|Volume 7, Issue 46 · Friday, Dec. 4, 2009|
Bringing college to neighborhood learning center
Lone Star partners to offer bachelor's, master's programs
It's a new concept in higher education - students in northwest Harris County will soon be able to earn bachelor's and master's degrees from several state universities in the convenience of their own neighborhoods. And it's a trend that is sure to catch on in other areas of the state.
With unanimous approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), Lone Star College is partnering with Sam Houston State University, Texas Southern University, the University of Houston and the University of Houston-Downtown to create a new learning center offering 17 master's and 34 baccalaureate programs.
The new 45-acre, $32.15 million campus - approved by voters in a May 2008 bond election - is located in the former Hewlett-Packard corporate campus at State Highway 249 and Louetta Road. Beginning in spring 2010, the center will offer students a chance to earn degrees in areas for which the Texas Workforce Commission has indicated a regional workforce need.
"We have six existing partnerships, and we're reaching out to other schools," said Ray Laughter (right), vice chancellor for external affairs at Lone Star College, adding officials have not finalized any more agreements yet.[more]
Fallout continues over CPS Energy cost estimate flap
LeBlanc-Burley new interim general manager, Bartley resigns
The fallout continues at CPS Energy in the wake of a brouhaha over nuclear cost estimates that were reportedly kept from San Antonio City Council members and the utility's trustees.
Jelynne LeBlanc-Burley (left) has been named interim general manager to replace Steve Bartley (center), who resigned. Milton Lee (right) remains as chief executive officer.
Two executives were suspended as a result of the investigation. One of them - Mike Kotara, former vice president in charge of energy development - was reassigned. Jim Nesrsta, vice president of plant construction, remained in his position. Additionally, Robert Temple, the organization's vice president of nuclear development, will resign later this month.
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro has asked two board members - Chair Aurora Geis and trustee Steve Hennigan - to resign, but neither has indicated that they will.
In the meantime, LeBlanc-Burley is in charge of the day-to-day operations at CPS Energy. She is a former deputy city manger for the City of San Antonio before she moved to CPS Energy in 2007. Prior to joining CPS Energy she spent 24 years in local government positions.
The investigation was the result of the surprise revelation that costs for the proposed nuclear plant were $4 billion more than city and utility board officials were told. The original figure of $13 billion was what officials were told was the cost for the proposed two new reactors for the South Texas Project outside of Bay City. The revelation of the $4 billion higher price tag came just days before the city council was slated to vote on the project, which at the reported price would be a cost-effective way to provide energy for the city in the future.
Stacie Fowler, director of Government Affairs, Railroad Commission of Texas
Career highlights and education: A Railroad Commission of Texas employee since 1996. I serve as the liaison between the Commission and the legislature and have acted as media spokesperson when needed. Began working at the capitol for a freshman House member, Rep. Troy Fraser and then various other legislators after graduating from Texas State University in the 1987. I worked on the Perry for Agriculture Commission campaign in 1989. I was a member of the Texas Farm Bureau Government Affairs staff from 1990 to 1994. In 1994, I worked on the Bush for Governor Campaign and in 1995 served as deputy legislative director under Gov. George W. Bush.
What I like best about my job is: I truly love the legislative process and take pride in guiding my agency through the challenges.
The best advice I've received for my current job is: Always remember there are three Railroad Commissioners and you work for all three of them!
Advice I would give a new hire in my office: Be sure you understand what you are about to explain to someone else.
If I ever snuck out of work early, I could probably be found: at a ball park watching my boys play football or baseball.
People would be surprised to know that I: have a degree in archaeology, have run five marathons and I am married to a Sooner.
Book, magazine or newspaper article I've read recently that really influenced my thinking: I have been consuming everything I can find on rearing adolescents. My favorite is Why Do They Act That Way: A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Traylor to serve as next DADS commissioner
Chris Traylor (pictured), associate commissioner for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) since 2006, has been named commissioner of the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS), effective Jan. 1, 2010. The announcement was made by HHSC Commissioner Tom Suehs.
DADS provides services for older Texans and individuals with disabilities. Traylor will have oversight of the agency's nearly 18,000 employees throughout the state and an annual budget of $6.9 billion. Among the duties of the agency are regulation of long-term services and nursing homes and operation of state-supported living centers for people with profound developmental disabilities.
