Proactive versus reactive

Image

IT tasked with keeping your city on the cutting edge

Most every business has an IT department. You know, the people you call when you get a Blue Screen of Death or the printer breaks down. They’re the offensive linemen of business – coworkers whose vigilance maintaining your network too often goes unnoticed because you typically only interact with them when something has gone wrong.

The same can be said of the city’s Information Technology Department, led by Director Chris Vasquez, who took over the department in December 2015. He and his staff embrace their role as the backbone of day-to-day city operations.

“Our job is to make city staff more efficient through the use of technology,” Vasquez said. “In other words, we support the community by supporting the many services being provided.”

use-DSC08847

City of The Colony Information Technology Director Chris Vasquez. ‘Whatever the project or problem may be, our goal is to be proactive versus reactive. That’s the key to success in the world of information technology,’ he said.

In a world where technology changes fast, the main challenge for IT departments is often simply keeping up. Vasquez said his primary goal upon joining The Colony has been to upgrade much of the city’s IT hardware and network infrastructure.

“Right now, a lot of the technology we have in place is very old – both hardware and software,” he said. “We’re going through a process now of exchanging a lot of the old hardware with new stuff.”

The upgrades will improve productivity across the board but starts with a few key areas that are most critical. For example, Vasquez said they’re working to improve the network pathways between the various city facilities and the hub at City Hall.

“Some of the pathways right now use very old equipment, resulting in slow or non-existent network connections, depending on what staff is trying to do,” he said. “With the improvements, you could equate it to construction of a six-lane, high-speed data highway over a dial-up two-lane road. This will be something we’re working on for quite some time.”

use-DSC08852

This jumble of colored cables represents components of a fairly typically data network. It makes sense to the IT staff. To the rest of us, it’s a jumble of colored cable.

A large-scale project of that nature has a lot of little components, Vasquez said. In order to prepare for the new equipment, the department must first assess and inventory existing resources.

“For example, we have to start by reorganizing the main data center. There’s a lot of equipment we’re not using that’s taking up space,” Vasquez said. “We need to clean all that up and make space for the new equipment, and get all the cabling organized so we’ll have an easier time troubleshooting both now and when the new equipment is installed.”

Keeping up with technology is a common challenge in every industry and every city, Vasquez said, adding that he went through a similar overhaul recently in his previous role as IT director for the City of Huntsville, Texas.

“Once we get it all changed it out and stabilized, then we can focus our resources more on how we can make things better for staff and thereby our residents, instead of spending time fixing things,” he said.

Another IT trend has been moving operations to the cloud. “That tends to make things easier for IT staff and staff in general,” Vasquez said.

IT recently completed a six-month project to move the city’s email system to the cloud, which frees up internal resources from having to maintain and secure a bulky email server. Vasquez said the transition went fairly smooth.

“The only issues we had were external components, such as scanning, voicemail, and faxing to email,” Vasquez said. “But we worked diligently to get those functions restored as soon as possible.”

use-DSC08856

Rows of hardware, mostly servers, comprise the City of The Colony’s IT network. Staff have been working hard to upgrade the hardware and improve connectivity throughout the city’s facilities.

During installation of the new backup power generator at City Hall, maintaining network continuity and data security during the transition were huge priorities for all parties involved – especially IT. The citywide internet connection goes through City Hall, so if power goes out there, everyone loses the connection.

“There was a lot of concern that if we shut off power to the building, the older equipment wouldn’t reboot,” Vasquez said. “But we came up with a game plan and staggered the shutdown during the transition. We kept things running for several hours on a large backup battery. Luckily, after power was restored, everything came back up. It went pretty smooth, and it’s saved us a couple times already.”

Potential future projects include assessments and upgrades to the city’s audio/video technology, and partnering with the Communications Department to develop a new city website.

“Our priority for that project would be to ensure the new website is easy for staff to update so there won’t be any unnecessary delays in distributing important news and information to residents,” Vasquez said. “Again, it all goes back to improving efficiency. The more we can help staff get things done faster, the more it helps the city as a whole.

“Whatever the project or problem may be, our goal is to be proactive versus reactive. That’s the key to success in the world of information technology.”

‘When do we start spraying?’

Image

City’s annual mosquito control program in full swing

Bad news first: As the case has been in recent years, heavy spring rains and a mild winter have made for a mosquito-breeding perfect storm.

But the good news is that the City of The Colony has one of the region’s longest-standing and well-documented mosquito control programs. When representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention arrived in North Texas during the West Nile Virus outbreak of 2012, The Colony was one of only a handful of cities able to provide them with useful data as the city had been trapping and testing mosquitoes since 2006.

Community Services Director Pam Nelson oversees the city’s mosquito control program. While there’s been a great deal of media buzz about the dangers of Zika virus, Nelson said the city’s program continues to focus on disease-prevention by combating the spread of West Nile mosquitoes.

