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  Volume 7, Issue 43 · Friday, November 6, 2009
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Texans approve $857M in local bond elections

Some entities find passage of proposals difficult in current economy

School Bus

Texas residents approved $857 million, or 63.5 percent, of the $1.35 billion in bond propositions up for vote on Tuesday. The amount is significantly lower than the May 2009 bond election number when residents said "yes" to $1.37 billion, or 73 percent, of the $1.88 billion up for vote. Asking local residents to approve additional financing for municipal and K-12 projects was apparently a difficult sell in the current economic environment.

Fire House

Despite the challenges, many of the larger bond programs in the state passed, including:

  • City of Lubbock residents approved $50.6 million of the $60.9 million up for approval. Voters approved proposals for street improvements and fire fighting facilities while voting down proposals for water recreation facilities and soccer fields.
  • In their first-ever bond election, City of Hutto voters approved $16.8 million for street improvements, park facilities and a recreation center. Residents, however, declined to approve a $6 million sports facility complex.


To view a complete list of all November 2009 bond election results, please visit the Recent Reports section of the SPI Web site.

Slowdown seen in delivery of Recovery Act funds

Many awaiting programs being built for use of allocations to entities

Stimulus Cash

If it seems like the flow of money from the federal Recovery Act to the states has slowed to a trickle - it has. But there's a reason.

According to the federal government's Web site that tracks American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) dollars,, as of Oct. 30, only $207 billion of the $787 billion in the act has been paid out. That leaves $580 billon Recovery Act dollars that have not yet made their way to states, local governments, public and higher education, healthcare, nonprofits and others.

For example, Texas has been notified it has access to $13.7 billion that will be funneled through state agencies. However, according to RJ DeSilva, spokesman for the State Comptroller's Office, to date only $4.1 billion of that total has actually made its way to the state. This funding also does not include money that has been allocated directly to cities, he said, as the state tracks only money distributed to its own agencies.


Strategic Partnerships salutes Texas' Lone Stars

Gary Bego

Gary Bego, director of business and operations, Texas School for the Deaf

Career highlights and education: After graduating from The University of Texas with a degree in finance, I began my public service career in September 1972 as an auditor for the Department of Human Services (DHS). Over the next 20 years, I held a number of positions with the agency - budget analyst, chief of staff, administrator of Health Care Services Budget, administrator of Fraud and Abuse Division and director of Management Support. In September 1993, the Medicaid program (which I supported) was transferred from DHS to the Texas Department of Health (TDH). After two years as a TDH bureau chief, I accepted a job as the associate commissioner of fiscal policy at the Health and Human Services Commission. I later became the agency's chief financial officer. In September of 2001, I returned to TDH and served in several key positions - chief operating officer and deputy commissioner. In July 2004, I began my present position as director of business and operations at the Texas School for the Deaf (TSD).

What I like best about my job is: TSD serves a unique population of students who desperately need the programs and services that we deliver. The skills and experience that I have acquired over the last 35 years allow me to effectively serve TSD in a manner which enhances the success of our students. I am very proud to be part of an organization that is fully dedicated to serving the educational needs of our students.

The best advice I've received for my current job is: Ask yourself, "Is the decision you are about to make in the best interest of our students?" Additionally, many years ago I began asking myself the following question before I make any important decision. It is: Would I make the decision this way again if I read about it tomorrow morning on the front page of the Austin American-Statesman?

Advice I would give a new hire in my office: Be willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done right and don't be afraid to make a mistake. Every job is important. Every employee serves an integral role which enables our students to achieve their highest potential.

If I ever snuck out of work early, I could probably be found: spending time with my wonderful wife of 31 years and two lovely daughters, at the golf course or on a tennis court.

People would be surprised to know that I: served as a volunteer firefighter when my father was the fire chief in Goliad. Also, I enjoy carrying on the family tradition of raising cattle on our ranch in Goliad County.

One thing I wish more people knew about my agency: That not only does TSD serve 500+ students on campus six days per week, 24 hours per day, but we also function as a statewide resource center on deafness for parents, professionals and students attending local school district programs across the state.

Each week, the Texas Government Insider profiles a key government executive or decision-maker. If you would like to suggest a "Lone Star," please email us at

Palmer director of HHSC E-Health Coordination

Stephen Palmer

Stephen Palmer (pictured) is the new director of the Office of E-Health Coordination for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) where he is responsible for leading the Office of E-Health Coordination and coordinating the numerous health information technology (HIT) initiatives that are being implemented within the HHS system and externally. Palmer comes to HHSC from the Office of the Governor, where he was lead policy analyst for the Texas Health Care Policy Council, was the governor's advisor for HIT, project director for the Texas Health Information Technology Advisory Committee and chair of the Texas delegation to the Gulf Coast Health Information Technology Task Force.

