By Anton Riecher and Kathleen Calame
As of the Februrary 21st Devine Council meeting, there had still been no word from the Texas Water Development Board on payments. Raul Garcia, Jr. of Garcia and Wright Consulting Engineers updated the council on the status of negotiations with the TWD Board with regard to a $9.9 million loan to the city to replace aging asbestos-laden cement water lines, the lines that provide drinking water to the entire city.
Although some work is still continuing on the lines, the contractor will be asking for more payments soon.
The TWDB is refusing to fund the portion of the project that involves actual removal of the cement lines being replaced.However, not a penny has been spent on removal of the asbestos lines to date, Garcia said.
“We’ve made that very clear to the TWDB on multiple occasions,” he said.
The council had submitted a change order to the project that involves leaving the cement pipe in the ground, he said. However, no further developments have been forthcoming from the TWDB, Garcia said.
“Crickets is all we hear” said Garcia referring to the lack of communication from the Texas Water Development Board. “We have given them everything they have asked for.”
A 13 page breakdown of all the emails sent to the water board over the last 4-5 years since the start of the 2018 project was handed to the council during this discussion from Interim City Administrator Dora Rodriguez, noting she has given them everything asked for multiple times.
Councilman Josh Ritchey had asked where the city was on the funds, and how much was left out of the $1million emergency loan (borrowed last month, onJanuary 20, to pay the contractor 4 months of back pay). The question was never answered, only discussion about emails and no further communication.
In resolution of a long standing airport issue the council approved an $885,000 settlement agreement to acquire more than 21,800 square feet of hangar space. Three hangers (17,090 sq feet, 2,482 sq feet and one 2,284 sq feet) all currently owned by David Ehlinger, President of Aviation Fuels, Inc.
Cate told the council that based on advice from an outside firm hired by the city “this is the best course of action.”
“We were told by (Texas Department of Transportation) Aviation that we need to get control of the airport, we need to stop allowing people to have non-aviation activities there,” Cate said. “This is part of it.”
Devine sent Aviation Fuels an offer to purchase the hangers for $845,000 on November 2, 2022. Aviation Fuels agreed to Devine’s offer on November 4. Aviation Fuels shall vacate the hangars and relocate to another location by February 28, 2023, the relocation deadline.
Devine had signed a lease with Aviation Fuels on January 1, 2010 regarding the hangars.
The final settlement also includes nearly $40,000 in relocation funds for Aviation Fuels, Inc. Money to fund the purchase is from certificates of obligation issued in September 2021.
The council approved the agreement on a motion by Randall, seconded by Espinosa.
Cate also reported that two other hangars at the airport are up for sale.
SHAVER STREET PAVING PROJECT
Later, during consideration of awarding bids for the 2022 Shaver Project including street, water and sewer improvements Pichardo thanked Garcia.
“Thank you for your work,” Pichardo said. “We truly appreciate it. I did speak with you after the last meeting. Thank you so much. Again, we want what is in the best interest of the citizens so I appreciate the great work that you’ve done.”
On a motion by Randall, the council approved the $99,771 bid submitted by Aetos Construction, LLC from San Antonio for the Shaver project. The motion was seconded by Espinosa. The Aetos bid was the lowest of three submitted, ONO Contracting, Inc bid $108,001 and American Underground, LLC bid $162,064.
The project includes street excavation, compacted base, asphalt paving, 8-inch PVC sanitary sewer lines, manholes, 6-inch PVC water lines and six gate valves.
The Shaver Street Improvements are from Davis Street to Kempf Street using 100% local funds.
It was noted that the new city water lines have not been installed in the area of the Shaver Project yet.
City Administrator HW
Tension again surfaced between Devine City Council members on efforts to recruit applications for a permanent city administrator.
After bringing down the gavel to end a clash over dropping previous experience requirements from city administrator applicants Mayor Cory Thompson made his position clear.
“This is a great example of why they don’t want to come here,” Thompson said. “I’ve brought this up before. Anytime you put out negative we’re going to have trouble attracting people.”
The council voted in November to advertise in professional publications for a new city administrator. After less than four months in office, previous city administrator John Vidaurri resigned in October 2021, leaving city secretary Dora Rodriguez to once again serve on an interim basis as she had following the termination of Joe Ramos in June 2016 who had been there for six months.
Specifically, the city is asking for candidates with three to five years of experience as a city administrator or manager who also holds a bachelor’s degree in public administration, management or business.