“The primary objective of our mosquito-control program is to identify and eliminate breeding sites,” Nelson said. “A wide variety of employees from multiple departments, including Public Works, Parks and Recreation, and Community Image, routinely patrol the city to keep an eye out for potential breeding sites on public property.”

This is in addition to already monitoring known hot-spots for mosquitoes. In conjunction with its contractor, Municipal Mosquito, the city conducts weekly testing from May to October each year at eight rotating sites around the city.

“Most issues, however, are on private property,” Nelson said. “It’s the responsibility of our residents to protect themselves and help curb the mosquito population by letting us know about problem spots and by draining standing water on their property.”

Standing water

This ditch is typical of the water that accumulates during heavy rains. Parks staff treat these pools with mosquito dunks.

Nelson said hot-spots are always changing, however. She encourages residents to contact the city at 972-624-3160 to report areas of concern, be it on public or private property. The city has a web-form accessible to all employees so they can take down the relevant information, which is automatically funneled to mosquito-control staff.

Patrick Prather, chief entomologist for Municipal Mosquito, echoed Nelson’s concerns about all signs indicating an early spring and an early start to the mosquito season. Some municipalities in D-FW have already trapped mosquitoes found positive for West Nile.

The first question he gets this time of year is always the same: When do we start spraying?

“The answer is, when there’s a positive test for disease in a mosquito,” he said. “The program we have here in The Colony is a disease-based response program, which includes surveillance, larvaciding, and judicious adulticiding when required.”

In 2015, there were 16 batches of mosquitoes that tested positive for West Nile virus in The Colony. There were six in 2014 and one in 2013. Testing so far this season has yielded negative results.

One might think the city’s proximity to Lewisville Lake would be a problem but mosquitoes cannot breed in water sources full of predators (aka fish) that consume their eggs, Prather said. The main concerns are standing pools of water: low-lying areas, flower pots, old tires, trash cans – anything where rain water, irrigation runoff, etc., can accumulate.

The mosquito species responsible for spreading West Nile is culex quinquefasciatus, a small brown- or tan-colored insect. The culex mosquito lays its eggs in a raft on the water’s surface. They breed asynchronously, meaning their population will fluctuate on a daily basis depending on the availability of breeding sites, Prather said.

culex-quinquefasciatus

The culex quinquefasciatus mosquito is brown in color and responsible for spreading West Nile virus.

Male mosquitoes feed on flowers but female mosquitoes require protein from a blood meal for egg development. According to Prather, the culex is known to travel up to a mile’s radius from its breeding site to find its blood meal. Birds and small mammals are their preferred choices. The reason they are more active at dawn and dusk is because that’s when birds come and go from their nests.

Birds are carriers of both West Nile virus and St. Louis Encephalitis. Mosquitoes feed on the birds, and then pass the diseases on to humans. Unlike Zika virus, which can be passed on through sexual transmission, humans cannot pass West Nile on to other humans except in very rare cases.

Mosquito eggs are so well-protected they cannot be killed by chemicals – only controlled by eliminating breeding sources. Mosquito larvae and pupa, however, are vulnerable to larvacide. Adult mosquitoes are also treatable, again, when disease has been confirmed in an area of the population.

Before the spread of Zika virus to Texas, any species other than culex, such as aedes aegypti, was considered a “nuisance mosquito.” But now we know the aedes species is a carrier for Zika. Unlike culex, the aedes is aggressive any time of day and typically bites below thigh level, Prather said. The aedes is also small but typically dark-colored with white spots or stripes.

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are also known to carry Chikungaya and Dengue fever. They will only travel about 200-500 feet for a blood meal, which includes humans. They do not require nutrient-rich water for breeding but rather can lay eggs in any kind of container home to organic matter, such as trash cans.

Aedes_aegypti

The aedes aegypti mosquito is dark with white spots, and can be a carrier of Zika virus.

While the science is still catching up, Zika is believed to be primarily dangerous for pregnant women given the reported links between Zika and certain birth defects. However, while there have been two cases of travel-associated Zika virus in Denton County, there have been no local cases of Zika transmission.

The Colony’s current mosquito-control program includes trapping of aedes mosquitoes but not for testing of Zika – only for determining a baseline of population data. The program includes rigorous trapping and testing of culex mosquitoes for West Nile.

Regardless of the mosquito type, residents are encouraged to follow the “Four Ds” of mosquito-borne disease prevention:

  • Dress to protect: Wear long sleeves and long pants.
  • Dusk, daytime and dawn: Protect yourself against mosquitoes anytime you are outside.
  • Defend: Wear insect repellent with DEET, Picaridin, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus or an effective alternative.
  • Drain standing water: Eliminate any water that stands for longer than five days or treat water with larvacide according to the label.

