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  Volume 7, Issue 29 · Friday, July 31, 2009
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John Cox named associate commissioner at TEA

Agency also announces new reporting structure for some officials

John Cox

John Cox (pictured), chief information officer (CIO) for the Texas Education Agency (TEA), has been named associate commissioner for information technology and agency operations. Cox has been with TEA since 2005. He will begin his new role as associate commissioner on Aug 1 and will retain the title and duties of CIO.

Cox brings nearly four decades of information and technology expertise to his new role. Prior to joining TEA, he served as director of information resources and information resources manager for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

In his role as CIO, Cox is responsible for the agency's information technology (IT) resources investments, IT contracts management and financial management of the division. The division supports IT strategic and tactical planning, agency systems development projects, network infrastructure, computer infrastructure, IT security and customer services. Cox will also oversee the Agency Infrastructure and Enterprise Data Management Division.

TEA officials also note that Julie Harris-Lawrence, deputy associate commissioner of student services and GED, will now report to Jerel Booker, associate commissioner for educator quality and standards. Harris-Lawrence is a two-year veteran at TEA and has oversight of the DAEP standards, the unified school safety standards, Chapter 37 discipline and school health initiatives.

The division of adult education will now report to Barbara Knaggs, associate commissioner for state initiatives. Knaggs is responsible for the divisions of school readiness and partnerships, college and career readiness initiatives and programs for at-risk youth.

Recovery Act: Good news, bad news for Texas

Teachers get $800 raise; some law enforcement agencies snubbed

Robert Scott

There's good news and bad news on the Recovery Act front in Texas.

First, Texas teachers are breathing a sigh of relief. The state recently heard from the U.S. Department of Education that its spending plan for federal stabilization funds from the Recovery Act had been approved. But the $2 billion in spending included some stipulations. The one Texas teachers were watching is a provision that requires school districts to provide an $800 across-the-board pay raise to all teachers and professional school district employees.

Julian Castro

Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott (right) said he expects the stabilization funds to begin flowing to districts Sept. 1, the start of the state's fiscal year, and added that Texas will be eligible to apply for another $1 billion in stabilization funds this fall. The stabilization grant funds provide support to elementary, secondary and post-secondary education, some early childhood education and other services that seek to improve student achievement.

But while teachers throughout the state were elated about how some of the education dollars were being dedicated to putting money in their pockets, some law enforcement agencies in major cities in the state were left scratching their heads when they were left out of statewide Recovery Act awards. Approximately $1 billion was awarded from a program that allows them to put more boots on the ground by hiring additional officers or being able to keep existing officers.

The San Antonio Police Department got the largest award in the state - $10.3 million to fund 50 officer slots. Mayor Julian Castro (left) called the award "great news" and said it means that more officers will be on the streets and in neighborhoods making the city safer.


Strategic Partnerships salutes Texas' Lone Stars

Ken Welch

Ken Welch, chief financial officer, Teacher Retirement System of Texas

Career highlights and education: I graduated from Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State) with a BBA in accounting. I began my career with General Telephone, but my wife's acceptance into UT Law School brought me to Austin in the fall of 1980 and the start of my journey in Texas state government. Over the last 29 years, I have been privileged to work with some of the most talented and gifted individuals in the state at seven different state agencies. After brief stints at the Texas Commission for the Blind and the Governor's Office of Budget and Planning, I found myself as the director of administration for the Texas Animal Health Commission, where much to my surprise, books were still being kept on green ledger paper. Seven years later, TAHC had moved into the computer age and I moved on to super computing and the cutting edge of technology as the deputy director for administration at the Texas National Research Laboratory Commission (TNRLC), better known as the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC). After the demise of the SSC, I spent 12 wonderful years with the Texas Comptroller's Office, the last five as the director of fiscal management. Following the Comptroller's Office, I spent 18 very rewarding months as the Director of Enterprise Systems Budget and Fiscal Policy for the Health and Human Services Commission and then accepted my current position as the chief financial officer for the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. What can I say; I have trouble holding down a job.

What I like best about my job is: the people I work with and the job environment. TRS has an outstanding culture of service to its members and recognition of the contributions of each individual employee.

The best advice I've received for my current job is: Take it! Changing jobs can be very stressful, but the opportunity to learn new things and apply your skills and knowledge to make a contribution in a new job is very rewarding. Also, advice passed down by a former Comptroller from her father, "It is not the money you make, but the difference you make."

Advice I would give a new hire in my office: Dare to excel. Don't place limits on what you can accomplish. Be willing to take on new challenges and don't be afraid to fail.

If I ever snuck out of work early, I could probably be found: at a swim meet watching my youngest son follow in the footsteps of his older brother and sister as a captain of the Round Rock High School swim team.

People would be surprised to know that I: after graduating with a degree in accounting, I returned to school and took 30 hours of agriculture courses. Some day I hope to retire and put them to use.

One thing I wish more people knew about my agency: One in 20 Texans is a member of TRS. In my family alone, I have a brother, sister-in-law, aunt, niece, nephew and two first cousins who are all members of the system. Benefits paid by TRS pump approximately $7 billion per year into the economy.

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

Positions drawn for 11 constitutional amendments

All face action by Texas voters in statewide referendum in November

Amendment Draw

Ballot order for 11 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution to be voted on in November were drawn this week by Secretary of State Hope Andrade (in accompanying photo). The propositions range from an authorization of state militia and military personnel to hold other civil offices to the right of access to public beaches bordering the seaward shores of the Gulf of Mexico.

Andrade encourages voters to register or update their registration if their address has recently changed "to ensure they are eligible to cast their ballots in November."

Proposed amendments must pass by a two-thirds vote in both the Texas House and Senate to be considered for the ballot. The 11 propositions drawn this week were approved for consideration by the recently concluded 81st Legislature and now require majority approval from registered voters to become enacted.

