Why Do We Wait for Animal Control to Reach a Crisis Before We Act?

Actually, I could have replaced “Animal Control” with a blank since this question applies to hundreds of situations in government.

But today I want to focus on just animal shelters in particular. As most of you know, I read from a few hundred (246 to be exact) Texas newspapers and their suburban editions each day. I look for stories that are of interest to city officials, city managers and mayors in particular.

I have known for decades that few topics consistently make the Top 5 as often as animal control issues. I live in McKinney, a city of 180,000 people, meaning just about that many people have an interest or downright big investment in pets.

In recent years, there is one common topic that pervades the Texas headlines. It is the overcrowding of animal shelters. On most days I can point you to at least 10 stories about animal shelters waiving fees and going to extra lengths to incentivize residents to make a permanent home for a pet in order to keep them from being euthanized, the ugly alternative.

While there are usually two primary ways to deal with challenges like animal control, programming and larger facilities, it is always programming that should be given resources even though that means physical space, too. Spay and neuter efforts are foremost, of course. That goes without saying. And adoption endeavors need a robust and unrelenting dedication from staff and volunteers.

But the facilities need to be sufficient, and that is where I want to place an emphasis with my comments today. My main point is to not be surprised at this need. I rarely go to our animal shelter or any shelter. The reason is simple. Although my wife and I have four pets, I am positive a visit for any reason would result in us adding to our fur family. But the last time I visited the Collin County Animal Shelter, it was organized chaos. I’m sure the pet inventory was over-crowded, but I had to work my way through the people (some bringing pets, some taking one home) and volunteers to talk to the person I went to see.

Here is what I was left wondering, and I think about this every time I read yet another “Code Red” adoption story across the state in my daily readings. Why would we not realize that the companion story to the daily rah-rah about Texas’ hyper-growth in population has the same direct correlation to animal population management?

To know that any city’s population that has grown 5-20% in the last five years, and is likely to be on that same path for many more years – and to not have an animal shelter program and facility expansion in lockstep – is to have one’s head stuck in the sand.

There was a new story in the Amarillo news media this morning. A dog in labor was euthanized. I’m having difficulty even imagining how that could happen. But I do know  there are some basic management principles at play. There is an intake rate and an outflow rate. When the former grows at levels that some would have no problem describing as “massive,” then the inventory (facility) can only expand so far until the outflows have to increase: Pets have to be adopted, shipped to another facility (shifting the burden) or else the animal has to be euthanized put to death.

But those inventory and processing steps – called animal shelter programming and facility capacity – need to be sized commensurate with the population growth. Otherwise, city and county leaders can expect mistakes and regretful decisions from staff and volunteers. To turn one’s back to this problem is irresponsible.

C’mon folks, these animal shelters need some help – and kind-hearted adopters who already have too many pets cannot be the only solution. LFM

 

Stadium Cracks, Forensic Investigation and Bureaucratic Sedation at McKinney ISD

You can’t make this stuff up. MISD has known since January 2018 that the new stadium, in the race for the most expensive high school football stadium in Texas – or is it the world?, had problems with cracks. A forensic firm has been hired to figure out what to do. Months ago. And apparently it was not the contractor and engineer who found the cracks.

It’s too much to restate here, and you might not even believe me.  See the video. You can see more than you can hear since the Board Chair doesn’t have the sense to ask key speakers in the audience to step up to the microphone. Oh by the way, I can only see about a dozen humans sitting there to witness this giddy gathering.

But so far there is a bigger story here I see. Watch the video and how calm (and rehearsed?) the Board and staff are. There is a lead up to the official news unveiling at the meeting. No, it is not somber. It is all but a lead in to a Bruce Springsteen concert. The praises for the construction firm and engineering firms drip like syrup. I thought the staffer was going to choke up as he spoke of the privilege to be working with such a fine group.

Then the revelation. It’s a dry, boring, evenly paced announcement delivered like Ben Stein talking – after he’s had an extra dose of muscle relaxers.

Then comes the softball questions from the Board. Well trained to defend the bureaucracy, they grind up the strength to ask a question or two. They even award an attaboy at the end for “vetting” the problem.

