February 2013

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Congressman Randy Weber Visits Area

AISD Under Scrutiny

Two Council Positions Up for Election

Manvel Council News

Nicole Tonini to make second run for AISD Trustee

Public Safety Departments Update Council

City moves forward with land acquisition

AISD Annual AEIS Report

Brazoria County Dedicates War Memorial

Congressman Randy Weber Visits Area

February 6, 2013

 

Newly elected US Congressman Randy Weber paid a visit to the area last week. Weber was elected in November to the seat formerly held for many years by Ron Paul. A meet-and-greet was sponsored by the Chocolate Bayou Federal Credit Union in Alvin to allow constituents in the area to get to know their new representative and to ask questions.

Weber explained that congress is a “little like the state legislature” and considers himself to have had an advantage over other freshman representatives because he took his Chief of Staff of four years from his days in the State Legislature with him to DC. He feels their experience of working together helps considerably in setting up the new office, developing a budget, hiring staff, and filing and monitoring bills and keeping up with what is going on in the session. He said that some of his fellow freshmen had never run for any elected position before and “they are like deer in the headlights.”

Weber said he has retained some of Ron Paul’s former staff in the District and combined with his staff he enjoys “good experience on the ground, so we feel like things are going really well.” His office is receiving nearly 400 emails each day, a lot of which deals with the gun control issue, and many about illegal immigration. He says his office “tracks it and responds to it all”.

Weber has been assigned to the House Foreign Affairs committee, the Mid-east Committee, and the Space, Science and Technology Committee, which he considers important to NASA. He serves as Vice-Chair of the Energy Committee which is vital to our region, he believes, “because of all the petro-based chemical plants in the area.”

Weber states his goals for his first term as “to get Obama off our backs”, to work toward the repeal of Obamacare, to get the economy turned around, to create jobs in the area, and to work toward a “predictable regulatory and tax environment.” “We don’t have that,” he says.

He describes himself as “cautiously optimistic” in achieving those goals. He says the “bottleneck is the democrat controlled Senate, which has failed to produce a budget in three and a half years.” He explained a recently submitted House bill that calls for “no budget, no pay” in an effort to induce the Senate to meet their budget responsibilities. He believes President Obama, as the leader of the Democratic Party, needs to tell the Senate leadership “to get that budget out.”

Weber is a Pearland resident who built a successful small business, Weber’s Air and Heat, from scratch in 1981. He served on Pearland City Council from 1990-1996 and was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 2008. During his tenure in the House, he served on the committees of Environmental Regulation, Public Education, and as Vice Chair of Border and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Weber claims to strongly believe in the principles of our founding fathers and considers his previous legislative experience, business acumen, and conservative track record to be valuable assets as he serves in the US Congress.

Weber has been married for over 30 years and has three children and four grandchildren. He has served as a Bible Study and Men’s Group leader, as Chairman of the Men’s Ministry, and is a Deacon at his church. He is a graduate of Alvin Community College and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Houston at Clear Lake.

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AISD Under Scrutiny

February 6, 2013

 

In recent weeks, the AISD Board of Trustees and the Superintendent have been accused by some of malfeasance in regards to the acquisition of four vehicles to serve the Food Services Department.

The matter was provided increased exposure at the January Board of Trustees meeting when Dennis Edwards, a Pearland resident and AISD constituent, addressed the Board during its “Open Forum”. Edwards prefaced his remarks that he considers the matter to “be of the utmost, serious nature.” He went on to say that he believes it “uniquely important” that School Board Trustees and school administrators “exhibit at all times and in all actions the highest adherence to the law.”

Edwards went on to recite a timeline of events, which he describes as “indisputable”, that are the substance of the accused breach of trust. On September 15, 2012, purchase orders (PO’s) were issued for four vehicles not budgeted for and unapproved by the Board of Trustees. On September 25, AISD accepted delivery of two of the vehicles. On October 9, the Board of Trustees voted to reject the vehicle purchases. On October 26, AISD accepted delivery of the other two vehicles despite the Board’s prior rejection. On November 13, Edwards said “the Board knowingly and deliberately violated its own Board policy by voting to approve the purchase of these vehicles after the fact by a 4-3 vote.”

Edwards believes the Board “may have also violated the Texas Education Code, which is the State law that governs this District.” Quoting the law, Edwards said “public funds of a school district may not be used or spent in any manner other than as provided for in the budget adopted by the Board of Trustees.” He continued in citing the law saying that any Superintendent or Board Trustee authorizing the expenditure of funds in excess of the formally adopted budget commits a Class “C” misdemeanor.