The Texas State Constitution has been amended more than 400 times since it was enacted in 1876.


Commission approves partial amnesty for toll violators

Owe the state money for not paying for using a toll road? Violation fees adding up? This could be your lucky day.


The Texas Transportation Commission this week approved a one-time "toll violation recovery program" - or in layman's terms - partial amnesty. The commission directed the Texas Department of Transportation to develop a program that allows up to 90 percent of violation fees that have accrued to be forgiven if the offender agrees to pay all original overdue tolls and signs up for and keeps current a TxTag account.

Final details of the program have not been determined, but those who opt to participate in the program would have to keep their TxTag account in good standing for a specified period of time. Individuals with toll fees and the fees for non-payment that have accrued will be contacted by TxDOT by direct mail about their eligibility for the program and fee reductions. Rental car companies will be excluded from participating in the program.

TxDOT officials note that On Loop 1, State Highway (SH) 130 and SH 45N in Central Texas and Loop 49 in Tyler, unpaid tolls total nearly $3.2 million while $58.4 million is owed in unpaid violation fees. All of the approximately 140,000 accountholders in violation who do not take advantage of this one-time fee reduction could face court proceedings. That will result in even higher violation and court fees.

Violations on non-TxDOT toll roads such as those operated by the North Texas Tollway Authority, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority or the Harris County Toll Road Authority are not included in the program.

Highway trust fund to get cash infusion to pay states

Highway Funds

The Highway Trust Fund that provides the states with money for road, bridge and transit will get a $7 billion infusion after both the U.S. House and Senate approved measures to keep the fund solvent until Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

The action came just days after Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez told state highway officials they would get funding less often for road and bridge repairs if the fund were not bolstered. Payment, he said, could be reduced from daily down to weekly or twice a month, depending on the availability of funds. Texas and the other states receive approximately $40 billion each year from these funds.

Government officials say that without an emergency appropriation, the account could run dry within several weeks. A more permanent fix is expected by Congress after its August recess.

The fund has dwindled in part because it is made up of gasoline tax receipts. With more motorists driving more fuel-efficient vehicles and more driving less and opting for "staycations" near home instead of driving to other states for family vacations, tax receipts are dwindling. The federal government estimated that at least $5 billion would be necessary to sustain the fund through the end of September to continue payments to the states.

Austin's new CIO resigns after less than six months

Gail Roper

Austin's new chief information officer has resigned after less than six months on the job. Gail Roper (pictured) will leave the City of Austin on Aug. 19 because she has been unable to sell her house in North Carolina. Roper was hired in January and began working for the city in February. She came to Austin from Raleigh, North Carolina, where she also served as CIO. She also previously worked as an information technology division manager for the City of Austin in the 1990s, when she implemented the city's first help desk operation to provide centralized support services for technology users.

Roper has more than 25 years of experience in the public and private sectors in information systems management. She also worked as CIO in Kansas City, Missouri. Austin City Manager Marc Ott said he will appointed an interim CIO soon. When a new CIO is named, he or she will oversee the city's IT projects including large-scale servers, computer networks and telephone systems.

TxDOT to add 52 new rest stops, improve existing stops

As some states like California and Virginia as closing highway rest stops because of budget restraints, the Texas Department of Transportation recently began a program to build new highway rest stops and renovate buildings at the existing 29 rest stops. The department also plans to add WiFi to all highway rest stops in the state.

TxDOT will spend about $30 million in federal funding this year to provide motorists with more rest stops to encourage motorists to pull off the road and rest to prevent highway accidents caused by fatigue, said Daphne Adkins, rest stop supervisor for TxDOT. The federal grant has guidelines which do not permit the funding to be used to build or repair highways, but does target reducing the nearly 1,500 highway fatalities caused each year by fatigued drivers, TxDOT officials said.

Howard Payne University names Ellis 19th president

Bill Ellis

Dr. William (Bill) Ellis (pictured) has been named the 19th President of Howard Payne University.

Ellis has served as provost and chief academic officer at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene since 2001. Dr. Randall Grooms, chairman of HPU's board of trustees, said Ellis has served in various capacities within Baptist higher education for more than 30 years.

Ellis holds two bachelor's degrees from Hardin-Simmons, a master's degree from Texas Tech University and a doctorate from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

TEF funding to help company open San Marcos facility

A half-million dollars in Texas Enterprise Fund money has been invested in Grifols Inc., which is planning to open a new facility in San Marcos for its plasma testing laboratory. The endeavor will create 190 new jobs and generate more than $76 million in capital investment, according to the Texas Governor's Office.

Grifols provides research, development, manufacturing and marketing of plasma derivates, IV therapy, enteral nutrition, diagnostic systems and medical materials for the bioscience, diagnostic and hospital sectors. The company is developing several facilities across the state in addition to the San Marcos location.

The San Marcos project will kick off with a new plasma testing lab and continue expansion with a plant specializing in fractionation - the extraction and purification of specific proteins from human plasma to create life-saving medications.

DCCCD Pleasant Grove campus plans grand opening

Pleasant Grove Campus

Grand opening for the new Eastfield College Pleasant Grove Campus of the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) will be held Monday from 2 to 7 p.m. Representatives of the City of Dallas, Southeast Dallas Chamber of Commerce, Southeast Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Dallas Independent School District and other area school districts will join local organizations and church representatives to mark the opening of the campus.

Speaking at the ceremony will be Eastfield President Jean Conway, Dallas County Community College District Chancellor Wright Lassiter, Pleasant Grove Executive Director Javier Olguin, members of the DCCCD Board of Trustees, Sen. Royce West, U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert. Musical entertainment will be provided throughout the day.

