|Volume 7, Issue 20 · Friday, May 22, 2009|
TSTC makes global history with virtual world classroom
Shannon first to graduate from vTSTC with academic certification
Julie Shannan's (below left) recent graduation from Virtual Texas State Technical College (vTSTC) marks a once in a (Second) Life opportunity.
Shannan became the first-ever student in the state, the nation and the world to earn an accredited academic certification via Second Life, the three-dimensional, computer-animated "virtual" world maintained by its 18 million worldwide users.
vTSTC, housed entirely within Second Life, allows students and instructors to interact as avatars (animated facsimiles of participants like the one at left) from the comfort of their home, according to Chris Gibson (bottom right), associate vice president of Educational Technology at TSTC.
Shannan's certificate from vTSTC's digital media design program will prepare her for a career in the competitive field of graphic design. She said the program has allowed her experiences she would not have been privy to at a traditional college or university.
"In my second life, I have explored the inside of computers and servers, collaborated with people across the world, traveled to world-class art museums...explored a tsunami from the ocean floor," she said during her commencement address.[more]
Track contracting opportunities with SPI's newsletter
Looking for government contracting opportunities? The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is providing plenty - and at all levels of government. Already three months into the distribution of the funding, more than 90 percent still remains to be allocated.
The State & Local Government Pipeline, Strategic Partnerships, Inc.'s free weekly online newsletter, is providing information every Wednesday on how much money is available, where it's going and how it will be spent. SPI's veteran research team is tracking the money as it flows to all 50 states.
The State & Local Government Pipeline each week offers information on how states are spending their funding, what new announcements of allocations and available grant funding have been made available, links to detailed information on the different types of funding available and a column by SPI President and CEO Mary Scott Nabers.
This week, Nabers' column offers advice to contractors about getting the jump on stimulus projects by talking early in the process to the decision-makers who will be responsible for spending stimulus dollars.
The publication not only will address the economic stimulus funding, but also covers national trends, budget updates and breaking news.
The public sector marketplace is growing at an historic pace and with a $787 billion infusion of federal funds, it becomes a marketplace too large for almost any company to ignore. The procurement consultants, researchers and public affairs professionals at SPI are positioned well to expand the company's operations and the State & Local Government Pipeline is a good source of valuable information for both veterans of selling to the public sector and newcomers.
To read this week's edition and to subscribe for your free copy of the State & Local Government Pipeline, click here.
Texas cities trying to beat red-light camera ban
Pending legislation would ban lights until contracts end
Officials in Arlington, Baytown and Southlake, along with several other Texas cities, are taking steps to ensure that red-light cameras will continue operating in their cities even if proposed legislation to ban the red-light cameras is adopted by the Texas Legislature.
Because the proposed legislation currently allows cities to keep the cameras until their contract expires, the Arlington City Council recently authorized city staff to sign a contract that should allow the red-light cameras to operate there through 2027. Councilman Mel LeBlanc (left) said he supported the extension because the cameras are a public safety benefit to Arlington and that it is the city's business to decide how to enforce traffic.
Moving even faster, Southlake city officials recently signed a 15-year contract with the firm operating that city's red-light cameras. Baytown City Council members are considering adding 25 new red-light cameras. Baytown City Manager City Manager Garry Brumback (right) said the city is currently issuing an average of 3,500 citations each month and has experienced no fatalities at the intersections where the red-light cameras are located.
And Houston, whose red-light camera contract expires in 2012, is also exploring extending its contract so that the 70 red-light cameras in that city can continue to operate even if the proposed legislation is adopted. The proposed budget in Houston indicates the city expects to receive about $14.6 million in revenue from the red-light cameras in fiscal year 2010 and the Houston Police Department plans to hire 25 new police officers with part of that money.
Mark Majek, operations director, Texas Board of Nursing
Career highlights and education: I have served as the Operations Director for the Texas Board of Nursing since Sept. 29, 1987, overseeing the human resource, finance, licensing and information technology functions of the agency. I have an undergraduate degree from The University of Texas at Austin in political science and Czech and a graduate degree from Corpus Christi State University in business and communications. I have served as the chair of the Texas State Human Resources Association and the Texas Small State Agency Task Force, a position I currently hold. I also served as a board member for the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.
What I like best about my job is: Working for a person who leads by example and is one of the finest individuals I know.
The best advice I've received for my current job is: Personal agendas are transparent and destroy honest communication.
Advice I would give a new hire in my office: Focus on the agency mission and everything else will follow. Also, breathe before your speak!
If I ever snuck out of work early, I could probably be found: watching a Star Trek or Star Wars movie.
People would be surprised to know that I: studied at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, and love to polka dance.
Book, magazine or newspaper article I've read recently that really influenced my thinking: I have read The Shack by William P. Young several times and have a whole new perspective on unconditional forgiveness both in my personal and public life.
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.
Stimulus money could help rebuild Governor's Mansion
Some of the federal stimulus money coming to the state may be used to rebuild the Texas Governor's Mansion. The mansion suffered millions in damages as a result of an arson fire last June. Legislative budget writers have included in their biennial budget proposal some $11 million in stimulus funds to help rebuild the historic structure.
