Boards! ... and Commissions

Austin's Traditions of Citizen Service Are in the Spotlight

Boards! ... and Commissions
By Jason Stout

Boards: What are they good for? At this point, the background singers should exclaim "Absolutely nothing!" -- but a system as elaborate as the city of Austin's board-and-commission structure doesn't evolve except in response to some evident need.

The City Council appoints more than 500 citizens -- and finding the "right" people is a mighty chore in itself -- to sit on more than 60 panels, all created by actual laws that the council has to write and pass. Those panels have to meet in city facilities, usually at some length and without an audience, and be cared for and fed by city employees whose jobs, safe to say, include other duties. All to fulfill a mandate that's seldom more specific than "advising" or "recommending" actions to council and, sometimes, to staff. It can be a monumental pain in the butt even for those of us who actively sought the gig.

Why do it if you don't have to?

Because this is Austin, and we do have to, or else decisions would be made without the benefit of public oversight or input except by the too-few members of the overworked City Council. This would sometimes be a good thing but is typically at odds with our political ways. Indeed, the boards and commissions have more than a few times been used to keep important but difficult decisions from being made, the local equivalent of a bill dying in committee at the Legislature.

Witness last year's unfruitful attempts to consummate a land swap deal with Stratus Properties. Not satisfied with dropping a hot potato on the B&Cs, the council created, on the spot, a new ad hoc commission consisting of members of existing boards, which has yet to meet six months later. Conversely, when the decision has already been made, the B&Cs become inconvenient, as with the Computer Sciences Corp. deal downtown, which was pitched over the heads of the "advisory group" created specifically to review development options for that very piece of property.

And yet, we live in a town where citizens -- especially, yes, "activists" with agendas -- know and care far more about most issues than do most city staffers, elected leaders, or members of the press. While it can be maddening for an unpaid citizen board to deal with some issue someone should be paid (or elected and paid) to attend to, it's also generally true that the board or commission will actually do its job and move the city's ball forward. If, that is, its "advice" and "recommendations" are heeded; even the big kahuna of the B&Cs, the Planning Commission, bats well under 1.000 when its recommendations come to City Council.

About two years ago now, the editor of the Austin American-Statesman used his bully pulpit to launch a broadside attack, first on the Water and Wastewater Commission, then on the entire B&C system. As far as journalism, the less said about this the better, but as far as influencing public opinion goes, the gambit may have worked, because some consensus has emerged that we need to Do Something About the boards and commissions. In recent weeks, Council Member Will Wynn has launched an effort to review the B&Cs (which, of course, involves creating another panel) to see if we still need them, if anyone cares what they do, and additional minor points.

But in the wake of that proposal, last week the city held its first-ever appreciation ceremony for members of the B&Cs, so if the door's about to hit some activists in the butt on their way out of city policymaking, at least it'll hit 'em gently. We decided to ask some of these urban trench warriors what they thought: Do the B&Cs work? Why did you volunteer? Does the City Council listen to you? How about city staff? And how could this system work better?

Their responses follow, in something very similar to their own words, including my own words since, to quote the president, I is one. Interestingly, in most cases, our intrepid foot soldiers say that their commission works better now than it ever has before. The other 490-plus B&C'ers may differ, but we didn't expect what we got: hardly a portrait of the public process gone off the rails.

Mike Clark-Madison

Vice-Chair, Austin Public Library Commission

Member since 1998

Last appointed by Council Member Daryl Slusher

Also LC representative to Bond Oversight Committee

In real life: Staff writer for The Austin Chronicle

My son, who's four, has a video in which fearful citizens, describing one character's obviously (to them) malign intentions, exclaim, "Today, the library board; tomorrow, the world!" Damn straight. I wish I could say I joined the Library Commission to further my imperial ambitions. Actually, I used to be the public information officer for the State Library and then a consultant to the Texas Library Association, so I got initiated into the arcane mysteries of libraries, and my library friends urged me to apply.

Being on the board of a major urban library system isn't the worst training ground for world domination, though, because you deal with such varied issues: What facilities to build and where, what materials to buy and where to put them, what services to provide to whom; in short, everything from planning for a $100 million central library to putting in a coffee cart, from the First Amendment rights of Internet users to the picture on the new library card. And above all, how to pay for everything. For something that's so apple pie and taken for granted, a library is extraordinarily complex.

Historically, the Library Commission has done a very good job of representing one important constituency: the neighborhood patrons of the 19 branch libraries, who like them pretty much as they are and adamantly defend them against closure and budget cuts. They've been fixated on getting the currently leased branches replaced with new city-owned buildings (which they apparently think makes the branches closure-proof). That's why the 1998 library bond package only addressed existing branches, rather than either new neighborhood locations or a new central library.