The Pleasant Grove Campus will provide a variety of education and training services such as workforce training programs, continuing education (CEUs) classes, ESL and ESOL classes, GED training, college readiness courses in reading, writing and math and freshman-level credit courses.

The new 45,000-square-foot facility (pictured) will house the Southeast Dallas Chamber of Commerce and the Southeast Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce offices. The Wilkinson Center, a non-profit organization that serves the working poor who live in east and southeast Dallas, also will provide adult education classes at the campus.

UTMB emergency room to open Saturday

Some 10 months after Hurricane Ike ravaged The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston facilities, UTMB's emergency room is planning to reopen this weekend. Since the devastation of the hurricane and the closing of the ER, emergency cases that previously would have found their way to UTMB have had to make their way to emergency facilities in Houston and other area hospitals.

Now those emergency cases will have an old familiar health care facility to meet their needs again. UTMB facilities suffered $1 billion in damages from the hurricane. The complex's John Sealy Hospital reopened earlier this year, although the number of beds in the facility was cut by nearly 200.

The emergency room will receive patients by both ground and air ambulance and offer the same level of trauma care it did prior to Hurricane Ike except for psychiatric care. UTMB has been operating a 24-hour urgent care center to serve patients with minor injuries and conditions that do not require hospitalization. It will close when the emergency room opens.

A&M interim provost asked to step down

Jeffrey Vitter

Jeffrey Vitter (pictured), interim provost for Texas A&M University, has been asked to step down by interim President R. Bowen Loftin, according to an A&M official. Vitter had served in the capacity for almost one year. He will accept a faculty position at the university.

Vitter, a tenured computer science and engineering professor at A&M, previously served on the computer science faculty at Brown University for more than 12 years and as a professor at Duke University for nearly 10 years. He said he wishes to pursue "scholarly activities and other opportunities" after stepping down.

"I have decided that I would rather devote my efforts to other professional activities," Vitter wrote in a statement. His departure from his position follows the resignation of Elsa Murano from the presidency at TAMU. Officials speculate that the position will not be permanently filled until a new president is chosen.

USDA has funds for loans to develop rural businesses

Applications are being accepted for part of the $1.7 billion Recovery Act funds dedicated to help spur business activity and economic growth in rural communities throughout the United States. The funds will be available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development's Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan program. Those eligible to apply include cooperative organizations, corporations, partnerships, nonprofits, federally recognized Indian tribes, public entities and individuals.

Applications will be accepted until Sept. 15, 2010, or until all funds are expended. Recovery Act funding will be available through Sept. 30, 2010. For information on eligibility criteria and application assistance, click HERE for a listing of all state Rural Development offices.

Projects approved in Texas in the past include a USDA Business & Industry Guaranteed Loan to Pineywoods Academy in Lufkin. This college preparatory charter school used the funds to purchase the building they had been leasing that hosted their charter school. Hoffland Environmental, Inc. refinanced their loan through a Business & Industry Guaranteed Loan to expand operations in Conroe, purchase additional equipment, and pay for professional services associated with the loan.

A&M names Watson new interim provost

Karan Watson

Karan Watson (pictured) has been named interim provost of Texas A&M University, a day after Jeffrey Vitter resigned from the post.

Watson previously served as vice provost for strategic initiatives under Vitter and has held several administrative posts at A&M, including dean of faculties beginning in 2002 until last year. She joined the A&M faculty in 1983.

Watson, an electrical and computer engineering professor, is the recipient of several honors and recognitions, including the U.S. President's Award for Mentoring Minorities and Women in Science and Technology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science mentoring award.

Austin company gets second round of ETF funding

An Austin-based company that was previously awarded $250,000 from the state's Emerging Technology Fund (ETF) is in line for an additional $500,000 in funding. The company is developing energy storage technology for heating prepared foods.

Ironbridge Technologies, Inc. earlier this year received $100,000 from the National Science Foundation for small business innovation research. Last year's funding from the ETF was earmarked by the company to expand its research and development facility.

UTB/TSC names director for Dual Enrollment program

Eduardo Del Rio

Dr. Eduardo Del Rio (pictured) has been named interim director for the new Office of Dual Enrollment at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. He began his new charge in the newly created position last month.

Del Rio, an associate professor of English and an expert in Cuban-American literature and culture, previously headed the Dual Enrollment task force. The program allows high school students a chance to simultaneously earn college or vocational credit. Before joining the UTB/TSC faculty in 2000, Del Rio served as a professor at The University of Texas Pan American and headed the Concurrent Enrollment program there.

Del Rio holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from The University of Texas- Pan American and a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University.

Pecos County EDC receives $100,000 federal grant

The Pecos County Economic Development Corporation has received a $100,000 federal grant that will fund classes for displaced workers at the Williams Regional Technical Training Center, a Midland College satellite campus. The classes will range from English-as-a-second-language to GED preparation.

Doug May, economic development director for Fort Stockton and Pecos County, said officials are thrilled. "Anytime you can open doors for've got to be excited about it," he said.

The award marks the first time Pecos County and Fort Stockton have been awarded this type of funding, the result of a trip May took to Washington where he pitched several economic development plans. Pecos County has an unemployment rate of more than 11 percent.

San Antonio ISD officials propose school closures

James Howard

San Antonio Independent School District officials have announced three school closure proposals, which may result in up to 21 schools closing. The closures are set to take place over a 10-year period starting in 2010 with an estimated savings of $40 million a year.

The plans, developed by about 30 community members beginning last November, also call for school reconfigurations, conversions and extensive modernization projects requiring voter-approved bonds. SAISD will hold eight public meetings over the course of the next two months to garner input from community members.

"The proposals reflect the substantial time and effort they put into getting this thing right," school board President James Howard (pictured) said, adding, "We also recognize that the community at large has a very substantial stake in the restructuring effort."

