Catch up on Animal Shelter articles and documents

Lots of news over the past week regarding the shelter. Here are the relevant articles and documents, from oldest to newest. Part of our mission here at KU is to organize relevant links and documents so that the public can easily find them and become better informed. But Kerrville United cannot complete its mission without the work of local newspapers. Please support the Kerrville Daily Times and the Hill Country Community Journal!

October 15

Commissioners Court convenes and votes to change hours and policies. Here’s the agenda for that meeting. No recordings are made of the meetings, and the minutes won’t be publicly available for several weeks.

October 16

County issues press release announcing changes. Images of press release are below.

Kerrville United article titled, “Commissioners reduce Animal Shelter hours, eliminate Saturdays from schedule.”

October 17

Kerrville Daily Times news article titled, “Change in animal shelter hours leads to questions

October 19

Kerrville Daily Times editorial titled, “Missing logic in shelter decision

October 20

Kerr County updates its original Facebook post, adding…

UPDATE: For those of you who asked for the numbers to support the Saturday closure of the county-owned and operated shelter and for those who wanted to know what the Kerr County commissioners based their decision on … here is that information:
Of the 1,000 dogs and cats adopted from the Kerr County Animal Services facility from Jan. 1 to Oct. 1 of this year, there were 33 adopted on Saturdays. Another 27 animals went out on the shelter’s Family Fit program on Saturdays, but a large number of those pets were returned for various reasons. So, between 4-5% of the total pet adoptions for 2019 were on Saturdays.
Additionally, on Saturdays for the same time period, there were 35 pet surrenders by owners who could no longer or who were no longer willing to take care of them. This number nearly offsets the number of Saturday adoption.
Also, the number of lost pets reclaimed by their rightful owners on Saturdays was 15. That is a slight percentage out of the total of 267 reclaimed pets this year.
According to commissioners, when the court approved being open on Saturdays it was for a trial period, and their intention was to do an evaluation after sufficient time had passed. The trial was done for a year, and the results do not justify continuing, they said.
As to the plan to have volunteers sign up in advance, county officials said that this will limit the number of volunteers in the facility at any one point in time, which is prudent so operations can continue to be efficient. This process will insure the safety of pets and volunteers alike. The other neighboring animal control facilities have the same procedure in place, and they have reported that it works well.
As a final point, commissioners stated that pet adoption is not a requirement of state law for the local animal control facility. (Rabies control and public safety IS a state-mandated service.)
Generally, communities have nonprofit organizations that take the pets from an animal control operation such as the county’s and then they handle the pet adoptions. In Kerr County, there are two facilities that assist KCAS, the Freeman-Fritts Animal Shelter and the Kathleen C. Cailloux Humane Society of Kerrville.
Both have helped a great deal, but are not able to take all of the pets. County leaders stated that what KCAS needs is a local, nonprofit organization to work with to help house and adopt pets. This idea has been brought up numerous times to the local pet advocacy groups and, hopefully, this will take place in the future.

Source: https://www.facebook.com/kerrcountytexas/posts/669539976888983

October 21

Kerr County Commissioners hold special meeting, but shelter advocates were not allowed to speak because the matter was not posted on the agenda.

Kerr County issues new press release defending the new policies. Images pictured below.

Kerrville United opinion article titled, “Commissioners botched the rollout of new Animal Shelter policies.”

October 22

Kerrville Daily Times article titled, “County says facts drove decision on shelter hours.”

Kerr County adds on their Facebook page…

Commissioners on Monday, Oct. 21, released information — statistics and other variables — they analyzed before unanimously deciding last week to make changes to the Kerr County Animal Services’ facility schedule, including closing its two-hour shifts on Saturdays.
They said they hope this information will provide a bigger picture and explain why they made the decision they did.
Knowing that this is an issue many are passionate about in the community, commissioners on Monday also mentioned the possibility that they will host a special meeting soon so citizens can provide input. It was said that such a meeting will be held on a weeknight and possibly at the Hill County Youth Event Center, in order to accommodate working individuals and an anticipated crowd, respectively.
If more news develops on a meeting focusing on the county-owned and operated shelter, we will post the details here, as well as distribute the information to local media.
To be sure to stay up-to-date on county news as it happens, please be sure to become a follower by hitting the “Like” button under our page’s cover photo.

https://www.facebook.com/kerrcountytexas/

October 23

Scheduled meeting of the Kerr County Animal Services Advisory Board. The meeting will take place at 1 PM on October 23 at the Kerr County Courthouse. The meeting is open to the public. The agenda is posted below.

OPINION: Commissioners botched the rollout of new Animal Shelter policies

Kerr County Commissioners Court issued a new press release on Tuesday to defend an action that was taken last week to change the days and hours of operation, and amend volunteer policies, at the Kerr County Animal Shelter. Commissioners received intense criticism not only for the effects these changes will have on the animals and volunteers, but also for the way the policies were rolled out. For more context about the specific policy changes, please read our previous article on this subject.

Commissioners met in closed Executive Session on October 15 and decided a policy for the animal shelter without consulting their advisory board, without public input, and without ample time for the shelter staff to roll out the policy effectively. They implemented policies that were unclear, and, after issuing an updated statement following a negative editorial in the Kerrville Daily Times, the court has muddied the waters on what might be their true motives for these changes. Further, we have reason to question the adoption statistics that they relied on to support this decision.