At HHSC, Palmer will also be an advisory member of the State Alliance for eHealth, a federal advisory committee responsible for developing recommendations relating to the state role in federal health information technology policy for the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Prior to joining the Office of the Governor, Palmer worked as a Medicaid/CHIP policy advisor to the deputy executive commissioner for Health Services at HHSC. He also previously worked on the policy staff of the Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Before entering a career in public policy, Palmer was an information technology consultant focusing on interface programming and database administration. He holds a bachelor's degree from Rice University and a master's degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in public policy, also from the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Energy Conservation Office offers $157.7M in grants

The State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) is set to release $157.7 million for building efficiency and retrofit projects at various Texas government facilities. The funds will be released through a revolving loan venture similar to the successful LoneSTAR program. Cities, counties, schools, hospital districts and other local and state governmental entities are eligible to apply for the loans.

"The money remains and is reinvested in Texas," State Comptroller Susan Combs said of the revolving loan program. In addition to saving taxpayer dollars, the program allows governmental agencies to pay off the loan with money it saves from lower energy costs, Combs said.

To apply for loans or for more information, click here. Applications are due before Dec. 30.

New TxDMV hopes to appoint executive director soon

Victor Vandergriff

"We hope to appoint an executive director quickly," said Victor Vandergriff (pictured), chairman of the board of the new Texas state agency, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV), at its initial board meeting this week. The new agency, which officially began operations on Monday, was created by the 81st Texas Legislature and includes the Texas Department of Transportation's (TxDOT) former Vehicle Titles and Registration, Motor Carrier, Motor Vehicle and Auto Burglary and Theft Prevention Authority divisions. The new agency, 600 employees strong, will oversee the state's motor vehicle services, including registering and titling passenger vehicles, granting operating authority to commercial motor carriers, regulating dealerships and helping to prevent auto burglary and theft.


Among the items for discussion during the board's first meeting were the agency's new Web site and the smooth transition of TxDOT employees to the new TxDMV.

Vandergriff has previously stated that the new agency was necessary because the growth in the state's population has increased demand for motor vehicle services. He noted that vehicle registrations have increased by almost 1 million annually in two of the past three years, with more than 21 million registered vehicles in the state - the second highest in the nation.

The motor vehicle business in Texas generates more than $4 billion annually for the state. The money is deposited into the state highway fund to help build and maintain the transportation system and the general revenue fund, which provides services to Texans. Some of the services the new agency will provide include vehicle titling and registration, license plates, placards for persons with disabilities, vehicle dealer licensing and enforcement, motor carrier operating authority, grants to law enforcement to prevent vehicle theft and Texas Lemon Law assistance.

Texas Teachers of the Year honored in Austin

Donna Patrick

Yushica Walker

Yushica Walker (left), a sixth-grade science teacher at Morehead Middle School in the El Paso Independent School District, and Donna Patrick (right), a math and language arts teacher at Southern Hills Elementary School in the Wichita Falls ISD, were recently named Texas Teachers of the Year for secondary and elementary education, respectively.

The teachers - honored at a special fete and luncheon in Austin - each took home a cash prize of $5,000, a SMART board technology package, a laptop computer and trophy. Four additional state finalists each received $750, and 33 regional teachers took home $500 each.

Job Building Fund offers grants for education

High Tech

More than $2.5 million will be made available in competitive grants from the Job Building Fund, helping Texas public community colleges and technical institutes purchase cutting-edge equipment for career and technical education programs. The funds, available through the comptroller office's Every Chance Funds, will help advance spending for community colleges with rapidly increasing enrollment numbers statewide.

State Comptroller Susan Combs said the grants "will attract and develop business in Texas communities." Entities have until 2 p.m. today, Friday, to apply.

School receiving the grants must provide matching funds in the form of cash, equipment, materials, supplies and/or personnel costs. For more information about the Job Building Fund, click here.

Groundwater Protection Committee endorses initiative

Major Rivers

The Texas Groundwater Protection Committee (TGPC) has officially endorsed the Texas Water Development Board's (TWDB) Major Rivers education program.

Major Rivers (pictured) and his horse, Aquifier, have ridden around the state visiting fourth- and fifth-grader for the last 20 years, teaching students how to conserve water, protect water resources and where water comes from.

To learn more about the program - which includes workbooks and leaflets available for less than $1 per student - call (512) 463-5863, or email

Austin narrows solid waste services list to six

Six finalists have been named by the City of Austin for the Solid Waste Services Director position. Acting Director Tammie Williamson was not among the applicants, who include:

  • Victoria Garland, Director of Solid Waste Services for the City of Charlotte, N.C.;
  • Robert Gedert, Director of the California Resource Recovery Association;
  • Michael Lopker, Deputy Public Works Director- Solid Waste Field Services in Phoenix;
  • Shirlene Sitton, Recycling Division Manager for the City of Denton's Solid Waste Department;
  • Ellen Smyth, Director of Environmental Services Department for the City of El Paso; and
  • Donna K. Turbyfill, Deputy Director of Public Works for the County of San Diego, Calif.

In addition to a meeting to which the public has been invited, the candidates will also participate in a series of interviews with separate panels including city executives, department directors, employees and members of the community. The finalist for the post will then be recommended by City Manager Marc Ott.

Prop. 12 highway projects may be voted on Nov. 19

Two years after voters approved Proposition 12 authorizing issuing $5 billion in general obligation bonds for transportation projects statewide, the Texas Transportation Commission is poised to vote on the Texas Department of Transportation's (TxDOT) recommendations at its regular meeting Thursday, Nov. 19, in Austin.

