Public Notice: Drama on the High Seats
Reading (not too far) between the lines of Thursday's marathon
The bizarre late ending to last Thursday's City Council meeting demonstrated, among other things, how much everything this Council does for the next two months is going to be colored by the stark fact that four of them are running against each other in November.
The drama came on Chris Riley's Affordable Energy Resolution "to implement policies recommended by the 2014 Generation Resource Planning Task Force," or as a Riley press release put it, "to expand solar power, ... and to replace the aging and dirty Decker gas-fired power plant by 2017." Austin Energy vehemently disagreed with this direction, saying that "replacing Decker with solar power contracts would be an economic disaster for ratepayers," because "Solar cannot replace natural-gas fired power plants today." And, astoundingly, longtime AE critic Paul Robbins sided with the utility (that's the fourth sign of the Apocalypse), saying the data used in the Task Force report is shoddy and incomplete, and basically, AE is right about Decker in the short term, and about problems with solar transmission and storage at the scale envisioned here. (So, who's right? Ironically, probably everyone: The Task Force report is sketchy, and probably unrealistic, but this is only a resolution, a statement of purpose, to be followed up on by future City Councils for many years, and it's probably good to have it out there – so long as the preoccupation with Decker doesn't distract us from the even larger issue of the South Texas [Nuclear] Project.)
Paired with this time bomb was a relatively uncontroversial Kathie Tovo resolution to "increase energy efficiency program offerings for low income and low-moderate income customers, and creating a Low Income Consumer Advisory Task Force."
So, what happened in a nutshell is this: Council voted to recess before the paired items were up for discussion, and take them up on Friday. But – after Bill Spelman left the dais and AE staff and other speakers left the room – Council changed course and voted, over Lee Leffingwell's objection, to consider the items that night, which they then passed 5-0. (The vote itself was an anticlimax; as I noted last week, it's doubtful anyone was going to stick his or her neck out to vote against solar power, details be damned.)
What I couldn't stop thinking about, though, was how what happened on the dais that night reflected key differences between the two pairs of competing candidates. From Riley the grand gesture – possibly flawed and not quite there on the details, but popular with the core, and flacked with the fervor of a true believer. From Tovo the quiet, slightly wonky safeguard for social equity – which she advocated for very strongly, but hesitated to push forward for a vote without further discussion. And closer to the middle of the dais, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, in charge of the meeting after Leffingwell bailed, was perfectly happy to let the postponement stand and move on. But it was Mike Martinez who took charge, and moved to take up the items and continue to a vote, claiming somewhat disingenuously that no one was signed up to speak in opposition.
If it weren't politically incorrect, I'd suggest that's pretty close to a gender stereotype: the women more thoughtful and less aggressive, wanting to allow time to discuss issues until everyone has their say; the men more assertive and action-oriented, wanting to cut through the chatter and maybe skip over some details and bend a little protocol to get results. Okay, so gender probably doesn't have anything to do with it, but there were definitely some different leadership and management styles on display, that voters might want to consider in choosing their next mayor and senior Council member.
Which brings us to ...
This week kicks off our first- and last-ever 10-1 City Council district forum series, co-sponsored and produced by the Austin Monitor, KUT-FM, KXAN-TV, and Univision: "Ballot Boxing," a comprehensive series of public forums covering all 11 of the City Council races. It kicks off with District 1 in Northeast Austin, at 7pm Monday, Sept. 8 at Wesley United Methodist Church; then the Southeastern District 2, 7pm Wednesday, Sept. 10 at Dove Springs Rec Center. See "Campaign Snapshots" for the full list. All forums will be broadcast live by our TV and radio partners.
But while there's going to be a lot of debate talk about a bloated city budget, and calls to save money and reduce spending, the candidates would do well to remember and recognize the variety of worthy city services the city budget funds. Before I got carried away by the Council follies, I had meant to give more space to these useful initiatives that various city departments are undertaking this month. Here's a condensed version:
• The Austin Public Library is offering free computer classes on a walk-in basis throughout September; see library.austintexas.gov for the schedule.
• The Art in Public Places program has two open calls to artists, seeking proposals to design and fabricate artwork for large-scale projects at Bergstrom Airport; apply through www.publicartist.org.
• The Neighborhood Partnering Program is looking for project applications to help fund, in partnership with community and neighborhood organizations. Apply at www.austintexas.gov/neighborhoodpartnering.
• Curbside recycling now accepts all hard plastics in their blue recycling carts.
• The City Bicycle Program is taking applications for adding bicycle corral locations in Austin's core. Turn one vehicle parking space in front of a business into parking for 8-14 bicycles – in the public right-of-way and at no cost to the business owner. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.