A Kerrville Daily Times poll found that 96% of respondents disagreed with the Commissioners’ decision to change these policies. 550 people responded to the non-scientific poll on the Times’ Facebook page.

Regardless of how you may feel about the underlying policy changes — closing on Saturdays and adjusting the volunteer policies — the rollout was less than ideal for a governmental body that ostensibly works for the people of Kerr County.

Meeting Behind Closed Doors

On Tuesday, October 15, the Commissioners Court convened a regular meeting of the court (held on Tuesday instead of the usual Monday meetings due to county offices closing for Columbus Day). On that agenda was an item described simply as, “Consider, discuss and take appropriate action regarding the Animal Services Department. (Executive Session) (Judge Kelly/Reagan Givens)”.

Snippet from the posted Commissioners Court Agenda for October 15, 2019.

This agenda item, as described, did not have anything to do with personnel matters. However, when this item came up for discussion, Commissioners adjourned to Executive Session, which is a closed, non-public session, which must be conducted according to state law on open meetings.

By default, all local government meetings must be held in public, and all items discussed must be clearly posted in advance. All of the discussions must happen in open session unless they discuss a topic that is specifically enumerated in the Texas Government Code as eligible for discussion in Executive Session. All elected officials receive training on the Open Meetings Act to be sure that they operate within these state laws.

When Kerrville United inquired as to which section of the Government Code was used as the justification for closed Executive Session, we were told by county officials that the Commissioners invoked Section 551.074, which refers to personnel matters. However, as you can see below, this section refers to specific employment matters such as evaluations, discipline, complaints, etc. This justification to enter into Executive Session bears no resemblance to the agenda item, as posted, or to the matters that were actually discussed in that session.

Open Meetings Act, Government Code Title 5, Subtitle A, Chapter 551

It was during this closed Executive Session that Commissioners built consensus around adjusting the hours, days of operation, and volunteer policies at the Animal Services Facility (animal shelter), although the unanimous vote did take place in public session, as required by law (no action can be taken in Executive Session — only discussion, which builds consensus). Should the discussion of hours, days of operation, and volunteer policies of an entire county department qualify for Executive Session under Section 551.074? The Texas Attorney General’s 2018 Open Meetings Handbook clearly states that discussions about a “class” of employees cannot be held in closed session. See page 48 of the Handbook.

Since this matter was not represented transparently on the agenda, and since the matter was discussed in Executive Session, the Commissioners chose to act without any public input on this topic. The public had no idea that operating days/hours would be discussed, and even if a member of the public had attended the meeting to provide input, they would have been shut out of the closed Executive Session. Therefore the court made this decision without any public input whatsoever.

Upon examination of all these facts, it is our conclusion that the Commissioners may not have had the legal right to discuss these policies in closed session. As such, Kerrville United will submit a public records request to obtain the transcribed minutes and/or audio recordings of this portion of the meeting. It is likely that the county will object to handing over this documentation, and will probably refer the matter to the Attorney General for a ruling. We look forward to hearing why the county felt it was appropriate to enter into Executive Session under a personnel statute to discuss the hours of operation of a taxpayer-funded county facility.

Founding Father Patrick Henry once said of the importance of transparency in government, “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”

Opening page of the Open Meetings Handbook, letter from Ken Paxton, Attorney General

Garbage In, Garbage Out (Bad Statistics?)

One of the major policy changes rolled out by the Commissioners on Tuesday was to change the days and hours of operation, eliminating Saturdays completely. When county officials were asked about the prudence of closing a facility that relies on public adoptions, officials confidently stated that only a small percentage of adoptions actually took place on Saturday. So, Kerrville United made a public records request to get a list of all adoptions for 2019. We received a list of adopted animals with the dates they were adopted (however, we only received data from February 1 through September 30 — not the entire year of 2019).

We must note that the data we received from the county does not match the statistics they quoted in their October 21 press release that followed the scathing editorial in the Kerrville Daily Times.

The data we received showed a total of 278 adoptions during the time period from February 1 through September 30. According to the data, approximately 10% of all adoptions occurred on Saturdays, and approximately 26% of the adoptions took place on Mondays. See the graph below that shows how many adoptions took place on each day of the week.

Chart showing the number of adoptions on each day of the week from February through September, 2019.

There are a couple of potential problems with this data. First, the data shows that two adoptions took place on Sunday. This is curious, since the shelter is not, and has never been, open on Sundays.

Second, we found it strange that so many adoptions took place on Mondays. Why would this day be the most popular for a family to visit the shelter, become acquainted with the animals, spend time with them, and then commit to an adoption? We inquired with shelter volunteers about this data, and found two reasons that could cause these statistics to be inaccurate.

  1. Data isn’t always entered on Saturdays. There is just one employee at the shelter that enters adoption data into the records. This person does not generally work on Saturdays, so many of the Saturday adoptions were likely to be entered when this person returned to work on Monday, skewing the date statistics to show more adoptions on Mondays rather than Saturdays.
  2. Families may “host” an animal starting on Saturday, but may not commit to the adoption until the following week. This standard operating procedure may skew the statistics to show more adoptions during the week, but they may have actually been initiated on Saturday.

Even if we accept these statistics as presented to us by the county, we see that a full 10% of all adoptions happened on Saturday. Keep in mind that the facility was only open for TWO HOURS each Saturday. The county stated in their recent press release that, under the old hours, the facility was open to the public for a total of 39 hours per week. That means that, if we accept these stats, 10% of all adoptions took place during only 5% of the available public hours. So Saturdays are an extremely popular day to adopt animals. If Saturday hours are increased to more than two hours, it follows that the number of adoptions could be even higher on weekends.

