City Hall Hustle: Under Advisement

It ain't what you do – it's what you shouldn't say in e-mails

If everyone knew what was good for 'em, there would be a moratorium on all political news during the South by Southwest season. The Hustle's trying to enjoy the simple pleasures this job affords him – and besides, most headline sensations get washed away in the next news cycle anyway. Maybe that's for the best: From parking controversies to continued hand-wringing over E-mailgate, it seems there's no issue too small to dominate the city's attention.

The parking changes, which came before City Council last week, extend paid hours throughout the city, but most notably Downtown, where they're going to be extended to midnight, starting in August. The changes provoked heated re-tweeting and ornery status updates, but as a couple of the Hustle's Twitter pals put it, "Everyone talks about opposing parking meters but only 2 people show up to oppose it??"

Still, that hasn't stopped point-scoring in the political world. Place 4 challenger Toby Ryan put out a press release calling his opponent Laura Mor­ri­son's vote – the only nay against the proposal as drafted by staff – a welcome change, but adding that "this vote on parking doesn't make up for years of being anti-music." (Morrison's crimes include, in Ryan's words, "sponsorship of strict new sound ordinances" – which were approved by the entire council – and opposition to live music permits in the Rainey Street area – ditto.)

As for the e-mail scandal, the devolution from upholding core principles of open government to trolling for embarrassing quotes continues apace. But, there too, it's allowing folks to put political points on the board, primarily against Place 3 incumbent Randi Shade.

Shade's very bad weekend began with a Statesman editorial from Robin Rather (who was maligned in a Shade e-mail), opening with a quote from ancient Greek poet Pindar and ending with a call for the disagreeable e-mailers to "step down or be voted out." (An aside: Rather e-mailed us to clarify what we wrote last week thusly: "I spoke at the generation plan hearing in favor of the plan. The email after [in which Rather slagged the council for not fighting hard enough, prompting Shade's impolitical remarks in a note to City Manager Marc Ott] referred to the affordability matrix which should not have been attached to the plan and served only to delay the plan by almost one year," something she says nuke-power lobbyists wanted – along with other business groups and Catholic charity reps, it should be noted.)

Then at the dawn of this week came the news that two high-profile candidates would challenge Shade: Max Nofzig­er, a three-term council member who served intermittently from 1987 to 1997 before launching a pair of unsuccessful mayoral bids, will campaign for the seat (term limits apply only to consecutive terms), as will Kathie Tovo, city planning commissioner and former Austin Neighborhoods Council vice president. "The decisions of city government haven't always been in the best interest of citizens, and frankly Randi Shade is part of that problem," says Tovo, adding that Shade "doesn't show respect for citizens." Tovo, as a member of the AISD Facility Master Plan Task Force, was one of that group's primary voices who opposed closing schools as a means of fixing a budget deficit. Current ANC president Cory Walton broadcast a message to the group's listserv endorsing Tovo, calling her "a voice of civility, sanity and intelligence, governed by a sense of community, inclusiveness and irreproachable ethics." His remarks suggest the blowback engendered by Shade's e-mail embarrassment. Or perhaps it's delayed karmic repayment from Shade's ousting of Jennifer Kim, which included Vera Wang and airport-security jokes.

Regardless, as Mayor Lee Leffingwell made clear in yet another apology on his blog, this is not quite the community conversation he was hoping to inspire in the wake of the sweeping changes proposed in his State of the City address last week, now sidelined by this palace intrigue. And, if our current capacity for distraction is representative, the foofaraw doesn't bode well for the issues he did raise: single-member districts, major transportation improvements, and charter changes – issues that go beyond a sound bite.

Agenda Chewers

The parking wars continue, for example, with a discussion posted for this week's City Council meeting: Item 24, from lead sponsor Chris Riley, looks to gather citizen input in creating a "Parking Benefits District, Residential Permit Parking districts, and the application of Residential Permit Parking within Vertical Mixed Use districts" as a solution to parking woes for businesses and residents in the South Congress area. However, at the council's work session this week (newly moved – for now – to Tuesday mornings), Riley announced he would remove language in the resolution initiating a city code amendment that tied review of residential parking districts to surrounding vertical mixed-use projects.

Riley said the original language was meant to get the ball rolling on time-consuming code changes, but some "people are anxious we are predetermining the outcome." Bill Spel­man went one further, calling for the city to bring in an outside mediator to coordinate stakeholder recommendations in the 90-day period the item allows. Ott responded, "I think city staff is perfectly capable of carrying out such a process," but that he'd take Spelman's suggestion "under advisement."


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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

City Council, e-mails, Randi Shade, Robin Rather, parking, Lee Leffingwell

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