One speaker even chunked in the obligatory word “transparency” to emphasize the honesty in the room. Kumbaya, my Lord! Someone is crying. And it’s the taxpayers. Or will be. No wait. A handful voted for these Board members and for The Stadium. And they are getting their full worth from MISD.

Holy cow! Look back over my blogs about MISD at http://www.citybaseblog.net. The Elected and the Bureaucrats want to lull us into acceptance of anything and everything they say once again.

Not me! LFM

Assertions, Exaggerations and Anecdotal Evidence

Last Wednesday night at the Special Meeting of the McKinney City Council, the Censure of La’Shadion Shemwell ended with a pleasant surprise. The public spoke, followed by individual Councilmembers speaking, saving Mr. Shemwell for last. I thought the monologues were more scrambled eggs than insight until the very end. Councilman Shemwell made the motion to approve his own censure. It was better than the ending I was hoping for as explained in my last blog. Like a professional, statesman and gentleman, he let his fellow Councilmembers off the hook.

But that wasn’t the biggest takeaway from the evening. Mayor Fuller was making notes of the public speakers’ comments. Then he led off the council comments with a response. He made a point of the way many people brought forth complaints to the City Council, including an illustration of how one of his closest friends and campaign volunteers had claimed an incident occurred. It was also recorded. The Mayor was quite blunt. The video provided a rebuttal of the events told to  him by a trusted friend. The event didn’t happen the way he was told. The Mayor stopped short of saying the friend was a bald-faced liar. He didn’t need to. We all got the point.

One very articulate woman made the claim that the City had done nothing to improve race relations since the ugly pool party incident three years ago. The Mayor rebutted that her statement couldn’t be further from the truth. He then enumerated the things the City had put in place. Another equally impressive speaker from the delivery standpoint asserted that if the Council thought Mr. Shemwell had done wrong, then just wait, he was going to reveal the very next day the number of shady deals that had occurred by past and current Councilmembers. The Mayor didn’t flinch. He all but deputized the speaker to bring those charges forth and said it was his duty to reveal such actions. Again, put up or shut up!

The Warning Shot for Future Speakers

It happens all the time and not just in McKinney. Speakers get up to register a complaint. Then to authenticate their assertion, they make an outlandish statement. “My taxes have doubled in the last three years!” Whoa! Hold it right there. Is that a true statement? I doubt it. The good thing is that the facts are obtainable. And should be. That would not be a smart move with the McKinney City Council. Most people of reasonable intelligence know when a story has been embellished. You will get nailed here.

In most cases the staff is obligated to check into assertions and complaints made by the public. Can you imagine the hours spent researching faulty statements? Not a problem if the claim is true and something needs to be done to rectify the findings. Most of the time, the Council is informed that the claim was in error with the facts documented made available to them.

I would like to see a follow-on report made public, just as the false or embellished claim was made public. Especially when made to feed an anti-government audience.

Stay on Track

Oh my gosh, watch the video of last Wednesday’s meeting. Some of the speakers started on one path and then veered off like one of those crazy race car video games. The facts in this meeting are very clear and simple to enumerate. But somehow some speakers wanted to throw in stories and extraneous information that would have rendered the Council playing Whack-a-Mole if they had tried to respond. Even Mr. Shemwell’s mother made a passionate statement that took us back to his childhood, one of terror and extreme odds to overcome. I was touched. There was only one problem. It had nothing to do with Mr. Shemwell speeding, refusing to sign a ticket and then getting arrested.

Anecdotal Evidence

One of the speakers I mentioned started her comments by yelling out that McKinney has a racial problem. If so, then let’s dig into it and prove or disprove her assertion. What I do know is that all 180,000 people in McKinney have seen or experienced a problem of some kind. We could all stand up and say McKinney has a pothole problem, a high-weed problem, a junk car problem, a leaning street sign problem or a littering problem. And I don’t want to downplay any of these. But there is a big difference between anecdotal evidence and a widespread problem.

There is also a distinction that needs to be made between now and the past. If McKinney had a racial problem a decade ago and has made great strides to address and correct the problem, where do we get credit for the improvement? Almost any statement about anything the City tries to fix is tempered with an obligatory comment: But we have room to improve, and we won’t be satisfied until we are better than we are now. Professional city management and good governance will never be able to sit on its laurels.