After examining all of these factors, it is our conclusion that the county may have relied on faulty or unclear information when deciding the new operating days/hours. We would encourage the county and the Animal Services department to be more transparent with their operating procedures to discover whether or not these daily numbers are correct. Even if they are correct, though, the county is wrong when they suggest that Saturdays were not productive for the facility. In fact, Saturday hours were very much over-represented in the data, meaning Saturdays are actually very popular days for adoptions, and eliminating them will cause more animals to be euthanized instead of becoming adopted pets.

Advisory Board Not Consulted

As part of the 2018 Interlocal Agreement between the City of Kerrville and Kerr County regarding Animal Services, an Animal Advisory Board was created to meet regularly and advise the county about shelter operations. The board is required to include a licensed veterinarian, a county commissioner, the animal services director, a representative from a local nonprofit shelter, and a city resident (appointed by the Kerrville City Council).

Kerrville United reached out to members of the advisory board. The board had not been advised or notified about the agenda item posted for October 15, nor was the board consulted about the potential change in hours and policies. No one from the advisory board (other than Commissioner Letz and Animal Services Director Reagan Givens) was present at the Commissioners Court meeting on October 15. And, of course, since the matter was discussed in closed session, advisory board members would not have been allowed to participate in that meeting.

So although the County established this board via Court Order 37057 on October 9, 2018, the county did not seek input from their own appointed experts before making a decision. This is just another example of the County acting without any public input — from the general public or from its own citizen advisory board.

Volunteer Hours to be Reduced

In addition to the change in hours and days of operations, the Saturday closure will also have the effect of reducing the number of volunteer hours that are provided to the shelter by local animal lovers. According to county data, volunteers provide an average of 5 hours of labor each Saturday, with up to 13 volunteer hours given on one Saturday (March through September 2019).

We spoke with several volunteers who have stated that they will no longer be able to give any volunteer hours at all now that the shelter will be closed on weekends. Volunteers also stated that many of the hours they serve are not recorded, and therefore won’t show up in this data provided by the county.

With the new policy, volunteers are now required to sign up days in advance, but without the convenience of offering online signups or telephone signups. These already busy volunteers will now be asked to show up in person during the new shelter hours to volunteer for a certain amount of time many days in advance. This hardship will further reduce the volunteerism that has benefited the shelter thus far, and the hardship could be reduced with the help of a simple online form.

Ulterior Motives?

The stated reasons for the shift in policies were as follows (according to last week’s press release):

  • Reduce the expense of compensatory payroll costs
  • Increase public access to services

Rational arguments can be made on whether or not either of these objectives will be reached with the new policies, but when the county updated their Facebook post on Sunday, October 20, the true motivation behind these changes may have been revealed. The county edited their Facebook page to include the following statement:

“County leaders stated that what KCAS needs is a local, nonprofit organization to work with to help house and adopt pets. This idea has been brought up numerous times to the local pet advocacy groups and, hopefully, this will take place in the future.”

Facebook release originally posted on October 16, and edited on October 20.

Conversations with various county officials make it clear that the county does not want to be in the business of providing adoption services whatsoever. In this Facebook post, the October 21 press release, and in those private conversations, it’s clear that the county’s true motive is to encourage local advocates to setup and operate an adoption facility so that the county can concentrate on state-mandated health activities such as rabies control, saving money in an already maxed-out budget, and reducing the workload for county employees.

But if that’s the true motivation behind these policy changes, why was it only stated following a very negative public reaction and newspaper editorial?

The other stated motivation is to reduce payroll expenses by reducing the number of “accrued comp time.” But this can be achieved without incurring any additional comp time hours if the county would simply adjust shelter hours on other weekdays. For example, why not close on Monday or Tuesday mornings and keep a small number of hours on Saturday? Commissioners have not yet explained why this wasn’t considered.

What’s Next?

The County met on Monday morning, October 21, and one of the agenda items had to do with the shelter. However, since the county does not broadcast their meetings, nor do they provide meeting minutes in a timely manner, we do not yet know the outcome of today’s proceedings.

We encourage the county to operate with greater transparency, including revisiting the matter of recording and/or broadcasting their meetings publicly so that the voters can view discussions and participate with county matters. The regular Commissioners Court meetings take place at 9 AM on Monday mornings, which makes it impossible for working folks to attend or participate in any way.

Ironically, just today, the county posted this Facebook post (below) inviting the public to view the meeting minutes if they’d like to keep up with county matters. Upon visiting the page with the minutes, the latest available meeting minutes posted was the meeting that took place on September 16 — over a month ago. No sign of the minutes from October 15 or October 21.

If the county wants the public to refer to the minutes to keep up with their representatives’ work, we suggest they make them available more quickly. But we have an even better suggestion… follow the City’s lead and provide audio and video recordings of every meeting within 24 hours. We’ll be happy to donate equipment and help set that up in the interest of public access!

But for now, the bottom line is that, like it or not, the county IS in the business of providing adoptions so that the number of animals that must be euthanized is kept to as few as possible. Until such time as a nonprofit is setup, the county must act in good faith and continue to operate the shelter with at least some weekend access to benefit the majority of county families that work on weekdays. This can be achieved by adjusting hours on another day of the week, such as Mondays or Tuesdays. No comp time needs to accrue to maintain Saturday hours.