There are other people whom the library serves, though, and other issues facing the institution, and I think in the last year we've turned a corner toward being more effective on all fronts. The current membership is about as good as one could ask for -- all our positions are filled, all our members are active and engaged, and we're not afraid to tackle our real mandate, which is to advise (i.e., lobby) the City Council, not to micromanage the library department.

We've had a reputation for being grouchy and difficult to work with, which is one reason why, when the city embarked on a major effort, dubbed Austin Libraries for the Future, to plan and build support for a truly world-class (and appropriately funded) library, we were on the outside looking in. That has also turned around; relations between the commission, library staff, the city hierarchy, and the library's community supporters (such as the Austin Public Library Foundation) are a lot better now than they were a year ago. At this point, the City Council takes us seriously and, I think, is grateful that we're no longer a problem child. (We went a year with vacancies because council members couldn't agree on whom to appoint or reappoint.)

The new library movement was going to ask the City Council for $5 million a year in new money to realize the ALFF dream, but in the current climate of budgetary constraint, that ain't gonna happen. The Austin Public Library has over the past decade won a bunch of awards at both the state and national level, and has more library cardholders than any other city in the city manager's all-important nationwide benchmarking database (which he uses to compare Austin's service levels with those in other communities). So we can't get too depressed.

But staff morale is pretty low, people are horribly overworked and underpaid, and every time we put a new book in the central library, we have to take one out. (Note to neighborhoods: Having great branches and an obsolete central library is like having great doctors and lousy hospitals.)

I can think of worse things for Austin, the City of Ideas, to be than the home of the nation's best public library system (surely we can do better than Cleveland, one claimant for that title), and I'd be happy to have less police riot gear and fewer traffic-calming devices if it would advance us toward that goal.

Boards! ... and Commissions
Photo By John Anderson

Rosemary Castleberry

Chair, Parks and Recreation Board

Member since 1994

Last appointed by Council Member Daryl Slusher

Also Parks Board representative and chair, Bond Oversight Committee

Member and chair since 1999

In real life: Retired PARD employee

As someone who has had a 30-year relationship with the Parks and Recreation Dept., I have nothing but glowing things to say about the Parks board and PARD staff. With three children, my first contact with the department was by way of Deep Eddy Pool and the Austin Nature Center. Eventually I went to work in Montopolis as a neighborhood center director and became involved with the Montopolis Recreation Center. The present director of PARD, Jesus Olivares, was a site manager at Montopolis. As you might expect, I have a good relationship with him, and most of the staff I have worked with over the years.

We have a good board -- very intelligent but down to earth -- and we have developed strong working relationships within the board. Even if our members have special areas of interest, they manage to deal with issues as they affect all of us as we consider the many recommendations that cross our table.

City staff respect our recommendations, and it is rare that we do not reach agreement with them. We take into consideration citizen input and try not to make suggestions without looking at city regulations and liability issues. Other departments are getting used to our probing questions on the issues they bring us that relate to parkland and the preserves.

The City Council, for the most part, uses our recommendations as an outline for their decisions. We don't win them all, but council members do seem to be sensitive to what we have to say. We all are concerned with budget issues, and are not shy when it comes to talking to council members and speaking out at council meetings about issues that concern us. For example, the department does need to have more maintenance money. If Austin likes to brag about its parks, it only makes sense to fully fund their maintenance.

As for the Bond Oversight Committee, on which I sit as a Parks Board representative, it is difficult to say how effective we are. We on the Parks Board have seen bond money approved years ago sit around for years with no movement on the projects, and we have rarely been able to answer citizen questions with any authority. People do remember what they voted on and want to see projects completed in a reasonable time.

My major concern is that the BOC is one of at least three groups that makes recommendations to the council on the city's capital budget. Attendance was and is spotty at best, and we have had a lot of changes in our membership. This makes it difficult for new members to catch up, as we are looking at millions of dollars' worth of bonds that cover city projects that we are not all familiar with.

The first year, in 1999, we had a long learning curve and met often. We did manage to change some staff recommendations, and they were accepted by the council. Departmental staff have been responsive to our questions, although we need to standardize the information we get from the departments.

A final note: A public hearing that has more than one person attending would be nice.

Boards! ... and Commissions
Photo By Todd V. Wolfson

Kevin Connor

Chair, Austin Music Commission

Member since 1999

Last appointed by Mayor Kirk Watson

In real life: Morning man at KGSR-FM.

