News And People

Volume 14, Issue 21 - Friday, June 3, 2016
Texas A&M's RELLIS campus expands system's partnerships
New campus to feature private sector, students from multiple schools 

Photo from Texas A&M University
Last month, Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp announced an expansion initiative that will convert a former Air Force base from what had been called the Riverside Campus into the RELLIS Campus. (RELLIS stands for the university's core values: respect, excellence, leadership, loyalty, integrity and selfless service.) The new research and development campus will create partnerships with the private sector in an effort to speed up the rate at which products are brought to market.

The areas of focus will be infrastructure, robotics and automated transportation systems and manufacturing and distribution. The $150 million investment made by the system will construct seven buildings to begin with, and Sharp placed James K. Nelson in charge of the RELLIS Campus, naming him director of Special Academic Initiatives. Nelson joined the system office in January and had been working on engineering initiatives across system institutions. 

"Higher education is changing," Nelson said at the announcement of his new position. "RELLIS Campus can become a national model for that change."

This week, system officials also announced a furthering of Texas A&M's partnership with Blinn College. Blinn's leaders had announced last year their intention to build a new campus in Bryan. This week's agreement put an end to those plans, as Blinn's Board of Trustees issued a stop work order to halt construction on its property.


Strategic Partnerships salutes Texas' Lone Stars
Jonathan Percy, Chief Information Officer (CIO), Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS)

Career highlights and education: I've been blessed in my career. I spent my early years working for Lockheed on space shuttle projects and fast-attack submarine combat control systems. When Lockheed left Austin in the early '90s, I went to work for a start-up company that created one of the first electronic medical records, which won numerous national awards. After the 9/11 terror attacks, I went back to work for the defense industry and led a team at Textron Systems that developed advanced analytics for the United States Army Future Combat System. My interest and passion for protecting others through the technology industry continued to grow throughout my career, and, in 2013, I took a job with DPS as a technology architect in the Intelligence and Counterterrorism division. One year later, I was offered the CIO position and have been proudly serving in that role since then.

I received my degree in mechanical engineering from California Polytechnic State University.  

What I like best about my job is: I like identifying problems that can be solved through the use of technology and then creating innovative solutions to those problems. DPS has a very broad set of responsibilities for keeping the citizens of Texas safe, and I really enjoy the sense of mission and purpose that DPS employees share - there is a great sense of family.

The best advice I've received for my current job is: Don't allow yourself to be frustrated by obstacles. Instead, figure out another way to solve the problem.

Advice you would give a new hire in your office: Do more than you are asked to do. IT is a service organization, and we're only successful if we've helped our customers succeed in their duties. Listen more and talk less - you'll be amazed at what you will learn. Don't wait to be told what to do - demonstrate initiative.

If I ever decided to leave work early, I could probably be found: When I'm not studying, you would find me in my woodworking shop. I make furniture in the arts and crafts style.

People would be surprised to know that I: I am currently a student at the Naval Postgraduate School, where I am working to earn a master's degree in homeland security.

One thing I wish more people knew about my agency: I wish more people recognized how diverse this agency is. Not only are we the Highway Patrol, but we are also the state's emergency management hub. We regulate driver licenses, license to carry permits and vehicle inspections to name a few. We are the home of the Texas Rangers. We conduct criminal investigations across the state, and we are the organization that many of our partner agencies count on for forensic and investigative support. The depth and breadth of this agency is very impressive - as is the dedication of the approximately 10,000 men and women who work here.


Austin leaders may seek bond election for intracity roadways
Last week, Austin-area State Sen. Kirk Watson advocated a plan that would remake the portion of Interstate 35 that runs through the capital city without using bond money. The city's mayor, Steve Adler, followed that proposition with a proposal to hold a bond election in November that would fund mobility improvements to Austin's major intracity corridors.

City staffers have brought forward five options for potential bond packages, ranging in price from $250 million to $720 million. Adler said he is in favor of the largest of those amounts. "My hope is that we go big or we go home," the mayor said.

