Volume 17, Issue 32 - Friday, August 23, 2019 Optional Link
Twenty-two local agencies and governments are recovering from a ransomware attack on August 16 that shut down or crippled financial systems and other critical operations.

The mayor of Keene, a small city near Fort Worth that was victimized, said hackers demanded $2.5 million in ransom from the group of victims.

In response to the Texas attack, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the State Operations Center (SOC) to Level 2 "Escalated Response" with the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) leading a team of agencies to work with the affected entities. The SOC, Texas Military Department, Department of Public Safety, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Public Utility Commission of Texas, and the Texas A&M University System's Cyber-Response and Security Operations Center joined DIR to deploy resources to the most critically affected organizations.

The Texas Division of Emergency Management, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other federal cybersecurity partners also are supporting this incident.

By August 20, DIR officials reported that 25 percent of the impacted entities - mostly smaller local governments - had shifted from response and assessment to remediation and recovery with several of them returning to operations as usual.

A DIR spokesman declined to identify the towns affected, citing the potential for further attacks. However, the cities of Keene and Borger in the Texas Panhandle issued statements on their social media accounts that they were targeted in the attack. Borger officials reported on August 19 that their basic and emergency services remained online, but residents were unable to access birth or death certificates, pay their utility bills, or make other payments.

On August 22, officials with the cities of Wilmer and Kaufman came forward as victims along with the counties of Grayson and Lubbock and police departments in the cities of Bonham, Graham, and Vernon. Kaufman's staff had no choice other than to conduct business manually or on their cellphones. Wilmer's mayor issued a statement on notebook paper. Officials there said their goal is two to three weeks to restore their systems to full operations.

According to a DIR press release, the state of Texas systems and networks were not affected by the attack believed to be carried out by a single threat actor. Experts working on the case are reporting they believe the hackers appeared to access the towns' systems through a common communications channel frequently used by law enforcement agencies and managed by a private firm.

The cyberassault is one of several ransomware incidents carried out this year around the country against governments including attacks against the cities of Atlanta and Baltimore, Jackson County in Georgia, and Imperial County in California. In May, the city of Laredo, Texas was a victim of an attack that shut down some of its online services and rendered its email system inoperable.

Hackers also have targeted hospitals, businesses, and other networks. If successful in deceiving an employee into clicking on a link or downloading an attachment, ransomware encrypts a victim's computer, then demands payment, usually in the form of bitcoin, to unlock it.
TxDOT seeks $1.9B for 'priority' projects in Permian Basin
Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) leaders are asking for $1.9 billion in financial assistance from U.S. Sen. John Cornyn as they prepare to vote on a $2.6 billion road plan to fund 11 "priority" projects in the Permian Basin next week.

Bruce Bugg, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission which governs TxDOT, said the agency can fund $700 million of the priority projects but would need federal aid with the remainder.

Commissioners also are set to vote on a $77 billion Unified Transportation Plan (UTP) that serves as a guide to authorize projects for construction, development, and planning activities within the first 10 years of a 24-year Statewide Long-Range Transportation Plan. These projects include initiatives for highways, aviation, public transportation, and state and coastal waterways. To fulfill TxDOT's commitment to the Texas Clear Lanes program, the UTP dedicates $28 billion of the total to addressing the state's most critical road congestion needs.
Fort Worth City Hall
City of Fort Worth leaders are developing preliminary plans for an eight-story 253,400-square-foot municipal complex and central library for $126 million with an adjoining 1,200-space parking garage for $24 million.

The complex would stretch from the existing City Hall south to Lancaster Avenue.

City officials said their goal is to consolidate city staff currently working in about 12 different buildings in the downtown area into one central location. The city owns some facilities that could be sold such as the Central Library, two office annexes, and a parking garage. It pays more than $698,000 annually for downtown leases.

City officials said the project could include public-private partnership opportunities for commercial or retail development within and near the complex.