While staying short of demanding resignations, Edwards specifically called out Trustees Tiffany Wennerstrom, Charles McCauley, Regan Metoyer, and Cheryl Harris, as well as Superintendent Fred Brent, and Assistant Superintendent Tommy King “to now carefully examine your ability to continue to serve. You simply cannot ask the students in this District to learn the important life lessons of responsibility and accountability if you yourselves will not accept the highest standards.”

AISD’s Director of Communication, Daniel Combs, admits there was a “mistake” and conceded a “procedural error on the purchase.” His explanation suggests no “malice or intent” in failing to adhere to Board policy or state law and he expressed willingness to readily make available any documents related to the circumstance.

Combs explained that at the beginning of the budget year a requested amendment was submitted by the Child Nutrition Department to transfer money already allotted to other accounts in the department for the acquisition of four vehicles, among other things. Combs acknowledges “that is really where the error took place” because there was an assumption by staff members that the moving of funds through the budget amendment was tantamount to an approval to move forward with the purchase.

The vote on the vehicle purchase at the October meeting was a tie, as one Trustee was not in attendance. A tie vote essentially rejects the motion. Combs recalled questions asked by Trustees on the need for the vehicles as they never had them before and on the cost of reimbursements to employees currently using their personal vehicles in fulfillment of their jobs.

Combs made clear that no funds had been spent to that point despite the issuance of PO’s and the delivery of the vehicles. He explained AISD’s acceptance of the deliveries as employees following protocol based on the improperly issued PO’s. When told that authorization was not granted and that the vehicles would need to be returned, the dealerships responded with a suggestion that the vehicles remain “stored” in the custody of AISD until the matter is re-visited by the Board at its November meeting.

At the November meeting, Superintendent Brent accepted responsibility in admitting to a “procedural error” in the vehicle acquisition process and explained that revised policies and procedures would be submitted for Board approval to avoid like “mistakes” in the future. This time the Board voted approval of the purchase with a 4-3 vote.

Combs said clarification was obtained from the District’s legal counsel that while policies were broken the Board maintained the authority to decide if they want to purchase the vehicles or not. He went on to say that “it is illegal if there are no funds to cover a purchase” but in this case funds were available to cover the entire cost. Combs rejects the allegations that laws were broken.

Responding to the accusation of malfeasance, Board of Trustees President Tiffany Wennerstrom submitted the following prepared text: “Following the allegations that district officials and selected Board Members were in violation of breaking district policies or possibly State laws, the board sought insight from their legal counsel. The Board was advised that indeed, as Dr. Brent previously informed the board, that the district purchasing policy had been violated; however, clarification indicates that no legal violations occurred. As well within the authority of the Board, we authorized the purchase of the vehicles to aid the Child Nutrition Department as they had been using personal vehicles for district responsibilities. Dr. Brent has been instructed to ensure that measures are put in place to prevent these types of errors from occurring in the future.”

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Two Council Positions Up for Election

February 13, 2013

 

The City of Manvel will hold an election on May 11 for two council positions. Place 6 is currently held by Lew Shuffler, who has yet to announce his intention of running again. Place 4 is held by Mayor Pro-tem and current senior council member Melody Hanson, who says she is undecided but is leaning toward another run. It would be her fourth term on council.

All elected council terms run for three years. According to Manvel’s City Secretary, Tammy Bell, applications for those wishing to run for a seat must be filed with her office at city hall by 5PM on March 1. In order to qualify for candidacy the following conditions must be met: 21 years of age, a US citizen, a qualified voter of the city, reside in the city for at least 12 consecutive months preceding the election, not an employee of the city, file for only one position, and not be a convicted felon or have been convicted of any offense involving moral turpitude.

Early voting begins April 29 and runs through May 7.

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Manvel Council News

February 13, 2013

 

Manvel City Council held a Public Hearing regarding an amendment to the city’s Zoning Ordinance that would change the classification of a 3.43 acre tract of land located at 21202 Highway 6 from Heavy Commercial to Heavy Commercial with a Specific Use Permit. The proposed facility would have allowed for outdoor storage of boats, RV’s, and other like equipment.

City Manager Kyle Jung explained the three major things the Specific Use Permit would have allowed was the waiver of a requirement for a site built office, not having an on-site restroom, and the tallness of the vehicles over the height of the fence.