Houston ISD interviews superintendent candidates

Houston Independent School District superintendent hopefuls converged downtown this week to be interviewed for the position. Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra will step down Aug. 31.

The school board, protecting the six to eight candidates' identities, held interviews behind closed doors at the firm the district hired to assist with the search. The Texas Open Meetings Act appears to allow school boards to meet anywhere accessible to the public, according to Matthew Festa, an assistant professor at South Texas College of Law. "Reasonably any place in Houston is accessible," Festa said.

The public was allowed to attend a brief open session before the interviews.

Bexar County commissioner takes over as chair of MPO

Tommy Adkisson

Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson (pictured) has taken over as chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Adkisson, a toll-road opponent and environmentalist, will chair the organization that oversees the county's transportation projects and about $200 million in federal funds. He has pledged to fix congestion at U.S. 281 and Loop 1604, a trouble spot for San Antonio, but made no mention of quashing toll roads during his term. He said toll roads are ineffective, however.

"All the toll-road arrangements...are losing money and traffic," Adkisson said.

Panel to study analysis on agro-defense lab location

A congressional panel will conduct an investigation to determine whether the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's decision to locate a $650 million agricultural lab in Kansas instead of Texas relied on a flawed analysis. San Antonio originally ranked among other cities as a potential home to the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.

Jim Dublin, chairman of the Texas Research and Technology Foundation, said people are asking the question: Why locate the lab in a region commonly referred to as Tornado Alley? "It's raising eyebrows," he said.

A federal judge in Washington dismissed a lawsuit by a San Antonio consortium that has aggressively sought to get the lab in Texas. The ruling allows the group to mount a legal challenge. Dublin said the consortium is expected to file the lawsuit again.

Rice University, Texas Medical Center team up

David Leebron

Rice University's new BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC) has leased space to Texas Children's Hospital, the first Texas Medical Center (TMC) institution to set up camp at the facility. Scientists and educators from the university and TMC institutions will come together as part of the BRC to perform research related to human medicine and health. The 477,000-square-foot BRC is outfitted with eight floors of laboratories, classrooms and auditoriums, and will eventually accommodate a visualization center.

"We believe that this building and the collaborative work that it will foster...will provide a new impetus to the leadership in medical research of the Texas Medical Center," Rice University President David Leebron (pictured) said, adding TMC has "become an increasingly important partner for Rice."

For more information about the BRC and for a list of researchers to be housed there, click here.

City of Amarillo to apply for $50M TWDB loan

The City of Amarillo has approved an application for $50 million from the Texas Water Development Board's 2009-2010 Water Infrastructure Loan Program. The funds will be applied toward the new $89 million water well field in Potter County.

The well is needed in the event Lake Meredith continues to be an unreliable water source and for population growth.

The city received about $3 million in loans at a 2 percent interest rate from TWDB last year.

Border Coalition plans summit to discuss ports of entry

Chad Foster

A summit is possible in September at which time the Texas Border Coalition will discuss the need for more federal funding at inland ports of entry. The coalition includes cities and counties from El Paso to Brownsville. Representatives of those entities will meet to discuss local needs before taking their wish list to the Texas congressional delegation.

A recent Government Accountability Office report noted that 4,000 officers and $4 billion in infrastructure and technology improvement were needed to better secure the nation's inland ports of entry. Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster (pictured), who chairs the coalition, called the state of the United States' land borders "severe" and has repeatedly called for bigger investments in border ports of entry. He recently took that message before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security. He called the land port's the country's "weakest link." Some $700 million was allocated through the Recovery Act for infrastructure and technology. Earlier this year, the federal government announced it would spend $300 million in stimulus funds to improve land ports, but almost $200 million of that went to Arizona.

Tarrant County secures nearly $7 million in HUD funds

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has issued $5.2 million to Tarrant County to help fund home rehabilitation in North Richland Hills and the creation of a senior center in Euless. Overall Texas netted $74.7 million in HUD funds to support community development and affordable housing.

Tarrant County also received $1.5 million in HOME grants, about $125,000 of which will be used for homebuyer assistance. About $1.3 million of those funds will be used for owner-occupied housing rehabilitation most often designated for the elderly, according to Patricia Ward, director of community development and housing for the county.

The county also received $123,941 for Emergency Shelter Grants, which provide the homeless with shelter and support services.

Five Texas water projects funded by USDA program

Water Projects

Five projects in Texas were among 63 in 21 states that were granted funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve water quality and quantity in agricultural production. The five Texas projects together garnered $10,425,000 of the $58 million awarded nationwide through the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP).

The AWEP program promotes ground and surface water conservation and improves water quality by helping farmers and ranchers implement agricultural water enhancement activities. Funding was available for projects that include: water quality or water conservation plan development, including resource condition assessment and modeling; water conservation restoration or enhancement projects, including conversion to the production of less water-intensive agricultural commodities or dry land farming; water quality or quantity restoration or enhancement projects; irrigation system improvement or irrigation efficiency enhancement; activities designed to mitigate the effects of drought and climate change; and other related activities to help achieve water quality or water conservation benefits on agricultural land.

Among the Texas funding was $700,000 to The University of Texas for water enhancement projects for drought mitigation and water conservation on land owned and managed by the UT System and $500,000 to the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board for water quality improvement on the Leon River by reducing bacteria levels.

To view the complete list of projects, descriptions and approved funding in Texas and the other 20 states, click HERE and look under "Recent Reports."

UTMB awarded $21.5M grant to research treatments

The National Center for Research Resources of the National Institutes of Health has awarded The University of Texas Medical Branch a five-year, $21.5 million grant to turn research into treatments.

UTMB's newly created Institute for Translational Sciences will establish 12 key resources to support research teams with funds from the Clinical Translational Sciences Award. The institute's aim is to turn biomedical discoveries into viable treatment options.

Security funds total $4.4M for Houston Metro, DART

Transit Funds

Houston Metro and Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) collectively were granted funding of more than $4.4 million this week from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP). The funds are part of $78 million from the program that will allow 15 transit systems nationwide to enhance their ability to guard against acts of terrorism by hiring a total of 240 new law enforcement officers. DART's funding was set at $1,362,690 while Houston Metro garnered $3,040,560.

The funds come from the Transportation Security Administration through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Fiscal Year 2009 TSGP. They are to be used by transit authorities to hire new law enforcement officers and by police departments with dedicated transit bureaus to hire anti-terrorism personnel, purchase anti-terrorism equipment and obtain and train explosive detection dogs.

San Antonio officials urged to fund repairs to River Walk

A San Antonio group recently sent a letter to city council members asking for dedicated funding to repair crumbling walls, broken walkways, upgrade to the electrical system and to make more areas of the famed River Walk more accessible to people with disabilities.

Milton Guess, chairman of the government affairs committee of the San Antonio Tourism Council, noted that 5 million people visit the River Walk each year and the safety and appearance of the tourist attraction should be a top priority. Guess urged council to find a dedicated source of funding to pay for renovations. The River Walk was built in the 1910s and 1930s and has had no major renovations since, he noted.

In the first capital improvement master plan adopted for the River Walk, planners recommended $15 million in renovations. The first phase of the repairs received $3 million, but no more funding has been allocated to the project, the letter noted. Business and tourism officials also urged city officials to use some of the hotel occupancy tax or some of the money collected from the river barge concession to dedicate to the River Walk upgrades rather than sending those funds into the general fund.

Abilene ISD moving forward with bond proposal

Stan Lambert

After receiving a letter asking for a $25 million bond election signed by 300 citizens, trustees for the Abilene Independent School District recently agreed to start drafting a proposition for a Nov. 3 bond election to pay for a career tech high school.

In the letter signed by current and former mayors, business owners, lawyers and citizens, several agreed to support the career school with internships, equipment donations and other help.

While some board members said they were hesitant to schedule a single-issue bond proposal for a new career high school because a recent task force found the district also needs upgraded technology, security and a new elementary school, Board President Stan Lambert (pictured) noted that the district will have some of the 2004 bond money to renovate schools during the 2010-2011 school year.

Pearland in line for $1 million for park-and-ride service

Felicia Kyle

Pearland city officials recently won support from the Transportation Policy Council of the Houston-Galveston Area Council for the city's application for about $1 million in federal funding for park-and-ride service between Pearland and the Houston Medical Center. The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County is expected to vote on the grant application at its meeting on Aug. 10.

Mayor Pro Tem Felicia Kyle (pictured) said the city will be required to contribute about $100,000 to qualify for the Job Access Reverse Commute Freedom Grant Program of the Federal Transit Administration. The city also received support from Brazoria County and Connect Transit, which currently operates an on-demand transportation service for disabled and elderly Brazoria County residents and plans to operate the park-and-ride service for Metro, Kyle said.

Transit officials already are negotiating a lease-purchase agreement for the proposed park-and-ride facility, but the contract cannot be finalized until the grant application is approved by Metro, she said. The proposed site has infrastructure in place and could be in operation by late fall, said Jon Branson, an assistant city manager. Officials declined to identify the location of the proposed park-and-ride facility. If approved, the JARC grant funding will pay for the cost of acquiring the facility and the city will pay operating costs, Kyle said.

Henderson ISD moving toward $48 million bond election

Jon Johnston

At a special meeting of the Henderson Independent School District, a majority of the trustees stated their support to ask voters to approve about $48 million in bonds as soon as November.

Trustees agreed to include $25.9 million for a new middle school for grades six, seven and eight, $3.84 million to expand and renovate Northside Elementary, $8.7 million for a performing arts center and competition gym at Henderson High School and $2.2 million for other renovations to the high school in the bond referendum. Trustees also agreed to ask voters to approve $3 million to upgrade Lion Stadium, $500,000 to renovate and expand the existing field house, $350,000 for additional parking and $1 million to expand the district's transportation and maintenance facility.

After a discussion on whether the district should move its administration offices to Chamberlain Elementary, board member Jon Johnston (pictured) said he would support a $2.5 million proposal to relocate the administration building as long as district officials considered other uses in the bond proposal. Trustees then agreed Kilgore College could use part of the facility and the district would develop another area for staff development instruction. District officials also plan to use savings retained in its fund balance to pay for a $3.8 million indoor practice facility and new dressing rooms at the high school scheduled to begin construction later this year.

Austin ISD appoints three new administrators

Superintendent Maria Carstarphen of the Austin Independent School District recently appointed a new associate superintendent, a chief schools officer and a chief financial officer. Carstarphen, who recently began her new position with AISD, said the appointments will fill out her new organizational structure. AISD trustees are expected to vote on the appointments at their next board meeting.

Carstarphen appointed Paul Cruz, who now serves as associate superintendent for middle schools, as the district's chief schools officer to supervise the academic management of schools, educational support services and high school redesign. Cruz formerly served as superintendent at Laredo ISD, an administrator at Brownsville ISD, San Antonio ISD, San Benito ISD, Round Rock ISD and as a teacher for Corpus Christi ISD.

Nicole Conley-Abram will serve as the district's new chief financial officer. She currently serves as deputy chief financial officer for Atlanta Public Schools and previously held positions at Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, the District of Columbia Public Schools and the New York City Board of Education. Maria Montoya-Hohenstein, who now serves as the interim associate superintendent for Austin's North Elementary Schools, was chosen to serve as associate superintendent for elementary schools. She previously served as a teacher for Corpus Christi ISD and as an administrator in Sioux City, Iowa, and Menlo Park, California.

