Mini-Series Madness

Better Than Shogun Anyway...

Where's the director when you need him? Last week's council meeting probably amounted to little more than the mid-week episode of a bad mini-series: dramatic tantrums, staff bunglings, bus-chase scenes, and Abbott & Costello routines on the dais. Mad-cap fun and drama, but then, this isn't supposed to be the Second Street version of The Thorn Birds, is it?

The day's press-bait -- the ER (Eric/Ronney) tag-team's grandstand to downshift Capital Metro's sales tax collections, led the day's agenda for dramatic overkill. Capitalizing on voter disgruntlement with the transit authority's perceived piracy last year when they increased sales taxes without voter approval, Mitchell requested that the board reduce the amount it collects from a full cent per dollar to three-fourths of a cent. Mitchell's resolution would re-channel the difference, as much as $20 million, to the city's emaciated police, fire, and EMS budgets. Reynolds' main thesis, summed up rather briefly: The transfer would prevent a $20 million bond sale down the road. The transfer is a long shot, since the Austin-bashing state Legislature would have to find enough kindness in its heart to approve it. But there was no dissuading ER. Mitchell stormed into the ring, shadowboxing and Capital Metro-slamming a la the recent council campaigns. His initial momentum then rolled into a super soliloquy, as Mitchell bitched that few truly cared for Austin's long-term needs for public transportation, challenged the rest of the council to overcome the "politics, posturing, and B.S." and told them to originate their "own bright ideas."

Gus Garcia did just that, recovering from the onslaught with a motion to reduce the sales tax, but to forego the $20 million transfer, since he doubted the likelihood of persuading the state Lege to give the city the money. Slusher seconded Garcia's motion for reasons comparable, and offered a personal account of his regular bus rider status, apparently to justify his authority in the matter. Goodman knocked both motions for prematurity; Capital Metro is now under the searchlight of performance and financial audits. Garcia's substitute motion passed 4-2, Goodman voting plain "No," and Mitchell voting "No, No, No, No!" Reynolds surrendered without protest, nimbly leaping from Mitchell's sinking ship and onto Garcia's compromise.

The ER/Capital Metro bout followed a blistering exchange between three parties, two of which were actually interested in the truth. Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) wanted a $2.9 million reimbursement for the extension of a wastewater line to its newest chip factory, Fab 25. Daryl Slusher filed the lone protest vote since the reimbursement was $1.8 million beyond the anticipated cost approved by council in 1993. Backup agenda material indicated the overrun was the result of an engineering error that required reconstruction and ballooned the price tag. Randy Goss, pendragon of the Water and Wastewater Utility, claimed the chip maker pushed ahead with the additional work lacking the necessary thumbs-up from city staff or the council, making AMD appear mighty renegade, even foolish, for jeopardizing $1.8 million. In response to the company's alleged come-uppance, Slusher dissented, "a message that when you're dealing with the City of Austin, you don't just double the cost and expect us to reimburse you."

But night became day following a request from a puzzled Mayor Bruce Todd, whereupon AMD engineer Clarke Veach debunked the company's alleged cavalierism with a city staff memo requesting an expanded line that would allow greater service to peripheral East Austin. "We got 80-90% through with the design and the city said we want you to do something different," said Veach.

Therewith, Slusher switched his vote to an abstention, signaling accord with AMD's explanation and displeasure with city staff for disregarding council notification. Todd applauded Slusher for sending the right message, and the reimbursement passed, five to Slusher's abstention, Ronney Reynolds absent.

Then matters turned serious. Garcia motioned to undo a unanimous council decision from earlier in the day, which he had voted for, that renamed a street in Southwest Austin from Family Land Drive to Real Catorce. Something had seized him, perhaps the ghost of Isabella. He wanted the street renamed to the Spanish-proper Real de Catorce. But the signs had been installed, at the developer's expense. The clerk called the role. Garcia refused to vote for his own motion.

"This resolution ought to come to us before they put up the signs," Garcia groused. "Here we go again, renaming the damn signs the wrong way."

The meeting unraveled; bad jokes prevailed. "It now has no legal name. Does that make it `the street with no name?'" humored Hizonner.

The hubbub begat miracles. Griffith spoke, offering a counter-proposal to keep the signs as posted to avoid additional expense -- her only motion of the day. It would have saved the developer less than $2,000.

Logic departed; Goodman got confused: "What is the motion we're voting on?"

No one seemed to know, no one seemed to care. Deliverance came with a Goodman request for a one-week postponement. The grave matter shall be reconsidered at today's meeting.

That finished, the council skimmed over a few zoning cases to the public hearing on the budget. Panhandling prevailed. A parade of community groups, kids and adults, virtually begged that this social service or that be whisked from City Manager Jesus Garza's chopping block.

The city manager's more intrepid cuts, which the council has until September to decide on:

* A $100,000 reduction from Jourdan Bachman Pioneer Farms, a microcosmic retreat to life in the old days located outside Northeast Austin. The farm nearly had its funding cut last year, but a public hanging of the council nearly ensued. Things are a little quieter this year.

* A $245,000 reduction from the Austin Community Education program that offers low-cost education to thousands of children and adults, and which has already received a $245,000 financial boost from AISD. The city manager intends to zilch out the city's allocation.

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This week in council: Slusher's resolution to stall internal city staff privatization efforts without council approval. Counter-resolution from Todd and Reynolds to allow city staff privatization efforts. Final approval of the East Austin entertainment center.

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