bond package that would include about $500 million for street projects and $200 million for other infrastructure.

The mayor and city manager have suggested council members consider postponing a bond election for another year to deal with an expected $1.4 billion shortfall in the police and fire pension system. Council members, however, argued that public opinion is adamant that roads must be repaired as soon as possible and supported a bond election to be scheduled no later than November 2017.

Aubrey weighing two alternatives for expansion of water system
Aubrey city officials recently began weighing two options to expand the city's water system to handle new development.

The options discussed are to sell $5.5 million in bonds to upgrade the existing water system or sell the water system to the Mustang Special Water District. Officials of the water district have agreed to pay the city a 5 percent franchise fee and to assume the $2.7 million of debt associated with the water and wastewater system, Mayor Janet Meyers (pictured) said.

Currently the city has only 300 water connections available and will not be able to approve new development unless the water system is expanded. The water district has more than 11,000 water connections, according to water district officials.

The mayor, however, said she supports the city issuing bonds. "I think we should spend the $5.5 million," she said. "I think it's the kind of investment that the citizens of Aubrey wanted us to make when they voted for me and the other city council members."
January state sales tax revenue collections totaled $2.5 billion, down 4 percent from 2015
The Office of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts has announced that the state collected $2.47 billion in sales tax revenue during the month of January. That figure is down 4 percent from the same month of the year prior, a decrease that Comptroller Glenn Hegar attributed to low oil and gas prices.

"As expected, reduced spending in oil and gas-related sectors resulted in a fall in total sales tax revenue," Hegar said. "Collections from industries mainly driven by consumer spending, including retail trade, restaurants and services, continued to grow, as did receipts from the construction sector."

Hegar pointed out that last month's sales tax revenue is significantly higher than January 2014's and that January 2015's figure was a record high for Texas, "meaning this month's collections are being compared to unusually high collections from a year ago."

Motor fuel taxes were up slightly over last year, but both motor vehicle sales and rental taxes and oil and natural gas production taxes were down. Those taxes in January were:
  • motor vehicle sales and rental taxes - $380.6 million, down 3.9 percent from January 2015;
  • motor fuel taxes - $291.6 million, up 1.4 percent from January 2015; and
  • oil and natural gas production taxes - $193.4 million, down 45.1 percent from January 2015.
For details on all monthly collections, see the comptroller's Monthly State Revenue Watch.

Denton approves funding for new municipal complex study
Denton City Council members recently approved about $84,000 to pay for a feasibility study for a new municipal complex. The new facility would replace the current city hall, which was built in 1969.

The study will focus on how the city now uses its buildings, whether current space can be better utilized and how much space the city will need in the future, the mayor said. Staff has estimated the proposed civic complex will need to be about 150,000 square feet.

City officials also are looking at a developer's proposal to use a public-private partnership (P3) to build the municipal complex, said Assistant City Manager Jon Fortune (pictured).
Corpus Christi to use TWDB grant to study water storage
Corpus Christi recently received a $433,000 grant from the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to study aquifer storage and recovery projects. The effort is an attempt to reduce evaporation that often takes more water than the city consumes.

The grant funds will be used to drill three 12,000-foot-deep test wells and design computer models to study the feasibility of developing underground storage sites to reduce evaporation, said Brent Clayton, a city water resource planner. The city's water supply can lose twice as much from evaporation during the summer months as is used by customers of the water system, he said. The goal is to begin work on the water storage project study this year and drill the test wells in 2017, Clayton said.
College Station moving forward with plans for new police station
College Station City Council members recently instructed city staff to continue working with architects on the design for a proposed 79,000-square-foot police station.

The goal is to open the new facility in early 2018, and council members plan to vote soon on a design plan for the new police station, which will replace the city's existing 28,949-square-foot station, said Deputy City Manager Chuck Gilman (pictured). Current plans call for the new police station to be located on a 12-acre, city-owned site on Krenek Tap Road and Dartmouth Street, he said.

