Council: Sweet Summertime
CMs work through full agenda before break
Last week's was the last formal meeting of City Council until Aug. 7, although there's some cleanup work this week, and City Hall never quite goes fallow. Some council members will leave town for a couple of weeks, to recharge. But with municipal election season entering early full throttle – heading toward November for the first time instead of coming to a sleepy conclusion in May – at least four incumbents will certainly be hanging around to campaign: mayoral candidates Sheryl Cole and Mike Martinez, and District 9 antagonists Kathie Tovo and Chris Riley.
Anticipating their break, Council did manage to get quite a bit accomplished last Thursday, without even spilling too far into Friday – partly because they decided early on – Tovo and Riley dissenting – to limit extended debate, even on hot-button questions. Here are a few highlights:
• Council unanimously adopted the 2014 Strategic Mobility Plan, which includes both rail and roads – potentially leading to the $1.4 billion bond proposal you've heard so much about. That vote will come in August, and the arguments are certainly not over – one simmering among opponents is to separate roads from rail.
• Municipal Civil Service Rules were adopted, after some amendments of the staff proposal (suggested in part by AFSCME, the city employees union). These were the consequence of 2012's public vote, stoutly opposed by city management – it remains to be seen how they'll work in practice.
• After some consternation regarding the amount reserved for legal consultants (a max of $12 million over six years, although the official expectation is that most of that won't be required), Council approved $35.5 million for Onion Creek flooded housing buyouts. It's unclear if the recent court ruling rejecting the city's drainage fee payment system will undermine proposals for a larger buyout effort.
• Following public and official backlash, Council "postponed indefinitely" an Austin Energy proposal for $9 million to design a new $67-million building at East Riverside and Grove – that one's going back to the drawing board.
• On consent – somewhat surprisingly, given the potential for controversy – Council reduced permit requirements for accessibility ramps in single-family and duplex units, added medical marijuana to the city's legislative agenda (aka wish list), and resolved to explore the possibility of a general homestead exemption on property taxes.
• Council also moved forward toward Highland Mall and Airport Boulevard redevelopment, in partnership with Austin Community College (still in the proposal stage, but in principle in coordination with urban rail/Project Connect).
• Council rejected (4-3) a proposal by CM Tovo to reconfigure the ongoing stakeholder and Urban Transportation Commission deliberations concerning Transportation Networking Companies (e.g., ridesharing), initiated earlier via a proposal by CM Riley – which may have had as much to do with the District 9 campaign as the matter at hand.
• On consent passed resolutions intended to 1) better protect circus animals from abuse and 2) have staff create a "coyote conflict management strategy." (Perhaps the circuses could be persuaded to recruit local coyotes as performers, thereby caging two birds with one Havahart trap ....)
• And one momentous action happened mostly offstage; shortly after his annual (executive session) performance review, City Auditor Kenneth Mory, after five years service, announced his retirement, effective Dec. 1.
We wish him well.