Beside the Point
Best Barrel-Blast From the Bat Cave: Kate Alexander's evisceration of Place 3 incumbent Jennifer Kim in her Monday Statesman story announcing Randi Shade's candidacy. Meee-ouch! (Jennifer, next time they give you a chance to respond – take it!)
Best Cats-and-Dogs Rainstorm: Today (Thursday, Oct. 11) the public hearing over whether to relocate the Town Lake Animal Center to the emerging Health and Human Services Eastside campus howls into chambers, with council discussion and public comment set to occur after 6pm. We're glad the discussion's finally before council – if nothing else, to tamp down the increasingly ridiculous debate. FixAustin.org's not exactly intimidating election threats aside, this tempest in an Alpo can will hopefully be resolved by council's vote – and the outcome is still very much in doubt.
Best Political Neutering: I'll bet Mike Martinez, who previously called for the city to reassess all sites for the shelter, couldn't muster a pooper-scooper of enthusiasm over the shelter location; he's also chided Eastside enviros People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources for what he characterized as opportunist opposition to it. But now there are other principles involved. In Katherine Gregor's story on the shelter lawsuit last week ("Animal Shelter Lawsuit," Oct. 5), Martinez vociferously objected to City Manager Toby Futrell's assertion that a pro forma bond-funding allocation for the shelter building amounted to an official council vote, saying, "In no way was I ever informed it was, or was even portrayed as, a decision to relocate the shelter." His since-withdrawn resolution (with Kim) was an attempt to reclaim council's say-so in a situation that's slowly spun out of control over several months – with no small thanks to Futrell. Kim says they'll try to accomplish the same thing by amendment.
Best Rebuff to Business as Usual: If the shelter debate delivers a wrist-slap, three other items today are much broader – a wholesale realignment of the city manager's powers. Item 58 calls for more updates to council on discretionary spending, with anything more than $5,000 having to go through the state bidding process. "Under the state bidding process ... you are still allowed to select one of the top three bidders for specific reasons," says Martinez. "So that allows a lot of flexibility. We just believe council should be made aware of those expenditures on a regular basis." (No more snow globes from Tiffany & Co.?) Item 59 would change the way the city attorney is appointed, also through a charter-amending election. While the attorney officially reports to council, his appointment by the manager has made the office more beholden to staff – resulting in some pusillanimous legal opinions, most recently over Northcross Mall. "This would remove that perception," says co-sponsor Lee Leffingwell, albeit there's "a little bit of uneasiness" on council's part on how to proceed – "and also by the city attorney himself." (You don't say!) He's willing to postpone the vote if his colleagues want more time. Item 60 would put changes to the City Auditor's Office to a charter-amending election in May. "The city auditor will be given a set term to allow for security and stability in doing their work and not having to worry about being used as a political football," Martinez says. Requiring a supermajority to remove the auditor, Leffingwell says, would "insulate the auditor from everyday vagaries of political life." Change is rarely easy – so far, the resolutions have no other sponsors. "I haven't heard of any opposition," Martinez says, "but you never know in this building."
Best Municipal Odd Couple: Despite the Felix and Oscar comparisons, Martinez and Leffingwell have been effective in their quest to take the reins from staff. With Leffingwell eyeing the mayor's chair and Martinez newer to the dais, they both have more to gain from a battle with Futrell than does Will Wynn – who's likely content to catwalk off from politics once his term's up. Leffingwell's solid, if somewhat solemn, presence is infused with a sharp-elbowed negotiator, while Martinez gets the benefit of statesmanlike backup in his mission to restore the balance of power. Hopefully their colleagues have the vision to join them.
Best of the Rest: Aside from the above, little outside the stuffier realms of wonkdom is afoot today, with presentations concerning Capitol view corridors and city board and commission changes at 10:30am and 2pm, respectively, topping the bill.
"BoA" Addendum: BTP's back next week with council, but your humble columnist won't return for two weeks. Drop him a line at email@example.com.