The project would be part of a proposed 2022 bond package, which would be voted on in May of that year.
Fraudsters indicted for stealing millions from military veterans
Audie Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital
Five fraudsters allegedly stole millions of dollars from the bank accounts of more than 3,300 servicemembers and veterans over five years by using stolen data to access personal identifying information on San Antonio servers for Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs benefits sites.

The U.S. Department of Justice unsealed the 14-count indictment against the defendants on August 21.

Based in both the Philippines and the U.S., the defendants were charged on multiple counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, and aggravated identify theft. U.S. Attorney General William Barr said most of the victims were elderly and disabled veterans.

One of the defendants allegedly stole thousands of military members personal identifying information in 2014 when he was a civilian employee at a U.S. Army installation, according to the indictment unsealed in San Antonio on August 21. 

Three other defendants reportedly used the stolen information to compromise a Department of Defense portal designed to enable military members to access benefits information online. This access enabled the defendants to steal or attempt to steal millions of dollars from military members' bank accounts.

The departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are working with the Department of Justice to notify identified victims and provide them with resources.
Midway ISD to call $148M election
Midway ISD board members on August 14 called a $148 million bond referendum for November to fund eight construction and improvement projects that would address the district's projected enrollment growth.

If approved by voters, the district would convert River Valley Intermediate School into a middle school for $43.1 million and construct a new elementary school for $38.5 million. Bond funds also would finance the expansion of the Midway High School career and technology education program for $31.4 million and conversion of Woodgate Intermediate School into an elementary school for $13.1 million.

The district also would renovate Midway Middle School for $13.1 million, replace HVAC systems at three campuses for $3.7 million, replace roofs on five buildings for $3.3 million, and renovate its technology center for $1.5 million.

At about 8,200 students currently, the district's enrollment is estimated to rise to 10,700 in 10 years, according to a facility study committee that recommended $177 million in bond projects to the board earlier this summer.

Trustees were determined to call an election that would not raise its property tax rate, so several projects were eliminated from consideration from this election.
Strategic Partnerships salutes Texas' Lone Stars
Lorie Davis, Director of Correctional Institutions Division, Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Lorie Davis
Career highlights and education: I am a 30-year veteran with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). I began my career as a correctional officer and promoted through the ranks by serving the agency in the capacities of sergeant, lieutenant, captain, major, and assistant warden.

My other appointments include senior warden of the Ellen Halbert Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility, Hilltop Unit, Dr. Lane Murray Unit, the Fort Stockton/Lynaugh Complex, the Formby/Wheeler Complex, the Chasefield Complex / Garza East and West Units, and McConnell Unit.

I later served as the director of Region III and correctional training and staff development and deputy director of management operations and support operations. In May 2016, I was promoted to my current position.

I received my bachelor of applied arts and sciences in political science and business administration at Midwestern State University in 1998 and my Master in Public Administration from Texas Tech University in 2004. 

 What I like best about my public service: I appreciate the ability to make a difference. As public servants, we are called to help others in a way that is bigger than our individual selves. In my role, I am extremely blessed to be able to assist in not only facilitating the accomplishment of our agency's mission but also in mentoring the next generation of leaders who will carry it forward.

The best advice I have received for my current job: Two things come to mind: 1. Do not allow yourself to keep doing your old job. You are responsible for the new one and people are counting on you to do it. 2. On the days that are heavy, remind yourself why you are here. Nobody said it would be easy, but you made a commitment to yourself and others, that it is necessary in order to make a difference.

Advice you would give a new hire in your office: Have the courage to be transformational and adaptive early on.  Do not wait until you think you have figured out what you are doing.  Think bigger, sooner and then work towards it.  If it fails, let it go, and try the next thing.  Set time aside for you as personal time, from the beginning.  If you do not take care of your own resilience and wellness; it is hard to ask others to.
 
If I ever had the opportunity to leave work early, I could probably be found: My best mindfulness comes from sitting by the lake in my rocking chair or on the beach in the sand.  Water soothes my soul and has a way of rejuvenating energy.