For additional information regarding mosquitoes and the City’s mosquito treatment plan, contact Nelson at 972-624-3958, Chemical Applicator Shane Bartel at 469-853-1222, or visit the city’s mosquito control page.

To report standing water on private property, please call 972-624-3160, and be sure to provide an address associated with the issue if leaving a message.

‘Best Foot Foward’

CVB celebrates National Travel & Tourism Week

Officials and leaders in The Colony have long touted the community’s growing reputation as a destination city. While there’s been a wealth of amenities in The Colony for years, the recent addition of Grandscape along the 121 Corridor and subsequent economic development elsewhere has truly transformed the community once and for all.

Everyone knows about Nebraska Furniture Mart, the nation’s largest home furnishings store. Now open alongside NFM are Cheddar’s, Rock & Brews, and Hard Eight BBQ, among others. MiCocina is scheduled to open today, May 2.

With places to go, you need places to stay. The Courtyard by Marriott recently opened, joining the Fairfield Inn & Suites and the Residence Inn in The Cascades. Finishing touches are moving quickly on the Holiday Inn at Paige and Memorial. A La Quinta is taking root further west on Memorial near Texas Roadhouse. There’s also a Hyatt Place going up next door to Topgolf.

Restaurants

The Colony’s own restaurant row is taking shape along SH121. From left, MiCocina, Rock & Brews, and Hard Eight BBQ. Just to the left is Cheddar’s.

The Dallas Roughnecks of the American Ultimate Disc League are another recent attraction to become part of The Colony, further solidifying the city’s designation as a Sports Town USA.

But what does all that mean for the city’s residents, other than the fact they have more convenient dining, recreation, and shopping options? Diane Baxter, Director of Communications and Tourism for The Colony, said it’s all about the bottom line: tourism brings revenue.

“Tourist dollars don’t come just from hotels. The restaurants and shopping locales generate significant tax revenue for the city,” she said. “Those dollars go toward building a better community in the form of better infrastructure and better services.”

And it’s not just the high-profile, newer development fueling the city’s growth. Every business in The Colony contributes to the community’s reputation as a destination city. Each gas station, convenience store, and fast food restaurant generates an experience for customers, whether it’s visitors or residents.

20160419_202952089_iOS

Stop by The Colony Public Library the first week of May to check out the CVB’s display as part of National Travel & Tourism Week.

“Here at The Colony Convention & Visitors Bureau, we hope every customer service employee in the city puts their best food forward, and shares their pride in the community when doing business with our visitors,” Baxter said. “Those employees are the face of our city, just as much as Nebraska Furniture Mart or Topgolf.”

As part of National Travel & Tourism Week May 1-7, The Colony CVB has installed a travel-themed display at The Colony Public Library highlighting all there is to do in the city. Travel & Tourism Week is now in its 33rd year. The event annually celebrates travel in America by encouraging destinations to showcase the impact of travel and tourism.

“Travel is a job-creator, and contributes to healthy families by creating opportunities for fitness and fellowship,” Baxter said. “Some of our best memories are those of going on road trips with siblings and parents.”

In fact, studies have confirmed the positive health effects of travel and time off, from reducing risk of heart disease to decreasing depression.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, travel generates $2.1 trillion for the U.S. economy, with domestic and international travelers directly spending $947 billion in 2015 – that’s $2.6 billion a day, $108 million per hour, $1.8 million a minute, and $30K a second.

All that spending resulted in $147.9 billion in tax revenue for local, state and federal governments in 2015. Without that revenue from the travel and tourism industry, each U.S. household would pay an average of $1,187 more in taxes each year.

“Those broader statistics are mirrored locally, which goes back to how tourism directly impacts the quality of life for residents in our community,” Baxter said. “Not to mention all the new job openings that become available every time a new business opens in The Colony.”

DSC08310-1

The Courtyard by Marriott is the latest hotel to open in The Colony.

Nationally, travel supports more than 15 million jobs. One in every nine American jobs depends on travel, which is one of the top 10 employers in 49 out of 50 states.

While those numbers are impressive, Baxter said she and the rest of the leadership team at the city understand well the concerns of residents impacted by all the construction associated with growth.

“Main Street reconstruction is an obvious inconvenience and contributes greatly to traffic congestion throughout the city,” she said. “We just have to keep reminding everyone of the long-term benefits, and that there’s an end in sight. We’re building something special here in The Colony and people are already coming.”

‘All hands on deck’

Image

Strong winds, tornado highlight importance of emergency preparedness

As the spring storm season continues, residents are advised to remain mindful of the weather and prepare themselves in case of weather-related or man-made emergencies.

