Notes from the Lubbock city council meeting

EUB appointments, sign ordinance and the Riney report

These are notes and commentary on the Lubbock City Council meeting Thursday night, October 24.

•The first item of business taken up was to postpone, on motion from Mayor Pro tem Karen Gibson, appointments and reappointments to the Electric Utility Board. The purpose stated is to give council members time to vet and interview potential appointees. Unanimous approval.

Rarified air at the City Council chambers.
Can the public lawfully be banned
from the room where a public meeting
is broadcast?

•One citizen speaker castigated Councilwoman Latrelle Bright Joy for her notorious lack of responsiveness.

The courageous speaker encouraged LBJ to appear on talk shows, et al. That would probably be awkward since she’d necessarily have to bring her law partner and puppet master with her to prompt and clear her comments.

•Master Lease debt is approximately $26 million. This has been an ongoing item of concern for Councilwoman Latrelle Bright Joy. Master Lease agreements are a way of hiding city debt.

LBJ’s concern is legitimate however in this instance lease debt comprises only about 2% of total city indebtedness. The Master Lease appears to be used as a fleet management tool by city staff.

In general, certificates of obligation are the debt instrument more often abused by government to create shadow debt.

•The owners of Texas Water Rampage appealed a Planning and Zoning Commission decision prohibiting them from putting a billboard on their own property. The piece of property is under consideration has no other use except for a billboard. A fair hearing was given.

The anti-business crowd spoke in favor of the sign ordinance. There exists a group in Lubbock that feels Lubbock is better off without advertising via roadside signs. The sign ordinance is a 1970’s left over, according to sign ordinance advocate Bernie Bass. Let’s keep Lubbock backwards.

One of the problems is that the sign ordinance still allows the city and county to post the ugliest signs in town in public parks and medians of major thoroughfares. That needs to be reassessed. If we’re to have one, let the city follow its own rules. But persuaded the city to follow it’s own rules is a different problem altogether, isn’t it?

A greater issue is that the sign ordinance is anti-commerce. Things that limit commerce cost jobs. Maybe we ought to outlaw attorneys too. Or perhaps it should ban insurance agents.

Silly? Then why should legitimate business be outlawed because backwards thinking citizens think it is unattractive? The ordinance is inconsistently enforced and outdated.

The City Council voted against the appeal, preventing the landowner from using his property for a billboard. And so the Lubbock City Council demonstrates itself once again to be anti-business. It’s just the man’s livelihood, who cares? Only the Mayor, apparently. The vote to uphold the appeal failed 6-1 with the Mayor dissenting.

•Mayor Robertson asked for a motion to postpone indefinitely the investigation of LP&L because the EUB voted unanimously to investigate itself. The vote to postpone was unanimous. This is a prudent move.

•Councilman Hernandez offered a motion to release the report given to the Council in executive session by attorney Tom Riney. Riney investigated City Manager Lee Ann Dumbauld. The Attorney General has said the city may keep the report private.

The motion failed 4-3 with Robertson, Price, Gibson and Gerlt voting against the motion to release the report.

Click this link for video of Mayor Robertson explaining his vote against releasing the Riney report. The bottom line is that legal counsel advised against it. If an attorney is worth paying his advice is working taking.

•Police Chief Roger Ellis addressed the texting and driving issue and said that officers are already enforcing traffic violations the relate to texting and driving. Stopping in traffic, changing lanes without signals and erratic driving are all symptoms of texting and driving.

Councilman Todd Klein advocated a public awareness campaign about texting and driving. It’s a better idea than another pretext to stop ordinance and is, in fact, the conservative approach to this problem.

We commend the Councilman’s suggestion. Demonizing a thing seems to be an effective tool for behavior modification among conscientious citizens.

Guide to the Texas Constitutional Amendment Election | Pratt on Texas

Pratt is wrong on #9. Vote “yes”.

This is a correction to a flaw in the way the original amendment was written forming the Commission on Judicial Conduct. It currently has the power to offer lesser sanctions in every instance except those where it has held formal proceedings.

This amendment would provide the ability use lesser sanctions where necessary after hearing the evidence in a formal proceeding rather than the “either or” options it has today.

Just like the many times when the Commission hears matters informally (the vast majority of cases), there are times when a judge is has acted unethically but does not merit censure or removal.

Past that, the Sandstorm Scholar agrees with the recommendations below.

Read the story here: Guide to the November 5th, 2013 Texas Constitutional Amendment Election — Pratt on Texas.

Sen. Duncan says ‘wait and see’ when quizzed about replacing Hance as Tech chancellor | Lubbock Online | Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

“I don’t know; we’ll just have to wait and see,” Duncan said during a brief back-and-forth with Smith, who tried multiple times to prod Duncan to nail down an answer.

Sen. Duncan says 'wait and see' when quizzed about replacing Hance as Tech chancellor | Lubbock Online | Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

Zheng accused of allowing favored vendor to write RFP

Zeng reportedly admits to meeting with only one of five top bidders then recommending that bidder to the EUB

Sandstorm Scholar sources have told us that Lubbock Power and Light CEO Dr. Gary Zheng acknowledged allowing Alpine Energy Group (AEG) to write the RFP for power generation for Lubbock for 2019 forward.

AEG is one of the bidders for the purchase power agreement considered by the LP&L Electric Utility Board. Zheng allegedly allowed AEG to write all or most of the RFP.

LP&L Director of Electric Utilities Dr. Gary Zheng

When confronted with the allegation in EUB closed session last week Zheng reportedly first denied this, then later came back to the board and said he had forgotten but that he had allowed AEG to write the RFP.

Gary Zheng did not return Sandstorm Scholar phone calls for comment on this story.

