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  Volume 7, Issue 5 · Friday, February 6, 2009
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$940B Senate bill won't include more for infrastructure

TxDOT prioritizing list of projects for $2.4 billion expected in Texas


In spite of a failed attempt to have an amendment added in the Senate that would have added another $25 billion in public works projects to the federal economic stimulus bill, additions to the bill that left the House with an $819 billion price tag have now grown the bill to approximately $940 billion. The Senate could vote on its version of the bill as early as this afternoon, Friday.

Some of the additions to the bill being pushed on the Senate side include more than $4 billion additional dollars for homeland security spending and another $4 billion in grants to state and local law enforcement to hire additional officers and purchase equipment. There is also an additional $11 million to make interest payments on most auto loans and sales tax on cars deductible, $3.5 billion in research funds for the National Institutes of Health and $18.5 billion to create a $15,000 tax credit for homebuyers and extend eligibility to those who buy homes within a year of enactment of the bill.

John Barton

However, one amendment to the bill that would have added $25 billion in public works projects was defeated. The funds could have been used for highway construction, public transportation and water and sewer projects. Even without the increase, Texas is expected to get in the neighborhood of $2.4 billion from the stimulus package for highway and bridge projects throughout the state. However, to make sure the funds have a quick impact, they are tagged for "ready to go" projects that will put workers at construction sites almost immediately, both preserving and creating jobs for Texans.

"We want to identify and prioritize projects that put Texans to work now and that provide long-term benefits to the communities they serve," said John Barton (pictured), the Texas Department of Transportation's (TxDOT's) assistant executive director for engineering operations.


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$5.5 million in ETF funds go to University of Houston

World-class biomedical research institute will be created

An investment of $5.5 million from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund (ETF) has been announced for the University of Houston by Gov. Rick Perry to create a world-class Institute of Biomedical Research in conjunction with the Methodist Hospital Research Institute. The institute will house the Texas International Center for Cell Signaling and Nuclear Receptors.

Jan-Ake Gustafsson of Sweden has been chosen to serve as director of the center, and will work with longtime research partner Margaret Werner of Sweden and a 10-member support staff from Sweden's Karolinka Institute. Preliminary research will extend Gustafsson and Werner's work in the use of nuclear hormone receptors as therapies for an array of diseases.

UH Logo

The center will work to commercialize research that has shown that estrogen receptor drugs have potential applications for treatment of breast and uterine cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. Studies have also shown that other nuclear hormone receptors can be used to treat atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease and depression.

Strategic Partnerships salutes Texas' Lone Stars

Debra Smith Anderson

Debra Smith-Anderson, Chief Operating Officer, Health and Human Services Commission

Career highlights and education: My career with the state began in Houston as a Welfare Technician II for the Food Stamp program. From my humble beginnings in a condemned building, I have been afforded the awesome opportunity to serve the people of Texas in various capacities in three different cities. In Houston at the Department of Human Services, among other positions, I served as the Regional Civil Rights Officer, Regional Director for Family Self Support, Regional Director for Personnel, Training and Civil Rights and Operations Director for Client Self Support. I also served as the Regional Director for the Texas Workforce Commission for the Houston Area. In the Dallas-Forth Worth area, I served for four years as the Department of Human Services' Regional Administrator. My most recent assignments have been Austin-based with the Health and Human Services Commission, where I served as the State Director for Regional Administrative Services and in my current position as the Chief Operating Officer. My educational highlights include a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from Wellesley College and completion of the Governor's Executive Development Program.

What I like best about my job is: the opportunity to serve the people of the state of Texas, especially those who have needs that fall in the human services arena. I consider it an honor and a privilege to do so. Not every one has the opportunity to fulfill a goal that they set when they were 13 years old. The goal I set was to help people. Now, I get to help others and in the process I have the opportunity to work with a group of truly dedicated people, and positively impact the effectiveness and efficiency of the Health and Human Services Commission's business processes.

The best advice I've received for my current job is: Use sound judgment and build solid relationships.

Advice I would give a new hire in my office: I would tell them to strive for excellence, work for a purpose, deliver outstanding customer service and don't forget to laugh along the way.

If I ever snuck out of work early, I could probably be found: Shopping! I love to shop and I'm very adept at finding great bargains. If I was not shopping, I would probably be on the road to Houston to visit my mom. She'll like it that I mentioned her in this article.

People would be surprised to know that I: love the theatre and performed on stage in several small productions.

One thing I wish more people knew about my agency: The diversity of the programs, the complexity of the tasks, and the daily challenges faced to make it all work.

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

Obama plan would create 286,000 jobs in Texas

Includes tax credits, unemployment help, local government aid

Stimulus Jobs

The proposed federal economic stimulus package has ballooned to more than $900 billion as it is being debated in the U.S. Senate this week. The U.S. House last week passed its version of a stimulus bill that carried an $819 billion price tag.

The stimulus plan being touted by President Barack Obama has a goal of creating 3-4 million jobs nationwide over the next two years, nearly 286,000 of which would be in Texas. This week, the president said the plan will deliver "immediate, tangible impacts," and outlined the impact his plan would have on Texas.

In addition to creating nearly 286,000 jobs in Texas, the White House reports that the plan would:

  • Provide a work pay tax cut of up to $1,000 for more than 8.1 million Texas workers and their families.
  • Provide eligibility for 346,000 Texas families in the new American Opportunity Tax Credit to help make college affordable by creating a new $2,500 partially refundable tax credit for four years of college for some 346,000 Texas families.
  • Provide an additional $100 per month in unemployment benefits to 677,000 Texans who have lost their jobs during the current recession and extend unemployment benefits for an additional 125,000 Texans who have been laid off from their jobs.
  • Provide adequate funding for the modernization to 21st century classrooms, laboratories and libraries in nearly 1,000 Texas public schools.
  • Provide funding for Texas and the remainder of the states for the largest investment increase in the country's roads, bridges and mass transit systems since the creation of the national highway system in the 1950s.