People would be surprised to know that I: My great-great grandfather was a Texas Ranger who rode with Captain Sul Ross in the rescue of Cynthia Ann Parker. 

One thing I wish more people knew about the Texas Department of Criminal JusticeWe have absolutely one of the most amazing groups of employees in this state. The passion and commitment to accomplish our mission every day inspires me constantly.
Aledo ISD board members call $150M bond election for Nov. 5
A recommendation by the Bearcat Growth Committee for a $149.95 million bond package earned unanimous approval from the Aledo ISD board of trustees on August 19.

Board members called the election for November 5 that would include several construction and expansion projects on one ballot. If the referendum passes, the district plans to shift to a sixth-eighth grade middle school configuration.

Some of the proposed items are:
  • Construction of a new middle school - $62.5 million;
  • Renovation and expansion of Aledo Middle School - $33.47 million;
  • Construction of a sixth elementary school - $35.86 million;
  • Renovation of McAnally Intermediate School to an elementary school - $9.61 million;
  • Purchase of land for future school sites - $4.53 million;
  • Renovation of Vandagriff Elementary School to an early childhood campus - $1.71 million;
  • Replacement of furniture - $1.8 million; and,
  • Purchase of new school buses - $500,000.
The bond election will not include a property tax rate increase.
Rendering of UH College of Medicine
The University of Houston (UH) celebrated its planned College of Medicine with a ceremonial signing August 21 by the governor and the unveiling of architectural renderings showcasing a stylish modular design.

Officials hope to break ground on the 150,000-square-foot medical school in spring 2020 and open it by summer 2022. It will be on 43 acres of undeveloped land on the UH campus.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has approved the school, and the Texas Legislature appropriated $20 million to assist with start-up costs. Pending accreditation by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, school officials plan to begin admitting students for fall 2020.

McKinney considering 5G technology implementation
McKinney councilmembers are exploring options for implementing fifth-generation (5G) wireless technology in the city.

In a work session earlier this year, the city's director of engineering said improved wireless technology would be a selling point to developers considering projects for the area.

The city recently hired a technology and infrastructure specialist to research 5G implementation and its effects on public health. Councilmembers also adopted a resolution in May to set guiding principles for the technology with an eye for implementation along the SH 121 corridor this summer.

If authorized by City Council, the 5G technology would be installed to create a network of small cell poles. Cellular providers would operate their networks independently, but they would be required to work with the city to install the related equipment.
Forest Service stages airtankers in Austin as wildfire threats intensify
The Texas A&M Forest Service reopened the Austin Airtanker Base at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA) to support wildfire operations across the state by staging three Type 1 airtankers.

As high temperatures and dry conditions persist, significant fire activity has increased, especially in northwest Texas, Central Texas, and Cross Timbers region. Fuel dryness is expanding across South Texas, the Hill Country, and Rolling Plains, and firefighting agencies battled 107 fires raging over 33,000 acres from Aug. 14-21.

Opening the airtanker base will allow for faster response times and greater cost efficiency when responding to wildfires across the state, according to a Forest Service press release. Officials said the multi-engine airtankers are much faster than a helicopter or single-engine airtanker and can travel to any location in Texas in less than one hour.

The Austin base, which was first established in 2017, is equipped to handle all aircraft in the national airtanker fleet, including those aircraft used to drop fire retardant during wildfires. The base will be manned by Texas A&M Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, and Austin Fire Department firefighting personnel.
Conroe EDC approves $23.7M bond sale for industrial park projects
Conroe Park North Industrial Park
The Greater Conroe Economic Development Council (GCEDC) approved the sale of $23.7 million in bonds at its August 22 meeting to fund infrastructure improvements at the Conroe Park North Industrial Park.

Construction of new streets, signals, and water and wastewater lines will serve the additional 610 acres the council acquired for the park in 2018.
 