The City of The Colony has a wealth of useful information on its website to help you prepare for severe weather, including basic preparedness plans, tips on how to build a variety of emergency kits for different situations, and a page-long listing of emergency preparedness resources.

Suggestions for emergency kits also include those for individuals with disabilities and/or special needs as well as pets.

RedCrossKit

More info about this Red Cross preparedness kit is available at http://www.redcross.org/get-help/prepare-for-emergencies/be-red-cross-ready/get-a-kit.

The Colony’s Emergency Management Coordinator, Travis Calendine, is also available to speak at your school, church or other organizational function on how to be prepared for an emergency.

Fire Chief Scott Thompson often stresses the importance of residents utilizing a NOAA Weather Radio as the first line of defense in preparing for severe weather, rather than relying on outdoor warning sirens.

“Outdoor sirens are not a reliable means of notifying people who are in their homes and they should not be considered as a means of early indoor notification,” he said. For more information about sirens, please see our Outdoor Warning Siren FAQ.

“Obviously no one can control the weather, but we aim to do everything in our power to help you be prepared, and then to be there for you in case the worst does occur,” Thompson said.

Case in point: March 8, 2016, started the same as many spring days in The Colony. As is the case across North Texas this time of year, strong storms can develop quickly, and The Colony Fire Department’s Emergency Management team was keeping a close eye on weather conditions that morning.

“I was monitoring the weather at Fire Station No. 3,” Thompson said. “We were not in a tornado watch or warning box, so our primary concerns at the time were wind, rain, and lightning.”

Before long, those concerns proved well-founded. At approximately 8:30 a.m., a severe storm front with high winds and hail crossed over The Colony causing scattered damage to homes, power lines, trees, and two schools.

The first report came from Calendine, who informed Chief Thompson that amateur radio traffic indicated serious damage to structures southeast of Paige Road and North Colony Boulevard – areas that were later pinpointed as being on King, Adams, and Ramsey drives, as well as other nearby streets.

TCFD units, including Chief Thompson, were immediately dispatched to the area. “When units arrived on scene, they found several houses with damage and initiated a primary search for trapped or injured occupants,” Thompson said. “At that time, we began to receive reports of damage to other areas of the city.”

WP-Damage

This was one of several homes in The Colony to sustain serious damage during the strong storms on March 8.

A command post was soon established at Central Fire Station for the purpose of tracking damage and managing resources. Thankfully, no fatalities or injuries were reported. TCFD personnel were able to help safeguard property by putting tarps on homes with roof damage, for example.

“All efforts after the initial response focused on damage assessment, victim assistance, debris removal and management, and scene security,” Thompson said.

Fire Department command staff coordinated field operations at Central, while Calendine initiated damage assessment and efforts to assist victims, which included contacting Denton County Emergency Services, the Red Cross, and state-level officials. County EMS staffers and the Red Cross had joined the response team at the command post within two hours.

The Colony Police Department provided immediate security in the affected locations while the city’s Public Works crews began clearing debris from the roadways.

Television news media soon descended on the city to report on the damage. Police Department spokespersons on the scene conducted interviews. Back at the command center, the Communications Department helped respond to media inquiries while also distributing status updates to residents and engaging on social media in an effort to collect additional damage reports.

Within eight hours of the storm’s initial impact, the incident was stabilized and under control, Thompson said. Security remained a concern, so TCPD maintained watch over affected neighborhoods in the days that followed.

NWS-EF0

The Fort Worth Office of the National Weather Service conducted a survey of the damage the day after the storm.

The Fort Worth office of the National Weather Service would later conduct a damage assessment and determined the area around Arbor Glen Road and The Colony High School was impacted by straight-line winds between 90 and 95 mph, while the area around King Drive had similarly strong winds mixed with a brief EF0 tornado.

All told, 154 homes in every corner of the city and two schools, Camey Elementary and The Colony High School, were damaged that day. Most of the damage was minor but four homes were uninhabitable. Those residents received Red Cross assistance and were given shelter at local hotels.

Looking back, Thompson was pleased with the city’s response to the crisis, and credited everyone who responded for successfully implementing the city’s multi-agency emergency management plan.

“There was cooperation between all involved departments, and requests and demands for assistance were handled with urgency,” he said. “This was an all-hands-on-deck situation and everyone involved stepped up to minimize the burden of this event on those impacted.”

Getting the word out

Image

City maximizes reach with social media

You probably see our posts every day in your Facebook or Twitter feeds. (At least we hope you do.) One such post probably even led you to this blog.

As we often say, keeping residents informed is one of the most vital functions of any municipality. Maintaining social media accounts has become standard operating procedure for towns and cities throughout the country as a primary means of fulfilling that function. It’s no different in The Colony, where the Communications team works to keep an active, engaged presence on social media as a matter of daily routine.

