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September 2014

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Manvel Police Association sponsors 3rd annual cook-off

Disabled students SPEAK to School Board

New AISD Elementary to be dedicated on September 7

Council poised to appoint Charter Review Commission

City set to move on water/sewer project

Mayor Martin elected to regional position

City's finance department under fire

Signs indicate infrastructure work

 

 

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Manvel Police Association sponsors 3rd annual cook-off

September 3, 2014

 

The Manvel Police Association is sponsoring its third annual “Blue Santa” chili cook-off and desert bake-off on Saturday, September 6. Gates will open at 10 AM. The event will be held at 19710 Hwy 6, across from Manvel High School. The benefit raises money to help support families in and around Manvel that are less fortunate than others and helps to make their holidays a more joyous one.

Last year’s event suffered cold wet weather on December 7 and wile that is partly the reason for the earlier date this year, event leader Anthony Meshell says it also will allow “more time to get things together to help people for Thanksgiving as well as Christmas.” Meshell is President of the Police Association and a six-year veteran of the Manvel Police Department. In describing the purpose of the event he says it is to “help the kids have better holidays.” He says the group also helps families throughout the year with certain things so that the kids can live in healthy environments. The Blue Santa idea came about after Meshell participated in an effort sponsored by Alvin a few years ago. He wanted something to involve the public in the Police Association and felt the concept would be well received. Previous year’s cook-offs raised “quite a bit of money and this year we are hoping to do even better.”

Meshell says the Association helped over twenty families last year and spent “a little over $5,000.” Help included things form “school supplies to bicycles to helping renovate their house.” This year Meshell says the Association “hopes to add scholarships in to what we normally do.” Families are selected for help through recommendations from schools and churches primarily. Meshell personally interviews most of them as he wants to see the conditions the kids are living in. Families are rarely refused help so long as they are within the city of Manvel. “We start with Manvel people first and then as we go through them if we have more money to spread out we will go our further and go from there.”

Meshell says this annual event is their only source of income and explained there are several on-going projects that the event “will hopefully benefit.” The Toys-for-Tots program is a partner in the event and will be on hand to accept donations of new or lightly used toys. All toys and gifts collected will go to that organization for distribution to children who are less fortunate than others. That will allow for the money raised through the Blue Santa event to be used for things the families may need, such as groceries, or a shopping spree so that “they can buy things for their kids that they think they might want, instead of just showing up with a bag of stuff. We try to make it more personable.” Meshell says all the money raised will go to Toys-for-Tots, Blue Santa, or the Police Association “to help with these things.”

Sponsorships are going “pretty decent so far,” Meshell says. He says commitments pick up the week of the actual event as “people like to wait till the last minute.” Support comes from various local businesses that provide backing through monetary donations or the intent of buying something to donate to the raffle. Most of the money is made the day of the event. This year’s raffle will offer a big screen TV, BBQ pit, assorted outdoor equipment, fishing tackle, and gift certificates.

Vendors and cook-off teams are still being accepted. The fee for a cook-off entry is $100 and trophies will be awarded for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place for chili and ribs and 1st place for desert. Craft booths are available at no charge and Meshell says he welcomes those who would like to set up some kind of craft such as face-painting and the like.

The Manvel Police Association is not part of the police department. Meshell explained that “it doesn’t buy anything for the police department, or anything like that. The money it (the Association) raises goes back into the community one way or another.” He feels getting citizens who are not police officers involved will help the public better understand the group and will produce increased participation in their events. Being a small association Meshell admits limits what the group can do. He says “if we can raise four, five, or six thousand dollars each year doing this one thing then that is what we will do.”

The Association is a registered tax exempt organization. Contributions are gratefully accepted and volunteers will be needed the day of the event to help make sure everything runs smoothly. Please call Anthony Meshell at the Manvel Police Department at 281-489-1212 for additional information or to donate time or money for the event.

 

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Disabled students SPEAK to School Board

September 3, 2014

 

Ten Alvin ISD students spent a significant amount of time this summer focusing on improving their presentation and speaking skills, through a program called Project SPEAK. Project SPEAK is a training program for individuals with developmental disabilities who wish to become self-advocates for their disability.