The Austin Music Commission has been improving, both in terms of its membership and its effectiveness. Whereas a few years ago we had to struggle to achieve a quorum, we now have a full slate of competent music industry professionals on our team, and there's actual competition to fill open seats.

We're not a commission that is part of a process like zoning, where you have to get approval from the commission before going to the City Council. We simply advise the council on matters of concern to the music community. For several years, our meetings have been dominated by the ongoing intensive-care status of the Austin Music Network. We need to get AMN off life support and into a regular funding structure like that of Channel 6 and ACAC (Austin Community Access Center, formerly ACTV). Right now AMN gets whatever the city decides to give it from general fund; it doesn't have a set budget. A broadcast facility larger than a tool shed would be nice, too.

Does the council listen? Yes. City staff? Well ... Case in point: Last year, we worked with council staff and the city's music liaison Jim Butler to bring back the Music Industry Loan Program. Various commissioners and others had long been told "Forget it. It's never going to happen." Well, it did happen. The council approved $250,000 to bring back the much-needed program, which is supposed to provide loans to small businesses in the music industry. That was last September. Has the program been put into practice yet? Nope. Why not? I was told that the person who was supposed to oversee the project "wasn't into it." He's gone. Let's hope our next project overseer has better vision.

Boards! ... and Commissions
Photo By John Anderson

Perry Lorenz

Vice-Chair, Design Commission, and DC representative to the Downtown Commission

Member since 1989

Last appointed by Council Member Daryl Slusher

In real life: Downtown developer and landowner

I have watched the Design Commission grow from the token role of rewarding good architecture in an annual awards ceremony to the completion of Austin's Downtown Design Guidelines. In 1997, the mayor and council requested that the Design Commission come up with guidelines for new construction occurring downtown. The directive anticipated that the process would take 90 days.

In the end, it took two years of weekly meetings, throughout which well-meaning people with diverse interests and backgrounds struggled to come up with a document that meant something and would not be shelved. Juan Cotera (an architect and DC chair) led the group, which included individuals with interests ranging from parks and open spaces, to architecture and landscape design, to art and real estate development.

On May 18, 2000, the City Council adopted the Downtown Design Guidelines as "recommendations for all downtown development and redevelopment projects by both the public and private sector." Since then, the work of the Design Commission has been primarily related to ensuring that the guidelines are applied to emerging downtown projects.

Has anybody read the Guidelines? Does anybody care? Well, virtually every significant downtown development has been presented to and commented on by the Design Commission. Developers are encouraged to present new projects to us early in the process so input will be meaningful. Developers with projects requiring right-of-way vacations and/or variances come seeking support from the commission prior to their appearances before the Board of Adjustment and Planning Commission. Our agenda is so full that rarely do two weeks go by without a meeting, nor can I remember a meeting ever failing for lack of a quorum.

So the Design Commission does meaningful work, is taken seriously by the council and city staff, and provides a valuable, early heads-up to developers about what to expect as they seek approvals for downtown projects. I am glad to be part of it.

Leslie Pool

Chair, Telecommunications Commission

Member since 1999

Last appointed by Council Member Beverly Griffith

In real life: Aide to state Rep. Ann Kitchen, D-Austin

(Pool declined to be photographed for this story.) I've served in a number of appointed positions for the city and Travis County. These are typically not easy assignments, but I'm interested in how government works. Governments work best when they interact with the communities they represent. Most governmental issues are complex, yet they affect people at the most fundamental levels: health, safety, quality of life. You can't get much more grassroots than serving on a bond committee and holding a public hearing on whether to acquire land for soccer fields or expand a juvenile detention center. What more direct way is there to plug into the dynamic force of a community?

Having said that, however, I am not a proponent of creating a citizen board for every issue. Austin has used ad hoc groups well in the past; I have experience with two, the Town Lake Advisory Group and Downtown Advisory Group. These groups were successful because they were focused and temporary.

I also support the idea of a sunset review for boards and commissions. The Texas Legislature reviews state agencies every 12 years to modify or abolish ineffective ones. The city should consider adopting a similar review process.

I believe the council listens to us. Advisory roles can be powerful, but volunteers must be aware of the limits inherent in their roles, too. Council members are not required to take our advice. At its best, the relationship is a form of contract that is fluid and collaborative. I've always felt comfortable talking to council members and respect that they have many demands on their time. I trust they know that when I raise an issue it's because it's important or relevant.

The commission has a good relationship with TARA (the city's Office of Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs). The relationship works because the staff recognize the function and value of a volunteer, citizen-directed board, and the citizens recognize the limits of the staff. I can see how an advisory board can become a burden to bear or an obstacle to manage. But it's also a good way to gather information to help inform controversial or difficult decisions -- or to deflect political heat.