Diane Baxter, Director of Communications and Tourism, has worked for the City of The Colony for 29 years, the last 10 as the director of the Communications Department. She has witnessed many ups and downs in the community, and remembers well a time when residents often felt uninformed.

“But those times have changed,” she said. “We’ve always done our best to distribute relevant news and information to the community with what resources we had available. The advent of social media, however, has changed the game, and made it easier for everyone to keep up to speed.”

ConversationPrism

Think you’ve got a handle on all the social media networks? Think again. This “Conversation Prism” shows everything you’ve been missing. https://conversationprism.com/.

Not everyone is on Facebook or Twitter, of course, and the Communications team utilizes many different methods to get information out to the public. But the city has had a presence on Facebook since 2009, and with more than 4,000 Likes on the official page it has been the most popular social medium for reaching out to residents.

“The demographics of our Facebook followers mirror those of our city overall, and we work hard to tailor our content to meet the needs of our residents,” Baxter said. “It is our goal to provide you with everything you need to know while not cluttering your news feed.”

One of the benefits of social media in general is that it provides a fun way for brands to develop engagement with their audience. This is often apparent on many commercial Facebook accounts which have plenty of leeway to be irreverent. While the city does aim for a conversational and lighthearted approach, there are simply times when the business of the city is, well, serious business – meeting agendas, traffic notices, public service announcements, and the like.

The latest example came just recently when an EF-O tornado briefly touched down in the city the morning of March 8. The city’s Facebook page became one of the Fire Department’s primary conduits of gathering damage reports.

“Rather than flood dispatch with calls, the Emergency Management staff asked that we encourage residents to contact us on social media to report significant damage to homes and infrastructure,” Baxter said. “Facebook proved to be a very useful tool for augmenting our response to the situation. We were able to both gather and share information in real time.”

Crises aside, requests for city services are best handled through more direct channels with city staff in most cases but the Communications team welcomes direct messages and comments from residents asking questions or sharing their thoughts on any and everything in The Colony at any time.

FBDemographics

The city’s Facebook demographics mirror those of the city overall.

The city’s Twitter account has also been active since 2009, and has accumulated more than 1,600 followers. For every Facebook post made, there’s a corresponding tweet. But unlike Facebook, more is often better, so Communications staff members don’t hesitate to post new content when necessary.

“Whether it’s Facebook or Twitter, we want our residents to know they can rely on social media for important city news and information,” Baxter said. “We can’t monitor our accounts 24/7 but we can and will access them from anywhere when circumstances require.”

Utilizing a single, central account for municipal information is a recognized best practice but the city offers specialized content on a variety of other social media accounts as well. The Colony Police Department maintains Facebook and Twitter pages, as does The Colony Convention and Visitors Bureau, here and here.

The Parks and Recreation Department has a page for news about special events, rec center programs, and youth sports. The Colony Animal Services also has a page for sharing information about adoptable pets and low-cost vaccinations. Lastly, The Colony Economic Development Corp. has a page to promote the city as a destination for businesses. Information from all these accounts is typically shared on the main city pages as well.

In order to ensure consistency in branding and style, the Communications Department conducts annual social media classes for the designated departmental moderators. The classes provide the opportunity to share all the social media tips and tools learned at trade conferences and seminars.

SMClass

The Communications Department conducts annual refresher courses for the city’s social media moderators to ensure everyone is up to speed on trends and best practices.

“In both the private and public sectors, social media management can be a full-time profession,” Baxter said. “We try to keep our moderators apprised of trends and best practices so our pages have the look and feel of the best examples in municipal social media.”

One of those best practices is making sure you’re reaching the intended audience. While Instagram and Snapchat are extremely popular social media platforms, for example, they are primarily used by teens and young adults who aren’t typically interested in local government news.

“We want to make sure we’re spending quality time on the platforms our audience utilizes, rather than spreading ourselves too thin on too many mediums,” Baxter said.

Blogs, such as this one, also qualify as social media. Here, our Communications team takes you behind the scenes of city departments with long-form features intended to give residents a deeper look at city services and the people who provide them.

“It’s a way for us to put faces with names, and humanize the departments residents often interact with, as well as introduce them to ones they may not know much about,” Baxter said. “Hopefully, readers take away the understanding that our employees have a passion for what they do and take great pride in providing residents with the best service possible.”

Last but not least, the city also has a YouTube channel where it maintains an archive of current and past informational videos about The Colony, like the video below providing an overview of the Main Street Widening Project. As the city continues to grow, Baxter hopes to add more video content in the future.

 

“The Colony is no longer a sleepy, bedroom community surrounded by development in other cities. That growth and development is here, too, and we intend for our online presence to showcase and reflect that fact,” Baxter said. “So if you haven’t already, login to your Facebook and Twitter accounts and Like us! We feel confident you will find our pages useful and informative.”

