Beside the Point

Coming Soon to Channel 6

Most spin-offs of old police procedurals are as stale as week-old break-room doughnuts and generally far more heinous than the crimes they depict. See CSI: Miami pulling David Caruso back from the brink of well-deserved obscurity; Richard Grieco's post-21 Jump Street bid-for-fame, Booker; and the truly distressing realization that somewhere on Earth, an episode of Law & Order: Miscellaneous Edition is playing every hour of every day, until you die. DUN DUN!

So our expectations weren't sky-high when we heard Council Member Mike Martinez was dusting off the Public Safety Task Force for another City Hall season. Created in the shadow of 9/11, it was initially helmed by former Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas as a miniseries – with a time limit of six months, the task force issued recommendations on improving disaster response before channel surfing off to the Nielsen graveyard. But as the inaugural meeting of the new PSTF Monday made clear, Martinez isn't interested in reruns. To borrow the Tinseltown parlance, it isn't a sequel or a remake – it's a reimagining.

While obviously invested in the city's safety, the current PSTF's focus isn't constricted to its original boundaries. Instead, with a diverse 25-person membership and no sunset date, the renewed task force potentially cuts a wide swath. "We didn't have a board or commission or task force addressing the one issue that consumes two-thirds of our budget and arguably 90 percent of our time," he said. Martinez didn't shy from naming some of the more contentious issues either, like red-light traffic cameras, police overtime, EMS response time, and public-safety staffing. "We aren't given a specific charge, but hopefully what we will see is that there's a purpose for that," he said, soliciting the members for their opinions on what to tackle first.

It's a gamble for Martinez to put his imprimatur on the most contentious issue facing the city. But if successful (like his precouncil firefighter contract negotiations as fire union head), he stands to reap considerable political rewards. The clout assembled in the PSTF – including heads of public-safety unions, small-business leaders, the Chamber of Commerce, NAACP Austin President Nelson Linder, and many others – doesn't hurt. Stay tuned.

The show doesn't stop there. Martinez, Lee Leffingwell, and Betty Dunkerley (all task-force members) are also bringing an ambitious item this week that could overhaul the city's entire board and commission structure. A few years back, former Council Member Bill Spelman led a B&C task force, resulting in 40 suggested changes and alterations. The proposals – including three-year terms, three-term limits, and formal training on Robert's Rules of Order and the Open Meetings Act – were summarily shelved. Under the pending resolution, the city manager will review a revised draft of the Spelman report and return comments to council within 90 days.

This Thursday also sees another Martinez proposal, the creation of a city Charter Revision Committee. As the charter can only be altered every two years, the committee will consider 2008 changes, possibly including Martinez's oft-expressed hope for single-member districts (which would require another public vote). Also, the much ballyhooed formalization of the planned unit development planning process begins with a resolution from Brewster McCracken and Martinez.

Lastly, we'd be remiss not to mention City Manager Toby Futrell's performance evaluation. It's likely to be a far less mushy, gushy affair than last year's love-in, when she landed a $36,000 raise (bringing her haul to more than $232,000) and the fawning adulation of the dais. Wal-Mart opponents Responsible Growth for Northcross are already pooh-poohing any possible applause for Futrell, saying her ham-handed handling of the Northcross site-plan saga should cost her any pay raise. Hell, now they're fervent supporters of the Charter Revision Committee – in order to conceivably put Futrell's job in the council-manager system of government to a vote! (See "No Concord for Northcross?")

And you were nervous going into your last job review.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin City Council, City Council, Mike Martinez, Public Safety Task Force, Fire, Police, EMS, Board and Commission, Lee Leffingwell, PUD, Toby Futrell, Responsible Growth for Northcross

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