In addition to having been in charge of the state's Medicaid program, Traylor also previously served as chief of staff at HHSC and as director of HHSC's Transformation Program Management Office, where he managed the operations of the consolidation of Texas health and human services agencies in 2004. He also is a former deputy commissioner for government relations at the Texas Department of Human Services. Traylor is a graduate of Texas Tech University.
Stepney to lead new TCEQ Office of Water
L'Oreal Stepney (pictured), a long-time employee of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), has been selected to head the agency's new Office of Water. Three major water divisions in the agency - Water Planning, Water Supply and Water Quality - will now become part of the Office of Water.
As deputy director of the Office of Water, Stepney brings 17 years of experience at TCEQ to her new post. She has served in air permitting and wastewater permitting, was section manager of the Wastewater Permitting Section, was Water Quality Division director and most recently served the agency as assistant deputy director for the Office of Permitting and Registration.
Stepney holds a master's degree in environmental engineering from The University of Texas at Austin.
Darden named CFO for Texas Youth Commission
Pamela Darden (pictured) has joined the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) as the agency's new chief financial officer. She comes to TYC after serving as CFO for the Texas Residential Construction Commission. A long-time state employee, she also spent nine years as general manager of Grants, Contracts, Trust Fund and Payroll for the Texas Attorney General's Office. She also has accounting experience with the Texas Education Agency and the Texas General Land Office.
In her position at TYC, Darden will become a member of Executive Director Cherie Townsend's executive team and will be responsible for budgeting, accounting, payroll, procurement and contracts and oversight of construction and maintenance activities.
Darden holds a bachelor's degree from The University of Texas at Austin and is a Certified Public Accountant.
Swedberg accepts post with DIR Data Center Services
Ed Swedberg (pictured) has been named deputy executive director of Data Center Services at the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR), effective Dec. 7. Swedberg previously was Assistant Director of Innovation and Technology for the Texas State Comptroller's Office.
In his new post at DIR, Swedberg will be responsible for strategic direction and oversight of the director, staff and operations of the Technology Center Operations Division. He brings more than 25 years of experience in information technology strategy and leadership to his new role.
Swedberg holds a bachelor's and master's degree from The University of Texas at Austin.
Glavin chosen to head TxDOT Rail Division
William "Bill" Glavin has been chosen to head the Texas Department of Transportation's (TxDOT) new Rail Division. He brings more than three decades of rail experience to the position, having worked for Burlington Northern Railroad, North American RailNet and as a rail consultant.
The new rail division consolidates the planning, inspection, at-grade rail crossings, management of the South Orient Railroad and oversight of the safety of rail public transit under one division. TxDOT notes that Texas has 10,573 public highway and rail crossings and leads all other states in total rail miles, with 10,804 total miles of rail track. Additionally, in 2007, Texas saw over 2 million rail carloads travel through the state, the second-largest volume in the nation.
Glavin began his rail career in the late 1970s as a corporate management trainee for Burlington Northern. He moved up the corporate ladder to eventually become system chief engineer and general manager of strategic network design. He holds a bachelor's degree from Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor's in civil engineering from Michigan State University.
TFS's Ridenour recognized for fire research work
Texas Forest Service GIS Specialist Karen Ridenour (pictured) has been recognized for her work with communities and wildland environments to promote fire prevention. She is one of two state winners of the 2009 Firewise Leadership Award, and was recognized for her work in fire research and modeling.
Ridenour worked on a Fire Plan Mapping process that will help predict where fires are likely to occur and also gathered GPS coordinates and data on all fire hydrants in the Bastrop area. She has been assisted in the Bastrop project over the last three years by Bastrop High School students, who receive class credit for their work. The students used GPS technology to determine fire hydrants' location, distance from curbs, obstructions, low-flow status and damages. This year they finished mapping hydrants within the Bastrop, Paige and McDade city limits.
Ridenour also leads post-fire analysis on wildfires throughout the state, providing information regarding home loss and damages from these fires. Her work is being credited with developing national post-fire analysis standards.
Travis names full-time environmental crimes prosecutor
Patty Robertson, a white-collar crimes attorney, has been appointed the first full-time environmental crimes prosecutor for the Travis County District Attorney's office. The position was made available by a grant from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said all residents become victims when individual and corporate polluters disregard the safekeeping responsibility of Texas' natural resources.
Robertson will be based in Austin but will prosecute cases throughout the state.
Blake to head public relations for TEEX
Brian Blake, who has served as communications director at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, has been named public relations director for the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), effective Dec. 7.
