January 2012

Reporting Home

Click on the following story you wish to see

AISD Trustee Sue Stringer

Kathryn Klentzman Retires from Library

Ron Cox Says Goodbye

City Amends Development Ordinance

City sets pipeline ordinance

City to Expand Business Permitting

AISDs' Brothers retiring

 

AISD Trustee Sue Stringer

January 4, 2012

Sue Stringer was elected to the Alvin ISD Board of Trustees last May after defeating incumbent Bobby Verdine.  Stringer, a 35-year Alvin resident, sought the position because she was troubled by the quality of education provided by local schools and was alarmed at the manner in which hard-earned tax dollars were being spent to provide that education. 

After nearly eight months in office she says the position has been mostly as expected.  It’s a tough job, she explained and while the time commitment was somewhat expected, she admits she did not really understand the amount of time required to adequately prepare for meetings and to be sufficiently knowledgeable on the issues that she would be voting on.  She believes in reading her information packet(s) completely, though she expects as more time passes and her experience grows as to what she is looking for in the information that less time will be needed.  There are also events and other occasions demanding of her time.

A promise she made when elected, particularly to those in the western edge of the district, was that she would be involved and seen with greater frequency than just during an election cycle.  She has kept that promise attending numerous functions and events.  She believes in making herself accessible to anyone wanting to talk with her about school district affairs.  While she stands by her pledge when running for office that it really is about the kids, she acknowledges that it is obviously about the taxpayers too.  They must go hand-in-hand, she explains, and all the great ideas in the world don’t matter if the taxpayers can’t afford it, particularly in the current economic environment.

She expressed some frustration with the process late last year that ended with a 4 cent increase in the tax rate.  She felt the district may not have been quite up front with the Board and taxpayers regarding the surplus of funds available that could have resulted in a different outcome on the tax increase vote.  According to Stringer, the District has $28 million in unspent bond funds from the 2009 election.  Additionally, the District ended the recent fiscal year with a $16 million surplus after it was originally projected to be just $4.7 million.  Trustees voted a tax increase based on the lower projection which saw taxpayers bills increase this year.  Stringer speculates that the vote could have been different if the actual number was known at the time, particularly as the District was required to pay down their debt by just $1.4 million to avoid the increase.  The vote was 5-2 in favor of the tax increase with Eddie Martinez joining Stringer in opposition.

Stringer explains that she likes to ask questions and expresses some frustration with the District’s preference that all questions are dealt with before the public Board meetings held on the second Tuesday of each month.  She explained that as the reason there is often little discussion at the meetings and that those in attendance typically have little knowledge of the issue being voted on.  She would like to change that practice so that meetings are more open to the public and she also would like to have posted the packet of information each Trustee receives on line and available for review prior to the meeting taking place.  All of the material, she explains, with the exception of executive sessions, is public information. 

Stringer says many other districts, in addition to making the information available, hold agenda workshops a day or two before their regular public meeting where anybody can attend and ask questions and offer input.  She feels the district’s current policy circumvents the Texas Open Meetings Act, which is in place to ensure that Texas government is as transparent as possible.  The Act, as elucidated by the Texas Attorney General, honors the principle that government at all levels in the state should operate in a way that is open and accessible to the people.  Texas courts have upheld the statutory duty of public officials to conduct open meetings, except in certain limited circumstances.

Stringer feels she has earned the respect of fellow board members and district administrators.  She explains that her effort to change some of the culture is not personal and that she conducts all her business affairs in that manner.  She feels that if personalities are allowed to be brought in that the system would bog down and everyone, particularly the kids and the taxpayers, would lose.

Trustees are elected for three year terms.  Of the seven positions, three are up for election this May; Position 3 currently held by Mark Patterson, Position 1 currently held by Pete Vincent, and Position 2 currently held by Earl Humbird.