The money was put into the budget by a conference committee and still must pass both houses and then must have the signature of the governor before the appropriations bill becomes law. Since the fire, the governor has been living in a more than $9,000 per month rental home paid for by the state.
Comptroller marks Energy Star Sales Tax Holiday
Consumers stand to save big this weekend as Texas marks its second annual Energy Star Sales Tax Holiday, according to the State Comptroller's Office. The event, designed to promote energy-efficient appliances that will help lower utility bills and stymie harmful environmental impact, allows shoppers to save sales tax on some household appliances and equipment bearing the Energy Star label.
Consumers are expected to save about $3 million in state and local sales taxes overall.
Items in the sale include: air conditioners priced less than $6,000, refrigerators priced less than $2,000, ceiling fans, dishwashers, dehumidifiers and programmable thermostats, among others.
To subscribe to the State & Local Government Pipeline, SPI's free national electronic weekly newsletter focusing on federal economic stimulus bill funding and other government news and contracting opportunities, click here.
Legislature passes bill approving new DMV agency
To streamline vehicle registrations in the state, the Texas Legislature has approved the creation of a new agency - the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.
The measure, which transfers resignations and three other functions away from the Texas Department of Transportation, does not transfer vehicle inspection and drivers licensure from the embattled Texas Department of Public Safety, which lawmakers had previously threatened.
If signed into law by the governor, the new agency will also include a Motor Carrier Division, the Automobile and Vehicle Theft Prevention Division and a Motor Vehicle Division. Officials expect the agency to cost about $600,000 a year to operate.
TPWD now offers online registration for vessels
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is reminding Texas boaters to register and have titles for their boats and outboard-motor vehicles.
Current boat registration fees range from $30 to $90 per vehicle. Registration and titling fees are proposed to increase Sept. 1.
Boaters can now renew their registration online via the TPWD Web site. Online users can also update their address and order additional ID cards.
THECB grants approval to nursing cooperative program
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has granted approval to Texas Woman's University and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to offer a cooperative doctoral degree in nursing.
Dr. Pat Holden-Huchton, dean of the TWU College of Nursing, said the venture shares knowledge, resources and expertise from both universities. "The true beneficiaries of this partnership are nurses in South Texas who wish to pursue their doctorate," she said.
The program, slated to begin the approaching fall semester, will offer a mix of online, televideo and traditional classes taught by TWU faculty.
Keith Parker named VIA's new chief executive officer
Keith Parker (pictured), chief executive of the Charlotte Area Transit System, was hired this week as president and CEO of San Antonio's VIA Metropolitan Transit. His five-year contract begins July 1.
Parker became head of the Charlotte operation in 2007. During his tenure at that transit authority, Parker helped usher in a nationally acclaimed light rail system. San Antonio failed to pass a light rail initiative years ago, but leaders have talked of bringing the issue to voters again.
While in Charlotte, he was responsible for the city's transit system, which includes buses and the light rail line.
Baylor University picks Stone as new board chairman
Baylor University Board of Regents has named R. Dary Stone (pictured) to replace Howard Batson as board chairman along with the placement of four other new regents.
The new committee members, who will replace outgoing regents, include: Ronald Dean Murff, senior executive vice president and CFO of a Dallas-based financial group; David Harlan Harper, partner/attorney with a Dallas-based law firm; Robert Beauchamp, president and CEO of a software company based in Houston; and Kathy Wills Wright, president of a Virginia-based educational foundation.
The Baptist General Convention of Texas has appointed a fifth regent, Linda Jean Brian, assistant director at an educational resource center in Amarillo.
TAMU-San Antonio moves toward stand-alone status
A stand-alone Texas A&M University campus looks to be in the works for San Antonio's south side. The Texas Legislature recently freed up $40 million in tuition revenue bonds for construction by lowering the enrollment threshold from 1,500 students to 1,000 students, a figure the seed campus (a system center run by A&M-Kingsville) hit this spring. The move will allow the campus to become an independent university and apply for accreditation.
The bill now goes to the Governor's Office, where it has previously been vetoed.
According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, it is inefficient to build a university with fewer than 3,500 students. Undeterred by critics who say the state doesn't have the money to fund start-up universities, A&M System officials are looking to break ground on the campus, located on 700 acres south of Loop 410, early next year.
Corpus Christi port to extend security patrols
Texas legislators recently approved a bill to allow the Port of Corpus Christi to extend its security patrols to the Corpus Christi ship channel, the inner harbor and adjoining waterways, including part of the inter-coastal canal. South Texas lawmakers sought the authorization when the U.S. Coast Guard stopped patrolling waterways managed by the Corpus Christi Port Authority in October 2008.
In the past, the port's security efforts were confined to land areas, said Port Commissioner Kenneth Berry (pictured). Berry described the legislation as historic because state leaders recognized that security of the port's waterways is critical to homeland security and economic development.