Prop 12 Projects

This year, the Texas Legislature authorized TxDOT to go to contract on some $2 billion in bond funds for non-toll highway projects. A list of projects recommended for funding was developed by TxDOT districts and Metropolitan Planning Organizations. Together they identified more than $8.9 billion in possible projects.

That list was narrowed to $2 billion by picking for their recommendations corridor projects of statewide significance, rehabilitation and safety projects that focus on improving declining pavement scores and driver safety and mobility projects that focus on relieving congestion on specific segments of roadways.

Their recommendations were presented to the Commission at its October meeting and are expected to be voted on at its November meeting. To see the complete list of recommendations, click here and look under "Recent Reports."

Gaertner to retire as president of Sam Houston State

James Gaertner

James Gaertner (pictured) recently announced plans to retire as president of Sam Houston State University, effective in August 2010.

"It has been an incredible honor to serve with the entire university community as president of this grand old university," Gaertner wrote in a letter to the university community.

Gaertner previously served in several administrative positions at the University of Texas at San Antonio and as a director of the London master of business administration program at the University of Notre Dame. He holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from Sam Houston State and a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University.

A&M narrows president search to eight candidates

Officials at Texas A& M University say they have narrowed their search for a new president to eight candidates. The list includes both men and women, according to Richard Box, chair of the search committee charged with looking for candidates.

The committee met Oct. 30 and reduced the pool of some 50 candidates to the current eight. The candidates come from academia, government, the military and the business world. From this latest list, the committee will send three to four names to the TAMU Board of Regents with their recommendation. A final decision is expected to be made in February.

Coordinating Board approves new stadium at UNT

UNT Stadium

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recently approved plans for a new football stadium at the University of North Texas in Denton. Construction on the new stadium to replace the current 57-year-old stadium will begin later this month and should be completed in time for the 2011 football season, said officials of UNT.

The new stadium will feature space for tailgating, accommodate 30,000 fans and include luxury suites, a club level, a retail facility, a corporate deck and serve as the centerpiece of Mean Green Village, which includes venues for softball, tennis, soccer, swimming and volleyball. The stadium also will serve as a venue for outdoor concerts, community events, high school games and band competitions, UNT officials said.

The university will be seeking Gold LEED certification, one of the highest levels of sustainable achievement. UNT likely will have the first college football stadium with a Gold LEED designation. Funding for the new stadium will come from private donations, corporate sponsorships, club and suite sales, facility naming rights agreements, game guarantees, ticket sales, facility rental fees, concessions and student athletics fees. Last year, UNT students approved an increase in the dedicated athletic fee, which will be imposed once the stadium opens.

SMU geothermal lab awarded $5.25 million grant

David Blackwell

The Geothermal Laboratory of Southern Methodist University recently won a $5.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The grant was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The grant will fund the development of data for the National Geothermal Database on which SMU will work with a team from academia, industry and national labs with experience in conventional hydrothermal geothermal resource assessment, enhanced geothermal systems and non-conventional geothermal systems to develop a comprehensive data base on geothermal projects.

Dr. David Blackwell, (pictured) the Hamilton professor of Geothermal Studies and principal investigator for the grant, said the data project will benefit developers of geothermal power plants by decreasing the costs of the resource identification and the risks inherent in the exploration phase.

Three Texas A&M rural health faculty win grants

Jean Brender

Robert Ohsfeldt

Ming Tai-Seale

Three faculty members of the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health recently received grant awards from the National Institutes of Health Challenge Grants.

Recipients of the grants, which were funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, are Jean Brender, Ph.D., R.N. (left), the associate dean of research and professor of epidemiology; Robert Ohsfeldt, Ph.D. (middle), associate professor of health policy and management; and Ming Tae-Seale, Ph.D. (right), professor of health policy and management.

Brender will continue an investigation of the relationship between nitrates, nitrosatable drugs and certain birth defects using data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Ohsfeldt will study the determinants of usage of a health information exchange system in Central Texas as part of the proposed development of an electronic medical records system, while Tae-Seale will examine physician-patient communication between older adults and their primary care physicians from diverse socio-economic backgrounds with a goal of improving mental health treatment for the elderly during visits to primary care physicians.

Texas Engineering Extension Service to train 1,600

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) recently awarded a $4.2 million grant to the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) to pay for training 1,600 employees from eight companies in Texas to improve the delivery of emergency services.

Using proceeds of the grant, the Emergency Services Training Institute of TEEX will offer 30 different courses in industrial firefighting, rescue, HazMat, emergency medical services and leadership. The training may be provided at the Brayton Fire Training Field in College Station or at the 24 locations of the eight energy companies participating in the program.

The Skills Development Grant is aimed at existing employees in the oil and gas industry who are on emergency response teams or industrial fire brigades, said a TWC official. The grant will pay for tuition for Texas-based employees and for the cost of fuel and course manuals necessary for the training.

Hilton College at University of Houston to upgrade hotel

John Bowen

The Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston recently began construction on a $12.5 million renovation project to improve the 86-room teaching hotel opened in 1975.