While at the Bush facility, Blake coordinated internal and external communications, media relations, marketing programs, photography and Web site design. As Public Relations Director for TEEX, Blake will oversee the agency's programs and services through both traditional and social media and will direct the agency's Communications department.
Coalition including state agencies awarded honor
A coalition of 10 partners, including the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and the Texas General Land Office, were recently honored with the Coastal America Partnership Award. The award, the only environmental award of its kind give by the President of the United States, marked the coalition's efforts to protect North Deer Island, the most important colonial water bird rookery on the upper Texas Coast.
"North Deer Island is emblematic of natural habitats that are not only critical for fish and wildlife, but ultimately benefit the many people who live on and visit the Texas coast," said Carter Smith (pictured), TPWD executive director. He said that without help, one-third of the island would have eroded away.
The partners worked for nine years to armor approximately 1.7 miles of North Deer Island's eroding shoreline, destroying habitat for up to 30,000 nesting pairs of birds using this island. The Coastal America Awards Program recognizes outstanding efforts and excellence in leadership for protecting, preserving and restoring the nation's coastal resources and ecosystems.
EPA awards TDA $300K grant for pesticides program
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded $300,000 to the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) to administer a comprehensive pesticides program.
The measure is set to include applicator certification and training, the implementation of a new container/containment rule, regulation of surface and groundwater quality and protection of endangered species, among other initiatives.
NIH awards UT-Austin professor $1.5M grant
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded Dr. John Richburg (pictured), associate professor of pharmacy at The University of Texas at Austin and head of the Division of Pharmacology and Toxicology, a five-year, $1.5 million grant. It will be used to study adverse effects of environmental toxicants used in the manufacturing of plastics and other common consumer products on male fertility and disease.
Richburg's lab at UT-Austin, funded in part by the Lance Armstrong Foundation, is world renown for work revealing the molecular mechanisms that regulate cell death in the testis and the role environmental chemicals play in that process.
Richburg also recently received a five-year, $1.2 million grant from NIH to train four pre-doctoral and two post-doctoral students in toxicology and environmental health-related biomedical research.
Committee to search for TAMU-SA president
A search committee has been named, headed by Texas A&M System Vice Chancellor Frank Ashley, to look for a president for Texas A&M-San Antonio. The job is currently filled by Interim President Maria Hernandez Ferrier, who has indicated she will apply for the full-time job. Ashley said the committee hopes to be able to recommend a top three list of candidates to TAMU System Chancellor Mike McKinney by March.
In addition to Ashley, the search committee includes regents, faculty members, students, staff and a representative of the community.
Laura Bush speaks at State Library dedication
Former Texas and United States First Lady Laura Bush spoke this week at the dedication of the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building as a national Literary Landmark. The building is the fourth structure in Texas to receive the designation issued by the Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations.
"Today's dedication recognizes the inspiration that this building and the resources it houses, has provided for great writers for decades," said Bush. "The Zavala building was the first central repository to house and protect Texas' priceless historical treasures and to support and improve library services in the state. From the papers of Stephen F. Austin, the father of Texas, to Travis's letter from the Alamo, to Matamoros Battalion flag captured at the battle of San Jacinto, the archives provide a window into Texas history."
Bush and Gail Bialas, manager for the Texas Center for the Book, presented the designation plaque to Peggy D. Rudd, Texas State Library and Archives Commission director and state librarian. The Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building in Austin opened in 1961. It is currently undergoing a multi-million-dollar renovation expected to be completed in spring 2010.
TxDOT nets more than $188K in federal award funding
Officials from the United We Ride (UWR) transportation initiative recently awarded the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) $188,300 as one of six national recipients for a pilot training program. The UWR, comprised of 11 federal agencies, seeks to improve the availability, quality and efficient delivery of transportation services for older adults, those with disabilities and economically disadvantaged individuals.
With the funds TxDOT will select four regional areas for a joint training event designed to identify and break down communication barriers, bringing together human services case workers and transportation mobility managers in the process.
Texas A&M University's Public Policy Research Institute and Texas Southern University's Center for Transportation Training and Research will help evaluate the project.
A&M-Kingsville's Dunn named finalist for S. Dakota dean
Officials of South Dakota State University recently selected Barry Dunn (pictured) of Texas A&M University-Kingsville, as one of three finalists for dean of the SDSU College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences. Dunn currently serves as executive director of the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management.
SDSU officials will interview the finalists for dean this week. The dean oversees a $44 million budget from state and federal funds and approximately $17 million in grants and contracts.