Port officials have budgeted for a new Port Security Marine Enforcement Division to deter threats and currently plan to acquire three boats with a crew of 24 to 30 to patrol port waterways 24 hours a day each day of the year to emulate the U.S. Coast Guard, Berry said. To adequately cover the area, the port will need about five boats with a crew of 40 to 50. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has provided intermittent patrols in the port's waterways since October.
UTHSC-Dallas, UTSMC-Tyler receive stimulus funds
The University of Texas Health Center in Dallas and The University of Texas Southwest Medical Center in Tyler are poised to receive awards from a $3.3 million dollar grant program funding research for two common, but difficult-to-treat lung diseases.
The grants, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, have been awarded to 22 institutions through the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health.
NHLBI Director Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel said the investments not only benefit communities by creating jobs "but also enable us to gain a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms that make these common diseases so very difficult to treat."
Lamar University names new director of planned giving
Floyd McSpadden Jr. (pictured) has been selected to serve as Lamar University's director of planned giving, part of its advancement division, beginning June 1. In his new charge, he will manage the planned giving outreach to university constituents and serve as liaison to the institution's Heritage Society.
A member of the state bar since 1973, McSpadden practices as an attorney specializing in estate planning, probate, business entity formations, business planning and real estate at a Beaumont-based firm. He has served as president of the Lamar University Foundation.
McSpadden holds a bachelor's degree from Southwestern University and a juris doctorate from Southern Methodist University.
Baylor ramps up budget despite economic downturn
Baylor University Board of Regents has approved a 7.4 percent increase in the school's budget for the 2009-2010 school year in the face of a national economic struggle.
The budget - up from $362 million to $389 million - allows for a near $11 million increase in merit- and need-based scholarships and graduate assistantships.
Board Chairman Howard Batson, who said the university is experiencing "a season of financial health" officials are not taking for granted, said much of the budget increase will come from tuition costs.
Texas Tech appoints interim College of Education dean
Charles P. Ruch (pictured), retired president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, has been selected to serve as interim dean of Texas Tech University's College of Education, beginning June 1.
Ruch previously served as president of Boise State University for 10 years in addition to charges as provost and vice president for academic affairs, and as dean of the College of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University.
He holds a bachelor's degree from the College of Wooster, and a master's and doctoral degree from Northwestern University.
EPA awards more than $1.8M in stimulus funds to TCEQ
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has allocated $1,809,700 to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The stimulus dollars will be used to improve water quality and create jobs. A total of $39 million in Water Quality Management Planning (WQMP) grants will be awarded to states nationally.
EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said the Recovery Act investments "are meeting urgent needs for economic growth" as well as protecting human health and the environment by providing green jobs.
Formanowicz chairs UT System Faculty Advisory Council
Dr. Daniel R. Formanowicz (pictured), a biology professor at The University of Texas at Arlington, has been selected to serve as chairman of the UT System Faculty Advisory Council for the 2010-2011 academic year. In his new role as one of two UT Arlington representatives on the committee, he will help make recommendations on faculty issues to the UT Board of Regents and oversee faculty development.
Formanowicz teaches undergraduate courses in evolution, ecology, biodiversity and animal behavior, and graduate courses in behavioral ecology at UT-Arlington.
Formanowicz earned his bachelor's degree at State University of New York at Fredonia, a master's degree from Adelphi University and a doctoral degree from the University of Albany/State University of New York.
Archer County officials studying new jail
After receiving notice from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards that the county has three months to develop a plan for a new jail, Archer County commissioners recently began discussions on building a new county jail.
Commissioners are considering a recommendation from an architect to build a jail to hold up to 48 inmates even though the county averages only 16 inmates. Building a larger jail will save the county about $6,000 to $10,000 per month, currently paid to other facilities to house inmates, and leave space for housing more inmates as the county grows, the architect explained.
Commissioners expect to adopt a final plan for a new jail by August and will decide then whether to ask voters to approve a bond proposal to pay for the new jail or schedule public meetings to discuss more ideas for a new jail.
UTEP begins fifth session for nursing fast track
The University of Texas at El Paso's Accelerated Fast Track Bachelor of Science in Nursing program began its fifth class session this month. The program offers students a chance to easily make the transition into the nation's fastest-growing health care field in just 12 months.
Lisa Hennessy (pictured), director of the program, called the effort an unparalleled success. In the program's pilot year in 2005, the school admitted 16 students and this year admitted 60 students.
"We are making significant headway in alleviating the shortage of registered nurses in the Southwest," Hennessy said.
Klein ISD to sell $45M in bonds for facilities, tech needs
Trustees for the Klein Independent School District recently agreed to sell $45 million in bonds to pay for $7.1 million in renovations to Klein Forest High School and $18 million to buy laptop computers and related technology for students and faculty at Klein Forest High School. The bonds are part of a $646.9 million bond package approved by voters in May 2008.