Plans call for the renovations to be completed in April 2010. The renovations include plans to improve the lobby with a new onyx entry wall, upgrade the driveway, courtyard, ballrooms, meeting places and enlarging and reconfiguring the guest rooms, said John Bowen (pictured), dean of the Hilton College.

Hilton College officials also approved $2.5 million for renovations to the library and archives located in the south wing of the college. The renovations will provide a more contemporary environment and provide visibility and access to the college's collection of industry-related archival documents and memorabilia.

Austin, San Antonio, Bexar County get HUD grants

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently awarded $39.1 million in grants to Austin, San Antonio and Bexar County.

The grants included $13.6 million to San Antonio in Community Development Block Grant funding, $640,466 for Emergency Shelter Grant funding, $7 million for a HOME Investment Partnerships Program and $1 million in Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS funding.

Bexar County will receive $1.7 million in Community Development Block Grant funding and $650,999 in HOME funding. Austin received $13.4 million in grants to improve housing and reduce homelessness. The HOME grant program can be used by state and local governments to develop affordable housing.

SMU's Armendariz to head Texas EPA office

Al Armendariz

Al Armendariz (pictured), professor of environmental and civil engineering at Southern Methodist University, has been named as the next chief of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Texas office.

A native of El Paso, Armendariz holds a bachelor's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a master's from the University of Florida and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina. He has worked previously for the EPA, for environmental groups and for industry consultants. He was one of two candidates for the position who were endorsed by environmentalists.

The Texas office oversees EPA operations in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

Texoma COG to distribute $5.8M in energy grants

The Texoma Council of Governments recently began distribution of $5.8 million in weatherization grants to help low-income residents make their homes more energy efficient.

The grants will help residents pay for new, more efficient heating or cooling units and other energy saving appliances and for adding insulation to a home to reduce energy usage. The funds are distributed in two $2.9 million installments. TCOG officials estimate an additional 700 homes will receive energy upgrades this year because of the additional funding and the decision to expand the program to persons whose income is double the poverty line rather than 25 percent over the federal poverty guidelines. TCOG serves 15 counties in North and East Texas.

Arlington ISD may sell space on school buses for ads

Officials of the Arlington Independent School District recently began talks about adding advertising to the side of district school buses as a source of additional revenue.

A Houston-based advertising company has proposed that the school district retain 60 percent of the revenue from the bus advertisements and could make up to $200,000 during the first year of the program. The proposal could help reduce the district's looming budget deficit, said Ciindy Powell, associate superintendent at Arlington ISD.

Dallas County Schools, which provides transportation services to Dallas schools and eight other school districts, also authorized staff to work on the specifics of a contract to place advertisements on the buses it operates. The Texas Transportation Code allows advertising on school buses if the ads do not distract from the effectiveness of safety warning equipment.

Longview ISD banks another $3.7M in unused funds

James Wilcox

Lower-than-estimated costs for a middle school project recently resulted in the Longview Independent School District considering adding another $3.7 million to its balance of unused bond money.

The guaranteed maximum price of the middle school was originally estimated to have a $30.9 million price tag, but the guaranteed maximum price came in at a little below $27.2 million, noted Superintendent James Wilcox (pictured). The district already is about $5 million under budget on previous bond projects and Wilcox said all of the unused bond money will be returned to taxpayers either by changing the tax rate or using the additional funding to pay off the district's debt earlier than expected.

Renovations and construction of the middle school are expected to take about 17 months. The library, administrative offices, auditorium, cafeteria, gym and a classroom wing will remain although a majority of the building is scheduled to be demolished in May 2010.

West University approves design for new police station

The West University City Council has approved having architectural plans drawn for a new, two-story police station on the west end of the existing city hall. The council plans to have a design ready by February, when it will solicit construction proposals. The building would be completed in late 2010, if approved.

The current police station is too susceptible to flooding to warrant a renovation, City Manager Michael Ross said.

Of an allotted $412,000 from the future sale of tax-exempt bonds or other debt for the design of police, fire and public works facilities, up to $275,000 would be paid to the architectural firm for designing the station.

Huntsville City Council to consider new expo center

The Huntsville Hotel Occupancy Tax board has voted to take a proposal to build an expo center/indoor arena to the city council, which will order a feasibility study. The study will determine if a facility is needed, what type of structure is needed and where the building will be located.

Some council members, including Lanny Ray, maintain the Walker County Fairgrounds are too small to accommodate rodeos and concerts. Ray said a large, steel building with rooms on the side and a large middle room would attract shows and promote tourism.

The facility, if approved, would be funded with a combination of grant money and funds from the hotel occupancy tax, Ray said.

Bexar Co. approves $55.6M plan to ease traffic woes

Chico Rodriguez

Bexar County commissioners recently adopted a reimbursement plan in which the state will reimburse the county $55.6 million to improve more than 12 miles of roads the county plans to build to alleviate traffic congestion in western Bexar County. The agreement calls for the Texas Department of Transportation to repay Bexar County in the next 10 to 20 years for design, environmental mitigation, construction and other costs of financing 12.3 miles of roadway.