Obama has urged quick passage of the act so that more American businesses do not close and more Americans do not lose their jobs.

SPI's CEO Mary Scott Nabers a mafia capo?

It's all in good fun for Brownwood community promotion group

Mary Two

Strategic Partnerships, Inc. CEO Mary Scott Nabers has joined the mafia!

Hold on a second! It's not as bad as it sounds!

In a surprise ceremony during the Brownwood Day at the State Capitol reception this week in Austin, Nabers was inducted as a "Capo" (high-ranking member) in the tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek "Brownwood Mafia."

The organization dates back to the late 1950s, and was organized to promote the city of Brownwood. According to information on the framed certificate of membership awarded to Nabers:

"The Brownwood Mafia is an organization of business and professional 'men' dedicated to the interests of Brownwood and its citizens. The organization's sole purpose is to help our city and any one/or all of its citizens. The name came as a joke because of our singlemindedness of the group toward 'our thing'...Brownwood. The name stuck...So did the purpose and the dedication.

"The Brownwood Mafia is not averse to having a little fun along with their serious purpose and civic pride. Membership in the Brownwood Mafia consists of all the citizens of Brownwood."


UTIMCO chair threatens to resign after questioning

Robert Rowling

The chairman of the board of the University of Texas Investment Management Co., angered by questioning from members of a legislative committee about bonuses paid to employees, indicated during testimony that he would resign his post.

"You know what, you can have my job. I resign," said Robert Rowling (pictured), who is also a member of the UT regents. Rowling fielded questions regarding a bonus of more than $1 million for the investment company's chief executive officer and another $1 million for other employees. Rowling defended the bonuses, which he said were made before the plunge in the stock market and the economy going south and were required by contract. The investment company manages the state's Permanent University Fund which has suffered losses in the billions because of the erratic stock market decline.

Legislators felt the awarding of bonuses was inappropriate given the losses the fund was absorbing because of the flailing economy and the declining stocks.

TxDOT considers another private-public partnership

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is again considering private sector proposals for a major highway project - this time for the new $4 billion LBJ project on I-635 between US 75 and I-35 East in Dallas.

TxDOT has proposals from the LBJ Mobility Group and the LBJ Development Partners, both of which include several private companies. The project will be constructed with a Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA), which is a public-private partnership. In these agreements, the developers generally pay a significant amount of the project financing.

The proposals will be evaluated and a recommendation of a developer will likely be made to the Texas Transportation Commission at its Feb. 26 meeting. The development will represent the largest of its kind in the United States and includes rebuilding the existing eight lanes of the LBJ Freeway and adding six managed toll lanes. The developer chosen for the project will design, build, maintain and operate the roadway for 52 years. It is expected to begin next fall and be completed in five years.

TPWD water resource documentary airs on PBS

Water Resources

"Texas: the State of Flowing Water," a one-hour water resource documentary produced by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), is set to air Thursday, Feb. 12, at 8 p.m. on all Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) stations in the state.

Made possible in part by a grant from the federal Sport Fish Restoration Program, the film documents water resource threats facing Texas and examines various protective efforts. The film features an array of rivers, springs, bays and estuaries as well as interviews with a panel of experts, stakeholders and lawmakers. The San Antonio River Authority, Brazos River Authority and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation also contributed to costs of the production.

"Texas: the State of Flowing Water" is part of a broader TPWD public information initiative that began in July 2002. The project also encompasses radio and Internet media.

Uncle Sam owes Texans $120M in unpaid hurricane bills

The Finance Committee of the Texas Senate recently found that the federal government owes Texans $120 million in unpaid bills from the emergency response to Hurricane Ike and the state still has $14 million in past due hurricane bills to pay.

The $134 million in unpaid bills is from vendors such as grocers who provided food and water, bus companies that evacuated residents and other vendors who provided post-hurricane services and supplies, said the chairman of the Finance Committee, who questioned why the bills have gone unpaid for so long.

Allison Castle, a spokeswoman from the governor, said about $120 million of past due hurricane expenses is the responsibility of the federal government and the state's share of the past due invoices is approximately $14 million. The governor and lieutenant governor are working to secure funds to pay those vendors, she said. The governor also sent a letter to the secretary of the U. S. Department of Homeland Security restating the state's unmet post-hurricane needs. On Wednesday, the governor directed the transfer of $145 million to the state's Division of Emergency Management to pay the hurricane-related bills.

Comptroller's report addresses state water supply

Water Supply

The state of the state's water supply is the topic of a new report issued this week by State Comptroller Susan Combs. The report, Liquid Assets: The State of Texas' Water Resources, examines Texas' current and future water resources. Combs calls developing and protecting the state's water resources "one of the most pressing long-term issues facing Texas."

Combs estimates that by 2060, the state population could increase to 46 million, causing an increase of 27 percent in the demand for water. Combs says the Texas Water Development Board notes that if the state is unable to meet that demand, it could "cost businesses and workers in the state approximately $9.1 billion per year by 2010 and $98.4 billion per year by 2060." Additionally, the state could lose $466 million in tax revenue in 2010 and up to $5.4 billion by 2060 due to decreased business activity caused by insufficient water.

Although the state has produced a water plan, funding for the projects in the plan is not sufficient. Combs suggests a dedicated funding source for water development.

Houston superintendent Saavedra to leave in 2010

Abelardo Saavedra

The superintendent of the state's largest school district - Abelardo Saavedra (pictured) of the Houston ISD - announced this week that he will retire by spring 2010. Saavedra, who has served as head of the HISD since 2004, said he was making his announcement early so the school board "has adequate time to conduct a comprehensive national search for my successor."