Other projects to be paid for with proceeds from the bond sale include $2 million for site work at a new elementary school, $953,223 for Ulrich Intermediate School, $3.5 million to build an agriculture/staff development multipurpose building, $325,000 for a new transportation center, $395,000 for an addition to the Klein Instructional Center, $2.9 million toward renovations to Memorial Stadium and $2.85 million for temporary buildings.
The district also plans to spend $2.4 million to purchase new furniture, equipment and buses, $2 million for district-wide renovation projects, $1.3 million for fire detection, security and energy-related projects and $1.4 million for personnel costs, bond issuance fees and a contingency fund. Proceeds from the sale of the bonds should be available to the district by the end of May, said Gene Shepherd, the district's financial adviser.
Fort Worth approves feasibility study for new City Hall
Fort Worth City Council members have approved spending $200,000 on a feasibility study to determine if buying the downtown post office and converting it into a City Hall would be cost-effective.
The historic building is only occupied partially by the U.S. Postal Service, which has hired a developer to sell the building. The developer has proposed to buy the structure, upgrade it according to the city's specifications and lease it for a projected $4.1 million to $6.4 million per year. The city would own the building at the end of the lease in 20-30 years.
"We're in a buyer's market," Councilman Jungus Jordan (pictured) said, adding he would likely have more questions once the results of the feasibility study are available.
Board settles design for new San Antonio public hospital
University Health System board members have agreed on the most functional and cost-effective - albeit least aesthetically pleasing - of three architectural designs presented to them for a new public hospital.
About $778 million has been set aside for the 2 million-square-foot facility, which includes costs for furnishings and equipment. The project is being financed through cash reserves and certificates of obligation.
Construction on the steel-and-glass structure is expected to start this year and take about three years to complete.
Alamo College, universities set to begin partnership
The Alamo University Center -- a joint effort between San Antonio's Alamo Colleges and area universities -- is set to be under way soon with a new campus, where select bachelor's and master's degrees will be offered. The partnership was designed to provide a smooth transition for community and junior college students looking to pursue a four-year degree.
"It clearly creates a pathway for our students that is seamless," said Federico Zaragoza (pictured), vice chancellor for workforce development at Alamo Colleges. He said students will be certain to not lose any credit hours this way.
Trustees have voted to seek approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for the center. Classes are set to begin late fall or early next spring.
USDA takes grant applications for housing preservation
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now accepting applications for Housing Preservation Grants to help low-income rural residents repair their homes. The funds, which are distributed through local governments and nonprofit and faith-based organizations, can be used to weatherize and repair existing structures, improve plumbing and provide access for disabled persons.
The USDA may award as much as $10 million in competitive grants as part of its rural development annual budget. To apply for a grant, click here. Application deadline is July 10 by close of business.
Amarillo group awards $50K grant to Tech wind farm
The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation recently approved a $50,000 grant to Texas Tech University to help develop plans for a wind farm to be located near the Pantex nuclear weapons plant.
Buzz David (pictured), president of the Amarillo EDC, said city officials expect the U.S. Department of Energy and an industry trade group to match the city's funding. The goal is to recruit wind energy component manufacturers to the region, David said.
The proposed budget for the U.S. Department of Energy contains up to $28 million to develop a wind farm near the nuclear weapons plant to meet its energy needs. The proposed wind farm, which is expected to begin operation in 2012, could generate surplus electrical power that may be sold to electric utilities, according to budget documents.
Galveston borrows from private banks to fund recovery
The City of Galveston has borrowed another $20 million in funds that will eventually be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for recovery expenses related to Hurricane Ike.
The instance marks the second time the city has borrowed from private lenders in the past four months. In January, the city borrowed $20 million from three banks that provided an equal share of the funds and agreed to share in the risk.
Terms of the loan stipulate that the city may borrow and repay the money up to four times, but the offer expires at the end of this month.
Weslaco city manager Anthony Covacevich steps down
Weslaco City Manager Anthony Covacevich (pictured) has announced his resignation. Former City Manager Frank Castellanos will take over as interim in his stead.
Mayor Buddy De La Rosa had previously sought to remove Covacevich from his post due to "a conflict of management styles." The two leaders had sparred frequently during city commission meetings.
The commission plans to appoint a panel of city residents to review applications for the city manager post for up to 90 days. After a series of interviews, the committee will submit its recommendation to the commission.
Houston poised to use $60M for Ike renovations
Thanks to $10 million in interest-free loans as part of a federal hurricane recovery initiative, the city of Houston has renovated and remodeled housing developments and apartments ravaged by Hurricane Ike. Now the city is primed to use $60 million more from the same funds to upgrade 4,000 dilapidated apartments.
Donald Sampley, assistant director of housing and community development for the city, said the city's goal is to "end up with 20 additional years of quality, affordable housing."
The city's plans for using its $190 million share of the $1.3 billion in hurricane recovery funds include 80 percent allocated to infrastructure, with most of the funds invested in apartments as opposed to single-family occupancies. Most cities are relegating only 60 percent to infrastructure improvements with their share of recovery funds.
Waco to receive nearly $3.4 million in stimulus funds
The Waco City Council recently authorized city leaders to accept $2.9 million in federal stimulus money for public transit improvements and $448,000 in stimulus funds to help renovate the South Waco Recreation Center.