Corpus Christi coliseum proposals due today

Joe Adame

Today, Friday, at 5 p.m. is the deadline for developers to submit plans for reusing the Memorial Coliseum in Corpus Christi. As of yesterday, there were no takers. Proposals that are received will be evaluated by a committee on Thursday, Aug 6, and a group of the top recommendations will be submitted to the City Council later in the month.

The committee, to be appointed by Mayor Joe Adame (pictured), has not yet been named. Developers are keeping their cards close to their vests on this one and officials say there could be a last-minute rush to get proposals submitted. Among the suggestions expected from proposals are to use the facility for a swim center, for possible housing and for an indoor ice skating facility to house a local hockey team.

The City Council could decide on the finalist by Sept. 15 and vote on acceptance of a contract by Oct. 27. The Coliseum is a fixture in the city, having opened more than 50 years ago, in 1954. It has been closed since the American Bank Center event center was opened.

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We're moving the SPI offices!!

Mary Scott Nabers

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

The key to every successful business is growth. At Strategic Partnerships, Inc., we've been fortunate to experience significant growth during each of our 14 years as a company.

And, as we've continued to add talent to our consulting and research teams, we've simply outgrown our office space...again. So, after seven years in this location, we are moving.

On Thursday, Aug. 6, we will close the doors at our offices on Courtyard Drive in Austin and move into a beautiful and spacious new home at Barton Oaks Plaza. We'll be located off South Mopac at the intersection of Bee Cave Rd. We will be just across the circular drive from Texas Land and Cattle and IHOP in Building #1 on the lobby floor.

The new location is closer to downtown, the State Capitol, state agencies and local government entities where we spend so much time. Our new office space will have five conference rooms and a great Strategic Edge Training Facility. We will christen the new training/conference room just two weeks after our move - on Tuesday, Aug. 25 - with two on-site Public Sector Sales Edge workshop sessions.


Estep selected as city planner for Greenville

Lance Estep, an urban planner with a firm in North Carolina, has been named city planner for the City of Greenville. He expects to begin his new job on Aug. 17.

Estep holds bachelor's and master's degree from East Tennessee State University. In addition to his position in North Carolina, Estep previously was transportation planner for Greenville County, South Carolina, and city planner for the City of Georgetown, Kentucky.

Palestine ISD approves $64M upgrades bond issue

Trustees for the Palestine Independent School District recently agreed to issue $64 million in bonds to improve each campus in the district, including a total facelift for the high school. Voters in May approved the $64 million bond package. Trustees also hired a Dallas-based construction company as the construction manager-at-risk for the upcoming bond projects.

Because the district improved its credit rating and a better bond market, the district was able to reduce the total amount of interest it originally planned on paying, a financial advisor said.

Greenville applies for $305,000 'green' grant

Greenville city council members recently authorized city staff to apply to the Texas Water Development Board for a $305,000, 30-year, interest-free "Green Project" loan to improve water treatment. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided funding for the loan.

City officials plan to use the grant funds to control algae growth at the reservoir water treatment plant to improve taste and odor of water by installing six solar-powered water aeration machines.

Midland to apply for grant
to pay for bulletproof vests

Midland city council members recently authorized the police department to apply for a grant to pay for replacing the department's old bulletproof vests. The vests, which cost about $550 each, must be replaced every five years, police officials said. The grant will cover about half the cost to replace the old vests, police officials said.

Rodriguez resigns as Mission ISD superintendent

Oscar Rodriguez

Superintendent Oscar Rodriguez (pictured) recently resigned from the position of superintendent of Mission Independent School District, a job he held since 2005. Rodriguez said he is leaving the district with one year left on his contract because his wife accepted a position with Dallas ISD. He said he would work out the remainder of his contract or stay with the district until a replacement can be hired.

The board's president said she expects board members will begin a search for a new superintendent at their next board meeting.

Lockhart council weighs
ACC satellite campus

The Lockhart City Council is eyeing an alliance with Austin Community College to build a satellite campus in the Lockhart area.

Sticking points have changed plans to build a Lockhart-based community college in the past, including ACC's stipulation that host cities develop a taxing entity. City Manager Vance Rodgers said the best course of action would be to determine whether ample support for a junior college exists within the community.

Texas Government Insider
to publish on Thursday

Because SPI will be busy moving into our new offices late next week, the Texas Government Insider will be published on Thursday, Aug. 6, instead of our usual Friday publication date. We will resume Friday publication on Aug. 14.

Archer County officials study new $5 million jail

Archer County officials recently began considering the final design of a proposed $5 million, 48-bed jail with an all-purpose room in Archer City. County Judge Gary Beesinger said the county plans to sell bonds, but does not plan on scheduling a bond election. County officials will hold public hearings to permit residents to view the jail plans and ask questions, Beesinger said. No public meetings have yet been scheduled, he added.

County commissioners originally estimated the new jail would cost between $3 million and $5 million, but the latest price tag for the new jail is now $5.5 million. Commissioners discussed cutting costs and suggested building a smaller lobby and using asphalt rather than concrete for the parking lot to reduce costs. The county already has purchased land in Archer City, hired a construction manager and a financial advisor for the project. Commissioners are expected to make final changes to the design of the new jail and approve a budget for the project at their next meeting.

Where are they now?

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

Deborah Hankinson

Deborah Hankinson worked for and then became a partner in a private practice firm from 1983 to 1995. She was then appointed and later elected to the Texas judiciary, where she first served as a Justice on the Fifth District Court of Appeals at Dallas from 1995 t0 1997. She was appointed to the Texas Supreme Court in 1997 and then elected to that post. She currently practice appellate law as a partner in a Dallas law firm.

Rick Green

Rick Green served as a member of the Texas House from 1999 to 2003. In 2000, he started a foundation aimed at educating tomorrow's leaders regarding how to impact public policy. He currently is on the public speaking tour speaking to live audiences and also speaks on radio and TV.