Striving for ‘like-new’

Image

Workload never stops for Facilities Maintenance team

When one thinks Facilities Maintenance, light bulbs and air filters may come to mind. But sometimes those light bulbs are really, really big, and most times it’s not light bulbs but 20-ton diesel generators, new dog kennels, and new offices fashioned from thin air.

In The Colony, the Facilities Maintenance Department falls under the direction of Public Works. Their responsibilities entail exactly what the name implies but not just for one or two buildings – there are more than 20 city facilities in The Colony, all of which are maintained by a full-time staff of four, including longtime Manager Terry Gilman.

Much like a typical IT department, Facilities Maintenance works from a queue of help tickets filed by city staff reporting various needs and repairs for their buildings. The ticket system ensures their work is properly documented from start to finish. Other requests come directly from residents using the facilities.

“We’re a department where you’ve got both internal and external customers,” Supervisor Brian Blythe said. “At the Recreation Center, for example, we get a lot of requests put in by citizens, letting us know something doesn’t work just right or where we can make an improvement to the lighting or painting, etc. There are lots of children utilizing that facility, too. It’s probably our biggest maintenance challenge because of all the traffic.”

The Recreation Center on North Colony Boulevard has seen some major improvements in recent years. Gone are the 10 big air conditioning units that used to hang from the ceiling in the gymnasium. Not only were they aged and increasingly inefficient but they also dripped condensation onto the floor. Now the facility boasts two exterior 20-ton units and brand new spiral duct work in the ceiling, all of which provides cleaner and more consistent temperatures throughout the facility, Blythe said.

use-DSC07814

Thanks to the city’s Facilities Maintenance team, The Colony Recreation Center features new lighting in the gymnasium and new air-conditioning throughout the facility.

New lighting was recently installed in the gymnasium as well. Industrial lighting is measured in foot candles. Before the new fixtures, the gym’s foot candle was 11. Now it’s up to 48. To put it another way, “if the lighting is 100 percent now, it was only about 60 percent before,” Blythe said. “It made a big difference right off the bat and we’ve received a lot of positive feedback regarding the new lights.”

The new lighting is not only more efficient but also includes motion sensors so they’ll shut off when the gym is not in use, further reducing energy costs. Other recent upgrades at the Recreation Center include: new paint along the gym’s baseboards; replacement of every single screw in the eastern wall to prevent the corrugated metal from flexing; brand new exit doors in the gym improving both safety and aesthetics; and installation of polished concrete in the floors of two classrooms where an underground water source had been popping out the previous tile-work.

“Whatever the problem may be, we have to assess and find solutions that are both affordable and effective,” Blythe said. “Our goal is to maintain every facility, no matter how old, in a like-new condition.”

Another facility that sees lots of public traffic is the Animal Shelter on Lake Highlands Drive, which now boasts not only a new quarantine facility but also new outdoor kennels for the dogs featuring concrete pads and high-quality Mason-brand structures. The previous mud floors were pitted out and hard to clean.

use-DSC07800

These adoptable animals at The Colony Animal Shelter enjoy new Mason-brand kennels with concrete floors that are more spacious and easier to clean. These are just one of several improvements underway at the shelter.

“It has made a big improvement, and we’re not yet finished,” Blythe said. “We still plan to sink some poles and put a metal roof over the kennels with an overhang in the front and back so the dogs will have some protection in the sun and rain.”

Upgrades to the Animal Shelter such as these have been a priority for the Facilities Maintenance Department for some time.

“When people come here to adopt, we want them to feel like they’re in their neighborhood backyard,” Blythe said, adding that plans are in the works for some additional landscaping and fence-work on the back side of the facility to form a buffer between the shelter and the adjacent wastewater treatment plant, which is currently undergoing upgrades of its own.

“We’re just trying to work with what we have and make the best environment for everybody, human and animal alike,” Blythe said.

While much of their work is driven by enhancing the customer experience for residents utilizing city facilities, other projects are driven by city management. Until recently, Customer Services Director Molly Owczar’s office in City Hall was an open cubicle laid out between the outside drive-through window and the customer service counters. This made it difficult for her to engage in private conversations with customers and/or her staff. A directive from the City Manager’s Office changed all that.

use-before-after

The “before” and “after” look at the new office for the city’s Customer Services Director, constructed in one weekend by the Facilities Maintenance staff.

Over the course of one weekend, Facilities Maintenance staff built two walls and a door frame, and lowered the ceiling to form an actual office space in the same corner Owczar’s cubicle once stood. They had to rewire the electrical fixtures and the sprinkler system, too – again, all in one weekend.