District 4 Council Member Josh Ritchey made a motion Feb. 21 suggesting to drop the experience requirement.
Interim City Admin Dora Rodriguez asked, “Who is going to train them?” To which Ritchey replied, “The person doing the job right now”.
The motion, seconded by District 2 Council Member Angela Pichardo, failed in a 2-2 tie vote broken by Thompson in the absence of District 1 Council Member Rufino Vega.
To date, the city has received less than a dozen applicants for the position whereas previously the opening drew as many as 20 to 30 at one time.
“All of the other cities advertising at the same time have already found one, “ said Council Member Debbie Randall.
Rodriguez specifically faulted the Internet live streaming of council meetings as discouraging interest in the job.
Applicants who do their homework review these recordings before declaring their interest, she said.
Pending further applications, action on the search for a candidate was postponed for a future council session. District 3 Council Member David Espinosa added that in future “we need to conduct ourselves more professionally at the table.”
District 2 Council Member Angela Pichardo said she was in agreement with Espinosa’s statement.
“Thank you, sir,” she said.
A letter, read by the Mayor, submitted by Raul Garcia, Jr. of Garcia and Wright Consulting Engineers referred to remarks during the council’s Feb. 13 regular meeting on issues related to a $15 million bond election to fund a new massive drainage project that had just been brought to council that day and put to a vote.
“I got the impression that some council members were doubting my engineering abilities and those of my late father who was very passionate about his work with the City of Devine for much of the last 30 years,” Garcia wrote.
Garcia’s letter listed his qualifications from being a 1986 Texas A&M University graduate with bachelor’s degree in civil engineering to becoming a registered professional engineer in 1992, working for clients such as the City of San Antonio and San Antonio Water System.
“I do ask that if you, council, have any questions or concerns regarding the engineering design of any of the project I am working on for the City of Devine please let me know privately rather than in a council meeting setting,” Garcia said.
Also related to public works, Rodriguez reported that city workers lost nearly half a day dealing with a complaint filed with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality charging that city water had been contaminated during repairs to ground storage.
However, the only repair work being done was at another site – the Bain well that draws from the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer. Regardless, the TCEQ ordered samples for testing drawn from all elevated tanks.
Those samples tested as clean, Rodriguez said.
Wastewater service rejected
Council members voted to reject a request by Southwest Engineers, Inc., a civil engineering firm, to provide wastewater service to the proposed Agape Oaks residential development, located at the former site of the old Morales Feed Lot on I35 in Medina County.
Thompson noted that the entire development was miles beyond the city limits and well outside the established service area for city sewer. City Attorney Thomas Cate told the council that the request was a necessary step before the developer could pursue other funding.
Artist to paint Mural on CC Wall
On a motion by Ritchey seconded by Pichardo, the council voted to provide $1,500 for a mural on the rear of the city hall building. The council had approved the project at an earlier date but did not allocate funds for the work.
“I think this would be a long-term investment in promoting Devine,” Pichardo said.
Mayor Thompson said it had to be completed by April 1 so it would be available for the Art Walk.
Cindy Morales explained she had done as asked and found local artists interested but felt it was the city obligation to pay not the chamber since it was their wall. She agreed to contact the professional artist, Kirsten Schneider, and see if she could get the sketches of the mural to the council for approval, plus asked if Kirsten could meet the deadline set by the mayor.
CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
Devine Chamber of Commerce President Cindy Morales was on hand also to present the results of another project to promote the city. The Chamber’s “Think Devine” logo has been expanded to read “Think, Shop, Dine Devine: Support the businesses that support your community.”
“We really wanted that in there because we have a really giving, wonderful community that gives and gives and gives to all our school districts and to our local organizations such as the non-profits,” Morales said.
Morales also presented new chamber vice president Liza Hill and secretary Brittany Sullivan-Ott to the council.
Bain Well property bid rejected
Fred and Regina Morales submitted a bid for $10,000 to buy the old Bain well property that the city wants to sell. Since the city had set the rules of the bid to a minimum of $24,000 the appraised value of the land at the recommendation of Councilman Randall, Attorney Cate confirmed they could not legally accept the bid.
Complete video coverage of the meeting is available on the Devine News YouTube channel at youtube/ridaiEj03VM.
Most council meetings are also on cityofdevine.org on the live council meeting tab at the top of their website.
By Anton Riecher and Kathleen Calame