In open session today, on Vice-Chairman Emilio Abeyta’s motion, the EUB voted to allow Zheng to continue in his position as Director of Electric Utilities for LP&L. EUB members Marc McDougal and Clayton Isom were the only dissenting votes.

“Zheng allegedly allowed AEG to write all or most of the RFP for future power generation.”

Zheng also allegedly admitted under questioning from the EUB that he attended only one of the five meetings with top five bidders for the purchase power contract. That meeting was with AEG.

Despite having met with only one of five top bidders for the contract Zheng reportedly ranked the bidders himself and made the recommendation to the EUB for AEG to be awarded the bid.

Mayor Glen Robertson
Mayor Glen Robertson

Sources tell Sandstorm Scholar that Zheng has acknowledged all of the above to the EUB.

We also contacted Mayor Glen Robertson who said, “I cannot comment on this story due to pending litigation against me by LP&L employees.”

Sources tell us that Zheng and LP&L Assistant Director Dale Stephens have both threatened to sue Mayor Robertson.

The Sandstorm Scholar previously reported that the FBI is investigating allegations of bid rigging at LP&L.

In other developments at Wednesday’s EUB meeting, in open session board members voted unanimously to have a Houston based international law firm of Andrews Kurth, LLP to investigate allegations of bid rigging at LP&L. It also voted to take no action on bids for future power generation at this time.

What we expect from Lubbock Power and Light

It is time that people were held accountable at Lubbock Power and Light. No more excuses and no more delays. Two very important meetings are about to be held. Thursday evening the City Council meets and before that, Wednesday morning the 23rd, the EUB meets. 

The Sandstorm Scholar has been patient with the Electric Utility Board. We’ve supported it through Council induced rate shocks. When we’ve been critical it has been ssurgically, not criticizing all members, but focusing on the leadership, or lack thereof.

“Kring has allowed CEO Gary Zheng to lead him by the nose right into an FBI investigation.”

There’s no doubt the leadership of the EUB is a failure. By all reports Chairman Gail Kring is a good man. There are lots of those in Lubbock. We know of no allegations of criminal behavior on his part. But, bless his heart, Kring has allowed CEO Gary Zheng to lead him by the nose right into an FBI investigation and then, last week, when confronted with allegations of bid rigging, Kring refused to call a meeting to investigate the possible corruption at Lubbock’s publicly owned utility. 

That may be the Chairman’s prerogative, but LP&L isn’t Gail Kring’s business to mismanage into ruin. LP&L belongs to the citizens of Lubbock. They gave Kring stewardship over the business and he has abdicated. If he does not step down it is the responsibility of the City Council to appoint someone else in his place. Lubbock citizens ought to look with suspicion on any Council member who votes to reappoint Kring.

This brings us to the apparent good guys. Marc McDougal and Clayton Isom are pushing for an internal investigation. Wednesday’s meeting is a start, but let them and the rest of the LP&L board be on notice: we expect transparency and accountability. No more solutions in closed door meetings that have EUB members coming out singing off the same page. We won’t buy it.

“It’s time for the EUB to get naked with the public.”

As hard as it may be, it’s time for the EUB to get naked with the public. Mayor Glen Robertson said on “Listen Lubbock” broadcast by radio KRFE Monday, “the statute allows for closed meetings, it does not demand them.” 

The EUB will never regain the confidence of the public while it is spending the majority of its time in closed session. We demand to know what’s going on.

Let’s return to the the subject of Council appointments and examine what may happen on Thursday’s City Council meeting. Dwight McDonald, another one of the good guys, was booted from the EUB because of a conflict determined by the City Attorney. His replacement should be named on Thursday.

But three EUB members are set for reappointment in Thursday’s City Council meeting. The Sandstorm Scholar has learned that Robert Musselman has asked the City Council to not reappoint him on Thursday. Musselman has served with honor on the EUB and he should be thanked for his service.

“This is the major leagues of Lubbock boards and commissions, not a training ground for beginners.”

This allows the City Council to appoint two new members on Thursday. Its appointments must be citizens with maturity, experience and independence. We want no puppets, no good ole’ boys and no one riding at their first rodeo. We expect experienced business people who have risked their own capital successfully. This is the major leagues of Lubbock boards and commissions, not a training ground for beginners.

Finally, while Gail Kring should step down or not be reappointed, Marc McDougal must be reappointed by the Council. If we’ve learned anything about this board it is that Marc McDougal and Clayton Isom are leaders who listen. While Kring and Vice Chairman Emilio Abeyta dissembled, McDougal and Isom stepped up to address the problem.

If McDougal has a conflict that disqualifies him then the Council must allow the City Attorney to make that determination. For this Council, particularly the Foolish Five, who arrogantly maintain their right to accept free tickets, to make a determination about conflicts of interest is like Bill Clinton giving advice on marital fidelity.

“For this Council to make a determination about conflicts of interest…is like Bill Clinton giving advice on marital fidelity.”

If the City Attorney’s determination was good enough to give them a pass, and to conflict out Dwight McDonald, then the City Attorney ought also to be allowed to make the determination with regard to McDougal. Anything else is suspect on the part of the Council and will appear, quite rightly, to be an attempt at an LP&L cover-up.

All of this requires much of those involved. The Council must collectively surrender personal agendas for the good of the city. If Gail Kring doesn’t step down he should not be reappointed because he isn’t up to the job. And the EUB must show all. Enough closed meetings; wash your dirty laundry, if any exists, in public. Tell us what’s going on. 

The Sandstorm Scholar believes in Lubbock exceptionalism. Americans are great; Lubbockites are a cut above. We can rise to this challenge.