Before arriving at HISD, Saavedra was superintendent of the Corpus Christi ISD from 1993 to 2000. He was named interim superintendent in HISD in June 2004 and later given the job on a permanent basis. Saavedra said he will continue to work toward his goals of teacher recruitment and retention, performance pay for teachers, improved communications in the district and successful bond projects until his retirement.

Two named to San Antonio-Bexar County MPO board

San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board boasts two new members in Kevin Wolff and Mike Frisbie.

Wolff, the new Precinct 3 commissioner for Bexar County, earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from St. Mary's University after four years of active duty in the U.S. Navy. His resume includes duties as regional human resource director, human resource manager, senior recruiter and operations manager. Before his charge as Precinct 3 commissioner, Wolff served as Bexar County's District 9 representative.

Frisbie serves as director of San Antonio's Capital Improvements Management Services Department (CIMS). As director, he supervises some 151 bond projects and other city capital projects from inception to their construction phases.

UT-Pan American says goodbye to President Cardenas

Cardenas Farewell

Hundreds of well-wishers turned out last week to say goodbye to former University of Texas-Pan American President Blandina Cardenas, who recently announced her resignation. In addition to being serenaded by the university's mariachi band, Cardenas (on left in photo) was showered with gifts and praise. She has served as UTPA president for more than four years.

While at UTPA, Cardenas increased by 58 percent the number of students receiving degrees, increased the six-year graduation rate by more than 36 percent (above the national average), added a fourth doctoral degree program and increased the freshman to sophomore retention rate to 71.5 percent.

Former president of UTPB and former interim president of UT-Arlington Charles A. Sorber will serve as interim president effective Feb. 23 while a national search begins for a permanent successor to Cardenas.

"Tomorrow UTPA begins a whole new era. You must move on and look for the good, the heart and the smart of those who will lead you in the future," Cardenas told those gathered for her celebration.

N. Texas groups get disaster preparedness grants

To develop and administer a disaster relief plan for North Texas, the Communities Foundation of Texas is allocating $5 million to several organizations based in Dallas. Fort Worth and Dallas both serve as regional leaders for locals displaced by a catastrophe and accommodating those driven to North Texas by another disaster.

Ann Salyer-Caldwell, associate director of community health promotions at Tarrant County Public Health, said recent catastrophes such as Hurricanes Ike and Gustav have reiterated the need for the country to be prepared for large-scale emergencies and natural disasters.

In 2003, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, a national organization that studies practices in public health, designated Tarrant County as one of seven Advance Practice Centers in the nation for its informatics technology. The counties were chosen to serve as areas that can develop resources that can be used across the country in case of a large-scale emergency.

Brazosport College receives $1M grants from DOL

Millicent Valek

A pair of grants totaling $1 million from the U.S. Department of Labor will afford technology certification students at Brazosport College a more hands-on education. The funds will support the Nuclear Power Technician Training Program and curriculum development for Instrument and Electrical Technology - "areas with great career opportunities," said Brazosport College President Millicent Valek (pictured).

Valek said the grant funds will also help the college's master plan by enhancing the science and technology corridor at a time when resources are "very strained."

The first grant, totaling $557,340, will upgrade and expand the process equipment training facility as well as pay faculty members to develop curriculum. The second amount of funds, totaling $430,275, will be allocated to the Instrument and Electrical Technology program for curriculum development and new equipment.

UT-Austin names director of performing arts center

Kathleen Panoff, executive director of the Modlin Center for the Arts at the University of Richmond, will serve as director and associate dean of The University of Texas at Austin Performing Arts Center, effective Aug. 1. Panoff was tapped after a seven-month international search. She succeeds Interim Director April Holmes and former Director Pebbles Wadsworth.

Panoff, a flutist and singer, served as managing director of the Cincinnati Playhouse before founding and managing the Modlin Center for 13 years. In addition to having served as a development officer for a number of enterprises, including Fine Arts Public Radio in Cincinnati, she owns a private fundraising consultancy.

Panoff, a native of Virginia, holds a bachelor's degree from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

Collin County IT director named Texas CIO of the Year

Caren Skipworth

Caren Skipworth (pictured), IT director for Collin County, was named Texas CIO of the Year at Government Technology's GTC Southwest 2009. According to judges, Skipworth has promoted intergovernmental collaboration with her cost-saving leadership.

Skipworth's outside-the-box thinking and innovative measures have saved the county a significant amount of funds. An agreement between Collin County's fiber network deployment and its community college district saved the county $1.2 million. Skipworth also saved her jurisdiction $76,000 with a recent relocation effort.

Skipworth, who began working for Collin County in 1990, said she believed "technology is the catalyst for change." She thanked her "talented and dedicated" staff for the honor.

Tarleton names new psychology, counseling head

David Weissenburger

Dr. David Weissenburger (pictured) has assumed duties as head of Tarleton State University's department of psychology and counseling, replacing Dr. Robert Newby, who has resumed teaching full-time.

Weissenburger joined the Tarleton faculty in 1999 at the university's Central Texas campus before earning the rank of professor at the Stephenville flagship campus in 2005, where he taught counseling psychology and educational psychology. He has also served in a number of leadership roles, including as president of Tarleton's Faculty Senate and the Texas Council of Faculty Senates. He was instrumental in developing the newly approved Specialist in School Psychology degree.

Weissenburger holds a bachelor's degree from Western Illinois University, a master's degree from Stephen F. Austin State University and a doctoral degree from Texas Woman's University.

Mayors will meet with Texas Clean Air Cities Coalition

Dallas City Hall is hosting a meeting among several metropolitan-area mayors and the Texas Clean Air Cities Coalition today.

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, Houston Mayor Bill White, Austin Mayor Will Wynn, Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief, and members of the Dallas City Council and Texas Clean Air Cities Coalition are convening to discuss an array of important topics related to clean air, transportation and homelessness.

The meeting will begin at 3 p.m. in the Flag Room on the 6th floor of Dallas City Hall.