The council has attracted 14 companies to Conroe Park North that have created 703 jobs and spurred almost $400 million in capital expenditures with a $65.3 construction impact, according to its website. The GCEDC also approved a tax abatement agreement on August 22 with a retailer that plans to build a $42 million distribution center at the park that will create 190 jobs.
Comanche city, county declare disaster after water main break
A water main break on August 19 has led to a week of water crisis and a disaster declaration for the city of Comanche and Comanche County.

The city's mayor said utility company crews struck the city water main on Monday afternoon, and the break was capped off early Tuesday morning.

However, the city's aging infrastructure failed and more water lines broke, according to the mayor who said the lines have since been repaired and water service could be restored August 23. Repair costs are unknown at this time.

Officials were set to conduct water quality tests August 22 after the city's water reserve levels reached 50 feet. The level dropped to about 15-18 feet.

Comanche ISD canceled classes on August 20 but has since reopened schools. Relief stations have been providing bottled water, ice, portable restrooms, mobile showers, and mobile laundry. The water shortage forced Comanche County jail to evacuate its inmates to Erath County and impacted local businesses.
Grimes County sets bid timeline for $12.1M justice center to start Sept. 4
Rendering of Grimes County justice center
Grimes County commissioners approved a procurement timeline on August 14 for a $12.1 million justice center next to the county jail. Commissioners set a schedule that will begin with the release of bid plans on September 4. Submissions will be due October 10, and the bid award date will be October 30.

Officials expect construction of the justice center to be complete in December 2020.

The county will begin the process on September 4 with the release of bid plans for a 32,093-square-foot facility that will feature courtrooms for the district court and county court at law as well as a courtroom for special proceeding by the grand jury, justices of the peace, and commissioners court. It also will have space for jury rooms and conference rooms.

Several county officials including the tax assessor, human resources, treasurer, auditor, district clerk, and county clerk will work out of the new justice center. The county attorney, judge, election administration, probation, 9-1-1 operations, and road and bridge departments will be located at another facility.
 
Planners designed the justice center to have a direct connection to the county's current jail to allow for a prisoner transport time of one minute.
EVENTS CALENDAR
Save the date for DIR conference
October 3, 2019 / Austin, Texas
Mark your calendar to attend the DIR Technology Forum 2019 on October 3 from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the Commons Learning Center, J.J. Pickle Research Campus, 10100 Burnet Road, Austin, TX 78758.

Journey to the Cloud: How to Get There is the theme of this year's forum, a free one-day, two-track conference for public sector IT leaders. Plan to attend educational sessions on strategic issues, technology updates, and DIR solutions and services.

More than 200 attendees from a wide variety of Texas state agencies and universities are expected to attend. The free event is open to any current Texas government or public sector staff member interested in information technology issues. Pre-registration is required and opens in early July. The cancellation deadline is September 27; a $50 fee will be charged for any no shows and late cancellations.

Complimentary morning and afternoon refreshments and a luncheon will be served. DIR invites vendors to participate by exhibiting and/or providing a speaker.

For information, email Joy Hall Bryant.
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By Mary Scott Nabers, CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.

Some seasoned government contracting firms have spent decades studying 'best practices' associated with winning new business. They know exactly what it takes, and because of that, they incur less risk when pursuing projects. These firms also win lots of government business.

Other firms, however, are not quite as knowledgeable. They know enough to be successful occasionally, but not consistently. It's important for companies that compete in both the public and private sector to remember that government procurements are structured and evaluated differently. And, it's also important to remember that public procurements allow bidders to be eliminated for multiple reasons that are often easily corrected.

Interestingly enough, the procurement world is currently experiencing significant new trends. If ever there were a time to know everything possible about government procurement and to carefully vet opportunities, it is now.


Abbott appoints Hughs as Secretary of State
Ruth Hughs
Gov. Greg Abbott has appointed Ruth Hughs of Austin as the Texas Secretary of State.

As secretary, Hughs will serve as chief election officer for Texas, assist county election officials, and strive to ensure consistent application and interpretation of election laws in the state.

