The Austin Chronicle

So Nice They’re Doing It Thrice

By Michael King, June 22, 2015, 10:00am, Newsdesk

City Council was facing a daunting 110-Item agenda last Thursday (June 18), with some items likely to threaten the self-imposed midnight deadline. So they punted 20 or so vexing questions to special-called meetings this week – Tuesday (9:30am) and Thursday (11am) – with nearly identical agendas.

That should, in theory, allow an agenda-clearing of the collective dais throat (and enable staff, especially the budget office, to get some work done in July), but since things have not gone so smoothly of late – one sign being that cumulative 110-Item list – you never can tell. We presume Council does want to take its annual July break (after these two sessions – Thursday's is nominally an Austin Energy meeting, but postponed items may carry over – there’s no regular meeting scheduled until the July 30 budget work session). But – by the visible evidence – this Council really does enjoy meeting … and meeting … and meeting.

Despite some simmering tension on the dais over contract nit-picking by some Council members, and a bit of bickering over whether they’d work on the dais through lunch (Mayor Steve Adler’s suggestion) or break to eat like civilized people (District 5 CM Ann Kitchen’s strong preference prevailed), they did manage to accomplish a few things last week.

In a few highlights:

• The mayor announced (not strictly an accomplishment) that the city would be effectively withdrawing its challenge of commercial property evaluations by the Travis Central Appraisal District before the Appraisal Review Board – intending to reinstate it by appeal to district court, after TCAD certifies this year’s tax roll.

In other actions, Council:

• Eliminated a whopping 2.3 full-time equivalent staff positions that had been “vacant” for more than 12 months, for a savings of $230,000 – quite a comedown from the hundreds of positions (and millions of savings) promised earlier by D8 CM Ellen Troxclair (for various rational reasons, the vacancy roll had fallen to five, and then it turned out that list was also over-estimated);

• After some blustering about equity for non-prominent 80-year-olds (a question to be referred to committee), Council granted free lifetime Barton Springs Pool swim passes to former Mayor Frank Cooksey and his wife Lynn;

• Approved negotiation of a contract for a Lamar Beach/Town Lake Metro Park master plan (but after fairly intense questioning of Parks & Rec staff, postponed to this week additional mastication of the park use contract with the West Austin Youth Association);

• Over objections from D6 CM Don Zimmerman (who described as impossible attempts to determine a “living wage”) approved a resolution directing staff to address the issue in FY2106 budget planning (a related morning briefing concluded that it will take years for the city to meet a living wage goal);

• Approved a resolution directing staff to find ways to tighten restrictions and enforcement on short-term rentals, focusing on those that abuse the existing regs;

• Approved (first reading only) looser regulations (as recommended by the Planning Commission) governing “accessory dwelling units” (aka “granny flats”), although this one may return in quite revised form;

• Resolved to spend “equitably” (citywide) funding remaining the Capital Metro 1/4-cent city transportation kitty – definition of “equitably” to be determined in progress.

Thanks to the postponements, and all deliberate speed, Council adjourned right about 9:30pm.

A Council’s Work Is Never Done (matters postponed to this week):

• Several purchasing contracts that some CM’s want more background on or want to grill staff about (e.g., expect the Library staff to get a workout for its laptop lending system);

• A contract concerning a Downtown “wayfinding” system (i.e., a digital and signage system) approved by previous Council in 2011, to help folks navigate Downtown (some CM’s grumbled about the cost, some sniffed at special treatment for “Downtown”);

• A revenue-producing (and perennial) contract to allow harvesting and sale of hay and pecans on Austin Water’s property at the Hornsby Bend treatment plant east of town – a couple of CM’s think there might be better use of the produce;

• Council wasn’t quite ready to pull the trigger on the revision of AW’s drainage fee – lowered on renters, raised on homeowners – so that will return for tinkering as well.

And if it doesn’t all get done this week – the whole month of July … beckons.

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