The $2.9 million for public transit will be used to purchase $1.43 million in new buses, including several handicap-accessible Para transit vans, said John Hendrickson, the transit director. The federal funds also will be used to buy new scheduling software and a $300,000 study for a proposed steel-wheel trolley car line to connect downtown Waco and Baylor University.
The city plans to use $448,313 in stimulus funds to expand the South Waco Recreation Center with a glass-enclosed hallway, which will connect the various rooms of the center, said Jeff Goodman, the city recreation superintendent. This meets the criteria that the renovation be designed for maximum energy efficiency and will greatly expand family-oriented recreation activities at the center, he said.
Andrews ISD selects Baiza, Webb for new positions
Officials of the Andrews Independent School District recently selected Randy Baiza (left) as the assistant superintendent and Dan Webb (right) as the new assistant superintendent for Operations.
Baiza , who formerly served as a high school principal and in several positions with Midland ISD, has a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from Sul Ross State University and superintendent certification through the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. Baiza is currently working on a Ph.D. at Texas Tech University.
Replacing Tom Carroll, who is retiring as assistant principal for operations, Webb served as a principal at Ozona ISD. He has a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from Angelo State University as well as a master's degree in education from Sul Ross State University.
McLennan County to upgrade computers for patrols
McLennan County commissioners recently approved $189,000 to purchase new computers for 42 patrol cars. The county approved the use of $67,904 in Justice Assistance Grants from 2007 and 2008 toward the purchase. The remaining $121,000 is from the sheriff's forfeiture account.
The new computers will replace older models to keep up with the real-time speed of current computer-aided dispatch software, said Captain Paul Wash. The computers also will allow deputies to view detailed information about dispatched calls, including the caller name, address, reason for calling and any comments by the dispatcher along with mug shots and call logs of some law enforcement agencies, he said.
Willis ISD approves $1M in alternative bond projects
After eliminating four projects, trustees for the Willis Independent School District approved $1,086,000 for 10 alternative projects to improve district facilities. The new projects are included as part of a $6.543 million guaranteed maximum price for facility improvements. The economy made bidding for planned projects more competitive and allowed the district to add more projects than originally planned, said Superintendent Brian Zemlicka (pictured).
The new projects include:
Trustees eliminated recommendations to add an illuminated clock at the football stadium, provide an allowance for an electrical scoreboard at the soccer field, increase the capacity of the bleachers at a middle school and provide an allowance for a new entry structure and ornamental fencing surrounding Yates Stadium.
Round Rock studies $13.8M in downtown plan projects
Following a presentation of a proposed $55 million plan to upgrade the downtown area, the Round Rock City Council is considering spending $13.8 million for two projects to kick-start the vision of a downtown square friendly to walkers that features shops, restaurants, living space and entertainment venues.
Council members discussed earmarking $13.8 million from the capital improvement fund to begin funding the Main Street Bridge and the Town Square. The Main Street Bridge is a proposed new entrance to the heart of downtown Round Rock and the project would include extending Main Street to Interstate 35 and creating a new city entrance with a hotel and theatre located at the new entrance. The Town Square is a proposed new green area to be located near the water tower. The presentation on the new downtown plan by a Los Angeles-based consultant also calls for realignment of Round Rock Avenue to create a square grid and for improvements to Main Street.
The city may need to rezone the area, create a public improvement district and consider tax incentives for mixed-use or green development and encourage the relocation of creative industries to the downtown area to succeed with the plan, said a consultant for the project. Council members did not vote on the proposal.
Montgomery County considering bond proposal
Montgomery County commissioners recently discussed the possibility of asking voters to approve $300 million to $500 million in bonds to pay for road projects to improve mobility in the county. Based on a Texas Transportation Institute study, a number of roads in the county will reach the end of their effective life cycle within the next five to 10 years and will cost about $300 million to repair and replace. Precinct 3 Commissioner Ed Chance, however, said he estimated it would cost $550 million to improve roads during the next 10 years. Voters in September 2005 approved $150 million in road bonds, $100 million of which was used to pay for five "pass-through" projects where the county pays for construction and is reimbursed by the state based on the number of vehicles using the roads.
The county also recently submitted an application with the Texas Department of Transportation to build two more pass-through projects, the expansion of FM 1097 and extension of FM 2978 to keep the county in line for future projects, said Precinct 2 Commissioner Craig Doyal (pictured). While commissioners expressed concern that the current economy may affect when a road bond election will occur, they also expressed the need to plan ahead to accommodate population growth that brings more traffic to county roads. Commissioners identified Woodlands Parkway, Walden Road and Nichols Sawmill Road as top candidates for expansion and improvements.
Gonzales moves forward with drainage project
The Gonzales City Council recently approved a $110,000 project to alleviate chronic flooding problems in the downtown area. After agreeing that eliminating such flooding is an economic development issue, the Gonzales Economic Development Corporation board of directors previously agreed to fund the drainage project.