The Telecommunications Commission had vacancies for a while, but we are now at full capacity. The members are, to a person, involved, committed, and really dedicated to the purpose of the commission. I'm impressed with the diversity of profession, opinion, and world-view my fellow commissioners bring to the table.

It's not easy to be up-to-date on everything that's going on in telecommunications nationally and locally. Commissions and boards will always depend on staff for information at some level. Staff can influence a board's decision-making through the amount and quality of information they provide and how they treat citizen members. To be effective, citizen boards must understand this and work to keep a balance between depending on staff too much or trusting in staff too little.

The value of citizen advisory boards depends, ultimately, on the qualities of the people involved: council members, staff, volunteers. Some boards work better than others. Some tend to wander in the wilderness; others have a better sense of their mission. I've seen both good and bad, but on balance, I believe that the boards and commissions system benefits the city.

Boards! ... and Commissions
Photo By John Anderson

Darwin McKee

Chair, Water and Wastewater Commission

Last appointed by Council Member Danny Thomas; member since 1992

In real life: Lawyer, former Travis Co. Commissioner

The Water and Wastewater Commission was formed by the City Council to provide citizen input into the operation of the Water and Wastewater Utility and to provide advice on how to maintain and improve the city's drinking water supply. Over the years the council has also requested the commission's advice on other issues, such as service extension requests and the cost of service to customers.

Overall, despite some negative publicity a few years ago, the commission has functioned quite well. We have had, and continue to have, the active participation of all the members of the commission. We have given our advice on a wide range of issues affecting the water quality of the city, the operation of the utility, planning for the future water and wastewater needs of the city, the viability of the city's Historically Underutilized Business program, and many other issues. I have found the City Council quite receptive to our input.

The proof of that comes when our recommendation is different from the recommendation of the staff. Invariably, the council will ensure that the concerns we express are addressed. Fortunately, because of our good working relationship with water and wastewater staff, such situations do not arise very often, because over time, the staff has learned to anticipate the questions and concerns of the various commissioners.

Sabino Renteria

Chair, Community Development Commission

Member (this time around) since 2000

Last appointed by consensus

In real life: IBM'er, leader of United East Austin Coalition

The CDC is responsible for advising city staff and the City Council on how to invest money to help communities that the federal government deems economically disadvantaged. The origins of this commission go back to the War on Poverty in the 1960s, which I was involved with as a teen growing up in East Austin. Historically, the CDC has focused on policies and funding levels for affordable housing and job creation programs, with some social support programs that target special needs populations like senior citizens and homeless folks.

We also review requests from groups that serve residents in targeted neighborhoods, and want to get CDBG (Community Development Block Grants) money to invest in things like neighborhood and youth centers, recreation programs, and child care for the working poor. We advise on commercial loan programs that help small businesses in an effort to create economic sustainability in these neighborhoods and jobs for people who live there.

The CDC has evolved over the years as state and federal funding requirements have changed, and those changes have played a major role in the CDC's effectiveness as a community-based, consumer-oriented advisory board. I believe that, at one time, the various funding entities required so much stakeholder representation that it took 17 people to form a quorum. Hopefully, our new structure will help solve the longstanding problem the CDC has had with making quorums.

Regarding our working relationship with city staff, I'd say the CDC must rely more on staff than most boards and commissions. City staff have always had an incredible amount of work to do, because the feds require extensive community and stakeholder input before the city can submit its plan on how to spend the money it receives. I think the relationship between the staff and CDC members is improving, but because we have to make decisions about where to allocate money, there will always be some tension between competing interests.

It's better than it used to be when the CDC not only recommended the funding levels in competing categories but actually recommended specific dollar amounts for certain agencies. It was politics at its worst. Agencies would lobby the CDC, and if they didn't get recommended for funding, they found a back door to the City Council, laid out their game plan, then packed the public hearings to skew the processes required by the feds. The agencies still lobby the council and skew the public hearing processes, but at least the council is no longer in the position of ignoring the recommendations of volunteers on the CDC.

This is my second stint on the CDC. I served in the late 1980s at a time when UT was tearing up the Blackland neighborhood and the homeless people started organizing. They climbed onto the rooftops to stop the bulldozers. Relationships between the staff, the CDC, and the City Council were very strained due to extensive media coverage about the boom, the bust, and the destruction of scarce affordable housing. The community's trust in the staff and City Council to address the affordable housing crisis for the poorest of the poor is shaky, but we're still at the table.