Reporter Home                    Top of Page

Kathryn Klentzman Retires from Library

January 4, 2012

Long time Manvel Librarian Kathryn Klentzman was honored by fellow library staff and citizens last week for her 26 years of service.  A reception was held at the Manvel Library to express thanks and to wish good luck in retirement.  Klentzman expressed gratitude for the recognition and the opportunity to thank everybody for all the support shown the library over the years.  She became librarian in 1985 when the facility was in the old school building. 

At a city council meeting in November, Mayor Delores Martin presented a Certificate of Recognition to Klentzman and proudly spoke of her stewardship of the city’s library as she explained the library’s growth from the smallest branch in the county to the 5th busiest.  The library currently circulates 9,000 items each month, boasts more than 5,000 registered patrons, and provides numerous services including public computers, adult reading clubs, and many children’s programs

Reporter Home                    Top of Page

Ron Cox Says Goodbye

January 11, 2012

Ron Cox participated in his final city council meeting as Interim City Manager this week.  Cox was appointed to the position last July and was charged with helping council from an administrative perspective with the transition from the mayor’s role and duty to that of the city manager.  The charter approved by voters last year required city policies to undergo review and change to reflect the new authority.

Cox was also charged with the selection process for the placement of a full time manager by the end of 2011.  Newly appointed city manager Kyle Jung was in attendance at the council meeting and is expected to assume his full time duties on January 17.

Cox has been a paid consultant to the city for more than five years over which he has had considerable interaction at both the policy administration level and at the development level.  He has guided the city through various policy developments; was the impetus behind the establishment of the city’s comprehensive plan; was responsible for the application and receiving of grant funds; negotiated and executed developer agreements with Seven Oaks, The Presidio, Lakeland, Blue Water Lakes, and others; and he was a key contributor and adviser to the writing and ultimate passage of the city charter amendment last year. 

In his closing remarks to council, Cox expressed his appreciation to the confidence placed in him while serving as City Manager.  He also was grateful to the city staff who he said had done a tremendous job in keeping him informed so that he could make decision without having to be in the office every day.  He looks forward to continuing to work in whatever capacity the city may need and said he knows the new team will do great things for Manvel.

Reporter Home                    Top of Page

City Amends Development Ordinance

January 18, 2012

Dan Johnson, the city’s consulting civil engineer, addressed city council last week regarding the city’s efforts to change the city’s code of ordinances regarding new development’s having to complete drainage and retention requirements before building permits will be issued.  The matter came to light recently as an attempt to secure a permit for the construction of an O’Reilly Auto Parts store was withheld due to the ordinance as it currently is written.

It is typical for commercial developers to multi task their work in an effort to complete the job as quickly as possible.  It is not uncommon to see a construction job undergoing site work, such as drainage and utility infrastructure, simultaneous with structural work, such as the erecting of walls and ceilings.  In the particular case of the O’Reilly store, the builder was faced with the challenge of having a lender holding back financing until such time a permit has been issued while the city would not agree to issue a permit until all drainage and retention requirements were completed.  Interim City Manager Ron Cox explained it succinctly to council saying that all the change does is allow the commercial developer to begin the building of the structure before the detention and all the drainage is in place. 

Amending the ordinance will allow some flexibility for smaller construction jobs while maintaining the original intent which was focused toward large scale subdivision developers.  The impetus behind the original ordinance was to prevent a developer from building houses and having people move in before the public infrastructure such as roads, detention, and drainage were complete.  The concern is that a developer may go out of business or simply fail to live up to the plan, leaving the city and the home buyers with the financial and administrative burden of completing the work.

Johnson explained that the change still protects the residential side through plat requirements and other controls.  He explained that in any event all public improvements, such as roads, sewers, and such will continue to have to be done in full before a permit is issued.  He feels it makes sense on the commercial side to allow different work to move forward together.  Schools would also see relief from the current requirement that Johnson claims is a little tough to meet.

The ordinance amendment was passed with a 5-2 vote with Council Member Bob Long and Mayor Delores Martin voting against.