Then comes a companion issue. Let’s not be bashful when it comes to cost. On some things, response time and capacity are realities. If we were to fix every single pothole the instant it is spotted, and I’m talking 100%, that could be possible. But it would be an exorbitant expense, meaning taxes would have to be raised to pay for it.

If every ounce of our energy was spent to eliminate even a tinge of racism, that would be a different issue where the cost is more than just dollars. And dollars wouldn’t be the solution. Hey, I would like that. I bought in to every word the Chicago Bishop said at the recent Royal Wedding. Did you?

I thought it was interesting at last Wednesday’s meeting that a couple of white speakers used anecdotal evidence to make a point about racism. They have a friend or someone important in their life who is black. Yeah, that won’t cut it either. It works both ways. Alone, that doesn’t prove or disprove racism.

But where is the evidence that McKinney has a racial problem? I haven’t looked at the government required police racial profiling report where there is more than anecdotal evidence revealed. Yes, I know not one single piece of information would tell the entire story.

So, how do you prove McKinney has a racial problem? Or, how do you prove that McKinney does not have a racial problem?

And just exactly where and how is it manifested? And if it is rampant, point that out to me. And if existed but is improving, where would I find the people standing up to say it’s better or, someday, almost non-existent?

A Recommended Requirement

The Mayor reads a statement at the beginning of each meeting that basically enacts a decorum mandate for speakers and the audience, such as to address the entire Council and not single out an individual person.

I think he should add a similar note ahead of the Public Comments portion of Council meetings:

“We are genuinely interested in public comments. You are being asked to identify yourself and to provide contact information on your speaker’s card. We also want you to know that in almost all cases we will seek to answer your question or respond to your need. Please be factual and accurate with any assertions you make regarding your situation. We do not want to embarrass you or put anybody on the spot. However, as your comments are public, we will make our responses to you public at a later date. Thank you for assisting in the decorum of these chambers.”

 

The Best Option for Councilman Shemwell

There’s only one person who has done anything wrong in the Shemwell arrest saga, and it is without doubt that it’s a fact rather opinion as I said in my last blog.

Mr. Shemwell has placed the burden of dealing with this ugly episode on the City Council, which is truly a cowardly thing to do. Next Wednesday night, the Council is going to censure him. The resolution on the agenda is quite blunt and clear, as was Shemwell’s actions.

There are two appropriate actions I see the Councilman taking. The first is to resign before a vote is taken. That would be the honorable thing to do.

But I have a better idea, and one that is consistent with the man everyone supported during the elections – well beyond the voting base of his District.

He should seek redemption.

That decision would be consistent with the man I praised a year ago. That shouldn’t be so hard for a man caught in a blatant lie. The action would pave the path for a true reconciliation between Mr. Shemwell and the public, along with the City Council and Police Department.

But it would have to be more than a decision. It would  have to be genuine, and the burden is on Mr. Shemwell to be convincing.

I cannot imagine a single person not responding well to Mr. Shemwell’s redemptive steps. Steps that include an elocution and allocution of the facts. Yes, we know the facts. But we haven’t heard him speak the facts and ask for forgiveness.

Yes, he needs to ask for forgiveness. From the officer involved. And from the City Council to which he has shrugged his shoulders as he tried to shift the focus on everybody but him.

Even if Mr. Shemwell is censured, this story doesn’t end there in a satisfactory way. His credibility will never be restored. He will be powerless. Oh, he could make noise, but that’s a far cry from being a leader anybody wants to follow.

On the other hand, forgiveness is the completeness of redemption. And I know he will have forgiveness. The restoration means we can all move forward. We can heal, and we can build. I dare say that in no time the memories will be of the redemption, not of the act. The prayers will be of gratefulness from all sides.

But only one man committed an offense here. And only one man can write the proper ending to this story. LFM

Will the Real Councilman Shemwell, Please Resign!

There are some fair, balanced news accounts about the fiasco involving McKinney City Councilman La’ Shadion Shemwell. Short version: Councilman speeds and gets a ticket, which he refuses to sign. Then he gets arrested after repeated requests to sign. Councilman cries racial bias.

But there’s a twist to the story. CAMERA!

