News And People

Volume 14, Issue 15 - Friday, April 22, 2016
Reports: Chris Traylor to step down as commissioner of HHSC
Traylor has been at troubled agency for less than one year
News reports emerged late yesterday that Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Chris Traylor (pictured) will retire at the end of May after just less than a year on the job. A spokesman for the agency did not respond in time to a request for confirmation.

Traylor took the lead at the troubled Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) in June of 2015. He had been commissioner of the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS).

HHSC has been experiencing a period of great change for more than a year, with the resignation of several executives throughout its ranks. The agency has also dealt with controversy over state contracts that led to the resignation of Traylor's predecessor and with management of the Department of Child Protective Services (CPS). Its officials have begun the process of transforming the structure of the health and human services operations for the state, possibly to include a realignment of the HHSC's four agencies: DADS, the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and the Department of State Health Services (DSHS).

Earlier this month, Traylor named Henry "Hank" Whitman as the new commissioner of DFPS, and Kristene Blackstone was named assistant commissioner for CPS. Whitman is a retired Texas Ranger, and Blackstone worked at CPS for 17 years. She returns to the agency after a stint in the Office of the Attorney General.

Since Traylor came to HHSC, the agency has also seen the arrival of a new commissioner of the Texas DSHS, John Hellerstedt, and the retirements of Chief Operations Officer John Scott and DFPS Commissioner John Specia. Traylor has held the position for less than a year.

Texas A&M program provides big-city services to small Texas towns
Texas Target Communities helps smaller communities think big

There are 254 counties and more than 1,200 incorporated cities in Texas, and the vast majority of them aren't the size of Houston or San Antonio. Nor do they have the wealth and industry concentration of Collin or Travis counties.

For governmental entities throughout the state, the day-to-day work of running a city or county is difficult, even without the responsibility of writing a comprehensive plan to accommodate continual change and growth. For larger and wealthier local governments, though, there are more resources, as well as funding to hire outside contractors and consultants to provide assistance. However, for communities like Liberty County and the city of Dickinson, those tasks have largely been left to the small group of staffers who have dozens of additional responsibilities.

That's where Texas A&M University's Texas Target Communities (TTC) is playing an important role. The program dates back to the 1990s, but it has ramped up its services to smaller Texas governments since John Cooper came on board in 2012. Previously called Texas Target Cities, it had involved one professor and one class working with one city, according to Program Coordinator Jaimie Masterson (pictured). Cooper decided to tour parts of the state to ask local government officials what they needed and if the program was of benefit. The answers were positive and emphatic, and Masterson was soon hired as the program's first staff person and Cooper named its director.

Since then, Texas Target Communities, Texas A&M professors and Aggie students have assisted the cities of Dickinson and Nolanville develop comprehensive plans, the city of Jonestown conduct a public sewer feasibility study and write a transportation plan and the city of La Grange produce a housing needs study.

Strategic Partnerships salutes Texas' Lone Stars
Paul Cruz, Superintendent, Austin Independent School District

Career highlights and education: My career in education began in 1987. I worked as a teacher, campus administrator, central office administrator and superintendent in Corpus Christi, San Antonio and South Texas. I also served as the deputy commissioner for dropout prevention at the Texas Education Agency.

Having set a personal goal to earn a doctorate before I turned 30 years old, I received my Ph.D. in educational leadership from The University of Texas at Austin when I was 29. In my doctoral program, I was a fellow in the Cooperative Superintendency Program, which is designed to prepare future urban school superintendents.

I received a Bachelor of Science degree in education from UT-Austin, with a specialization in English, and a Master of Science degree in educational administration from Corpus Christi State University (now Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi).

What I like best about my job is: Our students are my favorite part of this job. I love visiting schools and seeing the excellence and innovation in our classrooms. I also like collaborating with our teachers, principals, staff and community partners. The vision of Austin ISD is to reinvent the urban school experience, and, to do that, we're working with some of the best and brightest in the community.

The best advice I've received for my current job is: Don't let a roadblock slow you down. Whenever you encounter a challenge, stay creative and resilient in finding solutions.

Advice you would give a new hire in your office: Stay focused on our students and student performance. This work moves fast, and it is demanding. But at the end of the day, everything we do is to prepare our students for life after graduation.

If I ever decided to leave work early, I could probably be found: Working out while listening to country and 80s music.

People would be surprised to know that I: Enjoy reading Emily Dickinson and now, after watching many episodes of Barefoot Contessa, enjoy cooking - sometimes.

