City Hall Hustle: New Year Wish List

From cops to condos, we got your splash pads right here

No sooner had the Hustle started ticking off his list of "forbidden words" from 2009 – oldies but not-so-goodies like "planned unit development," "vital logic," and "hunker down," painful locutions we'd do well to exile into early retirement – than we've already got another contender for the new year.

That would be "hearing examiner." As in the city document stating, "The Hearing Examiner ruled that the Chief of Police did not have a valid reason to bypass Lieutenant [Wayne] Demoss to the rank of Commander and ordered that he 'be promoted to a Commander position and be made whole.'"

The summertime decision of Austin Police Department Chief Art Acevedo to bypass Demoss' promotion to commander – citing Demoss' admitted visit to a brothel in Panama (proffered with the "smoked but didn't inhale"-esque appendix that he didn't pay for any services) and his failure to recognize City Manager Marc Ott – was appealed this fall. A December opinion from the hearing examiner (an arbitrator brought in to resolve the issue), his decision binding per the terms of the police labor contract with the city, overturned Acevedo's decision. Now, at their first meeting of 2010, Acevedo's looking to the City Council to remedy the situation.

Item 24 would increase the number of commander positions from 19 to 20, while reducing the number of beat cops by one, to 1,004. The extra commander position is needed, since after bypassing Demoss, Acevedo promoted the next candidate in line and is loath to bump the promoted officer back down. According to backup info, APD "intends to revisit the need for this additional Commander position at a later date and may ask Council to abolish it at that time."

Despite a lack of fiscal impact, council members have made disapproving murmurs to the press regarding the request: Mayor pro tem and public safety maven Mike Mar­tinez told the Austin American-Statesman last month that he supported a temporary demotion of the new promotee, Patrick Ockletree, over creation of a new commander position. But as American Civil Liberties Union Central Texas Chapter President Debbie Russell pointed out to the council via e-mail, Acevedo has "added and subtracted Lieutenants, Commanders, Sergeants, etc. several times in the past year" – moves with no financial impact, made with council's acquiescence.

We'll have to wait another week to find out, as council doesn't convene until Jan. 14. But with this meeting the first to take effect under new rules posting the draft council agenda two weeks in advance, it's generating advance buzz – not just the reshuffling, but the larger question of police civil service code and its effect on keeping chiefs like Acevedo from promoting based on merit vs. standing.

Similarly, other issues will have another week to percolate in the local consciousness. Item 40 opens a public hearing on whether to create a site-specific amendment to the city's Save Our Springs Initiative governing construction over the aquifer, and a related variance to allow construction to repair problems at Barton Springs. Major flooding around the turn of the century created a bar of rocks and gravel in the pool, which officials say is growing and has hindered cleanliness and clouded the waters. To remove the rocks, the city proposes using a crane, which requires a temporary crane pad and an access road just south of the pool – hence the need for the variances. However, the temporary closure of the springs, plus the possible invasiveness of the cleanup, should ensure that the issue doesn't arise without discussion.

Likewise, Item 31, a staff briefing on the recommendations of the Downtown Austin Plan Dens­ity Bonus Report, should inspire discussion – or at least deserves to. The DAP, due this year from contractor ROMA Design Group, has been preceded by years of discussion and disagreement, and the argument over density bonuses has been among the most contentious. While recent discussion has focused on plans for the Ware­house District – where buildings marked for historic preservation might enable the landowners to "sell" extra density allowances to other, more density-friendly Downtown plots – larger questions still persist. Those questions include affordable housing contributions, setting fees for other public benefits like open space and community centers, and the potential, outlined last summer, of exempting commercial developments (offices, hotels) from specific benefit fees for increased density – staff having apparently concluded that the exchange isn't worth the bennies.

Racheting down the controversy a bit: Items 6 through 9 will make good on promises from last summer's city budget discussion, during which several park pools slated for closure were promised splash pads – fountainlike water features for the kids – in exchange. The city is allocating cash to install the pads at Bailey, Bartholomew, West Austin, Clarks­ville, Lott, Chestnut, and Eastwoods parks. Splash pads – finally, a new ubiquitous word we can all live with.

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City Council, Art Acevedo, Austin Police Department, Wayne Demoss, Barton Springs, Downtown Austin Plan Density Bonus Report

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