El Paso County approves $1.5M for water projects

El Paso County commissioners recently approved spending about $1.5 million on two water improvement projects in unincorporated areas of the Lower Valley. The projects are a $1.3 million project to extend a major water line near Fabens to bring running water to more than 120 homes and a new $300,000 water well in Tornillo to provide 333 more water connections to the area. The new water well should be completed before summer 2010, said Francella Vega, business manager for the El Paso County Tornillo Water Improvement District.

Commissioner Willie Gandara said the improvements are needed to meet the projected growth of the area, especially since the U.S. Congress is considering $91.5 million to upgrade the Tornlllo-Guadalupe port of entry.

New Braunfels to issue $9.5M debt for upgrades

The New Braunfels City Council recently authorized the issue of $9.5 million in debt to pay for a variety of projects and improvements. Council members approved $3.5 million to build and equip a new fire station, $2.6 million for equipment for city facilities, $1 million for a new human resources and financial software system and $325,000 for improvements to police department facilities and additional vehicles.

Council members approved a "priority of sale" agreement for the certificates that allowed Comal and Guadalupe County residents the first chance to buy the bonds and local residents bought about 30 percent of the bonds, officials said.

Surveillance cameras considered in Dallas

Ryan Evans

Dallas police officials recently requested council members to approve $173,000 to install cameras to monitor the perimeter of the city's 50-acre auto impound lo curb theft.

Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans (pictured) said the number of offenses at the auto impound area dropped from 49 in 2006 to 26 in 2008 after the city installed a new fence around the compound in 2007 and installed halogen lighting in 2008. Evans said the city also plans to buy a traffic spike system for the entrance and exit of the auto impound area to better protect the 1,800 vehicles stored daily in the impound area.

Sherman ISD approves funds for education center

Trustees for the Sherman Independent School District recently approved $8.2 million as the guaranteed maximum price for the final phases of a $77 million bond proposed approved in 2005.

The $8.2 million will pay for phases two and three of an education services center. The price covers the building foundation, construction, plumbing, electrical, masonry, steel, a pre-engineered building, roofing and interior finishes, said Bruce Barnett, assistant superintendent for business and finance. The $8.2 million does not include the cost of furnishing, heating, air conditioning, security systems, computer stations, data and phone wiring, landscaping or irrigation, Barnett noted.

Baytown City Clerk Darnell resigns her position

Baytown City Clerk Kaythie Darnell has resigned. Deputy City Clerk Leticia Garza will serve in that capacity in the interim until a replacement is hired, according to Baytown City Manager Garry Brumback.

Grayson County approves switch to private jail

Keith Gary

Grayson County commissioners recently agreed to transfer most jail operations to a private company despite some opposition from Sheriff Keith Gary (pictured), who supported asking voters to approve bonds to renovate the current jail facility.

Renovating the current jail would cost about $31 million, said County Judge Drue Bynum. The county judge also assured the sheriff that 24 of the sheriff's officers will be retained in the Justice Center and that he will work with the private company to provide fair pay and benefits to staff transferring to the private jail facility. The jail currently has 84 employees, he said.

Graham resigns as city manager in Colorado City

Zane Graham, who served for three years as city manager in Colorado City, recently resigned from that position. Council members appointed Denna Dickard as the acting city manager until an interim city manager can be named. Council members also set up a meeting with a search firm to aid in finding an interim city manager and in hiring a permanent city manager.

Taylor approves $61,500
to update master plan

Taylor City Council members recently approved up to $61,500 to pay for updating the city's downtown master plan. Funding for the study will come from the city's Tax Increment Financial Fund.

City officials said the study is needed to determine the condition of a 1935 landmark and to bring in a structural engineer to estimate the cost of leveling and repairing the building. The study will be done in three phases. At a cost of $13,500, the first phase will be a feasibility update on the aging municipal building and the City Square. Phase 1B will be a development plan for the area and cost $15,000. Phase 2, at an estimated cost of $33,000, will be the final Downtown Plan update that includes the city's historic downtown district.

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Navasota to issue $11.5M debt for municipal building

The Navasota City Council recently agreed to issue up to $11.5 million in Combination Tax and Revenue Certificates of Obligation to pay for a new municipal building. Passing the resolution allows the city to receive a more favorable interest rate and a competitive construction bid, said City Manager Brad Stafford.

The project will include demolishing the current city hall and police building and improvements to streets, utility and communications infrastructure, parking, landscaping and street lighting, Stafford said.

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USDOT grants stimulus funds to S.A. transit system

The VIA Metropolitan Transit Authority in San Antonio is poised to receive $30 million from the U.S. Transportation Department to buy 29 replacement buses, according to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The funds arrive as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The stimulus funds will be used to buy 28 40-foot buses and one 35-foot bus in addition to replacements for bus equipment, shelters, kiosks and signs. Federal Transit Administration administrator Peter Rogoff said the public's demand for transit services continues to increase. "These dollars will help meet that need," he said.

Texas Government Insider Archives

Volume 1 - 7 Archives · 11/7/03 - 7/24/09

Navasota ISD approves
new learning center

Rory Gesch

Trustees for the Navasota Independent School District recently approved the construction of a new Special Education Vocational Learning Center on the high school campus. The district will use funding from its share of federal stimulus funding for the project.

Interim Superintendent Rory Gesch (pictured) reported the district received approval from the state to build the learning center for Life Skills students and other special education students enrolled in the Careers Class at the high school. District officials plan to use two grants from the Navasota Education Foundation to secure curriculum and equipment such as kitchen appliances, a washer and dryer and a hydraulic lift table for the center, he said.

Keene ISD to renovate elementary, junior high

Trustees for the Keene Independent School District recently agreed to begin construction this summer on expansions of an elementary school and a junior high school.