One thing I wish more people knew about my agency: Austin ISD has options for any path a student wants to pursue. From robotics at our applied technology center to business management in our entrepreneurship programs to numerous fine arts academies, our schools offer so many options and courses of study.

Austin-San Antonio rail line backers to seek another route
In the face of the withdrawal of Union Pacific Railroad from a 2010 agreement, Lone Star Rail District (LSRD) board members recently agreed to explore other options for routes and approved an environmental study for the proposed commuter rail line between Austin and San Antonio.

Because the law limits the Lone Star Rail project to routes along existing transportation corridors between the two cities, LSRD Chairman Sid Covington (pictured) outlined several alternatives the board is studying. These options include building new rails parallel to the Union Pacific track but limited to passenger traffic, building a rail line along the SH 130 toll road and building the new passenger rail line along Interstate 35.

Board members also are continuing to study the Union Pacific route in case railroad officials decide once again to work with LSRD officials should their economic forecasts change, Covington said.
Lake Travis school board approves facilities assessment
Trustees for Lake Travis Independent School District recently approved $140,228 to pay a company to conduct a facilities assessment.

The assessment will begin in May and be completed in about three to four months, noted Johnny Hill (pictured), the assistant superintendent for business, financial and auxiliary services. The assessment will include site locations, roads, irrigation, as well as any potential sites for new facilities planned for the future.

The contract also calls for the company to evaluate current conditions at facilities, systems, parking lots and sidewalks and identify any deficiencies, Hill said. The report will include evaluations of electrical, heating, plumbing and security systems and determine the cost to replace or upgrade them. It will be presented to board members to review in order to decide whether to appoint a bond advisory committee in early 2017, he added.

Corpus Christi school board members consider bond election
Trustees for Corpus Christi Independent School District recently began discussing a recommendation from a facilities committee to schedule a bond election in November seeking approval of up to $200 million. The funding would go toward construction of two new schools and technology upgrades.

Board members also discussed merging two elementary schools and four middle schools into three campuses to meet changing demographics.

The goal is to select projects for the bond ballot by mid-summer, after which board members would review options and decide by August whether to hold a bond election.
Austin Water to apply for TWDB loan to pay for new smart meters
Greg Meszaros (pictured), the director of Austin Water, recently asked city council members for authorization to apply to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) for an $80 million loan. The state funding would go toward the purchase of smart meters that would notify customers more quickly of unusually high water usage.

The smart meters electronically transmit data about water usage and could provide earlier indication of high water use to give customers time to address a leak or reduce their use of water before receiving a very high monthly bill, Meszaros said. Installing the technology also would reduce the need for manual water readings, which the agency pays a contractor $3.6 million a year to perform, he added.

TWDB officials already have placed a preliminary application filed by Austin Water on the list of the highest priority projects. Council members authorized the move yesterday, and now the loan application will be filed in May, to be decided upon in July, Meszaros said. The goal, he added, is to finish studies and planning for the installation of smart meters by the end of 2018. It will take between five and seven years to provide about 250,000 meters to the water customers inside and outside the city, Meszaros said.

Texarkana board wants new passenger terminal for airport
The Texarkana Regional Airport Authority Board recently met with local officials to discuss building a new passenger terminal at the regional airport in addition to other strategies that could make the airport more financially self-sufficient.

The loss of air traffic related to the slowdown in business of the Red River Army Depot and the industry's overall decline after 9/11 led the board to postpone a wide range of airport projects that had been included in the 2004 master plan, such as building the new passenger terminal or expanding hangars for tenants, noted Mark Mellinger (pictured), the airport director. A new terminal for the airport is the most important element to improve the airport and attracting new businesses and customers, he added.

Board members plan another strategic planning session to discuss airport upgrades in June.
Sherman officials consider debt issue to jump start road projects
City Manager Robby Hefton of Sherman recently urged city council members to consider issuing about $8 million in debt to fund several transportation projects scheduled to begin later this year.

While the city would need about $20 million to fund transportation projects, this $8 million would allow the city to fund the first phases of five or six road projects, several of which are Texas Department of Transportation projects with city participation, Hefton said.

Council members have scheduled budget workshops for June 21-22 to discuss the transportation and thoroughfare enhancement projects, he said.

Copperas Cove may delay goal of finding second source of water
City Manager Andrea Gardner (pictured) of Copperas Cove recently advised city council members they should consider postponing the goal of finding a second source of water by January 2017.