The project was considered an economic development project as several business owners had expressed concern about locating on St. George Street and surrounding areas because of the chronic flooding, said Rene de la Garza, a member of the Gonzales EDC. A study indicated that attracting more businesses to downtown most likely will bolster revenue to the city.
City Manager David Huseman said construction should begin on the project in early June and be completed in 50 to 90 days.
Willis credited with assisting with school technology
Thanks to the work of Carol Willis, manager of the Texas Education Telecommunications Network (TETN), Education Service Centers in Texas and associated K-12 schools now have access to a high-speed, high-capacity statewide telecommunications intranet, the Internet2 Network and the Internet. The program enables the Texas K-20 community to participate in the most advanced applications in support of teaching and learning.
For her efforts, Willis was recently honored with the inaugural Richard Rose Award, which recognizes individual contributions that extend the reach of advanced networking in the K-20 community. She initiated, planned and implemented the TETN "Plus" network project. Additionally, with assistance from the state's Education Service Centers and the Texas Education Agency, Willis helped develop content programs that are taking traditional classrooms high tech. The award is presented by the Internet2 K20 Initiative.
"Carol has been the consummate go-between for the K12 community and the higher education community in Texas," said Wayne Wedemeyer, director of the University of Texas System Office of Telecommunication Services. "Those bridges are the foundation for many of the advances in educational content and pedagogies across all the Independent School Districts in Texas."
Longview moves forward with radio conversion
Longview City Council has approved the purchase of a $133,000, seven-acre tract of land to install the first of three new radio towers. The move comes as part of a $7 million agreement to switch the city's public safety communications from an analog format to a digital one, allowing police and fire departments to talk with other agencies using the system.
Sally Rees, public safety communications manager for the Longview Police Department, said the location for the radio tower is the best officials have found "after a year of searching." She said the location is within the department's price range and meets their needs.
Several tests and environmental surveys must be conducted before the tower will be erected.
Boerne City Council looking at new library designs
Boerne City Council is moving forward with plans for the new Patrick Heath Public Library. An architectural firm unveiled design plans for the $9.6 million, 31,000-square-foot facility in a workshop session before the council's last meeting.
Mayor Don Heckler commended the firm for "going the extra mile" by incorporating suggestions from the public in the library's design. "We need to take their comments to heart," he said.
Plans for the interior design of the library, which will be located on North Main Street, are set to be presented to the council on May 26.
Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt considering job offers
Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt (pictured) has announced he is considering job options with other police agencies, but has no immediate plans for his future. He said he has been contacted by several interested agencies, including San Francisco's police department.
Hurtt said he told Mayor Bill White he would stay until the end of his administration. White will step down this year after serving the maximum of three two-year terms. Other senior staff officials are expected to follow suit.
Hurtt was recruited from Phoenix to the Houston Police Department's top post in 2004. During his tenure, the department has faced some criticism, but the city's overall crime rate has dropped to its lowest level since 1980.
Galveston Housing Authority weighs decisions for funds
Galveston Housing Authority (GHA) may receive funds from the $1 billion public housing funding package President Obama announced recently. If so, the GHA will not need $25 million from the city to redevelop public housing.
Meanwhile GHA Executive Director Harish Krishnarao has asked the city council to continue considering his request for a portion of the $160.4 million in disaster-relief funds awarded to the city earlier this year, in the event that the federal funding doesn't come through.
The housing authority board plans to rebuild all 569 public housing units that were demolished as a result of Hurricane Ike, although only about 40 percent of residents said they would like to return to the area, according to Krishnarao.
San Antonio ISD tables proposal on school closures
Plans to close 16 schools and reconfigure nearly 12 more in the San Antonio Independent School District have come to a halt as trustees weigh options to improve financial efficiency and boost academic achievement.
A community-based committee outlined the proposal that called for the school closures and realignments after a year's worth of workshopping ideas. The board of trustees will determine how to proceed from this point with four scheduled public meetings next month.
Superintendent Robert Duron (pictured), who supports the committee's proposal as a starting point, said SAISD faculty is looking for "some very detailed instructions" on how the board wants them to proceed. The plan calls for closing Sam Houston High School among 15 other campuses, mostly elementary schools.
Sealy City Council approves 20-year comprehensive plan
Sealy City Council has approved a 20-year comprehensive plan almost 18 months after initiating the project.
Sealy Mayor Nick Tirey said the "ongoing, ever-changing" plan will be passed from council to council, allowing for growth and the expansion of ideas. The city has operated for the past nine or 10 years without a comprehensive plan, he said.
Among the initiatives outlined in the plan, installing interstate frontage roads, implementing a drainage solution and quality-of-life projects topped the list of what residents found most imperative.
Hays County considers makeover of I-35 frontage roads
Hays County Commissioners are studying a proposal to upgrade the frontage roads of Interstate 35 in Buda. The county needs to eliminate the two-way frontage roads in Buda to improve mobility and safety, said Commissioner Jeff Barton (pictured). The frontage roads should be upgraded to one-way north and one-way south rather than the existing two-way frontage roads on both sides of Interstate 35, Barton said.