Required planning and environmental studies for the first 7.6 miles of roadway on Texas 211 from Calebra to Potranco will take about two years to complete, said Sergio "Chico" Rodriguez (pictured), precinct 1 commissioner. The road project should relieve some traffic congestion from Loop 1604, Rodriguez said. Construction on that project should take from 18 to 24 months.

The county also plans to widen from two lanes to four lanes a 4.7 mile stretch of Potranco, from Loop 1604 to Texas 211. The Texas 211 project, once completed, will parallel Loop 1604 and provide relief for commuters to Lackland Air Force Base and other military facilities, Rodriguez said.

Rockwall council approves boat dock revamp

The Rockwall City Council has approved the design phase of dock revamps for the public-private lakeside venture known as The Harbor. The renovated docks, having suffered severe weathering, will bolster the facilities against the elements and increase the number of boaters who will be able to enter the lakeside entertainment area via the waterfront. The new design will increase capacity by about 400 percent.

Rockwall Parks Director Brad Griggs said the city plans to remove and replace the existing docks with 35-40 boat slips with a "better-designed, heavier duty system with wave attenuators."

The project is slated to be finished next summer with a budget slightly under $1 million.

Eanes ISD officials prepare for possible bond election

Nola Wellman

Eanes Independent School District administrators are preparing for a possible bond election by holding a series of community meetings. Officials are considering rebuilding Eanes Elementary School, which would call for voters to approve $37 million to $150 million as early as May.

Superintendent Nola Wellman (pictured) said the district could afford a $37 million bond proposal without increasing the tax rate.

The district is also considering propositions for a new athletic facility and campus safety improvements, including technology upgrades and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Alice ISD considers campus construction

Alice Independent School District trustees are considering two options to house fifth- and sixth-graders who attend Dubose Intermediate and Memorial Intermediate schools. The district is gathering feedback from residents to help determine whether to build two new facilities or one large school with $18.4 million from a 2004 bond.

While the option to construct one large school housing more than 800 students poses safety issues, according to some community members, that option would save the district needed funds.

Alice ISD Superintendent Sal Cavazos said that while the decision is a tough one, "There is definitely the need to build."

Polk County wins $4 million grant for job training facility

Polk County officials recently received a $4 million grant to develop a commerce center for job training and community development. The Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce awarded the grant.

Polk County is constructing the new job training and community development facility in cooperation with Angelina College and is designing the facility to meet Leadership in Energy and Economic Design (LEED) specification with a goal of energy savings, water efficiency, reduced carbon dioxide emissions and improved quality of the indoor environment.

San Antonio's Northside ISD considers bond election

John Folks

As Northside Independent School District, Bexar County's largest district, faces an influx of 2,000 new students, school officials are considering going to voters for more money. Voters made history in 2007 when they passed a $693 million bond proposal. So far, there's no price tag for the May referendum. How much the property tax rate would increase depends on the bond amount.

Enrollment at NISD is projected to increase by 14,000 over the next six years.

"We have to go out building new schools to keep up with the growth," said Superintendent John Folks (pictured). "Our growth is going to continue, and it will probably be greater than 3,100 (a year)."

El Paso nets $5.8M grant for green projects

To help achieve El Paso's conservation goals, the federal government has awarded the city $5.8 million for green-related projects. No local match is required for the city. The funds will be used to finance eight projects, reducing the city's energy use and encouraging residents to do the same.

The projects include: $3 million to upgrade 53 city buildings to more energy-efficient models; $1 million to build a methane-capturing system at a local landfill; $700,000 to buy more energy-efficient vehicle fleets; $500,000 for an El Paso Water Utilities rebate program; $250,000 to create a solar-power demonstration project in downtown El Paso; $214,000 for recycling education and outreach programs; $100,000 for a solar-panel conversion at the Municipal Service Center; and $38,000 for the implementation of a virtual training room, allowing city employees to be trained without having to commute.

Gray Forest officials ask for cost estimates for city hall

After viewing plans for renovations of the city hall, Grey Forest council members recently asked for cost estimates for the project. The renovations are designed to accommodate city hall meetings, the police department, administrative offices, court and filings space and public meetings.

The new city hall building also will include more space for council meetings, locker room facilities for police officers and expanded or additional public restrooms, the architect said. The cost estimates should be available to council members in late November, he said.

Gregg Co. approves application for $75K energy grant

Bill Stoudt

Gregg County Commissioners Court has approved applying for a $75,000 Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant through the Texas Comptroller's office. The funds would help provide energy-saving solar panels for either the downtown courthouse or some of the outlying county community buildings.

County Judge Bill Stoudt (pictured) said city officials are looking for "what would be the easiest things to run with solar power," including outside lights and air conditioning units, "items that don't have a lot of interior wiring."

Huntsville ISD OKs corporation for sale of bonds

Huntsville Independent School District trustees have approved a public facilities corporation to issue, sell and use $7.8 million in district bonds.

The board's best option, according to a Houston-based securities firm, involves lease-revenue bonds because they are not voted on by taxpayers and will not increase the tax rate. Those types of bond transactions require the school board to create a public facility corporation, with school board members serving as the corporation's board of directors.

HISD Superintendent Dr. Richard Montgomery said he wanted experts to walk board members through what he termed a complex finance mechanism, "and get us on the path to completing these construction projects."

