Takin’ It to the Streets: Mystery Solved

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial

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     When people attempt to solve a problem, they are either dealing with a puzzle or a mystery, two forms of deception.  Puzzles have a single answer; once that answer is apparent, the puzzle is solve.  Puzzles exist when there is not enough information.  Mysteries, on the other hand, have an abundance of information.  A mystery requires a skilled sleuth to collect the facts, sift through the plethora of data, make observations, question the relevant players, and arrive at a solution to the problem.
     Malcolm Gladwell, writer and journalist, said, “If things go wrong with a puzzle, identifying the culprit is easy: it’s the person who withheld information. Mysteries, though, are a lot murkier: sometimes the information we’ve been given is inadequate, and sometimes we aren’t very smart about making sense of what we’ve been given, and sometimes the question itself cannot be answered. Puzzles come to satisfying conclusions. Mysteries often don’t. Enter Andy Taubman and his team of street detectives, aka the Corpus Christi Ad Hoc Residential Street Infrastructure Advisory Committee.
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     The Corpus Christi City Council empaneled the nine-member group to gather the facts and make recommendations to get the most out of every dollar spent on residential streets and to suggest the best way to go about fixing the problem.  This team of dedicated citizens spent over seven months digging into every aspect of street construction in Corpus Christi, including poring over the limited historical data, examining the current methods for tackling the streets, talking with contractors and analyzing current contracting methods used by the City, working with City Staff to collect information, exploring potential financing solutions, seeking alternative methods of street construction, and actually driving the streets of the city to identify the real problems. Then, they generated a 41-page document of these findings, which will be presented to the City Council in June.  They even included a really handy section devoted to defining the “street language” in the document.  The report focuses on 7 areas:
  1. Identification of the current residential street problem;
  2. Observation of what is good and bad about the current residential street reconstruction process;
  3. Creation of the TAR (The Targeted Area Reclamation), a proactive, intensive maintenance cycle applied throughout the City to extend the functional life of streets until reconstruction can occur through the Residential Street Rebuild (Rework & Reconstruction);
  4. Prioritization of street rebuilding according to a process that considers road condition, safety, maintenance history, proximity to schools, population density, utility coordination, transportation coordination, and road network connectivity;
  5. Explanation of funding scenarios of $10 million, $14 million, $15 million, $17 million, and $20 million per year;
  6. Identification of possible funding sources for the proposed new residential street programs, including RTA Funding of City Street Aspects,  Budget Savings and/or Reallocation of Existing Dollars, Dedicated General Fund and Industrial District Revenue, Re-purposed Whataburger Field Debt Service Funds, Charter Revision for Additional Dedicated Operations and Maintenance Property Tax Revenue, Dedicated Spending from Revenue Growth, and Ad Valorem Tax Increase.
    
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     There will, no doubt, be questions about the findings, as there most certainly should be.  It’s part of the process.  However, the best part about this whole story is that the nine “detectives” will have answers, answers founded in good information.  The report they have generated leaves nothing to guesswork, so the council members will certainly be able to solve the mystery about what to do with our residential streets, something that has never been done and that many thought was not even possible.  Hats off to this dedicated and hard-working group of skilled citizens! They have been good and faithful servants of the people.

 

 

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Takin’ It to the Streets: CC Streets Program Headed Down a Better Road

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial

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It appears that Andy Taubman and the other members of the ad hoc street committee are making a difference in changing the status quo down at the street department. At Tuesday’s council meeting,  Valerie Gray, the city’s executive director of public works for the past year, presented a plan that sounds almost identical to what Taubman and his “A Team” have deemed necessary in order to get the runaway street problem under control.

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Andy Taubman, Ad Hoc Street Committee Chairman

Currently the Street Preventative Maintenance Program has completed less than half of the projects that were slated for completion by 2016.  From the data collected by the street committee, it appears that the department created its own roadblocks by creating an environment of “We will continue to do today what we did yesterday” even when it wasn’t working well.

This outdated way of building and maintaining streets worked extremely well for a handful of big contractors, especially one who claims to have made over a billion dollars off city street jobs.  This comment was made when contractors were invited to attend the third meeting of the committee to address what is working and what is not working in the current SPMP program.

One of the committee members, Alan Guggenheim, who has lived up to his description on Linked In as “highly experienced in reorganizing, streamlining, and strengthening business to maximize delivery performance, customer satisfaction, profitability, and shareholder value across operations,” asked a simple question of one contractor.  “What are your criteria for measuring success?”  It was a reasonable question, a good question, a question asked by private business owners all the time, but one that amazingly hasn’t been asked of the contractors until now.