Preliminary design plans call for construction of a two-story building and an annex for storage to provide space for offices, an area for evidence, meeting rooms, training areas, communications space and a jail.
Mission mayor urging feasibility study for new bridge at border
Mayor Beto Salinas of Mission recently urged city officials in Hidalgo and McAllen to work together to build a new international bridge at Madero, a few miles upstream from the Anzalduas International Bridge.

The three cities collaborated in building that bridge, and Salinas said officials from those cities are working together again to identify funding for a feasibility study for a new, smaller bridge. He estimated the cost of a new bridge, to be built in a rural area west of Mission, to be about $28 million. The city has a presidential permit to build another bridge, Salinas said.

A new bridge is needed, he said, as vehicles using the Anzalduas Bridge often must wait three to four hours to cross the border. City officials in McAllen and Mission are considering limiting the proposed bridge at Madero only to commercial traffic with cargo, said Rigo Villarreal, superintendent of the international bridges at Hidalgo and Anzalduas.

Keene council members get first look at city hall/civic center plan
Keene City Council members recently got their first look at preliminary plans for a new 20,000-square-foot city hall and community center. The city now leases space from a university for a city hall, but that agreement will expire soon and the city must vacate the building before March 2017.

City officials originally discussed building separate facilities for the city hall and the community center but decided on building only one facility, primarily due to issues concerning parking, the mayor said.

The plans call for the facility to feature a lobby, an area to accommodate city council meetings and the municipal court, as well as administrative areas in the back of the building. The community center will seat up to 250 people. The architect has provided no cost estimate as yet for the proposed city hall/civic center.
La Vernia ISD bond panel urges $33.2 million bond election
A 40-member long-range facilities committee with the La Vernia Independent School District recently urged trustees to schedule a $33.2 million bond election for May 7.

Meeting for the last five weeks, committee members recommended asking voters to approve $14.7 million to renovate and expand the high school. The group urged using the funding to add a secure entrance, create more classrooms and renovate the cafeteria to use for culinary arts, choir and the band, along with repurposing the existing culinary and theater arts areas into an area for family and consumer science, along with upgrades to athletic facilities.

Also included in the proposal is $13.1 million to renovate and expand the junior high school campus with 26 new classrooms, a new library and a new band hall. The recommendation also included asking for approval of $400,000 to improve technology infrastructure.
Lone Grove will ask voters to approve $11 million in bonds
Trustees for Lone Grove Independent School District recently agreed to schedule a $10.97 million bond election in May.

A majority of the bond funds will be used to upgrade an intermediate school with new lighting, improved drainage and by sealing leaks, noted Superintendent Meri Jayne Miller (pictured). Because Lone Grove recently experienced a tornado that caused eight fatalities, trustees also plan to build safe rooms that will provide protection for students, staff and community members during emergency situations.
San Angelo weighing wastewater reuse project design proposal
San Angelo City Council members recently began considering to award a design contract for a proposed $136 million plant to process wastewater into potable water.

The council approved a pilot project for the wastewater reuse plant in 2015. The pilot plant is expected to begin operation in about a month, which prompted the water utilities director to ask council to approve a design contract. The wastewater reuse project involves membrane filtration and the reverse osmosis process. Council members, however, tabled the design contract proposal to provide more time for the water board to explore other options to augment the water supply.

House interim committee studies statewide water grid possibilities
Following through on one of Speaker Joe Straus's interim charges, the House Natural Resources Committee this week met to discuss the possibility of establishing a statewide water grid.

"With our sustained population growth that we're blessed with, there has to be infrastructure there to deal with that," State Rep. Jim Keffer, chairman of the committee, said at the committee hearing.

The committee is charged with attempting to facilitate an understanding between sparsely populated rural areas that have more water than they use and large urban areas that perpetually need access to ever more water. Among the tasks before the committee is to study incentives that can be provided by urban areas receiving water to the areas providing that water supply "that could benefit each area and the state as a whole."