Killeen mulling options for use of former church building

Ernest Wilkerson

Killeen city officials recently began to work on plans for two proposals on how the city should use the former First Baptist Church property now owned by the city. The proposals include a concept plan to allow the Richard Milburn Academy, Head Start and Bell County offices to use the space while other potential uses under consideration include a youth homeless shelter and a cultural exhibit or museum.

Councilman Ernest Wilkerson (pictured) argued that council members should place the needs of Killeen residents as the top priority when discussing a suggestion that the facility house a science or butterfly exhibit. The Head Start program needs a decision on use of the church property by Nov. 30 because the federal grant money for the project has a September 2010 deadline for its use. City officials also have about $800,000 in federal grants to pay for roofing, upgrades and renovations to the 80,000-square-foot former church.

Pearland awarded $777,487 for energy, crime fighting

Pearland city officials recently garnered $777,497 in grants to fight crime, improve the environment and upgrade recreation in the city.

The grants include:

  • A $12,861 grant from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Program of the U.S. Department of Justice to be used to purchase a laser software program for simulated weapons training and crime prevention educational materials;
  • A $31,673 grant from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to purchase bulb-crusher equipment for the recycling center, begin collection of fluorescent bulbs, buy recycling bins for parks and public places and produce recycling educational materials;
  • A $42,243 grant from the Texas Division of Emergency Management for emergency organizational development and long-term recovery training;
  • A $685,900 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to replace outdoor lighting with energy-efficient lights at three softball fields and to buy a turbine to support development of water-generated energy to power a water plant; and
  • A $5,000 grant from the National Recreation and Park Association to pay for the KidFish event.

Howe city administrator resigns position

Howe City Administrator Michael Jones has submitted his letter of resignation, which was accepted by the City Council following a closed meeting this week. Howe has served as city administrator for approximately one year. He previously served three years as the city's mayor. City officials said they will go back through resumes of those who applied for the job last year, contact them and possibly make a selection from that list of applicants. If none of the applicants are interested in the job, a new search will begin.

Construction projects abound in Texas on higher education campuses

Mary Scott Nabers

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

Texas has weathered the current national economic crisis better than most states, and for the state's colleges and universities, business is booming - particularly in the construction arena.

Enrollment in Texas colleges and universities reached an all-time high this fall, with state officials announcing that more than 113,000 new students were added to college enrollment figures statewide. That growth often taxes existing facilities on college campuses, thus spurring a flurry of construction projects from dormitories to academic buildings to sports arenas.

Last year, colleges and universities throughout the country spent $17.8 billion on construction, up from $12.7 billion the previous year.

College Planning and Management magazine's "2009 Annual College Construction Report" shows that in Region Nine (which includes Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas), college construction projects to be completed this year total nearly $1.8 billion. That includes $1.3 billion in new construction, $126 million in building additions and $307 million in renovations. Nearly 80 percent of the spending was for new construction. Only one other region had higher new construction costs for the year, but less than 70 percent of that figure was for new construction.


UH likely to raise its admission standards

John Antel

Seeking to attract better students, improve graduation rates and better the university's reputation, the University of Houston is looking at raising its admission standards. Provost John Antel (pictured) said the proposed new standards would change the university's current policy of allowing students graduating in the top 20 percent of their high schools class, to those graduating in the top 10 percent. The university would also set higher minimum SAT and ACT admission test scores for other would-be UH students. The proposals still have to be approved by UH regents before they go into effect.

UH officials say students who do not meet the new standards will be referred to UH-Downtown, which traditionally has had the role of educating the area's working class. UH-Downtown officials say they, in turn, may refer some of those students to community colleges for core academic classes and remedial work.

Conroe wells facing
rehab, replacement

City officials in Conroe are taking a hard look at the city's water wells, with an eye toward what would likely be a $4 million expenditure to get the wells back to capacity. Officials say nine of the city's 15 wells may have to be refurbished to bring the capacity back to 15 million gallons per day. Costs are estimated at $150,000 to $200,000 each and another $1.5 million would be required to replace a single well that failed last summer.

The city is studying how to pay for needed upgrades. With three new wells in the near future, city officials feel they can "stay ahead of the curve." Current wells already are experiencing a loss of capacity and their yields over the years have been reduced.

Morrison chosen as Avinger interim superintendent

Mike Morrison, former Gladewater ISD superintendent, has been named interim superintendent of the Avinger schools. He replaces former Avinger Superintendent Kenny Don Abernathy, who died last month. Abernathy had been a part of the AISD since 2004 as a principal and was elevated to superintendent last summer.

Morrison also served as superintendent of the Jefferson Independent School District before joining the Gladewater ISD in 2000 as assistant superintendent. He was named GISD superintendent in 2006. He will serve until the district hires a new full-time superintendent.

Strauss officially takes
reins of Pine Tree ISD

After the mandatory waiting period of 21 days after being named sole finalist, Marian Strauss this week was officially named superintendent of the Pine Tree ISD. She replaces former PTISD Superintendent Lynn Whitaker, who resigned last summer.

Strauss was named interim superintendent of the district in July and was chosen as the lone finalist in October. She is a former superintendent of the Wimberley ISD.

