|Volume 7, Issue 12 · Friday, March 27, 2009|
More than $1.7 billion in bond votes set for May 9
Some entities hope to take advantage of lower construction costs
In spite of a downturn in the nation's economy, more than 50 local government entities - including more than 40 Texas public school districts - will ask voters to approve more than $1.7 billion in bond issues on May 9.
Many of the entities seeking funding for new construction or renovation are hoping to take advantage of current lower construction costs. The economic downturn has caused even greater competition for construction projects, with many public sector entities receiving unusually large numbers of bids for projects - with bid prices that have in some cases been millions of dollars lower than expected.
The largest school bond issue to be voted on will be in the College Station ISD, where a $144 million bond election will be held. Included in the bond is a new $111.3 million high school, a $19.4 million new elementary school, a new transportation facility with a $7.8 million price tag and $5.7 million in high school renovations. The district also hopes to purchase new buses.[more]
For a comprehensive list of bond proposals slated for May 9 elections, go to www.spartnerships.com and click on the "May 2009 Bond Elections" document under Recent Reports.
Texas gears up to receive $208M for energy projects
State, cities, counties, tribes get allocations from ARRA funds
Nearly $208.8 million in additional funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is headed to Texas for state, city and county governments and Native American tribes to fund energy efficiency and conservation projects. Texas' State Energy Office will receive more than $45.6 million of the funding. Among the state's largest cities, the city of Austin will receive more than $7.4 million, the city of Dallas will receive more than $12.7 million, the city of Houston gets more than $22.7 million and the city of San Antonio is in line to receive more than $12.8 million.
Aimed at creating jobs and saving money by cutting energy costs, the funding is part of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program that will provide formula grants for projects that reduce total energy use and fossil fuel emissions as well as improve energy efficiency.
Some of the funding will also go toward energy audits, energy efficiency retrofits in both residential and commercial buildings and incentive programs for energy efficiency programs. It can also be used for transportation projects that conserve energy, renewable energy installations on government buildings, energy efficient traffic and street lights and more. To view the allocations by entities in Texas, go to www.spartnerships.com and view the "Texas ARRA allocations for energy efficiency, conservation" document under Recent Reports.
$74 million in transportation enhancements approved
Comprehensive development pact awarded for DFW Connector
Twenty-two transportation-related enhancement projects with a combined price tag of $74 million were approved Thursday by the Texas Transportation Commission. All but $7 million of that total comes from funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
TxDOT recommended for funding some of the projects that already were on the drawing board but that had been slowed due to lack of funding. "Our district offices consulted local sponsors to determine these projects can be ready by March 2010, the deadline specified in the ARRA legislation," said John Barton (pictured), TxDOT's Assistant Executive Director for Engineering Operations.[more]
Doug Ridge, director, Employer Initiatives, Texas Workforce Commission
Career highlights and education: After five years in the Navy, I returned to Texas A&M for a BA in history and political science, then headed off to work in the oilfield. After 10 years of running drilling rigs all around the world, I returned to Texas Lutheran College in Seguin for a degree in finance, and later completed my MBA at the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University. During my last year at SMU, IBM Consulting came calling, looking for senior-level consultants for their Industry Consulting Practice in Petroleum. I spent nine fantastic years there, working with major petroleum companies from Alberta to Argentina. When TWC offered me the chance to work on the Governor's Industry Cluster Initiative, I jumped at it. That experience - working with staff from TWC, the Governor's Office, the Secretary of State and employers across the state - has been great. Employer Initiatives has led or supported projects like the Governor's Competitiveness Council and other statewide collaborations to implement regional clusters and cluster-based economic and talent development programs. These cluster-based strategies guide projects designed to prepare Texas' workforce for new jobs and skill requirements that support emerging technologies or new business models in emerging industries. It is a great run!
What I like best about my job is: Texas is really good at developing the "next big thing." As a state, we have competed on that advantage in ag, energy and other industries for generations. We have the natural resources, the culture and tradition of leadership, and the educational infrastructure that drive innovation. In Employer Initiatives, we work with employers, innovators, economic developers, educators and exceptional workforce professionals - people who always want to improve the status quo. We get to help assess our competition - is it really California and Pennsylvania, or is it India and Ireland and Eastern Europe? How are Texas' industries organized to compete, and are there opportunities to recruit or grow key components of those industry value chains and the workforce pipeline that complements not just where the industry is, but where it's going? Is the next big thing in solar energy, or wind, or bio-ag or advanced manufacturing? Is it some combination of all of them? That convergence of innovative leadership and exceptional state assets is why I tell everyone who asks that I have the best unelected job in Austin.
The best advice I've received for my current job is: Be patient. Sometimes it takes time for the politics to catch up to the business decision, and sometimes it's the other way around. But eventually they both get to the same point.
Advice I would give a new hire in my office: Always run the numbers, but don't forget to listen to the people. They will give you information that you would never get in a spreadsheet. And, you'll get some wonderful stories, too. Be creative. There is no set way to make a widget, so you are welcome to think out of the box, or just build a new box. Either way, it will change in time.
If I ever snuck out of work early, I could probably be found: out in West Texas at the family ranch, hunting and fishing with my bride or playing golf with The Liars' Club (a group of high school and college friends).