Tarleton-Central Texas to be named Texas A&M branch

Garry Ross

Tarleton State University-Central Texas will be known as Texas A&M-Central Texas as soon as the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board certifies enrollment and the Texas A&M System Board of Regents approve the name change. According to state legislation, as soon as a university reaches 1,000 full-time students in one given semester, it is eligible to become a free-standing university. Tarleton-Central Texas marked 1,129 full-time students this spring semester.

Tarleton-Central Texas Executive Director Dr. Garry Ross (pictured) said the stand-alone designation will allow the institution to become "more equipped to accommodate the educational needs of our students."

Once the name change is official, 662 acres of land from Fort Hood will be made available to the university.

Tech faculty member named one of five finalists at SLU

Michael Shonrock

The search for a new president of Southeastern Louisiana University has narrowed to five finalists, including Michael Shonrock (pictured), Texas Tech University's vice president for student affairs and enrollment management.

The finalists, chosen from a pool of 19 candidates, were interviewed on the SLU campus this week. The sole finalist will replace Randy Moffett, who resigned in July to become president of the University of Louisiana System.

Shonrock holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Western Illinois University, an education specialist degree from Pittsburgh State University and a doctoral degree from the University of Kansas.

Dallas panel recommends $11.8M dispatch upgrade

The public safety committee of the Dallas City Council recently approved a plan to spend $11.8 million to upgrade the city's emergency dispatch system. The $8.9 million in funding will be used to buy more than 1,400 mobile computers for police and fire vehicles and approximately $4.9 million will be used for software and related expenses.

City officials are scheduled to begin installation of the new mobile computers and software in March and to complete the project by November.

Texas A&M-Commerce ushers in new president

Dan Jones

Texas A&M University-Commerce is welcoming President Dan Jones (pictured) with an investiture ceremony and academic convocation today, Friday. Texas A&M University System Board of Regents appointed Jones the university's 11th president last July.

Before joining the A&M-Commerce faculty, Jones served as provost and vice president of academic affairs at Texas A&M International in Laredo from 2003 - 2008. He began his career in academia as an English instructor at Casper College in Casper, Wyo., before going on to serve in several capacities at the University of Houston-Downtown starting in 1985. His tenure there included charges as interim dean of student affairs, associate dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and dean of University College, among others.

Jones holds a bachelor's degree from The University of Texas at Austin, a master's degree from Rice University and doctoral degree from the University of Iowa.

Lindale pondering $3 million for capital improvements

Lindale city council members recently reached a tentative agreement at a council workshop to issue an estimated $3 million in certificates of obligations to continue several capital improvement projects. The projects include completion of the interior of the city's new municipal building and improvements to parks, sewers, water and streets.

City official recently acquired a $925,000, 10,000-square-foot building still under construction to temporarily house city administrative offices and the police department. Plans also call for the city to demolish the current city hall. City officials also are considering building a new facility on site, said City Administrator Owen Scott.

Approximately $30,000 of the proceeds from the certificates will be used to match a $100,000 grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to pay for a nature trail to be built at Faulkner Park, he said. Council members are slated to vote on the issuance of the certificates of obligation in March and the funds could be available as early as April.

UIL executive director Bill Farney retires

Bill Farney

University Interscholastic League (UIL) Executive Director Dr. Bill Farney (pictured) retired recently following several years of service.

Farney served as UIL assistant director and athletic director before taking on the charge of executive director in 1995. As athletic director he worked to increase the number of girls' athletic programs and was instrumental in adding girls' track to UIL sports. He also developed the academic and fine arts programs, and implemented a number of additional sports categories to the UIL roster during his tenure.

Prior to working at the UIL, Farney served as superintendent of Crawford Independent School District and as principal at Robinson and Lorena high schools. He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Tulsa, and both master's and doctoral degrees from Baylor University.

San Patricio to use $934,666 grant for airport

San Patricio County recently received a $934,666 grant to pay for ramp upgrades to accommodate larger jets at its airport. The Aviation Facilities Grant Program of the Texas Department of Transportation awarded the grant.

The airport also is purchasing a refueling truck and has installed a new fuel system to handle larger jets, said Airport Manager George Alvarado.

Director picked for UT-Dallas Texas Analog Center

Kenneth O

Kenneth O (pictured), a leading authority in the field of analog electronics, has been named director of the Texas Analog Center of Excellence (TxACE) at The University of Texas at Dallas. O will also serve as professor of electrical engineering and holder of the Texas Instruments Distinguished Chair next fall, when he joins the university's Erik Johnson School of Engineering and Computer Science.

TxACE is a $16 million collaborative project jointly funded by the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, the UT System and various private enterprises. The center will specifically work on developing circuits and techniques to improve public safety and security, advance healthcare and help the nation become more energy-independent.

O holds a doctoral degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is best known for helping create RF CMOS, the technology of choice for cell phone chips.

UTEP's Center for Information Assurance cites director

Luc Longpre

The University of Texas at El Paso's newly formed Center for Information Assurance, a program designed to expand the use of national standards in information assurance education and training, will be headed by Dr. Luc Longpre (pictured) as director.

Longpre, a professor of computer science, said computer security is the driving force behind the center, "but the name was expanded to include all of the processes necessary to protect information." He is set to receive an official certificate from the Committee on National Security Systems at the 13th Colloquium for Information Systems Security Education this June in Seattle.

UTEP will also begin to offer a Certificate of Information Assurance along with expanded course offerings related to information assurance.

Denison moves toward school zone cell phone ban

Denison city council members recently authorized the city attorney to begin drafting an ordinance to ban cell phone use while driving in an active school zone.

Henry Scott, superintendent of Denison Independent School District, requested the ordinance last fall. Council discussions centered on whether hands-free devices would be banned along with hand-held telephones.