The projects would remake six major thoroughfares in Austin: Lamar Boulevard, Airport Boulevard, Guadalupe Street, Riverside Drive, Burnet Road and Martin Luther King Boulevard East. Though all of those streets are within the city limits, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) actually has responsibility for their maintenance and repair. The city could take that responsibility, according to the proposal, freeing up TxDOT funding to be used on the I-35 improvements.

The corridor projects would add turn lanes and protected bike paths, create pullout bus stops that would not disrupt traffic and install smart traffic lights that offer dynamic signaling that changes according to traffic patterns.

The city council discussed the proposal at this week's meeting but did not decide one way or the other on the bond election. Members would need to decide by the end of June, according to Adler, in order to be prepared for a November election.
House speaker calls for reforms to state education finance system
The Texas Supreme Court last month ruled that the system of financing Texas public education is not unconstitutional and ruled against the school districts that had filed suit against the state. The court's ruling, however, stated clearly that the system should be overhauled and that "transformational, top-to-bottom reforms that amount to more than Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid" are needed.

But, the judges wrote, that is the job of the legislature, not the court.
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus took that directive this week and instructed the House Appropriations and Public Education committees to get to work on the issue. His instructions to them are to review the financing method that sends money from school districts that are deemed to be property-rich to those in poorer areas. That process is called recapture, or the "Robin Hood plan."

The legislators will study how local property taxes are used to fund public education, focusing on the system's effects on both the quality of education and local taxpayers. Straus wants recommendations for how to "reverse the increasing reliance on recapture payments."

The other mandate he gave to committee members is to review a pending property tax cut that will go into effect Sept. 1, 2017. Straus instructed the legislators to study "how this loss of funding would impact school districts."

Texarkana Army depot could get $45 million warehouse funded
Officials with the Red River Army Depot are planning to build a new warehouse and hope to receive federal funding to do so. The Army installation located just outside of Texarkana is in line to receive $44.7 million in federal defense funds.

The warehouse, which would be a part of the Army's Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), would encompass 243,000 square feet and provide storage for vehicle parts, electronics, ball bearings and other supplies. It also would have 313,000 square feet of outdoor space for vehicle storage.

"Basically, the Defense Logistics Agency is the Army's warehouse for storing and distributing whatever they need to distribute immediately to military bases," Jerry Sparks, director of Economic Development for Texarkana, said. "If Fort Hood needed a supply of a certain type of equipped vehicle, the DLA here could get it to them."

Assuming the funding gets formal approval, the warehouse's construction could start in 2017.
UT's TACC gets $30 million grant, plans $20 million expansion
The National Science Foundation has awarded $30 million to the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin. The funding will go toward building a new computing system, called Stampede 2, that is expected to begin operations in 2017.

The computer will be added to the TACC's current supercomputer, Stampede, and serve scientists and researchers around the world. TACC officials also announced this week a $20 million expansion that will add an auditorium for large gatherings, a training center and a data visualization center.

"The kind of large-scale computing and data capabilities that systems like Stampede and Stampede 2 provide are crucial for innovation in almost every area of research and development," Dan Stanzione, executive director of TACC, said. "They provide insights to fundamental research and to applied work that has near-term impacts on society. Stampede has been used for everything from determining earthquake risks to helping set building codes for homes and commercial buildings."

Cedar Park officials considering new fee for water infrastructure
Cedar Park Assistant City Manager Sam Roberts (pictured) has said the city's stormwater system is in need of upgrades and that city officials are considering the addition of a monthly drainage fee to pay for the improvements.

City staff members have begun work on a study of the proposed fee and of what projects could be accomplished with the funding. Those projects would be divided into three categories: infrastructure improvements, maintenance and repair and compliance.

The new infrastructure that is needed includes projects like the widening of creek channels, construction and repair of storm drains and the creation of retention ponds for future development. Compliance efforts would focus on ensuring the city's infrastructure and policy are in keeping with state and federal regulations.
May state sales tax revenue collections totaled $2.4 billion, down 7 percent from one year ago
The Office of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts has announced that the state collected $2.41 billion in sales tax revenue during the month of May. That figure is down 7 percent from the same month of the year prior, a decrease influenced by the prolonged slump in the oil and gas industry.