Robinson joins SPI as director of training

David Robinson

With expertise in training in classrooms, through distance learning and eLearning, David Robinson (pictured) has joined Strategic Partnerships, Inc. as Director of Training. Robinson's training experience includes curriculum and course design and training for partners and sales staff.

For the last nine years, Robinson served as senior education manager for a major software development company, where he managed the training program for partners, sales and other internal groups and was the designer of training courses for instructor-led courses and Web-based training. Prior to that, he was training programs manager for a performance improvement company for seven years, providing technical training and instructor immersion training.

Taylor airport has major plans for grant funding

A grant of $25,000 from the Texas Department of Transportation's Aviation Division and a matching amount from the Taylor Economic Development Corp. will allow Taylor's airstrip design to become versatile. Planned changes to the airport will make the runway ready for GPS approach and a future expansion.

Before it can apply for GPS approach with the Federal Aviation Administration, electrical lines must be addressed as well as foliage removal and grading work. Once GPS approach is obtained, plans are in the works for a runway expansion of 1,000 feet to the north end of the runway, allowing larger, corporate jets to use the airport. The projected cost of the expansion will be approximately $5 million.

Where are they now?

Where do folks go when they leave state government? Some go to work in the private sector or for nonprofits. Some transition to executive-level positions in higher education while others may seek elected local government positions. And some just retire and spend a lot of time with their grandkids at the fishin' hole. This column focuses on where former state government officials and employees are now.

John Howe

Dr. John P. Howe, III, served as president and chief executive officer of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio for 15 years - from 1985 to 2000. In 2001, he was named president and CEO of Project HOPE, an international health foundation with offices and programs in 24 countries, a position he currently holds.

Jon Whitmore

Dr. Jon Whitmore served as the president of Texas Tech University from 2003-2008. He previously held the title of provost at the University of Iowa from 1996-2003, was dean of the College of Fine Arts at The University of Texas at Austin from 1990-1996, dean of Faculty Arts and Letters at State University of New York at Buffalo from 1985-1990 and interim dean of the College of Creative Arts and interim director of the Creative Arts Center at West Virginia University from 1984-1985. While at WVU, he also was assistant to the president from 1983-1984 and chair of the Division of Theatre from 1979-1985. He taught theatre at Texas Tech, the University of Iowa, The University of Texas at Austin, State University of New York at Buffalo and West Virginia University. Whitmore currently is president of San Jose State University in California.

Lago Vista narrows its superintendent search

The Lago Vista Independent School District has narrowed its superintendent search to three candidates. School officials say they hope to be able to name a single finalist by Nov. 16. In the meantime, Sandy Apperley is serving as interim superintendent.

Edinburg fires Rodridguez
as its city manager

The Edinburg City Council recently executed a termination clause in the contract of City Manager J.J. Rodriguez and then appointed Ramiro Garza as the interim city manager. Rodriguez had served 22 years with the city and began serving as city manager on an interim basis in 2006.

Garza currently serves as executive director of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, where he began as an administrator in 2000. He previously served as economic development administrator with the city of Port Isabel.

Regional water treatment plant explored in Burnet

Burnet County officials are exploring the possibilities of obtaining grant funds to build a regional water treatment plant that would serve numerous communities in the south part of the county. They are hopeful to qualify for funding from the Texas Water Development Board.

The proposal is a reincarnation of sorts of a plan several years ago by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) to build a water treatment facility to supply treated water to areas such as Ridge Harbor and Spicewood Beach and the Windermere Oaks Water Supply Corp. Although a grant was approved in 2005, the LCRA chose not to invest in the plant to avoid financial problems in its retail water operations.

Sullivan City assistance
due for flood problems

Sullivan City has been awarded a $500,000 grant from the 2008 Supplemental Community Development Block Grant program associated with the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance and Continuing Appropriations Act. The funds will be used to improve the city's drainage and flood-control system.

Flood damage from Hurricane Dolly in 2008 affected some 40-50 homes in the city. The grant will be used to construct a 2,700-foot-long drainage ditch to direct water away from culverts under Expressway 83. Officials hope that will curb flooding problems. The city expects to go out for bids within two months.

Jump to assume duties as city manager in Caddo Mills

Michael Jump will assume his new duties as city manager in Caddo Mills in mid-November. Jump replaces former City Manager Manuel Leal, who was terminated from that position in late August. Ed Locker had served as interim city manager since August.

Jump previously served as city manager of Runaway Bay in Wise County.

El Paso to use $5.8M grant for energy efficiencies

El Paso city officials plan to use $5.8 million in federal grants to improve energy efficiency in city buildings, purchase energy-efficient vehicles and to offer rebates to people who buy Energy Star-labeled clothes washers when the program begins in 2010.

Included in the projects are $3 million to upgrade city buildings to become more energy efficient, including installation of new lighting, cooling and heating systems, $700,000 to buy energy-efficient vehicles and $500,000 to provide rebates to customers of El Paso Water Utilities who buy energy-efficient clothes washers. The city also plans a $250,000 solar power demonstration project at Cleveland Square to educate residents on the ease of using solar power.