Most of all, though, the county should reflect upon this decision-making process, the lack of transparency, and the complete dearth of public input that was sought before making this dramatic change to public policy. We expect more from our elected officials.

This article contains verifiable facts, and the conclusions and recommendations represent the opinion of Kerrville United, but not of any other entity, group, organization, or government body. Efforts have been made to verify the authenticity of all information presented. This article may be updated from time to time as new information is discovered.

Commissioners reduce Animal Shelter hours, eliminate Saturdays from schedule

DEVELOPING: This is a developing story and this article will be edited as more information becomes available.

A statement released through the Kerr County, Texas, Facebook page on Wednesday announced that the Kerr County Animal Shelter would be reducing its hours of operation and would no longer be open on Saturdays. These changes will take effect on Thursday, October 17. Commissioners stated that the hours were being reduced in order to save taxpayer dollars and to “increase public access” to the shelter.

In 2018, the City of Kerrville and Kerr County Commissioners enacted an Interlocal Agreement pertaining to the operations of the Animal Shelter. The county operates the shelter in accordance with state law and in accordance with this Interlocal Agreement with the City of Kerrville. In exchange, the City operates the municipal library for the benefit of city and county residents.

Changes in days and hours of operation

The shelter will now be open for approximately 40 hours per week — down from 47 before the change. However, public access has increased from 39 to 40 hours per week, according to the county’s statement. But, controversially, the shelter will now be closed on Saturdays — another change from the previous schedule.

The shelter’s previous operating hours.

The new operating hours will be 8 AM to 1 PM and 2 PM to 5 PM on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; and 9 AM to 1 PM and 2 PM to 6 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The county states that these new hours are “accommodating those who work.” Commissioner Letz went on to state that “the adjusted scheduled [sic] will hopefully allow additional time for adoption events and educational activities.”

The county’s press release states that the need to shift the days and hours of operation is to reduce “comp time” accrued by staff. Comp time is shorthand for compensatory time. When an employee works more hours in a given period than their job duties normally entail, the county either pays the employee time-and-a-half overtime, or the employee accrues comp time, which allows the employee to take time off in trade for those extra hours worked.

According to a county official, comp time has a double impact. If paid out in the form of overtime, it negatively impacts the county’s and the department’s budgets. However, if additional leave is granted to “compensate” for those hours, then the facility is left short-handed.

Judge Rob Kelly is quoted as stating, “In effect, we’re reducing our operating costs and saving taxpayer funds, while also increasing public access. It’s a win-win.”

This image served as the Kerr County Animal Services Facebook profile picture on October 16. Please note that these operating hours are no longer current.

Change in volunteer policies

Another change announced in the statement adjusts the way that volunteers are coordinated and utilized. Starting October 21, volunteers must sign up for specific times in advance, and must visit the shelter “a few days in advance” to fill out liability paperwork. It is unclear at this time whether or not the volunteers must appear each time they wish to volunteer, or just at certain intervals.

This change was made to reduce the county’s vulnerability to liability issues, according to the press release. In the statement, Commissioner Letz is quoted as stating, “In my oversight of the county’s insurance, I came to realize that we need to monitor our volunteer staff more carefully.”

Reaction

Animal advocates gather in digital spaces such as Facebook groups to discuss the animal shelter, its policies, and to help facilitate the transportation and adoption of the animals. On Wednesday night, reaction to the hours and policy changes was swift and severe.

The majority of the reaction was skeptical of the decision to close the shelter on Saturdays. Many volunteers expressed that Saturdays were the only days of the week when they could volunteer. Others expressed concern that the animals wouldn’t be socialized or taken on walks all weekend, and perhaps for longer stretches on holiday weekends. And others worried that adoptions would decrease since families cannot visit the shelter on weekends any longer. One comment on the Kerr County Animal Services Facebook page stated:

“This is not “increasing public access hours.” It’s the opposite. You’re closing on the most accessible day for the majority of the public.

Adjust hours on a different weekday. This is not the answer, and it’s back pedaling in the work that’s been done to decrease the euthanization rates.

Saturdays are the days families have time to go look at animals for adoption or missing pets.

Saturdays are when volunteers have time to go out and walk your dogs. There are up to 36 kennels in our county pound. You now want no more than 3 volunteers at a time—scheduled days in advance? And expect all those dogs to get walked (that will be stuck there otherwise, and now for an entire weekend with no human interaction)? And now you’re eliminating a day that works for most volunteers’ schedule?

It seems like the county is discouraging volunteers and moving backwards.”

–Facebook comment

What’s Next

The new hours are effective on Thursday, October 17. The new volunteer policy will be implemented on October 21.

Kerrville United will soon request statistics for the number of adoptions sorted by days of the week, as well as a log of volunteer hours sorted by days of the week. We hope to add to the discussion by providing data that city and county residents will find useful when approaching this issue. Stand by for more.

Kerr County Commissioners meet on the 2nd and 4th Mondays of each month at 9 AM at the Kerr County Courthouse. Commissioners encourage citizens to attend and speak to matters on the agenda.

References & Links

Upcoming Election: Charter Amendments

On November 5, Kerrville voters will have an opportunity to vote on several proposed amendments to the city’s charter. This year’s election will also include statewide constitutional amendments, which will be on the ballot at the same time. But in this article, we’ll focus on the city charter, what it is, why it matters, and what these proposed changes will mean to you as a citizen of Kerrville.

What is the Charter?