While the revenue figure is down somewhat from one year ago, May 2015 recorded the second-highest monthly collections in the state's history. The announcement also sounded an optimistic note in drawing attention to the fact that state franchise tax revenue for fiscal 2016 totaled $3.7 billion through May, an amount that is ahead of earlier projections included in the Certification Revenue Estimate.

The sales tax revenue figures for May were:
  • motor vehicle sales and rental taxes - $383.7 million, up 61 percent from May 2015;
  • motor fuel taxes - $287.1 million, down 0.9 percent from May 2015; and
  • oil and natural gas production taxes - $148.4 million, down 45.6 percent from May 2015.
The fact that vehicle sales and rental tax revenue was up so dramatically is explained by the comptroller's office as a quirk of the calendar: "State motor vehicle sales taxes are remitted to county tax assessor-collectors who in turn remit them to the state. To cover the costs of collecting these taxes, counties are permitted to retain 5 percent of the preceding year's collections. This tax retention occurs during one month each year and results in lower-than-usual state revenues for the month in which counties retain their 5 percent. Counties retained that amount in April this year, but did so in May last year. This resulted in a sharp drop in April 2016 collections compared to April 2015, and mostly accounts for the large gains in May 2016 as compared to May 2015."

For details on all monthly collections, see the comptroller's Monthly State Revenue Watch.
Waco encounters potential delay on $3.3 million river walk project
Waco city officials recently learned that the possible sale of land needed to complete a proposed $3.3 million river walk could cause a delay or an additional $1 million charge. The project would expand an existing trail with a lighted concrete path above the Brazos River. City officials are using a $2.7 million grant to pay for a majority of the river walk trail project.

The original plans called for building a portion of the trail between Franklin Avenue and a railroad bridge on land currently owned by the railroad, said John Williams (pictured), the parks and recreation director. The railroad, however, is selling that land to a private buyer, who has indicated a willingness to grant a permanent easement for the trail.

A large portion of the trail is designed on elevated piers because of steep banks and marshy areas. If the railroad property becomes unavailable, that segment of the river walk also could be placed on elevated piers at an additional cost of between $800,000 to $1 million, Williams said. The city also may request state officials for an extension of time to begin construction on the project if the right-of-way issue is not settled quickly.
College of the Mainland board appoints leader, plans expansion
The College of the Mainland's Board of Trustees this week appointed the school's vice president of finance, Clem Burton, as acting president. Board members said they plan to name an interim president for the Texas City-based community college. Burton replaces Beth Lewis, who resigned from her position.

The trustees also announced that they had received the master plan document from the college's architectural firm. It calls for an $80 million capital investment, which would construct five new buildings, including a 60,000-square-foot satellite campus, and add more than 400,000 square feet of new construction by 2018.

Board members will use the master plan and the firm's recommendations to decide whether or not to call a bond election.

El Paso County water district receives grant for infrastructure
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) rural development agency announced last week the awarding of $3.3 million in funding to the El Paso County Tornillo Water Improvement District. The money will come in the form of a $1.7 million grant and a $1.6 million low-interest loan and will be used to construct a new 40,000-gallon water storage tank, a new well and an increased number of transmission lines.

The project won't be ready to begin construction immediately, however, according to officials. "We will start working on the design, and then we need to lease additional land to put the water storage tank next to the existing water storage tank. We are hoping to be able to start construction sometime next year," said Francelia Vega, a spokeswoman for the district.

Other projects that will occur in the years to come include $7.7 million in needed improvements for the city's sewage facilities.
Amarillo receives grant to convert YMCA into $2.2 million rec center
Amarillo city officials recently received notice that the Amarillo Area Foundation awarded the city a $250,000 grant to help transform a former YMCA into a $2.2 million city-owned recreation facility. The city has $1.3 million in funding available for the new rec center in the northern area of the city.