The Office of the Secretary of State also provides a repository for official and business and commercial records required to be filed with the office. The secretary of state publishes government rules and regulations and commissions notaries public. The secretary also serves as keeper of the state seal and attestor to the Governor's signature on official documents.

In addition, the secretary serves as senior advisor and liaison to the Governor for Texas border and Mexican affairs and as chief international protocol officer for Texas.

Hughs has served as chair of the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) since August 2018. She was first appointed to the TWC in July 2015. She is a member of the State Bar of Texas and the New Jersey State Bar and chair of the Advisory Council on Cultural Affairs.
Governor names TWC commissioner, chair
Gov. Greg Abbott appointed Aaron Demerson to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) on August 20 as the Commissioner Representing Employers for a term set to expire February 1, 2021. Demerson succeeds Ruth Hughs who was appointed as Texas Secretary of State.

Abbott also named Bryan Daniel as chair of the commission that is charged with overseeing and providing workforce development services to employers and job seekers in Texas.

Aaron Demerson
Demerson of Austin has served as the director of the Office of Employer Initiatives for the Texas Workforce Commission since 2014. Previously, he served as a senior advisor to Gov. Rick Perry and was the executive director of the Economic Development and Tourism Division.

Bryan Daniel
Daniel of Georgetown was recently appointed to the TWC and previously served as the executive director of the Office of the Governor Economic Development Division and as the chief administrator for the Texas Department of Agriculture Trade and Business Development Division.
Gulf Coast Water board promotes Wade to GM
Brandon Wade
The Gulf Coast Water Authority (GCWA) board has promoted Deputy General Manager Brandon Wade to general manager and chief executive officer for the special water district.

Wade, who joined GCWA in early 2018, leads a staff of 75 to provide up to 200 million gallons of water a day to customers in Brazoria, Fort Bend, and Galveston counties.
 
He possesses more than 35 years of municipal experience, including eight years as Pflugerville city manager; 11 years as Galveston deputy city manager, director of public works and city engineer; and four years as Alvin director of community development and city engineer.

Ivan Langford III, who served as GCWA general manager since 2012, will continue as senior advisor.

GCWA maintains an extensive system of canals, pump stations, pipelines, reservoirs and a water treatment plant to deliver water from the Brazos River Basin to its customers. The special water district was established by the Texas Legislature in 1965.
Allen announces 2 new assistant city managers
Tim Dentler
The city of Allen has appointed two assistant city managers: current Allen Parks and Recreation Director Tim Dentler and acting Assistant City Manager Rebecca Vice.

In their new roles, Dentler and Vice will help with day-to-day management of city staff and operations.

Dentler joined the city of Allen in 1995 as parks superintendent and has served as director of parks and recreation for 16 years. 

Rebecca Vice
Vice joined the Allen city manager's office in 2013 and later served as organizational development and employee engagement administrator.

Allen officials will continue to look for a qualified deputy city manager to complete the city's management team.
Dripping Springs ISD names Wellman as interim superintendent
Nola Wellman
The Dripping Springs ISD (DSISD) board of trustees unanimously approved the appointment of Dr. Nola Wellman as interim superintendent at a special meeting on August 19.

She succeeds Dr. Bruce Gearing who will be leaving at the end of the month to assume his new position as Leander ISD superintendent.

Wellman was the superintendent of Eanes ISD between 2004 and 2014. Since then, the has worked as a consultant with several companies. She joined Eanes ISD after 16 years at the Cherry Creek School District in Denver where she held several positions, including five years as an assistant superintendent.

She will begin full-time with DSISD on September 3.

At an August 15 special meeting, trustees developed a process and timeline for the district's search for a new permanent superintendent with an application deadline of September 23, review of applications on September 30, and interviews in mid-October.
Corpus Christi taps CFO, assistant city manager
Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni announced Steven Viera as assistant city manager and Constance Sanchez as chief financial officer on August 23.