City Manager Larry Cruise said the ban would most likely include all cell phones, but noted it will be difficult for police to prove an individual was talking on a hands-free device. The city will post signs to warn motorists in school zones once the ordinance is drafted and approved by city council, Cruise said.

Longview, Tyler look to form partnerships

Jay Dean

Barbara Bass

The cities of Tyler and Longview are looking for ways to work together on issues that range from workforce to education to infrastructure. At the first meeting of its kind since 2004, officials of the two cities met to discuss how they can work to support each other so that the entire region can benefit.

Longview Mayor Jay Dean (left) and Tyler Mayor Barbara Bass (right) agreed that partnerships between the two cities could make the area stronger relative to tourism, regional marketing and transportation.

Workforce development was among the hot button issues for officials from both communities and they stressed the importance of training individuals to fill jobs that don't require college degrees. They also agreed that an updated infrastructure system makes the area workforce more accessible. "What is good for our community is good for the entire region," said Dean. The two communities will continue their dialogue on partnerships that will be beneficial both to the two communities and to East Texas.

West Texas officials cheer decision on wind energy lines

Wind Energy

West Texas officials are cheering a recent decision by the Texas Public Utility Commission to allow the construction of transmission lines to take electricity from wind power in West Texas to larger cities located in the eastern area of the state, said Ken Becker, executive director of the Sweetwater Enterprise for Economic Development, Inc.

The PUC agreement will permit 13 companies to build $5 billion worth of transmission lines to Dallas and Houston, which removes a large obstacle to the growth of wind energy production in West Texas, Becker said. Existing transmission lines from West Texas have almost reached their capacity and the additional capacity from the new transmission lines will help Texas reach its goal of promoting renewable energy resources, he added.

Corpus Christi panel supports renovating coliseum

A committee appointed to determine the fate of Memorial Coliseum in Corpus Christi recently approved a plan that would permit a private company to convert the coliseum, which was closed in 2004, into an interactive gaming center, marketplace and arena to be operated by the company.

The committee recommended that the city provide a maximum of $5 million to the private company to refurbish the coliseum. If the company spends more than $5 million on repairing and renovating the facility, the panel recommended that the city consider giving the company a property tax break or return some sales tax revenues. Plans call for the coliseum, originally opened in 1954, to be converted into a 2,000-seat events center, with 17,000 square feet of meeting rooms, an outdoor food court and marketplace, a theater and space for traveling exhibits, said David Richter, a committee member.

The company, which will be required to acquire its own financing for the project, estimated that about 1.6 million visitors annually would spend about $15 per person on food, tickets and purchases that would produce a $200 million economic impact over a 20-year period, Richter said. The panel expects to present the recommendation to city council on Feb. 10.

San Antonio approves $5.5 million for BRAC projects

Sheila McNeil

The San Antonio City Council recently approved $5.5 million to pay for infrastructure projects near Fort Sam Houston related to the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC) of 2005.

The infrastructure improvements are necessary to help the city prepare for the increasing number of military personnel and their families to be relocated in the Fort Sam Houston area, said Sheila McNeil (pictured), the city councilwoman who represents that area. The 2005 BRAC decision calls for more than 12,500 jobs and some 10,000 family members to be located at Fort Sam Houston and requires that BRAC-related projects be completed by Sept. 15, 2011.

Carroll ISD panel recommends $138M bond election

The Long-Range Facility Planning Committee recently recommended that trustees for the Carroll Independent School District call a bond election on May 9 to pay for new facilities, maintenance and upgrades to security and technology.

Following a one-year study of district facilities and enrollment, the committee recommended the district build a new $23.4 million elementary school and a $40.2 million middle school to replace two schools. The committee also recommended $26 million for classroom technology, classroom additions to four schools, remodeling an existing school into a technology and teacher training center with administrative offices and renovating a stadium. The panel also suggested selling an intermediate school campus to help pay for new facilities and upgrades.

District staff is collecting community opinions in an online survey and trustees are scheduled to discuss the survey and recommendation at their Feb. 19 meeting. The deadline for trustees to call a May bond election is March 9.

Jacksonville ironing out design details for new city hall

Mo Raissi

Jacksonville city officials are setting up a meeting with a Dallas architect hired to design and build the new city hall and several contractors in an effort to cut costs for the new $2.2 million, 20,000-square-foot facility.

City Manager Mo Raissi (pictured) said details regarding the audiovisual system and alarm system to be installed in the municipal center need to be discussed. With a goal of saving about $75,000, Jacksonville officials would like to install the audio-visual equipment, telephones, electronic locks and alarm systems in-house rather than hiring specialty contractors, he said.

Public Works Director Will Cole is attempting to arrange a meeting with the architect, the audiovisual engineer and the alarm engineer to coordinate the final details of the project, Raissi said. City council members must approve the final design documents before the city can place the project up for bids. The finalized designs should be ready for review in two to three weeks. The new city hall will house the municipal court, personnel office, finance office and council chambers.

Katy ISD approves $3.5 million to renovate stadium

Trustees for the Katy Independent School District recently approved a $3.5 million plan to renovate the Rhodes Stadium Complex.

The renovations, which were part of $23.5 million in bonds the board approved for sale in January, will expand the press box, field house and parking facilities at the stadium, school officials said. District officials said the renovations should be completed before the 2009 footfall season.

Other projects to be funded from the remaining bond proposals approved by voters in 2003 and 2006 include $7 million for a new financial system, $4.2 million to build the first phase of a new transportation center and $800,000 for portable buildings.

Rosenberg mulls security cameras for park security

Security Cameras

Following a presentation by city staff, Rosenberg City Council members are considering a recommendation to add cameras at several parks to improve security and reduce vandalism.

The city spent more than $5,000 in maintenance at just one park last year, said Dallis Warren, the assistance police chief. To reduce vandalism and crime, the city should consider adding high-resolution digital cameras, improve lighting and trim some trees to improve security at five city parks, he said.