Rep. Tracy King, of Batesville, warned about the consequences of depleting a region's supply just because it doesn't presently have the need for so much water. Referring to the amount of water used in the fracking process, King asked "How would we have ever predicted Eagle Ford Shale? If they had shipped that water out 50 years ago, you never would have had that economic boom, conceivably."

A bill to study the possibility of creating an integrated state water grid, rather than the piecemeal approach currently in use, passed through the House during the 2015 session but stalled in the Senate.
Kilgore ISD considering demolition of middle school
In an effort to reduce costs and possibly make room for a city trail, Kilgore Independent School Distrust board members recently began discussions on whether to demolish Maude Laird Middle School.

The middle school was closed in the fall of 2013 after a replacement school was opened. Since that time, the district has spent at least $65,000 in utilities and an additional $5,000 for alarms and control systems at the unused facility, the board president said. District officials also have studied the possibility of renovating the campus to use as a bus barn, an early college high school or a community center, but none of those projects were economically feasible due to the poor condition of the facility.

City officials also approached the district with a proposal to use part of the land for a trail system that would connect four campuses. Planners are looking at building sidewalks for more pedestrian-friendly access rather than the original route for the trail, which passes through a wooded area. District officials, however, have expressed concern about using land that may be needed for future growth.
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Royse City to install outdoor emergency warning system
Officials of Royse City recently began discussions on the feasibility of installing an outdoor early warning system. The mayor also requested Joe DeLane, the coordinator of the office of emergency management in Rockwall County, to schedule training for a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) this spring in Royse City.

Funding for an emergency warning system could be available through the Hazard Mitigation Program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, DeLane said. City officials have located a grant that would fund 70 percent of the cost of the warning system, leaving the city only $39,000 to pay for the system, he said.

Calendar of Events

March P3 Conference will bring together public, private sectors 
March 7-9, 2016
The annual Public-Private Conference and Expo, one of the largest gatherings of development professionals in the country, will be held March 7-9 at the Sheraton Hotel in Dallas. The annual event attracts more than 1,000 development professionals and government leaders for an educational conference to discuss public-private partnerships (P3s). The three-day conference will feature discussions on the state of the P3 industry in the United States and will highlight the various types of P3s under way. Speakers will discuss the many elements of P3 structures currently in use and how to evaluate their merits and risks. More than 125 leading public agency officials and industry practitioners will share their firsthand experiences and observations regarding P3 projects throughout the country. Billed as one of the premier conferences for collaboration between public officials and private industry that are considering, developing and operating P3s, the conference will emphasize both the challenges and advantages of the P3 concept. More information is available here.

State agencies to host 4th annual HUB vendor expo in Austin
April 7, 2016
The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, Texas Historical Commission, State Office of Court Administration, Texas Education Agency, General Land Office and Texas Workforce Commission will host the 4th annual HUB vendor Fair April 7 at the J.J. Pickle Commons Learning Center in Austin. The event will provide information to strengthen HUB (Historically Underutilized Business) businesses, including marketing the business. There will be one-on-one meetings with state agencies, universities and prime vendors in construction and information technology. State agencies and universities will be exhibiting. Workshops will include "Teaming for Success," "TPASS DIR" and one specifically for veteran-owned businesses. The event and parking is free of charge. For more information please contact Fred Snell.

Universities find hotels, conference centers good partnership prospects 

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

Partnerships involving hotels, universities and developers are becoming extremely common. And, while not widely known, hotels, developers and institutions of higher education have collaborated in a myriad of ways for decades.

Most notable in Texas, the University of Houston has enjoyed an enviable relationship for many years with Hilton Hotels through the university's Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management. The college, founded in 1969 and endowed by late hotelier icon Conrad N. Hilton, is physically connected to the Hilton University of Houston Hotel and Conference Center. Students have the opportunity to have an on-campus, full-service hotel at their disposal to provide hands-on learning as they pursue degrees in hospitality management. The Hilton College is so successful it recently expanded into San Antonio.