Another recent, big-ticket project was the installation of the new backup generator at City Hall. The project required weeks of preparation and coordination with a handful of different departments. As the new backup for not just the electrical power at City Hall but also in turn the city’s data networks, the Facilities crew worked closely with the IT Department during installation and testing to ensure the computer systems would continue running smoothly as the power feed transitioned between sources.

Gilman said power outages during severe weather in recent years served as a reminder of the need for a reliable back-up system.

use-DSC07829

A new 20-ton diesel generator recently went online at City Hall to protect the city’s critical data systems in the event of a power outage.

“We had small batteries that would back-up important systems for a period of hours but we’ve known for a while we needed something that could run much longer and sustain more systems,” he said. “A lot of work went into preparing the site, acquiring the generator and hooking it up. I’m real proud of our team for the job they did.”

So now the lights will stay on the next time there’s a power outage – as will the many critical systems staff members need to keep The Colony running smoothly rain or shine.

Speaking of lights, attendees and television viewers of City Council meetings may have noticed the chambers have been better lit in recent weeks. Facilities Maintenance staff undertook a complete overhaul of the lighting in the room, replacing old incandescent bulbs with LED. Not only is the room brighter but the LED bulbs should last between 17-22 years, depending on usage, Blythe said.

use-DSC07834

Facilities Maintenance Supervisor Brian Blythe talks about the new lighting in the City Council Chambers, which illuminate the back-wall logo much better than before.

As if that’s not enough, what else do they do? Here’s a quick rundown:

  • oversaw construction of the custom-built TCFD training yard at 1 Harris Plaza, which has drawn attention from other departments around the region for its unique design and functionality;
  • repainted ornamentation along the bridge on Windhaven Parkway at Plano Parkway in Austin Ranch, a gateway area where development is booming and will require more and more upkeep in the future;
  • routinely apply preventative sealant on pedestrian railings and other outdoor structures to deter graffiti; also clean graffiti if/when city property is tagged;
  • assisted with installation of the new filtration system at the Aquatic Park, ensuring all the electrical equipment was up to code;
  • manage the city’s janitorial contractors;
  • applied white paint to the curbs at the Community Center so patrons can see the step-downs better in the evening; and,
  • installed security cameras at City Hall, the Recreation Center, and Police Headquarters to help protect residents and employees.

    use-DSC07865

    As part of gateway beautification efforts, Facilities Maintenance staff recently repainted all the ornamentation along the bridge just east of Plano Parkway on Windhaven in Austin Ranch.

Among the more pressing projects in the works are repairs to the bay doors at Fire Station No. 2. There’s also the need for constant preventative maintenance at every facility – such as checking exit signs, changing air filters, conducting perimeter walk-thrus for safety issues, and more.

“You’re never caught up. There’s always something,” Blythe said. “In my four years with The Colony, the closest we’ve been caught up is about four or five tickets. Today it’s 10. The most is about 20. We get help from other departments. Everybody chips in for the benefit of the community.”

Above it all, Gilman credited the City Council and City Manager’s Office for ensuring the necessary resources, both in materials and manpower, are applied to big projects like the new generator and security cameras. It’s all part of the shared goal of providing residents and employees with functional, safe, and comfortable facilities.

“My guys take a lot of pride in their work, and they care deeply about the community they serve,” Gilman said. “We hope the end results reflect that attitude of service.”

Keeper of the seal

Image

City Secretary’s Office boasts wide array of responsibilities

What do The Colony City Manager, City Attorney, Municipal Court Judge, and City Secretary all have in common? They are the four positions within your local government appointed directly by the City Council.

As such, those four positions are relatively unique in terms of their supervision and access to the Council. During her 12 years as The Colony City Secretary, Christie Wilson has seen a lot of changes, but her duty to the Council and the community she serves has remained the same.

B Wade 3

The Colony City Secretary Christie Wilson, at left, administers the oath of office to Place 3 Council member Brian Wade.

First and foremost, Wilson and Deputy City Secretary Tina Stewart work in support of the City Council regarding administrative matters. “Whatever they need, they just pick up the phone and call us,” Wilson said.

Sometimes those calls are about the membership of the various city boards and commissions, which the Council appoints and oversees with assistance from the City Secretary. But often times those calls are related to items on the City Council’s meeting agendas, which Wilson’s office is responsible for compiling, editing, and publishing. It’s a process that involves every department in the city as well as the City Attorney.

“The City Manager and the Mayor have final oversight of the agenda but our office coordinates with the other departments to compile all the items and ensure the packet material is accurate,” Wilson said.

DSC07704-use

Deputy City Secretary Tina Stewart and City Attorney Jeff Moore during a recent meeting.

As part of a City Council effort to reduce paper and streamline the process, the city recently implemented new software that manages and automates creation of the agenda.

“It’s been an ongoing challenge for about six months. We still don’t have it the way it needs to be, or the way I want it, but we’re working on that,” Wilson said. “It’s a definitely a welcome step forward though.”