The video would be fed by wireless transmission directly to the police department, which could monitor, record and later retrieve the document as evidence, Warren said. The cameras, which would be in a fixed position and photograph a large area, can zoom in and produce readable facial features from long distances, he said. The city can expect to pay about $25,000 each for security camera systems to be installed at city parks. Council members requested city staff to gather more information on funding and a timetable plan to assist council members in making a decision on the proposal.

Cuero selects Gelles as new city manager

The Cuero City Council recently selected Marie Gelles as the new city manager. Gelles has served as interim city manager since June 2008 when she replaced former City Manager Corlis Riedesel. Gelles previously served as chief administrative officer in Helotes and as executive director of the Helotes Economic Development Corp.

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Federal stimulus bill could send billions to Texas for construction projects

Mary Scott Nabers

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

The economic stimulus bill being considered by the U.S. Congress is not being touted as a cure-all for the nation's floundering economy, but most see it as the initial step toward a long-term solution.

Officials of the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) note that without an infusion of funding for construction and infrastructure projects, many small construction companies will be forced to close and the jobs of more than one million construction workers are at serious risk. To better understand the impact this bill could have in Texas, here's a quick look at what could be expected in local communities throughout the state.

AGC says each additional $1 billion in spending in the nonresidential construction industry in Texas would add $2.7 billion to the state's Gross Domestic Product. It would also put $841 million in the pockets of construction workers and allow the industry to either retain or create 24,000 jobs.


Galveston ISD asks 182 employees for resignations

Lynne Cleveland

Officials of the Galveston Independent School District recently requested 182 employees to retire. The resignations are needed, said Superintendent Lynne Cleveland (pictured), because the district has lost 2,000 students since Hurricane Ike devastated the area causing the district to close three schools. Employees asked to resign include 100 teachers, three principals, three assistant principals, two directors, classroom aides, custodians, cafeteria specialists, secretaries, security workers, counselors, librarians, nurses, building engineers and cafeteria managers.

Most employees who resign by March 6 will receive a portion of their salaries, with employees with less than five years service receiving 1 percent of their annual salary and those with more than 20 years to receive 10 percent, Cleveland said. Those not eligible for the buyout are business department employees, speech therapists, some maintenance employees and some transportation employees. About 30 employees have resigned so far.

Midland to buy wildfire
gear with federal grant

The Midland City Council recently approved the purchase of 177 sets of wildfire fighting gear to help the city improve its ability to fight grass fires. Wildfire fighting gear is lighter in weight than the gear that firefighters normally use and allows firefighters to stay in the field longer.

The Federal Firefighters Assistance Program of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security awarded the grant. City officials hope to have the new wildfire fighting gear available to firefighters this summer.

La Marque selects Gage interim city manager

The La Marque City Council recently appointed Eric Gage as the interim city manager to replace Robert Ewart, who in late January resigned as city manager.

Gage formerly served as executive director of the La Marque Economic Development Corporation and as business development and marketing manager for the city of Pearland. He has a bachelor's degree from Southwest Texas State University.

Laredo to use grant to upgrade communications

The Laredo Fire Department recently received a $400,000 federal grant to improve its radio communications system.

The funding will be used to add repeaters that will allow transmission of signals for longer distances, said Fire Chief Steve Landin. The upgrade will allow firefighters to be dispatched to more remote areas and still be able to communicate with other emergency responders via radio, he said. The radio upgrade is especially needed when firefighters respond to grass fires and medical emergencies in rural areas as emergency responders now must use cell phones to communicate when in rural areas.

Lewis to resign post as Lancaster superintendent

Larry Lewis

Superintendent Larry Lewis (pictured) and officials of the Lancaster Independent School District recently reached an agreement that calls for Lewis to resign from his position in July 2009.

Under terms of the settlement agreement, Lewis will serve as a special assistant to the interim superintendent and retain his salary and benefits until he voluntarily resigns on July 31. In December, Lancaster ISD officials selected Dana S. Marable, a former superintendent at Longview ISD and an interim superintendent at Temple ISD, to serve as interim superintendent.

Brooks County ISD selects Byington as interim head

Trustees for the Brooks County Independent School District recently selected Alberto Byington as the interim superintendent to assume the duties of Superintendent Joe R. Trevino while board members discuss the current superintendent and goals for the district.

Byington formerly served as superintendent of the Brooks County ISD, which has an enrollment of 1,476 students from Falfurrias and Encino.

New Diana ISD moves on superintendent search

Trustees for the New Diana Independent School District are reviewing at least 38 applications for superintendent with a goal of scheduling interviews with selected candidates beginning Feb. 16, said Robert Hunt, the district's transportation director. A few more applications may be reviewed if those applications were postmarked by Jan. 31, said Hunt, who is assisting trustees in their search for a new superintendent.

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.

Geoff Connor

Geoff Connor was named Texas' 104th Secretary of State in 2003 and served two years in that capacity. Prior to that appointment, he served as deputy general counsel to former Gov. Bill Clements and was assistant commissioner and general counsel at the Texas Department of Agriculture. Connor also previously served as general counsel to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Connor currently is a manager and board member with an Austin-based global financial advisory and asset management firm.

Carter Casteel

Carter Casteel began her public service career as a member of the Comal Independent School District Board of Trustees, serving from 1984 to 1990, including one term as president. She served as Comal County Judge from 1990 to 1998. She was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 2002 and served through 2006. She currently is legislative counsel to the Texas Civil Justice League.

Huntsville approves $1.85M in bonds for new fire station

Huntsville city council members recently authorized the issuance of $1.85 million in general obligation bonds to pay for a new fire station in the northeast area of the city. Voters approved the bonds on Nov. 6, 2008.

Funds from the bonds will be used to acquire a site, construct the building and parking facilities as well as the purchase of fire trucks and communication technology.

Fort Worth police pushing for new, larger heliport

Fort Worth police officials are asking city officials to build a new heliport to house larger and faster helicopters to speed up response time. A new heliport is needed as the current facility has a sinking foundation and police need faster helicopters that do not fit into the old facility to properly patrol and respond to crime, said Jay Paschke, the chief pilot for the police department.

Official are exploring a proposed site near Meacham Airport for a new heliport that would cost about $2.9 million. The proposed site already has a pad and utilities, which would save about $1 million, Paschke said. The airport would use natural gas revenues to construct the $2.5 million building and the police department would lease the facility from the airport, said Kent Penney, the airport systems director. City council would be required to approve the lease.

SPI opportunities

Public safety consultants

Federal military consultants

SPI is hiring individuals with subject matter expertise and well-established credentials in two areas - public safety (municipal police departments, county sheriffs departments, state public safety agencies and emergency operations centers) and federal military installations in Texas. Applicants for public safety consultants should have well-maintained relationships and a strong background in public safety, either as a former top-level decision-maker such as a former police chief or sheriff or emergency operations center administrator or through experience in other venues such as statewide public safety associations or agencies that deal with public safety entities throughout the state. Applicant for federal military installations consultants should have statewide subject matter expertise. To apply for these consulting positions at SPI, please send a brief cover letter and a copy of your resume to J. Lyn Carl at and put "Application for Public Safety Consultant" or "Application for Federal Military Consultant" in the subject line, or for more information, send an e-mail to the same address.

Kimble County sheriff
to join DA's staff

The sheriff of Kimble County plans to leave office and instead join the staff of the new district attorney for Kimble, Kerr, Mason, Menard and McCulloch counties.

Kimble County Sheriff Mike Chapman will remain as sheriff until March 17 if he is needed, but he already has been sworn in as an investigator for District Attorney Amos Barton. Chapman, who has been sheriff since 1994, has helped the sheriff's department seize more than $9 million in cash and thousands of pounds of drugs while in office. Barton plans to use those skills of Chapman to assist with narcotics interdiction in the DA's office.

Manvel exploring expansion of city hall facilities

Members of the Manvel City Council recently discussed expanding their city hall from 1,600 square feet to 5,800 square feet and the library by more than 3,000 square feet.

After viewing preliminary plans, one council member suggested adding a second floor that would allow for more parking spaces for city hall visitors and the mayor suggested the building could serve as a multifunctional building. Following the discussion, council requested the architect to provide a cost estimate for the project.

Thomas plans retirement from Frenship ISD

Superintendent John Thomas recently announced his retirement from the Frenship Independent School District effective at the end of the 2008-2009 school year.

An educator for 32 years, Thomas began his career as a teacher and coach at Dimmitt ISD and then as a principal at Lamesa ISD. Thomas also served as a superintendent for Ralls ISD before accepting a position as assistant superintendent at Frenship ISD in 1997. He began his tenure as superintendent in March 2001. Trustees are expected to begin planning the process of hiring a new superintendent at their next regular meeting.

SPI announces consulting opportunities in San Antonio

SPI is adding more individuals with well-established credentials who are interested in assisting its consulting teams in the San Antonio area. SPI is seeking more part-time consultants with expertise and strong connections and relationships in the K-12 education arena, in healthcare, higher education, community college and local government in San Antonio.

To apply for these part-time consulting positions at SPI, please send a brief cover letter and a copy of your resume to J. Lyn Carl at and put "Application for San Antonio consultant" in the subject line, or for more information, send an e-mail to the same address.

Watson resigns post as superintendent at Mercedes

Walter N. Watson recently resigned as superintendent of Mercedes Independent School District and will return to his former post as director of federal programs when his contract expires on June 30. Watson has served as superintendent almost one year. Trustees are scheduled to discuss plans and the timeline for hiring a new superintendent at their next meeting, according to board officials.

Calhoun Co. authorizes nearly $3 million in projects

The Calhoun County Commissioners Court recently authorized the allocation of nearly $3 million for capital projects in 2009. The majority of the capital improvement funds are for road and bridge projects, although commissioners also approved $500,000 for unspecified capital projects.

Commissioners also approved $14,000 to replace the beacon at the Calhoun County Airport and $72,003 to repair the airport roof.

Interim reports

Following are the interim reports filed so far by legislative committees as a result of interim hearings prior to the start of the 81st Texas Legislature. Some of the legislation filed during the current session is a result of these interim studies.



Denton bans hand-held cell phone use in school zones

The Denton City Council recently adopted a city ordinance banning the use of hand-held cell phones in active school zones effective Aug. 1.

Violators could pay up to a $200 fine and the ban will include text messaging as well as talking on a cell phone in the 31 school zones from 7:30 to 9 a.m. and from 2:30 to 4 p.m. when the school zones are active. The ban does not prohibit the use of hands-free devices and motorists in an emergency situation will be permitted to use a handheld phone.

Recent Reports

Event Links

Texas Government Insider Archives

Volume 1 - 6 Archives · 11/7/03 - 1/30/09

Elkart ISD moves forward on bond election

Trustees for the Elkhart Independent School District recently took steps toward calling for a bond election in May by hiring an architectural firm to oversee a facility needs assessment. Trustees also formed a Facilities Study Committee to help with the project.

After experiencing three failed bond elections in the past few years, district officials invited community members to join district staff and trustees in a walk-through tour of district facilities this week. The district is experiencing classroom shortages, inadequate cafeteria space and needs more high school science labs and a second elementary gymnasium, said Superintendent Mike Moon. The facilities committee is scheduled to present its findings to the trustees on Feb. 23.