Steven Viera
As assistant city manager, Viera will oversee development services, planning and environmental services, the city's airport, and its health district. He possesses more than 19 years of public service experience including time as the city's director of human resources.

Before joining the city, Viera worked in human resources at Del Mar College and with a national insurance company.
Constance Sanchez

Sanchez was appointed chief financial officer on August 13. She manages the finance and business analysis, management and budget, contracts and procurement, and information technology departments.

Before her promotion, she served as the city's director of financial services. She also worked as assistant city auditor, auditor, and chief accountant and held positions in the city's financial services department as assistant director, deputy director, and interim director.
Rollingwood appoints Brady as police chief
Jason Brady
The city of Rollingwood has appointed Corpus Christi Police Captain Jason Brady to be its next police chief.

He takes over for interim Police Chief Kristal Pampa who filled in after former Police Chief Max Westbrook left the office in September 2018.

Brady previously served at the Corpus Christi Police Department as captain with multiple divisions and departments including the Neighborhood Improvement Team, Adam District, Criminal Investigations Division, Internal Affairs, and Organized Crime Unit.
He also was a lieutenant with its gang unit and uniform division, senior officer with its bicycle patrol unit, SWAT assistant team leader, and a police officer.

Rollingwood councilmembers also appointed Ashley Wayman as city secretary. Wayman succeeds former City Secretary Robyn Ryan.
Mount Enterprise names Pharr as city secretary
Suzanne Pharr
The Mount Enterprise City Council appointed Suzanne Pharr as the city secretary and court administrator on August 13.

She succeeds Rosena Becker-Ross who is no longer with the city.

Pharr is the owner of a business services company and previously held several positions in the private sector, including as an accounting administrator, bookkeeper and executive assistant, office manager, and human resources manager.
Community colleges group awarded $12M grant for internships

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) awarded $12 million in grant funding to a group of four Texas community colleges - San Jacinto, Alamo, Austin, and Dallas County - to help fund information technology apprenticeships through public-private partnerships (P3s).

Federal funds will support the colleges' Texas Is IT! program that will create new apprenticeships in information technology occupations where H-1B visas are currently being used in the state. Austin Community College (ACC) will receive $1.5 million and will partner with a multinational information technology company that is committing $4.5 million in matching funds. Their partnership aims to train 350 apprentices at the company over the next four years.

With the assistance of the California Division of Apprenticeship Standards, the colleges plan to scale it nationwide to help employer partners establish their target of 5,000 middle and higher skill jobs.

DOL officials announced the grant as part of a $183.8 million Scaling Apprenticeship Through Sector-Based Strategies program to support the development and expansion of apprenticeships for educational institutions partnering with companies that provide a funding match.
GOVERNOR'S APPOINTMENTS
Gov. Greg Abbott has announced these appointments/reappointments from August 16-22:

Sonia Clayton - Spring, Texas Judicial Council (reappointed)
RECENT REPORTS & DATA
University of Wisconsin-Madison & Carnegie Mellon University - U.S. Hydrologic Design Standards Insufficient Due to Large Increases in Frequency of Rainfall Extremes

Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas - Texas Economic Indicators
JOB BOARD
Dozens of public-sector jobs are available. Click here to view all job openings and guidelines for job submissions to SPI. New jobs added this week:

  • Office of the Texas Governor - Program Specialist V
  • Texas Department of Information Resources - General Counsel V
  • Texas Legislative Council - Legislative Delivery Assistant
  • Texas Sunset Advisory Commission - Staff Assistant II
  • Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts - Spring Semester Statewide Procurement Internship


View our Texas Government Insider and Government Contracting Pipeline newsletter archives

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: Devin Monk 
TGI is published by Strategic Partnerships, Inc. (SPI), a research and consulting firm. Founded in Texas in 1995 by former government executives and public sector experts, SPI has developed a national reputation as the premier marketing partner dedicated to helping companies secure contracts in the $1.5 trillion state and local government marketplace.   
To learn more about SPI services, click here or contact our sales department at 512-531-3900. 
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