The needs of the very poor in Austin have always been so great, and the public will and necessary dollars so scarce. So it comes down to which interest is the most needy: Frail elderly people, homeless people, or youth? Do we fund jobs programs so people can pay for housing, or pay for housing so people can have stability to find jobs? That's always been the real question. That will never change.

Boards! ... and Commissions
Photo By John Anderson

Jim Walker

Chair, Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Plan Implementation Advisory Commission

Member and chair since 2000

Last appointed by consensus

In real life: Director of Sustainability Indicators Project; president of Austin Neighborhoods Council

I've served on the Solid Waste Advisory Commission, Green Building Task Force, and currently on the Mueller Commission. They've all "worked" to varying degrees. Our boards and commissions are the only formal method of citizen input on city policy other than the citizen's communication period at council meetings and public hearings, where one's time is often limited to three minutes.

I'm fine with boards and commissions being limited to advising the council on policy (as opposed to directing staff on anything, or advising the council on operations within a city department), but the balance between the inherent, albeit cumbersome, value of public process and the daily needs of management to simply get things done is out of whack. Is it frustrating for citizens when staff seem not to be sharing information? Yes. Is it frustrating for staff when citizens seem to want to talk ad nauseam about precedents and perceptions? I imagine, yes. Do the council members make better policy decisions because of citizen input? Absolutely.

When boards and commissions work, I believe it's due in great part to two things. First, when there is a city staff member in a decision-making role who wants to be there (as opposed to being told to be there), he or she will be more likely to perceive the value added by the board to the staff's deliberation (of course, sometimes there is no value added). Second, boards and commissions work when the council shows interest and allows time for the board to deliberate, and deliver a considered recommendation. Although I wouldn't expect any council member to have time to show interest in and patience with all of our boards and commissions, it's a powerful motivator when they do take an interest.

Yes, boards and commissions have to earn and establish credibility with the council, but they also have to be given that chance. I think the boards and commissions could be more effective if the council would set clearer guidelines for city staff and citizens on what issues the boards and commissions should review (i.e., big and precedent-setting policy) and how much time they get to do so; if the council gives greater weight to a board or commission recommendation (somewhere between ignoring it and supporting it without question); if both staff and citizens get beyond appealing to the city manager or the council (respectively) when an issue becomes controversial; and if we have periodic review of each board and commission to see if it's still relevant and effective.

While the city officially says it has "more than 60" boards and commissions, some are temporary (like the Green Building Task Force), some are intergovernmental boards on which the city appoints a minority of members (like the TCAD board of directors), and some are the boards of independent nonprofits (like Arts Center Stage). These have been omitted here, leaving 51 panels. The B&Cs are grouped by the department they work with; each has a designated staff liaison, but these change frequently, so we've left out the names. Unless otherwise noted, each board has nine members, one nominated by each council member and two by consensus. We've noted any prerequisites or seats set aside for specific groups.

Meeting information is as last reported on the city clerk's Web site, but always check first.


Administration

Finance and Administrative Services Dept.

Bond Oversight Committee

Oversees the sales of the 1998 bonds and the buildout of the projects, mostly to make sure that they actually get built. Thirteen members, including one each from the Environmental Board, Parks and Recreation Board, Planning Commission, Library Commission, and Water and Wastewater Commission, plus one with "expertise in public safety and transportation."

Call City Budget Office at 499-2609 for meeting info.

HIV Planning Council

Oversees federal grant programs for HIV/AIDS. Thirty-two members, including reps from health care, social service, and mental health providers, community organizations, and persons living with HIV.

Meets: Second Tuesday. Call staff at 499-2615 for time and location.

MBE/WBE Advisory Committee

Reviews and oversees city's minority- and women-owned business enterprise (MBE/WBE) program. Eleven members, including three MBE/WBE owners (at least one WBE), three reps from minority and women's chambers of commerce, one contractor, two trade association reps, and two professional organization reps.

Meets: Waller Creek Plaza, 625 E. 10th. Call Small and Minority Business Resources staff at 499-7608 for times.

Telecommunications Commission

Advises city council on telecom and cable TV issues, including franchise fees and public-access television.

Meets: Second Wednesday, 7:30pm, City Hall. Work sessions sometimes held on fourth Wednesday, same time and place.

Human Resources Dept.

Employees' Retirement System

Administers city retirement and pension funds under state governance. Eleven members, including four elected members, two retirees, one citizen appointed by the board, two appointed by the council, one member of the council (currently Jackie Goodman), and one city manager appointee.

Meets: Fourth Tuesday, 1:30pm, 418 East Highland Mall Blvd.