Reporter Home                    Top of Page

City sets pipeline ordinance

January 18, 2012

City council last week approved the first reading of a pipeline ordinance in response to two pending franchise applications.  The item was tabled from a previous meeting to allow additional research so that council would feel better informed on the matter.  The second and final reading will be conducted at the next council meeting scheduled for January 23.

Interim City Manager Ron Cox explained that the ordinance contains fee provisions for the use of the city’s right-of-way as well as crossing the city’s right-of-way.  He also explained that the insurance requirements should be increased “significantly” from the original proposed ordinance discussed at the previous meeting.  The type of coverage should be expanded to include a disaster provision such as a major spill or pipeline break that would require the pipeline owner to provide coverage for any losses resulting from the disaster.  The amount of insurance was increased as well to $20 million.

The greatest discussion was on the matter of distance from the pipeline to a structure as a way to increase public safety.  While a 50 foot distance is most common in neighboring municipalities, some members favored a 100 foot distance.  Cox explained that making the distance too great will result in a negative impact on a developer as it would decrease significantly the amount of property a builder would have available for improvement.  Member Melody Hanson pointed out that it would also have a negative impact on existing property owners should they wish to build on their lots. 

Cox went on to explain that most builders would be able to accommodate the 50 foot requirement while 100 feet would present a challenge on most 1-acre lots.  While acknowledging that the perception of safety would be improved by going with the longer distance, the actual safety and the detrimental effect on home owners and developers would be offset with that.  Cox clarified that the two pipelines under current franchise application are either in an existing easement or immediately adjacent to an existing easement.

He also said that the signage requirement was expanded to require signs within 500 feet rather than the ¼ mile as originally proposed.  In an urban environment such as Manvel’s future expectations, Cox suggested it made good sense to adopt the 500 foot requirement.

Council approved the ordinance’s first reading with Cox’s recommendations by a 4-3 vote.  Mayor Delores Martin, in voting against, said that she wanted to protect the citizens as much as possible.  Member Mack Ivy also voted against expressing his concern with the 50 foot distance and questioned what would be a good balance.  He did commend the 6 foot depth requirement as a good thing as it will decrease the likelihood that an underground pipeline would be inadvertently compromised by errant digging.

Melody Hanson voted no as she inquired about the provision in the ordinance that calls for the pipeline owner to restore ground cover that may be destroyed in the installation of the pipeline.  Specifically she is concerned about old trees that can’t be replaced by a small seedling.  The city’s attorney explained that the city cannot protect each individual property owner and that they would need to take up the matter with the pipeline owner.  In regards to city owned property, the requirement will be that an industry formula be followed that would provide for a 36” tree to be replaced with three 12” trees.

Reporter Home                    Top of Page

City to Expand Business Permitting

January 25, 2012

Manvel city council is moving forward with plans to expend the number of permitted uses by businesses looking to move into the city or those wishing to expand current activities.  Jim Sullivan, who serves as the city’s zoning enforcement officer, and Dan Johnson, the city’s consulting civil engineer, were on hand at a recent council meeting to address the issue and answer questions from members.

Interim City Manager Ron Cox summed up the effort.  The Planning, Development, & Zoning Commission (PD&Z) has worked with the city’s staff to prepare a new permitted use table that was preliminarily approved by council a few weeks ago.  The current zoning ordinance allows just 71 different kinds of business uses while the proposed Permitted Use Table will allow thousands of uses.  Cox says it will greatly expand business opportunity while also serving to structure that opportunity within the purview of businesses that are permitted, not permitted, or permitted by a specific use designation.  

Jim Sullivan described the process as using a model developed from the Friendswood Table and making an effort to keep zoning the same for every business wherever possible.  Under the specific use zoning in place currently, there are only three types of uses that will be considered on a case-by-case basis with ultimate approval by city council.  Adoption of the new Table will significantly expand the possibility of new businesses gaining a permit to operate.

Sullivan explained that all current businesses are grandfathered so that they can remain as they are.  It is when one of those businesses wants to expand that the new ordinance might have a negative effect on their on-going operation.  If a grandfathered business is sold and the new owner continues the business as it was, there would be no change in their status.  But should the new owner want to change or expand the business in some way the new ordinance would then need to be adhered to.