City officials plan a public meeting in late June to ask residents to provide their input on the programs that should be offered at the new facility, said Rod Tweet (pictured), director of parks and recreation. The department will begin developing a schedule for renovations to the former YMCA once bids for asbestos removal at the facility are evaluated, he added.

The new facility, which could also be used for senior programs, childcare and other programs, features an indoor swimming pool and three fitness areas, Tweet said. City officials are investigating the possibility of entering a public-private partnership to improve the new recreation facility.
  
Round Rock approves contract to design new road to baseball park
Round Rock City Council members recently approved a contract to design a new road with a railroad crossing and four new lanes in the area near the Dell Diamond baseball stadium. The project is intended to open the area up to further development.

Plans also call for improvements to US 79 and potentially to the driveway into the stadium to provide congestion relief to those attending games at the minor league ball park. The design should be completed in about eight months, according to city officials, but no date for construction on the road improvements has been decided.
Coppell council to issue debt to pay for Freeport Parkway rebuild
Coppell City Council members last week authorized $11.8 million in certificates of obligation to pay for street construction projects.

Freeport Parkway is among the roads that will be rebuilt, and it will see a full redesign from Interstate 635E to Bethel Road. The planning for that project is underway, and city officials expect construction to begin in the fall, according to Engineering Director Ken Griffin.

Following that project's completion, a similar expansion of Belt Line Road will take place. That project would add a fourth lane from I-635E to Bethel Road.

Greenville reveals plans for major renovations at municipal airport
Greenville city officials recently held a public meeting to reveal a proposed airport master plan calling for renovations to and expansion of Majors Field, the municipal airport.

Selected from a total of six alternatives, the proposed plan calls for relocating seven buildings and expanding the airport by more than 114 acres to accommodate its largest tenant. The airport would remain the home to an air ambulance service, city officials said. The proposed plan also includes a third phase to build an airpark next to the airport and to provide protection to a wetland area on the airport property.

City council members are expected to review the proposed airport master plan by July. If council approves, the design plans will be sent to the Aviation Department of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for approval.
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TCEQ to award AirCheckTexas grants for vehicle replacement
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is accepting applications for its AirCheckTexas Drive a Clean Machine Program. The program provides vouchers for replacement vehicles to qualified applicants. Currently, more than $44 million is available to Texas vehicle owners in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin-Round Rock and Houston-Galveston-Brazoria areas.

AirCheckTexas provides motorists up to $3,000 toward replacement of their aging vehicles or repair vouchers of up to $600. To qualify, applicants must own vehicles that have failed the emissions portion of the state inspection in the past 30 days or are at least 10 years old and meet income criteria.

More information is available at the program's website.

Calendar of Events

TxPPA's Summer Momentum Conference to be held in Kerrville
June 8-10, 2016
The Texas Public Purchasing Association (TxPPA) will host its Summer Momentum Conference in Kerrville this June. Seminars and speakers from throughout the state will offer valuable information and lessons for public-sector procurement professionals. In addition, the TxPPA's annual vendor showcase will take place Thursday, June 9. It is a one-day-only opportunity to meet with public-sector buyers and managers, and an opportunity for vendors to showcase their products and services, make new contacts and develop new leads. The conference will be held at the YO Ranch Hotel and Conference Center in Kerrville. An agenda is available online and registration is open.

TSABAA Summer Conference to be held in Corpus Christi in July
July 20-22, 2016
The Texas State Agency Business Administrators' Association (TSABAA) will hold its 47th Annual Summer conference in Corpus Christi, July 20-22. The conference fosters good working relationships among the business and administrative personnel of various state agencies by providing an opportunity to discuss common problems inherent to attaining overall state objectives. It also offers formal training that supports the continuing education of state employees. The Summer Conference will feature the announcement of the TSABAA Administrator of the Year. The TSABAA represents 125 state agencies throughout Texas. Its 2016 Summer Conference takes place at the Omni Corpus Christi Hotel. Registration is open a draft agenda is online.

State legislative problems similar throughout U.S. 

