The Austin Chronicle

City Hall Hustle: Ocean's Seven

When the joint is hoppin', the cool cats and kitties come knockin'

By Wells Dunbar, October 3, 2008, News

Convening the City Council meeting last Thursday, a stuffed-up Will Wynn announced he had a "serious enough ear infection" that he might have to hand the reins over to Mayor Pro Tem Brewster McCracken, reportedly of sound hearing. Alas, Brewster let us know his hearing's "never been the same after the Ted Nugent concert in eighth grade." Mike Martinez got in on the yuks, offering his abuela's home cure to suck out the bad juju with a funneled newspaper and a candle. To which Wynn replied he held out hopes for the "lemon and whiskey side. Which I've been trying."

The dais suddenly seemed occupied by Rat Pack extras, like one of those plotless Vegas features starring Old Blue Eyes, Sammy, Dino, and company, and littered with cameos, flourishes, and asides to other subjects.

The biggest real news of the week occurred after the meeting: the arrival of Emily Austin Shade-Shell, Council Mem­ber Randi Shade's 7-pound, 10-ounce bundle of joy, delivered Friday, Sept. 26, by C-section. The Hustle [Ed.: and the whole News department] wishes baby Emily, Shade, and her partner Kayla long happiness and good health, and the council member a speedy recovery. You have a head start, if you are among the very young at heart ...

As for the meeting itself, the first major cameo came from Save Our Springs Alliance Director Bill Bunch, urging the council to reconsider or postpone the allocation of $4.5 million for engineering of the Jollyville transmission line from long-planned Water Treat­ment Plant No. 4. "It was not an emergency then," when first presented, said Bunch; "it's not an emergency now." However, after some echoing questioning of staff by Laura Morrison, the spending item was adopted unanimously. Well, did you ever ...?

Next ready for her close-up was ACLU Austin head Debbie Russell. Ostensibly signed up to speak about jail booking arrangements between the city and the county, she used the opportunity to discuss the "citation option" she's advocated for personally and as a member of the Public Safety Task Force. As already approved by the Texas Legislature, cities can issue tickets and citations for minor misdemeanors like pot possession, which Russell points out would save millions of dollars in booking costs. Wynn remarked that in recent discussions with Police Chief Art Acevedo, the top cop was "very optimistic" about working with Austin's surrounding areas (e.g., Travis County) in giving police citation discretion. Some came runnin' ...

Also on the police front came a center-stage performance from City Manager Marc Ott, who usually assumes a smaller, supporting role on the dais. He was there to oversee ratification of city contracts with the police and EMS departments. While calling the contracts "balanced" and "a win-win set of circumstances for both the city and our two unions," he continued, "these are in my opinion two of the most conservative contracts since the city began the meet-and-confer process," the police contract alone representing "a 48 percent reduction, $7 million compared to the previous three years."

The most special guest appearance belonged to development attorney Richard "He Did It His Way" Suttle, who was representing the Dell Jewish Community Center in an expansion proposal that was the most contentious zoning case of the evening's performances. Perhaps recognizing the strong emotions he inevitably stirs in the room, Suttle better served his clients by not speaking at length himself, instead inviting the dozens of JCC supporters in the chambers to stand. Noise and congestion were the specific issues, as some neighbors complained the center's current incarnation is quite large and loud enough; the PUD zoning that the "J" (as it is familiarly known) wants would enable it to build a second synagogue, day-care centers, and more. After some hallway negotiations among the various parties, the J's PUD was approved unanimously, with the proviso for expanded neighborhood notification of any additional future changes.

That's life!

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