After discussion and a change in the language of the proposal to mandate an 8 foot wooden fence and not allowing any stored item to be seen from the outside of the fence, council voted not to move forward with the action.

Council members were apprehensive of the ultimate appearance of the facility. Member John Cox said he “has a real problem with it” stating his disbelief that the storage of “150 motorized vehicles, whether they are cars, boats, trucks, or campers, will not look like another junk yard on Highway 6.” Members were unanimous in their condemning other properties along the highway that “look like junk yards” and did not want to add another.

In other news, members voted to approve a budget change that will appropriate not more than $25,000 to Olson & Olson LLP for professional services to update the city’s 2007 Comprehensive Plan. It is suggested that a city update its Plan every five years.

A request for a variance in the city’s Design Criteria Manual by the Alvin Independent School District (AISD) was voted down unanimously. AISD requested approval to design parking spaces for the new Elementary School that will soon be under construction at a dimension of 9 feet wide by 18 feet deep. The city’s requirement calls for 10 feet wide by 20 feet deep.

AISD’s Director of Building Projects, Jeff Couvillion, explained to council it would save the district $55,000 in construction costs and that the requested standard is commonly used at other school facilities. Members felt the 9 foot standard is not sufficiently wide to accommodate larger vehicles.

The new school will be located on CR 59 just east of Kirby and borders the northern border of the Southfork subdivision in the city’s ETJ. Couvillion said construction is expected to commence on March 1.

Council also approved the re-appointment of four members to the Planning, Development and Zoning Commission with a term to expire in March 2015. Those re-appointed were Brian Wilmer, Kyle Marasckin, Jason Rains, and Jerome Hudson.

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Nicole Tonini to make second run for AISD Trustee

February 13, 2013

 

Nicole Tonini has filed to run for AISD Trustee Position 5 against incumbent Eddie Martinez. It will be a second try for Tonini who was narrowly defeated last year for the Position 1 seat by just two votes among nearly 3,000 cast.

Tonini says the disappointing defeat did not deter her “desire to serve the schools.” In the past year she has attended all but one Board meeting and has attended many of the Board workshops. She claims to have led the fight against a proposal to change the voting procedure in AISD from a plurality to a majority. Tonini asserts to have shown how the proposed solution would have cost the district an additional $300,000.

She has served on Congressman Pete Olson’s Youth Advisory Council and as Vice President to the Manvel High School Booster Club, having chaired the Booster Club’s Gala fundraiser. She assisted the Alvin Education Foundation by serving as a "celebrity waitress" at their annual fundraiser where she also took the lead in fund raising in the northwest area of the district where there were no school sponsors prior to her involvement.

Additionally she has sponsored her son in the completion of his Eagle Project, chaired her child’s Elementary school's Christmas store, and volunteered to serve in Public Relations and as a Sunday school teacher for her Church.

She feels each of these activities demonstrate her qualifications and better prepare her for the duties of a School Board Trustee. In seeking to be the first elected representative from the west side of the district, she says she will face again a “political machine that has a tight grip on the local politics and a school board that all live within three square miles of each other in a school district with over 252 square miles and partisan power within the school board.”

Her opponent, Eddie Martinez, has served on the School Board twice. He was first elected in 1999 for a three year term and then again in 2007 and 2010 for consecutive three year terms. Martinez is a graduate of Alvin High School and owns The Old Ballpark in Alvin.

Early voting will begin on April 29 and runs through May 7. The general election is scheduled for Tuesday, May 11.

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Public Safety Departments Update Council

February 20, 2013

 

Manvel city council received Departmental Updates from Manvel EMS, the Fire Department, and the Police Department at its recent meeting. Dave Ferguson presented an end-of-year report for 2012 from the EMS Department. He told council that his department had its busiest year ever in terms of call volume. For the first time in its history, Manvel EMS handled more than 1000 calls. In fact, 1101 calls for service were handled. Ferguson went on to say that just ten years ago the department was handling just 600 calls. He explained the nearly doubling of call volume in ten years speaks to the growth of the area.

Ferguson was pleased to inform council that the department bettered its self-imposed average response time of 9 minutes 59 seconds for the year with a 9 minute 45 second average for the entire 85 square mile service area. For the last five months of the year, more than 90 calls were handled each month. August and September were the busiest months of the year with more than 100 calls handled each month.

Ferguson said he is working diligently to meet the demand and to well position the department for growth. He said three new employees were hired last year, each bringing with them good experience. One ambulance is staffed 24-hours every day of the year and he explained that there remain four volunteer members in the department who are not regularly staffed but do sometimes respond as a backup to the regular crew.