People would be surprised to know that I: was on the Navy Fencing Team for two years. When I got back to A&M after the Navy, half of my friends thought fencing was an elective in the College of Agriculture.
One thing I wish more people knew about my agency: the diversity of tasks and stakeholders in our projects. We do so much more than administer UI. TWC is recognized nationwide as a leader in innovation and delivery of workforce initiatives. The agency is at the table to support technology development (the Emerging Technology Fund was the direct result of the early Cluster recommendations). We design innovative education and training programs that supply the talent to maintain that tradition of the "next big thing" (the Texas Wind Energy Institute was funded by TWC, and will offer degrees and certificates in wind energy throughout the state through Texas Tech and TSTC-Sweetwater). We are closely linked into the economic development process across the state, as are our 28 local workforce development boards. Finally, we have good leadership, a strong vision as an employer-focused agency and we have a pretty good time getting a tough but important job done.
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.
TAMU System gets $50M investment from ETF
Texas A&M University System will benefit from $50 million from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund (ETF) to create the National Center for Therapeutic Manufacturing. The center is being touted as an international destination for research and development of medications to deal with diseases such as cancer, diabetes and influenza and to serve as a model for other national facilities that in the future may have to deal with bio-terror threats and attacks.
"This center will serve as a critical prototype for improving the nation's ability to develop new vaccines and therapeutics in an accelerated and cost-effective manner," said TAMU System Vice Chancellor for Research Brett Giroir (pictured).
The center is expected to develop a "flexible-by-design" manufacturing system, which will allow rapid production of drugs in targeted quantities. This is the opposite of conventional manufacturing plants that only specialize in the mega-production of only one type of drug. The NCTM will become part of a biomedical cluster including the Texas Institute for Genomic Medicine, which is jointly operated by the Texas A&M Health Science Center and TAMU, and the Texas Institute for Pre-Clinical Studies, which is operated by TAMU.
Baylor hospital delayed; Rice, Baylor in merger talks
Trustees of the Baylor College of Medicine this week announced a delay in the construction of the college's hospital. Officials said they were not "abandoning" the hospital, but once the exterior is completed in the spring of 2010, the construction on the interior will be put on hold.
Just one day after making the announcement that the hospital construction would be put on hold, Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine announced they have entered into formal merger negotiations. Both school's presidents announced the two governing boards have signed a memorandum of understanding outlining the broad framework that will guide merger negotiations. "While no decision on a merger has yet been made and many issues remain to be resolved, our boards have concluded that a closer affiliation has abundant potential benefits for both institutions, as well as for our home city of Houston," Rice President David Leebron (left) and Baylor interim President Dr. William Butler (right) said in a statement.
Butler said the decision to "pause" construction of the Baylor hospital was based on "external economic factors." He said the board remains committed to the project. Butler indicated the suspension would likely last several months. Ground was broken for the hospital in 2007. It is intended to be an 11-story, 250-bed facility.
Almost one trillion dollars now flowing to all 50 states
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Fort Sam Houston's Gilman nominated for promotion
Army Brig. Gen. James K. Gilman (pictured), commanding general at Brooke Army Medical Center/Great Plains Regional Medical Command in Fort Sam Houston, has been nominated for promotion to the rank of major general.
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates made the announcement.
FEMA reimburses TCEQ $1.5M for Ike cleanup
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has reimbursed $1,560,647 to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for their role in collecting and handling hazardous materials after Hurricane Ike. About 5,000 containers of potentially dangerous materials were swept into a tidal zone during the storm.
FEMA assumed 100 percent of the project costs, part of a $602 million effort to reimburse the state for its public outreach and assistance following the disaster.
TWC to receive $4.9M for storm cleanup jobs
A total of more than $7 million in grant funds to create 534 temporary jobs in Texas for cleanup of damages following Hurricane Dolly in 2008 was realized when the U.S. Department of Labor sent the state its final $4,900,171 payment this week. The Texas Workforce Commission will receive the grant funds to create the temporary jobs and to assist workers with re-employment.
Texas received funding of $7,350,171 last August and $2.45 million of that was released then, to create 475 jobs related to cleanup and recovery. This public assistance money was approved for jobs in the following counties, which were declared eligible for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Public Assistance Program: Aransas, Bexar, Brooks, Calhoun, Cameron, Hidalgo, Jim Wells, Kenedy, Kleberg, Nueces, Refugio, San Patricio, Starr, Victoria and Willacy.
AISD votes to hire Carstarphen as superintendent
Dr. Meria Carstarphen (pictured), recently named sole finalist for the superintendent position in the Austin Independent School District, this week was hired by AISD to succeed current Superintendent Dr. Pat Forgione. Forgione, who has spent the last 10 years with AISD, is retiring. Carstarphen will assume her new role with AISD on July 1.
"Dr. Carstarphen will serve as the Chief Executive who will oversee a complex urban school District with more than 83,000 students, and an annual budget that now approaches $900 million," said AISD Board President Mark Williams. "These are very tough economic times for taxpayers, school districts and, indeed, all Americans. The Board and Dr. Carstarphen certainly recognize that fact."
Carstarphen has served since 2006 as the superintendent of the St. Paul, Minnesota, Public Schools. "My goal is for this district to turn great challenges into great opportunities for our students," she said of her new position with AISD. "There are great opportunities out there for the children of Austin. Our job is to make sure that all our children have the tools and understanding to make the most of those opportunities.