City Secretary Tammy Bell and Permits Clerk Elaine Graham worked to develop a plan on how to approach current businesses and how best to work them through the process.  Cox explained that 28 of the city’s current 109 permitted businesses will move from legal conforming to legal non-conforming when the new Table goes into effect.  A pathway has been developed to move those affected businesses back into a legal conforming status.

Cox expounded on the topic by saying that current owners who wish to become conforming, so that options for expansion are available, can do so by following the prescribed specific use procedure.  Cox went on to say that those businesses are better served by starting the process sooner rather than later and in an effort to encourage them to do so; council was asked to waive any costs associated with the process in the first 90-days of the ordinance’s adoption.  There currently is an application fee for the specific use permit process of $1,800.  Cox estimated the highest cost to the city would be $11,200 if all 28 businesses applied.

Mayor Delores Martin boasted that it is a generous offer and that gives the city an opportunity to become user-friendly to the city’s existing businesses, many of whom consider the city not so inclined toward business support.

Sullivan anticipates some manufacturing businesses may not see value in the process and may show little interest in seeking legal conformity.  Mayor Martin expressed her feeling that it would be in the interest of the plants to earn legal conformity should future expansion be sought or in case the plant is sold and the new owner wishes to grow.  Sullivan concurred that it would add value to the business.

Member Mack Ivy inquired of how to make sure all affected businesses are notified so that there is no issue down the road of some claiming to not have been informed.  Cox explained that the city staff has proposed that each one be notified with an invitation to meet with representatives from the city to lay out the rules and explain the opportunity to secure conforming status at no financial cost.  Cox said it is desirable to initiate that process before the ordinance is officially adopted so as to minimize possible confusion.  Cox explained that documentation would be produced showing that the letters were delivered and the meeting offered as protection from future claims of unawareness on the part of existing business owners.  Member Lew Shuffler suggested a waiver form be executed by all businesses opting out of the process.

Two public hearings and three meetings are scheduled in February on this matter.  Mayor Martin said the meetings offer an opportunity for all citizens to come forward to learn about the plan and ask questions.  It is expected that final adoption will be approved at council’s February 27 meeting.

Reporter Home                    Top of Page

AISDs' Brothers retiring

January 25, 2012

Alvin ISD Director of Public Information, Shirley Brothers, is retiring after 40 years of dedicated service to public education and the District.

Brothers, a proud graduate and supporter of Sam Houston State University, began her career in 1971 as a special education teacher in Alvin ISD. After 14 years of teaching, she became the District’s first Coordinator of Public Relations. She was soon named the Director of Public Information, and held that post for 26 years. During her tenure she worked with eight different superintendents, multiple Board members, and an array of administrators, teachers and staff.

“She has been the voice, the face and the spirit of Alvin ISD for nearly 27 years. She has created a standard of excellence in public relations, community involvement and commitment to students that will be hard to match. She is an invaluable asset and resource to the District and will be missed by all,” said Dr. Fred Brent, Alvin ISD superintendent of schools.

Over the years Brothers has served on multiple committees, held many leadership positions, served on several Boards, and received numerous awards and accolades for her outstanding work and involvement in civic and professional organizations. She was named Longfellow Elementary Teacher of the Year, and then selected as the Alvin ISD District Teacher of the Year in 1985. Her dedication to the community was rewarded when she was selected as the Alvin Manvel Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year in 1996 and again in 2008. She also received the Soroptimists of Alvin Woman of Distinction Award in 2009, and the Texas School Public Relations Association Professional Achievement Award the same year, to name a few.

January 31 will be Brothers’ last day of official work, prior to enjoying her six grandchildren, spending time at her family farm, and continuing to help out the District when needed. She insists that she is “only a phone call away.” She also plans to “actually finish a magazine before it is six months old.”

Reporter Home                    Top of Page