The construction includes the addition of classrooms to the elementary school and moving the building's entrance from north to south, said Superintendent Kevin Sellers. The junior high project includes new classrooms and a cafetorium for use by both junior high and high school students. The two projects are scheduled to be completed by the beginning of the 2011-12 school year, Sellers said.

Brenham to receive $325K grant for firefighters

Terry Roberts

Brenham city officials recently received notice that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has approved a $325,140 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant.

The SAFER grant will be used to help pay the salaries and benefits for three more firefighters for five years, said City Manager Terry Roberts (pictured). The grant is on a sliding scale and will pay 90 percent of the costs for the first year and decline to paying only 30 percent of the cost in four years and none of the cost in year five.

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El Paso International Airport to install solar lighting

El Paso International Airport officials are planning to install solar-powered lights in the facility's long-term parking lot. The plan calls for a test run of the lights and to eventually extend the lighting to the rest of the airport parking lots, according to Jerry Bettendorf, assistant aviation director for operations and security.

The El Paso City Council will be asked to spend $330,700 for the new lighting system, roughly 60 percent less expensive than the price quoted to install conventional lights. The solar lights will save a projected $40,000 a year in electrical costs.

"We know they work," Bettendorf said. The airport bought three solar-powered lights for the long-term parking lot's entrance three years ago.

Waco approves $3M for police headquarters building

Larry Groth

Waco city council members recently approved $3 million to buy a 10-story, 100,000-square-foot building to serve as the new police headquarters. Council members also approved another $260,000 for a nearby 360-space parking garage.

Voters in June 2007 approved $13 million in bonds to pay for a new police headquarters. After paying for the building, city officials expect to spend the approximately $9.7 million remaining to renovate the facility. City Manager Larry Groth (pictured) said the price tag for a new police headquarters would have been more than $30 million if the city had bought land and built a headquarters building and parking garage. Renovations to the new building, which formerly served as a medical tower, should be completed in about 15 months, Groth said.

Harris County to begin road improvements in east areas

Harris County plans to begin work in early 2010 on a $34 million project to improve the Genoa Red Bluff Road by replacing the narrow roadway with a concrete roadway with curbs, gutters and storm drains. Phase 1 of the project will rebuild the road between Beltway 8 and Baywood Drive while phase II will rebuild the road from Baywood Drive to Red Bluff Road. The county will work with the cities of Houston and Pasadena on the project designed to improve hurricane evacuation in the area.

The county and the Port of Houston Authority also are contributing $7.3 million to improve Pasadena Boulevard from Beltway 8 to Red Bluff Road and from Burke Road to Pansy Street. That project will be managed by the city of Pasadena, said a spokesman for the Precinct 2 Commissioner's office. Also in the design phase are improvements to Main Street in Pasadena from Highway 225 to Southmore. The $7 million project will improve the roadway to a three-lane concrete roadway with curbs and gutters. New drainage also will be added.

The Texas Government Insider is a free weekly e-newsletter detailing important happenings throughout the state and summarizing current political issues relevant to individuals interested in government.

Publisher: Mary Scott Nabers

The Insider is published by Strategic Partnerships, Inc. (SPI), a research and consulting firm. Founded in Texas in 1994 by former government executives and public sector experts, SPI has developed a national reputation as the premier marketing partner dedicated to helping companies secure contracts in the $1.5 trillion state and local government marketplace.

To learn more about SPI services click here or contact our sales department at 512-531-3900.

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TML getting ready for October annual conference

The Texas Municipal League will host its 97th Annual Conference and Exhibition Tuesday through Friday, Oct. 20-23, at the Fort Worth Convention Center. Each day of the conference will feature concurrent sessions and keynote speakers. The TML Board of Directors meet will be Friday, Oct. 23. Among the many topics for the concurrent sessions are: State-of-the-Art Technology for Small Cities, Successful Economic Development in a Difficult Economy and Protecting City Accounts from Identity Theft. There will be an interactive session on dealing with difficult personalities. Other topics will be federal issues of importance to cities, community policing, preparing critical IT structure systems for disaster, maximizing retail opportunities, strategic planning and more. Among the keynote speakers will be Craig Karges, who combines magic with psychology and intuition to explore the potential of the human mind. For more information, click here. To register online, click here.

Freedom of Information Foundation plans conference

The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas' 2009 Bernard and Audre Rapoport State Conference is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 21, at the Renaissance Hotel, 9721 Arboretum Blvd. in Austin. The conference begins with registration at 8:15 a.m. "Opening Tomorrow's Doors: Meeting Tomorrow's Challenges" will be the theme for the one-day event, which features Sen. Rodney Ellis as the keynote speaker for the noon Henry Faulk Awards Luncheon. Topics for the morning and afternoon sessions include social media and key Texas Freedom of Information Act rulings. To view the agenda, click here. To register, click here.

Public Funds Investment Act workshop set in August

The Alamo Area Council of Governments and the University of North Texas will host the annual Public Funds Investment Act Workshop on Aug. 24 and 25 at the Al J. Notzon III Board Room, 8700 Tesoro Drive, Suite 100, San Antonio. The workshop provides 10 hours of PFIA training and CEP credits. Early bird discounts apply. For more information and to register online, click here.

Emergency Management Association plans symposium

"Make It Happen," the 3rd Annual Emergency Management Association of Texas (EMAT) symposium is slated for Aug. 30-Sept. 2 at the Omni Corpus Christi Hotel Bayfront Tower in Corpus Christi. A limited number of rooms have been secured for $85 per night, so attendees are urged to make reservations early. Attendees will have the opportunity to attend a refresher course and take the exam for Texas Floodplain Mangers Certification. The general membership meeting will include board elections, 2009 EMAT awards and recognition of Texas Emergency Manager certification recipients. For more information, click here. Online registration will be available soon.