Child support programs may qualify for funding
Approximately $1 billion in new federal funding for state programs that establish, enforce, collect and distribute child support is being made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The federal government already provides incentive payments to states based on the strength of their child support programs. Under a new provision in the ARRA, these incentive payments will be matched by the federal government, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
This new provision will be effective Oct. 1 of this year through Sept. 30, 2010. This provision reverses one instated in 2005 that ended federal matching funds for the state expenditure of incentive payments. The new funding will be based on state incentive funds used during fiscal years 2009 and 2010 and will be distributed to the states through grant awards based on quarterly expenditures.
Deadline soon for businesses to render property
Texas businesses have until April 15 to render their property with county appraisal districts, reminds State Comptroller Susan Combs. Rendering property includes listing the taxable inventory, furniture and fixtures, machinery and equipment and other property a business owned or managed as of Jan. 1 of this year. If more than one appraisal district appraises a property, the property owner should render in each appraisal district office.
Property owners who need more time to file their renditions may file a written request with the chief appraiser on or before April 15 to receive an automatic extension to May 15. The chief appraiser may also grant an additional 15 days after the May 15 deadline if necessary. Property owners whose property was damaged by storm, flood or fire in 2008 may file a decreased value report that may lower their tax bills.
Combs also reminded owners whose property was damaged by a storm, flood or fire last year that they may file a special decreased value report that could lower their final tax bills. Property owners have until April 15 to file the decreased value report, which indicates their property's condition on Jan. 1, 2009. For more information about rendering property, deadline extensions, penalties and rendition forms, taxpayers may contact their county appraisal district office, e-mail the Comptroller's Property Tax Assistance Division at email@example.com or call the property tax hotline at (800) 252-9121.
Water Development Board announces funding
More than $63.2 million in financial assistance has been announced by the Texas Water Development Board. Funding was approved for the following:
Texas Tech, MCC announce partnership
Central Texans will have more college degree options as a result of a partnership announced this week between Texas Tech University and McLennan Community College (MCC). The pact is aimed at creating new undergraduate and graduate degree options for Central Texas-area residents. They will be offered through the University Center at MCC. These centers allow four-year universities to offer courses on community college campuses.
"I have sensed an air of excitement at MCC and in our community since the beginning of discussions with Texas Tech about the possibility of TTU offering degrees on the MCC campus at the University Center," said Dennis Michaelis (pictured), MCC president. Michaelis said the partnership will allow MCC to expand its degree offerings for Central Texans. The courses will initially be offered through distance learning but future plans include the addition of Texas Tech staff and faculty to the MCC center. MCC students will be allowed to seamlessly transfer course work to Texas Tech. Graduate programs also will be offered.
El Paso approves international bridge study
El Paso City Council has hired an engineering firm to find the best location for a proposed vehicle and pedestrian bridge, which would shorten waits at the city's ports of entry. The city will fund 20 percent of the engineering consultation, totaling $955,353; the federal government will pay the remaining amount.
The tolled international bridge is expected to cost between $100 million and $300 million and may take up to 10 years to build. The proposed bridge will cross the Rio Grande between the Bridge of the Americas and Mexico's Zaragoza Bridge.
The engineering study, which could take up to six months, must be completed before city officials can ask for approval from state or federal agencies.
UTSA announces campus name changes
Richard Romo (pictured), president of The University of Texas at San Antonio, has announced the institution is changing the name of its original campus. The 1604 Campus, which it has been known as since the mid-1990s, will now be known as the UTSA Main Campus. He said the name change reflects the school's transformation from a commuter school to a more traditional university.
In other name changes, UTSA's downtown museum - the Institute of Texan Cultures - will now be known as UTSA HemisFair Park Campus.
Romo also recently designated a 125-acre tract that will house an $84 million athletic complex, the UTSA Park West.
Napolitano calls for border security ramp-up
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano has announced several United States-Mexico border initiatives designed to ramp up security and crack down on Mexican drug cartels. The plan calls for improved communication and coordination with United States and Mexican law enforcement officials, additional personnel and heightened intelligence capabilities.
DHS will redeploy more than 360 additional officers and agents to the border and in Mexico, adding up to a potential cost of $184 million, funded by money realigned from less-urgent activities.
Napolitano has made outreach to border authorities in the past few weeks. Assistant Secretary for State and Local Law Enforcement Ted Sexton is currently visiting border regions, including Brownsville, to meet with authorities.
Eddy retiring from post at UNT Dallas campus
Dan Eddy (pictured), who has served as director of community development at the University of North Texas Dallas campus for more than five years, is giving up that post to take over as vice president of external affairs for the Methodist Health System. His resignation is effective April 30.
Prior to his affiliation with UNT Dallas, Eddy served as director of external affairs for Southwestern Bell Telephone (now AT&T) for more than three decades. He will settle into the newly created position at Methodist and be responsible for creating a governmental affairs and advocacy program for the system. He has served as a member of the system board for the last eight years.
John Ellis Price, vice chancellor of the UNT Dallas Campus and president designate of the future UNT Dallas, said Eddy "has made a monumental contribution to the development of the future UNT Dallas."