UT, Seton officials meet with civic and business leaders
Civic and business leaders recently met with representatives from The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, the Seton Family of Hospitals, and the UT System to discuss details of an affiliation agreement that seeks to expand graduate medical education and clinical research in Central Texas and provide greater access to health care.
The move is expected to increase the number of resident physicians who will train at the Seton Family of Hospitals and eventually practice in Central Texas.
Cy-Fair/Lone Star College moves on new satellite center
Officials of the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District and Lone Star College-Cy-Fair are nearing agreement on plans to build a second satellite center to serve residents of the southwest sector of the school district.
Audre Levy (pictured), president of LSC-Cy-Fair, said negotiations for property near Clay and Fry roads are reaching a conclusion and that once the site is purchased, college officials will move forward to build the 450,000-square-foot center designed to accommodate about 3,000 students.
While college officials are exploring whether to moving technical and vocational programs to that site, the college will host a community meeting this month to gather information about what residents think the facility should include, Levy said. The LSC-Cy-Fair center should be open for students by fall 2011, she added. The goal is to open a satellite center in each of Cypress-Fairbanks district's quadrants, with the main campus located near the center of the district, she said.
Higher education board wins $1.8 million grant
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recently won a $1.8 million grant to help make Texas universities more efficient and graduate more students. The Lumina Foundation, a nonprofit higher education organization, awarded the grant as part of a $9.1 million program in seven states to increase efficiency and help more students successfully complete their higher education goals.
Higher education officials in Texas said they plan to use the funding to make it easier for students to transfer from two-year to four-year colleges. Because changing the formula for funding colleges and universities would require legislative action, a sizeable portion of the grant will go toward building support for that change, said David Gardner, deputy commissioner for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
The goal is to reduce the number of students who enroll in college but fail to win a higher education degree, Gardner said. The grant also should help with the state's new "Closing the Gaps" plan that hopes to boost enrollment and success in college, especially for low-income, Hispanic and African-American students.
UNT regents going forward on medical school
Despite strong objections from many osteopathic physicians, regents for the University of North Texas recently agreed to move forward with plans for a medical school to pair with its Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Worth.
The regents agreed that officials of the UNT Health Science Center can begin raising funds, negotiating residency commitments with hospitals and plan for the medical school's first class to open for students in 2013.
Fort Worth residents and business leaders already have committed to raising $21.5 million in start-up funding before asking the Texas Legislature to approve funding, said Dr. Scott Ransom (pictured), president of the UNT Health Science Center. UNT officials will not ask the state to contribute toward start-up costs, he added.
TxDOT to use leftover bond money in Fort Worth
Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officials are working on a plan to use some of the estimated $381 million in leftover Proposition 14 bond funds to rebuild Interstate 35W/Loop 820 and add toll lanes to I-35W in north Fort Worth.
Bill Meadows, one of five state transportation commissioners, said he's confident "we're going to be able to come up with the funding" for the long-delayed projects. The measures could mean traffic relief on I-35W - one of the region's most notorious bottlenecks - years ahead of schedule.
Additional funding from Proposition 14 - a $6 billion package of road work originally approved by the Legislature in 2003 - has become available as bids for construction work statewide have weighed in below estimates.
Texas State academic center design approved
Texas State University System regents recently approved the design of a new $47.7 million, 130,000-square-foot Undergraduate Academic Center at Texas State University.
Construction on the academic center is expected to begin in June 2010 and be completed by the fall of 2012 in time to begin classes for the 2013 spring semester.
The building will include general classrooms on three levels and a coffee house near one entrance of the building, which will house the departments of psychology, political science and sociology.
Dallas gets OK from Corps to continue on bridge
Work is continuing on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave approval recently for construction on the approaches for the bridge, moving the project another step towards its projected opening in 2011. The Corps conducted an analysis and found that the proposed construction would not adversely affect the operation and maintenance of the Dallas Floodway while providing remediation of the levees.
This opens the door for a number of projects aimed at revamping levees. Temporary scaffolding already is in place across the flood plain in anticipation of installing girders that will form the roadway bed of the bridge. The first steel is expected to be raised to replace this temporary structure in 2010.
The project features a six-lane bridge, a 400-foot central arch pylon, a 1,200-foot-long bridge span and five miles of cable. It is expected to be completed in spring 2011.
