City Hall Hustle: Top 9 City Council Stories
1) GOODBYE, WILL Anticlimax was the order of election day, as Lee Leffingwell took the mayor's office. Brewster McCracken's forward-thinking campaign couldn't coalesce constituencies, and his endgame had no game. (Brewster Nation, anyone?) Carole Keeton Strayhorn was a nonstory, and downballot was even less exciting, with Bill Spelman running unopposed and Chris Riley blowing Perla Cavazos outta the water.
2) WTP4 ON TAP After dozens of years, millions of dollars, and innumerable arguments, Water Treatment Plant No. 4 is finally in the pipeline. An unprecedented town hall debate was a highlight, but Spelman's subsequent dizzying, 25-minute dissertation from the dais against the plant – held before the final 4-3 vote – was the defining moment in the new council year.
3) STRIPPING THE CITY BUDGET Forgive the mixed Eastern metaphors, but this year opened the kimono on the Kabuki theatre of budget planning. Public forums in which citizens prioritized city services were both praised for transparency and panned as cover for controversial cuts. However, with a last-minute windfall, the city closed the estimated $30 million gap with minimum service cuts, just like last year ... and the year before last ... and ....
4) (DON'T) STOP THE MUSIC Despite the "live music capital" sloganeering, the city repeatedly hit sour notes. Changes to outdoor sound permitting flared up right around South by Southwest, allowing neighborhood opposition to threaten various long-running concert series, and council efforts to create a city music department were rebuffed at every turn. No encore, please.
5) CITY WEBSITE RE-RE-REBOOT One day we'll have a new city website. We already kinda do, thanks to an in-house streamlining. But a long-delayed, ground-up redesign, slated for award last spring, was halted by council – when local techies learned a California firm would land the contract – creating talk of a local, cloud-built relaunch. After another round of rebids, in December the council hired a local company.
6) CONSERVATION CONUNDRUMS Former Solid Waste Services head Willie Rhodes – considered out of step with the city's evolving, eco-friendly reimagining of SWS – fell upward to helm the new Code Compliance Depart-ment, so the city could get cracking on its zero-waste goals. Mean-while, inspired by the WTP4 debate, council tasked the Austin Water Utility with getting serious about saving water.
7) PULLING OUR PUDs Omnibus development projects preoccupied the zoning agenda, with the now approved South Shore/Grayco planned unit development evolving from a waterfront setback skirmish to a fight over affordable housing – resolved in December. Similarly, questions over development fees – like affordable housing in the still-in-draft Downtown Austin Plan – hung over the dais. One knuckle-duster didn't happen: Wildflower Commons, which quietly dropped off the agenda.
8) THE HUSTLE GETS MOHAWKED This column's personal campaign trail highlight was the Chronicle's own "Hustle for Mayor" forum at the Mohawk, where Leffingwell, McCracken, and yours truly traded questions and, yes, rhymes on the issues facing Austin. If only Brewster's freestyles had come a little harder ....
9) HELLO, LEE The new mayor came in with a lengthy laundry list of meeting efficiencies. Some – like capping staff presentations and breezing through the consent agenda – proved uncontroversial, but moving zoning hearings to 2pm (while moving controversial cases later in the day) garnered grumbles, and limiting regular citizen communication speakers to one in three meetings produced howls of protest – from the speakers, natch.