UH laboratory planning move to Texas Medical Center
The Laboratory of Integrated Physiology (LIP) of the University of Houston's Department of Health and Human Performance (HHP) is moving to the National Center for Human Performance in the Texas Medical Center.
"This opens the door to other investigators within the Medical Center who are working in similar areas of motor behavior," said Charles Layne (pictured), professor and department chair. "This is the culmination of years of work and marks the beginning of a new era in research for UH and for HHP."
The LIP, the first occupant at the center, is a fully equipped human performance, physiology, biochemistry laboratory that includes testing and analyses, ranging from the cellular and molecular levels up to the organ and systems levels. The cross-disciplinary expertise among the LIP researchers allows integrated study of the musculo-skeletal, cardiovascular, nervous and immune systems using biochemical, physiological and engineering approaches.
TAMU regents considering appointments
The Texas A&M University Board of Regents will continue their meeting today on the College Station campus. According to the posted agenda, the regents were to meet in executive session to consider appointments of the following: dean of the College of Agriculture and Human Sciences, Prairie View A&M University; vice president for institutional advancement, Tarleton State University; academic dean, Tarleton-Central Texas; dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Education, A&M-Texarkana; vice president for clinical affairs, Texas A&M Health Science Center; director for the Texas Engineering Experiment Station; and possible appointment of general counsel for the A&M System.
The two-day agenda for the meeting that began Thursday also involves hearing reports on system construction projects and consideration of the following requests: advancing the start date to FY 2009 for the renovation of the athletic/intramural facilities, West Texas A&M University; beginning construction of the new agriculture headquarters building and visitor center, Texas A&M; and acquiring 672 acres of land at Fort Hood for the future campus of Texas A&M University-Central Texas.
The board was also scheduled to hear a report on the current legislative session, foundation reports from Texas A&M University-Texarkana and Texas A&M University-Commerce and a report on a voluntary system of accountability for system members. A new Bachelor of Arts degree program in women's and gender studies at Texas A&M was to be considered as was approval of new mission statements, tables of programs and tuition and fees schedules for Tarleton State University System Center-Central Texas and Texas A&M University-Kingsville System Center-San Antonio to submit to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
Carlson, McKeehan team up at TAMHSC institute
Dr. David S. Carlson (left), vice president for research and graduate studies at the Texas A&M Health Science Center, has been named interim director of the HSC-Institute of Biosciences and Technology in Houston. He replaces Dr. Robert Schwartz, who is leaving to devote more time to his lab and research. Additionally, Dr. Wallace McKeehan (right) has been named executive associate director of the Institute.
Carlson, the former chair of biomedical sciences and associate dean for research and advanced education at the HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry, will provide oversight for the Institute. McKeehan will continue to serve as the J.S. Dunn Professor and director of the Center for Cancer and Stem Cell Biology in addition to his new responsibilities as the executive associate director.
The HSC-Institute of Biosciences and Technology is housed within the Texas Medical Center in Houston. HSC-Institute of Biosciences and Technology researchers collaborate extensively with scientists and clinicians in institutions throughout the Texas Medical Center on research that will lead to cures for cancer, heart failure, stroke, birth defects, bacterial infections and hereditary diseases.
Harris County weighs closing Ben Taub children's unit
The Harris County Hospital District is considering closing pediatric care at Ben Taub General Hospital due to a lack of beds for adult patients entering the emergency room.
The district plans to issue a proposal soon addressing the new for more adult beds in addition to a low census of child patients. Options include consolidating pediatric services with Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital, according to district President David Lopez.
The decision to possibly close Ben Taub Hospital has drawn ire from some who insist now is not the time to cutback on children's health care services. Ben Taub serves as a safety net for the estimated 200,000 uninsured children in the area.
UTPA names new chief of police for campus
Roger Lee Stearns (pictured) has been selected to serve as new Chief of Police for The University of Texas-Pan American Police Department.
Stearns previously served as police major at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., where he oversaw 60 commissioned officers and three patrol precincts beginning in January 2007. Stearns holds a bachelor's degree from American Military University in Manassas, Va., where he is working on his master's degree. He has received a professional certificate from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) National Academy in addition to other recognitions and honors. He is a graduate of The University of Texas Police Academy.
TPWD seeks license, boat fee increases
License and boat registration and titling fees could jump from $2 to $4 if the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission approves a proposed 5 percent across-the-board increase at its May meeting.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials note that the last license fee increase was in 2004, saying that the current proposed increase is necessary to address "critical needs." They said that operational costs have increased an average of 6.1 percent since 2004 and fund balances are falling. An increase of 10-15 percent was originally considered, but the current national and state economic situation resulted in scaling back that number. Officials say the proposed 5 percent increase will only be sufficient to maintain current levels of service.
If the proposal is approved, hunting license fees will increase from $23 to $25 and all-inclusive licenses will go from $64-$68. Fishing packages would increase $2. Biennial boat registration for vessels less than 16 feet in length would increase from $30 to $32 and those in the 16-26 foot range would go from $50 to $53. Larger vessels would increase more significantly.
Lamar University alum, wife donate $6M to school
Lamar University alumnus Dan F. Smith and his wife, Sandra, (both pictured) have announced a $6 million gift to his alma mater. The donation will help support LU's College of Engineering, of which Smith is an advisory board member, and the university's efforts to reinstate its football team.