UNT regents look to combine two major departments
Two major departments at the University of North Texas System are being restructured and combined. The UNT regents recently approved a new UNT System-led human resources and information technology department. The UNT System will head up a council, including the presidents of UNT Denton, UNT Dallas, the UNT Health Science Center and the upcoming UNT law school, to restructure the two departments. A chief information officer will be hired to oversee the restructuring.
The council is charged with submitting a proposal by October 2010 to UNT Chancellor Lee Jackson on how to restructure the department and cut costs. There are no current plans to eliminate jobs.
At least one of the regents, Brint Ryan (pictured) said the move will likely save "significant" money while providing "high-level service."
Williamson picks Chafetz for Cap Metro board
A former Capital Metro executive has been chosen by the Williamson County Commissioners Court to represent the county on the Cap Metro Board. Business development consultant Norm Chafetz, who lives in Anderson Mill, served as Cap Metro's director of government relations in the late 1980s. He is also a former vice president of marketing for an alternative fuels company, a former sales executive for a technology company and was executive director of the Arizona Transit Association for four years.
Six of the eight positions on the board have now been filled. The City of Austin has one choice yet to make, as does the Travis County Commissioners Court.
Quintanilla to head TAMUCC College of Liberal Arts
Dr. Kelly Quintanilla (pictured) has been named dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. A professor of communication in the Department of Communication and Theatre, Quintanilla was named interim dean in January. She has been a member of the faculty since 1994 and has been either a department chair or program coordinator since 2000.
In her new role, Quintanilla will serve as the chief academic administrator of the College of Liberal Arts and will be responsible for planning, organizing, coordinating, directing and evaluating the efforts of the College. She will also make recommendations for appointments, promotions, retention, tenure, salary increments and compensations for faculty; appointment, assignment, and compensation of part-time and adjunct faculty; and the appointment, assignment and compensation of non-academic personnel.
Quintanilla earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Pittsburgh and her master's and Ph.D. from Penn State University. She joined Texas A&M-Corpus Christi as an assistant professor and became an associate professor in 1999. She became a professor of communication in 2004 and was named department chair for Communication and Theatre. Since 2003, she has been coordinator for the University's communication program.
TABC institutes online reporting system
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) has instituted a Web-based cash and credit law reporting system. It will allow wholesalers and distributors to report TABC bounced checks and late payments from retailers online. Officials at the agency said the paper-based process was labor-intensive and wasted paper, also leading to inconsistent management of violations and not providing adequate regulatory safeguards against negligent business practices.
The new online system reduces the amount of data required and the use of paper documents. With the new system, a distributor simply enters the buyer and seller license numbers, the date of delivery, the bank, check number and the amount. While the distributor must maintain documentation, TABC will not ask for a copy unless the violation becomes an administrative case.
If regulated entities cannot submit information online, they should contact TABC for an exception waiver to continue using the paper-based process. "We hope this new, secure, user-friendly system will encourage voluntary compliance and reduce the reporting burden of regulated entities," said TABC Compliance Director Dexter Jones.
Watson to resign as chair of CAMPO board
State Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin recently announced he is resigning as chair of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) board in January 2010.
Watson, who also serves as vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, noted that two fellow board members, State Reps. Eddie Rodriguez of Austin and Diana Maldonado of Round Rock, may also leave the 20-member CAMPO board early next year because eliminating legislators would better reflect what the organization is meant to be, a local group closest to the needs of the communities and region. When Watson assumed the chairmanship of CAMPO in 2007, one of his first actions was to eliminate several legislative positions on the board.
The primary duty of metropolitan planning organizations is to prepare and approve 25-year transportation plans and periodically update those plans. All transportation projects using federal funds must be included in the plan approved by the board of the planning organization to move forward. Some Texas planning organizations are comprised only of county commissioners, city council members, transit agency staff and representatives from the Texas Department of Transportation with no legislative members. Watson also noted that he and other legislators may remain on the board until changes are made to include voting members from Bastrop and Caldwell counties along with current members from Travis, Williamson and Hays counties on the CAMPO board.
Ashley to lead TAMU-Central Texas search committee
Dr. Frank Ashley (pictured), vice chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, will chair the search committee recently appointed to search for the inaugural president of Texas A&M University-Central Texas. The committee will conduct its search and then present its nominations to the TAMU System Board of Regents at its March 25-26, 2010, meeting.
"The search committee is seeking the very best candidate to lead this new university and build a successful institution from the ground up," said Ashley.
