City Hall Hustle: Council Kix Pix to Click!
Music, water, and fusion in the air
It's only 10am, but the stars are out – the stars of City Hall! And not only the celebs sitting on the dais but the A-list blockbusters that are bringing up the rear of the council's summer releases! Grab some refreshments – and your copy of the Hustle Insider – kick up your feet, and watch, because this show's not going to be one to miss!
Music's in the air again at City Hall! And no, we're not talking about the atonal wails of a certain citizens communication regular – after a fitful summer of stops and starts, the Music Department is returning for possible passage yet again! You may remember that the plan got canned back in June – kiboshed by Sheryl Cole, citing the city's financial troubles. The sequel doesn't stray much from the original: Citing the city's "myriad music functions located across several departments" like the Convention Center, it proposes consolidating those positions under one banner by Oct. 1. Will the council agree in harmony? Or are they even singing off the same page? Moreover, will resistance on the parts of the execs – city management, which has been slow-walking the feature for months – cause further production delays?
Splish, splash – are we taking a bath? That's what the gentlemen at the Save Our Springs Alliance are saying about Water Treatment Plant No. 4, the city's decades-delayed plant slated to draw the wet stuff from Lake Travis in Northwest Austin! The SOS boys are pointing to an $849 million price tag for the waterworks, culled from a December 2006 memo, far above the $508 million cost the city has announced. The extra cash comes in the form of interest payments on the chunk of change – a hard sell in the current economy. "Now is not the time to raise everyone's water rates by 23% to pay for a boondoggle construction project," reads the group's latest update on the plant. Of course, there's also the environmental considerations, which have led Environment Texas, Clean Water Action, and the Austin Regional Group of the Sierra Club, to jump on the anti-WTP4 bandwagon.
SOS describes the city's infamous "magic water bullet" chart (reproduced in this space last issue) as dishonest. While the city fingered water demand at 240 million gallons a day and going up, SOS Executive Director Bill Bunch says: "So far our peak this summer is 220 MGD, which is less than the peak of 2001 [240.3 MGD], which was our all-time record peak. ... Not in [the Water Utility's] wildest dreams would we be below where we were then, but we are, and with plenty of room to continue with declining or, at worst, flat peak-day demands for the indefinite future." WTP4 comes before council today, in the form of two construction contracts worth $6.3 million, along with an item from Chris Riley encouraging further water conservation. So far, Riley and Bill Spelman have roiled the waters the most – will other council members join them, or will they be dog-paddling with their tails between their legs?
Smoke gets in your eyes – and lungs! Which council member's been seen smoking on City Hall's third floor balcony beneath the iconic Stinger? The Hustle knows but ain't saying – in case he needs to bum one!
Council lights the fuse! Be it trendy, overwrought cuisine or watery jazz improv, fusion generally ends in disaster. Will the fusion center proposal before council meet a similarly unceremonious end? Item 9 leases a Texas Department of Public Safety building to house the Austin Regional Intelligence Center, a self-described fusion center. "A fusion center is a cooperative effort of public safety agencies to combine public safety data to better utilize resources," reads the city's backup information. A less charitable review comes from the ACLU. A 2007 report says the info clearinghouses encourage diffusion of responsibility among agencies as well as data mining and other invasions of privacy. "Fusion Centers around the county have abused their authority and encouraged illegal surveillance of universities as well as religious, environmental and peace groups," writes Laura Martin, policy analyst for the ACLU of Texas. "For example, a Virginia Fusion Center went so far as to refer to the state's colleges and universities as 'nodes for radicalization,' and urged surveillance of First Amendment protected activities."
Contracting equality! Lastly, an item from Laura Morrison attempting to extend the city's nondiscrimination policies against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered employees to city contractors, who would be required to provide a copy of their nondiscrimination policy to the city and know that noncompliance with the city's LGBT protections could result in the loss of their contract.
And also on the hot list this week: lots more boards and commissions appointments, a 2pm presentation on the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee's makeup, and 6pm public comment on the city manager's proposed budget. Until then, the Hustle Insider signing off!
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