Police Retirement Board

Oversees police retirement and pension funds. Eleven members include the city manager and city finance director (or their designees), five active-duty officers elected by plan members, two retirees, one City Council member (currently Danny Thomas), and one citizen chosen by the board.

Meets: Third Wednesday, 2520 South I-35, Suite 205 (Second Floor Conference Room).

Fire Civil Service Commission and Police Civil Service Commission

Both boards (with separate members) oversee civil-service issues, including hearing employment cases, as provided by state law. Fire has five members; police has three.

Meets: Both meet first Wednesday or as needed, 9am, Learning Research Center, 2800 Spirit of Texas Dr. (at Bergstrom airport).

Human Rights Commission

Advises on nondiscrimination policies and investigates complaints of prejudice and discrimination.

Meets: Fourth Monday, 5:30pm at either City Hall or One Texas Center; call staff at 499-3251 for location.

City of Austin Commission for Women

Advises city on "the needs and problems of women in the Austin area," including programs to protect women's rights. Members must include at least two African-American, two Hispanic, two Anglo, and one Asian, but they're not required to be women, though they all are.

Meets: First Tuesday, 5:30pm, Two Commodore Plaza, 209 E. Ninth, 14th Floor.

Mayor's Committee for People With Disabilities

Charged "to carry on a program to encourage, assist and enable persons to participate in the social and economic life of the City of Austin," particularly concerning employment and public accommodations. Members all appointed by the mayor.

Meets: Second Monday, noon, One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Rd.

Law Dept.

Ethics Review Commission

Hears and rules upon alleged violations of city ethics code. Nine members include reps from Travis County Bar Association and League of Women Voters.

Meets: Only when necessary. Call the Law Dept. at 499-2051 to learn more.


Enterprise Funds

(departments that make their own money)

Austin Energy

Electric Utility Commission

Reviews and analyzes "all policies and procedures of the electric utility," including most notably the rates. One member must live outside the city but within the AE service area. Shudde Fath and Neal Kocurek have served since the first meeting in 1977.

Meets: First Monday, 6pm, Town Lake Center, 721 Barton Springs Rd.

Resource Management Commission

Advises the city on alternative and renewable energy and conservation programs.

Meets: Third Tuesday, 6:30pm, City Hall.

Aviation Dept.

Airport Advisory Commission

The City Council has approved an ordinance dissolving and re-creating the Airport Advisory Commission, but has yet to appoint new members.

Meets: Third Tuesday, 5pm, Robert Mueller Conference Room, 3rd floor, Bergstrom International Airport.

Solid Waste Services Dept.

Solid Waste Advisory Commission

"Reviews programs and makes recommendations regarding the city's waste stream," from collection to recycling to landfills. Four members need professional experience and at least one must live east of I-35.

Meets: Second Wednesday, 6:30pm, Waller Creek Center, 625 E. 10th, Room 105.

Water and Wastewater Utility

Impact Fee Advisory Committee

Advises on city impact fees for developers. Five members, including two builders.

Meets: Call Water and Wastewater staff at 322-3607 for meeting info.

Water and Wastewater Commission

Reviews utility policy and advises the City Council to ensure adequate and affordable drinking water supply and stable wastewater disposal. No more than two members can be developers. One may live outside the city but in the service area.

Meets: First Wednesday, 6pm, Waller Creek Center, 625 E. 10th.


Public Health and Safety

Health and Human Services/Primary Care Dept.

Animal Advisory Commission

Advises on animal-control issues and the operation of the animal shelter. One member appointed by county. Slots for "a licensed veterinarian, a county or municipal official, a person with experience in daily operation of an animal shelter and an animal welfare organization representative."

Meets: Call Town Lake Animal Center at 708-6080 for meeting info.

Brackenridge Hospital Oversight Council

Oversees Seton's lease of Brackenridge, including the hospital's "performance," but does not investigate professional conduct. Five members, including a physician who provides indigent-health care, a rep from a community indigent-health advocacy group, and an attorney with health care expertise.

Meets: First Monday of every other month, 6pm, One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Rd.

Child Care Council

Makes recommendations and helps execute city programs to promote quality child care. Twenty community leaders; one each appointed by county and AISD.

Meets: Second Tuesday, 9am. Call staff at 707-3228 for location.

Commission on Immigrant Affairs

Advises council on "issues of common concern to immigrants," including how to maximize benefits and minimize adverse impacts of existing and planned legislation at all levels, and promotes "recognition of the contributions of the foreign-born to the economic and cultural vitality of Austin." Three of the nine members "shall have had direct or personal experience in [im]migration to the United States."

