New Council, Old Issues
Council closes spring meetings with a heavy agenda
In a brief but celebratory occasion, three new City Council members were sworn in Monday evening – although they looked quite familiar, as all had been reelected in May: Mayor Lee Leffingwell, and Council Members Sheryl Cole and Mike Martinez. (Bill Spelman had been sworn in earlier that afternoon; he wasn't able to rearrange his LBJ School of Public Affairs teaching schedule to accommodate the inauguration meeting.) The result is a new council that looks exactly like the old – but it could well be the very last council of this same formation.
That depends largely on the outcome of the council's debate over charter revision and the November election, set to come to a head today (Thursday). This week's regular meeting agenda features two competing ballot proposals for forms of single-member districting: 1) Item 83, sponsored by Leffingwell and Chris Riley, would (if approved by the voters) install an 8-2-1 "hybrid" system, with the mayor and two members elected at large; and 2) Item 84, sponsored by Martinez and Cole, would (if approved) install a 10-1 system, with only the mayor elected at large. Based on previous statements, CMs Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo are leaning toward a mixed system, giving the mayor's proposal – which he strongly reiterated Monday evening in his acceptance speech – a presumptive majority.
Also looming is the petition-supported 10-1 plus independent commission proposal carried by Austinites for Geographic Representation, making it likely that the fall ballot will feature conflicting districting proposals. And this week a new group, calling itself Austin Community for Change (www.fairdistricts.org) declared its support for a mixed system. The fireworks have just begun – and they could well carry into August, because council has until late August to set the November ballot.
Of course, depending on where they start on their now 143-item agenda, council may have a hard time getting to its charter revision discussion – which also includes term length, shifting election dates, and other matters – especially if they get derailed once again by short-term rental regulations (Item 42), passed June 14, but only on first reading, 5-2. At council's Tuesday work session, dissenters Morrison and Tovo peppered staff with questions trying to clarify or undermine the STR ordinance as written, and it's likely that significant public opposition will return this week.
Needless to say, those are just very brief highlights of a very long agenda that also includes more than two dozen zoning cases and eight public hearings – where several unanticipated land mines are generally buried. And there's a proposal (Item 75) to spend $5.5 million on a temporary international terminal at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport – primarily for the benefit of foreign high-rollers arriving for the Formula One race this fall – that's likely to raise some eyebrows and hackles.
And in a more comforting vein: the inimitable Akina Adderley will be delivering a song around 5:30pm.