Public Notice: Going With the Flow
Charting the new Council's progress
City Council members are in the midst of a three-day orientation program that began Jan. 8 with presentations by City Manager Marc Ott and Mayor Steve Adler. Other presentations from high-ranking city staff – the city attorney, city auditor, financial officers, and others – on legal, procedural, and operational matters, continued Jan. 13, and will conclude today, Jan. 15, with an "Issues We Want to Tackle" session, and wrap-up remarks from the mayor.
These draft proposals are still being worked through, and bought into, by the individual Council members, but it's clear that this is the blueprint for the future workings of the Council:
• More frequent Council meetings, to avoid long agendas and "foster greater public participation"
• More management of the agendas, with items grouped by topic, and executive sessions split off when possible, to save time for staff and public and to provide more reliable "time certains" for testimony and discussion. ("Example: week 1 and 3 zoning, week 2 and four other items.")
• A heavily beefed-up Council committee system, with a proposed 13 committees instead of seven, and a much more public role for them, with most public hearings moved to this stage in the process, and committee agendas and minutes more accessible and widely publicized.
• A fourth step, aimed at "longer term improvements for public engagement" is more tentative, but envisions looking into creating a mediator position to reduce conflict, setting up a Public Engagement Task Force to look at best practices, and aligning the city's citizen commissions with Council committees to enhance workflow and follow-through on commission recommendations and input.
An unfortunate early infographic – seemingly designed to show how hard it was going to be for citizens to get to talk to Council – has quietly disappeared, replaced by a draft chart – "How an Item Moves to City Council Meeting" – that gives Austin residents equal footing with commissions, Council members, and City staff. So, good on them. See the draft proposals for Council meetings, committees, and public input, at www.austintexas.gov/department/city-council/2015/20150108-spec.htm.
Meanwhile, city business continues to flow through the pipeline, even as the new Council tries to re-route it. Planning Commission considered a few thorny cases at its Monday meeting, splitting the baby on a set of controversial variances to the Waterfront Overlay, then musing publicly from the dais about how much longer they'd be serving. There's no word yet on the timeline for the new Council to make its board and commission appointments, or what that replacement process might look like. With some 68 standing boards and commissions currently hanging fire, representing some 700 citizen commissioners, that process could wind up taking longer, and being more contentious, than the Council process itself. Never fear: There's already a Boards and Commissions Transition Taskforce on the job, consisting of veteran members of 15 of the most prominent B&Cs.
The Austin Humane Society is kicking off its 11th Annual Car Raffle to raise money for homeless pets. Win a brand-new 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata, donated by Roger Beasley Mazda. Tickets are $20 each, or three for $50. Only 5,000 tickets are sold; all proceeds go directly to support the animals at AHS. Adults only. Buy online at www.austinhumanesociety.org.
Here's a pitch you don't see often: Run a 5K in a gorilla suit to benefit mountain gorillas. You can start off slowly, this Saturday, Jan. 24 at the Gorilla Pub Crawl, starting at 4pm at Banger's Sausage House, 81 Rainey. The actual Austin 5K Gorilla Run to Benefit Mountain Gorillas is at Mueller Park, 9am Saturday, Jan. 31. For info on how to register – and to buy your gorilla suit – visit www.austingorillarun.com.
Haven't we hired this guy already? The answer would be no, and in fact, AISD has three more public forums where you can meet presumptive district Superintendent Paul Cruz:
4pm Thu., Jan. 15, at Summit Elementary, 12207 Brigadoon;
6pm Wed., Jan. 21, at Austin High, 1715 W. Cesar Chavez; and 10am Sat., Jan. 24, at Crockett High, 5601 Manchaca.
As of the first of the year, Austin Energy has lowered the price to subscribe to its GreenChoice® plan, from an extra penny per kilowatt-hour, to 3/4 of a penny per kWh for both residential and commercial customers. On an average 1,000 kWh monthly bill, that translates to $7.50 instead of $10; for that, customers receive 100% renewable power from Texas wind.
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