Hotels and conference centers on university campuses are a natural for collaboration. Developers usually are also included in the partnership coalition because of the potential retail they can attract. The various and appropriate types of retail can generate significant revenue to the partnership.

McClelland steps down as police chief in Houston
Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland (pictured) recently announced his resignation, effective at the end of this month.

McClelland began his career as a patrol officer in 1977 and won appointment as an assistant chief in 1998. He served in that role until his elevation to the top job in 2010.

McClelland also worked in vice and homicide and established the Real Time Crime Center during his tenure as an executive assistant chief overseeing investigative operations for the department.

UH-Downtown names Olivas interim president
University of Houston System officials recently named Michael Olivas (pictured) as the interim president of the downtown campus.

A faculty member since 1982, Olivas replaces William Flores, who had been president of the downtown campus since 2009.

Olivas, a law professor, has received recognition for his expertise in immigration, higher education and the U.S. Supreme Court. He also helped write the legislation setting up the state's Top 10 percent rule, which grants automatic admission to state universities to students in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

Amarillo fills holes in city staff; several still remain
Amarillo city officials recently filled a number of high-level staff positions, but several slots still remain unoccupied. Bob Cowell (pictured) was given the permanent title as deputy city manager. Cowell joined the city in November 2013 as assistant city manager for development services and had been serving as interim deputy city manager.

Council members also named Rich Gagnon the new director of the information technology department, Scott McDonald director of community safety and regulatory services and Floyd Hartman the director of capital projects and development engineering.

The city is still searching for a permanent city manager, an assistant city manager and a traffic engineer, in addition to directors of public works, water utilities and public utilities, according to Interim City Manager Terry Childers.

Superintendent Rue to retire this summer from Northwest school district
Superintendent Karen Rue (pictured) of Northwest Independent School District informed trustees last month that she is retiring in July.

Previously recognized as superintendent of the year in Region XI, Rue also was superintendent of Tuloso-Midway ISD and served in the Katy school district.

Rue began her 37 years in public education as an elementary school teacher.
Sanders to retire in June as Aubrey superintendent
Superintendent Debby Sanders (pictured) of Aubrey Independent School District recently announced plans to retire from that job in June.

Sanders joined the Aubrey school district as a math teacher in 1980. She also served as a basketball coach, counselor, principal and deputy superintendent before being named superintendent in 2013.

Trustees plan to discuss finding a new superintendent at their next meeting.

Llano to look for new city manager after three years
The Llano City Council this week voted to replace City Manager Brenton Lewis and look for a new city manager. Lewis became city manager in Llano in April 2013.

Council members also agreed to discuss the search for a new city manager at their meeting Feb. 15. The mayor said he would assume some duties of the city manager until a replacement is hired.

Mazarakes-Gill takes helm of Lindale EDC
Susan Mazarakes-Gill recently took the helm as president and general manager of the Lindale Economic Development Corporation (EDC).

Previously the executive director of the Longview Economic Development Corporation, Mazarakes-Gill (pictured) said she plans to focus on expanding an existing industrial park on Interstate 20 and working with businesses to expand business opportunities in the city.

Border region gets $60 million for transportation infrastructure projects
Texas Transportation Commission officials recently earmarked $60 million to upgrade transportation infrastructure along the border with Mexico. The funding is part of the Border Infrastructure Rider approved in the state budget.

Improvements to the Anzalduas International Bridge connecting Mission to Reynosa are expected to receive some of this funding, said Alex Meade, chief executive officer of the Mission Economic Development Corporation.

The legislation directs funding to improvements designed to facilitate traffic and improve the efficiency of border inspection and security.
Northrop Grumman

Eagle Pass selects Hector Chavez as city manager
Eagle Pass City Council members recently named Interim City Manager Hector Chavez (pictured) to the permanent position.

While the mayor argued that the city had attracted 14 applicants for the job and that some of them deserved to be interviewed for the position, council members voted unanimously to appoint Chavez without interviewing any other applicants.