The State of Texas sets out laws, rules, and guidelines for how an incorporated municipality (like Kerrville) is allowed operate, but it also leaves tremendous flexibility in some areas, and those topics are of utmost importance when it comes to a city’s charter. Kerrville’s current charter can be viewed here: https://library.municode.com/tx/kerrville/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=PTICH

The charter can be thought of as the city’s constitution — more or less. It sets out the rules and policies for how the city is governed, including matters such as:

  • Annexation & Condemnation
  • Qualifications and duties of Council members
  • Council rules and procedures
  • Elections, Recalls, and Referendums
  • Rules and duties of the city manager and city attorney
  • Financial matters
  • Taxation
  • Municipal Courts
  • Boards & Commissions
  • …and much more

The chairman of the Charter Review Committee (which we’ll discuss later), John Harrison, stated it this way: “The City Charter is a document that describes how ‘we the people’ want our city to be operated. We must comply with state law but where the state is not specific we have flexibility at the local level… Whether you want to run for City Council or just to know more about how the city operates, the Charter is one of the first documents a person should read.”

Here’s the first paragraph of our city’s charter, laying out the purpose and principals that guide the document itself:

“We the people of the City of Kerrville, Texas, under the constitution and laws of the State of Texas, in order to secure the benefits of local self-government and to provide for an honest and accountable council-manager government do hereby adopt this Charter and confer upon the City the following powers, subject to the following limitations, and prescribed by the following procedures and government structure. By this action, we secure the benefits of home-rule and affirm the values of representative democracy, professional management, strong leadership, citizen participation, and regional cooperation.”

Article 1, Section 1.01, City of Kerrville Charter

Charter Review Commission

Also set forth in the Charter is the mandate that the document be reviewed at least every five years by a “Charter Review Commission” consisting of seven residents of the City. This body shall, according to the Charter, determine whether any sections require revision, hold a public hearing, propose amendments, and report to City Council. (Ref.: Article XIV, Section 14.06-14.07, City of Kerrville Charter.)

The last time the charter was reviewed was back in 2013, when Council approved eight amendments for the ballot, and all eight were approved by voters.

The mandated review five years later was begun in November 2018 when the Kerrville City Council established the Charter Review Commission (CRC) consisting of seven local residents. The committee included a former council member and mayor, a retired City Secretary, a local attorney, a high school government teacher, and three other citizens that had been intimately involved in local governmental affairs. The commission members included:

  • Brenda Craig
  • Greg Richards
  • Stephen Fine
  • Michael Sigerman
  • John Harrison
  • Karen Yanez
  • Peggy McKay

This commission met at least eight times between February and April, including a public hearing on June 3. All of the meetings were open to the public and were posted in accordance with the Open Meetings Act regulations.

A written report was created by the CRC and presented to Council. That 27-page report, which includes detailed explanations for each change, can be found here: https://www.kerrvilletx.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/3626

The commission made a recommendation to council that 43 amendments be considered. By law, council must approve or decline to forward these proposals to the citizens for a vote. Council approved most of those recommendations in August, and voted to put forth numerous proposed amendments for a citywide election on November 5. (The date was selected to coincide with the statewide constitutional amendment election that is held every two years in odd-numbered years.)

What are the proposed amendments?

“We proposed changes that makes the Charter more readable and easier to understand. Over a six month period, we read, discussed, debated and finally voted on every proposed change. I believe these changes are good for the City and would encourage every citizen to learn about the proposals and support them in November.”

John Harrison, chairman of the CRC

Many of the proposed amendments are clarifying in nature, meaning they don’t make sweeping changes, but rather, they make the intent and language easier to read and comprehend. Some of the more significant proposed amendments include:

  • Add a clause to prevent nepotism
  • Term Limits — restrict council members to no more than three consecutive two-year terms
  • Raise the Stakes for Place 1 and 2 running for mayor — If a councilmember in Place 1 or 2 wants to run for mayor, he/she shall resign from their position regardless of the outcome of the mayor race
  • Require all municipal judges to be licensed attorneys
  • Authorize mayor to create and make appointments to ad hoc committees
  • Allow the city to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages in residential areas

The proposed amendments are discussed in greater detail in the written report that the CRC presented to Council. However, please note that Council did not authorize each of these amendments, so some of the items in this report will NOT be on the ballot. Regardless, the report provides valuable information about the rationale for each proposed change, and therefore is a useful guide to the voters. See the references section below for more reading material on these amendments.

How will you be affected?

Since many of the amendments are minor, those changes are unlikely to affect your day-to-day life in Kerrville. But many of the other amendments do have ramifications for the way our local government works, and the way the city operates, in general. For instance, we currently don’t have term limits for the mayor or council, and historically, some council members have served for long periods of time. Term limits would, theoretically, increase participation from a larger pool of prospective candidates, providing more diversity in opinion, and less stagnation of thought. This particular amendment could have a lasting impact on our community.

Other changes may seem to be unimportant, but could also have big changes on your local government. We think it’s a good idea for every voter to be come familiar with these proposals and how it could affect the community as a whole.

References

CRC Report: https://www.kerrvilletx.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/3626
Sample Ballot: https://www.kerrvilletx.gov/DocumentCenter/View/34568/Sample-BALLOT-for-Special-Election—Charter-Amendments-11-05-19
Newspaper Notice: https://www.kerrvilletx.gov/DocumentCenter/View/34571/Newspaper-Notice-of-Amendments

Editorial Section

This portion of the article contains the opinions of Kerrville United and this article’s author, Aaron Yates.