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

When the "50 State Project" was undertaken two years ago by CQ Roll Call, the report producers took an unconventional approach to the project. Instead of surveying public officials and government executives regarding the most talked about issues facing states, they turned to the media to ask about the hottest legislative topics.

The 2016 report marked the second time that budget and tax issues were ranked across the states as the highest-rated concerns on legislators' priority lists. Education was the most talked about issue among the states in last year's report, but this year budget and tax issues moved into first place again as the top policy issue. Funding innovations are a top priority in most states and more than half have passed some type of public-private partnership (P3/PPP) legislation. That's because private capital is now almost always a necessary element of critical public projects.

While budget, tax and education are all issues of concern in Texas, the number one issue turned out to be immigration and border security.




A.C. Gonzalez to retire as city manager for Dallas
Dallas City Manager A.C. Gonzalez (pictured) notified the mayor and city council this week that he plans to retire in January 2017.

Gonzalez served as interim city manager beginning in July 2013 and won appointment to the permanent position at the beginning of the following year.

During his 20 years with the city, Gonzalez also served as the first assistant city manager, with oversight of the police department, municipal courts and aviation. He earlier had managed economic development, planning and development services, as well as housing and community services and convention and events.

Hallmark to lead West Texas A&M in interim
Regents for the Texas A&M University System recently appointed James Hallmark (pictured) the interim president of West Texas A&M University.

Currently the vice chancellor for academic affairs at the Texas A&M System, Hallmark will begin his new duties June 30. He will replace the retiring Patrick O'Brien. Hallmark said he has no plans to seek the appointment for the permanent position.

He had served in several academic and administrative positions at West Texas A&M between 1991 and 2012, including as provost and vice president for academic affairs for the last four of those years. Hallmark has a bachelor's degree from Oklahoma Christian College and a master's degree and Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma.

Pearland school board considers $205M bond
Members of the Pearland ISD Board of Trustees are considering a potential $205.9 million bond election that would fund 33 proposed projects.

In addition to renovations and new construction at both Dawson High School and Pearland Junior High East, a $12 million security project would provide cameras and access control for building entrances at the district's campuses. As well, an expansion of the district's athletics stadium, including 3,000 additional seats and 400 new parking spaces, is included in the planning.

Trustees will evaluate the recommendations and take in community feedback at a workshop before the board's June 14 meeting. Superintendent John Kelly said he thinks it likely that trustees will call the election.

Ron Garza named director of LRGVDC
Ron Garza recently won selection as the executive director of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council (LRGVDC), the council of governments for Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties.

The development council is responsible for distributing state and federal grants to pay for homeland security, transportation, economic development and regional planning in all three counties.

Garza (pictured) has served as deputy director of the council since January. He will begin his new duties in August following the retirement of Kenneth N. Jones, who is leaving the LRGVDC after serving 24 years as its executive director.

Denison to update comprehensive plan
Denison city officials have begun the process of developing a comprehensive plan for the city's future.

Development Services Coordinator Gabe Reaume (pictured) proposed that city staff begin work on the plan because it has been almost 15 years since the last update. "A comprehensive plan is a 30,000-foot view of the city 20 to 30 years in the future," he said. "We are looking at the city in a broad view to look at the city in the big picture."

The plan will cover areas such as the best uses for land, roadways and other aspects of development, though other areas of planning like water and vertical infrastructure would be addressed in separate plans.

Reaume said the updated plan will cost about $100,000 and should be completed by July 2017.
Save the date!
The 2017 Legislative Communications Conference is set for Oct. 13 on the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of The University of Texas at Austin. More information will be made available as we get closer to that date.

TWDB accepting flood protection grant requests
The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) has issued a request for applications for grants that would pay for flood protection systems. The funding could go toward early warning systems, implementation of strategies for alerting and responding to floods or flood protection planning.

The TWDB has made available up to $2 million for Fiscal Year 2016. Applicants must be participating in or applying to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. The grants may cover no more than 50 percent of the total costs of the projects. However, economically disadvantaged areas may receive up to 75 percent. 

Applications are due by June 17.