Nichols to retire in August as superintendent of Galveston ISD
Superintendent Larry Nichols of Galveston Independent School District recently announced he will retire Aug. 31.

Nichols joined the school district in June 2010. Prior to that, he was superintendent of Calhoun County ISD.
LeFleur Transportation

Galveston seeking grant funds to improve radios
Galveston County commissioners recently agreed to seek almost $1 million in grant funds to replace public safety radios. County officials plan to replace about 300 radios that are unable to meet new federal regulations for public safety communications, county officials said.

Mexia, TxDOT to build new hike-and-bike trail
Mexia city officials recently worked out an agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to create a hike-and-bike trail along an old stretch of State Highway 14 that runs parallel to a new highway.

Research funded by TxDOT and the city has indicated the land belongs to the state agency rather than the railroad running along the east side of the old highway, as had been previously understood.

TxDOT officials have agreed to the city's request to transfer ownership of the property to the city and are working to determine the best way to do so, said City Manager Larry Brown.

Mesquite taps Buttram as assistant economic development manager
Mesquite City Council members recently selected Kim Buttram (pictured) as the assistant manager of economic development.

When Buttram begins her new duties Feb. 22, she will focus on business retention, downtown redevelopment and other economic development activities, according to Tom Palmer, the city's manager of economic development.

Buttram previously held economic development positions in Greenville and Forney. She has a bachelor's degree from Texas A&M University.

James Ponce resigns as McAllen superintendent
Superintendent James Ponce (pictured) of McAllen Independent School District will soon resign from that post.

Ponce, who joined the school district in May 2009, announced that he would step down Feb. 12, saying that he has accepted a new job in Dallas. Trustees plan to appoint an interim superintendent at their next meeting.

Douglass ISD may set $7M May bond election
Trustees for Douglass Independent School District recently scheduled a vote for Feb. 18 to decide whether to call a $7 million bond election in May.

Douglass voters rejected a similar proposal in May 2015.

Gorjan selected as city secretary in Conroe
Conroe's assistant city secretary, Soco Gorjan, recently won selection as the city secretary to replace the retiring Marla J. Porter.

Prior to joining the city 23 years ago, Gorjan worked in The Woodlands and Houston. She began her employment with Conroe in community development and then moved to capital projects. Gorjan became assistant city secretary in 2005.

On Our Websites 

Abbott appoints 31 to infectious disease response task force
Gov. Greg Abbott this week appointed 31 Texans to the Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response and named John Hellerstedt its director. Formed by former Gov. Rick Perry in 2014 in the wake of the spread of the ebola virus, the task force will provide "expert, evidence-based assessments, protocols and recommendations" to state officials, aiding their response to infectious diseases.

The members of the task force are James Bass, Austin; Carlos Cascos, Austin; Ed Emmett, Houston; Brett Giroir, Houston; Janet Glowicz, Dallas; John Hellerstedt, Austin; Peter Hotez, Houston; Richard Hyde, Austin; Tim Irvine, Austin; and Nim Kidd, Austin.

Also: Thomas Ksiazek, Galveston; David Lakey, Austin; Binh-Minh "Jade" Le, Dallas; James Le Duc, Galveston; Scott Lillibridge, College Station; Tony Marquardt, Austin; Muriel Marshall, McKinney; Steve McCraw, Austin; Michael Morath, Dallas; and Kristy Murray, Houston.

Also: John Nichols, Austin; Dorothy Overman, New Braunfels; Raymund Paredes, Austin; Gerald Parker, College Station; David Slayton, Austin; Kristina Stillsmoking, Harlingen; Victoria Sutton, Lubbock; William Tierney, Austin; Chris Traylor, Austin; Dale Wainwright, Austin; and Ben Zeller, Victoria.
Gov. Greg Abbott has announced the following appointments:
  • Lloyd Garland, Austin, presiding officer of the Risk Management Board;
  • Gerald Ladner Sr., Plano, Risk Management Board;
  • Rosemary Gammon, Lubbock, Risk Management Board.
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