Barton recommended the project be done in several phases, with the first phase to be transforming the existing two-way frontage road from a major retail store to south of County Road 210 into a one-way road. He also urged widening some overpasses with funding from a recently approved $60 million bond election. Commissioners will hold a public hearing to gather public input on the proposal to eliminate the two-way frontage roads later this month.
Conroe OKs $185K land purchase for new fire station
Conroe City Council has approved a purchase totaling $185,759 for 1.6-acres to house a new fire station.
The city will also pay $16,460 for water and sewer taps on Munger Street, where the property will be located. The city may also purchase street lights (at $2,000 each) for the area if needed.
The land purchase now hinges on environmental and soil tests. Fire Chief Ken Kreger said the land "fits our needs," adding officials like its location.
Cameron County Irrigation District to get $1M grant
The North American Development Bank in San Antonio recently awarded a $989,832 grant to the Cameron County Irrigation District No. 6 to be used toward a $1.97 million replacement of a river pump station.
Ground broken on new Hope Lodge in Lubbock
The American Cancer Society (ACS) broke ground last month for Texas' first Hope Lodge (pictured) in Lubbock. The 32-room facility will house cancer patients and their families who travel to the city for treatment, easing the cost burden of long hotel stays. The Hope Lodge will offer 11,680 free housing nights to more than 2,000 patients, saving an estimated $1.3 million in annual hotel expenses.
ACS has raised more than $9 million so far from a campaign to build Hope Lodge Lubbock started last year.
West Houston group asks city for camera approval
Operation Westside Success, a Houston nonprofit group, recently applied for city permission to install about a dozen security cameras. The cameras would feed images into the Houston Police Department as part of the city's initiative to assemble a network of hundreds of security cameras to monitor public streets, stadiums, freeways and the Port of Houston to reduce crime throughout the city.
Assistant Police Chief Vickie King said the Operation Westside Success initiative is allowed by city ordinance as long as the cameras capture movements on the public right-of-way and private property is shielded from view. Houston has 25 cameras installed in the central business district. It is also using federal grants to tie into state highway department cameras located on area freeways as well as cameras monitoring the ship channel and port facilities, said Dennis Storemski, director of the Mayor's Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security.
The goal is to have hundreds or thousands of cameras throughout the city so that a computerized dispatch system can identify if a camera is within 150 feet of the location and the dispatcher can access the camera and determine if there is anything police officers or firefighters need to know. Operation Westside Success plans to continue raising funds to install more cameras, said Jim McIngvale, a Houston businessman representing the nonprofit group.
Beaumont approves buying special thermal cameras
Beaumont City Council members recently approved the purchase of five new thermal imaging cameras to help firefighters navigate better through thick smoke.
With the new cameras, the city will have nine of the hand-held portable thermal imaging cameras, said Fire Captain Brad Penisson. The department's goal is to have one of the portable imaging cameras, which cost about $10,000 each, on each of the department's 12 trucks, he said.
Get your free copy of the Texas Government Insider
The Texas Government Insider is a free weekly newsletter. If you are not a subscriber, or if you would like to tell your friends or co-workers how to receive a free copy, click here.
Permission to reproduce, reprint
This newsletter may be reproduced, and all articles within may be reproduced and/or reprinted without permission when credit is given to the Texas Government Insider, a publication of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.
Note to media:
Need expert commentary on procurement issues relating to state government, city and county government, K-12 public schools, higher education or healthcare? Our consulting team has more than 300 years of high-level experience in decision-making among these government entities. Give us a call at 512-531-3900 and we'll arrange an interview for you with one of our experts.
Billions in stimulus funds released just tip of iceberg
By Mary Scott Nabers, CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.
It's been just over three months since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was signed into law, freeing up $787 billion in federal funds aimed at creating and saving jobs and stimulating a faltering national economy. Governmental entities at both the state and local levels will see millions and in some cases billions of dollars flow into their coffers. These are truly historic times.
During the last three-month period, newspapers across the country - from local weeklies to suburban dailies - have heralded the arrival of funding in their communities and in their states, from thousands of dollars to billions. And that's just the tip of the iceberg!
However, in spite of all the publicity and the media hype, only 7 percent of the federal stimulus funding has been released by the federal government. That will change very soon. Federal officials have a goal of releasing 70 percent of the funding by the end of next year.
After only three months, $88 billion has been obligated by federal agencies for mandatory and discretionary programs. That is a daily total of $1.1 billion in new spending that has been obligated each day since the bill was signed!
During the last 90 days, Texas ranked second only to California in total outlay of federal stimulus funds. California's totals are currently at $1.992 billion and Texas has collected $1.113 billion.[more]
Jacksonville, Cherokee County apply for grants
Cherokee County and Jacksonville officials recently agreed to apply for federal grants from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program designed to help improve law enforcement, courts and corrections efforts for the city and county.