Steve DelBello reported on the Fire Department statistics for 2012. He informed council that the department currently operates seven vehicles, including three engines. Other vehicles include a tanker, a brush truck that was replaced in 2006, a utility vehicle for use by department personnel, and a rescue truck. He was pleased to announce that there is now a rescue truck on either side of the railroad tracks, enabling a better response time.

Cal volume was down in 2012 from the previous year. DelBello said 262 runs were made compared to just over 300 in 2011. The majority of calls were major accidents, followed by false alarms, brush fires, rescues, EMS assists, and a couple of HAZMAT (hazardous materials) runs. In covering 52 square miles, response time for 2012 averaged 7 minutes 45 seconds. He said runs to the far west side of the ETJ, such as to the SouthFork subdivision, can be upwards of fifteen miles and can require over ten minutes response time.

There are 22 members of the fire department with six paid positions. One member is available 24 hours every day. The budget for this year is $212,000 with over half the amount going to payroll, workmen’s comp and social security taxes. DelBello explained that the department’s members participate in a lot of public relations activities, such as going to the schools and contributing to Career Day. Additionally, last year they participated in Halloween functions and the Manvel Police Department’s cook-off event.

DelBello told council that 2012 saw the department receive four grants totaling about $30,000, enabling them to acquire additional gear so that now “everybody in the department has state-of-the-art gear that is less than five years old.” Their radio system is in the process of updating to digital handheld devices. Twelve additional units were acquired in 2012 and DelBello said an additional fifteen to twenty still need to be obtained as soon as money is available. $57,000 has been spent on new air packs so that the department is now equipped with “the best you can have out there.”

Interim Police Chief Art Chapa reported from his department that personnel currently consists of eight officers, including himself as the active chief, one acting Sergeant supervisor, five patrolmen, and one reserve officer. Chapa told council that one officer would be leaving the department and that he has discussed with the city manager the process of moving forward with an effort to secure a replacement. A new dispatcher hiring was announced by Chapa to have occurred the day of the report.

Saying the evidence room was in disarray upon his assuming the Chief position, he says electricity has been made available and a required inventory procedure has commenced to verify the evidence is properly accounted for and “in the right place.” He said the “required continuing education classes are being maintained, which the previous administration did not keep up with.” He is sending both patrol and dispatch officers to the legally required courses.

Two narcotics complaints have been taken care of and he describes them as on-going investigations. Traffic complaints that came through the mayor’s office, usually regarding school zones, are being handled and taken care of. Extra patrols have been on-going for some needed areas and Chapa said he is out there in his unmarked vehicle along with the regular patrol cars. He claims citizens to be happy to see the additional patrol presence. Chapa described his regular visiting of local businesses in the city and that “they know we are out there checking their businesses.”

Chapa expressed his opinion that department morale is “everything on the positive side now that we have gotten rid of a lot of dead weight that is no longer here; we are doing what we can with what we have and the people are very happy.”

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City moves forward with land acquisition

February 20, 2013

 

Last December Manvel city council authorized the mayor to execute an Earnest Money Contract to acquire approximately 108 acres on CR 58 (Croix Road). At last week’s council meeting final approval was granted for the city to complete the purchase.

City Manager Kyle Jung said the property will be obtained for $2,160,000 and will be paid through a Certificate of Obligation owed over 20 years. He described possible uses as detention for storm water, storage of surface water, a possible location of a surface water treatment plant, storage of water from the Gulf Coast Water Authority, and/or a city recreational facility.

Jung cited a water study funded by the Texas Water Development Board that is being conducted to help identify possible future resell water infrastructure plants. “There are three possible scenarios that will identify how municipal, industrial, agricultural, and other water users can design and build regional infrastructure to provide treated surface water for future water needs around the entire county.”

Mayor Martin made reference at the recent council meeting of a possible joint venture of some kind with Pearland. Jung explained that Pearland will construct a water plant somewhere west of the Pearland Town Center on a sand pit which will be incorporated into the regional plan. How regional cooperation among municipalities will evolve will be determined as on-going studies are completed and accepted by likely participants. Currently, Jung says, there are no formal plans or specific details on any joint efforts the city may involve itself in.

Last December, Jung claimed another benefit to the acquisition is that it would prevent its possible use as a landfill. It was explained at that time that the seller prefers it not be used in that way and the city’s acquisition would stop that prospect.

The sand pit consumes most all the 108 acres and as Mayor Martin described it last December, other than the 20 or so acres used as a staging area for the mining equipment it is anywhere from 70 to 80 feet deep. Water is currently pumped from the pit so that the sand mining activity can carry on.

City officials have time to decide on the land’s best use as a sand mining contract currently exists on the land with approximately two years remaining.

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AISD Annual AEIS Report

February 27, 2013

 

The Board of Trustees of the Alvin Independent School District (AISD) conducted a Public Hearing at its recent meeting on the 2011-2012 Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS). Each year AISD is required to make public an annual report that describes the educational performance of the district and each of its campuses.

Included in the report are results from TAKS testing, student attendance, and graduation rates. Also part of the report is student demographic information; staff demographic information; teacher experience and salary information; budget, revenue, and tax information; and student enrollment programs.

TAKS results for Reading/English Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies all saw an overall performance result within 2% of state averages. The lone standout from TAKS results was in 10th grade science which was 6% above the state average.

Student attendance for the school year 2010-2011 was 96% with the state average at 95.7%. The 2009-2010 school year saw attendance at 95.5%. The four year graduation rate for 2011 was 83.6% compared to 2010 at 84.8%. The five year extended graduation rate saw an increase in 2010 of more than 5 points to 89.9% which was 1.9% above the state average and higher than the class of 2009 at 88%.

The student population numbered 18,018 in the 2011-2012 school year. The demographic break down showed Hispanics in the majority at 44.5%, Whites at 32.1%, African Americans at 13.2%, Asians at 8%, and miscellaneous others comprising the balance. The five-year demographic trend from 2007 to 2012 saw the Hispanic population increase by 2.2%, African Americans by 2.3%, and whites decrease by 9.1%. Economically disadvantaged students amounted to 53.1% of the student population in 2011-2012, which represents an increase of 5.5% from 2007.

Staff information showed AISD to have fewer teachers and professional support as a percentage of the total staff when compared to the state average. AISD saw a combined 54.8% for those positions compared to 59.9% for the state. Administrators equaled the state average at 3.9%. Both Educational Aides (9.6% v 9.1%) and Auxiliary Staff (31.7% v 27.1%) exceeded the state averages. AISD showed a higher percentage when compared to state averages of teachers with five or fewer years’ experience (41.6% v 33.3%) and 6-10 years’ experience (24.0% v 22.3%). They were below the state average for teachers with 11-20 years’ experience (24.1% v 26.6%) and with more than 20 years’ experience (10.3% v 17.9%).

AISD teachers enjoy higher salaries than their state counterparts. Beginning teachers earn $46,290 compared to the state average of $40,911 and experienced teachers earned more than the state average in all categories of tenure. The District also enjoys a lower turnover rate for teachers than the state average (10.7% v 12.6%).

The AEIS showed the AISD tax rate to be higher than the state average at $1.344 compared to $1.244. Revenues were derived from four primary sources broken down as follows: local tax at 29% (state average 40.7%), other local and intermediate sources at 12.9% (state average 4.0%), State at 49.1% (state average 43.4%), and Federal at 8.9% (state average 11.9%).

Program enrollments saw a decrease in Special Education from 10.8% in 2007-2008 to 8.9% in 2011-2012; an increase in Bilingual/ESL to 14.2% in 2011-2012 from 11.6% in 2007-2008; an increase in Career/Technical to 17.7% from 16.8%; and an increase in Gifted and Talented to 9.0% from 7.4%.

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Brazoria County Dedicates War Memorial

February 27, 2013

 

Brazoria County Commissioners and other local dignitaries dedicated a new Ring of Honor on February 22, 2013 in Angleton. The new Ring of Honor replaces the former Wall of Honor that was inside the atrium of the Brazoria County Courthouse. The former memorial went mostly unnoticed by visitors due to the courthouse’s security checkpoint equipment and decorative foliage inhibiting its visibility and access.

In 2007 Commissioner’s Court authorized a committee to generate ideas and raise funds for the new memorial. Committee Chair Arthur Velasquez, who works as County Judge Joe King’s Chief Administrator, explained that the committee met every other month to achieve the culmination of the $650,000 monument.

The memorial contains names of Brazoria County citizens who died in action in various American conflicts from World War 1 through Afghanistan and Iraq. The memorial consists of a six-foot main wall flanked by two flagpoles and 3 three-foot walls which altogether form the ring.

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