Top 10 Local Stories
Toby to SOS
1) Farewell Futrell By her own measure, city managers have an official life expectancy of five to seven years, so Toby's departure is pretty much right on schedule. Despite much recent melodrama and gratuitous public vitriol, Futrell dedicated her public (and much of her private) life to Austin and fully deserves a graduating ovation.
2) Acquiring Acevedo The model for the Futrell successor search was supposed to be the acquisition of new Austin Police Department Chief Art Acevedo, but right now the council seems determined to turn it into a quick round of spin the bottle. The city surprised suspicious onlookers by picking the Acevedo plum – we can't expect that kind of luck twice in a row, can we?
3) Cooling the City (and Planet) Austin emerged as a national leader against global warming, thanks to public activism and leadership from Mayor Will Wynn and Roger Duncan, Austin Energy's deputy general manager. We can't be certain that what we do here will reverberate nationally – but there will be no redirecting the global climate ship without everybody lifting an oar.
4) The Shooting of Kevin Brown Another police shooting of a young black man rocked the city in June, and although the circumstances were muddled as always, new Chief Acevedo passed the public test by terminating Sgt. Michael Olsen in November. The story isn't concluded: Olsen is appealing, and the city's review process is itself being reviewed, but it feels like the tide is shifting against summary police injustice.
5) Smile, You've Been Wal-Marted! A bitter dispute between near-north neighborhoods and the city ended in court, as Responsible Growth for Northcross (and the Allandale Neighborhood Association) sued over the approval of a Wal-Mart Supercenter on the site of the former Northcross Mall. Last week the judge ruled for the city, but RG4N vowed to fight on, and the dispute promises to shadow this spring's council elections.
6) It's Unconventional A very strange miniscandal paused this month, as former Convention Center Director Robert Hodge was indicted for record-tampering by a grand jury but avoided indictment on much more serious charges of financial improprieties. The city vows tighter controls, the record-tampering was apparently pointless, and Hodge may prove to have been a casualty of a change in the City Hall weather – from small-town arbitrariness to big-city officiousness.
7) It's Our Lakeside! Lady Bird Lake was at the center of several hot stories: the unveiling of an innovative city park (conceived in the surrounding neighborhoods), a battle to protect the waterfront against encroachment, and the renaming of the unpretentious Town Lake itself in honor of the first lady who made it so central to her Austin. It's yours, if you can keep it.
8) The Full Treatment After more than 20 years of pure-dee Austin dithering, the city has apparently found a site for Water Treatment Plant No. 4, expected to treat all that water we're anticipating to buy for the next 50 years from the Lower Colorado River Authority. There will be plenty more arguments – like where to find the money to close the deal – and with any luck, in 20 years we'll actually build the thing.
9) Leaving Children Behind As merciless federal and state education policies steadily filter downward, the kids in the neighborhoods are becoming the inevitable pawns. Johnston High School is on the Texas Education Agency bubble, with the new year to determine whether it – and Reagan and Travis and ... – will be sacrificed to political notions of what constitutes "accountability."
10) SOS for SOS After years of environmental derring-do (and legal brinkmanship), Save Our Springs Alliance was forced into bankruptcy by one more lawsuit and a sprawl developer who thus far refuses to settle for less than SOS extinction. If the court can't find a middle ground, Austin's cutting edge of environmental activism may be dispersed to the next-generational eco-winds.