Other members of the committee include: Phil Adams, regent; Jim Schwertner, regent; Dr. Jerry Jones, Division of Arts and Sciences; Dr. Steve McNett, Division of Business; Dr. Ann Farris, Division of Education, Psychology, and Counseling; Dr. Steve Vitucci, division director; Sarina Swindell, staff representative; Karen Gilbert, staff representative; Charles Kincaid, undergraduate student representative; Tanya Blenden, graduate student representative; Gen. Pete Taylor, TAMUCT Foundation representative; and Brenda Coley, community representative.
ACC developing 'train the trainer' energy course
Fast becoming an expert in training to increase the state and nation's renewable energy industry workforce, the Austin Community College District is now in the train-the-trainer business. Thanks to a $74,000 grant from the State Energy Conservation Office, the district is developing courses to educate other community college and technical school faculty regarding entry-level solar panel installation teaching methods.
The pilot portion of the program began this month through ACC Continuing Education. Instructors are assisting the ACC project team on the course content that will eventually be offered next year. Ten instructors are spending four days at ACC learning teaching methods and the course's online component.
Kirk White, interim executive dean for Continuing Education, said interest in the training is increasing and the district already has a waiting list of faculty wanting to take the course. "As the demand for more solar panel installers increases, so too does the need for knowledgeable faculty at the colleges that will train the installers of the future," he said. The first ACC solar panel installation course was offered in 2006.
Tyler ISD approves renovation of elementary schools
Using about $23 million left over from projects funded by bonds approved in 2004 and 2008, trustees for the Tyler Independent School District recently approved renovations to two elementary schools.
The renovations at Birdwell and Owens elementary schools will include the cafeteria, libraries, gyms, administration areas, technology upgrades, and if possible, renovated classroom space, said Superintendent Randy Reid (pictured).
District officials hope to complete design plans in spring 2010, begin construction by the summer and complete the two projects by August 2011. Conceptual designs for the two renovation projects should be ready to present to board members by January, he added. Reid said he plans to present trustees with a guaranteed maximum price for the two projects.
Austin garners $10.4M Smart-Grid related grant
The Pecan Street Project of Austin recently won a $10.4 million in federal stimulus funds for a smart-grid demonstration project in East Austin. The U.S. Department of Energy awarded the grant, one of $620 million in energy grants for 32 demonstrations.
Components of the clean-energy project include:
The Pecan Street Project is a collaboration to increase the use of clean energy between several high-tech companies, The University of Texas, Austin Energy and other entities.
Kerr County seeking $100,000 energy efficiency grant
Kerr County commissioners recently authorized staff to apply for at least a $100,000 federal grant to improve energy efficiency at the county courthouse.
County Judge Pat Tinley (pictured) said he expects the county to receive more than $100,000 when the award is decided. Projects in the grant application cost a total of $128,000 and included $12,000 to replace two air conditioners at the courthouse, $11,000 to replace light ballasts, $33,000 to replace four air conditioners at the county jail, $69,000 to replace exterior lighting at the courthouse and $1,000 to replace an exterior door at the courthouse.
Tarrant cities may team up to improve radio system
Seven Tarrant County cities recently began exploring the possibility of partnering on a public safety radio system with multiple channels to improve emergency communications with police and fire agencies in the area.
The cities participating in the consortium are expected to hire a consultant to help seek $25 million in federal funds to pay for a digital radio system that could reach to Houston and beyond. The cities in the consortium are Arlington, Bedford, Colleyville, Euless, Grapevine, Keller and Southlake. All of the cities except Arlington have agreed to hire the consultant and Arlington City Council members are expected to vote on hiring a consultant in January 2010.
Currently North Texas police and fire departments have more than 20 analog radio systems belonging to fire and police departments that negatively impact officer safety, said Arlington Police Chief Gerard Eads. The manufacturer of current dispatch radios in several of the cities will no longer support the system because it is obsolete, said Eads, who predicted it will take about three years to build the improved radio system.
Comal seeking $3.5 million for courthouse restoration
Comal County commissioners recently agreed to apply for a $3.5 million grant from the Texas Historical Association to restore the county courthouse in New Braunfels.
If awarded, the grant funds will be used to pay about one-third of the estimated $8.5 million cost of making structural repairs and to replace faulty plumbing and wiring, said Commissioner Jan Kennady (pictured). Last year, the Historical Commission graded the Comal County Courthouse a score of 180, one point short of the 181 score needed to qualify for funding.