Meets: Monthly. Call staff at 440-9410 for info.

Federally Qualified Health Center Board

Advises the city and county on public health issues and the provision of city/county health services to low-income citizens. Fifteen members, eight customers (four each appointed by city and county) and seven at-large (one appointed by county).

Meets: Fourth Tuesday, 6pm, 1111 Cesar Chavez.

Medical Assistance Program Advisory Board

As with the FQHC board, advises staff, city, and county on citizen concerns about the operations of the MAP program, including eligibility guidelines and outreach. Thirteen members, including five MAP users (three appointed by the city, two by the county); a physician, a dentist, and a pharmacist who aren't MAP providers (two appointed by city, one by county) and five at-large, including one with an insurance background and one with a legal or business background (three appointed by city, two by county).

Meets: Third Wednesday, 6pm, 1111 E. Cesar Chavez.

Austin/Travis County MHMR

MHMR Board of Trustees

Established by state law. Four members each appointed by city and county, one by AISD.

Meets: Last Thursday, 5pm, 1430 Collier St.

Emergency Medical Services

EMS Quality Assurance Team

Helps plan and review EMS operations and "shall be privileged to recommend professional performance standards." Eleven members, including six physicians, one nurse, two consumers appointed by the city, one consumer appointed by the county, and one volunteer first responder appointed by the county.

Meets: First Tuesday of every other month, noon, RBJ Building, 55 Waller St.


Parks & Libraries

Austin Public Library

Library Commission

Advises city on any and all library-related issues.

Meets: Fourth Monday, 6:30pm, Austin History Center.

Parks and Recreation Dept.

Arts Commission

According to city ordinance, has all kinds of high-minded roles in promoting quality and access to the arts. Major jobs include recommending funding from the city's cultural arts fund (as in "under the auspices of the Arts Commission") and the Art in Public Places program.

Meets: Third Monday, 6:30pm, PARD Board Room, 200 South Lamar.

Central City Entertainment Center Board

The almost-dormant community board that advises the city on operations of the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex, formerly the CCEC. One member under 18, one neighborhood rep, seven others.

Meets: First Tuesday, 6pm, Conley Guerrero Senior Activity Center, Rosewood and Nile Streets.

Parks and Recreation Board

Oversees all PARD activities. Two of nine members shall have "expertise in the navigational field," i.e., represent boat owners.

Meets: Second and fourth Tuesday, 6:30pm, Parks and Recreation Dept., 200 South Lamar, Board Room.

Renaissance Market Commission

Issues (or suspends or revokes) licenses to sell products at Renaissance Market on the Drag.

Meets: First Monday, 6pm, Parks and Recreation Board Room, 200 South Lamar.

Urban Forestry Board

Advises on all issues tree-related and develops comprehensive forestry plan. Three of nine members must have tree or landscape experience.

Meets: Fourth Thursday, 6:30pm, PARD Board Room, 200 South Lamar.


Housing

Austin Housing Authority

Housing Authority of the City of Austin

Board of directors for AHA. In existence since 1937. Five members, all appointed by the mayor.

Meets: Third Thursday, noon, various housing development sites. Call AHA at 477-4488 for locations.

Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office

Community Development Commission

Oversees NHCD assistance programs and recommends distribution of city's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. Fifteen members, seven nominated by neighborhood residents, seven by the council, and one who can be either.

Meets: Second Tuesday, 6:30pm, rotates between neighborhood centers. Call NHCD staff at 499-3104 for location.

Urban Renewal Board

Oversees implementation of approved urban renewal plans. (Even though most urban renewal efforts are long gone, the plans remain in force.) Used to be joined with the Community Development Commission. Five members appointed by the mayor.

Meets: Third Monday, 5:30pm, One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Rd., Suite 325.

Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Dept.

Planning Commission

Established by city charter to make and amend a comprehensive plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes, control land subdivision, and submit an annual list of recommended capital improvements. Second only to City Council in power and authority.

Meets: First, second, third, and fourth Tuesday, 6pm, One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Rd.


Public Works and Growth

Infrastructure Support Services Dept.

Construction Advisory Committee

Monitors issues related to city-contracted construction projects, including prevailing wage, competitive bidding, and other matters. Seven members, three each from labor and industry, and one from neither.

Call Public Works staff at 499-7053 for meeting info.

Redevelopment Services Dept.

Design Commission

Created "to raise the awareness of architectural and environmental merit in Austin." Hears presentations on projects, particularly Downtown, and authored the city's Downtown Design Guidelines. Members include at least three, but no more than five, architects.

Meets: Twice a month. Call Redevelopment Services staff at 499-6418 for meeting info.

Downtown Commission

Created to oversee implementation of the 1991 R/UDAT report, now advises council on the gamut of downtown issues. Twenty-one members representing (take a deep breath) the Planning Commission, Design Commission, Historic Landmark Commission, Parks and Recreation Board, Urban Transportation Commission, Arts Commission, Economic Development Commission, and Music Commission; a downtown resident; providers of human services downtown; the Downtown Austin Alliance and East Sixth Street Merchants Association; the Austin chapters of the American Institute of Architects (nominal sponsors of R/UDAT) and the Urban Land Institute; the Greater Austin, Hispanic, Capital City and Women's Chambers of Commerce; the Austin Area Research Organization (AARO), East 11th Street Village Association, and Olé Mexico.

Meets: Second Wednesday, 5:30pm, Waller Creek Center, 626 E. 10th.

Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Plan Implementation Advisory Commission

The city's newest commission, whose ridiculously long name (usually shortened to Mueller Commission) conveys its mandate. Members must include one professional each in real estate, commercial finance, and urban design; one business rep; three neighborhood reps, two from neighborhoods adjacent to RMMA; and two at-large reps.

Meets: Second Tuesday, 6pm, Waller Creek Center, 625 E. 10th.

Transportation, Planning, and Design Dept.

Urban Transportation Commission

Advises on all transportation-related issues.

Meets: First and third Mondays, 6pm, One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Rd.

Watershed Protection and Development Review Dept.

Board of Adjustment

One of the most powerful of the city's boards, because of their power to grant variances (without City Council appeal) from the Land Development Code. Five regular members and four alternates.

Meets: Second Monday, 5:30pm, One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Rd., third floor Training Room.

Building and Fire Code Board of Appeals

Self-explanatory; can consider the application of the codes "to avoid injustice." Five "qualified" members, one with expertise in fire safety and suppression.

Meets: Last Wednesday when needed, 1:30pm, One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Rd.

Building Standards Commission

Hears "cases concerning alleged violations of the city's housing and dangerous building ordinances." Five members and four alternates.

Meets: Fourth Wednesday, 6:30pm, One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Rd., third floor Training Room.

Electrical Board

Reviews appeals of Electrical Code cases. Seven members, including two active master electricians, two journeyman electricians, and one electrical engineer.

Meets: Last Wednesday, 9:30am, One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Rd., third floor Training Room.

Mechanical, Plumbing, and Solar Board

Like the Electrical Board, reviews appeals of cases under these codes. Seven members include two AC contractors, two master plumbers, an engineer, a rep from Southern Union Gas, and a citizen at large.

Meets: Last Tuesday when needed, 3pm, One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Rd.

Environmental Board

Advises on "all projects and programs which affect the quality of life," according to city code, but specifically on enviro matters. Four of nine members need to have professional expertise in geology, hydrology, ecology, civil engineering, or land planning.

Meets: First and third Wednesday, 6pm, One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Rd.

Historic Landmark Commission

Reviews historic zoning cases, permits for alterations to city historic landmarks, approves tax abatement applications; reviews all building, relocation, and demolition permits and signage in designated historic districts, and develops and updates the city's historic preservation plan. Eleven members, including reps from Heritage Society of Austin, AIA-Austin, UT School of Architecture, Travis County Bar Association, and Travis County Historical Commission. At least one member must be a real estate pro and one a professional historian. According to ordinance, all members are supposed to have some special expertise.

Meets: Fourth Monday, 7pm, One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Rd.

Sign Review Board

Hears appeals on sign ordinance cases. Five members come from Board of Adjustment, but unlike the B-of-A, the Sign Review Board advises rather than decides. Two additional members, one from the sign industry.

Meets: Second Monday, 5:30pm, Waller Creek Center, 625 E. 10th.


Miscellaneous

Austin Community Education Consortium

Oversees and advises on the programming of the community schools, which offer adult education and neighborhood services under an interlocal agreement between the city and AISD. Five members each appointed by council and by AISD Board of Trustees.

Meets: First Tuesday of the month, 6:30pm at alternating community schools. Call AISD at 414-1511 for locations.

Equity Steering Committee

Fifteen members charged with developing "a long-range economic and social equity vision and program for Austin specifying a solution-based approach."

Call city manager's office at 499-2450 for meeting info.

Music Commission

Advises council on items musical. Charged by ordinance with developing criteria for official designation as a live performance venue and overseeing creation of a music district. All nine members are to have some music industry connection.

Meets: First Monday, 5:30pm, Waller Creek Center, 625 E. 10th, Room 105.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle