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A Council's Work Is Never Done

A recap of last week's City Council action

By Michael King, Fri., Aug. 10, 2012

It might have seemed that the fate of short-term rentals was the only item on last week's City Council meeting. (See "Steam Still Rising From STRs.") That was partly because the temperature was so high on that issue – the hall was overflowing with folks on either side – and also because council took a long, hard look at its endless agenda and punted several things down the road. But, by the way, a few other matters were handled last week:

The geographic districting wars continued, as council voted (5-2) to put the 8-2-1 (hybrid) plan on the November ballot, over the objections of 10-1 (single-member districts only) supporters, who believe their proposal should stand alone. (The argument spilled into Tuesday's work session, with no votes changed and the item approved on third reading – the collision is now inevitable.)

After much discussion, council voted (first and second readings only) to place on the ballot the authority to sell or lease parkland or utility assets; the first is largely an effort to find ways to collaborate with and support the school district, and the latter potentially could lead to the sale of the city's interest in the Fayette Power Plant, but subject to both a two-thirds council vote and a public referendum – meaning the charter amendment could make that less likely, rather than more so.

Also approved: a potential charter amendment to grant civil service job protections to most city employees, after amendments to allay city management fears that such a change would somehow require massive, across-the-board pay increases (see "Point Austin: Fire 'At Will'," Aug. 3). Never­theless, those always worker-friendly editors at the States­man fulminated against the proposal on Monday ("Council's reckless move"), citing cost figures that were abandoned by city management before the proposal came to the council floor.

That's not the end of the charter amendments – at Tues­day's work session, still left undecided was what to do about the governance structure of Austin Energy, with the council split on whether to put an independent board to a charter vote. Everybody's gun-shy on the idea, with Public Citizen specifically pointing to bad experiences with San Antonio's CPS Energy utility – but city officials are audibly afraid of what the Public Utility Commission and the Legislature might impose if the city doesn't move on its own. "It's really a question of preserving local control," said Chris Riley, reflecting a common sentiment. A voting consensus is another matter, yet to be determined.

Other matters likely to arise next week? Whether to allow the extension of the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park to two weekends, and whether to allow Formula One to hold a music festival at Auditorium Shores, beyond the normal annual event quota. Both questions bristle with ancillary issues; it's worth noting that last week, council rejected a neighbor's appeal against the South Congress Home Slice Pizza being permitted to hold a few more outdoor music events.

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