City Hall Hustle: Singing From the Hymnal

Library and music advocates still looking for official harmony

Call it a study in contrasts: two presentations, the former as technical and dry as the latter was raucous and impassioned. But both briefings at City Council last week – one on the recommendation process for selecting a design team for the new central library, the other presenting the findings of the Live Music Task Force – shared a hidden connection: What wasn't being said was just as important as what was.

Befitting the library talk's decidedly wonky nature, it was officially billed as the Briefing on the Design Team RFQ Process for the New Central Library and Staff's Recom­mend­a­tion. RFQ means "request for qualifications" – but watching the briefing proceed, a different acronym sprang to mind: CYA. Watching Assist­ant City Manager Bert Lumbreras pore over evaluation matrices, staff ethics training guidelines, point values, and more, the central purpose of this presentation became readily apparent: to bolster city staff's credibility after it recommended Barnes Gromatzky Kosarek Architects and Taniguchi with Holzman Moss for the library contract. "It is based on the standard methodology," said Lumbreras, describing how BGK, as he called them, scored ahead of their competition (albeit narrowly) in preliminary and secondary rounds of city scoring and vetting.

So if everything was on the up-and-up, why the ceremonial PR? Well, chatter around City Hall had it that members of the Library Commission, which advises council on such biblio-matters, were less enthusiastic about the BGK team than about its competitors – hence the full recounting of the selection process. While they said nothing at the lectern to indicate their pleasure or displeasure with the staff selection, fellow bookworms at the Austin Public Library Foundation strove to impart the importance of the decision on council – especially choosing a design team with a far-reaching, ambitious vision. "To a person, the number one thing [library donors] are excited about is getting a great architect for an inspiring building," said Teresa Oppedal, foundation president. "You think about it. I think everyone is on the same page about this being a once in our lifetime opportunity to have a civic building that's more than a civic building." Council is scheduled to make its final decision at the next meeting, Dec. 11.

Despite the bureaucratic babble, the library presentation nonetheless garnered a capacity crowd, council chambers becoming standing-room-only for the headlining act: the Live Music Task Force's recommendations. (Will Wynn joked, "Everybody but Elvis is in the building.") For the next hour, task force Chair Paul Oveisi made the case for "this thing we call live music," while the chairs of the group's four subcommittees – examining live-music venues, musician services, entertainment districts, and sound enforcement and control – presented their various findings. It was an emotional discussion, punctuated with wild cheers and applause from the crowd – no more so than at its end, when Wynn capped some meandering remarks on the local economy, the role of Austin's music in it, and the worsening economy by concluding he would "figure out how to be supportive of us creating a music department as soon as possible."

But separate from the applause and jubilation was recognition among City Hall insiders that musicians and venue owners still have a massive fight in front of them to implement the task force recommendations – especially with respect to sound and sound limits. The scuttlebutt behind the scenes Thursday was that some at the city had to convince neighborhood advocates not to come to council to complain about what they saw as too-lax sound requirements. That rumor, combined with the word that decibel-phobic members of the task force had been considering releasing their own minority report, disagreeing with the general recommendations, should be a clear signal to the music community that if it thinks the work is over at City Hall, it's gravely mistaken.

Council members must already be anticipating an encore, as Randi Shade asked for the working groups to stick together in anticipation of further deliberations and discussions. It's clear this set's just getting started. (On a side note, creation of a music department – which, as proposed, would be separate from the existing Cultural Arts Division and would report directly to an assistant city manager – is the main, but not only, recommendation from the task force; read the report in its entirety at

Give Thanks!

The days are growing shorter, the nights are growing longer, and the City Council meetings come further and further between. As you might imagine, there's no meeting this week, meaning there are only two meetings left for the year – Dec. 11 and 18. There's something to be thankful for!

Accepting your Thanksgiving leftovers:

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More Live Music Task Force
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Live Music Task Force, Library Commission, City Council

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