Stephenville bans wind turbines within city limits

Stephenville City Council members recently approved an ordinance to prohibit installation of wind turbines and wind energy conversion systems within the city limits. The vote to ban wind turbines followed a recommendation by the Planning and Development Committee that urged against council adopting the prohibition and for approval of another proposed ordinance to regulate the use of wind turbines within city limits. Some council members, however, voiced concern that the height restriction in the ordinance proposed by the planning commission would result in wind turbines that could not get sufficient wind to effectively produce electricity, while others were concerned about the spacing and locations specified in the proposed ordinance to regulate wind turbines.

Council members supporting the ban on wind turbines said they supported the ban because of concerns expressed by citizens over health, safety and property values if wind turbines are allowed in town.

Missouri City OKs enlarging new $4.8 million annex

Grady Prestage

Missouri City officials recently approved a request by Fort Bend County Commissioners to rezone a tract of land to expand a proposed county annex complex. With the approval, Fort Bend County officials can now add 3,300 square feet of space for an additional courtroom, judge's chamber and office space to the original plans for the annex.

The proposed $4.9 million annex also will provide space for more social and health and human services to serve the needs of residents of the county's east side, noted Precinct Two Commissioner Grady Prestage (pictured). The expansion will push back the projected completion date of the project from December 2009 to March 2010.

Montgomery Co. Hospital District approves projects

Montgomery County Hospital District board members recently agreed to use $12 million in reserve funds to pay for a new administration building and a service center for the district's fleet, a radio shop and materials management.

Although board members had discussed forming a public facilities corporation that could borrow money from banks to pay for the two construction projects, board members opted to use money from the district's $32 million reserve fund.

Bee Cave agrees to permit school transportation center

Bee Cave council members recently approved a request from the Lake Travis Independent School District to allow the construction of a new transportation center on SH 71. The agreement gives the school district variances on the requirement to submit a development plan and to post proof of fiscal security.

Lake Travis ISD officials cited a large growth in student enrollment for the need to build a third middle school, a sixth elementary school and a second high school. The district soon will require a larger transportation center to serve a growing number of students needing transportation to school.

Beeville to negotiate with finalists for city manager

The Beeville City Council recently authorized Interim City Manager Joe B. Montez to negotiate salary and benefits with one of two finalists for the city manager's position.

The two finalists for the position are John Longoria, a Beeville native with a bachelor's degree from Texas A&M University and a master's degree from Our Lady of the Lake University and Tom Ginter, who currently serves as interim director of public works in Port Aransas and previously served as a city manager and an assistant city manager in other cities. Ginter has a bachelor's degree from Illinois and a master's degree from the University of Oklahoma.

Montez declined to identify the finalists with which he will first negotiate, but said he is authorized to negotiate with a second finalist if an agreement cannot be reached with the first choice for the position of city manager.

Recent Reports

Texas Government Insider Archives

Volume 1 - 7 Archives · 11/7/03 - 10/30/09

Liberty-Eylau will consider hiring superintendent

Trustees for the Liberty-Eylau Independent School District recently scheduled a meeting for Monday to consider hiring Interim Superintendent Nick Blain as the new superintendent.

Trustees named Blain as the lone finalist for the superintendent's position on Oct. 15.

Gun Barrel City to study city-owned water company

Gun Barrel City officials recently authorized $16,370 to pay for a study to investigate the feasibility of the city creating its own water company.

City Manager Gerry Borden told council members that to create its own water system, Gun Barrel City would have to win control of almost 1,000 meters installed in the city that are currently owned by the City of Mabank Water.

Borden, who told council members that water prices could rise as much as 175 percent in the next few years, explained that he needs a study to effectively argue for a six- to eight-month delay on a decision by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to approve or disapprove the sale of the meters and to determine if creating a $5 million city-owned water company would benefit residents.

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Executive Women in Texas Government plan conference

The Executive Women in Texas Government 23rd Annual Professional Development Conference will be Monday, Nov. 23, at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort in Lost Pines, Texas. Hailed as a meeting of "ideas, solutions and connections," this year's event will feature keynote speakers and workshops relating to development of executive-level management skills, expanding leadership capabilities and networking and mentoring. The event will begin with a 7:30 a.m. registration. The first keynote speaker, Dr. Wanda Thompson, will be heard during the opening general session at 8:30 a.m. followed by the EWTG Woman of the Year presentation and one morning workshop. The second keynote speaker, author Sara Laschever, will speak during lunch followed by two afternoon workshops. For more information on the conference and registration, click here.

TPPA plans Fall Conference 2009 for Nov. 4-6

The Texas Public Purchasing Association will host its Fall Conference 2009 Wednesday through Friday, Nov. 4-6, at The Hilton in College Station. Among the topics to be discussed in the general sessions are electronic records retention, a post-legislative update, a discussion featuring panelists who collectively have more than 200 years of public purchasing experience, technical writing tips, basic accounting for purchasing professionals, developing an RFP scoring matrix and more. Dr. Tom Garney of Texas A&M University will present "Futurework: Making a Living in the 21st Century." David Reisman, executive director of the Texas Ethics Commission will offer insight into ethics issues. For more information, click here.