Kerrville United supports each of the proposed amendments slated for the November 5 election. We encourage all voters to approve these amendments by voting “FOR” on the ballot. We salute the CRC for doing tedious, but valuable work on this year’s Charter Review.

Voting Information

This year’s Special Election will be held on November 5, 2019, with early voting from October 21 through November 1. All early voting will take place at the Cailloux Theater, but voting locations will be located in different places on Election Day, based on precinct. See the City of Kerrville’s Election Page for more information, and see the graphic below for voting places and times.

You must already be registered to vote to be eligible to cast a ballot this November. The voter registration date has already passed.

Election information as obtained from https://www.kerrvilletx.gov/312/Election on October 16.

City of Kerrville responds to concerns about sign ordinance

Following the first reading of the newly proposed revisions to the Sign Ordinance, Kerrville United posted an article discussing some of the changes and reporting about the outcome of that first vote, which passed 4-1 on September 10 at the City Council meeting. As reported, council would need to vote again on the second reading for that ordinance to become law.

In the Facebook comments section of the article we posted, Mr. Cory Traub posted a number of questions and concerns that he has about the proposed new ordinance. Mr. Traub is the owner of Pro-Tech Signs & Graphixx, a company that installs signage in Kerrville. Mr. Traub’s comments are shown below.

We forwarded these comments to the City of Kerrville and asked if they’d please respond to Mr. Traub’s concerns so that we can provide answers to our readers. The City provided that response today via Facebook, and their answers have been posted below, with only the formatting being changed to make the responses more easily seen by our readership across the various platforms where they may access our content. Please see the City’s responses below.

City of Kerrville Responds to Cory Traub

CITY OF KERRVILLE: Kerrville United, thank you for the opportunity to respond to Mr. Traub’s concerns. We sincerely appreciate your reporting on the city and your efforts to cover all sides of an issue. Attached below are our responses to Mr. Traub’s observations, with Mr. Traub’s initial posts designated by bullet points:

CORY TRAUB: Wall signs can now only be internally lit if the sign is made of individual letters. This means you can no longer have a regular lighted sign with your logo on it and back light it. Wall signs must be channel letters now, not cabinets. This makes dozens of signs currently in Kerrville non-conforming, some of which are brand new.

CITY OF KERRVILLE: This was in the proposed draft that was reviewed and approved by Council on the first reading 9/10/2019. Based upon discussions with several individuals, staff will be recommending an amendment on second reading to this section, thereby allowing all types of wall signs to be internally illuminated unless otherwise restricted.

CORY TRUAB: Pole signs that are sitting on two poles instead of a single pole must be masonry. So, if your sign sits on two poles and does not have some sort of masonry around them your sign will become non-conforming.

CITY OF KERRVILLE: This in incorrect, as this section of the code was updated by the Code Review Committee to clarify the construction of freestanding/pole signs. New or updated signs will be allowed to be constructed on one or more poles, or twin masonry supports. The intent was to clarify the options sign owners have for the support structure, not to require that masonry was required if there is more than one pole.

CORY TRAUB: Banners can be no more than 80sq.ft. and must be mounted on your building or permanent structure. They cannot be mounted on poles out in front unless they are REAL ESTATE banners. Real Estate banners can be mounted on a solid piece of wood on two poles.

CITY OF KERRVILLE: This section has not changed from the previous code.

CORY TRAUB: Any permanent sign erected on school property or any other school campus or public athletic facility may not include any type of commercial message, including the name and/or logo of an establishment who is sponsoring such school’s activities or events. So, basically no more advertising on Antler Stadium’s sign.

CITY OF KERRVILLE: The portion of this section limiting commercial messages on school district signs has been recommended for removal since the 9/10/2019 Council hearing to align with previous court decisions.

• CORY TRAUB: Electronic signs must now hold the message for 8 seconds instead of 4 before changing to a new message.

CITY OF KERRVILLE: This is correct, as amended by Council, unless changed on second reading.

• CORY TRAUB: The City of Kerrville will now have 30 days to approve your sign permit, unlike the 10 days it used to be.

CITY OF KERRVILLE: This section remains unchanged from the existing sign code. The sign code does require an approval or denial of a sign permit within 30 days; however, Development Services policy will continue to maintain a standard for approval or denial of a sign permit within 10 days.

•CORY TRAUB: Finally, the size of electronic signs was 32sqft, the code review committee recommended 32sqft for the smaller signs and up to 64sqft for the larger signs. To put it in perspective 32sqft is the size of a sheet of plywood. The electronic sign at Antler Stadium is 72sqft and the electronic sign at the Chamber of Commerce is almost 80sqft. Planning and Zoning rejected the code review committee’s recommendations to allow the larger electronic signs and brought it back to 32sqft for everyone. Now….the sign at Antler Stadium was permitted and installed in 2012 before the sign ordinance was re-written and there were no size limits for electronic signs, therefore it is grandfathered in. The city cannot make them change the size of that sign but they can change how they must operate it.

CITY OF KERRVILLE: As per section 92-13 Nonconforming signs, all legal signs in existence at the time of adoption may remain in place. Any electronic display, such as Antler Stadium sign, must conform to the updated operational standards (such as length of time for each display, no motion, luminance requirements etc.), but the code does not require the size or location to be adjusted unless the sign is modified.