"We are going to need to look at pushing that out," Gardner said. "That project, in order for us to make that happen, is going to cost major dollars. I'm not saying it's not important, that we don't need to look at trying to fund that. But even if you funded it today, it would be impossible to meet this deadline. A project of this magnitude is going to take way longer than that to complete."

City officials use Belton Lake as the only source of water. They have discussed the use of Stillhouse Hollow Lake to ensure an adequate water supply.
Hays County voters to consider county jail in November election
Hays County commissioners recently voted to appoint a program director to help prepare for a bond election in November to pay for building a new county jail, law enforcement center and communications facility.

The existing 300-bed jail facility is too small and out of date, according to one commissioner. The county currently spends up to $1 million a year to house inmates in Bastrop, Caldwell and Guadalupe counties. Consultants recommended building a jail with 500 to 600 beds to meet the expected growth in population.

County officials also plan to design and build a communication facility that will serve both the county and its municipalities.

Eanes ISD considering use of donation to improve sports fields
Eanes Independent School District trustees recently began considering a recommendation to use a $2 million contribution from a business owner to upgrade three sports fields.

The contract requires the donation be used only for sports fields, said Superintendent Tom Leonard (pictured). The first project will build improvements for a field northwest of the softball complex at Westlake High School and could begin by June, he said. That project includes adding a turf field and four new light poles at an estimated cost of about $1.1 million. Adding lighting to the field could increase its use by the public, and thus add about $15,000 a year in revenue to the district, officials said.

The committee also recommended using the remaining funds from the donation to add new sod, upgrade fencing and improve irrigation at two fields at West Ridge Middle School.
Tomball ISD officials take early steps toward 2017 bond election
Reacting to a recommendation by Superintendent Huey Kinchen (pictured), trustees for Tomball Independent School District recently agreed to study options, including a bond election in 2017, to handle the rapid enrollment growth the district is experiencing.

District officials reported that the current enrollment of 14,092 students is expected to grow to 19,288 students by 2022. Despite two successful bond elections in 2007 and 2013, Kinchen urged board members to study options for handling enrollment growth expected over the next three to six years, identifying three or four campuses that he said should be addressed quickly.

While district officials are reviewing several options to alleviate overcrowding, Kinchen also urged the appointment of a bond committee to study projects that could be included in a May 2017 bond election. Trustees scheduled another workshop in June to discuss the matter.

Sherman seeking bids for wastewater treatment plant
Sherman City Council members recently authorized staff to seek bids to build a new bio-solids dewatering facility at a wastewater treatment plant. The project is estimated to cost about $1.8 million, said Mark Gibson, director of utilities.

The city has paid more than $275,000 annually to a contractor to process bio-solids and could save money by handling the process itself, Gibson said. The project will be funded using bonds issued by the Greater Texoma Utility Authority.

City officials plan to issue the request for bids shortly and award a contract for the improvements by the end of June. The project, which is part of a three-year, $23 million effort to increase the capacity of the treatment facility from 10 million gallons a day to 20 million gallons a day, should be completed in August 2017.
Austin group urges $150 million for more bicycle paths in city
The Austin Urban Transportation Commission recently passed a resolution offered by Bike Austin urging city council members to approve $150 million to build more protected bicycle paths to ease traffic congestion and provide more safety.

Providing more infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians in areas such as the busy intersection of North Lamar and Rundberg Lane could remove as many as 20,000 vehicles each day from traveling to the downtown area, noted one council member.

Improving accessibility and safety for bicyclists and pedestrians would benefit the 40 percent of regular bicycle users who make less than $25,000 annually, according to Bike Austin.
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Willacy County to seek grant for new fishing pier in Port Mansfield
Willacy County commissioners recently agreed to apply for a $686,610 grant under the Restore Act to build a new fishing pier with restrooms at Fred Stone Park in Port Mansfield. The Restore Act uses fines paid by companies found responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster off of the Louisiana coast.

Current plans call for building a 630-foot fishing pier, restroom facilities and a parking lot to draw more visitors to the park, noted an official of the Port Mansfield Chamber of Commerce.
Seymour naps $3 million in funding for water infrastructure
Seymour city officials recently received $3 million in financial assistance from the Texas Water Development Board to pay for a project that will add a new reverse osmosis system to the city's water plant.