Austin approves $13 million to link major thoroughfares
Austin City Council members recently approved $13 million to connect Mopac Expressway to Ben White Boulevard in an effort to relieve traffic congestion that occurred when the Texas Department of Transportation delayed completion of the project because of a funding shortage.
Under the agreement with TxDOT, Austin will pay for the project and TxDOT agreed to pay 80 percent, or about $10 million, of the construction costs. TxDOT agreed to pay their interest-free, tax-free 80 percent share over the next 10 to 15 years after completion of the project. Any cost overruns on the project will be paid by the city, according to the agreement with TxDOT.
Construction on the Mopac interchange project, which will connect northbound traffic on Mopac to eastbound US290 and westbound US290 to southbound Mopac, is expected to begin construction in spring 2010 and should be completed in 12 months.
Harris County revives push for new downtown jail
Harris County commissioners recently authorized a study to determine the feasibility of revisiting the possibility of the City of Houston and the county sharing in the operation of a $256 million jail and booking center in downtown Houston. Harris County voters in 2007 rejected a $195 million bond proposal to build a new downtown jail.
The Harris County sheriff has proposed a central processing center that would accommodate 2,193 prisoners, with 1,200 in cells designated for specialized populations such as the mentally ill, medical cases and women and 1,000 prisoners in the booking areas. The processing center is planned to accommodate all people arrested by county deputies and Houston police officers. Houston city officials previously pledged $32 million toward the jail and processing center that voters rejected.
Steve Radack (pictured), Precinct 3 commissioner, noted that the city previously had not participated at the financial level necessary and urged that the county explore alternatives to building a new jail and processing center. He suggested sending prisoners to another county or state before building a new jail.
TYC ombudsman resigns post after indictment
Texas Youth Commission ombudsman Catherine Evans has resigned her post after being indicted for allegedly carrying a prohibited weapon into a correctional facility. A Houston County grand jury handed down the indictment on the third-degree felony after Evans was reportedly found to have a folding knife in her purse while at a correctional facility. She resigned almost immediately after the indictment was handed down. If convicted, Evans could face 2-10 years in prison.
Corpus Christi approves $2 million for Goliad Airport
To help ensure that naval air training remains in the Coastal Bend area, Corpus Christi city officials recently offered nearly $2 million to Goliad County to buy its 1,136-acre airport and hold the property for the U.S. Navy. City officials made the offer after they learned that two other buyers were interested in the airport property, which the Navy owned until 1995 until it transferred the airport property to the county.
If Goliad commissioners accept the offer, the board of directors of the Corpus Christi Regional Business and Job Development Corporation and the Corpus Christi City Council still must authorize the purchase, said City Manager Angel Escobar (pictured), He also said council members so far have discussed the proposal only in executive session. Goliad County commissioners are expected to vote on whether to accept the offer at their meeting on Dec. 14.
Corpus Christi city leaders offered to buy the land and hold it until the Navy receives formal approval to purchase one of four potential spots to train pilots for T-6 aircraft. Navy officials needs more runway space to accommodate the new model training aircraft by 2012 as it transitions from the T-34 training aircraft to the new T-6 model. Auxiliary landing fields at Corpus Christi's Naval Air Station cannot accommodate the T-6 training aircraft.
Palestine wins $2M grant for water tower, new jobs
Palestine city officials recently won a $2 million federal grant to build a new 1-million-gallon elevated water storage tank to attract commercial development in the southern area of town.
The Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce awarded the grant. An estimated 180 jobs and an additional $6 million in private investment could result from the increased water capacity from the new water tank, said City Manager R. Dale Brown.
Because the south side of the city has a pump station and no elevated water storage tank, city officials also plan to rebuild the pump station to work with the new water tower and build a 12-inch water line for 2,000 to 3,000 feet to supply the water tower, Brown said. The city already has spent about $1 million on engineering for the water tower project, estimated to cost about $4.1 million. City officials expect to seek bids and begin construction as early as January or February and complete the project in about one year, he said.
Haltom City considering $28 million bond proposal
Officials of Haltom City plan to appoint a citizen's committee to hold public meetings to discuss possible projects to be included in a $28 million bond election.
Projects under consideration for a bond referendum include street construction, one or two new fire stations, expanding the police station and other projects, said City Manager Tom Muir (pictured). The cost of improving McLean and Webster streets could total as much as $10 million, but would include replacement or upgrades of water and sewer lines, city officials said.