This kind of work requires an attention to detail of the highest caliber. When you’re responsible for managing so many official documents, there’s an expectation of perfection. “We use a lot of checklists in here so we don’t forget something. There are so many tiny details,” Wilson said. “Everything doesn’t always go out the door 100 percent as we’d like but we strive for that.”

And she has the educational background to meet that expectation. By state law, city secretaries are required to go through an education process for certification as a Texas Registered Municipal Clerk. They must also maintain the certification through a continuing education program.

“The Texas Registered Municipal Clerk certification program is based out of a home office at the University of North Texas,” Wilson said. “There are about 200 hours of homework time and certain books and study materials you must read before taking tests. Once you meet all the requirements and get your certificate, then you start your five-year window for the re-certification process. My position and the Deputy are both required to maintain certification.”

In addition to reporting to the Council, Wilson said she prides herself on being responsive to city staff so they can do their jobs more efficiently. As the official records manager for the city, staff members rely on the City Secretary to help draft policies, retain important records, and provide reference documentation for various projects.

But requests from residents and the public in general are also at the top of the priority list.

“We have anywhere between 50 and 60 public information requests that come through here each month,” Wilson said. “We make sure those get filled in a timely manner.”

The City Secretary’s Office produces a quarterly report for the Council that shows trends occurring with public information requests.

DSC07721-use

The official seal of the City of The Colony marks the door to the City Secretary’s Office and is affixed to every official document.

DSC07731-use“We get a lot of requests from commercial companies and construction companies, for example, seeking fire damage reports and information about building permits,” Wilson said. “Some of those are every week. We used to only get a handful but it’s become the majority over the last few years.”

The regulations that govern public information requests come from the State Attorney General’s Office, and it’s yet another area in which clerks must keep themselves educated on an ongoing basis.

While the duties of a City Secretary (or City Clerk) vary from city to city, one constant is that they are responsible for maintaining the corporate seal. Each incorporated city has both embossed and ink seals that serve as marks of authentication for the city.

“When we do proclamations, for instance, we have an embossed gold seal,” Wilson said. “Many, many documents come through our office requiring some kind of mark or stamp to authenticate and attest with a signature that this is a real person that signed a given document, and that it’s an official city document.”

Historically, the City Secretary has also managed the City Council elections. In recent years, however, the city has contracted with the Denton County Elections Administration to provide those services. The contract includes management of the polling sites, supplying election workers, and providing and programming the equipment.

“Simply put, the county has more resources for the whole process and more storage space for the equipment. They also have the ability to find election workers, which was always an issue for us,” Wilson said. “The costs were up the first year but have been more predictable the second time around. Overall it has made elections much easier on my office.”

The council meetings, however, ultimately comprise the bulk of the City Secretary’s work. Not only do they produce the agenda, they record the minutes for public record.

“Although the meeting is being video recorded, I’m still old school and like a paper packet in front of me,” Wilson said.

DSC07727-use

Boxes of documents line the walls in the City Secretary’s Office. These records are kept in a vault for both safety and security.

Each agenda item has a corresponding sheet in which the secretary notes the voting results, specific motions, the time, and anything else that might seem relevant. When keeping the minutes, Wilson said she tries to keep in mind that people reading the minutes 10, 20, or 50 years from now need to understand the impact of the vote in terms of pros and cons, comments or questions that affected the vote, and information shared in the chambers that was not originally included in the agenda item’s presentation.

“Knowing the packet content in advance helps a lot but I keep it simple by doing what’s called summary minutes,” Wilson said. “If I’m not 100 percent clear in my notes, I can always go back to the video.”

Other duties of the City Secretary’s Office include managing and processing applications from businesses for alcohol sales, including collection of local fees, and processing liens as part of Community Image violations. As the city has grown in recent years, a new full-time Records Management Specialist, Dianne Johnson, was hired to assist the City Secretary and Deputy City Secretary with these and other tasks.

Once Johnson obtains her Records Manager Certification, she will be the only city employee to accomplish this. It’s a process similar to the clerk’s certification and will take a few years to complete.

“We’re excited to be full-staffed and moving forward to make things more efficient and more responsive for the benefit of the Council, city staff, and our residents,” Wilson said.

Before becoming the Deputy City Secretary in 2001, Wilson spent 15 years in The Colony Police Department. She’s been with the city 30 years and provides a wealth of institutional experience for the staff and community she serves.

“I don’t think I would’ve stuck around this long if I didn’t enjoy it or didn’t think I was providing a valuable service to the community,” she said. “There’s always a plan for each day but you can usually throw that out the window. We do what we need to do. When we have time and opportunity, we do a little more. You ebb and flow with whatever walks through the door.”