The agreement includes a $2.1 million loan and about $900,000 in loan forgiveness, city officials said. The improvements will increase the efficiency of the plant from 70 percent to 92 percent and are expected to save the city about 2.4 million gallons of water previously wasted each month. The project should be completed by late 2017, according to the city's finance director.
Calendar of Events

EWTG to host leadership consultant Chris Makell in Austin 
April 27, 2016
Executive Women in Texas Government (EWTG) will host Chris Makell at a luncheon in Austin April 27. Makell works with women leaders, teaching them to be confident in their value, pragmatic in their view and resilient in the face of change. She worked for more than 25 year at IBM and has been a mentor for women in technology leadership positions. A published author, Makell holds a BA in Sociology from Dartmouth College and an MS in Business Management from Albertus Magnus College. The luncheon will be held at the Austin Woman's Club and begins at 11:30 a.m. Lunch will be served at 11:45, and the program starts at noon and concludes at 1:00 p.m. Registration is open but closes Monday April 25.

LBJ School offers Construction Purchasing Certificate Program
April 27-28, 2016
Buyers, contract administrators and project managers interested in earning a construction purchasing certificate can do so through The University of Texas at Austin's LBJ School of Public Affairs. The program aids in understanding and using new terms, remaining compliant with unfamiliar laws, developing control plans and schedules and staying on budget. The LBJ School's Construction Purchasing Certificate Program consists of four core courses and one elective to be completed over a period of two years. The goal of this certificate program is to provide participants with the skills and knowledge to ensure that their organization's construction projects are well managed and secure the intended results and value. The courses are complementary in nature, and each course repeats annually. The next available course is Developing a Construction Purchasing Manual and will be held April 27-28. Registration is open.

It's time for public to weigh in and contact members of Congress 

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

Public officials at every level of government continue to face widening gaps between available funding and critical needs related to transportation projects. Contractors stand ready to engage and even bring capital to the table, but one of the programs that has allowed private-sector investment hangs in limbo in Congress. Private Activity Bonds (PABs) are being hamstrung by a federally imposed funding cap.

PABs are bonds that are issued by or on behalf of local or state governments to help finance large projects. This popular tax-exempt financial tool has played a significant role in lowering the cost of capital and thereby increasing private-sector collaboration in transportation projects nationwide.

For private developers, increasing the cap on PABs would allow more access to bonding with tax-exempt interest rates. This would, of course, encourage more private investment in public projects. These investments provide government with an alternative source of revenue while also delivering cutting edge expertise, innovation and efficiency from private-sector firms.

Current law limits the total amount of PABs to $15 billion, and that total covers every qualified entity in the U.S. Although Congress has shown an interest in increasing private-sector investment in transportation infrastructure projects, the $15 billion cap is a huge detriment.

Patteson leaves TWDB to lead Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority
Kevin Patteson became executive administrator for the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) in 2013. As the water board's chief executive, he has been in charge during a time of great change for the agency, powered by the legislature's 2013 creation of the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT).

In 2015, the TWDB committed to $3.8 billion of State Water Plan projects, well more than in the previous 15 years combined. Patteson's time at the TWDB saw the SWIFT program's formation, planning and implementation.

Patteson (pictured) announced this week that he will step down from the state agency to take the lead of the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) in May. He will replace Bill West, who has led the GBRA since 1994.

The GBRA is in the beginning stages of two large water supply projects: the state's first seawater desalination plant to be combined with a power generation facility and the Mid-Basin Project, which will divert and store water from the Guadalupe River during times of flood.

Patteson has worked at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Workforce Commission and in the office of former Gov. Rick Perry. He has an undergraduate degree and a law degree from Baylor University.

Livingston to retire as TDCJ executive director
The executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), Brad Livingston (pictured), recently announced he will retire in August.

Livingston joined the agency in October 1997 as deputy director of the financial services division and became the chief financial officer in June 2001. He was appointed interim executive director in November 2004 and became executive director in July 2005. Livingston previously worked for the Governor's Office of Budget and Planning and the Legislative Budget Board.

TDCJ board members will begin soon on the process of working with the governor to appoint a new executive director, according to agency leaders.

Mark Eads named finalist for superintendent of Southside school district
Southside Independent School District trustees recently selected Mark Eads (pictured) as the lone finalist for superintendent.

Currently superintendent of San Marcos ISD, Eads is expected to begin his new duties at  the San Antonio school district May 9. He was selected for the position from a field of 58 applicants.

The Southside school district has had five superintendents in the past three years.

Jones selected to serve as interim city manager for South Padre Island
Darla Jones recently won selection as the interim city manager for South Padre Island.