•CORY TRAUB: The electronic sign at the Chamber of Commerce was “accidentally permitted in error” by the city in 2018 under the ordinance that only allows 32sqft. So, before we adopt a new ordinance that still only allows businesses to have 32sqft of electronic signs shouldn’t we consider what the city is going to do about the sign at the Chamber of Commerce? I personally do not care if the new ordinance allows bigger or smaller signs nor do I want to see Kerrville covered in 80sqft electronic signs like Atlantic City or Las Vegas. My issue is that if one business is allowed 80sqft of Electronic sign than ALL Kerrville businesses should be allowed up to 80sqft of electronic sign. If not than the City must be held accountable for their “mistake” and make it right.

CITY OF KERRVILLE: The City has been very open and transparent about the permitting error regarding the Chamber sign, has taken enforcement measures, and the Chamber is still currently operating the sign at a maximum of 32 square feet. Once a new sign ordinance is adopted, a more permanent solution will be pursued.

Thank you again,
The City of Kerrville

EIC takes action on two new funding applications

At Monday’s regular meeting of Kerrville’s Economic Improvement Corporation (EIC), the board took action to move forward with two new applications for economic development funding, and approved the multi-year funding agreement with Kerr Economic Development Corporation (KEDC). The EIC voted unanimously to move forward with an agreement that would fund two projects at the KERV Municipal Airport, and also voted unanimously to proceed with a “terms sheet” for an affordable housing development.

KEDC Funding Agreement

Last month, the EIC directed staff to amend the proposed funding agreement before them to add a multiyear component to the KEDC contract. EIC provides about 2/3 of KEDC’s $213,500 budget. The KEDC operates as a nonprofit and their mission is to support and expand business entities in Kerr County — new and existing. On Monday, the EIC voted unanimously to approve the revised funding agreement, which changed the terms from one year to three years, but giving the EIC the option of appropriating (or not appropriating) monies in the second and third years of the contract. The board believes that adding a multiyear component signals to the KEDC that the EIC is committed to the long-term success of this organization and their economic development efforts.

The KEDC also presented some of their efforts over the previous month, including some specifics about a business that is considering relocating to Kerrville. This Tier 1 supplier (meaning they supply parts and services to a large manufacturer) is considering relocating to Texas from the midwest, and Kerrville is the only community in the state that they are considering. Gil Salinas of KEDC informed the EIC that this company would soon make a “site visit” to Kerrville to see what our community has to offer by way of employees, infrastructure, and building space for their operations. This particular company would add approximately 60 well-paid jobs that also include good employee benefits.

Another lead is in the pipeline, according to Walt Koenig of the Chamber of Commerce and on behalf of KEDC. This lead, code-named “Oasis,” would also add about 50 or 60 primary jobs in the manufacturing sector and would provide an economic benefit to the entire hill country. This lead is still in the works and KEDC hopes to land both of these exciting opportunities in the coming months.

Airport Projects

Members of the Airport Board presented statistics about the economic impact of the airport on the community as a whole, stating that the airport and the related jobs there have an impact of almost $40 million on the Kerrville and Kerr County area. They requested funding for two separate projects: 1.) Site work for future box hangars; and 2.) Renovation of an existing building to make ready for future tenants.

The EIC voted unanimously to proceed with a funding agreement in the amount of $375,000 for these improvements.

Funding request from KERV Airport.

Workforce Housing Development

The EIC heard a presentation from investors and developers involved in the “Meeker Project,” a potential development which includes up to 35 moderately priced homes near Meeker and Poplar Streets in the eastern half of Kerrville. These homes would be built by local builder Travis Page and would be priced at approximately $159,500 to $203,000 per home, categorized as “workforce housing.”

Contemplated floorplans and elevations for the homes in the Meeker project.

The developers, 2J-PAGE Development, LLC, has requested approximately $701,000 to offset the public infrastructure costs such as roads and utilities. According to the developers and the City of Kerrville staff:

This development could serve as a catalyst and model in providing additional attainable and affordable housing in the community to retain and attract employees for Kerrville’s local employers (both primary and non-primary) to sustain, as well as expand, their local operations. In addition, this development could help in recruitment efforts to attract new employers to the area. Supporting the need for more attainable and affordable housing is identified in specific Action Items in the Kerrville 2050 Comprehensive Plan…

Quote from agenda bill for Item 4C, EIC Agenda for September 16

The EIC heard the presentation and convened discussions in executive session (a closed, non-public portion of the meeting where members discuss ongoing negotiations). Following executive session, the EIC voted unanimously to direct staff to create a “terms sheet,” meaning a list of terms and requirements that must be agreed to before a funding agreement can be contemplated and approved.

References

DISCLOSURE: Your author, Aaron Yates, is a board member of the Kerrville Economic Improvement Corporation. The opinions and statements herein represent the views of Aaron Yates and not necessarily the views or positions of the EIC as a whole, or the City of Kerrville.

Council passes first reading of new sign ordinance

Council passed the first reading of the newly revised sign ordinance in a 4-1 vote on Tuesday night at the regularly scheduled meeting. Kim Clarkson cast the dissenting vote, with Cochrane, Mayor Blackburn, Eychner, and Sigerman in favor of the law that was also approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission on August 15. A second reading must be held and approved before the proposal becomes law.

Council made one amendment to the P&Z version of the law: the “static time” was lengthened from four seconds to eight seconds. The static time refers to the amount of time that a message must “hold” on the screen before transitioning to a new message.

Councilmember Kim Clarkson stated that although she supports re-writing the code, she hoped that approval could be postponed until some of the concerns were worked out.

