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City Hall Hustle: An F1 Piñata

Break it open, and out streams council confetti

By Wells Dunbar, Fri., June 24, 2011

For Kathie Tovo, Place 3 was about as sweet a birthday present as they come.

Sure, the challenger who unseated incumbent Randi Shade didn't celebrate her birthday on election night, but on the Monday after – all the better to wind down from the frantic highs of campaign season. Now the question is whether Tovo will get to unwrap the issue partially responsible for her win – Formula One, the gift that keeps on giving (or taking, depending on your perspective).

F1 is but one of dozens of issues choking an incredible 139-item agenda today, Thursday, June 23. Aside from being Shade's last meeting as a council member, it's also the council's last get-together before a monthlong summer hiatus – a sleepy period at City Hall during which staff labors silently on the city budget in time for council's late-July return. The rush is on to clear matters large and small before the break, and it's still anybody's guess just what will make the cut.

As Michael King reports in this issue (see "Formula One Deal on the Bubble,"), the agreement brokered between council and the local F1 organizing committee has assuaged several, if not all, council concerns about the deal. Doing some informal vote counting, he tallies three in favor and four on the fence. Whether some of those potential holdouts would feel more comfortable voting once new colleague Tovo is on the dais (three of the four – Bill Spelman, Sheryl Cole, Laura Morrison – supported her) is a question weighing on council-watchers' minds, along with whether the city has had enough time to study the details of what was only a handshake deal mere days ago. Slicking the track further is F1's multitudinous items: Item 20 inks a deal with the state comptroller to establish the F1 Major Events Trust Fund, while Item 21 authorizes Circuit Events (the local F1 crew) to act as the local organizing committee, bestowing it with certain-to-be-scrutinized powers "to act on the City's behalf." Lastly, Chris Riley offers Item 101 from council – a list of environmental standards and expectations for the race to meet (the subject of a Tuesday op-ed Riley wrote for the Statesman).

If that weren't enough growth and incentives controversy, Morrison has promised to deliver more: Item 89, from the intriguing team of Lee Leffingwell, Mike Martinez, and Spelman, would waive $3.8 million in development fees (permits, inspections, right-of-way construction costs, and more) in an agreement with developers White Lodging, looking to build a 1,000-room hotel and parking structure at Second and Congress, site of the gone-but-not-forgotten Las Manitas. Discussion grew heated at council's Tuesday work session discussing the matter, with Morrison saying she would likely move to postpone the item, desiring further discussion in line with the city's Chapter 380 economic development agreements.

Keeping the controversy moving: In what may eventually be seen as her defining issue, Shade should be on hand to present Item 98, implementing the city's long-gestating funding changes to social service providers and nonprofits, the composition of which hasn't been broached since the Nineties. According to draft backup, the city manager is directed to "[u]se the new staff recommendation based on a modified ... funding option which adds approximately 15 additional recommended respondents to the list of the highest scoring 16 respondents, as a starting point for the negotiation process." It also calls for looking at funding proposals outside the initial request for proposals, via partnerships with Austin Travis County Integral Care and the Center for Child Protection, and extends current contracts to Sept. 30, 2012. Similarly, Item 97, from Morrison and Cole, follows suggestions from the Early Childhood Council, the Hispanic/Latino Community Oversight Team, and the African American Resource Advisory Commis­sion, to take $200,000 in unallocated social-service funding and using it to "fill the gap in social services for Austin youth" to youth service providers.  

But wait, there's more! Lots more: Item 16 marks a three-year agreement between the Austin Independent School District and the Austin Convention Center, letting the center use AISD warehouse storage in exchange for granting the school district rental concessions at the convention center. Relatedly, Item 17 changes bylaws for the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau, codifying many best-practices not in effect at the convention center, including expanded audits.

And lastly, bridging the "little-bit-country, little-bit-rock-'n'-roll" divide: Item 19 marks the return of the 7-foot, bronze Willie Nelson statue, destined for Block 21 outside the Moody Theater's home, donated courtesy of Capital Area Statues; the item was postponed from last council meeting. Meanwhile, Item 99 keeps the fun in Fun Fun Fun Fest, moving this year to Auditorium Shores from its Waterloo Park home due to Waller Creek Tunnel construction. An arbitrary limit on shore events had threatened to lop a day off the three-day punk and underground music extravaganza, but council awarded the crew an extra day.

Rock out with the Hustle at www.facebook.com/cityhallhustle.

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