Governor's appointments

Gov. Rick Perry has made the following appointments:

  • Jennifer Anderson of Anahuac, Telecommunications Planning and Oversight Council
  • Alice E. Owen of Irving, Telecommunications Planning and Oversight Council
  • Johanne Ibsen-Wolford of Austin, Telecommunications Planning and Oversight Council
  • Robert Marbut Jr. of San Antonio, OneStar Foundation
  • Philip Bourland of Temple, chair, Texas Board of Licensure for Professional Medical Physicists
  • Shannon D. Cox of Austin, Texas Board of Licensure for Professional Medical Physicists
  • Kumar Krishen of Seabrook, Texas Board of Licensure for Professional Medical Physicists
  • Rebecca C. Middleton of De Soto, Texas Board of Licensure for Professional Medical Physicists
  • Richard E. Wendt III of Bellaire, Texas Board of Licensure for Professional Medical Physicists
  • Stephen N. Mueller of Cypress, Prepaid Higher Education Tuition Board
  • Scott Sayers of Austin, chair, State Cemetery Committee
  • Sue S. Bancroft of Argyle, Texas Woman's University Board of Regents
  • Lola Chriss of Rowlett, Texas Woman's University Board of Regents
  • Ann Scanlon McGinity of Pearland, Texas Woman's University Board of Regents
  • Norman W. Darwin, Weatherford, Injured Employee Public Counsel
  • Arthur Roger Matson of Georgetown, Executive Council of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Examiners
  • Jesse D. Hickman of Palestine, Upper Neches River Municipal Water Authority
  • Joe L. Ward of Telephone, Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board
  • Lisa Birkman of Round Rock, Texas Agricultural Finance Authority
  • Ted F. Conover of Tyler, Texas Agricultural Finance Authority
  • Dal DeWees of San Angelo, Texas Agricultural Finance Authority
  • Mike Golden of Lake Jackson, Texas Agricultural Finance Authority
  • Stan Ray of Georgetown, Texas Agricultural Finance Authority
  • Victoria Salin of College Station, Texas Agricultural Finance Authority

San Benito hires consultant to oversee museum project

San Benito officials recently authorized a $200,000 contract for a Massachusetts-based consulting firm to help launch a $1.4 million project to expand the San Benito History Museum, the Texas Conjunto Hall of Fame and Museum and the Freddy Fender Museum.

A team of consultants with Texas ties will conduct the four-month study, said Tootie Madden, president of the San Benito Museum Coalition. The city received a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Corporation to help pay for the consultants and the city's Economic Development Corporation has set aside $1.4 million to expand the museums.

Jefferson County approves repairs to Ford Park Pavilion

Jefferson County commissioners recently approved $282,697 to pay for repairs to Ford Park Pavilion, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Ike. The county plans to spend $67,092 on 403 new seats to replace damaged ones and $76,125 to repair stage lighting. Any remaining funds will be used to replace the stucco-coated foam exterior with metal that can withstand high winds.

The county hopes to receive reimbursement for the majority of the repairs from insurance and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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Dublin ISD superintendent Roy Neff plans to retire

Dublin Superintendent Roy Neff has announced he will retire after 23 years of service to the school district.

Neff, a graduate of West Texas State University and Texas Tech University, began his career in education in 1968 teaching secondary mathematics.

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TASSCC plans March Technology Education Conference

The Texas Association for State Systems for Computing and Communications (TASSCC) will hold its Technology Education Conference (TEC) from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 26, at the Commons Center in Austin. "Web 2.0 - Services and Innovation in the Public Sector" will be the thrust of the conference. TEC 2009 will focus on several popular Web-based applications and give real life examples of how government organizations can provide improved services to the state of Texas. Early bird registration is under way and will end Thursday, Feb. 26. Online registration ends Friday, March 20. For more information, click here. Sponsorships are available.

2009 Texas Homeland Security Conference set in March

The 2009 Texas Homeland Security Conference will be held at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio March 23-26. It will combine all of the workshops, presentations, training classes and resources normally associated with the Texas Hurricane Conference and the Texas Homeland Security Conference. Workshops and presentations from a wide variety of experts will focus on the full spectrum of homeland security goals: Prevention, Protection, Response and Recovery. The conference is sponsored by the Governor's Division of Emergency Management and brings together representatives of law enforcement, border security and port security, transportation and cyber security, as well as firefighters, emergency medical personnel, Texas Military Forces, voluntary organizations and private sector representatives. Attendees also will include officials from higher education, public education, health and medical care and public officials from local, state and national governments. Representatives of more than 30 state agencies on the Governor's Emergency Management Council and federal officials also will attend. For more information on conference registration, general session speakers, workshops and training opportunities, click here.

TxDOT to host small business briefings

The Texas Department of Transportation will conduct a series of briefings throughout the state to educate small and minority-owned business owners on how to do business with TxDOT, particularly relating to how TxDOT procures services and purchases products. General Industry Sessions will include an Overview of TxDOT Toll Projects and Contracting Opportunities on Toll Way Projects, Professional Services Consulting Contracts and State Contracting for Information Technology Products and Services. Other breakout sessions will target small and minority businesses on Small and Minority Business Certifications, Resources for Small Business Development and Marketing Your Business to the State. TxDOT contracts include, but are not limited to, engineering, real estate professionals, IT services, computers, printing, construction, maintenance, goods and services and more. The briefings will be held Feb. 18 and 19 in Laredo; March 26 and 27 in Houston; and April 15 and 16 in Odessa. For more information, click here. To register online, click here.

DIR plans e-Learning forum for agencies, universities

A free one-day e-Learning Forum for Texas state agencies and universities only will be held Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Commons Center of the J.J. Pickle Research Campus in Austin. Sponsored by the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR), the conference's goal is to share information on what is happening in the industry and specifically in Texas government. Potential topics include tools and trends in e-learning, case studies of successful government e-learning projects with speakers profiling different implementation styles such as simplistic modules requiring little specialized expertise, successfully deploying a subscription-based learning course library, extensive custom development, Web 2.0 and e-learning, collaboration of the IT and training departments and lessons learned and best practices. To register, click here.