News briefs from Austin, the region, and beyond
Mayor-elect Lee Leffingwell announced his office staff this week. His chief of staff will be Mark Nathan, the political consultant who directed Leffingwell's campaign; he also worked on the campaigns of five of the council's current members. Nancy Williams, executive assistant in Leffingwell's council member office, will retain that role; she's a former director of the Texas Democratic Party. Returning to City Hall from Capital Metro is Matt Curtis, who will be an executive aide. Curtis was previously an aide to Mayor Will Wynn and to Council Member Brewster McCracken. Amy Everhart, who worked on the Leffingwell campaign and for the campaigns of Council Members Jennifer Kim and Mike Martinez, will leave her post at the Sierra Club to serve as a policy aide. Lastly, Leffingwell's current executive secretary, Janet Jackson, will stay on in her role (barring any wardrobe malfunctions). "I feel very fortunate to have such a seasoned team of public servants and community activists join the Mayor's Office," said Leffingwell in a press release, adding he would also soon name the members of his Community Cabinet, an advisory group of community leaders he promised during the campaign to create. – Wells Dunbar
Courting New Urbanism
Incoming Council Member Chris Riley has chosen Marisa Ballas as his policy aide (a second aide is yet to be named). The pick underscores Riley's commitment to urban design and planning; Ballas holds a master's degree in community and regional planning from UT-Austin, with a concentration on urban development and public participation in community planning. She's coming to City Hall from Black + Vernooy Architects/Placemaking Studio, where she worked with Sinclair Black on sustainable building for mixed-use urban infill projects. She's also worked on downtown district master planning and redevelopment projects in Detroit. For the Congress for the New Urbanism national conference in Austin last year, Ballas edited Emergent Urbanism: Evolution in Urban Form, Texas, a book showcasing Central Texas. What with the Downtown Plan and Comprehensive Plan under way, among other major initiatives, Ballas' skill set could shore up City Hall's loss of New Urbanists Brewster McCracken and aide Rachel Proctor-May. Meanwhile, Proctor-May is expected to take a new position coordinating the Pecan Street Project for Austin Energy. – Katherine Gregor
Byron Marshall to Virginia?
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported last week that Byron Marshall, president of the Austin Revitalization Authority, is in the running to be named Richmond's chief administrative officer, the top ranking staff post in the city's bureaucracy. Marshall has run the ARA, a nonprofit community land corporation contracted with the city to revitalize East 11th and 12th streets, since 1999. Prior to that, he was an assistant city manager for Austin and Atlanta's chief operating officer. Critics of the ARA have charged that the agency has responded slowly to community needs, built overpriced office space, and lacks transparency; the agency is currently under a performance audit. The Times-Dispatch has called attention to some unflattering chapters in Marshall's career, including his resignation as Atlanta's COO once it emerged he "held a $96,000 consulting contract with an economic-development authority in Austin." This week, Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams said Marshall, Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones' "trial balloon for a top city post," was "taking some hits and losing altitude." One Richmond council member said Marshall, if officially nominated, shouldn't be approved until the ARA audit is completed. – W. D.
Emancipet: 10 Years, 10 Bucks, 10 Friends
Double high fives to Emancipet, which celebrated a 10-year anniversary on June 3 with its 100,000th sterilization – an important milestone for both the organization, which provides free and low-cost spay/neuter and wellness services, and the Austin area. "The number of births of unwanted puppies and kittens prevented by these 100,000 surgeries is estimated to be in the millions," said Executive Director Amy Mills. "We believe these efforts are contributing to the recent decrease in intake and euthanasia at the city's Town Lake Animal Center." The lucky dog undergoing the commemorative surgery was a lab mix named Kelli; her owner received a gift basket and a lifetime supply of flea-control products. In addition, on June 9, Emancipet kicked off its Power of Ten fundraising campaign, in which Emancipet will ask friends and supporters to donate $10 and each in turn ask 10 friends to do the same. For more info, see www.emancipet.org/involve/power-of-ten. – Patricia J. Ruland
Go Blow It Out Your Attic
Austinites are wasting big bucks – that's the early data provided by a new city ordinance, effective June 1, requiring that most older houses receive energy audits before being sold. Of the first 310 audits received by Austin Energy, 86% of the houses had duct systems losing cooling and heating in excess of 10%, the maximum acceptable for energy efficiency. On average, the homes had a 22% leak rate, while some lost double or triple that amount – as high as 81%. Altogether the homes are wasting 807,840 kilowatt hours of electricity annually – the total needed to run 67 average homes – translating to millions of pounds in greenhouse-gas emissions. The easy solution: Add another six inches of attic insulation. The Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure Ordinance was passed by City Council last November as part of the Austin Climate Protection Plan. Reducing leakage is voluntary, but the initial data suggests the great majority of Austinites with older houses could improve home affordability long-term by adding attic insulation and fixing leaks. Federal tax credits and rebates from Austin Energy and Texas Gas Service can help pay for energy-efficiency improvements. See www.austinenergy.com for details. – Katherine Gregor