 
The Alvin ISD Project SPEAK students recently used the skills learned from the program, during a special presentation at the August School Board Meeting. Students from Alvin High School shared messages that were important to them, including information on the importance of being a good friend, having zero tolerance for bullying, and even the importance of public transportation in the community.


“It was very exciting to hear from each of the Project SPEAK students, as they were extremely passionate about their topics of choice, and really made a positive impact on everyone in attendance,” said Dr. Elizabeth Veloz, deputy superintendent of schools.


Project SPEAK was created with the goal of adding important first-person voices in regards to the wants and needs of people with developmental disabilities. With training, support, and great speaking opportunities, SPEAKers can focus public attention on issues that matter to people with developmental disabilities. The training focuses on the basics of choosing a topic of importance, creating an effective presentation around it, and developing the skills and confidence needed to share with others. Classes are small so the project team can work closely with individual SPEAKers, including exploring what, if any, support they may need to develop. This may also include coming up with alternate presentation options for participants for whom a traditional “speech” is not the most effective form of communication.


“Project SPEAK provides a unique opportunity for participants to develop new skills and self-confidence, which allows them to become powerful advocates for themselves and others,” mentioned Alvin ISD Board President, Cheryl Harris. “We are extremely proud of the Alvin ISD Project SPEAK students who spent a considerable amount of time working to improve their presentation skills so that they can have a positive impact in the community.”


For additional information on Project SPEAK in Alvin ISD contact the Department of Federal and Special Programs at 281-585-2536.

 

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New AISD Elementary to be dedicated on September 7

September 3, 2014

 

The newest Alvin ISD campus, Dr. James “Red” Duke Elementary, opened in August for the 2014 school year. The school is located at 2900 CR 59 in Manvel, just east of Kirby. Alvin ISD faculty and staff will honor the school’s namesake, Dr. James “Red” Duke, at a special dedication ceremony set for Sunday, September 7 at 2 p.m. at the campus.


The school is named in honor of Dr. James “Red” Duke, a renowned trauma surgeon at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. Dr. Duke is also a professor of surgery and the John B. Holmes Professor of Clinical Sciences at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School. Dr. Duke has received numerous honors and awards, including being recognized for his instrumental role in introducing Memorial Hermann Life Flight®, which became the first air ambulance program in Texas, and bringing a Level One Trauma Center to Houston. Dr. Duke is also well known for his nationally syndicated television spot called “Dr. Red Duke’s Health Reports,” which educated individuals about various health related topics.


“An Alvin ISD naming committee selected Dr. James “Red” Duke as the namesake of the school based on his commitment to education, math, science and innovation,” said Daniel Combs, Alvin ISD director of communications.


Duke Elementary houses classrooms for 800 students in grades Prekindergarten through fifth grade, and includes areas for physical education, art, music and special classes. The District used the same two-story design as Mark Twain Elementary, which opened in August 2012, thus saving money on design costs.


Community members are invited to attend the dedication ceremony. Additional information can be obtained by contacting AISD’s Communications Department at 281-388-1130.

 

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Council poised to appoint Charter Review Commission

September 10, 2014

 

Manvel city council debated a request by member John Cox to appoint a commission to review the Home Rule Charter which was approved by Manvel voters in May 2011. The Charter provides for a mandatory review at least every five years but can be done sooner if authorized by city council. Cox had brought up his desire to initiate a review before but was not supported by fellow council members. It appears he may have enough support to initiate the process this time. Council voted to assign each member the task of selecting two prospective members to the commission. The prospects will be asked to be on hand at the next scheduled council meeting on September 22 at which time it is expected a vote will be conducted to decide whether or not the review commission will go forward.

Cox was on the original commission charged with crafting the document. “All we did was put the foundation on the ground. There are so many thing we hashed out that the sixteen members couldn’t agree on. I think we stripped the mayor of all her power and I think she needs to have some of her authority back. I think with the city growing the way it is we are putting too much load on Kyle (City Manager Kyle Jung). I think some of the load needs to be split.” Cox also believes the city should consider compensating the mayor, saying “the work the mayor puts in to this town, there is no reason she should not be compensated something.” He also would like to see discussion on possibly paying council members some form of stipend citing most nearby communities that already do so.

Cox feels the charter is in need of “tweaking.” He makes the case that “there are some duties the mayor could probably take over that she used to do in the past before we had Kyle and would relieve Kyle to give him more time to spend with contractors, developers, engineers, and different things.” Cox went on to say that he does not favor changing the structure of the charter but feels there are a lot of gray areas that need to be eliminated. He believes a review could be accomplished within ninety days. He explained that the original commission took much longer as the group started with nothing and had to sort through numerous examples from other cities to craft the charter that was ultimately presented to voters. “The foundation is there, all you have to do is go through each chapter and if you see something you are not happy with you talk about it.”

Mayor Martin responded: “I think what we do in the city should be run as a team. This isn’t my city, it’s your city. And that is the way the city should be run. Sometimes other people’s eyes may see something we don’t. I function as the ambassador and liaison for the city, and I am very proud to do that because I love this city and I advertise it anyplace I go. If it’s a heavy decision, council needs input.”

Member Adrian Gaspar feels council “needs more of an opportunity to be involved, and especially when you bring me a packet and I have to make a decision tonight. The charter stripped the mayor of all her power and gave it to Kyle; we don’t have a balance and that is what I am looking for. In the past the council was more involved in public works, the police department, in different areas of the city. Now the council just sits here and we get briefed on stuff and it happened before in council we found out later information that we didn’t have when we made a decision and we got caught with our pants down because the information did not come to us completely. That is why I agree with John (Cox) that we need to modify this charter, maybe not much, but we need more input. It cannot be one leader who does it all and I just telling us whatever he wants to and briefs us on whatever he wants to.”

Jung explained that “in a council-manager form of government, the city council does not have much if any role in hiring the staff other than the city manager, city attorney, and the municipal judge. The form of government sets up the council’s role as a policy making body. Under a council-manager form of government, having more input on hiring is not your role. Your role is to set policy, to set vision, to set direction for the staff and the city, and you provide the resources in order to do that. If something is not getting done the way that you want, you address it to the specific people you hold accountable, the manager, attorney, and municipal judge. You don’t have direct interaction with the staff. If you want to change that, you can do that.” Jung told council that it would not be good to split authority between the mayor and the city administrator as nobody would recognize whose role the day-to-day running of the city would fall to.

Member Melody Hanson succinctly stated the need for a review as she sees it: “they produced a document that was the best that they could come up with, but I think what John is trying to say is that on many things there really wasn’t great consensus.” She described the original undertaking as a “huge scope” and now that the document is a manageable size she thinks it can be looked at more closely with a goal of adjusting the wording and incorporating other tweaks to better reflect the city’s needs.

Eleven Manvel citizens are required to comprise a review commission. Council members are not allowed to sit on the commission.

 

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City set to move on water/sewer project

September 17, 2014

 

After years of discussion and delays city council took the final necessary step to begin the water and sewer infrastructure project that is expected to boost the potential for commercial development along the Hwy 6 corridor. Council held a special meeting on Monday night just for the purpose of making the vote on a budget amendment that transferred $800,000 from city reserves into the general operating account so that the project can begin. The $800,000 will be reimbursed to the reserve account when the city is able to secure the needed financing for that portion of the project.

The latest delay to hamper the project was the city’s inability to take on the debt due to the annual audit being unfinished. Lenders require a current audit from which to perform their underwriting process and the city has been lax in getting that complete. Once it is done the debt obligation will be assumed and the reserve account reimbursed.

City Manager Kyle Jung told council that a pre-construction meeting was scheduled for Tuesday and as soon as the required agreements are executed the contractor is prepared to proceed. The contract calls for a 120 day construction period. So if dirt sees movement this month, and weather cooperates, the city should see its long awaited and much anticipated infrastructure improvements in place early next year. Once the water line is tested to ensure the water being provided is free of contaminants, the service will be available for new users to tap into.

The infrastructure project has been in the works since April 2012. The improvements will provide a 12” water line and a 24” gravity sewer line on the north side of State Hwy 6. Businesses wanting to locate on the south side will be able to bore under Hwy 6 and tie into the service on the north side. The cost of the project is being funded mostly by the Manvel Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) with the city financing the balance.

After several iterations of the plan were considered, the north side of Hwy 6 was determined a requirement due to easement challenges on the south side. Most recently, a large landowner wanted “a sizeable amount of money” as stated by the city manager, Kyle Jung. More than $314,000 was the price he demanded. “MEDC decided they would spend the money by installing the infrastructure on the north side,” Jung explained.

Mayor Delores Martin has said numerous times that in the many years she has been mayor various types of businesses have come to Manvel excited about establishing operations only to be discouraged once it is realized that the city does not have the water and sewer infrastructure to accommodate their needs. She considers this infrastructure project as the first step toward expanding business activity in the city and stimulating economic growth. The mayor worked hard and overcame a myriad of challenges to secure the easements required that are allowing the improvements to move forward.

Drivers along Hwy 6 should see signs posted this week declaring the project that will run generally from the Burger Barn on the east to State Hwy 288 on the west. With the increased residential development in and around Manvel, it is likely citizens may soon see a larger offering of retail options. Plans are underway for a Phase Two of the project that will provide the infrastructure to the south side of Hwy 6. MEDC is currently working with the city engineer to get that project in position to move forward as well.

 

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Mayor Martin elected to regional position

September 17, 2014

 

Manvel Mayor Delores Martin was elected as a second vice-president for Region 14 of the Texas Municipal League at a recent conference in Galveston. The mayor is humble about the selection but those involved in local public administration generally consider it a recognition of accomplishment and contribution to effective governance.

Manvel’s city attorney, Bobby Gervais said, “Just being on the board is an honor as this is a regional part of the Texas Municipal League (TML) that is involved in coordinating city interests in the local region and is a direct pipeline to providing information on formulating policy to TML in Austin, which affects statewide policy involving cities in Texas.”

Manvel is a member of the organization and is part of TML Region 14, the San Jacinto Region, which comprises 17 counties in the general Houston area. According to the TML website, “The purposes of the regions, as outlined in the TML Constitution, are to promote interest in municipal government on a regional level; facilitate the exchange of information among cities in the region; and assist the TML Board of Directors in formulating policy that represents the diverse interests of the state.”

“The TML Constitution requires each region to have a president, vice president, secretary, and regional board director. In all cases, the president, vice president, and board director, or representative, MUST be elected officials. The constitution also permits any region to provide for additional officers, which explains why some regions elect a first and second vice president, and a treasurer in addition to the required minimum.”

“The League exists solely to provide services to Texas cities. Since the first day of its existence, the League’s mission has remained the same: to serve the needs and advocate the interests of cities and city officials.” The TML was founded in 1913 with thirteen cities creating the first association. During the next 35 years the League grew rapidly. “In the early years, the League's services were few: publishing a magazine, conducting an annual conference, and responding to miscellaneous requests for assistance. After World War II, Texas evolved into an urban state, and the needs of Texas cities grew.” In 1958 the organization reorganized and took on additional staff, raised member dues, and has continued to grow and refine its services to Texas cities ever since. “Today, the League employs a staff of 30 and is organized into six departments.”

 

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City's finance department under fire

September 24, 2014

 

Manvel city council approved an audit of the city’s finances for the fiscal year 2012-2013 at its meeting this week. The audit is significantly late in being completed and recently held back the city’s ability to secure financing for the Hwy 6 infrastructure project. Fortunately the city has sufficient capital that council was able to approve a budget amendment at a previous meeting that transferred funds from reserve accounts so the project could begin.

Auditors gave the city a clean opinion which essentially supports the financial statements as being presented fairly in all material respects. In suggestions offered by the auditor it was disclosed to council that monthly bank reconciliations have not been performed for all of the current fiscal year. Members expressed concern that city finances are not being accurately presented to council and that the budget just accepted and approved may be based on errant numbers. The auditor explained to members that there was no evidence of impropriety and that no reason to suspect malfeasance exists.

Phyllis Herbst has served as the city’s contract finance director for years and it seemed likely that she would be named the city’s full time director as provided in the just accepted budget. That appointment seems uncertain now in light of the apparent disarray exposed by city auditors. Member Maureen DelBello said, “Here we are putting somebody in that position that hasn’t reconciled a bank statement for almost a year. I think council needs answers to these questions.” Mayor Martin described it as “playing Russian roulette.”

City Manager Kyle Jung told members that outside applications would be considered for the full-time finance position. Jung apparently holds financial meetings weekly and said he assumed the reconciliations were being performed timely and was unaware of there being a problem until it was brought to his attention by auditors last week. He apologized to council and vowed to correct the situation.

Mayor Martin explained that Herbst had a prior engagement and she was not in attendance at the council meeting. The city’s bookkeeper, Brenda Derouen, was left to answer members concerns. Derouen told council that reconciliations have not been done due to a change in accounting software earlier this year that required audited numbers to transfer beginning balances from which the reconciliations could be done. She told council that reconciliations have been completed through April and that the balance of the year could be done within a day or two.

Member Maureen DelBello was vocal in her displeasure that council had been in the dark for months about the state of the city’s financial management. Commenting to Derouen she said, “You’ll have come here almost every month and nobody once has said we have an issue.” Member John Cox said he feels guilty for approving the budget and asked “how can we know these numbers we just approved are right?” Member Adrian Gaspar wondered what council’s financial information is based on: “are we pulling numbers out of the air and just putting stuff for council so they look at numbers, that is what it seems like. From what I hear we don’t have accountability on almost anything we’ve done.”

Herbst has generally been held in good regard by city administrators and council members. Attempts to contact her for comments were unsuccessful though she does apparently claim the reconciliations had been done manually; they just have not been transferred to the new software program. An objective consideration would likely render it dubious that the city manager, the mayor, the city bookkeeper, and the auditor all consider the reconciliations incomplete if indeed they have been done. If that proves to be so, evidence of poor communication among key city administrators will likely add to council’s fears of incompetence in the city’s finance department.

Recent meetings between the auditors and city staff were described as “contentious” leading to suspicions there may be more to the matter than what has heretofore been made public. Some on council have recently suggested hiring a different auditor due to cost concerns and the fact that the same auditor has performed the annual requirement for many successive years. Some feel it a good idea to perhaps get a fresh look at the city’s financial management process.

Council tabled other financial issues for the next meeting when some clarity on the city’s financial position is anticipated. Herbst will be asked to explain her inaction at that time, possibly in an executive session as it concerns a personnel matter.

In other council news, the 2015 fiscal year budget was approved which will show a lowered tax rate for citizens though still realizing higher income levels due to a larger tax roll, thanks mostly to the Lakeland development, and to increased property valuations. And city employees will now be required to contribute 7% of their pay to the Texas Municipal Retirement System, increasing from the current 5%.

Easements were granted to the Municipal Utility District (MUD) #39 that will service the new Pomona development west of Hwy 288 in the city’s ETJ. The easements will allow water and sewer lines along Croix Parkway that will feed into a water treatment plant that will be constructed in the area.

A resolution approving a financing agreement will allow the police department to acquire three new Chevy Tahoe police vehicles. City Manager Kyle Jung hopes the city can take delivery of the new vehicles in early 2015.

 

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Signs indicate infrastructure work

September 24, 2014

The City of Manvel and the Manvel Economic Development Corporation proudly posted signs marking the water and sewer infrastructure project that is expected to provide the city with significant prospects for increased commercial development along the Hwy 6 corridor. Actual groundbreaking is set to commence in early November and the project is expected to take 120 days to complete.

 

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