The city also will mail a survey to residents and businesses to help the committee with its task of deciding which projects should be included in the bond election. The goal is to have a bond proposal ready for voters by November 2010, the mayor said.
Dayton ISD eyeing campus upgrades
Officials of the Dayton Independent School District recently began a study of facility upgrades and maintenance projects the district may pursue over the next five to 10 years.
Superintendent Greg Hayman appointed a committee to assess facility needs and report those needs back to board members in January with recommendations for maintenance and improvement projects to perform.
Projects under consideration are upgrades to the air conditioning system and roofing at Nottingham Middle School, a gymnasium for Richter Elementary and expanding transportation department service bays from two to four, Hayman said. The district also needs a security camera system throughout the district, especially at student drop-off and pick-up areas, upgrades to student restrooms to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, renovations to the FFA arena and additional tennis courts, he said. The $1.8 million in the district's fund balance will not pay for all the needs so a bond election may be needed to pay for the improvements, he added.
'Green' becoming popular color in public sector
By Mary Scott Nabers, CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.
If you thought "going green" would never catch on - think again!
Options that once were supported only by environmentalists have now become the norm in the public sector. Almost everything being purchased by government today is either green or green equivalent.
In a recent report from the U.S. Green Building Council, it was noted that the economic impact from green building construction is significant and all indicators point to more demand in the future. The report predicts that between 2008 and 2013, the overall green construction market will generate $6 billion in energy savings.
The response to the "greening" of America has been widespread, particularly with the infusion of stimulus funding which has been allocated to renewable energy sources and reduction of the country's dependence on foreign energy. Most of the federal funding for green initiatives has flowed through public entities but private sector firms have provided most of the work.[more]
El Paso to sell $6.4 million in bonds for drainage projects
El Paso Water Utilities recently approved selling $6.425 million in bonds to pay for three storm water drainage projects. The water utility will save nearly $3.6 million in interest over the next 20 years as the federal stimulus program is providing interest-free financing, said Ed Archuleta (pictured), president and CEO of the water utility.
Two of the drainage projects are in the Lower Valley and one is in eastern El Paso. The Lower Valley projects are designed to increase the water retention in one basin and add an overflow retention pond to Featherlake. The water utility also plans to replace a damaged concrete spillway in the RV channel in eastern El Paso with a mesh-like material designed to control runoff but allow water to seep into the ground. El Paso officials plan to award contracts for two of the projects in early December, begin construction in February 2010 and complete the projects in late summer or early fall, Archuleta said.
Alexander named interim superintendent at W. Rusk
Trustees for West Rusk Consolidated Independent School District recently selected Tommy Alexander as interim superintendent. Alexander will replace Gwen Gilliam, an elementary principal who was appointed as temporary interim superintendent after former Superintendent Mike King resigned. Alexander previously served as superintendent for Henderson ISD and Sabine ISD and as teacher in Sulphur Springs ISD.
Board members also agreed to enter into a contract with a search firm for help find a permanent superintendent. Alexander said he has no plans to seek the permanent position.
Price selected as new city administrator in Caldwell
Caldwell City Council members recently selected Johnny Price as the new city administrator. Price, a native of Caldwell, replaced former City Administrator Billy Clemons as interim city administrator in mid-November when Clemons' contract was not renewed. A 29-year employee of the city, Price previously was the city's street superintendent.
Forest Hill terminates
TSABAA planning 30th Mid-Winter Conference
The Texas State Agency Business Administrator's Association's 30th Mid-Winter Conference is planned for Wednesday through Friday, Jan. 13-15, 2010, at the YO Ranch Resort and Conference Center in Kerrville. John O'Brien, director of the Legislative Budget Board, will highlight Thursday activities with a report on "The Economy, Revenue Projections and the Budget." Other activities include presentations on effective communication for state leaders and a legislative outlook. Nine continuing education credits can be earned by attending the conference. To view the agenda, click here. For registration information, click here.
Notary law, procedure seminar offered by AACOG
Current, new and non-notary participants who would like to earn their Texas notary public commission can attend the Alamo Area Council of Governments' upcoming three-hour quarterly Notary Law and Procedure seminar. The seminar is slated for Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010 from 9 a.m. to noon at AACOG, 8700 Tesoro Drive, Suite 165 (Classroom 6, 1st Floor) in San Antonio. Dixie Lucey, director of education for the State Notary Commission, will teach the seminar. For more information on the seminar and how to register, click here.