The chemical engineering department at LU will be rechristened the Dan F. Smith Department of Chemical Engineering as a result of the $5 million gift from the Houston couple.
The remaining $1 million gift will be geared toward reestablishing the university football team, set to begin playing a full exhibition schedule in 2010 and conference play in 2011. The renovated press box at the football stadium will be named after the couple and include a presidential booth, kitchenette and 32-seat media center, among other features.
El Paso military base to receive stimulus funds
Military facilities in El Paso and New Mexico are set to receive nearly $36 million in federal stimulus funds, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, for projects expected to stimulate the regional economy.
In El Paso, Fort Bliss National Cemetery will receive $1.2 million for infrastructure repairs, and the El Paso Veterans Affairs Health Care System will receive $2.7 million for repairs and energy efficiency upgrades.
Texas cities share $42M for foreclosure issues
U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan has approved more than $42 million to recover Texas neighborhoods from the effects of high foreclosures and declining home values as part of an overall $731 million, 48-state initiative. The plan will allocate emergency assistance to neighborhoods at risk of abandonment and blight by acquiring and redeveloping foreclosed properties.
Governments can use the grants to procure property, demolish or rehabilitate abandoned properties and/or offer down payment and closing-cost assistance to low- to moderate-income homebuyers.
The counties and cities in Texas set to receive funds include: Dallas County ($4,405,482 ); Fort Bend County ($2,796,177); Garland ($2,040,196); Grand Prairie ($2,267,290 ); Harris County ($14,898,027); Houston ($13,542,193); and Mesquite ($2,083,933).
San Antonio City Council rebuffs BRAC PR campaign
After San Antonio City Council batted down a public relations campaign highlighting benefits of changes wrought by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), losing council members took the proposal to Bexar County commissioners instead.
Councilwoman Sheila McNeil (pictured) said the PR campaign is essential because San Antonio residents need to know how to benefit from the 12,000 jobs headed to the city because of BRAC.
A total of $8 million from the city's budget and from leftover bond money had already been earmarked for the project, which McNeil referred to as necessary.
HUD grants nearly $600K to St. Mary's University
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has granted $596,794 to St. Mary's University to help revitalize west-side neighborhoods in San Antonio.
The funds, part of HUD's Hispanic Serving Institutions Assisting Communities Program, will allow the university to establish a One-Stop Neighborhood Revitalization Center on campus, among other ventures. The center will provide neighborhood residents with assistance and counseling for home ownership and repair, economic development and small business assistance.
The grant comes as a result of the collaborative effort of St. Mary's University Neighborhood Revitalization Task Force, chaired by St. Mary's alumnus Ramiro Cavazos, San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO.
Houston action could affect contracting
Houston City Council is set to approve a legal settlement eliminating special contracts for women-owned businesses in a move that could potentially set back female contractors.
If approved, the settlement would end a 1996 federal lawsuit alleging the city's affirmative action program discriminated against white business owners.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes gave Houston until April 3 to take some form of action, while the council could vote as early as next week. Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck (pictured), who said she favors helping "small and disadvantaged businesses," said she would vote against the settlement.
San Antonio due $27.1M in military upgrades
The Pentagon plans to spend $726.5 million in stimulus funds in Texas, including $27.1 million for San Antonio bases. Randolph Air Force Base is set to receive $18.4 million, followed by Lackland AFB with $6 million and Kelly Field Annex with $2.7 million.
Officials at Randolph AFB, an advanced pilot training base, plan to repair airfield pavement, base roads, water mains and other infrastructure. Roof repairs and dormitory maintenance are slated for Lackland AFB, and Kelly Field officials will fund aircraft-hangar and runway repairs with the money.
In all, more than $7.4 billion has been set aside in stimulus funds for defense-related spending and $5.9 billion for military construction projects to upgrade and improve facilities.
OAG, city attorney shut down fake APD Twitter account
The Office of the Attorney General and the Austin City Attorney's office have worked to shut down a fake Austin Police Department Twitter account featuring fictitious updates about APD activities and statuses. Twitter, a free social networking and blogging Web site, allows users to send and read other users' updates.
Although some may dismiss the false reporting of official APD duties as a prank, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo (pictured) said, "the fact is that the information presented was false and misleading, and could lead to unwarranted concern by the public." Attorney General Greg Abbott echoed Acevedo's statement.
"Impersonating authorities and posting false information about law enforcement activities poses real problems for both peace officers and citizens," Abbott said.
Houston Metro loses stimulus funds for rail lines
Metro leaders in Houston will not be using federal stimulus funds for two rail lines (North and Southeast) as planned.
Federal transit authority figures instead plan to shift the funds toward a high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane conversion (transforming the lane into a toll road for solo motorists), as Metro's request did not satisfy federal scheduling requirements. A use-it-or-lose-it provision requires 50 percent of the stimulus funds be obligated by Sept. 1.
Meanwhile Harris County leaders are in overdrive mode to meet pressing federal deadlines for Grand Parkway, the proposed $181 million, 185-mile loop that would extend around Houston. The project has been under consideration for more than two decades.
Erickson named SHSU communications director
Bruce Erickson (pictured), former associate vice president for university communications and marketing at California State University, Fullerton, is the new director of communications at Sam Houston State University. He brings to his new post more than 30 years of experience in managing communications departments at higher education institutions.
