The Daily Hustle: 5/13/10 (Updated)
Arizona travel ban, water conservation, and other subjects left unsaid
By Wells Dunbar,
1:15PM, Thu. May 13, 2010
With an array of TV cameras inside City Hall this morning, the proposed Arizona travel ban and state divestment looked poised to collect all the attention this City Council meeting. But aside from that obvious lightning rod, many other issues clouded the council agenda this morning.
Even topics not on the agenda hovered around the periphery. It being the first meeting since the explosive Keypoint report broke, local activist Debbie Russell set up a silent protest in the back of the chambers. And two items relating to benefits and compensation for the City Manager were pulled, delayed until May 27; not coincidentally, Marc Ott is off the dais today.
Item 41 drew brief discussion before passage; the item, renaming the Martin Luther King Jr. bridge over IH-35 - the city's historic line of racial demarcation - for former Huston-Tillotson College president JJ Seabrook, is intended to be a symbolic reminder the city is "historically, and still is presently, Austin divided," said Sheryl Cole, and a step towards bridging the schism.
In a sadly familiar exercise, Cole then pulled Item 6, a bridge rehab related to the Waller Creek Tunnel project, for low minority participation, even with the winning bidder. "We use people from all over the world," she said when staff described a dearth of local MBE contractors.
Continuing the development theme, Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez pulled Items 7 and 8. Martinez noted semi-incredulously that the items, to redevelop Austin Energy's control center Downtown, was for "a place we have not yet agreed to vacate ... We haven't taken that vote yet, as a council, as a body." Mayor Lee Leffingwell concurred, along with rest of the council.
Morning briefings began with the Mayor's Mental Health Task Force's annual report. "In spite of all the great things about the city," said Leffingwell, "mental health is still a problem," going on to note Austin has "one of the highest suicide rates in the country."
Item 30, the Arizona action, came up next. "I'm afraid that law will start spreading like a cancer to the rest of the nation," said one speaker with the Austin Immigrants Rights Coalition. Testimony was brief, with none speaking in opposition. Making the motion, Martinez said, "Folks don't want to discuss this in a civil matter," citing hostile phone calls, e-mails, and talk radio chatter directed at the council members. He then chastised the local media for misreporting the item, specifying the severance of business ties only applied to the governmental entity of Arizona - the state - itself. (The resolution reads rather broadly "The City Manager is directed to investigate all current and potential City of Austin business with, and investments in, the State of Arizona.") "We are taking actions to demonstrate that we disagree, quite frankly, with the State of Arizona," Martinez said. Bill Spelman added that "The city has no contracts and ties with the State of Arizona. We simply haven't got any financial ties, we're not going to create any." He added that last year the city sent 45 employees to the state on business, a process to end. "We're not talking about a dramatic reduction or dramatic shift in city's policy." It passed unanimously.
The next briefing came regarding the Austin Water Utility's conservation marketing plan. Laura Morrison said she was "feeling a little confused" about how all of AWU's efforts - a new marketing contract, the recos of the Citizens Water Conservation Task Force, the city's Water IQ program, et. al. - could coalesce under the contract. AWU director said they'd be "using the professional marketing experience" of Enviromedia," up for a city contract (Item 21) immediately afterward, "to create a professional conservation brand ... logos, things that will stick [with customers]." Morrison seemed concerned the contract hadn't been completely vetted with the Resource Management Commission; Randi Shade later noted RMC chair Chris Herbert had been briefed. Shade said "stronger leadership and a more strategic approach" was needed for the utility to capitalize on conservation. Later, Leffingwell gave the call for outside expertise a full endorsement. With that, Item 21 came right after, with Roy Whaley, vice-chair of Austin Sierra Club speaking, saying his organization hadn't been contacted. "I'd like to see all the conservation groups be part of the process," he said. The SOS Alliance's Bill Bunch, signed up as neutral, said "we shouldn't spend a dime on branding," comparing the efforts to BP rechristening itself as Beyond Petroleum. (His mic got cut when he carried over his time limit. Noting she "didn't like any of the sequencing of the events," Shade then reiterated her support. "I am going to support this item, because its clear the utility needs some help and expertise, and that's what we asked them to do last fall," when council passed an item encouraging greater enviro outreach. However, citing Whaley and Bunch's complaints, she said "when it comes to communicating things to stakeholders," the utility could do a better job. Morrison and Leffingwell both also asked further developments be taken to the RMC, before council approved the item.
After hearing Citizen Communications, council broke until (an expected) 2pm. Still to come: action on the 140 gallon per capita per day water limit, as proposed by the Citizens Water Conservation Task Force, Cole's bond proposal, and a presentation on city accepted Materials Recovery Facility (recycling) proposals. This ain't over!