Changes

Some of the updates to the sign ordinance include:

  • Adding and clarifying definitions of various types of signs including Awning Signs, Canopy Signs, Electronic Displays, and Murals.
  • Adding graphical elements to illustrate the code.
  • Allowing a one-second “fade” on electronic displays
  • Lowering the height requirement for awning, canopy, and projecting signs to 6’8″
  • Simplifies requirements for incidental signs
  • Exempting government flags and signs from the ordinance
  • Exempting traffic control devices
  • Requiring a 6″ frame/border around electronic displays
  • Providing a maximum size of 32 square feet for electronic displays
  • Lengthening the “hold time” or “static time” of electronic displays to eight seconds (added by council)

Process

The process of re-writing the sign ordinance began with the Code Review Committee (CRC) in October 2018. The committee, made up of approximately 15 community members, worked on several ordinances with some of the goals including bringing the laws in line with modern technology, making them easier to understand and enforce, and eliminate any confusion or vagueness. The Code Review Committee held several public meetings as well as an open house to discuss the changes they would propose to the Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z).

The CRC passed their recommendations to the P&Z, which included a provision to allow certain businesses to install an electronic sign up to 64 square feet in surface area — doubling the current maximum. P&Z held a public hearing on August 15. During that meeting, approximately 14 individuals spoke against a proposed size increase, with two supporting an increase. P&Z removed the increased surface area from the proposed ordinance, among other minor changes, and sent the ordinance up the chain to City Council.

Council must vote and approve of two “readings” of a proposed new ordinance for it to become law. Tuesday’s meeting (September 10) was the first reading, and a second reading will be scheduled for an upcoming council meeting. If the proposal is approved on the second reading, it becomes law.

Timeline of events and meetings leading up to the adoption of the Sign Ordinance

References

Video

Here is the full video of Tuesday night’s meeting.

KPD releases name of officer involved in fatal shooting over Labor Day weekend

Kerrville Police Department issued a new press release on Monday, September 9, discussing more details from the September 1 shooting death of 17-year-old Tommy Luke Hranicky. According to the updated release, pictured below, the officer involved in the shooting was Sergeant Hal Degenhardt, a 15-year veteran of the police force.

According to the new release…

When Sergeant Degenhardt arrived and made contact with the suspect, the suspect was found to be armed with a knife. The suspect advanced on the Officer, who retreated and gave repeated verbal commands for the suspect to stop and drop the knife. The suspect continued to advance with the knife toward the officer and refused to comply with the officer’s commands. Sergeant Degenhardt was forced to fire his duty weapon to protect himself.

Press release dated September 9, 2019

The department went on to state that both the officer’s body camera and his dash camera were activated during the incident. In addition to the Texas Rangers’ investigation, KPD is also conducting an internal investigation into the death. The case will be referred to a grand jury once the investigation is complete.

City Council will get final word on sign ordinance overhaul

Tuesday night’s City Council meeting will include a discussion and consideration of the updated sign ordinance that P&Z approved on August 15. Although the Code Review Committee recommended to P&Z that the largest allowable electronic sign should be increased to 64 square feet from 32 square feet for some businesses, P&Z vetoed that amendment after hearing from over a dozen citizens opposed to the increase. This Tuesday, Council will make the final decision about this ordinance.

Council will vote on the first reading of the ordinance. If approved, a second reading will be scheduled for the next council meeting, and if approved a second time, the new rules will be adopted as law. The public will have a chance to speak at both meetings.

A section of the proposed sign ordinance that defines electronic display.

Electronic signs have been the topic of much debate in Kerrville in recent months. Several businesses and organizations had submitted variance requests for larger electronic signs or other types of signage that was not in compliance with the current statutes. The topic was a point of discussion leading up to May’s city council elections. The Code Review Committee, an ad hoc city commission made up of approximately 15 citizens, had worked on changes to the Zoning Code, Sign Ordinance, and other matters, from October 2018 through July 2019, and recommended the increase, among other changes. P&Z held a public hearing and approved new rules, but rejected the electronic signage increase, and now those adopted rules head to council for final approval or denial.

References

Article written by Aaron Yates

UPDATED: Officer-involved shooting reported on Sidney Baker

UPDATE 9/2/19 at 12:30 PM — Kerrville Police Department issued an updated press release via their Facebook page on Monday afternoon. The name of the deceased is Tommy Luke Hranicky, and he was 17 years old. KPD also provided more details on the narrative of events leading up to the shooting:

When the first responding Officer arrived and made contact with the suspect, the suspect was found to be armed with a knife. The suspect advanced on the Officer, who retreated and gave repeated verbal commands for the suspect to stop and drop the knife. The suspect continued to come at the officer, who was forced to fire his duty weapon to protect himself.

KPD Press Release dated September 2

An autopsy will be conducted by the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office. The officer’s name has been withheld pending an investigation.

SEPT. 1 — On Sunday afternoon, police responded to the 900 block of Sidney Baker Street following reports of a man with a knife. The officer made contact with the subject, and, according to a police statement, the officer feared for his life, drew his weapon, and shot the suspect. The Justice of the Peace pronounced the suspect deceased.

The officer has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the Department of Public Safety, Texas Rangers, and Kerrville Police Department.

This is a developing story and more information will be added when it becomes available.

Approximate location of officer-involved shooting on September 1.
Press release issued by the Kerrville Police Department on September 1.
Updated press release on September 2

References: