The Daily Hustle: 5/4/10

My breakfast with Marc

The dividing line
The dividing line (Photo courtesy Flickr user rutlo, via Creative Commons)

Last Friday, Marc Ott sat down with the City Hall press corps for his second annual “Breakfast with the City Manager,” an informal, breakfast taco-fueled hybrid of background chat and bull session. Read the Hustle’s recollections below the fold.

Money was on Ott’s mind: reflecting on the two years or so he’s occupied the top managerial slot, he reminisced “there was no honeymoon” because as soon as he came on, budget deliberations were well underway. “Much of my focus has been financial management of the city,” he said. ”I think we’ve done pretty well,” especially in comparisons to other cities that have seen massive layoffs and budget reductions.

While he endeavored to ensure layoffs weren’t a part of last year’s budget, he’s making no such promises this year, though. “We may get to that,” he said. “Last year, I worked hard not to do any layoffs, and we were successful … While I will work hard again to resist putting people on the street,” he said, for FY 2011, Ott was ”not going to say that quite as hard.” But overall, he lauded the process from last year, especially the open houses inviting citizens to prioritize programs, adding “ my hope is to continue that as we prepare the budget for 2011.” He later added that compared to last year, “Will it be harder this time? I suspect that it will,” promising to “look closely at programs that aren’t working as well as he’d like, and “stop doing them, or do less.” He also stated that “my hope is not to bring forward a budget that would entail” a raise to the rollback rate, but a budget without any property tax increase “is kind of unlikely.”

He also touched on the enormous amount of staffing changes he’s overseen since joining the city. Regarding Rhoda Mae Kerr, the city’s first female fire chief, he was “very pleased I had the opportunity to make that decision.” However, one staffing vacancy he was “really surprised” the city lacked, was “a focused, professional expertise looking at a range of transportation issues” – hence his creation of the Transportation Department, staffed by Rob Spillar. With the new department, Ott said he felt the organization now possessed “the strongest level of transportation expertise … than the city has ever had before.”

With that, Ott segued into a discussion of the Strategic Mobility Plan, and the possible November transportation bond it will inform, a “big conversation” currently underway at City Hall. Ott iterated staff’s job is to provide council with “all the information they need” to make the decision whether to proceed, a “go/no go kinda thing.”

Similarly, another omnibus effort discussed were the city’s Comprehensive Planning steps. Wit the new comp plan being drafted the first overhaul since the dusty Austin Tomorrow Plan, Ott asked, semi-incredulously, “what overall comprehensive vision” did prior planning efforts respond to. “What answer do you think I got? … None.”

Part of those efforts will be a focus on sustainability, Ott said, including a new city position, Chief Sustainability Officer. Ott said the city had received nearly 180 applications. While the city doesn’t have the position “all figured out” yet, Ott said the position should focus on ecological sustainability both inside and outside the organization, and could ultimately mean “ more than one individual” in the position.

Ott grew the more animated discussing his next topic – equity – a ‘puzzling, concerning” topic exemplified by “the great east-west divide.” That “very hard demographic line,” he said, was “inconsistent with … our own self perception as a community.” Calling for a “frank and candid conversation” about how to bridge the equity gap, he said “as a city manager, I can’t be in this position of privilege … and not talk about it.” While in discussing the topic with unnamed folks who’ve grown uncomfortable with the topic, he said “maybe we need to be a little uncomfortable,” as a community, to make progress.

… On another note, the Public Safety Commission gave a final vote of approval to the Austin Regional Intelligence Center last night, approving the interlocal fusion center on a vote of 6 to 1, Ramey Ko being the sole nay. From an email, the ACLU-TX's Debbie Russell:

Those six in favor did NOT read what comprises the Interlocal, taking APD/City at their word that it's 'no big deal/JUST the interlocal' (confirmed during the meeting & in private conversations after the meeting). The one who read it voted against it and made an alternate motion to recommend Council not have it on the 5/27 Council agenda to provide more time for the PSC to digest it and get VERY important questions answered before moving forward.
The Chronicle will have more on the fusion center debate this Thursday.

What the hell else is happening?

On the city calendar: The MBE/WBE and Small Business Enterprise Procurement Program Advisory Committee meets in the Board and Commission room at City Hall, 301. w. Second, 5:30pm. they'll discuss contracting on the Austin Energy's System Control Center that got punted from last week's council agenda.

The Renaissance Market Commission sets up shop at the Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs, 6pm. Lots of staff reports to be delivered on vendors, surroundings and more.

The Zoning and Platting Commission takes over the Council Chambers at City Hall, 301 W. 2nd, 6pm Commissioners have 11 public hearings on the agenda.

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