The county is proposing to use the $44,576 allocated for Cherokee County through the American Recovery and Investment Act to hire a part-time substance abuse counselor and to buy a dashboard camera system for a patrol car used by a constable, said John Page (pictured), chief juvenile probation officer for Cherokee County. The Jacksonville Police Department plans to use the $43,762 allocated for the city to upgrade the department's computer network and buy a digital fingerprinting system, he said. The city and county expect to learn whether they are qualified for the federal funding within the next 30 to 60 days, he said.
Alpine cuts $200,000 from proposed $2M debt proposal
Alpine City Council members recently eliminated $200,000 from a proposed $2 million issue of certificates of obligation to pay for a new animal shelter, street equipment and a state park after learning the $200,000 would be used to install a water line on the west side of town outside the city limits.
Councilman Avnash Rangra argued that the water line was located outside the city limits and recommended cutting the $200,000 from the proposed $2 million issue of certificates of obligation. Although City Manager Chuy Garcia noted that the city is scheduled to annex the area in question, the council removed the $200,000 for the water line before approving the $1.8 million issue of certificates of obligation to pay for the other projects.
Stanton named to post with Department of the Interior
Dr. Robert G. Stanton (pictured), executive professor in the department of recreation, park and tourism sciences at Texas A&M University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has been appointed deputy assistant secretary of policy, management and budget in the U.S. Department of the Interior. His appointment was announced by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
Stanton is the former director of the National Park Services. He has been a faculty member at A&M since 2001. He also has served as a visiting professor at Howard University and Yale University. Stanton is a graduate of Huston-Tillotson University in Austin and has received honorary doctorate degrees from Texas A&M, Unity College, Southern University and Huston-Tillotson.
Woodlands group considers $200,000 in capital projects
After locating an extra $200,000 in surplus funds, the Woodlands Community Association is considering allocating another $200,000 for additional projects. Under consideration are $20,000 for an aquatics climbing wall at Shadowbend Park, $55,000 for practice lights at Creekwood Park, $55,000 for practice lights at Shadowbend Park, $45,000 for a dog-friendly area, $25,000 for a community garden, $100,000 for a playground at Bear Branch Sports Park, $40,000 for a parking lot at Shadowbend tennis court and $64,000 for a trail connecting Bear Branch park and sports fields.
Canyon seeks grants
Aging in Place workshop slated in June
An "Aging in Place" workshop, co-hosted by the Alamo Area Council of Government's Alamo and Bexar Area Agencies on Aging, the city of San Antonio and the WellMed Charitable Foundation, will be held Thursday, June 11, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in San Antonio. The workshop will be at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, 1300 Guadalupe Street. The local discussion will be part of a national conversation taking place on aging and will highlight the work already occurring in the region to enhance the area for all age groups. Workshop speakers and panelists will focus on assets already in place and how they can be improved, social integration, planning and mobility. For more information, contact Debbie Billa at 210-362-5240 or click here.
Texas Citizens Corps Conference dates announced
The Texas Citizens Corps Conference will be held June 30-July 1 at the Omni Houston Hotel, Four Riverway, in Houston. Dr. David H. McIntyre, director, Integrative Center for Homeland Security at Texas A&M University, is the invited speaker for the first day's luncheon. Some of the conference topics will include starting and maintaining a CERT program, using technology to recruit and maintain volunteers, neighborhood watch and fire corps. To view the draft agenda, click here. For more information and to download a registration form, click here.
TPPA hosts June Summer Conference Momentum 2009
The Texas Public Purchasing Association will host its Summer Conference Momentum 2009 Wednesday through Friday, June 24-26, at the Suites at Sunchase Conference Center on South Padre Island. The governmental purchasing seminar is designed for public purchasing professionals with special interest in the latest developments that are essential in governmental purchasing. The event will include approximately 20 speakers who will address issues that include purchasing law, green purchasing, supplier contracts, evaluating RFPs, cooperative purchasing and more. There will be both educational and group sessions. For more information, click here.
TSABAA Summer Conference slated in June
The Texas State Agency Business Administrators' Association 40th Annual Summer Conference is slated for Monday through Wednesday, June 22-24, at the Omni Bayfront Hotel in Corpus Christi. Guest speakers Monday will be Meagan Johnson, who will address generation gaps, and Madeline York, who will address personal style. An ERP update will be given Tuesday by a representative of the State Comptroller's Office as will a legislative update and an update on the federal economic stimulus bill. Other session topics are on visual technology, recognition and body language. The Administrator of the Year will be named during the Wednesday session and there will be sessions on direct deposit and State Government Accounting Internet Reporting System (SIRS). To view the draft agenda, click here. For a registration form, click here.
State Notary training seminar planned by AACOG
A State Notary training seminar sponsored by the Alamo Area Council of Governments will be held Thursday, May 28, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. in AACOG's Al J. Notzon III Board Room, 8700 Tesoro Drive, Suite 100 in San Antonio. The seminar is for both current notaries and those who wish to become notaries. Ten participants are required in order to hold the seminar. For information, click here or contact AACOG Government Services Manager Joe Ramos at (210) 362-5212 or email@example.com.