Knowing there’s a camera and being cautioned by the mayor not to say more until the video is reviewed, Shemwell keeps flapping his lips about being mistreated. Then he sees the video. His story changes or at least he owns up to his behavior, which he had left out of his first version of this story. But apparently not able to put toothpaste back in the tube, he keeps squeezing. Somehow he weaves a justification into this actions saying he won’t stop speaking truth to power.

Huh? What truth?

I would invite the reader to figure out all by yourself where the truth is.

Here’s what we know. Councilman Shemwell’s version of the truth was clear and unwavering, chocked full of defiance, and then only slightly modified in light of a true video.

But the real story of truth is embedded in this question: what if there had not been a video? Even the most shallow imagination can figure out where Shemwell’s truth was heading. The police officer would have been painted as a full-fledged member of the Gestapo. Perhaps a gun would have been shoved into Mr. Shemwell’s throat.

Hey, when it’s a he said-he said, why not get creative?

But then there’s that damn camera!

I believe the true Mr. Shemwell has been revealed. He’s pretty crafty with his words, and apparently he is still trying to turn this story around as recent as last night. He’s a failure as a spinmeister.

I thought I knew the real Shemwell. See my blog where I had nothing but praises for him.

I think we all know the real Mr. Shemwell now. He is an embarrassment for the City of McKinney and has caused unnecessary damage. If he cared for the City, he would resign and let someone else lead in his place. Someone who acts like the camera is always on, even if it is not. LFM

 

 

Is It Time to Reconsider the GFOA Awards & Transparency Awards?

INTRODUCTION

It was in the mid-1980s when I was called into the City Manager’s office at a medium-sized city in Missouri. I was there as part of a consulting team looking at the IT department and, in my case, the accounting software needs. I wasn’t sure why the City Manager asked to meet with me behind closed doors.

I quickly learned the purpose of the meeting was for the City Manager to vent about the Finance Director. I already knew they did not get along. Well, that’s an understatement. They despised each other. The City Manager came up through the public works channels. The Finance Director, I soon learned from those inside the City and even those in the wider government finance industry, was one of the most obnoxious individuals to ever walk Planet Earth.

The City Manager’s complaints about the FD were laced with fiery profanity. It didn’t take him long to direct the discussion to the GFOA Awards that the CM painted with his hand across an imaginary wall that was ostensibly the finance and accounting hallway. The CM ranted about how much time and money the FD spent on obtaining the awards that, to him, took time away from being productive. Specially, the CM complained about how he was getting no timely and meaningful reports out of the FD. I don’t actually recall my response to him, and I’m not sure he asked for my input. Like I said, he was just venting. Let this story simmer on the back burner for now.

TODAY

Fast forward about 3+ decades to just a few weeks ago. I was with a group of people that included CMO officials as well as some finance officials. Suddenly, the discussion landed on the GFOA Awards. In a slightly more gentle and professional way, representatives from both disciplines repeated almost verbatim the opinions of the Missouri CM. Without the profanity. One finance professional said he estimates that he dedicates about 2 FTEs to doing nothing but preparing the CAFR and Budget to submit for the GFOA Awards.

Worse, as the discussion unfolded, the time and money were spent to produce two documents that virtually nobody read. Not the Council, the City Manager or anybody else in the City. And even fewer citizens! Profanity almost entered the discussion when the participants started talking about the uselessness of most Performance Measures included in the Budget. One finance official had a PDF of his Budget on the laptop. He counted the pages of PM data and surprised every one in the room that it was about 30+% of the Budget document. And worthless – only done out of duty to satisfy the requirements to earn the GFOA Budget Award.

More than one person in the room said they could produce a much more valuable set of Finance Statements and a better Budget document without the worry of GFOA Awards. The extra time they gained could be used to work on true management reports. One city showed how they actually prepare yet another version of the Budget that is understandable with most of the pertinent information readers need to assess the City’s financial resources.

However, there was one problem revealed. A serious one. The City had so many consecutive years of awards on the walls that it was certain they would be fired if the loss of an award happened on their watch. That was a sobering thought and took a few minutes to soak in. Is that the real reason more people don’t speak up?

