Council: Committed to Committees
AFD and Libraries grilled and postponed
By Michael King,
7:00AM, Tue. Mar. 31, 2015
Last Thursday’s City Council meeting followed the recent pattern: grilling the department heads over routine proposals, mulling over money matters, and punting to committees for more of the same. And a few fault lines were highlighted in the process.
Austin Fire Department Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr had proposed the creation of two new division chiefs, specifically to oversee “special operations”: wildfire, community outreach, hazardous materials, ABIA, water rescue – without much effect on the current budget. But the discussion quickly moved to questions of overall AFD staffing, the Dept. of Justice consent decree, and District 6 CM Don Zimmerman’s impatience with AFD’s wildfire response status. Kerr noted that additional delay could upset the current promotional lists – which expire periodically – but Council moved to delay a week, and in the meantime take another look in the Public Safety Committee (chaired by Zimmerman).
Council wrestled mightily with the lease renewal on the Library’s nationally recognized, award-winning Recycled Reads resale shop (which also offers multiple other programs), with both Zimmerman and District 10 CM Sherri Gallo complaining that the program “loses money” (about $220,000 a year, by strict accounting) – a curious standard for a city library, and not likely to be applied to any other city department. Zimmerman complained that private businesses (e.g., Half-Price Books) already provide such a service, although what that had to do with de-accessioning of overstocked and donated library books (and simultaneously keeping them out of the landfill, presumably an unaccounted-for money saver) was unclear – should the Library just donate weeded books to Half-Price? D7 CM Leslie Pool stoutly defended the program (“should be recognized rather than have this program be put under questioning that seems to have as its basis a question for its very existence”).
Correction*: A motion to renegotiate the proposed seven-year, $1.2 million lease to a one-year lease of uncertain terms failed 5-5 (D5 CM Ann Kitchen was off the dais); in the end, Council approved the pending lease 6-4 -- the nays were D1 CM Ora Houston, D8 CM Ellen Troxclair, D6 CM Zimmerman, and D10 CM Sheri Gallo.
In other actions, Council:
• Settled a lawsuit concerning Occupy Austin protest at City Hall; paid $192,000 plaintiffs for legal fees to end lawsuit
• Authorized construction of a pedestrian bridge – for emergency use only – related to the ongoing Shoal Creek Walk project, between West 5th and 6th Streets at Bowie
• Tabled (effectively killing) a motion to rename the Onion Creek Greenbelt: Onion Creek Greenbelt it remains
• Extended current regs on Downtown concrete pours, while stakeholders (city, contractors, residents) continue working on revisions
• Appointed an interim Municipal Clerk, with a standard 10% salary increase for the interim period (salary policy referred to committee)
• Approved eminent domain proceeding for waterline easements at the Springdale/290 Improvement Project, and another for the Waters Park Relief Main Project
• Postponed to March 31 executive session an eminent domain discussion about acquiring land for parking at University Hills Library – and a general discussion of city policies on eminent domain
Coming this week (April 2): A proposal to regulate restaurant and food truck “smoke emissions” near residential areas. Translation: a couple of neighborhoods are complaining about nearby bbq smokers, and Council wants to draw a line in the smoke between homeowners and Texas meat lovers.
Good luck with that.
*Correction: This passage originally reported, in error, that the Recycled Reads lease was amended by Council to a one-year lease, yet to be negotiated. The passage has been corrected.