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Council: More Where That Came From

Packed schedule leads to marathon session

By Michael King, Fri., June 20, 2014

After last Thursday's City Council marathon – ending somewhere around 3:30 Friday morning – word is that a few of the new Council candidates (who've been showing up in flocks, bless their hearts, at every public meeting) were announcing, "This is one of the first things we've got to fix."

I wish them all the best; but whatever they think of the incumbent Council members, they wouldn't volunteer for these occasional all-night sessions if there were some easy way of doing away with them. The combination of accumulating business, advance posting requirements, and the currently absolutist interpretation of open meetings law, all combine to make it difficult to shorten meetings.

Indeed, things actually improved somewhat in this regard in 2009, when then-new Mayor Lee Leffingwell took over the agendas and started posting earlier drafts – that didn't end the marathons, but it made them less frequent. Nevertheless, if 11 people arguing eventually proves to take less time than seven – God speed.

Council did manage quite a bit of business last week, including:

A new management agreement with Austin Parks Foundation for Republic Square Park.

Direction toward a series of neighborhood plans for the North Central area.

A return to a policy of "full cost recovery" on Austin Energy line extensions.

A move to enable "accessory dwelling units" (aka "granny flats") with fewer zoning restrictions (see "Then There's This," p.12).

Three separate resolutions addressing property tax inequities – it remains to be seen if these moves can be more than symbolic without changes in state law.

A final revision and adoption of the "vested development rights" (grandfathering) ordinance, after months of consternation.

Those are just selected highlights from a heavy-duty agenda, leaving such matters as the urban rail decision to the last spring meeting, June 26. That meeting will be no slouch: The draft agenda (at 124 items) is already longer than June 12, and will likely lengthen before it's finalized Friday. Some things to watch for potential fireworks:

Potential adoption of Municipal Civil Ser­vice Rules covering city employees.

Approval of a "Strategic Mobility Plan" (with both urban rail and roadway projects, bond authorization still to come, in August) – certain to generate plenty of heat, perhaps even a little light.

Consideration of a potential city homestead exemption on property taxes – only in the exploratory phase.

No less than 10 scheduled public hearings – mostly localized, but the debate on a potential ordinance allowing mobile retail sales could be lively.

There should still be a window to catch the U.S./Germany match, but all in all, plenty of chances for a postmidnight adjournment – with a little luck, before the bars close.

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