Erickson also previously served as executive director for marketing and communication at Wichita State University in Kansas, as director of public relations at California State University, Northridge, and as director of university relations at The University of Texas-Pan American.
Erickson, who holds bachelor's and master's degree from The University of Kansas, will begin his new duties at SHSU on April 1.
Abilene police to acquire new robot to disarm explosives
The Abilene Police Department will acquire a new military-grade robot and a new vehicle for its bomb squad using a grant from the West Central Texas Council of Governments and the Governor's Division of Emergency Management.
The price tag is $440,000 for the new robot and vehicle for the four-man bomb squad that serves 19 area counties, said Ken Merchant, the assistant chief of the Abilene Police Department. The robot, which will replace an old robot that no longer meets FBI standards for certification, weighs about 500 pounds and is controlled by radio and fiber optics, said Lt. Tracy Weems, commander of the bomb squad. The group responds primarily to calls when dynamite or other explosives are found in farm fields and to calls involving improvised explosive devices, suspicious packages and unexploded ordinance from Dyess Air Force base.
The new robot has a color surveillance camera and an arm and gripper to allow it to open doors, lift objects and pick up packages. The new robot will allow the squad to more safely respond to the 12 to 24 calls for service it receives each year because it allows technicians to work from a greater distance, Weems said. A new vehicle is needed for the robot and the four-member squad because the van currently used is not designated for the bomb squad and must be loaded with equipment before responding to a call, Weems said.
St. Mary's names Singh new business school dean
Tanuja Singh (pictured) has been named dean of St. Mary's University Bill Greehey School of Business with a charge to improve the business school's standards. She will serve as the school's first female dean beginning July 1, replacing interim dean Orion "Jim" Welch.
Singh, chairman of the Northern Illinois University marketing department, holds both a bachelor's and master's degree from the University of Allahabad in India and a doctoral degree from Southern Illinois University.
At NIU's College of Business, Singh developed the prototype for the Center of Excellence in Global Business and conducted training for the first international executive education program there. She has served at NIU since 1996.
DHS aide sent to examine drug cartel threats
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has sent top aide Edmund Ted Sexton, DHS assistant secretary for State and Local Enforcement, to the Texas-Mexico border region to assess drug threats posed by Mexican drug cartels.
A DHS spokesperson said Sexton is meeting with state and local police to "understand their particular situation in regards to border violence," adding the secretary's background as a law enforcement official positions him for the job.
The first stop on Sexton's list was El Paso, located across the border from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where the drug cartel conflict resulted in 1,600 deaths last year. He is also expected to visit Brownsville.
UTEP to host U.S. Senate committee meeting
The University of Texas at El Paso will host a hearing of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday, March 30. The hearing will examine United States-Mexico border violence.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry, who chairs the committee, said the committee will explore ways the United States and Mexico can work together to combat the drug-related violence along the border.
"As a major contributor to this region's human and economic development, UTEP is very pleased to have this opportunity to welcome to our campus this distinguished group of national leaders whose firsthand acquaintance with our region will serve to inform their deliberations and, ultimately, help shape this region's future," said UTEP President Diana Natalicio (pictured).
League City looking at proposed $289M town center
League City officials are currently studying a recommendation that the city build a new $289 million town center to house the public library, police station and city hall. The recommendation followed a year-long facilities study by an architectural firm the council hired in 2007.
The study proposed that the new town center would use the existing city complex and 25 acres of city-owned land across the street and would also house a new municipal courthouse, a recreation center with a swimming pool and a civic center.
Councilman Tommy Cones, however, noted that replacing the existing city hall complex with all new buildings would be a tough sell to voters because the existing buildings are only about 40 years old and the police station was just renovated in 2003. The architect, however, noted that it would cost $73 million to renovate the city's existing facilities and that the current city hall is overcrowded and deteriorating and is not a good candidate for renovation.
Edgewood ISD to close Truman middle school campus
Truman Middle School, part of the Edgewood Independent School District, will close in two years. Trustees and administrators said their decision to close the school is based on declining enrollment, a problem facing urban districts across the state.
To allow this year's sixth-grade students to finish their middle school tenures, the campus will not close until the 2010-2011 school year. The original plan was to close the campus at the end of this school year. Superintendent Elizabeth Garza (pictured) said the revision allowed school officials to meet parents halfway.
"(Parents) understood the dilemma that we had as a school district and our need to close a campus," Garza said. "They were willing to work with us."
TCEQ grant to help San Juan to build wetlands trail
San Juan city officials hope to break ground soon on a 7.5-acre wetland area with a goal of attracting the ecotourism market and helping to preserve the area's unique environment.
The wetland project is being paid for with a $836,000 grant from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said Miki McCarthy of the San Juan Economic Development Corp. The wetland site, located behind the city's parks and recreation building near Hall Acres Road, will feature nature trails and boardwalks across six different wetland areas of different depths, each of which attracts different plants and animal life, she said.
San Juan officials are working with the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership, whose goal is to improve environmental quality. San Benito, Mercedes and La Feria also plan to build wetlands as part of their regional efforts, McCarthy said. Wetlands remove pollutants naturally from water through chemical and biological processes. Once the new facility is completed, San Juan's treated wastewater will be pumped into the wetlands rather than being discharged into the Arroyo Colorado watershed. Water passing through the wetlands will lose between 80 to 90 percent of nutrients while the treatment plan removes only about 50 percent of the nutrients which can have a negative impact on the watershed.
Dallas bridge construction project moving forward
The City of Dallas and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have announced plans to move forward with the construction of Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, thanks to a four-year, 404 permit extension, which will allow construction to continue. Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert said soon everyone will be able to see "the impressive display of this arch rising over the Trinity River." Construction is expected to be complete by spring 2011.
Portions of the bridge's steel arch and supporting girders have arrived in the Port of Houston from Italy. In the accompanying photo, the first shipment of steel for the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge arrives aboard the Pantanal.
The bridge, designed by world renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, will feature six lanes connecting Singleton Boulevard to Woodall Rodgers Freeway, a 400-foot central arch pylon, 1,200-foot-long bridge span and more than five miles of supporting cable.
Beaumont ISD has grow-your-own teacher plan
Beaumont Independent School District's board of trustees has passed a measure allowing the district to hire their own high school graduates (who have earned teaching certificates in math or science from an accredited university) to return and teach in what has been dubbed a grow-your-own program.
The students would receive a small financial incentive of $5,000 upon their employment in these sought-after fields, according to the district. The base salary for a first-year teacher is $40,000.
The program's benefit is two-fold. Besides addressing a staffing shortage, David Harris, assistant superintendent for secondary schools, said the grow-your-own approach allows for higher expectations and greater enthusiasm on the part of the students who return to the district to teach.
City of Tyler secures $8.6M for veterans facility
The City of Tyler has secured $8.6 million for a 160-bed Veterans Affairs extended care facility as part of the impending stimulus expenditure plan that totals more than $17 million. The City of Houston also received funds for an extended care facility.
Dr. Kirk Calhoun, president of The University of Texas Health Science Center-Tyler (UTHSCT), said he has fought for several years to bring the project to fruition. UTHSCT and the Tyler Economic Development Corporation both approved the donation of 20 acres of land in 2002, when a bid for a VA nursing home was first proposed.
The facility, which will be located on Highway 155 west of Texas 271, will house veterans who are unable to live independently, Calhoun said.
Andrews County proposing bond for disposal site
Andrews County commissioners recently called a $75 million bond election for May 9 to help pay for construction of a low-level radioactive waste disposal site. If voters approve the bonds, a private company will be able to borrow money from the county with the advantage of the county's credit rating to finance completion of the waste disposal facility.
The company will reimburse the county for the election expenses and fees for the bond attorneys, said a spokesman for the waste disposal company. The project may be delayed indefinitely if voters reject the bond proposal, as the company is currently unable to secure financing for the project. Under an agreement to be finalized before the bond election, the county is awarded $75 million in stock in the waste disposal company and $75 million in stock from its parent company, with the stock being held in escrow for the county so it can be drawn upon if the company is unable to make payments.
Plans call for the facility to have 75 full-time employees by the end of 2009 and create another 60 permanent jobs in the future. State legislation that allowed the company to build the facility in Andrews County stipulates the county and state are each to receive 5 percent of the revenue earned by the disposal facility or about $3 to $ million each from revenue sharing. The company recently received a license by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to dispose of low-level radioactive waste from Vermont and Texas at the Andrews County facility.
Navasota takes first place achievement award, cash
The City of Navasota and the Keep Navasota Beautiful Commission have earned a first place Governor's Community Achievement Award from Keep Texas Beautiful. The award was in recognition of having the best grassroots environmental program in the state for the city's population size. As a result, the city now qualifies for $75,000 in landscaping money from the Texas Department of Transportation for keeping all segments of the community involved in beautification efforts.
"We proudly placed second in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008," said Navasota Mayor Bert Miller (pictured). "Our community will now benefit from first place which brings with it some money to spend on improvements."
Sarah Korpita, Recreation Manager for the City of Navasota, worked with the city's nine-member Keep Navasota Beautiful Commission to plan many of the beautification projects and put together the information for the award entry. The city will now join other cities throughout the state in participating in the 2009 Don't Mess With Texas Trash-Off on Saturday, April 4, from 9 a.m. until noon.
Mineral Wells stalls action on new detention facility
Following concerns expressed by neighboring property and business owners about a proposed detainee facility for the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Mineral Wells city council members recently delayed action on a request for a specific use permit to build the proposed $50 million facility near the airport.
The Mineral Wells Area Industrial Foundation owns the 61.71-acre tract site for the facility and has offered to sell the land for $1 per acre to the company that will operate the facility for ICE. The proposed ICE facility is expected to generate up to $1 million annually in tax receipts for Mineral Wells and Parker Counties, said Steve Butcher of the Mineral Wells Industrial Foundation. Several residents, however, expressed concerns over the impact on the value of property located near the facility, while others questioned its effect on the neighboring airport. A business owner near the proposed facility said he might reconsider plans to rebuild a portion of his 72,000-square-foot facility if the permit for the detention center is approved.
A spokesman for the company building the proposed ICE facility said it is a high-security building designed to eliminate the possibility of escape. It would have teams to contain any riots, a 200-yard buffer zone with 12-foot fences as well as cameras and security guards.