Currently the assistant city manager, Jones replaces former City Manager Bill DiLibero. Before joining the city in 2010, Jones was an assistant city manager in La Feria and a planner for the cities of Pharr, San Benito and Harlingen. She has a bachelor's degree from Texas A&I University (now Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi) and also graduated from the Utility Management Institute.

City officials plan to begin soon on a search for a new city manager, the mayor said.

San Antonio federal courthouse project allocated $132.5 million 
The General Services Administration recently allocated more than $132 million to design and build a new federal courthouse in San Antonio as part of its budget for fiscal year 2017.

Current plans are to build a 305,000-square-foot courthouse with an indoor parking garage to replace the existing federal courthouse, located at the site of the 1968 World's Fair. The new courthouse will be situated near the current site, on property that previously served as headquarters for the San Antonio Police Department.

Bauer to be city manager for Gun Barrel City
Bret Bauer recently was named the new city manager in Gun Barrel City.

Currently the city manager in Holton, Kan., Bauer also was an assistant city administrator in Smithville, Mo. He won selection from a field of 35 applicants from 13 states and is expected to begin his new duties in Gun Barrel City within two months.

Bauer has a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from Wichita State University. He also earned certification from the International City/County Management Association.
LeFleur Transportation

El Paso County names Keller chief administrator
El Paso County commissioners recently selected Betsy Keller (pictured) as the new county administrator.

An eight-year employee of the county, Keller has served as the interim chief administrator for six months.

Once Keller begins her new job, her priorities will be organizing the administration office, setting an agenda for economic development efforts and continuing to work with the criminal justice department, the county judge said.

Marshall leaders vote to fund new animal shelter
Marshall city commissioners recently agreed to spend $400,000 to build a new animal shelter. The target date to begin construction on the facility is January 2017.

City officials also plan to ask Harrison County commissioners to consider providing county funding for the animal shelter, which has an estimated price tag of $676,895. The new shelter will include more than 20 kennels, a quarantine area, a medical room and areas for animals to play.
Aubrey approves $5.2M to improve water system
Aubrey City Council members recently approved $5.2 million in bonds to pay for a new water well, a ground storage unit and pump stations to upgrade the city's water system.

The new water system infrastructure is planned to connect with the Upper Trinity Regional Water District and will provide a long-term water supply, said Matthew McCombs (pictured), Aubrey's city administrator. The upgrades are needed to provide water to two new residential developments approved by the city, he said.

Crawford selected to lead TxDOT Amarillo District
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has named Brian Crawford the new district engineer for the agency's Amarillo District. In that position, he will oversee the planning, designing, construction, operation and maintenance of 9,394 miles of roads in the 17-county district.

A third-generation TxDOT employee, Crawford is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin. During his time with TxDOT, he has worked in Houston, Austin and Abilene. Prior to this promotion, Crawford was director of operations for the Abilene District.

Burleson to convert bank into city court facility
Burleson city officials recently agreed to merge municipal court facilities now located in two buildings into one office located in a former bank building. The municipal court now operates at an annex of the Johnson County courthouse and at city hall, which has caused some confusion, said Constance White, director of court services.

The city has not yet adopted a timetable to complete the renovation and move municipal court operations to the new space, White said.
Northrop Grumman

South Padre Island selects staffs new shoreline department
South Padre Island city officials recently named two leaders of the city's newly reorganized Shoreline Management Department.

With the intention of having one director lead the department, city officials renamed what had previously been called the Coastal Resource and Parks Department and expanded its duties to focus on both the beach and bay shorelines. However, Rueben Trevino, the director, resigned more than a month ago, and city officials began a search for a replacement.

Following interviews with candidates in March, members of the selection committee - comprised of council members and city staff - selected Clifton Barrineau to serve as departmental director and Brandon Hill as project manager.

On Our Website 

FRA makes changes to bridge safety program
Jim Watson to serve as director of transportation for Denton school district
Jim Watson recently won selection as the new director of transportation for Denton Independent School District. He will replace Gene Holloway, who is retiring after 25 years with the school district.

Currently with Gainesville ISD, Holloway (pictured) served as a principal for that district and as head of operations for Gunter ISD. He has a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from Tarleton State University.
Gov. Greg Abbott has announced the following appointments:
  • Lesli Ginn, Austin, Chief Administrative Law Judge for the State Office of Administrative Hearings;
  • Ruth Chambers, Dallas, Family Practice Residency Advisory Committee.
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