Sword of Escamilla Dangles Over City Hall?

Unabated rate discourse, post office roast, and more

As Amy Smith notes elsewhere (see "Beside the Point"), the big-ticket item at today's (Thursday's) City Council meeting, the first of the new year, is Item 107: "Conduct a public hearing to receive public comments on Austin Energy's proposed electric rates." The hearing is officially scheduled for 4pm, but no fewer than four hearings of much narrower scope precede it, and one never knows when a time-sucking controversy may erupt. In Fact Daily reported Tuesday that the rate hearing has been moved to 6pm to avoid such conflicts.

Indeed, the AE discussion won't be confined to the formal hearing; some folks will declaim their opinions during the noon Citizen Communications, and there will be a special-called meeting next Tuesday for council members to gather more information from staff and the Electric Utility Commis­sion. Should a new rate schedule finally pass council muster, under Item 74, a proposed Jan. 26 hearing would address amendments putting the new rates into effect.

At 10:30am (Item 75), the U.S. Postal Service is scheduled to brief council on what may happen to its Downtown eyesore of a post office, sold by the feds last month to Andrews Urban and the Novare Group. Anything short of a bomb shelter would be an improvement.

Council spent a good bit of its Tuesday work session reconsidering the issue of short-term (e.g., vacation or festival) rentals in residential neighborhoods. Council members are split on the necessity of currently proposed ordinance revisions. Council Members Bill Spelman and Chris Riley have proposed (Item 68) suspending the code amendment process until the city auditor can provide more research on the extent, status, and positive and negative effects of the rentals. Council Members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo strenuously objected to a delay as endangering the integrity of central city neighborhoods. There could be dais fireworks on that one.

Finally, Item 76 won't be heard in chambers; it's an executive session discussion of "legal issues related to Open Government matters." That's just vague enough to make us wonder if the other shoe is finally getting ready to drop on County Attorney David Escamilla's investigation of the open meetings/open records controversy that's been hanging over the dais since early last year. It could be just a new year update ... or could be something completely different ... or could be a walking quorum slouching toward City Hall to be born.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

city council, Austin Energy, rate increase, U.S. Postal Service, Downtown post office, short-term rentals, Bill Spelman, Chris Riley, Laura Morrison, Kathie Tovo, open meetings act, open records

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