The water board also approved more than $14 million in funding this week. The Memorial Point Utility District in Polk County received $2 million for a new wastewater treatment plant, and the city of Weatherford was awarded $12.8 million to pay for a reclaimed water system.

Tyler MPO updates plans for two road projects
The Tyler Metropolitan Planning Organization held a public meeting this week to discuss short-term road projects in the East Texas community. The primary project discussed was an overpass that will allow drivers on US 69 to avoid the traffic on FM 346.

That $12.4 million project was one of two included in the area's four-year plan. The other will cost $16.7 million and widen FM 2493. The expansion will transform what also is called the Old Jacksonville Highway from two to four lanes and begin in 2018.

Frisco leaders plan for bike trail improvements
City planners in Frisco are developing a 20-year Hike and Bike Trail Master Plan that leaders intend to help move automobiles off the city's streets. 

Frisco already has more than 90 miles of hike and bike trails, consisting of sidewalks, soft paths and trails along creeks. But a consultant for the city said that residents have asked for more, safer options. "The intersections are pretty big out there," he said. "What people told us is they want to be more separated. Bike lanes are not real separated."

City officials already have hosted a community feedback meeting earlier this year and have posted a survey on the city's website. They said the hope is to come out of the process with both short- and long-range projects.

League City names Livingston economic development director
League City officials have hired Scott D. Livingston (pictured) as the city's new economic development director.

Livingston has been economic development coordinator for La Porte during a time in which the city attracted more than $4.3 billion in new investments. Additionally, he has worked in the private sector, with the DeSoto Economic Development Corporation and with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Livingston has a bachelor's degree from Baylor University and a master's degree from Texas A&M University-Commerce.

He will begin his new job June 13.

North Hopkins names Jolly superintendent
The Board of Trustees for the North Hopkins ISD has named Darin Jolly (pictured) as the lone finalist for the position of superintendent.

Jolly began his career as an assistant band director in Westwood ISD and served as director of bands in the Elkhart and Coleman school districts. He led the band program for Mabank ISD, as well, before becoming an assistant principal and principal for that district.

He also has served as principal in Winona ISD and superintendent in Kenedy ISD.

Cross Roads ISD names Tedder superintendent
The Cross Roads ISD Board of Trustees has selected Richard Tedder (pictured) as the district's new superintendent.

Tedder has been serving as the interim superintendent at Cross Roads ISD and previously served as superintendent in Brock ISD. He has been a teacher, principal and transportation director in Bullard ISD, as well as principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent in Lindale ISD.

Tedder began his job May 25.

Amarillo officials plan Lawrence Lake project
Officials with the city of Amarillo are planning to implement repairs and upgrades to the infrastructure around Lawrence Lake.

"We've set aside two projects for the lake in our wish list. We have some structural and erosion issues that need attention," City Engineer Kyle Schniederjan said. One of those projects is a $1 million effort to shore up the western wall of the lake in order to improve the flow of water. The reinforced Gabion wall will be more structurally sound than the current wall, said Schneiderjan.

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North Texas Commission starts president search
The North Texas Commission recently hired an executive search firm to help find a new president and chief executive officer of the commission.

The new president and CEO will replace Marcellette Sherman (pictured), who has been serving as interim president since February. The goal is to have the new chief executive in place by the end of September.
In a story about a proposed land bridge to be built in a San Antonio park that appeared in the May 27 issue of Texas Government Insider, we misidentified the name of the park. It should have read Hardberger Park rather than McAllister Park. We regret the error.
RECENT REPORTS
An Audit Report on Financial Processes at the Texas Public Finance Authority
GOVERNOR'S APPOINTMENTS
Gov. Greg Abbott has announced the following appointments:
  • Ronald Anderson, Mont Belvieu, San Jacinto River Authority Board of Directors;
  • Fred Koetting, The Woodlands, San Jacinto River Authority Board of Directors;
  • Gary Renola, Seabrook, San Jacinto River Authority Board of Directors.
Texas Government Insider Archives
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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: Peter Partheymuller   
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