Concordia awarded grant for nursing program
The RGK Foundation this week announced it is awarding a $350,000 grant to Concordia University Texas to support the university's Nursing Program by providing funding for nursing faculty and start-up costs. Concordia last year announced its Baccalaureate of Science in Nursing Program and, once approved, hopes to admit junior-level students to its nursing program by fall 2010.
Concordia last year hired Dr. Joy Hinson Penticuff, RN (pictured), formerly an endowed professor of nursing at The University of Texas at Austin, as Director of Nursing Program Planning. "Texas faces an increasing shortage of health care professionals and our booming population numbers challenge us to answer this problem quickly and decisively," Penticuff said. "We believe the concept of joining with a major health care provider, as well as other higher education institutions will create a unique and cost-effective system to increase the number of nurses graduating in Texas." Concordia's Nursing Program is being developed in conjunction with the Clinical Education Center at Brackenridge, a member of the Seton Family of Hospitals, The University of Texas at Austin and Austin Community College.
Concordia plans to add two nursing faculty members this year and an additional two in 2010 to begin serving the BSN candidates in preparation for program approval in the fall of 2010.
Sugar Land approves $2M highway landscaping
The Sugar Land City Council has approved more than $2 million to improve landscaping along Highway 90A as part of an agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation.
The beautification effort, slated to begin this spring, will occur just as the city's public works department installs new street lights in the medians along the highway.
Once the project is finished, the city will be responsible for maintaining the landscaping, which will stretch from Highway 6 to the Southwest Freeway.
El Paso weighs towing for no liability insurance
El Paso City Council members will vote later this spring whether to pass a proposed measure to tow vehicles of drivers who lack liability insurance. The move would position El Paso as the first U.S.-Mexico border city to adopt such a measure. Las Cruces, N.M., Dallas and Albuquerque, N.M., already have the rule on their books.
East-Valley city Rep. Eddie Holguin (pictured) said the council needs to tailor the issue to border-community needs. "We are not Albuquerque," he said, adding the council should be mindful of "how this ordinance is going to affect people here." Specifically, he addressed concerns regarding the legality of impounding foreign-owned vehicles.
About 6 percent of the 51,238 citations handed out in El Paso last year went to drivers with Mexico license plates.
Jacksonville to move forward on delayed city hall project
Following almost a year of delay, architectural plans for a new 20,000-square-foot, $2.2 million city hall in Jacksonville should be ready for city council review on April 14, said City Manager Mo Raissi (pictured).
While the mayor cited his concern that construction plans for the city hall were expected last December and suggested city officials schedule regular weekly meetings to check on status of the new city hall, Raissi said the architect said current plans are almost ready. The new one-story facility will house the municipal court, personnel office, finance office and council chambers.
Part of the delay, Raissi said, was council's decision to hire its own contractors to handle the audio-visual equipment, telephones, alarm systems and electronic locks with a goal of saving money. The architect had to work with those groups to incorporate their work into the final design, he said. If council approves the architect's designs, the bidding process can begin almost immediately and construction could start in June. The new city hall should be completed in June 2010.
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Texas Lyceum plans April public conference
The Texas Lyceum's 24th Public Conference, "The 2009 Stimulus Package: What's in it (or not) for Texas," will be held Friday, April 3, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the AT&T Executive Conference Center on The University of Texas campus. Among the invited speakers are Paul Hobby, deputy chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Ray Perryman of the Perryman Group and former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey. Among the topics will be a federal view of the stimulus package, next steps and how the stimulus will affect the state budget. To view the agenda, click here. To register, click here.
SETAPP to host conference for public purchasers
The Southeast Texas Association of Public Purchasers (SETAPP), the local chapter of NIGP (National Association of Governmental Purchasers), will host the 2009 Lone Star conference for public purchasers the week of May 3-6 in Galveston. Keynote speaker on Monday will be Nancy Brooks, director for procurement at Iowa State University. The conference will also feature a variety of breakout sessions regarding topics from construction project delivery methods to disaster recovery. For program, registration and hotel information, click here.
DIR to host Power to Purchase Technology Expo
The Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) will host the Power to Purchase Technology Expo on Thursday, April 30, at the Palmer Events Center in Austin. The Expo is free to all government and public entity personnel and will feature leading technology products and services. The Expo is customized for state, local and education sectors and will bring together DIR-contracted technology vendors and show public entities how to maximize their buying power through DIR information and communications technology contracts. Breakout sessions will be offered regarding ICT Contracts training, new products and services on contract, emerging technology and other technology issues. Attendees can earn continuing education credit. For more information and to register, click here.
National Hurricane Conference slated in April
The 2009 National Hurricane Conference, the nation's forum for education and professional training in hurricane preparedness, is slated for April 6-10 at the Austin Convention Center. The event will feature workshops, training sessions, exhibits and an awards banquet. Nearly two-dozen emergency response agencies and organizations will participate and provide a national forum for federal, state and local officials to exchange ideas and recommend new policies to improve emergency management as it relates to hurricane preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation to save lives. Attendees will discuss lessons learned from previous hurricanes, hear information on state-of-the-art programs, hear about new ideas being tested or considered and receive information from assistance programs. For more information, click here. For registration information, 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 next briefings will be held April 15 and 16 in Odessa. For more information, click here. To register online, click here.