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Alan Guggenheim, Committee Member  (LinkedIn Photo)

The contractor’s answer?  “Make an obscene profit.”  Well, that’s great for the businessman, and certainly that’s how capitalism works.  But, what does that say about the way the City has been spending our hard-earned tax dollars? Maybe now there will be some accountability within the system.  It’s amazing how new eyes on an old problem can lead to solutions.

In today’s Caller-Times article, Mayor Nelda Martinez is quoted as saying, “There’s no question of the unprecedented construction work underway on our streets. This is the most bullish we’ve ever been on streets, and I know we’re going to get better — there’s always room for improvement — but I can’t tell you how proud I am.”  Perhaps the Mayor and the other three council members who were adamantly against the formation of the committee in the beginning are starting to see the good that has come from this group of concerned and knowledgeable citizens .  Surely they have made the connection between what has come out of the committee and this sudden change in the “business as usual” attitude of City staff.

Councilman Chad Magill, who initiated the creation of the committee, is at every meeting and is often seen seated next to Carolyn Vaughn, a savvy business owner and council member who supported the creation of the committee and nominated Alan Guggenheim to serve on it.  The five who were in favor of the committee from the start (Magill, Vaughn, Rubio, Garza, and Rosas) should be proud of their efforts in taking the first step to fixing a broken program. Magill told the Caller-Times, “I’m more confident in our seal coat process than I ever have been.”  He went on to say that he anticipated even more improvements to come from the recommendations of the street committee.

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Next week Council will hear the full plan that includes the City being more small-contractor friendly so that work on the projects can be sped up to meet the December 2016 deadline.  Using more than one contractor for these projects has been a discussion item at many of the street committee meetings.  This kind of collaboration among City staff, the committee of concerned citizens, and the Council gives us hope that our streets will improve and that our tax dollars will be spent wisely.  In the words of John Hannibal of the television series The A Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

John Hannibal (Isotech.com Photo)
John Hannibal (Isotech.com Photo)

Clarificaton:  Council member Colleen McIntyre pointed out to the editor that the final vote for the ad hoc street committee was a unanimous one (9-0).

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Takin’ It to the Streets: A Highly Qualified Committee

Corpus Christi, Front Page

    

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     On October 27, 2015, nine dedicated citizens set sail on the CC Ad Hoc Residential Street Committee, on a seven-month voyage through oceans of engineering, accountability, and information sharing documents as they celebrate the successes of the current program, identify areas in need of improvement, and develop a plan of action for moving forward.  This is the first of a series of articles that serves to log their progress and offer information and insights into the picture that is so much bigger than the pothole at the end of the street.

     The Corpus Christi Caller lists the members as:

  • Chris Duff, 43, is a  Realtor who views the streets through the eyes of prospective residents;
  • Toby Futrell, 61, is a retired city manager from Austin who hopes to offer a different perspective on an old problem;
  • Alan Guggenheim, 65, is a civil engineer and conservative thinker with an analytical mind who seeks to develop an improved plan that is cost-effective;
  • Javier Huerta, 44, is an architect and former Planning Commission chairman who wants a cost-effective plan that achieves good results and more accountability while creating more competition among contractors;
  • Kyle Pape, 41, is an engineering consultant who offers his project management skills to help find the lowest-cost solutions to the problem of residential streets;
  • Darrell Scanlan, 50, is a chemical engineer and lifetime resident who wants to make his hometown better by offering his expertise in the areas of business and construction;
  • James Skrobarczyk, 65, is a real estate broker who specializes in real estate development, construction, and sales in the Corpus Christi, Texas area, and whose love for the area motivates him to help find an answer to the street problems;
  • Richard Stracener, 59, is a heavy machinery salesman who has called Corpus Christi home for over 50 years wants to find ways to save money while increasing the longevity of the streets;
  • Andy Taubman, 48, a real estate investor and manager serves as the chairman of the committee and hopes to create public trust in the city government by implementing his Infrastructure Committee Plan  which outlines the role of the committee and was approved by City Council on October 20, 2015.

     The committee is subject to the Open Meetings Act and meets at City Hall on the first Monday and third Wednesday of every month at 4:00 p.m. As of this writing, the committee has had five meetings, the first two being organizational in nature.  Andy Taubman was elected chairman and Javier Juerta, vice-chairman.  The committee discussed its purpose and expectations, established subcommittees, and proposed dates for presentations from each subcommittee.  An online message board was set up to keep the public informed, and an ccStreetCommittee@gmail.com account was created to accept public feedback.  Valerie Gray, Executive Director of Public Works, gave a presentation on Street Operations and the Street Improvement Plan Strategies.  Additional information was provided by Andy Leal, Interim Director of Street Operations, and Jeffrey Edmonds, Director of Engineering Services.

 

(This is the first of several articles covering the work of the residential street committee.)

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