CONCLUSION

It dawned on me that the discussion I am describing, 100% true, is likely to be descriptive of what some City Officials may have been thinking for a long time. I’m even aware I might be ostracized for bringing it up. I must confess it has occurred to me many times in the past three decades – even as I was once a GFOA Reviewer for the Budget Award. So was at least one other person involved in this described discussion.

Separately, I was talking to one of my respected colleagues several months back about how I have grown to really appreciate and use some of the infrastructure and depreciation data included in the otherwise confusing CAFR. I was then shocked when told that he didn’t place much stock in the accuracy of that data and that it was only included to satisfy GASB requirements. I’m still dumbfounded.

I wonder sometimes if we haven’t continued to fall into the “Awards Trap.” Even the Transparency Awards, now the goal of many cities, appears to be adding some flashy stuff that can be more sizzle than steak. After playing around with a few sites, I think the jury is still out. Are you able to make decisions from information or is it simply interesting at best? The hope is that the answer is “both objectives are satisfied.” But I wonder.

A basic dilemma governments face is whether to just add on tasks to staff, especially overhead functions, or to Reallocate Resources. Adding is a computer function. Reallocating Resources is Management in its purest form, often not practiced at all. The companion question regarding information has always been this: “just exactly who would notice if we stopped doing this task or preparing this report?”

Wait, don’t shoot me with the “Rating Agencies Gospel Gun.” I know they are the only readers of the CAFR (along with a few of the larger Bond Holders), and the CAFR Award carries more weight than the Budget Award. But in your heart of hearts, is it time to reconsider the effort and costs of the “Award Trap” and time to Reallocate Resources to something people need, read and use? LFM

Reflecting On The Days of New York Bond Rating Trips

Okay, Tea Party Zealots, here comes one that will make you go berserko.

There was a day when most local governments went to NYC to make their case to the bond rating agencies. The business case presented was how well local governments were managing money, including past and proposed bond issues.

These were usually annual trips. They included the City Manager,  Finance & Budget Director as well as the Mayor. Sometimes the entire City Council or Commissioners Court attended but not usually.

These trips were expensive and often made into junkets, some more extravagant than necessary. My line and your line would probably differ. I have made a one-day round trip to NY and never want to do that again. They were usually two-day trips, maybe three.

I’m pretty sure the Financial Advisors hated them. I recall during a busy issuance season when an FA would put one client on an airplane back to DFW with the same plane bringing another client.

I think the bond rating agencies hated them, too. All three major firms created Texas offices that made the trips unnecessary for the most part. They also wanted more direct contact with the governments.

But my memories of those trips are mostly fond experiences.

Going to NYC to speak to the rating agencies was the only time in my career I felt I was being treated like my corporate counterparts. The agencies had good questions. And to this day, they are the only parties that truly care more about the future of your city than they do about your situation right now. It’s an entire different line of questioning. For instance, they were asking about infrastructure four decades ago.

And I loved to be in the same room with elected officials listening to those questions and responding to those questions when directed to the Mayor or County Judge. If they hadn’t thought about it before the meeting, these elected officials sure as hell walked away realizing there was a constituency they best never forget.

One that is taking $millions out of their pockets to buy your bonds in good faith that they will be repaid as much as two or more decades from now.

There were other things I remember. One I cherish was getting to NYC on a Sunday for meetings the following two days. The entire Dallas County Commissioners Court and a few staffers gathered in one room to watch the Cowboy game. These guys who fought and got downright ugly for the media on a regular basis were enjoying each other’s company for a few hours. And the collegiality spilled over to the bond rating meetings. They were unified and committed to fiscal responsible decisions equal to a blood oath in front of the agencies. It was a beautiful moment.

And yes, Tea Party, it was an unequaled experience to dine at Tavern on the Green and then see a Broadway Show with the Mayor or Councilmember while being driven in a limo rather than a cab. Caught in a snowstorm one time when cabs disappeared, no limo meant being stranded.

I was a corporate CFO with the President and Chair of the Board for a few days before returning to suffer the politics as a bureaucrat. I can feel the exhilaration like it was yesterday.

Yes, it was expensive even though a small part of selling $millions in bonds in light of other fees. If you are a TPZ, you haven’t paid attention to a damn word I’ve written, except for the cost part.

But many of the benefits cannot be replicated today. I truly miss those days and experiences, especially the professional respect that went in all directions. LFM